Tuesday, December 2, 2014

His Grace is Sufficient...

I have not cried in months. 
But those of you who know me well, know that this is not uncommon for me.  For years, I have had to be the ‘strong one.’  I have had to be the shoulder to cry on and a source of comfort for the people around me.  I have had to restrain my emotions and face uncomfortable situations head-on.  In other words, I’ve had to put my big-girl panties on and just get the job done.  This has been true in my career as well as in my personal life. 

Thankfully, I come from a fabulous home and a wonderful family, full of love.  My heartbreaks growing up were limited to the few instances when we lost a family pet or when I realized that the tooth fairy was not real.  But early on, I was expected to perform well, to get good grades, to excel in life.  Failure was not an option and I feared disappointing anyone.  As I entered adulthood, I had to be the stoic one. Showing strength and courage after a disastrous house fire. Comforting Mom through a painful, unforeseen divorce.    Listening patiently as my sister sheds her own tears and vents her frustrations as a wife and mother.  Calling Daddy, hundreds of miles away, and telling him everything is alright…even when it’s not.

At work, it was all-too-common for my heart to be crushed.  Informing my patient that her cancer has returned.  Watching a mother cry, knowing that she can’t afford the quality treatment to help her daughter detox off heroin.   Telling a young, newlywed couple that their infant child may not survive his 13-hour heart surgery, scheduled for tonight. Hearing hearts break as a room full of people say their final goodbyes to a husband, father, grandpa, and friend.  Explaining to a wife that the doctors did all they could for her husband…but he won’t be going home with her tonight…or any night thereafter. 

All of these situations have contributed to the building up of my emotional walls and reinforcing them year after year.  It is not something that I am necessarily proud of. Rather, it is more of a defense mechanism—a way to protect my heart and ensure that I will be strong enough to handle the next heart-breaking situation that is right around the corner.  Because, truth is, this is a fallen world and pain is inevitable. Some people may interpret my lack of tears as being insensitive, but that is not the case at all.  I see your tears and I feel your pain.  I WANT to cry with you, but I can’t.   I can’t let my guard down and risk being crippled by the pain.  I can’t be vulnerable or show weakness.

Vulnerable.  Weak.

What is it about those words that sting so badly? What is it that makes them echo and pierce us so deeply?  It is almost as if such qualities are shameful…as if opening myself up and admitting that I ‘just can’t do it’ is somehow admitting defeat.

But what if that is exactly what we are supposed to do—Admit defeat.  Admit failures.  Admit short-comings.  Admit my need for a Savior.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells us a story of the prodigal son—a boy that wants to be grown.  He wants to do life his own way and prove that he is mature enough to make his own decisions and take care of himself.  But as the story unfolds, we see that the boy begins to fall apart.  He has reached a dead end and begins to recall and appreciate the safety and security he once had with his father. And the most beautiful part of the story is the picture scripture paints for us of a father who longs to care for his son.  His arms are open wide, anticipating the reunion with his son and the opportunity to, once again, be the father his son needs. 
This father’s desire is not a foreign concept.
God created men to be leaders of their families. Therefore, it comes natural that men want to effectively execute their role as a father.  There is something in the chemical make-up of a man that he desires to be the backbone of his family and provide for his children, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

The same is true of God.  As our Heavenly Father, He wants nothing more than to have His children run to Him.  With arms open wide, he wants to hold us tight, comfort our hurting hearts, and wipe away all our tears.  He longs to embrace us with his unconditional love and strength.  He wants to counsel us, lead us, and make our paths straight.

So, it is okay to show weakness.  We don’t always have to be the ‘strong one.’ I don’t have to always be the strong one. In fact, I am beginning to see that it is best that I stop striving to be strong because when I don’t measure up, which is more often than not, I can find strength and comfort knowing that He is able.  It is okay for me to ‘fall apart’ when the pain is just too much, because as a child of God, I belong to the One that can restore me and rebuild my heart. He will be there in the pain to pull me up and strengthen me to continue His call.

