Category Archives: inspiration

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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Don’t Hate. Appreciate.

I really wanted to write about the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard today since it only appears in Matthew’s account of the Gospels. The fact that it gave me an opportunity to run to the Urban Dictionary was an added bonus. I love the Urban Dictionary, it absolutely cracks me up. So, tonight’s definition is: Hater. Here is what our street slang reference says:

 

Hater: A person who feels anger and/or jealousy for someone who has succeeded in something they have worked hard for. A person who speaks badly, and/or takes negative actions in attempt to create problems for a successful person.

 

Matthew 19: 9-12 reads: 9“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 

 

The workers who spent the entire day working in the vineyard yet earned the same wage? Haters. They experienced anger and jealousy because the workers who arrived late in the day had the same success or reward as they had even though they worked longer and harder. They even began to speak badly against these workers saying that the landowner had made them equal thus implying that they felt they were some how better or more deserving.

 

How often have I been a hater? Often. I hate to admit that I get jealous of others, sometimes even angry, when I perceive that they receive more blessing than I have. More money, better marriage, more career success, more recognition (a big one for me), or more opportunity. I work hard for what I have and for what I am trying to hold together and sometimes it makes me angry when I see things coming together easily for other people. 

 

Now let me step into the confessional for a moment: I am especially susceptible to being a hater when the object of my envy is a non-believer. I remember what my life was like before I became a Christian. It was a directionless life for the most part however; there were some aspects that were easier. There are lots of things that the Spirit in me urges me to reconcile, battle, deny, forgive, accept, submit to. Following that direction is usually hard work for me and I admit feeling resentment when good things come to those who, in my mind (or imagination) aren’t putting in the time or the effort that obedience to the Spirit requires of me. That resentment can turn to anger especially when my hard work still leaves me with difficult, unresolved situations or problems.

 

The rest of the parable was a good reminder for me. Matthew 19:13-15 reads: 13“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

 

Didn’t I agree to work for a denarius? If I recall correctly my agreement was to pick up and carry a rather large, burdensome cross. And in exchange I would receive grace, mercy, and love more abundantly that I could ever imagine. I was never sold a ‘health & wealth’ bill of goods. I agreed to surrender myself in exchange for a crown I wouldn’t get to wear until I saw heaven. The question of equal pay is really a question of grace. I need to repent from feeling jealous or angry when others are given some of the grace that He has so generously given to me. I am grateful for having all of the blessing that I have been given even if it has taken some commitment on my part. In other words: Don’t be a hater. 


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Staying Above Water

I worked for a few years as part of a child and adolescent mental health treatment team. We worked with families who had a child with severe mental health issues which had resulted in multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. My role on the team was to work directly with parents of sick kids. This job was hands down the most challenging, rewarding, humbling, fulfilling job I have ever had. Everyday I would meet with parents who felt at the end of their rope. They were at their wits end trying to help their child who had lost control of his or her body and mind and were doing things to harm themselves. What a helpless and hopeless feeling. I was thinking about this experience as I read about the demon possessed boy in Matthew 17.

 

Matthew 17:14-16 “When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord have mercy on my son,’ he said, ‘He has seizers [lunacy in the NASB] and is suffering greatly. He often falls in the fire or the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

 

It is not fun watching someone you love being tossed about in a mind altering, self harming, out of control experience. Unfortunately, this condition is so common that I think we can all relate, I know I can. In fact, sometimes the out of control person is me. 

 

In the passage the father humbly approaches Jesus, on his knees, seeking mercy and compassion for his hurting boy. He tells Jesus that his child is suffering greatly from either seizures (NIV), lunacy (NASB), or both. Whatever the condition it is safe to say that the son was no longer in control of his mind, body or actions and that the father is sharing deeply in his son’s pain. Heartbreaking. 

 

Then the father describes the suffering…He often falls in the fire or the water. This child is both burning himself and drowning. How many times have I been near something that I knew would burn me but felt an over powering, out of control desire to fall into fiery temptation despite the pain it would cause? Lots (Maybe some day I will share the 1992-1996 highlight reel with you…scary). How often have I found myself in deep, dark, overwhelming situations where I felt like I was uncontrollably sinking or drowning in indecision or bad decisions or heartache? How often have I found myself gasping for air in water over my head? 

 

I have “fallen into the fire or the water” and needed to beg Jesus for his healing mercy to rescue me from myself many, many times.

 

So here’s the application. In verse 16 the father says that he brought the son to the disciples and they could not heal him. I will admit that when I am in serious fire and water type situations I frequently turn to other people or systems for healing or to help me regain control. These systems and people aren’t necessarily bad, in fact they are often very good. Things like support groups, therapists, praying friends, spiritual advisors, diet programs, concerned friends or family members. All of these are good resources for help or support but they are not the source of my healing. I need to start using these people and systems to avoid the fire and water hurts in my life and immediately go to Jesus FIRST, on my knees, if I happen to fall in. 

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Who Do You Say I Am?

As you can see I took more than a few days off from blogging. In my last post, ‘Clearing Some Time’, I concluded by challenging myself to start praying beyond my own needs and actually listen to God and His plan for me. Novel idea isn’t it? In short I needed to shut up. And that’s exactly what I did. I have been quite for five days.

