Friday, August 29, 2008

I AM

I love this song. I want to post the lyrics every time I'm listening to it in my car. I'm about to get ready to go to a funeral today and so I don't have a lot of time. But this song came to my mind and I wanted to post it. I think these lyrics put all of life into its proper perspective.

I have a friend who is trying to witness to someone close to her. She is burdened and feeling the weight of her responsibility in this person's life. I wasn't sure why this song came to my mind this morning, but after I posted it, I thought about her. I think this song is the answer to all of the situations where we feel inadequate and doubtful.

We are all facing things every day that look big to us. But we need only to remember that all of our challenges are small to God. Our role in everything is to do whatever He asks of us and then trust Him for the outcome.

"I Am" (Ginny Owens)

No Lord, he said, you've got the wrong guy.
Simple conversation gets me tongue-tied.
And you're telling me to speak with a maniac king.
Could it be I've lost my mind?
And besides, I am weak, don't you want someone strong,
To lead them out of Egypt when they've been there so long?
And anyway, they won't believe You ever spoke to me.
That's not your problem, God replied.
And the rest is history.

There's a bigger picture you can't see.
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me.
'Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan,
And through you I will show them, I Am.

Now Lord, are you sure?
He's just a shepherd boy,
Too small for battle gear with a giant to destroy.
What on earth can he do with five stones and a sling?
That's not your problem, God replied.
'Cause I can do anything.

There's a bigger picture you can't see.
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me.
'Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan,
And through you, I will show them,
I Am the first, I Am the last,
I Am the present and the past,
I Am tomorrow and today,
I Am the only way.

Great Lord, she said, I'm just a simple girl.
You say that I will bring your son into the world.
How can I understand this thing You're gonna do?
That's not your problem, God replied.
'Cause, there's a bigger picture,
And you don't have to change the world.
I am your creator, I am working out my plan.
And through you, I will show them,

There's a bigger picture, you can't see.
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me.
I am your creator, I am working out my plan,
And through you, I will show them,
I Am.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Friendship and Loss (Wed. morning version)

I posted most of this last night before bed. But I got up this morning and inserted a few more sentences here and there. So if you've already read it, it has a few new thoughts this morning.

I have so much going on this week, I really don't know how much I will be able to read. It seems like life has been extra busy lately. And early this morning, one of my closest friends lost her mother. So we'll have the visitation and funeral to attend Thursday and Friday. As I spoke to her on the phone tonight and she described the deep pain inside, I knew exactly what she felt. I lost my mom when I was 28 years old and I thought I was prepared, since she was terminally ill for seven months before her death. But I learned through that experience that you cannot be completely prepared for the death of someone close to you even when you know it's coming. And not even when your mom is 84. You only think you can until it actually happens. She described the strange feeling of seeing her mom's number on her cell phone and knowing she'll never call and hear her voice again. She described the numbness and the grief that overcame her when she went back to her mom's house (from the hospital) and saw her mom's purse. I know. I couldn't look at any kind of greeting card to or from a mother without tears for five years. I didn't expect to feel that depth of hurting for that many years. But I had never lost my mom.

I'm sad that I know my friend's pain, and yet I'm grateful that I truly understand. This is one of the ways God uses everything for our good and redeems our suffering. Through our own suffering we are equipped to be more compassionate and empathetic friends to one another. How much could we have to offer a hurting person if we ourselves have never suffered? There is such comfort in the words of a friend when you know they have felt what you're feeling and survived. My friend said to me tonight, "You think you know what it must feel like until it actually happens to you."

This is so true of life in general. When someone goes through a painful divorce and we've never suffered that experience, we know it's hard and it's painful -- but we don't really know what they feel. When someone has a child with life-threatening health problems, we love and support them -- but we don't really know what they're going through if we haven't experienced it. When someone is battling cancer, we pray for them and we try to imagine the struggle both physically and emotionally -- but we don't really know what it's like to face it ourselves, unless we have. When someone has suffered rejection from a parent or been abused and we've had loving parents, we feel bad for them -- but we don't know or understand the depth of their wounds or how easily they are reopened.

I could go on and on listing examples. It isn't necessary because you can do the same. I just think it's important to keep this in mind at all times. It's so easy to live in our own little worlds and never even try to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Even if we can only imagine their pain, reminding ourselves of that will increase our capacity for compassion. Behind a person's words and actions, especially those you may not be able to understand, you will often discover their wounds.

This probably sounds like I'm very sad. But I'm not. I have such a deep thankfulness in my heart on so many levels tonight. And a couple of phone conversations stirred these thoughts.

My daughter-in-law called me today just to talk and I felt so thankful that we have a close relationship. Then my friend called me tonight after getting a couple of messages from me and we talked about how much we love each other and value the depth of our friendship. I knew it was a comfort to her that I could understand and relate to her pain. Whether we get together as often as we'd like to or not, we know we're here for one another. She knows she can lean on me in the weeks ahead. And I know that when I need to lean on her, she'll be there for me. I know the day will come when I will need to lean. And I'm so thankful that I am surrounded by so much love. One fear I do not have is the fear of ever facing anything alone. And through the things I have suffered, I know that God has equipped me to reach out and comfort others who are hurting -- making sure they don't feel alone. I'm thankful for that, even though the way God equips us is through difficult and challenging experiences and losses of our own.

