Plunging the Depths of Grace

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, 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. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

Luke 7:36-39, ESV

A woman of the city, that explains so much.  She comes with a lot of baggage; she has seen all the world at its worst.  Her life has been hard, she has made poor decisions. Enough to pull her into the presence of Jesus.

She may be a stripper, an addict, a porn star. It doesn’t matter, she is a sinner, and scripture does not elaborate beyond this.  All we know is she is ‘a woman of the city,” and that she is referred to as “a sinner.” The sin has made her a desperate person. She steps forward, and does not care about what the crowds are saying about her. She has heard it all before. She comes with her flawed and inadequate heart, to anoint him with an ointment that is somewhat susceptible because of her past.

She pushes forward, pressing past the inner ring of disciples who are ‘protecting’ Jesus.  She takes what she has, and pours it on Jesus’ feet.  It is a concentrate of a perfume that is intense, and very much a declaration of what her heart is wants to do. The scent of this ointment undoubtedly very strong, and lingers, being a concentrate. It probably comforted Jesus while he was being nailed to the cross. He would remember what she had done to him. Her love would comfort him as he was dying.

Jesus acknowledges her decision to bless him in this unique way.  She pushes to him with a single mindedness that we can only marvel at.  She falls at his feet, and Jesus allows himself to be touched by a women that has such a difficult and dark past.  I truly believe He takes everyone whoever comes to him. He passes no judgement on her, and people who are like her— like me.

He has no issues, and accepts all who the Father brings to him.

This sinful woman has shown the way for sinners like us to connect.  Her action establishes for us a precedent— a sure way to advance into his presence.  We start by admitting that we are in a very desperate state.  Her example focuses everyone to all  what is truly important, and we dare not slip past her example. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We know that this is true.

We must come, as she has come, in faith that only He can forgive us.  We should come with a radically intense intention to be with him.  There must be a real decision (on our part) to follow after him.  When we actually fall at his feet, we will find ourselves to be completely forgiven.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 7:47-48

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The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

 

The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.”So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!


It was the Sabbath. I was led to the synagogue by a Pharisee who promised me money. I had no idea what was going to happen. This is my story,

I was born with a deformity in my hand. It was misshapened and more like a club than a hand. I had perfect use of the other and I learned to adapt. It seemed perfectly natural to me now. I suppose I just got used to it, but it would be nice to have a normal hand. The children in the streets would always made fun of me. I suppose I became the neighborhood outcast.

Life was never normal for me. I lived on handouts and spent my days sitting on the sidewalk out of the hot Judean sun. I suppose that there must been sin in my life for God to judge me so, that is what they told me anyway.

When the Pharisee approached me with the promise of money I jumped at the chance. “All you have to do is stand there and show off your hand.” That was easy enough. I could do that. Little did I know that I was just a pawn in the Pharisee’s plan to trap Jesus.

I entered the synagogue which was a new experience for me. I had never been inside but the Pharisee who was leading me said it was OK, that I was expected. I stood in the back trying not to be noticed. I held out my deformed just like they asked me to.

At one point Jesus noticed me. “Come up here,” he said, “Come up front.” I had no idea of what was going to happen, no way of anticipating what Jesus was going to do. Jesus challenged the Pharisees. “Is it part of the Law to do good on the Sabbath day. Should we not do what is right?” I was scared, I had no idea what I was mixed up in. The room was very quiet.

Jesus was angry and I was afraid. He looked around to see if anyone would answer him. No one did although the answer seemed plain enough, even for me. Yet I still had no idea what was going to happen next.

Jesus looked at me. I sensed his love and his peace in his gaze. “Hold out your hand,” he asked me. There were no theatrics. No hoopla, just a simple command. So I did exactly that, and in an instant I was completely healed.

What more could I say. My deformity was turned into a healthy hand. Bones and tendons and muscle instantly reorganized themselves and something normal appeared where their was once twistedness. I flexed new fingers and wondered exactly what had happened to me.

It took me years to realize that there was a deeper deformity in the Pharisees understanding that Jesus wanted to heal. It was an issue of grace and goodness over error and legalism. Yes, I was healed on the Sabbath, but that was what was supposed to happen. People were meant to be made whole on God’s special day of rest.

It is a tremendous thing to have two healthy and whole hands. I marvel at the goodness of God every time I think about it. The Lord has been gracious to me and I rejoice at that grace. He has made me a wonder.

Lord, at times I feel deformed. But please don’t forget me. I will always stumble if you’re not holding my hand, Remind that being religious is a poor substitute for your nearness. Amen.

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Bethesda, 31 A.D.

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“Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him,“Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath,

John 5:1-9, NLT

We were following Jesus and He led us to the pool of Bethesda. A crowd gathered quickly, but I jostled myself right up front. We stood waiting, we pretty much knew something big was going to happen. And it did. I can never be the same, after what I saw. This is my simple story.

So much was happening, and as I watched I realized that so much escapes me. I can’t take it all in. But when I decide to watch Jesus, I quickly become aware of what is important, what is real. It starts to make sense. The chaos of the moment becomes calm. At least it does when He takes charge.

There were hundreds of sick people camped out. They are laying under the roofs, with their thin mats. The smell alone was really bad, all were unwashed and some with putrid and festering sores. Dirty bandages are used over and over, and shared with all. And I suppose all of them are hungry, but they are at least able to drink from the pool. (What more did they really need?)

Finally, all are watching Jesus, they become quiet wondering what He will say. We’re all pretty curious. We see Jesus as He walks directly into this ugly field of suffering people. He doesn’t hesitate or flinch. He seems almost like He is at home.

