“…In honor of the reading of God’s Word, saints please stand,” our pastor requests. A collage of people plant their feet and stay standing. I turn to my left. My friend from the Castaway Motel, Danny, remains seated. His eyes lock into mine. He shakes his head as if to say without words, “Who am I to stand? I am far from a saint.” Electricity shoots through my body as little zingers of why I’m not one either fire across my mind. I suddenly become hyper-aware of my shortcomings, my failures, and why I’m not worthy. I stand anyway.
After the service, Danny remains seated in the pew. He doodles a pencil across the church bulletin. He confesses, “I’ve done so many things, bad things, how could I ever become a saint?” Revelation 7:14 tells us how. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of Christ is how. The redemptive work of Christ turns sinner into saint.
God gives a new heart to the believer, the saint.
God comes into our littleness, our lostness, and our wondering: Does anybody care? Do I matter in any way? Jesus is no stranger to what we go through. He tasted it. He had firsthand experience. He knew we could never love God with the current state of our heart. We can take it to church, sit it in the pew, give it a hymnbook, and teach it how to be a good Christian heart. But it will still be the same wretched heart we were born with.
We need a heart transplant to be a saint.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” There is nothing we can do as believers to wipe away the grime of our sin, to ever deserve sainthood. Only the blood of Christ can do that. It’s nothing earned, but something given.
I tell Danny Jesus wrecked my life in the best of ways. I tell him about God’s work in me. I tell him I don’t deserve to stand when the pastor calls for the saints, none of us do… and that’s the greatest part. So next week, when the pastor calls for the saints to stand, I will stand with confidence. I will stand tall with feet planted, shoulders rolled back, and eyes focused on the cross, the place where it all began.
The day begins like any other.
Everything seems hunky dory.
We hustle to the eye doctor in a flurry of excitement.
Savanna, my 9 year old, gets new glasses today. Giggling with emotion, she wiggles new spectacles over her freckled nose as we walk to the parking lot. I wrestle the kids in the car and hop behind the wheel. Suddenly, I notice another vehicle pulling alongside in very close proximity. I look on as an SUV clips my mirror forcing it backwards.
Clickety, clank, clunk.
I shake my head in disbelief.
Her gears begin to shift again and oh, no she didn’t!
She backs up for a second assault. I quickly jerk out of the compromised spot. I pull over to inspect the damage. As my fingers glide over crinkled finish, the 60 something year old male passenger swiftly jumps out of the too-big-for-that-spot car.
“Is your little mirror okay?” the smug man jeers.
“Y’all need to be more careful,” I retort.
The man bolts across the parking lot like a steamroller. He breathes right in my face, we’re nose to nose. His unfiltered words fling into air like mud slapping against a wall. My three girls gasp in horror from the backseat.
I pause for a dramatic effect before addressing the situation. I suck in a breath and with a flare of southern charm I respond, “Sir, you’d better get up out of my face before I smack you upside the head!”
Of course he did what any respectable man would… he backed off and high-tailed it into the doctor’s office.
Still fuming, I drive away.
Remember when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the mountain and was transfigured before them? Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah, (see Matthew 17:1-6).” Then a bright cloud covered them and echoed these words, “Be quiet and listen.”
We are all like Peter. Our mouths get us into trouble. We assume words are better than silence. We sometimes engage in confrontation when perhaps we should walk away. We think we know what’s best in the moment. We come up with our own agenda and move on it without consulting God first. Then our clamoring noise is hushed by the thunderous voice of God, “Be quiet and listen.”
A few minutes later, I pull into the driveway. I think, “On a day where everything seems to go wrong… I will find joy in Him. When injustices occur, and they do, I will find joy in Him. When a grumpy man lashes out for no good reason in the eye doctor parking lot, I will find joy in Him.
The day plays out like it has so many times before.
There’s a void, a need that cries for a fill.
The kids are tucked behind wooden school desks and she decides to go. She travels downtown to deliver a special gift. A little red Bible she’d picked up for an elderly woman who once said, “I need Jesus.”
As the tires of her mini-van roll into the old motel parking lot, she sees people sitting and talking about nothing in particular. Sweaty palms clutch the bonded leather Bible as courage carries her towards the door. The rickety door swings open. Her gift is given, a prayer is prayed, and an invitation is extended to the lady known as Ms. Betty… an invitation to church this Sunday.
The aroma of her words float through the air, “Please come with me Ms. Betty.”
