Posts Tagged ‘conversion’

Come. It’s an invitation. Come see. Come along and be a part. Please come (don’t stay behind). Come with us. But it can also be a command: Come! Come here. Come on. Come away. Move! Why do I resist this word? Why do I want to go the other way? Why retreat?

Revelation 22:17, 20 b
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. . . Come Lord Jesus. 

It’s a commitment to come along. It means walking or running forward. Anything else is a decrease or standing still.

When I accepted the truth of Christ as the unique being He is, I did not fully understand the implications, but I did hear the call to participate in the God Presence anyway. It was quite simple, just these words, “Come … and drink.” And these words, “Come Lord Jesus.” And with my willingness to move forward, Christ moved closer to me into a mutual embrace.

Thirty-three years ago, a friend asked me to read the New Testament as an exercise, an acting exercise if you will. In the same way that an actor should read a script for the first time, I was asked to put these words, “if this were true,” at the beginning of the text and suspend all judgments until the end. It was in this way that I heard the invitation as well as the command, to come. Like stepping through a door, I knew I would be entering a different world. For awhile, I tried to straddle the threshold, but in the end, there is only, “come” and then a decision. It’s only after the decision that a person can really know, grow, and change. Even Yoda had it right, “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

I began this particular journaling/blogging walk through the scriptures back in 2009. It’s been a very slow investigation and yet quite revealing. Of course, there have been lost days and lost verses, so I assumed I would just start over again once I finished. But is there a point? Have I lost the momentum? Am I too scattered?

I felt an actual resistance to reaching the end of Revelation. That is, until I read that same call, that allure to drawing closer, the beckoning voice of the Holy Spirit with a promise of more and deeper. Come.

What will that look like? I don’t know. But I must go.

Last week, I went to Hershey Park (amusement park) and in an uncharacteristic and spontaneous moment, I agreed to ride a roller coaster with which I was totally unfamiliar. I did not know how fast it would go or how steep it would climb or drop. I had not been watching it while walking around the park looking for my family. We met up at the entrance of the ride and they said, “Come on Mom,” and I went. It was terrifying. But I survived, as we mostly do. I screamed, I prayed, I closed my eyes, I opened my eyes. I experienced a mini-life.

God does not intend for me to know much about the ride. He just wants me to come along.

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We tend to forget that our behaviors are being scrutinized. Not so much by casual acquaintances and co-workers (although somewhat), but mostly by the children and teenagers in our lives. They don’t look like they are even paying attention. Don’t be fooled.

II Chronicles 34:3
In the eighth year of his reign, while he [Josiah] was still young [16 years old], he began to seek the God of his father David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols.

Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh, one of the most notorious kings to rule Judah. Manasseh ruled for 55 years and up until his last years, played havoc with the country doing everything he could to destroy the foundations of faith through mockery, idol worship, and decadent priests and priestesses who proselytized for other gods. He even sacrificed his own children to these gods. But in his last years, Manasseh was overthrown and taken to Babylon with a ring in his nose. He was humbled. In that place, he sought out his one true God who heard him and restored his to throne. This was an abrupt about face, a transformation.

Who was watching? A little boy named Josiah who was just old enough to understand, just old enough to absorb the impact, just old enough to remember.

There was another who saw the change, Manasseh’s son Amon who became king after him. But Amon did not believe in the change in his father and he pushed Judah back toward the pagan gods for two years before he was assassinated. Apparently, there were others who had watched Manasseh’s metamorphosis and believed.

When young kings come to power (Josiah was only eight when he was crowned), there is usually a regent who handles the daily affairs and instruction of the boy-king. This person is not named but we can extrapolate his presence. Whoever he was, he set a standard that set Josiah on a different path, that gave him a thirst for knowing the God of his forefathers.

My children never knew me before I walked with God. They never saw those years of transition from living a degenerate life to living in God through the Holy Spirit. But I know many people whose children and grandchildren have seen the adults in their lives take a shift for good.

It is never too late to change. The children are watching.

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It’s hard to change and then return to one’s old environment. So often, acquaintances and even family can’t see the metamorphosis, or they resist the transformation, or worse, they treat the person as though nothing has happened. It’s obvious, if Onesimus changes, then so must they.

Philemon 10-12
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

When I first accepted Christ, back in the day, I woke up the next morning (Christmas morning, actually), and felt compelled to tell my family that I had made a huge decision in my life, a new commitment to Christ. My mother stared at me momentarily and then said, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass,” and went back to drinking her morning coffee. In essence, don’t be ridiculous.

Men and women who are released from prison often find themselves thrown back into the same crowd and ultimately the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Generally, a former prisoner is better off starting over in a new setting, a new town, a fresh beginning. But the loneliness and lack of support is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged for the “new” self. The decision to change is hard work.

