Monthly Archives: May 2009

Learning True Mercy

ItHappens

As I read through Luke 6 and 7 I knew immediately that I wanted to write about Luke 6:36. That verse jumped off the page as if it was written in neon lights. It reads: “Be merciful just as your father is merciful.” I have struggled with this verse for two days now and have not moved past it, a clear indication that mercy is something I have an issue with and just hadn’t realized it. As I’ve struggled with this here are the two things that I’ve learned: I’m not as merciful as I think I am and I not sure that I really understand the true meaning biblical mercy.  

I used to go to a church that sort of referred members to service groups based on spiritual gifting. This isn’t necessarily a bad concept, people should serve where they are gifted and/or talented. Anyway, one of those groups was the Mercy committee. Any “acts of mercy” that needed to be performed fell in their laps. Loved it! After all, it was very convenient. I never had to do anything. In all my years there I never had to get my hands dirty in service. What I did develop was a very bad habit that I am just now realizing. I have equated mercy with giving money. Had you asked me 48 hours ago if I exercise the gift of mercy I would have emphatically said “yes, of course!” I sponsor a World Vision child, pack multiple Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, and give to charities I love. That’s mercy, right? Hosea 6:6 has really challenged this belief, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God not burnt offerings”. I have been giving God sacrifices (money) and calling it mercy. This is certainly not being merciful as my Father is merciful. Not even close.

So what is His mercy and how do I do it? In his book ‘Relearning Jesus’, Matthew Paul Turner* has a great chapter on mercy. He says Jesus’ type of mercy, is “alarming and peculiar. It gives and gives and gives with out expecting anything from me in return. The mercy of Jesus catches me off guard at times. And I believe it’s the kind of mercy that’s most effective in this world – the kind that leaves me standing back saying what just happened.” (p.94). I love that explanation. It illustrates how amazing a merciful Jesus really is and it makes me realize how far I have to go. 

I haven’t fully unpacked this topic in my head yet but in terms of application here’s one thing I can say for sure; I need to be less selective with the mercy that I give. I recently had an email conversation with Tal,** who I referenced in a previous post. He and I were discussing our frustration with people who have a manufactured point scale for sin. All sin is equal, none more or worse than the other. This has been a huge issue for me as I often complain that christians miss the mark by treating certain things as ‘big’ sins. Drives me crazy. Reflecting on Luke 6:36, I think I do the same thing with mercy. I have a tendency to give mercy and forgiveness when it is easy for me. When I don’t have to go to far out on a moral limb. And, worst of all, when I decide it’s justified. I pray that I will learn to grow in the understanding of and ability to freely show mercy, mercy like the kind the Father has shown me. 

I hope you comment on mercy and what it means to you. I have a lot to learn from your thoughts.

Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 7 and 8

Here are two links for guys I’m learning to know and hope I can someday call friends:

* ‘Relearning Jesus: How Reading the Beatitudes One More Time Changed My Life” is a great book. I highly recommend it. Matthew’s currently offering this book for free, for a limited time, if you purchase his other book ‘Churched’ (hysterical!) through his site. http://jesusneedsnewpr.blogspot.com/

** One more shout out for Tal. He’s a cool (and merciful) guy with an inspiring story and great Sirius show that will challenge you. http://www.talprincelive.com/templates/System/default.asp?id=41919

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Carrying Each Others Mats

images We have lived with the pain of addiction in our household for many years. The process of recovery has been life giving and spiritually defining for both my husband and I. However, the road of recovery has been a long, narrow, rocky pathway full of peeks, valleys and sharp turns. I’ve learned that at it’s root addiction, any addiction, is an adulterous relationship with self desire. And that selfishness is a jealous, stubborn lover. While actively engaged in this relationship you lose all control over your body and your senses. This is what I was thinking about when I was reading about Jesus healing the paralytic, a man who has lost all control over his body. 

