Paying for the Privilege

I read a most astonishing article some time ago. 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 (arguably) caused them to ignore and/or 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 It’s more than most people spend in a month for groceries, utilities, and more, let alone one meal.
  • Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
  • If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could really solve major problems, I’m shocked that we still have so many problems in the world!

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 and share their 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 across town– 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 for an hour, 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 (or routinely ignore). 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.

But another more insidious problem with the article is the way I can choose to respond to it. Articles like this are designed (on some level) to create anger, division, and a sense of disgust toward those who are considered “privileged.” I look at the hypocrisy outlined in this article, and I may assume that “privileged” rich white people are all alike. I may assume that the “problem” is their affluence and their indifference– that if they could be “made to” care more, or made to pay “their fair share”, poverty would disappear, and with it, prejudice and other issues that separate the “privileged” from the “rest of us.”

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But poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other issues are symptoms of a much greater problem– Sin. And Sin is a problem that can never be solved by sitting down over a meal or writing a large check or even learning empathy with others who suffer. In one very large sense, we all are “paying a price” for Sin. We live in a broken world, where Sin and its effects are felt by all. Even wealthy, healthy, “privileged” people suffer heartache, betrayal, loneliness, confusion, addiction, and loss. None of us has the “privilege” of being untouched by Sin.

And while each of us can and should be active in helping to mitigate the effects of Sin, we cannot eliminate them. We can never “pay” enough to make Sin and its consequences “go away.” Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can do that. The real “privilege” in life is not great wealth, or social standing. It isn’t comfort and the ability to shell out a month’s wages for a single uncomfortable meal. It isn’t the temporary feeling of being more “virtuous” than one’s neighbor–and that brings me to reflect on my own actions and beliefs.

What “privileges” do I take for granted? What makes me feel “virtuous?” What makes me feel guilty or ashamed, that I would “pay” to have someone else make me feel “enlightened?” Jesus doesn’t call me to “feel” virtuous. He calls me to follow Him and become more virtuous. He has already paid far more than a month’s wages (or even a lifetime’s wages) to redeem me from Sin’s curse, and allow me to live with peace and joy– no matter my financial or social circumstances! I have the very real “privilege” of knowing Him! And so can anyone else who puts their trust in Him. Through Him, we have riches that cannot be sold, bought, lost, or traded. But they can be shared! I cannot rid the world of poverty, prejudice, greed, injustice, or death. But I can help others find strength, hope, relief, and joy in their journey, as I point them to the Savior. I can’t give a thousand dollars, but I can give a few dollars to a local food bank, or volunteer time to help others. I can share food or water or clothes with someone who is in need just down the street. I can listen to someone who needs a friend, and I can offer to serve where someone needs a helping hand. I can also give the benefit of a doubt instead of harsh judgment– even to those who seem hypocritical or “unenlightened” in their earthly “privilege.”

Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on the ladies in this article–and on all 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. May we celebrate in that privilege today.

The Lion’s Share

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24
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We live in a world of seemingly finite resources. We work hard to save money, save time, protect our joints, take care of our teeth, maintain our house or yard, repair our vehicle, conserve water, protect our air quality, etc.. And we work hard to ensure that we get our “fair share”–vacation time, wages, tax breaks, sale prices, the best return on our investments, the lot with the best view, the window seat on the plane or bus, credit for our hard work, and more.

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God’s resources are unlimited and bountiful. Through Christ, we are joint heirs to all the riches of God. God is our “portion.” And no one who trusts in Him will be left with less than a cup filled to overflowing (Psalm 23:5). We may not fully comprehend or receive our great good fortune in this life, but we will enjoy it the next for eternity! And there is no need to scramble and scrimp, worry, or wrangle trying to get it– it’s our promised “portion” and our inheritance.

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What a world of worry, stress, desperation, and trouble we might avoid if we carried this promise in our memory and LIVED it out. The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words– Jeremiah, the weeping prophet; Jeremiah, whose life was in constant danger as he watched his homeland being invaded, conquered, and exiled. Jeremiah, in the midst of his anguish, took time to write some of the most hopeful and joyful words of prophecy. Jeremiah knew that, even if the nation of Judah was conquered and destroyed, the LION of Judah would still bring ultimate victory. And to the victor belong the “spoils!” Jesus is our victor and our victory. His are the spoils of war to lavish upon those He chooses.

