Becoming Like Jesus Isn’t for Sissies

Tears rolled down my cheeks when I received the sad news. My stomach burned like I’d been kicked in the gut. The age-old question taunted me, “Why, Lord?

Even so, I took a deep breath and told myself, every circumstance is an opportunity for me to become more like Christ. But what does that mean? More patient? More compassionate? More … what?

Heartache colored everything grey. What was I supposed to learn from this sorrow? Was the lesson worth the cost?

And yet, if I believed God could use my sorrow to make me more like His Son, Jesus, then I had to unclench my fist. If nothing else, I could respond like Jesus on the night just before He was arrested.

“My heart is so full of sadness that I could die,” Jesus said. Then He fell on His face and prayed, “Father, not what I want, but what you want!” (Matthew 26:38,39)

Becoming like Jesus isn’t for sissies. Sometimes, the idea of being Christ-like seems downright impossible. Thankfully, the Spirit of God does the work of conforming people into Christ’s image.

The process begins when a person is born again. Jesus told Nicodemus “unless a person is born again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”(John 3:3)

Like any birth, growth follows.

I wish I could take a daily hallelujah pill and have my thoughts, words, and actions be the same as Christ. But the Bible says I won’t fully be like Jesus until I see Him face to face. Meanwhile, some days I feel less like Jesus than the day I trusted Him to be my Lord and Savior. On a good day, I feel as though I’ve had a spiritual growth spurt and hope others see Christ in me.

But, how I “feel” has nothing to do with reality.

Romans 8:29 says God predestined His people to be conformed to His Son’s image. (Predestined means to determine in advance.) Only, nobody ever said the process would be painless.

When I was a kid, my long dirty-blond hair easily tangled at the nape of my neck. The fine hairs would bunch up into a tight-fisted ball until it resembled a rat’s nest. I’d go to my mom with a comb and try to sit still as she pried the hairs apart. However, it was impossible to straighten my hair without pulling at the tender roots. I’d complain and wiggle which only made the process worse.

I haven’t changed. When my rat-race of a life becomes a hairy mess, I run to God with my circumstances. Cry for help. Beg for relief. Only, I’m too busy wiggling and complaining.

“It hurts, Lord. Make it go away. I can’t deal with this!”

And yet, for every emotional tantrum, I’ve also had victorious moments. Last month, life hit me below the belt through no fault of my own, I felt the pinch, the pain. I agonized over my powerlessness to change things. Only this time, I sat still in God’s presence and allowed Him to dry my tears. God didn’t explain why He allowed the sorrow. He didn’t tell me how He’d use it for my good.

However, if my ultimate good is becoming more like Christ, then I can trust God to work everything together towards that end.

So, what’s a believer’s role in this process?

Get to know Jesus. Study the Bible’s four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) that are in the New Testament. Who is Jesus? What does He say about Himself? What do His actions reveal about His character? What does Jesus expect from His followers?

—Pray for a transformed heart. Our human tendency is to avoid pain and want our own way. Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But we can pray that our heart’s desire would be a deeper relationship with Jesus, and the desire to become like Him. Willing to follow Him even if it means getting a taste of the Garden of Gethsemane.

—Change perspective. View every circumstance as an opportunity and the means to be like Christ. Having an eternal perspective affects our attitude towards hardship. It also enables us to respond like Christ and accept God’s will.

Even now, when my heartache lingers, I know God is good. His eternal purposes for my life includes making me more like Christ.

Who is this Jesus, the Christ? He’s the Alpha and the Omega. The Lion and the Lamb. Lord of Lords. King of Kings. And He made a promise just before He ascended to heaven: “And remember! I will be with you always.”

Jesus. Always with us.

Even in this … hard place.

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Did you know?

Mary, did you know…

Wise men were coming to see your baby, Jesus?

Did an angel warn you; give you time to prepare for company? Or did they show up unannounced?

Nativity scenes depict you serene, radiating joy as you cradle your infant son.

