Forgiveness

ashes      I attended my first Ash Wednesday service tonight.  I must say I was overcome with emotion.  As I sat there, ashes on my forehead, holding the bread and wine of communion, contemplating the state of my heart, I felt something come over me.   And it wasn’t the shame of my sinful heart.  It was love.

I have long known I needed forgiveness because I was a “sinner” in need of redemption.    I remember first asking for this forgiveness at the tender age of 5.  I don’t think I truly understood what I was doing, or what I was asking for.   As I grew up I began to understand more and more what it all meant.   So many times I asked forgiveness, wailed over my sin, human frailty, all the while guilt and shame consuming me.   I missed something.  In all my 39 years of sitting in church hearing message after message on salvation and forgiveness, I missed an important part of it, love.

I am not sure how I could have missed it, but I did.   Forgiveness is an act of love.   God sent Jesus, his Son, to die on the cross because his love for us outweighed any hurt we would cause him.   I forgive my husband even when he hurts me. Why? My love for him is greater than any hurt. God forgives us when we sin and hurt him because his love for us is greater than any hurt we could cause him.

I have long struggled with the shame and guilt of my sinful nature. I wear them like a heavy winter coat.  I am quick to point out all my flaws and frailty.  I can curse like sailor, think thoughts I shouldn’t, struggle with anger, I could go on.  But God looks at all that and says “You asked me to forgive you right?  I don’t keep a record Mindy.  I have already forgotten it.”   Love keeps no record of wrong ( 1 Corthians 13).   He loves me enough to not only forgive but forget my sin.   So why can’t I?

As I sat there in my seat tonight these thoughts racing through my head, I felt the heaviness of shame and guilt fall off, and love run down.    God gave up his son, because his love was greater than any sin I could or would commit.   Forgiveness is an act of love.

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February 19, 2015. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

A Goat and Contentment

Goat

A few years ago I decided to make a change from making New Year’s resolutions to making the year about focusing on a word or phrase.  Last year my word was “best”. I focused on being and giving the best in any and every situation.   Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed, but I always tried to give everything my best.  I decided my focus for 2015 was going to be contentment.  And it all started with a goat and a cell phone.

A few months ago I was having a fit about my cell phone not working properly.  Truthfully I was mad because I wasn’t able to get the phone I wanted. The phone worked just fine, the problem was me, not the phone.   In my fit of frustration my Pastors words from the previous Sunday came floating by in my mind.   He and some others had been on a recent mission trip to Haiti and had provided some goats to help families have a source of income.  The Haitians were grateful and happy about getting a goat to help their families.  A goat! And there I stood in my home complaining about a working cell phone.

It started me thinking about contentment. Why couldn’t I be content with the phone I had?  Why did I want something more when what I had was much more than people in Haiti, or even in the United States has?  Was I really letting material things define me? Was I discontent?  Oh boy.  The longer I spent pondering those questions the more I didn’t like the answers.

I am reluctant to admit it but yes, I do let material things define me to some degree.  I just feel better about myself when a label is attached to my clothes or handbag.  I have a lot of nice things, but it never seems to be enough. I frequently find myself wanting more, something different, something new.  The cold reality set in long before the last minute of 2014 counted down.  I am not content.

This spills over into other areas of my life.  Contentment isn’t confined to just material things, but relationships too.  People aren’t perfect, and relationships are hard and messy. It is easy to become discontent.    And discontentment leads to a lack of peace, about me, my relationships and life in general.   That isn’t how I want to live.

2015 is the year I learn to be content.    The last message I heard in 2014 was on Psalms 23. A well known biblical passage, but I was given a fresh perspective.    An underlying theme of that passage is contentment.   With the Lord as my shepherd I will never lack anything.   I will be led to quiet, peaceful, places of rest and refreshment.  I will be guided along the right paths for me. When I walk thru dark valleys the Lord will walk with me and comfort me.  When facing my enemies a table will be prepared for me.   I will be protected.   Goodness and mercy will follow me every single day of my life.  My cup will overflow.   The secret to the kind of contentment found in Psalms 23 is me.  The Lord is my shepherd as long as I make the choice to follow him.  Those things are mine when I choose to recognize them and be content in them.  My cup overflows when I am content with the things I have and my relationships.   Contentment is a choice and it is time I start choosing it.

