Just As I Am

Today I ran across the lyrics of one of my favorite childhood hymns, Just as I Am. This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835. One night before a fundraising event hosted by her brother who was a pastor, she lay awake, troubled by her doubts and fears regarding her usefulness and her salvation. The next day, still troubled, she sat down to write her understanding of the Gospel message. The verses which she wrote became the hymn we have today. (This history was found on Wikipedia.)

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliot, 1835

The words of this hymn resonated with me as a young boy and at various times throughout my life. Elliot’s words remind me that I can, and should, approach the Lord exactly as I am. I do not need to hide any part of myself. I do not need to have it all together in some proper way. All I need to do is come. When I do, I am certain to find love, acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing. There is no reason to doubt, fear or struggle in the Lord’s presence.

Never Alone

Life has many uncertainties. No one knows what awaits them the next day, the next hour or the next minute. There are joys and challenges that fill our days. One certainty which is always present is that whatever is in store for us, the Lord is always present whatever may come. We are never alone.

1. When have you sensed the Lord’s presence in your life?

2. How has the Lord assisted you during a challenging time?

3. In what ways do you celebrate your joys with the Lord?

Addicted to the Lord

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Addictions are serious and usually destructive illnesses which can devastate lives and relationships. An addiction is an illness which requires the individual to alter their life in a way which will prevent a relapse once the addiction is subdued. Whatever the addiction, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or sex, the illness is never cured but the person learns to live in a way which does not give the addiction power over life choices and actions. The craving can surface at any point and especially is present during times of stress. Support groups and supportive friends and family can assist the individual but managing the addiction is solely a personal responsibility.

The writer of our passage from 1 Peter speaks of a beneficial addiction. The passage begins by telling the reader listener to rid self of behaviors which have negative impacts upon others. Then the instruction is given to become like babies who crave milk. In this situation, it is spiritual milk. Those things which feed one’s spirit such as: fellowship with other believers, reading of God’s word, time spent in prayer, contemplation of God’s magnificence in nature, engaged in worship and music, and anything else which feeds the soul in a positive manner. This feeding assists in preparing the soul to experience the promised salvation. Once one has experienced the Lord in these activities, the person will be addicted to the goodness of the Lord.

Generally addictions are a bad aspect of one’s life. However, the writer of 1 Peter makes clear that an addiction, craving, of the Lord in your life is a positive one. It is true that once you have experienced the goodness of the Lord, you desire more. The connection is strong. A desire to know more about the Lord grows in a greater way. The hunger for feeling the Lord’s presence and becoming more aware of that presence increases.

The message from 1 Peter is to get hooked on the Lord; become addicted!

The Best

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NIV)

Actors, athletes, and musicians all know that to be successful they need to bring their best to every performance or game. This does not mean perfection each time but their best which they have available. It is fairly easy to tell when someone does not meet this standard. They may appear sluggish or out of sync. Bringing one’s best does not always mean winning or getting accolades. If a person brings their best though, the individual can walk off a stage or a competition venue feeling better than if this does not occur.

The passage for today is a familiar one. Usually the focus is on the act of water becoming wine by Jesus. Today let us focus instead on the words which the banquet master speaks to the bridegroom. He praises the bridegroom for not following the normal practice of serving the expensive wine first and the cheaper wine after the guests are drunk. The master views the wine served after the planned wine runs out as the best. The bridegroom, with Jesus’s help, has brought his best to the party.

Are you bringing your best? When you are at work or go about your duties for the day do you bring your best? How about in your relationships? Does your spouse or partner receive your best regularly? Are your children and family receiving the best from you? What about your neighbors, friends, and co-workers? No one is perfect or is able to do everything without mistakes all the time but are you working on consistency in bringing your best? Do you only bring your best when it will be noticed?

Then there is the relationship which you have with the Lord. Is the Lord getting your best everyday or are you saving that for just when you are in a church building? The Lord definitely deserves our best every day. Instead of getting what we have at the end of the day or week, the Lord should receive the choicest of what we have available. This was the concept of the first fruits which the Hebrew people followed. The Lord is not requiring perfection from us, just our best.

Shelter

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NIV)

The winter months remind us how fortunate we are to have houses in which we live. The winds and elements can be brutal this time of year. Our houses provide protection from whatever the weather may be like, not only in winter but throughout the entire year. The house in which we dwell also offers a sense of safety for us. We have less to fear from those who wish to do us physical harm or attempt to steal our belongings when we are secure inside our house. For those who do not have a house, they are susceptible to the ravishing weather extremes or those who would bring harm upon them. Fear is a constant part of their lives.

The psalm for today speaks of the protection which is found in the Lord. In reading this psalm, one can understand the desire and request made in verse 4, a request to live in the shelter (house) of the Lord throughout life. The reason for such a request is the knowledge that with the Lord is protection. Being with the Land also presents the opportunity to learn the correct way to live and remain safe.

The house, apartment, condominium in which we dwell provides protection for our physical selves. Living in the shelter of the Lord provides protection for our spiritual being. Like the psalmist we are led to give thanks and have confidence in what the Lord  has provided for us both physically and spiritually. We must also be mindful of those who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to these two forms of shelter. Wherever, and however, we maybbe able to increase access, our mission should be to make it so.

Be grateful for the shelter of the Lord and work to increase access for all people.

The Challenge

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night which we set aside to remember the incarnation of God. There are many stories told about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Some of these stories come from the words found in two of the Gospels. Most of what we hear about events surrounding Jesus’s birth are a combination of Gospel accounts, the Prophets and some folklore. All of this together creates a beautiful and cherished story. The accuracy of the story has no bearing on the truth of the story — God chose to become human in the person of Jesus.

