Missing Jesus

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It’s been an unsettling couple of weeks. Yes? For you too?

If you hang out on the internet for any length of time at all, you’ve been privy to the rancor and the line-drawing, the judgment and the derision coming at everyone from all sides. I wanted to walk away and I did for a little while. But I knew I had to come back. There is too much at stake to stay away. I will not ignore and pretend I don’t see the suffering and the marginalization of my sisters and brothers, here and around the world.

I am about to get real personal here, and to be honest, I’m real scared. I know many of my readers may not see things the way I do. And that gives me pause. But there is too much at stake. There are many pressing concerns in the time and place in which we find ourselves. There is no way I can address everything in this short piece that might concern any of us, so I’ve had to choose just the one or two that are occupying my mind most.

I have seen an awful lot of rhetoric and posturing from some who claim to be followers of Jesus that looks and acts a whole lot like unbridled fear and a mischaracterization of Jesus, who incidentally was always, always on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. The executive order on immigration and refugees has revealed what in my mind is the dehumanization of image-bearers, which is necessary to justify and defend turning away desperate and traumatized people from what is supposed to be a place of compassion and freedom. This is not a reflection of the Jesus I know. Furthermore, when we turn away refugees and immigrants, we turn away, we refuse, Jesus. Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth bears the image of God in them, and when we refuse them, we refuse Jesus.

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We often think that if we had lived in Jesus’ time we would surely have recognized and embraced him. Surely WE would have seen him for who he was. Surely we would have seen his compassion for the woman at the well, for the blind man, for the “other.”  But would we really have seen him for who he was? Do we even see him for who he is now? In the ways he appears to us today? Because he comes to us now in the broken, the downcast, the oppressed, the immigrant, the refugee, the LGBTQ, the homeless, the differently-abled, the physically, emotionally and mentally ill, the foreigner. He comes to us in ways we could not have imagined and we do not recognize him. Have we been blinded by our prejudice, our privilege and our judgment? We think we know Jesus when we see him, yet we refuse him and turn him away when he does appear to us.

We turn him away because we do not love him – because we have not fallen in love with Jesus. When we’re in love with Jesus, when we allow him to love us and we in turn are able to love him, we no longer have anything or anyone to fear. As long as we fear anything or anyone, we do not have the love of Christ in us. The love of Christ is fearless, because nothing and no one can separate us from that love. The worst thing that can happen is that we die because of our love, and why wouldn’t we be willing to do that when he who loved us first loved us to death? He died for us. Because of his love for us. He gave his life for us, while we were his enemies. Who are we, that we would not die for our enemies, real or perceived? What if dying, literally, is the seed by which others come to know and receive the love that Jesus has for them? I know, this is hard to take in, to embrace, this life of literally being willing to die. But until we are willing to go there, to be willing to give our literal lives, maybe we don’t really truly love the Jesus we claim to follow.

What if we came to the place where we could say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” What would it take to get to this mindset, where living is for Christ and His kingdom, and to die is for Christ and His kingdom? It makes no difference. It doesn’t matter. To live is to live with Christ and his power in us. To die is to die and be in his presence. So it makes no difference; either way there is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. Because we’re crazy in love with Jesus.

Until we are willing to love Jesus recklessly, with abandonment, we are going to fear. We are going to self-protect. We are going to hunker down with our prejudice and privilege. We are going to divide people into groups of “other.” We are going to dehumanize the “other” in order to reject and turn away Jesus in the name of Jesus. We are not going to be willing to lay down our lives for our perceived enemies. We are not going to be the force of love this world needs right now. We are going to continue to marginalize and oppress the marginalized and oppressed. We are going to continue to forget that we are human too, and flawed, and imperfect. We are going to try to prove we don’t need the grace and mercy of a loving Savior who loved us and gave his life for us. And we will deny him once again. Unless we love Jesus with all our hearts.

Refugees and immigrants are our brothers and sisters. The differently-abled are our brothers and sisters. The homeless are our brothers and sisters. Those identifying as LGBTQ belong with us. Whether we believe in the same God or not, we are brothers and sisters. Whether or not we are the same color, religion, ethnicity, ____________, you fill in the blank, we are brothers and sisters because we, all of us everywhere, carry in our being the image of God. When we turn the other away it is because we do not see the image of God there, and we do not recognize Him because we do not love Him.

We dare not look away now. We must press into these places of suffering and pain. We must see as Jesus sees, and love as Jesus loves. There is too much at stake. Real people’s lives are at risk and not only those fleeing war and poverty and death. Our own very lives are at stake. We risk losing our lives when we turn away those who are most in need, the most destitute, the most unloved, those who bear the image of God in them. It is a matter of life and death for everyone, not just the those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It is a matter of life and death for those of us who want to be safe and protected in our privilege and judgment, for those of us who have the power to show compassion and love, and to meet the most basic needs of those most desperate and unloved.

