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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

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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.}

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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.}

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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.}

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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!)

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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.}

*People have mentioned it’s hard to sign up for automatic email-delivery of blog posts. Here’s the quick link: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson  Just type in your email and you’ll be set!

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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. 

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When you’re just so weak…

 

Last month, when we went through those 17 stressors all at once, I thought, “Oh good. There’s my break-down-and-cry session for the year. Let’s get back into our groove and start thriving again!”

But then. We were heading into a super full month ahead, so I braced myself for the busyness. The same day that I wrote that post, I found out I was pregnant. I’ll share more on that story later, why we were amazed and beyond thrilled, but suffice it to say the stressors all faded away in light of this new miracle. Yes, I was tired and nauseous, but it was worth it because it meant a little LIFE was growing inside my body.

But then, a week later, Heidi came down super sick with a high fever. I hoped it’d break quickly and she’d be better in the morning. She wasn’t. The next day she was sick. And the next. I had to leave for a retreat, and by then Jeff and Dutch were also coming down with it, so I reluctantly left them home and headed off to speak.

That night, I came down with it too. The whole retreat I felt so weak. I was also doing a fast with a family member to pray over a specific situation, so I had given up all caffeine for 40 days. Between no caffeine, being pregnant, being sick, and being away from home and not sleeping well, trying to have enough strength to speak to these dear women, I was at end of myself. I just kept reassuring myself that I’d be home soon, could rest and recover, and it’d all be better.

When I got home from the retreat, we were all four still sick. And then, that night, I miscarried.

In the middle of it, I felt so much peace. I knew God’s goodness, I was able to praise Him, trust Him, sing to Him. He spoke specific words of hope and encouragement to my soul, so although I cried most of the night, I was really ok.

But it isn’t usually the sudden blow of sadness that gets us, it’s the slow wearying effect of daily discouragement. That’s how I felt. The next day we were still sick. I kept up at my optimism, always believing the next day we’d be better. And then next day we were still sick. Heidi had hardly eaten anything in 10 days. Finally on Wednesday, I was feeling strong enough to get to Bible study, so I went.

Then, in the middle of study, I got a text that Heidi had a horrible allergic reaction to bubble bath, she was swelling up and breaking out in a rash over her whole body.

Seriously?!!

I went home, to find her face swollen, her lips sticking out, bulging, her tongue swollen, and a red puffy rash all over her body. While Jeff went for Benadryl, I sat up beside her bed, praying over her, hopeful the next day it’d be gone.

It wasn’t. It looked like chemical burns all over. It itched terribly, and no matter what we tried, we couldn’t seem to get it under control. The next day, it was slightly better but still there. And the next day, still there. This was day 12 of sickness, on top of the exhaustion, no caffeine, and miscarriage, and Jeff or I had commitments 7 nights in a row, and I was just. At. The. End.

By the time all the sickness and reactions ended, it was the day before I was supposed to speak at a conference, in a session for Pastor’s Wives. I so desperately wanted to give them a powerful, hope-filled message. I wanted to make the session worth their time. I wanted to encourage them.

But I had nothing. I had no special insights from the Scriptures. I had no clever 3-point sermon, no alliteration or outline or fill-in-the-blanks, I had NOTHING. And I still needed to pack for our week of travel and clean the house and do laundry and homeschool these kids and make a dozen arrangements, and all I could do was cry. I spent my last hour of “prep time” lying on my face before God, sobbing. No matter how hard I tried to pull myself together, I couldn’t stop crying.

And there, with my face on the floor and the tears and snot soaking the carpet, the words of Jesus came to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

There it was. Not only the message for my session and the message for my soul. I grabbed my Bible and began scouring 2 Corinthians, amazed to see how often Paul himself pours out his own list of laments, how often he was weak, hungry, weary, sleepless. How often he was at the end of himself. And yet over and over we see the reason for it:

That the power of God can be displayed.

I’m always praying for God’s power to be in display. But how often I tend to think that God’s power will be displayed through my power. I want God’s power to be displayed through my powerful preaching, or writing, or wisdom. I want God’s power to be displayed through health and strength, through exhilarating times of worship, through energizing church services, through successful endeavors.

That’s fine, but there’s no denying that more often than not, in the Scriptures, God’s power is displayed through our weakness. In fact, God’s power is made PERFECT (its very best display) through my weakness.

Of course I’m willing to be strong for the sake of Christ, but am I willing to be weak? Am I willing to be humbled? Am I willing to look small and unimpressive? Am I willing to pursue a path that purposefully puts my weakness on display?

The next day, in a packed room of pastor’s wives, I laid out my story of weakness. It wasn’t polished or pretty. Some might say it was pathetic, but then we opened up the Scriptures and let them preach. Oh and did they preach!!! They preached hope to us all—they told us that in our sorrow we are comforted so that we can comfort others (that’s ministry!). We saw that the treasure of the gospel is contained in weak and unimpressive jars of clay (that’s us!) to show that the power if His not ours. We saw that Paul was shipwrecked and beaten and hungry and exhausted, and that he was content with all that because it meant the power of God was put on display. And we saw that a messenger of Satan was even allowed to harass Paul, because when he was weak, then he was strong.

