A Journey of Faith

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Growing and Living

         I listened to two things today that made my mind start turning, and in a funny way they kind of tie together. The first was a sermon at church. Pastor is away and a friend was filling in for her. Her sermon was about not dropping out of life, about always continuing to grow and learn. She pointed out that those we admire (and I would add, those that really touch our lives in meaningful ways) are those that are always seeking to better themselves and their lives. How true! And it seems that those who have that mindset, that life is about growing and learning, are also those who are likely to encourage others to step out of what is comfortable... and grow and learn. I know that those I admire and respect are those who not only are always learning, but that are always looking to help others do the same. And what a difference they have made in my life... and to my faith. Because the more I learn and the more I look to grow, the deeper my faith becomes, and the wider and stronger my foundation becomes.
        The second thing I heard today was the song "The Rose" (originally by Bette Midler, this version was sung by Francesca Bertecelli...not sure if I spelled her name right). I have always loved this song. Today as we drove home I was thinking about the sermon and I heard this line "It's the soul, afraid of dying, that never learns to live." It's so easy to put up a wall between ourselves and the world, to protect ourselves from the pain that comes with living sometimes. But when we do that we miss out on so much of the joy that comes with life too. It's so easy to choose not to do something new or different or hard, because it might hurt us if we fail. It's easy to make excuse that we are unqualified or unequipped, and so we just continue on in our little comfort zones, missing out on all the blessings that come with putting ourselves out there.
        When I was in school I was not the most successful student. I struggled to pay attention in class, struggled to do my homework each evening, really just squeaked by thru much of my high school years. I convinced myself that I was just not a good learner, and so I didn't go to college. I figured it was pointless to try, since I hadn't really ever succeeded. So why try? But then this summer I finally listened to what GOD had been trying get thru my stubborn head. 'Become a pastor!' HE was telling me. Ooookkkkaaayyy. 'Really, are you sure?' and it seems HE is, so I am determined to obey. One thing... it involves going to college. And so it also involves a major change in my thinking. I have to make a decision to trust that GOD will help me with the learning part, that HE will help me focus my mind on the work assigned and complete it well. I have to be ready for this great adventure HE has called me to, and not drop out of it if (when) it becomes challenging.

Heavenly Lord, thank you for the great adventures you set before us each amazing new day. Thank you for giving the courage and strength to learn to live, to never drop out of the life you have so generously blessed us with! Please help us to always see Your hand in each new day and to trust in Your will and grace. In JESUS' blessed name, Amen!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Most Wonderful Gift

I got an amazing surprise a few nights ago. My brother and his family drove 850 miles to surprise us for Christmas! I heard the knock on the door around 7 pm and came down to see my niece's beautiful face in my kitchen door window... let's just say I couldn't open the door fast enough!! I was so excited, I was shaking, and crying, and just kept saying 'oh my gosh' over and over as I hugged and kissed my precious niece and nephew. What an awesome gift!!!

But it isn't even the best gift!! The best gift is the one we all got 2000 years ago, in the form of our mighty God coming to us as a tiny helpless baby wrapped in humble swaddling clothes. The journey my family made, while long and tiring, was nothing compared to the journey GOD made when HE traveled from His Heavenly throne and made His way to us. They arrived knowing that there were warm beds and a comfortable place to stay where they were welcome and loved. HE arrived knowing that He would be placed in a rough manger, in a drafty stable surrounded by animals. He came, knowing that He would eventually be rejected, betrayed, humiliated, tortured and killed. His journey to us was one of humility and love. And so much sacrifice. We often think of the sacrifice of His death, but His very life was a sacrifice of love. He sacrificed the glory and majesty of Heaven to come to us. There is no greater love than that.

After I soaked in the reality that I was in fact going to get to spend Christmas with my beloved niece and nephew (I LOVE being an Aunti!!!!) I wanted to call people and tell them. No one knew that they were making the trip, so we called our parents and grandmothers to tell them the good news. They were all so thrilled to hear that their grandchildren would be here for the holidays, that they would get to spend some time getting to know them better and making memories. My brother and his wife knew how much it would mean to us to have them close by during this holiday, that time spent together brings us closer and helps our relationship to grow stronger.

Isn't that why GOD sent us His Son? To bring us closer to Him? To help our relationship with Him grow stronger? Time spent with Him is such a gift, and we should treasure it as much and more than I am treasuring every moment with these two amazing children that have invaded my house and my heart with their sweetness. And share the good news!!! Just as I called all those I love to share the good news of the unexpected guests.... we should share the good news of the long awaited Messiah!

