Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Meeting With The King - Ch. 2, Life of Grace Excerpt

I haven't done much book posting, so to be featuring an excerpt from a heretofore unpublished work, much less from Chapter 2 is a little unorthodox.  It's from the first book in a trilogy I'm working on, based on Matthew 22:37-40 (as well as Mark 12 & Luke 10).  It is in that verse Jesus redefines the Greatest Commandment and adds on another,  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

Here is the summary of the trilogy, all based on that verse:
First book: Love the Lord (Life of Grace, because it all starts here).

Second book: Love Yourself (Life of Liberation, because we always forget that part).

Third book: Love Your Neighbor (Life of Agape, because when we are filled, whole and healthy, we can truly love others like Christ).

I wrote this passage after some intense prayer time this morning, in which the Lord gave me the visual.  I'd just read today's entry (August 17th) in Jesus Calling and the verses associated: Philippians 2:9-11 and Isaiah 43:1.  It comes towards the end of the chapter, as I'm really making the case for why living a life to experience the grace of God is the best way to live here on Earth.  You would think that was a no-brainer for those in the Church, but it isn't.  

Not yet at least.

So, that's all the introduction I'll give.  It's really more an mental exercise, to center on the Lord's love.  It was so powerful for me, I wanted to share it.  I pray it encourages you to dig deep in Christ.  Enjoy!! 

A Meeting With The King

Most people will change if there is something in it for them.  I learned this from my eleven years in sales.  In a life lived for the grace of God, there is much more in it than you can even imagine, but that’s, well, a hard sell.  It seems like pie-in-the-sky or even snake oil.  “Oh, great.  Everything I’ve always wanted.  Yeah, right,” says the cynic.  And a lot of us, in modern day American, even in the church, are cynics.  We’ve come to understand, through life’s various lessons, when someone says something is too good to be true….it is.

It fails unless it is based on the Truth.

So, based on Philippians 2:9-11, Isaiah 43:1 and Hebrews 4:12-13 (and probably a lot more) I want to stop to do a little mental exercise.  Let’s call it your commissioning in the Grace of Jesus Christ.  I’m not going to promise anything because only you will know what this little episode will mean at the end, but bear with me.  Read through the scenario in a quiet place, when you can give a few minutes  (if you are at home with small children, this could require waiting till they are napping or even sneaking off to the bathroom, which I have been known to do.  Of course, I used to do that at work too, so maybe the bathroom is just a good place for me.)  

Once you’ve read the text, sit with your eyes closed and imagine the scene before you…. 

You find yourself on your knees with your face to the ground, but you aren’t in any discomfort.  You are resting in that place, knowing it is right where you are supposed to be.  For split second, though, you take a quick peek around to see the room, which is grand and intricately ornate with impressive stained glass windows from floor to ceiling.  It is wall-to-wall packed with people, in the same position as you.  Still, you have the feeling as if you are the only person in the room.

You bow your head once again, only to hear your name called.  You look up to see the King, on His throne, majestic, supreme and totally in control.  He has all the trappings of a king – crown, scepter, royal and regal bearing.  You are cowed by the sight, He is that impressive.  In that second, you realize He was the one who called your name.  You remain kneeling, not quite sure what to do, when you hear Him call your name again.

You stand to your feet and meet His eyes.  They are kind, gracious but fierce.  They paralyze you until you see Him beckoning you forward.  Almost like He is pulling you in with a tractor beam, you begin to walk to Him.  You weave your way through the people, finally finding yourself standing before Him.  You are totally exposed, you know nothing is hidden from His sight.  The urge to fall on your face is so strong, you succumb.

Then you feel His hand on your shoulder.  He pulls you to your feet and you look up into His face, seeing only love there.  You know His name – Jesus Christ.  This is no ordinary King, but the Only King and you are floored to be in His presence.  He holds out His arms and wraps them around you.  You respond the same, melting into His shoulder.  It is the place you’ve always needed to be, the place you’ve always wanted to experience.  You want to stay there and not move, ever again.

The King turns His head, to whisper into your ear, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.   I have called you by your name.”  He pauses, pulls you away to look into your face, then says,

“You are Mine.”

