It’s All About Him

Since I haven’t written much about Jeremiah for a while, I thought I would just post about him again this week.  Love this guy!

Towards the end of Jerusalem as they knew it, when it became very apparent that the city and the Temple of the Lord were on the verge of total destruction by the army of King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave Jeremiah a personal word.  In Chapter 32, He told him that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to come to him and ask him to buy his (Hanamel’s) field back in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town.  God told Jeremiah to buy the field from Hanamel.

There are a couple of pieces of background information helpful in making my point:  1)  Jeremiah was “…shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the house of the king of Judah (in other words, he was in jail) when God gave him this word; and 2) it was part of the Jewish law that if someone became poor enough that they needed to sell their land then their closest living relative had an obligation to buy it from them (very simplified explanation of this complicated law) in order to keep the land in the family.

So, just to be clear, Jeremiah was in jail; the entire country was getting ready to fall to the hands of the King of Babylon; Hanamel (Jeremiah’s cousin) had become poor; and God told Jeremiah to buy his land from him.

I don’t know about you, but in the natural, this makes absolutely no sense.  For us, this would be like buying a house in downtown Baghdad right after the United States declared war on Saddam Hussein.  Crazy, right?

Not only did God tell Jeremiah it was going to happen, it actually did.  And Jeremiah bought the field for seventeen shekels of silver.  According to Jeremiah 32:14, Jeremiah had two copies of the deed, “…put in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.”

Why?  It was a symbolic act meant to demonstrate the promise of God to His rebellious people that after their 70-year exile He would bring them home.  According to 32:15, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’”

Getting around to my point about living an abundant life in Christ…even in the crummiest circumstances we ALWAYS have hope.  Even when our crummy circumstances are our own fault we can still have hope.  At this point in the book of Jeremiah, jail (Jeremiah was imprisoned), poverty (Hanamel had to sell his land), and defeat (the Babylonian’s destroying Jerusalem) were not the end of the story.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Why?  Because even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith, not our enemies and not even us.

Even though the Jews had completely rebelled against God here was His promise to them:

Jeremiah 32: 36 – 44 (ESV) –  “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.  “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

Notice how that entire passage is about what God is going to do.  It’s about what only He can do.  You know what our job is?  Believe Him and trust Him to be Who He says He is and to do what He says He will do even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That’s it.

The gospel of John calls it abiding.  Paul calls it reigning in life.  I call it wonderful.

Stay tuned next time for:  “Well, It’s a Little Bit About Us”

Jesus Is Reigning in Life

I haven’t written much about our study on Jeremiah recently.  The truth is that this study is hard.  The message is heavy and sad.  And the more I learn the more I realize just how difficult Jeremiah’s life was.  I’ve talked about it before, but even now after being in this study since January, I have tears in my eyes thinking about what he endured in this life in order to serve his God and serve His people.

Not only did he share virtually the same message for well over forty years (he probably not only sounded like a broken record, he probably felt like one, too), but he was hated and despised for it.  People tried to kill him.  His own family members (the men of Anathoth) plotted against him.  God told him not to marry or have children, so he was devoid of seemingly even the smallest human comforts (no wife to hug him or little Jeremiah’s or Jeremina’s to jump in his lap after a long day of prophesying).  He often had to hide.  He was held prisoner in a cistern and almost starved to death.  There are many parts of the book that indicate he wrestled with his emotions (anger, fear, grief, and intense loneliness) and suffered with doubt and confusion – just like us.

All he truly had was the Lord.  And while we might not like to think about it this way, Jeremiah the Prophet reigned in life.  He reigned in life because all he had, everything he hoped in was all wrapped up in El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.  He needed no one and nothing else.

God hasn’t called many of us to the type of ministry that He called Jeremiah to.  But we all face challenges (if you don’t and your life is seamless and perfect, email me, we need to have coffee so I can find out what kind of meds you and/or your family are on):  difficult jobs, health crisis (what’s the plural of crisis?), financial challenges, marriage difficulties, rebellious teenagers and 10,000 other possibilities.  I have been in seasons of my life where I have experienced several of them at the same time.

The question for us is, if nothing about our circumstances improved or even if they actually got worse, is Jesus enough?  Is the All Sufficient God of the Universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth enough for us?  Or are we willing to say that anything (pick one or pick five above) has the power to undo us?

