Friday, February 25, 2011

To Touch Holiness

One of my favorite Bible stories is the healing of the woman with the issue of blood which is found in Matthew chapter 9, Mark chapter 5, and Luke chapter 8. The story is powerful when one looks at the dynamics and personalities involved. In Mark's version, the story is proceeded by two other miracles, the calming of the storm, and the healing of a demon-possessed man.  I have always been overwhelmed and continue to be moved by this woman who touched Jesus' garment. The crowd was already stirred up when Jesus arrived after crossing over to the other side of the lake. Perhaps what was even more shocking is what happened next. A ruler of the synagogue actually came to Jesus seeking His help for the ruler's dying daughter. That a man of such importance would actually come to Jesus probably threw the crowd over the edge! As Jesus started to go with him, you can imagine the crowd wanting to be in on the action. Everyone was focused on Jairus' situation except this one woman. She was focused on Jesus. She had suffered much and because of her condition had literally no friends or family. No one wanted to be associated with this unclean woman. And it was evident from the fact that she didn't want to be noticed that she was well aware of her status in the society. So her plan was to be unobtrusive and just touch Jesus' garment, knowing full well that in doing so according to the Law, she would defile Jesus. But Jesus didn't want her to be an unknown. And when He stopped the moving crowd to focus in on her, this woman's heart must have sank. It was all over! Now everyone would know of her sin, that she had defiled Jesus. That is probably why Mark describes her as "falling at Jesus' feet trembling with fear" (Mark 5:33) But Jesus wanted to showcase her faith. He knew how scared she was and what courage it took to touch Him. I want to be that close to Jesus. Just like that woman, I can be in bondage to my fears and "suffer" needlessly. Jesus tender words to her are His words to me, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." (Mark 5:34) It doesn't take much to be healed. However, we need to appropriate the faith graciously given by a God who wants to "showcase" us. No longer do I have to crawl along the ground like that woman bound up in shame and defeat. The Lord bids me to stand up and be seen. It just takes one touch of the Lord's garment. Do we dare to draw that close to Him?
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Different Perspective

There are times when I will thank God for the full functioning of my physical body. I am grateful for a clear mind and for the ability to fully experience the world through my five senses. I will pray for those who may be blind, deaf, or impaired in some way that I believe reduces their quality of life. Recently I began counseling a woman who is deaf. She was born deaf after her mother had contracted rubella during her pregnancy. This client has struggled and experienced a lot of negative and unpleasant situations in her life. She did attend a school for the deaf and is able to read lips which is how we communicate during sessions. Initially I was feeling anxious about working with her as I had no prior experience with counseling deaf individuals, so I did not know what to expect. But I found this woman to be endearing and a strong believer in Christ. What captured my heart during a recent session was a story she told me about her experience in a charismatic church. Her abusive husband who is not deaf insisted that she was meant to hear and took her to this church which believed all people could be healed with enough faith and prayer. She remembers feeling very uncomfortable as people placed their hands on her head and prayed for healing. However, when her hearing was not restored, it was suggested that she was some how at fault. Her husband even commented that there may be sin in her life. My client refused to buy into this thinking and what she stated next gave me pause to think. The client stated, "I was born deaf. God wanted it to be this way so I could go into the deaf community and join a deaf church ministering to deaf people and telling them about Jesus." Her comment reminded me of the story of the blind man in the gospel of John that Jesus healed. Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."(John 9:2-3) emphasis mine. The Rabbis in Jesus day had developed this principle that there was "no death without sin, and no suffering without iniquity." They even believed that a child could sin in the womb or that its soul might have sinned in a preexistent state. They also held that terrible punishments came on certain people because of the sin of their parents. However Jesus soundly contradicts those beliefs. My client's response to her accusers echoes Jesus' words. She believes that the work of God was to be best displayed in her life through her deafness. All I could think in my mind was WOW! I was challenged to see the world a little differently and to be somewhat more cautious about throwing a pity party for those who are challenged in life. Yes, one could say that since this client was born deaf she never knew what she was missing in the hearing world. However, the perspective she carries in her heart makes all the difference. There were probably moments when she wondered what music sounds like or the singing of birds in the early morning. Moreover, the bullying she experienced at the hands of children when she was growing up and the abuse of her husband only compounded her pain. But instead of giving in or giving up she let her God be her Defender. She told me, "I have been through a lot and I have made some mistakes but now I am stronger and I pray to God everyday to help me." This is the kind of faith that stirs my soul and I am grateful to God that He is teaching me through my sisters and brothers in the Lord.
In His Grace,
Pastor Sheree

