Tag Archives: Christianity

The Measure of a Year

My newsfeed on Facebook has been filled with negativity about 2016 ever since Christmas Day ended. This or that celebrity died, this situation in life went wrong, that job was terrible, this person was diagnosed with cancer, that situation has caused insane stress. That kid picked on my kid and this kid is saying my kid is a bully. A certain percentage seems to think Donald Trump is the anti-Christ. On and on, etc., etc. I made a post on Facebook a few days ago saying I thought 2016 had been just fine until I saw that 139 police officers had been killed in the line of duty this year. It seems that the majority of people have at least one complaint about 2016.

Quick question:

How do you measure how good or bad a year is?

Obvious answer, right? How much went (seemingly) wrong versus how much went (seemingly) right.

Thus proving we are a shallow society engulfed in our emotions. How often I’m tempted to think the collective level of “happiness” associated with my situation actually defines whether or not my situation is good. Perhaps the problem is the definition of good. Is something good if I approve of it, or is something good because it leads to a more well-rounded person?

If good is merely the totality of my circumstances, then the definition of good will never be constant. It might be good today, but if tomorrow is even better, then the definition changes to suit the day. If tomorrow is worse, then good is defined by yesterday, even though two days from now might take over the definition. You see the problem, I presume.

If the latter is the definition, then there’s a great chance that those situations we are tempted to believe are ‘bad’ could potentially be leading us into a deeper life as a more equipped, able, and prepared person albeit via difficult circumstances. The book of Job gives the account of a man who had it all, lost it all, praised God through it all, and had it returned to him tenfold (right? Tenfold? Is my memory correct on that number?). Job might have been waiting for the ball to drop to get the year in the past and look ahead toward what was coming. His circumstances were horrible, but if I had to guess, I think Job’s ability to keep perspective would have prevented him from blaming his woes simply on the year. Let’s not forget that the year has nothing to do with our circumstances. We live in a fallen world. A fallen world has everything to do with our circumstances. Sin has everything to do with our circumstances, but the story doesn’t end there. We have a decision to make. We have lots of decisions to make, actually. One is our response. One is how resolved we will be when we walk through the fire. One is whether or not we will accept personal responsibility as opposed to placing blame elsewhere.

Growth has never been easy or comfortable. I remember growing as a teen. I shot up in height over a short amount of time. I was sore for about two years straight because of how much I was growing. How much greater is the pain of spiritual and personal growth at times. Our resolve as a nation is weakening. Our ability to press on is weakening. I’m personally part of a generation (Millennials) that moves on quickly if we don’t have the sense that we’re making an impact. We believe that this must not be for us if we don’t see results by the end of the three minutes we type in on the microwave. We are where we are for a reason. That reason might be that we’re blowhards who ignore the gentler nudges of the Lord and we have therefore landed ourselves in a mell of a hess. The reason might be because we need to be reminded that none of this was ever about us, but instead it’s always been about the glory of the Lord. Maybe we are where we are because we’ve been faithful to the Lord, but there still isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel on any of this making sense. In Philippians 3 Paul nails down that we have no confidence in the flesh. Still, “we press on to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (verse 14).

This life is not the prize. It never has been the prize, and it never will be the prize. Our prize is in heaven. Our reward lies there, not here. No matter how good we deem the good days, they still aren’t our reward. They’re blessings, but they aren’t rewards. Our bad days aren’t punishments. They might very well be discipline to help us get back on track so that we can reach the prize, but the bad days aren’t punishments for not having good days. They’re bad days. They’re bad seasons. They’re growing pains. They’re the result of a fallen world that turned to sin instead of communion with the Lord.

And so we press on into a new year. 2016 was not a bad year. It was a year — just as all the other years were years. Our situations and our levels of personal happiness do not define the greatness of a year. But y’know, if anything, maybe the year was great because the good Lord in his infinite mercy didn’t obliterate a nation that remains hellbent. We have improvements to make – no doubt. We had difficult times as a nation – no doubt. But for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, let’s not forget the big picture. To quote Billy Graham, I’ve read the last page of Revelation. It’s all going to turn out okay. This world is not our home. This world is not our prize. Press on.

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Forget doing something great. Do some good.

Y’ALL.

I’m sitting here revisiting Beth Moore’s Children of the Day study (an in-depth study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), and I can’t even FINISH today’s lesson because you guys have to hear a portion that is so applicable to our lives (which is ironic, but more on that to come)! Please read on because this is about to burn up my fingertips before I can even get the darned thing typed.

More often than not over the past year, I’ve found myself turning to Scripture and trying to find verses that apply or relate to my situation. I’m not trying to proof-text (take Scripture out of context and isolate it to mean what I want it to mean), but I’m trying to basically force God to speak.

In reading through various social media posts from friends and friends of friends, it’s obvious that I’m not alone. But is this the right thing to do? No. We have to grow up in our faith, so to speak. This is something that a baby Christian does, and understandably so! I wouldn’t even categorize myself as a baby Christian based purely on the length of time I’ve been a baptized follower, but somewhere along the way I forgot this lesson.

“Scripture is at work in our works even when it doesn’t speak a specific word toward our tasks. That means that my morning reading could be the genealogy of Matthew 1, but I can still get up from my kitchen table better equipped as a ministry employer because the Word possesses inherent strength and shapes character. An open Bible also awakens our ears (Isa. 50:4).” (Beth Moore, Children of the Day – assume all following quotes are from this study).

From Psalm 119: 169-176, The Message Translation:

“Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word. Give my request your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of your promise. Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you’ve taught me the truth about life! And let your promises ring from my tongue; every order you’ve given is right. Put your hand out and steady me since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel. I’m homesick, God, for your salvation; I love it when you show yourself! Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. And should I wander off like a lost sheep – seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice.”

From Beth:

     “Fellow student, God’s decrees are putting iron in our souls even when we still lack specific direction in our task. Try to resist forcing Scripture to fit or reading your situation into every verse, sermon, or devotional. An egocentric approach to Scripture – eyeing it chiefly with ourselves in mind – will throw us off course and dramatically increase our tendency to misapply it.
If we’ll ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit as we read and study, He will alert us when He’s speaking to our situation through a precept that doesn’t blatantly fit. Our inner man will bear witness with His Spirit.
Reading in panic mode can also throw off a sound application of Scripture. It’s my least effective frame of mind for receiving direction and equipping from the Bible. That’s when I’m most apt to use the day’s Scripture reading like a crystal ball. By all means, when we’re panicked, let’s cry out to God and ask for help and tell Him how desperate we are to hear from Him. But hacking through the Scriptures with a mental machete is hazardous.
When we are in panic we end up blaming God for misdirection when we wrap the wrong word around our steering wheel. Times of fright or distress present us an opportunity to get on our faces before God and request a trade-in for trust mode. Don’t try to make Him speak. Let Him speak. He wants to, and He will when the time is right. We don’t need to put words in God’s mouth. Whatever the task at hand, it will not come down to achieving; it will come down to receiving.
These two words can be deep breath to an asthmatic soul: “calm down” (Isa. 7:4). Go for a walk and reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness. Praise Him and profess confidence in His commitment to equip you for every good work. Quiet yourself in Him for a while. Sometimes we’ll find that we’re trying too hard. Often the equipping will follow the calming because God honors a posture of trust.”

