Thursday, January 26, 2012

Locked Out

Have you ever been locked out of your car or your home? I have been locked out of both! I have found a lot of spiritual truth in being locked out of my vehicle or house. Instead of focusing a lot on the "how" I found myself in those situations, I am going to talk about the results of what can happen because of it.

I lost my house key. I knew that when I locked my door and closed it behind me that I was not going to be able to get back in. I was aware that my key was lost, but I had to make sure my home was secure before I left. Unfortunately, there are some people in this world who take things that do not belong to them and I do not want to leave an invitation for those people to help themselves. Since I knew I was essentially locking myself out of the house, I did not go into panic mode. I prepared myself for being unable to get back in. I made sure I had my purse and billfold, my coat, and school bag for the next day. I had everything I needed before I shut the door. Now, I should add a side note here that I am married and my husband does have a key to our doors. My in-laws also have keys and so I had hope of getting back in when I locked the door and shut it.

Sometimes I think that as Christians we can do the same thing. We are in church and we are surrounded by people who have the same "key" that we have to get to God. Some people may think their key is bigger or better, but it is all the same key. Week after week we go to the same church. For those of you who are like me and grew up as a preacher's kid, you know what I am talking about when I say that for some of us, we practically lived at church day after day. This problem of locking ourselves out of God's house happens in every denomination in every church in America! At some point, we start noticing things that we would have done differently if we had been in charge. This is something I have to be careful of as one who grew up in the church, studied at the feet of a Bible scholar, and learned as much as I could from some very influential Christian leaders. I listen carefully to anyone who is ministering. I do not take their word for it, but must search it out for myself. That is a good thing! But, when I can get into trouble is by letting my thoughts turn to pointing out what was not said. The scriptures that I would have added, the statements that I would have made, and the examples I would have used come flooding into my mind and if I am not careful, before long I can start holding up what I would have done with what the minister did and compare the two!

Sometimes people will disagree with what songs were sung during the praise and worship service. The songs were too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft, too spiritual, or not spiritual enough. Someone whispers into their program to their neighbor asking if they saw what so-and-so was wearing. Comments are made about how parents don't discipline their children enough anymore and point out whose children are the worst. Meet-and-greet can turn into gripe sessions about what is going wrong in the church, how burdened one might feel with all their self-appointed responsibilities, and soon the negativity spreads through the congregation. After church groups will meet up for an after-service lunch or dinner party at a local restaurant. This is usually a meeting among those who are in the know. They readily share whatever they know about others (who usually are not at this eating engagement) and the gossip begins... or continues, depending on how you look at it.

All of these people are being careless with their keys. Pretty soon someone's feelings are going to get hurt, someone will get offended, and someone can decide to leave the church. They know they have lost their key, so the thought of walking out the church door is not going to send them into panic mode. They are aware of how many other people they know that own a key that can let them back in if they should need to. Little by little, the people start to gather their belongings, the things they once loved and cared about, and once they are sure they have everything they need to close that door behind them, knowing that their key is gone, they silently and purposefully close the door behind them.

Sometimes people who leave are called back-sliders. Sometimes that is exactly what happens. The person leaves church and slowly (rapidly in some cases), returns to old habits and former friends and groups that welcome them with open arms. They slide back into sin and the "natural man" takes over. Their Bible remains closed, the Christian radio station is exchanged for a more worldy one, and time with God is minimal at best.

In other cases, the hurt or angry Christians close the door and walk right into another church. Convinced the new church is superior to the former one, they quickly begin socializing and making new friends. Quick to join the choir, sign up for volunteer opportunities within the church, and always around to lend a helping hand, they feel as though they finally belong. They get a new key! In time, this pattern can repeat itself over and over. These people are known as church-hoppers.

But there is another kind of person who loses their key and knowingly walks away without looking back. They neither fall into sin and disobedience from God's laws, nor hop from one place of worship to the next. Instead they quietly search for God in their life the best way they know how. They read His Word, study the scriptures, spend time in prayer, help those in need, encourage others as they struggle along, and build their faith with time spent in His presence as often as possible. Most often they are hurting, but they do not know how to fix the longing they have to get back in. Maybe they only know one or two people with a key and are afraid of how they would be viewed if asked to be let in.

There is hope for every single person who has ever lost their key to the house of God, and who made the decision to lock the door behind them and walk away. Jesus died for all of us to pay the debt we owed for our sins. Jesus was the supreme sacrifice that died, was buried, and was resurrected to live forevermore. Jesus is the key to the house of God. If we lose our key, we lose everything! Once we are a child of God, we can lose our key. It happens! But, what are we going to do about it? Falling back into our sin is not the answer. It may seem easier at the time, but God's way is better. Hopping from one church to the next in an effort to find the "right" church or the "perfect" church is fruitless and will not please God. He does not want us to run from our troubles and leave when things go wrong. We must cling to Him and ask for His help to work everything out. My mom always asked my siblings and me, "If you can't get along with one another down here, how do you ever hope to get along in Heaven?" And, no matter how hurt or disappointed you may feel, or even how angry you become, do not shut yourself off from a deeper spiritual experience by staying away from church.

