"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
February 20, 2013
This morning as I write, my heart is extremely heavy and aching. I'm not sure why this subject matter is on my mind today, but who am I to question God?
I am on Facebook often, and enjoy it as a means to keep in touch with family, friends, and old acquaintances -- whether they be from high school, church, or wherever. It is nice to have a way to share news about marriages, new babies, prayer needs, or just funny incidences.
But what saddens me is how many are using it as a platform for political opinions, racist remarks, blasting our president and the government, gun control, and often reposting stories about situations or people of whom they personally have no knowledge. Granted, I don't agree with many things our president says and does, but I don't think the way to handle it is to "share" negative post from someone else and pass it around. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders; and if we would spend as much time doing that as we do criticizing then we might see positive changes take place.
Most post these type of comments/stories with the attitude that they "have freedom of speech", and although that is true, it is the attitude with which they share these things that bothers me. It seems as if it is often done with a self-righteous stance, that no one is going to tell them what they can or can't say and they are going to boldly speak their opinion, and don't care what others think.
Another thing that bothers me is when individuals "share" pictures and stories of individuals who have committed crimes, and the story is generally along the lines that we need to keep that person behind bars and not let them out of prison. Most of them are scare tactics to cause people to be afraid of someone that they know nothing about or have no knowledge of their case, past, or how they are currently living their life. In fact, most times you don't even know whether or not they really committed the crime that the story accuses them of, or if they were innocent and someone posted the picture/story to get back at them for something else totally unrelated.
What really bothers me, is that these type of stories always seem to be posted by Christians. How can you post scriptures, thoughts of God's forgiveness and mercy and grace, then post something judging an individual that you know nothing about or other negative types of comments/pictures? If you say you love God and are a follower of Jesus, then it has to be more than words. It must be reflected in our actions, speech, and every day behavior and thoughts. If not, then we are the same as the world. Perhaps Satan is using this tactic to get the church sidetracked and their focus away from ministering to the lost.
I'm sure we have all heard stories of men and women in prison who have committed adultery, horrible crimes, drug abuse, or other sins, then professed to have repented of their sins and have become a Christian. How often have we made judgmental, critical remarks about that person, that they likely are only saying that to try and get attention or to sway a judge or jury? Do we believe them and thank God for working in their heart, or do we judge them as being a fake?
We often will believe God for miracles of healing of sicknesses and disease, but then doubt the salvation of someone who has done something that we consider horrible and vile. Do we not believe that God is big enough to change the heart of an individual and forgive them of their past sins and give them a new life?
It's easy to say the words, but another thing altogether when we are faced with having to deal with it on a personal level. When we hear or read testimonies, we may praise God and think how wonderful it is that someone has had their life changed so drastically. But what if that person were to attend your church and sit on the pew beside you? Would you be fearful of them and not want to associate with them, wishing that they would attend another church instead of the one you belong to? Would you befriend them and show the love of Christ to them, or would you shun them and stay as far away from them as possible in fear of "what if they really haven't changed"?
If we want to truly show the love of Jesus to the world and try to live as He did, then we can't pick and choose who Jesus can or can't forgive. 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord does not want anyone to perish, but desires that everyone come to repentance. All means all! That means the child who receives Jesus at a young age, the one who has been obedient and never got into trouble, the one who was raised in church by godly parents; but it also means the murderer, drug addict or drug dealer, sex offender, thief, arsonist, etc.
In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus was being criticized for eating with tax collectors (who were known for their dishonesty) and sinners. Jesus' answer was, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." He goes on to say, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
In fact, Jesus was referred to as being, "the friend to sinners". He didn't just hang around with His twelve disciples, or His family, or those who believed the way He did. Jesus befriended those who were lost and in need of a Savior. He ate with and hung out in the homes of sinners. He loved and showed compassion and had mercy on those who had committed crimes and were the vilest of sinners. Jesus knew that the only way He would be able to reach them and share the message of salvation was by spending time with them and showing them a genuine love that was pure and not tainted by negativity and judgement or criticism. I don't believe that they sat around and discussed how horrible and corrupt the current government was, or how they didn't like the new laws being brought into vote regarding weaponry, or about segregation/racism, or how evil the world was becoming, or how the children of their day were rebellious, etc. That may have been the current events of the day, but Jesus' main concern was the salvation and spiritual condition of the hearts of men and women. All else was secondary to seeing the lost come to believe and accept forgiveness of their sin. That should be our main concern today!
