Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
I invited people to church, but they never came. I didn't lead anyone to Christ outside my family. But I was very intentional. I used phone calls, emails, Facebook, and these blogs to speak words of encouragement and truth over believers and those who have not yet chosen to follow. I prayed the Lord would show me who needed a word of blessing, and then I spoke it. I asked who needed a word of truth, and then I spoke it. And I asked the Lord to multiply my offerings in all of this. But the hard thing about this is that, at the end of the year when I am trying to see what the worth of this is, it's kind of hard to even know. It's not something that can be measured, I guess--at least not by me.
Maybe you're like me and can feel discouraged if this year came and went, and nobody decided to come to church with you, and you didn't lead anyone to Christ. But that doesn't mean that Kingdom stuff isn't happening.
I will say that 2009 was the year that I became reacquainted with my Bible and fell in love with the Word in a new way. And I know that is priceless. I am equipped with truth in a way I wasn't a year ago, and hopefully I can say the same a year from now, too--that I will have hidden even more away in my heart, and that I will have shared it with others, too.
"525,600 minutes...525,000 journeys to plan.
525,600 minutes, how do you measure the life of a woman or a man?
IN TRUTHS THAT SHE LEARNED
or the tears that she cried
in the bridges that burned
or the way that she died."
"Seasons of Love" from the RENT soundtrack
Saturday, December 26, 2009
It's not like we live on a farm. No, we live in a normal neighborhood with a very picky Homeowner's Association. I just didn't see this going well. I was told that soon we'd have tomatoes, squash, even pumpkins sprouting up right next to our front walkway. Ooh, marvelous--a pumpkin patch in our front yard. I could just envision families coming to take pictures--all we needed was a tractor for hayrides!
ANYWAY, I secretly kept hoping that nothing would grow from those seeds. And at first I was optimistic, because nothing was popping up. Until one day I saw little green sprouts, and my heart sank. It wasn't long before there were big, huge veggie vines in my front yard. Veggie vines! Couldn't have been daisies or daffodils or tulips--had to be veggie vines.
And why wouldn't there be? After all, vegetable seeds were planted, so vegetables were growing. Why should I expect any other outcome?
And yet there are times in my life when I scatter sinful seeds of things I hope won't take root, won't yield anything. But then I wait expectantly for everything to come up roses. How my heart will sink when I see those little green sprouts that are anything but beautiful. Those seeds HAVE taken root, and they're producing something.
And yet in the same way when I pray for Justin or when I speak the Word of God over my children, I'm casting seeds there, too. And I can trust that we will see the evidence of that sowing process. Isaiah 55:10-11 say, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." All of this sowing of seeds--it will yield something. It won't return empty.
But that's just a name.
What if we had to expound a bit more? What would we say?
I have believed a very specific lie about myself over the last 10, 15 years. It has been a battle, it will be a battle. But it's a battle to be fought with the truth. Though the lie is specific, I'll be a bit more general and say that I have believed that I am not "enough," I guess, to reflect well on others. But I was wrong.
The Lord brought me to Isaiah 60-62 to tell me who I am. But I'll be honest, exposing those hurts to the truth was a bit like pouring peroxide on an open cut. A year ago I was going through Beth Moore's "Breaking Free" study and when I came to a day about how the Lord thinks we are beautiful, I didn't even want to do that lesson. My family had always made me feel lovely, but I encountered 3 people in high school and college who had told me otherwise. Loudly and emphatically, each in his own way. I had listened to lying lips who had told me all that I am NOT, and so I wasn't sure I even wanted the light to meet the darkness that had been there for so long. But finally after 3 days of avoiding it and the Lord beckoning me gently to seek His truth on the matter, I sat down and read the words, over and over. I had to (and still have to) choose to no longer believe I am less than "altogether lovely." And I cried. It DID hurt to face it. But then healing began. And so even though the beauty of these truths can still be hard to receive by one who has believed otherwise for far too long, this is truth. And I need to say it outloud, daily, and over and over again.
I'm Thea Sayers Sperry Nelson, but I am so much more...
