Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Psalm 100 - a song of praise!

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:1-5

A year ago this week, I received two very important pieces of communication. The first was a letter. The second, a phone call. The letter was from my doctor’s office notifying me that there had been an “abnormal” result in my mammogram. As that news was still sinking in, I received a phone call from KLOVE telling me I had won tickets to see Chris Tomlin in concert in Denver. Talk about having highs and lows in a short span of time.

The next week was a blur of scheduling. I needed a biopsy. I was also at the front end of a massive project at work that was requiring enormous concentration and a lot of travel. Throwing the possibility of breast cancer threatened to send me over the edge. My faith was being tested in a big way.

As the night of the concert approached, I was very focused on the evening as a way to introduce my son to music and music-making. He’s definitely gifted, and I was thinking that God was using this as a way to open a door for him. Oh how little I really know! God had a big plan for me and I was hopelessly clueless.

In the past several years, I had become a pretty big fan of Chris’. His music is regularly part of the worship experience at our church. No matter how many times I hear “How Great is Our God,” I cry. The overwhelming power of those words just turns on the faucet in me. So, getting to see the show was an incredible gift.

From the first note I thought, wow, this is different than any other concert I’ve ever been to. God showed up that night. Worship was bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever experienced and it was simply amazing. At one point Israel Houghton, who opened for Chris, talked about everyone there having something on their hearts. He said whatever it is, God wanted to take it from you if you’d just let him. Boy, did the tears start flowing. At that moment I said “God, I don’t know what lies ahead with the bisopsy. I know that whatever happens, you’ll be there with me and will use the situation for your glory. I’m trusting you with it.” I cannot describe the sense of peace that came over me. From that moment on, I knew that whatever happened with it, it was going to be okay because God and I were in it together. What an unbelievable thought.

The night just went up from there. Hands raised in praise, singing as loud as we could sing, giving our all to God. I think I learned what it means to truly worship. He was clearly in the room with us that night. As we left that night, I was thinking wow, God I don’t know what you have next for us, but this was pretty amazing and I’m in for the duration!

We had received Chris’ cd “Hello Love” as part of the package we won. I loaded it onto my iPod and had “I Will Rise” cued up during my biopsy. I didn’t even feel like I was in that room – I was back at the show, praising and focused on God.

I’m grateful that there was no cancer. But my promise to God is the same. I’m using that gift, the concert and the cancer scare rolled up into one – to give Him the glory and help tell his story in whatever fashion He wants me to. I can tell you that the past year has been a tidal wave of experiences and emotions that still leave me in awe. God has moved mountains, broken down barriers and brought people into my life who are an incredible blessing. I cannot wait to see where the road leads next.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain...

...for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4.

The unthinkable happened. It happens more often than we would like. In recent weeks, we’ve seen then unthinkable happen too, too often. The latest was an unimaginable accident that took the life of a small child in our church family. This one hit very hard and threatened to strike right into the core of my foundation. “Why, God?” What reason could there possibly be?

Last night, I wrestled with talking about this incident with my own children, knowing that they will likely be faced with the topic this weekend in services. As my daughter and I drove home, there was a discussion on the radio about profound loss, how we don’t have the answers and how those are the times when our faith has to stand strong because the enemy will use those times to try and chip away at us. It brought tears to my eyes. My daughter was listening, but probably didn’t completely understand, so she asked why I was crying. So, I told her about the family in our church and the grief they are faced with. In her amazingly beautiful “childlike faith” way she said, “well, Mommy, God must have a big job for him and needed him in Heaven now.” What perfect, faith-filled words! Yes, it is terribly sad, but we know in our heart of hearts that this world is not the end and whatever we are seeing now is not all there is to see.

Later, I was working through my reading plan which, of course, happened to be talking about suffering and grief. No matter how many times I encounter God’s timing and the right words at the right time, I will still marvel at it. With my daughter’s words still fresh in mind, I read passages from Isaiah, John, Romans, 2 Corinthians and then Revelation. These particular words brought immediate comfort and a sense of hope. Hope to find something to cling to in the midst of the most unspeakable tragedies. God is with us in those darkest moments and is holding us in His gentle care. But, even more comforting is knowing that as we walk in His truth, we are assured that there will be a day when our pain and suffering will end as we spend it forever worshipping the One who conquered all suffering, sin and death.

As I finished, the words to several songs began swimming around in my head, bringing even more peace. Music brings me so much joy and to sing songs based on Scripture, which is God’s truth, help to comfort in times when comfort seems unlikely. The words to “In My Arms” by Plumb just started “playing” in my mind. As I reached over and flipped on the radio, guess what was playing?

