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Living for Eternity

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

I don’t know any more accurate words to describe the world’s most treasured book. I’ve heard it described as a “love letter” from God. And although each word is etched strategically to convey God’s love to us and for us, the words “love letter” are not the words God chooses to describe this ancient piece of history, prophecy, and literature. Nor does He refer to it as our “daily bread.” Yes. I recognize the desperate need we, as Christians have to eat of it daily. And, boy do I notice the difference in me when I don’t! But again, God never calls His word our daily bread. Nor does He refer to it as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Yet, it serves as thus. Rather He chooses to paint for us a picture of a living, breathing organism. God says that His Word is alive. This imagery gives me physical chills up my spine! His Word is alive! As I begin to view God’s Word as living, I can’t help but to travel back to some of my fondest memories, as well as those I’d like to forget, and in each slide-picture in my mind I now see the companionship of a constant friend, the Word of God.

God also chooses to give us the word picture of a sword. Not just any old sword, though. He describes one with two edges so that no matter which way it is used, it leaves the person penetrated and forever affected and scarred by its powerful blow. He also says that the one wounded would be laid bare before God and man.

Viewing God’s Word from this perspective has led me to recognize specific times in my life I have felt the piercing of God’s Word.

My earliest memory was around the time I received Jesus as Lord. I was only 4 or 5 years old, but I remember vividly my spirit responding to the Word of God. My Sunday School teacher was teaching us about the Apostle Peter’s restoration after Jesus’ resurrection. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I do.” And with Jesus’ final response my little spirit quickened by a divine piercing. “Then feed my sheep.” That moment and that story would be significant to me for the rest of my life. However, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties and pastoring young adults that I recognized God was calling me at 4 or 5 years old to feed his beloved sheep.

I will bear the scar for the rest of my life from the incision I received upon reading “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” In Psalm 122:6 when I was 19 years old. And I am a daily reflection of 1 Corinthians 1:27 which says, But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

But there is one specific passage I have been inflicted with at a much deeper level than many of the others.

“All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad. They said they were like visitors and strangers on earth. When people say such things, they show they are looking for a country that will be their own. If they had been thinking about the country they had left, they could have gone back. But they were waiting for a better country—a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God, because he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

 This is the one I have not been able to “shake myself awake” from since the first time I memorized it 16 years ago. It profoundly infiltrated every facet of my life to where I was left with no option, but to attempt to live it out daily.

I left home when I was 19 years old and never returned. Why? I love my mother and father and brother and sister passionately. I have the fondest memories of our God-allotted time together. But since leaving, the word home has not resonated with me as a physical, earthly place. I weep today because of the pain these words may have caused them over the years, but I receive comfort from my father’s words, which I have heard him speak on countless occasions:

     “I gave the three of you over to God.”

And I receive assurance from my Heavenly Father’s Words as revealed in the following story from Mark chapter 10:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

I shudder at the Truth of God’s Word realizing that He included the prospect of leaving children. This is where the sword digs deeper. And is that a scraping I feel as He divides my soul and spirit? Is it possible that I may one day drive or fly my most treasured valuables, my two daughters, to a far off place where we part with an all-encompassing embrace, a kiss whose memory I will try to draw from until eternity, and the most fervent prayer I have ever prayed? Will I repeat my father’s words?

I gave the two of you over to God.

 More weeping.

This is living for eternity. I am only a stranger, a visitor here on earth. I live looking forward to the day I find myself in the place I can truly call home. I have left homes, and mother and father, and brother and sister. I have surrendered material belongings and lived in scarcity. I have sat and feasted at the table of kings according to this world’s system, only to consume the meal of a pauper the next day; all for the sake of the Kingdom.

Please don’t misconstrue my words as arrogant or boastful. My longing is that I may never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14)

But rather, receive my words as an explanation for the seemingly unconventional way I live my life, and as an invitation to meditate on the same agonizing passages of scripture I have been wounded by.

In light of the clarity expressed in God’s Word and after contemplative surveying of my most prized possessions, I am faced with the same challenge every day:

     Will I live for eternity or will I live for today?

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Copycat

A few nights ago my husband & I were privileged to be ministering in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. One night during worship I had my eyes opened to a very startling and sobering truth. I can’t tell you what songs we were singing but I had my eyes closed and hands raised when I had the strange notion I was being watched. I opened my eyes and lo and behold there my two daughters were standing near the stage with their little necks craned so that they could see me! They immediately turned back toward the stage and raised their hands.

My immediate response was to giggle. “They’re copying me!” I thought to myself.

I continued on in worship and as the music picked up with a quicker beat I began to sway a little back and forth. Again, I felt the eyes and when mine met theirs they quickly turned away. And now, those two precious little heads began to sway in the same direction and with the same lack of rhythm as my sway.

