Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Body of Christ


 

This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
1 John 3:16a

The other day I saw a series of three pictures that at first glance appeared to be raw meat. I was taken back wondering why in the world someone was sending me pictures of raw meat. Then I got to the third picture and looked a bit closer. My stomach literally seized and my heart went to my throat. They were pictures of a representation of the Crucifixion. That bloody, odd looking mess was my Lord and Savior. Obviously it wasn't, just a man made up to look like Jesus but in that moment, I saw my Savior, my love, my dearest friend, not dressed in flowy robes, not walking with a smile, his hair blowing behind him. What I saw was a once lovely young man beaten literally beyond recognition. I clicked off that picture so fast. Then I thought about it.

I attend a liturgical church which means that every Sunday we receive communion, called the Lord's Supper in some churches. When we receive the pastor says, “The body of Christ, given for you.” In the church in which I grew up, they said, “Receive the body of Christ.” Those phrases went through my head as I thought of the images I had just seen. The bruised, battered, scarcely recognizable as human, body of Jesus Christ, given for me. For me, a ridiculously selfish sinner.

John 18:23 says, “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth why did you strike me?” Those words pierce my heart! This, to me, is not the voice of a king. This is the voice of the very human Jesus, sad and frightened. Yes, Jesus was fully God but he was also fully man and a very young man at that. Reading those words breaks my heart in the exact same way that looking at the pictures did.

Why were they hitting him? Why was he abused to within an inch of his life? Why was his body so bloodied that he didn't look human? We can blame the rulers of that time all day long. We can point fingers at Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the High Priest and the screaming crowd but go back for a second to the words in the communion feast. “The body of Christ given for you.” (emphasis mine) For. You. You hit him. You scoff at him. You neglect him. You mock him. And by you, I mean we or more to the point, I. I do those things.

Those words and images break my heart but am I thinking of them when I'm getting impatient? Complaining? Feeling envious? Gossiping? They do not. They should. Those words and images should be front and center in my mind. “The body of Christ, given for you (me).” If they were, I'd be quicker to pray, quicker to praise and serve and thank him for his mercy.

Why were they striking him? Ignorance and fear. Why are we? Arrogance and pride, maybe. Whatever it is, I am thankful that his grace covers me as I pray to do better tomorrow.

Hand or Heart



Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

John 6:2

Why do you seek God? Take a minute and think about it. It seems to me that there are very few wrong answers to that question. We are supposed to seek God in all things. John 15:5, Jesus reminds us that He is the Vine. We’re just branches who can do nothing without him. So we should seek Him in all matters.

While there aren’t too many, if any, wrong answers to the why we seek God question, there is a problem. Read the verse above again. The people, according to Jesus, whose perspective is perfect, are coming to Him not because of who He is but because of what He has. They’re looking for a handout not a hand.

Recently I’ve seen a dear and treasured relationship take a not terribly surprising but hurtful turn. Someone I dearly love and with whom I’ve spent an enormous amount of time has stepped away a bit, quite a bit. It seems that while I’m on her to do list, I never actually make it to the top. Plans are made and canceled with an alarming regularity. I do however continue to have contact with her in the form of “Oh hi.” Hug, hug, kiss, kiss. “Yeah, I need a little help.”

I started to see myself as an enabler or worse a pawn until I thought about it from the perspective of our precious Lord. You see, this is a person who, for a time, I saw almost every day. I’ve invested myself deeply in her and I love her beyond the beyonds as my Gram used to say. I want her to know for her whole life that I will be there for her and that she can always count on me.

This morning while feeling a bit of self-pity over the latest canceled plan I felt a tug on my heart. It was a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. In that instant I realized how many times I’ve been guilty of that with my heavenly Father. I’ve gone about my business, choosing other people or entertainment over spending time with Him, but when I really need something, He’s my first call. Has He turned away? No.

