Friday, May 20, 2016

4 Truths to Conquer the 4 D's

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.   2 Corinthians 4: 1, 7-9

It's been a year. A year since the writer's conference last May.

It doesn't seem like that long; well, sometimes it feels longer.

I've spent several years working on a manuscript and, finally, I felt ready to present it to a few agents and publishers. Excited, I met with 3 agents and 1 publisher. The reaction was not what I'd hoped for.

"It's great! It's innovative! It's imaginative!" they said. I was thrilled.

"It's too innovative. It's too imaginative. We're not sure we can sell it. It's a big risk." I crashed.

A roller coaster built on someone else's expectations and opinions. 

I dragged myself home.

  • Discouraged 
  • Depressed 
  • Defeated
  • Doubtful

I promptly threw myself a not-so-little pity party with boxes of tissues and sad movies. It went on for months.

When it was finally over, doubts remained:

  • Did God really call me to do this? To be a writer, a parent, a nurse or doctor, a lawyer or a janitor? Why?!
  • There's no way I can do this, I'm inept and totally incapable. My writing's gibberish, my parenting skills are nil, my compassion disappears with my first cup of coffee. I don't care anymore. 
  • It's too hard, I can't keep going. Every sentence is torture, I want to give up on my marriage and my kids, no one's life is better because I'm here, I'm sick of cleaning up other people's messes. I want to quit.  
  • If God really wanted me to do this, why is it so difficult?  

One morning not so long ago, I read 2 Corinthians 4. In His grace, God whispered to me as I read: Here are 4 truths to conquer the 4 Ds.

1. "Through God’s mercy we have this ministry." 
Why did He call me to do this? It's an expression of His mercy! Mercy shown to me; without it, I wouldn't be His child and I'd be useless to Him. Mercy shown to others around me. He uses me, in some small way, to show His love to those who need it.

When He calls us to serve Him, it's an expression of His mercy - mercy the world starves for. 

2. "Treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

Of course, I'm unqualified and a failure. I'm a jar. A blob of clay, shaped into a container, and fired until hard as a rock. Jars can't do anything on their own. They can't fill themselves and walk around offering their services to people who need them. I'm a shaped lump of clay. The power is in the Potter's hands.

Any treasure in us - talents, abilities, gifts - are poured into us by God. Any power we have comes from God and God alone.

3. "We are hard pressed on every side... perplexed...persecuted...struck down..."  
Excuse me, but I'd prefer to skip this part of being used. I want to be in my beautiful house and bless others while I sit on my comfy couch. That's how I would do it in my own power.
God does it in His all-surpassing power. If the work is easy, I glory in my power. If the work is hard, I become an instrument of His power.

My power brings failure; His power brings glory to His Name.  

4. "We are not crushed...not in despair...not abandoned...not destroyed."  
Who says we're not? When I got home from the conference, I felt all of those. I had to choose to change my perspective.

  • When I listened, God spoke to me through His Word. 
  • When I shared my struggles with my dear friends, they encouraged me. 
  • When I prayed as I sat at my keyboard, words came. Lots of them were still deleted but, more and more, they expressed the treasure He poured into me. 

When we submit our weaknesses to His power and trust Him to work through us, impossible became possible. 

Here it is, May again. The writers conference begins in a few days. What is my choice? Do I cower at home or step forward in God's power?

I choose God's power!

When have you struggled with God's call? How did He lift you up?

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Goin' Church Shopping'?

Last week I wrote about my salvation experience and how long I was haunted by fear and doubt. If you missed it, you'll find it here: Haunted

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

Goin' church shopping - we all dread it. When we move, it's easy to say, "I'll start visiting churches next Sunday." When my husband and I moved a few years ago, it took us a long time to find one we were both comfortable with.

As a baby Christian, I longed for a church where I could rejoice in this new love I'd found.  As I look back, I see the critical steps God used to guide me and I hope these will help you if you're looking for a church home.

1. Know what you believe.  I believed God loved me and, because Jesus died on the cross, I was forgiven and accepted by Him. I craved to know Him more deeply. I had a small King James Bible with Jesus' words in red. Surely, I thought, Jesus' precious words were the best way to the Truth.

I skipped from red words to red words, painstakingly making a list of what I believed He taught.

I remember Mom occasionally saying, "Paul said..." At that point, I didn't know for sure who Paul was and I wasn't interested in what he said! Cocky, huh?

For me, truth was found in Jesus' words and in His only. 

As we look for a church home, we should search God's Word and allow Him to speak to us. That was especially important for me because I had no foundation. Even if we happen to belong to a certain denomination, we need to reaffirm what we believe. Above all, base what you believe on God's Word. He alone is the source of Truth.

2. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Where to start? I had no idea so I went with my friends' families. Every Sunday I asked God to show me if that was where I belonged. Of course, I hoped my best friend's church would be the perfect one, but it didn't turn out that way.

Sometimes I was confused and uncomfortable with the ritual. Other times I heard teachings that didn't match my list. This was simplistic and even dangerous; I could've ended up anywhere - even with someone as horrible as James Jones or David Koresh. But, as I look back, I see how God guided me and protected me every step.

Some of us don't identify with a particular denomination. We can trust God for discernment to find teaching that's consistent with our beliefs. Others might be part of a certain one, but be wary because the name on the church sign doesn't always mean the doctrine's true. Listen to God; depend on Him and His Word to guide you.

3. Trust God to meet your family's needs. I needed a church with a strong youth group that would love me and challenge me to grow. Most of the ones I visited met that criteria but many of them weren't consistent with what I believed. It was hard to move on when the youth group was fun but I was uncomfortable with the teaching.

Every family's different. We usually choose churches to visit based on our needs: an active youth group, a nursery that will teach our little ones about Jesus, an inviting, supportive senior-citizen's class. It's easy to focus on those things and forget to seek God's leading. It's tempting to jump into a church that ministers to our families but give second place to doctrine. 

God's taught me that nothing is more important than the Truth. Ministry can become hollow when the teaching's weak or even incorrect. Above all else, we need to grow in Jesus. 

God knows our needs and He'll guide us to a church that balances our ministry needs and our needs for His Truth. I praise Him because He led me to a church that loved me, involved me in activities that strengthened the gifts He gave me, and challenged me to grow in my knowledge of Him. 

Stand on His Truth, listen to His guidance, and trust Him to lead you to a church that will truly become home. Then rejoice in Him! 

When you've searched for a new church home, how has God guided you?

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Friday, May 6, 2016


Am I Saved?

That's a question that haunted me for years.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

I wasn't raised in a typical church. My parents were in the military and we spent many years overseas. Worship services were divided into two groups: Catholic and everyone else. We were "everyone else." Dad didn't think much of church so we didn't go very often anyway. 

My understanding of Jesus came through Christmas hymns and the songs we sang as kids. "Jesus Loves Me." "Jesus Loves the Little Children." I didn't understand why Good Friday was good. I knew Easter was a joyous time because Jesus was alive but I didn't grasp the significance. 

One night, when I was 16, Dad was out of town so Mom turned the TV to a Billy Graham crusade. I was fascinated by the simple message: Jesus loved me so much that He died for me so I could be forgiven. He rose from the dead so I could live with Him forever. Billy Graham's words penetrated my heart in a way I'd never experienced before. 

In the middle of the night, I woke up filled with a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. I remember crying because I thought there was no way God could love me. 

I whispered, "Jesus, if You will accept me, I give myself to You." 

I can't describe the love, acceptance, peace, and joy I felt. I felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket. I still cry as I think about it. 

A hunger for God's Word and a yearning to be in church filled me. My search for a church home is a topic for next Friday's post. 

I settled into a church, a true babe in Christ, and I was lost and confused much of the time. I didn't understand a lot of the "Christian vocabulary."

And I was scared. 

Every time I heard the pastor or my teacher repeat the "sinner's prayer," I panicked.

Jesus, I know You died on the cross for me.
I am a sinner and I ask you to forgive me.
Come into my heart and give me the gift of eternal life. 

Um...I didn't say any of that, not exactly. 

  • I knew He died for me but I didn't voice it that night.
  • I knew how worthless and hopeless I was and I asked Him to accept me. Was that the same as asking for forgiveness?
  • I gave myself to Him,  all that I was. Was that the same as asking Him to come into my heart?
  • I knew He was alive but I didn't think about it at that moment. 

Was I saved? Saved from what? I didn't think about Hell. I wanted to be saved from myself, the worthless, hopeless person I was, and to become His - loved and cherished.

Then God led me to what is now my favorite verse, familiar as it is. Many of us can quote John 3:16 in our sleep. For me, in my fear, it was a new and precious truth.

God loved me - I felt that to the depths of my soul.
He gave His Son for me - I was and still am in awe of that
I believed in Him - with all my heart, my mind, and my strength.

Jesus said it, I believe it, and that's good enough! 

Uncertainty faded away. I no longer repeat the "sinner's prayer" again and again because I'm afraid it didn't stick.

Often we need the guidance of a prayer to form our thoughts but we don't come to Jesus through a formula. 

Jesus doesn't need to hear what we believe deep in our hearts; He sees it already. What He wants is our desire to be His and His alone. 

Dear one, if you have given yourself to Jesus and you feel His love in and around you, don't let anyone or anything destroy your confidence.

If you have said all the right words but there still is an ache, a hole in your heart, reach out to Jesus and ask Him to take you, just as you are, and to make you His. He will bathe you in His love and you will belong to Him forever. 

He loves us beyond all we can imagine!

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