Monday, May 25, 2015

An Empty Balloon

When Bryan was two years old, he loved balloons. I remember one time when he had just gotten two new balloons, I asked him if he wanted me to blow them up for him. He held them tightly in his little hand and said no. When I asked him why not, the joyful smile drain from his face and his eyes glistened with almost tears. “Because Mom, if you blow them up they will pop and I won’t have them anymore.” His sadness was so deep, I am still moved by the memory of it.

Yesterday was Pentecost and the preacher explained to the kids in the Children’s Sermon that we are like empty balloons and cannot fulfill our purpose until we are filled with the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit. I heard someone behind me joke about how you could fill it with water too. I wonder if she realized how profound a statement she made because we as human beings have been trying to fill ourselves with all kinds of thing besides God’s Spirit since Adam and Eve and we have been missing the mark ever since. All of our lives we fight to be independent from our very first no. Our sinfulness has made self-sufficiency our goal and our god. Yet God never intended us to go it alone. He made us to work together. He made us to be dependent on Him always—our lives, our sustenance, the very air we breathe are from His hand.

An empty balloon is safe. It will never float away, pop, or shrivel up and deflate with age but it will also never know the wide-eyed marvel or joyful laughter of a child playing with his beloved balloon. It will never know the exhilaration of flying through the air and it will never proudly wear the scars and wrinkles of a balloon that has fulfilled its purpose, the reason it was created.

Holy Spirit, fill me. I don’t want to be an empty balloon. You created me for a purpose which can only be accomplished in your power. Fill me with your love, strength, wisdom and grace. Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Servant's Prayer

I’m sinful and unworthy,
yet You have called me Your own.
You exchanged Your righteousness
for my sinfulness
and nailed it to the cross
in Your sacrifice
to satisfy Your holy judgement
which was upon me.
Fill me Lord Jesus.
Pour your Spirit over
and in me.
Fill me with Your Holy Fire,
with passion for Your Word
and thirst for Your righteousness.
May Your holiness radiate
from deep within my heart
for all to see.
Let Your compassion
live in my actions and words.
Let Your undeserved grace
be my fuel, my power,
my offering to a broken world
that they might see You in me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Regret

A few years ago, I took part in an action that I now deeply regret. It started me on a journey that redefined how I understand “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” and how I understand the nature and responsibility of the Church. I was on the governing body of my local church when we made the decision to exclude a group of people from leadership in the church. We were so well-intentioned. We were trying to honor God by drawing a line in the sand and holding fast to biblical principle as we understood it and in doing so we singled out this one sin among the rest…making it the unforgivable sin among all sins. Shortly after this, God brought me to Matthew 23:23-24:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

My heart was convicted. Here I am – a sinner. A woman who had a child out of wedlock and not one but two divorces under my belt. By all holy and righteous biblical standards, I never should have been considered for, let alone asked to become an Elder. And not only did I serve but I was often commended by my peers and my pastors for my work. How could I turn around and tell another person that their particular sin prohibits them from living out God’s call on their life in the church, but mine doesn’t. Now before you go defending me…but your sin was in the past and forgiven and all that sanctifying stuff…Adultery was not my only sin. I am also a liar. I tell untruths from time to time and I lied during the time I was serving as leader of my church. And there were other sins I committed while serving as leader, some of which I still struggle with, but those didn’t prohibit me from being a leader in the eyes of the church.

In our human need to categorize everything, we’ve placed some sort of artificial hierarchy to our sinful acts. Consider this: The sinful act that separated us from God forever was the eating of a piece of fruit when God said not to. In our human understanding of right and wrong, that kind of thing is punishable by 5 minutes in time-out, but in God’s eyes, it was bad enough to cast us out away from his sight for eternity. By excluding these people until they got their act together, we were implying that we were somehow more holy, more righteous than they. Here’s how Jesus put it in Luke 18:9-14:  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

But wait you say…the tax collector knew he was a sinner and was repentant. These people we relegated to the outer courts of our temple weren’t and aren’t repentant and insist that they are no different than us. They don’t see themselves as poor wretches any more than we do but by our action we announced ourselves to be better, more holy, and closer to God than they. 

