1 Timothy 1:12-16

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our LORD, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our LORD overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Tim 1:12-16 ESV)

Yep. This would be me, and every sinner, saved by His grace and mercy. We all think we are the “foremost.” But He does judge us faithful and appoint each and every one of us to His service.

Yes, as I said a couple weeks ago, it’s easy to say “Yes” to Jesus. But there is a cost to discipleship. When we turn our lives around, start walking with Jesus instead of away from Him, there is a price to be paid, a job to be done. It’s not a free ride or a government handout. We have work to do. We have been called into His service.

And what is this service, you ask? While there will be some variation, mostly it is to live your life for Jesus.When I was a new Christian, I heard someone scythe the Christian’s life is sometimes the only Bible a non-believer sees. People are watching you, more than you may ever know. When Jesus comes into your life and you make that 180 degree turn, and people start noticing that you are different, they will ask. “What happened? What’s changed?” And that’s when you have the opportunity to tell them, “Well, Jesus became the LORD of my life. And with His help I have given up cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs with no withdrawal symptoms, no cravings, no real problems whatsoever. The desire for Jesus just drove out the desire for all the other things.” (Yes. This is what happened to me. Over the course of about one month, I went from smoking nearly 3 packs of cigarettes a day, drinking at least a quart of bourbon a day (Yes, every day), and smoking about an ounce of pot a week, to clean and sober. I gave it all up, cold turkey. I walked away from it all, straight into the arms of Jesus.)

Before I let Jesus in, I called myself”Spiritual.” I believed there was some sort of superior being, god, if you will, but I didn’t see god as God. And I certainly didn’t get the whole Trinity thing, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I didn’t get the religion thing, the you have to believe this way, or that way, or whatever way. I was very much an individualist. One friend from high school recalls me saying, “All this religion crap is bunk,” or words to that effect. She, a very devoted Christian, (who prayed for my salvation for about 28 years – Thanks Deb – Love you!), was debating with another student, from Iran, about Jesus vs. Allah. Not only do I remember the debate, we were waiting for the start of geometry class, but I also remember telling them that I thought they were both “cracked.”

Those who knew me in my days BC (Before Christ), and who know me now, know what a great transformation God did in my life. And that, my friends, is the point to the last line in this passage, that “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to this who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” He waited, patiently, (even more patiently than Debbie’s 28 years) for me to come to the point in my life that I could say yes to Him, let Him redeem my life from the pit of hell and become an example of His great love, patience, mercy, grace, forgiveness, all of the above and even more so.

He turned my life around, and now I serve Him. Everything I do is for His glory. I work for Him, I rest for Him, I even play for Him. It’s all for Him. Thank You Jesus. His patience is for you too. He will wait for you. His mercy and His grace is for you. He will extend it to you whenever you ask. So I ask you, what are you waiting for? Just open your heart to Him, say, “LORD, I’m sorry for all I’ve done against You and Your Word. I do believe in You, Jesus, and I want You in my life. I ask for your forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Please come into my life to rule and reign. Thank You.” It’s that simple.

And when You have done this, please, let me know. It’s not required that you let anyone know, in fact, in some countries it’s safer if you do keep it to yourself. But, for the most part, it’s easier in community. God will lead you if you’re on your own, but having someone pray for you, guide you, point the way and direct you around the pitfalls, just helps.

For this week’s Scripture memory verse let’s stick with today’s theme, 1 Timothy 1:16, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”

READING PLAN

Day 36 Exodus 15-16 Psalm 33 Mark 12

Day 37 Exodus 17-19 Psalm 34 Mark 13

Day 38 Exodus 20-21 Psalm 35 Mark 14

Day 39 Exodus 22-23 Psalm 36 Mark 15

Day 40 Exodus 24-25 Psalm 37:1-22 Mark 16

Day 41 Exodus 26-27 Psalm 37:23-40 Luke 1

Day 42 Exodus 28 Psalm 38 Luke 2

 

Tanzania to Texas – Part 1

Sorry it’s been longer than I’d planned between writings. I was studying for my final. But I’m back now. And I had said in an earlier post that I’d tell you the “I’m in Africa, man,” story later. I had thought it would be later than this, but something’s come up and I think now would be an appropriate time.

It all started in the Spring of 2004. (WOW! just realized it’s been 10 years! What a long, strange trip it’s been!) I was sitting at the bar when a friend, Scott, came in and started talking about going on a trip to Africa. He was in a quandary because they told him he needed to fund raise 1/3 of the cost of the trip. He said he could afford the whole amount on his own and felt bad asking people for money to pay for his “vacation.” “How do I do it, anyway?” he asked me.

