During yesterday’s Bible study, I shared with the other ladies the same testimony I had shared at Missionary Training School this year. I became a Christian in 1999, and that spring when it was time for my church to host the 3rd annual MTS, I was working full time, so I would finish my day’s work then go to the former school building behind the church where the school was held and wash the dishes after supper. The next year I was still working full time, so I did the same thing – worked all day, then came in the evening and washed the supper dishes. The following year I was laid off from work, and I got to spend the entire week at the school helping out and sitting in on a lot of the classes. Right from the opening Sunday night service of that first year, I saw God everywhere I looked and bumped into what He was doing in the lives of the people he had gathered together for the week every time I moved. For someone like me who had not even believed there was a God for so many years, these were priceless experiences. I’ve written about some of them on the blog before.
What struck me about the conversation yesterday was what our leader said to the other lady present – “Did you see her face when she was talking about coming after work and doing the dishes? It just glowed.”
I said, “It did?” I knew from past experience that my face has a tendency to betray me and display for all the world to see what’s really going on in my brain, so it was interesting to find out that that can be a positive thing as well as an embarrassment.
I was reminded that when Moses returned from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Law from God that his face shone so brightly that he had to put a veil over it. Paul refers to this in 2 Corinthians 3 where he says that if the Law, which was to be done away with, made it impossible for the people to view Moses face without a veil, how much more glorious is the ministry of the Spirit of God? And then he says . . .
But we all, with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass (mirror) the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
I’ve been working on gathering all the bits and pieces of my story of coming to faith into one place in order to answer the following question that was posed to me a few months ago – “Why did you immediately jump to the conclusion that your experience (when God changed my radio station) was God and not some random static discharge?” My answer has a lot to do with Paul’s explanation of this incident from the life of Moses. When the Spirit of God begins to work in a life, things change and faces glow. Whatever else you want to say about whether there is any rational evidence for God, this I know – I am changed, and my face still glows.by admin
Ten days ago, I wrote about Hero Worship. In the process of writing that post, I linked to Michael Card’s web site. When I arrived there to get the correct url to link to, I found that he was coming to Ohio with a conference called Biblical Imagination Series. A little whisper in my mind said, “go there.” So I went.
Beginning Friday night, the next 26 hours were quite a journey through Luke – the Gospel of Amazement - as we all learned a little bit about how to engage with the Scriptures in a way that is both biblical and that bridges the gap between heart and mind. One thing I discovered in the process is how that bridge has been made in my life – it is the visual picture that is formed in response to either the words of scripture, or more often when the right question is asked about the scriptures. If I don’t have a picture, I don’t really understand in my heart. I also realized how powerful these pictures are – not just for me, but for those I share them with. This is something I’ve been hearing for years – every time I hear Mark Gostlin teach on Word Pictures. (I’m starting to think I’m the slowest student on the planet since I have to keep retaking the class!) In fact, a lot of the scriptural pictures I have that bridge the gap between my head and my heart came out of his sermons. But I once again actually saw the power of one of these pictures in someone else’s face.
Met some incredible people. The first night I sat with 3 lovely ladies and just thoroughly enjoyed their company.
Saturday, I sat next to a lady home for a few weeks from Thailand named Linda Horn. Talked to her quite a bit about the sex trafficking situation in Thailand. She was quite an encouragement.
Craig Dunham – great facilitator. The post-it notes were a little more significant, I think, than I was initially ready to give them credit for. I think he was surprised when I asked for his picture.
Eric. Just listening to him talk for a few minutes, I could tell God’s got places for this guy to go.
Michael Card. Still not worshiping any heroes except Jesus, but I’ve sure got a lot of bridges/pictures in my heart that come out of his lyrics, and I came away from the weekend with a few more. One in particular had to do with the categories we tend to plug people into and the question, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:36-50 – Thanks for that rabbit trail, Michael.) One thing I noticed this weekend (again, nothing new, just a fresh reminder) – especially in meeting both Linda and Michael – was that God likes to use broken people – earthen vessels with all the cracks and holes that let the glory of God shine through.
I did actually meet one hero worshiper who was worshiping the wrong hero, and I think I needed to see that too. Which leads to a funny observation. I’ve never asked for an autograph from anyone before, but I did this time. I doubt that I ever will again. Afterwards I was wondering, “Now what’s the point of that?” It’s not like I’ve got a first edition signed copy of the book that’s going to be worth thousands of dollars someday. But there are certain experiences that it seems I’ve had to do at least once before I croak – first F ever in my senior year of college, first speeding ticket in 2009, first autograph in 2011. Sorry Michael. Love your music – hate the groupie feeling I got with the autograph experience.
The weekend was capped off – truly the icing on the cake – by a concert. And the concert was concluded with the most wonderful benediction in song I’ve ever been part of.
Grace be with you all
And may the Great Shepherd of the sheep
Equip you with good things for doing his will
And grace be with you all.
When I first started going to church again in 1998, I ended up at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for about 6 months or so. I had been listening to Alistair Begg on the radio, and I was pretty sure there wasn’t going to be anything weird going on there. He’s also a benediction man, and I used to love his benedictions. Still do when I hear them on the radio. I had forgotten how blessed a good benediction can make me feel. I drove home last night feeling very blessed.
Some unfinished business. The last exercise of the weekend was to write the parable of our lives. Made a couple of false starts, then realized what I needed to do, but by that time I wouldn’t have been able to listen to the other stories if I took time to rewrite then. So here is my parable. There are others that could be written, but this was what came out of this weekend.
Jesus said to them, Hesed is like this. There was a young girl who asked me for something that would not have been good for her, so I said no. But she didn’t understand that I had something better to give her, and she hated me.
Some time later, she asked me to go away, and I said yes. She thought it would be forever, but I knew it wasn’t.
When she finally neared the end of the road she was on, she reached her hand up to my stars one night and asked me, “If you’re really there, would you let me know somehow?”
At just the right time, I let her know I was there and that I loved her, and she stopped hating me. Now I can teach her to ask for what I’ve been longing to give her all along.
One of the questions from this week’s Bible study asks:
Who do you respect and admire as someone who “finished well”? What is it about their life that you respect the most?
Without question, the first person who comes to mind is my Aunt Mimi. On a long drive from Atlanta, Georgia, to Independence, Missouri, when I was 14, she and I had a lot of time to just talk. Right at that critical time when I was already rebelling against God and was starting to bring some very destructive things into my life, she told me that God had a plan for my life. I had forgotten about that until I saw her last January take the face of one of the next generation and hold it in her hands right in front of her own and tell him the same thing – “God has a plan for your life.” How many other kids that she adopted as her own did she encourage that way? Lots, I’m sure.
Last January when she was still recovering from a broken pelvis, my sister and I had the opportunity to spend some time with her. While she was still in quite a bit of pain, the thing that bothered her the most was not being about to participate in her Bible Study Fellowship group. She was determined to get back on her feet and serving the Lord as quickly as she could (and she did). She didn’t like being sidelined one little bit, but she believed that the Lord was teaching her something through it.
A few months later, my husband and I got to “drop in” and surprise her for lunch – the first and only time I’ve ever been able to just drop in on Aunt Mimi. She was full of stories and encouragement, and I’m so glad we were able to spend that time with her because just a short time later she was gone.
In the days surrounding her funeral last summer, I had a few quite moments to sit down in the chair where she spent the majority of her time with the Lord and look through her Bible and page through some of the Bible studies she was working on. I pulled out a couple of quotes that I think say something about her walk with the Lord and that I hope will someday say something about mine.
From a note inside the front cover of her Bible:
There’s enough time to do everything God wants me to do.
From a Bible Study Fellowship worksheet that she was currently working on:
I made these plans, but God had other plans, and I’ve never been sorry I went his way.
And something my dad said about her that made the newspaper on the Sunday before her funeral:
“Her heart was so open and golden,” James Birney said. “It didn’t matter whether you were family, you always felt as if she was someone you could trust.”
She didn’t make favorite aunt status for no reason. Was she perfect? Of course not. Did she finish well? Absolutely. May I finish as well.
In the ladies’ Bible study tonight, the question was asked, “How do you define success?” There were a lot of answers – no right or wrong on that one. I said that my definition of success is to be like Christ, and I’m a miserable failure. To my mind, if I were actually like Christ, I would have arrived. There’s nothing more I could hope to achieve. Not going to happen in this life, but it’s actually not an entirely hopeless ambition as John states in his first letter:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
There is coming a day when I will have my desire, and maybe along the way, I can have it in small measure.
