Lies I Tell Myself

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I’ve been thinking a lot about a little word called justification lately. And not the good kind of justification where Jesus takes away our sins and makes us right in his eyes. The kind that whispers, “Well, it’s not so bad if I tell a little white lie. It’s harmless. I’m not really hurting anybody.” I’m talking about the excuses I make that let me take the easy way out and ignore the hard things that demand a higher standard in my life. That’s what my justifications are, excuses designed to allow me to do whatever I want to do which is usually completely out of line with what I know God wants from me.

What got me thinking about this, you might ask? I was recently confronted with the knowledge of something that caused my heart to grieve and I kept wondering, completely puzzled, “How could this person even think that what they’re doing is okay?” I just couldn’t wrap my head or my heart around it. I thought, surely they know better! And then I felt the Holy Spirit drop this word–the subject of this blog– justification into my heart. See, we can almost always come up with ways to justify our actions, even truly ugly ones, and the Holy Spirit reminded me that I do it all the time. Um, ouch!

When we were living in India as missionaries one of the things I justified, big-time, was my lack of compassion for people on the street. Whenever I felt a tiny nudge to reach out to a beggar I usually reasoned, “Well, I can’t make any sort of real difference. Since I can’t change everything, I should probably do nothing. This problem is just way too big for me. I don’t have the resources or the time to do anything significant.” Or at least that’s what I convinced myself was true. What I was really saying is, “I don’t want to do anything, stopping to help this person would be too inconvenient for me.” I’m ashamed to admit that the more I told myself those lies the more I believed them, until one day I found I could walk by people, dirty, destitute and broken, and not bat an eye.

1 John 3:16-17 (The Message) says: “This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why  we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

Justification allowed me to read that verse and say, “The number of people in need that I see on a daily basis is staggering, surely God doesn’t really mean this! I would drive myself crazy trying to live this out on the streets of India!” And just like that I could conveniently ignore it and dismiss it as too extreme and definitely too hard. I just want to say that is a scary place to live, picking and choosing the commands you want to follow, a place I no longer want to live in, and I’m sorry that I lived in it as long as I did. Truly sorry. I weep over the opportunities I missed, the people I could have helped, over the times that I made God’s love disappear in a place that desperately needed it to be tangible and visible. I truly hope you don’t relate to my story, but if you do, it’s not too late to change! Are you making excuses to justify disobedience? Ask God to help you change; he will!

Let me know what you think! Drop me a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Gray Space

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Photo Credit: ChadMT via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

I’ll admit I often see things as either black or white. Right or wrong, with little space for anything in between. Life is easier that way. Everything in a neat little box, no pesky loose threads to deal with. But lately I’ve been thinking about the gray space.  That nuanced space where a soul is leaning towards God, hungry for something they can’t quite put their finger on, but they haven’t yet made the leap into his arms. What about that space?

How do we, as followers of Jesus, participate in that sacred space that exists between the moment someone feels the tug of God on his or her heart and the moment they decide to surrender to his love? Because how we choose to participate matters. Our response can turn people towards God, or against him. Unfortunately, many people outside of the love of Jesus also feel unloved by and unwelcome in the church. How do we change that? How can we create an environment that says, “You are welcome and loved here,” and yet encourages people to confront their sin, because we all need to, don’t we?

Too often as Christ-followers we’re offended or surprised when unsaved people talk or act–well–unsaved.  Offense doesn’t do anyone any good. Not you, not them–no one. I become pretty unloving and unkind when I’m offended, and I’m guessing it doesn’t do anything lovely for you either. The results are usually pretty ugly.  God alone has the right to be offended, and yet he chooses to forgive. What a powerful way for us to show the love of Jesus–by choosing not to be offended.

A friend of ours, a pastor in a large city, welcomes people who don’t yet know Jesus to be a part of the worship team at his church. He feels this is a great way to surround them with people of faith and whet their appetite for God. Other people would argue that it’s counter-productive to have unsaved people on the worship team, because the team is meant to be the ones leading people into the presence of God. I understand the argument for both sides.  But how we respond and react to an opportunity like this has repercussions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. More than anything, I love that our friend was willing to think outside the box, wrestle with the question, and then do what he thought Jesus would have him do–despite how others might react. Is this a way for us to participate in the gray space and draw someone closer to Jesus?  Maybe. It’s definitely something to think about.

Have you ever wondered what God saw in you before you knew him? As his followers, are we able to look for those same things in others, who don’t yet know him, and encourage, not squash, them?  It’s easy to label, pigeonhole, and typecast an individual and then dismiss them based on those assessments. But is that what we want–easy? Nothing about Jesus transforming a life is simple, but it is incredible, and something I want to be part of in any way I can.