Peeking over cracked glasses and a clearing of her throat, Ms. Betty responds with a question. “What will I wear?”
“Come just like that!” my friend exclaims.
I am suddenly reminded of a lesson Jesus taught Peter following the resurrection. Three different times he said, Peter if you love me, you will care about what I care about. That’s how I’ll know you love me. Feed my lambs. Feeding my lambs isn’t an option, Peter. It’s a requirement for those who call me Lord.
Jesus is talking about people and their need to be fed. He’s talking about giving ourselves to the needs and nourishment of people. We must remember that when Christ came he was passionately addicted to one thing: people. Sinful, sick, sorrowful people who came to him just as they were–“Just like that!”
I imagine Jesus refreshing Peter’s memory a bit. Do you see me spending time with religious folks in the Synagogues? Do you see me healing those who are well? No, the sheep that need to be fed are the marginalized, the crippled, the poor, the oppressed, and disadvantaged. They are the people who don’t fake it, those who aren’t casual about me, those who don’t get caught up in themselves…but those who get caught up in me.
We can’t change the world, Jesus will do that. We can, however, change the world for one person one day at a time. We can remind the lambs that Jesus wants people to come to him, “Just like that!”
**Ms. Betty did attend church today with the little red Bible given to her by Melissa. She is now an honorary member of Mothers On Mission:)
I believe that pride is at the root of all sin.
It morphs itself into anything that might grasp at our attention. Anything that might convince us of a better way other than THE way.
Pride wants to exalt us.
It mysteriously seeps into our hearts and minds and coaxes us into thinking we deserve better. Better treatment. Better position. Better marriage. Better life.
But, better than what? Better than God provides? Yes. Better than the Master Himself has given.
In my daily life pride manifests itself in my marriage.
In those silly arguments that in the moment seem so important, but after are so completely insignificant.
A picture of pride…
That moment when your Spirit stirs violent and trapped within your chest… anxious to confess or apologize, but instead you, in your flesh bite hard at your lip, arms crossed, hold tight to your position. To the lie that pride instantly concocts on your behalf. Or so it seems.
In that moment you can conquer pride. But you choose not to. And at the end of it you are left without the promise of what pride offers, but instead with an aching Spirit within… one that promises you peace, but in this case fills you with conviction.
It’s not a pretty picture. And I’ve said it before…
The sweet of it is the offering of a second chance. The way God always does. But, the bitter of it, aside from going against the pull of the Spirit, is that it requires a mustering up of even more humility than it would have had we just done the right thing from the start.
To temper the burning sting of conviction we must humble ourselves and confess to God. We must quickly return to the scene of the sin, recount our wrong-doing, apologize and seek forgiveness.
It hurts, but it beats pride up black and blue. And in the end you get restoration. You get to exalt Jesus. You get that peace that the Spirit promised from the start. And it feels great.
Care to take a swing at pride with me today?
I often think I’ve got this “do not judge others” thing down.
Ever think that?
I even have this rule about believing the best of people despite their behavior. I’ve written about that here. But basically, it’s a practice based on two verses…
So, the commandment to love and love being defined to believe the best for me equates to a non-judgmental approach to people. I’ve found that this little biblical combo saves me from a lot of trouble.
Most of the time.
Recently we visited a little specialty food shop in the next town over. As we pull into the parking lot we witness a man walking across the lot with a mayonnaise jar filled with yellow liquid.
We immediately turn up our noses assuming its contents to be bodily waste.
We’ve all heard the stories of the truck drivers leaving these little jars on the highway road side.
We assume he is one of these.
We see him go into the bushes next to the shop and pour it out.
As we get out of our truck to go in, he walks back in our direction, empty jar in hand. He spots my Nevada t-shirt and our plates and attempts to strike up a conversation with us about being a long way from home.
We answer quickly and usher our way toward the store entrance. We avoid him.
Oh, my friends, it pains me deeply to even type the next part. But…
As we enter the store we turn back to see him get in the back of a Van… not a semi-truck. My husband notices in the front seat of the van a paraplegic or possibly quadriplegic young man.
Yeah…. hurts even to read it doesn’t it?
So, it won’t surprise you that the topic of judgment is in the pit of my stomach.
Judgment is so often a quick response based on what we see with our fleshly eyes.
We tend to make sub-conscious decisions with little or no thought. I’m reminded that it takes much more than that to rightly judge a person or situation. I must look at people thoughtfully and prayerfully.
