Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Look of a Servant

“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  The she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”  Luke 7:37-38

I love this passage.  In my mind it is easy to imagine this scene: the “sinful” woman knelt down behind Jesus as he reclined at the table full of men, sobbing tears dropping from her chin onto His feet, her efforts to wipe them clean with her hair hanging down around her face as she knelt.  The scriptures don’t say, but I wonder if she’d originally brought the perfume with the intention of anointing Jesus’ head.  I wonder if she surprised herself with the emotional outburst that came when she entered into Jesus’ presence that evening.  I wonder if she ever struggled to not feel embarrassed once the evening was over and she thought back to how she’d behaved.

In all of my times envisioning this scene, I have maintained a certain picture of this woman.  In my mind, I have generally imagined her to be dressed in older clothes, with dirty, unkempt hair, her face and hands smudged with old dirt.  I have always assumed her to be obviously poor, perhaps considered “un-touchable” by the other men in the room that night.  I mean, after all, she was a “sinner”.

But as I was reading this passage recently, a few new questions came into my mind that have me reconsidering my original assumption about who this woman was.

The first, and most obvious inconsistency in my mind’s picture of this scene:  If this woman was so poor, and dirty – if she was such an outcast from society – what was she doing at the Pharisee’s home?

What kind of person – a woman no less – would be allowed to just come into a Pharisee’s home during a dinner party and not immediately be told to leave?  The Pharisees were very careful about the type of people with whom they spent their time – especially when others were watching.  Any person who had such freedom to come into this party and to behave in such a way without a word of rebuke from anyone would have to have been an important person, likely from an important family, and likely with a lot of money.

Though, even if all of these things had been true of the woman, I still have to ask myself:  Why did the Pharisee allow a known “sinner” to attend a dinner party at his home?  Of course, we have no room to speculate on this question too far, but I can’t help but to wonder what were the reasons that the Pharisee’s were so willing to look the other way regarding the sins of this woman and to allow her such freedom in their community.  Was it her heritage?  Her money?  Her physical beauty?

Further, and much more difficult and convicting for me to wonder, however, is how this woman could have had such a presence among this society of church leaders – those who had publicly committed their lives to serving the Lord – and have never received freedom from the sin in her life?

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to pose these same questions to the church today – to my own self and the work to which I am called, in fact.  Have we as church members/leaders today become so dependent on the provision of man that we, too, pick and choose the types of sin – the types of “sinners” – we “excuse” in our church so as to better meet our own needs?  Have we become so entrapped by these earthly provisions that we’ve become willing to look the other way in the face of the oppression and enslavement that so obviously controls those in our company?  Do we allow individuals to suffer in the darkness of their sin, separated from their God, due to our fear of losing the earthly, material things they provide for us?

In my time in Kaliningrad in prayer ministry – and throughout the past year as I’ve seen God open more and more doors in that area of my work here – it has not escaped my notice that the great majority of the men and women with whom I am working do not fill the profile that I would typically assume for a “sinner”.  In fact, every person on whom I have laid my hands and for whom I have prayed for healing this year has been what we often refer to as an “active” member of a church, either in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, or Tallinn.  Many of these people have been long-time leaders in their congregations, including pastors and their wives.  Most of them have made great sacrifice to follow the call of God in their lives, especially through the western, non-Orthodox church.  Their church is their family – the most important people in their lives are those to whom they minister.

In Luke 8: 1-3, immediately after this story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus, we get to learn a little about some of the people who were traveling with Jesus in His ministry in these days.  Luke tells us that the disciples were with Him, and verse 2 says that there were also some women traveling with Him “who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.”  Included in Luke’s short list in vs. 2-3 are Mary Magdalene – who had been delivered of 7 demons – and a lady by the name of Joanna, who Luke indicates was “the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household.”

The manager of Herod’s household?  Herod Antipas?  The same tetrarch of Galilee who’d had John the Baptist beheaded and who Luke says in 9:7-9 later feared Jesus to actually be John himself raised from the dead?  The wife of the “manager of Herod’s household” was traveling with Jesus’s crew to other villages, and – per Luke’s account in 8:3 – even supporting Him financially?  Wow.  I don’t know why, but the image of this very wealthy and influential woman going to Jesus for healing and then sacrificing so much in order to follow Him and serve Him through her wealth and affluence came as a surprise to me.  And also with it came the confirmed conviction about the definitions I have set up regarding the types of people I should be serving – the face of those who are the broken and mighty in the Kingdom of God.

Let us be careful to care for orphans and widows in their distress.  Let us always reach out to help the materially poor and destitute as God leads.  About these things the scriptures are clear.  But neither let us neglect those who are the leaders and pastors in our churches, or are the powerful, influential members of our communities, or are the closest members of our very own personal circles.  We must give these people room to be broken sinners with the rest of us.  We must allow them to receive the grace of Jesus Christ in their lives.  We must allow them to come forward and to weep furiously and wonderfully at the feet of Jesus – in front of all of us, without condemnation, judgment, or question from any of us who’ve come to put them on such a high, untouchable platform.

I am so grateful for the love I feel for and from you.  Many blessings in Christ – Miki

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Forgiven Much

“But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

Earlier this month I took a few days away and went off to the Russian region of Kaliningrad to spend time in prayer ministry with a couple of churches there.  Kaliningrad is a Russian port that is actually located in Europe, on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.  I know of only a few people who’ve ever visited there, and I really didn’t have much of an idea on what to expect.

