Emerging from the Tomb

When I was about eight years old, I gave my life to Christ.  I bowed my knees and my head in front of our couch with my father and prayed the sinner’s prayer – and with all of my eight year old heart, I meant every word of it.  I wanted my sins forgiven and I wanted heaven.  I wanted that place of rest, perfection, and angels.  That place where I wouldn’t have to worry about getting everything right, I would then (sometime in the distant future) be right.

Unfortunately, my eight year old self missed a key component of the truth and in many ways I’ve been stuck there all these years.  I missed the fact that I wasn’t just forgiven of my sins, but I was actually crucified with Christ that day.  That day I died, but I didn’t know it.  I died and was resurrected as a completely new creature and from that point forward Christ was to live His life through me.  In hind sight I realize that like Lazarus, I heard Jesus call me out of the grave, out of death.  I answered, I said yes, but I never walked out of the tomb.

I’ve lived wrapped in my grave clothes, my flesh, all this time.  Instead of walking free, I’ve hobbled around bound.  Instead of walking in the Light, I’ve hidden in the dark.  Instead of living as a child of God, I’ve lived like a beggar.  Instead of walking in newness of life I’ve tried to resuscitate my dead flesh.  I’ve dressed it up to give it the illusion of life.  I’ve been very busy doing all the right things giving the appearance of life in Christ, but I was living in my own strength just spinning my wheels.

You know what the fruit of the flesh is?  Death.  We can’t manufacture life.  Only God gives life.

Many years ago, May of 1998, I believe, I heard Nancy Leigh DeMoss speak at a women’s conference in Atlanta, GA, about Jesus calling Lazarus forth from the grave in the gospel of John.  When I heard that message, you know who I identified with in the story?  The people who Jesus told to unwrap Lazarus’ grave clothes.  The people who were WATCHING the miracle.  The people Jesus gave something to DO.  It was a profound message.  It was a great message, but it reinforced a long-held belief that I have to DO in order to BE, that I have to perform for God to be accepted by God.

I have never, until very recently, identified with the one, Lazarus, who was actually resurrected.  The one who EXPERIENCED the miracle of new life. Isn’t that the gospel?  Dead people brought to life!  Resurrected people EXITING tombs, prisons of death, Light-less caves!

I am so grateful the Father has not left me in the tomb.  He has pursued me.  He has sent others to unwrap me with the message of grace.  As I daily soak in these truths I feel like one walking out of a tomb and into the Light.  Sometimes the Light is blinding and painful, but how freeing and how wonderful.  I feel like that eight year old girl is finally becoming the true version of herself that the Father ALWAYS intended.

My prayer every single day is, “Thank You Father for not giving up on me!  For being faithful to Your Word and NEVER leaving me nor forsaking me, for pursuing me and persuading me of Your love and of the free gift of Your amazing grace.”

Maybe you are wondering why on earth I would bare my soul this way.  Why would a woman who has hidden her entire life feel compelled to expose the ugliest parts of herself and, honestly, be naked in front of the world?  I don’t think I could say it any better than Elie Wiesel:

“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.” ~ Elie Wiesel on the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 10, 1986.

I know I am not the only one who missed the Truth and believed a lie.  My prayer is that my story will help unwrap someone else.

A New Adventure

The week before New Year’s my husband and I went out to dinner one night.  I talked to him about writing and how I have always wanted to write a book.  I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but I am sure I shared all the reasons I have come up with not to write (e.g. Do I have anything worth saying?  Do I have anything to say that someone else hasn’t already said or said better? I don’t know what I am doing.  Would anyone read it?).  Finally, he said, “Well, why don’t you just go ahead and write the book?”

That one question was all I needed to propel me to start this blog a few days later (a special thank you to my husband).  A blog seemed a natural first step.  It gives me the opportunity to practice the discipline of writing on a regular basis.  Knowing that even a few others will actually read what I publish adds an extra layer of tension, good tension, that makes me work harder at it.

Early on in this leg of my journey I shared here how writing has been a life long dream for me (see Living the Dream).  While writing in this space is definitely part of a fulfillment of that dream, if I really get down to it, writing a book has been the heart of my dream.

