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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Jenga Builders Anonymous

“Hi. I’m Christy, and I build with Jenga blocks.”

“Hi, Christy!”

***

If you didn’t get a chance to read my blog post last week, this won’t make any sense. 🙂 Don’t worry! I’ve linked it here God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks so you can catch up.

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Last week I wrote:

“There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.”

jenga-1941500_1920My little sister, and best cheerleader, came over for coffee last week. We started talking about the Jenga block analogy and I quickly realized there needed to be a part two! Here’s why: I think there’s a good chance that a lot of you out there are like me…recovering Jenga block builders.

Maybe we have tried playing Hide-n-Seek with Jesus, maybe we even like it. But, we struggle with those Jenga blocks…they are so tempting…they distract us…we see them out of the corner of our eye…just one… I. just. want. to. stack. one!

It’s not worth it, guys! It’s not worth it. Honestly, playing Jenga, living obsessed with outward behavior, is pretty miserable.

Think about it. When we are focused on outward behaviors instead of pursuing a living relationship with Jesus this is what we look like:

  • We are quick to compare ourselves with others and feel good or bad based on the results.
  • We judge other people’s Jenga towers…they aren’t building them right…or at least not like we would.
  • Sometimes, we even feel happy when someone else’s blocks fall. Their failure justifies our issues and distracts from our own wobbling tower.
  • There is a good possibility that we are annoyed by people playing Hide-n-Seek.
  • By the way, “rebelling” by playing dominoes with our Jenga blocks instead of stacking them is still playing with Jenga blocks. We are still missing the fun, and laughter, and closeness of Hide-n-Seek. We are still living focused on outward behavior. (Read An Illusion of Freedom for more on this topic.)

It’s not about our behavior! It’s not success or failure. It’s not about “doing the right or wrong thing”. If this is our focus then we are missing the point! Jesus died so that we could know God. When we know and abide in Jesus, good fruit will follow. But, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, not of our own effort.

This is what I’ve noticed in my own life with Jesus…a frustrating, vicious cycle.

Something happens that pulls me towards Jesus (often something painful) and I start to seek after Him. It’s so beautiful and I love our relationship! But, over the course of time, that seeking becomes second nature…my prayers become more routine…before I know it I’m just going through the motions…I stop seeing and feeling my need…I become numb… Soon I’m building Jenga blocks again, just doing the good things that a good Christian should do. Yuck! Then something else wakes me up and the cycle starts all over again.

I don’t even like playing Jenga! But it comes natural. It feels like I am fighting the way I was wired… Sound familiar? A former Jenga block builder, the apostle Paul, is familiar with this battle.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do NOT do what I want, but I DO the very thing I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:15,18″

I’m so grateful that it doesn’t end there! We haven’t been left on our own to figure this out. A couple of verses later we see this hope.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25

The answer is Jesus…The answer is always Jesus! 🙂

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I think we need a support group, Jenga Builders Anonymous! A place that we can come, admit our tendency to perform, and find help to continue seeking after Jesus. We need people who will be honest and say, “Hey! You’ve got a Jenga block in your hand. Put it down. Com’on, we are playing Hide-n-Seek.”

 

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

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A couple of weeks ago, I was writing in my journal during my morning “Jesus time”, wrestling through the way we view our relationship with God.

“We don’t understand that it’s not about being good and doing the right things…it’s about knowing Jesus. Ha! It’s like we aren’t even playing the same game as You, God. We’re playing Jenga, but You’re playing Hide-n-Seek..”

We are playing Jenga, but God is playing Hide-n-Seek

I’m so tired of the way performance based thinking has hijacked Christianity! It’s not just people like me, raised in extreme legalism…it’s spread throughout the whole church. There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.

Have you ever played Hide-n-Seek with a toddler? They can’t even count to 10 so it becomes this wild race to beat them to the hiding spot. I remember putting my kids in the kitchen nook and then dashing for a spot behind the bedroom door before they saw me. You have to remind your little one that you are hiding and give them a hint as to which room you might be in. So, you call, “Come find Mama (or Daddy). Where am I?” You aren’t really trying to hide…you’re trying to get them to find you.

