The Jesus you see in me is the direct reflection of the Jesus I saw in you.

The Jesus you see in me is a direct reflection of the Jesus you allowed me to see in you.  The Jesus you introduced me to, even when I was not aware.  You couldn’t help it.  He is as much of you as the air you breathe.  His power and influence drive your decisions.  Your wisdom.  The love the flows from your heart for his people, both lost and found.  I was just blessed to have crossed your path.

It must have been a mistake that you came into my restaurant that day.  I was 18 and newly married.  An assistant manager at KFC.  I was going places.  I likely knew everything there was to know about life.  You didn’t let that stop you.  Day after day, you and your wife came in about 2pm.  It was the quietest time of the day.  You would have the buffet and give me a hard time, or try and sell me your joke of the day. You would ask about my life.  Day after day, you really got to know me.  You invested in me.  I’m not sure when I realized when you were the pastor of a little country church, but I remember the day you came in to tell me you were headed to Russia for a week.  You went every two years for missions. When you came back you brought me a wall hanging native to Kostroma.  You shared stories.  You invited me to your Sunday evening service so I could see pictures and hear about your trip.  I remember making it a point to take off early so I could make it.  You meant as much to me as I meant to you.  I just didn’t see it at the time. I remember the day you told me I had to take responsibility for my own salvation.  It was my choice.  That stuck with me.  You later moved on to another community.  I couldn’t begin to know where to find you now, but I want you to know that I found him.  I accepted Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  I never miss church if I don’t have too.  My kids know him too.  Because I meant something too you.  You never pressured me about missing church.  Instead, you brought Jesus to me each and every day and introduced me to him over chicken, coleslaw and conversation.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the message of salvation that you allowed him to carry through you.  I just wanted to say Thank you.

You were the patriarch.  You sat proudly at the head of the pew, dressed in your Sunday suit jacket and skirt.  Vintage broach and an cocky grin.  You were gentle spoken with a back bone of steel.  Most families attend church on Christmas and Easter.  Not us. When we attended, it was for Mothers day or your birthday.  Afterward, we would go out to the country club for lunch and a few good laughs.  I respected you so deeply.  You were the first one I told, after David, that we were going to have a baby.  You were so proud of her.  The first Sunday we attended church with her, you carried her around to every Sunday school class in the building.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the love I saw flow through you.  Unconditional and deep.  You taught me that to love deeply is not weakness, but strength.  You taught me to strive for gentleness and wisdom in my home.  Your example makes me want to live God’s best everyday.

She was a physics professor at EIU. She saw potential in me during a women’s bible study that she led.  I was intimidated as heck.  She cruised up in her Chrysler convertible and bounced in with a basket of handouts and goodies.  I loved her oversized jewelry and bright style.  I never understood why she chose me to take under her wing.  She spoke life into me.  She encouraged me in my discovery of God’s word.  She told me to tuck his word away in my heart. She taught me how to apply God’s word to my life. She taught me to teach others.  She encouraged me to further myself and chase after my dreams.  She kept regular appointments with me.  Lunches.  Sunday afternoon picnics with my family.  She sent my husband care packages while he was over seas.  She sent me surprise letters of encouragement and DQ money while my kids and I were waiting at home for his return.  The Jesus I saw in a beautiful bible teacher showed me that my life has worth and meaning.   A purpose in his kingdom.  The Jesus you see in me lives, truly lives because of the Jesus I saw in her.  No more stinkin’ thinkin’.  Just baby steps of obedience in whatever direction he calls me to go.

The Jesus you see in me would never be without the influence of those who have followed him before.  Those who have stories to tell, love to give and applications to teach.  Those who invested their time, their prayers and their obedience to follow God in order to reach a girl who had big dreams, minimal resources and no confidence.

The Jesus you see in me is an investment of God’s willing people mixed with Gods word. His Holy Spirit and His perfect time.  He still has a long way to go in my life.  But I hope  the Jesus you see in me will be as profound and intentional as the Jesus I saw in them.

 

 

The fall of pride. A review of motives. A lesson in humility.

I stood at the altar clutching my fleece creation as I finished my call for volunteers.  I had a great project in mind and I was in need of some extra hands  to pull it off.

I met eyes with the head of personnel as I turned to exit the stage and nodded a brief hello.  Which is the exact last thing I remember before hearing a collective “OH!”, as I tumbled from the edge of the altar and on to my hands and knees.

No stairs required.

I did a quick pain check and prayed a quick prayer that God would maybe just take me away from the moment.  A little vanishing act to finish the show would certainly be appropriate.  To no avail, I stood to my feet. I looked back to the congregation with a brief wave acknowledging I was okay and immediately left the room in a rush to get back to my office.  No harm.  No foul.

