You’re a Christian…How Are You Different?

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“How are you different?” is the second question a friend asked me when we had lunch and I told him I had become a Christian.  (I wrote about the first question he asked – What does it mean to become a Christian? – last week).  This second question is much more difficult to answer and when my friend asked me, I’m not sure what I said, but it was probably something like “I don’t know, I just feel different.”  The reality was that not much changed right away, especially on the outside.  And being a follower of Jesus is much more about “becoming” than it is about simply “being.”  Or at least that has been my story.

The best way I can describe this becoming is to liken it to getting braces on your teeth.  Usually, there is some work that needs to be done on your jaw, the structure of your mouth, or the teeth way in the back before the crooked teeth are straightened or the gap in the front closes.  Only once the jaw is realigned and the teeth way in the back are adjusted, will the beautiful, straight smile be visible.  And the thing is, that structural, jaw realignment work requires pain relievers.  When I had braces, I had to participate in my own torture by attaching rubber bands and strapping on a headgear (at night, thankfully).  If I refused to do these things (and sometimes I just couldn’t), nothing would change.

The day I became a Christian, and for at least a year thereafter, I looked pretty much exactly the same as I did before.  I mean, sure, I knew some more Christian words, read the Bible, and went to church, but I was still very crooked, gap-filled, and misaligned.  But there were some imperceptible, deep, structural adjustments going on.  I became very aware of my own sin.  Things that I previously viewed as being victimless or as acceptable outlets for my own happiness and desires, I came to see were offenses to the one who had hand-crafted me out of love and to fulfill a purpose.  I became aware of how often my actions arose from a seemingly compulsive need I had to fill the growing internal gap between who I wanted to be and who I actually was.   I began to wonder about my purpose and whether it could possibly be to acquire stuff, escape from my life by taking trips, or save for retirement.

My sudden awareness of these things did not change anything, though.  For change to happen, I had to enter into them and participate in the work God was doing in me.  Right at the beginning, there was work to be done:

  • I had to stop doing some things and start doing some other things.  I’m telling you, there were days (and there still are) when not doing certain things felt like torture and something for which I simply did not have the strength.
  • I had to begin to see myself differently – as already loved, instead of someone who could be loved if certain things were true.
  • I had to read Scripture and accept some things about who God is and what Jesus came to earth to do even if I did not know from experience necessarily that they were true.
  • I had to listen more and talk less.
  • I had to ask for help from God even when I wasn’t sure if he was listening to me.

To be clear, just like there were times I did not wear the rubber bands or the headgear, there have been times when I have refused to participate in the work God is doing in me.  But he is patient and keeps giving me grace and strength.  Some days I go backward, some days I make no progress, and some days, I am a conqueror.

So, how am I different?  Well, if you examine me, you’ll still come across crookedness, gaps, and areas of misalignment.  But today I am more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, kinder, more faithful, more self-controlled, and more forbearing than I was before.  (Gal 5:22-24)  Not the most, just more than before.  Not perfect, just better than before.  I am still becoming.

How are you different?

Are there things you need to stop doing or start doing?

Have you been refusing to wear your headgear and rubber bands?

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Life this Week

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Last week of May, 2013.  My daughter turns 13 years old next month and lately I’ve been going through old pictures and memories, wondering how that could possibly be.  Mostly I am amazed by the passage of time and all that has happened in 13 years both in her and in me.  We are in a period of time in which my skills as a mom are being tested.  I’ve kind of been on a bit of a roll over the last few years.  Now, though, I’m starting to feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing at all.  There are questions I don’t know how to answer, problems I cannot solve, and feelings I can’t make come or go.  She is going on two long trips without me this summer and I’ve been scheming of ways to keep her   home, knowing what’s best for her is to let her go.  Anyway, here’s what I’m doing this week to stay focused on what matters:

I’m praying for my sweet, nearly 13-year old girl.  Of course, I pray for her every day, but this week I’m thanking God for her spirit and giving heart, and asking God for wisdom so I know when to say words and when to wrap my arms around her and just say “I don’t know.”

I’m telling ten people thank you.  In the last 13 years, there are so many people who have encouraged me, helped me, prayed for me, and been present with me.  I’m telling at least ten of them how grateful I am.

I’m thanking God for saving me.  Thirteen years ago I didn’t know about amazing grace.  I didn’t know I was loved by the one who made all things.  I didn’t know I was worth dying for.  I didn’t know.  Now I know and I’m thanking God for revealing himself to me and pulling me and my daughter into his light.