As you stand there, in the King’s embrace, those words echo into the space between your soul and your spirit.  They fill all the empty places you’ve tried to fill on your own your whole life.  They carry much more meaning then you could ever imagine.  They speak of purpose, meaning and the promise of no more toil.  You will not have to sweat and push; prod and force your way anymore because you are walking the path He lays out before you.  Your passion and His are one in the same.  You can rest and let Him take over.  Truly, nothing you do with Him will ever be done in vain.

You are safe, secure and confident in His care for you.  You are saved from all the bad you’ve done, the scars that remain, you know now, will fade with time in His presence.  All the love you’ve needed is present, in you.  You are whole, healed and full of light.  You don’t even want to participate in the darkness again.  There is no place you would rather be, than right here, with Your King.  You don’t want to leave.  But you know you must because there are others out there, beyond this room, who have no idea what this feels like.  They don’t know there is a King like this, who loves them with a love that has no boundaries.  He has done the impossible for you, because you stand in His presence.  They need to know they can too.  You know His name and now you know He calls you by yours.  You know Him and He knows you. 

Stay in this place.  Stay focused on this image and experience.  Take a break and come back to reading when you are ready.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Peace Like a River

Let go my soul and trust in Him.
The waves and wind still know His name.
So, let go my soul and trust in Him.
The waves and wind still know His name.

It is well with my soul.

Lots of contentiousness in this part of the neighborhood right now.  I'm not exactly sure where it's coming from.  Could be the super moon, that time of the summer (2 weeks from today school starts), just general stage of life of the girls, or even something more sinister; but there is a ton of snipping and backbiting.  Because I don't want to be constantly frustrated with 2 kids who are constantly frustrated, I called in the Big Gun.

I talked to my prayer group leader - my mentor and dearest heart friend - Janice (Heffer) Wright.  I asked for her prayers, but for her advice too.  It was good advice, reminding me how to help the girls learn to cope with their frustrations by sending them off, not in time out, but in the words of her great-granddaughter, "a little time to myself."

As I brought the idea up, I remembered we used to do this.  After Sophia was in treatment, she was dealing with a lot anger and we were seeing a therapist.  She suggested I put together some boxes with various activities and place them somewhere both girls could go, to just get away (separately from each other).  It really, really, really helped.  The girls remembered this too and were very gung-ho about putting this back into rotation.

We are calling this upgraded version - 3 years later - BYT with your BYB (By Yourself Time with your By Yourself Box.)  The girls already got their boxes together and placed them in quiet spots; although I dare say Ella will find them, so I'll be in charge of managing that source of frustration in the tiny package called Littlest Sister.

The sinister source is definitely some minion of the enemy trying to get under my skin - to disrupt the purpose and calling recently revealed to our family.  He's working overtime to push me, get me irritated and it's been working a little bit, I hate to say.  My kids fighting disturbs my peace, even though it rarely, if ever, has anything to do with me.  (Ms. Janice also reminded me of this).

After baths, just before bedtime, Natalie and I were talking and I said something I know had to come straight as a heavenly download.  I told her,

Peace is our natural state.  When we are bothered by something, it means we need to seek Our Heavenly Father, to spend time with Him and He will restore us back to the way we are meant to be - at peace in His Son.

Whoa.  That's seriously deep, so I know I didn't come up with it on my own.  That happens a lot when I'm trying to make sense of how to live this faith out - and then trying to explain it to my girls.  It usually has more meaning and major implications for me over them in the moment. (I'm sure there's something about not being able to teach/preach until you've lived it.....)

Jesus, rather famously, talked about the kind of peace He gives us, which the Apostle John recorded, found in 14:27,

I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid. (NLT)

This seems and sounds so impossible. "Don't be troubled!"  "Don't be afraid!"  That's ludicrous!  In the eyes of the world, it truly is.  We spend all of our time chasing rest and peace, we've invented new ways to "get it" in all forms, though most are grounded in the physical, or emotional.  How many of us, especially in First World America, can say we really exist at peace? It's momentary and fleeting, the most sought after but the least achieved "state of being."

