When “ONE” Really Does Matter

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

 

Earlier this year I felt led to start a life group at New Life Community Church—a life group that focused on spiritual freedom, spiritual healing, spiritual warfare, and the icky issues that often get overlooked in favor of more traditional studies by famous authors. You know, the studies about Grace, How to Pray, How to Disciple, How to do this and that and the other. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of studies too, but sometimes people walk into church a little “messy” on the inside, and sometimes those people need something a little different than another “Five Steps to Being a Better Christian.”

I was excited as it got under way. There were four of us ladies, which would be perfect when it came to discussing the more sensitive issues we were likely to explore. (It’s easier to share in a small small group then in a room with twenty people.) But after just a few weeks our small group was reduced to microscopic proportions as just I and one other woman remained. Not surprisingly I struggled with the doubt of whether or not I had really “heard” God’s voice in this endeavor. Apparently I had some unmet expectations regarding the “success” of this group. (Don’t you love how God kicks us off our platform of pride rather bluntly?) But in the end I knew I had followed His leading, and I committed myself to sticking it out, even if it was only so “ONE” little life could possibly be affected in a positive way (and even if that “ONE” just happened to be ME!).

Surrendering my expectations to God lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I could walk into the “group” (I mean, if two people can be called a group) excited about the study and what God had revealed to my friend during her week. We probably learned more from each other’s insights and experiences then either of us thought possible.

A few months into the group I had the opportunity to share a testimony at a Life Group Leaders meeting our church held. I had “ONE” little testimony to read, but God had more in store as a result.

After the meeting a woman approached me and asked if there was room for “ONE” more (Oh nope, sorry, three is a crowd—NOT). So she started attending the group even though the study was ending soon. She shared some of her struggles and asked us to pray for some of her family members who were struggling with some specific “icky” issues we often addressed in our study. The three of us developed quite a bond through this “doing life” together thing. We now pray for each other on a regular basis and know we can depend on each other for a listening, non-critical/judgmental ear. We have a “safe” place to share what many people may find “taboo” in a Christian environment (after all, Christians shouldn’t be depressed or have anxiety, right?!).

A few weeks after this woman joined our group, one of the Pastors referred another woman to me who needed a listening, non-judgmental ear regarding her “issues”. She ended up coming to the group, even though she was only able to make it to a couple meetings before it ended.  (I’ll share more about her amazing spiritual transformation in a later post, but you won’t want to miss it! It’s powerful!) So, by the end of the semester, our little life group was up to four. Then the summer came and I found out God had some major plans!

Now, we weren’t even meeting in the summer, nor was this group specifically advertised at church—but the church happens to have a website where people can browse through the life groups and read a little paragraph about it to see if it’s something they are interested in. Through this website, a few more ladies contacted me and a few others were referred to the group via word of mouth. I like to think of it as a carefully God-selected group of women called to come together in this special way.

In a matter of two months I went from prayers of, “Lord, only one? Ok, I’ll trust that this “ONE” is exactly what you have planned,” to, “Ok Lord, where am I going to find room for all of these people?!” You see, the Unexpected God came through again with His awe-inspiring blessings.

In just a few weeks our group begins again, this time we have two different meeting dates because there isn’t enough room for all of us in the room we had been using! So we’ve expanded to two days of meeting, and TEN women searching for the same thing: a dynamic and intimate relationship with Christ. Woo! God is GOOOOOD!

So I said all of that to say this: if you’re leading or mentoring just “ONE”, or maybe you write a blog and only “ONE” person reads it, or maybe you work hard to serve but not “ONE” person notices your efforts, then take heart! Maybe God will grow your ministry and maybe not, but either way, the “ONE” He gave to you is the perfect one because He chose it. So embrace it! Every “ONE” is important in God’s kingdom and we really CAN change the world one person at a time. It starts with our own spiritual freedom, and then through building relationships—one at a time—and trusting God with the results. You never know how your influence, testimony, or freedom in Christ could be used to affect the life of another…and another…and another…

…Or, as it was in my case, maybe that “ONE” God wants to transform is actually YOU.

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Fingerprints

Fingerprints

 

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but I keep coming back to the fingerprints. If my funeral was tomorrow, what would people say about me? What kind of fingerprints have I left on their lives? I hope they’d say I’ve left the fingerprints of Jesus, but I’m not too sure that’s what I’d hear, if I could hear the people speaking at my funeral.

 

I think about the past, and the many years I lived for myself, for my pleasures, chasing the lusts of my flesh. I encountered many people during that time who knew my dad was a preacher, who knew I was raised in church, but who also knew I was “promiscuous” and no different than any other “worldly” person. Those people don’t know me now; they only know the “me” of that time. I wonder what kind of fingerprint I left on their life about God, the Church, and Christianity. Sometimes the thought is more than I can bear.

