Tag Archives: gospel

Surrender + Reality

7 Nov

I’ve been reading “When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box” by John Ortberg and I really liked this:

Surrender is not passivity or abdication. It is saying yes to God and life each day. It is accepting the gifts he has given me — my body, my mind, my biorhythms, my energy. It is letting go of my envy or desire for what he has given someone else. It is letting go of outcomes that in reality I cannot accept anyway. I surrender my ambitions, my dreams, my money, my relationships, my marital status, my time, and my desires to God.

Surrender means I accept reality…

Surrender means giving up ultimate mastery of my life…

“Only if one experiences that God is good is it possible to surrender to him unconditionally one’s whole heart, soul, and being.”

I’ve been thinking lately how the gospel enables us to fully acknowledge reality. Instead of trying to convince myself that I’m a good person by turning a blind eye to all the bad things I’ve done, I can face them head-on and accept that I’m not a good person on my own. I can acknowledge that I’m not everything I want to be — and rest there. I can be content in who I am and not strive to be someone I’m not. I can trust that God has ordained this moment, this day, this life for me — that I didn’t somehow miss the memo that He had planned for me to be a missionary in Zimbabwe instead of a marketing copywriter in Denver. When we truly believe that everything we have and are is from God, we can stop questioning, worrying and comparing.

Tim Keller has an amazing (free!) sermon (and now, a short book based on it) called Blessed Self-Forgetfulness. I found a CD of old sermons that I’ve been listening to in the car during my commute and that sermon was on it. Keller talks about how everyday, as humans with fragile egos, we’re in the courtroom. All of our actions are either stamping evidence for the prosecutor or the defense. The case being decided is: Am I a good person? Am I valuable? Am I important? Am I loved?

Because Christ went to trial for me, and was unjustly accused and put to death in my place, I can leave the courtroom. Court is adjourned. The verdict is in. And that verdict is:

Righteous.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

What does that mean? It means God finds no fault with me. That I am perfect, holy and eternally valuable in His eyes. It means the Father loves me with the same love He has for Jesus Himself.

Keller uses the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4 to make the point, it doesn’t matter what other people think about me. It doesn’t even matter what I think about me. Only God’s opinion matters. And He says I’m righteous in Christ.

That is why I can accept the full reality of my life. Because in Christ, the reality is I am holy and I am loved.

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.”

…………………..

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

Life Is a Glorious Mess

13 Dec

For two or three weeks before my parents came out for Thanksgiving, I had gotten into a routine. Life was good. Predictable. Tidy. Organized.

But having out of town guests was just the thing that upset my routine and now 3 weeks later, I’m still not back on track. Too many nights of staying up late trying to get things done. Too many mornings of caring more about sleep than getting back on track. Too many days of trying to catch up on things that I bailed on in the name of relaxation (hello, house cleaning!).

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I woke up yesterday morning wanting at least 4 more hours in bed. Instead, I got up to make coffee – an hour after my alarm went off the first time. The kitchen counters overflowed with dirty dishes; the table drowned in Christmas presents, mail, and other things used over the weekend but not put away. The cupboards were conspicuously bare from my lack of grocery shopping. The fridge held potatoes from our garden and spinach from the store, wilting and rotting before I could use them. The dogs wagged their tails in hope of a walk. A temperature of 63 degrees revealed that the furnace wasn’t working again.

I was frustrated. Mad. Why is life so hard?

I do better when life is organized. When things are in their place. When I’m on top of what I need to be on top of.

I could have been there this morning – except I chose to relax and watch Christmas movies last night instead of doing chores.

And I’ve realized that my affinity for order and perfection has a price tag – it costs me Life. Joy. Peace. Patience.

When I admire people in movies (like J. Lo in The Wedding Planner) who have every piece of their life in place with predictable schedules and unvaried routines, I fail to realize that they’re paying for that perfection – with human relationships. I mean, how often do those same perfect people have an intimate marriage, loving kids, and open their homes to others?

To truly embrace the presence of others in my life, I have to let go of perfection. Because a life filled with relationships is messy. As Emily Walker wrote in her post The Messy Table:

My table is not perfect, but it has done the job it was meant to do very well. Life has been lived at it. Lessons have been learned at it. Memories have been made for decades, right there at that table. It tells the story of lives being lived, not life missed out on in the name of perfection.

That. Exactly.

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be someday, do I want my kids to remember how well-kept our house was, elaborate our dinners were, and how we were always running around doing stuff?  Or do I want them to remember how I played with them in our backyard, dropped whatever I was doing to listen or laugh, and didn’t get mad when they trampled little dirty footprints all over the carpet? Obviously, I want to be the latter.

And here’s what I’m learning: I don’t become the peaceful, patient, loving woman I want to be by being perfect and on top of things. Rather, I grow to be that woman as I learn to let things go. If I expect the house to always be orderly, I get frustrated when something is out of place. If I map out my schedule for the day and a wrench gets thrown in, I’m mad.