All that being said, I realize that it is easier said than done.  As my time here in Busega continues to dissolve like the sand in an hourglass, I can feel my walls beginning to reinforce.  I don’t want to leave my family behind.  I don’t want to say goodbye.  I don’t want to experience the pain that is bound to come…


But I can hear His still, small voice reassuring me that He is here. 
And He will continue to be here.
He sees my fear and my pain and He is quietly reminding me that it is okay. 
And then He whispers,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Being Made New...

As my first year here in Uganda begins to draw to a close, I have been spending a lot of time evaluating (and reevaluating) the past few months. 
What has God accomplished?
How have lives been eternally impacted?
Where has God made the biggest changes in my life?
What about the ‘little’ changes?
What changes still need to be made in me?

That last question is one that I can’t seem to shake this morning.  God has done so much in my heart over the last year.  There are countless times when I just stand in awe of Jesus and all that His name represents.  Other times, my heart has been broken into millions of unidentifiable little pieces; shattered beyond repair.
But then, it is as if God reaches inside my chest, grabs hold of all the pieces, and tenderly molds my heart together again. 

The Bible reassures us that he makes everything new.  There is no doubt that I have seen my share of ‘new’ this year…but today I feel like God is saying, ‘I’m not done yet.”  There is still more that He wants to accomplish. 
The only thing stopping him? 
Me.

As many of us know, choosing to walk with God leads us into the middle of a battlefield.  Our adversary has an arsenal of weapons he uses in an attempt to weaken us and dissuade us from walking in righteousness with Christ.

Several months back, this battle became very real for me when someone I thought I could trust, joined forces with Satan and spoke awful accusations against me.  I wish I could say that the slanderous lies went in one ear and out the other.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t affected by the whole mess. 
But words hurt.
The situation caused me to question the intentions of the people around me. 
It made me keenly aware of my ‘outsider’ status and it was a painful reminder of the sinful nature of people—even those that claim to follow Jesus.
When the drama struck, my people-pleasing nature shifted into second gear.  I immediately wanted to do damage control and win over the heart of my accuser.  I wanted to defend myself and make the person understand that what they had said was a lie straight from the deceitful mouth of Satan.
I wanted to do and say a lot of things…but I didn’t.  Instead, God caused me to be silent. 

Looking back, I can now see how much the attack affected me.  In the past few months I have seen myself holding back, in more ways than one.  I have been afraid of exposing my heart—afraid that my sincerity and genuine desire to love the people here and serve God will be misinterpreted and used to damage the ministry God is doing here.  I have been afraid that Satan might seek to deceive others.  I didn’t realize it, but I have been afraid of being rejected by the ones I am called to love.

I have been walking in fear of what Satan might do rather than walking in the TRUTH of Christ.

This morning God has really poured out his love on me.  He has been revealing my faults and has extending his grace and forgiveness.  There is still plenty more that He desires to do in and through me.  He has made it very clear that His work is not finished.  Likewise, the work He has put before me is also incomplete.  He has not called me to be timid; He has called me to walk boldly with Him.  He wants me to run this race with perseverance while he secures my steps and make straight the path before me. 

This road that God has called me to travel is not easy but He promises that I will never have to walk it alone.  As a follower of Jesus, I have become a new creation.  But becoming ‘new’ is not a one-time event—it is a process.  The woman I am today is not the woman I was last year.  And I am thankful for all of the ways He continues to make me new.  Walls are being torn down, bridges are being built…and I am becoming the woman He desires me to be.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Melanda...


Do you have that ONE person in your life that just ‘gets’ you? 
Someone that knows your hopes and your dreams?
Someone that encourages you and inspires you to be a better person?
Someone that knows your deepest secrets…and loves you anyway?
You consider this person your ‘best friend’ but in reality, she is more than just a friend.  She is your sister, your advocate, your partner-in-crime, your confidant, and at times, your conscience. She knows what makes you tick…because her heart beats for the same thing. Her house is your second home.  In fact, you don’t even knock any more—you simply walk in and announce, “Hey! I’m home,” and make yourself comfortable…because you know that you are probably going to stay a while.  The two of you have more in common than any two people you know, while at the same time your unique differences perfectly compliment the other.  When people see her, they expect to also see you—it is like a packaged deal. 

