Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Irritation That Produces a Pearl

While celebrating Dig Deep Give Well's first anniversary, I had the fun and privilege of spending a few hours with Ibiyinka Alao, a Nigerian painter who won the United Nations art contest and is the Nigerian “Ambassador of Art.” His art is this very cool mix of traditional African art and Biblical parables. It is deep. It is detailed. It is profound. They are the kind of pictures that draw you in as you notice smaller and smaller details. His work is awesome.

Ibiyinka told us stories about his art and some of his inspirations. I really love listening to artists from foreign countries speak about art and about theology. I love to think about the words they use... something about the way pictures they paint with English words is so fun to me. I am a word junkie. I love how non-English speakers choose certain words to say things. I love when they translate sayings and proverbs from their own native language into English. I think that stories like that connect us all in the most basic sense.

Ibiyinka spoke about oysters and how they produce pearls. I'd known about oysters making pearls as the result of an enzyme the oyster makes in response to sand getting inside the shell for a while. It's the kind of story that I'd heard many times partially because I am a science geek and partially because I was a child who asked questions incessantly. (I was the kid who took great joy in reading reference books like the encyclopedia. I can STILL spend all day reading random stuff on Wikipedia.) But I loved the way Ibiyinka chose his words. He was speaking in terms of parables... the way Jesus spoke so often: talking about two things at the same time... one practical and common sensical, while the other is spiritual. He said that oysters produce a pearl because of an "irritation".

The oyster is quite happy living its life under the water and doing regular oyster things but, it gets a bit of grit inside its shell.

It’s irritating.

The oyster doesn’t want the sand to be in its shell. It wants to go back to life as it was before but, it cannot get rid of the dirt. Even though the oyster isn’t happy about the discomfort, God has built the oyster with the ability to manage it and make something more beautiful and valuable than a piece of sand. It has an enzyme that turns that “source of irritation” into a pearl.

Ibiyinka’s parable-ish version made me think more deeply about my own life. What kinds of things am I finding to be a “source of irritation?” Is it possible that God has allowed those things to “irritate” me because the end of the irritation will be something valuable and beautiful… something greater than my initial discomfort? In the South (and apparently Australia! I looked it up!), we call it having “something stuck in your craw.” The expression brings the visual image of a bird being unable to swallow something because it’s stuck in its throat. What am I having trouble swallowing these days?

My extended family has had some pretty serious drama going on in the last few years. I don’t want to dishonor anyone by naming them here. Let’s just say some people have some major behavioral issues that have gone unchecked for a long time and it has wreaked havoc on the hearts of those of us who love them. Surely some of you can relate to that right?

I’ve often wondered why God doesn’t just snap them out of it! Why do they continue to be jerks and hurt people? Why do we have to have hurting hearts? Why can’t the situation just END already?! I know that the answer has to do with God bestowing “free will” on us… He won’t MAKE anyone change. They have to WANT to. But sometimes, I just don’t like that answer. It IRRITATES me!

But if an “irritation” can be the thing that God uses to produce a pearl in an oyster… there’s a chance that He can use my own irritations to produce something of beauty and value in my own life that points to His provision for me. That is becoming my prayer… in spite of the irritation.

The Apostle Paul had a similar issue. He refers to it a “thorn in my flesh” in 2 Corinthians. He writes:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NIV)

People have debated as to what exactly Paul’s thorn was. I don’t necessarily think it matters. I think his story is one we can all relate to. We’ve all experienced pain, hardship, persecution, insults, and difficulties. We know what that feels like. Maybe it makes me seem childish, but I’m kinda glad that Paul asked God to “take it away” three separate times. I mean, the guy wrote MUCH of the New Testament. He had a radical conversion after being a notorious Christian persecutor. If that guy had an issue that was big enough for him, as a “Super Christian”, to ask God repeatedly to take it away… then, I’m actually on par for the course of life! Even Paul felt that he’d been “irritated” enough! But he had the spiritual maturity to know that if God wasn’t going to take it away… if it was going to continue… then God had a purpose. He wasn’t going to be able to project an image of “Super Dude Who Can Handle All Things” if he had to remain reliant on God to make it through tough stuff. And God would be shown to be the faithful and loving God that He is. Paul is right, I think, God shows up and shows how much He really does care for us when we realize we can’t handle it all on our own and we become dependent on Him. We’re strongest when we’re leaning on The Almighty because of our own weakness.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Give Until You Notice It's Missing

