Autumn Leaves 3 Column

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Danger of Idols

We are so proficient at creating idols! We readily become enamored of someone or something until we are not aware that we have put it ahead of God. How dangerous and destructive when that idol becomes a rallying point around which a faction is built. And ultimately, within a church family, how heartbreaking it is when our triune God is not the focus, the idol, around which we rally. The consequences can last for decades effecting precious lives in a manner that we may never begin to fathom.

Case in point; good Christians, people that I love, behaved in a fashion that I could or would never have believed possible of them. The disrespect shown to their pastor and the lack of thoughtfulness for children and less mature Christians from wiser, more mature Christians, was unsettling. To witness such incredible behavior in God’s house following a worship service where we had been exalting our Savior who forgave, redeemed and restored us left me stunned and grieved in my spirit. Unfortunately having witnessed such behavior, I was reminded of a poignant truth: there but for the grace of God go I.

As I examine my own heart, I recognize that I have created my own idols in my past and behaved similarly. I am still learning that unless I am pursuing only Jesus, always Jesus, I will fall into the sin of idolatry! Psalm 106:36 spells it out for us: “They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them.” For whatever comes before Jesus will be a snare, defined as: “a device, often consisting of a noose, for capturing small game; anything serving to entrap or entangle unawares”. I am not immune to the brokenness within me that allows me to idolize my own ideas of right or wrong or my perceptions of truth or falsehood. Consequently, nothing can come before Jesus Christ: my church, my pastor, my friends, my spouse, nothing! Without the example of Jesus before me daily, I will become ensnared in my truth, turn from His truth, and travel down a road of destruction.

As a member of Christ’s body, I have an obligation to constantly examine my own heart and allow others who are objective to lovingly examine my heart because I can be blind to my sin. I must scrutinize: am I considering others better than myself (Phil. 2:3)? Am I striving to preserve a teachable spirit? Am I prepared to admit an offense and seek forgiveness and restoration? Am I actively pursuing my Jesus above all things, above any idea, above any one? With Jesus as my cornerstone, my source of strength, and my anchor, grace, restoration and healing are possible through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Consider this an antidote for all of us: let us humble ourselves, immerse ourselves in prayer, agree to resolve to our differences wherever possible, and move forward with the ministry to which we have been called. Honest communication and transparent soul searching within the community of our church will be a step. For the benefit of our children, for the building up of our brothers and sisters, let us endeavor to seek Jesus first and foremost! Repentance, forgiveness, and restoration will result in a united body. May God find us faithful to the great Commandment and the great Commission while joyfully serving Him and each other.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amazing Grace

Over twenty-four years ago on an inauspicious day in September, I began a journey with God and His amazing grace. Fall was upon us and I was anxious to harvest a particular crop, especially after waiting nine long months. Since three was the limit, this would be my final harvest. However, one is never prepared for the alteration of life to death, and at twenty-three years of age, I was completely unprepared for the unanticipated change in circumstances. It would become the pivotal event that would forever alter the landscape of my life.

I remember it was a radiantly sunny day. I had just put my two children down for their naps and was anxious to relax and put my feet up. With only three days left until my due date, I was tiring easily. Suddenly I realized that there had been no movement from my precious burden so I went into my bedroom as quickly as my awkward body would allow and grabbed my stethoscope from the drawer. Hesitantly, fearing what I would not hear, I listened for the sound of the tiny but mighty heartbeat of my unborn child. But there was no sound, just a yawning, empty silence. Gulping with fear and doubting my own ability, I paused and listened again while slowly and carefully moving the stethoscope to every quadrant of my extended belly; again, nothing. As I tried to take this in, to make sense of the silence, without any warning, tears were pouring down my face and I could not catch my breath. Some two hours later, I would see for myself the utter stillness in the ultrasound and the tears in the eyes of the nurse while I could not stop my sobs. Four days later, I was induced and the little girl, who I named Erin Patricia, was delivered. I will never forget the silence in that delivery room; a silence would haunt my days and nights for years to come.

The impact of her unexpected death forced me to consider my own death and what would come after. At a tender age, I was taught a harsh lesson on the brevity of life; that there is no time to hang on to bitterness or to leave things unsaid or undone. The loss of this child taught me lessons that probably would have taken a lifetime to learn; I learned tough lessons through her abbreviated lifetime. A few years later our gracious Lord would call me out of a deep darkness into His marvelous light. For me, this was and is evidence of God’s ability to redeem the unredeemable, to restore what was lost and to show me a love that has never failed. As I reminisce on that time in my life, on this daughter whose smile I never knew, whose laughter I never heard, I have discovered that I am able to celebrate her brief life.

