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Clean

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When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.-Matthew 8:1-3

I taught grades 4-5 in my church and we read bible verses similar to the one above. I asked them a question, “How do you think this guy felt before getting healed?” The kids looked at the floor, their little hands, each other. I clarified by adding, “How do you think he felt inside his heart?” And then they started answering.

“He was probably lonely.”

“He felt shut out from the other people.”

“Like he didn’t belong.”

“He wanted to be together with other people, but he couldn’t.”

I agreed with all their answers and reminded myself, just because they’re children doesn’t mean they don’t understand how our hearts work.

This man with leprosy had no name. I wonder how long he had been wandering the outskirts of towns and villages with his disease. The law during that time stated anyone with leprosy must yell out, “Unclean!” when other people came near him. Dealing with leprosy would bring anyone to a state of depression. You had wounds and scars on your inside matching those of your skin.

So finally, after years of being labeled “unclean”, living in it, believing it, and walking it, here comes someone he had heard of. Someone who could change things in his life. Turn the things that were dirty into something shiny, new. Clean. Besides his own state of affairs, the leper believed this man called Jesus could do the impossible: Make him clean.

The leper kneeled and humbled himself. He addressed this man he had never met with a title, Lord. He recognized the authority this man held and what he could do. To me this would have been the hard part. After years of walking around and yelling, “Unclean!” I would have been asking God, “Why me?”.  Why would you let a disease like this in the world you created? What did I do to deserve a life like this? These questions are still in our hearts and minds today aren’t they? Why do I have to go through all this stuff?

But this man didn’t do that. He saw an opportunity for something better, not a chance to sling accusations. He looked for a way out of his situation, not for a set of answers to satisfy his hard questions.

Jesus, being the only one who could lift the humble, was willing to heal and made a different proclamation used for years by the leper, saying, “Be Clean!”

We may not be lepers where we have announce our presence, but I believe a lot of us have scars and wounds deep in our hearts. These wounds make us feel unclean. Unwanted. Left out. The results can leave us asking lots of questions and pointing fingers. Someone must be responsible for this. But what if we follow the leper’s example and seek God in humility? And who is willing to heal these wounds to make us whole again?

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

   because the Lord has anointed me

   to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

   to proclaim freedom for the captives

   and release from darkness for the prisoners-Isaiah 61:1

After the lesson was completed, I asked the kids, “How do think the man felt once he had been healed?” They answered:

“Happy!”

“Thankful.”

“Ready to go back to his family.”

How would you feel once God’s fully restored your heart?

What’s the attitude of Christ?

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Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”-Philippians 2:3-5

Can you imagine the king who designed and created the universe, rainbows, penguins, the human brain, coral, the colors of fall, coffee beans (yay!), and puppies bellies deciding to become a human and being born where, of all places, animals ate their breakfast?

Can you imagine this same king walking around the hills of Judea, telling people there was a God who loved them more than they imagined?

Can you imagine him asking his servants to sit down, wrapping a towel around his waist and washing dust off their feet?

Can you imagine this king choosing to experience tears running down his cheeks? The heartbreak of loneliness and rejection? To be accused of things he didn’t do?

Can you imagine this king being punched, slapped, whipped and executed for crimes he didn’t commit?

Can you imagine this king doing all these things because he knew there was a better way to live and he wanted us to purposefully live it? To experience everything he sacrificed himself for?

If this is the mind and attitude of Christ, why do we (especially church people! Paul was writing this to the church in Philippi) have a hard time being humble and not selfish? Why is it hard to think of others as better than ourselves?

It goes against our grain, against our nature. We want to think of ourselves. All the time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but we know it could be. We know where our selfishness can lead us. So where could being humble lead us? What could we do with selflessness? What would it look like when we treat others better than ourselves?

There’s some single moms making sure their kids have more on the breakfast table than they did growing up. There’s teachers spending time with students who have a harder time than most. There’s a guy finishing lunch and leaving a hundred dollar bill as the tip. There’s a husband and father who’s exhausted from work, but wants to listen to his wife share her heart and read bedtime stories to his kids.

Experiences leave a deep impression don’t they? What would the world look like if everyone had the mind of Christ? Tons of good, deep impressions that we would treasure. But we’re not so concerned about the world. We need to be concerned with us. We need to start having the mind of Christ today, where we’re at and who we’re with. This means having this mindset with our significant others, our children, our neighbors.

Let’s start there and see what happens.

