Friday, October 27, 2017

The Abundant Life

As I was praying, I saw a woman in my mind walking, searching, looking, constantly seeking an illusive something around each new corner and turn. In my mind, I followed her, wondering, "What is she looking for?" She didn't look desperate. She wasn't hurrying. But she kept searching for something.

I prayed, "God, what is she looking for?" And I heard His voice in my mind, "The Abundant Life."

"Aren't we all looking for that?" I replied. "Isn't that the search of my heart too?"

"Yes, but you know the way." And as clear as day, scripture flew into my mind. Whoever wants to gain his life must lose it. Whoever wants to live must die. Whoever wants to be greatest must become least of all.  Those words sang into my heart and wove into a beautiful tapestry of losing to gain, dying to live, giving of self to receive joy and peace and purpose and beauty and glory.

You see, we all hunger for the abundant life. We long for it. You long for it. I long for it. The world longs for it. Even creation desires to live abundantly - producing fruit and life and breath for all the world to partake of. We seek the abundant life in caring for ourselves, in our jobs, in our ministries, in our families. We constantly are tweaking elements of our lives hoping that they will satisfy the searching of our souls for purpose, for meaning, for abundant living.

And yet Jesus makes the way clear, narrow, but oh so clear. The abundant life is found in giving your life away. Giving your life away with no expectations, no thoughts of reciprocation, no desire for acknowledgement or praise or thanks. How many times are we motivated by the praise of others? By some personal reward or gain? By the hope that they'll reciprocate our love? How many times do we give generously knowing that we cannot be repaid? How long will we continue to reach out in relationship to others with no reciprocation? How many times we will do that chore that no one notices without a desire to be acknowledge or thanked? How long we will persevere in putting another person's good before our own? How many times will we personally suffer for the good of another without acknowledgement or end in sight?

Dear friends, the world will tell you that these are the ways to burn out, to run out, to lose your life. The world will tell you to take care of yourself, to put your oxygen mask on first, to do what you need for yourself before you can care for others.

But the Bible will tell you to die. The Bible will lead you down a different path.

Is it any wonder that we look around America and see very few people living a spiritually abundant life? Is it any wonder that we are all so often searching for purpose and meaning and joy and hope when we are listening to counsel that tells us to care for ourselves first?

Jesus spent His life pouring out constantly and the only time in scripture you see Him taking for Himself is when He went back to His Father in prayer. And even then, His compassion for others interrupts even His time in prayer with the Father to give and to serve and love and to heal. The end of His life on earth is the beautiful finale of His life lived for others in that He gave His physical life away on a cross to for our sakes! Are we also willing to give our earthly lives away for others' sake?

Jesus says in Luke 14, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you..."

You will be blessed because they cannot repay you.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the people who are truly blessed and they aren't the people who are rich or comfortable or have a wonderful marriage or parents or family or friends. Those are the things Americans say we are blessed for having, but Jesus describes a blessed person entirely differently:

"He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Would you like these kinds of blessings? Would you like to describe your life as one of mourning, meekness, and poorness in spirit? He includes the merciful, those who hunger for righteousness, the peacemakers, but we can't ignore that He sees the world and blessing very differently than how we've been raised to see blessing.

The abundant life isn't found in having more fill-in-the-blank, becoming more fill-in-the-blank, or doing more fill-in-the-blank. The abundant life is found in being willing to suffer and give your life for the sake of another, without expectation and without self-motivation of any kind.

C.S. Lewis said, "Die before you die, there is no chance after."

You see, baptism is a picture of us surrendering our earthly life and will and attempts to live for ourselves so that these earthly lives will "die before we die," so that we can experience the resurrection life of Jesus Christ here on earth, just as it is in heaven.

I think CS Lewis is one of my favorite authors and theologians precisely because he understood the fundamental path to the abundant life - Jesus. If we call ourselves Christians, the Bible says that we will walk as He walked. Our lives should be a reflection of His life and it is only in this beautiful swap, my life for His life, that we even taste the beauty of the abundant life.

CS Lewis describes it as this:

"The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

Apart from Christ and His life in me, I'm a broken imitation of the fullness that Christ intended for my life. It is only in Him and in giving up my life and my desires and myself for His sake, His kingdom, and others that we can begin to find who we really are. What is more beautiful than seeing a person in all their God-given beauty living out who God intended them to be and what He intended them to do? You see every element of their life shine with the reflected glory of God. But I can assure you that they did not find that life without losing another.

