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Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

follower of ChristBecoming a follower of Christ was a choice. I did not choose under a haze of emotion or outside pressures or a well-meaning but overly enthusiastic “witness,” but upon completing my first cover to cover reading of the New Testament. The question that came to my mind was simple: Is Jesus the truth or a lie? And despite all my arguments, this one belief found root. Jesus is and was and is to come, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end [Revelation 22:13]. And when the chapter (and the book) ends with these words, “Even so, come Lord Jesus,” I accepted this Way. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord. [Joshua 24:14b-15, CEB] I cannot convince anyone of anything. I cannot “make” you or anyone believe what I believe. I can only speak of this core of Spirit that was born that day and has blossomed into an integral part of myself. Are there things I don’t understand? Of course. Do I ask for clarification? I do. And one day, I believe, though I “see through a glass darkly” still, I will have the fullness of wisdom. But for now, I will hold fast to my God, my Jesus. One of my beloved and venerated church mystics is Julian of Norwich. Some of her sayings capture my meaning today:

Julian of Norwich and her cat

Julian of Norwich and her cat

See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?” and

“Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.” [from Revelations of Divine Love]
and most well known of all,
 “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”
So, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

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Photo by Irm Brown

Photo by Irm Brown

It’s more than likely that our use of “rise and shine” for waking someone up in the morning derived from this biblical reference. The history of the phrase found even more traction in the military and apparently, it’s use is around the world, although the British tend to add, “wakey-wakey” to it.

Arise [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you—rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! [Isaiah 60:1, AMP]

Let us return to the biblical reference however for it is quite rich in meaning. I am particularly struck by the elaborated Amplified version which gives us more information about the original Hebrew; specifically, arise from depression and difficult circumstances to a new day, a new life, a new opportunity.

We choose to arise, whether it’s from our beds or from a dreary despondency (I’m not speaking of clinical depression here). Even those who are deep in the mire of chemical dependency are often told they will hit rock bottom before looking up. It’s a small moment, this turning with “I will.”

Along with that first instant comes the next: a promise to shine; not with our own power or light but with God’s power and light. When a person surrenders to the Presence, then light rises within and fills the “temple” (body/soul) [I Corinthians 6:9]. And with this light, we can truly “see.” Another word for this encounter is revelation (understanding).

Wakey-wakey!

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futurepicThere are many roads we take in life and it’s best to understand from the beginning, those roads cannot be traversed again in reverse. They are one-way streets. Thus saith the Lord.

” . . . because the Lord told you: “You will never go back by that road again.” [Deuteronomy 17:16b]

I hadn’t really thought about this before but it’s meaning jumped from the page. We may think, like the old adage that were are going “two steps back and one step forward” or we might assume, that one could “backslide” and fall into old bad habits or old friends or old situations. But the truth is that time marches only forward in our human world. And no experience can be repeated in the same way because we are already older because of it.

My adopted Russian daughter often bemoans her inability to return to her native land to see the city of her grandmother and the places where she played as a child. But those places are long gone already, trees that embraced climbing children have been cut down and woods replaced with roads and bridges. That world is gone. Nor will her St. Petersburg ghetto look the same, even if the buildings are still there, she would not be able to see them with the same eyes of childhood.

I, too, experienced this throwback when I traveled to Indianapolis last week for a conference. I walked the old streets, once known for danger and poverty, now filled with brightly colored “painted ladies” and signs announcing the charms of living on the “Near Northside.”

lines_hold_the_memories_by_agnes_cecile-d38y67i

Lines Hold the Memories by Agnes Cecile.

All we have is memories and they are capricious at best, unreliable and re-framed by the world that came afterwards. We color our memories because we have to or because we don’t really remember. We forget on purpose then or we pick through the images most vividly repeatedly in the time capsule we assign to reruns.

Like Robert Frost, we pick our roads as best we can, based on what we know in the moment, on that day. We pick and we walk and sometimes we look back, maybe even run back to try another, but the intersection is no longer the same, the circumstances that added up to that choice have changed.

There is no point either, crying over what has been lost, for we’ll never know exactly what that “would” have been or “could” have been. We only have today, or now, and tomorrow.

