Apr 7, 2012

He Came Unto His Own


The last few weeks my life has been different. No, it may not be noticeable on the surface, and some who believe they know me well might not even catch it, but something happened recently to change me.

I do not think I am a better person, or that somehow I have reached a greater plateau but one morning a few weeks ago,  I had an experience that wakes me up in the night.

I grew up in church. There were times I even fell asleep on the pew. Good times, and a few times where I didn’t really want to be there, but there are lingering memories of days gone by that molded me into the person I am today.  Is that a good thing? I am not sure some days. I am human and I have my faults, but there beats within my heart a purpose that regardless of how I feel at any given moment, I know where I belong.

I have heard the sermons of the prodigal son, the good shepherd, and the crucifixion. My eyes have been swollen with tears as my mind painted a vivid picture of Christ hanging on the cross. I saw the beating of those thirty nine stripes across his back for my healing, and at times I do not understand why I struggle with health issues because I know the power in each of those blood spattered scars upon his back.

I have heard the wails of an old saint burdened down in intercession for a lost soul. Maybe it was their child, their husband, or perhaps just the burden for the lost was so intense the moan came not just from their lips but from the utter depths of their soul.

But did any of it change me?  Yes, to a large degree I have lived my life in the shadow of the cross. I have been the good child, that never really desired to stray to far from the altar. I wanted to be about ‘my Father’s business.’

Growing up in a pastors home was not an easy life. Back then, pride was not allowed, and a self-righteous spirit would have been quickly scolded. We were taught respect for the House of God, as well as the ministry. And if we took the name of Jesus in vain, well if we didn’t get a stern look, the shame we felt later when we were closing our eyes to sleep pricked our hearts with guilt and tears would flow down as we apologized to God for our behavior.   But we were still human and we made mistakes.  I have regrets to this day of my attitude, and some things I said or did that may have changed the course of someone else’s life. If I could, I would go back and change it, but that didn’t change who I was.

Like many when they reach the teenage years I rebelled. Oh, I never really did anything of consequence, but when it came to singing solos or being part of the choir, getting up to speak was not going to be my thing. I had no desire to be a preacher. If anything, I ran from it.

Yes, I had seen the good parts, but I had seen the struggles as well of my parents, and others in my family and close to me that were ministers, and I didn’t want any part of it.  A few years later I had a different feeling about it all, but at the time I had other dreams and goals.

I did all the things I was supposed to growing up. I even took some time to go to Bible School, and met some life long friends there.  Looking back I had many experiences that would later shape my life. Moments of excitement when I would preach and see souls come to God. Instances where I would pray for someone and feel the anointing so strong and see them experience their healing.  There were many good moments of ministry, and there were some heavily burdened nights of agony when I realized that the mission was a soul, and they seemed unreachable.

The last several years have been very hard on me. Health issues as well as personal trials at times have dropped me to my knees to where I thought I could not handle anymore. I began to understand some of the conflicts with self and the flesh that surely Jesus must have felt in the garden and on the way to Calvary.

Do I think I was tried like Him? No, but some of my experiences I believe have left me uniquely aware of the agony and perhaps at times, hopeless feeling He must have had. 

Around Easter every year for the last several years, I always feel a sense of guilt and questioning.  I will never really be able to completely ignore or erase these feelings not because of what I did but because of what I did not do.

It was many years ago when I was very involved in the ministry of my church, and I had taken a night to go watch a Passion play at a local church. Our church never put on any really big program, and it was not a church night so I didn’t think it would be an issue if I went for the one performance.  Little did I know that that experience would affect me many years later.

I think I went with a couple church friends, but to be honest I do not recall any of them. The impact that was made in my memory was not about who I went with, but rather a couple events that transpired while I was there.  The production was good. It covered a good amount of Jesus’ life in small glimpses, and then was more detailed when it got to the time Christ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (yes, they had a donkey in the church), the Last Supper, and hanging Jesus on the Cross. But the moment that stands out in my mind was the Garden of Gethsemane scene.

Even though I had grown up with this message, and spent my life trying to do the right thing, and reaching out to others even to the point of ministry, that moment in time still brings tears to me even as I write this.  I felt like I was experiencing the agony Jesus was under as He prayed for the cup to pass from Him.  Paintings of Jesus in the Garden typically show a figure of Jesus with a beam of light showing down on Him from heaven. They depict him most often in some flowing robe with a calmness about Him.

