In Christ. Period.

journal wordsEven as I poured out my heart on the pages of the journal, receiving clarification in the midst of it, I knew it was to be posted in the blogosphere.  Not to focus on me and my inner mess / workings.  I prefer to let the Lord do His work on me in secret, so you see only the new, improved version.  Apparently, our Daddy wants a few more of you to receive the same sweet release His Spirit brought me this morning in these words. . .

As much as I’ve been struggling inside for a while now, it’s been me in my own strength struggling and trying to understand, to figure out, to look the part and convince myself (of what???).  But it’s really the old dead me seeking to stay in control even while the new me in Christ wants nothing beyond living by His Spirit, trusting Him 100%.  I haven’t fully reckoned myself dead; thus, the struggle.

Oh, Daddy, how can this dead man continue to exert so much influence?

Maybe it’s not a greater revelation of reckoning myself dead, but of new creation in Christ I so need to grasp.  Which all goes back to in Christ, period.  As in, focusing on Him, knowing Him more intimately – the fullness of who He really is and of what He really did for me.

After all, I can’t kill the old man in me – the flesh – no matter how much I’d like to or how hard I try.  In actuality, the more focus I give that dead creature, the stronger its hold.  Furthermore, I already died with Christ in His death and was raised with Him in new life – a new creation.  Already done.  Not needing to be done.  It is finished!

Help me fully rest in this, Holy Spirit, fully trusting my Jesus – the Way, Truth, and Life.  Help me keep letting go of all the “what about…” questions every time they come up, no matter how many times they come up.  Help me choose to remember, instead, that I am in Christ.  Period.

In Christ alone!  My only hope!  Yes, in Christ alone, my only Hope!  My rest!  My peace!  My righteousness!  My joy!  Jesus Christ, my Life!  My All!  And in Christ, I am a new creation! Period.

Only Because of Jesus

Following the recent devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami on the island nation of Japan, the backup systems at the oldest nuclear power plant failed when the power went out, resulting in a radioactive nightmare.  In the midst of it all is a story that must not be missed – that of the workers who continue feverishly in their attempts to stop the meltdown so that the lives of the people of their land might be saved from fallout.

Theirs is a powerful tale of heroism, yet it is so much more.  Those who agreed to remain on the premises, as well as firefighters, electrical workers, etc., are exposing themselves to what will probably be lethal amounts of radiation.  At the least, they can expect radiation sickness. Quite likely, though, it is certain death.  Yet they have chosen to give their lives for the lives of others.

John 15:13 NIV  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Pondering the ultimate sacrifices they are making, I wonder if I’d do the same.  Since the possibility I will be called to give my physical life is pretty small, I think about all the little choices I’m given every day to lay down my life for others.  How often I choose myself, even in unimportant things.  I guess I should try harder, do more, and think differently.  A resounding NO!

John 3:30 NIV  He must become greater; I must become less.

Because I am in Christ Jesus, my focus is not to be on me and my self-efforts.  It’s to be on Jesus Christ and what He has already done!  He has already paid the price for my failures and successes – past, present, and future.  It’s only because of His sacrificial love that I am not condemned.  It’s only because of the grace He gives that I am enabled to yield my “rights” and my preferences so others might see and know Him, too.

With my focus readjusted, Jesus and His righteousness again become greater to me than all the wrong (and self-right) I see in myself.  When the focus is on Him, His life, and His love, He shines forth through me in whatever way is needed each moment.  Only because of Jesus!

Even as you consider this lesson for your life, please agree in prayer for all these workers – that they will receive the gift of eternal life Jesus has already provided for them, praying also for laborers to share this great gospel.

Being the Church – OUCH!

While some of you might learn something for yourself from this post, this one is aimed at yours truly with both barrels!  It has to do with one of my main soapbox issues; yet, it is apparently one I haven’t yet listened to myself preach quite enough.  I’m talking about the need for the church to be the church.  What follows is what the Lord exposed in me.

