Not Strange, But Sad

It’s strange that you can’t find words to say when you’re praying, but you have no trouble thinking what to talk about with a friend.

Part of a recent Facebook post in my newsfeed, I found this statement nestled among similar ones designed to highlight Christian failings.  Instead of finding it strange, however, I found it sad.  And not in the way intended.

If the statement is reality for believers, then prayer has become something other than it was meant to be.  Something we do (or should do) because we’re Christians, rather than the means by which we become more intimately acquainted with our heavenly Father.  This is strange, but in a sad way.

Proverbs 18:24  NIV A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

The friend who sticks closer than a brother is Jesus Christ, Who lives in us by His Spirit.  That’s as close as it gets.  In addition, He calls us His friend.1  If we are really friends, why is talking together so difficult?

friendship-1534626-639x479Friends talk with one another about anything and everything, listen to one another, find comfort in silence, work together to help others, interacting along the way.  The more time they spend together, the better they know one another.  The better they know one another, the more time they want to spend together.

Is this the kind of friendship I experience with Christ?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  How about you?  When the methods and mindsets from so many years of religion become my default mode, I lose the freedom in prayer for which my friend Christ Jesus has set me free.2  When the duty becomes my focus, rather than the relationship, that sense of intimate friendship is lost temporarily, leaving me unable to find words to speak.

That’s not strange, my friends.  It’s sad.

1 James 2:23

2 Galatians 5:1

Finding Freedom Now

Losing the Power, posted earlier this month (click to read), painted a picture of walking free from the power of condemnation for all my wrongs. I had been in Christ many years without experiencing freedom from condemnation due to ignorance, despite reading the Bible. My eyes were opened to what had been mine all along in Christ when I read these verses anew:

Romans 8:1-2 NIV Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

With the help of these same verses, this post will take you a little further on my personal journey of losing and finding. Parking on the latter words of this passage, I contemplate this law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus that has set me free from the law of death. The more I focus on the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the more all else fades in comparison – even death.

mini-cross of hopeWhen I believed Jesus to be who He claimed – the Savior of the world – I received His Spirit of life. Now I am alive in Christ Jesus . . . forever. Christ Jesus is alive forever, and I live in Him, so I am alive eternally, as well. Already alive forever. Not waiting until my physical body stops working. Now. When my body gives up, my eternal life will continue living in Christ without even a slight pause – simply in a form no longer hindered by mortality. 1

This excites me beyond words and radically changes my perspective on the loss of life as I know it now.   Fear of death is lost to me. What is to fear when I am in Christ? The Romans verse clearly states I am free now (and it’s always now!) from the condemnation that could separate me forever from God. The penalty for my sin, and its justifiable condemnation, was paid in full in Jesus’ suffering and death. It’s gone forever, and along with it, the separation mandated by it. In Christ’s resurrection, I was raised to new and forever life in His Spirit. Death and the fear of it are lost to me now – forever – because I am Daddy’s child.

This is real now, when I’m not at death’s door, and it will be real after my last breath. But it will also be real at the end of my life, evident in the loss of torment often associated with those last days – torment rooted in regrets and remorse and doubts about a less-than-perfect life. Fear of death is lost to me forever, driven out by the perfect love of my Father. 2 Freedom is found – now.

The final verse of In Christ Alone, a familiar hymn, captures the glorious freedom and victory of which I have written:

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

For the final in this series, click to read Lost and Found.

1 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

2 1 John 4:18

Death is Never Convenient

(Though I veered far off course of the actual blogging assignment today, I needed to write this. Further, I needed to publish it, because I cannot sit back silently any longer, hiding behind my lack of eloquence, while black is turned white and upside down becomes right side up. Others may write and speak much more succinctly, but I must add my voice.)

Supporters of the right to die law feel a terminally ill individual should have the right to determine the when and how of their final moment, thereby avoiding some of the pain and misery of waiting for a natural shutdown. Consideration for family and friends is also eschewed, reducing their time of struggle in watching and waiting for a loved one in the process of death, as well as reducing medical costs for longer care. This is referred to as dying with dignity, though assisted suicide is another term used.

