Barb's Space

Observations about life, family, church...anything else that is on my mind from the perspective that God rules, no matter what

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Location: Indianapolis, IN, United States

I am a 66 year young woman who has changed much in the last few years. I'm single again. I changed jobs twice (learned new skills), had a serious stroke in 2008, "retired" and after getting better started taking up new interests, and am continuing to get more fit. Some things have matured. I've enjoyed watching my three guys grow into men I respect and am proud of. One waited 11 years to have his first birth child. Today I'm a grandma of six (four boys and 2 girls between two families) with a third girl on the way. I have learned to love Jesus even more, and I have regained my sense of adventure. Someone said, "The best is yet to be."--I believe it, if I keep an open mind and heart and keep growing and walking with God.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

God is Calling Us...

This is the note before the article. Yes, I am still working on my series, Relationships: By the Book Part 3 (NT2), but all my writing came to an abrupt halt as the thoughts below began to fill my mind. So I needed to "follow my nose" or the "wind of the Spirit" and go in this direction first. I pray God bless this to you, and I encourage you to feel free to comment. –

Why do I encourage you to comment here and on any article? I believe that dialogue in the Body of Christ, sharing our struggles and thoughts and questions and respectfully and prayerfully listening to one another can help us grow more quickly. ... Is anyone up for an adventure to find out? (You could even comment on other comments so long as it's done with respect and the intent to learn and grow...).

God is calling us, but what is He calling us to? As I listen to His heartbeat, I hear a message that is "coming back around” in the church. I first heard it some 30 years ago...and I agreed and said, "Yes, Lord." But what I didn't know was that in my "yes" so long ago, I was inviting my loving Father God to show me I was incapable of doing it in a way that pleased Him till He changed me.

These many years later, I am hearing the call again. In fact, I was reading a Christian website a couple years ago, and the input by various people said ahead of time that God was going to bring the message back. Now mind you, I am not sorry for this message or for my continued "yes," but do you know what my response was when I first heard it was coming back? Spiritual person that I am, my first response was, "Oh, no!" (Yes, I know--when I shared that with my pastor, who is being led to share the message on a continuing basis with our church now, he was as surprised at my reaction as you probably are.) The truth is that message brought much turmoil into the Body of Christ. (In the years since I heard it the first time, I learned that what I thought had been a local phenomenon had been preached in places all over the country--just as is happening now. The turmoil from the message was also nearly identical in any place I know of where the message had been proclaimed.)

What caused the turmoil? I believe we (logically) thought we could actually do what God was asking. I believe even ministry thought it could produce (or felt it was their responsibility to produce) the fruit of that word in the Body. But, as I've learned in the ensuing years, and as I wrote to a minister recently, "Ministry is called to preach its way into a corner that it cannot get out of except God Himself fulfill the Word He had you preach." Likewise, for us to think we can live the things God is speaking is unrealistic. Why? Because we have been so tainted by "sin's paintbrush" from the fall right on into today that on our own we cannot think or perceive or do anything the way God intends.

That is why it is so very important that we listen to how God wants us to receive and apply what we are hearing. We must realize we are incapable of applying it in and of ourselves. The principle of us trying to apply what God says is spoken to in Mark 3:23b-24 (just substitute the word "self" or "flesh" for "devil" or "Satan") where Jesus says, "Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? A constantly squabbling family disintegrates."
(from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.) I believe we were even warned about that years ago, but for the most part neither leaders nor people knew how to avoid the traps Satan was laying against that powerful message.

What is God's antidote to this message once again being preached going awry? I believe there are some things in place in the body of Christ today that weren't there years ago, things that will "make the message go right" this time if we take the time to meditate, talk and listen to Father God and learn what they mean instead of merely giving them lip-service. Let me also add that the fact that they were not there 30 years ago was not an oversight on God's part. I believe God has been maturing the Body of Christ as fast as possible, and that we needed to go through the maturing those experiences brought to get us where we are today. The message that will counteract the poison Satan tries to inject to cause the message to twist is the knowledge (let me emphasize - it is not the "head knowledge" but rather the "heart knowledge") of God our Father's love for us. As author S. J. Hill (mentioned below) says (my paraphrase), human beings are wired to long for and respond from the heart to His love.

So what is the "dangerous" God-inspired message that was spoken some 30 years ago and is now being proclaimed again? The message is that of "surrender to Christ," or "dying or death to self." It is probably also called other things like "total consecration or sanctification" depending on where you hear it.

Surrender of our lives must begin with surrender of our hearts. It cannot be done rightly from mental assent or "in the flesh." It can only be done as we intimately experience Father's love for us. Once that is firmly established in our lives as a reality, then our love for God is a response to and a reflection of His love for us. That is the climate in which our surrender must be given.

