Monday, December 10, 2012

The Prodigal Son: A Christmas Story!


What is the wonder of Christmas?

To me, the wonder of Christmas is a gift given by the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God, the Giver of Life to poor creatures that have no hope of ever being able to do anything to deserve this gift. It is a gift that must be accepted as it is given, with no strings and a full understanding that repayment is impossible.

It is hard to express the sheer humility I feel when faced with my own unworthiness. However, there is a parable in the Bible that paints the picture beautifully.

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the The Prodigal Son.  But last week as I was preparing for the Sunday school lesson it hit me that the Prodigal Son is a Christmas Story.  It is a story about a gift given that was undeserved, about a gift that could never be repaid but most of all, it is the story of a father's love.  It is a story of our Father's love for us and the gift He has offered to us all.

Read:  The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32

The Younger Son

The son has a pretty rotten attitude towards his dad. Usually one would have to good manners to wait until someone is dead before trying to claim their inheritance. He basically says, “Hey, I know you're not dead yet, but I think your rules are stupid and I could do much better on my own. I want to go do things my own way.”

In much the same way we say this to God when we choose to go our own way. We tell Him, “I got this! Your rules are just too much and I want to do things my own way!”

To no one's surprise, the son leaves home, squanders the money and hits rock bottom.

So why are we so surprised when it happens to us? Why are we shocked when we discover we cannot make it on our own? 

Nothing makes going home seem like a more viable option than hitting rock bottom. Nothing makes your pride more palatable than having nothing left to lose. So the son decides to return home.

Can't you see him rehearsing his speech all the way home?  You know he did because what he says to his dad is the exact same thing he said to himself!

Can you feel his tension mounting as he nears home?
His palms begin to sweat.
He feet start to slow down and he begins to think maybe this wasn't such a great idea.
He starts feeling a little queasy.
He mouth goes dry...then he sees him. The far off image of his father in the distance and he stops.

There is a moment of intense fear that happens when we face our mistakes head on, when we surrender to the outcome whatever it may be.  For this son, that moment is now.  He sees his father, and knows the moment of truth has come.  Ready or not...

The Father

Imagine the father's hurt. Imagine what it would feel like if your child said to you, “I can't wait til I'm 18 so I can get out of here and away from you! If you are going to leave me anything when you die, can you just give it to me early so I can leave?”

The father doesn't want his son to leave, knows he's making a mistake but knows that by keeping him there against his will is only going to build resentment. So with a heavy heart, he lets him go.

And if I were this father, I can't help but think I'd be angry. I might even let myself grow bitter out of my hurt.

But not this father, THIS father watches for his son every day. He stands at the window, then at the door. He stops in the middle of his work during the day because he thinks he sees his son coming down the road. He just wants his son to return so he watches for him and longs for him.  He loves him from afar because that is as close as he can get.

And one day it happens, he sees him! He abandons all sense of decorum (men in Biblical times did NOT run...it was undignified) and runs to meet his son that has come home. Never mind he's filthy, never mind he smells like he's been sleeping with the pigs, HIS SON IS HOME! And he WANTS to be there!

The father doesn't care where his son has been, he doesn't even ask any questions. He immediately gives orders to get him cleaned up and get him looking like an heir again. In his joy, he throws a party celebrating the son that was thought to be dead, but is alive; lost and now is found!

God, our Father, doesn't care where we have been. He longs for us just as this father longed for the return of his son. He looks for us, He sends us messages, He calls to us, He pleads with us and when we come to our senses, He runs to us!!

The Prodigal Son is all of us, the father is God. We have done nothing to deserve the gift of mercy and grace we have received through Christ Jesus. But the offer stands. God doesn't make us come grovelling to Him on our hands and knees. He knows our hearts and when we turn towards home, he RUNS to meet us where we are. I'm sure if that father had known his son had turned toward home, he would have met him with a donkey, picked him up and carried him the rest of the way home.

This is a picture of Christmas! An undeserved gift that cannot be repaid. A gift for which we are so grateful it changes the rest of our lives. A gift that has changed us so much, we should WANT to share it with others.

When we choose not to share this gift we become like the third party in our story, the older son.

The Older Son

There is one in every family...at least one. That person that just can't stand to see others having a good time. I call them Debbie Downers or the Cold Bucket Brigade because they always have something ugly to say even in the best of circumstances.

Everyone is having a great time at the party when the older son comes in from the fields and hears the music. He asks someone what's going and is told his brother is home and his father is having a party. Immediately, the older son is furious! He is flabbergasted that his dad would honor his good-for-nothing younger brother when he did nothing to deserve it. What a jerk, right?

Truth is, we all have some older son in us all.

On the surface, the older son looks like a spoiled brat. But think about it...he's been there with his dad through everything, saw how much his dad hurt over the younger son's actions obviously knew what his little brother was up to and grew more resentful by the day. Then the brother comes home and BAM! He's forgiven, it's like nothing ever happened and they are having a PARTY! Sound fair to you?

How do you react when someone who has hurt you walks back into your life, claims to have found Christ and asks you for forgiveness?

How do you respond to the fact that God forgave them just like He forgave you?

What is your reaction when you hear about child molesters, serials killers and rapists?  I have caught myself saying things like, "There's a special place in hell for people like that."  That's my older son rearing its ugly head.

Did you know that when that child molester, rapist, serial killer finds Christ there is a party in heaven?  Doesn't that just get your goat?  But the wonder of Christmas is that the gift of salvation is indeed for anyone who will accept it.

The gift of Christ is for everyone. If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for them. Who are we to discriminate and decide who we will and we will not tell? Can we say for sure who will accept the gift and who will not? Do we truly believe the gift is for everyone?

The wonder of Christmas is the undeserved gift that keeps on giving...that is, if we pass it along. Who will you pass the gift to this year?



Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Sinner


The woman came in unexpected and uninvited.   It was an outdoor, courtyard meal where the guest of honor was a new Rabbi.  The men are reclining at the table with their feet behind them.   As she enters, conversation stops.  Everyone knows who she is and she knows it. Each face is either staring at her in disgust or looking the other way trying desperately not to make eye contact.  Every face but One.  

She had heard of Jesus.  Heard his voice, heard Him teach and there was something about Him that was different.  His compassion with people who were sick and hurting stirred something within her.  Something she thought was dead.   

She knew the level of her guilt. She felt it from every stare in the room, she felt it coming from every pore of her being. Guilty, GUILTY, dirty, filthy where the whispers in her mind.

She is now standing behind His feet trembling. The tears begin to fall.    As they fall, they fall on His dirty feet (that for some reason, no one has washed) and her tears make clean tracks through the dust.  She bends, uncovers her hair, hears the collective gasps from the room but does not stop.  She wipes his feet clean with her hair.  As she cleans she pauses to kiss them and more tears fall. 

 She had almost forgotten the jar. 

 Her most prized possession.  She had scrimped and saved for months for this alabaster jar of perfume.  This jar she anointed herself with between men.  And now, she wants nothing more than to give it all to this man.  She knows that in order to be clean, she must give it all.  There can be nothing left.  And so she pours out the contents of the jar until not a drop is left.  

Vaguely she hears Jesus speaking but is enraptured in His presence.  It isn't until she hears Him speak the words her heart had longed to hear that she stops her flagrant worship. Jesus looks at her with a tender and complete love and says, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

In that moment, the stirring in her heart, the feeling she thought dead, the Hope inside her broke free and she laughed.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Three Dollars Worth of God

I haven't been posting regularly...but I'm sure the handful of you that read my blog have noticed that.  I am having issues with the things that are in my heart matching my blog description.  The issue being that they don't match...at all.  The blog description says its an uplifting blog about God's grace and how we can find Him in and amongst every day life (or something like that).  But the things that have been on my heart I wouldn't exactly categorize as "uplifting."  Maybe toe-crunching or thought provoking...but not uplifting.   

I want to be uplifting, I truly do!  I see God in so many things, in so many ways that He never ceases to take my breath away.  But those are not the things I feel pressing on my heart when I sit down to write.  Do you know the feeling?  It is the feeling that there is an important message to convey.  It's like writing your children a letter for them to read when they grow up.  I have thought and prayed and really, really want to have something upbeat and encouraging to say but when I heard this poem in yesterday's sermon I knew that this is the message given to me:

Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
— Wilbur Rees
   
I sat stock still in my chair after those words were read.  They resonated in my soul and I knew them to be True.  But the real issue isn't when we recognize a truth such as this one.  Recognizing the problem is not the problem.  The problem is when we shrug our shoulders and say, "I'm okay with that."  It is when we choose to sit in our pew and ponder the lunch menu instead of how the message coming from the pastor applies to us.  It is when we come into God's house dragging our feet wondering what we're going to get instead of coming to pour out our thanks for what He has already given us.  It is a comfortable, complacent, apathetic Christianity that resides in the hearts of many of God's people these days.

We love verses like Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."  We like getting what we want, and we totally skip over the first part of that verse that says to "Delight yourself in the Lord...."  We want to forget about the last words of our Lord and Savior before He ascended into heaven that commands us to spread to gospel to everyone because it's not comfortable for us.  We want God's blessings but we don't want to seek Him because, well, we don't have time, Sunday is our only day to sleep in or we find church is boring, full of hypocrites or just "not for me."  

We take only a small slice of what God is offering to us and then we wonder why we don't feel His presence.  We wonder why our faith seems small and we are accosted by doubts and fears.  We cry out for God to answer us in our times of trouble but do not utter His name during times of plenty.  

And yet, He remains faithful.  He answers us, He loves us, He comforts us and He never leaves us.  If God is so good in those times when we choose to take Him out of the box we tend to keep Him in, how much better could He be if we sought Him with our whole heart?  How much more of Him is there when we submit to His will for our lives instead of seeking our own?  

If your "religion" seems dull and lifeless, if you are still reading this blog and have a growing desire to want MORE of Jesus Christ in your life then I have successfully communicated the message.  When we desire more of Jesus, we can rest assured Jesus wants more of us!  Why not give Him more of you and find more of Him in the process?  This is the only way we will ever experience revival.  It must start with us - with bowed head, humble heart and total submission.  May it start with me!


"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  Jeremiah 29:13  (emphasis mine)


Monday, May 7, 2012

What Kind of Question is THAT?

"Do you want to get well?"

This is the question Jesus asked a man that had been lying paralyzed beside a pool for THIRTY-EIGHT years!  What a question, right?  I would think this man would scream out, "YES!!!"  Instead he gives Jesus his sob story, "Sir...I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.  While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me," (John 5:7).  At first I want to feel bad for the guy, but then I think...thirty. eight. years.  

I don't know about you, but when I really want something, I can think of some pretty wild schemes to get it!  This man didn't seem too intent on getting well.  He didn't even ask Jesus if he'd stick around and help him get into the pool.  He just complained about his situation.

I love what Jesus told the man to do next.  He said, "GET UP!"  Ok, Jesus didn't yell (or, I don't know, maybe He did) but there IS an exclamation point after Get up!  He told him to get up, pick up his mat and walk.  Jesus did the work.  He healed the man.  But the man still had to accept the healing, he still had to carry his own mat and he had to walk.


Jesus is making you the same offer!  Whatever it is that cripples you; anger, impatience, depression, lack of self-control - Jesus can heal it!  But here's the catch:  You have to accept the gift.  When you accept a gift, you are not fighting against the person giving you the gift.  You actively reach out and take the gift. 

