BROKEN

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins..…Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.…The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. [Psalm 51:1,7-8, 17 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailI showed the antique dealer the old silver tray we’d found at an antique store many years ago. Having just read Stephanie Kallo’s novel Broken for You, I’d been drawn to it. Hers was a story of secrets and redemption that told of how two women salvaged their brokenness, first by smashing priceless antique porcelain pieces that had been stolen from Jews during the Holocaust, and then by repurposing the fragments into beautiful mosaics. The novel was an homage to the beauty of broken people and broken things. The tray’s handle had been damaged and soldered back on and I imagine much of the silver plate had worn off its top. It was, however, a thing of beauty because it had been artistically covered with broken pieces of antique painted china. The dealer told me that artists often come into her shop looking for chipped pieces of decorative porcelain. Because they plan on breaking it to use in jewelry or mosaics like my tray, they don’t mind chips or cracks.

Since it was our anniversary weekend, my husband and I had purchased that tray as our gift to one another. The repaired tray, with its broken pieces of china, was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. When I looked at the tray this time, however, the words from Psalm 51 telling us that God desires a broken spirit came into my mind. The psalm records David’s repentance regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. By bringing his broken and contrite heart to God, he was made clean and whole again.

Seeing the value in old but damaged china, those mosaic artists won’t reject it when they see it in the antique store and, seeing our value (no matter how damaged we are), God welcomes sincere repentant sinners who come to Him. Knowing that, in spite of our many flaws, we are precious, He salvages and repairs us. Rather than hitting us with a hammer or tossing us at a wall, God chips away at our pride, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, stubbornness, rebellion, and other sinful habits with His word, Spirit, and circumstances. Then, instead of taking our fragmented bits and using solder, glue, and grout to reassemble us, God takes our broken, humble and repentant selves and restores us. Indeed, because of His mercy and grace, with clean hearts and right spirits, we can become things of beauty.

Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. … He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. [Dieter F. Uchtdorf]

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:9 (NLT)]

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” [Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)]

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WHY MIRACLES?

“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. … Why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” [John 10: 24b-25, 36-38 (NLT)]

glossy ibisAfter driving out an evil spirit from a man in Capernaum, Jesus went to the home of Andrew and Peter. When He learned that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, Jesus went to her bedside, took her hand, helped her up, and the fever was gone. Having shown his authority over both demon possession and physical disease that day, reports of His ability circulated throughout town. That evening, a crowd gathered wanting to be healed by Jesus.

Early the next morning, Jesus went off by himself to pray. As word of His power spread, more people desirous of healing gathered around Peter’s house. Wanting to bring Jesus back to town to continue His healing ministry, the disciples searched for Him. Rather than return to Capernaum, however, Jesus informed the disciples that they needed to go elsewhere to preach to other people, explaining, “That is why I came.” [Mark 1:38]

Jesus fed the hungry, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, brought healing to the sick, and even raised the dead, but those miracles were secondary to His real purpose. Miracle-making was merely a sign of His authority as the Messiah. While our lives are far better with Jesus, His purpose was not to make our lives painless, simpler or free from trouble.

Although many were healed by Him, Jesus’s ministry was not one of physical healing but one of spiritual healing and salvation. His purpose was not to repair bodies but to fix souls. He explained it best Himself when He told Nicodemus that God sent His son to save the world. In response to the repentance of the corrupt Zacchaeus, Jesus told the crowd: “The Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” When Jesus disclosed to the disciples that He’d come to give His life as a ransom for many, He never said He’d come to make our lives easier with miracles. Jesus came to change the world and save our lives!

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6 (NLT)]

Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true. [John 18:37 (NLT)]

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DOES HE OWE US ANYTHING? (Elisha – 3)

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” [2 Kings 4:1 (NIV)]

roseate spoonbillWhen writing about Elisha, the widow, and the oil, I thought the first conversation between the prophet and distraught woman worth a deeper look. From their exchange, it is clear that the prophet either knew or knew of the widow’s husband. One of Elisha’s followers, the widow reminds the prophet of how much her husband revered and feared the Lord.

