Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oh, Snap!

It was one of those mornings a few years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was doing just fine...had a great quiet time, began my day by waking my daughters with sweet butterfly kisses, began to pick up little things here and there...and then it happened...

(Cue the disaster music) My youngest daughter yelled out "You never do laundry!  I don't have a clean undershirt!" Just then, the dog barked.  Nobody had let him out yet and his water and food were completely empty.  I had to let him out.  I promise you, if not for me, that poor dog would die of neglect.  Then my other daughter started complaining about not having clean and matching socks.  I realized I had three loads of laundry that were clean but sitting in various corners of my home waiting to be folded.  I had to step over my son who fell asleep in the living room the night before. If I didn't clean my bathroom soon, I was sure social services would be here to give me a citation.  I had a sink full of dishes and I promise you I think this has to be my worse hair day ever!

I couldn't resist it one more minute.  I completely snapped.  I let 'em have it:   

"I'm the only one who does anything around here!  I didn't realize I was your personal slave!  Maybe if you would gather up your dirty laundry and bring it down - maybe then you'd have clean undershirts!  I don't have any socks either because you take all of my clean socks out of my drawer when you can't find yours and they disappear into oblivion somewhere!  Someone's gonna catch something in that bathroom! Can I get some help around here for crying out loud?  Today after school, it's on til the break of dawn!  You kids are cleaning and organizing and helping me get this house in order!  I'm over it!  No playing today, no fun til the work is done!"

As I stormed around the house, picking things up (I do this when I'm upset - can't control it - it's like I turn into a little cleaning tornado) I began to ask God to help me.  I knew I'd blown it.  All the quiet time words of wisdom were gone.  I think they went into the oblivion my socks go into.  Then I heard a still voice in my heart say "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."  

I can honestly tell you that there was a very big part of me that thought "You know, I don't feel like resisting right now!"  But as I sat there, folding one of my loads of laundry, I began to pray.  "OH, GOD!  Please help me right now.  I'm angry, I'm bitter and I'm in a funk.  I can't do this." 

Just then, my husband who had been observing my not so pleasant morning, approached me and put a book in my lap that was opened to a page that said "Never, never, never give up."  And the scripture that was with this quote was Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 

My perspective began to change as the Lord brought to mind my friend Julia.  She had dirty laundry, two young boys, a husband, cleaning, cooking, a full time job and two dogs to care for and she did it all while going through chemotherapy - for years and years.  And she did it hoping all the while that the Lord would give her more time to continue to serve her family in this way. The conviction was almost unbearable at this point.

I heard someone say once that there's no such thing as a bad day when you have Christ in your life - because of His sovereignty, you can choose to look at the bright side of every situation. Sounds good, but what does that look like?  How do you begin?

I think it begins with being thankful.  So I began....

I'm thankful for my health so I have energy to clean and pick up my home (and I'm thankful we have a home!)

I'm thankful for my missing socks because it means my daughter can have a set of clean, matching socks on her feet.

I'm thankful for the dirty bathroom because as I clean it, I will be serving those I love.

I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to care for my dog, because he brings tremendous joy to all of us.

I'm thankful for the dirty dishes, for it means we have food to eat.

I'm thankful I had a son to step over in the living room (because now he's grown up and moved out of the house and I miss him terribly.)

I'm thankful for a bad hair day for that means I have hair.

I'm thankful for times like this because God uses them humble me and remind me of what is important in my life.

I'm thankful that when I apologized to my girls that morning, they gave me a kiss and said "We love you Mommy. It's okay."

And I'm definitely thankful for a godly husband who, without a word, pointed me to the truth of what I was experiencing.

I think of the day that I "snapped" often.  I think of being thankful when I do have these days.  And my days become more joyful when I do.  What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Surviving by God's Grace

It was day eight on Survivor China and we were in yet another physical reward challenge.  I was already frustrated because for some reason, the show I finally get selected for turns out to be one of the most physical one-on-one combative seasons to date.  It was like Survivor - Gone Wild!  Most of the challenges I'd seen on the show were a team effort in the past.  Not this season.  We were doing hand to hand combat, one on one and it was the hardest thing I'd ever done.

This challenge on day eight was one of the hardest yet.  We were on a make-shift boat and had to literally wrestle each other and try to fling the other tribe, one by one, off the boat into the nasty lake water.  It was women against women, men against men.  I had been very sick since day two and at this point, I was so weak I knew that I would have to dig deep for strength.

Jeff signaled for the challenge to begin and I almost burst into tears as I saw the three young girls from the opposing tribe coming at me.  We wrestled and fought and as we did, I could feel that some of the girls were pulling on our clothing, trying to distract us so we would try to cover ourselves up instead of fighting.  I couldn't help but tug at my clothes with one hand, trying to keep myself covered while wrestling with the other hand.  My other two tribe mates had already been flung into the water and I was the last one standing for the first round.  Before long, three girls from the other tribe came after me and flung me as hard as they could into the lake.  They won round one.

We had a couple more rounds in this challenge and I was physically and emotionally spent.  One of the members of my tribe was yelling at me to stop fussing with my clothing.  She said it was a distraction from the fight and that I shouldn't worry if they stripped my clothes off.  It was a competition - who cares who sees you at this point?  She was definitely angry with me.  But I couldn't help it.  I was not there to strip naked on national television.  It's easy to forget that 15 million people are going to be watching you at some point when you are out there fighting for your life in the jungle.  But I knew it was not something I wanted to do.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I put high expectations on myself to represent Him well.  And when I would mess up, I was so hard on myself.  That's probably why, after the third round of this combative challenge, as I was being flung into the nasty lake water for the last time, losing the challenge (and almost my clothes), I yelled out an expletive word that I regretted the moment it left my mouth!  I hit the water and swam to the side of the boat where I just wept uncontrollably.  There I was, wrestling with other women and screaming out a word that I should not be screaming, much less on national television.  This was not what I signed up for!

One of my tribe mates and dear friends out there, Courtney, helped me out of the water and asked me what was wrong.  When I explained to her that I had just said a word I wished I hadn't said on national television, she laughed, hugged me and told me to shake it off.  But I couldn't.  I felt just horrible.  I was a mother, a Christian speaker and radio host.  I really felt I had blown my witness.  They would show this on national television and everyone watching would judge me and possibly even judge my God based on my behavior!  What if they fired me at the radio station? I put the weight of the world on my shoulders.

I was so distracted by beating myself up that I didn't even realize my tribe was plotting to vote me out that night.  When we focus on our sin and not our Savior, a lot of things can go unnoticed in our lives, you know.  Once I was voted out, I lost many hours of sleep, re-playing that moment in my head over and over and wishing I hadn't said what I said.  I was tired.  Sick.  Exhausted.  Upset.  Would any of that matter to the millions of people watching?  Would they ever understand?

I asked the Lord for forgiveness and honestly, I felt He forgave me before I even finished asking.  But I couldn't forgive myself.  I continued to re-live the moment for months - until the show aired in October of 2007.

While watching the scene, I braced myself.  I felt nauseous.  I just knew the producers were going to show the "Christian Lady" yelling out an expletive.  It would be the end of my ministry!  It would make God look bad!  He would be so disappointed in me!

And then....


They didn't even show it on the air.  They took it out completely.  I was flabbergasted.  In shock.  All those hours and sleepless nights of worrying about how I was going to damage God's reputation and they didn't even show it.  What was going on?

As I prayed about this with the Lord, I felt that what He was showing me is something He wants us all to know.  We are human.  We will mess up.  We are not perfect (the very reason we need Jesus so much!).  And He showed me something that humbled me and will continue to humble me until the day I die....I am not powerful enough to ruin the God of the Universe's reputation.  He's perfectly capable of protecting His honor.  Even if they had shown me screaming out a word I wouldn't normally use, God would have been just as holy.  My actions proved I was human and I made a mistake, but they did nothing to discredit my God.

I don't know what you're struggling with today, my friend.  But I know that if you are having a hard time forgiving yourself, you need to remember that important truth.  He loves you, He forgives you and He is not depending on you to be perfect in order to show others how amazing He is! Remember....while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!  He knows we are not perfect.  As Jesus said to the woman who the judgmental Pharisees caught in adultery...go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

When you are exhausted, hungry for God's Word, thirsty for His Spirit and you're in a situation that is anything but what you are used to, you will be more vulnerable to do things you normally wouldn't do, too.  It doesn't give us an excuse, but it certainly shows how much we depend on Him for our righteousness.  And if you mess up, fess up.  Learn, grow and move forward.  Remember it, but don't dwell on it.  As a Christian, we are a new creation, but sometimes our old self seeps out when we are in a vulnerable situation.  Protect yourself from those situations whenever possible by staying in His Word, praying and allowing His Spirit to control you. (Galatians 5:16)

When I told my tribe mate, Courtney, what I yelled out, her reaction wasn't one of, "Oh, I see.  You SAY you're a Christian, but look at what you did!"  It was more like this:  "Oh, I see. You're human."

My Christian friend, you are human, too.  You will make mistakes.  Learn from them.  Grow from them.  Allow God to use the sins that you regret so much to teach you and form you into the person He wants you to be.  But do not allow those sins to define you.  Allow them to refine you.  And move forward, in His grace.  God's grace is always way bigger than the grace we show (or don't show) ourselves.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not By Might

Reading the book of Jonah made me let out a giggle the other day. God sent Jonah to Ninevah to preach because He wanted them to repent and turn to Him.  We know the story…Jonah didn’t want to go.  He actually got on board a ship to go as far west away from Ninevah as he could.  He didn’t think they deserved God’s grace!  He thought they were just a bunch of wayward sinners with no hope.

God prepared a storm that came to show His displeasure with Jonah and the guys on the boat threw him overboard. Once Jonah was overboard, he was then swallowed by a fish that was prepared by the Lord.  He stayed there for three days, praying and thanking God for saving his life and telling God he would obey now.  God then ordered the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach.

Jonah went to Ninevah and preached an amazing and well-though out message that was so moving and eloquent that even the most hardened of hearts was softened.  Is that the truth?  Not at all.  All he said was “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!”  The Bible then tells us that the people of Ninevah believed God’s message and repented and turned to God.  This is the part of the story where I let out my giggle!  What kind of message was that?

Interesting.  I often think of the preacher who preached the message of salvation the night I finally surrendered my life to the Lord.  I used to think he was a more gifted communicator or a more eloquent speaker than the preachers who I heard before him. I don’t believe that’s true though. Yes, he is gifted and yes his message made sense to me – but I heard that message many, many times before from other preachers and never turned to God.

I believe that the night I surrendered my heart to the Lord was an act of God finally softening and preparing my heart to receive the truth about Jesus Christ.  I believe that preacher could have said “Forty days from now, ....Charlotte.... will be destroyed!” and I would have fell to my knees in repentance.  Why do I believe this?  Because the Bible says very clearly in Zechariah 4:6 “It is not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” 

Jonah got all mad and left Ninevah in a huff.  He was so mad God had spared them from their doom because he thought they deserved it that he sat outside of the city and sulked, watching to see what would happen.  As he sat there, God prepared a plant that grew up and shaded him.  Then God prepared a worm to come and eat it.  Afterward, God prepared the scorching east wind to blow on Jonah and the sun beat down on him.  God was teaching him a lesson – and eventually, we see that God was showing Jonah His Sovereignty and His mercy.

I noticed the words "God prepared" just kept coming up in this story in the Bible.  Just like God prepared the storm, prepared the fish to swallow Jonah and to spit him out, prepared the plant to cover him, prepared the worm, prepared the wind and prepared the sun, He also prepared something else in that story of Ninevah.  He prepared the hearts of those people.  That is why they responded.  Even Jonah knew that.  Jonah knew it wasn’t his eloquent preaching, but it was the mercy and grace and Spirit of God!

This gives me hope in witnessing to others and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The eloquence of my message and the preparedness of my “script” are not as important as the Lord preparing the hearts of those who listen.  This shows me, clearly, that I cannot mess this up.  I can’t make it happen, either.  I often stress out and think “I should have said it differently” or “I really messed that one up” or “I can’t seem to get through to them!" Why worry about this, though?  God will find a way to the heart that is seeking Him and though I love to be a part of that miracle, He doesn't need me - He just allows me to be a part of that miracle sometimes!

Instead of fighting it out verbally with people to try to get them to grasp the truth, I need to fight for them on my knees, asking God to open their heart, open their eyes and open their ears to understand the message.  And then, like Jonah, I need to be obedient to follow wherever He will send me to share the truth, in love, gentleness and respect. After all, my responsibility in all of this this is more of my response to God's ability.

In the words of the Apostle Paul...

(1 Corinthians 2:1-5) And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is God a Kill-Joy?

I remember being a teenager and thinking I knew it all.  I thought I knew what was best for me.  I thought my parents were nuts.  I thought God was a kill-joy.  I felt choked by God's commandments because they seemed impossible to follow.  So I quit trying and just went off the deep end - living a life of what I thought was "freedom".  I partied and drank myself silly, made horrific choices with guys, lived me life for ME.

And the price I paid for my so-called "freedom" was way more than I could afford.

I had no self-respect.  I didn't have the respect of others.  I would wake up from my stupor the next morning with the heaviness of regret and the nausea of realizing I'd made choices that I knew I had to pay for either through a hang-over, relationship issues or embarrassment for something I'd done that I could barely remember.  The only thing I gained was a horrible reputation, a few enemies and some fuzzy memories that I wish I could forget.

How is that considered "freedom"?

I wish I could have sat my young, prideful self down and had a talk with her.  You see, I'm on the other side of that lifestyle now and I've learned a few things.  I doubt I would have listened to me then, though.  I would have thought I was just a preachy old lady with no idea what it was like to be a teenager.  No one understands me!  Yes, that is probably what I would have said.  I guess there are some people that just don't learn from listening...they learn from experience.  I'm so glad God never gave up on me.

One of the reasons I thought God was a kill-joy was because He said in the Bible we should not get drunk.  But getting drunk was the only time I felt confident and spiritually numb.  It was the only time I felt "fun" and so I thought if God didn't want me to do it, then why would He make me this way?  I will never forget a friend of mine saying that to me..."Leslie, God made you to like alcohol so He must want you to drink it!"  It made sense when I was drinking.  Now it sounds ridiculous. 

Another reason I thought He was a kill-joy was because He said not to have sex before marriage.  How ridiculous, I thought!  Everyone was doing it and it wasn't a big deal.  It made guys like me, so it must be good, right?  What I didn't know or realize was that guys didn't like me at all - they liked what I would give them.  There was absolutely no love involved...only lust and afterward, a vulnerability and heart break that was not intended to be experienced by a young woman.  It stripped me of my self-confidence and drew me to drink even more (because at least when I drank I was numb). 

I also didn't realize that God didn't say sex was bad...He actually created it.  Why would the Creator of sex tell us not to do it until we were married?  Well, it's because He knew the heart-ache and heart-break that would result from my giving myself to someone other than my husband.  He knew that it was not only about feeling good for the moment, but a spiritual connection - a sacred union for a man and wife.  When we connect ourselves with others spiritually, we open doors in the spirit realm that we should never open.  These commands about not having sex before marriage were not to stifle me, but to protect me.  I wish I had listened.

I realize many years later that God knew what was best for me, but I just wouldn't listen.  I know that the reason I didn't listen was because I was not a true believer in Jesus Christ, though.  When you have the Spirit of God living in you, things begin to make more sense and your heart changes.  When hearts change, people change.  It never works in reverse.

1 John 5:2-4 says, "We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith."

Did you catch the phrase "his commandments are not burdensome"?  That is so true.  When you are truly surrendered to Jesus Christ and He is Lord of your life, it's harder to actually make the wrong choice than to make the right one because you are now a "slave to righteousness" and not a "slave to sin" as Paul puts it in Romans 6:20-23.  Will you still mess up?  Yes, of course.  But there is a new Spirit inside of you that will convict you and you will want to make things right.  It's His love and mercy in action inside of us!

God loves you, my friend.  He wants what's best for you.  He doesn't want to make your life miserable - He wants you to experience the truest joy you will ever experience.  This is why He gives us guidelines to live our lives.  They are boundaries to protect us.  What makes us think we know better than Him?  Can the created tell the Creator how to do things "right"? 

I am now a new creation in Jesus Christ - not the same person I was before.  I have been forgiven and given a new life.  Thank God for His mercy, His grace and His Spirit!  Without these, I would probably not be alive right now.  He saved me.  He loved me even in my sinful state.  He didn't think anything I'd done was more than He could forgive.  He feels the same way about you!

God's commands are not given to us to deny us pleasure or punish us.  They were given so that, when followed, we can experience life with more pleasure than we could ever imagine.  But it is impossible to follow those commands on your own - He must be in you, guiding you and showing you the way. 

If you find it impossible to keep His commands or if you find them burdensome, please fall to your knees and talk with Him today.  It could be, like me, that you do not have His Spirit in you.  Remember, you cannot change until your heart does and only He can change your heart.  Give Him your heart today! You can be truly free.

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Many Blessings to You!

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