We cannot find the abundant life in Christ without losing our earthly life and rights. We can try to imitate the abundant life - we see this everywhere in the world. But at the end of the day, when lie on our beds or come to the end of our lives, we will be left with only our Judge and our consciences, and a life lived for self will never be sufficient to satisfy either.

A life lived for Christ and others is the only thing we can present to Christ when we come to die. We must give our earthly lives up to Him now to experience the beauty of the abundant life here and in the hereafter.

I pray that we all would die so that we might live.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

This is the secret, Christ in you, living through you, loving others and giving you the strength to lay down your life for Him and the world. Right before this verse in John 15, Jesus speaks about living in Him and letting Him live His life out through you and he ends that portion with these words:

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

Do you want joy that overflows because you are so filled to the brim with it? Give your life away. You won't regret it. I promise. Because you will find a new life far richer in joy and hope than you can possibly imagine. 

Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven being like a man who finds a pearl of great value and sells everything he owns to obtain that pearl. My hope is that we have the wisdom to do the same and give our earthly lives to receive a heavenly life that can never be taken from us.

{Our abundant garden flourishing in our old home in Oregon }

Monday, July 10, 2017

4 Resolutions to Live By: Carpe Diem

"Resolved, to live with all my might."

The words jumped out at my from the page, hitting my heart with a palpable force, and I realized that was what I've been missing.

"Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die."

I read an article once, a number of years ago, that discussed that which people regret most; they are not often mistakes made, but are rather those things which were never done. It struck me, as I read this article, that my time is too often spent doing the things I must do, but not often enough spent savoring the moments in front of me - squeezing out of each moment all the joy and benefit that could be had from them.

What does it look like to live with all my might? What would it look like to not lose a moment of time? What would it look like to live with intention?

I grabbed my journal and furiously began scribbling away. First copying Jonathon Edwards resolutions down and determining to claim them as my own. Then pondering what a life like this would look like. What would it look like to not just endure the challenging moments of parenting, but to really enter in fully to each moment and to improve it in the most profitable way I can?  Would I feel less like a babysitter and more like I had a sacred duty to joyfully fulfill?

What would it look like to spend my evenings, creating beauty or bringing order to chaos - contributing something beautiful to my home and family rather than indulging in the unsatisfying past time of entertainment?

More than a year ago, I listened to my dear friend share her heart at a women's retreat. As she spoke on discipleship, she talked about how God had moved in her heart to turn interruptions into opportunities. When I heard her words, I realized they were exactly what I needed to hear as a mama of three little ones. The constant interruptions that come from having three small children were endless - thousands of little tasks interrupted by their needs and demands and problems and desires. At times it felt overwhelming and unmanageable, especially when the needs of one child conflicted with the needs of another. How on earth does a mom supply the needs of their children when they just don't have enough "mom" to give?

These words spoke to my heart reminding me that each of these interruptions, each of their needs, was an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity to disciple them in the truth. An opportunity to show love and patience and forgiveness. An opportunity to teach them something new. An opportunity to point them to Jesus for their needs. So many opportunities hidden beneath the guise of an interruption.

I faithfully began to apply these ideas in my parenting - reminding myself that each moment with them was precious and that it was so important to not let their needs overwhelm me, but let them instead remind me of my need for Jesus and His amazing ability to use each overwhelming situation as an opportunity to invest in my children and their future.

As time ticks by, the firmness of our resolutions can get lost and diluted. Each moment stopped feeling like an opportunity and somewhere along the way, I slipped into what I call "babysitting mode," where you are just trying to enjoy the time together and make sure everyone stays alive and healthy. It was easy to set aside the challenge of the task that God had set in front of me - to disciple and train my children in the Truth in favor of just being happy and comfortable together. Sure, we still read bible stories together and prayed together. We still went to church (or did church on our own at home).  In so many ways, I could convince myself that I was still discipling my children.

But the truth was, I wasn't. Discipleship isn't just giving your kids or others more head knowledge. It isn't just even modeling for them a Christ-honoring life.

When we look at Jesus' life, much of his daily ministry consisted of taking the interruption in front of him and using it as an opportunity to intentionally disciple and love the people in front of him. He didn't waste his time. He didn't just give people more head knowledge. He didn't even just model to them how to pray or teach or do religious activity, although he certainly did those things.

