Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is required of Christians?

I've been doing a study called "Uncomfortable Christianity".  In this study I've been thinking about what God is actually requiring of us as Christians.  I'm confident the answer is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should not just say we love them, but we should really love them with our actions. Yes, we're to go to church and we're to learn more about Him both at church and in our homes.  But, the more I study His Word and the more I think about Jesus' actions I see really it's about a life of service coupled with love.  We are saved by faith for works.

God led me to Isaiah 58 this week.  I've copied it for you below from The Message Bible. Please read the below passage and think about these questions:  

  • What kind of fast is God looking for from us?
  • If the if/then scenario in verses 8 - 10 were the case, what blessing on the obedient side would you most hunger for?
  • Does this shift your thinking about how you should be living as a Christian?

1-4       “Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!

Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,

    face my family Jacob with their sins!

They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.

    You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.

    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    to break the chains of injustice,

    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

9-12       “If you get rid of unfair practices,

    quit blaming victims,

    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath

    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,

If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,

    God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
    making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
    Yes! God says so!

Lord, thank you for loving us and giving us grace.  I sure need grace because I haven't always lived and acted the way I should as a Christian. I want to live a lifestyle of service and love to bring glory and honor to you.  Help me to do so each day of my life. In Jesus' Name - Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Poured Out

I would never walk up to someone and dump out my entire savings on their heads, but that's exactly what the woman mentioned in Matthew 26 did.  She poured an alabaster jar full of precious perfume on top of Jesus' head.  Historians disagree on the exact value of that perfume, but all agree it was worth a great deal.  Given that women during that day and time could not own land or other possession, this perfume was likely her life savings.  She dumped it out - all out - on Jesus' head.

If I would have been standing there beside the Disciples I would likely have done the exact same thing they did.  I would have become angry. Why would she waste so much of her money?  I mean, couldn't she have saved that to use for feeding the poor or maybe even feeding herself in the future?!?!  What was she thinking? Jesus responds differently. Jesus not only approves of what she did, but He also scolds the Disciples for their response.

Jesus was never concerned with assets more than individuals.  Jesus understood her act to be that of worship.  He knew her heart.  Her heart was not to deprive herself or anyone else of anything, but to worship her Savior. We don't know her background, but maybe she had heard Jesus say to leave everything and follow Him.  Maybe she heard Jesus say that if God provides for the little birds of the sky then how much more will He provide for His children. Maybe she simply believed those words. Maybe her faith was so great in her Savior that she fully trusted Him with providing for her every need. And maybe, just maybe, she was focused on on a lifestyle of worshiping Him rather than her own lifestyle.

We all have lots of assets.  Some of us are financially blessed, while others of us are blessed in other ways. Some of my friends are rich in humor.  Some other friends are rich in hospitality.  Others are rich with the gifts of teaching. We are all rich in different ways.  We've all been given much.  I remember reading, "To whom is given much, much is expected".  I'm thinking we need to pour out our assets for Jesus.  Think about what that would look like.  What if we all poured out our assets each day for Him?  What would that tell the world about where our faith lies?  What if we gave God everything we had and fully trusted Him to take care of our needs?

Now, I want you to know I am not making a withdrawal from my retirement funds today because I don't feel like Jesus is asking that of me.  (Plus, my retired Investment Banker momma would have my hide if you know what I mean.)  But, let me tell you what I am learning to do.  I'm asking Jesus each day what He wants me to do with what I've been given.  I have so much.  Need a Bible?  Well I've got many at home so I could just give you one.  Need someone to teach you about scripture. Well, He has given me the ability to teach.  Need a place to hang out and laugh, well I have the gift of hospitality and the joy of the Lord is my strength.  I want to pour out all my assets for Him.  I would even pour out my retirement funds if He asked, but don't tell my mom I said so.  I want to be more like this woman in Matthew, and not like the Disciples which is the more comfortable place to be.

What about you?  What are your gifts? What has God given you that you could pour out as an act of worship?

Lord, you are an amazing God.  You loved us so much that you didn't even hold back on giving your own Son for us.  What an amazing offering you've made on our behalf.  Thank you for loving us. Thank you for grace and mercy.  I want to live for You because You died for me.  Help that to be so in my life. In His precious Name ~ Amen.

