Tag Archives: freedom

Freedom in Christ

29 Feb

I wrote back in November that I planned to start going to counseling. Here I am, on the cusp of March, with 5 sessions under my belt. Has it been helpful? Yes. Has it been what I expected? Not really.

I think I expected my therapist to overthink things like I do, and to give me deep, meaningful, existential explanations to my problems. Instead, the way she has been challenging my thinking has been utterly practical and no-nonsense. When I lament about mounds of laundry, kids’ messes, or frozen pizza dinners, her response is, “So what? Is anyone going to die if they wear dirty clothes or eat frozen pizza for dinner?”

Obviously the answer is no, so that begs the question – then why do I care so deeply? Why does it bother me so much when my house is a mess, or the laundry is undone, or I failed again to plan dinner? Even as I’ve been doing the hard work of trying to let go and be more relaxed about things, I find that there’s a tipping point. I can ignore the mess in order to go play outside with my family, but if I come back inside to find that they’ve made another mess, I lose my crap.

I honestly cannot fully explain why I have this neurotic need for everything to be in its place. And frankly, sometimes I feel fully justified in being neurotic, because isn’t this the way God created me?! This is just who I am. But sometimes it feels like my need for control is controlling me, and I can’t stop being controlled even when I try. I was expressing this to God the other day and He brought Galatians 5:1 to mind,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

In Christ, I have freedom. Freedom from my own need for control. I do not have to be a slave to my personality that desires organization and tidiness! Armed with that verse, I have the confidence to declare that I AM NOT A SLAVE TO CONTROL. Because of Christ, I can refuse to be dominated by my need for order, and I can instead prioritize relationships.

I have long tried to wage this battle equipped with my own paltry strength. Is it any wonder that I’m still struggling with the same old thing? But this verse has given me something new, infused my soul with gospel confidence. This is my birthright in Christ. This is what He has won for me! I get to live in freedom because of my Savior!

I told my husband about this, and encouraged him, “Please, if you see me going off the rails, remind me of this verse.” I am staking my claim to freedom in Christ, and I will not submit anymore to a yoke of slavery.

Coupled with this promise, I have decided to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. That has, unfortunately, long been the way I deal with the feeling of overwhelm and stress caused by my kids either not listening to me or getting out of control. So, no more yelling. (I am hoping to continue that beyond Lent too.) Instead, I want to pray. Out loud. Instead of screaming at my kids, “We need to go NOW! Get in the car or you will be in big trouble!” I want to say, “Father, we are late. And these kids are not listening to me. Help me maintain my patience and grace, and help motivate them to listen. I trust that we will get to wherever we are going and it will be ok that we are late.”

There’s a quote from Connected Families that I have on my computer desktop – “When kids misbehave, make obedience a secondary goal, and make accessing and walking in the fruit of the Spirit yourself the primary goal.” That is the idea behind “no yelling” – instead of relying on my own power and effort to accomplish, I run to God, confess my inability, and rest in His power to accomplish.

I put this into practice this past Thursday when my oldest daughter was not wanting to go to school, and threw a tantrum. We were 20 minutes late to school, but I walked out of dropoff with a smile on my face. Because I hadn’t yelled, but had instead connected with my daughter and found out that she just plain missed me, which is why she didn’t want to go to school. I am really looking forward to seeing how God works in me over the coming months.

I’ll end with just the amazing feeling that I have of God personally ministering to my soul. I feel so unworthy of even His sideways glance, let alone of His speaking into my struggles. Counseling has been helpful, but the Spirit is the ultimate Counselor.

Confidence from God

23 Jul

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We were sitting at a table eating lunch in the Rainforest Café of the Mall of America when my high-school boyfriend suggested we go try rock climbing. Even though it sounded sort of fun, I vehemently refused. What if I was horrible at it? What if I made a fool of myself?

Fast forward 5 years. My college boyfriend (and future husband) asked me what year the Declaration of Independence was signed. I timidly suggested “1774”. Then he asked what temperature water freezes at. I asked “30 degrees?” He scoffed in disbelief that I didn’t know these basic facts, and I felt dumber than dumb (and madder than heck). One fight and apology later, I vowed to never venture a conjecture on facts again.