Such a person does not enter your life accidentally. All the match-making credit is due to God.  He has woven your hearts and minds together in such a special way and your relationship has His fingerprints ALL over it.
I pray that everyone is able to find a friendship like this—it is a sweet gift from God.

My gift from God is a woman named Randa. 
We met around three years ago (I think).  It is hard to remember because it seems like I have known her forever.  While living in Raleigh, God grew our friendship out of our shared interest in children’s ministry.  We taught Sunday school together in the two-year-old classroom and soon began attending the same Bible Study on Thursday nights.  I don’t exactly remember what happened from there—all I know is that for the past one to two years, we have been nearly inseparable.  Before moving to Uganda, she and I spent most of our ‘free’ time together, which meant that we were together almost EVERY day.  As a result, she and I know each other very well.  There is no one else that understands me the way she does.

She is the only one that will spend hours with me perusing the isles of Michael’s, followed by several more hours camped out on her living room floor crafting our latest Pinterest project. We share a love for children and chocolate. And we will never pass on an opportunity to test out a new recipe. (Some make it to the making-this-again pile while others…not so much.)  She is the only one who will play princess and airplanes with me in the church hallway. And when something funny happens (or happy, or awkward, or anything, really) she is the first one that I think about calling or texting.  When my life is turned upside down by a terrifying phone call, she is the only one I run crying to.  We have a million and one inside jokes…and I’m sure they will stay that way because I am confident no one would understand our humor.  The two of us together is called “Melanda” and/or “The Melanda Show” and we can spend hours at a time talking about anything…and nothing, all at the same time. She can finish my sentences (probably better than I can) and I am pretty sure we can read each other’s minds. Sometimes all it takes is a look and the two of us burst into laughter.

I find it without surprise, that even though we are separated by thousands of miles, living on separate continents, on two different sides of the world, our hearts are still being burdened for the same things. 

There are days when I feel like my heart is being shattered into a million pieces. I see my kids trying to manage a pain that is so foreign to me, yet cuts me so deep.  I try to pray, seeking God for answers and comfort, but it has become all-too-common that the words are just not there. Instead, I pray that God sees the brokenness both in my heart and in the situations that have caused the tears.

Then, during our precious Skype time, I learn that Randa’s heart is also unsettled —for the immense pain that she has discovered in the lives of her children.  She, too, is struggling to understand how someone so young can be asked to carry such a heavy weight.  Overcome with grief and affliction, she prays for God to intervene because the suffering that lay before her is just too much for one woman to handle.

Being a follower of Jesus is not always glamorous—in fact, most times it is just the opposite. But even in the valleys, God’s love overcomes.  His faithfulness prevails and we are able to smile, knowing that He has never left our side.  Sometimes His presence is revealed via a scripture.  Other times, an early morning sunrise displays His glory.  Then there are times when He sends an angel to meet us on life’s path, lift us to our feet, and walk with us on our journey to eternity.  
 
I know that Jesus loves me; he has proven it by the way He has intricately woven Randa’s heart to mine. I am thankful for her and for the way God uses her to encourage me, sharpen me, and spur me on to run the race with endurance until we finally see His face.  I pray that I am able to do the same for her.  And I pray that God will continue to be glorified in our lives, whether we are t

Monday, September 22, 2014

In Ten Years...

Last Sunday, Pastor posed a question to the people seated in the second service of King Jesus Church.  He asked us to turn to the person sitting beside us as describe to them where we see ourselves in the next 10 years.  A fairly simple enquiry, right?  I am sure all of us have been asked the very same question numerous times before.  I can personally think of at least a few instances—during conferences and trainings at work; on ministry and job applications; and while lying on my living room floor, laughing and pondering life during girls’ night in with Randa.

Many of us have spent countless hours contemplating and planning our future.  I have even known someone that has gone as far as typing out a detailed timeline of events—self-determined deadlines for marriage, children, career change, etc.  Now I have been known to be borderline Type A, but I just can’t imagine my life revolving around such time restraints, human-generated time limits at that.