Last weekend as I was perusing some posts by other bloggers that I follow, I came across an intriguing piece of information.  A writing conference in October (that I haven’t even decided to attend or even talked to my husband about come to think of it…hhhmmmm) is hosting a contest for aspiring non-fiction authors.  The winner will receive a contract with a well-known publisher.  A light went on in the back of my mind.  Even if my idea doesn’t win the contest, having a specific deadline and knowing professionals would read my work really piqued my interest.

But then I thought, “I don’t know about this, maybe it’s just my flesh.”  So I said what all good Christian women say when asking themselves if it’s the Holy Spirit or their flesh, “I’ll take it to the Lord.”  So I took it to Him and walked away with more questions than answers, like, “Lord, when would I even have time to write a book proposal? ” and “Lord, where would I start?”  In other words, I tried to tell God why it’s not really a great idea.

Fast forward to Monday morning…I woke up with a lot on my heart, but nothing on my computer screen ready to publish  (I am trying to post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so that I get into a regular rhythm of writing).  So I poured out my heart on my laptop (no kidding, I really cried writing that entire post about the woman with the hair and the tears and I still have more to say about that) and then I hit Publish.  Immediately my heart dropped to my stomach because I had published without giving it a title.  I made a MISTAKE!!!!

The next evening, Tuesday, I decided to write my post for Wednesday.  I tried to prevent another hasty title-less posting accident by writing it in advance and scheduling it to publish at a pre-determined day and time.  However, when I went to Preview it I hit Publish instead (they both have P’s, right???).  My second MISTAKE in two days!  It was immediately confirmed, I have no idea what I am doing.  By the end of the week I was really asking myself why on earth I thought I could possibly write a book if I can’t even manage to publish a blog the right way?

But God…on Wednesday, while blow drying my hair and talking to Him (that’s about the extent of my multitasking abilities), He gave me my starting point, the basic layout of the book.  I could clearly see it in my mind’s eye.  On Friday, He answered my other big question, “When would I have time to write?” by freeing up a couple of blocks of time in my weekly schedule.  But then the lies started to creep in and the insecurities of my mistakes that week rose up and began to taunt me.

So I did the next thing Christian women sometimes do when they are feeling overwhelmed, insecure and lost…I hopped online and looked for a conference where I could go and gather with others who already know what they are doing and learn how they did it!  I could learn from them how to do it the right way, with no mistakes.  Two particular conferences (they shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) seemed ideal in terms of content and speakers, but the more I read about them the more anxious I became.  I heard the Lord whisper to me, “If I gave you the idea, the outline and the time, don’t you think I can give you the whole thing?”

He let me know right then and there this journey is about me and Him.  It’s about our relationship, not about a finished product.  My journey is unique and to try to do it the same way as anyone else would be fraudulent, fake, without substance.  It wouldn’t be a true representation of what He is doing in my life.

The bottom line is the Lord and I will be spending the next month working on a book proposal.  I don’t like not knowing what I am doing.  I don’t like being uncertain of the outcome.  But I love this journey of learning to depend on God; of pursuing a relationship without worrying about producing content; of  learning to abide in Him and bear fruit instead of being independent and trying to manufacture my own.

John 15:4-5 – “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Faith Comes by Hearing

Continuing on the theme of hearing and listening from my last post A Hearing Problem or Listening Problem?…on our girls weekend, not only did we spend lots of time laughing at my “hearing”, but once again we each brought an activity for us all to do together.  The water color exercise from last year (see Invited In) had really set the bar high, but in no way was I disappointed this year.  We made hand-painted clocks (LOVED THIS!) and sock snow men (LOVED THIS TOO!):

Riverbend Crafts!

For those of you who know I am not crafty, my snow couple and clock face are in the bottom left-hand corner…proof that miracles still happen today!  For the record, I was so pleased with my snow couple that they are on prominent display in my living room on the TV stand, not in the bottom of my sock drawer.

Back to hearing and listening…on Sunday morning though we had a very different activity.  My closest friend for over 20 years shared about how God has been transforming her spiritual walk simply by LISTENING to His Word read aloud to her by an app on her iPhone on the way to work every day.  She is so excited about what God has been doing in her life that she wanted us to experience it as well.

