Shine On

We landed on the runway at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City, Belize and I could feel the heat radiating off the tarmac as the plane made it’s way to the gate.  There was no jetway, rather a set of sturdy stairs was wheeled up to the door upon arrival.  As we stepped out onto the top step, the sun’s rays beat down on me reminding me in an instant that that’s what light does.  It shines, it heats, it radiates.  How fitting, because after all we were in Belize to shine our light for Jesus.

Our friend and sister Sylvia surprised us at the airport.  We planned to rent a car and drive to her hometown, about two and half hours away.  Once in the car we navigated towards one of the three major highways in the entire country.  Once on the Western highway, it was smooth sailing…except for the many unmarked speed bumps.  The scenery flashed by, mostly agricultural scenes with intermittent houses.  The highway passed through small towns consisting of just a few stores in a few short minutes.  The rest of the towns weren’t visible from the highway.  Having completely bypassed the capital, Belmopan, we never saw the beautiful capital building.  We saw so many horses and cattle and even a few goats.  We saw people with tiny roadside stands selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables and a few of the more enterprising ones had a grill set out to barbecue tiny chickens for any hungry passersby.

As we neared Sylvia’s hometown of Benque Viejo del Carmen, the highway ran alongside a river with shallow parts that revealed smooth rocks where women were washing their clothes.  We were to stay at the home of Oscar and Emma, both teachers at La Immaculada RC school in Arenal village.  A day later, we visited the school with the intention of giving out backpacks to the 180 children who attended the school.  When we arrived at the school, only 6 children were there.  I was a little worried since we had bought a backpack for every child in the school and we wanted them to have them.  Sylvia asked a little boy on a bike to go through the village and call all the children who were supposed to be there.  Word of mouth traveled fast because within minutes children were coming from everywhere.  As we unpacked the backpacks, children were materializing from the bushes and packing into the school room.  As they sat on the floor, one little girl wandered up to the front of the room and just stood there grinning.  She had bright, wide eyes and a gap where her front teeth hadn’t grown in yet.  She was eager to get her backpack.  In another post, I’ll tell you her story in detail, because of all the children, she’s the one who stuck in my spirit the most.  Once all the bags were given out, I looked around and wished we had brought something more than a few little bags to give these kids.  Their lives are poverty-stricken one.  Most had shoes to wear, but some did not.  Some hadn’t shown up to the school because their families needed them to work on their farm.  The road to their school and village was bumpy and hard to drive on with anything but a pick up truck so not many strangers came to the village.  The principal told me that while many other schools close to the area hosted missionaries or received donations from organizations, this school did not because of their location.  It was just physically difficult to get there.  Others who came before us had turned away from that road, from that village, and from those children to find some place easier to get to.

It would be easy for a non-believer to say: “God, why would you allow little children to suffer so? What kind of God are you?”  I was once one of those people.  Now it’s so easy for me to say: “God never wants to see His children suffer.  So He sent us to be His hands and feet.  He sends us with the charge to feed the orphans and comfort the broken.  He sends us to show others His grace and mercy.  He sends us to bring hope and love to those who have none.  He sends us to pour into others.  We are but vessels made and shaped for His glory.  We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth and we are here to shine His light in dark places.”  I’m confident in what I say because I know God made a way for us on a road less traveled by to bring us to a place that needed Him.  We would have never been on that road, in that place, at that time if it wasn’t for God’s call upon our lives.

Return to Me

“Return to Me,” says the Lord, “and I will return to you.” – Zechariah 1:3

I’m reading a book entitled “Return to Me” by Lynn Austin. It recounts the story of the prophet Zechariah returning to Jerusalem after the Persian king Cyrus releases the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity with express instructions to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah leaves Babylon as a boy and it is not until he reaches adulthood in Jerusalem that the Temple begins to be rebuilt in haste. The story tells of the setbacks the returning Jewish exiles face from the surrounding villages of Samaritans and the governing body of the Judean region. Yet despite the threats of violence and the influence of their pagan neighbors, God’s people are determined to rebuild God’s Temple so that God can once again live amongst His chosen people and so the people can try to reclaim the fellowship they had with God before sin banished them from Eden.

The present world we live in is full of sin. In fact sin has taken over every major influencing force in the United States. Movies, television, music, government…they’re making sin the norm, making sin LEGAL. We’re putting sin on a pedestal, elevating it above righteousness and holiness in the name of equality. True equality comes from loving each other fully without prejudice. We’ve let sexual immorality pervade our children, teaching them to believe promiscuity is expected of them. We Christians have compromised our beliefs in order to live at peace with others. We don’t want to seem bigoted and self-righteous so we go along with those crude jokes and petty jealousies in the workplace. We join in at happy hour and justify our actions saying this drink has less alcohol than Nyquil.