Amazing, loving GOD, thank  you for making that long, difficult journey to us, even knowing that You wouldn't always be warmly welcomed. Please always help us to greet You with excitement and amazement at the wonder of getting to spend time with You! As I watch my kids and niece and nephew opening their presents, the tree lit, the smell of Christmas breakfast filling the house, I can't help but feel the fullness of Your love and grace. Help us always to be so filled with joy and happiness at Your nearness that we just have to spread the good news of Your arrival. I love you!!!! In JESUS' name... Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finding the Gift

2 Timothy 1:6-7  "6 for this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of GOD, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For GOD did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."

          I have read this 'pericope' (section of scripture) many times. I even have verse 7 on a pocket rock, it is a verse I have turned to often when I was afraid. But I have never put the two verses together before. 
          I am working my way through a program called 'Ministry Inquiry' as part of my candidacy journey. It is a great program, it helps you to think about calling and what GOD's call means in your life. Right now I am on the section that discusses gifts and graces. It asked me to list my gifts and graces.... something I am kind of uncomfortable trying to do. I am never really sure what to put as an answer to that question, so when I came to that one I went online to read sermons about spiritual gifts, to try to figure out what my answer was. I came across a few great sermons that were really inspirational... hhhmmmm, almost like GOD knew I needed the messages they contained....
          One was by a woman who had struggled with her decision to enter ministry. She had grown up believing that women weren't suppose to be pastors, but then she received a call from GOD. She wasn't specific in her sermon about how or what that call was, just that she felt that call very strongly. She talked about the parable of the servants, and how the first two took risks to do what they were suppose to do with what their master had given them, and the third played it safe... not wanting to risk losing what he had been given. 
          How many of us play it safe with the gifts GOD has given us? How many of us put those gifts away, believing that the risk... of offending someone, of mishearing the call.... of failing.... is just too great. After all, it's better to play it safe than to get hurt in the process of serving... or is it? What are we missing out on if we 'play it safe' instead of taking the risk?
         Paul tells Timothy to nurture the gifts GOD has given him, to do what he has to do in order to be an effective servant "for GOD did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline". GOD didn't make us to be timid, or fearful. He didn't intend for us to run from the gifts HE has given us, even if those gifts seem more a mystery than a blessing at first. HE wants us approach our gifts with the power of the Holy Spirit, and to use them to spread the love of JESUS. HE wants us to have the self-discipline to not just identify our spiritual gifts, but to learn how and when to use them. 
          I think that is the hard part. It can be intimidating to try to identify your spiritual gifts. Not only do you have to know what the choices are, you have to figure out which one(s) you have been given! And then you have to figure out how to use them. But according to the sermons I read, that can be the best part! Finding out what your gifts are can be a great adventure if we let it. We can take opportunities to learn as much as we can about the different ways to serve, and along the way we will learn more about ourselves, our churches, and our GOD. And when we find out what our gifts are, we can then begin another adventure... of learning how to use them. And then we will really learn about GOD and who HE is, and what His plan is for us. 
           There is something I have heard a number of times that has been in my mind a lot through this journey. "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips those He has called". He has equipped us with gifts, it is our job to see what those gifts are, and use them, but He has always known what they are. He picked them out just for us! 

Amazing GOD, You knew us before You spoke a word of creation on this great earth. You have blessed us with so many wonderful gifts! Please help us to learn what those gifts are, and how we can use them to glorify You and show others the way to You. In JESUS' name, Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Courage is a funny thing. Do you know how many times GOD tells us to have courage? Or to fear not? So many times... it's almost as if HE knew that we would struggle with fear, almost more than any other struggle. Ok, of course HE knew that, and HE loves us so much that HE put it in HIS story over and over again, so we would be sure not to miss it.

Our GOD is amazing.

About a week and a half ago I went before the committee in our church that will be a huge part of my support system through my journey into ministry. One of the purposes of the meeting was for them to get to know where I am in my faith journey, and why I feel I am being called to go into ministry. One of the questions I was asked was why I had been scared to do the service back in July? I answered that it was the anticipation of it that was scary, all those things I imagined could go wrong. It got me thinking about courage, and what that means.

Duckling #3 said something the other day. He said that courage didn't mean you weren't afraid, it meant that you did what had to be done even though you are afraid. Ah... the wisdom of children. But seriously, he is right. Being courageous has nothing to do with a lack of fear... and everything to do with stepping around or past or even through that fear and getting to the place where you realize that your world is so much bigger than you ever imagined.

I played the violin at church tonight. We were doing a carol sing to celebrate the beginning of advent, and I played the introit (one verse of  'The First Noel') with the organist accompanying me. It went well, and a lot of people came up to me to encourage me and tell me that I did a great job.

