Thursday, July 30, 2015

Getting Close to Others

". . . I'd have to trust that my flaws were the ways through which I would receive grace. We don't think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can't accept their imperfections can't accept grace either."
(Donald Miller, "Scary Close")

Have you ever wondered why you find it easier to connect with someone you know has messed up in their past and come through the other side?

When we hear someone's story with the good and the bad, when someone lets us see their real struggles, we feel a connection to them. When we share the same with others, they feel that way too.

Why? I think Donald Miller explains it well in the quote above. People who share their flaws with others are often the people who have experienced grace for them and they offer us grace for our flaws.

We're drawn to them because we feel safe to be ourselves around them. We know they'll love us and stick by us even when they see our flaws. We don't have to act for them. We can put down the masks and let them see what's behind it.

"Unless we're honest with each other, we can't connect."
(Donald Miller, "Scary Close")

This is why we find it easier to form relationships with people who don't spend all their time trying to hide their flaws. They're being honest with us about who they are and that draws us in.

We were made for connections with other people. That connection requires honesty and grace. Grace flows when we have received it ourselves. And we'll only know grace if we're willing to be honest with each other about our flaws.

Our flaws and our honesty about them are the vehicles by which we experience grace and connection with others. Without a willingness to be vulnerable we will never experience true intimacy in our friendships or any other relationships.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Two Deadly Choices

As Christians there are two dangerous choices we can make. We can choose to become complacent and we can choose to become prideful. Either choice is deadly to our spiritual lives.

In Amos 6, God is calling His people out on their complacency and their pride. In their relationship with God, both of those got in the way.

God's people had become complacent because the place they were living was relatively safe and their needs were provided for. They didn't have a need to depend on God for daily provision the way they had before.

That complacency led to another problem . . . pride. As they depended less on God, they became prideful in heir abilities to look after themselves.

Complacency and pride easily happen in our lives too. When we read the warnings about them spoken to Israel, we should take them seriously ourselves.

When life is hard and we're barely hanging on, we more easily depend on God. We see and admit our need for help and our inability to it ourselves.

But, when life is good, when things seem easy, we do exactly what Israel and Judah did. We forget our need for God and begin to depend on ourselves. We get complacent because things feel safe and we're being provided for. Then we begin to think we can it all ourselves. In our pride, we begin to depend on our own strength and ability to meet every need we have.

When we do this, when we become complacent and prideful, we eventually end up in a place where we have a choice. The same as Israel and Judah did when the prophets brought God's message of repentance to them. We can refuse to repent, keep going the way we were in depending on ourselves. Or we can choose the way of repentance and humility.

The story of Israel and Judah provides us with a clear picture of the results of refusing to repent. God didn't stop loving them, but He also didn't protect them from the consequences of their choices.

God's warnings through His prophets of the dangers of complacency and pride, are warnings for us as well. The dangers for us are the same as they were for Israel and Judah.

I know how easily I can struggle with these sins in my life. When I read Scriptures like Amos 6, I'm also reminded of the seriousness with which I need to approach them and deal with them in my life.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What Ground Needs Plowing in Your Life?

When the ground is hard, nothing can be planted. The seed just sits on the surface. It can't take root. We can sow whatever we want on the hard ground, but it won't make a difference. We have to do the hard work of plowing, or breaking up, the hard ground so the seed can grow.

We know this is true in the physical world. And we'll do the work to create ground where the seed can take root and grow.

But this isn't just true in the physical world. It's also true in our spiritual lives.

     "Sow righteousness for yourselves,
          reap the fruit of unfailing love,
     and break up your unplowed ground;
          for it is time to seek the Lord,
     until He comes
          and showers His righteousness on you."
                                          (Hosea 10:12)

This verse in Hosea is calling Israel and Judah to seek God fully again. They are being exhorted to do the work to become the good soil where God's righteousness can be sown and His love reaped.

This requires a choice for them. They have to choose to let the hard ground be plowed - be broken up. This isn't easy work or something to do casually. Plowing the ground is hard work and it might be painful.

We all have areas of our lives where the ground is hard. Some we're acutely aware or already and some we may not be conscious of yet.

The question for each of us is if we're willing to allow those areas where the ground is hard to be plowed. Will we open those areas up to the Holy Spirit to do the work of breaking up the hard ground?

It's a dangerous prayer to ask God to show you the areas of unplowed ground in your life so they can be plowed. We may have to face things we would rather not face. We have to be willing to look at things that might be painful and allow God to work on them.

