This has been the summer I fully embraced the community of my church family. The one where I attend services and the one that has connected me with some life-long friends and acquaintances. It has been a summer of gathering together socially and spiritually. Mostly, it has been the best time I have had in years and I am beyond grateful.
My life today is nothing compared to what it was even five years ago, let alone 30 years ago when I began my Christian journey. God planted a seed of change; however, it took almost 20 years to stop living according to my rules and listen to his desires for me.
I’ve been reading a lot more during this time home alone. Mostly I have been reading about the way God can completely change who we are, if we are willing to open that door. I know he has changed my heart, my thinking, and my desires in many unexpected ways. I know God has forgiven me in ways people never have. I know I have found peace in that forgiveness and a greater willingness to offer that same mercy and grace to others. It all started with God moving in my life when I opened myself to his ways over my ways.
I’m a rules person. I try not to drive more then the ‘acceptable’ five miles an hour over the speed limit. I try be on time (meaning early) for my appointments. I don’t lie about my age to get a cheaper rate; nor did I ever do that for with my child. I want people to think well of me and see me a ‘virtuous’ or ‘law-abiding.’
I’m also a horrific sinner. Yup, me the ‘rules girl’ have broken all the rules, one way or another. And for many years I have carried the guilt and shame of my past with me. Yes, I have confessed most of those lapses in following the rules and as open as I have been about God’s forgiveness of my actions, I still let them define me. I still stopped short of embracing my ministry because someone might unearth and reveal my sins for the world.
Fear can be so crippling. If we let it, it will run our lives. It will cause us to do things out of emotional blackmail and often drive us to make poor decisions, or worse yet, no decision. It can stop us from stepping into the life God intends for us (a calling) because we think we aren’t good enough, not worthy to stand, or that our past has left us irreparably damaged.
How many times do we hear people say that someone they are in a relationship with is the love of their life–until they break up and move on to the next “love.” In a culture that seemingly embraces divorce it is hard to imagine that any one person can be the love of our life. Today many young people are rejecting the marriage norm and instead are moving from relationship to relationship when boredom or routine settles in.
I used to be one of those serial lovers–always looking for my soulmate or one true love. I have been fortunate to experience that kind of love a couple of times in my life but I sensed that something was missing. Its because the kind of love I want can’t really be found in a mortal man. I wanted unconditional, all forgiving, all loving, and perfect love. Pretty hard expectations to place on another mere human.
It was finally vacation time. I haven’t taken time off since I went back to work nine months ago.
I came to rest. I came with family to rest…
And we fought it for days.
It is so difficult anymore to just stop, unplug, and enjoy the beauty around us without scheduling “things” to do. Even when we finally stopped, it was hard to sit still for very long. We needed to keep moving: float in the lazy river, work a puzzle, check our phones, or randomly electronically check on work. We just needed to be “doing.”
As I lay out my plans, I have found it helpful to have someone who will ask me the questions I don’t want anyone to ask me. I have a coach and a spiritual director who does a great job of seeing into my carefully concocted plan and finding the areas that I am avoiding because it might cause me to regroup and take new action. As much as I dread these questions, they get at the meat of what God intends for my plans and away from how I envision things. Some may call this an accountability partner, other wise counsel, or maybe just a concerned friend. Whatever title you give this person, make sure you have someone who will tell you what you don’t’ want to hear—and this applies especially to relationship building!
In the past week, between my church family and my work family, we lost four pillars of our community. The week will be a series of funerals and memories of people gone from our lives. It has been a devastating time for our church family in particular as we watch two incredible ladies, now widows, support one-another and comfort us as we try to find the words to say to them. My daughter said that she is beginning to see the people who have been around her most of her life, now depart this place.
Death is hard on all of us.
The personal loss comes on the heels of the senseless murder of nine Christians in Charleston. It seems the whole world is struggling to make sense out of the senseless. And it is senseless. It would seem from reading our Bible that God never planned for us to live this way and yet, here we are. Losing lives to the violence of relentless disease and illness—yes even mental illness—is difficult to grasp. And yet we have seen an outpouring of forgiveness, hope, and a belief in salvation on the streets of Charleston. What a model of what Christ means to those of us who believe in forgiveness and eternal life through him.
