Monthly Archives: February 2015

“Surely Not I, Lord?”

How easily we profess our innocence when confronted with possible wrongdoing. While the disciples were eating the Last Supper with Jesus, he said, “‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’ They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26:21-22

Notice how each one of them protested, yet all of them abandoned Jesus at the time of his arrest. Mark reports that one fled even though he was naked. And, of course, we are all familiar with Peter’s three denials.

Our tendency is to resist acknowledging our sin or wrongdoing. Even when we acknowledge it, we often develop excuses or rationalize our conduct. We resist correction and then compound our resistance by getting angry with the person who is trying to help us.

This occurs in varying ways. It can be a job evaluation that indicates we are not doing our best. Sometimes it shows up in an argument with a colleague when we don’t get our way. We may dismiss our use of negative humor or participating in gossip about the boss. We may go along with a business practice of questionable integrity so as not to rock the boat.

Following a social engagement with some friends my wife commented that I had been harsh with one person in connection with a certain political discussion. I protested, claiming to have been quite reasonable in my comments – “surely not I, Lord.” It took me a while to acknowledge that what counted was not my perception, but the perception of the person with whom I was having the discussion.

No matter how long we have been walking with the Lord, we are still capable of betraying Christ’s presence in us, along with his mercy and kindness. We can deny our wrongdoing, or acknowledge it, seek forgiveness and pray for greater faithfulness. Proverbs 12:1 gets it right when it says, “He who hates correction is stupid.” (NIV)

Do I humble myself and acknowledge when I do something wrong, or do I say, “Surely, not I, Lord?”

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Showing Up

Are you available to reflect God’s presence on a moment’s notice?

Last week a Christian friend mentioned that he was going to Cuba with a Christian group. He said that he wasn’t sure what he would be doing, but then realized that over the years the most important thing he could do was just show up. He said that he found that God’s grace was at work in any given situation or need. It is also at work in us and the people we are with. We just need to be available to bring God’s presence in us to the people and circumstances at hand.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet finds himself in the temple in the presence of God. He immediately becomes aware that he is unworthy to be there, being a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips. An angel touches his lips with a live coal taken from the altar and declares that his guilt is taken away. Isaiah then hears the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah replies, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” He instructed his disciples to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons,” he told them. “He who receives you, receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Mt. 9:35; 10:7-8)

Last year I started to volunteer in a local jail ministry and was recently wondering whether what I was doing was contributing much to the ministry. Another volunteer usually led the prayers and arranged for participation by the inmates. About the most I did was take attendance. Then I recalled that the last time I was there, one of the inmates who was about to partake in the sacrament of reconciliation came to me and asked what he should do since he hadn’t been to the sacrament in years. I told him not to worry, that the priest would gently guide him, but he said, “I know there are certain prayers I am supposed to say and I don’t remember them. Would you write them out for me?” So, I wrote out an Act of Contrition for him.

Several minutes later he came back into the room and his face was beaming. I could tell that he had just experienced God’s forgiveness and renewing grace. He thanked me profusely, but I didn’t do anything. Like my friend said, I just showed up. God was already there.

What Do We Really Need

If Jesus asked you what you wanted him to do for you, what would you say?

That happened to Bartimaeus, a blind man sitting beside the road outside of Jericho, as Jesus and his disciples were leaving the city. When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus passing by, he started yelling, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Those nearby rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder, “Son of David have mercy on me.”

Mark reports that in spite of the large crowd and the efforts to suppress Bartimaeus’ shouts, Jesus stopped. He was willing to let his journey be interrupted by this man. Though he could see that Bartimaeus was blind, he did not presume to act on his need. Instead, he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What an opportunity for Bartimaeus! He knew his need – “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus granted his request. “Go, your faith has healed you,” and immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus. (Mark 10:46-52)

If you were able to meet Jesus face to face, how would you respond to Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Sometimes we don’t know what our true need is. Even though Jesus may know, he may want to give us the opportunity to decide what to ask, for what we ask reveals where our heart is. James suggests in his letter that when we don’t receive what we ask for, we may be asking with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Our physical needs are always more obvious, but sometimes we need other things such as eliminating a particular sin in our lives or offering and receiving forgiveness. Sometimes we ask for the wrong things, like James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when he came into his glory.

Many years ago, a priest suggested that I imagine that I was alone with Jesus and give to him any need I had. For whatever reason, I found myself alone with Jesus on a country road on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm. I asked him to take the disorder and sin then present in my life. Like Bartimaeus, he did so immediately and completely. It was a watershed moment renewing and empowering my faith.

Solomon asked for wisdom instead of riches and God gave him both. I have never asked God for money or position, but he has more than provided for the needs of our family. I have had countless requests for my wife, children and grandchildren, and most of those requests have been answered. God loves to give us the gifts of the spirit described in Isaiah 11:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, and the fruits of the spirit described in Galatians 5: 22-23.

What do you want him to do for you?

Peter Wept

No doubt we have all regretted something we have done or said.  It may be an emotional response lashing out in anger in reaction to a word or action.  It may involve giving into a temptation or weakness.  It may be a careless word offered without much thought.  It may be an action lacking courage taken out of fear.  It may be a misleading statement to gain an advantage motivated by greed or competitive drive.

We are all familiar with Peter’s denial of Jesus following his arrest – a denial which took place only hours after Peter had proclaimed that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or death.  When Peter realized his failing with the crowing of the rooster, “he went outside and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:62

Peter’s failings included pride in his proclamation, fear of being associated with Jesus after his arrest and deceit in his response.  It is ironic that Jesus chose a symbol of pride, a crowing rooster, to humble Peter and make him fully aware of the extent of his failure.

The positive thing about regret is that it is the first step toward repentance.   In weeping bitterly, Peter reveals a repentant heart, which leads to God’s forgiveness.  Some commentators suggest that Jesus’ forgiveness took effect immediately upon Peter’s act of sorrow.  Scripture tells us that Jesus did appear to Peter after his resurrection. (Luke 24:34)  I am sure Peter sought and received Jesus’ forgiveness.

In fact, seeking forgiveness is one of the best antidotes for regret while also helping overcome the hurt and anger in the people often affected by our wrongdoing.

Over the course of my life, I have experienced both actions and words that I deeply regret.  I was recently reminded of one incident in which I didn’t even realize my failing until years later.  It involved an invitation from my father’s boss to a dinner to honor of my father’s retirement from the H. J. Heinz Company after 40 years of service.  I had just taken a new assignment with the company I worked for in New York.  The dinner was in Iowa.  I thought I was too busy in my new job to travel to Iowa to be with my Father while he received this honor.  To use today’s language, I was “clueless” about the Fifth Commandment’s call to honor your father and your mother, to say nothing of the obsessive self-focus that dominated my life at that time.  Like Peter, I bitterly regret and weep over my failing.

While a word once spoken or an action taken cannot generally be taken back, we can take solace in David’s psalm: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12