Stay Present my Friends

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in you. Psalm  39:7

“What do you think?” a voice interrupts your thoughts.

Suddenly you’re brought back to the present. Your spouse, your child, your friend has been sharing something important, but you were thinking about what was next on your never ending to-do list. You have no idea what they just said.  Busted!

On another occasion you miss a magical moment on your family vacation because you’re dwelling on a regret from your past.

God has given us five sense to bring awareness of His creation around us.  These senses are available now, not yesterday, not tomorrow,  but now.

What are some of your favorites when it comes to your senses?

For me:

Sight:  Sunset or sunrise over water or mountains

Sound:  Water rushing past rocks in a mountain stream

Smell:  Tea olive, gardenias

Touch:  Sea breeze, fall wind in my face, soft sheets

Taste:  Chocolate pie, dark coffee

When we savor now, we’re enjoying  a gift from God. A lady on a plane once told me that’s why now is called the present.

There’s an old movie entitled “Our Town” which drives this point home.

One of the characters named, Emily, dies while giving birth to a child. However, she is permitted by the stage manager to revisit the past and to step back into the morning of her twentieth birthday as an observer.

From her vantage point, she has a profoundly nostalgic appreciation of the transient beauty of life’s little moments. However, she is struck by how the people, including her younger self, don’t have a clue how precious the moments of life really are. She is stunned that nobody savors and fully appreciates “now”. They all seem so disengaged. Later she would say of the living, “They don’t understand.”

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,”[1] Paul

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”[2] Jesus

God doesn’t want us to be imprisoned by the regrets of our past nor fears of our future. He wants us to be present with Him moment by moment.

Jesus tells us in John 15 to “abide” in Him. Other meanings of this word are to “tarry” or “stay present with.” Jesus goes on to say in the same chapter that there is complete joy found in “staying present” in His love and loving others as He has loved us.

Staying present with Jesus is essential to our Spiritual lives and it leads to experiencing and savoring life’s moments. Otherwise, life quickly passes us by.

Challenge:  Take notice of what you see and hear right this moment. Do you smell anything? Perhaps you’re drinking a cup of coffee and feel a gentle breeze upon your face like I’m experiencing as I write.

What tends to call you away from being fully present? Is it a looming duty, a past regret, a worry about the future? Whatever it is robs you of fully embracing the gift of now. Give these things to God and don’t take them back.

The people in our lives are loved and cared for during life’s “nows”. In an instant our present moments become memories. When we savor our times with the people God places in our path there’s a richness which touches our hearts and slows the swirl of life.

But what’s most important is being present with God. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of Jesus and we are never alone. God is in us and around us. We are in Him and He is in us.

Tarry, remain, abide in Jesus. His presence is experienced now.

In your presence is fullness of joy. Psalm 16:11 b

 

[1] Philippians 3:13

[2] Matthew 6:34

Loved by God – It’s Who you Are

Note: If you’ve heard about or desired God’s love for you, but never thought it possible because of how you’ve lived your life, I have a message for you in blue below. Read on.

Last fall, at a men’s retreat at Camp Kanuga in the mountains of North Carolina, we sang the song Good Good Father.[1] It’s about God being a good Father and the fact that His love for us is our identity. I liked the song, but  had no idea how the Lord would use it later that weekend.

The weather was perfect when I ventured out during our alone time Sunday morning. A cool, musky breeze gently brushing my face as I tread on newly fallen leaves toward the labyrinth. I’d seen the circular maze the day before and at the recommendation of a cabin mate, wanted to experience it.

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A labyrinth is a walking path used as a tool for contemplative prayer. As I stepped onto the serpentine paths leading to the center, I did what the sign said and set aside my worries, asking God to make me aware of His presence, listening for His impressions on my heart.

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As I walked to and fro, back and forth, I was progressing to the center, which represents the presence of God. The  center has semicircles resembling a six leaf clover. When I reached it, I paused, stilling my thoughts and breathed in the cool autumn air. I was impressed with the words “It’s who you are.” Was this because we just sang the song? I thought. But “It’s who you are” remained steady in my heart.

