Shake Off Shame and Walk Free

Shake Off Shame

Whenever we experience failure, shame and pride attempt to cover. God offers the only sure way to shake off shame, allowing us to walk free.

Three times in the last few weeks, I have been confronted by hidden shame. We may attempt to hide areas of shame in a thousand different ways, but it will insistently peak through cracks in our facade. Often we don’t even recognized the root, but the desire to conceal any area of our lives reveals shame as the underlying source — a source resulting either from my failures or the failures of others.

Whenever I am asked to share my testimony, feelings of shame inevitably rise. The root may spring from my foolish or even sinful decisions. Other shame originated in the violations others perpretrated. After intentionaly seeking repentance, and receiving, as well as extending forgiveness, I live relatively free. Yet, faint shrouds of shame still haunts, causing frustration. Why?

Fear not, for you will not be put to shame, And do not feel humilated, for you will not be disgraced, But you will forget the shame of your youth, And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.”
Isaiah 54:4

This verse offers hope! In it Isaiah connects four integral components: fear, shame, humiliation, and disgrace.

Fear

King David faultered and fell in a huge way. First through committing adultery and then, out of fear of being discovered, he murdered an innocent man. Shame will lead anyone, even a righteous king, down a path they otherwise would never have gone. Afterward, shame always seeks a place to hide.

Jon Bloom describes the deadly combination of pride and shame well. As if shame didn’t carry enough of a burden, it frequently partners with pride. Rather than expose ourselves to shame, pride convinces us to bury it in all the wrong places.

Paul beautifully wrote,

“But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
2 Corinthians 4:2

David eventually renounced his hidden sin, which wasn’t as hidden as he hoped. When he openly confessed it all to God and others, he received the ability to shake off shame and walk free of his past.

Shame

Dictionaries define shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. It carries strong regret and reproach.

King David’s shame resulted from his own sin. Often the most intense shame we feel comes by the misconduct of others, through disrespect or violation through words and deed. Shame-filled people often shame those around them as a means of covering their own condition.

“Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land. Everlasting joy will be theirs.”
Isaiah 61:7

What a beautiful promise! Those who have experienced abuse or misuse will receive a double portion. Get ready! God is about to give double for the trouble others have caused. He will bring honor, praise, respect, and esteem to you in double the measure for wrongs inflicted upon you. As we resist proud coverups and walk humbly, God will bring you blessing.

Because sin resides both in and around us, shame may subtly come to cloak us. Either consciously or subconsciously, we begin to align ourselves with the accuser in self-condemnation.

“Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors. I will save the lame and gather the outcast. And I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.”
Zehaniah 3:19

The woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve long years, secretly attempted to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Cultural humiliation of her condition drove her low. Jesus healed her, reversing the shame unjustly placed on her.

I honestly believe the weak and broken will maintain a higher position in heaven, receiving eternal rewards to compensate for the misplaced humiliation and shame they endured here on earth.

Disgrace

Disgrace refers to a loss of reputation and respect. God reverses the plight through His unprecedented and unmerited grace. Any degradation, discredit, or dishonor experienced, He removes, replacing it by with His grace.

Instead of hiding behind pride, expensive clothes, educational titles, successful businesses, lofty positions, or glass pulpits, God invites us to the only sufficient hiding place, Jesus Christ. As long as we choose to cower behind bitterness, resentment, sarcasim, or insecurity, we will remain prisoners of shame. To shake off shame and walk free, we follow the humble road to Christ.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
1 John 1:9

Here is the catch! We may have memorized hundreds of Bible verses, sought God’s forgiveness, and liberally forgiven others without finding freedom from shame. The residue of shame may continue to limit our ability to move forward.

A Spiritual Issue

As much as shame roots itself in human behavior, it contains a spiritual dimension. When we choose to take a stand and say, “No more!” shame must go.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yoursleves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
James 4:6-7

Here’s the real deal! We may have humbly approached God, honestly confessing our sins and the violations of others. If so, we have received His beautiful grace, and submitted to a new way of thinking and living. One last, most crucial step remains — resist the devil.

In my instance, to shake off shame and walk free, I had to verbally declare,

“Devil, you no longer have the right or authority to hold shame over me. Jesus Christ has taken care of it all. His double-portion promise of honor, praise, respect and esteem now belongs to me. So get lost! Get out! In the mighty name of Jesus, I command all shame to leave. You are no longer welcome in my heart, mind, or soul.”

Honestly, with the verbal renouncing of shame, I “felt” a new sense of freedom, and God enabled me to finally shake off shame. Praise His Name!

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Easter Part 2— Cleansing, Healing, And Restoration

At Easter, we celebrate the power of the blood of Jesus to align humanity with God’s intentions, bringing cleansing, healing and restoration. Since the original rebellion and turning away from God, all of us are bent in a similar direction. The corruption of our nature ebbs deep.

If ever we question God’s love for us, we need only look to the cross for the answer. The Father provided everything for our cleansing, healing and restoration through Jesus. Jesus gave everything for us through His blood.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

To restore humanity’s brokenness and renew their relationship with the Father, Jesus only needed to die — the innocent for the guilty. But Jesus went all the way, to the very last drop, to redeem us and purchase back everything the enemy had stolen.

Healing

People misunderstand Jesus as much today as they misunderstood Him over 2000 years ago. Isaiah hundreds of years before that wrote these compelling lines:

“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought
us peace was on him
and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:4-5

He suffered a brutal beating, standing in the gap for our pain, suffering, transgressions, iniquities, sickness, and diseases. Transgressions define the outward sins we commit, both knowingly and unknowingly. Iniquities form the under currents — the twisted and evil thoughts, attitudes, and intentions of our hearts.

After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter quotes Isaiah, changing the wording slightly to declare,

“‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.'”
1 Peter 2:24

It is finished! Sins forgiven. The guilty made righteous. Healing imparted to souls and body. Complete!

Cleansing

As the hammer descended, violently driving the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet, cleansing blood flowed and seeped into the dusty ground.

From the time of the first deadly assault between Cain and his brother, Abel, the blood of violence has been crying from the earth, appealing to heaven for justice and reconciliation.

“No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete our violence on the earth.”
Psalm 58:2

Bloodshed shadows every nation and all peoples. No race or tribe rightly claims exemption. We all need the cleansing that only Jesus blood provides. His blood heals the earth contaminated by cruel assaults, one against another.

Ana Mendez Ferrell articulates it well:

“From this blood we obtain triumph over iniquity, over sin, over the twisted, crocked way of our footsteps. This blood opens the way of righteousness, restoring the paths of our destiny. It opens roads to carry the Gospel where there is no path or any way to get there.”

Through Jesus, we all receive cleansing from past agression (by us and against us), allowing hands to embrace others in love and feet to walk faithfully in God’s ways.