His life consisted of taking every thought, every moment captive to the will of His Father. His life consisted of not losing a moment of time, but improving it in the most profitable way possible.  He took passing encounters and through the intention and leading of His father, He revolutionized lives and villages and cities and, ultimately, the world. A woman at a well - changed, along with her whole village through a simple intentional conversation. Many lives changed and bodies healed in an instant because of the willingness to stop and seize the full possibility of using every moment to bring God glory and to take an interruption and make it an opportunity.

We too, have this choice: will we make the most of every moment and live it with all our might? Will we refuse to simply laze away our lives, but rather squeeze with intention and attentiveness to the Spirit of God the full possibility of each moment of our life? Will we choose to set aside our own comforts and entertainment to enter fully into the possibilities in front of us - refusing to simply consume life but to give life and bring life into this world? Will we choose to see the frustrations and challenges in front of us as divine opportunities to usher in the Kingdom of God more fully? Will we enter into relationships with kingdom intentionality and fully embrace and love and disciple the ones in front us to our fullest ability and Christ's fullest ability within us? We will take our God-given gifts and skills and daily strive to serve others and grow in them and seek to bring God glory with all that we are and all that we do in every moment that we live?

Will we, as Jonathan Edwards resolved, live so as we had wish we had done when we come to die?

These words are challenging and convicting to my soul. I want to live! Friends, I want to really live, and live well and with intention, to the fullest of my ability. When I get to heaven, I want to say that I ran this race with all my might and that I ran to get the prize. I don't want to simply say I exercised a bit - I want to know that I gave it everything I've got, not holding anything back.

In other words, I want to seize each moment, and with all the force and choosing power in me, live it to the fullest, contributing all that I have to improving it and living it for the sake of Christ's kingdom.

Jonathon Edward's resolutions continue and his twenty-second resolution was this:

"Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of."

Whoa. Lest this come across as selfish or un-Christlike in anyway, remember that our greatest happiness in heaven can only be obtained by living our life fully for Christ here on earth - becoming the least and the lowest in order that heaven-side, Christ might raise us up. "Whoever wants to be great among you, must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all."

Jesus talks often in the gospels about the Kingdom of Heaven and he says in Matthew 11:12AMP, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize]."

If we are to seize the Kingdom of Heaven by force, as a precious prize, it means living with all the might and power we have within us to take each moment and squeeze out of it all the kingdom potential we can.

As we look at this verse in Matthew, it alludes that there is a war waging - a common theme we see in the gospels; a war is being waged against the kingdom of heaven by the enemy, or the adversary, or the devil. And yet, in this verse, and others like it, we see that a certain amount of inward determination and willpower is necessary in order to fight for the Kingdom of Heaven.  If the battle we are facing is against an adversary who wants the Kingdom of Heaven to suffer losses - which is often done through the choice of people to live for themselves rather than God - then it stands to reason that to seize the Kingdom of Heaven by force is through choosing, with all our might, to live for God rather than for ourselves.

In so many ways, living for Jesus is the crazy life of giving up your own rights for the sake of others and the gospel - the backward kingdom where we find life in death, greatness in becoming less, more in giving up, and finding in losing. It's backwards, but it seems to be the way He likes to usher in His kingdom. The wisdom of Heaven is foolishness to earthly reason, but it is life and power to those who are being saved.  Basically, these upside-down ways our King chooses to advance His kingdom might make no sense to those who don't know Him, but to those of us who have been changed by His grace and have found true life in losing our earthly lives, we know that this is the true power of God! We know that we only find life when we give our lives up and that the choice to give our life up is a daily intentional thing that requires absolute surrender to the will of God through faith and a willingness to choose, with all our might, to live for that which is not seen. It's crazy!

This is it - will we willingly choose to live with all our might while we do yet live? We only get one shot. We have but one life to live and will we choose, to live it for a Kingdom we don't yet see and for a God whose ways are foolishness to those who don't know Him? Will we die to ourselves so that we can live in Him? And will we live, with all our might and power, to take mundane interruptions and experiences and turn them into opportunities for our future happiness heaven-side? Will we have an eternal view that says that these moments, small though they are, are achieving for me an eternal weight of glory, through the transformative power of Jesus Christ and through my willingness to fight for His glory over my momentary comfort?

I read once that a priority is something you do. Until you act, it is only a wish. How true these words are!  We show our priorities in what we do. I'm choosing these resolutions because, I long to DO them and turn my life from valuing these ideas to making them a priority.

