Monday, May 31, 2021

Do you need a new identity?

What do a fisherman, a leper, a paralytic, and a tax collector have in common? (No, this isn't the opening line of a joke!) They all gained new identities through humble faith in and obedience to Jesus. 

In Luke 5, Jesus encounters these men and changes their identities and lives. He meets each of them amidst their "normal", and afterward, their lives are renewed, restored, and repurposed into a new normal.

Some of us are like these men today. Some of us need new identities amidst struggling to find a new "normal" in what is hopefully the end of what could be argued as the greatest pandemic in history. I believe we can find guidance in our quest from Luke 5. 

Simon and his mates had been hard at work all night fishing with nothing gained. I can only imagine their physical weariness after dealing with heavy nets and the disappointment of lacking success. Jesus told Simon to go out into deep water and to let down the nets for a catch. Simon obeyed and received a haul so big the nets began to break and the boats began to sink! Simon then humbled himself before Jesus, acknowledging his sin. After what was possibly the biggest catch of Simon's career, Jesus told Simon, "Do not fear; from now on, you will be catching men" (v. 10).  Simon (along with his partners James and John) left everything--his livelihood, his success, his "normal"--and followed Jesus. Simon gained a new identity through his obedience to Jesus. Sometimes, we, too, must go out into the deep waters and pull up everything we have--our past, our sins, our disappointments, even our successes--and lay it all at Jesus' feet. 

Luke 5 continues with a leper encountering Jesus. This man was covered with leprosy. He was full of leprosy. I imagine this man had been sick for decades to be that affected, given that the disease spread slowly. Lepers were banned from normal society, labeled as "unclean", shunned from physical contact and personal interaction, and required to announce their presence by shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!" to clear the way before them. The leper fell on his face before Jesus, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean" (v. 12). I can hear the desperate tone of his voice, knowing Jesus was the only One Who could help him. The first thing Jesus did, before He spoke a word, was touch the man. I love that. I love that Jesus saw that man's every need--not just for a physical healing, but also an emotional healing. Jesus then said, "I am willing; be cleansed" (v. 13). The leprosy immediately left the man. He was no longer a leper. He gained a new identity through his faith in Jesus. Sometimes, we, too, need to be desperate for Jesus to touch us and to meet us where we are, just as we are, trusting that He will refuse to leave us the same way. 

Luke then writes of the paralytic and his persistent friends. The room in which Jesus was teaching was so crowded that these friends lowered the paralytic on his stretcher through the roof and down right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgave the man his sins and healed him, saying "Get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home" (v. 24). The man immediately obeyed and was healed and went home glorifying God! He received a new identity. He was no longer a paralytic. This story reminds me of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda whom Jesus healed in John 5. Jesus asked the man if he even wanted to be healed. Sometimes, God is waiting on us to obey--to pick ourselves up and get moving--rather than embracing our excuses and relying on our limitations. And, sometimes we need friends to step up and help! 

The last member of our repurposed ragamuffin band in Luke 5 is a tax collector named Levi (also called Matthew). Tax collectors were not popular people. They had a reputation for taking more money than was due in order to line their own pockets, not to mention working for the detested Roman government! Verse 27 tells us that Jesus went out of the place where he had been teaching and had healed the paralytic, and he noticed Levi. Jesus simply said, "Follow Me," and Levi got up from his tax booth, left everything behind, and followed Jesus. Subsequent verses tell us that Levi hosted a big reception for Jesus in his home. Levi left his tax collector position and became a disciple of Jesus, gaining a new identity, along with continued criticism! Sometimes, we have to not only leave everything behind, but also bravely embrace our new identity, in spite of criticism. 

So, do you need a new identity? I hope these four examples have encouraged your heart and provided guidance for your journey. Trust that Jesus is willing and able to heal and to restore you. He loves you, just as you are, right where you are, yet He loves you enough not to leave you the same. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Perspective and Peace

 It's no secret that I am extraordinarily clumsy. In fact, I was voted "Most Likely to Have Freaky Accidents" in my handbell choir. I will say that I've been enjoying a nice, long streak of being accident-free. I broke, literally shattered, that streak yesterday morning. 

I know better than to be anywhere in our house without my glasses and some sort of footwear, but I was in a hurry to finish getting ready for the day. I was in our kitchen and had already made my post-run protein breakfast smoothie. I started making my morning coffee and reached over the smoothie glass to grab the container of collagen powder to add to my coffee cup. Without my glasses on, I misjudged my angle. I knocked over the smoothie glass, and it shattered all over the kitchen tile. Lots of glass. Lots of smoothie. 

I was too afraid to take a single step because I couldn't see well enough to avoid the glass. My field of vision was one, big blurry mess. Fortunately, my husband was in his home office at the time. I called him, and he immediately came to help. God bless him. 

The first words out of his mouth were not words of condemnation, insult, anger, nor shame. He simply said, "How can I help?" I asked him just to get me my glasses and my slippers so that I could see and safely move to begin the cleanup. After he retrieved my glasses and slippers, he stayed to help me gather the glass and mop up the mess. 

As I was mopping, sweeping, and vacuuming the kitchen, I said, "God, I'm sure there's a lesson here for me to learn, other than remembering to wear my glasses and slippers." I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me: "That's just like Jesus." 

When I make a mess of my life, when I am blinded and too afraid to take a single step, He is there. When I call Him, He comes immediately. He doesn't speak words of condemnation, insult, anger, nor shame. He doesn't just give advice and then walk away. He stays beside me, helping me with the cleanup. He clears my vision by offering His perspective, and He protects my feet with His peace and guides me in paths of righteousness. 

Oh, for grace to love Him more. And glasses and slippers.