It doesn't matter how much you give or help out others or how active you may be in your local church. If you are sacrificing your time and/or finances, but yet lack mercy for the sinner, then what are you really accomplishing for God? He desires that you show mercy above all else. The spiritually healthy don't need a "doctor", but it's those who are spiritually sick that need Jesus to come and pick them up and forgive them and show them His abundant mercy.
Paul wrote more New Testament books than any other individual. We read them and are encouraged and challenged. But do you remember the type of man that Paul was before he become a preacher?
In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul writes, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all." He wasn't just being humble or trying to make others not feel so bad about their sins; he was speaking first-hand from personal experience of a horrid past.
Before becoming a follower of Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Before his conversion, he hated Christians. He would capture Christians, then bring them to public trial and execution. Saul was present when Stephen, who was a young preacher, was stoned to death. Acts 7:57 through 8:1 speaks of this. After stoning Stephen, the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. It says that Saul was consenting to his death.
Acts 3:3 says that Saul made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. He learned about their Christian friends in Damascus, so intended to go there to bring those people to Jerusalem as prisoners in order to punish them.
The Bible doesn't go into in-depth detail as to what all Saul did to the Christians when he arrested them, but I'm sure he was probably very arrogant and and harsh in his treatment of them. He may have relished beating and striking the men and women, in order to show his power over them. I don't know this as fact and there are no scriptures to back this up, but it may have even been possible that he physically abused some of the women sexually. I have wondered if perhaps that was why he chose later to never marry. He ordered Christians to be cast into prison for no other reason than their faith in Jesus. I'm sure they in actuality didn't have much of a trial. Then Saul oversaw their execution. I don't know what all ways he chose to have them killed; and perhaps he did it differently so that they would be unsuspecting and whatever appealed to him at the time. And what of the children who resided in the homes? Were they also killed or were they left in the streets as orphans? The point is: Saul/Paul was an evil, vile sinner before coming to Christ.
How can God forgive and call someone into the ministry who was so evil; especially someone who killed His [God's] followers and who had done nothing except put their hope and faith in Him?
Had we heard of Paul's past and had family members who had been arrested, abused, and killed by him, how would we respond to the story of his conversion? Would we immediately believe it and forgive him? I sincerely doubt it! When we heard that he was coming to our hometown to preach would we leave our chores undone and spend the day walking to wherever the location was in order to listen to his spiritual wisdom and insight? Probably not! If we went, it would likely be because we truly didn't believe the stories we've been hearing about him and want to go see for ourselves. We'd probably show up with a judgmental and critical attitude. And we'd be spending our time looking around to make sure this wasn't a trick. In fact, many did think that it was a trap and were afraid of Paul when he came to their town to preach.
If we had family or friends who had been executed by Paul, when we heard of his imprisonment, would we be praying for his release so that he could continue his ministry, or would we secretly be elated? Would we think, "Finally! After everything he did to my loved one(s), he's finally getting paid back! I'm glad he's a Christian (after all, we have to keep it spiritual because God knows our thoughts), but I'm also glad that he's getting a taste of his own medicine so he can see what it feels like. He shouldn't get away with everything he did in the past, just because he's decided to change his life and become a preacher." If we heard that he was beaten by the guards would we feel just a tiny bit vindicated? We would probably feel that we were justified in our judgmental, critical thoughts against Paul.
We read the books that Paul wrote and think, "Wow! He was such a strong man of God that I'd love to be able to sit down and visit with him!" But these people didn't know that Paul's letters would be put into the Bible for future generations to read. They didn't know the impact that his words would have for millions of people. The majority of them may not have even known that Paul had written all those letters to encourage churches. They were living in the present and only knew what they heard and saw. I'm sure that many of them, who knew of Paul's reputation, questioned his salvation and never truly believed that he had sincerely converted and was preaching the gospel.