I do not believe that we completely grasp what "generosity" actually is in the United States. Famous people, like Oprah, get awards for being "great humanitarians" for donating a million dollars to charities and starting their own charitable organizations. Oprah particularly got on my nerves when, after Hurricane Katrina, she made it a point to publicly say "I donated a million dollars, of my own money" to Such-and-such charity. I realize that perhaps hearing that Oprah donated money to a specific cause could encourage others to donate to it as well... like a commercial. But I think that it's ridiculous for us to behave as though she's really generous for giving that amount. Here is why:

Oprah is never going to miss that million bucks.

It basically cost her nothing. That's not a sacrifice on her part. She has so much money that she didn't really know that particular million was even there. She won't miss it. According to Forbes, her net worth was $2.5 BILLION in 2009. That $1 million is .04% of her worth.

Not 4%!

But .04%

Oprah has 8 houses. When she shops, she buys EIGHT of everything and sends one to each house so that she doesn't have to pack when she travels between homes. I'm not making that up... she's talked about it on her show. She'll never miss that million bucks. A million dollars is a LOT of money to me and you... it's not a lot of money to Oprah.

Let me put it into terms that are closer to what the average American makes. If you made $50,000 a year, it would be the same as if you gave $20 to a charity for the year. Is that really being generous? I'd say something is missing. I'm not trying to exclusively pick on Oprah. I'm just trying to make a point. If you don't miss what you're giving then, you can't call that "generous." Being truly generous involves sacrifice. It should be an attitude in your heart that says, "I'm giving up _______ so that someone else can have ______."

C.S. Lewis, in answer to a question of how much a Christian should give, said this:

"I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities [giving habits] do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities [giving] expenditure excludes them."

I don't think he means "give to charities and don't worry about meeting your own bill obligations." I think he's making a point about the condition of our heart and lives when we're giving. If we don't miss what we're giving away then, we're probably being a bit more stingy than we'd like to admit. We may not be swimming in a pool of golf coins like Scrooge MacDuck but, the condition of our heart is not where it should be.

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:34

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It wasn't the mud

Yesterday we looked at the story in John 9 where Jesus restores the sight of a man who'd been blind since birth. Let's mull this one over some more.
There's one thing that gets me every time I read the story. The spitting part. It's my boys' favorite part of the story for a completely different reason! My issue is...
he HAD to have heard Jesus spitting.
I mean come ON. Enough spit to make enough mud to smear over TWO eyes? The guy HAD to hear it. SURELY people in the crowd DID say, “YUCK!” out loud!

Do you think he had been smeared with gross stuff before? Do you think he might have thought it was a mean joke? It probably wouldn’t have been the first time a bunch of people ganged up on him and made him the butt of a joke. A million memories, a million sorrows, a million hurts must have been flashing through his mind. "Oh boy... here we go again?" and "Why me God? Why all this again?"

And then, Jesus smeared the mud over his eyes.

The book of John tells more of the story than Max Lucado got into in the passage I posted yesterday.
After Jesus smears mud on his eyes, he tells him to go wash off in a specific pool.

The guy does it. Probably questioning the logic of the whole darn thing the entire time.

He gets to the pool. The mud washes off. The guy can see.

His life is changed. FOREVER. Blindness traded for sight.

He goes back to the place he met Jesus. The people who’d seen the guy begging in the same spot every day before see the man come back. He is so changed by his encounter with Christ that they don’t even recognize him anymore. They actually argue over whether or not it’s the same guy! He finally has to tell them that it really IS him. They ask him what happened. He says "It was Jesus" and then all those people want to know where He is.

