Saturday, September 19, 2015

Unwashed Feet

And, listen, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that He was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, bought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet 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.  Luke 7

The Pharisee at whose home Jesus was reclining eating dinner was outraged that an unclean, unreligious woman of the city would slip into the party just to see Jesus, to bring an offering and to splurge it on His dusty feet. "How could you let this woman even touch  you?" was the question.

How bold of her to buy the alabaster jar in the first place with the express purpose of imposing on the meal of a religious great in order to bring her many sins to Jesus for cleansing. What made her think He'd want her foot washing tears or that He'd let her soothe His dried and tired feet with her oil? Was she merely taking a chance that Jesus would accept her? Was her deep desire for forgiveness the powerful energy of her brash crashing of the meal?

The woman was clearly known as a person weighed down with her many bad choices. Underserving, really, of compassion from the religious community. Church folks weren't supposed to let her touch them lest her ignominy rub off on them. Yet, she rushed past the servants and into the presence of Jesus and was so taken aback in the moment that when she comes up behind Him while He is lying at dinner, all she can do is burst into tears at seeing Him there. Sobbing, bent over in her grief at bringing her sinfulness into such a Presence, Jesus felt the warmth of her tears on His feet. Embarrassed, maybe, at having cried all over the Prophet, she takes down her hair, quickly bends down, and wipes the tears from His feet. All the while the other dinner guests are appalled at her histrionics. Way over the top! And Jesus is simply accepting all of this with His usual aplomb. Letting her not only touch Him, but also letting her kiss His feet and rub them with her fragrant gift.

"What's going on here!" The Pharisee, overwrought with outrage. The loose woman invading the party, bringing her essence into their holiness.

"Who loves more, Simon?" began Jesus to His host, "a person whose owes ten dollars and has his debt released or the person who owes ten million and is forgiven?"

"I suppose, the one who has the bigger debt," answered Simon, sensing a trap, I think.

"The woman came in here owing a great debt. You gave me nothing with which to clean my feet, but her tears have washed them and her oil anointed them."

She is quieted because they are talking about her. The sobbing subsided. Her heart beating furiously in her chest. Will they take me by my arms and throw me out?

"Her sins, which are many, are forgiven." Jesus declaring her to be as clean as the feet she has just washed. "She loved Me enough to dare trespass into religious territory in order to be near Me."

The woman is holding her breath, with her head down, clutching the empty alabaster jar to her heart. Then she hears it: "Woman, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

To Simon, Jesus said: "The one who is forgiven much loves much."

It's humbling to have your feet washed. When my husband's father came to live near us in California in 2010, I noticed his toenails hadn't been clipped in a while and he had sores on his legs. At ninety-five, he'd never had a pedicure. So, he didn't know how to react when I filled a pan with water and asked him to put his feet in. "No, Kay," Papa said, "I won't let you wash my feet. They're too ugly." He was close to tears that first time to think I'd do such a lowly thing as clip his toenails. I know he finally understood that I loved him and his feet, and the monthly pedicures became a staple of our relationship.

I thought about that day when I read Luke 7 this morning. The argument wasn't that Jesus felt awkward about the woman washing His feet. He didn't say to her, "Oh, woman, don't do that. It makes me feel too humbled." The adoration with which her tears fell and her hands anointed with oil was accepted. They both knew Who He is. Jesus accepted her love and praise because in that she was forgiven. At His feet, crying her heart out, His very presence in such sharp contrast to her ill-used life. Jesus let her pour that out. Unembarrassed by the sobbing contrition because that saved her. It wasn't that He felt she owed Him the costly anointing. It was that in breaking the flask in adoration she honored the One Who she'd possibly seen heal the sick, release those controlled by demons, feed the multitudes and raise from the dead. And something told her this Jesus would know how much she needed Him and He could set her free, too.

The woman stood up, squared her shoulders and walked out of Simon's house a brand new woman. The weight of her guilt now gone. Perhaps never forgiven by those she'd hurt, but her many sins now past so that she didn't carry them into the rest of her life. Shame lifted so that she could ever afterward make decisions based upon her cleansing instead of upon her ignominy. Driven by the great strength Jesus's forgiveness gave her. She loved Him so much! Unchained she had a whole new reason to live free of condemnation! The dampness of her tears and the fragrance of her oil was left on the floor of Simon's house and lingered on the feet of Jesus. The men at dinner argued about whether Jesus was capable of forgiving sin. Who did He think He was? They completely missed the point. But she knew. And because she understood what the religious people couldn't grasp, her life was changed. Without a word from her. Heart to heart. Jesus knew. He knows me as well. And you.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Matthew 11: Happy Oxen

"Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  Verses 28-30

I've been reading Andrew Murray for my daily devotionals lately. These verses came up Friday and I couldn't stop thinking about what it means to be yoked to Jesus. Oxen are yoked together, side by side, to pull a plow, to make the work easier for the farmer and get twice as much done as with only one ox. Jesus is telling me to get yoked up with Him. What does that even mean?

