A Legacy of Faith

Psalm 112 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Righteous Will Never Be Moved

112  Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever;
    his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
    he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
    the desire of the wicked will perish!

My grandmother would have celebrated her 108th birthday today. I’m confident that she IS celebrating today– but she no longer has to count birthdays, or worry that this one might be her “last.” She passed into eternity more than 25 years ago. But she and my grandfather left a legacy of faith, hope, integrity, and prayer that lives on. It is a quiet legacy– my grandparents were not “important” people–they worked hard, lived a simple lifestyle, and never made a showy practice of their faith. But they lived it in such a way as to leave others with a glimpse of what steadfast faith looks like.

Grandma was born just a few short weeks after the sinking of the Titanic. She lived through two World Wars (one of which kept her separated from her husband, working in a factory, and raising two young girls). She lived through times of war, times of riots and uncertainty, and times of disease and pain. She knew what it was to struggle and lose. She was born before women could vote. She and my grandfather lived through the “Great Depression,” picking up whatever odd jobs they could, and sometimes not having enough for rent or food. But she also knew incredible joy and satisfaction. She knew what it was to be loved and to give love. She knew the joy of seeing a job to completion, and of using her talents and skills to help others. Most of all, she and grandad shared an incredible faith– one that had been tested many times– in God’s goodness, His provision, and His faithful protection. They lived in circumstances that would cause many to fear. But I never remember Gram being frightened–she wasn’t oblivious to bad news and difficult circumstances–but she faced them with confidence and resolve, the kind that gave hope and courage to everyone around.

My grandparents moved a lot. I mean, A LOT! They probably moved 50 times (at least) during their 62 years of marriage. Sometimes, they moved because Grandad had “itchy feet.” He liked change; he liked to have new projects to tackle; he liked to feel “free.” He loved moving into a “fixer-upper,” or renting a place with a run-down yard. But sometimes, they moved because they had to. They moved a lot– but they were never “moved” from each other, from their family, or their faith. They didn’t lose hope; they didn’t shift opinions based on their circumstances; they didn’t break promises or end friendships.

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Psalm 112 gives a wonderful description of a “righteous” person. Not a self-righteous person, and not a perfect person (as none of us are perfect). But it is a great picture of the kind of legacy my grandparents left behind. They were generous– not just with money, but with gifts, work, time, hospitality, and words of encouragement and hope. They were rock-solid in their integrity– they went above and beyond not to cheat or lie or complain or shirk duties. In all their struggles (and in their good times) they never lost sight of God’s Goodness and Sovereignty.

My prayer today is that I would pass along such a legacy; such a witness. God is faithful, He is good, loving, and kind. He is never far from those who call on His Name, and He is able to deliver us from all our struggles. I am so grateful that, in addition to all the other blessings I take for granted, God gave me amazing grandparents. I hope He brings such people into your life today, and equips you to be such a legacy-builder, as well!

WWJD–Coronavirus edition

What Would Jesus Do? This question, shortened to the acronym WWJD, appeared as a fad on bracelets, t-shirts, billboards, etc., a few years ago. The idea was to ask oneself how Jesus Christ would act or react in various situations.

While I don’t disagree with the premise, I have never been a fan of this trend– mostly because it calls for people to speculate or imagine what Jesus would or might have done in their place. There is nothing wrong with wanting to act like Jesus– that’s what we’re supposed to do–to be disciples of Christ, and be His ambassadors. But our minds and hearts are not perfect; in fact they can be deceitful and arrogant, self-righteous and self-justifying. It is more common for us to justify how Jesus would act like us, than for us to adjust our thoughts and actions to those we know Jesus took during His time on earth. Would Jesus be angry about injustice– of course! Would He want us to have empathy for others– undoubtedly! But what would He actually DO? There are some pretty clear examples in the Bible– both examples of what Jesus DID, and what He DID NOT do:

  • Jesus drank wine; He visited and ate with known sinners; healed on the Sabbath (in direct violation of the church leaders of His day); interacted with the Romans (soldiers and leaders, etc.)who were oppressing the Jews– without protesting their rule or joining rebel groups; healed and performed miracles for some, but not for others; forgave sins for some, but not for others; paid His taxes without complaint; challenged religious leaders and spoke harshly against their practices; refused to get drawn into condemning and stoning a guilty adultress….
  • Jesus prayed. He want to temple regularly; read and studied God’s word; He rested, meditated, and spent time alone; He listened to strangers and treated those He met with compassion and respect; He honored His mother, but did not put her above His work; He loved his friends, even those who did not understand Him and the one who betrayed Him; He did not flatter those in power or disdain those in lowly positions; He cared deeply, wept unashamedly, and laughed heartily…
  • Jesus did not own a home. He didn’t have a “regular” job; He had no savings account or retirement fund; He had no donkey or horse for transportation; He wasn’t a member of a particular congregation or church council, like the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t have a university education; He didn’t run for public office; He never got “employee of the month;” He never married or had kids; We have no evidence that He ever gave to a particular charity, or joined any activist group. Jesus never hosted a barbecue, or led an evangelistic gathering, like His cousin, John the Baptist…
  • Jesus never addressed many of the issues we deal with today– civil rights, gay rights, abortion, health care, income inequality, democracy/socialism, smoking, drug use, pornography, violence in the media, global climate change, speed limits on highways, income tax structure, campaign finance reform, gender dysphoria, unisex bathrooms, vegans vs. meat eaters…

But the point of Jesus’ ministry on earth was to preach the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” and to fulfill His promise to go to the cross, die for our sins, and to rise again on the third day. He spent time teaching and discipling twelve very different individuals, who saw and did things very differently from each other, and differently from Jesus himself. Peter was fiery, John was a quiet observer, James was stern and concerned about actions, Matthew was concerned with history and prophecy. And all of them were loved by and commissioned by Jesus to spread the Gospel.

In these days of COVID-19, faced with fear and panic, many Christians (myself included) are struggling with the “right” response–we all want to show the love of God, and honor Him above all. In doing so, however, I find myself spending a lot of time justifying my own actions, and condemning the words and actions of others. And I find myself getting hurt and angry when someone I know and love reacts differently, uses different words or tones, or gets caught up in arguments about what “we must do.”

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We MUST seek God’s wisdom in these times. And we MUST listen to and obey His word. But beyond that, I believe that God wants us to be very different “parts of the body” (see 1 Corinthians 12) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12&version=ESV And I believe that God wants us to work together, honoring the various gifts and personalities that we have been given. Some of us are going to be fiery in our defense of health care workers, and advocating for the best and fastest medical care and treatments available. Some of us are going to be spreading small words and acts of encouragement wherever we see the opportunity. Some of us are going to be standing up against threats of corruption and injustice lurking among the actions of those in power. Some of us are going to speak boldly about our Hope in Christ, evangelizing and calling people to repentance. Some are going to be “standing in the gap” in prayer and counseling. Some are going to be providing money, food, PPE (personal protective equipment), and other services. And we must honor the other members of the body– in whatever role they take on– and seek unity, rather than division.

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Instead of blasting each other on Facebook or angry e-mails, we need to bring our initial reactions– anger, disappointment, hurt, confusion– to God. HE is the one who will judge our actions and motives in the end. Unless we see Christians who are flagrantly violating God’s laws– looting, cheating, spreading malicious lies and causing division, cursing God and/or misrepresenting Him in heretical fashion–we should ask, not just what Jesus would/might do in my situation, but what DID Jesus do in my place.

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Because He died for me when I was still a sinner. He sacrificed His life. Not because I had done anything “right,” or “good enough.” He didn’t keep a list of all the things I got “wrong.” He did not bring condemnation– He brought forgiveness, mercy, and hope! And His mercies are new every morning. If I “get it wrong,” if I do something, or don’t do something–because I am still human and I don’t know everything about COVID-19 or the global economy or what tomorrow will bring–God will still love me. God will forgive me.

