Tag Archives: Jesus

Loved in Christ: A Response to Two Bestsellers

22 Nov

wintersceneI’ve  been on reading kick lately. Whether it’s because I’ve watched all the episodes of my favorite shows on Netflix (single tear) or because I’ve serendipitously chosen books that have been absolutely fascinating to me, I’ve been spending almost all my free time during naps and before bed reading.

Two of the books I’ve read are Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I found both books to be well-written and page-turners. I finished Love Warrior in less than a week and Present Over Perfect in just two days.

My reasons for choosing each book were different. Several years ago, I was following Glennon’s blog when her and her husband separated due to issues she was not discussing at the time. There was talk of divorce, so I stopped following her blog because it made me uncomfortable. A year or so later, I heard that they had actually not gotten divorced—they were going to counseling and working through things. Which intrigued me because reconciliation seems to be so rare in our culture. I started reading her blog again, which is where I heard about her forthcoming book Love Warrior. I preordered an autographed edition.

This book has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller and was chosen by Oprah for her book club. To that, I say: Of course it did, both seriously and sarcastically. I’ll explain my sarcastic response in a bit, but I seriously think that Glennon is an awesome writer and I truly LOVED her book. She perceives the world in a completely different way than I do, so I’ve always found her writing and perspective refreshing and challenging.

My biggest takeaway from her book (among many) was that if I want to be truly known, I have to LET MYSELF BE KNOWN.

It seems so simple and DUH that as I read her book, I wondered, “Why is it so hard to just tell the truth about who we are, about what we’re thinking and feeling and needing? Why can’t we just let ourselves be known?”

Because we are complex beings and we live in a fallen world.

Because we’ve been told lies by Satan and our culture.

Because we’ve had experiences of people rejecting and misusing what they know about us.

So we hide. We lie. We misdirect. We pretend.

This insight has shed new light on conflict in my marriage. One Saturday, we were down at my dad’s cabin helping him do some yardwork—meaning I was watching the girls while Travis was helping my dad do yardwork. We had decided to buy my old Ford Focus back from Travis’ brother and Travis said he was thinking about driving down to a town halfway between the cabin and the Cities to meet up with Matthew and get the car. He asked me if that was ok, or if I wanted him to do it later.

Inside, I was screaming, “NOOOOO!!!! IT IS NOT OKAY!!!!! I am with the girls ALL ALONE every single day of the week and now you want to leave me all alone AGAIN to go get a stupid car that I don’t even want to buy? YOU CANNOT LEAVE ME HERE!”

But instead of telling the truth, I said in a disgusted tone, “Whatever, do what you want.”

I started walking away and then remembered the truth that if I want to be known, I have to let myself be known. So I turned back and said, “Actually, could you do it later instead of right now?” Travis was totally fine with that, and it actually ended up being better, because Matthew brought the car up to our house on deer hunting weekend instead.

Another similar instance happened more recently, though in my frazzled mommy brain I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. What I do know is, it reinforced that, similar to how Glennon talks about the expectations and lies women have been fed by culture about how we’re supposed to act and be, I had been believing the lie that I am not supposed to be needy, particular, or demanding. I am supposed to go along with whatever. Don’t cause a stir. Don’t be a b!tch.

But because I wasn’t honest, Travis didn’t know how I really felt. Because he didn’t know how I really felt, I was hurt and bitter. How many times have I lied (badly) about my feelings in a certain situation, Travis goes off to do what he thinks I’ve agreed to (though it was a lie), and I get mad at him because I didn’t really want him to do it? By not being honest, I was actually causing more drama and neediness in my marriage than if I had just told the truth at the outset! So this idea of letting myself be known is truly transforming my marriage.

I LOVE it when a book rocks my world.

That’s why I found Present Over Perfect to be just okay. Shauna is a good writer (though I find her essay-style chapters sometimes confusing) but her book echoed many thoughts I’ve already had about being who God created me to be and pursuing a slower pace of life focused on connecting with people, thoughts like: “The crucial journey, then, for me, has been from dependence on external expectations, down into my own self, deeper still into God’s view of me, his love for me that doesn’t change, that will not change, that defines and grounds everything.”

But then I read this: “It is only when you understand God’s truly unconditional love that you begin to understand the worth of your own soul—not because of anything you’ve done, but because every soul is worthy, every one of us is worthy of love, having been created by and in the image of the God of love.”

Reading that, my jaw dropped.

No. she. didn’t.

