Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Boldness with YOUR Story

Please watch...ALL OF IT! Well worth the 16 minutes it takes...

Gianna Jesson - On Her Almost Aborted Life!

Well, to be honest with you, this little blog today is completely and utterly a surprise.  I was not at all intending to write it, but for some reason, felt prompted to interrupt my plan to blog the follow up to Purposeful Suffering Part 1, Joyful Suffering - Part 2, with this, and might I add, in case you were wondering, I am definitely about to step up onto my soapbox right now...I will let you know when I step off!

Praise to GOD!  My Creator answers prayers for direction, vision casting, and purposeful activity through the most amazing vehicles. This time it was through a Youtube clip.  Upon watching it, I was completely unable to hold back the tears and emotion. I honestly don't see how anyone listening to the story of this young woman's life could remain emotionless. Her boldness is rarely seen and when it is, people sit up and take notice. This is what we want our heroes to look like. We want our heroes to be bold in standing up for what has been somehow termed "politically incorrect". What I saw in this clip was a particular type of boldness that comes from from the heart of person destined to be used for the glory of God, a vessel for proclaiming things others would never dare to, no matter how necessary! This is a boldness from a humble soul, a boldness from one unafraid of suffering or existing as a "living" martyr of sorts, and a boldness from one who has found purpose in this life.

To think, we are all born with purpose and sadly some of us don't even know what that purpose is. She has an amazing story, but we all have a story! The question is what are we going to do with OUR story to proclaim the love, mercy and grace of our Lord and Savior? Too many of us have sat silent merely playing "Christian". This woman - THIS WOMAN is proclaiming it from every corner of the earth she is allowed to enter. She has experienced "purposeful suffering" and because she has found purpose in the storm, in the suffering and in the circumstances God has allowed into her life, God has graciously taught her how to "joyfully" suffer. Too many of us quickly want out of our circumstances. It's human nature to want to escape suffering. But did you ever think that when God allows suffering, He just might be giving us an amazing platform upon which to proclaim Him and to do so with great boldness and an opportunity to identify with Christ? What can bring more glorious joy into our life than that? We may not personally receive invitations to speak in countries across the ocean, BUT, what we do have is a story of our own, very unique and purposefully designed. And, no matter what that story is, GOD CAN USE IT!  God can use ALL THINGS in our lives as we surrender them for His purposes. The catch - well, the catch is that we have to be willing to surrender them. I strongly believe that God doesn't waste our experiences, our pain, our circumstances, good or bad, EVER. In God's economy, nothing is for nothing! Viewing all of life from that perspective changes everything because there always is purpose, always meaning to what we experience. I am overwhelmed to think of what this world could look like if we all were using the gifts and talents we have, and even, the weaknesses and struggles we have and have experienced as a platform for proclaiming Him and lifting up the body of Christ which so often is secretly suffering? I just wonder.

Let's stop looking at OUR comfort, OUR conveniences, OUR schedules, OUR activities, and get out of OUR own way so we can see what He is doing and join Him in it with what He has given us and purposed for us. Contrary to the world's proclamation, IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT US. SELF needs to be put to a quick death! The faster we all do so, the sooner we can find our true purpose and meaning, the one He has always intended for us to find. We need to pick up that cross and, dog gone it...just FOLLOW!!!!!

And students, for God's sake and glory, if you think my generation has dropped the ball in proclaiming Him as boldly as this young woman has before foreign government officials, politicians, Orthodox priests, and dignitaries, then by all means, stop pointing the finger and let God deal with us. YOU  - PICK UP THE BALL and run with it!  God has you here for a specific purpose at this time, in this generation, in this specific place! Seek Him and listen. Find out how you can use what He has given you and blessed you with to live it out just as loudly! Wherever He has school, at work, among your friends, He will open doors and give you your own platform to proclaim Him if you are observant and willing! Gianna, put it perfectly. She said she wasn't put on this earth to make others or herself comfortable. She was put here to stir things up, be hated...and has been since birth. But, she has found it a glorious and worthy thing to suffer for the sake of Her God, Her Maker and Her Savior! Lovingly, she has boldly and graciously proclaimed the uncomfortable name of Jesus and has taken a stand against the politically incorrect. No, more accurately, just the plain incorrect. Now, how about you? How about me?


Okay, so I'm getting off my soapbox for the time being...:) Thanks Todd for sharing. I would have texted but Tim was playing Mr. Mom and hasn't got back to me with your number!!! Shame on him LOL :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Part I - Purposeful Suffering

Dedicated to Dad, today on the 6th anniversary of his longer suffering...