If I decide to heed the call to join Jesus, I will go where He goes. Where He takes me. Since we will be walking the same pathway, we will have a lot of time together. We'll talk. I'll watch what He does along the way, learning about Him--what makes Him tick. Jesus wants us to know Him even in the daily drudge of life. The pounding of the dirt, the pulling of the load, the sweating of the labor. It's there we show who we truly are, oppressed by the unrelenting sun, tired almost beyond bearing, prone to complain, wondering if we've lost our way. But when Jesus is the One willingly carrying the burden of the task, pulling more than His fair share, leading the way down each furrow and over each hill, I am tasked with merely going with Him in the sowing and the planting. My joy is to watch in wonder as the heaviness of all I carried alone is lightened because Jesus assured me yoking with Him makes life easier.

If I decide to heed the call to join Jesus, I will not be venturing out on my own. He will pull me back to the path we are on together. At the very least, I won't be adding burden on burden in my ignorance of the fields ahead. Going astray and working in fields that will bear absolutely no fruit and leave me dehydrated and exhausted...and lost. Without Jesus, I will be working fields that are fallow, rocky and unfertile. Oh, I might happen upon arable land, but it's simply a case of wandering. Yoked to Jesus, I work where He works, am led where He goes, gently pulled along the path my partner plows. The bonus of this is, Jesus knows where we're going next.

If I decide to heed the call to join Jesus, I will learn to follow. To work at His pace. I'm sure at first I will balk at having to plow the rows of a new field, at not knowing the specifics of the next field where I will find myself. Having to trust that Jesus will lead us. I might not like the looks of what is coming, the new land Jesus says is our next place. I'm sure I'll stop us to stomp around and snort. Then Jesus will remind me that I chose the yoke...and for very good reasons. If I want, I can leave. But what then? I'm left standing alone now, in a pasture by myself, and I have no idea which way to go. He is not there for me to talk to every second of my day, to learn from as we churn the ground together. I would be free to go in any direction without any compass to tell me north, south, east or west. To some, this freedom to just take up life and go wherever seems best, is priceless. Doing it your way...blazing new trails. The yoking with Jesus is even more exhilarating than that, because there is still the same thrill of "I wonder what's next" without the dread of failure. My Partner created the very ground we plow. Teaches me and enjoys me along the route. And, honestly, I've grown accustomed to--actually delighted in--the fact that life's been so much easier since I began working alongside Jesus.

If I decide to heed the call to join Jesus, I will rest. There is so much involved in living life my way that makes me just plain tired. I'm really good at taking on the tasks of others, too. Pulling them along with any extra energy I have. If I'm trying to do life all by myself, it's overwhelming. I barely have the answers for my own life, much less the extra heft of trying to figure it out for someone else. Jesus gives me rest from that burden. Because? Because the invitation for being yoked to Him is for everyone. "Come to Me ALL who are overwhelmed and bearing too much." Any extra oxen who need support and a map can join us.

There is nothing keeping me from answering the call--accepting the invitation. I have found that it's not as confining as it sounds to those who don't want God telling them what to do. It's freeing in a way that a child holding the hand of her mother at the mall is freeing. No getting lost. Crying in the middle of the store wondering where she is. No strangers leading her away to unsafe territory. It's freeing the way marriage is. One soul testing and teaching the other, filtering the good from the bad, showing us who we really are, loving us anyway. Braided cords making love stronger. Only Jesus can offer true safety and security this way, though. Yoked together with The Way (John 14) I will not be lost again.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I Let My Guest Clean My House

In Him, also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glorious name.  Ephesians 1:13-14

I house the Holy Spirit. Christ in me. And I'm thinking this morning about how much room I allow there for Him to actually build a structure that will not fail. I have squeezed the Spirit into some very small corners and told Him to sit there and be quiet. Not knowingly. I wouldn't think to speak to Him that way. But that's what I've done, anyway. In  my conversation with my Father this morning I was struck by the fact that I don't even remember life without His Presence in me. I was six when I asked Jesus into my heart...and I meant it! With all my heart! And I still remember the excitement that beat in my little chest. But I didn't do much big girl sinning before that time. So, I don't recall life without the Spirit, but I can talk all day about "grieving" Him. Of hearing the Spirit sob for me.

