Unlike previous months, this letter takes a shift from things which have externally influenced us on our journey through life. We now attempt to look at the reality of sins and crimes against a loving God. Ultimately all of our offenses have been against Him, since He is our Creator and the Sustainer of our lives. Just the thought of this topic may be another emotional blow in a life that seems to be without meaning. But don’t give up so easily as your read my words. Ultimately it is not about what we have done, but about what the grace of God can and will do in our lives as we go about our daily activities. The truth is that I cannot change myself, but there is One who can shape me and mold me into the person that He sees that I can become. That is right, even where we are at this moment, broken and without hope, we can be useful in His plan. The key to making this happen is not making an anguished list of past failures and offenses, but rather to take all of those harmful encounters and commit them to His care in an act of personal surrender. My best efforts have only resulted in a sad history of pain and shame. It seemed that no matter what I attempted to do, all things ultimately ended in failure. What a sad commentary on life. But even in the midst of those sad misguided events, He was already bringing me to a place where I could start to recognize the true meaning of fellowship with God.
He knows all that I have done and the wickedness of my heart as expressed in the things I considered and might have done if I had the opportunity to act upon my impulses. In other words, He knows every aspect of my life, my personhood. There is nothing to hide from Him. And still He calls me His precious child and invites me to come home. To turn over all of the badness, hurt, pain and troubles of my life, as well as the accomplishments and gains of my life. His simple promise is that He will take what I bring to Him and make something beautiful of my life. All it takes is reaching out and taking Him up at His word. Forget about doctrine and dogma, put aside your religious belief systems. What I have written to you is the simplest form of the Gospel. God loves us just as we are and wants to take us where we are and create a new life within each of us. It is just that simple. His word and love for us is simple yet profound. I believe this to my core, not just about my own life, but also about your life. That is the very reason that I choose to write to you each month. In my eyes and God’s eyes, you have eternal value in spite of what you have done in the past. It is never too late, nor is anyone beyond the reach of God’s love for each of us. Your role in this matter is to consider my words, but more importantly to consider His great love for you.
Having been a healthcare provider for 25 years, I am well aware of the differences between individuals, but I am even more familiar with the many ways that we are similar. I attribute those similarities to the fact that we are ALL made in God’s image and likeness. That means each of us has some small element of His nature which CAN shine forth. One way might be to recognize your own smallness now and your feelings of loneliness, isolation and bitterness. If I could sit with you and talk about life I would openly share the tragedies of my life, but eventually I would turn to my encounter with Jesus Christ and how He has turned my trash into treasure. All I have done in this relationship is to reluctantly wave a white flag of personal surrender. He will do the same things in your own life, if only you will take the first steps toward Him. No matter what circumstances this letter may find you in, He has the ability to reshape your life into something that will have eternal value. No crime, no offense is beyond His ability to redeem. You can believe the lie that somehow you are beyond the reach of God, or you can take these words as your invitation to reach out and take Him at His word. You already know what your own personal efforts have created in life, so what do you possibly have to lose by taking Him at His word.
I am inviting you to explore the possibilities. If your legal counsel advised you that a new appeal might be prepared based upon a new point of law, would you refuse the possibility of relief that might be offered if the appeal was successful? This matter about which I am writing is far higher and significantly more important than an appeal issues. It speaks to the issues of eternal life and meaningfulness in your current life. He is able to take all of our failures and use them in a way that will reflect His glory and His great love for us. Crimes are sins against a loving God. Sins are crimes against that Redeemer. All have sinned therefore we are all guilty before Him. We are all equally bad and have no ability to restore ourselves by virtue of our own actions. Do not let fancy titles, earthly success or clever ways that are used to make some of us look better than others deceive you. WE have ALL failed, none of us can be good enough to stand before God and withstand His knowing look. He knows our hearts and all the wickedness and perversity of our human nature. We are ONLY made righteous by the shed blood of Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. That is why he is called Our Redeemer. He has paid the price for ALL of us. Your eternal punishment has been permanently blotted out, IF you will accept the gift of salvation provided by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This fact is so simple that most people miss it in their pursuit of a relationship with God.
