Monday, April 28, 2014

Jes(us) Culture

So, I recently traveled home for Easter to pack my things for Northern Ireland and say bye to family and friends. One of the biggest blessings of the week was having my boyfriend visit from Norway. Okay, I know I know.. I haven't mentioned this new love of my life. I have found that it's best to keep relationships sacred. In short for those who don't know, Mikael and I were friends in Hong Kong and the Lord brought him back into my life last Fall and he has become my absolute best friend and love of my life in every sense!

SO that's that. I'm so grateful that the Lord has allowed this love story to unfold in my life. But, I actually want to share with you all an argument Mikael and I had during his visit. Wait, what? You're not going to share that your life is perfect and being in love is sunshine and butterflies? NOPE. On the contrary, I'm going to be real and share with you how grateful I am for a love that can be challenging and uncomfortable; and share how God used my relationship to steer me further on the path of righteousness.

Here's how it happened:

It was a lovely afternoon and mom, Mike, and I were headed to the lake for a picnic lunch. I turned on the radio and found a station of a secular song that I enjoyed. Mike was quiet. When we stopped and pulled over for directions (we got lost of course), Mike got my attention and told me he was upset in regards to the music. He told me we would talk about it later and so I turned it off and sat in silence for a little bit. The day before we had talked about music, how we should filter everything that we see and hear. Mike had voiced his disapproval of some of the music I listened to. You see, I still listen to secular music at times. I watch mainstream TV shows and movies. I never really thought it was a big deal. I knew where my foundation was and in moderation I felt it was okay. After all, we may not be of the world but we still live in it...well Mikael felt differently and as the leader of our relationship I wanted to respect his opinion. We went on with the picnic and I quietly prayed and talked to God throughout the day in regards to all of this. When we got home, I was in my room and I knew the Spirit was telling me that this music thing was something I should take seriously. I didn't need to make excuses or compare myself to other believers, I needed to listen to the Lord when He was directing me. I think I had always known that secular music was something I should let go of but I had ignored the conviction thinking it was "unnecessary" or "too radical." Honestly, part of me just selfishly wanted to listen to it. Later that evening, we addressed this music conflict. It quickly turned into a back-and-forth debate. Towards the end, Mike talked about how difficult it was to be vocal about all of this because he loves me and he wants to please me, but he knew that it was best and he felt strongly that this was something I needed to let go of to pursue a holy lifestyle. I so appreciated good leadership in that moment. I realized then that a good leader was not one who was always going to agree with me or simply lead in a way that I was comfortable with. A good leader was going to challenge me and make me feel uncomfortable at times, because the pursuit of righteousness is not easy and it's definitely not always comfortable.

So you know how the Lord is always such a patient and loving Father that He often sends us a message multiple times and in multiple ways so that our stubborn hearts may eventually hear and receive? This was one of those instances.

Throughout the week, we decided to read through Philippians since we're in the process of memorizing it. It's incredible just how much this very issue is brought up in this book. Eventually we got to Philippians 3:18 "For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ" ...It doesn't specify nonbelievers as these enemies. Meaning those who live as enemies of the cross could include believers who resist total sacrifice, wanting to hold on to this world and not surrender wholly to the pure and blameless path of Jesus.

"Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Philippians 3: 19. When we fill our lives with music and lyrics, television shows, and movies that are full of trash we also contaminate our minds and our souls, further increasing the clutter in our lives that keep us from God.

Do we take all of this seriously enough? Don't we often as believers live lives very similar to non-believers and yet expect them to see that we are different? Expect a scripture verse on our Facebook wall or a Jesus sticker on our bumper car to set us apart as disciples? We are not told to live like the world and simply speak Jesus, we are told to pick up our cross and walk the path of Jesus - which involves real, uncomfortable, difficult sacrifice.

If Scripture and my relationship wasn't enough for the Lord to bring this area to my life to attention, then this third channel finally got to me. Mikael's sweet parents gave me a book as a gift called By Searching, the autobiography of Isobel Kuhn, a woman who was a missionary in China with her husband. As I sat on the plane back to North Carolina I poured over the pages of that autobiography, shocked at how much I related to this girl and her story. In her youth, she talks about testing the Lord's existence and finding Him to be real and true. Yet even as she grew in faith she continued to hold on to worldly things.

She refers to the Misty Flats as "The in between level place of easy going; nothing very good attempted, yet nothing bad either; where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly. The misty flats where the in betweeners drift to and fro; life has no end but amusement and no purpose; where the herd drift with the strongest pull and there is no reason for opposing anything. Therefore they have a kind of peace and a mutual link which they call tolerance" (3). The Misty Flats - that in between place where you may claim God but your life is far from complete surrender, or you may enjoy the moral value of religion but are okay with everyone believing whatever they believe. There is no clear purpose, no clear truth, where all is okay and yet nothing is certain.

In her chapter titled Extinguished Tapers Isobel talks of how she finally decides to leave the Misty Flats and pursue the High Way, a pursuit only a few take. As she is reading a romance novel, the Lord speaks to her and shows her that she is feeding all of her earthly feelings but nothing of the spiritual. She is led to completely let go of all the worldly things that she had clung to -- novels, dancing, movies, etc. all the things which fed her flesh but failed to feed her soul.

I was so moved by this chapter. This was the third time that the Lord was bringing this matter to my attention. It was time to let go of my stubbornness and surrender to God's leading. I don't need the things of this world to satisfy my heart. And even beyond that, I know I am missing out on beautiful discoveries when I fill my life with things that are not of God. "My Rising Sun had planned many things to fill the place of my extinguished tapers, but each was to be a separate and delightful discovery" (Isobel Kuhn, 52).

I don't know about you, but I think it's been a long time that I have failed to take seriously the things that I fill my life with. Up until now, I can see that I have not completely sacrificed my old way of living to take up the cross and pursue the High Way. I know that it's in that place of complete surrender that the Lord can best make Himself known to me and use me for His glory. I no longer want menial, worldly things to stand in the way of that. The trash music, entertainment television, sensational movies, romance novels - they all feed my flesh but do nothing for my spiritual life, they fill me with things of the world and nothing of the Lord. Yes, we are in this world but we are also called to be set apart from it. I'm tired of living in Christian prosperity that sends the message that if we follow this "Jesus Culture" where we check off the Christian to-do list of church attendance, weekly Bible study, and Christian rock-star concerts that we are good to go. That we can live our lives like everyone else, throw in a prayer for someone along the way, and claim our reward in Heaven. Because really, it's so much more than that. Because really this "Jes(us) Culture" tends to focus on US and takes the glory away from HIM. When we give our whole lives away (not just the parts we're comfortable with) we experience deep transformation and the focus is brought not on us but on Him.

So what worldly things remain in your life that satisfy your flesh but rob your soul? What things have you allowed to build up a barrier from you experiencing the very heart of a pure and perfect God? I dare you to think outside the box. Outside of what even our Jes(us) Culture applauds. Bring everything that you fill your life with to God and seriously pray about whether it should be there or not. Is it time to cut out secular music? What about evaluating even modern-day Christian music? How about romance or fiction novels that provide a false escape rather than true freedom in Christ? Movies that fill you with vulgarity? Those friends who are non-believers who you just know you'll be the light to and that's why you go out partying with them?

Call me radical. Call me narrow-minded. Call me crazy. Or call me a daughter of the King who desires to lead a pure and holy life so that God may use me for His glory. Call me a disciple of God who desires to take up the cross and give it all away for His Kingdom. May He receive the glory, and the honor, and the praise forever and ever - and may my selfishness and stubbornness not get in the way.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 
2 Corinthians 5:17

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things." Philippians 4:8

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