Union Gospel Mission Women’s Shelter

Jackie doesn’t go many places without her guitar. Her dynamic and heartfelt talks are usually interspersed with songs. This talk was given at the Center of Hope Women’s Shelter on Friday, May 23, 2008:

Hi. I’m Jackie. And I’m a sinner. (Hi Jackie!)

My favorite apostle is Peter. Who wouldn’t love Simon Peter? He’s just so human. In fact, I’m convinced that if Peter were alive today, he’d be a country music fan. He’d love those silly, sloppy songs that just lay it all out there … like Your Cheatin’ Heart and God Bless the USA. . . songs that make you cry and laugh and slap your friend on the back and say “I love ya man!”  Face it. The rock upon whom Christ built his church was “a good ole boy.”

But it makes sense, doesn’t it? God himself stepped down off the throne of glory to walk among us… to be like us… to serve us …to clasp his hand around ours – flesh to flesh —  look us in the eye and tell us how much he loves us…. Why wouldn’t he choose a good ole boy…. a simple fisherman who was willing to put his sandals to the dirt and wear his heart right out there where everyone could see . . . Why wouldn’t he choose Peter to spread the Good News?

He wasn’t looking for perfect people. Heaven knows, he hadn’t used one yet.

Abraham: gave his wife to other men to protect himself.

Moses – a murder; speech impediment – led God’s people

Jonah – who actually ran from God. Didn’t WANT to do his work b/c he was resentful that God wanted to save Ninevah “God… I know you’re going give those wretched people mercy… and I don’t want any part of it. They don’t deserve it!” So he got on a boat going the opposite direction, caused the sailors to almost lose their lives, til they finally threw him off the boat… He was an insolent, self-righteous, ungrateful man. BUT… God used him MIGHTILY for his purpose … to save others.

And then there’s David, an adulterer who had a man killed so that he could marry his wife. But the really cool thing about that story – and countless other examples – is how God took something that was bad and made it good. God was grieved by David’s sin… but that didn’t keep him from using that sin for good. The woman he married gave him a son … Solomon. And 25 generations later, another child was born from that lineage . . . Jesus Christ.

I’m pretty sure I can’ t name ONE perfect person that God asked to do his work – not just in the scriptures, which God uses to instruct us – but in all of history. So Peter comes from a long line of screw-ups!. . . He messed up . . . a lot. . . I guess that’s why I like him so much. Or is it because I’m attracted to bad boys? Well actually, I guess we’re all attracted to bad boys, because, well, that’s all that’s out there! We are ALL sinners.

… And there’s something inside us constantly telling us we’re not worthy….  and sometimes we hear that message so loudly and so clearly… and so constantly… that it paralyzes us.  So why did Jesus die for us? LET’S HOLD ON TO THAT QUESTION AND COME BACK TO IT.

True… we’re not perfect. We were born flawed. All of us. I think that’s why Jesus chose Peter to start his church. . . because people could relate to him. He was a man you could get to know. A man you could like, even when he blurted out something really stupid, and his friends just hid their faces behind their hands and murmured to each other, “Can you BELIEVE he said that?”

Why was Peter so brazen… and outspoken… so zealous? I think it’s because he knew exactly who he was. And he knew exactly who Jesus was. In fact, he wrote a song about it. Remember… he was a country boy. So, even though I don’t have a banjo or a steel guitar, you’ll just have to imagine them playing in the background … and a fiddle of course. Feel free to tap your feet or slap your knee, or whatever the spirit moves you to do. That’s what Peter would do.

Walking on the Water, by Michael Card

On the sea of Galilee, fighting through the storm

All alone and so afraid and wishing I was home, and wishing I was home.

Thunder roll and lightning crash, waves are rolling high

Thinkin’ bout my life and home and so afraid to die. I’m so afraid to die.

Jesus you can see me. You know right where I am.

Only you can save me, for I’m a sinful man. For I’m a sinful man.

Looked out through the raging storm and what do my eyes see?

Jesus walking on the waves and callin out to me, and callin out to me.

Can’t you see it’s only me. Don’t you be afraid.

Come on, Peter, walk to me. Step out on the wave, step out upon the wave. (chorus)

Stepped out on the ragin’ wave and kept my eyes on Him

But every time I looked away, I started sinking in… I started sinking in.

Just as I was losing hope, Jesus took my hand.

Tell me, Peter where’s your faith? You know I’ll help you stand.

Only I can help you stand.  (chorus)

 

 

 

I think we all have our personal stormy Sea of Galilee… probably lots of them throughout our life. So far, my biggest storm has been cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma in 2004. Stage IV means that it has gone beyond my lymph nodes to other areas of my body, and it is expected to come back. According to statistics, the survival time without recurrence for a stage IV melanoma patient is seven months. And, sure enough, most of the stage IV patients I’ve known haven’t lived very long. So at age 45, that’s what I was faced with.

