Archive for the ‘Over My Shoulder’ Category
Here’s a fun fact that you verify: there are around 50,000 public bridges in the state of Texas — and that is not counting private bridges. There are over 600,000 public bridges in the United States.
Don’t believe it, take a little trip of about 150 miles and try to count them. Bridges cross culverts and canyons, railroads and rivers, inlets and dry creek beds, dips in the terrain and swamps along the coast, underpasses and undulations. Bridges are everywhere. Yet, bridges are often unnoticed, under-appreciated, and often under-maintained.
Bottom line: Bridges take us from where we are to where we need to go! Thankfully, they are nearly everywhere and nearly always work for us.
What got me thinking about bridges is Samuel. Samuel, like most of our bridges, often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated. He is one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. He bridges the distance from the chaos of the Judges to the glory of King David’s reign. Without him there would have been no King David … and no Jesus!
But Samuel is simply one of many of God’s bridges between his grace and the people who need. Of course Jesus is the greatest bridge between us God — a bridge we celebrate in communion and share in when we confess Christ and are baptized.
But not all of the bridges between God’s grace and people who need it are huge bridges, like Samuel or Jesus. On most of our road trips, we cross very few huge bridges. Yet, without all the small bridges, the road would impassible, or at least much more difficult to travel. That’s where we come into the picture in God’s story. God has called us — you and me — to be bridges, too! There are people all around us that need the Father’s grace. And God is asking us to be that bridge for those people He has placed in our lives who need to experience his grace.
So take a day this week, or least part of the day, and keep track of all the people God brings into you life and realize that — just like all the bridges on all those road trips that you never noticed but know are vital — you are vital to that person’s journey to the grace of God!
We often cross ‘em without noticing them.
We become one because we notice the people in our lives and choose to bring God’s grace by what we say, by how we act, and by who we are.
Bridges of grace.
In my Heartlight piece this week on Ruth, I focused on God’s ways of caring for the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, and the poor (see for example Deuteronomy 24:19-22 and Leviticus 19:9-10) and how they intersected with Ruth’s faithfulness to her mother-in-law. This intersection not only brought us the sweet story of the book of Ruth in the Bible, but also brought us the grace of God in Jesus!
But the question that we have facing us as those who claim to be followers of Jesus is whether or not we have God’s heart toward these same people. There’s a Ruth out there (and a Ralph because God loves the guys in this position just as much a he loves the gals) and it’s our job to find her! So what we are we doing to go beyond the political and social debates and moving into action to bless those God cares about…
- the widow?
- the fatherless?
- the foreigner?
- the poor?
If you want to do more than just debate, or feel sad in your heart, then let me point you to a couple of places to get involved and be a blessing. And be sure and see the Dry Bones video at the end of this post!
- Christian Homes and Family Services for adoption and care for babies and birth moms.
- Refugees and displaced people among us — see the book Strangers Next Door
- Dry Bones Denver, caring for hungry, homeless, and abused kids on the street.
- Helping address the issues of urban poverty and giving people a fresh and re-dignified start through City Square in Dallas.
- Love and Care ministries for the homeless in Abilene.
The prayer in Verse of the Day today was this:
Dear God, I sin. I don’t like it that I do, but I still find myself succumbing to some of my long-standing weaknesses. Please correct me and put me on the path of righteousness. Even more than wanting to please you, I want to honor you, so please, gently and consistently rid my heart of duplicity, deceit, and spiritual weakness. Nurture me in holiness. Change me to be more like Christ the Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The phrase that has elicited comments and questions is this one: “Even more than wanting to please you, I want to honor you…”
One regular reader put it this way, “That’s hard to wrap my mind around.” Others have asked, “What’s the difference?”
To me, at least for the warped way my mind and heart sometimes works, there is a huge difference. Pleasing someone can mean bringing them delight, but it can easily slip into just trying to keep them happy with us. There is a sense of keeping them appeased so they don’t drop us as a friend or fire us as an employee or punish us as God. But trying to honor someone, at least from where I’m coming from, is rooted in deep respect and appreciation. It is about wanting to bring them honor by living consistently with their character. So yes, more than wanting to please God, I’m wanting to honor the Father by living with His character and compassion. I believe if I honor God, my Father in heaven will both be pleased and delighted!
It finally came out. The sexual sins were discovered. The secrets have been revealed. The damage has begun rippling out like the shockwaves of a nuclear blast, ripping apart the hearts of people who genuinely love — or at least once loved — you.
You have gone from self-loathing to panic to shame and back to self-loathing. Part of you wants to lash out and give reasons for what you did, but deep inside you know that they come across as lame excuses. You’ve thrown things. You’ve cried. Now you are numb.
How do you pick up the pieces?
How do you apologize and ask for forgiveness?
How do you help ease the hurt in those you care about and you have wounded?
