Tag Archives: God

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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I’m moving to Virginia!

Since I’ve known since January, I figure it’s time I announce this. :) That picture you see is in the choir room at a school tucked away in the mountains in Virginia. So….

I’m moving to Grundy, Virginia to work at Mountain Mission School!

For those of you familiar with MMS, you know that this is such a unique opportunity – one that still makes me ask God, “Are you totally sure you have the right person for this?!” I’ll be teaching choir and living with the high school girls. For those unfamiliar with the school, the staff is full time. Like, full time: The staff members are teachers, counselors, mentors, shoulders to cry on, cheerleaders, etc – and I think those are just the roles they play before 10 AM. :) Life is lived day in and day out with these kiddos. It’s a mission of the neatest kind. Kids from 18 months through 20 years old are living and being raised to know Jesus at Grundy. I’ll be moving on June 29.

Common questions I’ve been asked recently:

Are you excited?

Yes, I’m excited, albeit completely terrified. I’ll be excited once the stress of the move is over and I figure out what I’m doing (And no, I haven’t started packing, so if you have any boxes you need to get rid of, I’m your girl! …or if you want to sell me a flat screen TV at a decent price :) Doesn’t have to be flat screen, but they’re easier to mount :) ).

How in the world did this come up?

Long story short, I heard about the job not being filled and tried to avoid it like the plague. SOMEONE (read: Dave Sims) told them I had a music degree and a background working with juvenile delinquents & teens in general. The rest is pretty much history.

Are you near the beach? (Where’s Grundy?)

The exact opposite, actually. :) It’s in Appalachia right next to the Kentucky border – about 45 minutes from Pikeville, KY. I’ll be about 6-7 hours away from FoCo. In other words, not so far that y’all can’t saddle up the horses and come visit. :)

Is that the choir that comes to Sterling every now & then and sings?

Sure is! MMS’s choir is a traveling choir (so much like Chorale, for those of you fellow IWU Chorale clods). I will, of course, post all tour dates. If you can, come see the kiddos sing! You will not regret it! Friends from college & friends all over, I would love to see you again if we’re ever singing in your area, and I know you’d be blessed by their songs.

How can I be praying for you?

Short answer? Yes. That’s how you can pray for me. All of the things need prayed for. :)
Allow me to be transparent for a second. When I made the decision, there wasn’t an, “Ah ha!” moment with God where the sky split open, a dove descended, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I was meant to do. Quite frankly, I don’t much buy into this ever-present idea of seeking out a calling for one’s life day after day. I can tell you what your calling is: Go and make disciples of all nations (did I mention Grundy has over 60 countries represented there?). That’s what you’re called to do. You’re called to make disciples wherever you’re at. I believe God places calls on peoples’ lives, absolutely. Paul is a great example. But Paul was going about his business, doing what he thought he was supposed to be doing when God made his red carpet appearance (Granted, Paul was murdering Christians for their faith, but he was convicted that he was doing the right thing, and he pursued that. I’m not saying that makes it right. I’m saying he went about with his daily life and God stepped down into that to get him to go elsewhere. He didn’t spend night after night agonizing over whether or not he was “following God’s will for his life.”) All of that to say, I’m leaping in faith. I’m diving in head-first and not looking back. I’m doing it because I’m (at least somewhat) equipped to do it, and Grundy has a need. There’s the bare-bones answer. So I need prayer! Ways to be praying:

Pray for the kids. This whole thing is first of all about Jesus and second of all about them. They need your prayers to continue to grow and be shaped into the people God wants them to be. Pray that whatever it is God needs them to know, I get out of the way and teach it in such a way that it goes beyond choral music. Pray that this is never about the music, but that the music is just another avenue to glorify God. Pray for a smooth transition for them as they adjust to a new teacher!

Pray that I stay open to opportunities and surrender my abilities to God. I was recently asked to teach elementary music, and I have absolutely zero experience in that arena. I feel like the widow bringing two small coins. I have literally no experience, but I’m willing to try it. Pray that continues. I’m the kind of person that either shuts down completely when I don’t have immediate success, or I go all-out and fight to get to the top. Neither of those are healthy, obviously. Pray for balance and just a willing heart. That’s all God needs to work through people, if I remember correctly.

