The Light

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
A couple of weeks ago I attended a spiritual gifts course and discovered my areas of spiritual gifts. I met with a pastor and we discussed ways to apply those gifts in service to the body of Christ. We came up with a couple of options, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure. I seemed inadequate to perform any of those tasks. However, I decided to put myself out there to be used by God for his purpose.
The next weekend I walked into the children’s ministry room and offered myself to service. I got to work at the welcome table helping sign children into class. It was good work, but I didn’t shine. The Holy Spirit didn’t shine in me. After I finished my part of the class, I ran around the area looking for other ways to serve. I found some odd jobs, cleaned up some toys, stacked some Bibles, but still… no light shined. Then I saw the big story.
The big story is the portion of Sunday school when all the kids collect together after worship for the weekly lesson. A teacher steps forward and shares the lesson. They share scripture and show the big idea. They show how the Word of God is alive, how he cares about His little believers, and guides them in fellowship with Jesus. It’s like being the preacher, except to short people. It seemed to me the greatest job in the whole church. So I asked the youth pastor if I could do the big story. I never expected her to say yes (remember… I am completely unqualified), but she did.
This Friday I got to stand on the stage and tell the big story for God’s little believers. I prayed that God would take me out of the picture, and let only his light shine. I prayed that God would reduce my role in the story to something so small that His words would be what they remembered. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would be a light that would shine out of me and reach those little believers. This Friday I took my candle (the Holy Spirit) out from under a basket and found out what happened when I let that light shine.
It was the greatest moment I have had at church since the day I was baptized. I felt the power of the Holy Spirit inside of me, like a rush of light. I felt the power of those gifts that were given to me, and it was a high like none I had ever felt. It was easy. It was awesome! This was not what I expected at all.
In the Bible it always seemed as if serving God required some sort of suffering and sacrifice.  If you volunteer you get stuck doing the terrible jobs… like cleaning toilets, emptying trash, or looking under seats in the chapel for chewing gum.  Who knew that serving God could be so wonderful?  Who knew that giving of myself to the little believers would give me so much? Who knew that the youth minster would let me have the best job in the whole church?  This is what serving God feels like. This is what God has planned for all of us.
I cannot recommend it enough to all believers. Please, go and take the spiritual gifts class. Find out what God has planned for you. Find out what gifts he has given you, and talk to a pastor about how you can use those gifts. Line up your life to God’s will and let the light shine through you. Show the power that God can release into the world when one of His children surrenders to His plan.
The coolest thing about preaching to the little believers this weekend… she’s letting me come back again next Friday.
Matthew 5:14-16 NLT
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” 
Interested in discovering your gifts?
  

A Big Flashlight

When I first became a Christian I remember rushing to a store and buying a Bible at the very first chance. I had just had a one on one encounter with my savior and I needed to start knowing His Word immediately. I didn’t know anything about Bibles or different types. I picked one up at Wal-mart that met two criteria: it had a pretty cover and it was cheap. After securing my Bible I went home and started reading on page 1.
I was stunned by what I discovered. The people in the Bible were just as awful as the people now. I was far from an expert on Jesus, but I knew the basics. I knew he was a nice guy who never did anything wrong but was punished so that I wouldn’t be. How did Jesus correlate with these Old Testament guys? Lot and his daughters made my cheeks red. Noah passed out drunk and naked. Jacob ripped people off. Abraham lied about his wife and slept with the maid. Moses was a murderer. These were the patriarchal fathers of the Bible? Seriously? How could any of this have anything to do with Jesus and my salvation prayer? So I decided not to read the Old Testament, and just read the Jesus parts of the Bible.
Then I found myself stuck overnight in an airport terminal. I had about 12 hours to use up until I could get moving. However, I had no plans of catching any winks at the airport, so I looked through my bag and found a copy of the New Testament that someone had given me. With nothing better to do I started reading. Again, I started on page one and keep on going until it was time to go. I won’t say I read the whole New Testament, but I was on somebody’s letter to somebody else by the time the sun came up. It opened in me a hunger that has never been satisfied.
After that trip I went home and got myself a real study Bible. I went on-line and I researched different Bibles and translations. This time I picked up one based on purpose rather than cost and cover. To be truthful it doesn’t have a pretty cover at all. This time I started reading the Bible again on page 1, but I also started reading all the other things in the Bible. I started reading all the footnotes, explanations, timelines and references to other parts of the Bible, and it was as if a flashlight was clicked on. Instead of the Old Testament distracting from the story of Christ, it started showing Him.
Now don’t get me wrong, the story of the cross had always been overwhelming to me. The suffering and sacrifice of my God to save me was always huge. However, the connection to the bigger story, the God piece, had been missing. Now I saw a God that created a world perfect for his children, with the express desire to fellowship with them for eternity. I saw the burden of sin and how it separated us from that fellowship. I saw how God put people in place to guide his beloved children to a point of salvation. I saw a God who laid down His own body as a sacrifice so that He could once again walk in fellowship with His children.
I discovered that the New Testament is only half of a greater tale, and that the whole Bible is the Jesus part. When I read now, I understand that every flawed person in the Old Testament is part of a bigger story that illuminates Christ. The light of the Old Testament shows me the why of the Bible and the plan of God. For the first time I understand the true love of our Creator and the extent He has gone to bring His beloved children home.
Isaiah 53: 10-12 NLT 
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

