Beating blind men

I recently saw a FB post by an outspoken Christian leader. It was politically charged, oozing contempt for those of a different political party than his own. It was meant to be funny, but it revealed a lot about his attitude toward those different from him.

I recognized myself in it. My own tendency toward “righteous anger” against those whose shortcomings I find most personally distasteful. Sure, there are the Ten Commandments, but what really rubs me wrong is when others break the Kari Commandments.

Right?!

Our response to injustice speaks volumes. It is so easy to despise certain sinners while swaggering in our own savedness. 

My friend Jess describes it like this: It’s as if we think it’s “Jesus and me” over here on one side of the line, and our job is to critique the rest of humanity. Ha!

The truth is, only Jesus is on the one side. The side marked PERFECT

The rest of us — all of us — are plopped down in the group marked LOST

The group marked BLIND.

AND, marked MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. 

Yes? Truth, yes?

Thankfully, despite us, some of us have been saved by His grace. Rescued from the burning house where we were sleeping, completely unaware of the danger. 

But sometimes we forget. We think that just because we’ve been dragged out of the burning house, that somehow we deserve the medal of honor. We despise those still lying unconscious in other burning homes, standing with our hands on our hips, full of “righteous anger.”

There is only One who deserves the medal, the One who dragged us out of the house. And our job now is to earnestly pray that this Great Savior would reveal Himself to others.

To the Left and the Right.

To Democrats.

To Republicans.

To our Presidential Cabinet.

To gays and trans and straights who are sleeping with someone else’s wife.

To abortion providers.

To those addicted to meth and those addicted to shopping.

To black and white, rich and poor.

To every tribe and tongue and nation, to every people group on every square inch of this globe.

And even to the smug self-righteous dude on FB who totally rubs me the wrong way.

Right?!

There are atrocities being committed, to be sure. We cannot cover up indifference by calling it love. We should be grieved, deeply grieved.

But I believe we should fast more than we Facebook. We should weep more than we whip out one-liners. We should PRAY more than we post and I was convicted of that myself. I actually wrote this several days ago but sensed God wanted me to PRAY more over these issues before I SAY more about these issues. 

America, WE MUST PRAY. WE MUST LOVE. WE MUST REPENT. 

At church on Sunday Jeff shared this from John Newton, the slave-holder turned hymn-writer, the one who penned Amazing Grace:

A company of travelers fall into a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not out yet, as he is. He did not pull himself out; instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should show them pity …

A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimaeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met.

Why are we beating the blind?

Why are we not broken, pleading with the God of heaven for mercy, imploring Him to open eyes and save lost souls and set free those confused by the diabolical agenda of the devil.

I know many of you are. But these words are for me first and foremost. Writing to my own soul here, and letting you listen in, just in case this resonates just a tad with you as well. Thanks for listening. Let’s pray and act in meaningful ways that foster reconciliation, not further division. 

Thanks for reading. 

The one right way to do church…

I still remember the pastor’s patient smile when Jeff and I, over-eager 20-somethings, approached him with our “concern.” 

We explained. We cited sources. We felt so strongly.

He smiled. He’d been around the block a few times, and he simply responded,

“There are a lot of ways to do church.”

He wasn’t being dismissive or condescending, I think he just recognized our youthful zeal and earnest desire to do things right. And I think he also had spent enough time in prayer to know that wasn’t the path God was leading him on. He gave us freedom to disagree, without deviating from his course.

Now, ten years later, I recognize his wisdom, and have taken that route a time or two myself. I have smiled, listened, and said,

There are a lot of ways to do church.

I wrote last fall what 100 churches have shown me, reflecting on all the variations I’ve seen and enjoyed within local churches. But this struck me afresh in a whole new way while reading Sacred Privilege, a book for pastor’s wives written by Rick Warren’s wife, Kay.

First off, the book is great. If you are a pastor’s wife, it will be a healing balm to your heart and give you the hope and strength to see your role with newfound joy. I so appreciate her honesty, humility, transparency, and straightforward wisdom. She’s not trying to win friends or make a name for herself, she’s pouring out her heart on pages for the sake of other women. Thank you, Kay.

But on another level, it was a powerful reminder: there are a lot of ways to do church. It is so easy to look on from the outside and criticize. It’s so easy to take God’s clear leading of us, and immediately assume that’s God’s will for everyone.

I think it might be impossible to overestimate how prone we are to this!

