Posted by: donnatallman | September 5, 2012

Pictures in the Patterns

For weeks now Ephesians 4:1 has been following me around like a new puppy nipping at my heels and demanding my attention. It’s the first thing I hear the minute I wake up, and nearly drives me to distraction during the day with its insistence. It invades my thoughts like honey that sticks to my hand and then gets on everything else I touch. When I go to bed, it races through my mind, heart, and spirit preventing me from sleeping, so I lie there begging it to take five and give me a break.

Not happening.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”

Walk in a manner worthy of your calling the passage says. I’ve replayed the phrase hundreds of times now trying to capture something unidentifiable that first entices me to draw near, and then eludes me just as I am about to comprehend its depth. The Apostle Paul is speaking in this verse. He’s in prison for his faith and is writing this letter to encourage the Ephesian Believers to contend for unity among their members.

Paul makes a corporate appeal here to walk in unity with one another and to honorably reflect all that Jesus has done for them and through them, but is Paul also making a more specific appeal to the individual?

Walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

If I’m going to walk in a manner worthy of my calling, it’s imperative that I know “what” my calling is, or was, or should be, right?

So what’s my calling?

Well, Paul said it in the first place so what was his calling, and is mine the same as his?

Acts 9:15-16 says there were two parts to Paul’s call, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

When Jesus intersected Paul on the road to Damascus where he was intending to put Christians to death in Acts 9, he was given a specific glimpse into what his life would become. Inherent in Paul’s original invitation to follow Christ was his call to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. This was his most recognizable and familiar assignment, but there was another item on God’s agenda for Paul. Paul also was called to suffer for Christ’s sake – and suffer he did.

All of this has made me wonder. Was there something inherent in my call to follow Jesus that I may have missed over the years that relates to God’s intention for my life? Did God plant a seed in my own conversion experience to shed light on what I would face in the years that followed?

I believe he did, but I missed it. Until Ephesians 4:1 started dogging me a few weeks ago, I never made that specific connection.

How I wish I would have!

*     *     *     *     *

In the 1970’s, rebellion was everywhere. The Vietnam War’s mounting death toll, political assassinations, Cold War anxieties, racial tensions, and campus protests, blew the lid off the next generation’s expected pursuit of the American Dream. The hippie counter-culture was in its peak of opposition and influence and lured my sister, brother, and me in with its funky hip clothes, psychedelic colors, and anti-war music. My Air Force father despised it. Every morning he contended with hippie opposition to his military uniform while riding the train to work in Chicago, and every evening he contended with his own children’s descent into the whirlwind of revolution.

Sandi, Randy, and I loved all kinds of music – pop, rock, Motown, and even country; but nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the moment when the full rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, reached our radio airwaves. It hit huge! All of our friends talked about it at school and the radio played the title cut constantly. Parents across America were in an uproar because of the “God-forsaken lyrics” which only whet our appetites to hear it for ourselves. Once the pastor preached a sermon about it at church, the debate began. Sandi petitioned Dad to get the album, which he flatly refused to do. I tried whining, but he said it was “sacrilegious” and wouldn’t even talk about it.

Sacrilegious. Now, there’s a word!

Randy was much more shrewd. He took the intellectual approach. Randy argued that being uninformed left us vulnerable to being misled. Randy expressed his disappointment over this, and then moved in for the kill. “How are we supposed to understand what the pastor is warning us about, when we are limited by our own ignorance?”

Brilliant, Randy, absolutely brilliant!

Dad finally saw the light and agreed that the “educational” value of having the album outweighed its sacrilege, so my mother went out and bought the double record album. We couldn’t rip the plastic off the album sleeve fast enough when she walked in the front door.

We pulled the release arm up on the hi-fi and kept it on constant replay. It played over and over. Finally, we switched to the second record. The more I heard, the more I wondered who this Jesus was they were singing about. He was nobody I’d ever met and certainly was not the Flannel Graph Jesus of my childhood Sunday School classes. The characters that came into the scenes and the story line were, well, they were just plain wrong.

Weren’t they?

Anxiety and confusion hovered. I found myself questioning who Jesus was, if he ever really existed, and even worse, if I’d been lied to all my life.