There is a temptation to just say, “Okay, I get it. I’m not important to you anymore. Fine.” But that is not true. I am important to my dear one. I always have been and I always will be. The thing is, she knows how deeply I love and care for her. She knows I’ll be there for her as long as humanly possible and she counts on that. For now, she’s choosing some other things. I understand but it breaks my heart. Hmm, kind of like God understands but still would prefer me to chose Him?

I hate this season with my dear one but I love how God is using it to teach me. Many of us are guilty of going to Him only when we need something. He wants us to want Him, to be with Him simply to enjoy His presence, to offer our hearts not hold out our hands. Just like I want my dear one to chose me. Like my Father, I want to be a choice, not an obligation. That gives me a better perspective on my relationship with God and for that I am grateful.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hypocrites


Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank ourt of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
Matthew 7:4-5



A few weeks ago while speaking to my pastor, I told him about a time in our former church when a question was asked about hypocrites in church. It was asked and ignored only to be brought up again later in a smaller group setting. Seeing the discomfort of the small group leader, he very much did not want to answer the question, I joked that once all the other sinners had taken their seats there was still room, so we let the hypocrites in. Our new pastor, Ryan and I laughed about that for a minute before he said, “But Tricia, wouldn't our churches be empty if there weren't any hypocrites? Aren't we all guilty of hypocrisy at some point?” Yes, Pastor Ryan, I believe we are.

I was reminded of that conversation while pulling out some pictures to share with my daughter. One picture is of her precious angel Harper, holding her new baby doll. The doll still has plastic on it's head and in the picture, Harper is holding the baby, lovingly cradling it in her arms. The picture was taken on Christmas, the day Harper, who is 2 and a half years old, decided that the Virgin Mary was a bad mommy. She was playing with the Nativity scene in our front yard and when she tried to place the baby Jesus in his mother's arms, it didn't work. They are plastic figures, made in such a way that you can't manipulate their posture. “Hers a bad mom!” She announced to all of us. “Her won't hold her baby.” Now, think about the picture..... at least Mary didn't put a plastic bag on her baby's head!

Aren't we all guilty of that kind of hypocrisy? I say I would never do something and judge a person I see doing it. I might turn to my daughter, or a friend and say, “Who does that?” in a voice dripping with disdain, only to turn around and do something worse.

The problem is we don't see our own actions in the same light as we see other people's choices and actions. We don't know their back story. We see an isolated incident and we judge. We go to our church and question the practices of the church down the street, all the while they are questioning ours.

My children grew very tired of hearing the speck and plank Scripture when they were young but I've already heard at least one of them use it with my grandchildren. We quote it because it is so true. Mind your own business!

Why do we have hypocrites in church? Because without us, as Pastor Ryan pointed out, the churches would be empty. We should all strive for authenticity, for sincerity and certainly for truth but as in all things we will miss the mark. In those moments when we can recognize the plank in our own eye, it's so wonderful to know that we can rely on grace and keep walking in faith.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Parenting

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be
called the children of God. 1 John 3:1


The other day while speaking to God in prayer, I said, “Sometimes my children just make me crazy! What am I going to do with them?” There were two reasons for me to be feeling that way. One was a silly aggravation, one of those things that happens repeatedly, which is what makes it irritating but for the most part is not a big deal at all. The other was much more serious, sad and trying on my heart.
As I spoke the words I could almost feel my Abba smiling at me. “Your children?” He might ask. “What about mine? Have you looked around lately?” When that thought, that possible response, crossed my mind, I did stop and think. Believers or not, every created being is God's child. Whether we choose to claim Him as Father is up to us but no one, no matter how they might try, can deny the fact that anything created comes from the Creator.

