Friday, June 26, 2015

My Sin's Better Than Your Sin?

I have tried so hard not to write this all day long, but I suppose it's one of those things that until I do it - the itch in my fingers won't go away.... sigh.... I've been hearing the title to this post all day in my head (sung to the tune of the old Oscar Mayer hot dog commercial). 

One thing I have seen recently several times is the justification that one shouldn't throw stones at someone for a particular sin (or insert lifestyle here), if they have another particular sin in their life. Kind of a "you can't judge my sin, because you sin, too" statement. For those who have posted that and are waiting for me to come up with a marvelously spiritual rationalization...sorry...but you are right. When the Pharisees wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, Jesus said to them "let whoever is without sin cast the first stone". No stones were thrown that day, but we will come back to this story in a minute.

The simple fact of the matter is this: we have ALL sinned. Romans 3:23 says clearly that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." In our simple, finite human minds, we rank sin. Murder is worse than adultery. One receives a death penalty and one gets a slap on the hand these days. In God's view, though, sin is sin. Anything that does not measure up with His holiness separates us from Him - no matter how large or small that sin might seem. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin (not particular sins, but the state of being in sin) is death. We all get the death penalty in God's eyes. No sin gets special treatment. God is the ultimate fair judge and there is only one way to escape the death penalty.

Back to the story of the adulterous woman: Most like to end that story with the lack of stone casting, but it doesn't end there. After her accusers have left, Jesus tells her, without condemning her, to go and sin no more. Here's the rub - it doesn't matter what the sin IS, what matters is whether you continue to live in it, whether you repent of it, whether you ask the God of heaven to forgive you for it. 

John 3:16 tells us that God doesn't just want to sit on His throne judging and condemning us. He LOVES us. He loved the WORLD so much that He was willing to give His one and only Son, Jesus Christ to die for every sin. He didn't want us to be separated from Him, so He gave us a pass on the death penalty, but only if we REPENT and accept the forgiveness that He offers to us freely. Romans 8:1 says "there is NO condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." The King James Version adds the statement in this verse "who walk not after the flesh".

How do you come to belong to Christ?
Romans 10:9-10 "If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

Acts 2:38 in Peter's sermon at Pentecost he told the people, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..."

God loves you. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not slow in keeping His promise (that He will return), as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish (the death penalty), but everyone to come to repentance.

Is my sin better? Nope. No better, no worse. Sin is sin and the consequences are the same for everyone short of belief in Jesus Christ. His message is still the same. He still loves the world. He wants you to belong to Him.

Being a Christ follower doesn't make me sinless, it makes me forgiven. It doesn't make me a judge, but it does tell me in James 5 that whoever turns a sinner for the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sin. I think the following quote from atheist comedian Penn Jillette sums it up 

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? 
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 - The Year of Standing Still

Since the New Year started, I have seen everyone well, maybe not everyone, posting their verse for the year or their word for this year. I want to be that spiritual, really, I do. But reality reigns at my house. Truth be told, I hadn't even thought about a verse or a word for the year. I'm not sure I could remember what my verse and word were for last year, so why bother with another one?

We had a lovely time ringing in the New Year with some wonderful friends and maybe the whole evening just had me waxing nostalgic. I looked at these people - some we had done life with for a long time. We have traveled together, laughed together, mourned together, and loved together. I looked at others who are more newcomers to the scene and think about what our future together will bring. It's exciting and a little scary.

On our way home, it was dark and there were still a few fireworks going off in the distance.. my thoughts turned toward the year past and other circumstances we have encountered. (New Years Eve does tend to make one reflective, after all.) I was thinking about all the things I felt needed to happen to clear those circumstances right up. I thought about a few people that I would like to shake some sense into. And then, I believe God spoke to me - shook some sense into me.

Some verses came to mind and kind of set me straight. They made me realize my desire to be in fix things. In short, to play God... OUCH!

Exodus 14:13, 14 " Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU; YOU NEED ONLY TO BE STILL." 

The Israelites had left Egypt and the Egyptians decided to purse and bring them back. They were scared. They thought they were going to die. What happened? God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites walked through like nothing and the water closed over the Egyptian army and killed them all. The Israelites didn't have to lift a finger to fight. Hmmmm.....

2 Chronicles 20 is such a beautiful chapter. The Ammonites and Moabites were coming to make war with Judah and the people came from all over to "inquire of the Lord". They were scared. They thought they were going to die. And Jehoshaphat prayed. The best line in his prayer: "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on YOU." God's response: "Do not be afraid or discouraged...For the battle is not yours, but God's...You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; STAND FIRM and see the deliverance the Lord will give you."
What happened? While the people were standing firm and praising God, He set ambushes in place. The next morning, the people of Judah found a bunch of dead bodies. The enemy was defeated and they never lifted a finger to fight.

