Monday, February 24, 2014

Faith Lessons and My Guitar

A year and a half ago, I gave into a passion I’ve been ignoring all of my life. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar and though I am now well past my childhood (when most people learn to play an instrument) I decided to put away all of the excuses and just do it. Knowing nothing about guitars, I asked a friend who does to help me pick mine out. Then I began taking lessons with a woman who has been playing the guitar for decades. The first couple of weeks of practice were the hardest because it hurt my fingertips to press the strings down to play the notes and it hurt to stretch my fingers so far apart to form some of the chords. To my dismay, I found that I was not a prodigy and I tripped over my own fingers too many times to count. It wasn’t long before callouses formed on my fingertips, playing no longer hurt, my hand formed the chords easily and the noise I was making sounded more like music.

I practiced almost daily for six months and then life began to get in the way. My practice time waned over the next couple of months and then a new endeavor began to take up all my time and I stopped playing all together. My guitar sat there on its stand in my living room gathering dust and I’d think to myself, “I should just pick it up and start playing.” But then I turned on the TV or picked up a book instead. After several months the strings relaxed causing the guitar to become severely out of tune. I missed playing, but still I found myself picking up those old excuses again instead of my guitar. Then last month, I missed it so much that in the middle of the night, I picked up my guitar, tuned it, and began to strum.  It really hurt because the callouses on my fingertips had soften and some of the chords were harder to form again, but it was such a beautiful sound and I just kept on playing. Today, I’m back taking lessons and practicing. It was hard at first to motivate myself again to practice regularly, but it’s getting easier and I don’t have to start over from scratch because I remember a lot of what I learned before.

Much like my passion for the guitar, God’s call and claim on my life has always been inside of me. For too many years, I pushed it aside for any and every excuse I could find until I couldn’t ignore him anymore—I put aside my feeble excuses. I realized that I didn’t know God or even what was and wasn’t true about him so I found an authority—in this case the bible. This friend introduced me to this God who had been tugging at my heart. Soon after, I was convicted to join a fellowship of believers and their experiences and passions helped me to learn and understand more about the Lord, his love and grace, and his desire to reconcile the world through the obedience of his disciples. Those first years weren’t easy (and sometimes even painful) to be obedient to the Lord’s teachings. I won’t pretend that I didn’t make endless mistakes. After all, human nature is sinful and there was only one prodigy when it comes to sinlessness and he is our Lord. However, the more I practiced my faith, the easier it got to be passionately faithful every day.

As is the case with most things, when my faith became so easy I could almost coast through it, my attention began to wane and other things began to take priority. Pretty soon, my relationship with the Lord had been set on a shelf rather than being active in my life. I missed those long intimate prayerful moments that had been so commonplace in my devotions before, but there were so many things to attend to in my life that I kept thinking, “I’ll carve time out tomorrow” and then never did. Any relationship needs constant care and communication and we need at least that much when it comes to our relationship with the God who made us, loves us, saved us, and cares for us now. Just about the same time as I picked up my guitar again, I began seeking those intimate prayerful moments with the Lord again, recommitting myself to our relationship. It’s not easy. It takes a ton of effort to maintain the disciplines that were once easy, but it is getting easier every day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Write a Poem About a Pair of Sneakers

An ordinary pair of worn leather sandals
scented with the odor of sweat and dirt
from a thousand miles walked.
Not the offensive smell one would expect,
but the sweet fragrant offering of
His duty, love, and determination
to sit among and to save His children.
The straps torn and mended in many places
by a loving mother or dedicated disciple,
or perhaps by His own calloused hands.
His very footprints molded into their soles 
from years of service in walking His path.
Day after day, they laid themselves down
upon the rocks that would slice His heel
and the burning sand that would grind at His feet
as He traveled where ever the Spirit led Him,
perhaps even to the foot of the cross.
Oh that I could walk the way of His sandals.

This week’s blog started in the strangest of places – a book called “How to Write Poetry.” As you may have noticed, the poet has been reawakened in me recently. The book gives the suggestion to write a poem about a pair of sneakers. Since Jesus didn’t own a pair of Nike’s, I wrote about his sandals instead. As I was writing the poem, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between my life as a disciple and the position his sandals held.

The sandals Jesus wore were nothing special. You couldn’t pick them out of a display of first century sandals if your life depended on it. What made them noteworthy enough to merit a poem was that they belonged to Jesus. Where he walked, they went. Often, I make a joke about being just a secretary or just a high school graduate and therefore nothing special. However, in my service to Jesus, I am uniquely special. He chose me and walks with me daily, guiding me along the path he wishes me to travel through life. It’s his presence alone in my life that makes me acceptable in the presence of a Holy God. And of course, it is always good to remember, that like everything else on earth, the Father has put me under Jesus’ feet.

As you know, my life has been torn apart many times and each time God has mended and renewed
my life. He made me new in his power, by his will, sometimes through the actions of those he put in my life. As I journey through life with Jesus, he is molding me every day to be more like him – through the situations I encounter, the people I interact with, in the study of his Word and in prayer. As his disciple, I am called to emulate him and as his child, I am growing to resemble him more and more each day. I’ve given to him my heart and my life and he accepts my service in the offering. My desire is to serve him as he wills me to, even to the cross.

