Sunday, November 23, 2014

Take it to the Cross

We pray.

We praise.

We beg.

We fast.

We stew.

We talk.

We complain.

We ask forgiveness.

We resent.

We replay memories in our minds like old movies, as if that could change the past.

We work like dogs to “make up’ for past failures and sins.

We put aside pleasure for drudgery in vain attempts to be perfect — when we already now we cannot be.

Paul, in Romans 3:23, says “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Thank God for Grace!

And Paul picks us back up in the very next verse: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

He goes on, in Romans 3:25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in this blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”

There’s a key phrase in that verse:

“For the remission of sins …”

It doesn’t say, “only MY sins.”

It doesn’t say, “only YOUR sins.”

It doesn’t say, “only THAT GUY’S sins.”

And it also, and this is very important “It doesn’t say, “NOT the sins of the person who sinned against me.”

It says “sins” — period.

So if I’ve been replaying old sad movies in my head — dredging up someone else’s sin,

What am I doing? — I’m exhibiting unbelief.

At some point in my spiritual maturity, to grow, I have to let go of those sins — not only my sins, but the sins of others that I have continued to claim as mine to hold, mine to forgive (or not).

Moreover, I have to finally and fully let go of issues that I have given to God — again and again — issues I give to God, and then let my mind run free and go back and pick right back up.

I need to let God do His job — and to do my job — which is worshipping Him and sharing His good news.

We pray, and talk about prayer in every church service. We are supposed to pray without ceasing — but we are also not supposed to keep picking up old dead issues that God has already dealt with.
But we do. We reinforce our fears by repeatedly praying about them, rather than giving them to God and thanking him for our deliverance.

I have been considering this, and thought of a dog with an old bone — he carries it around, plays with it, chews on it, and buries it. Sometime later he goes back, digs it up, chews on it a while and buries it.

He repeats this exercise until the bone is all chewed up. Lost or someone looks at the rotten old thing and finally throws it away. Then, he’s finally free to find a new, meatier bone with better taste and some nutrient value..

This is where we as humans and children of God must exercise discernment — we’ve got to develop the level of spiritual maturity that lets us know when to finally bury that old worn out bone we’ve been worrying once and for all.

Now don’t be confused.

I’m not talking about all prayers. We have many examples of people who have been saved after years of prayer by family members and loved ones.

I’m talking about prayers that we just have on automatic repeat — the ones that wear us and God out.

“God — I want you to forgive me.” — We know in our brain that we have to repent and ask forgiveness one time. God has forgiven you. Once you prayed a prayer of repentance and accepted that wondrous, freely-offered gift of Salvation, you were forgiven.

You had only one thing to do — leave those things of your past at the cross.

One thing that is required for prayer — not a place, or a time or a posture — is that we must pray in faith. We must believe that God is our loving Father who wants only the best for us — that can be a hard image for people who didn’t have a perfect earthly father. But it’s one that we need to develop and maintain. He is the epitome of “Daddy” — Our Father God who sacrificed the most precious thing in the universe so that we might be saved, and have life more abundant.

Though I’m not quite comfortable calling my heavenly Father “Daddy,” I’ve learned from people who do. I get daily email devotionals from Max Lucado, and this month’s series is on prayer.

In one he says Jesus invites us to approach Go the way a child approaches his daddy. How do children approach their daddies? Lucado describes boy who see their fathers in the parking lot after school:

One yells “Yippee!”

One yells “Pop! Over here! Push me!”

He says what he didn’t hear was “Father, it is most gracious of thee to drive thy car to my place of education. Please know of my deep gratitude for your benevolence. For thou art splendid in thy attentive care and diligent in thy dedication.”

What he heard was kids who were happy to see their dad and wanted to talk with them and spend time with them. God invites us to approach him in the same way.

Another illustration Lucado gives is when he daughter flubbed her piano piece at a recital, and he was heartbroken for her. When she got off stage, she ran to him, flung her arms around him and buried her face in his shirt and could only say, “Oh Daddy!” Lucado says prayer starts there.

Now that, I understand. 

And often, “Oh Daddy!” “Dear Father” “Oh, Lord!” is enough. He hears that plea, and He acts to help us. All we have to do is believe.

Jeremiah 33:2 – 3 says:
“This is what the LORD says, He who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it — the LORD is His name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

And that’s what many times I’m really praying for: God to tell me things I do not know. Which is usually, “What does God want me to do?”

So there’s one last thing I must do. And it’s the hardest of all:

I’ve prayed.

I’ve listened for God’s answer, direction, or peace about the situation.

I’ve acted on that.

But what must I do that I too often fail to do?

Like the old hymn says, “Leave it there. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there."