That climate will also cause us to understand the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings" (Phil 3:10) correctly. For too many years, I thought that meant merely "dying to self," or surrendering my wants and desires. That is part of it, but if that is all it entails, it leaves a void that can too readily be filled the wrong way, with self-righteous pride and a judgmental attitude among other things. If we stop there, we are left with religion.

In our body, we are just finishing a serious 21-day "fast as you are led." We set up a blog for back-and-forth feedback, with regular postings by our pastor and room for our comments. Here's what I was meditating on and led to share regarding "the fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings"—I generally have understood that to mean [firstly] the issue of dying to self and [secondly] the pain Jesus felt on earth among an unholy people [because He was so enamored of His Father and His ways, but]... the Lord is bringing me face to face with something even deeper. The fellowship of His sufferings was not only His own pains that He experienced in following God, but also the pain of sinful humanity’s sufferings.

In other words, the other very real suffering Jesus experienced was in His being willing to be Emmanuel, God-with-us enough to feel our brokenness. That is quite different from the "death to self" we experience. It is having that issue settled and being willing to take on with the Lord the pains of those others who are not reconciled with Him... . It is only as I [pass through the first two realms-of dying to self and becoming very disquieted with sin because of my closeness to Father God and] become willing to bear the pains of separated humanity with Jesus (not for Him), that [I] will demonstrate His character and the authenticity of the message of the good news…because as He is so are we in this world (I Jn 4:17).

Friends, the only way we will navigate these waters successfully is as we "die to self" and "wholly surrender" out of responding to our Bridegroom's wooing. That is the only way our surrender won't turn into a sinful (yes, I said sinful) legalistic, religious exercise that is dry as toast and self-righteous to boot. That kind of surrender is not only damaging to us, but to those who encounter us. That kind of surrender takes both us and others further away from God. God, in calling for our surrender, is not wanting self-martyrdom--that is what false religions birth. We serve a living God who is not calling us to dry doctrine so that we end up like the Pharisees Jesus rebuked, but to heartfelt, living surrender that will result in His very life being lived through us.

Are we willing, as the Body of Christ to learn of our Father's love for us? Are we willing to get before Him and beg Him to teach us what we don't know and haven't experienced on a day-to-day basis even if we've been saved? Our love will not cut it. It was marred by the fall and continued sin; our love continues to keep us from knowing God’s love which is unconditional.

Today God is doing something precious. He is revealing His love for His bride, the Body of Christ. Let's take a look at some things He's sharing with us through leaders and others who have been walking with God through thick and thin for years. The following is just a sampling:

"It takes God to love God. It takes God to pursue God." That is from page 8 paragraph 5 (and it is expounded on page 122, paragraph 1) of S.J. Hill's book, Enjoying God: Experiencing Intimacy with the Heavenly Father (available among other places through We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19b). The author makes the point that there is certainly a place to pursue God with passion, but we must never forget (or stop coming to know and experience on an ever-deepening level) the love God has for us that elicits our response of love to Him. –There are treasures here that will help us, friends.

Then there's Kay Warren's (Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in CA is her husband) Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God. It was a very good, convicting book about why we totally surrender to God. In it, Kay shares the process God took her through (and her very honest reactions and responses in working through the process) to bring her to that third aspect of the fellowship of Christ's sufferings.

Another helpful book is Voices of the Faithful: Inspiring Stories of Courage from Christians Serving Around the World "with Beth Moore and friends who put their lives on the line for God." It is a book of 366 one-page "get real" devotions written by missionaries around the world. It again takes me back to the real meaning of surrender, the struggle with it even when we’ve received Father’s love for us, and the why of it.

For help in letting God grow us, my pastor found a gem: Anonymous, by Alicia Britt Chole, a former atheist--it is a small book with big concepts. It is not self-help or positive thinking, but what God can do in us during, and how He works with us in our winter seasons (or as some say, the “dark night of the soul”).

These are just a few of the materials out there that God is using to bring us further in real Christianity so we don't fall prey to the traps of religion. Are we willing to start or continue or pick up where we left off in the journey? Remember, the mercies of God are new every morning. Can you hear? God is calling us...

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Relationships: By the Book - Part 2 (NT1)

In part one (OT) of Relationships: By the Book we took a very quick survey of God’s rocky relationship with His creatures. Actually, God didn’t have the hot/cold, on-again, off-again relationship—sin warped us and we went from being God-centered and considering others to being self-centered! From then on, for the most part, our mentality toward God became, “I’ll follow You as long as You do what I want,” or “I’ll obey and serve You as long as I can see the payoff.” Meanwhile, our mentality toward others became, as Cain said when God asked the whereabouts of his brother Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Giving in to sin, we exchanged unconditional love—enjoying God and His creatures without any strings attached—for dysfunctional, manipulative, conditional love. In that exchange we also lost truth, trust which has its basis in truth, and openness. As the curtain closes on the Old Testament, God’s people had moved from rejection to giving Him “lip service”—outward obedience and inward rebellion. This resulted in pride, self-righteousness, and a legalistic “system” of religion, which took them even further away from real relationship with Him and each other, because it gave them the deceptive form of godliness while denying the power of right relationship with Him and His creatures.