These can be overwhelmingly sad times for us left behind. Watching these women walk through their grief, I see the sadness in my sister’s eyes remembering the loss of her husband. When we say goodbye to another Godly man on Saturday, I will watch my daughter struggle with the reminder that her father died 11 years ago that day. As the world watches Charleston, we are reminded of other mass killings of not just the faithful, but the innocent young lives such as those we lost in Sandy Hook. It seems that death always surrounds us. And yet Jesus promised that with the Holy Spirit our sorrow would turn to joy and that because of Jesus we would be victorious over death.
“O death, where is you victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, NLT)
And strange as it may seem, I have begun to find joy in attending funerals celebrating these lives. It is hard to explain, and I will try my best to share my sense of peace. Yesterday we celebrated the life of a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a steady hand in our congregation. Yesterday our church was filled with old-time members who had left for other congregations/denominations, but never left the family. There were gasps and hugs and smiles as the Body of Christ came together to share the life our brother Ken lived. God was pruning again and as he snipped a piece of the vine he brought forth the steadfast trunk that we would all know—he is still moving among the family. The family—HIS FAMILY—is still strong. We just don’t meet up every Sunday like we used to. Through his grace, we are still one family.
I love listening to the family and friends speak at funerals. We never hear the bad stuff at a funeral because just as Jesus cleanses our hearts, we cleanse our memories in honor of the departed. Last winter I went to the funeral of a friend’s father. They spoke about his military career and they spoke about his love for the Lord that trickled down throughout the family. His faith inspired sons to enter into ministry and others to simply devote their lives to following Jesus. Where there could have been great dread and despair in their loss, there was great hope. I left feeling better than when I came and inspired to go deeper in my faith.
I have talked with others after the funerals or memorials for devoted followers of Jesus and almost always I hear someone say: “I hope they say things like that about me when I die.” We want to be remembered for our good deeds. We want to know that we inspired others to follow Jesus. We hope that the room will be packed with friends from all over who come because they saw Jesus in us and because we lived the love he commanded us to live. We hope that our lives will be ones well celebrated. These God-inspired lives can motivate us forward if we ask God what he desires from us and if we are willing to make changes to live for him.
If you are struggling through the loss of someone dear to you, regardless of when that loss occurred, I urge you to seek Jesus and ask that he send the Holy Spirit that your sorrow become joy, knowing that you will one day be reunited with your loved one. I urge you to look into your own heart and life and ask his forgiveness that you might forgive others, including the one who has left you. Ask God to show you his love, to wrap you in his warmth, and to comfort you in your sadness. Ask that you may have the eternal life he has promised to those who believe in Jesus and chose to follow him. Ask that he would use your life and transform it into one of service and a celebration of life today. You don’t need to wait for others to celebrate the life God has given you—you can start celebrating and living it today.
Heavenly Father, I pray that my words are pleasing to you and that those who read them may find your peace and love today. I pray that we would all be one in you and you in us and that we would fix our eyes and hearts on you.
This is written in honor of Ken, Elsie, Scott, and John—Well done good and faithful servants.
My search for something meaningful or purposeful about my life led me down many paths, and not all of them were roads I should have traveled. I tried devoting myself to work and taking jobs that I thought would make me feel important or relevant. I tried relationships that I thought would meet all my needs but they never filled all the gaps. I tried a different sort of ‘religion’ in Scientology, and that only confused my life more. I tried drinking and drugging in my younger days to fit in and that was all pretend living too. I tried just being “spiritual” but failed to find any real direction and ended up listening to my own messed up self for guidance. It took me several tries over the years to come to a new point in my life:
“God blesses those who realize their need for him” (Matthew 5: 3—The Beatitudes, NLT)
I was looking in all the wrong places! The NIV version says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” while the Message says, “You’re blessed when you feel you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” I was like a beggar trying every new spiritual movement out there in the hopes of feeling fulfilled in my life. I knew Jesus. I grew up with Jesus. I just didn’t think he was enough for me and I hungered for something more to make me feel relevant in this universe.
