Friday, January 31, 2014

Jesus the humble

It almost seems wrong to call Jesus humble.  Jesus has absolutely no reason to be humble; He is the Almighty God of the Universe.  All things were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

Yet, He is humble.  He is meek.  To be meek is to contain one's power and strength out of kindness and consideration for another.  Jesus is the very epitome of meekness.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. 
Be humble,
thinking of others as better than yourselves.  
Don’t look out only for your own interests,

but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges

he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
~Philippians 2:3-8 (NLT)

Jesus gave up His divine privileges and came to earth to serve men, to serve us.  He was not born a king or an emperor.  He was born in a barn.  He had a humble birth.

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
~Luke 2:7 (NLT)

Jesus did not align Himself with the strong, mighty and influential.  He spent time with people whom others shunned.  He did not choose His friends on the basis of what they could do for Him, how they could help Him climb some ladder of success.  He had humble friends, humble relationships.  

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.  But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?" 

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

~Matthew 9:10-13 (NLT)

Jesus didn't come to earth with a scripted agenda and a long list of tasks to delegate.  He didn't come commanding people around and expecting them to shoulder the grunt work while He sat on a throne and gave orders.  He spoke gently and shared the load.  He had a humble approach.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) 

After Herod executed John the Baptist (Jesus' cousin), Jesus tried to get away to mourn.  But even in the midst of His sorrow, Jesus had compassion on the crowd who followed Him.  He sympathized with their weaknesses and their longings.  He set aside His own needs: to grieve, to rest, to be alone.  Instead He served the masses, healing them, teaching them, and at the end of the day feeding 5000 people a banquet that He Himself miraculously prepared.  He had a humble attitude; He did not selfishly demand time to care for Himself, nor did He consider any form of service as too lowly for Him to perform.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. 

They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!

~Luke 9:16-17(NLT)

There are many, many examples of how Jesus demonstrated humility while He was on earth.  For instance, I love the story of how He roasted fish over coals on the beach for his disciples' breakfast... after He had risen from the dead (John 21:1-14).  He had been raised from the dead and glorified; yet, after winning the ultimate victory over sin and death, after bearing the sins of the world and then being restored by the power of God Himself, Jesus was willing to cook for His friends.

But I will leave you with my favorite picture of the humility of Christ:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.  So...

     Honestly, what would you expect to come next?  
     He has ultimate authority
     came from God
     is going back to God

he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 
~John 13:3-5 (NLT)

Jesus got down on the floor and washed his disciples' dirty feet with a towel that He was literally wearing.

How can you help but love Him? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jesus the Almighty

It is one thing to know that someone deeply loves you and wants to take good care of you.  It is one thing, a very nice thing, in fact.

It is another thing, and a better thing, to know that someone who deeply loves you has the absolute unlimited power and authority to be able to take good care of you.

Jesus loves me.  And Jesus has the power to take care of me.

One day Jesus said to his disciples, 
“Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 
So they got into a boat and started out. 
As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. 
But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. 
The boat was filling with water, 
and they were in real danger. 
The disciples went and woke him up, 
shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” 
When Jesus woke up, 
he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. 
Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. 
Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” 
The disciples were terrified and amazed. 
“Who is this man?” they asked each other. 
“When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”
 ~Luke 8:22-25 (NLT)

As a child and ever since, I have never been very afraid of storms.  Sometimes the power of the wind awes me, but I always seem to feel the power of God in the weather.  I cannot fear it with the abject terror that I have of things like dark parking lots, congested city bridges and youths of ill-repute sauntering down dubious urban streets.  Jesus controls the weather.  The wind blows where He sends it, and the rain falls when He tells it to fall.

When Jesus gives a command, even the wind and the waves obey Him.

Jesus is Almighty and able to take care of me in every situation that He allows into my life. 

Here we see Jesus commanding the weather, but the Bible also tells us that He controls the hearts of men.  I do not need to fear even the criminal who may be hiding in the dark parking lot, the crazy drivers on the bridge, or the youths in their low-hung pants.  God has perfect power over them, too.