For example, I’m not a fan of spending millions of dollars on church buildings. In my perspective, that money could be better spent. However, I know God-fearing, Spirit-led leaders have clearly heard from God to purchase land for various causes. Who am I to decide that God does or doesn’t want churches to own land? Is there a clear scriptural mandate one way or the other?

I personally love the house-church model. I appeals to me as simple, low-cost, and familial. But when we planted Renew, God led us to ask Him for the Revival Building, an old run-down building in our city. We could never have afforded it, or event wanted to, but over the course of 6 months, as we prayed circles around it, a series of amazing circumstances gave us access to it every Sunday for a remarkably low price. We’re still there, and so grateful.

Jesus preached in synagogues, in open-air, and in homes. How beautiful is it that the Body of Christ can gather in homes, schools, movie theaters, dedicated church buildings, granges, strip malls, and amphitheaters? What a lovely expression of the variety of God’s creation when we can gather in various forms, at various times, an in various ways. I think as long as He’s truly the center–and not our own egos–He’s probably pleased.

The same could be true of church methods and models. Could it be that the best method for any particular church is the one that best suits its members and its calling? That is, the one that reflects the unique spiritual gifts of its leaders and members, the one that fulfills that church’s unique calling within its unique community? Of course we are all called to make disciples, but the variety with which we fulfill that calling is vast, perhaps just as vast as the individual disciples who fulfill it!

Friends, let’s be very careful before we criticize another Christian’s earnest attempts to make disciples, further the Kingdom, and establish Jesus’ Church on the earth. The longer I minister the more I see the manifold wisdom of God displayed through the manifold variety within the local church.

There are a few church things Scripture’s clear about: qualifications for elders and deacons, how to handle disciplinary issues, and the priority of the Word and prayer. It’s even quite clear on sexuality, male-female relationships, the priority of family, financial provision for clergy, praying for the sick, and how to exercise spiritual gifts within the context of congregational worship.

But we don’t get specific instructions regarding children’s classes, membership, buildings, preaching-methods, or worship style. And yet we continue to argue ad nauseam about these things. 

What I appreciated about Kay’s book was that she wasn’t trying to sell us on her model, her methods, or her way of ministry. She was selling us on Christ’s faithfulness to carry us through the highs and lows that are the life of a pastor’s wife. She’s essentially saying,

There’s one right way to do church:

Humbly.

Amen.

Thanks for reading. 

Promise greeted from afar

I’m not sure why I never saw it: They didn’t see it. 

The promise, that is.

And yet their lives are forever recorded in the Hall of Faith, Hebrews 11. They are listed as the heroes, of whom the world is not worthy, they were meant to inspire us to live likewise. They are examples, “success stories”, so to speak. We are called to emulate their lives.

Do we?

Humanly speaking, however, their lives aren’t that spectacular. Take Abraham and Sarah, the parents of our faith — they … had a baby. That’s what they did. The promise was that Abraham, through Sarah, would be the father of nations, that his descendants would outnumber the stars in thy, the sand on the seashore. Wow, that’s impressive-sounding.

But all he and Sarah did, during life, was have a baby. 

Exactly one. 

And they didn’t even do an awesome job of that. Right? There were certainly some hiccups along the way. But still they are recorded as heroes of the faith, as an example of fulfilled promise. But what’s interesting is this: Scriptures says,

They greeted the promise from afar.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…

I wonder: Are we willing to greet God’s promises from afar?

That is, Are we willing to attempt something far too great to be finished within our lifetime? 

Several years ago, I read a powerful book called Birthing the Miraculous. The author encourages you to spend time in prayer asking God for His specific promise, or dream, for your life. I spent time doing this, and very clearly heard:

Hundreds of churches, thousands of addicts, millions of orphans.

Uh. Whoa. That seemed big. I wrote it down, and began praying over it. I’ve returned to it often in prayer. It certainly aligned with our hearts, from local outward. My passion is to see healthy, gospel-centered churches planted. Not necessarily to see churches get big but to see them reproduce.

My desire is also to see addicts find freedom. Here in America, we don’t necessarily have a poverty of resources — we have clean water, food, shelter. We have impoverished souls that have been ensnared by the evil one and held captive substances and unhealthy behaviors. I long to see souls set free. Last week the kids and I joined some friends in cooking lunch for and serving 60 homeless folks. I looked in their eyes and so deeply desired to know their stories. My hope is to at least be able to help a few, just a little.