Not reading myself into Scripture is SO HARD sometimes, and this smacked me over the head and hugged me all at the same time. But she doesn’t end there. This whole week is about our ministry to the world and how we’ve been equipped to do good for the glory of the Lord. She transitions to talking about “finding our niche.”

I’ve talked with a number of friends younger than me at various times in my life, and inevitably those who are Christians get caught up in ‘following God’s will,’ and trying to figure out what He wants them to do with their lives. For the life of me I can’t remember who told me this, but someone once told me something to the effect of, “Go and make disciples. That’s God’s will for your life. Period. It’s not complicated. God’s will for your life is that people know him through you. There are a million different ways you can do that. YOU make the decision for how you want to do it. Don’t pin it on God if you choose to do something that makes you miserable simply because you thought it was the most religious path to take. If God blatantly calls you somewhere, by all means, go. Go do that. Absolutely. But for the vast majority of us who don’t get to have our callings blatantly written in the sky, we’re to make disciples. Do what you love and use it to make disciples.” Okay, paraphrase is mine, but you get the general idea. We get WAY too caught up in trying to decipher what one specific path we should take. It’s nonsense. Just go and make disciples.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 (ESV):

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.”

Here’s Beth again:

     “Let’s bask in the first: “every resolve for good.” Forget setting out to do something great. That goal entangles our egos every time. Instead, let’s resolve to do some good in Jesus’ name. If our good turns out great, then give glory to God. It was all about Him anyway. If we feel like it failed to achieve the fruit we hoped for (I’ve bee there many times), did we do anyone any good?
To find your niche, go meet some needs. There’s no end to them. Students need tutors. Shut-ins need visitors. Sick people need someone to pick up their medicine. Demoralized people need someone to listen. Pastors need encouragement before they pass out or pass on. Small group Bible studies need places to meet. Ministries need volunteers. Church nurseries are desperate for workers. Kids’ ministers are clamoring for servants who can keep commitments. Hungry people need food collectors. People who live out on the streets need shelter and, if they’re too trapped in addiction to desire it, they could use a blanket when it’s old. So many young women need mothering. Elderly women need to matter. And everybody needs spiritual mentors. Don’t worry about doing something great. Resolve to do some good.”

SOMEONE give me an amen here, brothers and sisters! Maybe I’m the only one who needed to hear this, but my goodness, the woman couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any harder if she would have tried.

If you’re like me, you’ve focused WAY too much on doing something great and forgotten to do some good. I’m so thankful for the Lord blessing me with a kick in the pants today. It was an encouraging kick, though! :) I hope your wheels are spinning just as mine are right now both about the way you approach the Word, sermons, etc. and the way you serve. I don’t need to say anything more. What God says and what Beth said speak for themselves. You apply it yourself.

Here’s to doing some good and letting the Lord speak when and as he desires,

Hannah

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The Language of Crying

As is customary for me on Christmas Eve, I can’t sleep. It used to be caused by the anticipation of Santa Claus stopping by to fill up the area underneath the Christmas tree. Let’s be honest: I was 22 or 23 before I stopped getting absolutely giddy about Christmas morning for that very reason, Santa or not. :)

For the past few years I’ve been unable to sleep for a very different reason (and thankfully a much better one). The story of God coming to earth in the form of a baby has gripped my heart in a new way (and a different way each year) over the past few years.

I began a bible study on the book of Malachi on Monday. One of the very first subjects the author of the study covers is this idea of “rhetorical disputation.” To quote the Grinch, “Holiday hooby whatty?!” It’s the concept of God saying something to his people, and his people automatically respond with something along the lines of a ‘prove it!’ mentality (in other words, they question it), to which God gives them one heck of an answer that more than proves his original point. The book of Malachi starts with God saying, “I have loved you,” and his people responding with, “How have you loved us?” Go read Malachi 1 for God’s pretty poignant response. The beauty of the statement is the verb form of “have.” It lends itself to meaning that he has loved them – period. Not, “I have loved you because you got your act together,” or “I have loved you as a result of the good works you do,” or “I have loved you because you’ve followed the rules.” If there was ever a nation that didn’t do what God said, it was his own people Israel! But the “have” there implies that God has already loved them before they straightened things out, before they walked the straight & narrow, and outside their efforts as humans. Way cool.

Malachi has had me thinking about the 400 year silence between the end of his book and the beginning of the New Testament time period, which begins with the birth of Jesus. And here’s what has struck me this year that I’ve never thought about before: The first time God speaks in 400 years, he uses cries and whimpers instead of intelligible words. A newborn baby’s first screams and shrieks outside the womb are the very first sounds to come from Heaven in 400 years! One moment God hasn’t spoken for four centuries, and the very next moment the silence is broken by childbirth. By this point, Israel wouldn’t have necessarily known what to even listen for when trying to hear Yahweh. They’d never experienced it. They were 400 years removed from the last time a prophet brought the Word of the Lord to the people. Who would have expected to listen for God to speak through one of our most common reactions to life, heartache, struggle, overwhelming joy, death, victory, a baptism, conviction, repentance, loosed chains of addiction, music, love, lost love, burning anger, sadness, life-altering news, and a host of other situations? It’s crying. He cries. Think about it: What better way to communicate to the world than with the reaction that is so common in so many circumstances that every human experiences at some time? It’s a universal language! The first time God ‘speaks,’ he uses a language that anyone could have understood: the cry of a newborn baby. John 1:4 – “In him was life (emphasis mine), and that life was the light of all mankind.” Life is never more apparent than the first few moments after a mother gives birth! It’s never more anticipated than then! And it’s marked with a cry.

