Friday, November 28, 2008

Ruined for the Ordinary

     It all started with a sentence during a deep conversation.  "Julie, do you feel like a black sheep?" I replied,  "Amy, I cannot tell you how many times I have used those words over the years to describe how I feel."  No matter how much I tried to be normal I still felt like the black sheep.   

     I was the most active of the 4 children that made up our family. I couldn't sit still.  I couldn't keep my mouth shut, getting into trouble all the time.  I constantly asked questions.  Why couldn't I be good like my quiet, respectful sister?  Why did I have to challenge things so much?  No one called me a black sheep, but it's what I felt and therefore believed.

     I didn't learn the way they taught in public school.  I wasn’t an auditory learner.   No matter how hard I tried I didn't learn well in that setting?  I was made fun of for being too skinny,  having crooked teeth, you name it..  Even my middle name, a family name. was under ridicule.    I dreaded those first days of school where they called out your full name.  Girls who sat behind me made fun of my name.  Why did I have to be so abnormal, so peculiar?

     Years ago at a Bible study I was told I was too deep.  For goodness sake, I couldn't even feel normal around Christians.  I've felt like I wanted too much, expected too much, talked too much, was too vulnerable, and now I am too deep?  I guess that meant I wanted God too much too.  Would I ever feel normal in this world?

     My friend’s question was  hitting a place in me.  I had to know more.  So I asked Jesus. "Am I a black sheep, Jesus?"

     “Jewel, would I have been considered a black sheep in my day?”  “By some, yes, Jesus, after all you did break the rules.”    

     "Jewel, I lived an extraordinary life.   If you follow me, you will never be normal, for I am abnormal by the worlds' standards."  "Normal is the world's term, Extraordinary is mine."  "Do not compare to the world.  Compare to Me."  "Was I normal?" 

     "No Jesus, you were not normal.  You were Extraordinary."

      "Take heart if you are seen as abnormal.  You relate to me.  We are Extraordinary to Papa, Jewel.  Isn't that amazing?"You are not a black sheep, Jewel, you are His extraordinary one."

       In forgetting who we are, we become most vulnerable to the enemy's lies. We end up fulfilling self-proclaimed falsified prophecies.   It is only as we know who God sees us to be that we will walk free.  He sees us as Extraordinary.  

      We’ve been deceived.  No one in life can fulfill or steal the truth of how deeply we are loved and valued.  As children the first people we look to are our parents to give us what only God can give to us. It’s not possible.  I didn't see it until this week.  I cannot possibly give my children the complete love and value that is theirs.  As much as I don’t want to be, I am imperfect in love and life. 

      But there is one who is perfect.  He sees me as Extraordinary and loves me perfectly.  He sees me complete in all my value.  No one can take that from me. The sooner I get that, the sooner I live as I am. 

      I am His Extraordinary One.  So are you. Every moment of every day it is vital to my life to take every thought captive to Him.  "Papa, this is how I feel today, what do you think of me?" 

      I am not who I thought I was.  He sees it.  He invites me to see it too.  He removes the tattered covering of the shroud labeled “black sheep”  and replaces it with HIs cloak of identity.  His covenant robe is exchanged for my old, worn-out, rotting self-imposed labels. As His bloodstained robe covers me, no longer do I have to live fulfilling the prophecies of my past.  Now I am free to see.  Life never was really meant to be normal.  I have been ruined for the ordinary.

     What about you?  What prophecy are you living in your life; your self-fulfilled one or His? Do you see it?  Who are YOU, really?

    But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  I Peter 2:9

©copyright:  2008 by Julie L. Todd

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Love Brings the Increase!

      One of the "normal" clich├ęs in the Christian community is "I must decrease so that Christ might increase."  We've taken this scripture of John 3: and made it a focus, a mantra for living.  It was used of John the Baptist as his ministry was transitioning.  He had fulfilled his calling, preparing the way of the Lord.  Now Jesus was there. It was time for his ministry to lessen.  Knowing the context of the verse changes things a bit.  But still there are questions to be answered.