And I long to see orphans cared for. Overseas specifically, I long to see children living in absolute poverty to be welcomed, parented, provided for, protected. Through our own sponsorship, fundraisers, by giving through World Vision and Next Generation Ministries, we’re taking tiny steps.

But hundreds, thousands, millions? As I’ve contemplated that dream, I’ve thought: I don’t really see how that’s possible.

Of course not. Neither is bearing so many kids they outnumber the stars in the sky. 

I recently read a book about the profound impact we have on society just by raising godly children. The example was given of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, who raised 12 godly children in the 1700s. By the year 1900–their descendants included:

  • 13 college presidents
  • 65 professors
  • 100 lawyers and a dean of an outstanding law school
  • 30 judges
  • 60 doctors and a dean of a medical school
  • 80 holders of public office including 3 US Senators
  • 3 mayors of large cities
  • 3 state governors
  • A Vice President of the US
  • a Controller of the US Treasury

I daresay if God had spoken that to little miss Sarah Edwards one morning while she was scrubbing the floor, she would have been a little wide-eyed as well. Of course she wasn’t going to bear 356 remarkable children who would hold significant positions of influence in this world, but they would be the result of her godly parenting, her faithful devotion, her sacred mundane. 🙂 

She wasn’t trying to be spectacular, she was simply being faithful.

She was willing to live for something far too great to be finished within her lifetime.

Am I?

Oh friends, how I need this! How I need this hope, that the hard choices I make today will reap spiritual benefits, not just for me, but for generations to come. Just this morning I read Galatians 6:8,

… the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Let’s sow to the Spirit. That’s plant seeds that we may never see fully come to fruition, but that will change our world, and change eternity as a result.

A friend from afar, Esther, has HIV. She’s single, and cares for 21 children in her mud-home in Uganda. Her selfless life undoes me. Her motto:

Impart before I depart. 

Let’s impart love, truth, Christ into our littles, our loved ones, our neighbors, let’s sow to the Spirit even if we never get to see the full fruition. Let’s live for something far too great to be finished in our lifetime. Let’s greet the promise from afar.

Thanks for reading.

How the presence of danger defines love…

I have a friend who had something horrible happen to her:

In the middle of the night, while she was peacefully sound asleep, a man broke into her house, busting down her door, stole into her room, dragged her out of her bed and into a vehicle and drove off.

Isn’t that awful? Trespassing! How horrible. How rude.

How loving.

How heroic.

How Christlike.

See, there’s one detail that change things dramatically.

Her house was on fire.

But there was this man. A hero. A firefighter who responded to the call and didn’t consider his own life dear to him but risked his own safety and well-being in order to bust down the door, plunge into the blinding smoke and flames, and rescue an unconscious woman from her bed. He dragged her out, put her in an ambulance, and away she went. She was in a coma for a long time. They didn’t know if she’d make it. By the grace of God, she survived. She’s a mama, about my age. Every day is a gift for her now, because someone recognized the danger, valued her life, and did the loving thing.

That detail about the fire changes everything, yes?

What is the “loving thing to do” depends heavily on the absence or presence of danger.

As my husband always says, the key to humble, Christlike rebuke or confrontation is helping people understand,

“You’re not in trouble, you’re in danger.”

Sin leads to death. Always. Destruction. Regret. Loss.

It is never loving to leave someone alone to die in a burning house. 

So of course, the question is, How do we define danger? Who gets to decide when that person’s in danger or not? Who determines the degree of danger? A house-fire is rather obvious, but we certainly shouldn’t break into someone’s house and drag them into the street just because they’re smoking a cigarette in bed.  Right? One could argue that that’s dangerous as well. Who decides?

Only the One who created us. Only the one who sees the end from the beginning. Only the one who knows the number of hairs on our heads, grains of sand on the shore, the ones who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who is alone wise. The only One who defines love.

In 1 Corinthians 5, there were some people who were in danger. Big danger. And all the people around them didn’t go into the burning building to rescue them. They didn’t think that was loving. It seemed rude. Judgmental. So they just stood around outside “accepting” the people’s decisions. In fact, they boasted about their non-judgmental attitudes! But Paul is livid. Why?

Because they weren’t rescuing people from danger. Sure, the steps he suggests taking are extreme. Basically like busting down the door on someone’s house and dragging them out of their beds. Crazy stuff. But later, in 2 Corinthians 7:8-13, we hear the beautiful result, that even though it was ugly at first, every though it was hard, even though there was grieving and hurt and anger and difficulty, that godly grieving brought repentance (turning from sin) which brought …

LIFE.