Restoration

Even after Jesus’ death, one last affliction caused a life-giving flow to be released on our behalf.

” . . . one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
John 19:34

“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, this is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood . . .” 1 John 5:5-6

The Israelites, on their wilderness journey, felt their lives ebbing away as their water supply disappeared. They cried out to Moses for help. Then he cried out to God. God commanded Moses to strike a rock, and when he did, water gushed out. Water enough to sustain millions of people and their livestock.

The smitten rock in the wilderness was Jesus.

“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:3-4

Later, when the people were in a similar situation, Moses struck the rock again instead of speaking to it as God instructed. God gave them water, but it cost Moses His destiny. In the same way, Jesus only had to die once for all! No other sacrifices are needed.

It may have been a soldier’s spear that pierced Jesus, but God released through Jesus’ body the blood and water that brings life — true life, daily life, eternal life — to us all! That life still flows, following us through our desert situations.

Celebrate

This Easter as we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we thank Him again for His blood. May we appreciate, with renewed understanding, the cleansing, healing, and restoration found in Him alone.

No other ingredient or action removes the dreadful stain. No other Name heals our dis-ease and twisted motivations. Human decrees and laws prove powerless and feeble to unite and restore. As the old hymn writer, Robert Lowry, penned, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

But God! God, through Jesus Christ, secured it all! Praise be His Name forever!

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A Correction Line: Correction and Discipline

God offers a correction line to bring both correction and discipline into our lives, realigning us to His intentions for us, while progressively bringing us to perfection.

Yesterday, I left home early for an appointment, allowing ample time to drop a package off for a friend who lived in the country. I thought I remembered the approximate distance and appropriate landmarks for each necessary turn. Perhaps my energetic off-tune singing and enthusiastic enjoyment of the open landscape influenced my obvious lack of concentration. Nonetheless, I soon entered unfamiliar territory. When I crossed the correction line, I knew I had missed the turning point and was heading further and further away from my intended destination.

You might ask, “What is a correction line?”

Simply put, a correction line marks the places where a north-south grid road jogs to correct for the northward convergence of meridians. In other words, they indicate minor corrections in direction to ensure a traveller always heads due north or south. If our world formed a perfect cube, rather than a sphere, such corrections would be unnecessary.

Correction LIne

I hope you see the parallel to where I’m leading with this blog. I want my life directed to the true spiritual north, focused and heading toward the heart and purposes of God. Often, however, I sway off course (sometimes slightly, sometimes severely) and need realignment. Thankfully, God offers just that. Unfortunately, it usually comes through His correction line called discipline.

A Sign of Love

May there be no misunderstanding; I never purposely seek His correction. Nonetheless, God’s discipline clearly demonstrates His love for me and all those who He identifies as His children.

“My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”
Proverbs 3:11,12

I often find it difficult to accept His discipline. It absolutely upsets me to realize how far from His ways I so easily wander. Afterward, I usually understand more clearly.

Of all the ways God reveals His love, I discover it most profound through the path of correction. I realize the graciousness of His love as I experience His discipline offered without shame or harshness. He corrects with a gentle invitation to adjust my course and realign myself with His heart and ways.

Road through Fog

Without God’s correction, I would continue aimlessly down a path dangerous to me and others. His correction line alerts me to my internal blind spots, resetting my course.

Rewards of Correction

God’s Word reveals the benefits of correction. First, it brings holiness, causing one to become more like the Heavenly Father. Second, it produces peacefulness in our lives — a peacefulness both internal and external, both with God and others.

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
Hebrews 12:10-11

Some of the hardest lessons I’ve learned came through the painful road of discipline. Yet, beyond a doubt, lessons learned well and solidified in my life. God intends our ears to be willingly open to His continuous instruction, avoiding the more difficult path of later, more public, correction by others.

Country Road

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
2 Timothy 3:16

The Greek word for correct used in Timothy also means “to set right again or to make straight — specifically to correct moral posture.”1 The Holy Spirit desires to activate His Word within us. He longs to be the Driver at the steering wheel constantly correcting the vehicle of our life down the highway of progressive growth and development — imperceptibly shifting and compensating to avoid our drifting toward the hazardous ditches of complacency and arrogance.

God Invites

The gentle whisper of God leading me through and around several correction lines continues to fill this current transitional season. For a few weeks, we were “homeless.” Shacked up in a hotel with every rhythm, normalcy, and busyness of life silently stripped away, I found myself uncomfortably face to face with nothing but God. Not visibly, but remarkably tangible. Prayer, Bible study, listening and waiting in His Presence occupied the majority of my days.

Repeatedly, He revealed hidden areas of off-centered thinking, misplaced motivation, hard-hearted attitudes, and self-centered agendas. He pointed out each ugly deformity with stunning clarity, but without condemnation. He simply invited me to see as He sees.

Though God can and will allow painful infliction and punishment to realign His loved ones, He chooses first to draw us with loving-awareness of our errors. Only when we refuse to listen will He then come with greater and greater force. He offers the choice to either listen and respond to His correction or to persist along a dangerous path.

Most people, including me, would consider my spiritual life stable and healthy. God leads us beyond comfortable stability to genuine and pure — to the more!

The church in Ephesus perhaps held the noted position of being one of the strongest New Testament churches. Yet, Paul wrote,

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Ephesians 1:17-19

Bends in Road

Supernaturally, God reveals hidden motivations. He leads through His correction line with wisdom, revelation, and enlightenment to His better way. Through discipline, the “eyes of my heart” open, leaving me amazed how I could miss something so obviously off-course in my life.

Embrace Correction

I struggle to fully rest in God’s Presence, receiving both encouragement and correction. But oh, my friend, what benefits result! May we each embrace whatever God reveals and offers to us.

“But consider the joy of those corrected by God! Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin.”
Job 5:17

As I encounter correction lines along the grid roads surrounding our city, I automatically reduce my speed, proceeding with confidence knowing I am heading in the right direction. Correction lines give me the assurance I’m traveling due north and release the freedom to enjoy the journey. This holds true of both my country drives and spiritual walk.

Each correction presents an opportunity to either welcome or reject His discipline. Joy accompanies the knowledge that God has better things ahead for those who yield to His leading.

Open Road

Whenever I allow God’s correction, I find Him nearer than I thought, more loving than I imagined, more gentle than I perceived, more holy, inviting, merciful, awesome, wondrous, and amazing than I hoped. Will you follow me through the open country of God’s gracious discipline, rejoicing in His great love and goodness through correction?

(1. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament: p. 613)

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“I Forgive You” — Forgiven and Free

Forgiven And Free

No other words eliminate guilt and shame as well as these, “I forgive you.” Undeserved and unmerited, they come. Forgiven and free, we leave. The cost of forgiveness always runs heavy. The one wounded carries both the wound and weight. Yet, by God’s immeasurable grace, the one who forgives gains the most and receives the best.

