Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Subject

I have to admit that the last discussion took a lot out of me. I'm trying to think of a way to lighten things up. But I've had a tough day and I don't exactly feel light hearted. So I don't see that happening tonight. This will probably be one of those rambling posts about whatever hits my mind as I type.

My small group is getting ready to start a new book next week. We'll see if there's any food for thought. I think it may be more of a fun book than deeply thought provoking. But one never knows.

I had to go back to Nashville today for some additional x-rays or digital imaging, whatever they call it now, just to make sure everything was okay. And it turned out that I'm in the clear for another year. But I sat in a waiting room for two and a half hours on a day when I woke up not feeling my absolute best to begin with. Good thing I thought to take a book with me.

I read the first four chapters of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis while I waited. It's a book I have always wanted to read. It's a little hard to get into at first, but the further I got, the more I understood why there was so much ground work laid in the beginning. I look forward to reading the rest of it and hopefully there will be some writing inspiration that will come further along.

I have been feeling the need to be on my knees more and putting myself in a position of reverence and humility before God. I pray when I wake up in the middle of the night. I say lots of spontaneous prayers throughout the day, when someone comes to my mind who is in need. I live in a constant state of gratefulness and thanksgiving to God for His goodness and faithfulness in my life. But I am so very undisciplined when it comes to regularly getting down on my knees. And that bothers me. I was feeling emotional today and in need of God's peace. I felt so unworthy that He would even listen to me, but I got on my knees and really poured my heart out to Him. As a result, I have more peace than I had earlier in the day. Oh, what peace we often forfeit...

One of the things I asked God was to direct my writing and to help me keep this an uplifting and encouraging blog to read. I don't want to have a personal agenda in writing. Yes, the blog will reflect my thoughts and emotions because all a blog really is is a public journal. But I want every aspect of my life to glorify my Savior, including what I write here. I take seriously my role as an ambassdor of His Kingdom in the earth. I want to be salt and light. I want to point others to Jesus and to the Gospel every day.

I am so desperately in need of God's grace on a daily basis. I am so aware of how horribly deficient I am and how inadequate my best efforts are in comparison to God's holiness. I loved what Danny wrote on his blog recently (it may have been a quote) about how God doesn't need us, but He lets us participate in His plan. It's kind of like letting a two-year-old help bake cookies, if you really think about it. We probably get in God's way a hundred times more than we actually help Him. But He wants to include us and our desire to cooperate and work with Him pleases Him. Not because we have so much to offer, but because He loves us even in our weakness. He saved us for His glory, not for ours.

I love it when Joshua says, "Grandma Shari, play trains with me," or "Grandma Shari, play hockey with me." I just love it that he wants to be with me. I don't know if that's how God feels when we turn our attention to Him. It's sometimes hard for me to imagine that my paying attention to God would mean anything to Him. I feel so insignificant, like a little speck of nothing in this world. It is so hard to comprehend His love for me or why He would love me enough to give His Son for my ransom. I see nothing in myself that would be of any value to Him. Anything good in me is only a result of His mercy and the investment of His grace in my life. I pray that one day I can hear Him say, "Well done, my faithful servant."

One thing my pastor has really made me aware of is that I will stand before God one day to be judged. I will give an account for my life and my choices. I know it's not a judgment for heaven or hell because of my faith in Christ. But I want to so live my life that I can look forward to that day and live in anticipation of seeing God's smile. I no longer fear not seeing Him. I just want to make Him smile.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The message of the cross: The power of God

I've been trying to decide whether to pursue any further clarification of my last post or just let it go. But let's face it, I'm more likely to talk something to death than to walk away from a conversation. So here goes...

I think the main thing I want to clarify is the real point of what I shared.

I grew up being warned about deception. I was raised to believe that the majority of Christians were deceived. I won't list the requirements for eternal life that I was taught because those of you who also grew up there already know. And it will just sound crazy to those of you who have no frame of reference. (And at some point I have probably already told you.) The point is, I developed a fear of falling into deception early in my life. And then I had to come to terms with the reality that I had lived my whole life IN deception, which only heightened my concern that it not happen to me again.

Todd E. and I are different in personality. So he and I may not have responded identically to this issue, but the combination of our similar past histories and then finding the true gospel as adults resulted, for both of us, in an even greater conviction that (1) truth matters greatly and of (2) the importance in guarding ourselves against deception. Todd responded to this by submerging himself in scripture and in researching the subject of deception. I studied to a lesser degree than Todd, while allowing myself to mostly continue in my fear of believing, and unintentionally aligning myself with anything false. I am a feelings person. Todd is not.

Whether or not Todd experienced the fear of deception (like I have) is not for me to say. But it is obvious to me that he at least understands my fear. And I really appreciated his words of encouragement. I believed his email would be helpful to someone other than myself. That is the whole reason why I asked if I could share it. As I've said many times, I am not trying to make anyone look at everything through my eyes. But it is a goal of mine to challenge and provoke deeper thought on spiritual matters. And anything that really matters to me I convey with a great deal of passion. That is how God made me.

In case anyone reading might be confused about this, I want to make it clear that I was not attacking anyone as a person, including Mother Theresa. And I don't think that was Todd's intent either. The topic was deception and avoiding it, staying focused on Christ and the Cross as opposed to men and the works of men/individuals. Mother Theresa was just one example of someone who exhibited many admirable traits, but drew the line at proclaiming to unbelievers that Jesus Christ is the only path to God. I did not mean to suggest it would be wrong to admire Mother Theresa's selfless acts of giving. The danger is in justifying her not proclaiming Christ to the world because of her good works. That elevates her good works too highly. And it focuses the attention on a person, when all glory belongs to God.

The most loving thing any of us can or ever will do is tell others, in love of course, what Jesus has done for them and that he is the only path to God. We cannot take this too seriously. And telling others the truth is more important than avoiding offending them; that would be to put someone's feelings toward us above our allegiance to Christ and the gospel. I have developed the courage to tell someone of another faith that Jesus is the only way to salvation because, first and foremost, I love HIM so much. And secondly, because I love the person I'm telling more than I care whether or not they think well of me.

Once I knew the truth, I suddenly had the courage to preach Christ to a Hindu friend of mine whose friendship I had never risked by confronting her with her need of a Savior. Oh, she knew what I believed for myself. But I had always tried to respect her beliefs and not attempt to convince her that Jesus died for HER, too. When she would tell me that she thought Jesus was one way to God, but not the only way, I would tell her that I believed Jesus was the only way. But rather than be offensive, I didn't go to that next step. Only when I began to consider there might actually be a hell, did I feel compelled to try to share the gospel with her. I loved her too much not to tell her why Jesus came in a more direct way. I didn't speak to her disrespectfully and I didn't tell her she was going to hell. It wasn't about me pronouncing judgment. It was about me doing my part in the plan of salvation. It was about my taking the role of an ambassador of the coming kingdom to heart. I have never heard from her again. I know I offended her. But I know I did what pleased God that day. And that is all that matters to me. What if I was the only opportunity she ever had to hear the gospel?

Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry. But he was also an offense to many because he didn't just do acts of service, he told people the truth of who he was. He did not sell himself by avoiding a politically incorrect statement or claim. Remember that they killed him because of who he claimed to be. Did he not tell us that the world hated him and the world will hate us because of him? Did he say that in order to avoid being hated, or to attract converts, we should avoid talking too specifically about who he is? No. He said he came to divide and separate even family members. What does that mean to us? The conflict is about who Jesus is. You can go anywhere and talk about God. God is many things to many people. A higher power. The universe. But you cannot go anywhere and talk about Jesus because of his claims, which many reject. He IS the point of offense.

There are missionaries who are putting their lives on the line every day to tell people about Jesus, even though it may bring death or land them in a jail cell. When prominent Christians of our day refuse to proclaim the exclusivity of Christ in order to sell books and attract people who are searching for a new way to enhance or fulfill their lives here on earth, it cheapens the gospel and makes a mockery of Christ's death on the cross. Jesus died to save us from our sin. He also offers us a more abundant life in him. But in order to truly find him and receive his gift, we have to repent of our sins and want HIM for HIM. If we want him simply for what he can do for us, we are just using him. And it saddens me to see how many people are being taken in by men who are appealing to people through this strategy. Ironically, as I have been writing this, a news story came on channel four about how people no longer choose a church for truth or what it teaches, but for what the church can offer them and how it can enhance their personal lives. Even the world observes this trend. How can we not see it?

"...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

I remember when my pastor linked the above scripture with 2 Timothy 3:1-4.

1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

He read these verses from 2 Timothy and then reminded us that the Bible tells us the power of God is the message of the cross. Where THE message is not the cross, there is only a form of godliness. "Have nothing to do with them" is the admonition of scripture. I think that is what Todd was saying in the discussion of deception.

I had an ongoing email discussion today with one of my closest friends about my last post. She explained to me that when she first read Todd's email, it sounded like another kind of legalism and like Todd and I were passing judgment on other Christians. I think after much discussion, she truly understood that was not the case. But I thought that if she interpreted it that way, perhaps someone else did as well. So I wanted to take the conversation a little further to clear up any misunderstanding.

As always, I welcome your comments even if you don't agree with me. I gained valuable insight into another person's perspective and concerns, as well as her heart, by asking her to share her thoughts with me today. I am much better off for the discussion and, hopefully, so is she. But I'm not sure she would have offered her opinion without being nudged. I'll leave it up to her if she wants to identify herself. But let me just say to her (because she knows who she is): Thanks for staying in the discussion with the goal of mutual understanding. It was well worth the effort as far as I'm concerned!

We grow and learn from each other. There is no way to grow past our present comfort zones without the discomfort of being stretched and challenged.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The question of "why that path?"

I don't know if everyone reading my blog scrolls down to catch all the comments. But we've had an interesting conversation going under the topic "Forgetting the things behind..(not easy). We are up to 21 comments (including my own). And I've decided to bring the conversation up to the top. The last comment under that post was Rachel's.

Rachel, I hope you don't mind if I quote you in this new post because I thought the things you said were so good and I wanted to respond. I wrote a response last night and then lost it when I tried to post another comment. So I thought I would just create a new post this morning.

Rachel wrote:

"The question about my past has haunted me since I left. I have wondered why God chose me to walk that path of false religion and abuse. At times I wished it could all be wiped away especially from my memory. Until Tim made me realize that its our life experiences that make us who we are. To hate my past would be to hate the person that I am today. Although I do not like where I came from and they do not receive any credit for the good that is found in me. Any good in me is due to Christ in me. God has certainly taken the bad and used it for good. A huge miracle is that we love and worship God. After all the crimes that were committed in his name. I have met so many people in our community that have been abused by religion and have completely turned away from God. The fact that we give God the glory for rescuing us is a testimony that can be used to help others who have walked the same road and bare the same scars as us.
P.S. I love you all so much!
Shari, I love your blog-It is always food for thought."

Rachel, thank you for taking the time to share those comments. You said so much in one concise paragraph. So many things you wrote resonated with me. I think you answered your own question (and maybe someone else's) with this sentence: "The fact that we give God the glory for rescuing us is a testimony that can be used to help others who have walked the same road and bare the same scars as us."

Many, many people have been harmed by religious groups. Not just the one we came out of. We all carry wounds and scars. And it is a miracle when any of us "land" in the gospel instead of in darkness. Just as many people carry other types of wounds and scars, too. The pain of rejection. The shame of past mistakes, broken marriages, dysfunction, all sorts of abuse. During every hard experience of my life, I have believed that not everything God allows me to suffer is necessarily even about me or what I need. But He is equipping me through my suffering to help someone else at a later time. And how could I ever have anything to offer a hurting person if I have never known their pain? Any time God has ever brought that thought to my mind, it has given me such comfort and resassurance that there is a reason He has not intervened. None of my suffering has been in vain. No part of my path is without a God ordained purpose. And the longer you've suffered, the sweeter the deliverance when it finally comes.

The most meaningful human comfort and encouragement we receive comes from someone who knows how it feels to struggle where we are struggling. So I thank God for the painful experiences He has allowed to come to my life. I wouldn't trade what God has taught me through my wounds for not having them. I'm thankful for the path He gave me. All of it. I would not be where I am today without the past that led me here. I can't be thankful for one without the other. And I am more thankful for His blessings, my deliverance and the gift of salvation because I have not always known His grace as I know it today.

What I have wondered at times is why I continue to reflect on the past and feel compelled to address what I came out of. It seems as though I would be so much better off if I could just forget about it and "go on down the road." For years I have viewed this inability to "move on" as, perhaps, something defective in ME. But I am becoming more and more convinced, especially recently, that God does not want any of us to forget. He is going to use our testimony for the deliverance of many. If I just forget the bad and focus on enjoying my life as it is today, how in the world will that ever glorify God or be a testimony of His deliverance?

My pastor once told me, "If someone came to me asking about God's deliverance, I would tell them they needed to go talk to Shari Howerton -- because your whole life is a story of God's deliverance." God cannot use my testimony if I refuse to share it. So no matter how many people from my past try to label me as "troubled" or "angry" because I keep talking about it, I have to be open to the possibility that God doesn't want me to stop sharing my personal testimony and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. If God uses my story to deliver even one additional person out of spiritual bondage, it will be worth every false accusation directed at me.
I praise God for my testimony!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rebecca!

