They Are Listening

As my six year old stumbled into the house tripping over his older brother one day last week, he was bursting with barely contained excitement. I thought perhaps like me, he was happy the sun was finally out after several days of dreary weather, or he had a chance to see the fluffy snow falling earlier in the day. Maybe he was delighted by the books he bought at the school’s book fair or he clipped up to pink for good behavior. Perhaps, he had a new drawing to share with me. I was completely unprepared for the next words that came from his tiny mouth.

“Mommy, Mommy! You’re famous!!”

Excuse me! What? Ummm…. What do you say to that?

Tugging frantically at my arm, he said, “Yeah, you are famous. When I said my name, the lady that works in the library said she reads those stories you put on Facebook.”

Oh. “So we are friends on Facebook?”

“No, she READS those STORIES you write.”

“I see. Wow, well that’s really nice to hear! Do you know her name,” I inquired, wondering if she was a friend.

“No, they were just there for Book Fair.”

“They?”

His head was bobbing up and down with the glint of approval in his clear blue eyes. “Yeah, you are famous,” he said almost reverently.

Wondering if he could provide me with a clue as to who this mystery reader was I asked, “Well, what do they look like?”

“One was really tall and the other was kind of small like you with freckles,” he called over his shoulder as he scampered off blissfully unaware of the blessing and mystery he had bestowed upon me.

Famous and small!  Double score for me!

Not only did these mystery women make me a super hero in the eyes of my son, they made my writer’s heart swell by recognizing my name. So, if you are reading this and you are or know who my sweet angels are, please solve this for me! I would very much like to bless them in return with a small gift! I’m serious, I’m searching for them. This was a big deal to both my son and me!
The next day as I stepped out of the shower, an idea hit me.

They are listening!

First, my son, even if for only one solitary, fleeting moment, is listening. He knows that my writing is important to me and for some reason, he assumed that is how these women not only knew who I was, but that they saw me in a positive light. It is amazing to me to realize that what I do outside of those things I consider parenting impacts my children. He notices me following God in this endeavor. He is listening.

Then, I realized “she” is listening. I don’t know if these ladies are actually reading what I’m posting from my blog or maybe just my random status updates or even something about My Messy Desk. There is even a chance that they don’t much care for what I have to say. However, I’m hopeful that I have somehow connected with a reader in a way that is impactful enough for her to recognize our family name when my son mentioned it. People out there are reading what God is writing through me. That is honor enough to inspire me to improve and expand my writing. I can only dare to dream that I have pointed her toward the goodness of the God I seek to serve with my words and actions. She, and I can only hope many more like her, are listening.

Most humbling of all, God is listening. He has heard my prayers and knows full well that in this stage of new growth in what He has called me to do, I need all the cheerleaders I can get. 1 John 5:14 reassures me of this with these words: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” The very Creator of the universe hears what I am asking and He cares enough to provide it for me in ways I can easily comprehend. He hears you, too. HE is listening.

Finally, I am listening. Right now, I am listening to you, my friends and my sisters in Christ, and to our great God more than I ever have before. His purpose for my life seems to be taking shape and I am gaining the confidence to stand before Him and ask for the things I need to fulfill His calling for me. I am emboldened by this encounter and will continue to seek these cues from God and through man that keep me pursuing His vision for my life. I am listening.

We are all listening to a multitude of things each and every day. We belong to an ever-growing community on the internet where we have the opportunity and responsibility to provide encouragement to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Too often, however, all we hear are the voices of opposition and condemnation. Sometimes they are deafening and all we can make out are the words that tear us down and cause us to shrink back, robbing us of the great confidence Christ won for us on the cross. Do not fall pray to this tactic the devil uses to distract you from God’s mission. Instead, listen closely to the voice of truth spoken in The Word and allow it to strengthen you as you go about His business.

I may never be “famous” in the eyes of anyone but my 6 year old son, but it has been good for me to realize that he, my readers, and my God are all listening. My prayer is simply that all I write, say and do will be pleasing to God and worthy of the time my readers and friends spend with me. “May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

To which voices are you listening? Where in your life are you longing for a gentle nudge?

Chances are that people in your circle of influence are listening to you, as well. What do they hear?  Who needs a clear word of inspiration from you today?  Can you make somebody feel famous just by listening to what they have to say?