Looking back I can see my experience of God’s grace began before I had even acknowledged His presence in my life. That God could take circumstances so tragic and use it for my good only reinforces the truth of scripture: that God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NASB). At the time of my loss, I had not even thought about loving God, but He was loving me. It would take many years before that silent delivery room would no longer haunt me. While I can still feel sad, I am free of that memory causing me the same pain today. Furthermore, by God’s grace I have been able to minister to those who have experienced similar losses and frequently tell people, you never get over the loss, but you learn how to live with it, and even flourish. I know this because I am living proof of His amazing grace.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Choose Joy!

As I shared with you in my last blog, our church has been going through some very stressful and painful situations. And as I stated in that particular blog, I am choosing to love, in spite of my flesh, and only by the grace of God. But to be honest, I have been discouraged. More importantly, I have found my joy to be ebbing over the last several weeks and if I am writing a blog titled ‘Just Joy-filled’, than I am convicted to be seeking the joy of the Lord! So, as I explore this today, how do I go about seeking His joy?

As usual, I turned to the Scriptures to seek the truth and I found myself in the Book of Nehemiah. A remnant of Israel had returned and reconstructed the Temple and then the city walls around Jerusalem. In celebration, the priest Ezra (who was also a scribe), assembled the people for a reading and teaching of the Law, their Scripture if you will. This remnant of Israel had probably never heard the Torah, and they were weeping; perhaps in repentance or perhaps for joy as they were once again living in the city God had given to them (Neh. 8:1-8). But, interestingly enough, as they were preparing for the feast to begin, Nehemiah tells the people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." There it is: “…The joy of the Lord is my strength!”

James puts it a little differently: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4). Well, we have been going through some difficult trials but I can’t honestly say that I’m counting it a joy!

However, as I ponder the last few years, I recognize that many of us are applying scriptural truths to our lives; Scriptures that remind us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44); “to consider others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3); to go to the person when we disagree with a sister or brother; not my friend, not the pastor, but the person with whom we disagree or by whom we have been hurt (Matt. 18:15-16). These behavior changes cause me to rejoice in the trials as James commands. These positive changes encourage my trust to grow; to recognize God is giving us the strength to persevere. This is an outward sign of an inward transformation! We are growing and maturing in our faith! When I observe the difficulties from this perspective, (dare I say God’s perspective?), than I find I can choose joy! And as I choose joy, the joy of the Lord, I feel the renewal of my strength to “keep on keeping on”! I pray that each of us will not only choose love, but that we will choose joy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Choose Love

For the last couple of years, there have been some very difficult and painful issues going on within my church family. People have been hurt and left the church. People have been desperately wounded, yet remained in the church. Yet, in spite of the unrest and struggle, God’s Spirit has been very active. People have been saved, ministry has grown, and disciples are growing in their faith. Requests for forgiveness have been made by key leaders but the mistrust and questioning of motives does not seem to be dissipating. Many in our family graciously extended forgiveness. But some of our families have charged the leadership with “manipulation” of the church membership. They have determined what is “right” and, despite a request for forgiveness, these few appear unwilling to extend mercy and pursue restoration. How can this be?

This focus on “being right” by these individuals, the lack of grace coupled with divisive behavior has left me broken-hearted. For myself, my willingness to be vulnerable about my brokenness has been tempered with a healthy fear that I might be the recipient of similar judgment and negativity. As a leader, as one who has invested over thirteen years of my life into this church family, I have spent hours in prayer with our Father searching for wisdom and how we can apply His truth to this situation. And, after much prayer, Scripture searching, and soul searching, it has come down to one question: do we choose “right” or do we choose love?

As we look to our Holy God to show us which to choose we may be in for a surprise! Our perfect, holy God made decisions on behalf of His people that show us that love will always triumph over “right”. The truth is that we are sinful, broken people. And if God did only what was “right”, we would be relegated to hell, period. But God, “being gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8), chose love over “right”. For in the garden of Gethsemane, God in His Human form as Jesus Christ asked that the cup of the Father’s wrath not be poured out on Him. And Jesus, because He had never sinned, had the “right” to ask God to allow the cup to pass over Him! But the Father decided that love was more important that being “right” and allowed Jesus to go to the cross for you and for me. He could have chosen “right” but He chose love. He chose love.