Whether “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you,” I’ve hesitated too long to utter these necessary words on both sides of offense. I’ve stuttered and stammered, delayed and doubted, justified and judged.

I’m not alone!

The rich reward of freedom flows only through forgiveness. Isaiah watched his people perform unlimited religious duties and ceremonies with excellence while ignoring compassionate care for others. God rebuked them sharply for it.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?”
Isaiah 58:6

None of us need to look far to witness injustice, yokes, and oppression. How do we — in this generation — respond better than they and previous generations to similar issues? How do we move compassionately with love toward those around us? May I suggest that forgiveness plays a strategic role.

Dog Tied

Injustice

My dictionary defines injustice as “an absence of justice, violation of right or of the rights of another, and unfairness.” It also defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, impartial, or fair; to treat fairly and adequately; to show due appreciation for; the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.”

Truthfully, everyone faces injustice — some minor, some extreme.

God doesn’t mince words,

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

What does God mean by “loose the chains of injustice” or as another version puts it, “to break the chains of wickedness?” The Hebrew word for chains means “bond, pain, or torment, referring to unjust, wicked bonds usually indicating social, economic, or political oppression.” How do abusive cycles break — cycles where the rich dominate the poor, the strong intimidate the weak, and people emphasize differences and ignore similarities?

Tiger in Zoo

Jesus showed us. He came low and stayed low.

Humility

” . . . he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7,8

Forgiveness follows the low road that leads to the high way. Jesus never needed to be forgiven, but forgave us all. Jesus, worthy of honor, dignity, and praise, came only to serve. He thought of us, putting us first before His own needs or desires.

Forgiveness is the highest form of servanthood. Forgiveness bridges the widest gaps, breaks through the strongest chains, and levels the field of injustice. But it requires humility.

Undoubtedly, the unbearable chains of your past exceed mine. However, even some of mine have been difficult to overcome, including molestation and rape. Perpetrators rarely seek forgiveness, but when the abused offer it (even if only before God) chains break — for real, for good, for always.

The greatest injustice in history occurred at the cross where the holy Son of God died for wicked humanity. Yet from that cross, He prayed,

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ . . . “
Luke 23:34

Ever since, chains break and people experience freedom.

Untie the Cords

The Hebrew word for untie contains two separate meanings. The first is “to jump, leap, or startle, describing a rapid rush forward that startles or shocks.” The second meaning encompasses “setting free, loosing, releasing, and letting something go.” To “untie the cords of the yoke” requires decisive action, both a moving forward and a letting go of the past.

Yoke

Owners place yokes on horses, mules, or oxen to pull heavy loads. It is the owner, not the animal of burden, who also removes the yoke. Isaiah states clearly our responsibility to remove yokes worn by others, placed there by whoever, and kept there for whatever reason. Action is needed!

Perhaps nothing startles the kingdom of darkness as much as the words, “Please, forgive me.” Nothing rattles the enemy so deeply as, “I forgive you.” That one radical choice to forgive looses offense, keeps accounts short, and removes unbearable, even generational, yokes.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32

If all my offenses lay exposed and visible before others, how ugly and disturbing they would prove to be — thoughts I’ve thought, attitudes I’ve carried, and sins I’ve committed. But God!!! But God forgives even me, releasing me from them all.

In the same way, He calls me to forgive — to forgive the grotesque, forgive the unjust, forgive the vindictive, and forgive the defiling. He both asks and gives the ability to do what He commands. Through forgiving others, I instantly become forgiven and free. In one shocking, startling undoing, I’m set free! Yokes break! Cords sever.

Set the Oppressed Free

The word oppressed means more than I thought. It means “to crack in pieces.” Are you willing to see the cracked remnants of humanity? Am I? They live close to us. They walk beside us. The broken bundle themselves behind busy facades, glossy exteriors and fake smiles. They are here. And there. Everywhere.

Often our own brokenness overwhelms us, incapacitating us from releasing others. As we begin to live as those forgiven and free, we gain the tools to free others. Until we forgive, we remain slavesvictims of the crimes of our assailants. Only through forgiveness does healing flow and gates fling open.

Bird in Cage

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Colossians 3:13-14

What grievance do you carry? What bitterness clouds your wounded heart? May I encourage you today, set yourself free by freeing others through forgiveness. Open the cage of oppression, so that healing may enter and every broken place be restored.

Forgiven and Free

God has graciously led me into many areas of ministry. None brings me greater joy than to walk people through the steps of forgiveness. Yes, there are steps! The most effective steps I’ve found come from Neil Anderson’s The Steps to Freedom in Christ.

  • Forgiveness is a decision of the will. As long as we refuse to forgive, we remain “hooked” to that person, bound to the past, and held by bitterness. Until we willingly forgive, that person maintains the power to continue hurting us.
  • Forgiveness agrees to live with the consequences of another’s sin. The sins of others affect us all. Will it be through the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness?
  • To forgive must be genuine — from the heart. We must truthfully acknowledge the pain we feel, without diminishing or excusing it. God heals from the inside out as we honestly face the pain others have caused us.
  • Forgiveness chooses to not hold someone else’s sin against him, her, or them. God does not tolerate sin. Neither should we. In forgiveness, we release others to God. He will deal with them. Through forgiveness, we take a stand against sin by exercising God’s grace.
  • Forgive before you feel like forgiving. Emotion will follow action.
“We don’t heal in order to forgive; we forgive in order to heal.”
– Neil T. Anderson
Halter Cow

“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

We live forgiven and free by forgiving quickly and continuously, without keeping score or counting the times.

A Prayer

Here is a sample prayer to assist you as you continue your process of forgiveness. Don’t rush! Take your time to feel the pain, acknowledge the disappointment, and face the consequences you have endured because of another person’s hurtful and destructive decisions. Then surrender it to God. He is the only one strong enough to bear the burden.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I choose to forgive __________ for __________, because it made me feel __________. Lord Jesus, I choose not to hold on to my resentment. I relinquish my right to seek revenge and ask you to heal my damaged emotions. Thank You for setting me free from the bondage of my bitterness. I now ask You to bless those who have hurt me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

If this is a struggle for you, please contact Freedom in Christ Ministries in your area. Someone will walk with you as you process these steps. My desire is for everyone to walk forgiven and free, with chains of injustice loosed, yokes untied and broken, and the oppressed free forever.

Bless you on your forgiveness journey.

Forgiven and Free

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A Samaritan Woman — A Lifetime of Rejection

A lLifetime of Rejection

What makes Jesus’ visit with a Samaritan woman so significant? What personal lessons may we glean from her encounter with Jesus? Why is she given so much space in John’s writings?

As you can see, many questions fill my mind. This nameless woman intrigues me. Why Jesus intentionally met her alone intrigues me even more. Let’s begin at the beginning of the story.

