The Wages of Sin

Is death.  And we are all sinners and fall short.  I fall short on a regular basis. Daily. Hourly, even. The miracle of it is that it’s okay.

It’s okay because the one perfect man to ever walk the earth paid the bill for me.  And it was expensive.  I cringe when I think of what he went through.  Beaten and abused almost to the point of death before they ever nailed him to the cross. For me.

For inconsequential, far-from-perfect me. It weighs heavy on my heart.

This is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Because on Sunday, Jesus breaks the rules. In truth, he’d been breaking them all along to the supreme annoyance of leaders of the time. He wasn’t supposed to heal people on the Sabbath. Or speak directly to the Samaritan woman. Dine with tax collectors and prostitutes (Bet the conversations were far more lively than at the Pharisee’s dinner).

And once he was dead, he was supposed to stay dead.

But Jesus isn’t much for the arbitrary rules. No, he gave Satan the finger and rose from the dead. And in the ultimate practical joke, paid all our debts too. He threw open the gates of Heaven to any who would accept the invitation. No velvet rope. No bouncer with a list. And yeah, the best party ever is going on there. No dress code. No magical words to recite.

He paid it. All anyone has to do is accept it.

What’s so good about Good Friday? Sunday is coming.

And Suddenly

This is one of my favorite passages that we hear so much during the Christmas season.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. 9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. 10 And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: 11 For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying:

14 Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

Luke 2:8-14 [Emphasis mine]

An angel of the Lord had been selected to deliver this news.  I like to imagine they all wanted to do it so they did something like draw straws to figure out who got to.  I mean, how much fun would that be to go and scare the crap out of the shepherds in the fields? And then you get to deliver the best news ever? And honestly, it’s kind of a silly story.  Christ the Lord is in a manger?!?!

I kind of imagine everyone else just peeking around the clouds and such just to see their faces.  And then…

And then…

They were all so overwhelmed with the magnitude of what was really happening that suddenly, spontaneously, they broke into song.  They just couldn’t help it.  Each and every one of them.

It was kind of a big deal.  The birth of the Savior, the Christ child.  This is the climax of the whole story.  This is salvation.  This is grace.  Without Christmas, there is no Easter. And Easter is everything for those that believe.

No, it didn’t happen on December 25th.  Also, the Bible never once commands followers of Christ to celebrate his birthday.

But…and this is a big deal…the early Christians were overcome with the same spirit that enthralled the heavenly host.  It wasn’t enough to let one representative come and make the announcement to even those so lowly as shepherds watching their flocks in the night.

Imagine believing in something that could have you killed.  And not in a pretty fashion.  Thrown to lions kind of killed.  Hung on a cross. Burned.  You name it, the early Christians were eliminated that way.  So they had an idea.  Lets celebrate when they do.  And so the early Christians decided to celebrate the entry of salvation into the world while the rest of the world went into winter solstice revelry. They even adopted some of the symbols and gave them new meaning.

It was still pretty risky.  But they were overcome with the magnitude of the gift.  God became flesh and lived among us.  In the story ark of believers, this is where it gets really good.  It’s the turning point.  This is hope.

This is the same news that overwhelmed those that dwell in God’s heavenly kingdom all the time.  They were overwhelmed with the urge to celebrate.  How could we do any different?

It’s moved a bit off the solstice now, but we still celebrate as our early brothers and sisters once did.  I am grateful to live in a place that I can do so openly without fear of punishment for my faith.  I pray for those protecting that freedom that weren’t able to be home with their families this Christmas.  May God Bless them and their loved ones.  I hope that God has blessed you this Christmas season as well.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Dear Christians

Don’t do this. (via Uncle)

Seriously. You want to leave your server a little note about salvation and the love of Christ, I know.  Put it with the tip. And tip well.  Tip generously.

You know what else? It is embarrassing that the most hated shift at any restaurant is the Sunday lunch shift.  That waitress that you are treating like some kind of heathen for having the audacity to work on ‘the Lord’s Day’? She wouldn’t have to be there if you people didn’t patronize the establishment that day. Maybe, just maybe, she would prefer to be having a discussion about the morning’s sermon with her family instead of bringing your unruly rug rat another package of crackers to crush into the floor.

Ahem. Yeah, that may have struck a chord or 12 with me.

