Making the Next Turn

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Making the Next Turn

I was listening to Jeremy Riddle’s 2007 debut album “Full Attention” on the ride home from church this week.  You know how God will use anything, anyone, and everything to get something across to you?  Well, He was working on me on Sunday with the title track.

Every time I think I can’t get any closer to God without being in Heaven Jesus shows me a way in which it could happen.

Let me back up a minute.  The diagnosis of a life-threatening disease severely stumps your long-term planning.  Your days are spent only trying to get past the pain, to stop the nausea, to stare into the 10x mirror in your bathroom and kiss your last lower eyelash away.

When I initially got told I was cancer free I landed in some sort of fog – perhaps it was a type of shock.  Not because I didn’t believe it – no way – God had told me this day would come.  But more because I was a little unsure of what that meant in the grand scheme of things.  The cancer may be gone but the effects of it weren’t.

That’s what I meant when I said in Monday’s post that I was ready … but not prepared.  Ready to hear the words “cancer free” but not prepared to live like I was.  My mother kept asking me how I felt … heck if I knew!  It took about five days or so before I really started feeling a sensation I hadn’t felt in a long while … I think it’s called freedom.  Even though I hadn’t realized I was living in a jail.  But now a wind kinda swept up under my feet and caught me away on it.  Little by little I could start to think about the future again.  A future that may include some bum feet and weird Brillo-pad-looking hair but still had infinite possibilities.

When you’ve spent over a year leaning hard on God and allowing Him to take over and you’ve been able to see that He absolutely does take care of what you need and that He absolutely is true to His promises – what more can you ask for?  How much deeper can your relationship get?  It’s scary but I’m getting a picture that the answer is:  much, much deeper.

I sang along with Jeremy and realized I didn’t have to ask to see God’s face – I had just experienced it.  Nor did I have to ask for His words to be clearer when I’d just spent 17 months falling head first into His Word on an almost daily basis.  I had experienced His divine presence and it was truer and sweeter than I ever could imagine.  And now here I was asking that His light burn brighter and His love move deeper and I shook my head laughing and asked out loud, “Lord, how could it?”

Remember when I said, “Don’t ever ask the Lord a question you’re not ready to hear the answer to?”

He must have said, “Let me show you,” and an almost imperceptible change happened inside me. I “turned.”  Like I was on a switchback curve in the Rocky Mountains.  All at once I felt as though I was stronger.  Stronger spiritually.  I felt I knew God.  Not all of Him of course, but certainly more than I did two years ago.  I could behave differently now because I have been treated to His incredible goodness.  I could be truer to Him.  I could show more of His love to others.  I could abide more deeply in His love.

I’ve decided that growing in Christ is like making one turn after another on our way to Heaven.  You turn just a little and whammo – you’ve got yourself more knowledge of God and more love for Him.

I wondered though … how can others have this without getting cancer or some other horrible disease and going through what I went through?

I don’t know.  But I’m going to ask Him because there has to be a way.  Every true Christ Follower has to feel this.  I want you to feel this feeling – to feel spiritually alive – deeper in love with Jesus than ever before – with a knowledge that you’re living in the heavenly realms even though your feet are still here on terra firma.  Like Peter said,

“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”  2 Peter 1:3

If you’re a Christ Follower, His divine power is in you.  It’s glorious and even though I can’t believe I could feel more rooted in Christ, I want to.

More, Lord, more!

Have a wonderful weekend, my friends!

 

ScripturePicture ~ Psalm 8: 3-4

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It’s one of the questions I wondered aloud to My Guardian (aka: The Lord).

Ps 8-3 LG

Its something I don’t think I’ll ever understand this side of Heaven.

I remember a time when I was mentioning to an unsaved friend that Satan had been pestering me in my dreams.  I told her that I was going to have to remember to ask God to keep me safe from him while I slept.

She said, “You really think God cares about your dreams?”

“Yes.” I stated.  “He loves us so much He cares about every little thing that affects us.”

Something to remember when you think you have no one to turn to.

Turn to Him and speak.

He’s listening.

