Friday, August 28, 2009

Because He Said So

Many years ago, a small group of determined people and I stepped out in faith by developing a new ministry at our church. It was demanding work and we were unsure of whether it would be successful. Still, we knew that God had called us together for this purpose, so we poured our hearts into getting it up and running. God was faithful and prospered the ministry far beyond our hopes and expectations. Over the years, I've watched the people from that original group leave one by one. They moved out of the area or answered another call in their lives. New people came into the leadership of that ministry and it continues to grow and be shaped by their gifts, dedication, and vision for the ministry.

For many months now, I've been struggling with God's call to leave the leadership of this ministry. I've been stubbornly telling God that they need me and that I need it. Like a child who whines and cries when her mother tells her it's time to leave, I put up a fight. When I demanded that God tell me why, he, like parents so often do, told me "because I said so." That was it. No explanation. No itinerary. No reason other than "because I said so." Apparently, I still hate hearing that.

God was patient. He allowed me my temper tantrum. He waited for me to obey and follow his leading and I finally gave in. I stopped talking back. I gave up trying to enforce what I wanted and started listening to him tell me what I needed. I repented and obeyed his leading to resign from the ministry leadership with no excuse, no explanation other than "God said so." It was hard. Almost immediately after my resignation, something else presented itself. I've been in diligent prayer to discern a sense of call to this possible new service opportunity.

It's almost as if I had been in a dark place of disobedience while God was shining a bright light on my next step. While unable to discern what was in that light, I was able to see where to step. Having finally taken that step of obedience into the light, my eyes have begun to adapt to its brilliance and I am starting to make out the shapes of the things around me. I'm humbled by his patience, his forgiveness, and his love and I'm exited to see what he has in store for me.

So what have I learned from this experience? God's patience will outlast my tantrums every time, so maybe I should stop fighting him and just follow him. I've learned that he is my heavenly Father. He doesn't have to give me a reason and I should stop asking for one. Most importantly, I've learned that when I follow God's leading, I find myself where I wanted to be in the first place - with him! It doesn't really matter where his will takes me as long as I am with him on the journey.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do You Know Me?

This week I received an email that told this story:

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheated on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.”

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”

I laughed when I read this story and then I paused. God knows me even more intimately than that. If I were to ask him, “Do you know me?” would I be able to endure the shame his answer would bring. There are so many things in my life that are hidden and I’m not just talking about the dumb things I did as a rebellious teenager or the greedy, self-serving offenses of my pre-Christian days. At least with those, I have the weak excuse that God hadn’t redeemed my life yet.

Even if God were to concentrate his answer on the years after I committed my life to Jesus, I couldn’t bear the encyclopedic volumes that would proceed from his mouth. Rebellion and sin are deep in my nature and that’s not going to just go away. I’m not going to wake up one day and never sin again. Yes, I am a Christian and my ambition and hope is to obey God’s will in my life, to become more like Jesus and less like the sinful human being that I am, but that is going to be a lifetime struggle.

So often in this world, a Christian’s sin is used as proof of “the deception” of Christianity. Non-Christians build their case against God with the sins of his people. They judge us self-righteous when we obey God’s will in our lives and hypocrites when we fail. How did any of us ever get the idea that “real” Christians are perfect all of the time? Real Christians are just broken people like everyone else. We are people who, by God’s grace, recognize our brokenness and in faith believe God has paid the price to redeem our lives. In gratitude, we offer our love and service to him, but we are still sinful human beings. God’s redeeming work is available instantly, but requires the rest of this lifetime to take root and flourish.

When I stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, all of my sins will be illuminated and measured by his holiness. Though I am sinful, I’m not afraid of that day because, just as he is with me now, Jesus will be standing with me on that day blotting out every last one of my sins with his blood. It’s not a lack of sin that make a Christian different from a non-Christian. It’s a relationship with the Savior that makes us different.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Here's What I Know

Years ago I was diagnosed with Dysthymia (a low-grade depression that lasts longer than two years or in my case thirty years.) It is only by the grace of God, loving friends and family, a good Christian counselor, and four years of hard work that I finally climbed out of the dark hole my depression had trapped me in. Today I am blessedly depression-free. That disease will never again eat away at my soul and my life. That's not to say that I don't feel sad from time to time, and yes, even depressed. However, I have learned how to deal with it.

I mention this now because August is usually a time of year that I am susceptible to falling into depression. While I haven't been feeling depressed, I have noticed some of the warning signs. One of the things I've learned to do when I get this way is to articulate what I know. That's what I want to share with you today.