People who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit aren’t isolated from problems and frustrations. They have just learned to embrace the messiness of life. Be content in chaos. See each moment for what it’s really worth – not a time for getting things done, but a time to connect with and serve others, and to be filled with the joy of knowing Christ. Instead of running around checking off my own to-do list, I need to walk through each day with God, trusting that His grace is sufficient – He will provide the energy and wisdom to work when I need to, and to rest when I need to.

A comforting idea I’ve had in my head for several weeks now is that God is more realistic about my abilities than I am. Like QuatroMama writes in this post, I tend to set up my own (perfectionist) standards and then beat myself up when I fall short.

But God is realistic. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” He doesn’t ask me to be Mega Woman. He understands that I only have so many minutes in a day and if I spend time doing this thing, I don’t have time for that thing. If I’m exhausted and want to veg instead of clean, He doesn’t accuse me of laziness and not being productive, like I do to myself. Unlike me, He is full of grace, understanding, and patience.

This is where the Gospel makes all the difference. The Gospel allows us to admit that we fall short of what we wish we were, but reassures us that we’re loved anyway. And God’s love for us isn’t despite how we’ve disappointed Him, or failed to live up to His standard. Because when He sees us in Christ, He sees perfect beings. We are completely and utterly righteous in His eyes. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us.”

He doesn’t mutter “I love you” through gritted teeth while trying to not be mad over all the things we’ve done wrong. God’s love abounds for us. He lavishly pours out grace upon grace into our lives with delight.

In the words of John Piper, remind yourself, “I am holy and I am loved.” Even when life is messy.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you remind yourself of God’s unfailing love?

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.

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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…

 

 

Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Health

4 Aug

I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller the other day about idols and epidesires (“over desires,” from the Greek word epithemia). Keller defined them as anything that if you lost it, would make you not want to live.

My initial reaction was “I’m not attached to anything that strongly,” since I’ve read his book Counterfeit Gods in which he illustrates this point with examples of CEOs and CFOs that committed suicide after the stock market tanked in 2008. I am definitely not attached to money, fame or success like that.

But since I admit my status as a sinner and try to catch myself when I start thinking I’m “above” anything, I thought about this idea more. There had to be something in my life that was an epidesire.

And then I figured it out: my health.

I love being active. I spend many hours a week exercising. Travis and I like to do active things together. If I stop being active for even a week, I feel like a blob and am itching to get back at it.

I also have to admit that I love being a healthy weight. I can easily find clothes in my size, I (for the most part) like the way I look, and can wear a bikini with just a smidge of self-consciousness. (I don’t think I’d be human if I had none!)

One of my biggest motivators for staying active and eating healthy, though, is the desire to avoid major health issues and be able to hike and run when I’m 70 (like I see so many elderly people doing out here in Colorado!). I don’t want to have diabetes or take 20 minutes to walk 10 feet. I want to run around with my grandchildren, go swimming at the lake, and enjoy life!

So, what if all that changed? What if I had to take a medication that caused me to gain 20, or 50, pounds? What if I got into an accident and lost the use of my legs? What if I got breast cancer, like so many other women do, and had to have a complete mastectomy?

Would I still want to live?

Would I still rejoice at life and be joyful? Or would I pity myself? Based on my track record, I’m guessing the latter.

Like everything in life, there’s a line between health being a good thing, and it being an ultimate thing. That’s what Tim Keller is getting at when he talks about epidesires. It’s good to want to be healthy, to be good stewards of our bodies through diet and exercise, and to be consistently mindful of those things. God created our bodies to function best when they’re used through physical activity and fed with natural foods.

But it’s easy for health to turn into an ultimate thing. How many sleep-deprived mornings have made me angry, assuming that my lack of sleep was going to make me sick? How many days does my harsh assessment of my body shape make me feel depressed and unhappy? How many times have I felt superior to people who aren’t healthy and in shape?

The truth is, we’re not in control of our health. We can direct its general course, but God has the ultimate say. One of our friends (who I have mentioned on here before) was a non-smoker but just got diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Life — and our health — are fragile.

Same thing with body shape — we can keep our weight at a healthy level and develop muscle by strength training. But we can’t alter our body shape. That was determined by God when He knit us together in the womb. (Something I need to be reminded about often!)

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t a get-out-of-cancer-free card. It’s not a guarantee from God that we’re never going to get sick, be hospitalized, or lose the use of some of our faculties. Our bodies are like the rest of the world: falling apart. This whole world is falling apart. It wasn’t meant to last.

I sometimes get frustrated at the transient nature of things. Happy moments don’t last. A clean house doesn’t last. The pristine condition of something new doesn’t last. Everything ends, falls apart, breaks, or gets beat up. That’s the nature of the world we live in.

I am learning to let those frustrations push me into the glorious hope of heaven, “where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” instead of into a bitter mood or cynical outlook. Because of what Christ has done, when we find a new wrinkle, or lumps where before there were none, or we don’t have the endurance or speed or flexibility we once had, instead of lamenting our demise into old age, we can glory in our hope of being raised with imperishable bodies. I’ll end with this extended quote from 1 Corinthians 15:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body… The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.