Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Things I'm Thankful for....Actually Three...

 I think we all struggle at times, bar none.  Holidays often bring those struggles to the forefront.  Difficulties seem so much worse at a time when we expect to be "rejoicing".  Family is always less than perfect - some more so than others - and so holiday get togethers are frequently not the stuff of which Norman Rockwell paintings are made.  I have certainly struggled over the past few weeks - just being honest.

Two things have come back to me as I've tried to maintain emotional equilibrium.

1.  A missionary, Miss A. Weatherall Johnson whom I love and hope to meet someday in Heaven, said that while working in China before, during, and after WWII, there were times when it was impossible not to feel dispirited.  In fact, shortly after she got to China, fresh out of seminary,  Miss Johnson hit an emotional trough of despair. She went to an older missionary and shared her malaise.

 This senior missionary advised her to get alone with her Bible and read for a prolonged time. Miss Johnson's pride was offended.  Didn't this woman know that Audrey had just finished a rigorous course in seminary????  But she wanted to be obedient to her supervisors so she went back to her room and opened the Scripture. It was like dust to her.  So finally in desperation she put her finger on a verse and said, "Now, Lord, You have told us that Your word is sufficient and how can I teach the Chinese this if I cannot live it myself?  I am counting on You to make Your word sufficient for my hour of need."

She began to read again and this time the Word did come alive for her.  Several hours later she looked up, shocked to see how much time had passed and pleased to know that her malaise had completely lifted! God's word is living and able to do what no other book can do. You can trust the Bible.

2.  The other lesson that has helped me came from John Piper's ministry.  When my mom and dad died in 1995, I bottomed out emotionally and waded through some deep anger towards God.  Serious doubts as well.  I was afraid to share these doubts with people in my church lest they think badly of me (pride). I didn't even want to tell my preacher lest he recoil in horror and encourage me to join another denomination... (Ha!)

So I wrote to a ministry that was out of state - waayyy out of state - like in Minnesota.  They wrote back and told me that A). If I shared my doubts and anger with my pastor, he most certainly would not be shocked.  Apparently they hear stuff like that - and much worse - all the time.  At least that is what the letter said.

B)  That if I didn't acknowledge my struggles and ask for prayer help, my faith could not just flounder but could totally shipwreck.  They emphasized that I needed prayer support and encouraged me to share my struggles with my pastor and my home church. I felt certain this was something I simply could not do.  Ever...

 The next Sunday a man who was clearly devastated stood up in church during sharing time and expressed intense anger over the way his atheistic sister-in-law had handled his brother's funeral, denying him a Christian funeral as he had requested. I don't remember the man's name or what he looked like, but I still remember him admitting to us that although it was wrong and he knew it, that if he saw his sister-in-law crossing the road in front of him, he would have no problem running over her. Wow! I'd never heard that in church before. And really that's about all I did hear that particular Sunday.

As I sat riveted in my seat, I just kept thinking, "I've been advised to share my struggles with my brothers and sisters in Christ but I just can't do that.  But this guy did it?  Could this just be a coincidence that I got the letter from Piper's ministry this week and now I've seen someone do what I've been encouraged to do myself?  I don't think so. But still, I just can't do what that guy did. No Way.  Church is where you go to look good, isn't it??"  

Well, not always....

The next Sunday I stood up and shared - not boldly or happily - but honestly and nervously - dry mouth,trembling hands,  the whole nine yards...  I didn't think to explain what was going on - just blurted out that I was doubting God, Heaven, Hell, all of it.  Yeah, Buddy... I did it.

 I remember that the pastor said something about, "Cathy has just lost both her parents within the past  three months and I'm sure she is struggling..."  I remember that some people came and prayed for me. I remember sitting down and hoping the nervous tremors would go away.  And I remember thinking., "Okaaayy... Won't ever do that again!!!!   Time to start looking for a new church... where no body knows my name..."

That was in 1995.  We stayed in that church until 2005.   The Piper ministry staffer was right:  no one was shocked and the prayer support I received from that confession was a turning point in my life. Instead of plummeting further into the Slough of Despond, my faith began to grow again in slow, minuscule  increments,   (Caveat - it you are in a church where many would look down on you for sharing honest doubts during times of pain... you need to find a different church).

This month has not been anywhere near as hard as the fall and winter of 95.  Not even close!  But it's not been a cakewalk emotionally either - and that is truly okay.

So what am I grateful for today?  Truly, deep down from the bottom of my heart grateful for right now, Nov. 25, 2014?

That years ago I learned from people far more spiritually mature than I that when you are down, you need to soak in the word. (And you will experience down times - it's not "if" but "when")  And you need to ask someone, a sister or brother in Christ or sometimes even a whole congregation (!) to lift you up in prayer.

I've done both things  this season  and God has used His word and a precious Christ-follower to lift me over some holiday memory pits - for lack of a better term.

As one dear friend has reminded me, when things look hard and the memories come, look up and focus on the fact that God is about to do something miraculous.

REally, He already has.  He's given me His word and irreplaceable friends who hunger hard and fast after Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son.  When you call out to God, soak in His word, and are lifted up by other believers, you have an unbeatable combination.

Today I'm thankful God showed me those truths many years ago; I'm thankful for His word, and I'm thankful for friends who pray.

Actually I'm grateful for three things - if you never hit the Slough of Despond, how can you ever know His ability to lift you up and sustain you in a  tough time?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Savior or Helper?

       Many years ago, my husband, who is a mechanic, had a to replace a horn on a car - the thing had quit working.  He did that at the end of the day - the customer was in no hurry - and felt the problem was solved.  Unfortunately, when he went back to the shop the next morning, the new horn was defunct as well.  It seemed like a weird coincidence to him but he ordered another horn and replaced it that evening.  The next morning, that horn was also defunct!