If we need to know and see how personal, how real, how raw, how relatable, how tender, heck – even how forceful and strong (have you heard a newborn cry recently?! The little dudes don’t hold back!) our God is, we need to look no further than the manger and hear the first sounds that rang out from Heaven in over 400 years. Jesus’ cries were, in that moment, heard only by those who surrounded his manger that night, but they have echoed in eternity as the most relatable speech he could have brought to earth to begin his life.

And that life is full circle. He both begins and ends his life crying. One cry brought about the newness of life and the beginning of a 33-year-long journey that led to his final cries on the cross as a grown man, battling all of hell’s forces to save the wretches like you and me.

Our God truly is amazing, and he is so, so good even when our lives or situations are not. I hope you’ll take time this Christmas Day to consider Jesus’ cries, and to express to him the cries of your heart. He knows it. He gets it. Lay your heart’s cry at the manger, and listen for his. What a beautiful way to break 400 years’ worth of silence: the cry of newborn life.

Merry Christmas.

..Hannah

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Delight yourself in the Lord and he probably won’t give you what you expected.

On Saturday I began the “Scripture challenge” that’s going around Facebook right now. You post one passage a day for five days, and you tag two new people each day to do the same. Truthfully, I find things like that to be hokey, but there was some conviction for me: What could I possibly post that’s more important than the Word of God? I’m not trying to pull a Jesus juke here, but seriously. Sometimes passages are what others need to hear because they’ve lost a lot of hope. Sometimes they cut us where we need to be cut, but there is always the promise of being renewed, rebuilt, and restored. In an effort to not “Jesus juke” the challenge and make it sound like life is peachy and perfect, or that God is a wealth, health & prosperity God, and being a Christian means happy trails all day long, I’m instead posting a passage each day that I hear quoted rather often and with good intentions, but generally the understanding is lacking or the verse is taken out of context. So if you missed them, check out Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 3 – Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Disclaimer: I LOVE this verse and I’ve learned a lot about it over the past few years as it has continually resurfaced in my life in a number of circumstances. Although I’m looking at how we take this verse out of context, I’m saying all of this as someone who definitely got it wrong for a longer amount of time than I’ve properly understood it. I also loathe this verse in a way (not overall – but… well, you’ll see), but I’ll get there.

If you were to look only at this verse and only at the translation to English, what does it look like this verse says? Well, basically, if you delight yourself in God’s ways and if you follow the rules, it will end well for you. You’ll get what your heart truly desires. This verse is alluring…almost tempting, is it not? It’s like we’re given the secret to winning the spiritual lottery. If I delight myself in God, he’ll give me everything I want.

When I first sought to gain a better understanding of this verse (as I assumed it was the equation to winning that spiritual lottery I talked about), the first question I asked myself was in comparison with the entirety of Scripture, is my understanding reinforced elsewhere in the bible, or do I perhaps have a famished understanding of this verse?

If we’re honest, the view that following rules equates to abundant blessing is not backed. The Pharisees followed the rules. Need I say more?

The second question I had to hound after was what do key words in this verse actually mean in the original Hebrew? All too often our English version just doesn’t do the Hebrew language justice. That’s not to say that we haven’t come as close as possible. Translations continue to be written that help give better insight to what the original language and message said. However, there are words in Hebrew that are too rich to put to English words – we don’t even have words that accurately describe some Hebraic text. Our language pales in comparison (which I find to be stellar)! So let’s break it down into two parts:

1. “Delight yourself in the Lord…”

“Delight” (עָנַג, pronounced aw-nag) literally means to be delicate or feminine (Strong’s, עָנַג.) It carries the idea of being pliable or sensitive.  In this particular context, it means to be dependent upon God and to derive one’s pleasure from Him.

Following the rules while trying to make ourselves ‘happy’ about it and being pliable in God’s hands are two vastly different concepts. One requires a pulse and some will power. The other requires a relationship. Instead of trying to force ourselves to be happy or ‘delight’ in following what many see as a rule book, perhaps we should spend time getting to know the One who inspired the whole shebang while we read into his Word (which starts to look a lot less like a rule book the more we’re in relationship with God). True delight in God – a true desire to be pliable in his hands – requires that we seek him. It requires that we be as intentional with him as he has been with us. Half-hearted obedience is just as bad as full-throttle rebellion.

A few verses…

Psalm 63:1 – You, God, are my god, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

1 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Jeremiah 29:13 – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Psalm 27:4 – One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Philippians 3:8 – What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Please catch this: When we seek God whole-heartedly, sometimes it costs us everything. Delighting oneself in God is not a matter of emotion: It’s a matter of commitment. Is Psalm 37:4 an invitation to a moment in time or is it a command with a promised blessing behind it?

2. “…and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The term translated “desires” (מִשְׁאָלָה, pronounced mish-aw-law) refers to petitions or requests (TWOT, מִשְׁאָלָה.) Do a Google search and you’ll quickly discover that in ancient Jewish culture, the heart was the very core of who someone was. We closely link our emotions with our hearts and thoughts with our minds. Not so for the Hebraic culture. Everything was an overflow of the heart. Both emotions and thoughts flowed from the heart. What we know, feel, and will we ascribe to the mind. They would have ascribed it to the heart. It is considered the very seat of emotional and intellectual activity. Proverbs 4:23 suddenly has renewed meaning: Guarding the heart insured it being physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually guarded, not just emotionally or mentally.

All right so let me throw some of my own thoughts in here. So what about ‘desires?’ I’ve wrestled with this verse recently due to the way God is currently shaking up my life. He knows that I think it’s a desire of my heart that I be married one day, but he’s getting ready to place me in a situation where that isn’t going to be much of an option. I’ve come back to this verse time and time again and told myself, “Just follow him. Trust him. Have faith in him. He’ll work this whole thing out.” Honestly, I think I’m lying to myself because I don’t think I’ve had a full understanding of this verse. Go with me here for a second. The psalmist tells us that God will honor our delighting in Him by graciously giving us what we are asking of Him from the very depths of our being. But here’s the issue: What we think are our deepest desires may not be so. I guarantee you that someone who considers their deepest desire to be an amazing career is not at the root desire. I guarantee you that someone who longs for marriage is not at their deepest desire. I guarantee you that someone who wants their shot at center stage is not recognizing their deepest-seeded desire. These are ways that those desires manifest themselves, but they’re not the root, because we all know there’s more to life than a great career, a marriage that will eventually end (because death will do you part), and fifteen minutes of fame.

