The 10 Things That All Christians Can Agree On Day #15 The Purpose Driven Life

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See how very much our Heavenly Father loves us, for He allows us to be called His children, and we really are!    1 John 3:1

I call you my sweet “sister” because in the family of God we are children of the same father and name you “Sweet” because we should be encouraging each other and sharing in each other’s joys.

So I wanted to share with you the joy of my granddaughter’s baptism. I hesitated before deciding to share this as I know different denominations differ on infant baptism. In fact, my son in law hestitated on having her baptized as an infant as well.  Utimately, all the Christians in my family (Protestants and Catholics) see this as just the beginning as we pray that Megan Elise will continue to say “Yes” to following Jesus all the days of her life.

I started this blog to reach out to ALL my Christian sisters as I have a respect for how God is at work in all denominations that believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”.  I grew up Methodist, spent my late teens attending a Baptist church and joined the Catholic Church as a young adult.  Through the years God has chipped away at many of my misconceptions and prejudices I had against the Catholic Church. I now know from experience that there are sisters and brothers who have a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ spread throughout ALL the christian denominations. However, our enemy wants us to argue with our brothers and sisters over doctrinal differences so we have less energy to spread the gospel.

Our pulpits should not be used to speak negatively about different denominations but instead to preach the Good News of love, truth and peace. Our focus and energy should always be on how to work together to spread the gospel message that God has provided a way for us to be set free from the chains of sin and death.

So let us focus on what we all can agree on as sister and brothers in the family of God:

1. We can all agree that our deepest heart prayer is that our children will grow up to know, love and serve Jesus Christ all the days of their lives.   While I am thankful for the sacrament of baptism, my biggest prayer is that my granddaughter Megan will continue to say “Yes” to Jesus throughout her life.

2. We can agree that we are all works in progress and that we all make mistakes.  We all need the Lord.

3. None of us can earn our way to heaven. Jesus paid the price.  His sacrifice is enough.  While I am thankful for the graces I have found in confessing to a priest, I know that my protestant sisters can be forgiven by coming directly to Jesus with a humble heart.   (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 )

4. The evidence of someone who is in the family of God will be good fruit. They will slowly care more about the things that Jesus cared about: the poor, the sick, the aged, those that are chained by addiction and other sins. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Matthew 7:16

5.  Families share our  joys and divide our sorrows. In the same Church that my granddaughter Megan Elise was baptized in, my daughter Megan Elizabeth was given the sacrament of burial.  My family came to add to our joy for the Baptism.  My family also came to divide our sorrow for burial 22 years before.   I truly felt some of the burden lift through each person who came to the funeral and I received added joy for each family member who came to celebrate our great joy of committing  Megan Elise into the family of God.

So do your best to go to the funerals and to the baptisms, the weddings, the birthdays….While we can’t be everywhere and attend everything, love often requires sacrifice, so prayerfully do your best to be there for each other.

6.  We might not always get along with all of our family members. One of my favorite quotes goes something like this:  Some family members on your life will feel like Velvet and some will feel like sandpaper. God will use the sandpaper family members to make you less rough around the edges, smoother and able to reflect the face of your creator when others look at your life. The velvet ones give us a glimpse into to how much God loves and adores us.  We need both the Sandpaper and Velvet relationships to continue to become more like Jesus…..some people will drive us to our knees in prayer and some in thanksgiving.

7. Forgiveness. My favorite marriage quote is by Ruth Bell Graham “A successful marriage is the union between two good Forgivers”.  Really this is true for all relationships isn’t it? We constantly step (trespass)  on each other’s toes, each other hearts, hopes and dreams with lead feet. Has a family member disappointed you?    Let. It. Go.    Keep saying the quote that Jesus prayed as he slowly died a cruel and violent death. “Forgive them Father…they know not what they do”.  Pray for your sisters and brothers and especially for those who currently share a strained relationship with you.  The enemy’s goal is for division between us sisters and brothers. Don’t give the enemy any ground.  Our Jesus is the Prince of Peace. So let Him rule in your hearts, and in all your earthly and heavenly relationships.

8.  God loves us through our families.  So seek out and make time to be together.  Two of the Commandments are: Honor the Sabbath and Honor your mother and Father. Perhaps seek to spend Sunday with family more? Sunday dinner? Perhaps Pizza so no one needs to work? Play a game after dinner. Chat about the week. God loves us through our families.

9. What if I am really irritated or angry at a particular family member? Write 10 good things about them on a piece of paper. I bet by the time you reach number 10 that you won’t be as irritated. Focusing on the good  brings perspective. Writing things down changes your way of thinking so make sure you don’t just think of the positive things but write. them. down.   Consider giving the family member the list as an encouragement or as a present. (No need to explain the reason why you began the list:)

10.  We may have different Christian brothers and sisters through the many seasons of our lives, but we have one Heavenly Father who gave us his only son, Jesus Christ.  At  each season of your life, seek out Christian sisters and brothers to challenge and encourage you along the way.