Begrudgingly, with complaining and irritation in my heart, I made the call to the one who needed some spiritual help; not before I tried to pass it off, however, to the “official” church people.  As I began the conversation, I was merely going through the motions; by the time it was finished, God’s gift in me, and His love and compassion for the hurting one on the other end of the line were flowing freely, and He provided the needed help.  Later on, after the call was long-finished and the opportunity had passed, I realized I missed meeting a physical need, too.  I had let it go by unnoticed because I was, again, leaving it for “them” to do.

1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

What was so much more important than ministering to someone in need at that moment?  What was the real motivation behind making the “official” church people aware of the need?  I didn’t want to be the church this time.  I wanted to pick and choose who Jesus would touch through me.  It was, after all, an inconvenience of my time, plans, and efforts.  Let “the church” take care of it.  Who is “the church,” though?  I am.  I am the part of the church the Lord called on in this instance.

It appears I need to get back up on my soapbox and listen to what I’ve been saying for quite a while. “The church” isn’t bricks and mortar.  “The church” is the people who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  That would be me!  When there is a need the Lord has equipped me to meet, I’m not to call “the church” to tell them of the need.  I’m to ask Him what part of that need – spiritual, physical, or emotional – He wants to meet through me, and how I’m to proceed, not how I’m supposed to hand them off to “the church.”  I am to be the church!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

Romans 12:4-6 NIV  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

The Lord has already given me everything needed for this person at this time.  It’s not that I have all the answers, or am even supposed to meet every physical or emotional need.  It’s that His gifts and blessings in me are more than enough for myself and others to know whatever part of Christ is the needed answer for that moment.

The ugly self-centeredness stood in stark contrast to the humility of Christ – again.  All I could do now was thank God from a freshly humbled heart for His amazing, new-every-morning mercy.  And for His more-than-enough grace that covered my begrudging obedience, so someone else could receive all He wanted to provide through this part of the church – through me.

Leadership – Jesus’ Way

The team has returned safely and soundly from our journey to China.  From the start, I want to make clear that this was a good trip with a great team from here and great people with whom we were connected once we arrived in Hong Kong.  I have no regrets about having gone, or about taking a team with me.  Please keep this in mind as you read of God’s latest work in me in this post.  While there are many great experiences I could share from 2 ½ weeks of trip, I prefer to share a lesson that only came clear to me once I returned home.  I hope it will help some of you avoid the same pitfall as you walk in new places of leadership, whether at home or abroad.

From the time I began preparing for this trip, all the way through to the return home, I have felt that this was a much harder trip than the one I took last year.  I sensed the press of darkness against me in much greater measure than last year, but I had a greater part to play, so that wasn’t a total surprise; nevertheless, I just couldn’t understand the dis-ease inside.  In my mind, I knew it really was a good trip, but the overriding description for me was “hard.”  One way the Lord helped me begin to unravel this was by reminding me that Paul’s journeys were hard – beyond anything I experienced, for sure – but accomplished much for God, so they weren’t considered bad journeys, by any means.  That helped, but I knew there was more.

A week after my return home, the Holy Spirit made clear to me the very simple truth that I had missed from the beginning: As leader of the team, the trip was not about me.  Last year’s trip was so personally fulfilling that I wasn’t ready to return to America, even after 2 ½ weeks away.  It was during the process of leaving Hong Kong in ’08 the Lord made clear I would be back and would bring teams with me.  I was eager to follow through on this mandate from the Lord, but was surprised (even disappointed) that it wasn’t so exciting to me this time.  It’s not that it was boring, by any means, or that I didn’t have many opportunities to minister – more than last year, actually.  No, the disappointment I felt was strictly on a fleshly level (Ugh!).  The trip just wasn’t about me, but was about leading the team (by serving) and working with the others already in that land so that this specific mission could be a success.  It’s called dying to and denying self!

Luke 9:23 (NIV)  “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Matthew 20:28 (Amplified)  “Just as the Son of Man came not to be waited on but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [the price paid to set them free].”