Starting right now - by grabbing my sweet children's chubby cheeks and planting kisses on their giggling faces and knowing that I only get one "now." I want to seize it with all my might, and live it for a kingdom and a King that is yet to be seen.

Will you seize your "now" and resolve with me to live each moment to the fullest, as we shall wish we had done when we come to die? Will you resolve with all your might to improve each moment in the most profitable way you can, and see your interruptions as opportunities?

Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

To the thirsty, nothing satisfies like water

I may have invited myself to their group. More than once.

I've been desperate for people to pray with here. Praying and worshiping on my own, while fulfilling in its own way, doesn't satisfy this deep hunger for prayer and worship with other believers. As our weeks in Indiana ticked by, I began to feel an almost desperate thirst for this type of fellowship. The hangup is that God clearly told Andy and I not to go to a church here, so I've felt stuck and this gnawing thirst in me kept growing. I recognized it as craving being a part of the corporate work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians - that unmistakable ministering to one another that can only come from Him.

As the thirst in me grew, I began to research organizations and groups online that did regular prayer. Every time I looked, which was frequently, IHOP (International House of Prayer) would come up.

During my prayer time one afternoon while the kids were sleeping, I asked God if he would provide some other believers to pray with regularly and He spoke pretty clearly and told me to call the guy from IHOP.

Our phone conversation was great. As he talked, we both realized that our hearts were united in a desire to see people live the gospel and not just go through the motions of religion and church. As we were talking, this man mentioned that his family and a handful of other Christians met to pray and talk about Jesus, and that was when the words just tumbled out of my mouth and I invited myself to join them. The question tumbled from me like a dying man's plea for water, "Can I invite myself to join you tomorrow?" He then stumbled over his words, probably as surprised as I that I had so awkwardly thrust myself upon their group, but kindly agreed. I knew I should probably feel uncomfortable, but I was so thirsty that I couldn't bring myself to be embarrassed by my need.

The day they were set to meet, I nearly texted and bailed four times. I just felt so awkward. What had I done? They didn't know me. I didn't know them. What was I thinking? I had a stressful and hard day and meeting new people sounded exhausting, especially when I had awkwardly invited myself in the first place. I felt like walking away and giving up this crazy scheme.

But I've been in ministry long enough to recognize the subtle attacks of the enemy before bible studies, prayer nights, or significant ministry endeavors to recognize this particular strain. Which is probably the only thing that gave me the boldness to keep moving forward.

Andy stayed home with the kids and I blasted the worship music as I drove - singing at the top of my lungs and praying and just choosing Jesus, over my own self-consciouness, over the enemy's lies, over everything. Keeping my eyes fixed on Him.

When I arrived, I was welcomed graciously and lovingly and I felt the instant kinship of being brothers and sisters in Christ. They talked and shared and I felt that thirst in me quench a little.

But then I did it again. This couple had a son and daughter-in-law near our ages who were leading a church-like group in our area. And I awkwardly invited our family to join them. I cannot explain it, but the hunger in me for christian fellowship was so strong that I couldn't seem to restrain myself. Little did I know, their group was in the middle of a transition - determining whether they were just a group of close friends who wanted to stay small, or whether they should branch into becoming a small home church - welcoming new people. I didn't know this when I asked, and truthfully, I'm glad I didn't, or I never would have had the courage to do so. I may have forced the issue upon them in some ways, without ever intending it, but there it was. I had done it again.

Andy met some of the men at a guys' night and loved it. He felt an immediate kinship to them all and was excited about the group and getting to know everyone.

I met the ladies at a morning backyard play-date and I loved them. Their love for Jesus radiated out of each of them so vibrantly that I felt my heart draw near, interested in hearing their stories and getting to know them better.

So, when they invited us to join them on Sunday evening for their gathering, I was excited. In some ways, the Holy Spirit had already authored a love for them in my heart even though I barely knew them. I could feel Him moving so strongly in this, I didn't hesitate in diving all-in.

Our time together was so rich, and people shared their hearts so openly and willingly with one another. We shared. We prayed. We worshiped. After our evening together, I walked away, my thirst satisfied fully for the first time in months. In some ways, our timing in joining them seemed to my human mind to be terrible - they're trying to discover who they are and the methods they should choose to follow God's leading in their lives as a group. I'm afraid I talked too much (as I seem to do too often!), but it had been so long since I've been in a group of believers talking about Jesus and life and following Him, that I'm not sure I could've restrained myself, even if I wanted to.