“clouds will rage and
storms will race in
but you will be safe
in my arms

rains will pour down
waves will crash around
but you will be safe
in my arms”

Thank you, Jesus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Twice last week, once on the radio and once on TV, I heard a sermon on obedience. I found it interesting because normally, I would not have been in the right time/place to hear/see either. Those instances jolted me into realization that God is telling me something, something important.

As I was watching the broadcast and taking in the message for the second time, I jotted down two statements that stung and stuck. The umbrella statement was “obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.” Dr. Charles Stanley followed that with these two statements:
-God is responsible for the consequences of our obedience.
-WE are responsible for the consequences of our disobedience.

Oh my. Those statements really stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought about following God in those terms. But then, the words started sinking in and I’ve spent days thinking about them. Today I looked up some of the resource materials on the sermon and read and re-read them.

It has caused me to look inside and really meditate on areas of my life where I haven’t been willing to obey and surrender. Areas that I want to control or I think I can “handle it on my own.” That has led to nothing but grief. I’m not receiving the full blessing of faith either. God expects me to fully surrender my life, that's fully surrender! And, even though I’ve said that I do, I’m seeing corners inside where I’m trying to hide those areas where I either won’t or think I can’t trust Him. Why is that? There are examples throughout Scripture of people who fully surrendered and lived lives that were shining testaments to God’s glory. There are people today who are in full surrender and other Christians, like me, see their example and think – yes, Lord! Fill me with that desire.

I think in theory it is an absolute yes. In every day life, the struggles begin. I live a pretty regular life, one filled with countless blessings and opportunities daily to shine for Him. But, that every day life also has its ups and downs, challenges and undesirable situations and frankly, unlovable people and moments when I jump ahead of God and try to manage it all myself.

Dr. Stanley gave the example of his own willingness to give up something he was passionate about for the glory of God. God laid it on his heart to sell his cameras and equipment to donate to the Church’s fundraising efforts. I know that I tend to think if God made me passionate about something, why would He ask me to give it up? But then, I think of Abraham and Issac. Certainly God knew He wasn’t going to see that act of sacrifice to fruition. But Abraham didn’t. I’m also pretty sure he was more passionate about Issac than I am about any of my hobbies or my struggles I try to control. Sheer faith in God led Abraham and that’s what I need in my heart. In the end of course, Abraham sacrificed a ram. Dr. Stanley was granted back all his camera equipment. Once God knows that we’re willing to lose it all for Him, he will bless us and put us in line with His plan.

I needed this step in faith. I have more internal examination to do. But I am thankful that God is persistent with me and keeps pressing upon my heart the things not only that He wants me to know, but things that will enrich my walk with Him and grow my faith that much deeper.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice...

...Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 130:1-2

It’s been a bit of a rough winter for us health-wise. Both of my elementary school-aged children had H1N1. My son has asthma, so that only heightened the fear with the illness. We’ve had sniffles and fevers and this week, the stomach flu. Boy, as a parent, nothing scares you and makes you feel as utterly helpless as watching your children suffer.

This weekend’s stomach flu was probably the hardest. There’s no medicine, no miracle cure, literally nothing you can do but hold them and pray they get through it. That helpless feel led me to think about what’s on everyone’s minds this week – the horrific tragedy in Haiti. I cannot imagine the suffering and pain of those who are left. It led me down two trains of thought.

First, if I feel as helpless and saddened as I do when I see my children suffering, how must God, who loves us more than any parent ever could love their child, feel when He sees the vast suffering in this world? He is compassionate and loving and is right there with those suffering just ready to put His arms around them, if only they’d ask. God is definitely there amidst the tragedy and suffering in this world. We are such a broken planet and we need Him so desperately.

The second thought was as children of God, what can we do to help ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters facing this unspeakable horror? First, of course, is to pray. And prayers are being lifted up by believers everywhere. Second, I’ve been overwhelmingly moved to do something. It’s been comforting to see the waves of support this week. The Red Cross immediately set up a simple text donation option. A quick text allows you to make a $10 donation via your mobile phone bill. At last count, the number was over $12 million in text-only donations! Of course, many other viable options are there too, and those organizations have been getting much needed help as well. I’ve marveled at postings on Facebook and Twitter as friends and others mobilize to help. Paramedics, nurses, doctors, builders – all people looking to go and do something that will make an immediate difference to relieve suffering. And, the Christian music world has embraced Haiti with donations, pleas for help from their fans and even a benefit song recorded over the past couple days. Here’s a link to an article about that effort.