Struggles, particularly as a Christian, can often prove confusing. No one enjoys struggling, suffering, or pain. And yet, as believers, we are called to view them as times of sanctification, times of growth. James goes so far as to say we are to count it ALL joy. Really, James? Many people mistakenly assume that coming to know Christ as their personal Savior will solve all their problems, give them all the things they want and desire, and make their life “happy”. Unfortunately, once difficulties resume post-conversion, it isn’t long before the reality sets in that being a Christian is not what they perhaps had been led to believe or what they wrongly assumed it was.

Suffering closely identifies us with Christ. And though often unpleasant and undesired, suffering presents us with great opportunities to become more Christ-like, if our eyes remain open and focused. Frankly, we are all destined to experience hardship in this life. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).  

“The cup of suffering is one all of us must taste.  It is a part of life.  It's inescapable.  Our suffering may differ.  For some people it is physical pain; hard, unrelenting, pain.  For some people it is mental suffering.  What decision will I make?  Which road shall I take?  For others it is the suffering we call heartache; that deep pain that goes to the innermost part of our being.  The kind of suffering may differ, but every one of us must taste the cup of suffering.”

Okay, so we get it. We all suffer in life. But, do we get that we need not suffer alone? Do we REALLY get that? Sometimes I think many say they get it, but the reality is many don’t live as though they do and their joyless existence seems to support the contrary. I don’t profess to know the hearts of people. Yet, there are certain observations that make it fairly evident. People may profess their faith in Christ, but it is in the midst of affliction that true, deep-seated beliefs surface. Show me a person who has suffered in this life, and I’ll either show you a person who has strengthened their resolve and character, increased their faith, and persevered through pain with a steadfast grace or a person who has essentially responded to their circumstances with anxiety, fear, and anger, only to become embittered by a sense of hopelessness. We may not have a choice in what hand we’re dealt, but we do have a choice in how we perceive and subsequently respond to that hand!

If we were never allowed to experience suffering, would we really be able to recognize Him as our portion, experience His full provision, and truly identify with Him through any struggle? With Christ, all the troubles, losses, difficulties, suffering, pain, etc. we experience serve a definitive purpose, even if at times we find it hard to identify what that purpose is or will eventually be. When we find ourselves unable to understand His purpose, it is imperative to grab a hold of our shield of faith and as Beth Moore succinctly states; believe God is who He says He is, believe God can do what He says He can do, believe we are who God says we are, believe we can do all things through Christ, and believe God's Word is alive and active in us. I’m thinking perhaps the key word here is….believe.  

These few statements encompass a great deal.  Many have come to know Him without coming to believe Him. Without belief, our salvation may indeed be a "ticket" out of Hell but not near all He desires for us this side of Heaven. To really gain the perspective of Christ as our ALL, our perspective must be altered and the Word must be foremost in our thoughts and evident in our actions. If He is to be our joy, we must truly stop depending on our emotions to direct our steps, no matter how intensely we may feel them. We must begin by meditating on the truths we know, ones that often become so much more significant through times of difficulty. Philippians 4:9 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” We must wrap our minds around the things of God. This is how our perspective will change. This is how our faith will grow. Like a muscle that is exercised in order to be strengthened, we must also mentally exercise in order to respond to our circumstances with increased faith.

Alright, I’m going to get a bit personal. Lately, I’ve been struggling quite a lot, a lot more than I have in the past. I’ve had and still have quite a few medical issues that are all interrelated. Having given birth to three children without the help of pain meds, I’ve prided myself, perhaps somewhat erroneously, as someone with a very high tolerance for pain. Fortunately, the short lived pain of labor produced three of the biggest joys in my entire life. The fruit of my “labor” was a blessing and well worth the temporary pain. However, I’ve come to realize physical pain that remains constant, chronic, and relentless, while seeming to serve no obvious purpose can be quite another story. Day after day, it has the propensity to make one weary and ill-tempered, prone to discouragement, and deliver one to the door of despair. What would our Enemy desire more than to see believers incapacitated not only physically but mentally and emotionally?

Acquiring the right perspective toward pain has been somewhat challenging. Actually, I’ve been greatly humbled by the process. I’m rather surprised at how fast I’ve been able to get all the event details together to throw myself a fairly decent “Pity Party for One”! In my moments of weakness, God, being who He says He is, gently and lovingly reminds me of how much He continues to love me. He has whispered once again to my often deaf ears how my present struggle has the potential, depending on how I choose to respond to it, to bring Him glory. Whatever He allows into my life is not mere happenstance but is always purposeful. What He allows also has the amazing potential to change my character from the inside out in ways that only pain and suffering can. However, I sometimes wish God didn’t have as much confidence in my ability to persevere as He does. But…He does.  And THAT He does, gives me the confidence and hope to press on. He will daily provide the grace required to do what He has called me to do.