So Thank you for sharing in my joy over my Grandbaby’s baptism even if you don’t believe in infant baptism. Thank you for praying with me that she will grow up to know, love and serve Jesus all the days of her life.

We are Family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How my Friendship with God Began #12 Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren

AmberOBrien"


Dear Sweet Sister:

The Topic for Day #12 is on how to develop our friendship with God.

Would you like to know how I began my sweet friendship with God? I’m so glad you asked………………

Sometimes the questions that we cannot answer right away have the biggest impact. At least I know that to be true for me. It was three of these kinds of questions that set the stage for the most important decision of my life.

More than 35 years ago (I must have been in my early teens at the time), I vividly remember walking along the sidewalk at a strip mall when a stranger stepped forward and asked me,

“Do you know Why Jesus died on the cross?”

I did not have an answer.

I mumbled “I don’t know” as I quickly walked by, my adolescent shyness overcoming my curiosity. I am sure this sidewalk evangelist also offered some talking points and a leaflet, but I moved too fast and ran into a store.

However, like a persistent dog, the question followed me, nipping at my conscious and never leaving my side. In my thoughts, I sought to figure out what crime (it must have been serious) that Jesus committed to be so charged and crucified.

cross

The question lay dormant for years, just as a faithful dog rests by his owner’s feet.

Although most would have described me as a shy and sensitive girl, looking back upon my childhood, I realize that I broke several of the Ten Commandments. For example, I stole a roll  of stamps from my grandmother (my sweet, wonderful grandmother who was a widow and supported herself). When questioned about it, I added to my guilt by denying that I stole it, then I proceeded to sell it to my brother. I didn’t need the stamps (which made the deed even worse), and I sought to get rid of the evidence. However, while the physical evidence disappeared, these and my other unconfessed sins remained heavy on my conscious. I also remember my best friend and I writing a cruel letter to a mutual friend. We said we wished her pet hamster died and all sorts of other hurtful things. I fell to peer pressure and ganged up against this poor girl. Meanwhile, I protected myself and continued to make poor choices. It seemed that I sinned against the people who were closest to me and trusted me.

I am even more embarrassed to admit that I self-righteously loved to keep notes for my parents of all the terrible things my three brothers were doing. I actually kept a notebook listing the many ways my brothers disobeyed the rules of the household, so I could tattle on them when my parents returned home from a night out. So in short, I covered up my own trespasses and hypocritically enjoyed pointing out other people’s.

About the time I entered high school, I started attending Young Life meetings in the homes of fellow classmates. Young Life is a Christian youth outreach organization for high school students that included silly skits and fun music; sort of like a G-rated Saturday Night Live show.  In the packed living rooms, we swayed to the guitar music and laughed as our friends and the Young Life leaders performed humorous skits. It was such fun to sit with my girlfriends and sing and clap to songs like, “Under the Boardwalk,”  while cute boys played guitars and made us giggle with their shenanigans. My awareness of the opposite sex was growing and I would quickly became infatuated whenever one caught my eye. More importantly, my awareness of God’s love was increasing too.

The college-aged volunteers in my Charles W. Woodward Young Life chapter were such caring and committed individuals who sought to help us through our tough high school years. They spent their free time joyfully planning meetings and driving buses to weekend retreats. The same joy I experienced in the meetings, I could see in our leaders lives as they continued to love us unconditionally.

In the midst of the silly joyful and loud songs, one melancholy song struck a nerve and became my second defining question. “What’s Forever For?” by Michael Martin Murphey was a song we would often sing during the large group meetings. The song’s chorus asks:

So What’s the Glory in Living
Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?
And if Love never lasts forever
Tell me what’s forever for?

I even remember inquiring with a volunteer about why this song was included on the playlist, as the melancholy, slow chorus seemed so sad to me. The romantic in me didn’t want to accept that Love could end. I don’t remember the response I received, but I do remember a stirring happening in my heart as I considered the end of the chorus

 

foreverlove

During  those awkward middle school years prior to this time I certainly did not feel lovable or attractive. I sported large, rounded glasses with thick lenses and wore braces and at times even a head-brace that went on the outside of my face (not very popular with the guys). Some peers called me “airbrain amber” (as I thought deep internal thoughts) and the negative teasing chipped away at my self-esteem. 

During the summer before my sophomore year, I traveled with my chapter to the Young Life camp in Saranac, NY. During the adventurous week of camp, I walked on a high ropes course and parasailed off a sandy beach. There were so many fun, new experiences, but most of all I remember sitting in an audience of scores of other 15-16 year olds as each night ended with a talk about God and His love for each of us. The end of the week approached and the closing talk focused on how a human physically suffers when crucified. I remember hearing how a crucified victim agonizingly must lift up putting weight upon his bloody nailed feet to achieve enough air to take a breath and fill his lungs.  Then the dying man would lower down pulling upon his throbbing, wounded wrists.  Learning about this slow struggle for air that caused Jesus so much pain shocked me to the core.   I thought to myself,  ” Why would a God of love allow His perfect son to suffer so”? as I imagined Jesus suffering on the cross after being whipped close to the point of death.