As I read the first part of that sentence, I was thinking, “Oh, here it comes—a mention of the gospel, finally. A mention of how God’s unconditional love for us was BOUGHT by Christ’s BLOOD on the CROSS.” And she was leading right into with “not because of anything you’ve done”, a completely perfect place to say “but because of what Jesus has done on your behalf.” But NO, instead she goes into some mumbo jumbo about every soul being worthy. Are you kidding me?!?!

Yes, we have all been created in the image of God, and for that reason, are all equally valuable humans. But without Christ, we’re all also equally going to hell, regardless of how worthy we see our souls. Maybe I had too high of expectations for Shauna’s book, or maybe I expected more out of her since she’s Bill Hybels’ daughter and her book was published by Zondervan. But I’m sorry… just. NO.

I have the same beef with Glennon’s book, but at least with her, I already knew that her beliefs are liberal to the point of maybe not being completely biblical, so I filter everything she says anyway. This was one of my favorite quotes: “Our only hope to be fully human together is to first insist upon our right to be fully human before God. And it will only be the acceptance that I am already loved perfectly by God that will let me forgive Craig and those women for loving so imperfectly.” But even that quote is not without issues.

The problem I have with these sentences, and the ideas they’re communicating, and the books they are from in general, is the same that I have with a lot of Christian thoughts and sermons these days: it’s not they’re wrong or unbiblical per se; it’s that they don’t go far enough. We have to go all the way to the cross, to the historical event that single-handedly procured our acceptance by God and intimate relationship with Him. Without the cross, we are cut off from God. Without the cross, it is not a good thing to be fully human before God. Because our fallen humanity is JUDGED by God, and our sin demands payment—an eternity in hell. Ephesians 2:1-9 says that before we were believers in Christ, we were by nature children of wrath. Whose wrath? GOD’S WRATH.

And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why these books are so appealing to people across the board, Christians and non-Christians alike. We’d prefer to not hear about hell, sin, blood, crucifixion. We want God’s unconditional love, because we were created to want it, thrive in it, be transformed by it. But we want it without the messiness of Jesus, without the implications of our sinfulness that come from Jesus’ hands and feet being pierced with nails. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

God’s unconditional love is not good news because it allows us to look at ourselves and say, “I’m worthy. I’m lovable.” It’s good news because it allows us to honestly look at ourselves and say, “I’m not worthy of God’s love. I’m not lovable a lot of the time. BUT GOD LOVES ME ANYWAY. And He proved it, and procured it, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

Which love is greater: loving someone who is lovable and always lovely to you, or loving someone who is unlovely and shuns you? God’s love is greater. He loves the UNLOVABLE. He loves the UNWORTHY. The Unlovable and the Unworthy are YOU and ME. This is the GOOD NEWS! He takes the NOTHING we have to offer and turns it into ENOUGH in His infinite measure of sufficiency.

First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The power of God is the word of the cross. Strip Christianity of the cross of Christ and the power of God goes with it. True Christianity is not moralism. It is not just a better way to live life on this earth. It is not just loving those around us. It is “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Christianity begins and ends at the Cross. God’s unconditional love for us is true ONLY BECAUSE Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Not because our souls are worthy, but because HE is worthy.

And that is why we can let ourselves be known, even in this harsh and cruel world: because we are already fully known by God and fully approved by Him. But let us not forget that that approval is only the result of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. He gets the glory; we get the joy.

Letting God Manage My To-Do List

2 Feb

IMG_20160126_124010You may have noticed that my blog posts lately have just been updates on my girls. That’s not because I haven’t had thoughts I wanted to write about. I do have thoughts, and I do want to write – it’s just that when I sit down to write, sludge comes out. A few words emerge from the muck of my brain, but they’re incoherent and incomplete. Even writing this paragraph has been sludge-like, letters forming into words at the speed of molasses.

My problem is that I have too many thoughts. There are too many things going on in my head. This actually happens a lot. I’m struggling with things, so I go to God in prayer but I can’t even get words out about my emotions because there’s just too much all at once. It’s like there’s this giant bottleneck at the point of my thoughts merging into external expression. (At those times, I’m incredibly thankful that God knows my thoughts without my needing to actually say them!)

This also happens when I’m talking to Travis. Poor guy. I often start telling him about an idea I had but while I’m talking, a voice in my head counters it or offers a different idea, and I swerve mid-sentence to disagree with my idea before I have even finished telling Travis about the original.

Just as I am a chronic over-thinker, I am also a chronic over-planner. I suffer from the condition known as “Too much to do and too little time.” I frequently find myself stressed out over my own imposed to-do list – things that I alone have decided must be done.  During this past Christmas season, when I was just beginning to see this tendency of mine, I found myself thinking, “Well, when the holidays are over, things won’t be so crazy.” Before I had finished that thought, the dang voice in my head interrupted and said, “No they won’t.” And I realized, that voice was right.