 My view of this topic has not always been what it is now.  If someone would have asked me ten years ago where I expected my life to be when I turned 30…there is not a chance under heaven that I would have said, “Oh, you know, living somewhere in Africa; mentoring eleven deaf children; leading Sunday School at a church that barely speaks English.” And I probably would not have said anything about having to deal with the effects of child neglect, witnessing widespread poverty, or facing uncharted territory in the area of international cultural barriers.  And I would definitely not have said, “Oh, by the way, let me quit my $50k interpreting career for all of this.”

Ten years ago I was a ‘typical’ 20-year-old girl. I enjoyed hanging out with friends, catching movies on the weekends, and I was not the slight bit interested in all that “God stuff.”  Growing up in 20th century America, I had fallen victim to the “American Dream” propaganda that plagues the minds of citizens across the nation.  The only way to live a fulfilling life, I thought, was to accomplish the checklist of requirements that had been handed to me from society.  So, I was pursing the college degree and I imagined that in the few years to follow, I would settle in a nice house located in a quiet suburb somewhere in the Tennessee/Kentucky area—not so cold, and not so far from home.  At some point, I was hoping to marry and begin a family.  You know, accomplishing the things I was ‘supposed’ to accomplish.

Well, besides the college degree, NONE of that has happened.

But before you (or I) get discouraged, let’s reexamine where life has brought me in the last 10 years (the CliffsNotes version):

·         I began a degree in radiology…and finished seven years later with a degree in Sign Language Interpreting.
·         On my way to acquiring my degree, I moved to Indiana, attended a Christian college and found Jesus.
·         At the end of my college career, I took an internship with a company in Charlotte, North Carolina. Upon graduation, this same company hired me in their Raleigh office.
·         There, I got connected to an amazing church—one that believes in and lives out the Gospel; one that helps people follow Jesus; one that partners with friends in Uganda.
·         In July, 2012 I joined Journey Church on a mission trip to Jinja, Uganda.  God used that trip to capture my heart for a population of people desperate for His love.
·         After much prayer and extensive planning, I moved to Uganda on February 16, 2014.

And that is where I find myself today—thousands of miles from home (approximately 7585 miles, in case you were wondering) and light years away from where I thought my life was going to take me.

I mentioned above that I would never have envisioned the struggles that I face living in Uganda.  But now is a good time to add that I also did not envision the peace, contentment, and joy that He has given to me either.  I am thankful that my life didn’t turn out the way I had planned. Had my plans come to pass, I would be missing out on so much. Like watching my babies begin to discover themselves through the eyes of God.  And watching them transform physically and emotionally as their newly-found language begins to open doors for them in school, at home, and in the community.  Had God chosen not to intervene, I would have missed out on an amazing extended family—Aunties and Uncles at church that encourage myself and many others to run this race with perseverance; brothers that make me laugh til my tummy hurts because the joy of the Lord overflows abundantly from their hearts; sisters that genuinely love Jesus and have allowed Him to consume their lives for the sake of knowing Him more.  If my life was left up to me, I would have missed the opportunity to experience God on another level. I would not be seeking his heart the way I am now, nor would I be able to discern his hand at work in my life.  Many years ago I had decided that I only wanted to have two children but, instead, God has given me dozens of them.  I look forward to seeing their glowing smiles each day and hearing them giggle as we share Bible stories and play red-light-green-light and the ‘stick game’. Without this life-altering detour I would have missed the daily molding and sculpting that God is working in my heart to make me the woman He wants me to me. I would be missing out on this incredible journey and also missing out on the call He has for me. 

I know for sure that living in Uganda is not the fulfillment of my own dreams—if that were the case, every day would be a fairytale. There would be less tears and fewer frustrations because I would be doing exactly what I wanted to do. 

No, this was not my dream.  This is and always has been His dream.  But somewhere along the way His dream and His will has become the desire of my heart.  Ten years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be where I am now…but now that He has brought me here, I cannot imagine my life anywhere else. And in another ten years, who knows where I will be?  Only He knows and I pray that even then, my life will continue to be lived in obedience as a reflection of Him.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Escalator Kind of Day...

