Reach for the Prize!
I will have to say that all of the 2012 Olympic swimming has pumped me up! What an outstanding Olympics for Team USA. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their great achievements, and hearing their stories of hard work and overcoming their obstacles.
I love to swim! I may be a novice swimmer, but I enjoy it just the same. It’s a great quiet time for me. I actually listen to music, or pray while I’m swimming. It allows me to think about trying to reach for the prize.
Recently, I was thinking about Michael Phelps‘ swim coach, Bob Bowman, and how he has understandably put Michael through some trials to train him for the many adversities that might come his way. He was quite successful at doing this. I was also thinking about Hebrews Chapter 12. Both of these things got me to thinking about a similarity between our Father in Heaven, and some great coaches. The similarity of how they discipline…or train us for adversities of life.
Discipline is not always pleasant, but if one trains hard, with their “coach”, then they have the potential to become stronger…bringing about great joy. For Michael, he has become the most decorated Olympian in history of any sport.
In my case, I’m not training for Olympic history, but I’m training for an Everlasting life. I am hopeful that my new found joy will lead me to a greater intimacy with my Father in Heaven, and that will help me reach for the prize.
My pastor had a message a couple of years ago from Proverbs stating that “a friend loveth at all times”. Sometimes those friends have to love with discipline.
I know that others have tried to discipline me in a loving way, so that I may learn to make better decisions. More importantly, I know that they want me to experience the love God intended for me to know instead living in self pity (despair)…due to my past abuse. In knowing that, I will need to make sure that I have a good “assistant coach” (Earthly companions) that may be looking over my “workouts” to make sure I’m on the right pace. I may also have some questions about what “workout” will come next, or be the best for me. I may doubt their knowledge; but, those coaches, full of wisdom, will help guide me to reach the prize.
There will be times that I won’t want to listen to the “coaches”, especially when they are speaking truth. They will try to help me be better prepared for the race that’s set before me. They will tell me that there will be obstacles…even when I can’t see them coming. They will help me learn how to react and/or avoid them.
They will also help me to muster up the skills, and encourage me, to get ready to battle for any adversities that might come my way. I will need to wear good equipment (full armor of God), put my “game face” on (fix my eyes on Jesus), look at the game plan (His word), and really listen to my assistant coaches (Earthly companions) and Head coach (Christ). Together, they will try to help me put on the full armor of God as stated in Ephesians.
Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! I know that I can win this battle and reach for the prize of Christ. It will take hard work from myself, and many; but, it can be done.
God can restore my hardened heart, and really strengthen me. God has shown me grace, mercy, and love, and in knowing this, I can become one step closer to being truly healed.
In order to be truly healed, my workouts will need to consist hard work & dedication. The desire to do better. Coaches that have great wisdom to share, and may be able to guide me. Their knowledge will better prepare me for the days that follow. I will have to allow them to do so, and not let my pride get in the way. I will also need strength and courage to love boldly-not just others, but myself. This will allow me to forgive, and be better able to focus on the prize.
I will be honest. It’s still hard for me to believe that I can be granted grace and mercy. I constantly forget this idea, or block it from my memory. Thank goodness God does not forget, and He places others around me to remind me of His grace, and to lift me up when I feel down.
In essence, I am just a beginner swimmer. I have not totally learned to submerge myself into His healing waters. I must learn to dive off the starting blocks to get a great push forward. It will help me to swim as fast as I can to reach for the prize–Christ who strengthens me.
I know that I might get disqualified along the way; but, the good news is that I can start His race over. God is very patient with me, and never gives up-even when I think He has.
Trying to swim hard to reach for the prize! †
“The Crownless Again Shall Be King”
There is a poem that I love that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the “Lord of the Rings”. My favorite line is the last line, “The crownless again shall be king.”
Of course, the king Tolkien was talking about in his book was the Ranger Strider who later becomes King Aragorn. There is much symbolism made in Tolkien’s books that refer to Christianity. I love it! Today, I’m going to share my twist of this last line of the poem.
