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.

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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.

Your Tiara Might Be Tilted If…

I had some hysterical conversations with people after my last post.  One friend said that she got a mental picture of me running headlong into a wall I never saw coming.  When I hit the ground I ‘gracefully’ picked myself up and took a few steps back and did it again…and again…and again.  We agreed that yes this is the cause of my wonky eye.

The good thing is that I must have clearly presented the message because that is exactly what I saw in my mind when I wrote the post.

The other thing I saw in my mind about hitting the wall was the character Annelle Dupuy in ‘Steel Magnolias’.  At the point in the movie when she finds out her husband of two weeks is in trouble with the law and has left her with no money or clothes she looks at her new employer, and says, through tears and a stiff upper lip, “Miss Truvy, I promise my personal tragedy will not affect my ability to do good hair.”  She didn’t see the wall coming either.

It has always been my goal that no matter what kind of hell I was walking through that it not affect my ability to do anything…especially if it involved rescuing someone else.  Just nod at your computer monitor if you have ever heard me say to myself, “Just suck it up and keep moving.”

After my last post I also heard someone say that her tiara is not crooked, but has actually fallen off and she thinks she has now been sitting on it so long that she may need to use Ex-Lax if she ever wants to see it again.  I really couldn’t have said that any better myself, so I asked if I could quote her as long as I left out her name.

(It’s really not my goal to embarrass anyone other than myself.  There is a fine line sometimes between my story and other peoples’ stories and to the best of my ability I will try not to cross it in dishonoring ways.)

Through the laughter (and a couple of shed tears) I realized that the first several times I hit the wall and gracefully picked myself up it was because I didn’t recognize the warning signs.  So just in case you have stuck with me through this series (which I promise is not going to last forever even though it may seem that way), but have yet to identify with one thing I have said about what it DOES NOT mean to live abundantly or reign in life, a few thought-provoking questions might be in order.

If you answer yes to any (or all) of the following very-scientific-psychologist-approved-unfailingly accurate questions, you might need to talk to the Lord about the position of your tiara:

  • Am I tired most of the time? (I mean for most of your life or at least entire decades)
  • Do I have an inability to say no when people ‘need’ me?
  • Do I throw on my Superwoman (or man) cape and spring into action at the first hint of guilt?  Or worse, do I just leave on my Superwoman cape so I am always at the ready?
  • More often than not, do I do things because I ought to not because I want to?
  • Do I say, “I am sorry” ALL THE TIME (almost compulsively) even when I have nothing to do with whatever happened?
  • Do I feel responsible for other people and their decisions? (I mean the whole world)
  • Do I constantly worry about making mistakes? Follow up:  Do I feel like the fate of my destiny (and those around me) hinges on me getting every single decision right?
  • Do I feel like a total failure if I make any mistake, no matter how big or small?  Or to ask it another way, do I feel like I have to be perfect?
  • Do I embarrass easily and frequently?
  • Do people often tell me that I am good, invaluable or indispensable and they don’t know what they would do without me?
  • Do I have unresolved, long-term digestion problems or health problems in general?
  • Do I change the subject when people ask how I am?  Or, is my default answer to that question, “Fine” because I really am not sure how I am?
  • If my sweet husband (or wife) asks where I would like to eat dinner (or what movie I would like to see or what I would like to do together), do I often draw a total blank?  Do I say I don’t care and defer to the desires of someone else?
  • Do I know how I feel?  Do I think it’s wrong to be angry?  Do I think some emotions are bad or wrong?
  • Do my family and closest friends struggle to buy me gifts? (Because they DO NOT EVER know what I like, want or need)
  • Do I struggle with a sense of loneliness even when I am with other people?
  • Is every second of every day jam-packed with activities?  Follow up:  Do I appear to be more busy than others around me?
  • Do I have a general lack of peace?
  • Do I despise asking for help?
  • Do I own a t-shirt that says, “Suck It Up Buttercup” or have I seriously considered making my own?
  • Do I move through life trying not to be a bother to others?
  • Do I worry about God being angry with me or punishing me if I don’t do things exactly right?
  • Am I hyper-vigilant about keeping ALL. THE. RULES. ALL. THE. TIME.?
  • When good things happen to me do I struggle to embrace and enjoy them?

While my little list of questions is partially tongue in cheek, it is designed (and I use that term very loosely, more like scribbled on the back of a napkin) to make us think about whether or not we are reigning in life.

We all experience these things periodically, but if they tend to be the norm or if they seem to be true ALL AT ONE TIME, then ask the Lord about it.  He has a much better way and He is quite eager to share it with us.  I didn’t know it for a very long time, about 36 years, but the gospel really is good news.  In fact, much better than I ever imagined.

God really does want to see that tiara beautifully resting on top of your gorgeous head and it hurts His heart to see us settle for less.

Amen.

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.

