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Friday, February 6, 2015

Jesus, Friend of Sinners...

Each day we have endless opportunities to show His grace. You never know where someone is in their faith walk. Remember, just because you don’t see the flower bloom…that doesn’t mean you didn’t plant the seed. My hope is that this post will help all of us make more careful choices and be more cognizant of the fact that how we treat others can change their future and ours. One of my favorite quotes is…don’t look down on anyone unless you are bending over to help them up. 

I want to start by sharing a story with you about a girl I knew almost 16 years ago. She had been raised in the church and had many fond memories of church—including vacation bible school, homecoming and a church that truly felt like home because of the loving people there. She graduated high school in the top 5% of her class and went off to start her bright future as a special education major in college. As a young girl she asked God if he saw fit to give her a special child, and she had always had compassion for everyone…but especially people with emotional and physical challenges. She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do, but she thought she wanted to teach so this seemed like a good fit. 

Only a few weeks after being at college in a dorm with no one to wake her up or tell her to go to class things started going downhill. Her mom had always told her that old annoying yet true cliché---you know the one…you are who you hang around. Well, it was indeed true. The people she hung around didn’t make the best choices and soon their normal became her normal. All the time she knew this wasn’t the right path and she tried to turn things around and she did to a certain extent. For the next two semesters she pulled her grades up. By the spring semester of the second year things had once again made a downhill sprint.

 One thing you must understand is that this girl’s grandmothers were everything to her. She loved her parents and family, but those grandmothers were on pedestals in her eyes. Well, one night she was off campus at a friends house and her mother was trying to call her. Her roommate didn’t know where she was and didn’t know how to get in touch with her. Some of you may not remember that cell phones weren’t all the rage yet. Her mom had called to tell her that one of her grandmothers had passed away. Her grandmother had passed away hours earlier and here she was having a good time while her family was grieving and worried trying to find her. Her heart was broken that she had lost her grandmother and it had finally hit her…she couldn’t’ do this anymore. This very night she decided she was not in the right place, not doing the right things and when she returned home that semester she returned home for good. For so many this was seen as a failure and at the time it was for her. Open mouth and gasp…yes she dropped out of school. She was at the bottom of the barrel. She had hit rock bottom…some might say the only way was up. Her parents were very disappointed, but they told her if she was going to stay in their house she was going to go to school and make something of herself.

I haven’t ever shared my story publicly, but I guess I have now…this girl was me…I dropped out of school. You see… For my parents this was understandably an extremely disappointing event , and if that wasn’t bad enough they had sunk a great deal of money into this “two year vacation”. My parents definitely didn’t let me forget what a failure this was, but they said that if I was going to live in their house that I was going to be in school. They still had faith in me. They still supported me and loved me anyway.

 Within a couple of months of being home I was totally distraught and I thought how can I make this right? My grandmothers were both pillars of their church and great Christian role models, as were my parents. My surviving grandmother surely didn’t let me down during this time. She never once mentioned why I was home. She took the “grandma high road” as I call it…for which I will be eternally grateful. I was still someone she could be proud of. It was as if there was an unspoken “I love you anyway”. This is mercy and grace my friends…

I was raised in church and if there is one thing that stuck…it is that the church is for sinners. For me, for you, for all humankind. So one Sunday, with a lump in my throat and some fear I returned to the church I grew up in. In a small community news travels fast so I knew people know I was “home.” Even after several people said…how can you go there after what you’ve done? I knew that in order to turn my life around I couldn’t do it alone. I needed Him and I needed the community of faith that had loved me since I was born. To my surprise--I walked thru the door, I was met with open arms. People hugged me and told me how good it was to see me. No one said…why are you home? They just told me how good it was to have me home. This gave me the courage to come back the next week and it soon became a habit…a pretty good one I think. This is grace and mercy my friends.

I started attending church regularly, helped with Vacation Bible School, and signed up for a class to join the church. That summer I met with our pastor and two older ladies who were sisters to learn about Methodism and what it means to be baptized and how that changes what death means to us. These sweet ladies were also joining the church. I had never been baptized and looking back I’m so thankful because I remember my baptism. We had many frank discussions during these meetings in the parsonage living room, but never once did my situation come up. Instead we were reminded that we have all strayed in some way. At the end of that summer I was baptized. My family came to support me and I saw God that day when I sat down beside my MaMa and she patted my leg and said, “I’m so proud of you.” If you think back to when I told you I WAS that girl…I used the past tense because thanks to God’s grace I am born anew through my baptism and I now live each day knowing that death isn’t the end of things, but the beginning of an eternal life. That day I was baptized I died to that person. 

Folks, I experienced grace and mercy at its best during one of the most difficult times of my life. I had strayed and had been cut down. The sword had been swung at me and I had tripped over some people but I was on my way to Him. Without this grace and mercy being shown to me I may have never returned to the church. I certainly wouldn’t be here today to share my story with you. I also wouldn’t have gone on to complete my Associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

As a result of these experiences I made a promise to myself to look up and not around. I promised God I would not point fingers and I begged him to lead my heart with mercy. I wanted him to break my heart for what breaks His. Little did I know…several years later I would feel that broken heart. Our second child was born with a syndrome we knew nothing about. At first my heart was broken for him and his future, but as quick as my heart broke it was healed. For, that day I prayed for a special child when I was young had come to fruition. God had found me worthy to do this job and he had given me the best husband, family and friends to do it with. He trusted me…wow! He had also given this little man a big sister who would immediately take care of him and love him unconditionally. We are all his children…uniquely and wonderfully made and for the rest of my life I will proclaim this. There is a lesson in every blessing. I now have a new perspective on grace and mercy, and especially on all of us being uniquely and wonderfully made.

As we go on with our day…let’s ask ourselves—the world is on their way to Him…will they trip over us…are we looking around instead of up…is our heart divided. I challenge each of us to let our hearts be led by mercy so that we can show His grace to all we meet. So, will you join me…put your pointing finger and sword down and take up the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus…please help us to be a friend of sinners. Help us to love each person and to be a model of your love to everyone we meet. Help us make our life movie one that we would be proud to sit down beside you and watch. Take a moment and look up the song “Jesus Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns. You will be glad you did! Peace and blessings to you!

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