Tag Archives: Christianity

my first fast

Growing up, my family, not to mention the church I was raised in, paid little attention to giving things up during the season of Lent or fasting, for that matter. This year, I’ll be fasting from an over-abundance of social media and enternmainment. Now. I don’t being going cold turkey. Let me explain.

I’m on the phone and the computer all day at the office. What excuse do I have to continue to be on it, surfing the net, filling time with mindless videos on YouTube or Netflix, when I could be spending that time with God instead? None. That’s just it.

With that being said, I’m taking a sporadic hiatus.

  • Between 4 PM and 8 AM on any given day (basically overnight), my goal is to not be finding myself in the mist of said mindless internet usage. That means no Facebook. No Twitter. No surfing the web unless it’s an absolute need — paying bills, finding a yellow bridesmaid’s dress for a summer wedding, a face-time date I already had scheduled with a friend, blogging (necessary blogging), renewing books online, etc.
  • One night a week, I’m allowing myself to catch up on shows that I enjoy watching (not to be mindlessly lost, but to watch them before they expire…unless I’ve caught up by now). This one also depends on my internet accessibility. It’s pretty sketchy where I live and if I can’t connect, I won’t be watching anything.
  • One afternoon each week — a Saturday or Sunday when I don’t have plans — I will allow myself to watch ONE faith-message based movie: i.e. October Baby, Ultimate Gift, Ultimate Life, Courageous, etc.
  • One night a week, I will allow myself to go out, alone – date night with Jesus. Doesn’t matter what it is — visiting a coffee shop with my Bible and journal in two, going out for dinner somewhere with the same items, dressing up (who says I can’t), going for a long walk or a hike even. I’ve done this before and I highly recommend it…to anyone, not just us awesome single ladies.
  • All that time I used to or would normally spend in front of the computer or TV, I’ll be spending focused on Jesus. Whether it be getting out into nature and going for a walk weather finally warms up (it is March after all), reading his Word (my Bible), journaling, prayer, reading books about Christian living, grace and faith in God, writing — maybe I’ll work on that novel, reading inspirational fiction (something with God at its center) or volunteering.
  • I will still be blogging, but only between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM and only once or twice during those given days. I may share an article or post a tweet or status update during that time. I will not be “checking in” anywhere outside of those hours. I do have limited access to social media and email at the office and will sporadically be checking in during those hours…note: sporadically.

I’m both excited, filled with anticipation, and terrified to see what God will do with my heart and life during those 40 days. Maybe it’ll be a lifelong choice I’ll make going forward. I need more quiet in my life, more days unplugged and not connected to the internet for a few hours (thus the basic phone).

And I’m reaching out to my social realm of friends to aid in keeping me accountable. If you’re reading this and seeking the same, leave me a comment. I’ll get back to you. If you’re a friend and have my number, text me. *Hugs to all…and here’s to the next 40 days. May God bless them!

how Christians can interact with Halloween

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17.16

Halloween

Images of trick-or-treaters dressed to the nines in Dorothy, princess, superhero and witch costumes, candy and carved pumpkins come to my mind.

And yet, I’m sure Christians around the world have heard it before:

“Don’t celebrate Halloween. It’s the Devil’s holiday…”

That thought never entered my mind until I got to college.

Just the other day, a friend said the same thing.

What happened? I mean, sure, there’s a lot of worldly things tied to the holiday itself, but where did the community aspect of it go? Is it even okay for us to have fun?

When I was a kid, my parents never taught me how to honor the “evil” side of Halloween. Sure, I knew about it, but we didn’t celebrate that. We celebrated community and shared relationships with one another. I have many good memories tied to this particular yearly event (outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving).

As a child, I remember dressing up as princesses, Raggedy Anne, Ariel (Disney’s Little Mermaid) and Belle (Beauty and the Beast) each year and going trick-or-treating in the small town where my family attended church.  It was harmless fun, plus, I got tons of candy, which went bad because I got sick of it after a while and probably led to all those pesky cavities…not to mention the inches on my adolescent waistline. But I digress…

A few years passed and somewhat similar costumes made their way back into my fall wardrobe, worn once a year, in the forms of witches, vampires and road kill during my high school and college years. I attended high school parties, held at school…I wasn’t the partying type although those occurred to, I’m sure, and festivities held at what will always be my first official home church when I moved to Brookings, SD. Trunk-or-Treat was the huge thing then…seemed fun, even though I never went.

