Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Life Well-Lived

This past Sunday, I was reminded, how easy it is to mindlessly sing songs, like I Surrender All.

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior.

I surrender all.

I wholeheartedly sing this on the weekend in corporate worship, yet never give any thought to what it means to actually live that way during the week.

How willing I am on Sunday morning to give everything to God and how quickly I take it all back on Monday morning. And if the song were written mirroring my life during the week it would read more like this:

I surrender a SOME, I surrender SOME

Half-heartedly to Thee, my blessed Savior

I surrender SOME.

How simple it seems to surrender when all is going well in my life but how hard it becomes when it’s falling apart . . .

I had a friend, Traci, who died of cancer about two years ago and I think of her often. She was in her mid-thirties, had two wonderful little girls and a loving husband. I watched as she struggled with her battle against cancer and witnessed her walk of faith grow stronger and stronger with each passing day.

Just months before she stepped into the presence of her Savior, she penned these words, I am looking each day for God; around every corner, in the sunlight and in the shadows I see him. I feel his arms around me very close. If I were given the chance to choose this course my life has taken, do you know that I would actually CHOOSE this life? I never would have had the chance to see him like this otherwise.

When Traci sang I Surrender All, she just didn’t sing it, she lived it! She understood what it meant to follow God without reservation, with eyes wide open, ready to receive whatever God had for her. Deep down at the core of who she was, she believed that God was GOOD no matter how things might seem. She tasted of His goodness and knew Him in a ways I only dreamed about.

A few years ago I came across some verses tucked back in the obscure book of Habakkuk that took my breath away when I read them. I’m reminded of them as I think about Traci and the life she led.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and cattle barns are empty, yet will I REJOICE in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)

This was Traci’s way of life.

No matter what might be taken from her, no matter how difficult the journey; she chose to rejoice in the God of her salvation. He was her strength and might; her strong tower.

I watched as she journeyed, as a surefooted deer, from this life into the next with God at her side!

So today, I thank God for allowing my path to cross Traci’s and for Sundays like this that remind me that it’s not just what I say (or sing) but how I live!

All to Jesus I surrender;

All to him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior.

I surrender all.

                                                   by J.W. Van Deventer


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Speechless Gratitude

I was one of those “good” girls growing up – I never really did anything “bad”.  I didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs and didn’t sleep around.  I didn’t party, didn’t rebel against my parents and basically looked really good, on the outside, that is. 


But on the inside it was a different story.  I had gobs and gobs of secret sins, hidden ones that only those who looked close enough could detect.  I struggled with pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, bitterness, doubt, worry, greed and the list goes on . . .  


Looking good on the outside kept me from seeing the depths to which I had fallen.  It was easy to justify my secret sins and to point my finger at others.  I didn’t see that my hidden sins were just as destructive, caustic and vicious as anyone else’s.  I didn’t understand that my sin was separating me from God.  I didn’t know that my heart was just as dark and evil as a serial killer’s.


In my eyes, the debt I owed was insignificant, just a little hurdle to overcome, really nothing much to be concerned about.


In the book of Luke we see a woman who understood the depths of her sin.


When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping.  Her tears fell on his feet and she wiped them off with her hair.  Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.  (Luke 7:37-38 NLT)


Look at Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s critical assessment of her extravagant demonstration of gratitude.


That is why I tell you, that her sins, many as they are, are forgiven; for she has shown me so much love.  But the man who has little to be forgiven has only a little love to give. (Luke 7:47 Phillips)

He paid the ultimate price for my sin - He willing gave His life for mine!   But the casual view I had of my sin, greatly diminished the price He paid for me.

A few years ago God began exposing my secret sins to His LIGHT and I slowly began to comprehend how ugly my sin was and how immense God's love is.
It’s  now become very apparent to me that I am no longer the “good” girl I thought I was.   I now see how destructive my sin was and is and how much it separates me from the God I love.  But I’ve also discovered how incredible God’s grace is!  


For the rest of my life, I want to live with a heart of gratitude overwhelmed at all God has done for me. 


He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  (Psalm 40:2-3 NLT)


Donald Miller in his book, Blue Like Jazz, tells a story about a friend of his who went around the country interviewing ministry leaders.  One of those leaders was a man named Bill Bright, (who passed away few years ago) he founded Campus Crusade for Christ. 


“Alan said he was a big man, full of life, who listened without shifting his eyes.  Alan asked a few questions, I don’t know what they were, but as a final question he asked Dr. Bright what Jesus meant to him.  Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question.  He said Dr. Bright just started to cry.  He sat there in his big chair behind his big desk and wept.”                               


I want to love Jesus like that! 


What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me NEVER, NEVER
Outlive my love for Thee.
                              (O, Sacred Head Now Wounded, Anonymous)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Radical Obedience

“Why should I obey you?  Who died and made you god?” 


Having raised four teenagers, these words and I have become very acquainted with each other.  But the funny thing is that I have found them echoing in my heart as well.  I’m just not as verbal about it as they are.


I don’t know about you but obedience has never been easy for me.  I would much rather lead than follow.  I have tendency to question and feel like there’s got to be a good reason to obey or forget it! 

