Explosion!

We love because he first loved us. 1 John:19

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                This is the beginning of a new year, a new and fresh start for all of us.  I thought I would share the story of how I became new.  It started around this time of year, 26 years ago.

I was in Junior High and had been attending a new church with my “boyfriend”.  I had no interest in God, yet I really liked this guy.  I felt very shy and totally out of my comfort zone.  I was trying to sing the loud and crazy worship songs that I had never heard before.  I didn’t understand anything that was happening in this contemporary, charismatic youth group.

A guest speaker was there one night, and I can’t even remember what he talked about.  He invited us to come up to receive prayer.  I didn’t consider getting prayer, yet I found myself up front.  I had no memory of standing up, no memory of moving my legs to walk towards him.  Yet somehow I was there, waiting for prayer.  When the speaker prayed for the guy beside me, he started crying like something was touching his very soul.

“I wonder if this preacher will know that I don’t believe in this stuff,” I thought to myself as he approached me.

“You are having doubts about all this stuff.” He said, as though he was reading my mind.  Suddenly the youth pastor was right next to me and asked, “Do you want to receive Jesus into your heart?”

I had never thought about asking Jesus into my heart.  I didn’t even know what that meant.  Before my mind could tell me “yes” or “no”, I heard myself saying, “Yes!”

I repeated the prayer that the pastor prayed for me.  It went something like this;

“I believe in you Jesus, that you are the son of God.  That you died and rose again to take away my sins.  I ask you to forgive my sins and come into my heart.”

Immediately I felt something explode in my heart, and my eyes were opened to a wondrous and completely new reality.

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I never expected this to happen!  I didn’t even know what being “saved” or “born again” was, yet here I was experiencing it.

I spent the next week in a glorious daze!  Everything was lovely and fresh.  I never realized how beautiful a tree was!  How amazing a doorknob could be!  Or how much I loved my parents!  The world was different because now I knew that God loved me.  Since then I have learned that long before I ever thought about God, he was pursuing me.  Even when I wasn’t seeking him, he was seeking me.  I am so glad he found me.

I have also learned that new life isn’t something that just happened to me once, 26 years ago.  It is something that happens with each new day because his mercies are new every morning.  Jesus promised that we would have streams of living water coming from our inner most beings.  The adventure of this life is accepting and allowing and enjoying that pure, fresh spring every single day!

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Happy New Year!!!  I hope you have fireworks of his love exploding in your heart.

May you enjoy a Happy New Year… every day of the year 2016!

I Love My Tribe

 

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The music washes over me.  It is not just melody and rhythm…it is the very atmosphere of heaven.  The lights are bright, the stage is full of musicians, and I am surrounded by my tribe.  Almost every Sunday morning I find myself here, in the sanctuary of Life Center and saturated with the swirling presence of God and humanity.  There are so many worship leaders that share the stage, so many musicians that rotate from week to week.  They are full of talent and resurrection life, and I love them all!  They have birthed an abundance of CDs out of the overflow of their lives of praise.

I watch the senior pastors in the front row, boppin’ to the rockin’ music.  They are in their sixties, but they enjoy the youthful expression and energy as much as anyone.  They actually lead the rest of us in radical, “out of the box” thinking! They have served this church for over twenty years, and I love them! I see one of the younger worship leaders, passionately singing a song that he wrote; and I think about how I used to babysit him when he was a boy.  I look over and see his parents in the front row, beloved pastors who raised me in the youth group; still loving, still serving, still standing for all that is true.

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Some folks are out of their seats, dancing.  Some are swaying to the music.  Others are sitting with their eyes closed.  Others are kneeling on the floor.  My teenage daughter is up front, worshipping with her friends.  I observe many gray heads in the crowd, faces lined with wisdom and love.  I see parents holding their little ones.  I see children twirling scarves and prancing on bare feet.  Life is always bursting forth at Life Center.  There are more pregnant women than I can keep track of, and I love them all! I long to be able to tell each one of them how gorgeous they are and how precious they are to God, carrying His little children of promise!

I notice women running to each other in joyful reunions, laughing and hugging.  I see people spontaneously begin to pray for the person next to them, passion and concern on their faces.  I see others exchanging gifts or notes.

It is time for the offering and one of the “newer” pastors takes the microphone.  He and his family have become so precious to me.  Every time I see him take the stage, I am alert with anticipation.  I know that some stunning revelation will spill from his lips that will rock the way I see the world.

The music subsides and there are announcements of births and deaths; family business that herald joy and tears all at the same time.  How we each know that thrill and that pain, and how we each long to share those with our brothers and sisters.  I walk to the back of the sanctuary during the meet and greet time, and I am enveloped in a warm and healing hug by a beautiful black mama.

“Look at you!   You’re beautiful!  Just beautiful!” she always says to me with her eyes shining and her amazing, white smile blazing.  She is the beauty! I wish I could describe the indescribable, how dark and lovely she is…but her beauty is so deep and so true, I am at a loss for words.

It is time for the message and another pastor comes up.  He and his wife are treasures to me, having led countless youth events, missions trips and prayer times that I was apart of.  We have even lived with them a couple of times.  Some folks in the crowd are a little confused because he talks too fast, as though he has 4 hours worth of revelation to impart in 45 minutes.  Chris and I are fluent in “speed talk” since we grew up under his tutelage, and we just chuckle to ourselves.  In his message, he talks about a mission trip that he led 20 years ago.  I was part of that trip, and how I cherish those memories!

After the service, I hug my dear and longtime friends.  I greet friends I grew up with and friends who were in my wedding.  I talk with my children’s pastor, who I went to school with.  I see more recent friends, who have quickly taken residence in my heart.  I identify new acquaintances as well.  I notice many fresh faces and hope to call them my friends someday too.  So many personalities, so many gifts, so many stories, so many ways that God reveals Himself to me; represented by these precious people.

“I love my tribe!” I always think to myself on a Sunday morning.  The love wells up within me, along with pride.  I love my tribe!  There are children of God all over this earth, in different denominations, different countries, varying cultures and traditions.  But I am so glad that my boundary lines have fallen here, at Life Center.  I started coming to this church in 1989, when it was meeting in the old casket factory.  My husband Chris started coming earlier than that, in 1985.  We left for a time and moved to Colorado Springs.  In the eight years we were there, we couldn’t put our roots down, no matter how hard we tried.  Now we are back in our promised land, surrounded by family.  How good it feels to watch our family tree grow tall and strong with a wide trunk and thick bark, an oak of righteousness, a planting for the display of His splendor.

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How glorious it feels to let our roots descend into the rich and fertile soil of Central Pennsylvania! How refreshing to drink the deep, deep waters.  How thirsty we had been for those waters!

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There are wonderful people of God all over the world, but this family is mine…my clan…my tribe.  I am so glad!  How I love my tribe!