I’ve had enough of it! We weren’t meant to blend in. We weren’t meant to accommodate. We are a people set apart by God. We are meant to shine God’s light throughout the world. We aren’t meant to please other people. Is pleasing people more important than pleasing Almighty God who holds our life in His hands? God is not demanding that we return to Him out of fear or because of the promise of a blessing. God is asking us to turn back to Him for the love of Him. Full stop. He doesn’t want anything from us but our love. Our attitude needs to be one of mournful contrition. We have all failed God, many of us more than once. But of course, God’s love, mercy, and grace never fails. Return to Him, and He will return to you.

At What Cost?

Sunday morning, Pastor Curt preached on “How Much?”  Based on 2 Samuel 24:21-25, he asked the question “What did it cost you to follow Jesus?”  In the Scripture, David is looking to buy some property to build an altar for the Lord, but the owner wants to give him the land for free since David is the king.  To which David replies that he will certainly pay for the land since he plans to use it for offering sacrifices to the Lord and he won’t give unto the Lord without it costing him something.  In this particular case he was talking about finances, but what about you?  What has it cost you to follow the Lord?  What price have you paid to give your life to Jesus?  What do you continue to give up in order to walk in His footsteps?  What cross have you carried?  Yes, Jesus said He would make your yoke easy and your burden light.  But in order for Him to do that – you need to be carrying something…hello!

Maybe it cost you a longtime friend who couldn’t understand why you turned into a “Jesus freak.”  Maybe it was a job that didn’t agree with your beliefs (any former bartenders out there?).  Maybe you lost your home because your family wouldn’t accept your new faith (I know a couple of young people like that!).  Maybe you lost all three of those things, but along the way you also lost depression, anger, and anxiety!  What if all it cost you was letting go of the things that held you down anyway?  We tend to focus on all the “good” things we lost, but perhaps we need to highlight what we let go of when we decided to follow Jesus.

Oh What Grace!

I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s newest book A Case for Grace.  The book is a series of interviews detailing the stories of people who found grace in the most unlikely places and situations.  So far I haven’t read a single chapter without deeply reflecting on my own journey to grace.  I say journey because I feel I haven’t quite reached the point where I can accept the grace that Jesus Christ freely gives me.  I sing “Your grace is enough for me”, but do I really feel that way? Not really.  After all, I’m a sinner.  I’ve done terrible things in my past.  Sure, it’s all under the blood now – God has forgotten all about those things I did – it’s been blotted out.  Yet the Devil – that wicked liar – keeps reminding me of everything that I did.   I know the Devil is looking to get into my head and I know he has no power over me.  I’m an anointed child of God, called and chosen by Him!

But grace is elusive.  I feel like I can’t give it and I sure as rain can’t accept it.  Knowing that God’s grace is abounding and infinite helps.  Knowing that my personal grace should be a reflection of His helps.  God has been generous to me.  He accepted me as I was, still accepts me as I am – flawed and all.

Today I read something by Charles Spurgeon:

When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this.

I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths [the doctrine of election] in my own soul — when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man — that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, that clue to the truth of God.

One week–night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it.

The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?

Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

All that to say this – God’s grace is what lead me to Him in the first place!!! Without knowing it, I have already accepted His grace.  Now isn’t it just like God to reveal something to you when you least expect it???

No Orphans

I grew up with the knowledge that I was a little different than everyone else in my family.  I was treated extra special.  My grandparents lavished gifts and treats on me that my cousins didn’t get.  I got to lick the cake batter off the cake spoon rather than having to scrape the bowl.  I got a larger share of the sugary, icy snow cones we enjoyed occasionally.  Whenever relatives visited, they stared at me sadly and said I looked just like my mother.  I didn’t really pay attention.  At that point in my life, my grandmother made up my world.  I spent all my time with her.  I don’t remember at what point I found out that my mother had died when I was a year and half old.  I don’t remember finding out that my father had abandoned me with my grandmother.  One of my aunts eventually adopted me but essentially, I was an orphan.  That fact haunted me enough to lead me to a really dark place in my life.  I was self-destructive, spoiled, rude, and suicidal.  I starved for love of some sort.  My adopted mother didn’t dole out love the way I wanted her to and my grandmother was far away.  The need for love left me easily swayed by men.  I thought I needed to drink and party to fit in.  I did it all, but I hated every minute of it.  There was no joy in my life.  It sounds so cliché, but it’s so true.  I was an orphan and I felt alone and abandoned most of the time.

What I’m grateful for now is the fact that there are no orphans of God.  You see He doesn’t leave you or forsake you.  If He cares for the sparrow, how much more is His love for me…for us?  Humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, He made us just a little lower than the angels.  He LOVES us!!!  His love is encompassing, unfailing, and infinite.  Where I had no parent, when I desperately needed one, He showed up and most importantly, He STAYED!