It wasn't until just a few moments ago I could even begin to imagine it was even possible to be permanently at peaceAnd yet, there Jesus is, telling me I can have peace, not just once, but all the time.  

Friends, peace is the gift of grace, given to us so freely, and also paid so dearly for.  It took Jesus' agonizing death to purchase it and His rising from the dead to prove it was available to any and all who will open their hands and take it from Him.  It's a spiritual thing - to abide, to relax and let Jesus handle it.  

We can't buy it, find it, feel it or experience it in any permanence outside of Christ.

Yet, what's hardest is living in (and with) the fact that our only work is this: to open our hearts, minds and hands to what the Lord, in Christ, offers.  That's what we have to do, daily/hourly/minute by minute if that is what it takes.  We have to be open to Him, for Him to work and wait to join Him in it.  

It is because of who is He that this is possible.  Peace can be had every.single.time. our feathers (or more) get ruffled; in any trial, tribulation or test.  Lysa TerKeurst calls feelings indicators and I think that's right.  How we feel about something (or someone) indicates how far from our normal/natural state of being as Christians, which is wholeness, of rest, or peace (shalom in Hebrew, a word that encompasses all those meaning and more).  

The enemy of our souls likes nothing better than to work us over, make us feel bad.  He LOVES strife, you could say chaos it is his bread and butter.

Yet, Jesus gave *me and you* peace as part of the down payment when we accepted Him as Lord and Savior.  The Holy Spirit exists in you as much as you are willing to let Him, to fill you with love, joy, peace (and the rest of the list from Galatians 5:22-23.  There's a song about it.)  It is now normal and natural for you to be at rest and at peace.

I know, it's a bit of stretch to think this way.  But faith in Christ is constantly stretching my thinking.  My identity is not in ME anymore - it hasn't been for over a decade.  My identity, no matter how I feel, exists in Christ - in my Father in Heaven and all He gives.  Do you believe that?  Is God what defines you or does something else?

Anything else will eventually leave you broken, not whole.  Anything else but Christ as your foundation will only lead to disruption, or worse, destruction.  There is no peace without surrendering each and every piece and part, as they surface, to Christ.  We have to let go and trust in Him.  

When we do - whatever is disrupting our peace - goes into His Hands (which are more than capable of handling it).  We get, in return, a fresh influx of peace, the gift that keeps on giving.  

Think of it this way: A spirit at rest in Christ stays at rest, no matter what seeks to disturb it.  (Amy's First Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics).

That's how Horatio Spafford could author such a timeless and poignant song - It is Well.  Did you know he wrote that following losing 4 daughters and his wife to a shipwreck, on their way to join him in the mission to colonize Israel at the turn of the 20th century?

Only a man who knew his true state, at peace in His Savior, could write like that.  

The next time, which could be the very next minute, something comes along to get under your skin, remember what Jesus has already given you - His peace.  It won't be like what you are used to, in this world.  The only hard work required is to lift all those burdens and set them down at the foot of the Cross.  

His peace passes understanding and is more than enough.  All you have to do is turn to Him and open your hands, to receive - again.

(For more information about the first part of the song, from Bethel Music, watch the video below.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sought. Found. Redefined in Christ.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he....

I've been on hiatus; summer time doesn't lend itself to a whole lotta focused writing time, but I have been writing.  I'm plugging away at the first book in my series on Matthew 22:37-40, Life of Grace.  Pray for me, I'd like to have a manuscript in order by New Year's......

Yesterday, I went to the beginning of book study at church.  The book is called How Is It With Your Soul?  It's based on Wesleyan class meetings, what we would today call community groups.  These gatherings were the heart of Methodist teachings - the catalyst of the movement (that became a whole denomination).  That question was meant to set the tone - so the members of the "class" could be real in their support and encouragement of one another.

Each table explored this question.  My soul was in a very good place.  I shared that we'd just come from Sophia's eye check up, part of her post-treatment follow up.  She continues to have no effects on her eye, especially from the radiation (minus a little cataract in the corner, which isn't messing with anything).  She has 20/20 vision in both eyes!  Praise God!

