This one is a day late – apparently, the schedule got away from me but I figured better late than never!

Hubby got a chance to preach at 2nd Baptist this past Sunday.  It was a treat to get to hear him preach again!  But I learned something new from a passage I’ve read numerous times.  Hubby’s text was Matthew 17:24-27.  In this particular passage, Jesus and all of the disciples are in Capernaum. Peter is approached by those who collect the temple tax.  They want to know if Jesus pays his temple tax.  His immediate answer is yes but Peter asks Jesus about it later.  Jesus has a conversation with Peter in which he makes about being the son of God and should he really have to pay the tax to maintain God’s temple . . . but that wasn’t the “new thing”.  Jesus gives Peter an instruction in verse 27 – “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel.  Take that and give it to them for you and me.”

The temple tax was established in Leviticus.  Those men 20 years of age and up were to pay a half shekel to the temple.  Jesus and all 12 of his disciples were in Capernaum.  Jesus tells Peter how he will get a shekel to pay the temple tax for Peter and Jesus.  Only Peter and Jesus.  The implication of this act is that the other 11 disciples are not yet 20.  Somehow, in all my years growing up in the church and the Bible courses I took in college, I missed this.  During Jesus’ 3 years of active ministry, he was surrounded by 12 young men.  Possibly even teenagers.

Here’s the “take away”.  If Jesus entrusted the establishing of the early church to men not yet – or barely – old enough to pay the temple tax, we can certainly trust teenagers to make good choices and impact their world in positive ways.  I’ve always been a big advocate of seeing the best in young people and setting high expectations for them.  And it would seem I have the best of all role models in doing so.  Just didn’t realize it till now.

Looking for Loopholes

“. . . and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  Matt.  6:9 (NLT)

The scripture above is a piece of what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  This prayer is quoted in numerous Sunday morning gatherings across the globe each week.  Our worship gathering is no different but I must confess – I don’t automatically recite the Lord’s Prayer each week when I’m “supposed” to.  The reason is simple – I don’t want to EVER be guilty of mindless repetition when it comes to matters of faith.  I also don’t want to say words I don’t mean with the above being the best example!

Do I REALLY want God to use my level of forgiveness as a measure for how much he forgives me?!  On an exceptionally good day, maybe.  Most days?!  No thank you!  I would be fine with that statement if I was allowed an “exceptions” clause.

“. . . forgive me my sins as I have forgiven those who have asked for my forgiveness.”

Or how about . . .

“. . . forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me and don’t ever do that “thing” I forgave them for again.” 

See, I could handle that statement if I had loopholes like those!  I don’t like the idea of having to forgive those that don’t seek forgiveness or forgiving those who have hurt me yet again.  And most of us, in our “human-ness” would give ourselves (and those we love) those “exceptions” (or should I say “exemptions”).

With Easter nearly upon us, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about events of Good Friday and Easter.  The following passage keeps running through my head:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.  Luke 23:34 (NLT)

Those he was forgiving did not ask for forgiveness. As he was forgiving them, some of them were gambling for his clothes!  If I follow Christ’s example, the purpose of that phrase in the Lord’s prayer is clear and that’s what makes it so hard to say and really mean!!

” . . . forgive me my sins as I forgive those who speak cruel things about me to others.”

“. . . forgive me my sins as I forgive those who apologize again and again for hurtful behavior that never changes.”

” . . . forgive me my sins as I forgive those who hurt me and choose to defend their behavior rather than apologize.”

I know that type of forgiveness is the goal for those that are followers of Christ.  It’s just so hard to live out sometimes!

Identify Yourself

Once  you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.  – Col. 1:21-22

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Eph. 2:10

The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.  – Rom. 8:16-17

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about identity lately. 

I’ve grown  up in the church.  And as a former Pastor’s daughter and a current Pastor’s wife I’m very familiar with every version of expectations that believers can subject one another to.  We’re very good at developing a mental image of what a “good Christian” look like and then imposing that standard on those around us.  Usually it involves a list of “don’t evers” and “you had betters” that we watch others for very carefully.  But if someone else tries to judge us by their standard. . .

We can grow up trying to prove to others that we are good enough.  We spend so much of our energy trying to create our “appropriately spiritual” identity that we never fully grasp the identity that was handed to us the moment we placed our faith in Christ.  And I have spent much of my life trying to figure out exactly how to define my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Every definition I come up with comes from this skewed perspective of having to earn his love.

My recent studying is far from over and I’m certain I do not have all the answers.  But my understanding of my identity in Christ is being revolutionized.

I am fully reconciled to God.  Total reconciliation – no hoops to jump through or checklists to compIete! I was created – the implication in Ephesians is that of an artisan creating handcrafted artwork – with a specific kingdom-focused purpose.  I am a child of God and a fellow-heir of his firstborn son.

My children did not have to do a thing to earn their place in my family.  Once I placed my faith in Christ, the same was true of my place in God’s family.  What does this mean for me in a “doing life everyday” kind of way? 

I need to embrace my identity and live into it.  My choices need to be based not on a desire to earn God’s love but as a reaction to the fact that his love is already mine.  After all, my Heavenly Father is the King of Kings which makes me, as his daughter, a princess. =)  No earthly princess has to earn her membership in the royal family but she does live a certain way because of her identity as the daughter of the king.

This way of looking at identity is new for me.  It’s doing crazy things to the way I look at my life.  It’s a little unnerving to have my paradigm shifted so violently but I’m excited to see where the journey takes me.

From the Heart

Two passages of scripture have been running through my head for the last month or so.  Really, they’ve kind of been chasing each other around in my head!  First one will come to mind, followed almost immediately by the other.  I’ve hesitated to say anything here about it because I’m not sure what to do with the truths contained in the passages.  Not fully sure, anyway.

Psalm 51:10-12

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.


2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This last verse is one that I mull over quite often.  Believers are so quick to say that we need to pray for the corrupt path our nation is on and they often quote this verse.  But read it again.  Carefully.  The church is definitely being called to pray.  But not in the way some want to believe

“If my people, who are called by my name” – this is God talking so he’s talking about those who claim to follow him.  In the original, “Old Testament” writing of this, that meant the nation of Israel.  Since God has expanded his family to include non-Jews, it means all those who claim to follow God.

“Will humble themselves and pray (emphasis mine) and turn from their wicked ways” – this about the members of the body confessing their own sins, not standing in as confessors for a nation.  Believers are called to humble themselves, not humiliate those with a different political ideology.

“Then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin (again, emphasis mine) and will heal their land.” – the sin being forgiven here is not the sin of a nation.  It’s the sin of believers who have confessed.

Like I said, still chewing through these two verses and working on what exactly it is I am supposed to take away.  One thing is obvious – personal confession is something that believers are called to do.  I don’t mean beating yourself up or constantly belittling yourself.  I’m talking honesty – “I was wrong.  I violated your principles and I’m sorry.  Please forgive and restore me.”  After all, we have absolutely nothing to lose with confession. I John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I guess it’s time to see if I’m brave enough to live what I’m learning.  Am I ready to confess and get things right?  Am I ready to own my responsibility and confess regardless of the attitudes and actions of others?   Oh boy.  This might be tougher than I thought!