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January 15, 2015. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A Grateful Heart

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For the past few years, I have done “30 days of thankful”.   Every day in the month of November I would post something I was thankful for as my Facebook status.  My intent was to do the same this year, until I thought about an old song we used to sing in church, “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart”.  We “give” thanks with our mouth.  We speak it.     But do we mean it?

The mouth is a wild animal, often speaking before we can check the attitude of our heart.   The song title suggests that when we do give thanks, we must check to be sure that our hearts are as grateful as the mouth.   I didn’t post something every day for thirty days because I wasn’t sure that in years past my heart was sincere.   So I asked myself a difficult question, am I truly giving thanks if my heart isn’t in it?  God hears me when I talk, but he also sees my heart (I Samuel 16:7).  I don’t feel I am truly giving thanks if my heart isn’t in it.  The words of my mouth and the attitude of my heart must be the same.  Then I am truly grateful.

I made a decision to spend the days up until now thinking of things that I am truly grateful for.   Friends, I give you my heart.

I have not and will not have children come through me but I have many whom have come to me.  They enrich me, challenge me, change me, make me think, and give me more love than my heart can hold.   I am so grateful for the gift that is each one of those kids.   Lil Man- in my heart, every day, forever.

My husband- God didn’t give me what I wanted, He gave me what I needed.  And that is so much better than anything I could have ever dreamed of wanting for myself.  He isn’t perfect, and neither am I, but we make it work.  He is my teammate!

My family- all inclusive!  I am blessed to still have grandparents, and at my age that is a true gift.  I enjoy relationship with them.   My parents are such an example of marriage, dedication, and hard work. To say thanks for not giving up will never be enough.   My brother, in spite of it all, we managed to find our way.   My sister in law- truly grateful for the wife and mother she is!  My nieces, you are quite simply my world.  To the many I didn’t mention- thank you for the things you add to my life. My heart overflows because of each of you.

My friends and church family- What a blessing you each are.  It is a pleasure to laugh with you, cry with you, and live out life with you.  You are a community Michael and l have chosen, and I am happy to say we have chosen well.

Last but not least- Jesus, keeper and savior of my heart and soul without whom I would be lost.

This is my challenge to you, when you are thankful today, consider your heart, and listen to it.  What is it grateful for?b4eabf6d80bdd1a0eee5352c88d05920

November 27, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Called, loved, kept

Call, love, kept.  All four letter words, all with profound meaning.  I have for a long time understood that God “called” me for a purpose.  I have understood with my mind that I am deeply loved by God.  The idea of being “kept” by God is one I am just beginning to grasp.   I feel these are not just words but concepts that need to be not just “brain” knowledge but “heart” knowledge as well.   When it becomes “heart” knowledge that is the moment when it becomes an ingrained truth.

As I said I know I have been called by God for a purpose, a “calling” in my life.  I have limited that to my vocation or what I do with my time.  I have frequently missed the first and most important part of this calling.   Jude chapter 1 verse 1 is addressed to all who are called, loved, and kept by God.  I don’t believe the ordering of the words is random.  I am of the belief that calling is listed first because in order to know we are loved and kept by God we must first enter into relationship with him.

I have always known God loves me, but it was merely something I knew in my mind, not something that had taken root in my heart.  I didn’t think I was worth loving by anybody much less the God of the universe.  I didn’t love myself, how could anybody else love me?  Something has happened though. As I have entered more and more into relationship with God, and the more I have learned to love myself, the more I KNOW God loves me.  I don’t just understand it, I KNOW it.  I don’t doubt it.  Whatever I do, no matter how I might fail or how I might succeed God LOVES me.   Just like God loves you too.  No matter what, God loves you too.

What does being “kept” by God mean?  I think about the crown jewels of England. They are kept under protection and constant surveillance.  This is what being kept by God means.  We are never out of his sight, never out of the realm of his protection.  This doesn’t mean bad things will never happen.  I’m sure the crown jewels have been dropped a few times, and needed repairs.  So it is with us. Life happens, we get dropped, and we need repairs.  God makes a way for healing to happen. That doesn’t mean we are any less protected by God.  He sees us, he knows us, and we are always, always in his loving care.

It is my earnest prayer that first and foremost you would answer the call to enter into relationship with God.  I won’t sugar coat it and tell you it will fix everything, and life will be rainbows and roses from now on. It won’t.  But, I can promise you will be loved. And I pray that you will begin to know how deeply loved by God you are.  That you won’t just understand it as a concept in your mind, but that your heart will grasp it and you will know beyond all doubt, you are loved.  Lastly, I pray you will know that you are kept in God’s care.  Even when you are damaged, get hurt, and need repairs, you are always in God’s sight, never out of the reach of his hand.