First the hard news — yes, stick with them, there is liberating news coming, but first, here are some hard truths for this kind of situation:
- We must give up trying to spin our side of the story: it doesn’t work and if it does, it makes the cracks down deep in our character bigger and harder to heal.
- We must be honest with God about where we are and how we feel — we’re not necessarily talking about confession and forgiveness yet, we may not be to this point yet and really mean it, but we are talking about being transparent and open with God again, the ultimate key to reclaiming our walk with the Father.
- We must recognize that we are powerless to control consequences — we can’t control them for us or for any of those we love.
- We must walk with Jesus, especially in His story in each of the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and listen for what the Lord would tell us by seeing how the Savior would treat us and what the Savior would have us do by seeing how He dealt with people like us.
- When we can honestly and genuinely confess our sin, we confess it honestly and tie it with a commitment to repent (change our thinking, our heart, and our behaviors to align with God).
- When we can confess our sin honestly, and without bringing them further pain to people we’ve already hurt, we must penitently apologize to those we’ve wronged and hurt by our sin.
- Finally, we must trust that what the Lord promises us and says about us and who we are — see the liberating truth below.
Now I could put Scripture references with each of these points, but we would all be much better served doing number 4 above ourselves and journaling what Jesus is telling us personally each day as we read His story, watching and listening to the Savior live out God’s righteous character and gracious compassion in human skin.
But, here is one truth — the liberating truth — that we must all hear and believe and know is true. Let’s read it from Scripture first, then put it into a simple statement to hang onto:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9 NIV).
We have sometimes understood “walking in the light” to mean living a good life and honoring Jesus. While it is true that we should try to live a good life and honor Jesus, “walking in the light” probably means coming to the light to have the truth of our lives revealed before God — which is what someone who loves God is going to do (see John 3:16-21). And when we do that, when we come to God and have who are we fully revealed in the light of His holy presence, we are going to confess the sin we see in ourselves — confess our shortcomings, our rebellions, our moral failures, our secret transgressions, the places we have missed the mark with our lives. And by confess, we mean that we confess those sins to God and to spiritual folks who can hold us accountable and also include us back into fellowship and restore us to ministry and life in God’s family. (Confession was never meant to be something we did just between ourselves and God. See James 5:16 for an example of this principle.)
Which brings us to the incredible and life-redeeming truth in the middle of our personal tsunami:
When we genuinely confess and turn back to God, the Father doesn’t just forgive us, He purifies us!
We can’t control consequences. We can’t control outcomes. We can’t undo our messes. We can’t turn back the clock and make things not have happened. But God can do this: God can make us clean, fresh, and pure. Don’t believe me, go back and read 1 John 1:5-9 again. Or go read Psalm 51 and then follow it by Psalm 103.
So once we realize that we are not only forgiven, but also purified of all unrighteousness, what do we do?
Every circumstance is different. The consequences and fall-out for sin are different in every situation. But, here are a few things we learn from Jesus — and again, we each should answer this by making our own fuller list of things to do by doing #4 above.
- Go and live in peace — enter into a life lived in God’s blessing (Read Luke 7).
- Leave our life of sin — get help, support, encouragement, accountability, whatever necessary, to get away from the addictive draw of a sinful lifestyle (Read John 8).
- Love God out of appreciation for the grace we have received — (Read Luke 7 again).
- Minister and strengthen others — (Read John 21).
In other words, let’s believe the truth that God promises: we can be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.
And what about the rest of us, the people of God, the folks who are supposed to be the church of Jesus? What do we do with the sinner who has confessed and is seeking to turn his or her life back to God after having made a mess of things?
We begin by believing what God says about folks like this: He has forgiven and cleansed them! So we welcome them back into God’s family, or go in search of them and bring them back if they are afraid to come back , or lovingly confront them and pull them back from sin if they are having a hard time pulling away. The goal is always to restore them to fellowship. And if we need some examples, try these:
- What Jesus did with Peter in John 21:1-22.
- What Paul tells the church to do with repentant sinners in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 and Galatians 6:1-2.
- What James reminds us to with those who have wandered away at the close of his letter in James 5:19-20.
- What Jesus teaches us about finding the wanderer, restoring the lost, and reclaiming the sinful in Matthew 18.
Oh, and one other thing. A huge thing. A largely forgotten thing. Let’s make sure that those who have their lives blown apart by the sin of someone they love receive our love, support, care, and protection. Too often, in the name of not playing favorites, when couples and families and friends have their lives blown apart by the sin of someone they love, we end up dropping both the “guilty person” and the “wounded people” because we are not sure what the full truth is and who deserves the blame. But God isn’t concerned about blame: God is concerned about restoration, healing, love, forgiveness, protection, and reclamation. So when sin blows people apart, let’s follow the example of Jesus — let’s leave the comfort of our religious house and go in search of those who need to be brought back into the family of God.