This blog, in some ways, has been a life-line to me - processing out loud what God is doing in my heart and life and putting words to the struggles, hopes, and desires He is forming in me. For so long, our beautiful Renew Church provided an outlet for all these things, but I feel the words and thoughts bottling up in me until they start overflowing, in letters on a blog or words in a conversation.

"Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart." John 7:38

It felt like that - as I was drinking from Jesus during my time with Him each day, from His Word and from prayer, a spring was bubbling up in my heart, bursting and needing to escape and flow from my heart out into the world. That Sunday night, it was like someone had unstopped the well and it just tumbled out into the room. I felt half-embarrassed - I didn't know them and they didn't know me. What was I doing talking so boldly about all these things? But in the same way that a river can flow within the defined boundaries of it's borders but it cannot stop itself from flowing, so were the words coming from my mouth. I could provide boundaries for where and how I share what God has been teaching me in my life, but I cannot prevent the water from flowing itself.

As we drink daily from Jesus, He starts bubbling up in us seeking to overflow from our lives like water springing up from the ground and flowing like a river through the earth. Sometimes in word, often in deed, but consistently flowing from our lives. We are too small to contain Jesus - He constantly seeks to burst out of us. His thoughts, given in prayer, shouted from the rooftops. His love, given in our need, poured out to someone else. His kindness, given when we sin, extended to others. His faithfulness, poured out in our lives becoming our faithfulness to others. He cannot be contained, and the fact that He chooses to place His Spirit in us simply means that He is constantly growing in us to pour out of us.

It says in Revelation 22:2, that a river will flow from the throne of God and on the sides of that river will be flourishing trees which grow leaves that are for the healing of the nations. I believe this is a true statement in itself, but is also a beautiful metaphor for what Jesus declares in John 7. As we believe in Jesus and come to Him to drink from the life that only He can give, He produces in us rivers of living water that will flow from our heart and be for the healing of the nations.

As I've pondered our beautiful discussion from Sunday night - what is the church and what is it's purpose - I keep coming back to this imagery. As we believe in Jesus and go to Him, He pours out from us. It isn't something we manufacture. Believe me, I've tried manufacturing fruit on my own, and it doesn't work because dead fruit cannot nourish anyone. Only healthy fruit grown on a healthy tree can offer any nourishment to the hungry.

We cannot manufacture the work of Christ in our life either - we can only go to Him and receive Him in. And its from that place that He overflows in us, for the healing and nourishing of the world.

If, perhaps, we look at our lives, and we find that our river is really a trickle, don't be discouraged! It isn't you who has to create a river of life in yourself! You don't have to be good enough or smart enough or capable enough. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches. You only have to come to Christ and receive from Him. I can assure you, I am not good enough or smart enough or righteous enough to offer anyone anything. I am only one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I don't have any greatness in myself to offer or share - I'm just hungry and I know that the Bread of Life is the only thing that satisfies.

Living water flows from the life of anyone who is surrendered to Him. It flows from us, not because we are great, or have anything to offer anyone, but only comes when we are abiding in Him. Letting Him fill us with His fullness and overflow our lives with Himself.

My great thirst was satisfied on Sunday because I was given the privilege to drink from the living water flowing from the lives of the people seated around the room. In each of their words and their love for one another and even for us, I recognized the beautiful rivers of life that can only flow from one source - the throne of God. As the life from God's throne flowed into them and out into the space we occupied together, we each drank deeply of our great need for Jesus and I walked away rejoicing in the privilege we have in satisfying one another's need from the places where God has and is satisfying our need.

They had rivers of life flowing from them that needed overflowing too. And together our streams joined into a beautiful rushing river full of the Spirit of God and the life that can only come from His throne. He alone is the one who satisfies our thirst, but we can receive from one another, the beautiful life giving water that He is overflowing from their lives.

If church is anything, it is this: life flowing from God's throne to people's hearts and overflowing to the need of one another.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55

Let us drink from the living waters that are given without cost and let us allow His word to work in us the purposes for which He sent it. Let us seek the Lord while He may be found and praise Him that we can go out in joy and be led forth in peace and that these things are His sign that His promises endure forever.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm pretty much a horrible human being...

I've spent the last couple days basically being a horrible human being. Or at least, trying really hard to stop the horrible human being tendencies in my heart from popping out in my actions. Unfortunately, behavior modification only works so well - with children and adults - and eventually the heart issues have to be addressed.

