Do You See This Woman?

Everybody loved going to Simon’s house. He was a great guy who had lots of friends, and he loved to have them over. He always set a good table, had the best entertainment, and everyone always had a fantastic time. He was the life of the party, told funny jokes, had good stories, and was always the center of attention. And his guest list always included someone special, some celebrity, famous poet, or scholar…someone that everyone would be talking about having met. If you lucky enough to be invited to Simon’s house, you immediately dropped whatever other plans you might have had.

But there was that one party that everyone remembered. It wasn’t the one where he imported the Mediterranean caviar, nor was it the one where the guest of honor was that famous baseball catcher. It was the one where the guest of honor allowed himself to be touched by the lady with the bad reputation. Everyone knew who “he” was, but everyone there knew who “she” was, too. Her behavior was inexcusable. She was crying and just making a spectacle of herself. She cried so hard that her tears began falling on “his” feet. Then the poor thing didn’t have the decency to use a towel to clean up the mess she was making, so she wiped “his” feet with her hair. As if that were not enough, she started kissing “his” feet, almost like she was worshiping “him” or something. Then, in a desperate effort to take aways from her other social blunders, she stunk up the whole house by pouring some really fragrant (and really expensive) oil on “his” feet. Simon was beside himself. Of course it would have added to the embarrassment of the whole situation if he had caused a scene and thrown her out, but he said to himself, “Everybody knows who she is. Everybody knows what she’s done. Surely ‘he’ isn’t who ‘he’ says ‘he’ is, or ‘he’ would not have let her anywhere near ‘him’”.

“He,” however, knew exactly who she was. As a matter of fact, “he” greatly appreciated what she had done, things that Simon, as great a host as he was, apparently never thought of. So “he” said to Simon: “Do you see this woman?”

What a strange question! Of course Simon had seen her. Of course he had watched her having a crying fit right in his house. Of course he had seen her: he could still smell that obnoxious oil. But he hadn’t really seen “her.” All he had seen was what she had done in the past, and how her behavior didn’t come near matching the decorum he had established. But he never saw “her.” He never saw the sorrow and burden of her heart. He never saw “her,” the person, with struggles that were real. He never saw the desire she had to draw close to God. He never saw that she wanted help, needed help, was literally crying for help.

No, Simon had never seen “her” before in his life.

I Wanna Go Home

Yesterday we had an extra dog.  This dog had visited our house once before and I knew it to be fat, old, and peaceful, so I wasn’t overly concerned about it.  The last time this happened, her owner came driving through our neighborhood until she saw her, got out and scooped the dog up and sped away.  This time, though, the dog camped out at our back door.  She climbed up on a couch on the patio for a nap, and even pawed at the door a time or two asking to come inside.  She wasn’t bothering us, but I knew her owner would be looking for her, and I knew the dog would not be easily found while sleeping on my back patio.  So I did the one thing I did not want to do: I turned to Facebook.

Let me be clear that I do not think that Facebook is inherently evil (but in the same sense that alcohol is not inherently evil).  As a general rule, though, I don’t post on Facebook.  No, you’ve never seen the selfies of me climbing Denali, running the Boston Marathon, or swimming the English Channel.  I may have taken the pictures, but the thought of posting on Facebook or any other social media just never crosses my mind.

I decided, though, to make an exception in this instance.  I thought it myself, “It can’t hurt to try.”  So I took a picture of the dog and posted it with this caption: “‘I wanna go home.’ Does anyone happen to know where home is?”  Within 10 minutes, Bella the dog was safely with her owner.  It worked, and I am grateful to all who assisted.

But it almost didn’t work, because I almost didn’t try it, because I almost didn’t think about it.  (Actually, it was suggested to me.  My plan was to load the dog up and drive around looking for someone who looked like they were looking for a dog.)  And that got me to thinking about the gospel.  Do we not think about the gospel the way I do not think about Facebook?  Many people are lost and do not know how to get home.  The best hope is that they find their Father, but how to get the lost and their Father together?  The gospel is not the best answer: it is the only answer.  But what if we never think about it?

Dear Christians, we must be in a gospel frame of mind.  Maybe we should spend more time with it (much like some do with Facebook), studying it, learning what there is to be learned, commenting and liking those things “pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).  Maybe we should lift up our eyes and look at the fields more (much like many farmers have been doing lately) (John 4:35).  Maybe we should be praying about the lost to our Father who desires to see them found (you know, kind of like texting).  But most of all, maybe we should be joyfully, enthusiastically, diligently using the right tool for the job to get the lost back home to their Father.