So you can imagine how surprised I’ve been in the weeks since returning home at all of the emotion and grief and spiritual struggle I’ve encountered as I’ve attempted to process my experience there.

This is no place to share specific stories of those with whom I’ve prayed.  I don’t feel it would be of much more than entertainment value anyway – something that would evoke a strong emotional response perhaps, but really have very little significant, long-term impact in each of our walks with God.

What I feel is important for me to share, however, is a little of my own struggle and experience of God through this time in Kaliningrad.  I intend to do that over the course of a few entries in the next few weeks.  I wanted start today with something I’ve touched on before – the incredible, absolute necessity of repentance in ministry.

A few things happened while working in Kaliningrad that I’ve come in these weeks since to regret.  One example is the time during one of the prayer sessions that I got caught up trying to answer questions and explain and describe things of God in my own terms.

There were a few individuals in this session – long-time believers, very active in the church – who really hesitated at the idea of sitting in the presence of God and learning to listen to His voice.  They showed a strong desire to put God and His ways into terms they could understand.  Time and time again I would suggest we go to God in prayer, and they would stop me with another question about how healing works, or how we truly forgive others, or some other work of God that can not be fully fathomed by the human mind or described in human terms.

Scripture makes it clear that God desires to reveal Himself to us.  He wants us to know Him and to understand Him and His ways.  However, it is also clear that any understanding of God can only come to us from God Himself.  Our words can not describe Him, our thoughts can not comprehend Him  Any time that I spend trying to defend my point of view about God to those who are searching for Him is, at best, a waste of everyone’s time, and at worst, a terrible sin of arrogance and deception on my part toward my brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately, however, I got caught up a couple of times during this particular session answering questions that I really was not able to answer about God.  In the last minutes I became frustrated.  I kept saying that they were not ever going to fully be able to understand or describe God.  That He can only be known by experiencing Him.  One of them said, “I just don’t understand that. I think that I do experience Him, but I am still not free.”  I answered, “Until we fully submit to God everything in our lives, we will not be free.”  The individual just shook her head and ended the conversation with, “I think I have submitted everything to Him.”  And that was it.  I closed with a prayer of protection and then went into the bedroom for a break and just cried.

But even with those difficulties, in that session – and in the other sessions I led there – the presence of God was very clear.  Several individuals gave testimony of receiving visions and healing from God in those hours.  A couple of people said that they felt they’d truly been able to finally forgive others who’d harmed them or their families years ago.  Many came to me after the session and said they thanked God for my coming and asked me when I would come again.

Conversely, there were others who insisted they’d felt absolutely nothing.  They came to me after the sessions and expressed almost frustration with me that nothing had happened.

As a result of these reactions from various people, I didn’t realize at the time that my own ego – my own sense of value – was being influenced.  I began struggling with bouts of both pride and self-deprecation, both things which I know to be sin.

Finally, some of the stories I heard from people who were seeking healing in their lives were very dark and painful stories.  Many of the individuals I met had been struggling for years and years with their pain, and I felt strongly that a real sense of hopelessness and abandonment had settled on them.  They simply did not believe that God would ever heal them.

When I returned home, I came to realize that some of that same hopelessness and abandonment had settled on me as well, which led to frustration and disappointment in myself.  And then finally I began to feel frustration with God, which led to my not wanting to even spend time with Him in the days after I returned from Kaliningrad.  For almost 2 weeks after returning home, I kept spiraling down emotionally and spiritually, struggling with self-judgment and pity, feelings of isolation and hopelessness.  I had been careful to pray consistently while in Kaliningrad for God’s protection from the oppression I was encountering there, and to lay down the burdens of those for whom I was praying at the feet of Jesus.  I thought I’d done all that I was supposed to do and couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much in the days after I returned home.

But even in my efforts to shut God out, He remained faithful not to abandon me.  In that time, He brought individuals to me who He knew I would talk to, even if I wouldn’t talk to Him.  I began to see that, while I’d been so careful to pray for protection from the enemy’s hand in the lives of others, I had failed to ask the Lord to show me my own sin in those days in Kaliningrad.  I’d become too busy focusing on the ministry, and had not taken care of myself.  I had un-confessed sin in my life, and it had, first, created a separation between myself and my God, and second, had given the enemy an entrance into which he could feed me lies and darkness about myself that I was unable to battle on my own.

As I’ve begun to recognize these sins and to repent of them, I’ve been feeling reconciliation in my relationship with God as the Holy Spirit has washed over me.  I’ve been able to rest again in the presence of God, and to talk with Him about the struggles I encountered in Kaliningrad.  And I’ve seen personally, once again, the incredible danger of carrying un-confessed sin in my life – particularly as I seek to follow the Lord into ministry.

Our God is not a condemning God.  He did not send His Son so that we might suffer shame and oppression from the sin in our lives.  He does not call us to repentance every day in order to simply lord His authority over us.

He is a good, just God who loves each of us dearly.  He wants us near to Him because He knows that the safest place for us is where He is.  He sent His Son so that we might know Him.  He calls us to repentance so that we can be truly free.

Let us not be afraid to ask our Father to show us the sin we are carrying, which is keeping us imprisoned.  Let us be willing to go to Him with our sin, and to confess it to Him daily.  Let us ask Him to wash us with His Holy Spirit again and again, knowing that in His time we will become the men and women He desires, and will walk fully in the freedom for which He died.

Love and blessings to you this New Year in Christ Jesus.

Miki

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