Oh my! Just to have a religious teacher visit Bethesda is rare. They never come. And today is the Sabbath (and a special feast day at that) and that alone makes it impossible. And yet Jesus is here, and that somehow is wonderful.

Jesus stops to talk with a man who is an ‘old-timer’ here. Someone behind me mentioned that he had been sitting here for almost 40 years, and that is a long, long time. Jesus speaks. Everyone listens. “Do you want to get well?” And of course, some groan and mutter– “of course he does!” But Jesus waits quietly.

“Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” The man explains. He has an excuse that seems like a reason. Nothing has ever gone right– ‘I always miss out, and I can’t find anyone to help me.’ And I suppose that this is the world of the blind, the crippled, the paralyzed in Israel. They are confined to Bethesda, with the weak hope of finally being healed. I don’t think that this is how it was meant to work.

This man was horribly discouraged.  It was then Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” And this very crippled man was healed on the spot. No ‘hocus-pocus’, no incantations, no magic dust or rubbing of sacred bones. Nothing. He was healed by a few spoken words.

I cannot emphasize my own astonishment enough. It shook all of us to the core. We were all stunned, and undone. The crowds, and all the sick and the paralyzed just stopped and stared. There are so few moments in life, just like this. We just looked at each other sort of stunned.

The ramifications of what we all had witnessed were staggering. Shocked, we turned to each other, and a great fear fell on us like a heavy blanket. The crowd did not disperse, we were completely shocked, and pretty much speechless.

For years that sense of awe has never left me. I don’t really listen to the scorners anymore– they simply have no idea. I heard that some of His disciples wrote about what we saw that day. It completely changed my life. I was never the same after that.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Luke 19:10, NLT

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us.)
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A Poured-Out Life, [Service]

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“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Philippians 2:17

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul is the ultimate and conclusive example of self sacrifice for the Church. He is an example to us of loving until it hurts. The children of men are a needy lot and the burden of the apostle. He cares intensely (and it shows) as Paul describes his mission to the churches. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul understood that he was being poured like “a drink offering” to the Lord for the saints.

The Lord Jesus was the pattern Paul focused on. In Jesus we see a man dying on a terrible cross to bring a very real salvation to those without any hope at all. You and I stand “accepted in the beloved” because of that sacrifice.

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”  

–Elisabeth Elliot

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

John 12:24

I honestly believe that fruitfulness hinges on the decision to “die”, and perhaps that is precisely why we are barren. Jesus must give himself up in order to save us. Are things so different now? Over the many centuries, the chosen Church practiced a “dying to self” as the primary way of growth.

Being poured out for others usually isn’t too dramatic; it offers very little in the way of earthly reward or recognition. A few days ago I sat in the “Annex” of our local mental health clinic. I spent a whole afternoon with clients who were struggling hard to make it, I sat and listened, and had no agenda but theirs. I was being “poured out” and it was wonderful!

My heart swelled with the presence of Jesus for these dear ones. It had nothing to do with ambition, or a hunger for applause. I wasn’t out to prove that I was a Christian. Rather I was wholly there for others, I sort of think that is what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples about ministry, and servanthood. I believe that is what Paul was doing in the churches he served.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:4

This is how it all works. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. There are over 163 million orphans in the world, and more than 27 million human slaves. Furthermore, 1.2 million lives are snuffed out by abortion each year in the U.S. alone. And over 150,000 people die each day without knowing Christ. I suspect there is enough “work” to go around.

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.  

Anonymous

 “When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.”

Mother Teresa

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The Real Treasures, [Weaknesses]

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As Christians often our theology tells us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in the believer’s life.  So we hide, sneaking into our sessions with our therapists, and change the subject to minimize our exposure to direct questions. We have had to hide our issues really well. 

But I would submit to you that it is we who are closest to the Kingdom of God. It is far easier for us to approach the Father, in our brokenness, humility, and general lostness. We have needs; a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. We have no illusions of wellness, nothing can convince us that we are well. We are not.

We are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.

You might say that the Church needs us. An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader demanded. The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics. “Where is your treasure? Why have you brought out these… people?” The Archbishop simply and quietly replied, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables. They make us rich.”

We often can value giftedness more than weakness.

I am afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” like it should. In our pride and self-centeredness we have operated our churches like successful businesses. We value giftedness more than weakness. We definitely have no room for the desperately weak. I suppose it’s time for the Church to begin to act like Jesus.

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church should be a verb.  Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.

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Your Love Will Define You

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“You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

1 Peter 1:22, NLT

This defines us as believers. We will easily admit to falling short in this matter. I know I’m sharing in God’s love for Steve, a backslidden Christian who I meet on the streets. I’m aware that Jesus loves him so much and it seems to burst out of me. I can hardly contain it. The Father loves Steve, and I get to share in that same love when I talk with him.

Love takes on many different forms. But it always is giving. It simply can’t be thinking of itself; it exists for others and takes no thought of itself. That magnificence that is God’s love gets funneled through us (we can hardly contain it) and we’re compelled to share it. We are simply called to be ‘the transfer point.’

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”

1 Thess. 3:12

God initiates the love to be shared. Some of us are weaker than others; we are physically or mentally handicapped. But as believers we are to turn to God to saturate our hearts. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how flawed you are, what matters is the vast ocean of God’s love. Weakness only makes it easier because we’ve quit relying on ourselves to love others. (And it only makes you ‘believable’ and gives God the glory.)

 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:35

Our calling is to be ‘naturally supernatural.’ And that will take the dealings of God.

But please remember the joy that is present when you’re communicating His love. The book of Philippians is saturated with Paul’s joy at sharing God’s love. He sees it as his privilege to share it with the Church. And oh how God loves His Church! The Holy Spirit can teach you, how to do this, if you’re teachable.

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