I haven’t written a lot in the last year. Why not? Well, I’ve been medicated, which is a beautiful thing (thank you, Jesus, for good meds!), but the same mechanism that stops the downward-spiral of anxious thoughts also stops the creative process of writing. So, you could say, my muse has gone on vacation.
But it’s my birthday and I always post a blog on my birthday. Sharing these posts has become a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2016/2017 without sharing a new one with you.
It started in 2014: Moment by Moment (all that junk – yep, Jesus redeemed that)
It continued in 2015: Through Heaven’s Eyes (what does God see when He looks at us?)
And for 2016, I’d like to take a little deeper dive. Let’s start here. This fall, my best buds and I joined a Bible study by Angela Thomas-Pharr called “Redeemed: Grace to Live Every Day Better than Before”. That title intrigued me. Can we really live every day better than before? Really? What if this is as good as it gets?
I’ve been a Christian for 22 1/2 years and today is my 45th birthday, so I’ve been a follower of Christ for exactly half of my life. After all of these years, why don’t I have this down yet? Why am I medicated? What is there to be anxious about? I know my identity: I am in Christ and Christ is in me. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Rom. 8:31) So, why can’t I just calm down and enjoy my life? What am I missing?
CS Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it this way:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees 10.148)
Pascal’s quote has been summarized/ paraphrased as, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”
That’s actually the quote that Dave Wilson used in his message in April of 1994, during my first visit to Kensington Church. That’s what got my attention. Yes, I had been trying to fill that God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of created things and none of them were working. And for the past 22 1/2 years, my focus has changed, but I’m still searching for something. What am I searching for?
Angela Thomas-Pharr took a considerable amount of time in her study to teach about the three unique stages of redemption. I’m so glad she did, so I could share them with you:
- The day you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are redeemed, “changed from an unbeliever to a believer” (salvation/justification).
- As you live out your life from that day forward, you are being redeemed, “being changed into the image of Christ” (sanctification).
- When you leave this earth and go to be with God in Heaven, you are finally and completely redeemed, “eternally changed into the likeness of Christ” (glorification).
The writer of the Book of Hebrews defines Jesus’s sacrifice this way: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” -Hebrews 10:14 (ESV)
We are being perfected (sanctified) every day we’re alive, but we won’t be completely perfected (glorified) until we get to Heaven. It’s crazy that I spend so much time and effort trying to reach perfection (or at least perfect contentment) here on earth, because I’ll never get there this side of Heaven. And why would I want to? Adam and Eve had perfection in the Garden of Eden and they must have found it so boring that they chose to disobey God. Hmmm, maybe that’s a big part of the deception.
Deception? Yes, there is an enemy of our souls, the deceiver, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and his job is to keep us from God, the Father of Truth. But if we’ve already accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, what’s our enemy to do? If he can convince us that we need perfection on earth, we’ll keep striving for it, wasting our time, wearing ourselves out, running in circles, looking in all the wrong places.
Do that for long enough and a new lie begins to surface. Beth Moore has said that we can be so paralyzed in our pursuit of greatness that we do nothing good. If the enemy can keep us busy, distracted, beaten down, ineffective and exhausted, we just might stop trying all together. Angela Thomas-Pharr describes this way:
“Maybe you know this. When you are tired and your spirit is heavy, the heart begins to mumble the saddest word: Whatever.”
Yes, we are being lied to. If we believe the lie, we’ll get stuck. It’s an effective tactic. It works. And our job is to fight against it with truth. The truth is, whether we “feel” it or not, we are actively being redeemed by the God who perfects us as we live and breathe. The Apostle Paul knew this truth and he explained to the philosophers in Athens, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ … ‘We are his offspring.’ -Acts 17:28 (NIV)
Offspring. Yes. We are not children of the enemy, that we should obey him. We are children of God. Living “every day better than before” is about knowing who we are and Whose we are, growing closer to our Father until we get to Heaven. And isn’t that what Heaven is: the place where we are completely and eternally redeemed, fully in the presence of God?
