Monday, August 29, 2011

I Am a Sinner

As a fellow human being, I too was born a sin addict. Though the Lord Jesus has redeemed me and dressed me in his own righteousness so that I may approach our Heavenly Father without fear of condemnation, my humanness still craves sin. And that craving does sometimes overcome me and I give in. In defiance, because I want what I want no matter what God says, I sin. This past week, I gave in big time and binged in my sin addiction. The guilt and shame I experienced due to my deliberate sinful actions were overwhelming. I knew in my intellect that as I repented and begged God’s forgiveness, he was there forgiving and embracing me. Yet my heart had built up a wall between us and I hid from him much like Adam and Eve did in the garden. The conflict this caused in me set me up to make one of two decisions – I could either run farther from God into sin to numb the shame and guilt that ate at me or come out of hiding and face God. With the aid and encouragement of some very good friends, I came out of hiding and found not the condemnation I deserved, but the loving embrace of God waiting for me.
Bear with me as I seem to change the subject, but not really. Also this week, my mother got a 12-week old Shih Tzu. She is the cutest thing I ever saw and my heart is enamored with her. Her every puppy action is so adorable, I can’t take my eyes off of her because I don’t want to miss a thing. She is a timid little thing and being a toy breed, she is small and fragile. She is a tiny creature and to her, I am a giant, so when I approach her, I get down on the ground to make myself accessible to her and so I don’t scare her. When she flops out of her cage and comes running to me, joy fills every part of me. I spent an hour the other day just lying on the kitchen floor playing with her and every time she licked my face, happiness burst out of me as laughter. Being a puppy, she has lots to learn – like where to do her business, what she can and cannot eat, where she is allowed to go and not…. And being a puppy, she makes lots of mistakes (sometimes deliberately, even though she really does know she’s not supposed to). I correct her, but my heart is wrapped around her little paw and I could never not love her fully.

God loved me before the world existed. From the very beginning, I was in his heart and he carefully created me to be the person I am. In joy, his heart is drawn to watch over me – kind of like how my heart enjoys seeing Molly be the puppy she is. He is a giant to my small and fragile nature and, like me with Molly, he came down to my level in the person of Jesus Christ to interact with me and share his heart with me. His Spirit within me gently corrects me when I sin – not to hurt or punish, but to guide me in the right way. Even when I stubbornly follow my will and not his, he doesn’t hate me or want to condemn me. Rather he aches to welcome me back into his arms with joy. If I, as a flawed human being, can love Molly with such forgiving whole-hearted love, imagine how much God loves us – not as pets, but as his very own children whom he gave the life of his Son to save. I love Molly, but in the end she is a dog and if she runs in front of a Mac truck, I’m not going to run out in front of it to save her. (Sorry Mom!) But God’s love for me is so deep and true and perfect that as my sin brings me to the cross, Jesus runs out in front, pushing me out of the way to safety, to take my place on the cross.

Yes I am a sinner and God loves me. I just need to run into his arms, sinner that I am, to know how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that I may be filled to the measure of all fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

About the pictures:
Molly (12-week old Shih Tzu) August 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

What Jack Sees Are My Priorities

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about my priorities as I try to make time for my relationship with God, especially in light of the call on my life that I talked about in last week’s blog. Like anyone else, I feel like there are never enough hours in the day to do all the things I want and need to do. And now I’m going to add more stuff to the list! I must be nuts! As I started listing all the things I want to do and never seem to have enough time to do, I knew some sacrifices were going to have to be made. But how do you choose what stays and what goes when it all seems important? 

As I pondered this, an old favorite TV series came to mind. I used to watch a show called “Without a Trace.” Each week, a team of FBI agents specializing in missing persons led by Agent Jack Malone would exhaust themselves to find a missing person. They would find out everything they could about the missing person and try to retrace his movements up until the moment he disappeared in the hopes of locating him alive and unharmed. The agents would visit the missing person’s home and look through his belongings to discover clues that might lead to his whereabouts. They would search his computers files, phone records, and read his emails to learn about the missing person’s character in order to make educated guesses that often led them to the next clue. They followed paper and electronic trails tracking the person’s movements on the day he disappeared in the hopes of discovering what had happened to him. And by the end of the show, they followed the clues right to the missing person who was often alive and usually needing the FBI’s help to return home.

