Grace is enough

Some days I don’t feel much like a new creation.

Probably everyone who believes has those kind of days–days where you feel subject to your base, primal urges, instead of having them be subject to you, and to God.  Or maybe I’ll just get really angry at someone in traffic, or in line at the grocery store.  You know what I mean?  There’s always going to be someone who cuts you off, or who brings 37 items into the express lane.

My first response to these people is always anger, and never grace.  At the least, I want to yell at them.  I want to try and make them understand they’re an idiot, and I’ve been horribly inconvenienced.

I don’t do it, but I want to.

The injustice of it all.

And it feels like simply wanting to do those things is sin.  It is.

If God knows my every thought, and numbers the hairs on my head (well, he did when I had hair.  Maybe he counts my eyelashes now), then wouldn’t he know that I want to do a flying sidekick into some old lady’s face in Albertsons because she didn’t start making out her check before she got to the cash register?

Of course he would.

Or how about if or when I spot some attractive young woman walking on the street and let my mind wander for a second?  Or think about being intimate with a significant other?

While it’s true that the former potential situation feels more sinful than the latter as I write it, both of them actually feel that way sometimes, depending on the context.

The truth is that there are certainly untold number of situations that could or would feel sinful, and when I’m in them, I feel miles from God.  I don’t feel like a new creation.  I don’t feel cleansed by the blood of Christ. 

I feel dirty as hell.  I feel tainted by the world.


                  (…..What can wash away my sin?
                           Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
                                     What can make me whole again?
                                                Nothing but the blood of Jesus….)

But the Word promises that isn’t the case, if I know Jesus.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through faith in his blood.” Romans 3: 23-25

He was sacrificed, for my atonement.  He IS sacrificed for my atonement.  Daily, His blood makes me clean, even when I don’t feel that way.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6: 1-4

Live a new life.  I get to live a new life.  I want to live a new life, subject to the will of God, and not to sin.

and then this, from 2 Corinthians 17-21:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We might become the righteousness of God? 

Imagine that.

Change the world

I never wanted to change the world. 

I would look at it sometimes and see that it needed changing, and in some cases, really was a horrible freaking place.  But even at those times, I could see that the best I could do was try and change my own personal world, or perhaps better said, ask God to change it.

If he can change me, and my world, and set me on a path that would cause me to interact with others that could or would be impacted by my story, then he can do the same for anyone else, if they but ask.  So what I have been moved to do of late is to simply tell people what God has done–and how He’s changed me.

Maybe it’s like Pastor Mike says, and someone is out there waiting to hear my story.  I don’t know.  I just know I want to tell people about it.  I am changed, and I continue to change, thanks to the Holy Spirit working in my life.  I continue to heal. 

And lately, that healing has been especially moving and powerful.  God has sent a person to me, an amazing, beautiful woman of God, a woman that is helping me to heal one of my most painful wounds–my heart.  She’s a blessing, and I can’t believe that I’m with her sometimes.

But I am. 

We got to worship together this past weekend, and it was hopefully a portent of things to come.  I look forward to finding out. My world is changing….

Lately, it seems like the blessings are piling up for me.  I haven’t done anything special to deserve them, yet there they are.

I am so thankful…

Taken from the “stuff Christians like” website…

#397. Feeling too small for God.

The world is pretty big. There are a lot of countries, with millions and millions of square miles of people and land and ocean. The universe is even bigger than that. I’ve never been but from the photos I’ve seen it’s massive. Pathways of stars, belts of black holes and galaxies and planets. It’s just endless, and somewhere up there, God knows your boyfriend broke up with you.

Maybe He doesn’t. I mean, maybe He’s up there and He’s working on really big stuff. He’s healing famines and trying to bring peace to war torn lands. The greatness of His issues makes your little issues look ordinary and simple and maybe even boring.

But every now and then I come across a verse that shakes my deep belief that I am beneath God’s radar. One that I love is Psalm 56:8. Here, in what hopefully makes me look pretty smart, is the King James Version:

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

But maybe you’re not old school, so here’s what the New Living Translation says:

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I think that’s beautiful. Can you imagine that? Can you picture God doing that? Taking His giant hands and tenderly picking up every single one of your tears? Knowing why they came, understanding what they mean, placing them in His bottle, so that He can comfort you.