While Scripture doesn’t name her husband, other sources do. Both the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus and the Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and explanation of the Hebrew Bible) identify him as the Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18. Although he was in charge of Ahab’s palace, Obadiah remained faithful to Jehovah and hid 100 of God’s prophets in two caves during the time Jezebel was killing them. Both Josephus and Jewish tradition suggest that Obadiah sustained these men at his own expenses and, when his money was spent, the man borrowed money to continue to feed them. It was because of this debt, incurred in the Lord’s service, that the widow’s sons were to be taken as bondservants. Whether the woman was Obadiah’s widow or the widow of another faithful follower of Jehovah we really don’t know. Nevertheless, the widow appears to think that, because her husband faithfully served the Lord, Elisha should do something about his debt.

Does God owe us anything for our service? If we look at Luke 17, it would seem that Jesus is telling us that, even when we’ve done absolutely everything God commands, we should not expect an earthly reward. We are God’s unworthy servants and have only done our duty. He is our master and His job is not to make our lives easier; our job is to do His work and build His kingdom. Whatever the widow’s husband did for God, Elijah, or Elisha, he did as God’s servant; it was only what he should have done! Our good actions are never a favor for God. Righteousness, worship, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, and even suffering aren’t extraordinary; they are expected of us!

Fulfilling our duties and obligation to God is not a business transaction. God owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. We are to serve the Lord with gladness, out of love and gratitude. What He may or may not give us is from His grace; it is neither payment nor reward. While we’re on this side of the grass, we should never expect to profit or gain from serving Him. As God did with the widow, He may choose to fill our jars with oil but, never forget, He doesn’t owe us even one ounce of it!

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)]

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WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT?

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? [James 2:14-17 (MSG)]

Which can you do without? The right side of your heart or the left? Which blade on the scissors wouldn’t be missed? What is more important? The front wheel or the back one on your bicycle? The gas pedal or the brakes on your car? The right wing or the left of an airplane? Faith or works? Neither! None of these things can operate without the other. We need two blades on the scissors, two wings on the plane and we can’t be Christians without both faith and works.

We sometimes use the word “Christian” simply as an adjective to describe good, generous, moral or loving behavior. I have Jewish, Muslim and non-believer friends who easily could be described with those same adjectives. Good works alone cannot be used to define Christianity. On the other hand, I know people who say they believe in Jesus and call themselves “Christian” who appear to be sorely lacking in the good, generous, moral and love departments. So simply saying we have “faith” in Christ doesn’t seem to define Christianity either.

Our faith makes us Christians but that faith is far more than intellectual belief. Because the Holy Spirit comes along with faith, our faith is God at work in us. True faith changes our hearts, minds and souls. Since the Holy Spirit can’t help but do good works, if we have faith, neither can we!

Works follow from faith and yet faith, without works, cannot be faith. We can neither think our way nor can we work our way into heaven but, by the grace of God, with faith, we will live our way there!

Faith without works is like a bird without wings; though she may hop with her companions on earth, yet she will never fly with them to heaven. [Francis Beaumont]

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. [James 2:18 (MSG)]

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FINAL DESTINATION

I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.” And do you know what I am going to say? “You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.” [Matthew 7:22-23 (MSG)]

While speaking of salvation, our pastor suggested that there are four kinds of people we might find in any church. While sure of their salvation, the people in the first group are not secure in it. It’s not that they’ve lost their salvation; they never had it! Often called nominal or cultural Christians, their faith is in religion rather than Jesus and they mistake sitting in a church pew for having a relationship with God. Thinking they can purchase their ticket on the glory train with money or works, Christianity is an insurance policy for the hereafter rather than anything affecting heart or soul. They don’t understand that looking like a Christ follower, even with impressive God talk and charitable acts, isn’t the same as being one. There is a vast difference between true faith and false professions.

