I Die Daily

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I have been thinking about surrender.  The surrender of our lives, our wills, to God.  It’s a subject I’ve heard Christians using a great deal lately and I used in last week’s post.  I wrote about it as something I did in the past and that’s how I’ve been hearing it used; as if surrender to God is a one-time thing.  I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve found it’s a choice I make on a daily basis.  In my experience, both the big moment of surrender and then the daily surrenderings are both true.

I have a moment of utter surrender in my life.  It was so momentous that it does separate my life into BEFORE and AFTER.  Various crises and experiences had brought me to a place where I was willing to consider that I was a Christian only because I’d been raised to be one.  Perhaps nothing I believed was true.  I needed to know the Truth, whatever that was.  Everything AFTER that moment has been a glorious adventure of God revealing Himself to me.  It has also been an endurance race of terrible pressures and processing.  There have been times when I’ve drooped on the edge of my bed so raw on the inside that I’ve felt that, if one more thing dropped on me, I would die.  I do not speak in hyperbole: my feelings had a very real effect in and on my body.  My prayers were not great prayers of faith during these times but were rather, “please.  I can’t take anymore.

The pressure would let up for maybe a day.  There would be a moment of refreshing and then it would start all over again.  I didn’t understand what was happening in those early days.  I came to recognize these-shall I call them near death experiences?-were but the portent to a deeper experience of the Life of Jesus Christ being formed in me.  Knowing this does not make these experiences hurt less but it does allow me to experience them in hope.  Jesus has not come into my life and changed my circumstances around so that all is sweetness and light and frolicking in the fields with nary a care or a need and no personal cross in sight.  His coming into my life, into my very self, has often meant circumstances have gotten worse rather than better.  It’s meant destruction of my flesh life but not my real life which is hid in Him.  He has overcome.  He has given His life to me.  He is Lord of my circumstances and will work victory in my life but it requires choosing on my part.  I surrender to Him not once but every moment. 

The reason I was thinking about surrendering as being both a one time and an every moment experience is because I had an opportunity to surrender to the workings of the Life of Christ on the inside of me.  I had a person say one thing about me to my face and then say the opposite thing to anyone who would listen.  I was angry, embarrassed, hurt, and betrayed.  One of my first impulses was to run to someone I knew would listen to ME.  I wanted to pour out the story and have someone tell me how terrible it was, what a big meanie that other person turned out to be, and pour the balm of commiseration on my feelings. 

Right along with this impulse came the command from the Holy Spirit to do no such thing!  I was to be silent!  I was to put this situation and all my resulting feelings in His hands.  Not only that, I was to allow His forgiveness to flow.  My primary desire is to be obedient in all things but I have to admit there are times I feel like I’m choking on said obedience.  It was a fight to obey.  Obedience meant dying to my self-righteousness and living unto Him.  Within a few days, I read something that confirmed my belief that surrendering is not something I did in the past but something I must continue to do every day.  I’ve been going through Andrew Murray’s Abide In Christ devotional and, in the entry for day sixteen, I read:     

“And such surrender of all for Christ, is it a single step, the act and experience of a moment, or is it a course of daily renewed and progressive attainment?  It is both.  There may be a moment in the life of a believer when he gets a first sight, or a deeper insight, of this most blessed truth, and when, made willing in the day of God’s power, he does indeed, in an act of the will, gather up the whole of life yet before him into the decision of a moment, and lay himself on the altar a living and acceptable sacrifice.  Such moments have often been the blessed transition from a life of wandering and failure to a life of abiding and power divine.  But even then his daily life becomes, what the life must be of each one who has no such experience, the unceasing prayer for more light on the meaning of entire surrender, the ever-renewed offering up of all he has to God.”1

After I read this, I began meditating on an interesting verse in 1 Corinthians 15.  “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” the Apostle Paul says (verse 31).  He says this in the midst of speaking of Christ being raised from the dead, His being raised the promise that we too shall be raised, His reigning until all enemies are destroyed, including death, what our heavenly bodies are like…in the midst of all this comes “I die daily.”  I used to think that a strange thing to say until I consider it in the light of both my experience and other scriptures.

