Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Birthday to Remember

Wednesday was Chandler's 18th Birthday, and I wanted it to be special!

I wanted it to be special because I have such special memories of my own 18th Birthday. When I turned 18 I asked my parents for a new Bible. They took me out to dinner at Benihana's where they presented me with a lovely new Bible. And then they handed me another gift. Much to my surprise, my parents gave me pair of real diamond earrings. I was stunned by the beauty and extravagance of the gift. I still have my diamond earrings and I wear them often. I don't remember many birthdays, but I will always remember that one.

So with Chanlder's 18th Birthday fast approaching, I was eager to figure out how I could make it a day to remember. We had purchased him a nice wallet as a gift and I had planned all of his favorite meals, but it just didn't seem, well, special enough. And with David out of town, I would be the only guest at the party. I just knew it would be a flop. And I was so sad.

At prayer that morning, we prayed that God would especially bless Chandler on his birthday. Still, I didn't know how to make that happen. After prayer a friend asked what we were going to do to celebrate. As 18 is the legal drinking age in France, I mentioned that I was cooking a special dinner and that Chandler has requested a shot of whiskey to celebrate. He had tried whiskey when touring the Jameson Distillery in Ireland a few years ago, and he had taken a liking to it. So my friend suggested that a few of us go out to a local bar and toast Chandler for his 18th Birthday. I was thrilled at the idea, and a plan was set in motion.

At 8:30 pm we gathered at The Caravage. There were ten of us all together, aged 16 to 70. Some brought gifts. All brought love. And Chandler was completely in his element.

The waiter brought the whiskey list, insisting that the Japanese whiskey was the best. Chandler took his advice--and ordered a glass. The smile on his face says it all. We sat outdoors, chatting and sipping drinks until the sun went down. Deeply content, we kissed everyone goodnight, said our farewells, and began to walk back home. And that was when the magic happened.

As we walked over cobblestone streets, we began to see lights floating up into the air. Up in the royal part of the medieval city, hundreds of laterns were being released. As they danced across the velvet sky, Chandler marveled and I held back tears. I had done nothing great to make his birthday special, but God surprised us all with diamonds in the sky.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I am the Lame Man

I have been Miriam, leading the people of God in the praises of the Most High. I have danced and sung before the Lord with the abandon of David. I have been stunned and silenced like Isaiah. 

I have been Peter, impetuous but sincere in my devotion to Jesus. I have jumped out of the boat just to be near to him. I have preached with the conviction of Paul, passionate to proclaim freedom to prisoners. I have been John the Beloved, convinced beyond a doubt of my Savior's love for me.

I have been the father of the mute boy, wavering in my faith but desperate in my need. I have thirsted after living water with the woman at the well, longing for someone to just tell me who I am. I have been the bleeding woman, desperately reaching to touch the hem of His garment.

I have been Mary, breaking my vase of expensive perfume to show my Lord how deeply I love him. I have been raised from death and breathed life anew like Lazarus. I have been the man born blind, given sight so that the work of God might be revealed through me.

But today I am the lame man, broken and helpless. Dead weight on my mat, my friends are carrying me. I am the burden that others are bearing, the one who needs healing but is helpless to seek it out for myself. My friends climb the stairs to the roof, dirty their hands to make a way for me draw near to Jesus. They gain nothing for themselves, but by their acts of love, I am brought to the feet of the healer. And there I find hope. 

There are times when I resist such tender expressions of kindness, not wanting to "impose" on friends. No one likes to be needy. And then there are times when I am painfully aware of the reality of my own neediness. I not only need healing, I need help getting to the healer. And so I lay back on my mat,  while tears of gratitude flow from my eyes for those who will bear my weight. 

And what is the first thing the healer says?

"Your sins are forgiven."

Yes. There before the crowd of strangers and in the intimacy of my dearest friends I am called out. The reality of my sickness revealed for what it really is, I am crippled inside and out. And yet, with those words, the burden is lighter. Yes, I feel better already. But I'm still lame. Awaiting the secondary healing that will serve as proof of the primary. In the Bible these two healings are just moments apart, but I find that is not how it always happens for me.

And so I rejoice. My sins are forgiven! 

And I wait for the healer's next move. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Personal Transformation

I'm taking a class on personal transformation right now, and I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about how the brain works and how different environments can either stimulate or inhibit change. There is great research available that can help Christian leaders create spaces and opportunities for spiritual formation. Of course, the main change agent for the believer is the Holy Spirit, and I am convinced that we cannot accomplish anything of significance apart from the work of the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that we should be apathetic either. Perhaps my main role is simply to be malleable--but even becoming a workable lump of clay requires some effort on the part of a human being.

In truth, I think that personal transformation requires 100% participation on my part and that it is 100% dependent on God’s work. This is why Paul wrote about running to get the prize and doing things mightily as unto the Lord. This is also why Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

But here’s the thing—we don’t have to worry about God keeping up his end of the bargain. If you belong to him, he IS at work in you. The question is, “Am I working for or against God’s work in my life?” And what I’m discovering is that if I am not intentionally, attentively, passionately working WITH God, I am inadvertently working against him. There is no middle ground.

I have heard some describe an emphasis on personal transformation as a type of self-obsessed navel-gazing. While it is true that formation requires introspection, self-awareness, and personal reflection, these things are means—not ends. Les Steele says, “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” So the goal of spiritual formation is actually for the sake of others!  

Bible study, community service, evangelism, the sacraments, and church membership are all part of the spiritual formation process—these are tools that God uses to shape us into the likeness of Christ. But what surveys and studies show is that for many life-long Christians, these tools are not having the desired effect. We do all of these things because we know they are good things to do. And yet, after years of time invested in these efforts, we are little changed. The famous Christian psychologist, Larry Crab said, "I've been a follower of Christ for more than 50 years, and my testimony is that I'm disillusioned. What I have understood to be a distinctively Christ-centered, biblically informed approach to living does not seem to be transforming me the way I was encouraged to believe it would. I'm appalled, after all these years, at how untransformed I remain."

Can you relate?

And perhaps more importantly, are you okay with that? Did you come to Christ simply to escape the punishment of hell? Or did you come to Christ to experience new life? To be changed? To be transformed?

After almost two years of learning some new things about spiritual formation, and then with the things that I am learning though my class on personal transformation, I am so delighted to tell you that I have figured out some ways to join God in his work in my life, and I am being changed. The changes do not come quickly or cheaply, but they do come. I am no longer disillusioned, I am inspired.

The Spirit is doing a makeover on my life, and like a remodeling project, the beginning looked more like destruction than construction. And honestly, I’m still a bit of a mess. I wrestle with shame over the messes that keep getting uncovered in my life and relief that those things are finally getting the attention they need. It’s just not pretty. But I welcome the mess because I’ve caught a vision for Jesus is doing, and he has good plans.

Friends, if you have a similar experience I’d love to hear about how God has been transforming you. If you read this post and you find yourself spiritually stuck but longing for more, please share that as well. If you read my blog regularly, you’re always getting glimpses into God’s work on me!