 

Demise of the Interloper ~ 2

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Demise of the Interloper ~ 2

This is Part 2 of a post that began last Friday.  I guarantee you’ll be confused if you didn’t read that so here’s a quick link so you can get caught up.  Part One

I stumbled because I didn’t realize it would be this hard or this painful.  I became so weak I wasn’t able to continue working on the project.  To finish what my Guardian wanted me to do – had promised I would do.  The visitor had other plans for me.  With every month that passed I became more and more frail and my dream of completing the project slipped further and further away.  I clung tightly to what my Maker promised like a life preserver flung to a drowning man, quietly repeating the words to myself, etching them into my soul.

God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill? ~ Numbers 23:19

No one told me that I would have such a difficult time removing the intruder when he decided to lay down his tentacles deep and strong.  He was solidly entrenched like a soldier avoiding enemy fire in a foxhole.  It would take more than me to do away with him and the Guardian called in the experts.

The professionals’ sole purpose was to exterminate him from my house.  They did all they could.  Not all at once of course, but in an orderly fashion, even though I wanted everyone to throw everything they had all at once at the poser.  Remove him quickly and once and for all.  They couldn’t do that, they said, but they came, one by one, to ply their various trades.

The first one brought in his knives and his lasers and attempted complete eradication.  He was a nice man with a quirky grin and a funny bounce in his step.  He was brilliantly superior to others in his field and got very close to ridding my home of the unwanted.  But in the end my enemy remained.  Sitting there with a stupid grin plastered on his face that if you looked at it long enough began to look maniacal and gave you the shivers.

The second professional was from Brazil and poured toxins all over the house which undoubtedly quieted the trespasser but made me sick in his wake.  He too, was very nice and enthusiastic and interestingly brought the same turkey sandwich to work each day for his lunch.  I wondered how someone could eat the same thing day after day, but never got up my nerve to ask.  His toxins wore me out and damaged me physically yet the interloper remained.  I’m pretty sure he was hiding under the bed in the guest bedroom.

Months ticked by as I lay in pain followed by exhaustion followed by nausea followed by more pain followed by more exhaustion.  The intruder triggered an endless loop that even though I knew it would eventually end – knew it had to end – there still seemed to be no escape.  When that helper left he told me confidently that he’d see me again, but as I shook his hand goodbye I secretly hoped I wouldn’t.

I leaned ever harder on my Guardian’s shoulder.  The peace He afforded me was almost more than I could bear.  He was so lofty, so far above me, how could He love me so?

You might wonder where my family and friends were in all this.  They were there helping, supporting, assisting me and the professionals as best they could.  They prayed diligently and there were times I felt enveloped in a cocoon of their prayers.

But, I worried about my parents.  I didn’t want them to have to watch me go through this.  I knew they thought often of what might be, projecting a future they couldn’t comprehend.  We’d lost my brother in a car accident at an absurdly early age and one night I lay in bed speaking softly to my Guardian, “I don’t want to go before them,” I whispered, tears slipping down my cheeks and wetting my pillow.  “Why should they have to battle through the death of another child?”

“They’re not going to lose you,” He said matter-of-factly.

I sighed and laid back, knowing it to be Truth.  “I will trust you,” I said as I turned over and drifted off to sleep, swearing I could hear my visitor in the kitchen rooting around for his late night snack.

When the intruder surfaced again, showing his hideous face and parading around the house, we brought in the third professional.  This last one was a handsome, serious, mastermind with a machine that loomed as big as a house.  He set it up and left it to run its course of pulsating photon radiation beams while I lay on a special bed to protect me.  For thirty-eight days I listened to noises that sounded like photon torpedoes firing out of the Enterprise at a cloaked Klingon vessel.  Could this be the answer?  I had a special bed, but the intruder didn’t.  Could I dare to expect that torpedoes would be the answer to destroying the nemesis that wouldn’t leave?  I prayed his aim was true.

When the last guy was done with his newfangled photons we knew we’d still have a long wait before we could determine if the intruder had finally backed his bags and left.

We waited and prayed.

And prayed.

And prayed.