Being the light

 

 

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“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”-Matthew 5:14-16

Years ago, I worked with this guy who had a crazy foul mouth and crazy foul stories. He was a nice guy and all, but just don’t get on his bad side. One night I hear worship music. I hear someone singing along to Third Day. I walk over and it’s this one guy singing. My mouth was open and I was shocked. I asked what the deal was, did he get saved and start going to church? Nope, he answered, he’s always been saved for years. I walked away baffled.

Our belief in Jesus is the same as walking around with a light in a dark place. He wants us to be careful what we say, how we act, how we react around others who don’t know him. I think most of the unchurched keeps an eye on anyone claiming to be a Christian and carrying around a bible. I also think a lot of the unchurched remain unchurched because they don’t see any difference in the way Christians act and react than anyone else. This quote is attributed to Ghandi-

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

True? Hmmm, hard to argue that one. I recently taught a high school ministry class on hypocrisy. Most of the kids agreed church members can be hypocrites. Sigh.

So how can we shine our light the way Christ intended?

Watch our motivations-Are we ticked off about something? Because it’s okay to be ticked off. Jesus got ticked off in Matthew 21:12 at people taking advantage of others. I get ticked off because I’m not getting my way. See the difference? Jesus gets mad because he’s concerned about others. I can get mad when it’s concerning my selfishness. Why are we acting or reacting a certain way? Is it for us, others or God?

Don’t follow the world, follow Jesus-Every day, we want to follow our own way. We think of ourselves first and what we can get. Jesus wants us to follow him in everything we do. It’s very easy to say, well, everyone else is doing it. Everyone else is watching this series on HBO. Everyone else is reading these books. We kind of want to go along with everyone else, but Jesus was known for going against the grain. “Do to to others as you would have them do to you.” What about getting even? “Blessed are the meek…” What? Shouldn’t I be going higher and farther and stronger and faster than anyone else?

This life really isn’t about us, it’s about God. It’s about how awesome he is, how wonderful he is, how loving and gracious and merciful and forgiving he is. Most of us are not close to being any of what he is, which is why we need to shine a light for him, not us.

 

The Strange, wonderful place of contentment

Contentment

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.-Philippians 4:12,13

I was sitting here trying to find a story about how I wasn’t content with something, but honestly, there’s so many! I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and still have a hat from years ago. But that’s not good enough. I buy a new one every year. Every. Year. In one season of my life, I wanted to be an illustrator, so I bought all the materials I would need to express my creativity. Do you know how many paintbrushes and stacks, STACKS, of paper I have sitting on shelves? I don’t even use them! Someday, but not today. But let’s talk about more expensive items. I wasn’t satisfied with my car stereo speakers. Not loud enough. Sounded tinny. I need bigger, louder speakers and so I bought them. But I wonder if I should have bought the Alpine Type S?

This is most of us. Any age range, any background. Most of us are not content with what we have. And companies count on it! A new phone is available ALL the time. New cars? Check. New make-up and lipstick? Waiting on the counters. What I don’t get is the new shampoos. Just soap and fragrance right? Oh, actually, I bought a new bottle for manly men. It had Charcoal scent, so of course I had to pick it up and toss the other one out.

We know it doesn’t stop with products. Some people look for another spouse because of reasons. Some people wish they had different children. Some of us don’t like ourselves. A lot of people don’t like God, so they make other arrangements in their belief system.

See the problem? Being content sounds like an anomaly, an alien word used by strange people from strange places. But, being content is where God wants us.

When we’re content, we depend on God. We’re happy with what we have. We’re at peace. We’re less selfish and more selfless. And this isn’t an easy thing either to accomplish, really. We want to take care of any issues ourselves. Why wait for God? We may not even like what he has for us! Let’s take care of this the right way. Our way. When we live with discontentedness (that’s a big word), we’re almost never happy or satisfied. We’ll always be looking for more or bigger or faster or better. There’s no rest there, no peace.

So how do we build contentment?

Be thankful-When we’re thankful for what we have, we’re being humble and gracious. This frees us from being immature and asking God, “Well what else am I getting?” One of the strongest examples of this I witnessed was at a memorial a husband had for his spouse. He said, “I want to thank God for giving me such a wonderful wife for all those years.” This man could easily have complained to God for taking his wife, but instead he had an attitude of thankfulness which had a wonderful fragrance of love and humility.

Look up-Depending on God and what he chooses for our provision sounds weird, really. But there’s something about truly looking to God for help that will change our perspective. It puts God in his place on the throne and our place at his feet. Looking up means some prayer time and waiting time. Looking up to God gives us a chance to stop thinking about us and what we want. He cares so much for us and knows what we need.

