Giving gifts is one of the most common practices at Christmas time, especially in the United States.  The amount of money, time and resources spent on Christmas gifts ranges from insignificant to astronomical.  And although there are many who may deny it is happening, I believe the great gift dilemma  is faced by millions of families each year.

Every year, I hear the comments, concerns and conversations that happen among shoppers as they try to decide what to give, who to give to and how much to give.  I have been the recipient of many wrapped holiday presents and have also had Christmas mornings when there was only one gift under the tree with my name on it.  I have shopped for hours and days in past years for just the right gift and I have spent months working on homemade gifts to give to others. Regardless, I have often felt like I missed someone, gave gifts that were insignificant and even scored home runs with some of the presents I presented.  Gifts at Christmas have been beautiful, disappointing, overwhelming and downright frustrating.

The recent trend toward gift exchanges that include items that no one really wants, but can’t stand to throw away or whimsical items that might strike someone’s fancy is just part of the theme where giving gifts is what its all about.  Garages and storage units are filled with items received but unneeded.  I have personally received gifts that were obviously given because I was on the list, but there was no thought given as to whether it would be something I could use or enjoy.  One year my husband and I received a gift which was a blue light Kmart special – a flat sheet for a double bed – price tag denoting the great deal still intact.  Sadly, we didn’t own a double bed and the gift sat in the linen closet for years until we finally used it to wrap furniture when we were moving.  The $3.00 spent said volumes.

I’m not sure when the gift giving tradition began to lose momentum in my life, but I know that it was directly related to the realization that my relationships with others was not dependent upon what I gave at the holidays.  I also realized that if there was an expectation on the part of someone else that I give them something in exchange for friendship, our relationship had bigger problems than Christmas gifts!  This revelation stretched beyond friends and acquaintances and included my spouse and close family members.  My gifts to them at Christmas are not the definition of my devotion or love.

I still struggle, though, with the constant pressure to give.  It isn’t spoken aloud, but is intimated in conversations, advertisements, and sometimes in the glances received when a gift is given to me.  And then there is the pressure to receive.  “What did you get for Christmas” is the common question when Christmas Day has passed.  The pictures on Facebook of Christmas trees with presents stacked around, under and behind are a constant reminder this season is about gifts.  Or is it?

Imagine we had no reason to buy anything for anyone at Christmastime.  Imagine our homes were filled with laughter, joy and peace as we joined together to celebrate the beautiful gift of Jesus Christ the Saviour’s entrance into this world to remedy humanity’s fallen condition.  What if we weren’t constantly looking for the perfect gift, listening for hints regarding what is expected or regarding our credit card balance with dismay?  What if we felt the joy of giving to others when they have a need or just for the joy of giving, regardless of whether it is Christmas time or June?  What if our children equated Christmas with Jesus and not with what they would receive in material possessions?  What if we bought that special gift for a friend in October and gave it to them just for the encouragement we know it will bring?  What if the celebration of Jesus’ birth was actually a celebration of the gift that was given from a God who can only be worshipped by a world that has no greater need than to know His love?

Gifts have become the highlight of the holiday season when the greatest gift has already been given and yet remains unwrapped in so many people’s lives.  While we proclaim Jesus’ birth, there are many who still believe they are unworthy to receive what has been completed for all of humanity.  As we emphasize the exchange of material goods, the headline will always be the great exchange that took place at the cross.   The expensive gifts wrapped with glittering bows fall short of the eternal value Christ has brought for all to experience when they find the only source of Life and Love.

In reality, I am a gift-giver.  I give many gifts throughout the year.  I have no reason to demand others halt with the traditions where gifts are passed around or Christmas treats are shared.  But I do not believe there is one season for giving and receiving.  I believe we have been given what we could never afford and when we receive it, we become both the recipient and the one through which the gift will be given over and over again.  Every dollar I make, every ounce of energy I experience, every breath I breathe and every thought I think are made possible because of the heartbeat of the Spirit of God dwelling deep within.  Since I am no longer the prime mover and shaker of my life and destiny, all that I have, know, experience, gain and receive is available to be presented as the Creator desires.

As we shop, wrap, unwrap and put away the many gifts under the tree, may we be ever ready to tell those we love, know and meet that the gift of Jesus Christ still remains unrivaled and ever present for those who just believe He is.  No fancy words are needed and the presentation is less important than we could imagine.  If you know Jesus as your life, you are the package that is carrying the number one gift humanity needs to receive throughout the year. God’s divine love and eternal peace is never out of reach or taped up to disguise the contents.  Freely you have received……freely give.

 

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Each new year brings the overwhelming outpouring of encouragement to make resolutions in order to motivate ourselves into the life that is better and more productive than last year.  We list our determined resolve with a set jaw and made-up mind as we decide that this year will be different than the one before.

