Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Messiness . . . Your Perfectness

Have you noticed how perfect people LOOK at church? How they seem to have no problems, no messiness?   They’re in their nice “Sunday best” clothes with smiles on their faces, looking perfect regardless of how their week has gone. 

And on the other hand have you noticed how imperfect you FEEL when you get there?  Maybe you just couldn’t find the right clothes to wear or you’re reeling from an argument you just had with your spouse on the way?  Or maybe your teenager has refused to get out of bed or you’ve had a terrible awful bad week? 

That’s the way it is, we arrive knowing all our inside messiness and seeing only the outside perfectness of everyone else.  And so we wear a mask in the hopes that it will disguise us enough that people won’t recognize how broken we really are. And the mask wearing only leads to isolation and aloneness. 

I have to wonder . . .  is this what God intended for us to experience in the body of Christ? 

I remember vividly the Sunday when I felt the messiest.  My seventeen year old son had been arrested over the weekend for shoplifting.  It was one of the lowest times of my life – I felt like such a failure. 

As I carefully arranged my mask and stepped into the Atrium area of our church on that Sunday after his arrest, I looked around and saw all the “perfect families” with their “perfect children”.  It was all I could do to stay where I was and not run screaming from the building. 

I wondered if anyone had problems like I had, whether they could see the sorrow in my eyes that I was trying to hide.  Did they know I was a failure?  Did they even care?  What would they say if they found out?  What would they think of me?

That day it felt as if I had a big scarlet letter on my chest, warning people not to get too close.  It was all I could do to act like nothing was wrong and get to my car as fast as I could. 

It wasn’t that my church body was insensitive or judgmental; it was my own perception and pride that would not allow me to be transparent and in turn it isolated me from those in my church family who would have encouraged and helped me carry my burden.

When we are discouraged and broken, why do we try to disguise our pain? Because we know clearly how ugly our own lives are but see only the outside of other people’s lives, which leads us to assume that they are perfect and we are not. 

So why aren’t we more open and transparent?  Wouldn’t that really be more attractive to people than trying to prove that we are perfect?  James 5:16 (NLV) says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”

God calls us to be open, vulnerable and honest about our failings and struggles because he knows that that is the place where we will find healing.   When we choose to keep our failures and difficulties to ourselves we move into a place of isolation and loneliness as we forge a path on our own.  

And isn’t that just what Satan wants; to keep us all in our own little fortresses “safe from the outside world” where no one can be a witness to our pain and discouragement and where we will be unable to care for and encourage someone else?  He doesn’t want us to be what God intended the church body to be to one another.

On that Sunday of my son’s arrest, I ran into a dear friend after church.   Knowing the brokenness she had experienced in her own life, I knew I would receive no judgment from her, which gave me the courage to set my pride aside and remove the mask I was wearing.  My friend was the church for me that day; she broke down the walls of my fortress and loved me for who I was.  I will always remember her encouragement when I was in a very difficult and lonely place.

So this Sunday, when you walk into your church building, remember that the people around you are not perfect, they might look like they are but they’re not.  Ask God to help you to have the courage to take off your mask and be transparent and to open your eyes and allow you to be the church to someone who is hurting and in need.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living a Life of Gratitude

I have so much to be grateful for – the people God has brought into my life, the family that I was born into and the many blessings He has poured out on me.  And I’m truly thankful for all God’s work in my life. 

But over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware that there is a vast difference between being thankful for the things God has given me and living a life of gratitude.  Let me explain. . .

When we give a gift to someone, the most rewarding and pleasing thing for us as the gift givers is to see them enjoying and using the gift we have given them.  And on the other hand the hardest thing is to hear, “Thank you so much for this gift!  I love it.”  And then to see our present thrown in the trash unused and unappreciated.  Why?  Because we sacrificed part of ourselves in the giving of the gift and it was tossed away like a piece of garbage.

When we harbor bitterness in our heart, allow anger to control us, refuse to forgive, when we turn away from God, when our thoughts are focused on our self, we are not living in gratitude of the costly sacrifice Christ paid for us.  It’s as if we’ve thrown His gift into the trash and now live as if it is an insignificant factor in our life.  We diminish the price God paid for our sins.  

Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice to give us His most treasured gift.  1 John 4:9-10 (NLV) says, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.  This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”     

So how do I live a life of true gratitude when I’m not perfect? 

