Perfection or Nothing

Devotional originally posted September 21, 2016.

Many years ago someone said to me, “If you expect either perfection or nothing, you’ll get nothing.” I think I understood the meaning of this in a vague sort of way, thought it sounded wise, and then banked it somewhere in my subconscious.

This idea has been brought back to me recently with different words that have really caught my attention. Someone said, “If you’re always looking for the ideal in life, you can’t be really living in the moment. You will always be dissatisfied.”

Although I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, I do know myself to be always looking for the ideal, the best, the greatest, the number one, the most beautiful, the first-class, the most famous, the smartest, the way things SHOULD be. I think this comes from somehow being taught never to settle, never to give up, to set my sights high, to strive, strive, strive. And I have expected this from others too.

There are certainly some good points to trying our best and setting good standards, but for myself I’ve realized that if I am extreme in this way, I am always unhappy with real life. I can’t fully enjoy life, I can’t experience the real moment I’m living in and I can’t fully appreciate the people around me. I even have a hard time with my relationship with God. This is because I’m wanting every connection with Him to be the best, better than the last, electric, dynamic, life-changing. So, in reality, how often does a human experience those moments with God? Probably only once in a great while. And that’s probably a good thing, because otherwise we’d find it extremely hard to live in this often mundane, everyday kind of world, with all its imperfections.

If I think about it, my way of thinking has been very covetous, to use a Biblical word. I always want something I don’t have, or want to be someone I’m not, or want others to be someone they’re not….and then I live with either a low-grade or high-grade sense of dissatisfaction and fail to see the goodness and grace of what IS.

So with God’s help, I’m trying to find the right balance in my life: not expecting too much and not expecting too little. No perfection, and no nothing. I’m open to starting to see the beauty of God’s goodness and grace in all the regular, day-to-day little happenings. This even reminds me of the many places in Scripture where God’s people were often drawn to their captors (Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians) because of the rich, beautiful and exciting things those cultures offered, but at the same time ignoring the quiet waters of the Promised Land which God had given them for their sustenance and pleasure. Like me, the Israelites wanted the exciting wealthy, cool and hip - the happening place and culture of the powerful. They got bored with the gentle, quiet waters of everyday Israel, though that’s where the Lord’s goodness and presence were strongest.

God’s goodness is everywhere. His glory is all over creation; His image is somewhere to be found in all humans, however buried it may be. How much better to allow ourselves to be amazed at His presence day-to-day in the mundane, rather than to be craning our necks for something more, always something more.

Isaiah 8:6 (NLT)
“My care for the people of Judah is like the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, but they have rejected it. They are rejoicing over what will happen to King Rezin and King Pekah.

Psalms 16:11 (NLT)
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever. 

Matthew 7:9-11 (NLT)
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

"Hide and Seek"

Devotional originally posted February 16, 2017

Psalm 19:1-4 NIV
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Romans 1:20 NIV
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

These two Scriptures seem to state clearly that God’s existence, and even His glory, is proclaimed every day and night by His creation for all to see. The heavens declare His glory; the skies proclaim the work of His hands; the creation speaks of His eternal power and divine nature. I can certainly personally attest to the truth of these Scriptures as I settle in to watch the sunrise, something I try to do most mornings of the year. Being a nature lover, the ocean, the mountains, the deserts, rivers, trees and plants and animals of all kinds speak to me of the amazing creativity and awesome wisdom and power of God. And I know this revelation is meant for all mankind.

But I also notice in Scripture that there are many references to the mystery of God and to things of God that are hidden.

Colossians 2:2-3 NIV
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Matthew 13:44-46 NIV
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field
. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Apparently, some things of God are out in the open for everyone to see, while other things are hidden away, enticing us to look for them like buried treasure. Is there a difference between the two types of things? If so, what is the difference?

Maybe God likes to play hide and seek! What I mean is, there are ways in which He seems to shout out, “Here I am!” and there are other ways He seems to go quiet. Could it be that He is looking for people who will look for Him? He seems to like it that people are willing to drop what they’re doing and focus on Him. I think this is why He made the Sabbath day so special and called it holy. This is a time to drop all the normal, everyday activities and pursuits to give time and space to seek Him out. He asks us to go into our “prayer closets” and talk with Him.

Maybe God’s overt expression is for humanity as a whole, but the secret hidden mysteries are to be revealed to each individual as he or she meets alone with their Father.

I don’t think I will ever tire of watching the sunrise. But I want more. I believe God wants more too. The question and the challenge is this: am I willing to sell what I have to buy the field with the treasure in it? Am I willing to let go of my agenda for a time to seek out His? Sometimes I find this easy to do, more often I find it difficult, but I do know that either way, God is already right there with me.

The Word of God is Like Rain or Snow

Maybe not for an Oregonian who experiences plentiful rainfall and lush green and fruitful produce from it, but for a Middle Easterner who lives in or on the edge of a desert, rain is as precious as gold. Israel is one of those places that is partly desert but gets some rain especially in the northern parts like the Galilee area where Jesus was born.

Isaiah 55:10-11 says
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Is that not an awesome image? You can almost see the water from rain or snow covering, softening and seeping deep down into the dry, hard, sun-parched dirt, making it capable of nourishing plants and vines and causing life to spring up where there was nothing. Things that were brown and crinkly become green and supple, producing grain and produce and flowers and trees and fruits and vegetables and grass…. like a garden, kind of like The Garden we read about in Genesis 1.

Isaiah tells us that God’s word to us has that same effect on our souls as water does to dry land. Without tending and caring for our souls, they become parched and brittle, drooping. But when God speaks to us there is renewal, revival, nourishment…you might call it blessing, you might call it shalom.