I asked a lot of questions in this post because (dah, dah, dah, dah–drumroll, please) I don’t have all of the answers (you’re shocked, right?) :). These are just questions that I wrestle with, and I thought maybe we could work through them together.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Worth it?

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Photo Credit: Éole via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

I had a theological discussion with my plumber last week.  As he was bent over my porcelain commode he explained that he had been raised in a very traditional religious environment, one that he still faithfully adheres to.  But he looked at me and said, “Reading the New Testament, I saw all of these people willing to give their lives for the Gospel, and I thought I must be missing something because I’m not willing to do that.”

His words stopped me cold.  It reminded me of a question that’s been looming in the back of my mind, a question that makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I’d really rather not answer.  Am I passionate enough about Jesus that I would literally lay my life down for him and his message?

It’s an easy question to dismiss sitting here in the comfort of my leather chair with blankets tucked tight around me and snow swirling outside my window.  Without any thought or contemplation I would flippantly answer, “Yes, of course I would.”  But when I really think about it, about the way I live my life, my real answer, not with my words, but my actions and attitudes, has been no.

I hold things back.  I decide what’s most comfortable or safe for me and my family.  In general, I give very little thought and devote even less prayer to asking Jesus what he really wants from me because I might not like his answer.  I want to do what’s most convenient and comfortable for me. 

It’s very easy for those of us who “give our lives” to serving Jesus in a church setting here in America, where we don’t face the daily reality of martyrdom that some followers of Jesus do, to forget how high the stakes really are, about the level of commitment that Jesus calls us to and why (hint: it’s because he’s crazy in love with us and wants us to love him that way too).  Please understand, I’m not belittling the American church at all.  But I do believe that God is calling us to a deeper love that will happily sacrifice anything we can to get closer to him and to draw others towards him as well.

I’m learning he is worth so much more–of everything that I have, my time, my money, my talents–than I can ever give.  But that’s not going to stop me from trying to give it.  I want my words and my actions and attitudes to scream, “Yes, I’ll give it all–whatever you ask!”  Because he is so worth it!

Have you asked yourself that same question?  Would I really give my life for Jesus? 

What is your honest answer? 

 

Confessions of an Imperfect Christian–#6

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Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

So…I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to write this blog post.  In fact, I haven’t wanted to write it for about a week now :).  I started reading Francis and Lisa Chan’s new book You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity, and it’s wonderful!  Really good stuff, I highly recommend it.  But round about page 116, I started to get a little bit uncomfortable.  He said, “Christians in America have become experts at conviction–and failures at action.”  He went on to talk about an article that he read about people that weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds and that it made him think of the church.  Interesting line of thought, huh? 🙂  Chan went on to say:

It (the article) reminded me of a lot of people I find in the church.  They are fed more and more knowledge every week.  They attend church services, join small group Bible studies, read Christian books, listen to podcasts–and are convinced they still need more knowledge.  Truth is, their biggest need is to do something.  They don’t need another feast on doctrine.  They need to exercise.  They need to work off what they’ve already consumed.

Yikes!  I don’t know about you, but that hit me hard.  As someone who grew up in church every Sunday and Wednesday I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge.  But often I don’t apply it, especially the hard stuff (and boy did Jesus have some difficult things to say, definitely counter-cultural!).  I read those passages and think Whew, that sounds really hard, surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to do that?!  And I give myself a pass.  The trouble is, he actually means what he said!  Well, it’s trouble for me, not for him! 🙂  And the good news is that he’s promised that he will do it through me if I will just allow him!  So today I’m praying that God will help me to examine my heart and stop ignoring the difficult things he’s asked me to do, and submit to his promise to work through me.

Is there anything that God has been speaking to you through his word that, like me, you’ve been ignoring because it seems too difficult or painful? 

Confessions of an Imperfect Christian–#4

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Photo Credit: mikebaird via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

Confession #4: I Don’t Trust God

T-r-u-s-t. Five simple letters spelling out a very risky and complicated idea. Some synonyms for trust are: certainty, assurance, and confidence. Right there, with those words, is where things started getting a little muddled for me. Did I feel confident, assured, and certain when it came to God? Not so much. I mean, he’s God, he doesn’t have to operate the way we do. He’s unpredictable. A mystery. And I didn’t understand the way he worked. When everything that I cared about was on the line, and the stakes were high, (for more about this read Holy Doubt) I realized that I didn’t trust him. I thought I did. But I didn’t.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the root of my distrust could be traced to my understanding (or lack of understanding) of God’s character. The problem wasn’t with God, it was with my view of him. I didn’t believe that he had my best interest at heart or that he truly cared about what was going on in my life, and sometimes I thought he sent trouble and suffering my way just to “teach me a lesson,” like some sort of twisted schoolmaster. And when life was good I was always waiting, with bated breath, to get what I deserved and have it all snatched away.