17One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus” Luke 5:17-19

 

In this passage the paralyzed man, the man who had lost total control of himself, clearly needs the healing power of Jesus. Despite any desire he may have to seek recovery from his affliction and forgiveness for his sin (v.20) he has become a prisoner to his body, locked in by his disease, unable to move past himself to the place of healing. I know this feeling, we have been there. 

 

Here’s the cool part. Jesus gives us the perfect illustration of the recovery process as he designed it. “Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus”. In all of our experience with addiction recovery the one thing that stands out over and over, in almost every addicts story is the thought that recovery is a puzzle to be solved alone. But Jesus shows us that healing comes when we share our burden with others and they draw along side us, leading us on the path to healing when we don’t have the ability to get there ourselves. I especially love the persistence and tenacity that these guys show in verse 19. Even though they are met by hurdles (it’s too crowded, I relapse, this guy is really heavy too carry, I relapse) they don’t give up until they are in the presence of the Lord. It is impossible to experience recovery alone.

 

Unfortunately, the shame of addiction locks people out. It actually repels help from the outside. While addiction is a lonely condition, recovery from addiction only happens within the context of community. It only happens when you are honest with others about the reality of your condition (you are paralyzed by the grip of addiction) and are ready to allow some really good guys in. Guys, or girls, who are strong enough in character to pick you up and not let go until you are in the presence of hope. 

 

If you have a story about addiction or the recovery process please feel free to share it along with any comments about Luke Chapter 5. Sharing our story is the first step in picking up the mat.

 

Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 6 and 7


Looking for a good group of folks to help carry your mat? Try these links:

 

Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/?Media=PlayFlash

Narcotics Anonymous: http://www.na.org/

Celebrate Recovery: http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

Mark Driscoll’s free e-book on pornography and masturbation http://relit.org/porn_again_christian/

Every Man’s Battle: http://www.everymansbattle.com/

In the Detroit area The Woods addiction support group: http://www.wwnazarene.org/ministries/groups/support.php#addiction

 



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Microwaves, Slot Machines, and Prayer

microwave-oven-old-school1 A large part of the message at my church this Sunday was on instant miracles in an instant culture. Pastor Gocha* used the illustrative concept of the microwave and the crock pot and applied it to prayer life. The thought was that we want instant answers to prayer (and might I add affirmative answers to prayer) and we expect God to respond like a microwave-God. Petition, Zap, Blessing. I think he’s right. At least for me he’s right. It is difficult to wait for the slow simmer of a crock pot when I am in the middle of life. I replayed this in my head today as I read through Luke 4-5. 

In Luke 5:1-11 Jesus is speaking to the crowd and asks Simon to take him away from shore so he could teach from the boat. After he has completed his teaching he asks Simon to drop his nets into the deep water for a catch. Simon replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything [In my head that reads: Really God, you want me to do that again? I’ve tried that a million times and it hasn’t worked]. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5). I love the obedience of this verse. Even though I’ve ‘been there, done that’ I will follow your command. I’ll confess that some of my prayers, especially those of the microwave variety, are: “God why do I have to keep doing this over and over. Do it my way. Now. Because I say so.” Sad isn’t it?

 

Here’s what really made me pause. When Simon obeys Jesus he is blessed beyond his imagination. Verses 6 and 7 read, “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in another boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” Amazing! Belief, obedience, blessing: a very un-microwaved approach.

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I strive for that level of belief and obedience in my walk. I also strive to receive a blessing the way Simon demonstrated in verse 8: “When SImon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” What a humbling response. So, here’s confession number two: If my approach to prayer sometimes resembles a microwave, my response to an answered prayer often resembles a slot machine. I pray (Come on lucky sevens!) and sometimes I hit the jackpot. Response: “Yee-ha, Jackpot!” Insert next request and pull the lever again. 

 

I pray for the humility to fall on my knees in desperation and longing whenever I approach Him in prayer, knowing that I may not get the response I want in my time. And that’s ok. I also pray that I will develop the level of spiritual humility to fall on my knees when prayers are answered, with total gratitude for my undeserved gifts.

