The question is, is Jesus worth it?

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Today at church we sang, “O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”

As we sang, years of hard marriage and longings for good things I don’t have filled my eyes with burning tears. And a gentle voice asked my soul, “Is Jesus worth it? Is his blood really precious to you?” Tears broke over the dam of my resistant eyelids. “Yes, yes he is worth it. Yes his life spilled out for me is precious beyond measure. And yes I’ll lay down all that I long for and take your outstretched hand.”

Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Relationship with anyone is hard. Life brings pain and suffering. Attempts to escape end up being our chains. And in all our efforts as Christians to follow Christ, the question is, is Jesus worth it?

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And what is that purpose? Romans 8:29 answers. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God’s purpose for his people is to conform us to the image of his Son. God’s purpose for my life is to make me like Jesus. He may or may not attain that purpose through all the good things I long for. But God is going to use all the hard things in my life to make me more like Jesus. The question is, is that what I want? Do I want to be made like Jesus more than anything else.

If my husband never bends his knee to Jesus. If my sons never speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. If my home is never filled with songs and laughter. If my job continues to be hard and drain me of energy. If the ministry I lead never flourishes the way I dream it will. If I never get to do the things I long to do, but God makes me like Christ, is that enough for me?

1 Peter 1: 13-21 calls us to sober up because so often we’re intoxicated with ideas that aren’t reality. The truth of the Christian life is not that God is going to give you your best life now. The truth of the Christian life is that God is going to make you like Jesus. Whatever it takes! And so the question is, is the “precious blood of Christ” that has purchased my life and set me on a course of promised redemption- the final end being made like Jesus; it that worth it?

I want so badly to stand next to my husband on a Sunday morning and hear him sing praises to God with me. I so badly want my sons to walk with Jesus and experience his deep love for them. I so badly want to be fruitful in ministry and see my friends hope in Jesus with me. But if they don’t and if I spend my life loving them well, is Jesus worth it?

I’ve never seen this Jesus, but compelled by his love I cry, “Yes! Yes he’s worth it! Jesus is worth my life!” So, even if my life is grieved by longings unfulfilled, Jesus is worth spending my life loving these I long for well. To be like him eclipses all other longings. With Job I cry:

Oh that my words were written!
    Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
    they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.[b]
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me!
– Job 19:23-27

And with the Psalmist I preach to myself:

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
– Psalm 17:15

The problem with starting over and the hope of redemption

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In the past weeks I’ve heard nearly the same quote from every weary person I’ve encountered, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” Today, the sun rose on 2021 and death, disease and evil are still among us. Even in us.

New years bring with them an idea that we can wipe our lives free of all the wrongs the previous year produced and start fresh with a clean slate. The problem is every new year brings with it the scars and thorns and weeds of the previous year. And I think more than any other year I’ve lived through, 2020 seems to have left us with a hope that maybe now that the calendar says 2021, we can all start over and things will be better.

We all have a desire to be whole. To be complete. To be healthy in our mind and body. To be happy and fulfilled. That desire is insatiable and drives us to look for something to help us get it. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of those I love, the attempt to achieve wholeness by starting over with a new calendar year or attempting to wipe the slate of our lives clean by purging ourselves of difficult relationships. But it doesn’t work. The problem with that plan is we throw babies out with our dirty bathwater. We live in a broken world and even if the world around us was wiped clean of its brokenness, within us the same seed of brokenness is germinating, ready to spread its strangling seeds everywhere we go.

My teenage son, in his struggle to believe this message of Jesus dying for his sins, has asked me, “Why doesn’t God just destroy everything and start over? Why is he leaving us like this?“ He asks the question we’re all asking every time we try achieving wholeness with a new year or relationship, job or routine. 

God proved that wiping the slate clean or wiping the world clean of the evil we do to each other won’t rid the world of evil unless there are no people in the world. In the book of Genesis we read the flood story. God rid the world of people, save Noah and his family, but Noah and his family gave birth to corruption and people who gave birth to the evils of history we all are aware of.

I love a good purge. I like to clean, put things where they go, and make ideal lists and goals. The problem is… life and me. Relationships and the rhythms of our lives are impacted by the brokenness in all of us. Trying to make things better is good. But we can never start over.  

So what am I to do in my quest for wholeness? Redemption and resurrection is my only hope for wholeness. 

The idea of redemption is that something broken is purchased and made good or whole again. The Bible tells me that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection purchased my broken life. I now live in that regenerating truth. No matter what happens, Jesus will make all things work for me to make me whole, like Jesus. 

I believe in the resurrection. I believe Jesus is the life that has overcome death. And I believe his resurrection life lives in me.

There’s an image in the Bible that always helps me capture this hope of resurrection. The tree. In the Bible, God’s people are depicted as his plantings, as trees whose roots go down deep and wide into the rich soil of God’s grace, mercy, truth and love. This tree is growing in us through a seed of faith in Christ. And it’s becoming a tree so big and massive, with a root system so wide, no weed, no storm, no disease can choke it out.

