Tag Archives: Bible

Learning to Rely on God – Part Three

5 Nov

Yesterday and the day before, I shared Part One and Part Two of what I’ve been learning it means to rely on God. Last but not least…

3. Relying on God means trusting Him and surrendering to His plan.

As I think back over all the different things I had struggled with over the years, things like taking a shopping hiatus, giving away more money, spending more time volunteering, sharing my faith, talking to strangers, and being intentional in getting to know people at church, I realize that in most cases, I didn’t take any action because I was scared. I was scared that if I couldn’t have more clothes, I wouldn’t be happy. I was scared that if I committed to volunteering, I wouldn’t like it and it would feel like a burden. I was scared that if I invited a girl I didn’t know out to coffee, I wouldn’t know what to say and it’d be awkward. So I did nothing – except feel guilty. And condemned. And pathetic. And overwhelmed. And that’s where my pessimism and perfectionism got the best of me and it all spiraled out of control.

Anyway, I got to thinking the other day, what if I surrendered to God’s leading and said yes, in faith, to all of His promptings? What if, like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, I acted on every thought or crazy notion I had that I thought was from God? And what if the criteria I used to determine whether or not a thought was from God was as broad as “Would God be pleased with me doing this?” That would include a lot of things I’ve avoided doing: saying hi to strangers out running, hosting a table at our church’s Christmas tea and inviting co-workers, give more of my money away to charities, sharing the gospel with the clerk at the grocery store, encouraging someone at church I don’t know very well… the list goes on.

As I pondered the implications of that, my old fear reared its head and I realized –  my quest for answers had really been my way of controlling how much I gave to God. I had wanted answers instead of God Himself because I was afraid of what He would demand. I had had a small taste of what He demands and it was hard to bear. He pushes me past my boundaries of comfort. He asks for sacrificial giving and service. He doesn’t let me retreat into the unredeemed areas of my personality and hide from convictions that are revealing and challenging. Specific answers would have allowed me to remain in control of what I would give and what I would reserve.

I thought the questions I wanted answers to were, How much money should I give away? How much should I serve? How much should I pray? How much should I evangelize? But the questions I was really asking were: How much can I keep? How much can I relax? How much can I ignore others? How much can I not care? And the ultimate question:

How much do I have to do to stop feeling guilty? What’s the bare minimum? Just tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it. 

But if I instead surrender and say, “Yes, Lord, you can ask anything of me,” suddenly my demand for answers doesn’t seem so urgent. I would be more content to discover the answers with God, while living life, rather than having Him hand me a set of rules to carry out in my own strength.

And I believe that is what God has been teaching me all along. It has taken me literally years to get here and I in no way think that I have everything figured out. But I have arrived back at the same place I started: the unconditional love of God revealed in Christ’s death on the cross.

May I never be moved from this place for the rest of my life.

………………………………………

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about relying on God. I’d love to hear any feedback or thoughts you have. Next up is a special surprise in honor of my blog’s 400th post (not this one, the next one)!

Learning to Rely on God – Part Two

4 Nov

Yesterday, I shared with you the first part of what learning to rely on God means to me. Here’s the second point.

2. Relying on God means having a humble, teachable spirit.

Several years ago, I prayed and asked God to help me live radically for Him. He has slowly answered that prayer by changing the way I approach spending my time and money, and helping me to focus on other people more than myself. But the practical changes He has prompted me to make over the years involved sacrifice and inconvenience. So instead of humbling myself and following God’s leading in faith, I rejected His promptings and proceeded to look for a different answer, an answer that was more convenient and would fit neatly into my nice little life. When I didn’t find that answer, I got frustrated, cynical and resentful. Of course, I didn’t see any of this while it was happening. At the time, it just seemed like God was making me question everything and giving me no answers.

Just the other day as I was typing out my rantings, I wrote,

“Just tell me how to live and I’ll live that way.”

God replied, “I am telling you how to live and you’re rejecting it.”

“Oh, that whole living by faith thing? Yeah, I meant the specifics.”

“You mean the ones that you could accomplish without me?”

“Um… yeah, those.”

“There aren’t any. The only way to truly live is with me. Living without me is death.”

“Hmmm… Still not the answer I was looking for.”

I’m beginning to realize that living radically for Christ is like working for a non-profit ministry. It sounds exciting. I imagine it making me feel deeply satisfied, fulfilled and reassured that I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. But while all of that may be true, when you’re actually working at the non-profit (as I did for 3 years), it just feels like a job. You come in the morning, sit at a desk for 8 hours, and then go home. The same feels true when God is actually showing you how to live radically – it feels very pedestrian and trite. Almost annoying. Like I want to groan and say, “Really? Does it really matter if I spend $10 on a pair of pants? Why can’t I have this one thing?

God has obviously been telling me, “Yes, it does matter. Obey me even in the small things and I will bless you.”

Stay tuned for Part Three…

Learning to Rely on God – Part One

3 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of my post You Can’t Object to Grace. In fact, I spent all day yesterday reading sermon transcripts from John Piper’s series on Galatians (which he delivered the year I was born…1983) and typing out the questions and thoughts swirling through my head.

And I stand corrected.