Guess what? We’re the toddler and God wants to play Hide-n-Seek. He wants us to find Him! Can you hear him? He’s calling.

“‘You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’ declares the LORD…” Jeremiah 29:13-14

Can we put down our Jenga blocks? Do we believe that God doesn’t care about them?

Here’s a crazy thought: What if it’s not about us being and doing right or wrong anymore? What if it never was? Don’t freak out and think that I’m saying we should go and sin as much as we can because it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that…that wouldn’t be knowing Jesus either. But I AM saying that we HAVE to stop our attempts at perfection. We can’t do it!

jenga-1941500_1920Stop playing Jenga! Better yet, let those blocks fall. The sooner you realize that it’s okay to be a mess and not have it all together, the better off you will be! Just push them off the table. Enough!

God changed the rules…or at least it looks that way to us. The Bible clearly says that He planned Jesus from the beginning of time. It was never about us being good enough or doing enough. It was always about Jesus…always about a relationship between us and God.

God wants to take you on adventures that you can’t even imagine… He wants to heal the hidden brokenness that you can’t even talk about… Jesus wants to set you free from addictions and habits and make you so alive you can’t even handle it… But this can only happen if we stop performing and start seeking. It can only happen when we really find Jesus.

I say this all the time, but I absolutely believe it: when we begin to KNOW God…we will be changed. It’s Jesus changing us from the inside out, not a surface display of outward perfection. He changes our hearts and our actions follow…not because they have to, but because we want them to. We WANT to be like Jesus and sin no longer satisfies.

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So, what do we do? How do we stop playing Jenga and start playing Hide-n-Seek? It might look like this:

  • Let your blocks fall and then shove them off the table. Stop trying to be good; stop defending yourself; stop making excuses. Own the wretched sinner that you are. Own it! You will NEVER be able to appreciate Jesus and his grace until you realize how much you need it.
  • Choose to believe in God’s crazy love for you, in His delight of you, in his never ending grace and forgiveness, even thought it makes absolutely no sense. 🙂
  • Start seeking. He’s calling you. He’s making it easy. Acts 17:27 says that we can even find him blind and groping in the dark. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact image of God the Father, so maybe start there. Dig through the gospels and get to know Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of Jenga. I’m tired of the pressure and stress, trying to get it right and always failing. I want to laugh and giggle and run around with my Daddy God instead. I choose Hide-n-Seek.

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More than a Follower

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It might just be me, having been raised in legalistic Christianity, but I struggle with the way discipleship is often portrayed. I feel like there is this heavy emphasis on what we are supposed to DO as a disciple even from mainstream pastors and teachers.

Follow * Deny Yourself * Take Up Your Cross * Be Like Jesus

These statements, or at least the thoughts behind them, ARE in the Bible. And they aren’t wrong. But I think something is missing. Or rather, Someone.

There has to be more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than just action verbs focused on our behavior. There is more! Check out this “Jesus encounter”  from John 1

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God.”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed him. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” John 1:35-39

According to Bible scholars, this is most likely NOT the time these two men became disciples of Jesus. “Followed Jesus” simply means they literally followed him. I LOVE this story…might be a little obsessed in fact. 🙂

Jesus is walking by, just doing his thing, going about his business. And John, knowing who Jesus is, points him out to a couple of his friends using a strange name. He calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”. The disciples are curious. Who is this man? So, they follow him. (My imagination starts running wild.)

Jesus turns around, and being God, already knows these guys, already loves them, already has every moment of their lives planned out. He can’t help but smile as he asks them what they want. They want to know where he is staying…basically inviting themselves over for dinner. With a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, Jesus says, “Come and see.” He doesn’t even tell them! He just invites them to come with him, to walk with him, and spend time together. They haven’t “believed in him for salvation”…they haven’t “committed themselves to him”…they haven’t “made him the Lord of their lives”… Yet Jesus invites these seeking men to meet with him, to get to know him. They end up spending the evening hanging out with Jesus. After those few life-changing hours, what passionate conclusion do they come to?

