The Choice To Start

I wrote the other day about how disappointed I felt in myself for not following through with some things I wanted to do last year. The biggest one for me by far was not making the time to sit down and share with my boys things that I felt would be helpful to them in their walk with Christ. There were a few books that really impacted me, books that deal with this crazy upside down culture and our role as Jesus-followers in it. If you have kids, you know the feeling: I want them to get this! I want them to understand this! If they can just see through all this nonsense to the truth… maybe they won’t fall for the lies… maybe they will be different…

I spend a lot of time floundering around in the sad reality that we live in a world that is basically amusing itself to death, sacrificing everything meaningful for superficial ‘likes’ and virtual approval from total strangers. This isn’t the world I grew up in and it’s hard for me to relate to how deeply this affects them sometimes. The things I struggled with seem like small potatoes compared to what my kids have already seen first-hand. You Tube influencers confound me. Idol-worship of people so completely in love with themselves makes me cringe. The absence of the ability to think for themselves scares me. G.K. Chesterton said, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with news that the grass is green.” We are there, and sometimes I feel like an eighty year old grandmother who can’t adjust to the times. The reality though, is that I am a Jesus-follower and a parent who is charged with discipling two young men in a world turned inside-out. The reality is that God never changes, even when culture does. The truth is, in the past I have let it overwhelm me to the point of inaction. It’s so much easier to just cruise on through the days, dealing with things as they come, but never really being intentional about getting to the heart of it all. What’s that old saying? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s true. Suddenly I have a high schooler. In a moment he will be out on his own. A minute after that, his brother will follow. What do I want them to hear from me before they go? We spend our time doing the best we can, telling them what not to do, lecturing them on the dangers that lurk behind every corner, but are we giving them something to actually live for?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”  We have to have a vision from God, something positive and promising to go after, if we are going to really live. Without it, we just run wild without any direction or intent. This explains why “good” kids do really dumb things. Adults too, for that matter.

So this morning, I decided to just get going. I sat down and began a little folder for each of my boys. I don’t really have a well thought out plan, and that’s ok. The problem I encountered last year is that I had so much I wanted to share, I didn’t share anything. I couldn’t organize my thoughts, so I did nothing. Today, I started with this verse and a C.S. Lewis essay called “Men Without Chests” about how head knowledge is no match for the unbridled passions in our belly that override our reason. We need a chest to help the head rule the belly. Strong men know how to keep the fire in the belly from burning down the house. Seemed like something good for young men to hear. I crudely typed out some thoughts, printed them out and stuck it in a folder for each of them. I boldly asked for 20 minutes of their time, which in a world where online games rule the day, is a bigger deal than it may seem. We started. They were mildly interested, and that’s ok. I hope we can build on it.

We put too much pressure on getting things just right before we start anything and we wind up doing nothing. I liken our time today to the first time a person exercises in awhile… kind of a hot mess, but better than nothing. Little moments of faithfulness every day, like exercise or a good daily vitamin, is worth far more than sporadic moments here and there. I have a vision based on God’s promises and that gives me hope that we can grow together in His wisdom. It’s never too late. There will be eye rolls along the way to be sure, there will be dramatic whining and bad attitudes at times, and that’s ok. It won’t be perfect, but with time and faithfulness, I hope that they can have a prophetic vision all their own to keep chasing after.

The Stirring

“Aren’t we quick to jump toward Jesus but slow to walk the journey out with Him? When He asks, “What do you want?” Jesus is asking us, What do you really want for your life, because you have to know this going in. You can’t just follow Me without understanding what following Me means, and at some point you have to stop being constantly stirred but never compelled enough to take action. Do you want the now life? Or do you want Me more than anything else? Having Me will be the greatest fulfillment of your life, but fulfilling doesn’t always mean pain-free. Do you want to be the normal, everyday person who is flawed and doesn’t have life all together but watches God do amazing things through your life? God help us, this is tough, but we cannot continue to dip only our toe in the pool of faith, teasing God, not being serious about Him.” Lisa Whittle/I Want God

When I was a teen, by best friend and I would get each other new journals for the new year. It was exciting times for us… looking back over the past year and starting over in a new one. When you’re 14, a year can bring a lifetime of change. As I got older, I continued to journal, but in different ways. I didn’t keep track of events in the same way, but I did write verses or quotes that inspired me. Last New Years I began reading a book I just knew would be good for my family to read together, so I made pages of notes and promised myself we’d all sit every day and spend time learning together.