Today is Rebecca's 31st birthday.
(I think I have the best daughter-in-law in the whole world!)

I have had a very enjoyable week with my mother-in-law. We've been on the go nearly every day. Yesterday we spent the day with Rebecca and the boys. We went to lunch. We got ice cream. We went to Stein Mart. The boys were cooperative and sweet. I have never encountered a two-year-old who says thank you more often than my little Joshua. He even says "Thank You Grandma Shari" when I buckle him into his car seat. I just adore those little boys. I was born to be a grandma! (I'm sure lots of grandmas feel this way.)

I have really enjoyed all the comments lately. Thanks to those of you who have added your thoughts to my recent posts. And yes, Dee Dee, I will take you seriously even with that picture. : )

I am a born communicator and I thrive on discussion. Whether or not we agree, I value the opinions and view points of others. I want to be challenged. That's why I gravitate toward books that are deeply thought-provoking. More than ever before in my life, I want to know why I believe what I believe. I remember a time when I would ask questions like, "What do we believe about...?" Then I took an Honors History course in college and every time I freely expressed an opinion, my professor would ask me what I based that opinion/conclusion on. I had to know (and articulate) why I believed what I did about history. And I was stunned, at times, about how much of our American History I was completely ignorant of. It also made me aware of how much evil has been done in the name of God and Christianity. It's nothing new in our day.

I took a course at Lipscomb on Religion and American Culture. I remember our professor handing out a cartoon. It depicted the Native Americans standing on the shore, looking out at the ships of Christopher Columbus. The ships had a cross on the sails. And the Native Americans were saying to each other, "If they are Christians, we must not have anything to worry about!" The more you've been exposed to the atrocities committed against Native Americans in the name of God, the more you appreciate the irony of the cartoon.

It is usually conservative Christians who are the biggest proponents of war and the death penalty. Those of us who say we are called to love our enemies often seem more comfortable with killing them. Collateral damage doesn't seem to bother us a whole lot. I do not say this in judgment. I say it as someone who never used to give that much thought. And now I do. Do I believe in the way of Jesus or do I not? Do I believe he meant what he taught, or do I say "That would never work." I don't have all the answers, but I believe Jesus did.

I posted the last time about fear and trust. I have days when I believe my trust in the Lord is so strong that I feel no worry about what the future holds. Then something unexpected comes up and I am surprised to feel so much anxiety once again. That happened to me Wednesday. Last night I couldn't go to sleep until after midnight. I was worrying. I wasn't trusting. The only prayer I could say was, "God, help me to trust you in everything." I took something to ensure sleep once I finally went to bed. I tend to be hard on myself and I kept thinking about the posts I have written about trusting God in everything, knowing He is working all things for my good. I felt like a fraud. I so need God's strength and power because mine is so unreliable. : )

It means a lot to me that any of you take the time to read my blog and make comments. Thank you for your friendship and love. There is nothing in this life I value more than my relationships with family and close friends. Everyone whom I know reads this blog is someone very dear to me and someone God has placed in my life. When I have those moments of feeling afraid, whether it's something big or something small, it is always such a comfort to know that I am surrounded by so much unconditional love and support. I can be a quirky person. I have strong, passionate emotions and opinions. And I don't often hesitate to express either. I appreciate those of you who love and accept me with all my flaws, which are many. Thank you for overlooking my shortcomings and seeing my heart. I feel so appreciative of you this morning and so blessed to know you are there. Know that I love you so very much. And you have such tremendous value in my life.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Trust vs. Fear

I have been so inspired by the comments under my post about the rich young ruler. Todd Edwards posted some very good things that I hope nobody has missed. I especially loved learning this (a portion of Todd's comment):

"Interesting thing about the camel and the eye of the needle explained by MacArthur is that from the Jewish mindset being rich meant being blessed by God. The O.T. is full of blessings/riches going to those who obey. So, when the disciples said "then who can be saved"? they were saying if a rich man who in their mind was being blessed because he was keeping all of the rules was difficult to save then how could those who were not rich/blessed be saved."

Understanding that helps to illuminate this encounter even more! (Thanks again, Todd!)

Then, this morning, I read Janette's comment and it made me cry. Not tears of sadness, but tears of thankfulness. God is amazing. I didn't know if I was truly being inspired to share my old paper on the rich young ruler or not. But it seemed like I was and now I know without a doubt that God brought it to my mind at just this time for a specific purpose. It makes me wonder how many times we miss these opportunites to respond to God's invitations, because we hesitate -- or worse, we are not listening closely for His voice.

My pastor has been talking on fear since the beginning of 2008. Fear is the opposite of trust. And we are instructed by scripture not to fear or be afraid more than anything else. I can't even tell you how many times, especially over the last five years, Danny has told me that when I have anxiety, it means I'm not trusting God. Fear and anxiety are not from God. And if I trust Him, I won't be afraid. My pastor is focusing on this very issue of trust being the antidote for our fears. And I love hearing (through Janette's comment) that God is speaking to this very issue in their church as well.

God has been speaking to my heart about trust for many months now. I wrote on my blog some time back about the day God told me I was putting my hope in a specific outcome instead of putting my hope in HIM and His promise to work all things for my good. I was very afraid that day. I was torn up with anxiety and could not stop crying. If I could share the details, I would. But God told me that day to trust that "I am using ALL THINGS for your good...EVEN THIS." My desire has not changed. But I know that if the desires of my heart do not line up with God's will for my life, then His will is better -- even if I cannot ever see it and even if it is hard. He has a purpose and a plan. And the plan is bigger than my little life. But I have an important role in His plan, nonetheless. I just have to remember it is not about me.

My most important role in God's plan is to honor and glorify Him, to point others to Him, through my life and all of my life's circumstances. The most dramatic evidence of my faith is obedience to His Word. And the most dramatic evidence of my relationship with Him is to what degree I am trusting Him with the details of my life. Am I consistently placing my life in His hands? Or am I taking life into my own hands?

The reality is, we all do some of both. But a trend should emerge in our lives as Christians. If we are growing in trust, especially in the really hard and uncertain places of our lives, we are growing up in Him. He is all we need for any situation.

God has proven His faithfulness to me. I should never have to be reminded that I can trust Him. But God is still faithful to remind me when I am weak. My pastor often reminds us that the Bible says, because of Jesus, we can come boldly to the throne of grace IN OUR TIME OF NEED. It does not say we can come boldly when we're strong, when we've done everything right, when we haven't let God down or because we deserve His mercy. It says to come boldly in our need, in our weakness. Acknowledging our need and our weakness is key.