We actually already have several gifts our Lord has given us.  They are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22):  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Notice, it is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruits of the Spirit.  They are a packaged deal and given freely to anyone who has the Spirit of God within them.  

So, if Christians already have them, why do we spend so much time asking, BEGGING God for them?

Galatians 5:24-25 hold the key:  "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." 

Right after Paul says we live by the Spirit and not the flesh he says in verse 26, "Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."  So what gives?  If we live by the Spirit then we shouldn't be conceited, angry, jealous or anything else negative (because the Holy Spirit cannot be those things); so why does Paul remind the Galatians not to be those things?  Because we are human and because we have a choice.

Just like the paralytic that Jesus healed, we have to decide if we want to get well.  We have to decide that we are not going to give into our fleshly desires.  For instance, last night my husband got mad at me because he thought I had gone to bed while he was putting the boys to bed.  I had not gone to bed but had gone to the restroom.  Then when he told me he had been angry with me...guess what?  I got angry at him!


A few years ago, this fight would have lasted all night.  I would have gotten myself all worked up and probably cried myself to sleep because I had been misunderstood and falsely accused.  Then I would have woke up this morning still angry and when I talked to my friends on my morning walk I would have fussed about Wes to them.  They probably would have jumped on the bandwagon and said something negative about their husbands.  Then I would have come home and snapped at J.D. (my oldest son) for being too slow getting ready for school because I'm good and ill by this point and proceeded to give my husband the silent treatment which would have sent him off to work in a bad mood.  After all of that I would have gotten on Facebook and talked with my aunt and griped some more about Wes' insensitivity.


I could go on and on but I think I've made my point.  I could have chosen that road.  The reason I can give such a detailed account of that road is because I have chosen MANY times before.  I know what it looks like.  So, how did it turn out for real?  Wes said, "I'm sorry I got mad at you," and I said, "That's okay, I was mad at you for being mad at me.  Silly huh?"  And that was it.


I have decided I don't want to be angry.  Sometimes I feel justified in my anger; I have the "right" to be angry.  But does it really accomplish anything?  In my story, what did my anger accomplish?  I got three friends in a bad mood with me, hurt my child's feelings, made my husband angry and got my day off to a rotten start.


Whether your issue is anger or depression or financial issues I have to ask you this question:  Do you want to get well?  We have to stop wishing to get well, pick up our mat and start walking!  Jesus will do the work but we have to work with Him instead of against Him. 


Get into the Word and find a couple of verses that speaks to you about your ailment.  Commit those verses to memory and live them out!  Attitude is everything.  Make a decision - Get up and WALK!


"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  2 Corinthians 10:5

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Try It the OTHER Way!

I have always believed myself to be ambidextrous.  I came by it honest.  My right-handed parents gave birth to a left-handed child and so I learned how to do most things backwards.  Well, backwards to me...correctly to most of you.  My parents taught me to fish, bowl, tie my shoes, bat and many other tasks right-handed because that is the only way they knew how.  

Yesterday while playing ball with my boys I learned something amazing!  When it came my turn to bat my husband told me to "try it the other way"...you know, just for fun.  So I did.  Guess what?!  I am a LEFT-handed batter.  I couldn't believe how much better I did just by swapping hitting sides.  It was unbelievable!  I hit the ball almost every pitch and it went a LOT farther.  I was (am still) astounded!!

Then I got to thinking about how that lesson can be applied to my spiritual walk.  You see, I've had sort of a regeneration of my faith in the past month.  I have discovered that I had not been giving God or Jesus enough credit.  Somehow I thought that Jesus' blood and sacrifice covered my sins BEFORE my conversion and profession of faith, but I was still trying to work my way to "getting better" by my own efforts.  

Thank the good Lord I got that straight!

I had put so much pressure on myself that I was ready to call it quits. I was just done.  I was overwhelmed, frustrated, aggravated, angry and most of all just tired!  I couldn't do it anymore.  That's when the grace of God was redefined for me.  

To think all these years I had been trusting God to save me from my past but still trying to work my way to heaven!  I'll keep this truth short and sweet with a couple of verses:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new."  2 Corinthians 5:17

" ...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."  Philippians 1:6,11

I am a new creation that has been started by God Himself and the fruit that is in me has been placed there by Jesus.  God is going to finish what He started.  There is no work that I can DO to add to what has already been done.  As the hymn says, "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow." 

Does this mean I stop serving the Lord?  Absolutely not!  But now, I do it for Him to get the glory; not because I'm trying to make up for my mistakes.  His grace covers me when I mess up.  He is not surprised by my blunders or screw-ups, He is not looking down on me shaking His head wondering what He's going to do with me.  He knows exactly what He's going to do with me!  I just need to let Him!!

All this time, I had been trying to pave the way to heaven MY way instead of relying on the way that had already been paved for me!  All this time, I had been batting the wrong way!  When I finally got turned around the right way, things went much better.  

It still feels a little weird when I bat left-handed.  But I know, now, that it works MUCH better that way!  It is the same in my spiritual walk.  Sometimes it stills feels strange to accept God's grace when I mess up and keep going.  It feels odd to trust God to do all the work while I simply spend my time being His instrument and getting to know Him better.  But I'm discovering that things just don't work MY way; instead, I need to turn around and try it the OTHER way!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chained No More: The Freeing Power of Grace!

I wonder why more people don't want to become Christians.  I wonder why our faith is so difficult to talk about.  I wonder why more Christians aren't joyful.  All this makes me wonder:  How good is the good news?  

To be blunt, if Christians walk around looking like we just got finished sucking on a bag of lemons, the world will take notice...and promptly decide that if that is what being a "follower of Jesus" looks like, then they want no part in it.  Can you blame them?  If the news we have to share is so good - why don't we act like it?  


Maybe we don't fully understand the news. 