Rescued from death.

There was anguish. But some precious souls were saved from the fire because someone was willing to look rude and bust down the door of their life and drag them away from danger.

The truth is, we were all asleep in the burning house (Rom 3:23) but Christ made a way of escape by His blood, and now calls us to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), his firemen. Sure, at times our jobs are mundane, we’re cleaning our gear or washing the truck. But other times we’re called on to do something seemingly rude, something scary that might be misinterpreted, something that makes us scared out of our mind, because the presence of danger defines love. 

My friend is eternally grateful that a rude guy busted down her door and dragged her out of her house.

Thanks for reading. 

*Originally shared last year

That slippery slope

I can only imagine his horror, anguish, that sinking, sickening pit in his stomach as he realized what he’d done.

How on earth could this happen??

In the moment it all probably happened so fast, before he could think straight, the slope was slippery by then and he slid down. Afterwards, perhaps he thought back to the scene, he could still feel the fire’s heat on his hands, his face, the cold night air on his back …

… the same back turned to his Lord.

Behind him, not far away, Jesus was being beaten, accused, slapped and spit upon …

… while Peter swore a third time, “I told you, I don’t know him!” 

This story always haunts me, you know. If the great Apostle Peter denied Christ, who am I to think I never would? So this time, as I re-read through the gospels, I decided to follow Peter’s Progression. Falling away is never sudden, and apostasy isn’t immediate. Anytime we backslide it is because of a slow turning, gradual drifting, a a lulling to sleep, a subtle shift. So perhaps, I thought, if we look at Peter and how he denied the Lord, we can go backwards and see his progression which will help inform our own lives. Here’s what I found.

  1. Mind set on things of man (not taking every thought captive): Mark 8:33

    Every action begins with a thought. In Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside to say that Jesus will not die on the cross. Jesus looks Peter in the eye and responds with the famous, “Get behind me, Satan!” Yikes! Peter’s statement provokes being called Satan?! Whoa! But apparently, Jesus saw this sin as severe enough for this harsh correction. Why? “You are setting your mind on the things of man, not the things of God.” It is of utmost importance that we understand the battlefield in our minds, and learn to take every thought captive and make it obey Jesus.

  2. Overconfidence in our own devotion (self-reliance): Mark 14:31

    In Mark 14:31, when Jesus begins to expound on the hard road ahead, of his death, Peter boasts, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” Oh, Peter. He was so sure of himself. He was so sure of his own devotion, and his boast smacks of self-reliance, rather than a humble acknowledgement that he was susceptible to sin. We can be the same way. We can see someone’s sin, something egregious perhaps, and say with disgust, “I would NEVER do that.” Well, yes I would. Yes I would. Even recently the Lord has shown me hard truths about how slippery is the slope to sin. The solution, of course, is not to live in fear or hopelessness, but to put our hope and trust in HIS keeping ability, not our own. The solution is to recognize that we MUST keep ourselves close to Christ, which leads us to Peter’s final step:

  3. Avoidance of suffering & distancing oneself from hardship for the sake of pursuing comfort: Mark 14:66-72

    When Jesus is first arrested, Peter is there and ready to fight. Many of us are eager for drama, and perhaps even like the idea of battling for the name of Christ. But then, when Peter sees the path of Jesus marked by persecution, not by fighting, when he sees the way of Christ walked out in suffering, not in crusading, he slowly and silently slips away into the night. He stays near, but at a safe distance, warming himself by the fire, pursuing comfort instead of Christ. It’s hard to know exactly how it happened, but next thing he knows he’s being asked about Jesus, and next thing he knows he’s vehemently denied Him three times, as the rooster crows and he comes to the horrendous realization of what he’s done.

I am Peter. I am prone to these same things, and this progression helps me watch for the signs of the slow fade. Thankfully, Peter is restored. In fact, Peter’s response after falling, is what encourages me the most.