“So (Jesus) left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.”
John 4:3-6

John sets the stage for us. Ancient, well-trodden paths made broad circles around Samaria. The road though Samaria was perhaps the least travelled route between Judea and Galilee. Yet Jesus deliberately went through Samaria. Tired from the journey, Jesus found momentary relief and solace, waiting alone beside Jacob’s well.

Well

History tells us that Jacob’s well was situated on a plot of ground he purchased and “pitched his tent” on. He made an altar there, calling it El Elohe Israel, The Mighty God of Israel (Genesis 33:20). The names Israel and Jacob were synonymous with each other. Jacob experienced a deeply personal encounter with God on this patch of ground generations earlier.

Rejected People

When Jacob came full circle, tired of running, deceiving, tricking, and stealing, he also came to the end of himself. After years of fighting God and those around him, at the end of all self-effort, He encountered the beginning of God. Here he dug a well. Here he found refreshing. And it was here near a place called Sychar, meaning “end,” that two weary souls met. One weary from His day’s travel; another weary from a lifetime of rejection.

Jews hated Samaritans; Samaritans reciprocated the feeling. Samaritans, a mixed breed of people, worshiped a blend of gods and God. Though they considered themselves genetically connected with Jews, generational rejection ran deep currents of pain and angst through the people. Samaritans, like other mixed races assigned equally derogatory names, lived isolated among themselves. Accepted by none. Rejected by all.

Samaritans believed in the God of the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible. It gave them a correct but limited view of God. Considered “unclean,” the Jews denied Samaritans access to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Consequently, they worshiped on Mount Gerizim.

Water Well

“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”
John 4:9

Rejected Woman

Usually, women congregated at the well during the cool evening. Together they walked, and worked, and enjoyed each other’s company.

The Samaritan woman came alone — a rejected woman within a rejected people. She, like Jacob, knew pain, struggle, and defeat. Married five times and now living in an adulterous relationship, she carried the deep marks of a lifetime of rejection — past failure, present shame, and a hopeless future. For this woman, Jesus “had to go through Samaria!” For this woman, Jesus came “tired as he was from the journey.”

Here at Sychar, the end, she met El Elohe, The Mighty God, in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the privacy of their one-on-one meeting, He refused to skirt around her pain or ignore her reality.

Stone well

” . . . Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
John 4:17-18

Rather than the familiar stabbing of accusation, she sees and feels and knows there is something different about this Man. But what is it? She probes further, responding with pointed, hard-hitting, and even confrontational questions.

Hope Again

Jesus ignores her sharp-edged response. He offers her the living water of fresh truth — truth that frees, truth that heals, and truth that sustains.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
John 4:23-24

John tells us in the very next chapter,

” . . . ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
John 5:19

Because the Father seeks true worshipers, the Son “had to go through Samaria.” Even in her limited understanding, the Samaritan woman believed. She believed the Messiah, called Christ, would come. He would answer the questions of her heart and her people. And here He stood saying, “Worship happens within us not in a building or on a mountain.”

Fountain

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you — I am he.’ “
John 4:26

Jews considered any man talking with any woman (not in his family) in a public setting highly unconventional. Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to question His reasoning for talking with someone they despised. I, too, wonder why Jesus revealed His identity to this rejected woman before anyone else. Astounding!

“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’ “
John 4:27

One Encounter

That one encounter caused the woman to run back to town, shouting

” ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ ”
John 4:29

The town’s people listened to the least and lowest among them. They listened and responded, coming in droves to see Jesus for themselves. That one encounter with Jesus changed the Samaritan woman’s life forever. Her outlook changed. Her countenance changed. How she viewed the critics and criticism changed. And then change came to her whole community.

We have all faced rejection and criticism. Rejection leaves its jagged effects deep within us, waiting for the next time, the next slight, the next jab, the next dismissal, the next exclusion . . .

Studies reveal people relive social pain more vividly than physical pain. Our brains register a broken spirit as intensely as a broken limb.

Water Fountain

I’ve given birth to five sons. As much as I try, it is impossible for me to remember the pain of childbirth. How I responded to physical pain remains in my memory bank, but the actual pain does not. Yet, if I allow myself to think of deep moments of rejection, emotional pain immediately breaks to the surface, forcing fresh tears to spill forth. The need for inclusion, to be welcomed and valued, ranks high in our God-given priorities.

Jesus saw in the Samaritan woman a true worshiper — a woman worth reclaiming, redeeming, and restoring. One encounter with Jesus changed everything!

“Come, See a Man”

How are you doing today? I’m serious. Can you relate to the Samaritan woman more deeply than perhaps you thought? Has the pain of rejection cut deep swathes in your soul? Are you sitting in a personal “Sychar” — the end of hope, the end of trying to fit into someone else’s mold, the end of struggling to be valued for who you are?

Maybe, like this woman, you believe in the Messiah called the Christ, but you long for a similar life-changing encounter. Perhaps, you grew up in the church and know more Bible stories than most scholars, but you’ve never met Jesus in a personal life-transforming way. I welcome you to come to the well today. Allow Him give you a drink of “living water.”

Water Fountain

Many times, I’ve come to “Jacob’s well” — bringing unhealed wounds, unreconcilable disappointments, unanswered questions, and unresolved issues. Often, I “pitch my tent” staying in His Presence, until my soul is renewed and peace restored.

“Come, see a man!” Come, see Jesus. He will prove Himself to be for you what He showed Himself to be for the Samaritan woman, for Jacob, for me, and innumerable others, El Elohe, The Mighty God. Though others reject, He never will.

Come! Come, see a man!

**********

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5 Steps to Navigate the Path of Forgiveness

5 Steps to Navigate Forgiveness

All of us have experienced rejection, betrayal and offense in some manner. Walking through the process of forgiveness occurs step by step. To navigate the path of forgiveness, we intentionally take several difficult but rewarding steps. From time to time, we must revisit these godly principles, ensuring freedom from the lingering residue which otherwise may hinder our Christian progress.

Success, on so many levels, depends on our ability and faithfulness to conquer the treacherous terrain of forgiveness. Forgive, in Hebrew, means to “absolve” or “release fully.” It first appears near the end of the first book in the Bible.

” . . . I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
Genesis 50:17

Joseph spent fifteen long years in prison and slavery, being harshly and unjustly treated, because of his brother’s jealousy and anger. Separated from family and alone in a foreign land, Joseph had plenty of time and reason to harbor bitter resentment against them. But he didn’t! Now, at the death of their father, they only vaguely confess, stating their father wanted Joseph to forgive them.

Steps to Forgivenss

The Hebrew word, שָׂ֣א (śā), also means “to lift, bear up, carry, and endure.” Rarely do people openly apologize. Usually, dealing with offenses occurs in seclusion — a yielding to God the wrongs done to us by others.

