Prayer of Gratitude

I am in awe of You, Lord, that You would call my name from among the millions of others You could speak. I am grateful for it. Even when I ran like hell in the opposite direction, alone and lonely, confused and afraid, You called to me, reaching out to take my hand and draw me toward You. Your loving kindness has blessed my life in so many ways – ways that I’m still discovering – that have lifted me up, when I needed lifting and knocked me down a peg, when I’ve gotten too full of myself.

Thank You for choosing me, Lord, for seeing in me what I could not, what I would not see in myself. You have brought me in and covered me with Your mercy, given me purpose, given me life.

From a parched and dry land you have led me to streams of “living” water that I may drink fully of Your grace. You have fed me with the bread of Your presence, Your mana, the mana that is every word that comes from Your mouth.

I will praise Your name all of my days, until my last breath.  ~ Amen

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Based on Matthew 18:12-14 ( The Parable of the Lost Sheep), “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury is a favorite of mine and is the inspiration for the above prayer.

What About The Law

Many Christians today don’t think they should follow the law, because they reason, they are covered by the blood of the lamb, and therefore are not in need of the law. We don’t need to follow the “Jewish” laws, because that’s legalism, and isn’t legalism what Christ taught against, when he called the lawyers and teachers of his day hypocrites?

Is this, in fact, truth, or just something we want to be true, something we tell ourselves in order to justify our own idea of what God’s plan entails? What about the Ten Commandments? Christians certainly believe in those. Are they not a part of the law? Christ himself said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). In fact, he goes on to say that “not one pen stroke of it would pass away until God’s purposes were complete.”

So what about the law, and what does it mean to be under the law? I heard an excellent example the other day from Adam at The Parable of The Vineyard YouTube channel, and it went something like this:
When you drive your car down the street and you go the speed limit you are abiding by the law. But let’s say you roll through a 25 mph school zone at 35 mph and you get pulled over. The police officer gives you a ticket, and a summons to appear in court. You are now no longer abiding by the law, but are under it. You can only be under the law, when you violate it and a penalty has been assessed, in this case a fine.

So, let’s also say that when you get to court, a concerned parent from the school offers to pay your fine, and all he asks in return is that you abide by the law, and not speed in the school zone. The judge then releases you, and are once again living according to the law. Now, when you leave the court, do you immediately go out and race through a school zone again, or do you think of the concerned parent who paid your debt?
Here’s the paradox: If we live by the law, we are not under it. It is only when we break the law that we find ourselves under it, because breaking it, like living by it, has consequences.

This is how it is with Christ. We acknowledge that he paid the penalty for us, but does that mean we are free to ignore the law, say that it doesn’t matter, because Jesus paid and I don’t have to? He told the adulteress, when all her accusers had disappeared, “Go, and sin no more.”

God’s commandments are not an arbitrary set of rules that we can follow or not according to our own desires, but an expression of the attributes of love, God’s love for us. In total, he gave Israel, his set-apart people, 613 commands. Of those 613 rules to live by, He wrote the first 10 with his own hand, which suggests they must be pretty important. In fact, all 613 can be encapsulated in those first ten. They are how we show God our love, and how we can also reflect His love to others. And, the ten can also be subdivided into just two, the two Christ spoke of in Matthew 22, when he said all the law could be summed up by this: Love God, and love your neighbor.

“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” One to four are all about loving God.

1. You shall have no other Gods before me. Number one is about loyalty: Love is Loyal.
2. You shall not make for yourself graven images, no idols that you might bow down to or serve. Number two is about faithfulness: Love is Faithful.
3. Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain, don’t misuse it, do not bring God’s name to naught. Number three is about reverence: Love is Revenant.
4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Time set-apart on a recurring and regular basis to spend with God. Number four is about intimacy: Love is Intimate.

“And the second is like unto it; love your neighbor as yourself.” Six to ten are about loving your neighbor.

5. Honor your mother and father. Show them you are grateful for all they have done for you, indeed given up for you, and that you value their guidance. Number five is about respect: Love is Respectful.
6. Do not commit murder. This one seems straight forward, right? But it’s not because it also applies to gossip as gossip is, in reality, a form of murder, since it assassinates character. Number six is about harmlessness: Love is Harmless.
7. You shall not commit adultery. Keeping sacred the special bond of marriage that is the foundation of the family unit. Number seven is about purity: Love is Pure.
8. You shall not steal. Taking what does not belong to you is the epitome of selfishness, and emphasizes getting rather than giving. Number eight is about generosity: Love is not selfish, but Generous.
9. You shall not bear false witness. Don’t speak falsely, lie, speak unjustly, or devise ways to deceive others. Number nine is about truthfulness: Love is Truthful.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. We should not crave nor desire what is not ours. Number ten is about contentment: Love is Content.