A resolution is the action taken to provide a solution to an existing problem.  Resolutions are passed by governments to give an answer to a situation which is problematic and needs an answer.  It is a declaration of what will be done from that point on in regard to a particular or potential problem.

Paul talks about his great resolutions in Romans 7:19-21.  He talks about wanting to do the right thing and finding that he ends up doing the opposite.  He talks about not wanting to do the wrong thing and ending up doing it anyway.  If I am honest with myself, I see this same scenario operating in my life over and over and over and over.

I remember the day I discovered the truth about my own abilities to follow God, keep His commandments and live a righteous life.  Paul’s words came flooding through my heart as He said, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”  It was as though a raging fire had begun a sweep through my life and was burning through every good thing I had ever imagined I had done or accomplished.

No matter how much I declared the greatness of God and His amazing power, it was a truth that seemed to fall short of true admiration as long as I saw myself as having anything good originating from me.  As the fire of the truth about my own abilities began to burn hotter and hotter, I watched the flames devour all the goodness I thought I had done.  My greatest desire to serve God, please Him and walk in His ways was cut short everytime by my inability to do anything except what my flesh desired.

I began to see, in the ashes of my own efforts, that anything remaining that had any value or merit was based in the work of God that I was so often unaware of, as I had looked only at what I was working toward.  This was a scene of great devastation for my ego, pride, self-interest and independent thinking, but it was a needed burn-out for truth to rule and reign.

I was left standing, with the acrid smoke of the destruction of my arrogance still choking the air around me, in a room that once seemed beautifully adorned with all my talents, prayers, gifts, callings and great intentions.  Now the walls were black and the awards of excellence were charred beyond recognition.  Every trophy I had imagined in my mind regarding my commitment to Christ, adherence to His principles and dedication to service were broken and melted into charred lumps of useless debris.

I didn’t want to stay long in this dismal place, reviewing the destruction of all that I had been taught was the purpose of living – the disciplined life of Christianity.  I longed to step outside the confines of the smoke-filled chaos I had created and breathe the fresh air of God’s creation.  I longed for life that remained, in spite of my own helplessness.  I longed for freedom from the truth of the insignificance of all I had done.

My greatest revelations of God’s power, might and glory have been in the midst of the horrendous recognition of my own inability to carry out any righteous act.  And yet, I find so few who rejoice with me as I share the victory of knowing that it is no longer I that live, but Christ.  It is no longer I who solves the problem, finds the answer, makes the picture better, develops the relationship or changes my earthly situation to better suit life.  For the life that is being lived now is not my own.  I belong to another, the One who alone is Life.

Those who may not agree with my delight in the recognition of my own inability to do anything that brings life will also find no corresponding awe and overwhelming wonder of the great goodness of the God who sent His Son that I might know life, His life.  I find myself speechless and unable to adequately express the full magnitude of the great gift of life that I know is the only reason I exist.

Seeing the ashes of my own abilities did launch me into a grieving process that I never expected to experience.  The desire of the flesh to do and accomplish something – anything – is a deep, ingrained desire that does not soon diminish when nothing is left to be done.  I found myself attempting to find another way to insert my own effort into any area of my life where there seemed to be a lack.  I found, though, that any deficiency I imagined was a place where the Spirit of God was revealing His sufficiency and perfect, complete work so that I might trust God alone.

So, I face the new year with an absence of resolve, knowing I do not have the ability to carry out anything that is eternal or life-giving.  Yet, I face the new year with more hope and assurance than ever before, for the life that I live now I live by the faith of the Son of God and He who is in me is greater than anything in this world.  I see that all things work together for good and that every good and perfect gift is from God.  I know the eternal purpose of the Almighty of God will be accomplished for He who began the work, HE ALONE IS FAITHFUL TO COMPLETE IT.

Pain is a strange thing.  When a physical body experiences pain, the effect can transcend the initial instinctual response and impact the psyche or soul.  The mind, will and emotions can become so affected by pain that a personality can seem to become different.  The mental faculties can be slower and more labored and the desire or will to accomplish things may be diminished.  An emotional roller coaster of despair, hope, frustration and irritability  may be experienced over and over in different sequences.  In pain-filled situations, there appears to be no real rhyme or reason for the way a person reacts.  Some get quiet and reserved as they try to deal inwardly with the pain, while others become loud and vigorous – fighting outwardly with their speech and actions.

Physical pain has been part of my life experience for almost 10 of the last 15 years.  I have always dreamed of the painless days.  Medical procedures, scheduling inconsistencies, exhaustion, hospital bills and the heightened concern of those around me are all effects of pain.  Even those who remain drugged in order to escape the full impact of pain are still clutched in it’s tight grip and are forced to cope with the effects of the treatment.