I moved and stood within one of the half circles and completed the thought, “Being loved by God is who I am.”

Being loved by God is who I am. No other identity needed. I could have told you that intellectually before that moment, but God wanted this truth to travel past layers of protection and false identities to my very core.

My roles of being a devout Christian, loving husband and father, successful businessman, adequate provider, faithful friend,  or encouraging brother are not the core of who I am. THE ONLY IDENTITY I NEED IS BEING A LOVED CHILD OF GOD. My other roles and identities flow out of this most important fact about me. I’m loved by God.

How many times have I felt like a failure and doubted my worth because of inadequacies in my different roles?

In the center of the labyrinth, past failures and future fears seemed to be swept away in an instant, buried deep in a sea of God’s love.

As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I knew I was different.

I thought – if this is true

 quickly a correction came to mind –  because this is true, how I live my life outside the labyrinth will never be the same.

I’m still processing the impact, but I’m seeing  I don’t need any of those other identities I’ve been fighting for. I’m at peace in who I am as God’s loved child and free to love others without needing anything in return for my validation and identity.

Challenge: Think of your biggest failure or inadequacy. How do you feel about yourself in this area? Do you ever find you identify more with what you say about yourself than what God says about you?

Now think of the thing that tends to cause you the most worry, that fear which seems to follow you around.

Being loved by God is the most important thing about you and overshadows by a million miles those things you had in mind. God’s love for you is eternal and everlasting.

Being loved by God is who you are, a fact which towers above and washes away, all failures, all inadequacies and all fears.

And when you know, truly know, God loves you, you can yield to His Spirit within to love the folks He puts in your way.

Prayer:  Lord, I know Your love for me is far beyond my knowledge. Nothing imaginable can snatch me from your great love. Open the eyes of my heart that I might continue to grow more and more aware of how very much You love me.

May the fact of Your love be the definition of who I am and the overflowing purpose for the rest of my moments. Amen.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. I John 3:1a

What if you’ve never really known God’s love for you?  If you’ve heard about God’s love but never embraced it, you can now.  Cross over. There’s a great chasm between all humans and God because of our sin. If it weren’t so, the pureness of God would be spoiled. 

That chasm cannot be crossed except by living a completely sinless life. Jesus lived this life and by the spilling of His blood a way has been forged across the chasm.

If you’re experiencing  a realization that what I’m saying is true, embrace it. Cross over from death to life by realizing your great dilemma and acting on God’s invitation to surrender your efforts to save yourself and resting in His arms as your Lord and Father.

If you decide to cross over by the bridge of the cross of Christ into eternal life and would like some ideas of some next steps, please send me an email. Thank you for reading this.

[1] Good Good Father by the Housefires

 

Turning Weariness into Rest and Joy

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Mathew 11:28)

 Have you ever noticed how the same workload can seem easy one day and insurmountably overwhelming the next?

A few days ago, work seemed effortless, as I cruised along in the Rivers of Living Water, experiencing the joy of the Lord’s nearness.

However, only a day later, I  trudged through a dry dusty riverbed, pulling an overloaded donkey cart of work. Everything was difficult, stress mounted, people faded from focus.

I sit wondering what happened, Why the drastic change?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28 come to mind: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

Weary and heavy-laden, fatigued and over-burdened. That’s how I feel. But the work load hasn’t changed. Why has my heart shifted from delight to drudgery?

I pore over the words again, stopping at the first phrase.

Come to Me.

But I’m already with you, I thought. You’re in me and I’m in You.[1] [2]  You hold the universe together.[3] How can I be any closer to you than I already am?

I pull up my Strongs concordance app and dig into the word – “Come”

In the original Greek the word  “come” means “come hither” or “come this way”.

Jesus is always with me, but He’s asking me for a deeper “withness”.