Send Me!!

I had a moment today in the car after PWOC that I feel compelled to share with you all in hopes that it would encourage you to follow God wherever He calls you to serve.

I’m sure you have heard the adage, “God equips those He calls.”  This is another one of those stories.

For as much as I enjoy and researching and writing, you might assume that I enjoy talking about my faith and that would make me a natural at leading a bible study.  The way I write about my prayer life might give you the impression that I would have no apprehension about bursting into prayer out loud in front of a group of people.  Well, you’d be wrong on both counts!

Speaking and praying in front of others is a great source of apprehension for me.  For a couple of years now, I have been resisting facilitating a bible study at PWOC because I really felt very ill-equipped and uncomfortable being responsible for a group of women who would be looking to me to lead and guide their class and speak in front of them or even pray out loud with them.  I tried to convince myself that God needed me to be studying up instead of standing up.  I convinced myself I had little to offer and that I wasn’t worthy or capable of being “in charge” of a small group.  I kept telling myself I’m better off behind the scenes, making necessary things happen without a mic in my hand.

Last semester, I had several women praying for me and about what role God waned me to fill in PWOC.  The more I prayed about it myself, the more I felt God leading me toward stepping up my involvement in a new area of service.  But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t ready.  Have you been there?  In that place where you can feel God tugging at you to do something, but you just don’t feel qualified?

On one morning when I was particularly on the fence about deciding to volunteer to facilitate a study I happened to check Facebook before I got out of the car and a friend had posted a quote by Amy Poehler that was basically a kick in the butt from God just for me:

“Great people do things before they’re ready… Doing what you are afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that – that is what life is.  You might be really good.”

I really want to be “all in” on this ride called LIFE.  I want to experience all God has for me while I’m on this earth.  I want to say YES to Him and His call, to fully embrace the words of one of my favorite hymns:  “Here I am Lord, Send me!”

So, with sweaty palms and almost shaky knees, I approached the Spiritual Life chair that morning and gave her my e-mail address.  I prayerfully researched and considered all the studies that remained unclaimed at that point and selected two 6 week studies that I was drawn to for vastly different reasons.  One I thought I really needed to do myself and the other because I felt like I was living out much of what the book was about.

Still terrified, I ordered both books over Christmas Break so that I could read and start preparing before meeting my class.  With just a couple of days notice I was called to speak to the entire body (over 100 ladies) about my two classes.  I was basically supposed to be a recruiter to fill the seats in my room.  I prayed a lot about what I was to say.  I wrote out a script and edited it and practiced it and edited it some more.  I asked God to bring just the right ladies to me and to keep me from throwing up during my “speech.”  Guess what?  He came through.  I was so relieved that my studies each had about 10 ladies to sign up… a good number, but not overwhelming!

I was really looking forward to the facilitator training, hoping I would glean some great insights on how to serve in this role.  Up until then, I had witnessed many amazing women of God facilitate studies and I knew I would be attempting to fill some gigantic shoes.  But training was cancelled for weather the first week and I was unable to attend due to a family commitment the next week.   So, I started the first week of the study untrained and scared but determined to allow God to work through me.  I wish I could say that that “peace that surpasses all understanding” had crept in and released the knots in my stomach, but it just wasn’t so…

And then due to a scheduling mix up, I didn’t have the DVD player in my room that first week to show the accompanying video which left me with 30 extra minutes to fill.  I can hardly express to you how inexplicably terrified that made me.  But then a sweet lady asked if perhaps we might all share why we had chosen the study…it was a little nugget from God.  He was letting me know He had my back!

Today was our third session and driving away from post, I had this sense of overwhelming peace and love and gratitude pass over me as  I realized that today I didn’t worry about speaking in front of the group or about how I would guide the discussion or keep it on track and I prayed out loud in front of a group of women without apprehension.  I realized that I am enjoying a multitude of growth and blessings in this one act of obedience to The Lord.  By His power and equipping, I prayed without fear or stammering and steered our discussion with what felt like His wisdom.  I don’t know if the other ladies have any idea what a great victory I am having in His name or not.

