Once upon a time, there lived a person who was a woman, a prostitute and a minority. During her time, clear social-rules kept society from acknowledging her as a person. A woman? A prostitute? A minority? 3 strikes. Do you feel like you have 3 strikes? In John 4, the Bible teaches that Jesus cared so deeply for our 3-strike person, he spoke directly to her. He looked at her. He stood by her. He didn’t tolerate her sin, He came to die for it. This may have been the first time a Person saw her as a person. Jesus is reaching out to you—you, who others won’t give the time of day to. You, who others have given up on. You, who others don’t wanna be seen around. You see, you hold out your 3-strike life to Jesus, and he doesn’t see the strikes everyone else sees, He sees you. This 3-strike person met Jesus, He filled her heart and He changed her life. And He’s still in that business. I hope you know that even if the world sees you as “3 strikes, you’re out” Jesus sees you as “3 strikes, still in.”
The bible teaches us that during Jesus’ darkest hours, one of his friends denied him. You and me have had friends deny us at “normal” times. But at our darkest hour, just before we were executed? I can’t imagine. Jesus had never done his friend wrong. Furthermore, Jesus HAD given his friend everything he had; and made him who he was: leader, disciple, legacy. As Jesus was on his way to be brutally beaten and executed (right in front of his friend, no less), his friend still denied him. One probable denial? No. Three public, blatant, consecutive ones. Denial. Denial. Denial. Jesus knew his friend would deny him, yet Jesus still “friended” him! That’s love. No matter what our friends have done to us—according to Jesus’ example—is not an excuse to undo our love for them. Even if our friends move the status from “friend” to “enemy,” Jesus says, “love your enemies.” And just when I want to let my heart move toward hating them for denying me, I am quietly reminded that I’ve denied my Best Friend and Lord more than the three times Peter did. In my summation, there’s never a time to un-love a friend who denies you. Distance ourselves? Yes. Forge boundaries? OK. Forget what they did? Depends. But hate them? I can’t find that in the life of my Best Friend and Lord.
When I was bad in college, my friend and I headed back from partying in Chicago when she complained she was feeling the repercussions of the chicken salad, grape laffy-taffy and “beverage” she had. As things like this go (i.e., without warning) she lost control of her stomach and barfed all over my dashboard, passenger window, and (fabric!) passenger door. We got back to the dorm, but it was so late, I was so tired and it was a freezing Chicago winter night, that I left the car the way it was, windows rolled up. The next day, when I opened it, I was bulldozed by the most atrocious odor ever—a pungent stank that could peel paint off walls, a toupee off a man, a shell off a turtle. Segue, please: It stinks when people barf all over you. Literally and figuratively. One of the things I’ve learned over the years through my mistakes, is to not barf all over people. I used to be fooled by the fallacy that friendships were built by barfing every crisis, trial, drama, and detail to each other. SO not so. You see, humans aren’t capable of handling their own life-trauma and drama AS WELL AS OURS. It’s just too much for one finite being. So Jesus came and said, “Come to ME when you are weary” (Matthew 11:28). The first thing to do when we are feeling the repercussions of our drama or woes, is to give it to God, first. Just like Jesus did. When Jesus was having his worst day ever in the garden, the Gospels teach us he went to God, first (Matthew 26). His friends weren’t capable of handling it. The bible says they even fell asleep on their friend Jesus! Our friends can’t always handle our barf. And thankfully, if we walk with God, they don’t have to. PS: I haven’t been able to eat grape laffy-taffy since. 🙂
Several years ago, my Christian counselor shared this verse with me: Psalm 138:8: “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me.” It didn’t change my life but it DID change my thought life. Perhaps because it was *only* eight words with such significant punch. This verse tells me that I am not able to do anything, perfect. But the things that worry/concern/scare me—-I don’t have to—-because God will. I highlighted it in my bible, I wrote it down on a piece of paper and carried it with me, and I memorized it. And during tough moments, I whispered it to God as a prayer. I can’t tell you how much this verse means to my mind during uncertain times. I’m sharing it, because maybe you are in an uncertain time. I hope this verse offers your mind what it gave and continues to give mine.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) This is one of my favorite verses for a new year. Actually, it’s a verse, a life-goal, a mental-health axiom, and a prayer, all in one enchilada! Lemme break it down…
*For I KNOW*
God knows. God knows already what 2018 has for you and me. The bible teaches that he’s recorded our days before our very first day. So if God KNOWS what 2018 holds, I release myself from being a predictor of it. I don’t need a horoscope, an appointment, a dream-weaver, or a fortuneteller. I have everything I need in God KNOWING and I don’t have to pay him. Rather, HE paid his life for me. He made me, He knows me, I trust Him.