In Matthew 16: 24-28 I find, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’.”  I have often heard people saying “This is my cross to bear” and by that they mean a co-worker, a neighbor, a family member, or a disease or physical limitation.  I look at this verse and I see they are half right.  The co-worker, neighbor, family member, disease, and physical limitation might be the circumstance that contains the cross but the cross is there for us to die on.  And, I notice how many action verbs there are in this passage.  This denying myself, this taking up of my cross, this following Him is not a one-time moment of surrender.  It is a choice I make every day and I find I have plenty of opportunities each and every day in which to make it.

I die daily.  The Apostle Paul has to be speaking of the little deaths I have no doubt he had to die every day. I read his letters and read of those who followed around behind him disparaging him, his intellect, twisting his message, and imposing legalism on the precious believers. And yet, I don’t get any sense of frustration here.  I read it more as “I die daily!” It is a thing of great joy. 

I understand that joy because I surrender nothing to God but what He does not give me Himself.  Any vindication I would feel at defending myself, any pleasure I would get at retaliation, any feelings of superiority that would come from shredding someone else’s character…all of it belongs to that realm of the flesh-life.  I’m reminded of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  I see this reflected in the words of Jesus as I continue to read in Matthew 16:  “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” 

 I always read this scripture and thought it referred to the actual laying down of my life: physical death. My Mom reminded me of a passage in The Song of Solomon: “Catch the foxes for us, yes, the little foxes!  They are ruining the vineyards when our vineyards are in bloom!” (SOS 2:152).  Expositions and commentaries have told me this passage is referring to little sins like jealousy, pride, etc.  I don’t disagree and yet I do think this passage can be applied to the hurts and wrongs that come throughout our daily lives.  Jesus is the vine and I am the branch abiding in Him.  Refusal to surrender to Him when someone wrongs me either behind my back or directly to my face, quenches the Spirit.  Left undealt with, they become the little foxes that destroy the vineyard in bloom.  I see here a picture of a life that cannot bear fruit.

The message during this Sunday’s Church Service was on Psalm 1 and I was struck by verse 3: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season.”  In season.  It doesn’t happen all at once which is something that makes me deeply grateful as I don’t always feel victorious.  I still have a way to go in surrendering because my first impulses do not align with who I am in Christ.  Neither does forgiveness happen instantaneously.  But then, His expectation is that I bear fruit in season.  He remembers I am but dust (Psalm 103:14).  I reckon myself dead to sin and alive to Christ (Romans 6:11) and I am confident that He who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.   

Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

References

  1. Murray, Andrew, Abide in Christ, Barbour and Company, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH, 1985, Page 97
  2. Stern, David H., The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2016

Refusing the Golden Apples

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

How great is our God!  The Holy Spirit gave me a book.  It is the book I was looking for that I did not know existed.  It is the book that answers a question I could not answer on my own, no matter how I scoured Bible translations and paraphrases, reference books, dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries.  I am convinced it is the book given to me because I put my question and frustrations at my lack of answers into the hands of My Father and trusted His Spirit would guide me into all truth at the proper time.  I am convinced the book is His gift to me because I waited, I listened to His voice, and I obeyed when He told me “no” to all the other books that came across my path.

I started a study on Romans some months-it might even be years-ago.  I did not get passed the first chapter.  My study book asked me to define Paul’s “obedience to the faith” (Romans 1:5) and I could not do so in any deep and meaningful way.  I put aside that study and have been meditating on the meaning of obedience to the faith.  I still don’t have a deep and meaningful definition but I cannot stress enough the importance of obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  John 16:13 says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth: for He will not speak of His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”  I find this verse beautiful: there is a longing within me to be guided into all Truth and to hear what He is speaking.

