Sunday, March 15, 2009

MY TESTIMONY: PART IV
The Best is Yet to Come

"So I will restore to you the years that
the swarming locust has eaten ... You
shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you.

(Joel 2:25-26)

Life was bittersweet. The Lord was revealing Himself to me in awesome ways, and yet I felt isolated. There were parking issues in my development that made it difficult to invite people over. Neighbors were very transient and pretty much kept to themselves. On top of that, I was in a cold, cold church where I never felt I belonged. I stayed for eight years because the teaching was sound and it was close to home.

I felt as though the Lord had put me on the shelf, and would wonder if He was ever going to take me down, but after a while those thoughts grew less and less, and I settled in to a resigned sort of contentment--well, most of the time. Other times I would think of the friends I went to school with who had lived successful lives and were now enjoying retirement or semiretirement, whereas due to the poor choices I had made, there was no retirement in my future.

I didn't really mind the fact that I would have to keep on working, because I enjoy what I do, but I did have regrets about wasting my talents and opportunities, and not having been a better parent. I would get this overwhelming feeling of remorse at having squandered my life and not having anything to show for it. Even worse, there was no turning back the clock (something I wrote about here, on my other blog).

But God wasn't done with me yet. He still had a "suddenly" up His sleeve, and just as I was getting ready to sign my 12th lease, a chain of unexpected events took place (literally from one day to the next) that led to my moving to an even smaller town. It all happened so suddenly and out of the blue, there was no time for planning. And of course Satan did his best to steal my joy by creating obstacles that made the process of getting from there to here stressful and suspenseful, but the Lord came through in His usual awesome way, only confirming that it was He who had set the whole thing in motion.

It's been almost a year-and-a-half now since I was transported to yet another unfamiliar neck of the woods, but what a blessing it has been. It is a quiet complex, surrounded by beautiful trees, and parking is no issue. The neighbors are really friendly, and my new church home is so, so warm. It's like I've been placed in the middle of a huge, caring family. People actually want to include me and hear what I have to say. And the Lord has given me a new ministry, one I would never have chosen on my own since it is way below my level of comfortability, but one that I know is a privileged responsibility. He has finally taken me off the shelf and is training me to be an intercessor.

My professional friends may be retired now, but I am just getting started. And as for the tragedy of a wasted life, has it really been so? Had I pursued my talents and education to their fullest, would I ever have felt a need for the Lord or for His saving grace? Would I have spent my life chasing after the things the world has to offer, instead of the things that have eternal value? Would I have missed God's gift of salvation instead of my vocation, a greater tragedy by far?

Life has become exciting. I can't wait to see what the Lord is about to do next!

Read all about it in Part V.
PART V Sincerely Wrong

Saturday, March 14, 2009

MY TESTIMONY: PART III
Taste and See that the Lord is Good

"For I know the thoughts that I
think toward you, says the Lord,
thoughts of peace and not of evil,
to give you a future and a hope
."
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Life was comfortable and fulfilling. Good friends, church family, music ministry, work I enjoyed, people who appreciated me. I had become quite content with the way things were, when suddenly and unexpectedly, I met a "Christian" man through work. And I have purposefully put that word in quotes, because one of the first lessons I learned during my stint with the organization I met him through, is that some folks claiming to be Christians just use the title to try and take advantage of their unsuspecting sisters and brothers in Christ. I have been more burned by them than by anybody else I've known. But I digress.

This person was my boss, and not only did he want to marry me, but he also offered me what looked like the job of my dreams. I wasn't sure what to make of all this because at this point in life I no longer considered the possibility of remarrying. I enjoyed my independence, and being able to come and go as I pleased. However, I also reveled in the attention he showered upon me. It felt kind of nice to have someone think I was so special and be genuinely concerned about my wellbeing. What to do.

I did a lot of praying, begging the Lord to step in and close all the doors if this wasn't of Him, but at the same time, I tuned out all the little warnings that the still small voice within was trying to bring to my attention. I saw only what I wanted to see, which was that this man was mature, responsible, and trustworthy. I believed him when he told me his word was something I could bank on. And when both his pastor and mine gave us their blessing, I reasoned that it was a sign of the Lord's blessing too, and this romantic fantasy started playing in my mind of what an awesome testimony this would turn out to be. I even tried to help the Lord speed things along instead of waiting on His perfect timing.