{source}

While I still believe that God’s love is completely unconditional toward us in Christ, and that our obedience to God is for our own good, it’s not entirely true to say that God doesn’t have any expectations or standards. It’s a little hard for me to comprehend how God’s grace fits in with the law, and how God has expectations of me even though Christ has fulfilled the law on my behalf, but my friend Cathy explained it using the analogy of her and her kids – she loves them unconditionally, regardless of whether they obey or disobey, but she still has expectations of them. She expects them to be nice to others, to share their toys, to learn math and spelling, to go to bed without throwing a hissy fit, etc. But whether they obey or disobey in those things doesn’t affect the deep love she has for them, because her love is based on her relationship with them as their mother.

I read a similar idea in a book called The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. He pointed out that God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law after He had already established a relationship with them by miraculously leading them out of Egypt and providing for them in the desert. Because the nation of Israel had been under Egyptian rule for the previous 300+ years, they had no idea how to govern themselves. The only kind of leadership they had witnessed was the tyrannical decisions of power-hungry Pharaohs. They lived in a society where many humans had no more rights than animals. So the law was actually God’s blessing to them. Instead of shackling them with rules, He was actually showing them how they could maintain the greatest freedom and live in a theocracy instead of under a king.

I’ve been having a hard time viewing God’s rules and expectations as freedom. They’ve actually felt more like a burden of guilt and a constant reminder of how much I suck at life. But I praise God for John Piper, who never compromises God’s holy, righteous, and just character. He never sugarcoats the gospel or the radical demands of Christ. And Christ’s demands are radical. They are jaw-dropping, mind-bending, comfort-destroying, and pride-shattering.

By listening to Piper, I have realized that God has purposely designed the Christian life to be impossible for us to accomplish on our own. 

God does have expectations and standards for us, but they’re not to make us strive harder and harder and fall on our faces in defeat, only to get up and try even harder, but to force us to realize that we have to rely on God for everything, including any growth in sanctification or success in “living the Christian life.” Even the Mosaic law wasn’t meant to promote salvation by works but to make us realize that we have to rely on God.

Since that is a phrase often thrown around, I want to elaborate on what relying on God means to me (and how I’ve been wrong for the past 4 years).

1. Relying on God means having faith in Christ’s atoning work on my behalf. 

This is the biggest realization I have had. Christ is the Answer. It always goes back to Christ’s work on my behalf.

Piper said something profound in another sermon I listened to last night: “The main battles in life… are battles to believe [in the person and work of Christ on the cross]. I mean really believe it—trust it, embrace it, cherish it, treasure it, bank on it, breathe it, shape your life by it.”

What I love the most about Piper’s sermons and books is that he emphasizes over and over that the inspiration, motivation, ability, strength, and passion to live the Christian life flow out of a heart that has been transformed by the gospel. I have to stop worrying about my life and trying to control everything, and go back to the basics of the gospel – that Christ died for me while I was His enemy; that He has paid for ALL of my sins and reconciled me to God; that I am God’s beloved daughter and He delights in me; and that His love for me in Christ is unconditional. Understanding that truth is where real freedom comes from.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3…

 

 

You Can’t Object to Grace

26 Oct

I’ve realized something in the past couple of weeks.

In all of my focus on living out my faith practically, I had left God’s grace behind. I didn’t believe that God loved me, as I was. I felt like the only way God would approve of me is if I had it altogether and was doing everything right. Anything less meant I was a failure, a disappointment. God had high standards, expectations, responsibilities for me. And I fell short. So very, very short.

But there’s a reason why we have the saying, “For every look you take at yourself, take 10 looks at the cross.” Yes, on the cross, we see how utterly sinful we are (nothing new there) but we also see, and should focus much more on, God’s love for us. He, in love, sacrificed His Son to win us back, and now, delights in us completely independent of anything we do. No matter what, His love for us is unconditional. And by unconditional, I mean exactly that. There are no conditions.

Are you thinking of any objections? Any qualifiers? “Yeah, His love is unconditional, but we can’t just do anything. I mean…”

Those are the very objections that have been popping into my head, for a very long time. And I’m beginning to see that those objections aren’t true.

What is the risk we run in declaring that God’s love for believers is unconditional? Why are people so quick to qualify that statement or make disclaimers?

I think the Apostle Paul stumbled onto a similar situation in his ministry to the Roman church.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 5:15 – 6:4)

Paul made the bold statement that the law was valuable because it increased sin, which in turn increased God’s grace. Sin abounded but grace abounded more.

Paul anticipates the objection, “So are you saying we should sin more, so that grace abounds more?”

“By no means!”

That objection completely misses the point of grace. Why would you want to keep sinning in the face of God’s endless and boundless love and grace for us? The person making that objection has obviously not actually been impacting personally and transformed internally by grace – they’re merely observing this outpouring of grace. Because no one can drink deeply of God’s grace in Christ and use sinning as a way of going about getting more of it.

I think the same false objections are being applied here with God’s unconditional love for us. Is it audacious to say that God demands nothing of us, that His standards and expectations have been satisfied, and that we have complete and utter freedom in Christ? That we can do anything we want? Does that seem brazen or presumptuous? Are you squirming off your chair with objections that need to be heard?