Peter’s response:

1. RUNS to see Him risen.

I love that the gospels tell us Peter (and John) RAN (John 20:4) to the tomb to see Jesus risen. I’d expect that of John, for John was the only one who stayed at the cross during Jesus’ death. But Peter?? I’d expect Peter to be hiding away, crippled with guilt and shame, unable to face Jesus at all. But no. Peter knows Jesus’ love enough to boldly RUN to the tomb. He can’t wait to come back home to Christ! And then,

2. THROWS himself into the sea.

Later, when Peter is out fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore (John 21:7), Peter THROWS HIMSELF into the sea, and swims to shore to see Jesus. I love this! Peter doesn’t care a wit about his fish, the boat, his clothes, how silly he looks, all he cares about is coming back home to Christ.

That’s repentance. Repentance isn’t sulking, hiding, ridden with guilt and shame. Repentance is the running home, the throwing ourselves headlong into the sea of His grace and love.

And He receives us. He builds a fire and makes us breakfast and says, “Do you love me?” and gives us an opportunity to set our affections back on Him and begin anew, better than ever, because we’ve learned from our past. Nothing’s wasted. His love is lavish, His grace sufficient. Even for Peters like me.

{Thanks for reading.}

When stuff comes up …

I did some digging this weekend. I wish I could say it was the kind in the garden, the fun and recreational kind where you sink your hands into some soil and get those good seeds planted, full of hope, in eager anticipation of salsas and salads come late July. I’ll get to that too, Lord willing, as faithful May is finally bringing us the sun. (Hooray!)

But this weekend I did the inward kind of digging. The soul-searching, heart-rending, truth-seeking kind of digging, the kind you have to do when stuff comes up.

I was speaking at a retreat, on my beloved topic of Flourish. This has been my longest running retreat—for five years straight I’ve been teaching this material, and I finally rewrote my notes because they were so worn and marked up with margin scribbles and underlines and highlights that I could barely read what they said. Plus, I needed the process of re-writing them, to let the good work go deep into my own heart once again. The result will be, Lord willing, an ebook. I’d love to give you an expanded version of these materials in an ebook form so you could go through the process on your own. Pray for me, that I can carve away time to make this happen?

So, sometimes stuff comes up. When you’re gardening, hopefully you have some tender shoots pop up—your zucchini and sugar peas and the feathery tops of carrots. But usually, you get some other stuff too. Yes? Some weeds. And it’s true in our spiritual life too, some weeds come up, the bad stuff, the stuff we don’t want around, and it can be disheartening. But let me tell you what’s more disheartening, when something comes up, and you take it to the Lord, and He responds with …

“It’s deeper than you think.”

Awesome. The physical version of this is when you go to pluck out a weed and discover it’s anchored down so deep you can’t even dislodge it. You tug and tug and all you end up doing is maybe tearing off a few of the leaves, just surface stuff, and the nasty root system is still completely in tact.

*sigh*

So what do we do? What do we do when staring down a gargantuan weed we can’t quickly yank out?

We dig it out. And it can be disheartening but we’ll do it if we care enough about the state of our souls, about the purity of our lives, about the quality of our worship. If we care enough about Christ. See, certainly we can get entirely too caught up self-tinkering and miss out on the bigger picture of loving and serving the world. We can get so self-absorbed that we miss out on the mission of God. Let’s not do that. But it is equally important that we don’t get so caught up in the mission, the ministry, the going and doing and serving and giving, that we neglect the health of our hearts.

Last week at church, when we prayed over our worship time, I saw a picture of a red heart, and God was cutting off the dirty, darkened, slimy edges.

Sometimes God needs to cut off the corrupted parts, so our worship can be pure again, so our hearts can be clean, so our minds can be made-over entirely for Him.

Let’s not neglect that part.

Because it is SO easy to throw ourselves headlong into outward things without addressing the dark places. Our first ministry is to the Lord. Only as our worship is sanctified, made holy, made pure, will our ministry, our outpouring be that as well.

Of course I would never want to discourage someone from loving the poor, loving the church, loving evangelism or giving or serving or mission. But these must always and only be an overflow of our first love: Him. He is our first love. Our first mission. Our first ministry.

We’re only fit for outward ministry, as God does a deep inward ministry in our hearts. Paul said it like this:

A large house contains not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some indeed are for honorable use, but others are for common use. So if anyone cleanses himself of what is unfit, he will be a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

With all that is in me, I want to be useful to the Master. I think you probably do too. 

