Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Spiritual Foot-Washing?

The movie "The Second Chance", produced by Provident Films (Facing the Giants, Fireproof), is about Ethan Jenkins (played by Michael W. Smith), a musician-turned-pastor who's rocking the pulpit and his well-to-do suburban flock. When the church board sends him on sabbatical, Ethan decides to help Second Chance Community Church, an inner-city fellowship. But the church's Pastor Jake resents Ethan's arrival and their prejudices cause a bit of discord between them.

There is a scene in the movie where the character named Sonny washes the feet of his friend Tony. The point of this scene did not really click with me until today. In an earlier scene, Sonny, a mentally challenged church custodian admonishes his friend Tony for using the word "hell." Tony had been beat up for refusing to join a gang. Sonny washes Tony's feet after reading his bible and apparently being convicted. I'm assuming from the scene that he had read John 13:1-20 where Jesus washes his disciples' feet At the end of the scene, you will see that Ethan appears visually humbled (convicted) by the demonstration and gets up to follow suit and wash the feet of Pastor Jake. Until this moment, Ethan, a popular musician, had considered himself somewhat above the task of helping a struggling inner city church, as if his popularity somehow gave him the power to do so.

Here's where I'm going with this:

I initially wrote this post a few weeks ago and actually posted it; but then for some reason, felt compelled to delete it. I think the reason came to me today. I've been angry with my son for his seemingly lack of appreciation for all the help we've given him and his wife over the last few months in letting them live with us until they could both become gainfully employed and get into their own residence. I admonished him for what looked to me like a lack of appreciation based on my own attitude that I was some sort of "savior" for helping them. I arrogantly placed myself on a pedestal above them, somehow thinking that I deserved a display of appreciation from them.

Jesus did not consider himself above anyone despite the fact that in reality, he is above all; He is God. (See Philippians 2:1-11) In John 13:16, Jesus says: I tell you for certain that servants are not greater than their master, and messengers are not greater than the one who sent them. I think this is the point of the foot washing scene in the movie, and in the passage.

None of us—followers of Christ—are greater than the messenger. Jesus' act of loving servitude demonstrates to me that it's more honorable to be at the bottom of the hierarchy than the top. No matter what my station in life is, Prince or Pauper, King or Jester, President or Page, Master or Slave, Helper or Helped, I am not above anyone. Jesus—God—demonstrated that even he was no greater than anyone, even Judas who was about to betray him. Who am I to consider myself any greater than that?

To my son and his wife (Father and Mother to be): please accept my humble apology for placing myself in some sort of savior role. I am no greater than anyone and certainly no greater than you. You both have busted your butts to find jobs and take the step towards independence. It was rather arrogant for me to believe it was because of something I did. I humbly beg your forgiveness. I love you both and am proud you. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Pain of Denial

I was listening to an older song by Third Day called “Can’t Take the Pain” (lyrics below). This song is about Peter’s denial of Christ (Matthew 26:69-75) and the pain he felt afterward; and how that pain doesn’t compare to the pain Jesus suffered for him. I think God used this song to speak to my heart. I can’t escape it. Here’s what he said: “Every time you sin, you deny my Son. Every time you get full of yourself, you deny my Son. Every time you think you’re doing fine without me, you deny my Son. Every minute you don’t cry out to me, you deny my Son.”

The last verse strikes me particularly hard. I can’t even fathom why Jesus would suffer for me or for all. I am so completely unworthy of it, yet He suffered scourge and crucifixion anyway. “But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful” (Romans 5:8, Contemporary English Version). It grieves my heart to imagine that every time I sin I’m denying Him.