That’s how God spends his days.

That’s how small this big universe is.

The Face of Jesus

So today I got this email, and it was full of really nice, valid sentiments, and several really good points I need to be reminded about on a regular basis.  But that isn’t what this is about.  I just noticed something and I was wondering if anyone else notices the same kind of thing I did…

at the bottom of the email, there was a picture of Jesus–well, more like a copy of a painting, which looked very much like any of probably a million paitings you see in Catholic churches and households all around the world.  The part of that which I found interesting was that the Jesus in the painting did not look like someone born in Bethlehem, and noted as being a Nazarene Carpenter (“can anything good come from Nazareth?”).  No.  He looked like a white guy about 6 feet tall, with blue eyes and honey-colored hair, who could have been a starting point guard for the Jerusalem Globetrotters.

But if that isn’t what Jesus looked like, what did he look like?   And does it even matter?  It doesn’t matter to me.  I couldn’t find anything much in the Bible that described him.  But take a look at Isaiah 53: 2 ” 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him…

Does that sound like the guy from Jesus Christ Superstar?  Not to me.

I think he would have been of average size.  I think he would have probably been dark complected, or at least very tanned.  It’s the desert, for pity’s sake.  His hands would have been callused and strong from his work.  His feet, and robes would probably have been dirty from walking across his corner of the world.  If the above quoted old testament prophecy is to be believed, he would have been a perfectly ordinary-looking middle eastern man in his early thirties.

But this passive-looking gentleman with blue eyes?  I really doubt it.  I wonder who first came up with this “version” of Jesus?

You don’t see the man who upended tables in the temple, and made a whip from cords in those kinds of pictures.  You don’t see a man who weeps desperately for the people he’s come to save.  You don’t see a man carrying the heaviest of burdens.  No. 

If I may turn again to Isaiah:

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

How in the world would you depict a man like that?  Do you create features, and assign personality to them?  Do you represent the Light of the World solely as a mild-looking shepherd with a sheep across his back, or walking along patting little kids on the head?  How can you convey what he really looks like?  The answer is, you can’t.  You just can’t.

I saw a picture of a statue a few years ago, by some Danish or Northern European sculptor whose name escapes me.  I don’t know what the sculpture was made of, but it depicted a perfectly normal looking man, sitting on a stool and teaching.  His head is slightly bent, as he is speaking to a few children sitting in a semi-circle around him at his feet.  You can see the man’s entire body as he sits on the stool, except for his face, which is obscured by his longish hair hanging in front of it.  The children gaze raptly up at him, and the caption at the base of the statue reads:

If you want to see the face of Jesus, you have to sit at his feet.”

The invalid

The Healing at the Pool (John 5: 1-8)

 1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.[b] 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

 7“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

 8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

I was listening to an online sermon a short while back that was about this incident (an Aussie evangelist named Tim Hall), and it made me think a lot.  The story goes that every once in a while, an angel would stir the waters of this pool, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.  If you were fortunate enough to be the first person in the water after it was stirred, you would be healed.  John does not specifically mention other instances of healing, but considering how many people would hang out around the pool waiting for the water to stir, having no idea when that might be, suggests it had to have happened at least a few times.

On the other hand, the word also could have spread through a sort of middle-eastern grapevine, and not actually ever have happened.  Maybe it was some sort of mineral spring, and the stirring of the water was brought about through some sort of underground venting of air, or water of a different temperature that would cause the water to be disturbed.  In any case, John only relates the point of view of the invalid.

I just love how Jesus asks him “Do you want to get well?”

The invalid doesn’t know who Jesus is at this point, and as far as John relates, Jesus does not identify himself–he probably just stepped carefully over and around the other sick and injured people and made his way this particular man.  Think about what that must have been like for a minute.  Here is a pool, surrounded by men, women and children in varying stages of illness, and probably dying in many cases.  There would have been a lot of people, on a lot of mats.  There would have probably been moaning, and crying.  Praying, too.  Probably lots of that.  And all these sick, diseased, and dying people waiting for something to maybe happen.

