Friday, July 25, 2014

Baby Obed - UPDATE!!

"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, 
according to the power that worketh in us..."
Ephesians 3:20
(KJV)


I love this verse.
I love them ALL, but lately, this one has stood out to me with special meaning.
I love when God proves His power and His Word as being true through infallible proofs. 
(Acts 1:3)
I love when He defies our lofty opinions and proves us wrong, 
trumping logic and skepticism and human reasoning in the process.
I love the times we...every last one of us...are forced to stand amazed,
stupefied, jaws dropped wide open...and acknowledge that HE is God.
That He reigns.
That He is sovereign over all...including the wisest, smartest, and best educated.
I love it when He does those things that flabbergast and amaze and drive us to our knees....
not to ask for something...but to thank Him for what He has already done.

It seems I've experienced quite a few of those dumbfounding, undeniably-God moments lately.
Moments when my heart is filled with so much praise, there honestly are no words.
Moments when the only expressions I can seem to manage are unstoppable tears
streaming down up-turned face and hands raised Heavenward.
I am glad He understands the language of tears....
God needs no words to know what we are trying to say.
He listens to and looks upon our hearts.

While ago, I finally had a moment to sit down and check email after a busy morning.
There it was.
On my laptop screen.
Words that caused my jaws to drop completely open,
as I absorbed their meaning.
The sender?
Baby Obed's father, Travis.

Read for yourself...and be prepared to witness another glimpse of GOD.

"A quick update… 

We met with the cardiologist yesterday and received a slightly different diagnosis.  Instead of “Transposition of the Great Vessels”, she now believes he has “Double Outlet Right Ventricle” with VSD (Ventricular Septum Defect) and also thinks the arteries are “Malposed” not “Transposed”. If that’s the case, the surgeon may be able to just patch the VSD and not have to do the arterial switch!  This is great news and we should know more in 2 weeks.

Thank you again for the prayers,

-Travis

I sat here....and I stared.
And I stared some more.
And my jaws dropped open.
And I stared some more.

I went back...and re-read his words.
And the tears started.
I called for Kevin and read the email to him.
He has cried tears of joy with me throughout this miracle.
We praised God together.
Zach came in the room.
I read the words to him.
I watched his reaction....
watched as his jaws, too, dropped open and then listened to his response of,
"What a mighty God we serve!"

All I can say is...AMEN.


In my previous post, I spoke of how this little guy is already prophesying to the nations.
I can't believe I overlooked something of such monumental significance as his middle name.

Are you ready for this?
Baby Obed's middle name is....
JEREMIAH.

Jeremiah.
Matching names with the prophet to whom GOD spoke these words...
"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;
and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
Jeremiah 1:5

Coincidence, that his parents chose this to be a part of little Obed's name?
I don't think so.

Skeptics would say this whole story is chock-full of coincidence.
They would do their utmost to reason the enormity of the miracle away.
Try to call it a pre-birth misdiagnosis.
Chalk it up to poor-quality diagnostic in-utero images.
Classify it as just a misunderstanding.

For what it's worth, here's what I believe.
I believe there was human validation and justification to the hospital's choice
of having four NICU staff members waiting during the delivery "just in case".
I don't believe they would have had them there, had there been no urgent need.
I believe that Baby Obed's vessels were, at one time, transposed.

And I believe GOD heard the prayers of His people who were asking Him
to fix what was wrong and let this baby be born healthy.
I believe God healed little Obed Jeremiah right there in his mother's womb,
so the little fellow wouldn't have to suffer and endure such an invasive trauma,
after he entered this world.
I believe He allowed all of this to happen, so His name would be glorified in and through this....
and so we could still see that He performs unexplainable, inexplicable miracles.

I believe God still answers prayer.
I believe it still pays to believe.
I believe there is still reason to believe.
I believe God is an awesome, all-powerful God, Who can...
"do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
(Ephesians 3:20)

I believe it will be amazing to see how many lives this little "prophet" will touch.
He, and God through him, has surely touched mine.

We serve an awesome God Who can do anything.

What do you need, my friend?
Are you suffering?
Afraid?
Lonely?
Depressed?
Addicted?
Sick?
Destitute?
Hopeless?
Dependent?
Confused?
Homesick?
Homeless?
Ex-communicated?
Misunderstood?
Estranged?
Bitter?
Bereaved?
Unemployed?
Hungry?
Infertile?
Abused?
Tormented?
Helpless?
Aimless?
Disillusioned?

Perhaps your situation is different from any I've mentioned here.
God knows.
He sees you...right where you are.
And He loves you...with an undying, unconditional, inexhaustible, unfailing love.
It doesn't matter how you got to where you are right now.
He will meet you.
He will span the distance...on the bridge Jesus built on Calvary
when He hung on an old, rugged cross and died for you.

God still....
alleviates suffering, (Job 36:15)
opens barren wombs, (Psalm 113:9)
expels fear, (2 Timothy 1:7)
sets the solitary in families, (Psalm 68:6)
lifts from despair, (Isaiah 41:13)
breaks chains of addiction, (Isaiah 61:1)
heals the sick, (Exodus 15:26)
supplies needs, (Philippians 4:19)
fills with hope, (Colossians 1:27)
gives necessary grace, (James 4:6)
brings peace to troubled minds, (Isaiah 26:3)
allows u-turns, (Isaiah 55:7)
searches for outcasts, (John 9:35)
understands, (Hebrews 4:15)
comforts those who mourn, (Isaiah 66:13)
soothes the wounded, (Jeremiah 30:17)
enables, (Philippians 4:13)
directs, (Proverbs 3:6)
and restores.  (Joel 2:25)

Jesus' mission to earth is...
to preach good tidings,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
to open the prison of those that are bound,
to comfort all who mourn,
to exchange beauty for ashes,
to replace grief with joy,
to cover the spirit of heaviness with garments of praise.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

He extends this incredible offer to all of us, individually...
"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

He still does the impossible.
Little Obed Jeremiah is living proof.

