Job 3:20-26 (NLT)
20 “Oh, why give light to those in misery, and life to those who are bitter? 21 They long for death, and it won’t come. They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.
22 They’re filled with joy when they finally die, and rejoice when they find the grave. 23 Why is life given to those with no future, those God has surrounded with difficulties?
24 I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. 25 What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. 26 I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.”
Let me set up today’s message with an image from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Scarlet Letter” set in Boston in the Puritan era. It’s the story of a woman who conceived after committing adultery. Because of her act she was forced to wear the Scarlet letter “A” stitched on her clothes. It was the religious community’s attempt to fill her with shame.
There’s another Scarlet letter that many of us have worn—The Scarlet Letter D! When we launched this series called Surviving Your D-Day Invasions, we said that each of the attacks we would discuss come as a sneak invasion from a hostile enemy. When you look at today’s topic of Divorce, we know that to be true. In this series, we are looking at the Old Testament story of a man named Job. Job did not experience divorce, but these words he wrote fit those of us who have. I also said that we would be walking through my own personal story. Here is the one thing I ask you to remember:
Divorce Is A Sin, But It Never Disqualifies You From Serving God.
Today we’ll be talking about the darkest time in my life. This is the most difficult message I have ever had to prepare or deliver. I realize this message will not apply to all of you. But maybe you know someone with someone who has faced or is facing The Scarlet D.
The first time I did this series was 2003. When God first started working on me about this series and today’s topic, you have no idea how I resisted. At the time Vicky and I had been separated, a fact known by only a very few people. Before that, we have been sleeping in separate rooms, living separate lives. God has an amazing sense of timing. The first time I did this message was 1 week after I announced to the congregation I served, that we filed for Divorce.
And even now, I still have difficulty sharing these thoughts with you. Today is deeply personal, a reflection of what I learned as I dealt with the fact of Divorce in my life. I never said, “Let’s try this thing called marriage, and 29 years later, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get a Divorce.” But sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, the path of our lives takes an unexpected turn.
Of all the “D’s” of the D-Day Invasions, Divorce can be overwhelmingly painful. It sneaks up on two people who began a union deeply in love. They had dreams and aspirations of what their marriage could be and should be. For the most part, they thought their marriage would last forever. That is until one day, when the D-Day Invasion of Divorce lands right in the middle of their home.
Maybe some of you here have personally experienced the D-Day Invasion of Divorce. Some of you may have seen the results of that invasion in your parent’s Divorce. All of us have probably had friends, close friends, whose marriage became 1 of the unfortunate statistics of our culture.
Many people are dealing with the pain, turmoil and rejection that come with Divorce. Believers, non-believers, seekers—the D-Day Invasion Of Divorce cuts across all lines. And because of deep misunderstanding, the church only adds to the pain.
Once we are faced with the Invasion of Divorce, how can we survive? How can we discard this Scarlet D? Many people feel hopeless, confused and rejected. I looked at my failed marriage and I felt like a total failure. God’s plan for marriage is for a lifetime.
But God also understands that we are human, we have feet of clay. So, how do we move beyond the hurt, beyond the humiliation, beyond the pain, beyond the uncertainty of this D-Day Invasion? Allow me to share 4 things with you that I believe work together. Follow these steps all the way through. Here they are:
1. Accept Only Your Responsibility
Somewhere down the line, you’re going to have to attach some responsibility. In all Divorce cases, one or both people were responsible. Someone screwed up; someone made a mistake. It may not be you but it was someone. This once perfect thing now has division. You cannot speak of Divorce in generalities; each case must be examined in its own situation.
Who is responsible? Why did it happen? Owning responsibility is the key to surviving the D-Day Invasion of Divorce. Accepting only your responsibility is the key to giving and accepting forgiveness where it’s needed. Responsibility has to be attached, but through a lot of prayer, discernment, and sometimes even counseling. Last week we talked about learning from failure. The way we are to learn from failure is to know what’s wrong, attach responsibility for our part, learn from our mistakes and move on.
That’s what we need to do here. Some of the most happily married people I know are people who have learned from their past mistakes. However, we know the statistics, don’t we? 67% of people who Divorce once will Divorce again. Most second marriages fail also. 73% of third marriages end in Divorce.
