Thursday, October 21, 2010

Searching for Things I Don't Really Want to Find

I've been reading a book called How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life, by Dr. Gregory Frizzell, and while reading about types of prayer yesterday, I was particularly struck by what he said about confession in prayer. Confession is definitely not a topic we like to talk about--I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to want to hide my faults, not openly admit them. We spend so much time presenting our 'best side' to others that I think we automatically try to do the same thing to God, as if we could keep Him from noticing all the sin in our life if we just put on a good front!

Psalm 66: 18 says, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." That means that if you want an effective prayer life, if you want to know your prayers are being answered, you must confess those sins and turn from them!!

But, how exactly do we go about "confessing our sins?" I don't mean how do we confess something; I mean how do we make sure we're really admitting everything we NEED to admit?
I'm gonna be brutally honest here...I'm so good at hiding my sins from others, that I sometimes hide it from myself, as well. And this is where Dr. Frizzell's statements really struck me: he says, "Far too many believers ask God to search their heart and then give Him about ten seconds to do it!" Yep, that would be's not pretty, but there it is. And I don't think I'm alone in this.

When my kids were little...oh, who am I kidding? They're nearly 18 and 20 now, and they haven't changed. They ask me if I know where something is: "Have you seen my belt?"; "Are we out of mayo?"; "Where's the hammer, and maybe a blowtorch?" Okay, that last one would prompt some serious questions of my own...
Let's take the case of the missing belt: I'll tell them I think I saw it in their bedroom. About ten seconds later they come back: "I still can't find it." STILL?!? You spent all of five seconds hunting for walked into the room, stood in the middle and glanced about. Maybe if you were desperate for the lost object, you actually picked up one or two items on the floor before reaching the conclusion that it's just nowhere to be found.
Then I start making them really THINK about it. When's the last time you know you HAD the belt? What pants were you wearing at the time? Have you found those pants?...they HATE having to actually backtrack and think things through like that, but nine times out of ten, these few minutes of recollection result in the successful discovery of the lost object.

This oft-repeated hunt for lost items in my house is what I immediately thought about when I read these words from Dr. Frizzell: "Friend, you couldn't search a cluttered room by a brief, casual glance any more than your heart could be searched by a ten-second examination."

Ouch. Truth hurts. He went on to say that the sad truth is, the way many believers practice confession is that we ask God, " 'is there anything wrong with my life? anything I need to change?' After a quick, ten-second pause, we then say, 'I guess not, now let me give you my prayer list.' "

The truth is, I'm afraid it's often even worse than that. We pray, "And God, forgive me for all the ways I fail you," or words to that effect, and we don't even bother to stop and ask OURSELVES what all those 'ways' are, never mind asking God what they are.

But there's another problem with 'confession' too--we sometimes have the idea that God is just waiting to beat us over the head with our failures, but in fact God wants us to confess in order to FREE us from the weight of guilt and failure.
Dr. Frizzell says "Consistent confession and cleansing represent the primary ways we grow and become conformed to the image of Christ." That is a very important reminder to me--God doesn't want us to confess so that He can remind us of what failures we are; He wants us to confess and repent so that He can "continue the work He started" in us, making us more like Christ. He also wants us to confess to Him, so that we are reminded that it is by His Grace that we are saved and found righteous, NOT by our works. But Unconfessed sin leaves the door wide open for satan's attacks--He loves to use those unconfessed sins against us, to make us feel like failures, "unworthy" of God's love and forgiveness.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Potato Salad Worship

My father was the cook in our family, and a pretty amazing one, too. Dad did all the shopping and nearly all the cooking, although Mom would occasionally fix a meal when she felt like it. She was an excellent cook as well, but my dad just really enjoyed it, and Mom enjoyed letting him. Dad had also been a cook in the army, and so he was properly trained to prepare meals for our family of three teenage boys, two girls and the inevitable assortment of friends who quickly discovered they would much rather stick around OUR house for dinner than to go home!

