Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Need Others to Figure Out our Calling

We were never meant to discern what God has given us to do on our own. We're supposed to need others to help us figure out what it looks like for us to do what God has planned for us to do.

I was struck by this as I read and reflected on the angel's conversation with Mary in Luke 1:26-38. In these verses, the angel tells Mary about what God has planned for her. Mary chose to trust God and surrender to His plan despite the unknowns it brought. Mary was willing to be obedient to God's call on her life.

But, what really struck me was what Mary did next - after her conversation with the angel. Luke 1:39-40 says, "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth." In the face of her great and overwhelming calling from God, May went to someone who might understand and help her on this journey. She went to Elizabeth.

The angel had told Mary that Elizabeth was also carrying an unexpected child according to God's plan. It would make sense that Mary would seek out Elizabeth in this time. A person who might have some insight and understanding as she tried to make sense of this all.

We also need people we can turn to when we're working to make sense of something God has said to us, has called us to. I don't believe we were meant to try to figure it all out alone. We were meant to work through these things in relationship, not in isolation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Missing Piece in our Discussions about Sabbath

In the last few years, I've noticed an increase in the amount of time we spend talking about Sabbath, about our need to regular times of rest in our lives. In a world that never seems to shut off, this has been a refreshing conversation to hear and engage in. It's been encouraging to see people become intentional about beginning to practice it again.

But, as we've done so, I think we've missed a vital part of what Sabbath was intended to be when God designed it for us. I know I missed it for a long time, and didn't even realize I was missing it.

I think this piece we've is the reason why our efforts at creating Sabbath in our lives have fallen short of what we hoped they would bring. I don't think it's because we don't need Sabbath, but because we haven't really understood the fullness of it.

We first see the concept of Sabbath-rest in the story of creation in Genesis when God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day. God intended it to be a day where no work was done, a day of resting from the busy-ness of life. That's the part of it we're getting right in our current discussions of it.

Leviticus 23:2-3 outlines God's plans for Sabbath:
"There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord."
Did you catch the phrase in the middle of the commands about not doing any work and resting?

". . . a day of sacred assembly . . ."

Part of God's plan for Sabbath was for his people to gather together. It wasn't just about resting from work; it was also about gathering together with like-minded people - about community.

Even with all the religious aspect of keeping Sabbath the Jews added that weren't in God's original plan, they still had this part right. They gathered together on the Sabbath.

As I study Sabbath in Scripture and compare it to much of the conversation I'm hearing and participating in about it today, I'm more convinced than ever that we're missing a vital piece. And that missing piece is the reason why our efforts at Sabbath fail completely after a short while, or don't seem to bring all that Scripture talks about.

Along with rest, our Sabbath has to include gathering in community with people, with other Christians. Time together to build relationship, to study Scripture, to pray, to enjoy one another's company. I believe that if we began to include this, our experience of Sabbath will change, and our desire for it will grow.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Something we don't Talk about Enough

I've started and deleted this post probably 100 times in the last few months. I haven't actually been sure what to say or how to say it when it comes to talking about what this post is about. But, the prompting that I need to write this won't go away.

Until the last couple of years, I don't think I've ever talked about this about at all - except with a few people that were very carefully chosen. Up to that point, I'd mostly been able to hide what was going on from others, but at that point I couldn't hide it any longer. I had to let other people know, and in the process discovered how freeing it was to share and allow others into that part of my journey.

But, inviting others in didn't come without risks. It required being vulnerable. It required letting others know without knowing how to they would handle that information. It required removing a wall that I've always lived behind with people. It meant I was going to have to decide that the potential stigma of it wasn't going to stop me.

But, it also came with benefits. When it was no longer a secret, some of the power of it was lost. I discovered that being vulnerable about it with the right people actually led to deeper connections with people, and a willingness from them to share their own struggles. Sharing it with others brought a freedom I didn't know it was possible to have.

Sharing it here invites a whole new aspect of it. I don't necessarily get to pick the people who read this and who would now know. I think that's part of what has caused me to start and delete this post so many times. It's more risk to share, but I'm learning the importance of choosing to talk about these things.

I think so much of the stigma that exists around this - especially in the church - exists because we don't talk about it. We have to learn to talk about it. It affects so many more people than we realize. And, the only way we get to truly be able to find what healing looks like for us is to talk about it. We have to bring it out of the dark, so that the light can shine on it.

Mental illness and the conversations we need to have around it are happening more and more in our society, and they're beginning to happen in the church with greater frequency. That's a good thing. We need these conversations to happen, because we need to learn how to handle this better.

I've discovered that when we look around any given church gathering we find ourselves at there are more people around us struggling with it than we realize. Most of the time, we won't even realize they're struggling when we look at them or talk to them. They seem to live pretty normal lives and do all the things we would expect. But, what we don't know, unless they choose to share, is the struggles happening under the surface - the challenges they face to be in that place, to live what we would consider to be a normal life.

That's been me for most of my life. Living with an anxiety disorder. Most of the time I'm still able to manage reasonably well. I've been lucky in that regard - some people have a much more difficult time than me with the same thing. But, that doesn't mean it's always easy for me to be where I am or do what I'm doing. Often is a large group setting I'm hanging on, but not by much. This is one of those places where I've realized the importance of having people in my world who know my struggle. They may not always know exactly what my experience feels like, but I know they care about me and want to be there for me. Most of the time I manage fine and no one looking at me who doesn't know would even guess.

So, what do we do with the whole topic of mental illness and the church?

