Self Care Shenanigans

“Lets talk like Christians. Lets talk about fellowship and rest. Let’s talk about serving God and others. Let’s talk about thinking others are more important than yourself. Your time in the Word is not self-care, it is obedience. Having a coffee is not self-care, it is something to thank God for. The selfish bus is going to hell, and it is driving there fast, why would we want to be on it at all? ” Rachel Jankovic

It’s all the rage lately, the self-care phenomenon has been in full-force since the new year. Everywhere I go, I am encouraged to take a moment for myself, be mindful of what is stressing me out, and simply turn to something that makes me feel better about it all. This bag here was at Target, reminding me to love myself more. It’s not a new craze, but it seems to be really taking off lately. From living minimalist to blowing bubbles in the park, the universe (or the savvy marketers) want me to get hold of some awesome me-time. Here’s a helpful little list from some scholarly people at the University of Buffalo in case you need some ideas.

Such mindfulness! After you’ve listened to the cat purr, planted a flower, and/or walked a labyrinth… do you feel better? If not, you need to up the workout routine and drink more water, obviously. The anxiety has disappeared. Or not.

Hold on, you say… there’s nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves!

Mark 12:30-31 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Notice the often overlooked part of that verse… love your neighbor as yourself. We already love ourselves pretty well I’d say. We are born loving ourselves. God wants us to value ourselves, we are His creation!

Ephesians 5:29 says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”

None of us need to “practice” loving ourselves as they say. We value, nourish and cherish ourselves as His creation, but we certainly don’t need any more help looking inward.

So what is wrong with a little self-care? The entire movement is an experiment in mindlessness. Do yoga, watch a candle burn or whatever else is on that list and feel better for a minute because you are focused on that particular thing. Taking a hike usually makes me feel better. So does eating a cake-pop. Life has little pleasures that are meant to be enjoyed (without guilt by the way) and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But to look out onto the sunrise with no acknowledgement of it’s Creator? To worship and obsess over my aging body without remembering Who made me and numbers my days? Futile. Sad, actually.

I honestly believe the world has turned everything into an inward-pointing exercise and is discovering there’s not much “in there” to get very excited about. Social media leaves us empty and longing. Drugs and alcohol hold things off for just a little while and wear off. We’ve minimized our pantry and gotten rid of things that don’t ‘bring us joy’. In the name of freedom, we’ve banished all rules moral codes that held us back from enjoying our own lives. So now we try the self-care thing and see where that will take us.

But Jesus took time for Himself! Indeed He did. But not in the way the Target bag suggests.

Jesus took time to be alone with the Father, for sure, but it wasn’t under the silly guise of “self-care”… it was because He knew His very life-source was in something outside of Himself. He looked up, not in. We go to the Father because nothing in this world can fill us but Him.

The worship of self is a dead-end street. Looking inward and living for self is one of the most futile and vapid things we could possibly do. I feel like the more the world realizes this, the more rabid they get about chasing it: when one thing doesn’t work, it’s on to the next. Now we need bags and mugs and shirts to remind us that we need to love ourselves more? Ick.

No thanks. The human definition of fulfillment is not God’s. If the thought of being ’empty’ scares you, the worst thing you can do is try and fill your own cup. We don’t share a moral compass with a “me first” world, so to glean self-care tips and tricks from them is a recipe for disaster. I for one, refuse to take my cues from a bunch of people whose morality changes according to the latest political fad.

God’s kingdom works backwards from all that. When Jesus fills us up, we have an endless river of Living Water to pour out onto others. We don’t need to obsess over where our next fix is coming from. As we understand the treasure we are in His eyes, our self-care routing becomes so much bigger than our own fulfillment.

Psalm 115 talks about the ways in which we become like what we worship. The idol-maker worshipped his idols, the work of his own hands. If we just look inward at our own sinful and flawed selves, we will become more sinful and flawed. How exhausting. Love who you are in Christ, but don’t fall into self-worship.

It’s ok to talk like a Christian. We need to think like Christians too. We are new creations, image bearers of the Living God. We can love ourselves while keeping the worship on God where it belongs.

We have to get God’s words ingrained on our hearts, because the inspirational quotes are out there… and they are coming for all of us. 🙂

Unhappy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

Yesterday, our country celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent activism. Today, many are celebrating the “birthday” of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion on demand. The irony of posting “happy birthday” to Roe v. Wade is lost on many it seems, but I digress. Regardless, we stand at 60 million abortions and counting since the decision 46 years ago.