He’s a man. He’s just a man…

Well, that’s what they were singing, but all I heard was “JUST.” All my life I’d been told Jesus was God in a body, come to earth, living a human and supernatural life at the same time. Now, now “Mary Magdalene” was saying he was JUST a man like any other man, and not at all divine. I wondered if she was right and feared that she was.

Just one word had opened the abyss of doubt in my heart and spun me into a spiritual tailspin. I took that doubt and that word to a Christian girls’ camp that summer in Colorado. Night after night my camp counselor, Lynda, listened to my list of sovereign grievances. Late in the week she stopped me in the middle of one of my tirades to ask me if I really wanted to know Jesus or if I just wanted to keep him at a safe distance for the rest of my life.

“I already do know Jesus!” I defended. “I met him in Sunday school years ago and have known him all my life.” She wasn’t convinced.

“You know him from your head,” Lynda confronted, “not from your heart.” “Do you love him?” she asked.

Did I love him? I didn’t expect her to ask me that. It was a question I’d never been asked before. I’d never even considered it. I didn’t know if I loved him and wasn’t exactly sure if it was even possible to love someone I’d never seen.

Lynda challenged me to be honest about where my heart was and I knew immediately that my heart’s trust in Jesus had died – killed silently between the doubt in “Mary Magdalene’s” song lyrics. What if Jesus really was “just” a man like any other man, what would I do then?

Lightning flashed, followed quickly by a sonic boom of thunder. The shaking windows rattled my teeth. A tree limb cracked loudly outside, and the lights in the barn instantly went out. Rain pounded overhead on the tin roof until it crescendoed into a raging roar. My heart raced.

Being in the mountains during a thunderstorm has a beautiful terror all its own. Everything feels closer, more powerful and more threatening…

…including God.

Screams and shrieks erupted through the corridors of the old barn as hysterical teenage girls flew every which way desperately trying to find their rooms in the dark. Several crying girls huddled together on Lynda’s bed clinging to one another in fear.

The storm captivated me and I felt strangely peaceful. Despite the chaos and screaming around me, I descended into an unexplainable stillness. I wasn’t afraid of the storm, in fact; I loved it. I wasn’t afraid of God or my doubts and felt extraordinary courage to open my heart to God’s invitation. I pulled the drapes open to have a front row seat during God’s feature presentation.

Jesus drew near.

He spoke.

“Peace, be still,” he said.

He reassured.

Peering into eternity, I understood for the first time the reality that Jesus is so much more than “just” a man.

I sat by the window for a long while timing heaven’s contractions. Every time a bolt of lightning sliced through the darkness, the Lord and I drew pictures in the in the patterns. What was terrifying to some left me more and more at peace knowing I was now united to an awe-inspiring, power-filled God. I was confident he would keep me through the storm, so I sat and enjoyed his furious display.

Again he whispered, “Don’t be afraid of the storms that will come in your life, I will be with you always and will never leave you.”

Lynda began to sing softly, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

One cabin after another joined in until the barn filled with the gentle melody. We sang it over and over until the storm passed and the girls crawled to their beds one by one. I didn’t want to leave my perch, so I stayed by the window and listened. I allowed the tranquility of the moment to invade all the doubts and disappointments that had gone before. By the time the last girls finished singing, a new quiet filled the barn and my soul. Finally, I crawled into my own sleeping bag so much in love with this God I had finally met face to face for myself.

“Donna, do you love me?” Jesus whispered.

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Lightning flashed, adding God’s exclamation point to a magnificent day.

“He scares me so,” I sang to myself.

“I love him so…”

*     *     *     *     *

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”

He promised his presence in the midst of my storms; he promised his peace, but in all those promises, Jesus never minimized the challenges I would face during my years on this earth. In fact, he intimated they would be severe. Despite the gathering storms, he graciously prepared me for every one of them even though I was totally unaware they were looming along my horizon.

Walk in a manner worthy of your calling…

Think back to your own encounters with God during your life’s journey. Has he been drawing you? Has he prepared you for what you’re facing now? Did he give you encouragement even years ago that you can draw on now as you face the struggles you’re facing in this season of your life?

I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to pray for you.

Ephesians 4 has so much more to say about our calling, so in the next post we’ll look deeper into our commission in Christ.

Mine came unexpectedly in a grove of trees in Hawaii when I was 16…

© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.



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