I have not found this to be easy.  I have been in churches that had no use for supernatural experiences and thus no use for the Holy Spirit.  I understand this fear.  It was close to eighteen years ago now when I expressed a desire to learn more about the Holy Spirit and prayed some very specific prayers.  I do make jokes about being careful what I pray for because I will get an answer and it never comes the way I expect it to!  I do joke and I do pray with deep consideration but I wouldn’t take anything back.  My life is not worth living if not lived in union with Jesus and the Father and the Spirit.  It’s a crazy life and feels a bit like freefall.  I have promises from Scripture and expectations of them being fulfilled in my life but absolutely no expectation as to how they are going to be fulfilled.  This is frightening but I received a promise from my Father when He first placed my feet on this path and it was that He loved me, I was in His hand, and He would never drop me.  The only response I had was surrender.  I want to assure you that our God is trustworthy and He does keep our feet from slipping.

And yet…there is a learning process.  Discernment, knowing His voice and obeying it did not instantaneously happen.  There was a great deal of trial and error.  I made mistakes.  There were many times when I did not recognize His voice until after the fact and then was left with “if only I’d listened”.  These were valuable mistakes though as I have learned to recognize His voice and the value of immediate obedience, even when that obedience seems foolish.  Malcolm Smith has a fantastic teaching on his YouTube Channel about this called When Iron Swims (see below).  I have learned to obey without always knowing why and yet it still isn’t always easy.  I find obedience especially difficult when it comes to study and purchasing books.  I am an unapologetic book lover and love to learn.  There is not one subject that does not interest me and I find I have to put my books away and spend quality time with the Spirit.  I have to listen and obey when He says “no, don’t buy that one” and that is VERY difficult.  Intellectual pursuits are the biggest distraction for me when it comes to strengthening my relationship with God.

I was thinking about intellectual pursuits being a distraction and was reminded of the myth of Atalanta.  Briefly, her story is this:  An Oracle tells Atalanta not to marry for marriage will be her ruin.  Atalanta thus attempts to dissuade her suiters by stating she’d only marry if a man could outrun her in a footrace: failure to do so would result in death.  The judge of this footrace is Hippomenes and he thinks the men are fools for agreeing to it until he sets eyes on Atalanta.  Of course, all the men fail to win and all are killed.  Hippomenes then puts himself forward but, before running the race, appeals to Aphrodite who bestows three golden apples upon him.  Hippomenes tosses them to the ground at various points during the race, distracts Atalanta from running, and manages to win the race.1

It is the golden apples along the path I am thinking of.  There are many scriptures that liken this Christian life to a race to be run.  I have found it isn’t like running on a track where the lanes are marked and the way is left clear.  I have found my particular race to be difficult.  The path is cluttered and sometimes obscured.  Deviating from the myth, the race does not consist of mere running towards a goal.  There are times of refreshing, tastings of all that awaits, fruit to be enjoyed, which is why these distractions work.  They look like the real deal.

There are times when distractions are rolled in front of me like golden apples.  As long as they hold my attention, I am kept from moving forward.  These distractions appear to be good things.  They look valuable.  They look as if they would help me to fulfill the calling on my life. They look like they would help strengthen me to run this race.  To a one, these distractions have proven to be a lie and a trap.  A trap as they hold my mind captive and blind me to the things of God.  A lie as they invariably prove not to be gold at all.

There is a Hebrew word I like: Nehushtan (Strong’s H5180).  It is the name the Israelites gave to the bronze serpent Moses made when they burned incense to it (2 Kings 18:4).  It is a word that means copper or bronze, base compared to gold or silver2, comparative unimportance of material.3 The Amplified Bible calls Nehushtan “a bronze trifle”4.  It might glitter but it is not gold: it’s Nehushtan.

I am still learning what it means to “love the Lord with all my mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27) and to “lean not on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  There are so many things that vie for my attention.  They appear in my path, sometimes they roll to the side and seek to compel me to leave my path.  They sparkle in the sunlight and I am not able to discern between gold and a cheap imitation.  I do know every treasure I have sought on my own has ended up being Nehushtan.  My Father knows.  His voice alone is true.  He alone gives real fruit.  He alone has gold that contains nothing base for it has been tried, refined, in the fire.  He alone keeps me from distractions, pretty and shiny as they may be, and reminds me I don’t pursue myths but run for an incorruptible prize (1 Corinthians 9:25).  The greatest gifts come through obedience to Him. 

