When Angels Stand Amazed

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“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

~Barbara Bloom

Just a short word of encouragement to all my suffering brothers and sisters. 

I believe God loves you (it’s not a cliche) and has a tremendous plan for you.  Scripture tells us that we will reign with Him (and the last time I looked, there is no disqualification for being mentally or physically ill). 

Having suffered through your whole life will be just an enhancement, a bonus when you finally are held by Jesus, in His arms.

Those of us who struggle with depression, mania, and paranoia know a lot about cracks and brokenness.  Mixed states, anxiety, and social withdrawal all have taken their toll. Some of us hear voices. Addictions and suicide attempts have made up our past life (and even sometimes try to intrude on the present.)

Some of us have physical disabilities. We come to worship from our wheelchairs and walkers. Some of us are deaf, and others are blind. But we come still. Our hope is in the coming King who promises us a new and fully redeemed Kingdom. There will be no more pain.

I have a dear friend with advancing Alzheimer’s who understands little of what is happening to her,  but she still worships God with the rest of the congregation. Before dementia, she was a spiritual marvel.  Without a doubt one of the astonishing women I had ever met.

Now however, when she raises her hands, I believe the angels step back in a deep awe. 

I just realized this–the angels understand worship, they really do. Praise seems to be their specialty. Each angel that surrounds the throne has a PhD in “worshipology.”

But you know what? They really don’t understand our worship out of our pain, weakness, and brokenness.

Let us worship God with our cracks and brokenness.  In John 12:1-7, a woman breaks open a jar of nard on Jesus’ feet, while the other disciples hang back and complain. 

But always remember this dear one–it is only by being poured out that one can release the perfume.

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Oh How He Loves You!

Our Salvation Is Quite Sure

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, the three epistles that he wrote, and of course,  Revelation.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

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. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.

aasignLinda

Standing With Her in the Rain

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“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2, NLT

By Lisa Schubert, Guest Author

Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of the line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner. I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers.

Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and raindrops. She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour. I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.

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My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently. It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha.

A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org. Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey.

It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.

I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I had blown her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.

There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place:

We stand with them in the rain.

Lisa Schubert is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Formation of North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis.

He Collects Losers and Misfits

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“The Lord says, “At that time, I will gather the crippled; I will bring together those who were sent away, those whom I caused to have trouble.”  

“I will keep alive those who were crippled, and I will make a strong nation of those who were sent away. The Lord will be their king in Mount Zion from now on and forever.”

Micah 4:6-7, NCV

I’ve thought much lately about the  Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”. The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4. In this play the angel meets a physician waiting for a miracle by the pool.

After a protracted conversation, the angel makes a challenge to the desperate doctor–

“Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

For those of us who have been abused, and marginalized, we now have become accepted.  Being an outcast from ‘decent society’, has now at this moment, become the ticket to a life in the very center of God’s will.

Believe it or not, your past is no longer a significant problem when you understand He has completely forgiven you. 

His Holy Spirit moves us out of our gross ugliness.  He then places us out where we now become visible witnesses. This spotlight focuses on us, even though we may stand confused and exposed.  We may protest over being ‘outed’ like this, but this is what He wants. “He desires truth in the inmost parts.”  He has redeemed us, and we’ll never be the same.  Never!

God loves losers. 

He steps in and with His special agenda, starts looking for all of us who are failures.  In His heart, He pulls us together into His army of misfits.  If you are wonderful and complete in yourself, and oh so confident in your spiritual life– I am sorry, you haven’t been invited.  

Those of us, who have stumbled so frequently and so often, we are escorted into the incredible deepness of His presence.  We have failed, and we have been defeated.  We don’t belong here, holiness is not our element.  But we will stand, for we know our place.  He intends on transforming us into His gallant army. He has done all of this.

“It’s not about perfection; it’s about our intimacy with God, or our connection, our relationship with God. Once we get through that, once we realize that we can be imperfect, and flawed, and broken; It is these kinds of things are the ingredients of true spirituality.”

Mike Yaconelli

There are so many who are waiting to understand this crazy miracle.  Being consummate losers should make us people with a deep grace.  Because we are tender, we can call out to others to come and join the “spiritual loser club.”

 

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