Monday, February 27, 2012

Supermarket & Coffee Shop Encounters

When I go to the super-market and run into a friend, I'm always excited to see her and we usually stop and catch up quickly, but we both have lists to shop for, dinner to cook and errands to run so the time we spend catching up leaves much to be desired, though it is nice because it keeps us up on each others lives.  I call those the "super-market encounters".

Then there are the coffee-shop encounters I get to have with friends.  Those are the ones that can last up to three hours (sometimes more if time allows!) where we get a lot deeper in conversation, we talk about things that are on our heart and really get to know what's going on in each others lives.  I prefer these encounters, of course, but they don't happen as often as I'd like.

Relationships take work. We must be intentional if we want to deepen those relationships.  Every time I have a super-market encounter with a friend, I am reminded how much I love them and begin to wonder why I don't see them more often or why I haven't taken the time to call them and let them know I care.  It's so easy to get wrapped up in activities and neglect those relationships that are so important in our lives.

Mary and Martha had a different encounter with Christ at the exact same time and in the exact same place in Luke 10:38-42.  Martha's was a "super market encounter" while Mary's was more of a "coffee-shop encounter".  Martha was "distracted by the big dinner she was preparing" and said to Jesus "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?  Tell her to come and help me."

Meanwhile, Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to what He was teaching.  And guess what Jesus said to Martha?  "My dear Martha (I love that He was gentle with her) you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her."

Lately, I must confess, my quiet times have been more like "super-market encounters" with Jesus.  I've found myself busy, stressed and overwhelmed at times and the "to-do" list seems endless.  Can you relate?  I was reminded of this familiar story about Mary and Martha as I read the Bible today and it struck me.  There are nine words in particular that pierced my heart...."There is only one thing worth being concerned about."  Wow.  I need to remember this.

I pray that tomorrow morning, my quiet time will be more of a "coffee-shop encounter" with Jesus!  I want to sit at His feet, remembering that if I'm going to be concerned about anything, it needs to be that my time with Him is protected.  I pray the same for you!  Let's ask Him to help us to "Be still and know that He is God" (Psalm 46:10) - even during the busy times.

"A single day in Your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!" Psalm 84:10a

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Heart Broken

Heartbreak.  We try to avoid it.  We write songs about it.  We avoid relationships out of fear of it.  We are motivated to help others because of it. We endure it because loving really is worth the risk.  Everyone experiences heartbreak at some point in their life.

I'm reading about heartbreak and what breaks our hearts (and God's heart) in Kelly Minter's new study called Nehemiah.  I'm only on day one, but I'm already being heartbroken over the reality of my own heart condition.  I'll be honest - I've felt God calling me to reach out to a specific group of people for about six months now and I keep pretending that it's not really Him, that I'm imagining it and that I'm too busy.  In reality, I am too busy.  I've got a lot going on.  But if God is calling me to do something, I know that He will show me what I need to let go of in order to make room for the assignment.  My job is obedience, His job is working out the details.

It all started one morning when I was reading about the Final Judgment in Matthew 25.  I read in verses 34-40:
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me." Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the King will say, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"
I was going through the list of people this person had reached out to - a hungry person, a thirsty person, a stranger in his home, someone in need of clothing, a sick person who needed care and I knew that I had done all of those things and was doing a mental check list in my mind of times that the Lord had used me to reach out to these types of people.  Broken people who had been dealt a difficult blow in life.  People who did not make the choice that led them to their difficulties and heartbreak.  I was feeling a bit of a thrill in my heart to know that I had done all of those things.  Self-righteousness was slowly creeping into my heart.  But then....it happened.  I read the words that broke my heart in a way it had never been broken before:

 "I was in prison and you came to visit me."

I've read those words in this passage dozens of times.  But for some reason, that morning about six months ago, it was as if I was reading them for the first time.  Thoughts swirled in my mind.  Prison?  Don't people in prison make the choices that lead them there?  Maybe if they hadn't made those choices, they wouldn't be there.  Yuck.  I didn't like that train of thought and it made me sick in the pit of my stomach.  Even though all the other broken people did not make a conscious choice that led to their situation, they were no more broken than the people in the prisons!

I knew at that moment God may be calling me to reach out to the women in prisons.  I love to share the truth of Jesus Christ - the hope and new life that He brings - with women all over the world as a speaker and writer.  Why not share it with those in the prisons who are desperately in need of that hope and new life?  Well, I'll tell you why.  Fear.  I was scared.  What did I have in common with these women?  What if I couldn't relate to them?  What if...what if....the what if's kept coming.  Then it hit me.

We've all done things that could probably end us up in that same place, but by the grace of God, we have not been caught.  How many times as a young woman had I stolen something?  How many times in my past life of alcoholism had I gotten behind the wheel, sure that I was fine to drive, and only by God's grace did I make it to my destination?  How many times did I do things out of complete foolishness in my youth that could have landed me in that very same place?  

I am no different than them.  I have much in common with these women.  I am just as broken as they are and Jesus loves and died for them, just like He did for me.  Prison may be the very place that God may allow them to hit bottom so that the only place they have to look is up - to Him.  But how will they know Him if they do not hear of Him?  If prison was what it would have taken to show me His truth, I hope that is exactly what He would have used to reach out to me!  In a way, I suppose He did - I was imprisoned by my choices, my foolishness and my sinfulness.  There were no physical bars around me, but I guarantee the prison was a reality.  But now I am free - only by His grace and mercy.