*They ARE Plans For GOOD*
Does this mean that in 2018 bad things can happen? Yep. And if I were a betting man, I’d say bad things probably will. But with God, and this promise, bad can happen but GOOD can come from it. How? By sticking with God. When we stick with God, God can bring good from bad. How can He do that? He’s God, and He is love and that is what love does. God already wrote my story. Until my story ends, it doesn’t mean I won’t have bad chapters, it just means bad chapters will eventually end in good results. God is good, and if we are with God, we are held in His goodness.
I hope this encourage you as you head into your new year – God has good plans in store!
Recently, I read about the time Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. I learned something great about Jesus, and not-so-great about myself. Jesus often loved, solo. When he knelt down to do the lowly, the dirty, he often did so by himself. He didn’t have to. He chose to. Love is a choice. Jesus could have asked one of his disciples to wash his feet. He could have asked the disciples to help him wash their feet. But He was secure enough to love, solo. I wonder if I’ve missed opportunities to love because I didn’t have the security to love, solo? It’s human nature to run in packs. Girls don’t even go to the bathroom, solo. But Jesus did something else, solo. He didn’t have anyone take his place, and He didn’t ask others to join him. He suffered and died on a cross, solo. I think some of the most loving acts are loving when no one else will. What do we get out of it? Sometimes, nothing. A few years ago, my husband didn’t align with a group when they casted me aside. It cost Raul a lot to love me, solo. Love does that. The bible says “Greater love has no MAN (not cliques, entourages, small groups, squads or teams) than this, than he lay down his life for a friend.” Sometimes, love means going solo. But know this, you’re never more like Jesus than when you do.
I don’t know how I remember this, but when we lived in Bowling Green, Ohio, I was eight years old when I went to Vacation Bible School at Plain Congregational Church. That summer, I learned an acronym I haven’t forgotten 30+ years later: J.O.Y. – (J)esus, first; (O)thers, second; (Y)ou, last. I always took it to mean, “back of the line, back of the bus, back of the room, back of the class, if you wanna chance at being happy.” Lately, after hearing “Joy to the World,” on my Christmas playlist, I’ve been thinking about that acronym. Yes, Jesus comes first. It’s biblical. As a matter of fact, it’s so biblical it’s in the Top Ten of all times, eternally holding first place: “You shall have no other gods before me.” As a matter of fact, the second is biblical too: “regard others as more important than yourselves.” I am a visual learner and love illustrations, metaphors, parallels and props (like Jesus, with figs, sticks, sheep). Instead of thinking of this acronym as some exclusive natural order where only the doormats, spineless, weak or boneless have a chance for joy, I’ve had a radical change in visual! Several years ago, my friends dared me to stick my face in a chocolate fountain. I did. Selfishly benefiting from all the sugary goodness in my (literal) face. Yea. And that’s my new visual for J.O.Y. You see, God pours amazing stuff from the tippy-top of His throne in Heaven, onto His Son Jesus, first. Then, trickling to the second tier for everyone I serve and put before me. But then? It trickles to the bottom tier–the biggest tier–containing, absorbing, even overflowing with this amazing goodness of his glory. So is it good to put Jesus first and others second and us last? It depends on how we see it. But this week, seeing it this way truly is bringing joy to the world…and me. I hope this encourages someone.