COME AS YOU ARE

“Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. [Matthew 22:9-10 (NLT)]

My in-laws were great ones for giving theme parties. When they hosted a “Backwards Party,” guests entered through the back door, wore their clothes backwards (which my mother-in-law admitted made it difficult for the men), and ate dessert before dinner. At another get-together, attendees came dressed as children, received jump ropes and jacks, pulled taffy, and played games like “Mother May I?” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” My introduction to their parties was in 1966 when they turned their house into a Prohibition era speakeasy and guests needed a password to enter. Women dressed as flappers while the men wore fedoras, vests, and spats. Another party had the theme, “Come as You Wish You Had Been.” My mother-in-law, dressed in shorts with a whistle around her neck, came as the PE teacher she once dreamed of becoming and my father-in-law dressed as the train conductor he once aspired to be. Other attendees dressed as ballerinas, weight lifters, princesses, cowboys, or baseball players.

The one theme party they never hosted was “Come as You Are!” After all, no one wants to come as they are. If we can’t be someone else entirely, at least we want to be a better version of ourselves! If I were invited to a “Come as You Are” party, I know I would cheat. I’d change out of my yoga pants, tee, and Crocs into an outfit that would suggest my life is far more exciting than it really is. Then I’d put on make-up, touch up my nails, comb my hair, and spritz on perfume before leaving the house. Yet, “Come as you are!” is exactly how God invites us to come to Him.

We don’t have to be neat, clean or accomplished, nor do we have to repair what’s broken in our lives to accept the invitation to Jesus’ party. Our Lord didn’t invite the elite or influential to be his disciples; He invited twelve ordinary, uneducated, and imperfect men. He knew Peter was impulsive, John and James hot-tempered, Judas flawed, and Matthew a traitorous tax-collector. The woman at the well and the thief on the cross didn’t have to pretend to be anything but the sinners they were and neither do we! The blind, lame, adulterous, afflicted, possessed, soiled and corrupt—they all came to Jesus, not as the innocent children they once were nor as they once wished they could have been, but just as they were. It’s hard to believe that our perfect God could love and accept us, as imperfect and flawed as we are, but He does.

Although we can come to Him as we are, make no mistake about it, we won’t remain that way. We must shed the old us and put on the new in the same way that Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee, did when he became Paul, the Apostle. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to come as we are, He will make of us what we should be.

The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together. [James H. Aughey]

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” [Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)]

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:10-11 (NLT)]

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GOING TRASH-FREE

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. [Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)]

eastern tiger swallowtail butterflyEvery breakfast, lunch and dinner, a recent house guest consumed between five and fifteen supplements like flaxseed and fish oils, magnesium, vitamin D, calcium, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and resveratrol (among others). Annually, people like our guest spend around $35 billion on supplements, vitamins, minerals, botanicals, and other substances to enhance their health. It doesn’t stop there; every year, five million diet books are published, at least 17 million cookbooks are purchased, and $33 billion is spent on weight loss products. Add to that all of the magazines, food channels, websites, blogs, and podcasts dedicated to nutrition, recipes, and weight loss and you have a nation of people who seem obsessed with what goes into their bodies.

Recently, a several hours delay at the airport led me into one of the terminal’s newsstands. After browsing the magazine rack for something to read during the long wait, it occurred to me that our nation appears to be more concerned about what we feed our bodies than the material with which we nourish our minds. I’m no prude but just looking at the topics listed on the covers of many magazines caused me to blush and the exposed bodies on the covers should have made the models blush! Although the Bible is pretty clear about not gossiping, many of those magazines and tabloids were nothing but gossip about the private lives of various celebrities. Rather than being so concerned with the calories or fat grams we put in our bodies, we might want to give some consideration to what we put in our minds. Instead of going fat-free, we could try going trash-free!

If we go on a trash-free diet, however, we should give serious thought to the other things we consume. We have television programs with housewives unlike any I’ve ever met, bachelors and bachelorettes trying out one another the way King Xerxes did with Esther, and hook-ups instead of relationships. While I wouldn’t want to return to the 50s when Elvis’ gyrations meant he was televised only from the waist up, it seems that we’ve gone too far the other way as near naked entertainers twerk while singing disgusting lyrics like “Sex in the air, I don’t care … Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me.” As Christ followers, we should give serious thought to all that we consume, not just in print, but also on our phones, radios, iPods, computers, television, and movie screens.

The words and images we take in affect our spiritual well-being as much as food affects our physical health. If we want high-quality ideas and words to come out of us, we need first-rate ideas and words to enter into us. Are we looking at and listening to the media with the eyes and ears of Jesus or just mindlessly snacking on the equivalent of the empty calories found in junk food?