God is so good. In addition to Jesus, He has given us true friends for our journey. If our true friends include our family members, we are even more blessed. But we can have friends who surpass the bonds of a natural family. God is not limited to providing a brother or sister (or even a mom) through a gene pool. God has given me a surrogate for every relationship I don't have. He supplies all our needs.

At times like this, I think about the people on this planet who do not enjoy the wealth of friends and close relationships that are abundant in my life. There are so many people who are truly alone. And I am not only thankful, I am humbled. I do not know why God has been so good and so merciful to me. I will never know, nor will I ever understand. I don't feel worthy. I don't even feel lovable so much of the time. But I am so grateful and so humbled by His love.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Busy Weekend!

My mother-in-law arrived last Sunday and stayed all week. Her sister in Louisville called us Friday night and said she and her husband were thinking about driving down Saturday morning, spending the night and going back home the next day. I said, "Come on!"

Aunt Doris loves the upstairs balcony off of her guest room. Marian has one off her room, too. But they are a real challenge to keep clean and we hardly use the upstairs, let alone the balconies. So I don't mess with them unless I'm having overnight guests whom I know will want to use them. There are no hose outlets and they get pretty dirty from the elements. So Friday Marian and I got a ladder and pulled the hose up from below (Marian's idea). Fortunately, it was long enough (I wasn't sure it would be). And that method sure was easier than mopping the balconies as I have previously done. Why am I not an industrious thinker? I mopped and mopped and mopped last year (just about killing my back) and I didn't even think to fill my bucket in the upstairs bathroom! I carried it from the laundry room! Oh well...

Anyway, we got the back patio areas spotlessly clean, I worked out, and we still had time to go to Target in the afternoon. It was quite a productive day. Aunt Doris and Uncle Tom arrived at 1:00 on Saturday. Tom settled in for some Olympic coverage and we girls went to Stein Mart. And later on John and I took everyone to Milano's (one of our favorite restaurants) for dinner. Notice who has both desserts in front of her. (We all shared. I promise.)

Marian, Doris and Tom are a lively bunch (especially when you get all three of them together). After dinner we sat outside until we were all getting sleepy. Sunday morning we had coffee and breakfast on the patio. John and I were outside all morning trying to get pictures of the humming birds. There were five buzzing around at the same time. But they're hard to capture with a camera. While we were doing that, Marian and Doris were making poached eggs, toast and cutting up fresh fruit. I didn't have to do a thing. They were all gone before noon.

Because we spent so much time outside, I took a lot of pictures yesterday. When it comes to flower pots, I have come a long way in the last five years. For most of my life, I've never had a strong desire to dig in the dirt or plant anything. But I started experimenting with flower pots on my back patio the first year John and I were married. My friends teased me when I bought something for a pot that only bloomed once and is normally planted in the ground. I had no idea. They were red and they were pretty. That was all I knew. I have since learned a thing or two. And through trial and error, I have learned what I like and what lasts (and what doesn't). This is the best my pots have ever looked in late August. If you knew me back when I could only name flowers by their colors, you will be impressed with how far I have come. I can actually name every flower on my patio. Ha Ha. Here are a few pictures. And if you'd like to come over for a glass of iced tea before it gets cold, just let me know.




In many ways, I am the same old Shari I've always been. But I have to say that a part of me was born in Murfreesboro. If you had asked me ten years ago if I would ever enjoy planting flower pots or sitting outside watching humming birds or having my dear husband bring tree frogs to the back door at night ("Look, darling!"), I would have laughed pretty hard. But I've discovered an interest and enjoyment of so many new things in the last five years. I still have a way to go before anyone calls me Nature Girl. But John has brought so many things out in me I never knew were even there. Great food will always be my main obsession, but you might say I am branching out. I remember a time when a friend laughed and pointed out to me how I could describe a meal down to the finest detail, but I described flowers (in Buschart Gardens no less) only as "yellow ones," "pink ones," and so on. Somebody tell Pam how much I've grown as a human being. This is the man I owe my growth to...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An update on Allie (and reflection on God's mercy)

I'm so pleased and happy to report that Allie came through her surgery beautifully. Thank you for your prayers.

A hospital waiting room can be a stressful setting. But today actually felt more like a lot of old friends catching up. I saw a few people I haven't seen in a long time. And I really enjoyed talking, laughing and sharing pictures of our kids/grandkids.

Allie's parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all felt at peace going into the surgery and were strong in their faith that God was going to bring Allie through this difficult surgery. I felt that way, too. But there was still such a rush of emotion when the doctor finally came out and told us how well she had done and that they expected her breathing tube to come out by tonight. You just breathe a big sigh of relief when you hear those words. Valerie's eyes filled with tears (one of Allie's grandmas) and I understood her surge of emotion. I have been thinking so much about how I would feel if my little Andrew were facing open heart surgery. He and Allie are just a few weeks apart in age.

I got to see Allie just before her surgery. She is so special. I believe God will use her to reach and comfort others one day as a result of her experiences and the testimony she will have. There is a purpose in everything we go through and God sees Allie's life and the lives she will touch twenty years from now.

What an amazing perspective God has - not being held in time as we are. He sees all that we will one day become as we are still struggling to mature in Him. Long before we can see what He is accomplishing in our lives, He sees what each trial will produce in us. He sees simultaneously the process and the outcome. I have often looked back on times in my life when I felt hopeless or defeated and thought about what God had planned for my life that I could never have even imagined. He knew through it all where my path would lead and the joy that would come out of everything I have ever suffered. I may have lost heart at times along the way, but God has always been faithful and I know that nothing I have ever gone through was without purpose. Every situation of my life has taught me how to trust Him more.

