Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Missed the Boat? There's Still Hope...

During a meeting yesterday, we were presented with the opportunity to Praise God.  Kinda a cool way to start off a meeting, huh?  And the praises shared were touching.  I knew immediately what I needed to share... but it wasn't a touchy, feely response.  In fact, it came from a place of pain after feeling like I missed the boat.  And here's what I shared:  "I praise God for being a God of second chances.  I'm thankful that when I miss the boat, it doesn't mean that He won't send it back for me again." And that is God's grace in action.  Let me explain.
I was working on an event for about a month and had some random thoughts about inviting some people to attend that maybe hadn't heard about it.  Some friends even shared ideas about who to invite.  I made a mental note and thought "I should make this happen."  The week of the event arrived and my time was filled with urgent things that needed to get done.  Needless to say, the invitations didn't happen.  And during the event, a story was shared that took my breath away... but not in a "that's amazing" way.  Instead, it felt like I was punched in the stomach because the story applied specifically to a group that I planned to invite.  I was humbled, mortified, and really just wanted to find a room and cry my eyes out because I missed the boat.  I felt like I totally let God down.  I wonder... have you ever felt this way? 
I was boarding the self-condemnation train right then and there.  It was ready to leave the station for a long ride down a fast hill into the pit that Satan had waiting for me.  But God had a different plan.  And I'm incredibly thankful that He knows me so well that He stopped the train from leaving the station by having someone ask me to pray for them.  Nothing like praying for someone else to take the focus off yourself, right?  Then, God protected me yet again from the condemnation train by reminding me to be social.  So I obeyed and thankfully, I avoided the condemnation train this time.  (Need more information on the difference between conviction and condemnation?  Check out this blog post:
After the event ended, I was feeling convicted about missing the boat.  And as I journaled my confession and asked for forgiveness, God reminded me that just because I didn't invite them, it didn't mean that He would stop pursuing them.  He reminded me that it's not just about me and He let me know that I was completely forgiven.  I can't tell you how thankful I am for God's grace... for God's UNCONDITIONAL love... that He loves me when I obey and when I don't... that His love for me is constant and unchanging and NOT based on my performance.  He just loves me... He just loves you... all the time.   
Believe it or not, this is not the end of the story.  Over the course of the next day, God brought the boat I missed right back to the dock and invited me to get the message to those same people, just in a different format.  I was in awe... God would still use me?  After I missed the boat the first time?  He was giving me a second chance, and this time, I was going to obey.  I made the connection and as of today, there is a plan in motion for this group to receive the message God has for them.  How incredible is that?  God doesn't give up on us when we mess up!  And He may even bring the boat right back to the dock so we can obey.  It just blows my mind!
Know who this reminds me of?  Jonah.  Yep, Jonah was God's prophet and he missed the boat too.  Except he didn't just get distracted by urgent tasks like I did.  He actually ran the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3) because he didn't like what God was inviting him to do.  And that, my friends, landed Jonah in the belly of a large fish for three days, where Jonah had plenty of time to do some reflecting.  Check out Jonah's prayer:

Jonah 2 New Living Translation (NLT) 

[a]Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,[b]
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
“I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods
    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.
    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.
 Don't you love verse 2?  "I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and Lord, you heard me!"  Jonah had caused his own great trouble by running from God and God not only heard Jonah's prayer, but He also rescued him and gave Jonah a second chance.  God gave me a second chance too.  And guess what?  God has a second chance waiting for you... waiting for everyone.  Why?  Because God is the God of shocking, scandalous grace (Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?, 1997)
Have you missed the boat?  Are you on the self-condemnation train, deep in the pit of guilt and shame?  Know that God loves you... wherever you are.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, instead of your mess.  Why?  Because Jesus died on the cross to save us from ALL our sin, ALL our mistakes, ALL the times we miss the boat.  All we have to do is invite Jesus into our hearts to become our Lord and Savior and we are rescued for all of eternity.  (If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9).
If you're feeling overcome with shame, guilt and regret, then take a moment and pray these verses to God.  Do this daily or even moment by moment if you need to. 

