Friday, February 27, 2009
The life story of Billy Moore is a powerful, modern-day testimony of redemption. God clearly used the horrible decisions of a young man to demonstrate how all things come together to glorify God:
“I was told by a guy I had met that he knew a man who kept $30,000 in his house. And he was old. We could rob him, and nobody would have to get hurt. But of course, when you’re using drugs and drinking alcohol, you think you have things under control, and you don’t. While we were in this man’s house, he shot at me with a shotgun. And being intoxicated and messed up as I was, this scared me and caused me to shoot him…They arrested me and the sheriff told me the night they arrested me that he was going to make sure I got a death sentence. I didn’t care--I wanted to die. That’s how bad I was feeling.
…I got a copy of my transcript and court records, and in those records were the addresses and names of some of the members of the victim’s family. When I saw that, I knew in my heart that I had to write to these people to apologize. I did, and they wrote me back and said they were Christian people and forgave me. It was like a breath of life. They were giving me a breath of life. Here are the people who should want me to die--who had every reason to want me to die--saying that they didn’t want me to die and that they forgave me. We continue to write, even to this present day, and talk on the phone. I even go visit them at times.
… They told the parole board, "Listen, we lost one family member, and Billy is like another member, and we don’t want to lose another member of our family. We do not want you to execute him."
Then there were probably five or six ministers that I knew from being in prison who testified. And a friend of mine who was a Jesuit priest had talked to Mother Theresa about me. The parole board heard about her wanting to talk to them, so they called her, and she told them that they should commute the case. And they did. On August 22, 1990, they said that my sentence was commuted from death to life, and I would have to do 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.
A year later, the parole board had to overturn that 25-year limit and paroled you. …
But the poverty, the racism, the lack of education--that has an effect on kids. It would be different if you gave them a chance and an opportunity to do better.
The New Abolitionist - June 2004, Issue 32
Billy Moore is now a Pentecostal minister, preaching along with his wife in Georgia. He is an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and speaks throughout the world about his experiences. If God can forgive and use a thief and murderer, surely He can forgive and use you.
Even with our sinful nature, God can and will use us. Moses had a hot temper. Rahab was a prostitute. Mary was a child. Timothy was shy and young. Paul tortured and killed early Christians. Throughout his writings he discusses his “thorn” and poor eyesight. David was an adulterer---yet, God forgave, used, and blessed them each. David prayed, “Turn me away from wanting any other plan than Yours.” Psalm 119:37 and declared, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32 If anyone knew about having a calling on your life even as a young child, it would be David. He knew that he wasn’t supposed to be a king in the same way King Saul had been—he even refused Saul’s armor, but stood before the giant Goliath with a sling shot. Later, he diverged from God’s plan by lusting after Bathsheba, placing her husband on the frontlines to be killed, and then, suffered the loss of their first child. David experienced what it was like to walk in God’s grace; and the sin and suffering of not following the heart of God. I firmly believe God created each of us with a specific purpose in mind, and then, He blesses us with talents to help us achieve His desire (Jeremiah 29:11). What complicates this is “free will!” We can easily diverge from the path God’s laid out for us. As David did, we often later come to realize that we are helpless without God. Amazing grace is that God uses all the negative decisions to enrich our understanding of His will and power. Remember that the word of God proclaims first seek Him, and then, you will reap blessings. David addresses his deeper understanding in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; And lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” God’s word is full of promise. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 His greatest desire is to bless you! From before you were born, God was making plans for you!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
AKA ~The most valuable things in life aren’t things
I grew up in a single mother household. Even though my mother made mistakes, she was Godly and always kept my brother’s and my best interest at heart. True to her namesake, “Judith”, she was a self-sacrificing warrior. On the other hand, my father was the one with the new wife…house…cars…baby… To say their relationship was dysfunctional would be an understatement. Their version of getting together to talk about how the children should be raised was in front of a judge. However, they both instilled in me the lessons of being educated, hardworking, and thereby self-reliant. As soon as I could get out on my own and live the American Dream, I did and swore I’d never look back. At 27, I was a successful teacher who owned a four bedroom house in the suburbs. By 31 I was a classic “overachiever”: accountable for my alcoholic husband, a full time graduate student with a 4.0 GPA, a respected teacher, and a mother to a precocious three year old. I went to church, but to say that God was in the center of my life would be a lie.
