April 18, 2019
God Touching Mind, Body, Spirit
Read Luke 1:18-20,59-64
Sometimes a head cold is just a head cold. Other times it is a wake up call from God, a reminder that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and need rest, nourishment, and exercise. And sometimes God touches our body, our mind, or our spirit in order to call us to repentance. In the passage noted above, John the Baptist’s father was struck mute by God in order to bring him to obedience and repentance. He accepted the gift and rejoiced greatly in God in a Spirit inspired song of praise (Luke 1:67-79).
My father was a nominal Christian most of his short life. But at the age of 48 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that changed everything for him. During an exploratory surgery to determine the possibility of removal of the tumor he died on the operating table and was successfully revived. During the time his heart was stopped he had a revelation of Christ’s love for him. Upon awaking he called for our parish priest and made his confession. His life was transformed.
God is trying to speak to us, to invite us to receive the gift of repentance. But are we listening? According to the FDA over 17 million Americans take analgesics every day, not simply to treat pain, but to avoid it completely. However, pain is one way that our bodies speak to us, and a means for God to communicate with us via our bodies. There is obviously a right use of analgesics; however pain avoidance may be inhibiting our ability to hear from God. Are you doing self-administered palliative care to avoid repentance? Or maybe you are experiencing a troubling in your mind or spirit. Are you paying attention to these signs and lifting them up before the Lord? He wants to speak to us, and He often uses our bodies as a vehicle of communication. Don’t hide from Him, embrace Him and ask Him to speak to you personally.
April 17, 2019
The Absence of God
Read Luke 24:13-24
In the book, Come Be My Light, about Mother Teresa’s spiritual journey, we get a glimpse of her struggle over a period of fifty years. She confesses to various spiritual directors, priests, and bishops her sense of the profound absence of God in her life. In one letter to her confessor she offers this prayer:
Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me–I’m afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God–please forgive me…
As you can see from the quote above, the perceived absence of God prompted Mother Teresa to cry out in repentance and beg for His forgiveness. When I was in college I worked as a house sitter for various college professors. It was a difficult time for me financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I was thirsty for God, but afraid because He seemed so distant from me. One night, in a fit of great pain, I cried out asking God why I was so desolate. He clearly responded, “Because in the desert you must grow deep roots.” I broke down in tears and asked Him to forgive me for my doubts and anger toward Him.
Are you experiencing spiritual dryness or desolation? The temptation is to try to “cure” the problem. But can you experience the absence of God as invitation? A gift of repentance?
April 16, 2019
The Word Spoken Through Others
Read Acts 2:36-38
In 1996, I had the privilege of attending a Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte while attending the school of Evangelism. I was sitting in the upper section of the Carolina Panthers’ stadium. Two young men sat down behind me and it quickly became obvious from their conversation that one had twisted the arm of the other to be there. The reluctant one ridiculed just about every aspect of the proceedings and insisted that “I’ll be damned if I go down to that field.” Then Billy came on, and in his pleasant, southern drawl proclaimed the Gospel. The young man’s ridicule ceased, and I could hear him utter statements every now and then like, “What did he say?” “How can that be?” And so forth. Then came the altar call, and his friend couldn’t get out of the way fast enough for this young man to reach the aisle.
All too often we are reluctant to give heed to certain people because of prejudice or preconceived notions of who God would choose to be his vehicle of proclamation. In Acts 2:13 Luke tells us that the people thought the disciples were drunk. There was doubt and ridicule in abundance until Peter began to preach and several thousand were added to the number of believers. Bishop Costantino, who died in 2006, experienced such an event at a conference where he was the featured speaker. A woman came to him after his first talk and told him that she had a word for him. He assured her that God wouldn’t send someone like her to give him a word. She insisted, so he said, “Ask God what sin I confessed yesterday, and if he tells you I’ll listen.” She came back and told him, “I asked, and God says that He has forgotten.” To his credit Bishop Costantino let her give him the word.
Are there people from whom you won’t receive the Word? Why is that? Ask God to open those channels for His gift of repentance.
April 15, 2019
The Written Word
Read Daniel 9:1-5
Rosaria Butterfield, a UNC Western Literature professor and a former lesbian and atheist, was won over by reading the Word. She recorded her conversion in her book titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith. She has become a powerful witness for Christ, declaring, “…repentance and victory over sin are God’s gifts.”
In her testimony, Butterfield says, “I was working on a book ‘exposing’ the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. I approached the Bible with an agenda to tear it down because I firmly believed that it was threatening, dangerous, and irrational. But when I came to Christ, I experienced what nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called ‘the expulsive power of a new affection.’ … As my union with Christ grew, the sanctification that it birthed put a wedge between my old self and my new one. In time, this contradiction exploded, and I was able to claim identity in Christ alone.”
