Not Ashamed

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believe.

Romans 1:16, NIV

 

I am not now and never have been ashamed of Jesus!!

OK, so there was a time when I was scared to let others know it.  I’m not sure that I was really ashamed—I was just a teenager, trying to make her way in a world that doesn’t always look kindly on “good Christian girls.”  I didn’t always “advertise” my beliefs, but I wouldn’t deny Christ when asked.  At least, I don’t think that I would.  Honestly, I am not sure that I was ever asked about it.  Hmm….  Something that I might want to think more about.

While I am not ashamed of Christ or ashamed to call myself a Christian, I am ashamed of other Christians.  Not all, mind you.  There are some out there—hopefully quite a few of us, actually—who live according the Bible and are not ashamed to be what this world would call different.

What I am ashamed of are those who claim to beChristians but don’t live at all according to the Bible.  I’m sure you’ve met one or two.  Chances are you even attend church weekly with someone who fits that description.  I am talking about the ones who say the right things and worship the right way (Not that I really think there is a right and a wrong way to worship God…  If it comes from your heart, He is pleased with it!) on Sunday morning, but on Monday forget what they learned.  I am ashamed of those who say they believe in Christ’s love but refuse to show that love to others.

There isn’t much that I can do about those people, other than to pray for them.  And I can look at my life daily, examine my own heart to be sure that I am not sending out those same confusing signals.  God is so real to me, so alive in my life and in countless lives around me.  I want to share that realness with others.

Father God, give me more of You today.  Give me more of You that I can share with those around me.  Lord, I don’t want to be just a Sunday morning Christian.  I am not ashamed of You.  Help me to live a life that will keep You from being ashamed of me.

D is for Dreams

It is pleasant to see dreams come true, but fools refuse to turn from evil to attain then.  
Proverbs 13:19, New Living Translation

I was 12 when I discovered my love of books.  Anne of Green Gables.  That is the book that first got me hooked.  There was nothing I loved more than getting lost in reading a good story.  Nothing, other than writing my own stories.  At the time, I had a teacher who was very supportive and very demanding, all at once.  She nurtured my dream to write by pushing me to put my thoughts on paper.

There was a time, though, when the dream nearly died.  I knew that I wanted to write, but I was scared.  Scared that I would have to write what the world wanted.  Scared that making a living with words would mean turning my back on everything that my parents had taught me.  That fear, even during the moments when I was not really living for Christ, held me back from writing anything.

I did spend some time writing stories that I am ashamed of now.  I loved the feedback that I was getting, all the kudos about my stories.  But it felt hollow.  The stories were not honoring God in any way.  Even though I wasn’t living for Him, somehow I knew that He didn’t approve of how I was using the talent He had given me.  And though people seemed to like what I was writing, I was unable to really enjoy it.

Ever since I started trusting that my dreams are in His hands and not trying to hold them in my own, things have been different.  I have a new joy in my writing, something I hope that my readers pick up on.  I still get compliments on it.  I still have people tell me how wonderful my stories are.  The difference?  Now I can smile and say, “I just let God write it through me.”

B is for Believe

You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that–and shudder.  James 2:19, NIV

I believe there is one God.  I believe that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to be born in a manger, to be raised by a poor carpenter and his wife, and to be brutally murdered in my place.

But belief is not enough.

Even the demons believe the things that I do.  The trick–if you want to call it a trick–is to act on what I believe.  What good do beliefs of any kind do if those beliefs are not put into practice?

Avoiding Bible Study

I love to read.  Most anyone who knows me knows that.  I don’t think that is a particularly unique statement.  A lot of people love to read.  And I honestly don’t know how anyone could be successful as a writer without having some sort of passion for writing.

Most of my reading is novels.  Outside of my children, there is very little in life that gives me the same joy as becoming lost in someone else’s life.  That is probably why the non-fiction I am most likely to pick up is biography.  I love to read about the choices others have made a learn from their mistakes.

What I don’t like nearly as much is looking at my own questionable choices and mistakes.

I think that is why I avoid Bible reading as much as possible.  There is no way to read God’s word and ignore my own shortcomings.   At least, not without feeling tons of guilt fort trying.

At the beginning of this long, nh church started reading through the Bible together.  Well, reading through the New Testament as a group.  Our pastor found a special edition of the New Testament to read and discuss.  We are supposed to read 6 pages per day, 5 days per week.  When Pastor Clive first mentioned it, I thought, “I can do this!”  After all, 6 pages is not a lot.  And since I’d been meaning to read my Bible more often, this seemed like a perfect opportunity.  Yet here we are, 3 weeks into the project, and I have yet to take part.  Sure, I have a lot of writing-related things going on, but is that really reason enough to NOT spend time with God?