Finders Keepers

I lost my wedding ring…on the beach…in a big pile of sand.  Two summers ago, my friends and I were on the beach playing volleyball and my wedding band flew off my finger and fell into the sand.  Two miracles happened that day.  The first was that I felt the ring slip off my finger; I say that’s a miracle because I was so into the game and probably wouldn’t have noticed it was missing until later.  I immediately screamed “STOP” and frantically explained what had happened to my friends.  Luckily, all my friends with me were from HopeNYC, we were spending a Sunday afternoon together.  The first thing we did was pray because HopeNYC is a praying church, we pray for EVERYTHING!  Need a healing? We’ll pray for you!  Need a financial breakthrough? We’ll pray for you!  Need to find a lost Jimmy Choo?  We’ll pray for you harder!!!

After we prayed, we started sifting through the sand.  Everyone got down on their hands and knees and helped.  Bystanders were offering suggestions once they learned what we were doing, “You should get a metal detector”, “Maybe it fell under the boardwalk.”  As the minutes ticked by I started getting even more anxious and frantic.  I wasn’t so concerned with the ring itself, but rather with how hurt my husband would be if I lost it.  I dissolved into tears because I was just heartbroken.  Finding a tiny ring in a pile of sand was impossible.  And then I heard a voice saying “Is this it?”  I looked up and someone was holding the ring up!  Then I burst into harder tears because indeed it was a miracle!  Only Jesus would help me find what was impossible to find!

All that to say this.  Jesus is not impossible to find.  He’s everywhere, all the time.  He wants you to find him.  The Bible says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8).  Ask Jesus to enter your life.  Seek him and you will find him.  Don’t miss your chance to discover who he is and the richness he brings to your life!

Trust in Him!

Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.   In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Last year I lost my job right before Thanksgiving.  I knew it was coming, the managers at that job had taken a strong disliking to me and it seemed like I never did anything right.  The day before I got fired, I was at the office until 8pm doing a project for one manager who had to leave for a charity event (actually it seemed every time there was an important project to do, it coincided with a charity event).  However, before she left, she sent out a meeting request for 9am the next day.  So not only did I know I was getting fired, I knew what time it was going to happen!  But that morning I woke up with a song in my heart, it said “Oh father give me grace to forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  You see, Holy Spirit was preparing me for what was coming.  If I hadn’t a clue about what was going occur that day, I knew I would have burst out crying when it happened (the first rule to survive a corporate career is never to let anyone see you cry!).

My husband didn’t go to work that day, he had taken the day off to do some work at the church in preparation for our leadership conference that night.  I didn’t tell him what was going to happen; I knew he would be upset and worried.  So I went to work all by myself with my stomach in knots.  The whole way to the office, I prayed in my heart “Lord, just please don’t let me cry.”  I thought about how I should react, should I be angry, should I laugh and pretend I didn’t care?  I really didn’t care about the job, I was miserable there but I knew we couldn’t afford to lose the finances.  I walked into the office and sat quietly at my desk, a great calm came over me.  Nine o’clock came and I followed the managers to the conference room.  As soon as I heard the words, “we have decided to terminate your employment,” I felt an awesome feeling of relief!!!  I actually smiled and probably made them feel a lot better about firing me.  I even hugged them as I walked out!  I cleaned my desk, took all my stuff and walked out of there feeling really happy!

But here’s how God works in our lives, earlier that very week, a friend of mine had called and asked if I was interested in interviewing for a position at her company!  I had told her I would think about it, but as I left my office the day I got fired, I called her and set up an interview for the very next Monday!  I didn’t end up getting that job but that was God’s way of telling me that everything would be ok.  I called my husband as I walked to the train station with my bags of belongings to ask him to pick me up when I got off the train.  When I told him, he said to me “but you don’t get fired,” and he was right, I’d never been fired from any job I’ve had!  At that point, it was the closest I came to crying, not because I was upset, but because my husband was upset.  I reminded him that God doesn’t allow things like this to happen without having a bigger and better plan in store!  By the time I got home and saw him, he wasn’t upset anymore.  He had already told our pastor what had happened so when he picked me up and brought me to the church I ran straight to her with the stupidest smile on my face and she had an even bigger smile for me!  We jumped up and down and hugged and celebrated like crazy people!  Why were we celebrating?  Because while many people praise God for all the good things that happen to them, not many praise God when the storms come upon them.  I’ve learned to give God praise in the good times and praise him even harder during the bad times.  I know that he has his hand upon me in every situation and he allows us to go through adversity to build our faith.

I spent six weeks unemployed, but during those weeks, I got the chance to volunteer full time at church all through the Thanksgiving and Christmas season which is one the busiest times of the year for us.  And the very first week in January, I went back to work!