“We have found the Messiah!” John 1:41

This is what we are missing! There are way too many people trying to be Jesus’ disciples without ever having met him. Sure, we believe good, Biblical, intellectual things about Him, we know a lot ABOUT Him, but we do not have an experiential, intimate relationship with Jesus. We are trying to be like him, trying to copy him, at a distance. But Jesus wants more! Jesus died so that we could have SO MUCH MORE!!!

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What if discipleship looked more like this?

Meet * Become Mesmerized * Follow * Listen * Believe * Be Changed

What if you met Jesus, like really met him? What if you took whatever time you needed to search the gospels and actually get to know this crazy, radical 1st century rabbi who changed the world? I guarantee that the more you learn, the more mesmerized you will become.

Dig into the culture of Jesus’ time (thank you, Internet!) and be even more amazed. Follow Jesus through the pages of the New Testament. Picture yourself there; imagine being the people he interacts with; listen to his message. Let his words sink deep into your soul. As you believe, you will be changed. You will want to follow him and be like him, not out of a sense of duty but one of burning desire!

Yes, there is denial of self, there is letting go of sin, there is choosing to let Jesus change you. But when you KNOW him, and you are in a relationship with him, it’s different. Obeying him is easier when you know his character and trust his heart. Letting go is easier when you believe in his love. Everything is easier when he is right beside you giving you the strength and power through his Holy Spirit. It’s no longer your effort, your action verbs…you are doing it together!

No one can make this happen for anyone else. You have to want it. You have to seek him.

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You’ve been following him for weeks, maybe even months now. It’s hard to keep track of time. You’ve watched him do miracles, tasted the food he made from nothing, listened to his stories and pondered their meanings. It used to be enough to just be part of the larger crowd, but lately you have felt a longing for something more. You have found yourself jealous of Jesus’ friends who stay with him after everyone else goes home. But would he want you? Would you be welcome?

One day, you linger after the crowds leave. You feel naked and exposed, no longer “one of the group”. Slowly you approach the friends gathered around the fire, talking and laughing. They see you. He sees you. You freeze, but Jesus stands and walks toward you. His eyes, so full of life, passion, emotion, love, fire…it’s like he’s looking into your soul, terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Then he smiles and says hello. You say hello. He asks your name, but you have this feeling that he already knows. You tell him anyway.

The smile that breaks across his face as he says your name, destroys any doubt. His love overwhelms you. Jesus wants you, it’s so obvious, and all he’s said is your name. Then he asks a question, “What do you want?”

“I want to know you. Can I spend time with you? Can we talk? Can I follow you?”

Of course the answer is yes.  It’s all he’s ever wanted. With his arm around your shoulders, Jesus leads you back to the fire. It happened! You left the crowd and became a friend!

 

 

Knowing (Experiencing) Jesus

This is a condensed repost of two earlier blogs I wrote a couple years ago. It was on my heart again. 🙂

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There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It sounds good in theory. I’d much rather have a friendship than a list of rules to follow! But how does it work?

God often feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative. But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I believe that everything God wants to tell us about Himself can be found in the Bible. One of the things that He tells us over and over again is that if we looks for Him, we will find Him. Check out some of my favorite verses.

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Paul speaking to the religious but lost people of Athens said:

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God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark feeling for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

Jesus made this relationship possible! We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18

This is great news! But, how do we actually experience a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. He will blow your mind. You might not understand or being able to explain Him. And that’s okay with me!

God often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. Experiencing Him might make you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad. But, He will also make you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing.

There is no magic formula for being a friend of God, no three step process. But, here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes we think we know what the Bible says, but we actually know what people SAY the Bible says. It might surprise you to actually read it for yourself. I highly recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual chunks of the NIV with some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit on a bluff at a cemetery overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and peaceful, and made me think about how short life is. Now, I just try to get up before my children. Haha!
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then His Spirit already lives inside of you. So, it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon or podcast and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

Will you take a chance, and step out in faith, and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? You were created for a relationship with Him. This is the true point of Christianity. You will not regret it!