I would imagine no one would want to be anywhere near this place–it had to have been like a leper colony (and I would hazard a guess there would have been a few lepers there, too).  Yet here comes Jesus, walking right into this place of sickness, right to this particular man.  And asking him if he wants to get well.

Tim Hall mentions that a lot of times, we’re like that invalid, waiting most of our lives for the water to be stirred. 

I think that’s so true.  Of course I can only speak for myself, but in thinking about it, of course I’ve done that.  I’ve certainly felt like an invalid for a large portion of my life, at least, a spiritual invalid of sorts.  I’ve sat back and watched as things happened in other people’s lives and wondered why they hadn’t happened in mine.  Wondered why every time things got stirred up, I was always the last one into the water.

I guess the question is: Did I want to be well?

The answer is that sometimes I didn’t.  I was comfortable in my sickness, because I knew it, and knew what to expect of it.  I knew all too well what life was like as an invalid, and was truthfully not that interested in the alternative.  What would happen if the water was stirred and I got into the pool?  How would my life change?  What would healing feel like?

And how would I stir the water?  Somehow I always knew it was wrong to simply sit there and wait for it to happen.  Yet that is what I did. 

People say that God helps those who help themselves.  I’m not really even sure how true that is, but I think it’s true that Jesus wants us to be active participants in our own healings.  He will not arbitrarily step in and just go “Bam!,” like Emeril.  And while he will kick things up a notch, he won’t do it unless we ask him to.  I think one of the greatest gifts we receive from Jesus is the opportunity to choose Him over ourselves, to “lean not on our own understanding,” as proverbs says.  And he desperately wants us to lean on His.  Every time I wonder if that’s true, I try and think about Calvary.

Who would do that for anyone?  I wouldn’t.  And who’s water would I stir?  The truth of that is I’m too concerned with watching the damn pool for myself.  I suppose the question of the day is how do I get around that?

I ask Jesus to stir the water of my pool.  I ask Him to take my hand and help me get off my mat.  And if I don’t get the answer I want right away, I ask again.

                                                             And again.

                                                                     And again.

Jesus rewards perseverance.  You find that everywhere in the bible.

So, comfortable as I am on my mat, waiting for waters to stir, I can’t spend the rest of my life there–I’ve already been doing that for more than 38 years.

So do I want to get well?

Yes.  Yes.  And yes.

Stir my water, Lord.

Verse of the day

Actually, psalm of the day would probably be more accurate.  From The Message:

Psalm 51

 1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
   Scrub away my guilt,
      soak out my sins in your laundry.
   I know how bad I’ve been;
      my sins are staring me down.

 4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
   You have all the facts before you;
      whatever you decide about me is fair.
   I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
      in the wrong since before I was born.
   What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
      Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
      scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
   Don’t throw me out with the trash,
      or fail to breathe holiness in me.
   Bring me back from gray exile,
      put a fresh wind in my sails!
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
      so the lost can find their way home.
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
      and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
   Unbutton my lips, dear God;
      I’ll let loose with your praise.

 16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
      a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship
      when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

 18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in,
      repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
   Then you’ll get real worship from us,
      acts of worship small and large,
   Including all the bulls
      they can heave onto your altar!

Articulation is…..

So I noticed another problem I have on Saturday night.  In the grand scheme of things, held up to my other quirks and idiosyncracies, this one is probably not as glaring as some, but it was nonetheless something important, I think.  Something I needed to know about myself.

It’s difficult for me to articulate my needs.  Very difficult.  Maybe not so much when it’s something like a pepper shaker, or a glass of water.  But otherwise?  Very difficult, indeed.

There was this meeting for a ministry I’m involved in, and when it came time to talk directly to the leaders about not only their “performance,” but what we’d like to see from the ministry and them, and how we could possibly improve on our own areas that needed improvement, I clammed up for a few minutes.

One of the other team members had spoken shortly before that about asking God for help in improving the ability to deal with conflict in a workplace situation.  That was like a light going on in my giant head.  I tried to do that while I was sitting there, and the thought just sort of came to me to “just say it,” as in just say my need.

So I did.  And it was awkward, and it came out a little rough, but it came out.  Whether or not that need is fulfilled by the leaders remains to be seen.  It just made me wonder, though, why it was so tough to tell them (and anyone, for that matter) what I needed, or wanted, or even hoped for.  I don’t know.

Is it because I feel like they weren’t listening, and wouldn’t help me even if they were?  Possibly.  Prior experience with this couple had not left me feeling particularly heard, and being heard is one of my “things.”

But that didn’t feel like all of it.  Is it also because deep down somewhere, I still feel like when I ask someone for something I really, really need, I don’t deserve help?  Maybe some of that, too.

And in that way of thinking, is that something I believe of God as well?  That I don’t deserve his help?  Well, it’s hard to argue the truth of that one–I don’t.  Nobody does.  But isn’t the truth that you don’t help those you love because they deserve to be helped–you help them because you love them.  And if I believe in my heart that I am loved, whether it be by God, or my friends, it should not be so difficult to ask for their prayers, or to tell them what I need from them as friends, or leaders.  It should not be so difficult to articulate me needs to the Lord.

Anyway, I guess it’s a lot of things.  It gives me plenty to pray about, for sure.  And it lets me know where a few more places are I need God’s light shed on, places that are in need of healing.  So I guess it’s good I went to that meeting–I didn’t want to.  My first instinct was to say “screw it,” and walk away….

Verse of the day

This morning I read from Zechariah.  Wasn’t sure exactly why, until I saw this verse from Chapter 1:

Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty

Zechariah 1: 3. 

Return to me, and I will return to you. 

No matter where I go, or how far from Jesus I feel, if I but return to Him, he will return to me.  Amazing….

I read more after that, but I think that was the part I needed to see the most.

struggling a little

Something happened a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure exactly what it was.  All I can say is ever since then, I’ve felt like my old self again, and that isn’t a good thing.  I think it started at the last regular evening of Healing Prayer.  I didn’t receive prayer–I led a prayer session.  So it was actually after the prayer session, on the way home.  We talk about being triggered all the time, but it didn’t really feel like that.  It hadn’t been a particularly emotional session, but the person receiving the prayer that night got a few good truths from the Lord, and more importantly, some direction.  It was nice to be there for that.  But I got to thinking on the way home, something like I’d done a bad job, and should not have been leading at all.  That the Lord could not use me in such a context.  That my prayers were feeble, and did not matter.  Many more like that.  I didn’t recognize it as an attack at the time, though I’m able to see that now, with the 20/20 vision hindsight provides.

On second thought, I guess I was triggered. It had nothing to do with the guy in the session.  I recognized it as my own stuff coming up to bite me in the ass once again.  Yet I was not able to get rid of it this time, and even though I recognized the previously mentioned statements as lies, they felt true that night.  They still feel true.

The next week Healing Prayer had our end-of-season party, and I thought about trying to talk to one of the guys there, but wasn’t quite able to do it.  The context didn’t seem right to get serious, and I had a small sort of…run-in with the person in question.  Not really even a run-in, but I tried to talk to him once or twice and found him extremely cool, and nearly aloof.  Not approachable at all.  This is something we’d had difficulty with in the past, but I thought those times were in the past.  And that probably small event, became something larger, because it seemed to reinforce everything I’d been thinking about myself just a few days before.

So instead of talking to someone else, or trying to pray about it, I just went home feeling pretty much the same as I had been going in, and rather than trying to combat the lies I’d been hearing in my heart, I let them be, figuring I’d just get over it.  Of course, rather than helping, this only reinforced them.

So where I’ve been this week is feeling completely apathetic about nearly everything.  Haven’t been praying much.  Don’t care.  Haven’t been reading much.  Ditto.  Eating badly again–so what?  I have a vacation coming up, and I should be excited about it–I’m not.  I hate that I feel this way about everything, because it feels like weakness, and I hate feeling weak.  It reminds me of being a kid.  I’m not a kid.

Anyway, I hate writing this kind of thing.  But maybe part of strength is knowing the areas where you are a little weaker, and being able to ask for help.  I feel like I need a little help with this one.  And even now, I’m getting a very strong inclination not to post this, not to ask anyone to pray.  So that’s why I’m going to.  The previous lengthy paragraphs are so you can have an idea about how my mind’s working, and where I am right now.

So for those of you who read my slop, toss up a quick prayer.  I’m trying to do that myself.  I guess it’s a good thing I’ll be getting back to “talking to someone” later on this month. Good times!

There’s nothing worse than feeling completely powerless.  Not that I felt powerFUL before.  But still…

Stuff I like #11–Prayer

A while back, I had lunch with the gentleman in charge of the single’s ministry at CVCF. I’m on the planning/leadership team for that ministry, and to say that it’s been a chore so far would be the understatement of the year. Now, I understand that ministry is never easy, I do. And nothing good is easy. I understand all that. But the single’s ministry has thusfar transcended all types and categories of annoyance for me. It has been passion-sapping, to tell you the truth.

Anyway, back to the lunch. One of the things we discussed was about the people on the team finding things they’re passionate about to do. And something about passionate people being attracted to other passionate people (not in a romantic sort of way). So I didn’t really go looking for it, but over the course of the last year, I think I found the thing I’m most passionate about, that I love doing more than any of the other ministry type things I’ve done.

Praying for people.

Whether in the context of a theophostic Healing Prayer session, or simply just praying for people, I love doing it. I feel empowered doing it. I feel right doing it. I feel that when I’m praying for someone, I’m closer to doing what God has for me than any other time. I’m not claiming any extraordinary power, by any means. I’m no healer. No pastor. Not even a lay counselor.

But when I pray for someone, or for the church, or simply just intercede during a prayer session, I feel so incredibly in touch with the Holy Spirit. It’s awesome. Of course, I can’t attest to whether or not my prayers mean much at all to the people I’m praying for, all I know is it’s the closest I come to Jesus.

I still feel a little awkward in a prayer circle, or at a prayer meeting, and sometimes I probably run off at the mouth a little too much. Something I’m working on. Only prayed at the altar for someone one time, but it was a really moving experience. Many of the deacons and elders were at a retreat of some sort, so we small group leaders got drafted to pray after the service for those who wanted prayer. I sat there for a minute or two, and it seemed like nobody was going to come over to me, which was OK, because I was pretty nervous. But then a slender woman a few years older than me made a beeline for me, and I got up to greet her.

Turns out she was very ill with lung cancer, and I was at a loss for a moment. Then I just asked God how I should pray for her, and after a moment got a pretty clear indication of the way I should go. I could really feel the Holy Spirit–the air was practically crackling. I think it moved me more than her, but I haven’t really been the same since then.

There’ve been a few opportunities since then, and it’s been thrilling every time in a different way. I get to see Jesus do amazing work in people’s lives (and make no mistake, it’s all him).

Then last week after soaking prayer (where someone comes in and plays worship music) before Healing Prayer began, a woman I hadn’t seen in a while came up to me after the music stopped playing. She’s someone I’ve always been a little intimidated by in regard to prayer–she’s just this amazing, powerful, Godly woman, who’s overcome a great many personal difficulties just to so much as walk around. Anyway, she came up me and asked if I had any anointing oil. She didn’t know what had happened during the worship time, but something had, and she wanted to pray over it and seal it.

I told her I’d left it up front, but I could go get it if she’d like. She said that she would.

So I went and got it, and sat down next to next to her, put my hand on her shoulder, and leaned in to pray so she could hear me–the room was filling up, and it had gotten a little noisy. I felt tentative as I began to pray, and stammered a bit to start. I asked God once again how I should pray, and immediately got the sense I should just pray.

So I did, and as I prayed, I felt the tentativeness leave, and was able to continue. While I spoke quietly next to her ear, I could also hear her praying in mine. Like the time at the altar with the sick woman, it was totally electric for me. And at the end of it, she gave me a hug and left.

And I realized, I want to do this. It feels right. I want to pray for people. I enjoy praying for people, and I enjoy witnessing the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives, and in mine.

So that’s what I like most. That’s what I’m passionate about. I’ll see where it takes me.