For the most part, when God’s Word was given it was read aloud to the people.  Paper was not readily available and even if it were, for a long period of history only certain segments of the population could read and write which necessitated the Scriptures being read to people.  Most of the New Testament was recorded in the form of letters that were circulated and read aloud to churches in different communities.  All that to say, God’s Word was initially recorded in order to be HEARD by most, not read by most.

Here’s how this went down:  we listened to the entire book of First John from beginning to end without our Bibles in front of us, without paper to take notes on, without stopping and rewinding, without talking.  We just listened.  It only took about 15 or 20 minutes.  Then we listened to First John 3, but this time we had paper to jot down anything that seemed to jump out at us.  Then we listened to First John 3 one more time.  Once we had listened we discussed what spoke to our hearts.

As a Precept Bible study leader, as a visual learner, as someone who does not process a single thought without somehow writing it, typing it, or discussing it, THIS WAS STRANGE and very difficult.  It demonstrated to me just how hard it is to really listen.  Not just hear words, but listen to the message, understand the heart of what is being communicated.  It was interesting that all six of us heard things that we had not seen before when we read it.  It was also interesting that different parts of chapter three spoke to each one of us, but once we started discussing it we found how it was all related.

A+ on this activity!  It got bonus points not only for content, but because my sweet friend invited us into a special part of her life she wanted us to share in.

The following week as my partner in crime my teaching comrade and I prepared for our Jeremiah lesson we decided to give the listening exercise a spin with Jeremiah 7 – 9.  What a huge difference it made.  After having done all the homework for the lesson, to listen to it read aloud to me really helped me to HEAR God’s heart in the message.  It’s very easy to get caught up in all the details of the message (what are the key words? who is speaking to whom?  what are the repeated words or phrases?) but to listen to it as a whole brought into focus the main point – yes He’s telling them all the ways they’ve sinned, but His heart is that they Know Him.  I’m not ready to trade in my colored pens and pencils for ear phones, but I am grateful to add this dimension to my time in God’s Word each day!

Romans 10:17 – “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

John 10:27 –  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

Deuteronomy 6:4 –  Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”

If you would like to give it a try, Youversion has a Bible app for both iPhone and Droid that allows you to choose your version (I use NASB and ESV) and reads it aloud.

Also, just in case you are interested, the place we stay on our weekend getaway is Riverbend in Sparta, NC.  It’s amazing – peaceful, beautiful, serene, even inspiring.  Love it!

A Hearing Problem or Listening Problem?

One Monday morning a few weeks ago I was sitting in my living room, drinking coffee, working on a post when my oldest daughter came flying down the stairs.  She had just gotten out of the shower, her hair was soaking wet and she was wrapped in a towel.  She was yelling, “There’s a buck…”, but what I heard was, “There’s a bug…”  She continued on, “in the back yard,” but my brain finished with, “in the bathroom.”

She took off with her iPhone to the kitchen trying to find the right position to take pictures.  I, on the other hand jumped up off the couch in search of a fly swatter and a roll of paper towels.  I took off up the stairs thinking that this must be one gross, mutant bug if she’s not coming with me, but she was standing at the back door staring outside trying to show me what was going on.  It took several seconds for my mind to shift gears, but once it did here is what I saw:

Monday Morning Visitor

It’s a little hard to see, but he really had a fairly large set of antlers.  We live in the city limits so this was so amazing to see in our back yard.  Sadly, The Great Hunter was at work and had to settle for pictures.

The next weekend was our annual girls’ getaway (I mentioned last year’s trip in a previous post Invited In).  Without totally humiliating myself let me just say I had two more episodes where people said one thing, but I heard another.  One girl friend told another, “Nice pearls,” but I heard, “Nice purse.”  The whole time she was telling this sweet story about the pearls I kept thinking, “Poor thing, she thought she asked about her pearls.”  The second incident happened at dinner when someone said, “…it was a B12 deficiency,” and I heard, “…it was beached whale deficiency!”  I was blessed to be with friends who love me and enjoy a good laugh.  (If at this moment you are at all concerned for me please know that my friends are praying for my hearing and my husband is saving money and taking donations for the hearing test I am obviously going to need in the future.)

