Monday, January 26, 2009
This Sunday before we left for church, James and I were talking about crime rates in the city I grew up in, Memphis, Tennessee, which ironically has consistently been one of the nation’s top crime-infested cities. My sister and I weren’t allowed to go to the Mall of Memphis (“affectionately” nicknamed the Mall of Murder for the near daily deaths in the parking garage). We couldn’t play in the front yard without our parents present, and we could never be alone.
I remember my mom’s ritual of getting in and out of the car. We would exit out the door of our home with the garage door down. After we were settled in the car, my mom would lock the doors before raising the garage door and backing out. Similarly, when we returned home, she wouldn’t unlock the car until the garage door was down. Just as I had done earlier, she would lock and set the alarm on her car, head inside, lock and deadbolt the door, and set the alarm on our house. (Our house alarm had a tap or break alert, so it would go off if glass broke or a door or window opened.)
We went through so much effort – but for what? To protect what? A couple of TV’s and furniture? Our clothes? Sure, I know a large part of it was to protect us, but we took all of these precautions when we weren’t home. These steps were imprinted in my brain to protect our possessions.
If someone asked me what the most precious thing in my life was, what would my answer be? Without hesitation, it’s my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Hands down. No questions asked. That thought led me to another question:
Do I go to as many great lengths to protect my walk with Christ as I do my “stuff?” And if I don’t, what are my true priorities?
It hurt me to think I’ve been more careful protecting our Wii than the royal position I have inherited as an adopted child of God. Instead of placing locks, barriers and alarms on the priceless gift of my salvation in Jesus Christ, I have spent more of my life trying to figure out exactly where the boundaries of sin were so I could go as far as I possibly could without crossing over to Satan’s side.
Would I ever be careless with my material possessions? Would I leave the doors to my car wide open in the Target parking lot with my iPod in the passenger seat? Would I go out of town for a week with my home’s garage door open and doors unlocked? Of course not.
Bottom line: My life should be spent trying to be as close to God and His holiness as possible. Think of balancing on a tightrope that is the boundary between God and Satan. You’ve got a good chance to fall either way.
I went to church feeling pretty down on myself. Here I am – in seminary, a pastor’s wife, pretty much a professional Christian – and I’m still consistently looking for the bare minimum. As if she could read my mind, Ashley Nelson shared a line she heard on a television show: “Feeling inadequate has a universal zip code.” She summed up my morning.
It’s true. Everywhere you turn, you can find a woman who doesn’t think she’s skinny enough, a man who doesn’t think he makes enough money, a college guy trying to figure out who he is without his high school football team, or a girl who just knows that if she makes one B, she’ll never get into graduate school.
But for us, it doesn’t end there.
Ashley went on to say, “But God loves us and works in us regardless of our perceived inadequacies." She sang a beautiful song called “I Belong” by Kathryn Scott based on Romans 8:35-39. (To listen: http://www.independentbands.com/cd/kathrynscott.html)
Not angels, nor demons, no power on earth or heaven.
Not distance, nor danger, no trouble now or ever.
Not hardship, nor hunger, no pain or depth of sorrow.
Not weakness, nor failure, no broken dream or promise.
Nothing can take me from your great love.
Forever this truth remains.
I belong, I belong to You.
I belong, I belong to You.
As she sang, God reminded me of two things:
First, Jesus commanded us to be perfect. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Instead of barely trying to get by in our Christian walk, we should “walk as Jesus did” if we claim to live in Him (1 John 2:6). We should put up barriers to protect us against temptation and sin. I belong to Him, and I should act like it.
Now, this is not the pop Christian belief. In fact, in today’s world, making the statement I did above will categorize me as a legalist or a fundamentalist. I’m saying that everything about Christians - our language, our behavior, our dress, our habits – should look different from the world. If there’s a chance that a movie or going to a certain place could possibly interfere with what God is doing in our lives, our guard should be up to protect what is most valuable.
Secondly, He reminded me that I’m not perfect. I will slip. I will find myself on that tightrope. But no matter what, I still belong to Him - because I have confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in my heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).
Ask yourself these questions today:
Do you belong to Him?
Can others tell that you belong to Him?
Do you value that you belong to Him?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Humbling moments. We all have them. Whether they come at the perfect time or couldn’t occur at a worse moment, it is in our most humble moments that we sometimes get the best perspective.
My latest humbling moment - and they DO happen frequently – took place this morning. This is going to be an extremely busy semester, and I’ve been trying to mentally prepare for it since around Thanksgiving. Frantically attempting to cram our crazy life into seven 24-hour days looked as jumbled in my planner as it felt in my mind.