 

And I think of my husband. I wonder what he would say. Would he describe me as the “Proverbs 31” wife? Would he say I left the fingerprints of faith on his life, or the fingerprints of a control freak that was selfish and an overbearing nag? Would he be able to say he understood a little more about the Jesus I always spoke of, because of my character, or that my character conflicted with the Jesus I preached?

 

My husband has seen me from the beginning to the end, from the best and the worst. He met me in my addiction/eating disorder days, he managed to stick with me through my crazy days of psychotherapeutic drug treatments, he even stuck around when I over-compensated for my failures and became a Pharisee beating him over the head with my Bible. He still stands by me as I serve in church, write, and pursue an education in counseling. He’s a quiet man, but supportive of me in all things. Sometimes I think he’s left more of a “Jesus” fingerprint on my life, despite our differences of faith perspectives. Certainly God has used my husband to speak truth to me in ways I haven’t always understood and sometimes even resented. God is good like that, and I am grateful for all He has taught me through my marriage. I love my husband more every day, and hope that if he were to speak at my funeral, he would say that his wife failed in some ways, but Jesus changed her life for the better, and through that, made her a better wife and better mother. But, if I were to die tomorrow, I’m not too sure that’s what he’d say.

 

I think about my friendships. I have a couple great ladies in my life who have been a huge support spiritually. Though we haven’t known each other long, we are spiritual soul-mates. They sharpen me as “iron sharpens iron” and draw me closer to God just through knowing them. They are leaving the “Jesus” fingerprint on my life. But would they say the same about me?

 

Without a doubt I know some of the friendships of the past two or three years did not turn out that way. I’m pretty sure some of those people would describe the fingerprint I’ve left on them like a crime scene photo. Ugly, bloody, brutal—selfish, argumentative, judgmental. Much like the people who knew me during my prodigal years, these people know the me of the Pharisee years. And sometimes the thought of that is indeed, more than I care to consider. I have tried to “fix” some of these bad encounters, but sometimes the hurts inflicted burn the bridges beyond what can be rebuilt, at least on this side of heaven.

 

And maybe most importantly, I wonder what kind of fingerprint I have left on my daughter’s life? Have I displayed the “Jesus” in the Bible verses she has memorized? Or have I displayed the version that says, “I only approve of you when your behavior is good.” If she were to stand at my casket, could she say her mother showed her Jesus? That her mother was real, honest, authentic, open, and also caring, compassionate, and ready to show grace and mercy?

 

Last weekend Pastor Pat delivered an excellent message (as usual) about “time”. Afterwards we received a sheet of paper to map out our life plan. It contained some key steps like identifying important relationships, our priorities, and how we want to be remembered. I haven’t been able to fill mine out yet. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed as I wait for the doctor to call me with the news. Perhaps the road I thought I would travel will not be what I envisioned even a few weeks ago.

 

Either way, I’m in a time of contemplation. No matter what happens, I know God has used this “illness” to get my attention and get me thinking about the fingerprints I am leaving on people’s lives, what I can do to possibly clean the messy fingerprints off the past and create new ones, and what I must surrender to God today so the new fingerprints reflect Jesus, not Rebecca.

 

 

Finally, I think of a message a great man of God and influential teacher in my life delivered a couple years ago in church. I’ll never forget these words, “The only thing that matters in life is your answer to this question: what have you done with Jesus? What have you done with Jesus?”

 

I’m not sure what’s in my future, but I know this: Jesus has set my heart free, and I hope and pray you have experienced that same peace and freedom that surpasses any human understanding. If you haven’t experienced this full life that Jesus wants for you, won’t you consider doing so today?

 

Having lived life “my” way I can say the end result is never worth the perceived freedom of making your own choices. God’s way is really better, really. It gives meaning to life, and a future beyond the few years we have here on earth. It makes all of this pain actually worth something. And even the happy times are more meaningful when God is present.

 

How do you want to be remembered? What kind of fingerprints are you leaving on the lives of others? What can you do to allow God to change that this very moment? We can’t change the past, but God promises that He will make even our ugly failures work for our greatest good if we would only choose to love Him today (see Romans 8:28). Today is the day to make new fingerprints. Friends, please don’t delay. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but with Jesus, you can know that your tomorrow is safe and secure no matter what life throws at you. And that is the only place to be. His fingerprint of peace rests on my heart; I hope it rests on yours.

 

“This is my comfort in my affliction, for your Word has given me life.” Psalm 119:50

 

Celebrate Sorrow

Suggested Reading: Nehemiah 8:7-12

“It is a time to celebrate with a hearty meal, and to send presents to those in need; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (The Living Bible)

It was a momentous day for Judah. For the first time in their generation, they read the laws of God as given to Moses. In an instant their spiritual eyes were opened to the truth-and how far they had strayed from it.