In an earlier post (Bound & Broken, March 9, 2009) I mentioned that my prayer was for a broken and contrite heart. Hmm…

No, I didn't see this one coming
It suddenly snuck up on me
I can't say you didn't tell me so
I can't say you didn't warn me

I can't take the pain of knowing that I left You
I can't bear the shame of knowing I was wrong
But I'll take the blame for everything that I've done
I can't take the pain of leaving you alone
Of leaving you alone

I was there when they accused you
but I guess I was too afraid
Not just once and not just twice
But three times I denied your name

I never thought I'd get even a second chance
But you've given that and so much more
And then for every time I ever did deny
You ask me if I love you, You know I do, Lord

So I'm off to follow in your steps
it won't be easy, it's safe to say
There are only tow roads I can walk on down
The road less traveled is the one you paved

Lord, You took the pain even though I left You
And You took the shame and You made it all Your own
Why'd you take the blame for everything that I've done?
Lord, You took the pain
You and You alone, You and You alone

Authors: Brad Avery, David Carr, Mac Powell, Mark Lee, Tai Anderson
Copyright 1999 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)
Vandura 2500 Songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Broken & Bound (revised)

Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners

I was reminded of this passage this morning. The one part that really struck me was “...He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...” This of course brought to mind other passages that talk about being brokenhearted.

Isaiah 57:15
For this is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
"I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Psalm 34:17-18
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;

he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 51:16-17
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The thought that really struck me was this: What does it take? There are so many who are suffering egregiously. Just listen to or read news headlines on any given day and you will see for yourself. What does it take to be so brokenhearted that we have no choice but to follow God? One definition of brokenhearted I found was “broken to pieces.” How many pieces does my heart have to be broken into before I surrender everything to God?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Was Blind, But Now I See

My wife and I have been looking at John 9 this week in preparation for our small group bible study. This is early in Jesus ministry where He heals the blind man near the pool of Siloam. A question that came to mind was: why didn’t Jesus just heal the blind man physically and spiritually at the same time? Why did he allow the blind man to go through all the trouble of being interrogated by the fellow townspeople and the Pharisees?

Having been blind from birth, the blind man knew nothing but darkness, both physically and spiritually. It seems apparent in later verses (18-23) that his parents never provided any spiritual teaching to their son other than Jewish law and tradition. In their fear of being expelled from the synagogue they punted right back to their son when confronted about his healing. Jesus had to allow the man to go through a barrage of interrogation in order that all the skepticism could be quashed. The blind man finally got there in verses 25, 30-33.

25 The man replied, "I don't know if he is a sinner or not. All I know is that I used to be blind, but now I can see!"
30 "How strange!" the man replied. "He healed my eyes, and yet you don't know where he comes from.
31 We know that God listens only to people who love and obey him. God doesn't listen to sinners.

32 And this is the first time in history that anyone has ever given sight to someone born blind.
33 Jesus could not do anything unless he came from God."
(Contemporary English Version)

Even the Pharisees came to a point when they could no longer deny that a miraculous healing had occurred, which is why they resorted to attacking the blind man personally. They had no intention of extending any grace to the blind man, so they accused him of hypocrisy and threw him out of the temple (v. 34). I think the man’s heart was finally changed in this moment. Jesus’ grace went beyond just the physical healing and He came back to the man later; after the man’s heart became ready to receive Him; and extended to him the grace of salvation. The blind man was finally healed of his spiritual blindness.

The light bulb lit up for me today, or to quote Chef Emeril Lagasse, “Bam!!! The Lord hit me hard with these questions today:
How often do I refuse to extend the same kind of grace?
How often to I refuse to be “spiritually enlightened” because I’m to pig headed and self-absorbed to look beyond my own view and see the grace of God?

I was blind, but now I see! Thank you Jesus!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Forgiveness Revisited?

One day a few years ago, I was listening to a talk radio program similar to Focus on the Family, where they have a guest who had written a book or had some amazing testimony. The guest was a woman (Sonia Jacobs?) who years ago, along with her husband had been convicted of a murder they didn’t commit and they were subsequently sentenced to death. As I recall the story (and I could me misremembering some facts) both of them went through years of appeals to no avail and eventually the husband was executed. After this some facts that would exonerate both of them were uncovered. At this point the woman’s death sentence was commuted, but she remained in prison. Some years later the evidence was looked at and she won her appeal and release from prison, fully exonerated. However, the damage had already been done; her husband executed and the prime years of her life wasted away in prison. After telling her story and answering some questions about it, she was asked by the radio host asked how she was able to find it in her heart to forgive.