Consider this: if our freedom flows out of a deep knowledge of God’s love for us, why do we need to be concerned that we would “take advantage of” that freedom in the wrong way? When we look at God’s grace abounding for us as sinners, why are we scared that we’ll dive off the deep end into sin?

Why can’t we say, with 100% certainty and absolutely no qualifications, that God’s love for us is unconditional?

Because we feel sure, somewhere deep down, that something is required of us. Something has got to be required of us. Right?

But the truth is, God doesn’t need our good intentions, our heartfelt desires or our well-developed plans. He doesn’t need our service, our tithing, our words of encouragement, our sacrifice. He doesn’t need our busy schedules, hours of Bible study and prayer, meals delivered to families in need, hospitality, or generosity.

All of those things are for us. They are His blessings to us.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).

Here are a few beloved quotes that illustrate this very well:

“This is how the ‘giving God’ gives—with a selfless, total concern for us and with an exclusive preoccupation as if he had nothing else to do but to give and give again.” (Alec Motyer on James 1:5)

“We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

And my favorite (it’s long, but you really should read it – John Piper states it far better than I do):

Can we give anything to Christ?

When the psalmist cried out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me?” the reply was, “I will lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-13). Jesus gives us the gift of himself and we ask, “Now what can I render to Jesus for all the benefits of his fellowship?” Answer: Ask him for his help. That’s the gift he wants.

The reason Christ wants this is because he always wants to get the glory while we get the benefit. Glory comes to him when we depend on him rather than try to enrich him. If we come to him with gifts—as though he needed something—then we put him in the position of a needy person, and we’re the benefactors. He always wants to be the one who is infinitely self-sufficient. Therefore the only gifts that we can bring Jesus are gifts of praise, thanks, longing, and neediness.

A fountain is not glorified by us hauling buckets of dirty water up the mountain and pouring them in. A fountain—a spring in a mountain—is glorified, rather, by us lying down at the edge of the stream, putting our face in, drinking our fill, and getting up and saying, “Ah!” That’s called worship. Then we take a bucket, dip it in, walk down the hill to the people in the valley who don’t know that the spring exists, and we say, “Taste this! It’s right up there, and his name is Jesus!” The kind of gift that the fountain wants is drinkers, because then he looks truly overflowing, rich, and self-sufficient. And that’s exactly what he wants to look like.

But aren’t we giving to God when we give to the poor (Matthew 25:40)?

Yes, but what is the something? Jesus is clearly in heaven today, risen, triumphant, and supplying everything we take to the poor. That’s an absolutely clear teaching: “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

So if you have anything to take to a prisoner, any clothes to put on the naked, any drink to give to the thirsty, any fellowship to give to the refugee, you’re getting that from Jesus. You can’t be enriching Jesus. So what are you giving Jesus? You’re giving him honor, tribute, and glory.

Remember also that in this text Jesus calls these beneficiaries “my brethren.” That means that if you give to the poor then you’re choosing to bless, at your own cost, the brothers of Jesus. You’re treating them with honor because they belong to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t need the food or the clothing. What he delights in is receiving the honor that his name gets when we chose to say, “It’s his brothers that I’m going to love and sacrifice for.” So as long as we talk about giving to Jesus—in terms of Matthew 25:40—we should understand that what is happening there is that Christ is being honored, glorified, and valued, because these are Christ’s brothers that we are willing to serve.

God’s love for us in Christ is unconditional. We don’t have to (and can’t) do anything to deserve it, ever. We can’t even make progress toward deserving it, or pay God back in any way for it. So let us be life-long drinkers of the fountain of grace and not undermine it with objections.

 

A Morning Routine.

6 Oct

Last weekend, when I was going through all my old files at my parents’ house, I came across novels I had written in junior high and high school and a sheet that said my life goal was to publish novels. Seems I’ve  known for a while that I wanted to be an author someday…

I realized a while ago that I just need to buckle down and write already. I just have to put my nose to the grindstone and get ‘er done.

I had actually forgotten about my BHAG of finishing my book by the end of this year. Whoops. It might still happen. But it might not. I’m not going to get rid of that goal completely, but I’m making it more concrete by shooting for writing for 45 minutes, 5 days a week. 

So I am going to implement a new morning routine (bet you haven’t heard that before!). I am going to get up at 5:30 and after feeding the dogs and eating breakfast, get in the Word from 5:45 to 6:30, then write from 6:30 to 7:15. After that, I will resume my regular morning duties, such as showering and making a lunch. All workouts will be pushed until during lunch or after work. So far, I’m 1 for 1! It feels good to be productive in the morning and be able to relax with God and the Bible before heading to work.

And I’ll just leave you with this hilarious pic:

 

 

Weekly Recap: 7/04 – 7/10

11 Jul

This past weekend was fantastic. Even though I stayed up until 11 pm on Friday night cleaning my house for the BBQ on Saturday (not my first choice of Friday night festivities), I got to sleep in until 9 am on Saturday morning after which Travis and I drove up to Evergreen (about 30 minutes from our house) to do a run at 7,000 feet (the same elevation as Steamboat Springs, where my Oly tri is). More about that in a bit… After getting home and showering, we went grocery shopping, finished preparations for our party, and then from 4 to 8, had about 25 of our friends from church over. While our yard is more than big enough to accommodate everyone, things got a little cozy when it started to rain and we all moved inside. Luckily, it only lasted about 45 minutes and then we dispersed to a more comfortable amount of personal space.