God met us in a powerful way, not because of my strength but because of His.

No one likes feeling weak, of course. But the gospel gives us something greater to live for than just our own feelings and fancies. We get to live for Christ. And the Scriptures promise us a reward that is far beyond anything we can possibly imagine, for those who choose the way of weakness for His sake.

Are you weak today, dear friend? Don’t lose hope. You are in the prime position to see God’s power perfected in your life. Your weakness is not a sign of God’s absence, it is an opportunity for His glory to be in display this very day.

Take courage, cling to Christ, for when you are weak, then you are strong.

{Thanks for reading.}

total truth

My life and worldview rocked to the core…

This last week, I felt like chains fell from my wrists, ankles, mind. I opened this book and began scarfing down what I’ve been starving for for so long and didn’t know it. I cannot remember the last time I felt so FED by a book, by truth. About what, you ask?

Worldview.total truth

I know, this seems so dry, boring, unexciting. Please, track with me:

Even though my entire life is about the Sacred Mundane, even though my passion is destroying the sacred/secular duality and seeing all of life as a means of seeing and glorifying God, even though I just wrote a stinkin’ BOOK on this topic, I now see that I myself DID in fact allow my faith to be pushed to the margins of my life and relegated to a privatized corner of religious activity, safe and virtually ineffective, rendered useless for effecting change in the public spheres of life. 

See, I only spoke on safe topics. Only at religious events where Bible teaching was acceptable. I NEVER talked politics, current events, or spoke out on cultural issues. Truthfully, I was content to be the Bible-reading girl who shared little devotional snippets here and there about how to be more joyful in your mundane.

But here’s the thing that’s blowing my mind: God is the CREATOR of this world. Think about that for a moment. He’s the CREATOR. Not just of America. Of the whole world. So, He KNOWS exactly how things should be, all wisdom and insight and genius and creativity all come from Him.

He is the SOURCE of all things. All wisdom. 

So, we should then be able to see all of life through the lens of the Scriptures. I’m laughing as I type this because my book has an ENTIRE CHAPTER on this topic. BUT, I have never been taught how to develop a biblical worldview. That is, I’ve never learned how to intelligently engage with current events, culture, media, politics, arts, through the uniquely biblical lens of the Scriptures.

And here’s why:

In our culture, Christianity has been allowed to survive because it has been relegated to an obscure corner labeled “personal religious beliefs” which renders it completely useless for having any real impact on the actual goings on in our world. That is, we’re fine if people want to pray the sinners prayer, but DO NOT bring that Bible stuff into the workplace, government, education, healthcare, etc. No no.

Religious belief is allowable in your private life, but here in the public realm, we make decisions based on purely objective Reason.

Here’s the problem: There is no such thing as objective Reason

But, I’ve believed it. I’ve swallowed the pill that says, “Yeah, I can’t give biblical reasons for any of the things I believe which have widespread implications, so I guess I just can’t be part of this discussion. I guess we have to have public arguments based solely on secular principles.”

But secular principles are not neutral.

Nothing’s neutral. Nothing’s objective. Every philosophical system assumes some beginning “first principle.” That is, ALL knowledge depends upon religious truth. So even the secular “objective” reasoning depends upon some assumed self-existent truth. As Pearcey writes in Total Truth: 

“It’s a mistake to even to think of reason as neutral, in the sense of being independent of any philosophical or religious commitments. All systems of thought begin with some basic premise — some ultimate principle that is regarded as self-existing or divine. Reason is merely the human capacity to reason from those starting premises. In short, reason is always exercised in service to some ultimate religious vision. People interpret the facts in the light of either biblical revelation or some competing thought.”

Yes! See, ever so subtly, over the years, even during my college days and throughout the past 18 years, I have slowly and subtly believed the lie that “religious” knowledge must be confined to private spheres, while “objective reasoning” (which, doesn’t exist) is the only tool to use in the public spheres of government, education, science, etc. And since the only real knowledge I have is biblical knowledge, I figured that I better stay away from these public spheres because I clearly didn’t have anything to add.

So what happened was, God ruthlessly kicked me out of the private realm! During my nice quiet 40-day fast (a private religious activity where I minded my own business), He went and did something crazy — He told me who to vote for! And THEN, He clearly told me to share publicly who I voted for. GAH! I cried my eyes out, sweat, lay awake at night, and panicked. Even though I certainly wasn’t telling anyone else what to do or implying I had the corner on the truth, I was terrified to EVEN SET FOOT in that realm.

I was terrified to apply spiritual insight to a public sphere. 

And, because I didn’t have the tools to think critically and articulate biblically-informed views, when people asked me, “Why did you do that?” I shook my head, blushed, and said, “Um, I felt like God told me to.”

Not exactly a compelling answer.

See, I do believe that just by virtue of reading through the entire Bible 18 times, every single day for the last 18 years, that I have developed some sense of biblical worldview.

The Bible is the loudest voice in my life, hands down. I’ve “heard” more from the Scriptures than any person, even my parents, spouse, anyone. Nothing has spoken louder in my life than the Bible, applied supernaturally to my life by His Spirit.