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But was God’s peace enough?

Enough to keep you tranquil when your home was bursting at the seams with visiting dignitaries? Camels resting outside your door?

Although you found favor in God’s eyes, and were chosen among all women to bear the Son of God, you were still a woman.

A young mom with raging hormones. A newly wed, living in humble means.

So I’m curious. Was your expression as europhoric as it appears in Renaissance paintings and Christmas cards?

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Because if I’d given birth, and prestigious strangers showed up at my door (uninvited) I’d probably come unglued.

Oh, I’d smile and invite them inside, but my eyes would only see the clutter on my kitchen counter. The dust on the mantel piece.

I’d scramble to brew a pot of coffee or tea. Bring out my nicest cups—the ones not chipped or stained. I’d forage in my pantry for snacks to share.

Not knowing how long they’d stay, I’d take my husband aside and tell him to order Chinese food or pizza.

If these strangers brought valuable gifts, I’d balk at the price tag before I graciously received them—knowing I had nothing to give in return.

What if they worshipped my son? Would I miss out while I searched for my camera to capture the moment?
Or be still and ponder these things in my heart like you did?

Mary, how did you feel when the shepherds and wise men had come and gone?
Did the thrill of childbirth go away when you and Joseph were left alone; faced with the reality of raising God’s Son?

How did you react when an angel told your husband to flee to Egypt for safety? Did you question God? Wrestle with the decision to move?

Surely your heart sank when you heard every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem had been killed when King Herod’s men searched for the Christ Child.

Did your faith flounder…even for a second?

Or were you so intent on God’s eternal purposes that His supernatural peace kept your mortal soul calm—come what may?

Mary, I like to think you didn’t know what lay ahead.

That you were a woman like me.

Imperfect, but walking by faith and not by sight even though you didn’t comprehend events.

Trusting God’s sovereignty during tumultuous times.

When Death Interrupts Life

My uncle died Friday night.

Lying in hospital, his one strong hand clung to the woman he loved. His pale cheeks wet from my aunt’s  teary butterfly kisses.

My uncle had suffered a Stroke weeks earlier, but on Friday—the first day of spring—I didn’t know his frail body was shutting down….

While I played Florence Nightingale to my outdoor plants—amputating dead limbs, nurturing them with life-giving water.

Springtime—the smell of fresh-cut grass, a sky the color of robin eggs, yellow buds unfurling in the afternoon sun.  My Friday was pregnant with new life around me and joyful possibilities.

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 What a stark contrast to my uncle and aunt’s reality. Death’s chill shadow loomed over them as the life they knew and shared concluded.

And yet, even in this…gut-wrenching pain of letting go….Hope was present.

Hope is the balm that soothes the burning sting of death.

 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. BUT Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Death can’t be sugar coated. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” (Lyric from Empty Chairs at Empty Tables)

However, my uncle and aunt believed “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day….”

And their FAITH is what the Bible describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This world isn’t the end all. There may be mysteries we can’t explain. But God has given us His Word, and His Promise, that death will be swallowed up in victory.

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The Columbine seeds I scattered in my garden last year now rise from the earth, but in a new form. The clover-like foliage and lavender bell-shaped flowers are more beautiful and fragrant than its seed.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Because Christ lives, we live too!

That is the sweet reality for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name.” (John 20:31)

*Other scripture  cited is from 1 Corinthians 15

Photos by Jennifer Foster

What Matters Most

Last Wednesday, I flew from California to North Carolina (via Houston) for a She Speaks Conference. I was in the air about six hours. My travel day from the time I left home and arrived to the hotel took twenty-seven hours.

Waiting in an airport terminal was not my first choice however, if you read my last blog, you know I wanted the Lord to teach me no matter the cost.

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Rather than focus on my circumstances and become disgruntled, I chose to surrender my desire to have what I want NOW!

Instead of trying to be patient, I chose to abide in the Lord and experience patience which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I cringe to say those words—I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But after years of striving to be a good Christian, I discovered the easier path is abiding in the Lord.

