Fully Alive

Do you want to feel really alive?

Doesn’t it seem like that is the obsession of so much of the world we live in. Do you ever feel like your hopes — that are less than Christ — continue to be pulled out from under you; making you wonder how many more times you can take falling on your rear for the sake of having your hope built on nothing less Christ Himself? Is identifying with the cross really worth all this?

Yet, we must ask ourselves does God truly insist on the loss of all we ultimately hold dear? Or does He want to impress us more practically with the infinite-ness of His grace apart from what does not last.

He would want us to recognize and stand on this truth: there is a difference between apparent worth — in the things of this world — and absolute worth — what cannot be diminished by the implications of any lesser thing. To truly have life we must live the difference, appreciating the difference, not merely consenting to it with words of empty pretense. For how can we live for the gospel — whose Spirit has no witness with lies, falsehood, and unbelief — if we will continue to romance these things in our hearts?

A Life Worth Living

God is letting me feel so much, see so much, of life and me and Him. It has not been with the rosy-hue I am used to holding onto, but more like an investigation of cold, hard facts; uncomfortable realities that splinter your soul, making You need the holy One more than the common illusions of safety and control. Love is taking me on a roller coaster; my God is not Who I have thought He seemed. I’m getting an education, a sorrowful education in what He did, how true love has finally been revealed.

Love in this world is not without sorrow, not without a vulnerability to pain. Yet, what hope do we have without it? Is life worth living?

I used to have a very closed basis for what made life worth living; the elements whose presence made me capable of experiencing full enjoyment. Considering those things now, I see how much fear ruled my life and how little I was able to let love in. Life felt safer when approached fear first, rather than in faith; what then might love seek to do with me?

That question sounds ridiculous now, but that could only be because love has cast out fear, destroying the claim of lies upon my heart with truth. At the time, it was the basis of all my interactions and expectations of relationships, to shelter myself from the perceived negative intentions of others, even God.

But, what do we have to gain in sheltering ourselves according to our own methods of personal security? Certainly not peace. Hope, I think not. Confidence? Not without love.

Love is the secret to discovering all that life was meant to be. But not just any representation of this soul-supply; this does not begin with a virtue we seek to sow within, and cultivate in our behavior, but so much more. This secret is in letting Love, who really is a Person, invade the sequestered quarters of our fearful hearts. It ceases to be about what we can do in and about ourselves, but about God — who’s love for us puts our own to shame — and what He longs to do with our mess.

Because that’s really what we are: a mess. No, our problems are not really with our situations or handicaps or our upbringing or our families. Jesus must have been the most aware of the inadequacies of all these things, yet He was not crippled by them, instead He fulfilled His call with glory that we appreciate all the more because of His background, which corresponds so acutely with our own.

He came to live our life, but without our sin, pleasing God and releasing us from the penalty of sin. With that redemption work comes also the promise of knowing the same freedom from sin’s power as He did. As we grow in Him, stage by stage, we release our flesh to His disposal and receive His Spirit to produce new fruit.

This is the most intense process I know of in life, but I also believe it is what makes life worth living. We can only have so much as we live for ourselves with a close watch on our surroundings. We were not meant to live dominated by fear — a force of Satan that would destroy us — but by love — the began with God pouring Himself out for us in death, that we might submit ourselves to Him in life.

See here the abundance we were meant to know in life, according to God and His gifts, not our own performance or set parameters for survival:

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:

Fortunate those whose crimes are carted off,
whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
whom the Lord does not keep score.
Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?

Now think: Was that declaration made before or after he was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision? That’s right, before he was marked. That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God he had embraced with his whole life.

And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the “outs” with God, as yet unidentified as God’s, in an “uncircumcised” condition. It is precisely these people in this condition who are called “set right by God and with God”! Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision not just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision.

That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it.

This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father.

