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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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?
The other day, I was minding my own business when the Lord, as He often does, spoke up to tell me something I needed to hear. It was actually a question: What are you being saturated by?
I’d actually had a pretty rough day, the kind where all these relatively little things added up to a very frustrated me. I was completely flooded by my own negative thoughts; I had allowed myself to soak in my funk all day. I had to choose instead to allow myself to be saturated with God’s presence, to soak in His word instead.
This is true of life in general. What do we allow ourselves to be saturated by? The past? Present circumstances? Pain? Offense? Fear? The things we are full of are the things that will pour out of us. It’s a daily choice, I’m finding, to be in the flow of His word and Spirit, so that praises pour out instead of complaints. We all need to get things off our chests sometimes, of course. But I find that when I’m full of nothing but negative comments, it’s because I’ve allowed my mind to dwell on unlovely things for far too long in a day. I long to be saturated by the presence of the Lord 24/7, so maybe others will get soaked by the river around me.
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t understand how the joy I felt as soon as I had conceived of you in my mind drove me to form you, or the way your first breath and cry made my heart swell and my feet dance. Nor can you fathom how excited I was when I made the earth and everything in it, knowing one day, the perfect day, you would walk in it. I saw you before you were, and I couldn’t wait for you to become—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You can’t imagine the sorrow in my heart, knowing I’d given you the gift of choosing everything I Am, but that you would reject it—reject Me. I raise the sun even when you aren’t looking and I never get tired of searching for your heart, nor of opening mine to you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t know just how far I reached through space and time to pierce the darkness that blocks My light from your view, to shatter the boundary between your heart and my love, to offer you My hand, forever. I will never give up on you, no matter how far you run or how deep you dive, no matter what you say to My face or what you do when you believe My back is turned to you—I never turn my back on you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
My heart sings when you turn to me, when your heart reaches for mine, when your spirit worships in truth. You reach up to Me, and I am already there with you; you cry out to Me and I have already heard it. You bask in My presence and let My love overflow in your being until you think you should burst, but this is only a glimpse, a taste of my passion for you. I made you for Myself, and all that I make is good. I know who you are, I wrote a wonderful story about you, when I dreamt of you before the foundation of all things. I made you out of faith that you are able to be and to do all I imagined you could—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
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…”
So I’ve written before about all the stressful things that are going on in my life; it is crazy hard and frustrating right now. I had had it with one thing after another cropping up without reprieve, and was wallowing in this despair one day recently when suddenly, as I was preparing eloquent complaints in my mind, I heard very clearly: “What do you want people to know about your life?” That stopped me dead in my thoughts; before I share my answer to that question though, I’d like to share this:
If anyone ever suffered for the sake of the gospel, surely Paul did. He was ridiculed, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, threatened numerous times with death, and generally lived a fairly miserable life after his journey on the road to Damascus. Yet he writes to the Philippians (most likely from Rome during his imprisonment): “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul’s secret was trusting God and relying on His strength, in every circumstance, no matter what it looked like. Some people say faith is blind, but that’s not true at all. Faith does see, yet it does not rely on sight but on revelation from heaven. Paul went to Jerusalem on purpose, even though he knew terrible happenings awaited him; one prophet even bound himself up with Paul’s own belt as a prophetic gesture to the imprisonment Paul would face (Acts 21:10-11). Paul had a heads-up that after Jerusalem, things would not be so fun for him; and yet, in response to the pleading of his friends, he says: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul had his eyes on the Lord, and was determined to allow God’s glory to be brought through him no matter what happened.
It’s not easy to hope for what you can’t see; to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and not on the trials. How hard it must have been for Paul, not knowing if this imprisonment would be to his death. We all hope for things to change for the better, and we know God can do miracles, but what if He allows us to be tested, as He did Job? What if He wants us to bring glory to Him in terrible dark places? To show the enemy that our praise and worship of God isn’t because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is?
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faced this dilemma. When ratted out by malicious Chaldeans for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and threatened by the king with death in the superheated furnace, they responded (honorably) to him thus: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added). The three of them were resolved that no situation or outcome would sway them from worshipping the Most High God, even if it meant death for them. What if there is no rescue, no healing, no deliverance? Do we love and trust the Lord so much that we pray, like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)? Do we really want glory brought to His name more than anything else? This kind of faith, this kind of living, is not easy. It cannot be done without the power of His Holy Spirit, His strength in us; it can’t be done without daily being immersed in His presence, falling more in love with Him, dying more to ourselves.
And so, as the question of what I want people to know when they look at my life echoed in my mind, I realized that I don’t want people to know how poor and miserable and pitiful I am, sucking the life out of every conversation and relationship. My spirit rose up in me then with a desire for people to know instead how God is always faithful, always good; how He is trustworthy, and gracious, and powerful, and worth all of the suffering there may be ahead of me: for the people who would see Him clearly for the first time because of His light shining from me, illuminating His face for them, and for the glory that might be brought to Him through it all.
Hebrews talks about how all those great faithful people of the Bible never actually saw the fulfillment of the promises made to them while they lived on the earth, but they were not dismayed because they knew they were part of something huge, bigger even than their whole lives; something that had eternal significance. This is what they had faith in; this was their hope.
This is why I am striving to be joyful in my life, no matter what it looks like. By no means have I even begun to live this way. But my heart and my eyes are set on Him, as I slowly let my own desires die, because really, my life was never supposed to be about me anyway.
So many people, when they think about approaching God, imagine something like this:
But God is actually more like this:
God wants to be with you.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.[…] (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
God is Love.
He Loves You.
He is The King; He is mighty, powerful, and worthy of honor. But His everlasting, unconditional love must be understood first; without it, He doesn’t make sense.
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.
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/