My prayer is that I will do the same for others– that I will extend Grace, and true encouragement (rather than flattery or mutual congratulation), and Love, because I know without a shadow of doubt or speculation, that this is What Jesus Would Do.

Paying for the Privilege

I read a most astonishing article the other day. Wealthy white American women are paying up to $2,500 for a meal and a gut-wrenching session about how racist and bigoted they are. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/03/race-to-dinner-party-racism-women?fbclid=IwAR12AvWdTyht5RV0vfBfZ5XUEnA4441GU8efLSX8xtdfePI2R9KEesCipI8 Over a fancy dinner, they discuss how their privilege has caused them to ignore and deny the needs and rights of others, based largely on prejudices and fear.

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I won’t waste space to analyze all that I think is wrong with this scenario– but I will say the following:

  • $2,500 is a lot of money for most Americans, let alone many others around the world.
  • Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
  • If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could solve major problems, I’m shocked that no one else has tried it.

I’m dismayed by this article. I hope that some good comes from these efforts, but I don’t expect such tactics to end racism, bigotry, or ignorance. These women are paying for a privilege on top of all their other privileges– the right to feel righteous and “woke” to lingering problems that have never personally touched them. It would not occur to them to invite 10 women who don’t look like them, don’t live like them, don’t speak like them, and don’t dress like them to come to dinner. They would not share their hospitality, their fine china, or their fancy dessert with a working-class woman with olive skin and an accent, or a single mother fighting to make ends meet and losing the battle– of any skin color. They might give another $2,500 to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen– they would not befriend anyone who needed those services, however.

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Most importantly, they are likely to believe that by “owning” their prejudices, they are absolved of their responsibility to “love their neighbor as themselves.” They can be comfortable in the belief that their feelings “do them credit” and make them better than others who “are in denial” about their “subconscious biases” and “micro-aggressions” toward the people with whom they interact. They may take high-minded actions to force the government to “deal with” people less fortunate than they, but they will take no steps to get involved personally with the families who suffer from injustice and poverty just outside the gates of their exclusive communities.

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But what about me? I may sneer at the hypocrisy and foolishness of others, but what am I doing? Am I any different from the ladies who leave me shaking my head? What do I say and do to combat ignorance, hatred, racism, classism, and injustice?

Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on these ladies–and on those who need it most. Your heart is that all of us would live in peace and lovingkindness. Help me to see my neighbors as you see them–ALL my neighbors. All the time.

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The real privilege is not of wealth or comfort. The real privilege is to learn to love and be loved as Jesus loves– freely, sacrificially, whole-heartedly and without limit.

Hannah and Her Son

1 Samuel 1:11 New International Version (NIV)
11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

http://www.biblegateway.com

Today, we get to the essence of Hannah’s prayer. And it is not a prayer that most of us would pray. Hannah asks for a son to take away her misery and show her God’s favor. But in the same breath, she promises to give her son back to the Lord forever. How many of us would ask for something so rare and precious just to turn around and give it away?

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As I write this, my country, my friends, and even my family are deeply divided over the issue of abortion. Much is being made about a woman’s “right” to decide whether and when she will have a child. “My body, My choice,” is a common cry among the pro-choice crowd, while the other side points fingers and yells, “baby killer” at those women who choose to end their pregnancy. But yelling and chanting don’t change hearts or facts. A woman cannot actually “choose” to become pregnant at will. In Hannah’s case, she was in anguish over her inability to “choose” to become pregnant. In the case of a modern woman, she may be in anguish over not being able to avoid an unwanted pregnancy or avoid unwanted complications resulting from her pregnancy. She may, like Hannah, be in anguish over her inability to conceive or to carry to full term. But in any case, the idea that pregnancy and birth are simply a matter of “choice” is based on a false reality. There is an illusion of “reproductive autonomy” because of modern medicine. We have birth control that makes claims of being “safe and effective”; we have methods to increase fertility, regulate menstruation, reduce the chances of conception, and even stop the fertilization process within a day or two. But no woman can simply “choose” to become pregnant (or stop being pregnant) at will. Women cannot choose the gender of their children; they cannot guarantee the date of birth; they cannot produce a future world leader or athletic prodigy just by force of will. They cannot guarantee their child perfect health, long life, wealth, or happiness. And reproduction among human beings is never “autonomous”!