In the same way, Daniel came to repentance through the Word. We have already examined Daniel’s experience of repentance in the meditations of 3 Lent. But what prompted that act? Daniel records, “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years which, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (9:2). The written Word is a formidable witness to the redeeming power and love of God. But are we spending quality time in the Word? Jesus said, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (John 5:39). Are you spending meditative time in the Word, or simply “study” time? The Pharisees study the Word. The faithful embrace the Word, both written and Living!
Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. — Luke 5:31-32
I hope that these meditations have made obvious that repentance is a gift. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us resulting in an act that flows out of us. Although it is our act, it does not originate from within us. In fact, in our naturally stubborn, rebellious hearts the whole notion of repentance is foreign. It must be granted to us by God Himself in order to be real. We could not even conceive of such a thing if left to ourselves. Instead, we would come up with all sorts of excuses for our sin and would point our depraved fingers at everyone else. But by His grace, God grants repentance to His adopted children whom He patiently disciplines: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). For even when our minds grow weary and our hearts doubt the promises of God, He remains faithful to His promises and patient toward His people “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
It is a gift because we cannot do it without God’s aid. This is why Peter was flabbergasted to see Gentiles repenting. It meant that God had indeed been working in the hearts of those who had previously been considered beyond His reach. And God is continually seeking and searching for His lost sheep. He uses multiple means to call us and bestow on us His gift of repentance.
And though, as this Holy Week reminds us, we have already been forgiven of our sins through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are called to continue in our repentance so that we might become holy and blameless. It is a call to live perpetually in God’s grace, an on-going work of God in us. So let us look as some specific ways that God calls us and gives us the grace of repentance. And let Him challenge us to not only seek but accept the gift of repentance.
April 13, 2019
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” And after this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” —John 21:18-19
During my sabbatical in 2013, I visited St. Margaret Mary Church in Swannanoa. The priest preached a sermon entitled, “Unpack for the Journey”. His basic message was that we carry many worldly burdens with us in our daily walk, and in order to follow Jesus, we need to let go of those. In the scripture quote above, Jesus is telling Peter to do just that. If we are going to follow Jesus, we must let go of the things that bind us to this world, and let Him gird us, fill our backpack with things of His choosing, and follow Him.
Bishop John Holloway used to preach that every member of the CEC needs to have a valid, up-to-date passport. It is one of the ways that we can be ready to respond quickly to God’s call. If He calls us to a mission overseas, will we be ready? You say, “But I’m not called to be a missionary.” Jesus tells Peter in the verse above, “when you are old…another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” Wait a minute. Do I not have a say in this? You have free will, but if your will is not truly submitted to Christ then you, not Christ, are still in control. St. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). That is the goal: total submission to Christ. And it is also a process—a process of unpacking, letting go of our will and submitting to Christ. None of us are there — yet! But by His grace we can grow into the fulness of relationship with Him.
Peter repented. He had this profound interaction with Jesus. And through this encounter he was fully restored to right relationship with His Lord, and that gave him the courage to accept the call. Will you accept the call? Will you unpack for the journey?
April 12, 2019
Lord you know everything —John 21:17
Peter knows in his heart that he loves Jesus. But he knows there is more, there is always more that he can do to show his love. He may not be good at showing it, but the love is there. And Jesus is capable of discerning that love because He knows everything.
For the vast majority of us in the Church, we have grown up knowing that Jesus loves us. We learned it as a song when we were young: “Jesus loves me this I know…” But for many of us we really don’t have a clue how much we love Jesus. Like Peter we can argue with the Lord decrying His questioning of our love. Nevertheless, again like Peter, we know that our expression of love for Him is not what it could be. There is more that we can do.
Each time Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” Peter answered, “You know!” And the third time, in his grief over the questioning and the use of the familiar verb phileo, Peter calls upon Christ Himself as witness. We too have failed and faltered in our love for Jesus. But the good news is that Jesus knows. He is always aware of our childlike attempts to convey that love to Him.
On our refrigerator at home there is a paper that my granddaughter, Ruth, with the help of her mother, prepared for Miranda. It is titled, “All About My Oma”. It was given to Miranda on Mother’s Day as a sign of love from granddaughter to grandmother. There are some errors in fact on it. For example, it declares that Oma “is 2 years old.” Regardless, this document is prominently displayed in our home because it is a testament to Ruth’s love for her Oma.
God has our refrigerator art on display in heaven. He knows everything, even the things that we don’t get quite right. He knows our love, and He wants us to know how much we love Him. When we do, we will know there is more that we can do to show that love. That will help us to grow in our love for Him.