And so, when something comes up, that weed that won’t budge, we dig down deep into the truth and love of God, and ask Him to uproot anything that doesn’t please Him. What belief, attitude, habit, mindset, desire, thought-pattern … what seed has taken root and slowly grown, unseen, until it suddenly surprises you and rears its ugly head. Yes, it can feel discouraging to see it, but take heart, friend, the good news is: God’s allowed it to grow up past the surface, to be seen, so that He can root it out forever. You’re not alone in the process. He’s guiding and providing. He’s pulling for us, and it’s worth the effort to dig. The heart that’s free will flourish.

{For whatever digging you must do this week…it’s worth it. Happy May Day & thanks for reading.}

Hope for the wayward heart

I would say I’m sorry for how sporadic posts have been these days. On the one hand, I know it’s a not a big deal. I rest in the knowledge that no one is out there refreshing my site moment by moment, eagerly awaiting new content. 🙂 I’m not that important.

But, I also know that I’m called to write, and frankly, I haven’t wanted to. Sure, I’ll repost something old, that’s safe enough, but I haven’t wanted to freshly bare my soul out here in the wide-open internet spaces. Safer just to keep my laptop–and life–shut.

I’ve had dozens of people ask, “Are you ok??” Yes. I’m ok. It has just been a unique season like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It isn’t one thing. It has been a season of battle, a season of stripping away, a season of pruning, of weakness.

Sometimes we wonder, when walking through trials, “Is this spiritual attack? Or is this my sin? Or is this God sanctifying me?” Of course, the answer is always:

Yes.

Yes, at any given time we are facing an onslaught of the enemy, we are dealing with our flesh and the lingering effects of the fall, and we are being lovingly pruned, shaped, sanctified, by a good and gracious God. While we are wise to not be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes, we can rest in the truth that: If I am in Christ, the worst Satan can do is sanctify me. There is nothing God cannot and will not use for our ultimate good. 

See, this isn’t a good-and-evil battle where the two sides are equally matched. We might feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, but like Elisha encouraged his faint-hearted servant,

“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

We are on the offensive, friends.

But even so, this doesn’t mean we do nothing. The battle is real, and it has been raging, and I have wanted to shut down, close up, withdraw. I have felt weary and wondered what it looks like to fight when the issue at hand, the thing that’s up for grabs, the thing that’s being battled for … is my heart

How do I win my own heart? 

Yesterday at church, God gently revealed the answer. I saw that I had been, as AW Tozer calls it, “tinkering with my soul.” That is, going in with a little change here, a little tweak there, like a retired man spending the day tinkering with an old car, without really accomplishing much at all.

The word yesterday was, “In order to return to our first love, our affections must change.” Yes.

My affections. It’s heart stuff, not behavior stuff. It’s heart stuff, not a tweak here and there. Like the men in Mark 7 who were all about adding external safeguards to make sure they didn’t sin, but Jesus reminds them that that will never work because sin comes from the heart.

Sin is simply misplaced affection

So now what, then? I woke up this morning aching with the question, “How do I change my affections? How do I change what I love?”

We change our affection by changing our attention

Our hearts simply follow our soul’s gaze. 

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has has nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” (Pursuit of God, p. 91)

Ahhh. My heart sighs relief.

There lies the whole of my duty for this day: Fix the gaze of my soul on Christ. Stop tinkering, start looking. Put His truth and unchanging Word before my eyes and heart and trust Him to woo back my wayward heart.

That’s hope.

From one wayward soul to another… let’s fix our gaze and trust Him to do the rest. Happy Monday, and thanks for reading.}

The rest is thrown in (What promise!)

Their little eyes widened as the words sunk in: One HUNDRED times as much!

We giggled to ourselves thinking of receiving back one hundred toys, or one hundred cookies, or one hundred houses or sisters or brothers. Of course the essence of this promise isn’t about calculating or counting, it’s written to convey an important promise:

What you give up for God, He’ll give back in a better way, beyond what you can imagine. 

We were studying the Rich Young Ruler, and how sad he was as he shuffled away from Jesus, as he gave up the greatest opportunity that had ever presented itself to him. I actually found myself tearing up as I told the story, thinking how tragic it is that so many (sometimes myself included!) give up the greatest invitation ever because we can’t let go of our stuff, our rights, our way.

But it’s so fun that immediately after this story, Jesus gives a promise. And it’s a big one! He marvels at how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, but then makes this mind-blowing statement promising that all those who give up things for God’s sake will receive back one-hundred times as much. Wow!

I have seen this wildly lavish love from God so many times. It’s nuts! I’ve been amazed at this truth that when we seek our own pleasure, our own way, our own stuff, we end up poor, we walk away sad, nothing satisfies.