I’ve been thinking all evening about what it actually means to be like Christ, and a number of things are coming to mind:
I’ve never been a hero worshiper because there’s no mere human who could ever measure up to what I thought a hero should be. Jesus, on the other hand, is definitely hero material, and the more clearly I can see him, the more I want to worship him and be like him. Hero worship indeed!
So picture a run of the mill laundromat on a steamy Saturday afternoon. My dryer had broken, and we had not yet replaced it, so I had washed all of my laundry at home and took it to the laundromat to dry. (I should actually do this more often – everything was done in no time!!) This day, no one else was there, and, in spite of the sign that said “NO RADIOS”, I saw someone else’s radio sitting on top of a shelf. So I got it down, plugged in, and tuned in. That afternoon the station was airing a program with Michael Card, in which there were interviews and discussion interspersed with some of his songs. I was folding clothes when a series of songs came on that took me right to heaven (seriously – my body might have been in a laundromat folding clothes, but I was in heaven).
First up was El Shaddai – God Almighty, God Almighty, God Most High, Lord. From the age of Abraham and Isaac, and Moses and the Exodus, to the coming of the Messiah, the song packs into 3 minutes all of the Ages. Right there in the laundromat, I could see the whole scope of God’s redemptive story.
Next was Song of the Lamb – Lyrics very nearly straight out of the book of Revelation. The scenes played out at the end of time with the victorious army, the temple in heaven, the angels with bowls (of God’s wrath) in their hands, smoke, and glory . . . Now I’m no longer folding clothes – just listening and seeing and awestruck.
Finally, the song was Come Worship the Lord – and by this time I could do nothing less. At least on the inside, I was flat on the floor, face down. I’m glad no one came in right then because the tears were freely flowing down my cheeks.
I’ve thought about that experience many times since then, especially when considering how to approach what Jesus says about worship in John 4 for our study in the Gospel of John. Jesus disconnected true worship from a particular place, but he didn’t disconnect it from himself – The Truth. And right now my next step would normally be to analyze and explain, but I’m really just speechless again.by beakennedy
When my husband and I came back from Marion to live in our own house again, I was pretty sure that rather than slip back into the comfort of my old church, I was now supposed to get to know some of the people and churches closer to home. During our previous years in this house it had occurred to me more than once that if I was ever talking to one of my neighbors about Christ, I had absolutely no idea if there were any churches nearby that I could recommend to them if they didn’t want to travel 15 miles to go to church with me. Suffice it to say that I now know there are at least 2 Gospel preaching churches in my own little one-stop-light town.
But on a similar note to my post in 2009 about looking for a church in Marion, I think I’ve found the place where God is going to park me for a while, and for a lot of the same reasons that I was attracted to my church in Marion. The overwhelming impression after barely a couple of months there is that this is a house of prayer. That’s because every time I turn around these people are praying for each other. Both my first pastor and my pastor in Marion would also gather the church around individuals to pray for specific ministries or needs. In fact, the church in Marion sent me out with just such a prayer when it was time for us to leave there. It’s truly a blessing to be on the receiving end of the prayers of your entire church body.
During my 2nd visit to the church here, the pastor gathered everyone around a young Middle-Eastern family who were enduring some persecution for sharing the truth about Islam. Later it was a man being deployed to Afghanistan and his wife. Today, a man who is launching a new ministry and his family. And all I can think of every time I’m witness to these things is what Jesus said when he cleared the thieves out of the temple:
“It is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer.”
The passage Jesus is quoting from in Isaiah actually calls God’s temple “a house of prayer for all people.” No matter who I am or where I come from, because I love the name of the Lord and have taken hold of his covenant, I can come into this house of prayer and know that my burnt offerings and my sacrifices – whatever I bring to the altar – are accepted.