Maybe to them my prayer was nothing special.  Or perhaps they didn’t get any great spiritual insights or inspiration from anything I said.  And I’m not entirely sure it matters.  It could have been some other lady perhaps someone with more elegant speech or more Godly wisdom or a better knack for keeping the class on topic in that seat today, but because I chose to step out in faith and prayer and trust God to lead me, it was me.  I was there and He was with me.  I am blown away by the magnitude of God’s power to change me when I give Him an honest chance.

Of course I pray that God will give me wisdom to share with the women in my study, that I would bring some measure of value in my experiences and talents, but the lessons I am learning about  His faithfulness in this experience are invaluable to me.

The rest of Amy Poehler’s quote says, “You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares?  You tried something.  Now you know something about yourself.”  Had that been included in the facebook post, I might have found myself discouraged once again, believing the lies Satan uses to keep us from being all God intends for us to be.  Satan tells us we aren’t good enough, that our past has tarnished us, that we can’t be special, that we are too broken to be of use or that we aren’t strong or brave or wise enough to be great.  God tells us that we are His, that we are loved without condition, that we are made whole and new and clean and heirs to the Kingdom by the sacrifice of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

If we live believing the lies of the enemy we will forfeit any chance we have at being great in the life God has prepared for us!

I have learned more about God than about myself in taking this leap of faith. God is already there in those good works He has prepared for us to do.  He is waiting to take us by the hand and show us how to serve one another in love.  The words of Joshua 1:9 couldn’t be truer than they are in this lesson for me as God whispers, “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  He is WITH ME!  No matter what.  That makes me yearn to go where He leads.

 

I want to bring His light to the world.  Here I am Lord, send me!

I want to speak His Word to the world.  Here I am Lord, send me!

I want to prepare a feast for the world.  Here I am Lord, send me!

I want to hold His people in my heart.  Here I am Lord, send me!

 

If God is calling you, are you prepared to listen and obey as Samuel did in 1 Samuel 3?  Is God tugging at your heart, pulling you toward something He desires for you or away from some harmful situation?  Are you giving Satan a stronghold by believing his lies about your ability to follow God’s prompting?  Or do you turn to the truth of God’s Word to define your worth in His Kingdom?

God is with us no matter where we go, but sometimes fully understanding that requires us to be obedient and follow Him where we may not have a desire to go.  Sometimes we have to obey before we are ready and then have the faith that He will prepare and equip us for the task He has called us to according to His own schedule.

Clean House

Last week at a women’s meeting at church, one of the ladies was telling “You might be Lutheran if…” jokes to break the ice before a presentation she gave. One of them struck a chord with all the women in the room and several said they needed signs with the punch line to hang on the wall in their homes.  It went something like this, “You might be Lutheran if… your house is messy and you tell guests it’s because you are saved by grace, not works.” 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make this sign before my mother in law’s arrival last Friday because…  well, because I was too busy cleaning my house for her visit!

My husband’s mother is in no way judgmental of my (lack of) cleaning skills. The truth is that I do it out of respect for her.  I want her to know that I’m taking good care of her son and her grandbabies.  I want to live up to any expectations she may have about the woman her baby married.  If you could see how immaculate she and her daughters keep their homes, you would likely understand my dilemma.  It comes down to my desire to present myself as acceptable to her, not because of any sort of condemnation I feel from her.  

Even with all this weighing on me, there are a few places that don’t get the full treatment, because I know I can keep those messes out of site with closed doors.  And of course My Messy Desk is never clean, but I’ve given myself a perfectly acceptable excuse by naming it so appropriately.

Conversely, when my own mother comes to visit, I try to get the house just barely clean enough that she doesn’t feel obligated to call social services with concerns about the cleanliness of my children’s living environment.  That isn’t out of any sort of disrespect for her, but she simply knows me too well to be fooled by any of my attempts to impress her. 

While I was vacuuming up obscene amounts of black dog hair from our beige carpet, I thought about how similar my frantic preparations for my dear mother in law’s visit are to the way I often approach my God.   I often want everything in order and to have all my messes cleaned up before I invite Him in.  I try to impress Him with how well I’m handling my life.  I want to appear acceptable to Him. 

But even more than my own mother, He knows me all too well to be fooled. Psalm 139.  There is nothing about me He doesn’t already know.  And miraculously, He loves me anyway! 