As Todd explained in his comment, we were DEAD in our sins. We could do nothing to help ourselves. We could not even reach up to God outside of His reaching down to us first. Rather than trying to impress God with our goodness, He wants us to acknowledge our condition and our complete dependence on Him. The rich young ruler could not acknowledge his failure to keep the law. Therefore, he could not grasp his desperate need for the Savior.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Speaking of weight issues...

In my last post I was using physical weight as an analogy. Wow, is that ever timely for me right now! Not long ago I was so motivated and watching my bad carbs so carefully. It doesn't take long to reverse the momentum. I have been hovering between 127 and 129 for a while, which seems to be ideal for me. But after a week of indulging almost daily, I find myself back up to 131 this morning. And I have worked out nearly every day. I never slack up on my exercise.

Ugh. It's so frustrating.

I hear two things consistently from friends. Either it's "Well, you obviously don't have to worry about your weight. You can eat anything you want and stay so thin," OR "Why do you even worry about five pounds? I can't tell the difference when you've gained or when you've lost."

Well, I feel the difference whether it's visible or not. But if I didn't continually struggle with these same five pounds, it wouldn't be long before it was ten pounds, fifteen pounds, twenty pounds, and so on. I love to eat and if I let myself, I could be very heavy in no time. And I DO have to work at maintaining my weight. One week of throwing caution to the wind and I've put on several pounds. The only reason I battle five pounds instead of ten or twenty is that I weigh every morning and make myself face the consequences of eating everything I want too many days in a row! And the battle never ends.

I also have cholesterol issues. Mine tends to be a little high in spite of regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. My dad had triple by-pass surgery a little over a year ago. What he went through didn't look too appealing to me. I hope I never have to go through it. And I'm pretty realistic about this. I don't ever think anything can't happen to me. Four people close to me have a chronic, incurable disease presently. I know that being in overall good health is a big plus when a diagnosis comes. And, for most of us, some kind of diagnosis will be inevitable if we live long enough. It's very unwise to take our health for granted. But even as I preach on this, what I'm wanting to do right now is bake peanut butter cookies. So again I say, "Ugh!" And the struggle goes on...

I don't think I'm going to get to see the kids today, after all. They have been sick all week and, as of last night, still fighting to get well. I wanted to see them so bad, but I also don't want to get sick. So I guess I can wait a few more days!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Forgetting the things behind...(not easy)

Many of you know that I spent my life, until five years ago, in one church. My church friends were my extended family. Along with being taught some very different doctrines, which set us apart from the majority of other Christians, I remember hearing frequently (in church) that there was nowhere in the world we could go and find God, or the same depth of love and friendship, as we had "in the body." This phrase, "in the body," was never used as a description of all believers. It was the term we used to describe our specific group. And it excluded those who did not share our beliefs, those whom we viewed as not yet having the truths God had revealed to us. If someone was "in the body," they were of the same movement/group/beliefs -- originating from a man named William Sowders.

At one time, I thought that not only might I never be able to find God anywhere else, I believed He would probably be angry with me if I ever left this group to attend a church outside it. The terms that were used all my life to describe Christianity outside of our group were Babylon, false religion, the religious world. I had a fear of ever being a part of the beast in Revelation from a young age. I had a pretty steady diet of Revelation growing up.

I also believed I would probably never have truer friends than the ones I had in that church. We were not encouraged to have close friendships outside of our church group. Our lives revolved around the church. So, in a way, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy for most because we closed ourselves off from other people and associated primarily with each other, except when we were trying to bring someone in. When that was a possibility, much love and attention was lavished on the new person. But we did not reveal all of what we believed right away.

We actually withheld some of our doctrines very purposefully at first. This was not done necessarily with an intent to deceive. This was viewed as using wisdom. We truly believed that being a part of "the body" (as we knew it) was a privilege and the greatest opportunity available in the earth. If God brought someone in, He would show them the truths He had given us (in His time). We also knew that some of our beliefs were considered heretical by other Christians. So we didn't want to scare anyone away by overwhelming them with too much information before God had a chance to prepare their hearts. I remember conversations right up to the time I left about whether or not someone had told a new person what we believed, on this subject or that, yet. I didn't think a thing about this while I was there because it was so ordinary. Of course, I now have a much different outlook on it.

Leaving a group like this is no small event in your life. Ask anyone who has ever been a part of it and then left. Along with your previous beliefs, you leave behind some of the closest relationships you have ever had (or thought you had). It's hard to forsake one without forsaking the other. Even if some friendships survive, they are never the same. And if you speak openly about the past, as I have done, you become an enemy to some. Whether they express it openly or only behind closed doors, you know. And the reason you know is because you grew up there and were once of the same mind.

If you read my comments under the previous post, you know that a specific memory was triggered that day in regard to initially leaving. I continued to think about it for the rest of the day and I wished I had not even mentioned it on my blog. I so want to put all of this behind me. It's a weight. But it's just like the struggle with physical weight. You don't put on 100 pounds in a day or a month or even a year. And you can't expect to drop it all instantly. It's a process. And then even when you have lost it, you struggle to keep it off. My spiritual weight accumulated over 43 years. I've gotten rid of a lot of it, but some of it still fights to hang on. I know it can't stay without my cooperation. And I want to be more determined to get rid of it permanently.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. And all day long I thought about my blessings. I thought about how much I want to live in today and not in the past. I wish I never again needed to talk about my history or be affected by it. You can't wish away your memories. But I'm really going to work harder at putting them behind me.

On a much lighter note, my adorable and precious mother-in-law will be here today. She is staying until a week from Sunday and I am REALLY looking forward to spending time with her. She is an absolute doll and so much fun to be with. We are taking here to the Schermerhorn tonight to see Michael Franks. I have not been to the Schermerhorn yet, so I'm really excited. John got us a table in the front row! He always gets the best seats.

I don't know how much I will post on my blog while Marian is here. But I might have some pictures to share at some point. Monday is President's Day. So Danny, Rebecca, Joshua and Andrew are coming out and spending the night Sunday. Grandma Shari is very happy about that! And Poppy John says he is not going to the dealership until after lunch on Monday. Woo-Hoo! You'd have to know my husband's work ethic to appreciate what a big deal that is!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Not Following in the Footsteps of The Rich Young Ruler

The story is told, in Luke 18, of a certain young ruler who questioned Jesus about obtaining eternal life. After assuring Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments from his youth, Jesus said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (18:22). This statement caused the young ruler to walk away from Jesus sadly, “for he was extremely rich” (18:23). Jesus used this occasion to explain to his disciples how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus replied "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (18:27).