I am good person.  Not perfect, but there has only ever been One perfect person.  But I know I am a good person.  I also know that being a good person isn’t enough.  Knowing God and believing that He sent His only son to die for me isn’t enough.  My faith is a good thing.  It’s an awesome thing, actually.  But even that is not enough.  I need to believe that Jesus died for me, have faith that God has forgiven my sins, and put action behind that faith by living a life He is pleased with.

How can I know that He is pleased with my life if I don’t know what He wants me to do to please Him?  And how can I know how to be pleasing to God if I don’t study His Word?

I need to get past the excuses and, as Nike would say, Just Do It!  I need to show my children how to put God first in their lives by making sure that He is first in mine.

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Does God Care About Kids?

One of the darkest times in the history of my church began about 10 years ago. I won’t go into all of the problems that we had. God knows and He is still working to heal all of those old wounds. But I do want to tell you about one event, something that has stuck in my mind ever since it happened.

We had a very, um, interesting group of teens attending the church at that point. Like many churches, we had a van emblazoned with our church name, address, and phone number that ran on Wednesday nights, picking up teens who wanted to be at the service but didn’t have another way to get there. One night after a youth group meeting, one of the young men was in kind of a mood. He sat in the back, where the van driver couldn’t see him, making faces and rude gestures at other cars that passed the van. At least one of the other drivers was so upset by this teenager’s actions that a phone call was made to the church. The result? The youth group was shut down “indefinitely.” Instead of just the one young man being called out on his actions, the entire youth group was punished. I’ll never forget the reasoning behind the pastor’s decision—he was shutting down the youth group because many of the kids who came didn’t have parents attending the church, and therefore this ministry was not a big money-maker.

His attitude hurt me in a lot of ways. First, I hadn’t really thought of a church as a business before. Sure, I paid my tithe and I often gave extra money in offerings. And I knew that the church had bills to pay. But I always thought the main purpose of a church was to introduce others to Christ and to help those who already know Him to forge a stronger relationship with Him. I didn’t know the church was there to make money. Then again, I’m not the pastor. I’ve worked for years in the church, but always in a volunteer capacity. Maybe when your weekly paycheck depends on the amount of money in the offering plate each week you focus more on making money.

But what hurt even more was the attitude that those teens—kids who, judging by their action that particular night, really needed to know more about Christ—were not worth reaching out to because of their lack of income. Even today, when the church is under the leadership of a pastor who has a real heart for kids, that attitude angers me.

What if that had been the attitude of God all along? What if God just ignored young people because they could not “financially” support His “cause?” Can you imagine how many things in the Bible would have played out different?

Joseph was a kid when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. If kids didn’t matter to God, he would have died as a slave rather than rising to the top of the Egyptian government.

David was a kid when he used that slingshot on Goliath. The rest of the army was too scared of the giant to do anything. If kids didn’t matter to God, no one would have stood up to Goliath and the Isrealite army would have been destroyed.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all young kids when they were taking captive in Babylon. They were not very old when their prayers to the one true God got them into trouble with the Babylonian king. If kids didn’t matter to God, Daniel would have been devoured by lions while his friends were burned alive in the fiery furnace.

Mary was a kid when Gabriel came to her, announcing that God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. If kids didn’t matter to God, Jesus would have been born to an old woman.

For that matter, if kids didn’t matter to God, Jesus probably would not have come to earth as a child!

Luke 18:16-17 says, “Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’” (New Living Translation) Jesus didn’t say, “Let them come but only if they have money.” He cared about the children. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Another verse that comes to mind on this subject is found in I Timothy 4:12. Paul tells Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” It is not age that determines your worth to God—it is that He created you that matters! It is not your age that determines what good you can do for His Kingdom—it is your willingness to follow Him.

The decision of that pastor to disband the youth group all those years ago is my inspiration for writing for teens. It might even go further back than that, back to when I was a teen and I connected with the Carman song “Our Turn Now.” My love of teens and tweens, my desire to see them develop a close relationship with Christ…that is why I created my pen name, Mary Lou Searfoss. I am not giving up on my women’s fiction books. I will continue to write those under my real name. But as Mary Lou, I will concentrate on material geared toward teens and tweens, especially toward young girls.

Just A Thought

I’ve been working on a series of articles about my hometown, Jackson, Michigan. There’s a long list of things that I enjoy about this town, things that I think make Jackson great. Still, I wanted to get some insight from other residents. What do others like best about Jackson? What things would they miss if they were not here? Where would they be sure to take a friend who had come for a visit? When I posted that on Facebook (maybe not the most reliable place to get information, but it is one of the quickest ways to complete research!), most of the answers were things that I expected. Some people mentioned things that I hadn’t thought of or small town businesses that I’d never heard of. But one answer shocked and annoyed me all at once. In addition to posting her favorite things about Jackson, one woman said she liked these places because they made living in Jackson bearable.

