But God

Can you imagine sailing through life thinking you were living right, maybe even passionately pursuing God the best way you know how… only to find you were off track? In the bible, we can read about a man named Saul who lived the early part of his life that way. We first see him in Acts 7, where he was observing Stephen’s stoning. Any questions we might have had about Saul’s reaction to Stephen’s stoning are laid to rest in Acts 8:1 where we read, “And Saul was there, giving approval to His death.” You see, Saul was a Pharisee, and he was passionate about his Jewish faith.

After Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church, and Saul was at the heart of it, as he went house to house dragging men and women out and putting them in prison. The Christians scattered, preaching everywhere they went, and the church grew. But Saul’s plans to stop them grew as well. He got permission to travel to Damascus to capture Christians that had fled there to bring them back to Jerusalem. He was willing to go the distance and do whatever it took to stop the church from spreading! Permission granted, he was on his way until something amazing happened – Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, literally bringing him face to face with the truth of the gospel. Paul surrendered to Jesus, and His life was never the same.

This is a powerful story of God’s grace in action! Saul became Paul, and went on to become one of the greatest leaders, preachers and writers of the New Testament. These words found in Ephesians 2:4,5 (one of the books Paul wrote) show us how much his life was transformed, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul knew he was undeserving that day he put His faith in Jesus, after He met him on the Damascus road. Only love could explain the way God stepped in and turned his life around. You could say he had a ‘but God’ moment… ‘But’ because of His great love for him, ‘God’ stepped in and made him alive in Christ, and God does the same thing today for us as well. He reaches out to us where we are, he sees where we can be, and by His grace he gets us there.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

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Lovingly Hemmed In

There is a sweet little boy who rides home from school with Brendan on Wednesdays to come to church with us on Wednesday nights. He has been coming with us off and on for two years now. He calls us mom and dad, and loves to feel like a part of our family, and that’s probably because his own family is broken. I don’t know all the details, but I know he neither lives with his mother nor his father. And I sense (you know how we mom’s sense things, even in our children who aren’t really our children), that he has been through a lot in his 10 years. The first time he came to communion service he cried during worship, and since then he has cried many times as others lift their hands and sing. I asked him one time why he cries, and he said I just feel so loved. This past Wednesday night he was with us again after several weeks of being unable to come. He was so distant, the light not on in his eyes. He sat alone, not singing and blankly staring; just two seats down from me until I called him next to me and put my arm around him. As he sat with me, he pulled his shirt up over his head to hide his face. I had no doubt the tears began to pour down his cheeks as I held him in my arm.

Until he moved next to me, he was right there; just two seats away, but he didn’t reach out. Right there in the presence of God, yet feeling separate. As I think on his story, I can’t help but wonder how many of us can relate? I would venture to guess all of us at times have felt unloved, unworthy, ashamed, hurt or alone, and instead of reaching out to God or others, we felt the need to isolate ourselves or cover up our pain; all the while sitting there and wondering, “Does anyone see me, does anyone care?”

If you can relate right now, I have good news for you. God always sees; God always cares. No matter where you are or what you are going through, God is with you.

Psalm 139:1-5 in the NIV says:
1O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in-behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

The last verse above, Psalm 139:5 in the Message, explains beautifully what it means to be hemmed in-
5I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too–
your reassuring presence, coming and going.

I want to encourage you – whatever you are walking through; you don’t have to walk through it alone. As the verses above beautifully depict, God says I’m right here – let me help you. Don’t try to hold this in – let me heal you. I’m walking beside – let me hold you. I have placed loving people around you – let my love flow through them to you.

My prayer for you today is that you will open up to Him. Talk to him as your Papa, your Abba, your Daddy, acknowledging his presence ever around you. I pray you will let his love heal you… let his love flood those dark places and hurt places and shine light in where the sun hasn’t shined in so long. I also pray that you will reach out to the people he has placed around you in your church family and allow Him to love you through them.

Today is a new day – a day of healing, a day of hope for you – a day to be set free and begin to walk in freedom.

Love,

Amy O’Donnell