My dad was also an inordinately calm, gentle man. I don't recall ever hearing him yell, at anyone...and this was a man with FIVE children!! Mom yelled enough to make up the difference, so we did get our fair share of parental outrage.
Dad did, however, have a bit of a passive-aggressive streak in him. Perhaps more than a bit, sometimes.

One summer evening, my aunts and probably an uncle and assorted cousins, were visiting. Dad declared he was going to go start dinner, and, in response to someone wondering what we were going to have, mentioned that he was making, among other things, potato salad.

Everyone just loved Dad's potato salad, and there were several comments of delighted anticipation and remarks about how wonderful his potato salad was. Then one of my aunts said, "but could you maybe leave out the eggs? I don't really like eggs." Dad replied, "sure." Then my other aunt piped in: "oh, and also don't put any celery in it; I just don't like the crunchy texture in my potato salad." Dad again nodded and probably gave his stock, "very good" response.
So then my mother decides to take advantage of the opportunity and said, "well, as long as you're taking requests, how about not putting quite as much mayonnaise in it as you usually do?"

Dad nodded again, sure, no problem...and headed off to the kitchen. Flash forward an hour or two and dinner is ready. My sister and I have set the table and put all the food out in serving dishes. Everyone is called to the dinner table, and then Dad comes in with one more, very large bowl, and sets it in the middle of the table. We all sit down, and someone finally gets up the nerve to ask, "Dad, why did you put an empty bowl on the table?"

Dad's response: "Oh, that's what's left of the potato salad, after I took out everything you all didn't want."

I thought about that story this past week, and then today I was talking to someone about our worship experience during church (or lack thereof, at times) and I was reminded again of this story, and was struck by the analogy of that empty bowl of "potato salad" and our sometimes empty "bowl" of worship.

See, we say we LOVE God. We delight in Him, we worship Him...or so we claim. But I fear that God sometimes feels like my dad must have felt about his potato salad...unappreciated, unwanted.
Just as my aunts and Mom declared they "loved" Dad's potato salad, but then started to critique it and eliminate all the parts that weren't quite to their "liking," do we not sometimes come to church, tell God we "love" Him, but then start to "pick and choose" our worship service selections?
To God, I imagine our Sunday morning "worship" sometimes sounds like this:
"Now, Lord, you know I LOVE You, and I'm here to worship You. BUT...I'd just as soon not sing this slow, dragging song...or this new, unfamiliar song...or this song that is too much like "rock"...and I'd just as soon not have to actually THINK about what I'm singing.
And Lord, you know, it's a little too cold in here for my liking...or it's a little too hot. Plus, Lord, my pew-mate just can't carry a tune, and it's very distracting, you know.
Oh, and could I just leave off all that smiling and greeting people...all that acting glad to be here stuff, because the truth is, I kinda need to be thinking about what I'm gonna eat for lunch.
Oh, and while we're at it, Lord, I'm not especially fond of listening to that pastor go on and on...could we maybe not use quite so much "sermon" in our worship service?"

And on and on we go, and pretty soon, all we're really left with is a great big Empty Bowl of "Worship." And just like that empty bowl Dad set on the table for us, our big empty bowl of worship, is, frankly, just not very satisfying. It's....well, it's Empty. It's tasteless. It's not nourishing. It's not filling. And it's certainly NOT Worship.

Worship is not supposed to be about US, and what WE want. It's about praising God for Who He is, focusing all our attention, all our heart and soul on HIM...and when we really get that, and fully participate in real worship...well, it's more satisfying than the best potato salad ever made!

1 Chronicles 16: 29: "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Which Version Am I?

I never really intended to just abandon my blogging post, but you go a few days without writing, then a couple of weeks, and next thing you know, it's months later...and no posts. Well, I guess it's time to start trying to fix that.