* I am a branch He has planted, the work of His hands, for the display of His splendor (Is. 60:21). That means that I was planted and established, basically put here to show off His glory.
* I am an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord to display His splendor (Is. 61:3). Again, for whatever reason, I am here to reflect His splendor. He has not kept me hidden in a corner or been ashamed to be seen with me, but has made ME to show who HE is.
* I am a crown of splendor in the Lord's hand--a royal diadem in the hand of my God (Is. 62:3). Once again, His splendor is displayed on me!
* He summoned me by name and said to me, "You are Mine" (Is. 43:1). He called me by name and said I am His own. He didn't reject me--He claimed me!
So when I meet someone and tell them who I am, they'll get the nutshell version: "Hi, I'm Thea." But in my heart I know that, in Him, I am so much more. A lot more than I'll ever be able to fit on a nametag.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Apparently, she was at a restaurant and saw a roach crawl across her salad. Not being a fan of bugs, she screamed, jumped up, turned around to run away and plowed into some guy who happened to be walking behind her chair at that moment.
She ended up marrying that guy.
When I heard this I said, "I cannot believe there is a roach in your happy story!" But she didn't seem to care. After all, she was pretty happy with the ultimate outcome.
So tonight for no particular reason I was thinking back to all of this and realized that pretty much ANY story I've heard of blessing, redemption, providence, and God's mercies has included waiting, hardship, and pain--a "roach" in the mix, so to speak.
What about Hannah, who waited years without bearing a child, all the while being taunted and tormented by an unkind (and super-fertile) woman? Even one of those things would be plenty to endure, but she faced both. But God remembered Hannah, and she bore a son.
Or how about Job, who suffered the loss of his livestock, his family, and was afflicted with sores from head to toe--sure, the Lord blessed him with double at the end of it all, but what devastation he endured! I'm sure it seemed nothing good could come from all of that being part of the story.
Even the story of the end of Jesus' life had a "roach" in the mix, to put it mildly: Accusations, crucifixion, and ultimately the death of the One in whom many had come to believe. Everyone was left standing there wondering, "What just happened?" But Sunday was coming.
Perhaps you're on the other side of a wait, a hardship, a trial, and you can look back at the "roach" in the salad. And NOW you can recognize it as the thing that ushered you into a place where you could receive the mercies, the providence, the blessings.
But maybe you're not there yet. Maybe you're sitting down to a roach in your salad, and you can't see how anything good can come from it, and the whole situation is just crappy, for a lack of a better word.
I know it's hard. But be on the lookout for your story to change--perhaps when you least expect it to. That roach in your salad might just send you running smack dab into something immeasurably more than all you could ask or imagine.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Today Trevor was playing in the front yard and drew my attention to a weed by the tree. "Don't touch that," he warned. "It's thorny!" So I went inside and got something with which to dig up the weed. I kept pulling and pulling and pulling to finally end up with a 2-inch weed with a 77-inch root!!
I just feel like there are so many spiritual connections here:
* Sometimes a thorny weed has far more fueling it than we could ever begin to imagine.
* What is seen (this life and all it encompasses) is so very small compared to what it unseen (eternity). So why on earth do we live life according to 2 measly inches when 77+ await us?
*There are times that the Lord is up to great things--wide, long, high, and deep things rich with His love and His glory. And yet we assume He's up to nothing as we stand there staring at a stump of a weed.
Any others? Post a comment! :)
I love that you can write anything in front of them. Anything! Stories of soiled souls, hopeless happenings, and seemingly unredeemable circumstances, and then swoop in right behind them with "BUT GOD" and the rest all fades in comparison.
"I was rejected by those who should have loved me." BUT GOD.
"My accusers breathe lies against me day and night." BUT GOD.
"I made selfish choices that hurt others and cost me my ministry." BUT GOD.
"I couldn't hold it all together and it fell apart." BUT GOD.
I was thinking about these words this morning especially as I read through Isaiah 60 and camped out on verse 2:
"See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
BUT THE LORD rises upon you
and His glory appears over you."