And even now, as an adult, I do enjoy dressing up, for the fun of it, but opted not to today. I donned a simple, black turtleneck sweater and jeans this morning and chose one of the two pairs of “Halloween” earrings I own and dressed down. There’s still the office Halloween potluck, put on by the Team Member Engagement Committee, of which I’m very active in and a party with my church crew tomorrow evening…perhaps then I’ll don my Merida costume in every effort to live the life of a Scottish princess for a few hours.

One hot topic that is continuously brought to the table: Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with Halloween. I’ve taken part in conversations with friends who share what they’re doing instead, but, in thinking about my past experience with the day and the festivities our culture has around it, I discovered one common thread: relationships.

When I was a child, we went door to door. Even the cranky, old man living in the darkest house on the corner joined the world in handing out candy. We related.

In high school, college and today, those parties and festivities were held to connect with people.

Yes, God commands in his Word that we should be in the world, and not of it, but he doesn’t demand us to hide from it (John 15.19, 17.16, Romans 12.2).

I’m called to be involved.

To be interested in…

To reach out…

To relate…

To get my hands and feet dirty…

I stumbled on an article conveying just that thought this morning at Relevant Magazine, found here. David Valentine writes about his home state of Texas, how they observe Halloween and how other churches across the country view the holiday in general. He also makes a valid point that Christmas has its origins in pagan religions and how Christians don’t seem to shy away from that holiday.

He points out that while steering clear of the things of this world, we shouldn’t lock ourselves away and how we should instead get our hands dirty:

“In our increasingly fast paced society, we see less and less of our neighbors. Whether you live in a high-rise in the city or your closest neighbor is a mile down the dirt road on the left, we are more disengaged with society than ever before…it becomes increasingly difficult to take time to engage with our neighbors.

Halloween is a once-a-year opportunity where everyone is out and about. Children with parents in tow are running door to door (or trunk to trunk) for the next bit of free candy. The cranky old man turns his porch light on and gives out candy by the handful. Not to mention, someone in the neighborhood, there is a party happening…”

Valentine poses this question: What if the Church stopped being afraid of the world on Halloween and began to engage it?

What if?

What would that look like?

What if we allowed God to take something meant for evil iand spin it around for good?

What if?

We need to step up and redefine the way we interact with Halloween and we need to find a way to include the gospel in doing so. Could that mean handing out candy or other goodies, including healthy options? Sure.

We need to engage with our neighborhoods and surrounding community.

Our children get dressed up (because it’s fun) and go door to door asking for candy.

We choose to sit on our front lawns and talk with our neighbors.

We revamp the way we see Halloween and not view it as just another day, but rather one day a year when all of our neighbors are out in the streets. We have a unique opportunity to interact with everyone.

Here’s an idea: throw a Halloween block party every year for the kids in your community. People will show up to play games, get candy and hear the Gospel…just a thought.

Valentine closes with this thought and I couldn’t agree more:

“If you feel convicted that you shouldn’t celebrate Halloween, you certainly don’t have to. But perhaps you should reconsider how you can use the opportunities the holiday provides to reach other. If nothing else,  Halloween is a day designed by our culture to engage with our neighbors. Perhaps instead of condemning the “evils” of Halloween, or even simply turning off the front porch light on October 31, you should consider giving our candy and chatting with your neighbors or inviting everyone to a party…engage with your community. Who knows, you may have the joy of watching the resurrected Jesus bring those who are dead to life.”

And what greater joy is there than that?

Recommended further reading here.

dancing with Jesus

Dance.

I’ve always loved watching people beautifully and gracefully move from one end of the dance floor or ice rink to the other. I’ve even come to enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars this year, particularly Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes Jones on the hit TV series Glee. You see, she’s not what Hollywood defines as perfect. She’s not skinny. She’s not morbidly obese either. She’s real. She’s genuine.

And she’s not afraid to show it.