Good question! How could one possibly find a way to forgive anyone, let alone God for such a terrible and extreme injustice? Though I don’t recall everything she said I do recall one thing. She said she found that she has to revisit forgiveness.” I was intrigued by her answer and I’ve often thought about it, but I’ve never really analyzed the idea until recently. The question that comes to my mind is: if you forgive those who wrong you in some way, why would you have to revisit forgiveness? When God forgave us, did he not cast our sin into the depths of the sea? Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

Again, I’ve never had something as horrific as the above example happen to me, but like anyone, I’ve had my share of injustices, including a mean and abusive Dad. After spending the majority of my adult life hating him for his mistreatment of me, I made a trip home to Ohio in June 2000 for the purpose of forgiving him. The only hitch was that my Dad was in the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease and would have no clue that I was even there. I went to the nursing home and spoke the words of forgiveness out loud. However, I don’t think that in my heart I truly forgave him and here’s why I say that.

Over the next few years, each time I had thoughts about my Dad and my childhood I would become angry. I continued to blame my current difficulties on my mistreatment by him. It wasn’t until spring of 2004 during a one on one talk with God that I let it go. He reminded me that His forgiveness of me was neither conditional nor temporary. Christ went to the cross so that we might all be forgiven permanently. God doesn’t “revisit” forgiveness nor does he ever remind us of our old sins. It’s just done and over with!

So the lesson for me is that if I find myself “revisiting” forgiveness, then I need to examine my heart and ask God to help me forgive permanently just as He does. I can now have memories of my Dad with a heart of total forgiveness. I no longer “rehash” the mistreatment. God gave me His eyes through which to see my Dad. Too bad it was well after my Dad was gone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Skeptics... am I among them?

Today I was studying John 6:30-7:13. This passage talks about skeptics. In John 6:60, many of the disciples began to complain about Jesus’ teaching. It was too hard for them to swallow. The only reason they hung around up to this point was because they saw a miracle and got a free meal. (Of fish and bread, Yummo!) Jesus has been telling them that the bread of life comes from heaven and that this bread is his flesh, which he would eventually “give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) He goes on to tell them in verse 62, “So what if you see me ascend back up to heaven to be with God? All this I’m telling you is of the Sprit, which gives life, which came from the Father. You think you might believe then? Not likely!” (Very loose paraphrase!) Of course Jesus already knew who would believe and who wouldn’t.

Then a little later, as Jesus went around Galilee—perhaps teaching here and there, but avoiding the ones who wanted him killed—even his own brothers began to show their skepticism. They sarcastically tell him he should go to Judea and do some miracles. “If you want to become a public figure, don’t you think you should start putting on a show?” (Loose paraphrase of John 7:4) They wanted him to draw attention to himself and start being the Savior they thought he should be.

In both cases, the “offenders” were half-hearted believers who couldn’t buy into the idea that Jesus is the bread of life or that he is the Savior on God’s terms and not theirs. This is my conviction!

How often do I choose to not obey because God’s Word is too hard to swallow?
How often do I become a little sarcastic about what Jesus is trying to teach me!
How often do I half-heartedly seek God not really expecting that He’ll be there to meet me?
How often do I skeptically pray, not really expecting to receive an answer?

What do you come up with if you ask yourself these questions?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Wellspring of Life

I’ve been listening to Podcasts called John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart. John Eldredge is the creator of Ransomed Heart Ministries and author of the book “Wild at Heart.” In his book as well as during many of his Podcasts, John quotes Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Above all else, guard you heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” I don’t think that ever clicked with me until today.

I was studying John 6:34-40 today and the light bulb went on.

34"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread." 35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty, 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me: that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day."

Look at verse 35. When we think of going hungry or thirsty, we immediately think in the physical sense, as did the people whom Jesus was addressing. In considering what Christ is saying about our fulfillment of life and personality in this passage, I got this picture in my mind the heart being our “spiritual stomach.”