When we stop fighting our circumstances and start embracing our Savior, we have abundant life.  When Jesus is enough we are reigning.

Led Not Driven

One Wednesday night a couple of summers ago I sat in my church listening to my pastor, McLean Faw, teach on John 10, the passage about The Good Shepherd.  Not one day has passed since that I haven’t thought about that message.  I can’t remember it word for word (I am sure I could find it in one of my MANY notebooks somewhere), but the heart of the message from God to me was, “Sheep are led, not driven.”

Sitting there that night I was weary.  And I had been weary for a very long time.  I had hit the wall again, yes the one that has made my eye wonky, and not only did I know I didn’t have it in me to pick myself back up, I knew I didn’t even want to.  Those words, “Sheep are led, not driven,” were like cold water to someone who’d been in the desert way too long.

He went on to explain the difference between sheep and cattle.  The shepherd goes ahead of sheep and the shepherd’s own sheep will follow him wherever he goes.  Cattle are driven from behind, poked and prodded and pushed.  They won’t just follow where they are led, they have to be driven.

I was being driven, by the lies of the enemy and desires of my own flesh, toward what I thought was the life God expected of me – living a life of just TRYING HARDER to be perfect, to make myself acceptable.

Right there in John 10, where Jesus is sharing about the relationship between The Shepherd and His sheep, He reveals His purpose for coming.  The whole point behind God putting on an earth suit, submitting Himself to the care of flesh and living apart from His divinity for 30+ years:

John 10:10b (AMP)“… I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

Abundant life is following the Lord wherever He leads, not running towards a goal, a destination.  It’s focusing on the relationship with Him and others, not striving for a particular result.  It’s being wide open to all the possibilities available to us in Him not hyper-focused on the outcomes we desire.

Lord, give us ears to hear Your voice and help us to follow The Way to abundant Life.  Thank You that Your intentions toward us are always good and through the blood of Jesus we are righteous.

It’s Not Without Risk

The last post contained three VERY key messages from our Father, straight to our hearts.  They are so important (and I am so slow and forgetful) that I just want to recap: 1) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; 2) your flesh patterns (another word for coping mechanisms) are not who you are; and 3) your flesh (and mine) was never designed to work in the first place.

Now that I’ve covered lots of things that definitely aren’t found in abundant living (TRYING HARDER, fear, and self-sufficiency), it’s time to look at some things that are (I heard the collective sigh of relief from your side of the screen :)).  The first one I want to talk about is honesty.  I know it seems obvious, but is it really?

This week in our Bible study group we got to an interesting place in Jeremiah chapter 26.  In that chapter God tells Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, and speak to ALL those who come to worship ALL the words He commands.  And then just for emphasis God says, “Do not omit a word!”  And yes, the NASB includes the exclamation point (verse 2).

Here is what God has Jeremiah say:

Jeremiah 26:4-6 (NASB) “And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you,  to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.”’”

And here is the response of all who heard the words from God:

Jeremiah 26:8 (NASB) “When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You must die!”

Let’s just camp here for a minute.  Jeremiah faithfully gave the word of the Lord and the immediate response of the people was a call to kill him.   Can you imagine the look on Jeremiah’s face as they turned to grab him?  I am sure he was confident of what the Lord called him to say, but don’t you think that at that moment he must have quaked in his sandals just a little bit?

If this were a game of chess then in a natural sense we’d have to question Jeremiah’s next move.  He restated God’s first message to them (vv. 12-13) and then added:

Jeremiah 26:14-15 (NASB) “But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight.  Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and on its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

In a very difficult, stressful, life and death situation, Jeremiah fully placed his trust in the Lord (he said he was in their hands, but we know who he really trusted in, right?) and he spoke the truth.  He didn’t back down.  He didn’t soften the message.  He didn’t run.  He didn’t even burst into tears.  Even when his life was on the line he spoke the truth.

I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself in a life and death situation that depended on what I did or did not say, but I have been in plenty of VERY UNCOMFORTABLE situations where I was so worried about what was going to happen next (e.g. someone yell at me, someone get angry with me, someone not like me, etc.), that I either didn’t say what I was thinking at all or I didn’t say exactly what I was thinking in order to soften the message.