We need to talk about it.
We need to share.
We need to love.
We need to support.
We need to encourage.
And most of all, we need to be the family for each other that we're called to be in Scripture. That includes all of these things, and so much more.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Where are Your Eyes Fixed?

Where are your eyes fixed?

What are they focused on? What are you looking at?

I'm not talking about the things you watch on TV or online. I'm not talking about your physical eyes at all.

I guess you could say I'm talking about the eyes of your heart when I ask these questions. The internal part of you that looks at your life and what's happening.

Where are the eyes of your heart fixed?

Are they fixed on the challenged you're facing? Or are they fixed on God?

I was challenged by this thought recently, when I was studying 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
"Therefor we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
The troubles Paul was referring to here as "light and momentary" were anything but from a human perspective. They were big. They were challenging. He was being persecuted for his bold preaching of the gospel. He had and would be beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked. Yet, he called them "light and momentary troubles."

How was Paul able to do this? How could he call all of that "light and momentary"?

Paul goes on in these verses to explain how. He spoke about where he fixed his eyes. The place he looked for perspective on his problems. When he kept his eyes fixed on God and what God was up to in them, he was able to call them "light and momentary troubles." It was all about his perspective.

When we look at our problems, the challenging things we're facing, they grow bigger. The more we look at them, the bigger they become. Over time, they'll come to seem insurmountable and overwhelming.

But, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, our problems will shrink. We'll be able to join Paul in calling them "light and momentary." Whatever we choose to focus on is what will grow bigger. So, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, instead of our problems, He grows bigger and our troubles grow smaller.

So, I leave you with the question I started with: Where are your eyes fixed?

Are they fixed on Jesus? Or are they fixed on your problems?

Do you need to change where they are fixed?

Friday, April 7, 2017

What is Freedom?

What do we mean when we talk about freedom?

Why do we see it as something we should purcuse?

What difference does it make in our lives?

These are questions that have been running though my mind the last few days. Today, April 7, is exactly four years since I left the first Set Free weekend (formerly called Encounter God), I would go to.

I left that weekend feeling like I had been finally freed from so many things. I had. But, I had also just begun a journey. If the freedom found in the moment is actually going to last, then we have to change the way we walk. We have to learn to live differently.

That's what these last four years have been about for me. Learning to live differently. As I look back on them, I would say they've been some of the years and they've been some of the hardest years.

They've been the best because of the intimacy of my relationship with God. That intimacy has made it possible to learn to walk differently. I've learned to better listen for God's voice and of the importance of confession and repentance in the moment I realize I've gotten off course.

They've been some of the hardest years because of some of the things I've walked through personally and with my family. Some of it, I'm still walking through now. And often the best and the hardest times have been at exactly the same time.

I've learned that finding freedom doesn't mean life is instantly difference or easier. And it doesn't necessarily get easier - what changes is how we walk through the hard times. Clinging more tightly to Jesus, rather than trying to fond our own way. The things we thought it was impossible to survive, we not only survive, but come out the other side stronger and in a deeper relationship with God.

In John 8:36 Jesus says, "So if he Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Jesus is the One who brings us freedom. He declares this purpose of His mission on earth in Luke 4:16-21 when He quoted the prophet Isaiah and stated that this Scripture was fulfilled in the hearing of those present in the synagogue that day. Jesus came to bring freedom. That's why we pursue it, desire it.

It is only through freedom in Christ that we are able to begin to live the life God intended for us. We have to be willing to step into a process of learning to live differently.

As I reflect on four years of being intentionally on this journey, I'm realizing it began long before I went to that first Set Free. But, it became more intentional after I went to a Set Free. It was there that I was introduced to a way of living intentionally differently that was clear. And it's a journey I don't want to stop.

A song by Jeremy Camp was the first song I heard as I drove away from that first weekend, and the lyrics of it have become so fitting - particularly the chorus - of what I want to say and how I want to live.

Free (by Jeremy Camp)
And I am free
And I am free
My sin was wrapped around me
Trying to drown me
You have set me free
And I am free
And I am free
The chains that held me tightly
Are finally lifting
You took that weight from me
Now I'm free

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Difference Will it Make?

What difference is this going to make in my everyday life?

That's the question I reflect on as I complete any Bible study I've been a part of. It's easy to reach the end of a Bible study and already be looking ahead to the next one we can add to our list of all the ones we've completed. An ever-growing list, an increasing pile of workbooks, an impressive amount of knowledge gained - these things can easily become our goal, even if we don't intentionally make it one.

But, if that's all it becomes, I believe we've missed the point of Bible study in the first place. It's not about all we can accomplish. It's not about gaining more head knowledge. It's not about how smart we can sound in future conversations about that topic or portion of Scripture.

The point of all our Bible study, all our work, all our learning needs to be our relationship with God. it's about allowing God to transform us to be more and more in the image of Christ. The facts we learn, the knowledge we gain is good, but it can't be our focus.

One of the ways I've found helpful in making sure I don't miss the point of the Bible studies I do is to take some time as I finish to reflect on the question: What difference is this going to make in my everyday life?

By asking this question, I slow down and look for the one or two things from the study I'm finishing that affect my life now. It might be a new understanding that changes how I live. It might be a new spiritual discipline I want to incorporate into my life. It might be a challenge to make a change in something in my life.

Whatever it is, by drawing out those one or two things, I keep myself from just checking another study off on a list. Instead, I make it about a growing and deepening relationship with God.

Can I challenge you to have a way of being intentional about paying attention to things so they can make a difference in your life rather than just being something you check off on a list?