Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Overwhelmed Life - Part 2

by Shelley Rees

What does it mean to live the overwhelmed life? In the life of grace, this is a glorious thing! Living the overwhelmed life means my future is good beyond all measure. Romans 8:18 (Phillips) says, "In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us." But sometimes, I forget this and get anxious about my future. For many years now, Dave and I have been setting aside money for our retirement, but with the stock market crash and other issues, it seems the nest egg just doesn’t get bigger. I occasionally worry that when the day comes for Dave’s retirement, we won't have the provision we need for our sunset years. Sounds like that puffed up voice of poverty again, doesn’t it? But the truth is, what we go through circumstantially is nothing compared to what our future holds for us. And this future is not a distant thing. It's right around the corner; it’s the next moment, the next hour, the next day. What Jesus accomplished on the cross sets our future prospects, and they are always gloriously good. So I choose to live in the truth and leave the future in God’s hands. Right now, I am stepping into my inheritance watching my children go to college with almost all of their tuition paid from gifts of money. While the news keeps saying our nation is in a bad economy, I’m enjoying my inheritance as my husband’s employer is in its best financial state ever and giving out generous bonuses that are covering some unexpected needs in our family. So as a child of God my future is set and it's a magnificent future always waiting to overwhelm me with my Father's goodness.

In this overwhelmed life, I dwell in unending freedom and victory. So when I am bombarded by condemning voices or haunted by thoughts of past failures and inadequacies, what is the truth? Romans 8:33-34 (Phillips) says, "Who would dare to accuse us, whom God has chosen? The judge himself has declared us free from sin. Who is in a position to condemn? OnlyChrist, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us." Awesome! The only one who can judge us instead gave and continues to give himself to us overwhelmingly. There isn't any room for us to even judge ourselves. Every mistake, every screw up is completely irrelevant in the shadow of the cross. We stand righteous and overwhelmingly free! "Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms?...No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us" (Romans 8:35-37, Phillips). That's it! In the midst of seemingly overwhelming circumstances, the love of Christ is far greater still, and in that love we win an overwhelming victory. So those other demeaning voices are mere echoes of a bygone era and have completely lost their relevancy. As a matter of fact, when we agree with the truth, Christ's voice rises up and breaks the cycle of self-reflection and frees us from those evil, downcast thoughts. This is victory indeed.

Let's face it, real life brings us hurdles and hard knocks. We all struggle with painful dynamics in relationships, sickness, stress on the job, or frustrating circumstances. But to this Paul says, “We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will redound [to return, to recoil] to his glory. This is the reason that we never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain” (2 Corinthians 4:15, Phillips). So our reward is completely out of proportion to the “little troubles” we are currently experiencing. In the light of his overwhelming grace and love, they are actually trivial. The only time they get large and disproportionate is when we start looking at them and relating to them as real power houses. So to stay connected to the truth of our reality, we have to keep our eyes focused on the invisible permanent realities opened to us through the cross. It’s in the invisible realm that we access the overwhelming power that’s ours for this life we live in the here and now.

As I’ve meditated on all the above, it’s occurred to me that I’m actually created to live overwhelmed, and thus it makes perfectsense that I should feel overwhelmed by my life. But I have a choice. What is going to overwhelm me? What I see--which is so small and temporary, or what I don’t see--which is so very huge and so very gloriously permanent? In the midst of my difficulties I have the opportunity to go back to the cross, to cling to it and to feel the bloody flow again and experience the perfect washing of the mercy of God. I can close my eyes to all the visible, seemingly impossible issues in my life and go into the secret place again and watch as the King of Glory comes out and overwhelms me with his abundant goodness and unimaginable power. Thank you, Jesus, for your overwhelming love. Thank you for the gift of an overwhelmed life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Overwhelmed Life - Part 1

by Shelley Rees

What does it mean to live an overwhelmed life? Typically, if I was feeling overwhelmed, this meant that I was feeling overrun by difficult or challenging circumstances. I was experiencing more activities than time, more expenses than money, more needs than my emotional resources could meet. Life seemed out of control and therefore, I felt out of control. With this mindset, I often did not respond well to these situations and allowedmyself to succumb to the full gamut of negative emotions—anger, frustration, bitterness, despair--and frequentlysinned in the way I vented these feelings onto my husband and kids. My understanding of an overwhelmed life was where circumstances ruled the day and overpowered me. But as I’ve grown in deeper revelation of the truth of the gospel, I’ve learned that my reality isn’t always the truth. My perspective of the overwhelmed life didn’t line up with the truth of Jesus Christ. In fact, his truth actually redefines the overwhelmed life and releases power to overcome in all challenging circumstances, and even allows me to experience joy in the midst of them.

So what's the truth about an overwhelmed life? In Romans 5, Paul writes that as sin came into the world through one man, Adam, so grace and life came through one man, Christ. However, in verse 15 he says, "But the gift is not like the trespass. In verse 16 he repeats his point saying, "Again, the gift of God is not like the result of one man's sin." He then goes on to explain that the gift of grace is overwhelmingly more abundant and powerful than the effects of sin ever were. He makes it very clear that the power of sin doesn't hold a candle compared to the flow of grace that is poured out to us through Jesus. So if this is true, then what power does sin or the effects of sin really have over me, the new creation that I am? If I live in a state of overwhelming grace, then sin is no more than an annoying external force attempting to get my attention and distract me from the truth.

Have you ever experienced one of those pesty gnats persistently flitting in front of your eye? Totally annoying, right? When this happens to me, this very small creature and its pesty behavior can capture all my attention as I attempt to swat it away. All my focus is on the aggravating behavior of such a tiny insect and its close proximity to my face, and I allow its "power" to prevent me from seeing the much larger world all around me. Like that gnat, sin poses as something really powerful but is completely insignificant in the surge of grace, favor, love and kindness that is toppled onto us.

From time to time, my husband, Dave, and I have faced significant financial hurdles that have put the big-time squeeze on our checking account. In the middle of this crisis, the voice of poverty pipes up, presenting itself as something large and looming, and starts speaking dreadful things about our future. It catches our attention, and then condemnation and judgment join in telling us how bad we've been with our money and start saying, "if only....". It feels awful, and it all begins to sound mighty powerful. But the truth is, Dave and I have a better word being spoken over us overriding poverty's pesty voice. We've been separated from our sinful past with all its sinful spending habits. We are completely free from our past mistakes and can now remain in peace believing the heavenly word of overwhelming favor, grace and provision that is overflowing into our home and overpowering all sensations of lack. We can watch as the Lord supernaturally redeems our finances and brings increase into our home. This is life in the surge of grace. This is the true overwhelmed life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Colossians 3:3-4

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

What does it mean that our lives are now hidden with Christ? The only way to truly understand this verse is to read it in the context of our dying and being raised with Christ. When Jesus died on the Cross over 2000 years ago, we died with Him. This is an incredible mystery and an astonishing truth! But let’s go deeper here… What does it mean to have died?

For me, this is difficult to wrap my brain around. I mean, I’m obviously here typing this. I walk around. I eat. I sleep. I breathe. I’m “alive” right? But the truth is, I also died. It is quite the paradox! How is it that I died with Christ on the Cross, yet am still here, living and breathing today? I don’t have all the answers. But to me, to have died means that I have no life in and of myself. It means that any strength of my own ceases to have power and will not bear any real or lasting fruit. My being dead means that anything I do apart from a revelation of Christ in me is powerless; it’s all dead apart from Him! Conversely, any life that may result from anything I do only comes from Christ in me (whether I realize it or not). My life is hidden with Christ. My motivations, my actions and my activities will only bear fruit if they are rooted in a revelation of Christ in me. This is why Colossians 3:1- 2 tell us to set our hearts and minds on things above. We set our minds and hearts on things above because if we fail to do so, we will not live; we will not see life. Our life is hidden with Christ and the only way we’ll find it is in and through Him! It follows then that being alive means only one thing: Christ. And any life that is expressed through me is now an expression of my union with Jesus.

I love Colossians 3:4. It says that when Christ - who is our life - appears, then we also will appear in glory. Nearly every commentary I’ve read says this verse is referring to Christ’s second coming. Some translations go so far as to even translate this verse using phrases like "Christ’s return” or “second coming”. Maybe it is
referring to Jesus' second coming? But if it is only referring to a future event, then setting my mind and heart on things above has no power for my life right now. If this verse is only referring to a future event, then Paul is only asking us to “hold on” by ourselves and operate out of our own strength until Christ’s second coming. But we know that Paul is not asking us to operate out of our own strength, so it follows that Christ appearing can’t be limited to just being a future event. It is a now event that has power and effect on our lives right now!

Throughout Scripture, we see that God is calling us to live a life that bears fruit for Him. And since our life is hidden with Christ in God, we know that the only way for us to experience, express and produce life now is in and through Him. That’s why Paul exhorts us to set our hearts and minds on things above in Colossians 3:1-2. Paul wants us to really live! Colossians 3:4 says that when Christ – who is our life - appears, then we will also appear.
Christ’s appearing is a now event and one that occurs often. For each one of us, it can occur daily. It can even occur multiple times in a day. We see in Scripture that Paul himself had multiple encounters with Jesus (Acts 9, 2 Cor. 12) and I'm certain that he had many more encounters with Jesus than are documented in the New Testament. Remember that Paul said in Galatians 1 that he wasn't taught the Gospel by any man, but that he "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ". This is an example for for all believers. We must continually receive from Jesus Christ, just like Paul did. In doing so, we will really live!

For us to really live, we must receive. And for us to receive, Christ must appear to us. The Greek word translated “appear” in Colossians 3:4 is “phaneroo” which means, "to make manifest, visible or known that which has been hidden or unknown". Other sources define "phaneroo" as meaning, "to make actual and visible; realized". It makes sense then, that when you read some of the more literal translations of Colossians 3:4 (Darby, Young's) they use the word "manifest" instead of the word "appear". This seems to be a more accurate translation and breaks us out of the kind of thinking that limits us to merely “holding on” until Jesus returns at His second coming. Having a better understanding of the word “phaneroo” and looking at multiple translations, I see this verse as being more about Christ manifesting in our lives today than it is bout Him coming back in the future. Even further, I believe this verse is talking about Christ becoming known to us in our present day circumstances, right here, right now. We will know Christ as we set our hearts on things above. Christ will be realized in our lives as we set our minds on things above!

What a wonderful privilege it is that we can know Christ and that He will manifest in our lives daily and intimately. Even further, as we know Christ, as He is manifest and realized in our lives, then we too appear with Him in glory. Remember that Paul is always speaking in the context of our death and resurrection with Christ. As we remember our death and resurrection with Christ and He is made known to us, we will consequently see ourselves in Him and Him in us. When we see ourselves in Him and Him in us we will naturally begin to live out of this truth and express it in our daily lives. This is what it means for us to appear in glory. To appear in glory means Christ manifesting Himself in and through us as we live our daily lives. We appear in glory when Jesus is realized, demonstrated and expressed in our lives. So, as I focus on my union with Christ, He manifests Himself and is made known to me in a real way. This reveals to me who I really am and enables me to express His love and life outwardly.

- I focus on my union with Christ (set my heart and mind on things above)
- He makes Himself known to me (He appears)
- Myself in Christ becomes known to me (I appear)
- Christ in me is expressed in my life
. (Glory!)

Where can I see this happening in my life? You know, just yesterday I was confronted by temptation. Temptation was yelling in my face trying to get me to act out of alignment with who I really am. I could feel the pressure of it in my body and on my emotions. In the face of all this, I picked up my Bible and read Jeremiah 1. As I did so, there wasn’t any verse that stuck out to me. I only had the hope that by somehow focusing on Christ and His Gospel things would change. Well, that’s exactly what happened. I focused on Christ and His Gospel and He showed up. He spoke to me and told me who I really am. He told me that I'm not someone who would do what I was being tempted to do. Jesus Himself told me and when He spoke I heard it and it resonated in my soul and spirit. I knew who I was and acted accordingly. Temptation was no longer an issue.

This is a clean break from religion. There aren’t any rules here, just an encounter with Someone who changes me and changes the way I act. These encounters are crucial to me really living life. Truth be told, I have no life apart from these encounters with the living Christ. My life is hidden in Jesus and I can only find life by encountering Him. To live daily, I must encounter Christ daily.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things Above

I've been pondering a lot of things in Scripture lately, but one thing that has stuck out a lot is Colossians 3:1-4 where Paul tells us to set our hearts and our minds on things above.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

What are these "things above" that Paul is telling us to set our hearts and minds on? For me, the first few things that come to mind are angels, clouds, pearly gates, golden streets and blue skies. Some loved ones who've passed away even come to mind. Is that what Paul wants us to set our hearts and minds on? Probably not. As I think further on this, the thought of heaven comes to mind and I start thinking of the book of Revelation. I see elders and saints bowed before Jesus, angels and creatures worshipping the Lamb. I see a glassy sea; I hear thunder and singing. Maybe this is what Paul wants us to set our hearts and minds on? Maybe. That's not too much of a stretch. However, if I take another look at these verses, I see that Paul is speaking in the context of our death and resurrection with Christ. In verse 1 Paul talks about how we were raised with Christ and in verse 3 he reminds us that we died, and our lives are now hidden with Christ. Even just a few verses earlier in chapter 2 verse 20 Paul again references our death with Christ. It’s obvious then, that our death and resurrection with Christ is the context that Paul is speaking out of. Truth be told, our death and resurrection with Christ is ALWAYS the context Paul is speaking out of. Even further, our death and resurrection with Christ is ALWAYS the context that we are to be living out of!

So… in light of my death and resurrection with Christ, I must set my heart and mind on “things above”. As I read verse 1 again, in the context of my death and resurrection with Jesus, I think to myself, “The truth is that I was raised with Christ, so it follows then that if I set my heart on where Christ is, then I would consequently see myself there too, because I was raised with Him.” Paul reiterates this reality in Ephesians 2:6 where he tells us that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”. With this in mind, I’ve concluded that what Paul is really saying in Colossians 3:1-2 is this: “See yourselves as in Christ. Let your heart and mind be guided by the truth that you’re in Christ. ”.

The surrounding verses, before and after, all talk about conduct and how to behave, but the right conduct and right behavior that Paul is talking about here is merely an expression of who we are in Christ. Paul isn’t giving us more rules to follow. What he’s really doing is showing us that right conduct and right behavior are actually manifestations of Christ in us. When Paul tells us to set our minds on things above and not on earthly things, I believe he’s getting at something much deeper and more powerful than simply saying, “Think about Jesus and the good things of heaven instead of thinking about money, pleasure and material possessions.” Paul actually takes it to a whole other level and urges us to see ourselves as having died with Christ and also resurrected with Him. When we do so, right conduct and right behavior will follow and who we really are at our core will be revealed.

The word “things” is funny to me (if you say a word enough times, it will inevitably start sounding funny). Anyways, it’s easy for us to hear the word “things” and think of items and possessions. But “things” are also events and activities (like “things to do”). I believe that the “things above” that Paul is telling us to set our hearts and minds on are the things of heaven, which all point to Christ and Him crucified. This is obvious when you look at Revelation 5, where we can see that every item and every activity in heaven worships the Lamb freshly slain. Consequently, if we remember that we were raised with Christ and are seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) we can know that as we set our hearts and minds on the things above, as we see the Lamb seated on the throne and freshly slain, we will also see ourselves with Him and in Him!

This is important because the only way that we can truly understand ourselves as Christians is if we see ourselves in Christ. And if we understand and know who we really are (righteous and holy in Christ) then we can be (act like, express) who we really are. Paul is saying that we must believe that we’re in Christ and he urges us to set our hearts and our minds on the fact that we’re in Christ so that we can express the life and love of Jesus here on earth. If we fail to see ourselves in Christ, we slip back into religion and regulations. The “things above” that Paul is calling us to set our hearts and minds on lead us into the actions of Christ, where we accordingly see ourselves in Him and Him in us. Conversely, if we focus on “earthly things”, they will only mire us in the actions of men which “have an appearance of wisdom… but lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23). Paul wants us to focus on what Jesus did and is doing as opposed to whatever is going on around us here on earth.