We know that Christ touched many lives (figuratively and literally). I think most people thought that there was nothing special about Him. I have often thought about how Christ did not much look like a King during His reign on Earth; in fact, he probably had similarities to that of a ranger.
Through God‘s words, the Gospel in the Holy Bible, we know that Christ is the truth we should all seek. We also know that while He lived on Earth… few really “knew” Him. Of the few that knew Him…some betrayed Him. In fact He suffered greatly at their hands. In the end, He wore a crown of thorns.
Why was Christ crucified?
The Apostle Paul explains very well for us. Paul says that, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . We are now justified by his blood.”; thus the crucifixion began. Christ endured many painful experiences for us so we could live our lives…the lives we often choose for our self.
As humans, we often choose the life we want to live for ourselves. Although, there are times that we experience pain as a result of those that choose to live their life for them self; such as, physically, spiritually, verbally, emotionally abusing others. This is not always the case; but, it does happen more than we care to know…often times go unnoticed by our self, or others.
…Anyway, in dealing with our painful experiences we must understand that a deep healing can take place, if we allow it. We must desire for this deep healing to take place. We can not begin to understand how this deep healing works, unless we understand His grace and mercy…of dying for us.
We must learn, and try to understand, that there is hope in healing, and His hope leads to freedom. Freedom will come when we have faith to trust in Him. Truth is our hope is found in Christ; but, lack of faith can stand in the way of our passion to heal. Like our doubt, faith must be learned.
How do we learn to have faith?
Having faith is learning His truth. Ultimately the truth is that it is not within our power to heal ourselves. We will fail alone–every one of us. That is why we need the “Author and Finisher” of our faith. The One who is able to keep us from falling. Christ can lift us up. As Casting Crowns song “Who Am I” says, “He lifts me up not because of who I am or what I’ve done; but, because of who He is…the One who cares to know my pain.”
Christ endured great pain on the cross. He died for our sins so that we could live. Christ fulfilled what we could not do.
If the Gospel brings about true freedom, then His message brings us hope. Not just for today, but for the future of His Kingdom. One of my Pastors told me that, “God’s grace gives us freedom from despair and pride.” Truth is, that we can have hope to “carry on”, if we let His grace free us of our idols of our sinful nature…or from our past of painful experiences.
I want to share parts of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s poem. It is as follows:
“…Not all those who wander are lost;
…A light from the shadows shall spring;
…The crownless again shall be king.”
Again, the only crown Jesus wore was a crown of thorns. But through the Gospel we find hope. We learn that the truth of God’s mercy, grace, and justice sets us free. Knowing all of these things, we should be able to have faith that His Kingdom is very real. He has Risen! Yes, the Lord has risen indeed! He is risen in a kingdom where the crownless again shall be King…of all Kings.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
I would like to have the Lenten Special, please.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~ Psalm 73:25-26
The season of Lent precedes Easter, which is known as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a 40 day period prior to Easter day.
Traditionally people “give up” certain things during the Lent period. Usually a person will “give up” something they really like. It usually is a habit of some sort, and it really depends on the person. I really have a sweet tooth; but, have to have something salty to get the sweet taste out of my mouth…hahahaha!
Lent is not about a deprivation of our selfish habits…the ones we mostly partake for our personal gratification. Lent is a season of self-examination. During this period of self-examination we are called as Christians to examine how we “nourish” our bodies…as members of the body of Christ. It’s about how we nourish our hearts. It’s about how we focus on Jesus, who gives us strength.
My pastor said, “It’s like a spiritual test of where your heart is. Your heart is where your treasure is. Is it focused on “me” [self], or is it focused on Jesus?”
It’s human nature to want to focus on ourselves. I’m extremely guilty of this. In fact, I tend to focus on things that I may have regretted doing wrong or I may focus on good things that I feel have gone unnoticed. Either way, my focus is on “me”, and not Him. I focus on things that don’t give me true life.