 

Clickbait, Disagreement, and Choosing What is Right

 

This week I got into an online discussion over on Jefferson Bethke’s (author of Jesus>Religion and It’s Not What You Think) Facebook page. He posted an article called “9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus” and asked what we thought.

I thought it was a stupid clickbait title with a clickbait image. (Definition of clickbait – content on the internet of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular website.) But I perused the article anyway. I didn’t get further than their supposed nine sins: fear, apathy, gluttony, worry, flattery, comfort, consumerism, patriotism, and lying, before I started feeling frustrated. Sure, some of those things can be considered “sins” and all of them can be bad for you, but really? Guilt and shame anyone?

I posted a comment expressing my feelings. Jefferson Bethke agreed! (I was a little excited about that.) Surprisingly, that comment quickly became the most popular, but then the disagreement started.

I was told that “you are deceived when you don’t know the scriptures.” and “You need to know Jesus, the Character of God, and your views will change. Otherwise you will suckle milk and look like you do for a very very very long time.” Nice. Thanks. Did you read my comment?

The personal disagreement didn’t bother me. I like a good, healthy discussion. But what did bother me was all the other comments on the post. People struggling with anxiety disorders feeling judged and condemned. “Christians” saying pretty mean things to each other… Lots of comments that didn’t sound like Jesus coming from people who claim His name.

As I sat and processed, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote a year ago. So here it is, with some tweeks because I can’t help myself.

Why do we choose to do right…to stop sinning?

Is it because we are afraid of making God angry or disappointed? Are we trying to keep God happy? Is it so that we will look good to other people? Are we trying to maintain a “good testimony” so that people will think we are “godly”?

Or maybe we don’t worry about it, because you know, grace! Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want and still be forgiven?

I find there are often two camps within Christianity: the rule-followers and the no-rulers. The rule-followers call the no-rulers “worldly” and “licentious” (which is a big word that just means they don’t follow the rules). The no-rulers call the rule-followers “close minded” and “legalistic”. Yada yada. You get the point.

I’m pretty sure that they are both wrong.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm in it. And do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Jesus wants us to be free. He died to set us free. Free from rules, and free from sin.

We shouldn’t be living under a yoke of slavery to rules trying to make God happy with us and avoid His judgment. He already put His wrath and the judgment for sin on His Son, Jesus Christ. Once we trust that Jesus took the punishment for our sin, we have access to a relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally!

But neither do we have to live under a yoke of slavery to sin. We don’t have to be controlled by our habits and addictions any longer. When Jesus died, He set us free from the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us and empower us to follow Him.

Why do I chose to do what is right? Mostly because I love Jesus and also because I don’t like the consequences that come when I choose sin and live for myself.

This article and the online debate that it generated once again reminded me that rules and standards cannot overcome our sin nature. Only Jesus can set us free, only by the power of His death and resurrection.

If your version of Christianity is about anything or anyone other than Jesus, then it’s wrong.

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If you think you are making God happy with your rule following, you aren’t. If you care more about yourself and your good/fun life than you care about Jesus and developing a relationship with Him, then you are missing the point.

When our “Christianity” stops being about Jesus, His amazing grace, and our ability to know God through Jesus, it ceases to be true Christianity.

I’m finishing with a beautiful prayer from the apostle Paul. This is why we chose to do the right thing…not because someone showed us a list of 9 sins to avoid, but because of JESUS!

” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

Hunting Pokemon

Last night my husband and I went out for a late anniversary date. After our delicious, wood-fired pizza, we decided to walk down to the popular, nearby dam. It was a beautiful summer evening: warm but not hot, gentle breeze, flowers blooming, water flowing. Absolutely gorgeous! But, as we approached the dam, it was clear that something was wrong.