So what does this have to do with me? I need to stand still and stand firm. Standing still doesn't mean doing nothing. Standing still and standing firm means standing up for what you believe in. This is not a passive act, it takes a lot of effort.

  • Standing still requires trust/faith. If the Israelites hadn't trusted God and crossed the Red Sea, they would have died at the hands of the Egyptians. I must have trust that God has a plan for me and for those I love. I need to let Him part the waters.
  • Standing still requires obedience. In either scripture, disobedience would have spelled disaster. It spells disaster for me too, because I am NOT God. Whew!
  • Standing still can still involve activity. While I am standing still I can pray and praise. I can inquire of the Lord. I can put my eyes on Him.
  • Standing still requires patience. We have to wait on God not knowing how He is going to intervene or when. Sometimes I wish He would give me the 10 year plan, but He doesn't. I have to be patient.
  • Standing still requires that I relinquish control. I cannot control the situations around me and I cannot control the people around me. God can. He is Sovereign and He will fight for me.
  • Standing still means knowing that God has got my back no matter what is going on in my life that I want to change.
I don't want anyone to think it is the people in my life who are my enemies. It is the circumstances. It is THE enemy. And, frankly, it is my desire to be in control. At the risk of bringing up a song everyone is ready to forget these days, I just need to "Let It Go"! 

So this will be my year of learning to stand still.  To trust. To be obedient. To put my eyes on Him. The year of Standing Still.

"Be still and know that I am God;
I WILL BE EXALTED among the nations,
I WILL BE EXALTED among the earth."
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:10-11

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seeing the Light

It always amazes me to see how God works things together, how He speaks the same things to different people, how He works to get His message out. I had planned to write this yesterday, but I procrastinated only to wake up this morning and find that one of the leadership team for my Online Bible Study had already written it. 

In her post, she talks of all the dark articles regarding events happening in our world today. I agree with her that we need to be aware, but is this where I focus should lie? And what about that person on your news feed that uses Facebook as their rant forum? It's all so depressing if we don't balance it with hope.

Lately, I have been trying to get back into my walking routine and was dismayed several days ago to discover shortly into my walk that I left my ear buds at home. Whatever was a girl to do? How about talking to Jesus? 

It occurred to me that when God tells us to "Be still" in Psalm 46:10, He is not just telling us 'don't move your body'. He is telling us 'don't move your mouth'... quiet your mind... listen to Me. I felt He was telling me at that moment just to enjoy that time walking in His presence and observing the blessings around me. Profound spiritual truth? No. Practicing being with Him and seeing the world through Him. You bet.

So here are my not so mind blowing observations:
1. I am blessed with strong legs, heart and lungs (albeit a little out of shape) that get me through my walk everyday.
2. Cardinals and huge swallowtail butterflies live on my route. The creativeness of our God is astounding.
3. There is a hawk that sits on the edge of a rooftop and screeches at me as I pass. I am strongly suspicious she is protecting something up there. I am the only looming threat on her horizon. 
4. The osprey flying over the lake. So majestic!
5. The little lavender, yellow, and pink flowers that are tucked in along the path. What a sweet little detail He added. I always wish I could take pictures of them but that would interfere with my heart rate and my average walk time. Hmmm.... maybe I should consider pausing that workout next time.
6. The rain clouds that blew in to cool me off just as I was finishing up my walk yesterday and really needed a cool breeze. He cares for our needs no matter how small.

These are such small examples of the little blessings God has tucked into our world. My life includes many larger blessings and certainly this world is filled with many things to be hopeful about. We just have to open our eyes and see them. There is much darkness in the world - but we have to look at the light. It's all about our focus.

So what about you? Where are you looking today? What are you talking about? What are you posting on your news feed? What's your hashtag for today? Let's spread a little hope, shall we?

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have HOPE: Because of the Lord's great love WE ARE NOT CONSUMED, His compassions NEVER FAIL. The are new EVERY MORNING; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him'. The Lord is GOOD to those whose HOPE IS IN HIM, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:21-26

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grace Upon Grace

I hadn't realized how long it has been since I wrote a post. Tonight I was reading stories from the tornado and flood ravaged areas and my heart breaks for the things I am seeing: a mom who lost her two little boys, homes absolutely leveled, people separated from their pets, catastrophic injuries. It's all so tragic.