I had just completed a fund raising effort for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so I told him, “Make yourself up a letter and talk to EVERYONE you meet about what you’re doing. You never know when someone may slide a five down the bar and say, here, take this with you.” As I said it, I actually did slide a five down the bar to him. He laughed and said, “Yeah, I get it,” as he slid the five back to me. “But Scott, you never know when someone may slide a five down the bar to you and say ‘Here, take this with you.'” Again, he said, “Yeah, I get it,” as he slid it back to me. “NO, SCOTT, you never know when someone will slide a five down the bar and say “HERE TAKE THIS WITH YOU!”” He finally got the message and took my $5.

When he got home, I was the only one at the bar who wanted to know about what he really did while he was in Tanzania. Each time he tried to tell me, we’d get interrupted by someone asking if he saw elephants or monkeys. This went on for a few weeks and was getting quite annoying. (I did, however, get the story of how my $5 paid for a “female operation” for one of the women in the area. Yes, that’s right, just $5 paid for the entire procedure!) Finally, one day, Scott came in and as we were having the conversation, or the attempt at conversation, he told me that his church was having a free spaghetti dinner that Saturday and he was going to talk about his trip. I refused because I didn’t do church. There was no way he was getting me in those doors. We’d get around, eventually, to getting the story out at the bar. We tried again, and just as he was getting into it, someone ELSE came and asked about elephants and monkeys. I gave in. After all, it was just dinner and his story, uninterrupted, right!?!

So, Saturday I went to his house and got in the car with him and his wife, and off we went. It felt REALLY strange walking in to this place. But, there was no major earthquake and fire didn’t burst forth from the bowels of the earth as I entered. It was just like walking into any other building. But! Once we were there, once I was trapped with no way to escape, he dropped the other shoe – right on my head! “Oh, by the way, we have a Saturday night service and Pastor Scott is going to speak first.” Many unkind words, sprinkled liberally with expletives swirled in my head, but I was inside a church (semi-voluntarily for the first time in 40 years) so I couldn’t say any of them. I’m sure the look I gave Scott told him what I was thinking!

There I was, in the sanctuary of a church, sitting through a church service that I had no desire to sit through. And then it happened, just as Scott said it would, even though more expletives swirled through my head when he said it. “Don’t worry, Pastor Scott is really cool and you’re going to think he’s talking right to you.” And so he was. He was talking to me and he was making direct eye contact and his words were shooting into me and straight into my heart. And the tears started flowing, and my heart was breaking. To this day I could not tell you what he was actually talking about, but I know it was meant just for me. And afterward, we ate and Scott talked about Tanzania, and people and names and faces spun around me and it was all a big whirlwind.

All I really knew after that was that I had to go back there again. And I really didn’t know how I was going to do it, because there was NO WAY I wanted my family knowing that I was going to church! But there was no way I could stop myself from going. It would be over 5 years before I missed a Sunday from that first time. You might even say that I went religiously! (Sorry, it was there, I had to use it.) And I learned and I grew in my relationship with the LORD.

Psalm 116 – Part 2

So, I’d been thinking about baptism, and getting dunked completely like Jesus did. The symbolism and significance are that the person you were goes down into the water and dies, and when you come up, you are a new person, having symbolically died with Christ and been risen in resurrection as He rose. Your sin is washed away. God forgives all, and you begin life anew. That thought was very appealing to me. Those who knew me before will say that my conversion was nearly of Saul to Paul proportions. I never saw it as QUITE that epic, but I will admit that it was pretty drastic.

The decision to do a full dunk was made, but then came the “problem” of logistics. Where, when, how and by whom? The church I attended at the time didn’t have a full dunk baptismal, and while there was (and still is) a nearby river, it’s not the cleanest. A local, or someone’s private pool just didn’t seem right. And then the answer came. The opportunity came to make the same mission trip to Tanzania as the friend who started this whole journey for me in the first place. I thought, “How cool would it be to get baptized in Lake Tanganyika? In Africa, man!” (Sorry, “I’m in Africa, man,” is a semi-private joke. Maybe someday that story will get told here.)

During the planning sessions for the trip to Tanzania, I voiced my wish to get baptized there and bring my whole “coming to Christ” journey full circle. My thought was that Lowell, the guy who heads up the ministry we were working with, would baptize me in Lake Tanganyika and it would be like all those really cool baptism scenes you see in the movies. — It didn’t turn out that way.

