I was driving on Ruston Way last night. It was after dark, and I was surprised multiple groups of people out, and I thought, Yup, it’s Spring now. There are jokes about what constitutes appropriate weather for going out in the Pacific Northwest; our threshold for what counts as “too chilly” seems to be higher than in other regions, and especially after long, gray winters, we tend to look outside and think, “close enough.” The people I saw walking the waterfront were mostly bundled up in blankets and puffy coats because, despite the lovely sunny day, the evening was very chilly.
I couldn’t help thinking how these people were determined to enjoy the season. Despite the weather report or the temperature, the fact remains that it is Spring, and people are starting to live like it’s Spring. And I couldn’t help thinking that this is a spiritual truth as well: When the season we’re in changes, sometimes the weather of our lives looks pretty much the same at first; or maybe a terrific storm comes when before it was simply cold, and it seems like Winter is only restarting and nothing is improving, or it’s actually getting worse. But the fact remains that the days of death and cold are over, and the days ahead are getting warmer and brighter; new life is blossoming, things are changing, because despite the weather, the season remains.
Of course, tomorrow is the day believers across the globe celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God, and the consequent resurrection of every story that was marred by death. This season, the season of Abundant Life, zoé perissós*, goes on without end. All the darkness tries to hide the truth, to convince us that the storm and the cold and the gloom are here to stay; but the darkness cannot change the fact that life is here and now. We are able with Christ to live the way we were meant to, to walk out the story God has written for us, despite the weather. The days of death are over; Spring is here.
I haven’t felt much of the “Christmas Spirit” this year, and I’m not really sure why. This season of my life has been tough in general, but usually Christmastime brings great joy: All the lights and shiny things, giving the gifts, sharing the good food and good times… This year not so much. But today, I spent some time with a friend helping her get things ready for her Christmas, and when I went home and was mulling over all these things, I came to this:
Why do we celebrate Christmas? I know the Charlie Brown answer, but really—why do we care that a baby was born in a manger a couple ago? We could talk about Isaiah 9, John 1, the story of his birth in Luke…
The story of this baby is a wondrous and beautiful one, full of angel praise and mysterious dreams. But this is really only part of the whole story of who Jesus is, and this is what matters. What makes this story worth telling is what happens after Chapter 1.
This baby born became a man who died, who lived again and received his crown as The King.
Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God; He is the Word made flesh; He is the embodiment of the Love of God that always was and always is and always will be. He came as a human child to grow up and become who he really is, and to fulfill the promise of reconciliation and to bring new life, so that we too could grow up and become who we really are, and become the fulfillment of God’s promise of Love to those around us.
When people talk about having the “Spirit of Christmas all year round” (thank you A Christmas Carol), they’re talking about unconditional, extravagant, beautiful, Capital-L Love—the kind of Love that God lavishes on his kids, the Love that Jesus himself is the absolute greatest proof of—not because he was a little boy born in a barn, but because he is the Son of God, who chose to die and rise again, to fulfill God’s promise to all his kids: The promise that He Is who He says; the promise that you are everything He says you are, and you can live this great story He’s written about you.
PS—If you’re breathing air, God considers you His kid, and all of this applies to You. ❤
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And Now, if you need a little Christmas Pep, enjoy this Happy Christmas song:
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Long lay the world in sin and error, pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
I was listening to this song the other day in my car. It’s an incredibly familiar song, so familiar I could sing it in my sleep. And yet on this day, when this song came on my Christmas playlist shuffle, God dropped an understanding on my head of these lines that has thoroughly ruined it for me (in the best way).
I always thought about this part as a poetic little description of the world’s need for a Savior. Now that’s probably still true, but even more true is this: The world was pining for the story which was spoken right out of heaven, which sin and error made us forget. This goes right in hand with what the Lord has been saying in our church body recently. It’s not that people were so horrible, but that they were so lost, so unaware of the worth they always had in the Father’s eyes, so unable to remember who they really were. For God so loved the world…
Jesus is the embodiment of the promise of God’s love. He is the hope and the grace for every soul to walk in the wonderful story God imagined for them before they were born.
This isn’t a new message. This is the Gospel, the eternal Word. This is what God has been saying all along. You are worth everything.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
If you’re thirsty for more, check out the latest sermons from Zion’s River here.
I was driving home tonight after hearing a popular Christian speaker, who at one point talked about becoming everything God has designed us to be. This entails believing who He is and what He says, and who I am, which led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts until I distinctly heard, “What is keeping you from believing God?”
