Play It Again: Love Transforms

This post originally went live in the spring of 2013, but it’s a message that plays over and over again in my mind.  Living Loved in relationship with the Father instead of living by expectations and rules…

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I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.

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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.

Abundant Life Remix

Since this series has gotten rather long I thought that taking a few minutes to re-cap might be helpful.  Well, I know it will be helpful for me anyway.  I don’t want the major ideas to be lost over time.

I began this series the day after Resurrection Sunday asking, from the perspective of believers in Christ, what it looks like to live abundant life and to reign in life.  I then started out with a few things that are what I have come to refer to as abundance-drainers and tiara-tilters:

  • TRYING HARDER  – my coping mechanism of choice (*one subsequent insight I have had about TRYING HARDER is that when we “try” something it is different from simply doing it.  Trying implies that we’re not sure of the outcome…that one’s free, so just chew on it for a while.)
  • Fear
  • Self-sufficiency (*another freebie – anything including the words “self” or “I” are probably going to work against you in terms of abundant living.  Abundant living is all about Jesus.)

Since there are so many abundance-drainers and tiara tilters I thought a very scientific assessment would be in order to help you if you were struggling to identify with any I had presented so far.

We then paused for a message of love from the heart of our Father, Love Himself:  there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ (absolutely NONE); our identity is not in our flesh patterns (coping mechanisms); and our flesh was NEVER designed to work in the first place – it was in fact designed to fail us (isn’t that comforting?).

At that point I began talking about things that DO characterize abundant living and reigning in life:

This is where we are so far.  Any questions or thoughts, friends?  Maybe you have something to add or maybe you have a different perspective, would love to hear it.

Stay tuned, more to come…

Love Transforms

I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.

Elf Yourself

Just as a follow-up to my snack food post, Guilt Free, I wanted to let those of you who may be wondering, the expensive snack I tried was good, but not great.  But since I realized I had built it up so much in my mind over several weeks that it never could have met my expectations, I did ask my husband what he thought about it.  He agreed it was good, but not great.  As further confirmation, there is still a partial bag in my pantry which means no one in my family was thrilled.

My point in that post was simply that living the resurrected life, on this side of the cross, means that we are no longer constrained by guilt.  We are in fact guilt free and that is where I would like to pick up and continue.

The reason that we are guilt free is that God so loved the world.  As believers in Jesus Christ, He set us free from the law of sin and death.  We have been crucified with Christ and have died to the law.  The law is what used to convict us and pronounce us guilty.  As believers in Jesus Christ we no longer live by the law, we live by the Spirit.  In Christ, the law no longer has the power to convict us.

We are well-loved people.  God is love and out of His divine nature He beckons us to live in that love with Him, through the blood of Jesus – or to put it another way, to put on our tiaras and reign in life and live abundantly.  Often though, we choose much less than God’s perfect love.  When I allow guilt or fear (residuals of the law) to keep me from embracing all that God has for me, then I am living a “less than” life.

So as I was thinking about what it meant to live well-loved  (e.g. embrace all that God has for me, to receive His love, to live in expectancy) and what that would look like in day-to-day life, I got this mental picture of Will Ferrell’s character Buddy the Elf.  Yes, from the movie Elf.  I really am not trying to lose all credibility here (if I ever had any), so hang in there with me for just a little longer.  By the way, Elf is one of my favorite movies and once again I have to ask you not to judge me and not to email me, I am simply sharing my heart here :).

BuddytheElf

I LOVE how Buddy moves through almost every scene in that movie expecting good things to happen.  He never self-protects, he never shields his heart, or erects walls between himself and others.  In fact, he isn’t even aware of the walls others have built to protect themselves.  He just pushes right through them.  He opens himself to everyone he meets, he celebrates even the smallest things (that “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene makes me laugh until I almost wet myself), he enjoys every second of his life (the “The Revolving Door Scene”).

He fully embraces other people for who they are, not what he wants them to be.  Even when his birth father rejects him at the beginning of the movie he never loses hope.  He lives well-loved (by Santa and Papa Elf) and out of that loves other people.