There has to be something there. Be Careful Not To Take On Someone Else’s Responsibilities. False Guilt Will Eventually Affect All Our Relationships. But I caution you, don’t stop here. Don’t hold on to the Deadly G’s: Guilt And Grudges. If Divorce is the only recourse, then it’s time to move beyond guilt, and give up our grudges. The second step is:
2. Work Toward Forgiveness
Once we understand who is responsible, we can begin to work toward forgiveness. We understand that true healing requires forgiveness for wrongs done. Forgiveness must be accepted and must be given. Some people say, “That’s crazy! There is no way I’ll forgive that person—it’s too difficult.” You are right.
It’s very, very hard. You may be the only one that wants to work on forgiveness. When we have been hurt and wronged we will never be healed until we forgive. You don’t have to walk up to that ex-spouse and announce your forgiveness. But you have to do it in your heart. Forgiveness is saying, “I Refuse To Hold On To The Pain. I Refuse To Live In The Past. I Release Them From Holding Me Captive To Any Grudge Or Pain.”
You must also learn to forgive yourself. As you work through the responsibility part of Divorce, you may find that some of the blame lies with you. I know there were times when I was uncaring. There were especially times when I was too busy.
But I ended up taking a lot of the responsibility that wasn’t mine to take. The result was that I could not forgive myself. But in order to offer forgiveness and receive forgiveness, I had to forgive myself. I do not know about you, but this was the hardest thing for me. I ended up carrying a lot of guilt I didn’t have to carry around. If you have guilt, you must forgive yourself. This was the hardest for me. I wouldn’t do it until I remembered: We Must Accept Forgiveness From God. For those of us who are believers, we understand this. No matter what we’ve done, He died on the cross two thousand years ago, and in him we are forgiven AND Cleansed.
All we have to do is accept his grace and forgiveness and the slate is wiped clean. You must accept forgiveness for yourself, and give forgiveness to the other person.
3. Allow Kids To Stay Relationally Connected
We need to make sure that if kids are involved in this D-Day Invasion of Divorce, that we encourage them to stay relationally connected to both parents. Kids of all ages are the biggest victims in Divorce.
Kids of Divorce go through confusion and pain when their parents got divorced. They wondered if it was their fault. There is no sense of closure to it. It’s true for even adult kids. Kids of all ages need to stay connected with both parents. It’s the best thing for the kids.
Let Your Kids See You Living Out Forgiveness. Teach them, by your example, about owning up to your mistakes and about receiving and giving the grace of God. Let them see you working to live at peace with your ex-spouse. Here is a powerful opportunity to bring something good out of something horrible.
If you, or a family member, or close friend experiences the D-Day of Divorce, and there are children involved, even grown children, it’s important for them to see the spirit of grace, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation at work. Don’t Take Sides, Be A Model Of God’s Grace. Finally, in order to move beyond the pain, and experience healing and wholeness:
4. Align Your Different Life With God’s Principles
In my nearly 44 years of working in ministry, I’ve never met a person who didn’t want their second marriage to work. There is only one way to do it, friends.
That is to align our different life with God’s principles. Many of us just need to understand that we’ve tried it our way and failed, now maybe we should follow God’s plan. If you follow God’s principles for sex, dating and marriage, you can have a very happy marriage.
Do you ever feel like you have The Scarlet D pinned to your shirt? That you could never be normal again in God’s eyes because of this thing called Divorce? Maybe there’s another Scarlet Letter pinned to your shirt. Maybe yours is the Scarlet A—Addict, Adultery Abuser, Abused. Maybe you know someone with the Scarlet L—Loser. Maybe yours is the Scarlet S—Sinner! I want to leave you with this last verse and encourage you to align your new life with God’s principles.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 says: In Christ We Are New Creations; The Old Is Gone, And New Has Come!
Grace is all about a fresh start. Do you need a fresh start? God has one for every person who is wearing any Scarlet Letter. He will take that letter off of you and you will never have to wear again.
- . If You Are Living With Shame Put On You By Family, Church, Or Even Yourself Because Of Divorce, Bring That Shame To Jesus Right Now. The shame of anyone who wears The Scarlet D was carried by Jesus so that you do not have to carry it anymore. No sin that anyone commits ever disqualifies them from both a relationship with God and the opportunity to be called by Him to serve Him.
- If You Have Been Through Divorce Or Not, Read The Scriptures About Divorce WITHOUT Whatever You Have Been Taught About It. Take 2 steps in your reading. First, ask the Holy Spirit to be your guide and teacher. Second, read those passages within the big picture of what God is seeking to do with ALL who have sinned. Our God is focusing on both Redemption, and Restoration, making people useful for His Kingdom. God chose Saul the murderer to become Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. If God can use a murderer, why can’t He use someone divorced in any role He wants?