     Can Christ really increase in me? Isn't He already fully in me?  Can I receive any more of Him?  Doesn’t He come into my life all at once?  

     Didn't I receive all of Him when I exchanged my life for His?  Can I make myself decrease?  Is that really possible?  Doesn't that still make life about me, somehow and what I can do?  Isn't that still in some aspects hanging onto my life by making it my work?

     The performing flesh was never meant to be made better, it was meant to be crucified.  The beauty of the crucified flesh is that it's an invitation to come afresh into the arms of love, exchanging my works for His.  It's no longer about what I can do it's now about responding to love and allowing love to transform me.  The more love I embrace and experience the more my life decreases allowing Christ's life stored in me to be revealed.

     Everything Jesus did He did out of love.  He didn't have to beat His flesh, He just surrendered to love and out of that fulfilled the destiny of His life.  My flesh was never meant to be beaten, it was meant to be crucified, killed, forever.

     Everything falls into place as I move into being loved.  He is the life in me. He is the breath that moves in and out of my lungs.  He is the work in me.  He is the increase.  He is the love.

     Can you imagine what it would be like to not pray, worship, read the love letters of God, go to church, give money unless your heart was stirred by love?  And what if you felt the stirring but did not respond?  Would there be guilt and condemnation?  Would you give yourself the proverbial brow beating?

     Can you fathom a love that would delight in you even if you didn't respond, even if you never did anything?  Isn't that what unconditional love is really? Isn't unconditional love a "no expectations, no requirements, no strings attached" love?  

     When you really grasp a love like that don't you find yourself wanting to do all those things?  Think about when you fell in love.  Was there any effort to spend time with the one who pursued you with his love?  Wasn't it just natural to respond to the pursuit?

     As I am swallowed up in His love, life unfolds before me.  Worship is opened up to me in a deep and personal way.  I am singing songs to the one who loves me perfectly.  His love letters come to life while reading as I kisses from His lips to my heart.  Tithing is no longer a mandate, but it now becomes an opportunity to give away love.  Prayer becomes an intimate encounter with the love of my life. There's no longer need for discipline, it can now flow out of those intimate places of the pursuit of love.

     It's really that simple.  Love is the answer.  It's the message of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.  Creation, and the rescue of man, are the Father's invitation to enter in and be loved.  It was love that brought us here.  It is love that will take us home.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  It changes everything, even you, even me.

     Cinderella, a servant girl, laid down mop and bucket to be swept up into a fairy tale love story.  An unlikely candidate to be a princess, she was seen in all her beauty and loved.  

     You are His Cinderella.  He created you to love you, no strings attached.  You are the object of His affections.  He has been pursuing you since you breathed your first breath.  What do you say, will you throw down your mop and bucket and be swept up in love?  Love never fails.

     For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

©copyright:  2008 Julie L. Todd

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Will Not Bow Down

      I will not bow down.  I will say it again... I will not bow down!

     Why is it often difficult to see the enemy’s attempts to bring me down?  How easily I can get caught in a place of value seeking.  He knows that I want to have a significance on this earth.  Why is it so easy to get swept into that place of allowing man to give me or take value from me?

     The question  was asked; “what is it that satan uses to try and get you to bow down?  I know the answer, it comes to me immediately.  I want to make a difference, to have a value in what I offer.  I want to have something significant to bring the world.  I want to make Papa God proud.

     There’s this place inside me that wants to be seen and delighted in.  It’s a natural desire.  The problem is it often gets twisted and somehow begins to incorporate my value as seen through the eyes of the world, instead of the eyes of Papa.

     I love to tell His truths.  When He invited me to teach “Captivating” at my old church, the desire was birthed into life.  I couldn’t hold it back.  I loved teaching, speaking and talking about His heart.  Standing up front with a microphone attached, telling the truth of HIs heart, stirred something deep inside me.  With the awakened desire came an ache all it’s own.

