Friday, July 30, 2010

Golf and Missionaries

Oh my goodness! God has blessed me tremendously this week! And I know that no matter how hard I try, I could never tell you all the ways he has touched my heart, given me a big God-hug, and whispered encouragement and love to my soul this week so like the gospel writer John, I won’t try. I’ll only give a few examples that you might get a glimpse of how awesome God was to me this week.

In the beginning, which was about three weeks ago, a friend asked me a rather unusual, impulsive question. He asked me if I wanted to play in the New Wilmington Mission Conference Golf tournament with him. Those of you who know me should be sitting down when you read the next sentence. I said yes! I’ll give you a moment to let the shock wear off. For those of you who don’t know me, just know that my yes was the first miracle God performed in the grand adventure he took me on this past week. My plan was to go to the Sunday evening meeting so that I could familiarize myself with the long drive and the campus and then drive up Thursday for the tournament. I ended up spending a month’s worth of gas allowance since Sunday driving back and forth to New Wilmington for the evening meetings because I didn’t want to miss out on the incredible thing I saw God doing there.

Each evening I worshiped with hundreds of people from around the country and the world and heard some magnificent messages that reminded me that it’s not what I think I have to offer, which in my mind is very little, but what God does with it that matters. God calls us according to his will, not our qualifications, so “I can’t” and “I don’t know how,” just won’t work as excuses where God is concerned. When I can’t, he can and what I don’t know, he will teach me. My belief that even the smallest act of love when done in the name of Christ can and does impact the Kingdom in remarkable ways was confirmed and validated in story after story told by the missionaries of Christians all over the world. God’s love and joy were so rich in this place, I felt I could reach right out and touch it and hold it in my hands. Believe me, I will never hear the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in the same way ever again. The golf tournament was a great success and my teammates will always hold a special place in my heart and in my prayers.

Who could ask for more blessing then that! But wait -- there’s more! (No this is not a infomercial) I received one of the most precious gifts God has ever given me. Before I tell you what it was, I want to state unequivocally that it is not a knock on my own home church or the one I serve as an administrative assistant nor on my friends and family. For the very first time in my almost forty-three years, I felt truly and wholly connected to the people around me. There were no invisible barriers that separated me from them. I wasn’t on the outer rim looking in –I completely belonged! If I never feel that again, I have the memory of those few precious moments to hang onto – my own little glimpse of heaven.

Sometimes you have to travel far outside your comfort zone to see what God has waiting for you. It’s challenging and can even be scary but so very worth it! And to think it all started with a simple, yet uncharacteristic “yes” to a friend’s unassuming invitation to play a little golf.

Click here to learn more about the New Wilmington Mission Conference.
About the pictures:
Blackwater State Falls Park, WV (May 2010)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not Always a True Beauty

One night, about a month ago, I was flipping through the TV channels trying to find something to watch and ran across a reality show called “True Beauty.” Now I’m not much for reality shows, but this one caught my interest - Ten very “pretty people” vying for the title of contest winner and the prizes that go with it. What they don’t know is that their physical appearance and their talents are only a small step to victory because all the while they are being secretly judged on their inner beauty. Each week they unknowingly face challenges devised to show who they really are on the inside. One at a time, they are placed in a situation where they choose, or not, to help another or do the right thing. Hidden cameras capture their true beauty or lack thereof when they think no one important is watching. It’s only when they are eliminated that they are confronted with the video of those moments they thought no one saw. For some of them, it is the first time they see themselves for who they really are and most don’t like what they see. I watched the season’s finale this week when the secret was revealed to the last three contestants. I could see the shame in their eyes as they watched the ugly truth of themselves unfold in the video. Later they each had a chance to plead their case to the judges as to why they should win the contest and all of them expressed remorse over the self-centeredness revealed in the video.

The next afternoon, I was sitting in the hair salon playing a game on my phone while I was waiting to get my hair cut when a woman walked up to the coffee machine sitting on the table next to me. “Which one is decaf?” she asked me. “I don’t know,” I said as I continued to play my game and wondering why she asked me instead of the receptionist who was sitting just five feet away. She figured out which one was decaf and then asked me if I knew where the stirrers were. “I don’t know. I don’t even drink coffee.” I weakly offered never looking up from my phone. Then out of the corner of my eye I could see her shifting back and forth. The receptionist asked her what she was looking for. Just as she said, “the garbage can,” she found it between me and the table. Vaguely aware of what was going on and still never looking up from my game, I moved out of the way enough so that she could throw away her stirrer. I was a little annoyed. All I wanted to do was wait in peace and this woman was invading my space. But then, would it really have been such a big inconvenience for me to take a moment of my time and offer her some kindness and maybe a little help.

That evening, the scene of those five minutes ran through my mind like a video and I realized that if I had been on “True Beauty,” I would have failed that secret challenge miserably. My self-centeredness shamed me and I realized that while it may not be on video, it was seen by the One who judges all. Just as with the final three contestants, all I could do was admit my guilt, speak my remorse, and ask my Judge to look past my self-centeredness. Here’s where the difference between reality shows and reality comes in. Jesus’ death and resurrection washes away my sinfulness as if it never happened! No video haunting me, replaying in endless reruns and YouTube outtakes. He paid the price for my sin and in doing so washed me clean. He restored me to good standing with the Judge. I haven’t been disqualified as a child of God and with Jesus as my Lord and Savior I have already been crowned a “Daughter of the King.” When I fail to live up to that grand title, Jesus is there to pick me up, brush me off and point me in the right direction toward the prize that is already mine – eternal life with Him!
About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where Love Begins

I thank you Lord for all You are,
for all that You have done,
and for the life of Jesus Christ,
Your one and only Son.