I need God’s word daily. Some days I give that more time than other days. Some days I get busy and don’t listen for it at all. And if I go too long I start to feel dry, ill at ease, unfruitful, unable to function well.

Jesus, in quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, said we don’t live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father. Lord, help us hear! And thank you for the rain and snow that restores our souls! And isn’t it interesting that Jesus came from the one region of the Middle East that benefits from fairly regular rain and snowfall? He is the Word! And He is the Bread of Life!

Deuteronomy 8:3
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

John 6:35
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

Holding on to God’s Promises

Have you ever heard the saying “In the Old Testament the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament the Old Testament is revealed”? I like that saying and often think of it when reading the Bible. Right now I am reading through Deuteronomy and I came across a scripture that seems to validate that saying.

Deuteronomy 9:4-6
After the Lord your God has driven them (the various nations in the Promised Land) out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

There are some interesting questions brought up in this Scripture, aren’t there? For one, the Lord is taking someone else’s land and giving it to people who are far from perfect. In other words, they didn’t deserve it. Why would He do that? For two, how wicked were these pagan nations anyway? They must have been pretty bad (historians and archaeologists confirm that this was true; we know that they regularly burned children alive to appease their gods and made prostitution of men and women a requirement at their temples, as a form of worship to Baal and Asherah). Another question is why are God’s chosen people “stiff-necked” (ie. stubborn). What might He be saying about us, His people, then today? Aiyaiyai!

I think this passage in Deuteronomy gives us an amazing insight into God’s character that we can see so clearly in Jesus and what He has done for us. We, Christ-followers don’t enter our “Promised Land” (the Kingdom of God) by our righteousness any more than the Israelites entered Canaan because of theirs. Are we “stiff-necked”? I would answer with a resounding “YES”! Are we hard of hearing? YES! Are we often blind to the things of God? YES! Are we often more self-centered than God-centered? YES! So are we perfect or righteous? NO! Why do we get to enter the Kingdom of Heaven then?

Well, in the Deuteronomy passage, I believe the wickedness of the nations who lived in the land was a secondary reason for God giving the land to the Israelites. The primary reason was that God had sworn years before to give this land to Abraham. And God does not break His promises. God was able to “see” His beloved Abraham when He looked upon Abraham’s offspring. Abraham was a man whose righteousness was simply made up of his strong faith and trust in God. When God looks at us today, He “sees” Jesus in whom we have put our faith and trust. Because of Jesus, even we who are broken and imperfect, may enter into God’s presence because of the promises He has made.

What God DOES is often unpredictable, but who God IS never changes. He is faithful and just and does not forget His promises. He never has and He never will. What are the promises He has made to you? Hold on to them.

Dt 9:4-6 (see above)

Ps 111:7-8 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.

Finding the Holy Spirit in Unlikely Places

Last Sunday we celebrated the day of Pentecost, a day commemorating a time when God poured out his Holy Spirit on his people, which Pastor Jerry Cook described as a “radical relocation of God’s presence.”
 
We see amazing things that God does through his Spirit. We remember what he has done in our lives. We see him work in a multitude of different ways in the lives of different individuals. God is definitely not a “cookie cutter” God. He gives people unique gifts according to His knowledge of them. Praise Him for that!
 
So I’ve been pondering something recently. If God is everywhere at all times, if his Spirit has been, and still is, hovering over all of creation, if he loves all people and is constantly trying to communicate with us and to establish a relationship with all of us, then is it possible that the Holy Spirit has revealed aspects of God’s wisdom to people in every corner of the globe, regardless of race, nationality, culture, and even religion? Let me explain….
 
We Followers of Jesus have as our inheritance a priceless set of books, letters, poems, proverbs and prophecies, inspired by God, called the Bible. The Bible is living and active, a book that is powerful because of the truth it contains. We believe the truths in the book are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
 
But God’s Spirit is evident in more places than the Bible! He is constantly moving through the universe bringing light, goodness and life wherever He goes. Can He give wisdom and insight to a poor farmer in Cambodia? Can He deposit and grow a loving heart inside a mother in India?  Can He stir the heart of a secular Jew living in Moscow to fight for human rights? Can He help an Eskimo in northern Canada find food for his family? Can He give three men in Portland the courage to confront a hate-filled violent man on a commuter train? I believe He can….and does just that kind of thing all the time.
 
The authors of the Bible Project stated that God forbade mankind in the Ten Commandments from forming any image of God (an idol). One reason for that was that He had already created something in His own image….us!! Human men and women reflect something of who God is. And since God is love, wherever men and women show love, concern or compassion for others, they are revealing a piece of that image to the world.
 
So where am I going with all this? Well, when our children were little we were taught not to just point out and correct all their bad behavior, but that we should “catch them doing something good” and then reward them for it. That positive point of contact was a more powerful way of affecting their behavior than a negative one, so we were taught. What if, when we are with non-Believers of any race, culture or religion, we watch for that spark of the Spirit of God and then celebrate it with them. Maybe we could even say something like, “That looks like God” or “That looks like something God would do” or “That is just what Jesus taught us to do!” Besides being a bit shocking for them, it just might open up some doors of further conversations about how we know that, how we know God, or what God looks like and where we learned all of this.
 