This is where, after a 400 year silence from Malachi to Matthew, we see Jesus appear on the world’s stage. Creator and Father God could have given up on us; He could have destroyed us and started over. But instead, the Bible tells us (John 3:16) Father God still loved us unconditionally, so into this mess He sent Jesus, His very best—His very own Son who chose to come and leave the privileges of being God behind. While Jesus still was God by virtue of virgin birth, He became fully man, sinless man, but man who had to learn just as we do (Heb 2:10 & 5:8). He was born into that nation God started in Genesis with Abraham. He was the One God had intended from the very beginning Who would “make things right.”

Because He was the reconciler, the One to bring real, lasting peace (as opposed to peace at any price) between God and man and man and man (Mt 22:37-39), and because His life, death and resurrection ushered in the concept of the Body of Christ (Eph 1:3-11, 3:1-11, I Corin 12:12-14, Eph 4:11-16), Jesus was and is all about right relationships. He desires with all His being for us to relate in a healthy manner, first with the Trinity (Father God, Jesus Himself, and the Holy Spirit) and secondly, as a living outgrowth of that fellowship, with one another. Since that is His desire, it is very important to study His time on earth, for He is our example in these (as in all) matters (Jn 13:14-15).

To consider Jesus’ relationships with us humans, we must first look at His relationship with His Father God and the Holy Spirit, for again, it is only out of that vertical relationship that right relationships can happen between us on a horizontal, earthly level. Why? Because, as we saw in part one of Relationships: By the Book, sin immediately severed right relationship between God and us, and from there, sinfully distorted relationships from person to person.

What was Jesus’ relationship on earth like with Father God? Remember, if His pattern of relationships seems strange, it is because we have looked out of a distorted lens our whole lives. He alone knows what right relationships are. His ways are patterns for us. Thinking along those lines, He was always looking to His Father for direction as to what to say and do. Consider John 8:38: I speak what I have seen with My Father… NKJV, or as it says in The Message, I'm talking about things I have seen while keeping company with the Father - THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved and John 15:15 …all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. NKJV

What did Jesus do that caused Him to be in such close relationship with Father God? Matt 14:23 says, With the crowd dispersed, [Jesus] climbed the mountain so he could be by Himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. - from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved

Matt 26:36-39 Then Jesus went …to a garden called Gethsemane and told His disciples, "Stay here while I go over there and pray." …He plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then He said, "This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with Me." Going a little ahead, He fell on His face, praying, "My Father, if there is any way, get Me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do You want?" - from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved

Jesus prayed. He got alone with God whenever He needed to, and spoke plainly what was on His heart. Being honest with His feelings, He nonetheless chose to follow God, regardless of the cost to Himself. As the verses above indicate, He also listened. He “kept company” with His Father (Jn 8:38 The Message-above); this was not a religious exercise—this was a real connection born from a real relationship. When He heard, He went out and obeyed, then came back to His Father for more prayer and “grace to help in time of need.”

What was Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit? His earthly life started with the Holy Spirit planting Him in Mary’s womb. The Bible says in Matt 1:20 ...Mary's pregnancy [Jesus] is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. - from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved

When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, it says in Luke 3:22, the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on Him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "You are My Son, chosen and marked by My love, pride of My life." - from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved

Right after this, it says in Luke 4:1-2: Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights He was tested… - from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved

This One who had a real connection with His Father, who prayed, who listened, who obeyed was empowered and enabled to obey by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was led by the Spirit into testing; He was led by the Spirit into and in His ministry—and He was led by the Spirit into and through the crucifixion. Jesus knew the other member of the Trinity intimately. In the book of Acts are many references to what part the Holy Spirit plays in our lives—Jesus knew Him intimately and relied on Him constantly. He did the same things for Jesus it says He will do for us.

The only way Jesus could have represented the heart of God powerfully enough both in word and deed to get past sinful man’s distortion of the God-breathed written Word was to seek the fellowship and direction of Father God and the Holy Spirit. Without that fellowship, since He left His God-privileges when He came to earth in bodily form, He would not have been able to live His life as the Father intended—as man’s “bridge” back to God. He wouldn’t have been able to preach Mt 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, because that took delving deep into areas of men’s hearts. That sermon had the same power to divide soul from spirit and get to the thoughts and intents of the heart that Heb. 4:12-13 says the God-breathed, God-inspired written Word has. Both the written word and Jesus’ message were authored by the Holy Spirit.

There is more to say about our Lord and Master in the way of relationships, and that will be left for part 3 of Relationships: By the Book (NT2).

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