The Unforgiving Servant

Jesus’ disciple, Peter, asked Jesus,

” . . . Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Matthew 18:21

By the standards of any day, Peter might seem extravagantly generous to forgive someone so many times. We, like Peter, often feel there must be some kind of limit to forgiveness. Jesus clearly explains that grace goes much further.

” . . . I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:22

In reality, Jesus said, “Seventy times seven times!” In other words, “Don’t count! Just forgive!” He used the opportunity to explain forgiveness more fully through a now familiar story about two men — one willing to forgive and the other unwilling. A servant owed his master the equivalent of twenty years of wages. (Before deducting living expenses!) Of course, he had no way of repaying his debt. The Master mercifully forgave the entire amount.

We encounter five key steps on the road to forgiveness. These godly principles endure through all circumstances, generations, and cultures.

Step #1 Desire

The Master in Jesus’ parable was no ordinary master. This Master, the King of Heaven, the One we have all insulted, betrayed, and violated, approached the indebted servant, wanting to settle the outstanding debt.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Matthew 18:23

The first step in forgiveness requires a searching of our own hearts and intentions. Do we legitimately desire to forgive? Are we willing to “carry or endure” the pain of offense, even if the offender has no desire to resolve the issue.

Climbing

Neil Anderson often reinforces the truth, that forgiveness is a decision, or crisis, of the will. It begins with a decision within us. Forgiveness never implies that the offence doesn’t matter or gives room for continued disregard for another’s wellbeing. In forgiving, we acknowledge fully the depth of the offence and the pain we have endured.

Both the Master and the servant were clear about the extent of the harm, but forgiveness involves mercy.

Step #2 Mercy

In the parable, the deceived servant believed he could somehow reconcile the debt. The King knew the impossibility of his claims. Whether the offenses done against us are small or great, no human effort repairs the damage. In forgiving, we recognize that reconciliation is not always possible, or favorable.

The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
Matthew 18:27

Mercy requires NOT giving someone what they deserve.

Instinctively, when someone wrongs us, we choose either to retreat or retaliate. We desire to either withdraw, avoiding further injury, or fight back, giving them a bit of what they’ve handed out to others. Jesus calls us to a different approach; He calls us to compassion.

The Greek word used for “pity” means “compassion in an absolute sense — feeling deeply for another based on emotion rather than on intellect or reason.”

Climbing Mountain

Talk about a massive boulder plopped in the middle of the path to forgiveness. Not only does Jesus call us to forgive, He calls us to a deep level of compassion for our offender.

While serving on guard duty, I have to position my heart free from critical judgments over the incarcerated. I see them at their worst. I watch over them during extreme times of crisis and intervention. Only God fully knows the twisted paths that have brought each one to this place.

Forgiveness doesn’t ignore or deny someone’s cruel behavior. It acknowledges the painful consequences we endure from their actions.

Forgiveness reaches across the chasm of personal pain to empathize with another, facing the blunt force of that pain head on. It looks the offender in the eye and says, “Despite what you have done, I forgive you. I no longer consider you indebted to me.”

Step #3 Revoking

In the same verse, Jesus tells us that the king “canceled the debt.” Can you imagine forgiving someone for twenty years of continued indebtedness, twenty years of insult and injury, twenty years of negligence and abuse? Some who are reading this relate all too well. The offense against you may span much longer — years have flowed into decades.

In this step, the sheer rock face of personal pain impedes our movement. To press through requires nothing less than the grace of God.

We know our offender owes us —
        owes us apology
                owes us restitution
                        owes us recognition of what they’ve done.

I wish every offender, including me, would quickly see their error, apologize, and make restoration. Unfortunately, few seldom do.

Team Work

Only by writing “PAID IN FULL” across the bill of their indebtedness will we overcome and conquer, moving toward full forgiveness, restoration, and personal freedom.

God called Job to forgive his friends, who turned into harsh critics.

” . . . My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly . . . After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before . . . The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”
Job 42:8,10,12

Praying for our offenders provides the strength and wisdom to take the step of revoking the wrongs done against us. Through prayer, we release our assailants to God. Then, and only then, can God freely restore blessing to us.

Step #4 Let Him Go!

In practical terms, “letting him go” means refusing to dwell on the situation any longer. When I allow myself to regurgitate past offenses, I become stuck on the plateau of self-pity.

The plateau of pity appears quite pleasant — honestly, way too comfortable. No risky routes around boulders. No knuckle-whitening grips up granite cliffs. Parking in the pleasurable place of pity perhaps presents the greatest peril.

The Peril of Parking

The longer I park, the better it feels, the more self-righteous I believe I am, and the more critical I become of others. Pity deceives and lures.

Interesting how the right kind of pity, a compassion for others, sets our grand course. Yet, this misdirected pity and self-seeking gratification keeps us from reaching the destination of forgiveness.

“Letting him go” releases not just him, but us! It sets us free from being held back by the poor behavior of others, releasing us to reach the pinnacle of our destiny and purpose.

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:15

Parking in pity is a luxury none can afford!

There is one more point Jesus makes in the parable.

Step #5 Release Judgment

God judges justly! When we master the narrow path of forgiveness, extending mercy and compassion, considering another’s debts “PAID IN FULL,” and releasing our offenders completely from their wrong, God still holds them accountable.

Forgiveness never belittles or denies the incredible pain of offense. Only through the act of forgiving comes the power to walk free from it. Earthly powers lack ability. Even monetary recompense fails to satisfy. Only through the cross of Jesus Christ does justice reign.

Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven

Jesus paid for every offense on the cross, We measure the weight of sin on faulty human scales. Sin is sin to God. Only He sees the full picture. Only He judges justly.

“The LORD arises to contend
And stands to judge the people.”
Isaiah 3:13

As we listen to the voice of Jesus, leaning into His heart, and choosing the path of forgiveness, we will find He is with us, guarding our steps. With Him, we will overcome every obstacle, reaching the high place of forgiveness, where someday we will view all things from the Kingdom of Heaven perspective.

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Overcome Spiritual Fatigue: Minister Out of the Overflow

Overcome Spiritual Fatigue

These last few months have been a sometimes-up-sometimes-down battle to overcome spiritual fatigue. It’s a battle I’m winning! Sensing the pressures, first emotionally and then physically, I realized too slowly the true intensity of the battles I was facing.

God desires that we minster out of the overflow of the Spirit, rather than a dry well of exhaustion. Recently, I knew I was due for a personal inventory check. It was time for me to lean into God’s promise through Isaiah.

“He gives strength to the weary and
increases the power of the weak.”
Isaiah 40:29

At times, we all become weary and weak. However, when fatigue lingers, becoming constant and limiting, we are wise to take heed and evaluate the cause.

Fatigue

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:13-14

Dust is the humbling, present reality of these bodies we occupy.

