Tag Archives: Christian

I Missed Communion, But Finally Got It

I like to pray before I take communion.

You see, I got it in my head (and by that, I mean at some point I assumed and then never thought to question) that I have to be RIGHT with Jesus before being welcome at his table: I have to look at the bad things I’ve done, actually feel sorry for them (sometimes I don’t *gasp* !), and then ask for forgiveness. And if I can’t make my heart right, then I should not come to his table.

I think it’s a common belief. Maybe even a liturgically correct one – how should I know? I never bothered to ask.

So tonight, as people started to rise to come to the Lord’s table, I closed my eyes, as I am wont to do…. and I really meant to pray. But instead my mind got distracted: Didn’t I read something about communion this week? Something I really wanted to remember the next time I took communion? I couldn’t remember what though (of course).

I started to backtrack: That book I was reading…. Searching for Sunday. Right. Something she said about communion. Uhhh…. people she doesn’t like. Wait, no. Who make her uncomfortable at communion. Because she doesn’t like them. (Guess I was right the first time.) People! (I’ve got it now.) Who don’t deserve communion, but are welcome at the table anyway, and it boils her blood.

Why the hell would I want to remember that? Oh. Right. Because she concludes with something like “thank God they’re welcome, because I’m one of those people who don’t deserve it.” (Paraphrase, obviously.)

I am one of those people who don’t deserve it. But I am welcome at the Lord’s table. *light bulb*

How foolish of me. To think that I could wash away all the hardness from my heart in a single, hurried prayer. To think that anything I could do (let alone say) could ever make me worthy to come to the Lord’s table. And yet, he invites me anyway. Just as he invited Judas, though he had already made arrangements to turn Jesus over to the chief priests. (I can’t imagine he whispered a quick little prayer of repentance before accepting the bread and the cup.)

I want so badly to MAKE myself RIGHT before coming to the Lord’s table, that I forgot that it is his supper that makes me right. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. “Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s blood, spilled out for you, Jessica.” They’ve reminded me over and over for years now, but tonight, for the first time (when I wasn’t even listening) – I finally heard and understood.

I can’t make myself right with God. And I don’t need to make myself right with him. Christ made me right when he died for me on the cross. I remember.

I opened my eyes, finally ready to take communion, and got halfway up to the front before realizing – communion was over! Everyone was filing back to their seats. I had sat, eyes closed, contemplating what it truly means to commune with the Lord… and missed my opportunity to do just that.

I turned to go back to my seat, hesitated, then turned around and ran up to the front. “Am I too late? Did I miss communion?”

Of course I didn’t. (Seriously, what kind of pastor would deny a girl communion for being 30 seconds late?) And we (I) may look late (or foolish) to everyone else – but whenever we come to Jesus, we’re always right on time.

The Morning Fog

Look here, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

How do you know what life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

What you ought to say is,
“If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

James 4:13-17 warns against making plans for ourselves instead of submitting to God’s will. This passage was particularly striking for me personally because I have spent hours planning our trip to Japan, telling my brother and husband, “On this day, we will go here and do this.” I might as well have been reading directly from the words that James tells us to avoid!

Of course, we all plan for the future, even those of us who wish to be guided by God. Instead of praying for guidance first in all choices though, we figure God will “let us know” if he has somewhere he wants us to be. As if he couldn’t or wouldn’t use every moment of our lives for his purpose, if only we were open to it!

I remember October 2013. I had just filed for divorce, and realized I’d have to quit my job (my former mother in law, afterall, was my boss). I had lost so many people close to me during the separation process, and now my job, the thing I loved most, the thing that often held me up when I could find no other reason to stand, was going to be lost, too.

It was devastating. But I remember reading in Battlefield of the Mind, from 2 Corinthians 10:4 –

“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”

– and taking heart. God had to knock down all that was old and wrong in my life, and I trusted him to rebuild it. So, not knowing where I’d go, or what I’d do, or how I’d make my mountain of student loan payments…. I let it go. I said, “God, like the lilies of the field, I trust you to care for me, and lead me where I need to be.”

I certainly didn’t think that place would be to upstate New York and a new marriage with a beautiful little (ok, big) puppy and sweet little kitty. But I trusted him, and he came through for me in a bigger way than I even could’ve imagined.

So why, now, do I make plans as if I am master of my own destiny? Do I not think that God can and will use me in the everyday and the mundane?

I’m going to leave you with Ecclessiates 7:1-14, which reminds us that our time here is so brief – like the morning fog – and how we spend it so important. How will you choose to spend yours?

A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.
And the day you die is better than the day you are born.
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
Afterall, everyone dies-
so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
Better to be criticized by a wise person
than to be praised by a fool.
A fool’s laughter is quickly gone,
like thorns crackling in a fire.
This also is meaningless.
Extortion turns wise people into fools,
and bribes corrupt the heart.
Finishing is better than starting.
Patience is better than pride.
Don’t long for “the good old days.”
This is not wise.
Wisdom is even better when you have money.
Both are a benefit as you go through life.
Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
but only wisdom can save your life.

Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

Unworthy

This morning, as I made a concerted effort to come before the Lord in awe, I realized two things very quickly:

First, that I need more prayer time. It takes a long time to appreciate how great God is, how vast his love, understanding, and power are. This realization led very quickly into a deeper understanding of just how unworthy I am to stand in his presence, and what a gift prayer is. Who am I, to speak before the One who was, is, and shall be?

But even in this state of reverence and wonder, I still found myself incredulous and unprepared when I discovered that Pastor Patricia was preaching on the very same verse that I had been studying in Crazy Love yesterday! In Isaiah 6:5, Isaiah shares his response to finding himself in the presence of the Lord –

It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lodd of Heaven’s Armies!

Simon Peter has much the same reaction when he first encounters Jesus in Luke 5:8 –

Oh, Lord, please leave me – I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.

Both realize that they have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and are thus unworthy to stand in his presence.

I, too, stand before God unworthy. I admit that I am a sinner – the commandments I haven’t broken stand few against the ones I have. There have been times that I have been fearful and ashamed to stand before God, much as Eve in the Garden of Eden – wanting to run and hide, but unable to.

And make no mistake, God has every right to judge me. He created me for his purposes, knows my inner most being (Psalm 139:13)., and he stands sinless and blameless. If anyone can judge, it is him.

But instead, he calls me to him. Not only to be reconciled, but to be trusted with his most important work – sharing his truth with the rest of the world.

See, Isaiah and Simon Peter knew they were unworthy, knew the punishmemt for breaking God’s law is death (Exodus 21:12-19), and fully expected God to exact punishment. Instead, God called and molded them to his purpose. Isaiah became one of the great prophets of the Lord, and Simon Peter one of Jesus’ first disciples.

I wonder today what God is calling me to. Where, in my unworthiness, he will lead me and use me. I hope that I will be listening, so that when he calls, I can answer him as Isaiah and Peter did – humbly, with reverence, and immediate obedience.

Saved Without Victory

“Sounds to me like you’re living Saved Without Victory.”

I stared at my pastor and blinked.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian family, so I didn’t come into the church with a solid understanding of salvation, let alone “victory.” My first exposure was when my friend Christil invited me to church with her in 7th grade. I went a few times, and I remember enjoying the music, but when the pastor’s wife stormed in mid-sermon and accused him of an affair in front of the entire congregation… I decided that was enough of that for me.

That experience provided context to Christianity for me throughout middle school and high school. Every time I encountered a Christian, I hunted for their angle. Sure they preached good news and love, but they didn’t live it. I was always able to find a flaw, a sin, a hypocrisy… because let’s face it, we’re all sinners.

Then I went off to college and met Elizabeth. She never preached at me, lectured me, or even tried to talk to me about Jesus. But somehow, I knew that she was a Christian. She was a good person. She worked hard. She tried to be kind to everyone, even people she couldn’t stand. And sometimes, she fell short, but she owned it and tried again.

It was a different way of living than most people I’d known, especially most Christians. So sometimes, I’d ask her about her beliefs. Maybe I was searching for contradictions, looking to punch holes in her life philosophy and the way she lived. But before I knew it, I began to wonder if her way of life wasn’t, maybe, better than my way of life.

So I decided to try it. My junior year of college, I asked Jesus if he was really out there, and if he would come into my life. I wanted to live differently. And for four years, that’s what Christianity and Jesus were to me: A different way to live. A kinder, more caring, healthier way to live.

Then, in June of 2012, on the hottest day of the month, I married an alcoholic. I make no pretense about it: I knew he was an alcoholic when I married him; I just didn’t know what an alcoholic was. I believed if I lived well and loved him well, he would stop drinking and things would be fine.

Things weren’t fine. Less than a month later, we were at his parents’ vacation home for Independence Day. It was 10 am, and he had drank through the night. Things exploded. He called me a stupid c*nt in front of everyone, and no one said anything to rebuke him. That stung more than his words, which, by now, I was mostly numb to.

Everyone reinforced what I believed. Be the good girl you always have to be, and things will get better (ok, so Frozen didn’t exist then, but Elsa’s words are more spot on than you’d believe). But they didn’t, they got worse.

In August, the weekend before my 26th birthday, I discovered my husband was having an online affair, and planning to meet the woman (a mutual acquaintance of ours) to hook up. He had written awful things… he never wanted to marry meit was just to placate me… It hurt more than the affair. And here I thought that I was numb to anything he could say about me.

I left, but I made the mistake of going to his parents. I was too humiliated to go to my own family, and I trusted them. How misplaced. Sick breeds sick, though I didn’t know that at the time, and anyway, they were his parents. I should’ve never asked them to be on my side, should’ve known they never could be.

But to their credit, they tried. They let me stay with them, they took me out for my birthday, and they prayed with me for my husband and my marriage. They were so instrumental in my survival in those weeks that followed, that when they left for vacation in October, I knew I couldn’t go it alone and needed to seek help… but I get ahead of myself.