A couple of weeks ago during the children's story, our pastor handed out little bibles to all the kids. After church, I was talking to a friend when her son came over, holding his new bible.
Well, apparently it is WAY past time for that eye exam, because I looked at the cover, and I what I read was "The Imitation Bible."
WHAT?!?! I was shocked. Stunned. My wonderful, godly, conservative Southern Baptist pastor was handing out Imitation bibles to our impressionable young children?!? Something was very, very wrong here...
"Let me see your bible," I said to my friend's son. He held it up, standing closer to me than the first time, and there it was, in big, bold letters right across the top: The Invitation Bible.
Not Imitation. Invitation. Oh...well, that's different then.
The world was returned to its rightful order--I admitted my mis-interpretation to my friend and we both had a good laugh about it and that was that.

Until this Sunday. On Sunday morning, our pastor was talking about the need for our lives to be an evidence of what we, I'm gonna just admit it, my mind wanders. Usually in about 40 different directions at once. Trying to keep it focused in one place for an entire 30-40 minute sermon is often an insurmountable task. One moment I am paying absolutely rapt attention, and then the pastor says something and my brain comes up with some completely separate, often irrelevant thought. He might quote Scripture, and suddenly I'd think..."chocolate chip cookies...WARM chocolate chip cookies..."
But sometimes these little brain bursts are very relevant, and then a whole lesson happens in my head...this usually means I don't really hear another thing the pastor says, but I've learned that God often really gets a hold of me during these little side trips in my head.

So, he was talking about being living examples of our Christian faith, and suddenly I thought of that Imitation Bible. Do I sometimes live more like I'm carrying around an Imitation Bible instead of the real thing?
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" becomes "Do unto others whatever you feel they deserve at that particular moment." ...and what about "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving, present your requests to God." I too often live like MY version of Scripture says "Try not to be so anxious all the time," or "Only be anxious if the situation seems really, really bad..." And "in everything give thanks?" Everything?!? Is He kidding? Doesn't He mean as often as possible? Or maybe, "give thanks at least five times every day?" I mean, I can't really be expected to give thanks in everything, can I?

1 Corinthians 3:2-3 says "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

Just as Paul's letters reflect the experiences of his life, how God was working in him, MY life is a "letter"...but does my "letter" reflect my God accurately? Are others going to see God's Love, His truths, in my life...or am I writing an imitation gospel by the way I live?
You've probably heard the saying, "You're the only Bible some people will ever read." Question is, which version are they getting? The Truth of the Scripture, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Or, some cheap imitation? In my case, they sometimes get the Gospel According to Sharon...and believe me, nobody should follow MY gospel...

If I want to live so others see God's Truth, and not just my version of it, I have to remember that I don't live that kind of life under my own power.
1 Thessalonians 1:5a & 7 says, "Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction...and so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia." If we want to live out the Truth, we can't do it on our own...we need the power of the Holy Spirit.
We also need to submit to God's sovereignity...daily..sometimes hourly. I say Christ is Lord, yet I often live like I'm the boss of my life. I choose my way and ask God to bless it, instead of seeking God's way, and asking Him to help me live it.

And we need to immerse ourselves in the Word, so that we KNOW how it is we are called to live. If you don't read the Word, don't memorize Scriptures, don't hide them in your heart, then how can you expect to LIVE them?

At the end of my the end of this DAY...I want to look back and see that my life didn't show the world the Gospel According to Sharon, a watered-down, sometimes twisted version of the Truth...but that it reflected instead the Gospel of Christ. My job, my purpose, isn't to convince others the Gospel is True, it is to live the true Gospel.

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Gal 2:20

Saturday, August 2, 2008

One tiny word--a world of difference

Wow, has it really been 4 months since I blogged? Yep...sad but true (well, sad for me...probably no loss for anyone else...).

I need to try to start blogging more regularly again; it's a good way to remind MYSELF of the things I need to focus on.

So, to begin with, a question from the new Beth Moore book I've been reading:
Do you Believe God or do you just believe IN God?
Lots of people believe IN God...but if our lives are to really be dramatically changed by His power, we must go deeper than just believing IN Him...we must BELIEVE Him.

