Holding On and Letting Go

For everyone who wants a formula… for all of us who clutch our to-do lists thinking they are the gateway to freedom only to find ourselves exhausted and worried sick… here’s some chain-breaking truth from Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book It’s All Under Control:

“Here’s the truth that no one ever tells us –  or at least that no one ever told me: You don’t have to pick one road and walk that path for the rest of your life. Gospel living is not an either/or question. It’s both/and. It’s coming back to that fork in the road every day – with every decision, every obligation, and every relationship – and asking God to help you choose. This is the crossroads where we finally learn what’s ours to control and what’s not. To be truly surrendered to Christ, sometimes you’ve got to walk the road that says “Hang on.” When you walk that road, you will have to hang on tighter than you thought you could. Other times, you’ll have to walk the road of letting go.

How will you know which way to walk? You’ll know because you don’t stand at the crossroads alone, left to your own devices. “Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the road. Walk down this road” (Isaiah 30:21).

In a moment of clarity, yo will know which way to go… when that clarity comes, trust the wisdom that God has given you, as scary as it is, and then take the next step. As you step out in faith, God’s peace will prevail – and that peace can come both in the letting go and in the hanging on.”

It’s not an either/or question! Oh how I love to live in the black and white world of my own decisions and processes. It’s so much easier there… if I do A, then this will happen, if I choose B, this will be the outcome. My critical thinking skills don’t always serve me well when Jesus invites me into unchartered territory. He wants me to follow Him, and I demand the GPS printout of the entire journey. The crossroads isn’t something I naturally embrace.

Do I hang on? Am I supposed to let go? If so… when? How? Life is one giant game of knowing when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em… and I’m pretty uptight at times about both of those things. I hold dear things that He wants me to loosen my grip on. I dismiss people or opportunities too quickly when He places them in my lap and says ‘give this a try’. Jesus stands at our crossroads and waits. He waits for me to put down my excuses, fears and well-intentioned lists and pick up my cross. The direction we go is up to Him and what a relief that is. I’m learning that He’s the only one who can tell me with clarity what to let go of and what to hang on to. I have my reasons, but they are usually wildly misguided. I want to be able to stand at each fork in the road and confidently… surrender. I want to obey. Control is a big, fat illusion to help us cope, but in the end, it leaves us busted up and more freaked out. Friends, we can’t control our way into a peaceful life, it comes through Jesus and Him alone.

Reading Jennifer’s book has been a journey in understanding that we do not have anything under control… but we serve a God who does. Are you a Driver? A Devoter? A Darling? We all have some quirks, some superpowers and our own kryptonite. This book is a Biblical look at the things that drive us to control our lives and the One who holds the key to unlocking it all.

The book is out today, and you can find the link here

Be blessed in the holding on and in the letting go friends!

A Tribute To My Messed Up Hero

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of one of my personal ‘giants’ of the faith and great influences, Christian music artist Rich Mullins, who died in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert. If you don’t know who he was, give his music, lyrics and writing a try, I promise you’ll be challenged. I say “challenged” here instead of the usual “you’ll be blessed” for a reason: this guy was different, downright weird at times. His work and life were indeed a blessing to many, but in a way you just don’t see much of anymore.

Raised in a semi-Quaker family in Indiana, Rich attended Bible college and began working in church choirs as a piano player. Seeing the effect music had on teens, he chose to pursue it full-time as a career. His huge break came when Amy Grant recorded his song “Sing Your Praise To The Lord” which, if you ever went to church youth group in the 80’s, you know by heart. By the late 80’s he found himself moving to a Navajo reservation to teach music to kids. When asked if he went there to convert them to Christianity, he said “No. I think I just got tired of a white, evangelical, middle class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I’m teaching music.” 

I had the chance to see him play at a little Presbyterian church in my city when I was in sixth grade. He arrived barefoot and unkept. He looked homeless, and he often was indeed, living out of a car. He set up only a keyboard on a stand, sang a handful of songs, and I was undone. His lyrics were complicated, they were  deep, some weird, and the songs were like nothing we had ever heard in our Presbyterian hymnbooks. I bought his cassette for five bucks (that’s how we ancients got the lyrics to songs in those days) and memorized everything. I began journaling all the stirred-up feelings those songs invoked in me. The Christian bookstore at the mall started really marketing his “Awesome God” album. I remember it well because I had the t-shirt, poster AND the keychain attached to my DENIM Bible cover (very important in the early 90’s). Nowhere did you every hear or even see Rich Mullins’ name on any of it.