So what if this verse speaks to a command to embark on an incredible journey? Not that any of those things are bad – please don’t get me wrong – but what if it shouldn’t stop there? I think this is where we have to recognize that we are not our own. Sometimes we don’t even fully recognize what our deepest desires are. For me, I think my deepest desire is marriage because I’ve convinced myself that that’s the only way I’ll ever truly understand intimacy (something I tend to cringe at, regardless of still desiring it). But if my deepest desire is truly intimacy, and I’m continuing to delight in God by allowing him to mold me, and mold my desires to what his desires are, then maybe the best way for me to understand intimacy isn’t through marriage. Does that make sense? As I allow myself to be clay in the Potter’s hands (as opposed to the clumpy dirt balls I often try to be…), he’ll likely continue to mold me in a way I didn’t anticipate. The clay never has a say in what it becomes. That’s the potter’s job.

If we’re truly allowing him to mold us, he becomes our desire. It’s really that simple. When we delight ourselves in him, he gives us what our hearts desire most, and that’s him. Whether or not we’re in a place where we are willing to recognize that, it’s true. We’ve just tried to shove a lot of things into a God-shaped whole in our hearts. If we rely on him and derive our primary worth, pleasure, and joy from him, then he’s the desire. The promise is not that we’ll receive whatever we think we want. The promise is that we’ll receive what we truly, deeply want…and coincidentally, need.

Just some thoughts. I’ll leave it there.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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If grapes are growing on your pepper plants, then we have a problem.

In case you missed yesterday’s post, click here.

Day 2 – Matthew 7:1-2

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it be be measured to you.”

Lemme guess: You’ve heard and/or used this at least 850 times in your life to prove a point or you’ve heard someone else use it to prove their point.

“Don’t judge me.”
“Only God can judge me. The Bible says so.”
“We have no right to judge those who believe differently than we do.”
“I’m not judging you for your lifestyle…”

If it includes some form of ‘judge,’ you’ve probably heard or said it. Our culture is huge on this one right now, because judgment means we’re telling someone they’re wrong, and who am I to tell someone else how to live their life, or that what they’re doing is wrong? It’s their life, after all. Not mine.

The problem is we have a really crappy idea of what judgment is. We think that someone telling us that what we’re doing is wrong is itself wrong, or we think that just because someone doesn’t approve of what we do, think, or say that they’re hate-mongers who live their lives discriminating everyone.

Just like last night, let’s once again operate under the assumption that we’ve taken this verse out of context and, once again, have a terrible understanding of it.

The problem with this verse is we pull it entirely out of context. We remove that single verse with the takeaway that Jesus told us we shouldn’t judge anyone. Absolutely. Even removing it from the rest of the verses still gives it the same meaning. We shouldn’t judge a single person. We don’t get to make the call as to whether or not they wind up in heaven.

BUT…

There may be more to the entirety of Jesus’ message than simply refraining from passing judgment and making assumptions. Let’s read the rest of the passage:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Jesus knew what our tendency would be. Now that we’re all holy & saved, it’s pretty easy to start noticing the sin of the world. It’s easy to look around and see what’s wrong here, here, here and there when we have the misunderstanding that our relationship with God is defined by what we do instead of what He’s done. And everyone and their brother is right: Stop judging. It’s not necessary.

BUT…

Is it judgment when we recognize a tree by the fruit it bears? Is it truly judgment when we look at someone’s life and evaluate what comes from their mouth with what actions they choose to take? Answer: Put the big girl panties on – this isn’t judgment. Its not judgment for me to look at the life of a Christian friend who spends their weekends getting drunk and to then ask them some questions. It’s not judgment for one of my Christian friends to call me on the carpet when something immoral comes from my mouth. That’s calling a tree by the fruit it bears. Let me tick everyone off: It’s not judgment to look at an individual who claims Jesus as savior of their soul yet hasn’t allowed him to be the Lord of their love life. At some point because of love we need to look at each other and ask why there is a dichotomy between thought, word, and action if we’re seeing a discrepancy.

BUT…

If I’m going to ask these questions, then an examination of my own life needs to happen first. If I myself am struggling with an issue that I’m seeing in my Christian brother’s or sister’s life, then the first step is to get me straightened out. And honestly, chances are that the other person probably knows that they need to clean their junk up (however, that doesn’t let us off the hook of holding each other accountable), so what I’m saying to them will likely not come as a shock. However, tread lightly and lovingly. Calling out sin because you know it exists and having concern for your brother or sister’s walk with God are two very different approaches.

BUT…

Jesus doesn’t stop there. He gives us a pretty big warning that’s difficult to stomach sometimes because we don’t always know where to draw the line: There are going to be people who will be the metaphorical two-year-olds, stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and start screaming, “LA LA LA LA LA LA!” at the top of their lungs. Do not waste sacred time here. It’s futile to try to teach a concept coming from Jesus to people who tear apart everything Christians say and do. In short, you can explain yourself til you’re blue in the face on any Facebook argument you want, but if you’re casting pearls before swine, you’re wasting your time. By no means does that mean we give up, but if we’re hell-bent (ironically enough) on getting through to “that one person,” maybe we need to first evaluate motives and the methods with which we go about them. The biggest question you can ask yourself is, “Am I genuinely concerned for this individual’s place in eternity, or am I more concerned with just being right?” Check yourself. Be honest. I’ve been there. I’ve been more concerned about being right than I was about whether or not the person understood who Jesus was, as it was clearly evident in my argumentative nature. This is where honest prayers for wisdom and pure motives are essential in reaching those who we know that have a tendency to be closed off to what we have to say. Sometimes we may be casting our pearls before swine and recognize that now is not the time, but it doesn’t mean that that particular someone will never come around and be slightly more fertile soil to plant in on down the road, so to speak.

BUT…

Remember, we also need to look at context. From here, Jesus teaches about asking, seeking and knocking. He follows up his teaching about judgment with the idea of asking God for honest answers, and seeking those answers out, and knocking on the doors of opportunity. Coincidence? Doubtful. Further, he says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” I guarantee you that if someone came to me and told me about how they’ve been asking God for wisdom, seeking out wisdom in Scripture, and watching for an opportunity to talk with me and be honest and open about what they’re seeing in my life, I’m going to be more receptive. What they have to say might sting, but this is someone who hasn’t shied away from loving me through accountability, but who has also spent time prayerfully considering the circumstance. That’s how I would want someone to approach pointing out the speck of dust in my eye, so maybe that’s what Jesus is getting at when he gives us the Golden Rule. We all need held accountable – every last one of us. Without accountability, you get…well…American culture. You get Hollywood. You get girl power that emasculates and humiliates men. You get the belief that you can and should have sex with whomever you desire, and you shouldn’t have to live with the natural consequences should things not go according to plan. You get the belief that it’s completely acceptable and even healthy to desire the rape-like treatment viewed in movie theaters and read in books. You get the leniency of, ‘if it feels good, do it.’ Without accountability, you get to do whatever you want. And boy, doesn’t that seems like a great idea.