I realize the analogy could start breaking down at any second here so I’m going to restrain myself from going further with it.  But the truth is, I smile every time I think about it.  I could go on and on about Buddy the Elf, but by the time I elaborated on all the examples of living expectantly and well-loved, then I would really have recounted the entire film.  So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it.  If you have…well I think you get my point.

I am not advocating wearing a Happy Mask every single day.  Real is better than well-behaved.  God can deal with real, fake…well that’s just hiding and being dishonest.  Honesty, even if it is ugly, is one of the characteristics of the abundant life.

When I talk about Buddy the Elf, I am talking about living from who we are, not developing a formula for how to live.  We don’t need to all go buy elf costumes and pour maple syrup on everything we eat.  That would just be exchanging one law for another and every time we reduce living the Christian life to a formula we are cheapening the gospel.  It is so much more than a formula and a set of rules.  And yet it is simple, living in dependent relationship with God.

I am going to pause here and leave you with one more thought that I want to talk about next time:  Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

How Reigning in Life Is A Little Bit Like Soccer

This post is a first for me.  Unable to go back to sleep and opening my laptop at 4:00 a.m. to write, well this could prove dangerous…or at least embarrassing.  We will have to see how this goes.  Feel free to give me feedback.

On Saturday I was sitting on the sidelines watching my youngest daughter’s soccer game and at one point Father God seemed pressed the pause button on the game to show me something.

One of her teammates (my daughter’s team is Purple and their opponent was in Blue) intercepted the ball from the Blue team along one of the sidelines.  It took her a couple of seconds to gain control of the ball.  She was trying to keep it from going out-of-bounds while turning it around and kicking it towards her teammates near the Purple team’s goal.

For just a second she had her back completely to the field, away from the rest of the players.  In that second, unbeknownst to her, a Blue team member was very swiftly, and stealthily, running up behind her to steal the ball.  She had no idea it was even coming.

However, standing right in front of her on the other side of that boundary line was her coach.  Her coach had a completely unobstructed view of the field and he saw what was coming before anyone else.  Immediately, he told her what to do.  She didn’t hesitate.  She did exactly what he said and disaster was temporarily averted.

How does this relate to reigning in life?   Well like it or not, on this side of eternity we only see in part.  No matter how close we feel to God, no matter how much He speaks to us, no matter how much we speak to Him, HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES EVERYTHING AT ONCE.  We can want to, we can try to, we can even think that we see all the possibilities, but only God actually does.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.   All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Therefore, we had better be in constant communication with Him.  I think this is what Paul meant when he said:

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)“Never stop praying.”

Praying doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be at a certain time of day for a certain length of time.  In its most simple form (you know I love SIMPLE), it is a conversation with God.  For me it is a continuous conversation with God.

If the girl in my example hadn’t been listening to her coach and looking to him for direction, she would never have known to make the adjustments necessary to save the play.

Another thing I noticed was that the coach communicated to her in more than one way.  First of all he yelled (in that encouraging, coaching, I-want-you-to-be-successful-and-WIN sort of way) at her so that she could hear him over everything else.  He also used hand signals to show her what he wanted her to do.  I don’t know whether she responded to what she heard or what she saw, but she immediately did what he said.

She did what the coach said.  Hhhhmmm…interestingly, what the coach told her may have seemed counterintuitive at the moment, but she did it anyway.  Her objective was to move the ball towards her goal so that another teammate could score.  However, in that moment when the play was in jeopardy he told her to move the ball back down the field a little bit, away from her goal, to a waiting teammate who was open and in a better position to make the play and set up the goal.

Instead of arguing with the coach that she wouldn’t accomplish her objective of setting up the goal, she trusted him and followed his instruction.  Several plays later, her team scored the goal.

Just in case I rambled at this ridiculous hour of the morning, my point is this:  a life of abundance and reigning includes a lot of conversation with God.  We may not every achieve our specific objectives (save the play or be the one to score the goal), but regardless we will be in an ever-deepening, intimate relationship with Him.

That is what I believe reigning in life really is, intimate fellowship with the Father, Abba, our Creator, the Lover of our soul.