So, that’s enough to at least make some sense of things, but I’ve never learned how to then intentionally develop a biblical worldview on public issues, and certainly never dared to say one out loud, for fear of being seen as idiotic, simplistic, uneducated, and narrow-minded.

And while I’m probably all those things, so is everyone else in light of Who God is, and His truth is TOTAL TRUTH. He has the genius insight on all things, and when we abandon His Word as THE SOURCE of all truth, then we inadvertently take up the “religion” of secularism, unknowingly falling prey to its false systems which are, at the core, contrary to God.

So, I don’t know where any of this will take me, other than to my knees. That’s where it’s taken me so far. I find myself feeling ALIVE like I have never felt before. I find myself feeling JOY like I’ve never felt before. I feel CONFIDENCE like I have never felt before. Not in myself, but in GOD! Sure, I don’t have the wisdom in and of myself, but HE has the answers, HE has the hope, HE has the truth, He has the words of eternal life, not just the ones that apply to private spiritual matters, but ALL THINGS THAT PERTAIN TO LIFE, are found in the knowledge of CHRIST.

In Christ is ALL knowledge. 

Christian, rejoice! There is a place for your voice in this world, for your Christlike care and compassion, for your wit and wisdom, for your humble critique and keen insight. Take heart, Christian!

Do not let your faith in Christ be relegated to a meaningless margin of your life. Jesus redeems ALL of life, for His glory. I’m excited to continue journeying this way with you. Thanks for your grace and patience with me along the way. Thanks for reading. 

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When you just aren’t strong enough to bear the load…

It happened Friday night — the unraveling, crumbling, ugly-cry, loudly-sobbing, can’t-talk sort of breaking point that seems to come along once or twice a year. I could kind of see it coming, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I didn’t know anything was wrong, but the littlest thing can send you over the edge when you’ve been teetering on the brink and didn’t know it.

The thing is, I don’t usually sit down and consider how little things affect me, until it all piles up and I’m officially crushed. Besides, there isn’t time. When I was a teenager, busy with sports and school and work, my mom would remark how I was aways healthy until a vacation, then I’d come down with a cold. It was like my body knew to “hang on” through the busy season and then when there was enough space I could go ahead and “let out” all the stress, in the form of a cold.

I find that I’m like that now, emotionally. I will automatically hold it all together, until everything quiets down and there’s enough space, then I’ll go ahead and “get sick” emotionally. This is not a conscious decision, it just happens.

Anyway, it happened. And for awhile I couldn’t talk, I just silently cried, and Jeff waited to patiently, wiping my tears and holding me, and eventually I choked out the words that came from down so deep it felt painful to speak them:

“I’m not … tough enough to be a leader.”

That was it.

I felt like a butterfly trying to carry a brick up into the sky, and no matter how well-intentioned, those wings weren’t meant to carry that weight. 

Then, as I began reflecting back on the small things that had compounded, I realized that SEVENTEEN difficult/challenging situations to navigate or lead through had surfaced in my life in the last two weeks.

Seventeen.

And none of them are bad or catastrophic, but each one weighed on my heart. They caused me to ache, in some way. They took prayer. Several left me at a loss for how to proceed, at least for a time. Some hurt. Some left me confused. Some just took time and energy to determine the best course. Some took weighing how others would react or respond. Some required taking into account many different factors at play. Some required forgiveness. And most of them were things that wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss with anyone else.

So while no one of them was a “big deal” so to speak, they all piled up, and as I crawled under a blanket, in the dark, I cried out all I could think to say,

“God, help me. Please encourage me. Please help me be humble. Please … I feel so alone.”

Alone? It sounds silly to say, right? Certainly if I’m facing seventeen different people-situations, my life is not lonely! 🙂

But loneliness comes from bearing a weight that can’t be shouldered by anyone else.

But then I heard it so clearly, there in the quiet:

“These are My sheep.”

Oh. Yes. There IS someone who can shoulder this burden. In fact, He must. Because HE is the Good Shepherd and He loves people more than I ever could and He is GOOD and and He is for me, and for them, and when I am tired and weary and fragile and weak, He has already promised me this:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.…

Wow. When the words of Scripture spring to life and speak to your soul, you are changed.

Suddenly, the hopelessness slipped away. The warped perspective cleared. The fears fled. The anxiety dissolved. Peace flooded in. Rest settled. Hope rose. He held. 

Interestingly enough, one of the things weighing on my heart was writing the material for an upcoming Pastor’s Wives conference. I so desperately want to bring words of hope and life to them. I want to help them thrive. Guess what the verse is for our time together?

“Come to Me, all you who are weary…”

Yes. He’s so good. And so I prayed for God to translate every challenge into wisdom, into more revelation of His love and guidance, to turn every situation into an opportunity to teach the goodness and wonder and wisdom of God, to encourage these precious pastor’s wives, and any others who might just happen to feel weary along the way sometimes too. My seventeen situations weren’t all church-related, they were life related.

I know I’m not unique in this, we all sometimes feel like we’re not strong enough to bear the load. And Jesus invitation reaches to you too.

“Come to Me…”

Thanks for reading.