Autumn Leaves 3 Column

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Maturity in Spite of Me

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  Ephesians 4: 14 – 15

I wanted his approval and good will more than I wanted to be holy.  I wanted to be held in high esteem, so I tolerated bad behavior and foolish jesting at the expense of others.  My desire for acceptance was greater than my desire for God.  These are my sins…confessed, repented of, forgiveness requested and received before the Lord and the appropriate individuals, now shared to make this point: spiritual maturity is attained slowly but surely in spite of self because God is mightier than foolishness or sin.  He will finish His work in us.

As many of you [readers] are aware, relationships are extremely important to me.  But as I reflect, those relationships were not more important to me than my standing before particular individuals.  Through the consequence of the loss of those relationships over the last few years, along with the humbling and difficult work of repairing them, the Holy Spirit is doing the transforming work required to make me “grow up”.  Spiritual maturity requires hard work!  And I believe relationships are the means by which Jesus is transforming me, and you, to spiritually mature people who resemble Jesus. 

Truth in my inmost being was required first: truth about who God is and His mighty power used to make me holy through the circumstances of this life that His sovereignty allows.  Truth about my sins: my desires, my will, being more important than the will of the Savior who rescued me from the pit of hell.  Finally, I had to be honest and recognize that my life in Him is to reflect and pursue kingdom purposes; “His kingdom come, His will be done”.

My next step was in observing others through the Lord’s perspective: each individual is His creation.  Therefore, I had no choice but to respect each individual and their opinions, cull the wheat from the chaff and pray for wisdom and understanding to confront my sinful behavior and make amends where I could.  Restoration is the work of God and I am to join Him in that work.

Finally, I must continue to apply the above steps willfully and intentionally if I am submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Today I am celebrating God’s faithfulness, love, mercy and eternal presence in my life.  I still have a long way to go in this process of maturity and I won’t be surprised if I have to practice these steps many times to get it right!  But I’m in this for the long haul…to become like Jesus, to be presented as blameless before my holy, righteous God.  Amen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Find Out What it Means to Jesus)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Eph. 4: 2

 Respect: Aretha famously sang about it. Our society complains about the lack thereof.  But not long ago, I was confronted by the lack of respect within myself.  I was taught some difficult truth by a person that I, sinfully, did not value as I should.  While I am not proud of this fact, I found the Holy Spirit speaking sternly to me in my arrogance and hammered home a lesson I’m not likely to forget anytime soon!  But as usually happens when the Lord moves, the experience also allowed me to ponder the necessity of respect for others.  Even if I don’t particularly like someone, or believe that somehow I am superior, I am to treat each individual with respect.  Period.

The fact is every person is created in the image of God according to Genesis 1:27.  If I’m “completely humble and gentle” than respect is present.   In Philippians 2:3, Paul also says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,…” Frankly, that is the definition for respect: “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person.”

How would our relationships alter if we recognized the creation made in God’s image in every individual we encountered?  What do we miss when we are unwilling to view others through the lenses of the Lord and see them as He does?  Honestly, the path to maturity is cultivated through relationships…and respect is one of our most important tools.  Thankfully, the Lord handed me that tool (again) through one of His children and altered my vision in the process.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No More Illusions

“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” Eph. 4:25 (MSG)

Have you ever gone through a period of time that has left you so discouraged, hurt and confused that you don’t even know what you need?  Thankfully, while I’m on the road out of that pit, I am discovering afresh and anew how sovereign our heavenly Father is and how willingly He meets our needs if we will just turn to Him.  Considering the last few years, the Lord’s timing of focusing my heart on the book of Ephesians is wrought with irony and loving mercy.
 One painful lesson I learned preparing for the retreat concerns truth.   Regrettably, people will inadvertently distort truth through the lenses of perspective.  I used the idea of an optical illusion to emphasize this point.  Optical illusions can affect our perception of reality.  Similarly, one person’s perspective impacts another person’s perception of truth.  In other words, facts from one person’s viewpoint may be very different from another person’s.  Without prayer and discernment, I cannot bank on the perception of facts from one or two people to be truth.  Jesus is the only one who is in possession of all of the facts of any situation because He sees the hearts of all the participants.  We cannot.  Only as the Lord reveals actual truth can we make decisions and progress accordingly.  That’s one reason why we are to forgive others, and bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2); otherwise as the body of Christ, we will be divided.
After all that I have experienced, I’m doing my level best to remember that because imperfect, broken people are involved (including me) in my life, truth will always be shaded with the perspectives of all involved!  If I can remember this, then, even while I lick my wounds, I can respond with praise for God’s ability to reveal TRUTH!  