Evil sometimes tries to re-write the past to serve its purposes for the moment; that being done by both evil regimes, governments or dictatorships as well as personal evil presence and people. Those false memories have only as much power as we choose to give them.

And so it is, for this reason, that I am grateful for a faith rooted in the God of “new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17], of redemption and forgiveness. The Christ, who brings hope and renewal. Yesterday cannot be relived but the influence and even catastrophic scars can be absorbed and although the past is not rewritten, it’s power can be mitigated and softened. We don’t need the details of back then. We need trust in what will be and can be.

We are given the gift of possibility through the redeeming work of Christ Jesus. This I believe.

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surrenderIt’s an unpleasant word: bondage. It brings up all kinds of lascivious images of chains and whips and leather. It’s the new interpretation of the word; it’s the culture in which we live. But in this case, it’s about slavery and compulsion and captivity. It is the antithesis to freedom.

During the time before you knew God, you were slaves to powers that are not gods at all. But now, when you are just beginning to know the one True God—actually, He is showing how completely He knows you—how can you turn back to weak and worthless idols made by men, icons of these spiritual powers? Haven’t you endured enough bondage to these breathless idols? [Galatians 4:8-9; The Voice translation]

And the phrase that I keep hearing is “haven’t you endured enough bondage . . . ” How much more do I need to experience before I finally set free from my old self, my old habits, my old way?

I have read that a body, once overweight, believes that higher weight is the norm. As a result, despite conscientious diet and exercise, the body will continue to betray and crave. It wants the old me back again: indulgent and insatiable.

Haven’t you endured enough? Haven’t I endured enough? I have.

I want everything that God has for me.

When I was just a baby believer, trying to figure out what it even meant to follow Christ and how it would change me . . . or, did I even want to change? No, not back then. Truthfully? I wanted everything to stay the same, just add in the Jesus bit. I thought I could treat Jesus like a spice, just sprinkle it on top. That is not how it works. Not really. And especially not if I say the words and surrender.

And I did. I waved the white flag back then and again and again and again. Each time, each year, a new surrender, a new discovery.

That’s been the journey; two steps forward, one step back. But I feel as though I am coming to a new place, a fork in my road, a new terrain. It’s like the last push before reaching the top of the mountain.

Ready.

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Art by Favianna Rodriguez

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

But while he [the prodigal] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20]

It’s not that I didn’t know what compassion means. And yet, despite reading or hearing the prodigal story hundreds of times, I never put the father in this state: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” [dictionary.com]

I had always read longing and forgiveness into the father’s response, that he ran to the son out of love and joy. However, I finally see, compassion means that the father was struck by the extent of his son’s calamities and he did the only thing he could do for the young man: show him love and acceptance. The son had punished himself enough already. 

The results of the son’s disastrous choices were all over him. Where he had left the family home as a gallant young “prince” among men; he had returned as a slave. And although he would never again be landed (since the he wasted away his inheritance), he was still a son. Life would not be the same in that household: from that point forward, I am guessing the son would have to serve both his father and his brother. He would have to work. And if he wanted an independent life, he would have to create it for himself, save money and rebuild. The one thing he would have was safety and hopefully, a willingness to be instructed.

When I was so sure I knew my way, I too floundered. I wasn’t given my inheritance (for there was none really, in my family’s poverty), but I knew how to work hard and support myself. But I spent all of my money unwisely. I indulged my fantasies without examining them. I looked at the “good life” and yearned for it. And since I couldn’t have it in reality, I tried to have it in reflection: dress that way, spend that way, play that way, drink that way. But of course, the “way” continued to be a pretend world.

I was on a downward spiral. And although I never hit rock bottom as so many must before they turn back or step out of the maelstrom, the direction I was heading is so clear to me in in hindsight. Drugs, alcohol, and carnality were my daily bread. I was not a slave to them yet, but soon. From this, like the prodigal, I turned and tried on the arms of God. I am one of the lucky ones.

But I still have that personality. I still make impulsive choices, I can still spend recklessly, and I indulge both my whims and my children. I still have an addictive personality and can become somewhat obsessed with an idea or incident or food or whatever. I even catch myself yearning for the mega millions jackpot, as though money alone would solve my woes.