I see now how God has strengthened my faith through heartache, disappointment and redemption. I had no idea where my path was headed in so many situations, but God saw me in today just as He saw me in yesterday and sees me in my tomorrows. I find such comfort in that. I remember feeling a few times like my life was over. There was even one time I prayed for God to take my life. But as I prayed that prayer (very sincerely at the time), He saw my today and what He was going to do in my life and heart. It makes me realize how merciful He is in not answering all of our prayers the way we want Him to.

I'm thankful for God's love, mercy and faithfulness. I'm thankful for my husband and family. I'm thankful for friends who love me warts and all. I'm thankful I was able to be in that waiting room today to witness God's provision and power. And I'm thankful for every person who was there supporting Val and Liz. God is so good.

Thank you again to everyone who prayed for Allie.

Please pray

I'm up early this morning because the little daughter of friends of mine is having open heart surgery today at Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital. I'm going to go sit with them while they wait.

If you're reading this, would you please say a prayer for Allison Courtney, her doctors and her family.

Allie is 18 months old and has already had open heart surgery once, as well as other procedures to correct problems with her heart. She is a beautiful little girl with the most adorable personality. She's strong and happy. Many people are praying for her and we all believe she is going to come through this successfully and recover quickly. But we can never have too many prayers.

Allie is the same age as my little grandson, Andrew. So it isn't hard for me to put myself in the shoes of her family and imagine (not know) how difficult it must be to watch their sweet "little person" have to endure the discomfort and invasiveness of all that goes along with such a complicated and serious surgery/recovery, not being able to understand any of it or why it's happening to her. Just keeping her still after she's home will be a great challenge for her parents, I'm sure. She's a busy little girl with lots of energy.

Thank you for praying for her. If you don't read this until after the surgery is over, you can still pray for her recovery! Surgery begins this morning at 8:30. I'll give an update tonight. Her parents' names are Val and Liz Courtney.

This is a fairly recent picture of Allie. Pictures don't have a chance of capturing her personality. She just steals your heart when you're around her. I copied this one from her mommy's blog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Competition

I found the passage I couldn't find the other day about running the race. I had read it in "Respectable Sins" and as we discussed the final chapters last night, I saw it while looking for the author's statements about competitiveness. Welch used Paul's words about running to win the prize as an illustration for something completely different from how this verse had been used in my formative years. But it really stood out to me and I wanted to share it here, along with some of his comments on competition.

Someone may argue that Paul tacitly endorsed competitiveness in 1 Corinthians 9:24: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." But the analogy breaks down at the point of the prize. In a race, only one runner wins and receives the prize. But in the Christian life, we may all receive the prize. Paul is not urging us to compete with one another. Rather, he is saying, "Run the Christian race with the same intensity that the runners run who are competing for the one prize."

Let me clarify that I'm not writing against friendly competition but against the competitive spirit that always has to win or be the best. Actually, I believe that healthy competition is good, especially for children and high schoolers, as it can provide an arena in which they can seek to do their best. And this kind of competition is not limited to sports. There is competition at science fairs or among bands or at spelling bees. But in whatever competition, the question the child or teenager and their parents should ask is not "Did we win?" but "Did we do our best?"

You can see now that there is a close relationship between envy, jealousy, and competitiveness. We tend to envy a peer who is ahead of us in an area we value highly. We become jealous of a person who is overtaking us. And both of these foster a competitive spirit that says, "I must always win or be number one." All of these attitudes are the result of ungodly selfishness, of thinking only of ourselves.

I have been learning over the past few years that the key to so many of our wrong motivations and attitudes is failing to see all of our lives in the context of living for God's glory. When I once believed that God required me to reach perfection in this life, my focus was entirely inward. It caused me to be constantly focused on self rather than the cross. It also results, quite often, in comparing ourselves to others. (I'm doing better than that person. But I'm not as far along as that person.) As if others were the measuring stick for how we are doing in our walk with God. But the message of the Bible is quite the opposite. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like others (thinking he was doing better in pleasing God). And yet Jesus said that it was the despised tax collector who went away justified (because of his poverty of spirit).

Danny (my son) teaches his elementary school kids about being image bearers. We are created in the image of God and our purpose in life is to glorify Him in everything we do, including sports and even play. Whatever gifts we have we are to use for God's glory. He has blessed all of us with certain talents and abilities. But the purpose of those gifts is to honor and glorify Him so that His blessings may flow through us to bless others. God gave me a couple of natural abilities. One is hospitality and feeding people in my home. I now understand how I bring glory to Him and use what He has given me to bless others simply by opening my home and my kitchen. I don't have to be doing anything that places me in a prominent position. We glorify God most by serving others. We cannot be focused on our own glory when we are focused on glorifying Him.

The world around us exalts and idolizes winners. But we know that our purpose in life is to exalt God, not ourselves, and to have no idols. We are to esteem others above ourselves and be servants. If we run the race for God's glory, His honor and not our own, we will live lives that please God. And doing everything for God's glory gives meaning and satisfaction to even our suffering because we begin to love other people for His glory and not because we need them.