I think of being with people in an elevator. They are with me, but unless we engage, there’s no connection.

One of my earliest memories comes to mind. I remember being woken up and seeing someone enter the room through the bars of a crib. I’m not sure who the person was, probably my mother, but they picked me up and took care of me.

Next I remember a little later being led by the hand by my great grandmother,  whom I called”Mommie,”  We were walking very slowly around a small a body of water.

I don’t know how I know it was Mommie, but I do. We must have been at my grandparent’s place in Pompano Beach, Florida. And it must have been the garden pool in the midst of their nursery she was leading me around. I was so small, so dependent on her guiding hand.

I was a mere toddler, but to this day I feel the love of those moments. Mommie led me with such tender care.

As I think back to that event in light of my current situation, clarity emerges.  

Mommie was not giving me directions from far away, expecting me to walk on my own. Her soft hand, firmly embracing my little fingers, communicated, “walk this way child. I’ll guide you and show you where to go. And I’ll support your feeble legs every step of the way.”

Wow. I’d let go of the Lord’s hand. I’d lost the joy of His presence. I’d begun to look at work as just work, instead of the adventure He wanted us to have together.

“I’m sorry, Lord,” I confess.

I feel no condemnation, no displeasure, just an invitation.

I lift my hand and hear Him say, “Come this way.”

Resttake ease, refresh, refrain, come to an end.

[1] Galatians 2:20

[2] Ephesians 2:4-6

[3] Colossians 1:17

Victory is a Person (God’s not out to change us, but to exchange us)

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

Lord, You are my Victory.

 

Taking the Death out of Deadlines

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10

 Deadlines create stress even in the most joyous of occasions.  “Deadline” is a negative word which first appeared in a Georgia Confederate prison camp. Confederates built a rail around the stockade where they held the Union soldiers. The deadline loomed twenty feet from that railing. Death awaited any prisoners caught beyond that line.

Though today’s deadlines rarely result in actual death, the word speaks to inner turmoil. A fixed point in time, when all work must be completed, can evoke serious stressful feelings. Nobody wants to fail in any responsibility.

A while back I was the best man in my son’s wedding. Granted, the success of the wedding didn’t depend upon me, but I felt stress as the deadline approached. The house needed cleaning for out of town guests. I had to produce a bride and groom video for the rehearsal dinner. I had to plan the bachelor party. I had to prepare speeches … and …. and ….

The wedding ended up being a joyous occasion, but leading up to it I fought to stay in the present moment and embrace life rather than duty.

As believers, Christ is our life. When we embrace Him as our value and our source, He becomes our lifeline, turning deadlines into joy because of His presence and life.

Value  One reason I dread deadlines is my fear of failure. I struggle seeing my value in what I do. In the wedding I didn’t want to let my son down, but I also didn’t want others to see me as a failure in my roles of best man and father of the groom. Truth: My true value has nothing to do with what I do, but with what Christ has done.[1] It’s by Christ’s life that I’m righteous, not by my own success.[2] My greatest value is being a child of God.[3] Failure has been nailed to the cross. [4]

Source  When I strive to succeed in my own strength, I become very dutiful, and allow my work to steal my joy. I believe the familiar lie that “it is all up to me”. Truth: As a believer, I was crucified with Christ. By His Spirit, He now indwells me. My life is now a moment by moment dependence upon His life in me. Apart from this yielding to Him, I can produce nothing of eternal value.[5] [6]

Lord, I’m sorry for seeking value apart from you and striving on my own. You are my value and my source of strength. When I see you as my life, the stress of deadlines are turned into the joy of your life in me. You have done it all, please help me to continue to rest in your finished work.

 Challenge: Think of a deadline you have coming up. Determine to work for God’s glory and not your own. Ask Christ to be your strength by His Indwelling Spirit and rest in His finished work.

 

 

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] 2nd Corinthians 5:21

[3] Ephesians 1:5

[4] Galatians 2:20

[5] Galatians 2:20

[6] John 15:5

Want Freedom?