Of course, I should still be careful.  Just as I should leave the seashore when a hurricane is rolling in, I should not place myself in situations where obvious danger lurks, just to test the providence of God.  But when He brings a storm, or another fearful situation, I can rest in the knowledge that:

  1. He is omniscient.  He knows everything about everything that is happening to each of us, all of the time.
  2. He loves me, and His heart is full of kindness and compassion.
  3. He is omnipotent.  He has all the power and all the authority.  Nobody can thwart Him in caring for me, protecting me, and comforting me.

God has spoken plainly, 
and I have heard it many times: 
Power, O God, belongs to you; 
unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
~Psalm 62:11 (NLT)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jesus the compassionate

I am having rather a bad day.

I needed to shop for health insurance on the national health insurance exchange.  That in itself is a bad day.

Then I found out that they've made dental insurance for children under 21... mandatory.  We have never purchased dental insurance, because we can do math.  When you add up the cost of the monthly premiums over 12 months, it far exceeds the cost of simply paying out-of-pocket for your dental care.

But now it doesn't matter.  If you have any kids under 21, you have to buy them a policy.  If you don't, they won't sell you a regular health insurance policy.  You can buy the dental policy from a different company, but you have to provide proof that you purchased it, or you can't buy health insurance.  And you have to buy health insurance.  This makes me want to scream and tear my hair out.  We are no longer free, people.  We are no longer free.  We are not allowed to make our own decisions anymore.  It's just a matter of time before we aren't allowed to read the Bible.  Mark my words.

So we must remember that Jesus is God, and that He is sovereign.  He loves us, and He already died on the cross to save us.  We are living in a non-permanent age, and the end of this age will come.  At that time, if our faith is in Jesus, we will be ushered into a New Heaven and a New Earth where there will be no more stress, no more sickness, no more pain, no more injustice, no more frustration and no more worry.  There won't be any more health insurance or even any need of it, and to that I say, "Hallelujah."

In preparation, we need to soak our souls in the Word of God.

We need to fall deeply in love with the Christ who gave Himself for us.

We need to shore up our confidence in the omnipotent God who rules the Universe, even though He often seems to let the evil side run with slack.  We must have faith that He has good reasons, and His purpose will stand.  He is wise, loving, just and almighty.  Evil will only continue for as long as He allows it to continue, and then it will come to a decisive end, like a millstone cast into the sea (Revelation 18:21).

We need to know the promises of God and trust in them, because it's going to get worse before it gets better and we need to stand firm through everything that comes.

It helps me to look at scriptures that expose Jesus' heart to me, places where I see His love, kindness and tenderness displayed.  This helps me to love Him and trust Him.  Here's one of my favorites:

Soon afterward 
he [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, 
and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.   
As he drew near to the gate of the town, 
behold, a man who had died was being carried out, 
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow,
and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.   
And when the Lord saw her, 
he had compassion on her 
and said to her, “Do not weep.”   
Then he came up and touched the bier, 
and the bearers stood still. 
And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”   
And the dead man sat up and began to speak, 
and Jesus gave him to his mother.  
~Luke 7:11-15 (ESV)

In this story,
nobody even asked Jesus to do anything.
He just saw,
was filled with compassion,
and acted.

He resonated with the woman's sorrow and hopelessness.
Not only had she lost her beloved son--
she had lost her only source of provision.
But Jesus came to restore the lost,
so He gave her back her son,
her hope,
her joy.

Jesus did not worry about the law that forbade
touching a dead body (Numbers 19:11-13).
Jesus did not make a big deal
about attracting attention,
but neither was He afraid
to step out in front of a crowd of people,
to halt a funeral procession
for the purpose of doing good.

Jesus had a tender heart for the widow
and He has a tender heart for us.
He longs to fill us with hope
and joy,
and He has the power to do it.

This is our Jesus, and we can trust in Him.

My day just got a little bit better.  Or maybe a lot.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jesus loves the little children

This is one of my very favorite Bible stories.

I wonder who told it to me the first time?  Whoever it was, whatever gentle, charitable Sunday school teacher, she must have captured my imagination, because whenever I hear it or read it, to this day, I am transported back to four-years-old, in a dress and lacy anklet socks, sitting bare-legged on a scratchy carpet square.  It is cool and humid in the lower level of the church, and birds sing in the trees on the hill that descends outside the window.