As for supplements—in actuality, the efficacy of many of my friend’s supplements is questionable; all they really do is create expensive urine. Supplementing our lives with daily Scripture, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, and church, however, is guaranteed to make us better, stronger, and happier than any pill could!

Today, let’s spend more time thinking about our spiritual food than our daily bread.

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. [Isaiah 55:2-3a (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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WITHIN OUR LIMITS

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” [Mark 6:30-31a (NLT)]

Whenever we were with my mother-in-law, she would say, “Come, sit down, and rest for a bit.” Since I usually was busy preparing a meal or doing some task for her, I’d say, “Not now, Grandma, maybe later!” Now that she’s gone, I wish I’d spent a few more minutes sitting and resting with her. I thought of her this morning when reading Jesus’ words urging the disciples to find a quiet place to rest awhile.

Having just returned from their first mission trip of preaching, healing the sick, and casting out demons, the disciples were tired and hungry. In an attempt to get away from the crowd gathered around them, Jesus and the men left by boat to find an out-of-the-way place where they could rest and talk. We know the rest of the story—the people followed on foot and were waiting for Jesus when He came ashore. Seeing the throng as “sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus had compassion and taught them throughout the day. When evening came, He ended up feeding over 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. The miraculous feeding of this multitude overshadows the way the story began—with Jesus’ suggestion that they find “a quiet place and rest awhile.” Nevertheless, it’s as important as the rest of the story.

My physical issues the last several months made it clear that not taking regular breaks from the computer and failing to get a decent night’s sleep take a toll on our bodies. I’ve also come to understand that it’s not just our bodies that suffer when life gets out of balance. Retreat and rest are as important spiritually as they are physically; that’s why, as busy as Jesus was, He often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

According to the Talmud, Jews are supposed to pray three times a day and Scripture tells us that both David and Daniel did so. Muslims also take daily spiritual retreats in their obligatory five-times-a-day prayer ritual called salah. The Arabic word salah literally means “connection” and this practice is intended to link the one who prays with the creator. Other than Paul telling us to never cease praying, we Christians don’t have a similar “requirement.” If we did, I suspect some of us would try to lump together the five prayers into one or two so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our day (which would defeat its purpose). Muslims, however, have specific times (dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening) specified so that believers continue to maintain their connection with God throughout the day. Perhaps we should consider adopting their practice in some way.

In her book about discerning God’s will, author Ruth Haley Barton said, “Disciplines of rest and retreat teach us to live within our limits.” She pointed out that when we fail to do so, we compromise the quality of our relationships both with God and the people around us. My mother-in-law knew how to live within her limits. Granted, as a centenarian, she had fairly narrow limits and did a lot of resting, but she had a point! We need to find a balance between work and retreat, activity and rest, doing and being, in all areas of life.

Even though we know better, when it comes to spiritual matters, many of us emulate Martha by being busy doing for the Lord rather than model her sister Mary, who retreated from her activities to be with the Lord! When God instituted the work-free Sabbath, the Israelites had to trust God’s provision enough for tomorrow to retreat and rest on the Sabbath. Observing the Sabbath kept them from idolizing work. When we won’t stop working to be with the Lord, we’ve created a false idol. When we pause for Him, as did the Israelites on the Sabbath, we begin living within our limits by conceding that God is God and we are not! Only He can do it all.

Living within our limits doesn’t mean we have to go off on vacation or spend a week in a monastery and it shouldn’t be confined to just one day a week. Living within our limits could begin with our own Christian version of selah by taking regular mini-retreats from our daily activities to connect with God through prayer. Scripture tells us that Jesus frequently withdrew from the world to pray; let us not be afraid to do the same.

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. [Luke 5:16 (NLT)]

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THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come. [Matthew 12:31-32 (NLT)]

blue jayWhen speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus delivers what could be called the ultimate good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that, no matter how evil, vicious or long-lasting the sin, any sin (even blasphemy) is forgivable. The good news, however, comes with a “but” when Jesus says blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven.

Reading Jesus’ words—words said by the One whose blood was shed so our sins would be forgiven—is perplexing. If Jesus could forgive the many unnamed sins of those he healed, the soldiers who gambled for his clothing at the foot of the cross, and Peter’s three denials, what sin is so great that even His blood would not cover it? What exactly is blasphemy against the Spirit and how does it differ from speaking against the “Son of Man” (who we know to be Jesus)?