Wait-Besides wanting the new, bestest thing out there, we’re also impatient. Ever been in line at a Starbucks with a new cashier? Those poor souls. Being patient is healthy. It allows us to back off and be aware of other things that may be happening. Waiting is God’s way of letting us learn patience. God is very patient if you didn’t notice and he knows we need this. Speaking of Starbucks, I’m was standing in line when 2 more people join the guy in front of me. So instead of 3 people in front of me, there’s 5. My blood pressure rose a couple of degrees, but I let it go. I didn’t want extra orders to ruin my day, so I waited a few extra minutes. When it was their turn, one of the ladies offered to buy my drink. I was surprised and delighted. I got a free coffee, yay for waiting!

Contentment is something we all need more of. Our lives shouldn’t be about us and what else we can grab on the way out. If we practice being thankful, looking up to God for provision, and waiting we can let God work in us more effectively. This means more peace, more of his love, and more power of the Holy Spirit to share with others who need it.

Here’s a good challenge this week. Ask God what you need contentment in. Where are you not satisfied with something and need his help being content?

 

Slow to React

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There’s this guy I used to work with, we’ll call him Gerald, and he used to have a distinct reaction when something was said. Let’s say the boss was talking about work policy. I, along with a few others, would look over at Gerald, because we knew he would disagree with what was being explained. His face would change to the color of a ripe plum. His eyes would sink and glower with a special elixir of anger and disgust. This happened so quickly! Then he would use expletives as punctuation’s until someone told him to calm down. His reaction to something he didn’t agree with was immediately turned into hostility and he unloaded.

Are we any different when controlling our reactions?

For some of us (I’m waving my hand here), controlling our reactions sounds like stopping a runaway train. We hear something we don’t like, we read someone’s post which we don’t agree with, someone shares a thing and we react immediately. There’s no control, we just go like a race car waiting for the green light.

In therapeutic circles, these emotional reactions are referred to as “Triggers” and they usually aren’t healthy. Outbursts of anger, unshakable anxiety, fear, headache inducing stress, and similar reactions affect both ourselves and others around us. Walls being punched, hands that won’t stop shaking, stomachs that refuse to calm down, minds that race toward the worst possible scenario are all real reactions to our triggers. Now, let’s be adults and agree that sometimes our emotional reaction is appropriate. I’m talking about those situations in which they are not.

So how can we control our emotional reactions?

James 1:19 has some specific help in these situations: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become ___________” The verse includes the emotion of anger, but how about you fill in the blank. What emotion do you need help with controlling? Think about it for a few and let’s break the verse down into snack size pieces.

Everyone should be quick to listen…

Receiving is the key ingredient here. Let’s listen to what’s being said and what’s happening around us without our guard up. Currently, I’m in law enforcement and listening carefully is the key to success. I don’t care how agitated the speaker is, I listen to their complaints with eye contact and patience. I get paid to do this, but the bible verse is clear “Everyone” means everyone. Quick to listen is letting them speak first. We give them the chance to talk while we’re paying attention. 

Slow to speak….

This means we have taken the time to process what’s been said. We’ve thought about our responses before we open our mouths. Some of us have an unused filter that fits between our brains and our mouths. Let’s use this filter more often! Slow to speak means, I know what I want to say, I know what I usually say, but let me just hold up a few seconds, a few minutes, a few days to answer. Every once in a while, I hear someone say, “You know, I’m ticked off right now, but I’m going to wait until later in the day to respond to this email.” That’s a winner!

Slow to ___________

Anger? Anxiety? Fear? Want to isolate? Get stressed? Don’t get me wrong, some of us are on medication for these and I’m all for it. If there’s a medication that can help us with something we’re diagnosed with, then please continue to take them. But some of us (waving my hand), just need to slow down. Think. Breath. I received a phone call regarding a family member. My belief was this person didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I was crushed. I was angry. I wanted to do something stupid. I wanted to react in an unhealthy way. But I didn’t. I thought about what was said, about how I would normally react and about how I should react. And it worked! I didn’t make that phone call with wild accusations. I didn’t let it bother me all night and let sleep get away from me. In fact, what I had supposed was not true at all! It was a big misunderstanding! Yay!

There’s ways to divert our unhealthy reactions that work. We just have to follow the instructions and practice it. It will work! I pray that you will practice this exercise when needed (in traffic for me!) and follow Jesus to a more healthy you!

What does God see in Me?