I have been stressed out over my imposed to-do list since even before I had kids. There’s this blog post from my life pre-kid, lamenting my ability to turn even a day off into a stressful situation.

The truth is that I’m not stressed out because of the time of the year, or because I have two young kids, or even because one of those kids is a toddler tornado. The “too much to do” does not come from the laundry, dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, diaper changing, mess cleaning reality of being a wife and mom.

I’m stressed out because of me. I’M THE PROBLEM.

My stress comes from wanting to do extra things like update baby books, create scrapbooks, write blog posts and books, plan elaborate birthday parties, repurpose furniture, decorate the house, go thrift store shopping, get my craft on.

In short: THINGS THAT AREN’T NECESSARY.

It’s the unnecessary things (that I like to think are necessary) stressing me out.

But here’s the tricky thing: it’s also the unnecessary things that bring me joy.

For several years, I fell into the trap of feeling like I “should” do certain things because they were either expected of me, or because I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were. But that’s not the case here. If I didn’t want to scrapbook, craft, decorate or update baby books, I wouldn’t. But I DO want to do all of those things – because I ENJOY THEM. (Case in point, back in high school, I planned a formal New Years Eve party in high school FOR FUN. Formal as in, we sold tickets, wore formal dresses and suits, and held it in a hotel ballroom. Kudos to my mom for indulging my whim and helping me with the process!)

So it’s not that I’m doing things I don’t want to do. I have whittled my list of All the Things down to those that I personally want to prioritize, but I still don’t have enough time in a day to fit it all in. It works on paper, and I have contemplated implementing a more rigid, set schedule for the purpose of using my time wisely and intentionally. But then the girls have several days when for some unknown reason, they don’t follow their usual routines and the whole idea of having a set schedule seems laughable and completely unrealistic.

Obviously I don’t have the answer to the question, “How do you do it all?” (Not that anyone’s asking me that anyway, ha!) I’m caught between wanting to be intentional with my time and wanting to be flexible for whatever the day holds. I don’t want to be completely rigid, but I also don’t want to fritter away minutes here and there on “who knows what.” Minutes add up to hours, and hours to days, and think of the things that can be accomplished with that kind of time!

The only thing that has brought me peace in the midst of this swirling whirlwind of emotions and plans is trusting God. Several years ago, God used a particularly stressful time of my life to teach me that while I love me a to-do list, it cannot serve as the agenda for my day. Peace comes from holding my plans with open hands, doing the One Thing in front of me, and entrusting the rest to God.

I like to picture God sitting at a big table, tall enough that I can’t see the top, with all of the items of my to-do list sitting before Him in 3-D form. He hands me the first item, saying, “Do this first.” And I do it. When I’m done, I go back to Him. He hands me another. “Now do this one.” My job is to complete the tasks He gives to me; His job is to show me which tasks to do.

Every Tuesday when Emma goes to daycare, the list of what I want to accomplish that day is 15 items long, all of which take at least an hour. There’s absolutely no chance under heaven that I’m going to even make a dent. So I lift the list to God in prayer and ask Him to help me spend my time wisely, and to trust Him to provide me with the time and energy for the things that He intends for me to get done.

In addition to prayer and the Spirit’s leading, part of what helps me determine what the One Thing to do is priorities. What’s the higher priority? Spending time with God should be #1, so that is often what I do first. I also give priority to things that are timely, like making a meal to bring to a family who has a new baby; scheduled, like doctor appointments; or necessary, like eating lunch.

Beyond that, I often experience the Spirit’s leading by feeling energized to do the task. There have been many times when I look at my to-do list and two things seem to be equally important, but I feel excited about doing one and drag my feet about the other. So I do the one I feel like doing. That doesn’t mean I never do the things that I drag my feet about – otherwise, I would never clean bathrooms! (As it is, I clean them much less often than I should.) But on the whole, it is much more enjoyable and efficient to tackle tasks when I feel up to them, instead of forcing myself to do them on a timeline I’ve arbitrarily determined on my own. Almost always, if I postpone a task that isn’t timely and I don’t feel energized for, I end up feeling energized for it a different day.

Obviously, though, I’m not in charge of everything, and many days involve unforeseen, annoying or undesirable circumstances. This way of approaching each day is still valid in those moments — because it’s God adding a few items of His own to my to-do list. Like I’ve said before, if I truly want joy, I must embrace the circumstances God allows.