Jude, the brother of Jesus, ends his very short note of warning with these words:
Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear — hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
The conviction body slammed me. Everywhere that Abraham went, he built an altar to God (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:4; 13:18; 22:9). So … where’s my altar?
I know, it is not exactly the same, but there’s an underlying principle: where do I regularly go to offer myself to God and invite Him to take control of my life, my family, and my influence?
So I’ve decided to have a family altar. For years, when my kids were still home, the family altar was tuck-in-time. We would read a Bible story, share prayers, and have a good night kiss. But there is not a set place anymore with our kids grown and gone. So I decided to do two things.
First, designate me a place in the den where we already had some things set aside for the Lord and designate that as my “altar” — a place to go when I wanted to consciously offer myself to God and wait on His presence. I have a couple of devotional books and a small sign that says what this space means to me. It is a place to pray and read and intentionally be in the presence of the Lord.
Second, I wanted to have a way to take my altar with me when I traveled. So I came up with a couple of ideas, one of which I chose, but I think you could choose either of them:
- Put together a small bag or box to take on trips as the family altar. While I know most of us don’t want another thing to travel, if you have kids, you know you are going have a bunch of stuff to lug around, so why not one that reminds you and your family of allegiance to the Lord? You can have small Bible, Bible story book, pictures, and a small notepad where you record prayer requests. You may want to add other things. You may even want to add a small rock, leaf, picture, or some other momento to remind you of places you’ve been.
- Use your mobile device or laptop to be your family altar — notice the screenshots from an Android device, iPad, and computer for the program mentioned in the next sentence. There is a wonderful, free, app available for most mobile devices and computers called Evernote. It allows you to created separate notebooks where you collect things — voice recordings, pictures, notes, webpages, articles, devotionals, and other things. I love this app for so many other things, but it dawned on me that this was the perfect tool for my 2:00 prayer time each day when I pray a special prayer of blessing on people all around the world. So this is now my portable altar. I have a few Scriptures in this digital notebook, pictures of several of the people I pray for, Passion for Praise excerpts, an article or two, and will soon add some voice recordings of prayers some of my international students and grandkids have prayed.
I know none of this is revolutionary, but I hope it is helpful. If you have other ideas about a family altar or a traveling altar that blesses you, I’d love to hear about it!
Finally, the place of conviction for me is Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Of course we all know the problem of being a living sacrifice is that the sacrifice keeps crawling off the altar. So, I’m committing to spend more time offering myself at one of my family “altars” in hopes of keeping my heart in the right place with God — holy and pleasing to God!
OK, so I saw the elimination deal on “American Idol” the other night. You know, the one with Carrie Underwood singing the new song with the crazy-weird wind tunnel effects. Not impressed — but I admit, I don’t watch “Idol” very carefully, usually doing something else and listening on a lousy sound system.
BUT, then I heard the song and listened to the words more carefully on headphones. Wow! Deeply moving, and it reminds me of the line in “Forest Gump” when Jenny has thrown rocks at the old house where she had been abused as she grew up and Forest said, “Sometimes, I guess, there just aren’t enough rocks.”
Eventually, Forest bulldozes down the house so all those memories can be bulldozed away.
“Blown Away” is a song that’s really a prayer by a daughter who has been abused by her drunken “father” — her mother is “an angel in the ground.” She’s praying that a tornado that’s coming on the storm will blow away the old sin-filled full-of-bad-whiskeyed-memories in that house, along with her dad asleep in a drunken stupor on the couch. The haunting lines that stick with me are these:
There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house.
There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma to lift the nails out of the past.
I contrast this to an old Amy Grant song, “If These Walls Could Speak.”
Such a difference, and all built on how we’ve experienced family and home so often tied to a place — a house, an apartment, a neighborhood, or a city.
So what are we doing to redeem this mess of a broken world? What am I doing to ensure that hurts of those bad houses are blown away and the blessings the latter help the walls of grace to speak of God’s love?
How is church, how are we personally and collectively, going to be more than buildings and programs and performances, and more a place for healing, redemption, and restored family?
You and me, well let’s be honest, we can’t change a lot, but we can redeem something … someone … kids and families, close and faraway. And isn’t that what’s all about? And if we join together, can’t the Holy Spirit do a whole lot to change a whole lot more than we can ask or imagine?
So here, God, take the rest of what my life has to offer and please use it to make a difference … to my own precious kids … to my foster grandchildren … to precious “daughters” in Asia … to Peruvian orphans … to Compassion kids … and more. Please make your House, your Family, your People, and me, places and people of blessing, healing, comfort, and hope so hurts can be blown away and grace can speak more clearly into the hearts of the broken, alone, and lost. I ask this humbly in the healing name of Jesus. Amen.