Please continue to keep the little guy in your constant prayers.
I am still believing God for no surgery necessary.
As my sweet online friend, Sharon, from "Sharon Sharing God", said,
(be sure to stop over and visit her blog when you get a chance),
"Let's go for it and pray big!"
Yes, let's do that!!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Baby Obed - An Exceptional Miracle

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;
and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
Jeremiah 1:5
(KJV)

God still answers prayer.
He is still seated upon His throne, 
and He still extends that amazing invitation for us to approach Him boldly.
Not sheepishly, not fearfully, but boldly,
"that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Hebrews 4:16
What a welcome!
What a blessed privilege!

A few months ago, I put out a plea for some very serious prayer requests,
and, included in them, was a request for unborn Baby Obed.

I know many of you precious readers are faithful prayer warriors,
and I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate your caring hearts and the unselfish way you are willing to lay aside the time to pray for others who have pressing needs.

While there are still many needs,
I wanted to post some WONDERFUL news today to let you know that 
GOD truly is hearing and answering your prayers!
Baby Obed, the precious unborn baby for whom you have been interceding to God,
recently made his way into our world!

First, though, for those who are not familiar with this case,
I am attaching snippets from previous emails from his Daddy, Travis, to bring you up to date and to show you the seriousness of Obed's pre-birth condition and medical diagnosis.

Email #1:
"the baby has what their calling "Transposition of the Great Vessels' which simply means his Aorta and Pulmonary Artery are switched.  Everything else looks good, measurements, etc.  While the baby is in utero, he's fine as he's not breathing through his lungs and there's a hole between the left and right ventricles that is allowing the blood to mix, thus sending oxygen to his body.  However once he's born, he'll most likely have to have immediate heart surgery to survive."

Email #2:
"We met with the cardiologist on Friday and found out that Obed's great vessels are indeed transposed and will require a more complicated surgery.  We're scheduled to meet with the surgeon and his team on July 1st.  We'll know more then."

Email #3:
"We'll try our best to keep everyone updated regarding Obed as things are rapidly changing...
Karissa had 3 doctor appointments today and they want to induce Karissa next Monday/Tuesday.  They're concerned he's not gaining weight "as expected".
So they've scheduled non-stress tests for tomorrow(7/8) and Thursday (7/10).
Monday morning (7/14) they'll see her again and then on Tuesday (7/15) she'll be admitted and induced.
Her original due date is 7/29 so a couple of weeks early.
They said regardless of the heart problem, they would still recommend inducing because of the risk to the baby."

Now that you know the background, read on for the latest email update....

"He’s here!  Baby Obed was born 7/15/14 at 3:55 pm weighing 5lb 6oz.

Karissa started having regular contractions Monday evening and we headed to the hospital.   Her labor was just over 18 hours.

They had 4 people from the NICU waiting in the room for the delivery “just in case”.    Karissa was able to hold him for about 15 mins before they took him to the transition nursery to run additional tests to determine if he needed to be transferred to the NICU.  3 hours later we were told Karissa would be transferred to a recovery room on the first floor and Obed was going with us.  They said his Apgar score was a “perfect” 9 and all of his vitals and oxygen saturation were “perfect”.   The neonatologist stressed that “VERY rarely would a baby with his heart condition not be admitted to the NICU” but the cardiologist said everything would be ok, and  there wasn’t anything that needed monitored as all his levels were “normal”.

We were discharged, with Obed, on Thursday.  Right now have LOTS of doctor appointments.  We met with the Neonatologist 3 times in the hospital, 2 times with pediatrician  in the hospital, pediatrician once on Friday.  The pediatrician has been calling us daily just to make sure everything is ok.  Obed is also tongue-tied so he has an appointment today to get that fixed.  We have another appointment with the pediatrician tomorrow and then an appointment with the cardiologist on Thursday, plus more follow-up appointments I’m sure.

We are very blessed by everyone that has prayed for family and everyone that has provided meals (making MY life a lot easier J )

-Travis

Here's a picture of the little miracle.


I don't know about you, but I had to cry when I read this wonderful testimony to God's amazing power,
and when I look at pictures of this precious, perfectly-formed, beautiful baby boy.

I especially cried when I got to the parts in the email that said, 
"his Apgar score was a perfect 9",
and "all of his vitals and oxygen saturation were perfect",
and the words of the neonatologist stating how rare it is that a baby in this condition 
NOT be admitted to NICU,
and the cardiologist said that everything would be okay, there was nothing that needed to be monitored, 
because all his levels are normal!!!!!

I thought about the three hour span when the doctors and medical staff were extensively examining this precious little one.
Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall observing what was going on in that transition nursery?
I can just imagine them shaking their heads,
seeing that none of what they thought would happen was happening,
wondering what on earth was unfolding right before their eyes.
I can just hear the disbelief in the voice of the neonatologist
and picture the bewilderment on the cardiologist's face when he said all levels were normal.

But, should anyone be surprised?
Isn't this what we prayed for?
Didn't we pray expectantly...believing God was going to heal this baby...
right there in his mother's womb?
Weren't we asking for this kind of miracle?
In spite of the odds?

