I have been told by my counselor (or 2 or 3...) that I have strong justice issues. That I see things very black and white and have no room for gray for why people might do certain things that I am convinced are black and white wrong. This last year, God has done an amazing work of transformation in my mind that has led to much regeneration of my heart.
One year ago I sat in church for Easter Sunday disgusted. I vowed never to go to church on Easter Sunday again. I was embarrassed by our sense of selves in the church on this day-the day to rejoice more than any other day. The day we tout as the biggest outreach opportunity of the year, second maybe only to Christmas. We talk a big talk about the need to impress those "new" people who might come through our doors. We talk about how many may come and hear about Jesus for the first time and yet we really are just trying to disguise our desire for a big flashy program featuring ourselves. I figured that if all of the church people really thought outreach was about show and performance before ourselves and the few who may visit the church who actually have never before heard the gospel, then that was no place for me. To me, outreach necessitates motion, movement, an outward expression. It was all quite clear to me. People in the church didn't "get it." So I would not participate in something that man-centered again. After all, on the Sunday each year we celebrate the Resurrection of our Savior our joy should be so radiating we need to go out and spread Jesus with those who never will darken the doorway of the church. So that was my plan-forgo church the next (this) year and be involved with true outreach instead.
Then this year happened. As we looked forward to Easter I couldn't figure out what to do. As I asked around about outreach opportunity in my own community I kept falling short. And in the midst of all this, God kept drawing my heart more and more to the church, His church, his bride. The passion and compassion God had given me for the lost the past few years in youth work began to invade my feelings toward the people who attend church week after week but aren't really living the abundant, free, joyful life Jesus told us about. So I started seeking the Lord about what to do about Easter Sunday. We ended up spending the weekend with some dear friends (who are much more like family!) and going to church with them. They belong to a very authentic and vibrant community of believers. Their pastor preaches truth each week and his messages go deep. He emphasizes growth in believers and urges them never to forget the grace that rescued them, undeservedly, from where they came from, apart from anything they did. And yet, he also is able to preach the gospel message and urges those who are hearing for the first (or 2nd, or 10th) time to pray and ask God to soften their hearts so they may receive that same free gift. And their community is active in reaching out to those inside the body as well as their actual local community as well as around the world. It is actually quite remarkable how healthy the body is. And part of our being there for our friends was to help put on a lunch for any and all from their church who had no home/family to go to that afternoon. Being in a military community meant there were many who fit that and we ended up hosting nearly 50 people! As I sat in church Sunday morning hearing again, the amazing freedom of the joy and hope that I've been given, I could do nothing but sing my heart out rejoicing and celebrating with my brothers and sisters. With other parts of my family.
And I was humbled. For Jesus died and came back to life for these, my brothers and sisters whom I'm so quick to judge so harshly. I am called to reach out (and I still don't think that outreach happens by putting on a good quality show) but I am also called to love the bride of Jesus. I am called to show love and hope and joy. I was so thankful for what Jesus saved me from and not just before I knew him. I'm thankful that he continues to save me from unforgiveness, from bitterness, from judgmental attitudes, from arrogance. As my mind has been transformed, my heart sang with hope and life anew. And I realized, maybe the things I see so black and white, are colored in totally different ways through God's view.
It is indeed finished! Jesus covered all my sin with his blood. I'm thankful that he will continue to transform me more and more into his likeness until I can live forever with him one day!
He is risen indeed! That my friends, IS black and white!
Imagine it...Clapping, smiling, dancing, singing
"I will sing, glory hallelujah
I lift your name on high
I will sing, glory cuz you're worthy,
I will praise you in the depths"
Last night we had the amazing blessing of experiencing this and much more joyful worship of our King of Kings! We were able to see and hear a taste of Heaven. Then, when it was over, we got to hug those bits of Heaven. There are not words!!!
To hear these precious Ugandan orphans praise their little hearts out before God and watch them truly worship Him-we were blessed!
To sing along was to acknowledge our place with all believers who have gone before and all heaven as we lifted our voices together. To get to share that with J and E and have them experience such a cross-cultural event here in our very own town was great. It has brought lots of conversations today for which we are grateful. Don't forget when you are praying for those believers who are in need all over the world, they have a face and a name. They have a story. Whenever you can, take time to listen for you will hear the very heartbeat of God!
I've been trying to find the words to write the past couple weeks and this seems a trend in many areas of my life. I'm searching for words for the blog. Searching for words for a loved one. Searching for words to convey many new things I'm learning. Searching for words with potential donors as we try to finish raising the last of our support needed. Searching for words with my kids to adequately convey the message of the gospel-especially in light of this being Holy Week. The thread through much of it has revolved around the Words of God. I've been in the Word so much more the last year. And as we have been studying and around others who are students of the Word but also living it out radically, daily, we have been confronted with a reality. Those words we are reading-they are true. They are all true!
Now, anyone who knows me will think "duh, haven't you believed that for a while??" Ty and I were talking the other day. We have both grown up in churches and families who do believe the Bible to be true, to be God's Word. In fact, I think we've both (mostly) been taught that the entire Bible is God's Word and therefore is without any error and we can take it true and literally.
However, we are in a place where people take the Bible at face value and then immediately live as though it is true. All around we are challenged by people reading the Bible and then living it out. We are realizing how much we have said we believed and yet how little we lived like it. This has been huge for our family. Every time we think we are moving forward in our spiritual growth we see how far we have to go! God is truly showing us more of himself and the more we see of him, the more we must decrease. We pray this next week you all hear the Words of God and take them to be true and then immediately walk in those truths. It may look completely different than what you have done before. Or it may not. Either way-we are so blessed by the Words of our Creator and Savior and pray you are too!
I was reading John 1 tonight and began to notice how many things we can "see" in that chapter. We can see eachother because we have the light of the Word as our very sustenance. We (or those who were alive then) can see John who was a physical witness. We can see the world which the Word and the light made. We can see the Word who became flesh (again, those in his day could). We can see who God is through the Word who came in the flesh, for "no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (v18). We can see Jesus baptized, walking, very human. We can see the Spirit of God as a dove (John did). Then, when John's disciples followed Jesus and he asked what they wanted, they asked where he was staying. Jesus responded: "Come and see."
Was it curiosity? Was it genuine interest? Was it wondering who he was? I'm not sure but certainly the same invitation Jesus offered them he offers me. I want to know what Jesus is doing in the world, in my life, in my husband's life, in our country. I need to seek him and follow after him and then I will see him. It's that simple. This Easter season I'm reminded of that simple and yet powerful principle. When we follow Jesus and look for him we will see him and who he is and through him the glory of the Father. It's so easy to not see him: in the unfair situations, the times we are the poor victims, the annoyances, the things that don't go right. And yet, if we look perhaps we will see he really is there after all. For he is! Tonight I'm thankful I came and saw. How have you seen Jesus today?
This weekend we had the opportunity to be part of a weekend of sharing our stories and hearing from others who have given lifetimes to serving the Lord all over the world. I always LOVE hearing the stories of those who have walked such paths. It is inspiring and gives me hope and encouragement. It also leaves me feeling a bit like I've wasted a lot of years not walking that kind of path. Saturday night, our team leader, Bill, shared a story during a Praise and Prayer service that helped my perspective change radically!
Bill shared about the parallel between taking Jesus to the world and the heroic passengers on flight 93 that went down on 9/11. While all the passengers and crew were killed in the crash, no further lives were claimed as it missed its intended target. The reason those passengers were able to act heroicly to cause a crash that would ultimately kill themselves was due to the fact that they were already dead. Yep, you read that right-they were already dead. See, by the time they were on their cell phones with loved ones and knew they were hijacked, they heard of the other planes and knew they were also on track to have a similar end. Their time was up. They had only minutes, maybe hours until they were dead. When you realize you are dead, you no longer have to fear death. There was no fear holding them back from acting in a way that ended in their death because regardless of their actions, they were going to die that day. The parallel comes in with people who do not fear for their lives even though taking the gospel to other places may result in their death. Why are they not afraid? Because they realize that they are already dead. Quite honestly, we all are already dead. We know that we are going to die. Even people who don't know our Lord know that. We joke in our country that "nothing's certain but death and taxes." See, if we really stop and think about it we will see that we are already dead. Our countdown is just longer than those on the flight (or so we always think-reality is that we can never know for sure). When we live in light of the fact that we are going to die, it takes out the fear of death and even the need to try to control it. We can't stop it, and like Paul says in the New Testament, to die is Christ. We actually get to be with Christ at that point! This is the meaning then of "Death where is thy victory." For the world, the reality that death is certain should be terribly overwhelming and scary. For believers, it is filled with hope and promise and should be desired!
So where does this all leave me? I mean, it changed my perspective greatly so now what? Well, I realized that I live too often as if I am not dead, am not going to die. I live like the here and now and today and what people around me think is much more significant than the fact that I'm going to die and leave all this behind to be with my Savior. I see how this causes me to fear so much-to fear sharing truth for what people may think or do to me, to fear acting counter to the world's expectations for drawing unwanted attention to myself/my family, to fear pain and suffering that might bring death and missing out on something on earth (which isn't going to last even if I get old and die of old age anyway!). As Christians, we don't often (or ever) phrase it as we are already dead. We usually talk about how we have New Life in Christ. I think that the Life Abundant that Christ came to bring us, is the freedom from death. It is not just the fact we'll live eternally in Heaven someday. It frees us from the constraints of death here, now, the fear and the changing of behavior to try to somehow evade its grasp. If we live in the New Life-in the freedom of truly pursuing matters of the Kingdom of God, then when we die it is like death catches up our bodies to our souls. Our souls were already dead (to sin and self when we became new creations in Christ) and started living in light of eternity. So when our bodies die, the 2 catch up to each other.
In light of all these ideas-I want to live a life more free. I want to walk each day in freedom from fear of others because let's face it. I'm already dead. I don't want to live dead. I want to LIVE!
Carolyn & (sometimes) Ty