But that wasn’t the way it was in reality. This was the moment of His greatest agony. This was the moment He was most human. I believe he writhed about, sweating, crying, maybe even screaming, as He begged for the pain He knew must happen to be taken away. Perhaps there was another way for mankind to be saved?

His clothes were disheveled, probably torn, and certainly dirty as He knelt, or lay upon the ground pouring out everything He had. Maybe He walked a bit in similar fashion to many old time preachers who would pour their souls out to God against the wall of the old church building, or stood there with His eyes turned down as many do at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

No one really knows what it was like, but it wasn’t pretty. It was an old fashioned prayer meeting. I have been to some of those and they aren’t happy or joyful events most times, but they are burdened cries in the darkness, and stammering lips pleading with God for a soul.

The difference was, even though His closest disciples were with Him, He was all alone. At the Passion play I experienced this in living examples. I saw the agony He was going through, while those who should have spent a little more time with Him, knowing He had just given a heart rending speech to them at the Last Supper, knowing change was coming. But instead, they slept.

Looking around, He noticed, and walked over to gently wake them. He asked them to please pray with Him. He was in the hour or His greatest need, and instead of rising to the occasion, they slept. 

Have you ever really thought about that? When we pray, we are the ones asking God for something, but at this moment in His humanity, Jesus asked for something for Himself.  What if we were met with the same response when we asked of Him?

Again, He came to find them sleeping, and again asked for just a little bit of time for them to watch and pray with Him. And then finally a third time, He came to find them asleep again, and He let them sleep as the hour was that He was to be delivered unto the Priests and those that were determined to take His life.

To me, that is one of the greatest moments in the Bible.  He became most human at that moment and was in need, and those who were closest to Him, turned their backs. Yes, it is true that just a few hours later, Peter denied and even cursed Him, but this was a moment forever etched in my mind as life changing.  I recall the tears in my eyes as I realized just how alone Christ was at that very moment.  His very own people missed a huge opportunity to know Christ on another level.

A few minutes later I missed an opportunity as well, and it comes back to me every Easter.

At the end of the production, they invited people to come to the front for the ‘Sinners Prayer’ and I stayed where I was since that is not what I believe, but I recall seeing a young woman who couldn’t quite make it up to the front but was standing with tears streaming down her face, her mascara running, and obviously being moved by the spirit.

My heart told me to pray with her, but I was not a minister there, did not even believe the way most of the audience believed and so for me to step out when it ‘just wasn’t my place’ seemed like an irrational thing to do. I stayed in my pew, and saw her slowly make her way more forward and disappear into the crowd.

I will never get that moment back. I will never know what happened to that young lady.  I had a moment where I could have perhaps changed a life, and I didn’t take it. And for the rest of my life, I have to live with it.

Now, I am sure some are saying but you are taking one moment in time, and God understands. Surely, He does, but I could have made an effort. And I didn’t. I am just as guilty as the disciples who slept while Jesus poured out His soul.

He Came Unto His Own

John 1:11 states, 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’ Jesus was not really accepted by his people. Sure, there were many who showed up when He was handing out miracles and doing good, but of the thousands who followed Him for teaching and miracles, only a handful were there always, and then when He needed them, they slept, they cursed, they denied they even knew Him.

Pilate wanted to let Jesus go. He saw no reason for Jesus to die. And if you notice, it wasn’t the poor, the hungry, the hurting that were screaming for Jesus to be crucified, but rather those in the ministry. It was some of those who He fed on the hillside. Perhaps one of those He stopped to hold their child as He ministered to their needs.

It was those who He encouraged and expounded the scriptures with that turned aside and even clamored for the death of Christ. Can you imagine? It wasn’t the Roman soldiers that wanted Jesus to die. It was those who were His own people. The church wanted Him gone. They didn’t like knowing He could see through their traditions and theologies. They felt threatened by what He knew and the authority at which even nature responded to His voice. They couldn’t let that continue. They had to destroy Him.

I have experienced similar behavior myself from some church leaders. Some of you know a lot of what I have been through but for the most part I keep it to myself. I haven’t ever been pushed aside by those we would call ‘the world’ or even other denominational Christians, but rather by my own people. I am certain that I am not the only one who has experienced this. If we are living the way we should and trying to make a difference in others lives, then it won’t be the outsiders or sinners that will attempt to cause us strife, but rather those that are counted among our own people.