Wait. Think about that phrase a moment – assisted suicide. Suicide is self-killing, self-murder. When the word assisted is included, there is now an accomplice to murder, if not the murderer himself. But assisted suicide sounds so much more acceptable. Someone is killing another person; albeit, with their permission and at their request (for now,) and legally in some states. Nevertheless, someone in the medical profession – a profession that is supposed to do no harm – is now intentionally killing another person.

Having agonized through the slow deaths of both my parents, I am not without understanding of the struggles involved. In the last days of my mother’s life I wanted her freed from the cancer ravaging her body – and me freed from the suffering of watching. Yet it was not up to her or me or the caring Hospice people to say, “Enough.”

Years later, my father’s dying process was much slower, much less convenient. In addition to some other pretty severe physical issues, we had years of the long goodbye, as Alzheimer’s Disease is frequently called. In the hardest of days, whether his or mine, I wanted his life, such as it had become, to be over. I didn’t want my father to suffer any more of the cruelty of this disease, ending up curled into the fetal position on his bed, unaware of anyone or anything. I also wanted to be free of the pain of seeing the decline day in and day out, as well as the responsibility for caring for him. Yet, even in those helpless and almost hopeless days, my prayer was always that his last moment not be even one breath too soon.

They were shells of their former selves by the time they took their final breath – my mother hardly recognizable because of cancer, and my father unable to communicate or discern his own family. Both, however, died with dignity, their care having been given in love and compassion, their pain having been eased without being overmedicated.

Regardless of what is allowed by government, humans were not given the right or responsibility to determine the date and time of death any more than the moment of creation and birth. Every day is given by God, and there is purpose in every breath given by God – every single breath – though we may not understand suffering that comes with it.

bright crossThe root problem stems from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so they could “be like God.” It’s the same story today. We still want to be the god of our life. Only the truth is, there is no one like God. Further, His plans are good and for the good of each one of us. And . . . He works everything together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. He has promised, Jesus Christ being the proof of His faithfulness.

We are not god, nor God. We don’t know enough, though we think we do, to determine our life and death. But that’s a good thing, for we can know the One Who does, and trust Him implicitly, even in our lack of understanding. Therein is peace. Therein is rest. Therein is freedom. Therein is life – real life.

Losing the Power

A long-time companion is missing, the one I can only describe as an invisible faucet permanently attached over my head, endlessly releasing one slow drop after another until its sound overpowers every other. Now I only hear it from afar, and its sound is fading, at that. How did I lose it? Maybe if I retrace my steps, I’ll understand how it happened.

Talk about losing! I lost my temper – again – letting pour from my mouth whatever angry and demeaning words popped into my mind in the heat of the moment. This wasn’t new “shouldn’t do” behavior, the flip side to all those good “should do” things I failed to do. In short, I failed miserably – again – to live the upstanding Christian life. Every other time this happened, once the moment of angry release or the time to act passed, I felt defeated, lower than dirt, and those dripping voices in my head made sure to keep me there. Not this time.

I was still definitely wrong, and definitely didn’t look or sound like Christ. Yet, that leaky faucet was unhooked from my brain, not just turned off, and the guilt and condemnation for my failures was gone with it. This is what the Bible says happens, but I thought it was only for the future, probably not until heaven.

candle flameNow I remember. The last time I read the Bible, the words seemed to jump off the page and into my heart with an intensity, a vitality, I’ve never known. I came away from those moments having been recharged somehow, filled with a new sense of freedom and peace such as I’d never known.

Romans 8:1-2 NIV Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

This has to be it! Even though I messed up again, condemnation and guilt couldn’t have their way with me. Those old companions were making an annoying noise somewhere in the distance, trying desperately to attach themselves to me as they had for so long. But the life in those verses, real Life in Christ, convinced me of my present tense freedom that is not based on my perfect living. I am free from guilt now because in His perfection, Jesus Christ suffered my judgment in the past, forgiving me for my every sin past, present, and future.

That’s what’s different! The power of guilt and condemnation over my life has been lost forever. In actuality, they haven’t belonged to me for more than forty years. That’s when I received the perfect Savior, Jesus Christ, into my life. I just didn’t know, didn’t understand – then. Ignorant no more, I now live in the freedom Christ died to give me!