“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.”

The above is a familiar quote to those who have watched Brave Heart, the depiction of the Scottish fight for independence led by William Wallace. In the movie, this line was part of a speech before the battle of Stirling Bridge by Mel Gibson, the actor who played Wallace. Though the quote is fictional, it portrays the kind of heart Wallace is believed to have had. The Scottish went on to win the battle, though outnumbered significantly by the English. Wallace ended up being hanged, drawn and quartered seven years after the battle, but his desire for freedom fueled his heart, giving him the courage to be brave.

Jesus speaks of  freedom when he states his purpose, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden.”[1]

Jesus was speaking of an eternal freedom beyond any physical constraint. He came to free us from the chains of religious self-effort and the bondage of self-indulgence.

Paul proclaims Christ’s desire for our freedom in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” In Galatians, Paul identifies two great threats to our freedom in Christ.

Legalism (trying to earn righteousness) Twice Paul condemns those who teach that righteousness comes from our own efforts.[2] He says that seeking our own righteousness is akin to nullifying the death of Christ on the cross.[3] And for those who require the ritual of circumstances to earn favor with God, Paul calls for them to go ahead and complete the job by mutilating themselves.[4]

This is extremely spicy language but, believing we can add anything to what Christ has already accomplished by his death on the cross is ludicrous. Yet, in our success oriented society it seems natural to add religious activities to our other achievements.

In Galatians 2:20, which some call a summary of the Christian life, Paul brings to light the bondage of legalism. He reminds us of our spiritual death. We have nothing to add to Christ’s life in us. We are rather to live in moment by moment dependence upon Him our Indwelling Spirit of Christ. Anything else is bondage.

“do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”[5]

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”[6]

Bondage to the Flesh (delighting in anything more than Christ)  Though our life in Christ gives us tremendous freedoms to enjoy what He’s created, if we seek our satisfaction in these things, apart from Him, we’re on the path to bondage.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.”[7]

The world is filled with individuals who sought to satisfy the void in their hearts with sex, drink, drugs, work, media, etc. But only Christ can fill the hole in our hearts.

God has created so many things for us to enjoy as we walk with Him. However, if these things supplant Him in our hearts, the things intended to bring us pleasure become idols and addictions.

Challenge: Take a moment and think about the two great threats to your freedom: legalism and bondage to your flesh.

Is there anything you are doing which you think will cause Jesus to love you more? If so, you’re freedom is bound. Your motives are wrong. Do this thing because He loves you, not to earn His love.

Is there anything you’re doing which crowds out God having full access to your heart, something you delight in more than Him? It doesn’t have to be something that seems grievous, it can be work, over eating or media. Ask God, to help you put this thing in its proper place, behind him. If possible, stop this thing, if only for a season.

 

 

 

 

[1] Luke 4:18a

[2] Galatians 1:8-9

[3] Galatians 2:21

[4] Galatians 5:12

[5] Galatians 5:1b

[6] Galatians 5:6

[7] Galatians 5:13a

Joy – Nectar for our Hearts

It was the night before he would be cruelly murdered. He knew it, but they had no idea. To them what Jesus did was unheard of. He washed their smelly, grimy feet, a chore traditionally performed only by slaves. Peter was so shocked he almost refused it. But this sacrificial act of service began a demonstration of Christ’s love which would culminate with the sacrifice of his very life the next day.

After his betrayer left, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”[1]

Later that night, as he made his way to the garden of tears, he unveiled his love in words, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.”[2]

He went on to explain that if we love others with the same sacrificial love he demonstrated towards us, we would remain in his love. This establishes the great cadence of the Christian life, receiving Christ’s love and giving it away. After all, we only love because he first loved us.[3]

Then Jesus makes a connection between love and joy, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”[4]

Jesus wrote these very important things about love for the purpose of our joy. He’s basically telling us that if we focus on loving others as he’s loved us, we’ll have the joy our hearts crave.

