Mike&Sarah

Tag Archive: sin

The Whole Story

“the whole story”… there’s a sense of freedom in that, isn’t there? I’m glad you focused on this part Staci. The idea of Jesus wanting to hear the details, the parts that I think are important and pertinent, the moments that stick to my brain, that’s powerful. That communicates love, kindness, tender involvement. It says “I love you,” without using those particular words.

This was my response to this morning’s online New Testament in a Year devotional written by my friend Staci on Mark 5.  (I love having this online community with whom to read the Bible!)

The devotional was written on part of Mark 5, the story of the woman who suffered through 12 years of hemorrhaging, having visited medical “experts” who took her for every penny.  This woman believed that if she could just touch the robe of Jesus, she’d be healed of this chronic condition which made her an outcast in her culture.  After touching his robe, she could feel the bleeding dry up and she knew she was healed.  But Jesus wanted to talk with her.  Trembling, she told her story after which Jesus blessed and honored her.  It’s a beautiful story of a faith-filled risk.

I wonder…

  • What did Jesus’ face look like while the woman shared her whole story?
  • What did it feel like for the woman to unburden herself from the shame of her 12 year bleeding issue and to actually tell her whole story?
  • What did the woman do next? After 12 years of bleeding, of being “unclean” and an outcast in society, what was in the next chapter of her story?

Then I wonder…

  • What prevents me from telling Jesus my whole story?

This is where I’m stuck today. I’ve felt such overwhelming stress in the last two weeks. It’s come out through unkindness, short-tempered flare ups at Hubs, and general high-strung up-tightness.

When I’ve read my Bible, it’s been to check it off my list or to catch up with the reading group. But now I’m challenged to pause and consider why I’m not sharing my whole story with Jesus: He’s here. He sees my immature outbursts, He knows my thoughts better than I do. Sometimes I use that reasoning as an excuse to not talk with Jesus.

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son

But there’s something transformational to confession: confess, admit, bring to light, stop hiding.  For years I’ve counseled students that when we confess our sin to Jesus, we are simply agreeing with God about our inability to live up to perfection and holiness on our own, and that confession highlights our need for a Savior.  These are very good things.

Confession also gives me an opportunity to “own” my choices which are demonstrated in my attitude, behavior, and words (as well as the ongoing conversations in my head).

Saying “I’m sorry” acknowledges a wrong has taken place, but asking “Will you forgive me?” is a humble invitation to the injured or offended party to move towards you with mercy.  That’s the powerful moment!  That’s when relationship can be restored.  “I’m sorry,” slaps a band-aid on a gaping wound.  “Will you forgive me?” invites a spiritual healing.

Jesus, I’ve been worried and distracted by many things.  I’m so sorry that in response to Your goodness, gifts and blessings I’ve been short-tempered, unkind, hurried, gruff, exacting and impatient with Hubs.  I’ve ignored You, simply rushing through my day to check obligations off of my list.  I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?  Thank you for forgiving me.  Your Word says you always will.  Whisper in my ear “This is the way, walk in it,” when I veer off path.  Remind me that You are with me for each step.  Thank You for the sweet gifts you pour into my life.  May my heart be renewed and restored today! I love you Jesus, and I need you.  Amen!  

Hard Reality

Image from www.unviolencestudy.org

There are times when reality barges into my safe world and I don’t always know how to respond. Balancing the tension of the imperfect can be uncomfortable and disorienting. How does the Gospel make a difference here? Do I step up, step in? How? What do I say?

The bus was late, and I had a raging headache. It crossed my mind to stay home from our Tuesday night small group, but seeing those people has quickly become one of the high points in my week. After being away for ten days, the idea of joining them for a home-cooked meal and a rousing discussion about the Bible and last Sunday’s sermon was too tempting for me to skip. Raging headache and all.

Five minutes late, seven minutes late… now we would be late, too. Note to self: take the subway to small group, and the bus home.

I shared the bus stop bench with two men. The one sitting in the middle was tall, sturdy and talkative. The other was older, frail, with a beard and a curved wooden cane. When the taller man sat down, he greeted the older man as though he knew him, handing him a piece of fruit out of his white plastic grocery store bag. They carried on a lively, mostly one-sided conversation in the evening chill. Mike stood to my right, in front of the large illumined H&M store ad featuring two blond women wearing surprisingly inexpensive clothing.

I heard a noise behind me, as though a scuffle had broken out, and now someone was crying. I twisted around on the bench and saw two kids on the ground about four feet away: a little girl in her pink coat, hood up, backpack strapped to her back, was struggling to get up from the wet sidewalk. A young boy, maybe junior high age and wearing what looked like a thin navy blue jacket was on his back with an open-mouthed wail. I think I saw tears. Two women were standing over them. The one with her hair slicked back looked angry and was yelling at the boy.

My heart skipped a few beats and I turned to my right to look at Mike for reassurance or explanation. He looked down at me and softly said, “She pushed them down.”