One of the (many) reasons I put off cleaning is that once I get down close to the dust and grime that collect in a house with a Soldier, two boys and a dog that seems to shed an entire coat’s worth of fur weekly, I keep finding more to clean.  The dirt that collects in all the cracks and crevices escapes notice as I pass by casually moving through my daily routine is magnified when I get down on the floor with a sponge in hand.  I always find much more in need of cleaning than I anticipated.  It’s the same way with my sin.  If I start with cleaning up the big ones, I’m going to find lots more filth down deep in the cracks.  There is no way for me to get myself clean enough.

That is precisely why God sent Jesus to be our savior.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9

Right after the birth of our second son, my mother in law and one of my sisters in law came to visit us.  This has been the one and only exception to my rule about cleaning prior to her visits.  I was physically unable to muster the energy to get the house as clean as I thought it should be.  It was a little scary to invite them in when I knew what a state our home was in.  With a two day old and a toddler, I truly had no choice but to surrender, and guess what…  Those two angels came in a cleaned it up for me.  Sinks, tubs, faucets, floors, and counters, all shining brilliantly.  So much cleaner than anything I ever achieve. 

This is what Jesus does for us.  He cleans us up better than new, because He knows we are completely unable to do it on our own.  The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  1 John 1:7

I wish my house would stay as clean as it is the day my mother in law arrives, but alas for the same reasons I mentioned a few paragraphs above, it does not. It’s true that once it has been cleaned well, I can keep it up for a little while, but eventually I just get overwhelmed with life and if I’m being really honest, probably a little laziness, too.  In the hope of improving my domestic abilities, I’ve done a little research on how to get and keep my house clean.  I’ve found so many schedules out there that claim to be the secret to successfully keeping your home spic and span and they all involve just a little bit of work each day. Every.  Single.  Day.

I am fairly certain it isn’t just me that is often overcome by a feeling of futility where cleaning is concerned.  It seems that I clean up one area and then before I’m even done in the next room, the first space is sullied again.  My husband walks in with mud on his boots or the dog coughs up something unidentifiable on the newly vacuumed carpet and my kids seem to be able to make a mess just by simply existing!  Or once the inside is clean and I walk outside to find that the porch needs sweeping and the yard needs weeding…  It’s enough to make me want to throw my hands up in the air and scream. 

Our sin can be like that, too.  Just when we feel like we’re all cleaned up and have a handle on one area of transgression, another pops up or some old temptation we thought we had conquered rears its ugly head once again.  Paul wrote about this feeling of futility in Romans 7:19.  The good he wants to do he does not, but the evil he wants to avoid, he keeps on doing.  When we are overwhelmed by our sins, He forgives our transgressions. Psalm 65:3.  

I think this is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:28-30.  The Jews of that day were saddled with a multitude of extraneous religious rules and regulations heaped upon them by the Pharisees in a supposed attempt to keep them from breaking Mosaic Law.  These laws were so restrictive it was nearly impossible not to break them.  If I had lived in that time, I’m certain I would have been overwhelmed.  But what Jesus was trying to tell them and us today is that He is the fulfillment of the law and that all who believe in Him can rest in the blessed assurance of His sacrifice for our salvation.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light so we need not become disheartened.  Matthew 11:30

After a decade of living with me, I think my beloved husband has become somewhat numb to my lack of domestic cleanliness.  He doesn’t even seem to mind when he goes to work with glitter on the socks he laces up inside his combat boots.  We can become just as desensitized to our own sin as my family is to my messy house.  Unfortunately, even just a little bit of sin can lead us down dangerous roads.  When we allow sin to remain in our lives, eventually we may stop recognizing it for what it is.  It might seem easier to look the other way like I do with so many dusty shelves, but when we overlook sin, the repercussions are eternal.   “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8.  

