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?

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!

Plucking Forbidden Fruit

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 3:6

“Good intentions get the best of us, don’t they? Eve probably didn’t go into her day with a diabolic item on her to-do list. 

Prune roses. Check. 

Feed the goofy-looking animals with really long necks. Check.

Take a stroll with God around lake. Check.

Try out new fruit. Check. Usher sin into world. Check.

Neither do we go into our days thinking, I’m going to be a control freak today and make myself miserable. Instead, we go into our days with self-made edicts of love. No one is more surprised than us when we turn around and find ourselves plucking forbidden fruit from trees that we had no business touching.” Jennifer Dukes Lee It’s All Under Control.

Do you ever notice the things that most drive you crazy in others are usually the exact shortcomings or sins that you yourself struggle with? It’s not easy to admit, but the controlling tendencies in others bring out the controlling tendencies in me. It would be funny if it wasn’t so darn sad. We vow we’ll never be like so-and-so… we would never handle the situation the way so-and-so did… only to find ourselves stuck in same miry mud puddles they are in.

Since the dawn of creation, we have craved control. It can come from an innocent place or a devious one. For most of us, I’d venture to say we don’t want bad things to happen, so we clench our fists as tight as we can. That old metaphor is true though, the tighter you squeeze, the more sand falls out onto the ground.

There’s this ‘surrender’ word floating around and it sounds nice.  We sing the old hymn “All to Jesus I surrender… all to Him I freely give”… all while checking our phone and adjusting our calendars. It’s not surrender if we don’t actually lay something down.

Here comes the inevitable BUT…

BUT I can’t just throw all caution to the wind and hope it works out! I can’t just let those proverbial chips fall wherever they may! Peoples lives are at stake here! Little people, big people, work people, projects, households… ALL THE THINGS!

Ironically, surrender doesn’t mean we toss up our hands and hope for the best. That’s fatalism, and Jesus wasn’t in the business of making things overly complicated. He said to we must surrender our lives to His will. There will be a cross to carry, but it is far better than the baggage we accumulate through our stubborn and prideful control.

It’s both funny and tragic that we are often so blind to the futility of all this micromanaging. Like Eve, we think things can work out better if we can just get our hands in the mix. In the end, we just come out with sticky, dirty hands. We don’t mean to go after the forbidden fruit, but our stubborn flesh just won’t rest until it gets to have a say in everything.

Do you know what I’m learning the hard way? We don’t need to have our hands in everything in order for it to work out. Moms of teens are really bad at this at times. Ask me how I know. Every day I have to choose to let them go just a little farther out into the world. Every day I want to intervene with my big ol’ opinions. It’s not always necessary and God is faithful to remind me that I have to lay down my control and pick up my cross.

Half-hearted surrender isn’t very useful. Jesus asks for everything we’ve got, and in return, He promises to keep it and sort it better than we ever could have ourselves.

“Then He placed His right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17

Can you picture Him? Hand on our shoulder telling us not to fret. Like two giant bookends, The First and the Last is here with us and He promises to guard whats in the middle. We can trust that we don’t need to go chasing after other fruit.

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

Plastic Crosses

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“Love without a Cross has no backbone. Love without a Cross can’t stand – because it’s only about feel-good and not about being made new. While political correctness may say, “Only talk of ‘Love’ and no messy cross and maybe we’ll find one of many ways to the good life,” Jesus quietly offers: “Come to Me at the Cross, all you are heavy laden and burdened and weary and messy: I am the way to the eternal good life.” Ann Voskamp

The headlines have been screaming out lately. Mayhem, murder, chaos. It’s starting to hit the proverbial fan, and more than ever we need discernment and truth. Long story short, we have to get back to the cross. This post from Ann Voskamp this past weekend was direct and to the point. It was so refreshing. The cross is so offensive to so many. The cross reminds us that we can’t do it on our own.

She writes, “”Maybe somewhere along the line we just wanted to become people of inoffensive Love – not people of the offensive Cross?” As Christians, our job isn’t to gloss over the hard things. How often we hide the Truth we know under a bushel so we don’t ruffle any feathers.

I read another blog post on the same subject that pleaded with believers to speak kind words to one another and make the good things we do outweigh the bad. People gushed. I read through the comments, and I can assure you, I was the only one not gushing. Of course we need to do good and teach it to our children. But checking off our Christian “to-do list” isn’t our biggest problem here. There is an unspeakable evil rising up that requires more than us sticking to the Golden Rule. It requires us to surrender ourselves to the one and only thing that can defeat such evil – and that is at the foot of the cross at the feet of Jesus.

