Christian Living

What’s God calling you to do?

Apparently, I’m in the middle of a series on faith 🙂 Or at least, when I was praying about what to write about today, more about faith came up.

Last week, I talked about how faith isn’t mustering up feelings and it’s displayed via action. This week, I’ve been thinking about how faith responds to God’s Word. For those of you who don’t know, July is Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s similar to NaNoWriMo (write a novel during the month of November), but the goal is a little more flexible. I was looking at the entry requirement and decided I don’t want to do it. Of course, afterwards, I was struck by, um, not-buyer’s remorse. I know God’s called me to write, and I do have word count goals for each day. I have a goal for finishing my fantasy novel this year (or at least the first 400,000 words). Not really sure how that’s going to work. But! I have other callings too: taking care of my darling children, getting healthy, and working on a super awesome new project with my husband.

My husband, Evan, reminded me that writing, for me, is about working on it faithfully–not about getting 50,000 words written in a month, as amazing as that would be. That’s obeying God’s call to write. And that’s how you know whether you have faith in God’s Word–if you obey it.

I love this quote by Beth Moore: “Self-deception slithers in when we mistake appreciation for application or being touched with being changed… it’s not until the hearing turns into doing that believing leads to blessing” (James, 78-79)

I often struggle with whether I believe God’s Word or not. I agonize over whether I’m obeying it the right way. It’s probably a result of growing up in a shame-based family system where nothing was ever good enough–maybe you can relate. Jennifer Kennedy Dean talks about how obeying God comes from trusting that He’s a good communicator rather than trusting our ability to hear. God is big enough, powerful enough, etc., etc. to be able to communicate past our misconceptions.

It’s like when I tell my kids something and then they apply it incorrectly. For instance, if I tell them to put away all the clean dishes and they respond by emptying the dishwasher, I will gently remind them that “all the clean dishes” includes the hand-washed dishes as well. As we work to apply God’s Word, He corrects us.

The problem is when we don’t apply it. As Beth Moore said, it’s easy to deceive ourselves. We hear a sermon or a verse and think how amazing it is–much like looking at a beautiful painting and recognizing the beauty. Just because we can see that it’s a life-changing principle, that doesn’t mean we’ve applied the principle. Application is the doorway to God’s blessings–not appreciation.

And it is worth it! God’s blessings are amazing and worth the pain of obedience. I think it’s easy to focus on whatever we’re losing in obeying and forget all the blessings on the other side of obedience. Like we were talking about last week, faith is about the “who,” not the “what.” Our who is a God who loves to lavish good gifts on His children and works their best in every situation (James 1:17; Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:11)! If this is something you struggle with, ask God for help. It took me ages before I really believed that God had my best interests at heart. I’d never had someone who cared about me that way. Our pasts don’t have to handicap us–we can ask God to transform us.

So what about you? Anything that you “believe” but aren’t doing? Anything God’s told you to do that you’ve assented to without actually putting into practice? Or maybe you’re like me, and you just need to let go of the fear of mishearing God and trust Him to communicate well.

Faith is more than assent–after all, the demons believe in God and shudder (James 2:19). It’s about what we do. Let’s step through that doorway and get the treasures God has for us on the other side.

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Christian Living

Planting a Seed

Yay! It’s been warm around here lately! Winter and I are not friends. Well, I guess I should say the lack of sun and I are not friends. The days when it’s sunny or snowy, I’m good. All the endless days of gray around here I’m not so good with.

Spring = planting in my brain. I’m always so amazed by seeds. They look so small and usually unattractive. But plant them in the ground and they become something beautiful. In John 12, Jesus talks about how seeds die. You plant them and the seed goes away and turns into something else–a plant.

I’ve talked before about being a good receiver. I love Beth Moore’s story about how she realized the difference between eating the seed and planting it. An aid worker in a third-world country talked to her about how hard it is to keep people from eating their seeds instead of planting them. Planting the seed involves a death, a loss, a surrender of something.

A few months ago, I was reminded that that’s how things are in our lives too. Sometimes we have to give up something–sometimes it’s something we really love–but it’s not a true loss. God takes our sacrifice and turns it into something else: a plant. Something that’s more beautiful and larger and amazing than we can imagine when we look at the seed.

I know there are things that I hang onto that I don’t want to let go. It’s hard to let go of something precious on the promise of something better to come later, isn’t it? Better a bird in the hand than two in the bush, as they say. But I’ve realized that God’s best is always better than anything I can imagine and so worth the loss of my seed.

What do you need to let go of and plant?

Christian Living

Self-Control is saying “Yes”

So who got the “Self-control is saying, ‘no,’ self control is saying, ‘that’s enough'” song in your head when you read my blog title? Oh, well, I did 🙂

I’ve been working my way through the week on self-control in Living Beyond Yourself. I have to say, I’m enjoying it way more than I thought I would. Not that it’s a bad topic, but sometimes I get frustrated with the shaming that often comes in Christian circles over lack of self-control.

I loved that Beth Moore talks about how self-control isn’t something we can develop because it’s fruit of the Spirit. We can practice surrendering to the Holy Spirit, but we can’t get more self-control, if that makes sense.

But the main thing that hit me was that a lot of the time, self-control is about saying “yes” to something more important. We do need to guard what’s been entrusted to us, to put borders around our calling (2 Tim. 1:14). We do need to create margin and space for us to be able to be the people we’re called to be and do the things God’s prepared in advance for us to do. Like I’ve said before, if we’re rushing and too busy, we literally don’t have space in our lives to love. And putting borders up does mean saying “no” sometimes.

In one of this week’s lessons, Beth Moore contrasted Samson (Judges 13-16) and Daniel (Daniel 1:1-21; 6:1-28). Samson’s life was characterized by a lack of self-control. He indulged himself all over the place, despite being called to keep a Nazarite vow. Daniel was characterized by self-control. He refused the king’s food and had a rich spiritual life as well as living in such a way that nobody could find anything wrong and he could tell the king that he’d never wronged the king–pretty amazing!!

The thing that really hit me though was how Samson’s lack of self-control weakened him. I don’t know about you, but the times when I lack self-control are often when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want a break. Twelve-step isn’t joking when they talk about “HALT” and not making decisions when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I let myself lack self-control and instead will binge read or some other activity to try to manage my stress.

The crazy thing is that that lack of self-control a) weakens me instead of helping me be less stressed/overwhelmed/tired and b)is a symptom of a different lack of self-control. I lack self-control in taking breaks and resting. If I’m healthy enough to push through my day, I do it until I collapse. I’ve been really convicted lately that I need to create margin in my life in order to do anything well. And part of creating margin, is being self-controlled about taking breaks when it’s time to take breaks.

So, self-control isn’t just about saying “no”–it’s about saying “yes” to the things that are more important. “Yes” to creating margin. “Yes” to our callings. “Yes” to following God. All those “yeses” actually end up being way more fulfilling and restful than a constant “yes” to whatever we crave on a moment by moment basis.

So how can you put borders around your calling? And what can you say “yes” to that you’ve been neglecting?

Christian Living

Fruit of the Spirit for Ourselves

Hey guys! How’s your year going? Everybody on track to work on their goals?

Somewhere recently (probably in Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself), I read this great statement about how the Bible doesn’t address self-love in depth because it’s just not conceivable to the authors that a person could not love themselves.

It’s so interesting, isn’t it? We live in a world where a lot of people have self worth issues–and I’m not talking about pride issues or anything along those lines. I’m talking about honestly believing that you aren’t worthwhile or that the world would be a better place without you. Kinda makes you wonder what it is about our society that creates that sort of environment.

Jesus commands us to love others as we love ourselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about how intertwined those two things are: you really can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself. But you also can’t love yourself if you aren’t loving others. Loving ourselves is that whole “put your own oxygen on first if the plan is crashing and then help others”–we need to take care of ourselves so that we have the resources to love others. On the flip side, truly loving others actually creates resources in our own lives.

Anyway! I was convicted that I don’t do a good job of applying the fruit of the Spirit to my own life–so often, I focus on how to be patient with others all the while being impatient with myself or on how to be gentle with others when I’m harsh with myself. I think that the same way we apply loving ourselves as a natural yin to the yang of loving others, we need to apply the fruit of the Spirit. God is patient with us–so why aren’t we patient with ourselves? God is kind with us–why aren’t we kind with ourselves?

 

Christian Living

Loving Peace

So as I’ve mentioned I’m working my way through Beth Moore’s James study—I really can’t believe it’s been five years since I last did it! Time seriously flies. Anyway, recently I found myself wrestling/praying through these verses:

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (NIV)

I want this kind of wisdom. Far too often, I feel like I have no clue how to handle various things in my life. I want God to tell me what the best thing to do is. The bit that hit me was the peace-loving section. Recently, I’ve had a couple people question the distance I have in one of my relationships in particular. Frankly, it’s not a popular decision to cut contact with someone. And, obviously, I’m not recommending anyone do that unless you’re in an abusive situation or you’ve spent a bunch of time praying about it and God gives you some clear direction. And if you haven’t tried to fix the relationship via the Matthew 18 stuff, I’d be hesitant to jump to cutting contact.

So as I’ve been praying about it, I’ve wondered if I’m not being peace-loving. It’s interesting how tempting it is to define peace as an absence of conflict. The advice I’ve been given (and that I think is given far too often in the Church) is to forget what that person did so that the conflict will be over.

One of the things I’m really passionate about is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is when you let go of what the other person did. You trust that God will take care of the offense and you move on with life. It only involves you and God. It’s about your heart. Reconciliation is when both parties work to fix the relationship by each identifying and acknowledging the wrong they’ve done and working to not do it again.

If someone is not trustworthy, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you trust them. It means that you don’t hang onto the wrong anymore—praise God that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can do this! I love that we have a God who is faithful to right wrongs. I love that we can forgive people and move on with our lives instead of being stuck in the past by our bitterness. God’s way of doing relationships is just so amazing to me.

Anyway, as I was praying about what it means to be peace-loving in this context, something struck me: peace-loving equals loving true peace—not giving into denial or sweeping things under the rug. Peace-loving doesn’t mean an absence of conflict. Real healthy relationships require dealing with the things that actually happen. See, reconciliation is a process that requires both parties to own up to their mistakes and then to become better people—it’s a huge growth process. Being peace-loving means being willing to actually go through that process. Being peace-loving means acknowledging your problems—after all, wisdom from above is first of all pure. Like Jesus says, you can’t help someone with the speck in their eye unless you take the log out of your own first.

I’ve been told that holding out for true reconciliation is actually holding onto bitterness but, after studying this passage (and some others like Matt. 18, 1 Cor. 5 & 2 Cor. 2:5-11), I disagree. In my experience, if you “resolve” the conflict by pretending the problem wasn’t there or by taking all the blame for it, nothing actually gets solved and the conflict comes back up the next time a similar situation happens—probably because neither person is dealing with how they need to change.

Real reconciliation takes two. You can’t reconcile with someone who’s unwilling to deal with the problems. And real reconciliation is the kind of true peace that forces us to grow and leads to righteousness.

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The Benefits of Temptation

I really love going back through familiar passages and learning something new, don’t you? It’s so fun to see something I’ve never noticed before. I’m doing Beth Moore’s James study again, as I’ve mentioned. James is a book I’m pretty familiar with. It’s always good for a kick in the pants when I need it 🙂

Anywho, recently I was struck by James 1:13-18: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Temptation. It’s something we talk about in the Church. What’s your first thought when you hear that word? I don’t know about you, but my first thought is of something to avoid. Temptation means something enticing that I shouldn’t indulge in.

Totally true, of course. But I think there’s a deeper truth that we’re missing out on. See, temptation isn’t just something to avoid–it’s a window into our souls. Yes, we should definitely not entertain temptation–that’s the allowing ourselves to be enticed–but I think there’s a place for examining our temptations. In her study, Beth Moore quotes Dr. K.A. Richardson, who says that “evil desire” can be translated “deformed desire” (James: Mercy Triumphs, 59). Stop and think about that for a minute–it’s not necessarily an evil desire, it’s a deformed one.

It struck me that a deformed desire implies that there’s something good there that’s been twisted or warped. So when I’m tempted, it’s because there’s something good that I’m trying to achieve or something that could be good if I went about it the right way. For example, lately I’ve been taking a break from reading fan fiction because I realized I’ve been stressed about some things and so I’ve been reading a LOT to try to manage my stress. My desire–to not be stressed–is actually a healthy thing. Stress is there to tell us that something needs to change. Either I’m stressed because I’m handling my life circumstances poorly or there’s something about my life circumstances that I need to work on changing (or, as is often the case for me, both).

So when I’m tempted to excessively escape my life because I’m stressed, I can stop and ask myself what good desire I’m trying to get met. It’s funny because the more I’ve done this, the more I’m seeing that my temptations actually keep me from addressing whatever the real issue is. If I’m escaping into literature because I’m not sleeping, it can keep me from taking time (or having energy) to do the things I need to do during the day to sleep well at night. If I’m yelling at my daughter because I want her to stop fussing, I’m not actually addressing why she’s upset–I’m just trying to stop her from bothering me. And the crazy thing is that if I addressed the good desire behind the temptation, I wouldn’t be tempted in the first place. If I worked on handling stress better and worked on fixing my latest sleep disruption, I wouldn’t need to escape my stress. Make sense?

And the awesome flip-side of this passage is that our God is a God who wants to meet our needs, who delights in giving us gifts that are perfect–as in perfect for me and perfect for you. His grace is individualized to who we are and what’s going on in our life. Pretty sweet!

So there you go. This week try to pay attention to your own temptations. What’s the good desire behind your temptation? How can you be intentional about getting that need met in a healthy way?

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Choosing Joy

So this week I sat down and actually wrote down what my ideal would look like six months from now. I’m trying to make my goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive)–although some goals are hard to do that with. “Get Healthy” is pretty nebulous 😉

Life is hard, isn’t it? Trying to figure out what I would like changed and what’s realistic to change–it really brings into focus some of the things I’m tired of in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the things I get to do. I never thought I could ever have a life I love this much, especially with my background, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hard things.

As I’ve told y’all, I’m working my way back through Beth Moore’s James study. It’s really good, in case you haven’t done it yet–I highly recommend doing it! I think most of us in the church are familiar with James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)

The thing that I really love about Beth’s study on this passage is that she talks about the choice we have. Joy isn’t something you feel–it’s something you choose. I’ve talked before about how joy is being present in our moments because we believe there’s something good there. The exercise she has you do is to write down three different things you could do with the trials you’re facing and compare where you’d be in five years if you choose something other than joy (anger, bitterness, apathy, despair, etc., etc.) and then to write down where you’d be in five years if you choose joy.

The crazy thing is that even though it is a lot harder to choose joy in the short-term, you get a lot further in the long run. I had an appointment with my doctor last week that was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. She told me that she’s seen people work on fixing their nutritional deficiencies and then suddenly heal after years of work. It’s something that I’m working on fixing in my own life, and sometimes, I’m just tired of being sick and tired. I’m worn out with trying to be faithful in things that don’t have immediate results.

When I was doing this lesson, that was the first thing I thought of. So, for instance, if I choose despair with my health problems, I would probably give up. I’d stop doing the things that will help long-term because they’re not helping short-term. My stress levels would go up. I’d probably have fallout in my relationship with God. I’d be less able to take care of my kids and to be a true ally to my husband.

Or I could choose bitterness–after all, a lot of these health problems didn’t start with something I chose. And God allowed them. So, I could get bitter, which would make me more toxic, which would make me less healthy (physically and emotionally). And I’d be back to being a poor mother/wife. Plus, I’d most likely be miserable with my life.

But if I choose joy, right off the bat my toxicity levels will be better, even if nothing else changes. I’ll be able to continue being faithful with my health therapies. I have more emotional margin to handle stress, which in turn creates greater margin in other areas of my life. And long-term, I’ll be growing closer to God–because frankly, I don’t see any other way to choose joy without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, you get the point. If you have time, consider writing out your own scenarios and how they’d play out. Choosing joy may not be the easy thing, but I want the benefits of having my trials produce perseverance and maturity.