God help us all.

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For the Love! And a Little Fun…

Way back in March, five whole months ago I applied to be on the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, and somehow I made it into the 10% who actually made it onto the team. I’m sure it was through no charisma or anything that I did or am, just pure happenstance – or could it have been providence? Well, I don’t know, but let me tell you that this experience – being on a team with about 500 other people who are passionate about Jesus and love people to death – has been amazing! This group has lived out in real time the entire message of Jen’s new book, For the Love.

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The subtitle really puts it well: “Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.” I think we’ve all experienced feeling like we’re not enough and that no matter how hard we try, there is something somewhere that we’ve failed at or not met someone’s expectations, be it other people’s or even our own expectations. Yes really, sometimes we’re the ones putting unreasonable expectations on ourselves. And Jen wants you to know that you can take yourself and others “off the hook.” She goes on to explain that

“maybe we can lay down our fear and criticism, self-directed and otherwise. Maybe if we let ourselves off the hook, we can let others off too… We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other; we’re probably better as loved people beside each other. We aren’t good gods, but we can be good humans.”

Jen is superb at telling the truth with grace, and that’s exactly what she does in this book. She is so gracious with her words, so encouraging and uplifting, that when she hits you upside the head with something that’s a real thing in your own life, you can take it. Because you know she loves everyone with her whole heart – even the difficult ones, for the Love! – and she’ll give you the truth, but she’ll be gentle in the process. And this is something I want to learn from her. She does this so well, and all I can figure is that Jesus is so big in her life that she has learned from Him how to do this really well, so probably I need more of Jesus. Anyway, this is the insight she has about truth-telling: “When you tell me the truth about yourself, I no longer hide from you. Your vulnerability makes a path for my own.” And this, “We are watching the light win truth by truth, and when enough bright places are created, the dark has nowhere else to hide.”

“Show up. Be seen. Tell the truth. Be free.

She tells her truth in this book and invites us to tell ours. Together, we can be free.

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In the mix are messages to our children, to our marriages, to the church, to women, and to Christians. And her Thank-You Notes, oh goodness, you do not want to miss those. In true Jen Hatmaker fashion, this book will have you rolling with laughter one minute and crying the next. To me, that is one of the marks of a terrific book and she does it every.single.time.

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Jen invites us into something sacred, something holy. She is practically prophetic in her closing words when she calls forth the image-bearer in all of us as she sees what is and can be: “I see you, cheering each other on and calling forth the best in one another, and it slays me. This is the stuff. This is what we were made for. This is how to live well. If we prefer each other as Jesus told us to, there is nothing our community… cannot handle. …we strengthen each other to love our families and neighbors and cities and world. We point each other to God and call out our blessedness. It is so incredibly powerful.” And this, this is exactly what Jen has done with this book. She does this and shows us what is possible.

And this awesome community that is the launch team, has lived out this book in the most beautiful ways ever, giving me hope and a longing that this can be lived out in our real-life communities all around the world, wherever we are, with our people. We all long for this – maybe we need to quit waiting around for it to happen and be the catalyst in creating it right where we are with the people God has put in front of us.

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And now for some fun – who wants a free book? You COULD go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or anywhere this awesome book is sold and order one, BUT if you’d like a chance at winning one, leave a comment down below, here on the blog, and you’ll be entered to win one of two copies I’d like to give to two of you amazing people who so faithfully read my sporadic and disjointed words.

So leave a comment, and tell us about someone who has encouraged you, cheered you on, and lifted you up on your journey. Honor those people in your life here, and then do it for someone else. Pass it on!!! Together, we can keep this ball rolling until it gets so big it overtakes our communities and our world. I will draw two names tonight, August 18, 2015 at 11 pm EST, because I want to get these out to you tomorrow. I can’t wait for you guys to start reading this book and sharing your highlights with us, so get your name in quick.

All the best!

On Fighting Tough Battles and Dying Daily

In the weeks leading up to several events that are the among the highlights of the year for me, the IF:Gathering and a missions emphasis weekend known as Unto the Least of These Conference, it felt like even in the midst of a world gone crazy, my own little world was mostly peaceful. The planning and execution of our Local Gathering went relatively smoothly and all seemed to have gone quite well. I was reading where other IF:Local leaders found themselves under what looked to be severe spiritual attack in the weeks before and directly following the event, and I recognized I was not really identifying. I wondered if I was just slipping through unscathed, or was our event not significant enough to merit an attack or what? (Not that I was wishing for one – quite the contrary – I was feeling quite relieved.) But of course you know what’s coming – my turn has come.

This is the thing – I’ve also been teaching Sunday School and the last two months our study has been taken from the book of Job. And just this past Sunday our discussion ended on the note of how being misunderstood is so hard for some of us (I would be one of those) and I reminded my class and myself that Jesus was also misunderstood – in fact, I contend, He was misunderstood to death. And so when I’m misunderstood, I try to remember the reality of a Jesus who knows what I’m going through and how He knows what it feels like to be grossly misunderstood. And now I’m back to “this is the thing” that I started saying at the beginning of this paragraph – my contention has long been, that whatever we’re teaching, whatever we’re talking about at any given time, that is exactly where we’re going to be tested.

I’ve done it so many times – I say something like “Well, if that was me in that situation, I would do so and so and so!” And wouldn’t you know, before I know it, I find myself in a similar place, and now how will I handle it? And so on Sunday I validated the conversation about being understood and the pain of being misunderstood, and boom, no later than Monday night there’s an all-out war for my soul. What a fight it’s been – a fight to remember who I am, what I’ve been created to do and who I’m doing it for.

Couple that with a message at the missions conference about laying down our lives for the cause of Christ and His message, and it’s been a death struggle this week. The enemy fighting to take me down, me fighting to lay down my life, and Christ asking for total surrender, at the expense of everything. I’ve found again (to my horrible chagrin), that I have loved this life too much! I want to be comfortable, to have it easy, to be understood and validated, to be affirmed, to be patted on the back, when Jesus is really inviting us to take up our cross. There is nothing comfortable, easy, or feel-good about the cross, there is so much about our cross we don’t and can’t understand, and yet, that is what followers of Jesus are invited into. And somehow, s o m e h o w, the passion (the suffering) becomes the Joy! Somehow, someway, I want to be able to say with the apostles, who after being beaten and told not to speak in the name of Jesus, went from there “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Do I count it a privilege when I am in pain for the cause of Christ and His Gospel and for truth? I want to, I really do! Oh to be free of this body of death that would destroy me, and to be transfigured into a sacrifice of praise and daily dying, counting it all joy.

I know none of this is possible without the grace and mercy of Jesus and I’m so incredibly grateful today for His provision, but not only for His grace and mercy, but for His gift of Himself. As I am molded more and more into His image, that means I must give not only what I have back to Him, I must give myself back to Him.

I recognize with all clarity how my experience pales in comparison with believers who are literally losing their lives around the world for their faith, and my intention is not to diminish what is going on in the world. This is only my experience, and while it doesn’t compare, this is where I find myself right now.

One Thing I Learned at IF:Gathering and a Few Other Places

So this past weekend was the world-wide event known as IF:Gathering. Actually, I hesitate to call it an event because it’s more like a movement, or a gathering, equipping and unleashing of women for the Glory of God and the good of all people – oh wait, I guess that’s their tag-line, so that pretty much explains what IF:Gathering is. What an honor and a privilege to be able to host what is known as an IF:Local, along with 6 other wonderful servant-hearted women who love Jesus and love people. We gathered around tables with about 50 women for two days of teaching and discussion, wrestling with questions about faith and the believing-life and anything else that needed sorted out.

I have learned so much from the IF:Gathering content and I love how those involved have invited me to see and experience Jesus and the Bible in new and unexpected ways. The Gathering is always an interactive experience, which I think helps the things we hear in the teaching segments sink deeper into our bones, as we engage the content right away with those sitting at the table with us. Somehow it makes what we’re hearing more personal and it sticks better and longer.

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But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is something that has not really been talked about all that much, if at all. I know IF:Gathering makes an effort to make this experience one that is not tied to one particular denomination or theology, with the vision of finding common ground in the places that matter most (Jesus!) and letting go of everything else. This has been incredibly refreshing and life-giving for me. While I may not have agreed theologically with everything I heard, I am choosing not to focus on what we don’t agree on. I want to take the things I heard that God was using to speak very specific things to me and let them burn deep into my heart. Furthermore, I am also choosing not to reject out-of-hand the things I may not have agreed with or the things that raised questions for me – I want to hold those things with open hands, as I ask God to show me what is true, and pure, and from His Heart, and whether this is an area He want to grow me in. I want to remember that my perspective may be different from other’s perspectives, and that simply because they’re different, it doesn’t mean that either is necessarily wrong. This is probably one of the biggest shifts for me since I’ve attended several conferences and events that embrace multiple denominations and theologies – that there is more than one way of seeing any one thing.