There are also some who may focus on the things I’ve done wrong, and are really good at pointing them out to me, and sometimes to others. It’s not like I live in a box. I know I’m a sinner! Most of the time, I actually regret doing a lot of the things I do. But, something that I tend to forget, and need constant reminding of, is that there is no condemnation in Christ! Only others, or my miserable self, may accuse of past, or present things.
Lent can also be a time to be a part of community; to be a part of others–who have a commonality of fixing their eyes on Jesus.
That’s really the goal isn’t it? To fix our eyes on Jesus. To understand that this beautiful gift from God, His only Son, is not just for ourselves but to be shared with others…with no strings attached.
Lent is a time to extend ourselves to others. Extending not to just those who are impoverished, but, those that are older in age, those that may need comforting (for whatever reason), and to the sick and weary. We should extend ourselves to those in our broken world; to be His messengers of love and mercy. Our extension of ourselves should bear the very image of God.
Giving of oneself can be tough; but, there is a high return on the satisfaction odometer. Giving of oneself can be like a ripple effect. Those that take His Light out into the world of others–do so because they take delight in this action, not because it’s “dutiful”. It becomes a celebration that ripples out into the world.
I know that there is a lot more to Lent. I could write pages on Lent. Lent is not only about self-examination, it’s a plethora of practicality of sorts. Some of it’s about focusing on our faults; some of it’s about repenting; some of it’s about extending ourselves to others; but, it’s mainly about keeping our eye on the prize of Christ Jesus. He is the Author & Creator–the Finisher of the story of our lives.
During this season, what will you be serving up for your Lenten Special?
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not from ourselves, it is a gift of God…” ~ Ephesians 2:8
Adopted by God
Even though I was far from being an orphan as a child, I understood loneliness at times. I was an only child…for real. I was abused by my step father. I alienated myself from others.
As an adult, I have experienced loneliness. I have alienated myself in a very different way. I imagined I was what my pastor describes as being “spiritually orphaned“. But something has changed over the last couple of years. I’ve been adopted…adopted by God.
There was a time that the only father I knew about was one I was trying to forget about. With the help of a few spiritual leaders at my church and counseling, I began to learn otherwise. I learned that God is my true Father. I understand that He is my Father. He chose me. He had plans for me, even before I was born. God adopted me to be a part of His family.
Because of my past, even my present, I have carried a lot of shame and guilt. It has laid heavy in my heart. I tried to keep it suppressed; but, thankfully things are different now.
There is a song called, “You Love Me Anyway” by Sidewalk Prophets. It reminds me of how I feel I acted toward Jesus for all of my life. Part of the song is as follows:
“I am the thorn in your crown; but, You love me anyway.
I am the sweat from Your brow; but, You love me anyway.
I am the nail in Your wrist; but, You love me anyway.
I am Judas’ kiss; but, You love me anyway.
See now I am the [wo] man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life!
It’s like nothing in life
That I’ve ever known
Yes You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me.”
You see, my sins pinned His exposed and naked body on the cross. Despite what I did to Him, He sought me out in the crowd and said, “I love you anyway. I delight in you. I have adopted you for my own. You are mine.”
I’m so glad to know that I am loved. I’m not afraid to follow Jesus, or be with Him. In fact, I look forward to the day I will spend eternity with Him. I’m secure in knowing that Jesus loves me. He has adopted me for His very own. He understands my fears. He forgives me of my sins. He gives me strength.
It’s people who don’t understand. It goes back to the disconnectedness I have mentioned before. It’s people who choose to disconnect. Yes, there are some other circumstances; but, people make time for what they want to do. I know, because I’m a human being who does that very thing…chooses to do what I want to do.
I think that God would like for us to slow down and be a community…to try and reconnect with one another. Last fall I had a friend from middle school who reconnected with me, and it was great seeing her. To share our different journeys with each other. We shared so much, and it meant so much to me to be able to catch up with her. I have to admit that I have also connected with several through Facebook as well. It’s been great reconnecting with so many.