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Jesus (called the Lion of Judah, an image found in both Genesis and Revelation) has already given us victory over Sin and Death. And the “Lion’s Share” of the spoils– abundant life, restoration, redemption, and the Righteousness of God– are for all those who call on His name and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! He’s reserved a “Lion’s Share” for each of us.

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“The Lord is my portion; Therefore, I will wait for Him.” ” I will trust and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2) “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8) https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Waiting-On-The-Lord (See also Psalm 37)

Instead of scrambling for a “lion’s share” today, let’s call on the Lion, and allow Him to give us our “daily bread,” knowing that His portion is more than sufficient today and forever!

Afraid to Pray?

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Are you ever afraid to pray? Afraid that God will not hear, or worse yet, that God will hear but reject your prayers?

The Bible has much to say about fear and our worship of God and in our conduct before God. We are supposed to have a healthy “fear of the Lord.” After all, God is Sovereign. He holds absolute power over life and death, both in this life and throughout eternity! We should have the kind of awe and respect we have for one whose power is so great. We fear forces of nature, such as fire, floods, earthquakes and tornados. We should be afraid of God’s power in relation to our own. But what does this mean in relation to prayer? Does fear have any place in our pursuit of prayer?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (ESV)

The “fear of the Lord” has to do with God’s power and authority to punish sin. We live in a fallen, sinful world, and we are fallen, sinful people. Our natural response is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden– to hide from God, and try to avoid His righteous judgment against us. Those whose consciences have been seared will lose this healthy and natural fear– they will be proud in their defiance against God. They will say that God is not sovereign or Holy; that He does not have the power to judge them; that they can “bargain” with God about their eternal destiny– they will even deny His very existence. Others will claim that God is Holy, but not “Good.” They claim that He is disposed to judge harshly; that He is vindictive and without mercy; that He demands too much of us. Even Christians can become so disposed to seeing God as their friend and advocate that they forget His awesome Holiness and Power. Christians have no reason to be afraid of God, but we have every reason to stand in AWE of Him!

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The Truth of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ is that God is LOVE– perfect and everlasting Love! While He has the power and the authority to judge, it is His desire to lavish mercy on us! Such love should compel us to run TO God, rather than run away from Him! We fall on our knees in worship and adoration, not in abject terror.

So what could still cause us to be afraid to pray?

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Perhaps we are still in sin, or we have strayed back into sin. Christ has already paid the penalty for Sin– it has no real power over the believer who “abides in God.” But it still has the power to draw us away from God and damage our relationship so long as we hide it, refuse to confess it, or repent of it. Even as we know that Christ has paid the price for our Sin, we also know that we need to abide in His Love to grow into a more perfect relationship with Him.

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Perhaps we are holding on to old patterns of thinking and old guilt. Satan is an accuser. Even after we have confessed our sin and received God’s forgiveness, Satan will try to keep us enslaved to our guilt and shame. He will try to bring it to mind, or have others treat us with condemnation or condescension, so that we feel unforgiven or unlovable. We need to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
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God’s love is PERFECT. But our love is not. Sometimes we are praying, not out of love, but out of duty or even selfish motives. We pray for God to give a green light to our wants and desires and plans, rather than listening for His wisdom and grace in our situation. We pray for God to “change” that person who annoys us or persecutes us, rather than praying for God’s blessing on them, and listening to the ways He may want to “change” us! Sometimes we cannot see the wisdom of an outcome we don’t like, and we are afraid of the unknown path we must take– even with God’s continued presence by our side.

We don’t have to be afraid to pray. But when we feel apprehensive, it may be a sign that we NEED to pray–honestly telling God what He already knows and asking for the grace and wisdom to listen to what He so lovingly wants to tell us.

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Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (CSB)

Christmas Wish Lists

When I was a child, we used to write letters to “Santa” with a list of what we wanted to find under the Christmas Tree that year. Sometimes this was a school project– practice in letter-writing etiquette, etc.– and sometimes, it was done spontaneously after poring through the Sears “Wish Book” Christmas catalog, or after watching Saturday morning cartoons with their endless ads for toys, dolls, bikes, and sugary cereals.