I love that!

I wish more celebrities were like that. The list may be short, but they impact their world more than they know, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone, Jennifer Hudson, Tyler Perry, Zooey Deschanel…just to name a few.

Anyway, before I go too far with that tangent…

Have you ever watched professional dancers or skating partners? There’s an intimate dynamic that occurs between them. The crowds ooh and ah over each turn and spin, cameras flash, but the two at the center of it all don’t see it. They are focused 100% on their partner, attuned to the slightest signal, responding instantly, beautifully and effortlessly.

There is a part of me that hopes to actually experience dance one day outside of the walls and privacy of my apartment. I remember wanting to learn the art of it when I was a child but my parents couldn’t afford it…then again, I never mentioned it. I didn’t want to be a “burden.” Looking back, my choice in not voicing that dream also had to do more with fear than anything else.

You see, I lack a certain amount of physical grace. Then again, perhaps an accident-prone young woman would be gifted in that area. I might just have to find out.

Dance:

  • Noun: an artistic form of nonverbal communication
  • Noun: taking a series of rhythmical steps (and movements) in time to music
  • Verb: move in a graceful and rhythmical way

Life is a dance. We get to choose the type: divine or worldly. In choosing the latter, it can be easy to perform for the applause of those around us. Girls dress a certain way to get the attention of boys. We talk a certain way because our friends do. Parents send their children to certain school because it’s what the neighbor or community does. We sometimes even watch certain TV shows or listen to a specific style of music just to fit in.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. In high school, I dressed a certain way and listened to Limp Bizkit and Metallica (even though I secretly hated it) just so I could fit in or get a little attention. I wanted them to genuinely like me. I was sick of being the outsider, always looking in.

Thing is – any attention and most of the conversations or invitations I received were not genuine. I came to that realization when I began to learn what having a real relationship with Jesus meant…in college.

There are times I find myself riding that same carousel. Around and around I go on a seemingly endless cycle that leaves me empty and never heading anywhere.

But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I really crave the former: a lifetime spent dancing with Jesus.

I’m wired to.

Remember the description of dancers/skaters in the midst of their act; the intimacy of it?

What if we knew God that intimately? What if we were so focused on Him, so in tune with Him, that like Jesus we could say, “I do only what my Father wills.”? What keeps us from that? What keeps us in angst; keeps us striving and experiencing burnout?

I use to focus solely on me. I sometimes still do.

And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, this important truth: human beings can only serve one thing at a time and we should not have any other idol before God (Exodus 20.3). If I’m going to proclaim I want to worship God with my life, I can’t and shouldn’t esteem the opinions of my friends (or what people in general think) more highly than God’s opinion of me.

Affirmation is a huge thing for me. Encouragement means the world to me. Those things leave me feeling full, flying “high as a kite” (so-to-speak), and feeling better equipped to take on anything that may come my way on a daily basis. They are not sinful things in their own accord, but when I begin to make them my ultimate goal in life, it becomes an idol, or a sin, and therefore, a serious problem. That feeling equipped thing is an illusion…I can’t do anything apart from Jesus (John 15.1-8 , also see Philippians 4.13).

I can either dance for His applause or I can dance for man’s applause, but I can’t do both at the same time.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years (thank you Beth Moore and two of my dearest friends) and probably will continue to for some time. I know that He’s giving me more than I can handle in this morning, but there is beauty in the fact that I don’t have to face that junk alone. He’s there with me, swinging me through that next dance move.

Romans 12.1-2 has been extremely helpful to me during this time (among others) in my life:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When we offer our lives to God as living sacrifices, He considers that worship. Dancing with Him is worship. Letting Him into your life is worship. Trusting Him with your life is worship. Life itself should be an act of worship.

I’d like to share a poem penned by Amena Brown that inspired this entry and God has also used it to further the progress Jesus is currently making in the dimly lit corners of my heart and in my life:

Dance with Him ~ Amena Brown

Dance with Him
He puts His hand on the small of my back
Two fingers pressed into the center of my palm
He pulls me close
Steps with His left, my right
I focus on His eyes and try to ignore my feet as they clumsily count one – two – three

I recall that first moment quite beautifully. The only difference is that then, I can envision placing my feet on His, as a daughter would on her father’s, as He took me around the dance floor. Oh, how easy it was to simply trust and believe then.