Horror Vacui

More commonly stated as “nature abhors a vacuum,” this is a principle of physics which is attributed to Aristotle (384-322 BC).  While it has turned into a subject of much debate among scientists that has lasted for thousands of years, the premise has been proven true time and time again.

Of course, Aristotle was talking about physical things.  We know, though, that the principle extends to emotional and spiritual things as well.  Jesus said: 

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:43-45)

Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he wrote,

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)

The principle is the same!  Ridding ourselves of unhealthy habits, styles, attitudes, actions, or attributes is great, but what are we putting in their place?  

Did you notice in Jesus’ words concerning the unclean spirit, that when the spirit returned he found the house empty, swept, and put in order?  The implication is that the man from whom the spirit went out was glad he was gone!  The man had taken pains to remove any evidence that the spirit had ever been there, and was seeking to restore order from where chaos had been.  Here is a good first step!  Without putting the house of your life in order, there is no purpose, no goal, no end in removing those things which are not wanted or needed.  But leaving the house empty is not enough.  The house needs to be filled with the Spirit.

But how is a house/life filled with the Spirit?  Go back a few verses in Ephesians 5.  Watch your step (verse 15); use time wisely (verse 16); know the will of the Lord (verse 17).  Certainly this is not an all-inclusive list of what to do to fill a life, but a better starting point will not be found.

6 Helpful Hints for Effective Visiting

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

From time to time I will hear someone say, “I would visit, but I don’t know how.”  Visiting is a principle element of Christianity, and is something that we should be excellent at doing.  I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but if you feel ill prepared to visit, here are some things I have learned that might be of benefit.

  • Go!  The excuse of “I don’t know how” isn’t a very good excuse.
  • Ask if they want a visit.  If someone is having surgery, do not assume that they want company.  Some people do, some do not.  Please be respectful.
  • Don’t plan to stay long.  Some people think that for it to be a “good” visit that it needs to last hours.  Not true!  Many people do not feel like having a lengthy visit.  If you know the person well and know their preferences, you can choose to extend it, but do not make the assumption that whoever you are visiting feels as good as you do.  Unless there is a really good reason to stay, try to limit your visit to 20-30 minutes.  You would rather someone wish you had stayed longer than to say, “I thought they’d never leave.”
  • Don’t ask questions (at least, about their illnesses).  I know, that may sound strange, but if someone is sick or in the hospital, they may not want to discuss it.  (And, you might learn more than you want to.)  If they want to talk about it, let them bring it up.
  • Offer to help.  And if they say there is nothing you can do, accept that answer.  More often that not, there isn’t anything you can do to help.  On the other hand, occasionally someone will pull out a list of things they need.  If and when that happens, joyfully accept the opportunity that you have to be of genuine benefit to someone who can use a helping hand.
  • Don’t make the visit about you.  This is not the time for you to vent your frustrations about life, complain about your problems, or tell all about your vacation.  If they ask questions, try to keep your answers brief, remembering that you are there to encourage and uplift them.

The list could go on and on, but hopefully these things will help you with visiting.  Of course the most important thing was stated first: Go!  Let us practice this form of “pure and undefiled religion.”

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).

How great is our appreciation for the Father’s love?  God, the Good Father, the Ultimate Father, loves His children unconditionally.  He does and does and does for His children, giving constantly and above measure.  God is the Perfect Father, whose love is demonstrated in every interaction He has with those who are His (cf. James 1:17).

As the Perfect Father, God has shown that love, however, does not mean giving anything and everything that a child might want.  There are things we might desire that might not be in our best interest, and God does not hesitate to withhold those things from us.  And just like little children, our understanding of His Fatherly decisions may be incomplete, but our faith in our Father’s wisdom, compassion, tenderness, and love provides the sufficiency to our lacking.

As the Perfect Father, God also has shown His love by giving victories.  For example, God brought down the walls of Jericho, the purpose being that Israel was unable to take credit themselves, but instead had to give all credit and glory to God.  This also served to remind Israel that God would fulfill His promise of giving them the land of Canaan.  The greatest example and victory, however, was the Father giving His only begotten Son.  In the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, God was able to remind all of the promise of salvation and eternal life, and of His faithfulness to those to whom He has promised.