The way it ended up looking, visually, wasn’t really much to speak of, at least not compared to the idea I had in my head. But the way it was SPIRITUALLY, now that’s a whole different thing! As I said in Part 1, that little church in Kigoma, Tanzania was the only United Methodist church in Tanzania with a full dunk baptismal, but it wasn’t getting used. I don’t know if the people didn’t really understand baptism, or if they were just afraid of being first, or if it was making a public display, or what, but they weren’t getting baptized. So Lowell asked me if I would do it in the church during a regular Sunday service so that they could see what it was really like. As cool as the lake would have been, this was cooler, to be able to lead by example!

But then I realized, as cool as that was, the group of people watching would be a whole lot different, and a WHOLE LOT larger than I had planned. And now I was being an example and not just having an intimate little gathering of mission team buddies and God. There would be a couple hundred “Intimate” strangers there too. And I had to publicly declare why I was doing this – to people who don’t speak English! I prayed on it and I prayed on it, and it finally came to me, Psalm 116. It was me.

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And so one that day, with Lowell and the leader of our mission team down with a SEVERE case of food poisoning and unable to attend, I stood before the congregation of Gungu United Methodist Church and made my Public Declaration that I am a follower of Jesus Christ by reading Psalm 116 – in Swahili!!!

Hmmmm. Where to Begin? Beginning, Middle, or Both?

Some say that the best place to begin is at the beginning, but I don’t think that’s always true. Especially if you’re the type to get lost as you chase down rabbit trails and never end up getting to the original point you were trying to make. And I am that type. I can go down all sorts of trails, following points all over creation, and never get where I wanted to go. So I think that I’m going to start with the place my mind went when I first started thinking about this project.

As I wracked my brain for an idea to start this project off, something that would relate to the Old Testament, something that would “be a witness” to others, I realized that the only place I could go was the Psalms. One Psalm in particular, to start off. Psam 116, the one that I read as my public declaration before my Baptism. But then I continued my thinking and realized that to understand WHY this Psalm is so important to me, perhaps some background would be helpful.

So, here’s the quick version of my early childhood religious upbringing. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me, nearly every Sunday, to the local coffee shop where he would meet with his friends and talk over coffee. I didn’t give a wit about the conversations, I was excited because I got to drink either Coca Cola, or CHOCOLATE MILK! Neither were not often to be had at home.

But even better than the prospect of chocolate milk or Coca Cola was the actual drive to the coffee shop. We did it nearly every week. We would drive several bocks off course, to a particular street in town. This particular street, in just a two block stretch, had four churches. And one block east was another one. Every week we would drive down those two blocks, turn east and head back past the fifth church. Once past, we would head on to coffee and cola heaven with Dad saying, “Well, we’ve done our churchly duty.” That’s my best memory of church when I was growing up.

In contrast, the experience ofchurch that does not bring joy happened when I was 5 or 6 years old. As far as I remember, I only actually went to church when I spent Saturday night over at my grandparents house. I remember that Sunday School was pretty fun when I was there. We got to play, have story time and then a snack!

I loved snack time, cookies and Funny Face koolaid. (I know, I know, I’m showing my age with Funny Face. Goofy Grape was the BEST!!) And I loved to help make the Funny Face, it was my act of service. But really what it was, was my chance to SNEEZE! I LOVED to sneeze when I was a kid. And when you dumped the packet of koolaid in the pitcher, a very fine powder would waft up and, if snorted correctly, produce an awesome sneeze.

And therein lies the rub. That is the cause of the bad memory. The leaders told me I was a bad girl for doing that. I didn’t understand why helping out was bad. Then they said I couldn’t help anymore, and that confused me even more. I got really upset about it. I had a bit of a tantrum about it. And that’s when they said I couldn’t come back. I remember standing in the hallway when Gramma came to pick me up, and them telling her what a bad girl I had been. They said I couldn’t come back until I learned how to behave.

And so I didn’t go back. I told Gramma that I didn’t understand why helping was bad, and I didn’t understand what they wanted me to change. I keep saying “they” because that’s what they were. They were the nameless, now faceless big people who got mad at me for being a good, quiet, helpful little girl. And “they” are the ones who scared me away, kicked me out of Sunday School at the tender age of 5 or 6 for snorting koolaid! I still had to go to church with Gramma when I spent the night, but I went to big people church and drew pictures during the service.

And that’s how my 40 years in the wilderness began.