I thought of this little fellow, as I read Jeremiah 1:5,
"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;
and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

This little guy is already prophesying to the nations.
Even though he cannot yet speak.
Even though he was born tongue-tied.
Every time his story is told and his testimony is shared,
he is prophesying to the nations.
Right here, as you read these words, you represent many nations.
Out of curiosity, I just checked the stats.
Here is a snapshot list, in this moment, 
of the nations who represent the current readership of Homespun Devotions:

United States
Turkey
Ukraine
Australia
Canada
United Kingdom
France 
Germany
India
Taiwan

I just wonder what other amazing things God is planning to do with and through this little guy's life?

Baby Obed's very existence and current state of health is nothing short of a Divine-intervention miracle.
It is amazing that he is home with his parents and family, instead of in an NICU incubator.

Galatians 1:15,16 says, 
"But when it pleased God, 
Who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace,
To reveal His Son in me..."

Jesus Christ and His amazing healing power is being revealed in Baby Obed.

"For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb."
Psalm 139:13 (NIV)

"Upon You have I leaned from before my birth:  
You are He Who took me out from my mother's womb.  
My praise is continually of You."  
Psalm 71:6 (ESV)

"I was cast upon Thee from the womb:  
Thou art my God from my mother's belly."  
Psalm 22:10 (KJV)

"Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother's womb He has spoken my name."
Isaiah 49:1 (NIV)

Our God is an awesome, all-powerful God, Who can do
"exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think..."
Ephesians 3:20

There is nothing beyond His realm of power.
He did this.
He is worthy of our praise!

And now, I ask that you continue to lift Obed and his parents and family in prayer.
Pray that God will continue this miracle.
That He will send peace and calm serenity to the hearts of Travis and Karissa,
as they go through the process of doctor visits and medical evaluations.
Pray that each and every test will reveal healing.
Pray that surgery will not even be necessary.

Wouldn't that be something?
Is it too much to dare to ask?

God spoke to Jeremiah,
"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh:
is there any thing too hard for Me?"
Jeremiah 32:27

We all know the answer.
Nothing is too hard for God.
Can't we all testify to that...based on what He has done in each one of our individual lives?

"Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save;
neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear...."
Isaiah 59:1

Please join me in praising God for the wonderful miracles He has already performed,
and please keep praying and believing for even more.

As this song says, we can't ask too much of our God!


If video doesn't load, click here.

The family of Baby Obed is very grateful to each one who has prayed.

Let's keep bombarding Heaven on their behalf 
and faithfully carrying this request before our Father's throne.

God bless each one for your faithfulness in bearing the burdens of others, 
and thus fulfilling the law of Jesus Christ.  (Galatians 6:2)
***********************************************
The sweet reader who commented below made a wonderful suggestion that got my wheels turning.  :)
Has God done something amazing in your life?
Is there a Divine-intervention miracle you would like to share here?
Some insurmountable mountain He moved or helped you tunnel through?
Do you now stand on the other side of a great difficulty?

I invite you to share your stories here in the comment section below.
We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
So, please share, glorify God, and bless others in the process!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wounded Lambs & Divided Sheep

"He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:
He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young."
Isaiah 40:11

#6 in the Legalism Series

As far as I know, at this point,
this will probably be my last legalism post...at least for a while,
unless God leads otherwise.
It's all about Him.
It's all up to Him.


This, like so many of my posts, is very long.
I apologize.
I know there are "rules" out there for keeping blog posts short and to the point.
Mine just never seem to come out that way.
I appreciate those who have the patience to read and absorb what God lays upon my heart!
I know the content here gets heavy and maybe not so easy to digest,
but please know that I only convey what I feel God is needing to say.
I am not here to waste your time with idle words, useless gossip, unnecessary chatter,
or just the latest happenings of my abundantly blessed life.
May God help me to never write something just for the sake of posting.
May He help me to always mind Him and deliver only His message here.
For truly, only what's done for Christ will last.

Thank you ever so much for your loyalty and sweet support.

As I contemplate the ugliness of legalism,
the lives it wrecks and the havoc it wreaks,
it occurs to me that there are two groups of victims who suffer the most from its cruelty.
The wounded lambs and the divided sheep.

Let's talk about the sheep first.

Jesus' desire in His prayer recorded in John 17...His yearning....
His plea to His Father was that we all might be one.
Undivided.
On the same page.
Without faction, sect, groupism, or denomination.
Uniform in thought, doctrine, and mindset....
and that one uniformity being HIM.

Legalism destroys the unity for which Jesus prayed.
It erects dividing walls... built by man...sadly, mostly by ministers themselves.
How could the very ones who are commissioned to preach the glad tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
be the exact enemies of His message?
How could they be the very instigators who persuade, influence, and coerce Jesus' followers
to separate from one another?
How can they stand in pulpits and speak evil of their brothers and sisters in Christ,
convincing their listeners that it is a sin to fellowship and worship with them,
based solely upon the fact that the others do not adhere to their personally-derived opinions?

I think it is beyond sad to hear grown men stand up, dig in their heels, and declare that
they refuse to worship with others over the pettiest of issues.
Things that have nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation.
Things that don't amount to a hill of beans with God.
Such bold statements they carelessly make...tearing down the unity Jesus longed to see.
Divided sheep obliterates the hope of Jesus' prayer to His Father ever being answered.

It isn't the Word of God that divides God's people.
It is people's unique interpretations of the Word of God that divides people.

Why can't we just let go of the insignificant things that divide 
and cause us to not be willing to worship with one another?
Why must the traditions of man keep us apart?