 

*Looking for some aspiring crock pots to worship with in the Detroit area or would you like to hear a podcast of this message? Check out The Woods at http://www.nazarene.org/

 

Tomorrow I should be reading Luke 6 and 7 but I really want to comment on Luke 5:17-26. So, I guess this is now a 41 Day study :)


P.S. This has nothing to do with anything but I had to share. When I did a Google image search for a picture of a slot machine it returned this: The Jack Potty (actual name!) available at many fine retailers including Walmart and Sears (no, this is not a joke). This is wrong on so many levels I had to share it! Discuss…Jack_Potty 

 

 

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Mary and Me

I grew up very Catholic and spent every Sunday of my childhood sitting on a hard church pew watching the Stations of the Cross go by. Through all the years and all the Masses I have had plenty of opportunities to experience Mary. Sometimes I experienced a Mary who looks like this one. Glorified, holy and unlike anyone I could ever relate to or understand. This is the kind of Mary that we would crown with many floral crowns and petition as we ticked off our Rosary beads. Mary, full of grace, mother of God.


mary-and-child2

 

Later, after I became a Christian, I saw Mary in a new light. Like so many women in scripture she has become an inspirational teacher to me. As a young mother I began to experience a Mary who looked more like this. A mom. That is someone I can most definitely relate to. 

 

I have always loved the tenderness of Luke 2:19. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I can relate to this Mary because in my mind she looks like this.  

                     

pregnant-belly-785494 

I can remember being pregnant with our children. I remember counting the months as my body changed and the little one hidden inside me grew and moved. There has never in my life been time when I have felt more expectant or hopeful as I did over those nine months. And as my little ones began to grow and experience life, learn new things, and explore their world I have watched and guided them recording everything they have done, pondering it all in my heart. Imagine if the son that I was loving and parenting was the Son of Man. What kinds of hopes and dreams and fears does a mother ponder in her heart when the one her nation is depending on is in turn dependent on her? Amazing love indeed!

 

Luke says something similar in Luke 2:51 “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51).  I love how this passage brings me right to the place where this young family is. Feeling anxious about their 12 year old son’s growing independence. Wondering who he would become in a few short years. Pondering his gifting. Experiencing pride over a young man who is honorable and obedient to his parents. I can identify with this Mary too. She looks like this.

 

incendiary-film-still-1

 

A mom who is chasing after her boy hoping that if she catches him she might be able to keep him from growing up, at least for a little while longer. Treasuring every moment of his youth and storing it in her heart before it’s gone. 

 

I’ve read Luke a thousand times. But today as I read through the familiar nativity story I added one more image to my Mary experience. The Mary of Luke 2:4-7 a young, teen age single mom on a long journey. I had my daughter, Jocelyn when I was 17. Despite the fact that it was hardly a virgin birth, I think I can relate. It’s scary having a child before you’re married, especially when it is not well received by those around you (as I’m sure it wasn’t in her time). Yet there is something undeniably exciting and joyful about having a baby despite the difficult circumstance. This Mary, despite her age and inexperience, expertly cares for her new baby wrapping him up in all of her hopes and dreams as she places him in a crowded manager. I can identify with this Mary too. She is me.


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Share your comments on this or any verse in Luke 1-3. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 4-5. 

 

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Intimate Betrayal

I’ve invited my husband, Jesse to write this post with me as the topic that I had in mind rang a lot of bells for both of us. I’m grateful that he accepted. This post is a merging of both of our thoughts and writing. Get ready, it’s a long one!

 

I (Nicole) have heard more Sunday morning messages about God taking on the form of man to identify with our humanness than I can count. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly believed them. There are lots of reasons for my disbelief most of them having to do with my insistence that it would be difficult for him to truly identify with my personal experiences as a woman and a wife. Reading Matthew 26 and 27 helped me to see how wrong I have been. Many of you have been praying for Jesse and I through the years as we have struggled with harsh truths in our marriage. Truths about our connectedness, purity, honesty, unconditionalness. How could a perfect God identify and connect with me, personally and empathetically, given the level of intimate betrayal I have experienced? Enter Judas Iscariot.

