Sunday, March 31, 2013

What Now?

For years, I felt frustrated at the end of each Easter service, as if I had truly missed something. I’d ponder “What now?” after the last hymn and dismissal from the Lily-decorated sanctuary. I didn't know how to take an historical event that I truly believed happened and make it an everyday reality in my Christian life thousands of Easters later.

What did I go there to celebrate? The glorious truth that Jesus rose from the dead, confirming everything He said was true. Because of my belief in Him, I will join Him in Heaven when I die and one day my physical body will be raised--just as His was--to be reunited with my spirit. Then all believers will live eternally in joy and peace. What wonderful news! For a far off day perhaps, but still--wonderful news!

So, I wrapped up Easter for another year and didn't think about it until the following spring. Memorial Day, graduation plans, and vacations were next on the calendar.

However, now I know that the Resurrection is an on-going, ever-growing gift to me. Its truth indwells and empowers me, and each Easter is no longer marked by going to church to memorialize what was, but a glorious expression of a present reality.

Throughout this Easter season, I’d like to share how my life began to change when I opened the Bible to see what transpired in the life of Jesus AFTER His Resurrection. Much to my surprise, I discovered He was very busy those forty days prior to His Ascension.

I particularly noticed how He took the initiative to appear to struggling, confused, and broken believers—yes, those ALREADY following Him--men and women who experienced a crisis of faith when the unexpected, the terrible, the “this doesn’t fit into my framework of positive religion” happened after His arrest and Crucifixion. Everyone who encountered Jesus during this time was transformed. Their faith was strengthened beyond a mere assent to facts.

In other words, they had their "What Now?" clearly answered!

Because Christ rose from the dead, so can we—not only one day from our physical graves, (a topic on which the Church tends to focus her Easter Sunday sermons), but from the here and now graves of deferred hopes and buried dreams, from the sepulchers of broken hearts and decaying faith.

That’s the real meaning of Easter. It began with Jesus’ Resurrection, but its continuing power is His gift to you and me today to expect and experience all kinds of resurrections right where we are--yes, in the mundane and challenging ruts of daily life--not once a year shielded behind stained glass windows.

We are in a season of our Lord’s love-filled appearing to weary travelers on their journey of faith, to sincere doubters behind closed doors, and to those who linger at tombs. It's time for heartburn, opened eyes, and the intimate breaking of bread with friends.

Invitations are going out for breakfast by the sea that you don't want to miss. Betrayers who feel all is lost are getting calls they never expected. The outdoor seminary at the feet of Jesus will soon begin.

Don’t let this extraordinary time pass you by!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Are You a Kite or Balloon Christian?

This is a post from The Goinwell that features shorter, daily inspirational messages from Mary Diane. You're invited to be a part of our devotional community!

Just "like" the Goinwell Facebook page to automatically receive a new message delivered each day to your Facebook Wall. Let us know how these devotionals are blessing you and as always...share you comments, questions, and insights. Don't forget to let your friends know about the page!

A woman was struggling with trusting God. Her children were grown and gone so far from the home that she could no longer watch over them as she once did. One of her sons was in the Armed Forces and she worried daily about his safety.

Her husband had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. She dwelt constantly on what the future held if he were to die and leave her alone to handle all of t
he bills and responsibilities. Will there be enough? Will the children take care of me? She was weighed down so much that the thoughts stole her sleep and at times, her appetite.

She was a Christian and loved God with all of her heart. She knew worry was a sin, but no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't seem to let go. All of her life she had been a "take charge" person, but now she realized that the weight of the situations that she could no longer fix were destroying her health and stealing her joy.

One day at the seashore, she watched children play along the beach. A kite was flying off in the distance, dancing in the wind with a happy youngster at the end of the string.

"That's it!" she said.

So she went out and bought a kite, and returned to the beach the next day. She prayed, naming all of her concerns out loud and "placed" them on the kite by faith. She then ran into the wind.

She watched gleefully as the kite sailed higher and higher as she let go of more string!