I could hardly contain my anticipation, a part of me was still suspicious because the house was so silent, almost too silent.  It’d been over a year since I’d had real harmony in my home.  At times I wondered if I’d be able to exist without him.  Sometimes I held my breath and tip-toed around the house just to see if I could hear him breathing.  Perhaps he was just hiding in the basement and would pop out and scare me like a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street.

My Creator was silent too.  I expect He was sitting on His throne with a grin on His face.  He already knew my future.  He knew what was to become of me and He knew what had become of the interloper.  I was reminded of His promises and settled into a peaceful holding pattern.

But it was during a church service when the pastor prayed victory over anyone dealing with a thief in their home that my entire body trembled and every piece of my skin sprouted gooseflesh that I knew my home was healed.  I wanted to cry in relief and thanksgiving.  I looked heavenward and mouthed a silent, “Thank you.”

Three days later the professionals that my Guardian had called in to help arrived at my door.  Their joyful grins couldn’t contain the news they so desperately wanted to relay.  From Stage 4b to cancer free.

The intruder was gone.

Demise of the Interloper ~ 1

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Demise of the Interloper ~ 1

It all came crashing down last Tuesday.

To be sure I was ready … but somehow not prepared … does that make sense?  I was used to this particular threat, this unwelcome guest who had been staying so long at my house I’d become accustomed to his presence – almost complacent with his company.  We lived together as though an uneasy truce had been called by some higher power.

Every day he was there spiraling around me like the coils of a slinky, plenty of room in the middle to bump around the house yet steel bands held me tightly within his grasp – defining the space I could actually roam.  In a weird way it was a prison I couldn’t leave.  Each day we existed in this unusual dance.

Like it says in Proverbs 26:11 … “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”  I always came back.  I always returned.  After all … weren’t we joined together?

It’s almost as though … …

Don’t be silly.  I hadn’t fallen in love with him.  I always knew it would be me or him in the end.  One of us would have to go.

We could not exist in the same house forever.

It’s just that I’d developed a curious ease with him.  Easy … like your favorite jeans so holey and frayed and threadbare and probably illegal to wear in public, but you wouldn’t get rid of them for all the tea in China.  Well, maybe I wasn’t that comfortable with him.

So what was the fascination?  This hold he had on me?

He was more like the character in the story that you love to hate.  The one that you’ve already met and you already hate and then he shows up right when the story’s gettin’ good and all the other characters are finding their stride.  The author has the audacity to pluck him off the shelf and drop him back on the page and in doing so places a humongous boulder in the path that causes other, already well-loved characters to faint or stumble or fall.  Him with his wily ways and his evil grin.  What will happen next, you wonder?  What could possibly happen next?

To be sure he was like one of those devil-worms that the evil men on Star Trek slip into your ear while you can’t defend yourself.  When you’re tied down to an exam table that magically appears in the middle of whatever room they’re in on their spaceships.  Even just watching the show you watch that worm slip into the ear and your skin creeps and you swear you hear a gnawing, feel the munching, in your ear canal as the worm seeks out your brain stem to make you go mad … or worse.

He was an evil that arrived last spring and had rooted himself so deeply into my life I wasn’t sure I would survive.  Afraid that he might suffocate me … squelch my existence.  My burgeoning anxiety must have caused a ripple in the fabric of the universe because it was then that my Guardian stepped in.

My Protector.  The Man I’d entrusted my life to many years prior.  The Man who’d given me a singular focus and a task to complete that I, with my procrastinating ways, hadn’t worked on as hard as I could have.

One night as I lay still on my bed under the oppressive heat of a Floridian summer I managed the nerve to ask, “Have I waited too long,” I whispered?

I didn’t get an immediate answer which furthered my trembling.  “I’m sorry I failed you,” I wept quietly.  Ashamed.  Mad at myself for not doing what He told me I would do.  But that’s when I heard it.

Softly, like a gentle spring breeze sailing past my ear, “Numbers 23:19”.  I brighten instantly and wipe away my tears so happy he’s answered.  I pull my Bible off the bedside table and thumb directly to Numbers, anxious about what I’ll find there.

“God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?”