     As is often the case, desire is awakened to then be taken into hibernation.  The hibernation brings with it a time of dormancy.  Living with the birthed desire has had it’s moments of pain and heartache.  It’s in those moments that the enemy comes trying to convince me to bow down.

     Another desire awakened when I started to write again.  I love it, yet it can be painful sometimes.  Last year I lost 30 devotionals when my hard drive crashed.  Two weeks ago my laptop was damaged and once again, taking with it more writing.  The taunting I hear tries to convince me that I am wasting my time.  It’s not whispers this time, but shouts...”give it all up”...”what you are doing is worthless.”

     I will not bow down! I will not allow my value to be challenged by the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  I choose to combat the lies with the truth.  I am significant because I am His created one.  That is what gives me value, not a ministry, title, teaching, or even evidence of influencing someone’s life.  I am significant because I am His.  It has nothing to do with what I do.

     I am loved, seen, and delighted in.  I have incredible value to Him and if I never did another thing, but live loved THAT would fulfill my destiny.  THAT is why I am here.  It’s so easy to miss the truth.  It’s so easy to think that what I do here on this earth is what really counts.  

     The reality is, my Papa loves me just because I am His Jewel.  If I live in that, I fulfill what I was created for.  I am loved by the Creator of the universe.  That is what makes a difference on this earth.  THAT is my reality.  Therefore, I will not bow down!

     What about you?  What is it that the enemy uses to try to get you to bow down?

©copyright:  2008 Julie L. Todd

Friday, November 14, 2008

Being Laid Bare

It won't be long before the beautiful trees of these mountains are laid bare. To prepare the trees for new life, leaves once vibrant with color will fall away, decomposing on the ground to feed the soil their rich nutrients. Old things must die so that new things might be birthed. It's the cycle of life, "the old has gone, the new has come." In order for the new life to be awakened in us, the old life must be removed.

For years old things have held me captive. I have been stuck in the old way of thinking. Who I believed I was, who I believed God was and what I believed was expected of me, have all played a part in my captivity. Growing up in the church I was trained to consider all the things that a good soldier of the Lord was required to do and be. Life was about what I could and should do. "Should" drains the life out of living? Living in the "shoulds" of Christianity kills the heart of the relationship.

He came that we might have life and have it to the full. Was it really up to me to find that life? Or was it He that brought it to me? Was it my life lived out in attempts to please Him or was it His life lived out of me in my bankruptcy? Was it I who loved Him first or He who loved me first?

Papa God got out His pruning shears and one by one began to snip away the false beliefs I held about Him, and myself. What was it that He truly wanted from me? Who was I to Him? All He ever wanted with me was what I wanted with Him; love, true love.

He created me to love me. He wanted me to respond to that love. He wanted me to see what He saw in me. He wanted me to know His true heart. He wanted to be my strength and live His life through me. He would not rest until I saw what He saw.

About the same time in my life, my husband decided to cut back a shrub in our front yard. By the time he had finished, all that was left was a stump of empty branches. I thought surely he must have killed it. There was nothing left but the foundation of the plant. Was it possible it would ever again be filled with vibrant new life?

That shrub became a connection to my inner being. I felt as if limbs were being amputated. So much had to be clipped away to get to the foundation of my thinking. At times I didn't know who I was anymore. I felt like that shrub. Was there going to be anything left inside me when it was all over? I felt so dead and empty, were there any signs of life?

Week after week I watched that empty shrub for signs of life. It felt as if somehow we were enter twined. Maybe if new life sprang forth on it, I would see it in myself. I watched to see if it would survive the drastic pruning and live.

One day it finally happened. A tiny shoot of green burst out of one of the stubby branches. Tears streamed down my face as I saw it. It was a visual promise to me. Though I felt dead, life still invaded my body waiting to burst out. The seed of life indwelt me. Though I felt dead, I was still alive.

The Gardener prunes away all that is dead to make room for new life to emerge. It's nothing to fear. It's the way it was meant to be. Being laid bare is the preparation for new life. Pruning is the promise of a new beginning. A beginning of life as it was always meant to be.