The most amazing part of the gospel is grace.  Grace literally means, "unmerited favor."  What God has made available to us, through the sacrifice of His Son, is His extravagant, unlimited, unmerited favor! It means that when Jesus came to forgive our sin, He came to forgive ALL our sin!  Past sin, present sin, even the sins we have yet to commit.  When we accept Christ, we acknowledge our guilt and He, in turn, declares us Not Guilty! 

If we are "not guilty," then how is it so many of us are walking around feeling guilty?  Why are so many of us tired of "fighting the good fight"?  Why do we feel so defeated?  Why do Christians often appear frustrated, stressed and less-than-joyful?

For me, the reason was simple.  I was trying to better myself.  I was trying so hard to be good that I was failing and making myself miserable.  I had already given God my "big" stuff.  I gave him my past promiscuity, my alcoholism, my abortion...all the really big bags, so to speak.  I gave Him my past, what I didn't give Him was my present - my temper, my pride, my arrogance, my feelings of inadequacy, my fear and my stubbornness.  (The list is way longer, but I was afraid you'd stop reading if I listed EVERYTHING.)  Somehow, I failed to understand that Jesus forgave these sins too.


I face at least one of these "old pals" every day.  And every time I failed to win the battle (which was often) I would feel guilty.  Then I would repent.  Then I would add another thing to my "holy to-do list" in an effort to make up for my mistake.  Rinse and repeat.  And what did I get?  A very long to-do list!!  I could not help but feel like a screw-up.  Especially when I would do something like yell at my kids for being too loud while I'm TRYING TO PRAY!  Do I have any sisters out there?  Are you getting where I'm going? 

That whole process left me drained and tired.  There was little joy in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I got good at faking it.  But inside, I still felt like I was just play-acting.  I could talk about the power of redemption and knew it to be true but the joy from my own redemption experience had long since faded.  I was fighting every day to feel good enough.  And you know what?  I never made it.  

But then, something amazing happened!
 
Someone told me that God isn't mad at me.  Someone told me He is not up there shaking His head wondering what in the world He was going to do with someone like me.  Someone explained to me that when God says "unmerited favor," He means it!  When He says "unmerited" it means we don't deserve it.  He gives us His favor because He loves us. And the best part is this:  We cannot do anything to make Him love us any less...or any MORE.  I truly believed that I had to work to get better.  God says I don't.  God says that when I accepted His Son, His Son had already done the work.  
Philippians 1:6 says, "being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus;"
now go to verse 11:  "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God." (emphasis mine)

God completes the work, not me; the fruit is through Jesus, not my effort.  Can I just say:  PHEW!!  Thank You, Jesus!!  I do not have to walk around shackled by the guilt of my every day failures.  I am human.  I am not perfect, nor will I ever be in this life.  The sooner I get comfortable with that, the better off I will be.  And do you know something?  Any works that I do in order to try and "get better" will be for naught.

When we start trying to "get better" by our own works and accomplishments, we lose any joy we may have had in the beginning of our walk with Jesus.  We get bogged down in condemnation.  We start living in fear of God instead of marveling at His love.  We wrap ourselves in chains of guilt and shame until we cannot move.

Jesus put it this way:  "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."  John 15:4-5 (emphasis mine)


The only way to "get better" is by abiding in Jesus.  I can't make myself better, I can't try and do more good things in order to be good enough.  I wasn't good enough to begin with and I won't ever be good enough.  But if I hang out with Jesus; if I talk with Him; if I read His word, soak up His abundant, extravagant grace; then I find I start to bear fruit - I start to get better!  I start to exhibit the fruit of righteousness...one of those fruits is joy!


After Jesus tells His disciples about the vine, He tells them this:  "As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."  John 15:9-11


Jesus wants to give us JOY!  Not only that, He wants to give us HIS joy and our joy to be complete!  This is the joy that the world is seeking and needs to know about.  The only way they will know about it is if they see it all over us.  Christ in us, grace that covers ALL our sin, unmerited favor of God that we cannot lose once we accept it.  THIS is the gospel of good news!  The news that the grace of God is bigger than our sin!!  I hear that grace calling to us!   I hear freedom singing its song!  I hear Jesus telling us to come just as we are and let Him and the Father take care of the rest!  I hear shackles falling to the ground!  I hear the GOOD news!!

 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mercy, Grace and the Good News

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter!  Many of you would probably say the highlight of this holiday season was filled with love, laughter, family, friends and a celebration of an empty tomb.  Mine was slightly different.  I had all of the above but the highlight was the lesson I learned from losing my four year old at church.

I had taken both my boys (J.D. is 6 and Jon is 4) into the sanctuary with me at church to practice special music with the praise team.  J.D. asked me if he could go to the bathroom and Jon asked me for a peppermint.  I told J.D. to go ahead, gave Jon the peppermint and turned to greet one of my friends.  When I looked again I didn't see Jon.  This was not a problem because I thought he had gone to find his brother.  But then J.D. came back without Jon so I asked where he was.  He said, "I don't know, I haven't seen him."  I searched high and low with a mixture of emotions flowing through me.  At first, I was just irritated because Jon often disappears like this but he usually isn't very far - he's just distracted by something and not paying attention to the fact his name has been called about 10 times!  Then I found that he was NOT anywhere nearby and I start to get worried.  By the time I saw him walking with Mr. Brett to his Sunday school room across the courtyard, I was in a full panic!  I ran (in heels!) across the elders Sunday school class, burst out the door and bellowed, "JONATHAN!"

I cannot recall being so angry, yet relieved, with one of my children.  True, he was only gone for ten minutes but it was the longest ten minutes of my life!  And now that I had him back safe and sound...he was gonna get it!  I was shaking with emotion as I interrogated him trying to figure out where he had gone (he had gone to show his Sunday school teacher his peppermint).  I told him, "Son, I am too angry to whip you right now, but I am going to whip you when we get home this afternoon!"  