Click here to listen to the sermon, “Someone’s Calling” by Pastor Jan

June 6, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

What Do You Want?

    It has been said that a kind word turns away wrath and harsh words stir up strife (Proverbs 15:1).  What do we do then when faced with a situation in which we are hurt and offended? Be kind and forgive or be mean and cause more strife? This leads to a more important question. How do we want to be known, which action do we want to persevere?

    It has been my experience that when I have been hurt and in anger, hurt the person back, more strife has been caused.  A bigger argument ensued, and the relationship was much harder to repair, if repaired at all.  The strife persevered. However, in situations in which I have done the opposite and spoke kindly and forgiven it has turned out much more positively. Peace has persevered and the relationship remained intact.   Kindness and forgiveness stops strife and ends the argument. 

                    I am not perfect in this, nor will I ever be.  I am going to struggle.  I do struggle.  Especially the kind words, I would much rather spew my anger at the person who hurt me.  That is much easier than confronting my feelings in my own heart, sorting thru it in my own mind. Why?  When I am kind and forgive, I see my own faults and shortcomings in the situation.  A relationship is a two way street.  I have to look at myself as well who hurt me.  Then I grow, and the love of Christ shines more in me.

     Now, I write understanding fully that sometimes forgiveness needs to occur but the relationship cannot, nor should it, be repaired.   Examples would be abusive or unhealthy relationships.   Let’s face it.  Some people are not healthy and like to live life in constant strife and upheaval. I think in those cases it is ok to be kind to them and forgive when hurt but not maintain relationship or have very strict boundaries in place.   In extreme cases such as these, forgiveness doesn’t have or need to be a verbal conversation. You can write a letter that you will never send, say it in a prayer to God or talk it over with a pastor or therapist. In these special circumstances wisdom must be sought and used.

   One final thought.  What do you want to persevere?  As I thought this over the last few days, I know what I want. I want kindness and forgiveness to persevere.    Not so people can think I am such a great person. No. I want kindness and forgiveness to persevere so people can know Jesus and experience HIS forgiveness. 

May 27, 2014. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Easter Sunday

     I admit it. I went to church this morning jaded but desperate. I have long been used to “Easter Sermons”. You know the ones; “Jesus died on the cross for your sins, rose again, accept Jesus as you Savior.” Now, there is NOTHING wrong with those kinds of sermons, those are needed and necessary. I was just desperate to hear something new. I went to church this morning and felt the shackles fall off. It was an amazing feeling.

   I have long believed a lie. The lie that I somehow had to “maintain” my salvation. That my relationship with Jesus was based on how much I read my bible, prayed, how many hours of worship music I listened to every week, and whether or not I felt “close” to Jesus.   That lie was shattered this morning when I heard my pastor say “Jesus maintains the relationship. He did the work on the cross. It isn’t about your perception or how you feel. It is about reading your bible, praying, because you LOVE him.” Mind blown. WHAT!? I thought I HAD to do all this “stuff”, and when I didn’t Jesus and I weren’t close. LIE.

               Salvation is utterly dependent on what Jesus did on the cross. It was grace given I didn’t earn, and mercy extended that I didn’t deserve.   The work of salvation was completed when Jesus died and rose again; anything I do or don’t do doesn’t add or take away from that. He doesn’t change. My feelings ebb and flow. I am human I fail miserably and often. It doesn’t matter because he is unchanging, constant in his steadfast love and righteousness (see Jeremiah 9:24).

                 Realizing this today was FREEDOM!! Now, I have a choice. I do things for my husband out of love for him not because I feel some sense of obligation as a wife. I talk to him because I want to know him better. It is after all thru communication that our hearts become intertwined into one.  So it is with my relationship with Jesus. I can talk to him, read his words to me, no longer because I feel a sense of obligation, or because I feel like it is necessary to maintain my salvation. No. I can do those things simply because I love him, and I want my heart to be intertwined with his heart. And on those days when I don’t “feel” close to him? I understand now that is ok. It doesn’t change my salvation or take away from it. There are days I don’t “feel” as close to my husband either, but the fact we are still married and very much in love remains. So it is with my salvation. It remains.