Darkness...thick darkness. BUT THE LORD.
And so often this "But God" part seems to always have to do with revealing His glory. Through our reprehensible deeds and those done to us, He is all about revealing His glory in us and through us.
Go ahead and fill in the blank. There's nothing in the first part of the sentence that supercedes the power and the glory and the majesty of the second.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I was reading through a book of quotations recently, and I came upon this one that has just been reverberating in my heart the last few weeks. I think it hit me because I have found it to be really true.
I think this includes great memories...and not-so-great ones.
I guess to put it another way, you never know how you are being used. GOOD AND BAD. You never know when your words may breathe life into someone who needed them more than even they realized. But you also never know how that sideways glance, that disapproving look, that hurtful word may also tear someone down and leave an indelible mark on someone's soul.
Recently in our small group we've been sharing our life paths, and it has been really interesting to see what we each identified as milestones and markers in our lives. It was interesting for me to consider what had left an impression on my heart over the course of my life--memories made.
* My dad didn't know he was making a memory when he chose to be beside me on a mission trip, or that I would never forget holding his hand to pray for the people we were serving.
* My 4th grade teacher didn't know she was making a memory when she told me I'd earned an academic award, but she didn't see how I'd managed to earn one.
* My parents didn't know they were making a memory when they took me to church. I found all I needed--or would ever need--because they did.
* My mom didn't know she was making a memory when she took me to pick out a special dress for my first day of school, even though I knew money was tight for her.
* My former student's dad didn't know he was making a memory when he looked me dead in the eye and said, "You are RIGHT where you are supposed to be" regarding being home with the kids. I hadn't even asked what he thought, but boy, did I need to hear it.
* My dad and Peggy didn't know they were making a memory when they showed each other love and affection.
* My college "crush" didn't know he was making a memory when he told me I wasn't attractive enough to date, that he couldn't "get past" my looks.
* My grandfather didn't know he was making a memory all those times he cupped my face in his hands and told me how very special I am.
* My grandma didn't know she was making a memory when she sent me an email telling me how proud she is of me, and that I am right where I am meant to be.
* My mom didn't know she was making a memory by staying up late to chop up walnuts to put in our pancake mix the next day so we'd have extra protein. That "chop-chop-chop" sound was one of love.
* My sister didn't know she was making a memory when she made that sign for me when she picked me up at the airport.
* My brother didn't know he was making a memory when he had that picture of us taken together.
* My grandpa didn't know he was making a memory with all those magic tricks. Okay, so he probably DID know... :)
* My dad didn't know he was making a memory when he didn't say much and just squeezed my hand when he walked me down the aisle. I knew that was all he could do or he'd probably go into the "ugly cry!"
* Justin didn't know he was making a memory when he told me Proverbs 31:29 reminds him of me.
I've got lots more--plenty of good ones that I'd love to list, and some not good ones that shouldn't even take up space on this post. But you get the idea.
But it makes me think about being careful, mindful, intentional. What am I passing down to my children? What mark am I leaving on those I encounter? I know that two of my greatest day-to-day struggles, the areas in which the enemy has really been able to get a grip in my life--are connected to memories I've listed here. AND YET I am able to stand in confidence knowing who I am in the Lord because of times people have left me with the memory of a blessing. What a gift those people have given, probably unknowingly. But either way, we've got one life to live. We must be so careful. We have the power to damage and destroy, or to strengthen and bless--we really do.
You never know when you're making a memory.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I told her this two more times before--you guessed it--Jack was wolfing down Aila's beloved cereal bar. Aila was heartbroken.
I think the spiritual parallel on this one is pretty clear. How much more does our God try to warn us about the one who seeks to steal from us?
What's that thing that you aren't guarding with nearly enough diligence, in light of the fact that there is one who is out to take the things we value most? How about in light of the deep, unmatched love of a Heavenly Father who sees the unseen?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
What does the Lord owe us? Are we due anything?