Having been raised with the promise of a life that was filled with the blessings of God for those who are Christians, I had come to expect that certain of life’s potential struggles were never meant to be experienced – at least not perpetually – by the believer.  Many of our prayer meetings and times of intercession were concentrated on the request for removal of trials and hardships from the lives of those who were following God.  Our approach to God was one of expectation that His ultimate purpose was our comfort.  We never said those words out-loud, but it came through in everything that was spoken and done.  It was always Satan who was causing the challenges to the life of blessing that God intended.

Christianity has become filled with doctrines that elevate the human element far above the true state of man’s existence.  Although humanity has and always will have an opposing mindset to the things of God, we continue to describe the Christian life in terms of our own ideas and plans instead of recognizing the Divine work that will be done.  How often do we speak of the victories in Jesus by relating to the rescue from a “less than desirable” situation.  The work of the Divine God is seen as the work that meets with our approval, instead of the recognition that His work will actually never make sense to our finite mind.

Some of the most vehement responses I have received have been when I have broached the idea that God could actually operate in and through those things that are unpleasant in our lives – sickness, pain, disaster, fear, unhappiness, trial, etc.  The truth is that we have claimed the promises of God in a very selfish and egotistical manner.  We only accept what He does when it appears to be beneficial to our view of what life is supposed to be about.  Our desire remains inward when we cannot see the blessings of God because it doesn’t feel or look good.

What is your favorite promise from God?  Can you reach beyond the promise and find your human definition of what that will look like?  We set ourselves up to walk in discouragement because we have equated God’s work with our description of what is good.  We are looking for His work through the eyes of our own ideals of good and evil – the very fruit of the tree that made Adam and Eve stumble.  When we say that God will supply all our needs, we have determined already what we need and what will constitute supply for that need.   When we say that God will always love us, we have a preset idea of what such love will look like when applied in our lives.

The greatest promise we have is the promise that God is God.  To reduce Him to that which we can grasp with our human intellect or reflect within our limited creativity, is to rob ourselves of the only promise that makes a difference.  If God and His work is limited to us and our viewpoint, He becomes small and insignificant in our eyes.  Soon we have no need for His direction, might and power for we have determined what life should be and are caught up in the attempt to bring such a life to past.

Let’s go back to the pain.  I have disappointed more than one person who wanted me to agree with them, placing all my faith and trust in the idea that God doesn’t want me to suffer pain.  In order to do that, I would have to deny the reality that I don’t know what God wants for my life.  When I realize that this life was intended to be lived for an eternal purpose, a purpose that God alone is orchestrating, I am foolish to try to dictate to Him how to carry that out.  Every promise that we have from God is a Divine promise.  This means that it is wrapped up in His divine character – a character that cannot be understood by that which is not Divine (that would be us).

Because pain and many other traumas of life have such an acute and often far-reaching effect on the one experiencing the pain and those interacting with them, it is easy to decide that God would be adversely inclined toward such a scenario.  After all, isn’t the pain controlling and affecting us beyond what God can use and work through?  Wouldn’t a loving Father want His children to be free from pain?  These are all questions I have asked and been asked more than times than I can count.  My response comes in question form as well. Can we change the character of God by pointing to our own experiences?  Are His ways and thoughts actually higher and greater than ours?

Total surrender to the Almighty God is only possible when we are willing to relinquish our own understanding to Him and submit to His eternal purpose.  The good news that is to be shared with the world will never carry any hope if it is tied to the selfish promises of “what you want when you want it”.  Those promises leave us trapped in a false understanding of Christianity.

When we place our faith in selfish promises, we are discouraged.  We find ourselves riffling through the reasons why things are happening and what we have done to circumvent the plan of God.  We become judges of God’s sovereignty and promoters of our own brand of Divinity.  If our faith is based in outcomes and effects, we have attempted to place God in our own “super-size” container for the purpose of parceling out His favor as we see fit.  I believe this is why many have turned aside from gathering with other believers.  They didn’t get from God what they believed He had promised.  He disappointed them just as one human disappoints another.  But when the revelation of God as divine, unchanging, eternally true and always loving becomes the message that we give, there is great freedom to let Him work in His way and His timing since He alone is Righteous, Holy and Just.

Selfish promises are always based on self and they perpetuate a lifestyle of self awareness instead of an existence filled with the wonder of God.  There are limits to the joy that can be derived from things that originate in us, but there are no restrictions on the impact God’s purposes can have in our temporal and eternal living.