And they were bringing children to him
that he might touch them,
and the disciples rebuked them.
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant
and said to them, “Let the children come to me;
do not hinder them, for to such
belongs the kingdom of God.
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it.”
And he took them in his arms
and blessed them,
laying his hands on them.
~Mark  10:13-16 (ESV)

I have never been blind or deaf or crippled, but I have been a child.  I may not be able to imagine a miraculous healing from a debilitating life condition, but I can imagine being one of those children, taken into the arms of Jesus and blessed.  Loved.  Accepted.  Because somebody told me about Jesus blessing the children when I was very young, I developed an openness to the Lord at an early age. I knew that He loved children, and I assumed that He loved me.  Childlike faith may be related to resting in the assurance of His love.

I am utterly thankful that I was blessed to experience the love of Jesus from such an early age, through my parents and through saints who served at the church we attended.  I know that many people do not share this history, and struggle to feel the assurance of God's love for them.

We can all pray that God will make our hearts like children's hearts,
that we will have an innocent confidence that Somebody loves us 
and we are precious and beautiful in His sight;
that we will trust in His provision
and never doubt His ability to care for us;
that we will be mindful of His watchful eyes on us 
at all times,
and seek to please Him because He is good,
because He loves us and blesses us,
because someday He will take us home to glory.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Two miracles

Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore.  Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. 

When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.  A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding.  She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.  She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe.  For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”  Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But he kept on looking around to see who had done it.  Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”  

While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”  

Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James).  When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing.  He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying.  Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.  Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43 (NLT)

This is one of the stories of Jesus that touches my heart in a special way because of the details.  It is so personal.  I like the version out of Mark.  Even though Mark is usually in a rush to tell his story, he provides us with a surprisingly long account here.  I also like it in The New Living Translation, because it just comes to life.

At the beginning, we meet Jairus, a synagogue leader.  Synagogues were small establishments interspersed throughout the land wherever there were enough Jews to meet together and study God's Word.  They were institutions of learning, and traveling teachers (rabbis) came through to teach at regular intervals.  Jairus, the synagogue leader, would have arranged the schedule of teachers. He had probably arranged for Jesus to teach in his synagogue recently.  Synagogues differed from the Temple in that they were all over, while there was only one temple, in Jerusalem.  Synagogues were also different because they centered on education and learning, while the Temple was a center of worship, where priests performed sacrifices.  There were neither priests nor sacrifices in synagogues.

Jairus came to Jesus pleading for help for his "little daughter."  This initially makes me picture a toddler or preschooler.  At the end of the story, when we learn that the girl is twelve years, old -- on the cusp of adolescence -- we understand even more about Jairus' heart as a father.  This is his baby, regardless of how old she is, and he loves her dearly.  He is so like us, loving our own children, struggling through life full of uncertainty and need, needing Jesus.

Along the way, another event captured Jesus' attention for awhile.  Jairus must have felt impatient at the delay, but I suppose it also encouraged him to see Jesus display both power and compassion for this hapless woman plagued with feminine complaints. 

Leviticus 15:19-30 describes the lot of a bleeding woman.  She was not much better off than a leper.  She was unclean, and everything she touched was unclean, and anyone who touched her was unclean.  This particular woman had been unclean and an outcast from society for twelve years.  She was weak, tired, frightened and desperate.  Despite her unclean state, she joined the throng and made her way to Jesus, whose hem she reached out and touched, believing that it was her only hope.

Jesus could have been angry with her.  No doubt a priest or a pharisee would have condemned her for such an act.  She had hoped she could slip by unnoticed, but Jesus was immediately aware that healing power had gone out of Him, and He did not let it lie.

"Who touched me?" He asked, and his disciples laughed.  The whole crowd was jostling against and around Him.  What did He mean... "Who touched me?"  But He knew there was someone who needed Him, who had received healing, but who needed more than that.

He called her out.  She came trembling, fell at His feet and confessed what she had done.  Perhaps she expected to be punished for touching the Teacher in her unclean state, but Jesus had compassion on her.   

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over,”  He told her, gently.  

He forgave her. He validated her.  He let her know that He healed her gladly, and she no longer had to be ashamed.  He knew that she would have been tormented by the thought of "stealing" her healing from Him, so He lavished grace on her before He let her go.