Walking through my to-do list each day with God in prayer and faith that He will provide for what needs to get done, and take care of what doesn’t, has brought me immense peace and joy. And freedom! Before I learned this, I couldn’t sit and read a book without feeling guilty about not being productive. Now, I believe that if I want to sit down and enjoy a book, and have the opportunity to, I can do so without feeling guilty.

My desires are not something to be “overridden” by what I think I should be accomplishing. Jesus is not a taskmaster. He does not demand that I accomplish x and y each day. Rather, Jesus invites me to take His yoke upon me, and promises that when I do so, I will find rest for my soul. What is His yoke? “…having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” His yoke and burden were determined by God. He let the Holy Spirit guide Him through each moment of each day, and didn’t worry about how everything would be accomplished, or how He was being perceived, or what He should teach next, or where.  “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)

Unfortunately, I still let my to-do list act as my taskmaster and slave-driver too often. I still get stressed out and overwhelmed by having too many things I want to do and too little time. But I’m making progress. I’m growing. I’m learning to walk by faith, and not by the sight of seeing my to-do list checked off. 😉 I do believe that God cares more about character and connecting with others, than He does about productivity and efficiency.

As for finding time to do everything I want to do, I don’t have an answer. Instead, I bring myself back again and again to this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “When there is a deep restlessness for which we can find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being — what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth — embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing — no work, not even a word — that the Father had not given Him.”

If God intends for me to do something, whether it’s as important as spend time with Him or as trivial as making a scrapbook, He will provide the time and energy for it. I can trust that God will fulfill His purpose for me. My #1 job is walking in daily dependence on Him.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

May you and yours have a joyous day celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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I Used to Think God Wanted My Service #OutofSortsBook

17 Nov

Based on a recommendation from my friend Cathy, I started reading Sarah Bessey’s blog a little less than a year ago. She was pregnant with her fourth baby and I was pregnant with my second. Our due dates were a few months apart, but just being pregnant at the same time made me feel a bond with her. That’s what started me reading her blog, but I kept reading because Sarah’s blog is inspiring, well-written and thought-provoking.

I’m horrible at commenting – partly because I’m lazy, partly because I read while I’m nursing and let’s be honest, typing on a phone is a PITA. But I’m breaking the silence for a synchroblog in honor of Sarah’s second book (just out a few weeks ago) called Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s definitely on my to-read-soon list because it sounds right up my alley.) She has asked her blog readers to tell “our stories of transformation, of the ways we’ve changed and evolved and grown, the ways we’ve changed our minds or our hearts in response to the unchanging Christ.”

Here’s my story.

I used to think God wanted my service and now I know He just wants me.

I became a Christian the summer after my sophomore year of college. I went from living the typical party lifestyle to spending all my free time with other Christians involved with a campus ministry. I soaked up Truth like a sponge, learning things like the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), segues for cold evangelism and how God’s steadfast love was better than life.

Then I got married and moved to Colorado from Minnesota, and everything I had taken at face value about following Christ no longer made sense. I still believed that I needed a Savior, that Christ had died for me, and that I was going to heaven to spend eternity with Him. But I didn’t understand what practical impact those truths had on my current life.

Marriage was incredibly hard. Instead of the love I wanted to have for my husband, I felt anger and bitterness. I acted toward him in a way that made me hate myself and wonder what had happened to me. Instead of marriage being a sanctification tool, it just kept bringing out more and more sin. I knew that the Holy Spirit could help me change, but how did I tap into that power? How did I stop reacting out of my own power and instead react out of His?

Meanwhile, I was convicted through a handful of books and sermons that I needed to be living radically for Christ, that my life needed to be noticeably different. The only problem was, I didn’t know what that looked like specifically. I tried volunteering, serving at church, hosting get-togethers and dinners, sharing the gospel with neighbors and friends, fasting from shopping. No matter what or how much I did, I was consumed with guilt. Because I thought I should be doing more.

I was driving from Wheat Ridge to Boulder along the foothills covered in sagebrush when I finally realized that I had been so focused on my own contribution to God’s kingdom that I had taken my eyes off of Him. Instead of defining my life by what Christ had done for me, I had been defining it by what I was doing for Him and undertaken the responsibility of making my life eternally worthwhile, something only God and His glory could do.

I had been running after duties and activities to prove my heart was right, to show that I was living out my faith. But I had left out the idea of God wanting me to know Him and enjoy Him, to find joy and pleasure in life, and to become more like Christ on the inside through spending time with Him. He wanted my heart, my surrender, my devotion, my yielding, my rest. Living a selfless life would grow out of a deep, intimate relationship with the Father, not from some divine ability to be the Incredible Christian Superwoman.