Full-time job, pastor’s wife, seminary student, fitness coach…where does it all fit? Not to mention my husband’s insane schedule. James and I don’t even have kids in the mix (unless you count the 70+ in the college ministry), and we already feel time collapsing around us. I can hear the same advice I’ve heard from a million sources in my life echo in my head: “Your life will never be any easier than it is right now.”
That advice makes me sick to stomach.
I think I have equal respect and resentment for the women in my life who have modeled being a pastor’s wife well for me. How did they make it look effortless? As many times as I have seen this selfless life lived out through countless staff wives, (And as a pastor’s kid, I’ve even seen it in my own home), I never realized how challenging it is.
Most of them have full-time service-based jobs (teachers, nurses, secretaries, etc.), and come home to endless tasks including cooking, cleaning up after dinner, laundry, and helping kids with their homework. Maybe a couple in her husband’s ministry needs some counseling, so they might come over after the kids are asleep. Or she might cook a double recipe to take dinner to a church member who had a relative pass away. Finally, when her work is done, she lays down to sleep – only to get up the next day and do it all over again.
I never knew how exhausting it must have been for my mom to rush in from work, quickly change her clothes, and jump back in the car to take me wherever I needed to be next. I know there were a few times that I thanked her, but I know it wasn’t every time. Not even close.
I was sitting at my desk at work about to begin my next task when I saw I had a new email. It was from my mom, and the subject simply said: Because I love you! At the sight of my mom’s email address, I felt water form in my eyes. Speaking of incredible pastor’s wives, here’s the queen herself. I’m not sure that little girl in me will ever go away. My mother may have transitioned in my life to be one of my best friends, but she will still always be my mommy too.
Taking a deep breath, I opened the message and read:
My dear Michelle,
I know you and James are extremely busy right now. I wish I could just sneak in your house and clean it from top to bottom, get all the clothes washed and back in the closets and drawers, strip the bed and get fresh linens on it, go to the grocery store and get all your favorite foods and stock your refrigerator and pantry, gather up the trash and organize the garage, set the table and have the house filled with the aroma of a home cooked meal, fluff the pillows on the couch and have a bottled water sitting on the side table for both of you, have a few lamps lit and a candle burning and leave a note that reads, "Because I love you!"
My damp eyes turned to waterworks. Guilt washed over me as I realized the difference between me and the pastors’ wives I admire: Serving isn’t a responsibility to them. It’s not a task to be completed, a line to check off their to-do list. It’s a pleasure.
II Corinthians 9:6-15 says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
It isn’t my schedule that needs to change. It’s my heart. I am worthless on my own, but God can do all things through me. It’s not about people seeing what I am doing for others, or where I am serving or giving of my time – it’s about others giving recognition to the God I am serving.
My mom challenged me today to truly be Christ to those I am around – to serve as Jesus did. My prayer is that God will work through me, and no matter how big or small I am able to serve, rather than seeing a 24 year-old still seeking to grow in her faith, that a lost world will hear our Mighty God whisper, “Because I love you.”
Friday, January 9, 2009
Are you ready to get F.I.T.?
Females in Training (F.I.T.) is a 12-week program for females young and old who want to incorporate fitness into their lifestyle. Michelle Myers, a nationally certified fitness coach, will design individual training programs that are meant to not only meet personal goals, but are also flexible and fun.
The program begins January 29th. To sign-up and for more information, email Michelle Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
This is a story about a boy named Shay. Shay had a learning disability. He couldn't learn tasks like other children could. He not only struggled in the classroom, but with simple activities we take for granted like household chores, grooming habits, and childhood games. Despite his difficulties, Shay enjoyed life. One of his favorite routines was going on walks with his father.
One day on their walk, Shay and his dad came to a park where some boys Shay knew from school were playing baseball. As they approached the field, Shay looked up at his dad. "Dad, do you think they'll let me play?"
His father knew the majority of the boys would not want Shay on their team. However, his common sense was overpowered by the understanding that his son needed to feel like he belonged. If for some reason he was allowed to play, it would give him a feeling of acceptance, in spite of his handicaps, that nothing could replace. Trying not to get his hopes up, Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked if it would be alright for his son to play.
The boy looked from Shay to his teammates for some sort of guidance. Finally, he said, "Well, we're losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we'll try to let him bat before the game ends."
Shay awkwardly "ran" over the the team's bench, and with a huge smile on his face, put on one of the team shirts. His father tried to hold back his tears of joy, but he could not help but express his happiness. The boys on the team couldn't help but notice how much this small gesture meant to both Shay and his father.