Friday, September 30, 2011

Robust In Love: Opening

“We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do.  He keeps us in step with each other.  His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” Eph. 4: 15 – 16 (MSG)

This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat for the women of my church.  I was one of three speakers and our title was “Robust in Love” taken from the verse highlighted in today's blog.  Our focus was the necessity for maturity as godly women and emphasizing the building of God’s kingdom through us. 

Our first speaker spoke on “Trusting Upward” and shared her powerful testimony as to how the Lord called her out of a sinful life through some painful and life-changing trials.  The turning point of falling in love with Jesus came through an amazingly simple circumstance: a loved one had asked her to read the Bible aloud and over the course of time, as the words started to move from her brain and sink into her heart, the love God has for her was revealed as though a blindfold was removed from her eyes!  That is the power of the Word of God!

Our final speaker addressed “Peace Inward” and shared how we can find peace even when we feel abandoned, angry, hurt, or worse in the storms of life while we learn the enduring truth of God’s goodness, love, and grace for us as He brings us to maturity. 

I was the second speaker and my specific topic was called “Risking Outward.”   It may sound odd, but frankly, how many of us have a true understanding of what it means to “love our neighbors as ourselves”?  Yet, that is our commandment: to share the love we have received in our horizontal relationships in a manner that is glorifying to God.  So how do we live out relationships that glorify God?  I will be addressing this topic through a small series of blogs for the next few weeks.  I hope and pray you will join me as I share how the Lord stepped on my toes and challenged me as I researched and prayed through the book of Ephesians.   

For now, I want to leave you with a question: what prevents us from loving our neighbor, our spouse, or our child in a manner that brings glory to God?  Please read Ephesians and my future blogs and we’ll compare answers!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Acquainted With Grief

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Is. 53:3 (NASB)

Grief is a strange emotion.  There is no timeline.  It ebbs and flows with its own course to be experienced through a lifetime.  Twenty-six years ago today I lost a daughter, Erin.  She was stillborn at the end of an entire nine months.  Nine months twenty-six years ago; it seems like a lifetime.  While Jesus has granted me a great deal of healing through His grace (See ‘Amazing Grace’ Sept. 2009), I find that some years are more difficult than others.

Do people ever look beyond my smiling lips to see my eyes subduing the sudden pain in my heart?  Do they recognize the loss so intimate, the stillborn child, unknown to all but me?  Nine months spent fruitlessly waiting to fill empty arms that would never be filled with that particular life.  Her life unlived amid dreams never to be fulfilled, laughter never to be shared, and the birthdays never to be celebrated, but mourned over year after year: that is my truth.  A life unidentified to anyone else, but never forgotten by me, her movements felt by no one else save me.  Although twenty-six years have passed, the heartache can still be so sharp, the memories so fresh, it’s as though the delivery day took place just yesterday.   These are my memories:

Unforgettable, the silence of that delivery room; tears of anguish flowing unchecked accompanied by the low moaning of the young mother.  The only other sounds: a quietly weeping nurse as she wiped clean the still, un-breathing baby of what should have been life-giving blood and the clanking of instruments.  A young father stood silently, overwhelmed and withdrawn from the unthinkable horror of the moment.  Precious, fine baby hair was snipped and footprints taken from the unmoving infant for later recollection of parents destroyed by grief.

The memorial service was centered on the tiny coffin with words spoken that are no longer remembered.  Her mother unable to contain the grief, wailing her tears, yet ashamed of the emotions she couldn’t control.  A father so shut down, he was unable to mourn, trying, but unable, to comfort his wife.  He would later run from his grief into his job and be swallowed by it. 

Months afterward, at home, two toddlers confused by not understanding a mother who alternated between sobbing bitterly and fiercely hugging them.  For a time, hope seemed impossible and what does normal life look like after burying a baby?  Oddly enough, the sun still rises in the morning and the demands of children continue in spite of the agony of loss.  Life does go on.

As I read what I have written, I realize that the recollections are written it in third person, probably to maintain the distance that it took years to achieve.  Now when I look back, I don’t know how I got through that time in my life.  I was twenty-three years old.  My life was forever altered by that event.  How can one prepare for such a cataclysm?  However, that event started me on a search for purpose.  I had to find a love that would not die, a reality that could move me beyond the brokenness to find healing and hope. 

Jesus Christ was, and is, the only unchanging, perfect love that I could find.  He, too, was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief and He understood my pain.  That the Father in heaven comforted me in my pain, I have no doubt.  The Holy Spirit’s power activated in my life is the only explanation for the ability to come to terms with such a harrowing loss.  That love started a healing process that I will never understand.

For whatever reason, this year the memory of the delivery day and what followed was sharper than it has been for a very long time, hence this blog.  I will always miss Erin and I will always wonder who she would have become.  But I have undeniable, assured hope that I will see her again.  My arms will be filled with that particular life that I carried for nine months.  And my heart will finally be whole once more.