I’m reading this Scripture.  “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you…I have loved you even as the Father has loved me.  Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!  This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”  (John 15:1-4; 9-12)

I’m loaning $25 to a woman in Kenya.  Her name is Rose and she raises cattle to feed her family, but cattle feed has gotten to be so expensive, she needs some equipment to make it herself.  www.kiva.org

What do you have planned for this week?  What are you doing to keep yourself focused on what matters most?  

What Does It Mean to “Become a Christian?”

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Not long after I committed my life to Christ in 2008, I had lunch with a friend I had known for several years.  When he asked me what was new and I told him I had become a Christian, he asked three questions:

  • What does it mean to “become a Christian?”

  • So, how are you different?

  • Can you still play golf and drink scotch?

Each one of these questions was so interesting and, frankly, stumped me a little bit both because of what they meant about my friend’s understanding of Christianity and about what I was really committing to by calling myself a Christian.  So, for the next few weeks, I’m exploring both sides of each of these questions.  This week, I’m focusing on “What does it mean to ‘become a Christian?’”

Before 2008, if you’d asked me what religion I was, I would have said Christian.  And basically I meant four things by “Christian”: I had a Christmas tree in my living room in mid-December; I went to brunch on Easter Sunday; I tried to be a good person; and I generally believed there was a divine, disinterested ruler of some kind somewhere far away.  In other words, my “Christianity” did not have anything to do with Jesus Christ.

Many of us are Christians is this sense.  We are born into a family that calls themselves Christian because they attend church on Sundays, get together at long dinner tables for Christmas and Easter, try to avoid the “big sins,” and baptize babies with crossed fingers that this works to seal an eternal existence.  Overall, though, there is no difference in the way we act, serve, or feel as compared to non-Christians.

So, to me, to “become a Christian” means several things.

It means I believe

  • the longing I felt deep in my soul was a longing to be united with my creator.  It was not a longing for food or success or sex or money or children;

  • Jesus, God himself in human form, came to earth to do this uniting (John 1);

  • by dying on the cross, Jesus and I exchanged something – he took my robe of sin (and this was a big and heavy robe) in exchange for his robe of righteousness, making me blameless in God’s eyes.  (Eph 1:3-14)  In other words, my sins, which could wake me up in the middle of the night sometimes, were buried forever and not being tallied on a huge heavenly whiteboard (Micah 7:19);

  • I am a loved daughter of the maker of the Milky Way galaxy and the ant and will spend eternity with God.  (Rom 8)

It means I can stop striving to earn my way to God through my goodness, which was never that good.  (Eph 2:8-9)

It means I am freed from fear.  What could I be afraid of as the child of the one who made everything?  (Rom 8:31-39)

It means that God will transform me over the course of my life into the image of Jesus, who lived a flawless life.  (2 Corin 3:18)

It means I have a purpose: to follow Jesus’ example and love anyone and everyone who crossed my path with a supernatural, non-judgmental, ever-forgiving, servant love that would make the recipient want to know more about where that love could possibly have come from.  (John 13:34)

It means I cannot be silent about how I have been rescued and how the gifts of forgiveness, grace, child-ship, freedom, transformation, and purpose are instantly and constantly available to every single person on the planet.  (Matt 28:19)

Have you become a Christian?

Life This Week

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I have a friend named Becky. She is one of the most devoted followers of Jesus I know and she is always praising God with her mouth and with her life. When my daughter was little, she called Becky, “the woman who says Hallelujah.” I want to be the woman who says Hallelujah. This week, I just want to praise and worship God, the God who rescued me and gave me new life, the God who loves me and forgives me. I want to remember that this life and world is not about me or for me; it’s about him and for him.  So, here’s what I’m doing this week:

I’m reading 1 Chronicles 16:7-36. I love these verses in particular: “Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.” (1 Chron 16:23-27)

I’m praying A.W. Tozer’s prayer. O Lord God Almighty, not the God of the philosophers and the wise but the God of the prophets and apostles; and better than all, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, may I express You unblamed? They that know You not may call upon You as other than You are, and so worship not You but a creature of their own fancy; therefore enlighten my mind that I may know You as You are, so that I may perfectly love You and worthily praise You. In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. – Knowledge of the Holy

I’m listening to this playlist:
Glory to God Forever, Fee
You Are My King, Newsboys
Always, Kristian Stanfill
Our God, Chris Tomlin
10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman
Blessed Be Your Name, Tree 63
Revelation Song, Phillips, Craig & Dean
Doxology, Brandon Grissom
Overwhelmed, Big Daddy Weave
At Your Name, Phil Wickham
You Are Everything, Matthew West
One Thing Remains, Passion
God You Reign, Lincoln Brewster
We Are The Free, Matt Redman
After All (Holy), David Crowder Band
Amazing Grace, Chris Tomlin
O Praise Him (All This for a King), David Crowder Band
Forever Reign, Kristian Stanfill

What does your worship look like this week?