I can try to hide random toys, books, out of season clothes and stuffed animals in my son’s closet, but in his innocence, he will most certainly call me out by begging my mother in law to check out his awesome secret hiding place.  Sins we try to hide, like the messes I cram behind closed doors will come to light on judgment day.  King David tried to hide his sin by having the husband of the woman with whom he had an affair killed in battle.  One sin led to another and he paid for his transgressions with anguish, heartache and loss, which he wrote about in several Psalms after the prophet Nathan called him out.  So, instead of keeping skeletons in our closets, we should follow his lead and acknowledge our transgressions, confess that we have sinned against God and done what is evil in His sight.  God is faithful then to purge us, cleanse us and wash us whiter than snow so that we may once again hear joy and gladness, then He will hide His face from our sins and blot out our iniquities.  Psalm 51:3-4, 7-9.

If you are waiting to get yourself all cleaned up before you invite God in, you are missing the point!  In His infinite mercy and grace, He sent His Son to do the cleaning for us before we even knew how dirty we were.  Romans 5:8 says, God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Just like those schedules for cleaning your house, He will polish us up day by day and make us shine like never before if we invite Him in each and every day.  And this is what gives Christians eternal hope, that “even though our outward man is perishing, [our] inward man is being renewed day by day.”  2 Corinthians 4:16.  Although, we cannot be perfected in these earthly bodies, “I am certain that God, who began a good work within [us] will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  Philippians 1:6.  

So, daily I will pray as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10, because this is truly the only way to clean house!

Pleading Guilty

Back in February I got a speeding ticket.  True story.  I know you are shocked!!  I was so appalled and embarrassed that I could hardly tell my husband and my kids still don’t know.  I had absolutely no idea I was even speeding but I got clocked doing 62 in a 45.  My excuse that I thought it was a 55 wasn’t even remotely valid, as I would still have been 7 over.  Apparently, I failed to see the posted speed limit sign traveling in that direction.

I carried the ticket around in the fold out portion of my wallet so that I wouldn’t lose it and would be reminded to call about paying it.  Each time I would pull out my wallet to pay for a purchase, I was shamed again, thinking that anybody who saw it right there in my hand would know I was guilty of speeding.  The thing is I was guilty no matter if anybody else knew it or not.

I finally brought myself to call the parish office and find out how much and how I could pay.  As I went through all the questions with the clerk on the other end of the line, I realized why I had been dragging my feet…  Paying the ticket meant I was entering a guilty plea with the court.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to admit I’m guilty of anything.  Paying a speeding ticket was one thing, but admitting, out loud to another person that I was guilty of a violation was another thing altogether!

Here is the amazing part of this, once I agreed to that condition and processed the payment, I was free.  I didn’t have that silly thing hanging over my head.   I didn’t have to carry the ticket around with me anymore, like a “Scarlet A” blazoned on my shirt proclaiming my guilt to everybody. I didn’t even have to give the incident another thought.

That’s how it is with God’s grace.  Once you plead guilty to your sin, you are freed up to be forgiven.  No more guilt, no more shame, and we don’t even have to pay the fine.  But just like I had to swallow my pride and pick up the phone to admit that I was guilty of breaking the law, we must humble ourselves before the Most Holy God and admit that we are sinners.

His grace is there for us just as sure as the freedom I felt from fulfilling my obligation to Vernon Parish.  But we don’t have to pay the fine and those sins don’t stay on our record for 1-3 years.  Jesus paid the fine for us on the cross once and for all.  Psalm 103 assures us that God removes our sin far from us when we acknowledge it before Him.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor punished us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

as far as the East is from the west,

so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

                                                                        Psalm 103:10-12

The prophet Micah wrote that “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.  He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities,” and that “[He] will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  Micah 7:18-19.

God has required payment for sins since He instituted the law with Moses, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22.  This is why it was necessary for Christ to suffer and die for our sins.  Jesus Himself used these words in celebrating Passover with His disciples saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Paul teaches Timothy that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”  Titus 2:11-14

God’s forgiveness through the shedding of Jesus’ blood is for all people and for all sins, but we must admit that we are daily, desperately in need of it.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t think we are sinning that badly, if we failed to see the signs or even if we actually got caught in our sins by anybody else.  The only way to overcome the guilt and shame that plague us is the call upon Jesus and His Salvation.  When we accept His sacrifice for us and believe in His Salvation, not only do we experience His freedom and forgiveness, but we are also made Children of God, heirs with Jesus of an inheritance in His heavenly kingdom.  So make the call and plead guilty.  You will be glad you did!