Words for the Year

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Last year I posted this on my writer Facebook page:

“I’m gonna be honest…I was feeling kind of snarky about all these “words for the year” on social media right now. Kind of cynical and cranky.

Like seriously, people do not need to get a word from God for the year. How do we know it’s really from God? How do we know we aren’t just pulling something out of our own mind? Stop pressuring people with strange, Christianese junk!

It reminded me of the emotionally charged relationship I had with Jesus back in the day…back in my crazy fundamental days.

Then, I was sitting with my hot coffee and journal on January 1st. I wrote out the date for the first time, 2018…and I got a word. 😆 The Holy Spirit’s sense of humor is something else sometimes!

The word filling my heart and mind was HOPE. I look into 2018 with hope…hope for continued healing in my own life and in the lives of those I love…hope because God is good, and huge, and more than we can imagine.

Hope is what I want to give away through my blog, and Facebook page…hope that the real God is full of love and grace…hope that we don’t have to perform to earn anything from Him…hope that we can indeed find our way back to Him.”

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As I look back on 2018, it was indeed a year of hope. Hope restored and hope given. It was a year of healing and growth and possibility.

I’m still not a crazy fan of “words for the year.” I still think they can be overdone. I still think that people can feel pressured to get one from God. But ironically, as I was thinking back over 2018 and wondering about 2019, a word popped into my mind. It’s not a word I would have thought of myself. In fact, I’ve sat on this word for a couple of weeks now without sharing it. But as I’ve prayed and thought about it, I think it really is from the Holy Spirit and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

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When I first heard the word, VICTORY, I also wanted a verse to go with it. 1 John 5:4 just jumped from my phone as I scrolled by. It’s not about circumstances that seem victorious or about getting everything we want out of life. It’s about an inner victory that happens no matter what is going on in this world: our faith in the real Jesus…getting to know Him for ourselves in an experiential way.

That is my prayer for this year. I want to know Jesus and I want you to know Him too! I want our faith to be in something more than religious beliefs. I want our faith to be in Someone Real…that is the victory that will overcome!

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What if God is more like TobyMac?

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You know that God you doubt/hate/are mad at/are scared of/etc? What if he doesn’t really exist?

Last week I was talking with an older, wiser friend, and one of the things she said stuck with me. It went something like this, “Too often we make God into our image instead of remembering that we were made in His.” I can’t stop thinking about it! I don’t expect non-Christians to have an accurate view of God, but those of us who call ourselves Christians should have it right…Right?

One Christmas, soon after I married my husband, my father-in-law was trying to figure out how to make a poster on Microsoft Publisher. I ended up helping him. We inserted an elephant and a bunch of ants from Clip-Art. Then he explained to me that God was the elephant and we were the ants getting stepped on. Ouch! But, if we are honest, I think many people share this view of God: a distant God, an uncaring God, a God who punishes us…

I used to think that God was angry a lot of the time. I used to think He liked me better when I was being “good” and following the rules. I used to think He was disappointed in me when I messed up.

My version of God was cut and dry, black and white, understandable. He fit in my box.

I also used to think that rock music was evil, and that anything with a beat was from the devil. Instrumental hymns or classical music with no drums were the only types of music that “godly” people should listen to. Yeah… Confession: Today I was totally rocking out to TobyMac’s “Feel It” in my living room. Freedom is amazing!!

Love came crashin’ in, Never gonna be the same again, Yeah, You came crashing in, You wrecked me, You wrecked me!

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Okay, here’s the deal. What if we are totally off on our view of God? What if we have made Him into our image? What if in our modern Western love of knowledge and intellectualism, we have put the Creator of the Universe into a box that we can understand. What if we think He’s like an instrumental hymn played on the piano (Nothing against hymns! This is for comparison purposes.), but He is really TobyMac? What if the god we have created for ourselves in our own image doesn’t exist? This is good news for people who were burned by Christians or the church and thought that was God!

I believe that God is bigger, and crazier, and more terrifying, and more wonderful, and stronger, and more full of love and grace and passion and emotion and depth, and more radical, and scarier, and wiser, and more incredible and mind blowing, and just MORE than we can ever imagine or comprehend. Even when we are trying to think outside the box, He is going to be MORE!

In our attempts at intellectualism, we pin God down and try to make Him human-like and something we can understand and dissect. We turn Him into big words and concepts. Or we stop trying to understand and just ignore Him, choosing to focus on what we can see and taste and touch. But God says that His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and His weakness is stronger than our strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

I don’t know about you, but I’m throwing away my calm, understandable, “instrumental” version of god, and reaching out for the radical, wild, incomprehensible, crazy “TobyMac” version that I believe exists! I want the real God to blow apart the box I have built to try and contain Him. Something deep inside of me longs for More, for Someone I was made to know. I was created in His image. You were created in His image! And guess what? He has promised over and over that if we seek for Him, we will find Him.