As with our physical hearts, our spiritual hearts are vital to our health. We get our word “courage” from the French word for heart – “cour”. Without a vibrant inner heart we become “dis-couraged” and life becomes drudgery.

What’s the key to a healthy spiritual heart?

Consider the ancient proverb, “A joyful heart brightens one’s face, but a troubled heart breaks the spirit.”[5]

Our hearts were designed to run on joy. When we’re joyful, our inner core[6] is bright, otherwise, our spirits are broken.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all searching for joy. We were designed for it.[7] But sustained joy can’t be found in worldly affections or smooth circumstances. Lasting joy, producing a vibrant, “en-couraged” heart, can only be found in nearness to God.

David wrote of God: “in your presence is fullness of joy”[8]

Joy is more than a “nice to have” add on to life. It’s fuel for the soul. Jesus wants us to have complete joy. It’s essential to our spiritual health and vital for the courage we need to face the moments of our lives.

Do you want joy?

Jesus tells you how to stay connected with his love and how to have his joy:

love others as he’s loved you.[9]

 

 

for the joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10b

[1] John 13:34 (NIV)

[2] John 15:9 (NIV)

[3] I John 4:19 (NASB)

[4] John 15:11 (NIV)

[5] Proverbs 15:13 (CEB)

[6] From the Latin for heart – “cor”

[7] Ecclesiastes 3:11

[8] Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

[9] John 15:12 (NASB)

On the Fifth Day, God Created Dog

I went upstairs before my wife last night and Koosh, our little Shih Apso (Shih Tzo and Lhasa Apso combination), insisted on going with me. I turned the lights out and Koosh curled up close on the pillow beside me. After a while I heard him on the floor dancing around, so I opened the door and let him out, thinking he wanted to go downstairs. I shut my eyes and, in what seemed like a moment later, opened them to find Koosh right beside me again. It was a bit of a mystery. Didn’t I let him out? I thought. But then drifted back to sleep.

Later, I asked my wife if she had opened our bedroom door and let him back in. “Yes. He was whining and scratching on the door,” she said. “He wanted to be with you.”

Right now Koosh is curled up in the chair beside me, glancing my way from time to time to be sure I’m still here.

As I watch him, it occurs to me that God created so many things for us to enjoy, from magnificent ocean sunsets, brilliantly fragrant roses, dark coffee and succulent chocolate pie. We see aspects of His creativity everywhere we look, but when he created dog He gave us real companionship and a picture of His heart.

Following is a list of things we can learn about God from our dogs:

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Like God, our dog delights to be with us

Like God, mistakes we make don’t change our dog’s opinion of us

Like God, our dog loves us in ways we don’t understand

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Like God, our dog protects us (even from the walkers in front of our house)

Like God, our dog  connects with us without words

Whenever I grab my car keys to go somewhere, Koosh always looks up to see if he’s going to be invited. One of his favorite things to do is to stick his face out the window as we drive along,  lapping up all the sights and smells along the road.

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He does the same thing when my wife and I get ready to take a walk. If we pick up his leash, he knows he’s going with us and begins to tremble with excitement. Walks allow him to be with us and to savor the riches of mailboxes and  blades of grass.

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Following is a list of things we can learn by imitating our dogs:

Like our dog, we can learn to fully embrace each moment

Like our dog, we can learn not to worry about our next meal, but to trust our Provider

Like our dog, we can learn to be joyous about the simple pleasures of life

Like our dog, we can learn unwavering, long lasting loyalty

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Like our dog, we can learn to snuggle close to those we love

Like our dog, we can learn never to pass up a chance to play ball

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Challenge: Be a student of your dog.

Watch them as they try and sneak into your car as you’re leaving. Notice how their eyes drop at the sight of your suitcase. Appreciate the gusto of their wild “kisses” when you return from a vacation.

As they jump in your lap when you open the car door, forget your perceived failures and bask in their unconditional love.