And I fully intended to!  However, God used the time in between to show me a teachable moment.  When we got home, I took Jon into the bedroom and we talked about what he had done wrong and why I was so upset with him.  When we finished I asked him what was about to happen.  The poor kid began and to cry and moaned, "You're gonna whip me!"  Very quietly I replied, "No, I'm not going to whip you.  Do you know why?  Because it is Easter.  And God showed us great mercy today."  I continued to explain that the Bible tells us that because we all do things that are wrong that we deserve to be punished.  But God sent Jesus to die on the cross and forgive us so we wouldn't have to be punished.  And that is mercy.  

Ordinarily, I would have let my emotions rule, yelled and spanked my son then felt horrible later on.  However, my Heavenly Father got a hold of my heart before I could lay hands on my son.  I want my children to understand the extraordinary gift of salvation...but how are they to do that if they do not first understand mercy and grace?  How are they going to know what mercy is if they do not see it in me?  How are they going to extend grace to others if it is not extended to them at home?  


Better yet, how are we to show a lost and dying world their need for a Savior if we don't show them what Jesus' love looks like?  Maybe it is time we showed them mercy.  Maybe it is time we extended them grace.  Mercy to come just as they are - with no judgement for where they are or where they have been; grace in giving them love and friendship they have not earned.  Isn't that is what attracted so many to Jesus?  He attracted the broken, the sinful, the lost, the sick, the outcast...He attracted me!


This Easter season, I am so grateful God did not give me what I deserve!  To most unbelievers, God is an angry God who is just waiting to punish those who step out of line; the Bible is an encyclopedia of thou-shalt-nots; and Christians are a bunch of stiffs running around trying to please an impossible Deity.  And can I tell you something?  Some Christians believe this too!  Some of us have forgotten that the blood of Jesus covers ALL of our sin.  That means the sins we committed before we came to Christ, the sins we may be entertaining right this second and our future sins!  Because of God's mercy we did not get what we deserve (death) and because of His grace we now have an inheritance we in no way deserve (eternal life)!  This truth should be a cause for celebration each and every day, it should cause us to have joy no matter our circumstances.  Now, let's get happy and spread the GOOD NEWS!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mountain High; Valley Low

Life is a journey.  Our walk with the Lord is a journey.  If you think about a traveling anywhere, you don't spend much time standing still.  If I am taking a trip someplace, I have a goal in mind and am pressing on towards reaching that destination.  There are stops along the way, beautiful scenic views that seem to demand my attention.  But the stops are not the end of the journey, they are just places where I rest and catch my breath.  

Often when we talk about our journey with God we speak in terms of either mountain tops or valleys.  We reference our awesome mountain top experiences or we talk about our rock bottom valley-of-the-shadow-of-deaths.  But how much time do those moments take?  If you think about it, most of the time we are traveling.  We are either climbing the mountain or heading into the valley.

Now think about this.  When we climb a mountain (or, in my case, a steep hill) the going is slow and not always easy.  There are loose rocks to watch out for, breath to catch, sometimes the path isn't easy to see and we are not even sure we are going in the right direction.  But we finally reach the top and get to behold the majestic view.  And then...it's time to get moving again.

When I find myself in a valley, it usually happens fairly quick.  It's like I slid down on my backside without realizing it.  I look up and am looking up from the bottom and can't quite remember how I got there.  Regardless of how I got there - I am there, and the only thing left to do is start climbing out.  

Either way, in either place, the pause at the top or the screeching halt at the bottom is momentary.  Most of the time on this journey, we are moving in one direction or the other.  We are either headed in the right direction to the next mountaintop experience or slipping down into the valley.  My question for us to ponder today is...which way are you headed? 

I find I spend more time with God during my difficult times.  When I am  not sure of the path; loosing my footing or am looking up the sides of the valley.  What I really need to be doing is spending constant time in communion with the Maker of the path!  If I do, the path is a little clearer and I can hear His direction.  Without His direction I am hopelessly lost.  If I talk to Him often, I recognize His voice easily and can follow where He directs me.  His path is not always easy, but He is always supporting me.  With Him, I will not fail, I will not falter, I will finish the journey with His hand in mine! 

The thing to remember is the neither the mountain high or the valley low define us.  God can use all of our experiences if we let Him!  In fact, He wants to use EVERYTHING to shape us into the person He wants us to be.  We cannot get so lost along the way He cannot find us; we cannot slide into a valley so low He cannot save us.  We just have to make sure we journey with Him and not strike out on our own!  So whose path are you following today?  His or your own?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bathing Suites and Cellulite Cream: One Woman's Horror!

It's spring!  I LOVE spring!!  I love the flowers; I love the newness of life that happens with the plants and animals; I love the smell of fresh cut grass and the birds singing in the trees.  It brings to my mind God's renewing spirit that refreshes us each and every day if we let Him.

However, it also brings with it a horrendously depressing aspect as well:  bathing suite shopping.  

There are two items I hate shopping for above all else.  Bathing suites and jeans.  I foolishly attempted to do both yesterday.  The ending result was teary eyes and shoulders being slumped in defeat as I walked out of the THIRD store empty-handed!  I could go on and on about what I hate about shopping (starting with the mirrors that I am CONVINCED department stores get from carnival fun houses) but I won't.  


I admit I was shocked that I felt so defeated because I PRAYED before going shopping.  That's right!  I prayed because I every other time I have gone shopping I have experienced the same self depreciating thoughts and mind sets.  I was like Hello, God, I prayed about this and I shouldn't be feeling this way...are You there?

Then I heard the song "Everything Glorious" by David Crowder Band.  Some of the lyrics say, You make everything glorious, You make everything glorious, You make everything glorious and I am Yours.  What does that make me?