People huddled in silent groups, sat motionless on the ground, or slowly walked by in a daze, all staring intently at the devices in their hands. Go figure, the dam was a popular spot to catch Pokemons! Everyone was playing Pokemon Go.

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As one of maybe three or four groups of people who weren’t catching virtual critters, it was surreal to watch. It looked like a scene from a sci-fi movie, and I half expected to see alien spacecraft hovering overhead preparing to extract the zombie victims.

The entire world has become obsessed with hunting and catching Pokemons!

What if Christians were as obsessed with finding Jesus?

People are willing to pack backpacks, drive their cars, join crowds of other people, look dumb, and put massive amounts of effort into catching virtual cartoon characters. What happens once you catch them? Nothing really, at least nothing of actual physical value.

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Why aren’t we as willing to put effort into finding Jesus? Maybe…

  • We don’t believe it’s possible.
  • We are content with knowing about Him.
  • We like easy religion.
  • We are afraid of what might happen if we actually find Him.

My understanding of the gospel has evolved over the years. As I have been thinking about writing a book, and about all the issues in modern Christianity, I have become obsessed with a gospel centered around relationship. I believe God created people to be in a relationship with Himself. (We see this in Genesis 1-3.) Sin broke the perfect relationship He intended. But, although Adam and Eve had to leave the garden, God continues to talk with and pursue people all through the Old Testament. Eventually, at just the right time, Jesus comes and restores the relationship between God and humanity, and He proves it by tearing the curtain in the temple. (Matthew 27:50-51) Finally, He sends His Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who trusts in Him for salvation! (Romans 8:9-11)

But here’s the deal. If the core message of the gospel is really all about a genuine relationship with Jesus…and if we see every truth of Scripture through that lens…it has potential to leave us with an uncomfortable situation.

Because if it’s NOT about rules or outward behavior, and it IS about seeking the person of Jesus…but we discover that we don’t actually want to pursue a relationship with Him…where does that leave us?

Staring down the motives of our hearts…and coming face to face with the reality of who were are apart from Christ…enemies…who desperately need a Savior!

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Romans 5:8, 10

Religion leaves me in control, gives me a checklist to make myself feel good, works around my plans and schedule, and is easy to reject if I get tired of it. An actual relationship with Jesus leaves me feeling powerless at times, shows me my sin, might be time consuming, requires faith, and if I reject it, I have to deal with the fact that I’m rejecting Him!

And yet, in the deepest parts of my heart, I know that Jesus is what I really want. I believe that He will absolutely satisfy me. And the things He takes away, or asks me to let go of, well, they probably aren’t as valuable as I think they are.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing (experiencing) Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (literally poop) in order that I may gain Christ.”  Phil. 3:8

Will you hunt for Jesus with me? Even if it gets hard and takes effort? Even if it get’s uncomfortable and we don’t feel like we want to? Even if we are afraid? He has promised that if we look for Him, we will find Him! I’m confident that seeking Jesus is a lot more rewarding than catching Pokemon!

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Finding My Message

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On Tuesday I sent my book proposal to my agent, Karen. It’s been quite the 2.5 year journey to get to this point! I think I spent more time trying to run away from writing a book than actually being obedient. Good thing Jesus is so gracious and so persistent. And now it is out of my hands and into His. It feels exciting, terrifying, kind of unreal, and unexpectedly peaceful all at the same time.

My sister and bestie (who also happens to be my editor, encourager, and confidant) asked me the other day, “Are you ready for this to potentially change your life?”

I don’t know. But I’ve been thinking about it, a lot. And the biggest question I’ve been wrestling with is, what is my message? It’s one thing to blog, but what if my book actually gets published, and what if I am given opportunities to speak to people? What do I tell them?

I’ve been thinking and praying about this a lot, and after a long, passionate talk with my husband last night, I think I know. It’s actually pretty simple and unimpressive, haha! 🙂

I think I’m supposed to share the clear, simple gospel and include the parts that often get ignored or missed.

