"…for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:11)
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Light, Love and Lifesavers Candy

When I was four years old, I stole a pack of Lifesavers from the grocery store. I didn’t know at the time that it was stealing. I was shopping with my dad and processing the experience through a four-year-old’s eyes. We went into the store and filled our cart with things we liked to eat. At the checkout, a young man put the food into paper bags while my father spoke with the nice woman behind the conveyor belt. And then we left.

I knew nothing about the exchange of cash for merchandise, and with my short stature, I didn’t see the transaction. So, on this particular trip, I put a roll of Lifesavers in my pocket. That’s what I liked to eat. My father discovered the trespass when we got home and gave me a sound spanking before driving me back to the store so I could return the candy and apologize. The lesson was clear—taking something without paying for it is stealing, and stealing is bad.

I learned right from wrong that day, but I also experienced two profound emotions: fear and shame.

When I was 13, I stole a brooch from a small boutique. Did I know stealing was wrong? Absolutely. Was I afraid of the consequences if I got caught? Yes. But I was more afraid of losing face in the eyes of my friend, Tanya, who had dared me to swipe the jewelry. She reveled in my bravery and rebellion when I showed her the prize. I had won her admiration, but there was no joy. I felt only shame.

My freshman year in college, I stole a candy bar from the student union. Again, the deed was done on a dare. Here I was, entering adulthood and venturing out into the world on my own, yet still doing stupid things because of peer pressure. Five years had passed, but nothing had changed. I was still operating in the same paradigm. I was driven not by the desire to do right, but by the desire to be accepted and avoid the mockery of my peers. The fear and shame that I experienced at four years old colored my thinking far more than the knowledge of the law.

Fear and shame do not inspire change. Love does.

My Facebook feed is filled with the vitriol of friends and acquaintances pointing fingers of judgment at people they have never met but who hold positions of authority and power. They post angry rants about the trespasses of politicians and actors and journalists whose moral failings have been made public. I suppose their finger-wagging gives them a sense of control and bolsters feelings of moral superiority. But it’s all a distraction. I know these people—we have done life together, and they have failings of their own. I know about the binge drinking, the sexual abuse, and those trips to the strip club. I know about the decision to sleep with a married man to stave off the loneliness and self-doubt. I have heard these friends say utterly hateful things about people they care for; witnessed addictions to food, wine and pornography; and mourned their broken relationships and broken homes and broken hearts. I know their stories. I have mine, too. We all do.

Judgment does not inspire change. Love does.

A few years ago, I began doing prison ministry with my husband. Every Wednesday, we drive two hours to a unit in Palestine, Texas, to meet with the 200 men attending a program called Alpha. After a time of praise and worship, someone from our ministry team gives a short teaching related to the current book study. Then, the men circle up in groups for an hour of small group discussion. And things get real.

They talk about their families. They talk about their failings. They talk about knowing right from wrong and making bad decisions anyway—the same bad decisions over and over, that continued to put them back behind bars. And they talk about learning to trust, learning to be authentic, and learning to take accountability. Most importantly, they talk about learning to walk in their identity of who God created them to be, and accepting the love of a Father who is perfect beyond all measure. Through teaching and prayer and fellowship, they discover who they are in Christ. And that changes everything.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a)

I have seen hardened felons become kind and compassionate men as they experience God’s love for them. I have witnessed men who committed unspeakable crimes become gifted leaders and teachers, encouraging and edifying their brothers in Christ as they walk out their journey of faith. These are no jailhouse conversions, where the men drop their Bibles at the door as they head home. No, this is lasting change—powerful, soul-quenching change born solely out of love. The majority of men we met behind bars who since have been released are gainfully employed, in committed relationships, reconciled with their families, and actively involved in their local church. They are thriving.