See, it’s really all about perspective. It is our perspective that determines how much room we will allow God to use for our growth and our ability to eventually minister to others. So how do we view our circumstances? Are we learning what He has purposed to show? Are we prepared to identify with Christ through our not-so-welcomed circumstances? Or do we just want immediate deliverance? Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary expresses it like this, “We should not pray so much for the removal of affliction, as for wisdom to make a right use of it… A mind…that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in devotion, and rise above trials and oppositions.” I’d say Matt hit the nail on the head!

Having watched family members physically suffer and eventually die, I have grappled with understanding why some suffer so much and why some are taken seemingly too soon. Yet, I am now utterly convinced beyond any doubt, my God has all the answers. Whether or not He chooses to share them with me is His prerogative. I must continue to believe, to focus. If my belief in who He is or what He can do wavers, I become like the “double-minded man” James 1:8 refers to as unstable in all ways and may find myself more susceptible to many erroneous perspectives on suffering.* We need to remember in God’s economy nothing is ever wasted. Our struggles are never in vain. They will often lead us to the place of our greatest purpose. “God never wastes a hurt. Your greatest ministry will come out of your pain.” – Rick Warren.

I’m not sure where my present trial will lead me, but I know my deepest desire is to come out on the other end of things victoriously. Victory may not appear as immediate deliverance. It may not appear as the complete removal of pain. It may not mean I will once again be able to do what my heart so longs to do in this shell. may. HOWEVER, Victory may very well appear in me as the grace and strength to persevere, not by willing it to be so or overcoming mentally what I am experiencing physically, but by resting in the strength of the Lord and trusting in His love for me as I continue to count it all joy (James 1:2-4). Victory may appear as a simple smile on my face or His enabling power giving me the ability to encourage another while struggling myself. Victory may appear as a deepened sense of compassion and understanding for the afflictions others face. In the end, it isn’t about this body that continues to deteriorate until its last breath. Rather, it’s about the power to live through Christ in-spite of its failing mortal condition. It is about the faith that grows deeper until it has become the anchor of my soul through any and all circumstances. 

I cannot fathom living this life devoid of His presence, devoid of any knowledge of the enormity of His love for me or His purpose for me. And yet, there are so many who do so daily.  I know there are many suffering to far greater degrees then I will ever comprehend or experience. I am aware of how minuscule my situation appears in the scheme of things. Yet, He cares about me, my pain, and He hears my prayers for daily strength and wisdom. I am loved. I am loved LAVISHLY! I am cared for in spite of my circumstances and regardless of what any future prognosis may be for me personally. I KNOW He will never leave me or cease loving me, caring for me, and providing for all of my needs. He will not stop the process of sanctifying me, maturing me and when necessary, disciplining me in any way He deems perfectly appropriate to equip me for His purposes. My job, well…my job is simply to yield and to go wherever He may lead…joyfully!

*For a quick synopsis of some of the misguided or extra-biblical teachings on suffering, take a quick listen to Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church, preaching a ten minute sermonette. It’s well worth the ten minutes…

Monday, September 6, 2010

Legacy of Faithfulness

Perhaps it's just having turned another year older, or maybe it has to do with the realization I can no longer operate from this "jar of clay" as easily as I used to. But lately, I've been thinking. In fact I've been thinking an awful lot parents. Though no longer living, I'm finding they're filling many of my thoughts on a daily basis. Some days I catch glimpses of my mother in the reflection of a mirror. On other days, I surprise myself as I hear myself saying the same things to my children my parents said to me. And yet, as I navigate this thing called life and the roles I've been ascribed as a woman, wife, and mother, I can't help but think of the legacy my parents left behind. I can't help but notice how a part of who I am today is a result of whose I once was.

I have been told I resemble my mother and have curly hair like my father. In fact the root of my maiden name translated from Greek actually means "curly," and my dad's name, Eftihios, actually means "happy". So, for all intents and purposes, my dad's real name could have been "Happy Curly".  How's that for some needless personal trivia? It might provide you with a backdrop of where I've come from and what physical traits I've inherited. But, my outward appearance only partially reflects my heritage. It can only go so far in revealing who I am. People have often made the observation, "You look so much like your mother." And, I guess, maybe I do to some extent. Yet, when someone tells me they see something in me that reflects my mother's character, for me, it's one of the greatest compliments I could ever be given, knowing the kind of woman my mother was. Though our time together was a mere twenty-one years, most of what I learned about being a Godly woman, I learned by spending time with her, observing her interacting with others, and listening to her very few but timely and wisely chosen words. 