Then I picked up my Bible to do my reading for the day and my New Testament passage was John 1:1-28. I have decided to try and read through the gospel of John aloud and ask God to show me words or phrases that I need to dwell on. Tonight He gave me chapter 1, verse 16, "From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. (NIV)" The ESV says we have received "grace upon grace". 

As I looked around me and thought of those going through so much pain tonight, I felt He was telling me to remember what I have to be thankful for...letting me know I need to be more thankful. I remember reading a quote one time that said, "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?" Ouch! 

So tonight I just wanted to take the time to be thankful for:

(Parents, Husband, Children, Grandchildren, Foster Children)
Two sons in the military that have returned home healthy after multiple deployments!
(Local and online - some of the best friends I ever had I have never met in person)
Our home
Our Bible preaching church
Paid off cars!!
Food on the table
Clothes on my back
My cats (don't laugh)
The birds that come to my feeder every day and the songs they sing.
More than anything...
I am thankful that Jesus loved me enough to die for me
And that God gave us His Word.

This only scratches the surface. We are so blessed and most of the time we don't even know it until we are faced with the tragedy of seeing what others have lost, or have experienced loss ourselves. 

When I read the ESV and see the blessings called 'graces', it reminds me that I don't deserve any of what I have. The definition of grace I was always taught is "God's unmerited favor". He gives us blessings we don't deserve, can never earn, and can't repay Him for. Oh, may we never take them for granted.

So tonight I am thankful.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Inspired by Obedience

And He said to all, "If any would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Luke 9:23

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:20 - 21

I have only known in my life one person that truly personified those verses.

In 2009, one of our youngest, most energetic ministers was taken to the hospital emergency room with chest pain. He was healthy and athletic. He taught PE at our local high school. This trip to the hospital began a journey that would last the next three years and affect more lives than anyone could have ever anticipated. Mike Storter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.

Mike immediately began treatments for his disease and for a short period during these years was considered cancer-free. It was a brief remission, however, and when he exacerbated a few months later nothing would stop it. Not chemo, not bone marrow, nothing. It became apparent that short of a healing miracle of God, Mike was not going to recover. Our church continued to pray, but we were devastated. This would be a second young minister on staff to die of cancer within two years of each other. 

Mike could have given in to his illness. I mean, when you have a terminal illness no one will blame you if you don't continue to work and serve. But instead of giving in, he continued to attend church, minister to others and preach. He didn't do anything magnificent or explosive, he just continued to live his life in the face of what everyone else felt was a tragedy. His quiet persistence in his faith touched an untold number of lives.

As he continued to deteriorate, our senior pastor would give him time every Sunday morning to speak to the congregation and tell them what God had shown him the previous week. The notes I have in my Bible from those brief devotionals are priceless to me. As he neared death, his voice left him and he would get very breathless when he spoke - you could barely hear him - but he would struggle to the mic and pray. And the prayers that this man prayed came from somewhere I can only imagine exists. I have never, ever heard anything like it. He also maintained his sense of humor. He could joke about anything and he did so...right up to his funeral...

Photo compliments of Janine Benavidez
Mike was 45.
This picture was taken the last time Mike spoke to our congregation. Wearing his oxygen, barely able to speak above a whisper he talked about his journey through leukemia. At one point in his talk he pointed at himself and said, "In the light of someone else's eternity, what is this?" He was willing to obediently take on the mantle of cancer and death, if it meant someone else might spend eternity with Christ. Three weeks later, he was with Jesus.

Over 1000 people attended his memorial service. Our pastor read from the passage in Philippians 1 where Paul talks about being torn between life and death. I don't know if I will ever attain that. As I sat in that service, my eyes were drawn to the banners at the front of the church that were related to the current sermon series. Mike's casket rested between two banners that read "Make my Life....A Living Sacrifice". Every day, in every way, that is exactly what Mike did. Most pastors try to teach you how to live. Mike showed us how to die.

How does one come to this place? Over the past couple of years, I have struggled with what it means to be totally surrendered to Christ. Not just to give it lip service or to go through the motions, but to just give it all up, lay it all down, whatever He wants. In that, I have thought about what it would mean to sell all and move away, go on the missions field, live without, etc. But what if it meant the ultimate sacrifice? Would I be able to go through an illness unto death with the grace and faith that Mike showed and leave the kind of legacy that he left? I don't think so...not now.

Yes, I am inspired. Inspired to become more like Jesus. Inspired to continue to pursue total surrender. Inspired to deepen my walk. Inspired to reach out to others. Inspired to leave a legacy that glorifies Christ alone.