This passage illustrates several important points for us as Christians. First, the story clearly establishes that there are requirements and sacrifices involved if one is to be a true follower of Jesus. It is significant to note that Jesus allowed the man to walk away. He did not say, “Well, alright then, I will waive this requirement because it is more than you can do.” Second, the request Jesus made addressed the heart of the ruler more than his wealth. The one thing the man trusted in more than Jesus was his money and Jesus discerned this. As this story illustrates, anything that stands in the way of our total surrender to God will become the sacrifice He requires of us, because He is after our hearts. Although the love of money and possessions draws many hearts away from God, it can be any number of things that competes for priority in our daily living.

Jesus describes how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom by comparing it to something as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle. Then he adds that, although this is not possible for people, it is possible for God; which demonstrates the power available to us. If we put our complete faith and trust in God, He promises to do the impossible things that we cannot do. But it is through becoming fully dependent on Him and trusting only in Him that we tap into His power. Think of it as riding a bicycle in a race and learning the value of leaning into the curves. The human tendency is to draw back from God when we face a tricky spot in the race. Curves in the road are scary and difficult to maneuver. But the secret to staying upright is leaning into God.

The tragic mistake of the young ruler was that his response to Jesus demonstrated he had greater faith in his wealth than he had in Jesus; even though he obviously recognized Jesus as the Son of God. He would not have asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life, unless he believed Jesus had the authority to grant him eternal life. So he believed in Jesus, but he did not trust in Jesus or he would have been able to submit to Jesus. That is the test for all believers. To say we believe is a statement. But to live in subjection to Christ is to put our words into action. It is the very essence of our belief.

This man ran to Jesus. He was sincere. He was a good man. Yet, as John MacArthur writes in Personal Evangelism 101, “All his religion and wealth had not given him confidence, peace, joy, or settled hope. There was a restlessness in his soul – an absence of assurance in his heart. He was coming on the basis of a deeply felt need.”

It is so interesting to read the way Jesus answered the man, in light of the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place. As we all know, if the law had produced ever-lasting life, there would have been no need for a sinless Savior to die in our place. And yet Jesus answers by telling the man to “keep the commandments,” knowing that all have transgressed the law. When the man answers that he has kept the commandments from his youth, Jesus knows he is either lying or he is simply unable to recognize his own sinfulness. However, it is through recognizing the magnitude of deficiency within ourselves that we come to realize our desperate need of the Savior. And it is only by realizing our desperate need that we are able to fully appreciate the enormity of what Jesus did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves on our very most righteous day.

Jesus was trying to help this man take the first step toward salvation in confronting him with his inability to keep the law. If the man had responded honestly by saying that he had tried to keep the law, but failed, Jesus could have gone to step two. But the man failed to recognize his sinfulness. So Jesus went a step further to expose it to him. Jesus “gave an answer devised to confront him with his sin and his need of forgiveness. It was imperative that he perceive his sinfulness” (MacArthur). We cannot come to Christ for salvation solely on the basis of our “psychological needs, anxieties, lack of peace, a sense of hopelessness, an absence of joy, or a yearning for happiness. Salvation is for people who hate their sin and want to turn away from it. It is for individuals who understand that they have lived in rebellion against a holy God and who want to live for His glory” (MacArthur).

In Matthew 19:18, the rich young ruler asks Jesus which commandments he should keep. And Jesus responds by giving him several of the most basic commandments, plus one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:19). If the young ruler truly loved his neighbor as much as he loved himself, he would have gladly sold what he had and given to the poor. But the Bible tells us that “when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property”(19:22). With his response, he demonstrated not only his love for his possessions and his indifference to the poor, but his inability to concede his own sinfulness. And salvation only comes through repentance. “If you are not ashamed of your sin, you cannot receive salvation” (MacArthur).

In Rich Young Ruler, Tom Tanner describes this young man as “a guy who had everything that seemed right on the outside, did everything right on the outside, but pretty much missed it on the inside.” Tanner writes that, in our day, we might say I’ve “been in church all my life. Every time the doors are open, I'm there." Somehow, like the rich young ruler, we are expecting a pat on the back instead of a reality check. But idolatry comes in many forms. In Who is YOUR God? it is described as “ANYTHING that we allow to take priority, thus separating us from God and His will for our lives” (Sargent). In Understanding Today’s Youth Culture, there is an anonymous quote which speaks to the same issue: “You tell me who or what you spend your time daydreaming about, and I’ll tell you who or what your god is” (Mueller 251). Tanner writes that it’s not generic, it’s very specific.

“When you lay down your head at night, and you want to think about God, you want to worship, but you can't because your mind is drawn in another direction, what is it, even when you come together and you gather in a corporate setting for worship, and you want to worship and you want to focus on God, but your mind keeps going somewhere else, where does it go? What is it in your life that's vying for your attention? What is it that's stealing that first place?” The reason this is such an important aspect of salvation is that “The Kingdom of God cannot be ADDED to your life - It must REPLACE it…[it] is something that is so precious and so powerful that is has to be grasped, it has to be grabbed with both hands…in order to grab it with both hands, we have to let go of everything else” (Tanner).

Religion can bring about submission to rules, but only a relationship with the Lord can bring about trust. This young ruler “didn't trust, and believe in his heart, that what Jesus was calling him to was better than what he had. And, that was the bottom line” (Tanner).

If we believe God is working all things for our good, we’ll trust Him – even in the most difficult and challenging circumstances. In The Screwtape Letters, the demonic uncle, Screwtape, offers advice to his demonic nephew, Wormwood, regarding how to keep a human soul out of their enemy’s clutches; the enemy being God. Screwtape writes:

“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys” (Lewis 40).

The kind of obedience described by Uncle Screwtape is not the rule following kind that is produced by religion. It is the obedience that comes from complete trust in God’s will, brought about by a relationship of the heart. Trust enables us to know God is there even when He seems not to be. When what we desire for ourselves doesn’t seem to line up with what God desires for us, the only thing that will keep us from seeking our own will is our complete trust in Him and His promise to work all things for good to those that love Him. What Uncle Screwtape describes is not the strict obedience to the rule of law; it is the deeper obedience that Jesus called for – the obedience that only comes from our hearts, where trust and love are born. As Tanner writes, in Rich Young Ruler, “You can follow the rules, you can do all the right things, and it not mean anything in your heart…You can believe, and you can behave, you can even worship, but until it gets into your heart and changes what you trust in it doesn't make a difference in your life.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I didn't want anyone to miss this...It's beautiful!