Have you ever had one of those days where you are staring at the face of an impossible mountain?  But instead of climbing up the mountain it feels like you are running against a fast-moving escalator? Every step forward takes you three steps backwards.  You are out of breath and exhausted, but you look around and realize there are only two ways to exit the moving stairs.

You could just give up and be dragged back to square one. That would be okay, except that you are not the only one climbing the stairs.  There are people behind you.  So as your lifeless body is overtaken by gravity, those that are in your path would also be taken down with you.  Most likely, you and everyone else will experience a less-than-soft landing on the solid, unwelcoming, ground below.  People will suffer injuries—bumps and bruises, scrapes, and perhaps some broken bones. 

As you continue scaling the agonizing stairs you realize that giving up is really not a possibility after all.  The only option you have is to keep going.  Even then, it is likely that your body will sustain injuries—possible weak or torn muscles, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, nausea. 
The only way to conquer this challenge is to tap into an alternate energy source.  In other words, reach deep into your soul and find some type of inspiration to keep your body from collapsing. It may be the toughest obstacle you have ever faced, but imagine the feeling when you eventually reach the top.  Joy. Relief. Excitement.  Accomplishment.

Today has been one of those conquer-the-escalator days.  And I will be honest: it is not the first time I have experienced this.  And I am confident that today is probably not the last encounter either. Each day brings its own set of challenges but there are some days when it is just too much.  People’s unrealistic expectations, the negative comments, the mounting to-do list, the surrounding desperation, the schedule, the sleep deprivation, the language!  It is all just too overwhelming. 

I think the main reason all of this is so difficult is because I am somewhat of a perfectionist.  I am a people-pleaser and I don’t like making mistakes.  In my ‘previous’ life, these characteristics were advantageous.  I was a sign language interpreter, working full-time in hospitals and medical clinics.  Making a mistake was highly discouraged, to say the least.  A mistake could mean the difference between an appendix surgery and a leg amputation.  Okay, so maybe that is a little far-fetched, but a slight mistake could mean that my patient gets 200 mg of tramadol instead of the prescribed 20 mg of trazodone.  So, my perfectionism was appreciated in the hospitals. 

Now it is a different story.  I have been called to a place that I know nothing about.  I am not a trained teacher.  I have never been to seminary.  And I don’t speak Luganda.  That is a whole lot of NEW all at one time.  Needless to say, there have been a lot of mistakes made.

Currently, my biggest frustration is the language.  As if learning one language isn’t difficult enough, I am learning two new languages at the same time: Luganda and Ugandan Sign Language. The sign language has not caused me much of a headache.  I am pretty sure my brain was wired for it.  Plus, I have studied ASL—its grammar, syntax, morphemes, lexicalizations…all that linguistic stuff.  Granted, ASL and USL are very different from each other, sign language seems to come pretty natural for me. 

Spoken language, on the other hand, does not.  For the past six months, a friend from church has been helping me learn some vocabulary.  He has been amazingly patient and we have had a lot of fun.  Recently, I have begun hearing comments from people at church that I should be able to ‘understand everything in Luganda now’ and that I should ‘only speak in Luganda.’  My initial thought to all of these comments is, “Umm…excuse me. Did you become fluent in English in only six months? No? Okay, didn’t think so.”  (Most times I exercise self-control and just keep that comment to myself…most times.)

But in order to become fluent in Luganda, I have to practice speaking it, right?  Well, every time I attempt to practice, people laugh.  Whether I pronounce words correctly or incorrectly I am followed by a cloud of laughter.  And this is where the whole ‘perfectionist’ dilemma comes in.  I don’t like being laughed at.  Especially when I am trying my best to adapt to their language, their culture, their everything.  I now find myself avoiding Luganda conversations.  When people rattle off a ton of Luganda to me, knowing that I don’t understand but simply wanting to laugh at my reaction, I casually say, “Simanyi” and do my best to duck out of the area.  I am essentially allowing the Luganda escalator to drag me down.  Now I know some of these people probably have good intentions of forcing me to learn, but little do they know, it is not encouraging. 