The owner of my apartment complex, which had turned co-op, had offered to pay me to move out so he could sell my apartment. At first I turned the offer down, but now I told him I'd reconsidered, and would like to take him up on it. My daughter had said I could stay with her until I got married, which was supposed to happen shortly after the move, and so the wheels were set in motion. I gave up my business, gave most of my furniture and money to a friend who had been staying with me so she and her girls would be able to find another place to live, and set out with only what I could squeeze into my little two-door Ford Escort. A home and a job awaited me, so I wasn't worried about myself at all.

Segway from there right into the second lesson I was soon to learn, which is that only God's word can be banked on. Only His word can be trusted 100% of the time. Everyone else's word is subject to change. People make commitments they don't or can't keep. Sometimes it's because they make them in haste before considering all the ramifications. Other times it's because circumstances get in the way. Even the most honorable and best intentioned folks are subject to sickness, accidents, unavoidable delays, and death.

To make a long story short, not only did the job fall through, but I soon found out there was not going to be a marriage either, and I ended the relationship. So here I was, stripped of everything familiar; a bag lady living out of boxes and inhabiting the top bunk of my granddaughters' bunk bed.

It was in this top bunk that the Lord finally got my undivided attention. Many tears were shed when no one was around, and after I found a job, I would even find myself crying while I was driving back and forth from work. One of the major miracles of that time was that I never had an accident, even when my eyes were so filled I could hardly see where I was going. I just kept weeping and asking over and over again, why Lord did you let this happen to me when I not only prayed, but even begged you to close all the doors if this move was not of you.

Finally, one day when there were no tears left to cry, a sudden calm come over me, and I felt as though the Lord had put His arms around me and was holding me close and quieting me. A picture flashed through my mind of a very rebellious horse finally being broken in, and in that moment, I was able to release what was in my tightly clenched fist, and open it up to receive something better.

On that road towards something better, there were many lessons to learn, and one of the first things to get chipped away at was my pride. For the first time in my life, I was on the receiving end instead of the giving one. I was beginning to walk in the other person's shoes, and experience the shame of needing a handout, and the humiliation when certain people think it's your fault and you're just too lazy to go get a second or a third job.

Another first was that nobody seemed to need anything I had to offer. In the big city I came from, I had never had problems making friends. People were often in and out of my apartment, and there was plenty for me to do at church as well, but here I was in this small town I had never even heard about before, and my overtures were rejected. My ego was diminishing by leaps and bounds. It was a very painful and puzzling experience.

More than once I asked the Lord why I couldn't make friends, and why I couldn't be part of a music ministry. His response was that if He wanted me to keep doing the things I did before, he would have kept me there. He had uprooted and transplanted me into unfamiliar territory so He could start doing something new. I began to understand that just because things didn't turn out the way I expected they would have if I had really heard from the Lord didn't mean that I hadn't. All it meant was that He had a different purpose in mind.

During my 12 years in this small town the Lord provided in miraculous ways--not only for my needs, but for some of my wants as well. I learned to trust Him more than ever as I experienced first hand the manifestations of His faithfulness and love. It is too much to put into one post, but you can read about some of the most awesome things He did, here and here (two posts I wrote on my other blog).

It doesn't end there though, so stay tuned for Part IV, the conclusion of my testimony, which I hope to be able to get written soon.

PART IV  The Best is Yet to Come

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

THE FATHER'S LOVE LETTER

Dear (insert your name):

You may not know me, but I know everything about you (Psalm 139:1). I know when you sit down and when you rise up (Psalm 139:2). I am familiar with all your ways (Psalm 139:3). Even the very hairs on your head are numbered (Matthew 10:29-31). You were made in my image (Genesis 1:27). In me you live and move and have your being (Acts 17:28). You are my offspring (Acts 17:28). I knew you even before you were conceived (Jeremiah 1:4-5). You were not a mistake; all your days are written in my book (Psalm 139: 15-16).

