Sunday, March 26, 2017

How Spiritual Sight Changes Us

John 9:25 (CEB): Spiritual Sight
25 The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
I lived many years of my life under the veil of spiritual blindness. Some people who know me may say I exaggerate. When I revealed this same truth to my wife, for instance, she said, “Lighten up. You were a good guy, too, before your active faith in Christ.” This may be so, but there was a time when God opened my eyes and heart in a way they were never opened before. Something took root in me then that I cannot fully articulate, but I can say this: Leading up to that time, I experienced a heightened sense of spiritual emptiness and fear. Looking to fill this spiritual void, I found myself drawn to the Gospels and, for the first time, began reading Matthew’s account of Jesus Christ. It changed my life. Something in me opened; I heard Christ’s intimate, personal call. Scripture came to life for me in an unimaginable way. Every aspect of my life --  being a husband, father, teacher, and neighbor -- became brightly lit by the radiance of Christ’s love. God used my emptiness to call me to him in faith.
Our weaknesses, struggles, and faults are areas where God’s grace and healing dwell. When we approach God with the faith of an open heart and mind, he works through our hurt to heal and provide us with new spiritual sight. And the man born blind exemplifies this (see John 9). As a lifelong blind beggar, he is humble and an open vessel waiting to be filled by God’s grace. Jesus gives him physical sight. And at the end of John 9, Jesus finds the healed man again and gives him spiritual sight:
35 Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.

God’s grace transforms us, but we must be open and “want” God to heal us. The man born blind says, “I want to believe in him” (John 9:36). And when, like this former blind man, we are given sight and transformed in Christ, our imitation of God’s love transforms and gives sight to others.
Let us pray for God’s gift of continued conversion so that the light of Jesus Christ permeates our hearts and minds, giving us true spiritual sight. And in that renewal of love and vision, pray, too, that God uses each of us to touch the hearts and minds of those we serve each day.

Have a blessed week!


Monday, March 20, 2017

Our Witness to Jesus Christ

John 4:39-42 (NRSV): Our Witness to Jesus Christ
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus Christ] because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The woman at the well in John chapter 4 illustrates how God often uses the least likely, society’s outcast and victimized, to spread the Good News. This happens throughout Scripture, especially in the gospels. Several cases illustrate this point: Consider that Jesus calls Matthew (Matthew 9:9), the loathed tax collector, a man who eventually orates and writes a canonical gospel account of Jesus Christ. Also, Luke’s gospel mentions Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), another hated tax collector who, upon Jesus’ invitation, repents and gives back four times what he stole from others. The faithful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:17-19), furthermore, exemplifies God using society’s marginalized to illustrate thanksgiving. And then, of course, there is the feared outsider who breaks the chains that bind him to the tombs, the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:15-20). Once Jesus frees him, he is commissioned to stay in his Gentile town to evangelize others. The woman at the well, therefore, fits neatly into the category of the least likely to experience and witness to God’s grace, yet Jesus uses her to bring the Good News to her people.
We, too, can become instruments of God’s love in the world, but we must first, like this marginalized Samaritan woman, be willing to listen to God, becoming empty vessels to be filled by the “living water” of his grace. When Jesus asks the woman for a drink, she questions him but stops and listens. She is open to Jesus’ message, even though he is a Jew asking a Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:9). Historically, first-century Jews despised and alienated Samaritans because they were seen as a mixed Jewish race and impure in their worship (2 Kings 17:24-41). In John’s narration of the woman at the well, the woman uses a successive progression of names for Jesus that indicate her openness and conversion: “Jew” (John 4:9), “Sir” (John 4:11), “prophet” (John 4:19), and finally, as Jesus identifies himself to her, “Messiah” (John 4:25). The woman’s listening leads to a gradual transformation by grace that allows her to become a vessel for God’s voice in her community: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus Christ] because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). The Samaritan community first believes in Jesus as the Christ because of the woman’s testimony. As the text indicates, the Samaritans soon invite Jesus to stay with them, and he stays for two days (John 4:40). It is through Jesus’ words, however, that the community comes to believe for themselves -- through their own intimate experience with Jesus -- that he “is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
By grace, we, too, can testify to others about God’s love. The passage preceding this Scripture selection is John the Baptist’s statement regarding Jesus’ identity. John says, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Each of us, if we make ourselves less and God more, can become the voice of Jesus Christ’s love in the world. God wants us, imperfections and all, to be his heralds in our own communities. By our witness of love in the small spaces of our day, others, too, can hear for themselves and know the presence of Christ in our lives.
How do we witness to Christ in our communities? Witnessing does not entail “Bible thumping” or admonition of others; it does not, most times, involve mentioning anything. The best witness we can make is to love others at least as much as we love ourselves. The best witness is to imitate Christ in our relationships with others -- to be self-giving, present, merciful, loving, and accepting. When people see this, they will want to know what brings us such peace and happiness, such wholeness of heart. It is then, that the people we witness to, also, will seek out Christ and hear “for [themselves], and . . . know that [Jesus] is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to be Liberated by Grace