What I found interesting about all three of these “episodes”, besides how funny they were, was how what I heard immediately caused my mind to think in completely the wrong direction.  Not only did I think in the wrong direction, but then my actions were determined by what I was thinking.  Let’s face it, a fly swatter and a roll of paper towels are not what I needed to take pictures of that beautiful deer in our back yard.

It has made me think about how often I face situations without all the facts and begin to make decisions or take action based on faulty information.  I’ve also been pondering how easy it is to make assumptions based only on part of the facts and how dangerous and hurtful it can be to those around me.  My “hearing episodes” above are funny, but it’s not so funny when I walk in on my kids in the middle of a disagreement and start doling out punishment without knowing the whole story.  It’s also not funny when I assume I know what someone else is thinking and judge them for it.

Father, You are the only One who sees all and knows all.  You alone search and try our hearts.  Give us the grace to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Let us see and hear with hearts full of Your grace towards others.

 

Tears of Grace

Reading my devotional last week, “One Thousand Gifts Devotional”  by Ann Voskamp, I ran headlong into the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair in the home of the Pharisee, Luke 7:

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

As I read the devotion (Day 39 if you are interested, and I hope you are) I wept.  I wept like I never have over the picture of this woman in the house of a Pharisee.  I moved on several days in my reading, but I couldn’t shake the one about the woman with the tears and the hair. It is such an intimate and passionate expression of love.  So this weekend when I had a little time I went back to it and asked the Father for revelation.

Reading it over and over, and crying over and over, I realized that in all the times I’ve read this in my life I have always identified with the Pharisee in the story.  The one who invited Jesus into his home, but not his heart.  The one who wanted to eat with the Savior, but not commune with Him.  The one who wanted to dialogue with Him, not be changed by Him. The one who didn’t even know he needed a Savior because he had done it all right. The one in the story who is being corrected and told what he has done wrong.

As I wept, for the first time I was identifying with the one who had been forgiven much and knew it.  Knew she was not just forgiven for sins she committed (behaviors), but for being a sinner (identity).  The woman who knew not only what she had done, but who she was and without the Savior, she wasn’t going to make it. We are all sinners by BIRTH not because of what we do.  It’s in our very DNA – the strands of Adam woven into every cell of our body.  Sinners will sin, there’s no surprise.  But receiving the whole gospel sets us free and cleanses us not just from what we have done, but changes who we are.  It gives us the freedom to live from a new identity, one with Christ.

I prayed the prayer of salvation when I was about eight years old, but I missed the part where my identity changed.  I was just another little girl trying to be good for Jesus.  Thirty-six years later my tears are gratitude not only for forgiveness of what I have done, but for who I now am because of Him.

Know Him

It’s Thursday afternoon, I am back from our Bible study class and brimming over with Jeremiah thoughts…

Two of the key verses we discussed today were, Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NASB):

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.  (Emphasis mine)

These verses are the culmination of a message that spans three chapters, 7 – 9.  To boil it down, God tells them not to rely on anything except understanding and knowing Him. Nothing else but relationship with Him can save.

From the beginning of chapter seven up until these verses God tells His people that they have been trusting in everything but Him.  They’ve been counting on the fact that they have God’s temple in Jerusalem, that they’ve been offering the appropriate sacrifices, that they have God’s law to save them from the coming judgment.  They were doing all the right things, but their hearts were not right.  They were offering their temple sacrifices (as they should) and then going out to steal, commit adultery, lie, and worship false gods (7:9-10).  In other words they didn’t understand and know their God and because of that judgment was imminent.

The word “know” is sprinkled throughout the first nine chapters of Jeremiah.  In all but one place it really refers to the fact that God’s people do not know Him.  Their sin had separated them from Him and they were not willing to return, repent and know Him.  It reverberates through the chapters like a heart cry of God…His own people did not know Him.  The people He created.  The people He called as a nation.  The people He led out of Egypt and gave the land of Israel.  The people who built His temple. Instead of obeying the voice of the Lord and following God they pursued the depths of sin leading them further away from Him.