I can also relate to those clumsy feet. They still are, most days anyway.

Have you ever watched someone learn to dance? Watch this video – see that little girl in the middle? I can relate to her…in more ways than one. 

I’m often like that with God. I’m so focused on what I think needs to be done or on what I already know to do, whether that be reading my Bible, leading a Bible study, fulfilling other responsibilities to those around me and my church; it’s easy to take my eyes off Him. It’s easy to turn what should be an act of intimate surrender into role behavior which ultimately leads to burn-out and ineffectiveness. That happened yesterday…

Nothing went as planned and that just goes to show Who is in charge and it’s definitely not me.

When I surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

I’m trying to trust Him
He knows this dance better than me
I’m still a novice and it’s obvious
I have yet to lean in and let Him control the turns

God knows I’m trying. He definitely knows this dance better than me, little “Miss Know-It-All” that I am. This patience thing is tough.

He takes His time and even when I miss a step
It’s fine
He knows I’m learning

His patience blows me away. I can’t even fathom the depth of it all…

He wants me to put my hand in His
Close my eyes and trust Him
With my life
My heart
With worry
And “I’m so scared”
With hurt
Worth and unworthy
Loving and unlovable
And my heart has been hurt before
I have been burned before
Loved
And endured loss before
I am in no mood for a dance
No mood to be romanced
I have become a grace cynic
And love’s worst critic

This world is a beautiful, broken mess and the echoes of Eden affect every part of it . Life isn’t easy. Life hurts. And that fact makes trusting hard.

Do I trust Him with my life?
With my heart?
With my worries?
With my fears?
With my worth?
With my identity?
With my life’s purpose?
With the pen of this beautiful, broken story; the story He’s given me?

I can honestly say that most of the time, no…I don’t. There’s a huge part of me that wants to, but, in my human condition and the world I’m in make it difficult to simply make that move.

I will continue to strive to trust Him, and, by His grace, I can…One day I will…when His strength has been made complete in me (2 Corinthians 12.9).

He sends me invitations every day
And even though I have yet to RSVP
He doesn’t remind me
He keeps pursuing
Taking steps in spite of me

I always dreamt of being pursued this way. What a wondrous thing it is to realize that I am! If only I would accept this truth each and every day.

He is a songwriter
Composing the notes that hold together eternity
And He wants to teach my limbs to sing
He’s been waiting to watch me let go of woe
And worry…until my soul
Sings in that beautiful voice He gave me
That I have someone come to think
It not so beautiful

He wants me to let go. Will I? When? And I’m guilty of buying into Satan’s lie that the voice God gave me isn’t beautiful. It is!

To dance with Him
I must give in
And give up
Plus
The trust it takes to really love
And I want to love Him unbridled
Believe in Him with a faith that is unshakeable
Like tree roots centuries deep
Until I learn to follow His time
Take deep breaths
Rest my head on His chest
And my cares at His feet
But I never fear –
As long as I depend on me

“As long as I depend on me…” Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s funny how, when we depend on ourselves, we think we’ve got it all figured out and something happens, forcing us to realize that we don’t. It happens all the time. I really should fear when I find myself making plans without Him. Yesterday is a prime example and still sticks out like a sore thumb. I had planned on coming into work early and was looking forward to an awesome new upgrade to my computer (Windows 7!) prior to the start of my shift. That didn’t happen, nor did the rest of my day go according to plan:

  • Creative juices were flowing and I wanted to finish this post – didn’t happen.
  • Project work needed to be completed – didn’t happen.

I was frustrated, found myself thinking rather negative thoughts (which is not usually the norm for me) and annoyed with the world for raining on my parade.

But…

God spun those plans on their heads and in turn brought a fullness into the midst of that chaos with opportunities to serve my boss, my co-workers and my neighbor when I finally arrived home, not to mention those on the other end of the line on the calls I take on a daily basis.

Countless opportunities.

The frustration ebbed and my general annoyance vanished almost immediately.

God is in control.