Other artists came and went, but Rich Mullins’ work was the soundtrack to my coming of age all the way up though college. When I went to live in France for a summer, I had recorded his song “Step By Step” off the radio and had it on my Walkman. I literally wore the thing out listening to it every night before bed. I vividly remember crying every time I listened to it, I was homesick for Colorado and God was showing me I was really homesick for bigger things.

What hits me hard this twenty years on is just how much I miss examples of artists like him. The guy had problems, like everyone, and he never tried to sugar coat them with deflection or false feel-good substitutes for Jesus. He questioned and he cried out. He yelled at people. He struggled. There was something in him, however, that never stopped pushing into Jesus, and the more he did that, the smaller he became in his own eyes. God was God and he was man. He had a compassion for the poor and suffering that transcended church walls and a passion for the truth of God’s word that wouldn’t allow him to wander off into his own interpretation of it. What a combination.

It’s that mix of compassion for people and passion for truth that I miss. A lot of our examples today (the loudest ones anyway) are out to promote a mix of Jesus and themselves. They aren’t pointing to Jesus as much as they’re pointing to their version of Him, which is always a weird mix of do-it-yourself, live your own truth humanism. I can’t help but wonder what he would be like in 2017. In a day when we are all huddled in our theological corners, I’d like to think he’d be the guy standing with Jesus AND the hurting. In truth AND love. He said our lives as believers should make nonbelievers question their disbelief and make them thirsty for the truth.

You know how drinking soda makes you more thirsty? That’s how I see a big chunk of American Christianity now, a giant fast-food buffet that’s making everyone more sick and more thirsty, because we’re being pointed to the wrong things.  Platforms over people. A domesticated Jesus. People working backwards from their arguments to the Bible instead of beginning with God. And for what? The masses aren’t being driven to Jesus, they’re being directed to selfish idol worship.  The day you are focused more on a personality than on Jesus is the day you need to reconsider who you are following.

I feel blessed that I had an influence that set the bar high. Rich was no saint, and it’s for that reason I’m forever grateful for his faithfulness and his voice. He was never concerned with relevance, but with reverence. He accepted the mystery of it all, the beauty of not having everything figured out, and quite frankly, he just didn’t care what people thought. Imagine a collection of Jesus-loving truth tellers like that today. I know they exist, and I’m grateful. I just wish the other voices weren’t as loud. His work and writing brings me back to the feet of Jesus and there are few these days who do that. His words make me long to get deep into God’s word. He was not ashamed, and it reminds me to we must not be either. It’s amazing how things have changed in just 20 years. My ‘Awesome God’ t-shirt wouldn’t be as cool in the hallways, it would probably be protested. Rich’s laissez-faire attitude towards marketing and selling music would put him solidly at the bottom of the influencers list. The world says we are narrow. I say we need to get even more narrow. Keep zoning in our sights onto Jesus until the rest is a blur. Jesus + a bunch of other stuff = nothing. He helped teach me that. He showed me we are our most genuine when we are most surrendered. Maybe you have someone whose work has influenced you in this way? I hope we all do. Someone who points you to Jesus is someone worth keeping around.

“The hardest part of being a Christian is surrendering and that is where the real struggle happens. Once we have overcome our own desire to be elevated, our own desire to be recognized, our own desire to be independent and all those things that we value very much because we are Americans and we are part of this American culture. Once we have overcome that struggle then God can use us as a part of His body to accomplish what the body of Christ was left here to accomplish. 

If my life is motivated by my ambition to leave a legacy, what I’ll probably leave as a legacy is ambition. But if my life is motivated by the power of the Spirit in me, if I live with the awareness of the indwelling Christ, if I allow His presence to guide my actions, to guide my motives, those sort of things. That’s the only time I think we really leave a great legacy.” Richard Wayne Mullins

 

 

Evangelize With Joy, Not A Sandwich Board

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Our pastor said something at church this morning that really stuck out to me, I jotted it down on the notes section of my phone… (which says a lot, because I barely know how to use the notes section of my phone). He was speaking on evangelism, which at first, made me scrunch up my face and shrink back a bit in my chair. Not so much comfortable with evangelizing,  I have to say. Not in the sense that I usually think of it, anyways. He said there are probably two big reasons why we react this way: we’ve either seen it done really poorly and we don’t want to be ‘that’ Christian, or we’ve seen it done really well and we feel totally inadequate.

It’s the angry loud guy on the corner with a giant sandwich board telling everyone they are going to hell, or Billy Graham himself. No middle ground. So yeah, it’s easy to see how we can push this area aside. It seems impossible, and besides, aren’t certain people just called to evangelize and gifted to do it?

The truth is, we are ALL called to make disciples and spread the good news (Mark 16:15). No special calling required, except our relationship and belief in Jesus and what He accomplished for us.