Spoiler alert: we did not. I sit now with the same journal and feel frustrated and disappointed in myself. It’s not that we didn’t do other good things, we certainly did. I just got myself too psyched out over the whole thing and waited for the perfect moment, which if you have ever met teenagers, you know never comes. I was stirred up to be sure… but I never was compelled enough to just take action.

The same thing happened with my cycling routine I told myself I would have. I had the indoor bike and the time to do it. I had a plan. January turned to February, before I knew it Easter had come and gone… and I was not doing it. In my mind I was stirred up, but I wanted other things more.

It’s perfectly fine to have these setbacks, it’s normal. It did get me thinking, however, about how fast we are to jump into things but how half-heartedly we do it. Noble things. Healthy things. When Jesus asks the two men following Him in John 1:38, “What do you want?”, He’s asking them to take a minute and think about what they are about to do. Do you really want to follow Me down this road? It means you have to want Me more than all that other stuff. You have to be serious about Me.

So just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we have to wait it out. God holds out a hand and motions for us to just get started. I think the most frustrating thing for us this time of year is the stirring in our hearts we have for change and the inability to actually carry it out… they are incompatible. Before the well-laid plans can come to fruition, we have to answer Jesus’ question honestly and seriously: What do I want?

The spiritual answer is of course, “I want You Lord!”! The more realistic answer would probably fall more into the category of “I want You BUT… I also want my comfort and security.” Yes, we want Jesus, but we aren’t willing to put everything down on the altar for Him just yet. He doesn’t force us to but both feet downstream, so we stand halfway in and halfway out, holding our little idols and getting nowhere fast. It’s scary as can be sometimes, but I want to be able to just put both feet in and go.

Why don’t we do this? Why didn’t I just get the family together and share what was on my heart and read the book with them? Why didn’t I hop on that silly bike at all? The brutal truth is because it required sacrifice. Time. Energy. I chose the path of least resistance.

I feel the stirring… many of us do this time of year. The question is, will we be all-in with Jesus or will we keep living halfway and getting nowhere fast? Goals are great, but before we can see them

In Haggai chapter 1, the prophet challenges the Jewish people to get going on the project they had abandoned: the rebuilding of the temple. They had become more concerned with their personal comfort than in completing their God-given task.

“You have sown so much, and bring in little; You eat, but you do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (v.6)

Ouch. Everything they are running after and pouring their time into is a giant waste. Sound familiar at all?

We are flawed, selfish people. We want things to be better, but our past failures have taught us that our good intentions don’t carry us far. There is a surrender that has to take the place of our stubbornness. Both feet in. All the lovely wishing in the world won’t get us where we need to go if we don’t actually want to put Jesus first. It means sacrifice.

“What do you want?” 

I want to jump in. I want to want Him more than my little idols or even my goals. It’s January and we are stirred up – let’s not wait until things are perfect to begin walking out all those things He’s planted in our hearts. I don’t want to sow and have no crop. I don’t want to continue throwing money into a bag with holes. To have more of God, we have to actually want more of Him. He’s so good you guys… when we just surrender, He’ll take it from there.

So… hello 2019! What do you really, really want this year?

Heart Resolutions

“On a note of hope, on a strong amen

“I will start anew, I will make amends

And I’ll thank the world and remember when

I was able to begin again!”

Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney), Scrooge

We made it! Another Christmas season come and gone. While normal people are sitting around the tree enjoying their homes and families, I am packing away Christmas like it’s my job and staring excitedly at my 2019 planner. Not because I don’t like Christmas, I love it. I love it so much I may have started decorating for it just after halloween. We celebrate long and hard, but when it’s done, my greatest present to myself is a clean-ish house and a fresh start.

We wrapped up Christmas night with a final watching of one of our favorites, Scrooge, and the timeless story of a changed heart and new beginnings. The end always gets me, when Ebenezer’s eyes are finally opened to the beauty around him and he stops focusing on the wrong things. We use the New Year as our jumping off point for new beginnings. Hope is a powerful thing. We all know though, that by early March the shiny promises have begun to tarnish a bit.