Years ago, I was a waitress. I missed many a Sunday morning service because I was scheduled to work that day.  We rotated the dreaded Sunday shift because we all hated it. There was a buffet. Dante left out that particular level of hell. The Sunday lunch buffet.

Families began to arrive around 11, still dressed in their Sunday best.  Some even clutching their Bibles. I guess they thought the sight of it might bring some of us around.  They’d look at me with disdain when I smiled an offered to show them to a table.  You would have thought I slapped them when I asked if they would prefer smoking or non. (Yes, I’m old enough to have waited tables when there were still smoking sections at restaurants.)

They wouldn’t make eye contact while placing their drink orders.  Half the time they wouldn’t even sit at the table; only pausing to deposit their purses and accouterments before making a bee line for the salad bar. So I would dutifully place water with lemon at each place setting while they drowned some croutons and hard-boiled eggs in ranch dressing with a couple of salad leaves for garnish. Do you have any idea how hard it is to bus a table with 5 ranch ponds on it?

And heaven forbid I try to clear some of the extra plates during the meal.  Oh no! They aren’t finished with that one.  So I was forced to watch in horror as the various sauces and drippings soaked into my nice white starched table cloths.  Which, by the way, do not double as napkins no matter how convenient that corner is. I eventually convinced the manager that we could really just skip the tablecloths and fresh carnations on Sundays.

I did add my 2 cents to a family’s discussion regarding salvation and the sinful nature of man. It was met with a stunned silence.  They never came back. I guess they couldn’t process the idea that the heathen waitress might have some understanding of the concept of grace and the eternal nature of Christ’s forgiveness.

And no, I am not giving you a doggie bag for the last plate you just filled from the buffet. Yes, I’d rather throw the food away than let you get away with that crap.

At the end of the meal, I was sure to find crackers and tomatoes ground into the carpet, cloth napkins that someone had blown their nose into, an empty vase (Did you eat the carnation?), and no tip.  Although sometimes there’d be a tract. Way to show your love and generosity.

Jesus washed his disciples feet.  Their nasty, dirty, tired feet. Jesus stood at the side of an adulteress doomed to be stoned to death. Jesus gave the keys to paradise to a thief sentenced to die on a cross, and yet too many of His followers can’t be bothered to drop a couple of measly dollars on the table for someone that served them. Too many can’t even treat their servers with basic human kindness and decency.

As a Christian, I am ashamed of my brothers and sisters that behave this way. You were called to seek and save the lost, to be a light to the world, to love your neighbor. Guess what? The waiter/waitress is your neighbor.  The store clerk is your neighbor.

The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel ; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31 KJV)

In case the language is a little challenging, here’s the Jennifer Simplified Version(JSV?): and Jesus said “Don’t be a dick

God Loves Sinners

Bear with me, I want to quote a larger section than you often hear.  I am also choosing the Amplified Bible version because of the additional clarification.

For no person will be justified (made righteous, acquitted, and judged acceptable) in His sight by observing the works prescribed by the Law.  For [the real function of] the Law is make men recognize and be conscious of sin [not mere perception, but an acquaintance with sin which works toward repentance, faith, and holy character]. But now the righteousness of God has been revealed independently and altogether apart from the Law, although actually it is attested by the Law and the Prophets, Namely, the righteousness of God which comes by believing with personal trust and confident reliance on Jesus Christ (the Messiah). [And it is meant] for all who believe.  For there is no distinction, Since all have sinned and are falling short of the honor and glory which God bestows and receives. [All] are justified and made upright and in right standing with God, freely and gratuitously by His grace (His unmerited favor and mercy), through the redemption which is [provided] in Christ Jesus, Whom God put forward [before the eyes of all] as a mercy seat and propitiation by His blood [the cleansing and life-giving sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation, to be received] through faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over and ignored former sins without punishment.  It was to demonstrate  and prove at the present time (in the now season) the He Himself is righteous and that He justifies and accepts as righteous him who has [true] faith in Jesus. The what becomes of [our] pride and [our] boasting?  It is  excluded (banished, ruled out entirely). On what principle? [On the principle] of doing good deeds? No, but on the principle of faith.  For we hold that a man is justified and made upright by faith independent of and distinctly apart from the good deeds (works of the Law). [The observance of the Law has nothing to do with justification.] Or is God merely [the God] of Jews? Is He not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, Since it is one and the same God Who will justify the circumcised by faith [which germinated from Abraham] and the uncircumcised through their [newly acquired] faith. [For it the same trusting faith in both cases, a firmly relying faith in Jesus Christ].  Romans 3:20-31

All have sinned.  But we are saved through grace by faith.

