Spiritual Musings

celebrating our judgement

In 1978 Velma Barfield was arrested for murdering four people, including her mother and fiance. She was on death row, confined in a cell by herself. One night a prison guard tuned into a 24-hour Christian radio station. Down the gray hall, desperate and alone in her cell, Velma listened to the gospel message and accepted Jesus as her Saviour. The outside world began to hear about Velma Barfield and how she had changed.

During the six years she was on death row she ministered to many of her cellmates. Many were touched by the sadness of her story and the sincerity of her love for Christ as well as the beauty of her Christian witness in that prison. Just before her execution, Velma wrote “I know the Lord will give me dying grace, just as He gave me saving grace, and has given me living grace.”

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” On earth Velma Barfield paid the price for her crimes. The hideous nature of sin is that while we can be forgiven them and freed from them, we, like Velma Barfield, must still face the consequences of our sins. At least until Christ returns, sin is here to stay. Sin cannot be eradicated. And for being born into this world, each of us has a price to pay. This does not mean that we receive a death sentence the moment we are born. Although we cannot avoid the consequences of our sins, in Jesus we can overcome them. At the judgment hall, Jesus’ blood washes away our sins and clothes us in His righteousness.

Spiritual Musings

the golden rule: setting a trend of gracious living

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

If yours was a church-going family, you probably memorized this verse about the same time you learned to speak. And if you’re family was hardcore, you probably used the King James version, like did. I love it in the KJV—-It’s the most poetic mission statement a Christian could have.

While this text is arguably the foundation of Christian living, the understanding and application of it are often limited. it is often regarded as merely an ethics of reciprocity, an obvious, rule of thumb to good living—-If you don’t want to be punched in the face, then don’t go punching people in the face, if you like to be forgiven when you mess up, then you forgive those who have, if you want respect, show respect. That sort of living. And, of course, this world would be a much better place if all of us, always, lived by this rule.

But there’s nothing intrinsically Christian or Christ-like about this kind of living. You’ll find this call to considerate living in other religions too. Buddhism says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Confucianism, Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. Hinduism, Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. You can find many more.

So what makes Matthew 7:12 uniquely a message from Jesus? It’s in the positive spin that Jesus puts on it. While others tell us “Don’t do what you don’t what others to do,” Jesus takes it a step farther and says “Do what you want others to do.” Jesus is saying that it is not enough to refrain from rude, inconsiderate or harmful behavior. He tells us to do good simply because it’s the godly way of living. When He tells us to do what we want other to do, Jesus challenges us to be proactive in our relationships. Even when there is no reason to do good, do good. Give others the preferred treatment you’d like to get for yourself, and do this not because you’ve got something to gain or because you’re making amends; do it to set a trend of gracious Christian living. Be an active agent is making your world a better place.

The Message states it well: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. “Grab the initiative”–That’s what Jesus is talking about. It’s not enough to sit back and not be a jerk. We need to get out there and look for opportunities to be Christian.

Spiritual Musings

jar of stale bread

Keep a two-quart jar of it . . . so they can see the bread I fed you in the wilderness. Exodus 16:32

If you just got off a toast diet that you were on three times a day for 40 years, I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to see toast ever again. You might even go all Atkins and give up carbs altogether. And toast art would be the last thing framed and displayed on your mantle. Yet, after 40 years of only manna on the menu, God tells his people to store some manna in a two-quart jar and display it in a place of prominence so their grandchildren would not forget the manna stories. I really don’t think they needed pneumonic devices to remember 40 years of manna!

But God knew better. He knows how the human ego retells a story—-how we love to give ourselves the credit, how we exaggerate our part and minimize the role others play. The manna in the jar is for future generations to know that God  fed His children every day of the 40 years. It was not about eating manna for 40 years, but about being fed by God. It was not about the pillars of cloud and fire, but about being protected by God. It was not about surviving the wilderness, but about being saved by God for the promised land. God desired that every child of Israel look at the jar and believe that the God of the Exodus would be with them forever.

What’s in your two-quart jar to remind you of God Everlasting?

Spiritual Musings

when God winks

God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better.  Acts 17:30

I’ve heard it since I was little. It’s something that has kept away the guilt and grown my hope–That God, in His infinite love and mercy, overlooks sins committed in innocence, that there’s no penalty for bad deeds born outside of malice and selfishness. But I never quite put a picture to this truth until recently.

It’s like when I was a child. Mom made the rules and set the consequences of breaking said rules. Mom also administered said rules with a tough hand and a fair mind. There simply were no if’s and but’s or okay-just-this-once’s. Mind you, I’m not boo-hooing over a strict childhood. I liked the predictability and certainty of her expectations. It made my growing up disciplined, yet simple and uncomplicated. The system even played a role is making me feel loved–She knew me so well that most always she’d stop me before I broke a rule. But if I did, I definitely had to pay.

Mom was almost always a presence that sort of hovered over me. But every once in a while, she’d leave Dad in charge. Same rules, same consequences, yet I never got in trouble as much when Dad was in charge. Back then, I didn’t understand how and why I got so lucky when Dad was around, but looking back, I can see it clearly now.

Dad focused on the why rather than the what. He saw that I often said and did stuff before thinking about it or processing it. He seemed to know that the deed usually was never premeditated. So while he always said, “I’m going to have to tell Mom about this,” he waived the consequences. It was like he weighed my heart against my deed and found me innocent, a victim of lack of understanding. If my dad were the winking kind of guy, I think he would have added a wink to seal the secret deal between the two of us.

And that’s the picture I have of God. Like my Mom, He’s all no-nonsense, He’s also like my Dad. He overlooks my sins when I don’t know any better. He chalks it up to a lesson learned and then winks it all away.