The beauty of this story to me is that Scrooge isn’t making any New Years resolutions or empty promises, his heart really is different. You just know that this isn’t going to fade away. The difference between heart and head decisions are big ones. There’s a lot of things in my head I’d like to accomplish, but unless they are planted in my heart, I know all too well not much is going to happen. Good intentions always lead me into frustration because they don’t have much backing them up when it gets difficult.

We need times to ‘start anew’… we need hope… we need to make our amends and move forward, even if it is into the unknown. Each new calendar year gives us the chance to do that in part, but the freedom we have in Christ means that every day can be our January first.

Before any lofty goal can change us on the outside, God’s words to us must ba able to start their work from the inside. “My son give attention to my words; For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:20-23

Every single day can be a new start with Him. He doesn’t hold our past against us, He holds out His hand anew to us every morning and just invites us to step back in to our story.

Cheers To The Simple Things

Are you starting to get a little excited for a new year? I know, we are knee deep in Christmas right now, but December goes by faster than any other month whether we want it to or not. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but I always look forward to the post-Christmas cleaning of house, the blank slate feeling a new year brings, the plans on the horizon, and maybe some goals to challenge me.

Every New Year’s Eve, each member of our family receives a Bible verse for their year ahead. It’s not a magic verse, or the only verse to focus on by any means, just an encouraging word to nudge us forward into a new year with the reminder that Gods word is alive and working in us and to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

This morning I’m thinking on all the things that either pushed me forward into Jesus or kept me back this past year. Difficult things, trivial things, praiseworthy things… it can go either way. It’s good to look back with clear eyes at the seasons you’ve just come through.

Our culture puts a lot of phony pressure on the beginning of a new year, pressure to take that blank slate and make something of it. We go about things in our own power and feel like miserable failures by February. The thought occurred to me that Jesus doesn’t care about what our day planner says; every day we wake up is a new blank slate with Him.

We pray “give us this day our DAILY bread…” for a reason. Daily manna is the only way to be continually anchored and fed. We don’t ever skip a meal on Tuesday because we had a fantastic dinner Sunday night. It doesn’t sustain.

So if by week two of the new year we blow all our self-imposed goals, it doesn’t matter. Jesus wakes us up every morning and says “ok, how about today? Come and eat. Let’s do this.”

If I had to pick a word for the upcoming year, it might be “consistency”. I know that’s rather dull, but I’ve learned something this past year: we don’t need the latest edgy or flashy Christian-ish philosophies to keep us moving forward, we need to humbly present ourselves to God every morning for our daily bread.

Consistently.

Whether we are basking in the warm sunlight or tangled knee deep in the weeds, because both will come.

I want to soak in His words daily so that when the winds blow, I don’t blow over. The enemy wants to keep us stewing and fretting over the latest (fill in the blank) situation. He counts on us burying our noses in our work, our kids, our worthy causes, because he needs us to be inconsistent.

So I return again and again to 2 Corinthians 1:12 as a reminder that I at least desire to conduct my life in simplicity and godly sincerity. May I enjoy the good things of the world but not idolize any of them. May I value and love people, but never place my worth in their opinions.

A branch produces fruit because it stays consistently connected to its source. Disconnect it and you have a dried out stick.

We are commanded to bear fruit. Jesus came to give it to us in abundance. It requires not a great effort on our part or even much talent. Good fruit comes naturally as a result of staying connected. Daily. Consistently. When it’s boring and when it’s exciting, when it’s sunny and when it’s pouring rain.

It’s not a sprint. We don’t need little bursts of energy followed by a long absence. Jesus just wants us. He wants us every day in simplicity and sincerity.

Let’s ask for encouragement and clarity going into a new year, the Jesus kind, not the worlds kind. The kind that doesn’t rely on our own willpower but His power.

Happy early new year friends!

Call Up The Fire

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“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you… meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them… continue in them…” (1 Timothy 4:14,15).

Stir up the gift that is in you… Do not neglect the gift that is in you…

Paul is writing to his “beloved son” Timothy who was trusted with ministering to the church in Ephesus. He encouraged Timothy to see to it that people weren’t deviating from the truth or getting involved in silly and useless arguments. He is reminding his young disciple that growth in the church and in the hearts of the people doesn’t just happen – they must be attentive and careful not to neglect what God has entrusted them with.