The Simple Truth

I have been thinking a lot lately about God’s Big Plan for my life.  I even wrote some of my thoughts in Surrendering ‘The Plan’.  The more I think about it the more convinced I am that ‘The Plan’ has less to do with outcomes and accomplishments FOR Him and more to do with being in intimate relationship WITH Him.  Simply knowing Him, believing Him, abiding in Him.

So I woke up this morning with this verse on my heart:

Genesis 5:24 (NASB) “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”

Enoch lived 365 years (which was a short life by pre-Flood standards) and this is how the Bible records his life.  A simple sentence about the life of a man whom God took Home.  The only other Biblical reference to Enoch is in the book of Jude (Jesus’ own earthly brother) verses 14 – 15:

Jude 1:14-15 (NASB) “14 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'”

How did Enoch know what to say?  Enoch walked with God, he communicated with Him, he spent time with Him, and from that relationship he spoke for God.

The book of Micah describes ‘The Plan’ this way:

Micah 6:8 (NASB)  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

There are some ‘to do’s’ in this verse that God requires, but they seem pretty simple and straightforward – do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  Three bullet points on ‘The Plan’.  Seems simple, I can really get onboard with those.

When the crowd followed Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand and asked Him what they were to do in order that they may ‘work the works of God’ (see John 6), Jesus replies:

John 6:29b (NASB) “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Wow!  That sounds really simple too.  It also sounds a lot like Abraham in Genesis:

Genesis 15:6 (NASB) “Then he (Abram) believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Abraham was made right with God by simply believing Him. Amazing!

Then there is Jesus again, with Mary and Martha:

Luke 10:38-42 (NASB) “38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'”

According to Jesus, only one thing is necessary, spending time with Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, being with Him.

My point is simply this, I have exhausted myself with all of my ‘doings’ for God.  It seems to me, I am the one who has made serving God so difficult and so complicated.

‘The Plan’ God has for me (and dare I say all of us), from a Biblical perspective, appears to be a lot more simple and a lot less exhausting than I have made it out to be.  According to Jesus only one thing (not 500 things) is necessary and out of that the eternal fruit Jesus describes in John 15 will come.  The fruit of simply abiding in Him.

If it’s enough for God, why isn’t it enough for me?

Father, thank You for the simple truth that You desire relationship with me and out of that relationship You will accomplish Your purposes in my life.  Thank You for the freedom to let go of trying to figure it all out.  Thank You for rest.

When We Don’t Want to Hear

And then there are times we just DO. NOT. WANT. TO. HEAR…

Last night I was sitting in my warm car, once again thanking God that my sweet husband picked a vehicle for me with heated seats, watching my youngest daughter’s soccer practice.  It was the first practice of the season and all the kids were really excited.  Unfortunately, March in North Carolina can be very tricky weather-wise.  It had been beautiful and near eighty degrees over the weekend, but on Monday evening it was raining and about thirty-nine degrees.

I was secretly hoping that practice would be cancelled, but it wasn’t.  About thirty minutes into practice though I thought I heard thunder.  So I looked up at the field where about one hundred kids and adults were running around in the rain doing soccer drills, but no one else reacted to the sound.

I assumed I misheard since I have a history of not hearing things correctly (for a good laugh click here…apparently there is no such thing as Beached Whale Deficiency!).  I waited a few minutes and it happened again, but still no response from the field.  I started thinking about being a kid in the swimming pool during the summer and when we heard the first pop of thunder we all pretended NOT to hear so we wouldn’t have to get out of the pool.  I think a lot of kids and adults were having fun and just didn’t want to come off the field.

Then it got a lot louder and I knew that unfortunately I was going to have to be THAT parent who went out on the field and insisted practice stop.  The heated seats were really working against my desire to be a good parent.  Apparently a warm behind slows down your brain function.  Just as I was winning the battle over my warmth and had actually opened the car door, a tremendous flash of lightning lit up the sky like it was noon.  It was followed by a roar of thunder that shook the ground.  At that moment adults started yelling and kids started screaming and running towards the parking lot and I was saved from exiting my cocoon of warmth.

I was thinking about my post on mutilating an unripe avocado and how sometimes we just aren’t ready to hear the truth.  But honestly, there are also times we don’t want to hear it so we choose to ignore it.  That storm sent gentle rumblings warning those folks to get off the field, but there came a moment when it was not going to be ignored anymore and it announced itself loud and clear.  To ignore it any further would have been very dangerous.

There are times when we may not be ripe to understand something God is trying to say, but we can always choose to listen when He is speaking.  We can always ask Him for revelation.  Unlike us, He doesn’t turn a deaf ear when we, His  children, truly desire to talk to Him.  He wants us to know Him, He wants a deeper level of communication and relationship with us based on our dependency on Him.

The longer we choose to ignore the voice of the Lord, the harder it becomes to hear it.

Father, I can’t make myself ripe to receive truth, only You can do that.  But I humbly ask that You give me ears to hear You when You speak.