Hannah’s story seems the antithesis of abortion– here we have a woman begging for a child; she is in anguish over her inability to conceive. And God hears her cry and blesses her with a son.

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But today, I want to look at Hannah in a slightly different light. I think Hannah would have a great deal of compassion for those women who suffer anguish because of their womb– women whose wombs are achingly empty; women whose wombs seem to betray them as pregnancy after pregnancy ends in a miscarriage; women who long for their womb to be home to a little girl, even as they have a house full of much-loved little boys (or vice versa); women whose wombs hold anger and bitterness because they have been the unwilling vessel of abuse, incest, and rape.

Infertility and “unwanted” pregnancy are not mutually exclusive. They are distant cousins–manifestations of a fallen world where none of us control even the circumstances of our own bodies. And it is in this context that Hannah makes an extraordinary vow.

Hannah gives birth to a son– the fulfillment of all her longings. Or is he? Hannah gets to carry him in her womb; she gets to wean him. But then she vows that she will give him up– relinquish all rights to be there when he scrapes his knee or loses his first tooth, when his voice begins to deepen and his hugs require her to stand on tiptoe. What kind of mother is Hannah? She will never have all those stories of the little “mom” moments; no memories of tucking him in after a long day, or watching him climb a tree, or run after his dad. She will never hold his hand on dark stormy nights, or ruffle his hair after it gets a new cut (in fact, she vows he will never GET a haircut).

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There are moms–unsung, living in the shadows– who have made the incredible sacrifice of “giving up” their children. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by force. Some have given them up for adoption at birth. Some have lost parental rights due to divorce, incarceration, or other life circumstances. Some have had their children stolen or taken from them in tragic circumstances. Hannah was given other children after she gave up Samuel, but she never “got over” the loss of her son. No one ever does.

Which brings me back to the debate about abortion. We do not have “reproductive autonomy.” Our wombs are not just another part of our bodies. They are designed to nurture and prepare for new life. To the extent that they fulfill that design, they bring joy and pain, hope and hurt. In denying that reality and embracing the false promise of “my body, my choice”, we don’t erase the lives lost to abortion– we just bury them. And for the women who are making that choice, we must offer compassion. The pain and anguish they suffer before and after an abortion are every bit as real as that suffered by Hannah in her quest to have a son, only to give him up.

Jesus Wept

It is the shortest verse in the entire Bible– St. John 11:35:  “Jesus wept.”  Only two words.  They are easily memorized; they are also easily overlooked or misrepresented.  Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.

Read the story of Lazarus here.

Jesus wept–Emmanuel felt deep emotion and showed it.  God shed tears over the pain and sadness of a death; Messiah cried for the loss of his good friend.  Jesus was no stranger to sadness and loss– God understands the sharp sting of death.  God is compassionate, not heartless or cruel.  If we are in emotional turmoil, it is not because God doesn’t know our pain or doesn’t care.  He hurts WITH us in our times of deepest need.

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Jesus wept–People often ask the rhetorical question, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a situation.  Here is an example of what Jesus did– he wept.  Sometimes, the “thing to do” is to acknowledge the reality of our situation–death hurts.  It brings out feelings of anger and even fear.  Death is scary.  It’s ugly, and it fills us with a sense of injustice, and a desire to wake up and find that death is just a very bad dream.  Aching loss, wracking sobs, feeling punched in the gut by circumstances– these are valid feelings and reactions.  To pretend otherwise or to deny ourselves or others the right to express those feelings does great harm, just as wallowing in sadness and remaining isolated in our grief can drag us into hopeless depression.