Think about it.

All of those years of hurting and sorrow. And suddenly one changed life has a whole neighborhood talking about Jesus. Most people didn’t do a whole lot of traveling in those days… at least not far from home very often. Those neighbors undoubtedly knew the blind man for his whole life. He'd sat in front of the gate every day. And then they ALL want to know what changed him.

The story goes on… the man encounters Jesus again. He doesn’t recognize Him… remember, the man didn’t SEE Jesus the first time around. Jesus tells the man who He is. The man instantly starts worshipping Jesus. There is NO doubt in this man’s mind… this GUY is Who changed him, put his heart together again, and gave him a life he’d never had before.
This "guy" was GOD.

Isn’t that just like God? Isn’t that so like so many other stories we know? Wouldn’t it be cool if there were pieces of you in it?

You’re stuck in a place or situation that there is no way out of on your own. You’re more than bummed out. You’re heart-broken. It looks hopeless.
And then by some turn of events. Your view of everything changes. Your eyes are opened. And looking you right in the eyes… right down to your worn out, tired heart… is Jesus.
Your life changes. OTHER people see it. They want to know what happened. Who did it? And suddenly, the rotten situation has a point… people are shown what God can do.


Not mud.

God shows up and nothing is the same ever again.

That wasn’t a change the formerly blind man would ever forget. You don’t forget being BLIND since birth. It was a joy that would never wear off. Even on a BAD day… encountering more mean people, going to work at a job that maybe he didn't like, death of a loved one… none of it could diminish that life-changing moment. It would be part of his unforgettable story for the rest of his life… and then some. That was 2000 years ago and we’re STILL talking about it!

Have you had your eyes opened to Jesus? When did that happen?
If you haven’t had that experience, what would it mean? What if the story is true?

God can use it all… to show what He can do to everyone else around you. The possibilities are limitless.

Friday, February 11, 2011

God can use it ALL

John 9 :1-12 tells this cool story about Jesus healing a blind man. Jesus opened the eyes of several blind men in the Bible… but this one is a special story. Max Lucado (PS, he's one of my favorite writers because he uses words to paint pictures) took some creative license and tells the story this way…

“Why do you think he’s blind?” one asked.

“He must have sinned.”

“No, it’s his folks fault.”

“Jesus, what do you think? Why is he blind?”

“He’s blind to show what God can do.”

The apostles knew what was coming; they had seen this look in Jesus’ eyes before. They knew what he was going to do, but they didn’t know how he as going to do it. Lightning? Thunder? A shout? A clap of the hands? They all watched.

Jesus began to work his mouth a little. The onlookers stared. “What is he doing?” He moved his jaw as if he were chewing on something.

Some of the people began to get restless. Jesus just chewed. His jaw rotated around until he had what he wanted. Spit.

If no one said it, something had to be thinking it: ”YUK!”

Jesus spat on the ground, stuck his finger into the puddle, and stirred. Soon it was a mud pie, and he smeared some of the mud across the blind man’s eyes.

The same One who’d turned a stick into a scepter and a pebble into a missile now turned saliva and mud into a balm for the blind.

Once again, the mundane became majestic. Once again the dull became divine, the humdrum holy. Once again God’s power was seen, not through the ability of the instrument, but through it’s availability.

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus explained. Blessed are the available. Blessed are the conduits, the tunnels, the tools. Deliriously joyful are the ones who believe that if God has used sticks, rocks, and spit to do His will, then he can use us.

I love this story. I love it for a million reasons. I love it because a man’s life was completely changed. I love it because no one was walking away thinking that “It was the mud.” We don’t leave the story thinking that we’ve got to find out where that place is so that WE can spit in the magic dirt and heal ourselves or other people we know. The story ends with a jaw dropping experience of a fresh glimpse of Christ.

How JUST like God is that?

Can you even think of a time in your life when you thought that “This is as good as it gets. This is just it. There’s no point in fighting it. This is how it’s going to be. I might as well make the most of it.” ? Have you heard other people say discouraging things about your troubles? The story says the man was blind. It doesn’t say he was deaf. Did you catch what the apostles were saying about him… almost as if he’s not even there. Talk about a second-class citizen! Have you ever felt like that? People are talking about you and you just wanna yell,” Hellooooo! I’m right HERE!” and “I can totally hear you!” The story doesn’t say that the man responded. He wasn’t defensive. He was probably used to hearing people talk about him. I doubt he was going to his “Happy Place” or that he was just turning the other cheek. My guess is that the guy had heard so many people say and argue about all the same things the disciples brought up, probably for his entire life, that his heart was just broken.
He didn’t even have the heart to answer. He just let them say it. Let them question.

And then Christ says that it’s NONE of the things that everyone’s been blaming for his blindness. “He’s blind to show what God can do.” How stunned would that man have been? How stunned would you be if after a lifetime of dealing with something that affects your whole life, Jesus tells EVERYONE around you that it’s this way to show what God can do?! Wouldn’t you just freak out? I know I would. How many questions had to be racing through the guy’s head?
“What?! There’s a POINT to this?”
“What the heck does that mean?”
“Who the heck is this guy talking?”
“Oh great, now people are going to give me even more of a hard time because this whack job invoked the name of God.”
“…. But what if what he said is true?”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love in the Time of Nausea

I Corinthians 13:4-8 says
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always remains strong. Love never ends."
New Century Version

I would like to say that I have found, in MY life, that love also involves a lot of vomit.

I have 4 children. Through all 4 pregnancies I had what doctors call "hyperemesis". People who didn't know better would ask me if I had "morning sickness."

No. I did not.

I had a 24/7 PukeFest for the 9 months each Rice Cake took up residency in my body.

When each of my children was born, MY hurling would end and THEIRS began. I met mothers whose newborns would adorably eat and have the cutest, tiniest little burps in the whole world. My children would projectile vomit all over what I was wearing frequently. I changed my shirts multiple times a day because of the mess. Gross right? I actually got to the point where I didn't even gag anymore.

This ended up being a blessing when Dave got a horrifying case of food poisoning from a delightfully pink fried chicken establishment in northwest Arkansas and spewed, while half passed out on the potty, all over the bathroom floor. Who has two thumbs and was already a pro at vomit removal and disinfecting?

That's right... this girl!

My two oldest children caught the rotavirus about 2 weeks before we moved to Alabama. The diarrhea and barfing didn't even slow down my packing.

All FOUR of the Rice Cakes caught a horrible 48 hour stomach bug when we were in CA for 3 months before Dave deployed to Iraq. My Dad joked at how I just went from one barfing kid to the next without skipping a beat.

Now we don't have someone throwing up at our house ALL THE TIME! Please! But with 6 people and multiple animals over the last decade... we've had more hurlage than I can even count. And I should have known it was coming.

I should have taken the IMMEDIATE hint from the first moments of matrimony that this marriage was going to be full of joy and puke.

Maybe I should back up. See Dave and I eloped in Las Vegas.
Dave and I eloped in Las Vegas in July.
Dave and I eloped in Las Vegas, in July, in a truck with no A/C.
Dave and I eloped in Las Vegas, in July, in a truck with no A/C, with a 13 yr old German Shepherd.
Dave and I eloped in Las Vegas, in July, in a truck with no A/S, with a 13 yr old German Shepherd who was prone to being carsick when she got hot.

We ran off to tie the knot in the city where people think it's totally normal to have a combination circus/casino/buffet. The story really is funny.
It takes exactly NOTHING to get married in Vegas. We went to the court to file for a license, at 9pm. That took all of 3 minutes. Then we found a chapel via telephone hotline (the same one where Billy Bob and Angelina got hitched… yeah, that one worked out well right?) and were man and wife by 10:30pm. I found the whole thing to be fabulously quick AND humorous.