Pray that I would stay out of the way. If I’m going to do this and do this well, it will be purely because of the grace of God. Done any other way, it’s destined to fail. We have a huge opportunity coming up at the end of October and the only way it’s going to be considered at all “successful” (albeit in worldly, human terms) is through our hard work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and God’s sweet & sovereign grace!

Building relationships with the students. This will have to have careful attention, especially this first year, as these kids neither know nor trust me.

Adjusting to Grundy life. It’s a total 180 from life as I’ve known it for 25 years!

While I’m very sad to be leaving Fountain County, I’m pretty excited (read: still terrified) for what’s ahead, especially considering some prayers I began praying and questions I began asking God around October of 2014.

Many people have also asked how all of this is going to work out now that I’m now dating someone who lives in South Carolina. I’ll tell y’all the same thing I’ve said since Grundy became an option in December when I wasn’t dating anyone: I’m not at Grundy for one year. I’m not at Grundy for 25 years. I’m at Grundy for however long the good Lord wants me there. If that’s one year, fine. If that’s the rest of my life, fine. If that’s 7 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 3 days, then fine.
God has continually reassured me since making the decision (in January) in the gentlest yet most obvious ways that this is exactly what I need to be doing at this time. As I said before, there was never some moment of the sky being split open and I was given a 100% definitive answer, but since making the decision there has been continual reassurance that I’m walking/tripping/stumbling/skipping/falling flat on my face on the path I should be walking down/tripping all over/stumbling here and there down/skipping down joyfully/falling flat on my face on. :) I watched a video about adoption a few weeks ago and the mom’s words really struck a chord (ha! get it? Chord.. Cord.. I’m teaching choir….) with me: “Pursue it until God closes the door. If the door doesn’t close and you’re continuing to ask him to guide you, keep going.”

Truth be told, I tried multiple times to get the door to close. It didn’t, and it wouldn’t. I’ll be at Grundy until God grants me his blessing to go elsewhere or until he calls me elsewhere. I’ll pursue him where I’m planted, regardless of where that is, and I’ll continue to contribute to making disciples where I’m at, wherever that is. As for tomorrow, I’m not going to worry about it. Jesus can take care of it. I have enough on my plate today. And as for June 29, the day is quickly approaching, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t tear up even thinking about it. I’m leaving a lot of wonderful people and the place that has been home to me.

So there it is in a nutshell! I covet all of your prayers and cardboard boxes. :)
Pray. Seek. Do.

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Jeremiah 29:11. Insert projectile vomit here.

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 1Day 2, and Day 3.

Day 4 – Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11. The verse seems to bring warm, fuzzy feelings all around. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Aaaaw. Isn’t that nice? Allow me to explain my extreme want and need to hurl whenever I hear this verse quoted grossly out of context.

For those of you who read this verse trying to find comfort because you can’t decide what major to study, what job to take, what person to date, etc (insert hokey life decision here) you MIGHT want to read this verse in context. The Israelites were in captivity. Not just any ol’ captivity that they’d wandered into, but captivity that God had specifically put them in because of rebellion. Furthermore, what does God tell them in the verses prior to? (starting in verse 5)

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, see the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Emphasis mine)

These people are in the middle of exile.. banishment from their homeland because God had carried them there. Can you imagine the spiritual battles occurring?! Going on…

Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

God tells them that there are going to be people trying to convince them that they come in the name of the Lord, when really they’re doing nothing but tearing down their spiritual understanding in an already-distressed state. I understand that many people read this as “don’t worry, God has it under control.” Yes, that’s true. However, we’re failing to miss the real point in this story…

God may carry us into, or may allow us to be carried into spiritual exile – James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Trials are going to happen. The trials Paul refers to are different from the exile that God has carried the Israelites into. Our faith may land us in trials, as does our lack of faith. Lucky us, we all get to face trials, difficulties, and probably even a little bit of exile-type feelings! :) What did God tell the Israelites to do while they were there? Settle down. Make it feel like home, because you’re gonna be here for a while. Get comfortable and go about your daily life. Don’t change anything. Keep on keepin’ on. Too bad we leave that out whenever we read Jeremiah 29. Get comfortable with your distress, because God may need you there to teach you something. Too often I think we look for a way out of our messes. Should we? I’m tempted to think that even when we bring this upon ourselves that we aren’t necessarily going to find a way out. Jeremiah 30: 12-15 –

Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you. I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many. Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.

Let’s face it: If we need disciplined, it’s because we’ve lacked judgment skills somehow, somewhere. Discipline is necessary. And so when we’re in the middle of that discipline, we can’t act like the two-year-old trying to worm his way out of time-out. We have to see that discipline through to the end. Sometimes discipline might feel a little bit like spiritual exile. And then we try to get out as if we don’t deserve to be there. That’s cute. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think God wants us to be miserable. However, for those of us who have this outlandish appetite for sin, sometimes we need to be carried into exile and left there for a while. I’m not talking a forever, done deal, you’re in hell sort of exile. That’s not biblical. I’m not meaning for exile to sound like we’re separated entirely from God. God was still speaking through prophets while Israel was in exile. He hadn’t left them. He was ticked, but he hadn’t left them.

There are going to be moments when we aren’t going to know why things are occurring the way they are. That may be a good time for us to step out of the situation and ask ourselves if we’ve done something to get ourselves there. If so, we can probably assume God’s trying to get our attention.

For those who are truly walking with God, I don’t think he’ll hesitate to allow unfortunate circumstances to happen if that’s what it takes to get our attention when we’re spiritual space cases. I’m a little put off with people that say God won’t allow something unfortunate to happen to get our attention because he “loves us too much” to do something like that. Oh please. That’s the thing – he loves us too much to want to lose us. If it takes a little bit of pain to wake us up and turn us back to him, then I’m pretty sure that’s worth it.

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Proof. Hebrews 12:5-11. When God’s trying to get your attention, don’t make light of it. Don’t tell yourself you can put off responding until tomorrow. He’ll do what it takes to get you to wake up.

Does anyone ever read past verse 11 (in Jeremiah 29), or anything besides verse 11? Look at what comes after (starting in verse 12)…

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So when will we truly find God and truly understand his plans? When we seek him with our whole heart. Can we have a come to Jesus moment real quick? If you honestly expect for God to reveal some magical, perfect plan (or really, any realistic, God-honoring plan for that matter) for your life without ACTUALLY doing a little bit of work, you crazy. No, our relationship with him isn’t based on works, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I see people quoting the bible on Twitter profiles, in tweets, in Facebook statuses, etc. and yet everything else is total trash. Cussing, hardcore partying, disgusting tweets from some sex-laden account on Twitter, getting high, making excuses for addictions. Do you HONESTLY believe that Jesus is your homeboy and has no issue with you not living right? Get serious. “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34. Oh. Well snap. Guess that says something. Either you’re pursuing God or you’re not. Get off the fence and pick a side. Lukewarm isn’t the game Jesus plays (Revelation 3:16-18. Look it up.) Yes, he has plans for you, but if you’re sitting in the middle of exile, ask yourself why you’re there. Stop trying to fix the problem yourself. Look to Christ. Let him guide you. Let the Lord take you back to Jerusalem. You have to decide that you want to go back, but you have to allow him to take you back. You fell off the horse? Get back up and get back on the darn thing. Repent and do the things you did at first (Revelation 2:5). Keep going. There are few things as worthless as a Christian sitting and bathing themselves in self-pity. Jesus has this thing under control. Trust him and keep going. Guys, culture has lied to you. A lot of churches have lied to you. Some of you have seen the video of Debriah going on one heck of a rant about the church lying to people – it’s solid. A lot of people have silver tongues that promise a life of abundance if you’ll only believe in God. Please find that for me in the Bible. I must have missed that one. This girl right here has lived one serious lukewarm life. I was the ultimate fence rider for years. So many people did a wonderful job of loving on me during those years and for that I’m forever indebted to them. However, it wasn’t until a few friends basically looked at me, and with a whole lotta love said, “Pick a side. You aren’t a teenager anymore. This game is old. Grow up,” that I finally started doing it. And sometimes we need that. So if you’re pulling the crap I did: partying every now and then (“Hey, what’s a little too much to drink going to hurt?”), playing cat & mouse with the opposite sex (“I’ll only go this far…”), dancing with an addiction to, well, basically sex (“What’s it matter? I’ve screwed this up before. One more time isn’t going to do anything..”) – whatever it is you do – stop. Stop it. Just stop. This isn’t going to get you anywhere. There will always be another time. Knock it off and pursue Jesus. Your emotions may not be involved in your choices for a really long time – that doesn’t give you any excuse or reason to not choose the right thing. You want to know God’s plans for your life? Then pursue him instead of the rest of the world. You can’t do all of those things I was doing (or pick your sin – whatever) and still pursue God. It does not work that way. There’s a difference between falling short while pursuing God and pursuing the world while pursuing God. I was not just falling short – I was in an all-out pursuit for both lives and figuring out quickly that one had to win and the other had to die.

Scripture is a continual love story of God redeeming his people time and time and time and time and time again. But the thing about relationships is both sides have to work at it. Yes, God does have plans to prosper his people and not bring spiritual harm to them, however, if we think we can sit back and enjoy the ride without ever getting to know him, without ever listening for his voice and obeying that voice, without spending time in the Word then we’re lying to ourselves.

We should take heart in the fact that God is so relentless in pursuing us and knowing us that he’s willing to carry us into exile when we need it yet still speak hope into our lives. That’s an incredible God – a god that other religions have yet to ever know. Don’t make him into a shallow God that will be at your ever beckon call. His existence is not to cater to you when you need it and step aside once you have it figured out. We’re to be in communion with him. Walk with him. Spend time with him. Serve with him. He has plans for you, but it’ll be hard to listen for them if you don’t know the sound of his voice.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

P.S.

I didn’t include this in the post because it would have made it even longer, however, please keep in mind that this letter is written to a group, not an individual. Often we make it sound like God has one path and only one path for us *as individuals*, and we make ourselves miserable trying to figure that out. Well, take heart, friends. That’s not what this verse is about either. God was speaking to a community, not you as an individual. That’s a different post for a different day, but it’s some food for thought – you can do the dishes. ;)

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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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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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Being A Disciple: Wake Up, O Sleeper!

I’m currently walking with a couple of high school girls through the book of John and the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. They lead some pretty busy lives, and since I remember what that was like, we’ve agreed to reading a chapter of John a day and a chapter of Crazy Love per week. Both girls have some deep, deep desires to pursue Christ, know more about His Word, and be more involved in His church and service for Him and His people. Neither are incredibly biblically-literate, but both want to be. For those who have been at this for a while, you’d probably agree with what better place to start than with the Gospels and the words of Jesus himself?

John 6 has always had a very strong grip on my heart and mind from the first time I read it. I used it in my blog, “The L Word: The World Will Hate You For It,” but it absolutely smacked me in the face in a new way tonight. I’ll post a small portion of it (the portion that had me picking my jaw up off the floor):

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

 

There is a word used here that I have totally missed in the dozen other times I’ve read this passage until tonight. Can you guess what it is?

Disciples.

If this isn’t scaring you yet, let me go a bit further. The word used here means a pupil, or a learner in the original Greek. Okay, great, Hannah. What’s your point? This is the same word used to describe the Twelve when they were each called, and it is also used to reference the Twelve many times throughout the Gospels. Okay, cool, what’s your point, Hannah? These were not common, every day folks who decided Jesus’ teachings were too hard. These were people who had committed themselves as students of this heavenly rabbi. They may not have followed Jesus around as often as the Twelve did, but these were people who’d decided they believed this guy. Jesus had his three closest guys (Peter, James, & John – Matthew 17), then there were the Twelve disciples, and then there was everyone else. No less important than anyone in terms of humanity, but they weren’t the disciples who Jesus spent the most time with (I think that speaks to the importance of small groups, small groups ministries, accountability, etc). In our churches today, these aren’t the people who you meet with regularly for a mid-week Bible study. These other disciples would be the people that you greet on any given Sunday, who are a part of their own Bible study, etc. They’re not your closest friends at church, but they’re pursuing this Jesus guy just like you are.

And many of them walked away.

And Jesus let them.

And he never chased after them.

