Monday, September 12, 2011

Surprised by Grace

“It [the book of Jonah] reveals the fact that while you and I are great sinners, God is a great Savior, and that while our sin reaches far, his grace reaches farther. The story shows that God is in the business of relentlessly pursuing rebels like us and that he comes after us not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery so we might become truly free.”
-From "Surprised by Grace" by Tullian Tchividjian

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Evidences of goodness

Last night, I had an emotional melt down. And when it rains it pours. During my meltdown, I could only see despair. No hope. No light.

Just darkness.

I know the Bible says that God works everything together for good for those who love him...but I don't see the good!

I feel like every time I start getting back up, he just pushes me down again.

WHEN will the trials end?

Why can't I just catch a break? Don't I deserve one after what I've been through?

Not my best moments.

When my dear sweet man of God husband tried to point me towards Christ, I lashed out, calling him "uncompassionate." When he told me to search my heart for the root of these thoughts, I turned it right back to him. When he suggested that I think on the gospel, I had a hard time even recalling its goodness. And when he asked me to think on God's goodness, I drew a blank.

I was blind.

It's amazing how God can use a good night's rest to help lead me out of the darkness and back into the light.

For I know that my God is good.

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." 
-Psalm 86:5

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly."
-Psalm 84:11

I have seen his goodness again and again...

In my precious husband, who displays the love of Christ even when I reject his wisdom and love.

In my material provisions. In comparison to the rest of the world, I am materially rich. We have a beautiful home. We never go hungry. If I don't have clothes to wear, it's because I haven't done laundry using our electric washer and dryer. I received a top-notch education. We have two incomes. We have health insurance. We have no lack of gain.

In my health. I am physically healthy, and I've never experienced any sort of major health concern. God has protected me and my family from illness and untimely death.

In my Christian upbringing. So often, I take for granted how much I have learned about God because I grew up in a Christian home.

In my church family. I have had three church families, two of which I still consider part of my "extended" family. Our church is gospel-centered, and the joy in the gospel is evident and contagious in its members. We are now part of a care group with other believers who have one thing in common: we were dead in our trespasses, but now alive in Christ.

In my biological family. It's hard to see goodness right now in this area, but I know that God has shown amazing goodness to me in my biological family. My mother set a wonderful example for me growing up. She loved us sacrificially. She nurtured us and challenged us to be our best for God. She served our family and the body well, even when many times she received no appreciation. My father exemplified selflessness by working every day to provide us not only with food and shelter, but with opportunities to expand our gifts and talents. He demonstrated resourcefulness and compassion in his ministries to the poor and neglected. He taught me a great deal about honoring my parents through his example with Grandma T. He prayed unceasingly. I have four beautiful sisters who each hold a special place in my heart and have taught me important lessons through their character. Jackie's generosity. Leslie's tender heart. Paige's determination and drive. Madison's compassion. All four have blessed me beyond measure.

In my friendships. I may not have many friends, but the friends I do have are fiercely loyal.

And most importantly, in my spiritual inheritance...

"Blessed be my God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose me in him before the foundation of the world, that I should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined me for adoption as a daughter through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed me in the Beloved. In him I have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon me, in all wisdom and insight making known to me the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him I have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will... In him I also, when I heard the word of truth, the gospel of my salvation, and believed in him, was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of my inheritance until I acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

-Ephesians 1:3-14

Evidences of his goodness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Little Phoebe Bartlett

Today I'm linking up with Women Living Well Wednesdays. Make sure to check out some of the other encouraging blogs.


I became a Christian at age three.

You read that right...age three

For years, I had been somewhat hesitant to announce that to the world. After all, how could a three-year old have any real understanding of salvation?

But a few months ago, as I sat before two of our pastors at our church membership interview, timidly telling them of my three-year old conversion story, I realized that my hesitancy was unwarranted and actually somewhat sinful.

"I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home," I told them. "And I became a Christian at a very young age...I mean a very young age...three years old." I sheepishly looked up, half expecting to see them glance at each other skeptically, but instead, seeing them both look back at me, nodding intently. "Sometimes I feel silly even saying it because I know people are probably thinking to themselves, 'Oh, she couldn't have understood at that age.' But to be honest, there was never a point after that when I questioned my initial conversion. Sure, I came to understand the depths of God's grace and mercy more and more as I grew older, but I really truly believe that at some basic level, I understood at three years old that Christ had saved me."