Wow.  I sat straight up in the car seat and said out loud, "I am GLORIOUS!"  

Then I thought about my attitude towards my body.  Of course there are things that I would like to change.  I don't like my wide hips or my ample back side but God says that He knit me together.  When I think of someone knitting I picture someone with extraordinary patience.  I see their needles working intricately to make knots and connect them together to make something beautiful.  And that is what God has done for me...and for YOU.


Who am I to look at His creation, His masterpiece and criticize what I see?  If the fault is mine (and I'll be honest:  it is!) then I need to take better care of the body He has so thoughtfully and carefully made for me.  If it is a feature that is beyond exercise then I need to reevaluate my attitude.  If my Creator pronounces me beautiful then I. AM. BEAUTIFUL!  


Society tells us we need to be slim and trim, have cute little noses, impossibly big boobs and have just the right clothes.  But God tells us that we need Him.  I am going to stand in agreement with my Maker and declare myself beautiful!  I will pray about ways I can be more responsible and improve the condition of the body God has made for me but I will agree with God and not the world.  

We are fearfully and wonderfully made!  It is time we acknowledge this truth and start acting like we believe it!!  


For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in  my mother's womb.  I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.  ~Psalm 139:13-14

 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's All In the BLOOD

 









(part of) MY JESUS by Todd Agnew
...Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we'd recognize Him

Cause my Jesus bled and died

He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church

The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
I think He'd prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

I want to be like my Jesus!

I have begun to notice something disturbing.  When I say "disturbing" I mean it gives me chills to think about.  It started with a showing of a clip from the crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ where many people left after being told what they were about to see.  Later I heard the song My Jesus for the first time.  Today I saw a comment on Facebook that said a picture of a beaten, bleeding Jesus hanging on a cross was "inappropriate" and it should be replaced with a peaceful, praying Jesus.

Why do we want to clean Jesus up?  Are we more concerned with Him being PC than His sacrifice?  Do we understand what He did for us?  Do we really GET the fact that it should have been each and every one of us on that cross?

Yes, the images are gruesome.  I agree, it is hard to watch.  But I also believe it is something we need to be reminded of!  Daily.  DESPERATELY!  

In a society where we are too busy justifying our sin instead of turning away from it we need to realize the intensity of the love that Jesus has for us.  We need to come face to face with His blood and know that is MY salvation that soaked the ground and stained it red.  He paid the price I was meant to pay!  We need to see it as it was:  harsh, brutal, bloody, cruel and humiliating.

If we wipe away the blood, we take away the purpose.  If we clean up the cross, we take away the redemption.  Do we not realize that the cross was His destination all along?  He loves us enough to pay the price, no matter the cost.  All so we could go free.  All because He wants us to spend eternity with Him.  1 John 4:19 tells me, "We love because He first loved us."  And yet, we don't want to think or be confronted with images of the expression of His love.

I'm not even sure it is the graphic nature that bothers us.  For some, I am sure it is just the graphic nature of these images.  But for most of us, I think it makes us feel guilty.  I know it does me.  It makes me feel guilty about the way I live.  It makes me feel guilty about the things I put before my Savior.  "When I survey the wondrous cross" I come nose to nose with my ingratitude and lack of devotion.

Bottom line:  It is much easier to go on with life as usual if "my Jesus" is a brown haired, blue eyed man with His arms outstretched in loving acceptance.  I can apologize to that Jesus.  But the Jesus that is bleeding and rasping for breath as He dies in my place will take no apology.  He demands my life; He deserves my devotion.  And that is just what I intend to give Him. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Silent No More

Every year about this time I come face to face with my past.  Every year I hear the same arguments and viewpoints and every year they break my heart.  The following subject is a touchy one and will no doubt offend some, but hopefully even if you disagree with my view, you can see the love that motivates it.  No hate or condemnation here.  I am a sister, not a judge.

"Open your mouth for the speechless, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy."  Proverbs 31:8-9

Is there anything cuter than baby's feet?  No really, try and think of something that is cuter than that.  Here, let me help, here's a picture:

See?  How precious is that?

We would never dream of doing anything to harm the owner of those cute, chubby little toes.  However, many of us have done just that.  1 in 3 women have had an abortion...myself included.  My heart has been breaking over and over again as my thoughts revolve around this subject.  I think of my own past decisions that led me down that dark road; I think of the many women, like myself, that believe their guilt and shame is their "cross" to bear; I think of my baby that was not given the chance to live and the plans God had for her life. 

Some of the things that bother me the most are some of the popular arguments in favor of abortion.  One popular view that I have heard is that they believe it is a woman's right to decide what to do with her body.  I see one glaring problem with this viewpoint:  It is not her body she is deciding to eliminate.  The life inside her needs her for nourishment, but it is not her - the baby is another life entirely!  A life that deserves the chance to live.  My mother became pregnant with me at the age of 15.  I am grateful to her for giving me life.  I wish I had been as wise as she.

What about rape and incest?  These are despicable acts against women.  I can understand why a woman would not want to carry a child created under such circumstances.  However, I am brought back to the realization that that life was not created by her or by her attacker.  God Almighty created the life within her.  He says that He has plans for all the life He creates (Psalm 139:16).  I do not profess to understand why God would allow a pregnancy after such a violation but His ways are far above my own.  I have deep sympathy for this situation but the taking of an innocent life is not the answer.  It will not take away the pain or the memory; it will not make it go away.  It only piles another hurt on top of the other. 
 
Abortion is more than an issue of the taking of human life.  It does more damage than just the loss of the child.  It does lasting damage to the mother as well.  It wounds, it scars, it breaks hearts.  It has been said, "The destinies of mother and child are inextricably linked.  You cannot hurt one without hurting the other, and cannot help one without helping the other."  So many women are hurting from their decision to abort but, most of the time, they suffer in silence. 