For a while, I couldn’t figure out why this bothered me so much. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I can’t expect others to love life in Jackson as much as I do. Still, this made me so angry. At first, I thought it was because it seemed sort of whiney to me. Life is tough; I know that. I know that things are harder for some people than for others. But what good does whining about it do? I even said, perhaps somewhat hastily, that if you find the life you live so unbearable, you need to do something about it. I think this upset my friend though that as not my intent. I was just trying to vent some of my frustration.

It wasn’t until a piece of Scripture came to mind that I realized why I was to upset by the whole thing. Psalm 37, verses 3 through 6, says, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” It is verse 4 that really sticks with me: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

My life isn’t perfect. It isn’t what I once dreamed it would be. In some ways, it is better. But not in every way. There are things that I would like to change. One is where I live. Oh, I don’t want to move out of Jackson. But my neighborhood isn’t one of the better ones. I would love to live in an area of town where there were fewer fights among the neighbors and fewer police cars on patrol. But maybe this is what God wants for me right now. In fact, I am sure that it is what He wants. And I also know that He sees what is in my heart. He knows my deepest desires. All He wants me to do is follow Him. My deepest desire is to serve Him, to be closer to Him, to allow Him to work out His plan for my life. And I know that, for now, my house in a less-than-desirable area of town is a part of that plan.

I can already see one way He has use this house. If we lived somewhere else, we would likely not have driven by the homeless shelter so often in the winter of 2009. If we hadn’t driven by there, my then-8-year-old son may not have discovered his desire to help clothe those in this city who have nothing. His idea morphed into Bea’s Love Closet, a ministry of our church.

I guess what I am saying is that even if you find your current circumstances unbearable, God can work through you. You just have to be willing to go along with His plan for you.

And honestly, can living for God ever be anything less than bearable?

Unity

Dear Lord,

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “This is the reason a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (chapter 19, verse 5, New Living Translation). That first part, the part about leaving father and mother, is the easy part. Being united into one is not always so simple.

One area where I know John and I are not completely united is in the area of finances. We are both very selfish about money, but in different ways. I tend to be selfish in an “I want it NOW” way, while he tends to be selfish in more of a “we need to plan for tomorrow” way. Please help us to work together in this area of our marriage. Help us listen to one another, to really hear each others thoughts and desires on this subject so that we can find an agreement that works for US, as a couple. Help us to put what is best for us above what is best for Lynn or for John. Above all, Lord, help us to keep YOUR desires for our lives in the forefront of our thoughts. It is not going to do us any good to become one if we are not one with You.

Thank You for hearing me and for loving me. Help me throughout this day to show love to John. He is the most precious gift You have given me. Help me to show him that in all I do and say.

I ask this in the precious name of Jesus.

Amen

Praying Wife

After ten years of marriage, I can hardly call myself an expert on the subject. I am not even sure if I could be considered an expert on my own marriage! One thing I am pretty sure of, though, is that I am not always a good wife. My husband would disagree. Maybe that is because he is a wonderful husband. He is always telling me that I am perfect the way that I am, no matter what flaws I see in myself. I can tell you, I am far from perfect. The perfect woman for him? Maybe. Still, I can see that there is always room for improvement.

One area where I know I could use improvement is in the area of prayer.

Last week, I posted about how difficult prayer has been for me. Seems like ever since I posted that it has gotten even harder. Not that it’s hard to understand why—satan knows that I am trying to get closer to God, and he is fighting me on all fronts. Let me tell you, it would be so easy to just give up and let him win. It’s amazing how much physical energy it takes to fight a spiritual battle.

But giving up is just what satan wants, and I am not willing to give him the satisfaction!

A while back, I bought a copy of The Power of a Praying Wife. I started reading, and even started working through the workbook that goes along with it. Can’t really say that I finished it. Seems that I have a bad habit of starting on a self-help type of book and then not finishing it. I don’t know why. Fiction books, I seem to just breeze right through. Maybe it is because those books are for fun and the non-fiction books I choose to read normally have something to do with changes I need to make in my life.

And who wants to admit the need to change?

I am trying to look at this a little differently, though. By reading The Power of a Praying Wife, I am not trying to make changes to better myself, exactly. I am trying to give my husband the wife he deserves. In case you are wondering what kind of a wife he deserves, I am talking about the kind of wife described in Proverbs 31. He needs a wife who enhances his life, makes his life better and easier, not a wife who is constantly nagging him or draining him of energy. By learning how to pray for him—and I mean really truly pray for him, not just saying “oh God, bless my husband”—I will be one step closer to being that wife.

A part of me wonders if he will even notice it. Will he see the changes I am making and how I am trying to make our lives better? It may sound sad, but I seriously don’t think he will. At the same time, I know that God will see the attempt that I am making. In the long run, that will be more beneficial anyway.