As adults, we often do something similar, drafting a Christmas “wish list” in our prayers and Advent dreams. Our adult lists may be as shallow as those of childhood–a new dishwasher, or a shiny piece of jewelry; a new “toy” boat for Dad, etc. Sometimes, they sound more virtuous– world peace, a healthy economy, a cure for cancer…

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It isn’t “wrong” to have wishes at any time of year. And we should hope for better things in the world around us. But we can get caught up in the idea of Christmas being all about wishes and desires at the expense of the real GIFT of Christmas– Christ Himself! In fact, we can become numb to the fact that Jesus wasn’t just “another” Christmas gift among our “wish list” items.

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The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 9-14 (NIV)

Christ didn’t come that first Christmas in response to any person’s wish list. In fact, the Bible says that when Jesus came into the very world He created, He was rejected, ignored, even despised by those who should have recognized and welcomed Him. He didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper and waiting for us to enjoy Him. He came wrapped in rags, forced to go into exile under threat of death, and honored only by humble shepherds and strangers from foreign lands. No one sought Him out on their own. Even the shepherds and wise men were led by angels and a guiding star.

This year, instead of concentrating on wish lists and our desires (even noble ones!), let’s reflect on God’s wish list– that we would turn from sin and rebellion, and be reconciled to Him; that we would make His gift our greatest desire!

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In the Beginning Was the Word…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (Authorized KJV)
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We celebrate Christmas as the “birth” of Christ. Yet, the Bible tells us that Jesus (Christ) was in the beginning with God: Jesus had no beginning and no end. He is eternal with the Father and Spirit. We call this season before Christmas “Advent”– we await and celebrate, not the birth of a new being, but the advent of His coming from Heaven to earth.

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Jesus came to Earth for many reasons– some of which are given in the Bible, and some of which are likely beyond our comprehension. He came to live among us as a man of flesh and bone (John 1:14); He came to bring life and light (vv.4-9); He came to live a sinless life, which He sacrificed as a ransom for the sins of the those who repent: and He came to serve others–to model the kind of service that God desires from us (Matthew 20:28). Jesus came in obedience to the Father (John 6:38). Finally, Jesus (as a member of the Triune Godhead) came because “God so Loved the World” (John 3:16) –He Wanted to come! The Advent was part of God’s perfect plan. It was not Plan B, developed after the fall of man. It was so “from the beginning.” It was foretold and prophesied. It was planned down to the tiniest detail.

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Jesus has always been. He has always been The Word of God. Jesus speaks. Jesus listens. When we pray, it is natural to speak words to The Word. Jesus created us to communicate. Unlike any other creature on earth, mankind chooses to communicate through complex and subtle language, as well as through art, music, dance, architecture…even food! We chatter about trivia; we choose to wear certain colors to express our moods; we make silly faces at infants and delight in their own facial contortions.

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Prayer is so important, because it is the essence of expressing our hearts and minds to the very one who created us to BE communicators. God listens through all the words of all the languages we use (or the non-verbalized thoughts, groanings, etc.) to hear our true heart-cry.

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This season, we take time to reflect on just what it means that Jesus was “In the Beginning…” as well as in the manger. We reflect that “before Abraham was”–He IS (John 8:58). We glory in the knowledge that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8). These “words” give us life and hope and joy– not just now, but throughout all the years of our lives.

What a reason to say just a few words today in prayer!

That Makes Me White as Snow…

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

What Can Wash Away My Sin (Nothing But the Blood of Jesus) by Robert Lowry (emphasis added)
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Last week, I was out shoveling snow. It is not unheard of for us to get snow at this time of year, but it is not usual to have this much, this early. I don’t like shoveling, but I love watching the snow fall– thousands of individual flakes floating around, glinting in the light, and turning everything a pure, sparkling white.

It doesn’t last– the snow gets blown around, and the snow near the streets gets brown and dingy from the traffic. It turns slushy or gets piled up into heaps like so much garbage. The snow in the country gets crusty, even if it stays relatively white. It looks colder, harder, more brittle. There is something pure and magical in new-fallen snow that even snow itself can’t replicate. Artists have tried to capture it in paintings; scientists have tried to study it and replicate it; Hollywood has tried to use substitutes in movies (sometimes painted corn flakes, or sometimes soap flakes). There is still something about real, new snow that is unique and fragile and filled with promise–even in its coldness, it speaks of laughter and joy. (Maybe not while I am shoveling it, but…)

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God is the creator and sender of snow. He has storehouses of it (Psalm 135:7; Job 38:22) And it is the image God gives us of forgiveness. (Isaiah 1:18) The purity and softness; the glimmer and weightlessness; the crisp, other-worldliness of falling snow–that is the picture of a forgiven heart! Just as God sends snow to refresh the earth when it looks the most bleak and dead, so God sends forgiveness to hearts that feel cold and dead inside, weighted down and dirty with guilt and shame and Sin. God covers our sins with His forgiveness– and He brings renewal from the inside; new growth, new blossoms, new fruit from what was empty, barren, and used up. And even when snow gets dirty, or crusty– a fresh blanket of new snow revives, cheers, and brightens the landscape.