So what is God’s promise to us?  What can we stand on without fear of falling into discouragement and despair?  This great quote from Major Ian Thomas says it all:   God will never be anything less than Divine and mankind will anything more than human.  The most amazing and eternally life altering promise is that we are humans who are by nature enemies of God and yet, God, who is divine, has chosen to dwell by His Spirit within us and to manifest His Divine life in and through that which can never attain deity.

 

I remember hearing the song during altar calls at the end of church services – “I surrender all.  I surrender all.  All to thee, my blessed Saviour.  I surrender all.”  One of the verses said “All to Jesus, I surrender.  All to Him I freely give.  I will ever love and trust Him.  In His presence daily live.”  This was the call to non-believers to come and give their lives to Jesus, surrendering completely to His will and right over their life.

I did that.  I gave my life to Christ.  I accepted Him as my Saviour.  I asked Him to come into my heart.  I asked Him to forgive me of my sin and to be my Lord and Master.  I surrendered all.  Or did I?  Since that time, I have spent most of my life trying to figure out how to live this life as a Christian, giving honor and glory to God as I endeavor to do the best that I can.  Yet, it has become increasingly apparent that total surrender is not something that I have ever freely given.

There are certain things I was sure I had surrendered.  I surrendered my time!  I surrendered my time on Sunday morning, Sunday night and a couple hours a week for Bible studies.  I surrendered time once a day for devotions and prayer.  I even surrendered large blocks of time to conferences, marriage seminars, revival meetings and other church sponsored functions for the purpose of getting more information on how to more effectively make the best decisions regarding my life.  All the time, in between, I proclaimed that time was God’s, but I lived as though it was mine.  If I decided to spend my time vegging out in front of the television, visiting with friends, working late at the office or traveling away for a vacation, I did so with some awareness of God, but I didn’t see that time as surrendered to Him.  My jobs were the jobs I chose – getting God’s input when making the decision – but not seeing the hours I worked as being surrendered to all that Jesus longed to work through them.  So really, I surrendered a very small percentage of my time freely to God.

I surrendered my money!  I gave God His 10% faithfully.  I would pay Him first!  Yet, the whole idea of surrender is not giving a percentage of what you hold, but all that you have.  I figured God knew all the bills and indebtedness I had accrued and He understood that I couldn’t surrender any more than the 10% agreed upon in scripture thousands of years ago.  Whether or not those arrangements which required money were a result of my surrender to God’s will didn’t matter.  I had to use what I got for what I had set up!

I surrendered my relationships!  I gave God my marriage and my family.  I told Him over and over again how He was in control of those areas of life and I released them into His care.  I still tried to get my husband to learn the principles I felt were the most important in life.  I still worried and fretted over the activities family members were involved in.  I surrendered in word, but not indeed.  I still maintained control over the aspects of my family’s life they would let me control and I did not see the need to relinquish my hold on their lives to the One who I had surrendered my all to.

Then I came to see the Christian life as one that happens because of a complete exchange. ” I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul said.  “Nevertheless, I live, Yet not I, but Christ.”  The exchange is my life for the life of Christ.  He comes to dwell within the Christian and the total surrender means that all things are now under His control, direction and will.  This changed everything.  It continues to change everything.  I became acutely aware of just how little of my life I had surrendered to Jesus.

Now I realize that my time, everyday, every moment, belongs to God.  I live with the recognition that He can change my schedule, make easy tasks take a long time to accomplish and make hard tasks easy to overcome.  Because my time belongs to Him, my location does too.  Jesus will live His life through me at home, in the office, at a dining table, in the car, in another town, with many people or few people or even alone.  I still make plans, but I make them with the idea of surrender in my mind.  I may think I’m having a leisurely meal at home with my husband, but may end up spending the evening listening to a distraught friend.  I may plan for several people to come together for meeting, but may find myself alone as I surrender my time – all the time.

I would have to say that I still struggle at times with the idea that all the finances that come into my hands are actually not mine at all.  Saying that is easy, but letting God direct the use of all the funds that I receive is challenging to say the least.  I can no longer use the world’s prescribed course of action as my own default.  If there is a bill due which I have funds to pay, I must still surrender those funds to be used as God directs, not as I desire.  Along with that, as I have surrendered to Christ all I have, I have also surrendered any activity which would promise to use funds (that now belong to Him) for purposes that I deem valid and “good”.

The one thing I have surrendered the least of is my own understanding.  I still lean to the understanding based on experiences, advice and other input from areas outside of the mind of Christ.  Many, many times throughout the day, when faced with decisions – whether seemingly insignificant or life-altering – I am faced with my own understanding first.  Having surrendered all to Christ, I can no longer rely on that understanding, no matter how trustworthy it has seemed to be in the past.  I am learning to turn aside from my own box of ideas and let the One who is now my Life bring to my mind His thoughts and intents.