So don’t quote me on this, all you math and science people, but I heard once that, mathematically speaking, there’s no such thing as “deceleration.” It’s actually represented in equations as negative acceleration: If you’re going faster and faster, the number is positive, and if you’re slowing down, the number is negative, but both numbers in the equations represent a change in speed. And you’re thinking, I didn’t come here for a math lesson… So the point:
There’s a man in the Bible who, when Jesus talked to him about his belief, honestly and wisely blurted out, “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (That’s in Mark chapter 9). Now the unbelief here is in reference to Jesus, what he is capable of, who he is. But if the man didn’t believe one thing, it’s because he did, ever so subtly, believe something else.
So when Adam and Eve were in the garden, God basically told them, “All I have here is yours: All the food, the whole garden to enjoy, except just leave this one tree alone. But everything else, have at it!” And they were content for awhile to dwell there, believing God’s word that He had given them everything they needed.
And then there’s this snake.
He comes up to Eve and says, “Did God really…?” And she questions what God said. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she just has to stop and think. But the serpent keeps going, on and on about how this one tree is so great, and how important and special it is, and how God is withholding this from her, and how she’s missing out on something… The lies begin to creep in, clashing with the truth, and all Eve is doing so far is weighing these two opposing words, but now she has a choice to make: Who will she believe?
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Genesis 3:6)
We all know how that turned out.
The point here is that she only began to disbelieve what God said when someone else started talking. The enemy whispered in her ear, just like he did to the man in Mark, just like he does to us: You don’t have what you need, God won’t come through for you, you can’t trust God… And there is a choice to make: Will you believe the fear, the shame, the past, the coworker or friend or family member or random stranger who said that thing? Because if you’re having trouble believing something God says, it’s because you believe something else—it’s a negative belief. If you’re not believing the truth, you’re believing a lie, and lies are all the enemy has. He can’t tell you who you are, but he can try to convince you of who you are not.
Believing what God says about who you are and what you’re capable of, even if you’re not entirely sure what that is yet, will cause an acceleration in you to live the story He wrote about you while He was still singing the stars into being. And God is immeasurably excited about you and your amazing story (because Amazing are the only stories God writes).
So: What is keeping you from believing God?
This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class, edited slightly to post here on my blog. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!
There are people who insist that people don’t change, that a person is only what they always were, and will always be what they are.
I can’t say I remember the first time I met Lisa, or how we became friends to begin with. I told her so at her wedding, before she went off on her honeymoon: I said I couldn’t imagine my life without her; she’s like a sister to me. I do remember one event which really solidified our friendship. It was one weekend at Women of Faith, an annual Christian women’s conference; Lisa was rooming with my mother and me at the hotel. On the way back from a meal break, my mom had gotten us lost and made us late and then been mad at me for it, and I was so frustrated with her that I couldn’t sit in the arena. I wandered around the concourse with Lisa until we found a little room reserved for prayer. We spent the rest of that session together in that room; we missed the whole Mandisa concert, but she didn’t care and stayed with me anyway. That’s how Lisa is: She deeply cares about people. She has this love that seems to pour out of her and spill all over you until you’re drenched; her smile and her belief make you feel like you can do anything. When I first knew her, I thought she was a perfect model, with her natural blond curls and slim tall feminine build and perfect kind smile. She is the most joyful and beautiful person I know, my best friend.
We talk about everything. We’ve had conversations about faith, about politics, boys and men, movies and romance, food and fashion. Once, when we were talking in my car, I had an idea, almost an image, pass through my mind, and I told her what it was: It’s as if the whole world is black and white, and when she walks into a room, she brings the color with her. It’s just who she is. She is the city on the hill, a beacon. She is also a former felon.
When we would talk together, she sometimes told me about her history. She wasn’t always full of light and grace. I don’t remember the exact conversations; I’ve heard her story a few times since. She told me about her teen years, how she got into alcohol and all sorts of drugs. Her mom once rented a one-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend when Lisa was only sixteen; there wasn’t room for Lisa, who was expected to figure things out on her own. She often hung out with thieves and broke into places to steal. She told me a little about her time in prison. More often than not, she was in solitary confinement, wing 3 South —“the hole.” I saw a picture of the old her: Black hair, mug shot glare. No color, no life, just resentment and hatred and darkness. She would fight anyone, for anything. She would tell me these things, and I wouldn’t believe her. I’d tell her that was a completely different person. She would agree.