  • God made you for a relationship with Him and He loves you more than you could ever imagine.
  • But we are enemies of God and our sin (lack of perfection) separates us from that relationship. Sin brings death.
  • God knew from the beginning that we could never work hard enough or earn our way back to Him, so He came as Jesus. Jesus lived, loved, died, and rose again taking the punishment for sin and destroying the power of it!
  • If we trust in Jesus alone, we can have forgiveness and eternal life.
  • Through Jesus, God has restored our relationship with Him! And if we trust in Jesus and His death, God gives us His own Spirit to live with and in us as a guarantee of our salvation.
  • The Holy Spirit will give us comfort, encouragement, help, wisdom, and everything we need to live like Jesus if we will let Him (believe He can).

Really, Christy?  What kind of a message is that?

I think it’s the one that’s too often missing, or covered up, or tweaked. Consider these thoughts.

Why don’t Christians focus more on the fact that Jesus came to restore our relationship with God instead of telling people that He died to save them from hell? I feel like this misses a huge part of the good news!

Once people trust Jesus as their Savior, why don’t we teach them how to know Him instead of giving them a list of things to stop/start doing? If we are pursuing a relationship with Jesus and allowing Him to work in our life, isn’t His Spirit real enough and strong enough to convict us of our sin and change us from the inside out?

Why don’t we read the Bible because it shows us who God is and what He has done (among other things), and pray because we are sharing our heart with God and enjoying a relationship with Him? How often do our “devos” happen (if they happen) because it’s “right” or because it makes us feel more godly or spiritual?

There are so many problems with Christianity these days, on both sides of the fence. But I think this basic, simple, “nothing new” message is the answer. Because it brings us back to Jesus, the reason behind our “Christianity” in the first place. It confronts us with the fact that the point is knowing God, and Jesus did everything to make that possible.

If Christians put everything else aside, and just believed in these simple truths, and then embraced the fact that we can know God and have the Holy Spirit. If they started pursuing Him, seeking Him, exploring what it means to have the very Spirit of God with us always, wouldn’t God be big enough to teach and show them the truth?

There are too many lies to try and defeat…on both sides, conservative and liberal. But if I can tell people the real, clear gospel, which is all about Jesus, and His desire to restore our relationship. If they believe and embrace this truth, won’t the Spirit of Jesus do the rest?

 

 

Is It Really Jesus Calling?

Disclaimer: This is NOT a rant! This is what happens after I have ranted to my husband, and sister, and random other people. This is me attempting to write a logically thought-out response toward something I feel passionate about. 🙂 

“What do you thinking about the book, ‘Jesus Calling’?” This post started with an innocent question from a friend. What did I think? I didn’t know…

what do i think

I’ve never been a fan. In the twelve years since it was first published, I’ve never owned a copy. The few times I picked it up at a friend’s house, I thought it was a little sketchy and kind of weird; but, I’ve never thought I needed to vocally condemn it either. I basically dealt with my iffy feelings about “Jesus Calling” by ignoring it. However, after looking into the book, the author, other people’s opinions, and deciding what I personally think, I can’t ignore it any longer. (Especially since “Jesus Calling” has been a top seller for the past decade.)

I started by looking into people’s criticisms online. There are some pretty negative reviews, including accusations of New Age and occult influence. Some of the reviewers were crazy, fundamentalists yelling about demons and women preachers. I crossed them off the list. A few complained about Sarah Young’s mystic version of God. I could kind of see their point. I found one critique that seemed intelligent and balanced, although I still didn’t agree with everything he said. That author was concerned about how similar Young’s teachings were to a popular New Age book he recently read. It made me curious.

I borrowed a copy of “Jesus Calling” to look at for myself. I read the entire Foreword where Sarah Young gives her testimony of finding salvation, her experiences in Jesus’ Presence, and how she came to write the book. Even though she writes as though her words are coming from Jesus Himself, she makes sure to tell her readers that they are not Scripture. I also paged through the book, reading sections here and there and looking up the Bible verses she used to support her thoughts.