Currently, we are planning to move into town – a result of God’s desire for our surrendered lives.  We have put our house up for sale and are going through the ups and downs of a real estate deal.  Yesterday it looked like it would all work out nicely for everyone involved.  We would be able to get the equity we had in the house and the buyer would be able to assume the loan without a hitch.  Today, the buyer is not interested in assuming the loan and wants to get an appraisal and incur additional expenses in order to try to get financing.  In the midst of it all, we know our equity could be threatened by a low appraisal price due to the depressed economy.  An immediate need to “protect our investment” came up and once again, we are faced with the reality that surrendering all means so much more than we ever imagined.  As I struggled with the potential outcome, I recognized that I had surrendered my right to decide where I would live, but I still wanted to dictate how “my” money was handled.  The question “Will you surrender how much you get back from the sale of your house?” came ringing through and I realized, again, this is not mine to decide.

Sometimes I have thought of my areas of surrender with a twinge of self-righteousness, but as I see the way I still hesitate to live in the truth of God’s total reign over my life, I am ashamed of my arrogance.  Except His love draws and empowers my rebellious heart to deny my self-centered will, I would never surrender anything.  Without Him I can and will do nothing that has any eternal purpose.  With Him living, loving and working through me, all things are possible.  The surrendered life is murderous to the flesh and its desires, but the glorious Life of Jesus is a wonder to behold.

So again, I sing the old song, but now with new understanding.  The posture of the song is “Humbly at His feet I bow.”  The desire is “Make me, Saviour, wholly Thine.”  The revelation is “Take me, Jesus, take me now.”  As I respond to the stirring of God’s Spirit within me, He will take me to that place where all is His and I can freely give what was never mine anyway.

As I was driving across the prairie of North Central Idaho, I noticed the homes that dotted the landscape.  Some were farm and ranch houses that were obviously filled with activity throughout the day as the family members and others worked in the fields, barns and outbuildings.  I imagined lunch being served around the big kitchen table inside the ranch house or outside on the patio.  It was obvious, just driving by, that the place was used daily for activities of life.

There were other homes, though, which were quiet and still.  I was traveling in the middle of the day and it was apparent that these homes were owned by people who worked at a job in town or in another area of the country.  Some of these may have been second homes, but most of them showed signs of traffic coming and going each day, probably in the evenings when the work day was done.  I have traveled this same area after dark and many of these homes have lighted windows and cars in the driveway during the evening hours.

I began thinking of our homes.  My husband and I live over twenty miles from where we work and we are usually gone in the morning by 6:30 a.m. every weekday and usually don’t return until 6 p.m. or later.  It is rare for us to be home during the week in daylight hours.  We come home, have supper, do laundry, house cleaning and maintenance, and go to sleep.   I know of many people who live that way.  They may spend their weekends at home, catching up on the maintenance that needs done – mowing the lawn, fixing the screen door, weeding the flower bed, etc. – but overall they spend very little time at their house.

It used to be that the home was the base of all activity of the family.  Often, the land surrounding the home was the source of provision for the family and so the men would work the land and the women would work with the provision afforded by the work done by the men.  Gardens were tended, produce was preserved through canning, drying, and freezing, friends were entertained and the home was filled with a buzz of activity throughout the day and night hours.

I am not writing this to promote the return to a lifestyle which is actually not available to many people in this country.  My thoughts are in regard to the parallel of spiritual truth that comes when considering our home – our physical body as the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.  Because we have lives which are segmented and separated into categories such as work, home, play, we may have lost the understanding of the abiding presence of Jesus in this earthen vessel.

Imagine you had someone living in your earthly home who stayed there twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  This person was in your home while you were at work, running errands and going on vacation.  You would see that person when you came home at night and perhaps even engage in conversation.  You might call them during the day to check on things – see if they had done the laundry or needed something from the store.  On the weekends, you would have more time to spend with that person, but you would also have chores, obligations and plans to carry out in order to keep your home in good working order.  All in all, you would probably know the people you work with and interact with outside of your home much more than you would know the abiding resident in your house.

Many people view their Christian life in this very same way.  They have given their life to Jesus Christ and have declared Him to be Lord and Master of their life, but their lives continue on.  He is the resident of their home – their physical body, but His abiding presence in their life every moment of every day is not acknowledged.  They speak to Him in the morning before they leave for work as they have their morning prayer time and they may even call on him during the day to contact Him if they run into a problem or concern He might be able to help with.  In the evening, after the daily chores are done, there may be time to speak to Him again before they retire for the night, although the demands of life may make that time rather limited.  On the weekends, many have actually scheduled time for Him on Sundays (or Saturdays) to acknowledge His presence and spend time with Him and to join with others who also have Him abiding within them.