 Jesus talks about this too, in John 9:39-41:  Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”
Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

People who seek to love God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves and yet are blind to the sin in their life that is so blatantly obvious to others—that’s all of us! Whatever the sin, it doesn’t make any one of us too sinful for God’s grace to cover or too “spiritually misguided” to answer God’s call to be in or to serve within the body of Christ.  We are all being molded into Christ image, in his timing, in his way, by his hand, and we all need his grace to redeem us every moment of our lives just as much as the first time we fell on our knees and declared with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9)

I’ve deliberately tried not to reveal the “sin” that we leaders deemed as qualifier of who is and isn’t good enough to lead God’s people in that church because it doesn’t matter what it was or is. It’s not the action of sin but the core of our own sinfulness in which our actions originate that equally separates each and every one of us from God. It isn’t the good we do or our efforts to not do bad that brings us back into his Presence, but the unlimited grace revealed in a single act by God himself on the cross. He endured our “time-out” so that we could again enter his presence redeemed—all of us.

Matthew 9:13
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)

“Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (MSG)

“Learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, not sacrifices.’ I’ve come to call sinners, not people who think they have God’s approval.” (GW)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sinner's Anonymous Meets the Atomic Bomb

It helps me to think of the Church as being one big “Sinners Anonymous” gathering. We are all sinners, whether we are sinning at the moment or not. It’s who we are. When we admit that we can’t do anything about it and that we need God to get us through the next minute without sinning, we are finally at a point where we can begin to live our lives with some clarity and purpose. We are not left helpless to wallow in our own sinfulness. Sin can be so intoxicating that sometimes we give into it because we want to. It can disguise itself so well that we may not realize how close we are until we are already in it. That’s where God’s eternal grace and forgiveness comes in. Each time we admit our relapse, we just start fresh, learn from our mistakes, and grow in wisdom and strength. Because we all face the same struggle, we can be each other’s strength in weak moments and loving admonishment in moments of weakness.

That’s a great analogy but sin is more than just an addiction. Sin entered the world and permeated the very soul of mankind like radiation from a nuclear bomb. I grew up in the 70s and early 80s towards the end of the cold war. Unlike my parent’s generation, we knew that hiding under our desks or in some backyard reinforced cement hole in the ground was not going to protect us if the enemy dropped a nuclear bomb anywhere near us. If we were lucky enough to live far enough away from the blast zone, we wouldn’t instantly burn to ashes, but the radiation would contaminate the environment and survivors on a molecular level forever mutating whatever lives. The sinfulness that entered the world with the bomb of that first sinful act is like the radiation that forever mutated the soul of mankind.

To think that we could eradicate sinfulness from our hearts by simply trying not to sin is foolish. Only God can make clean what sin has stained and he did that in the Person of Jesus who died on a cross for us to satisfy God’s justice. He rose from the dead unraveling the bonds of sin that restrain us. In the mystery of God’s power and grace, he redeems us and is transforming the very fabric of our souls from sinfulness into holy temples of His Presence. He is in our hearts from the first moment of salvation, but the redeeming and transformation is a lifetime endeavor. God in us is eradicating the old and creating the new every day. Our work is to encourage each other and pick each other up along the way.

I am sinful by nature of my humanity and by looking through the sinfulness of others and reaching out to them as Jesus does with love and grace and without reservation, I hope to show a little of the light Jesus has brought into my heart and life. I’ll have to tear down the righteous walls I’ve put up in the past if I am going to be able to look them in the eyes and embrace them with the love of Jesus. I’m going to risk the accusations of giving in, giving up, letting the world invade my theology, and accepting or supporting what the Bible calls sin because that’s what Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well, with the tax collectors, lepers, insurrectionists and all the other people the “good and religious” people of his day called unclean and unworthy. I am going to answer the call on my heart to love others with a love that is patient and kind; A love that isn’t envious, boastful, proud and that doesn’t dishonor others; A love that is not self-seeking, will not easily anger, and keep no records of wrongs; A love that will not delight in evil and rejoices in the truth. Love that always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres—a love that never fails. At least I’m going to try my best and lean on God’s forgiveness and grace when I fail to love in the way God’s word shows me to love—God first and all others next.