Monday, August 4, 2014

Our Sin and God's Grace

"If we see our sin as small then we will never see God's grace as big!"

(Preface: I am so thankful for a pastor and church that challenges and spurs me on. I wanted to share what I have been learning lately and what the Lord has used, through Rodney and others, to encourage my heart and revive my senses to be more aware. Hoping this will encourage your hearts as well!)

Coming back from a mission trip is a sobering reality. I leave every summer, from a country full of wealth and prosperity, to go be submerged into a country full of hurt and poverty. My heart is broken/cut a little deeper every time I go. But the crazy thing is, that even in a country plagued by sickness, poverty, war and hurt… there is freedom. They get it. They see their sins for what they are and SPRINT from them to Jesus. They repent and worship like I have never, even on my best days, have worshipped before. We can blame the "distractions" of America. Wifi, TV/movies, iPhones, Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, Netflix, etc…. but those aren't the real issues. 

"The human heart is an idol factory that takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them." -Tim Keller

I am not saying there isn't sin in Africa. I am not saying that they are more Godly or advanced than we are. But I truly believe that we as a nation have become stagnate. We, and I am the worst offender, are so quick to see the sins of others before noticing the sins consuming our own hearts. That is one of the scariest and more dangerous things I could do. We will never see and consider God's grace if we don't see and consider our sin. Because regardless of how far our sin goes, God's grace goes farther. Apart from grace there is no sin that is out of reach. How encouraging is that?

He is faithful and for us. His Gospel is filled with ways to seek first the Kingdom and align our hearts with His. It's not teaching us that the worst of us are capable of the worst sins but that the best of us are capable of the worst sins. We are all sinners. We all fall short. We all miss the mark. We all are imperfect creations created by a perfect Creator. I am so thankful that the Lord loves me, and you, so deeply that He doesn't leave us in our sins. Yes, it can be overwhelming and yes, it can be humbling. But, before the Gospel satisfies us, it will always sober us. 

So think on this question my pastor asked the congregation yesterday. He said, "Who is the worst sinner you know?" Who is the one that when you think of sinning is like waaaay up there? It's easy to think of people who have that outward, offensive sin. That sin that everyone knows about and that is obviously wrong. However, I should be the worst sinner I know. I know the deepest parts of my heart that are consumed with lust, bitterness, hatred and envy. I know the thoughts I have when someone "offends" me and makes me feel like nothing. I know the things I say about that rude person that was a jerk to me in front of a group of people. 

Adolf Eichmann was a German Nazi who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust and was responsible for creating and managing extermination camps, during WWII, in Eastern Europe.  When captured and put on trial years later, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, Yehiel De-Nur was brought in to testify against Eichmann in trial. While on the bench, after having to walk past and face Eichmann again, De-Nur fainted on the stand. When 60 minutes interviewed De-Nur years later they asked, "What happened up there? Why did you faint?" De-Nur's response gives me chills and humbles me to the core. This man, who faced horrible, terrifying situations and circumstances replied, "Was I overcome with hatred? Fear? Horrid memories? No; it was none of those. Rather, I realized that Eichmann was not a god-like army officer who had sent so many to their death. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this. I am... exactly like he."

::Lord, let me never lose sight of how huge my sin is. Let me not get so caught up on 'what have I done?' rather than 'what am I capable of doing?'. When I focus on my sin and how big it is, remind me of how much BIGGER Your grace is. Jesus… remove the things in my life that I have made into idols. Sift out the distractions and replacements I have used to find satisfaction. Allow my heart to be broken daily by Your goodness and grace towards me. And let me be a clear reflection of repentance… not so I can be praised or look good… but so that YOUR name can be made famous. Beloved… I do not deserve this but I am so thankful for Your blood that covers and saturates me. Use me as Your hands and feet, Lord… and forgive me when I fail You.::

Friday, August 1, 2014

I choose LIFE.

“People from my first home say I'm brave. They tell me I'm strong. They pat me on the back and say, 'Way to go. Good job.' But the truth is, I am not really very brave; I am not really very strong; and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am simply doing what God has called me to do as a person who follows Him. He said to feed His sheep and He said to care for 'the least of these,' so that's what I'm doing, with the help of a lot people who make it possible and in the company of those who make my life worth living.” 

I left 3 1/2 weeks ago for my third trip to the place that has stolen my heart. This week back has been a really different transition period. Every year I have come back I have reacted the same. I am withdrawn. My heart is sad and lonely. Everything in me yearns to be back in the beautiful country that holds onto my heart. My heart longs to be surrounded by this beautiful people group and their beautiful language! I physically hurt from the pain of being away from them! But I will rejoice in my time there and meditate on the blessings the Lord has given me. 

I miss the greenness of everything. I miss the view at the top of the hill by the school overlooking the compound, gardens and lake in the background. I miss the sunrises and sunsets. I miss the beauty of our God like I have never experienced anywhere else on Earth. I miss the voices that fill the compound with praise to our good Father.

I miss the school. Those children love learning. They respect their teachers. They notice that schooling and learning is a privilege and they soak every minute of it up. Teaching and working with the teachers at this school every summer reminds me why I became a teacher. It rejuvenates me. It makes me a better teacher and excites me to get back to America and love my kiddos well.

I miss the older kids…. the "seniors". I miss having deep conversations about the Lord with them. I miss sitting and listening to all they have endured in their short lives and being humbled by their redemption that can only come from Jesus. I miss how the Lord uses them. I miss watching how they serve the other children so well. They love them. They encourage them. They discipline them… but then hug and care for them. My heart is destroyed and completely leveled after convos with them. But our sweet Savior reminds me to intercede on their behalf. To be burdened to write and encourage them. He reminds me "with much you have been given… use that to love others."

I miss the precious kids who I taught in school. The ones who are at the age that they are needing/wanting to hang out. They are fine just sitting, playing with my "goggles" (glasses) and taking 1-2 THOUSAND pictures on my phone and/or camera. They are curious. They are interested. But most of all… they are yearning for hugs, love and feelings of being cared for.

I miss my sweet babies. The under 5 crowd. The ones that like to crawl up into my lap, hold my face and intensely stare at my blue eyes and then fall asleep on my chest. They are the ones that don't fully understand why we come and have to leave. They are the ones with the wounds that are the freshest and so the fact that we leave them is just like everyone else who has left. I hold them sobbing as we walk through the line and say our goodbyes and tell them how much they are loved. I tell them I will try my hardest to return-- never wanting to promise something that may not happen, but wanting to reassure them that they are cared for and wanted and special. These are the ones that I pray for the most. These are the ones I pray will understand and come to know God's love and sacrifice for them... and the ones that I pray will be rescued and redeemed.

The thing is… my heart has been changed. My heart has been broken. My heart is very aware of the need of Jesus in this world. He has cultivated a love for the nations in me that is unexplainable. He has called me out among the waves. A place that is scary and unknown… but He has called me to go. He has told me to love. He asked, "Who will GO and feed my sheep? Who will go and love my children? Who will go, while trusting me fully, and make my name famous?" And all I can do is cry…"Here I am, Beloved. SEND ME!" I am not perfect… far, far from it actually. I am not equipped on my own. There is nothing inside of me that is Holy and Good… except Jesus. So I will be obedient. I will be humbled and broken daily for the cause of Christ. Because above my comfort, and my safety, and my "plans for my life"… I want Jesus. Fully. Completely. Uninhibited. I want to know and be known wholly by our Savior. I want life… no, I choose life. Abundant life. And the only way I will find that… is in and through Jesus. 

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."
-Matthew 16:25