My shoulders, which have apparently been tightened up like a screw around my head, relax and sink into their normal position, as I soak in this truth.  He doesn’t lie.  He hasn’t changed his mind.  He promised and it will be fulfilled.  I am elated by this knowledge direct from the Man Himself.

His promise will be fulfilled.  I know I must work hard now and not procrastinate any longer.  I want to make my Guardian proud.  But then, as if I was a character in a novel, the visitor was dropped onto my pages; the boulder was cast and I stumbled.

Join me Monday for the rest of the story …

Thirsty

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Thirsty

I was honored last year to be chosen as a leader for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship).  On one hand it makes sense – leadership is one of my Spiritual Gifts.  One the other hand it makes no sense at all – how can I, Felecia Clarke, hope to lead anyone in God’s Kingdom?  I mean seriously, it’s HIS kingdom!  How can He entrust anyone into my care?  I know the only way is through His constant watch over me and whatever group I happen to be facilitating at the time.  It also helps that the Holy Spirit lives inside me.  He’s equally stopped me from saying something and prompted me to say something as an opportunity presents itself.  I’m forever thankful that He resides within.

As a BSF leader, I’m expected to perform homiletics on the material we’re going over in any particular lesson.  Homiletics (from a BSF study guide) “involves a careful analysis of a passage of Scripture with emphasis on both the content and the application.”  We go over the Scripture level by level winnowing the teaching down to one sentence of 10 words that appropriately states the meaning of the passage as well as identifies where it is in the Bible.  There’s more to it, but when I first started performing homiletics I was horrible.  Pathetic, really.  I could only adequately manage the Content (first) stage of the 5-level exercise.  With practice throughout the year I got much better at developing divisions within the passage and writing my 10-word sentence as well as the AIM (what we want the audience [or ourselves] to learn).  But I was still dreadful in developing Application questions.  You see, at BSF we don’t just want to collect knowledge about the Bible and Jesus, we want to help participants learn how to apply what they’re reading to their lives.  And when I say ‘their lives’ of course I want to learn how to apply it to my life too!

In an attempt to get better at Homiletics I joined a study group this summer to practice for the John study (beginning the week of September 12 somewhere near you!  Wherever you are in the world, go to BSFinternational.org to find a group that fits your needs and join us!)  As I opened my Bible to prepare for this week’s lesson I see that it’s about the Samaritan woman at the well.  Can I confess that sometimes my pastor or BSF or some other study mentions a particular Bible story and I roll my eyes and sigh?  Is that blasphemous?  I’ve heard the story so many times, what new nugget could I possibly extract from it?

I’m ashamed of myself.  I do realize that is a poor attitude with which to approach God’s word and I immediately ask for His forgiveness, extending a silent prayer that He help me see something new in the text before I start to read.

God doesn’t ever disappoint.  If you ask, He will give.

We meet the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus asks for a drink of water, she’s aghast because Jews don’t speak to Samaritans, and Jesus indirectly mentions He’s God and offers her living water.  But within seconds my eyes zero in on John 4: 13-14a  and I sit bolt upright in my chair.

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this (well) water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever!”

Wha?  Who is He kidding?  How can He say we will never get thirsty again?  I drink His living water and just get thirstier!  The more I get to know my Lord the hungrier I become to know more of Him.

How can I not be thirsty?  Aren’t you, Christian, thirsty for God?  Breathless to know more of Jesus?  Panting to be quenched by the Holy Spirit?

How funny that one minute I inwardly bemoan having to read what I thought was a well-worn and boring, Bible story and a few minutes later get such a kick in the pants from God.  I could just hear Him saying, “Aren’t you thirsty for me anymore, Felecia?  Can I no longer satisfy your appetite?”

LORD!  You absolutely do!

I immediately think of Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus and shudder:

“But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.” ~ Revelation 2:4

Prayer

Let me never cease to be both greedy to know you and satisfied by your Word, Lord.  Pray I never lose the depth of my first love for you.  Amen!

Holy? Who Me?

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Holy?  Who Me?

Just thinking about being thought of as holy or attaining this wholly lofty ideal makes we want to say, “Holy archangels Batman!”  I can’t quite fathom it!