AND…

He then talks about the way to heaven: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Are we seeing a theme here?

SO…

I find it to be no coincidence that Jesus then follows that up with the teaching of recognizing the fruit in peoples’ lives. Apple trees don’t produce bananas. Grapes don’t grow on pepper plants. Judgment doesn’t grow in a Christian, but neither does spineless acceptance that prioritizes peoples’ temporary happiness over the lasting consequences of eternity. And should it be any surprise that he then says (in a nutshell), “Just because you recognized that I was Jesus, just because you went to church yet continued the same lifestyle you had before you knew me, just because you told people about who I was doesn’t mean you ever actually let me have any say in your life. And because of that, sorry, but I never knew you.” (Matt 7:21-23). Surprisingly enough, I think Jesus is telling us that it’s actually about more than what we do. It’s difficult to say that I truly believe that Jesus loves me if my life says I love the world. If your life after meeting Jesus looks the same as before you knew him in both actions and posture of heart, then God have mercy on those of us who saw it and never said anything. We live out what we believe – period. Being able to recognize Jesus is different than actually knowing him. I would recognize Robert Downey Jr. on the street, but that doesn’t mean I knew anything about him. And friend, please – please don’t take eternity lightly. Please don’t assume that the grace credit card will work if life was spent ignoring the call to know Jesus and shape your life in a response to that.

Little surprise that Jesus then talks about the man who builds his house on the rock and weathers the storm versus he who takes the easy way out and builds on the sand. Guys, there’s no doubt that Jesus loves you, but there’s also no doubt that he wants to see our lives respond to that love, not ignore it and/or contort Scripture to make up our own definitions.

Summary: If bananas are growing on your apple tree, then get rid of the weirdness, okay? Go back to growing apples. If you see grapes growing on someone’s pepper plant, tell them! You don’t have the right to lecture them about how the pepper plant is altogether bad and useless – that’s not the truth. Just prune the tree, help them get rid of the fruit that shouldn’t be there, and see them through to growing what they should be growing. Further, find the people who are the Miracle Grow in your life. Find the ones who are willing to take an ax to a branch that has no business growing on your tree, but will help your tree grow as it should. And be willing to be that for someone else.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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With man, this is impossible. With God, it might be improbable. Wait, what?!

Mrs. Brittany Bardsley “nominated” me for the Five-Day Scripture Challenge that’s making its way across Facebook at the moment. The bottom line: You post a verse every day and you nominate two new people every day to take the challenge. Pretty easy, but if I’m honest, it seemed highly annoying…and then I realized that I’m a total chump if I’m annoyed at posting Scripture but not sarcasm. So, in order to handle it the best way I can, I’m trying not to Jesus juke this whole thing. I’ll blog about a verse (or a few verses) for the next five days, no problem. The catch: I’m going to try to tackle some verses that we either have a very poor understanding of, or a very idealistic view of (example: Jeremiah 29:11. We quote that WAY too often. That’ll likely show up here too).

Day 1 – Matthew 19:26

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

If I had a dime every time someone in college quoted this when a big project was due, I probably could have paid for my student loan debt along with a third of the campus. We have this hilarious tendency of pulling out a verse that sounds really nice and applying it to any and every situation in life, even when it’s a far cry from what was actually taking place. Context, dear friends. Context.

It’s really cute to operate under the assumption that God will make all things possible just because he’s God. At least it’s cute if you’re 11 and at a youth retreat. I mean, okay, fine. I guess he can – he’s God. It’s not like he needs anyone’s permission. But do you honestly think this is the best verse to pull out every single time you know of someone who has a loved one on their death bed? Or when a friend is right in the middle of the most hell-infested storm of her life because her husband has cheated on her with multiple women? Or when a family is learning to cope with their child being paralyzed from the waist down because of being hit by a drunk driver? No, really – I get it. He’s God, and yes, he absolutely can and has raised the dead. He can and has healed marriages that are barely hanging on by the final thread of a final thread. Yes he can and has healed the paralytic. But stop. Just stop for one second. Take off the rose colored glasses and just look. Is this really what Jesus was talking about? Did any of those things take place when he said these words?

Not a single one.

In fact, Jesus isn’t working miracles at all right now. He’s teaching. Back up to verse 16. This entire passage is about the rich young ruler who was curious what more needed to be done to gain eternal life. Jesus says hang on to the Top Ten. Our little beacon of success asks which ones. Jesus tells him the big ones: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, honor Ma & Pa Kettle, don’t lie, and love the people around you as you love yourself. The kiddo has this down. He’s been a decent guy. He’s rich, he’s successful, he seems like a decent guy. Props to him, because he realizes he isn’t perfect. He asks Jesus what he still lacks. Jesus cuts right to the chase:

“‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved”‘ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’

Translation: For those of us who are completely content and satisfied with the things of this world and the things under our control, it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to deny ourselves. It’s hard for someone who is rich with excess to deny themselves and be humble enough to admit, “I must give this up. If I’m going to truly follow Jesus, then it’s time to lay this aside and be done with it.” When the disciples heard this teaching, they were confused until Jesus clarified; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (verse 26).

I’m guessing you’ve likely heard verse 26 in this sort of context: “If you believe, God can make it possible. If you have enough faith, God can work in it.” As if our level of faith somehow determines what God can or can’t do. Please. “With God, all good things are possible!” When you actually look at this verse in context it says something totally different. May I?

With man, it will be impossible for anyone to deny themselves.
With man, it’s impossible to make a legitimate sacrifice.
With man, it’s impossible to have lasting self-control.
But with God, the sacrificial things are possible.
With God self-control is possible.

This is very different from the belief that with God, all good things are possible. Yes, all good things are possible, but that doesn’t mean they’re probable. You can have all the faith in the world, but I’d assume that would make it just as likely for you to be a moving target for Satan as you are a recipient of God’s blessing (not that you shouldn’t daily build that faith – good grief, don’t misunderstand me).
 

Let’s not assume that holding fast to rules will somehow gain us eternity. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that if we do it all right, a life of abundant blessing will follow. Let’s not turn the Gospel into something it isn’t. Jesus did everything right and we see where that landed him here on earth. But we also see where that took him in death and resurrection. 

 Summary: Please don’t misunderstand me. I adamantly believe that God can and will bless people however he chooses to. However, let’s not use verses as our shouts of health, wealth, and victory when they’re more geared towards being tokens of honesty about our own condition.