When I live in constant surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

Take His hand
Take a chance
Fingertips in the palm of the One who holds galaxies
In His hand
Hand on His shoulder
Heart in His hand
We dance
To a down beat
That keeps time with His heartbeat
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
His is the song that never ends
His love
Sinners become friends
He wants to dance with you
Until the only Song you hear
Is Him

To be filled, we must first bet emptied – of ourselves, our sin, our wants, our desires. I believe that anytime we cling to anything – even good things – other than God, they become a hinderance to the working of the Holy Spirit. That job we fear losing, the ministry we can’t let fail, that relationship we’re afraid of letting go, whatever it is…when we begin to strive only for that thing(s) – hold tight to it – we begin to operate in our own will. To be overshadowed, we need to stay surrendered completely, focused on our Savior and not the dance itself. Our actions will otherwise lose power because we’ve left Him behind.

I’m nearing there. I’ve taken His hand. I’m learning to surrender. I’m learning to trust Him with my heart. I’m learning to let Him lead…bending, twirling, twisting, turning, falling…until the only Song I hear is Him.

a place to start

Starting anything seems to be the hardest part for us.

How often have you thought that you needed to begin a diet and exercise program but this week doesn’t seem like the right time to begin? Or you found that if you started on Monday, come Tuesday you had already fallen off the wagon? (I’ll let you in on a secret: Start on a Saturday…you’re welcome.)

Most of us know at least three things that, if we did them, would immensely improve our lives. Maybe one of those things would be to do a better job at managing our money, or spend more time with our family, or decide once and for all that we’re going to change careers, go back to school, or start a business.

Not having enough information is rarely the problem. We just never get started.

I’ve struggled with this too, in the fact that I have multiple dreams and goals I would love to see met in my life. I have all the facts. I know what to do. I just get hung up on all of the “buts” that tie into each idea.

Allow me to elaborate on that one word for a moment. 

I’ve had many opportunities to talk with friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances about their life goals; they willingly and readily share the processes they need to go through get there or the ideas they had on how to get there but…

There’s always a “but.”

I stumbled on several articles just this past week on the power this one word has on all of us. An interesting power, actually. Whenever the word “but” is used, people tend not to remember anything that was said before it.

For example, your boss asks you to join him in his office late on a Friday afternoon. The conversation begins like this: “We have really appreciated your work for our company these last several years, but…

or

“You did an excellent job heading up the project for such and such, but…”

Or maybe, a young man receives a text message from a girl he’s been seeing and it reads: “I have really enjoyed dating you these last three months, but…

See what happens there?

Hearing that one word removes everything before it from our memory and we tend to focus on everything that comes after it.

Isn’t that strange?

Unfortunately, we tend to do the same when it comes to Jesus and the free gift of grace He offers. Sin possesses the same kind of power that one word. Sin is the negation, the “no” that attempts to blot out the truth Jesus Christ offers.

Sure, Jesus loves me, but I’m a sinner.
The Bible says all are saved by faith in Jesus Christ but I’ve done too much.
I know Jesus can do much through me, but I need to fix me before He can do anything.

But…

We forget everything else that comes before that one word.

We forget the price He paid.

We forget that He covered everything with His blood.

No sin is so far removed that it hasn’t been covered.

In The Gospel of Yes, Mike Glenn writes, “The memory of past sin and the realization of current sin loom large, blocking out our view of the work Christ is doing in our lives today. Sin has a way of making us forget the goodness of God. Sin denies the presence and power of God in us and our world.”

Satan uses our awareness to twist the truth of grace; to blind us. He uses our sin to trick us into believing it has more power than it really does. Sin devalues us as people and causes us to see others and all creation as lacking worth. It belies the good work Christ does in us and in the world.

Jesus gave His life for you; sin has no power. Death has no sting.

We all have a past. We have things in our lives that cause shame or grief (tools used by Satan to keep us down). We forget the promise of forgiveness and the second chance(s) that Christ offers.  We have a hard time believing that a second chance could still apply after all that we’ve done.

I struggle with my past and my sins just as much as the next person. Satan uses those things to blind me; to trick me into believing that it has more power than it really does.  He has a thing about keeping me down.