During this season, God has been focused on a lesson I'm starting to think of as the "Do" vs "Be" dichotomy. I almost wrote that God is focused on teaching me to "be," but it is even less defined than that because "teaching" would imply a lesson I could conquer and learn and then move on from. Rather, it is a more subtle call to simply pull back from doing and accomplishing and achieving and just rest in relationship. It's a call to find my identity in relationship with Him rather than in how good I am or how much I do for Jesus or how impactful my limited time on earth was for His Kingdom.

And I hate it. If I'm going to be totally honest, I like finding my value in what I do. It's tangible and it's something I can hold on to. It can define me to others. I can say, "I do these things therefore I am." I lead Bible studies, therefore I am spiritually mature. I tell people about Jesus, therefore I am on mission for God. I give to the poor, therefore I am generous. Ugh! I see the pride so clearly in these things, but I am realizing as I'm meeting new people that Jesus is just going to have to shine through ME and not my resume of good deeds for Him - and I'm struggling with that. I've always wanted to be a missionary, but I'm starting to think it is, in part, the ultimate culmination of wanting to find my spiritual identity in what I do. A missionary is a professional christian in so many ways and being a missionary must mean that I really love Jesus - or at least that's what it says to others.

And while I know in my head that it is SO good for God to strip me of these things and show me this ugly pride and the identity I found in "doing," I hate it. Because it shows me who I am without these things and how I don't go to Jesus unless I need Him to help me "do." I don't just choose Him for His sake. I choose Him for how He can help me be and do the things I think I need to do. These last couple days (weeks?) have been me just wrestling against this thing in me that wants to rise up and do - to find value in working for Jesus. Join a ministry. Lead a bible study. Start a church. I want something to work towards. I want something to define me. I don't just want to hang out and love people.

And here I am dumping my sin and pride and ick on all of you, dear friends, and the tears come to  my eyes as I write these words because, in confessing it all out loud, I can see just how broken I am inside. Just how truly desperate I am for Jesus. Just how much I've been deceived to think that my doing is the definition of who I am. If I do the right things, I must be godly. If I act the right way, I must truly be surrendered to Jesus. And friends, I so needed to learn how to act the right way and do the right things at one point in my life. The Bible says the law is a tutor, and it is, it breaks us so fully of our ability to rely on ourselves to have a relationship with God. It leads us to see that it is truly and completely His grace that allows us to draw near to Him. But now His grace is letting me see, as if in neon signs, that I come to the foot of the cross needing grace and mercy not just for my "bad" deeds, but even for my good deeds.

All these years, God has faithfully loved me and allowed me to draw near to Him, even knowing my heart and my motives had some self mixed in. All these years, He saw my inabillity to just "be" and patiently bore with me through it all - never critical, never pulling back, always faithful, always there.

And somehow that breaks my heart even more. That while I was using Him, even unintentionally, He just stayed true and kind and good to me. He blessed me and loved me. He spoke to me and even told me He was proud of me.

And friends, that's grace. "It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began - to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus." 2 Tim 1:9

He says that He sees us with Christ's merit  - undeserved favor from Jesus' accomplishments. And that blows me away because I want God's favor for my accomplishments and yet to Him, our good works are "filthy rags." How can this be? How can we have a God who calls us to live a holy life, but then views our goodness as "filthy rags."

I'm finding the answer is that God isn't as interested in our "Do" as our "Be." He's more interested in who we have a relationship with than how we have an impact on the world. I was the reading the Bible to the kids the other day, and read these words:

"And this is the way to have eternal life--
to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth."
John 17:3

That's it. Real life is just knowing God and Jesus. And somehow I make it so complicated - I get caught up in all the details and all the nuances and all the practicalities - but Jesus keeps it simple: know Me.

I want to know Him. But how often do I get distracted in doing for Him that miss out on just being with Him? How often do I choose distraction over just sitting in His presence?  Before Indiana, I wouldn't have seen it because I went to Him frequently because I needed his help. I had my hands in so much doing, I couldn't do it all without Him jumping in too. But now, with no doing, I have to go to Him because I want to be with Him. The difference is subtle - one I haven't  paid close attention to - but it is there.

I wonder how many of us would slowly drift away from closeness with God if we never needed Him to show up. I wonder how many of us would spend time elsewhere if we didn't have places in our life that needed His intervention?  If everything was perfect all the time, would we still choose Him?