They wept incessantly. The Israelites were sorry for their sins and the sins of their ancestors and desperately wanted to make it right. Ezra and Nehemiah reassured the people that while it was ok to be sad over their sin, they shouldn’t live in that state of mind.

The truth of God’s word should bring repentance, but that repentance should give great joy as God’s mercy is celebrated. Celebrating the goodness of God should cause worship, and worship should create an outward focus on the needs of the world.

When I look back on my life, it’s tempting to live in a state of despair and regret. However, God is not glorified in my incessant weeping. Jesus doesn’t tell me to live in sorrow, he tells me to, “Go, and sin no more₁”. Ezra puts it well, “What hope could we have if [God] gave us justice₂?”

I rejoice that I have not been given the justice I deserve. That joy strengthens me to share the redemptive, transforming message of the Gospel with others.  I may weep for a moment but I’ll rejoice for eternity.

  1. John 8:11
  2. Ezra 9:15

Liar, Liar

“Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. May the Lord silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue.” Psalm 12:2-3 TNIV

Where has all the integrity gone? Lying has become a way of life for the majority of people, even Christians. The following are lies I’ve heard from self-proclaimed Christ-followers:

“I told this guy I was married so he’d leave me alone”.

“If you get pulled over by a cop, never, under any circumstances admit fault (even if you know you were wrong)!”

“Just say you’re busy so you won’t have to go to [an event].”

The Bible is clear about lying. It is sin. The excuses one conjures up to justify lies are evidence of a guilty conscience.

“It’s not hurting anyone.”

Wrong. Sin always, always bears consequences. Jesus said, “The good man brings up good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that all men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:35-37 (emphasis mine). Though a person may never know they’ve been lied to the most important One knows: God.

How can we expect to witness to our unbelieving friends and neighbors when our character stands in question?

As a Jesus-follower, I never want to find myself caught in a lie. The best way to not get caught in a lie is to not lie. I never want to be responsible for turning someone away from a saving faith in the Gospel because I had no integrity. A Christian who lies gives the unbelieving world another excuse to hold on to their godless existence. Let’s be salt and light, friends; after all, how can we call ourselves Jesus-followers when we make a habit of deceiving people?

As Christians we are called to a higher standard, even if taking that high road is more difficult or painful.

I recently read an “inspirational” article saying women want to be lied to by their spouses and it creates a better marriage by boosting the woman’s self-esteem. Apparently, when she asks if she looks fat she wants to hear “no” whether it’s true or not.  It’s likely our spouses are afraid to tell the truth because of reactions they receive. No wonder relationships have so much angst and heartache. Lying is so commonplace that hearing the truth hurts our feelings so we decide we want to be lied to and we think others want to be lied to.

If we want to bear witness to the life-transforming power of Jesus, we need to be people of integrity who refuse to tolerate even an inkling of intentional sin. May our prayer resonate with the Psalmist, “Because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.” Psalm 119:128 (emphasis mine)

To Be An Encourager….

Suggested Reading: Acts 15:36-41

Many of God’s greatest servants screwed up. They were not perfect or instantly sanctified; their growth in Christ was a process. We see that clearly in the story of John Mark (also referred to as “Mark”).

After deserting the cause, Paul had completely lost faith in Mark and refused to take him on another mission. However, Barnabus decided to give him another chance. He was an encourager. I find myself relating to Barnabus because I want to be “that guy” who swoops in and encourages the faltering believer. It’s never too late to be used; it’s never too late to make a difference in the world; it’s never too late to walk in the freedom Christ gave you on the cross. Never.

We don’t know why Mark deserted the ministry, all we’re told is that he did and Paul no longer trusted him. We’re also told Barnabus gave Mark another opportunity, even disagreeing with Paul over the issue. Imagine if Barnabus had shrugged Mark off as an unworthy reject and moved on? But he didn’t and Mark played a pivotol role in Paul’s ministry; no doubt many were delivered to the kingdom of light through his work.

Barnabus gave Mark a second chance, and we see later that Paul’s trust was restored and they served together once again. (Philemon 1:24, 1 Timothy 4:11) It is widely believed that Mark went on to write the book of Mark, a gospel that has reached millions for the kingdom of Christ over countless generations.

I want to be a Barnabus. I never know what struggling believer could be the next Mark, and I certainly don’t want to shrug them off in contempt for their failures. It’s been made clear in God’s word He is glorified through our weaknesses. In humility I want to always remember the atrocities I was delivered from, and be thankful for the very few who never gave up on me.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27