Days 15 and 16 in the Bible study are on holiness.  Trying to comprehend how holy God is, what it means to say we’re holy, and how to live to become holy.

“You shall be holy, for I am holy,” says God in 1 Peter 1:16b it’s a command from God Himself.

Haven’t you ever shuddered when you think of yourself as a saint?  And yet we who have found salvation in Jesus are considered saints – set apart for God.  Clearly my behavior at that gas station outlined in the last two posts was very unsaint-like!  But how can we possibly hope to be holy?  Let’s look at the entire passage from Peter though for a clue.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.  15 But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.  ~ 1 Peter 1:14-16

We hear echoes of verse 14 throughout the New Testament.  Don’t fall back into your old pattern of living.  When I became born again, I had the hardest time kicking myself free of my former life.  Now that I write that out – I see it was probably because I tried to do it on my own.  “I had the hardest time …”  It’s true.  I didn’t allow anyone to help me grow, I didn’t ask for help assuming I could do it on my own, nor did I ask for Jesus’ help to strengthen my resolve.  What that did is lengthen the time it took me to start living holy.

Verse 15 is pretty awe-inspiring isn’t it?  The one who called us … God.  The Almighty.  The Alpha and the Omega.  Heavenly Father.  So holy that when heavenly beings speak of His holiness they cry out three times … “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty…” ~ Revelation 4:8b  Anytime a word is used in succession like that in the Bible, it’s emphatic or superlative.  Making, in this case, God’s holiness even more so – the most most most holy.

So here is our God calling us to be holy in our conduct.  I get the meaning pure and true.  Can we do it?  I know we can try and certainly that is what God is working us toward … our holiness … our Christ-likeness.

Then, in verse 16, Peter reminds us that God Himself is our standard for Christian living.  He states, “For it is written…” and when anyone says that in Scripture I always search for where it was written.  Here I find the call to be holy uttered by God to the Israelites “For I am Yahweh your God … be holy because I am holy” in Leviticus 11:44 and in 19:2 and 20:7.

Can we ever hope to truly be holy?

I would pray that as we walk in obedience we would get closer and closer to His ideal.  While I used to dread that sick feeling when I realized I’d sinned, now I almost welcome it … not the sick feeling (!) … the identification of committed sin.  We can make ourselves more open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to point out our sins and then confess and repent from those sins.  I’ve found that it actually becomes easier and easier and at times, I’m almost glad when the Holy Spirit pulls me up short on something.  I want to become holy like Him.  In my heart of hearts, I want to please my Father.

I like the way Kay Arthur puts it:

“We don’t have to yield to sin; we can be separate from it – holy.  It happens moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, with a decision to walk in obedience to God in the power of the Spirit.  The Spirit dwelling within you gives you the power to resist sin.”

The Bible Study also lists some practical steps to getting your holy on:

  • Watch the company you keep. People can have more impact on you than you’d expect, so seek out godly friends.  You’ve probably heard Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  For me it’s my bunch of Outrageously Christ-Filled Girlfriends and the ladies I lead with in BSF – good friends encouraging one another to grow in wisdom and godliness – even if it requires painful criticism.
  • Keep yourself sexually pure. This probably requires its own blog post, but in short, participating in sexual immorality will have the devil salivating at your door as you become one with the world and not living as one set apart for our Father.
  • You perfect holiness by living under control of the Spirit. I’ll ask again … can we hope to be holy on this ball called Earth? We can if we follow God’s call to walk by the Spirit. As Paul stresses in Galatians 5:16 “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
  • Holiness is perfected by love. Perfect for a time such as this in our country – straight from 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (emphasis mine) “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you.” Later on in verse 13 Paul states that in loving others God will make your heart blameless in holiness.  If we will look at one another through the eyes of Jesus, I guarantee that our hearts will be broken again and again with love for people we never thought we could love.  It completely changes the way you view the world … at least it has for me.

As you think about becoming more holy this weekend, let God know that you want to be holy as He is holy.  Ask Him to show you anything in your life that mars His image in you.  Then remember that it’s love for one another that demonstrates His holiness and manifests the reality of God within us.  As we abound in love, we live out holiness.  Pick someone to love on this coming week … someone who needs it.  Let them experience God’s love through you.