For the past week or two, I have been harboring a bad attitude about learning Luganda. 
Today, God convicted me of my attitude. He reminded me that He hasn’t called me here for my own enjoyment.  He has called me here to serve Him. 
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Sometimes that means my day will be filled with giggling babies, laugh-til-your-tummy-hurts conversations with friends, smile-til-your-face-hurts experiences, a focused agenda, and a confident assurance that I am walking hand-in-hand with Jesus.  Other times, it means that I will be extremely insecure and distracted, pondering serious self-doubts, and consumed by emotions and unanswered questions. Whether my eyes are filled with tears of laughter or tears of frustration, one thing remains the same—God’s faithful promise to never leave me or forsake me. (Deut. 31:6)

Therefore I do not lose heart. Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day.  For my light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So I fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
That right there is quite a reality check, but I have also been reminded of this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23 
Though my instinct is to satisfy the desires of others, I must keep focused on the mission that God has entrusted to me, and to you.  He has called all of us to worship Him and Him alone, making no room for idols in our lives.  I have identified and recognized my weaknesses.  Now I must guard my heart from the intrusion of idols and the relentless distractions from the world.  To do this, requires daily surrender and an intentional decision to seek God’s face.  Every thought needs to be taken captive and every decision needs to be scrutinized to be sure that I am walking in the will of God.

It is often said that “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
I will be the first in line to tell you that that is a lie—He WILL and DOES give you more than you can handle.  There are a lot of things in life that I am not so sure about, but that is not one of them.  Recently, I asked God to draw me in and teach me a deeper level of dependency on Him.  Well, folks, that is exactly what He is doing.  And it is uncomfortable and awkward and painful.  There are days when I just want to curl up in bed with my snuggly, purple snowflake, fleece blanket and cry.  (Today is one of those days, but there is no time for crying now.) But through it all, good or bad, I know that Jesus is standing alongside me, hand-in-hand, showing me the next step to take.

I am currently running up the ‘Learn Luganda Escalator.”  My mind is exhausted and it is tempting to just give up.  Fortunately, I am not scaling this travelling staircase alone.  God is with me and I cannot wait until I am able to experience the magnificent view from the top.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Washed in the Water...

Most days, the roads here in Busega are composed of nothing more than a fine, powdery, orange dirt.
Most days, taxis and bodas carrying passengers and cargo, whisk to and fro down the village street.
Most days, the warm, sunny, Busega air is greeted by a light, tranquil, afternoon breeze. 
Needless to say, most days everyone (and everything) is glazed with a delicate, orange, Ugandan glow.

But not today.

Today, the residents of this busy little village have gladly welcomed an afternoon thunderstorm.  The merciless, rust-colored soil has been tamed.  Boda drivers sit idle and wait for the skies to clear.  And the air is cleansed by a refreshing, brisk wind.  As I sit here in my room, I can hear the large raindrops pound the metal roof.  The thunder crashes loudly and it continues to roll for miles, gradually fading in the distance. Looking out my window, there is a river of rainwater streaming across the pavement, creating little rapids as it flows swiftly into the tiny channel nearby.  Meanwhile, the sun-scorched flowers soak in the rain and begin to come alive again.

I imagine thunderstorms like this are just another way of God displaying His majesty through His creation.  It is an opportunity to pause and contemplate His goodness and recognize our unending need for His hand in our lives. 

The village of Busega is constantly being polluted by the consuming dust that infiltrates every inch of the air.  Similarly, our lives are also being contaminated—by our sinfulness; by the scars and baggage that we are carrying from our past; by lies being told to us from the enemy; by impurities of social media…the list can go on. Each day, the filth continues to mount and if it is left untreated, our view of life can become distorted.  We will no longer be looking at life through the pure, spotless, lens of Christ.  Instead, there will be layers of dirt preventing us from seeing clearly.
We are sinful people, living in a sinful world.  We desperately need to be cleansed of our transgressions.

In Hebrews 9:22, we are told that everything needs to be cleansed; but forgiveness (i.e. cleansing) is only possible with the shedding of blood.  Thankfully, Jesus has paid that price for us. He bled and died on the cross, sacrificing his own life in order that our lives can be made righteous. 
Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells us that He offers ‘living water’ through his Word, which washes and sustains us.