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God’s forgiveness is compared to snow, but it is far more powerful. White snow can cover up brown and barren trees and gray streets for a f, but God’s forgiveness comes, not in white, but in bright red. It comes through the shed blood of Christ, freely and lavishly given to wash away the scarlet stain of Sin. Red cancels out red, leaving purity and newness that comes from no other source. No artist can capture it; no scientist can discover its makeup; no Hollywood studio can recreate it; nothing on earth can compare or compete with its wonder and power.

Today, I am thankful for the message of snow, and even more thankful for the forgiveness that God offers. He may have storehouses for the snow, but His power to forgive is beyond measure, and His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23)

When God Asks a Question…

We often fear questions. We are afraid to ask questions; we are afraid of being questioned; we are afraid of asking the wrong questions or not asking the right ones. And we are often afraid of the answers, too.

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God is not afraid of our questions. In fact, He wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock (Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 33:3, and others). God knows the answers to our questions– He even knows our motives in asking them! God may not give us the answers we expect, or answer in the manner or time we expect. But God encourages us to ask anyway, and to trust in His ability and His desire to give us what we need in the moment we most need it.

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God also asks questions–not because He doesn’t already know the answers, but because we can learn from the questions He asks, and the answers we give. Some of God’s questions seem self-evident; others are probing. Some are rhetorical; others are anguished. Let’s take a look at just a few, and see what we might be able to learn from them:

  • In Genesis 3, God asks some very obvious questions of Adam and Eve after they hide from him. “Where are you?” Adam and Eve had not successfully hidden from God. He knew exactly where they were and even why they were hiding. But instead of storming into the Garden of Eden with condemnation and instant judgment, God asked a simple question, giving them both the opportunity to confess, and a clear reminder of their broken relationship. There had never been a need (on either side) to ask “Where are you?” After Adam responds with the excuse of being naked and ashamed, God asks his second question, “Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the answer to this, as well, but He added a third question that forced Adam to get to the heart of the matter and tell Him the truth– “Have you eaten from the tree…?” God could have asked condemning questions– “How could you disobey me like this?” “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!” But God isn’t asking questions to overwhelm Adam and Eve with their guilt and shame. He’s asking for truthful acknowledgment of their disobedience, so their broken relationship can begin to be repaired. God assigns punishment, but He does not bring additional questions and condemnation
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  • In the very next chapter, God asks Cain a probing question, “Why are you angry? (And why has your countenance fallen?)” God knows the answer. He knows how Cain feels and what Cain is thinking. God knows it so well, that He challenges Cain to master his anger and turn his face upward (i.e. seek God’s counsel over his own emotions). We don’t like probing questions, because they reveal our selfish motives and dark impulses. But God actually WANTS us to be aware of our own tendencies–and our need for His wisdom and grace! God is not afraid of our darkest thought– He doesn’t want to expose them for our shame, but enlighten us for our own good!
  • In Genesis chapter 18, the Lord asks a rhetorical question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…” (concerning the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). God had already determined that they should be destroyed; He had no need to share this information with Abraham. But in asking the rhetorical question, God gave us a glimpse into His character (as well as a window into Abraham’s character!) God does everything with purpose. He is not willing to hide information we need, nor to waste time or energy on useless information. Imagine if we knew everything–everything!- that would happen to us for the next year? If we knew about that near miss at the intersection on May 22, or the toothache on June 2, or the “surprise” birthday party in October? But when God does choose to open a window, He gives us a chance to respond. Abraham did not choose to argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were not wicked cities, or that God had no business destroying them. His heart was driven to discover if God would destroy the innocent with the wicked. He got his answer (several times over!) And even when God did not find ten innocent people in the cities, He still offered rescue for Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family.
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  • It isn’t only God the father who asks questions. Jesus the son asked two agonizing questions in the New Testament. While He was dying on the cross, He asked the Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus knew, intellectually and spiritually, why God had forsaken him; but His question echoed the one found all the way back in the Garden of Eden– “Where ARE you?” The ultimate anguish of being separated from God’s presence was felt by God himself! The agony of loneliness that comes from sin and shame and guilt– God knows it intimately from both sides!
  • Jesus also asked and anguished question of Saul of Tarsus– “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Just as God asked Cain to look carefully at his motives and emotions, so Jesus challenges Saul to reexamine his activities and ambitions. Jesus knew, of course, why Saul was hunting down those who were preaching the Good News. He knew Saul’s ambition and his zeal for the Law. He knew that it had blinded him to the truth. And in Saul’s physical blindness, Jesus could “open his eyes” to a greater ambition and zeal–to preach this same Good News to the Gentiles– the same Gospel that is opening eyes around the world to this day to see the Awesome, Eternal, Victorious, and All-Encompassing Love of God.