It took me a long time, really, to become a true believer, a Christ follower, a Christian even. I could never quite believe I’d done it, given up that other dream of fame and fortune and notoriety in the Big Apple. For the longest time, I went through the motions of extreme faith from “not quite authentic” manifestations of the charisma to dancing and laughing and anything else that would keep my mind occupied and keep me busy. I just kept adding and adding to my plate.

But today, I see that my plate is being stripped away. And I am getting back to the truth of me. And I know my God has compassion for me now just as He/She did when I came to the Spirit quite raw. I am not that other kind of prodigal anymore. I am shedding the layers of “shoulds” and working toward the inner sanctuary of my heart to a me I have never revealed before or known. She has been lost for a long time.

 

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Photo by Ed Rybczynski

Photo by Ed Rybczynski

Leaving is not easy. Starting over is never easy either. But sometimes, that’s all we can do. Circumstances and time and emotions come to a head, and it’s clear, something must change. At this time of year, we mockingly call them resolutions (and I say mocking, because we laugh at our poor resolve over the years). But true change is no joke. True beginnings are powerful and even painful.

Genesis 31:3; 17-18
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” . . . Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels,and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram,to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

Meaningful change is rarely made overnight with a glass of champagne in one hand and horn in the other. It’s rarely a wish list; it’s a must list. That kind of break with the past comes after a build up, a collection of situations, a norm that is no longer acceptable.

Often it takes an epiphany or insight, a new view of an old way, that becomes the impetus for change or builds a desire or appetite for metamorphosis. We see with new eyes. We see reality. We see truth. And it is longer acceptable.

In Jacob’s world, it took more than fourteen years to realize that something had to change. He had achieved the short-term goal of acquiring wives and even children, but he was still dependent on Laban. It was time to grow up.

I remember making a very small discovery, probably in my late twenties, that there was no one who would be picking up after me. If I chose to leave dirty dishes, they would be there the next day. If I put my clothes on the floor, they would remain. If I forgot to water the plants, they would die. If I wanted my immediate environment to be pleasant and acceptable, I would have to do it.

But sometimes, the changes are more challenging, like women who have entered abusive relationships or tied themselves to addictive personalities or other enslavements (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, television, and other mind-numbing substitutions for living). To see these situations in their true form is beyond difficult and may require divine intervention.

For myself, I pray for open eyes this day, to see clearly. I pray for God’s revelation and direction. I pray for loved ones whose eyes are still closed. I pray for my role in their lives. I pray for grace and mercy and courage. I ask for epiphanies to abound.

Today. Not resolutions but meaningful change.

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hamsterPoor Esau. I mean it, really. Loses his birthright at the hands of his clever brother and then loses his blessing. In the natural order, he was “due” both of these things, and yet, at birth, it was prophesied while still in the womb that one would be stronger than the other and the older would serve the younger. Isaac’s blessing merely hammered that one home.

Genesis 27:34-35
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

So, what is left for Esau? What blessing does he get? Nothing much to write home to Mom about: no fruitfulness from the earth, no dew from heaven, live by the sword and serve your brother.

Like a little hamster on a wheel, much energy with no reward. Esau’s fate was being put through a very narrow opening. He lost so much and did not realize the true seriousness of it until it was too late.

Am I the same? Haven’t there been warnings along the way? Didn’t I know my choices were taking me down the road? Didn’t I sense trouble? I did, but didn’t trust it. I just kept on. Forged ahead. Assumed it was fine. All would be well.

Of course, in some ways, that is true. God showed up and did some circumstantial transformation. But there was a great cost. There were many losses along the way. I didn’t come to the things of God until my late twenties, a failed marriage, a failed career, and an isolation that can be called loneliness in the midst of chaos.

We all make mistakes in those years, don’t we? If only, if only, we had paid attention. Esau didn’t. I didn’t. So, the end has come out better than I deserved. Truly. But I know, in my heart, I know, I missed the blessing originally intended for me. I neglected the opportunity.

But, the grace of God is still greater than my error. I have a life, a family, children, a house, a car, a job. I have a comfort that is beyond anything I expected or deserved. I see that clearly. But I still remember those other days, those days when I lost the blessing intended for me. Not by the deceit of another, but by my own near-sightedness.

Forgive me Father.

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