Hospitality vs. Protection – Responding in a Time of Crisis- November 18, 2015

In the aftermath of the senseless attacks on Paris, I along with many others, find myself trying to make sense of the senseless.  The best place I know to go is to God’s word.

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In this statement, he says that we will have trouble in this world, this is a sure thing.  Holding onto hope amid all of the fear and distress can seem hard, but I love what the last sentence says, “I have overcome the world.”  He lives, and He has already won the victory for us on the cross.

There are so many divisive political arguments taking place these days, both online and in other public forums, even in families.  I see friends and family members engaging in a contest of wills to prove who is right regarding whether or not we should let Syrian refugees into this country.

I have to bite my tongue, shut off my phone, or close the computer to keep myself from entering into these arguments.  I, like most of us, have very strong opinions on political matters, but this to me is not an easy issue to solve.

On the one hand, the Word says, “Let brotherly love continue.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1 NKJV).”

Some arguments are using the verse Leviticus 19:33 to justify a certain political position, as it states, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him.  The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  God here is speaking to the Israelites in the Old Testament regarding strangers who are already dwelling in their land.  Leviticus 18:26 further admonishes both the Israelites and strangers who dwell within the land to keep God’s statutes and not to engage in any practices contrary to His Word.

On another hand, and perhaps most ambiguous is when Jesus says in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  This comes shortly after Jesus makes the admonition not to judge, and to look at the plank in one’s own eye before trying to get the mote out of your brother’s eye.

I had some difficulty understanding, so in writing this, I Googled another website:  http://www.gotquestions.org/pearls-before-swine.html

This provides a good explanation of what Jesus is saying here that I believe makes sense.  The article states that Jesus is explaining to believers the difference between judgment and discernment.  I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to lump everyone into one category or encourage prejudice.  Quite the opposite, as most of us would be considered Gentiles today, since much of the Old Testament is addressed to the Jewish people.  We are also not to turn a blind eye to those in need, but make every effort to extend to them the love of Christ, and above all, try to reach people with the message of the Gospel.

(I am happy to say, by the way, that I discovered through reading about all of the goings-on as of late that there are a number of Christian ministries that are ministering to refugees right now wherever they are, providing for their material needs, such as food and clothing, and a number of teams of medical personnel tending to health care needs.)

However, I don’t believe either than Jesus is saying that we as believers should trust people willy-nilly, because He knows that there are some who wish to destroy, to “turn and tear in pieces.”  An analogy would be that if a homeless, hungry, naked person showed up at my door in need of help, I would be remiss in demonstrating the love of Christ if I didn’t try to help that person in some way, whether offering food, or clothing or pointing them to a place that they could go for shelter, etc.  However, just speaking the truth here, I am most likely not going to allow that person to stay in my home and risk putting my children and family in danger from someone I don’t know.  This, I believe, is where the discernment comes in.

This quandary is by no means an easy one to answer, and I most certainly don’t know all of the right solutions, other than that I believe the best thing we can do is to pray and seek God’s guidance, (and volunteer to help in whatever ways we can),  and to pray for our leaders, whether or not we disagree with them.  And for anyone, citizen or refugee, who has not yet heard about how much Jesus loves them.

“Father, it is hard to put into words the anguish we feel at the pain and heartache experienced around the world today, both at home and abroad, because of all that has transpired.  It is easy to be afraid and disillusioned; yet You have given us hope that You have overcome.  Help us to remember that our ultimate trust, our Hope, is in You and You alone.  Be with our leaders, Father, that our country will turn toward You and seek Your wisdom.  I seek Your wisdom on their behalf too, Father, as I know that You are able to deliver us from any sort of trial that we can encounter, and that You are mighty.  Please bring Your peace and comfort to those that have been affected by these events, and to those that are being forced to flee their homes, Lord.  Please give us wisdom and guidance as to how we should help, how we as a nation should proceed.  Above all, help us as Christians to reach others, either at home or abroad with the love of Christ.  Thank You Lord for Your grace and great love for us all.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Picking up the Cross – November 17, 2015

I saw a funny meme on Facebook this morning with a picture of Kermit the Frog picking up a phone that read, “Hello, may I please speak with Jesus?  ‘Cause these folks over here gonna make me break at least 4 of the Ten Commandments.”  I had to laugh because,  really,  don’t we all have days like that?  I know I do. And sometimes it’s certain people that get under my skin at those moments, and I know that the best thing I can do is just hold my peace,  or step back and realizing I am giving others way too much control of my emotions.