Today, may we ask, seek, search out, study, cry out, knock on doors, and pursue this truth–God wants to meet with us! He wants to talk to us, to listen to us, to share closeness, to increase our Joy and be joined to us in our Grief, to lift up our countenance, end our isolation, and be the ultimate answer to our questions.

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Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out

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When I was a child, my Mom used scripture to teach and correct me. One of her favorites was found in Numbers 32:23b “..you may be sure your sin will find you out.” This was a warning not to try to hide or excuse bad behavior. I could lie about cleaning my room, but sooner or later, Mom would find out. I could pretend to eat my peas at dinner, but sooner or later, my pile of uneaten veggies would show up as evidence. And I could be nice to my little sister around company, but that wouldn’t fool those who knew us well, or convince my sister that I wasn’t going to be bossy after they left. Most importantly, God would know what I did– and I would know that God knew!

Sin is more than just a simple action, or an accident. Sin is an infection–a poison. And it leaves traces, and scars, and has consequences– not just in actions or consequences, but in the shaping of our minds, attitudes, and character. Sin– concealed, denied, ignored, or excused–breeds and grows; it poisons our thoughts and emotions. Instead of reacting openly and honestly, we become defensive, secretive, paranoid, and apprehensive.

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Praying involves communicating openly and honestly with God. Sin will get in the way of that communication. Not on God’s part– He is unchanging. But on our part– we will not be fully open with God. We will be suspicious of His goodness, and doubtful of His mercy. We will try to hide our guilt and our true motives. As early as the Garden of Eden, this is the pattern. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. “Where are you?” asked God (Genesis 3:9). Certainly He knew where they were, and why they were hiding. But Adam replied, “…I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10) When God asked Cain about his brother, Cain tried to cover-up the murder with distractions. “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”(Genesis 4:9) God never asked Cain whether or not he was responsible for his brother. But God already knew that Cain had killed Abel; Cain’s attempts to redirect the conversation did nothing to hide his guilt– it merely confirmed that Sin had wormed its way into his thoughts and attitudes. Cain never asked for forgiveness. He never confessed to the murder of his brother. Instead, he received the punishment for his sin– banishment and isolation. Later, Cain’s descendants even bragged about their family history of murder and exile! (Genesis 4:23-24)

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Of all the people we might try to impress, God cannot be fooled by our false righteousness. He cannot be impressed or distracted by arguments or justifications. And He can’t ignore how Sin is poisoning us, and leading us toward death– both physical and spiritual death. Even “little” “secret” sins will infect our relationships– with God and with others– and cause us to grow emotionally and spiritually numb. Unfortunately, the poison of Sin can cause us to withdraw further from the very source of healing. We attempt to bargain with God; to justify or excuse our actions in our own eyes, asking Him to ignore our condition. We may even be defiant, knowing we deserve punishment, but doubting God’s willingness or ability to bring about justice. We march boldly in the opposite direction, doubling down on our bitterness, anger, or shame.

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We need to seek God’s mercy and grace through confession and repentance. God is faithful to forgive and eager to restore to us the joy of His salvation (Psalm 51:11) He will do what all our mind-games and excuse-making cannot do–He will remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And once the poison of Sin is drawn off, we can see and hear, think and act with a clear conscience, free of guilt and shame; free of secrets and excuses. We may still face the earthly consequences of our actions– punishment for things we’ve stolen or lives we’ve hurt, broken relationships or changed circumstances–but the eternal consequences of death and separation from God have been erased by the Blood of Christ and removed forever.

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And that will lead us to prayers of worship and thanksgiving, freely and joyfully raised!