It seems so many have trouble reconnecting. Maybe something happened within the relationship. Sometimes things may have happened intentional, maybe on accident without knowing, or maybe time just slipped away. It’s not easy to reconnect. It takes time and energy. There are some who encourage you to do one thing, and then same people hold it against you for doing the very thing they encouraged you to do. It’s so frustrating, and talk about disconnecting.
There is another type of reconnecting…a reconnecting with God. God desires us to connect with Him. If God had not given me the strength and courage to depend on Him, then I think I would have ceased to exist. It’s because of Him that I’m capable of so much more. I’ve been made new.
God chose me to be a part of His family. God adopted me. I don’t mind being in a single family relationship with God. A community would be nice; but if some can’t accept me for me then there is no reason to be a part of community. Jesus loves me anyway…no matter what secrets I may have from my past, or the person I am now. He chose me. I’m adopted by God. He is the best head of family anyone could ever want. Praise His glorious name!
“…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from…strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace,…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,…” ~ Ephesians 2:12-14, 18-19
Compassion Changed My Life. Thank You, Pastor!
I realize this blog is a little long; but, it’s important to raise our spiritual leader(s) up on a regular basis–by offering prayer and at times showing them some appreciation. In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to dedicate this blog to those who have given their time to tend their flocks. I know that my pastor’s compassion helped me to change my life. I was sexually abused as a child, and I had a lot of baggage. My pastor helped me to understand how to leave my past abuse behind while becoming more passionate for Christ.
So how can we show our appreciation to our spiritual leaders? Well, most pastors put a significant amount of their time into preparing sermons. I think one of the best ways to give encouragement to them is by being faithful participants in the congregation.
Many pastors pour their heart out, using God’s words, into a sermon to tell us the truth of His grace and love for us. These words spoken, allow us to understand the faith & hope we can have through Him so that we can live and have a passion for Him.
It seems to me that the life of a pastor might be one of the loneliest professions one could pick. It has the makings of a very tough, demanding – and lonely – occupation.
Frustrating? Some of the times, yes. Rewarding? Most times, yes. Spiritually fulfilling? I am most certain yes, and on many different levels.
To spend one’s “everyday” life to further the kingdom of God must be a great profession indeed.
We all have days where nothing seems to go right. Maybe days of immense stress with any number of things that could be contributing to a “bad day.” Maybe you’re having a “season” of bad days.
When that happens, it’s not uncommon for us to talk the situation over with a spouse, family member, friend, or peer. Those conversations can be a great relief. Maybe you might come up with some solutions that you had not considered.
Your pastor has probably had some of those same “bad” days; but, unlike the rest of us, they often don’t have the luxury of a sounding board.
Think about it. Most of us have jobs where we are faced with “performance” appraisals once, maybe twice a year. Pastors are continually being critiqued on a weekly basis. I’m sure there is someone sitting in the pews, on any given Sunday, who is thinking that the sermon could have been better, or that the music wasn’t to their liking, or that the service just wasn’t “good” enough.
It’s almost certain that at least some of the comments will make their way back to them. Who are they going to discuss their concerns with about the fact that no matter what they do…somebody seems to be unhappy?
Then there’s this role of counselor. We often speak to our spiritual leader in confidence. Things said, and seen, can weigh heavily on their heart. All along pondering how to deal with such difficult situations. Yet, where can they go when they are feeling emotionally drained themselves? Where can they go to receive advice about how to handle a particular situation? That could be a whole separate blog; but, at this time I want to share what one of my pastors did for me.
As a child I had been sexually abused by my stepfather from the ages of 7-15…becoming most intense from age 9 and on. I had no idea of how much the abuse really affected me. The following is an excerpt from my site “About Grace Desired”:
“My husband, Sam Hairston, had researched and found a church that taught reformed doctrine. We had been attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church for over a year. I have never been one to stand out at church. I have pretty much been a back row worshiper. I obviously lacked passion for His truth–because there was definitely a lack of knowledge.