BUT. When we seek the kingdom, when we give up our stuff, our way, our life, we find ourselves spoiled rotten by a generous God, lavishly loved and blessed. Sure, there’s still tribulation, trials, challenges. But the abundance so outweighs the burden.

God is GOOD. His way is good. His plans are good. Oh that we’d give up our own way to seek His and discover the goodness! When we seek our own we lose, but when we seek Him, we find the rest tossed in as well. It reminds me of the CS Lewis quote:

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. -CS Lewis

Or this quote captures this beautifully. So true! Not seeking our own, in a selfish sense, is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness. Amen!

“If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. The resources of the universe move at his bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare.

So not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.” —Jonathan Edwards (Charity & Its Fruits)

May we take this route. When we seek His kingdom, the rest is tossed in as well. Let’s go this way! Happy Monday. Thanks for reading. 

*Originally shared last year, still true as ever. Looking for email delivery of posts? Sign-up here: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson  (Thanks!)

Just Show Up

Early this morning I had a conversation with some friends, and one of them just kept saying, “Really, all you have to do is just show up.” Just show up was the phrase we kept coming back to. Then this is popped up from exactly a year ago … perhaps it’s timely for us all.

~

I’ll admit, it began as an irritation.

Why are we the ones ALWAYS here? Of course, the pastor’s family has to show up at church, right? Of course the Bible study leader has to show up. Of course the retreat speaker has to show up.

After 17 years leading Bible studies and small groups, I get what it’s like to be the one who has to show up. And I’ve always counted that a blessing. The reality is, whenever we just show up we are blessed. We only benefit. I’m grateful for all these years where leadership has forced me to be consistent, because I know my tendency to be hit-and-miss.

But this year, something began aching in my heart. I always knew it was there. After years leading small groups, you know the attrition rate by heart:

Usually by the end of the study half the participants … aren’t participating.

But it becomes heightened, more clearly seen, in something small like a church plant. Although this thing certainly isn’t “ours,” there is a very real sense that our very hearts and souls are poured out into this little ragtag band of believers called Renew. Paul clearly had this same burdened heart for all those he invested in for the sake of the Kingdom.

And so the inconsistency, the attrition, the hit-and-miss … is keenly felt. 

And yet, my optimism constantly reminds me: God uses exactly who’s there for just the right purpose. He can move mightily no matter who comes and who doesn’t. 

And this is true. Of course God is so powerfully and gloriously sovereign, He can work gloriously with two people or two-thousand people.

And yet.

(Now my heart’s doing this crazy-thumping thing because I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend a bunch of people right now.)

I poured out my heart to God about this recently, sharing honestly with Him how hard and lonely it is to be the one always showing up. Do you know what I heard crystal clear in my heart?

“How do you think I feel?”

Tears flowed as I realized how we have hurt the heart of God

I believe the heart of God is deeply grieved that we have made him last priority in our lives. That we have made spiritual matters of least importance. That we put more thought into the state of our financial portfolio than the state of our souls. That we put soccer schedules ahead of Sunday morning worship. That we have financial needs and yet blatantly ignore God’s clear commands on giving to Him first. That we neglect morning prayers and time in the sacred Scriptures because we really “need some sleep.”

I’m not talking about legalism, I’m talking about LOVE.

I believe the heart of God is broken because He waits and waits and waits and waits, for us to just show up. Like a husband who plans a date with His wife every Friday night, who reserves a table for 2 and sits alone in the candlelight, waiting, waiting, waiting for His beloved bride to show up.Like a husband who plans a date with his wife, reserves a candlelit table for two, and waits ...… Click To Tweet

But she never does. She needed sleep. Something came up. A friend stopped by.

He sits there, alone, waiting for us to just show up

I read a story recently of a family in the 60s, in Communist Russia. They loved Jesus. Every weekend, they would walk 30 miles to get to the nearest church, then walk 30 miles home, traveling all night long Sunday night, to be ready for work Monday morning.

This undoes me. Oh God, forgive us. We know nothing of carrying our cross, we know nothing of commitment.

We know nothing of true love. 

Again, this isn’t a message of condemnation, it is a PLEA that the people of God would know the heart of God, that He does not come last. Matthew says that as the end nears,

“The love of many will grow cold.” (24:12)

Please: Do not let your love grow cold. He waits for you.

Just show up.