Janet posted this comment today under "Tornadoes and God's Sovereignty":


I was behind in reading your blogs but found this poem in my devotional book for Feb. 12th:

Chance has not brought this ill to me;
It's God's own hand, so let it be;
For He sees what I cannot see.
There is a purpose for each pain,
And He one day will make it plain
That earthly loss is heavenly gain.
Like as a piece of tapestry
Viewed from the back appears to be
Only threads tangled hopelessly;
But in the front a picture fair
Rewards the worker for his care,
Proving his skill and patience rare.
You are the Workman, I the frame.
Lord, for the glory of Your Name,
Perfect Your image on the same.

By Arthur Christopher Bacon

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What personality type are you?

The first link is the test. The second link gives detailed descriptions of each personality type.

I like personality tests. I took this one at Lipscomb. I just took it again online and the results have not changed.

I am an ENFJ (Extravert/Intuitive/Feeling/Judging).

I thought I remembered what I was, but I took the test again to make sure I had remembered correctly. The one at Lipscomb was pages and pages and took much longer (to get the same results). The only thing the description said about me that I think pretty much everyone would disagree with is that I am the least of the extraverts to reveal myself. That's pretty funny. If you know me, you know I am not a private or a reserved person. I will tell you anything you want to know. The only time I don't completely expose myself is when the information involves another person who is not as comfortable with self-revelation.

Famous people of history who share my personality type are King David, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln. Good company. : )

If you take the test, please share your results!
(You can email me if you are less self-revealing and would rather not share them openly -- but remember: I don't have that many readers.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Suffering, Chains and God's Sovereign Grace

I want to share this You Tube video with any of you who might be interested in watching it. It is a moving testimony of someone who believes, through their suffering, that God chose for them to suffer.

I watched this video quite a while back. This man witnessed to me in a powerful way. I will never forget him or his testimony. And I am humbled by his attitude toward his suffering.

Last night was one of those nights when I woke up around 3:00 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. But I felt like it was for a reason last night. I needed to pray for someone close to me. And I did. I prayed over and over and over for God's mercy and for my loved one to have God's peace and comfort. I also prayed that God's purpose would be fulfilled and His will would be done through this situation -- because I know there is a purpose. I believe with all my heart that God has a purpose for everything we go through if we are His children.

While I was lying in bed awake last night, I again pondered God's Sovereignty and the necessity for God to humble me and remind me of my dependence upon Him. I felt impressed to "be humbled."

I tend to scrutinize my words and thoughts obsessively. When I write on my blog, I just write from my heart. I am not trying to convince anyone to believe what I believe. I'm sharing my journey and my search for more truth about God. Sometimes I do that by reflecting on past beliefs, as well. But sometimes after I write about something, I reflect on it and pick my words apart in my head -- wondering if I could have said it better or differently. That's why I sometimes go back and edit a word or two, add a paragraph, etc. This is just a part of my personality.

Somewhere along the road of my life, I picked up this belief that I have to say everything perfectly. And yet I know I never will. But I want to have the humility to acknowledge openly that I am severely inadequate and flawed and will never be able to say things in just the right words.

I am thankful to be surrounded by friends and family who do not expect that of me and who love me just as I am -- with all my cracks and warts. That is such an amazing gift in life; to have the unconditional love and acceptance of true friends. I have that at this point in my life to a degree I've never previously experienced (or ever expected to experience). I am literally surrounded by people who seem to have no difficulty in loving me. It's almost a continual shock to my system because I spent so much of my life believing I was very hard to love. But I am so thankful that God gave me both experiences; first, for the value of the contrast and second, for the depth of appreciation I might never have had if I had always felt so loved. It's an amazing gift from God and I want to be the kind of friend who loves others in this way.

Most amazing of all, to me, is having a husband who is that kind of true friend. I have experienced God's love in a fuller way through my marriage to John. I am never on trial with him. He reminds me that he knows my heart. He has never judged me. He has never been unkind to me. He knows my quirks, insecurities and weaknesses. But he looks past them into my heart. He loves and protects me in a way I never experienced before knowing him. And through this experience of being loved, I have been blessed to know God's love for me on a new level because I know that God loves me more than John does. John is such a gift in my life in so many ways. And I love that God has used our marriage to teach me more about HIS love for me.

God has taught me things about Him both through my blessings and through the things I have suffered. But it is the suffering that has helped me to grow in compassion. That's why I know suffering is necessary and that I will go through times of suffering again in the future. There are certain aspects of suffering that I am intimately acquainted with. Having had certain experiences enables me to comfort and encourage others and to feel what they are going through in a more meaningful way. One of these, of course, is the experience of watching my mom die with colon cancer. I know what that looks and feels like. It's something I am intimately acquainted with. It's an experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. I've been getting colonoscopies regularly since my late thirties because I hope to never have colon cancer. But I will have something. And I will one day die.

None of us wants to suffer. But we don't get to choose our path into life or our path out. Both are in God's hands. And if He chooses a path for me that I would not choose for myself, I hope I can embrace it as thankfully as I embrace my blessings. I know that in times of suffering I will always rely upon His mercy, His love for me and His promise that all things work together for my good. He has proven His faithfulness over and over in my life. And no matter what lies ahead for me, I have such a desire to be someone who points others to God through the way I accept His will for my life, even if it involves great suffering.

Because being "tested" is so much a part of my past thinking, a ridiculous fear pops up when I say these things. The fear is: "You better not say that. God might give you cancer -- or something even worse -- just to put you to the test." I am so thankful that I know to reject those thoughts and fears. I know they are not from God. I don't remember anyone ever saying that to me. I'm not suggesting that. But I heard a lot of testimonies and sermons on the subject of being tested, being shaken out, being weeded out, etc. I took those things to heart and seeds of fear were sown into me through them. I remember believing that I was probably just a weed that God would have to pull. And I am so thankful God has delivered me from such a belief, even if I carry a little remaining baggage for the rest of my life. Truthfully, that baggage is not all bad. There is a song that Steven Curtis Chapman wrote years ago. I've always loved it. But it has become even more meaningful in recent years, since I have come out of my shame and into God's grace. It's called, "Remember Your Chains." I can't even read these words without crying tears of gratitude.