 

The first verse that really stood out to both of us was Matthew 26:23 “Jesus replied, ‘The one who dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me”. My Jesus, the God of the heavens and the earth, is a multidimensional God. He is more than the God who rides in on a cloud of glory. He is also the man who experienced the hurt that results from the most intimate betrayal in all of history. A betrayal that is signified by the very sign if intimacy itself – a kiss. He has experienced the betrayal of a friend and confidant who shared in the closest of traditions at one of the most personal moments of Jesus life – his last supper. And this God/Man can surely identify with the painful betrayals of my heart.

 

While I (Jesse) was reading I was thinking that Judas apparently didn’t really, deep down, know Jesus. He spent a lot of time with him, but we know that he had his hand in the till all along. At the last supper, right after Jesus has clearly stated that he knows he’s going to be betrayed Judas joins the others in saying, “Surely it is not I?” (26:25) It’s as if he thought he could somehow fool the Son of God. Which made me wonder, how well do I really know Him? Even though I’ve spent all of my life sitting in churches and Bible studies, do I think I can fool him too? Am I ready to abandon him when he wants to invite me into his Kingdom instead of delivering the goodies I’m expecting? Does that turn into a justification for sin, or at least for a lack of effort in pursuing a better relationship with him? After all, why bother with all this God business if he won’t do what I want? Reading about Judas leads me to ask myself some serious questions.

 

What stood out to me (Jesse) the most in this passage is that Judas represents the difference between remorse and repentance. Matt. 27:3 tells us that Judas “felt remorse.” Remorse to the point of death. Judas publicly acknowledged his sin and obviously felt awful about it. But he didn’t repent. I wondered as I read this: how many times have I felt just terrible about something I’ve done – and that was it? The fruit of remorse is, at best, an abiding sense of guilt, shame, and self pity. Repentance is something else again. A repentant Judas might have done something to show a real turning from sin, not just feel bad about it. This challenges me because for some reason, even though it feels terrible, remorse over my sins has been much easier than true repentance. Probably because it doesn’t require me to do anything except sit with my self-pity. 

One of my (Nicole’s) favorite Over the Rhine songs is Poughkeepsie from the ‘Good Dog, Bad Dog’ album. The lyrics talk abou

t being “drunk on self pity, scorned all that’s been given me, I would drink from a bottle labeled Sure Defeat”. As I read Jesse’s reflections I think that’s the kind of hopelessness he’s writing about. The turn in the song comes when hope falls from the heavens allowing us to cast our worries to the sky. Grace. 

 

So, here’s the hope of grace for us: I (Jesse) noticed that in the very midst of his betrayal, Jesus still calls Judas his “friend.” (26:50) That’s staggering. It tells me that Jesus isn’t writing anybody off, not even me. At the ultimate moment, he was still ready to embrace Judas as a “friend.” And it tells me (Nicole) that our God is the God of reconciliation. The restorer of even the most broken, deceitful relationships. He is a God who can undoubtedly identify with my hearts desire to experience renewed intimacy and recovery from betrayal. And so we both rejoice. What an amazing Savior!

 

Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 1-3.


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Unprepared

So, I’m still working through The 40 Day Challenge (reading the 4 Gospels in 40 days) and have been stuck on Matthew Chapters 23-25 for a couple of days now. I haven’t wanted to move on until I had totally digested whatever it is that God is trying to get me to swallow. Here’s where I have been most hung up: 

 

Matthew 24:36-39  36“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

I like to think that being a Christian for 16 years qualifies me for being ready. But am I really? Or am I more like those in the days before the flood. I hate to admit it, but if I’m being honest I’m closer to the latter. 

 

With this thought in mind, before I put this post up I decided to track how many of the 10 commandments I bust in a day. Not pretty. Here’s what I have learned about myself yesterday: I still have many, many false idols and a few gods before Him (most involve work); speaking the Lord’s name in vain continues to be a problem; while I am not a liar my truth does have a rather taffy-like consistency; I covet much (co-worker got new SAAB convertible and I drooled); and finally while no actual murders were committed several were plotted with alarming amounts of detail.