I said that Mike maintained his sense of humor up to - and including his funeral. These are things everyone should know according to Mike Storter ~ written in his own hand ~ as read by Rev. Tommy Warnock at his memorial service (comments in parenthesis are mine):

Pizza is a breakfast food.

Los sientos means "I'm sorry" in Puerto Rico.
(In a lot of Central FL, too)

Why would you make tea and not put sugar in it?
(People make tea and don't add sugar?)

The Bible is still as relevant as it ever was.
(Yes, it is)

If you are a believer, you need to act like it.
(Yes, you do)
And Mike did.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life Interrupted: Part 2

In my previous post, I told the story of my hip injury that interrupted our lives for approximately 2 years. I mentioned that there was more to the tale, so here is the rest of the story.

In August of 1998, I married for the second time. My new husband and I knew that my two children would be living with us, but never suspected that any of his children might want to move away from their mother in another state. We had only been married a month when the first of his sons chose to make the move and within a few months his other son was also living with us. We were newly weds with four children between the ages of 14 and 18 living under what had become a very small roof.

Our little home was so small that my husband and I had to give up the master bedroom to the three boys and we moved into one of the spare bedrooms. It was a trying time and there was no room to spare and no one ever had any privacy.  

Of course, in the midst of this was when I suffered the hip injury I talked about in my last post. So not only were we cramped - I was experiencing some disability at the same time.

My husband and I decided to put our house up for sale and purchase a large (5 bedroom, 3 bath) double-wide mobile home. We went to a dealer and made all of the necessary arrangements. We had a time frame for completion. We had a piece of property lined up to put it on. We were thrilled at the prospect of more room inside and out. 

Our house sold in record time - three weeks. I placed a call to the mobile home dealership before we accepted the offer to make sure everything was on track. I was assured that it was and we booked a short cruise for our entire family. We closed on the sale of our home, packed up all of our "stuff" and put it in storage, and sailed off into the sunset knowing that we would have to stay with relatives for about 3 weeks when we returned.

When we got back to civilization, we called to check on the progress of the house. Well....there's a problem. We needed both incomes to finance it and because I was receiving disability payments through worker's comp no one wanted to finance us because I did not have "guaranteed income". What?!?!? We couldn't have known this a month ago? We SOLD OUR HOUSE!!!!! WE ARE HOMELESS WITH FOUR TEENAGERS!!!!

What was supposed to be three weeks, turned into three and a half months of half of our family in one place and half in another. Tensions were high. And as if it couldn't get any better, the surgery I had been fighting for for two years was approved and scheduled. After you fight with and insurance company for that long, you don't tell them, "Ummm....Now is not a good time...." So off I went to have a hip replacement while my kids were farmed out all over, my husband was with his parents and I went post operatively to my parents home. What a mess.

During this time, a friend of mine who was not a Christian looked at me one day and said, "I don't know how you stay so calm. I would be a basket case if this were happening to me." Ahhh... possibly the meaning in the mess. I shared my faith. I wish I could say that she dropped to her knees in repentance, but it didn't happen that way. I was able to plant a seed, however.

Shortly (about two weeks) after I had my surgery and returned home to my parents, we learned of a nice home out in the country that was for rent by a friend of my husbands. I got my parents to take me to look at it and put down an deposit on it before my hubby even saw it. When he got home, I said, "If you want, we can go take a look at where we will be living for the next year." The only thing he said was "OK". On the day we moved, there must have been about 30 people who showed up to help us. Men moved furniture. Women set up my kitchen and put fresh linens on my beds. We just fed them lunch.

Our landlord/friend stood in amazement. He said he had never seen anything like it. We told him this is what it looks like when the community of faith rallies around someone in need. This is what it looks like when Christians show Jesus' love. More seeds. 

I'm still not sure I understand why our lives were so turned upside down for that year. I know learned the power of prayer. I learned the value of a community of Believers. I learned to trust a little more. I learned that God will provide. 

The house we moved into for that year wasn't all that beautiful. It had outdated formica in the bathroom and mauve carpet. The master bathroom toilet wouldn't flush when it rained. The kitchen was small, but the house was big. Big enough for all of us. It became one of my favorite places we have ever lived. I loved mowing the huge yard on the riding mower. I loved sitting outside under the trees for my quiet time and hanging my wash on the line to dry. I would move back there in a heartbeat. Maybe it was so special because we knew without a shadow of a doubt - it came from God. 

"And my God will meet ALL of your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19

Life Interrupted

Nineteen Ninety Nine was the year my life changed forever. Who knew that something that happens so fast could have such far reaching effects. But it can. Life can change in an instant. It wasn't the most catastrophic thing that could happen, but it was a major change, nonetheless.