Taking Inventory

My first step to overcome spiritual fatigue began with this basic inventory check:

  • healthy diet
  • adequate sleep
  • routine exercise

It sounds far too practical, but these daily consistencies are critical for overall health and vitality. Any lack in these areas seriously affects my ability to function and reach my potential. Unhealthy cravings, irritability or lethargy often trace back to imbalance in one of these three elements.

Lethargy

Jesus set such a wonderful example in caring for His disciples. When they were hungry, He provided food. He often drew them away from the demanding crowds for much needed rest.

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ “
Mark 6:31

A healthy diet goes far beyond food. What am I filling my mind with? Am I pacifying, or medicating, an important need with a cheap substitute?

What about rest? Am I getting adequate sleep and guarding a “Sabbath” rest? (This has honestly been a struggle for me!) Exodus 31:17 tells us that God, who never runs low on energy, “rested and was refreshed” on the Sabbath. How much more important for us? Recreation gives God time to re-create and re-fresh us. Having fun is seriously important for stress packed lives.

Sometimes, to overcome spiritual fatigue, we must begin by taking care of physical and emotional needs.

The Problem

Because much of the work I do involves people in critically disturbing situations, it often drains my energy reserve and leaves me feeling fatigued. Some of what I witness is extremely dehumanizing. Ultimately, behind the scenes of each one of these lives lurks spiritual entities, attempting to “steal, kill and destroy” people whom Jesus loves deeply.

Sleep

Regardless of the situations which are making withdrawals from our inner reserve, God’s promise remains,

” ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”
Matthew 11:28-30

Just reading these words offers insight and breathing space. Whenever I’m feeling “weary and burdened” and the “yoke” weighs heavy, I know I’m carrying something God willingly offers to relieve me of. Only He possesses the strength and power to carry the weight of human oppression, injustice and indignity.

“Come to me,” Jesus invites.

The Solution

Don’t discard God’s solution as overly practical. “Come!”

Do you know Jesus Christ? Are you living in personal relationship with Him? Great!

“. . . He saved us through the washing of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Titus 3:5

The renewal by the Holy Spirit is ours. Not just a onetime, special, salvation offer, but a continual opportunity to come to Him for a redo!

Tired

The solution to overcome spiritual fatigue also appears simple and practical. In coming, we:

  • spend time with Him daily in prayer, Bible reading and meditating on His Word
  • pursue a heart attitude of worship, quietly or expressively
  • adopt praise, being thankful to God in the midst of all situations and struggles

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:30-31

When you’re feeling more than a little fatigued and stumble, don’t panic. For those who “hope in the Lord,” it is a temporary condition.

Sit at Jesus’ feet, receiving and being filled anew with His Spirit, He will renew your strength. Just like exhaustion came gradually, often restoring takes process as well. Come! Drink deep from His reserve — drink again and again.

Resting

Overcome Spiritual Fatigue

To overcome spiritual fatigue might require one more step — identify unnecessary hindrances.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith . . .”
Hebrews 12:1-2

I’ve been asking God to examine my heart to expose any unresolved issues of unforgiveness, bitterness, critical judgements, selfishness or pride. Yours may be different, but these are often my tangle points. God clearly says the responsibility to “throw off” these weights belongs to us.

After this last step, the flow into our lives through Holy Spirit runs pure and strong. As we identify the problems and develop solutions to overcome spiritual fatigue, the overflow comes clear and constant.

Horse sleeping

How much better and more fulfilling to minister out of the overflow of Holy Spirit, rather than from the stagnant sludge of spiritual fatigue. Through these practical steps, God’s renewing and revitalizing pours through us and from us to others.

I hope my brief progress report on how to overcome spiritual fatigue encourages you. My dad would say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Whether we’re needing prevention or a cure, an ounce or a pound, God is able. Come!

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No Marketing Scams: What Is Inside Counts

What is Inside Counts

Bombarded daily by sales pitches, catchy jingles, and slick packages, I need to remind myself that what is inside counts. Have you been enticed by crafty advertising, only to discover that the latest “must have” product represents a cheap replica of what you expected to receive? I have. In more ways than I’d like to admit.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve worked to create products that both look appealing and, hopefully, become beneficial to the recipient. The old adage to not judge a book by its cover goes far beyond novels. I wish it was only merchandise we cast instant judgment on. Unfortunately, we do it in a multitude of ways.

A Little History

Long ago, Samuel led and served Israel as priest, but after Israel demanded a king as leader, God led Samuel to anoint Saul as their first king.

“Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”
1 Samuel 9:2

At first appearances, Saul looked the part: handsome, hardworking, fearless, and humble. It didn’t take long before a hidden side of Saul became apparent and the whole thing turned sour! Saul overstepped his bounds, became proud, and rebelled against God. He eventually turned into a raging maniac who was demon possessed.

Inside a Piano

Did Samuel misjudge Saul’s potential? Did God make a mistake? Hardly!

I’ve ministered to many husbands and wives who have found themselves in a similar predicament. That future spouse who once seemed gentle became violent, once level-headed now unpredictable, once generous turned self-seeking, cruelty replaced kindness. Who or what they fell in love with dissipated into a faint memory.

Whether in personal relationships or business associations, most of us have discovered something other than what we bargained for.

What is Inside Counts

When it came time for Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to replace Saul as king, God warned him,

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7

Heart matters! Those excellent qualities Saul once possessed evaporated because he failed to guard his heart. Solomon gives perfect advice on how to do just that.

Inside a Camera

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity, keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
Proverbs 4:23-27

Guard Your Heart

What is inside counts the most, requiring vigilant and active protection. Solomon reminds us that everything flows from within us. He encourages us to pay attention, offering practical examples in the way we talk and think, what we look at and the places we go. Even so-called “strong” people fall into deception, thinking they are powerful enough to play on both teams: God’s and the devil’s.

The cost of such negligence proves greater than any expects.

Jesus reminded His listeners,

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
Matthew 15:19

“Out of the heart” comes both evil and good. What is inside counts and matters most because everything flows from that deep well within.

Judging

“Don’t judge a book by its cover!” is still good advice, but we do. “Don’t believe everything you see!” But we do!

Whether for personal promotion or financial gain, humanity knows how to package for appearance, for the quick sale, or the easy fix. Often, too quickly, we form character judgments, whether out of a critical spirit or through rose-colored glasses.

Watch Works

Working in the legal system, I’m appalled at how rarely I identify a murderer or rapist. In ninety percent of the criminals, I see mercy, justice, faithfulness, and empathy. Their eyes show brokenness or hopelessness. Something within me resists the notion that people can, and often are, deceptively cruel or inerrantly evil. So I judge — most often incorrectly.

What is inside counts! No one sees the whole heart except for Jesus.

