Sunday, February 22, 2009

Whose Story? Mine or God's?

Pastor Charlie's message in church this morning was very powerful. He taught on Mark 6:7-30 (Southside Fellowship is going verse by verse through the book of Mark). One of the comparisons he made was between the life of Herod and the life of John the Baptist. While John the Baptist remained faithful to the Lord, even unto death, Herod ignored multiple opportunities to lay down his own life and follow God. Pastor Charlie challenged us this morning. He asked us if God had been calling us to do something that we were passing up continually. He also cautioned us that the window of opportunity won't stay open forever.

I began to reflect on my own life. Many of you have known me for the bulk of my life. For those of you who were in my life during my teen years, you likely will recall that the Lord called me into ministry one summer while I was with my Acteens group at Camp LaVida. You were there with me and encouraged me in my walk over the next several years.

I followed God's call and spent my first summer after high school working at Camp LaVida. I then started college at Charleston Southern. I spent the following summer at Camp LaVida and then transferred to North Greenville. The following summer, I travelled to Canada to do summer missions. The summer after graduating from North Greenville, I followed the Lord's call and spent the summer in Ireland doing summer missions. Those four or so years were incredible. While there were definitely some vallies, I remained fairly consistent in my walk. God provided me with countless opportunities to serve Him.

My life gets a little fuzzy after college. I travelled to Kentucky for a school year to begin seminary. At the end of the school year, I think I let some of my own personal hangups get the best of me, and I returned to SC. I had pretty good intentions of continuing my education through online courses and taking classes at the extension center in Greenville. That lasted for two semesters, and then I decided I was burnt out from school, so I "took a break." It's been a LONG break, because I'm still taking it.

God gave me the opportunity to serve in a small church plant. I worked with the women and children, and I told myself I was fulfilling God's call in my life, because I was in fact involved in ministry. But there was always something nagging in the back of my mind, something in my heart telling me I was compromising.

Through several different events, I chose to leave that church. Rather than plugging in immediately to a new church, I found myself spiralling downhill quickly. I visited churches here and there, but I became rather skilled at creating excuses not to go.

By God's grace, I realized I was in a very bad place. It scared me how easily I had pushed aside the faith I had always held so dear. Rather than dying to myself daily, I was growing more and more self-centered. I became a recluse of sorts and rarely even wanted to be around people. In fact, I would well up with anxiety at the mere thought of being around new people. For those of you who know me very well, that was a big change in my personality!

Around October, I began attending Southside Fellowship on a regular basis. My heart still wasn't really into it, but I knew I at least had to get back into the motions, trusting that God would work on my heart. The teaching has been really good, and I've been challenged by the Word.
That brings me to today's message, to Pastor Charlie's questions. Has God been calling me to something that I've essentially been ignoring? Am I focused on being a part of God's story so that His name will be magnified, or am I focused on writing my own story?

Yes, I've been ignoring God's call in my life ... so that I could write my own story.

It's time for me to put down the pen/pencil/laptop and stop writing. It's time for me to surrender and be a part of the greatest story ever written.

I don't know what that might entail. I have a few ideas - ideas that are both scary and thrilling. I would really appreciate your prayers. First, please pray that God would make clear to me what He would have me do with my life. Second, please pray that God would help me in the areas of my life that I know would be stumbling blocks in the ministry.

I love you all, and I thank you for the role you've played in my life.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Genesis 2:7 and Genesis 7:22 - An Interesting Parallel

As I was reading in Genesis this evening, I noticed a parallel in these verses that I don't recall paying attention to before. I don't know if it's because the ESV uses such similar wording that it jumped out to me, or if maybe it was a truth I needed to see. Probably both.

2:7 ~ "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."

7:22 ~ "Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died."

These weren't just random people who died in the flood when God brought His judgment on them. They were His creation, people whom He knit together in their mothers' wombs. They contained the breath of life. Oh, how that must have grieved the Lord so much to have to discipline His creation.

A mere 5 chapters in Genesis between when God breathed life into Adam and when His creation underwent His judgment. I know it was a relatively long span of time, but how did it get so bad? Five chapters separate life and death, creation and judgment, a beginning and an end.