Jesus says that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of the needle and maybe this is because we shy away from relationship with God unless we need Him for something. Jesus follows this statement with, "All things are possible with God" - which gives me hope that God can give us hearts that want Him for His sake and not for what He can do for us.

Thankfully, His love for us isn't dependent on our performance, it is simply dependent on who we know. Do we know Him? Jesus says MANY will come to him in the last day saying "Lord, Lord, didn't we do all these things for you?" and Jesus will say, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."  That's scary to me, especially consider this lesson that God is teaching me. He's more interested in just hanging out with me than He is in what I do. He's more interested in spending time getting to  know each other than in how much I read my bible or whether I am a good parent or whether I give all my money to the poor. He's more interested in a love relationship with me than whether I live as a missionary or are martyred for His name.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." 1 Cor 13:1-3

Without love - His love for us and our love for Him - we are nothing.

I am learning that my love is small, and that while I do love Him and have loved Him all these years - that I have much to learn about love and it what it means to live in love. I have much to learn about setting aside my doing and striving and achieving to humbly be and sit with Him - soaking Him in and not just receiving His help.

I don't entirely know how to go about this, but He's always been such a faithful teacher, I'm confident He'll lead me in the paths of love and relationship. And when I struggle, His grace is there for me - catching me up in the winds of His love because ultimately, He chose me and nothing can snatch me from His hand, not even my own mistakes and failures.  Even if I continue to struggle against finding myself in what I do, He has hold of my hand and is leading me in these paths of identity.

Who am I? I am loved by God. I am His daughter. I am His friend.

And I definitely don't deserve those titles, but they've been given because of grace and love and His persistent desire to have a relationship with me and with all people since the dawn of time.

Maybe you've been defining yourself by what you do or have done or are yet to do - but I would encourage you today - to stop and sit at His feet, put the "Do's" aside and let Him tell you who you ARE - who He has made you to be. It might surprise you, but I doubt it will have much to do with what you will accomplish for Him and will have everything to do with what He has accomplished for you.

"You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever ask you for, using my name. I command you to love each other."

Let's remember this - we didn't choose Him, He chose us. The fruit that lasts is just a result of us living in Him and Him living in us.

"God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect." John 4:16b

Listen to His words - as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. Not as we learn more. Not as we do more. As we live in Him. As we love Him and receive His love for us.

Father - live in us and let us live in You. Let us draw close to you with pure hearts, and know the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Let us know You and draw close to You - allowing you to make our love more like Yours.

"He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul."

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Tending our Hearts

I walked out into the sunshine and there, staring me in the face, was a patch of twisting and sporadic green popping out from my garden beds. Weeds. Lovely. Irritation surged in me, I had spent days pulling those nasty buggers from the ground. Two weeks of taking my shovel and digging and grasping at roots and leafs with my bare hands. Two weeks of dirt beneath my fingernails, hunched over in the hot sun making room for the plants I really want to see grow and thrive.

And then in the space of a few days and a bit of rain, they all came back.

What's the point? Why bother pulling them up if they'll just come back?  Discouragement flooded in as I realized that I would be pulling these weeds again and again. If I wanted my garden plants to thrive, I needed to pull them up.  A weed will leach the nutrients from the soil that my tomatoes and peppers need to survive. A weed will suck all the goodness out and leave my precious plants struggling to produce fruit.  And while there are some tips and tricks to help prevent weeds and suppress them, weeds will keep at your garden as long as there is soil, sun, and water - things I dare not deprive my lovely garden plants of.

Years ago, with dear friends gathered in a living room studying the Word, we read this passage in Matthew 13 that talks about a farmer who planted seed; some of the seed fell on soil that was full of weeds and thorns and in the end was choked out and didn't grow to produce fruit. As we shared about this parable, and read about how the seed was the Truth planted in our life and how weeds were the concerns of this world and the love of money, we laughed about how we need to keep weeding our lives and keep our soil ready for planting and growing a harvest. We joked as each of us faced "weeds" that needed pulling in our life and laughingly called out "weed" whenever each of us was struggling with a small sin that needed pulling. 

And as I stared at this garden, full of weeds popping up again, I realized that this weeding process doesn't end. Sometimes it becomes less taxing, as we learn ways to help suppress the weeds, but ultimately, we must keep weeding because the weeds will choke out the fruitfulness of our gardens.