And, who knows what opportunity God had for us with this man and that boy in the van. Maybe none, but I’m ashamed and disappointed to say that I do not know for sure.
However, I am grateful for a God who cares enough to remind me, painful as it is, that I do not have this “do not judge others” thing down.
A lesson I won’t soon forget.
Father, thank you for difficult reminders to see your people the way you do. May we never forget that we rarely know the story behind what we see with our fleshly eyes. Give us great wisdom and discernment to judge appropriately. Forgive us when we judge wrongly and continue to teach us to love and believe the best of others. In Jesus Name, Amen
Linking up with Eileen at The Scenic Route for…
Grace is one of those gifts of God that has a tendency to multiple itself when one truly understands the depths to which they have been given it. God loves to grace His children. Grace means “God’s favor”. Did you know that God wants us to realize we have His favor so much that He mentions it 213 times in the New Testament!
God’s grace has a name, too-“Jesus”. Have you ever realized that focusing on your own inadequacies makes little of the Cross. Imagine if a friend came over to your house on your birthday excited for you to open up a present she bought for you. Imagine if you refused to open the gift. That is exactly what we do to God when we refuse to accept His forgiveness and His daily offering of grace. We essentially play God, acting as if we know better than God, saying, “No, your gift is not necessary” or, “You don’t know how bad I am Lord, I don’t deserve what you think I deserve”. It sounds prideful when put this way, doesn’t it? That is exactly what we are doing when we refuse to accept God’s forgiveness and His free gift of grace. God wants to remind us this is a form of pride. And we are told that God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
We need to stop looking at our own inadequacies and look instead to the grace of God. When God promises something, I want to believe it and live in the victory of claiming it as mine! I want to live in such a way that says, “God, your grace was not given in vain!”.
Grace calls us to get up, throw off our blanket of hopelessness, and move on through life in faith. If you understand grace, you will never turn away from the blessings of God because you feel like you don’t deserve it. You will know that grace covers all your failures and all of your sin.
What might happen when we accept the gift of God’s grace? We will want to pass it on! Our hearts will be so transformed by the undeserving gift we have received that we will want others to receive it too. When we feel graced, we will grace others!
Recently I was hurt by a family member. I processed my feelings, felt them, and asked God to use the incident to glorify Him. He then spoke to my heart. He told me to remember how I have been graced by Him. He told me to extend grace to this family member. So I tried it. I didn’t retaliate. I didn’t hold a resentment. God gave me peace. I don’t know what happened on her side (did she feel badly for hurting me?) but that wasn’t what God wanted me to focus on. God gave me His favor-GRACE-by giving me peace for gracing her. The world will look at us and wonder why we are extending grace when it would be more natural to hold a grudge. That’s when we can point directly to the cross! That’s when God will use our transformed hearts to show off His glory!
I pull around the corner, VBS songs jingling, children singing. I pull into an alley and drop off the four. “We’ve been evicted and have no place to sleep,” their mom says. “Will you take our children for the night?” her voice cracks. As the words roll over her tongue the salt of her soul pours from frightened eyes.
I load up the car, my kids and theirs. I know in the pit of my stomach God has prepared me for this moment, to care for the neglected, “the least of these.” Jesus said we would find him in the least of these and that caring for them is like caring for him. Jesus also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and that day myself didn’t want to be homeless.
It isn’t until after I shut the doors and jump back into the driver’s seat that the full weight of what transpired hits me. My mind flips through the scenes of the day. I drive away replaying the emotional goodbyes of a family struggling to survive. Before I know it, temporary guardianship papers are signed, overnight turns into a week, and these little ones completely capture my heart.
One day while doing the unromantic tasks of peeling potatoes and pulling out splinters, it hits me. Days before all this happened, I prayed God would do whatever it took to make me live more sacrificially. Sure, I’m involved in ministry, I go to church, I give to others, but I didn’t live as passionately and sacrificially as I wanted to, as I felt the Bible called us to. That day God’s answer… “Yes, ministering to this family is how I’ll teach you to live the way you’ve asked.”
I want big things from God. I think it’s ironic that we want big things from God then find it strange when he asks us to build an ark, feed 5,000, march around a building for seven days, care for the poor, the helpless.