I went on to tell them about how my Sunday School teacher, Mr. Meissner, had done a felt board presentation of the gospel, and that after the story, when all the other children had gone back to their tables, he called my name, "Chelsea, can you come back here sweetie?' he asked. I remember looking back at him, crouched down to my level with his eyes smiling at me. I saw something in his eyes that I loved (now I know that it was the sweet love of Jesus), and I wanted it. He sat with me for a moment, reiterating the gospel story. In three-year old terms, he explained that God is perfect and holy and that because God is perfect and holy, he demands perfection and holiness. But because of my sin, I could never attain perfection or holiness on my own. In fact, not only could I not attain it, but instead of being WITH God, I was (justly) condemned to eternity apart from God. But, he told me, God had sent his only son, Jesus Christ to die in my place. Jesus, who never sinned, paid the penalty for MY sin so that I might be free from the chains of sin and death. And not only that, but he CONQUERED death by rising again on the third day, and he clothed me in HIS own righteousness so that when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sin, but instead sees the Christ. All I had to do was believe in him as my savior.

"And at three years old, I wanted to know this man named Jesus," I told them. "I wanted the love of Jesus, I wanted to believe, and I went home that evening and prayed with my mom to accept Christ as my savior. And to be honest, since then, while I've had my ups and downs, I have not once questioned the validity of my belief at such a young age."

As I finished telling them about my conversion, our senior pastor looked at me, with the same smiling eyes as dear old Mr. Meissner, overflowing with Jesus' love, and he asked, "Chelsea, have you heard the story of Phoebe Bartlett?"

I had not, so he went on to tell me about little Phoebe Bartlett, who had accepted Christ at the ripe old age of four under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Her conversion made such an impression on Edwards that he wrote about her in his "Narrative of Surprising Conversions." That night, I went home and read the story of Phoebe Bartlett, and I felt immediately as though little Phoebe and I were kindred spirits. I realized then that I didn't need to be shy about my conversion any more. Instead, I should proclaim it boldly and gratefully. It is truly a story of God's grace, not just in saving me, but in saving me at such a young age, before I even had a chance to really know the world without him.

What goodness.

What grace.

How sweet to know that my conversion is one of my very first memories of this life!

During the weeks following our meeting, I began to think more upon my early childhood conversion, so grateful for my salvation but also yearning for a better understanding of exactly what I had been saved from at three years old. On the night before Good Friday, I had a vivid dream where I saw my three year old self skipping across an old draw bridge. The next day, I wrote a poem, retelling what I had seen in this dream. Even now, I am brought to tears as I read the line, "His lost little girl was now found."

The Man at the Foot Bridge

I skipped along the wayward path,
curls bouncing in the breeze.
I smiled, not knowing where I went
amidst the forest trees.

I came upon a wooden bridge,
swaying to and fro.
Skipping, skipping, all the way,
whilst the winds did blow.

But as I skipped, I heard a voice
calling out my name.
I quickly turned and saw the man
from which the calling came.

With open arms, he called again,
"Come back, my child!" he said.
"This pathway is not safe for you.
Follow me, instead."

There was something about him I couldn't resist.
Strange, yet familiar was he.
Barefoot, I pattered across that old bridge,
For with him, I wanted to be.

I tugged on his robe, and he lifted me up,
Swinging me, 'round and around.
Laughing, rejoicing with tears in his eyes,
His lost little girl was now found.

And just as we turned away from the bridge,
Lo! The ground started to shake.
Holding me tight, we looked back at that bridge
as it crumbled and started to break.

My head on his chest, I started to weep,
as the rotten bridge gave way.
I knew not where I went, nor the path I was on,
without knowing, I'd fallen astray.

But the man who was holding me tight to his chest,
wiped my tears from my cheek as he said,
"You're safe, little one. You have no more to fear.
Come awake, child! You're no longer dead."

"For I knew you before you took your first steps,
and I knew on which path you were bound.
But in love, I came down and saved you from grief
so my mercy and grace would abound."

We turned and he showed me a narrower path
and told me to "Run well the race."
At nightfall, he told me he had to go home,
but he was leaving a friend in his place.

Now all grown up, I remember that man,
and I thank him again and again
For saving that blonde little curly head girl,
from eternal torment and pain.

Today, as I walk down the narrow path,
with the friend that he left at my side,
I thank him for saving that little blonde girl,
so that one day, with Him, I'll abide.

Lord, thank you for saving that little blonde girl, so that one day, with you, I'll abide.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I'll be praying for you..

