Coming To Life On Easter, The Epitome Of Second Chances

Coming To Life On Easter, The Epitome Of Second Chances

When I was a lad, my favorite holiday was Thanksgiving because it seemed, of all the celebrated days, to have the only practical (and understandable, to my child’s mind) explanation. It was The Day to eat and be grateful for it.

If I recall, the Fourth of July was my second-favorite day, because it, too, was in remembrance of some tangible thing, our country’s hard-won independence, and because it featured the very visible baseball games and hot dogs and fireworks. And, since I was a sweets-loving kid (as much as Mom and Dad permitted), I suppose Halloween would’ve been a runner up (for the candy), along with Christmas (only for the presents).

For a long, long time, Easter had little meaning for me. It was just some made-up (but yes, anticipated) rite of Spring. Oh, how that now has changed! This morning, I had, for the first time (I’m pretty sure), a quiet revelation about it.

April 16, 2008 (or it might have been the 14th) was the day I entered into recovery and was exposed to the healing and transformational power of God, and his plan of salvation. To put it more accurately, I should say that it was the day I began to understand Good Friday; Christ on The Cross, paying the penalty for all my sin(s). And for nine years, I’ve thought and dwelt obsessively only on that part of God’s New Deal. (And in effect, only on what I dared to presume to have unforgivably done to nail Christ there.)

This Easter morning, during my quiet time and at a sunrise service, I reconsidered this day and its real significance. The Work of Christ was not in just taking the punishment for all that’s wrong in the world, but in the equally important act of rising again. The Resurrection, the epitome of second chances.

Because, really, the one without the other is a half-finished job. It’s incomplete (and dare I say, almost meaningless – in a way) to have sin just taken away without the rebirth of new life. Good Friday without Easter is like the night without the following dawn.

The lesson is important on this Easter day, 2017, because it symbolizes a return of me. Dear Reader, you may have noticed that I’ve been absent on Sharing God’s Story. This is due to my being… out, of sorts. My thinking this morning revealed to me that the old doubt and disbelief had been creeping back into my mind and soul, taking my body along with it, exactly like feasting on Good Friday without drinking in The Third Day and living again. I had lost The Light, the passion of belief from my early days of faith. I had lost sight of God; my eyes focused, instead (and again), lustfully on this world.

I pray that this figurative resurrection, one of an uncountable number of second chances, this time will continue. I have, at least, continued journaling, and have a backlog of topics to blog about. Please rejoin me in Sharing God’s Story In My One Small, Salvaged Life.

From ‘Rock Bottom’ (wow, that’s deep)

Entering recovery with blood on my hands was not my rock bottom. I had further down to go. Maybe that’s why “90 meetings in 90 days” is so strongly recommended – because I didn’t, and my literal attempt at immediate self-destruction came about three months after God had stomped the brakes on the behaviors that were slowly consuming me. Wow, that’s a deep depth to fall to.

Picture a bungy jump in slow, slow motion from way, way on high: decades of free fall – in “real-time” hurtling towards death, with the awakening coming at the cord’s first tug. But then there’s the stretching, the relapse and stinking-thinking dragging me even lower, until the abrupt jerk of the absolute limit of the lifeline. God didn’t let it break, and ever since, I’ve been on a rebound that hasn’t stopped climbing higher and higher.

Recovery is me “swimming” in air, trying to do something – anything to continue the change, the upward movement, that He began in that miraculous instant, when he restored, repaired, and healed the deepest, innermost broken part of me. My flailing equates to learning and prayer and journaling and serving and, above all, listening to Him speak His Word.

I recently began reading my journals from the very beginning: the day I got home from the “behavioral center”. (I had finally taken seriously my need to follow through on this very basic self-improvement habit.) The entry I read today: Wow, it’s deep!

“The urge to re-engage in that behavior still surfaces, but I look at it, seeing it for what it is: deception, immoral selfishness harming my entire family, as near to evil as I can come… my physical parts… are given [to] me as a gift, a means of connecting and sharing with just one, my soulmate, my partner for life…

“[Blame] that in me which desires to run and hide – hide in it
[which] desires not to change,
[not] to fix,
[not] to learn,
[not] to improve,
[not to grow],
[which desires] to keep a status quo,
because at least it is known and familiar,
even if it is lonely and painful.”
(11/24/08)

Instinctually, a being reacts with fight, flight, or freeze. I had been paralyzed, unable to do anything differently, primarily, I think, because of fear. Fear of pain. Fear of the pain of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss – the potential for loss. Fear of shame and guilt, despite their having become my very closest “friends”. Recovery is revving up to move differently, powered by an internal-combustion engine, with ignition by God’s healing touch. It’s driving past fear, though not always speedily, with my attention focused solely (soul-ly?) on the road ahead.