I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live (Acts 17:26). You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I knit you together in your mother's womb (Psalm 139:13) and brought you forth on the day you were born (Psalm 71:6).

Those who don’t know me have misrepresented me (John 8:41-45). I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love (1 John 4:16) and it is my desire to lavish my love on you simply because you are my child and I am your father (1 John 3:1).

I offer you more than your earthly father ever could (Matthew 7:11) for I am the perfect father (Matthew 5:48). Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand (James 1:17). I am your provider and I meet all your needs (Matthew 6:31-33). My plan for your future has always been filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11) because I love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore (Psalm 139:17-18) and I rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

I will never stop doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40) for you are my treasured possession (Exodus 19:5). I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul (Jeremiah 32: 41) and I want to show you great and marvelous things (Jeremiah 33:3).

If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me (Deuteronomy 4:29). Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4) for it is I who gave you those desires (Philippians 2:13). I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine (Ephesians 3:20) for I am your greatest encourager (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). I am also the father who comforts you in all your troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you (Psalm 34:18).

As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart (Isaiah 40:11). One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and will take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth (Revelation 21:3-4). I am your father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus (John 17:23) for in Jesus, my love for you is revealed (John 17:26). He is the exact representation of my being (Hebrews 1:3). He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you (Romans 8:31) and to tell you that I am not counting your sins against you (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you (1 John 4:10). I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love (Romans 8:31-32). If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me (1 John 2:23) and nothing will ever separate you from my love again (Romans 8:38-39).

Come home and I'll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen (Luke 15:7). I have always been Father, and will always be Father (Ephesians 3:14-15). My question is--will you be my child? (John 1:12-13). I am waiting for you (Luke 15:11-32).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

MY TESTIMONY: PART II
Exploring the Word

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope
without wavering, for He who promised is
faithful." - (Hebrews 10:23)

So at the end of Part I, the day came when I felt ready to turn my life over to Jesus, and as the invitation was given on the program I was watching, I put my hand on the TV screen, repeated the sinner’s prayer, and asked Him to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. I accepted the gift of salvation with the unwavering faith of a little child, and as I continued to spend time in the Word, I accepted every other promise just as unwaveringly. It was like God said it, so I believe it!

Slowly, slowly, the Bible was becoming my authority, and when I saw what it said about the importance of fellowship with other believers, and of being part of a body, I decided to look for a church to attend. What an eye opener that was. Up to that point I had thought that all believers believed the same thing, but that's not the way it was at all. Never in my wildest imagination could I have conceived how much division I was about to encounter.

There were believers, for example, who praised the Lord loudly and joyfully, singing and dancing before Him like David in the Old Testament must have done(2 Samuel 6:14), whereas other believers said that was a no-no, and frowned upon the practice of raising hands or clapping during worship. Some believers believed in miracles, and healing, and the gifts of the spirit, whereas others claimed those things were no longer for today. So who was right, and who was wrong?

My heart's desire was to do what was right, and so I began wavering. I became kind of like Peter who started walking on the water when Jesus bid him "come," but then took his eyes off of Him, started looking at the wind and the raging sea instead, and began to sink (Matthew 14:24-31). I began putting more faith in some of the sermons I heard than in what I saw in the Word, and was letting the words of others color my thinking.

James 1:6b-8 issues a warning against being double minded and wavering in our faith, but that's just what I began doing. If I heard something that confirmed what I believed, it strengthened my faith for the moment, but then if I heard something else spoken against it, I would start wavering again. It was a constant dilemma.

However, one thing could not be denied. The Lord had done some amazing things in my life that I kept track of on bits and pieces of paper. Several years ago, I copied all these incidents into a notebook, which I continue to add to today, and whenever I feel discouraged or depressed, or am facing a seemingly hopeless situation, I leaf through its pages and am reminded of the Lord's goodness and grace. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it here on my Great-Granny blog.

Shortly after that, I started another notebook, a little fat one entitled, "It Is Written..." I divided it into tabbed sections, each one dealing with an issue I struggle with in my own personal life--Anger, Fear, Health, Discouragement, Spiritual Warfare, Who I am in the Lord, and so on--and every time I find a verse that speaks to my heart, I write it down in the appropriate section.