Let me bottom line it for you, I was not being truthful.  I was trying to protect myself and trying to control outcomes so that everything and everyone remained civil and polite.  But there was a war raging inside of me.

Not being honest about how you feel or what you really think (even if it is super ugly), is not abundant living.  It’s painful living.  When we do things to protect ourselves and control outcomes instead of trusting God, we are erecting walls around our hearts that keep Father God and those we love out.  Eventually there’s a price to be paid for it too – a cold heart.

Since I said we were going to start discussing what abundant living and reigning in life DO look like, let me turn my example around to say, honesty and transparency are hallmarks of abundant living and reigning in life.  But there’s risk involved, it can be dangerous to wear a tiara (or a crown in Jeremiah’s case).  It gives people the opportunity to do you harm, just like the people who wanted to kill Jeremiah.  But my trust isn’t in them, it’s in the Lord.  Every time I choose to be honest and transparent it demonstrates that trust and draws me closer to Him.  It opens my heart for intimacy with Him and others.

And Now, This Important Message from Our Sponsor

Actually there are several important messages, not just one, from Our Sponsor (Father God) I would like to share in this post.  If you have been following along in this series that I now affectionately refer to as ‘Tiara Tilters and Abundance Drainers’ (and even if you haven’t, all of the following is still true for you too because God is awesome like that), I have been focusing on what reigning in life and abundant life DO NOT look like according to God’s Word and how it has played out in my personal experience.

So the first message from Our Sponsor is:

Romans 8:1 (NASB) “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If you have personally identified with any of the ways I have lived a less than abundant life or recognize anyone that you know in my experience, know this, God is not here to condemn you about all the ways you’ve lived this Christian life wrong.  If that were true I wouldn’t make it out of bed each day…oh wait, I’ve done that.  But it was only a couple of times :), or three.  Please don’t judge me.

Know this too, I am not sharing any of this from a position of self-condemnation.  I am sharing as a woman on a journey.  I am not where I want to be, but I am not where I was either.  I used to live in that place of trying harder, fear, and self-sufficiency (and a hundred other things I will never have time to share and you would never want to read), but now I visit there less often.  I still battle my flesh daily, but my automatic, go-to responses for dealing with life are not the same.  So please don’t read this and think, “Poor Kim.”  While I would prefer to have done this all right the first time around, I realize that our experiences, even the horrendous-don’t-want-to-even-talk-about-try-hard-to-forget ones are all part of the process.

The second message from Our Sponsor is (and I would highly recommend you memorize this because it is life changing):

YOUR FLESH IS NOT WHO YOU ARE!!!

Galatians 2:20 (HCSB) “…and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. “

Just in case I haven’t been clear about this, when I (or anyone else) function in the ways I described above and in previous posts, I am living out of my flesh, as opposed to being led by the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.  Trying harder, fear, and self-sufficiency and all of their manifestations were simply coping mechanisms for dealing with the difficult things in life.  And just to make it even more clear, EVERYONE does this to some extent.  Life is hard.  We are frail.

Our coping mechanisms or flesh patterns are what we do, they are not WHO WE ARE.  It is very important that we get this distinction.  It’s the difference between behavior and identity.  As believers in Jesus Christ our identity is in Him.

As a funny/sad side note, about a year ago I really started getting a clear picture of my flesh and the scope of how it has impacted my life.  I realized that if someone asked most of the people I knew to describe me that they would do so based on my coping mechanisms.  I laughed and cried.  I began asking God to show me who I am apart from my coping mechanisms because the truth is I didn’t know.  I’ll let you know when I find out because He and I are still peeling that onion together.

The third and final message from Our Sponsor for this post iiiiiissssssss (can you hear the drum roll in the background, a big crescendo and a clash of cymbals?):

OUR FLESH WAS NEVER DESIGNED TO WORK, TO SUCCEED OR GET US THROUGH LIFE!

You know how I know this is true?

Romans 7:5(NASB)  “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.”

Romans 8:6 (NASB)  “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” 

John 6:63 (NASB)  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

The Father is all about giving us life.  The efforts of our flesh (good flesh or bad flesh, it doesn’t matter) bear the fruit of death.  And that my friends was one of the many ways I knew something was seriously wrong…I could smell the stench of rot in my life.  Everything I was busy doing or not doing was yielding a whole lot of what I like to call Death Fruit.  I dressed that fruit up, I made it look good, but I could never cover up the smell of rotting flesh.