For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

These men stay on the straight and narrow not out of fear of shame or judgment or consequences, but out of gratitude. Like the prodigal son, they chose to live a life of debauchery, finding only fleeting joy in the sex and drugs and approval of their peers. Feeding their fleshly desires ultimately led to greater despair, but no matter how depraved their actions, God loved them anyway. He loved them so much that He sent His Son to bear the punishment for their sins and welcomed His lost children home with open arms. He did it for me, too.

I have seen broken men transformed through God’s love. I have seen women once cloaked in shame discover their true worth through God’s love. I have seen my own heart transformed and experienced inexplicable peace through God’s love.

We can point the finger of judgment. We can spend our days attending rallies and posting rants about the unspeakable acts of others. Or, we can be the light.

Share happiness. Applaud the peacemakers. Bring encouragement and laughter. And soak in God’s love. When you discover how precious you are in His sight, and how deeply He longs to provide for you, comfort you, protect you and raise you up to great heights, you will know your true identity. You will find your purpose and can guide others to healing. You will be a true changemaker, because you walk in love.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

January 5, 2018   1 Comment

Pride and Prejudice

Recently, I have tried to start professing my faith on Facebook. Not in an über-evangelistic, up-on-my-soapbox kind of way. Just occasional posts to say I’m grateful for my salvation, lift a friend up in prayer, or share a YouTube video of a praise and worship song.

And even that is hard.

It’s hard to be bold in my faith on Facebook, because I’m afraid of what people will think. I’m afraid some folks will be turned off. I’m afraid of being “un-friended.”

My goal, of course, is for people to see someone whom they know and (hopefully) respect actually walking out their faith. I also hope that people who knew me from grade school or college or a former employer—people who knew me before I was saved—might be curious about why the once secular girl raised by an atheist is now professing her belief in Jesus Christ.

That’s my hope. My fear is that they’ll think I’m a nut job—that they will dismiss my zeal as religious nonsense, or worse, think I am sanctimonious and judgmental.

Really, my pride is getting in the way. It would hurt my pride for someone to call me a name, dismiss my beliefs, or cut ties all together. It would also hurt my pride if I failed.

I want to lead people to Christ, to show them that they are missing a whole dimension of life—the very purpose and meaning of life. I want them to understand who Jesus is, and that He loves them SO MUCH that He suffered torment and physical abuse, and ultimately died on the cross…just for them. I want them to accept Christ into their heart before it’s too late. If instead I turn them off, pushing them even further from the Lord, I will be ashamed, embarrassed, and flat out mortified.

Aye, there’s the rub. Because that fear of failure is really narcissism in disguise. It’s making myself greater than God, as if He weren’t able to speak directly to someone’s heart, even if I “blow it.” As if he weren’t able to speak through me, when I don’t know the right thing to say.

Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Exodus 4:10

When I look at how God worked in my life, I can see plainly that no amount of preaching was going to reach me until I was ready. I attended Catholic church for eight years and never had a relationship with Jesus. It wasn’t until Craig witnessed to me one night in July 2003 that everything clicked. I couldn’t tell you a thing that he said, but I was wrecked. God spoke to my spirit. I asked Jesus into my heart, and my life has never been the same.

God meets us where we are at. He met me when I was steeped in sin, living a Sex in the City lifestyle in Manhattan, sans the Manolo Blahniks. He spoke to me through Craig. Then he spoke to me through a stranger named Valeria Smith who invited me to sit with her at Brooklyn Tabernacle. Over the next year, he spoke to me through Pastor Lawrence Kennedy and my friends from the North Church, Kara Sparks and Lori Yeary, teaching me what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to walk in His will.

Today, God continues to speak to me through friends, blogs, preachers, teachers, scripture, songs, and sometimes just straight into my head. Several years ago, He planted us at a different church, where I continue to be fed and challenged to study the Word and go deeper in my faith. My prayer is that God will continue to bless me with wisdom and discernment, and to use me as his mouthpiece to speak encouragement and truth into the lives of others.

Because it’s not about me, it’s about Him. I’m just the messenger.

The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11-12

November 28, 2011   2 Comments