Jesus at His Worst Was at His Best

We are over celebrating the Christ child and well into the new year. Now it is time to look for Jesus at His worst. It seems so easy to celebrate the birth of child who comes into the world naked to be wrapped in swaddling clothes. But to celebrate the death of a man stripped naked and nailed to a cross feels disgusting and unnatural. Why should we prepare to celebrate death, just a few months after celebrating birth?

The crucifixion is the purpose of Christ’s arrival. It is not wrong to celebrate His birth, but He did not come for that purpose. His miraculous birth was a setup for His marvelous death. It was the cross where He was hanged and demonstrated that at His worst, He was at His best. He proclaimed: “Father forgive them…”.

His words speak today to my own selfish and corrupt nature. I ignore His command to put others before myself, to turn the other cheek, to forebear, forgive and forget.

If Jesus could suffer for doing what is good, right, honorable and holy in His Father’s eyes, then what about me? He was betrayed and left alone by His disciples who had still not grasped His teachings. He was treated as a criminal for telling the truth, healing the sick, raising the dead and feeding the hungry. He did nothing that His Father saw as worthy of death, but here He hangs and He is at His worst.

He is hungry, tired, in pain and embarrassed to be displayed naked and bruised. In this moment of grief, when He is at His worst as depicted in the Bible, Jesus is at His very best. He demonstrates that best by saying: “Father forgive them”

I need to be at my best when I am at my worst. When I feel let down, misunderstood and not appreciated, that is the time I need the Holy Spirit to dwell in me to help me be at my best. I need to forebear, forgive and forget. I need to be at my best when I feel I am at my worst. The Holy Spirit can accomplish that, if I am willing to ask His intervention.

Luke 23:34-45 King James Version (KJV)
34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Grip of Grace: Grasp of Sin

Grace has a grip on me. Sin keeps trying to grasp me. It is the grip of grace that keeps me from the grasp of sin. Grace is unmerited, protection and favor. I cannot, do not, will not ever deserve grace. Nothing I can do that will earn me the favor of God. Nothing that I say can ever allow me to claim special privilege. The grip of grace is inexplicable, immeasurable, eternal and cannot be conquered by human reason or strength.

It is like the sleight of hand where the enemy of my soul thinks he has me, but somehow God has moved me just beyond his reach. Just when the evil one says; ‘gotcha’ God knew exactly where I needed to be safe from Satan’s schemes. Like trying to hold vapor in arms or stars in hands, Satan has no ability to grasp me when I am in the grip of God’s grace.

Grace is the guiding light when I keep groping instead for the darkness. Grace is the freedom to do the right thing, when I keep looking for bondage of doing what is wrong. Grace is the Holy Spirit given desire to do what is best in God’s eyes when I prefer to do what is good and acceptable in the eyes of mankind.

Sin never stops seeking to grasp, but grace never lets me go. God’s grip of grace holds onto me firmly, even in the midst of the temptations to jump out of His hand. It seems so much easier to do what is right in my own eyes, by my own reason, intuition and instinct. Grace will allow me to fall, flounder and even fumble but will not allow me to fail. That is grace will keep me from losing my relationship with a Holy God because I am in His hands.

Ask God for the grip of His grace. It will keep you from the grasp of sin.

2 Corinthians 12:9King James Version (KJV)
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Ephesians 2:8-9King James Version (KJV)
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

John 10:28-30New International Version (NIV)
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Unwelcome Breadwinner

She can make more money in five minutes lying in bed than I can make in 8 hours standing on my feet. She is the real breadwinner. For the sake of this essay, let’s call him MJ (because it just as well could be me).

MJ looked desperately sad, sitting and waiting for an immediate verdict from the parole board in a few minutes that he knew would take a few weeks. I left the hearing room just as I had entered, not at all hopeful.

The court appointed attorney had tried to make the best case for MJs release. To her credit, it was a straightforward case. He was in the company of known felons who were committing felonious acts. This was not easy for her defend.

One would think that after 35 years behind bars he would know better. His girlfriend accepted but did not welcome him home upon his release from prison. She wanted more than he could give, some bigger place and better clothes. He just wanted someone to hold and hug.

MJ knew that she still worked as a prostitute and was selling drugs from their apartment. He shared his dilemma with our men’s prayer group.

‘I am trying’ he said. ‘I have been out for one year. I want her to respect the fact that I am looking for better paying work. I want her to leave this lifestyle because it is dangerous and it can get me in trouble. I want to protect and provide for her. But the money I earn isn’t enough or coming fast enough and the company she keeps are dangerous ‘clients and customers.’