 

“The people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving into marriage” v.38 has really challenged me. While I am no longer a party girl, I do move through life feeling pretty comfortable and enjoying the finer things (eating and drinking). And I spend a lot of time focused on horizontal relationships with family members, friends and coworkers (marrying and giving into marriage). My challenge the last couple of days has been to become a bit less comfortable, a lot more alert, and to make sure that I am keeping the inside of my cup as clean as the outside (Matthew 23:25,26). 

 

Thankfully, yesterday was not the day of the coming of the Son of Man. And thankfully today wasn’t either. Until then I will continue to keep asking Him to perfect in me the work that He has generously started and will pray for enough grace to cover what is still undone. 

 

What are your thoughts on Matthew 23-25? Leave a comment! 

 

Tomorrow I will be reading Matthew 26-28.

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ISO Tax Collectors and Prostitutes

I caught a great call in show on Sirius Channel 161 Sunday Night. Tal Prince1, a great champion for marriage, sexual purity, and recovery from sexual addiction posed the following question: What would you do if a prostitute, just off of her last date, showed up at your worship service? Great question! Two of the worlds more renowned prostitutes are listed as biblical examples of women with great faith. Here’s another question: What would you do if a known extortionist and money launder came to your worship service and asked to sit on the Deacon board? Jesus made a tax collector one of the twelve.

 

All of the callers that I heard gave good, safe answers. Answers such as welcoming her (interestingly everyone assumed it was a woman not a man. Would we feel differently if it was a man?), offering help or assistance through ministry and prayer, inviting her back. All good answers but I think we should challenge ourselves to take it a little bit further.

 

Matthew 21:31, 32 says: Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 

I took two personal challenges away from this passage and Tal’s radio show:

 

The first challenge is to talk less and listen more. Jesus claims that the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, were getting it and the elders and the chief priests were not. What do we have to learn from the prostitute who shows up on a Sunday morning? Before I try to dazzle her with my spiritual gifts and well organized prayer groups maybe I should step back and listen. I’m sure there is a lot for me to learn from her (or him) about grace, adversity, hope, and faith. One of the best Tweets I heard on this question was someone’s suggestion that she would invite her to lunch.2 I loved that answer because it doesn’t assume that we, the “churched” have the answers or the “fix” for her problems. Rather it assumes that we need to enter into a relationship where we both give and take. It assumes that we enter into the healing process together.

 

The second challenge is to quit sitting around waiting for a prostitute to show up at my worship service. Instead, go find one. I have learned first hand that we have a huge opportunity to serve those with sexual addictions and other prostitute/tax collector-esque backgrounds within the church. We see healing when we leave behind the ways of the chief priests and begin to acknowledge the sin problem in our midst. As Matthew 21:32 reveals there is healing when we repent with them and believe. So, one last shout out. If you are ready to put your money where your Hymnal is check out Hookers for Jesus and help a prostitute find a worship service.3 After all they may be entering the kingdom ahead of us. Praise God!

 

1 For more information on Tal and his Sirius show ‘Tal Prince Live’ check out www.talprincelive.com or check him out on Twitter www.twitter.com/talprince

2 This answer came from Crystal Renaud, another great champion for sexual purity. Check her out at www.pinkhairedgirl.net or www.twitter.com/pinkhairedgirl to learn more about women and sexual addiction.

3 For more information on Annie Lobert and Hookers for Jesus, a Las Vegas based ministry offering outreach and transitional assistance to women and men exiting the sex trade industry, check out www.hookersforjesus.net  

 

If these sites interested you I also recommend checking out Craig Gross and XXXChurch at www.craiggross.com and www.xxxchurch.com, New Life Ministries and Every Man’s Battle at www.newlife.com; and Desert Stream at www.dsm.us.churchinsight.com 

I MOVED ALL THE  COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS HOST SITE

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