I'm blogging out of a heart that is broken today.  I'm broken not only because of these women who are sitting in the prisons, behind bars, feeling hopeless and trapped but also because of my disobedience to follow God's nudging.  I've allowed fear and insecurities to keep me from doing something I believe He wants me to do.  But today, I began the journey of seeing where God may lead me in this.  My first step was talking to my husband.  I told him that I wanted him to pray for me and help me to discern what the next step would be.  I trust God will equip him to help me on this journey and I look forward to what God has in store.

What breaks your heart?  Is God asking you to take the first step today?  What are you waiting for?  Blessing always follows obedience. 


Monday, February 13, 2012

Hope

My husband has wanted a big dog he can go hiking with and take long walks with for awhile now.  I thought it might be nice to go ahead and get him a new "best friend" for Valentine's Day - a gift that will keep on giving!  But we didn't want to get just any dog - we wanted to rescue one.  We didn't just want to purchase a dog - we wanted to save a dog's life.  So we ventured out to the Animal Shelter in Charlotte, NC.

It was about five minutes into our search when I saw her.  I cannot even begin to imagine how her life has been.  She's about three years old and the name the shelter gave her was "Pearl".  When I saw the name they gave her on the tag, I immediately thought of Matthew 13:45-56, "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!"  She's part German Shepherd, part English Coonhound.  Her thin and frail frame and that sad look in her eyes told me that her life has not been an easy one.  I wondered if she was the one we were supposed to rescue.  She sat shivering in her cold, concrete kennel with puppy-dog eyes that pierced my heart so deeply that I think I heard that Sarah McLachlan song, In the Arms of the Angel, in the background.  That commercial always makes me cry.  But seeing it in reality was much harder.

As I looked into her eyes, I could see she was broken.  I began to cry.  I've been broken before.  And I was rescued, too (thank you, Jesus!)  We asked to spend time with her and have some interaction because we knew that even if we felt she might be "the one", we wanted to make sure the feeling was mutual. (smile)  She timidly approached me and her tail, that was tucked underneath (a sure sign of fear and uneasiness), slowly came out from underneath and began to wag as she laid her head into my hands and closed her eyes as if to say, "Ahhh...".  I rubbed her underneath her jaws and told her I loved her.  I really meant it.  I imagined the heart break she's gone through in the short three years of her life.  She needed to know someone loved her.  Her previous owner was unemployed and penniless, so he could not feed her and she had never been spayed or given any worm preventatives.  It was obvious she recently given birth to puppies and probably had no idea where any of them were. I can't imagine how hard that would be.  She was hungry, broken and then to top it all off - strangers put her into a cold, concrete kennel.  Oh, it was more than my mommy heart could take.

We'll take her!!

It was only moments before we told the volunteers we wanted to rescue her.  We cannot bring her to her new home until Wednesday because she is being treated for whipworms and then she will be spayed that morning.  She's been through so much and I can see it has taken its toll on her. 

We got to visit our precious little girl today and gave her the first bath she's ever had (we know that because she did not do well at all - the volunteer said it seemed as if she'd never been bathed) but even though she was scared and unsure, she did not bark, bite or growl even once.  She didn't like it, but she was not mad - just scared and confused.  We will go again tomorrow to walk her and spend some time with her and on Wednesday, she will come home with us!  Considering all she's been through and the fact that she is beginning a new life on Wednesday, we've decided to give her a fitting, new name:

Hope. 

Friends...the economic situation in our country has had a trickle-down effect.  I couldn't believe how many dogs had been surrendered by their owners - and some of them abandoned - because people cannot afford to take care of them.  If you have a desire to have a dog (they are hard work but so worth it), please consider rescuing one from the animal shelter.  You can save a life - and I guarantee that in the process you will be blessed beyond measure by the love you will receive in response.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I've Got the Power!


The other night, on my way home, I picked up my cell phone to call my husband.  Unfortunately, it was dead.  The power had run out and I did not have a way to charge it.  Ugh.  Don't you hate it when that happens?  I giggled as I thought about my new smart phone that my husband gave me that was equipped with all the bells and whistles was beautiful but worthless.  It sure looked good on the outside, but it was absolutely of no use to me at all.  I mean, what good is a cell phone without any power?

As I thought about this I realized that for many years of my life, my spiritual walk was kind of like that.  I said I knew Jesus, said all the right things, went to church and even read my bible occasionally but I was like a cell phone without power.  I didn't have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of me because I had never truly surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.  I didn't have a personal relationship with Him, I just looked good on the outside. 

In John 14:16-17, Jesus promises that He will send the Holy Spirit to live in us when we become true believers in Him.  He says the Holy Spirit will lead us into the Truth, give us guidance and He will not abandon us.  In Acts 1:8, right before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He said "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you". 

One day, I sat back and evaluated my life and realized I did not have that kind of power inside of me.  I began to see I didn't have a changed life, I didn't grieve over my sin like I should, I continued to live a double life of partying and swearing and then would get up and go to church the next day without batting an eye.  I knew that my way was not working out at all and that I needed help in order to live the Christian life.  I couldn't do it on my own!

I realized that I needed Him to live inside of me, change me, mold me, convict me and guide me.  I had to turn away from my sin and toward my Savior.  I needed to confess my sin to Him, ask Him for forgiveness and allow Him to make those changes in my life that I was incapable of doing.  God knows we cannot do this in our own power - that's why He wants to do it, Himself, through us. Even with His power, there are times I mess up and rely on my own power, but my heart grieves and I eventually return to Him and "plug back into His power" because I know that without Him, I am hopeless. 

If you are still trying to do it on your own, I beg you to spend some time with the Lord, asking Him to show you the truth of where you stand with Him.  Someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn't have the power within of the Holy Spirit is like a cell phone without power - it may look good on the outside, but honestly, can it do what it claims to do? 

1 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

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