I can see why this world trades up all the time. Apart from Christ, this life here is as good as it is ever gonna be, so it better be good. I know I'd feel that way! Just sit back and watch...you'll see people trade up cars, houses, jobs and spouses. Not to mention constantly upgrading TVs, furniture, and countless different gadgets.
Always. Wanting. More.
Should we be able to have all we want? How about if we are 100% justified in wanting what we want? Are we owed health, long lives, and relationships that work the way they're supposed to? And does anyone have the right to stomp their feet if they don't have these things?
My life is full and rich. I feel so blessed, I can hardly take it all in. But I want sometimes. And the things I want are very legitimate, even woven into my heart by the Lord Himself. So what happens if this life of mine comes and goes and my legitimate wants never materialize? Do I have the right to shake my fist at God simply because the things I want--but don't have--are legitimate?
Sovereign God, You have fulfilled countless desires of my heart--not yet all of them. But You don't owe me anything. Not wealth, not health, nor a life free of hardship. You don't owe me as many years as I hope to have on this earth, if in Your sovereignty You know it's best to bring me home before I would choose. And if not one more of my "wants" is fulfilled in my lifetime, You are good, and You are plenty enough.
You don't owe us the plans we've mapped out for our own lives. You don't owe us a ministry that does what we hope it will--even if we're doing it all for You, nor are we due the number of children we once hoped we'd hold in our arms. You've poured out so much, and we praise You for it all--but we're not owed any of it. What about couples who long for children but may never have them, and all the people who long to be married but remain single year after year? Did You owe Your disciples--Your friends--a painless death surrounded by loved ones looking on? That wasn't their fate. Each one of them entered into the glory of Heaven through the most terrible deaths. Or how about Leah in the Bible, who had to have been able to pick up on her husband's lackluster reaction when he found out he'd gotten her for a wife--shouldn't she have gotten to have the joy of knowing she was adored and cherished, rather than spending her life knowing she was unwanted, and was left wanting for her husband's affections? Even my friend Evelyn Rice--a woman who loved You SO MUCH--suffered with MS for seven years before passing away, leaving her family wanting for her.
YET YOU ARE SOVEREIGN--LORD OF ALL--and You give as You have purposed. And when we're left wanting here on this earth, thank You so much that You are enough--totally sufficient to satisfy. There are things we just won't grasp until we see You face to face. We know that this time of wanting here on earth is a blink of an eye compared to an eternity of wanting no more.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I discovered He'd fallen onto the floor next to the toy bin shelf, and I put Him back where He belonged. But as I continued folding laundry, I realized that so far this December I've been all about the stuff of Christmas. Now, when I say stuff I don't mean the commercialism or the presents--it's more the traditions that I've put on a pedestal. Like right now as I type this, the house is lit up with Christmas lights, there's a fire in the fireplace, the aroma of mulled apple cider fills the air, and Christmas music is playing. It's beautiful. We've been doing our advent calendar each day, and at dinner each night we pray for the families who sent us a Christmas card that day. I LOVE traditions, and I LOVE this time of year.
But I haven't yet given a great deal of thought to Jesus' birth as much as I have these beloved traditions. Maybe I hold extra tight to tradition because I'll be 3,000 miles away from the ones who passed down those traditions to me, the ones who taught me early on that family is something precious. But as great as all these things are, Christmas isn't even about them.
Two years ago my grandparents sent a box of presents to us, and I took the presents out of the box and placed them under our tree. I was about to throw the box away when I realized it felt like something else was in there. So after another look, under a piece of cardboard in the box was a scrapbook my Grandma Eileen made of photos of me from birth until my teen years--some I'd never even seen before. She even included letters I'd written to them when I was really young. It was perfect, and it still means the world to me. Can you imagine if I'd missed out on what ended up the most valuable thing under my tree?