It's also a beautiful prayer. As we give God access to those areas, He plants and grows a seed of something more beautiful than we imagined in those places where nothing used to grow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Who Do You Depend On?

You can't depend on anyone else.
You have to do it yourself.
You're the only one who has what it takes to get it done.
God helps those who help themselves.

How often do you hear things like that?
How often are you the one saying or thinking them?

This thinking is epidemic in our society. It's how we are taught to live.

Even in Christian circles, we think we have to do it on our own - that we can't even depend on God, if we'll dare to actually admit that. We might talk about God being our strength, but the reality of our lives says otherwise. We actually depend on ourselves, not God.

It turns out that Israel and Judah had the same problem. I've been reading the prophets this summer and that comes up over and over again, and they had consequences for that decision.

     "But you have planted wickedness,
          you have reaped evil,
          you have eaten the fruit of deception.
     Because you have depended on your own strength
          and on your many warriors,
     the roar of battle will rise against your people,
          so that your fortresses will be devestated."
                                          (Hosea 10:13-14)

Israel and Judah began to depend on themselves and they paid for that. They discovered that depending on themselves rather than God was a costly mistake.

It's a costly mistake we always make. When we choose to depend on ourselves rather than God, it leads to our destruction as well.

Our strength isn't enough. Our strength won't stand.

Only God's strength is enough. Only God's strength will stand.

When I read these verses in Hosea, I read a warning God put there for a reason. God wants to spare us the pain and anguish Israel and Judah went through. We can learn from their mistake and choose to depend on God rather than our own strength.

Who are you depending on?

Whose strength do you turn to first? God's? Or yours?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Importance of our Stories

I read a quote recently that made me think about the importance of our stories. Of paying attention to them. Of sharing them with others.

"When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending. . . . Owning our stories is standing in our truth. It's transformative in our personal lives and professional lives and it's also critical in our community lives." (Brene Brown)

Our life is all about stories. The larger stories that last for months, years, a lifetime. The smaller stories that are minutes or hours long. And they're all important, because they are part of who we are, they point to how we are who we are.

What makes a story exciting to read or watch is the moment of decision. That place where the main character has to make a choice about what they will do. Which way they'll go. Which person they'll become.

That's the same thing that makes our stories exciting. The moments where we choose the ending of our story by stepping into it. When we choose to face the realities of where we are right now and be intentional about what we do next. Then we have a part to play in what the outcome is.

If we refuse to make that choice and just allow things to happen, we end up defined by what happened, rather than by what we chose to do. When we make the choice, we get to play a part in writing the ending of our story.

Our stories also impact other people. We need to share our stories with them. In doing so, we remind ourselves and others of God's faithfulness in the past, which gives us courage for the future.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Sometimes an escape from what we call normal life becomes necessary. My blog went quiet for a week because that's exactly what I needed. An escape from what is my normal life to something different.

Time for some camping with friends. Some people asked me if camping with friends and their kids would really be break. I told them yes before and even after I would still say it was. Even crazy wind, rain, and thunderstorms, on the same day we had scorching heat didn't stop the time away from being an escape.

I've been reflecting on what made this an escape from normal life in the few days since I'v been back. The conclusion I've come to is the absence of technology and the inability to do anything about the list of all the things I needed to do at home. My escape was a break from the things that can tire me out without me even realizing it. The laptop left at home. The cell phone mostly off - checked only a couple times a day. And I was too far away for the list to matter. That's what made it an escape.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the busy-ness and demands of life that we lose sight of our need to get away. But, we were created to nee time away from the demands of life, because even the good things can drain us over time.

Jesus modelled this and taught it to His disciples. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus sent His disciples away from the crowds and then spent time alone by Himself. "Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He has dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray." (Matthew 14:22-23).

After a time of busy ministry Jesus took a break and He made sure His disciples took one too. He escaped for a while before He stepped back into the demands of His ministry and life. This wasn't a one time thing for Him either. (See also Mark 1:35 and 6:31-32.)

If Jesus needed to escape to a solitary place sometimes and taught His disciples the importance of doing so, then how much more do we need to do the same?

There's no clear prescription for what this time should look like - just that we need to do it. It's not about what it looks like, doing a specific thing. It's about taking time away.

For me these times of escape have had many different looks. Camping. A retreat. A walk or hike. A couple hours of just ignoring my phone and email. It's not so much the format of it, but the practice of it that matters.

When was the last time you escaped the demands of life to be refreshed?

Are you in need of another time?

What do you need to do to plan or schedule your next time of escape?