The Pleasure after the Pain

smile2.pngContinued from here.

On her television show Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer helped me with this concept of the pain and pleasure of following God into deeper levels of holiness. She pointed out that when we choose to follow God, we will first experience pain as we “kill” more of our sinful nature. After we push through the pain, which requires effort, we then step into the pleasure that our spirit experiences as we deepen our relationship with God. Transforming into the image of Christ involves a continual cycle of pain followed by pleasure. We must first allow God to break down our resistance to Him by crucifying more of our flesh, and that hurts. It requires effort, and it frankly does not feel good. However, once we kill that part of our sinful nature, we are able to experience God at a deeper level, which is unbelievably pleasurable to the spirit. That pleasure far exceeds the pain of getting there. It’s well worth the effort and pain to walk into a deeper relationship with God.

Something else Joyce Meyer said on her show resonated with me. She said don’t envy someone else’s relationship with God if you are unwilling to do what they did to get it. I like the metaphor of an Olympic athlete. Yes, winning an Olympic gold medal sounds fantastic, but how many of us are willing to do what is required to win one? There’s so much more to the story than running one race. Olympic athletes train, sacrifice, and, yes, experience pain in their quest to win the gold medal. And when they do, they tell you it was worth it.

Your walk with God is the same way, and unlike with Olympic athletes, an intimate walk with God is attainable for all of us … BUT we must be willing to put forth the effort to attain it. We must be willing to push through the pain to experience the pleasure. We must be willing to because the “Messiah’s misfits”) as we journey toward a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Living God. Developing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God requires much effort and cost, but it is so worth it!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


The Blessings of God’s Best for Us

blessedContinued from here.

Because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world, the pain of experiencing God’s best for me is obvious, such as being mocked or ridiculed for refusing to do things that everyone else, both in the World and even many within the Church, sees absolutely nothing wrong with doing. However, the blessings I experience far outweigh the pain. Yes, the initial steps of purifying myself are painful. For example, walking away from watching secular television was particularly painful for me in the early weeks. However, after the pain comes a deluge of blessings.

For example, I used to be an impatient driver, continually frustrated by the slow drivers interfering with my desire to arrive at my destination 30 seconds earlier. I was also an anxious driver, always looking for policemen with radar guns and making sure I stayed just under what I believed was the magic number for getting pulled over for speeding. Today, I’m a very relaxed driver because I am neither in a hurry nor breaking the law, so there’s nothing to get worked up about. Even as people tailgate me and express their displeasure with my “slow driving” as they whip around me, I’m relaxed as I sing praise and worship songs to God while I drive. I set aside more time to reach my destination, and I arrive not only on time (or early) but also relaxed and refreshed.

Even though I’m still in the early stages of secular television withdrawal, God is showing me the blessings. He recently called me to a deeper level of holiness and pointed out how the characters on the television shows I miss routinely model ungodly behavior. While watching the shows, I was happy to ignore the many ways these characters disobeyed God’s basic principles, such as the wives’ continual disrespect for their husbands. Now that I have stepped away, I’m finding it easier to live in a holier way because those influences are losing their power over me. I’m only allowing God to influence how to behave as I greatly limit my exposure to worldly ways.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hands in prayer above the word, “#Blessed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


The Pain of God’s Best for Us

im_OKContinued from here.

Let’s return to the quote I started this blog series with:

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

People sometimes ask me whether Christianity becomes easier or harder as I mature in my relationship with God. My response is “yes.” It becomes easier for two primary reasons: (1) Obedience is simple – either I am obeying God in a situation or I am not, so I no longer engage in mental gymnastics to lie to myself about “wrong” being “right” or acceptable just because I want it to be; and (2) I have a long track record to look back upon – God was faithful before, so I more easily trust that He will be faithful again.

It becomes harder primarily because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world. As a simple example, the Holy Spirit has convicted me to obey the speed limit when I drive, which is something even most Christians fail to do. Whenever I share this simple example with a group of Christians, most will say they are glad that God has not convicted them of this. However, the Bible makes it clear that it’s a sin to break the speed limit:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” ~ Rom. 13:1

I love people where they are, just as God loved me where I was when I routinely disobeyed Him in this area (along with many other areas of my life), so I don’t try to fill the Holy Spirit’s role of convicting them. At the same time, I do not allow the majority’s voice to give me “permission” to sin along with them. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted anyone else, he has convicted me. Thus, I must obey the speed limit when I drive, even as people I love mock me for doing so. That has gotten harder as I continue conforming into Christ’s image.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wrapped like a mummy on crutches below the words. “I’m OK.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Christianity Requires Effort

treadmillContinued from here.

All relationships require some amount of effort. No two people see everything alike, and so at least one person (and preferable both) in the relationship need to make an effort to align with the other so the two can walk together. A relationship with God is no exception. I fear that far too many Christians assume that because receiving salvation required minimal effort on their part, that’s the way a relationship with God is always supposed to be. Anyone with this mindset clearly has not spent much time in God’s Word because the Bible is filled with stories of the effort required to walk with God. Jesus himself told us that there’s a cost to discipleship. And what is that cost? EVERYTHING!

Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That’s not what I signed up for. I only want enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, but I’m unwilling to make changes in my day-to-day life that require effort.” If that’s your mindset, then you are not Jesus’ disciple, and you don’t really believe him. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus is the Son of God: “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). Being a disciple of Christ involves more than simply saying, “Yes, I believe Jesus died for my sins. I receive you as my Savior so I can avoid going to hell. I’ll see you when I get to heaven. Meanwhile, I’m going to live my life however I see fit.” That’s not discipleship.

Discipleship involves radical changes. It involves choosing to love God more than yourself or anyone else in your life. It requires you to be willing to let go of ANYTHING you possess, recognizing that you possess nothing but God … and He is enough – more than enough, actually. Discipleship means that you choose to die to your selfishness day after day, becoming a servant not only to God but to everyone around you. You willingly let go of everything so that you can gain everything, becoming enslaved to Christ to experience the freedom of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running in a treadmill. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


The Effort of Being in a Relationship with God


barbellI previously shared that I am reading Janet Brooks’ book, Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions. She caught my attention when she quoted my favorite Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, as saying,

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I had not heard that quote before reading it in Brooks’ book, and I have been meditating on this concept since reading it in one of the early chapters of her book. I also decided to return to reading another of Lewis’ books (I had taken a break after spending a year in divinity school – needed a break from reading theology books). I recently started reading his book, The Problem of Pain, which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about in future weeks. But I digress…

In her book, Brooks asks why we find it so hard to trust God even though we know how intimately He loves us. She postulates the reason is that we know how much work it’s going to take to transform us into the image of Christ in his perfection. She then weaves in the above quote from C.S. Lewis. I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head – Far too many Christians never grow up because they see how much work is involved and simply don’t want to do it.

Think about it. Becoming a Christian requires nothing of us other than belief. While this can be a blow to our pride, there’s not much to do. I say, “Jesus, please forgive me for my sins and come into my life,” and just like that, I’m a Christian. This requires very little effort on my part because Jesus did all the work. The reason I can say a simple prayer and be reconciled to God is because Jesus did everything else. Effort was certainly required to reconcile me to God, but Jesus expended 99.9% of that effort. He allowed himself to be tortured, killed, and temporarily separated from God so that minimal effort would be required on my part – simply believing – for me to be reconciled to God. However, that’s not the end of a relationship with God. It’s only the beginning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Slow Miracles Lead to Transformation

barbellContinued from here.

One reason we are on this earth is to transform into Christ’s image. Transformation does not happen quickly: by definition, transformation is a slow process. As you pray for your miracle, you might not see anything happening, but God is much less concerned with changing your circumstances than He is with changing YOU.

The lesson we all need to learn is that GOD’S WAY ACTUALLY WORKS. When we choose not to forgive those who wrong us, we are refusing the slow miracle of God’s healing. Our pain is not caused by the wrong that was done to us (although I know it feels that way). Instead, our pain is caused by our reaction to what was done. When we choose to think negatively about someone and feed the bitterness, we build our own emotional prisons. While God could miraculous tear down those prison walls for us, without transformation, we will simply build them right back up again. God tells us to forgive and to pray for our enemies, not because they deserve it but because that’s the door to opening the miracle of healing. How quickly or slowly that happens depends upon your willingness to live your life God’s way.

The same holds true for healing your marriage. Marriage only works God’s way, which involves humbling yourself by deferring your preferences to your spouse. Because you are one, the more you lash out in anger toward your spouse, the more wounds you inflict onto yourself. Conversely, when you defer your preferences to your spouse and honor him or her, you open the door to the slow miracle of healing your marriage. Many of God’s slow miracles are invited in by simply doing things God’s way.

While my preference at the time would have been quick miracles for healing the eating disorder, childhood pain, and marital woes, if I could go back in time and change this, I wouldn’t. Quick miracles would have only been temporary fixes because my disobedience to God’s ways would have simply placed me back in the same situation as before. The slow miracles transformed me so that I am no longer tempted to go back. I know how much effort was required to experience God’s miracles, and I refuse to return to the bondage from which God has freed me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a barbell above her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Eastern Orthodox Church: How to Transform into God’s Likeness

beautifulContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. The transfiguration plays a huge role in Eastern Orthodox belief. Jesus showed the disciples what to work toward when he revealed to them who he actually was, enabling them to see the divinity in Jesus that most people did not see. Transfiguration is the goal not only of the individual but for all of creation!

Sin is something external that interferes with the transfiguration process, resulting in interference with attaining fullness of life. Through Jesus, God’s gift of grace enables immortality to unite with a fallen world, bringing the fallen world into union with God, which results in divine beauty … hence the emphasis on divine beauty in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. As Jesus was both fully God and fully human, he was/is the perfect union of humanity and divinity. Through Jesus, mankind can experience the same transfiguration as we transform into God’s likeness by degrees.

Interestingly, I have found a couple of verses–2 Cor. 3:18 and Gen. 5:1— in which the New International version appears to use the terms likeness and image interchangeably whereas the Eastern Orthodox translation (I have no idea what version of the Bible they use) does not. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, image = God’s part (creating man with the capacity to choose harmony with God) and likeness = man’s part (choosing to enter into union with God).

The Eastern Orthodox church believes that transforming into God’s likeness requires choice. God gave man the capacity to transform into His image by creating him in His image. Man has the freedom to choose to do so or not. When man chooses to do so, he reverses the effects of the Fall, which not only delivers himself but also the universe from the disorder that resulted from the Fall.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the word, “Beautiful.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]