I wasn't sure I would ever share this, but it seems God is laying it heavily upon my heart,
so here goes.
Something very unusual happened to me a while back that made this so clear to me.
I don't believe I was asleep, so I don't think it was a dream.
Would I call it a vision?
I don't know...I suppose, in a way, maybe it was?
Whatever it was, it was REAL.
And it shook me to the core...opening my eyes wide in the process.
As far as I can remember, I was praying...just talking to the Lord...
heavy-hearted over this very thing....
thinking about the sad way legalistic opinions of man divide God's people,
when all at once, a picture came before my eyes.
It was a large building, and it was as if I were elevated above the building.
It was like I was sitting up high, next to God, and I could see what He sees.
I could see down in to the building..like it did not have a roof.
I was able to see inside very clearly.
In the building were many rooms.
The rooms were all divided by walls.
The Lord began to speak to me.
"This is My church.
It is not My will, intention, or plan that there be any walls inside, dividing the rooms.
I have children in every one of those rooms.
They are being kept apart by the leaders.
They built the walls.
But, you are free, child.
You are free to come in and go out of each of those rooms."
(John 10:9 comes to mind...)

When it was over, I felt peace...and, at the same time, a deep sadness.
Because, I am so deeply grateful to be extended this precious gift of freedom,
but I am so deeply anguished to think of why those walls exist,
and it breaks my heart to think of how many souls are being affected by the pride and stubbornness
of the "powers that be".

I find it incredibly heart-breaking that this person is not allowed to worship with this person
because of the opinions of ministers who hold control and manipulation over them.
We are not talking about sin issues here.
We're not talking about embracing and condoning any type of distortion of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am talking about non-Bible-based opinions that have become traditions passed down
from one generation to the next, and the current generation can't even explain why it is such a big deal.

Can we not see why this is such a majorly effective tool in the hand of our archenemy?

It is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Divide and conquer.
As long as he can keep those within the ranks of Christianity divided over the petty issues,
he can reduce our influence to reach souls who are lost.
As long as we are bickering over what is not important,
he can keep up his breakneck pace of destroying what is most important,
landing every soul possible in Hell for eternity.
He must stand back and laugh profusely over our foolishness.

Why would unbelievers even remotely want what they see in us?
To the unbelieving world, we must look like the most argumentative,
back-biting, malicious, mean-spirited bunch,
as all along, we cling tight to our religious cloaks of self-righteousness,
turning our noses in the air, not only at the sinners, but at each other.

Dear Lord, have mercy...it literally breaks my heart.
If it breaks mine, what must it do to God's?
To the heart of our Savior?
Who bled and died and gave everything He had...that we might all be one?


What do we think?
That there are going to be compartmentalized sections and segments in Heaven?
Do we honestly believe that in the southeast corner there will be a designated section for this denomination,
and over yonder in the northwest we will find a reserved compartment for another slightly different brand,
and there in the middle is a spot for the ones who never could quite make up their minds which "group" to associate themselves with?
Sadder yet, do we honestly believe that
 we and our group are the only ones going to Heaven...at all?

Seriously?

I don't know which Bible some people read, but mine describes no such place or situation,
does yours?

Jesus died for all.
This is not an exclusive Gospel, available only to those who claim to know "all the truth".
Jesus is the way, THE TRUTH, and the life.
He promised that all who come to Him, He will in no wise cast out.
He didn't say we had to follow Bro. So-and-So's version and list of do's and don'ts...
at least not if Bro. So-and-So's list doesn't line up with the list in His Word.

If we dig in our heels here on earth and close our hearts to one another,
just because we cannot see eye-to-eye on every, single, petty issue,
do we honestly think we will all be in the same place for eternity?
If we can't get along here, will we even get to where we all want to be?

Legalism is the evil culprit that divides God's people.
These man-made opinions and man-contrived theories are the footers and beams that make up the composition of the walls I saw in my "vision".
This minister favors a slant to the left,
while the minister standing next to him prefers a bend to the right.
Both men are supposedly men of God,
dedicated, consecrated, sanctified, and set apart for His use and service.
Both men claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the onlooking world can find no resemblance to Him at all.
Both men show ugly attitudes when they see each other,
they bite and devour one another when they are out of the realm of earshot,
they stand in their pulpits on Sunday morning and use them as platforms...
not to build Jesus up, but to run each other down.
And the saddest part is this...
the souls who came to church hungry for God
leave the building disappointed, disillusioned, and disenchanted with the whole Christianity concept.

Which brings me to the other group of victims....the wounded lambs.


Honestly, ministers, with all due and granted respect, do you really ever stop and think?
What you are doing?
The immeasurable damage you are causing?
By this spite-filled behavior?
Do you have an inkling how confused you are leaving our young people?
Do you wonder why they are leaving by the multitudes?
Does it ever occur to you that as you look out upon the faces of your congregations,
most of those faces are wrinkled with age?
Do you ever ponder the question of who will even be there to preach to...20 years from now?

Believe me when I tell you that I KNOW how easy it is to come under the bondage of preaching in ways that will please and promote other ministers and their opinions,
instead of preaching what God is really telling you to preach.
Sometimes, God forgive us, we don't see the error of this until way past the point.

We are losing our young people because we cannot get along.
We are losing them because we are holding them in such a stranglehold of man-made bondage,
that they cannot breathe.
We are losing them because we have lost the love of God....
a long time ago.

Since they can't find Jesus in us,
they are seeking out other ways to fill the void that God created for Himself.
They want no part of our hate-filled speeches, our holier-than-thou demeanor,
and our infliction of personal opinions and convictions upon them.

Can you blame them?
Sad to say, I know exactly how they feel.
Because I was there...where they now stand.
And I remember...all too well how sickened I was by it all.
Honestly, if I hadn't had a real relationship with Jesus,
and had Him and His presence to see me through,
I shudder to think where I would be right now.