To evangelize is simply to declare the good news to those still in captivity. He used the verses in Isaiah 52 to paint a beautiful picture of this:

Awake, awake!
Put on your strength, O Zion;
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Shall no longer come to you.
2 Shake yourself from the dust, arise;
Sit down, O Jerusalem!
Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion!

Put on the bright garments and take off the mourning clothes. Shake off everything that holds you down and stand up!

Israel was still captive, but God was calling them to anticipate their coming freedom and act accordingly. How much more then, should we, being set free, put on our bright garments and stand up? We are supposed to be known for our JOY, Christians. Not phony, fake smiles and slick Instagram posts, but real, abiding joy that comes and stays despite challenges and in the face of difficulties.

“Live and love in a way that demonstrates the reality of your rescue” he said. Are we living that way? Or are we parading around in our dark mourning clothes all hunkered down in the dirt? Do people recognize something different in us or are we so blended in with the world that nobody would ever know if we were Jesus-followers or atheists?

To evangelize is simply to get up and share the good news. With actual people in our lives. We can demonstrate it in so many ways, but we are called and commanded to do it. We make things way too hard when we think this is something to be left up to the pastors of the world. Taking little steps with the people in our lives can make a huge impact.

Don’t be afraid to declare the good news. We may not all be bold like Billy Graham, but we do have the Holy Spirit and that’s pretty amazing.  As long as it’s not angry yelling on the street corner, I bet we’d be surprised at people’s responses to actual good news. The world needs it the way dry soil needs water. Get out and share Jesus and demonstrate to the people you come across the reality of your rescue.

The Shoes of Peace Aren’t Flip-Flops

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In the Bible, the Hebrew word for peace, shalom is a deeply meaningful word. More than just the absence of conflict, shalom is an expression of wholeness and completeness.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives us a beautiful picture of believers living together in shalom and it’s far more than just a static absence of conflict.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Bear with each other. Do you know what that means? It means to tolerate or put up with someones wrongdoing. Why? Because the Lord has forgiven us all of far worse. We are told not to enflame their passions, stir their pot, fan the flames… what have you. It’s not that we are doormats to be mistreated, or victims to be abused, but we are not to be so selfish or hard-hearted that we cannot forgive.

God’s people aren’t immune to unforgiveness. Paul is addressing them directly telling them to clothe themselves with humility and kindness so that when offenses happen (and they always will) they don’t rule the heart. He’s showing them a way through it, a proper way to handle it so that the whole community will remain whole, in shalom.

When Paul wrote about the shoes of peace, he wasn’t talking about a flimsy pair of flip-flops. He was talking about the special sandals Roman soldiers wore to battle. Because they typically fought side by side, the thick-soled shoes enabled them to dig their feet firmly into the ground and not slip. The shoes grounded them.

The shoes of peace are an essential part to our offensive armor. It’s not always a bad thing to dig your heels in if it means you’re standing on the truth of shalom.  The enemy likes nothing more than to see our feet slip. If he can disturb the battle lines, he advances. That’s why forgiveness is so necessary in our lives. By harboring bitterness and resentment, we lose ground personally and corporately. As recipients of grace, we are commanded to also give grace. We are commanded to live in shalom and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts no matter what.

An impossible task if we attempt it in the flesh. An absolutely normal and beautiful part of the Christian walk if we allow Jesus to work it out in us. Satan will never stop sowing strife among us… like little seeds of conflict being constantly dropped in the soil of our hearts. Our job is to recognize them and toss them out before they take root and grow into something bigger. Don’t water them. Don’t tend to them. Don’t let bitterness take root.

It may mean we operate differently with people. It may mean we set boundaries so as not to repeat the same mistakes over again. It may mean consequences. Anger itself isn’t a sin, it’s how we deal with it that leads us either to chaos or peace. Without the proper footing, the enemy will drag us off into total chaos. We are called to a higher standard, not an impossible one, but higher than that of the world. The fantastic news is that Jesus made it totally possible for us to live His way. It actually releases us to great freedom. When we go beyond forgiveness to praying for and loving those who hurt us, we slam the door shut on the chaos. The enemy can’t get in. His seeds can’t take root.

The sandals of peace help us hold the line. A shoeless soldier can be brought down by the smallest of rocks. Don’t let the enemy catch you in that state. We walk in peace, in shalom because Jesus made it possible for us to do so. It’s far easier to forgive and walk in freedom than it is to nurture the seeds of resentment.

Forgive. Walk on. Shut the door to the enemy. Enjoy the freedom and the wholeness that Jesus offers.