It got me to thinking – What would Jack Malone discover about me if he were to follow the clues of my life on any given day? As he routed through my home, my computer, my texts – what conclusions would he draw about who I am and what is important to me? I can tell you that if he were to show up at my home, he would see that housecleaning is not really high on my list of priorities. What do my possession and my activities say to Jack Malone – to anyone – about who I am and what’s important to me? What do I want my possessions and daily activities to say about me? And does my life say about me what I want it to say about me?

I would hope that my possessions and daily activities show the world that 1) I love Jesus and 2) I love the world of people that Jesus loves and died to save. When I look at my life through this lens, it’s so much easier to decide what will be high on my list of priorities and what will not. That means that there are a lot of things I would like to do that won’t make it onto that list. However, in the eternal scheme of things, I’m okay with that. When I look at it in this way, it doesn’t seem as difficult anymore to carve out the time to spend in prayer and to read and learn God’s Word. I may miss watching a football game now and then or I may have to give up a golf game once in a while. Perhaps I will have to log onto Facebook a little less often and limit the time I spend browsing the internet. I will definitely have to give up my lazy Saturday afternoons curled up on the couch for hours watching mindless TV and I absolutely must organize my time better so that I can spend more time with Jesus. As I mentioned last week, this is going to be a real struggle for me, but if my life is to say to the world that I love Jesus and I love the world of people he died to save, then bring on the challenge because the prize – a deeper more intimate relationship with my Savior – is well worth it and so much more.

What does your life say to the Jack Malones of the world?

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church (July 2011)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Missionaries and Me at NWMC

I recently attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference. I wish you had been there, heard what I heard, and saw what I saw, because I’m having a hard time putting the experience into words. Yet I feel I must try because what I learned there is changing my life. I’m not missionary material by any means and given my health issues, I will most likely never go on even a short-term mission trip – so why did I go to a “mission” conference? The short answer is that God was calling me to visit with Him there. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever “been away from home.” I’ve never gone on scouting trips or away to camp or on church youth trips. So this was a really big deal for me just from the aspect of stretching my shy, introverted personality beyond my comfort zone every minute for a week amongst hundreds of strangers. I admit that I had some trouble the first couple of days figuring out how to be me in that frenzy of activity with all those people around everywhere. But the Lord provided a few friends who prayed for me and helped me acclimate quickly.

For one week, I worshipped God morning and night and heard His Word proclaimed and expounded in light of His work in the mission fields of the world. I had the opportunity to hear and talk with past and present missionaries from all over the world and I participated in a Bible study on the book of Jonah (an Old Testament, rather-reluctant, missionary). It’s amazing how small the world becomes when you sit across the breakfast table from a person who was born and raised in another part of the country or the world and you pray together for God’s blessing on the meal and share stories of what Jesus has done in and through each other’s lives.

Being an introvert, I made sure to find time each day to walk by myself and be alone with God or sit with my writing, as I often do, to hear what He might have to say to me. It seemed that no matter where I went on campus, God’s Spirit was so present, He was almost tangible and His peace, at times, was intoxicating.

Now comes the hard part – God let me know in no uncertain terms how shallow my prayer life had become and then gave me a glimpse of how full and rich He intends it to be. He allowed me the privilege of praying one-on-one with a few special people at conference and God moved in me and I believe in them to bring them healing from old wounds and courage to face their future. There is nothing as exhilarating as when the Spirit leads me to share my heart with another, to lift up a brother or sister in prayer – to help them bring their burden to our Father in heaven. When the words that He gives me to speak releases their pain, their concerns, and their needs, and then I see His peace filling them – there are no words to express that kind of joy. I know now that God is calling me into prayer ministry – whatever that means – I don’t know yet.

I won’t be idle while I wait for the Lord to make it clear. Already, I’ve joined a Sunday morning prayer group at church, and along with many others I’ve made a commitment to 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim world during this month of Ramadan. I’m reading and learning about spiritual warfare and intercessory and healing prayer and memorizing scripture. Most importantly, I am turning off the TV and radio more often, putting away worldly distractions, and I’m praying and I’m listening. These are my intentions and I pray the Lord blesses me with success as I face the uphill battle against my old “lazy” habits which are impossible for me to break by my own will and power.

