There Is Only One

 

img_1348My dad made me this silver cross inset with my birthstone – for a reason!

I still vividly remember the day I was checking out at the grocery store and the checker asked me about the cross necklace I was wearing, “Is that just jewelry, or are you really a Christian?”  His piercing questions has stayed with me for nearly four decades, because it’s the question that eventually comes to each of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus: is it just a name we wear, or do we really give the authority and purpose of our life over to the purposes of Jesus, the One Lord and Savior, and God’s Kingdom. If people don’t ask us that question here, God certainly will one day.

I’ve been a daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, teacher, speaker, writer, call center answerer, reservations agent, bank receptionist, Cub Scout Den Leader, and playground argument-controller, but in all these things, the One Thing that is true about me is that I call Jesus, Y’shua, both the Savior and Lord of my life.Whether I’m praying with that checker who asked me his question about my necklace to see if I would actually pray with him,  or mediating the ongoing arguments between Isaac and Sheila on the playground, or speaking to women in classes at church (where it’s easy), or finding recycled junk for Cub Scout crafts, or at the Zoo showing visiting kids from schools how amazingly interwoven and inter-dependent and precisely fit for their niches the world’s creatures are, or encouraging a learning-disabled boy in his conquest of fractions, or tucking my sons into bed at night, or holding my tongue when my husband tries to pick a fight and loving him anyway, the over-arching question to me every minute of every day is, “Is that just a facade you wear, or is Jesus truly Lord of your life, ALL of your life?”

That is, in truth, the one question that will eventually matter to each one of us. I’ve long believed that, if Jesus isn’t everything to me, then he’s nothing at all to me. All of history, all of life comes down to what I/we believe and accept as vital in our own lives  about the Cross of Calvary and the One who was nailed to it to pay for the sins of all mankind.

Who is Jesus?

 “For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Jesus),  in whom we have redemption,the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Colossians 1:13-23 NIV

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “So what?” you ask. ” What does that matter?”

“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By him we also have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) “There is no no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

Why does that matter? Why does Jesus matter? I’ve never flat-out stated this in any of my posts before, but there is a literal Hell- existence apart from, without the Presence of God, which will be pure torment –  and there is a literal Heaven – eternally forever vibrantly alive in the glorious, joyfully loving Presence of God. You WILL be in one existence or the other after your body dies, because God made the spirit within you to live forever. You have only two possible destinations, and there is only ONE WAY to be united in love with God forever: through the freely given blood of Jesus poured out paying the penalty for your sin (which “earns” you Hell) on the Cross. So I ask you:

1) Are you a sinner, incapable in and of yourself to be so totally holy and pure and sinless at all times that you DESERVE on your own merits to have a living relationship with the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Transcendent, Immutable, Holy, Pure, Righteous and Just and Merciful Creator of all things?  I KNOW I’m not, and I answered that question Jesus put to me on February 20, 1972: “You know I died for the world, but do you know I died for YOU?” In the decades since I’ve seen even more clearly and potently why I needed and need everyday a Savior whose purity and righteousness and mercy covers every dumb, stupid, selfish,thoughtless or angry thing I have ever or will ever do, think, or  say. THAT alone, Jesus’ Blood on the cross and His resurrection from the grave is THE ONLY WAY to a living, vibrant, everlasting relationship with God Almighty forever, adopted as His child, back in the relationship He intended all of mankind to have with Him when He created life. (and no, the pronoun “he” doesn’t bother me a bit or sound sexist at all, ladies. My earthly father was a “he”  and I have no trouble believing that God created both he-s and she-s out of the totality of His nature)

2) Can you get over yourself enough to accept and gladly cling to the ONE perfect substitutionary sacrifice to cover ALL of your sins? Can you deal with the fact that there is nothing you can do,  absolutely nothing, to “make” yourself acceptable to a purely Holy God? That is SO hard for us “You can do it – pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get it done” Americans, and I’d venture to guess, for every person on the planet who would LIKE to be acceptable completely to God on her or his own merits.

3) Can you believe that yes, God loves you passionately even in your imperfections and sin, loves you enough to offer Himself through Jesus as the ONE open door into relationship and fellowship with Him? Can you humble yourself and swallow your pride enough to gladly receive a freely given gift you couldn’t possible afford to “buy” for yourself?

4) If you responded “yes” to questions 1-3, can you accept that living in relationship with God through Jesus changes, must change if you truly mean to be God’s child, the way you relate to people  and possessions and position in life?

Someone dear to me said to me, “Jesus dying on the cross never meant to me what it means to you, and  I knew it would come back one day to ‘bite me.'” If Jesus is nothing and no one more than merely a historical figure, then that statement might make sense. Everyone agrees that Plato, Socrates, Julius Caesar, and Thomas Edison actually lived, and Plato, and Socrates wrote some interesting philosophy, Julius Caesar left  journals of his conquests, and we can read notes of Edison’s experiments with electricity, which did make a profound change in our daily lives.  But if you only believe that jesus existed as an historical figure and said some things worth considering, then you have no idea who Jesus was and is.