Sunday was glorious. After church (during which Travis and I served for our first time as part of the projection/lights team), we ate lunch and then I proceeded to take a 2-hour nap. (I had decided to take a rest day and push my brick workout to today.) After that, I went grocery shopping and made butternut squash and sage lasagna (using sage from our own garden!) to bake tonight for dinner, and then Travis and I checked out a new Mexican restaurant near our house called Las Salsas. Travis had a burrito/enchilada/chile relleno combo plate and I had fish tacos. The food was very tasty but the prices were a little high for Mexican. Since we were the only patrons there until we were leaving, the service was very prompt. We watched Batman Begins on TV and then went to bed at 9:45. I slept in this morning until 7:15. Guess I was pretty worn out from my workouts this past week:

Monday: 5.5 miles backpacking in holy heat

While the way back was easier cardio-wise than the way there, my legs still ended up exhausted, my feet hurt and I was totally ready to be done. But getting Dairy Queen in Silverthorne made it all worth it. Mmmm… {Pics are coming soon, I promise!}

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: 2000 yd swim + lower body strength

Because of the following reasons,

  • my IT band has been acting up some during my runs (causing soreness in my outer knees)
  • I’m increasing the distance of my long runs to 7-8 miles in the next few weeks
  • I’m toying with the idea of doing the Denver Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon in October
  • I am trying to add in 1 day of lower body strength

I decided to do the leg strengthening exercises I learned in physical therapy last year (when being treated for my IT band): reverse lunges off a platform and one-legged squats on an exercise disc. I also added in calf raises. So I did 3 sets of 15 reverse lunges on each leg + 3 x 15 calf raises + 2 x 10 one-legged squats. My legs felt fatigued by the end (considering I haven’t done any sort of lower body strength since January).

Thursday: 13.8 mile bike to work (1:13:25) + abs

I’ve already told you about how difficult this ride was for me. Since I had woken up that morning very sore from my lunges and squats the day before, then went on the most challenging bike ride I’ve ever been on, I could barely walk at work. I seriously had to use my arms to push myself out of my chair. Note to self: don’t bring heels to wear to work after you’ve biked in. Even harder to walk.

This ride was supposed to be 27.6 miles (with the bike home from work) but a stupid thunderstorm decided to thwart me. Boo!

Friday: 2000 yd swim

I was so tired this morning that I tried to figure out any possible way to push my workout to a different time/day so that I could go back to bed. But unfortunately, there was no other time so I bucked up and went to the pool. I did 100 yds freestyle and 100 breaststroke to warmup and 300 yds of freestyle drills (pull buoy, one arm). For my core workout, I did 300 yds freestyle, 400 breaststroke, 500 freestyle. For a cooldown, I did 150 freestyle, 150 breaststroke.

Saturday: 4.95 mile trail run in Evergreen (1:07:38, 561 ft elevation gain)

Since the Oly tri I’m doing is at 7,000 feet and Wheat Ridge is only at 5,200 (roughly), I wanted to see if the elevation would affect me. It was a little hard to tell, since trail runs are harder than road runs (steeper grades) but on the flat parts of the trail run, I determined that the difference in elevation won’t be much of a factor. The hills will though! My legs were still tired from my lunges + bike ride so I had to walk up some of the steeper grades (6%) and the last mile was shot to heck when it felt like I was running through quicksand. Considering my half marathon pace last year was 12:30, I’m not feeling too bad about a 13:40 pace on a run like this.

Sunday: rest day

I had no motivation – mental or physical – to do anything except be a bum yesterday. (I went grocery shopping because I can’t survive without healthy food.) I’m glad I made the choice to switch my brick workout to today because I’ll get to do it with Travis and I have much more energy today.

Weekly Totals:

Swim: 4000 yds

Bike: 13.8 miles (wah.wah.)

Run: 4.95 miles

Hike: 5.5 miles

I also decided against doing the sprint triathlon in Leadville that is taking place this coming Saturday. There were a couple of reasons for that decision: 1) I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do a full sprint at 10,200 ft (that kind of elevation difference does matter) 2) It would take up pretty much our entire weekend and 3) Travis isn’t ready for a triathlon yet, specifically with the swim leg, so he’d just be a spectator again. I hate to make him give up yet another whole weekend to devote to my hobby (since I don’t go hunting or fishing with him, it’s not really even).