Lot’s more that could be said here, but it’s late, and there’s a long day coming as soon as I wake up.by beakennedy
My friend and pastor, Ryan Strother, posted an article on his blog this week that got me thinking. At this point, atheism is still the largest segment of my life – 20 years more or less. Christ stopped me in my tracks in December 1997, and I fully committed my life to him in January 1999. During that 13 months, He very patiently destroyed every argument I had raised against Him. Twelve years later, I can still clearly recall the whole logical structure that under-girds atheist thought and describe it for my Christian friends who find atheists a bit mystifying. I can still describe exactly how an atheist thinks about deities of any sort and the people who believe in them. But I can no longer believe those things myself. It’s like the old dot-matrix pictures people used to make. Close up, it just looks like a jumble of dots, but once you gain the right perspective and see the pattern, you can never again unsee it no matter where you view the picture from. I can recall a world without God, but I’ve seen Him now, and I can’t unsee Him, even if I wanted to try.
On the other hand, I didn’t lose the skeptical stance when I became a Christian. The reality of Christ and the Truth of what God has said in the Scriptures are as solid as bedrock to me, but beyond that, I have no sacred cows. Sacred cows are meant to be barbequed, not enshrined.
So imagine my surprise last week when reading through the scriptures from that morning’s Sunday School lesson (John 21), I arrived at verse 14 -
This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples after that he was risen from the dead.
We had talked that morning about how Peter and the rest of the disciples had gone back to their former occupations out of what? Disappointment? Maybe things weren’t going the way they expected? In my reading that afternoon, I got to verse 14, and asked a question:
Me: How in the world did they go back to fishing AFTER they saw the risen Christ twice?
God: Ahem. Isn’t that exactly what you’ve been doing?
Me: Scrambling back to chapter 20 to make sure it really was twice. Yup, twice. Crushed.
God has still been leading, and I’ve still been following, but in some respects I’ve been keeping him at arm’s length. Not spending much time in prayer. Not much time in the Scriptures. Kind of anemic really. I can’t go back to atheism, but apparently it’s not too hard to start behaving as if I had.
One of the most helpful things I ever heard in a sermon was a description of the Christian life. It’s not so much like a line that goes from point A to point B to point C. Rather it’s more like an onion, and as you peel back the layers you keep encountering the same old threads of the flesh that you encountered on the surface. And so don’t be surprised or discouraged when you encounter them again. Instead, take it as an invitation to go deeper with Christ.
Questions inevitably follow, but right now I’m just enjoying the conversations again, and I’m enjoying “seeing him who is invisible” because I sure can’t unsee him, and I’m looking forward to peeling back more layers.by beakennedy
Birds have eyelashes
I never realized that before we got Spunkmeyer. Sometimes I can see them in pictures of birds, but most times not. Not only do they have eyelashes, but they like them to be very gently rubbed, or at least Spunkmeyer will tilt his head right over upside down and backwards in order to put his eyelashes right by the finger you’ve been stroking his neck with. Don’t know if birds can show emotional expressions or not, but if they can, then Spunkmeyer is in pure ecstasy when he’s having his little eyelids rubbed.
Why do I go to church?
Riding to church this morning, and a really neat song by Keith and Kristen Getty came on the radio – See What a Morning. The last words of each stanza are “For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!” I thought, “That’s why I go to church.” I suppose there are all kinds of reasons that going to church might be a more or less pleasant experience (I tend to like it), but that’s the “why do I do this” answer and the only one that really matters.
However, it is my goal to someday belong to a church where THIS song is sung:
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
At least Craig Venter is honest in saying his team didn’t create life from scratch, even if some of the media are getting carried away with it. He has an interesting result, for sure, but even the statement that they have synthesized man-made DNA is a little suspect to my mind. Everything I’ve read says quite plainly that their genetic code is based on information contained in already existing genetic databases. The experiment gives a little more understanding that “life” is more than a specific sequence of DNA instructions, but what exactly is it? The instructions (the operating system) or the machinery (the computer) or something else? Neither the DNA nor the cell structure can “live” apart from each other, but Mr. Venter has definitely proved that, at least in this case, with a little tweaking you can switch Windows 7 for OS X and still have a working computer.