When I decided not to give my child life, I was totally unprepared for the repercussions that followed.  I was a broken woman.  I lived in a perpetual state of darkness with a sense of impending doom.  I waited for God to strike me down for the life I took.  First, I tried to numb my senses with alcohol but that didn't work.  I still felt empty and alone.  After beginning to date my husband I tried to redeem myself with church service.  I felt a bigger hypocrite than ever. 

That one decision crippled me emotionally and spiritually.  Emotionally I was a wreck.  I could not make it through a Mother's Day or July 7th without sinking into depression.  Spiritually I couldn't function.  My view of God was as a wrathful Judge, not of a loving Redeemer and forgiver of sin. This did not make for a vibrant, growing relationship.  It seemed I was just stuck.  My husband knew of my past but he didn't know how to help me.  So I just continued to tell myself that God knew where I had been at the time and He would understand. 

Basically, my logic was severely flawed; I justified my actions to suit my own need to make my decision "okay."  But by saying that God would understand, I was saying that the God, who created the life inside me, would totally understand that I had decided to overrule His decision and terminate that life.  Doesn't make much sense when put that way, does it? 

Another thing that really hits me hard when it comes to abortion are the careless things that are said in a room full of Christians when the subject of abortion is brought up.  Now, keep in mind, the current statistic is that 1 in 3 women have had an abortion.  So, keeping with that statistic, if you are in a Bible study of 10 women then there are 3 in that room that have had an abortion.  

Now, I don't know about you, but I hold with the belief that the church is for flawed people.  I hope so, otherwise, I couldn't go...and neither could you.  As a post abortive woman and to be sitting in a room of Christian women saying things like, "I don't see how a woman could choose to kill her child," or "What is wrong with those women?"  That hurts.  There was a time when statements like this convinced me further that I could never tell anyone about my horrible secret.  I shrank inside myself and the chains got a little heavier; the cloud a little blacker.

I do understand that abortion is a horrible decision, that it is murder but would you sit in a room with alcoholics and talk about how stupid or selfish drinking is or would you try and help them?  My point is that even if we do not understand the struggle, we still need to sympathize with the person struggling.  Our words can either help or they can hurt, we need to be careful which they do when spoken.  Judgement is one of the ways Satan keeps the army that I believe God is trying to raise up in chains. 

It is time we stopped not talking about abortion because of its ugliness and time we started fighting for life and lifting one another up!  The enemy wants us condemning one another on one side and silent on the other in order to keep us out of his way.  If there is no one to oppose him, he will continue his march against life...and he will win.  But I serve a God that sent His Son to set me free from sin and to clothe me in His righteousness.  His blood covers me and makes me white as snow.  There is no condemnation in Him.

Let us be the army that God raises up to defend the rights of the unborn.  Life is sacred.  The only One who has the right to take it, is the One who gave it.  Let us show Christ's love to those who have had abortions and let them know that He came to set the captives free!  Let my sisters be the ones to give a voice to the pain and heartache that abortion brings.  And let us BE SILENT NO MORE.

"For You created my inmost being:  You knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be."  Psalm 139:13-16






Monday, March 5, 2012

To Be or Not To Be Offended; That is the Question

Have you ever had a delayed reaction offense?  This has happened to me recently.    I was talking with one of my friends and she said something to me that I honestly did not think anything of at the time, everything was fine, we laughed, talked and had a good time.  An entire 24 hours later as I was vacuuming my room, this thought barges into my brain:  What is THAT supposed to mean?  And the more I thought about it, the angrier I became.  So I stewed for a bit, then vented to my husband (please tell me this is sounding familiar to some of you!) and then I stewed some more.

My wonderful husband looked at me and said these words, "You know, the only one this is affecting is you."

At first, I just stared at him.  Then I wanted to smack him.  Then I realized just how right he was.  I had let something said to me hurt me when, at the time, I didn't think anything of it.  So, why, all of a sudden, am I having this violent reaction?

Maybe this scripture will shed some light on the subject:
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (emphasis mine) 

Paul reminds us here that our war is not a battle fought in the physical realm, but one fought in the spiritual realm.  And the forefront of the fray is our mind.  The enemy will come in and plant a thought in order to create an emotional reaction.  Once the emotion is created, a lot of the time, our actions will follow suite.

We need to learn to recognize these attacks.  I could have continued to be angry and let those emotions get in the way of a wonderful friendship.  I could have continued to stew about what she said until I became bitter towards her.  Instead, I chose to hear the wisdom in the words of my husband.  My anger had no bearing on her (she had no idea I was mad) but it had a great bearing on me.  

When we let our negative emotions get the best of us, we put a boundary between us and God.  This boundary is because we are not listening to God, we are listening to us.  This is never more true than when it comes to anger.  The Bible tells us, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold," Ephesians 4:26-27.  The devil gets a foothold when we hold onto our anger.  Anger is not a sin, it is an emotion.  It is the path we follow under the influence of that emotion that puts us in danger of sinning.

As a woman, I am prone to be led by my emotions.  I tend to follow the way I feel; and to be honest, that can be dangerous.  We say things we don't mean because we feel angry; we over-commit ourselves because we feel excited; we hurt others because we feel wronged.  When we let our emotions take the driver's seat in our lives, we are on a dangerous road.


Let us make an effort to think logically and rationally when we feel the emotional tidal wave threatening to sweep us away.  Stop for just a moment and consider:   
     1) The source of offense.  I know my friend and she would never say anything to me spitefully or hatefully in order to hurt my feelings (clue #1 that I might be on the verge of over-reaction).   
     2) Am I in a highly emotional state already?  There are those certain times when we are more sensitive (ladies, you know what time I'm talking about).  There are also certain circumstances that can lend itself to a rash reaction (when I am hungry or when I am already frazzled).   
     3) Is my reaction to this situation God honoring?  How does He want me to respond to this?  We know that it does not honor God when we give someone a piece of our mind or incite a nasty confrontation.  If there is true cause for offense we are still called to peace.  Maybe this means we have to spend time in the Word of God get a firm handle on our runaway emotions before we confront but we are always called to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our Lord.