Matthew 6:14-15 (NRSV): Being Liberated
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Forgiveness is daunting, and for many victims, forgiveness seems impossible. Violations of our trust and love by others, unfortunately, can become insurmountable hurdles to forgiveness. All forms of forgiveness, however -- from the extreme to the everyday -- are made possible through God’s grace. And our acceptance of God’s grace to forgive transforms and liberates us.
When it comes to forgiveness, God’s will for us is clear: He desires that we forgive others as he forgives us: “[B]ut if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness, then, is a two-way street. In order to be forgiven, we must accept God’s grace and forgive others. This is a challenge, but forgiving others can be compared to forgiving ourselves.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains that forgiveness of others is synonymous with the forgiveness of the self. He explains that we love our own person but despise our sinful acts. Using this logic, Lewis explains how we can forgive others even when getting past the “cruelty and treachery” of the violation seems impossible:
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them [the "cruelty and treachery" of others that warrant our forgiveness]. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again. (117)
Forgiveness of others, then, does not reduce the horror of the offense nor does it make it “okay” in any way. But, according to Lewis, forgiveness is an act of self will: We hope for their healing, cure, and humanity.
Forgiveness, finally, equips us to be authentic agents of God’s love. As we go out to serve our neighbor in every face we meet this week, let us remember God’s transformative, healing grace and radiate that to others.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, Jesus teaches us that to be forgiven we have to first be willing to forgive. Lord, grant us the grace to forgive others and, in turn, to be liberated by your healing and forgiveness. Amen.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why it is Essential to Know that God Loves Everyone

Romans 5: 2 (NLT): God Loves Everyone
2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
In the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) becomes the spiritual guide to a convicted, malicious rapist/killer who awaits execution. The convicted, Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn), stubbornly denies responsibility of the murder and rape charge, and throughout the film he plays the victim. It isn’t until the end of the film, however, when Poncelet is twenty-two minutes away from being executed, that he tearfully admits to Sister Prejean his culpability in both the murder and the rape. And after that confession and reconciliation, that moment of grace that only God can give, the following conversation unfolds:
Matthew Poncelet: When the lights dimmed last night, I kneeled and prayed for them kids. l never done that before.
Sister Helen Prejean: Oh, Matt. There are spaces of sorrow only God can touch. . . . You have a dignity now. Nobody can take that from you. You are a son of God, Matthew Poncelet.
This is a powerful moment in the film, for, as viewers, we despise Matthew Poncelet and what he has done, we are irritated by his bravado and cocky attitude, and we are sickened by his disrespect for humanity. But at that moment, when we know God has broken through and touched his heart, we witness something greater than our hate. We are reminded of the measureless love and mercy of Jesus Christ.  
In reading these Scriptures and recalling this film, I am reminded of my own flawed love: Could I ever love such a depraved enemy? Without question, Jesus does.
Paul reminds us that through our faith in Christ, we are brought to a “place of undeserved privilege where we now stand” (Romans 5:2). God’s love for us is incomprehensible. His grace even penetrates the heart of the most despised, undeserving murderer. No one is without God’s love.
As we go into the week doing the best we can to radiate God’s love, let us look on all those we serve with the eyes and heart of Christ and remember that God loves everyone.
In prayer, let us remember the words of the prophet Isaiah:
   1 “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
  (Isaiah 43:1-3)