‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23 NASB).
‘If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8-9).
My life before accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord was marked indeed by a deceived heart that wore a garment of lies. And while I fell short of the glory of God I was still His image bearer, capable of having my heart awakened to His presence, of fearing His power, and in time of wanting His love and forgiveness.
As a child my earliest understanding of God was from swimming in a lake in Michigan. The water could be refreshing and fun. But it was also powerful and needed to be feared. Music and poetry also put me in contact with an unseen, spiritual realm, in singing hymns and carols and listening to classical music. These spoke to my spirit about deep, mysterious things, more than anything I can recall while growing up in this church.
When I was eleven we hosted a lay witness mission here. I heard the gospel message in a way that convicted my heart and I went forward to confess my sins. But I did not receive the indwelling Spirit then and I continued to struggle. After college I eventually just stopped going to church. In Europe and apart from the influence of any community of faith, I was living selfishly in a manner that was injurious to myself, others and God. But it was right there that I finally came to the end of myself – accepting the crucified and resurrected Jesus as Savior and Lord, giving God control of my life and receiving the Spirit.
‘I have laid up thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee’ (Psalm 119:11). ‘If anyone is in Christ she is a new creature; the old has passed away; behold new things have come’ (2 Cor. 5:17). ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2).
This transformation had its sure foundation laid in the first year after my conversion. I was formally discipled. Meeting every week for a couple hours my mentor (a young woman my age) and I read through the Bible, memorizing Scripture, studying Christian theology and learning basic bible study practices. I learned how to pray and how to develop a quiet time. I discovered how to share my testimony and practiced spiritual disciplines. I began to recognize my gift for serving the body through teaching, and how to minister in truth through my natural abilities. I really wanted to go on to Seminary. But then I received a job offer. The Lord settled it by directing me to
‘They turned and went up into the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and spied it out. Then they took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us, and they brought us back a report and said, “It is a good land which the Lord our God is about to give us”’ (Deut. 1: 24-25).
He was calling me into opera, to spy out a foretaste of the ‘promised land.’ The next years singing were precious; tasting the goodness of the Lord – a blessing. But eventually sampling the picked fruit just wasn’t substantial enough anymore for me. I longed to raise solid food, and to feed others. I began thinking of going back to school, but it was many years later when He did direct me to
‘The one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to humans but to God; for no one understands, but by the Spirit she speaks mysteries. But the one who prophesies speaks to humans for edification and exhortation and consolation’ (Romans 14: 2-3).
The Lord explained that music (tongues) was my way of worshiping Him, but teaching (prophecy) was what He needed me to do now. Doors opened to attend Ashland Seminary, and I graduated in Biblical Studies/OT, and also in Spiritual Formation. After only five years teaching here and abroad in Kenya it was necessary to move home and care for my parents. Meeting their demands eventually superseded other areas of ministry. God did not fight to keep alive the calling to teach, choosing instead for me to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2: 20). And yet to validate this new path, He gave me
‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.’ (Exodus 20:12)
When I moved back home I also came back to FUMC. I needed a place that would embrace my trained voice. I needed the stability of liturgical worship. I needed the give and take of teaching Bible studies. I needed to be surrounded by folks with whom I had a lifetime of history, without having to start over from scratch. I needed a safe place to be both broken and tired out by ministry, but also working to heal, willing to serve and hopeful for the future. I am so grateful for this congregation that raised me as a child and that has embraced me as an adult, just as you promised you would – at my baptism and confirmation. You are the earthly cloud where my heart awakens to His presence and His love, and where I can stand, withstand and serve.