If this doesn’t strike a deeply reverent fear in you, I don’t know what will. When it finally hit me that Jesus’ DISCIPLES were the ones walking away, my immediate thought was, “Holy smokes, that could have been (and could still be, at any given point) me.” These are people who had, at some point, decided to commit their time and following to Jesus. They would have gone to the Crazy Love book study on a Sunday evening. They would have showed up for the local missions outreach opportunities. They would have been helping out with the youth group on Sunday evening. But at some point, push came to shove and they opted out. And that scares me. These are people like me. These are people like you. Oh, but you’d never walk away from Jesus because the goin’ gets too tough and you’re in for the long haul? Might I remind you that one of the Twelve handed Jesus over for his execution. I’m not sure anything is outside the capability of fallen humans. If, per chance, you still want to argue about that, then I would encourage you to go read Daniel 4. It’s Nebuchadnezzar’s story of being driven to insanity out in the wilderness, even after he learned who God was and saw him do miraculous wonders. Newsflash: God holds your sanity in the palm of his hand, and should you ever choose to doubt his abilities, don’t be so shocked when you wake up from having lost your mind seven years earlier wondering what the heck just happened to you. God can and probably WILL humble you if you’re so prideful as to believe this sort of thing can’t and won’t ever come into your life.

This is not a post to point out how terrible of humans we are. We’re worthless without grace. The best thing we can offer are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Oh, this is fun: “filthy rags,” when translated, literally means a used maxi pad. It would have been menstrual rags. Yeah – your righteousness is no cleaner than a used Tampax to Almighty God. We know we’re that worthless, yet valued and loved through grace from our Lord. What this post is is a warning to anyone who is like me who can sometimes become a little too comfortable with the whole following Jesus thing. When things get difficult, when teachings become harder, when the expectation becomes greater, what is your first reaction? Dig in? Keep going? Or maybe it’s confusion. What about doubt? And scariest of all, are you tempted to look back over your shoulder at a life you’ve left behind? Read Genesis 19:26. That’s never a good idea.

Guys, at any point in time, Jesus will ask you to believe and do something really, really hard. It will come. If you’re a disciple of Jesus, there will come a point when he wants to know if you’re all in or if you’re just a fan. Don’t think that just because you accepted him one day at church camp, or during a church service, or in an intimate setting, or after Kyle Idleman’s “Not A Fan” series that you’re set for the rest of your life. You may sign up for discipleship and lead a disciple’s life for a long time – but this story tells us that disciples do and can walk away … and Jesus doesn’t stop those who want to. This piece of Scripture, along with a few recent events, have been shaking the tar outta me over the past few weeks and months. I’m frustrated right now because I don’t think I’m explaining any of this very well. I’m going out on a limb here that this passage is perhaps smacking someone else the way it’s been smacking me now that you’re attentive to the word “disciple.”

Perhaps one final effort to put this all into perspective. Revelation 3. The church in Sardis.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Disciples are normally known as people who are alive, right? But in all reality, apparently disciples can choose otherwise. Maybe you’re walking around dead and you don’t know it. Maybe you won’t know it until Jesus asks you to go do something difficult and you decide it’s just a little too hard. Just as he said to Sardis – Wake up! You don’t know when he’s going to come to you! Maybe now would be a good time to wake up and strengthen what’s still there that hasn’t yet died. But in all of those people walking around in Sardis who seemed alive, there were only a few who were truly walking with Christ. Those are the few who will be acknowledged when we stand in front of God. I originally thought the tough question was whether or not I was a Christian – more of a fan of Jesus than anything, or if I was a disciple. Now I’m having to wrestle through what type of disciple I am.

I hate to burst your bubble here, but if I’m right (hey – I get a lot of things wrong, so if I’ve tanked on this one, let me know), we’re all now in a conundrum. The more we know, the more we’re held accountable for. I hate to tell you this, but if you’ve just read over this and you had the same, “Tah-Dah!….Wait….. CRAP!!!!” moment that I had, you’re now accountable for more than you were 10 minutes ago. I know, I burst your bubble & I’m awful. I think so too. I both love it and get so frustrated when the Holy Spirit smacks me in moments such as this one, because now I know more and am accountable for more.

Don’t allow fear of walking away keep you from digging in more. Dig. Dig deep & dig hard. Dig until you reach China (ha!..*groan*). Walk humbly with God. God humbled Nebuchadnezzar. He can humble you & me, too. If asking God what kind of disciple you are to him scares you, then perhaps that’s a clue and a sign that it’s time for some things to change. In all honesty, that’s what it is for me.

 

Pray (for the guidance of the Holy Spirit – John 16:13 .. but read the whole chapter).
Seek (the life of a true disciple – Luke 14:27).
Do (not fear what’s going to come. One day at a time – Matthew 6:34).

 

“Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. -Ephesians 5:14

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Victoria Donner

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