The women in my Bible study group are studying the book of John. We're in John 16 where Jesus promises to send the Spirit. And one of the younger women asked: "How do we know we have Him living in us?"

Good question. That's what being saved means. That Christ comes by the Holy Spirit to live within us. If we have given our lives over to Christ, asked Him to come into our hearts, He does. It's what changes us. If it doesn't change us, we aren't His. If we are still dead in our sins, walking down the same old path with the same old heart, we missed the connection somehow. "I don't always feel different," she went on to say. "I just wonder if He's living in me some days."

Isn't she honest? I love that about her. Because we all have those days...or, for me, years.

So I took us all to Romans 8. And here is where I land again this morning in thinking of how God's amazing grace goes on and on and on and on. Here is what God, the Spirit, is doing while we are weak and confused: The Spirit helps us with our weaknesses. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. God can see what's in people's hearts. And He knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for His people in the way God wants. The picture of the Spirit within me begging God to remember I'm His child, covered by the blood of Jesus, weak in my flesh, and though, undeserving of mercy, still a kid my Father, loves makes this computer screen hard to see because of the wash of tears that are spilling onto my keypad. Really? The Spirit of God in me, that I've often given such little space to breathe in the home that is my tent, sobs and begs God on my behalf. And I know that in the quiet moments of my greatest need I've heard Him there when I thought my heart would burst and my life would shred into a thousand pieces. And I know it's because of His countless pleadings that I was walked back up out of a horrible pit and set on solid ground with a new song in my heart.

I'm more likely these days to open up the doors and windows of this tent and air it out, letting in the sunshine, unafraid that something would be revealed to my heart-guest that I'd have to deal with. Not so worried about the roaches that will scatter in the brightness only to reemerge when I grow dim. My prayer is that the Spirit of God have a huge home in me, free to wander, to look in the closets and purge what's old and worn, even to look under the sink at the mess I've made there. I want Him to roam the rooms and stretch out on the know, enjoy the place! This tent will never be perfect. I know that. And for any who know me, it is clear I am a work in progress. But it is progress I'm after. Like a belly full of oatmeal on a cold morning, the Spirit of God fills my soul with His Presence. and I'm more content to allow Him to dwell there in joy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ephesians 1:5-6 - "I Love You Back!"

In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He blessed us in the Beloved.

In more text messages than I can count, my son, Will, always gets the last word. I will say, "I love you!" and he will say, "I love you more" or "I love you back." Usually emoticons are involved. I often allow this last word because it always makes my heart so full. My son loves me back. I remember the day I first held him in my arms. Will didn't know me then. He'd heard my voice from the safety of my womb. There was the day when we were swimming in a neighbor's pool and Vanessa, his sister, arose from beneath the surface, grabbed hold of the floater upon which I was lying, stomach bulging with near-term Will, and yelled into my belly button, "Flower!" She was teaching him words. She did that often. I'm sure Will knew her voice, too. But he didn't know we loved him, yet. But, of course, we did. So much so that we made all kinds of plans for his arrival. And on that day, I was flooded with such joy and overwhelmed with such hope. The little one I'd felt rolling around within me was there in my arms, soft and round. My beloved son.

All these years later, Will reciprocates my love. Gives it back to me. Emoticons and all. So do my daughters. In ways that cause me to stand a little taller. All of them tell us how happy they are to be our kids. How thankful they are for all we taught them. We are "the best parents ever." But we know we are terribly flawed. Have made huge mistakes. Wish we'd done some things so differently. The thing, with God's help, we did do was love them all to pieces.

So, here's what I can't imagine: giving Will up for the sake of others. This son of my heart. And if I had done that, I would expect the others to acknowledge the sacrifice with a love and loyalty that reciprocates the act. God gave us His Beloved Son that way. "In love..." Jesus came as God Incarnate in order to demonstrate that love. "God showed His love for us this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). God wasn't interested in waiting on us to clean up our acts. We can't, actually. Our God knows our condition. We all fall short of what even those of us who don't know God should reasonably expect of ourselves. We make mistakes. Hurt each other. And all the blood of bulls and goats, all the sacrifices we make in order to right ourselves in an upside down world, aren't enough. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12)." The grain seeds itself and makes others like it. From the foundations of the world, God knew He'd do this. Save us Himself. Seed Himself into the soil of our sin. Bury His Beloved in the cave of Pharisee. Raise Himself up out of the anointed darkness to free the Spirit to burrow into our carnality and produce the unexpected, undeserved and unprecedented grace of adoption as children. Born of the Grain Who was willing to plant Himself into the earth of a planet deemed to be the theater of God's grace since before the before.