        At that point, he knew there was another problem, something other than the horn itself and after some searching, he found a weird electrical problem.  Apparently, the electrical snafu triggered the horn after the shop was closed and caused the thing to honk all night long until the new part was worn out!

      Years ago I read something that has stayed with me: what we see as the cause of our problem - that determines what solution we choose in order to fix the problem.  At first, Phil thought the cause of the problem was one bad part on the car - a horn that had quit working.  So that determined how he chose to fix it: he simply replaced that part.   But when two more, brand-new parts failed in rapid succession, he knew he had to look deeper and find the real problem.  Once he found the real problem, he opted for a different solution.

     So this morning I'm wondering: do you see yourself as essentially a good, strong, capable person who just makes mistakes now and then or who just needs a little divine boost now and then when overwhelmed by life?  If so, then you don't need a Savior, you need a divine helper.

    If, however, you see yourself as a sinner, one who has a tendency to fall short of perfection in word, thought, and deed, then you'll recognize your need for a Savior - you will realize that that tendency to "mess up" is indicative of a deeper problem, one that you cannot "fix".  And so you'll turn to someone who can.

    Jesus is a Savior, not a helper.  He can fix the "short circuits" in our internal wiring and do so much more even than that.

    Until you see yourself as a sinner, you cannot know Jesus as a Savior.

   Below is the plan of salvation as it is given in the book of Romans in the New Testament.


Roman Road to Salvation

  1. Everyone needs salvation because we have all sinned.
    Romans 3:10-12, and 23
    As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” ... For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (NLT)
  2. The price (or consequence) of sin is death.
    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
  3. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He paid the price for our death.
    Romans 5:8
    But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (NLT)
  4. We receive salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
    Romans 10:9-10, and 13
    If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved ... For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”(NLT)
  5. Salvation through Jesus Christ brings us into a relationship of peace with God.
    Romans 5:1
    Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. (NLT)
    Romans 8:1
    So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (NLT)
    Romans 8:38-39
    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

Responding to Romans Road.  If you believe Romans Road leads to the path of truth, you can respond by receiving God's free gift of salvation today. Here's how to take a personal journey down Romans Road:

  1. Admit you are a sinner.
  2. Understand that as a sinner, you deserve death.
  3. Believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to save you from sin and death.
  4. Repent by turning from your old life of sin to a new life in Christ.
  5. Receive, through faith in Jesus Christ, his free gift of salvation.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

A 1.50 Book Mark with a Beyond-Price Offer

I bought some things (understatement) while we were in Memphis. Christmas gifts, I promise!!! (Well... mostly...)
Ironically one of the things that has come to mean a lot to me cost 1.50. (True... I am a cheap date... A tacky one too as I found -joy of joys - a light-up Christmas bulb bracelet to go with my light-up Christmas necklace. Not kidding... But I digress...)
At any rate, I love book marks and so I grabbed a couple just before going to the check-out counter. One was a bright rose/pink color with white lettering and so I could not resist it!
Today in Sunday school I glanced at it and then kept glancing at it from time to time. The message? "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you." Ezekiel 36:26
I thought about a true story I heard years ago about how several people from different faiths were sitting in a Bible study, prepared to discuss apologetics.
When they came to the first theological divide, they decided to bow their heads and pray, asking for wisdom. The Christians, who were leading the study, were a little nervous. After a time of silence, the little circle of people looked up and as they shared, no one had gotten an answer until they came to a person who was not a Christian. That person looked up and said that he had gotten an answer. To everyone's shock he said.
"God showed me that I have a dirty heart and I need a new one. How do I get that?"
The Christian leaders were amazed - the "answer" had nothing to do with the theological point on the table for discussion but rather went straight to the "heart" of the matter - why Jesus had to die on the cross for us.
He did it so that we could have a heart transplant, so that God could supernaturally take our heart of "stone" and replace it with a heart of "flesh", of supernatural tenderness and openness to the things of God.
If the human heart could be fixed with just a little "self-help" or a little more religious effort on our part, then Jesus would never have had to die on the cross in our place. He could have just modeled a good life, left us with a do-it-yourself book, and died a natural death from old age.
This is the deal: before you can nestle next to the heart of God, He has to give you a new heart, one that will last throughout time and eternity. God's heart is eternal, pure, and holy. The human heart .. isn't. So trying to reach up to God through your own efforts (even coupled with a little faith in Jesus' nice example..) is like trying to use reel-to-reel tape technology to link up to state-of-the-art digital technology from the next millennium... Our sending/receiving set just doesn't match up to His...
Until He gives us a heart transplant..
During worship I continued to glance at my pink book mark containing this wonderful, amazing promise from God: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you...
Towards the end of the service, when people were invited to come kneel at the front or initiate a discussion with a pastor about this incredible offer from God Almighty, I could hardly contain myself.
I thought: worship should be the most amazing time in the universe because every person - every single person sitting in the pew - has a chance to receive a brand new heart right now, TODAY - if they haven't already. Every time His word is prayerfully taught, God waits in the wings, ready to do supernatural, mind-boggling, transformational, instantaneous surgery.
And then, as I was in the car and we were headed towards a lunch appointment, I thought, "Am I living out of my new heart or am I still trying to live out of my old nature, which is on life support...?"
Am I drawing on His strength or mine? His wisdom or mine? His righteousness or mine? His Spirit or mine? His power to love... or mine?
Soooo thankful today for a new heart, one that I can rely on now and yet will still be pulsing strong with His love throughout all eternity.
How is your heart today??