Jesus calls us to love all people, even our enemies. How much easier it is to love people when we catch a glimpse of God in them, however small. And there may be a much larger spark than we could ever imagine. Maybe without knowing it, some non-Believers are just micrometers from the Kingdom. Would this help us be better neighbors in our community? Could this minimize or even eliminate the tension between “us vs. them”? Most of us really are on a similar journey….to discover how best to live in this world and how to make it a better place. We can learn tips from each other, but we must stay open and curious about what others have learned. Then we might earn the friendship that opens doors….and opportunities to share why we have such faith in Jesus, the eternal loving Son of God.

 

"Tensions in Our Faith" by John Rice

We hear a lot at City Salt Church about the tensions within our faith. Whereas two things sometimes come across as contradictions, most often it seems we are to somehow hold those two things in tension at the same time, both of them expressing something of God’s truth. There is the tension between being predestined to be chosen by God on one hand and then the significance and power of our free will to choose or not choose God on the other hand. There is the tension between truth and grace, between judgment and forgiveness, between justice and mercy, between giving and receiving, between being like a child and being mature.

This week I came across a Scripture in Hebrews, chapter 10 verse 14, which caught my attention as another of these tensions and truths. Paul says:

By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Wait. What?

By Jesus’ sacrifice, He has made us perfect FOREVER. In grammar terms, the tense used here indicates something which has been done in the past and continues up to the present time and beyond. The word forever indicates that pretty clearly as well. We have been made perfect, and we are perfect now and will continue to be forever. Wow. That certainly raises some questions, doesn’t it? I don’t feel very perfect. In fact, I feel like I’m a long ways off from being perfect! But look what Paul says next. Who exactly has been made perfect forever?

….those who are being made holy….

Wait. What?

If we have been made perfect forever, how can we still be being made holy? Why do we still need to be made holy? This verb tense indicates we are being worked on in a continual manner, possibly, but not necessarily, with some end in the future. Maybe this “holy-making” goes on into eternity? Who knows?

So how do we deal with these two different concepts? How about this for a stab at an answer? When Paul is talking about us being made perfect forever, he is following an argument that Jesus’ sacrifice was exponentially different from the sacrifices of animals made at the temple year after year. Those sacrifices only had the spiritual power of covering sin for a definite period of time, one year. Jesus, though, having sacrificed not animals but His very self, and He, being the Son of the living God, had the power to cover sins forever. So spiritually speaking, those who believe in Him and accept His gift of atonement, truly are viewed by God as perfect, as the Son is perfect. And this is both now and forever. Scripture tells us that God remembers our sin no more. It has been removed, as far as the east is from the west. It’s kind of like God looks at Jesus and sees all His people through that lens. We truly are made perfect in Jesus.

But, on the other hand…..

We still struggle with sin, weakness, brokenness, addictions, sickness, bad thoughts, bad motives, etc, etc every day of our lives! Using some biblical language, we are told “to pick up our cross” or that we might have a “thorn in the flesh” or that there is a “sin that easily entangles us”. We are obviously not perfect yet! So how do these ideas work together? Here’s a thought….

Having been made perfect by Jesus’ sacrifice, spiritually speaking, the bridge between us and God has been restored. With the bridge restored, we can be confident to move back and forth, talking to God, learning from Him, establishing a stronger and stronger relationship with Him, experiencing His goodness, mercy, grace and love in new ways. He welcomes us freely and generously. And in doing so, we find that we WANT to be more like Him, we WANT to please Him, we WANT to learn His ways and we trust Him more. Living like this, we are truly in the process of being made more holy. We still will struggle with sin and brokenness in this life, but with our eyes turned toward the Lord, we will experience the formation of our souls as we are made more like Jesus.

Because of this tension, I take great hope in the following verse:

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus!
Phil 1:6

"Walk Humbly" by John Rice

Last Sunday Pastor Mike spoke on the topic of retaliation in reference to Matthew 5:38-42.   And yet again, Jesus, as He has done in all of His teachings during the Sermon on the Mount, shocks us with His invitation to look deeper into God’s heart. In this passage we look at justice and mercy.

When Jesus says, “You have heard it said…….but I say……”in verses 38 and 39 of the passage, it sounds like He is reversing what has been taught for generations under Moses’ Law. But as Mike pointed out, this wasn’t a reversal of the Law as much as it was the use of hyperbole to help us understand God’s fuller directive for us to love others.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8); He doesn’t change from the Old Testament to the New Testament. His character is the same; His will for us is the same. So why does Jesus feel the need to make such a shocking re-direction of the Law as He does here? One idea would be that the people of His time had taken this piece of the Law and looked at it from only one angle, while being blinded to the other angle. More specifically, they understood the teaching about justice, but didn’t see the part about mercy.

Mike then quoted Micah 6:8, which to me is one of the most beautiful, succinct and powerful truths of scripture:

God has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you,
but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?

Doesn’t that kind of say it all? All over the Bible God is referred to as a God of justice. He hates lying lips and falsehoods. He hates oppression of the poor and false testimony. He hates deception. But He is also a God of mercy: He requires us to forgive those who wrong us and to help those in need. As always, we meet the tension between truth and grace. It seems we never get free of this tension. But how do we determine whether we are to act in justice or in mercy? When someone begs money from us, do we just give it without any further discernment? And if we are to refuse, how do we know that is God’s will for the situation?

I think the answer lies in the last phrase of Micah 6:8…… to walk humbly with your God.

If we walk humbly with our God, we get to know His voice better. We get to know His heart better. We get the loving instruction we need from a good, wise Father. Can we hear specific direction from Him on a given matter of our daily lives? I think we can. This was certainly an expectation from many of the people we read about in the Bible. For just one example, look at David. Of course, God’s voice is sometimes very quiet or perhaps He leads us by an inner sense of peace or intuition. Very few people I know have ever heard an audible voice. But as we continue to walk with God, to pray to Him, to converse with Him, to get godly counsel and to read His word, we will be able to be more confident that we know His will when we make decisions in our life, when we need to decide whether to walk a mile, or two, or twenty, with someone who asks us to go with him.