What about justice you ask? Shouldn’t we try to make things better and get rid of disease and abuse and corruption? Yes! Yes we should. But the way to do it is through redemption and hope in resurrection. It’s not through vengeance. It’s not through killing off evil with another abusive evil. It’s through Christ’s redeeming love. It’s through a subversive hope. It’s through planting yourself among the thorns of this life, sending your roots deep down into the love of Christ. Do this and your life will plant seeds of faith all around you and spring up new life in that same soil, choking out the poisonous weeds among you.

It’s a vulnerable life Jesus calls us to. In contrast to the self-preserving life that throws babies out with bathwater and wipes slates clean and cuts people off- it’s dangerous and even deadly. But it is the only way. It is the way Jesus is making all things new.

 The hope for our wholeness and the world is not a flood, or vaccine, not a new president or technology. The hope for the whole world and our wholeness is not marriage or singleness or a better local church or routine. The hope for our wholeness and the whole world is Christ’s redemption and resurrection. If we live in his redemption nothing is in vain- no evil, no pain, no suffering, no sin, no loss, no destruction, no disease. If Christ is our resurrection one day His tree of life will choke out all the weeds.

Where the beauty of God is found: Meditation on Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV

Last summer, after a week long vacation with my family on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona, I found myself pouting as we drove away from the beauty of Pine, Fir, Spruce, hidden lakes, quiet, sites of elk, bear and deer in the wild, and a visiting hummingbird on our cabin porch every morning. I knew we were heading back to the hot desert valley and “real” life where the everyday issues that arise from marriage, raising children, work, housekeeping, bills, friends, neighbors, family, church, etc. were going to have to be faced. My husband drove and I wallowed in pity as I stared out the car window watching the high elevation scenery give way to desert. Hot tears broke through and I found myself giving in to all my faithless thoughts. I squeaked out a prayer, “Help me Lord. I don’t want to go back.”

As I sat there crying and praying, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Sheila, you’re looking for beauty in nature and quiet, but I want you to find beauty in laying down your life for others. Relationships with others is where I’m at.

1 John 3:26 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Yes all creation is pointing us to the majesty and power and beauty of God (Psalm 19:1-2), but only in the beauty of laying down our lives for others, being the ones who help our friends up when they fall, do we find the greatest image of the majesty, power and beauty of God: Jesus! Jesus laid down his life for us (John 10:11). He is the Friend of friends. He didn’t avoid people or the messes of relationships to reach some nirvana or peaceful place alone with God. He laid down his life daily in the hard things of relationships and ultimately at the cross giving us an example. And in his resurrection, giving us the power to follow his example.

Sometimes one feels better than two because it’s less messy. But the truth is we were not made to do life alone. In the pain of relationships we have the power of Christ in us, and his love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to lift each other up and walk with each other through hard things. This is the evidence in the church and in the Christian’s life that we belong to Jesus. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Father, help me to surrender my life to you. Give me eyes to see your beauty and experience your peace not in isolating myself, but in following Jesus- laying down my life for others.

How should I order my life? Help for the drifter

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I struggle with what takes priority in my life. Maybe you don’t, but maybe you’re like me and it’s hard to decide what to do first, which direction you should be going, etc. I think about these things a lot.

When I pray, I ask God all the time, “Lead me?! Show me the way I’m supposed to go?” And I know for many that seems rediculous. They know. They have a family, or a job, or a mission in life that clearly guides them and they know what they’re supposed to be doing. But for folks like me, who see the value and perspective of so many different parts of our lives, we can either feel like letting the wind take us wherever it will, or hiding our heads in the sand listening to podcasts. (Can I get an amen from my fellow Enneagram 9’s?) Neither a good option.

If you’re a focused Christian you may want to be slapping me upside the head about now saying, “Pull yourself together girl! You’re a Christian! Your priorities should be clear!” And you’re right, they probably should be, but bear with me.

Many years ago, when my sails had caught the wind of the Titus 2 movement in the circle of Christianity where I was drifting, struggling with the very question I’m writing about now, I posted a diagram I believed better described the way the Holy Spirit was teaching me to order my life. It was in response to a list a popular blogger had posted instructing the Christian wife to order her life like this:

1. God
2. Husband
3. Children
4. Others

She cited Bible passages, but something just didn’t smell right about her advice. It set uneasy with me. I thought maybe it was just me- I was having a hard time accepting a Biblical model for how I should order my life. But as I searched the scriptures, and looked at Jesus, I couldn’t find this order anywhere. Not that God shouldn’t come first, or that if you put your kids before your spouse you’re not going to have trouble, or if you put others before God or your family you’re not going to have trouble… all that is true. But a list just feels like once you cross off the first thing on the list you can move on to the next. And you can’t move on from God. You can’t cross God off your list and move on.

In fact, Jesus said some very contraversial things about marriage and family in regards to a persons relationship with God. See Matthew 10:37

The trouble I have with the list is that God encomposes everything in our lives. Nothing comes before or after him. But in him, all things find their place. So I have this diagram modeling the order of life in him in my head.

Lists are great for tasks and terrible for relationships. You can’t mark relationships off a list. So for me, when picturing how Christ orders my life, the image has to be more organic. It’s not so neat, not so linear.

So I came up with this, with Jesus’ famous last words to his disciples and the only “first” Jesus spoke defining what I’m trying to picture here. You may be sniffing out something off about now like I did with that lady’s list years ago.  I’m sure there’s something wrong with this diagram.  I’m sure there are things missing, but the flow of what reminds me of a drum beat, a sort of heart with a rhythm, with a flow with a circular reach feels more like a model I can visualize.

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“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Jerusalem was home, it was the congregation of believers, it was where the Holy Spirit’s movement in the Christian began. But it didn’t stop there. It didn’t get marked off the list, rather it grew from there.

The direction of the Holy Spirit is to start with me, with you and move outward.

“Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive..” John 7:37-39 (emphasis mine)

The disciples were instructed to move from home, outward to the region where home dwelt, so the community and from there to “the ends of the earth” which in my diagram represents the global Church and world outreach. In the the life of the Holy Spirit this is growth, this is health, this is the organic order of life. We don’t get to check anything off the list and everything is growing in the rythm of, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

With sin in the mix in a fallen world, this isn’t gonna be pretty always. It’s gonna get messy. But with the Holy Spirit breathing life into our every movement, he will make something beautiful out of our messes. His faithful love will transform our weakness into a window displaying his glory.

 

Being God’s child changes everything – A meditation on 1 Peter 1:13-16

Sheila Dougal-8

‘Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:13-16

As you’ve probably heard, if you read the word “therefore” you should probably look at what precedes it so you can see what it’s there for.

Before verse 13 Peter breaks down the weightiness of this salvation we have received as Christians.  I’ve grown tired of the phrases, “born again” and “saved”.  They come with the connotation of a superficial Christiandom that says it’s #blessed and has no sobriety about what it means to be saved or born again.  But Peter gets to the down and dirty of  what it means to be born again and saved in a way our western evangelical selves have gotten all sterilized and plastic.

Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe it’s because I live with an unbeliever, but for me, all the Christianization of things is nauseating. If Jesus isn’t real, if he doesn’t change the way I think and give me a whole new outlook on life and new desires and affections… if he doesn’t really turn my world upside down then he’s a hoax and I’m a liar.  But if I’m really born again I’ll find a whole new kind of life growing in me.  And if I’m really saved, that will mean something that’s very sobering.  I mean, if “saved” just means put the Christian cherry on top of my devil’s food life then fooey!  That’s not saved, that’s sugar-coated.  Peter doesn’t say in verses 3-12 that we’ve been sugar-coated.  Jesus had things to say about people that said they were saved and evangelized others to make them “saved” when they were really rotten dead walking around in white washed tombs making walking dead in nice suites out of their converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:15

Peter, the one who knows what it feels like to betray Jesus, fall under the weight of that shame and guilt and experience restoration with Jesus, talks about being born again as a radical, life changing experience Jesus does in us.  Being born again we love a Savior we have never seen, even while we suffer (vs.6-8). Our affections have been radically changed. It’s like we’ve been born all over again.

And our salvation is just that… a new birth that will grow up (by God’s tremendous grace and mercy) till the day when Christ perfects us at his coming.

Salvation isn’t a ticket out of hell.  It’s death to our old self, daily.  And new life growing in us, daily.

This is what verse thirteen’s “therefore” is there for.  I just see Peter full of expression and passion looking at us with wide eyes after showing us the scandalous wealth we’ve been given in being born anew as God’s own children, saved from the destruction our sin-rotting selves were destined for, and say, “Put your big boy and big girl pants on cause it’s war now! You’ve been utterly changed, and now for the rest of your life here you need a sober perspective.  You need to stop putting your hope in people, status, wealth, achievement, health… even this life and you need to fix your eyes on that promises that you’re gonna see Jesus.  And when you see him, you’re gonna be made like him.  And the war will be over!”

I was born in 1974 to Bob and Verna Deane.  In 1990 I was born again to God.  And now as His child, I don’t go the way of Bob and Verna and all that my firstborn self had set her hopes on.  All those passions I had were due to ignorance.  I had no idea how good God was and so I put all my hope in things and people that are not good. As God’s child I am set apart from all that.  I don’t live from a place of poverty hoping that some broken person or lying status or temporary wealth will make me satisfied and secure.  I live from a place of abundance with confidence in the One who laid down his life for me and took my old passions and all the deadly fruit they bore with him to the cross.

I am holy. Because my Father is holy.  And by his grace he is bearing the fruit of his holiness even in me.  That’s beyond amazing.


Coming Friday! 

A new series

Short almost-true tales-2

I’ll be posting a historical-fiction short story this Friday.  This first installment of Fiction Friday comes from a piece I submitted to a writing contest.  It didn’t win, but it got me thinking I should try to write some fictional pieces more often. I really enjoyed it.  Anyway, I’d love it if you joined, and if you’re so inclined to write a short 1500 words or less fictional short story and email it to me at awomanfound@gmail.com I’d love post your piece on one of my Fiction Friday posts.