(I must insert this disclaimer at the beginning of this blog that by no means do I consider the people in this community to be fallen, forgotten or obsolete. It’s only an illustration of my point.)
Wayside. Are you familiar with that word? Usually it’s connected with 2 statements:
- Gone by the Wayside
- Fell by the Wayside
I’ve wondered where in the world is Wayside? Well, I found it. I noticed it the very first time we traveled down to see our new pastoral appointment. I’ve been meaning to do this post, but wouldn’t until I stopped and got my proof. Well, Saturday on my motorcycle pilgrimage, I stopped and got these pictures as proof I know where the Wayside is located. Think about the previous 2 statements concerning the Wayside.
Gone by the Wayside. This means that something has become obsolete, like those heavy “brick” looking cell phones, which by the way, was my very first cell phone. Fell by the Wayside. This means to fail to continue or to drop out. Obsolete. Dropping out. These images are used to describe some values and people. I’ve always wondered where they went, and now I know.
When people “fall by” the Wayside, often they are either treated with great disdain or completely forgotten. People shake their head with a degree of sadness and leave them there, by the Wayside. And when long-standing Christian-Judeo values are considered “gone by” the Wayside, people shrug their shoulders, forgetting those values and declare they are now more enlightened than their superstitious ancestors. So, the Wayside becomes the place of the forgotten.
I know where the Wayside is, but does Jesus know? Absolutely He knows! The fact is He does far better and far more work in the Wayside than in many sterilized and sanitized sanctuaries. Jesus leaves no one behind. He came back for Peter after His Crucifixion, though Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus. Remember the Angel’s message to the women that first Easter morning? Mark 16:7 (NLT) records: “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” He would have come back for Judas, if Judas had not given up too soon.
The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is for people who have fallen by the Wayside. Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)–“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” Look again at the bottom of this sign welcoming people to Wayside:
“A Little Bit Of Heaven”. If you feel like you have fallen by the Wayside, hold on to that last line. Wayside is a little bit of heaven because it’s a place filled with God’s grace that will forgive, redeem and restore anyone and everyone who has fallen. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to go by the Wayside because it’s filled with those for whom Jesus insisted on dying for. And where should the church be today? Well, I think that other sign says it all:
What if we all became the Church for The Wayside? It would probably be a bit messy, but it would also be a bit of heaven. Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Postscript: Don’t consider yourself obsolete if you embrace and try to live by the values of the Kingdom of God. And don’t consider His Values obsolete.
In midst of all the chaos of recent weeks, I found myself thinking about self esteem and ego. Perhaps it came out of my grieving the loss of my Mother and my deep concern for my Dad. Perhaps it’s the reality that in about a week and a half we will be moving into a new home, serving 2 churches while leaving behind what I feel is unfinished work–but also leaving behind great friends and encouragers. Whatever the cause, I know God wants me to write. Turn of all electronic devices, return your trays and seats to the upright position and buckle your seat belts for take-off.
Contrary to a few would say, I don’t have that big of an ego–but I regularly battle my own self-esteem. It is not as bad as it was when I was growing up. But even after my first marriage, I still struggled with self-esteem. I could say it was because of how some treated me–but that’s a cop-out. I refuse to play the victim card. And it wasn’t until I was 47, when my self-esteem completely crashed and burned, that God took me on a journey to see myself differently–than others saw me or how I even saw myself.
Since that time I find myself recognizing low self-esteem in others–and a new clarity about those with an ego problem. In church you see both, but rarely, if ever, is it acknowledged. Well, here is the epiphany I had about self-esteem versus ego.
Ego is all about self-importance. Self-Esteem is all about value and worth!
Ego is that over-inflated sense of how important a person thinks they are. Right now I have a couple of pictures in my mind of people I’ve encountered while here. That sense of Importance focuses on the container–not the source. They see themselves are being more important than others–and in the church–more important than the work of the Kingdom of God. They push themselves into other conversations and run over anyone who dares to challenge them. Ego equals Importance.
On the other hand, Self-Esteem is the recognition of your value and worth, to the One who created you. HE has deemed and declared your worth, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. Jesus deemed and declared your worth by giving up the glory of heaven for a dirty diaper; and ultimately by His willingness, and insistence, to die on that Cross. It is about recognizing your value as you live your life in Christ. Those with the EGO accuse those of us who recognize our worth in Christ as being arrogant. Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.