Here's what I know: God loves me and I love him. Even if I don't feel his presence right now, he is here with me. He speaks to me through his Word, so if I want to hear his voice, I just need to open my Bible. He will comfort and protect me. He will heal me. He will teach and guide me. He has provided a home for me to live in and food for me to eat. He's provided a vehicle for me to go from one place to another with ease. He's given me a church home where I belong and a wonderful family and great friends. He's given me a purpose. And he has given me a life worth living.

Here's what else I know: This moment is fleeting. Right now it's here...then just as quickly it's gone. I won't be stuck in this moment forever. I don't know what the next moment will hold. But I choose to have hope in God's good grace that it will better than the one I left behind.

My question to you today is "What do you know?"

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - think about such things. Philippians 4:8

May you be blessed with an abundance of "whatevers."
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Finding God's Message in the Puzzle

Sometimes God speaks to me in puzzle pieces. What I mean by this is that separate and often times unrelated events occur within a matter of days that when fit together properly with prayerful discernment, give me a powerful picture or message. This week, I’m inviting you to look at the puzzle pieces with me.

PUZZLE PIECE #1: Friday, I found out that I have a disc out of place in my neck that is causing pain, tingling, and weakness in my left arm and hand. I was forced to accept the fact that I may need surgery to correct the problem. Immediately, I began to worry about missing too much work during a long recovery time. How am I supposed to eat, pay my bills, and afford my rent if I miss weeks of work? I don’t have disability, so I would have absolutely no income while I'm off work. With no savings to draw from, this is a very bleak and frightening prospect to face.

PUZZLE PIECE #2: Tuesday night, a disturbed individual walked into a local aerobics class, turned out the lights and started firing indiscriminately. He killed three women, wounded nine more and then killed himself.

PUZZLE PIECE #3: Wednesday afternoon, two American journalists, who had been prisoners in North Korea for five months, stepped off a plane in the U.S. In a press conference, one of them said that every time one of their captors came into their rooms, they feared it was to bring them to a hard labor camp where they would remain, possibly for the rest of their lives. They had no idea that they were being released until a door opened and they saw the American team that would bring them home that day.

PUZZLE PIECE #4: Reflecting on the pieces at hand, my thoughts drifted to some of those unforeseeable life-changing events from my past. There was the first time my first husband abused me. There was the day my son was killed in a car accident. There was the night my second husband told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. All of these things came upon me with no notice, no time to brace myself for their impact, or prepare myself for the hardships they put in my life and on my heart. In the midst of these trials, I was fearful because I didn’t know what the next day would bring. I was stuck in the fear, the pain, and the insecurity of those events. It left me with a feeling of uncertainty and a building fear that I have no control in my life.

PUZZLE PIECE #5: Wednesday evening, one of those silly Facebook quizzes told me that the Bible verse that best describes my life is 1 Peter 5:7 - Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you. Then it proceeded to tell me that I tend to try to solve all my own problems. Jesus is there waiting for me with open arms to help me and "care" me through. I was instructed to let him – he loves me.

PRAYERFUL DISCERNMENT. What do I do with these puzzle pieces? I sense the overall picture is about trust - a deep, unwavering trust in the Lord. Trust that in this moment…and this moment…and this moment, the Lord is attending to his plan in my life whatever those moments hold for me. C.S. Lewis said that the next moment is as much beyond our grasp, and as much in God's care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is as foolish as care for a day in the next thousand years. In neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything. Whatever the circumstances of my life, God's plan is for our relationship to grow and flourish. The plan is to weed out my sinfulness so that his holiness has room to grow in me. God uses the trials and triumphs of my life to create in me the perfect heart of a child of God.

God's deep abiding love for me is evident. He gave his own Son, his own life in a brutal violent death, rather than see me perish. His heart aches for my pain and rejoices in my jubilation. Hearing my voice call his name is his greatest joy. His thoughts are continually of me and his heart overflows with compassion for me. His love compels him to be ever-present in my life. This is the God who holds the moments of my life in his hands. He has power over all things. What is there really to worry about? I don't have control over what will happen. In fact, I never did and to embrace the kind of trust in God that he deserves, I need to stop clinging to the illusion of being able to obtain that control. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Not easy, but straight. Straight through the trials of this world into his arms.

So now, I need to answer one question: Do I want to trade the fear and insecurity of not being able to control what happens to me in life for the peace and security of trusting the omnipotent, loving God who holds my heart and my life in his hands?
About the picture:
North Park (August 2009)