So if you are confused, frustrated, noticing a bad smell following you around, asking God why you ever started reading this series or wondering where you go from here if it’s not supposed to work anyway, STAY TUNED!  It gets so much better!

Father, thank You that because of Jesus Christ we don’t live under condemnation, even when we fail or live in ways less abundant than You designed.  Thank You that we are not defined by what we do, but who we are in Christ.  And thank You that You love us so much that You desire us to live in intimacy with You.  I humbly ask that any area of my life where my flesh is propping me up that it would fail so that I can walk in deeper relationship with You.

Could Someone Help Me Straighten My Tiara?

I laughed to myself after my last post because I started thinking about how this series really could have been positioned as letters of apology to my family.  I didn’t live Trying Hard and Fearful somewhere alone in a cave.  I did it right up front and center in my own home.

I really would like to say thank you to my poor husband who is my polar opposite, but has loved me and endured all my attempts to figure this walk out for over 26 years.  When I talked about ‘mothering’ fearfully, I did use that word specifically because parenting is a two-person process (really five if you are wise enough to include the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).  When our girls were little my husband was definitely a ‘let-them-touch-the-hot-stove-so-they-never-do-it-again’ kind of guy, while I was a ‘let’s-cordon-off-the-entire-kitchen-so-they-never-even-know-there-is-a-stove’ kind of girl.  It never occurred to me that God had put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden in the first place AND had actually pointed it out to Adam and Eve.  I am a slow learner.

Somehow God knew that if He paired us together our kids just might make it.  And they have more than made it.  They are all three beautiful miracles who love God and all have their unique expression of Him.  It is a testimony to God’s goodness and not to any formula I managed to concoct and adhere to.

So back to ways not to reign in life…I always think of tiaras when I think of reigning (Princess Diana and Princess Grace rocked the tiaras!).

My mom likes to say that I was born 40 years old.  She was referring to the fact that I seemed so mature and responsible for my age, almost adult-like.

Well, on the outside it made me a ‘good’ child, but on the inside it was a crushing weight.  Somewhere along the way I believed a lie that I was responsible for EVERYTHING.  How I got there is complicated, but let me just say that all the approval I got for being mature, responsible and good, launched me on a life of independence and self-sufficiency.

I learned very early on that if I didn’t do it, no one else would.  Sadly, I even believed this about God.  I lived thinking (not necessarily consciously) He wasn’t very good at His job so if anything good was going to happen in my life I would have to make it happen.  There are a 1000 ways this played out like killing myself to get straight A’s in school, working full-time in high school, going to the right college, and above all else NEVER asking for help.

It’s a very lonely existence being Superwoman.  No one ever asks if you need anything because you’ve trained them not to.  And when you do raise your hand (think of a drowning person weakly lifting their hand above the surface of the water), often there is no response because you have so distanced yourself from others.  True community and relationships are forged in a mutual dependency on one another and God.  I knew absolutely nothing about that.

There’s a reason the Bible tells us to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’  We can’t walk this journey alone.  We either won’t get very far or we will be crushed under the weight of it.

The funny thing is I did have relationships, but they were based on need.  Other people needing me.  I forged fast friendships based on some way I could help others.  But when it came to my needs I felt as if there were something wrong with either having them or sharing them.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (NASB)“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

I thought that verse was just in there for the weak people.  I had no idea Jesus was talking to me and that in fact He had become my Sabbath rest.  I could actually cease striving for my own success because it was really all wrapped up in Him.

I didn’t get it until my good flesh stopped working for me.  I hit the wall.  Actually I hit the wall a bunch of times (maybe that explains my wonky eye???), but when I finally hit it and then could no longer pick myself back up it made me ask, “Why?”  Asking why and honestly being open to the answer was the beginning of a paradigm shift.

Bottom line:  Self-sufficiency is definitely another tiara-tilter and abundance-drainer!

And Then There Is Fear

Since this turned into something of a series on abundant life and reigning in life (see The Day After and Abundant Life?), it probably would have been helpful to title them consistently and add numbers.  I guess hindsight really is 20/20.  Thank you for your patience, I am learning as I go and really enjoying the process.