 

Now I’m ready to start talking, or blogging again and hope that you are ready to jump back in.

 

As I was writing the last post (and I mean literally as I was writing it) I was faced with some personal challenges that took me back to places that I thought were behind me. It has been a trip back that I haven’t wanted to take. I don’t think that it was coincidental that as I was writing about my need to shut my mouth and open my ears to God I was taken to these dark places. While I have had my ears open and blog turned off for the past five days I have not had any major, earth shattering revelations from God about my life or the world. What I have gained is some clarity of thought at a time when my head has been the foggiest. 

 

During my past few days of listening I have given a lot of consideration to the passages for today’s post. As I listened and listened and listened some more, Matthew 16:13 – 20 have really spoken to me. Jesus and the disciples are in the middle of a whirl wind tour full of signs, wonders, prophesy and teaching. Despite all that they have seen and heard these guys still aren’t completely sure about what is going on in their little world or who this man Jesus really is. 

 

In verse 13 Jesus asks them “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They reply that “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (v. 14). That’s a 21st Century answer if I’ve ever heard one!  Even with all the evidence of Christ people still insist that Jesus was a good moral leader, philosopher, or teacher. That Jesus represents nothing more than an important, religious, historical figure. A figure who may be relevant to some but for the majority is nothing more than a man, albeit a famous one. A man not unlike John, Elijah or Jeremiah. 

 

Verses 15 and 16 is when my ears really tuned in. 15“But what about you?” he [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” In my adversity, when others are watching, during the times in my life when it really counts who do I say that he is? In all truth I say that he is the Christ but I behave as if he were someone less. Someone like John or Elijah or Jeremiah. I can fool myself into believing that I have control over my circumstances when I minimize the truth, that he is the Son of the Living God, and begin to limit him by viewing him as a spiritual advisor or a good, moral example. I limit him when he becomes an intellectual figure rather than a relational one.

 

Shut up and listen. As I struggled through a difficult weekend full of emotional highs and lows I spent a lot of time asking God to fill me with the truth of who he is. That I would begin to experience him for who he is, the Son of Man, the Living God. That he would speak to me in undeniable ways and I would respond by calling him Christ no matter the outcome of my trial. 

 

I love the song ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’ and it has been stuck with me for days. The lyrics are my testimony. He has taken me through the clay, set me on on the rock, didn’t let me go. I love him and need him. Even if my world falls I will hold on and not let go. And when asked “Who do you say that I am?” I will respond “He is the lover of my soul, my Savior, my closest friend, the one I will worship until the end”.

 

As a footnote: For all of my dear friends who read this blog and have been praying for me these past few days, thank you. I am truly blessed. Thanks for praying and thanks for reading. It’s good to be back!


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Clearing Some Time

I’m a wife and mom of three kids ages 17, 7, and 6. I also work full time at a rather demanding job and am a part time grad student. Between household responsibilities, work responsibilities, my travel schedule, class schedule, and school assignments I am booked solid. I thought about cutting and pasting a snapshot of my weekly schedule from my iCal but I didn’t want to scare anyone. In addition to my schedule we need to work in activities like, cheerleading, Cub Scouts, church stuff, Daisy Girl Scouts, and any other family event that comes our way. At the end of a long day I am exhausted. At the end of a long week I am especially exhausted. I hate to admit it but I often find myself so over booked that I forget to make time for God. If I had posted a view of my iCal you would see that none of my appointment slots are filled by Jesus. So, can I honestly say that I am completely devoting myself to Him and His calling when I’m not even carving out enough time in my day to hear what His calling is?

 

When I was reflecting on today’s reading I was impressed with what a tight schedule Jesus was able to keep. His job had way more travel demands than mine does (I never have to walk anywhere!). He is teaching the multitudes, instructing and equipping the few, preparing meals for over 5,000 guests, and can still make time to perform healing miracles whenever the need arises . All in a days work! Yet despite the demands being made on His time by all of the people following Him, He still made time to be in the presence of the Father and pray.

 

Matthew 14:22, 23 “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them , he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone”

 

What an example this is for me! When everyone, with every need known to man is pressing in on him Jesus dismissed them so He could make time for a relational conversation with God. Can I dismiss those who press into my day at work or at home so I can free up more time for Him? I need to. As it is right now Jesus gets whatever time I have left over in a day. It is hardly enough time to really invest in our relationship. Looking at the last few weeks it’s really just enough time to bear my burdens and ask for my blessing. Rather selfish and one sided isn’t it? 

 

My challenge to myself today, on the National Day of Prayer, is to dismiss some of the crowd in my life everyday so I can find a quiet mountainside and pray. Pray beyond my own needs, actually listening to Him and what He needs from me. Have a conversation with Him about my doubts, worries, concerns, joys, sorrows, and excitement. I need to begin by shutting my mouth (yikes!) and opening my eyes, my ears and my heart. Then I can see, hear and experience all that He has in store for me. Then I can know His heart, His desires and learn His ways. Maybe then I will begin to feel my burdens and stresses lessen and experience more of my blessing.


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