There are relationships God has asked me to let go and give to Him. There are people in my life that I have tried very hard in the past to please and thought I "needed" their approval. God has been teaching me that not only do I not "need" to please them or have their approval, He doesn't want that to be my goal. I am to love them but not need them. When we love out of need, we cannot love unselfishly. I've lost some dear friendships in recent years and that has brought sadness to my heart. But for every treasured friend I have lost, God has placed new ones in my life to nurture and encourage me in ways I have never experienced. I am learning to relinquish that which He withholds and focus on all that He has provided.

We know that God has given us everything we need in Christ. We just have to remind ourselves sometimes of what we know. What I was once taught was essentially that I was competing with Jesus. I don't know whether or not Jesus could have failed to live a sinless life and redeem us. It seems foolish to me to focus on anything other than the good news that He triumphed over sin and He did not fail. But that was an important point to some in my past and I remember hearing people say, "If he could not have failed, then he had an unfair advantage over us (in becoming perfect)." That belief makes Christ our rival rather than our Savior. I'm so thankful I see that now. There are so many facets to that teaching that are deceptive. Some are obvious and some are subtle. The important thing is not whether or not He could have failed, but that He defeated sin through the cross and we are IN Him. We don't stand on our own merit with God.

I thank God that I am not running a race of competition. Jesus has won the race on my behalf (and yours, if you will accept His sacrifice). My life is to be a living demonstration of HIS victory and triumph. I have the privilege and the opportunity to glorify Him and be a living reflection of His glory.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Age related humor...

No deep thoughts. I've been in the kitchen all morning.

My mother-in-law is here visiting again this week. We have so much fun together. Yesterday as we were leaving to go to Franklin, we were laughing about getting older. She is 75 and I am 49. I'm sure this is a common discovery and not at all unique to me, but I told her, "You know, I realize it's true that the older we get, the more we know...If we could just remember what we know!"

This morning, as I do on a regular basis, my mother-in-law opened the pantry door and stood there looking perplexed. Then she looked at me and asked, "What am I here for?" I said, "Listen, if I don't know what I'm going in there for 90% of the time, what do you think the chances are that I can figure out why you're there???"

My small group comes tonight and we're wrapping up this study. We will then take a break for two or three weeks and start a new book. I figured we would go out with a bang. So I'm making chicken enchiladas, guacamole, and sour cream coffee cake. My cake is already in the oven. I'm also making my homemade hot fudge sauce to go over vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut because my mother-in-law loves it and I've told my small group about it, but never made it for them yet. So we'll have dessert options tonight. The irony just hit me. We are finishing a book about confronting the respectable sins we tolerate. And for one of our dessert options, I'm making a copy-cat version of "Sydney's SINFUL Sundae."

Well, now that I've made you hungry, I think I'll hit the treadmill. Let's see, how many hours would I need to walk to cancel out tonight's calories? Ha! Even I don't have that much spare time!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Needs

In church last night, we listened to the testimony of a couple I recently met at morning prayer. They are from another country and it is not easy (big understatement) to be a Christian in their part of the world. For their protection, I won't mention their names or what part of the world they live in. Our church supports their ministry in such a quiet way that I had never even heard their names prior to this visit. I learned last night that we partner with other Christians all over the world in this same way. Listening not only to this couple and to members of our congregation who have done missionary work, I had, for the first time ever, a tugging on my heart toward missions. I can't even begin to describe to you the impact this couple had on me. Their hearts, their dedication to Christ, and their enthusiasm for the work of the Lord was compelling. I have never made sacrifices like they have made for their faith.

Listening to the challenges they face, I thought about needs. What truly are our needs in life? I thought about a guy named Abraham Maslow, whom I learned about in college while studying psychology. He popularized the concept of psychological needs. And his self-actualization theory suggested that we have, at birth, a hierarchy of needs. According to his theory, the most basic needs are biological and safety needs. Only when these needs are met can we move up to satisfy our basic psychological needs. These psychological needs would be for belonging and love, the need for esteem from other people, and the need for self-esteem. A deficiency or being deprived of these satisfactions or needs leads to neurosis according to Maslow.

In the book I recently read, "When People are Big and God is Small," the author refers to Maslow. I'm sure that's why my mind went to him last night. Welch writes, "To these essentials can be added one further characteristic of psychological need or dificit theories: they are distinctly American. Need theories can thrive only in a context where the emphasis is on the individual rather than the community and where consumption is a way of life...If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth. Whatever you feel most strongly are seen as your God-given needs. That is why the unpardonable sin in today's culture is to either 'deny' or suppress your emotions. Emotions point to needs, and to deny your needs is to deny something God-given and God-like."

What drives Christians like the ones I had the privilege of listening to last night are the needs of others and not the needs of self. They live in the fear of God and not in the fear of man.

Seeking to have our emotional and psychological needs met by other people is a pit. It will increase our fear of man because the one who has the power to withhold what we need controls us. I am learning this slowly but surely. But it seems that God has been focusing my thoughts on this more than ever before and I'm experiencing growth in this area. Thank you, Lord! The fear of man keeps us in bondage. Deliverance from bondage to psychological needs brings freedom.