And as I said she can earn more in bed than I can on my feet. So we argue and fight and I go back to jail.’ The worst part of the whole thing is that I love her and want to help her. Then MJ cried. Who needs a man like me?’

So here he is. One year after his release MJ was locked up again in the same prison for parole violation. Yes, the state was willing to welcome him even if his girlfriend wasn’t.

Now I find myself a witness to testify on his behalf and attest to the community’s willingness to hold him accountable.

‘My testimony: MJ is a consistent member of our men’s prayer group. We were in the process of getting him a better paying job and safer housing. We are in contact with his mother and sister both of whom are willing to send money from their home in Alabama to support him until he is allowed to leave the state. Please give MJ another chance, I plead.’

I guess the parole board members are not allowed to smile. No one says a word and MJ just sits a few feet away, looking at his shoes. I leave the room with no answers.

As I leave I reflect on all of the men and women we serve in the Out Of Nazareth ministries. We have helped some with jobs, driver’s license, resumes, medication, physical exams, criminal records expungement even short-term housing. These come by networking with Christian and non-Christian organizations. Our network is confident that the people we send are genuine.

We have helped men and women find peace in reconnecting with families, get married and even intervened on an attempted suicide.

MJ is not without hope. One day, and I pray very soon, MJ can get the welcome he needs from people who care and become a real breadwinner.

He will do best when he meets Christ as provider and protector.

Did You Find Water?

A Middle East proverb declares that a person who finds water in a desert and doesn’t tell anyone is no friend of God.

That proverb comes to mind when I think of how reluctant those who claim Christ as Savior are to share this faith. If indeed He is the Living Water that cleanses and satisfies our bodies, minds and souls why don’t we share him with a world that is so desperately in need of this valuable resource?

It is a cruel and one might posit even evil person who says they know where the water is but is unwilling to share it.

An eternity in hell awaits some of our closest friends, dearest family and even our casual acquaintances and colleagues. We know the struggles they face here on Earth and the consequences of never having a right relationship with their Creator God. We know where the water is, but we refuse to tell them.

I pray that God would convict us of our reluctance, refusal and neglect to lead people to the source of eternal life found only in Jesus the Christ.

Don’t let another day pass without telling someone where the water is. Their eternity may depend upon you personally pointing them to the Source.

Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. John 7:37 KJV

A Time for Weeping and Dancing

I wanted to cry with him, but he wasn’t crying. It was senseless to cry for him because he didn’t appear sad. He was just very matter-of-fact after having spent over 4 decades in prison. Now at age 58 he could breathe air on the other side of the bars, cement and other barricades. He no longer had to ask permission to come and go. He no longer had a schedule imposed on him when to eat. He could dress in whatever fashion he could afford. The only limitations now were the societal norms and the expectations of the few family and friends who are still around and still alive and willing to welcome him home. These were fewer than he expected.

Both of his parents had died during his incarceration for murder. Yes, it was murder. He did not try to assert his innocence. I was sitting in a room a ]lone with a confessed, convicted and formally ivarcerated murder. I felt totally at ease. I would not have believed it possible 25 years ago to have this conversation face-to-face in a private clinical setting. He described the event to me as though it were happening in the moment. He was angry, grabbed the gun and shot his victim several times. This is not the usual medical history for most of the people we serve.

He did not hesitate to relate these facts. he was very clear. I usually ask routine questions about allergies to medications, previous surgeries, ongoing medical illnesses or family history of such illnesses. I have never thought to ask by the way have you killed anybody lately? I have learned over the years to never ask why they are or were incarcerated. If they want to they will tell you. He told me. It was relayed as easily as he told me about having his appendix removed. It’s just what happened he said. He had missed almost half a century for something that ‘just happened’. A lot had changed. He was just happy to be free. He did not want to miss anything else.

As I examined him I could see the scar from his surgery. As I listened to him I could hear the scars from his life. Both had healed. Both were still tender to examination. He did not wince. He did not cry. I know for certain that physical wounds do heal and are constantly remodeled throughout life. Wounds can get large scars even from what appears to be trivial trauma. A pimple can cause a hypertrophic scar or keloid. And yet a gunshot wound or stabbing may leave an unnoticeable small blemish. It may be the results of the instrument or the intent which caused the scar or the individual body genetically determined defense mechanisms. Multiple trauma to the same site can delay and prevent healing.

I could not begin to properly assess in the half hour we were together the depth or impact of the scars in his life. I still have my appendix and I’ve never murdered anyone. I have never been convicted of a crime. I have never been incarcerated. I have always had liberty to come and go as I please and when I violated societal norms and family expectations. It would be pretentious of me to try to display emotions commensurate with what I assume he was feeling. So, I just listened and examined. I did what I was called to do. Listen, examine and order the appropriate tests. After that I schedule him for the next office visit to discuss results of the tests and order any additional imaging studies deemed necessary.