I still remember one of the first Christian radio programs I was exposed to after the miraculous radio station change in December 1997 – R. C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind. The very first series that came on the next time I was driving to work for a total of 6 days (Monday through Friday, then Monday – I could hardly wait for that weekend to be over because I wanted to hear the “clincher” of the argument so bad) was called “Creation or Chaos.” The question R.C. asked that still rings in my mind was, “How do you get life from nonlife?” In all my years as an atheist, I had either ignored that little detail or naively swallowed the primordial soup line. Craig Venter clearly hasn’t gotten life from nonlife, and he admits that (someone clue in the news media). He has taken an existing living cell and changed it’s instructions by removing the original set, modifying the information contained in the instruction set of another living cell, and inserting the new instructions back into the first living cell. He has created a new arrangment of already living organisms, but he hasn’t touched the underlying problem of secular science - How do you get life from nonlife? Reminds me of a joke -
One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.
The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and get lost.”
God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this, let’s say we have a man making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “OK, great!”
But God added, “Now, we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”
The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.
God just looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!”
Oh, yes. It took 15 years of research, $40 million dollars, and a whole lot of intelligence to cook up this little switcheroo?
Will scientists get closer and closer to figuring out the specific “stuff” that makes one thing alive and another not? Yes. Will they every be able to create “life”? Not without borrowing something from something else that’s already alive.by beakennedy
It’s still surprising to me that something that happened 12 years ago can still evoke the same sense of wonder now that it did then. It was right before Christmas, December 17th to be exact, that God suddenly showed up in my life again after a long absence. To this day, I can’t listen to the familiar hymns of Christmas without reliving those first weeks of hearing the words for what seemed like the first time and realizing bit by bit that this was no fairy story as I had long believed, but it had really happened.
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
The new-born King? King? I’ve been treating him like dirt my entire life . . .
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
I remember attending a performance of The Marriage of Figgaro in about 1985. The music was wonderful, but the opera part wasn’t doing a whole lot for me, mostly because it was in another language. Somewhere toward the end, though, everything changed as the music alone just reached right into my soul and pierced all the way through to something I didn’t even know existed. Suddenly my eyes were full of tears and I just wanted . . . . There were no words for what I wanted, but that haunting sense of longing for something I couldn’t even name never really left. What I wanted then, and wandered lost for another dozen years trying to find was what this song talks about – reconcilliation with God.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
I have to admit, I was pretty content with the idea of being worm food after I “passed on.” No need to get all worried about hell or anything nasty like that. All of the sudden, though, the idea of eternity started to make its way into my consciousness.
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
There’s that King thing again. What have I been doing all my life?
He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
How can righteousness and love go together in the same sentence?
Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
A thrill of hope . . . Is that what’s stirring around in my soul? Hope? Why would that be so thrilling about hope to an optimist like me? But it was.
Fall on your knees
Fall on my knees? Is that what I need to do?
What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
Haste! Haste! All my life I’ve been running as far and as fast away from this Babe as I can. Lots of ground to cover back in the other direction. Haste! Haste!
O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Come and behold him . . . O come, let us adore him. This is what gets me. The instant the Christian radio station came on in my car that December day, I knew it was Him that did it, and I knew that what I really deserved was to be squashed like a bug for the many and various ways I had, often deliberately, rebelled against my maker. And yet . . . I knew that this was also someone who loved me enough to bring my headlong rush to destruction to a screeching halt. I have to adore someone like that. I MUST find out who he is and what’s next.
Begotten, not created;
This is God I’m dealing with — no longer a figment. Figments don’t make things happen in the “real” world.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing
I still relish those words – “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” When we did the John study, I thought for sure since I was getting a 3-month head start that I would have the questions all done before we started. Little did I know that I would spend the next three months exploring that one Word that John confronts us with right at the beginning of his Gospel. What a marvellous thing God has done to appear in flesh for us. What amazed and astounded me and still thrills my soul is that except for the flesh part, Jesus is the same Word of God that we see all through the Scriptures. I didnd’t know that then. I just knew it was an incredible thing that I hadn’t even begun to get my mind around. Like dipping my little toe into an infinite ocean and sensing the raw power of the thing even though I’ve only touched the edge of it. Twelve years later, I still get that feeling that I’ve only touched the edge of that great ocean.
While I still suspect that we might be off a month or two on the actual date (check out when Zachariah was actually serving in the temple and do a little math . . . .), and I’m positive that most of the trappings of the season are purely pagan in origin, I love the songs, and I love that God stepped into my life just when these songs were being played on the radio, in the stores, and everywhere – all the time. No wonder atheists get irritated this time of year.by beakennedy