If I had, it still would pale in comparison to going through December with all its beauty and traditions and missing JESUS. I want to love Him more this Christmas, more than the traditions, more than family, more than anything. No idols before Him. Not even traditions that surround His birthday.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
So I'm standing there in a bathroom stall in the Opryland Hotel, hand raised, thinking to myself, "What is typically my immediate reaction to pain?" And I was thinking of emotional pain, like when I'm hurt, betrayed, or wronged, or even spiritual pain, like when I don't get what the Lord is up to, or when I'm disappointed that He moved things in a different direction than I had hoped.
Is it to immediately lift my hands?
Do I sulk, pout, vent to a friend, try to drum up sympathy, or do I lift my hands up to the one who formed my heart and has the power (and the desire) to bind it up and heal it?
It's been a week or two, and my finger is still a bit tender, but the pain isn't so great anymore that I need to walk around with my hand up. Even THIS speaks to me. We can rejoice in suffering because we know it produces in us a reliance on God of which we're just not as mindful when we're not hurting.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Monday, December 7, 2009
* a living room lit up only by candles, Christmas lights and a fireplace fire, and looking at it all while cuddled up with my family
* a flight booked to California
* date night with Justin
* listening to Trevor sing the "Doh-Dohdey-Oh-Doh" part to "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight"
* putting pigtails in Aila's hair and them watching them bounce around as she dances
* praying over my family
* getting booked to speak
* knowing child care is figured out for the children
* making a new friend
* a phone call to a lifelong friend
* having my quiet times by a lit up Christmas tree
* belly laughter
* loving going to church
* sleeping in
* dipping Oreos in milk
* green lights when I'm running late
* coupon savings
* warm clothes from the dryer
* getting Christmas cards and praying for each family that sends them
BUT JOY....joy. Joy is a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough. Joy is stripped down, simple, but magnificent all at the same time. Joy is abiding peace--calm in the midst of chaos--it's quiet colliding with cattle that are lowing and visitors who just felt compelled to come see the newborn king.
And joy is the steadfast knowledge that God is God, and God is good even when all of these "happiness" type things don't fall into place. There are lots of things on this list, and they're wonderful.
But joy surpasses them all. Happiness is not a given, not always readily available due to our circumstances. But joy is.
Joy to the world, the LORD has come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
and Heaven and nature sing...
Sunday, December 6, 2009
"I am so discouraged, Lord. I really believed you have called me to speak truth. But year after year after year has passed...where are the opportunities? It feels like I'm stuck in a wasteland!"
I really said these words. Especially wasteland.
I'd just hit a wall. I asked, outloud, why the Lord would SO burden my heart to proclaim truth, and yet not provide an avenue in which to do so. I had spent 2 hours the day before preparing for...well, I didn't know what. Just preparing, researching, putting in time to develop teachings that would be for, well, once again, I didn't know what. I think that's why the next morning I found myself asking, "What's this all about?" And I've been here before...a few posts back I wrote about preparing in the desert.
I opened up to Isaiah 43, which was really just where I was that morning as I've been reading through Isaiah. And I was struck by verses 19-21:
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; Don't you perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the WASTELAND.
The wild animals honor me--jackals and owls,
because I provide water in the desert and streams in the WASTELAND,
to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself
THAT THEY MAY PROCLAIM MY PRAISE."
After reading those words, I felt like I had new strength to keep going. Even in a pre-answers, pre-opportunities time, I felt ready to keep preparing once again for...whatever.
Well...ONE HOUR LATER, I was asked to speak at Cobb Vineyard Church's Women's League Kickoff event on January 22, 2010.
I am beyond grateful, beyond excited. My God WAS doing a new thing--springing up in the midst of my discouragement. Did I perceive it? No! But He was making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. I wish I had words to adequately convey my joy, my thanks. I love that He wants me to simply be in on what He is up to.
One month, twelve days to go until the kickoff. It's going to fly by. Good thing He kept prompting me to prepare--He knew what was coming!
The teaching is entitled "If I Do Not Lift My Hands to the Throne..." I'll close with the lyrics from the song that will accompany the teaching. I think the words are so very fitting:
I'll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
in awe of the One who gave it all
I'll stand--my soul Lord to You surrendered
All I have is yours
Truly in awe of the One who gave it all.