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When my son was about 3 years old, he tried his hand at graffiti. My wife and I were sitting downstairs with our newborn daughter watching TV. Then came the alerting sound of silence parents dread. Anytime a 3 year old is quiet, you know something’s up. My wife went upstairs and discovered the random, but deliberate freehand artform of our son.

Otherwise known as black Sharpie art.

He marked on the walls, books, doors, bookcase, vases, sculptures and toys. Wow. We let him know we weren’t appreciative of the artwork. We were disappointed in his choice, but we still loved him.

There are many times we act like 3 year-olds. We make bad choices. We hurt people with our words and we live with the consequences of our actions. Through all that, we can have a dark and disappointed view of ourselves. And having this view can start affecting our work performance and mess with our relationships. I know I had an attitude of self-loathing and I would sabotage myself. When we have this mindset of constant disappointment in ourselves, our self-esteem and empowerment drops like a rock in a pond.

But how does God see us?

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

 they would outnumber the grains of sand”-Psalm 139:17,18

When my son had marked everything in sight, he had to know what the consequences were. But this didn’t change how I thought of him. I didn’t berate him for hours and days and weeks, etc. In fact, I held him for a bit and then we played together. I loved him then as I love him now. God is certainly no different. He’s loved you from the very beginning,

For you created my inmost being;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

   your works are wonderful,

   I know that full well.”-Psalm 139:13,14

Let me tell you the truth: We can not make God love us anymore than He already does. His love is constant and never grows dim.  He’s knocked out about us. He doesn’t think about the dark words we said and the deeds we remind ourselves of. He doesn’t keep track of our mistakes. Psalm 139 says the grains of sand on a beach gives an idea of how many precious thoughts there are towards us.

God sees in us the potential, full happy life, the strength, the smiles, and the joy He’s built inside of us. He knows we need this constant view of us because we walk in the dark every once in awhile. When we’re getting down on ourselves we can remember and ask, “I know I’m disappointed in myself, but what does God see in me?”

And then read Psalm 139! And then live it out! Walk in that truth so you can help people out of their funk. We’re valuable to God, so let’s keep that close to our hearts and guard those words of God. 

 

When is God with us?

 

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I was pulling into the hospital parking lot with lunch for two. I expected a parking space a quarter mile away, because that’s how it usually works. But then the heavens opened! There was a spot right next to the entrance, just like in the movies! Wow! I thought, God is with me! And then my thoughts went immediately to the person I was visiting in the hospital.

Is God with them?

It’s easy to associate good things with God. Good news, a big raise, an exciting new job, free tickets to a ball game. All of these things put smiles on our faces. They make us believe God is with us and He’s throwing presents at us. Now, while this line of thinking isn’t necessarily wrong, it will trip us up when we receive bad news. A layoff, a bad medical report, getting blamed for something we didn’t do, rejection, loneliness.

Wasn’t God with us during the good things in our life? Wasn’t I in His good hands, getting all the stuff I love? So what happened? Did I do something wrong? Did He forget about me?

There are a couple of reasons we may be going through some tough times and both allow God to be our comforter. One of the reasons is the consequences of our actions. We can always pick our choices, but we can’t pick our consequences. We may be going through a rough patch because of bad choices. But, the other kind of suffering comes from circumstances we couldn’t control.

Either way, this is who God is, He’s the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”-1 Corinthians 1:3,4.

God is always with the believer. He’s always the one who can comfort us in all our troubles. 

It doesn’t matter if the suffering is external circumstances or our fault. He’s going to be the same God who is with us during the cloudy days as well as sunny weather. Jesus is the Son of God, who came down from heaven. The gospels share many stories of Jesus’ suffering. He knows what loneliness is, He knows what exhaustion does to the body, He’s familiar with excruciating pain, the emotional sting of rejection and being blamed for things He didn’t do.  He is intimately familiar with the sufferings of humanity. God knows us.

Here’s the thing that bakes my noodle. God chose to know what awful feels like. He chose to be with us in our sufferings. He chose to be with the weak, both physically, emotionally and mentally. God wants to be with us when we need Him most. Why? Why would an all-powerful God choose to be with lesser beings who suffer?

There’s something else we may not understand about God. Paul wanted the church in Ephesus, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..” This love God has for us won’t make sense in the least, yet His love is intensely real and this love He has for us won’t be leave us. Ever. And He comforts us so we can pass this comfort on to others. We get to pass His love and comfort forward, but that’s for next weeks post. 

So is God with me in my amazing parking spot and with the patient in the hospital room?

Yes!