One of the memories that seems to rise above the rest as being one of the most cruel,
happened when I was 15 years old.
It left a wound that time still has not been able to completely erase.
I remember it like it was last week.
The perpetrator was a woman who operated under one of the ugliest spirits of legalistic extremism
I have personally ever seen.
Oh, the memory still stings when I think of it!
Mom, Dad, and I had stopped going to church, for a time,
due to some sort of uproar that had taken place in our local congregation.
There was always, always chaos, of some sort, it seemed.
So much carnality...so little love.
So much man-rule...so little submission to Jesus.
So much hate-filled behavior, favoritism, and respect of persons....so little God.
You know, looking back, I can see that there were many times
God did His utmost to lead Mom and Dad out and away from the misery and bondage of legalism.
One of the ways He tried to show them and open their eyes
was through the many hurts and deep wounds they received through the years.
It hurts me to the core when I remember some of those wounds,
and, I'll be honest, it has been very hard for me to forgive the ones who imposed them.
Mom and Dad would see the wrong in it all,
they would tire of things being the way they were,
we would stop going to church (and find ourselves much happier serving Jesus, I must add),
only to be brought under severe condemnation by those who had mastered the "art" of guilt trip infliction,
and, once again, we would run back into our dreaded dungeon of despair,
picking up our chains along the way.

My poor, dear parents.
Only God knows.

Back to my story, though,
to this day, when I think of that particular woman, (now long-dead, God rest her soul),
or when I rarely hear the mention of her name,
I cringe.
My anxiety level intensifies.
It has been 32 years.
The deepest hurts leave the ugliest, slowest-healing wounds.

It was our first time coming back to church,
after one of those stints of not going for a while,
and I felt as nervous and uncomfortable and awkward as could be.
To be honest, I did not want to go back.
I was finished with the whole scene.
I was much happier in my walk with Jesus...
on the outside of organized religion.
But, against my will, there I was.
Walking down the aisle.
I can still feel it all...the oppressive atmosphere,
that sickening thud and churning in the bottom of my stomach,
the holier-than-thou stares that screamed, "Who do you think you are coming back here?
You should never have left in the first place",
the total unwelcome resistance towards my parents and me.
Oh, I wanted to turn and RUN out of that cold, evil-charged place,
and just fly to the arms of Jesus somewhere alone!
Away from those awful mean-spirited people!
But, Mom and Dad wanted me to be there, bless their hearts,
so bound and enslaved were they to pleasing that cruel taskmaster....
so I succumbed to their authority,
and I stood there...cringing...as, lo and behold, she left her aisle and started towards me.
Oh, boy...I guess she had heard the sound of my voice and knew I was there.
Panic rose within me...I knew this could not be good.
Are you ready for the most absurd part of this whole scenario?
This woman was blind.
So, in order to size me up and figure out if I measured up to her standards,
she had to literally walk to where I was and "feel" me and what I was wearing.
First she announced to anyone and everyone in the building about how tall I was getting...
drawing the very undesired attention of every, last one of them.
I remember wishing for a place to hide...anywhere...just to get out of there...
just to escape their self-righteous, Phariseeical, scrutinizing looks.
What she did next was so out of line...so ludicrous, you may or may not believe me,
but it is absolutely true.
She commenced to bend over so she could reach clear down to my shoes.
Right there, in front of them all, in the middle aisle of that church, mind you.
I suppose she must have been pleased with the dress I was wearing(?),
(I STILL remember what it looked like),
because she didn't utter a word.....until she reached my feet, that is.
What she found there sent her reeling.
'Oh, my Lord!!!!", she bellowed....loudly.
"She's got sandals on!!"

Now, I don't know how much you remember about being 15,
but it is an awkward age...
at least it was...for me.
And I did not want to be there that day in the first place.
I remember feeling SO tempted to totally rebel against Mom and Dad,
refuse to walk in that little, white building,
and permanently throw in the whole church-scene towel.
Already feeling out of place, unwanted, unwelcome, and inept,
the last thing I needed was for this blind woman to purposely leave her seat,
to walk down that aisle with the sole purpose of sizing me up to see
just how bad she could embarrass me.

I don't know how I stayed there that day.
But, I did.
And we kept going back for more....
for quite a while after that,
until we moved out of state and out of legalism...
for a span of time...
only to fall back into it again...deeper than ever...later on.
That is an entirely different story that I may or may not ever tell.

While this story sounds unbelievable, at the very least, it is to be believed.
Because it is true.
Just one of many lashes and blows dealt by the ruthless hand of legalism.
I could mention others, but need I say more?


Wounded lambs ...is there any way of numbering the multitude of them?
The ones who now lie broken...
addicted to substances they use as substitutes...
trying to locate what they never found in church.

Legalism is not pretty.
It is downright monstrous and grotesque...
and as opposite of Jesus Christ as day is from night.
And it is pushing our young people over the edge, away from a loving God,
out to seek for alternate solutions to their problems.