Christ tells us in John 14:15, “If you love, keep my commandments.” 1 John 2:5 says that if we keep doing what he (Jesus) says, then love for God has truly been brought to its goal in us, and we are also told in 1 John 5:3 that loving God means obeying his commands, and that his commands are not burdensome.

~SLM

About Goats

In the parable of the sheep and goats, we are told that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the nations will be gathered before him, and he’ll separate everybody from one another on his right and left, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then he lists the things that landed them among either the sheep or the goats, and the interesting thing is the list is exactly the same, except team sheep did the things he listed and team goats did not.

The thing about goats is this: They don’t know they’re goats. They go about their daily lives thinking they know who they are and where they stand in God’s eyes. They go to church almost every week, and they remember to say a prayer when they need something. They give their old clothes to Planet Aid and might even put a few bucks in the big red kettle at the Holidays to, you know, help out the needy. But, they don’t get up close and personal with it. They don’t act as if their life depends on it. Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my father in heaven wants.” What God wants is for us to “love Him with all our hearts, our minds, our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.”

What makes us sheep or goats is whether or not we are willing to show kindness to the person on the street corner holding a cardboard sign, to buy them a “Happy Meal” or a bottle of water, or warm coat to wear when it’s below freezing outside. It’s whether or not we’re willing to stike up a conversation with someone we dont know, but looks like they could use a friend, and perhaps buy them a coffee, or whether we find time to spend with someone who is ill, diabled or in prison. It’s about our actions, about having compassion on those around us, about helping the poor schmuck lying in the ditch, robbed and half beaten to death, instead of passing by on the other side of the street, so we can feel justified in our inaction, because, you know, we don’t really need to get involved with all that drama anyway!

God lists the attributes that make us sheep in his eyes. He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner, not because he wants to show us how to save ourselves – His grace and His mercy are sufficient for our salvation – but because it’s what He would do. Lutheran theologian and Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away,” and it occurs to me that when we do these things, it’s not so much about loving those in need, but about loving God by our interactions with them. We do them to show God how much we love and care for Him, and in so doing, we automatically love our neighbor as ourselves.

~SLM

The Year of the Whale

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“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:1-3)
Sometimes, Jonah is the story of our lives. We know what we are supposed to do, we know what is required, but somehow, we just can’t see our way to it. We run, heading off in the opposite direction, believing we can flee from it. But fleeing doesn’t necessarily involve going somewhere else. We can flee and never leave the comfort of home, because ignoring something, neglecting it or procrastinating is also a form of escape, a mental one. When we focus on anything and everything, but what we know we are called to do, we are just as guilty of fleeing from God as Jonah was, only without having to pack any bags or pay a fare.

Whether it’s physically or mentally, usually running away doesn’t turn out so well. Sooner or later, our actions cause the people around us anguish, putting them in distress for our sake, while we slumber through the storm, until we are roused from our stupor, are tossed into the raging waters, and find ourselves in the belly of a beast.

At times, we have to get to the very end of our rope, before we even consider that we may have made the wrong move, and in those times, we usually have to crash into the tumultuous seas of consequence, before we look up, before we remember God.

So what can we do, then, from the depths of our denial? Jonah’s answer was prayer. He prayed for forgiveness, for mercy, for repentance and thanksgiving, promising to turn back, to remember God and to make amends by saying, “what I have vowed, I will pay,” because the thought of being banished from the sight of the Lord, was scarier than setting out to do His will.

Jonah knew that submitting to God’s will is a hard task, costing us everything, and on occasion, even our very will to live. Maybe that is why we resist, because it doesn’t turn out to be what we hoped or longed for, what we expected for our lives, but is exactly what we knew He would do, what we expected of Him.

No matter how far we run, or how many times, the Lord, in his mercy pursues us with His abounding love and grace. He patiently waits for us to turn, to realize how fully we live when we submit to His ways, reeling us back into his presence with arms wide open.

And for his mercy, I am grateful beyond words. Praise God.
~SLM

Everything Beautiful

The other day, a friend of mine posted on Facebook this quotation by the father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, and for some reason, I felt compelled to reply – the post and reply follow:

The Post;

jung

The reply;

Sally Mitschke Then feed your soul, love yourself and forgive yourself as you would do for all of these, for we are all imperfect beings striving to grow into the best versions of ourselves.