So, what do I think?

I don’t think that “Jesus Calling” is an evil book from the devil, and I do believe that the author, Sarah Young, has a good heart and purpose behind her writings. That said, I also have some serious problems with the book and cautions for those who love it.

altar-window-1059741_1920My biggest problem is that Sarah Young created this “pretend Jesus” who does all the talking. Maybe this would be fine if the real Jesus was just a good teacher, or if she was paraphrasing his actual quotes. But, she isn’t paraphrasing Jesus, she is coming up with words and phrases and ideas that never came from Him. Some of these are Biblical concepts, and others are not. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy who said nice things; He is the very Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign God, the Beginning and the End! Imagining things and pretending Jesus said them seems…presumptuous. Okay, honestly it terrifies me!! God is WAY too big for me to be putting words in His mouth. I struggle to even read some of the sections because I can’t deal with the fact that “Jesus” is supposed to be talking to me… I just keep wondering what the Real Jesus thinks.

I worry about new or immature Christians who don’t have a good background in the Bible. Will they get confused and think these are truly the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do they have discernment to see that some of the things she says are not in fact truth (even though they sound wonderful)?

Are people actually looking up the verses at the bottom of each page? I know that’s how the author wants the book to be read, but is it happening? Are they reading the context surrounding those verses to see what they really mean? Are they actually getting into the Word of God or are they only reading the words of “fake Jesus”? This is especially concerning to me after coming out of a cult where every lie was backed up by a Bible verse reference. (But when you read the verse in context, it didn’t make any sense.)

Maybe growing up in and then leaving a cult has given me a highly sensitive B.S. meter, or perhaps God has given me the gift of discernment. All I know is that “Jesus Calling” is setting off warning signals in my brain. Reading the Foreword, where Sarah Young talks about how she came to write the book, is where it started getting sketchy for me.

bench-1289528_1920“I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind…My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought God gave us the Bible to communicate with us!

Sarah Young doesn’t claim that her writings are inspired (which is good), but I still feel like she is setting aside the living Word of God to pursue “subjective experiences”. In my own life this is usually when things start getting weird. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks, and I have felt often Him speak to me personally, but it’s not normally when I’m seeking it, and it’s usually through the Bible itself.

“In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and peace.” This quote explains why Young chose to wrote this devotional. I appreciate her heart. I agree with her conclusion. But, I worry that her fake Jesus has distracted people from the real One.

Jesus says He is with us always (Matthew 28:20); if we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (Romans 8:9-11). We don’t have to seek after a Presence or an experience, rather we need to become more aware of the God who is always with us. Where do we learn more about Him, who He is and what He sounds like? The Bible.

My challenge for you:

If you want to know what the real Jesus sounds like, then I challenge you to do this. Put away your “Jesus Calling” for a while and S.O.A.K. your way through the gospel of John (the gospel with more of Jesus recorded words than any other). Read a little section or a couple of verses at a time. This is not a race or a competition, this is a slow soak. You will need a notebook.

S – Scripture, take a minute or two and write out your verses for the day. This slows you down and makes you actually think about the words.

O – Observe. What’s going on in the passage? What just happened? What comes next? Who is He talking to? What is the context? Etc.

A – Apply. How do these verses apply to your life right now?

K – Kneel in Prayer. Obviously you don’t have to actually kneel, but take some time to talk with Jesus about what you just read and observed and want to apply to your life. I like to write out my prayer because it make me think and it gives me something to look back on.

Jesus Calling

What am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell. I have problems with “Jesus Calling” because of the fake Jesus who does all the talking. Not everything Sarah Young writes is Biblical and I think God is WAY too big for us to presumptuously put words in His mouth. I agree that we are looking for a deeper experience with Jesus, but I believe that we will find Him in the pages of the actual Word of God and not in the imaginations of a human author.

I realize that this blog post holds potential for controversy, but I’m still curious to know your thoughts!

 

An interesting article for futher reading: http://www.cicministry.org/commentary/issue125.htm

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?