I’m not throwing away the Bible, because I believe that God wrote it and it’s one of the best ways to discover what He is like. But I am looking for a fresh understanding. I’m going to question and search and stop believing just because someone told me. If a thought or theology or mindset makes God seem smaller or more predictable or more containable, I’m going to doubt it. This isn’t supposed to be a religion! I’m supposed to be the daughter of the King of Kings. I wanna get to know my Dad, my Creator, my Savior, my Friend! For myself!

What about you? Is your god in a box? Do you long for more? Will you join me in looking for the real God?

“Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” – What Is Standing In the Way of Your Relationship with Jesus?

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You would think that being friends with God would be a popular message among Christians. After all, it’s kind of the point of the whole Bible, the book we claim to base our beliefs upon. Jesus himself said, “…but I have called you friends…” (John 15:15). So why aren’t more of us living like God’s friends?

Why are so many of us content to go to church on Sunday but ignore God the rest of the week? Why are so many of us obsessed with rules and formulas, attempting to impress God with our outward “goodness”? If this is how we are living, then we aren’t actually experiencing a relationship with God, THE relationship that Jesus made possible by His death on the cross!

I’ve been a part of both sides at one point or another. Why are we so quick to reject a friendship with the God of the Universe? Here is what I’ve found true of me:

  • I want to be in control. It terrifies me to let go and let God run my life. What if He screws it up?
  • Sin is fun. I don’t want God coming in and telling me to stop it.
  • Rules are easier to maintain than a relationship. They make me feel good about myself.
  • I often believe lies about God, who He is and what He wants from me.

Sure, I like Jesus as my Savior; I’m all about spending eternity in heaven. But Jesus as my friend…that’s a little uncomfortable, a little awkward. So what is really stopping me? What is stopping us? What if it’s as simple as one word?

Unbelief

My husband and I are not adrenalin junkies. In fact, if you know us, that thought probably makes you laugh. However, we took a special date last weekend to a zip-line course! There were 10 zip-lines spreading over a mile in total length. It was a blast!

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First we got harnessed up, put our helmets on, and attached carabiners with some kind of a trolley (can you tell I’m not an expert at this) to our harness. Then, our tour guides loaded us into an awesome off-road vehicle and drove us up to the top of a ski hill. We climbed a short flight of stairs and there it was, the first zip-line spanning a valley and disappearing into the trees on the other side. I’m not gonna lie, my heart missed a couple beats!

One by one I watched my fellow zippers get clipped onto the cable and soar across the valley. Then it was my turn. Our guide clipped me in, got confirmation from the other guide across the chasm, and told me I was free to fly. Ahh!

What if, in that moment, I had doubted the cable’s strength and my harness’s ability? What if I refused to believe my zipping guide? What if I insisted on clinging to my own control and instead chose to climb down the stairs and continue across the valley on foot?

Obviously, that would that have been a waste of money, 🙂 but I would also have missed out on an amazing adventure! Soaring through the trees on a zip-line is incredible! (Hanging upside down, no hands, is even better!)

I miss out on an amazing relationship with God every time I chose doubt and unbelief instead of faith in Him.

  • I doubt God’s love for me, that He really likes me and wants me.
  • I don’t believe that He knows what’s best for me.
  • I doubt my own ability to stop sinning (and forget that He has given me a Helper, the Holy Spirit).
  • I don’t believe what God says about Himself all throughout the Bible.
  • I don’t believe that Jesus can really satisfy me.
  • I doubt that I can actually have a friendship with God; so I don’t try.

Stop! I just need to stop!

There comes a moment on every station of a zip-line course where you have to make a choice to trust the equipment and step off the platform. You can’t zip if you won’t jump. And, you can’t experience a real give-and-take relationship with Jesus if you won’t believe Him.

What do we need to believe?

We believe that Jesus paid for our sins by His death on the cross. (Romans 6:23) We believe that He rose again conquering sin and death once and for all! (1 Corinthians 15:20-26) We believe that Jesus is who He says He is: the bread of life (John 6:35), the living water (John 4:10-14), the way, truth and life (John 14:6). We believe that He will satisfy us, give us good direction and abundant life. We believe that Jesus wants to be friends with us. (John 15:12-17) We believe in His promises that if we seek Him, then we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:11-13; Acts 17:27; Matthew 7:7)

Nothing is better than a real relationship with Jesus! One where I talk with Him and He talks with me! I know this because I’ve experienced it, so why don’t I pursue Him more? Nothing can separate me from the love of God, except for my own choice to doubt, my own unbelief. Is it really that simple?

  • “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Jesus does not change. But our faith, our belief (or lack of it) determines what we experience of Him. He is not pushy. He will not force Himself on us. But, He is there to be found if we will seek and believe.

This should be the most amazing message, the most incredible part of being a Christian! Don’t let your unbelief stop you from experiencing everything you have and are in Christ.

What were my favorite zip-lines from last weekend? The ones where I ran screaming off the platform against all common sense, and the ones where I trusted my equipment and soared through the trees upside down.

“Jesus said to him, ‘All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately (he) cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” Mark 9:23-24

Is this your prayer today?