I know that’s the best thing to do,  but often what happens in reality is that I let my emotions get the best of me, and I snap and say something I don’t mean,  that I need forgiveness for afterward.

I’m still working on Jesus’ command where He tells us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23) NIV.  Denying self does not come easy.  In fact, I believe selfishness is one of the biggest obstacles we (I) face.  However, the Word also tells us in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (NKJV).”

Therein I believe lies the answer in taking up the cross.  The fact that it’s only possible through His strength means I need His help daily,  or my self will get in the way of what He wants me to do.

What does carrying your cross mean?  I believe it’s different for each of us.   For some, it may mean carrying the burden of physical disability,  others it may mean putting a career aside to engage in missions, for many it may mean relying on His strength to overcome an addiction,  and continuing to rely on His strength to fight the temptations that come when you do.

Beyond the “majors” in our lives,  I believe it means taking His yoke upon us when things get too heavy to bear alone and learning from Him (Matthew 11:28-29).  He promises His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

“Lord, today please bless those who are reading this, and help us to sit at Your feet and learn from You, about what it means to deny our self, our selfish nature,  and to take up our cross and follow You.  Teach us what it means to love fully, to have faith and courage in the place of the fear so often prevalent today,  and to be servants like You.  It is not in our power to do this on our own, but I thank You that we don’t have to, and that You will never leave or forsake us.  Help us to glorify You in word and deed, Lord.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.”

On Forgiveness- November 15, 2015

Forgiveness is something many of us, including myself, struggle with.  On the one hand, God’s Word is clear about forgiving your enemies and blessing those who curse you.  Yet it also tells us to guard our hearts.

I confess, this is an ongoing issue in my life, particularly with people that I have been close to in the past where the relationship for many reasons turned toxic.  Part of my writing this is as much to process my thoughts and feelings on the subject as well as to give you encouragement in dealing with this particular subject if you happen to find yourself in a similar quandary.

I received a phone call from a relative with whom I have not spoken in close to a year.   This person left a message letting me know that she would like to re-establish a relationship with my family  (meaning my husband, kids and me).  I’m praying and trying to sort out the best response before I do anything.

One thing I have learned over the past year in dealing with messy family relations is that God wants me to love from a pure heart and yes, to forgive,  not seeking to get even.  I’ve really tried for the most part to leave it in His hands, though I find myself turning feelings of hurt and anger over to Him a lot still as they come up.

The other hard thing is setting boundaries,  which is something I have always struggled with.   What I did this past year was make the decision to separate myself and my immediate family from the toxic situation.  I’ve learned that I can love people and pray for them from afar, but that being in close relationship is not necessarily healthy or wise, depending on the situation.  I think a lot of us as Christians misunderstand or feel guilty about setting boundaries,  believing that the admonishment to forgive means allowing ourselves to be mistreated over and over again,  or placing ourselves in the same situation repeatedly.  I know I have misunderstood this in the past.

One thing that stood out to me this morning in reading the Bible during our church study was Luke 17:3-4 (NKJV) which says, “Take heed to yourselves.  If your brother sins against you,  rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent’, you shall forgive him.”

To repent means “to turn from”.  I believe true repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry.”  It is making an effort not to repeat the same behavior.

Another question is, “What does forgiveness look like?”  I believe,  in that when we are forgiven,  God no longer counts our sin against us, we should do the same for others.   I’m working on doing this for the relative I am speaking of, even though there has been no genuine repentance on her part.

Reconciliation is another matter.  I will be much in prayer about my situation,  asking God to help me to act in love if I am to act on the request for reconciliation.  I pray for wisdom to establish necessary boundaries with this person.

I think of how Christ has forgiven me,  and how nothing and no one is beyond the reach of His grace, and yes, this includes my relative.  Prayer is the best way to seek the right answer to this messy, complicated situation.

I will keep you posted on how it goes.

“Lord, please bless those who may be reading this.  Thank you for your grace and for giving us another day in this sometimes complicated life to give You the glory.  Thank you for loving us, whether or not we get things right.  Help us to learn more about what it means to forgive, and to have wisdom as we seek to honor You in our relationships.  Help us to know when to take action and when to wait.  And be with all of those in our families,  those we are close with,  and those that may be estranged from us, that all of our hearts may be open to the truth of Your saving grace, for this is where relationship really begins.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”