Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Car Wash for the Soul

This morning, I was desperate to hear God.  I needed to be forgiven and to forgive others after the events of the weekend.  I wasn't passing all the blame – I knew I had been wrong.  But I was consumed by the fact that I had been wronged as well.  I was hurting.

This started a few weeks back when my personal prayer and devotion time dried up into a desert experience.  It only took one day to skip it.  Then another. And another.  This continued for about 2 weeks. 

My lack of personal time with God made it clear that I was not right yesterday.  I was not connected to God and communicating with him, therefore the words that I said were unnecessary and offensive in themselves.  What scared me was the fact that I didn't even realize how wrong I was until AFTER the words left my mouth and were hanging in the air like the mushroom cloud after an atomic bomb.  I didn't have a filter or a mental warning light before I spoke those words.  After I saw the reactions, I realized I had stepped out on my own and left a great divide between me and my family. 

I went to bed early last night; partly because I was tired, but mostly because I was avoiding talking to God.   I realized as I tried to pray before I left for work this morning that I really should do my devotions.  Maybe God would speak to me through the book I had been working through for 2 months (yet, I’m only on Day 17).  I was hopeful that something profound would ease the painful memories of all the events that transpired. 

The devotions led me to these verses...
Proverbs 30:7-9 O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die.  First, help me never to tell a lie.  Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!  Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.  For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”   And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.
The author prays for God to not give him too much, too little, and please just give enough for today.  All those prayers are well and good, but it totally did not address my issue.  As part of this study, I write out prayers that Praise, Repent of my sins, Acknowledge that God is in charge and submit my will to Him, pray for others (intercession), pray for myself (supplication), and finally pray for God to Equip me (PRAISE).  Today, I asked God to please forgive me for my words, let me know if I should apologize, and prayed for those that hurt me by their actions. 

Afterwards, I felt a little better.  Any time with God in prayer and reading His Word is better than none.  But I kept praying as I drove to work and even turned off the radio so I could focus on my words to Him.  About halfway through my commute, I suddenly had an idea to get my car washed.  Since I was visiting family over the weekend, my car was covered in a thick layer of road sludge (salt and dirt).  I debated about waiting to run this errand at lunch or after work.  But the reality is that I will be tempted to skip the errand and wait until another day, so I took the time to get it done before work. 

As I drove away feeling refreshed in my super-clean car, I realized that all the dirt from the weekend was gone.  It was washed away.  Good as new.  Just as quickly, I realized God does that for my soul too!  All that was required of me is to make the choice to turn it over to Him.  He is in the business of vacuuming, scrubbing, wiping, cleansing, and polishing me from the inside out.  All I have to do is be willing for the transformation. 

I guess my biggest lesson here is that God spoke to me, albeit unconventionally.  It wasn't exactly through His Word, but He honored my obedience and spoke to me - through a car wash.  I shouldn't be so hasty in thinking God was ignoring my request.  He may have something way deeper and more insightful in mind than just following a routine and expecting the same results each time. 

Psalms 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Leave Light

Every choice matters.

This life lesson popped up repeatedly the past few months.  Public figures not filtering their words while speaking to media or personally ruining their reputation by posting insensitive words for the world to read.

Right before Christmas, I went to a memorial service for a teenager that died in a preventable accident.  Every choice matters.

The memories spoken were remarkably the same from so many young people, which confirmed the impact he had on everyone present.
"He was my best friend."  
"He was like a brother to me."  
"His positive energy/joy/peace/enthusiasm for life would change the atmosphere in the room."  
"He made me laugh."  
"He brightened my day when I was sad."  
"He gave the best hugs!" 
"I knew I could call him at 3 a.m. and he would be there for me."  
"I didn't know him well, but it sounds like from what everyone else said, I should have gotten to know him better."  

As for me, I met his mom twice at church, but I had never officially met him.  But from what I heard, I should have.

Time and again, the youth sharing their memories would add,
"I'm not religious, but he loved me and told me about God/church/youth group."  
"He encouraged me when I was bullied for my faith."  
"I feel like this many people showed up because they loved him.  I normally wouldn't talk in front of this many people, but I can tell there is no judgement here."