I must admit it puzzles me
that you would freely send
Your perfect sinless Son
to die on a cross for my hateful sin.

I hated and cursed Your sacred Name
and chose to live in sinful strife.
Yet You sacrificed your only Son
to give me everlasting life.

And the most puzzling of all for me,
You freely gave Your Son to die.
Then gave to me the choice to love
the King of Kings or the Father of Lies.

This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NIV)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)

About the picture:
Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Hope that Does Not Disappoint

Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.(Romans 5:5)

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope this week which reminded me of a conversation I had last year with a woman who was grieving the loss of her son-in-law. She thanked me for giving her hope and I thanked God for reaching out to her through me. I’m not the type of person to go around wearing my pain on my sleeve for the world to see. I’m not looking for pity or sympathy. But every once in a while, God will put me in a situation like this one where my experience is helpful to another person. I’ve faced many challenges in my life including the death of my only child and in carrying me through these hardships, God has forged a deep abiding hope within me that not only colors my attitude and actions but overflows through them to others.

The Oxford dictionary defines hope as expectation and desire. To be truthful, there are many things I desire that I don’t expect. I desire to live a life exempt from crisis and to never again feel the pain of losing a loved one. I desire to always be the perfect daughter, sister, and friend. Those things will never happen, but I want them.

Conversely, there are many things I expect that I don’t desire. I do expect hardships and to lose loved ones throughout the entirety of my lifetime. I expect that sometimes, even though I’ve done my best, I will disappoint those I care about.

And then there is hope. Hope is what gets me through the day. Hope carries me in the strength that resides in the peace and joy of God’s grace. This hope I speak of isn’t easy to come by and yet it’s free to all who reach for it. My hope is born out of the consistent and extraordinary presence of the Holy Spirit in my heart and in my life. Jesus was God’s proof of his love for me and the key to our eternal happy ending. The Spirit’s presence is God’s reassurance to me that he loves me still. His Spirit in my life is the sign of his love and acceptance. His Spirit is the fulfillment of his promise to be with me always. I trust him to guide me through uncertainty, protect me in the face of evil, and carry me through my inability. It is with this hope that I face the crisis and hardships in my life and it is this hope that I desire and expect to share with the world.
About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church Garden (July 2009)

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Red, White, and Blue Blessings

All this week, the radio station I listen to was asking people to call in to tell them about a “moment of American pride” they’ve experienced. There were many moving stories from airline personnel who had the privilege of flying soldiers home to a soldier who was deployed eight weeks before September 11, 2001 and returned home for the first time last September (nine years later) when he finally got to meet his child whom his wife was pregnant with when he left.

Of course, it got me to thinking about my own American pride or lack thereof. I’m not a person of politics. I don’t understand it and I’m certain that any person who enjoys a successful political career has sacrificed too much of their character to get where they are. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the freedom I have merely because I was born in this country or the military personnel who sacrifice more than I could comprehend so that I can continue to enjoy those freedoms. Despite what the current history books may say, this country was founded and shaped by people who loved and served God and wanted to provide a place where everyone had the right and ability to do the same. With that in mind, I began to think about the things I enjoy in my daily life because God blessed me to be an American citizen in this day and age.

Today, I woke up in a somewhat comfortable bed in my own room in my own air-conditioned apartment. I enjoyed the blessing of indoor plumbing complete with clean, hot and cold running water. I had a closet full of clothes to choose from as I dressed this morning in the light emanating from the electric lighting that comes standard in American homes. I had a kitchen full of food to choose my breakfast from and when I was done, I took the medication and vitamins I take each morning. (That reminds me, I need to run down to the local pharmacy and pick up a refill later – something else I am blessed to be able to do). As if that was not enough – God has blessed me with a car that works and a job to drive it to. I don’t need to worry about whether there will be lunch and dinner tonight. I didn’t have to worry about being dragged out of my house and beaten or arrested because I was reading my bible this morning and I have no fear of approaching my church on Sunday morning to worship the God who provided all these blessing for me to enjoy. To continue - I will be spending time with my family later, all who are relatively healthy and enjoy the same blessings I do. Since this is supposed to be a short devotional – I’ll stop there, but oh the blessings I could list here simply because God brought people to this land in search of the freedom to serve him and provided brave warriors who have been and are willing to sacrifice their lives so that we who remain can praise God for his blessings.

May you be blessed this Fourth of July weekend and as you are, don’t forget to praise the God who blessed you. And while you’re at it, say a word of thanks to veterans and to those in the military who have given so much to ensure your ability to receive those blessings freely. God bless America!

About the photos:
Red:  Phipps Conservatory May 2009
White:  Blackwater Falls May 2010
Blue:  Niagra Falls, Canada August 2008