While we may inherit certain physical traits from our parents, our character development is also influenced to a great extent by our parents. We come to resemble those we've been around. Sometimes it's a choice, but sometimes it's by default. Understanding this, I cannot help but draw a connection as to how we also come to resemble our Heavenly Father. We get to "choose" to resemble Him. How? Well, once again, it's by spending time with Him, by knowing Him through His Word, and by regularly communicating with Him. In such a way, we will come to resemble Him more and more. To the degree we earnestly seek to know Him, we will be internally changed by Him. And then one day, we may be so blessed as to hear someone say to us, "You look so much like your Father." 

Mom and Dad, albeit some years ago

I used to spend time with my mom any time and in every place I could. I just wanted to be near her, with her, and around her. One particular conversation, I remember vividly. I recall following her into the bathroom. Yes, I said, into the bathroom. I used to love to watch her put on her makeup as she was preparing to go to work at our shop, Merle Norman Cosmetics. As I watched her that morning, I began tearing up as I said to her, "Mom, I’ll never be as beautiful, inside or out, as you are when I’m your age!"  I’ll never forget her response. She immediately stopped what she was doing, put her eyeliner down, turned to me as I sat on the vanity, grabbed my face and firmly said, "Maria, one day when you are my age (ironically forty-three, same age as I am now), you will not only be more beautiful, but better still, you will know more and be wiser in the Lord than I will ever be...and that's how it should be."  

Okay, needing a small pause for a tear or two...  

Some things I have forgotten. Some things I remember and clearly recall. Though I remember that scene, to be honest with you, I am absolutely certain I didn't believe a word she said to me. To this day, I'm sure if she were sitting right here, right now, I would likely say, "Mom, I'm not sure I am any bit the woman you were at forty-three, but I am working at it...I'm still...just a work in progress..." 

In recent years, I’ve discovered why I’ve always remembered that conversation. During a time when I was at my most selfish and not so willing to hear words of wisdom, God allowed me to retain critical pieces of my mother and father's wisdom for my future reference. Oh, how I've held onto them! I've referenced them, particularly as a parent, countless times. Many of those memories contain priceless treasures from the Word that have been a blessing to me throughout my adult life.

I now am blessed with a daughter of my own. Truly, she has been an answer to prayer. I prayed earnestly asking God to grant me a daughter so I might once again experience that special relationship between a mother and daughter. He gave me Sophia. She is maturing rapidly. And, as I look at her, I know I can say, will say and have already said the same to her. I have told her how much I desire her to far surpass me in her life. She is already so much wiser, so much more confident in who she is in Christ, and so much more mature than I ever was at the age of eleven. I have told her often how my heart’s desire is for her to go farther in understanding His Word, in seeking Him more, and in desiring Him before all and above all. I want so much more for her in this life, not so she can be happy, but rather so she can be much more for Him, a vessel wholly submitted to Him. Why would I want this for her? Simply, because I love her.  


Shortly after I losing my mom, I remember sitting in my rusted-out '76 Chevy Malibu on the campus of Gordon College listening to my cassette tape of Steve Green's new release Find Us Faithful, while running my car battery way down. Just days before this song was released my mother had died. So as I listened to the lyrics, repeatedly, there in my car, I determined in my heart that just as my mother had left me an incredible legacy of a Godly life, I wanted to leave my children a heritage of faith just as rich, just as purposeful. I wanted these lyrics to be my anthem, my life's song:

We're pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

I don’t know. It might just be me, but as I contemplate the meaning of a legacy, I feel there's so much more to it than what seems to be at the surface. People often refer to a legacy as the money or property left to heirs upon death. Yet, everyone, regardless of their material status in life, leaves behind a non-material legacy. It may be much harder to define, but it is often far more important. After we’ve said our final goodbyes, we will all leave behind some kind of enduring legacy whether we purposed to or not. THAT legacy will be comprised of a lifetime of relationships, accomplishments, beliefs, successes/failures, truths, and values. It will be reflected by where we invested most of our time, by what received most of our energy, and by who we loved and served through word and deed. And ultimately and most significantly, it will live on in the lives of those we’ve touched.

Regrettably, I don't know and never had the chance to ask my parents if they ever consciously set out to leave a particular legacy. But it doesn't much matter one way or the other. See, as I said earlier, we all leave a legacy, whether we have any intention of doing so or not. And I, for one, am thankful for the rich heritage of faith I have profited from. I am grateful for the stories of my parent's lives, stories that at times I know involved much pain and struggle, stories that are still being revealed as I continue filling in the details of their lives with the help of people who were impacted by them. They taught me by example that a legacy is rarely defined by the circumstances in life, but instead it is largely defined by how one chooses to respond to circumstances and how well one incorporates 
Phil. 2:1-4 into their life in a practical way:

1-4 "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."
(Translation - The Message)

Oh! May all who come behind ME find me faithful, not perfect, just faithful!