Before I end this post, I have one more thing to mention.
Please bear with me.
This is for any ministers who might be reading this who feel the need
to perpetuate the damaging spirit of legalism.
Humor me a few moments, will you?
Say, you are standing there, on any given Sunday morning, abusing the use of your podium,
badgering Bro. So-and-So, bruising his effectiveness by your slanderous words,
running him down...just because you and he just can't seem to agree on the insignificant,
and as you rant, you notice a plain-dressed, humble-looking man walk in, silently and without fanfare,
and seat himself on the back pew.
At first, he looks interested in what you have to say.
You have his undivided attention.
Not wanting to lose this chance to win him over to your way of thinking before he visits Bro. So-and-So's church, you fire off from both barrels...giving it all you've got...exalting yourself and abasing your brother.
Halfway in, you notice the stranger has hung his head.
He is still listening...you think...but his countenance is deeply troubled.
He looks...sad.
There is something about Him that keeps your eyes fixed.
You try to divert your gaze..move it around a bit...but you cannot.
You stand mesmerized, and suddenly, you see that there are tears...
trickling from his eyes, trailing down his cheeks.
You're not sure why, but for some unknown reason, this badgering session just became less joy-filled.
You end the sermon long before you intended to,
and you walk to your seat with a feeling you can't quite describe.
Something about his presence...there on the back row....leaves you feeling uneasy.
The quiet of the sanctuary is deafening as his presence seems to permeate every inch of space.
You could hear a pin drop as the stranger quietly leaves his seat on the back row
and makes his way to the front of your church.
Your first impulse is to stop him.
To ask him what gives him the right.
To set him straight and let him know who's in charge here.
But, no matter how strong the impulse, you find...again, that you cannot move.
There is a force that surrounds him.
It feels impenetrable.
He steps behind the pulpit you just left.
"That's my place, not his", you fleetingly think.
Every eye in the room is transfixed...focused....unable to look away...
from the penetrating eyes of this stranger.
They're still tear-filled.
Seeing them breaks your heart.
And as you stare, he reaches a hand to wipe one away.
As he does, you see the scar....and you know.
It is Him.
And you hang your head, because you are the cause of His tears.
And you begin to cry...thinking about all you said....and knowing He heard it all.
Suddenly, He turns your direction.
He looks at you.
You cringe.
Expecting the worst.
Waiting for rebuke.
You know you deserve it.
It never comes.
"I forgive you", He softly says.
What?
You jerk your head from its hung-in-shame position.
And you see it.
All over His face.
Deep in His eyes.
Love.
Forgiveness.
Mercy.
Peace.
Compassion.
And He speaks.
Just four more words...before He turns to walk down the aisle.
"Treat your brother likewise."
Suddenly you feel a long-lost feeling...one you felt so long ago...when you first came to trust in Him.
You run to Him...with all your might.
Wild horses couldn't keep you away.
Sorry.
Broken.
Realizing you have missed His whole message....until now.
Until this moment.
You get it now.
It is all about forgiveness and loving one another.
You bow at His feet.
You reach for them...and cling with all your might...not wanting to ever let Him go...
as through flowing tears, you see the deep ugliness...of His scars.
You dare to raise your shame-filled head, and as your eyes meet His once again...
you find Him smiling.
For He knows you've preached your last message,
and that from now on, you will preach only His.

The most striking thing about this hypothetical scene is that
even though you don't see Him, He is always there.
Maybe not seated in human form on the back pew of your church each Sunday morning,
but there, nonetheless.
Listening to everything you say and every sermon you preach.
Seeing every motive in your heart.
Watching every move you make.

"All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do."  (Hebrews 4:13)

There needs to be a change, my dear friend.
The legalism needs to stop.
It is wounding the lambs and dividing the sheep.
Jesus prayed that we all might be one.
Can't you hear His heart?
In that anguished prayer?
How can we be one, when we are so hung up on making everyone adhere
to non-Biblical demands
set in place by men and every man's demands are different?
Can't we see how destructive this is?

Jesus is coming soon.
And while we play our senseless games and dig in our stubborn heels,
souls will be caught off guard and lost for eternity.
All because we are too proud to lay down our opinions and traditions...
for the sake of a greater cause....the greatest cause.
It is time to humble our hearts before God....and to one another.
It is time to preach JESUS...only Jesus....only His infallible doctrine,
not the opinions of the fallible.

Please...my friend....just think about it?

(To read Post #1 in this series, entitled "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism", click here.
To read Post #2 in this series, entitled "The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger", click here.
To read Post #3 in this series,
entitled "The Second Greatest Post-Legalism Danger & How To Avoid It, click here.
To read Post #4 in this series, entitled "Jesus And The Outcast", click here.
To read Post #5 in this series, entitled "My Quest To Know Jesus", click here.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Quest To Know Jesus

"And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying,
Sir, we would see Jesus."
John 12:20-21
(KJV)

#5 in the Legalism Series


"Sir, we would see Jesus."
Every time I read this, it stirs me.
It strikes a harmonious chord...way down deep...
because the desire of these Greeks resonates and echoes the deepest yearnings of my own heart.

During Jesus' tenure on earth, 
there was just something about Him that drew people to Him everywhere He went.
A powerful magnetism...that compelled Peter to drop his fishing nets and follow Him.
A constraining, coercive pull....that persuaded Matthew to leave his shady job as a tax collector 
in order to walk lock-step behind Him.
These Greeks...they had that same, deep-down yearning.
To get close to Him.
To see Him.
To know Him.

The Apostle Paul had it, too.
In the 3rd chapter of Philippians, he gives a detailed account of his personal credentials.
He was circumcised on the 8th day, just like Jewish tradition dictated,
he was of the stock of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of the Hebrews,
a blameless Pharisee, steeped in Mosaic law.
In Acts 22:3, he gave this personal description of himself,
"I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia,
yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel,
and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers,
and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day."