Jesus wept– period.  He didn’t punch a wall or point fingers at Mary and Martha for “letting” their brother die.  He didn’t try to justify his extra-long stay that kept him from arriving before his friend died.  Neither did he justify returning to a region where he was not “safe” from the authorities in order to comfort the sisters (and ultimately raise Lazarus back to life).  People often criticize Christians for “not doing enough” to erase hunger, cure diseases, or end poverty in the world.  Some even point out that Jesus, being God incarnate, had the power to do all of this during his earthly ministry.  But he didn’t.  As he was dying, he said, “It is finished.”  He wasn’t referring to some social revolution or economic program, or political movement that would abolish the oppression of the Roman Empire, or the corruption of the Pharisees, or end the slave trade.  That doesn’t mean that God approves of evil, corruption, and injustice.

But it means that Jesus’s mission was accomplished through what he did in life and through his sacrificial death.  He loved freely, healed those who were willing, and taught about the true character of his Heavenly Father.  He ate, and laughed, and slept; he burped and sweat, and cried.  He prayed and worshiped and worked and gave.  Jesus didn’t weep because he had no power to keep Lazarus from dying.  He proved that just minutes later.

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Jesus wept because he was showing us the very heart of God.  God’s heart is not to flex his sovereign muscles and demand our instant and abject obedience– though he has the perfect authority and right to do so.  His heart is to walk intimately with us, even when that walk goes through the very valley of the shadow of death!  God’s love isn’t flinty and cold.  It isn’t pushy and arrogant and selfish.  It is extravagant and gracious beyond all imagination.  It is raw agony and pure joy.

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What in your life causes you to weep?  What burdens and aches and frustrations and questions drive you to tears?  Jesus may not take away what hurts us, but he will never turn us away because we are scarred or scared or broken.  He will share our burdens, wipe our eyes, and hold us as we pour out our tears.

Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things…we praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive.

God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate;  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

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But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

Reflections…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

God created us in His image–when we look at someone else, we see an image of Almighty God, albeit one distorted by sin and the effects of a fallen world.  Jesus came to be a perfect reflection of the Father, and to restore our ability to more accurately reflect Him in the world around us.  As one who was able to perfectly fulfill the Law, Jesus summed up the Law and Prophets in a simple phrase we call “The Golden Rule”– Do to others what you would have them do to you.  We all want people to respect us, to help us, to believe us, to listen to us, to encourage us, to share with us, and to live in peace with us.  We also want people to respect our boundaries and privacy, and to forgive us when we mess up.

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Unfortunately, we are more often a reflection of the evil around us than the God who made us–we treat others with disdain; we cheat and lie (or tell half-truths); we point fingers at our “wicked” neighbors, while giving ourselves a “pass” for our own “shortcomings”.  We put others down, make fun of their mistakes, spread rumors, and call them names.  We take advantage of them, make demands of them, use and abuse them.  We hold grudges, we “unfriend” them, and we exaggerate their faults to others.  In fact, we spend time complaining about how badly others treat us, while passing that same treatment on to someone new.  And we don’t even see the hypocricy–in ourselves!

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There is another simple phrase–“Hurt people hurt people.”  In other words, people who are carrying hurt and bitterness pass it on to others.  They see insults in the most innocent phrases; they hang on to grudges and suspicion; they criticize and condemn others; they spread anger and hatred and negativity.  They see evil intent in everyone else’s words and actions, and justify the evil intent of their own by pointing their fingers.  Many people do it while proclaiming their own “righteousness.”  “I just tell it like it is—I call ’em as I see ’em.”  “I just think you need to know…”  “If you treated me better I wouldn’t have to be so mean/angry/ etc.”  “You’re what’s wrong with this world..”  “I deserve better than this..”

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It’s little wonder, then, that so many people have a distorted view of God– they believe he’s harsh, unforgiving, critical and demanding, just waiting for them to mess up so he can punish them.  They believe this, in part, because sin twists our ability to see the truth.  But they also believe it because they see these characteristics in the very people who proudly (even arrogantly) carry the name of Christ.

