Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sometimes, we can't relate.....and they know it

She was a pretty girl, (I don't remember her name, but let's call her Joan) walking down the street on a hot Texas afternoon in the town's poorest neighborhood.  I got out of the car to talk to her about Christ and invite her to church.  Joan was SO receptive and so kind!  She said that she'd be glad to come to church and we gave her a ride to her home so she could get out of the heat for a few minutes.  It wasn't much of a home.   She lived in a tiny converted gas station with the abandoned pumps right outside her front door.  We dropped her off and told her we looked forward to seeing her the following morning at such and such time.

Well, Joan didn't answer her door the next morning and never came to church.  I followed up on her a few other times after that; but the closest I got to speaking with her was another Saturday afternoon when I knocked on her open door and was "greeted" by a room full of people.  The only thing I remember seeing in the room, as I stood in the open doorway with people spilling out onto the stoop,  was a bed to my left and people sitting everywhere.  Some on folding chairs and some on the bed.  They were all just hanging out and weren't a bit rude but not necessarily friendly either.  I told them I was looking for Joan and a large older woman pointed to a figure on the bed.  Joan was sprawled out on the bed sleeping in the middle of the day in front of all these rowdy people!  She roused slightly and when I asked her if she wanted to go to church the next day, she mumbled something incoherently and then dropped her head back down.  The heavy woman laughed bawdily and said, "Honey, she ain't in any condition to go ANYwhere!"  And everyone laughed knowingly with her.  It was like a private joke had been told that I wasn't privy to.

I looked for her a couple of times after that, but never found her.  But here's what kept going through my mind.  She and I were from two different worlds.  Me?  I was white bread America and I was going back to my white bread home with my husband and four kids.  Everything in my world was "set up" for me to live a "holy" life.  To be separated.  To shun "works of the flesh".  And here I come in my skirt and comfortable shoes thinking that inviting Joan to church is going to change her hell hole life.  When I drop her off back home, I'm still dropping her off to her converted gas station.  To the men who would use her.  To those who probably sell her drugs, and possibly sell her FOR drugs.  In my mind I could imagine her saying to me, "What?!  Ok....yeah!  I'll go to church with you, but guess what?  I'm coming back to this mess.  I'm having to deal with these people.   You can't even relate to my life and I sure as hell can't relate to yours!  Is going to church with you Sunday going to change all THIS for me?"  And she would have been right.  I couldn't relate and going to church with me may even cause her more grief than help.

I'm in AWE of people who give up their lives to go and be a PART of the lives of the poor.  The needy.  The homeless.  The helpless.  Mother Teresa, who gave up physical comforts so that she could show love and relate to those poverty stricken in India.  I've wondered what it looks like to really minister to people in these seemingly hopeless situations.  It seems to me, we can't minister from a distance.  It's got to be personal and up close.  But that often means giving up what we CAN have top help others get what they CAN'T.

This isn't preaching.  I'm not there yet......

Friday, March 22, 2013

Woman caught in adultery....what if she did it again?

Most of us have heard the story of the woman caught in adultery.
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.]] (emphasis mine)  (John 8:2 - 11)
What if she did it again?

Seriously.  What if two weeks later, Jesus is at the same place teaching and she is brought before Him again.  Would His answer be any different?  One would think that after narrowly escaping being stoned to death that she'd become the earliest version of Mother Teresa!  But what if she didn't.....what if she messed up again.  How many times would she have to be brought before Jesus before He'd say, "You know what?  I'm done!  Give me a stone!  I didn't condemn you....I let you off the hook and you just totally took advantage of my kindness!  I've had it!  You deserve this!  Start throwing!!"?

I can't even picture Christ saying ANYTHING like this to her!  He showed her mercy when she didn't even ask for it.  Is there anything that He taught that would lead us to believe that He can get fed up with us?  That we can run out of chances to "get it right"?
  27“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6: 27 - 28)
It seems here that Jesus is instructing us on His own character.  He loves those who hate Him.  He forgives.  He doesn't hold grudges.  He doesn't get fed up with us.  In fact, even with the last bit of physical strength He had in Him, He asked forgiveness on those who were mocking, torturing and killing Him.