I know that many brides get completely stressed out over their wedding and all the details. I had the opposite experience. I still did the old “Something old, new, borrowed, and blue.” I was wearing the blue dress that I wore to my high school graduation. That was old AND blue. I am nothing if not efficient. I had on a new pair of sandals… (not Birkenstocks thankyouverymuch.) And my friend Megan (the LONE person at my wedding who wasn’t me OR Dave) loaned me her Chapstick, my something borrowed. Since I had no pockets, (and who wants to get married holding Chapstick?) I did what any normal person would do… I shoved it down my cleavage. I know, I know… “That’s hot.” Right? Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah…

Anyway, my sister-in-law informed Dave that he should count his blessings that I actually DID marry him… since we had to elope in a truck with no A/C with the geriatric puking Wonder Dog. I just laugh. It just makes a good story… and I LOVE a good story. Because we had the dog, we couldn’t stay at any of the swanky hotels. People hear that we got married in Vegas and ask if we stayed at the Luxor, the MGM, or the Parisian. And we just DIE laughing. We stayed at the Las Vegas Motel 6, on the strip. Now I’ve stayed at a LOT of Motel 6’s in my life… (That was the motel of choice for my family’s long car trips to Grammy’s!) but, I’ve never seen one with a bigger neon sign. No other hotels would let us stay with the dog. Dave was a fan of trying to sneak her in someplace… the idea triggered visions of something out of an episode of I Love Lucy in my brain. So, no… the Motel 6 it was. And it was nice, as “nice” as that particular establishment can be. The only bummer was, when we got back from saying those VERY serious Chapstick boob vows, the dog had thrown up INSIDE the room. And when I say “threw up”… I actually mean that she’d emptied the entire contents of her stomach, plus those of a few other dogs. There’s no way that much hurlage could fit inside one dog. It made a pool that was 3 feet in diameter. And it was in that nook under the sink. You know, that part of the hotel room where the sink drain pipes are exposed… where the box of Kleenex fits, and that hole for disposing of razor blades (PS, who the heck disposes of razorblades like that anyway?!) THAT is where the puke was.

I immediately drew the line. “I am your wife. And I will be doing a lot of cleaning in our lifetimes. But I don’t do 13 yr old dog barf, when the dog technically, has only been “mine” for about an hour. It’s all yours Hoss.” And so… it wasn’t my problem. That was the ONLY time it wasn't my problem. :)
It turns out... love is cleaning up someone else's Technicolor Yawn.

But that was only the beginning… had I known the amount of vomit that our marriage was going to entail, I would have invested in Dramamine and Clorox like it was going out of style.

And my point is (and I DO have one!) that Valentine's Day coming up AND it's flu season. Maybe we should be thinking about what love really is.

Love IS patiently waiting while someone you love is violently emptying the contents of their stomach and helping them clean up, change jammies, and tucking them back into bed.

Love is kindly cleaning up whatever mess gets created in the process.

Love isn't too arrogant to deal with the real-life, gross needs of someone they love.

Love doesn't count how many times it's been woken up in the middle of the night by someone who's sick. Or how many loads of laundry those wake ups brought on.

Love is happy when the sick person goes 24 hours without puking... or 12... or 6.

Love patiently deals with real life, as it comes. It knows that there is an ending to things that are hard. It genuinely hopes that the sick person feels better (not just for the reduced chore load... but actually that the person feels better!)

Love keeps on truckin' when the load gets heavy and the pace slows down.

Love never ends.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 6

Day #6

Obviously, being renewed in our spirit so much that we’ll risk being transparent with the people around us is going to take a Big God. We aren't always naturally inclined to choose to live that way with certain people in our daily lives. It’s a huge change for our heart to even WANT to live that way but, it is a change that God will be making a little at a time as you walk with Him. You have the rest of your life to follow Christ, walk away from that old inclination, and let Him reproduce His character in you.

You’re not in it alone. Pray. Ask Him for guidance and be willing to be a little uncomfortable at first. Keep your nose in The Word of God. It's a lot easier to recognize wisdom when you keep your heart connected to the Author of Life.

Don't you find it true that some of the things MOST worth doing in life are not easy?