The speaker’s words startled me, as a dog’s urgent barking awakens his master from a deep sleep – he pointed out that it was MY sins that separated me from a Holy, Loving God.  Just as in the Old Testament a spotless lamb was needed to atone for sin; God sent his precious spotless son to die in my place.

“What?” I gasped silently as my heart quickened. My sins? The answer to the question, Why did Jesus die on the cross?, all along was………………….. ME?    

The speaker explained that Jesus died on the cross because the God of the universe saw me sitting on death row in my ugly selfishness and offered up His one and only perfect son to suffer and die so that I could be with Him in heaven for eternity.

God’s sacrificial and unselfish love flooded over me as I sat alone by a tree in the woods after the talk. God did not use fear or threats of future doom to attract this tender heart. No, Love whispered my name and asked if He could come and be my forever friend. The mighty God of the universe wooed me with patient kindness.

I looked upward and responded to Jesus with these words which flowed from a heart overcome with surprise, gratitude and awe.

“You did that for me?”

What a shock to realize that the holy God of the Universe not only knew intimately my ugly selfish heart, but also loved me so much that He gave up His life in hopes that I would accept His gift of not just a future reunion in heaven but communion on this earth with me as well.

The Bible confirms this supernatural Love, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8  

As I pondered such an indescribable gift of Love, my third and final question formed as I looked upward.

Amberoffering

“Jesus, What Can I do for you?”

“Can we give God anything?” you may be thinking. I certainly had no gifts to offer. Just an unattractive, insecure, shy, wounded, and misguided teenage girl in the world’s eyes.  

Ever so gently a still small voice softly spoke into my spirit.

“Give me your life.”

Yes. My gift could  be myself – my unknown future, and all my dreams and hopes wrapped up in a bow.

“Yes, Oh Lord. I give you my Life.”

Alone by a tree in the woods of Saranac, the depth of my gratitude evolved into a lifelong decision of commitment.  I offered my heart back to Jesus, the lamb of God, who died to make it whole.

The closest analogy I can find on earth to describe this spiritual exchange is a bride and groom as they exchange the gift of their entire lives to each other. The bride doesn’t know what the future may hold (better or worse, richer or poorer), but she is willing to accept whatever may come if her trusted groom is by her side.   

I recently located the journal I wrote in when I returned from the trip. What is interesting about that journal isn’t what I wrote, but rather what I didn’t write.  I didn’t write about all the fun activities, cute boys, or the many new friends formed.  

Instead, I wrote,

“I just got back from YL camp in Saranac. I could go into all the details about the things we did there. In fact I may do that later on. But the most important thing that happened there or maybe in my whole life was that I gave my life (heart) to Jesus. This means that I am putting my life into his hands.”

Well, 33 years later I can state with experience that it was the most important decision of my life.  My bridegroom Jesus has proven to be my best friend through thick and thin. He has never left my side. He has given me joy and peace to overflowing.

I returned home and began attending a bible study group and found true friends who encouraged me as I learned more about this amazing God who desired to have a deeper love relationship with me. Since my self worth now was based on God’s opinion of me, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I found self control and self confidence to resist peer pressure and to have self respect for myself and the body that God has given me. Believe me, I am not saying that I no longer sinned or all of a sudden became unselfish. Sanctification is a lifelong process and I still have so far to go. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit convicts me if I have sinned, and I now know whom to go to to humbly confess my many sins and seek out ways to show that I am sorry. God has also given me the help to forgive others as he gives me compassion and understanding for others.

What is joy? To be released from your death row jail cell and to then spend the rest of your life sharing with your cell mates how they can be set free, too.

I want to be real my friend. Following Jesus does not guarantee a life free of trouble. His disciples all faced challenges and all kinds of sufferings. In fact, Jesus himself said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

I certainly have not lived a life free of pain or disappointment.  The beauty of Jesus’s friendship is that he walks with us and never leaves us alone.  Do you know when I have felt God’s peace and presence the strongest? When my premature daughter died in my arms as I held her in the NICU after 40 days of much praying for her healing. The grief following her death was not easy and I was angry when God chose not to heal my baby. He understood my anger, as I believe He hates death and what it does to those who are left behind.  He patiently, tenderly stayed close by as I slowly processed that my baby was a gift from God that I needed to surrender back to Him. Just as I surrendered my life so many years before to Jesus at Saranac. Following God’s lead means trusting Him to work all things out for good for not only ourselves but for His future heavenly kingdom. I now have a more eternal perspective. I believe in my soul that my daughter is now healed in Heaven. I have peace that my prayers were answered but beyond my limited sight on this side of heaven.

What is peace? To trust that all things are in the hands of a loving, good God who always takes care of His own.

I have now grown into a confident wife, mother, and business owner who loves The Bible and her sweet sisters. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I have a friend who will be there each step of the way holding my hand until I can see Him face to face.

So my future sweet brother or sister, May I ask you a question?
Do you know why Jesus died on the cross?
No need to answer this right away. Just let the question lay at your feet and stay awhile.