Then Jesus continued on to the home where Jairus' daughter lay.  Healing the woman had caused a delay.  Messengers came now to inform them that it was no use, the girl had died.

Jesus reassured Jairus.  "Don't be afraid, " He said, "Just have faith."  He was so gentle, so thoughtful and reassuring.  

They arrived at the house, and in a private moment, Jesus took only a small, intimate group of people: Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John.  In their presence, He lifted the girl's hand (don't you love these graspable details?) and raised her from the dead.

And then, then Jesus said, "Get her something to eat."  He was aware of her human need, sympathetic to her physical condition.  He was not distracted by the spiritual realities, although we should understand that they would have been the most significant to Him.  However, Jesus was completely conscious of the earthliness of it all; He understood the human condition in a fallen world.  This girl had just received His miraculous gift of life, but she still required plain old food to keep her going.  Maybe they gave her a piece of pita dipped in olive oil.  Can you imagine how it would have tasted?

There is so much here: healing, love, compassion, sensitivity, kindness.  Jesus allowed people to touch Him, and He touched them, took their hands in His own.  Twelve years of bleeding, He stopped.  Twelve years of a girl's life, He extended.  Jesus even demonstrated respect and care for women, who were not always valued in those times.  We see Jesus' perfect understanding and perfect use of power.

This is Jesus, who came to pour out His life for the salvation of all who will put their faith in Him. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jesus the Healer

When I put my faith in Jesus at the tender age of four, I think that circumstances in my life had conjoined under the will of God to plow up my little heart and make me ready.

Preschool Sunday school and Bible school stories about Jesus had fed my soul.  I knew that He was good and loving, gentle and kind, supernatural and amazing.

I want to do a short series here about Jesus, highlighting the character He displayed while He walked the roads of Judea in the warm, dusty Middle East.

So here is my scripture for today:

Jesus went on from there 
and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. 
And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 
And great crowds came to him, 
bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, 
the mute, and many others, 
and they put them at his feet, and he healed them,
so that the crowd wondered, 
when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, 
the lame walking, and the blind seeing. 
And they glorified the God of Israel.
Matthew 15:29-31 (ESV)

There are other passages like this one, where Jesus had compassion on crowds of people, reaching out to them and healing all who came to Him (see Matthew 14:14 and Mark 6:34). 

Jesus had compassion, and Jesus had power.  When you have both compassion and power, you can do a lot of good.  I wish I had more compassion and more power.  I would love to be a healer.

Jesus still has compassion, and Jesus still has power.  He is on our side, helping us, sustaining us, comforting and healing us.  He is at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34).  He is our advocate and our friend.

When we see Jesus' power at work, we glorify God.  I need to pray that I will see and glorify more.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Thirsting for God

As the deer
pants for streams of water,
so my soul
pants for You, O God.
My soul
thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When can I go
and meet with God?
~Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

When are we thirsty for God?

We are thirstiest for water when we haven't had any,
or when we are hot and exhausted after working hard or running a race.

Perhaps we are thirstiest for God when we have the greatest need for Him.
Perhaps things like depression, trials, sickness and misfortune
are the very things that make us seek hard after God.

Perhaps God allows such things into our lives
precisely in order to whet our appetites for His glory,
so when He meets our need,
we stand amazed in wonder and awe,
loving Him
because we have seen His goodness
in a way we never could have apprehended
if our need had not heightened our awareness.

Some people become angry with God when difficult times come,
bitter and resentful and hard.
Others cling to Him, lean on Him,
cry out to Him day and night.

What makes the difference in a person's response?
This is a great mystery of humanity, divinity,
and perhaps election.

Lord Jesus, please make me thirsty every day.
Please let me awake at sunrise with a desire 
for You, Your Word, Your Spirit, Your presence.
Please don't make me wait until I've been through a famine
before I crave Your grace.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Weeding out

I think about heaven sometimes.

When it's cold, and I'm sad and lonely, I think of being in the warm and wonderful presence of God, all full of happiness and golden light.  I think of the absence of shame and the overwhelming sense of peace I will feel: fully forgiven, fully restored, fully perfected, fully able to apprehend the love He has for me.

