Sunday, September 21, 2014

Against You and You Alone

In a dimly lit sanctuary as the congregation sings to the Lord and I look at the wooden cross on the side of the stage, the one where many have nailed their sins and hurts, His words, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” replay in my mind.  They are still fresh in my mind after this post.  Then the words, ”Lord, against you and only you have I sinned,” fill my mind. 

For I am fully aware of all I have done wrong,
 and my guilt is there, staring me in the face.
It was against You, only You, that I sinned,
 or I have done what You say is wrong, right before Your eyes. Psalm 51:3-4

I realize in a deeper way that with every act of disobedience I have given a lashing to Jesus.  My sins are ultimately against Him.  I have marred his creation.  I am a graffiti artist vandalizing His people with my words and my actions.  He is the creator of all things.  When I disrespect, neglect, slander, and think evil thoughts about others I am marking up His creation. 

In this moment of realizing again that I am the one that slashed his back open with a whip and hammered his hands and feet to the cross, do you know what I hear?  He says come, come to me.  He opens his arms and invites me to put down the whip and the hammer and come to him.

My mind moves to the confession I made every Sunday in my little liturgical church, create in me a clean heart, oh Lord, and renew a steadfast spiritwithin me.

The one I have wounded and caused to bleed and who on that cross needed someone to dress his wounds, I now run to and ask to clean me up, to erase all my mistakes, and make me as white as snow. 

But he was pierced for our rebellion, 
 crushed for our sins.
 He was beaten so we could be whole.
 He was whipped so we could be healed.  Isaiah 53:5

And because of His great love for me and for you, He does.  He removes my sins and draws me near to Him and engulfs me in His compassion and tenderness.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
 is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 
He has removed our sins as far from us
 as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  Psalm 103:8-13

Friday, September 12, 2014

They Know Not

There once was an innocent man who hung on a cross and died there as false accusations were hurled upon his whipped open body.  As he fought for every breath of his life he fought for the life of the guilty and the condemned.

As he looked at the two criminals, one to the right and another to the left, hanging on crosses, and the others who were crucifying him, he spoke:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Luke 23: 34

I know the story, and perhaps you do too.  I have heard Jesus’ words many times amazed by his ability to ask his father to forgive the very ones who were killing him. 

I wonder could I do the same?

He calls me to this.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.  Mark 11:25

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

During this particular reading of Jesus’ words I see the ending clause, the words, “for they know not what they do.”

What?  What do you mean, Jesus?  These criminals and these persecutors, they know what they are doing.  The two thieves, now paying their sentence, know that stealing is wrong.  The men mocking you, whipping you, nailing your hands and your feet to the wooden beams, they know you have not committed a crime.  They know innocent blood stains their hands. 

Don’t they?

As I sat with these words and my questions, I began to think maybe they didn’t really know what they were doing.  Maybe they didn’t know they were killing the Son of God, the Savior.  Maybe they didn’t know the gravity of their sin or against whom they were sinning.

I have forgiveness issues.  I know Jesus asks me, no commands me, to forgive others and so I do it because I want to be obedient.  I forgive at least until my offender hurts me again.  And then I muster up my obligatory forgiveness again. 

Is obligatory forgiveness really forgiveness?

I hold Jesus’ words and see they are filled with compassion and mercy. 

…for they know not what they do.

In this moment with his final breaths, he extends mercy and forgiveness, not justice to the unjust.

I, full of breath, look at my offenders and say you should know better.  You should know how deeply you have hurt me.  You know all that you do. 

In the moment I want justice.  My soul is too bound to justice.  I feel myself leaning further and further to justice and I am reminded of Micah 6:8:

 And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I read these requirements closely and I see the words “to act justly.”  I am to act justly, not to administer justice.  I am to love mercy.  Perhaps, my just act is to cover my offenders in mercy and say, "Father, help me to forgive them for they know not what they do." 

Isn’t this what Jesus does for me?  All my sins, all my crimes, I know not what I have done.  Sometimes I see in part the magnitude of my mistakes, put mostly I am ignorant of the many ways I offend others.  I know not how severely I have wounded others.  I know not how deeply my sharp words have penetrated tender hearts.  I know not how much blood stains my hands.

And Jesus, who no longer hangs on a cross, but stands full of glory in heaven, says to the Father, “my daughter, my beloved is forgiven.”

This forgiveness that covers me and cleanses my bloody hands is not obligatory. It is freely given for greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  His forgiveness draws me closer to Him and to His love.

May I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to set yourself and those who have hurt you free as you ask the Lord to help you forgive and see them as Jesus does?

Lord, may I no longer offer forgiveness as only an act of obedience, but as an act of love and compassion as I acknowledge that none of us truly know the debt of our sins that you paid for at the cross.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Light in Darkness

Darkness encamps around us.  The earth is moaning full of destruction, disease, and death. 

Hamas and Israel war and Palestinians and Israelis die, ISIS beheads children and buries people alive, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians barely survive in refugee camps, others journey through the desert or hole up on the top of a mountain in pursuit of safety, airplanes are blown out of the sky, Russia is stealing land from Ukraine and more death, more destruction and then Ebola brings Africans to death’s door and the list goes on of the number of people around the world who need to know they are not forgotten, who need a life-line, who need a rescuer.

My heart aches and I watch and I pray.