I swiveled back around to my left, protected from the wind by the bus stop shelter, and looked at the scene again. How could that be? The older woman had the young girl by the hand by now, walking down the hill ahead while the angry woman and the boy were standing still on the other side of the clear bus stop partition. She was yelling at him, but he was wailing louder and had a hand on his head.

I turned back to Mike and asked him to repeat what he had said because I simply could not work out the mechanics of it. It didn’t seem to be an accident. Anger radiated from the scene and I was glad we had the clear plexiglass of the bus stop to shield us from that angry woman. Mike said the woman pushed the girl into the boy and knocked them both down. I can’t imagine the force she used, for when I first looked, the kids were splayed out on the ground like bowling pins after a someone throws a strike.

Now the angry woman grabbed the boy by the collar, pushing him backwards over the black wrought iron railing. Unfortunately for the boy, the railing was made up of vertical black poles of varying heights. It had to hurt to be forced backwards over that fence.

I felt sick to my stomach and glued to my seat. This wasn’t an episode of Law & Order. This was really happening in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted someone to intervene. What do I say? What do I do? My mouth felt clamped shut. Would anyone say anything? What would the angry woman do next? Would she turn towards her audience at the bus stop and unleash her anger on us? I was scared and shaken.

The pair walked away: the boy holding his head, still wailing with an open-mouthed cry and his unzipped jacket also wide open in the chill wind, the angry woman still shouting unintelligible words. I think she was oblivious to us, though we were only four feet away.

I sat still, shocked, feeling ill, unsure of what to do next. The large man on my left made comments about how a boy can’t stop crying when a woman is hitting him.

That’s when it hit me hard: this is reality. For many people. This kind of abuse is an everyday occurrence. With more than 8 million people living on an island 13 miles long by 2 miles wide, you’re going to run into all sides of humanity. How had I lived here for over a year and not yet run into situations like this?

I’ve seen the sad, fallen side of society like poverty and the plight of the homeless. I’ve volunteered time and muscle to help. Jesus said we’d always have the poor with us. But this scene was energized by anger and incited fear in me. Now my raging headache was accompanied by a churning stomachache.

When the M11 bus finally arrived, I climbed on in a shell-shocked state. I took a seat near the back, next to the window to search the passing sidewalks for the foursome. But they were long gone. Do they live in the apartment complex across the street from my place? Will I see them again? Was the boy at home, cowering from the angry woman? What was it like for him everyday? Scenes from the movie Precious punctuated my questions.

Two and a half miles south on Amsterdam the happy hum of conversation greeted us in the Upper West Side apartment, along with the comforting smells of homemade lasagna. People smiled and called out warm greetings as I wriggled out of my puffy down coat. It was the kind of scene that a movie director could use to close out a film, complete with clusters of conversation around a big table, soft lighting, with a few people in the kitchen washing the dishes while a sense of joy and fullness radiated from everyone in the place.

But this isn’t the end of a movie. This is the tension of living in the now and the not yet, believing in a Redeemer who binds up the wounds of the broken, restores what was stolen, and brings justice, yet not seeing the complete fulfillment of these promises in the lives of other people, or even in my own.

Oh Lord Jesus, I want to live out the truth, righteousness and hope of your Gospel, but I don’t know how to reconcile the harsh reality of our fallen, broken world with what I know to be true about you. I live sheltered from so much of the hurt others experience. Lead me. How do you want me to live?

WHO not WHAT: Resolutions 2012

It’s the beginning of January 2012, so I suppose I ought to write about resolutions, fresh starts and all that.  But I don’t feel like it.  I did that last year.

Rather than exploring my yearnings for a svelte figure or organized and clutter-free living, I’d rather write about WHO I hope to be in 2012 rather than WHAT I want to do. I’m back at the be vs. do challenge around which my life often circles.

Who do I want to be this year? Me, but a growing version of me: ever learning, exploring and creating.

I want to walk in greater avenues of humility with a tender heart, asking for forgiveness, and offering it without being asked.

I want to be a woman who doesn’t hold grudges, nor thinks more highly of herself than she does of others.

I want to be a woman who says “yes,” to new friends, experiences, challenges and opportunities.

I want be a woman who doesn’t “should” on herself: I want to cease making oppressive, unrealistic expectations for my character, behavior, appearance, accomplishments, and anecdotes.

I want to be a woman who lives in the freedom of grace and extends it to others.  I want to be a woman who gives herself and others room to breathe.

It sounds like this is my 2012 manifesto.  As with the resolutions regarding behavior changes, this manifesto of ME development will need accountability, action steps and goals which are broken into achievable tasks.

Did I just turned my WHO into a WHAT resolution?  Maybe that’s just part of who I am.

Alert Expectancy

A few years ago I was stranded in a hotel.  I remember asking God to set up a divine appointment for me that day, since I was stuck in town with nothing to do.  It seemed like a good prayer for a missionary to pray.