Ego is about seeing yourself as important. Healthy Self-Esteem is seeing the worth that God sees in you–and accepting that His value of you comes fully alive in you as you become fully alive in Jesus. Nothing is wrong with having Self-Esteem–don’t let the enemy make you feel guilty. When you say you have no value or worth you are calling God a liar–and that, my friends, is NOT a good thing to do. God’s image is in you–even if buried under years and mountains of bad choices (that means SIN). Only the Creator, our FATHER, knows how to restore His image. After all, He made you and knows you better than others know you–or you even know yourself.
Let me end this with Romans 12:3, from a new translation I recently came across. It is known as The Passion Translation and it goes like this:
God has given me grace to speak a warning about pride. I would ask each of you to be emptied of self-promotion and not create a false image of your importance. Instead, honestly assess your worth by using your God-given faith as the standard of measurement, and then you will see your true value with an appropriate self-esteem.
God gives you value–He says, long before that commercial ever said it–because YOU are worth it!
This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1. My reason was simple: I was practicing what I preach. Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches. I was reading for the sake of listening to God. No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog. Just reading, and listening. Two things jumped out at me this morning: Light versus Darkness. In other words, sin versus Holiness. And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans: Feelings. No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings. In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.
First there are what I term Emotional Feelings. Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth. I believe that God created us to have emotions. After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few. Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions. Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.
Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings. These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche. Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings. Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else. Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings. Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche. This human psyche is another part of how God created us. These are what influences how we see people and situations. On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths, narcissists, or psychopaths.
Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings. These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul. This is our moral compass. It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong. Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.
And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“. In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy. It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses. (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone: “I Told You I Was Sick!”) But these feelings go deeper. It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity. Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together. Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact. I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you. It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.
And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings. Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:
5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others. Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans. And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design. This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness. Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.
And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI. This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”. Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA. But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us. I hope they call it for what it is: The Adam and Eve Gene! While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!
How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity. Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image. When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.
God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually. He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design. We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually. If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story). All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.
Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that. Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus. Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created. You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire. Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth. Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image! In Sam Allberry’s words: Identity is something God gives us. We do not create it or discover it. It is GIVEN to us by God.
(This post is for those I wounded last week. I am truly sorry.)
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)
We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions. Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death. So today we often ignore and disregard their questions. But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention. Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter. And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.
Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment. Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger. It was deep and intimate, even sacred. Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments. And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories. But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table. Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME? Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment? Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening. Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.
- Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
- We become overly obsessed with our feelings
- We put others down for our own reasons. Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners. Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
- We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
- We make poor choices in our life
- We do not consider the consequences of those choices
- When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
- We manipulate people for our own ends
- We allow labels to become our sole identity
- We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
- We ignore what matters the most
- We close our eyes to the needs around us
- We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
- We put blame on the doorstep of others
- We gossip
- We smear the good name of others
- We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
- We give in to our lustful desires
- We point out the problems without offering solutions
- We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
- I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________
I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus. I fail Him more times than I care to admit. I mess things up. I assume. I forget. I become careless. I surrender to the wrong things. I fail to fight the right things. I am sitting at Levi’s table. And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners. Laughing at our jokes and telling his own. Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table? I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself. Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.
And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?” Or am I pointing my own finger at me? (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.) “Why, Jesus, why? Why me? Why now? Can’t you see what a mess I am? I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I am a man of unclean lips! Why are you smiling at me? Why? Why? Why? Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless. I’m a failure!” But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread? Here, let me refill that cup.”
More bread? Refill the cup? Me????? Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry. I could, I should–I ought to run away now! “Run, Randy, Run!” My hands are shaking as I take the bread. My legs are shaking as I take that cup. Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse. So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus. I just don’t understand, why? I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess. I feel like this failure is final and fatal. Washed up and washed out. But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry. And that Cup has the finest wine ever. You should taste it. It is really good.”
Could it be true? Does Jesus still care about me? Dare HE forgive me? A fresh start? Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM? I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand. And I see it, clear as day–the Scar! It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross. I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?” He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore. In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar. I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy. And I’m just as proud of them, too.” Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why? Why Jesus? Why me?”
The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said. His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine. It really tastes great. None better, I tell you. If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.” That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.” I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back. They were tears of release. With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.