This isn’t popular, apparently. Even among believers. It’s easier to say “oh well, God is in control” and go on living in the bubble we’ve created. It’s easier not to think about it because if we do, it just might challenge everything we’ve been believing and that is pretty scary. Am I going to be ok? Are my kids going to be ok? Is this going to ever affect me directly one day? We need to look up once in awhile with clear eyes to see and ears to hear what Jesus is telling us in all this. Because all the answers are in His Word and we can’t be afraid of asking the hard questions.

The cross we are called to is rugged. It’s full of splinters and rough edges and it’s bloody and messy. But from those wounds come our healing if we are willing to stay there. In our rush to just make sure “Love wins”, we have to be careful not to take actual Love out of the equation. We’ve turned it into something it isn’t. The fake plastic crosses have to go. Yes they are smooth and nice to look at and don’t require a lot of upkeep. But they are impostors and they are holding us back. The real cross requires things of us that may not always be comfortable, but they are always right. The “good life” isn’t a life full of unoffensive, plastic crosses. The real “good life” is spent at the real Cross, with a real Jesus, dealing with real problems. Messy as it may be, offensive as it may be, that is where we will see good overcoming evil.

Far Too Easily Pleased

“The Spirit of God alters my dominating desires; He alters the thing that matters, and a universe of desires I had never known before, suddenly comes on the horizon.” Oswald Chambers

What better evidence of our being united with our Heavenly Father than when we allow Him to actually change our direction and our desires. To allow Him to alter our course is one of the most surrendered and vulnerable things we can do in our relationship with Him. “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion…” (Isaiah 30:18).

We lay all kinds of plans based on our desires. We decide what looks like the best path and we try and get God’s stamp of approval after we’ve decided how it’s going to look. When things inevitably don’t work out how we planned, we are disappointed and upset at Him. We failed to line up our will with His.

It isn’t a bad thing at all to be corrected or detoured by God! If we really desire HIS will, it can be one of the most exciting and revealing times of our lives. Those ‘fork in the road’ moments can be a highlight on our journey if we are confident that He desires the best for us. Things only go wrong when we fight against Him and demand our own way. We tend to think that His way may not be the best. We are afraid that He’s somehow holding out on us.

In my life, God has moved me to places I never thought I would be. The first time He told me to move was in college – to another state and another school I had never seen. For months I fought with everything I had to stay put. It wasn’t in the plan. Things finally got so bad and I was so exhausted, I surrendered to what He was asking me to do. It didn’t have to be that way! Once I finally obeyed, the floodgates of blessing opened. What He had in store for me at that new place was more than I ever could have imagined. So later the next year, when He moved me AGAIN (this time to a different country) I was far less resistant. I didn’t understand it, but I certainly didn’t fight it. There was blessing on the other side of obedience. His plan for me was so much better than what I had in mind for myself! My little blueprint for life was NOTHING compared to His!

Our dreams are very small compared to what God has intended for us. C.S. Lewis nailed it when he said this:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Our desires aren’t too big for God, they are usually too SMALL! What if we believed this?! What if we stopped holding so tightly to all the little things we think we need to make us happy and grabbed on to what God Himself wants for us? Our feeble little hearts desires coming into total unity with what our creator intended for us. We can’t even imagine what His thoughts and plans for us look like.  It may not be what we think. It may not even be comfortable or pretty compared to the world’s standards. But it is the best. The people who can get out of the comfort zone of their own ideas and get centered in God’s will are the people He can use. It has nothing to do with talent or ability and everything to do with our surrender.

God has a whole new world of experiences out there for every one of us that we cannot even fathom. We can never exhaust His blessings or tap out the things He has for us. It’s true that our desires are actually too small and too weak. It’s the whole idea of getting out of the boat to walk on the water. We can stay where we are and sink or we can get up and let Jesus have His way with us. The great thing is that once we make that move and place ourselves in His care, He is in charge. If we step off the path, He shows us the way back on to it. If we are off the road by a mile, He directs us back. When we start to actively pursue HIS ways and take the limits off of what we think He can or will do… that’s when the new horizon appears. Things we never could have imagined start to happen because we set our heart on making His will and our will one in the same.