Sin has a way of dragging us down in this life, our own sin does it, and so do the sins of people we know, and even the sins of people we only hear about.  Sin begets sin.

I wrote about apologies once, and (theoretically) how people sometimes think they are apologizing when they say, "I am sorry, but I would not have stolen your t-shirt if you had not called me an idiot."  While that is a pitiful apology, a kernel of truth lives in it.  Sin begets sin.  When we mistreat others, they react badly, and when others mistreat us, we often react badly as well.

In heaven, there will be no more sin.  I will not sin, and nobody else will sin either.  Nobody will ever hurt or disappoint or offend anybody ever again, in heaven.  In the glorious presence of the perfect, holy, almighty God of the Universe, we will be freed forever from the curse of sin.

This is so overwhelming to me that it makes a lump rise in my chest and I feel like my breathing and swallowing are all mixed up with each other.

I'd thought through this and deduced it: no sin means that I will not sin against anybody else, and nobody else will sin against me.  We will not sin intentionally or unintentionally.  There will be no more sin, not even any temptation.

I'd figured it out, because it is the logical end of a bunch of the promises of God.

The other day, I also found it written out, in plain language...

The Son of man
will send out His angels,
and they will weed out of His kingdom
everything that causes sin
and all who do evil.
Matthew 13:41 (NIV)

It's a passage about judgment, but I just find so much hope here.

...they will weed out of His kingdom
everything that causes sin...


Friday, January 10, 2014

The Gospel

Grace to you and peace 
from God our Father 
and the Lord Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for our sins 
to deliver us from the present evil age, 
according to the will of our God and Father,
to whom be the glory forever and ever. 
Galatians 1:3-5 (ESV)

I read these verses this morning.  They encouraged me.

Let's look at the gospel message they explain:

The Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins.  This, of course, refers to how He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

Jesus did this according to the will of God.  It was God's plan.  

God planned it; Jesus implemented it; the Holy Spirit delivers it.
"The present evil age" is where we live today, but it is not where we will live forever.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness 
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:13-14 (ESV)

The Gospel is very simple, yet somehow very difficult for some to grasp.

God created humanity so He could display His glory and grace.
Humanity rejected God and pridefully tried to usurp His position.
God was prepared for this; He knew it would happen and He had a plan.
His plan was Jesus, who sacrificed Himself to pay the debt for the sins of all mankind.
Those who hear God's voice will turn to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness. 
Any who come to Him, He will never turn away. 
They will be filled with His Spirit and receive eternal life in His Kingdom. 

You can read more about it here.

Or you can listen to this song

Monday, January 6, 2014

Feeling weak

I don't know whether I have 500 words to write today.  I'm feeling weak.

I made some bread.  White bread, made with bread flour which has extra gluten to give the bread a good texture.  I used white sugar for the yeast to grow on.  There is basically nothing nutritionally redeeming about this bread.  Not one thing.  It's two loaves of pure, unadulterated simple carbohydrates.

During the kneading of the bread, I did something to myself.  I was a month past my surgery yesterday, and I've been feeling a lot better.  The doctor said it was a 4-6 week recovery period.  So I thought, "Goodness.  Maybe I can finally start doing a few things now."  I kneaded bread dough, and I felt a little snap in my midsection, and then I had to go lie down on the sofa for awhile.  My life is so boring.  I am so weak.

My body is weak, as is my resolve.  I ate a piece of the bread, and I don’t know why.  It will probably make me ache tonight.

My emotions are weak, too.  My body, my mind, my spirit.  Everything is weak.  During the night last night, the wind was tearing away at the world outside my house, rattling the siding and shaking the shingles.  I felt afraid, but my mind was too weak and distracted even to pray well.

I am tired, depressed, ashamed.  I wish I could be the woman I long to be: cheerful, competent, wise, able to love people and to comfort, to encourage people and make them happy.  I want to be the kind of person people are eager and excited to see, the mature, giving, sensitive, thoughtful woman of grace.

Instead, I am just struggling, messed-up old me.  I’ve been a Christian for 44 years now, and I am still so shaky and unsure of myself.

There are two verses I cling to, two verses that give me hope in the midst of the reality of the mess that I am.  And there is one verse that gives me hope that I will one day be better.

This verse gives me hope that even the way I am is part of God’s plan, and that somehow He will show His glory through my weakness…

But he [God] said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly
about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

This verse gives me hope that even when I am weak, God can handle the details and work good things out of my life, that He can fashion beauty from the ashes that are me…

And we know
that in all things
God works
for the good
of those who love Him,
who have been called
according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

And finally, this verse gives me hope that someday I will see the effects of God’s hands working on me…

Being confident of this, 
that He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Foolish boasting

Today church was cancelled.  So we studied 2 Corinthians 11 at home, because it would have been our sermon text, had there been church.

We were struck by the message of this chapter.

For if someone comes to you 
and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, 
or if you receive a different spirit 
from the one you received, 
or a different gospel from the one you accepted, 
you put up with it easily enough.
2 Corinthians 11:4 (NIV)

The Corinthians were a lot like us Americans.  They focused on things like success, money, eloquence, influence and power.  False apostles had an easy time leading the Corinthian church astray by appealing to their humanistic and materialistic tendencies.

We do that a great deal of the time as well.  We try to attract people to church by telling them:
  • God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
  • God will help you get your life on track.  
  • God will fix your relationships.
  • God will bless your finances.
  • Christian people are the people to be.  We are the coolest, hippest, most happening guys around, and you want to be part of us... so how about you join our church and become a tithing member?
Paul spoke about how he had never been a financial burden to the Corinthians in verses 7-9.  I think he was probably contrasting his non-materialistic approach to the mercenary approach of the false apostles, criticizing the Corinthians for being so quick to follow men who were obviously acting in self-interest--fleecing them--rather than serving them selflessly in love as Paul had.

Human nature boasts in financial achievement, high positions, fancy vacations, designer clothing, fame, power and dominance.  Paul had already addressed this issue with the Corinthians, reminding them:

But God chose 
the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose
the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
He chose
the lowly things of this world and the despised things
--and the things that are not--
to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before Him.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (NIV)

God is not about aggrandizing humanity.

God is about teaching us to be humble so He can display His power through us, and so when this happens, people will not be confused about where the glory comes from.  It comes from Him.

Jesus set the pattern for this (read Philippians 2, and also Isaiah 53:2-3).

Jesus did not come to be the coolest guy around, nor to attract all kinds of other cool people to His gang so they could all be cool together.  (Or boss or fly or whatever word is used for "cool" these days.)

Jesus came to teach us the way to the Father, and the way to the Father is the narrow way, the way of self denial, the way of humility and shame and persecution.

If I must boast,
I will boast about the things 
that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:30

Paul wants us to know:  it is not about us.  It is about Jesus.

It is not about what we can do; it is about what He can do.

To the unenlightened, this kind of boasting seems foolish,
but to the enlightened, the boasting of worldly successes looks foolish.
And such is the paradox of the gospel.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure 
hidden in a field, 
which a man found and covered up. 
Then in his joy he goes 
and sells all that he has 
and buys that field.  
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like
a merchant in search of fine pearls,  
who, on finding one pearl of great value, 
went and sold all that he had 
and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-45 (ESV)

This is one of my favorite passages, but sometimes I get frustrated with how people interpret it.

They like to say that the treasure in the field is us.  Us.  And they say that God was so excited when he found us that He went off and sold all He had in order to buy us.

My problem with this interpretation is that the parable says, 
the Bible says, 
Jesus said, 
the words say:  
 “The Kingdom of God is like a treasure.”   
God’s kingdom is a treasure.  The man who apprehends this truth joyfully casts aside worldly distractions to pursue the kingdom of God, to pursue God Himself.  Putting it the other way around simply does not follow the sense of the words in the text.

Anyway, the second story does mean what they want the first one to mean.  We know because the second one says, “The Kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of pearls.”  Here we see the Lord (symbolized by the merchant) seeking His people, and spending the blood of His only begotten Son to buy them for Himself.

These two stories are side-by-side because they are two sides of the same coin.  God is a treasure of infinite, unfathomable value for us, and somehow, by some strange, inexplicable miracle of grace, we are a treasure to Him as well, worth the sacrifice of His beloved Son.