Then, the leader of the lesson took us through  Luke 19:1-10.  You might have guessed it was the story of Zaccheaus' seeking of Jesus, by my little ditty at the beginning.  (I know you are singing the rest, maybe even doing the hand motions.)  To the right is a great visual that describes the story from Brian Chalmers.

As we dug in, I was struck with new truth.  Zaccheaus was the chief tax collector.  Not just a regular sinner (and a traitor in the eyes of the community at large.  As a result, he was excluded from the Temple.)  No, he was the chief of traitors/sinners.  We also know Zacchaeus was a short man.  But I wonder if he was a little person?  If he was born a dwarf, would that confirm his sinful nature?  (See John 9 for details on the cultural inference of sin as the cause of infirmity or abnormality). 

I pondered the level of insecurity Zacchaeus must have had.  He was a Jew, but kept from the community by chance, and also choice.  Physically speaking, he was the low man on the totem pole, so he tried to made up for it with money, position and power.  Still, he'd reached a point when nothing would satisfy.  What kind of state of mind, what level of desperation had he reached that provoked him, a very rich and powerful man who spent his whole life trying to make up for his short-comings (pun intended), to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus?

Zacchaeus was seeking hard after God.  His current life was no longer enough. 

It is significant Zacchaeus didn't approach Christ.  Jesus took a detour to come to him. Jesus was just passing through Jericho, but this little man was on His spiritual radar.  He humbled himself.  He didn't try to buy his way into Jesus' presence, he climbed a tree.

He had a hunger that could no longer be satisfied by things of earth.  He was desperate.  Not desperate enough to come to Jesus directly, but that's no matter to the Lord.  Jesus desires to find us where we are, however good or bad, because He isn't going to leave us that way.  Zaachaeus might have thought he was seeking Jesus, but most assuredly, the Savoir was seeking him.

As we constantly see Jesus do (in Scripture and today), He changed Zacchaeus' heart and circumstance.  He comes to the base of that tree and orders Zacchaeus to come down, He is under a new master now.  It was time for a party!  Total reversal of fortune and I think Zacchaeus knew it.

So, now, of course, the haters try to rain on the parade.  (They always do.)

Here the mettle of our new man Z is revealed.  He declares he will not only give half of his possessions to the poor; to anyone he's cheated, he will pay back four times.  That is WAY above and beyond what the Law in Leviticus called for.  WAY MORE.  Contrasting this with the story of the Rich Young Ruler who went away depressed because he couldn't give up his wealth for a new identity as a disciple of Jesus; Zacchaeus makes a bold statement and puts his money where his mouth was. 

Jesus recognizes the faith and love of this man.  I think that is what truly motivated Zacchaeus - love for the Savior.  Love makes us do crazy things.  Giving away half of all we own, repaying all of our physical, emotional and spiritual debts four-times-over definitely qualifies as nuts.  Jesus restores Zacchaeus' relationship with God (even if nothing changed with his fellow Jews) and our man Z makes good on it.  

(I speculate Zacchaeus made a huge difference in the early Church.  He isn't mentioned again in Scripture, but I hope he was one of the hundred in the Upper Room; one of the ones Jesus breathed His Spirit on after His resurrection.  I imagine his wealth would have gone a long way to support all that happened in Acts.  I wish I knew that for sure.)

The heart of this passage is this: if you currently live in the identity of your insecurities, Christ can and will redefine you.  It is His speciality, what He came to do, what He still loves to do today.  He is redeeming, restoring, renewing lives that should be left on the trash heap.  Yet, in the hands of Christ, those same lives are made new; to glorify and show others the right, best way.

Zacchaeus went from being a wee little man, seeking glory of the world, to heart-soul-mind-and-money dedicated to the Kingdom of God.  That's remarkable salvation; putting away eternal treasure. That's what redemption looks like.

That's what Jesus can do for all of us too.

I pray we all reach a moment like Zacchaeus.  I pray we are all so desperate for Jesus to redefine us, that we seek Him.  Scripture promises when we seek Him, we will find Him.  I pray we all end up like Zacchaeus - once a wee little man but used to bless others because of our trust, faith and love of Christ.