Saturday, February 28, 2015

Our Happily Ever After

In a previous post, I shared one of the messages I walked away with from my weekend at the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, where our speaker was Young Life leader and author Ned Erickson

Ned helped me to see a broader application for Jesus’ meeting with the rich young man, as recorded in Mark 10:17-22. 
It isn’t just a love of money that can keep us from submitting our hearts and lives to Jesus.  It isn’t just a human tendency to want to earn our own salvation through our works so that we can boast about what we have attained that keeps us from accepting God’ grace.  Rather, we can limit our experience of Jesus in our lives, limit our ability to know and love him, limit our access to the love and abundance that he offers to us, because of our unwillingness to be vulnerable with him. 

When we refuse to tear down the carefully-constructed walls that keep the world thinking that we are good and our lives are perfect and we have everything under control, then we block out Jesus, who looks at us, and sees our heart, and LOVES us.
In addition to shedding a new light on this particular gospel account, Ned also provided a new way of considering the Sabbath rest.
Many people trace the practice of resting on the Sabbath to God’s act of creation, as recorded in the Book of Genesis.  God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in six days, and on the seventh day he rested because there was nothing left for Him to do.  His work was finished. 
Where do we hear the echo of these words?  From the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished,” at the time of his death, because he had done everything that needed to be done in order for us to enter into the Promised Land.  With his death, the payment of the penalty for our sins, Jesus made a way for us.  Jesus IS the way for us!

Since, then, a Sabbath is a rest, a time when our work is done, Christ has created a Sabbath-rest for us that lasts seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.  We are called to rest from the work of trying to save ourselves, because Christ has finished the work for us. 
Ned used a couple different analogies to underscore this point.  First, he compared it to a football game we’ve already won.  We already know the score.  We already know we have the victory.  We just have to play the game, all four quarters, to experience all that God has planned for us.
Further, he compared it to a novel, saying that our lives are an epic romance, in which we are going to “get the guy” in the end and live happily ever after.  That is the promise we find in scripture.  Ours is a redemption story:  we are going to be redeemed in the end, and our story of redemption is part of a larger story in which Christ will return and make all things new.
Flip to the end of the story!  The Bible tells us that when we walk with Christ, when we accept the invitation that the rich young man refused, our storyline clearly ends with the words, “And they lived happily ever after”!
Ned shared a biblical illustration of this truth, beyond the sports and literary metaphors.  In the Book of Joshua, chapter 1, God promises to give Joshua every place across the Jordan River where he sets his foot. “Your territory,” God tells Joshua, “will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west” (Joshua 1:4).  God promises to give him everywhere he steps by faith.
But there is work to be done—walls to break down and giants to slay.  The Promised Land is already theirs.  The last line of their story was already written, just as the last line of our story is already written:  “And they lived happily ever after.”
Our future is certain, which opens up possibilities for our present.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).  Our work is not to save ourselves; it is to lay claim—like Joshua and the Hebrew people—to all that God has promised us.  God gives us everything He has—His infinite grace.  We are only limited by our acceptance of it. 
How much of what God has for us to experience are we willing to accept?  If we refuse to be limited by what has happened in our past and by our fears for the future, then we can meet Jesus where he waits for us—in our present, where we are NOW—and live where we are meant to live, walking with Jesus toward our promised “happily ever after.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sharing Our Gifts to Encourage Others