This little reference book has come to my rescue on more than one occasion when I wasn't thinking clearly, or when I've been having trouble remembering where to find a certain verse. It's been such a blessing that I've even added it to my hard drive so I can share it with whoever else might like a copy of it. If that 'whoever else' happens to be you, please send me your e-mail and I'll be more than happy to send you one. It is completely free, and there are no strings attached.

Finally, I've taken to marking up my Bibles. I underline verses that jump out at me, sometimes put little hearts next to them, and whenever one of the promises is actually manifested in my life, I put a little TP next to it (Tested and Proven). That way I no longer have to waver or be influenced by someone else's thoughts.

Now when I hear someone say these promises are not for today, I can tell them they've arrived too late with their message, because I've already seen those miracles manifest in my life. That is evidence that cannot be disputed.

PART III Taste and See that the Lord is Good

Sunday, March 8, 2009

MY TESTIMONY: PART I
Journey to the Foot of the Cross

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock."
(Revelation 3:20a)

As early as I can remember, I felt drawn to the supernatural—God, religion, the occult. However, it took a little over half a century before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Along the way I explored several paths—each time convinced that I had found the right one. But I thank God for His persistence in pursuing me and nudging me along until I landed right into the outstretched arms of Jesus.

How grateful I am that His ways are not our ways and that He has infinite mercy and patience. No matter how wayward I must have seemed, He never gave up on me or turned His back on me--even when I vented all my pent up anger and frustration on Him. Instead, He continued to hover over me, to protect me, and to take care of me.

As I think back on my childhood and the years before I was saved, I can remember some very distinct occasions when He actually delivered me from potential danger and harm, either by planting a warning thought in my mind, or through His divine intervention.

I was an only child and because of my father’s involvement with his work and my mother’s involvement with him, I spent a lot of time with nannies, maids and in boarding schools. I wanted so much to feel special and to “belong,” but I never seemed to fit in. I really envied friends who came from large, close-knit families, while I myself, felt as though I had no roots. My parents did love me, but they treated me more as a belonging or an extension of themselves than as a separate entity with emotional needs who needed nurturing and support.

My mother was so motivated by fear that she overprotected me and kept me sheltered from many things that I should not have been sheltered from. Even major family events that should have been shared were not, which increased my feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. For instance, when my grandmother died, and later my father, I was away at school and was not told about their deaths until after their funerals. In the case of my father, it wasn’t even my mother who broke the news to me, but rather, one of her friends who she sent to visit me at school and tell me what had happened.

I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, condemnation, rejection--never seeming to be able to live up to anyone’s expectations—especially my mother's. And I found myself constantly deferring to the wishes of other people in an attempt to be accepted and loved. Even after I got married, I never knew what it was like to be loved unconditionally or to have someone stand up for me. I made many compromises I didn’t want to make, because of my lack of self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and fear of what other people might think.

Because I was so needy, I settled for very much less than God’s best for me and did many things for the wrong reasons, driven by a constant and overwhelming need to prove myself. As a result, there was a lot of anger and resentment brewing beneath the surface that I wasn’t even aware of.

After my husband’s death, I became involved in the occult. Visiting psychics became a regular activity and I also immersed myself in the study of astrology, numerology, metaphysics and other new age practices. For the first time in my life I felt at peace as I learned that my personality, the way I interacted with people, and the events that happened in my life were all predetermined by the numbers in my given name at birth and by the position of the stars when I was born. Knowing that these things were out of my control made them easier to accept. I wasn’t looking for roots any more—or feeling dissatisfied with my circumstances. I felt that all my questions had been answered in a very rational, clear-cut way that I could deal with.

It was quite a natural progression from here to the Eastern path I later became initiated into. Whereas the occult had offered me plausible explanations, Sant Mat (also known as “The Path of the Masters”) offered me the promise of a savior who would take me out of the cycle of reincarnation and lead me back to God. The teachings of this path were substantiated by numerous Scriptures—especially those found in the Gospel of John (although I later discovered that some had been slightly misquoted—like John 14:6 which they quoted as “ the way, the truth, and the light” rather than “the way, the truth, and the life).