But how does one overcome that “but” in their life?

First, we must let go of the lie; the one that we aren’t worth it; that the second chance does not apply.

Second, we must confess and repent and not the way many have preached/taught since the birth of the church. We don’t simply show up to confession, list off our sins and go on our merry way. Grace does not work that way.

It’s about the combination of confession and repentance. True confession and repentance cannot exist without the other. There is a vast difference between the two and yet, they play a very important part in the process of forgiveness. We are very familiar with the term forgiveness. How many times have we been told to simply confess our sin(s)? There is a certain emphasis on God’s forgiveness as a free gift, and in emphasizing it, we unknowingly cheapen it. We hop, skip and jump right over repentance…which includes confession and so much more. It goes beyond simply confessing sin to a definite change in how a person approaches life.

Grace extended/Forgiveness is not a do-whatever-I-want-and-get-away-with-it ticket.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We did nothing on our own to deserve it and, yet, He freely offers it. We are saved by grace, not by works (Romans 11.6). We cannot save ourselves. Only God can and He did. Through His Son, Jesus.

He paid it all. No part of that debt has been left for any one of us to pay by working hard and cleaning up our own lives. We cannot do that on our own. Jesus opened the door. We only have to walk through it. And yet…we struggle with accepting the truth that this gift, the gift of salvation, is free. Who would give away something like that? So we think we have to earn it.

Here’s a nugget of truth that makes my heart and soul smile: The mess you are in, the mess I am in, is why He came.

Jesus isn’t unaware of the brokenness of this world or the circumstances of your life. He knows better than anyone that we cannot fix it ourselves.

He came. He gave.

Everything

Himself

His life

All He wants in return is you…

Me…

Us…

We must allow Him, through that repentance, to change our minds. After confessing sin, a person turns from his or her previous lifestyle and commits to following Jesus. This isn’t easy. It’s something that happens daily; a moment-by-moment decision we must make on a constant basis.

It’s about living out the following:

Then He said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost and destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” Luke 9.23-26 NLT

or from The Message:

Then he told them that they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels.”

Our minds are transformed when we allow Him a place to start.

Things are not perfect and they won’t be in this fallen, beautiful world we live in until the day of His return. All God is looking for is a place to begin.

A place to start

Jesus Himself took challenges and difficulties in stride. They gave no reason for Him to change course.

When He had been preaching to the five thousand men and their families, Jesus worked with what he had to feed them: two fish and five loaves of bread. He started there.

And when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, He did the same. In Jesus day, men did not speak to women in public – not even their wives – and they definitely didn’t speak with Samaritan women. Jesus did. He came to her in her need. He started there. He opened her eyes to God and His truth: That her being a Samaritan did not lessen God’s love for her. He told her about her life; He didn’t tell her to first get her life straightened out and then come back. He said, in effect, “This is who you are…This is what is going on right now in your life… And this is a good enough place to start.”

“Starting seems to be the hardest part for us…there is always a cost associated with changing your life.”

All Jesus really wants is a place to start.

True change isn’t about you or me trying harder or working on a new plan. It’s not about reading the next best-selling self-help book out there. Until you allow Him to change your mind and your heart, anything you do or attempt to do will be filtered through a mind formed by the ways of the world. Mike Glenn writes, “The Kingdom of God has come near in Christ, so we have to change our minds about love, truth, reality, eternity, Jesus, God, wealth, success, strength, weakness, hope, joy and love. In other words, everything!”

What does that look like in our lives?

Jesus says that we are to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls. To love God is to think in an entirely new way. We think of Jesus in a new way. We see and understand God in a new way as Jesus reveals the Father to us through His Spirit. We transform our minds by spending time in the Word, in prayer and surrounding ourselves with others who believe and want the same things. We grow and are transformed in that; through community, through the body of believers, through His family.

Rather than being buried under our mistakes, failures, griefs and regrets and living in a place where we no longer recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror, we let Him in.

The gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus, changes that. When we let Him in; when we let Him take the driver’s seat, the Spirit changes our true identity in Christ. We leave behind everything that is false and start walking toward the truth of Christ and who He created us to be.

