31 Days of Imperfection, First Trinity, God-Sighting Saturday, Lent

Why We Tell Our Stories {31 Days of Imperfection – Day 11/God Sighting Saturday}

As I reflect today on where I’ve seen God this week, I’m humbled almost beyond words.  He’s been so present this week in some powerful ways.  One of the ways I’ve seen him most is one of the same reasons I write on this blog, one of the reasons we do testimonies on Wednesday nights during lent at church, one of the reasons God created us:

We need to hear each others’ stories!

I must say that it’s hard for us to open ourselves up and share the stories from our lives.  I’m getting ready to share a story of my life as part of our Lenten Series on Wednesday night.  At least a few times a week, I come here to this blog to share my stories.  Each day God prompts us to share our lives with other people.  And it’s hard!  We wonder if our story could make a difference.  Satan tempts us to think that our stories are unimportant and that sharing them is selfish.  We’re afraid of what people might think if they see the real us.

We’d rather portray this picture perfect, “have it all together” self.  In telling the true stories of our lives, we realize (and let others see) that our lives aren’t picture perfect and we don’t have it all together. It’s tough, I know, but so important! This is why: God uses our stories, even the painful, ugly, imperfect ones, to help write other beautiful, glorious, amazing stories.

Here’s what I mean:

We have the opportunity at First Trinity to hear the stories of congregation members each week of Lent (You can listen to them all if you’ve missed them).  Without fail, every week, I hear multiple stories of people who really needed to hear the testimony that was shared that night. This week was no exception.

On Wednesday, Josh Deveso, a 9th grade student, shared his testimony.  One of the volunteers on our High School Ministry Team on Thursday nights normally does not come, but made a special effort to be there Wednesday to support and encourage Josh as he shared.  As Josh was walking up to speak, the volunteer’s phone vibrated.  He knew something had to be wrong since his wife, who was calling, knew he’d be in church but was calling anyway.  He didn’t want to miss hearing Josh’s story so as soon as Josh finished, the volunteer stepped out to call his wife back.  It was at that point that he found out that a 33-year old relative had just died suddenly of a brain aneurism leaving the whole family, but especially her husband and 4-year old son, in complete shock.

As the volunteer recounted this news to the groups of high schoolers on Thursday night (Josh included), he said that all of the questions that he suddenly had running through his mind were many of the same exact questions that Josh had JUST talked about in his testimony.  Questions of why God would let something like this happen or what to do next.  He said that as he stood there in the lobby on the phone with his wife, he realized that every question that came to his mind, had been answered in Josh’s testimony, and that while the situation was hard, He could trust God was in the midst of it because just moments before he had heard Josh’s story that confirmed those answers he was seeking.  Josh could have acted as if he handled the tough situations in life in a “picture perfect” way, but instead he had shared those questions, share what it looked like to seek God in the midst of it, he shared his story, imperfections and all.  Because of that, God was able to bring comfort to a family in pain and shock.

The volunteer walked into church that night hoping to encourage and support Josh and without knowing realizing it at the time, the opposite came true as well: Josh was able to encourage and support him!

The power of our stories doesn’t stop there!  As the volunteer opened up and shared the story above on Thursday night with the whole group, and told Josh what an impact it had on him, I witnessed God use THAT story to strengthen Josh, and many of the other youth.  He didn’t act like the death of this relative wasn’t hard.  He didn’t act like he “had it all together”.  He just said where he was at and in the process was able to point to God in a more powerful way than we could have tried to created in any lesson.

THIS IS WHY WE TELL OUR STORIES!

I challenge you today: What story do you have to tell?  We all have one!  We all have MANY!  Each day of our lives are filled with them.  Some of you may be called in the future to share your story in front of a lot of people.  Or maybe, like me, you feel called to share your stories in written format on a blog.  Maybe God simply calls you to share your story with a neighbor who’s struggling, or a young person that could use a little wisdom you’ve gained from the experiences life has brought you.  Wherever God calls you to share, listen for that little nudge from the Holy Spirit, and trust that God can use our imperfections to point powerfully to Christ.  What’s your story? Ask God where you can share it today and then sit back and be amazed!

Bekah's Heart

Speak Only Words That Make Souls Stronger

We come up with all the right phrases:

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

“Do unto others that you would have them do unto you.” 

But what does that REALLY LOOK LIKE…

What does that look like in the HARD situations???

… when someone hurts you and you struggle to forgive?

… when you disagree with their view on something?

… when they lie or cheat or steal?

Sometimes I feel like we have all the right words, and it sounds okay, but it’s not happening.

A bold statement, but one I believe is true:
As The Church (not any specific congregation or denomination, the body of Christ as a whole) we do NOT do a good job of accepting people who live in ways we might not agree with.  We just don’t.  Whether it’s cohabitation, or homosexuality, or adultery, or whatever it may be that we believe isn’t right, a divide has been created.  We never meant to create an “us” and “them” mentality… but it’s there.    “We” and “they”.