They believed in Jesus and taught that no one could come to God except through a savior, but they claimed that the flock Jesus came to save was the flock that lived 2,000 years ago. They used John 10:3-4 (“…he calleth his own sheep by name… and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice”) to substantiate that fact. They taught that God has never left the world without a savior. He sends one to every generation to gather the sheep living at that time. They quoted the last phrase of 1 John 4:20 (“…how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”) to substantiate the fact that people can only be saved by a living Master who they can see—and not by Jesus or by any of the previous Masters who are no longer inhabiting a physical body.

All this, to say that without divine intervention of the most miraculous kind, I would never have gotten saved. I was perfectly happy with my life and believed in my salvation. I felt reconciled with God and certain that I would be spending eternity with Him. No one could have convinced me otherwise. In fact, I clearly remember a conversation I once had with a Christian acquaintance of mine who was telling me about my need for Jesus. It puzzled me that she couldn’t understand that I already had a savior and considered myself saved. She kept telling me it wasn’t the same thing and I kept insisting that it was.

At about this time, I started experiencing some financial setbacks that led me deeper and deeper into debt. Bills were piling up as I tried to juggle Peter so I could pay Paul, and my judgment must have really been clouded, because the more effort I put into trying to redeem my situation, the worse things got. Instead of making more money (which is what I was attempting to do), I was just losing it and creating more debt. It got to the point where I didn’t even know how (short of a miracle) I would be able to come up with my next month’s rent. That was when, I got a call from my married daughter who was living in another state. She wanted to know if she, hubby, and the two little ones could come up for Thanksgiving.

Now how does a mother tell her child no, you can’t come because right now I don’t even have money to pay the rent, let alone buy food to feed all of you--especially when there is a pride issue involved. So I told her that of course they could come. And that’s how the real God, Jehovah Jireh, got His foot in the door, came to my rescue, and got my full attention. I hadn’t been planning on having Thanksgiving that year, but now I was going to need to come up with a way. What a pickle I found myself in!

As I was pondering what to do, a friend of mine told me about a program she had watched on TV. This televangelist had talked about planting seeds for your needs and she had tried it and it really worked. She was so excited that I decided to see what it was all about for myself.

Under normal circumstances I would have immediately switched channels or turned off the TV at the sight of this loud and hyper man. However, because of the urgency of my situation I forced myself to watch and keep an open mind. He was talking about planting seeds of faith and about tithing and, in the process, he quoted a whole bunch of scripture verses which I later looked up. It seemed kind of hokey, but I figured I had nothing to lose at this point.

So I decided to call up his prayer line and plant a seed of faith, believing God to provide the money I needed for the rent and other bills, and also for Thanksgiving. I also decided to start tithing (though not into his ministry), and donated a tenth of whatever money came in, no matter how puny the amount, to some local charitable organizations that were reaching out to the poor and needy.

Well, my harvest started coming in and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around my bills were paid and I was even able to cater the meal from a kosher deli to accommodate my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who are Jewish and who I had invited to join us.

It would all have ended there, if the path I was on had any bans on its members investigating other belief systems or religions, but they didn’t. In fact we were taught that following the teachings of the path would just make us better Christians or Jews or Catholics or whatever it was we had been before we came to the master. In their eyes it was all compatible. So I started studying my Bible and testing the Scriptures. I figured that if some promises were true, then the others were probably true also.

Up until then I had always thought of the Bible as a historical book, but now I was beginning to see it as a very detailed roadmap God had provided me with to show me the path to follow, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, if I wanted to experience the very best He had for me.

Those were the days when I couldn't get enough of reading my Bible. I also found some other Christian programs with more substance to them, and started watching them on a regular basis. Finally the day came when I felt ready to turn my life over to Jesus, and as the invitation was given on the program I was listening to, I put my hand on the TV screen, repeated the sinner’s prayer, and asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. But that was just the very beginning. There's a whole lot more to follow.

Stay tuned for Part II.
PART II Exploring the Word