Welch goes on to explain in his book that "If I stand before [Christ] as a cup waiting to be filled with psychological satisfaction, I will never feel quite full. Why? First, because my lusts are boundless; by their very nature, they can't be filled. Second, because Jesus does not intend to satisfy my selfish desires. Instead, he intends to break the cup of psychological need (lusts), not fill it...To look to Christ to meet our perceived psychological needs is to Christianize our lusts. We are asking God to give us what we want, so we can feel better about ourselves, or so we can have more happiness, not holiness, in our lives...Now I understand what held me in the fear of man, even though I knew the gospel well. Not only did I need to grow in the fear of the Lord; I also needed to repent. My felt needs, desires, or lusts were big. They were so big that I looked to everybody to fill them, both God and other people. I feared other people because people were big, my desires were even bigger, and God was small.

The main reason why there is an epidemic of emptiness is that we have created and multiplied our needs, not God...We forget that we must repent of our self-centered desires. Without repentance, our desires remain the focal point instead of God's glory."

In a subsequent chapter, Welch writes about delighting in the God who fills us. Especially meaningful to me this morning, after listening to the testimony of Christians who are too engaged in the work of the Lord to focus on their psychological needs was this paragraph:

The path of God's love is not without suffering. In fact, those who love more will suffer more. Yet the path of God's love is a path that leaves us overflowing. Our cup cannot contain what God bestows on us. It is only natural, then, that the comfort we received from Christ will overflow into the lives of other people (2 Cor. 1:3-7). Our goal is to love people more than need them. We are overflowing pitchers, not leaky cups.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why focus on our sin if we are forgiven?

Before my trip to Destin, I had been focusing a lot of my posts on the book, "Respectable Sins: Confronting the sins we tolerate" by Jerry Bridges. I have finished the last six chapters, but rather than comment on them specifically and individually, I want to focus more on why I think it's important that we not take any of our sins lightly even though we know we're forgiven. In my John Stott Bible Study subscription this morning, I was inspired by this passage:

So, in practice we should constantly be reminding ourselves who we are. We need to learn to talk to ourselves, and ask ourselves questions: ‘Don’t you know? Don’t you know the meaning of your conversion and baptism? Don’t you know that you have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection? Don’t you know that you have been enslaved to God and have committed yourself to his obedience? Don’t you know these things? Don’t you know who you are?’ We must go on pressing ourselves with such questions, until we reply to ourselves: ‘Yes, I *do* know who I am, a new person in Christ, and by the grace of God I shall live accordingly.’

On 28 May 1972 the Duke of Windsor, the uncrowned King Edward VIII, died in Paris. The same evening a television programme rehearsed the main events of his life. Extracts from earlier films were shown, in which he answered questions about his upbringing, brief reign and abdication. Recalling his boyhood as Prince of Wales, he said: ‘My father (King George V) was a strict disciplinarian. Sometimes when I had done something wrong, he would admonish me saying, “My dear boy, you must always remember who you are.”’ It is my conviction that our heavenly Father says the same to us every day: ‘My dear child, you must always remember who you are.’

The reason we should focus on eliminating even small sins from our lives is not because we are trying to earn something for ourselves or because we need to beat ourselves up for what some might describe as "minor" sins. No. We know we are forgiven and we will never be perfect in this flesh. Nevertheless, ALL our behavior is significant because of Whom we represent and who we are as His children. As believers, our lives, our actions and all our choices -- even in the smallest things -- should be salt and light to the world around us, demonstrations of His love and mercy, always pointing others to the Light. We are to be lighthouses to others. Our God given responsibility as His adopted children is to glorify Him in all we do. We must always remind ourselves Whose ambassador we are. But the first mistake we seem to make as human beings is to often make everything about ourselves in one way or another; to be internally, instead of externally, focused. I know I do it on a daily basis. God, forgive me.

That is why a book like "Respectable Sins" is so valuable to me. It reminds me to think about the sins I don't even notice in myself, the sins I dismiss as insignificant by my lack of attentiveness to them. But no sin is insignificant to our Holy God. Read the Old Testament commandments (not just the Ten). God had boundaries and guidelines for the smallest details of the lives of His people. The Law was given that we might know our need of Christ as Savior because if we fail in one aspect of God's Law, we fail in all. Jesus came and fulfilled the Law for us. But that reality should be the motivation for our obedience, it should not give us a sense of relief that our obedience, even in small things, is unnecessary. To respond that way to God's grace is the definition of "cheap grace." It matters greatly how we live our lives because we are to represent the transforming power of the cross to the world around us.

I say all of that with such humility because I know without a doubt that I do not obey God completely in everything I say and do. I am not professing to be the living embodiment of these convictions. I'm openly confessing my own sin and rebellion. But I want to be changed. I don't want to live in denial or in ignorance of my condition. I want to feel convicted of my sinful nature. I do not dare to stand before God on my own merit. To me, that is not beating myself up. The more convicted I am of my sin, the greater my humility is before God and the greater my gratitude for His provision in Christ. I don't ever want to have the attitude of "I think I'm doing pretty well."

I don't know how we can be as thankful as we should be for Christ's sacrifice on our behalf if we take our sin lightly. Our sin, our rebellion, our selfishness nailed Jesus to the cross. Even our "minor" sins. How can I love Him with my whole heart, mind and soul and take any sin lightly?