The impact this teenager had was far-reaching.  Even after he went to be with Jesus, he was changing lives.  One friend said that he always invited them to go to church, but they never went.  Guess what?  They were in church that night at the memorial service.  Another one said that while he wasn't religious, the day after the accident he lit a candle to honor his friend.  He wrote, "Leave Light" on the candle.  The young man who's life we were celebrating confidently shared his faith without being judgmental.  This teenager left a light shining so bright that all could see - even those that didn't share his beliefs.

Attending any funeral service prompts me to evaluate my life and my impact to those around me.  This time, it was humbling.  This young man was only 18 years old and his impact was deep and wide.  He touched classmates that had never set foot inside of a church.  He treated everyone as if they were the only person in the room.  He forgave others when they snubbed him and welcomed them to his group of friends years later.  He made everyone around him feel as if they mattered.

Then I look at my circle of influence.  At church, I let myself get involved with others.  I let others in and pray for them and actively get involved in their circumstances.  I know when they are having a bad day or when they are really struggling with life.  I know that when they pull away, they need someone to send that text that says, "I love you and I'm praying for you."

Outside of church, my track record isn't that great.  Until recently, I didn't have time to reach my friends that don't go to church because I was over-committed.  When I reached a breaking point, God re-prioritized everything and directed me where I needed to focus my time and energy to be more effective.

At work... I ashamed of my actions there.  I get frustrated with some people there.  More often than not, I get caught up and participate in office gossip.  I get annoyed when people ask me for things.  What kind of light am I shining?  The "if you aren't in my circle of friends, I can't be bothered with your problems" light?  Or "I'm a caring/loving/compassionate person at church, but at work I'm too busy for you" light?  What if there is no light shining at all?

I strive to be honest when I write here because I don't want anyone reading this to think that I have it all together or that I have all the answers.  I write because it helps me to process situations and learn about myself.  I also feel like it helps me to discern what God wants me to do.  It helps me to dig deep, perform the root cause analysis of my current situation, or understand God's truth.  I love Jesus, but I have to continually work at this to even come close to getting it right.  I am a work in progress.  I am training to be more like Jesus.

Just like with physical exercise (which I am still having a very difficult time making it a routine) I have to make the choice daily to seek God.  I could easily go an entire day, week, month, year, or decade without praying or reading the Bible.  But without both of those critical tools, my spiritual health degrades rapidly.

This boy, only 18 years old, made a decision (or possibly several decisions) one night that resulted in his death.  He never intended on dying that night, but there were consequences to his choices.

I make bad decisions all the time.  I'm not bragging about any of this - honestly, it's humiliating.  Again, I am attempting to be honest and transparent.  I yell curse words at drivers that cut me off.  I glare at people in the grocery store that get in my way.  I waste time at work doing anything except my assigned tasks.  I get annoyed with people entirely too frequently.

Every choice matters.  My back pain is increasing and now bothers me when I stand too long.  Before, it only hurt when I sat too long.  Again, this goes back to needing to exercise, but it is so easy to hit the snooze button in the morning and sleep through the extra minutes needed to fit in a walk before my shower.  With the news of this young man's death due to a few choices he made on a normal evening, I realized that I don't know why God is telling me to get up early and walk.  I just know that He did tell me to do it.  I need to obey.  I need to obey willingly and immediately.  My time here is limited.  I need to make the most of every opportunity.  I can't let a moment slip by without pleasing Him.  Living for Him.  Honoring Him.  Praising Him.  Obeying Him.  Loving Him.

Jesus, please help me leave light.  Please help me not to get so busy that I can't care for others.  Please let me to treat everyone with love and compassion, regardless of how they treat me.  May I shine love, joy, and peace to all those around me.  May I speak freely about my relationship with you and point others to you without judgement.  Please help me to obey you even when I don't understand.  Please help me to get up early each morning and walk, using that time to enjoy your creation and speak to you in prayer.  Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness when I do mess up.  Thank you for loving me with unconditional love.  Thank you for leaving light for us to follow.  

May I remember that every choice matters.  

I choose to leave light.