Wait. What?

by - January 05, 2013

When I was in junior high, our youth group attended Youth Evangelism Conference every year. I don’t know if it still is, but back then it was held right after Christmas.  One year it was in Del City, one year, Moore, I think. I have a lot of great memories with my youth group; worshipping and playing with them. Two main things stand out to me from those trips: 1) one of those churches literally had a little river running through it down by the stage.  A little river.  That seemed pretty cool at the time. The other (#2) was after the first year, I went home truly believing God was going to kill me...soon. A preacher delivered a passionate sermon talking about our assurance of going to heaven, and asking who in our lives did we know was not saved and would be spending an eternity in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, and what would we be willing to do for them? Would we give our life like Jesus did, or would we stand by and not do anything? I took him literally. “I know I’m saved. I know Grandpa Corky is not.  I’m here for a reason...this must be it. Go time."

A good friend of mine was also unsure about a family member. We cried, stood up and walked down front to give our lives for theirs. There were a lot of other kids going down front. I bet some of them were confused, too. I didn’t know how God would kill me, but I was certain that when I died, Pa would be sad and accept Jesus as his Savior. I remember wondering if I would be in a car wreck. It seemed the most likely. I wasn’t sick, and it wasn’t tornado season (the only other two causes of death in northern Oklahoma). As a week or so wore on, I grew more anxious waiting for the moment, until I ended up in bed under my comforter, crying my eyes out when my mom came in to make me tell her what in the world had been going on!?!?. I let her in on my impending death, but fear not, Pa would be saved. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but the bottom line was that Jesus had already died for Pa, and He didn’t need me to. She was pretty emphatic about that. And I’m not sure she didn’t make a phone call or two to make sure others were on the same page. 

I had focused on the wrong point of the sermon (or maybe he had stressed the wrong point of the sermon.) I had focused on the surrender of my life, instead of rejoicing in the surrender of Christ’s life that I could share with Pa. “Tell the good news.” Not “Be the sad story that serves as a warning to others.” One focus leads to unnecessary despair, the other to truth and assurance. The thing is…sometimes God does take the sad stories and turn them into good, because many times that is when we truly seek Him: in the moments of tragedy beyond our understanding, we seek a higher understanding.  Jeremiah 29:13  Tragedy that is a result of a broken world where cancer, car wrecks, and mad men exist. It's not the sad story that saves. It's realizing we need to be saved, and accepting the gift of salvation that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers.  Although many have died to share the good news of salvation, only One needed to die for the plan of salvation.  The preacher was passionately calling us to share the Gospel, not be the gospel.  The Gospel already is.  The Gospel is Jesus. Sometimes the word "gospel" gets used without explaining it.  Here is a good explanation:  What is the Gospel?

I don’t know if that unfortunate misunderstanding at the conference is where my wrong belief and even fear that surrender to God is going to be dreadful, and the opposite of anything I ever wanted, and at the very least be breakin' my stride; or if that was already in me.  Some people RUN to give their lives to God. I have been patiently, graciously, thankfully…dragged here. I'm not proud of that, but that's the truth.  I wish I gave in more easily, as easy as it was in my youth.  But, I spent some time turned from Him.  Now, I have to fight for Him in me, but that struggle (according to Romans 5:3-5) produces perseverance, character and hope, and a lot of peace that I didn't have fighting for other things.  If I'm going to fight for something, I want it to be Hope. And I believe Jesus is our Hope. To think of the times I denied Him, or made little of Him; and then to think how He doesn't think of those times.  Ugh.  As I work out my salvation, each new surrender to His will over my fear, selfishness, doubt, etc. etc. etc. is often

followed by a wince, 
followed usually by tears,
followed by a leap,
followed by increased faith,
followed by renewal of my mind, 
followed by a transformation in my life,
followed most always by laughter at the silliness of the wince and tears,
followed by thankfulness,
followed by testimony...which you are reading now.

Sometimes I’m wrapped up in the lie that God’s will for me, isn’t what I want. Like him killing me, or moving me to Texas. (6 of one, half dozen of another.)  But, He is our Creator. What He created me for is what every fiber of my being wants, even when I don't know what that is, or even when my eyes, my heart, my society, my flesh would argue based on my own understanding. I can appease those things, but that will not lead to fulfillment of my life.  Only the Creator can know the purpose of the created, and He wants us to know the steps to take and shows us in His timing, when we ask. (See previous blog posts.)  The Creator gave us the ability to choose as seen throughout the Bible, filled with examples of those who said "OK, yes.  You're will be done" or, "you know what I'm going to do something different." Doing something different may feel alright in our youth, in our flesh, in our country... Both paths lead through this world of trials, joys, relationships, jobs, conversations, achievements.  And both paths end the same way, but have very different outcomes and very different lasting impacts on the generations that come after us.  We are never too far down one path that we can't pick up the other, and unfortunately, we are never too far down one path that we can't be tempted by the other.  That is life.  We can look for God, or we can ignore Him.  We can grow in faith in Him, or we can grow in denial of Him.  We say "yes" or "no" based on what we believe about Him.  And what we believe about Him depends on who we are listening too...