“Now while he (Jesus) was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
John 2:23-25

Jesus Knows

Often it’s possible to fool a few people. Fooling everyone all the time, rarely, if ever, happens no matter how slick the appearance. No one ever fools Jesus! He knows what is in each one of us.

I have often heard people say, “Jesus knows my heart.” Often the comment is spoken to justify a failure or moral offence. Yes, Jesus does see our hearts. He sees all of our hearts — the good and the corrupt.

Proverbs reminds me,

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
Proverbs 27:19

Heart Monitor

Our lives reveal what is really in our hearts. The thoughts no one hears, the wayward glances no one sees, the dishonest deal we hope others won’t uncover, the addiction we try to hide, angry words, or self-seeking behaviors also form the accurate reflection of our hearts.

New Heart

God promises good news. We can be “new-hearted” people. My prayer often echoes David’s,

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Psalm 51:10

Ezekiel offers us even greater hope.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Ezekiel 36:25-26

Inside Bible

Tears of gratitude pool and flow as I remember God’s great grace. Yes, He challenges us to guard our hearts with diligence, because what is inside counts! He also knows and sees our inability to change apart from Him. So He comes. He comes with mercy. With love, He comes, removing the crusty hardness, transforming it to tender flesh.

Through this partnership of God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and us doing all we can, comes cleansing in the inmost part. A pure heart unattainable without Him.

“Yes, Lord,” I pray again, “give me a clean heart.”

******

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Healing by the Pool: What is Crooked Cannot be Straightened

Solomon said, “What is crooked cannot be straightened.” Jesus proved Solomon’s point with the miracle at the Pool of Bethesda. Miracles will always remain mysterious — perhaps none more so than the healing by the pool.

This pool bore no resemblance to pictures in resort promotions. This pool neared the Sheep Gate where sellers brought sheep, washing (probably in this pool), marketing and selling them for sacrifices at the temple. Sheep aren’t clean! Here human and animal smells and sounds mingled, swelling in volume during the Jewish festivals.

This pool, protectively surrounded by five covered colonnades, became a place of hope for many. Why?

Bent Eyelet

“Here a great number of disabled people used to lie
the blind, the lame, the paralyzed —
and they waited for the moving of the waters.
From time to time an angel of the Lord
would come down and stir up the waters.
The first one into the pool after each such disturbance
would be cured of whatever disease they had.”
John 5:3-5

Mercy and Grace

Bethesda means “kindness or mercy.” The number “five” represents “grace.” At the place called mercy and grace, the disabled, blind, lame, and paralyzed came hoping to find mercy and grace, where with mercy and grace God’s angel descended, making mercy and grace visible to all.

How many? How many waited and hoped? I can hardly imagine the sight, the weight of despair pressing against the odds of just maybe being the next one healed. It’s hard to maintain faith when disappointment comes often.

Bent Nail

I, too, am one who is crooked and cannot be straightened, in disabled condition. No, not outwardly, but inwardly. Disabled applies both morally and physically. Like them, I shelter under the colonnade of mercy and kindness, hoping and waiting. I, who am too often spiritually blind, unable to walk the Christian walk with strength, wait — paralyzed by my moral failures, unable to advance further.

They wait — hoping for an angel they can’t see, while missing the Messiah who stands among them.

Jesus Sees

Most people preferred to enter the grand city another way — a cleaner, quieter way. Jesus chooses this way. Here in the midst of the noise, the pain, the struggle, He comes. His eyes focus on one man.

What makes this man special that Jesus notices him above the massive throng? What make this man worthy of receiving?

Nothing!

“When Jesus saw him lying there and
learned that he had been in this condition for a long time,
he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ “
John 5:6

Rusty Bend Metal

Jesus asks questions so we will see and understand; He already knows the answer. The man’s response seems honest enough. But is it?

” ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied,
‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.
While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’
John 5:7

The answer to Jesus’ question should be, “yes,” or “no.” He, like me, choses to blame other people’s negligence for his present circumstance. For thirty-eight years, he suffered. For thirty-eight years, he depended on others., hoping someone would get him out of his predicament.

It’s all too easy to grow comfortable, even in our dysfunction, our disability, blindness, lameness and paralysis. Too easy to excuse or justify our “crooked and cannot be straightened” condition.

Cannot be Straightened

“What is crooked cannot be straightened,
what is lacking cannot be counted.”
Ecclesiastes 1:15

I’m told that when metal becomes bent, it cannot be straightened. It might look straight, and even function like it has been straightened, but bending causes the molecular structure to change, weakening the metal forever. Only one option remains for restoration — the complete remelting and remolding of the metal.

Casting Metal

In spite of the man’s moral and physical inadequacies, Jesus still comes with mercy and grace.

“Then Jesus said to him,
Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ “
John 5:8

Miraculously, the man does! In taking responsibility for himself, he obeys Jesus and walks away almost whole. Almost? Yes, almost!

A Matter of Heart

“Later Jesus found him
at the temple and said to him,
‘See, you are made well again.
Stop sinning or something
worse may happen to you.’ “
John 5:14

Jesus sought this man out again, and “found him.” More critical than a physical healing, Jesus desired a heart change for this man.

What was the sin he committed “at the temple,” in church? We aren’t told details; perhaps, because God wants us to see our own reflection here.

How great has Jesus extended mercy and grace to us, at the Sheep Gate, in our messiest condition? How often has He sought us, challenging our wayward thoughts and actions? Or offered warning or reprimand? How often has He asked for our devotion? How often have we refused?

“The man went away and told the Jewish leaders
that it was Jesus who had made him well.”
John 5:15

With body whole and heart hardened, the healed man turns traitor and reports Jesus to those who wish Him dead. We all either turn toward or away. There’s no in between!

We would hope for a better response — perhaps gratitude, worship or reverence.

The Melting

Without the melting of hearts toward Jesus, we, too, will be forever bent, left in a weakened, volatile state. Without the melting of my heart, I cannot be straightened. No one can!

Oh, how imperative the constant cry of my heart, “Melt me, Lord! Make me new! Remove the “churchy” appearance of looking good, surface healings and half-hearted walking. Lord, I desire the full deal, the real deal, the melting, remaking, painful, messy, recreating. Don’t let me settle for second best, almost complete, when the greatest miracle stands before me — a pure and upright heart.”

Pure Gold

The healing at the pool comes as a tragic reminder of humanities failure to recognize Christ Jesus in the face of His great mercy and grace. He comes to find us, to seek us out, again and again, welcoming all to come to Him wholly and fully.

How many more worthy were among the disabled throng that day? How many little children needed a miracle? Was there none at the pool deserving of mercy? No! No one is worthy; none deserve His blessing.

The essence of mercy reaches to the unworthy and undeserving. Jesus chose the least worthy to display His love and grace, then and now.