There's no one more thankful to sit at the table
Than the one who best remembers hunger's pain
And no heart loves greater than the one that is able
To recall the time when all it knew was shame
The wings of forgiveness can take us to heights never seen
But the wisest ones, they will never lose sight of where they were set free
Love set them free

So remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone

Romans 8:15-17
15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tornadoes and God's Sovereignty

**Just a note of explanation. I sometimes publish a post and then think of something else I wanted to say. So if you notice an additional paragraph that wasn't there the first time you read, as there is in this one, that's the reason.**

I didn't have time to post yesterday. I was gone most of the day. And I have to work today at Stein Mart. So I'm limited on time this morning. But the local news coverage of many storm victims stirred up some thoughts I've been wanting to explore. I don't have a thesis I'm trying to prove. I'm just posing "food for thought" questions that I have wrestled with. And I am sharing how my perspective has changed in recent years.

We've all heard the testimonies of people who miraculously survived tragedies that others did not. A good example of this is a tornado. One house is standing. One next door is in rubble. One family thanks God for sparing them. The other not only has no home, they often have nothing but the clothes on their back. Their entire lives are gone in a split second. There are many other such events that, on the surface, make God's intervention appear random. Imagine being the person whose house is gone, next door to someone who is telling the world how God answered their prayers and left their home intact. Most do not want to believe that God "did this" to them.

We are quite comfortable giving God the credit for the rescues. But most Christians do not want to attach God's sovereignty to suffering or losses. Many of us seem uncomfortable with the notion that God "causes" anything bad to happen. He may "allow" something or choose not to intervene, but He doesn't "send" the tragedy in our lives.

I don't remember thinking very deeply about such things in the past. I also never took any of my opinions to their logical conclusions to test what I believed or to evaluate my thinking. But once I began to do this, I started to just naturally do it quite a lot.

The first time I ever thought something through in this way was as a result of a conversation I had with Danny. I was making the argument, "But they are sincere in what they believe." Danny was making the argument that salvation isn't about sincerity; it's about truth. And I was making sincerity the ultimate thing. Even if you believed false doctrine, if you were sincere, God would value/honor your sincerity. You would not be lost. That is the way I had always thought. Danny's point was that truth (especially when it comes to God) is more important than our sincerity. You could be sincerely wrong and be lost. But I couldn't see it that way.

Danny then challenged my thinking this way: "Okay, Mom, then take your opinion to its logical/ultimate conclusion. If sincerity is what matters most to God, then the men who flew their planes into the WTC are not lost. Because even though what they believed was false, they sincerely believed it and thought they were doing God's will. You cannot be more sincere than to sacrifice your own life for what you believe." I never would have thought about it in those terms. But I recognized the validity of his point.

So, I was listening to several TV interviews yesterday. One particular victim stated that there was no way they would have survived the storm had God not protected them. But people all around them, some of them also Christians, did not receive the same protection. Many people lost their lives in the same storm. And the question in my mind is: How can we make God responsible for the good outcomes and deny that He willed the bad?

If we acknowledge that God chose to spare some in that storm, how can we also maintain that the deaths were random or not under God's control? Isn't His lack of intervention just as much an expression of His sovereign will and control? Isn't it a complete contradiction to believe He is responsible for the miracles but not the suffering and loss?

I used to view pretty much everything in life as random. And every once in a while, for some reason known only to Him, God intervened or altered an outcome. Most of the time, He just allowed things to happen or take their natural course. I didn't realize this was the perspective of a deist.

I don't know if I thought He just looked away or was ambivalent toward some of His creation and more attentive to others. I don't think I thought it through at all. But the more I do ponder this and examine my belief as it lines up with scripture, I can no longer view God this way. According to the scriptures, He is not ambivalent toward us. He is not an apathetic God who just "allows" this or that to happen. He is not uninterested. That is not scriptural. He is The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End. In everything, good and bad, we are to give Him thanks. If He is the bestower of all blessings and everything good in our lives, He is also in complete control of our trials, the number of our days, our health AND our sickness, our tragedies.

If He chooses not to intervene, it is not because He is just standing back and observing, passively "allowing" something to happen to us. NO. He loves us. The deaths of His saints are precious to Him. And we have the promise that all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He knew us before our creation. The Bible tells us He ordained the number of our days. Even the hairs of our head are numbered. That is not the description of a God who looks away and just lets things happen randomly to His children.

I don't know how it was ever a comfort to me to believe God took such a passive role in my life. Maybe it's because we can't understand why God would choose to rescue one person and not another. So we try to find reasons and explanations. We've all heard people say that God spared them for a reason. They hadn't fulfilled their role in His plan. Well, all I'm saying is that if some are spared for a reason, then others are not spared for a reason as well. It is a great comfort to me to know that if something bad happens to me or I suffer loss, God in His sovereignty ordained it for me and will use it for my good and His glory.

If I die in a car accident tomorrow, just know that I would not have viewed it as a random event. Just as if I one day find out I have cancer, I will know God has ordained that experience for me. I know it is His will for all of us to be redeemed from this fallen, broken world into a new heaven and new earth where there is no sickness, no death and no sin. We will have glorified bodies one day. But that is not His plan for THIS world.

In THIS world, Christ told us that we will have trouble. But He has overcome the world. And through Him, we will also. Our redemption will come through suffering. Not random suffering. God ordained suffering. I believe this with all my heart. The more I am able to embrace this, the more I find myself longing for His return and for His Kingdom to come. I could not have a more blessed life than I have at this moment. God has been so merciful to me and has given me the desires of my heart in abundance. I'm not eager to leave this world. But I realize that the best life we can possibly have on earth will pale in comparison to what is waiting for us when our days under the sun are over. I want to live in anticipation of eternity with Christ, who is the author and the finisher of my faith.

The more I comprehend His direct involvement in every aspect of my life, the more I feel the assurance of His love and the future He has secured for me through faith and trust in Him. I used to think His respect for my free will was of ultimate importance to Him. But He has shown me through His Word that even my faith is His gift to me, not a reflection of my superior wisdom in choosing Him. Yes, there is a response involved in following Him. And my obedience is the evidence of my faith. But I am His through mercy and grace, not because He saw something special in me worthy of making me His choice. I will never be able to fathom His love for me. But just as I could never be ambivalent toward my child, I know that every aspect of my life is significant to my Heavenly Father. And there is no greater security in this life, despite our suffering, than knowing, in all of life's circumstances, we are being held in the palm of His hand, the hand of the One who is Sovereign over all!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Goodnight Again!

Where do the days go? I was saying to John just last night, "Here we are again, getting ready for bed. It seems like we were just doing this a few minutes ago. The days go by so fast and yet another one is gone."

I haven't had much of a chance to blog this week. I spent Monday volunteering. I spent yesterday with Rebecca, Joshua and Andrew. And I spent most of today in Nashville, having my annual physical and the dreaded mammogram! It's always nice to have that over with for another 365!