This week has been full of God pointing out areas in my heart that need weeding. Areas of parenting I need to grow in, places where sin has cropped up in my thoughts and attitudes, places where I need to set aside time to just spend with Jesus, choosing Him above the distractions of this world and the demands of life, and places where I need to repent of choosing myself and comfort over His Kingdom and His ways.

And sometimes, it just feels so discouraging to keep facing down the same struggles, or even those new little ones that pop up. Sometimes it just feels easier to let those weeds grow alongside the good plants. I've felt so discouraged looking at my garden and looking at my life, realizing there is still so much work to do. Sure, maybe there are no "big" sins or blackberry bushes that are taking over everything, but there sure are a lot of little sins and weeds that need attending to. In some ways, dealing with the big areas of rebellion in our life can be more satisfying - we pull them up and kill the roots thoroughly and then we move on. But the daily weeding can be so mundane and so easily overlooked for a time, that once they start overgrowing the garden of your life, it takes effort and commitment to bend over and slowly, one by one, deal with each little weed. It's not spectacular, but it is so necessary.

As I was praying over my "weeds," I asked God to point out each one, and gently as I named each sin against Him, I felt peace replace the discouragement that comes from those little buggers staying untended.

"Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

I prayed that scripture over my heart, asking Him to reveal to me each anxious thought or offensive way, asking Him to lead me in the way of life.

And He is so faithful, and yet so gentle; He just bends down and right there beside you, He begins to pull the weeds too. Except He works so much more efficiently and He pulls up the root so they don't grow back. He doesn't just scrape the heads off the tops of the weeds (much like my children do when they help me in the garden and much like I do when I am dealing with those heart weeds), but he digs down deep and gets the whole ugly thing. He faithfully stoops beside us and lovingly works in our heart-gardens. He tends to our soul like a gardener over His crop and He loves when we yield to Him and let Him work health and life into our soil and remove all the junk that is crowding out the fruit that He wants to produce in us.

When we deal with our weeds apart from Him, we're just scraping the tops off, but when we give those weeds over to His loving care, He roots them out and makes the soil healthy again.

As I dug my hands deep into the soil again, pulling up the roots of weed after weed, the ground slowly began to clear, and hope and joy sprang up in my heart where discouragement had been. The work may be repetitive and it may be daily, but life springs up in the hearts of those who keep tending to the weeds because we can know that His grace is sufficient for us and that He is faithful to keep planting and tending and caring for our souls and our lives, and so we can bend down with Him and dig out the ugly weeds that dare to grow there, not angry or discouraged that we're dealing again with our sin, but grateful that even though He knows the weeds will come back, He keeps laboring alongside our soil, tending to it and making it ready for the seeds that will grow to produce fruit.

I made a list and prayed over it. I repented and apologized where it was needed. I committed to seek Him in areas I had excluded Him from. I committed to relying on Him to help me do what was best for my kids instead of choosing my own preferences. As these little weeds were pulled, my garden started to look healthier and feel healthier. I can feel the soil of my heart getting healthier - ready to feed that which is good and right and holy. I can feel His Spirit start taking over areas where I had left neglected.

After letting Him do His work in my heart, I sat and marveled at who He is and how faithful He is to me. At this point in my walk with Jesus, I shouldn't be surprised that He is so patient with me, slow to anger and rich in love. And yet, so often, when I bring my weedy garden to Him, I expect Him to feel the same discouragement with me that I feel with myself. And yet, He never does. He reminds me again and again that He knew all along these weeds were there and He isn't overwhelmed by them. He actually enjoys tending to my soul as much as I enjoy tending to my garden. He knows the fruit is coming and He's eager to make it as fruitful as it possibly can be. He's eager to see me thrive and these weeds aren't beyond His gardening abilities.

You guys, isn't He amazing? Let's not hesitate to bring our garden to Him. Let's not hesitate to own up to our weeds. Let's not hesitate to let Him root them out. He just wants us to thrive. He just wants us to produce fruit. He just wants to care for us and tend to our souls. Isn't that the most miraculous thing? He loves us and wants what's best for us. Will we yield to His tender care when it means digging down in the dirt with Him and pulling up each little weed that has been left untended?

Will you take time today and ask Him to show you your weeds? Ask him if there is any offensive way in you. Grab and pen and paper and write what comes to mind. Then commit those areas to the Lord's weeding and let him produce life in those areas and lead you in the way everlasting.

He is so faithful and so good and so kind. Let's let Him tend to our hearts.  

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