The last six chapters of Bridges' book focused on the weeds of anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and worldliness. He concludes with a chapter entitled "Where do we go from here?" I hope my posts have made you want to read this book. I will conclude this post with a portion of what he writes in this final chapter:

If you have stayed with me this far, you know that we have worked through some pretty bad stuff. We have looked in detail at many of the subtle sins we tolerate in our lives. At times, this may have been painful. I hope it has, because that means you have been honest enough and humble enough to admit the presence of some of these sins in your own life. And in this, there is hope. Remember, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

The opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:1-7) should encourage you. The poor in spirit and those who mourn are those who are conscious of their own sinfulness. Because of this, they are meek and merciful in their attitudes and actions toward others, and they hunger and thirst for the righteousness that they realize they have not yet attained. Their whole demeanor is exactly opposite that of the proud, morally superior, self-righteous person. Yet Jesus said that they (not the self-righteous people) are the ones who are blessed.

In telling His parables, Jesus created the characters to make His points in a most forceful way. Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple (see Luke 18:9-14). In the eyes of the Jews, the contrast between a Pharisee and a hated tax collector could not have been greater. And in the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32), the son's dispicable actions would have scandalized His Jewish audience. Yet in the two parables, it is the self-righteous Pharisee and the self-righteous older brother who receive the implied condemnation of Jesus. Meanwhile, the tax collector goes away justified, and the repentant prodigal son is received into the warm embrace of his father. Does this not tell us something about how much God hates the sin of self-righteousness and how He responds graciously to a humble and contrite spirit?

...In Luke's account of the sinful woman who washed and anointed the feet of Jesus (7:36-50), Jesus said, "He who is forgiven little, loves little" (verse 47). The opposite is also true, as Jesus clearly indicates in verses 41-43; that is, he who is forgiven much, loves much. Simon the Pharisee did not realize how sinful he was and how much he needed to be forgiven, so he loved little or actually not at all. The sinful woman realized how sinful she was and how much she had been forgiven, so she loved much...The apostle Paul wrote that it is Christ's love for us that constrains us to live for Him (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Such love for Him that will drive out our love for the world can only be a response to the deep, heartfelt sense of His love for us.

So we need to be honest and humble enough to admit our subtle sins in order to experience the love that comes through the forgiveness of those sins. But we must also face them in order to deal with them. The worst sin of all, in practical terms, is the denial of the subtle sins in our lives. We cannot deal with them until we admit their presence. The first step in dealing with any sin is to acknowledge it and repent in one's attitude toward it. This doesn't mean we will make rapid progress in getting those sins out of our lives. The flesh doesn't give up that easily. Rather, to use Paul's term, these subtle sins must be "put to death" (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). Furthermore, we have developed habits of sinning. We have developed habits of ungodly thinking: anxiety, self-indulgence, critical attitudes, gossip, and the like. So where do we go from here? How can we apply the overall message of this book?

...Remember that our progressive sanctification -- that is, our putting off sin and putting on Christlikeness -- rests on two foundation stones: the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Always look to Christ and His perfect righteousness for your standing and your acceptableness to God. Remember, if you are united to Christ, God sees you clothed in His perfect righteousness. And always look to the Holy Spirit to enable you to deal with sin in your life and to produce in you the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us watches us even as it ridicules our values and rejects our message. We may think our subtle sins are hidden from their view, but in some way they see them. They pick up our self-righteousness, our anger, and our judgmentalism. They think of us as "holier-than-thou" people or else they see us as hypocrites who do not practice what we preach. Dealing with our "acceptable" sins in humility and honesty can go a long way in dispelling that image. Finally, let me repeat the words of 1 Peter 5:5: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Repentance

This week I have been listening to CDs from the past two weekends because I missed church (being out of town). I was listening to my pastor speak about the efficacy of the cross and our salvation being accomplished through Christ's death and resurrection. He spoke of the arrogance of anyone who would try to add their own rules, regulations and merit to Christ's perfect sacrifice on our behalf.

In the same sermon, he strongly admonished us to live lives of obedience to the glory of God in thankfulness for what He has done for us in Christ. Not because our works can ever qualify us to stand in His presence. To believe such is to lower God's holiness and nullify God's grace. We obey God in order to glorify Him in the earth; not to earn for ourselves something that He has freely given which we could never earn for ourselves or deserve.

When we do not recognize our sin and repent, we are choosing to stand on our own merit. That's an arrogant and a scary thing.

We are clothed in Christ's righteousness and not our own. We overcome through the blood of the Lamb. We are washed in His blood and not only forgiven, but made pure by His blood. What God requires is our repentance, not our "self" righteousness. We must be poor in spirit, seeking His mercies every day and never counting ourselves as worthy of His love and grace.

I'm so overwhelmed by the revelation of the gospel. All my life I tried to live as a Christian, but I didn't even understand salvation. I was taught that I had to earn eternal life through my own perfect, sinless life. I loved Jesus, but I didn't comprehend what He had done for me. And I never once believed I could measure up to God's requirements. So sometimes I didn't even try.

For years after leaving this teaching I was haunted by the scriptures that had been used out of context to convince me of this "truth." It robbed me of the promises of God. It robbed me of peace. It robbed me of the freedom Christ died to give me. It robbed me of the power of the cross.

I read something in the last couple of weeks that helped me with one of those passages. I wish I could remember where I read this. I've gone back through some of my daily subscription stuff and I can't find it. But it was a commentary on the apostle Paul's admonition to run the race in order to gain the prize. The author of this commentary explained that Paul is using the example of an athletic event to exort us to run as if there would only be one prize and one winner. However, we know that is not the case. The same reward will be given to many. Nevertheless, we are not to be complacent, but to run as if the prize depended on our performance while knowing it is only by grace, through faith that we are saved.