Men of Integrity is excerpting a great book this week, Dan Baumann’s A Fresh Look At Fear. Dan writes,

“… getting over fear isn’t the goal of our faith, but living to discover and know God is … As I began to switch my attention to simply knowing and enjoying God, I [became] overwhelmed by how good He is [instead of being overwhelmed by all my attempts to to get over fear]…
“… the peace and joy of the Lord… [is] what I actually wanted all along.”

John 14:15
If you love me, you will obey me.

In that moment of ultimate desperation – Rock Bottom – what happened is that I realized God’s love and mercy for me. Isn’t that deep?!

“… we long for tangible signs … but seeing God take care of me and rescue me … how merciful he was to me…
“As … follower[s] of Jesus, we are invited to discover his love again and again…”
Baumann

Picture Matthew 13:44: A man discovers treasure in a field, and goes to sells everything he has so he can buy that field. What am I willing to sell – to let go of – in order to be able to have it?

Father God, You speak in such simple ways that we often miss the message completely. We are so looking for overtures of majesty – Holy Majesty – an introduction to a coming sign with trumpet fanfare. But we walk right by because You work with subtlety. A whispered, nudging voice. An inflection or the wink of an eye, the nod of a head. If we’re not focused on you, we’re looking the other way at just the wrong time. Lord, slow my senses down enough to catch – to find the beauty, to realize the “the peace and joy of the Lord are what I’ve wanted all along.”

Peace and joy aren’t big, impressive showy feelings. They’re in the depths of me, first, producing calm, trusting serenity and contentment, truly understanding, knowing, and believing that You, O Lord, will always “take care of me and rescue me”, even when it will be by calling me home.

On Not Fearin’ “Nothin'”

Praise be  to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has great mercy, and because of His mercy he gave us new life. This new life brings us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death.
Now we wait to receive the blessings God has for His children. These blessings are kept for you in heaven. They cannot be ruined or be destroyed or lose their beauty.
1 Peter 1:3-4 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

What about death is to be feared? Nothing? Or nothingness?

Whatever we believe, only one of two things will happen as we draw our last breath. Either we will know no more, or our souls will live on with some sort of consciousness. Either nothing or everything. In a way, it’s kind of like a reverse lottery. All the numbers but the one chosen get the prize. How often, when we play because the pot is hundreds of millions, do we really expect to win? Faith in Christ, however, bets on upside-down odds. I’m sure to win simply because I choose to believe. And it costs me nothing.

Today, I’m thinking about this curious concept of “nothing”. As a believer in the God of the Bible, and my Savior Jesus Christ, I have lost my fear that nothing, or rather, that nothingness follows death. Yes, I am aware that my hope might be false; that my thoughts will simply cease. I confess, however, that there are times when I would welcome an ending like that, especially considering the behavioral and health struggles life has drug (dragged?) me through. In other words, such a fate would be a relief. Why would I fear it?

Perhaps what we social creatures fear, then, is a sense of no longer getting to be involved, of not participating further in life – in the lives of those around us. As if it were some sort of punishment. A divine and permanent time out, face in the ethereally drab corner, nothing ever again to behold. Bingo. This is the essence of life eternal, and the “hell” to be afraid of is to be forever separated from God and from our loved ones. But why choose nothing, when everything is the alternative?

Is there anything in life then to fear? I submit not, although this is the much harder ‘fear of nothing’ to pull off. There are many parts of living that can hurt, physically and emotionally. Heck, there are things that cause me ‘logical’ pain – like the growing absence of common sense in today’s world. Consequences can be dreadful. Self-condemnation is agonizing.

But “because of His mercy He gave us new life … A living hope.” That is, almost infinite second chances. When we fall, we are invited to rise up, literally pulled back to our feet by an unseen hand. I like this kind of ‘nothing to fear’! Simply put, my faith sustains me through whatever life brings because, “This, too, shall pass.”

The key, I think, is in the sentence, “These blessings are kept for you in heaven.” Sentence, as in a period of time to be served, bound to “human existence”, at the conclusion of which I am to be set free. Free to enjoy the ‘everything’ of eternal life.

To Follow You To ANY End

I’m only eight years old, as an … acceptor of Christ. I date that age to three specific events of divine intercedence. The first, of conception perhaps, was when I stood in shock, finally seeing what I had just done to myself. I felt as if I’d been spiritually slapped to life. In the second, when I was thinking I was abandoning life, Christ appeared, gently scolding the attempt to flee, and then took my place, quite literally. He showed me how love is done. Then the third, moments later, was when I did, in fact, confess all and agonizingly cry out to Him. It was then I truly and deeply – to my core – experienced, “Your will, not mine. I no longer can care what you decide to do with me.” At that instant I was saved, and born anew.