The encouraging part is, no matter what we’re holding onto, yes, we absolutely can surrender it, we just can’t do it on our own. Speaking from personal experience here. It wasn’t until I was willing to spend nights on my face – sometimes until 4 or 5 in the morning – in an all-out battle to not fight on my own but to continue surrendering the struggle minute after minute that any amount of headway was actually made.  Sometimes that’s where you have to go. Sometimes that’s what it takes. If you’re still trying to deny yourself with your own power, trust me: It’s why it isn’t working. That moment that you decide to give in is the moment we succumb to this idea that the temptation is “too strong.” Load of crap: If we take God at his word, then we really do believe he will always provide a way out (in Ephesians – forgive me for not having the exact reference on the tip of my tongue..um…fingers at 1:30 AM). That might require swallowing pride in a new way, but he does provide that.

It’s possible to deny yourself and starve the porn addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and battle against the food addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and surrender the blood-thirsty hunger for control and power.
It’s possible to deny yourself and turn away from the shopping sprees.
It’s possible to deny yourself and close the chapter on your party life.
It’s possible to deny yourself and learn to love who you are for once.

All of this is possible, not with ourselves, but with the power of God Almighty himself.
May we not forget such a bedrock truth.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Stop using prayer as a cop-out.

I’ve noticed an interesting dichotomy between the people of the Bible and the people of today (other than the addition of iPhones, lack of 12-year-olds herding sheep, etc). Read about David, Joseph, Noah, Rahab, Abraham, Caleb, Esther, Joshua, Peter, Paul etc and you’ll find a common denominator:

They did something.

No, really. They did something. They didn’t just pray about it, or pray about it for two months before doing something (at least not that I’m aware of).
They didn’t pray about it and then go ask their accountability partner, D group leader, youth pastor, or friends to pray about it.
They didn’t pray about it and then decide they needed to sit down and study Scripture (or, well, the Dead Sea Scrolls..) for a few hours.
They didn’t pray about it and wait for God to write a sign in the sky.
They didn’t pray about it and talk themselves out of doing something hard.
Not all of them even took the time to pray about what we know them for: They just did what they knew they needed to do.

Stay with me. If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, just stay with me. Far cry from most of our modern-day Christian culture. Far cry from my life, to be honest. I have a habit of asking God why things are the way they are. Sometimes a little out of spite, and other times I’m legitimately asking why something is going down the way it is because I’m searching for clear understanding. I think God really gets a kick out of it when I ask “Why?!” and then pray for understanding or patience. I think he shakes his head and chuckles every time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few months, it’s that when you pray for a character trait, or even a fruit of the Spirit, God doesn’t give it to you. Ever. But he gives you situations where you can choose whether or not you’ll practice those traits, learn, and grow. Our relationship with God isn’t 50/50. If that’s how we view it, we miss out on a lot. Our relationship with him is 100/100. We give 100% because he has already given, and continues to give 100%. And that means a willingness to just do what he tells us to, when he tells us, which would be the exact same for every God-follower:

Go and make disciples.

I talk with older teens in the youth group quite a bit about the concept of God’s will because most of them start freaking out about “God’s will” during second semester of their senior year when the eleventh hour is upon them. Natural and understandable for a Christian kiddo. But I tell them all the same thing: God’s will is huge. It’s not confined to one pathway. God doesn’t lack creativity to the point of only being able to work out one path for every person. God’s will is huge, and he gives us a lot of choices (because love is a choice). He’s already told all of us what his will is: Go and make disciples. Go and make disciples working as a barista in a coffee shop, in a manufacturing facility as a laborer, as a dentist cleaning teeth, as a pediatrician working with kids, as a teacher shaping young minds, as a computer geek who shows neverending patience when a clueless person such as myself calls & asks for IT help.

God’s made it pretty clear what he wants us to do. I’m not sure why we need to spend extravagant time praying about what we already know we should be doing.

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Leaving Egypt

Ever since graduation my spiritual life has, unfortunately, taken a strange hit. There have been some great moments of growth, but for the most part it’s been one big uphill battle and I haven’t had the will necessary to fight back (my fault entirely). I’ve had a bad attitude quite a bit, and I just haven’t been willing to put in the time and commitment that God clearly deserves. With quite a bit of wrestling, a little bit of resistance, and a true desire to learn the art of surrender, I’m starting to see what I’ve been doing to myself for quite a while.

So what does that have to do with anything?

Deuteronomy.

The book calls the Israelites – a new generation – to remember who God is and what what He did for the generation before them. The old generation wandered for 40 years and died. He brought them out of Egypt, but they never got to fully experiences what it was that He had intended for them – the Promised Land – because of their stubbornness, arrogance, and their wrongful desire to control their own lives and do things their own way.

Uh oh. Yeah, you see where this is going.

“The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and show you the way you should go. When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: ‘Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.'” -Deuteronomy 1:31-36

God has brought us up out of Egypt. We’ve been rescued from the slavery the Egyptians had imposed on us. Don’t forget that! Because in our sensationalist American Christianity, we’ve taught that no matter what God is going to turn your situation into something peachy because darnit, you’ve accepted him!

Pardon me, but… THEY WANDERED FOR FORTY YEARS, KIDS. They still didn’t get it when they died! What about that makes you think that just because you accept Jesus once that he’ll magically turn your self-inflicted, sinful situation into diamonds? He will – but you have to surrender. That’s the missing piece. These people didn’t surrender, and God let them feel the consequences. Did he intend for them to enter the Promised Land? Absolutely. But did he recognize that there had to be consequences for their decision to do their own thing? Yes.

Here I’ve been wandering around in a desert (albeit, not for 40 years), doing my own thing, taking things into my own hands, and I’ve been wondering why things aren’t going just swimmingly. I totally believe God’s pursuing my heart and your heart, but we kid ourselves if we think our situations – if we think we – will actually change unless we surrender it all over to God. I don’t buy into this idea that God is going to make your life everything you ever wanted while you still do everything the same way. Abraham had to uproot himself. Moses had to give up his life in Midian to go help rescue God’s chosen. Esther had to put her life on the line. Jesus had to die. All of these people had something in common: They surrendered. Still not convinced? Go read Jonah’s story. You aren’t going to make it into the Promised Land by doing things the same way every day. It just doesn’t happen like that.

You’ve been brought out of Egypt. But now the sand is in your desert (y’know, ball in your court kinda thing?). Are you going to wander for 40 years only to die and never see the Promised Land because of your disobedience, or are you going to choose to do things God’s way and be led to something greater than you could imagine, even if it wasn’t what you had in mind?