Were Paul living in our world today, how would we respond to him? If he had been a crucial part of one or many of our loved ones being imprisoned and killed for their faith, would we welcome him into our home or our church? Even though we heard of his conversion and vital ministry to the church, would we want to go hear him preach? If he walked into your church would you shake hands with him, welcome him, and invite him to eat dinner with you? Or would you be critical and judgmental and want absolutely nothing to do with him?
See we "think" we would enjoy visiting with Paul and hearing all his great spiritual insight and wisdom, because we have a collection of all the letters he wrote to the various churches and know how the story ends. But if we didn't know and were living in the present time with him, how would we feel? Many missed out on a great friendship and on hearing and seeing the godly wisdom that God gave Paul, because of their preconceived ideas of what he was like and their fear of him.
When we hear stories or know of someone who has sinned and has a past, how do we respond to them? If we know that someone has been in prison, do we want to know all the details before we accept them as a brother or sister in Christ and welcome them into the family of God? I know what most people's respond to this will be: "Well, you have to be cautious nowadays; especially if you're single or have kids or grandkids........" But are we so overly cautious, that we treat those who have greatly sinned in their past, to feel as if they are lepers or outcast?
At times, there may be someone in the church who may have had a horrible, sinful past before coming to Christ, but no one knows. They may be likeable and everyone will shake their hand and make them feel welcome and want to be their friend. But what happens if someway, somehow the sins of their past are reveal and you find out that they had been in prison for murder, a sex offense, thievery, etc? Surprisingly, there will be those who will immediately have a change of heart and begin treating that person as a leper and want nothing to do with them. Some will even comment, "Well, I knew that there was something about that person that wasn't quite right!" A few will even begin thinking back to see if possibly they "saw" something that was questionable -- and if they try hard enough, will come up with something, quite likely imaginary, that they will begin "sharing" with others in order to cast suspicion. Instead of thanking God for His miraculous change in the heart of an individual and seeing how He gave them a new life and fresh start, there will be a few self-righteous individuals who will be critical and judgmental and take it upon themselves to cast doubt upon the character of that man or woman.
When the woman was caught in the very act of adultery (which makes me question exactly how those who caught her were were doing there) and brought before Jesus, what was His response? "He who is without sin cast the first stone." How can we throw stones at others and condemn them, when we've all done things and made choices that have been sinful? We often tend to think that our sins and our past is not as great as that of someone else who has committed acts that we find abominable and horrid; and if we're not careful we tend to make our own sin out as not being so bad because it's not big in our own eyes when compared to others. But sin is sin, and it all needs to be brought under the blood of Jesus and repented of. Aren't you glad that Jesus doesn't classify sin and freely forgives them all?!
I pray that we will each choose to love others that way that Jesus loves us; and that we will choose to put into action and demonstrate the mercy that He has asked us to show to others.
There is a song that sums this up. It is "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" by Mark Hall and Matthew West and performed by Casting Crowns. The lyrics are very powerful:
"Jesus, friend of sinners. We have strayed so far away, we cut down people in Your name. But the sword was never ours to swing. Jesus, friend of sinners. The truth's become so hard to see. The world is on their way to You, but they're tripping over me. Always looking around but never looking up; I'm so double minded. A plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided. Oh Jesus, friend of sinners. Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be led by mercy; help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus, friend of sinners. Break our hearts for what breaks Yours. Jesus, friend of sinners. The One whose writing in the sand made the righteous turn away; and the stones fell from their hands. Help us to remember we are all the least of these. Let the memory of Your mercy bring Your people to their knees. Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against, when we judge the wounded. What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines, and loved like You did. You love every lost cause. You reach for the outcast and the lame; they're the reason that You came. Lord, I was the lost cause and I was the outcast. But You died for sinners just like me; a grateful leper at Your feet. 'Cause You are good. You are good. And Your love endures forever."
I've had someone tell me once that he didn't like me because I was a Christian, and that "Christians think they are so perfect."
