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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Awake and Alive

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost – 1 Corinthians 15:18

I have stated numerous times over the last couple of months that I am “awake.”  A lot of people have asked me what that means, and I’ve never been overly pleased with my response.  I have used the term “sleeping Christian” as well, but have been met with the following question: “But…you’re still a Christian, right?”

If only it were that easy.

In Matthew 26:39-45, just before Jesus was arrested, He was praying.  He had instructed His disciples to do the same, but every time He went back to them, they were sleeping despite His insistence to stay awake.  In Mark 13:32-37, just before the Passover meal, Jesus tells His disciples three different times to stay awake (or keep watch/alert).  In Luke 22:39-46, Jesus is again praying, only to find that every time He returns to His disciples, they are asleep.  Verse 46: “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them.  “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Jesus said something similar to this multiple times to His disciples.  Get up/Wake up/Be alert and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  What was He telling them?  What was He telling us?  Simply put: If you are asleep, you are defenseless against Satan’s attacks.

Think about it.  When you are tired, you don’t feel like doing anything.  You just want to sit on the couch and watch TV…or go straight to bed.  No work.  No quality time with friends of loved ones.  Just rest.  Eventually, you drift off and become oblivious to the world around you.  A sleeping Christian does the same thing.  When a Christian is asleep, prayer isn’t as important to them.  It becomes difficult for them to find time for church or to even read their Bible.  They stop attending small groups, youth groups, Sunday School, they stop serving as a greeter or in the nursery.

If you aren’t serving God, then you will drift from God.

And life.

If you are drifting from God, then you are drifting towards Satan.

And death.

For those that don’t know much of my past, let me rewind a bit.  I was raised in a Christian home.  I went to Sunday School, followed by church itself.  Every Sunday.  I dedicated myself to Christ when I was sevenish (don’t exactly remember), and had been baptized by the time I was in fifth grade.

And basically put it in cruise control after that.

I could quote nearly every stat of every baseball player, but could not state one line from scripture (I even frequently misquoted John 3:16).  I committed virtually every sin that’s been invented, and probably even created some new ones.  During my four years of college, I can count on one hand how many times I attended church.

I didn’t worry, though, because I knew I was going to Heaven.  Why?  Because I could say the words: I believe that God is my Lord and Savior.  I believe that He sent His only son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins, and that Jesus rose again to defeat death.

But that’s all they were to me…words.  I didn’t believe them.  I didn’t know Jesus.

When Steph and I moved to Eureka, we wanted to find a church, and found one quickly.  We attended it (nearly) every week for about four years.  While there, I would see people raising their hands during the music.  I never judged them for that, but I never felt compelled to do it myself.  I watched as people would cry during prayer…during the message…during the music…during communion.  I thought, Is something wrong with me?  I never feel like that.  Truthfully, I feel………nothing.  I chalked it up to the fact that I’m not much of a crier in the first place.  I thought maybe it was just the way I was wired.  Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been me.  After all, I dedicated my life to Christ when I was sevenish…was baptized by fifth grade…went to church (almost) every Sunday…and could say all the right words to all the “big” questions.  Surely, it couldn’t have been me.

On January 13, 2012, I finally realized just how wrong I had been.

It is common for people to receive a wake-up call when they come face-to-face with their own mortality at a funeral.  They see the deceased body of a loved one, and they realize just how fragile life is.  That’s not what happened to me.  I came face-to-face with God.  I constantly hear Christians talking about being in the awesome presence of the Lord.  How amazing it is.  How it just fills them with love and peace and understanding.  Some Christians feel this every day.  Some feel it every week.  In my twenty-sixish years of being a “Christian,” I felt this once prior to Christen’s funeral.

The first time, the feeling I received was more of a See…I really am here.  Feels awesome, doesn’t it?  It did, but I quickly fell back asleep.  Two months ago, however, God was done playing around with me.  Enough.  It’s time to wake up and get to work.

It was as if He took those shock paddles hospitals have, cranked them up to their highest voltage, and zapped my soul.  All of a sudden—during the funeral—I felt Him.  Everywhere.  And I understood for the first time in my life what I had been missing.  I saw my life in crystal-clear focus, whereas previously I had been wearing sunglasses in a pitch-black room.

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it – John 1:4-5

The notes in my Bible for that verse put it this way: “‘The darkness has not understood it’ means the darkness of evil never has and never will overcome or extinguish God’s light.  Jesus Christ is the Creator of life, and his life brings light to mankind.  In his light, we see ourselves as we really are (sinners in need of a Savior).  When we follow Jesus, the true Light, we can avoid walking blindly and falling into sin.  He lights the path ahead of us so we can see how to live.  He removes the darkness of sin from our lives.”