   I left church no longer jaded and with a much lighter heart. That is what Easter Sunday is all about, freedom, and a new life. I hope you find it.

   “ Oh precious is the blood…..”        

******  For the podcast of Easter Sunday’s sermon please visit  lifepointchurch.com , it usually posted by mid week!

April 20, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Me, Religion, and Jesus

   Last week something was said to me that gave me pause. I was told I would not have been liked due to my being religious.   I’m not sure how this person defines religion, but I know how I define it and I am not religious. Do I believe in God and Jesus? Absolutely. That doesn’t make me religious. Allow me to explain.                

   I would define religion as following a list of “can”, “cannot”, “should”, and “should not”.   Let me be clear, I understand the Ten Commandments are exactly what I just described.    I agree those commandments should be followed, as does most laws and governments. Religion goes beyond those commandments. It tells you how to dress, what your beliefs are, what you cannot eat, how to pray the “right way”, and tells you not to question what you are told. The list of rules to be followed is endless. Religion keeps you bound, and allows you to hide behind excuses. Religion is life lived from a sense of obligation rather than of love. It prevents true relationship with Jesus because it is a mask that is put on. It keeps you from being real and honest about life and faith.

           I used to be religious. I have felt the shame of committing yet another sin, and the guilt of missing church. I have questioned whether my prayers were good enough, and if I was even praying in the right manner. I believed the lie that if I didn’t pray perfectly my prayers wouldn’t be heard nor answered. Religion left me confused, frustrated, and wanting.  Because of religion I walked away from church for a good long while. I was tired of the game.

             I have since discovered a life changing truth. Jesus wasn’t religious. Jesus went against everything that was religious. Jesus was real, and he had an honest relationship with his heavenly father. It was a relationship of mutual love, not obligation.  He was emotional and expressed those emotions. He asked if it was God’s will to let the pain of the cross pass from him, and then willingly endured it. He had friends, and knew what it was to be both loved and rejected. He slept, ate, partied (the wedding at Canaan), and drank wine. He ministered to those in need. He didn’t judge, he took people as they were and loved them in spite of their frailty. He lived an authentic, honest, no mask life.  That’s relationship.

               I am thru with religion. I desire to be like Jesus. And that means I pursue relationship. Notice the word “real” can be extrapolated from “relationship”. If I want a relationship with Jesus I have to be real.   I can take him my questions, my fears, my hopes, my dreams. I can love and care for others without abandon because he takes care of me. I no longer feel the weight of shame and guilt over missing church or yet another sin. I am human and a work in progress. I accept the forgiveness offered to me, and do my best to change my ways. I do this not because I feel obligated, but because I love Jesus and want to be more like him.   That is why Jesus died on the cross- not so we would feel obligated to him and follow a list of rules. No. He came so we can enjoy the freedom of a relationship with him. That relationship with him frees us and allows us to become the best versions of our true self.

   If I would have been disliked because I love Jesus and pursue relationship with him?  Then I am absolutely ok with that.   Because that isn’t religious- Jesus wasn’t and I won’t be either

March 27, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Habakkuk’s choice

                       Habakkuk ends with one of my favorite passages of scripture.    I love the words, as they are spoken from a heart that had come full circle in a conversation with God.    Remember Habakkuk started out angry, full of questions.   God responded with a hard answer, causing Habakkuk to look back, remember, and praise God for all he had done in the past.   He then reaffirms his faith by saying that it doesn’t matter what comes, what the circumstances around him look like, he will choose joy. 

                      Starting in verse 17 of chapter 3, Habakkuk describes some despairing, hopeless, times.  He then in verse 18 uses a very powerful word to transition to his choice of joy.  Yet.  He says “Yet, I will rejoice.”  Webster defines “yet” as now or in the future.  Habakkuk is stating that right in that moment as well as in the difficult times that were coming he was going to choose joy.  I am not sure I could choose the same.

                     I think being able to say the brave words Habakkuk did of “Yet, I will rejoice…” comes with time.  It comes when a heart fully believes and trusts God in all things.   The last few years I have been through some of the darkest days of my life. I have suffered.  I didn’t choose to rejoice or be joyful.   I didn’t resent the circumstances but I wasn’t praising God for them in the moment either.   To be honest, I am not there in my faith.   I have, however, come to the place I can say that no matter what happens it is well with my soul.   I knew thru my suffering goodness was going to come.  That the suffering was going to build my strength, and bring beauty to my ashes.  Those thoughts allowed me to choose to let it be well in my soul.   That is where I am in my faith at this moment.   In hard times, I can be at peace, but I am not ready to choose joy.  I am not ashamed to admit it either.   And that is because I believe God honored Habakkuk’s choice to choose joy, and I know he honors the place where I am- that no matter what comes my way it is well with my soul. 

