Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Kinda Gone Are We Talkin' Bout Here?

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

This week, we talked about confession in bible study.  It's not an easy topic, so we started at the beginning.  How do we confess? Why do we confess? Is confession beneficial? Confession sometimes removes guilt, and we recognized that we feel better when people have the courage to confess to us, even if we already knew we'd been wronged.  The hardest part of confession and asking forgiveness is not the the utterance, not the courage, but the acceptance of forgiveness.

As children, and victims of abuse, some of my kids have never experienced forgiveness in the way I have.  All week, I've been singing "Amazing Grace" to myself.  I played the original song on the piano several times over the weekend, sang modern versions including "Grace Like Rain" and "My Chains Are Gone", and grace has overflowed in my mind as a general topic. I'm typically hard on myself and have trouble forgiving myself for mistakes, but I never doubt the forgiveness I receive from God.  This is the opposite, I learned, from the kids I work with.  God's grace and mercy are foreign concepts to them, and I can not convince them that God is bigger than any and all sins they can commit.  Paul comes into play every week, but he's a "bible character", so apparently he's an exception.

God's unending love, mercy, and grace have been emphasized so heavily to me that I get it; I understand. Even when others don't forgive me, or I can't bear to forgive myself, God forgives and loves us wholeheartedly.  While I shared this message with a small group of teenagers this evening, they looked perplexed.  Their understanding was this: Sin=death and my personal list of sins=fire and brimstone.  It's a simple equation, but there's one BIG problem.  Jesus is missing.  

I have fallen in love with a line spoken by Jeff Bethke in Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus: "Religion says do, Jesus says done".  If I can accomplish one thing in my two years here, I hope I can help these kids understand that their equation is correct, but if Jesus is added to the equation, death and fire and brimstone are negated.  

The opposite of death is life, but you don't have to delete all sin to delete death, you just have to add Jesus.  I understand our urge for young people to follow the commandments and "do what Jesus would do"(it's ambitious and admirable), but I am sincerely scared for our youth when they are told to fear God so much that they run from Him.  

"My chains are gone; I've been set free".  This is such a powerful message, but for some it's unimaginable.  I hope that we can experience amazing grace together, and be set free.  This is my daily task.  Next time you warn a young person of God's punishment, PLEASE also share the grace and love offered through Jesus Christ.  Murphy Harpst's slogan is "Life and Hope for Children".  Support the ministry by offering life and hope to the children you meet, a life and hope found in Jesus Christ.

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Love Without End, Amen

Driving to Rome the other day, I saw this on a church sign

My first inclination was to shame those people for being religiously intolerant.  In the South, there is a sort of nationalist pride for this great country, our military, and our freedom.  Yet some seem to want the freedom of religion to allow prayer in schools, as long as it is to our God, and NOT Allah.  This pseudo-religious freedom is befuddling to me.  How can you condemn another religion and still be surprised when someone calls you a hypocrite?

Despite my first reaction, I allowed a different thought, instead, to manifest itself.  We are called to love one another above all else and that command should be extended to those of other religions AND those that are intolerant.  If we condemn another for not accepting everyone, are we not disregarding our very own preaching that says to love everyone in spite of their different beliefs? 

Sometimes we find it hard to love people whose history is so foreign to our own, but recently I have found the difficulty in loving those who claim to love and serve the same God as me.  It pains me to see the Christian Church (universal) represented as an intolerant people who cannot see the glory of God in ALL His children.  But the solution to this problem is not hating those who hate, but loving them in spite of their intolerance.  In Romans, we are instructed to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).  

This morning, our Sunday school class talked about pride and how it interrupts our servanthood.  John Ortberg writes, "pride is a form of antilove...Pride moves us to exclude instead of to embrace...Pride moves us to judge rather than to serve."  Many times our service to God and loving Him and his people gets interrupted by our pride and judgment.  We are called to embrace, to love, and to serve.

Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:9-14:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Next time you get the inclination that your place in heaven is higher than another's, remember this parable.  Don't allow your judgment to impede your service or your pride to hinder your love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   -1 Cor 13:13

Monday, October 1, 2012

Every Day's a Holiday

Last time I preached at chapel, we talked about the discipline of celebration.  I'm sure many of you have sat in a Sunday morning pew and heard the Joys and Concerns and noticed that there are usually more concerns, because we rarely share the small joys.  We express the miracles and healing, but sometimes we forget to recognize all the little things that make our days worth living.

Yesterday, I chatted with a resident who was having trouble finding something to celebrate.  With a deceased father and an absent mother, she was feeling lost and struggling to find joy in her life.  As a lucky girl with two healthy parents, I couldn't do much comforting, so I tried another technique.  I asked her what her goals were and what she wanted to do someday.  Her only desire is to be reunited with her family.  Recognizing how hard it would be to divert her attention, we tried to think of some little things that made her happy, things she could look forward to.  They're not miracles, but seeing that cute boy at school or chatting with Miss Jerrica helped her crack a smile that had disappeared for a while.  We celebrate the big things, but it's the little things that make each day worth living.

At the end of our service last Thursday, we sang a classic This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Sometimes, we miss the little things, like the bird chirping outside the window, the ray of sunlight shining through the clouds, or that stranger that smiles just because.  What we should never fail to miss is that every day is a day that was created and bestowed on us by God.  That is a reason to rejoice, to celebrate.

Blair Holliday, a member of the Duke football team suffered a serious head injury this summer from a wakeboarding accident that ended his football career.  He has shared how thankful he is to be alive and standing on the sidelines, despite the amount of physical therapy in his future.  To support his family, the student body have been buying tanks that say Every Day is a Holliday and raising funds for his medical bills.  What some may not realize is the message that this shirt sends.

The word holiday comes from holy day.  There is so much truth to those shirts, despite the frat star neon lettering.  Every day is holy- a day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in that holy day, or "holiday" if you prefer.