My job is to be a connection to you, a shoulder upon which you can lean, while you work out this earthly existence. I am not here to burden you, but rather to help you shoulder that burden and carry your load. I reach out to you because I strongly believe in the value of YOUR life. I look beyond worth as determined by most people and see that God can restore to you what has been lost. I am able to do this because of what He has done in my own life. You see, I know that He exists and that He loves each of us in a remarkably personal way. That is not in question. I have lived the life and seen the evidence in my own life and the lives of others. The only question is, what will you do with this information. Will you belittle these ideas and cast them to the side, or are you willing to open the doorway of possibilities in your own thinking by exploring what I have shared with you? It is ultimately a matter of personal choice. None of us completely knows the weariness or soul sickness of others. Those are the depths of despair and most of us do all in our power to avoid contact with those aspects of our own lives. But inevitability they creep into our thoughts and emotions in our least guarded moments. WE each experience those lost moments differently, but the pain is similar for each of us.
I know pain, I understand pain. Not as some textbook example, but as part of the process of having lived a troubled life. I am struggling to find the words that might convey an understanding of the process which takes place when those painful personal encounters are transformed into a life which holds new meaning and promise. This is not about religion it is a matter on a far deeper level than the transient effects of a religious experience. It is a transformative experience which will provide a new sense of meaning to the most horrific and terrible events of your life. Instead of facing the endless encounters with your lostness and degradation, you will start to experience a growing awareness of how, even these events can be used to help others. Instead of wanting to hide in shame and humiliation, you will suddenly find yourself building on these incidents and using them as building blocks for your future. Since few people in life are willing to openly acknowledge that they have traveled these roads, your experiences will open doors to others to evaluate their own lives in an open and surrendered manner. Remarkably the very things which once produced pain and shame will become ways to reach out to others who are equally lost and helpless.
I write these words you even at a time that I am struggling emotionally, feeling somewhere between desperation and depression. While I am having personal difficulty in keeping my head up and looking at the extent of failures, I am still unwilling to dismiss my belief that God is sovereign in our lives. Just because I am going through a period where I feel weary and uncertain, I cannot attribute this condition to my God. The truth is that I have allowed myself to stop and nurse my weariness and have been able to seek small emotional comforts in various distractions. The key to removing this obstacle is found in prayer and surrender in my own life. I understand this fact clearly, but there are times I stumble on in the odd belief that I have a better plan. Each and every time that I take this route, I am left bewildered and embarrassed by my shortsightedness. I share this with you because it is essential that you understand that a spiritual struggle is not an unfamiliar reality to those that love the Lord. It is how we adapt to these challenges that transforms our character and makes us useful for Kingdom work. What brings me great hope is encountering others who are making similar journeys. You see as I observe their missteps and moral failures, I recognize myself. I see how God is working in their lives through all of the events which trouble them. He is the One who is making the changes in our individual lives. He is molding and shaping us daily in every experience which confronts our lives and our limited abilities.
So there are two aspects to my relationship with Jesus Christ. The first of these is that He has paid the price for ALL of my sins, past, present and future. The second is equally important, if I will allow Him to work in my life, without shutting Him out, He will make changes in my life that will have eternal value in His Kingdom. In this context it is IMPOSSIBLE to fail. He has it all in His control and all I have to do is to humbly approach Him in prayer and acknowledge my sinful choices. Even as these words are coming out of my mouth, His forgiveness is flowing out in my life. He sets me back again on the pathway and encourages me to go along with the life He has given to me. Many religious models put great stock in telling others that once you have become a “Christian”, then you stop sinning and your life is vastly changed. I am not sure of their theology, but in my understanding of His word, He is the One who takes my mistakes and failings and uses all of my errors and wickedness to bless me with a deeper relationship with Him. He really is the lifter of my head and He restores me when I feel lost and weary. It is true that by myself I can do nothing, but like any loving Father, God will not withhold those things which are essential on my walk with Him. That is what His love is all about, plain and simple. You and I cannot do these things by ourselves, but with Him all things are possible.