Wow, that couldn't be further from the truth. At least for real Christians. If we really follow Jesus, and believe in Him, we also believe what He said. When He said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (King James, John 8:7), He knew that no one was without sin, so no one could throw the first stone.
It isn't that we are perfect, but we strive to be better than we had been. Hebrews 10:14 says that Jesus, by his offering, has perfected those who believe. But that's in a different sense. We aren't without flaws here, but in God's eyes, we are cleansed of our sins.
Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf
(When I used to cook meatloaf I'd just make up the recipe as I went along and sometimes it turned out good and sometimes not. After trying this recipe, it is the one I always make now. Jon and I both love it and it is by far the best meatloaf either of us have ever had (This is just our personal opinion -- everyone has different taste! And Jon's opinion is that bacon makes most everything taste better.) I half this recipe when making it for just me and Jon. And the leftovers make great meatloaf sandwiches the next day, if you like that sort of thing.)
1 cup whole milk
6 slices white bread
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup (heaping) freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry's brand)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup minced flat-leaf Parsley(I use the spice when I don't have fresh -- maybe a teaspoon or so)
4 whole eggs, beaten
10 slices thin/regular sliced bacon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour milk over the bread slices. Allow it to soak in for several minutes. Place the ground beef, milk-soaked bread, Parmesan, seasoned salt, salt, black pepper, and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the beaten eggs. With clean hands, mix the ingredients until well combined. (Getting in there with your hands is the best way to get all the ingredients combined well!) Form the mixture into a loaf shape on a broiler pan, which will allow the fat to drain. Line the bottom of the pan with foil to avoid a big mess. (I don't have a broiler pan so just make it in a regular pan and it turns out great -- I just drain off the excess grease/juice after it cooks.) Lay bacon slices over the top, tucking the ends underneath the meatloaf.
Sauce for topping:
1 1/2 cups Ketchup
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Ground/Dry Mustard
Tabasco to taste (I leave this out!)
Make the sauce. Mix all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir well. Pour 1/3 of the mixture over the top of the bacon and spread with a spoon.
Bake for 45 minutes, the pour another 1/3 of the sauce over the top. Bake for another 15 minutes. Slice and serve with remaining sauce. (I don't do this -- I normally pour 1/2 of the sauce on at the beginning and the rest on towards the end. Sometimes I just dump it all on and spread it over the top at the beginning and forget about it until it's done! And I adapt the amount of sauce I make according to the size of meatloaf I am making.) Drain off excess grease/juice if you don't have a broiler pan -- or you can try to remove the meatloaf from the pan and put on a serving dish.
Serve with mashed potatoes (you HAVE to have mashed potatoes with meatloaf!!).
The month of February has a lot of memories for me. The first memory happened in 1971 when I was five years old. I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit during a revival at our church. I used to have the exact date written down, but can't find it. I think it was around the 21st, but could be wrong. I remember Mama kneeling at the altar beside me. I was being blessed and feeling good and didn't want to get up. Mama finally leaned over and whispered, "It's okay to get up now!" Her legs were probably falling asleep from kneeling so long; or she wasn't sure if I was staying there from being blessed or because I thought I had to.
The second event happened February 22nd, 1981. My Mama passed away early that Sunday morning, after battling colon cancer for 7-8 years. I was 15 years old at the time.
My sister, Janie, and Jimmy were married on February 5th, 1982. I was honored to be maid of honor at their wedding -- on a cold, snowy day!
Lastly, Jon proposed to me on February 5th, 2005. My oldest sister, Joyce, and her oldest son had brought Daddy and June to visit Janie. Jon and I went over for lunch, then later when I left the room to use the bathroom, Jon asked Daddy for permission to marry me. Jon was a tad more reserved back then, and Janie asked him, "Are you going to propose now?!?" My family was shocked, but excited that he would do it in front of them and that they would get to witness the proposal. When I came back into the room, Jon got down on one knee and proposed. I was happy, happy, happy!!!
I tried to live from good to great..... epic fail..... now I'm living from good to grace. - Luke Lang
We love you!
Loretta & Jon