Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shout for Joy and Facedown and WHAT? ...Suffer??

So the people went away... to celebrate with GREAT JOY because they had HEARD GOD'S WORDS and understood them.

As I read these words this morning, I was overcome with joy and gladness as I have felt this way so many times when I've come away from hearing a powerful sermon at church or from spending a couple hours in Bible study with other women who are hungering to know more of the Word of God. "In Nehemiah 8:1-12 we read of how Ezra the priest brought the book of the law of Moses before the assembly of Israel when they were all helping to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  These were the words that God had given to Moses for the people of Israel to obey and Ezra read to them from early morning until noon. They all paid such close attention...they were hungry for God's Word and when he was finished reading 

"Ezra praised the LORD, the great God, and all the people chanted, "AMEN! AMEN!" as they lifted their hands toward heaven. Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground." 

Oh, it brings instant tears to my eyes and my knees have a strong urge to go down to the ground along with them! Can you imagine  .... can you just imagine .... the JOY they had in their hearts as they heard the words of the LORD at this point in their lives. They'd just spent years in exile in Babylon after their beloved Jerusalem had been destroyed. Now they were back in their homeland, rebuilding the walls and the Temple and HEARING THE WORDS OF THE LORD once again. Oh yes they wept because they realized how far away they had gone from obeying God...but now they reheard the beloved words and they could once again sing His praises and REJOICE!  

The JOY of the LORD was their STRENGTH!

Many many years earlier, the people of Israel had another incredible facedown experience with God. In Leviticus 9 we read of Aaron and his sons preparing the sacrifices to God with the offerings the people brought to them. The Tabernacle had been completed and the people were given instructions on how to worship a Holy God and to live a holy life. Aaron presented the offerings to the LORD, just as God commanded him to do through Moses. 

"Aaron raised his hands toward the people and blessed them. Then, after presenting the sin offering, the whole burnt offering, and the peace offering, he stepped down from the altar. Next Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle, and when they came back out, they blessed the people again, and the GLORIOUS PRESENCE OF THE LORD APPEARED to the whole community. Fire blazed forth from the LORD's presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw all this, they SHOUTED WITH JOY AND FELL FACE DOWN on the ground."

The Word of the Lord was so powerful then and His Presence was amazing.....and it still is today!

I want to be a SHOUT FOR JOY and a FALL FACEDOWN type of follower of Christ! Beth Moore speaks about this in the Stepping Up Bible study that over100 of us women are journeying through right now. I DO want to be that type of Christian! I don't want any fluff or feel good sermons or words....I want the passionate messages from the Word of God and the challenge to live our lives more passionately for God. That's why I LOVE Bible study! Getting together with other believers who are hungering for a deeper walk with God and to know more of His Word is so incredibly fulfilling...it fills you up like nothing else can! I want to hear God more, I want to know more of His Word, I want to praise Him more, I want to experience more of His Power and Love and Grace, I want to see more and more people becoming passionate and hungering for more and more of Him too....oh how I desire for more of HIM!  So I want to take the challenge to become more of a facedown follower of Jesus Christ! I know I've lost the reverence that our ancestors had and I want it back. 

This morning I read such an incredibly beautiful and encouraging blog post from Liz Curtis Higgs. In it she is talking about the Book of Romans and how God CHOSE Saul - while he was standing on the sidelines, nodding his head and giving approval to the stoning of Stephen, a devout follower of Jesus...God CHOSE him! On the road to Damascus, Saul had an experience with the Lord and I'm sure he wasn't just standing up for it either...I'm certain he fell to the ground on his knees while saying "who are you Lord? what do you want with me?"  I'm sure he had a facedown type of an experience with the Light of Jesus shining down on him. See, it didn't matter too much to God what Saul WAS because God knew full well who Saul would BECOME. He would become a 'bond-servant' a 'slave', a 'prisoner' of Jesus Christ...living his whole life completely for him and eventually dying for him. He wrote much of the New Testament and gave instructions to the early church on how to live their lives as believers/followers of Jesus Christ full of joy and passion. WOW! So my challenge is...do I want to live the life that the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ are asking me to live? Do I want to live and be able to say with Paul "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21)  Am I prepared to suffer? Am I willing to share the sufferings of Christ on this earth? In our Sunday School class we've just started on The Cross and Suffering by David Platt , John Piper quotes "Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. And wimpy Christians won't survive the days ahead." Am I ready?? I told my girls a few weeks ago that the desire is so strong in me to know more of the Bible and become stronger in my prayer life so that when really difficult days come - and they will - that I am able to stand firm on the foundation that I've been building on - Jesus Christ and The Bible. In the same class, D.A. Carson also quotes "Whatever the church does, it should prepare its members to face death and meet God." I believe that is what our pastor is teaching our church....to prepare for the future, to move forward, to not be the same church at the end of the year that we are today - to be world changers, and to become more passionate full of zeal followers of Jesus Christ.

Am I ready? Do I want this? Do I want change in my life? Do I want to become a 'prisoner of Christ' like Paul was and to say "To live is Christ and to die is gain." Part of me so very much longs to become a "Shout for Joy - Facedown" type of Christian....I do want it....but am I willing to go through what it takes to become one? Liz Curtis Higgs says it perfectly. I totally resonate with her words and I will leave them with you....it's deep my friends....are you willing to say the same words as she does at the end? I am....

Servant, slave, prisoner.
Conviction pierces my heart, sharp and swift. Small. Humble. I don’t pray to be those things. I don’t even want to be those things.
Oh, I’m happy to serve the Lord wherever I’m needed, but I’d rather not be thought of as a servant. And I definitely don’t wish to be treated like a slave, let alone like a prisoner.
Yet God said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). And Paul welcomed it. Even got excited about it. “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Few of us would say, “I’d like to suffer, please.” Yet Paul says, in essence, “Bring it.”

I’m so not there. Even after thirty years of knowing God, I’m not even close.
If this was my letter to the believers in Rome, the most I could say at the start is, “Liz, a…” What? Pew warmer? Choir member? Nice person? Groan.

This is the awful truth: I pray to be Christ-like, when I’m not even willing to be Paul-like.

The Lord’s patience overwhelms me. His grace astounds me. So, at the start of a new year, as I memorize chapters from the timeless book of Romans, I whisper again, “Change me, Lord.”

Please, please change me.

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