Repentance has been on my mind quite a lot lately. I can't fathom why anyone would refuse to repent to a loving God who has promised to purify us from our sins through the sacrificial death of His Son. Why would repentance be so hard? Why would anyone choose self-justification over the justification available to us through Christ? I can't come up with any answer other than arrogance.

Salvation is God's offer of love and mercy to us and repentance is the requirement. Please don't refuse the cross.

'Refusing to let God be gracious'
There are large numbers of people who ... are seeking to commend themselves to God by their own works. They think it noble to try to win their way to God and to heaven. But it is not noble; it is dreadfully ignoble. For, in effect, it is to deny both the nature of God and the mission of Christ. It is to refuse to let God be gracious. It is to tell Christ that he need not have bothered to die. For both the grace of God and the death of Christ become redundant, if we are masters of our own destiny and can save ourselves.

--From "The Message of Galatians" (The Bible Speaks Today series: London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1968), p. 66.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A link

http://prayersforblowouts.com/2008/08/14/the-pfb-reader-survey-danny-bryant/

Danny was interviewed by this website. I thought it was an interesting interview. But since I'm his mom, you might want to take that into consideration. It has a cute picture of Danny and Joshua on it.

I'm hoping I can get inspired to write a "real post" tomorrow. I'm planning to be home for the day. I have just been so busy lately that I have not been reading quite as much.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thankful

I have been gone since 6:15 this morning and just got home a few minutes ago. Waiting for me on the front porch was a beautiful floral arrangement from Danny, Rebecca, Joshua and Andrew, expressing their love and appreciation for Grandma Shari. (Thanks, Guys!)

All day long I have felt loved and blessed and privileged.

I had actually planned to spend a quiet day at home today and maybe even blog about the book I just finished at some point. But last night I got an email from my friend, Jan, asking if I was going to morning prayer and wondering if I wanted to have coffee afterward. So I responded that I would. I woke up many times last night. Even though I went right back to sleep every time, I didn't feel like I had rested well when I woke up at 5:30 and knew I had to get up or I couldn't make it to the church by 6:30. The thought crossed my mind that I really felt like going back to sleep. And then the next thought went like this: "You may not always enjoy the privilege of having a morning prayer group any time you want to go. There are Christians all over the world who don't have this freedom or privilege. How could you choose to go back to sleep? You need to get dressed and go." I am so glad I did.

When I arrived, we had guests I had not known would be there. They are a couple (a pastor and wife) from another country. I don't know a lot about them, but I could tell that our church, our pastor and his parents have been friends to them and have supported their efforts through the years. They told us about the challenges they face as Christians in a part of the world where Christians are persecuted and how Christians have to take care of one another.

The wife told us about growing up in a family of fourteen children and being raised in a Christian home where adults were "allowed" to attend church if they chose to, but they were not supposed to take the children. Her parents took them anyway. At one point, her father was put in prison for his faith. If I understood correctly, he spent several years there. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with taking his children to church. But she said that his captors told him that if he would just spit on the cross, he could be a free man. I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I thanked God that He nudged me to go and I did not miss hearing their testimony.

Even though I am very thankful for God's goodness and mercy in my life, I can't deny how much I take for granted on a daily basis. I was so humbled by this couple's testimony and the lives they are living for Christ.

After prayer, I had coffee with my friends, Jan and Debbie. I went to TJ Maxx. I had lunch with my friend, Karen. I ran a few shopping errands and picked up some flowers to plant on my patio (to replace the ones that have not done well in the heat). And I finally got home around 5:00. I've had such a blessed day. And as I've reflected on this couple's testimony throughout the day, I have just felt so thankful for the daily blessings and freedoms I enjoy and often take for granted.

I want to go outside and put the flowers in their pots before John gets home and it's time to work out. So I won't attempt to share any book highlights today. But I felt inspired to express my thankfulness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We left the condo yesterday ahead of schedule. With everybody pitching in, it didn't take that long to clean and wash sheets and towels. Marian and I told Danny and Rebecca to go on ahead of us by about an hour. She and I were on the road by 11:00. We only stopped twice for no more than ten minutes and were home shortly after 6:00.

I was so proud of myself for being able to drive the whole distance. That is the longest I have ever driven because normally driving makes me sleepy (no matter how rested I may be). On the way down, Joshua rode with us for the last leg. He kept us in stitches, so I never fought heavy eyes. On the way home, I think my adrenalin kept me alert. I couldn't wait to see John after being gone a whole week. (I haven't been away from him for a week in the whole five years we've been together!) I really wanted to get home in time for the three of us to have dinner. And we did.

I was unpacked and had my laundry all caught up by 11:00 this morning. I washed down the back patio. We worked out. We went to Lowe's for some humming bird feeders and then to Publix for some groceries. And in a few minutes we will be meeting Anita for dinner at Chop House. Mark is in China.