That September, I went to a church women’s retreat that changed my life. The speaker, Debbie Alsdorf, shared on two verses that changed her life, and over the course of the next two years, would work a drastic change in my life.

She shared from Matthew 11:28 –

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

– and she asked, “Do you know that Jesus is talking to you?” And I broke into sobs, because I didn’t know! Could he really carry this deep, painful burden for me? It didn’t seem possible, but I wanted it to end. The hurt. The fear. The emptiness. The isolation. The burden I had carried in silence for so long, thinking it was mine alone to bear.

I had been living saved without victory.

“Saved without victory,” my pastor continued, “Means you believe in the promise of salvation… eventually. But that promise is for today, not some vague point in the future. That promise says that if you truly believe, if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, and you allow him to work in your life, that salvation comes here and now. You can have an amazing, wildly beautiful life, even in the midst of your current circumstances, because Jesus will raise you above your circumstances.”

(Ok, I paraphrase, but it sounds pretty good, huh?)

I had accepted Jesus into my heart four years earlier, but I had never allowed him to work in it – I thought I had to do all the work!

And that brings me to the second verse that Debbie shared at retreat: Ezekiel 36:26 –

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony stubborn heart and give you a tender responsive heart.

All that time I had spent believing that my husband needed to change so I could feel better and be happier… but it was me that needed to change.

Over the next year, I prayed that verse every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times an hour. I went to Al Anon that October, got myself a Sponsor, joined a Bible study group, went to counseling… and the closer I got to Jesus, the more peace I found in my life.

That’s not to say that things got better. In Al Anon there’s a saying – “It gets worse before it gets better” – and domestic abuse advocates know that as abusers lose control of their victim, the abuse escalates because they panic.

Fastforward to the weekend after by 27th birthday. (No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence both incidents happened around my birthday; like most abusers, my husband was very narcissistic and probably disliked my being the center of attention.) I was sleeping on the futon in the living room. We had a prior understanding that I did not enjoy and wpuld not participate in sexual activities when he was drunk, but he was drunk and didn’t care. After he bullied and pushed me around and I still stood my ground, he banished me to the futon for the night. And it angered him that I didn’t fight him on it (though, it likely would’ve angered him if I had fought him on it, too). So he came out and flipped the futon (metal frame and all) over on top off me.

It was terrifying. It was the kind of thing that very easily could’ve seriously hurt me… but it only seriously frightened me. I left. And this time, I went to my grandmother, and I confessed everything that had been going on.

It began a chain of events that led to me realizing that I did not want or have to live like this anymore, and my husband had no desire to live differently. So in October, when fall break came around again, I filed for divorce.

Fastforward a year and a half. I left my job (my formed mother-in-law was my boss), without knowing where I’d end up. Turns out I’d end up in New York, happily remarried to a man I’ve known for years and never thought twice about in a romantic capacity. He is respectful and loving, and adores and dotes on me. I spend my time spoiling our adorable little puppy, volunteering as a domestic violence advocate, and I’m about to start teaching Sunday school next month.

Jesus raised me above my circumstances. He gave me peace in the storm, and led me out of it. Of course, I’m not naive enough to believe it’s the only storm I’ll ever encounter, but I am smart enough to know that whatever may come my way, he’ll continue to see me through it.

I’m finally victorious.

Crazy Love

This year for Lent, I’ve decided to give an extra hour of my life to Christ each day. That means things that I would’ve done anyway – church, youth group, soup & scripture – don’t count toward it.

When thinking about this extra time, I knew that I wanted to spend part of it in prayer, part with worship music, but… how to spend the rest? I’ve been meaning to do the Crazy Love Bible study for a while now, so I decided to add that in.

Funny, because the forward ties right into tonight’s Lent topic. Chris Thomlin references Acts 11:26 –

It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians

– and he highlights the word called. They didn’t choose the name for themselves; they were named by the people observing them. And Thomlin poses the question as to whether one could observe our lives today and know that we are Christians just by how we live.

I know that it can be like that. My husband saw something in me that he adored… such a brilliance and a passion for life and people, that he was willing to overlook what in his eyes normally would’ve been the fatal flaw of being a Christian. And whatever he may think, I know that was the light of Christ shining through me.

I also know that I’m not as close to Christ now as I was a mere year and a half ago, and my heart longs to be back there, to go deeper with him. I want that passion and that fire and that fearless, crazy love back.

Which was the topic of Pastor Patricia’s Lent meditation tonight. She read from 2 Corinthians 6:3-4 –

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God.

– and she asked what is holding you back from that being true?

A number of things sprung to mind: Fear of a church community I don’t know, shyness. The lack of small group studies and close Christian friends in the area. But I know the primary hurdle is simply… laziness. I don’t hold myself accountable for committing time to Christ.

Hence, posting my usually private journal to my blog. Now I’m accounted for.