At first sight it seems heroic to fling our lives away in the service of God and of our fellows. We feel it is bound to mean more to Him than our experience of Him. Service seems so unselfish, whereas concentrating on our walk with God seems selfish and self-centered. But it is the very reverse. The things that God is most concerned about are our coldness of heart towards Himself and our proud, unbroken natures. (from We Would See Jesus by Roy and Revel Hession, emphasis added)

It has been over five years since that day. In that time, I have birthed two babies, gone from working full-time to being a stay-at-home mom, and moved back to my home state. This truth has been re-proven hundreds of times, in every circumstance. When I focus on my relationship with God as an end in itself, instead of simply a means to growth in the Christian life, I not only get the joy of focusing on God, but the very things I desire to be done within me are accomplished by the Spirit. I get the joy; He gets the glory.

And now when I hear sermons on evangelism, missions, prayer, or service, instead of feeling like a failure for not doing more or being better, I take whatever emotions I have to God in prayer, saying, “God, I agree that this thing is good and I’m thankful for those who do it well. I admit that I’m not where I’d like to be in regards to this. I want to grow but I am incapable of changing on my own without a burden of legalistic guilt. So I ask You to do it for me and in me. Help me see what this looks like in my life. Give me eyes to see You at work and a heart of obedience that follows where You’re leading. I trust that You will accomplish Your purpose for me. Thank You for the relationship that I have with You through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Amen.”

I used to think God wanted my service…

But now I know He just wants me.

Evangelism Is a Means, Not an End

23 Sep

Last Sunday in church, one of the songs we sang was about building God’s kingdom here through evangelism. One of the lines said, “We are the hope on earth.” While I understand the idea, I emphatically disagree. Jesus is the hope; we are not. We simply relay the message of hope found in Him.

I realize that I’m probably more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people, because I spent years dissecting my Christian faith down to nuances and colloquialisms. However, I can’t help but comment on this phrase — because even though when I heard it now, I could put it in its proper context, if I had heard it then, it would’ve sent me into a massive tailspin of guilt, failure and despair.

Why? Because it confuses people like me about who is responsible for what.

Nothing sends me into guilt-trip, “I need to do better” mode faster than a sermon on evangelism. I’m guessing that a lot of people feel the same way. What ends up happening is that we feel the responsibility to bring others to know Christ and see how we fall short. In an effort to bridge the gap between what we “should be doing” and what we are actually doing, we determine to be bolder in sharing the gospel. We share with a few people but over the course of a month or two, fall back into our old habits. When the next evangelism message comes along, we get pumped up again and resolve to share the gospel. We do for a bit, but again gradually fade back into our old habits.

“So what?” you say. “At least the gospel is being proclaimed!” Yes, that’s true, it is. And it may even be that some of those people who heard the gospel came to know Jesus, and that is something to rejoice over. But is that ALL that God cares about? Is He only about the bottom line? “The only thing that matters is that people hear the gospel.” After all, in Philippians 1, the apostle Paul didn’t care that some were proclaiming the gospel out of faulty motives – he only cared that it was being proclaimed, right?

I believe that God cares about more than the bottom line. We are not just His pawns in the game of world domination. The Westminster Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Or as John Piper would say, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” It is possible to focus so much on the mission of evangelism as an end that we forget it’s really just a means of enjoying God.

When evangelism becomes an end, it’s often used as a gauge for how seriously we’re living out our faith, or for our success as a Christian or a church. If that happens, we will quickly find ourselves defeated and suffocated under a fatal burden of guilt and legalism. We are not strong enough to shoulder the weighty responsibility of growing God’s kingdom.

And the good news is: We are not responsible for growing God’s kingdom. We are not responsible for people coming to know Jesus. God is.

I wholeheartedly agree that God uses people – like us – to accomplish His purposes, and that we have a role in evangelism. But it’s far smaller and more personal than most people realize. Our role in evangelism is primarily in being faithful to God’s leading.

It’s not our responsibility to share the gospel; it’s our privilege. Telling someone about Jesus isn’t something we do for God; it’s a gift He gives to us. It’s for our benefit. We get the grace!

When evangelism stops being an end, and becomes the means to glorifying and enjoying God that it was meant to be, we can stop focusing on all the ways we’ve failed, stop resolving to Do Better! and instead, walk through today in faith, as God’s chosen ones, forgiven and justified by the blood of the Lamb, expectantly awaiting the Spirit’s prompting.

We are not the hope on earth — Jesus is. Come, Lord Jesus!