Labor & delivery...
Eating well and getting regular exercise to drop poundage...
Kicking a habit that's not good for you ( like smoking)...

They all take a lot conscious effort and they're all SO worth the work and attention when you reach the finish line. Temporary discomfort is worth the long-term results.

It's amazing how much LESS stressful being honest is... there's no upkeep! You don't have to remember what story you've told certain people. Truth across the board is so simple. And couldn't we all use a simpler life?
Choose to begin living a life of truth now. That is what REAL freedom really looks like.

Would you feel freer if you could be truly transparent with the rest of the world around you?

Would you feel more free if you weren't constantly trying to stay attached to a certain kind of reputation?

How would you explain the importance of being truthful to your child?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 5

Day #5
Paul tells us that the new way of life that we are called to live involves being truthful. But does that mean that we’re supposed to tell all our deepest, darkest secrets to EVERY person we come in contact with?

Definitely not.

We all know people who share too much information! Rather than feeling uplifted by a conversations with them, we‘d rather run and hide when we see them coming!

What Paul is talking about is altheia… “what is true in any matter under consideration.” And “a candor of mind that is free from pretense, falsehood, simulation, or deceit.”
What does that mean?

He’s talking about living a life of transparency. One where everything you appear to be, you actually ARE. A life where you let people see what is really real about you and don’t worry about manipulating situations so that you come out looking awesome no matter what.

What would be scary about living a life where you are transparent with everyone else?

How do you feel when you are with the most truthful person you know?

How would you like other people to feel when they are with you?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 4

Day #4
Max Lucado hits it out of the park when he describes lying in his book
Just Like Jesus

The plain fact is that we don’t like the truth. Our credo is “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you squirm.” Our dislike for the truth began at the age of 3 when Mom asked, “Did you hit your brother?” We knew then and there that honesty has its consequences.

Not only do we not like the truth, we don’t trust the truth. If we are brutally honest (which is advisable in a discussion on honesty), we’d have to admit that the truth seems inadequate to do what we need done.

We want our bosses to like us, so we flatter. We call it polishing the apple. God calls it a lie.

We want people to admire us, so we exaggerate. We call it stretching the truth. God calls it a lie.

We want people to respect us, so we live in houses we can’t afford and charge bills we can’t pay. We call it the American way. God calls it living a lie.

… the ripple of today’s lie is tomorrow’s wave and next year’s flood. State the truth today. Be just like Jesus. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

What keeps you from being completely honest with yourself or with other people?
What do we usually do to avoid being truthful with ourselves?
How does your relationship with someone change when you feel they are being dishonest with you?
Have you ever felt like the truth was "inadequate to do what you need done?"
What truth do you need the courage to tell?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 3

Day #3

One significant piece of our life, when we aren’t following Christ, is lying.

Lying is a rotten way of life. It’ll eat you alive from the inside. Whether we’re the one doing the lying, or we’re the one discovering that someone else has been untruthful with us, it stinks! And yet, it’s so easy to fall into that rut. We’d like to split hairs and get technical and say that if we aren’t telling something completely false, then it’s not a lie.

But Paul was VERY intentional with his words. He covered ALL the bases. The word for “lying” he uses is pseudos. It means, “a conscious & intentional falsehood”, but it ALSO means “whatever is not what it seems to be.”

He’s got us cornered now doesn’t he?

Is there anything in your life that can qualify as being pseudos?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 2

Day #2
If we’re supposed to walk away from the things that leave us “worse for the wear”, what do we choose to do in its place?

We all know how easy it is to fall back into bad habits. It’s almost like a road with deep ruts from so many trips worn over the same path. It’s hard to get out of that rut! The good news is that we have a choice. We have the freedom to choose how we'll live.

The road we’re called to travel on is new. The person we’re called to be is kainos. It means “fresh, unused, unworn, and recently made.” The new self isn’t something that happens overnight. There's not blingy magic wand getting waved and POOF you're like Cinderella and all shiny and not looking anything like you once did. You’ll be walking away from that old version of you a lot! Paul calls it "dying to yourself." But God is working His way, that new, fresh way, into your character the more time you spend with Him.