What I found was that if I kept my eyes on Jesus… if I talked to God regularly and read his word . . . I was given strength to get through each day. It actually brought me closer to God, because I started listening more intently. I started really seeking him out… wanting to spend time with him. And that has been SO precious to me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was just like I could see him standing out on the water calling to me “don’t you be afraid. Step out on the wave! “ and “just as I was losing hope, Jesus took my hand….Tell me, Jackie, where’s your faith? You know I’ll help you stand.”

Oh, I can tell you so many stories about the times I’ve worried and fretted – who was going to take care of my 85-year-old mother when I died? Who would comfort my son and my husband? At one point in my journey, I believed my only mission was to prove to people how deadly this disease was so that they would understand the importance of staying out of the sun and tanning salons…. I thought I was going to have to die to prove it, and THAT was my only purpose in life.

But I kept reading and studying scripture, and I kept listening to good preachers on the radio, and I kept seeking out God . . . and he reminded me over and over that if I wanted something, I should ask him… because – guess what – I don’t have the answers to everything. I don’t have a CLUE all of the things God is capable of. Why CAN’T I ask him to heal me? Don’t I think he can do it?

He kept reminding me of who he was and who I was in him. It’s not easy to give your worries over to God. And believe me, I take them back and fret about them over and over…. But eventually I set my eyes back on Him and see him calling to me to step out on the wave. Whether it’s for a big thing or a small thing…God is in everything. And he has SO much to tell us, SO much to show us, . . . if we’ll just open our eyes . . . and our hearts . . . and let him in.

You know, in Jesus’ ministry on earth, he told a lot of stories because they’re a great way to get a point across. And the more I read those parables, the more I get out of them. They are jam-packed with messages for us. One of my favorites is the story of the man whose son told him he wished he were dead. Have you ever had someone tell you, “This is what I think of you . . . I wish you were dead. I don’t care about you. Just give me what’s mine, and I’ll get the hell out of here. I don’t care if I NEVER see you again. I don’t care what you’ve given me… I don’t care what you’ve taught me all these years. I just want to do things MY way.”

Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be that man? To have dedicated your life to provide for a son, taught him things he needed to know to be a good person, to do well in life . . . and he just basically spits in your face. You give him his entire inheritance, and he goes off and throws it away on partying and women and all the things that YOU KNEW would just suck the life out of him….But what can you do? You can’t chain him in the basement. It’s HIS CHOICE.

And before he knows it, he has nothing. He’s sleeping in the street next to pigs. He doesn’t even have any clothes left and has nothing to buy them with. He’s down to just his naked self lying in the gutter. He decides to go back to his father’s house and beg him to just let him be a slave… to sleep in the slave quarters… anything just to be able to eat again. He’s ashamed… I mean, after all, he told his father he wished he were dead and that he wanted nothing else from him, because he could find his OWN way. But the only thing he had found his way to was destitution.

So he thinks of all the things he wants to say to his father . . . to apologize, to tell him he’ll do anything he needs him to do, if he’ll just give him food and shelter.

So… what would a normal adult human being do? He’d wait until his son came crawling back and knocked on his door. He’d stand at the door with his arms folded. He’d lecture his son with all the “I told you so’s.. and you made your bed, so you have to lie in it… yada yada yada.” He may tell him, “Well, son, I’ll give you a bed to sleep in, but THESE are my conditions… and THIS is the time limit.” I mean, you have to have boundaries, right? You can’t let people just walk all over you and take advantage of you. What had this son done to prove he deserved to be back in his father’s house? For all the father knew, he would just rob him and leave again.

All the psychologists and self-help books tell us… that that’s how we’re supposed to handle this kind of situation  – – with “tough love”. Everything has to be earned. And this son was ready and willing to do this.  But you know what? He didn’t even get a chance. He didn’t get a chance to ask his father to let him stay in the slave quarters. He didn’t get a chance to say, “Here’s how I’ll make it up to you, dad… Here’s the work I’m willing to do.”

He didn’t get a chance because his father came RUNNING … RUNNING down the road to meet him, with his arms wide open… took he took him in his arms… his naked, dirty, stinking self… just as he was. And before he could take a breath, his father was telling the servants to prepare a huge party to celebrate the homecoming of his son.

I don’t think we could expect such a homecoming from any earthly parent. There’s too much baggage, too much pain, there are too many things wrong in our relationships… on both sides. Parents hurt their children. Children turn against their parents. We’re human. We screw things up.

But the father in this story… he’s not an earthly father. He’s our heavenly father. He IS perfect. That’s the difference. One side of the equation IS PERFECT. And he LOVES us. He doesn’t like what we do or what we’ve done. He’s suffered the pain of rejection and betrayal from us. Over and over again, we’ve told him we’ll just do it our way. We don’t need him. He might as well be dead. But overcoming ALL of that… all of it…. is his love for us.