Gamaliel was a highly-respected Pharisee and doctor of the law.
(Acts 5:34)
Paul's education, social standing, and background were extraordinarily impressive.
He had a lot of reasons to feel self-sufficient and proud...and ultra-religious.
But, in spite of his clout, training, self-righteousness,
and exalted Pharisee-status prestige,
there remained in the deepest part of him an unfulfilled longing.
He knew the law...inside and out.
But, He craved the Lawgiver Who came to fulfill it.
He was steeped in Messianic prophecy, but he yearned for an intimate acquaintance with the Messiah.
  He had this thirst...this craving to search for Him until he found Him, and for this, 
he was willing to let everything else go and cast it all aside.  
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:
for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung,
that I may win Christ, 
And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, 
but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:  
That I may know Him, 
and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, 
being made conformable unto His death..."  
Philippians 3:7-10

For this one, constraining pursuit, Paul was willing to give everything else up...
to hand it all over...
to lay it all down.
Because, he had found out the hard way that nothing in this world can fill this void except the One Who placed it there in the first place.


I clearly remember when I reached my Philippians 3:10 point....
that point where nothing meant more to me than knowing Jesus Christ...
when everything else in my life paled in comparison to this one prominent, ardent desire...
to know and to see Him more clearly and more intimately than I ever had before.

I genuinely and sincerely gave my heart to Him at the age of 10.
That is where my Christian journey began.
And since that moment, I have truly loved the One Who saved and died for me.

But, three and a half years ago, I truly experienced my own personal, life-altering Philippians 3 epiphany
where that single, burning desire became all-encompassing and all-consuming,
to the point that I was willing to do whatever it took to obtain it.

It was New Year's Day, 2011.
I had contemplated, along with the rest of the world,
what my New Year's Resolution(s) would be.
Of course, the typical aspirations came readily to mind...
lose the unwelcome 50 pounds I've wanted to lose....for the past several new years,
read the Bible more,
be more patient, compassionate, merciful, etc.,
you know...those lofty goals to which we all aspire.

But, that day was different.
I wanted more.
I had this overpowering, overwhelming desire...
to see Jesus Christ...more clearly.
To know Him.
It was on my mind...all.the.time.
I yearned for more of Him...
His Divine presence...
His Spirit....
Him.

I had felt this way before...but never, ever had it been this intense.
Never had I craved Jesus like I did right then...
and like I have ever since then...
and like I still do.


I just desperately want what is real, you know?
Minus the hypocrisy.
Minus what is man made.
Minus what is non-Bible-based..
Minus man-instituted traditions, rules, regulations, and restrictions.
Minus the organized religion part.
I just want Jesus.

That New Year's Day,
coming to know Jesus more than I had ever known Him before
was the most pressing, front and center thing on my mind and in my heart.

Time passed.
New Year's Day came...and went.
January turned into February.
February into March.
Soon, half the year was gone.
But, unlike nearly every other New Year's Resolution I have made,
this one didn't fall by the wayside.
I didn't start out like gangbusters, only to fall off the wagon by mid-January.
This resolution intensified...and grew...and deepened...as 2011 passed and became 2012.

It turns out, it wasn't just an ordinary New Year's Resolution after all.
Because even though I had "known" Jesus for nearly all of my 44 years of life,
and though I had attended church pretty regularly since I was born,
I just didn't know Him like I wanted to.
 I started, that day, on a journey
that has been more like an ongoing, perpetual, relentless pursuit.

Getting to know Him has not led me anywhere near Easy Street.
It has led me to spiritual paths paved with extreme difficulty.
It has required me to walk away from what is familiar...
to trod a rugged, untested, uncharted, unpopular, misunderstood path.
To pick up my feet, not knowing where I would next put them down.
There have been many tears.
Much uncertainty.
I have tasted....just tiny, minuscule drops of the dregs of bitterness He drank for me...
so long ago from that unpassable cup He begged His Father to take from Him.


Looking back, I find it ironic that a few months after I began this intense search,
the voice of our gentle Shepherd began to call us out of legalism.
I find it interesting that to come to know Him...like I really wanted to...
required me to venture to the outside of its confining, prison walls.
To leave what was comfortable and known and familiar.
To leave organized religion in order to become better acquainted 
with Jesus.
Kind of like the outcast from my previous post.

We heard his voice with distinct clarity...
calling us to step forth and walk by faith.
Felt the reality of His presence...until He seemed close enough to touch...
until we reached an entirely new level of understanding of who He is.
And, after it all, I find I have not even skimmed the surface....
because a knowledge of Jesus is fathomless.
Seeking after Him is an ongoing quest....
and a quest so worth the effort and refining it requires.
In the process, I have changed.
I am changing.
Because the more I come to know Him,
the more I realize how unlike the "religious" He is...
and how unlike Him I am.
The more I realize how unlike Him I am,
the more I yearn to change...
to be transformed...into His image...
into the person HE aspires for me to be.

I will never forget the day I was driving along in the car,
burdened to a point that was beyond being able to put into words,
going through some of the most intense spiritual warfare of my life,
tears falling like rain...coursing down my cheeks...
when all of a sudden, out of the blue came Jesus' familiar, still, small voice,
"Now, do you know Me?"
All of my words came back to me...in that moment...under the wheel, driving along.
How I had told Him I wanted to know Him,
my desperate pleas begging Him to reveal Himself to me,
the fervent yearning in my heart.
I had asked for this.
I wanted this...more than anything else in this world.
This was the only way to understand and know Jesus.
How else would I ever understand how He felt when He was rejected...
had I never felt rejection's sting?
How else would I have ever entered into His suffering of betrayal,
had my heart never been broken over being betrayed?
On and on the scenes and situations played through my mind...
like a movie reel.
It all began to make perfect sense...all of it.
And, sitting there...I did not regret one thing...
because I could trace His guiding hand, and it all had to happen in order for Him to give me the deepest yearning of my heart....to lead me to this place of knowing Christ.
My heart was more full of Him than it had ever been,
and though we had enjoyed many precious visits, this was the sweetest communion He and I had ever had.
This was communion on a whole new...and deeper level.