So that means I can just focus on preparing for the Warrior Dash on August 21st and the Steamboat Springs Olympic Tri on August 28th. My goals for the next few weeks are:

  • Get 3 strength training workouts (1 upper, 1 lower, 1 core) in per week.
  • Get at least one 30-mile bike ride in per week.
  • Increase the amount of breaststroke in my swim workouts (this is the stroke I plan on doing in the race – read why here).
  • Keep rockin’ the runs.
Tomorrow, it’s been a month since the Greeley Triathlon – which means I’m a month into training for this Olympic tri. When I first looked at the training plan I came up with, I was a little skeptical if I could handle the training load. But even though I was really tired this past week (must.get.more.sleep!), I have maintained a good level of energy for non-training things (I still cook, clean, grocery shop and do laundry every week). Granted, I don’t think I’ve done a full week of training exactly as it was on paper (bike rides must stop being thwarted!), but I’m still putting in 5-6 hours of training a week. So I am going to keep on keepin’ on toward my goal (our Minnesota vacation on the horizon is helping too).
Spiritual update:
I just realized that I didn’t include this in the past couple of recaps I’ve done. Whoops. But I have been spending time reading the Bible almost every day! I’d still like to increase that time (right now, it’s about 20-25 minutes in the morning) but I haven’t been as much of a Nazi about my bedtime as I need to be to make that happen. Regardless, I feel close to God, am being challenged to grow, and have been thinking about/praying for others. (I hesitate to say I’m “doing well” because I tend to fall into a legalistic mindset where I feel more deserving of God’s grace if I’m on top of things and vice versa. So instead I’ll just say that I feel very encouraged by my relationship with God lately.)
How was your weekend?

The Simplicity & Difficulty of Connecting with God

4 Apr

Last Friday and Saturday, I didn’t want to get in the Word. I really just wanted to read a good book, one with new ideas and words I hadn’t read before. I didn’t want the usual formula of my morning: read the Bible, pray, meditate. So on Friday, I took a walk. It was a beautiful morning and I reveled in the sunshine and warmth, very thankful to God for His creation. “See?” I said to myself. “I don’t need the formula. I can connect with God many different ways.” But a little voice said that if I didn’t read the Bible and pray for others, my time with God was incomplete. Sure, I could connect with Him in nature but it wasn’t sufficient.

Saturday, I read The God Hunt by Karen Mains for a couple of hours in the morning, then some more in the afternoon, then some more at night. I felt my childish rebellion welling up inside in response to the responsible voice that talked about reading the Bible and praying: “I want to just read a book! Why can’t I just do what I want to do?” Reading The God Hunt was in some way, a rebellion, a way of staking my claim to how I wanted to spend my day. I wanted to read a book, not the Bible. I wanted to sit in silence, not pray.

As I was reading the book before I went to sleep Saturday night, Karen Mains was talking about setting up “ducks,” what I have normally called cairns, rocks stacked on top of one another to delineate a path and keep a hiker on the right track. But instead of setting up physical ducks, she was setting up spiritual ones to keep her on the right path with God and reminding her to look for Him. Her spiritual cairns were Bible study, prayer, personal liturgies, memorizing Scripture, etc.

Instead of being a curmudgeonish chore, studying the Bible is a way for me to “keep the object I am hunting within my spiritual sightlines,” to remind myself that “as I moving forward…what I am looking for is God’s work.” God’s work. His touch and presence in my life. Him seeking and finding me. Was I basing my relationship with God on how much I pursued Him?

Then on Sunday morning, I awoke with the cold I had felt developing the previous night. It hadn’t gotten as bad as I expected; I was still well enough to go to church. But I was groggy, sleepy, and short-tempered. Even the bagel crumbs falling to my skirt in the light breeze outside Panera irritated me. As we arrived at church and sat in our usual spot, the worship music started. The first song was one I didn’t particularly like, then second song was a new one that I “didn’t have the energy to learn.” I stood there lamenting how tired and sick I felt, worried about who I would talk to during the five-minute break, and worried about meeting Ana Helena after church to talk to Gerry, a new member who had just moved from the Congo, about teaching him ESL. I heard my usual voice of self-pity, “I’m just so tired. I don’t feel well. I can barely even concentrate on singing. I can’t wait to go home.”

As I stood there, half singing the songs, I remembered something I had read in Practicing His Presence:

One of the mental characteristics against which I have rebelled most is the frequency of my “blank spells” when I cannot think of anything worth writing, and sometimes cannot remember names. Henceforth I resolve to regard these as God’s signal that I am to stop and listen. Sometimes you want to talk to your son, and sometimes you want to hold him tight in silence. God is that way with us, He wants to hold us still with Him in silence.

If I didn’t feel up to singing, could it possibly be God’s way of telling me to just listen, to just enjoy His presence? If I didn’t feel like searching for God and straining to uncover God’s word for me that day, could God be reminding me that He will meet me with rich blessings?

I stopped singing and closed my eyes, listening to the harmony of voices lifted up to God. Then it became clear: I had been basing my encounters with God on how “up to” the Christian life I felt, how much I felt like I could handle, how dedicated I felt, how ready to obey I felt. I was still trying to find the strength and stamina for the Christian life in myself. Why else would being sick and tired feel like a setback or hindrance to God’s work in my life? If I were truly relying on God for everything, I would be just as ready to obey God in sickness as in health, in bad times as in good. My circumstances would have no sway on my readiness to see or respond to God, because the ability to do so would be bound up in Him—and He never changes.

