Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I'm Not A "Christ-Follower"

This has been on my mind for quite some time but I’ve not felt I should "pipe up" until just recently. What, exactly, has prompted me I cannot say. But it’s unshakable now and there will be no approaching the rest of the day until this is done.

Understand, I do Not take issue with folks who call themselves "Christ-Followers." And I believe I understand why our culture is moving from "Christian" to "Christ-Follower." Can there be more noble a goal than to follow Jesus?

The thing is, though, that being a Christian Does mean to follow Jesus. I’ve always known this on some level whether I’ve practiced it or not. A truly committed Christian life is one through which the Light, Life, and Redemption of Jesus Christ does shine. A truly committed Christian will become a disciple of Jesus, which is to follow in His dust, to rest at His feet, to listen when He speaks, to be changed by what He says. Am I living the life of a 100% committed Christian? No, to be honest, but thank God I’m not yet at the end of the road.

"Christ-Followers" are on the same journey. And will have the same issues despite the name change.

There are some super ignorant and downright evil folks out there who give Christianity a bad name. Plus, there’s this modern movement thing that says "change your look or die." Plenty of reasons I could cross over. But I’m gonna stay and do my best to help hold down the fort y’all. The Calvary is already here.

Again, and I truly mean this with all sincerity, I mean no criticism toward anyone who’s going with "Christ-Follower." I know some of you and I know you’re approaching your discipleship with genuine hearts. This is about the reason that I’m sticking.

I wanted to be sure I had this right before writing so I googled "Christ-Follower." The first thing I found was this video:

Funny, I read the (new) King James, carry my Bible in a case with a handle, have (a couple of) bumper stickers on my truck. I read other Christian material. I believe in morality. I need rules and I struggle not to be ruled by that fact. Are these the things by which my Christianity is defined? Nope.

Conversely, is it the absence of these things that defines "Christ-Follower?" If you think 'yes', then I think you're missing something more critical than the point.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

With You Always

(Lent Devotion, 2009)

On the last day that I spent with my dad before the day of his passing, the last thing that I did before leaving him was to wash his feet. I did this at the Spirit’s urging, and with a very humbling sense that this was the most Christ-like way that I could minister to him at this point. I’ll forever cherish this last bit of time I had together with my dad and my Father here on earth.

But I’ve had many struggles since then. The ebbs and flows, the regular distractions of life, have left me often feeling under the bell jar. I can’t always hear, or see, or sense God as clearly as I long to and sometimes I think that my light has burned out. It has been a very personal prison.

And then a very dear friend, not completely knowing the way that God was using her, brought me a very sweet note (and pedicure gift card) and, in it, explained that God cares for me and wants me to have my feet washed. Regardless of what I think I know or sense about my life, God never leaves me. And He has the most loving and creative ways of conveying that message!

If you are struggling, remember this, “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why I Believe In God

Someone asked me recently to objectively consider why I believe in "the god" that I do. This is my response.

Quite a few years back, I was engaged to a military man. My life at the time was a mess. I’d moved to Florida, was putting my small kids through hell, was living with an unstable man. I was a drunk. And I was an agnostic.

I’d been raised to be a Christian, had been saved and baptized as a pre-teen, was in love with the Christian calling. But at the hands of a few ignorant and misled men who twisted the Word to suit their own purposes, I became bitter and turned away. In my youth and naivety, unable to separate the truth from interpretation, I decided that I just didn’t care for "the God of the Christian Bible."

And away I went, no longer acknowledging or considering God’s existence. Years I spent twisted up with drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, etc., etc. That all ended here in Florida after the man to whom I was engaged killed himself, quite violently, in my home, while my kids and I were there. If I hadn’t been a total drunk before, I sure had a reason to be one now. And I took full advantage of that excuse.

Those were very dark days. And on one of those typical hung-over mornings, I started reflecting on how I’d been brought up to believe that we, as humans, are weak and can’t accomplish anything on our own. "We’re supposed to take everything to God," I thought cynically, "and here, I’ve gotten through this whole thing without praying one single time." 

God spoke to me then. It was not audibly, the way He spoke to Moses. But He was in the room. It was as if He sat down on my shoulders and squeezed my eardrums and He said, "you would not have "gotten through" anything were it not for the strength that I have given you."

