Making Space for God

Laying Down Shame.

shameShame.  “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous et, done by oneself or another.”  Shame is painful.  Shame started in the garden when temptation slithered it’s slippery body into Adam and Eve’s perfect existence.  Adam and Eve said yes to the temptation and the result was immediate shame.  Out of shame, they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves.  They tried to cover their sin by hiding among the trees of the garden.  But God came after them.  Just like he did every day, God came looking for them.  He knew what had happened and He came anyway.  There were serious consequences for the choice but God didn’t want Adam and Eve to walk away laden with guilt and embarrassment so he covered them in proper garments to hide their shame.  God never intended his creation to live in condemnation

The Samaritan woman knew shame. But after she met Jesus, her shame came undone.   Jesus met the Samaritan woman at a well and a life changing conversation took place.   It always happens that way, He always finds us smack dab in the middle of our guilt and shame and meets us right where we are.  The mid-point in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is what I am drawn most to these days.  Jesus begins to hint at who he is and the woman’s interest is stirred but then that conversation shifts from focus on who he is to who she is.  “Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, I Have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.  What you have said is true”.  (John 4:16) Before Jesus could take away her guilt and shame, he had to show the woman the true state of her heart.  When God uncovers sin in our hearts it is never to shame us.  It is to save us.

The most powerful shift in my own personal spiritual walk came when God tenderly started showing me the truth of my heart and I realized that I am truly and deeply broken without Jesus.   Left to its own devices, my heart is prone to wander.  It is hard and uncomfortable at times to name my own sin but there is freedom in the practice of true repentance.  As I learn how desperately I need him, I more willingly cling to his love and let go of the perceived need to protect myself by hiding my sin.

water-jugAfter Jesus shows the Samaritan woman the brokenness of her life,  “The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, come see a man who told me all that I ever did.”  If the woman is running back to town and testifying that this man “told me all that I ever did”, she must have accepted the truth Jesus revealed and agreed with Jesus’ judgement of her life.   And what was the judgement?  Not guilty.    Despite all the ways she had fallen short of God’s perfect commandments, she was pronounced not guilty.

The same kind of freedom the Samaritan experienced is the same kind of freedom God wants you and I to experience.  If you are walking through life right now stuck in shame, please know that Jesus offers another way.  If you will allow him to show you the truth of your heart, accept his sin crushing grace, and move forward in joyful obedience, your shame will be undone, you will be unstuck and invited into freedom just like our Samaritan sister.  

Blessings,

Tracy

#greatestlovestoryevertold

Love.  Most people’s thoughts on love sort of irk me. (I know that sounds ornery, but hear me out)  It would seem that we’ve come to base our belief about love on two major ideas; shows like the Bachelor (Again ornery, I am probably the only female on the planet who refuses to watch that show, but be my friend and hang on) and our feelings.  This should concern you because this lack of knowledge is destroying marriages, families, churches and communities.  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that Christian love is different from worldly love.

3774420-bible-heart-with-crownIf we are to become more and more like Jesus, who is the exact imprint of God, and less like our old nature, then 1 Corinthians 13 serves us well in that journey.  This passage might seem so common to some that it feels almost breezy.  But when we attempt to put these ideas into practice, it is anything but breezy.  In fact, this kind of love leads to a peculiar kind of death.  John 3:16 makes clear the death this kind of love demands.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…” This Holy love led a divine man to endure the ultimate suffering for the sake of others.  The suffering of Christ tore the veil and the love of God was no longer hidden. We meet this great love at the brutal cross.   The cross represents the self-sacrificing point at which Jesus laid everything down in bloody horror for our sake and here we are invited into community with him.  To enter his death is to enter his love. We will find no greater friendship than that of Jesus, but that friendship came at a cost.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I am sure that Jesus didn’t feel like loving us as he hung in agony while so many he came to save mocked and denied him.  But he made the choice to stay and love us into

Cross-FScommunity with him.  And that is the greatest love story ever told.   I don’t see that kind of depth in the popular love of the day that is self-serving rather than self-sacrificing.

If we identify with Christ, then we cannot stop at simply receiving this love and move on unchanged.  Christ’s love begins a sanctifying work in our hearts and beckons us to begin to love others in the same way. The 1 Corinthians call to love is one that consistently dies to self for the sake of another.  This kind of love is patient when wronged, it is kind when insulted.  This kind of love celebrates another, instead of seeking attention for itself.  This love causes one to lay down his rights and standards for the benefit of another.   It’s a love that might not always “feel” easy but we love out of obedience despite the difficulty.

Jesus brought a paradigm shift to a very homogenous religion and taught that God’s love is so intense, so passionate, so consuming that it was never intended to be contained within one people but was meant to move through His people to transform the world.  The plan was for his love to reach every tribe, nation and tongue.  The plan was that His love would transcend all cultures, social class systems, and political associations.  That plan is still in place and it is this great love that is advancing His Kingdom.   Love is a powerful weapon but it is also a choice.  We can choose to love freely and wildly and allow that love to build God’s Kingdom or we can be stingy with our love by only loving those who agree with us or those who look like us and build our own kingdoms.  God gives you the choice.  But one of those kingdoms will crumble and one will remain.  What kingdom will your love build?  Let’s challenge each other to build wisely.

Blessings,

Tracy

You Are What You Eat

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Which would you rather have – a glass of milk or Filet Mignon? As adults, we’d most likely prefer the steak, but as children we would probably answer this question much differently, as our needs change throughout our life. And they should.

We all know what infants need in the early days of life – milk. It provides all that we need for a time, but eventually (actually quite rapidly) we outgrow our desire for milk. Our bodies need something more and we are ready for that something more. We begin to taste and experience new flavors and textures. We begin to long for it and as we become more fully aware of ourselves, we find we crave particular forms of nourishment.

This is true of our spiritual life as well. We first encounter Christ and receive his spirit as our own, but we aren’t ready for the depths of the mind of God. We drink milk (short stories, illustrations and foundational scripture). It tastes good, and it gives us what we need to grow in those early days. But eventually, we need something with more substance. We need more to help us grow into a fuller spiritual person in Christ, a person of maturity.
What has your journey been like? How would you categorize yourself – a spiritual person who readily receives and values biblical truth or an infant in Christ, drinking bottle after bottle of watery milk?

The Spiritual person, eats full meals of steak and potatoes.  You recognize there is somethings missing, an emptiness that can only be filled with humble yet solid food.You are sinking deeply into the sweet aroma of a satisfying friendship with your Lord and Savior.

For the newly formed Spirit, you start at the beginning, yes, with milk. Embrace this time. It’s all new and you have lots of questions and it seems there is so much to know. But enjoy, it will prepare you for God’s plan for your growing up years.

But Paul points out rather vividly in 1 Corinthians 3 for the one who is downing glass after glass for years, arguing over selfish preferences with prideful hearts, following after men instead of the Creator, beware – this is dangerous business. We may think ourselves as righteous, but there is a drifting that occurs of which we may not be aware. John Piper cautions, “Don’t drift – the current of the world will carry you away.”

For those that are Spiritually mature, be patient, encouraging, and give others what they can swallow, sometimes with a little help.

I can only speak for myself, but I’d prefer rich, flavorful food over milk any day. The small pieces of scripture and stories I learned as a child just aren’t enough. There is so much more to this knowing about God and knowing myself. And I only get to know if I dare to open my mouth and taste.

There is a banquet set for us, loaded with the best, God’s best. There is bread and there is wine, the message of Christ, crucified. It is this table that prepares us for the crucified life that leads to the fullness of the most satisfying meal.

If you want, you can taste it now. Are you hungry?

 

(In reference to 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and commentary by John Piper)

Speak Up

It is always hard to see those you care about suffer. We sometimes make mistakes that lead us down a path to a place we couldn’t have imagined before. Our intentions may have started out in the right place but we suddenly find ourselves in a mess of our own creation. Many of us have witnessed loved ones wander down a road driven by poor choice upon poor choice. Despite the best efforts and wisdom of others, arrogance and pride keep us on this path for extended periods of time. At the time, we can easily deceive ourselves into believing what we are doing will have a desired outcome. We rely too heavily on the freedoms that we have been given and fail to seek discipline in our living. Quite simply, we fall into sin. But we do not have to stay in sin. We believe in the God of redemption. The Lord who saves. And with the help of other brothers and sisters we can live with God beyond the poor choices we make.

When my wife and I first came to know Christ it was a time of many questions. Our relationship with the Lord quickly developed into a very disciplined, verging on legalistic, encounter. Our lives tended to center around what we shouldn’t be doing and what we should stay away from. While this was a time of wonderful spiritual growth as we learned more about God’s grace, I do wonder how common this type of story is with new Christians.

Over the years as our relationship grew fuller and deeper with God we found the freedom to revisit aspects of our lives that at the beginning of our relationship with Christ, we had walked away from. God had strengthened us in unimaginable ways. Friendships that had become hostile or forgotten were  rekindled full of grace. Hobbies and activities that had lost any value were enjoyable once more. We were able to experience the freedom given only by Christ. But, there have been many times since then that when we were not careful, we abused the freedom God has shown us by lacking in discipline. This is where the Corinthian church found itself at the time of Paul’s first letter.

The Corinthian church suffered from sin from within because of a misunderstanding of the freedom given by God. They possibly believed that they were free of moral constraints because of God’s grace. Paul chastises them because of their seemingly willingness to accept the sins of those within the church that even outsiders would look down upon. Paul calls them to discipline because God has set boundaries to protect them, to set them apart.

This is where we can find things in our own dealings with sin. It can be easy to fall into the thinking that the grace and freedom God has provided us allows all things. We may walk right up to the line of what we know is sin, lingering in that space for a time, but do we have the discipline in our lives to lead us back. Is our foundation firmly planted on God and his protection? While it is sometimes hard to notice when we are taking liberties with the freedom in our lives, it can be easy to overlook when our brothers and sisters are taking liberties too. Most relationships have some level of messiness in them, but do we truly care enough about each other to call each other out from time to time. It is so much easier to ignore the problems and missteps of others, as well as those of ourselves, and simply keep trudging along. But that is not what God has called us to. We are to hold each other accountable in our relationship with God and his church.

God has set us apart as his church. He has given us wonderful freedom, but he also has called us to discipline. Should we fall into sin, I pray that we would love one another enough to speak up.

 

 

Starting With A Gray Smudge

ash wednesday:

Somewhere in my little girl, growing up years, I began to believe my Baptist church was “doing it right. I placed a high value on being “right,” in my faith, overlooking and often ignoring Jesus’s plea for righteousness through him.

And so that little girl mind of mine grew up with some pretty self-righteous thoughts about what the church should believe and do. And I was going along just fine, until I fell in love with a boy whose family was Methodist on one side and Catholic on the other. I wasn’t worried, the Methodists were ok. They had a fabulous midnight Christmas Eve service.

Anyway, I married that boy, and two years later sat in a hospital with his grandma. She didn’t always know why her Catholic faith did what it did, but she followed through with it.  And so, in my early twenties, sitting with grandma while her husband had surgery on an Ash Wednesday, I was cocky and pressed into the moment, all too smug to walk away with the answer I got – she didn’t know what the gray smudge on her forehead meant.

It only confirmed what I had thought about this faith that seemed to hold Jesus at far too far a distance. And wasn’t I doing much the same? I didn’t have answers for why I did nothing to prepare myself for the remembrance of my Christ. It had never been suggested, and if it had I clearly wasn’t listening.

This day would mark the day God began to do some heavy work on my heart that continues still. That day in the hospital with grandma made a small crack in the tarnished mirror that until then, had only reflected my “right” image.

God filled my years thereafter with beautifully varied women who taught me to respect and listen to those whose worship and adoration looked different, the subtle suggestion that I might find something I was missing in the listening. Slowly I awakened to the enormity of the Trinity.

Today, I’m gratefully sinking into a time of focus, of fasting and of prayer. Although not taught to, I recognize my need to join those ancient practices of traditions, recitations and rhythms. I’m becoming more fully aware how very wise and beautiful it is to be joined in unity with other believers, returning to God through the reading of the same text, during the same season, teaching me the power of repentance and forgiveness and rightness with God first, then with those God has placed with me on this earth. And it seems completely appropriate in this time of national division and confusion that those who call Christ savior and friend would remember him together.

So even if you don’t understand it all, you can start with something. You can start with a prayer to know God in a way you don’t right now. To notice someone that needs a little help and give it without expectation. To forgive and then to forget. To live simply for forty days and be surprised at how much lighter you are, focused on Christ with clearer thoughts, attention, and devotion to the only one who deserves it. Your submission to the ways of Christ will come a little easier. And while you will may find yourself in a similar place of forgetfulness a year from now, you will also remember the sweetness of communion with your Lord, his teachings and their familiarity, his washing of dusty feet, of breaking his body, pouring out his blood, for even this very day.

In this season of returning to God, let us remember him, together, one body, one spirit. Let us learn from each other, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Let us worship him in these days, undistracted and simple.

Although I’m not Catholic, I am observing Ash Wednesday as a starting place and the forty-plus days that follow. If you want to know more about how you can observe these days more fully, I’ve listed a few resources below.

For an additional article on why Christians should observe Lent:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-lent-can-make-a-difference-in-your-relationship-with-god/

For a guide on the observance of the Stations of the Cross:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/the-stations-of-the-cross-a-devotional-guide-for-lent-and-holy-week/

To experience a silent retreat during Holy Week with a printed guide to help you:

www.sustainablefaithindy.com/

In the waiting.

Reflections on 2 Samuel 24

Is your marriage not what you’d thought it would be? Do you have thoughts in your life of this isn’t fair?  Maybe your career hasn’t taken off like you thought it would or you’re still single and pictured yourself married and a parent by now. Maybe you’ve struggled with your own health or the illness of a child.  Maybe financially you’re still struggling and you are waiting for God to rescue you from it. Waiting for Him to make it better. Bring redemption. Bring the answers. Waiting on the Lord is tough stuff. I think it gets even harder as we become a society more and more set on instant gratification and dinner served in seconds shooting out of vending machines. We are a world of conveniences. Waiting is never convenient.

In today’s passage, we see David has been promised the thrown but he has to wait for Saul’s rule to end for the opportunity. Saul doesn’t like the idea of that and is literally hunting him to put an end to his life. You would think David would be doing the same so the victory promised him could begin. But he doesn’t. He is given the perfect opportunity when Saul unknowingly comes in to the cave where David and his men are and David spares his life. Why? God had told him he will reign. Here is what makes David different. He waited. He wanted his choice to be within the realm of God’s goodness. This is what sets him apart and why God called him a man after his own heart.

David desired to stay in the will of guide for his life. His life tells us he wasn’t perfect at it but he consistently tried. When we are in the waiting we tend to do several things. One, we take matters into our own hands. We get too impatient and we do things on our own. We rely on our own power, our plan, our drive. Secondly, our own desires blur the clarity of the will of God for our lives. It becomes about us. I’ve never been this happy or this feels so right. Finally, we begin to justify our choices when we confuse the coincidences of our lives with the will of God. I remember about 8 years ago I was offered a job I had only dreamed about. It was with a ministry I loved. It was something I had prayed for. It was doing God’s work. I was sure the opportunity would never come again. Yet I felt this tug in my heart. As I looked at the hours and the work it would require and the ages of my children and demands of my family, it became clear I would not be able to do both well. is word told me to put my family first. Not my own desire. Not my own satisfaction or happiness. It was really tough at the time. I felt defeated and like I would never have the impact I’d long for. I felt like God would never be able to use me outside of my home. But my faith told me He would. My faith told me He loved me and would use me. My faith trusted His sovereignty and His timing. It was not easy. Six years later that same organization came to me. This time with a position that worked with my family.  Flexible hours even. The desires of my heart aligned with His will.

In our scripture, David was able to wait on the Lord because of 3 main reasons.  One, he trusts the sovereignty of God. Two, he believes his unrelenting love for him. Third, David abides in the word of God. Those same three things are what I had to keep my focus on 8 years ago. It reminds me of a sermon I heard from The Summit Church in North Carolina,  “ The way to achieve the purposes of God is not by compromising the commands of God.”  Pastor Tim once said that God will not ever bring to your life something that is against His word.

Do you know how easy it would have been for David to justify killing Saul?  The thrown was promised to him. So many of us would have seen him walk through the hole in that cave and thought God had handed Saul to us on a silver platter. We may have even uttered the words, it was a God thing. That wife you know that’s been unhappy in her marriage, God did not bring that handsome, kind, flirting co-worker at just the right time. Satan did.  It’s not fate. It’s temptation. God doesn’t bring things to us that will take us from His purpose, His goodness, His word, His will. God’s will always aligns with His word. Always.

To wait on the Lord we have to recognize his unrelenting love for us. We have to trust His sovereignty. We have to ensure our hopes are in His word. Then we have to lay it at His feet and wait.

~Jen Harris

Faith of the Young

I envision a crisp day, similar to the 39 that had come before it. A day that was ripe with repetition. A day that impressed on all who lived through it a sense of impending doom. A time when men lived in fear of a giant spewing forth taunts, who imposed his will with brute force and fear. But I can also envision a very young man, who has firmly placed his life in the hands of his God. A young man who was very aware of the blessings he had received. A young man who chose to fight against the seemingly impossible, because of his faith.

The story of David and Goliath is one that is probably familiar with most people in America today, regardless of background. We are drawn to the tale of the underdog  time and time again. It is seemingly weaved into our DNA. But what I think is often missed within the essence of the story is that David’s faith is what wins the day. His trust in God sustains him. There are no attributes, with the exception of his faith, that would see him live through this ordeal. This is not so much an underdog story, as it is a suicide mission. So why are we, as a people, so drawn to it?

I remember as a child hearing the story of David and Goliath on a fairly regular basis. It was always told in such a way that it was easy to mistake David’s faith for bravery. In the land of individualism a man could always succeed if he was at least brave. The idea that the young man’s actions were centered  in his trust in God came much later in life. To be honest, I think that is how we see things most of the time. We admire character and integrity, bravery and wisdom in others or ourselves, often forgetting to attribute these blessings to God.

It has always struck me in this story that David chose not to wear the armor of the king. It didn’t fit. It was not his wear. So he moved forward as God had prepared him. He did not try to be something he was not, but instead trusted that God would protect him as he was.  I believe we often try on different armors to present ourselves to the world. These armors often don’t fit, but when we shed them, give thanks to God for making us as he has, entrust our lives with him, and move forward to bless those around us, we thrive. We seek to live as God has always intended for us to live.

It is at this moment in David’s story that we marvel at his faith. We pray that we would have a faith like his that would allow us to conquer fear and bless others in the name of God. But his story doesn’t end here. In fact it is just the beginning. God continues to bless David throughout his life. David sins but he repents and returns to God. It is in his repentance that we see just how deeply his life is intertwined with God. And we marvel still.

I struggle sometimes teaching my daughter about these topics. Pride makes it very easy to take credit for work ethic rather than explaining the why of blessing. In trying to explain these sometimes extremely complicated ideas to a six-year-old I always fall back on the truth that everything we are blessed with is from God. He has blessed us with these things to in turn be a blessing to others. We entrust God with our life because he has given us life in Jesus. She often reminds me that she knows these things with her words and actions, while it is I who tends to forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He dwells here.

2-corinthians-13_5The Holy Spirit. The all too forgotten component of the Christian life. Maybe because it’s the unseen. Maybe because grasping the concept feels a lot like an adult trying to understand Minecraft. Maybe because as earthly beings we feel a bit whackadoo talking about a spirit or other dimension to this life. But oh how real it is. If we, as believers, could understand and embrace the Holy Spirit, I believe our world would be blessed in abundance. When we operate from the place of the Holy Spirit in us, instead of our own desires, urges, needs…we look like Jesus. He is present in us. He changes things. Not us.

 2 Corinthians 4:6-7  “ For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

It is a common rhetoric to hear that God is being removed from our schools, our government buildings, our social climate. If that is the case, it is our fault. They cannot remove God from me. He is God with us. We are promised the power of the Holy Spirit. At all times. So if God isn’t present in my school, at my work, in the grocery checkout line, it is because I did not allow Him to work through me. It is because of my own disobedience or lack of knowledge that He is within me. I understand the comfort that seeing the Ten Commandments may bring or a cross on a Christmas tree or the outrage it stirs in your heart if someone wants to take it down, but do not mistake a symbol of Christianity for the ever present love of Jesus. And if the love of Jesus is absent from the life around us, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions and quit pointing fingers.

“If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him in to the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing of the Kingdom of God.”  Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways

My husband works in manufacturing facility and when he started his career there 14 years ago, he was amazed at the crass language he commonly heard and how generally people spoke to and about one another. I have been with my husband for over 23 years and have never heard him say a cross word about a single person and never heard him curse. Never. In 23 years. Stubbed toe? Nope. Idiot in traffic? Nope. Nail to the thumb? Not then either. Not that I think everyone cusses but I do think most people have let one fly here or there once in their life. Anyway, I digress. We would pray that He could represent Christ in the way he carried himself. That the Holy Spirit would work through him. And he did. Gradually the conversations around him began to change. When his staff would come to him to complain about another he would ask if they had spoken to that person about it first. When another manager started cussing in frustration over a project, my husband told him that he was happy to talk with him when he calmed down and was respectful. Then he simply walked off.  Sometimes my husband is blissfully naïve to the reactions around him. When he told me what he’d done, the reactions played like a short film in my head. Some ending in tragedy and other’s comedic. He would ask his employees about their family, encourage and support them. He treated them like they mattered to him. The point is, the way my husband carried himself, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, in those instances and others changed the environment around him. Each of us have that power. Each of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to impact the world around us.

I am the mother of 5. My mood sets the tone in my family. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fair and is burdensome but what a responsibility God has entrusted to me. The days I allow the Holy Spirit to lead me are the days we work well. The days there is joy in my home, love, patience, goodness.  The days I do things on my own, out of my emotion, mind, my own free will…the result is what some might call #momfail. I cannot love my family well depending on my own faculties. I have to tap in to the power of the Holy Spirit. I have to be in prayer and tuned in.  My children will not have a relationship with God because they saw their Dad study the Bible or because we forced them to church every Sunday. They will not love God because of the lecture we give or because they aren’t allowed to watch R movies. They will love God, they will know God because they felt Him in our home. Because they saw the Holy Spirit filter in forgiveness, redemption, mercy, grace, love.  Not because their parents are good. Because God is good.   “In a very real and sobering way, we must actually become the Gospel to the people around us-an expression of the real Jesus through the quality of our lives.”   Alan Hirsch,  The Forgotten Ways  

It is impossible to watch the news and not feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and absence of Jesus. Don’t even start to read comments on social media to any news article or you will lose faith in humanity for sure.  It may scare you or even anger you. I get that. But friends, we are the answer. We are God’s plan. Christ in us is the hope of the world. It is up to us. If we want Jesus in our world, we better bring Him. Colossians 1:27 “ To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit is alive in you. He dwells here. Allow Him to get to work. Our world depends on it.

 

~Jen Harris

Other scripture studied:

Galatians 2:20  My old self has been crucified with Christ.[a] It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 3:17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

 

Balance in the Whole

At the dawn of a new year one has a tendency to make resolutions and set goals. These resolutions or goals seem to always focus on an aspect of our life that we felt like we were lacking in during the previous year. We may place a spotlight on one part of our lives with the hope that one thing will bring about the enrichment of our lives as a whole. This is not a bad thing. Often a goal in one branch of our life does bring growth in others, but it can also leave us shortsighted and un-balanced. It can be like a body-builder who only trains their upper body. In the end you get the massive arms with chicken legs. I believe when we strive for balance in all aspects of our lives we truly begin to see amazing results. This is especially true in our relationship with God and his church. We each have a unique gifting but when we focus solely on that we cease to grow in other areas. We lose sight of God’s entire perfect vision for his church and we break it down into smaller departments and pieces. We can miss the forest for the trees.

In the very early stages of my coming to know Christ it became very easy to inadvertently define the process by focusing on certain things that I needed to do in order to become a good follower. I needed to pray more, stop doing certain things, read my bible as much as I could. And while these are good things on the surface they missed the true meaning of knowing Jesus. The why aspect was very vaguely understood but never completely grasped. These are the things that a Christian does so this is what I must do to know God. A Christian spends time in prayer and reads their bible. They help others and tell them about Jesus. Some day they eventually go on a mission trip. Looking back, it was a very compartmental, extremely basic surface level understanding of what a Christian is. Later thanks to the grace of God I gave myself to Christ and the faint surface level understanding began to fade away. This new living relationship put the pieces together. All of these conditions were pieces of the whole. The understanding came from knowing that I was loved so much by God that he gave his only son. That I could walk with God because I had been reconciled through Jesus. That missions, prayer and bible study weren’t simply departments within the church but an all-encompassing relationship with our creator.

Paul speaks of this exact reconciliation in 2 Corinthians  5:17-19.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave

us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ 

God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses

against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

The message, vision and hope of the church is within these lines. God the father has propitiated us through Christ. Our relationship with Christ is a blessing of reconciliation that becomes our mission to the world. It is our way of life. The small pieces of the whole come together and begin to fit together supporting each other. We no longer simply look at different aspects of our relationship with Christ we see the relationship as a whole.

This follows in our church life as well. We no longer only focus on the separate aspects of the church but we see it as a whole. Each piece fitting together supporting each other to reflect God’s message of reconciliation to the world. We find our balance not in looking at the pieces, but in looking at the whole.

Embracing our Story

We are about to enter a New Year. And there is a temptation to treat this as a blank page, completely re-writing our stories. We want to shed all that makes us ashamed and seek after that which might make us more confident. And while it is good to start fresh and new, and I am certainly planning on doing so, how can we enter into this year while embracing where we are and how we got here? 

I was asked to blog this weekend, and it ended up being the same weekend that my husband Tom was scheduled to preach. I started this post while on a retreat in July, and since it ties in to Tom’s message, I decided to edit and post it for the blog. Below is a snippet of our infertility and health journey. I pray that it helps you contemplate and feel more comfortable within your own story.

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It was 2008, and we were living in Pasadena, California. Our ministry in Texas had fallen apart, and we had moved to California so Tom could attend Fuller Seminary. Everything had fallen into place with our move, but I was still bitter. Bitter that our friends back in Texas were able to carry on with their lives while we had to start from scratch. They were able to settle down and buy houses within a familiar community, while half my paycheck was going toward the rent on our tiny lopsided home on Rio Grande Drive. This wasn’t supposed to be a part of our story; our dreams had foreseen something different. I now think back fondly to our precious little house on that sunny street, but it wasn’t the story I would have written for myself.

Rio Grande Drive, Pasadena, California

We were walking through the mall one day, and Tom said to me, “If I can’t lose this weight, I think I should have weight loss surgery.” This irritated me, because of course he would lose the weight. He was strong and disciplined and he was excelling at his classes at Fuller. Of course he could figure out a way to lose the weight! And so I responded with something I knew would affect him in the same way his statement had affected me: “I think we should see a fertility doctor.”

It worked. Tom was sure we didn’t have fertility problems. We hadn’t been trying very long, we weren’t even really trying– we were fine. But just like he knew that weight loss would require more than diet and exercise for him, I knew we weren’t going to get pregnant easily. Yet neither of us were willing to admit that this sort of medical intervention would be part of our story.

Tom and me in Santa Monica, 2011

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In February of 2015, we had our daughter, Abbie, the result of a year of fertility treatments. And the next month, Tom underwent gastric bypass surgery. As he was about to go under the knife, he wasn’t concerned about the fact that most of his stomach and about a foot of his large intestine would be cut away, he was just worried that it wouldn’t work. What if this was just like all the other diets, the diets that, despite our initial optimism, only got him so far in his weight loss journey?

Tom and Abbie

But 230 pounds later, Tom is now training for his second half marathon. In November, he ran the Monumental with team World Vision and actually enjoyed it. While he trained for it, we would load Abbie into the jogging stroller and go on a family jog (or GOG, as Abbie calls it). And as we jogged, I would think about how impossible this would be without the medical intervention we received. We are jogging with our daughter!

Monumental Half Marathon

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While we hope our stories will be more simplified and our miracles more instantaneous, they often aren’t. Tom and I have not entered many life stages with ease, and I am often jealous of those who seem to breeze through life, easily obtaining what we climb over mountains to find. And yet our story has made us who we are. We are very different people than we were in 2005 when we married, wiser and more refined, more hesitant to claim the answers to every problem. Our story has shaped us into more compassionate people, more attuned to the struggle and suffering around us.

Our stories never feel as refined or beautiful as those around us, but they are our story. A story meant to be lived and embraced and shared. And I want to wear my story well. I want to sit in it and know it and be comfortable in it. And I want to be able to hear other stories and receive them with joy and grace, without feeling the need to compare them to my own.

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It’s often not until we embrace our story that we can find our redemption. I pray that we would all embrace our place in life and strive to do our best with the tools we’ve been given. May we begin this new year in a state of willing receptivity to all He has prepared for us, embracing both our past and the possibilities for our future.