Fast forward another 5 years. I was riding in the car with some girlfriends from small group at church and laughed LOUD at something that was said. All of a sudden, I was hyper-aware of myself and wondered if the other girls thought I was completely obnoxious. I didn’t talk (or laugh) for the rest of the night.

Then there was the time I was in Salt Lake City to time a triathlon with a co-worker. Unbeknownst to me, I got my directions completely mixed up so that I thought east was west. When I realized that I was discombobulated, my head spun and I felt a slice of my identity as “the girl good with directions” die.

Even though I believe that our relationships with people are what matter most in life, they are also the source of much angst, heartache and self-doubt. I’ve heard many a Christian lament their “fear of man” or struggle with people-pleasing. We know that we shouldn’t put so much stock in what other people think of us, but somehow, we just can’t get ourselves to stop caring.

I think part of our problem is the way that Christian leaders sometimes motivate us. They exhort us to live in such a way that “people can’t help but notice something different about you.” Even if they don’t say that outright, they often tell a story of an unbeliever walking up to a believer and saying, “I notice something different about you. What do you have that I don’t?” Those believers listening who have never had such an experience start wondering why they haven’t. What should they be doing differently?

I have listened numerous times to an excellent sermon called Blessed Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller on 1 Corinthians 4:3-4: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” Tim Keller’s sermon gave me the confidence and biblical footing to stop over-analyzing my life. I live my life on the basis of my relationship with God and by the Spirit’s leading. Whoever notices or doesn’t notice is inconsequential – believers and unbelievers alike. Like Paul, I live for the approval of one person: God Himself.

Obviously, I haven’t always had this confidence. And if I’m being honest, I don’t always have it now. But I have it most days. So what changed?

I realized that God loves who I am. In fact, God created me to be EXACTLY who I am. Something I like to remind myself of to kill Satan’s weapons of self-doubt is “The only wrong with me is sin.” No, I am not perfect. Yes, I have a long way to go to be the Christian, wife, mother and friend I want to be. But my love for endurance sports? My sarcastic sense of humor? My love of reading, writing and romantic comedies? My complete ineptitude at trivia and basic facts of life? Those are the me that God created.

When we embrace the fact that God created us to be who we are, and that who we are is a good thing (aside from sin), we can see our strengths and weaknesses in the light of truth. One of the most freeing realizations I’ve ever had was “I don’t have to be everything. I can just be me.” It’s ok that I have horrible hand-eye coordination. It’s ok that I can’t throw a Frisbee to save my life. I can’t remember dates or names, but I remember faces. I remember where I was when I was thinking about x, or what I was doing when I heard about y. I remember where on the page something I read in a book is located, and can memorize entire passages when they’re something that really resonates with me.

So no one is going to mistake me for a professional baseball player or ask me to join their team at trivia night. And that’s ok. It’s also ok if I play Big Buck Hunter and don’t kill a single deer. Or if I’m asked to retrieve a Frisbee only to launch it at a right angle into the bushes. Or if I laugh too loud at something that wasn’t necessarily funny. Or if it took me 25 years to learn the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and water freezes at 32 degrees (and that I googled both before publishing this just to verify).

This confidence is from something much deeper than just saying, “This is the way I am.” Rather, my confidence comes from a deep soul-belief that this is who God created me to be and that in Christ, I already have God’s approval. Actually… not just His approval, but also His lavish and abundant love!

So whenever I am tempted to worry about what other people think about me, or wonder about the impression they got from something I did, I go back to these truths: The only thing wrong with me is sin. The God of the universe loves who I am. I am who God created me to be. Who I am is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still called to be loving to others. Embracing who I am is not a license to mow down anyone who gets in my way. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13). Rather, just as Tim Keller says in his sermon that I linked to above (seriously, listen to it!), the more confident I am about who I am in Christ, the less time I spend thinking about myself. And the less I think about myself, the more time I have to spend thinking for and about others.

{This idea is what people often refer as “finding your identity in God” but as I almost always find pithy sayings like that quite unhelpful, I felt the need to expound on the idea.}

Harnessing Guilt for Good

19 Dec

A feeling I have often, but especially at Christmastime, is Too Much to Do and Too Little Time. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. This year, I had wanted to take some time everyday to sit down with our family and do an Advent activity. Here it is, December 19 and we haven’t even cracked our Bible. One day last week, I was thinking through all the things on my to-do list and thought, “Wait a minute. How did my schedule get completely filled up?” I thought that I was being modest with my Christmas plans but December has a way of filling up without you even trying.