God teaches me that every day I have a choice. I can choose to remain nestled in my comfort zone or I can step out in faith into the danger zone. I can let the fear of something small cripple me or I can take a risk and do something to help someone else, make a person smile, change someone’s world if only for a day, for a moment. To me, life with Jesus and sharing His name is life to the fullest. All we have to do is decide to get up, get out, and embrace it.
Will you embrace it today?
Last week Vacation Bible School exploded at our church. I guess I didn’t think I had enough crazy in my life so I volunteered to be responsible for ten VBS-ers.
Mothers On Mission ministers to a family who by law is considered homeless. I decide to transport four of the children to and from VBS. At least they’d have a roof over their head, a good lunch, and time away from drug use all around them.
I tell you this story humbly as God revealed so many things this past week that took my breath away. I’d like to share the experience with you. I pray you’ll gain encouragement from my short comings, how God used my weakness as a platform for his strength.
My journal entry:
June 27, 2012
This week is aggravating. I want to slap that Sloppy Joe right out of their little hands and chuck it across the room. But I’ll slap a smile on instead. Driving to and from the slum of downtown each morning is emotional, physically exhausting. I never know exactly where I’ll drop them off. Where will their home be tonight, I wonder? But instead of seeing my driving back and forth routine as an aggravation or inconvenience, I begin to see it as a reminder to draw near to God. I can’t do this without fellowship with Christ. I get up and the Word is oxygen, I can’t breathe without it. I make it until bedtime but I thirst for Christ like crazy, the day drains me. I’ve made a mess, maybe even rushed into this a little. What I’m doing is inconvenient, costly, stretching…but it’s worth it because these are God’s children, and He wants them to know Him.
After Jesus had risen, he appears to his disciples while they fished. Peter sees Jesus walking along the shore. Filled with anticipation, Peter jumps out of the boat and begins swimming to Jesus. Needless to say the boat probably got to shore before Peter did. I feel like Peter sometimes. I jump excitedly into things, get in over my head, and then stand there sopping wet at the feet of my Lord smiling up at Him stupidly. I don’t always think things through. Then I end up doing them the long way. Every time I do this, Jesus doesn’t rebuke me. Instead he welcomes my soaking wet self into his arms happy to see me, in spite of myself.
~ End of Entry
We serve a God who used Moses, a murder, to part the Red Sea; a God who let Peter, who would deny him, walk on water; a God who looks at me and you in our fallen weakness and says, “Y’all can do the impossible because I am here.” Oh yes in the Southern Baptist world Jesus uses “y’all.” (smile)
You, my sweet sister, can do the impossible too (today and everyday) because the sweetest name we know is constantly and ever-presently with you and with me.
A few weeks ago I buy a wooden plaque that reads, “What if we practiced courage every single day?” I feel the first birth pangs of fear as I set it above my kitchen sink. I am not courageous, but I want to be. So I set it eye level in plain view while washing dishes, doing mundane mama things.
I hear God whisper in the quiet, “Be courageous in the things I call you to do.” Jesus spoke these exact words to the paralytic man on the mat (see Matt. 9:10), the woman who bled for years (see Matt 9:22), the centurion with an ailing servant, Peter who walked on water (see Matt 14:27).
I am just like them. You are too. Sometimes we need refreshing. We need Jesus to remind us not to be afraid but to be courageous. We are made in the image of Christ and there is no room for fear, no room for timidity.
A month ago, well meaning church folks approach me at a BBQ. “Are you going downtown to pray with people at that old motel by yourself?” they ask with inquisitive minds.
“Well, yes,” I explain.
“You know you really shouldn’t…it’s too dangerous,” the normalization continues. Much to my surprise my heart doesn’t break as swift as a brittle stick under hard words like usual. No hysteric edge, no deflated will. In fact, the Spirit breathes the words of Matthew 10:16-18 like a rushing wind through my heart.
“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me,” (MSG).
People say taking the Gospel downtown to the slum is dangerous. They ask if I’m afraid. I tell them I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable than I am of saying “yes” to what God commands me to do, for all of us to do.
I’m more afraid of living a complacent life in a self serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any danger I may experience in downtown Reno.
Jesus called his followers to be a lot of things but I have yet to find here he warned them to be safe. We aren’t called to be safe. We are, however, promised that when we take his Word into not-so-nice places, God is with us. To me, there is no better place to be than in HIS hands.
Little did I know, days later I would find myself clutching his hands as I entered hard places where courage was a requirement. I didn’t know it then but instead of God turning my world upside down, he was turning it right side up.