Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Story: Transforming, Not Tweaking

Do you know my story? Do you really know who I am? A window into my soul. A door into my past. Open and waiting for you.

Our local Tanger Outlet mall has just this past year installed quarter-eating kiddie rides every fifty feet…a truck, horse, Garfield car, carousel, and Clifford. My almost three-year-old, Wyatt, bounces onto one ride after another as we make our way down the strip.

The catch? He doesn’t know the rides do anything but sit there. He has no idea they come to life when fed quarters. And so, he’s content to sit in each one and turn the wheel or giddyup the horse, himself.

This is an image of me until just a few years ago—not knowing what abundance and joy really existed if I let Jesus take complete control of my life.

From infancy through high school, my parents made sure I attended church every Sunday and Wednesday to be involved in Sunday School, choir, Bible Drills, and all the missions activities for each level in GA’s and Acteens (think “Christian Girl Scouts”). I tried on my own to read the Bible diligently, but I got stuck in lists of names I didn’t know and New Testament analogies that were over my head.

When I was seven years old, I understood that I was a sinner and had broken God’s law. I repented of my sin, and believed in Jesus’ death of the cross to save my soul. But for the next twenty years I asked, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life as a Christian?”

I knew John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” But I thought that Jesus was only referring to abundant life with Him in heaven. I considered my time on earth as more or less a waiting game where Jesus would tweak me into His image until He called me home.

But when I was 18, at a revival meeting, Jesus spoke to my heart and told me there was more to life with Him, but that He demanded obedience from me in all things. I needed to find out why I believed what I believed. I needed to learn prayer was more than a one-way street with me doing all the talking. And I needed to get out of the driver’s seat of my life.

So, each morning when I arrived at the university’s campus, I sat in my car for a half hour to an hour and diligently read my Bible. I understood a bit more. But I still thought this was all God had to offer me here on earth. And I wasn’t too good at giving up control of anything.

Then, ten years later at age 28, I started working through my first in-depth Bible study. Learning how to read and let the Holy Spirit guide me in understanding God’s word was like watching a rosebud’s petals open one by one. Each petal showed me a new, different aspect of God--a God of mercy and love but also a God of holy justice and righteousness. A God who desired to have an intimate relationship with me and to give me abundant life right here on earth. And the key to that joyful, abundant life was found in my examining and applying the Scripture.

For the first time in my life, I was finally starting to realize true joy in Jesus, in worship, in reading and understanding of Scripture…and that this was the more that I’d been missing out on all these years.

But for me to apply everything I was learning in Scripture, God would need to do a complete overhaul of me, to totally transform (not tweak) me into a new creation. So, God took the belljar that was my life and dumped out all the assorted pieces of the life my husband and I were building together.

After an uplifting Wednesday night service, we arrived home to a phonecall from his then-employer. Our joyful smiles turned to furrowed brows of fear as we learned one of my husband’s clients had given him forged medical records, which he naively passed on to the insurance company on her behalf. She claimed ignorance of her misdeed. And my husband was charged with insurance fraud.

Over the next year, my husband’s one-year-old license to practice law, his job, and his career were stripped away. The plans to build our house were rolled up and stuck on a shelf. And we suffered through infertility issues, ultimately miscarrying two babies in June and December of that same year.

To say the bottom dropped out of our world would be an understatement. This did not seem like abundant life.

But it was.

It was God taking control of my life and teaching me that to have true abundant life, I had to trust Him, give Him my everything—my finances, my desire for children, my living space.

He wasn’t content to be just an “attachment” to my life. He wanted to be my life.

I responded to each heartache by working through another Bible study, saturating my mind and heart with more and more Scripture. When that wasn’t enough to keep the depression from threatening to drown me, I took to printing out Scriptures and taping them on the doorframes and mirrors around the house.

My life now is nothing like it was before God started doing that major renovation in early 2005. But even in loss, there has been much more gain. In almost five years’ time, God has blessed us with three children who drive me crazy most days; a secure job I can do from home; and steady employment for Doug.

Doug will likely never regain his law license and his employment will likely never be secure unless God works a miracle. I won’t again see those babies I miscarried until I get to heaven. And our house plans are still gathering dust on the shelf as we wait for God’s hand to move. But I am walking in abundant life with the solid earth beneath my feet.

Jesus is everything I have. And He has transformed my heart from self-centeredness to a heart that grieves for those who have yet to find Him and submit to Him as Lord and Savior.