Will I go back to the conference next year? YES! It’s already on the calendar. Maybe I’ll never put a foot on the mission field, but God’s Word tells me that my prayers are not useless and they do not go unheard. God is moving and working on the mission fields of the world and He has called me to support His missionaries in prayer. Last year I adopted a mission family to pray for (the children and grandchildren of very dear friends of mine) and I admit I’ve been doing a lousy job of it, but now God has engrained them in my heart as if they were my own family and I will be more diligent about bringing them to the Lord in prayer on a daily basis. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. (Colossians 4:2-3)

Now if you’ll excuse me – It’s time for God and me to have a conversation.

About the pictures:

Brittain Lake, Westminster College Campus (Site of New Wilmington Mission Conference) July 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Reckoning

Over the last month, God has begun in me an amazing journey through Psalm 119. God has drawn me to this Psalm not just for reflection, but as a conversation between him and I. I am taking it a stanza at a time and as I meditate on His Word, the Spirit is inspiring me to respond in verse. Though I am a writer – I have no words to express how God has touched my spirit in this process so far, however I can share some of the experience with you by sharing a few of the poetic responses that has come from my study time.

So wrong and sinful am I
that I could not hide
my shame from the light
of Your glory.
I had no excuses,
no defense to submit,
no hope of acquittal
from the long list of sins
I’d chosen to commit.
Whatever Your judgment
I deserved it full well
and hopeless I waited
for a pronouncement of hell –
away from Your glory,
Your presence,
Your light.
Then arose from the depths
of my spirit-dead soul
a desolate cry,
“Mercy, my God”
and tears of repentance
streamed from my eyes.
You heard my confession,
saw the regret of my heart,
then took me up in Your arms
and tenderly spoke,
“My dear little child
for your sake I died
and rose from the grave
so that on this day
I could joyfully declare
Your debt has been paid.
Now receive My forgiveness
My love and My grace
and be with Me always.
Stand firm in My ways.
I’ll teach you to love
and to lay down your life,
to know the difference
between what is wrong
and what’s right.
Follow My voice.
My Spirit will lead
as you travel the path
marked out by Me.
There’s no need to fear
nor hide your face
from My gaze
for My love and My grace
has brought us together.
From this day forward
I proclaim us to be
Heavenly Father –
beloved child,
now and forever
together in Me.”

Response to Psalm 119:25-32

About the picture:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church (July 2011)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Dance of the Faithful

Over the last month, God has begun in me an amazing journey through Psalm 119. God has drawn me to this Psalm not just for reflection, but as a conversation between him and I. I am taking it a stanza at a time and as I meditate on His Word, the Spirit is inspiring me to respond in verse. Though I am a writer – I have no words to express how God has touched my spirit in this process so far, however I can share some of the experience with you by sharing a few of the poetic responses that has come from my study time.

Only under the care of Your watchful eye
and powerful hand will I be protected,
fulfilled and enlighten.
You alone can reveal the mysteries
of Your grace and Your glory.
I'm not able navigate these unfamiliar waters
without the compass of Your Word,
Your Will
leading me on the path marked out for me.
Though my soul aches for Your Presence,
my mind is scattered and distracted,
my heart divided in the tug-of-war
between Your everlasting grace
and the world’s momentary pleasure.
My strength is fickle in its resolve
to love and follow You.
And though You’ve forgiven and forgotten my sins,
I'm surrounded by those who
would make fun of me for failing
to maintain the perfection of the LORD
in my witness
and in my living.
There are those who deny Your existence
on the evidence of my example
as I once did
before Your grace saved my wretched soul.
I will not curse them
for my heart weeps for their predicament.
They are lost and boldly continue on with pride
the path of their own destruction.
And though their hopelessness demands my pity,
their laughter and harsh words cut deep into my heart
and bring a flush of shame upon my face.
Only in the shadow of Your love and grace
will I find the faith to endure and survive,
to rise above.
You've told me they will gossip
and call me names. Still, Your hand
will hold my head high in the face of their insults
and Your joy will fill my heart.
Your Word will fill my mind
and fall from my lips
in the battle of their indifference.
Your power will restore my strength as
Your Spirit lifts my soul.
Renew me Lord to be Your light
in a dark and sinful world
and bring me into a
place of Your keeping.

Response to Psalm 119:17-24

About the picture:
Parwood Presbyterian Church (July 2011)