I likened myself to a Martha Stewart~ I hosted parties and was generous. Because I had done without as a child, I over-valued materialism. Ironically, I was similar to the Biblical Martha as well. Martha complained, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?...the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.’” Luke 10:40 I would be so trapped by the “devil in the details” that I would not take time to enjoy myself or the guests. As a result, I am sure many friends and family members were left uncomfortable by my frenzied rushing about and insistence on things being “just so.” To this day, I struggle with balancing a clean home and spending quality time with my children. I often feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of working full time; being a gentle, wise mother to one year old and ten year old daughters; being a considerate step-mother to two teenage boys; being a loving wife; volunteering faithfully at church; keeping a tidy home; and making righteous decisions. When life gets chaotic, I clean…at least, I have control over that. My husband says that I get a “look in my eye” and he knows I have 12 D-I-Y projects going on at the same time. I have to remind myself that the most valuable things in life aren’t things. The story of Martha clearly demonstrates that Christ would prefer that we focus on fellowship and worship; rather than temporal, worldly concerns.
In addition, I passed judgment on those not leading a lifestyle that I felt was right~ Poor people were poor because of bad decision making or secretly believed that Poor people are bad people. That’s when the bottom fell out…I hadn’t listened to God’s whispers, so He sent the earthquake. I’d forgotten the story in Matthew 19: 16-24 “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’…. ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."’ My sin was that I was proud and self-righteous.
I had a life-changing experience which refocused my perspective. The catalyst was a miscarriage, which revealed my husband’s infidelity. Instead of pleading for God’s mercy, like Job I shook my fist and said, “Why me? I am trying to lead a righteous life!” I let that event rip off the scabs from a troubled childhood…it inflamed all those negative feelings about men. I determined if being “good” didn’t insulate me from tragedy… then, let’s find out what is so wonderful about being “bad.” After all, my husband and father were ungodly and it looked like they lived an unscathed life. Unfortunately, I am the voice of experience and I didn’t always follow God’s commandments. For a while, I felt abandoned by God and rebelliously embraced a sex, drugs & rock-n-roll lifestyle. (My grandmother refers to this as the school of hard knocks; if so, I have a Master’s Degree.)
As a result of severe depression, I was unemployed for 7 months. My bills however, reflected a life of a middle-class family. I didn’t qualify for unemployment or worker’s comp until an entire 365 days had passed. Obviously, having no income and a mound of bills did nothing to help my depression. I experienced extreme weight loss/weight gain, sleeping 27 hours straight/ not sleeping soundly for weeks, panic attacks……. I state these challenges in order to let you know I can relate to your trials. In addition, I was in the midst of a divorce, grandparent’s terminal illness, and lawsuit with my uncle over my grandfather’s estate. More importantly, I was faced with losing custody of my child since I was unable to provide for her. Based on my personal experiences, I believe that the more potential you have; the more the devil will wage full out spiritual warfare to rob you of your blessing and fulfilling God’s path for your life. If Satan can destroy the mother, he can profoundly effect the children; her greatest potential.
Once again, I proudly clung to what had “worked” for me in the past: tenacity, hard work, self-reliance. I fought the doctors to return to teaching before the calendar year had passed; therefore, I would not be eligible for disability compensation. When I say “fought,” that is an understatement! After all, I was losing every material possession I had worked so hard for. Even though I had many things repossessed, foreclosed, given away, sold…I felt secure that I was back to work and living in a two bedroom apartment~ My daughter and I were together and we had survived…or so I thought. That spring, my teaching contract was “non-renewed” due to levy issues (But in reality, one could conclude it was due to my hospitalization for major depression). What would I do now? I was Mrs. Mitchell, the teacher for 10 years with a Master’s Degree. How would I provide now as a single mom?
With my life in ruins, I decided that my child was better off without me and that I would end my life. Unconscious for hours, I was awakened by a calm voice instructing me, “This is your second chance; go home.” Instinctively, I knew it was the voice of an angel, a messenger of God. Groggily, I woke up and he repeated the instructions. In my heart, I knew there wouldn’t be another “wake up call.” I knew this was my second chance at life to go home, take a shower, and return to my normal work day; I followed his message and was instantly delivered of suicidal tendencies. I’m not saying that I never feel worthless or hear the enemy of our souls whisper that I’m better off dead~ but now, I rebuke Satan and don’t let those thoughts linger. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating a suicide attempt as a breakthrough; however, I am sharing my testimony and personal low point that lead to my deliverance.
The goal of this blog is not to come across as “preachy”, but rather, to say I share these struggles—after all, what people need is
1) Not to feel alone, that someone cares about their well being and understands their struggles
2) Appreciated and admired
3) Forgiveness and redemption
4) Unconditional LOVE
Now, I am grace-driven and am able to share my testimony with compassion. As a result of these devastating events, my attitude has been humbled and I realize there but the grace of God go I. I understand why someone would turn to drugs and alcohol, prostitution, or sin in general. Sometimes we feel that not even God could love us, or that we couldn’t possibly ever live a good life; so we might as well succeed at being hell-bent. There is a powerful attraction to rebellion, having the power to not listen to anyone. Humans are desperately seeking to fill a void that only God can fill and the self-destructive lifestyle temporarily may provide a “fix,” but this compounds physical, mental, spiritual, financial health issues. I’d forgotten the Biblical principal, “Therefore, do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Four our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. When I reflect now, I truly believe this is what kept my mom going; somehow she never lost sight of this verse. I’d forgotten the principle she’d held fast to even on her death bed…when people would ask, “What can we do for you?” She’d humbly answer, “Pray for my children.” She knew that the only thing you can take to heaven is your loved ones!