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This is not to say, go ahead and make excuses for yourself, but to understand that even though we make mistakes, take a wrong turn, or do things that, in retrospect, we’re not too proud of, we still need to nourish our souls, to feed them with wisdom and truth, with compassion and faith, with “good vibes” and friendship. We need, also, to give ourselves the gift of forgiveness, to recognize that we all have value, and that what we must do is “love” (as in accept) ourselves, everything about ourselves, the great and the not so great.

I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:11, which states,   “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  We are each a beautiful work of art; an abstract painting that changes with distance and light, a piece of clay being molded by the loving hands of a master potter, a woven cloth of individual threads, our strengths and weaknesses, embroidered together in such a way as to produce an exquisite tapestry of life, of kindness, of fallibility, and of love.

~SLM

Be Kind…, tenderhearted, forgiving…, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

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What Love is: A Litmus Test

It seems that the world is upside down right now, that everything is wrong side out and backwards. We want the madness to stop, but we’re at a loss as to how. We say we want to get along, that we want peace and love, but from the virulence and frequency of the bombastic and self-righteous screeds that are posted every day to facebook, twitter and any number of “social” forums, it is clear that most of us have no idea of what we’re doing or why. We want desperately for things to go differently, to head in a new direction, the direction of unity, but it seems we’ve lost our way. We don’t know anything about kindness, tolerance and love, or if we had ever learned, we’ve forgotten, developed a collective case of CRS (can’t remember shit), as if modern life has divorced us from knowing, understanding exactly what it means to love.

So how do we know what love is? It sounds like a simplistic question, but is it really? We think we know what it is; we think love is about the sentiments reflected in a popular song, quotes by the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, a warm and fuzzy feeling about our friends and family, or a heart shaped emoji we use to react to our friend’s posts. But, love is so much more than these, greater than our trivialities. It is the one thing that never fails, and is perhaps the most challenging feet we could attempt in our lives. And, we do know what it looks like, because we’ve been given a litmus test for love, a laundry list by which to check our actions. The test goes like this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We must test everything against this standard, continually asking ourselves; is it patience or is it pride, is it kindness or cattiness, is it truth or rumor parading as truth, does it persistently hope for the best or is it flip and conceited, is if faith-filled or self-filled? If the words we speak (or type) cannot pass this test, if they are unkind, conceited, ill-mannered, selfish, proud, a diatribe of what’s wrong, we are not speaking from a place of love.

Here’s what else we’ve been told about love:

Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18

But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44-45

If we are jealous, act impatiently, are brutish, or delight in situations that prompt us to say “ain’t karma a bitch,” we do not know love. If we take it upon ourselves to “get even” with those who would do us harm, we are not coming from a place of love, but of darkness and hate. What then, do we do with hate? There is no reasoning with it, any brute force or mighty action that can stop it, because hate is not the cure for itself. There is only one antidote to hate, only one power mighty enough to stop it in its tracks: Love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If we love one another, we don’t give up on each other. We aren’t gleeful or smug when evil things happen to others, even when they are our enemies. We continue to hope for the very best with all the patience in the universe, because that is what we have been called to do, what we’ve been commanded to do,  and the example we are expected to set as a follower of Christ.

~SLM

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it appropriate for this post – thank you Danny Gokey for this beautiful song!

Shemitah

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Sometimes, what we need doesn’t exactly line up with what we think we need. Our lives are filled with highs and lows, with straight paths and twisting, rock-strewn passages that take more stamina and fortitude than we are even aware we possess. It brings to mind Ecclesiastes chapter 3. The one that starts with “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time…” 2015, for me, was a time to be silent, to be reflective, in short, Shemitah.

As we count down the end to 2015 and look forward to the New Year, I’d like to share a few thoughts on my time-out, my Shemitah year.

  • When you promise God that you’ll do something, it’s best to be faithful to that promise lest he force you to keep that promise by any means necessary.
  • True forgiveness is a very hard pill to swallow, but once you’ve choked it down, I mean really let it go, there is such freedom in it, compassion, love, and joyous peace.
  • Trusting in God is something that has to be actively practiced EVERY day. It’s hard sometimes to give it over, but every time you do, it turns out to be soooo much more than you could ever have imagined.
  • Actively loving others is hard, very hard, and without God’s help, we pretty much suck at it!

Shemitah is a time of respite from your labors, a sabbatical; it’s about the space in between, the quiet void that speaks more loudly than the words that surround it, about what we learn through contemplation rather than action, about faith in God rather than our own earthly wiles and abilities, and why we are needed instead of what we need.

I look forward to resuming my postings in the coming months, and wish all a happy and fruitful new year, and may your 2016 be blessed beyond measure.

Shalom

~SLM