Do you really believe that what God promises in His Word is true? It's funny; we, as Christians, believe that He can save us through the blood of Jesus, for salvation...for eternal life in heaven.
But too often, we live as if we don't believe that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead might just not be sufficient to meet our daily needs. We worry about how to pay the bills, about decisions we need to make, about relationship problems...whatever it is, we act as if we must handle it on our own, because God just might not be able to take care of it!
We would never SAY we believe that, yet our lives too often demonstrate a lack of confidence in our Savior to meet ALL our needs, as He SAYS He will.

Do you believe God IS who He says He is?
Do you believe He can do what He says He can do?
Do you believe YOU are who HE says you are?

Start immersing yourself in His Word, and take Him at His that HE WILL DO what He says He will do!

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" 1 Corinthians 1:20

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Matter of Focus

This past Sunday, Easter Sunday, my pastor asked me to give a testimony about how God's resurrection power had changed my life. I was saved at the age of 30, when, after falling to the bottom of a pit of hopelessness, I was rescued by the love and grace of Jesus. Perhaps at some point, I'll put my testimony here, but that's not the point of this post.

I absolutely love to talk about Christ has changed my life, and so agreeing to give my testimony in church, in front of the Easter crowd, wasn't difficult for me. The difficult part was that I was supposed to keep it between 3-5 minutes! Those who know me know I can't even start to tell a story in less than 5 pastor knows it too, but he says that, hoping I'll at least try to be doesn't really work.

Anyway, I prayed that God would use my testimony to touch someone else's heart, maybe someone who was in that sort of despair I used to feel, who needed to feel the love of Christ. What I didn't realize was how God would use my testimony to speak to me!

I've had a lot of struggles lately, and have felt like satan, while he'll never win the war, has been pretty dominant on the battlefield of my life recently. Health struggles, INSURANCE struggles (the devil came up with America's health insurance plan, you know...mostly kidding, please don't send me angry emails if you work for a health insurance company!!), the rebellion of a teenager, enormous medical bills, house repair issues, braces for another teenager, broken arms, a drunk driver totaling my son's car and causing him medical problems for months, and just the daily life a single mom trying to keep all the balls in the air...and that's just over the last 8 months or so!!

As I spoke on Sunday, I was reminded of how powerful God really IS, and how much He really has changed me--how faithful He has been to see me through every single struggle I've faced...and if He has already seen me through all these years, and brought me through them stronger in my faith than ever, then I have to trust that He is also faithful to see me through anything I face now, or anything in my future. A rebellious son? God knew that was gonna happen way, way before I did...He's not surprised, and He's not worried. My health? God knows what's wrong with me, and He's allowing everything for a reason. And since His plans for me are for my good, I can trust Him.

We will always have problems in this life, but how we manage to get through these struggles really comes down to two things, and they are dependent on one another:
Where your focus is
Where your trust is

I can focus on my problems--and I've got plenty of them to look at! But when I do that, they become bigger and bigger, and it seems like that's all there is...just problems everywhere! And as I dwell on them, I become very negative in my thinking, and much more vulnerable to the attacks of satan on my emotions.
But when I choose instead to focus on God--well, the problems become secondary...they're still there, but they don't have the hold on me they did before.
One of the best ways for me to focus on God is to focus on His Word...when I start to worry or think negatively, I purposely replace those thoughts with Scripture that reminds me of the Truth...
Worried about the rebellion of a child? "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6)
Worried about how to make ends meet? "But my God shall supply ALL your needs, according to HIS riches in glory." (Phil 4:19)
Facing a seemingly impossible situaton? I love this one..."unto Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we can think or imagine, according to the power that worketh in us,..."(Eph 3:20) or simply "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14)
I could go on and on (and I usually do...) but you get the point. Rick Warren says the only difference between worrying and meditating is what you are focusing on!

I think I'll make the issue of where our trust is a whole separate post, so look for it tomorrow. Today, though, I issue a challenge:
Commit whatever problems you are facing to God...even if you don't see HOW He's gonna handle them, He will.
Then--try to "catch" yourself thinking negatively, focusing on a problem...and when it happens, purposely choose to replace that thought with a Scripture, a promise to God that reminds you that the truth is that God's got it under control.
My guess is that by the end of the day, you'll begin to see a difference in your outlook!

"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 direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6