Oh, the hope for us all! The hope in knowing God hears our pathetic cry and changes hearts. It’s Who He is! It’s what He does — how He loves.

Only in Him will that which cannot be straightened be made completely new and whole.

Choose Battles Wisely – When to Fight and When to Walk Away

In the upside-down world we live in, we must choose our battles wisely, knowing when to fight and when to just walk away. I don’t always have a clear direction to know when a fight is worth it.

My younger cousin and I would often wrestle. Both wiry and good-natured, the wrestling usually resulted in healthy competition and laughter. On one particular occasion, my cousin’s intentions shifted. My father sensed it and gave warning. This fight ended all future fights! I limped away with a black eye and bleeding nose, while he was unscathed. Though younger, he clearly overpowered me.

Dog Fight

It was the beginning of learning to choose my battles wisely!

Meet Jacob

Jacob was used to fighting. He fought his way out of the womb holding his brother Esau’s ankle, later robbing him of his birthright and blessing. Jacob lived up to his name, grasping the heel, taking advantage of and deceiving others.

The contention in the womb led Rebecca to seek God, “Why is this happening. . .?” (Gen 25:22)

“The LORD said, to her,
Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:23

The battle between the two brothers grew so strong that Jacob fled for his life with only a staff and the clothes on his back. Alone, there was no one to swindle or fight, but himself.

Fighting FIsh

The first night away, Jacob had a God-inspired dream of a staircase to heaven. Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning the house of God.

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep,
he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place,
and I was not aware of it.’
He was afraid and said,
‘How awesome is this place!‘ . . . “
Genesis 28:16-17

Jacob’s Match

After the long trek to his ancestor’s homeland, Jacob met both his future wife, Rachel, and her father, Laban. Jacob didn’t know it yet, but in Laban, he met his match.

Try as he might, he was unable to out-swindle and out-connive Laban who cheated him into marrying the wrong woman and changed his wages continuously.

“You know that I’ve worked for your father
with all my strength,
yet your father has cheated me
by changing my wages ten times.”
Genesis 31:6,7

After twenty years, Jacob learned to pick his battles; he ran for the hills instead of fighting (31:21,38). Sometimes, I’m just as slow in learning which match to engage and which to leave alone.

Cat Fight

Laban, though a cheat, was no fool. He recognized God’s blessing on Jacob created increased wealth in his coffers. Gathering a renegade mob, he pursued Jacob to bring him back, but God warned him against taking action.

Laban chose his battles wisely. Jacob he could handle, but once God stepped in, Laban backed out of the fight.

The Real Battle

Our ultimate battle isn’t against people or any political or economic system. The real battle we face rests within ourselves. The closer Jacob came to “home,” the closer he came to himself.

Genesis 32:1 says, “. . . the angels of God met him.”

I would appreciate a few more details, but none are given. Jacob knew he was entering hallowed ground. Yes, he was “in great fear and distress” over seeing his brother Esau, but a deeper foreboding cast its shadow. Jacob knew it (Gen 32:7).

Fighting Tigers

Finally, we witness a glimpse of the “new” Jacob: a humble Jacob, a contrite and God-seeking Jacob.

“Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham,
God of my father Isaac, LORD . . .
I am unworthy of all the kindness
and faithfulness you have shown your servant,
I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan,
but now I have become two camps.
Save me, I pray,
from the hand of my brother Esau,
for I am afraid. . . ”
Genesis 32:9-11

What’s this! An honest Jacob, too!

A Battle Worth Fighting

In the night, whether through self-protection or God-direction, Jacob sent gifts ahead to Esau to pacify him” (Gen 32:20). In the middle of the night, Jacob also moved his entire household, servants and possessions across the Jabbok. A vicious battle was about to ensue. Unsure of the outcome, he moved everyone to safety.

“So Jacob was left alone,
and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
Genesis 32:24

Tearfully, I remember my moments “alone.” Moments of only God and me. Contending for His promises. Resisting His discipline. Questioning His agenda. It wasn’t easy with Jacob; its certainly wasn’t easy for me either.

Horse Fight

Did his family hear his screams of anguish, his groans of pain, or his wails for mercy from the other side of the stream? How far did his voice echo through the once still night?

Neither God nor Jacob relented. The past needed to be dealt with before the unfolding of Jacob’s future destiny. With not even a staff to lean on, Jacob faced God. It was both his darkest night and his brightest dawn.

God’s Discipline

Hosea offers insight into why God chose this battle wisely.

“The LORD . . . will punish Jacob according to his ways
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
as a man he struggled with God.
Hosea 12:2,3

This battle separated Jacob’s past from his future, from living in self-motivated deception to walking with the God of Truth, from contending in the flesh to trusting in the Spirit.

Jacob died that night! For “no one sees God and lives!” (Ex 33:20)

Bull Fight

In the dust of Jacob’s life, Israel rose. Israel struggled with God, walking out of personal darkness into the dawn of his purpose.

“. . . I saw God face to face,  
and yet my life was spared.”
Genesis 32:30

God is just and always good. Jacob’s corrupt nature had to die before he would receive God’s promised blessing. Whenever God brings up our past, His purpose is redemptive. God’s discipline always points to future hope.

“The Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6

God chooses His battles wisely with us, too.

Limping Forward

My battle left me with a black eye and bloody nose; Jacob’s left him with a permanent limp. Rather than a mark of weakness, the limp marked a man of divine strength — humble and submissive to His Lord.

“He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.”
Hosea 12:4

Everywhere Jacob went from that time forward, he would consecrate it to God. In Shechem, “he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel” (Gen 33:20).

God was no longer just the God of his ancestors, but now El Elohe Israel, his own Mighty God. God longs to be personal to each one of us — intimate and near.

Goat Fight

God brought Jacob back to Bethel, the stairway to heaven. Jacob consecrated his entire family in preparation. Now instead of running from God, Jacob ran to Him.

“God appeared to him again and blessed him . . .
you will no longer be called Jacob;
your name will be Israel‘ . . .
And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.”
Genesis 35:9-11

When we choose our battles wisely, we walk with new identity, albeit limping in humanity’s weakness, but princes and princesses of God, nonetheless.

God Almighty

Encounter by encounter, Jacob experienced an ever-increasing awareness of the God he contended with. Jehovah, LORD God of his fathers. Then as personal LORD, the I Am. In the face to face night encounter, Jacob found God to be imitate, loving and gracious, powerful and just. At Bethel, God revealed Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, the one who pours Himself out, liberally and completely.

The same is true for us! The longer we walk with God, battling through our internal issues and surrendering to His invitation to intimacy, the more we discovery His greatness and goodness.

Lion

Jacob learned to choose his battles wisely, walking away from the insignificant, making peace with his oppressors, leaving behind the deceivers, and contending with the only One with Whom it really mattered.

May we all choose our battles as wisely, discovering that God is present with us in an ever-increasing measure.