I finished reading Clapton in the waiting rooms today. It was a good book and I'm glad I read it. There just wasn't a whole lot of writing inspiration in it beyond what I shared Sunday. I'm looking forward to starting something more spiritually thought provoking next.

In case anyone is wondering...I have not been doing too well on my healthy eating lately. I think I am officially and completely off the wagon. I made peanut butter cookies for the Super Bowl game and all week I haven't stopped eating them. I should have sent them to work with John Monday morning, but I didn't. Yesterday I had cheese pizza for lunch. Last night I had a chili dog for dinner. (I told myself I didn't really do that badly because I could have eaten more than one and I didn't. Ha!) Tonight we had grilled cheese sandwiches on Milton's bread (with butter). In other words, I am back to eating whatever I want. And I haven't been eating nearly as many veggies, either.

I definitely notice that when I'm eating more bad carbs and sugar, I want them more. When I'm avoiding them with fewer splurges, I don't miss them nearly as much. But I have only gained back three of the nine pounds I lost. So I'm not in panic mode yet. The operative word being YET! But I do need to get disciplined again.

My blood pressure today was 102/62. Thank goodness for the treadmill and the stair master! If I had to rely on my disciplined eating, I would be up a creek without a paddle.

I was talking to a friend on the phone tonight, giving him the benefit of my cholesterol knowledge. He said I had told him more about cholesterol than his doctor ever had. He suggested I start a web site entitled, "Questions you didn't think to ask." That cracked me up. I know a few other people who would tell me the same thing (because I am always expounding on something!).

Unfortunately, just having the knowledge doesn't achieve the results. You have to incorporate the knowledge into making the right choices based on the knowledge. I seem to be better at collecting information than consistently applying it. But at least I do know what I need to be doing.

I have noticed that since I've been eating more junk again, I am a lot more tired in the mornings. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Speaking of getting old, it's about that time...Goodnight, again.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday: A (really) rambling post today!

I got this in an email. I thought it was pretty funny. I don't have anything specific in mind to post about this morning. I just felt like posting something. Maybe by the end of the post, there will be a meaningful thought expressed.

I've been so busy the last few days. We went to a concert at Danny's school Thursday night. It was so much fun. (I love going to Covenant for any reason. I never go there without someone telling me how much they love and appreciate my son.) I worked Friday. And I spent most of yesterday shopping and cooking ahead for today's football game. They say the Super Bowl is second only to Thanksgiving for food. And whether we have someone over or it's just a party for John and me, I always like to make a variety of fun foods to munch on. Today we are being joined by another couple. I have rearranged the furniture so that all seats have a good view of the TV. And I will remove everything from the coffee table so I can cover it with munchies!

I have a recipe for Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls, which I love. Whenever I make them, I multiply the recipe by five or six times and freeze bags of them. I think I rolled about three dozen of them yesterday. Now all I have to do is take them out of the freezer, brush them with olive oil and pop them in the oven. I'm sure they'd be even better fried, but they're plenty good the healthier way. I also took some homemade chili out of the freezer for chili dogs. I'll make a big batch of guacamole and some queso dip (another Chili's Restaurant recipe). John is going to pick up some wings before kick off. I have half a fresh banana cake I made earlier in the week. And I'm about to bake some peanut butter cookies. I certainly won't be avoiding bad carbs today!

Since finishing Yancey's book on Prayer, I have been trying to finish a book I have also been reading but not posting about. John got a copy of Eric Clapton's autobiography for Christmas. And I love autobiographies. So I have been reading it in between the books I normally read. I love gaining insight into other people's lives; especially those who are very different from my own. It absolutely blows my mind how someone with so much talent and opportunity could choose an existence of lying on a couch 24 hours a day doing Heroin. But that is a part of Clapton's story. In hindsight, he can't believe it either. After he got off Heroin, he became an alcoholic. I can't relate to addiction, having never suffered from it. But this is how Clapton describes himself as he is about to relapse after treatment the first time:

"My selective memory of what drinking was like told me that standing at the bar in a pub on a summer's evening with a long, tall glass of lager and lime was heaven, and I chose not to remember the nights on which I had sat with a bottle of vodka, a gram of coke, and a shotgun, contemplating suicide. Suddenly I was at the bar ordering a beer..."

He talks about going back into treatment for the second time and, nearing the end of his stay, he writes, "The noise in my head was deafening, and drinking was in my thoughts all the time...I was absolutely terrified, in complete legs gave way and I fell to my knees...I knew that on my own I wasn't going to make it, so I asked for help, and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me...From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray..."

From that day forward, he says he has never seriously thought of taking a drink or a drug; even when his four-year-old son fell out a window and died.

When I started reading this book, I had no idea that there was a testimony in it. I like some of Eric Clapton's music, but I have never followed his life or career with any great interest. I just enjoy reading biographies. My mind can't even imagine living the way many people lived through the sixties and seventies. But it certainly demonstrates the futility of living for self, which only leads to excess and self-destruction.

I don't know what Clapton believes about God other than what he discusses in his book. He hasn't elaborated further than his prayers at this point. And I haven't quite finished the book. He says he grew up around religion, which I'm sure was the Christian faith. I hope his faith is centered on Jesus Christ now.

I read Danny's blog this morning about Communion. I didn't grow up with this Christian observance. I was taught it was a meaningless ritual and that the commandment Jesus gave about doing this in rememberance of him was symbolic of eating The Word and drinking The Spirit. When I left my former church and started visiting other churches, I realized I had a fear of receiving Communion because I had been taught it was wrong. I even wondered if God would be upset with me for participating in this observance. This was just one of the fears that came to the surface; fears I never realized were so deep inside me as a result of the indoctrination of my past.

I have come to love the observance of Communion. It is definitely not a meaningless ritual for me or anyone I know personally. It's a deeply moving observance of Christ's death on my behalf that always stirs my heart. It takes me back to the cross. And I no longer fear that God is mad at me for observing Communion with the bread and the cup. It's now hard for me to believe that I ever worried about that. It is a real lesson to me in how a mind can be controlled and manipulated.

For Eric Clapton, the controlling force was addiction. For me, the controlling force was something very different. My chains are not the same as his, but I still know the miracle of broken chains. When I sing the song, "My chains are gone! I've been set free! My God, My Savior has ransomed me!" I know I sing it with as much amazement and gratitude as the worst addict who has been freed from a life in the gutter.

What do you know? I didn't think I had any meaningful thoughts this morning. This is one of the reasons I love to write. No matter where I start, I almost always end up in thankfulness. And I have so much to be thankful for. Most of all, I am so thankful for the cross. I will never cease to be amazed at God's love for us.