Thursday, February 25, 2010

God is at work

I think in our walk as Christians sometimes it is easier to see God at work in our lives than at other times. I can see God literally working on me and stretching me these days. Last Friday, I taught the large group of my Bible study. Probably 20 or 30 women. If you know me at all, you know these was a HUGE deal. I was super scared, but God provided and it went really well. I am really thankful. A couple of people wanted to read my talk, so I will post it following. Note: This was written for a specific group of women working through the Gospel Transformation Bible study. Also Note: I am putting my heart on a platter by posting this handle it with care.

So, I have spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out why Hillary choose me to teach on repentance. Does she think I know how to repent? Did she go in alphabetical order? Did she think I needed to learn to repent? Is she just trying to stick it to me? The answer is I don’t know, but because I am terrified of public speaking she caused me to really think about and pray about repentance for months on end. These assignments came out in August.

I don’t know how you think, but I am a pretty visual thinker. I look at things in pictures and turn them around and around in my mind to see the angles. Sometimes I find that a tilt of the head makes all of the difference in seeing something more clearly. Gospel transformation over the past year and a half has made me turn myself and the gospel over and over in my head. Who am I? What are my sin struggles? Where have I been sinned against? What are my gifts? How is the holy spirit working in me? What is the role of the Holy Spirit? How does the gospel change my life and change me? And in this case what does that have to do with repentance? As I have thought about repentance over these last months, two things come to mind. God works through story and by showing us His face. Repentance I believe is the key to both.

I grew up in a small town in Louisiana with what I thought was the perfect life. My dad was president of the bank. My grandpa was the town doctor. Both sets of grandparents lived there. My aunts, uncles and tons of cousins. I am from a family with multiple generations of believers. I grew up going to church and feeling loved. My family is pretty supportive and involved in my life from grandparents, to parents, to aunts, to uncles and to my sister. I was the “good” kid who made the good grades and obeyed. I blended in and did the right thing. And in the midst of that God showed Himself to me to be my Lord and Savior. He was real to me and personal. My life was good. It was easy in many ways. And shortly after I turned 18 that all changed for me. My good life was suddenly not so good and not so easy. Hard things started to happen to me. The fact that I really needed a Savior became clear.

I did the “good” kid thing and choose to go to Belhaven College a small christian school and a week before I left for college my mom and biggest fan found out she had breast cancer. While college was fun and I have many great memories, those years where mostly shaped by my mom’s cancer. She was treated my freshman year then went into remission. My junior year it came back and at the point we knew she would not survive. So, as I was graduating from college and supposedly starting my bright new life, my mom was literally dying. I moved to St. Louis to go to Wash U for my master’s in January and my mom died in April. She missed my graduations from college and graduate school. She missed my engagement, my wedding and the birth of my children. She missed seeing the fruit of her labors as a mother. And I have missed her all along the way in the big things like having babies and the small things like for real how to you get the whole house clean at once.

For several reasons that I am aware of and many that I am not, God saw fit to make my mom dying a major part of my story. And the fact that my mom who I dearly loved died impacts my life in many ways daily. It makes me sad. I see God using it and I feel joy. I miss her. I want to call her. I want to be approved of by her. I want her to know my life and my kids and my home. And the point my sweet friends is this. My mom dying is a large part of my story and I speak of her death and life often.

What does this have to do with you? Our justification- The fact that God saved us is our story. We all love to tell stories. We love to hear them, watch them, read them... God made us this way and He relates to us this way. The Bible is one story after another. He knows we “get” stories.

I think when we are first saved the fact that our sin was paid for has a lot of impact. I think in many ways we can become numb to it over time. Remember how we are told to preach the gospel to ourselves daily???? I have always wondered what that meant. I’m a social worker and I like really practical advice. How do I do that? I think repentance is how we do it. We tell the story of salvation to ourselves every time we repent. We are saying, “Christ died for me being a jerk to my husband or getting ticked and selfish at bedtime. He died when I covet my friend’s house or her car or her flat abs.” Repentance is how we preach the gospel to ourselves a million times a day. And when we are broken over our sin we remember afresh the JOY of our salvation.

My daughter, Lillian, loves the Chronicles of Narnia. We have been listening to the Focus on the Family radio shows on road trips this year. They are a beautiful way to hear these stories. One of the stories is Prince Caspian. Hopefully you have read the book or seen the movie. The four kids are pulled from their world back into the world of Narnia. They find themselves at Car Paravel. They bump into a Narnian who tells them of Prince Caspian and his need for help. The four children and the Narnian start on a journey to find Caspian. They have been kings and queens of Narnia after all and know Aslan intimately. They were there when he died and was raised up again. So, they are on their trek and Lucy sees Aslan. She says, “I saw Aslan and He wants us to go that way.” They others don’t believe her. It happens twice before they realize she does in fact see him and that they should listen to her. And when they do they get on the right path. At this point, the children say to Aslan. “Why did Lucy see you, but we didn’t?” His response, She was looking for me. She was looking for my face.

I think this impacts this story we are looking at today of the prodigal son. He takes his father’s money and goes out and just ruins his life. In Luke 15:17-19 he says, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” At this point, the prodigal son can’t see his Father’s face, but he can imagine it. We are like that aren’t we? I may not be able to believe that God can forgive me, but I know He can forgive Mollie or Andrea or Hillary. So, in that faith the prodigal son goes to back to the father. And what happens? Faith becomes sight. The father is overflowing with joy. He runs to the the prodigal son. And God does that for us every time we repent.

Mike Mason in his work “the Gospel According to Job” says this

“Job knows that genuine repentance cannot be motivated by fear or doubt, or extorted under duress from an anxious soul. He knows nothing of the rote confession of sin as a tranquilizer for the troubled heart. No, while true repentance certainly includes a confession of guilt, it can never be initiated in response to guilt but only in response to the voice of the Lord, which in turn is always accompanied by a revelation of His overwhelming mercy and love”

God is delighted to show us overwhelming mercy and love. That is what he showed us at the point of our salvation and He is making it stick every time we repent.

Until last year when we studied this lesson, I always thought the prodigal son was about someone else. Someone who did something really bad. But, that is me isn’t it. I have been given a great kingdom and I throw it away all the time for your approval. I bet you do that, too.

We are the prodigal son, but unfortunately we don’t get off that easy. We are also the older brother. What does he say? Dad, why didn’t you throw a party for me? I did what you wanted. Translation into to terms we have been working with here in Gospel Transformation. Dad, I’ve been earning my way all this time. Why don’t you give me a party?

The way I imagine it is like this. The older brother is standing next to the Father and they are looking out at the party. The older brother is giving the Father a hard time. Here is the Father’s response- All I ever wanted was for you to look at my face. Ask and I will show the party of a lifetime.

God is dying to show us His face. In fact, Jesus literally died for us to see it. Ask Him and He will show it to you. I already said it, I’m a social worker. Give me the plan and I’ll work it.

Here is the plan. Repent. Do it a million times a day. Repent to your husbands, your friends, your kids, people you don’t even know, but most importantly to your heavenly Father. In that act, the Holy Spirit will pull back the curtain and make real what Jesus did on the cross for you and you will see the Father pulling up His skirts and running to you with a face full of overwhelming love and mercy.

We are to be like God. We are to tell our stories to each other and to others. We need to remember to each other the many things He died for. The mean stuff we say, the harsh thoughts, the coveting. All of it. We need to tell others the stories of how God works redemption into our suffering. The story of my mom is just one of many in my life and you have yours.

We are to reflect the Father’s face to those we interact with. What does that look like? My sweet daughter, Lillian, is a lot like me. We share some of the same glory and the same ruin. Her ruin brings up mine and I can be a real jerk to her. I can be too hard on her. Last year, one night I was being too hard on her about something. My husband, Peter, confronted me. He was literally standing in front of me with my back to a wall. He said, “You are being too harsh.” I knew he was right, but I didn’t want to agree because I would be exposed. He kept pushing in a nice way. I finally agreed, reluctantly. He did something totally unexpected to me. He smiled at me and said he loved me. That is how we reveal the Father’s face to others. We love people even when we know their junk.

So, go to your small groups and talk about how you can repent more. And leave here today ready to reflect the Father’s face to those who repent to you. Your friends, your husbands, your parents, your children. This is our witness to reflect the love of the Father.


Lisa S. said...

Thanks so much for documenting this. Your "talk" spoke to many women and it will not be quickly forgotten. I love though that you have now blogged it for others to get the opportunity to read and to get into your soul. God is working in you and through you and your insights are AMAZING!

Christine Gordon said...

thank you, Mel. I was reading in terms of how to motivate repentance in my own children. Sadly, mercy and kindness is not usually how I motivate them. But this is encouraging me in how I WANT to do it. Thanks for putting yourself out there. Wish I could have heard it live.

Emma Kate said...

What a comfort it is to know that God truly is at work in our lives. Thank you for sharing this with us. I, too, wish that I could have heard it live.

amy said...

i tend to think that i don't have to repent that often because God knows my sins and i'm forgiven already. but repentance is not about God forgiving me again, it's about me learning about myself and growing in grace.

thank you for sharing!

Sara D. said...

Melanie, this is so great...I need to go back and read it several more times, because there is such wisdom in it! I wish I could have heard it in person, because I am sure it was POWERFUL and I am so proud of you for following his call to teach this!!!

sbh said...

Thanks Melanie. Your story of Peter loving great. So many things resonate with me from your story. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Tirzah said...

Thnaks Melanie, I am glad I finally had time to read this start to finish. You are one of my favorite story tellers and I am so thankful to God that he has given you the courage to tell these stories to us. Thanks for your words. Love you girl.

Amanda Maynor said...

the gospel transformation study is my all time favorite study! So glad to hear you all are doing it. It is REALLY challenging and eye opening. So many lists to check off! :-) But after all of those lessons- I really had a gospel transformation in my life! I will be curious to know what your favorite lesson ends up being.