Sometimes we talk about my life, my struggles and anxieties and fears. We talk about how difficult my relationship to my mother is; how it feels having to go back home as an adult; what it’s like to be virtually the only person I know who’s still single and with no children; what it’s like to feel alienated from people my own age; how it feels to question the path I had complete faith in when I took that first step over three years ago. We talk about how I’ve been through many changes in my life, yet I feel as though I’m back at Start: I did not pass “Go,” I did not collect $200. Sometimes I feel like I’m in jail, waiting, watching others take their turns around the board. The path I’ve chosen is taking me through a long and weary wilderness of papers and ink, fearful dabblings in writing, late nights spent in alone rather than out with friends, allowing ideas to form and change. Sometimes I wonder what it’s for, why God is taking me this way and if it is really Him, and I tell my friend so. She reminds me how everything is a season, how the leaves will turn eventually and the attire of my weary desert will change for something cozier, and all the trekking that feels like worthless wandering will have been worth it because I started out going somewhere and I’ll get there. She believes in change. I believe her.
When Lisa decided to follow God and to get clean, she lost everything: The friends she used to run with abandoned her; she had to take her little girl and leave her boyfriend; she really had nowhere to go. Everyone told her she would fail and be right back, and no one took her seriously. She was a single mom with a record, and a recovering addict. Employers don’t often care what a person’s felony charge was, or how much their life has changed, or how much they regret their mistake; all that most employers see on paper and before them in an interview is a felon, and felons aren’t hirable. Lisa was alone in the world with very few options, and might have given up but for the dim light growing within her that drew her on for just one more day, one more day. People who experience addiction and recovery say it’s not one life-changing moment, but a thousand impossible choices every day. Lisa chose every day to take one more impossible step into the unknown, to leave behind who she was and everything she knew, to become the beautiful person she is today—an impossibility itself—a miracle. She chose to be the impossible before the eyes of her old friends and family, every day over years and years becoming what they told her she would never be: Free.
Lisa is married now, and going through even more changes; our friendship has gone through some changes as well. She and her husband are busy learning how to become one, figuring each other out, working out how to build their new life together. She seemed distant for a while, and I was afraid the season for our close friendship may have come to an end for good; but it was only a short winter while her new marriage began its long spring. We still talk, and now I go to her house to visit with her whenever I can. Lisa and her husband just had their first baby together, a girl. She’s changing before their eyes. She will grow up with a father who loves her and a mother who believes in her ability to change and the goodness of it. She’ll also have an auntie, not by blood but friendship, who will be there as often as possible. Lisa is still my best friend; that hasn’t changed, and for that I am glad.
Though it’s much different than it used to be, life is not suddenly easy for her, because she’s not done changing. We all continue to morph into different versions of ourselves as long as we live, either becoming more and more the person God made us to be or running from that person. Every day we choose to trust what He says about who we are is a day we choose the impossible. Lisa inspires me to keep hoping one day I might be married, though I can choose to be whole and happy now regardless; to keep hoping, even when I feel as though no one else is walking the same road as me, that this season won’t continue forever. She reminds me I am exactly where I need to be in order for God to do what He needs to do with me, even if it’s not ideal. I don’t know who I’m becoming yet; I don’t know what I’ll do with this degree once I earn it, besides hang it on my wall. I believed in the beginning that this part of my journey had a purpose, that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. This road is not easy, and it must be because it’s the right way; His roads are always narrow, after all.
Lisa told me once about being in the hole in prison, absolutely at her desperate end. Her life felt as though it was being engulfed in darkness and despair and she would never get away from it, never change; she “kited” for her mentor over and over, but her mentor let her be alone. The only book they allow you in the hole is the Bible. She read it and read it, sought and groped after all the promises and hope written in the pages, longing for the light. One day it came. As to Paul on the road to Damascus, the light came. It flooded the cell, flooded her, and the love that came with it destroyed her. To this day, it destroys her; it shines out from that hill of her life into the dim valley of single college students dwelling at home in the wilderness, reminding them that things change and people change, and light always comes.
For more of Lisa’s story, read her testimony on the Esteem Outreach website.