Planned Parenthood made the rather bold move of equating MLK’s civil rights struggle with the struggle for reproductive “freedom”, a statement that prompted his niece to come out and say that making such claims on his birthday was “inhuman”. They were not alone, however, as story after story posted on mainstream media this week seem to agree:

  • Abortion is about freedom. Freedom to start a family on your own terms.
  • Jesus never mentioned abortion. The Bible never mentions abortion. You can oppose choice, but claiming it’s about Christianity is baseless.
  • Most Americans support reproductive justice and safe access to abortion.
  • Abortion helps ensure that every child is a wanted child.
  • Abortion is normal.

Several articles lament the devastating effects of what happens when women don’t get an abortion. We are told that this sacred right is under attack now more than ever. The New York Times ran a story telling us all to get better prepared and more aggressive, because abortion is still not easy enough for some women. They may have to drive a few hours to a clinic. They may miss the gestation ‘deadline’ in their state be “forced” to go through with their pregnancy. Not to fear, the New York assembly will vote today to legalize abortion up until the time of birth. The Mother Jones article referenced above reminds us that when women are “forced” into having a baby, they just can’t ever catch up financially to their fellow sisters who had access to this most empowering and lifesaving procedure. Un-ironically, they bemoan the devastating effects that will last for generations. They assure the reader that over time, women who have had abortions are just fine… their children however, really pay the price from the get-go and are set up for a life of hardship. Better to never be born than to suffer financial hardship or inconvenience.

Of course, no one speaks of the effects of a culture that makes women feel they have no choice but to choose an abortion. The “me first” society in which anything goes is never to blame. We’ve somehow equated being ’empowered’ with a most un-empowering act and called it freedom. Their tagline is “on demand, without apology.” 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently that anyone who disagrees that there is a right to abortion is “not in line with where we are as a society.” 

I realize this is a topic that stretches far and wide with lasting consequences on both sides. Those staggering numbers are people’s actual lives, and as much as those parade signs implore me to be loud and proud about my body and my choice… I sink low with the heaviness of how we have created a culture so detached and so numb to anything outside ourselves and our immediate wants. I don’t sit up on a pedestal and judge women who have been through this. I ache for them to know the forgiveness and healing that only Jesus can give. But we have to surrender the empty propaganda and accept the truth of what this is really about.

The “shout your abortion” crowd calls their movement a triumph. Collectively, I think we know better than to go that far. The sacrifice they make to avoid a temporary or permanent change in lifestyle is a heavy one. Many do not regret it. Some do.

Forty-one years ago, a young woman carried me for nine months and then parted ways with me. Was it inconvenient? Yes. Was it humiliating, embarrassing and confusing? Yes. Was there a bigger picture for her to think about? Yes.

Time doesn’t make it go away. That beautiful woman still struggles. I have my little moments where the trauma rears its ugly head. When all is said and done, is she any more traumatized than the woman who chose an abortion all those years ago? I think not. As an adoptee, the lens through which I see all this is admittedly colored. But the excuses just don’t sit well with me. The frequency and ease with which this is happening should be distressing to everyone. Our self-centeredness is leading us to self-destruct.

So when a guy like Justin Trudeau has the nerve to preach to people like me with the weak argument that I’m wrong because I’m not marching lockstep with the rest of society, I take it as a compliment. History is littered with the masses making utterly tragic decisions thinking there is safety in numbers.

I realize that without a Biblical worldview, my arguments are useless. Sin wreaks havoc on the human condition, and a person without Christ can easily normalize sin. Abortion is never normal and it never will be. If our biggest fear is that we don’t have enough access to it, we need to re-examine why it is we are so thirsty for it in the first place.

The greatest human stories come from struggle. I am forever grateful that the woman who couldn’t take care of me at least had the conviction to see things through. I would argue that many women who were afraid of the consequences of having a baby have faced equally devastating consequences by not having one. Regardless, let us please instill the truth in our children and ourselves that life is never disposable. May we understand and accept that sin has consequences, but Jesus forgives and frees. He is able to take the mess we’ve created and make something good out of it. My entire life is a testimony to that truth, and if it changes just one person’s mind, if it leads just one person to the foot of the cross… it will be well worth it.

So un-happy birthday Roe v. Wade… you may be legal and even loved, but I will keep speaking up and speaking out against your disastrous consequences until you are no longer so high on that altar.

On Studying Well

Something I get asked fairly often is “how do I get to the point where I actually want to spend time in the Word and enjoy it?”