A lesson in humility learned in front of an audience of about 100 people.

No biggie.

Except it was.  Because when you fall off the altar in front of the entire church, everyone wants to follow up and make sure you’re okay.  It was like reliving the fall over and over again which was a hard pill to swallow.

Because in this season of ministry, it was all about me.

How can I make a name for myself?

How can I turn heads? 

How can I win more people to my cause?

It didn’t take me long to acknowledge my error.  Let’s say this moment was the beginning of the end.  It was in the weeks and months to follow that I realized that the purpose of ministry is to point people to Jesus.  Not to me.

I told myself I was pointing people to Jesus but that was a lie.

The truth is that it fed my ego when people acknowledged me and the success we were having in our children’s ministry and my motive for taking the director position was not exactly pure.  It was a chance to make a name for myself and prove that I was not the screw up that I believed myself to be.

God did a powerful work in my life in that season.  The most powerful work occurred in his silence.  At times when I desperately needed to hear his voice for wisdom and direction, he was quiet.  He was with me, but he just didn’t have much to say.  There were many moments when I had to stand on my own against popular opinion.  There were moments when people I respected shut me out.

Yet even in silence, God is still good.

It was in those moments I knew I was running the ministry God gave me in the exact way he was calling me to run it. I wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was all for him.  And regardless of the noise happening around me, I was at peace.

At the end of that season, I left the ministry he gave me and started a new chapter in my life.  A new church.  It was a while before I got involved in a new ministry.  This time, I wanted my service to be different.  I wanted my service to be for him.  So I waited.  Nearly two years I waited.  At some points, I felt that maybe I had burned my bridges, so to speak.  I had my chance.  No more doors would be opening for me.

The thing about God is that he is not finished with me. Even now.

 In that time of waiting, I have rebalanced my priorities.  I have prayed.  I have reconnected with him. Even though I’m still under construction, he is starting to open doors for me once more.  Not only for me, but for my family as well.

I am done forcing open doors and windows of opportunities for service.  When ministry starts to feel like a burden, I do a heart check.

Is this really where I am supposed to serve or am I blocking someone else’s opportunity to serve joyfully? 

Does my choice to serve in this capacity offer an opportunity to point people to God? 

 Is this just an opportunity to make a name for me?

Each day I wake up and ask for ways to serve the Lord.  I am grateful for every opportunity he gives me, even when I receive no earthly recognition for my efforts. I ask God for a heart of contentment in knowing that I am his fragrance here on earth.  The girl longing for recognition still lives inside of me.  But with prayer and intentional surrender, God helps me to keep my focus where it belongs.

On Him.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
1 Peter 4: 1-2

Pretzel pirate ships, blue haired church ladies & unpaid electric bills: God is still more than enough

I’m tapping my fingers on the counter and taking one more plate count.  We have just enough snacks for tonight based on the kids attendance for the week. Well, we will have enough if these two teens stop hitting my cheese blocks for the boat base. Otherwise, my crafty pretzel pirate ships are just going to be pirate flags. Boring!

As another plate is swiped from the counter, my inner blue haired church lady is channeled.  Just as I open my mouth to say something an over powering thought occurs:

Five loaves, two Fish

I’m taking another plate count.  Tap, tap, tap of my finger.  I can always make a desperate run to the store for more.  It’s only a block away.

Five loaves, two fish

Okay.  Five loaves, two fish.  Five loaves, two fish.  Five loaves, two fish.  I’m chanting now.  I’m giving God the snake eye and allowing the girls to take one more plate on their way out the door.  As they leave, teen girl #1’s brother enters.

I know your not supposed to have favorites, but he is one of mine.

“Miss Samantha, can I talk to you?”  He says.

“Sure.  What’s going on?”

“My mom needs help.  Our power has been shut off and we owe the electric company $756.00.  If we don’t get it turned back on by Monday, we will be kicked out of our apartment.” Oh boy.  It’s already Wednesday.

He continued telling me that after the power was shut down, the family did not have an ample supply of non perishable food.  The kids had not eaten much of anything in three days.  Thank God I had not opened my mouth to his big sister about the stupid cheese!

Isn’t it funny how perspective changes everything.

Five loaves, two fish

Do you think that there might be a reason that God illustrates the glory of his provision in his word.  A lot.   The story of the loaves and fish is not only told in the gospels, but it is tucked away in the Old Testament as well.  Different situation.  Same miracle.

Fast forward to a VBS centuries later and we find ourselves with the same miracle, different situation.