"Hide and Seek" by John Rice

Psalm 19:1-4 NIV

[1] The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. [2] Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. [3] They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. [4] Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Romans 1:20 NIV

[20] For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---his eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

These two Scriptures seem to state clearly that God’s existence, and even His glory, is proclaimed every day and night by His creation for all to see. The heavens declare His glory; the skies proclaim the work of His hands; the creation speaks of His eternal power and divine nature. I can certainly personally attest to the truth of these Scriptures as I settle in to watch the sunrise, something I try to do most mornings of the year. Being a nature lover, the ocean, the mountains, the deserts, rivers, trees and plants and animals of all kinds speak to me of the amazing creativity and awesome wisdom and power of God. And I know this revelation is meant for all mankind.

But I also notice in Scripture that there are many references to the mystery of God and to things of God that are hidden.

Colossians 2:2-3 NIV

[2] My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Matthew 13:44-46 NIV

[44] The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  

Apparently, some things of God are out in the open for everyone to see, while other things are hidden away, enticing us to look for them like buried treasure. Is there a difference between the two types of things? If so, what is the difference?

Maybe God likes to play hide and seek! What I mean is, there are ways in which He seems to shout out, “Here I am!” and there are other ways He seems to go quiet. Could it be that He is looking for people who will look for Him? He seems to like it that people are willing to drop what they’re doing and focus on Him. I think this is why He made the Sabbath day so special and called it holy.  This is a time to drop all the normal, everyday activities and pursuits to give time and space to seek Him out. He asks us to go into our “prayer closets” and talk with Him.

Maybe God’s overt expression is for humanity as a whole, but the secret hidden mysteries are to be revealed to each individual as he or she meets alone with their Father.

I don’t think I will ever tire of watching the sunrise. But I want more. I believe God wants more too. The question and the challenge is this: am I willing to sell what I have to buy the field with the treasure in it? Am I willing to let go of my agenda for a time to seek out His? Sometimes I find this easy to do, more often I find it difficult, but I do know that either way, God is already right there with me.

"Frankl Insights" by John Rice

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” -Viktor E. Frankl

I came across the quote while rereading one of my favorite books, one of those books you reread every couple of years until it falls apart at the seam. This book, Man’s Search for Meaning, was written by an Austrian psychiatrist who survived both Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, whose only crime was being Jewish in a Nazi world.

Half of the book talks about what it was like living under the most horrendous, inhumane conditions imaginable, living in a place where just showing a hint of weakness could brand you as “useless” and could mean you were sent to your death in a “shower” of poisonous gases and then burned to ashes. Dr. Frankl determined that as long as he lived in this hellish place, he would make a study of the way people, including himself, reacted to these extremely abnormal circumstances. He hoped that his insights would be of use to people even long after his death. And they most certainly have been.

It seems to me that one of the greatest insights Frankl discovered during that time, and that is relevant to every human being living everywhere, no matter what the circumstances, is this:

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, the freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.

In the camps, on the very first day, one was stripped of everything they had ever had: their families, their friends, their money, their importance, their careers, their responsibilities, their control, their clothes, their shoes, their jewelry, their hair (they were shaved head to toe)….and even their names. They were tattooed with numbers which became their only identity within the camp from then on. Literally stripped naked of everything that had previously formed their identity, they were left with only one thing still under their control: how they would respond. No one can take this freedom away from us, ever. While many people in such circumstances succumb to the temptation to crawl their way over everyone else to save their own life (and certainly this is understandable), there were those who kept forever focused on a higher purpose, a cause for hope, a refusal to become just like the animals who were torturing them. As Frankl believed, having a WHY to live enables people to bear the HOW to live, even in the worst of circumstances.

All of this makes me so very aware of how fortunate we are as children of the living God. The answer to WHY we live starts with being created in His image. We have a purpose in seeing His Kingdom established on earth as it is in heaven. We are called to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. And we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Knowing these things as the WHY of life, we are enabled to deal with the HOW of life. When Frankl says, as in the quote at the beginning of this devotional, that success and happiness are the unintended side-effects of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself, we can see that we, as Believers, are poised for the greatest success and joy just by giving our lives to God, letting Him live within us,  and by following His ways, no matter what our surroundings.

Most of us, hopefully, will never experience anything like a concentration camp. We do, however, face trials and hardships, sickness and limitations, injustices and offenses, losses and grief in many different ways throughout our lives. How will we respond to those? It may be easy and understandable to become bitter, negative, vengeful or even despairing in the face of the trials, but if we can just step back a bit and remember the bigger picture, remember Who has given us life and purpose and hope, we might walk through life in a better way, with head lifted high.

Frankl says, “We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however he is also that being that entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”


Scriptures

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.   Phil 1:21

The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.    Gal 2:20

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.   Mt 16:25

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Mt 16:26

 

"Jesus Asleep in the Boat" by John Rice

During last Sunday’s New Year’s service I took some time to sit in front of Rembrandt’s painting, “Christ Asleep in the Boat”. Though I had looked at this painting many times prior to that evening, it was different this time.  I think what made it different was the amount of time and focus I gave to the viewing, accompanied by the prayer that God would connect with me somehow during this time, that He would show me something or speak to me about something as I observed the painting.