We must all be diligent about leaving it at the cross.

In the last months at my church, we’ve talked a lot about symbolic chains — and when I received the inspiration for this lesson, I was given a prop.

For you who are reading this, it is a cross. What are the burdens you’ve been taking back — the ones that you keep carrying to God, and taking right back again?

Find a card or a piece of paper, and something to write with. I encourage you to write that burden down as you prepare to lay it down. It doesn’t have to be a book. It might be a word, or even a symbol that makes sense only to you. It can, and perhaps should be illegible to any human. Even an X — as long as it has meaning to you, it will have meaning to God.

Put that burden down on that card, and as you pray, take your card to the cross. Hang it on that chain, which will no longer bind you.

And leave it there.

And if at any time you are tempted to go dig that old bone back up, remember, you are done with that bit of bondage. You are free in Christ, and that, my friend, is free indeed!

I pray today that you are set free to enjoy life, and life abundant in Christ Jesus, our blessed savior. For that IS God's Holy Will.

Bless you.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Small Things

Months ago, I was with a friend and her teen-aged daughter, shoe shopping in a store where the shoes on sale/clearance are arranged by size. The three of us wear an above-average-size shoe — the largest size carried in that store. As we shopped, a young couple walked through the area — the woman dressed very stylishly — she stood next to us and looked at the rack of shoes for a moment, then said to her companion, “These are HUGE” and stomped away as if it were a personal crisis of some sort to be exposed to shoes of such enormity. Her tone was negative, snotty, and it felt like an arrow to my heart.

My friend and I looked at each other in shock. That carelessly tossed comment brought hurt, anger and memories from those times as a young girl I’d been the recipient of direct barbs on my size or choice of shoes and clothing.

Sure, the other woman was just commenting about the shoes, and ignoring us, but even so, the three of us wear that size shoe, and we’ve all endured teasing about our big feet. Minor things to worry about in today’s world, certainly, but another ding in the armor of self-esteem, which for a young girl today, can mean the difference between good choices to protect and honor herself and choices that can make an impact on the rest of her life.

A young person who is raised to be valued will value him or herself. One who continually hears criticism, derision and negative comments won’t have much self-value, and is open to a flattering tongue.

The tongue is a small thing, but it can be so powerful a weapon, or so powerful a balm.

How often have my unthinking words, uttered to the world at large served as an arrow to another’s heart?

James 3 says a lot about our words and actions. One version entitled this chapter:

The Untamable Tongue
3 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed,[a] we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.[b]

Heavenly Versus Demonic Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

David, in Psalm 5, gives us hope for our unbridled tongues as well:
Listen to my words, Lord,
    consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
    my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
    with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
    in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
    you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
    you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.
Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies—
    make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
    their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
    with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God!
    Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
    for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

And in Psalm 37:
The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their feet do not slip.

It’s not always our words though. When my first child was born, I was amazed at how often people in stores would walk up and press their parenting ideas on me. Strangers had opinions on the amount of clothing or blankets I used for the baby, wanted to know whether I was nursing or bottle feeding, if I had a natural childbirth, how much the baby weighed, etc., etc., .. and had opinions on each of those subjects. Some were pleasant, and some were, well, downright disturbing.

One lady though, really stood out to me. My daughter had begun fussing in the buggy. I was trying to juggle her, the buggy and finish shopping to pay out and get her home. People were giving me all kinds of looks, pity, irritation, sympathetic smiles, you know. But an older woman walking by paused briefly, stopped and whispered in my daughter’s ear and straightened up. My daughter stopped fussing and looked at her with big eyes. Then, I was able to keep her calm. The woman explained that she had learned that a quick, positive distraction, like whispering into the ear often worked to stop a fuss child. It was the best non-solicited parenting advice I got.

That was a small, thoughtful act — one I was so grateful for.

Sometimes these unheeding actions have permanent results. I saw something small recently that affected me deeply and made me think even harder on how our words and actions affect others, even when we have no idea what we’ve done.

I was at a hotel for a meeting, standing in the foyer while making a phone call.

I idly noted a little black beetle cruising the tiles, harming nothing.
A woman hurried inside and her first step crushed the bug. She didn't even notice.
I'm saddened by the sudden tragedy, however small.
How many times have I, in my hurry and busy-ness, stomped on something unheeded. Many more than I wish to know, I'm afraid.

If any of those were your feelings, dreams or passions, I hereby apologize and ask your forgiveness. I'm learning to be more mindful.

What I hope by sharing these words is that we will all be more mindful. Small things matter. And God created us for His purpose, so we are no small things.

Matthew 10:29 - 31
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6 - 7
“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?[a] And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

1 Kings 19: God’s Revelation to Elijah
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.