So I never watch Church TV, but this morning I turned on some TV Church programs, just because. I ended up flipping through a couple, all with good, smart, biblically-sound teaching. I ended up on a channel with a Youth Pastor who was preaching something different, and I noticed a trend: the “grown-up” church teachings were all about little nuggets of wisdom and power that can be mined out of the Scriptures and applied to everyday life, but this youth service was all about how God loves. This Youth Pastor was talking about how, of all the weapons in God’s heavenly arsenal, the one He chose to use to save humanity was Love; he went on to to talk about how God saved him from his pit, how God is not angry or disappointed in everyone, how He loves. And it struck me as odd that the message of God’s love should be reserved for the young and the new believers, as if it is something to be moved on from in favor of “higher” teachings.
Now there is certainly a maturity that must be developed as one grows in the Lord. In Hebrews 5, the writer talks about how those he writes to should be graduating from basic teachings, from “milk” to “solid food.” The love of God is foundational to living a life following Him; He doesn’t make sense without it. The basic, foundational things should not be discarded, however, but built upon. God’s love never becomes obsolete, as if one could spirtitually upgrade past the need for it. To the contrary, as one grows in the Lord, the knowledge of His love should increase rather than diminish–as if the God who is Love could ever change.
My Pastor has been talking recently about how we are like dogs in that God has given each of us a passion to pursue that one thing He made us for—like a dog has a passion for chasing a ball. A person in the Lord is like a well-loved dog: we aren’t afraid of not being fed, we’re content to just be in the Master’s presence, and we certainly come running when He picks up our ball. But so many of us forget all the love of the Master and instead live like distrusting cats. We hide, we avoid the Master; we cry out for fear of not being fed, or of being left alone, or of being locked in or out of the house. It’s because we forget just how much affection God has for us, how much He loves us.
Deeper understanding and a more mature mindset are certainly part of growing in the Lord, and we must lay aside immature ways of thinking and put down misconceptions. But God’s love is not something anyone can grow out of; it’s something we’re supposed to keep growing in. So don’t forget the basics you are building on: “For God so loved the world…”
Lately I’ve been thinking about the term “afterlife” in the context of the question, “Do I believe in an afterlife?”
I suppose the answer would have to be no, and I’ll tell you why:
To say that I believe in an “afterlife” implies that the only “life” there is takes place while we walk upon the earth, and that what follows “after” is not life, but something else. However, the truth is that although life begins for us when we are born in our physical bodies, it does not end when our physical bodies cease to function.
Our lives begin physically when we are born on the earth; they begin anew in the Spirit when we choose Christ as our King. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is of heaven, and so we become citizens of heaven, even while we continue to live on the earth. Heaven, then, isn’t a place where we go when we die, but it’s a place we live in currently, and where we will continue to live even after our bodies pass away. There is only one life—in Christ—the end of which is not concurrent with our physical end; and there is one true death—to reject Christ. If we reject Christ, then even the life we live on the earth is death—we are not truly living, because we were meant to live in heaven, in the presence of God, always.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Life is continuous; we who choose Christ are continually being shaped into who God has always said we are. Sometimes we are granted glimpses in the Spirit, but we see “in a mirror dimly,” as Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 13:12). When we “die,” we are changed yet again—the veil of the physical is removed completely, and we see clearly what has always been present: the Kingdom of Heaven.
So I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I believe in eternal life.
I have found that lately I am increasingly fond of the sky. I just love looking at it. I’m fascinated by the colors and textures and light and movement: even if the sky has certain patterns and tendencies, it’s never the same. I always think it’s beautiful, no matter what the weather is like.
I was driving along minding my own business, admiring the sky in such fashion, when all of a sudden God showed me something about healing:
It was an overcast day (which isn’t odd for Washington), so the sky was covered in a rolling blanket of pale gray clouds. I then saw a little rift in the clouds, and the sun shone through, warm and bright, for a moment, and then slowly the clouds rolled over the light and covered it again.
It struck me then that the light didn’t go anywhere, but it was only blocked from view. That is when God began to show me this is how it is when He heals someone: if the physical world we live in is the shroud of clouds, then healing is when God gives us a glimpse of the realm of heaven. It is only a glimpse, because even if someone’s body is completely and perfectly healed here on earth, it will still keep on being alive and therefore aging and changing; since that person still lives in this fallen world, they may still get sick with a cold or encounter some other health issue. Ultimately these bodies weren’t made to last forever. Healing, like many of the things God does, is a taste of eternity.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Scripture doesn’t say whether or not Jesus then attended to the “multitude” of other people who were there awaiting healing, but I think it is safe to assume he did not. Some people may be wondering why, if God can heal them, He chooses not to; they may even think it’s because He doesn’t love them. God’s love for us is as great as He Himself is great—all of His being is consumed with love for us! Healing is a display of His glory and power, and while it is wonderful for the person being healed, it isn’t just for them but for everyone else who sees it or hears about it as well. While God does heal out of love, it is not the proof of His love. The proof of His love is His Son, who went to death on a cross on our behalf, and who returned to life in power to give us power and hope for today.