My short answer is probably frustrating and redundant: “by spending more time in the Word.”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be familiar with what God says to us. We accept the authority the scriptures, their place in history and their effect on human events. Most of us desire to gain knowledge from our study time, which is good and noble. Why then, do so many of us struggle to even want to dig deeper? We have everything we could possibly need and more at our fingertips… commentaries, books, studies, you name it. Yet we simply don’t make the time. When we do, we often stop at the knowledge part and never move on to much application.

When I was a teen, the big buzzword in our church youth group was the “devo”, short for devotional. We would carve out time every morning to do our devo, journal some verses, and dutifully pray over what we studied. I even had a notebook that was neatly divided into four sections for praise, thanksgiving, confession and requests. It was well-intentioned and helped me build a good foundation for understanding God’s word, but something was still missing.

Years go by and we grow and change, our study and understanding of Jesus and His word hopefully growing and changing with us. There are high points and low points, times when we stubbornly turn our backs on Him and moments when we run straight into His arms. It took years of spiritual rollercoaster-riding for me to finally put into place some practical steps that helped me stay connected and abiding. Realizing this was His will all along, I tasted the freedom and joy it brought and never wanted to go back. Here are some of the “big ideas” that helped me, I hope they can help you too:

  • Just be a branch. In John 15, Jesus gives us a powerful picture of our position in life. We are branches attached to the Vine. It is through constant and consistent abiding in Him that we receive everything we need to be alive and bear fruit. The burden producing fruit isn’t on us, it’s a natural occurrence to our staying connected. Branches don’t disconnect one day and reconnect the next… they simply stay connected and receive what they need. Study the branch and vine relationship!
  • Camp out in the Word. It’s easy to want to follow a chronological reading plan, and they can be useful in giving us a total overview of what the Bible is about. It is important to study the entirety of the Bible for ourselves. Often, He wants to speak a specific word to us and have us meditate on it. If we are bouncing all over the place trying to keep up with a reading plan, we can miss out. When God places a verse on your heart, don’t rush on to the next thing. Cross-reference it, look up commentary about it, journal it, and let it sink in. If it’s too hard to believe at first, that’s ok. Our job is to remain and allow Him to clarify things and change our hearts in the process.
  • Stay Thirsty. Ok, yes I realize this is a slogan from a beer commercial, but when it comes to our spiritual growth, it’s true. No matter the circumstances, we must stay thirsty for more of God. Great times should push us forward just as much as difficult times. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Once we have experienced the joy that comes from abiding, it’s only natural that we will be thirsty for more.
  • Remember Obedience. This part isn’t very fun or cozy feeling, but it must be said. The Bible is clear that life is not always going to go our way. We can’t just go around doing whatever we please and expect God to bless our endeavors. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that a condition for discipleship is denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Obedience can be a sticking point for us though, if we see it in the wrong light. We don’t obey just to get a reward, we obey because we love Him and cherish His commands. We don’t follow rules out of legalism, we do it because we are in relationship with Jesus and because He has freed us from sin so that we may obey Him. It’s a privilege and a blessing to want to live in accordance with His word. We’ll mess up, we will fall short… but when our hearts are set on following His direction, we say no to the wishy-washy rollercoaster life that gives sin such a foothold over us.

I often think that we make it too hard on ourselves. We feel so overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible studies and books and seven-step programs out there that we never really get started. We forget that God Himself is our source and He’s all we need. James 1:5 tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. How encouraging this should be for us! We can start right where we are at, with our questions and our doubts. We should actually expect Him to illuminate His word and clarify it for us.

We can’t live for very long on the spiritual experiences of others or expect anyone else to do the digging for us. The challenge (and blessing) of getting in the Word for ourselves is that we have to get our hands dirty. We must taste for ourselves that the promises are true. Once that happens, I promise you, you’ll never want to go back to a lukewarm relationship with His word.

Stay thirsty, friends.

Fear and Hustling

Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rain righteousness upon you. –Hosea 10:12

I’m no farmer, so I looked up the exact meaning of the word fallow in the dictionary after coming across this verse. It means land that is unseeded, unsown, idle or obsolete. It’s land that could be used to grow crops, but has been left alone to compact and harden. Fallow land will yield absolutely nothing come harvest time, except possibly some weeds.

