Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Because

What is your house like on Sunday morning?  Does your family all wake up smiling and eager to go and worship the Lord?  Does praise and kindness drip from everyone’s lips as you calmly and peacefully prepare for church? OR…… is it a little less than picture perfect?  I can tell you what my house is like on Sunday morning and it isn’t perfect!  There is a lot more grumping, whining, and yelling than there is praising.  Trying to get six children and myself all up and ready for  service is not pretty!  Therefore we usually arrive at church somewhat frazzled (at least me) and often close to tears. 
            When my husband first started in the ministry I was very self-conscious  whenever we were at church.  I was always watching my kids making sure they didn’t blow it.  Why?  Well, because it would make us look bad, of course!  Shortly after our journey into the ministry, the Lord must have decided that enough was enough.  It was a day like all others, we were already running late by the time we managed to arrive at church.  I sent my children down to Sunday school and went off to church.  When the service was over I left the sanctuary and was quickly flagged down by one of the Sunday school leaders.  I thought nothing of it and went over to see what she needed.  Well, first you have to understand a little bit about this lady.  She is the mother of one little girl.  This little girl is always dressed perfectly with ribbons or bows in her hair.  Now at the time, I was the mother of 4 children under the age of eight and three of them were girls who rarely have ribbons or bows in their hair.  In fact I was quite proud if we managed to get to church and everyone had managed to comb their hair before we arrived.  So this mother of one calls me over and proceeds to inform me that my then five year old, who had chosen to wear a dress this particular morning, was not wearing any panties.  Well I did what any mother would do, I stood there in disbelief praying for this woman to laugh or smile or give the punch line.   But there was no punch line.  As the reality of her words began to sink in I began to berate myself.  How could I not notice this?  What kind of a mother takes her kid to church without panties??  A million questions flooded my mind but they all lead to me being an absolute failure.  Why?  Because I was defining my self worth by how well my family “performed” in public.
How do you define your self worth?  Really what measure do you use?  Is it job success?  Maybe it’s a happy marriage that defines your success?  What makes you feel good about you?  Is it defined in what you do?  Or maybe I should ask who defines your self worth?  Your parents?  Husband?  Children?  Friends?
            Let’s think about that a bit.  There are many ways that we try to impress people.  We have to look our best, do our make-up just so, say just the right things.  Then we have children and they always have to look just so and behave perfectly.  The list goes on and on.  This is especially true within the realm of church.  We struggle to reveal our weaknesses for fear of what others might think of us.  We desire to be liked and accepted, to even be looked up to by those around us.  Donna Partow expressed it this way, “We want other people to look at us and say, ‘Wow, what a remarkable women.  What a remarkable Christian.  That’s wrong! People should look at us and say, ‘What a remarkable God she must serve.  If God can work through an ordinary woman like her, maybe he can work through me, too!”[1]  Remember that Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 12:10, “When I am weak then I am strong.”  Why is that?  Well verse 9 of the same chapter gives us the answer.  Paul shares Christ’s words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  I have often heard the saying that God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.  You see if we can accomplish things in our own strength then what would we need God for?  We would quickly become self reliant and not God centered.  It is when we dare to do something beyond our abilities that we begin to truly trust in God and His power.
            A few years ago I felt a strong calling to share my testimony.  I must admit I really wrestled with the whole idea.  You see no one except God and my husband had ever been allowed to peek at that part of my life.  I argued with God that people may judge me or not like me if they knew the truth about my life.  I argued that it may hurt the witness I have had up to this point.  People may be disappointed in me.  Surely God, you wouldn’t want that.  But his answer for every single excuse I had was, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Now how can you argue with that? 
            I remember the night I sat down and wrote out my testimony.  I had read a book by Steven Curtis Chapman and his pastor Scotty Smith entitled, Speechless.  In the book Scotty Smith says something that began to work in the part of my heart that I rarely looked at, the place I stored the hurt and mistakes of my past.  He basically said that as believers there is no reason why we should feel compelled to keep secrets.  That was the extent of his comment but God used it to say much more to me.  I heard him saying that satan is the king of darkness and secrets and God is a God of light and truth.  Verses like John 8:32, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” began flooding my mind.  And then it struck me that if I continued to keep these things quiet satan would continue to have the victory.  Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”  I was not allowing God to do that.  I would not allow him to use this for His good.  That was the beginning of God working to change things within me.
