I've been really blessed the last few days - even while sleepwalking through the holiday season - with some amazing people who are really mentoring and really challenging me to grow this season.
During one of our last small group meetings of this past semester, a discussion arose in answer to a barely spoken prayer to God. After the meeting, I emailed one of the people there and since then have been really blessed by all the information he has passed along. Most recently, he has lent me his copy of, "Cries from the Cross". Since he has loaned me this book, I'm trying to put my other reading aside and spend time in this book so as to return it quickly. It's a great book that has really challenged me to carry my cross and most importantly understand the cross. There is a reason it is offensive to those who don't believe - from it's brutal death to the exclusion of those outside of Christ and everything in between. He reminds me that that part of my cross that I refuse to carry - is what makes me ineffective for the kingdom, that I - as a forgiven sinner - was there at the cross when He was crucified because if I wasn't, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the grace of God. While all these things have kept me chewing, wondering, pondering - what really has struck me is that the cross is not just a part of a message - it is the message. Why did Jesus have to die such a horrible death? Why was Jesus cutoff from fellowship with the Father? Because of our sin. The author reminds us that while wicked men killed Jesus, it was God who planned it. Of course, we also know the reason God put Him there was because of our sin. Our fallen nature. When we begin to really examine, ponder, chew on, and spend time with the cross - we realize that no sin is small or minute - because that same sin nailed my Savior to the cross. My sin made Him beyond human recognition. We cannot celebrate God's amazing love for us and yet not understand the magnitude of our sin and it's effects. Amazing. In today's modern culture - it's easy to shop a carte for your beliefs. "I'll take God's loving grace for sending Jesus, but I'm going to block out the horrible death He endured and why and what it all really means and entails."
Another close friend read to me from the book, "In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas". In the passage she read, it explained a visit from one nation's queen - she brought over the top amounts of suitcases, staff, even I believe 40 pints of blood just in case she needed a blood transfusion. She came with pomp and indulgence and everyone knew that she was visiting this country. Yet, contrast this with how Jesus came to visit us. His entrance to reside with His creation for a time was not overwhelming - in fact, most missed it. In today's devotional, the author writes that there was "no room in the inn" for Jesus because no one knew Him they did not stop and make room for Him. Yet how much more does He rightly deserve when He came to visit than a queen or other leader? Yet how humble was His entrance? While I rush about making holiday plans, trying to fit everything into an already tight schedule - this reminds me that none of what I'm doing is the priority - but rather Christ. Who came humbly to a manager and rejected by His own people, died on a cross for the world because He loves us. Do I have room for Him? Elder Maxwell, of the twelve apostles of the LDS church once commented, "Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus!" (Settle this in your hearts, Ensign November 1992). This coming year, this coming season - will we choose to make room in our hearts, our lives, our daily walks for Jesus?
Finally, Grace Point has partnered with the City Mission of Las Vegas (a Christian ministry outreach) and this Saturday will be feeding the homeless. In this past year, God has surprised me by laying the homeless on my heart. Not saying I've never felt anything for them - but I've never had a desire to work with them. I volunteered to help out and was asked to go down to the City Mission and pick up some paperwork for our Saturday event. I was so broken by their humble surroundings - over my years of being in a church, I've taken for granted all the luxuries I've had. From taking for granted that our church had a building, to taking for granted that our church is taken care of, how nice it is, everything. But I was quickly reminded that not all ministries are as blessed as Grace Point is - or perhaps I'm still missing the point and I'm not seeing the blessings where they really are. The mission had a building, it had a pantry of food, it had a chapel for people to worship, read, study, or just quietly spend time with the Lord. It is still around. But what really blessed me was listening in on a Bible study while I waited. It was a phone study, so I only heard one end of the lesson. I was actually dissappointed when Linda (the contact I was to meet with) appeared and sent me back on my way.
What really touched me was a parable of Jesus' that I had never heard before. When I came home, I promptly looked up the passage.
"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." (Matt 9:16-17)
She began talking about how many will say, "I'm a born again Christian, I'm a Baptist, I'm a Lutheran," etc and so on - but how they are merely pretending. That they haven't given the old man over to Jesus, they haven't had a new heart created in them - and after awhile the weight of what God wants for them and their lives will began to wear on them. These words really pentrated me and I wondered - to what point do all of us pretend? Even in a church where being real, faults and all is always encouraged - to what point do we still pretend? A couple I know recently went through quite the naked experience - and yet, I've never seen them happier, more joyful in their worship, and unshackled by the Lord. Because their pride and pretense was stripped away, they lost chains they didn't even know they were carrying. Are we all prepared to allow the Lord to strip us naked and walk before Him? Or in our pride, do we cling to bits of cloth here and there to keep up the pretense? How real are we with our church family, friends, related family, or even God? Do we lean upon ourselves or do we really lean upon the cross?
Sleepwalking through the season I've got plenty to think about, examine, challenge myself and remember in daily living. On one hand I may be ungrateful that I have this pre-lit six foot tree that I struggle to assemble, puff up, and decorate - but then the Lord reminds us of the simple message of the cross, it's daily impact in our lives, and how we like the wineskin - we have to stop pretending - even before Him - and come to our knees at His feet, examine the markings, and come to truly know Him.
Everyday I cause myself to be exhausted, stressed, frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed. Everday Jesus offers me His hands to hold, His arms to be embraced by, His feet for carrying me, and His grace to love me regardless of my continuing choices to sin. Everyday that I can remember and focus on that - all else falls away for amazement for my Savior and room in my inn of a heart for His love.