Later that day I decided to take the stairs rather than the elevator.  After descending the six floors to the lobby I discovered that I was locked out.  Or rather, locked IN the stairwell.  I raced up several flights of stairs only to discover that the doors were locked tight.  I was in the bowels of an airport hotel.  Alone.

Eventually I found an unlocked door.  At that point I didn’t care if I set off any alarms.  I just wanted to get out.  Pushing on yet another door, sunlight finally streamed in.  Temporarily blinded by sunlight, I breathed the warm, humid, but fresh air.  And I nearly walked into a woman sitting on the curb, weeping.

Afraid to disturb her solitude, I quickly turned and walked away, towards the hotel’s main entrance.

Several minutes later a thought occurred to me:  What if God allowed me to be locked in the bowels of that hotel so that I’d come upon the weeping woman? Perhaps she needed a sympathetic, listening ear.  Maybe she needed to be reminded of a God who rights wrongs.  Or maybe she needed to hear words of love, mercy and forgiveness. If that was the case, then I totally missed the answer to my prayer… God provided an opportunity for a divine appointment.

Alert:  quick to perceive and act.  Expect: anticipate the occurrence or coming of.

As you go about your day, perhaps you can do better than I did.  Perhaps you can keep your eyes open, alert to opportunities which God puts in your way.  That person might not be a student or faculty member.  He or she might take up more than a few minutes in your day.  Living in alert expectancy means keeping our eyes open, even in dark stairwells.  Maybe, just maybe, God choreographed events so that you would stumble into the sunlight at just the right time to help someone else embrace the Light.

Romans 5.3-5 The Message
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Sticky, part 2

Some sticky words from Romans 8 (The Message):

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved.  Those who enter into Christ’s being-there-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.  A new power is in operation.  The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death….

…Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing  on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn’t pleased at being ignored….

…So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.  There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all.  The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on this your new life.  God’s Spirit beckons.  There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greating God with a child-like “What’s next Papa?” ….

I’m cheering as I read these words!  And sometimes I get goose-bumps!  Hooray!  Amen!

Sticky

So… what’s “sticking” to me as I read and reread Romans?  Here’s something “sticky” from Romans 1.18-23, 28-32:

But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth.  But the basic reality of God is plain enough.  Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see:  eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.  So nobody has a good excuse.  What happened was this:  People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.  They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.  They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand….

Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bother them and let them run loose.  And then all hell broke loose:  rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing.  They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating.  Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers.  Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags!  They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives.  They ditch their parents when they get in the way.  Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded.  And it’s not as if they don’t know better.  They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face.  And they don’t care – worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

Yup.  Seems like an accurate description of  our world today.  Of our popular media.  And this was written more than 2000 years ago.  Guess nothing is really all that new under the sun.

Romans Update

Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  It’s full of theology AND practical application, so it’s rather dense and meaty to get through.  But I love the word choice, the rhythm, and the exhortations.  I’ve been reading Romans for almost two weeks now, and though I don’t get through the whole book each day, overall, I’m reading longer chunks of the Bible than I normally do.

I carry around a copy of Romans from The Message, which my sister printed from BibleGateway.com for me.  I usually read from the New International Version or the English Standard Version, so using The Message puts a fresh spin on the words.  While I prefer to sit down and read it in one long sitting, I’ll keep it in my bag to read when I’m waiting for someone, or at a coffee shop, while sitting outside, or riding in the car.  Whenever I have a few minutes, I read a few paragraphs or pages.

Each day something different “sticks” to me from my reading in Romans.  A lot of it has been from Chapters 1, 8 and 9.

Opposites Attract…. Mostly

Mike and I are opposites in nearly everything.   The mystery surrounding the other person is probably one of the things that drew us to the other in the beginning.  But, as you can predict, these differences can cause some friction in our marriage.  I keep repeating the phrase I learned regarding cultural adaptation when I moved overseas, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.”
Well, today I was just wrong.  Not different.  Simply wrong.  Yesterday Mike asked me to help him.  It was an easy task for me.  I knew in my head what he needed to think through and talk about at an upcoming meeting.  I thought the exercise of writing an outline was a good idea, but since it wasn’t something I needed, it never made it to the top of my ACTION list yesterday.  
This morning he seemed a little tense.  I thought that was strange, but when I was in the shower I remembered how I failed to follow through on what he asked me to do. (He asked for my help and my insight!  Hooray!)
But I didn’t follow through. I didn’t intentionally NOT help him out, but my oversight led to his tension.  He thought I didn’t care about his meeting (I do!), or the way he’s wired (I do!).  Mike asked me in my strength to help him in his weakness.  And I can imagine that it felt like I didn’t take his request seriously or think it all that important.
Ugh!  After my shower I was faced with a few choices:  ignore the tension, laugh it off as no big deal, or invite Mike to tell me why he was so tense and REALLY listen to his response.  I chose the latter (hooray!) and then asked for his forgiveness.  I want Mike to know that I love and respect him through my actions.  And in the midst of my failure, I want him to experience my humility.