On Easter Sunday morning, we as believers celebrated THE monumental day of our Christian faith. We woke up with joy, we sang songs of praise, we ate great food, we fellowshipped, we acknowledged our Savior to each other, and we felt hope in our unified proclamation.
And then... we went back to sleep.
On Monday morning as I rolled sleepily out of bed to start another week, I had this quiet thought concerning our day-before-festivities, "What does it mean to live 'out of the tomb'?"
For one, it means we can walk (and even run!) freely in Christ because of His amazing grace.
Let's recall the simplicity of the gospel: Jesus died for us, was buried for us, and rose again for us. He took our sins on his body, was buried with these sins, and then wonder-fully left these sins behind. He himself said, "it is finished!"
Why then do we keep some of sin's grave clothes wrapped around us as we "exit the tomb" with our Savior? Some entangling strips come to mind: unfounded fear, unnecessary worry, stiff-necked pride, wavering doubt, tight-fisted control, spit-fire words, bitter jealousy, unloving spirit, insatiable lust, meddlesome gossip. Yuck. Are any of these attitudes still wrapped around your shoulders like a stinky burial cloth? These things were meant to be left behind. The gift of freedom is for all; however, it's a one-time choice (salvation), but also a daily practice (sanctification) to believe and receive his offer.
Today, ask yourself, "What do I need to leave 'in the tomb'?''
Take the stench off. Fold it up and put it away forever. Of course, we cannot be sinless, and of course we will always struggle, but it's time to grow more aware and be more desirous of the glory-filled person Jesus longs for us to be.
He lives... in you!
He lives in you... out of the tomb!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
I was talking to a young friend of mine about our common struggle; it's called the "fear factor." Sometimes this unchecked emotion can be immobilizing, or it can even make you run in the opposite direction from where you know you are supposed to be headed. As we were discussing some of life's overwhelming decisions that certainly do come down our paths, I told her that I've learned, especially in difficult, doubting, or daunting times, to live by these two words: in Christ. The simple whisper to my soul of the words "in Christ" motivates me to take the next step, to say the next word, to write the next post, to move the next mountain.
As believers, we all struggle with something, but we don't have to be overcome by it, losing our true selves in the fight. Let's remember just who it is that abides in us! When we do, everything can change:
In Christ, fear changes to confidence.
In Christ, confusion changes to peace.
In Christ, doubt changes to faith.
In Christ, no self worth changes to full purpose.
In Christ, weakness changes to strength.
In Christ, selfish living changes to selfless giving.
In Christ, discouragement changes to hope.
I could go on and on. When each of these fleshly tendencies mentioned above are invaded by the life of Christ, his powerful glory fills our weak flesh. Your drab mindset and gray heartbeat change to a radiance that doesn't belong to you, yet is graciously given to you... in abundance.
In Christ we become fully alive!
What about you? What unchecked emotion needs to be swallowed up in Christ? Let his Spirit overcome your fear, your dismay, your confusion, your self worth...
Faith first; your feelings will follow. Keep stepping forward in Christ.
The truth is, when you live by these two words, not only will you benefit from this choice-change, others will want what you have; they will desire ...Christ in them.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:7
I'm not sure why, but early this morning as I was sipping my coffee quietly, an out-of-the-blue question came to my mind: "What's the benefit of being a Christian?" Within 10 seconds, I came up with 5 reasons why I have chosen, by grace, to walk this daily path.
Read and rest in these truths with me:
Benefit 1: I have a place to "put my junk." So much of the time, the things I think, say, or do are just plain wrong, and I know it. The cross of Christ is the place I can pour out my mess, and then walk away clean. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:9
Benefit 2: I have a Wise Counselor. And, boy, do I need Him! The wonderful thing about Jesus is: He's always available, He's always right, and He's always free. Truly, His Word is flawless. With Him are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding. Job 12:13
Benefit 3: I have a bigger purpose than myself. God wants more for me than this culture's unending, life-draining rat race. Instead, He desires to fill me with His incomprehensible love, and then in turn, He asks me to pour it out all over others. THIS is the true, adventurous, fulfilling life! Get yourself up on a high mountain... bearer of good news. Lift your voice mightily… bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to (the people), "Here is your God!" Isaiah 40:9
Benefit 4: I have hope. When, not if, but when, life doesn't make sense, I can trust that God knows what He is doing. If I allow Him to work, then my trials can become the fertile soil of His blossoming glory so those around me will marvel and wonder why I have inexplicable strength, peace, and even joy. Now may the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Benefit 5: I am going to live forever. This life is a passing vapor compared to what is ahead for those who call Jesus Savior and Lord. For those who doubt eternal life, let me ask you this: If even man desires to end most of our entertainment with a "happily ever after" closure, why would God, creator of man, end life with disease, death, and decay? No, He is a much more redemptive Author than that! Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. I Peter 1:3-4
Believer or non-believer, ponder these God-breathed blessings and then consider agreeing with each one with a praising shout, "Amen!" Yes, today and tomorrow and forever, let us all rejoice in His rich benefits.
I have to say, Spring is my favorite season! However, when October rolls around, you might find me saying the same thing about fall. It’s a beautiful toss-up between the two.
In the cold silence of the long winter, it seems as if nothing is happening underneath the ground, no life, no fruit; everything is bare and bleak. But now, as the days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, and faint shades of color are attempting to make their entrance from the bushes and the trees, a bud appears, and there’s hope! Something was happening underneath the grave silence after all! Once again, God uses His creation to speak words of truth to our hearts…let’s take hope in what God is doing in our lives “behind the scenes”.