We have preached it for years that our churches are supposed to be a hospital for the hurting, a shelter for the homeless, a comfort for those who feel alone. But instead many of our churches have become so bottled up with our own personalities and philosophies that many times, even the message of Christ does not reach the lost.

James 1:27 says, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’

Understand this; I believe that there should be a respect for the House of God,  the ministry, and of course for Jesus Christ. I believe that some of our ideologies and even what we consider traditions were put in place for a purpose. They are not just some self-righteous rant by someone who decides that their way of living is better than the way someone else lives or dresses. There are some definite guidelines in the Bible that laid out for our direction that should not be messed with regardless of rationalization or lifestyle. Living Holy is still the way to go and it should not be compromised.

However, some have become so caught up in trying to build a dominion and grand edifices to the Lord, that they have set aside the very purpose of Christ. They have forgotten the very reason He came. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to heal and deliver. He came unto His own, and they rejected Him.

Maybe it is the Easter season and while I should be celebrating the fact that He rose again, my spirit is grieved within me.  There are situations in my personal life that trouble me, but not to the extent I wake up crying and burdened the way I am with seeing the lost upon the streets of my city.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, wars, strife all around us as the Bible says will be in the end of the age, and yet our church pews are being emptied out to make way for fellowship halls, basketball games, and to some extent open only to ‘those who can pay the cover charge.’

It seems the days when most of our churches were filled with the poor, the elderly,  and the children are quickly being taken over by those who would rather see the church as a business  or event center instead of a hospital. Many churches have went to one service on Sunday and have become so depersonalized chances are you don’t even know the other person at the end of the pew.

If Jesus were to walk through the back door would He even know it was a service? Or would He feel displaced because there was no one there like Him?

See Jesus was a homeless drifter. I know how that sounds, but He said, ‘Foxes have holes,  and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath no where to lay his head.’  Luke 9:58

And He came unto His own…

How many missed opportunities have we had? Are we losing sight of being a witness, or even just encouraging our brother and sister? Are we too busy to even notice the soul that is nearly gone? Not just the ones on the street corners, but the ones sitting next to us in the pew?

A few weeks ago, I was changed. I have noticed a greater number of people on the streets begging for money or work with their signs. It never used to be a common sight where I live. The few we saw were quickly rationalized to be drug addicts or lazy, and most quickly drove past.

At times, I have actually seen some who have turned begging on the street corner into a business. I watched one climb out of his motorhome, walk over to the corner with his cardboard sign, and stand there hoping someone would give him money.  My spirit wanted to tell him to go find work, but most of the time I didn’t really slow down I just kept driving.  But then one day it was different.

I was headed to Wal-Mart to buy a few groceries and as I rounded the corner I saw him. He was wrapped in several blankets pushing an old shopping cart filled with various odds and ends, and holding a small sign that simply said, ‘I’m Hungry.’ He was straight out of a movie, with a greying matt of hair and beard, an old stocking cap, and worn shoes. I don’t know how far he had come because I had never seen him there again.

I never really slowed down until I got to the doors of the store and I felt pricked in my heart. I had seen countless begging on that same corner and felt nothing, but this time was different.  Payday was quite a ways off, and the amount of money I had at the moment was meager but I couldn’t shake it. I was headed to the back to get my few items as usual, and on the way to the front I put most of them down except for the carton of water and went over to where they sell sandwiches.  I picked out one I would like and headed back outside.

I looked off into the distance where he had been standing and he was gone.  I knew I had to do something, so I went a few blocks out of my way to find him. I got out the vehicle, approached him with a sandwich and one of the water bottles. A tear came to his eye and he stuttered out, ‘Bless You.’

As I got back into my vehicle and drove off I felt different. I am not saying this to brag, and it brings tears to my eyes just reflecting on it, but in that old homeless mans eyes were a gratefulness that I hadn’t seen from anyone in a really long time. I felt guilty because I am not more grateful for what I have.  Sure, like anyone I have trials and tests. I have bills to pay, situations that only God can handle, but I should be more grateful. I should be spending more time worshipping and being loving and kind. I am striving to do better, but I know it’s a process. It won’t happen overnight. But I am changing.

See what I learned was this, ‘It isn’t a sacrifice unless I have to give something of myself to make a difference.’  I should be more willing to sacrifice after all Christ sacrificed everything when He took on Calvary, for me.