This good news/bad news scenario was delivered right after Jesus made it clear that there was no neutral ground when it came to Him—either people were with Jesus on God’s side or without Him on Satan’s side. He was directly speaking to Pharisees—people clearly not on Jesus’s side! They hated Him, were plotting His death, and just had denied proof of Christ’s divinity by attributing His healing miracles to Satan. Theirs wasn’t an act so horrendous that Jesus could not forgive them. Rather, their sin was one of attitude. What was unforgivable was their continual rejection of Jesus and their deliberate choice of Satan over Him.

As shocking as it seems, Jesus even says that blasphemy against Him can be forgiven. The Apostle Paul, for example, freely admitted to blaspheming the name of Christ while persecuting Christians. Yet, he experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness because he did so in ignorance and unbelief. If, however, after encountering the living Jesus on the road to Damascus, being supernaturally blinded, meeting Ananias, and having the scales fall from his eyes so that he knew the truth, Paul had never repented and come to believe in Christ, like the Pharisees, he would have committed the unforgivable sin. It would have become unpardonable blasphemy against the Spirit only if, after seeing the Truth incarnate, Paul continued to disparage, attack, and reject Jesus. Fortunately for us, after seeing the truth, Paul did repent and his “blasphemy” was forgiven.

Even scholars and theologians disagree on the exact meaning of this difficult text and I am neither scholar nor theologian. Nevertheless, the unpardonable sin appears to be what those Pharisees exhibited: a deliberate. obstinate, resolute, and tenacious resistance to the Spirit’s pursuit and voice. Even the demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God but the religious leaders, people who knew the prophecies and witnessed His miracles first-hand, blatantly refused to acknowledge Him. They didn’t even bother to dispute the miracles; they chose instead to dispute the source of Jesus’ power by attributing the works of God to Satan. That was unforgivable.

Some theologians think this warning applies only to those people of the 1st century who, like the Pharisees, actually witnessed the irrefutable proof that Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit and then denied the overwhelming evidence of His divinity. Only God knows for sure. The important thing for us to understand is that, like the unbelieving Pharisees, people freely choose how they will spend eternity and, like Paul, no matter how shameful the sin, when we sincerely seek God’s forgiveness through Christ, we can be certain that He will forgive us.

Even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. [1 Timothy 1:13-16 (NLT)]

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INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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TO WHOM?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14:13-14 (NIV)]

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. [Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)]

“To whom should we pray?” is a common question. People wonder, “If we pray to God the Father, are we leaving out His Son? But if we pray to Jesus, are we leaving out God? And where does the Holy Spirit fit in?”

I’m no theologian, but it seems we certainly can’t go wrong by praying to God the Father. After all, when asked how to pray, Jesus began with “Our Father” and the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans about joining together and “giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [15:6] Nevertheless, Jesus, as the son of God, is divine and He promised that we can ask for anything in His name. So, we can pray to Him as did Stephen who prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” while being stoned. [Acts 7:59] To further confuse the matter, Paul explained that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so it appears that we also can pray to Him.

If we can pray to any of the three, how do we decide to whom we’ll pray? Some people decide who they’ll address by the topic of their prayer. When they want to offer worship and praise, ask for forgiveness, or plead for divine intervention, they call on God the Father. When they need to talk with someone who understands their earthly struggles, they call on Jesus. Since the Holy Spirit helps us pray, they pray to Him when they can’t find the words to express themselves.

When we worry about to whom we address our prayers, however, we’re forgetting that our Trinitarian God, while three persons, is one God! Calling it a “divine riddle,” Puritan minister Thomas Watson explained, “The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. … If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. … One person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

When learning about Jeopardy contestant Matt Amodio for yesterday’s devotion, I discovered that his answers irk the grammar police. Jeopardy answers must be given in the form of a question and he begins every response with “what’s…” even when referring to a person. Amodio’s strategy is to keep things simple and explained that keeping his responses consistent allows him to focus on the “meat” of the clue. Just as a Jeopardy contestant’s answers don’t have to be grammatically correct to be accepted, I suspect our Trinitarian God cares far more about our hearts than our words and would prefer we give more thought to the “meat” of our prayers rather than to whom or how they’re said.

We can address our Trinitarian God in any of a number of ways—as Eternal Father, Holy Spirit, Lord, Blessed Jesus, God, Lord of My Life, Almighty and Eternal God, Holy Spirit of God, Eternal Being, Divine Love, God of Mercy, Holy One, Holy and Blessed Trinity, God, Jesus, Spirit of God, or many other reverent names. Flawed beings that we are, we seem to complicate our lives unnecessarily and worrying about how to pray (rather than simply doing it) is one of the ways we do it. Amodio’s answers are accepted by the Jeopardy judges just as our prayers, offered in faith with a humble heart, will be accepted by God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. [Mark Driscoll]

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)]

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