Are you in a place of waiting right now? Do you feel like there is no progress in your ongoing quiet struggle? I encourage you to look at the buds on a tree limb or flower. Learn from their beauty. Study how intriguing this stage is: a vessel of expectancy, a compression of hope, a bowl of pending brilliance. The bud is not quite developed enough to make its grand entrance onto Spring’s stage. The finishing touches of growth need to take place in its protective capsule. Underdeveloped, forced blossoming would only rob the flower of its deserved performance. Learn from the bud of a flower. Rest, mature, be patient; your time is coming.
As you wait to “blossom”, hear the Lord speak His truth to you:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
You are not alone in your maturing capsule, my friend. Your Creator is with you and knows exactly the right time for you to blossom.
Trust Him in the waiting, and then flourish in His most glorious appointed time.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.
I came across a very familiar story in the book of Mark and it caught my interest again, but in a new way.
The disciples were in a boat arguing with each other over which one of them forgot to pack the lunch for the trip; all they had with them in the boat was one loaf of bread…
Interestingly, Jesus, only hours before this boat-ride with his buddies, had miraculously fed 4,000 people with a mere seven loaves of bread. All the people ate and were satisfied. Jesus’ questions now to his hungry disciples were as follows,
Why are you talking about having no bread?
Do you still not see or understand?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
And don’t you remember? (Mark 8: 17-19).
I am convicted by these questions because so often I am like the disciples: grumbling, doubting, not understanding, and forgetting. I’m thankful for the Lord’s patience towards the disciples, and I’m thankful for His patience towards me. Through this true story, He is teaching me to simply “be in the same boat with Him.” Just rest. He’s the Know It All, I’m not.
As I have envisioned this picture, I have found myself worrying less about the problems that I’m holding in my lap, and contemplating more on the One who is sailing along with me. This One happens to be the Creator of the sun and sky, and the Commander of the wind and the waves. And this One is sitting by my side? How Majestic and Merciful at the same time. With these thoughts, my heart softens, my eyes see more clearly, my ears hear more distinctly, and I begin to understand. Jesus is Lord of All!
As a result, the answers to His questions are met with my declarations:
*To even be in the same boat with Jesus is an honor. It is amazing grace.
*I must not forget who He is, nor forget the great things He has already done.
*I must keep my eyes fixed on Him, not on my problems at hand; because when the Captain of my boat has my heart’s devotion and my mind’s attention, He can then do impossible things through my simple loaf of bread.
My sister Peggy Lively and I just completed our 16th marathon in our 16th state. We have high hopes of completing one in all 50 states. We are often asked, "Why in the world are y'all doing this crazy thing?". Honestly, we just fell into it. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "fall" when talking about marathons. But truly, we've sorta gone into this adventure blindly (hmmm, another poor word for safely accomplishing 26.2 miles). Before my first marathon, I had never run in ANY race. Well, I do remember the three-legged race on field day in elementary school, and that wasn't very pretty, at all. Peggy and I can't explain it; something came over the both of us at the same time and within only minutes, we both decided to "just do it". And so, the 50 marathons in 50 states began.
With this being number "sweet sixteen", I took a moment to think about the marathons to date, and these are the things we have gained in this journey:
Togetherness. Our marathon weekends, believe it or not, are therapeutic for the both of us. We cover a lot of ground even sitting in our hotel room as we listen to each other's triumphs and trials of life. We laugh a lot, and we cry too. Also, throughout the weekend and the race, we pray for the particular state we are in. We pray for ministries, schools, communities, government, marriages, and families. The 26.2 miles cover not only the roads within the cities we walk, but our words reach heaven's throne with fervent faith. These extra long treks have helped me understand the meaning of "persevering in prayer" (from Eph. 6:18), and it helps me stay the course when I get back home.
Outreach. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Both Peggy and I have come to realize that the marathon weekends are about much more than the 5 1/2 hour-ish trek on marathon day. It's about the people we meet (airplane passengers, hotel managers, marathon participants) and the friends and family we visit (old neighbors, nieces and nephews, ministry partners). I will not be able to express in a small paragraph the giant things God has done in and through our travels. Our hopeful goal each time we go to these cities is to spread the love of Christ and encourage others in their own personal journey. Just like a marathon, life is not a feel-good-all-the-time-experience, and if Peggy and I can help encourage someone even a little bit, we call it a successful weekend. In our different travels, we've met complete strangers and they are now dear friends. We've reconnected with people from years past. As a result, the blessings of these relationships have been immense. I'm excited for what's in store.
Adventure. I must add here that our dear mother sends Peggy and me off with some spending money each and every trip. Bless her for making these trips doable. She supports "our mission", which is real simple: live full, love well, and pray much. With that being said, who knew we would go to a World Series game in St.Louis, or see the Grand Canyon in AZ, or peer out into the Atlantic ocean in Maine, or go to the Dairy Queen in North Dakota? That's pretty awesome for this introvert who loves her comfy chair in the confines of her own four walls! I'm thankful for each of these trips and eager for more. God knew I needed to GET UP and GO FORWARD...to His people and to His world. I'm thankful for the privilege.
I finish these memorable moments with an encouraging word for your very own marathon of life. Hear the Forerunner say:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
The teacher is here, and is calling for you. John 11:28
You teach us through your words. And teach us through your works. May we look intently into both and learn from our gentle and lowly Master, our kind and compassionate King. Today, may our footsteps mimic yours. Amen