I could go on and on and cite Scripture after Scripture on the dangers of being overly emotional but I will leave you with the one that has affected me the most:
"Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools."  Ecclesiastes 7:9

I would much rather follow the Lord's word and be wise than to forever be flying off the handle and be foolish.  I long for balance and consistency; in that quest I have found my emotions to be my worst enemy.  If we are to battle the enemy on a daily basis and WIN, we must learn to monitor our thoughts and thereby control our emotions   So, let's suite up and get out there and deal the devil a deathly blow by not giving him a foothold!!  My mind is now officially.  off.  limits!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Princess Warrior

I will not waste your pain, My beloved.  I will use every tear you have cried to put a passion in your heart to do something great for My Kingdom.  You can find comfort in your darkest hour by praising Me through the painful place you're in.  You will not remain in this painful place for long, My love.  Soon you will see that, through it all, I carved something in your character that will draw you and others closer to Me.  You are My precious Princess, and I will shake the earth if that is what it takes to see your chains fall to the ground.

Love,
Your Lord who feels your pain

from Praise Through The Pain
by Sheri Rose Shepherd



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Repeating the Past - How to Break the Cycle!

"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.  They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck."  Proverbs 1:8-9

I'm sure as we read the verse above, we can all think of at least one young person we have tried to give advice to who has gone their own way instead.

Well, I'm not writing to talk to them today.  I'm talking to us.  I'm talking to those of us that have lived long enough to have made a few mistakes and lived to tell about it.

It has been my experience that we often want to give our younger generation advice in the form of instruction.  But don't you remember how well you responded at their age when told not to do something?  That made me all the more eager to try it for myself.  

I don't believe our teens and young people need any more instructors.  BUT they DO need mentors!  They need someone to come along side them and build them up and to speak God's truths into their hearts.  They need someone who is not afraid to tell them where they have been.

How can we blame them for making our mistakes again and repeating history when we don't share with them the consequences of our own shortcomings?  The enemy would have us believe that everything will be alright if we just remain silent.  That speaking out will only bring us guilt and shame; that no one will listen to a messed up person like us.  Can I just tell you what a LIE that is?

Christ came to set the captives free and in Isaiah 61 He tells us all the things He came to give us!  He says we can have beauty for ashes, gladness instead of mourning, He says that we can be rebuilt and rebuild!!  I don't know about you, but that excites me down to the depths of my soul!

Those verses tell me that God wants to heal me, He wants to set me free from my guilt and my shame and THEN He wants to use me! He does not intend for me to tuck my past away and keep it swept under the rug.  How then, will He receive the full glory of what He has done in our lives if we never tell anyone?  Everything we have ever gone through can be used by Him.  It doesn't matter if we brought that circumstance on our self or if it was brought on us by the actions of another.  God. can. USE. it!

I have made my share of mistakes.  I have been an alcoholic, I have been sexually promiscuous, I have had an abortion...and the list goes on.  I am not proud of where I have been but I am determined that God will be given the glory through those things.  I will speak truth into the hearts of our youth to try and let them see that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death," (Proverbs 14:12).

Our kids do not need another sermon, they need a living example.  They need us to show interest in them.  They need us to share our story.  They need to see God's love walked out in real life.  Let us pray for God to show us a young person that we can pour ourselves into - they are waiting!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Reflections

Have you ever looked in the mirror and examined your reflection?  No, I mean really stared at yourself.  For me, the longer I look, the more faults I find.  The overgrown eyebrows I normally don't notice (or like to say I don't notice) because I am not looking carefully, all of sudden, become a glaring wrong that must be fixed immediately.

Do you think if we examined our spiritual life with the same attention, we would come to the same conclusion?  Do you think we would find areas of our life we need to pay more attention to?

My parents used to tell me that whether I behaved well or behaved badly, it reflected directly on them.  If God is our Father, then doesn't our behavior reflect on Him as well?  Think about it:  What kind of reflection do our words and deeds cast of Jesus?  Is it accurate?  I am not trying to cast blame or point the finger, I just want us to examine all that we do in light of the fact that the things we do, the things we say, the places we go all affect our witness and either give credit to or damage the name of our Lord.  

A few years ago I had a mouth like a drunken sailor and had even managed to make quite a numbers of sailors blush with my language. And I claimed to belong to Christ!  I would try and clean it up but never for long.  Try as I might, I struggled with this stronghold in my life.  And while, over time, I made great improvements in my language it was still rather, um, colorful.  I would tell myself, I just can't help it, it's the way I am, it's the way I express myself!

When my first child was born, God taught me a very important lesson.  I can help it!  I just needed the right motivation.  I needed to stop believing the lie that I was helpless.  To tell the truth, it was easier to say I couldn't help it than to try and change.  But I wanted better for my child.  I wanted him to be able to express himself intelligently and effectively without resorting to profanity.


When I am tempted to believe that I cannot help my behavior I am reminded of that time in my life.  One of the main battles I face today is with my emotions.  I tend to lose my temper and act however I 'feel'.  I am learning that Jesus wants to be the Lord or my speech; Lord of my actions...Lord of my life!  I want to surrender fully and completely to Him so that I can show others who He is.  I cannot do that when I act like ME!

1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

It is time for me to grow up in Christ.  I am ready and willing to stop hiding behind my excuses for bad behavior and start confessing that behavior to Him.  I will never be perfect, but, with His help, I can be a better reflection.  How about you, will you join me?