If you have been Spirit born, receiving the eternal life of Christ in exchange for your dead life of sin and despair, you are now the dwelling place or house where Jesus lives.  He lives within you always.  He doesn’t leave for work every morning and He never takes a vacation.  He cannot be left at home, like the cat, and His presence is ever abiding within the lives of all who have received Him.  To live our lives as though Jesus is only present when we recognize His existence is a deception that erodes the reality of His life being the source of all things.  When we treat Him as though He only fits into certain parts of our life, we disregard the truth that He is our only life – without Him there is no life at all.

I believe the time has come in the Body of Christ to live in the truth that we are the temple – dwelling place – home – of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t leave this body at any point during the day like we leave our house made with human hands.  We live in the very presence of the Most High God and since Jesus is now our life, we can rest in Him.  The care and upkeep of our physical body and soul is to be directed by the One who inhabits our being.  We have spent too much time working on fixing up and maintaining a building that no longer belongs to us.

So what do we do with our time, resources and energy with this understanding that Jesus is our life and is always present?  We make Him the focus and set our attention on Him alone.  He then leads the activities of this “house” and we find purpose, hope and direction that leads us into the only life we were created to live.  His life fills this earthen vessel and it is a treasure beyond compare.

 

Unless You are my very breath
Unless You are my everything
Why would I go another day
Unless I know You are the Way
How can I speak a single word
Except I know Your voice I’ve heard
Can I begin to even plan
Except I take Your nail scarred hand
Unless I find in You my all
Unless I hear Your gentle call
What reason can I find to live
Except to You my life I give
Can I desire some earthly gain
When I have heard You call my name
What could compare with love divine
For this I know – My life is thine
And so I bow without delay
The life I’ve known has past away
Each moment now is thine to give
And I rejoice, Your life to live.
Copyright 2011 Julie A Good

Today, during one of our wonderful book discussion groups, a question was asked which has been rolling over and over and over in my mind ever since.  The question was “Do you really want God to have His will in your life?”  The obvious answer was “Yes, of course.”, but as I thought more about it and about our previous discussion, I faltered at quickly professing my true desire.

The bigger God becomes in my own eyes, the more honest I can be about my deceitful heart.  I know without a doubt that I am one with the Lord, but I see His glorious Spirit within me illuminating the deep selfishness that I have so often tried to candycoat and present as noble and worthy.  There is nothing in me that can be pointed at as righteous or inherently good.  All of my own works, thoughts, intents and plans are selfish and arrogant without the renewing work of the Spirit of God.  Without Him, I would never have approached the mercy seat or consider surrender of my own dead works for His robe of righteousness.

As humans, we are constantly hearing the echoes of the first Adam who chose to live in the illusion offered by Satan’s lie “You will be as gods, knowing good and evil.”  We consistently choose to protect ourselves, advance our own interests and make our world suitable for our own narcissistic plans.  It is the grace, mercy and love of God that turned our black,ugly, disgusting heart to reach out for the love of One who gave us the very love with which we could return His love.  Without God’s love, we are incapable of engaging in anything that is beyond ourselves.  “We love Him, because He first loved us.”

I was raised in church and have often said “I only want God’s will for my life.”  I’ve talked of seeking for God’s will and always was concerned that I would miss the will of God in my life.  In reality, though, it is only the Spirit of God within me that has brought new life and it is that same Spirit that directs my gaze toward the Lover of my soul.  Left to my own devices, I would disregard God at every turn.  No matter how long we have walked with God, He will always be the source of love and every good thing in our lives.  He will be the prevailing force for anything that matters for now and eternally.

Yes, my soul is being renewed and changed by the indwelling life of my Glorious Redeemer.  I see that my choices are different, my language has changed and many of my desires are now based in the reality that Christ is my life.  I still see, though, that I want comfort and reputation when confronted with uncomfortable situations and conflict.  I recognize that I still think inwardly of how I might change things, even change them to be better, but the underlying idea is always based in self.  When the Spirit of God is directing, leading and propelling the forward motion, my mind is focused on His goodness, greatness and glory and there is no concern about the how and wherefore.

Do I expect to become a zombie Christian who no longer has an original thought or personality?  Never.  But I recognize that in my spirit, Jesus longs for such a surrender of my soul that His character, power, vision and compassion would encompass my life completely.  I don’t know what that will look like, but I know somehow it will be as that transformation takes place that I will experience humanity as it was created to be – indwelt by the Divine Son of God.

So, what do I really want?  I want to continue to experience all of the many plans God has designed in this adventure of life, knowing that each one will provide the means through which my mind, will and emotions will be changed into His likeness.  I’m sure this means that everyday I will become even more aware of how great He is and how small I am.

