Posts Tagged ‘follower of Jesus’

Lent, Day 4.

becomingBecoming brave is becoming more of me. Becoming is an evolution, a journey into the wholeness God wants for all of us.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:16 [NIV]

Tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll be delivering the message in church to the children/teens and “mama’s” of the Village. I am using “Brave Faith” as my topic as it seems quite appropriate here. Will my stories resonate? Will I be able to share some of my own “becoming” as a Christ follower?

When I was a young believer, I had the erroneous idea that I would somehow arrive into the fullness of faith and spiritual maturity. I would be wise and knowledgeable. I would hear the voice of God regularly. I would know peace and joy and all the other fruits of the spirit. And of course, there have been moments, breaths, and cycles of depth in spirit, but the journey could just be starting. After 39 years, I’m still becoming.


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followHow many times have you heard someone say that he/she is leaving one church or another because of not being fed. Really! What does that even mean? You see, I can be indignant about this point of view because I was one of those people. And it was stupid and prideful and totally off base.

Honestly, is the gospel message so complicated that it requires years and years of Sunday sermons and adult Sunday School to get it? Is sanctification about learning the words or something else? Is it about memorizing the verses or walking them out?

Paul says, about his own journey . . .

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. . . . For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. [Philippians 3: 12, 16; The Voice translation]

It’s application. Plain and simple. It’s practicing the message. It’s acting like a real human being.

How hard is it to understand this: “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27] The words are simple, the message is simple, and the doing? Not so much. If I could just love and love love, that is, really love, so many other things would fall into place, wouldn’t they? After all, love covers a multitude of sins.

Here’s another complicated one [NOT]: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [James 1:27]

Or maybe we’re not reciting the Apostles Creed enough, to remind ourselves of what we believe. Or the Nicene Creed. Or, if that’s not enough, we can review all the ancient creeds and the articles of faith and the statements of faith of most major denominations HERE. That will keep anyone busy for a week or so. Study on.

But will any of this additional teaching make me a better follower of Christ, a transcendent soul? If I “feed” on more messages of some of the greatest theologians or influential preachers of all time, will my heart and soul be on fire for God more than it was before . . . because of the teaching?

Or can it really be more simple than that?

I think most of us get the “message” within the first year or so of a committed relationship with Christ (either through fellowship, church, or bible study). We understand the gist of it from the beginning. We just don’t want to do it, to live it, to walk what we understood from the beginning.

I know I made it all more complicated. I spent so much energy looking for a shortcut or an inside track or a supernatural anointing, as though walking a life of faith is magic. It’s not magic and it’s not about the miracles. It’s just being real and authentic and transparent. And it’s living the paradox! That’s why it’s called FAITH. And for that reason, because the Christ life is woven in with the paradox [another word for true love] (with Bible examples like turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, walk the extra mile, and care about the other person more than self), I keep trying to work the system, the institution, the traditions, the rules.

And Jesus says to me today, “Just walk what you know.” Do that? And your understanding will be sunshine on a Spring day.


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Album cover: Through the Open Door by Michael Anthony Miller

When formidable times come, it is more difficult to hang on to the truth of God’s sovereignty. Circumstances overwhelm the big picture and pain distorts understanding. Evil plays its hand and mocks the hand of God, claiming apparent victory. But we must look for the open door . . .

Revelation 3:7b-c
. . . These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The supreme sovereignty of the Christ is captured in a single phrase about him, that is, the one “who holds the key of David.” The prophecies spoke of long lasting rule to the line of David in Israel. But even this rule was broken by imperfect rulers and inconstant followers.

While Jesus, the son of God, was perfect in plan and execution of God’s will, and now holds the key in perpetuity and rules humankind forever as the Christ.

This idea doesn’t sit well with human. We are a feisty, independent bunch and like our self-determination, despite the rocky outcomes (wars, rumors of wars, famine, uncontrolled disease, gluttony, murder, and conquest, just to name a few). We blissfully select presidents, prime ministers or simply allow dictators and totalitarians to rise up among us, but we (and I speak as “human” here) cringe or shrink away from the possibility of a divine God, a force unequaled on Earth, an entity outside of time but able to enter time at will. Why are we able to reconcile the one and not the other? Is it just too much science fiction?

There is an extremely traditional painting of Jesus standing at a door knocking, based on Revelation 3:20a, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. . . .” a verse used to indicate that Jesus, like a visitor, is waiting to be invited into our homes, into our hearts. It’s a kind depiction.

But I have a stronger image, that of the open door. This representation is not from Christ’s perspective, waiting to be invited in, this is from my perspective, an invitation to walk through with no strings attached, the invitation implicit in its openness.

It reminds me of a phrase I tell people from out of town, particularly those I like very much and I want to communicate my fondness to them: “Please, come anytime, our door is always open.” I want them to feel free to enter, whether I am at home or not, because I trust them with my home, my sanctuary, my heart.