The second group is made up of people who know that, because they don’t believe, they’re not saved. They know about Jesus and believe He existed but they neither believe nor disbelieve that Jesus is the Son of God and sacrificed His life in atonement for their sins. Because they’re unsure about God and Jesus and unwilling to commit to Christ, they’re not secure in their salvation. These fence sitters, however, have an advantage over the first group; at least they won’t be surprised on Judgment Day!

Although secure in their salvation, the third group remains unsure of it. Unable to be sinless and perfectly obedient, they doubt their salvation. There’s a lurking fear that, if they fail or disappoint God, He won’t welcome them through those Pearly Gates. Wondering how their sins truly can be forgiven, they can’t get their heads around God’s amazing grace. At times, I think even the firmest believer has moments of insecurity when we fear God’s power, wrath and rejection. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives strengthens and reassures them. In spite of their fears, Jesus will know them when the time comes.

The fourth group is both sure of their salvation and secure in it; they know that Jesus has put their names on His guest list. This group, however, must be cautious. There’s another group equally sure of their salvation who Jesus won’t know when they come to the Heavenly Gate.

While we can be wrong about going to San Francisco or Paris, we don’t want to be wrong about our eternal destination. Missing the train to Chicago isn’t the same as missing the glory train to Heaven! Which group are you in? Will Jesus know your name?

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. [Billy Sunday]

God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! [Romans 8:16-17 (MSG)]

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PART OF HIS BODY

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. …They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. [Acts 2:42,46-47 (NLT)]

Kandersteg church - Switzerland

When a church friend won a trivia contest because she knew the day and year Elvis Presley died, I asked how she could recall the exact date. She replied, “I remember because August 16, 1977, was the day I traded one king for another one—it’s the day I accepted Jesus!” Indeed, it is an important date for her to remember.

Although I don’t know exactly when my mother-in-law became a Christ follower, my father-in-law marked his acceptance of Jesus with his baptism at the age of 17 (in 1925). I only know this because my in-laws kept a letter attesting to his baptism with the rest of their important papers in their safe deposit box. Along with their birth certificates, voter registrations, social security cards, marriage certificate, and that letter, I found the membership document and church bulletin from the Sunday they joined their church in 1967. Belonging to the body of Christ and a part of His Church was so important to them that they’d also kept a record of their 1946 membership in another church in a different city.

Understanding that the date of our rebirth is as important as the date of our birth and our commitment to Christ is more important than the commitment we made to our spouse, I can see why my friend knows the date of Elvis Presley’s death and my in-laws kept their church papers alongside the rest of their valuable documents.

As followers of Jesus, we are members of the body of Christ or, as the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds state, the holy catholic (or universal) Church. As important as that is, it also is important to belong to a local church. In joining a church we make a visible commitment to Jesus and His body. Just as hanging a Cubs flag indicates our favorite team or a bumper sticker indicates our politics, our church membership is an outward and visible sign of our faith in Jesus. Joining a church is like joining a movement; we become part of something far bigger than ourselves,

A church provides a place to learn God’s word so that our faith is grounded. It’s the place to openly ask questions and get them answered. It’s where we find fellowship with other believers and learn from, share with, help, and encourage one another. It’s where we observe the Lord’s Supper and break bread in Christian fellowship. The church is where we pray both as a unified body and as individuals; we pray for the world at large and in answer to our brothers’ and sisters’ specific requests. The church is where we minister, not just to one another, but to the community at large, by providing for both physical and spiritual needs. The church also is where we are held accountable. Rather than complain when the pastor’s words make us squirm in our seats, we should be thankful. If we’re just looking for a feel-good message, there are plenty of afternoon talk shows and New Age self-help books for that. Jesus, however, was never about making us feel good—he was about making us better and making us better is what His shepherds (our pastors) are called to do!

As the Apostle Paul so aptly put it, the church is the body of Christ. Although we are different parts of that one body, no part of the body can function by itself. We need one another just as much as our feet need our legs and our lungs need the nose and mouth. Although many of us don’t remember the date we accepted Jesus or even the date we joined our church, may we always honor our commitment to be a valuable part of the body of Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.…All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:12,27 (NLT)]

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