For a deeper study:
  • Read Matthew 26: 6 - 13 and make notes of what God teaches you through this passage.
  • Read Romans 12: 1 - 13.  What gifts has God given you?  How could you pour out these gifts for Him?
  • Read Matthew 25: 31-46.  Do you see Jesus in the faces of the least of these or not?  If not, what doe you see in the faces instead?  If you do, what has He taught you about Himself through their stories?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Inclusive vs. Exclusive

Which people should we love?  Should we love people that don't believe as we believe?  Should we love people that look different?  Should we love people that have a shady past?  I think most of us would say, "Absolutely!  We should love everyone!"  But in reality, do we really love these people?

Jesus amazes me with how He loved others when He walked the face of this earth.  Take the story of The Woman at the Well.  This woman had a mess of a life, or so it seems.  She had been married 5 times and was currently living with a 6th man. Even by today's standards that seems a little harsh. And, she was a Samaritan.  Jews didn't hang out with Samaritans, and Jesus was a Jew. Jesus was breaking all kinds of social rules on this one, but He didn't seem to care.  It seems to me He was more concerned with her heart.  I mean, after all she was a creature He had created.  She was his daughter. He loved her.  He was indeed more concerned about her future than her past. He wanted her to know of the Living Water that would quench her thirst forever.

But, those darned disciples - they weren't so grace giving.  They wondered why in the world Jesus was talking to this shady woman.  I think Jesus must have shook His head at them and their inability to love others that were different.

I'm so glad Jesus loves each of us regardless of our past struggles.  Honestly, I'd be in big trouble if He didn't.  If we're talking about our heritage, I'd have to say I'm a Gentile and not Jewish.  And, I've been married more than once.  (Twice for those that are counting if you really need to know.) My story more closely matches that of the Woman at the Well than it does Jesus' disciples, except for the part of the disciples not being so grace giving.  I've been not so grace giving myself.  I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth.  But I know one thing. Jesus loves me in spite of me!  Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Which people do you love?  Right now, think about those you showed God's love to this week.  Did they look different than you?  Do they have a shady past?  Or, do those people look just like you? Are you inclusive or exclusive on who you chose to love?

In the story of The Woman at the Well, Jesus tells His disciples to "Wake up and look around!". I think that some good advise for all of us.  Wake up and look around!  You will find someone that needs to feel and hear about the unconditional love of Jesus.  They might be different than you, but Jesus is OK with different.  You should be, too.

Lord, forgive me when I've missed opportunities to love others in Your Name.  Thank you for loving me in spite of me.  Thank you that Your Blood covers ALL sins.  We are a world in need of a Savior and of Your Grace and Mercy.  Help us, Lord. ~ Amen

If you want to dig deeper in this study:

  • Read John 4: 1-43.  List what God tells you from this passage.
  • Read Mark 2: 16 - 17.  Who was Jesus hanging out with in this passage?  Why did He hang out with these people?  Do you ever hang out with those that don't know or understand the love of Jesus?
  • Read Matthew 11: 28-30.  Who is told to come?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Judgement vs. Compassion

She was apparently guilty because she was caught in the act.  Her guilt was also confirmed by the fact that she didn't contest her accusers. It's not her guilt that makes me interested in her story. It's the opinions of those around her that interests me.

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought her to Jesus and put her in front of Him and the crowd of people that were gathered.  She had been caught in the act of adultery, but honestly, it wasn't the woman the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were concerned about.  They were trying to trap Jesus.  The religious leaders refer to her as "this woman" which leads me to believe they didn't even know her name.  And if I had to guess, they didn't know her background either.  I bet they didn't even ask her why she had committed adultery.  They certainly weren't concerned about her motives or what was at the heart of the matter.

Jesus had every right as the Creator of the World to send a lightning bolt to destroy these religious leaders.  He knew they were trying to trap Him.  He knew they weren't interested in what happened to the woman.  But Jesus, full of love and grace and mercy, didn't zap the leaders with lightning.  He knew the law called for the woman to be stoned, but He also knew the sins of the men accusing her. He asked for those without sin to cast the first stone.  No one did.  Not even one of them claimed to be without sin.  The accusers walked away.  And Jesus, showing so much love and grace, forgave the precious woman's sin and told her to sin no more.