Remember… we are all sinners… And there’s something inside us constantly telling us we’re not worthy….  and sometimes we hear that message so loudly and so clearly… and so constantly… that it paralyzes us. Because it’s true. We’re NOT worthy. Every time we turn around, we’re rejecting our heavenly father. We’re basically spitting in his face… we’re asking for our inheritance “gimme gimme gimme”… so we can go out and throw it away doing whatever WE want to do. Or we’re just not TRUSTING him enough with the details of our lives, thinking we can handle them better. It’s true… we’re NOT worthy. So … and here’s the question I asked earlier…. WHY did Jesus die for us if we’re SO unworthy? Why did the father sacrifice his ONLY SON for us? The same reason the father in the story went running down the road with his arms wide open ready to embrace his lost son….

Because he loves us.

There are other reasons too… because we CAN’T save ourselves. It’s impossible to live up to God’s standards. It’s impossible to make ourselves perfect or even close to perfect. It takes someone who is perfect to be able to toss aside all of the baggage in a relationship and wipe the slate clean.

But the main reason was…  because he loves us … and love overcomes ALL.

One of the main things to remember about that story of the prodigal son… one that people tend to forget… is that the son chose to leave, and the son chose to return. It wouldn’t have done any good for the father to go after him and beg him to come home. Just as he couldn’t chain him in the basement to make him stay. The father was THERE WAITING for him to return. And when… and only when… the son came to him… could their relationship be restored.

We who are NOT perfect have to ask the one who IS perfect to come into our hearts. He has given us a gift of new life. But WE have to accept it. We have to acknowledge that Jesus is God and that ONLY he can save us. He knows all the things we don’t know. He can help us walk on water IF we keep our eyes on him.

Time and time again through scripture, God asks the Israelites to come back to him… and that same invitation is extended to us today:

Hosea, by Gregory Norbert
Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call
(chorus) Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life
The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak (chorus)

 

Sometimes it takes a wilderness to lead us back to God… to put him first… to ask him to take control because we just can’t do it ourselves. But what HE can do … is amazing. He can actually CHANGE us. You know, in biblical times, changing someone’s name was very significant because a person’s name reflected their character. Countless times, God changed someone’s name… Abram to Abraham, Simon to Peter… He can change your name too.

I’m going to ask you to do a little visualization with me. You can close your eyes, if it helps.

Because you’re human, I’m sure you’ve experienced something like THIS before…. Maybe only for a moment, or an hour, or perhaps for days on end:  You wallow in all of the deeds you’ve done and left undone. You dwell on every stupid mistake you’ve ever made, every wrong you’ve ever committed, every time you have been wronged, every sin great and small. You’re so down; you find it difficult to even look for God. Instead each of your sorrows is a drop in a cup that you hold. Soon, the cup is overflowing, so you have no choice but to drink from it. You continue to drink from that cup of sorrows, yet your cup continues to fill up.

Now, up walks a man – a radiant man, whose face is like the warmth of the sun. He touches your hand, and he says to you, “I have known you since you were in your mother’s womb. I know all of your sorrows and all of your sins. I created you. And I love you. Now, give me the cup.” He then takes your cup of sorrows, and he drinks from it. He drinks until the cup is completely empty. He says, “I have the power to change things even if you don’t.” And then he says these words to you:

I Will Change Your Name, by D.J. Butler

I will change your name

You shall no longer be called,

Wounded, Outcast. Lonely or Afraid.

I will change your name.

Your new name shall be:

Confident, Joyfulness,

Overcoming One.

Faithfulness, Friend of God

One Who Seeks My face.

 

  Thank you for listening. I pray that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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5 Responses to “Union Gospel Mission Women’s Shelter”

  1. Bravo! Though I have no basis upon which to be proud of you, I am most proud for you to have overcome your fear and inertia to deliver such a wonderful message to women in such great need of those comforts. I, too, am quite fond of the parables, and the prodigal was an excellent choice, for all of us – in our filth AND in our finery. Just because we may bear society’s stamp of approval, as evidenced by our clean clothes, air conditoned cars and homes, secure jobs and all the “blessings” the world offers doesn’t mean that we can’t be just as well instructed by The One who denied himself everything. Thank you for sharing this experience.

  2. Have you read Henri Nouwen’s book “The Return of the Prodigal Son”? It’s a wonderful read.

  3. No, I haven’t read anything of his, but after a brief ‘net search I see that there is much to know about this man’s work. It seems we share some medical history and some personal characteristics – not the implied gender identification issues, but the incessant quest for connection. His take on the prodigal sounds to be quite novel and insightful. Additionally, I am particularly intirgued with his concept of “downward mobility” and self-lessness – difficult, contrary approaches to daily life in the US of WalMart… Have a good Memorial Day!

  4. I am trying to find out if D. J. Butler is male or female. If female, I want to do her bio for our Northern Calif. Ladies Retreat in September. I fell in love with I Will Change Your Name and would like to know more about it’s author. If you can help me I would appreciate it greatly. Or anyone reading this. Thanks in advance.

    • Donna, I’d love to help you, and would love to know the answer myself! I have tried to find out more on the Internet, but have only found the lyrics and the name. The book that I use gives the following information: copyright 1987 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing (Adm. by Music Services). Perhaps the publisher would be able to help you. It is indeed a very moving song. I have used it often, and there is always someone in the crowd who tells me how touched they were by the song.

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