Jesus trusts me in that way too. And you.

Christ Jesus has the authority to open the door and keep it open until any human can see it, believe it, and walk through it. On the other side is sanctuary.

I remember hearing a story about people who were locked up in cages for a long time but when the door was opened, they did not leave the cage. Outside the cage, all was unknown. Inside the cage, all was familiar. Fear held them inside. Love is patient and kind and waits.

The only bad thing I can see about this open door is the ability of traffic to go both ways. I would love to say I went through the door once and never turned back. Not true. I have stepped back into the old world many times but each time, the open door draws me back, the spirit of God draws me, and I find my way through again.

Come and see, the door is still open. Like the tomb, open. Be set free.

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A fantasy story line comes to mind: certain characters are entrusted with a secret stone or message or magic phrase and they are called to face numerous odds to protect it, embrace it, and nurture it. With each successful engagement, the power enlarges but so does the evil that opposes it. Each time, engagement becomes more difficult. The opposition is weighty.

Jude 1:3b
. . . I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

It’s fanciful I know, but I think, as believers, we sometimes lose the wonder of what we have in the Christ: that Holy Spirit, that Truth, that potential for joy and peace within. The experience of eternity is within. It is the spirit, after all, that lives on after the body fades. Part of the message we hold determines the quality of our eternity. We also lose track of the power of the opposition, as well as its inventiveness and ability to dissemble.

Does anyone else wonder why the message was sent in that particular era dominated by the Roman empire? What was it about the plight of the Jewish nation (one of many) that compelled God to send the whole Story. The people cried Hosanna! (save us) and God sent the most unlikely Savior, not a general leading a great army to destroy the Romans but a baby born to a couple of poor folks.

No instant messaging was available, no news feed, no reporters on the scene. In fact, what witnesses there were, few had much credibility: shepherds (one of the most disreputable “professions” of the day) were supposedly informed by a sky full of angels? Right. And what were they smoking? Or, what about those foreign guys: mystics and astronomers that weren’t even of the faith? They probably had an ulterior motive. I mean, the people closest to the event (like the innkeeper, let’s say), don’t seem to have much place in the story or what about all those other people who were stuck in Bethlehem for the census? No, I think it was a pretty hushed affair, just another baby and just another mouth to feed.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. [Luke 2:19]

Mary was the first one who was entrusted with a truth, a power, a hint of what was to come. She did not stand on a street corner and declare the message. She didn’t start a blog or expect special treatment. She didn’t go to the governor and display her treasure. She waited. Her role was not truly expanded until after the death and resurrection of Christ.

I am entrusted with faith. I accepted the quest, the mission. But I am not so sure I have been wholly conscious of my role. Or perhaps, that full expression of my understanding as been successfully undermined by the adversaries.

I think my next foray should be covered with a backup. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” [Matthew 18:20] I need to find those partners, like the trio from Harry Potter or the Three Musketeers or even, the three disciples who knew Jesus the best.

It’s a journey all right and it’s a journey that is best taken together.

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We have three foundations to belief in God: faith, hope and love. And although love is the greatest of these (I Corinthians 13), Peter exalts faith. Much like the challenge of loving an enemy, faith too must do battle, but with doubt.

I Peter 1:7a
So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] . . .

No one wants to go through trials and grief, but there is no question that difficulties make human stronger. Whether those situations give more experience or wisdom, they also build faith. This is nothing new.

Today, however, I pondered the idea of faith being precious though challenged. What would make faith so dear, so prized, so valuable that it must also “suffer slings and arrows?” At its root then, faith must be protected, or at the least, treated with great care.

I think about the absurdity of the treatments often used to fight cancer, chemicals that kill all fast growing cells and ultimately, a few others along the way. The body is threatened with death with each and every treatment. And yet, if the body can survive, can withstand the treatments, there is a chance for remission. Core cells are needed to sustain life: they are precious.

There are core cells to faith as well. It is the pulsing center of faith, the heart. Where is this heart? I don’t know. I think it’s different for each person, but I believe it’s the “Keep” of faith and must be revered.

I believe each person has a faith-planting moment. Perhaps it’s the point of accepting the Christ leadership or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or perhaps it was a miracle like healing or escape from danger. For me, it was the day I stepped into my apartment in New York and I had a “whoosh” feeling, dropped everything from my arms onto the floor and wandered around my apartment singing the only Christian song I knew: “Jesus Loves me, this I know” for about forty minutes, over and over again. I knew that I knew that God was real and I would follow and believe. My precious faith was born that day.

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Artwork by Gretchen Smith

Most of us know the short verse, “Jesus wept” [John 11:35]. We might even get a warm and fuzzy feeling at the picture of a sympathetic Christ, weeping for his friend. But how often does anyone quote this verse in Hebrews, where Jesus cries out loud and sheds tears before God?