And as it happens whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by one aspect of my life, I started thinking about all the other aspects of my life that I’m “failing” at – like prayer, Bible study, thoughtfulness for friends, exercise, organization, etc. – and then I not only feel overwhelmed, I also feel guilty.

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At those times, I think most people (including myself) have two main reactions: 1) Try to do it all or 2) Stop caring. In a sermon I heard several years ago by Steve Shank of Sovereign Grace, he told of a 3rd option. Talking about Philippians 4:12, he said that apostle Paul had learned to be content with what he had, while also desiring more. How is that possible? When you recognize that the person who gets you from Point A to Point B, from the reality of your life to what you want it to be, isn’t YOU but GOD, then you can be content with What Is, while still longing for What Could Be.

So I don’t have to choose between trying to do it all or just not caring. I can stop trying even though I care. Instead of swinging to one end or the other of the spectrum, there’s a tension in the middle where I can recognize the things I want to be true in my life, but I don’t strive to make them happen. I don’t stop caring, but I do stop striving.

My reaction to that kind of statement 4 years ago would’ve been “Say what?!? If I’m not the one doing it, then how will it get done?” And the answer is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God. When we have a relationship with God through Christ, we not only have His promise that the verdict is in and we are righteous in His eyes – we also have His promise that He will make us into the people He has created us to be. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

The Spirit is the connection between God’s promise and the reality of it happening. He is the tangible, practical outworking of God’s power in our lives. So when I want to be more intentional about praying for people, I don’t have to say “Ok, I’m going to pray for 15 minutes every morning starting at 7:30.” There’s nothing wrong with that if God leads me to that, but my first response to a conviction shouldn’t be activity. Instead of seeing a problem in my life and determining the course of action to remedy it, God wants me to take that conviction and turn to Him in prayer. Ask Him to help me pray for others more often – and then TRUST that He will help me, by reminding me to pray for others, giving me the desire to pray for them when I do remember, growing my understanding of His love for me so that I think of myself less often and of others more often.

When God is the one leading, real change happens. When I’m the one determining what needs to get done, I eventually lose steam and end up right back where I started – and so the cycle begins again.

That’s why there are no specific commands in the Bible. Because the outworking of the Spirit’s conviction and the Christian life look differently for everyone. God says “Be hospitable” and “Give to the needy” and “Remember the poor” – those are pretty vague. I used to be frustrated and think “But what does that look like?” Answer: Only God can show you. Because it’s different for everyone. You might have the idea that to Be Hospitable, you have to open your home to exchange students, or invite your in-laws to move in. And for some people, it does mean that. But maybe for you, it’s just having friends over for lunch. Or hosting a baby shower.

So when I’m thinking about all the things that I want to be doing during Christmas, or the things that I wish I were doing in life but am not, or the things I would change, I don’t have to cast those things aside as “guilt producers” or stupid “expectations imposed on me by society.” I feel guilty about those things because I really want to do them. I want them to be true of my life. I don’t feel guilty about not going bungee jumping or not being a CEO. Because I don’t want those things. I feel guilty about the things I care about.

I read an interesting article about guilt in a parenting magazine the other day while I was pumping at work. The author said that guilt in the right degree is healthy because only sociopaths don’t feel guilt. That was interesting to me. I have always thought about guilt as a bad thing, as in I shouldn’t feel guilty ever. But now I can see guilt as a tool to show me what really matters to me. And instead of trying to deal with that guilt via self-improvement and to-do lists and productivity, or a Who Cares? attitude, I can recognize that I feel guilty because I wish those things were true about my life. At same time, I recognize that I can’t make them a reality on my own. I need God to help me, to show me the One Thing to do right now, and to trust that somehow, by following His leading on the Little Things, He is shaping the Big Picture into something glorious.

It’s hard to do in practice. Our house projects for moving have not gone according to our plans, and Travis and I both have responded poorly at times. Whenever that happens, I know that the cause is we’ve stopped trusting in God and started trusting in ourselves – in our actions, our planning, our common sense. God doesn’t work that way. His ways are higher. His plans are better. We need to trust and rest. “In quietness and trust is your strength.”