Growing up in the church, I have heard and spoken the words "I'll be praying for you" countless times.
And admittedly, when I've muttered those words, I've often forgotten to follow through.
So a few years ago when Miss Lisa (now one of my "spiritual mothers") reached out her hands and first spoke those beautiful words...
"Can I pray for you?"
I remember being completely caught off guard.
She's going to pray for me...right here? Right now?
"That'd be great," I said. My mind still reeling from the idea of someone taking the time to pray WITH me instead of promising to pray FOR me at a later date.
Over the past few years, that scene...Miss Lisa reaching out her hands as she asks if she can pray for me...has become a familiar scene in our friendship. And I am so thankful for the lesson she has taught me. Having benefitted from this practice of prayer, I find myself trying to implement it in my own life more and more.
It's not the easiest spiritual discipline...especially for an introvert like me. Praying on the spot with someone else can be daunting, but I am thankful that God has given us "a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Tim 1:7) While the other person may feel my hands trembling as I pray the first few words, inevitably, the Holy Spirit takes over, prompting me with the right words to pray.

Practicing this spiritual discipline has made me more aware of just how interconnected my bible reading and prayer truly are. When I am at a loss for words, it is often times because I haven't been in the Word recently, and I am relying on my own strength and wisdom, not God's. But when I am in the Word, I find myself praying the words of scripture I have read throughout my week.
So if I'm reading Psalm 18...
"I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies."
I might pray the following prayer for a struggling friend:
"Lord, I pray that you would be _____'s strength during this difficult time. May you be her rock and her fortress as her world is shifting. May she take refuge in you when fear and doubt come her way, for you are her shield and salvation. God, you are strong when we are weak. In our inadequacies, let us see how adequate and satisfying you truly are. I pray that ____ will call out to you when she feels overwhelmed, and that when she does, you will comfort her and be the strength that she needs..her stronghold. Lord, you are worthy of all our praise and admiration. Praise be to you! Amen."
If I am at a loss for words, though, I've learned that it's okay to pause (a humbling lesson for me to learn), and that it's okay to just be in the presence of the Lord with a fellow believer. From my own experience, on the receiving end of things, I can tell you that when you're hurting, it's not so much about the words that are being prayed, but that they're being prayed for you in the first place (please don't take that to mean that words aren't important...they are, but I implore you not to let a momentary loss for words preclude you from praying for someone in need of prayer).
All that to say that while the words "I'll be praying for you" are sometimes the most appropriate words to speak to another believer, I am a strong believer that the words "Can I pray for you?" can be a huge blessing and encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This practice of prayer has blessed me so much throughout the past few years, and I pray that as I continue to practice it in my own life, others will be blessed by those words just as much, if not more, than I have been blessed through them being spoken to me.
"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit." James 5:13-18

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Owning my sin

Dan and I were driving home from JCPenney on Saturday when he hit me with, "Ya' know...I've noticed that we've been fighting a lot more since your sister left." (We were blessed to have my little sister, Paige, stay with us for the summer).

I thought for a moment and responded in a bit of confusion, "Really? I can't remember us fighting. I mean, I've been kinda crabby, but--"

"'re right," he said. "It has been mostly you, but I didn't want to make you feel like I was attacking you. You haven't exactly been 'slow to anger' this week."

"Slow to anger" referencing the verse that I had been memorizing all week, "The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Irritated, I gave him the silent treatment until we returned home. We went out to dinner with friends and all was forgotten.

Until Sunday morning came along.

As we sang "Depth of Mercy," our worship pastor asked us to take a moment to read and pray the words to verse two before we sang it:

Give me grace Lord let me own
All the wrongs that I have done
Let me now my sins deplore
Look to You and sin no more
There for me the Savior stands
Holding forth His wounded hands
Scars which ever cry for me
Once condemned but now set free

"Give me grace, Lord. Let me own all the wrongs that I have done."

Boom. Convicted.

I poured over those words again and again, realizing all the sin that I had not been owning that week. The fact of the matter was that I had been very quick to anger, and I had been making excuses for myself. Instead of owning my sin, I had been denying it.

As I read those words, I slipped into condemnation. Muttering words against myself as the music played...





And as I muttered these words, we began to sing the second half of verse two...

There for me the Savior stands
Holding forth His wounded hands
Scars which ever cry for me
Once condemned but now set free

As I sang those last words, the Holy Spirit reminded me that "There is therefore now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." - Romans 8:1

No more's a fine balance, isn't it?

Owning our sin can be difficult enough. But then once we've owned it, we must always remember that Christ paid the debt for it. It's done. Over with. Ha finito.

"There is therefore now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

What a Savior.