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Our Living Stones Women's Ministry has done a variety of different service/mission projects over the past year, including running the Orphan Day 5K (hmmm...I think I'm the only one who did that!), collecting gifts for birthday boxes, and writing letters to the mother of one of our members in her final weeks.  I especially like the idea of encouragement as a ministry.  Along with the church members at Thessalonica, we are instructed by Paul to "encourage one another and build each other up," and we know from personal experience what a blessing it is to receive encouragement from others. 
A Christian woman I'm acquainted with online is creating a room of artful encouragement for her daughter, who will be returning from a residential treatment program in Arizona by mid-March.  She has called upon her online friends to contribute encouraging pieces that she can include in a "spruced-up" room she is creating for her daughter's return. 
I asked the Living Stones to consider their talents and interests, and offer something for me to send to my online friend for her daughter.  So far, I have three pieces to send along, and I am delighted by how we each used such different gifts to express our encouragement.
1 Peter 4:10
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
From our resident photographer, Sue:
The quotation from Albert Camus reads, "In the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, an invincible summer."  An invincible summer within me--what an inspiring thought!
From our resident scrapbook-enthusiast, Christine:
The quotation from Mark F. LaMoure reads, "In life, we tend to get what we expect.  Start expecting the best.  Since life is a do-it-yourself project, why not believe in miracles?  You have the freedom of choice.  Why not expect miracles to happen in your life?  Make plans, work hard and expect miracles.  Why?  Because you can."  I love that last part:  Why?  Because you can.  What a great motto!
And from our resident mixed-media artist, me:
The text come from a card I picked up on my church's recent family retreat at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference:  "Good morning, Lord!  Let's begin this day together!" along with the text of Psalm 118:24:  "This is the day the Lord has made.  Let's rejoice and be glad in it."
And for everyone who thinks that they do not have the creativity or "talent" to create something to send along as part of our mission project, I would like to share this verse from Paul's letter to the Colossians:
Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Whenever you have the opportunity to do projects like this, or to pray with someone, or to complete any sort of service, remember that you are working for God, not trying to win the praise of other people.  Serving, like praying, is not a competitive sport!  Do it in the service of God, and your light will shine for the world, and the people around you won't be able to help but to be blessed!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Our Carefully-Constructed Walls

During the 2015 All-Church Family Retreat at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, Ned Erickson spoke at several sessions over the Valentine’s Day weekend to our Media Presbyterian Church family.  Ned is a former MPC member, the son of our own Renee and Rich Erickson, and has authored several books, including Clay and Falling Into Love:  How anAverage Guy Got the Girl of His Dreams.  He is a Young Life leader in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

When I got home from our retreat, I spent some time looking over my notes from Ned’s sessions, reviewing the Bible passages he referenced, and writing out my understanding of his messages.  When he shared insights about The Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-22, he helped me to see a familiar Bible passage in a new light, with a broader application.  Here are some of Ned’s thoughts, with some of my own embellishments:

Instead of The Rich Young Man, Ned calls him “The Man with the Carefully-Constructed Life.”  This man has diligently kept God’s commandments, he knows to fall on his knees in humility before a great teacher, and he desires to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.  By all appearances, this is a good, honest, earnestly religious man. 

But 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God doesn’t look at the same things man looks at.  “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” And when Jesus looks at this young man’s heart, He sees his love of money.  He sees his desire to do all the right things to earn his way into eternal life.  He sees this man’s need to “be good” in the eyes of others.  And the scripture tells us Jesus’ reaction to what He sees there in that young man’s heart:  “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21).

Jesus loves him!

He knows that the one thing this man wants more than anything else is the same as it is for any and all of us—love—but instead of seeking it in the right place—in God, who Himself is Love—the man has given his heart over to the love of money.  And Jesus loves him anyway!  

In the same way, Jesus loves us anyway, no matter what that “anyway” might entail.  He loves the real me.  He loves the real you.  The one thing we want more than anything—love—is the one thing God most wants us to know about Him.

In verse 21, Jesus invites the man to follow him—to tear down the walls of his carefully-constructed life, to walk alongside Him, to allow Him to become part of his life.  But to tear down those walls, to let love in, to make way for intimacy and vulnerability, will require this man to let go of his focus on doing the right things, on holding his money close, and on earning his salvation.

And so the young man walks away from Jesus. 

It’s too scary for him to be vulnerable, too scary to cast aside the worldly wealth and abundance he has amassed for himself in favor of the wealth and abundance that Jesus freely offers. 

What are our carefully-constructed walls that keep us from allowing Jesus in, that keep us from walking in intimacy with Him, that keep us from the abundance He has promised us?  God sees through to our hearts and loves us—the real us.  There’s no need to maintain our carefully constructed walls around the One who created us and can see through to our hearts, and still loves us.

Come back for Part 2:  “Our Happily-Ever-After.”

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