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?

With Praise and a Sword

“Our false self demands a formula before it engages; our false self wants a guarantee of success; and mister, your aren’t going to get one. So there comes a time in a man’s life when he’s got to break away from all that and head off into the unknown with God. This is a vital part of our journey, and if we balk here, the journey ends.” John Eldredge

Being on Christmas break and not really knowing what day it is or where we are half the time has opened the door for lots of relaxing and movie watching. One of our favorites is the series of Narnia films. I think I love them more than my kids do, maybe it’s because I’m a grown up now and I can see in hindsight how important the stories are. I wish I had known them earlier.

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader we meet cousin Eustace, a spoiled little boy who mocks his cousins tales of Narnia and gets all his information from books. He puts all his hope into science and deductive reasoning. Needless to say, when he experiences Narnia and Aslan, everything changes.

Eustace is scared of what he doesn’t know. He spends his time trying to formulate a way out of strange situations, and when that doesn’t work, he simply mocks everyone that he deems inferior. He’s scared and confused by adventure. Narnia is the worst place for him because everything he experiences goes against how he has been trained to think. It’s also the best possible place for him, because Aslan refuses to leave the poor kid in his sad state. The redemption story of Eustace is a powerful one, but not without pain.

Thankfully, the young boy was with a group who didn’t dismiss the adventure. The Pevensie kids longed for Narnia when they weren’t there. Once experienced, it was something they wanted to go back to. Yes, it was scary and dangerous at times, but there was something there, someone there that made it all worth it. They longed to be with Aslan again.

As we enter a new year full of unknowns, let us not be afraid of heading off into the unknown with God. Avoiding new things or putting off hard decisions may seem safer, but at best it leads nowhere fast. It’s not blindly jumping and yelling YOLO! with our fingers crossed… it’s a conscious decision to follow Jesus at every turn. It’s a choice to push through difficulty or uncomfortableness and get to the healing on the other side. There comes a time when playing it safe just isn’t safe anymore. We aren’t heading off ill-equipped or without a compass… we have the greatest Guide ever.

This is quickly becoming my New Years battle cry:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a double-edged sword in their hand.” Psalm 149:6

We aren’t exactly floating down the river on a pleasure cruise here… life is a battle, and a hard one at times. The false part of ourselves demands a formula and some guarantees before every venturing out into the unknown. Go without it. I want to be more like those kids in Narnia who craved the adventure in spite of the danger. With praise in my mouth and a sword in my hand.

Happy New Year everyone… armor up and enjoy it!

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!

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!

Profoundly Simple

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“Keep it simple, keep it pure. Keep it sincere.” The more I dive into the Word this year, expecting some complex revelation to wash over me, the more I hear this. Back to the basics in the New Year. My 9 year old woke up yesterday morning and told me about a dream he had. Just before he woke up, there before him was a  bright sign declaring “God Helps At Hard Times.” He remembered it and was struck by it. I asked him to write it down for me. He did, in bubble letters, because he said thats how it was written. God used bubble letters. Awesome.

Childlike. Bordering on cliche. Of course God helps in hard times. Sunday school 101. Check. Got it.

As we talked about it though, I started to wonder…

Do we turn to Him in our “hard times” for real? Or do we retreat into ourselves and our own futile efforts?

Have I been an example to my children that God really is the strength in our weakness? Or have I taught them to try and ‘perform’ their way out failures or difficulties?

I came across this beautiful bit of truth this morning and the question hit me again:

“PILLAGE AND LOOT THE WORLD FOR ALL IT’S WORTH, BUT ONLY IN JESUS IS THERE 100% ACCEPTANCE BEFORE EVEN 1% PERFORMANCE.” Ann Voskamp

Whoa.  I stop for a moment, knowing how much I need this and how much I barely grasp it. We can’t perform our way out of trouble or failure or disappointment. Hard times come in all degrees. Some are annoying. Some are downright tragic. What is our first instinct when we are challenged? When the enemy pushes every button, tempts us in every way to give up and give in… where do we turn?