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.}

Only Jesus is Pinterest-Worthy

5 Jun

cross pinterestUnless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard more than one person bemoan Pinterest as a guilt-producing, confidence-shattering machine of impossible expectations. Perhaps that person has even been you.

For myself personally, I have to be very intentional about how much I use Pinterest. Or Facebook, or blogs, or TV, or magazines. It’s just so. easy. to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else has it more together than I do. Their houses are decorated better and don’t look like a tornado touched down by 10 am. Their kids are doing crafts everyday that are both fun and educational. They not only get dressed every morning, they put on a cute outfit and do BOTH their hair and makeup. Then they enjoy a hot cup of coffee in silence while taking in a beautiful view.

Pinterest produces guilt and feelings of inferiority in us because it embodies perfection. Anyone who has ever taken family pictures, especially those involving young children, know that the picture-perfect moment only needs to last a split second to be caught on film. You just need one nano-second where everyone is looking at the camera with a smile for a good picture. Who cares that before that briefest of moments one kid was crying, another was trying to pull her hair out and the parents were clenching their teeth in frustration? The winning picture belies all of that, and thus dupes the onlooker into thinking that that family’s life is all roses and rainbows. That’s what Pinterest is. It’s the nano-second snapshot of unrealistic perfection.

Ok, so what? If we know that, why does it still bother us so much? Because every picture of perfection reminds us of the thing that so many people spend their lives trying to ignore — we know that deep down inside, there’s something wrong with us. Tim Keller says it much more eloquently in his sermon “Splitness” (an amazing sermon that I highly recommend), but we all recognize, in some form or another, that we aren’t all we were meant to be. If you’re tempted to disagree with me, I say look around at the self-help industry, blogs, magazines, TV shows, commercials. They are all selling improvements — ways to better yourself, your life, your relationships. Deep down, we know that we’re all missing the mark somewhere.

So are the people posting those snapshots of perfection on Pinterest. Sure, their 2-year-old’s birthday party had a cake that looked like an actual pirate ship, they all dressed in costume (no toddlers threw tantrums about wearing the eye patch?), and they even found pirate-themed wrapping paper for the 15 different presents they bought. But how many hours of sleep did they sacrifice with those efforts? How many hours of TV did their child watch while they prepared all of the necessary party decorations? We’ll never know, because the party pictures don’t tell us that.

That’s one reason why I’m committed to being an authentic blogger. When people portray their lives as perfect, we aren’t encouraged. We feel inferior, condemned, pathetic. But when we see someone who does some things well and other things… not so well, we see a real human being. And a real human being is someone who we can learn a thing or two from, who recognizes that life is both ups and downs, who understands what it’s like to have a cup of coffee get cold before you even take a sip, or have a toddler running around with a dirty diaper while you’re confined to a nursing chair, or losing your cool for the 100th time that day over something little because you’re operating *just that close* to your breaking point. We encourage authentic living by being authentic ourselves — and that means we share the ugly realities of life in addition to the Pinterest-worthy moments.

Jesus is the one exception. His whole life — every action, reaction, word, emotion — was Pinterest-worthy. But the amazing thing is, His model of perfection doesn’t overwhelm us with the guilt and shame of our shoddy attempts. That’s because His model of perfection was crowned with the ultimate sacrifice: His death on the cross. Jesus was perfect for us, on our behalf so that we don’t have to be perfect. The only way perfection can be an inspiration and not a downer is to find our example of perfection in Jesus Christ Himself, and to find our value and worth in being His. When we trust Christ for salvation, not only are we declared righteous (perfect!) in Him, God also gives us His Spirit to transform us into the people we were meant to be. And that’s way better than a how-to tutorial.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

God’s Grace in the Hard

12 May

20150508_160159I mentioned in my last blog post that I recently read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace. You might not have heard of her, but she just recently passed away after a lengthy battle against breast cancer. She was only 38 and left behind a husband and 4 young kids.

I read the book hoping to gain some insights into how to find peace in the hard circumstances of life. I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet but my mom is waging her own battle against ovarian cancer. Labor Day this year will mark 2 years since she was diagnosed. Without going into the details here, I’ll just say that the continual appointments, surgeries, chemo treatments, nausea, pain, loss of appetite and weight, complications, needle pokes, hospital stays and other challenges have tested not only her and my dad’s faith, but mine as well.

Meanwhile, I hear stories like Kara’s. Or that of the couple that lives on our street and recently lost their 3-year-old daughter to leukemia. Or a friend from church whose son died from brain trauma at birth. Or an acquaintance from Colorado whose daughter’s heart stopped beating the day before she was supposed to be born via c-section. Or strangers I’ve never even met — a young married couple and their 6-month-old child — who were driving when a bridge collapsed on them and killed them.