. . .[H]e himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. . . .having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. . .
Even if someone has an infirmity that isn’t yet healed, they can still experience a taste of heaven every day. When we seek to know God more, to live in His presence, listen to His voice, and act on what He says and reveals, we are not only experiencing heaven ourselves, but we then bring it with us wherever we go. If someone is consumed with the healing they don’t have, however, they can never experience the fullness of joy and life that God intends for them. An infirmity, like everything else in this world, is only temporary; it will all pass away when the world passes away.
I am not suggesting it is easy, but I am asserting that your pain, your handicap, your illness and your hurts are not your true identity: You are a beloved child of God! His plans for you are enormous, and through Him you are able to overcome all things. We should pray for healing for each other, as Jesus commands us to heal in the power of the Spirit he gives us. But healing is more than just relief or even performing a cool miracle: just as everything we do or say by the Holy Spirit, it is about bringing heaven on earth—letting God have His way for His glory. One day, when “the grey rain-curtain of this world is rolled back,”* we will be completely healed, forever. Yet as the light of the sun never disappears but is only hidden by the clouds, so is heaven present here and now, though we only catch glimpses of it.
Colored pencil & oil pastel on hot press board. *Please don’t copy or save this image*
This is a project I had to do for an art class, actually: a musically-inspired piece.
The song that I chose is “Like and Avalanche” by Hillsong United.
I strongly encourage you to listen to the song as you consider my work:
Feel free to turn it up!
All the elements of this picture reflect aspects of the song, or at least how it affected me at the time. I’m certain that if I did another on the same song, it would look very different.
I have always loved this song since the first time I heard it. While it’s called “Like an Avalanche,” it makes me think of tidal waves. God’s presence and love is like the song: it is gentle and beautiful and joyful; but it is also powerful and fierce, and can overwhelm you with little warning. Grace is more than “unmerited favor” or even forgiveness of sins; grace is the power of God in the life of one who believes Him to be who He says they are, and to live as He has called them.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” —Ephesians 2:4-7
“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” —Romans 5:7-10
This is the question that every person who has ever lived on the earth has been born with. It’s the question that is implanted into the hearts of every human being ever created. We are always trying to answer it, because the answer to our identity determines our actions, and we want to know, “What am I here to do?” The question is always preceded, even unconsciously, by, “Who am I?”
I am a child of the Living God (Acts 17:28); I am called to His great will and design for my life, which is too big for me to define (Ephesians 3:20; Psalm 139:6); I am the woman He wrote in the story of my life long before I was born, before the earth came into existence (Psalm 139:16); I am full of fire and power to accomplish everything He has said I can do (Ephesians 6:10-13), and His word never fails (Isaiah 55:11); I am royalty, the daughter of the King of Kings (Romans 8:14-17); and I am His Beloved (Song of Solomon 2:2), part of the Body and the Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13,27; Revelation 21:9-11).
Who are you?
If you don’t know, you should find out.
As Pastor James Sheen says in his blog*, “You can’t escape it. It’s already in you. It’s the pressure of a purposed soul.” We are who God says we are, and we always have been; it’s time we started acting like it.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceiful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The “new self” can really called the “original self,” the person that God wrote before He put you on the earth. Any identity you are living by that does not match who God is and what He says is an identity imposed upon you by the enemy. It may be all you have ever known. But the enemy works to destroy you from your first breath. Why? So that your life will not come to the full fruition of everything God intends to manifest through you; so that you will never see all God has for you, and that God will not be glorified in your life. God didn’t keep it a secret when He made you; He is proud of you, His beloved masterpiece, and He told everyone, just like He did with Job. A very good friend of mine maintains that “we are all Job,” and I agree. So the question now is this: Will you be the justification of all God’s bragging about who you are in Him, or will you let that story go unlived?
Find out who you are, and then live like you believe it.
*Pastor James Sheen’s blog: http://believe2day.com/2013/02/14/why/