Today, I was a flower being scorched by life’s elements. 
But as the listless flowers outside my window found new life in the rain, my soul, too, was brought back to life by His living water.
As the raindrops fell to the thirsty ground, His promises fell on my yearning heart.
And as the water flowed to wash away the unwelcomed dust particles, His blood rained over me and cleansed me once again.  

I am thankful that God uses days like this to teach me more about His character.  He has purified my heart and given me a new perspective today. Though the storm rages around us, His presence is never failing.  My prayer today is that each of us would recognize His sovereignty in our daily lives. Surrender to Him and allow Him to wash us in His redeeming blood and unfailing love.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Considering the Costs...

Have you ever taken the time to look back at your life, only to be completely caught off guard at how it has turned out?

I have.  
I remember a day a few years back when I was still living in Raleigh.  It was a peaceful, spring-time, Saturday afternoon.   The morning had been busied with the typical Saturday routine—cooking, cleaning, laundry, and all that ‘fun’ stuff.  As I moved to the couch to begin paying my bills, just as I had done nearly every Saturday before that for the past (almost) ten years, it hit me like a Mack truck. Suddenly, I realized that I was a real adult. I had adult responsibilities, like a house, a car, student loans, and a real job.  For years, I had known that I had achieved ‘adult’ status, but for the first time, I began to understand the implications of carrying such a title.
Recently, I began thinking about that day and the life lessons that it offered.  The decisions I had made in the years prior, had all lead me to that point. When I decided to pursue a career in sign language interpreting, I had no idea that it would lead me all the way to North Carolina and eventually to Africa.   I hadn’t considered that upon walking the university stage, I was also walking into new expectations and responsibilities. As a teenager, I didn’t realize that my weekend job would be preparing me for what was to come. 
 
As a child I looked up to some of the older girls in the neighborhood and dreamed of being ‘big’ like they were.  Well, there I was—sitting on my couch, in my own house, doing ‘big girl’ things.
 
I can’t help but think that all of that bears a strong resemblance to our walk with Christ.  When given the opportunity to accept Christ, we say ‘yes’ without understanding the implications of our decision.  Many of you will probably agree that Christianity has often been glamorized.  People who find themselves at a dead-end, searching for healing, looking for answers, and longing to feel complete, are told that all they need to do is accept Jesus and everything will be fine.  Now, while I believe those Christians have good intentions in leading their friend to Christ, fact is, such a statement is only partially true. Yes, Jesus IS the answer; however there is another truth that is often overlooked.  Or maybe it is simply omitted.
Deciding to follow Jesus does not guarantee a smooth ride through life.  It is not our ticket to the HOV lane that will whisk us to heaven.  Accepting Jesus does not provide us with a genie-in-a-bottle cure for life’s troubles and nowhere in the ‘I’m a Christian’ handbook, does it mention a promise of riches or a glamorous lifestyle.
On the contrary, signing up to follow Jesus means we are enlisting ourselves for duty to go to war.
How many of you, if you were told that, would have happily signed on the dotted line?  Not many, I am sure.  When stated that way, people would have every reason to run the other way.  The thought of going to war is a scary notion for anyone. However, 2 Corinthians 10:3 says that we are at war, but “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” Luke 14 gives us an example of a soldier going to war and the importance of weighing the risks of battle. It goes on to tell us that before making any decisions we, too, must first count the costs.  Someone can easily paint a slanted picture of what life is like as part of God’s army, but before you rush to put on His uniform, let’s see what we are really signing up for:
1.       You might lose your friends and family.

While it is true that accepting Jesus adopts us into His family of believers, choosing to follow Jesus can sometimes lead you down a lonely road.  Jesus called James and John in Mark 1:19-20.  They left their father and their boat behind and obeyed.  Those that wished to first return home to complete tasks were not fit to be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 9:62)  Similarly, you may be called to a position that requires you to leave behind your family and friends.  Even if God doesn’t call you to Africa, your obedience will look crazy to the people around you. Current relationships will change. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues may be ‘happy’ for your decision, but more often than not, they will begin to distance themselves from you.  Your faith and ‘radical’ obedience will be too much for many of them to even begin to understand. Even those that stick around may find it difficult to relate to you, and vice versa.  As a result, your inner circle will shrink and finding someone who ‘gets’ you will be difficult.