I have to get serious about eating healthy this week. My goal is to eat mostly chicken and veggies, lots of salad, maybe a few eggs and some steel cut oatmeal. I'm going to try to cut out the bad carbs again (sugar, white flour, white potatoes, white rice, fried food and the bad fats). Everything I read says that a low-glycemic index diet is the healthiest way to eat. And I really need to drop at least five pounds. I'm back to "miserable" again after a week in Florida. Last time I did this, the pounds just melted away and I lost my cravings for bread and sugar (which are normally a problem for me). I've done very well today (so far) and I think I can do well at Chop House. If John had suggested Jim 'n Nick's, I might have been tempted by the onion rings.

I finished the last six chapters of "Respectable Sins" this week, but didn't have a chance to post anything about them. Maybe I can touch on a few highlights this week before I get into something else. I'm looking forward to getting back to my usual posts.

We had such a wonderful week at the beach and I enjoyed every minute of it, but it's SO good to be home again!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beach Fun


We have been going to the beach after dinner. It's the perfect time. The crowd is gone and the temperature is pleasant. I love the ocean and the sound of the waves. I love building sand castles with Joshua and watching him immediately destroy them with the shovel.

This morning, I was feeling a little sick from eating too much fried food last night at Buster's. I had fried appetizers, fried hush puppies and fried seafood (shrimp and scallops). It was just too much. I woke up really nauseous and feeling like I never wanted to see food again, let alone eat. I was reclining on the love seat and Joshua said he wanted to lay beside me and play cars. He put his head against my face and said, "Grandma Shari, I'm so glad you're here."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More vacation pictures...

The little people are napping and the other big people went shopping. Grandma Shari is relaxing in the condo. This has been such a fun day. It's hard to believe we just have three more and then we head home Saturday. So far, I have worked out every day since we arrived. It's hard to keep up with my food consumption. Speaking of that, the lasagna is ready to go into the oven. A little person is waking up and the big people are back from their shopping spree. Time for Grandma Shari to get in the kitchen.

An after dinner stroll...

Last night, after a feast of homemade tacos and guacamole, we took a walk down to the beach with the boys...

Tonight we will be feasting on homemade lasagna (which I made ahead and froze). After that, it's leftovers and eating out. We're having a great time. Poppy John had to stay home and work this summer. We miss him. On the way to the condo Saturday, Joshua started telling me, "Grandma Shari, I don't want to go to the condo. I just want to go to your house."
Me: "You want to go to my house and see Poppy John?"
Joshua: "Poppy John is not home."
Me: "Where is he?"
Joshua: "He's workin', Grandma Shari!"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pictures from Destin

Popsicles on the balcony...
Today was Danny and Rebecca's 6th wedding anniversary. So Marian and I kept the boys while they went out to dinner. The boys love Grandma Marian. She had them squealing and laughing hysterically in the tub. They are both asleep for the night. We adults are enjoying the quiet. Tomorrow will come early.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

We're here!

This has been a great first day. The trip down was fun and passed quickly. We stopped south of Birmingham and had lunch. We were in Destin by 4:30 and were having dinner by 5:00. We are now all settled into the condo. Andrew is in bed and Joshua is playing on the floor with Grandma Marian.

I wasn't going to post anything tonight, but I just read something on another blog I wanted to share. It's from a Tim Keller sermon, explaining the difference between religion and the gospel. I've heard him talk about this in many sermons.

Religion says this:

My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble, but not confident -
I feel like a failure.

The Gospel says this:

My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

I am so thankful for the Gospel of Christ. I am so thankful my eyes have been opened to the truth. I am so thankful for the peace and assurance that comes through trust in my heavenly Father's love for me.

Heading for the beach!

We are hitting the road for Destin this morning. I'm taking my laptop. This means, in addition to a few posts, you will probably be seeing some pictures of my beautiful little grandsons in the days to come.

I just got on the scale and I have managed to drop three pounds. I've really been trying to cut back. I have no illusions of losing weight this week, I just hope to keep from putting any on. We have a nice work out room at the condo and I will be exercising daily.

I went to morning prayer again yesterday. As I was getting ready for bed Thursday night, I was thinking about whether or not I would get up and go. And I just said a short prayer that if God wanted me to go, He would wake me up. I didn't set the alarm and I would have to be out the door by 6:15 to be there on time. He woke me up at 5:00. And I knew it was an answer to my prayer, because I have consistently been sleeping until 6:00 lately. I get so much out of going to this prayer group. It's a real blessing. I'm so glad I got up and went!

We're going to leave by 9:00 and I still have a little packing to do. So I shouldn't be on the computer. But I hate to go too many days without posting something and I haven't had time to write while I've been getting ready for the trip.

I wanted to share this song by Steven Curtis Chapman. I was listening to it in my car yesterday. I love these lyrics and just thought I would share them this morning. They speak my heart. My life is truly a miracle of God's mercy.

Miracle of Mercy (Steven Curtis Chapman)

If the truth was known and a light was shown
On every hidden part of my soul
Most would turn away, shake their head and say,
he still has such a long way to go
If the truth was known you'd see that the only good in me
Is Jesus, oh it's Jesus

If the walls could speak of the times I've been weak
When everybody thought I was strong
Could I show my face if it weren't for the grace
Of the one who's known the truth all along
If the walls could speak they'd say that my only hope is the grace
Of Jesus, the grace of Jesus

But, oh the goodness and the grace in Him
He takes it all and makes it mine and causes His light in me to shine
And he loves me with a love that never ends
Just as I am not as I do
Could this be real, could this be true
This could only be a miracle
This could only be the miracle of mercy