When we’re hungry we go to the fridge and grab a snack and when we’re thirsty we grab a bottle of water; which in turn satisfies our needs for sustenance. In the same way, when our spiritual stomach—a.k.a. the heart—is empty, we can go to the Lord to fill it. We do that first by believing in Him who was sent (v 37). He will never turn us away. And then we eat the bread of life daily, just as the Israelites did in the desert when they were starving and God fed them with manna.

The only way to guard our hearts from the enemy’s attacks is to surrender them to Christ and eat of the bread of life! I’m such a fool for thinking I could find my food to fill my starving heart!

Have a good day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So how do we find joy in all this?

Below is my ever-so-wise wife's response to my last posting "What the Heck is Going On?"

So how do I find joy in all this?

We would do our selves a good service if we did not expect to find joy in the circumstances of life but rather in the relationship we have with Christ. James said to count it all joy when we meet trials, not in the trials themselves. Without trials we would never fully understand how great our need for God is and how great God is to meet us at the place of our need. If we spend our time seeking to find Godly validation for worldly thinking then our trials will quickly consume us and we will be ineffective, joyless Christians. But if we chose to walk in obedience to God no matter what the situation we will be strong, effective, joy filled Christians. Remember – “As long as I say my problem (or sin) is caused by somebody else, I will never confess my shortcomings and receive God’s forgiveness.”

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

(Man she's good. I should just have her write this blog.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

What the heck is goin' on?

Okay, I’m pretty sure that I know what the heck the deal is, but I have to vent! What the heck is going on? The last couple of months have been weird.

First, with all the recent snow and then the immediate melting, which occurred twice I’ve discovered many leaks in my house. I have two foundation leaks, on opposite sides of the house. Not on the same side, but opposite sides. And in order to fix one of the leaks, I’ll more than likely have to demo the concrete walkway that runs along the front of my house to get to it. In addition to that, I have at least one leak, possibly two, in my one year old roof and I’ve not had luck locating the person who did the roof for me to fix it.

Next, I was “temporarily” laid off from my job last week, so these maintenance issues are not going to be immediately fixed until my income returns to the previous amount. Who knows when that will be?

Next, my new daughter- in- law had a falling out with her mother, with whom she lived while going to culinary school. After informing her mother she and my son were married, a conflict erupted that turned a little physical. Needless to say, our son and daughter-in-law are here with us for the time being. And of course this will effect her grade.

Rewind a little bit to last month. My daughter who lives in Southeast Idaho was recently cited for leaving the scene of an accident and driving without privileges after she accidently and unknowingly hit a car in her apartment parking lot. Her suspended driver’s license stems from a no seat belt ticket that she received in WASHINGTON, not Idaho, yet the state of Idaho suspended her license in IDAHO, because she had not yet paid the seat belt ticket in WASHINGTON. Figure that one out! To add insult to injury, today she was fired from her job at the Idaho State Hospital after the police officer show up at her work to confront her about leaving the scene of an accident.

Now as you read this, you may think to yourselves that worse has happened to other folks and its true. Worse has happened to other folks, i.e. my brother whose wife was diagnosed with brain cancer before Thanksgiving of 2007 and then passed away 2 months later. That’s a bad thing to have happen and these things seem pale in comparison. However that doesn’t diminish the impact these things are having on me, my wife, and my family.

To top things all off, my wife and I have not been getting along very well due to many things, but mainly because of selfishness on my part.

I know why these things happen. First, choices we make every day have an impact on our lives, whether good or bad. This is why we must think and pray before we make major decisions, and even small decisions. And second, John 10:10a says, “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy;” The enemy is around us all the time attempting to spur us to anger and self-destruction. If he can destroy the family, he can destroy the church; and if he destroys the church, he destroys God’s testimony; thereby taking many people down with him.

The real test here is how we handle the trials. Remember James said in chapter 1:2-3 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So how do I find joy in all this?