“Help us to believe You, Jesus! And as we seek You, and find You, and fall in love with You, overwhelm us with Yourself, until all we want is You.”

The Day God Became 3-D

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I was one of those good kids that Sunday School teachers love and the other kids hate. I knew all the answers, was well behaved, and proud of it. People pleasing has always been important to me. Once I knew what the expectations were, I would follow them to the best of my ability. Becoming a Pharisee was natural for me.

My brother and sister and I were homeschooled before it was even a word. We started back when homeschoolers were afraid of the big yellow bus pulling into your driveway. If my mom took us grocery shopping during school hours, the cashier would automatically ask why we weren’t in school. It was fun to tell them that we were homeschooled because their mouths would literally drop open; then they usually asked my mom something like, “Is that legal?”

I knew the Bible stories growing up, I knew all about God, Creation, Jesus dying on the cross, etc. But it was two-dimensional knowledge to me. God was a name on the page of a book. This all changed one day when I was fifteen years old.

Both of my parents had real relationships with Jesus. This was something that they modeled to us. And because of them, I chose to trust Jesus as my Savior when I was seven. That was before the “crazy days” started. By the time I was fifteen, we were involved in our cultish group and church. I was performing with the best of them…having daily devotions, living a life of rules and standards, and always ready to answer the question, “What is God doing in your life?” But I didn’t really know Him. Not yet.

The day God became 3-D started with a normal (to my family) school assignment. My mom gave me a list of God’s names and told me to pray them to Him. So I went up to my bedroom, and began to pray something like this. “God, you are Jehovah Jireh, you always provide for us. You are El Roi; you see everything. You are the Rock, my strength. Etc.” Suddenly, I knew that I was not alone in my bedroom. A very real God had come to hear me praise Him, and He liked it. I don’t even remember if I finished the list or not. I know I jumped up and ran downstairs to my mom screaming, “Mom, Mom, God showed up!” She just smiled this secret little smile and said, “I’ve been praying He would.”

This day changed the course of my life. God was more than just a 2-D name on a page, He was a 3-D Person and I wanted to get to know Him. My morning devotions changed; my prayers changed. I started looking for Him. I started praying to Him instead of just at Him. I started taking long walks to talk with Him. I began to realize just how much He loved me. The Bible became personal as God spoke through it to me. It was amazing!

Ultimately, this new understanding of Jesus would lead me to question the god, the standards, and the rules our church and group was telling me to follow. Eventually I would ask the question, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” and He would lead me out. But that’s another story.

What if We’ve Got it Wrong

Christians are known for their amazing ability to tell people what “not to do”, and what “to do” in order to be a good Christian. I’m guilty of this myself. But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if it’s not about what we do or don’t do? What if Jesus saved us for a different purpose?

What if He saved us because He wants us to know Him?

Our sin, disobedience to God’s ways, is what separated us from God in the first place (Genesis 3). We hear this a lot and are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. But get this, before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they walked with Him in their garden! They knew what His footsteps sounded like! (Genesis 3:8) God’s original plan was to be that close to us!

Fast forward a few thousand years to Jesus hanging on the cross. What happens the moment he dies? The giant curtain in the temple that separated people from the Presence of God is torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:37-39) God was welcoming us once again, letting us know we could walk with Him and recognize the sound of His footsteps.

Listen to how Paul, the former legalist, puts it after listing all of his impressive outward actions, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Philippians 3:7-8.

When I was fifteen years old, God showed up one day. I wasn’t necessarily looking for Him or expecting Him. I was just dutifully praying through a list of His names as a home-school project. But He showed up and I’ve never been the same. God jumped from a two dimensional name on the page of an old book, to a three dimensional Person. He has continued to show up over the past eighteen years, more often when I am looking for Him, but sometimes even when I’m not. I can honestly say that there is nothing I want more than to know Jesus, to follow Him, and to love Him because I know Him. It’s not because I am someone special, but because He is.

What if this is the point? What if the God of the Universe saved us not so that we could perform for Him, but so that we could know Him. What if loving God and following (obeying) God flows out of knowing Him? Not knowing more information about Him, but coming face to face with Him. What if this was the point of the cross?

Maybe you are saying, “That’s great for you, but it’s never happened to me.” I’m pretty sure that God wants everyone to know Him. In Acts 17, Paul goes to Athens and talks to some intellectuals. He tells them about the “Unknown God” they made an altar to, basically introducing them to the real God of the Bible. This is what he says in verses 24-27,

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

My NKJV Bible from years ago said, “In the hope that they might grope for him and find him”. I love this picture of reaching out in the dark and God is right there. The idea of searching for God and finding Him is all through out the Bible (Jeremiah 29:12-14).

I firmly believe that anyone who looks for God through Jesus Christ will find Him. And this is my new goal in life. Rather than telling people what they should or shouldn’t be doing, I want to help them know Jesus. Because I know once they meet Him, really experience Him, they will love Him and want to follow Him.