“God Helps At Hard Times.”  If we let Him.

The simple things are often the most profound. Oh how we long for the new, the fashionable, the ever-changing. The world we live in demands it. We can check e-mail, twitter, facebook, instagram and Pinterest all while sitting at a stoplight. Sadly, modern day Christianity also demands it. People aren’t comfortable with the pure, straightforward truth of the Word anymore. There must be something new to discover or believe. The old truths need a new spin. New books must be bought. New catch phrases are created. And we lose Jesus in the mix.

God’s truths to each one of us are new every day. They aren’t stale leftovers of what someone else received. They’re personal. They aren’t complicated, but they are very profound.

This new year, I don’t need to go buy a new Bible study based on how promising it’s cover looks. I need to open my own Bible. I need to listen to my kids. I need to look for God in the simple things and let Him reveal Himself through them.

Two weeks into the new year, I am asking God what HE wants for me this year.

Keep it simple. Keep it sincere. Keep it real.

God IS with us.

 

The Messages of January

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Happy New Year! As much as I love the fun of the holidays, I always feel kind of refreshed when January rolls around. A new (mostly blank) calendar and a house free of Christmas nutcrackers does me good. A symbolic “do over” time for everyone, January holds a lot of possibility. We hit the ground running for sure – the gym is packed with well-intentioned go-getters. Weight loss commercials play nonstop on TV. The Target Christmas section is now a home-organization paradise, with bins and totes and hooks galore to help us find a place for our newly acquired stuff – and if we need more stuff, we can always hit the Valentines Day aisle, because it’s been up since before New Years.
So, the messages of January assail us:
Get in shape! Organize your life! Get it together! Check off that list!”
It’s all well and good – but what happens when we try and apply those New Years intentions to our spiritual lives?
We start off with a bang, but it rarely lasts. The Bible reading plan we began tapers off once we reach Leviticus. That calendar begins to fill up. Duty replaces passion. The excitement for what could have been fades away. We are disappointed with ourselves for not sticking it out. We go to church, read some books, get some pointers… but the spirit in us is not engaged. By March or April, we return to the same old routine. We aren’t created for resignation, however. Why do I say that? Because the next January 1st we will do it all over again. So, the desire to grow and know God more is a part of who we are. Why then, do we lose it so quickly?

“The Religious Man or Woman is a popular story option in which we try to reduce the wildness of life by constructing a system of promises and rewards, a contract that will obligate God to grant us exemption from the Arrows. It really doesn’t matter what the particular group bargain is-doctrinal adherence, moral living, or some sort of spiritual experience-the desire is the same: taming God in order to tame life. Never mind those deep yearnings of the soul; never mind the nagging awareness that God is not cooperating. If the system isn’t working, it’s because we’re not doing it right. There’s always something to work on, with the promise of abundant life just around the corner. Plenty of churches and leaders are ready to show you how to cut a deal.” John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

Try as we may to organize our spirit life, there is a wildness about God and life that we can not get a hold of. His desire is to make us holy, to be in relationship with us. You can’t compartmentalize holiness. You cannot make a system out of it. Systems last until February.

Here’s a thought: What if we embraced the desire in us, that wonderful drive we feel at New Years to do great things, and just handed it over to the God who gave us the desires in the first place? The goal isn’t to be comfortable and organized – the goal is to get out there with those desires and let God lead us through the wilds and the unexpected into our victory. What if the excitement of January could be turned into a year long adventure of actual achievements? It’s not foolproof, and we aren’t perfect, but how about going in His strength instead of our own? How about asking Him what His desires are for us this coming year? We aren’t meant to set and attain goals alone. We aren’t meant to rely on human strength or wisdom to get us to the finish line. Our “deep yearnings of the soul” can be fulfilled by one thing alone, and that is a holy God making us holy.

Don’t let the messages of January turn to disappointment in a few weeks – embrace the desires God has placed in your heart and ask Him to walk it out with you. His ways may be a bit wilder than we expect or a bit messier than we want – but they are the only way in which we will ever have true success.

Long live the January goals!