During the eighth inning, Shay's team gained three runs. When they went back to the field, they gave Shay a glove and put him in the right field. No activity came his way, but Shay didn't care. He was so excited to be in the game, grinning and waving to his father in the stands, who waved back, just as enthusiastic.
Shay's team didn't let the other team score in the 9th inning and headed back to the batting cage. The team put Shay in the batting order. Shay's team scored another run, but they also got two more outs. With the bases loaded, the potential winning run and no room for error, was on base. Shay was up next to bat.
His father's heart sank a little as he realized Shay's team had no chance to win the game if Shay took his scheduled turn to bat.
The same boy who agreed to let him play handed Shay the bat, and guided him towards home plate. All of the boys knew a hit was impossible. Shay couldn't even hold the bat right. They could forget him actually connecting with the ball.
The pitcher for the other team realized that the other team was giving up the win for this moment in Shay's life. The pitcher moved a few steps closer so he could throw softer, in hopes that Shay would at least be able to hit the ball.
Shay swung clumsily and missed. Strike one.
The pitcher stepped even closer and tossed the ball softly. Shay swung too late. Strike two.
As the third and final pitch came, Shay swung at the perfect time, hitting a slow ground ball right back at the pitcher's feet.
Realizing the game was over, his father stood to cheer for his son, trying to be happy that Shay had made contact with the ball. As he did, he realized that the pitcher picked up the ball and threw the ball way over the first baseman's head.
Shane should have been out. The game wasn't over. But it wasn't. The boys on both teams and the crowds in the stands began yelling, "Run to first, Shay! Run to first!"
Shay had never ran that far, but he scampered down the baseline to first base. Once he got there, the instructions changed to, "Second base, Shay! Run to second!" Still trying to catch his breath, Shay struggled to the next base. Once he made it to that base, the right fielder, the smallest guy on the other team, had the chance to be the team hero.
Instead, the right fielder grinned, and through the ball as high as he could, way past third base. Without instruction this time, Shay took off for third base.
"All the way, Shay! All the way!" The crowd kept encouraging him to run home. "Home run, Shay!"
When Shay reached home plate, his teammates and the crowed cheered as if he had hit a grand slam to win the game for the team. His father could barely stand because of his joy. Shay was lifted off the ground on the shoulders of his teammates. He raised his fists in the air as he had only seen athletes do on television.
Shay didn't live to play baseball the next summer. He died that winter, but he never forgot the day he was a hero. He didn't understand that his victory was a gift, but everyone in the stands got a lesson that day on the blessing of sacrificial love.
I doubt that these elementary-aged boys were fully aware of what they did that day. At the very most, they realized they were potentially giving up winning a game. However, they also recognized they would have hundreds of more opportunities to win.
I doubt they recognized that Shay would never play another game. Or that for the rest of his short life, he would sleep with the baseball from that day in his arms. Or that his parents would be eternally grateful for the acceptance and normalcy their special son felt that day. Or that you and I would hear this story today, be touched, and be changed.
There is a much bigger story of sacrificial love. More powerful than the story of Shay.
There was a man named Jesus Christ. He was God's Son and had all of the same divine power and characteristics. Jesus didn't question His Father's authority as most children do. Instead, He denied Himself of all of his divine rights and lowered Himself to human form at His Father's command. God's plan included redemption for all who would accept the free gift of salvation. God's plan involved the sacrifice of His Son's life. Jesus did not rebel. He didn't run away. He didn't even pout. He responded out of obedience, put Himself through persecution and humiliation, and died a sinner's death on the cross.
I doubt the Roman soldiers and crowds knew that they were watching the death of the only One who could offer them life. Or that they were not murdering Jesus, but that He was willingly laying down His life. Or that His death would bring the acceptance for anyone who would believe in Jesus into the royal family of God to be adopted as sons. Or that the story of Jesus Christ would be the greatest story ever told, translated into more languages than any other book, and change lives indefinitely.
You and I are a lot like Shay. Just like he didn't deserve to get a home run that day, you and I don't deserve full acceptance into God's family. God is perfect. God does not change. He cannot be shaken. He cannot be stopped. We are sinful chameleons, trying to blend in wherever we are. Our faith shifts as easily as sand with a light breeze. Our strength has limitations. But God has the same love for the Shay's of the faith - those who want to be a part of His team, try, and fail repeatedly - as he does for those more like Shay's teammates - who come alongside those who are struggling and guide them towards Victory.
The radical love shown by Shay's teammates is rare in today's world, but it is the very love we are instructed to have as we follow the example of Jesus Christ.
"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:3-8).