Two different perspectives of the same situation.  One perspective is seen through condemning eyes, while the other perspective is through the Eyes of Love.  What did Jesus see that was different than what the religious leaders saw?  Well, He most certainly saw the people He had created - His children.  He had created not only the woman, but the religious leaders as well.  He had a love for all the sinful people in the crowd.  He treated everyone with love and respect, even when they meant no respect for Him.  What an example of love!  What an example of grace and mercy!  I bet many lives were changed that day as they witnessed this scene.

If you were in the crowd that day would you have sided with those pointing a judgmental finger at the woman, or would you have seen this situation and immediately felt compassion for the woman? If you're not sure then read today's headlines and see if you see those involved in the headlines with compassion or with judgement.  Do you say things like, "those people deserve that"? Or, do you say, "I wonder what has happened in that person's life to get them to this sad place?"  We don't have to agree with someone's actions to show compassion to them.  Jesus didn't agree with what she had done. He knew she was in the wrong, but He also knew what had led her to this place.

I have no right to throw stones at anyone because I am not without sin.  But, I do have every right to love others unconditionally.  Jesus showed us how to truly love others.

Lord, forgive me when I've been judgmental of others.  I know they are your children and you love them as much as you love me.  Help me to love the way you do.  Help me to see others through the way you do.  In Your Precious Name, Amen.

To dig a little deeper:

  • Read John 8: 1 - 11 and make notes of what God teaches you in this passage.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13 and highlight ways we are to love others.
  • Make a list of people in your sphere of influence that need to receive unconditional love from you and then go love on them this week!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Outcast

She was different.  She was unclean.  She had been labeled unclean for many years because of the laws and traditions of her people.  Being unclean meant that she was not able to go to lunch with her girlfriends.  She was not able to sit on chairs or anywhere other than her on bed without that piece of furniture also becoming "unclean".  And that bed she slept on, well, it couldn't be shared with her husband.  He too would then be unclean.  She couldn't even hug her children.  She was most definitely an outcast.  She had been labeled by the world she lived in.

Somewhere along the line she heard about Jesus.  She must have heard of the miracles He performed. He was different than the other doctors she had been to throughout the years.  Jesus didn't charge for the miracles He performed. And, He wasn't afraid to be around the outcast like lepers, tax collectors, and the lame.  She had hope rising up in her for the first time in years, and that hope turned into action.  She went through the crowd and did the unthinkable.  She touched, with her "unclean" hands, the hem of His garment.

Immediately she was healed, and immediately Jesus knew power had left His body. Can you imagine how she must have felt?  After years, and years, and years of a physical ailment and being labeled unclean, it was over.  What relief!  What joy!  In amazement and fear and wonder she fell to her knees before Jesus when He asked the crowd, "Who touched me?".  I bet the crowd was mortified that this unclean woman just touched the Rabi. This was against the rules.  This was not the way things worked.  Jesus' response was very interesting.  He called her, "daughter".

Jesus didn't look at her with the same eyes that the rest of the crowd was looking at her through.  It was His child, His creation. He healed her and told her to "go in peace".  Peace wasn't something that was familiar to her, but I bet she was very excited to once again live a peaceful life.  I bet she hugged her husband and children that day.  I bet she laughed.  I bet she gave thanks to God before resting her eyes that night.

This is a true story from many years ago, but the truth of the matter is that there are outcasts all around us.  You know, the people that don't fit into our normal, comfortable lifestyle.  Let me give you a few examples that came to my mind:  homeless people, people coming out of prison, women that dance for a man's pleasure in public, drug addicts, people that don't believe the same way we believe. If these people were in front of me, would I act the same?  Would I love differently? Jesus treated the outcasts with love and respect.  Do I follow His lead?

What about you?  Are you comfortable with loving people that can be hard to love? Do you, on a regular basis, make time for the outcasts in our society?  Why or why not?  If you have stories of how God has changed you by sharing your love freely with the outcast, please email them to me. I'd truly love to hear them. (stephanie@stephanieblakeslee.com)

Jesus - please forgive me when I haven't given love as freely as you give love.  Thank you for the grace and mercy you give me, and all the others in this broken world.  Help me to see others through your eyes.  Help me to not stand in judgement, but to walk in love in every way possible. - In Your Name I pray - Amen.

For a more in depth study:

  • Read Luke 8:42 - 48.  What does God say to you through this story?
  • Read Luke 6: 27-38.  Who in your community needs to hear about the unconditional love of Jesus Christ? What is holding you back from telling them and showing them?