For more discussion on this principle, see https://www.gotquestions.org/be-sure-your-sin-will-find-you-out.html

Mercy There Was Great, and Grace Was Free…

How big is God’s forgiveness? I know the Biblical answer: “As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 ESV); but sometimes, I add subconscious limits to God’s Grace. Sure, I know He can forgive my sins. And your sins. And even sins that make me shudder. I know that He offers forgiveness to all who call on His name in Faith. But sometimes, I question. I add qualifications–“if only..”–because sometimes, it’s overwhelming to think about the enormity and scope and freedom of God’s Grace.

Often, we see God as the great Judge– and He is–the only one with final authority to judge what is right and wrong; who “deserves” punishment or reward. But Jesus came, not only to be the perfect sacrifice for our Sin, but to demonstrate how much God desires to have us be reconciled to Him.

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The Cross is a stumbling block to many. I have some friends who find the cross offensive. They say that if God were truly merciful, He would simply forgive our sins without Christ’s sacrifice–just snap His fingers and say, “we’re all good.” They claim that God is harsh, that He delights in sending people to Hell, or He would’ve found a “better” way so that no one would have to suffer (or repent). But Sin isn’t just a trifling matter. It is not just a “boo boo” or a “whoopsie” when we defy the Sovereign, Eternal God. And it isn’t just a trifling matter to bring justice to a fallen world. Absolute justice without mercy would require that we die in the first instant of our rebellion–the moment we tell a lie; the instant we think a lustful thought; in the very act of taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Harsh justice would mean eternal separation with no second chances; no possibility for atonement; no hope of redemption. And Mercy without Justice is not true mercy. It is a cheap imitation. It offers temporary relief from guilt, without effecting any change.

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36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 ESV)
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The Pharisee in the above story wasn’t looking for forgiveness– nor did He receive it. But the woman who came to Jesus received both forgiveness and blessing. She did not receive it because of the expense of the ointment she used to anoint Jesus’ feet; she didn’t receive forgiveness because her need was so much more pressing than that of Simon the Pharisee; Jesus simply said her faith had saved her. Jesus didn’t refuse to forgive Simon–it’s just that Simon never asked for forgiveness. He wasn’t looking for it. He wasn’t looking for a relationship with Jesus– He wasn’t even really interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. Simon had invited Jesus to show off his own righteousness and get Jesus’ “stamp of approval.” And he didn’t pass muster! The short parable that Jesus told seemed to pass right over Simon’s head. Simon merely “supposed” that someone who had been forgiven more would love more. He didn’t know from experience, because He had never seen a need for mercy or forgiveness– nor the need to extend it to others! He didn’t value Mercy, because he had never desired it. Yet all of the Law and the prophets that Simon had spent his life studying pointed to the very great need we all have to be cleansed from our sins. Simon should have known that God desired “mercy rather than sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), and that the “righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4) Instead, he was trying to live by condemning others and comparing his efforts to theirs, instead of to a Holy God. The sinful woman, in contrast, desired mercy and craved forgiveness. And she got them! Forgiveness from Immanuel Himself, who would soon die to provide complete Mercy and Grace to all!

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The Cross shows us the high cost of God’s Mercy– and yet He gives it freely to those of us who don’t deserve it and can never earn it. And He does it without condition. When I ask for God’s forgiveness, there is no form to fill out; no waiting list; no qualification test. And no label, identifying me by what I have done or failed to do; by who I was or who I thought I should have been, or what others told me I was. I am redeemed! I am cleansed– thoroughly renewed! Every time! There is no limit on how much or how often God will forgive me–NONE!

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Except. “Aha, here it comes. I knew God would have at least one limit,” my friends would say. It’s not a limit of God’s love or willingness to forgive, but our limit in accepting and passing along God’s forgiveness. God will forgive us. Will we forgive ourselves? Will we withhold forgiveness from someone else God has forgiven? Are we a greater Judge than God? Are we more just? Holier? Harsher?

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Today, I want to spend time trying to grasp just how wide and deep and huge God’s Grace is toward us; how free and limitless His Mercy; how infinite His willingness to pardon and cleanse even my chronic pride and selfishness; and His passion for reshaping me and restoring me to be all that He created me to be! I hope you will join me.

Why Should I Pray for My Enemy?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
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If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!

But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.

  • Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
  • Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
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  • Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
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  • Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
  • Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
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One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!

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