I know what it is like to be all three of those kinds of people. I have done all of those things. When people find out that I am great with kids and love to teach, have been working with kids for years and years, they want me to teach Sunday school and children's church. Somehow someone will learn about how I am good at organizing events and fundraisers, network with various organizations to obtain items for give-aways and prizes. Don't you know that there is a need for that everywhere? Sister So-And-So will make a bee-line right for me and ask me to help with a project. Another person finds out that I sing and can write songs, stories, poems, etc. You guessed it, another need that could be filled by yours truly! Do I say no? Of course I don't. This could be my chance to walk in my calling. But the load is too heavy to bear all alone, and not one thing is required of me, but many. More and more is asked to be poured from my vessel and I am finding myself dry and in need of something poured back into me, but the obligations get into the way and before you know it I am burned out. Little by little I lose my key.

God gave me a tremendous gift that I truly cherish in that I can read the scriptures and they just come alive to me. I am not merely reading words on a page, but I am transported into time and suddenly I am at the cross where Jesus is tortured and put to death for my sins and I will cry and be overcome with emotion as I read all that is shared about His experiences. I can feel the gut-wrenching agony and pain as He is carrying the cross and hear the clanging of the hammer as they drive the nails into His hands and into His feet. I can hear the wind as the whip lashes the back of my precious Savior as He pays the price for my healing. I can see the blood and water flowing from the wound in His side as the soldier pierced His side. Just before He dies on the cross I can hear Him plea to God on our behalf to, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." I can take my experiences and couple them with the words in the Old and the New Testaments and share that with people to encourage them to keep up the good fight of faith. I have spent hours at a time with a wayward Christian as I keep pointing to the way of the cross, and try to be the example they need to see, in order to help them find their keys. I am physically exhausted when it is over, sometimes shaking inside from how strong the power of God was inside me. And yet I have been one who has lost my key. How could God ever use someone in such a powerful way if they have ever lost their way? It is simple. He lets us tell others about our own journey to water the seed of faith that has been planted in them so they can know how faithful, merciful, and good God is!

I am at a new church now. It is new to me and my family anyway. My husband truly loves it and wants to become a member by joining the church. My children enjoy it very much. They hoop and holler in excitement when we tell them it is time for church. I am praying that their little minds and hearts will be filled to overflowing as they learn about Jesus and what He has done for them. Hopefully some of the things they learn at church will just be a reminder of things I have shared with them at home. The church we attend is filled with many wonderful, kind, and friendly people. I feel the presence of God there. It is not a denomination that I grew up in, and it is very different from what I am used to, but I am trusting God that it is where I am meant to be. My husband and children hold their keys very close to them and do not dare think of losing them. I am in a more fragile state right now. I have the key! I love the key! Remember Jesus is the key! I know that if this is where God wants our family to be, He will make room for me to do the things He has called me to do. In the meantime, I am content to stand beneath the spout and let Him heal and fill my broken vessel.

If you are in need of finding the key, you just have to remember where you left it. Ask Jesus to guide your heart, to lead you to the church where He wants you to attend, and then go! It is okay to feel uneasy at first. It is okay to not raise your hand when they ask for volunteers. I even encourage you to wait a while before you choose to get involved at your church. Let God reveal His plan to you and what things He has for you to do. He will open the doors for you to walk in your calling in His time. So many people have been hurt or offended in church and it is so sad, but you are not alone. The good news is that you can get up and try again! Find a church who is in love with Jesus and looking for His return. Spend more time alone with God and in His presence than in trying to acquire recognition and achievements in the church. Look for opportunities to serve others and you will find yourself getting rooted and grounded in the House of God.

I hope that something I have shared here will be a blessing to you as you read these words. It is my desire to encourage others and help as many people that I can. Hold onto your key and do not lose it! Make up your mind to be determined to hold out 'til the end. That was a wonderful song my grandmother used to sing and what a great message it is! Don't give up and even when things get hard, press on because the journey may be hard sometimes, but it is not long!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Detour

I find it funny how God uses the ordinary things of this world to transform me and renew my mind. Instead of thinking about things in the way they appear on the surface, I am forced to look deeper to fully understand the plan God has for my life.

I go to college three times a week this semester. The drive to school is long and for most of the distance, I travel on a two-lane highway with few opportunities to pass. Often I get behind someone who appears to be trying out for the parade, and while it is easy to get upset and loudly suggest they try the skinny pedal on the right, God would rather teach me something that requires a slower pace to fully catch all that He has for me.