Heavenly Father, continue to give me ears to hear none but You.  Continue to open the eyes of my heart that I might see You.  Lead me into smooth paths for Your name’s sake.  To You who never leaves me nor forsakes me, I lift my voice and cry, “Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Amen!”

And amen.

  1. Bulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1979, Pages 141-143
  2. Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
  3. Brown, F., Driver, S., Briggs, C., The Grown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, Eighteenth Printing-September 2018, Page 639
  4. The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984

Beyond Normal: Rebecca Friedlander

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I am pleased to welcome another Renaissance Woman to the blog this week. Rebecca Friedlander is a writer, poet, photographer, film maker, musician, singer, and I’m sure there are many other talents I don’t yet know about. Rebecca is a beautiful sister in Christ and I am honored to be getting to know her.

My first experience with Rebecca Friedlander’s work was watching her film “Finding Beautiful”. I then watched her “Thin Places” film which is a history of the Celtic Church from the 5th Century to the 1900s. I am especially grateful for this film because if I hadn’t watched it I would never have purchased “Listening For the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality” at a thrift store and would never have heard about Pelagius and the fight between his views and those of Augustine. Rebecca has been a guide for me in ways she is not aware (until now!)

Rebecca has published a new book: The Divine Adventure: Spiritual Practices for a Modern-day Disciple. I have ordered it but am waiting for it to arrive. I look forward to reading it. If her bible study modules on her YouTube channel are any indication, the book will be a wonderful resource. Enjoy her post!

Beyond Normal

When I was in Sunday school as a twelve-year-old child, the teacher asked my restless, wiggling class, “How do you get close to God?”

The pat, easy answer was, “Read your Bible and pray.”

None of us knew how to do those things very well. We just knew it was the right thing to say, and it was the most spiritually profound thing we could think of.

I will be the first one to say that reading your Bible and praying are vital to life, but I will also acknowledge that they are keys toward opening an incredible vault of treasures God has prepared for you . . . if you know how to use them. As a young woman, I found myself searching for a deeper walk with Christ that built upon the simple Sunday school formula. Writing a list of prayers and reading the Bible every day were easy, but my heart hungered for a more life-giving, revolutionary journey with Jesus. Envying the early disciples of the first century who walked with Jesus, I longed to follow him with their same connection and abandon.

Faith became to me

a programmed routine . . .

An outward demonstration

of Christianity

That failed to

engage my heart.

Simply put: there was more to the Christian life, and I wanted it—but I wasn’t sure how to walk with Christ in a deep, fulfilling way.

Discovering Jesus, Discovering Discipleship

When I read the Gospels, I discovered a description of Jesus that defied my early Sunday school perceptions. A thoughtful teacher and compelling communicator, he was a far cry from the pasty, stoically posed portraits my mind had painted of him. Instead, the Scriptures offer the fascinating glimpse of a hero who spoke truth, demonstrated love, and set the world on fire with his compelling message. In a time before social media or networking platforms, Jesus set an entire nation ablaze with his earth-shattering words—and he did it all in three and a half years. Christ’s life was like lighting the fuse on a battery of fireworks: revolutionary principles exploding with riveting, world-changing beauty.

Becoming a Modern-Day Disciple

Since the word disciple means “learner,” the term disciplines could be defined as “ways to learn.” These ideas help us practice being a disciple of Jesus in our modern world. Far more than a list of rules or a textbook of prayers, they give us tools to practice discipleship in intentional ways, stirring our passion for Christ and helping us live it out. Like finding a trail of footprints left by Christ and his followers, we can set our feet on the same weathered path and discover the Way they walked.

Spiritual disciplines

help us break from our busy lives,

shift our hearts toward heaven,

give our souls space to breathe.

They create space to partner

our hearts with God’s.

They unleash passion

to us,

in us,

through us.