What I noticed first was that though the whole ship was being tossed around by the crashing waves and wind, the left half of the ship was most stirred up in the turbulence. On the left side men were struggling hard, pulling ropes, trying to right the sails. This part of the ship was lit up, clearly visible to the observer. The right side of the ship was lower in the water and in the dark. Jesus was sleeping in this part of the boat and the only action here was that of men trying to wake Jesus up to help them.

This light and dark contrast seems to me to be symbolic of the way our lives often work. When troubles or stressful things arise, it is natural for us to focus on them and struggle with them. Our problems are what are clearly visible and tumultuous. These things can easily become the only things we see and we focus all our attention there, trying to overcome the problems we face by our own efforts.

But at the very same time, on the very same boat, Jesus is there, in all His wisdom and power, unrattled. There is nothing too big or troublesome that He can’t take care of. The issue is where we will look for our help and our salvation. Where will be put our focus and our trust: on our problems and our own abilities to solve them…  or on the abilities of God?

We know the ending of this story of the wind and the waves from Scripture. Jesus wakes up and calms the winds and the waves and all is well, all the disciples are saved. What would our lives be like if we were quick to recognize that Jesus is with us when we experience troubles, and with that knowledge if we were to look to Him for help, healing, wisdom, provision, direction or whatever it is that we need? Would the actual troubles seem to diminish in comparison? I know troubles don’t usually magically and instantaneously go away when we pray, but rather sometimes take a long time to be dealt with. But I also know that when Jesus promises us a peace beyond all understanding when we pray to Him, we can count on Him to do something profound in us. It is both mysterious and wonderful. He has promised to walk with us through all of life, good and bad. He will give us what we need. It is not hard for Him.

Lord, help us be quick to see how close you are when the wind and waves are crashing against our boats!

Mk 4:35-41
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mt 7:7-12
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Mt 6:5-13
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

"Love is Spelled TIME" by John Rice

When God calls us away from our daily activities, plans, ambitions and anxious thoughts, and asks us to spend some time with Him, He is really saying, “I want to be with you. What's on your mind? What's on your heart? How are things? I love you.” And He always has something for us…a word of encouragement, a word of direction or instruction, a word of affirmation, a word of correction, or maybe He simply gives us a bit more peace or a time and place to rest.

All other religions have sacred places to go to: a certain mountain, a special river, a particular temple. Only the God of the Bible takes a period of time and makes it holy. The first thing God called “holy” (which really means He set it apart as something special and sacred) is the Sabbath day, a day of rest within which we are to let go of the daily grind and refocus on Him and His goodness to us. On our Sabbaths we are to celebrate the goodness of life and the goodness of our God. As the author Abraham Herschel puts it, “The Sabbath is not just an interlude, it is the climax of living.”

Last Saturday morning 10 of us had a kind of special Sabbath together and with God. After meeting and talking about the day at the Space for God Retreat, we separated into different places to spend some solo time with God. We had expectations for meeting God in a special way but we had no idea what form that might take. In sharing at the end, we discovered that everyone truly had had a special (and very individual) connection with God.

-One person was promised that God would help him find his identity which has been difficult for him to find and accept through his life.

-Another was able to take a self-inventory with God and discern what things were toxic and what things were life-gifts to be grateful for and to encourage.

-Another recognized his need to be more intentional in his choices and to not just go with the flow.

-Another understood Psalm 23 in a new and personal way: that God’s presence always goes before her and she is never alone.

-Another recognized that God was closer to her than her breath. And He focused her eyes on a brief prism of colors in the sky, a kind of spherical rainbow, speaking of love and hope for her.

-Another experienced the cleansing of his imagination and some indescribable emotion which the Lord, he believed, would continue to make understood as he goes on.

-Another person, who normally spends time with God by talking and talking, was encouraged by Him to say nothing and just sit with Him, kind of like an old couple who know each other so well they don't even need to talk to experience closeness.

-Another realized from the verse in Isaiah that “those walking in darkness have seen a great light” inferred that God’s light is always shining brightly around us, but that circumstances or our own lack of awareness cause the darkness that we are walking in. In God’s bright light all other things, all our problems, seem very small in comparison.

-Another saw herself paddling a small rowboat on a very rough and windy ocean, struggling hard but barely able to move. God changed her picture to see herself in a sleek racing craft zipping along in the wind and waves as the Lord himself blew the wind of the Spirit into her sails.

-And yet another heard the repeated statement from God, loud and clear, five times,
"You are my son! You are my son! You are my son! You are my son! You are my son!"

Was there anything extraordinary about these people? Well yes and no: they are extraordinary in the sense that every one of God’s people is extraordinary. But no in that we are all just regular, ordinary, everyday people trying to walk out our faith in God the best ways we know how. What enables us to hear these things is giving God the TIME and SPACE to speak to us. And the good news is…  He does!! I've heard it said that LOVE is really spelled T-I-M-E. Giving time and attention to our friends, our spouses, our children and yes, even to God, is like saying, “I want to make time for you. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to know you better. I love you. “

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done. Genesis 2:3

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 146:10

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says:  In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

"Perfection or Nothing" by John Rice

Many years ago someone said to me, “If you expect either perfection or nothing, you’ll get nothing.” I think I understood the meaning of this in a vague sort of way, thought it sounded wise, and then banked it somewhere in my subconscious.

This idea has been brought back to me recently with different words that have really caught my attention. Someone said, “If you’re always looking for the ideal in life, you can’t be really living in the moment. You will always be dissatisfied.”

Although I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, I do know myself to be always looking for the ideal, the best, the greatest, the number one, the most beautiful, the first-class, the most famous, the smartest, the way things SHOULD be. I think this comes from somehow being taught never to settle, never to give up, to set my sights high, to strive, strive, strive. And I have expected this from others too.

There are certainly some good points to trying our best and setting good standards, but for myself I’ve realized that if I am extreme in this way, I am always unhappy with real life. I can’t fully enjoy life, I can’t experience the real moment I’m living in and I can’t fully appreciate the people around me. I even have a hard time with my relationship with God. This is because I’m wanting every connection with Him to be the best, better than the last, electric, dynamic, life-changing. So, in reality, how often does a human experience those moments with God? Probably only once in a great while. And that’s probably a good thing, because otherwise we’d find it extremely hard to live in this often mundane, everyday kind of world, with all its imperfections.

If I think about it, my way of thinking has been very covetous, to use a Biblical word. I always want something I don’t have, or want to be someone I’m not, or want others to be someone they’re not….and then I live with either a low-grade or high-grade sense of dissatisfaction and fail to see the goodness and grace of what IS.

So with God’s help, I’m trying to find the right balance in my life: not expecting too much and not expecting too little. No perfection, and no nothing. I’m open to starting to see the beauty of God’s goodness and grace in all the regular, day-to-day little happenings. This even reminds me of the many places in Scripture where God’s people were often drawn to their captors (Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians) because of the rich, beautiful and exciting things those cultures offered, but at the same time ignoring the quiet waters of the Promised Land which God had given them for their sustenance and pleasure. Like me, the Israelites wanted the exciting wealthy, cool and hip - the happening place and culture of the powerful. They got bored with the gentle, quiet waters of everyday Israel, though that’s where the Lord’s goodness and presence were strongest.

God’s goodness is everywhere. His glory is all over creation; His image is somewhere to be found in all humans, however buried it may be. How much better to allow ourselves to be amazed at His presence day-to-day in the mundane, rather than to be craning our necks for something more, always something more.

Is 8:6,  Ps 16:11,  Mt 7:9-1

"Smooring the Fire" by John Rice

I’ve just read of a very interesting practice in old Ireland and Scotland that I wanted to share. As
you probably know, Ireland and Scotland are very damp and often cold countries. The terrain is
mostly rocky and the weather is harsh much of the year, especially on the islands of the Atlantic
Ocean where storms often drench the land. Before electricity was available to light and heat the
houses there, the Celtic people had a special practice to keep their houses as warm and dry as
possible. It was called “smooring the fire”. Wood was very scarce on these islands and peat
very precious, so if you wanted to stay warm, smooring the fire well was a very essential skill to
develop.

To smoor the fire, the woman of the family would prepare the coals in the hearth for the night by
spreading them out in a circle in three parts and then sprinkling some ashes on top of them to
slow their burning. A little peat was put in the spaces between the three sections. and then a
prayer was said. This was the smooring prayer:

The sacred Three,
to save,
to shield,
to surround
the hearth,
the house,
the household,
this eve,
this night,
Oh! this eve,
this night,
and every night,
each single night.
Amen.

The next morning the woman would add fresh peat and get the fire going full bore for the meals
and for heating the house. Performing this night after night, day after day, week after week,
month after month and even year after year, there were some family fires that were kept
continuously alive for generations. And not only that, but a common practice was that when the
girl of the family got married, her mother would give her as a wedding gift some of the coals
from her fire so that the girl’s family would start their family fire with the same fire that had
burned in her family for generations.

This smooring of the fire in some way reminds me of our faith. The fire that burns in our hearts
as the Spirit of God dwells within us must be tended carefully if we want it to continue burning
brightly. Through difficult circumstances or neglect or distraction our fires can go dim, barely
burning, which dims our light and can’t keep us very warm. The gifts God has given us can also
burn brightly or dimly according to our awareness and attention to them. Paul encourages
Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6 to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on
of my hands.”

So how do we keep our fires burning? Well, it seems to me that God gives us the fire freely as a
gift of grace and then our job is to recognize it as a precious gift, a treasure, an inheritance, and
to keep it burning by practicing the presence of God every day. This is our “smooring”: turning to
God, talking with God, listening for God’s voice, worshipping Him, thanking Him, opening up to
Him, obeying Him, loving Him. And if we pass these practices on to our children, the spiritual
fires God has given us may not go out for generations.

2 Timothy 1:6
Acts 11:23
2 Corinthians 4:6

This information in this devo came from the writings of Deborah Cronin in her book Holy
Ground, 1999, Upper Room Books.

"Guarding Your Soul" by John Rice

From time to time over the course of the last 15 years I’ve dealt with low back issues. When I’ve done too much of the wrong thing my back will “go out”. To me that means I’ll feel spasms like electric shocks whenever I move just slightly the wrong way. It means I can’t stay in one position for very long, I can’t do my normal work routine, I can barely get in and out of a car, I have to be very careful when sitting down, laying down or getting up from either of those positions. I can’t go out and play. I get grumpy and self-focused and depressed. I absolutely hate it. In so many ways and for so many reasons, I hate it. Did I say “I hate it”? Well, I really do hate it. 

I have learned over the years that with the help of good chiropractors, physical therapists and exercise trainers, there are a number of things I can do to help myself out of this bad place. I can ice, I can stretch, I can do certain exercises, I can get laser treatments, I can walk and walk and walk. I can learn to guard my low back by better engaging my transverse abdominals (muscles that wrap around your body below the navel which act like a belt supporting your back). I can also protect my back by keeping good posture, holding my head in line with my back, and using my glutes instead of my low back muscles for stability. I have to be very aware of how I’m moving, but if I’m careful, I can still function fairly well until my back muscles finally relax and get back to normal. I am so thankful for what I’ve learned over the years and especially for the knowledgable people who have helped me so much. 

So I was reading in Philippians this morningand I was reminded of how God, as a good and perfect Father (and as The Great Physician, as well) gives us such wonderful instruction and advice for living well. In Philippians He tells us not how we can guard our backs, but how we can guard our souls:

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Wow! He tells us that His peace is what guards our hearts and minds, our souls, and He even tells us what part we have to play in getting that peace. He gives us strategies for guarding and protecting our souls. I love that! There is something we can do. We need to realize first and foremost that He is near us. He has promised never to leave us. Then, rather than worrying and being anxious about things, which we are all inclined to do, He tells us to talk to Him instead.

Bring to Him our concerns and troubles, pray about them, ask Him for what we need and above all, bathe all of these prayers and requests in a pool of gratitude. To me it’s interesting and significant that the little phrase “with thanksgiving” sits right in the middle of this whole section, set off by commas, as if to say this is the key. The key to peace and the key to being free from anxiety.

I read this quote somewhere once which is inspired by Matthew 11:28-30:

 Rest is not the absence of labor, hardship or suffering...                                                                                                                      It is the absence of guilt, worry, anxiety and lack of meaning.

 Fortunately we are not just victims of our mental, physical and emotional states, being passively carried down a stream in which we don’t want to float. God dignifies us with an invitation to participate with Him in such way that we can, at least in some ways, influence the course and outcome of our journey.

Living in a world where there are so many things to worry and be anxious about, it is reassuring that God knows our human tendencies and rather than judge us for our ignorance, foolishness or sin, invites us to let Him take the heavy load and gives us in its place a light load, easy to carry, full of gratitude, peace and grace. 

Phil 4:6-7

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Joshua 1:5

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Mat 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

"The Old And the New" by John Rice

I heard a statement recently that really caught my attention. It went something like this:

“In the Old Testament if a Believer touched a leper, he was pronounced ‘unclean’ and had to be removed from the congregation. In the New Testament if a Believer touched a leper, the leper was healed.”

I have treasured the Old Testament all my Christian life and argued for its inclusion in the teachings of our modern day church, even defending it against those who would say it isn’t relevant to us Christians anymore. Some think of the Old Testament as just an old history book, which presents an angry, vengeful God who is Himself transformed in the New Testament by the coming of Jesus. I would still argue that this is a false conclusion and that while the Old Testament does record the history of ancient Israel, with all its struggles and battles, it also paints a picture of the true character of God and man.

God is characterized through his interactions with people as a patient, compassionate, wise, forgiving and loving God. In fact, the Lord describes Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:5-7 in this way: And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.” David also describes the amazingly gracious character of God in his psalms, as does Isaiah and other prophets.

Even though the Old Testament is as much “God’s Word” as the New, what Jesus does when He comes to earth, born of a woman and very much human, yet equally divine, is truly world-changing. The New Testament speaks of a new covenant with God, which allows us to live in a radically different way from the way our brothers and sisters of the Old Covenant lived.

So back to the statement I heard recently, mentioned above, we see an example of this huge difference. In the book of Leviticus, chapter 14, we read what the Israelites were to do if anyone had an infectious disease. That person was to “wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’. As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” Now to be sure, this was an ingenious way to keep infectious diseases from spreading through the whole population in a time when there was little medical knowledge for a nomadic desert people. In fact, the requirement to shave and wash wasvery advanced hygiene in those days.

Nonetheless, contrast this to what Jesus did and instructed His disciples to do. He constantly laid hands on sick people and restored their health, their sight, their wholeness. Paul and the other apostles went around healing the sick, lame, diseased and possessed. The power which Jesus ministered in and with which He empowered His disciples, was the same power that raised Him from the dead after three days in a tomb. It was the power of God’s Holy Spirit, which Jesus sent to His people on earth during Pentecost 50 days after He had been resurrected.

God is the same God in the Old and New Testaments, but when Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to live inside all of His followers who invited Him there, everything changed. I can’t even begin to understand what power lives inside me. I struggle with the faith for that sometimes. But I do know that God keeps His Word and that Jesus said we would do even greater works than He Himself did because of the Holy Spirit. I choose to believe Him and seek to open up to Him in every way He wants me too. Help me, Lord! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….and help me play my part!

 

Exodus 34:5-7

And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”

John 14:12

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

"Covenant Marriage" by John Rice

Calvin and Julie Tadema spoke this last Sunday at church on marriage. They put forth the idea that our “marriage” to God holds the key to a good and healthy relationship with our spouse. How very thought-provoking that is, and challenging, since God is perfect in every way, while we are not.

But the emphasis in the Tadema’s teaching wasn’t on the perfection of our relationships, but rather on the nature of it. To show this, they contrasted “contract” with “covenant.” They asserted that many of our earthly marriages are entered into like a contract, which has the purpose of guaranteeing maximum benefits and minimum liabilities for ourselves. In such a contract, if I feel one day that the liabilities are too large and the benefits too small, I have reason to nullify the contract. The other person is not fulfilling their end of the bargain, so I am justified in getting out of the bond. And vice versa.

God doesn’t sign contracts with us. He gave His only Son to be born of a woman, live a righteous life, but then be killed by unrighteous people so that we, by believing in Him and His resurrection, might be able to live with Him in His kingdom forever, forgiven and redeemed. He gave His all, 100%. He didn’t state any conditions or requirements other than humbling ourselves, turning to Him and accepting His free gift. This is not the stuff of contract. This is covenant. He promised to never leave us and never to give up on us. His offer of love and acceptance is forever.

How different our earthly marriages would be if we lived by covenant. What if our guiding principle was not: “I’m going to give 50% and will expect 50% in return,”  but instead was: “I’m going all in and giving 100%. I’m not going to keep track of how much she gives me so that I can keep score and see who’s doing more. I will love her as best I can and I want her to love me as best she can. We won’t do this perfectly and sometimes one of us will give more than the other. God help us love like you do!” The first principle is based on law and the second on love.

We humans often treat our relationship with God as a contract as well. We seek maximum benefits and minimum liability and get discouraged or even despairing if we don’t get from God what we expect and feel we deserve. At that point our relationship can go cold or we can give up. But God’s promise of unconditional love has no end; it only appears different at times from what we want it to look like. This is where trust and patience comes in, just like it would in a covenantal earthly marriage.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He crystallized all the commandments into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is covenant!

I look forward to more teaching of the Tademas as they meet with us later in the month. And I look forward to happier, healthier, stronger covenantal marriages at CitySalt!

John 15:12   My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

"Tattooed" by John Rice

Have you ever been, or are you currently,  in a period of life when you wonder whether the Lord sees what is going on? Whether He cares? Whether He has forgotten you? Things aren’t going well and the Lord seems far away. Maybe you feel like you are to blame for the distance between you and God, or maybe you don’t, but either way, you are not where you want to be and you wonder if you’ve fallen off of God’s “radar.”

I’ve certainly been in this position more times than I’d like to admit. And one thing I’ve learned from these experiences is that though there are many questions in life that are difficult to answer, I believe the one about whether God has forgotten you is not one of those. It is not difficult to answer. Why? Because the Bible is so clear on the subject!

When God’s people are poised to go into the Promised Land and know they will have to face many hardships to win the land, God reminds their leader, Joshua, that He will never leave them nor forsake His people. In the book of Jeremiah, when the Israelites are living in captivity in enemy territory, God declared that He was close to them and not to give up hope as they waited on deliverance by God. God even likened Himself to a nursing mother when He asked, in the book of Isaiah, “Could a mother forget the child nursing at her breast? Well, she might, but I will never forget you.”AndJesus declared that no one would be able to snatch His people from His hand (John 10:28)

One of my favorite examples of God’s faithfulness to us shows up in Isaiah 49:16: God says that He has engraved us on His hand. Now that’s an interesting thing to say! Think about it… engraved means etched which means essentially tattooed. God has tattooed us on His hand! And God’s hand is always mentioned in Scripture with reference to His strength, power, protection, provision or guidance. God is continually aware of our lives and the situations confronting us, whether they’re our fault or not (that’s not the point.) His love and power extends beyond our goodness, thanks to Jesus’ work on the Cross for us. And if this were not enough, we read in the book of Romans that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are constantly making intercession for us before the Father. Geewhizz, can it get better than that?

Take heart if you feel God is miles away from you and doesn’t care about you and your current situation. God’s Word makes it clear that He is never far from you, no matter what your feelings are telling you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are in good hands… big, beautiful tattooed hands!

Joshua 1:5  I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Jeremiah 29:10-14  This is what the Lord says, “When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.”

Isaiah 49:14-15   But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

John 10:28 No one will be able to snatch them (My people) out of My hands.

Isaiah 49:16 “ See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.”

"Sugar and Salt" by John Rice

One of the most challenging teachings I've ever listened to took place in an even more challenging setting. A group of us were huddled together on a cold and rainy day in one of the barracks of the former concentration camp, Auschwitz, in Poland. The teacher, a Messianic Jew who was directing this tour for us through Poland and Israel, was asking us if we thought the Holocaust could have been prevented. A big question, for sure, and the answer we agreed upon was that it could only have been prevented if enough people had stood up to the Nazis all along the way.

The teacher began to describe how the Church, for the most part, had stood silently by or even participated with the Nazis as innocent people were rounded up and taken away from their towns and neighborhoods. Certainly there were protesters, some very heroic individuals who risked their lives, or lost them, because of their opposition to the regime. But how could the Church turn such a blind eye to what was happening? There are lots of possible answers, fear being the most obvious.

Our teacher began to explain the difference between sugar and salt. A surprising and confusing tangent it seemed! She said that although sugar tastes so good and is used to celebrate all kinds of special occasions, in reality it is a substance with less-than-positive after effects. Sugar is one of the main culprits in causing obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is also credited with tooth decay. If placed in a wound, it draws bacteria to it and accelerates infection.
There are very few real benefits to sugar other than that it tastes good.

Salt, on the other hand, will sting if put in a wound. It hurts, but at the same time it has healing properties. Salt is used with food to bring out the flavor, as well as to preserve the food so that it lasts longer. The only negative effect salt has is if it is eaten in too great a quantity. But then, that can be said of just about anything.

Our group, huddled together in Auschwitz, got the point being made. The modern Church, in Europe as well as America, has bought into the lie that we are to be sugar in the world; we settle for being nice and cooperative and hope that those around us will notice and appreciate us and maybe join us. But Jesus never called us to be sugar, He called us to be salt. Salt and light. Of course we are to be kind and loving and patient as Jesus and Paul tell us. But we also want to affect the world by being who God calls us to be. In being salt, we might have to stand against corruption or evil. In being light, we might have to expose darkness. These things don't necessarily make us popular and they may even carry some risk. But these are the things that flavor the world with Jesus' presence and power. Being salt brings out the flavor of the goodness of God. Being salt heals the wounds of people around us. Being salt may even be responsible for saving lives.