And have a fantastic weekend!

Cross to Bear ~ 2

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This story started on Friday.  If you missed that, you’ll be lost today. So here’s a quick link to pop back and catch yourself up!

As I placed the nozzle back in the pump, I walked around the back of the car and my newest decal loomed large … a reminder of who’s I am and whom I’ve just disgraced …

† = ♥

I hung my head in shame and slid back into my car.

In my head I replayed what I said to the station manager.  Was that anyway to treat another human being?  What did that outburst say about me as a Christ follower?  I shook my head in disgust.  Some witness!  Paul can survive beatings and floggings and stonings and I can’t persevere through an argument without coming unglued.  I still have so much to learn!

By the time I was ready for bed that evening the weight of the sin-millstone around my neck was palpable.  The incident and the implications of the fallout weighed heavy on my mind for the rest of the day and I knew I couldn’t go one more minute before I had to get down on my knees that night and cry, begging forgiveness from my Lord and Savior.  I went to bed with a beautiful peace on my heart, but still mortified by the way I had acted that day.

The ever-present oily pit of black goo roiled in my soul.  I imagine it to be a pool of sin sloshing back and forth in my soul.  Sometimes it lays dormant for a while, other times it bubbles up and leaks out.  Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m in a constant state of consternation – far from it.  I fully accept the grace God affords me after I repent and ask forgiveness for my sin.  My heart and spirit are somehow lighter knowing He forgets my sin “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 (NIV).  It’s just that as I come to love the Lord more and more I am ever so much more saddened when I sin.  I know I hurt His heart.  I know I disappoint Him.  All sin is an act against God.  I love how Jerry Bridges puts it in his book Respectable Sins:

“Even though our hearts have been renewed, even though we have been freed from the absolute dominion of sin, even though God’s Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies, this principle of sin still lurks within us and wages war against our souls.”

Even though we are believers, we have a tendency to evaluate our behavior by how it relates to the society in which we live.  Since as Christians, we’re usually operating at a higher moral standard than those around us, it’s easier to get caught up in feeling good about ourselves and how we behave – even though we are sinning all along.  We must watch out for that trap.  Can’t you just see Satan grinning with joy?

Unbelievably, I hadn’t even read Day 14 when the incident at the gas station occurred.  As I opened up the bible study the following day I couldn’t help but see my sin all over its pages.  Convicted over and over again (but not condemned because I’d already received forgiveness from God).  Unfortunately, there were other recent incidents where I had opened my mouth inappropriately and these occurrences tugged at my heart.  I hadn’t confessed those to the Lord yet.  I’d pushed them aside as acceptable sins.  The bottom line – would I ever learn to keep my big yap shut?

Kay asks, “If I want to live this life (a life sold out for Jesus), am I willing to pay the price?”

Am I willing to really come to grips with my inability to keep my mouth closed when it isn’t necessary to speak?  Am I able to look with such love toward others that a critical thought never enters my mind again?  It’s certainly become a prayer of mine.

Think this week about your cross.  Or at least one of them – because I know I have many myself!  What can you, once and for all, give up to Christ by next weekend?  What can you cut out of yourself like fisherman gutting a newly caught snapper – all for the sake of Jesus?  I don’t think we have time to waste, my friends.  Jesus may arrive at any time and I want to see you on that narrow path with me!

What is Your Cross to Bear?

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What is Your Cross to Bear?

Yes! We return to Kay and David Arthur’s bible study after an extended vacation where we visited Prayer Point and Peace Place. Thanks for letting me wander!

Today we’ll tackle locating our personal cross (or crosses).

Matthew recorded Jesus saying,

“And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

~ Matthew 10:38

But what does that mean?  Are we to literally pick up a cross and carry it?  Obviously, no.  But Jesus is asking for His followers to take up their cross for the death march and be prepared to die – literally and figuratively.