On the way to the university last semester, my friend and I would carpool. Along the way we saw construction workers, big trucks, and digging equipment. The workers were busy on the side of the road with their agendas and plans that seemingly had little to do with me. Weeks passed and I did not even notice what the workers had been doing. How could I? I was too busy to notice what was all around me as I suffered from tunnel-vision. I just wanted to make my way home as quickly as possible after being in school all day, far from home and my family, and forcing knowledge into my brain after years of being out of a "learning environment."

This semester is different. My first class of the week takes place in the evening. The sun was setting as I made my way to the campus. That was the first time I noticed the neon orange signs that read: DETOUR. For a split second I got nervous. Where would the detour lead me? I am not familiar with this area. I know of one way to get to school and that is all. If I cannot take the road I am familiar with, what will I do? I edged along with the traffic, tires slowly rotating on a new road. We were just a few feet away from the road I had traveled on so many times before. This wasn't scary at all. Why did I even let myself worry about where I would go?

Sometimes I think that God puts a sign up in our path that reads: DETOUR and the first thing we do is worry. We start to let our minds wonder and we think of every possible catastrophe that could happen before we even step onto the new path we are being directed on. Often, I have found that once I actually start moving in the direction God is leading me, it is not scary at all. In fact, there are many times that I can look over and see a big mess where I insisted to God that I should have been. Instead of a newly paved road, created to take me around a dangerous area, I wanted to stomp and scream to be allowed to "go the way I always went." We like the familiar, don't we? I know I do. It's comfortable and reliable. I depend on the familiar to keep me from going too far out of my comfort zone.

Have you ever been asked this question before? "If God is so loving, why did He allow this horrible event to happen?" Doesn't God get all of the credit when things go wrong? That is so ironic that when good things happen it is always attributed to man's power and wisdom, a woman's abilities and skill. Seldom does God ever get the credit even from Christians. I will admit that I have been in a situation where I was asked a tough question like that and I had no answer. I simply did not know, but now I do and I want to share that with you today.

God did not create horrible events for us to fall into as though He were setting a trap for us. God does not sit around on the throne thinking  up ways to make our lives miserable and to wonder if He loves us. We know that God loves us because John 3:16 says For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. So we know that He is a loving God. But, yes bad things happen. God does not create these events, but He is aware that when left to our free will, humans will do things that are not right and God can use those times to make something beautiful happen.

I do not know why my uncle got cancer. It was 4 months of pain and suffering that resulted in death. I prayed with all the faith I had in me for God to heal Him. Did God give my uncle cancer? No, He did not. Did God use the circumstances of my uncle's condition to draw our hearts closer to Him as we prayed for Uncle John? Yes, He did. Romans 8:28 says And we know that all things work together for good to them who love the LORD who are the called according to His purpose. Do I know why God chose to take Uncle John home instead of letting him stay with us for several more years? No, I do not. However, I trust that God used every minute of those tragic circumstances up to and following my uncle's death to remind us that the journey is not over for the rest of us, no matter how bad we wanted to stop, too. God gently placed His hand on our backs and guided us toward the Detour which would lead us to the Cross where He would trade our sorrow for gladness, our mourning for joy, and would take the cloak of heaviness to give us a garment of praise.

Will my journey be long? I do not know. Will I miss some of the beauty along the way in my haste to get home? Probably. Will the road be smooth and without any blind curves or narrow lanes? Of course not. But I hope instead of feeling doubt and despair at the sight of the neon orange DETOUR sign, I will feel excitement and anticipation as I set off on an adventure like none other. I have been on many detours in my life. I took the wrong road, had to back track, went out of my way to get somewhere when there was a quicker way, but when I called on Jesus, who is the best GPS, I was able to get back on the road towards home.

I pray that you will look at your detours differently and if you are on the road to nowhere, do not be afraid. You can have Jesus to guide you back home, too. Maybe you once knew the way, but you got lost as your eyes drifted toward the exit signs and smoother highways to the right or to the left. You can get back on the highway towards Home when you give your heart to Christ. Just ask Him to forgive you for all the things you have done knowingly and unknowingly that were not pleasing in His sight. Acknowledge that you are lost and need a Savior. Ask Jesus to be the LORD of your life and if you will mean it with all of your heart, you will be saved.

If you prayed and asked Jesus to come into your heart, tell someone you know. Get involved with a church that preaches the true Word of God without watering it down to keep the congregation numbers up. Tell someone you know that you have accepted Jesus Christ as LORD of your life and I promise you will never be the same again!

I hope you have been blessed by these words. God will see you through and make a way even when there seems to be no way. Sometimes He may have to drag out those neon orange road signs that say DETOUR to get you back on track. I pray that you will stay in His will but not be in His way.