I am guilty of fretting and worrying whenever the supply in front of my eyes does not seem adequate.  I tap my fingers.  I toil.  I meddle to make things work out to my end desire.  But, over and over again, God assures me that he is enough to meet every need I have in front of me.  He assures me that if I take care of his kingdom priorities, he will take care of mine.  Actually, he is big enough to cover both. My only requirement is to move forward in obedience.

Retrain my brain to trust him instead of taking control.

To get out of the way so God can move in a spectacular way.

To thank him for the miracle that is yet to come.

As VBS concluded, I had more than enough cheese and pretzels to send home with two hungry kids.  Our loving church family provided the resources to get their electric bill paid in full.  A family was able to stay in their home.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Get out of the way so God can move.

They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Matthew 14:20

I, too, will bloom

I settle in at the reception desk directly across from my soft spoken resident. She is perched gleefully on her walker seat anxiously awaiting the surprise inside  the box.  I pull off the paper strip and begin to release the contents- a vase, two packets of miracle flower power and a bundle of tiny, tender purple tulips.

“Who are they from?”, she asked.  I hand her the card.  This bouquet is special.  Sent just to say, “Thank you for all you have done for me.” I unwrap the cellophane and begin to clip the stems while removing the dead leaves from the buds.  Ice cold and closed up tight, these beauties are ready for a good drink of water and life giving sun light.

Under her watchful eye, she gleams as I clip, prune and arrange her beautiful flowers to perfection.  Feeling blessed to be part of such a wonderful gift, I think of the trip this bouquet has made.

Under precise attention, the seed is planted, fertilized, watered and pruned until the exact moment in which it needs to be clipped and frozen.  Mailed in a time sensitive manner so that the receiver can follow detailed instructions to experience the beauty of its very first bloom.   How amazing!

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Like the tender tulip buds, I am in a season of stay.  A seed planted, fertilized, watered and pruned until it is time to bloom into the purpose God has called of me.

I see the master gardner head my way with his cutters only to be passed by to another more seasoned than I.  They are ready to be sent to their receivers he has purposed for their life.

I celebrate their victory while prayerfully considering the instruction and character building he still has planned for me.  I endure pruning until I am flawless.  I rely on his protection from things that would cause me harm. I bask in his life giving light.

I anticipate my intended purpose.

I grow in faith knowing that in God’s perfect time I, too, will bloom.

 

Will the Real Slim Shady PUH-LEEZE stand up?

I am a closet rap fan.  Okay, so I’m not in the closet anymore.  There is something about Bass that sets things right in my world.  It’s quite possible that this love stems from being rocked to sleep by it in student housing as a baby.  When the song in my title, produced by Eminem, debuted, I recall an interview he did with one of the major morning shows.  The talking heads asked him,” What is the meaning of your song?”  To this he replied that we all have two egos that live within us.  We have one side that we want the world to see.  The good, loving, wonderful side.  But we also have a “Slim Shady” that lives within us.  This is the ego that causes us to flip someone off in a fit of road rage. (His words, not mine!)  I remember his words resonating with me.  I can completely relate.  NO!  I have not flipped anyone off in traffic, but I do have a two year old that lives inside of me when things don’t go exactly my way.  Turns out, I’m not the only one.  Take note from Paul in Romans 7: 18-20:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one who is doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.”

As “good” Christians (this IS an oxymoron), we tend to believe that we are born as “good” people.  In reality, the bible says there is no such thing!  In original creation, we are born to the “flesh”.  This not only means our skin, but more importantly, human nature!  This is the earthly nature of a man apart from divine influence, therefore, prone to sin and opposed to God.  So God decided we needed some training wheels.  He sent Moses to the mountain and created “The Law”.  Believers of God were so excited about “The Law” they forgot God’s promise of a Savior.  Many still believe, to this day, that through their own “good” actions, they can get to heaven.   But, the bible say’s we have to be born again, to the spirit;  The disposition, or influence that fills and governs the soul of anyone.  In my mind, I know God sent his son to the cross to die for my sins.  I fully accept that I cannot get to Heaven on my own.  But my dilemma comes in when I try to live up to “The Law” and transform myself into who I think God wants me to be.   This was not God’s design, at all!  In Galatians 3:3b, Paul reminds us, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Okay, so when you say it out loud, it sounds scary!

I leave with this thought.  When my “Slim Shady” is trying to come out to play, I will remember that I am “under construction.”  If God had made himself perfect in me, I would be blogging from Heaven.   God produces good  fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  If the fruit I produce is anything other than these character traits, I am commiting Galatians 5:24-25 to heart:

“For those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their passions & desires of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the spirit, let us follow the Spirits leading in every part of our lives.”