The bottom line is, we must not simply allow this to affect us for the short-term, and then quickly get on with our unaffected lives. I say this as one who can so easily slip right back into my little routine and sheltered world. I need God to move in my heart every day so I don’t become complacent.

As followers of Christ, there’s an obligation to be the hands and feet of Jesus to walk with our suffering brothers and sisters. With all the medical ability at our fingertips, my children have quickly recovered from their illnesses. Our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti and around the world, do not have it so easy. My prayer is that good will come out of this, and the many other tragedies in the world. Our compassion and love for our brothers and sisters must show up in ongoing, tangible ways. By those actions, Christians can point others to the eternal saving power of the Cross and the hope of salvation that only comes through belief in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Oh boy, is that a lot of pressure or what? As a parent, I fail every day in something. But, there is good news. Amid the failures, trial & error and a TON of prayer, there is success. It actually does get through. I have recently experienced one of my proudest moments as a parent, and one of my most awestruck as a Christian.

We were leaving the store the other evening. As we crossed the parking lot Trevor, my nine-year-old, spotted something and asked if he could go look at it. Sure. He ran over, got very excited and ran back to tell me it was money. I asked what he wanted to do and he didn’t answer. As we stood there, another person walked by, picked it up and kept going. Trevor said, “that’s okay, it wasn’t mine to begin with.” Wait. It gets better.

Later that night when we were talking some more about it, he told me, “Mom, when I went over and saw it was money, it was like a shield was around it.” A shield? “Yes, a shield. And, I heard God’s voice telling me not to pick it up because it wasn’t mine.” Wow. I didn’t know how to respond except to hug him as the tears flowed. We talked about wise decisions and listening to God when we hear Him or feel something in our bellies. He knew exactly what I meant. We did discuss the other option he had at that moment, picking it up and turning it in to the store manager. But, he quickly reminded me that God told him not to touch it. Of course, he was right.

The next morning at Sunday school, his lesson was about temptation and the story in Matthew 4 when Jesus is tempted in the desert. He again told the story of the money and how tempting it was to take it, but God told him not to.

So, not only did he get it, he was able to connect it to other areas of teaching. Wow. Sometimes it all just clicks. Kids really get it! I mean, they are truly tuned in to hear God’s voice and know deep down about that God-shaped hole in all of our hearts. If we can turn their eyes toward Heaven, our job is well done.

That’s not saying we don’t make mistakes. Sure, every day we do. But, our kids really ARE listening and if they are consistently being trained in the way they should go, it will pay off. I know for me, that is a huge encouragement in the face of daily disappointment. Moments like this make me realize how little I know, but how BIG my God is and even when I’m not able to deliver the message perfectly, HE can use it for his glory. That is such a beautiful thought.

Monday, January 4, 2010

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Well, it certainly didn’t take long into this new year for my resolution to be tested. I had determined that I would work harder at choosing love every day. (Romans 12:12-18) On the first day back to the office, there was an email telling me that my corporate credit card number had been stolen and used without my authorization. After further investigation, I determined that in the week before Christmas, someone used my card for over $3,000 in charges for food, gas, and probably presents, judging from the other place it was used. Of course, my first reaction was anger, and I even felt sick to my stomach, That’s a lot of money and there was no regard shown for the cardholder (me) or the responsible party (my company). After spending a good deal of time documenting the fraudulent charges, filling out paperwork and working with internal departments to cancel the card and request a new one, I took a break. I went out and got some fresh air as I decided to walk as I took care of an errand.

That’s when I started tuning in to the “love response” message that I had promised God I would adhere to this year. I began to think about who this person (or persons) might be and what would have prompted them to commit such an act. Perhaps it is a single mother with children to feed or an out-of-work father who feels he needs to provide for his family. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not condoning the action, I’m just trying to see it through another set of eyes and circumstances. Perhaps they don’t know the Lord and thought this was their only hope. As I thought about that possibility, I actually started to feel sad for them.

When I got back into the office, I was settling back into work and then I heard the song “Love Never Fails” by Brandon Heath. That song was recommended by a friend as one that could potentially be the undercurrent of this year of choosing love. Amazing, it played at just the right moment today.

Hearing that song jolted me right back to that place of forgiveness and mercy that I had promised God I would reside in. And it reminded me that every day, I need that forgiveness and mercy as much as anyone. Who am I to not offer it to another when God so freely gives it to me every day?

So, whoever it was that felt they needed to steal that number and use it for those purchases, I forgive you. Your heart needs my prayers more than I need to choose anger today. My prayer is that your heart will be convicted and you will come to know the real hope of life that is only found in Jesus Christ.

Today, I chose to love.