Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Following Jesus

At first following Jesus just meant getting to know Him more. I was tentative about going to the church, but they were having some un-church like events and they actually turned out to be fun. One of these events that we attended was a "Welcome the new pastor" fun night in the local school gym. While playing one of the games, I pulled my shoulder and was in pain for the rest of the night. I was a bit embarrassed, and didn't make a big deal about it, but a few weeks later I saw one of the seniors from the church at the post office, and he asked me how my arm was. I don't even know how he knew, and I certainly didn't know why he cared, but he did.

I was beginning to experience one of the lovely ways that Jesus makes Himself known in our world ~ through the love of His people. I understood this better later, as I learned about the church being the body of Jesus, filled, directed and given power and love by His Spirit living within each member of the Body. The new pastor, Jim, was a tremendous teacher, and soon I was in a Saturday night Bible study with several other people who had just met Jesus as well. I was in the beginning of this amazing love relationship with the God of the Universe, and when I wasn't being blown away by the sheer wonder of it all, I was inhaling everything I could about Him. Like any love relationship, I wanted to know Him, know about Him, everything about Him. I wanted to know what He thought about me, who I was to Him. Everything I learned amazed me. I had His undivided attention at all times. He loved me with passion and a commitment that I had always dreamed of. It was a love affair.

Music soon became one of the ways that I not only learned about God and this new life with Him, but it also became a way to express my love to Him and to emotionally connect to Him. As I learned the hymns, they became very personal to me. My first Christmas as a christian was a revelation to me as I sang carols that I had known for years, only to discover that they spoke with love and devotion about the glorious gift of love that God had sent, that I had received. I "celebrated" Christmas for the first time ever in my life, having finally met the birthday Boy.

Being in church and in contact with church people made me aware that there were some behaviors that were frowned upon that had been a part of my life. I also began to realize, though, that there were behaviors that made me uncomfortable, simply because I knew that they didn't please Jesus. Swearing was one of the first. Using His name as a curse word made me cringe inside. I wouldn't do it to His face. I wouldn't want anyone to do it with my name. It just felt that the mouth that I was using to praise and thank Him should not also be used to curse. Then I read this in the Bible, James 3:10 "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." I asked God to help me to stop, and instantly became super aware every time I swore. Soon the habit had died. Other things followed. I began to change, not because I wanted to follow some arbitrary rules but because I wanted to please God. I soon realized that I wasn't giving up doing these things, I was finding freedom from them.

Giving up drinking alcohol was a good example of this. I had started drinking later in my teens, but by my early 20s I was beginning to drink alcoholically. I was using alcohol to help me feel more comfortable in social situations, and seeking solace and escape in the high from drinking. Every time I drank, I drank to get drunk. Our finances at the time limited the amount that I was able to drink and how often I could indulge, but the desire was always there. Even though the church encouraged not drinking at all, I kept going out. Sometimes I even went out after Saturday night Bible study. I could not see the reasoning behind the "rule" about not drinking, and told myself that I shouldn't obey a rule I didn't understand. The truth was I didn't want to obey it.

Once after a night out, I arrived home drunk and unable to sleep. Mark went to bed and I sat up, reading my Bible. God began to show me, in my heart, why I had consumed so much alcohol that night. I had been uncomfortable with the people there, feeling unaccepted and not knowing how to bridge the gap and make friends. God showed me that I had used alcohol to try to make myself more acceptable. Needless-to-say, it hadn't worked. He promised me that if I would give up using alcohol, He would accomplish in me what I needed to be able to enter into social situations with ease and confidence. God is pretty honest about these kinds of things, and He let me know upfront that it would take longer and I would find it difficult. But the work He did in me would be permanent, and freeing. I would never need to use alcohol inappropriately again. I agreed, stumbled off to bed and kept my part of the promise. I trusted God to keep His. I didn't drink for something like 10 years. When I did begin drinking again, a glass of wine with supper occasionally, I discovered that I no longer had any desire to lose myself in the alcohol. I liked who I was and where my mind was. I was used to the clarity of my mind and was comfortable with myself. I could easily have fun sober, and had found laughter and joy that didn't leave me feeling like doggie drool the next morning. I liked being in control, and being high was abhorrent to me. God had set me free. He had healed me, and I was so grateful.

Following Jesus, at the beginning, was simply relational. It was about feeling like a love-sick puppy that followed Him around everywhere He went because when He looked at me, it was with so much love and pride and joy and passion and wisdom...how could I not follow? He knew me, the deep, inside, scary me, and still smiled when He saw me. When He frowned at me, and He often had cause to, I still felt loved. He had expectations for me, but He also had the power to help me fulfill those expectations. He just needed me to want to be free.

So, why (and when) did it get all complicated and difficult?

More later...

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