It's out of love that the Gardener prunes us. He wants the light of His life to permeate our souls. Christ crucified bought us a new beginning, a new life. The slate is wiped clean, the old has gone, the new has come. The work has already been done, we now need to see it to live in it.

Being laid bare gives us the chance to have our perspective changed to see what He sees; who we were always meant to be. We are given the chance of a lifetime, fresh, beautiful, abundant new life. We can now be to be who we were always meant to be, as our eyes are opened we will see. It is then we become who He has always known us to be, His chosen and dearly loved.

The winds will come, the leaves will fall, trees will be laid bare to prepare for the promise of new life. As it is with the trees, so it is with us. For this is our promise. Pruning last but for a moment, but new life lasts a forever.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Here's a great song to listen to that goes along with this: Inside of Me
©copyright: Julie L. Todd 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You Never Walk Alone

      Have you ever been in desperate places when God seemed to be deafeningly silent?  If you haven't at some point you most likely will.  Even though the scriptures say God will never leave me or forsake me, sometimes the circumstances of life have left me feeling as if I am living in a relational ghost town.  How can He be here with me when I cannot hear, feel or see Him?  Does He have Caller ID, sees it's me and refuses to pick up?  Why does it feel like I am so alone if He is with me?  I find answers hidden in the story of the two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  

     Jesus had died 2 days before and on the 3rd day there is talk of the tomb being empty.  Two followers are walking along the road talking about all that has just happened when a "man" comes up and begins to walk with them.  He listens as they talk and then, as if he doesn't know anything, begins to question them. They’re pretty surprised that this stranger doesn’t know what’s just happened, after all the whole city of Jerusalem knows. Didn’t he see the skies go black and feel the earthquake? They try to explain what they have just witnessed.  

   They've just experienced a devastating blow.  They thought the Messiah had come to save them from the Roman rule and now he’s dead.  Not only is He dead, His body has now been reported missing.  They have no idea who is walking with them.  Jesus' presence is hidden from them.  Unbeknownst to them, as they wrestle with their faith, Jesus is walking right beside them.

     They get to their destination and beg the man to stay with them. They sit down to a meal, and the "man" prays.  At once their eyes are opened and they see.  Though they were unaware, Jesus had been with them all along. Their words are priceless.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us?”

     LIfe has dished out it's hard knocks.  Sometimes it has taken all that I've had within me to stay present.  When God's voice became silent I discovered something.  Hidden away inside me were questions.  Where was God?  Did He care?  What is this all about?  Have I done something to deserve this?  Has He walked out on me?  The silence of God comes, bringing with it a stillness that shuts down the outside noise, allowing the noise of our doubts and questions to rise up.   

     The hiddenness has a purpose, though I do not like the feel of it.  It’s in the hiddenness that I, like those two men, have to come to the conclusion about what I believe, see and know.

    How often when life isn’t what I thought it would be do I feel like He has left me?  How often do I blame myself for where I am? “If I had just read my Bible more, or prayed more, maybe this wouldn’t have happened?”  It was easy to tell myself that surely I had done something wrong.

    Though He is always with me, there are times He hides His presence from me.  He allows the beliefs hidden down deep to rise up to the surface. It’s in those times that my faith is given a good dose of fertilizer to grow.  As I grapple with what I feel verses what I know, something is transformed in me and I see.  The times of silence do not mean He has left me. They mean that He is hidden in order for me to find what I really believe about Him and what I believe He thinks about me.  He never leaves me or forsakes me.  He is always with me.  His Spirit is in me.  I cannot be detached from Him.

      He walks beside me, though there are times I am oblivious.   Hiddenness has it’s purpose.  When the time is right He will reveal Himself to me once again, my eyes will be opened and then I will see.  He never left me. He was here all along.  