Today, remembering the intensity of my Christian birth, I realize that there were two parts to my coming to complete abandonment of self: an increasing understanding thankfulness at being truly loved, and a full, utter surrender of every scrap of myself – including all fear, avoidance, or thought of controlling how, when – or even whether – “I” would end. I now can gratefully accept His never calling me home – or being taken before I finish writing … I proclaim, “I follow You, Lord and Savior, to any end.”

There is, I have found, absolutely no greater affirming feeling than coming to know The Creator and His love for me. This awareness started as the tiniest spark of “what if” what they say – what God says – is real? That flame caught on the tinder of ample evidence – people, places, and things constantly turning out just right. An infinite list of provision. Miraculous blessings. Every ‘impossible’ circumstance that He pushed me or pulled me through. I hesitatingly ventured to trust, and consistently everything (sometimes eventually) worked out for the best. Soon I chose to be dependant on it. It is fact: I am still here, alive and somewhat well, despite many incredibly difficult situations (far too many of which I myself made that way).

It was because of this – that I was the cause of so much of my own trouble – that the guilt and shame remained as an open, visible sore to be picked at. The pain became unbearable, until it was greater than my fear of change, of giving in. I had tried to escape it in every way. Yes, every way. Yet He kept me. And He intervened. And then, only then, was I ready to confess and accept all. “Confess and accept all” sounds so much simpler than it was.

How can I describe the complete acquiescence of every bit of pride, of self-preservation? The unhesitating able-ness to freely admit how far I had gone, how low I had fallen? It was an uncaring desire (if such an oxymoronic emotion is possible) to be free of who I was, of who I had let myself become. The only way – the only thing I wanted – was to let it all go. Let it all out. “Lord and Judge, do with me what you will.”

He responded with the biggest miracle of all. And left me in slack-jawed awe, more grateful for this one act of unconditional love than all that had happened before or has happened since.

I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.
Jeremiah 45:5

So, then, I can truly appreciate the meaning of James 5:16:

So always tell each other the wrong things you have done. Then pray for each other. Do this so that God can heal you. Anyone who lives the way God wants can pray and great things will happen.
ERV

Oswald Chambers puts it better than I can:

“…once you do surrender, you will no longer think about what God is going to do.
“Abandonment means to refuse yourself the luxury of asking any questions.
“And once you do get to the point of total surrender to Him, you will be the most surprised and delighted person on earth. Go will have you absolutely, without any limitations, and He will have give you your life.”

AMEN!

I Can’t Wait To Say:

We must hold on to the hope we have, never hesitating to tell people about it. We can trust God to do what He promised.
Hebrews 10:23 (ERV)

I know what I want to tell you right now. But it’s what I can’t wait to say that gives me pause daily. Friends, I am seeing such disbelief turned to disinterest turned to dislike turned to outright hate and ill-wishes. And it’s becoming ill intent. And all I can do is wonder, “isn’t good news supposed to make us happy”?

It can make me mad. And that’s when I have to watch what I’m thinking. Because then I can’t wait to say, “I told you so.” “Do you believe now?” “Are you sorry now?” “You were warned.” “Sucks to be you, hunh?”

The thing is, if they’re right, no one will have anything to say. But if I’m right, I want to make sure I sincerely feel like saying, “I’m so glad to see you here”.

We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more important as you see the day getting closer.
10:25

So think about how much more punishment people deserve who show their hate for the Son of God – people who show they have no respect for the blood sacrifice that began the new agreement… or who insult the spirit of God’s grace.
10:29

 

…To Bring Comfort Where There Must Be Loss…

For our present troubles are small and won’t last long, yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and that will last forever! 2 Cor 4:17

Heavenly Father, Creator God, for whom nothing is impossible. Lord, this morning the health of others is on my mind: B, B and family, M, R’s dad, to name a few. We humans don’t like the thought of death or even sickness, even though they are both sure to happen to us – the former especially as the final event in this life for every one of us. I think the the real thing we feel, Father, is fear. Some of us fear the manner of our own end. But many fear the loss of companionship of someone dear. Abandonment, of a sort. This fear, Lord, is rooted in believing there is nothing after this life. But your children sincerely work at believing, however, that the death of this body is just a release, a doorway home to eternity with you, Father God, our maker.

How can this be frightening!? It is the removal of all the bad and sad things of this world! It is the reunion with those who have simply left before us.

Lord, I thank you for this new day you have given me. I thank you for the opportunity to be a source of comfort for those who must deal with loss – of any kind, but especially of someone closer.

In Jesus’ life-returning name…

In every joy-filled moment of this day you have made…