Six Acts of Revolutionary Living

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I keep this piece of paper taped to my computer at work and on my wall at home.  It’s small.  Only I can see it.  But I really need it.  I need to read it on the days when I have a deadline, or run from meeting to meeting.  I need it on days that feel overwhelming in a much bigger sense – like when tragedy happens, or a friend is hurting.  I need it on days that are calm and open and on days when my heart is breaking.

I came up with these statements one day after reading Stephen’s speech to the Jewish authorities in the book of Acts just before he was stoned to death.  The speech is one of the most incredible recitations of God’s redemptive plan in Scripture and ends with words that call followers of Jesus to a certain type of living that is revolutionary:

When they heard [Stephen’s speech], they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’

At this, they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  When he said this, he fell asleep.

(Acts 7:54-60)

Stephen is near the top of my list of people I would love to meet one day.  He was bold in speaking the message of Christ.  He stood on the truth in the face of death.  He forgave the people who dragged him on the ground through the city and threw stones at him until he died.  He stayed connected to Jesus, holding onto him right through to his end.  He was unafraid even as he spoke to authorities and knew it was likely he would be killed.  He committed his spirit – all that he was – to Jesus.

I’m not going to face what Stephen faced in my lifetime.  Most of us won’t.  But, I want to live like he did in my context – with my family, with my friends, and in my work.

What about you?   Do you need a sign on your computer or wall?  What would it say?

Life This Week

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For some reason, last night I was thinking about how God could have created us all to be adults right away, and skipped over the whole growing up thing.  I must have been feeling philosophical because then I thought about why he created us to be small and then grow big; to start with no words and then to acquire one syllable at a time; to be carried and then to carry others.  Why require things to be added, like water, food, sun, experience, and wisdom, over time, instead of putting it all in there at once?  Of course, I have no idea why other than that there is clearly something to this process of growing from small to big.  This is true of my faith.  It has grown over a period of years, from imperceptible to bigger.  And, it is a team effort – God does his part and I do mine.  Here’s what I’m doing this week to water my faith:

I’m reading Scripture This is like the sun.  Without it every day, my faith will shrivel and die.  There are days when it does not resonate, does not feel alive, and feels like a task to read.  There are days when it cuts like a knife, leaps off the page, and draws me in for hours.  But whatever I’m feeling, I read it.  Not reading it would be like being in the house all day with my daughter and ignoring her when she spoke to me.  I read Tyndale’s The One-Year Bible (which includes passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Gospels each day) (download it here) and a five to seven verse section in another book.  Right now, I’m reading the book of Ephesians.

I’m writing prayers I do this because when God answers a prayer, my faith grows.  (What about when a prayer isn’t answered?  Honestly, I cry.  I praise him.  I keep praying.)

I’m reading about other people’s faith I read blogs in which other people talk about their faith.  This week’s blog reading: The Actual Pastor, A Holy Experience, and Ragamuffin Ramblings.

I’m taking some love risks.  I don’t know what this will look like but when I have the opportunity this week, I’m going to share with someone that they are beloved by God.

I’m reviewing my day.  When I get into bed at the end of each day, I am going to run through the day and thank God for every blessing, difficulty, and opportunity to love he brought my way.

What does your week look like?

What Scripture are you reading? Blogs? Books?

The Day after Amazing

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Yesterday, I experienced the presence of God maybe like never before both in my own soul and in the world.  Have you had a day like that?  Almost too amazing to bear.  Every moment feels full and alive, bursting beyond what it was meant to hold.  My body was exhausted when I got home but my mind was racing with stories and faces and my heart was exploding with fall-on-your-knees, sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs gratefulness.  And then today came.  Today feels emptied and gloomy, quieter, with dark clouds rolling by silently.  I am tired now, both body and mind and somehow yesterday seems impossible.  The birds that were active outside my window late into the night have slept in.  The leaves are still and nothing moves.

I am sure that if today were like yesterday, I would burst and so a day that is slower and in which I can hear each tick of the clock should be welcome.  But the little kid in me is crying out, “Again!  Again!”  Somehow, though, the whisper of the one caring for my soul today compels me more than the loud cry.  “Just rest.  For today, just rest.”  And so I am.

“Lord, thank you for each moment,

for the twilight moment,

the pause, the good tired,

for the quiet reflection,

the slowing down, the mysterious sunset,

for my contented heart

and the wisdom growing inside me.

Gentle me

to feel whatever comes as a gift

And to praise you in it.”

–Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle

Can you hear a whisper to rest?