                       I know this because of the words written in Habakkuk 3:19, “The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes me as surefooted as the deer, able to tread upon the heights.”  Climbing a mountain is full of craggy, slippery places.  God gives me the strength and the sure footing I need to climb.  I know he will also help me get to the place Habakkuk did, the place of choosing joy in the darkest moments of life.     

March 11, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Habakkuk Looks Back

    We are always told not to look back.  To keep our eyes forward because looking back can only hamper our progress; make us yearn for what was instead of what is to be.  I agree, but there are exceptions to every “rule”.   There are times looking back is essential in order for us to face what is ahead.

          God had just finished giving the prophecy of what was to come to Habakkuk.  I can’t imagine the weight of the burden he was carrying. The answer was hard, and suffering was coming.  If I were Habakkuk I probably would have cowered in worry, wondering how I was going to survive.  Habakkuk did no such thing.  He started looking back.   Habakkuk began singing a song of praise about all the things God had delivered his people from.  He spoke of many things including the deliverance from Egypt and when God helped Gideon defeat the Midianites. These were stories Habakkuk had heard because they had been handed down thru the generations.    The bible doesn’t tell us, but I imagine Habakkuk praised God for some things God had done in his own life as well.    I believe nothing would have brought more comfort to Habakkuk’s heart than remembering what God had done for him personally.  Habakkuk stood there in awe of all God’s deeds.

     There have been many times in my own journey that I can only move forward by looking back.     Not only have I looked at the difficult things God has brought me through but I have remembered stories told to me of difficult things God has brought family or friends through.   In those moments I have felt that I haven’t had any strength, faith, or courage left to move on.  But when I look back? I have managed to take a deep breath and forge ahead. 

    Want to move forward? Take a look, just a look, back. 

Scripture reference:  Habakkuk 3: 1-16

March 6, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Hard answers

     When Habakkuk poured out his heart to God I wonder what his expectations might have been.  Did he hope for a specific answer from God or simply any answer at all?  The answer he received was a doozy.  It was a hard to swallow answer.  God told him he was going to allow Judah to be turned over to the Babylonians.   History, as well as the bible, tells us how cruel and violent the Babylonians were.  I don’t think this was the answer Habakkuk was hoping for.  I feel his pain.

     I have had many answers to prayer that I haven’t liked because they were hard anwers.  The answers have elicited such responses as: “Really God?”, “Are you kidding me?”, and my personal favorite, “Why do I have to do all the changing?” While I haven’t been handed over to any Babylonians, my answers have been a battle. Why? Because when I get an answer I don’t like, it usually means I have to change or give up something.   This essentially was the reason God was allowing the Babylonians to have their way with Judah.  Judah needed to changed their ways and turn their heart back to God.  Habakkuk might not have liked the answer, nor have I, but the answer was necessary.

           I have found a great amount of suffering usually accompanies the hard answers, and as a result we grow into the person God is making us to be.  I know had God not given me some hard answers I would still be stuck in some very painful places.   I thought the pain of the answer might be worse than any current pain I was feeling, and for a while it was.  Once the suffering ended, however, I found I had peace and a healed place.   I have come to understand that is why the hard answers and suffering are necessary.  That can sometimes be the only way we can grow and heal, and ultimately find peace.

             I don’t want to miss a key point in the hard answers and suffering- God’s mercy.  Habakkuk died before he saw an end to the suffering of Judah God was allowing.  That begs the question how did he not give up and curse God?  I think it is because in the midst of the suffering he saw God’s mercy.   The bible doesn’t tell us whether he did or not, but his contemporary Jeremiah wrote this in Lamentations 3:22-23 “The unfailing love of the Lord never ends.  By his mercies we are kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies are new every morning.”     I believe those words with all my heart.  I have seen God’s mercy in the midst of my suffering many, many times.   And that is why I have never given up in the midst of my own hard answers. 

        God might be giving you some hard answers right now.   It is uncomfortable, scary, and hard.  Keep going on your journey, remembering God has a new mercy for you every day, and that the peace and freedom you will find at the end of this road is well worth it

February 9, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

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