Even though you may think you don’t deserve it, realize they’re wagging their tail just because you’re you.

When you’re sitting by the fire and your dog jumps in your lap  and follows you from room to room, realize that God wants to be with you even more than your dog does.

 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17

 Prayer of Thanksgiving:  Lord, we thank you so much for Your creation. You have given us so many things to enjoy.  We realize that joy, true joy is found in your presence. Thank you for giving us a great picture of your love and your delight in us when you gave us dogs. Help us appreciate the aspects of Your love we see in our dog’s heart.

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Death Row – A Good Friday Story

A man squatted in a dingy prison cell, his features hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of morning sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring motionless into the darkness.

On a hill outside the prison stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn.

 In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. But more strongly the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed him.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the  man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices and footsteps. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The noise increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. 

The time was near. He couldn’t remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the morning sun outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door, he was slammed face down hard on the ground, sand and dirt exploding into his eyes, nose and mouth. 

The impact dazed him. In a semi conscious state, he waited for the first sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dirt from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open with a whip at any moment. But he was alone. Turning his head, he could see the guards joining the crowds flowing toward execution hill. He was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into a stable filled with livestock, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, he expected his fantasy to end at any moment. 

Within the safety of the dwelling, he flung himself upon the straw and sobbed.

After awhile, the sounds from execution hill softened and the man’s curiosity moved him out of his safe zone. He left the building and circled around the back of the mountain of murder, called the “place of the skull”.

He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others.

As he stood watching, he noticed the blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree.  He followed the trail of blood up to the man’s face. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him.  His  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he overheard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him? What has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

Luke 23:19-20  (MSG)  At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The Christian Life is a Dance not a March

Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB)  So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

It’s easy to read the above verses and get caught up with the word “work” in the beginning and miss the incredible freedom at the end.

I’ve lived in the “work” part for far too long and just about missed the essence of the Christian life.

It started before I truly believed. Until I was 21 years old, growing up in a socially Christian family, I thought I was going to heaven because I “believed” in Jesus and thought my good “works” outweighed my bad.  In other words, I hadn’t killed anybody and performed some good deeds like walking little old ladies across the street. In my uninformed mind, this made me good enough for heaven.

Back then, my idea of being “born again,” was associated with being judgmental and living a life of rules which choked out all joy. I had no desire to live like that.

Just like everyone else, I was searching for joy in the world around me. I had no concept that the hole in my soul was eternal and could only be filled with God himself. A trip to jail brought me to my senses and turned my attention to my creator. Eventually I surrendered my life to my Lord Jesus Christ.

This was a marvelous day, but it took me years to realize the Christian life is not just something else to “work” at. Living as a Christian is so different than anything else I’d ever experienced.

Over time, and I must admit, I’m still learning it, the true nature of living the Christian life began to become clear. Christianity is not primarily about rules, it’s about a relationship with Christ.  He did the work. Ours is to respond to what’s he’s already done.

Our life is not an arduous march to a set of rules. It’s more like a dance; us responding to Christ our partner as he leads us in a  dynamic relationship.[1]

This changes everything.

“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.[2]

Spiritually, we’ve  died and Christ, by his Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in our lives. The “work” we now do is a work of dependence, yielding to Christ as he produces the fruit of his Spirit in our lives.[3]

We don’t march around like robotic soldiers to a sheet of rules. We dance with God as he leads us through difficulties as his life is formed in us.

Prayer: Most gracious, heavenly Father. I’m sorry I spent much of my life totally misunderstanding the way you interact with me as your son. You’ve not left me alone to fend for myself. You’re involved in every dance step of my life and want me to enjoy being with you through every circumstance. Draw me ever closer to you as we dance together here. I praise you that one day, I’ll see you face to face.

[1] From a conference at the Cove by Pete Briscoe about Galatians 2:20

[2] Philippians 2:13

[3] Galatians 2:20

[4] John 15:1-12

[5] John 15:5

Experiencing God in the moments of our lives