Wish I could say that was it...that in a snap, I was healed. It didn’t happen that way but that morning was the beginning. I no longer had the luxury of denying a God who’d spoken to me.

So you know that story in John 5:1-9 where the paralyzed guy’s been lying by the healing pool for all those years, waiting for someone to drag him in first so that he can be healed? The first thing Jesus asked him was if he really even wanted to be well. And then He told him to get up and go.

My answer to the question is this: I believe in the LORD because He has spoken to me and has made me well.

I pray that each of you will hear Him when He speaks and that whatever holds you back will be replaced with a soul-deep desire to get up and go.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How He Loves

(April, 2010)

I have been in a far country. Alone. Disparate. Apart from God. The hows and whys will illuminate themselves in due time, in other stories that I tell. This story will be about my return.

I must tell you more parts than you will think you need to know but every bit is a brush stroke in a much bigger picture. The players, the timing, the stage are all essential elements. And so, for dramatic effect, I will begin by setting the stage.

The church service that I attend is held in our Community Life Center, essentially a gymnasium. This is the format for our service: piped-in music pre-service; congregation sings four or five worship songs led by the live band; prayer; offering, through which the band plays; and then we sing one more song before the message. Sometimes, instead, one of the band members will perform a solo. There is rarely, rarely a deviation from this format.

Here’s the story: The Bargain Box is a thrift shop and a ministry of my church. I have been volunteering there for quite a few years, believing that this is where I’m serving God by serving others. In truth, however, I’ve felt myself shift from passion to obligation here as in so many aspects of my personal, spiritual life. Thank God for the friends I’ve made through this ministry because so many weeks ago, one of those friends gave me a handful of cds. ("So many weeks ago." Fail not to consider the timing as this unfolds.) The collection slid around in my truck’s console for several days before I, without deliberation, inserted one into my cd player. It turned out to be a sermon that I enjoyed enough to listen to for at least a time-and-a-half. Then just as impulsively and just as thoughtlessly, I changed the cd. This one was full of worship music, most that I hadn’t heard before, and all of which stirred me. But there was a particular song that stirred my soul to tears.

I started listening to that song over and over again. I started having conversations with people about it. I posted the video to my facebook page. Hearing the song seemed to undo something within me, some reservation that I’d had about trying to find my way back home, perhaps.

Pause here for just a moment. It’s critical for you to understand that catharsis had begun for me. And just days after my "discovery" of this song, as my husband and I were walking into church, I was trying to air some of this out with him, explaining that I was feeling inept as any sort of witness in the world. Having felt a lack of communion with God for so long, I’d nearly forgotten how to express His love toward others. Terry did his best to encourage me but God one-upped him. As we walked into the CLC, my song was playing over the audio system. Pause again.

For the first part of the service I was awe-stricken, wondering if God had actually just spoken to me. It has seemed a very long time and I have lost a lot of confidence. So I started to daydream ... I thought, "If God’s really speaking to me, then the band will sing that song today. Maybe it will even be the offertory song. Wouldn’t that be a dream-come-true?" As you can probably guess, it was not a dream-come true. But as the service ended and I collected my thoughts, I knew two things: 1)I don’t get to decide how God speaks to me. 2)It would be foolish to deny what actually had happened as we’d walked in that day.

Today, one week later, I was a little later to church than usual so I have no idea what was played before the service started. But our worship time was cut short. We sang maybe two songs. We had the offering. And then the band exited the stage.

Two young people came out - wait! this is different - to read from scripture, Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Prodigal Son. (This is the one about the kid that gets his dad’s goods, goes away to squander everything he’s been given, and then returns to grovel. Only his dad welcomes him with open, loving arms.) And then they exited the stage.

And then ... on the big screen appeared a picture of a tree.

And I started to hear a now-familiar tune coming through the audio system.

And then, these words:

"He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight
of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware
Of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me."

You have the story and the scene. You even have the soundtrack. Now step back. Blurry the eyes as if you’re looking at one of those magic pictures. This is what I hope you’ll see: singing and dancing were heard on the day the prodigal son went home. God, Himself, sang me home today.

And now ... the rest of the story.