One night shortly after reading Speechless I found myself wide awake at 4:30 in the morning.  I knew instantly that I was supposed to do is get up and write down my testimony.  The problem was that I was still struggling to face this issue.  So I tried to appease God by praying for everyone I know or have ever known.  It is at this point that my husband begins snoring beside me.  Now I am not talking about a soft, quiet snore but instead an earth shattering, the neighbors will be calling any minute, snore!  I am ashamed to say that I woke him up three times trying to get him to quit snoring so I could fall back asleep.  Then my son, who had gotten in bed with us, started throwing his leg over me and crowding me out of my side of the bed.  I finally gave in to the idea that the Lord was not going to allow me any rest or comfort until I got up and wrote my testimony down.  So I headed downstairs still quite reluctant.  When I got down there I decided I needed to “get in the mood” to write by listening to some praise music.  I can just picture God shaking his head at me and thinking, “What am I going to do with this girl?”  Well the praise music went on, the couch called me and finally sleep found me.  As morning came I still felt a deep tug to do this but kept myself busy.  By evening I was tired and dropped into bed looking forward to a good nights rest.  However, God was not even going to let me sleep this night and finally at about 12:30 I headed for the computer.  I sat down and my fingers began typing.  I did not even have to think.  The Lord poured the words into my head and I pounded them into my computer.  Five pages later I was finally free.  Free from all the hiding I had done, free from all the shame of poor life choices, free of the self-hatred I had built up for all those years.  I could have danced forever in that freedom!
            Of course the next step was to share my story.  That, too, has been hard.  Again the question arises, “What will people think of me?  Will people say unkind things about me?” That would be unbearable to me if I continued in my pattern of allowing others to define my worth. If I can allow myself to look through the eyes of Christ when I view my life, then I will know that the Lord can use my mistakes, my hurt to help others.  That will make it all worth it.  “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord~! 
            So then the question arises, who should define my significance?  The answer, of course, is God for we are nothing without him.  It is not self confidence we need to pursue, for this is sinful and selfish, instead we should be in constant pursuit of what Donna Partow coined, “God confidence,” that is, who we are in Christ.  This is what makes us significant and unique.  Psalm 139 tells us that we were knit together in our mother’s womb and that the Lord knew all of our days even before they came to be.  God created each of us for a specific purpose; our lives have meaning because He gives us meaning.  Wow!
            Maybe we need to explore the question of why God loves us.  Is it because we can fulfill this purpose that we were created for?  Is it because we make good choices?  Is it because we go to church every Sunday?  Is it because we teach Sunday School or lead the choir?  Well the truth is that God loves us just because.  Because what??  Just because!.  He created us in His image.  He made us knowing full well we would need to be redeemed by His one and only son.  There is NOTHING we can do to earn his love.  Therefore there is NOTHING we can do that would cause him to stop loving us.  As I struggled through growing up I made many mistakes.  I knew what it meant to be a Christian and often I chose to disobey God.  At one point I felt that I had moved so far away from God that I had committed the unpardonable sin, that God could not love me after this.  Maybe you feel that way?  Maybe you have had an abortion?  Maybe you have been divorced?  Maybe you are struggling deeply with jealousy or lust?  Well if you have never heard this truth let me be the first to tell you, God loves you anyway.  God’s love is not based on conditions and our performance.  John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life.”  That is all you have to do, believe in Jesus.  Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“You mean. someone could love us for no reason? Well they must not know what I have done, the mistakes I have made.”  That answer is found in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  In fact before you were even created God loved you and sent His son to die on a lonely cross for you.  It so goes against our thinking. We do love people based on conditions.  Think about dating.  Why did we like the other person?  Most likely because of how they made us feel or what they could offer us.  I bet if we took a long hard look at our lives we would not see too many people that we love “just because.”  So it is hard for us to fathom that someone we have never even seen could love us for no good reason.  Not only that but he would be willing to send his one and only son to come and suffer for me.  In case you aren’t convinced let’s look at one more passage.  Romans 8: 38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Why would He love us like that?  That is just crazy!  Yes, it is crazy but I am here to tell you that God is crazy, crazy about you.  Why??  Just because! 

[1] Partow, Donna.  Becoming A Vessel God Can Use (Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.  1996) 79

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