Within my spirit, the Spirit of God shouts “Victory Ahead!” to all the stubborn areas of my unrenewed soul and His power will never shrink back from the complete overtaking of my own self as God’s love forges on to conquer my deepest idols and proclaim “JESUS IS LORD”.

Even though I have had many years of physical pain and disease, I dislike speaking of it on Facebook or even posting about it on my blog.  This is largely due to the response that I receive when I use my body’s struggles to point out spiritual insights I gain while on my journey.  It seems that God has often pointed to physical situations in order to bring home a truth about His character.  Usually, dear friends are more interested, though, in my terrible plight physically than to the underlying message of hope and life that I long to give.  So, I usually remain fairly quiet about the extreme nature of my illness.

Today, though, I realized that perhaps I could take the opportunity to remind anyone who is remotely interested, that there is a truth about God which is often ignored when we find ourselves in certain situations.   It is a valuable understanding, one that is given some lip service, but is often not treated as a valid foundational issue when troublesome situations arise.  The truth I’m referring to has to do with the location of God.  Where is He?

I guess first there has to be the stated obvious – God is spirit and the location we are talking of is His spiritual location.    The Bible says that Christ lives in those who are part of the Body of Christ.  We ask Jesus to come into our hearts and say that we have “given our lives to God.”   Romans 8:9 speaks of the Spirit of God dwelling in us.  Colossians 1:27 talks of Christ in you, the Hope of Glory.  John 15:5 describes us abiding in Him and He abiding in us.  Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17 “that they may be one in Us”.

Prior to the glorious redemption which made us partakers of His divine nature and part of His very body, David asks the question in Psalm 139 – “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Where shall I flee from your presence?”  He describes heaven, hell, in flight, underwater, and the middle of darkness with the bottom line conclusion of “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”  Even without the recognition of 1 Corinthians 6:17 that “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him”, we are assured throughout history that God is ever present, in every place, always.

This sounds so very truth-filled and simple and yet……..some things that we engage in don’t make sense if all of this is so true.

Why do we go into a building once or twice a week to meet with God?

Or why do we invite people to the altar to find God?

Why do we invite God (who is ever present) to come when we’ve gathered together?

Why do we have to ask certain people to get God’s attention in order for certain things to happen in our lives (like healing prayers, prayers for supply, etc.)?

Why do we GO to God in prayer?

Why do we look for God in situations?

What makes us treat God as though He is the unwilling guest we must coerce into joining us in our endeavors?

When we ask Him to come and help us, where is He coming from and how long will it take Him to get there?

Why do we speak of certain places as being “sacred”, a physical place that God occupies more than somewhere else?

Why do we speak of God coming down when we gather together or how God “really showed up” as though He was engaged in some other activity and finally decided to grace us with His presence?

We talk of feeling the presence of God and that feeling being the premise on which we decide the reality of His presence.

I am currently battling with kidney infections in my one remaining kidney.  My left kidney was removed after seven years of kidney infections.  The recurring infections hold the possibility of eventual life on dialysis, especially if the reason for the ongoing infections is not found.  I am always in pain and sometimes it is debilitating.  The truth is, though, that I am not concerned with decay and death of my physical body because I agree with Paul in Colossians 3:2 “You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  The life I live today is the life of Christ.  If I live that life with pain in my kidney – it doesn’t change that reality.  If I live life without pain – it doesn’t change that reality.

When Christians – those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God – live as though it was about the physical life here on earth, we are living as though our union with Christ is not true.  We live as though we are asking the question “Where’s God?”  Maybe if we do all the things He spoke of in the Bible, He’ll make my earthly existence the way I’ve decided would be best.  Maybe if we pray the right prayer, exhibit the right amount of faith – He’ll remove the obstacle of pain, difficulty, or struggle that is causing me to be uncomfortable.

Some of the responses I receive in response to my sickness are:   “Oh, I will pray that God heals you and that the pain is gone.”  “How terrible!  I pray God somehow brings you relief and healing.”  “I just feel so terrible for you.  I can’t imagine how you are coping.  You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”  These sound, at first, like compassionate, loving concern and yet I seldom have responses which cry aloud with the truth that nothing is amiss in the Kingdom of God and that I, His child, am still loved, accepted and cared for completely.  If the rest of my life is spent in a place of physical trauma, it will never affect the truth that He is my only life and He is my everything.