I feel like “we” do okay when it comes to the words: “it’s the same as any other sin… we love you, just not what you’re doing… ” and “we” truly believe it, but somehow that’s not what “they” hear.  Instead they hear, “because we don’t agree with what you’re doing, you aren’t welcome here and if you do come around, we’ll judge you ‘in the name of love.’ … in the name of showing you the ‘right’ way.”  We don’t want to communicate that, really, we want to love.

And somewhere in the midst of standing outside a school this morning watching students file in for the day… sitting there as they hear the news that a classmate decided to take his own life… finding out that one reason he decided life wasn’t worth living, was bullying he received because of his homosexuality…

somewhere in the midst of that it kind of hits you in the gut that our concept of hate the sin, love the sinner may sound nice, and again, we may truly believe it, but it is NOT getting translated into reality.

Now, I do not know the details of this specific situation nor what all played into this student reaching the point where he felt there was no hope left, no reason to live.  You can ask the “whys” and “whatifs” until you’re blue in the face, but again, those questions will continue to remain unanswered.  Whether something could have changed this student’s mind or not, I do not know; however, I DO know that as a whole, we Christians struggle with dealing with some of these “touchy” topics.  In this case… the suicide… the bullying… the homosexuality.  Maybe for you it’s something else that makes you squirm in your seat.

God, I don’t understand how we can so quickly take the gospel and somehow turn it into something that judges.  How do we twist the words of Jesus so that they no longer match the man whom we know hung out with “tax collectors” and “sinners”?  How do we so easily take the HOPE out of the good news of Christ and replace it with more law?

I don’t have an answer.

I wish I did.

In the midst of disagreements, uncertainty, and our own sinful nature, how do we offer hope?

How can we better LOVE people to Christ?

As I’ve been thinking and praying and searching God’s Word for answers to this, I must say I don’t have a conclusion, but a few things come to the surface in my mind:

God’s kindness leads to repentance.  (Romans 2:4)  We can’t show the love of Christ by telling someone they are wrong.  Yes, there is time to call someone out for their sin, but when we see that in Scripture it’s talking about fellow believers, not  non-Christians.

Think about yourself for a minute… when we do something wrong, our hearts begin to convict us, right?  Even if we do the sin willingly, the law is there, again and again in our face.  We may try to ignore it or reason it away or rationalize our behavior, but when it comes down to it, we know deep inside we are wrong.  That is because God has written his law on our hearts… all of us… even those who do not believe in Him

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts accusing…” (Romans 2:14-15)

Okay, so here’s where I’m going with this… if the law is already condemning us… then what we need (even when we seem to ‘be okay’ with our sin) is GOSPEL!  We need GOOD NEWS!  It’s God’s kindness and love that LEADS to repentance… not shoving their sin, that is already condemning them, back in their face.  We often think that the law has to come before the Gospel, but in reality, the law is already there.  I had a professor once that talked about it like an Oreo Cookie Sandwhich: “Gospel-Law-Gospel”.  You START with Gospel, you show them a glimpse of the abundant life God has for them.  You help them taste and see that the Lord IS good.  As they see that, the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin and then we get to come back in again and point them to the good news of God’s grace. God’s KINDNESS LEADS TO REPENTANCE. (oh and let’s not forget the whole speck of sawdust/plank thing too!)

AGAIN, that sounds great, but what does this LOOK like.

As I stumbled upon a verse in Ephesians this morning, I began to see a clue:
SPEAK ONLY WORDS THAT MAKE SOULS STRONGER

“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger.“ Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)

I still don’t know how exactly to put this unconditional, kindness-that-leads-to-repentance, kind of love in to practice, but I think it’s found somewhere in setting our minds to only speak works that make souls stronger.

Maybe that’s the filter we use when we get into a heated discussion about any controversial issue of the day… “Is what I’m saying making a soul stronger?” “Could any part of what I’m saying tear someone down?”

Like I remembered reading in a blog post a few months ago, instead of belittling children around us when they can’t do what we think they should… SPEAK WORDS THAT MAKE SOULS STRONGER.

Instead of talking behind people’s back, gossiping, making things bigger than they need to be, step up and speak words of truth DRENCHED in love and grace.  By doing this… you MAKE SOULS STRONGER.

Instead of picking on the disabled one, the homosexual one, the “different” one (yes, even us adults)… SPEAK WORDS THAT MAKE SOULS STRONGER.

Instead of giving in to the easy way, the way our sinful nature would have us believe is natural… let us step up and CHOOSE to SPEAK WORDS THAT MAKE SOULS STRONGER!

Will you join me today? 

Will you give up trying to change people and instead change the way we interact with people?

Will you speak strong words?

Will you try?

We will fail.  I know that. We’ll mess up and at some point speak words that tear down.  BUT there is grace and maybe as we experience this grace more and more for ourselves, it will automatically flow into our conversations with others.  And despite our failure to ALWAYS speak words that make souls stronger, maybe in the parts of our efforts that are successful, we can make ONE soul stronger.

Maybe, by God’s grace, He can use our strong words to draw His children closer to Him.

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Thoughts???… I want to hear your thoughts.  Do you agree with what I said?  Do you disagree?  What other ways have you found to love people instead of judging them, no matter what the situation, the hurt, the pain?