My new book, The Divine Adventure: Spiritual Practices for a Modern-day Disciple is all about practical ways to pursue our faith and cultivate an intimate walk with Christ. These 12 spiritual practices will help you put feet to your faith and go deep in some of the practices of early saints who walked closely to Christ. More at: www.RebeccaFriedlander.com

Being Indestructible

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I am going to tell you a story about cactus.  I should not be able to share the photo at the top of this post because the cactus pictured here should be dead.  Instead, it has filled the pot it’s planted in and looks as if it longs to take over the entire backyard.

My mother found this cactus when she accompanied my stepfather on a fishing trip.  The road they were driving down had been graded and the cactus lay along the side, uprooted and left to die.  My Mom-very carefully-picked it up, put it in a box, brought it home, and promptly forgot about it.  It lay in the box for months until she re-discovered it and planted it in the pot to see if it would survive.  Some bits did die but the rest not only survived, it thrived.  It has filled not one but three pots and delights us with the beautiful blooms.

We have feral cats in our neighborhood and they have chosen to use our backyard as their toilet.  We have tried various deterrents but they would just move from one toilet spot to another.  They were beginning to use the space behind our tree and so, about a month ago, my stepfather when out and-very carefully-trimmed off some pieces of cactus which he scattered on the ground around the tree.  Bits of the cactus were once more left to die.

They did not.  They did not need careful planting.  They did not need watering.  They took root, righted themselves, and, though separated from their source still in the pot; bloomed right alongside.  While a bit concerned that it has been set free from the confines of the pot, I can’t help but admire the tenacity of this spiny little plant.  As I consider it, I learn two lessons.

Lesson One has to do with the ground. I have not carefully examined the cactus for sharp pokey reasons.  Perhaps it hasn’t actually rooted.  Perhaps it has bloomed because of the life that was in it from when it was joined to the parent plant still rooted in the pot.  Perhaps, as time passes and it remains cut off from that life; it will use up the vestiges, wither, and die. This reminds me of the Parable of the Sower, specifically the seed that immediately sprang up but had no root and withered away (Matthew 13:5-6).  Whether or not a believer is vitally connected to the life of Jesus is a truth that cannot but manifest itself.  There may be lovely full blooms at the moment but without being rooted deep into His life, those blooms can’t be sustained.  They will wither and die. My highest priority is to keep myself in Him so that He can ensure I am good ground and His Life within me flourishes.

Lesson Two has to do with roots. Perhaps the cactus has rooted and it will continue to bloom for many more seasons.  Despite the intentions of those who tore it from the ground or cut it and scattered it, it has put down roots and is thriving.  I may be pushing the metaphor here but, in this tenacity, I see a picture not only of the strength but the quality of our lives in Christ Jesus. 1 John 3:1 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”  The Amplified has “…what an incredible quality of love”.  I have heard Malcolm Smith speak on this passage and he likens this love of The Father to finding an orchid growing within the Arctic Circle.  It’s an impossible kind of love but yet here it is: we see it in Jesus.

Jesus gives a beautiful description of Himself in Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”  I realize this is highly symbolic language yet I like thinking of Jesus as The Root.  The source of my life is The Root.

This being so, what is there to fear? It doesn’t matter if the circumstances of my life are such that it appears my life couldn’t possibly bear fruit.  I died and my life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).  He is The Root and there is nothing in this world that can separate me from Him.  The Father abides in Jesus, Jesus abides in me, and I abide in Him (John 15, John 17:23).  It’s an impossible love.  It’s an impossible life.  It’s indestructible (Hebrews 7:16, NAS) and here it is blooming where it is least expected.

Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

Perichoresis

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Image by Jackson David from Pixabay

Perichoresis

I wake and find

I am in the midst of the dance

Hand in hand

‘Round and ’round

Moving through

Spirit Sound

Thou the lead

Guiding me

Perfect step

Harmony

Don’t belong

In this place

Not dressed for

Spirit Space

In Love’s eyes

Clarity

Reflected

Renewed me

No more rags

But transformed

With bride clothes

Now adorned

Crown of Life

On my head

Symbol of

Thy blood shed

Love’s purpose

Thou in me

Culminates

I in Thee

Spirit Birthed

Unity

We will have this dance forever