It is important not to probe scars. It is important to discover only what is necessary. I have learned that there is a time for weeping. This was not that time. This was a time to rejoice with him in his newly found freedom and not relive his past 4 decades. This is a time for laughing and dancing.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to dance.

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Convenient Compassion

A Difficulty of a Serious Nature

When the founders of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 considered whether America should let the people elect their president through a popular vote, James Madison said that “Negroes” in the South presented a “difficulty … of a serious nature.”

When James Madison was writing about the ‘difficulty of a serious nature’, he was referring to the 3/5 compromise which mandated slaves be considered less than fully human for the sake of the electoral process. It seemed a logical stroke of genius for the economic and political stability of our nation.

Before the ink was dry on the signing of the Constitution, it had already spilt and indelibly stained the fabric of the nation. That stain continues to tarnish every decision made when it comes to treating others amongst us as fully human.

People like me of African descent in these United States of America as well as anyone who does not look distinctly European continue to face systematic institutional discrimination. We have always been an ethnic group, a people of color or race of mankind that is either tolerated or accommodated out of convenience. We have been categorized and catalogued based upon the percentage of African blood that flows through our veins reflected in the texture of our hair and the hue of our skin. Because of this we have always been a difficulty of a serious nature in our nation.

From the cradle to the grave we are still deemed a difficulty of a serious nature in this country. We continue to face discrimination in housing, education, justice and very important from my point of view healthcare. As I trained in medicine and surgery I witnessed and participated in the sanctioned use of our black patient and clientele as objects differing only from the cadavers in core body temperature. There were designated hospitals and sections of hospital reserved for doctors in training. There were hospital services and teams solely reserved for people who happen to be of darker skin tone. These discriminatory practices are less overt these days but remain reflected in the life expectancies and quality of care of people like me.

This is an issue from cradle to grave. If our healthcare system and providers could not be trusted and cannot be trusted to exhibit professional integrity and not discriminate when life chances are good, why should we believe it will happen when life teeters on the edge.

Physician-assisted suicide is seen by many as a compassionate response to relieve pain and suffering. I have yet to meet or care to meet a colleague who takes pleasure in seeing someone suffer. We were trained to relieve emotional, physical, psychological and even spiritual pain. Not all of us practice our profession on the front line, face-to-face with families and friends of someone who is suffering. However, I am cautious of being swayed by the wave of emotions that would drown out my professional decision-making.

To actively participate in the death of someone in front of me is a difficulty of a serious nature. Convenient compassion would certainly justify doing so. But I know that this compromise can often be made for the economic and even familial politic. I understand how good intentions signed in black ink for the sake of the individual and family will stain forever relationship between physician and patient. One never knows who conspires with whom to end life.

Suffice it to say that I do not trust in the healthcare system and its providers to make nondiscriminatory choices when dealing with a difficulty of a serious nature. This is especially true if one’s practice is made up solely of helping people die. I can imagine that one would need to be certified in killing. Proper protocols and ethics would be established. But if the practitioner were not paid adequately those boundaries can always be pushed and violated.

Pain and suffering are difficulties of a serious nature. When people of color have historically been denied and continue to be denied adequate healthcare, why should we entrust those same institutions and systems to rule and decide in our best interest? Of course, being of darker skin hue is a permanent, life long, pre-existing condition which all the actuarial tables note. The banks, the justice system, the education system all take note of this pre-existing condition. Should I trust my doctors to determine when I should die?

Physician-assistant suicide represents to me yet another way to rid ourselves of someone no longer holds value. These are 3/5 persons. Putting them out of their misery, taking away their breath allows us to breathe easier. We call it compassion. I call it convenient compassion. My fear is that once we embrace this way of ending life for the isolated few, we will find it necessary to redefine suffering. We will once again have designated hospitals with designated services for designated people. We can harvest their organs at the same time the rifle through their belongings.

I see this as a boon for insurance companies which would rather that I die from my pre-existing condition than use up the benefits that would go to their profits. Families likewise cannot be trusted to rule dispassionately when there are potential financial benefits. Convenient compassion allows the governments to balance their budgets on Medicaid and Medicare and it takes non-compliant, disruptive and complicated patients off of my office schedule. It is convenient for all of these entities and disguised as compassion. It serves the decision makers who can easily coerce even those who are conscious that it is within their best interest. After all, if I am near to death, I can easily be convinced that I should sacrifice my last hours, days, weeks or months for the sake of people who really love me and just want me out of my misery and out of their way.