Psalm 40:1-3 New Living Translation (NLT)

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
God wants to rescue you.  Will you surrender and let Him?  He's waiting. 

Need some more encouragement?  Then listen to Hurricane by Natalie Grant.  And know that when you call His name, He'll find you in the hurricane.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Be Here Now

Back in my corporate America days, the company I worked for had a slogan called “Be Here Now.”  Pretty simple statement, right?  And of course, that’s what we want… to be completely engaged in the moment.  But I often find myself in a “Be Here Kinda” state.  You know, the state where you are kinda engaged.  It goes something like this… you’re chatting with your friend on the phone and are kinda listening because you’re checking your Facebook page at the same time.  Or you’re playing with your kids, but aren’t completely engaged because you’re kinda thinking about all the other things you need to check off your To Do list.  Or you’re sitting in church and kinda planning where you’re going to lunch when it’s over… while your pastor is preaching.  I bet you could come up with a million other scenarios of “Be Here Kinda.” 

What’s so important about “Be Here Now?”  You miss out… on that piece of information that could have brought you a belly laugh if you had caught all the details.  Or seeing the delight in a child’s eyes because she knows that she has your complete attention.  Or…

Francessa Battestelli has a song that’s on this topic called Don’t Miss It.  Take a moment and listen to the lyrics.

Convicting, huh?  I’ve been convicted about this lately.  And I’m learning the value of truly engaging.  Take a recent school night, for example.  It was bedtime for my boys but they wanted to play chase as a family.  And when Daddy plays chase, it’s super fun!  So the deal was one song.  The four of us ran around our house, singing, dancing and laughing our heads off.  And when it was over… and past bedtime… and the boys begged for one more song… and Daddy said yes… I played chase too, as if it was 7 pm and we had all the time in the world.   It felt great to Be Here Now… fully engaged with my family doing something silly and fun right before bed. And it’s a memory that I will treasure in my heart.

If I had to think of someone who’s an expert in “Be Here Now,” it’s Jesus.  Just think about it… He was constantly interrupted with people who needed His help.  And He fully engaged with them.  The story of Jesus healing a bleeding woman highlights how Jesus chose to “Be Here Now” rather than “Be Here Kinda.”  Check out Luke 8:40:47:

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman

40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,[c] but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

The story begins with Jesus being approached by Jairus, a synagogue leader desperately pleading for Jesus to come and save his dying daughter.  And Jesus agreed.  As Jesus embarked on the journey to Jarius’ house, “the crowds almost crushed Him” (v. 42).  I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of people crowding around Jesus for it to be described as crushing.  And in the midst of the crushing crowd, Jesus notices a specific touch.  One touch… when the crowd is crushing Him… caught His attention.  So much so, that He asks “Who touched me?” (v. 45) and Peter reminds Jesus that “the people are crowding and pressing against you” (v. 45).  But Jesus was in tune with what was going on and He didn’t let Peter’s explanation deter His mission to find out who touched Him.  The bleeding woman confessed and Jesus stopped to engage with this woman, affirming that her faith had healed her.  And then Jesus continued on His journey to Jarius’ house. 

Isn’t that incredible?  Jesus was on an important journey to heal a 12 year old girl, but He wasn’t so focused that He missed the opportunity to heal someone else along the way.  He stopped His journey to “Be Here Now” with the bleeding woman.  And she was forever changed by her interaction with Jesus. 

What about you?  Would people describe you as “Be Here Now” or “Be Here Kinda?”  If you fall into the “Be Here Kinda” category, what changes can you make to so you “don’t miss it?” It’s worth the effort to “Be Here Now.”  Are you willing to give it a try? 