Encourage. That is a powerful word, a powerful thing to do for someone. To encourage someone is to give them a piece of courage. All the words of encouragement that have been given to me have served to make me braver... almost like another kind of puzzle. All those beautiful words have joined together to make a picture of who I can be... if only I have the courage to go there. If I have the courage to step past or around or through the fear that is so good at holding back, I can get to where I see what all those lovely and loving people see... that I can do things!!! What a gift... what a blessing, to give someone that piece of courage.

I have this picture in my head that has been there for many years. Maybe not in a coherent way, but in the way I have lived my life. It is a picture of failure. Not necessarily based on any reality, but I have come to believe, based on the lies of the enemy, that I am not capable. Lies that I didn't have the courage to disbelieve. But all those healing words of encouragement that have been banding together are becoming bigger and stronger and so much more powerful than those lies. What an amazing, freeing thing this is! As I sat there in church tonight, after I played my piece, I just kept thinking 'I did it!' 'I can't believe I did it!!'. And it wasn't just that I played the piece, it was that I had the courage to put myself out there.

Encouragement. Healing. Freeing. Empowering. Amazing

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Our Comforting GOD

      I heard a question asked recently that has had me thinking. The question was "is it comforting or not, knowing that GOD knows us better than anyone else, that HE knows our every thought and deed?" Some people feel that it is not comforting, knowing that HE knows our every word and deed.
       I disagree.
       One of the first things any Christian learns is that we are all sinners. None of us is perfect... and GOD knows that! HE knows that we will make mistakes... maybe even knowingly do the wrong thing, fully aware that it will break HIS heart. HE knew before we were even conceived even, what our mistakes would be, and how we would let them shape our lives. HE knew every step we would take away from HIM and His love. But His word says that HE loves us anyway! He will always forgive us when we repent! He will always forget those things that we ask forgiveness for! And HE will always desire for us to come back to Him with a repentant heart. Always!!! (I would love to put a thousand exclamation points after that...)
       What a comfort to know that no matter what we do, HE loves us with a love bigger than the universe. What a comfort to know that, even if we are embarrassed by our mistakes, even if we try to hide that part of ourselves that we don't think the world will like, HE still adores us. So much so  that HE came to us, humbled Himself to bring us to HIM. I believe it was Max Lucado that says that if GOD had a refrigerator, our picture would be on it. HE loves us unconditionally, unendingly, unmeasurably.
       I suppose it is scary to know that HE can see who we are deep inside. To know that that part of ourselves that makes us cringe is wide open to Him. But instead of letting that thought make us cringe with shame, or cry with regret... maybe it should be a motivator. Maybe we should let the knowledge that GOD is watching help us to chose our actions and do our best to pattern what we do after JESUS. And maybe we should let HIM carve away those things that we would hide away.
Maybe that is what is scariest. What will happen if we let HIM carve us, change us, weed out those things that are holding us back from being the person HE wants us to be, the person HE created us to be? What will happen if we truly make HIM Lord of our lives, ruler of our hearts? What will happen if we make the choice that we will follow HIM wherever HE calls us to go? Even if that call takes us so far outside our comfort zone that we don't even recognize the path we are on.
        I have been learning about those who were called by GOD. Esther, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel,  Isaiah... and so many others. And they all were certain they were unqualified to serve GOD. And maybe they were. But that wasn't the point. The point was that GOD calls those HE wants to use. It isn't our place to question, just to obey. I don't know who said it, but I have heard so may times..."GOD doesn't call the equipped, HE equips those HE calls." Those HE called, those that fill the Bible with all that we need to know to live for HIM have something else in common... they weren't perfect! (except for JESUS of course!)They were sinners, murderers, adulterers, cowards, liars, too old, too young, too shy, too arrogant, you name it, they were imperfect. Just like us. Is that why GOD tells us their stories? So that we have someone to identify with? Who do you identify with? Is it Jeremiah... who was certain he didn't know enough, was too young? Is it Moses... whose speech wouldn't win any awards for public speaking? Martha and Mary... who needed reminding what the priority was? Abraham... who lied about who his wife was? Or his wife Sarah... who laughed when the Lord called her to motherhood in her old age? Or maybe Esther... who was thrust into a world completely foreign to her? Whatever the "but I am____" is in our lives, GOD says "come, I will use you." There is nothing in our lives that will make us ineligible for service to GOD. NOTHING!!!!! (maybe a million exclamation points would be good here!)

Amazing, forgiving, loving, comforting GOD, thank you for the assurance that you love us no matter what. No matter what it is that we are hiding from the world, You not only love us, but make a way... a new way... every day for us to come back to You. What a comfort that there is nothing in our past that will keep us from being used by You. In JESUS' name... amen.