Breathe in freedom.

1 Jun

When your body is challenged in yoga and weight lifting, the natural response is to hold your breath. We need to be reminded to breathe with the movements. Inhale, lift. Exhale, lower. Inhale vitality. Exhale tension. It may not seem like it at the time but breathing actually makes the postures and exercises easier because it gives you something else to concentrate on than just the muscle fatigue and supplies your muscles with oxygen.

I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days because I realized that this applies to life too. This week, I have felt tired and lazy. And I found myself emotionally gritting my teeth to “just get through” the week – essentially, holding my breath to survive.

But is that really what God wants for me? Are I really reduced to just gritting my teeth to get through life?

The trouble is that I associate the fullest life with being on top of things, things going my way, falling into place, being easy.

The fullest life is still available even when life isn’t that way (which is often). Even on the days, weeks, or months when things are hard, I’m tired and feel overwhelmed, and everything feels like a burden. Instead of holding my breath to survive, I can breathe through life’s challenges with God. 

Just like holding my breath doing a Half Moon, it seems easier and less painful to not think too much and just go through the motions. To not care. To resign myself to life being crap for the next few days.

In reality, I’m making the situation worse. And when I actually think about what I’m doing, it seems ludicrous. Why do I think that hard situations are easier to handle without God?

It’s because I think He’ll make me (wo)man up and deal with the situation. And the last thing I want to do is deal with the situation. I want to escape, withdraw, ignore.

What I forget, though, is that living in dependence on God is where I find joy always. Not just when I feel up to it, or when life is going well, or when I’m naturally happy. Always.

I also forget that living in dependence on God doesn’t require me to feel me up to it, or life to be going well, or me to be naturally happy. In fact, living in dependence on God comes most easily when I am starkly aware of my weaknesses and insufficiency. When I feel too small for something too big. When I’m struggling with the same thing yet again. When I’m having trouble even mustering up the energy to not give up.

I find freedom in acknowledging reality. Instead of shutting down and going through life on autopilot, I can admit that the situations I’m facing are affecting me and that it’s not all coming up roses. Jesus promised us peace in the midst of difficulty – not peaceful circumstances.

I stop trying to change reality. Once I acknowledge the tough circumstance, I stay there. I don’t try to change, fix, or manipulate it. That’s God’s job. My job is trust. This is the challenge I come back to time and time again. Asking me to live with God in the midst of my weaknesses and insufficiency is like asking a dog to walk on its hind legs. It’s not impossible but it takes a lot of work to actually stay there because it’s not my natural inclination.

I focus on the moment and give thanks. In yoga, you breathe with the movements to get your mind focused on the here and now. Stop thinking about all the things you’re going to do later in the day, all the bills and laundry and dishes piling up at home. Live in the now. Jesus told us this too: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). I especially like The Message’s paraphrase:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

And the best way to live in the moment (I’m discovering) is to give thanks, for everything. Specifically. Audibly. Remember God’s blessings. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His grace.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a quote or two from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts:

“Life is so urgent it necessitates living slow.”

“Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.”

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When I really think about it, the life Jesus bought for us on the cross is STUNNING.

School’s out for summer!

9 Mar

I get to leave work at 12:45 today. And because it’s sunny and almost 60 degrees outside, I feel like a kid getting out of school for the summer. I have been looking forward to this all week long – it’s the little things in life.

I am so excited to go on a run in the warm daylight, and still enjoy a full night of relaxation afterward. This week has been crazy and this afternoon will be Glorious.

I just have to make it through a call about life insurance with our financial planner…

You might know that I don’t do anything with money except spend it. All things financial bore me to tears and anger. When I announced last night that I was going to bed, Travis started talking to me about life insurance. Nope, not talking about this now. See ya.

Travis asked me again this morning when would be a good time to have our phone call. I couldn’t keep my eyes from rolling. The last thing I want to do on my glorious day of freedom is talk about money. 

But, in an effort to be grateful for a husband that cares about things like life insurance and kindly doesn’t ask me to be involved unless legally necessary, I will allow the phone call to infringe. I realize it’s not necessarily a good thing that I don’t want to be involved in our financial situation, but I don’t think you’d want to be involved in something that made you want to poke out your eyes with sharp objects either. (And no, I am not being overly dramatic at all.)