If we are filled with the Spirit of God, joined to the Lord, One with Jesus as He prayed in John 17, what else is there?  Can we tell the One who is our life that we don’t like the life that He is living through us?  Do we tell the Holy Spirit (whose temple we are) that we don’t like the stuff happenin’ at the temple this week – He needs to change it?  We must not be fully convinced that we are no longer own – we have been bought with a price.  We must still have the mistaken notion that our life is somehow within our own control and that our desires, plans and concerns are of the utmost importance.

Once you embrace the truth of Galatians 2:20 and rejoice that it is yet not I, but Christ – life is the greatest adventure ever.  There is no limit to what we can accomplish as the life of Christ is manifest in and through us.  Our selfishness is no longer the point of reference – it is all about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And, when asked where God is, we can open wide our arms to the world as we exclaim   “He is Here!”

 

I have to be in a certain frame of mind to enjoy jigsaw puzzles.  In our coffee shop, we often have a jigsaw puzzle in process on the big coffee table that sits between the couch and loveseat.  People will stop by for a cup of coffee and linger at the puzzle, put in a piece or two and some even sit down and spend thirty minutes to an hour working on it.  The box lid, which shows what the completed puzzle will look like, is always sitting on the table.  If it gets moved, stuck behind a couch cushion or misplaced, there is an instant uproar.  “How can we work on the puzzle if we don’t know what it is supposed to look like?”  We like to know what we’re working toward.  What it will look like when completed?

The same is true in Christianity.  There seems to be an insatiable desire in man to find out what the outcome is going to be.  What will the end of the world look like?  What does a mature Christian act like?  Where will the will of God take me?  All of these questions keep us from a life of faith as they keep our focus on self.  The very nature of faith is based in what we cannot see, but know to be true.  If we remain focused on how we are supposed to look, act or feel, we lose sight of the completed work of the cross of Jesus Christ.

It seems that our zeal for wanting to know “what it looks like” has even led us to take the lives of the apostles and the early church and think that is the equivalent of a box lid for a Christian’s life puzzle.  We have tried to take Paul and Peter’s observations regarding relationships, worship practices and church structure so we can draw on the box of the puzzle of Christian life and say “Aha!  I have found how it works best!”  The very idea that we can capture the enormous plan of God and display it as the final product is absurd.  God will not be placed in a box or be limited to the picture on top of a box!

Some may argue that the Bible is the puzzle box which we can use as a model for the building of a Christian life.  Take any group of Christians, though, and regardless of their denomination or background, they will come to a point of disagreement with interpretation of Bible passages.  The Bible was never meant to be the substitute for the amazing manifestation of Jesus that occurs minute by minute in His Body, the Body of Christ.  We are not clones that will eventually chant together in monotone of the supremacy of God.  We are individuals who are filled with the life of Christ, joined to the Lord, and residents in a kingdom that is foreign to our earthly mind and understanding.  Our personalities are part of the hues of the palette of God’s choosing as the beautiful portrait of His only Son is splashed across the backdrop of all eternity.  Our differences in language, thought, ideas and actions are used to create what no man could ever design – the Bride of Christ.  Our glory and wonder is based in all that He is and although He has chosen to dwell within us, the focus will forever be on Him alone.

Those who live for Christ are not given a picture of what it looks like.  We have been given snapshots in the photo album of history which show reflections of the surpassing greatness of God’s purpose, but the masterpiece is not available to be published on our Facebook page or printed in our Christian magazines.  No one can fully describe and define the dimensions of the love of God, let alone the nature and character of God.  Our expressions of His work and the examples we find in Scripture are not even bullet points in the outline of His eternal purpose.  We are stifled by mortal words, hindered by human thought and although our exclamations of His worth are wondrous to behold, they still fall short of the magnitude of God’s greatness.

Truly, we are destined to a life of complete trust in the living Christ as we follow the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.  Since the piecing together of the scenes of life are not logically explained or figured out by our human understanding, we must release the need to know into the hands of the Almighty God.  Recently I reviewed pictures from the early days of marriage with my husband.  We laughed, cried and remembered together the journey those pictures portrayed.  I realized that our lives today are so much more than those pictures could ever describe.  The love we share goes beyond our wedding album or the journals we’ve written.  This is true in all we know of God.  We can rejoice in our sorrows, shed tears in the midst of blessing and remember all that we know of the One who loves us most.  This should not limit us, though, from experiencing the height and depth, length and width of the love and mercy of God, our Father as He reveals to us His faithfulness and peace.

There is rest, joy and great contentment when we gaze upon the glory of God and the work that He is performing in and through us.  We can stop looking for the puzzle box or contemplating if there’s a missing piece somewhere.  He who has begun the work is faithful to complete it and He it is who said “It is finished”.  May we look to the Author and Finisher of our Faith as He remains our only focus, source and goal.

Click this link to read the unedited interview:

http://frankviola.org/2012/01/23/ntwright

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