And that’s a relief because my feeling towards a certain group of hate-mongers falsely wrapping themselves in the cloak of Christianity are certainly not the kinds of loving and forgiving feeling a Christian should have.  Indeed, each time I hear their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I take joy in thinking of the Lord’s Vengeance and eternal damnation.  Because I am only human.  A sinner.  And I must remember that God loves them too, something I am not strong enough to do.

No, I look for millstones.  The grinding and gnashing of teeth.  The only compassion I can muster for them is how sad that a child of God could be led so far astray.  How dark their world must be filled with so much hate.

But I’ll not dwell on that.  I need not tarnish my thoughts with any level of hate even if is directed at a group so repugnant.  I’ll meditate instead on the true and living God that loves all sinners with no distinction among them.  The God that loves those that have been targeted by their hate.  Living in the shadow of their hate is most blessed place to be because it only emphasizes the light of His love.  Should any representative of theirs stumble over here, I’ll wear their condemnation as a badge of honor.

Found Jesus?

It’s one of those phrases you hear from time to time.  Someone will be referring to the formerly crazy life of another person.  But they are different now because they found Jesus.

My response – I didn’t know he was lost.  Where did you leave him?

Sure it sounds flip, but I have a point.  Saying that someone found Jesus makes it sound like there is some kind of cat and mouse game.  A game of hide and seek.  Count to 100 and see if you can find Jesus!  It’s only your eternal soul at stake.

But it’s not that way at all.  Jesus was never lost.  He’s not hiding from any of us.  He’s always there.  We are the ones who were lost.  We are the ones trying in futility to hide from God.

We are like helpless children wandering in the wilderness.  It’s dark, and we are frightened.  We’ve lost our way with no hope of rescue.  And then we see it.  The light of the world.

Found Jesus?  No child.  Jesus found you.

Prayer Haiku

For Japan

Prayers for Japan
In a time of dire need
You are not alone

For my friend

The cancer has won
Eternal home is ready
There you will have peace

For the rest

Our hearts are heavy
You know our cares and burdens
Heal us Oh Lord

This is part of my Lent commitment to devote time in prayer.  Regular content will be posted later.

Lent Day 2

Lord, you know the concerns on my heart today. You know what makes it heavy. You know my weaknesses and my struggles. Remind me that you are here. You also know exactly what my friend needs even though it seems no one can reach her. Remind her that in the darkness, she is not alone.

Ash Wednesday

Spent a lot of time at church today. The celebration of Don’s life was today. I mentioned him before here. His official obituary is here. The turnout was amazing. I’ve only ever seen the sanctuary that full on Easter Sunday. The Oklahoma Supreme Court justices came in their robes to pay their respects. The current Chief Justice even shared her remarks. The Governor issued a proclamation declaring today B. Don Barnes day. To say he touched lives is an understatement.

Don had a way of making you feel like you were the most special person in the world in that moment. He listened. He loved.

After his services, we came home and regrouped before heading back to the church for dinner. They serve dinner to everyone on Wednesday nights. And then we went to the Ash Wednesday service. I’m 32 years old, and this is the first Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever been too.

I’ve never given anything up for Lent. Just never really felt lead to do so. I mentioned that over dinner to the people we were sharing a table with. One girl asked if I had ever thought about adding something. I hadn’t. But maybe that’s my answer. Lent is supposed to be a season where we refocus in our walk with God. That’s the reason people give something up. Not to eliminate that but to remind them to make time for God.

So I’m going to take a page out of the praying judge’s book and devote time every day during lent to prayer. Before each case, Don would pray for the guidance and wisdom to be just. To get it right.

God,
Guide me. Help me. And forgive me. Be with my friends and family. So many are hurting and need your peace. So many are fighting illness and dealing with loss. Some are walking in financial uncertainty. And thank you for the many, many blessings in my life. I have a roof over my head and food on my table. I have friends that don’t hesitate to embrace me even without knowing why I might need it. I have friends that I’ve never seen face to face that I love and love me in return. Thank you for that.
Amen