When I read the phrase "to the praise of His glorious grace" just now, I was struck by what I've heard said before by those who don't believe. "God is such an egomaniac." Makes me cringe. Given what I understand this verse to mean, God is quite the opposite. God gave His Beloved so that, yes, we would praise Him for His glorious grace! Reciprocate the over-the-top sacrifice of life for life! Acknowledge that we understand the plan and what it cost! And be overwhelmed at the grace of a God Who "loved us first" (1 John 4:19). It's why we love Him. Like my beloved son loves me, because I first loved him. I didn't command my children to love me! They love me back! When they moved in my womb, when they cooed in my arms, when I dreamed of their lives, I loved them, and they didn't even know it! That's how God first loved us. Pre-birth, pre-world, before I could possibly understand it. But now? Now I do get it, imperfectly, I'm sure. And I desperately want to reciprocate the love to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He blessed me in the Beloved!


Monday, February 16, 2015

PSALM 150 - Our Last Breath: ISIS

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Hallelujah!  (Verse 60

This is my last post in Psalm Calm. The end of a journey through the real life songs people sang about their God and to Him. It is fitting that the book ends with the imperative for every breathing thing to praise the One Who is and was and is to come.

Also fitting for me today was to meditate on the news of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were slaughtered over the weekend by ISIS in Libya. Marched to their deaths wearing orange jumpsuits as they walked single file along the edge of some undisclosed body of water, leaving their footprints in the soggy sand, they were lined up and told to kneel. Several cried out, "Oh, God!" or "Oh, Jesus!" The last words they would have breath to utter before they were thrown forward, facedown into the sand where Islamists sawed off their heads. I didn't watch the YouTube video, but those who did said the lips of most of the men were moving as they knelt. Praying. What were they thinking in those last few moments of life?

I put myself there for a few minutes. Horrified by what was surely coming. Knowing that my life was over with the thrust of a knife into my neck. Dreading the pain; wondering how quickly I would die. What next? Understanding that in the seconds I had left I could breathe the name of the One I would see with my own eyes in the ensuing seconds. I could cry out to Him or I could incline my heart already in that direction and find, perhaps like Stephen did when he became the first martyr for our faith, that Jesus was already standing there awaiting my arrival. Holding a white robe. "...I saw under the altar the people slaughtered for God's word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, the One Who is holy and true, how long until you judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?' So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer..." Revelation 6

No virgins. Heaven isn't about revenge or the sexual conquest or hearty usury of women. It's about justice, peace, righteousness and love. The more honor given to those whose lives were demanded in bloody death for the sake of Christ--as Christ's was given for us. And their blood is now mixed with His in suffering. The martyrs seem to have a say in heaven. "Avenge us, God!" The promise is, of course, that God will. All the armies of the world can't mount an attack that will stop the flow of justice when it "rolls down like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream (Amos 5)."

While we have the breath to do so, it is our privilege to use it to proclaim the mercy and love of our God. He is not a god who tells us to strike with jihad. Instead He says, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved! (Acts 2:21)" Over and over again in both the new and the old testaments of the Bible, God willingly saves and forgives those who call out to Him. Even the worst of us...even the best. And however it is or wherever it is we find ourselves taking that last breath here on Earth, may we be assured that by the grace of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus, that we will take our next breath in heaven. May those who have been slaughtered for their faith over the weekend, leaving their bodies behind, be dancing with abandon with all who have gone before them! No more tears. No more pain. And their joy reflected in the face of Christ!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PSALM 150 - Shall We Dance?

Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance! Praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud crashing cymbals!  (Verses 3-5)

Get loud! Dance around! Beat the drums, play the sax, clang the cymbals! Praise Him with everything that is in you! Join the noisy worship of heaven. Lift your hands. Sing a new song at the top of your lungs. It's appropriate to the occasion. We have been redeemed by the One True God! Brought into His family as adored and precious children. Set free from sin and death, empowered to live in a confusing, upside down universe. You are no longer judged by God but now you are saved from eternal punishment. Set free from the prison that bound you as surely as if you'd been released from Leavenworth. Sprung because Jesus took your place on the gallows. Rejoice! Don't sit quietly in your pew when the music starts. We have much to dance about.

