Today is my 60th birthday. My family had planned a party for me but with the state and nation in the throes of shelter-in-place that’s not happening. Between Covid-19 and turning 60 I feel emboldened to share stories from my life for encouragement to others, hope, and posterity.
In the course of my life I’ve gone from a head knowledge of knowing Jesus loves me to a deep heart-solid-foundation knowing that Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Oh the peace that comes with knowing I am truly loved just as I am.
As Jonathon Edwards says, “Of all the knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.”
I used to think God was angry, disapproving and disappointed with me. I felt like I had to be perfect, make others happy, and be whoever or whatever others wanted. Religion promotes that type of self hatred – like the pharisees with all their dos and don’ts. Legalists still maintain that pharisaical bent – scrutinizing, judging, tightly controlling. But I agree with Bono, lead singer of the U2 band, who said, “Religion is what happens when God leaves the building.” Religion is not where God is. Religion does not reflect our merciful God at all. He is not a stern task master. He is relational and offers grace and love. There is freedom in His love.
I am not religious. I am a follower of Christ, His disciple.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.” ~ Brennan Manning
Since I was little I’ve felt compelled to search for God. I always had a sense He was around. In fourth grade I received a Bible from the church we attended and read it cover to cover. I fell in love with the Psalms then – David, a man after God’s own heart, raged, despaired, praised, asked for the death of his enemies, fell down in sin, rose back up to praise God in the hard. I also remember around this time beginning to think that a true relationship with Christ had to be far different from the hypocrisy I saw at church and in life at home. I felt a longing, like something was missing and I wanted to really know Christ and God. So, I read my Bible, was involved in youth group, attended Billy Graham events, and when I was 16 accepted Christ as my Saviour.
A short while later He gave me Matthew 6:33 as my life verse – to seek Him first in all my ways. My life has been a tenacious, compelling growing in Him, a seeking to answer the question, “How do I seek God first in all things?” And growth as His disciple, studying His Word, learning how to build my life – every aspect of it – on His Word – incorporating His Word in every moment, seeking Him first in all things is a continual, daily, joy-filled path to walk. Mind you, it’s not an easy path and I haven’t done it perfectly, but our loving Abba God doesn’t ask for perfection, just for humbleness and honesty, a continual desire to learn more of Him. I am broken, beautifully, by His design. His grace is there. I don’t have to be ‘all together.’ Growing as Christ’s disciple requires tenacity and wrestling. Strong, audacious, authentic faith comes in the wrestling, in the questions, in tenaciously falling uphill. I see it like soldiers fighting their way up hill – it’s a rough, bloody, messy climb of sliding and regaining ground. But victory awaits and that joy compels forward movement.
“What makes authentic disciples is not visions, ecstasies, biblical mastery of chapter and verse, or spectacular success in the ministry, but a capacity for faithfulness. Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection and ridicule, authentic disciples may have stumbled and frequently fallen, endured lapses and relapses, gotten handcuffed to the fleshpots and wandered into a far country. Yet, they kept coming back to Jesus.” ~ Brennan Manning
There is joy in the journey!
I’ve learned along the way to ask questions. I’ve learned along the way to accept who I am as I am. God does this with me. How can I love my neighbor as myself if I don’t love myself? I’m continually learning to enjoy His love. I’ve learned to ask myself almost continually, “how can I incorporate God’s Word and way in this situation?” This is living out the command to seek Him first in all my ways (Matthew 6:33). I’ve learned along the way it’s okay to admit vulnerability, have boundaries, and slow down. I’ve learned the value of contemplative living, of feeling and dealing, of living mindfully seeing Him in every moment of every day. And, I’m still learning all that and more.
I’m thankful for authors like Elisabeth Elliott, Dan Allender, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, Ken Boa, John Ortberg and others who help me grow in Christ.
“Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?…..The ragamuffin who sees his life as a voyage of discovery and runs the risk of failure has a better feel for faithfulness than the timid man who hides behind the law and never finds out who he is at all.” Brennan Manning – The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Burned Out, Beat Up, and Bedraggled.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
I think in songs often and Steve Green’s song, Rest, sums up this little contemplative tome:
Rest, the Lord is near; Refuse to fear, enjoy His love
Trust, His mighty power Fills every hour, of all your days
There is no need For needless worry; With such a Savior, You have no cause to ever
Doubt, His perfect Word Still reassures, in any trial
Rest, the Lord is there, Lift up your prayer, For He is strong
Trust, He’ll bring release And perfect peace, will calm your mind
Call Him If you grow frightened; Call Him, With loving care He’ll lift the burden and you’ll
Rest, the Lord is near, Refuse to fear, enjoy His love
Trust, His might power Fills every hour, of all your days
Rest, the Lord is near Refuse to fear, enjoy His love
Enjoy His Love and Seek Him First! For the remainder of my days I choose to be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. I choose to count the patience of our Lord as salvation…I choose to take care that I not be carried away with the error of lawless people and lose my own stability. I choose to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (based on 2 Peter 3:14-18).