Abiding is how we become more like Christ….loving, compassionate, merciful, patient…which is God’s predestined will for those He has called.

The Holy Spirit does the work, but my poor attitude often slows the progress.

Only this time, I didn’t choose a one-woman pity party. Instead, I prayed for an eternal perspective while I traveled, and I asked to see people through God’s eyes.

He enlarged my vision.

I found myself drawn particularly to the people who served me at the airport and the hotel. Whether they were a maid, a busboy, a cashier, a waitress…..they each wore a name tag so I was able to call them by name. We’d smile, and exchange pleasantries.

Friendliness is contagious.

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Although my goal was to attend a conference to hone my writing and speaking skills, God taught me to do what matters most. Love one another.

My return flight home went without a glitch. Or so I thought. My traveling companion was on a different airline. Her flight was delayed by four hours.

My skin grew warm when I read my friend’s text. The thought of waiting in the airport terminal till three o’clock drained my last ounce of reserve. I’d been awake since 3:30 a.m. East Coast time, and had gone nonstop four days.

Was I going to wallow in self-pity or abide in Christ?

I sat down at a restaurant in the airport terminal—which began to feel like home—and asked the waitress,

“What’s your name? How long have you worked here?”

As I listened to Lynn’s story unfold, waiting on a flight seemed minuscule.

I’m thankful for the myriad of men and women I met last week, and the opportunity to show small acts of kindness.

God is so patient with me. And He can use everything—even waiting in an airport terminal—to teach me what matters most.

What the Lord has in Store?

20140714_203434I’m waiting in the airport terminal for a Red Eye flight to Houston. It takes off in twelve hours.

That’s right. I arrived five hours ago, but I’m traveling standby and the flights are full.

Is this a joke?

This morning, my Facebook status said: “Going to a She Speaks conference in North Carolina; can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store.”

Is this what the Lord had in store for me?

Not what I imagined. Nor what I desire, but it is what it is.

I always told my kids to make lemonade out of lemons.  Okay, Karen, start squeezing.

I have a Bible, a reading book, a laptop. What more do I need?

But I want to do more than fill empty space, or count down the minutes.

What would the Lord have me learn in this situation?

Patience? Flexibility? Humor?

I’m not laughing.

I arrived three hours early for my flight so I could drive a friend of mine to catch her flight. She’s sipping water now at 35,000 feet. Where’s her faith lesson?

Sorry Lord, my eyes went horizontal.

Normally, when I travel alone, I pray to  view people through God’s eyes so I might offer a word of encouragement.

I ask for ears to hear His voice. Never know when He’s going to impress some truth upon my heart.

In answer to those prayers, I have experienced indescribable God moments that assure me–He’s real and present even in the most absurd situations.

However, I know previous epiphanies don’t mean I’ll witness the Lord in action today.

Perhaps I’ll sit here, idle and killing time, with nothing to show for it. I’ll board the plane at the end of the day, weary and confused.

Really, Lord? Was it necessary for me to miss my flight? I was going to this conference to learn how to speak for you.

My flesh says “such is life.” Bad things happen. If waiting for a Red Eye flight is the worst thing that happens today, no problem.

My heart observes life with an eternal perspective.

I believe that nothing is wasted…not even sitting in an airport terminal for umpteen hours…if it increases my faith or I can be used by God.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1st Thessalonians 5:18

I glance at my fellow road warriors who are waiting on delayed flights. What is their perspective? Does grumbling change a thing?

For me, the bottom line isn’t what happens to me, but how I respond.

Sitting in the airport isn’t my first choice, but while I’m here, I’ll make the best of it.

And ask the Lord to teach me no matter the cost.

Even in this.

When It’s Enough

The woman passed away yesterday.

While I vacuumed pine needles off the floor, debated whether to take down the Christmas tree because it’s hard to let go of things we love.

The frail woman, though surrounded by loved ones had to let go.