I was once again reminded of my alternate translation of 2 Corinthians 16:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in humility.” It is true that my self-pity is the reverse form of pride, the opposite of humility. The cure is finding sufficient grace and power in who Christ is for me. Instead of worrying about who I was going to talk to during the break, I could wait and listen for God to speak to me in the moment. And He did: once the break rolled around and Travis went to the bathroom, I saw Renia sitting alone and was actually excited to go over and talk to her. God’s leading. After church, I found Ana Helena and while she went to get her kids, I tracked down Gerry and talked to him about the ESL lessons and furniture for their apartment. God’s leading. It is after situations like this when I am humbled yet again by God, for doubting His goodness to me. I am like an Israelite, who continues to doubt and question God even after all of the times that He has so obviously proven His track record.

God showed me yet again that I can rely on Him for everything. There is nothing I need to live out my faith authentically for His glory besides His constant sufficiency and supply of grace. Even in my intimate daily walk with Him, I don’t need to find the stamina and motivation in myself to seek Him; I need only to ask Him to produce it in me. When I have found myself wanting in spiritual desire, instead of running to God, I have lamented my lack and tried to make up for it in my own actions—or conceded defeat and turned away to do what my flesh wanted to do instead.

Anything that takes me away from intimacy with God, whether sickness, fatigue, or desire to relax, should put up a red flag. Why? Because the idea that it is work to spend time with God, or that I have to choose between rest and Him, or that it takes a lot of striving to connect with God are all lies. God is the epitome of relaxation (Psalm 23:2-3); I find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28); and I only have to draw near to God for Him to draw near to me (James 4:8). As Roy Hession says in We Would See Jesus:

God has made Him as accessible to us sinners as He possibly can…We see the standard of the victorious life above us, and we are quite sure that if we can attain to it in this or that particular we shall be in fellowship with God and filled with His Spirit. But it is the attaining to it which all the time defeats us. And all the time we are climbing so hard the Lord Jesus stands immediately available to us as our Door, open on street level, and we could so quickly enter in if we were willing to bow our heads at His Cross.

Bible study, prayer, worship, memorization—all of these are means to connecting with God, not ends in themselves. How Satan loves to heap guilt on us when we declare that! He knows their power, their use, their effectiveness. He knows that if he can pervert their use and purpose in the minds of believers, we will become in bondage to them and they will lose their beauty, freedom, and glory in aiding us to discover the God who we so long for.

If I find myself feeling condemned by desiring one day to connect with God through nature instead of His Word, it doesn’t take me long to see that I have turned reading my Bible into an end, instead of a means. The only thing that should grieve my spirit is losing my connection with God and I should seek to amend the situation however I can at the moment, instead of promising myself “I’ll get in the Word again tomorrow.” God is available now, in the moment I so desire Him! Don’t tarry, don’t make excuses. Go to Him now. Your small desire is enough. Like Brother Lawrence says, “Just a little lifting up of the heart to God is enough. A little remembrance of the Lord, one act of inward worship…will be fully accepted by the Lord.”

So often when I come to God, I think I need to be in a spiritual mindset, to feel ready to accept truths from God, to be dressed in my spiritual armor, ready for any battle God calls me to. While that does sometimes happen (no doubt God preparing me for His revelations), those are not prerequisites to time with God. I can come to Him when I feel groggy, lazy or grumpy; I can come to Him when I don’t feel like reading, or do feel like reading, or want to take a walk outside; I can come to Him when I am anxious, self-pitying, or short-tempered. He will never acquiesce to my sin or pity but He will always speak to me gently exactly the words I need to hear and show Himself to be the way to peace and joy. God’s dedication to His own glory is the most reassuring thing in the world.

Whirlwind.

24 Feb

Wow, things are busy. Today at work was just crazy, then after work, I ran to Target to buy ice cream sandwiches for care group, raced home to cook a box of pasta, drove to care group (which was relaxing), then hurried home to pack for leaving for our Salt Lake City trip tomorrow afternoon. I know that tomorrow will be another extremely busy day at work (albeit a short one since I’ll be leaving at 2:30) so I want to get to bed soon.

I am really looking forward to our little getaway trip. The forecast for Salt Lake City is rain/snow on Saturday and cloudy on Sunday but I’m not that bummed because I’m mostly just looking forward to some relaxation. Reading the Bible and books, doing crosswords, watching TV while cuddling, talking. I’m also excited to explore the city – but at a very relaxed, got-nowhere-to-be pace.

I’m not usually a very busy person. It’s not really my style. I can handle it well in work settings but in my personal life, I don’t handle it well at all. I had numerous emotional breakdowns in college from feeling overwhelmed and too busy. I need down time. I need alone time. I need time to read, write and think.

So when I do get busy in my personal life, I don’t really have anything in place to keep me from overdoing things. Take triathlon training last April/May/June. It consumed my life. I was dedicated to my training, which is good, but it was at the expense of other things, like spending time with my husband, relaxing, cooking, and enjoying life.

This week, busyness has eaten up my time with God. Completely. I think about it every morning but because I need to get to work by 8 (instead of moseying in around 8:15 or 8:30) to get my hours in, I have been sacrificing my quiet time. Now that I have a job with more flexibility, I will have more opportunity for getting time in the Word – but because the job will be so demanding and busy over the next several months, I will have to guard my time with God jealously.