I didn’t need to be one with the universe—the same universe that God created. I needed to be one with the creator. I didn’t need to empty my head; I needed to breathe in the Holy Spirit and divine inspiration. I didn’t need to draw energy from another human; I needed to draw inspiration from God’s word to us and through a quiet time of prayer with him. I didn’t need a new religion, I needed to grow in my own faith—the one passed down through generations of believers. My dedication to hearing God’s word spoken for me led me to a spiritual awakening like no other.
I need God in my life. I need Jesus in my life. I need prayer and meditation in my life. I came to the end of my rope and God was waiting for me. Waiting to pick me up, dust me off, forgive me, and set me on a new course. For me, there is one God in whom I trust. Today I only look for ways to grow in that relationship and if work, relationships, spiritual groups, or things I put in my body don’t lead me in that direction, then I don’t need them.
Do you need something more in your life—something other than your own voice in your head? Are you looking for a new spiritual life? Do you want to experience a transformation that brings you peace and joy? Are you ready to step into the light and feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit? I encourage you to reach out to someone today that can guide you in that direction. Find a life coach, counselor or religious leader and tell them you are ready to start exploring this kind of spiritual life. I promise you will never be the same.
I love hockey, basketball, and baseball. If I’m at a game I will surely be screaming when my team scores, dancing and singing silly sports songs, and raising my hands to cheer on my team. Most of my “Sunday friends” who are also sports fans, have little inhibition about clapping their hands and shouting to praise their team’s accomplishments. We yell out the name of our favorite player at bat, thinking he will somehow hear his name and be uplifted. We chant for our goalie. We wear shirts with our favorite player’s name for the world to see and will challenge anyone who doubts why we support that team or that player. I don’t know why this environment allows us to let loose or why it is we are so quick to celebrate the accomplishment of men or women in sports—but for many of us it is second nature.
I wish our Sunday dance was more like that. We dress up all proper and put on our best clothes for the day. We enter church with polite “hellos” and courteous smiles. We might laugh a little but the disapproving stares of some can quickly shut that down. We solemnly sing our songs of praise and close our books with the last note. Maybe we lift our hand for a verse or two. We listen quietly to the stories of the Bible and seldom do we just shout out the name “Jesus” to lift him up. Even when we are treated to someone’s story about God’s healing grace in their life; we nod and maybe respectfully clap our approval. We stifle the joy and excitement we should have for our Lord.
I have heard it said that some think this sports-like behavior is too undignified for church. Can you imagine if we all showed up wearing a jersey with the name “Jesus” on the back? It reminds me of David Crowder’s song “Undignified.” Every time I hear it I think how much I want to be that person when I worship Jesus—and not just at a faith event, but every day.
I will dance
I will sing
I will be mad
For my King
Nothing Lord, is hindering
This passion in my soul (Dave Crowder)
Just like David in 2 Samuel 6, I feel inspired to dance foolishly to celebrate before the Lord. When I consider the amazing things God has done in my life, I feel compelled to stand up and cheer when I hear his name mentioned. And when someone shares their story about God healing them, I want to leap to my feet and clap out loud to praise this wonderful thing. Yet, unless I’m at a Crowder concert or similar faith event, I tend to politely clap with the others around me.
I think it is time for us to loudly celebrate the forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ. I think it is time to shout a loud “AMEN” when we agree with what the Holy Spirit can do in our life. I think it is time to be a little undignified in church and remember that we are there to worship and praise our God. This is a happy exciting thing we get to do with other believers on Sunday. This is God’s place he has given us to celebrate him!! If I can whoop about my team scoring a point—I can whoop about Jesus saving my life!! I want my praise of Jesus to be second nature. I want to be like David and leap for joy at all he has and is doing in my life. I want others to see how exciting this life of following Jesus Christ really is!!