And I wonder… WHY????

Why does God allow these things to happen? Why does God leave prayers for healing and wholeness unanswered? Why does God take people when they’re young? Why does God leave their loved ones behind to pick up the pieces of a broken life?

I also wonder… HOW???

How do we trust that God is good in circumstances that seem to scream otherwise? How do we hide ourselves under His wing like a baby chick with its mother when He doesn’t seem to be protecting us from the hurt and hardship of disease and death? When it feels like He’s leaving us exposed and bearing the full brunt of this world’s fallenness and depravity?

My mom’s cancer returned in October of last year. The prognosis was not good. We are praying — begging — for a miracle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God’s grace in the hard since then, and have come to the conclusion that…

We trust God is good because He says He is. (Nahum 1:7)

We trust God’s purposes in hardship and disease because He says that His plan is perfect. (Psalm 18:30; Romans 8:28)

We trust God’s promises because He has proven His commitment to and love for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. (2 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 8:32)

We trust God’s love for us because He says nothing can separate us from it in Christ (Romans 8:37-39) and He has demonstrated it tangibly in Christ’s payment for our sins. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to understand WHY or HOW in order to trust God. We trust Him based on His character. We trust Him based on the fact that His ways are higher than ours and if we had a God that we could fully understand, He wouldn’t be big enough.

I’ve also seen the necessity of living with our eyes focused on eternity and the Big Picture that extends beyond this life. Because usually when people talk about the value and importance of suffering and going through hard things, they focus on the growth that results. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” right? Except what if it does kill you or your loved one? What if there is no “after” from which you can look back on the suffering you went through and see the growth or value?

” ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy–we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? … How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” (Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace)

We have to believe that the suffering we endure on this earth is being used for our eternal good. That the battle against cancer, disease or persecution is reaping us growth and rewards that we carry into the next life with Christ. Nothing here is wasted, even if (or when) the battle kills us.

We also have to see the immeasurable good of God’s grace in being concerned first and foremost with our souls. Since my mom’s diagnosis, my parents have started to read the Bible daily, pray earnestly and trust God in a practical way that they hadn’t before, for which I am incredibly thankful to God. Being pushed beyond your limits has a way of getting you down on your knees in humility and dependence. Regardless of whether God causes these hard things or just allows them (that’s an argument for another time), He uses the hard things to accomplish His purposes — even if we can’t see what they are right now.

“God’s purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year, or even in this lifetime. Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not even be known when believers die and go to be with the Lord. Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgment when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts and commends with special honor those who trusted him in hardship even though they could not see the reason for it: they trusted him simply because he was their God and they knew him to be worthy of trust. It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen that trust in God alone seems to be most pure and precious in his sight. Such faith he will not forget, but will store up as a jewel of great value and beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgment (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter).”

It’s hard to trust God in this way, but it’s the only way we’ll have true hope in these kinds of circumstances. I often feel the co-existence of faith and doubt like the father in Mark 9:24 — “I believe; help my unbelief!” God’s grace in the hard is that He meets us where we’re at — in the pain, anger, fear, sadness — and reassures us that He sees and He cares. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Even when our faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, He loves us. And no matter what the outcome is, He will be there for us with grace, compassion, love and goodness. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10)

Christmas Thoughts: On Gifts

5 Dec

I’d like to do a short series in the month of December featuring various thoughts I have about Christmas. Here’s the first installation. 

christmas_thoughts_gifts

If I had a penny for every time I heard a Christian lament the gift-giving frenzy that is Christmas in America, I’d be able to buy every Christmas gift I’ve ever wanted.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree that Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, and Christmas shopping in general are out of control. Even though I’ve gone shopping on Black Friday the past 3-4 years (at a respectable hour like 6 am), I refuse to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day. I just can’t imagine ever wanting to buy something so bad that I have to miss out on family time to get it. But I digress…

I think that as Christians, it is tempting to swing the opposite direction of our culture and think that gift-giving at Christmas is bad. I myself, for one, have had the thought during more than one Christmas, “If Christmas isn’t really about the gifts, why are we [meaning my family] still doing that whole thing? Why don’t we just do away with gifts entirely?”

But I think that mindset is missing the point. The problem with Christmas gifts is not that the act of giving gifts is wrong – it’s that the gifts have become ends in themselves. They are often no longer a way to show another person that we care enough about them to spend the time, energy and money to buy something that we hope makes them happy. They are an expectation of the receiver and a duty of the giver.