Friday, September 6, 2013

The Color Red

It's time for another dog story.  Yep, I'm full of interesting animal observations, thanks to my morning walk.  This latest observation occurred earlier this summer.  Are you ready?  Drum roll please... dogs don't like the color red.  I know... it's crazy!  And I have to admit, it's not scientifically proven.  This is just based on my personal experience.  So if you find articles that prove me wrong, consider this my disclaimer. 

Here's how I discovered that dogs have an aversion to red.  I have lots of red workout clothes... shirts, shorts, you name it.  And I am NOT a fashionista in the mornings.  I grab whatever is available and I'm out the door.  Matching is not on my mind that early.  So a few mornings in a row, I wore a red shirt.  And the dogs (who were either leashed or behind a fence, for which I am eternally grateful!!) went nuts!  They barked and growled at me.  The moment that sealed the deal was when a dog literally stopped and was standing in attack mode while his owner was walking him across the street from me.  The man even commented about how the dog responded to my presence.  I just shared my perspective... dogs don't like red.  And he agreed.

What things turn you off?  Is it a color?  Type of music?  Personality style?  Movie?  Food?  There are many things in our lives that make us want to bark, so to speak.  Have you ever heard why people aren't a fan of Christianity?  The answer is often Christians are hypocrites.  Our hypocrisy can be like the color red to a dog... making them want to either attack us or run away from the One who can save their souls. 

Hypocrite is defined as:

1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings  
Ouch!  Guess what?  This describe me.  And quite frankly, I bet it describes you too.  Wanna know why?  Because we're all sinners.  I love Jesus and I desire to live a life that honors Him.  But I mess up... daily, hourly, by the minute.  I know I should be gentle, and I want to be gentle, but in the heat of the moment, harshness can spill out of my mouth.   So what's a gal to do?  Repent.  Confess that I messed up and I know that's not how God wants me to act.  And start praying scriptures about gentleness, asking God to help me become more gentle.  Here's some to get you started if you struggle with gentleness too:

Proverbs 15:4 Amplified Bible (AMP)

A gentle tongue [with its healing power] is a tree of life, but willful contrariness in it breaks down the spirit.

 2 Timothy 2:25 Amplified Bible (AMP)

25 He must correct his opponents with courtesy and gentleness, in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and come to know the Truth [that they will perceive and recognize and become accurately acquainted with and acknowledge it],

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
I wonder if part of the reason people see Christians as hypocrites is because we judge?  Or act like we are better than others?  Or say one thing, and then do just the opposite?  Or choose not to forgive?  Or...?
I wonder how the hypocrisy perception would change if we just came clean and let others know that we are a mess.  What if we were vulnerable and shared that we sin too?  What if we admit that we can't measure up... and that's exactly why we need Jesus?  What would happen if we explained that God doesn't expect perfection because Jesus was perfect on our behalf?  Would they look at God differently if we shared that God's love is truly unconditional?  That He loves us all the time... whether we do the right thing or mess up big time, God's love doesn't change at all.  What if we let others know how much we need Jesus as our Savior.. and how they need Jesus too?  Would our vulnerability open the door to a deeper discussion about how to invite Jesus into their hearts?  Would our color change from red to a more pleasant yellow?  Would the term hypocrisy be replaced with the word authentic? 
Are you willing to give it a try?  Be vulnerable?  Can you let go of your desire to "appear" like you have it all together, when in fact, it feels like everything is falling apart?  Is it worth the risk?  Can you trust God enough to see how He can use your mess for good?  Because that's one of His promises:
Romans 8:28 (NLT) And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
What is God asking you to do right now?  Take action.  Trust Him with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5-6).  And invite Him to do immeasurably more than you could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) as you follow His lead.  Who knows how He can use your authenticity to lead others to Him? 
And if you're looking for more information on the subject of hypocrisy, check out the link below from my pastor's blog.  You don't want to miss his "Dust if you must" illustration.  You won't look at cleaning the same way again...