{Thank you for reading.}

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When you feel tricked by God…

“Why?” I yelled, out into the sky. “Why did you trick me, God?

It was January 2002, and I remember so clearly the feeling. Standing out in the rain, soaked to the skin, confused because God was breaking my heart. I wrote our whole story out here, how God brought Jeff and me together in a roundabout way that included a lot of heartache. It was most certainly not the way I thought my love story would go. Now, more than 15 years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at the time I felt tricked by God.

See, I worked so hard to guard my heart. No disrespect to him, but I didn’t like Jeff. Not as anything more than a friend. But it was so bizarre, it was like God actually changed my heart and made me love him. I know that sounds weird, especially now because I’m madly in love with him now! But 16 years ago I wasn’t. And in a most interesting way, God kept putting Jeff before me, to the extent that I actually God clearly tell me that Jeff was to be my husband.

God set me up.

And then, once I’d fallen in love. Once I’d said yes in my heart and gone head over heels, once I’d fallen in love … then He broke my heart. Then I opened Job and felt the same morning I found out Jeff was dating someone else. The same day Jeff said, “We’re never going to be together.”

It seemed God had purposefully led my heart into a place where it would be crushed. 

I felt tricked. 

Thankfully, my heart and mind were steeped in the Word of God. Job’s words were my own: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Despite how I felt, I knew that God’s goodness was greater than my limited perspective. I cried, yes. I questioned, ranted, railed. The sting of rejection didn’t go away overnight. But, truly. It was worth it.

~

Over the years, I’ve seen this situation several times. It’s just Abraham all over again. God is the one who speaks the promise to him. God is the one who births the dream, gives the vision—He makes Abraham & Sarah’s hearts long for their baby boy. And then, they are disappointed by infertility for 25 years. Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You are the one who started this whole child-of-promise thing! You made me want this.”

Then once the child comes, God does the unthinkable — He requires Abraham offer up the precious child as a sacrifice to God. Again, Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You gave me this child. You let me love him. You turned my heart toward this boy with undying affection. And now, this? You tricked me into this sorrow.”

Thankfully, Abraham does’t. He, like Job, worships despite the pain, and trusts God’s goodness above what He can see. And He is rewarded.

~

Our own journey led us this way again. I’ve never been a “kid person,” I was happy with my two, born quite a long while ago I might add (!!), but then last fall God made it very clear we were to have more. Say WHAT?! I’ll share more later, but this was not my plan. But lo and behold, as the months went on, He changed my heart. He made me want this. He completely turned my heart around, just as he did with Jeff those many years before. Next thing I knew, I was hoping and planning and dreaming and then … we miscarried.

Now, in all honesty, I didn’t feel angry or confused. I’ve seen God’s goodness so many times. But I felt that familiar feeling, of being led specifically into a place where my heart gets set on something … then it’s gone.

Why? 

I promise I won’t be the person that’s always pointing to material in my book ;), but chapter 7 of Sacred Mundane addresses this question at length. Does God strategically disappoint us? Why? How do we not lose hope? How do we not get jaded? Bitter? Cynical?

As my friend Pam Hunter recently wrote,

“The great challenge of faith is holding on to hope after you’ve lost your naïveté.”

So often, what I have called “faith” is probably just naive optimism. I told my friend Christine yesterday, “I thought I had the gift of faith but maybe I’ve just had an easy life.” Ha! Right? Sometimes our “faith” comes from a lack of experience, a lack of seeing suffering, a youthful zeal or naiveté.

But faith comes from seeing suffering, feeling disappointment, experiencing sorrow, or witnessing evil … and still believing.

Still holding onto Hope. Faith comes when you feel tricked by God but you refuse to let your feelings eclipse the truth. Faith comes when you trust His goodness more than what you see, more than what you feel.

In the grand scheme, I’ve still had an incredibly easy life. Just yesterday we heard story after story, at church, of incredible men and women in Uganda who are choosing faith despite horrific circumstances. They are the heroes of faith, and I feel so small in the presence of their stories.

But it is not necessarily the size of their faith but the object of it, and the object of theirs is the same as the object of mine, so our hope is in Jesus, forever, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He wrote it, He’ll conclude it. This story may get gnarly at times, but He’ll wrap it up with a glorious conclusion at His return and no doubt we’ll look back and see His goodness in it all.

Hold onto hope, dear friends. Even if you feel tricked. He is good, and you are loved.

Thanks for reading.