 

Pray. Seek. Do.

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Going to church vs. Being the church

For starters, you have to read this for the rest of this to make total sense. I love what I’ve read from this guy. Those who read my blog (you’re apparently bored, for starters) will probably agree with me when I say that we may have been cut from the same stone.

So now that you’ve read it (are you getting that it’s important?), what do you think? Should you go to church? Given that a (likely) vast majority of churches in America have this sort of ‘feeling’ to them, should you still go? Is it a waste of time? Is it too organized? Is it too predictable? Does the Holy Spirit show up in routine and planning? Are we wasting our time for an hour or so on Sunday mornings only to turn away and not be changed?

Man, this is tricky. Every point he made is an excellent point. I want to provide some respectful push back, and I’ll try to keep it succinct, because I want to hit the point in my title of going vs. being. (But let’s be real. I don’t do succinct, so gut it out with me)

While I am not for putting time restraints on the Holy Spirit, let’s back up and take a look at time. This has always been a personal belief of mine, so this is in no way sound theology. I consider myself to know little to nothing of whatever “theology” means today, and more importantly, I certainly didn’t live in the culture of the day, nor have I studied Greek and the Jewish/Gentile culture that Jesus was living in (all of that is far more important than anything that CS Lewis or Charles Wesley has to say with their Western perspectives and interpretations). God created day & night. He created time. When he did this, was he already pointing to the cross, just in creating day from night? We read in Revelation that there is no night. There’s really no concept of time. Time, while beautifully redeemed, is still necessary because of sin. Because of the fall. Because of the weeds that man must now pull and break his back for. We would need no time if we lived in perfect harmony. We would pay it no heed. Could night and day still exist and us live outside constraints of time? I don’t think so. The turning of the day, the changing of the hours, position of the sun and moon, etc. – all of it places us under a schedule and our bodies were designed to react – all because God saw the mess coming…and chose to make it anyway because of his immense love. And further, he chose to design us in a way that would react healthfully to these changes, and even need these changes to live. Yes, Adam and Eve lived without sin – for a time. I think the cross began to redeem what we’d made of time. It tore the curtain in the temple and gave us 24/7 access to Yahweh without the need to go through the High Priest. It gave our souls an ability to no longer rely on days of sacrifice, because the ultimate sacrifice had just uttered with dying breath, “It is finished.” So here we are. Living crazy schedules, wishing we had more time. Here we are scheduling our church services, needing to be mindful of time. I don’t agree with rushing through services with the same ho-hummed schedule week after week after week, but I do believe that since we serve a God of order and not of chaos that, to a degree, we have to recognize some sort of schedule because we’re human – and in our imperfection, we’re constrained by it, so our worship services are at the mercy of our own flaws in a way.

But what about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? He came and the people responded appropriately, did they not? They didn’t shush the Spirit and say, “Not now! We’re getting ready to move from our three songs and into the sermon! Come back later!” This is where I agree wholeheartedly with Chris. He makes a good point: sometimes we just get too expectant of the same thing over, and over, and over. But what’s interesting is the Day of Pentecost didn’t happen at the temple. It happened at someone’s house. The believers had gathered, perhaps for what we consider a small group time, and that’s when the Spirit moved. Honest question: Do we expect the wrong thing from our church services? I’m honestly wondering if maybe God saves the ‘big stuff’ for the ‘small groups’ first of all, because it produces less chaos, which is just like his nature. Do something big in a small group of people. Have you ever tried to accomplish something huge with a huge number of people? It’s a hard thing to do. It works so much better when you can work in a small group and get one-on-one, or three-on-one, or whatever. And second of all, when we enter church with an attitude that’s anything other than bringing thanks and offering before Jesus Christ in a communal aspect, we’ve missed the mark. Church ain’t about what we’re wanting Jesus to do to us, or what feeling we want him to bring to us. It’s about praising him for what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing now, and what he will do in the future. Can he move within that and do something huge if he wants to? Absolutely. He’s God. He can do whatever the heck he wants. My point is, it doesn’t seem like that’s when he chooses to wreck us to the greatest degree. And I think it’s like that for good reasons. Anything can become routine, but I think he knows that church, more than many communal gatherings, is prone to getting stuck in that rut. It’s hard to move among a large group when they all have no expectation that he’ll move in different ways, or they have different expectations about how he should be moving, or how he will move or can move (differing theologies are so much fun, aren’t they?!). I think he still loves the church, though. And I think that may be a backstage reason as to why he encouraged consistency in meeting in small groups: he had the Twelve, and from those he had the Inner Three. It’s easier for us as humans to be reached, to be vulnerable, to be real, and to be ferocious with our faith when we have two or three beside us doing the same thing. It’s difficult to move a couple million through the desert, as Moses found out. It took 40 years to get to their destination while it took the Twelve’s ministry considerably less time to fan into flame the Holy Spirit inside them to reach the far ends of their world – literally.

The following conclusion can be drawn from everything I just explained: We go to church to worship and praise corporately, not necessarily to be fed in huge ways, as that is our own spiritual responsibility. Church is a time to plug in with those around us, but our personal/small communal times outside church are perhaps best for our growth and understanding. That’s not to say those who preach are off the hook – don’t misunderstand me. Should we continue in our same church ruts? No. And frankly, I believe it’s the church’s head leadership that should be taking responsibility for the ruts. It won’t be the congregation that decides to make the change – it will come from the leadership. That being said, I don’t think we should leave our Sunday morning services because we’re frustrated or we can’t concentrate. Following Jesus and loving his church requires sacrifice. If he loved the church as a whole enough to redeem her, perhaps we should return that love by humbling ourselves, accepting the brokenness of the system while still voicing our concerns, disciplining our minds to stay focused, and continuing to praise and worship corporately.

With all that being said, keep reading in Acts and church doesn’t look anything like what we’ve made church into today. Church actually looked a whole lot like the small groups I talked about. And maybe that’s why we feel this groaning in our souls that something needs to change. House churches seem to be a lot more on-target with what was happening in Acts. Somehow, some way, along the way we got caught up in larger crowds, reaching more and more and more, etc. and those are great things – don’t get me wrong. But we lost sight of the importance of the small things and how to carry on the Great Commission in ways other than just bringing people to church. After all, Jesus came as a baby born to two individuals. He didn’t show up on the scene as a ruler of an entire country and govern 20,000 people at one time. He knew what we needed. He knew our hearts needed the small to understand the large.