I have found out time and time again that when I get my priorities out of whack and God isn’t the apex in my life, I feel pressured and anxious~ I lose sight of God’s real purpose for my life.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
LIFE LESSONS FROM THE FATHER
Naturally, our troubles are often the consequences of our poor choices. In order to teach us a life-lesson, God may be like the father who quits reminding his son to do his homework; as a result, the boy fails the assignment. The goal is that the child then learns the importance of responsibility and self-discipline. On the other hand, we all can think of some bull-headed children who didn’t learn the lesson, and thereby, failed the assignment…the class…school.
5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."[a]
7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11
Like the rebellious teen, we often shake our fist in anger and shout, “Why me?” We fail to see that our troubles really are the product of our decisions. When God teaches life-lessons, He begins with a whisper. “Try to get the whisper before the earthquake comes because the whisper is always followed by a little louder voice, then you get a brick I say, and then sometimes a brick wall, and then the earthquake comes. Try to get it on the whisper” (Oprah Winfrey's Commencement Address Wellesley College, May 30, 1997). God doesn’t abandon us; we abandon God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 describes the troubles the Israelites endured because of their rebellousness, “Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen…so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” When you see the red flag or feel the sting of a reprimand, self-reflect and look for your role in the situation; that way you can avoid the crisis down the road.
As I continue my walk in faith, my impression of God is more like the father of the prodigal son; His love is unconditional. The son blew his inheritance on good times and loose women to the point where he was surviving on pig slop. With his head hung low, he goes home thinking that he’ll become a servant in his father’s house. Instead, the father welcomes him with a huge feast and celebration. (The other son is not too happy about this because he’d followed the rules all along, similar to those “church ladies” in every congregation.) God’s greatest desire is to welcome you home! Psalm 20:4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” David also wrote, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your hearts. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” If you break apart Psalm 37:3-5, you can see a clear cause--effect relationship described in the verbs:
… and then, you will be given the desires of your heart.
Many times in my life I’ve felt like the Samaritan woman at the well; Jesus gently coaxed her into confessing her sin. Then, he revealed himself as the Messiah and asked to drink from eternal waters. As a result, she told others about her experience with the Christ. John 4:42 demonstrates how this impure, foreign woman was able to share the gospel, “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."’ This story is a concise example of how God wants to transform our lives into authentic witnesses of God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 is a fundamental verse for explaining God’s grace, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God saved us because he loves us; all that is required is faith. Furthermore, God has predetermined our talents and already opened the doors for us to serve—thereby, we can lead others to Christ. You are the messenger from God your widowed neighbor, the drug addicted teen, your under appreciated coworker, or your angry teammate has been waiting for. How awesome is that?!
Later in John 8:2-11 we read the story of the woman accused of adultery, who Jesus saves from being stoned to death: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her…being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up Himself, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." What a wonderful stories of God’s mercy and ability to use the most humble of sinners! Even in our addiction filled world, Jesus proclaims the freedom of forgiveness: “For the power of the live-giving Sprit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.” Romans 8:2 I challenge you to self-examine and determine the deterrents that are standing between you and your transformation. What life-lessons is our Heavenly Father trying to teach you? “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” Lamintations 3:40 Then, we can hold fast to the promise that “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:1
Thursday, February 5, 2009
WHY AM I WRITING THIS?
My purpose in giving you this is that I hope you’ll find the same strength in these scriptures, stories, and prayer as I do. Scripture encourages us to share our testimonies and struggles so that we can help others. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16 The New Testament contains Paul’s letters of encouragement and instruction to the early church. “I remember you in my prayers at all times…I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.” Romans 1:9-12. Furthermore, God uses everyday people to share our burdens. “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Have you ever been sitting on a bus, waiting in the grocery store line, or casually talking with a coworker, only to discover they have gone through the same struggles? That is God in action! Not only do we serve an omnipotent God, we serve a practical God too.
My childhood experiences in church led me to believe that God was holding back but would eventually rain down fire and brimstone in judgment for all my sins~ that I was truly a Sinner in the hands of an Angry God. The older I grew and the more mistakes I’ve made, I realize that I worship a merciful, loving God who is waiting to welcome me back home. He isn’t just a good father figure; He’s the perfect Father Figure. Psalm 103:8-16 declares, “The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. …. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. …But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!” If you are like myself and have a difficult relationship with your father, this might be a difficult concept to embrace. Imagine for a moment all the things you wish your human father would do and could be….God is willing and wanting to fill that hole in your heart.