One last breath, and her eternal soul flew into the arms of Jesus.

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While I, not knowing she was gone, stripped sheets off my guest bed,

And breathed in the lingering scent of my grown son who had returned to his own home.

I LOATHE goodbyes though my heart says, “We’ll be together again.”

When I heard the woman was “walking streets of gold,”

My heart was heavy.

Like it was on New Year’s Eve when I watched my grown son walk away into the airport.

I longed to run after him for one more hug.

Another chance to say I love you.

Even though we know how much we love each other.

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Driving home from the airport, I thought about the day before, when we put together a puzzle.

Holiday movies were background noise.

Bowls of half-eaten Chex Mix, and empty candy wrappers sat on the table.

My pants snug.

I placed the last piece into the jigsaw puzzle and declared, “It is finished!”

And a voice within me groaned, “ENOUGH!”

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As much as I love the holiday season … family, food, fun … I was ready for routine.

Perhaps the woman was ready.

As much as she loved her family and friends, wanted to celebrate life on Earth one more day,

Perhaps, she’d had “Enough!”

Enough of the endless

Physical pain, medical appointments, hospital visits.

Enough disappointment

As she hung to a thread of hope she’d be restored to good health.

Enough sorrow

To let go and leave behind….

Her favorite things and the precious people she loved.

And be with her Beloved Jesus,

Who “will wipe every tear from their eyes….no more death, mourning, crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4)

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Today, my Christmas tree comes down.

It’s been up long enough.

I’ll wrap:

A newly-wed couple’s first hand-blown ornaments, faded with age.

Baby’s first Christmas,

A toddler’s photo glued to a felt star

Ceramic candy canes painted by children now grown and gone.

I’ll say goodbye and put them away until …

I was going to say, “Next Christmas.”

But who knows what a year from now brings.

I ONLY KNOW THAT I KNOW THERE’S A HEAVEN.

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One day, I’ll be there with the woman,

I never met,

Whom I grew to love,

Because I prayed for her last year.

Together, we’ll be in HEAVEN

Where Saints meet and re-unite.

AND WE CAN NEVER, EVER, GET ENOUGH OF JESUS.

Like it or Not, Can I Rejoice?

Who knew when I wrote this blog back in February that I’d be speaking at a women’s conference this month on the topic “Finding Rest in the Middle of Wrestling Life.”

Isn’t it just like the Lord to remind me of this blog considering for the past three weeks I’ve had poor health, AND fractured my big toe so I’m limping along in life.

So like it or not, here is the message on rest that speaks to my current circumstances the same way it did earlier this year…

For almost three weeks, I’ve been home bound with ill health, and I’m still not up to par.

I miss the days I woke up ready to rumble. And went to bed feeling as though I’d been productive.

I tell myself: “It’s okay. Use this time to rest. Read the Bible. Pray.

But my mental energy is sapped; lethargy takes over. Spiritual disciplines are minimal, I’m just going through the motions.

Are you there Lord? How much longer?

I’m weary of resting; waiting for good health and LIFE to resume.

An inner voice whispers, “This IS life.”

So like it or not,

“This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

God knows my circumstances. He allowed it.

Can I rejoice and be glad in it?

Not happy about ill health, but rejoicing that God is with me even in this season of ill health and lethargy?

Can I rejoice without whining?

Knowing that Nothing is Wasted.

Because when I come before God, fully submitted and willing to learn…He teaches me.”

So what has He taught me?

That when I’m healthy, I am more prone to live independent of God and be self sufficient. But when I’m unable to do anything in my own strength: Not housework, not ministering to others, not even meditating on God’s Word … I’m forced to REST in God’s strength and grace.

At the end of myself, I’m forced to let go of expectations …. those things I think will make me happy such as good health and productivity.

And REST in the knowledge that every circumstance is an opportunity to be made in the image of Christ and bring Him praise.

By keeping my eyes on Jesus, the lifter of my head,

I’m able to REST and REJOICE even in this……