"Here, Lord", she whispered, "take from me what I cannot bear anymore." After a while, she reeled in the kite string and went about her daily routines. By nightfall, however, her anxious thoughts began to return and she tried to fight them off as best she could.

She returned to the beach days later with her kite, ready to try again. She felt so guilty for not being able to "let go". She hesitated, thinking of how silly she must look for actually going out and buying a kite at her age.

"Others can simply trust," she thought to herself. "Why can't I?"

Just then a child ran by with a large balloon. A gust of wind snatched the balloon so hard that the string slipped through the little girl's fingers. Up, Up it soared…so high that eventually it could no longer be seen.

God was listening to her after all! She suddenly realized that what she needed was not a kite, but a balloon. A kite was always under the control of the 'sender'. It could be reeled in and maneuvered at will. What she had to do, once and for all, was truly "LET GO"!

That afternoon, she brought back a beautiful balloon in her favorite color. She prayed again, and placed all of her frustrations, doubts, and worries symbolically onto that balloon.

Walking to the edge of the water, she took a deep breath, held it high, and then opened the hand that not only held a tight grip on the balloon, but was also once strong enough to hold together everything else in her life.

The balloon flew out of her hands! She cried as she watched it bounce to the heavens, knowing that even if she wanted to, she couldn't reach the string to get it back.

It didn't take long for the balloon to sail out of sight. She stood alone on the beach and waited. She didn’t feel any different, but somehow--deep inside--her faith held her steady.

Later on, she slept through the whole night. Over the next few days, she felt her joy returning. A song returned to her heart and her lips; God's Word began to burst forth with life inside of her!

Now, what about you? What worries are your facing?

Then, let me ask one more question: Do you pray at the end of a kite or a balloon?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Controlling Christians and the People that Love Them

This is a post from The Goinwell that features shorter, daily inspirational messages from Mary Diane. You're invited to be a part of our devotional community!

Just "like" the Goinwell Facebook page to automatically receive a new message delivered each day to your Facebook Wall. Let us know how these devotionals are blessing you and as always...share you comments, questions, and insights. Don't forget to let your friends know about the page!

I hear the "witching hour” is 3 AM (the opposite of when Christ died at 3 PM), but I believe Sundays at 11 AM beats anything the witches can muster.

Witchcraft isn't spooky. It's all about control. It’s that simple…and that devastating. The desire to control others has been around since the beginning. Satan coveted control over God; Adam and Eve wanted charge of their own destinies.

Nothing has changed--only that Jesus came as one completely controlled by the Holy Spirit and not His own interests. He won our liberty from both the desire to control and the prison of being controlled...if we dare!

Why is this a scary proposition? The controller has to face the fear of losing control. Similarly, a man or woman used to being inordinately controlled has to remove the artificial boundaries and find the courage to walk out into the wide, open spaces of life.

God forbids attempted manipulation of other people's minds, hearts, and circumstances. Even He won't do that with His creation! The Lord works persuasively within the parameters of man's free will; He does not coerce or deceitfully trick people into doing what He wants.

But sadly, you'll find some of His kids practicing "witchcraft" from the pulpit. These leaders minister the gospel out of their own woundedness and insecurities.

As a result, they use their positions to publicly shame and scare congregants considered to be out of line. Instead of bringing the sheep in for discreet one-on-one ministry, elders protect themselves from a direct confrontation and attempt instead to validate their positions by wielding a “Word from God”.

I've heard pastors resort to "anonymous" triangulating messages from pulpits. Designed to correct a particular person or group within the congregation, the content is cowardly preached outward to everybody.

In a small church, it doesn't take long to figure out who the message was for, right? And that gets people talking; then the shunning. Mission accomplished.

Listen, Jesus never publicly shunned or shamed any individual during His earthly ministry. He harshly addressed religious orders, mindsets, and practices, but never PEOPLE!

When we choose exploitative tactics, we align ourselves with the master manipulator and deceiver of all times—satan.