Neither Plato, Socrates, Caesar nor Edison have the power and the authority to  bring you into a genuine, living, joyfully connected in love and life-transforming relationship with the Author and Creator of the universe. Jesus dying on the cross is the One most singularly meaningful, vital, pivotal point of human history, and if it means only something in theory or a fact of history of little personal importance to you, then I wonder if it means anything at all to you, or more pointedly, if Jesus means nothing to you. If you went forward at an altar call at a church or crusade because intellectually it sounded like a good thing to do, something like buying flood insurance if you live near a river, then you entirely missed the most vital, crucial question of your life: do you know that, on your own merits, you can never be “a pretty good person” enough to genuinely know, encounter, be in relationship with THE perfectly holy Good who intentionally made you out of elements common to all matter but with an eternal spirit waiting to know Him as the Father who loves and longs for you?

Peter explained to Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Caesarea who was a God-seeking man, “Jesus…commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:42-44 NIV

And  Paul proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4: 12 NIV

What does “saved” mean? It means entering into an eternal relationship with Everlasting God, the verdict on all the dumb, thoughtless, hurtful, selfish, cruel, mindless things you’ve ever done that do keep you apart from the perfectly sinless God rendered “NOT guilty” only, solely, completely because the sinless Jesus paid the penalty for ALL of the sin of ALL mankind, if only we individually recognize our desperate, yes desperate, need and personal inadequacy and receive that astounding free gift of love. Only one God, only one Jesus, his exact representation in a human body, only ONE WAY to relationship with God through Jesus.

Every message I’ve ever spoken, every post and book I’ve ever written, every conversation with someone (strangers included) that culminated in a prayer, every turkey sandwich I’ve taken to the homeless, every child I’ve helped to master fractions or spelling, every preschooler I’ve hugged, every hello and thanks and calling a clerk by name, everything I’ve done somehow reflects, positively  or negatively,  my relationship to Jesus and how I answer the question of his importance to me. Oh, for sure some days I’ve blown it, and blown it big-time; that’s precisely why I NEED Jesus. But my aim, my goal, my fervent hope is that I can be a vessel through whom God can move in love, validation, hope, occasionally confrontation in love,  acceptance, encouragement, and God’s truth lifted, lived, and illuminated in Jesus. Amen,  amen to the One Thing that matters.

Who is Jesus to you? How do you answer that one question? How will you live out your answer if it truly changes everything for you?

everlasting love_t_nv_2

A “…BUT…” to pray (even if you’ve prayed this before): Almighty God, loving

Father, I see how truly impossible it is for me to ever be “good enough” or do enough to earn or merit making my own way into relationship with you, but you created me for that kind of relationship. I see that something is very wrong, out of order with your original design for me even if I’ve “followed the rules” for the most part and even if I’m a “pretty good person.” Even if all that is true of me, I’m not without sin, flaw, beyond angry remarks or hurtful thoughts, like when I _______________________________. BUT when I come to you through Jesus’ death on the cross, you don’t see me through my sin; you see me through Jesus’ love, so God, right now I’m saying ______________________________________________________________ , accepting the gift of Jesus not as my “flood insurance” but as the one who loves me incredibly enough to die for me, the only one who could do this, now not just my salvation but the Lord and King and rightful guide of my life, and I say a glad thank you, God, thank you, Jesus, thank you that you _________________________ so now I know I can ____________________________! In Jesus’ name, hallelujah, and Holy Spirit, speak to me now and be alive within me forever ___________________________________________.

No Pigs in theTemple

As Simple as it Gets

A sacred space. So very different from the way 99% of our culture views the physical relationship between a husband and wife, a man and a woman in covenant, but I awoke literally to that understanding. When I spoke my covenant promise 45 years ago, I meant it and intended to keep it, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, for better or for worse, forsaking all others keep myself only unto him so long as we both shall live.” Many churches in the Christian community consider marriage a sacrament, right alongside communion and, for some, baptism.

Full Definition of SACRAMENT according to Merriam-Webster:

1a :  a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality

directly from Latin sacramentum “a consecrating”; from sacred directly from Latin sacrare “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate,”

This I know is true from Scripture: when I received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, God’s Spirit then lives in me.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8: 10-11 NIV

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-10.

In its whole context, this passage reads:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:15-20

I’d been Christian a long time before I recognized the truth that, when we are joined with Jesus, our body becomes the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. In truth, our heart becomes a type of the Holy of Holies, the place in the physical Temple where God’s Spirit dwelt, the place where only a consecrated priest could enter at specified times to meet with God.