Here’s the catch – it’s so much easier to express and even intend the kind of commitment we as children of God are to have than it is to actually live it. His sandals didn’t wake up some mornings and say, “Today, I just don’t feel like doing it” and then force themselves to go with Jesus. I, however, do and because Jesus continues to give me the ability to say “no” so that my “yes” means that much more, I struggle in my desire to always follow Jesus. Perhaps the struggle itself is what makes my “yes” such a cause for rejoicing in heaven.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

blog reprinted from July 2011 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Love Changes You

My son's birthday is this week. He would have been 28 years old. Please don't be sad for me–I'm not. After God's inexplicable gift of grace, Bryan was his greatest gift to me. Some of the greatest lessons I've learned about God, I learned in my role as parent.

It was in experiencing the world anew through my child's eyes that God opened my eyes to the miracle of life all around me. And it was in caring for Bryan that God taught me selflessness and sacrifice. It was in coming to and knowing Jesus that gave that selflessness and sacrifice true meaning and purpose. Much of what I know and understand about my Heavenly Father, I learned from my relationship with my son. I know the all-encompassing love I had for my child and therefore can to some small degree comprehend the love God has for me. In forgiving Bryan's childhood indiscretions, I learned a little bit about the forgiveness of God–how he never stops loving me in my sinfulness but reaches out to me to embrace me in his grace. And it was in enduring the event of my sweet child's death and in living life now devoid of his presence that I can begin to fathom, at least on a human level, the great pain of separation that God knew when I was lost in my arrogance and rejecting his love for me and denying his rightful place in my life as loving God and Savior.

So many more things I have learned about God and about my relationship with him as his child through the relationship I had with my precious boy and I am so grateful to God for the twelve years Bryan was in my life. My son's presence in my life changed my entire existence. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all–love changes you. And the perfect love of Jesus changes me to the very core of who I am.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

Monday, February 3, 2014

When Faith Is a Little on the Dry Side

We all go through dry times in our faith journeys and I'm no exception. I'm only just now seeing some spark of godly passion come back into my life and it is a struggle. I've spent a lot of time wondering how it is I ended up in such an unhappy state. How did I get from the vibrant intimacy I shared with God in August and September as I wrote the Advent devotional many of you enjoyed to not even remembering to pray for two days? (That's unthinkable to a woman who is supposedly called to prayer ministry!)

As I analyzed my situation, I found that I took the typical route--first I found myself very busy preparing for the holidays both at work and in my personal life. The busier I got, the more overwhelmed I became and the more tired I got. The more tired I got, the less I wanted and was able to do and somewhere in that mess, I let my priorities go askew. My relationship with the Lord began to slip down the list of important "to do’s” in my life until it slipped right off the bottom of the list. I kept telling myself that I needed to get this or that other thing done and I would get around to my studies or my prayer time later.

However, when all the holiday madness was done and over, I was exhausted and just needed to catch up on my rest, which of course allowed more things to pile up on my to do list. I even skipped going to Sunday worship for several weeks because I was just too tired to care. And before I knew it, I found myself in a prayer circle with a small group of friends feeling the shame and guilt of hypocrisy because this was the first time I'd bother to talk with my Savior in two days!!! I felt unworthy to be included in that sacred moment--as if I was intruding in on a private conversation.

I went home that day and picked up my bible, for the first time in a long time, and began to read. I turned off the TV and prayed. I'd like to say that I spent hours in wonderful prayer and meditation (which I have been known to do regularly before) but it just wasn't so. I couldn't think of anything to say to God except hello. There were no words, no thoughts, no anything in my heart or mind to say to the God who loves me beyond measure. The words in the bible that just a few months ago jumped off the page at me were as flat as could be and forgotten the moment I put the book down.

But I didn't let this deter me. I was going to keep up the disciplines that only a few months before invited me into a joyous intimacy with the God I love and serve. I pushed myself to attend worship again. I remember praying on the way to church that first Sunday back, "God, I really don't want to go but you deserve my worship and I'm going to give you all the worship my heart can little as it may be." Again, I'd love to report that my godly passion burned bright that day, but that would be a lie. I did receive a warm welcome back from several of my church family which encouraged me to keep coming back. The other day, I picked up my guitar—something else I haven't done for months—and played a few worship songs and felt joy again for a moment.

I've not yet gotten to the ...and-they-lived-happily-ever-after part in my struggle to renew the fervor of my faith. However I can say that it is getting easier every day to pray and mediate on God's Word and just be with God in the moment. It's getting easier to turn off the TV and put aside the dirty dishes (I wasn’t going to do them anyway...) and sit with God. Sometimes I even think of something to say.

What I know is that God isn't disappointed or angry with me. Rather, he continues to look upon me as his beloved child. As long as I sincerely give him all that I can (a little as it may be at the moment) he will accept my offering with joy and, just like Jesus did with the loaves and fishes, make it ever so much more. That's why I keep plugging away at this faith thing. It's not up to me to produce – that's God's job. He only ever wants me to give what little I have and be amazed at what he does with it.