There was a flood of relief coming over me. Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later. And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question: “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?” Those disciples looked terrified. Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place? I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey! Why don’t you just ask Jesus? You cowards!” The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.
But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do. His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table. HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there. They don’t know what you know. Not yet, but they will, they will. Besides, I’ve got this. And about last week? If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too. Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”
“Guys, you are right. I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.” His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”. He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine. What will HE say? “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?” Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again. “Unlike some, they know they are sick. So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again. Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”
And as for me? I don’t have to ask why anymore. The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me. He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful. I should have trusted Him last week. I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.” But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.” Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…
Welcome back! For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post. I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things. Here are those 3 things:
That We Are
God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children. God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him. In The Word we discover that God knows us. He knows where we are. He knows what we feel. When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting. When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid. When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.
When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair. When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts. Are you afraid that God will turn away from you? Don’t be! In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains. This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.
That We Are Important
God values you and deems you important to Him. Your family may tell you you’re worthless. People you know may tell you that you’re worthless. Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless. Your world may tell you you’re worthless. Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless. But you will never hear God call you worthless.
In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say: The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned. But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you. In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” Those hands are nail scarred hands. To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!
That We Are Important To His Purposes
In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan. God has a place for you. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God sees you as His Masterpiece. As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece. A simple glance at The Word is not enough. We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word. He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.
But it takes time, and often, a lot of time. God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece. In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God. You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do. He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan. And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.
In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life. And you are important to Him. How important is He to you? Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)
“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)
Each of us is found somewhere in this story.
- Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word. Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God. Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life. I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
- Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment. They want to give the appearance that they love God.
- Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
- Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.
The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept. His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him
Remember that line from those Snickers commercials? I just love that ad campaign. I’ve always heard, “Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry.” Know what? It’s true! My wife Debbie will send me grocery shopping when the budget is a little tight. She sends me because I have a list—and I stick to that list. If it ain’t on the list it ain’t going in the shopping cart, unless it is a really good sale price. BUT, you should know I have a but to put in here, if I go when I’m hungry, I stray big time from that list. So, I don’t go grocery shopping when I’m hungry.
Here’s another but, BUT when it comes to reading God’s Word (The Bible), I need to be hungry; otherwise I will probably miss what my heart is truly hungry for. To limit one’s self to a list when grocery shopping is a good habit. My tendency is that without that list I buy too much of the wrong stuff and forget what we really need. I even have an app on my phone to help me stay with “The List”. (FYI, my favorite app is ColorNote®)
When it comes to God’s Word, many people read it with a shopping list. For many people that shopping list doesn’t have “How Can I Be More Like The Real Jesus”. It has things like, “How can I prove my point? How can I find a verse to justify my life?” Unfortunately our “twisted-unrenewed-untransformed-into-the-mind-of-Christ” perspective will usually find a verse (taken out of context of course) that justifies our position and our life. The Bible isn’t God’s gift to help us feel better about ourselves, but His gift to help us know Him better. Maybe it is better that we just go hungry while “shopping” in the Word. And in knowing Him better, see a truer image of ourselves. This truer image of ourselves starts with understanding our own brokenness and sin. As a side note, read the Bible to see where your life is going wrong, not to point out what’s wrong with others and the world
Let’s look at Matthew 13:1-9 (The Message)
At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
Inside each of us is a hunger that will never go away. People are always trying to satisfy that hunger. Some try things like money, possessions, drugs, and power. Others even try to fill that hunger with respectability. They try to give the appearance of being kind, caring and loving. They try to believe if they look good, then they are good. They truly put on a good show, so good that they are able to hide the emptiness from others, but never from themselves.
This hunger is so much more than anything on this earth can fill. It is a hunger to hear the voice of God, to hear His Word in a way that is both to us and for us. Our hearts cry out to hear God speak to us. We try to silence that cry by occupying our time with other things, but the heart still cries out. The heart knows what the heart wants and needs. We try to silence it, but it will not go away. If you try to give it anything other than The Word, it will not be satisfied. To truly pursue the heart of God, you must have that unending appetite for His Word. To hunger for the Word means we want to encounter the living God. There’s more to The Word than ink and pages. Every word of the Bible is meaningless without the Presence of God.
There is not a single word in this book that will transform us without the Power of God. I do not mean to be irreverent to God, but I may offend someone who hears this: Having a well worn Bible does not necessarily mean you have a well formed life in Christ. Our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things: And we will look at them tomorrow.