A leader isn’t in it for himself, but for the people he leads, regardless of the arena in which he leads.  My struggle came because I didn’t grasp the depth of this simple truth, so my flesh fought from beginning to end for personal gratification and enjoyment.  My whole purpose for being there, according to God’s plan, was simply to serve the others so they could corporately and individually fulfill God’s plan for them in China.  A very interesting note, now that I understand this, is that I don’t know that I would have done anything differently.  It’s just that my attitude would have been so different that I would have seen differently during both the preparations and the journey itself.

Now that I do see this, and now that the jet lag has finished its course, I am free to consider the next trip the Lord would call me to lead – without dread.  Remember, the Lord told me I would bring “teams” – plural.  This trip may have been the first, but it definitely wasn’t the only one in which I’ll lead a team to the nations.  Any future trips, however, will have so much less of my flesh in the mix, because I choose to follow Christ in serving those I lead – both in action and attitude.  By His Spirit, I will be made aware of my flesh trying to rise up and demand gratification, and I will deny its entrance!  My fulfillment will come from knowing that I have had the same attitude as Christ as I lived out the will of my Father.  That’s leadership in the pattern of Christ.

 Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)  “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Because It’s Right

If you read the December 20 post, you know that my husband and I paid off our home mortgage early.  Never having done this before, other than when we were selling a house to buy another one, we really didn’t know what to expect.  We assumed it would be like when you pay off an auto loan.  First, you receive something from the finance company indicating that you no longer owe them money.  A few weeks later, you receive the title to your car.  I don’t know about you, but I get a sense of satisfaction in having that piece of paper proving ownership.

Being new to the home pay-off experience, we anticipated receiving something from the mortgage company as proof of our completed obligation, even if nothing else.  After a few weeks passed, I was told by the company that it had been sent to the Register of Deeds, who would be sending us something.  Upon calling a few weeks later, I found that it was on record as having been paid.  The woman was very nice and helpful, telling me we had been given the deed when we first bought the house years ago.  What I was looking for, she told me, was the deed of trust, which proves our full ownership.  If I really wanted a paper copy, I could drive downtown and get it there, or I could go online to a title site, sign up for a free 7-day trial, and get a copy right on my printer at home, which I did.

Talk about anti-climactic!  At least a car company sends you a letter recognizing you have completed your obligation to them!  Here we have a mortgage paid off ahead of time, a much bigger a deal in our minds, and I had to print the paperwork off the internet – with no one around to congratulate us.  At a time when the whole industry is struggling, you’d think they’d have been especially glad to have all our money early!

Okay, so sarcasm and self-pity aren’t pretty at all – ever.  After all, why did we pay off the mortgage in the first place, when we could have continued making our monthly payments for years down the road?  I’ll refer to the December 20 post Scripture reference:  Romans 13:8 NIV  “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”  That is the verse the Lord used many years ago to give us the desire to be debt-free in the first place.  At the right time, He made it clear that it was time to complete the process, and we willingly obeyed, all glory to God.  We didn’t do it for man’s accolades, though once it was done, we came to expect them.  Did we fail to pay attention to the great cheers coming from heaven when we paid off our debts simply because He told us to?  If we had done this for the applause of man, we would have lost our true reward, which is so much greater than anything human could possibly be!  Glory be to God!  Truly, we did what we did because it was the right thing to do for us and what the Holy Spirit had made clear we were to do right now.

The hidden motives of our hearts ensnare us so easily, even in the midst of doing the right things.  It’s the subtlety of pride – “look at what I’ve done,” rather than “look at what the Lord has enabled me to do!”  Thank God for His mercy and His Holy Spirit, Who helps us see things His way.  It’s time for us simply to return to being thankful the Lord has made the way for us to pay off our financial debts so we can focus on repaying the debt to love – because it is right.  Kind of like Jesus, Who went about doing good . . . because it was right.