Hebrews 5:7
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

After a quick look at some of the commentaries, it’s interesting to me that most writers place all this “weeping and wailing” right before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane, as though this is the one time Jesus encountered his destiny and travailed before the Father. But I propose that the prayers and supplications of Jesus were ongoing. Think about it: how many times did Jesus miraculously escape the authorities? How many times did he suspect danger in his life, anticipate a shortened ministry, protect himself and his work by discouraging loose talk or gossip among his followers?

Jesus knew his life was forfeit but I can imagine him praying regularly, “Not yet . . . not yet. Give me a little more time.”

Jesus needed help and protection from God continually, not just in the garden, but throughout his ministry life. And in the same way that he emptied his heart and soul before God at Gethsemane, I believe he did this regularly and undoubtedly during many of those solitary prayers he sought out on the mountainsides, away from the disciples.

Lastly, I am intrigued by the idea of a noisy Christ. I mean, I don’t know about you, but a mental picture of Jesus roaring or wailing before God is difficult to wrap my mind around. And yet, why not? Isn’t it culturally appropriate? Would Jesus be “above” such behavior, such expression of need, desire, or supplication? Not at all.

I have experienced deep crying out to God and weeping but only at those times of deepest despair, betrayal, or fear. When I cried out to God at such times, I confess, it wasn’t that I put all my trust in God, I was merely bereft of hope, overwhelmed, and felt as if there was nowhere else to turn, I was “poor in spirit.” It was my last chance.

I wonder, were there circumstances and situations that Jesus did not expect to happen? Was he ever surprised (or surprised all the time)? Did he expect/hope his follower-disciples would “get it” sooner than they did (or did they get it while he was still alive at all?); was he troubled by the masses of people who easily followed him day after day for “bread and fish” but could not grasp the food of the Spirit; was he frustrated by his own inability to break through thousand-year-old traditions and beliefs? Did he cry out to God the day he called himself the “bread of life” and taught them about eating his flesh and drinking his blood–so many deserted him that day. I can imagine him saying, “Father, how do I reach them?”

And yet, each day, he submitted again and again and again to the role he was given to endure (in the order of Melchizedek); he pressed on. He woke up, he prayed, he taught, he ate, he miracled. And finally, he reached that God-ordained last day, that last supper, and that last prayer. My spirit tells me now: his garden prayers were not the first time he bled in sweat nor flooded the ground with his tears. His life in the Father was full of prayers and supplications every day.

Holy tears for me. Thanks be to God.

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It’s hard to change and then return to one’s old environment. So often, acquaintances and even family can’t see the metamorphosis, or they resist the transformation, or worse, they treat the person as though nothing has happened. It’s obvious, if Onesimus changes, then so must they.

Philemon 10-12
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

When I first accepted Christ, back in the day, I woke up the next morning (Christmas morning, actually), and felt compelled to tell my family that I had made a huge decision in my life, a new commitment to Christ. My mother stared at me momentarily and then said, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass,” and went back to drinking her morning coffee. In essence, don’t be ridiculous.

Men and women who are released from prison often find themselves thrown back into the same crowd and ultimately the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Generally, a former prisoner is better off starting over in a new setting, a new town, a fresh beginning. But the loneliness and lack of support is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged for the “new” self. The decision to change is hard work.

Alcoholics and addicts are constantly undermined by friends and family, with phrases like, “oh, just once won’t hurt you,” or “it’s a special occasion, come on!” Even dieters are sabotaged with offers of cookies and treats over and over again. What is the message? Don’t change. Don’t make me adapt this new self. Don’t make me look at myself in a new way by your decision to take a different path.

Onesimus escaped the household of Philemon as one person and under the loving care of Paul, became a believer and follower of Christ. He was not longer the same man. In order to successfully return to Philemon, he would need the support and acceptance of that family. They would have to look with new eyes, hear with new ears, and willingly, break old habits and build new ones.

Twitter was ablaze yesterday about men and women who made decisions to follow the Christ. But what happens next? They must still walk back through the same front door, sit at the same kitchen table, and wake to the same alarm this morning. They must go to work and wonder, can anyone tell? Should I say something? What do I say? And if I do say something, will I be under the microscope?

What is my role in such a scenario? I remember an old friend who hated being called “Tammy.” I asked what she really wanted and she said she wanted to be called “Tamera,” her given name. And so we agreed, she would commit to telling people of the change and I would commit to the new name. It took about six months but it worked; she grew into her beautiful name and so did others. Change is a team effort.

Lord, today, give me sensitivity to the personal revolutions of others around me. Show me how to be a safe haven for new things, new birth, new hope, new directions.

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