2.       Your current lifestyle may drastically change.
 
There is a theology floating around that promises health and wealth in exchange for ‘accepting’ Jesus.  While God has the ability to bless His children that way, scripture shows a higher probability of the opposite happening.   And I think it is important to note that accepting Jesus is an all-or-nothing decision.  If you truly give your life to Jesus, you are deciding to accept the good and the bad that comes with it.  Consider this: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  Jesus doesn’t want half-hearted followers. He wants us to be all-in; and when we are, He has the power to completely transform your life into the life He has planned for you.  This may sound a little intimidating and I know what some of you are thinking, “but I have worked hard to get the life I have.”  (I will politely disagree and say that ALL you have has been given to you from God.) When we accept Jesus we are given a new identity—an identity that is no longer rooted in the world, but found securely in Christ Jesus.  We are told to “…put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24) Those that wish to hold on to their old identity are essentially denying God’s power in their life. 
 
Again, you may not be asked to give up all of your luxuries and toys, but as God continues to transform your heart, such material possessions will begin to fall on your list of priorities.  So, consider this a warning—if you decide to follow Jesus, it is possible that the new, fancy, smart phone that you have been eyeing,  may some day cease to be on your ‘I need this’ list.
 
3.       You will face trials and persecution.
This may be the hardest reality for us to swallow.  No one looks forward to suffering, but Jesus warns us many times in scripture that when we choose to follow him, we should expect to face adversity.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12)  And why should we expect anything different?  Jesus, who was sinless and perfect in every way, was judged, rejected, falsely accused, and eventually killed.  As imperfect sinners in a fallen world, we should not expect that others will treat us with kindness and respect for our faith. (see John 15:19-21)
 
Remember, as a follower of Christ, you are walking through a warzone.  So beware—the ground is rugged and the path is scattered with hidden, dangerous snares.  You will experience pain; physical, emotional, and spiritual. People will through insults at you.  Your character will be attacked and your loved-ones will also be burdened.   

So far, it seems, I have painted a pretty gloomy picture of Christianity.  Though this ‘cost analysis’ is not a favored topic, it is important to know before making such a large commitment.  But before you close the book on Jesus, remember that for wise decision-making, it is necessary to evaluate both sides.  Please consider this: 

“We will have persecutions, trials and sufferings in this life. But the blessings outweigh the difficulties by a hundred-to-one margin!”  1 Peter 1:7              

“Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Matt 19:29
Following Jesus is not an easy road, but He promises that our trials and temporary struggles will be worth it when we are, one day, face-to-face with Him.  We can expect to experience bumps along the way, but even on our toughest days, He promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)  Throughout the Bible we are given a clear picture of God’s character and a confident assurance of His presence and protection.  Yes, there will be struggles, but choosing to follow Jesus will be the best decision you could make.  Only Jesus can offer us eternal life with Him in heaven.  Nothing in the world can give you His standard of purpose with total peace and an unshakable hope.  God is unconditional love.  He is your strength when you are weak; your comfort when you are lonely; your shelter when the storms rage around you. God is your healer, your provider, your protector, your friend. He knew you before He even created you, and He has a plan and purpose for your life. 
The following is not an all-inclusive list, but just an example of who God is and what He has to offer:

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7  
 “When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12  
 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11  
 “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the unsurpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  Phil 3  
I want to encourage you, if you haven’t already, please consider a life of surrender following Jesus.  I can’t promise you a smooth ride, but I can promise that He will be with you, in the valleys and on the mountaintops. 
Don’t be deceived by the smoke and mirrors that glamorize the Christian lifestyle. Jesus’s disciples did not follow him for all the benefits nor were they seeking to accomplish their own goals. They didn’t bail when things got tough. They followed Him because they genuinely believed that He was the Messiah.  I pray the same is true for you.  He will be all that you need, but more than that, unlike the things of this world, Jesus longs to have a relationship for you. 
He gave His life for you.  Will you give yours to Him?