So there I was with an image of the world as it is in my mind. An image that included things like cruelty, arrogance, denial and disrespect for human life. That last one really stopped me as the levels of that go on and on. As a parent if I saw my children behaving in the ways I see around me I would be devastated. I pictured my own children then. They have all made mistakes that I know of, some that have been hinted at or alluded to and some that I will, thankfully, never know. Then I realized that God does not have that comfortable ignorance. He knows about every act of abuse, every abortion, every murder of other kinds, every episode of words being used to belittle or betray. He knows before they take place of every act of terror, global or familial. He knows who will and who will not repent. He knows which person gets caught up in a moment and which one makes a life out of destroying the people unfortunate enough to cross their path.

I thought about my question again. What am I going to do with my children? In the one case, laugh and accept the personality quirk. In the other, cry and then leave it to my Father. In all four (or eight counting in-love children) cases, I'm going to pray, for their well being, that they would always in all ways seek God and thanksgiving that no matter what happens today or going forward, God chose me for them and them for me.

Further, I will go forward with a tiny bit more understanding of my Abba and the way that He loves us all. We let Him down. We ignore Him. Some even curse Him but His love continues. And I will praise and thank Him for not giving up on me or on you or on the person I see as irredeemable.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:18

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Amazed


 

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John 1:5


Are you ever overcome by the truth of the Cross? Jesus the Light of the world, came, lived and died for you. Think of it that way for a minute.

John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world.” That is the broad sense, for the world. Jesus Christ died for you, _____________. Please put your name in there. Then read John 3:16 that way, “For God so loved____________ that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God so loved you. Jesus so loved you. How is that possible? I don't know about you but I don't see myself as that important and I know that I'm not in any way, shape or form, worthy of that sacrifice and by God's grace I know, intellectually, that I don't have to be.

Some days when I read God's Word and see the grace that is endless, the love that never fails, the mercy that endures I am completely overwhelmed. If you have never been overwhelmed by the Word of God I invite you to spend more time in it. Page after page, verse after verse you will find love that defies our limited understanding.  How much do you think you love your nearest and dearest? A lot, right?  You do not love them the way that your Father loves you.

Choose a gospel and read the story of the crucifixion, better yet, read all four. Take the time and really read the words, see the love, mercy and grace. See what the Light of the world did for you, you__________. It's going to make your day and maybe even change your life.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Blessings In Anxiety


When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Psalm 94:19 NIV

In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
You comfort my soul.
Psalm 94:19 NKJV



Today is the first day of a new year. This morning I did as I do every year on this day. I looked through my last year of journal entries, regular journal, prayer journal, blessings and gratitude journals. There was so much there! I read and reflected, wrote a summary and then went to read my devotionals. In the first one I saw this verse from Psalm 94 and I just had to smile. That about sums up my year. There may be anxiety but God is always with me.

As I looked back over the many journals one thing was glaringly apparent. It had been a great, wonderful, terrifying, humbling, exciting, challenging, blessed year. There is no point in the past year where everything was as I believe it should have been. I have great concern for some of my children and grandchildren. There were health issues, that though minor were no fun at the time. There were deeper health concerns for some of our family members. There were job stresses, financial pressures and some things that were just different in ways that were neither all positive or all negative, just different, uncharted territory. There were heartbreaking moments that sadly have become far too familiar and brought with them some serious disappointments. And yet.... or as I love to say/write/hear BUT GOD showed up in every single moment. There were, in fact, a few perfect days.

Reading along some of the hardest times I saw joy, faith, mercy, love and grace, grace, grace. Yes, there were challenges, fears all that mess but there is no real defeat. There is victory over and over and over. There were blessings I never could have predicted and certainly didn't expect. There are two incidents of beauty out of ashes, one still in progress that I am delighted to be watching. That one, the ongoing one, is not only unexpected but what most people, myself included, would have deemed impossible.

Was it a great year? Indeed! Now a new one is starting and I do not wish you a happy New Year but a complicated, joy filled and blessed year. A year full of interesting events, with blessings that sometimes disguise themselves as challenges and with the deep, abiding, amazing love and grace of our Abba Father.