I was working as a facility nurse at a small assisted living facility. I had been to lunch and upon my return noticed one of the residents crossing the busy four lane road in front of the building alone. I knew her to have dementia and knew she was not safe - so I ran after her. What happened next has some comedic irony to it. I got in the middle of the road. I know it was the middle because I remember looking down and seeing the double yellow line painted on the asphalt. I got in the middle of the road and tripped. Anti climactic? Well... when I tripped my leg twisted and I could hear the characteristic "thunk" as my hip was wrenched out of the socket. I fell to the pavement and thought, "I'll just lay here a minute and then I'll be able to get up..." Wrong. Within a minute, I knew that something was painfully, terribly wrong. The irony? An 80 something year old woman with dementia crossed a four lane road successfully while I, at age 38, had fallen and dislocated and fractured my hip. Funny, right? 

God's protection wasted no time... Here I was lying incapacitated in the middle of a busy road. Did I mention it was four lanes? A co-worker who had taken the day off "just happened" to be driving by and saw me fall. She blocked two lanes of traffic with her car. The FedEx truck coming the other direction saw me as well and blocked the other two lanes. I fell down, but I would not be hit by a car on this day.

Then began an agonizing process of being transported to the hospital, x-ray'd, CT scanned, and who knows what else with no benefit of pain medication. Finally, after 5 hours of torture I was taken to surgery where the surgeon cleaned bone fragments out of the joint and put everything back together. He told my family that the damage was as extensive as someone who had been t-boned in a car accident. After several days, I went home with a brace from my waist to my knees. I could not take it off for ANYTHING. I couldn't bend more than 45 degrees and it kept my legs spread apart at about a 45 degree angle. No showers. I will leave using the toilet to your imagination. Not comfortable.

I wish I could say that I was asking God daily for the lesson in all of this. I wish I could say that I was searching His Word for how to handle this debacle. I had been married to my second husband less than a year and we had four - count em - four teenagers living in our house. I was not being very super spiritual. I was not being very spiritual at all. I was pretty darn resentful and difficult to live with, if you want to know the truth. 

In spite of me, God was still good. He provided meal after meal from wonderful friends. Phone calls, visits, cards, flowers became part of my day to day existence. Often, they would try to encourage me by telling me that God was working this to my benefit. One friend told me I should ask God what lesson He was trying to teach me. I didn't care and I didn't want to hear it.

Then, six weeks later, came the icing on the cake. An MRI revealed that during the time my hip was dislocated the circulation had been disrupted for too long and the bone was dying - a condition known as avascular necrosis. The pain was unbelievable, but the disability was worse. At 38, I could barely do any housework, I couldn't buy groceries by myself because I couldn't stand that long, if I went to the mall or a theme park with the kids, I had to go in a wheelchair. The only option was a total hip replacement. 

I won't go into great length here because this is long enough already, but the next two years were spent in a legal battle with Worker's Compensation just to get authorization for the surgery. At the time, I could not see what God could possibly be doing that was working to my good. 

While we were fighting for surgery, I was unable to work but because I was covered by WC, they had to pay my salary while I was home. God provided.

During the same time period, we had a child who was having significant emotional issues. He was not doing well in school. We were constantly headed to doctor and counseling appointments. He needed supervision. Even though he was 17, he couldn't drive. It occurred to me one day, that had I not broken my hip, I don't know what we would have done. Because I was able to be home all the time, I was able to get him to appointments and his GED program. I was able to be present with him when he needed it and he was not left along during a fragile, vulnerable time in his life. God not only provided for us materially, but also emotionally.

The other positive that came from this time, was the time I was able to spend in Bible study and prayer. I often had the house to myself when all the kids were in school and in those quiet hours I had a season of spiritual growth and sweet time with the Lord that I have not experienced since to that extent. Once I got over being angry and started to listen to Him, we had some wonderful moments together. God provided spiritually.

Eventually, I had my surgery. Our oldest child moved out. The child that was struggling moved home to his biological mom. We were down to two kids, I went back to work, life returned to normal. Sigh. I had grown to like "abnormal". 

I look back on that time now almost wistfully. God had a plan. Not just for me, but for my family. It was a good plan. A plan to give us a future and a hope. He did work it all together for our good, even if it was a painful process and I learned to look for the lessons in the difficult times. (Jer 29:11; Rom 8:38) Life interrupted turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.

(There is another aspect to this story that I never even mentioned...maybe I'll do a sequel...)