Setting our hearts and minds on Christ and our placement in Him will change our lives in a real, tangible way that will affect our relationships and empower us in our daily living. As we set our hearts and minds on Christ and our placement in Him, Christ in us will appear in our lives. Right conduct and right behavior will manifest as we live our daily lives!

After meditating on this passage and looking at my life, the Lord has revealed to me that the times when I struggle with sin the most all have one common theme: my heart and mind are not set on the things above. I can think of two specific (yet broad) instances where this occurs. Instance One is when I get really obsessed with something. To be honest, there are times when I just get so focused on something that I forget about everything else; even to the point where I get a little negligent as a father and husband. Not good. Instance Two is when I get really bored or lazy. These times are pretty much times of self-focus where my mind and heart are set on my old self (who I was before I died with Christ) and the desires of my old self. Some days I just start off on the wrong foot and end up believing lies. As a result, I usually begin complaining and moping around the house which unfortunately leads to me chasing a false sense of fulfillment by eating, acquiring or doing some thing. In both of these instances, it’s clear that my mind and heart are set on earthly things and I am obviously not operating out of the place where I see and know that Christ is in me and I am in Him. I am grateful that the Lord is showing me these patterns in my life. In addition, I am also encouraged, because the Lord has shown me that as I have let Christ and Him crucified be the focus of my life, both Instances One and Two occur a lot less than they used to. Praise Jesus!

To set our hearts and minds on things above is to recognize our death and resurrection with Him and to see ourselves seated with Him in heaven. When we do so, Christ will appear in our lives and love, joy, peace and righteousness will be expressed in our conduct and behavior!

To be continued…

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

God's Plan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about God’s plan for my life. At one of my Cross Immersion groups a few weeks back, the Lord revealed to me that God’s plan for my life isn’t for me. God’s plan for my life is for Him. God’s plan for my life isn’t a series of events that culminates in me somehow being exalted, admired or me having it all. God’s plan for my life isn’t that I would do several great things or even one great thing. God’s plan for my life is this: That He would be glorified and revealed in whatever situation I find myself in. God’s plan for my life isn’t about blessing me; God’s plan for my life is about glorifying Him.

It’s so simple, yet also quite offensive. In the past I had thought that God wanted me to do great things and that His plan for me was for everyone to end up noticing whatever greatness I achieved – of course God would receive glory too because I was getting glory and I would acknowledge Him and everyone would know that I’m a Christian so He would get glory by default. Pshh… whatever…

God’s plan for my life has nothing to do with me ending up somewhere or me ending up doing something. It isn’t that I would write songs that everyone would sing. It isn’t that I would have a home that’s big enough for a family. It isn’t that I would have a car or that I would make enough money to live a comfortable life. God’s plan isn’t about me, or how I am perceived (by myself or others). Now I’m not saying that those things won’t occur or that God doesn’t want those things for us. But all those things are peripheral to God’s primary goal and plan.

I was reading Philippians 1 last night and verse 20 really stuck out to me. I read it and God said to me, “This is my plan for the lives of my people”. In the Holman Christian Standard version of this verse, Paul states:

“My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death”

God’s plan is that we will not be ashamed about anything. Whether we’re a stay-at-home dad or a rock star, God’s plan is that we would be so engaged with Christ in us that shame is never an issue. Later in Philippians Paul talks about how he has learned to be content in all things. He can be rich or he can be poor. He can be well fed or hungry. He is content in all things because he engages with Christ in him. And while being content Paul simultaneously highly honors Christ!

Christ isn’t honored by our achievements or possessions. He isn’t honored by what we do nor is he honored by what we end up doing. Christ is honored when we believe Him. Christ is honored when we follow the Holy Spirit. Christ is honored when we rest in His finished work on the Cross. To be honest, I think that there is less that actually honors Jesus than we think.

This revelation has been quite freeing for me. Inside I feel a whole other level of freedom from the world’s expectations and judgments. I never have to be ashamed about my title or lack thereof. I don’t have to be ashamed that I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t have to be ashamed that I never signed a professional recording contract. At one time those things were the goals of my life, but such is no longer the case. I have one goal now, one plan; and it is God’s. God’s plan is that I encounter and engage with Christ in me regardless of whatever situation or circumstance I find myself in. That’s it. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thank You Jesus for this freedom!