Like Eve believing the lie that by doing what God wanted her to do, she would be missing out. She could choose to obey, not eat the apple, and be an obedient sucker according to the snake, or she could take the apple by the horns and get out of life what she thought was more. It would have been OK for her to run to God (whom she had walked with and fellowshipped with and known) and say “God, I am being tempted to eat the apple by a snake I just met! He says YOU are holding out on me. Is that true? What in the world is going on?!” But she chose to act on her questions, instead of ask them. She didn't even say "Hey snake meet me back here in a week, I'm going to think about it." She acted on the deception, instead of acting on what she had known to be the truth: that God is Good. Action is what got her into trouble, and she got what she asked for: she had knowledge of good and evil – stepping out from the shelter of One and exposing herself to the other. And since knowledge can’t be undone…we are all paying the consequences and acting just like her.  Acting on deception is much easier than asking questions.  It’s mindless, it’s in hand, we don’t have to think about it, we just do.  It doesn’t take perseverance or character. It’s just satisfaction in the moment.  We just bite the apple, and then convince ourselves that fig leaves (signifying the consequences of choosing our own will) are better than naked (signifying the natural will of God as He intended for creation) because "at least we chose our own destiny!"  News flash:  both choices are ours to make.  One leads to separation from God, and the other to fellowship with God.   One choice is infinitely better.  IMPORTANT REMINDER:  Keep your pants on.  Naked isn't natural anymore. 

A few weeks ago a sermon at church, from a Pastor who loves the Lord AND his congregation, hit me between the eyes with the most memorized verses in the book. I would say I believe God is good, but often times the worry in my life would say the opposite:  that I don't believe that.  Psalm 23 Jesus IS a Good Shepherd. Not a jerk one. Not a manipulative one. Not a tricky one. Not a mean one. God is a Good Father. Not a jerk one. Not a manipulative one. Not a tricky one. Not a mean one. I don’t have to plead for their goodness. I don’t have to earn their love. I don’t have to perform at their whim. They don’t plot the demise of my spirit for their purposes to rule the world while squashing me. As one of theirs, they don't look at me with condemnation.  They look at me with compassion. They don’t lead me to slaughter just so they can control me and tend my wounds. The slaughter already happened. On the Cross. My wounds are already inflicted from the garden and my own sin…they will tend to them out of their love and mercy, not conspiracy or political agenda.  They are love.  And I want to reciprocate and share their love.

The Good Shepherd gives us our fill, not always our whims. He leads us to lie down in green pastures, beside still waters. He restores the brokenness of our soul, and leads us down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, so others may know Him. He doesn’t snap and make a barren pasture green for us so we will feel better about the pasture we are in… He leads us through the valleys we have gotten ourselves into, or others have put us in, or that He draws us to (Texas) so that we heal, grow in faith and trust and peace, have no other gods before Him, and live our purpose in true green pastures. True still waters, that stay still even when stirred up.  Not a consumer mirage in the desert, or a plan for positive thinking.  Don't be deceived. Live in the reality of hope and peace, not in a manipulation of your perception of reality. He is Living Water. Water that can’t be bought or earned, it can only be accepted as a gift from the One who leads us to it. But, we have to follow.  We do need to choose to follow Him.  The True Him, not the one we conjured in our minds, but the Him we once knew, for those of us who "used to be Christian" or "used to go to church."  Was it Him that let you down, or did you get deceived or let down by someone else?  God doesn't control us like robots.  Whoever pushed you away did that on their own, and He is calling you back.  He called me back.  It's important to remember that God is not glorified by our sorrow. He is glorified by our joy. He is a Good Shepherd.  If you left Him, start to turn back...you know where He is.  If you don't know him, have a conversation with someone you know who does.  I hope we all have a grandma, an uncle, a neighbor a friend who has tried to talk about Jesus with us.  Ask your questions.

Follow Ups: 

1)  My Grandpa Corky did accept Christ as his Savior.  The Lord had put him on many hearts, and answered our prayers one Christmas Eve, many years ago.  I wrote about that in this post from last year:  Conversations Worth Having

2)  I like where I live.  I pray for more love, which is what I miss giving and receiving at home with family and friends, but I am grateful and even delighted to be where I am. Of every surrender God has ever brought me to, other than the night I asked Him into my heart, coming here is most precious.  I winced, cried, am being transformed, am thankful and testifying.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of His glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:14-21

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