When Paul says “stir it up”, he is using a word that means “rekindle or fan the flame”.

A fire goes out when it’s deprived of oxygen. When it’s attended to however, the little embers can become something great. We all have some embers burning unseen under a pile of logs. They are the very dreams and thoughts of God Himself toward us. Amazing things that He placed in us as gifts and callings, the very best version of ourselves waiting to be awakened.

Sometimes though, it’s easier to just let the embers be. Calling up the fire can be frightening, especially when we don’t know what will happen.

We’d like to speak up for truth, but we don’t want to be made fun of. We have some exciting ideas, but they may not work out at all. Being “in the world” and not “of the world” is a fine line sometimes, what if we make a huge mistake?

Paul understood this. After he told Timothy to stir up his gifts, he reminded him of something very important: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  There is no shame in stirring up and attending to the gifts and dreams God has placed in your heart. How many amazing things never happen because we are simply too scared to blow on the fire a bit? We’re so afraid of starting a wildfire that we let our flame burn out completely. One of the greatest tricks of the enemy is to get us comfortable with the status quo. He doesn’t want us poking the logs. He wants our embers to burn out, and he is pretty good at placing fear and complacency in our hearts to make sure that happens.

God created each of us to fit our own unique mold. Our dreams, gifts and goals are different from anyone else’s. We waste a lot of time fretting about what everyone else is doing and trying to fit into someone else’s mold. What if we focused on what God has already placed inside us and gave those embers a little breath? Tip off a log or two and stir things up. Allow God to show you what your fire looks like.

The world is burning. It’s a destructive, awful kind of heat that promises to consume everything in it’s path if it isn’t fought. It will do us no good to sit back and hope it passes. It isn’t the most popular thing to say, but we are in a battle friends. It isn’t a new thing, God’s Word talks about it all the time and commands us to participate. We need to fight fire with fire. The good news? The fight is a good one, a worthwhile one. It requires maturity and conviction and a deep, abiding connection to Jesus. Whatever your gift, stir it up and do not neglect it. Be so genuinely who God created you to be that there is no room for anything else. Meditate on the gifts that are in you already. Find them, dig them up, and give them oxygen. This is how we are meant to operate! When we step out and embrace these things, fear of failure or the unknown has no place. We are able to do everything with power, love and in a sound mind.

That’s a pretty big deal. God’s power, His love, and a mind free from fear clears the path for our little embers to become something powerful!

Go poke an ember. Blow on it. See what God has in store.

Forward and Free in the New Year!

“How the Lord takes by its corners
This old world and shakes us forward and shakes us free…” Rich Mullins

New Years is almost here! That lovely time when we can all do a “mental reset” and reorient ourselves a bit to wherever it is we think we are going. I saw no less that three articles today alone that laid out numerated steps for keeping New Years goals intact. We Americans really do love when things are given to us in bullet points. So convenient!

Goals keep us going. Big or small, we need them. Mine include training for a 120 mile race through the Colorado mountains next July. I’d also like to stop buying so many Lunchables and make my kids an actual lunch when they go to school. Baby steps.

So come January, we’re ready to move the proverbial football down the field. Maybe we get a new journal. I like doing that. We get out the new workout clothes. Those are fun too.
But by February, the journal is empty and the workout shirt still has its tags on. Because, life.

So here’s my New Years thing: I’m going to remember that while the year is new for a little while, I am living in a New Covenant every single day. A covenant of grace that never gets old, whether it’s January first or July fourth. We are redeemed from the law (Galatians 3:13) and we are a new creation.

After years of living the Christian life, Paul stated that his main goal was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

That should be our goal! To know Him. To know His power. Let the rest fall into place, because it will. We all have our own little roadmap of goals and things we want to see come to pass. When we set ourselves to knowing Him, we can relax and let it be. We’ll accomplish more than we ever thought possible. And even if we don’t, He can get us back on track.

So here are my two bullet points I shall preach to myself:
– Be flexible
– Be sensitive

Flexible to let Him lead, able to change course if He asks me to.
Sensitive to His voice, not that of the world or of others.

That’s it! Be in the Word, get to know Him more and more because His love is without end. His plans for us are more than any goal we could ever set. Go into the new year with hope set high that He is ready to shake us forward and free!