Maybe the reason I find obedience so difficult is because at the core of obedience is submission - surrender to someone else’s guidelines and commands.


In my reading of the Book of Matthew, I discovered a shocking display of unquestioning obedience.  Look at Matthew 1:24 (The Message) Then Joseph woke up.  He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream:  He married Mary.


No questions, no doubt, no hesitation just simple obedience.


Think about it, the Jews had not heard from God in over four hundred years!  He’s been silent . . . not even a whisper and then one night a man named Joseph, goes to sleep, has a dream and obeys.  No wondering if it was something bad he’d eaten the night before, no questioning whether it was all just a figment of his imagination, just radical obedience.


And his obedience didn’t stop with his marriage to Mary.  In the next chapter we get another glimpse of his proclivity to obey. 


After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up.  Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.  Stay until further notice.  Herod is on the hunt for this child and wants to kill him.” 

Joseph obeyed.  He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness.  They were out of town and well on their way by daylight.  Matthew 2:13-15 (The Message)


I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read this, what if Joseph hadn’t obeyed?  What if he had lain awake debating whether he should wake up Mary and the baby, after all, it was the middle of the night?  What if he had decided to just wait and go in the morning?


Obedience is hard, inconvenient and difficult.  It’s not the politically correct thing to do in this world of “do your own thing”.  And yet, God calls his followers to a life of radical obedience, a life of surrender and submission to His will and His ways. 


But the unexpected blessing of obedience is that it sets us free!  Free to live life to its fullest.   It sets us free from the things that have held us captive for far too long.  Obedience God’s way is life-giving and full. 


I learned firsthand the importance of obedience from a friend of mine.  My friend and her husband were on a road trip.  They were enjoying the beautiful day together, when all of a sudden her husband, who was driving, yelled, “GET DOWN!”  She immediately ducked down and put her head in her lap (even though she had no idea why) and the car slammed into a jack-knifed semi in the middle of the road.  If she had hesitated for even a moment, her life would’ve been over. 


As I listened to this story I couldn’t help but wonder if I would’ve obeyed.  I’d like to think I would but the truth is I probably would’ve been in the middle of asking my husband why should . . .


Obedience is at the core of a true follower of Jesus. 


But does my life reflect that I’m a follower of Him or just an admirer?  I don’t want to be just a fan, I want more!  But I know that anything valuable comes with a price – there’s always a cost. 


Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life.  Otherwise you cannot be my disciple.  And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
But don’t begin until you count the cost . . .”  (Luke 14:26-28 NLT)


Are you ready to count the cost and live a life of radical obedience to the One who willingly laid down his life for you?


Monday, November 5, 2012

Detours, Billboards and a Man Named Paul

In Michigan, we jokingly say, there are two seasons – winter and road construction!  And with road construction come detours and lots of them.  Can I just say . . . I hate detours!  They’re inconvenient, unplanned and usually make me late! (Mainly, that’s because of poor planning on my part but it’s great to have something else to blame.)

I don’t like detours in my life anymore than I like them on the roadways.   Detours have a way of making me feel like my life is spinning out of control.  Have you ever seen a Nascar race where one or more cars slam into the side wall and begin spiraling out of control? You get the feeling everyone is holding their breath until the car finally stops.  I do the same thing with my own detours. I often find myself holding my breath, hoping the damage will be minimal and everything will stop spinning soon.  Detours have a way of reminding me that I’m not in control.


In my reading of the book of Acts, I was struck by Paul’s reactions to detours in his life (and he had a lot of them). 


Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians when he faced his first detour and met Jesus.   Paul had his plans but God had other plans.  Paul readily accepted the journey change and his life was never the same again.  He embraced wholeheartedly the path that God had for him. 


From then on we see a Paul that holds his own agenda lightly and willingly accepts each detour that is sent his way. 

He was thrown in jail and forgotten for two years but that didn’t hinder him from preaching the gospel to every person that God brought across his path.  He was shipwrecked and instead of twiddling his thumbs and waiting around for God to get him off the Island, he shared the Good News with those who lived there.  At one point, the Holy Spirit stepped in to tell him to go to a different place than what he had planned.  It’s as if, each detour in Paul’s life was a “billboard” from God clearly showing him where he should go and what he should do.


I’ve often wished that God would be so clear and direct with me.  There have been many times where I’ve exclaimed, “God would you just make it clear what you want me to do and I’ll do it!  Could you send me a postcard or write on a billboard so that I’ll know?”  But taking a fresh look at Paul’s life has made me understand that just as detours were God’s “billboard” in Paul’s life, so they are in mine.  If only, I would see the detours as clear direction from God about where He wants me to be and what He wants me to do, think how much more productive and effective my life would be! Instead of wishing my detours away, I want to embrace them and live the life God intended me to live.


Let me ask you, what if  your detours are God’s way of telling you that you’ve controlled things long enough and now it’s time to pry your hands off the wheel?  What if they are His “billboard” to you?  Are you resisting His direction in your life and wasting precious time wanting things done your way or are you accepting His plan and following wherever that might take you?


“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)


Let go, jump in, embrace the detours and hold on tight – you’re in for a spectacular ride!