This lives, alive in spirit and I think in real, tangible truth, in marriage between two Christians. Even for two human beings who aren’t Christian, physical union creates a spiritual reality:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 NIV

Married to my husband, when we came together in the physical bond of intimacy, we created a spiritual bond as well, and a oneness in spirit even truer than the physical union. If our bodies were the Temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, then that union creates a sacred space where the Holy Spirit in him joined the Holy Spirit in me – a consecration, held dedicated, set apart, a means of divine grace – expressing a spiritual reality in physicality. That was God’s intent for marriage from the beginning of creation.

God’s Temple was meant to be and remain undefiled, a holy space set apart for man to meet with God. Nothing unclean was allowed in the Temple, particularly in the Holy of Holies. But enter the Greek Antiochus IV, the 8th ruler of the Seleucid empire centered in Babylonia and covering the eastern p[art of Alexander the Great’s former empire. He gave himself the surname “Epiphanes” which means “the visible god” (that he and Jupiter were identical). He acted as though he really were Jupiter and the people called him “Epimanes” meaning “the madman”. He was violently bitter against the Jews, and was determined to exterminate them and their religion. He devastated Jerusalem in 168 BC, defiled the Temple, offered a pig on its altar, erected an altar to Jupiter, prohibited Temple worship, forbade circumcision on pain of death, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, destroyed all copies of Scripture that could be found, and slaughtered everyone discovered in possession of such copies, and resorted to every conceivable torture to force Jews to renounce their religion. This led to the Maccabaean revolt, one of the most heroic feats in history.

What in the world does Hellenistic history have to do with marital intimacy? Simply put: no pigs on the altar. We bring pigs into the sacred space of our covenental union when we bring in corruption and loose standards from popular culture, when thoughts of being with anyone other than our marriage partner enter our minds, when we set any “unclean thing” before our eyes other than our spouse and the sacredness of that person’s body and spirit.

I always wanted to write, and decades ago I began composing a romance novel in my mind. I set out the slot, the setting, and the characters … until I saw the trap I could easily have fallen into. I could have created a male character, a hero so perfect in my eyes that the value, worth, and person of my own husband might have begun to diminish in my thoughts and eventually my heart. A pig on the altar. Immediately I dropped the idea. No one and nothing was going to take the place of my husband in my thoughts, affections, or body, period. He was God’s gift to me, God’s Spirit lived in him, and bringing anything else into our relationship was, to me, tantamount to bringing a pig into the Holy of Holies.

My husband regarded our bedroom as a space off-limits to our children. Even more off-limits were both of our bodies, reserved for each other alone, held apart, sacred, meant to be consecrated to each other alone.

Yes, sexual intimacy is meant to be pleasurable, enjoyable, even fun, but above all and surrounding all, sexual intimacy creates a sacred space between two people. I’ve found few in the world of online dating who believe this is true, but I know in the core of my being that it is meant to be so – a sacred space – by the One who created our sexuality to begin with. All you have to do is read the Song of Songs in the Bible to know that god didn’t create sexual intimacy to be something stuffy and ethereal; he meant it to be physical and spiritual at the same time.

Pigs in the Temple? Pornography: A pig in the Holy of Holies. Thoughts straying to anyone else: a pig in the Holy of Holies. Selfishness, or bitterness toward your spouse: a pig in the Holy of Holies. Sleeping around casually because that’s the way to know if you’re “truly compatible” with someone else: a pig AND a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies, your own and the other person’s heart and spirit as well as body. Adultery, or “just” an emotional relationship with someone of the opposite ex when you belong to someone in covenant: a herd of pigs, the swine that should be run over the cliff carrying the demons of ” okay if it isn’t touching and feeling” with them.

I need to learn to regard everyone I see as a repository for the image of God, every heart as a holy place, but I must reserve the Holy of Holies in my heart and body for the Holy of Holies in only one other vessel, exclusively. One sacred space, one place of consecration, held apart, honoring the God who created this place for two to meet with Him as one, out of honor for the Spirit in us each and both. together

Are you bringing pigs into your temple? Confess it as sin, cleanse the altar, dedicate yourself to God, keep your space sacred, and hold it as consecrated until you enter the sacred space of lifelong covenant.

A “…BUT…” to pray: Oh, Holy and righteous God, you created my body, my heart, my mind and spirit to be a vessel for your Spirit, sanctified, holy and set apart for you through Jesus first of all. Show me where I may have brought pigs into my temple by _____________________________. Show me where I may have desecrated my husband/wife by bringing ____________________________ into our union. Help me/us to consecrate this part of our lives again to you, give us joy in the holiness, and help us to ___________________________ to honor you, Holy Spirit, in the center of our union. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!No Pigs in the Temple.