I am currently in a personally painful place which is related to my choices and my poor judgment about believing that I can do the things of life without asking Him for help. But even sitting here and writing this letter about my own failures has strengthened me to ask for His help and forgiveness and to start over again in His care. You see, unlike many other citizens of this country, my life has been strewn with failures and personal brokenness. The Holy Spirit bears witness in my life that I am not alone and I will never be condemned for my failures and personal brokenness, as long as I present them in a prayer asking My Father for His forgiveness. Likewise I am called upon to forgive others who have offended me. The witness who lied, the guard who has a personal attitude toward you, and a justice system marked me with coldness and indifference. The same forgiveness that has graciously been given to me freely must flow on from my life to the lives of others. And one day at a time, one experience at a time, I start to change my personal world through the decisions I make. In that way, I start to reflect the love of God in all of my interactions with others. He will bring into our memories the things which we need to confess to Him and Him alone. That is the core of having a personal relationship with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the essence of having a daily walk with Jesus. Gradually and spiritually my wickedness and ruthlessness is transformed by His Holy Spirit and our lives are transformed.
I meet in a weekly bible study when I am in town, with a group of men from a number of denominational backgrounds. But we all recognize our dependence upon God to keep His word in our lives. We all make mistakes and we attempt to correct those things which are in our power to amend. Together we struggle along this pathway of life, but while each of us has daily failures, we can easily recognize God at work in the lives of all the other members. It is never easy for me to grasp the knowledge that with God all things are possible, or the belief that He loves me so much that He wants me to share eternity with Him. When I cannot see any value in my own life, it is extremely difficult to believe that God wants to bless me as one of His precious children. Emptiness, accusations, self-hatred and disbelief are all tools that satan seeks to use in our ultimate destruction. They are choices we make about our own lives, because it is so difficult to believe that anyone (even our Creator) could see any good within us. This process of which I have been speaking all starts inside of each of us, with a decision to ask Him for forgiveness: Then He starts that quiet process of transforming our lives to glorify Himself and to save us from damnation. Everyone on this planet is a sinner. In other words, we have all committed crimes against a loving God no one else is fit to judge your personal value to a loving Creator: Though lots of people will be willing to tell us that we are beyond hope of redemption. They are wrong you are loved.
Don’t take my word for it, check out the truth for yourself. Ask Him directly, deep inside of your spirit to show you the truth, His truth. He will not fail a sincere request from any of His precious children. Including you!
I like to write short spiritual stories and I am going to include one with this letter. My hope is that is blesses your life.
WHO CARRIED THE NAILS TO CALVARY?
As I was doing online research related to this article, I came across an entry on the web which apparently was attributed to an early version of Encyclopedia Britannia. The entry sought to convince and assure its readers that Jesus Christ only carried the transverse member of the cross on His journey to Calvary. That sole entry helped to spur my earlier thought processes about the identity of the individual who carried the nails to the site of the crucifixion. My cursory search revealed no definitive answer, nor has history suggested the names of any likely culprits. Instead we are faced with silence regarding an identity, just like the actual names of those who crucified Him are mercifully lost to history. We are left to examine our own role in the spirituality of His Passion and Death. To that end, these thoughts have been stitched together to further our introspective efforts.
Whether our life journey lasts fifteen or fifty years, we all come to decision points which influence the quality and to some extent, the quantity of our lives. One of those encounters is reflected in our spiritual beliefs and our resulting spiritual awareness. It is not difficult to reason that with the highly developed state of digital communications, spiritual knowledge has generally transmitted its underlying principles. This is true for most of the major religions of the world. But I write about spirituality, not about religious doctrine or dogma. The dynamics of spiritual belief are not tied to specific structural functions. Instead they have a counter-intuitive effect upon the individual who is seeking knowledge of truth.