I’ve been reading the Gospels over and over in an attempt to “see” Jesus as the Bible says he really is, as opposed to how I’ve been taught or what I’ve always believed. What I’ve found has been eye-opening. While Jesus usually didn’t do the easy thing, or sometimes even the most likable thing, he truly cared! About us. He healed, forgave, and wept over us! This Jesus that I’m finally “seeing” is worth putting my trust in. I now see that even though God makes beauty from the ash in our lives, it doesn’t mean he sent the fire.  And that makes all the difference.

 

 

To Be or Not to Be…It’s Not Really a Question

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Photo Credit: __MaRiNa__ via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

Have you ever found yourself “working so hard for Jesus” that your attitude went sour and you suddenly realized that you resented everything you were doing. I have. I’ve run around like a cat with a bag clip clamped on it’s tail “doing things for Jesus,” only to realize that I was really doing them for me–for my glory. So someone would look at me and say “Wow! She’s amazing. Look what she’s doing.” And Jesus kind of got lost in the chaos. I’m not sure how well I was really representing him, and our relationship was certainly suffering. Unfortunately, I’m so hard-headed that it took moving to the other side of the world and having all of my “ministry opportunities” stripped from me to understand this.

So the question of the day is: Is it okay to “be” in relationship with Jesus instead of “doing” things for him? Culture sometimes says no, but Jesus says yes. When we are “being” children of God everything else falls into place. Jesus makes it simple. He only asks two things from us. Love God and love people. That’s it! But we can’t do either of those things well if we’re too exhausted from “serving” him to think straight.

There is a freedom and a joy in discovering what God really desires from you, and knowing that he has no intention of wearing you out and bringing you to the brink of exhaustion and burnout. Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message–emphasis added)

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an excuse to do nothing. But “being” is about who we are–not about what we do. When who we are comes from living in vibrant relationship with Jesus good things flow out of us, and for the right reasons. There is a verse in Galatians about this that rocked my face off. Paul wrote, “The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.” (The Message–emphasis added) Wow! I couldn’t say it any better.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that when I enter into the things that God is doing for me I’m not exhausted and burnt-out, I’m rejuvenated and recharged.  God delights in seeing us use the things we love and the gifts he’s given us to glorify him. I’ve found that saying no to some things (even good things), so I can be free to say yes to what Jesus is really asking of me, allows me to love God and others more powerfully and truly.

Is there anything heavy or ill-fitting that you’ve put on yourself that Jesus is inviting you to relinquish?

What have you given up that brings you joy because you’re too busy to pursue it anymore?

What is God arranging for you? Are you ready to embrace it?

Is it Wow Worthy?

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One of the world's wow-worthy monuments

One of the world’s wow-worthy monuments

This goes out to all my fellow friends involved in various types of ministry.  I would love your feedback on this one (really, I’d love your feedback on anything I write, but I really want to hear your thoughts about this).

I’ve been reading Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing.  In the first few chapters he talks about the necessity of creating a product or experience that is wow-worthy.  He spends most of his time dissecting products/experiences in the corporate realm, but it got my mind spinning off towards ministry and the how and why behind what we do.

As ministers and Christ-followers we have the most wow-worthy message around–Jesus–but sometimes we don’t present him in a manner that wows.  Instead, we settle for mediocrity and excuses for why we can’t do better (when I say “we” I am definitely including myself, in fact my excuses generally pander to my technophobia–Argh!).  There’s not enough money, people, time….and the list goes on and on.  If we’re honest, we’d admit there’s never going to be enough of those things, so there could be no end to our excuses.  While all of those things can certainly be barriers telling us what we can’t do, we can’t let them keep us from asking what we can do.  When I read Hyatt’s solution it was so simple it was genius!

He suggested evaluating two things.  What are people’s expectations when it comes to your product or service?  And how can you exceed those expectations?  Pretty simple, right?  Just two questions.  But sometimes simple is exactly what I need to start thinking practically instead of just theoretically.  It’s the jolt of electricity I need to get me moving in the right direction.  If you break every detail of what you do down into its component parts and evaluate them through those two lenses what do you see?  It’s not rocket science, but it has the potential to be just as revolutionary.

What are some expectations that people have when they encounter the ministry you’re involved in?

What are some specific ways you can exceed their expectations?

What might be the result?

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments