Ok, so here it is. My "testimony" from this weekend's women's retreat. Thank you to all who were praying for me. I still can't believe that the Lord gave me the opportunity to share and I can't wait to do it again. I even had a few women tell me that I should write :)
"The local church is a visible tangible, real life expression of how God views us." -John Sale
"So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." 1 Thessalonians 2:8
I am weak. I am very, very weak but I serve a gloriously strong God who uses my weakness.
Through the past years I have trudged through depression, illness, physical weakness and all of the challenges that life brings with it. All of these things brought into my life by a God who wanted to show me who He really was.
It was a "gospel life change." A time that the Lord stripped me from all of the things that I relied on, all of the things that I had put my hope and trust in. He was stripping me of myself. He did this out of His love for me so that He could give me a new love and a new life.
You see I used to go about my days relying on my own strength, working hard to serve a God that I thought was disappointed in me. But through the love of the church body he sent special people that He had hand picked to bring into my life, to turn everything that I knew on it's head and show me Jesus.
I worked hard at being that "Godly woman" that I read about in all of those well meaning books, that woman that so many ministries were preaching that I needed to work hard to be. I thought that if I did certain things, looked a certain way, used the right words than surely I would appear Godly enough to be in His presence.
What I didn't understand was that I was already Godly- I was already righteous. When I was saved I was given two gifts. One was that of having the record of my sin wiped clean but not only that my record was then replaced with the perfect, righteous record of Christ. I had nothing to earn because in one moment I had gained it all, yet I went on living as though I needed to earn my way to God.
Martin Luther said that,"The reason Christ came down, was born, lived among men and women, suffered, was crucified, and died was so that He might present Himself plainly to our eyes and fasten our spiritual sight upon Himself, so that He might keep us from climbing into heaven..." I was missing this in my Christian walk.
I spent many years trying to climb my way into heaven, looking up the rungs of a ladder that disappeared into to the clouds never knowing where it ended. My eyes looked right past Christ thinking that I needed more.
The rungs kept breaking under my feet, my hands couldn't hold on and as I slid further down the ladder of works I began to despair thinking that I had failed, that my good works weren't good enough because I just couldn't get there. I thought surely that God must be disappointed in me because everyone around me seemed to be closer to heaven. What I didn't realize is that maybe they were all pretending to have it together...just like I was.
As I slipped further down the ladder that seemed to be turning into a slide descending into hell at times God brought some very special people into my life. People who had their eyes on Jesus and knew that climbing a silly ladder would only get them nowhere because they had once tried it themselves.
These were the years in my life that I affectionately call "The Great Depression." Not because I enjoyed being there at the time but because I am so thankful for where it led. It was truly a "great" work of God to save me from myself and turn my eyes to Him.
During this extended time I began to think that my spiritual gift was that of helping others to use their spiritual gifts. I really felt that I was useless in the church. I didn't have the physical or emotional strength to give. It was a time for my brothers and sisters to hold up my arms.
We were being pelted by trial after trial that just seemed too hard for us to bear at the time. This is when the church stepped in. So much relief was given to me in my utmost darkest times. Women who sat with me just to be there, women who took my children so that we could hold the hand of a dying friend, meals cooked for us just because, laundry, house cleaning, homeschooling, counseling.
During an extended time of illness our gospel community group stepped in. Taking a child to the Dr. when I was too sick to leave the house, picking up prescriptions, taking the kids to the zoo or out for the day so that we could rest, feeding our animals and one friend was even brave enough to go buy a mouse and feed our pet snake. Even recently I had a friend call up and offer to help clean my house knowing that I was just back from vacation and had a group of women coming over the next morning.
All of this, from the men who dropped off fast food on their way home from work to the kids that came to feed our animals or water our plants showed me that Christ loved me. He was taking care of my needs through the church.
As I began to see the people of the church serving I began to see more of Christ. I could see how He was loving me through them and using this difficult time as a way to take my eyes off of that ladder and off of myself to look into my Saviors face, not having to look up but seeing Him standing right there next to me.
In my time of need not only was I given the gospel by the church, but I was loved. A picture of Christ's service to us. As life settled down and I was pulled out of the pit of despair I could not help but fall in love with not only the gospel that had now set me free but also with Gods people. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted everyone to feel the love and the freedom that I had gained. This love awakened a passion in me. A passion to serve other women, to tell them to get off that ladder and look at the Savior who is standing with them holding their hand. A Savior that, as my daughter Grace so well observed, had given up being a King to come and be a pauper. He gave up all the luxury of His kingdom to come and serve us.
Just as 1John 4:19 says that I love because He first loved me. I can say that I serve because He first served me. It's not a service out of payback or guilt. My debt has been payed, I'm not required to do anything but believe. It's not a service out of obligation but rather celebration. He loves me so much that I just can't help but do something about it.
-Jesus served me by giving up His status and lowering himself to the state of lowly man.
-He served me by living a life not without temptation but without sin because He knew that I could never live up to God's standards of perfection.
-He served me by giving His life and suffering the bloody, gruesome, humiliation of the cross. But even more than that he served me by taking on all of Gods wrath in the span of hours enduring it only as he could, being separated from his perfect intimate relationship with His father so that I might be free. So that there would be no condemnation against me. None.
-He served me by taking my record of every heinous sin that I have ever and would ever commit, replacing it with the grace gift of his perfect and righteous record so that when God looks at me He is not disappointed or disgusted but instead He says, "This is my beautiful daughter with whom I am well pleased. Always and forever. Not just when she is doing good, and even when she runs from me."
Have you every had anyone do this for you? How can I not want to serve a Savior that did all of this and even more than I can comprehend for ME? He did this for ME! He did it for you as well. He has served you in this most insane, incomprehensible way and now resides inside of you serving you through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Protecting you, guiding you and loving you each and every moment even when you feel empty and alone. He's there. He has promised never to leave you or forsake you.
Serving in the church body looks different on everyone. For some it's more tangible service such as cooking, cleaning, driving or child care. For others it may be serving women through encouragement, a listening ear or Speaking the truth to someone when they aren't believing it.
In my own life I no longer see myself as just a recipient of others gifts. I now see what the Lord was doing in my life through those difficult years. He was giving me a passion for the gospel of Christ. Giving me love for the church, giving me something to celebrate so that I could encourage others.
Serving is not a job, an obligation or a burden if you see it as an act of worship. Serving becomes a burden and a chore when we make it about ourselves. Its not about me, it's not even about the people I am serving its about Christ.
Now I don't want you to hear what I've said and think that I am telling you that you need to go out and serve more and be better. That's not what this is about because that's not what he's about. I hope to spark excitement in your heart for what He has done. I hope that with that excitement you will run to him, thank him and out of celebration want to pass on what he has given you. I'm not here to tell you what to do but rather where to go. Go to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Do you have a passion? Do you see a need that you can meet? . There are no rules to service, no limitations, all that is needed is the willingness to step out in faith and celebrate.