As I pray, with few words because what does one really say when death and destruction abound, I hear these words over and over again…

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1: 5

In the midst of all the evil, the darkness, God’s goodness, His light, is there even when it is difficult to see.  Sometimes His light seems small or comes in unexpected ways or in unexpected places.  You know, Jesus, the light of the world, was just a glimmer when he first arrived in Mary’s womb.

When evil encamps and surrounds we can take heart because Jesus is present. 

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
“See, all your angry enemies lie there,
 confused and humiliated.
Anyone who opposes you will die 
and come to nothing.
You will look in vain
 for those who tried to conquer you.
 Those who attack you
will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob,
don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you.

I am the Lord, your Redeemer.
I am the Holy One of Israel. 
Isaiah 41:10-14

When evil seems to be prevailing in this perpetual battle of good versus evil, we can be encouraged because He who is in us and all around us is greater than he who is in the world. This is also when we need to walk by faith.  And faith comes by hearing, hearing the word.  And what I hear from the word of God is He wins.  He has the victory.

In the darkness I see light. 

This summer in the mountains of Ukraine teenagers saw the light at English and music camps.  They found hope in the darkness.  They found their rescuer.  They know they are not forgotten.  And they have a reason to sing.

Fusion New Life Lviv's Follow-Up Culmination JV Upside Down 2014 from KristineLynn Williams on Vimeo.

This video may not go viral on You Tube, but the news of these young people believing in Jesus makes Heavenly Headlines.

May I encourage you that as we pray for the persecuted, displaced, dying and sick, may we pray that all of us will see His light shining through the darkness?

*Friends, Ben and Kristy Williams, are seeing God do a great work in the young people of Ukraine.  You can see more light at

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Detained: Loving Migrant Children

Detained.  57,000 unaccompanied children from Central America, specifically Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have crossed the US border and many have been apprehended since October.   Thousands are currently living in detention centers at our southern border awaiting trails to determine their fate, remain in the United States or return to their home country.  Our government officials seek solutions to the myriad of problems caused by these migrant children. 

I believe we need to have laws governing our borders and people should obey these laws.  Our government officials have a complex and complicated job before them.  I have no idea how to solve this situation, nor do I care to engage in a policy debate.  I do care to discuss how we, as Christians, should care about the people, the children, involved. 

Americans have every right to be vocal about their concerns and suggestions for solving this problem to Congress.  However, I believe we don’t have the right to speak harsh words about the immigrants. 

Jesus gave us the greatest commandment, which we find in Luke 10:27-28, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. The second part of this commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  And neighbor is not exclusive to the person who lives next door to you or the people on your street.  Neighbor reaches beyond fellow Americans.  Neighbor actually means any other person.  If we are to love like Jesus, then we need to love people in spite of their race, religion, or immigrant status. 

Did you know that God gave the Israelites specific instructions for dealing with immigrants?  While he was establishing his people he knew to address the issue of immigration and he did not establish a governmental policy, rather a moral and ethical one.

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 19:33-34

God calls his people to not mistreat the foreigners, to not hurl insults at them, to not tell them over and over again to learn to speak English, and to tell them they are not welcome in their city.  Rather, God says to love them.

It can be difficult to love those we don’t understand or with whom we can’t relate.  This may be why God points out in verse 34 that the Israelites were once foreigners in Egypt.  The Israelites can recall the many ways they were mistreated in Egypt for 400 years and how they desperately cried out to God for deliverance. 

I know it can be difficult to have compassion on these immigrants because we may not be aware of their situations and we are comfortable enjoying the pleasures of living in America and desire to protect our country.  Would you take a moment with me and consider what it must be like to walk in their shoes?

What sacrifices do you make to provide the best life for your children?  What sacrifices would you make if your family lived on $2 a day? 

What sacrifices would you make if your daughter could receive only three years of schooling and every day of those years as she walked to school she was in danger of being sexually violated?  What sacrifices would you make if you knew the only future your son held was to join a drug cartel or run the risk of dying by the hands of the drug lords? 

What if the process to immigrate to a new country legally took more than seven years?  Would you wait it out?  What would you do to give your child a life and a future?  Would you send them on a thousand mile journey knowing you would spend a lifetime separated from your baby?

I think about Jesus, the one I am following, the one I want to be like.  Jesus, the immigrant.  Jesus, the refugee.  Perhaps you remember the story?

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2: 13-14
Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s plan to kill him and every male child two and under.  I wonder what happened at the Egyptian border?  I wonder how Jesus was treated as a foreigner living in Egypt?  I wonder what would have happened had Mary and Joseph waited to file all the necessary paperwork required for legal immigration status?

I think it is safe to assume Jesus and the rest of his family encountered some mistreatment in their new country. I make this assumption because He was mistreated as an immigrant here on earth to the point of severe beatings and death on a cross.  Jesus was not only a refugee living in Egypt but an immigrant traveling from heaven to earth. He left his home country, heaven, to live on earth with us to point us to our real home and our real citizenship. 

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; - Philippians 3:20

The truth is if we are followers of Jesus we are all immigrants.

Again, I know we need a solution to the border problems, as there are many areas of concern with so many children making the long trek to America and living in detention centers. But, I hope we can remember we are citizens of heaven and we need God’s perspective and love for immigrants.

May I encourage you to take some moments and set aside government policies and consider the personal plights of these people?

May I encourage you to ask the Lord to help you love your neighbor, all others, as you love yourself?

May I encourage you to pray for God to give wisdom to our leaders to make good decisions on behalf of our country and the immigrants?

Perhaps you would join me in praying, Lord, your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.