But to allow Him the room to change your life, you must allow Him the space to change the way you think. You stop fighting the current of God’s grace and start flowing with it. Once the mind is transformed, the heart soon follows. To be truly transformed, to truly live a new life, our salvation has to be about our entire person, including our minds. This allows us to truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…and it gives us the ability to love others as we love ourselves. The love we have for ourselves is transformed into the way God loves us…He is our identity.

We no longer condemn ourselves or others.

The truth of the gospel is that Jesus came to offer life; more of life to all of us, no matter what happened before; no matter the choices we made before we met Him. We have been purchased with an immeasurable price. Knowing that should change the way we live.

Peace is more than the absence of conflict and joy is more than not being sad.

We all have a past, but we are not defined by it.

The image of God defines us and the price the Christ paid confirms our worth.

We all have a past and even though you and I have found life in Christ (oh, how I hope you have), no one starts at zero. Our past is part of our story; part of our present and it, along with the choices we make right now, affect our future. We cannot separate it as it serves as our redemption story. The truth of that gives other a testimony of the gospel at work in your life. Jesus is simply asking you to let Him start somewhere. Embrace the truth of Whose you are and to Whom you belong.

a foundational prayer life

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees. – Corrie Ten Boom

I once had a Sunday school teacher equate prayer to an invisible phone line that went up to heaven. It was her cheesy explanation of how prayer works. The difference being that there were no busy signals and, with today’s technology, nor would there be warnings of a battery dying or calls dropping.

I can honestly say that I’ve since learned that prayer isn’t like that at all. God does not work that way. He longs for a relationship with each of His children; one where the child is changed.

We’re currently studying a portion of the life of Daniel at my church here in the Twin Cities (Daniel 6:1-17 if you’d like to check it out) and the idea of having a foundational prayer life (living in such a way that my relationship with God is the foundation, the rock, on which I stand) was brought to light for me this past Sunday through the gift God gave one of my closest friends. (Sermon can be heard here, located under “Heroes of Faith: Daniel”.) Through this study on this particular hero of faith, we were drawn to verse 10, which ends with “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

Did you catch that?

Just as he had done before…

Prayer wasn’t something new for Daniel. Prayer was an act he practiced each and every day.

Just as he had done before…

Prayer changed him from the inside out.

Just as he had done before…

Talk about commitment!

Daniel maintained a healthy fear of God, which kept his fear in the right place. He wasn’t afraid of what this world could do to him.

God never demanded that Daniel get on his knees three times a day. He didn’t have to – it was his delight. No government decree could keep him from praying to [God], loving Him, seeking Him, worshiping Him. He was much more committed to God’s eternal glory than to his personal survival.” – Scotty Smith

For Daniel, prayer wasn’t based on his situation; it was the foundation on which everything else was built. When the situations in his life changed, how he related to God remained constant. It never changed.

Being obedient to God also led to his safety in the lion’s den (punishment for going against the new rule King Darius put in writing). It was through his prayer life that Daniel’s faith was strengthened and he was able to face certain death to proclaim the name of His God. Oh, if I were to be that bold and daring!

Events, people and situations change, but our relationship with God stays the same. – Rick Wipf & Ben Gietzen

We live in a country where we can freely worship and pray. There are countless believers around the world who are persecuted for their faith, even to the point of death, and they never renounce the name of Jesus as Lord. I also know that we won’t have religious freedom forever…the Bible says so. We must understand that culture doesn’t dictate how we live out our faith. We live our faith out based on God. The rest is just the details.

I long for that in my own life: that consistency, both on my part and coming to the full knowledge of how constant and good God is.

Prior to my college career, I used to pray when I or someone else needed something. I also prayed out of habit before I went to bed and before each meal…that was what I was taught and I obeyed because it was expected. Now that I’ve been learning to move beyond the legality of religion and into the freedom of Jesus Christ, I still pray for blessing over my meals – but not all the time. The guilt that used to come with missing it faded away. Instead, prayer is now a constant in my everyday life. I’m constantly thinking about, focusing on and searching for God throughout most of my day. I say most because, yes, I do fall. I get distracted by the millions of things that bombard me: my responsibilities, that text message coming in, an email, the next phone call. Thing is, I get to choose to come back; to reel my focus back to Whom it belongs.