Deep down, though, I believe that we as humans enjoy giving gifts – even more than we enjoy receiving them. At the very least, we were created to enjoy giving gifts. Why? Because we were created in God’s image and He is the Ultimate Giver. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

So at Christmastime, I think that we can embrace giving gifts as a reflection of our heavenly Father’s character and the greatest gift of all, Jesus. Use this time of year as an opportunity to teach our kids the reasons why we give, and allow them to experience giving themselves, not just receiving. Emma’s still a little young to understand the whole concept, but we plan to make giving to the less fortunate one of our family traditions (throughout the year, but especially at Christmas).

And finally for those of us like me, who still struggle a little with the idea that Christmas gifts feel expected and not spontaneous, it can be helpful to remember that giving gifts to those we love is not just a way of being forced to fight the holiday crowds. Instead, giving can be an expression of Christ’s love to them… and a blessing to ourselves in return.

Repost: The Passion of Christmas

6 Dec

I’ve been listening to Christmas songs on KOSI 101.1 and discovered that I absolutely LOVE Josh Groban. Normally, I hate vibrato in singing (like opera) but he has an amazing voice. I can’t get over it. Anyway, a song they play a lot is his version of O Holy Night. And every time it comes on, I turn it up and just soak in the lyrics. In my opinion, it is one of the best songs ever written – because it captures the meaning of Christmas so succinctly AND has an amazing chorus. I included the lyrics below.

While I was writing about Christmas song lyrics, I thought I’d repost my thoughts about Christmas from last year. Enjoy.

First posted December 24, 2011

I love listening to Christmas music – not just because it puts me in the Christmas mood, but also because it floods my heart with the meaning of Christmas. This year, I am captivated by the passion behind historical Christmas hymns. The authors of these songs exhort us to adore Christ, fall on our knees before Him, and praise His name forever. They write of a world, weary under the burden of sin and guilt, that sees a new day, filled with hope, dawn with the birth of a simple babe. The Savior has come, the catalyst of God’s plan of redemption.

I like to imagine what it would have been like the night Jesus was born. Four hundred years had passed since God has spoken to His people. But God had promised a Messiah, a Redeemer. All of Israel was waiting for the Christ. And on that night in a little town of Bethlehem, a town “too little to be among the clans of Judah,” the long-awaited Messiah was born. Humble shepherds were at work in the field, watching their flocks in the moonlight, straining to stay awake. All of a sudden, they were blinded by “the glory of the Lord” and an angel told them,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…”

So what did they do? They went “with haste” to where the angel had indicated – to Bethlehem to find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is what I find interesting: the Bible doesn’t say anything about them locking their sheep up first, or arranging for their care, or one of them staying behind. It seems that they just leave their flocks in the open field because they are so amazed and excited about what they were just told.

Does that go against common sense? Do I doubt that’s what actually happened?

Yes, because it seems so impractical, so irresponsible. I am challenged – what would I have done in that situation? Would I have been so consumed with responsibilities and practical concerns that I would think it foolish to abandon all and sit at my Savior’s feet? Would I be so captivated by Christ’s coming that I’d be willing to drop everything – abandon even my livelihood – and seek Him?

It’s easy to rest when there’s nothing pressing, nothing urgent. It’s easy to take a moment to breath when life’s tight grip on your schedule relaxes for an hour. But what about resting and breathing in the midst of the chaos? That’s what Christ came to bring us – His rest, a deep soul rest that can’t be touched by circumstances. What does it mean to have a deep soul rest in Christ?

Embracing the messiness of being human. Jesus Himself was born in a stinky stable surrounded by loud animals (not the serene night of perfect harmony pictured above). He slept on itchy, pokey hay and grew up as a pretty normal kid. Christ didn’t just experience what it meant to be human during His ministry. He lived his whole life as a human. He grew up with brothers and sisters as a human. He learned to walk, to talk, to laugh. He loved, he cried, he gave. “In every way he was tempted just as we are, yet without sin.” I love how Jesus embraced humanity – not just by becoming a baby (though that was big enough) but by also engaging in life. He wasn’t just alive – He lived. He didn’t view the basics of human existence as beneath Him – rather, He embraced those constraints. Instead of them getting in His way, He turned them into a source of blessing.

And all this, when He was the Son of God, the Most High, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, Author of Creation.

Pondering these truths, how can your heart not fill to bursting with the truth of Christmas?

O Holy Night (sung by Josh Groban)

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, oh night, oh night divine

Chains shall He break
For the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever ever praise Thee
Noël, Noël
Oh night, Oh night divine
Noël, Noël
Oh night, Oh night divine
Noël, Noël
Oh, oh night, oh night divine