For me it has begun with allowing God to show me the depths of my depravity.  Seeing my sin the way God sees it and stepping into the sorrow and heartache this sin has wrought in my life and in the lives of others.  By doing this it has brought about a hatred for the sin and a passion to live in obedience to God and His Word. 

God has also showed me that I cannot do this in my own strength; I have to live in dependence upon Him - seeking His way, His desires and His kingdom.  As I’ve come to see myself for who I really am, it has allowed me to see God for who He truly is and has brought a deeper meaning to His incredible sacrifice that He paid for me. 

So let me ask you the same questions I ask myself on a continual basis:    Are you living a life of gratitude to your Savior, who died to set you free?  Are you diminishing the price He paid for you by the choices you are making?

May the cross and all that it represents COMPEL us to live a life of true gratitude.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Someone's Watching You!

Daniel 12:3 says, “Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.”

This past week I met with some friends to study the Bible at a local restaurant in town.  We sat off in the corner talking and sharing what we were learning from God’s Word.  Part of our conversation was about how people watch us and we don’t even realize it.  We were oblivious to the people around us until a couple of women stepped up to our table to say that they had been listening to our conversation.  They were encouraged and intrigued by the things they had heard and wished they could be part of a Bible study like ours.

After they left, the three of us looked at each other stunned!  We had no idea there was anyone close enough to hear us much less listen to what we were saying. 

Over the years, I have had other moments like this where a neighbor, friend, co-worker or bystander has said much the same thing, “I’m watching you . . .”

It’s kind of scary to think that someone is watching you; watching how you react in a difficult situation, watching how you share or don’t share what God has given you with someone else, watching how quick you are to forgive or hold a grudge, watching how humble you or how much you brag about your abilities and the list goes on . . .

I don’t know about you but I often wonder why anyone would want to watch me.  I’m not a highly significant person, I’m not famous, and I don’t have any amazing gifts or abilities that would single me out.  But there is one thing that draws the attention of others and that is my claim to be a Jesus follower.  I have taken a stand for Jesus and people are watching and judging to see if my actions and attitudes, match my words.  And whether I like it or not people are watching!

Do you know that people are watching you too?

Philippians 2:14-15 (NIV), “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will SHINE AMONG THEM LIKE STARS IN THE SKY as you hold firmly to the word of life.”

Following God and seeking His wisdom causes us to shine like stars in the sky and just as a moth is drawn to the light, those watching us are drawn to the LIGHT of Jesus Christ.

You are the Light
by Steve Fee

We are the people of God
The sons and daughters of love
Forgiven, restored and redeemed
Living our lives to the praise of the King
We are the ones who will shine
His light in the darkness
The hopeless, the broken, the poor
They will be hopeless no more

We shine like stars in the universe
Proclaiming the hope of our God
And to the sons and daughters in all the earth
We shine You, Lord


Monday, November 7, 2011

Looking in the Rear View Mirror

 In the weeks before my marriage, I became more and more frazzled and scatterbrained.  One day I stopped by a mailbox along the side of the road to drop in some letters.  This errand was just one in a long list of things I had to do that day.  I jumped out of the car, ran around the back and dropped my letters into the box and raced back to the car, opened the door, jumped in, went to grab for the steering wheel and realized I was in the back seat of the car!  

I sat there stunned!  What do I do now?  Do I crawl over the seat and hope no one sees or do I get out in view of all the passing cars and move up to the front?  With much chagrin, I glanced around to make sure no one was looking, opened my car door and got into the front seat.  As much as I would’ve liked to have driven my car from the backseat, just so I didn’t have to be humiliated, it was just not possible.

There’s another way of driving that isn’t advisable either and that’s steering our car while looking in the rearview mirror.  Sure we glance in the mirror from time to time, if we have to make a lane change or if we’re checking the cars behind us but we don’t spend our time focusing on the view behind us.  Why?  Because it’s difficult to see where we’re going when we’re looking in the rear view mirror.

But how often do we do this in our spiritual life!  We hop in our car and drive down the road of life looking in the rear view mirror of our past.  We see our failures and disappointments, our lapses in judgment, relationships that were unwise, bad decisions that continue to show their ugly face and we listen to the lies that we are no good, that God’s death on the cross couldn’t cover our sin, that what we did is unforgiveable because we can’t forgive ourselves.  Believing these lies and focusing on our past keeps us from moving forward in our walk with God. 