It was becoming both fun and funny to me! They were mimicking me move for move. When my hands went up, theirs did too. When I swayed, they swayed, and in the same direction. When my eyes closed and my expressions became intense or passionate, their eyes closed and their faces scrunched up and became intense and passionate.

Somewhere in this little match I watched my girls transition out of a game of copycat with mommy and into standing before their Master in pure, childlike, fully abandoned worship. I watched their little lips, as they no longer followed the words to the songs being led. Now they were creating their own words. They began offering their own prayers and words of love and adoration to their savior.

This revelation moved me to weeping and landed me on my knees. Holy Spirit began to remind me that I am being watched and the most important people in my world are following me – the two little souls who I have been trusted to lead and guide and train so that they will walk in the way they should go. I became an ugly, blubbering mess of Mama on my knees!

I’ve been in that place before. Before stepping out on a platform to preach, or leading a team across the country, and often times as I sit down to write. Those moments turn into times of pleading with the Lord, “Lead me as I lead them!” But those moments, as precious as they are, will never compare with the awe, fear, and reverence I felt in this one.

I was never the girl who dreamed of being married and having children. Growing up my aspirations were toward having a career. Growing up in church I remember all of my friends wanting to work in the church nursery and hold the babies. And as a young woman entering discipleship and ministry I remember hearing everyone talk about getting married and having kids. As I continued in ministry I just couldn’t fathom “slowing down” to raise children.

Fast forward many years and I found myself 27 years old, holding this little person who was so tiny, yet powerful enough to open wide this chamber of my heart I never knew existed. Twenty months later her sister followed and another chamber, unbeknownst to me, burst completely alive. And the God of the universe, the one who fashioned them in my womb, who knows every one of their days and mine, knows the number of hairs on their heads, and has set them apart for a purpose unique to them and intended for His Name’s Sake has chosen to entrust me and their father with them; to train them up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from Him.

This could be an overwhelming and bewildering thought for us as parents when we look at the world around us as it vies for the attentions and loyalties of our children. How are we to fight against such a strong pull and win?

We are given excellent examples as we read through the Word and they can all be summed up in one word: Discipleship.

Webster’s dictionary defines a disciple as “one who believes the teachings of a master,” and goes on to say that the disciple may help to “disseminate those teachings.” From this definition many in the Church have come to understand discipleship as taking place when a more seasoned Christian teaches a newer convert to believe with faith the things written in the Bible. “All you have to do is believe what it says.”

However, if we will view discipleship from the premise of its origination, in first century Israel when Jesus walked the Land calling several men to be His disciples, we would discover a very different definition.

In Jesus’ day discipleship did not take place in a classroom or by receiving instruction sitting in a synagogue pew. Discipleship took place in every day life. The roads they walked along, the hillsides and the seashores became their classrooms.

Discipleship in the first century took on the same characteristics as parenting was instructed to when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. In Deuteronomy Chapter 6 verses 1 and 2 Moses instructs the people, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” In verses 4 through 8 he says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” There was to be very little time in the family’s day where the parents were not teaching their children about the goodness of God.

And so it was with discipleship. A disciple learned from his master in the morning, day, and night as they walked along the way, prepared meals, and worked at a skill. And the most important skill a disciple would learn would be that of imitation. The disciple learned not only what his master believed and to believe it also, but to act upon those beliefs in the same manner his master acted. It would not be uncommon, and in fact was often expected for a disciple to speak with the same words as his master, for him to respond with emotion as his master would; and many physical gestures and mannerisms of the disciple were but a reflection of that of his master. He was not just to believe his master, but also to become his master. This process was not the byproduct of force, but of the disciple’s zealous love and commitment to his master.

Upon learning about discipleship in the Hebraic world, discipleship the way Jesus did it, a light bulb went on in my mind. Initially I thought, “Who wants to be an imitator? Aren’t we to be individuals?” And then I thought of the countless kids, teenagers, and young adults I’ve ministered to over the years: countless individuals trying desperately to be “individual,” but really only becoming imitators of someone else trying to be an individual.

And then I thought of myself. I was always imitating someone else. To look back at pictures of me in middle school and high school and since you would only see a girl wearing the same clothes seen in magazines or on schoolyards through out the country during that specific decade. My friends and I dressed the same, talked the same, listened to the same music, and teased our bangs into the same exact style.

Everyone will imitate someone in some aspect. Who then will I have my children imitate. The Apostle Paul knew this truth well and that is why he instructed his spiritual sons and daughters in the church in Corinth saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

I make a million wrong decisions every day. I am nowhere near the perfection of Jesus. I do however seek with all of my heart to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

No, I have not already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also Christ Jesus laid hold of me. I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

If my daughters will see this in me, then after strong contemplation and sobering awareness I say to them, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

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