How much more gain can be found in losing?

Second and third in this series can be found in Finding Freedom Now and Lost and Found.

I Don’t Know

question out of boxI’ve been struggling to write this post because I understand only an inkling of what is taking place at this time, with no grasp of what’s in store down the road.  It all comes down to this simple, overriding fact: I don’t know.

Rather than attempting to clarify for you what I don’t know (Isn’t that silly, anyway?) and why it matters, I prefer to say only that I will not be posting more on this blog for the time being (however long that may be.)  I don’t know all the reasons why.  I only know this is what I am to do . . . for now.

In this place of admitting I don’t know – to myself, the Lord, and you – there is a sense of freedom I haven’t experienced before.  That false sense of responsibility to know the answers is a heavy weight not meant for us to carry.

Will I ever write here again?  I don’t know today.   What I rely on today is the trustworthiness of Jesus and His Spirit of grace to reveal more of Himself to me each day, leading me by His Spirit in showing His love to others, as well.  That’s what I know today.

For all those other as-yet unanswered and even unasked questions, with joy and freedom I declare:  I don’t know those answers, but I know the One who does – Jesus Christ!

The Refrigerator Incident

mini-004There I stood, in front of my new refrigerator, doors open and food and beverages looking back at me.  It wasn’t neat, and I wouldn’t even say it was orderly.  Were things in the right place?  Were the shelves where they should be?  My son had suggested that one of the lower shelves should be eliminated to accommodate the height of two-liter bottles or a pitcher of tea.  He was right, but I didn’t want to lose that nice wide shelf for long casserole dishes or things that needed more than the half-shelves.  What should I do?

Holy Spirit graciously interrupted my internal back and forth argument with the answer that was so obvious.  There is no right way.  Nor must the shelves be left in the same configuration all the time, because needs will change.  Who says I must set them and forget them?  The current order of the shelves will work for me most of the time, so there’s no need to rearrange them.  When they need to be adjusted to fit an odd item, I can change them.  Really, it’s that uncomplicated.

In that simple answer, Jesus ushered me another step further into the freedom for which He has set me (us) free, and I laughed aloud with joy!  Freedom from sin, with all its guilt and condemnation, affects all areas of my life – even the proper arrangement of refrigerator shelves!  There is no right or wrong way.  That’s why the manufacturers make shelves adjustable.  If shelf or item placement needs to be tweaked – now or down the road – it doesn’t indicate a lack of intelligence, common sense, housekeeping abilities, or any other such thing.

Daddy used this refrigerator incident to reveal how far-reaching the bondage (yoke of slavery) of a wrong mindset can go.  And how much farther His freedom in Jesus Christ goes – even to the freedom from needing to do “it” right, whatever “it” may be.  Oh, the glorious freedom of the children of God!  Oh what a wonderful Savior!

2 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV  Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

Enough Already!

“This is how it is for the believer when the gospel of righteousness takes root in their heart.  The first reaction is one of sweet relief.  “Really?  Jesus did it all?  I don’t have to work to impress him?  I can stop studying for the exam?  Oh happy day!”  Many are dreading the final exam.  The good news is there is no exam.  Jesus already took it on your behalf, and guess what?  He passed.  School’s out forever!1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had spent so much of my Christian life trying to do more for God, to prove how much I loved Him, because that’s what I thought Christians were supposed to do.  No matter what or how much I did, I knew it was never enough.  I was always frustrated and felt guilty.

I have become one of the believers described above.  One who realized I had been trying to do for God what I never could, and that Jesus had already achieved it all at the cross for me.  His blood not only paid for my sins, but for my self-efforts, too.  Every righteous requirement of God’s law He fulfilled.

To put this good news into the language of the quote: Jesus not only passed the final exam, but He gave me His grade!  In Him I am now completely righteous.  I graduated simply by receiving Christ and the work He finished for me so long ago, and His righteousness is my diploma.

Jesus is enough – already and forever!

1  Paul Ellis, The Gospel in Ten Words (KingsPress, 2012 version 1.0), Kindle edition, chapter titled Righteousness