Look at what Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 (NLV), “. . . I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

What is Paul saying here?  He’s telling us to stop driving looking in the rear view mirror! 

What is our focus to be?  It’s not what has happened in our past but it’s what’s up ahead.  Paul says we are to “press on”.  The idea here is that we have to push forward – it’s not easy or natural but just like a long distance runner presses through the thoughts in his head to quit and give up, we need to do the same.  

But how do we do that?  We turn our focus on the road ahead and we refuse listen to the lies of Satan that we are no good, that we don’t deserve God’s grace, that we’re insignificant, that God couldn’t forgive us and we push on to the finish!  Trusting and believing in the One who gave His life for us and made us worthy in His sight. 

And some day this journey on earth will end and we will see our Savior face to face – now that’s a prize worth pursuing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abundant Living: Why settle for anything less?

Jesus said, ". . .  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of!"                      John 10:10b (The Message)

Can we have an abundant life when our world is falling down around us?  Can we experience abundant living . . .

When our husband loses his job and can’t seem to
     find another one?

When our teenage son is arrested for drunk driving?

When our house is foreclosed and we have no place to go?

When we don’t share the same faith as our spouse?

When  . . . ?

Corrie and Betsie TenBoom watched the only world they’d ever known crumble down around them.  They were arrested for helping rescue Jews in wartime Holland.  And years later, Corrie wrote about her experience in the book, The Hiding Place. 
Listen to what she says. . .

“On either side doors opened into two still larger rooms—by far the largest dormitories we had yet seen.  Betsie and I followed a prisoner—guide through the door at the right.  Because of the broken windows the vast room was in semi-twilight.  Our noses told us first, that the place was filthy:  somewhere the plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.  Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.

We followed our guide single file — the aisle was not wide enough for two—fighting back the claustrophobia of these platforms rising everywhere above us.  At last she pointed to a  second tier in the center of the large  block. 

To reach it we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with — how many?  The deck above us was too close to let us sit up.  We lay back struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.

Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above.  Something pinched my leg.

‘Fleas!’ I cried.  ‘Betsie (her sister), the place is swarming with them!’

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.

‘Here!  And here another one!’ I wailed.  ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

‘Show us.  Show us how.’  It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying.

‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly.  ‘He’s given us the answer!   Before we asked, as He always does!  In the Bible this morning.  Where was it?  Read that part again!’

‘Oh yes, . . . To one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus . . .’

‘That’s it, Corrie !  That’s His answer.  Give thanks in all circumstances!  That’s what we can do.  We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’

I  stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

‘Such as?’ I said.

‘Such as being assigned here TOGETHER.’

I bit my lip, ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’

I looked down at the Bible.  ‘Yes! Thank you, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here!  Thank you for all the women, here in this room, who will meet you in these pages.’

‘Yes,’ said Betsie.  ‘Thank you for the very crowding here.  Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’  She looked at me expectantly.  ‘Corrie!’  she prodded.

‘Oh, all right.  Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.’

‘Thank you,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for —’

The fleas!  This was too much.  ‘Betsie, there ‘s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted.  ‘It doesn’t say, “in pleasant circumstances.”  Fleas are a part of this place where God has put us.’

And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for the fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong . . .”

Corrie and Betsie  were able to hold worship services in their barracks in complete freedom from the guards.  Listen to what Corrie continues to write . .


. . . One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood gathering foray outside the walls.  Betsie was waiting for me, as always.  Her eyes were twinkling.

‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself.’  I told her. 

‘You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said.  ‘Well — I’ve found out.’

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it. 

‘But she wouldn’t.  She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards.  And you know why?’

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice:  ‘Because of the fleas!  That’s what she said,   “That place  is crawling with fleas!” ‘

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place.  I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

Corrie and Betsie, in spite of their circumstances, chose to live the life God had for them. In a place of incredible filth and pain they experienced the abundant life of a Christian who chooses to take God at His Word and trust in Him.

Are you willing to pursue the ABUNDANT LIFE God offers to those who follow Him with all their heart, like Corrie and Betsie did? 

 If Corrie were here today, I know that she would say it’s the only way to truly live!   

So why should we settle for anything less?