Monday, February 14, 2011

True Love

Well it's Valentine's Day and like many of you I am wearing the obligatory red sweater to remind myself and everyone else that this is a special day. It is one of the few days where people are supposed to be nice to one another. It is a day all about love. Men and women spend tons of money making sure that special someone knows they are loved and appreciated. But what about those whose loved ones have passed away? What about those in situations where survival is at the top of the list? What about those whose relationships are in the self destruct mode? Where's the love in these situations? And for all of us happy love birds, what happens tomorrow? Do we go back to a state of indifference, anger, or neglect? Relationship is very important to our God and for the Lord at the heart of all relationships is love. When one of the experts in the Law asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40) italics mine. John tells us that "God is love." (1 John 4:8) so unlike our culture God takes love very seriously. However God's love is not a mushy sentimentalism that lasts for a day. Rather, God's love is agape, the deep, self-sacrificing, unconditional love that is forever. Agape love is such a serious matter that Christ commands His followers to demonstrate it towards one another. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) "My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12) "This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:17) For Jesus and His followers, love is not optional. Jesus loves us with the same agape love of the Father. The fruit of us loving as Jesus loves us is that others will see a reflection of Christ in us. As Jesus states, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35) emphasis mine. As human beings we will not always feel warm fuzzies towards others, forget what others have done, or excuse the inapproriate or inhumane actions of others. However, as His followers we are called to a higher standard in the way we treat others and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. On this Valentine's day as I wear my red, I am also choosing to remember that the color red signifies the greatest gift of love I have received, the sacrifice of Christ's shed blood for my sins and the sins of the world. May we all be transformed by the knowledge of the depth of God's love for us and reflect that love everyday to others. I can rejoice in the power of God's love as I listen to the words of Paul, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
In His Love,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Born To Die

I recently finished reading two powerful books. The first book is entitled, "Choosing To See." It was written by Marybeth Chapman. Marybeth is the wife of contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. She was prompted to write the book after the untimely and tragic accidental death of the Chapman's five year old adopted daughter, Maria. Marybeth used the book as a way of working through the grief and anguish she experienced and how God taught her to choose to see His grace at work in the midst of such a tragedy. It is still a "one day at a time" experience for Marybeth but sharing her story is providing the "balm of Gilead" for her wounded soul. The other book is entitled "The Art of Dying" by Robert Moll. In his book Moll talks about how our culture does everything it can to avoid the reality of the dying experience and death itself. Unfortunately, he also laments that Christians have joined the cultural wave in not celebrating death as a gift of God. He talks about how for the early Christian church, death was a community experience. Christians cared physically and spiritually for their dying brothers and sisters versus the practice today of the dying spending their last moments in a hospital or nursing facility. Cemeteries were often located right next to the church instead of many miles away in a not so visible location. Funeral directors and funeral homes have become the hosts in orchestrating the funeral service. And once the loved one has been interred, there is a disconnect from the still living Christian community. The deceased are no longer remembered or celebrated on a regular basis as part of the communion of the saints. In our humanity it is not unusual to have some anxiety about our dying days as we like to be able to control situations and fear of the unknown often stands in the way. However, what I learned from these two authors is the perspective we as Christians have towards death is more culturally influenced than biblically informed. Death is not the end but the beginning of real living. I believe that the struggles we go through in this life allow us to appreciate even more what awaits us after death. Jesus Himself stated, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) Jesus was illustrating the principle of life through death using the plant world as an illustration. The kernel must perish as a kernel if there is to be a plant. We must die in this earthly body in order to experience the fullness of life with God. As Paul tells us, "The body that is sown perishable, is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:42) In other words there is continuity between this life and the next, but there is also a change. The point is that the early church celebrated aging and death as a natural transition from this life into a new life with God. And we know that the foundation of that celebration is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ can rejoice in the assurance, the promise, and dare I say it, the gift of dying. Yes, we will miss those who we have had a relationship with on this earth when they die. Likewise, we will miss those we leave behind when our time to leave this world comes. And having just celebrated a birthday in January, I realize with every new ache and pain that I am moving toward death. But,"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?....But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57) We are born to die, so how will you choose to see death? As something so dreadful that you in concert with the medical community must do everything you can to hold on to this life? Or can you rest as Paul did in the knowledge that, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) If you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you can hardly wait to see the place He has prepared for you and be with Him forever. (John 14:1-3)
In His grace,
Pastor Sheree