Alcoholics and addicts are constantly undermined by friends and family, with phrases like, “oh, just once won’t hurt you,” or “it’s a special occasion, come on!” Even dieters are sabotaged with offers of cookies and treats over and over again. What is the message? Don’t change. Don’t make me adapt this new self. Don’t make me look at myself in a new way by your decision to take a different path.

Onesimus escaped the household of Philemon as one person and under the loving care of Paul, became a believer and follower of Christ. He was not longer the same man. In order to successfully return to Philemon, he would need the support and acceptance of that family. They would have to look with new eyes, hear with new ears, and willingly, break old habits and build new ones.

Twitter was ablaze yesterday about men and women who made decisions to follow the Christ. But what happens next? They must still walk back through the same front door, sit at the same kitchen table, and wake to the same alarm this morning. They must go to work and wonder, can anyone tell? Should I say something? What do I say? And if I do say something, will I be under the microscope?

What is my role in such a scenario? I remember an old friend who hated being called “Tammy.” I asked what she really wanted and she said she wanted to be called “Tamera,” her given name. And so we agreed, she would commit to telling people of the change and I would commit to the new name. It took about six months but it worked; she grew into her beautiful name and so did others. Change is a team effort.

Lord, today, give me sensitivity to the personal revolutions of others around me. Show me how to be a safe haven for new things, new birth, new hope, new directions.

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There is a dramatic difference between the one who has been beguiled and the one doing the beguiling. Historically, I have used this word for its second meaning (to pass time pleasantly) and assumed its first meaning had a lighthearted coyness to it. Not so. It’s betrayal . . . and it’s intentional.

II Corinthians 11:3
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived [beguiled in Amplified] by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

I don’t believe our children (whether they are sixteen or twenty-six) know they are being beguiled away from the faith. I see the world ensnaring them (and others) into believing they need all the “stuff.” They are bombarded with extremely convincing advertising that insists they are less because they need more: electronics, apps, screens, gadgets, clothing that advertises the store where it was purchased, ever-changing styles that make last year’s apparel uncool, high-powered jobs and income, and so on.

In order to compete, the “church” tries to lure these generations by using the same tools and tricks of the culture. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Maybe. If young people begin to examine within and look for greater meaning, that has merit. Can it still be a bad thing? Does the end justify the means? I really don’t have an answer, I just have questions. It’s only the individual’s heart and soul that matter. The inner life, that inner discovery happens alone. No accoutrement is needed.

Betrayal is one of the deepest hurts of all. I have been hurt by people of the church.

We must be careful how we “woo” people to the Lord. A person should not be beguiled into the faith, as though following Christ is like taking a happy pill. It’s not.

The journey with Christ is not easier, it’s different, under girded with hope, assurance, and traditionally, with fellowship (other people who care and love). The end of the journey is known, but the path itself is still laden with challenges.

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There are times in a person’s life that he/she feels compelled, for the sake of faith, to act. I don’t think we can know when that moment will come, but we cannot help but recognize it in hindsight.

II Corinthians 5:14
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

The first compelling moment of this kind comes at the Christ recognition moment: to accept or not to accept the truth of Him. At least for me, it wasn’t a casual decision. I simply had to choose, as though Jesus was sitting beside me saying, “But what about you?” . . . “Who do you say I am?” [Mark 8:29a] The question had been lingering at the back of my mind as I read through the New Testament. There was so much in that read-through I found unbelievable, frustrating, and even misogynist, but the identity of Jesus, that was becoming more and more plausible, not less. I could not deny Him.

After that day, there were more times I had to “fess up” to believing in that Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” [Romans 10:10] Some of my friends were shocked, some were belligerent, some were curious, but few were compelled to do what I did, to make that leap of faith. I didn’t understand.

My immediate family saw my new found Christ-consciousness as a passing fad. Unlike legwarmers over jeans, rat tail hair, and the “Where’s the Beef?’ commercial, my faith did not go away. I am still compelled to follow after thirty years.

It’s taken me a long time to realize I cannot compel another person to believe in the Messiah. There are no rules, no “four spiritual laws,” no “evangelism explosion,” no memorized verses, no descriptions of hell and damnation that will “do the trick.” I can only share my story.

Along the way, my faith has taken me down a number of unexpected paths: I married a man after a three-day whirlwind; I created two scripture-based performance pieces I toured over many years, I adopted three children with my husband of twenty-five years, I traveled to Africa in mission, I have taught and spoken to both small groups and crowds on the ways of God, I have led in a variety of para-church organizations, I continue to read extensively, I have been a mentor, a bible teacher, and a Sunday School teacher, I have been a worship leader, a counselor, and a prayer partner, I have fasted, been on silent retreats, and clowned for Christ in white face. I have danced, cried, laughed, and fallen over in the spirit. I have spoken in tongues, sung in the spirit, and prayed for healings.