“Do to others what you would have them do to you…”  “Ask, and it will be given to you….Knock and the door will be opened to you.”  God is not harsh; neither is he a doormat.  He wants us to live in harmony and peace– not demanding or stealing, but asking and giving generously.  He wants us to speak the truth in love, not justifying ourselves at the expense of someone else, or jumping to conclusions or snap judgments.  He wants us to knock on doors– not break them down or walk away in isolation; not locking everyone out or dragging them inside our space against their will.  Jesus modeled how we are to live.  He had no home, but welcomed those who wanted to follow him, and accepted invitations from Pharisees and sinners alike.  He spoke harshly only to those who were harsh and arrogant, but he did not provoke arguments, and he spoke words of healing to those who were hurt, even those who mocked him.  He had only what he carried with him, yet he withheld nothing that he could give when it was in his power to do so– sharing his food, sharing the wisdom of parables, sharing his healing touch and compassionate heart.  He mentioned Hell more than any other Bible figure, but never with relish;  His desire is that all might repent and escape their just punishment.  Hurt people who encountered Jesus were transformed by his presence.  They still are being transformed!  But transformed people should be the ones to stop spreading hurt, shouldn’t they?  If hurt people hurt people, shouldn’t transformed lives transform lives?

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As I prepare to pray, today, I need to go back and reflect on how I reflect God’s character–Am I distorting His image?  Am I hurting people, or pointing the way to the One who can provide healing and transformation?

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Lord, help me to see you clearly, and reflect you more accurately to a dark and hurting world.  Help others to see in me your compassion, your love, and your desire to heal and restore.  Help me to reflect on all the good gifts you have given– joy, peace, hope, redemption, patience, kindness, self-control, love, perseverance, gentleness, goodness, trust, wisdom, truth, newness of purpose and life; help me to reflect those same good gifts as I go through this day that you have made.

…Cry With the Saints

Several years ago, singer and songwriter Billy Joel created some controversy with a song he wrote, called “Only the Good Die Young.”  The song was about a young man trying to convince a young catholic girl to give up her virginity.  Many were offended by some of the lyrics, and by the general tone of the song, which was sacrilegious; sneering at the notion of sexual purity and waiting for marriage.  One of the lines in the song says, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints..The sinners are much more fun.”

Full lyrics here

It may seem that way to many– Christians (along with many Jews, Muslims, and others who are sincere and spiritually-minded) seem stern and sober in comparison to free-living, fun-loving heathens.  Why should this be so?  Shouldn’t those who are closer to God experience more Joy and happiness than those who do not know Him?  Why are saints and prophets so often shown crying, wailing, and weeping bitter tears?

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The author of Ecclesiastes (assumed to be King Solomon) writes:

Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 (Revised Standard Version)

A good name is better than precious ointment;
    and the day of death, than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting;
for this is the end of all men,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning;
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.

This doesn’t mean that God wants His people to be depressed, hopeless, and constantly weeping.  But God DOES want us to be aware and to see the world as it really is– fallen, chaotic, filled with needless suffering and injustice.  Why?  Because He calls us to think about the consequences of our actions, and also to have compassion for those who are hurting.  It may be more “fun” to ignore the consequences of sin and to “live it up” if you are young and healthy, but it is not at all true that “only the good die young.”  Death comes unexpectedly and randomly– taking both good and evil, both wise and foolish.  The difference is that fools get cut off and caught off-guard.  The consequences of their actions find them unprepared and filled with regret or bitterness and pain– all of which might have been prevented if they had not ignored reality.