Just Smoke

This summer I took a camping trip to Sequoia National Park. Although the temperatures in the rest of the state were in triple digits, at our campground the nightly temperatures were in the 40s. In the mornings, we would get up in sweaters and jeans while fixing breakfast.
On the last day of our trip, I decided to get up early and surprise my daughter with a nice hot breakfast of grits and hot chocolate. As I ventured out into the frosty morning, I felt warm with the idea of her delight. I could see her in my mind enjoying the meal, and the cozy feeling a warm belly would bring her. I trusted in my knowledge and previous experience.
Now I have been camping many times. I was a Girl Scout for seven years. I know how to start a fire. I had kept my firewood dry in the trunk of my car. Now this was about five o’clock in the morning, so I was the first one up in the area, and I felt a little gleeful that later, when my daughter got up, we would already have a nice warm fire already going. That was not to be the case. Despite my best intentions, all I got was a face full of smoke.
I spent the next two hours fighting and wrestling with kindling, burning paper to get it started, and blowing until my cheeks were red. Around me as the other campsites came to life, I saw one campfire after another come to life. Needless to say, I was frustrated. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t my campfire lighting? How had my neighbor gotten a huge flame out of wet wood on their first try? It wasn’t fair.
As Christians, we spend our lives trying to do God’s will. We wake up early and spend time studying the Bible. We go out in the community to look for areas of service. We are kind to our enemies, and pray for those that hurt us. We know what we are supposed to be doing, and how to be doing it. We attempt to follow all the instructions.
However, just as with my campfire, things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to. Just because your prayed the prayer of salvation and became a Christian does not mean that your life will be an easy experience. You will experience failure, and you will fall down from time to time. No matter how hard you try, you will experience hardship, suffering, and defeat.
Peter was one of Jesus’s apostles. When you read the gospels you frequently see Peter singled out for special attention, time and teaching with Jesus.  He was singularly selected by God to lead the early church. He was faithful to his teacher, he was devoted to God, and he studied scripture. He was in the perfect position to succeed up to the point of his disgrace and failure. He had been doing what he was supposed to do, but when the time came there was no fire, just smoke.
The Bible tells of a storm, when the apostles were alone in the boat. They were frightened and scared, when they suddenly spotted Jesus walking to them across the water.  Peter wanted to join Jesus, but he sank into the water because he lacked faith.  However, the point isn’t that he sank into the water, it’s that he wanted to be with Jesus.  It’s the fact that he was the only one that stepped over the edge of the boat to join his savior.  It’s the steps he took across the water to reach Jesus before he started to sink.  It’s the steps he took back to the boat with Jesus.  He wasn’t miracled back into the boat by Christ, he walked back. 
Being a Christian isn’t about success or perfection. It is about being obedient to God, seeking to do His will, and praising God during your failure. Being a Christian doesn’t change the situations you find yourself in, but rather it changes you and your reaction to those situations. Your response to failure is more important than your perfection. When Peter failed Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion he didn’t surrender to apathy, he surrendered to his God. He repented of his sin, and was forgiven. He didn’t just deny Christ three times, he also proclaimed his love three times.
Notice when you read the scripture that it doesn’t say anywhere that Peter quit. No matter how many times Jesus rebuked him, he stayed with his savior.  He didn’t sit around his fishing boat feeling sorry for himself. He didn’t blame his mistakes on another apostle, or claim that he was misunderstood. He didn’t dwell on his failure, but used it as a starting point to move forward in service to Jesus. Despite his failure he remained Peter, the rock on which Christ built his church.
That morning I spent a couple of hours blowing on smoking wood, burning newspaper, and watching as fire sprang to life at campsites all around me. I failed to bring fire where others succeeded. However, I did not let that failure define our morning. When my daughter came out of the tent we had juice and pop-tarts. I cuddled her on my lap to keep her warm. I kissed her rosy cheeks and rubbed her chilly fingers. I was content with our circumstance. Our morning was perfect and God blessed my family, even though all I could make was just smoke.
Philippians 4:11-12 NLT
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Dudley Do-Right

Years ago there used to be a show about a hero, Dudley Do-Right. He would always do the right thing, and rush in to save the day. He was always there to save the damsel in distress. Since then our entertainment has been brought by other righteous heroes, and we feel good about it. These heroes stand up for what is right, and allow us to believe that there are good people.  But are there any real heroes?  Are there any really good people?
First, let’s figure out what “Good” is? Who decides what good is? Is it left up to each of us to decide for ourselves? Do we decide as a community? As a community and as individuals we believe in pornography, adultery, pre-marital sex, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and a number of other things. The problem with setting our own moral code is that we are all sinners. That’s like the inmates running the asylum.
Isaiah 64:6 NLT
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deed, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.
So we need an external source. Long ago, God met with Moses and gave him the standard of good. He gave this simple prophet the standard of good and what it would take to be good enough to make it to heaven. Then Jesus came and clarified that standard.
Matthew 5:21-22 NLT
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
Matthew 5:27-28 NLT
You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
When I look at the Ten Commandments I can see how far I fall from the standard of good. I don’t sound like a hero, more like a villain. Just running through the list of the commandments in my mind I can see that I am already an adulterous, murdering, blasphemous, lying thief. Wow! That’s pretty terrible for someone who considered herself good. I know that I am a sinner. I am going to need a hero to save me.
God knew that none of use would ever be able to make the standard of “Good”. He knew that we would all fail. He knew that the only way we would ever get to heaven is if He came down and got us. So he did. God came to earth as a man, and he paid, in full, for all of my sins. He offered his blood as a sacrifice for me. He gave his life to save me..
John 15:13 NLT
… the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.
So now when I see those heroes on television, I remember what good and heroic really is. I remember a man that was nailed to a cross to rescue this damsel in distress. I remember that God humbled himself before men to save me, because I couldn’t save myself. I remember Jesus, my hero.