I am compelled to seek the deeper way. I am compelled to know the Christ within. And my life continues to evolve. My journey is far from over. There will be more. I give thanks.

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The passage I read today from Romans is not a particular favorite. Talk of cutting off and God’s sternness and unbelief is always difficult. As I contemplated these unpleasant attributes of God, I considered the importance of timing.

Romans 11:23
And if they [Israelites] do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Each of us has windows of opportunity to experience or meet God. I can certainly look back and see some of those windows that opened and closed. They were crossroads I didn’t recognize at the time because I took the other way. As a child, I can remember going to Vacation Bible School and although I enjoyed the activities and “something to do” in the summer, I didn’t meet God there. And later in high school, one of my closest friends was a PK (preacher’s kid) and I adored her family but it never occurred to me to embrace their God. In college, I was in a sorority where many of the girls were active in Campus Crusade, but I didn’t even consider attending a meeting. There must have been more of these “close calls from Christ” in my young adult years, but I don’t remember them.

God reached out to me and for that season of time, I could have looked through and believed. Who would I have become? No telling.

I am grateful there were many windows.

If there were many windows for me, then there are many windows for others. Christians get so hung up thinking about someone who hasn’t “accepted Christ” and “oh, they will be lost forever.” But there is always another opportunity. There is always another moment in time. We just can’t see it now.

My mother was against all things religious for years and years. By the time she reached her nineties and was living with us, I assumed she would never experience God in any kind of real way. Then, as dementia set in, the likelihood seemed even more remote. But one night, while I was sitting by her bed, chatting quietly until she fell asleep, she said, “Oh, look, it’s Jesus,” and then, “Oh, he’s reaching out to me with an invitation (this was all in Latvian, so the word was specific to a card or written invitation),” and then, after some moments she said, “I think I’ll take it. Yes, I’m going to take it.” And then after some silence, she opened her eyes and told me how beautiful it all was. I was mesmerized. I thought she might die in that moment and just go on to be with the Christ. It was an amazing experience to watch her face, her countenance and to hear the quality of her voice. It was a different woman, totally coherent, and totally enraptured. She died a few weeks later.

My mother had missed ninety years of open windows, but there was still another window ready to open again.

God can be stern and even close windows for a season, but in the end, there is still that grace and mercy and kindness. God will reach in. Today or tomorrow. It doesn’t matter to God who exists outside of human time. Holy, holy, holy.

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I think of Paul as a punctilious kind of teacher, quite linearly-minded, regimented, and formal. But then, he surprises me with this verbal requiem over a particular loss he feels in traveling the “new way” in Christ: losing the people and all that was familiar to him to “boldly go” and explore this “strange new world.”

Romans 9:1a, 2
I [Paul] AM speaking the truth in Christ. I am not lying; . . . I have bitter grief and incessant anguish in my heart.

I remember the weeks after I first became a follower of Christ. Even though I was clear about my choice and more than willing to venture forth, I also experienced a type of grief. Who would I be? How would this new way look? Would I lose all of my old friends? Would I have to conform to behaviors that didn’t feel like me because I agreed to follow this Messiah?

But, as the true adventure took hold, a joy and confidence grew within. My spirit was shooting off and I knew, despite any lingering questions and doubts and even grief, this was the way. I started telling everyone my story. But there were only a few who wanted to listen. I had to let go of them because I understood, they were no different than I had been. In the years before my spirit woke up, I had considered the Christian way old-fashioned, ineffectual, narrow-minded, and confining. Their discovery would be in God’s time. I cannot say, even to this day, why the planets aligned and I had that revelation glimpse of Christ. Others would say that I was chosen (one of the elect), but I find that too prideful to say. All have the potential to Christ.

Paul had his own supernatural experience on the road to Damascus and subsequent miracle when his eyesight was restored through the prayer of a man who should have feared being in the same room with Paul, a former enemy because of his faith in Jesus. [Acts 9:10-17] Paul was the least likely conversion.

As I walk through Paul’s writings, his dominant proof message is that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. For Paul, this was the whole point! And he could not fathom why his own people didn’t “see” what he saw, didn’t understand what he understood, didn’t accept what he had accepted. They had all the information, the genealogy, the promises, and the prophecies.

But to accept the Messiah meant changing everything. It was easier to keep waiting for the Messiah than to consider he might have come.

My lament is that many people see the trappings of Christianity and cannot project themselves into that perceived lifestyle. They are actually rejecting what they assume it means to become a follower on the Way. But I know now that accepting Christ doesn’t have to “look like that.” The first step is to open the inner door and simply allow God to direct the way.

There is always some loss in change, but there is also gain.

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