Walking with Jesus is like a marriage.
The longer we are part of this union, and the more we go through together, the more one we become.
The more we share in His sufferings, the more we can better understand and come to know Him.

Tears of heartache turned to tears of worship-filled praise there in that car.
And I knew.
This is the essence of life.
Coming to know Him has been...and still is...a journey that continually leads through an unexplored passage,
but each step I take feels freer than the last.


With this deeper knowledge has come a deeper fellowship...a deeper compassion....
a deeper tenderness in my heart towards Him and all He suffered for me.
I have always felt a measure of that tenderness...
always felt a deep appreciation to Him and a keen conscientiousness to please Him.
But, this is different.

After hearing and speaking His precious name for most of my life,
I find that I can hardly hear or speak His name now, 
without the immediate flow of tears.


 Click here if video doesn't load.

He makes my heart soft.  (Job 23:16)
I cry often...just thinking of Him.
Though I've read them all my life and been somewhat affected,
I now find that my eyes are blurred by flowing tears while I am reading His Words in red letters in my Bible.
They just seem so much more precious...and personal to me now...
like He is saying them....directly to me.

It is one thing to hear about Jesus and to know about Him,
but, it is quite another thing altogether to actually know Him and to really see Him.

Looking back over the anguish, I realize that when we have a desire to see Jesus, 
to really know Him, an elimination of self has to take place.
To know Him and the power of His resurrection
requires us to enter into a fellowship of His sufferings.
(Philippians 3:10)
Dross has to be removed, because impurities are like spiritual cataracts 
that cloud and distort our spiritual vision.
"Blessed are the pure in heart:  for they shall see God."
Matthew 5:8

It is only the pure in heart who will see Him,
both in this world and the next,
and the purification process is not an easy one.
But, isn't it worth it?
To see Him?


At the bitter end of Job's intense, severe testing and trials,
he said this,
"I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear:  but now mine eye seeth Thee."
Job 42:5

I had heard His name all my life,
Mom and Dad taught me about Him from the moment I could comprehend words.
They taught me to end every prayer I pray in His name...
to lean on Him in hard times...
to go to Him when I am in distress...
to praise Him always.
My parents introduced me to Jesus,
they deeply instilled a genuine love for Him in the core of my heart,
and that is the most precious gift they could have ever bestowed.
But they could only go so far past the introduction.
They faithfully went as far as they could, but the rest is up to me.

One thing I have learned is this...
it is impossible to really see Jesus and focus on Him,
when we are so caught up in trying to 
please and appease other people.
It is impossible to wholeheartedly worship Him, 
when we are bowing down to the god of a legalistic set of rules.
It is only when we let go of all of that,
when we stop trying our utmost to win the approval of man
that we come to a place of winning the sweet approval of God...
of really being able to unashamedly look into His face and see Him...
and come to know Him.
After pursuing the formerly-blind outcast in my previous post,
Jesus found him and later said,
"For judgement I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; 
and that they which see might be made blind.  
And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words,
and said unto Him, Are we blind also?  
Jesus said unto them, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin:  
but now ye say, we see; therefore your sin remaineth."  
John 9:39-41
It is often the ones who perceive themselves to be the most spiritually-enlightened who are, in reality, the most blind.
Self-deception is the worst beguilement of all.
When speaking of the offended Pharisees in Matthew 15:14, Jesus said this,
"Let them alone:  they be blind leaders of the blind.  
And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."
They were so intent and fixed on holding true to their man made traditions and calling those traditions Biblical doctrines
that they failed to see Jesus...
Who was standing right in front of them.

In Revelation 3:17-18, Jesus dictated a letter to John 
to be delivered to the Laodicean church.
In His letter, He said,
"...because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; 
and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:  
I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; 
and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of they nakedness do not appear; 
and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."
These people truly did not see nor realize their own miserable spiritual condition.
They thought they were without spiritual need.
Their eyes were completely blinded to the truth and the reality of how things really were.
They were so used to going through the motions, that they had become mechanical, 
oblivious to the fact that it was all a hypocritical farce....an empty shell...completely void of what is real.
Jesus told them where they really stood.
Once His light shines into a situation, 
there is no excuse to remain in darkness.
How wonderful that after exposing the truth to them, He did not leave them without hope.
He offered an eye-opening salve that would remedy their spiritual blindness, 
but it was up to them to apply it to their own eyes.
Sometimes, we make the choice to stay in our blinded state, 
because we don't want to acknowledge where we really are.
We refuse to embrace the reality of our own wretchedness.
Our apathy, aversion to change, and paralyzing fear of
 the unknown convinces us to stay in the familiar,
however miserable it may be.
Sometimes, it is just easier on the flesh...to remain blind...
because stepping out of what is considered the norm is not easy.
Our dear Lord wants to open every blinded eye to the glorious vision of who He is.
He wants to elevate our vision above what is man made and legalistic 
to the beautiful glory of knowing Him and the liberating power of His resurrection.
And knowing Jesus is worth whatever it takes to make His acquaintance...
even if we have to find Him on the outside.


(To read Post #1 in this series, entitled "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism", click here.
To read Post #2 in this series, entitled "The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger", click here.
To read Post #3 in this series,
entitled "The Second Greatest Post-Legalism Danger & How To Avoid It, click here.
To read Post #4 in this series, entitled "Jesus And The Outcast", click here.  )