Sadly, with what’s been occurring here in the United States and around the world, we Christians have had a chance to actually ponder, ‘Would I die for Christ?’  If a gunman in the classroom asks me if I’m Christian and tells me that if I say yes I should be prepared to meet Jesus … would I say yes?  If I got ambushed by a member of ISIS and he asked me to deny Christ and bow to Allah or die, what would I do?

At no other time in my life have I had to actually think about my answer to these questions or even make these decisions.  Isn’t that interesting?  One might ask – why does God allow these things to happen?  But what if it’s just another clue that we’re solidly in the end of times.  It’s almost as if God is inspecting us – how steadfast is our belief – how strong our faith?  Will we be a martyr for the Kingdom?  Who is a true follower and who is not?  The path through the gate gets narrower and narrower, doesn’t it?  Because when these awful things happen and Christians stand around the watercooler, I keep hearing the phrase, “I’d like to think I’d …” say yes or no depending upon the situation.

Oh my friends, don’t wobble.  Choose now to die for Christ.  We have no knowledge of what tomorrow will bring.

But the Arthur’s are not asking about dying a literal death for Christ in this Bible study.  They most likely don’t venture down that path because my edition was published in 2009 long before ISIS gained international notoriety in 2014 with their takeover of Mosul (even though they’d been in existence at that time for nearly a decade 1).  No.  The Arthur’s are examining our ability to figuratively die for Christ.  Die on a daily basis.  Die to self.  It wasn’t long ago that I heard two important ideas (1) we need to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis, and (2) we need to surrender on a daily basis.  Both are great advice since we’ve proven to ourselves how easily we forget!

In order to give us the ultimate role model of dying to Christ on a daily basis, we take a look at the Apostle Paul.  Next to Jesus, Paul is my second stop for an autograph when I get to Heaven.  He is such a magnificent soldier for Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 11:23-31, Paul outlines the life he’s led in living for Christ.  Please take a moment to read it this weekend and marvel about how he could be so spiritually strong.  It is gut wrenching.   The only way he could have endured was if God had sustained him.  Which one of us wouldn’t have been eager at any point during his trials to call it quits?  But Paul, having come in contact with the living Messiah, wanted to please God and knew he could count on God for strength until the end.  Truly overwhelming.

Further, in 2 Corinthians 6:3 we see that Paul tried to avoid saying or doing anything that would cause offense or be a discredit to the ministry:

“We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.”

Can I say I take the same great care in my speech and behavior?  Sadly, no.  The pages convict me and remind me of a recent incident.

I was on a road trip with my family.  It started out well enough but with hot heads breeding with stubbornness (and producing me) a pleasant conversation had dissolved into muck and mire.  I was trying desperately to not let a certain family member goad me into an argument and had already let a few choice tidbits escape through my clenched lips.  In an attempt to stop the conversation from a further downward spiral I made myself busy shooting arrow prayers to God saying, “Help me keep silent, Lord, help me allow it to roll off my back,” and thought I was winning the fight against my flesh until we pulled over into a gas station.  I got out to pump gas and realized too late that I had parked at a Full Service pump.  Still though, I was hoping to just be able to pump without an issue.

I peered through the dirty station windows and could see my father speaking with a man who was gesturing wildly and who kept looking out the window pointing and glaring at me.  I started getting agitated. If he’d just turn the pump on I could be done and out of there in a matter of minutes.  Why I didn’t just pack up and move to another pump I’ll never know, but if the scene hadn’t played out the way it did, I would have missed a very valuable lesson.

Still watching the scene inside, the man finally pushed past my father and bolted out the door screaming at me.  I lost it.  All the clenched teeth in the world couldn’t keep a half-hour’s pent up anger sprinkled with new frustration from spilling out and covering the station manager with a torrent of abrasive speech.  Eventually I got into my car and pulled it around to another pump.

So of course that’s not the end of the story.  But this post has grown quite long and it’s best if we wait until Monday for the conclusion and how I’m trying to handle the crosses in my life.  In the meantime, read that passage about Paul – you are sure to gain an even deeper appreciation for this amazing apostle from Tarsus.

Until Monday my friends.  Thank you and have a great weekend!

1 http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/how-isis-started-syria-iraq/412042/