I look at my own life. I am no different from the people who died in the flood. I grieve God on a daily basis (really probably more like an hourly or minute by minute basis). He is so merciful to me, so loving and patient.

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is Your faithfulness." ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Love and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

We had a contest today in Toastmasters, and I participated. I came in second place. I was a little disappointed, but Kathy did an amazing job, so I both understand and agree with the judges' decision.

I thought I would share my speech with you, because I really enjoyed it. Just a note: words that are bracketted off like [this] are little notes to myself.

Love and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I love grilled cheese sandwiches. My Pop Pop makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the whole wide world. He slices the cheddar cheese to just the right thickness. He spreads just the right amount of butter on the bread. He heats up the frying pan to just the right temperature and flips the sandwich just the right number of times so that each side reaches a glorious golden brown. Then he slides it onto a plate and cuts it in half, the melted cheese oozing from each piece, ready for me to dig in.

I love my Pop Pop. In addition to being the maker of the world’s best grilled cheese sandwiches, he’s one of the most incredible men I have ever known. I love the relationship he and my grandmother have, and I hope to someday share that kind of love with someone. But I think I’ve had the wrong perspective on how to obtain that love for quite a while now. You see, I think I was looking at finding a husband kind of like making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. I thought I simply needed just the right ingredients, just the right amount of heat, and just the right amount of time to create the perfect relationship. Then my grandmother told me a little story that brought me back to the right perspective.

The year was 1947. Clyde, a young woman who hated having a “man’s” name, was a student at Winthrop, and Mark was finishing up at Clemson after returning home from war. As with most college students during those days, Friday night was date night. They put on their Friday night best, spruced themselves up, and headed to the local hangout, a jazzy little place perfect for dinner and dancing. But they weren’t headed there with each other. Mark was meeting up with another young Winthrop co-ed, and Clyde was meeting another Clemson man.

They all ended up at the same table together, Clyde and her date on one side, and Mark and his date on the other. Mark’s date was terribly upset and all out of sorts. The Winthrop girls had received their grades that day. Typically a very good student, her grades were simply terrible. She was very concerned about the trouble she was going to be in with her parents, and Mark’s charms couldn’t seem to lift her spirits. So she decided to go home, leaving Mark behind. A little while later, for reasons no one can recall, Clyde’s date decided to leave as well, leaving her alone with Mark.

They sat and talked for a while, and then they heard the voice of Ella Fitzgerald … [actually singing] “Say, it’s only a paper moon; sailin’ over a cardboard sea; but it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me …” Mark stood up and walked over to Clyde. He bowed a little and held out his hand to her. “May I have this dance?” Clyde felt her cheeks flush as she placed her hand in his. He led her to the dance floor, and their eyes locked as they began to dance. [begin dancing] With each word that Ella sang, Mark and Clyde glided across the floor. Song after song, they danced the night away.

Mark gave Clyde a lift back to Winthrop, and he walked her to the door of her dormitory. “I’d like to see you again,” he said. “I’d really like that as well.” That evening began a two year courtship, and Mark and Clyde joined in marriage in 1949. They have three wonderful sons and six rather remarkable grandchildren, and they will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in April.

You may be asking yourself what this story has to do with the strange grilled cheese sandwich philosophy I had on love. To me, the most wonderful detail of how my grandparents began courting is the fact that the young woman who was my grandfather’s date that night actually received the wrong grades. She really made straight A’s. If she had received the correct set of grades, she likely would have stayed there with my grandfather that evening, and my grandparents quite possibly would have never started courting.

I don’t believe it was fate. I don’t believe it was a coincidence. I don’t believe it was written in the stars. I believe a very loving God planned out the tiniest of details to put the right people together. So now I’m not focusing on a grocery list of the qualities I want in a husband. I’m not worried about making sure I’m in the right place at the right time so I’ll bump into Mr. Right. I’m trusting that the same loving God who placed my grandparents together will someday do the same for me, and that will be better than any grilled cheese sandwich even my Pop Pop could make.