Recently during praise and worship, I have felt drawn up into heaven where I see my mother and several of my friends worshipping in a broad space before God's throne. They aren't still, but running in circles together, dancing wildly, extolling from a place in their souls that makes them almost frantic with joy. They sing with their mouths open wide as emerald lights flicker in the bright whiteness of His Presence. The music is very, very loud. Pounding the foundations of heaven, lifting my mother and friends from the pavement on which they stand. I want to join them there. So I do. To the degree that church protocol will allow me to wander from Earth to Heaven or my body can facilitate such romping in the privacy of my home. But I want to empty myself like they are doing. Exhaust myself before the throne. Sometimes I am a bit shaky after worship. Sad to shut it off. Wanting more and more to join my heart with His.

If we could strip ourselves of our bodies in the experience of worship, what would we do? Unencumbered by the restraints of flesh, only presenting our pure devotion from soul and spirit, I believe we would be LOUD! Revved up by the heavenly orchestra, electrified in the presence of God, thankful beyond all imagination for our place in His kingdom, do you think we'll stand still? I think heaven is amped up. There are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, the ever shouting voices of angels and elders crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" And here on Earth, music brings us into the Presence like nothing else. Drums for the pulsing throb of heaven's atmosphere, cymbals for the crashing thunder and lightning, stringed instruments to soften the experience as the angels do when they sing. God wants us to be as carefree and unrestrained as King David was when he brought the ark back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). Returned the Presence of God back to the Jewish people. Stripped down to his linen ephod, David danced "with all his might" while his men shouted and played their trumpets. He was so out of control that his wife, Saul's daughter, was disgusted by the wild display. So, maybe some will be uncomfortable with our abandon, but that doesn't mean God isn't ordaining and enjoying it. It's no little thing to be saved. To walk out of prison free. To be included in the family of God because Jesus is our Lamb! We should get a major rush from the knowledge, remembering it day after day and never tiring of its magnificence!

So let it out today! A massive flow of unadulterated worship. Turn the praise songs up! Dance around the room. We are freed from the enemy and will never, never, no more forever (Exodus 14) be locked in the cells of his making! We are loved beyond all reason. Protected even from our own stupidity. Great mercy covers our lives. And we will live forever in the noisy reverence of Heaven!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PSALM 150 - The Role of a Lifetime

Praise Him for His strength; praise Him for His greatness!  (Verse 2)

I can do all things through Christ because He gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

The Oscars are coming up. A time when the entertainment industry honors those whose performances in movies were great. Number one. Top of the top. Amazing job. Standing ovations. Applause. For...being someone else. We laughed, we cried...we'll never forget. Well, maybe, a little. Next year the hype will be about another movie star.

So how do we calculate greatness. Might. Strength. There are awards for football, basketball, racing, prize fighting. Athletic, muscled men and women who are mightier than the rest, as we count might. In the scheme of things, most of the rest of us are left out of the competition. Only the elite receive the bows of homage; the wreaths of victory. To be great, we must be ahead of the pack, while most of us are trying just to keep up.

I'd like to give a prize today. To the ones no one sees. The ones who are bravely taking care of their children's children because mom and dad are MIA. To Saeed Abidini and the other hundreds of Christians who languish in prisons because they love Jesus. I'd like to walk into their cells and say, "We are proud of your courage, your strength, your steadfast faith in light of the fact that you are tortured, sleep and food deprived, and cold." Then I would hand them the Oscar for endurance and faith! I'd like to award those who have languished in illness with their heads high and their faith in Christ in tact. And to those who held the hand of a loved one to the last breath then committed themselves to living in faith without the warmth of the one they loved so much. Trusting that soul to Jesus while they trust their todays to Him, also. Loss. Handling it as yourself...not an award for pretending to be someone else--a life you can leave when the cameras are off. There should be acknowledgement for powering through the very real difficulties that are our dramas.

It's why the knowledge that we can do all things through Christ Who gives us strength is so vital. We have to play out what is our lives. It's not fantasy. It's the nitty gritty of our reality. I don't know how people live without the Holy Spirit. I don't. Christ in me is the engine that propels me toward every goal. Keeps me in every circumstance. My Guide. My Source. My Inspiration. Christ in me is the very energy of my spirit that keeps me from idling or falling apart. When I can't play the role given to me another minute, it is He Who lives in me Who revs the engine and moves me forward. Gives me inspiration for the part. Cues me where to go next. Who to be. What to say. Millions of fans don't watch us bigger than life onscreen taking each step. Most people will never even know we exist. But the drama that is our lives is important just the same. It is the role of a lifetime. And it has its reward.

"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now, a crown is being held for me--a crown for being right with God. The Lord, the Judge Who judges rightly, will give the crown to me on that day--not only to me but to all those who have waited with love for Him to come again."  Paul.  2 Timothy 4:8