    “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

     Papa God, thank you that you are with us. You never leave us or forsake us. Thank you that we can know in those times that we cannot feel you or hear from you, you are still there. You walk on the roads of life with us. Help us remember what is really true. You came, You died, You rose again so that we might live.

©copyright:  2008 Julie L. Todd

Also posted at the Internet Cafe:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shades of Beauty in Death

        Shades of orange, yellow and red fill the trees outside my window.   I love living in this mountain town.  Beautiful hues on display around me remind me of a paintbrush and palette in the hands of the Artist.  I can see Him smiling as He brushes the colors of fall onto the canvas of these mountains.  He delights in creating beauty.

      Trees preparing for rest, shut down their food making factories.  Leaves once a vibrant green now turn to shades of brilliant color.  As the green chlorophyll fades away, the hues that have always been there hidden, begin to burst out.  Exquisite beauty is seen as the leaves prepare to die.

     I never thought I would see beauty unfold in my life.  All I could see was the pain and death that surrounded me.  For the wages of sin is death. There had been plenty of sin throughout my life, leaving what felt like insurmountable wages.  How could it be that Christ came to set me free, yet I still felt the shackles of sin and death? No matter how much I performed to please Him I was still left with the questions.  Am I enough?

     Why is it that if I had been crucified with Christ, I still lived.  I remember a friend saying to me, “you are dead in Christ”.  My response was, “yes and I am going to be the best dead person I can be.”  She said, “Julie, there’s something wrong with that statement.”  I was so steeped in performance that I had no idea that still lived.  He knew I was stuck so He invited me to enter into His death.

     When Papa God invited me into the desert He knew that death awaited me.  I must die so that Christ could live.  As long as I lived my life in my own ability, stuck in the "old man" identity, Christ’s life wasn’t going to be lived through me.  

      We hear alot about independence in this day and age.  We're told it's up to us and what we must do.  We as people need;  sort of.  As long as we can handle it we do.  When we get to a place where we can’t figure it out, it’s then we cry out in need.  We live our lives as competent people who call on their God when life gets unmanageable.  It’s not what He desired. It’s not what Jesus displayed.  Why is it we tend to live independently when Christ lived dependently?  If I live my life on my own isn’t it an indication that somewhere His life is not being lived through me?  We have reduced relationship with God to requirements.  We must earn our keep, to prove our love.  Doesn't that somehow in the midst make life about me and what I can and will do?  If my life with God is based on requirements won't that somehow stifle the relationship?

     God made His Son to need Him.  He made the whole earth to need Him and many of us do, to an extent.  I say I want to live for Him, to know Him.   Do I realize that to know Him, means I die to me, my ability, my strength, my wisdom, and even my perspective of who I think I am.  I am crucified with Christ, yet I no longer live, but Christ now lives in me.  Does my life really reflect that?

      The leaves of fall depict this lesson of life. As they begin to die, the beauty that’s stored inside them emerges.  It was there all along, though unseen.  Nature paints a picture of life.  The colors of Christ in who He made me to be will break forth in stunning beauty as who I used to be dies.  I am a new creation in Christ, the old has gone, the new has come.

       Life no longer has to be about me and what I can do.  It can now be about Him and what He will do.  He came that I might have life, and have it to the full.  As I am emptied, the brilliant, full life of Christ unfolds in me.   It’s quite the paradox, really.  In losing my life I gain it. I become who He made me to be.

     Feeling His beauty spill out of me is unlike anything I have ever experienced.   Every time He lives out of me, I am undone.  He fills me up unlike anything I have ever known.  The beauty of Him in me, takes my breath away.  For it is in this place I have come to see, it's not up to me. I can need.  I can be incapable.  I no longer need to perform or strive.  He has come to set me free.  The paradox of God is; as I lose my life I gain His. I am free to be me, knowing it's not up to me.  It is His life lived in me. That my friends, is life to the full.  

        I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  John 10:10

      What about you?  How dead are you? Does His life lived out in you take your breath away?  

    For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. II Corinthians 4:11  



©copyright:  2008  Julie L. Todd