The last several years have witnessed a new emergence of thought as I find myself reflecting upon the Passion of Jesus Christ. The main aspects of these musings are focused upon the abandonment which He encountered at all levels of society. I would not be surprised to find that there were people in the surging crowds who had previously witnessed miraculous acts which had been performed on behalf of those without hope. Were they able to deny what they had seen with their own eyes? Did His works of mercy become the act of a charlatan? What happened to their emerging faith? Were they just observers who had been seeking entertainment as they viewed His actions and heard His words?
How did those who laid their cloaks or palm branches before Him melt away as believers? Where did they go? Were they just like us, fascinated with the hope that each new claim will bring the ring of confirmation, He’s the one! Did they melt away because He offered no resistance to the thuggery which enveloped Him and His mission? Did they go away sorrowful because He offered no clever plan to conquer His apparent foe’s? It was in surrendering His life, the very Lord of life, created eternal life for those who accepted His gift.
I suspect that with His crucifixion and death, many went away sad and burdened. Their dreams seemed to be crushed in the events leading to His death. That is where faith becomes the essential component of relationship. So many saw his forced subjection to the Jewish leadership and Roman authorities, as a flaw in what He Himself had proclaimed. Surely the Messiah could not be overwhelmed so easily. In that moment of bewilderment, and for no other reason than their fear and disbelief, many who had believed relinquished their relationship because they could not overcome the doubts which rose in their hearts.
I suspect that the one, who carried the nails, was just like you and me. He had heard the rumors of the great things wrought by this Man perhaps he had ever heard the Words of Jesus Christ. But his small faith could not sustain the burden of seeing the condemnation and suffering of the Christ. Surely such things would not be possible. If He was the Messiah, He would not permit this to happen. The small seeds of faith were stolen from the hearts of the ones hoping for the Messiah.
I imagine that he were like many of us, when we feel that we have been deceived or tricked, the response is to lash out in anger at the one who incurred our wrathful response. He is a disappointment, He is a failure, He is a hallow promise, Crucify Him, Crucify Him. In that context of thought, it becomes easy to pick up those nails and assure the centurion “I’ll carry those for you.” I want to join in the process of punishing the One who failed my expectations. I want to vent my fury. “Is that three or four nails we’ll need?”
I imagine that with the completion of the crucifixion, a pall of dread and bitterness spread through the population. It is difficult to picture a holy festival marred by an execution. Instead of a time of making a joyful noise to the Lord, it becomes a time to retreat to the privacy of homes and individual thoughts. I have no doubt that the dreams of many were dashed by the events of that day. Hope was lost, regrets emerged and shame triumphed over all.
What I have come to see regarding spiritual matters is a basic truth that it not influenced by time or controversy. If God has made a promise, He will never be slack in fulfilling His word. When disillusionment fills by thoughts and blinds me to the faithfulness of God, I need time to focus upon the complete works of God in my life. I need only assess my current situation and start to recount the times and occasions He has showed up large in my life.
I encounter the same burdens of life which produce pain and suffering in the lives of others. My personal fears are indistinct from your own. They merely transit from circumstance to circumstance. God promises in His word to be faithful in all things. Stated another way, I have nothing to fear. Remembering this promise in the midst of a crisis is the key to defeating failure. It is hard to hang on to the promise of God in the darkness, or when I am hungry and fearful or when I am alone.
Can you imagine Jesus Christ hanging on His cross? I fully well believe that what sustained Him through His Passion and Death was His belief in the Word of God. It is easy to escape an honest evaluation of those hours of suffering. We can proclaim that His is God and therefore had abilities which were not available to us. That is faulty reasoning since Jesus Christ always possessed His human and divine natures. In His suffering He was 100% human and 100% divine.
I have called on my Savior for help with numerous decisions, struggles, barriers and obstacles that I have encountered during my life’s journey. These include marriage, children, sin, regret, shame, finances, education, employment, forgiveness, addiction, purpose, relationship, mercy, grace, faith and hope. As I ponder His response to my prayers or my outright cries for help, I come to reflect upon His goodness and His rich provision in my life. I am calmed by the realization that He has always been with me. Knowing His presence is within me, I stoop to put down the nails that I have been carrying. I again recognize that He is my Lord and Savior and my peace and wholeness is restored.