That is something I am making an even more heartfelt commitment to as I enter into a new season with this new job: fellowship. I don’t want to “neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” I want to continue going to care group, to women’s group, to the women’s book group, to church as often as possible. I want to continue getting in the Word daily, listening to sermons, and pondering spiritual truths and how they apply to my life. I don’t want to let my spiritual life slide just because I no longer work at a ministry or because I no longer have a typical 9 to 5.

So that’s really what this whole post is about: not wanting to let the most important things slide due to busyness. It’s not worth it.

One Month…

16 Feb

until I’ll be sitting on a beach in Mexico with a Kahlua Mudslide in my hand, the sun on my face, and the sand beneath my feet.

Since yesterday marks a month until our vacation, I thought I would give an update on my goals for 2009 and the deal Travis and I have to not eat sweets, except on Sundays.

First, I’ve been doing pretty good with my goals. I haven’t met them all every week (I have ended up missing a day in the Word here and there) but I have met almost all of them most weeks.

Spiritually, I have been memorizing one verse each week, listening to a sermon (besides the one in church on Sunday) every week, and studying my Bible every day.

Physically, I have been exercising 5-7 days a week, though I haven’t strictly adhered to the schedule of what I would do each day. As much as I try to coax my personality into being planned and predictable, it’s just not me. I fly by the seat of my pants, exercise included. So I have been mixing it up between step aerobics (after taking a 2-week hiatus because of the nice weather more given to running), running outside, elliptical intervals, and 30 Day Shred with Jillian Michaels (a killer workout if I do say so myself!)

My eating has been pretty good. I do really well during the week because I have the structure of work hours and I bring all my food to work so I can’t eat more food by just walking into the kitchen. As such, weekends are a little more sketchy. I tend to overeat carbs when I’m tired and lazy, which frequently happens on the weekends (cereal being the most frequent victim).

This past weekend, Valentine’s Day and then our V-Day dinner last night (which was delicious and wonderful, BTW!) should have made out for a huge calorie blowout but I actually planned out my meals, controlled my hunger and kept active. So it was a lot better than it could have been.

Though I have still been counting calories every day in preparation for Mexico, I really want to go back to Intuitive Eating after the vacation. I’m sick of worrying about the calories in every single bit of food and staying under a certain limit. But I will say that it has helped me get an understanding of how much food I need each day, what portion sizes look like, and how much easier it is to eat 500 calories than it is to burn it off through exercise (or even to just cut it out of your diet!).

As far as our little n0-sweets deal, it has been going surprisingly well. There are those stressful days when we both long for chocolate (me) or a Mountain Dew pick-me-up (Travis). But I’d say we have stuck to the plan about 95%. Travis caved and had a pop a few weeks ago and then had some Girl Scout cookies today. I have had a few caramel lattes and frappucinos from Starbuck’s (though they were all skinny ones with no whip!)

In a way, I actually like having this deal going because then I have an excuse to say no when people offer me cookies and cake and candy at work. It’s a strange phenomenon that ladies on The Nest’s Health and Fitness board have observed: eating is a social thing. By turning down someone’s brownies, they somehow feel that you are turning them down as people. Like if you don’t want their chocolatey, gooey goodness, you don’t want to be their friend either.

I noticed this at my last job back in Minnesota. Every Monday, in order to encourage their employees to come to work on time (and let’s face it, come to work period), they would cater in donuts and bagels. Well, donuts pretty much have negative nutritional value and bagels are 300-400 calories of refined carbs that leave you hungry an hour later so needless to say, I always ate my breakfast at home.

Maybe it was their goodwill but I swear, because I was one of very few people who remained at their desk instead of racing to the door the minute the donuts were delivered, people went out of their way to make sure I knew the donuts had been delivered.

“Kathy, there are donuts in the kitchen.”

“Uh huh, thanks!”

“Kathy, did you know that the donuts are here?”

“Yep, thanks! I just don’t want one.”

“Kathy, did you get a donut? There aren’t many left in there!”

“No I didn’t get one but really, I’m O-K.”

Dare 2 Share is not immune to this…but then, I don’t know if any American corporate workplace is.

Anyway, I feel like because I have this deal with Travis, I finally have an acceptable excuse to not indulge every whim that comes along. Because wanting to be healthy and not each tons of extra empty calories is a silly thing for a girl like me to do, right?

Well, this post that was supposed to be short has turned into a post that is accidentally long. So I’m going to go to bed now!

God’s love is so real

7 Feb

Have I told you that I love Saturday mornings? I love being able to spend as much time reading the Bible, listening to worship songs, and praying as I want, without having to worry about being late to work.

Today was even better than usual. This past week has been rough. If you read my blog regularly, you know that my job has been a frustrating situation. You also probably know that I have been wondering what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

What you may not know is that I have also been struggling in my marriage.

Travis and I are very different people in more ways than one. This is not news. While we were dating, I would’ve said that I loved the fact that we were so different because it made life interesting.

Well, it certainly does add drama.

Travis is a very playful, fun-loving guy. He likes to make jokes, quote movies, sing silly songs, and slap my butt. He creates his own words. He plays with his way-too-long-right-now hair by combing it over to the side (so he looks like a computer nerd).