The process, I use that term loosely, but what I mean by that is sitting down and talking to the Lord about the things He is doing and has done in my life and asking Him to help me articulate them…as much for me as for anyone else.  So if it ever seems as if I am thinking out loud on the computer screen, I probably am.

My thoughts turned to abundant life and reigning in life as I reflected on the importance not only on the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, but celebration of the Resurrected life.  The truth is, as believers the cross represents the crucifixion of our old self (our human spirit that was dead to God), our burial, and our resurrection (us made alive together with Christ).  Shouldn’t our lives be different?  If ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ is true, well…that’s a total game changer, if we let it be.

Thinking about this it seemed the obvious place to start was with what abundant life is not, since that really is the part I am most familiar with :).  I think I made a good case in my last post for the idea that TRYING HARDER IS NOT ABUNDANT LIVING (is it true that when you use all caps it’s like raising your voice to your reader?  Please let me know because I want to scream that from the mountain tops)!  My life is an honest example of the truth in that statement.

Another honest example from my own life is that FEAR is not reigning in life.  The fact that I had so many of these to choose from (fear examples) made this post hard to write.  Fear based living could become a series within a series…or a book.  The easiest one to see is in how I mothered my girls.

Every decision I agonized over was based on the fear that if I made the wrong one their lives would be forever off-track, the perfect track, God’s track.  School was a big one for me.  I knew early on that homeschooling was not for us, but I didn’t feel public school was ‘safe’, so at great financial cost I insisted my kids go to Christian school for several years.  That way they would be in the right environment, with the right friends, learning the right Christian things to keep their lives on the right track.

It finally became financially obvious that we could no longer continue in Christian school, so we enrolled them in public school.  You know what?  In the beginning I felt very defeated by this, like I had failed and because of that the enemy had really gotten a victory.  However, it turned out to be the best thing we could have done for them (one more instance of lacking perspective).  Has it been perfect? No, but honestly the things we’ve faced in public school were not really any different from Christian school.  People are people wherever you go.

I am not advocating thoughtless, careless parenting, but at some point don’t you just have to trust that God is bigger than your mistakes?  I can’t protect them from every possible danger that can potentially come their way, but I can place my trust in the One who can.

While mothering has been a very pronounced example of how I’ve lived in fear, the truth is I’ve lived afraid of a lot of things.  Afraid that if I didn’t pray and read my Bible every day that I wouldn’t have God’s favor.  Afraid that if I made a mistake God wouldn’t love me, bless me, use me (fill in the blank).  Afraid that as a Christian I wasn’t representing God very well if my life wasn’t perfect (talk about carrying a huge weight – it’s a miracle I can even stand up straight any more).  Afraid that if I wasn’t doing enough for the Lord He might get angry.

What was I afraid would happen?  The absolute worst, whatever that was.

The apostle John had this to say about fear:

1 John 4:18 (NASB) – “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

John was exactly right.  I had met Perfect Love, but I didn’t really trust Him to be Lord.  I walked around waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting the punishment I was sure I deserved for all the mistakes I was sure I was making.

But you know how the Lord handles our mistakes?  He confronts them with His love, not His wrath.  Two of the biggest mistake makers in the New Testament, Paul and Peter, prove this.  Paul was actually murdering followers of Christ and was on his way to kill even more when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and you know what Jesus said to him?

Acts 9:4-6 (NASB) – “… and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am
Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the
city, and it will be told you what you must do.”

Paul wasn’t even a believer at that point, but Jesus simply confronted him with a question.  A question that immediately revealed to Paul (then Saul) what was in his own heart and who Jesus was.  And then He told Paul what to do.

Then there is Peter.  The disciple who swore his willingness to die for Jesus (John 13) and then turned around and denied even knowing Him that same night (John 18).  Talk about a mistake!  How did Jesus handle it?

John 21:15-17 (NASB)“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

Jesus dealt with his mistake by asking him questions that caused Peter to think and then He gave him instructions.  Just like He did with Paul.  Their mistakes were confronted by Perfect Love, not punishment.

So, all that to say, living in fear is NOT reigning in life, but apparently living loved IS.