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I think the song DOES have a message to Christians–while we shouldn’t be fools chasing after fleeting pleasures that leave a large wake of pain and regret and filling our lives with empty laughter, we should not “die young” in the way of the Pharisees of old.  Jesus called them “white-washed tombs” for good reason.  Their “goodness” came from self-righteousness and piety.  They shunned sinners, and chased others away with their long lists of rules and disdain for anyone who didn’t keep up appearances.  Such “saints” never cry– they are more likely to crow about their own “goodness” with dry eyes and closed fists.  Jesus attended feasts and parties with the sinners– but his heart was not for the “fun”  they were having.  It was for them– for their lost souls.  Jesus wept!  Jesus wept for the loss of his friend Lazarus; he wept over Jerusalem; he even wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane!

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The “Good” have many reasons to cry– millions of innocents suffer needlessly every day–abuse, slavery, genocide, abortion, bigotry, war, starvation, murder, theft, addiction, homelessness, disease, natural disasters, man-made disasters, and more fill our world.  People waste time angrily shaking their fists at Heaven or at governments, but so much of the suffering is a direct result of sinful actions on the parts of individuals.  In my own country, in my own lifetime, over 50,000,000 babies have been aborted–without legal consequence, but with a terrible consequence on the soul of our nation.  If we could shed one tear for each life lost it would equal over 660 gallons of water (here’s how I got that number  )– just one tear for each life, and those are only the abortions that have been recorded in the past 45 years in the U.S.  If we were to shed a tear for every broken marriage, every rape, every life lost to addiction, suicide, murder, or war, every violent assault, every broken promise, every lie, or every corrupt deed in our world over the past 50 years, we could fill an ocean!  The power of tears, or of any running/falling water is so great, it could generate electricity to light the nations! ( Here’s an interesting article on the power of a drop of water!)

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I would far rather “cry with the saints.”  But more than that, I would rather pray with the saints, and arise from both to work with the saints–the power of tears pales in comparison with the power of God’s mercy and grace!

Behold!

Matthew 6:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

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O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little eyes what you see

whole song text here

 

This little light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine!

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Both the scripture text and the children’s song above are often used in the context of watching pornography or violent images, and their negative effects.  It is true that if we fill our sight with negative and sinful images, we will be impacted negatively.  We become desensitized to violence and evil; we become addicted to images that shock or excite us.

But I think there is more going on in this text, and I think it has a bearing on our prayer life.  What we choose to see also involves what we choose NOT to see. We talk a lot about what we shouldn’t be watching or seeing, but there are some things– even unpleasant things– that we MUST see if we are to be the light of the world.  Not only must we see such things, we must shine a light on them and cause others to see them.  Injustice, corruption, dishonesty– we must be careful to see them for what they are.

We live in a world of optical illusions, and it can be very difficult to see clearly.  But that is what we are called to do.  If our eyes are good/healthy, we will let in the light of truth, so that shadows and illusions will become stand out.  If our eyes are bad/unhealthy, the shadows and illusions will trick us.  We will see only what can be seen in a glance, and miss the bigger picture.

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John the Baptist had excellent “vision.”  As he was out in the hot sun glinting off the Jordan, he looked up to see hundreds of people waiting to be baptized.  But his eyes were searching the horizon, seeing all the others, but seeking one face.  And when he saw it, he drew everyone’s attention to it– “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)  Our eyes, like those of John, should be looking with purpose and hope.

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Throughout the Bible, God looks at people with love and compassion.  Several times in the gospels, Jesus looks upon or takes note of people (some of whom are seeking him, and others who know nothing of him) and has compassion on them.  Our eyes, like those of our Father, should be looking in love.  Love sees things as they really are– it sees sin, pain, disease, betrayal, war, hatred, greed.  But love sees beyond to people who need salvation, healing, restoration, peace, compassion, and hope.

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I need to give careful consideration to what I allow myself to see– do I see all the negative, hateful, sinful things going on around me?  Do I see such things with a sense of purpose and with compassion?  Or do I ignore them and turn my gaze inward, shutting out the hurt and need all around me?  Do I see all the shadows and illusions and let my own light grow dim?  Or do I see the Light of the World, ready to shine (even through me), with hope and redemption?  Will I pray with my eyes closed and shuttered, or wide open?

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