When we just keep sinning

But what about when we can't seem to get things right?  When we act just like the sheep we are?  Call it habitual sin (again, what is that??  ALL sin is habitual!), call it a big mess up, call it sins of omission.....of not doing what we know is right....not giving to those in need....not caring for the sick....not bearing each other's burdens....that stuff that we do every day.  When does He say, "You know what!  I'm done!  You're not taking advantage of my goodness any more!  You're just trying to make a fool out of me!"  I mean, that's what we would do, right?  We forgive someone a wrong they've done to us and they keep doing it, or they keep wronging us in some other way, how long are we going to put up with that?  But Jesus isn't us.  It's breathtaking how utterly and unabashedly good He is.  Peter wanted to know the same thing....
 21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.(emphasis mine)  (Matthew 18: 21-22)
I picture Peter saying to  Jesus, "I mean REALLY!  How often do I have to put up with someone messing me over!?  I'll forgive him seven times and then I'm done.  Seriously Lord, at some point, shouldn't I stand up for myself?!"  And Jesus says, "No, I'm not saying that.  I'm saying seventy times that!"  Which, by my understanding, means infinity....always.  We forgive every time!  And interestingly, again, there's no mention of the offender ASKING forgiveness.  Apparently, they don't HAVE to ask our forgiveness for us to grant it.

So where the heck am I going with this?

It just seems to me that we're so quick to talk about what someone's life looks like after they've become a believer and if it doesn't look a certain way, then they just didn't get it.  But my point is, there is nothing about Christ's character or His actions that demonstrates that's the way He feels.  In fact, everything He teaches seems to teach the opposite.  

I realize that goes against everything that we believe about justice and fairness.  If we'd been in the company of Jesus when this woman was brought before Him, I've no doubt we would all have been humbled.  (Of course, we'd see ourselves as the pharisees, graciously condescending to show mercy (but you really HAVE to read this, by Jim McNeely....he's quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers), but the reality is that we're the adulterous woman!)  However, if it kept happening, we'd start picking up stones.    But again, thank God that Jesus isn't us!

How does anyone ever grow to love God more if they constantly are afraid that they are running out of chances to prove that they really "got it"?  Is the gospel a certain amount of chances to get it right?  Or is it infinite mercy, forgiveness and GRACE?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Desperate to escape or desperate for God?

Some questions have been running through my brain lately regarding salvation.  "Salvation" is a key word in the Christian faith, but what does it actually mean?

Are we saved FROM something or FOR someone?

If there we no threat of hell, would that change God's love for us or how we feel about Him?

If the goodness of God leads to repentance, then why do we so often try to "scare the Hell out of people"....literally!?

Do I need the threat of Hell to be truly sorry for the selfishness inside me?

If I trust Christ, to escape Hell, am I really sincerely trusting Christ or am I just afraid of going to Hell?

If we get to Heaven and find out that there's no Hell (and never was), will we feel cheated?

If we get to Heaven and every human being that ever lived is there, will we be disappointed?

Are we so desperate to escape Hell, that it doesn't really matter to us if we spend eternity with God or not, as long as we don't spend eternity in fiery torment?

Does Hell matter at all?

Some of what has prompted these questions is my thinking on who God really is.  If God is Love (and I know He is) and the Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and Omega, the Great Physician, Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace....then isn't being His MORE than enough?  Isn't spending eternity with Him, starting today, the gift of ALL gifts?   How does the fear of Hell fit into that equation?  Does truly KNOWING this wonderful God of ours make His absence Hell?  If I love God with all my heart and soul and strength, then isn't His absence, isn't an eternity without Him more of a horror than literally burning forever?

If our greatest love is supposed to be God, then how can our greatest fear be our own suffering?  If I lost my husband tomorrow, I would grieve for his presence, his touch, his smell, his voice, his kisses, his laugh, his words.  I wouldn't grieve for the fact that I don't have his income, or that my standard of living just took a hit, or that maybe I don't get to live in the same home I've grown accustomed to.  My fear of losing him comes from my love for his presence.

If anyone out there has any thoughts on these questions (or questions of your own), I'd love to hear them.  I find that I've find God more in my questions than I do in MY answers......