The only thing that truly changes a person is grace; the only dispenser of grace is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, according to the Word, this grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The way and rate of change differs for each of us, and is not centered in how well we’re pressed by flesh—which may result in temporary compliance—but how well we surrender to the persuading conviction of the Spirit of God.

The Bible says that "rebellion IS (not as) the sin of witchcraft" (I Samuel 15:23). That verse continues to say that not only is witchcraft rebellion in the eyes of God, but its companion—stubbornness--is idolatry.

Wherever there’s witchcraft (the attempt to control another person), you’ll find rebellion (resistance to trusting God and His ways.) Wherever there’s rebellion, there’s stubbornness (an inability to let go of control and return it to God). Have you ever met a controlling person who isn't stubborn?

Wherever there’s stubbornness, there’s idolatry. (All must go as YOU planned. People must be in the right place at the right time, according to YOUR will, and doing what YOU expect.)

If this is you, you need to repent deeply and genuinely from a sin worse that any moral failure or uncleanness.

For those of you knowingly controlled, you’re not off the hook, either. Repent for making others your idols. Come out from under their thumb and breathe. Venture out and learn who you are in God’s eyes, not theirs.

Fulfill God’s destiny for you--not their plans and hopes. Quit propping them up and making them look good (that’s called “enabling”). It’s time for you to step out of their shadows!

Only when you step away can God step in and help them. One day riskily lived in honest response to God is worth a thousand in safe contrivance.

Monsterquest: The Dreaded Christianus Venificus!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Fire Walkers

This is a post from The Goinwell that features shorter, daily inspirational messages. Please "like" the Goinwell Facebook page and let us know how these devotionals are blessing you. Share your comments, questions, and insights!

"I love Fire Walkers. And I don't have to go to India or a Barnum and Bailey performance to find one. They're all around us. You may be sitting next to one at work today or in the pew come Sunday. They don't advertise. In fact, they don't even smell like smoke or bear the singe upon their garments.

But make no mistake.These people have emerged alive out of fiery furnaces that killed others. What is their secret to survival?

Let's look at the three Hebrew men--Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego--who were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar II and brought as servants to the Babylonian court along with Daniel. (Daniel 3)

They excelled, even beyond their Babylonian contemporaries in the literature, sciences, and philosophies of the day. They were highly favored.

Nevertheless, the king was enraged when the Hebrews refused to bow down to the colossal, gold-plated image he had constructed. They explained that God alone is worthy of such worship. Play your music, Neb, they said. We may tap to the rhythm, but we won't bow.

Now, our Hebrew friends with funny names didn't get up that day praying for a heated encounter; and I haven't met a Fire Walker who does. It just happens... mainly because they won't compromise, not because they do anything wrong.

Shad, Mes, and Abed would have preferred for God to deliver them FROM the situation, but He chose to deliver them OUT of it. When the fiery furnace door opened and they were cast in, they were amazed (and I'm sure, relieved) to discover Someone had gotten there ahead of them.

Here's another secret of Fire Walkers: Like our Hebrew examples, they are loosed in the fire before they come out of the fire.

You MUST praise Him in your fiery furnace if you want out. You MUST learn to walk freely in the midst of the flames before you step freely outside.

I have learned through many similar situations as yours, that if I make myself praise God IN the difficulty--no matter how hot it gets--He looses me from fear and enables me to walk unbound in the difficulty as a victor, not as a victim. Then, deliverance out of the fire is often quicker.

And another thing. Fire walkers don’t carry the smell or singe of where they’ve been in self-pity totes. They refuse to stay “stuck” in the experience—rehashing, reliving, recalling to whomever will listen. They have better things to do!

They look upward, not down...forward, not back. If you find them hanging around furnaces, it's only to encourage future Fire Walkers to look through the flames to see Who got there ahead of them.

What or where is your fiery furnace?

It's going to be okay. Start praising. Dare to take steps of progress--right there, where you are--to the shock of your "Nebuchadnezzar".

Guess who's "got this"? Jesus, the original Fire Walker...The One who stepped into your oven before you even knew you were on the royal menu!"