Hosea is pleading with the people of Israel to get real about the sin in their lives and turn away from it. Throughout the book, he refers to them as an unfaithful harlot whose straying has wreaked havoc, causing all kinds of idolatry and chaos. This verse is an encouragement, a plea in the middle of an otherwise dreary chapter, to snap out of it and return to the God who really is on their side. Continue reading

For The Simple Folk

Reading backwards through the Psalms this morning… does anyone else have that habit of flipping through a magazine from back to front? It probably means something weird psychologically, I don’t know. I noticed some neat things when I read them from the bottom up:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” 138:8

“I have chosen the way of truth.” 119:30

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with a whole heart. You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.” 119:2-4

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” 119:11

I’m not one for ten-step programs or reducing God’s word down to bullet points, but I think there’s something really beautiful here in the Psalms and in the way they all fit together to give us a bigger picture:

We hide His word in our heart > we whole-heartedly obey Him > we choose to make His truth our truth  > He works out and perfects everything that concerns us.

So often, we read a verse like 138:8 about God working things out for us, and we shut our Bibles and think ‘well, God’s in charge!’ and move on doing our own thing. We want the end result, but aren’t willing to really dig in deeper to see what our role may be. Psalm 119 is all about Gods word and how we are to treasure it in our hearts. Without first doing that, we aren’t able to obey Him or choose truth. It follows that our obedience to His word knits us together with His will which brings us to that much-coveted outcome of Him perfecting the things that concern us. I don’t like formulas, especially when they concern our living, breathing relationship with our Creator. We are way too easily swayed by human catch phrases… but I do know that we as Christians must treasure His words to us more than anything else.

“The entrance of Your words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.” 119:130

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to know the truth, you just have to love His word and give it priority in your life. When we love what God has to say, we actually can’t help but “hate every false way” (119:104).

But we straddle fences we know we should get down off of.

We dip our toes into waters that have a potential to sweep us away.

We casually play with fire knowing full-well it could burn our house down.

And we lament the fact that God isn’t “perfecting” the things He said he would.

I saw a pretty little picture frame at a boutique the other day that read “Nothing can stop Gods plan for your life”. Is that true? In theory, yes… God is God and He has a marvelous plan, but we have choices to make that either keep us on the path or knock us off. That phrase implies we can do whatever we want and God’s blessings will still come to pass. We need only to glance around at the world to see that doesn’t work.

Yolk yourself closely with an unbeliever and see what comes to pass. Allow drugs or alcohol to rule over your body and see what happens. Keep anger and unforgiveness stirred up in your heart and show me how that little phrase can possible be true. It can’t.

God is the great redeemer of all those things and more, so let’s not think we need to be perfect or that I’m throwing any stones here. I’m saying we can really clog up the works when we don’t treasure and love what He says in His word. His mercies are new every morning, we never fall too far out of His reach. It should be our hearts greatest desire to choose Him over and over again so that we don’t have to live in a constant state of panic. We say we want a steady and blessed life, but we place ourselves too far out of bounds for that to be possible. the Bible tells us we are like sheep and our only safety lies in sticking close to our Shepherd. Wandering off to greener pastures invites disaster. He’ll come and get us, He’ll “leave the 99” (as the ever-popular Reckless Love song plays over in my head)… but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s ok to go wandering off like a dumb sheep all the time. He wants us with Him. He gave us this wonderful Word of His so that we would actually desire to stay close, sober and alert. That’s how things get “perfected” in our lives.

My girl Lisa Whittle sums it up nicely, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

“At a certain point we have to ask ourselves if we want to continue to settle for a hot and cold Jesus life and if we can really stomach one more year of the spiritual roller coaster. At some point, we have to choose to do something else. When we are truly tired of being on the spiritual roller coaster, we will do something about it. Until then, we are only a little weary and a lot on the fence. A true commitment to God is a thorough, overarching commitment over every area of our life. It’s the kind of commitment that lasts, and keeps us off the highs and lows of Christian living. Commitments to Him have never come cheap. It’s not enough to say “Yes, I accepted You as a Savior” and then go on our way. It has to be about “Today I choose You again.” And if there is to be a sacrifice in all our choosing, let us not look at the denial but at the better that has come from it. For in our love and obedience, we become grounded, steady, solid as a rock. It’s not our figuring out how to get more brace or lifting more spiritual weights by joining every Bible study we can get our hands on. It’s in the choosing of our God and choosing Him over and over again.” 

Choose Him today. Choose Him when it’s hard, love His Word more than you love your own way. God knows we are simple people, He doesn’t ask that we figure it all out, He just wants us to be all-in so He can do all that ‘perfecting’ we so desperately want and need.

These Three Things

A “JOY FUELED, OBEDIENCE-FILLED, CHRIST-EXALTING LIFE…” Jaquelle Crowe

I read this phrase this morning and it just popped right off the page at me. If I could articulate my deepest hearts desire, it would be that my kids grow up experiencing these three things. To be driven my a profound joy that isn’t based on circumstances, to desire obedience to God’s Word and ways and to live out a life that glorifies and points people to Jesus. When I think on these things, my heart nearly bursts for the hope and potential we all could experience if we surrender ourselves to the great I AM.

I keep a special little picture album tucked away in my Bible and was looking through some of them this morning. Special moments, people and places from other lifetimes seemed to leap off the page and transport me back in time. Old snapshots of my childhood mixed in with some of my boys when they were younger suddenly had me frozen with a weird kind of fear. What if that was as good as it gets? 

It’s not a very Godly thought, but it creeps up on me sometimes. As time marches on, children grow up and you face things you’d rather not. They don’t need you in the same way they used to. Some days, the best I can hope for is that they acknowledge my presence in the room with a kind-ish word. I’ve learned though that I don’t want them to desperately need me, I want them to desperately run after Jesus. My job is to point the way, but also to get out of the way and allow them to run their race. That is so much easier said than done.

I will go to the ends of the earth to help them find JOY in this dark world. I’m almost paralyzed some days with fear for what I see happening in their world. It’s no joke being a teenager these days. I try and wrap my head around it and end up in total despair. They are a generation that runs on virtual reality, instagram filters and being the best of the best. It’s an impossible and phony world. How do you make them understand the silliness of it all? How do you make them see that their worth isn’t based on what others think? There is a joy to be found in Christ that no circumstance or person can ever take away.

Without OBEDIENCE to His ways, nothing else can fall into place. While riding in the car the other day after spending time teaching some teens I said to my boys, “You guys, like 85% of your life right now is just about avoiding dumb-a#$ decisions.” Spiritual, no? I remember a time when rules and disciplines made me feel like I was missing out. The sooner we understand God’s boundaries are more like guard rails keeping us from falling off a cliff, the better off we will be.

Living out a CHRIST-EXALTING life isn’t something we have to strive for, it’s the natural outflow of His love passing through us. We exalt Him when we choose Him over the popular crowd. We honor Him by valuing what He says over what the hot shots in our culture say. Picking up our cross and laying down our idols is hard, but it’s just where we need to be.

The world mocks this kind of life relentlessly and the enemy is working overtime lying and deceiving any who will listen. He whispers to us that we are a victim… Jesus says we are heirs to His kingdom.

I have more questions than answers about all this sometimes… it seems like an insurmountable climb when so much is working against you. I’ve had to go on a news-fast just to get my emotions back in check.

Jesus had not left the building, even though it seems to be burning down.

He tells us to take heart… for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

I’m going to go write these three things down and place it on our mirrors I think. It’s not an unattainable desire, it’s what we should be living out every single day because He lives in us!

Get Your Control Under Control

I’m excited to have the chance to review Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book (to be released in a few weeks) Its All Under Control. I haven’t read it entirely through yet, but wanted to just share some thoughts on this heavy topic we all struggle with: control.

Bleh. I think if we’re honest, we all deal with this at least sometimes. From a quirky need to have the countertops sparkly all the time to stepping over the line in personal relationships out of insecurity… control can take us from freedom to bondage in a heartbeat. I love this passage she shares:

“When you are at your best, you are plugged into the limitless resurrection power of God, who pulses through you with tremendous force. God created you for great things, and when you live as one empowered, you do these things really well.

But when you are under stress, you are probably like me: running dangerously close to empty a lot of the time. It’s hard for you to tell the difference between what’s essential and what’s unimportant, so you do it all. You wrap your arms around everything, just in case. Without proper fuel, you try to generate your own strength – as if you can propel your car with your feet, like Fred and Wilma Flintstone. This leaves you worn out and calloused. You need to get your control under control.”

Ouch. Get your need to control under control. Our lives aren’t really conducive to this though, and the more we think about it or try to “let it go” be more tangled up we get. We don’t like when things don’t go our way. We squirm at the thought of being uncomfortable. So we orchestrate and we delegate. We plot and plan.

The crazy “new normal” is too much for me. I have no desire for it, yet I’m caught up in it.

Years ago I studied the topic of Biblical surrender at great length. I remember vividly learning about abiding in Jesus. We lived in Germany at the time, along the Rhine river which was full of vineyards. I need to revisit that often as life moves forward and circumstances change. We are required to hold on to some things and let go of others. Out desire to control all the outcomes has to be put down… daily.

Take up your cross… it rings in my ears a lot lately when I find myself running away from the hard things. We are called to carry our cross, but not our baggage. Here’s a huge difference. I hope to dive deeper into that as the next weeks unfold.

“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1