What parts of your heart could use a bit of renewing?
Ok, how 'bout a LOT of renewing?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ephesians 4:22-25 Day 1

I like looking at different translations of the same scripture because sometimes different wordings just strike a chord with me in a deeper way. For the next few days I want us to chew on this section of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:22-25

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

“You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse; because people are fooled by the evil thing they want to do. But we’re taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy.
So, you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth because we all belong to each other in the same body.”

The Message
“Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything--- and I do mean everything--- connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life--- a God fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.
What it adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”

Day #1
We’re supposed to walk away from our old life?
Really, it makes sense. How can we follow Christ if we’re not willing to give up following other things?
That's not to say that giving some things up is going to be a cake walk. It can be really hard. After all, we’re pretty comfortable with what we know. People, as a general rule, don’t like change. But look at what you’re actually walking away from!

Paul says to leave what is part of your “old” life behind you. The Greek word he’s using for “old” is palaios. It literally means “worn by use & worse for the wear.”

Can you think of anything in your life that has left you feeling “worn out & worse for the wear?”
Is it possible that parting with that could have an upside?

Trying To Make it Through the Day

If God has promised us "a life more abundant" why do we seem to spend so much time white knuckling our way through it? There is so much more to life than just trying to make it through in one piece. That doesn't mean that life is always easy, or that somehow we can make God get with OUR program and do what we want, and it doesn't mean denying things that we really feel. It does mean that there's a way to live that keeps us constantly connected to the One Who Created it ALL. You're not going to find the things you need to get through everything life will throw at you somewhere inside yourself. Patience, Joy, Self-Control, Peace, Love, Kindness, Faithfulness, Goodness, and Gentleness... let's face it, are ALL things that we'd like to have more of... and see more of in the people around us!
They're the fruit of the Spirit.
What does that mean?
It means that they're things that are nurtured and grow when we're connected to the vine that they come from. GOD. We'll find ourselves with MORE of those things as we spend more time with Him.

People like to make following Christ a giant list of rules of "Do's and Don'ts." That's not really real. People like to make up rules. Really, God doesn't have that many. But there are some things that you can count on:

#1 God loves YOU. Not just "mankind" in the broadest sense of terms... but actually YOU. Just as you are. You don't have to clean up for an encounter with Him.

#2 You don't have to change in order to start following Him but, you'll find that following Him DOES change you. If you're actually serious about ditching the facade and being a real person... and let's face it, we really like being around that kind of person... you'll find that following God ends up stripping away the things that really don't matter. It's not instant. It takes time. You are not going to be the same person that you once were. That's exciting and a little scary too. Change can be hard. It can also be the biggest, BEST adventure. And you can rest in the peace of knowing that God has your very best interest in mind. Not just "good"... but BEST! Diving in deeper with Christ means you have less to carry... Jesus wasn't kidding when he said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

#3 Following Christ doesn't get rid of problems or mean that life will suddenly be easier. I'd liken it to having shock absorbers on your car. They don't get rid of pot holes and speed bumps, but you sure recover from them a lot quicker when they're actually attached to your car. Being in a relationship with God doesn't mean you will never hurt... it means that you WILL recover and that something good WILL come out of it. ("God causes ALL things to work together for the good for those who love Him.")

#4 You always get to choose. Following where God leads is a lot easier than making it up as you go along. God is the one with the plan. God is the one who's orchestrated the entire universe. He's got you covered but, He won't MAKE you follow Him.

There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happy is a feeling you experience briefly... usually when you get what you want. Joy is deeper, it happens in your soul. Joy is there regardless of the circumstances around you. Need a picture? Happiness is a little kid's birthday party. Joy is what people in 3rd world countries feel when they are finally able to have clean drinking water in their village. Joy is BIGGER. Joy is DEEPER. Joy is BETTER.

Follow where God leads you... and joy will come... it can't help it!