Maybe you’ve asked the same question I did, “Is this all there is to being a Christian?”

No. There’s more.

And you can find it just like me if you commit to in-depth study of the Bible.

He’s waiting for you between the pages.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

There is None So Blind

Cleopas had heard the women’s story of the angel who proclaimed that Jesus was alive. But his eyes weren't the ones to see Him. So his heart doubted. And sadness permeated his every step as he and another of Jesus’ disciples undertook a seven-mile trek on the dusty road to Emmaus.

As the pair walked, they inwardly mourned Jesus’ death, talking of their hearts’ disappointment--Jesus wasn’t who they thought He was. As they later said, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Yes, “were hoping.” Past tense. Their faith and hope had been buried right along with Jesus in the tomb.

But then their faith became sight…well, almost: as “ they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (v.15-16, my Italics).

This was the Jesus they had followed so closely, developing such an intimate relationship with Him that surely they knew his mannerisms, the sound of his voice. And now, Jesus was near enough to touch, to smell, to hear, to embrace. But still, they didn’t really see Him.

As they walked, Jesus told His life story: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (v. 27). This wasn’t your usual man-to-man conversation using the fewest words possible. Jesus was teaching the high points of the Old Testament to them. Words they knew. Words they even had likely heard from Jesus’ lips before.

Surely they looked into his face at least once on the journey. And yet, something “prevented” their identification?

In the Greek, the word “prevented” is more accurately defined as “to take hold of, grasp, hold fast” or “to have power over.” In essence, something or someone took control of their eyes so they couldn’t see Jesus clearly.

The Scripture doesn’t say anything about their vision being otherwise impaired. Nothing about them running into trees or having trouble finding a place to stay for the night. It was only Jesus they couldn’t see. As such, the commentaries I’ve read say this was a supernatural covering of their eyes.

But I think there’s a second equally valid interpretation: that their emotional devastation over Jesus’ death was clouding their actual vision. You know…the kind of blindness when disappointment clouds your view of life so you can’t see the blessings right before your eyes? So you can’t see Jesus before standing right before you?

Cleopas and his fellow disciple didn’t mentally understand how Jesus would accomplish salvation for all mankind by laying down His life and dying on a cross. They couldn’t really comprehend His triumph over death. They didn’t expect this kind of Savior.

And in that disappointment, they almost missed “seeing” Jesus entirely. The Scripture even implies that Jesus was just going to continue along down the road without them had they not invited Him to stay: “And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.’ So He went in to stay with them” (v. 28-29).

But even in blind disappointment, their hearts were still “burning within” them (v. 32). Their hearts knew Jesus even when their eyes did not. And once they invited Him to dine with them, He broke the bread as He had done shortly before His death, and their eyes “opened and they recognized Him” (v. 31).

May we not allow life’s disappointments to cloud our vision such that we miss Jesus standing right before us. And may our own hearts burn within us when we fail to see.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When God Doesn't Behave

Yesterday evening, I finally succumbed to some sort of cold that I’ve been fighting since Thursday. So, instead of going AWOL for a week, with box of tissue in one hand, I want to share one lesson from the Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed study that God has been using to teach ME this week.

After finishing my master’s degree, I was hired by my alma matter to teach for the fall semester. But as Christmas approached, I discovered that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. Although I was more than disappointed, I quickly learned of a job opening at the nearby community college and, as expected, made it to the final interview with the Vice Chancellor—just me and another young man. Surely, I would get the job.

Then, I got the call and a sinking feeling in my chest as I listened to the words, “Not chosen.” I was officially unemployed. No salary. COBRA insurance that would run out all too quickly. And no prospects anytime in the near future since teachers are usually hired for January or August start dates.

Over the next couple months, I was rejected for countless jobs, most that required less education than I had, including Wal-mart. What was going on?!? Had I listened to God wrong when choosing my degree path? (No.) Was I being punished for some unrepented of sin? (No.) Then why wasn’t God getting me a job…now?

I was devastated. God was not behaving like I thought He should.

King David suffered a similar devastation with God acting differently than expected after he decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem . There, the ark would at all times be before the people of Israel as a tangible reminder of God’s presence resting between the cherubim.

Talk about a huge parade: 30,000 lyre-playing, cymbal-smashing, tambourine-shaking men celebrated as they followed the oxen-pulled cart that carried the ark. Then, the unthinkable happened—the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark, and God immediately struck him dead.

David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah…So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” (2 Sam. 6:8-9). Devastated, he refused to take the ark one step further and left it at Obed-edom’s house.

David was offended by God’s actions. And he was scared. This wasn’t the God David thought he knew. This was a fearful God of seemingly random judgment and death.

Yet God was the same as he’d always been. David just didn’t know very well the God he was serving, a righteous, holy God whose very character dictated that He demand reverence and whole-hearted obedience to His Word.

It took David three months to learn God’s reaction was as a result of his own disobedience in not seeking God’s law for instructions in how to transport the ark. And in the knowledge that God was still the same holy God he’d been serving all along, David finally brought the ark into the city of Jerusalem.

In a little different situation, John the Baptist was also devotedly serving God (no disobedience in sight), proclaiming the way of the Lord, when he was imprisoned. How devastating that must have been, to be doing exactly what God called him to do and to be left sitting in jail. He must have wondered why Jesus didn’t miraculously get him out!

In his devastation at where God had placed him, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, "’Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’" (Lk. 7:20). Jesus said to tell John of the miracles He was working and then stated, “’Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me’” (Lk. 7:23).

We all have the opportunity to be offended with God when He doesn’t act how we think He should. When we feel devastated or offended by God’s actions, we must return to our knowledge of who Scripture says God is. We must rest in the belief that He will always act according to who Scripture says He is, according to his full and complete character, not just part of his character...and that He will always act according to what He knows is best for us, our eternal salvation, and His glory.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Where's Waldo?

When I was growing up, my mother constantly complained about the plastic cups that I left in every room of the house. Now, years later, my own house is laden with randomly placed cups of water.

It’s not that I’m lazy. Quite the opposite.

As soon as I fill a cup of water to quench my thirst, I get distracted by a thought of a task I need to complete, a ringing phone, or a child. I then absentmindedly place the cup on some uncommon object like a bookshelf, window ledge, the dryer, or a shelf above my head.

Much like the unnamed laborer in Robert Frost’s “The Wood Pile” who “spent himself, the labour of his axe” only to “forget his handiwork” in the midst of a swamp, I, too, lose my train of thought because I keep moving. I am, as Frost says, “Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks.”

The problem comes when I grow thirsty again and try to find that cup. In my search, I will quickly cross back and forth in front of it, musing aloud, “I know I left it here just a minute ago?” It's like a real-life, more-frustrating version of "Where's Waldo?" Sometimes, my husband joins in the hunt. We eventually find it hiding in plain sight in a place we called ourselves looking at only moments before.

My search for truth and direction in The Bible is much like my search for these literal cups of water.

Each evening, I sit, Bible open in my lap, pen in hand, ready to receive a word from the Lord through His holy Scriptures. But after a day of wrangling with three small children as well as dealing with household and job issues, my thirst for God’s Word usually overcomes me and I have a tendency to gulp down the Scripture in front of me.

I’ve read all the Scriptures before. I’ve memorized many of them. I know the Old Testament stories.

And therein lies the danger.

Just like I pass by my water cup sitting right before my eyes, I often pass by the message God has for me because, in truth, I only think I know what the well-known Scriptures have to say. I know only what the Spirit has revealed to me thus far.

As such, I constantly have to remind myself to slow down, to read each word of each verse and to read them again. If I blow through the familiar verses, I might miss a word or a phrase I didn’t see before. Or I might miss a different message God is trying to impart to me through a verse that I knew but that had little meaning (or a different meaning) for me at an earlier reading.

Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life imparts this same message: “We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times,” says Warren. “Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning.”

Take the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an example of a Christian’s interacting with the Word. When Jesus came upon a few of his disciples, they initially did not recognize him. Even as they walked together and Jesus expounded upon all the Scriptures relating to Himself, they still were clueless. Only after He broke bread with them were their eyes “opened and they knew Him” (Luke 24:31). Afterwards, “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:32).

These disciples’ new understanding of the Scripture, of the Word made flesh, was not the result of being given any new word, any new scripture. Instead, they were enabled to see what was right before their eyes all along once their eyes were no longer veiled. The Spirit illuminated the truth in their hearts just like it can do in our hearts.

This week as you spend time in God’s Word, SLOW DOWN! Our prayer should be as David’s was: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps. 119:18). Read a passage several times. Read each word. Although God’s Word was “in the beginning,” God still has new revelations, which the Spirit will reveal to you as you carefully study the Scriptures (John 1:1).