However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and overhauling the entire system in one day seems a bit conquest-driven, so we go to church. And we be the church. We live out what we read the New Testament church to be in Acts, as well as the ministry that Jesus lived out. All too often we get confused and forget that church is a lifestyle. It’s hard to think like that, isn’t it? “Church is a lifestyle.” Nuh uh, it’s a place! That’s what our mind automatically computes, because we’ve grown so used to going to church instead of being the church. It doesn’t help that our minds are pairing a word with a visual representation (the actual building) that solidifies it even more so in our brains that church isn’t in me, but in front of me. It seems that our minds need further discipline than just paying attention.

With all of that said, that’s Hannahology. I’m probably totally wrong, but there it is nonetheless. Kudos to Chris Martin for bringing something this important up and being willing to be honest about where he’s at (follow his blog, by the way. You won’t be disappointed). I’m right there with you, brother. It gives us opportunities to speak up and not turn away from the Bride of Christ, but help her become more of what he seems to have meant her to be. Now, if we could just figure out how to go about getting it done… :)

Pray. Seek. Do.

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‘Tis the season…

…for everyone to get all mushy-gushy (or incredibly irritable) about the year behind us and hopeful for the year ahead…only for all of it to be forgotten within a month or less.

So what about your New Year’s resolution from last year? Did you keep it? For the first time in my life, I’ve stuck to the one that I set: no pop (or soda, for you weirdos) for a year. I started on January 7 last year and I’m on track to actually hit it here in about a week. Granted, I drank half of a Sprite a few weeks ago BUT it wasn’t because I slipped up and couldn’t handle the pressure. I didn’t want to drink it, but one of my sweetheart D-group girls knew I was sick and brought one to me, so I of course had to recognize her gesture. Other than that, I’ve stuck to everything except the life-zapping liquid that so many people drink by the gallon every week.

So what was the point? Well, ideally I was supposed to become Victoria’s Secret model-hot by now, but I think I’ve actually gained more weight than I was gearing up to lose at this time last year. Whoops. Okay, actually my goal was to just be healthier. I was doing wonderful until Spring Break hit for Chorale tour and our only option for sustenance was McDonald’s when we made stops. My resolution this year is along the same lines, but a little different so it’s more attainable. Whatever number of the month it is, I will make at least that many healthy decisions every day. So, since it’ll be January, and that’s the first month, I will make at least one healthy decision every day that helps me lead a healthier lifestyle. I’ll make two a day come February, three in March, four in April, and so on. Should it be difficult to make one a day? No, but before you criticize, ask yourself how many of your resolutions you’ve stuck to. That’s the trick: you can’t tackle the world in the first week. Make your resolutions realistic, but they need to challenge you, too. I’ll give myself the first month to do my own sort of cleanse & then I’ll start back on Advocare around February & work my caboose off (hopefully literally) to hit my goals.

Enough of that. What about the year behind, that will be over in approximately twelve hours?

To it I say, good riddance! Overall, it’s been a year of tough lessons. Intrinsically, that’s wonderful because I’ve learned a lot (or…fought against learning a lot..I’ve been really stubborn all year, too), but on the surface it’s been rough. Amber & I lost our house we were renting because of someone else’s lack of preparation and maturity, I’ve been working between 4-5 jobs for months because of this economy, I’ve been rejected from numerous jobs after being told I was one of the strongest or THE strongest candidate for the position, I was in a great relationship and that ended, I’m having to work ridiculous hours just to pay loans (I will NOT defer them or back off the payments) and bills, I have no close circle of friends here who I hang out with (Amber & I work all the time. We’ve hung out about twice in the past four months), I really don’t like living at home just because I’m sick of not being independent, to say that my walk with God is shaky is a massive understatement – or overstatement – depending on how you look at it, I have no idea what the hell (sorry – just being honest) I’m doing with my life or where it’s going, blah blah blah – the same complaints every 20-something has. But I will say that it’s been hard to have no social circle, no relationship, no support from my family emotionally or spiritually (let’s just be honest), and very little support even from my church for nearly nine months now (Sterling is a family-focused church, and I’m experiencing all of this ALL at once. THAT’S what’s hard. I’m not dealing with one or two – it’s everything all at once. At my church, there’s little to no attention given to those who are single and have no kids. We’re out in No Man’s Land because we’re the minority, which I guess I understand. I don’t really believe in the majority catering to the minority). Basically what it comes down to is me feeling like I’m trying to navigate life alone and it’s finally getting to me. Ever been there?

I will say this year brought some cool moments, though: I graduated college, became certified by the NRA to teach pistol courses, went on the best tour from my college years down in Florida with a group that’s near & dear to my heart & always will be, had some new experiences, had one of the best and most memorable birthdays to date, started working as a sponsor with the teens in the youth group I grew up in, learned the value of busting your rear end day in & day out, went on some missions trips, and who could forget the moment I was hit on by swingers. I mean really, that tops everything. Just when you thought you’d heard it all… ;)

I’m hoping 2014 brings me a lot of opportunities to trust God more. I know it will. This year brought a lot of that, but I don’t think I trusted Him in many of them. I want to be more consistent as a person and someone who says she follows Christ not just for my own sake, but for those around me. My faith isn’t just about me – it’s about the world I live in and the people I do life with day in and day out as well. I think that’s something that we’ve missed quite a bit in the church. Even if I do all of the right things, volunteer for everything and help out in every way I can, even if I try to be a “good person” (whatever that is), none of it matters if, at the end of the day, I don’t live knowing and rejoicing in the love that God has for me, even in my sorry, pathetic, and my sometimes sin-driven state. The reality is there’s an ebb and flow with following Christ. Take a look at Israel. If you think you can come to a point where you no longer sin in any way, or even just intentionally, I’d encourage you to read the Old Testament and look at Israel, and then read a little bit of Paul. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6. Great point. But when I read his words in 2 Corinthians 12 –

“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

– or in Romans 7 –

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do not do what I want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

 

– I’m reminded that I probably won’t get everything, or much of anything, totally right. I’m not justifying sin. I’m saying that we’re on this path of consistently doing what our Father does, just as a little kid mimics his own dad, but we aren’t our dads, and we aren’t our heavenly Father, therefore we’re probably going to need him to help us out along the way and offer grace – just as our own dads should. If you say you trust God with things like supplying your every day needs, your “daily bread,” then why not trust him with your sin? We’re coming up on a new year. Let go. Let go for your sake, and those around you, and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

Happy New Year.

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Victoria Donner

Sometimes you can cattle rope your heart and sometimes you can't.

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