We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”

Romans 4 (emphasis mine)

19-25Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

Appreciating New Life

I have noticed there’s a difference between seasons of testing based, in part, on what sin’s the Holy Spirit is dealing with in me. Recently I went through a trial in which God showed me how helpless I am without Him — how much I need Him to deal with the fears within my heart, that His love might affect me more. In that time God made me so aware of His presence, so satisfied by who He is rather than what He was so graciously withholding for my good. Joy came with the morning, but it also went to bed with me at night. God let me float in the arms of His perfect love, when I should have despaired with any less of Him.

So, in that I experienced a spiritual high while physically constrained to “the valley.” I learned, in one sense, what it means to “not want” as David says in Psalm 23; I walked through the valley of the shadow, spooky with my own weakness, yet passable because His strength never left me; I feared no evil, for He was (ever) with me.

It is still amazing, to look back at what the Lord did with me not even two months ago. Yet, since then it has been as the wonderful Daddy I have come to know has set me down on the ground again, and I have to learn to walk again; walk though it still does not feel safe to move again. I am not my eager, let-me-run-ahead-and-play-while-You-watch -Father self. I don’t want to stand on the ground; I could have stayed at His breast forever. I got such a glimpse of heaven while I was up there, so high above the world. But now, we walk along in the sand together again.

After learning to live according to His perfect gait propelling me along, I am now sorely frustrated with my own, stilted steps. Progress is excessively tedious. I wish I could “rise on the wings of the dawn…[to] settle on the far side of the sea,” rather than accept my position somewhere in the middle of that journey home.

What has earth to compare with the place to which I go;

Yet, how do I keep on till fine’ly there?

But He catch me, but He raise me — His love to show,

How shall I believe what’s seems so rare?

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!

Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

Psalm 139

Forgiving God

I don’t know whether any of you have ever had this issue before, but God was just showing me that I need to forgive HIM. I know, we’re not used to hearing about forgiveness in connection God when He isn’t the One forgiving us, but hearing it from Him now makes a lot of sense.

I have been noticing this intense anger festering just beneath the surface this past week. It began to really scare me today, as I wondered what was really bothering me. I had no clue. Little did I know it was a problem I was having with God, and not with the people I was being “short” with.

Maybe I should be perfectly okay with God and what He’s doing in my life — on my heart — but I’m not. I thought that I would like His ways better by now. But, I am more human than I like. I want to accept His ways with perfect compliance, but that is a far off dream; as far away as heaven and worshiping Him with my entire being for all eternity.

I want that, but I can’t have it but in part here.

So, Lord, teach me to trust You enough to forgive You for what I don’t appreciate of Your methods, and reach out for the grace to forsake bitterness and embrace mercies that I don’t deserve.

Forgiving is not an entirely new concept for me. God has called me to do a lot of forgiving this past year — not something I enjoy, but completely worthwhile because it has been necessary for hearts and relationships to become unshackled by sin and free to grow in more grace.

In these unfamiliar circumstances I have learned that it is not okay for me to let pain from past encounters with others and present unfulfilled expectations to ruminate in my heart. As the temple of the Lord, I must be pursuing holiness in every regard — paying close attention to internal and relational tensions as they clamor for my attention.
God has given me emotions as a precious gift. For me to ignore them is a sin, just as it is to give them free rein. Rather, I must present them openly and honestly to God as a first-fruits offering of my heart.

Here, Lord, this is what I have in my heart; make it Yours. I do not belong to myself, but I want to welcome Your work within me. It’s not pretty — what I’m giving You — but You didn’t seek after me for beauty, but to form Yourself in me.

I don’t want to use my heart or emotions for anything else but His purposes. They are mine to steward, but not mine to release and enjoy with complete ease. Giving way to emotions for the sake of feeling uninhibited is often the first act of surrendering myself to the power of sin in my heart. Instead, may they be a stimulator to seek God with fresh intensity and expectation. Let God, instead, stand as the Lord of my heart; making it more His home-base than an enemy plane offering Him constant resistance.

Sure, I can not be perfect, but I want the Perfect One to have unrestricted access to the fearful depths of sin in me.