As the Perfect Father, God has shown His love by giving His children things to do.  God has never handed everything to anyone.  Abraham, greatly blessed both spiritually and materially, obeyed (Genesis 22:18; Hebrews 11:8).  Jesus, the beloved Son of God, learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8).  The children of the Father today must obey in order to be free from sin (Romans 6:17).  The Perfect Father has given us things to do.

Spend this week appreciating the love of the Father, understanding that His love means that we will be given good things, and as children our gratitude and love returned to Him should be equally constant and above measure.

The Center of Choices

Isaiah wrote, in Isa. 30:21, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” (NKJV)

I find this verse thought provoking, especially when it comes to the choices we make, in this life.  

I mean, life is full of choices, isn’t it? Every single day, you and I, we make choices and those choices often determine the story that we write in this temporary life and our eternal life, right? 

It’s baseball season, so I thought I would share an uplifting baseball story with you.

Ruth Ryan, wife of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, and she had one moment, in every game, that she looked forward to. It was a simple moment, it was a simple choice, that was made by her husband, and this choice made all the difference in their lives together.  It probably happened the first time on the high-school baseball diamond in Alvin, Texas, in the mid- 1960s.

Then it happened repeatedly for three decades after that. It was a simple, thoughtful moment and the moment was this: Inevitably, sometime during a game, Nolan would pop up out of the dugout and scan the stands behind home plate, looking for Ruth.

He would find her face smiling at him and, in return, he would grin at her, maybe snapping his head up in a quick nod. It was like he was saying, “There you are; it’s so good to see your beautiful face!” And, Ruth, in return, she would wave and flash him a smile.

Then, Nolan would duck back under the dugout and turn back to the game. It was a simple moment, never noted in record books or career summaries. But, in all the moments, in all of the games, in all the memories they made together, it was this decision, to look her way, that proved the most important to her.

With this simple choice, Nolan showed Ruth that, at the center of all the moments and decisions in his life, was her.

What a beautiful thought that is. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about choices lately, and how those choices influence and impact my Faith, not just myself. And, unfortunately, that’s the first person that comes to our minds, when we make choices, self, and not God, right? In the 22 years since God created me, I have found this statement to be unequivocally true:

Everyday, I make choices and when those choices revolve around God, those choices always turn out great. Those choices always lead me to some wonderful places, in my life. But, sometimes, I make some BAD choices. And, as I reflect upon those decisions, at the heart of all that decision, God was not at the center, self was at the center. 

And, if we are not careful these self-made choices, they can lead us to some dark, dark places in our lives, right?

The truth is, our lives, they are made out of the choices we make. That’s no secret. After all, that’s why our God thought it wise to give us freewill to make our own choices in this life, choices that will lead us down our own direction.

But, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect to be at the center of those choices, because He does. He always expects to be the center of those choices, doesn’t He? God wants us to take the time, out of our busy day, to seek His face, to tell Him that we are glad He loves us, to tell Him that we are glad He is looking out for us. That’s all He wants! 

Read that verse again, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Every time you make a decision, God is with you. He is there, no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, to provide you guidance. God is telling us which decision will lead us down the path to Heaven!

But, there’s a catch: We have to look at Him for that answer in His word, we have to seek His guidance in prayer. We have to show Him that, at the center of our lives, is Him. And, in this life, as long as we have Him, that’s all that matters.

Can I ask you a question: Who is at the center of your choices?

I Am a Christian

I am a Christian.  That means that I am of Christ.  I believe in Him, want to be like Him, and long to be with Him.  I will live my life for Him and in His service.

I am a Christian.  I will love those around me the way that Jesus loves me.  I will care for the needs of others, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I will love even when I can’t expect that love to be returned.  Thanks to the love of Christ, I am able to show others what love truly is (John 13:35).  I will go see those who need a smile, and I will pray with those who need access to the throne of God.

I am a Christian.  I will worship the Almighty God and His Only Begotten Son.  I will sing praises to His name, pray to Him through His Son, and commune with my Heavenly Father through the emblems of His Son’s death.  I will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

I am a Christian.  I know that judgment is coming, and on that day all the world will see Him.  Because of the Savior’s promise that all will be judged by His word (John 12:48), I will love, cherish, and adore the word of God, trusting in His Holy Word to bring me to salvation (Romans 1:16).  I will teach others the beautiful, soul-saving gospel for their soul’s sake (Mark 16:15-16).