After the call of gloom, I will skip happily and merrily into my free afternoon of running and reading! I might even paint my toenails with the fun purple color I bought a couple weeks ago…

What are you up to this fine Friday? Do you like talking about finances and future planning?

My body is not my own.

17 Nov

A while ago, I mentioned that I was going through the book Love to Eat, Hate to Eat with a group of women from church. My first realization was that my body does not represent who I really am. I am not the sum of how I look. There is more to me. That reminder has been very helpful over the last month, whenever I was tempted to think I should be skinnier.

But the past couple of weeks, I’ve swung the other way by letting myself eat whatever I want. I’m still eating mostly healthy with whole grains, lowfat dairy and fruits and veggies, but I’m also eating a bunch of extra crap – some Hershey’s kisses here, a cupcake there, a couple pieces of cornbread before dinner, a slice of ice cream cake from the break room. While I am in favor of diet freedom because I obsess less about food when I allow myself to eat whatever I am truly craving, these extras aren’t cravings – just convenient. I eat them because they’re right in front of me. I guess I wouldn’t mind a piece of cake right now.

Whenever behaviors like this go on for weeks at a time, they end up becoming habits. My habit becomes grabbing any sweet sitting out, instead of saying no to the “meh” ones. I eat a snack before dinner, even though the actual meal will be ready in 30 minutes. I have both wine and ice cream after dinner, instead of choosing one.

I realized this morning that these habits come out of my not recognizing that my body is not my own. I have been blessed with a genuine desire to eat (mostly) healthy and stay active so it’s never really been that much of a battle to take care of my body. Sure, I get off track now and then but I usually get back to healthy habits after a week or so because I honestly like it. But when I do get in funks like my current one, where I find myself eating more sweets and carbs than normal, I just brush it off saying, “This isn’t that big of a deal. I’ll get back on track soon enough.”

I started thinking, what if I did that with money? I’ll just splurge on this and that and next week I’ll get back on my budget. The consequences of my actions would still be around next week. Or what about with unhelpful books or movies? I’ll just watch Sex and the City this one time. The mental pictures don’t disappear the minute I turn the TV off.

Because I know that about money and unhelpful books and movies, I avoid them. I just don’t even go there. And I don’t feel restricted by not living beyond my means or watching inappropriate shows. I feel more free because I’m not encumbered by all the temptations and consequences that go along with those things.

Why is eating any different?

I know that I feel better and don’t think about my body image/weight/food as much when I’m exercising self-control and eating wisely. I know that eating a bunch of sugar in one day makes me feel gross. So why do I do it?

I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t look at the consequences of eating poorly as being a big deal. Sure, I don’t feel the best when I eat too much food or too much sugar but the next morning, I eat some oatmeal, I go workout and I’m back to feeling pretty good. Easily solved, right?

But I forget that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When I go to church, I treat the facility and furniture with respect because it’s God’s house. I don’t pour garbage all over the floor and write on the walls, saying “Don’t worry. I’ll clean this up later. You’ll never even know.” Those behaviors would be disrespectful. In the same way, filling my body full of garbage that I’m not really enjoying but eating “just because” is treating my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, disrespectfully. If I lived in the acknowledgment that my body is not my own because I was bought at a price, I believe my approach to eating would be different.

I do believe in balance and that God has given us delicious foods, including sweets and alcohol, to enjoy in moderation. But I know that when I eat too many of them, my enjoyment of them diminishes. Because they’re no longer a special treat – just a daily sugar bomb.

So just as I have been reminding myself that my body does not represent who I really am when I am tempted to base my worth on appearance, I am going to try to remind myself that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit when faced with poor food choices. “Your body is not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Lord, help me to treat my body in a way that glorifies You as the only One that satisfies and that gives me life and joy, as well as energy and health for living with vitality. Health is an amazing gift and I thank You for it – help me to not to take it for granted or squander it on things that don’t satisfy.

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In other news, I signed up to participate in the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge 2011 that starts this Saturday. (For the details, follow the challenge hyperlink.) Hopefully this will give me that extra kick of motivation to keep going on my training plan!

What helps you strike a balance in your eating habits?

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.

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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.

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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.