Isn’t that how Jesus brought Heaven to earth, perfectly connected to the Father? That’s what he wants for us. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” -Matt. 6:10 (ESV) If we allow Jesus to live through us, connecting us to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth. And as children of God, we need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to keep our focus.
The Apostle Paul taught about this spiritual battle and he encouraged the church of Galatia: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” -Galatians 6:9 (NLT)
Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Stay connected. Stay awake and pay attention to every little miracle. Be a treasure hunter, hunting for every scrap of joy, every gift, every moment, fully engaged. And be a treasure hunter for others too. Help them to see the gifts all around them. Life is hard and we need each other.
That’s why it’s so important that we stay connected to a community of believers; other people who can point us to the truth. No church is perfect. How can it be? The church is made up of imperfect people. But if all of us, in our imperfection, can point each other to our Perfect Heavenly Father, then we have hope. And that’s why I love my church. That’s why I go every week. Not because I’m a “super Christian”, but because I’m not. None of us are and we need all of the encouragement we can get.
A few weeks back, my church started a new series called “Heart & Soul”, exploring seven core values that can define our lives. If you missed the message on the first core value, check it out here: Heart & Soul: Identity
Towards the end of the service, Chris Zarbaugh reads Max Lucado’s “You Are Special”, Danielle sings “Out of Hiding, Father’s Song”, followed by a video called “Identity”, by Dan Stevers. It was so powerful with each piece building on the other. And the words of the video tied it all together:
I was a different person
This person was my old nature
My old self
But that person died
And my life is now hidden
I am in
And He is in me
I am a new creation
This doesn’t mean that I will never stumble
Or fall back into old patterns
But I will call them what they are
Old habits of the old person
I will confess them
I will thank God for his forgiveness
I will make amends
Not because I am taking sin lightly
But because I am taking seriously
Who God says I am
Not because of anything I’ve done
But because of what God has done
He has wiped my slate clean
I am blameless before God
Has no place in my life
Because I am
A new creation
And all of the ugly parts of my story
The parts I want to pretend never happened
Have been redeemed
And they have become
The moments in my life
When God’s grace is most on display
Thank you God
My mistakes do not define me
My past does not define me
Because God has defined my identity
I am his beloved child
In whom He is
This is my identity
–Dan Stevers, “Identity” preview video (click the red words to see the video)
In Angela Thomas-Pharr’s study, she tells of a man who was asked, “How long have you been redeemed?” He answered:
“I was redeemed by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago when He gave His life to atone for my sin. But I only found out about a year ago.”
Comedian Jeff Allen was on Smile FM a couple weeks ago. He said he spent a lot of his life waiting for an explanation from God, but what he really needed was a revelation from God. I think that’s what the man in the quote above received: a revelation from God. He is redeemed. I am redeemed. And if you’ve received the gift of Jesus’s forgiveness, you too are redeemed.
I pray that today we might receive a revelation from God. A revelation that we are redeemed and our identity is in Christ, but it’s going to take a lifetime of “day in and day out” to walk this thing out, together. Grab your best buds, the ones who point you to the Truth, and hang on tight. We are brothers and sisters and we need to keep reminding each other:
keep treasure-hunting and
keep focusing on Dad, our Abba Father.
We are His beloved children and He is well pleased with us.
Want to know more about my “revelation day” back in 1994? Here’s my story told through the story of my son: Joshua The Prophet
And those meds, why do I take them? Well, they help me to drown out the voice of the enemy and to focus on the One and Only voice that matters. They help me “come out of hiding” and connect with others who can encourage me, so that I can encourage them, and we can treasure hunt together. We’re blessed to be a blessing.
“Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to me”
–Out of Hiding, Father’s Song by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook
Want to know more about the power of community? Check out Heart & Soul: Community