I am a Christian.  I will give because He gave Himself for me.  I will give not grudgingly or of necessity, but cheerfully, for God has blessed me (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).  I will be a good steward of what God has given me, knowing that the cattle on a thousand hills are His (Psalm 50:10).

I am a Christian.  I will do right, whether anyone is looking or not.  My job is not to exalt myself, but the one who saves me.  My righteousness is not my own, but I will submit to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). 

I am a Christian.  I have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  Having been bought, I am His possession and am no longer bound by sin (Romans 6:18).  I will live my life free from the penalty of death that sin requires.

I am a Christian.  I have been given exceedingly great promises (2 Peter 1:4).  I have been promised an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), eternal life (Romans 6:23), a crown of life (James 1:12), and a mansion in heaven with my Savior (John 14:2).  I will hold fast to my confession, for He who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

I am a Christian.  Alone I am not perfect, but I have been made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).  Alone I am not pure, but I have been washed (Revelation 1:5).  Alone I am not holy, but I have been sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11).  Alone I am not a saint, but through Jesus I am (1 Corinthians 1:2).

I am a Christian, and there is nothing else I would rather be.

Do Not Yield

Yield signs are my favorite.  A yield sign means you can go when you can.  If you need to stop, then you stop.  If there is someone else coming, you give them the right of way.  If the way is clear, you just keep right on moving into the flow of traffic.  You make a decision based upon the current situation and you can immediately act upon that decision.  When you see a sign, though, that says “do not yield,” then that option is taken away from you.  It has already been decided for you that you do not have the right to proceed with the  traffic without doing something else first.

Paul was in a pickle.  He had gone to Jerusalem with some Gentile Christians, and the Jewish Christians there got caught up in the idea that everyone—Jew or Gentile—had to be circumcised to be a Christian in good standing.  He had the choice:  yield and go along with their ideas, or do not yield to go with the flow that was heading down a dangerous road.  He chose to stop.  He wrote in Galatians 2:5, “to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”  He knew that it would be easier to just go along with what everyone else was saying and doing, but he also knew that if he did that, it would keep the truth of the gospel away from the Gentiles in Galatia.

How many yield signs do you come to in a day—figuratively, if not literally?  A friend wants to copy my homework.  Do I yield?  I could so easily shoplift this Snickers bar.  Do I yield?  Everyone around me is using that language or calling “them” “that name.”  Do I yield?  That new movie that everyone else is going to see has content that certainly does not honor Jesus.  Do I yield?  Scenarios like these could play out dozens of times in a day.

Paul knew—and so should you—that it is a whole lot easier to stop something wrong before it ever starts. 

3 Things to Make Your Jaw Drop

Roller coasters are fun…for some.  Some people get on them and grin, some will scream, some get sick, and then there are those who looked bored.  The point is that it takes more to excite some than it does others.

The apostle Paul has never struck me as an especially excitable guy.  (He would probably have walked past a roller coaster without looking at it twice.)  Yet when we read his words to the churches of Galatia, I believe we are seeing him in a state of intensity:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,” (Galatians 1:6, NKJV).

Paul “marveled.”  He was astonished.  He was shocked at the behavior of the Galatians, and he was going to let them know about it!

Whether you are excitable or not, please consider these three things from Galatians 1:4 that should make your jaw drop:

One—Jesus gave Himself for our sins.  The Son of God gave the ultimate sacrifice for someone else, even knowing that it would be unappreciated by many.  Even more astounding is that He didn’t give what belonged to someone else, or even just a portion of what He had, but He gave everything so that we might have life.

Two—He provides deliverance from this present world.  Jesus knows that while we must live in this world, we cannot remain in it.  While we remain on this Earth, Jesus has provided separation for us.  He has made us to be holy, sanctified, separate, His own special people.  It is amazing that God is willing to take us with all our imperfections and call us His own.

Three—This was all a part of God’s will.  God has always—ALWAYS—had a plan for humanity, and God has been engaged in fulfilling His plan for our salvation since the very beginning.  His will for our redemption has been proactive, not reactive.

Much like someone who has ridden a particular roller coaster a hundred times, you may be thinking, “I know all this, and I’ve known it forever.”  If this is you, that is great!  These are things that the Father and Son have done for us that we ought to well know.  But do not let your longterm exposure to the grace of God dull your excitement.  Our God is absolutely amazing, and we should never fail to be excited by what He has done.