As time went on, and due to the good leadership at the church, I began to understand more of the Bible–the truth of His Word. The senior pastor, Tom Gibbs, has a vision and a passion for furthering His kingdom by being compassionate toward His people. The church has a vision and passion as well. Together, the community of the whole church has a passion for wanting to further His kingdom within our city and beyond. For the first time, since I was in high school, I had begun to love a church.
At church it was spoken that the broken (being me) could be energized by the “grace of God”. Week after week, I began to hear that Jesus was for the brokenhearted. Tom preached, and I heard that Jesus could be my champion, and that I could be made new like the “Oaks of Righteousness“. I also heard that God took delight in me. I thought, who me? I am a broken and scarred sinner who is full of shame, guilt, fear, and contempt. How can that possibly be? I was a skeptic!
At the time, Pastor Tom Gibbs, and his wife Tara, believed something else. They had noticed the back row worshiper and her family. I was told that they had prayed for us prior to their time spent with me. I suppose they wanted us to become the front row family.
Anyway, they began to play an integral part in my life. They dedicated much of their time trying to help me see that His grace and love is the reality of my faith & hope; thus, I would learn that I have really received His grace for my past secrets. They helped me to begin to understand that my shame, guilt, fear, along with my contempt, were unnecessary–because Christ took all of that away when He was nailed to the cross. The path was becoming clearer. I was to begin my journey learning that God desired me for who I was…even if I was broken.
I began to realize that God was actually “wining and dining” me. God longed for my attention. I began to feel God’s love, and it was the kind of love that I subconsciously craved for years and did not know it. Many, many months went by, and little did we know that a volcanic eruption (in epic proportion) would follow after the completion of the workbook. It was very painful to recall the memories I had suppressed. I began to have nightmares. I had no idea of the emotions that were surfacing to the top (like the beach ball). These were emotions that I had harbored within my very soul for years.
My “season” of confusion, self-hatred, and fear became too complex… even to the point of a deep despair. I began to become so frustrated that I cut myself a couple of different times. Of course I never really wanted to die; but, that I just wanted to get the horrible shame, guilt, and fear out of my body.
My “season” of emotions turned into “seasons” gone bad; kind of like a really bad reality TV show.
I believe God puts people into our lives for a reason. I definitely believe God brought the Gibbs’ into my life for a reason.”
Sometimes we put our spiritual leaders on pedestals of sorts – and it’s got to be a little lonely up there. We might forget that they’re human beings just like we are. They have strengths, and they have weaknesses, just like us. They get tired. They get frustrated. They need a pat on the back every once in a while, too!
So while Pastor Appreciation Month is a great thing, remember it’s important to support them all year long with prayers and words of encouragement. If last week’s sermon had a particular impact on you, say so. Send your spiritual leader a note of appreciation. You can also support spiritual leaders by becoming more involved with the church.
If we are enthusiastic followers of God, it will mean something to God – and to His ordained servants. I’m thankful that my pastor showed compassion and saw more in me, than I saw in me. He saw that God was not finished with me yet. Through his compassion he helped me to leave my past abuse behind and helped me to become more passionate for Him. Thank you, Pastor!
My prayer for spiritual leaders would be: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” ~Philippians 1:2
In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to thank the rest of the staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. They are as follows: Tom Gibbs, Senior Pastor; Brandon Eggar, Associate Pastor; Victor Martinez, Assistant Pastor; Michael Novak, RUF Pastor; Brent Watkins, Music Ministry (BTW he also has his own jazz band “South Texas Jazz); Bekah McNeel, Children’s Director; Matt Beham, Youth Director (who has spent countless hours with my kids); Harriet Peavy, Office Administrator; Sarah Gill, Assistant Administrator. I would also like to thank the Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses for their countless hours of service. There are so many others that play an integral part behind the scenes, and God bless you all for your time and efforts to further His kingdom.