Prayer is of the utmost importance. It’s not an end even though we tend make it one. It’s the primary means by which we communicate to and relate with God. We cannot develop their spiritual life and grow in actually knowing Jesus Christ in a personal and intimate way if we don’t spend time with Him. We are given the ability to overcome temptation and grow in holiness when we continue to come before Him in prayer, day in and day out. And we become more like Him.

Have you ever heard the phrase “you become like those you spend time with”? It’s true. The more time you spend with God, the more you become like Him. Prayer allows Him to change you from the inside out.

Have you ever just hung out with Jesus?

What does that look like in your life?

For me, it’s a continuous conversation that gets picked up frequently throughout my day. It occurs when I first crawl out of bed in the morning and continues when I’m on my way to work. It happens when I’m talking to a distressed caller. I even carry that conversation when I’m at the gym. You get the idea.

Some may view this as a waste of time and would argue that you can’t “hear” God talk back to you. I’ve even been asked, “Why risk looking like a lunatic who talks to herself?”

I can’t help but laugh…and not this sarcastic laugh either. It’s the deep, joyous kind of laugh because I know His voice. I’ve heard it. I’ve felt His Spirit stir within my heart and soul.

I’ve leaned in.

Close.

I’ve discovered a thing or two about Him and how He relates to me. 

He greets me with the sunrise each morning, even on cloudy days.

He pours His love over me through His Word with each piece of scripture I meditate on to kick off my day.

He reminds of my purpose the minute I open the daily Scripture emails I receive.

He shows me glimpses of His glory when a cardinal or purple finch lands on my balcony.

He soothes my soul with the whisperings of His Spirit when I am at a loss for words. Have you ever sat in silence before God? Sure, it’s intimidating not knowing what He will do when we drop the walls on the box we tend to continuously put Him in, but in doing so, He moves in ways we cannot comprehend. It’s satisfying. It’s fulfilling.

And more often than not, He speaks to me through the music I choose to listen to; He always has. It’s through songs like “Unstoppable Love” by Kim Walker-Smith, “How He Loves” by David Crowder, “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin and more that make me stop and think. They set my emotions on ablaze; passions stir and the next I know, I’ve got “spirit-flesh” (a.k.a. goose bumps/chills).

And as for the lunatic thing: well, I wish I didn’t have to break it to you, but with the technology of the Bluetooth and smart phones, I’ve seen my fair share of people who look like they’re talking to themselves. I should be able to blend right in! Welcome to the twenty-first century. But then, most of my conversation with God occurs in my mind and in my heart.  And it is my hope that I will choose, starting today, to be more intentional when it comes to my prayer life; to delight in Him always.

How about you? Have you experienced God today? Have you simply knelt before Him in silence, allowing Him to speak into your life; into your heart?

Don’t simply base it on your situation, depending on where you are at in life and what you’re struggling/dealing with.  Actively seek to put prayer at the foundation of your relationship with God. Pray based on where you are in this moment, and the next. Be intentional about making the time to hang out with Him. Is life good? Thank and praise Him! Are things hard? Seek counsel, wisdom and comfort from Him. And sometimes, you may simply need to “be still and know that He is God.” Take delight in your God.

 If what God thinks matters most, then you consult Him most. If what God does matters most, then you ask Him to act first. In other words, you live your life by prayer. – Scotty Smith

Week 39: Personally, I Think My Spiritual Gift Should Be…

The entire Vine crew took their spiritual gifts and personality tests this past week and, while I wasn’t surprised by my results, they still baffle me.

My highest scores ran the gambit with hospitality, encouragement and mercy. No surprise there.

But my personality…mainly Choleric. Leadership. Control freak…

I’m baffled by that…and yet, I’m not. I enjoy being in lead positions at work and in some circles at church, but I don’t have to lead everything.

My question, though, is why not spiritually? Is this something I need to strengthen in?

I’ll probably be posting on this topic again in the near future. Until then…be baffled with me.

For your own spiritual gifts testing: http://buildingchurch.net/g2s-i.htm