So to answer the question, we must choose love! “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13) is our guide. Choosing love means that we must get on our knees, beg the Holy Spirit to give us strength and then follow through with the appropriate action. For some, the action may be to love from a new church home. I hope not; I don’t want to lose any more family members. But if we choose to remain in the church, then we must “love… with action and in truth” (1 John 3:18), and the disruptive behavior must end. We must extend forgiveness, be willing to restore relationship and move on. If we do not do this, then we become part of the sin problem. We become an instrument used by Satan to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) the family of God in Christ’s church; not my church, not your church, but Christ’s church. No one desires to be used of Satan, but unfortunately, if we are not part of the solution, we are a part of the problem; part of the sin. Bottom line: we all have a choice to make. I have made my choice. I choose love.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Take Heart

I love to watch the sunset. This past week my husband and I spent an evening on the water to take in the sunset and share some time together. It was gorgeous! The colors were amazing; orange, gold, carmine, purple, and crimson melding and mixing until slowly, the light faded into a velvet night. I find that time of day irresistible. I take stock, praise God for the things that have happened, ask forgiveness for the sins I have committed, and just enjoy His creativity as He paints the sky.

There are some facts I have observed about sunsets. If there are no clouds, it’s still beautiful but the colors are fewer, and less enchanting. Conversely, if it is overcast, we don’t get to observe the sunset. The day just becomes grayer until it is just dark. But have you ever noticed that the sunsets are more beautiful when there are a few clouds to accentuate the colors? The reflection of the light on the clouds creates colors and patterns that are unique as the sun gives praise to God for working yet another day.

I think life has some similarities to sunsets. Like clouds, hardships can provide some opportunities to reflect God’s light in our lives. Life is hard. In John 16:33, Jesus says flat out: I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” Did you catch that? We will have trials and sorrows. It’s part of living on earth. Many times, we make choices in our lives that have negative consequences. It’s up to us to make wise choices that result in good outcomes. However, there are some circumstances over which we have no choice. Each of us will experience pain, tragedy, and loss. If you haven’t had that experience yet, just wait; it is the common experience of all people. However, we have a remedy for this, for in that same verse, Jesus continues and says, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus has overcome the world. His grace, His gift of salvation, His presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit, will be with us in the trials and sorrows of this world. His restoration of our relationship with God allows us to “take heart.” The pain of the loss will not be less, but we are not alone in our pain, no matter what our emotions tell us. He is with us! Our relationship with Jesus is enriched when there are obstacles to be overcome and pain to be endured. If there were no challenges, no hardships, life would be beautiful, but I don’t think we could perceive it. As the beauty of a sunset is enhanced by a few clouds, so our lives are enhanced by Jesus as He has “overcome the world.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Servant of All

The passing of Edward Moore Kennedy has been quite an event in New England. The pomp and circumstance of the different ceremonies were televised and attended by all the “right” people. Family members and close friends spoke and shared stories of Senator Kennedy, humanizing him and allowing the public to see a snapshot into the private life of a public figure. Finally, he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery near his two older brothers. Not only has a family lost a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, etc., but Massachusetts has lost a long-term Senator.

While I am not terribly interested in politics, the many stories shared about Senator Kennedy seem to reveal a man who recognized his role as a senator: a servant of many. In Mark 9:35, Jesus reminds his disciples that, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." As I have observed the outpouring of grief for the loss of Teddy Kennedy and the love and care shown to his family, I have come to the conclusion that Senator Kennedy never forgot his role as a servant of his constituency. He did not perform his duties perfectly, nor was he without his “skeletons” so to speak; but it appears that he worked very hard to fulfill his responsibility as a public servant.

Nevertheless, now that the business of burying the dead has been completed, the competition for his Senate seat is just beginning. The striving and posturing by the various players will be televised for all of us to see; the political rhetoric will drone on without ceasing as each of the contestants promises the sun and moon for our votes. And finally, an election will be held in January that will determine the “winner.” Democracy is the title we have given this form of government and it has served us pretty well for over 200 years. But I will be interested to see if the new person who represents this state in the senate will be able to remember their elected office is that of a public “servant”.