I can be playful too. But since getting married, I have not been. Instead, all the things listed above have driven me up the wall. Every time he sings a song, I ask him to stop. When he slaps my butt, I get angry. When he quotes movie lines, I roll my eyes. When he pulls his hair down in a peak over his forehead, I muss it up because I can’t stand looking at it.

My seemingly unending annoyance at Travis has been a source of inner turmoil. I don’t like that I feel that way about my husband. What happened to me loving his sense of humor and playful ways? What happened to make me turn into this stern, cold-hearted, serious biatch?

Things have admittedly gotten better over the year and 8 months that we’ve been married. I am little by little learning to love all of Travis. But for the past few weeks, I have been drowning in my failures. Feeling miserable. Wondering how our marriage ended up like this. Confused about how to change the situation. Feeling doubtful about being able to do so even if I did know how. Lacking hope that anything would ever get better. Wanting to give up.

Last night, a series of events happened that brought all of this to a head. I asked Travis to make part of dinner so I could shower after working out. As I walked by the kitchen, he tossed the bag of frozen vegetables to me (because he thinks that sort of thing is fun). I was annoyed (big surprise) and confused about why he would think such a thing is fun so I threw it back a little harder than I should have. That small situation was a big reminder of how different Travis and I are. I got into the shower silently shouting at God, “Why are we so different?!?!? How can I live like this?!?!?”

Then we went to see Australia starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. As we were walking out of the theater, I mentioned to Travis that the movie was way too long for me (2.5 hours). “Well that’s pretty much how long every movie is these days,” he replied. “No, they’re more like 1.5 to 2 hours long,” I said. “Oh ok, 2 hours as compared to 2 and a half. Sorry,” he retorted.

Angry and annoyed at Travis, I stopped talking, except for a few short sentences repeating my sentiment that the movie was way too long. We were almost home before Travis emerged from zoning out (which he does often) and realized that I hadn’t been talking. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

How to answer that? There were so many thoughts racing through my head. I was overwhelmed by our differences and losing hope that we would ever be able to reconcile them. Were we doomed to this distance between us for the rest of our lives?

I asked Travis if he ever felt overwhelmed by how different we are. “Not really,” he said. “But I’m guessing that you do?”

I couldn’t answer with words. I just started crying. I couldn’t fix our marriage and yet it wasn’t at all what I wanted it to be like. What was I supposed to do about it?

I laid down on the couch when we got home and Travis kneeled beside me. I completely lost it. My body was racked with grief and Travis just simply pulled me to his chest. It was the absolute best feeling in the world, to be so utterly broken and sinful, yet so utterly loved at the same time. Crying made me feel better (as it always does), yet I went to bed still feeling helpless and hopeless, begging to God to do something to remedy the situation.

He did just that this morning. I’ve been studying Romans in my quiet times and I have been in Romans 5 this past week. The verses about suffering, endurance, character and hope really spoke to me, because I feel like I have been suffering for a long time, at my own hand.

Today I was focused on hope. What is hope? Hope is trusting God, banking on God, resting in God. David writes in Psalm 62, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” God is the source of our hope. And our hope is based on His love for us, demonstrated physically in Christ’s death on the cross and demonstrated spiritually every day in the provision of the Holy Spirit.

It is through suffering and trials that God forges our hope in Him.

And hoping in God is not a foolish thing. God and our relationship to and with Him is the ultimate reality of this universe. Whenever I find myself doubting the relevance of the gospel, I have to come back to this fact. The gospel is more real than anything else in this world. The gospel IS Reality.

God reminded me through Romans 5 that I still have hope, because I still have God.

As I prayed about that truth and confessed that I had sinfully given up hope, I realized that I had been trying to “fix” my life on my own. In my marriage, at work, with my life purpose. I was trying to make everything be the way I wanted it to be, the way I thought it should be. And when it continued to go the way I didn’t want it to go, I lost hope. Because while I had prayed for God’s help, I hadn’t actually sought it.

I see now that instead of making my life, marriage, and job be what I want it to be, I should be asking myself what God wants it to be. My marriage and its struggles aren’t arbitrary. God chose my husband and He is choosing our trials for a reason–my eternal good. Instead of accepting the way my marriage is and the way my job is, I have been bucking them, saying that they weren’t what I wanted. I wanted something different. I was bitter and resentful–toward Travis and Phil, I thought. Really, I was bitter and resentful toward God. He is the one determining my life and circumstances. He is the one who has placed me where I am at this time, with these specific problems and challenges. He has handpicked these trials for me to go through, so that He can forge my hope in Him.

Fully offering my life up to the Lord means accepting every little thing from His hand, even the annoying things. It means asking myself daily, moment by moment, “What does God want for me and from me?” instead of asking “What do I want for me?” It means dying to myself, my desires, my expectations, my feelings, and in turn, living for God’s.

I cried hard again this morning, humbled and awed by God’s faithfulness and love. That He would take me through the darkness so that He could bring me out into the light. Just as Travis held me last night while I was crying, God holds me close whenever my heart is broken. He hurts when I hurt. But He knew that to make me better, He had to allow me to be hurt first. 

My heart echoes David’s when he said, “This God–his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?” (Psalm 18:30-31)