In the letter to the church in Philippi, we are reminded of this truth. Jesus, the Christ, is God choosing to humble God’s self and assume a human identity. The profoundness of this is not duplicated in any other faith tradition. As a complete act of love, God chose to allow Jesus to die on a cross to remove the burden of sin and the power of death forever. This human was then exalted to the place of highest honor in God’s kingdom and given a name above all names to whom every person will bow and declare as Lord. This is the purpose of the story told on this night. Declaring the truth described in the portion of the letter to the Philippians, is why we set aside tonight as holy and combine the words of Gospel writers, prophets and human experience into a story of love.

The challenge we receive this night is to become imitators of Jesus, the Christ. We are to humble ourselves and become servants to humanity. Our words and actions are to communicate the love of God as Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Our lives are to point to the One whose name is above all names. The world should see us bow before and declare Jesus Christ as our Lord.

Sing Praises

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 (NIV)

There are people throughout history whose stories are passed from one generation to the next. Julius Caesar’s actions and details of his life have been passed on through over twenty-one hundred years. Other historical figures who have had their achievements and thoughts told in stories from one generation to the next include: King Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Nero, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Stalin, Hitler, Harriet Tubman, and the list goes on. This list does not begin to include individuals recorded in the Bible or other religious figures such as Buddha or Muhammad. Some of these people have songs written about them and their lives. These songs can shed a positive or negative light upon them.

The song which is our reading today is a song of praise. There is  commitment to praise the Lord daily. The greatness of the Lord is declared unfathomable. Generation after generation will tell the accounts of the Lord’s mighty acts. Each generation celebrates the goodness and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord shows grace and compassion instead of anger. All receive goodness from the Lord. The kingdom of the Lord endures forever in splendor. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. For anyone in need, the Lord is there. Anyone who cries out will be saved. All of this creates a beautiful image of the Lord.

Each day we are given  the opportunity to sing the praises of the Lord. We can create our own list of reasons to sing praises, just as the psalmist did here. We also have a responsibility to tell the next generation of the Lord’s work in our lives and in the lives of others. Our stories and songs should communicate to the next generation the character and nature of the Lord. May we speak the praises of the Lord for ever and ever.

Identity Question

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20 (NIV)

Try an experiment, Google your name and see what comes up. I do this on occasion just to see what type of information about me is readily available on the internet. I also have discovered who else shares my name and I learn something about them. We are creatures who like to be known in varying degrees. Many of us are curious about what people know and what they say about us. Jesus was not different than us in that way.

Reading of Jesus’s conversation with a group of disciples causes us to take a step back to consider how each of us might respond to the question. Who do I say that Jesus is? My answer says a lot about my view of my relationship with Jesus. The answers may be different depending on how I am interacting with Jesus at the time the question is asked. There might be elements of my response which are always the same along with some varied additions. The answer may also be impacted by who is asking the question.

Peter responds to Jesus that he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This reply causes Jesus to declare Peter as blessed since no human has revealed this but only the Father. This revelation and response leads Jesus to proclaim Peter to be the rock on which the Church is to be built. It also provides the keys of heaven and the power to bind and loose things on earth which will be duplicated in heaven. Peter’s answer defines who Peter becomes and the authority given to him.

This brings me back to how I respond to Jesus’s question. I begin by affirming Peter’s response but go further in declaring Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. These titles require a lot of unpacking which I will not do here. My response also defines me and the place Jesus is given in my life. While the words in my response come from my faith journey within the Church, the way I am impacted by their truth is beyond words and is embedded in my spirit. This flavors the choices which I make, the relationships in my life, and the interactions which I have with others.

Now it is your turn. Who do you say Jesus is?

Imagery

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c]
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:4-20 (NIV)

The city in which I currently live is the home of some amazing art museums. I have enjoyed going to two of them so far, one containing American art and the other one containing art from world renown artists including Monet and Picasso. I enjoy viewing the work, imaging what the artist is trying to communicate, and reading the information on the card next to the piece. Imagery is an amazing way to communicate a message. I struggle with abstract art because it is difficult for me to find the message in the imagery. 

Our passage today comes from a book of the Bible which can be confusing to some readers. The writing here is filled with imagery because it comes from a vision. The intent is to communicate a message, a telling of a story. Today we read about the very beginning of the vision, John, the one who is having the vision, finds himself in the heavenly throne room of God. He hears praises being sung, declarations of the wholeness of God made, and sees seven golden lampstands. Among these lampstands is a human whose description seems to indicate he is Jesus. John is told to write down all that he sees and hears so it may be shared with the churches. At the sight of the man, John falls to the ground because he realizes he is in a holy place before the Lord. The Lord touches John’s shoulder with the hand containing seven stars and tells him to not be afraid. Continuing, he explains the stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches. The imagery here is magnificent. The use of the number seven in the Bible is meant to represent perfection and wholeness. Having the Lord stand among the lampstands communicates that the Lord is among the churches. The lampstands remind us that the role of the churches is to bring light to the world. The stars provide the reminder that there are messengers from God in the churches. As a whole, we are given a set of messages through the imagery of John’s vision.

Receiving a message through imagery is great but more important is what we do with that message. When an artist uses imagery to communicate a message, the intention may be to remind us of the beauty of creation, or it may be to make us aware of the plight of certain people, or it may be to prompt us to remember an historical event. If this message is received by us and we are moved to action or better educated, then the imagery works. In the words of this section of Revelation, we are reminded to be lights to the world, that the Lord is in our midst, and to listen to the messengers of God.

What are you going to do with this?

The Heart

I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.

As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.

Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.

While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.

Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.