How many times have we woken up on the couch and thought, I don’t even remember falling asleep?  It feels like all we did was doze through a commercial break of the show we were watching…until we see that a completely different show is on.  We look at the clock and realize that two hours have passed.  That’s where I was…only instead of missing two hours of my life, it was all thirty-three years of my existence.

I saw myself for what I truly was.  A sinner.  I saw Jesus for who He truly is.  My savior.  Those words from my childhood were no longer words.  They had meaning.  My trivial questions that had always kept me at an arm’s length from God were suddenly that—trivial.  For the first time in my life, I was aware of God’s presence around me…within me.  He woke me up from my lifelong hibernation, and I finally felt alive.

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God – Romans 7:4

Again—the notes for this verse: “When a person dies to the old life and belongs to Christ, a new life begins.  An unbeliever’s mind-set is centered on his or her own personal gratification.  Those who don’t follow Christ have only their own self-determination as their source of power.  By contrast, God is at the center of a Christian’s life.  God supplies the power for the Christian’s daily living.  Believers find that their whole way of looking at the world changes when they come to God.”

I am a new man in that I now see things differently.  I hope all of you can see this in me.  Feel this when you’re around me.  Don’t get me wrong—I still have faults.  I still have struggles.  I still sin.  But my hope is that now, when you read my words or hear my words, they don’t ring hollow.  That there is weight behind them that hits you with the same force that they hit me.  My prayer is that you all feel this as well.  If you don’t know God, that you find Him.  If you are asleep, that you wake up.  That you experience the awesome presence of God, and that you live through Him.

For it is light that makes everything visible.  This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” – Ephesians 5:14

Once your eyes are open, seeing the world clearly, the next question is, How do you stay awake?

1)    Pray.  Praying is one of your direct connections with God.  If you have a friend, but never talk to them, that friendship fades over time.  It works the same with God.  If you don’t communicate frequently with God, it becomes easier for you to drift away from Him.
2)    Read.  Read the Bible…read literature from Christian authors…find online sermons.  In short—learn.  You could read the entire Bible dozens of times and continually find something new to take from it.  If you read every book from every Christian author that’s out there for the rest of your life, you would die before you even put a dent in the book total.  Thanks to the Internet, you can find sermons from pastors you normally wouldn’t be able to see or read.  The bottom line is that there is a plethora of information available to you.  Think of Christian literature as your caffeine.
3)    Find a church that feeds you.  I’ll write more about this in the near future, but for now—food provides energy.  Energy helps you stay awake and focused.  Let the church feed you.
4)    Find, make, and keep Christian friends.  Is it okay to have friends who are not Christian?  Of course it is.  However, if none of your friends are Christian, then it becomes easier to drift away from God.  Christians need Christian friends.  A Christian friend will help keep you accountable.  A Christian friend can 1) pray with you…2) do a Bible study with you…3) go to church or small group with you…5) work/serve with you.  Two Christians working together for God will accomplish more than you alone.
5)    Act.  Talk about God with others (Christians and non-Christians).  Talk about your faith—your questions, your concerns, your struggles, your beliefs.  Write about it.  Find a way to serve.  Get involved in your church.  Exercising boosts your energy…this is your spiritual exercise.

There’s a song by the Christian band Skillet called Awake and Alive.  I heard it last year and loved it right away—mainly because the music and vocals are awesome.  This past weekend, I heard it again for the first time since Christen’s funeral, and the power of the lyrics punched me in the chest.  The words completely describe what has happened to me in the last two months.  I leave them and the video for you here.

I’m at war with the world and they
Try to pull me into the dark
I struggle to find my faith
As I’m slippin’ from your arms
It’s getting harder to stay awake
And my strength is fading fast
You breathe into me at last
I’m awake I’m alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it’s my time
I’ll do what I want ‘cause this is my life
here, right now
I’ll stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside
I’m awake and I’m alive
I’m at war with the world cause I
Ain’t never gonna sell my soul
I’ve already made up my mind
No matter what I can’t be bought or sold
When my faith is getting weak
And I feel like giving in
You breathe into me again
Waking up waking up
In the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you

1 comment:

  1. Note: When he sings "I'll do what I want 'cause this is my life," he's not saying that to God. He's saying that to the world. Basically, he's saying, "I'm done being who you want me to be...I'm done hiding my faith. I am a man of with it."