This is a difficulty of a serious nature. When seen through the eyes of someone who has experienced and even participated in treating people as less than equal, I see where this will ultimately end. I will actively pursue defeating any agenda that seeks to address a difficulty of a serious nature by dehumanizing and killing the person in front of me no matter who advances this convenient compassion. I urge you to do likewise.

Kept From Things: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Our Father keeps some things from us in order to keep us from some things. He has the eternal foresight to protect His children.

Here is one threat you can’t hold over the Creator. You won’t get your way by telling Him you will hold your breath…, unless He does, ____________ you fill in the blank here.

Indeed it is senseless to threaten God with holding your breath, because after all He is the only One who actually holds it.

So to complain to God that He does not give me what I want when I know I really, really, really want it is senseless if He decides that I should not have it. If the Almighty decides to keep some thing from you, think of it as He is keeping you from some thing.

That is the very thing you want so badly is the very thing that so badly wants to control you, dominate and even destroy you. That something can become a habit, an addiction, a dangerous friendship or relationship.

I rarely if ever note what God has kept me from. I only note what He has kept from me. In keeping some things out of my reach, He also kept me out of reach of those things.

When I complain to God about what he kept from me, it is to ignore the fact that He saw the dangers coming with my request for more attention, more freedom, more excitement and more pleasure.

Your Father loves you too much to give into your tantrums. He is keeping you away from some thing or even someone in order to keep some thing or someone away from you.

Matthew 7:9-11King James Version (KJV) 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Psalm 84:11King James Version (KJV) 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

I Can Always Buy Dirt

Whenever I am overwhelmed by the constant sight of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing vicious militias, I go buy some dirt. That is one of my favorite options. It is too much to take in seeing pictures of people traveling barefoot across deserts, oceans, mountains and seas. They are hungry, scared and wearing threadbare clothing. They have been chased from their homes because to stay behind would mean more rape, torture and beheadings. Starvation is constant because even when they have the option of planting in the blood stained mine fields they used to call their farms, there is no time to harvest. No matter how rich their dirt may have been before the war, gardening, farming is not an option.

So rather than continue to focus on their misery, I go buy some dirt. I shop with discernment. I am careful to pick out the best kind of dirt. It must have the nutrients and moisture included in a well-sealed, attractively designed bag. It must not be too heavy for me to carry because, after all, I don’t want to work. This is supposed to be fun.

I then choose the seedlings and a nice part of the backyard to plant my vegetables and my mood is better. I don’t have to worry about mines, dead bodies of mass graves. If my plants don’t come to harvest because the summer sun is too hot, or if I forget to water them, I can just go to my freezer or even easier to the supermarket a few minutes away. Buying dirt is a nice hobby for me.

I suggest the next time you feel overwhelmed about the news of refugees, genocide, mass starvation and all the other bad stuff going on….., go buy some dirt. You may feel a whole lot better.

Proverbs 21:13 “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” 

King James Version (KJV)

Christmas Slaughter Comes Soon

Let’s Put the H back in cHristmas

To most people this is extremely insensitive and even irreverent. But truthfully, the slaughter never really stopped. We ignore the ever present, ongoing ‘massacre of the innocents’ that unfolds daily before us.

In her book entitled Accidental Saints Nadia Bolz-Weber asserts that we need to put the ‘H’ for Herod back in Christmas. “…in a world where suffering is as real as Herod and Boko Haram and Sandy Hook, where people are longing for something to help make sense of their suffering. Pretending that everything is fine isn’t helping anyone…The story about Christmas is as much about comfort and joy as it is about how messed up our world actually is”

We need to tell the whole Christmas story and that story includes the horror and hedonism of Herod.

In the gospel we have this record Matthew 2:16 When Herod saw that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under,

It is the story of the massacre of the untold number of infants that were killed in an effort by King Herod to rid the world of the Christ child.

As the Christmas season approaches, we still do our best to ignore this fact by numbing ourselves in our hedonistic culture.

We hear of children drowning as they try to escape wars. We hear of them starving to death, being bombed, being stolen and sold as sex slaves and a host of other horrors. So instead of thinking too deeply about it, we start planning for Christmas.

What kind of cards will we mail? What will we cook? Who did and did not get a gift? Have we paid off last year’s credit card yet? What did I do with all of the stuff I got last Christmas?

I suggest, we keep the ‘H’ in Christmas. Let it not be Herod and Hedonism. Let it be Hope, Healing and Holy Ghost Hallelujah.

Think about this please. The slaughter is before us and God will hold us accountable for how we ignore or meet the needs of those innocents.