But there was that one man…the first use of the word “know”, was Jeremiah 1:5a (NASB): “Before I formed you (Jeremiah) in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;” 

What a mind-blowing statement! God knew Jeremiah before He formed him in the womb. Before his earthly life began in utero. Before He was wrapped in flesh God knew Jeremiah. The hebrew word for know is yada.  It can refer to everything from simply knowing facts to being aware of something to knowing intimately (as in a husband knowing his wife).  When God tells Jeremiah He knew him, it is an intimate knowing, a oneness of the two.  That is what God is crying out for with His people in chapter nine, and all the other chapters leading up to it. He is telling them He wants to be one with them. He wants intimate relationship and fellowship with them. And dare I say, He wants it with us.

Know Me.  Know Me.  Know Me.  It echoes through the first nine chapter like a lament.  Like a husband crying out for his wandering wife (Hosea).  Like a father calling out for his lost children. 

Isn’t this also the message of the gospel? The message of grace?  Know Me.  He gave His Son simply to make a way for us to know Him. To fully give ourselves to relationship with Him. To know Him completely and be known by Him completely.  To have relationship with Him based on who He is, not what we do.

In the past I have really only thought about the gospel in terms of being forgiven of my sins (my behaviors) and going to heaven. Basically I reduced it to Behavior Management.  Now that doesn’t sound like the abundant life Jesus promised, does it?  the truth is, it’s so much MORE, and it’s SO MUCH BETTER! Abundant life is Christ living in us – us completely knowing Him and Him completely knowing us – being one with Him.  Now that’s a mind-blowing thought!

Blessed is the (Wo)Man Who Trusts in the Lord

After I hit publish on my last post, All. Is. Grace. I worked ahead to schedule the next two posts.  I like to tell myself that working ahead will help me avoid feeling the pressure of a deadline, albeit self-imposed, but the truth is once I schedule a post I still revisit it and edit it repeatedly before it “automatically” posts.  I need to ask the Lord to show me if this is actually helpful or if I am once again allowing my flesh to take center stage.

Regardless, in the midst of processing the last post (yes, once I hit publish, it’s not over for me, I continue to meditate, pray, think) and scheduling the next two posts, the Lord divinely interrupted my plan and gave me the following verses, Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NASB):

5 Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 “For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
8 “For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit. (Emphasis mine)

My heart was so encouraged by these words, and I pray your’s will be too.  The truth is as I have lived these long years out of my flesh instead of by the Spirit of God, my heart did turn away from Him.  I have been that short, stubby bush in the desert.  I’ve been dry and brown, never growing tall and strong.  I didn’t recognize prosperity when it came, in fact I ran from it.  I’ve camped in the stony, waste places of the wilderness, in a land of salt, dehydrated and utterly alone.

BUT God has pursued me and NEVER relented in His unfailing love for me.  In this season He has given me eyes to see and ears to hear.  He has chosen to reveal the truth of my mere existence, and lavished me with His grace.  He has unveiled the truth that through the blood of Jesus Christ I am loved, I am accepted, I am valuable to Him, and I am secure in Him simply because He says so.  You can hear this your whole life (and I have), but until it is shed abroad in your heart, you receive it, and you believe it, they are just words.

As I turn this corner led by the Spirit, away from my flesh, away from the lies, and towards Him, He has given me the promise above (v.7 – 8) that as I trust Him (not my flesh, not my strength) I am blessed.  I will no longer be that lonely, short, dry, stubby bush.  I will be a well watered tree, taller reaching heavenward.  I will have roots that keep me firmly planted and connected to the streams of life.  The heat is going to come, but the fear that has plagued me, tormented me, will no longer have power over me.  My leaves will be green, healthy and beautiful.  There will be no more of the anxiety that has consumed my life for fear that there wasn’t enough or worse that I wasn’t enough.  I will bear eternal fruit, that gives life and sustenance, simply by trusting in Him.  Resting in His love. Abiding in Him.

Thank You Father for sending Your Son so that we may all have life and have it more abundantly, a life way beyond necessity, an extravagant life, in Christ Jesus.