When you grow up believing that anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the way you do, or practice Christianity mostly the way you do (think rules and standards), or doesn’t have it figured out quite the way you do, then “they” are the enemy and “they” are dangerous. Well, I’ve found out that “those people” are not the enemy of me and if they’re dangerous, they are probably dangerous for me in a good way, in that they mess with my golden little pet theologies in all the best ways. I have come to love and appreciate diversity, and the unity that comes in embracing the different ways God has called us to live out our lives and our faith in Christ. This is what IF:Gathering has embodied for me – this embracing of each other, of affirming and celebrating where and how God has called each one of us in, as Mary Oliver puts it, this “one wild and precious life.” In short, I’ve fallen in love with the Church of Jesus Christ with its many, many beautiful dedicated followers of Jesus who are bringing God’s Kingdom to earth through their reflection of Him in their every-day walking-around life. The Church is alive and vibrant and beautiful, regardless of what its many flaws and short-comings may be, and regardless of how we may think that should look. The Holy Spirit is at work all around the world (that would be everywhere, folks!) and we are all invited to join Him in that work, wherever we might find ourselves at any given moment. I want to join Him, but I also want to join my fellow-believers, wherever that may be and however that may look.

We must move beyond being afraid of each other and begin to link arms with each other, because we’re all fighting the same battle, not against each other, but against our common enemy, the enemy of our souls. We can’t afford, nor do we have the time, to not come alongside each other to encourage, to bless, to call out the image-bearer, to teach, to equip, to lift up, to give a nudge out of the nest if needed – all of that, for our sisters, and brothers, who are on this journey with us. We must join together, in unity, celebrating our differences and recognizing that God uses those very things to further His Kingdom, not divide it. This brings to mind a very important conversation we were privy to this weekend, one of racial reconciliation and healing. It was so, so good and so very necessary. It was a real picture of precisely what I’m talking about. Not only do we need reconciliation racially, we need reconciliation denominationally and theologically. We need to see each other through the eyes of Jesus, with love and grace and mercy, and Lord knows I need His help to do that!

I loved how our little gathering of 50 was diverse, representing a dozen or more churches in our area, many of them different denominations and with different views on any given issue. It was so beautiful to worship together, to listen to each other’s stories and to encourage each other on the journey that God has each one of us on. We have so much to learn from each other, so much to do together, so much to celebrate together! This was by far the most special part of the weekend for me, sitting with women who love Jesus and are following Him in the way He has called them to follow Him. So I’m over here cheering you on!! Run your race the way God is asking you to run it, and run it well, no matter what that may look like! May we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. If our eyes are collectively fixed on Him, how much better to run the race He has set before us.

 

The Winds Are Blowing and IF:Sugarcreek is Happening

It’s been awhile friends, since I’ve had emotional and mental space to write and hit the “publish” button. Goodness, when I looked at the date of my last entry I realized it had been longer than I imagined. So much has happened since July, and really, I won’t bore you with all the little details. The big things have been continuing work on the remodel (it’s almost done enough to move in!) and taking on some heavy classes in the fall that left me with no extra anything

As I read back over one of my last posts, I was reminded of the way God was moving in my heart at that time and how I thought I would be sharing the vision I hinted at much earlier than this. Anyway, here we are and I will attempt to do that now.

Last year in February, I, along with several other women, had the privilege to attend the first ever IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas. It was a brand new thing and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. I call it a thing, because IF:Gathering is not simply an event that happens once a year – it is a gathering together of a community of women who long more than anything to have more of Jesus and who desire to live their lives out of love for Him. Because if God is real, than we want more than anything to live like it. We want to let the real God that we love and worship do a deep and profound work in our hearts, increase our faith, and let Him change us to the point that we live differently because of it.

As I’ve been pondering and remembering how this conference and the ongoing connection with this community has impacted, inspired, and changed my life this last year, I have found myself wanting to bring this same kind of community and connection to my place in this world, to the people I rub shoulders with every week, to friends and sisters I don’t yet know, to those who long for a deeper connection with Jesus and also with His Body of Believers. What I love about this, this “movement” I guess I’ll call it, is that the founder and leadership of IF:Gathering do not want to have everyone leave their places and come to them once a year for a conference, but rather that we would gather locally with the people in our churches, in our communities, in our towns and cities and neighborhoods, the people we do life with, and join in the conference from where we are. They do this by offering streaming video of the event and providing an astonishing amount of resources and material to help women do this in their own context. I love this so much about them. I appreciate so much the humility with which this event was put on last year, the almost palpable presence of the Holy Spirit and the breathless expectation they – and we – had for what God was about to do. And what He did was explode this movement to the ends of the earth. People are watching in and doing online Bible study and praying together and eating together all over the world. To me, this is one of the most beautiful pictures of the Body of Christ coming together that I could imagine. Women from all different cultures, denominations and churches are laying down the things that don’t matter and unifying around what matters most – Jesus Christ. Jesus, and how He changes us so we can live our lives for His glory and for the good of people. I love the simplicity of this message and how the focus is on the heart of the Gospel. This – the pure and simple Gospel – this, I can get behind. This I can bring to my community, to my place, with the confidence that God will be honored and we will be challenged to a deeper place with Him.

My prayer for a number of years has been that there would be a safe place in my community for women to come together to wrestle with big questions, doubts, and fears, where there is no judgment or condemnation, but a place where grace is extended, where truth is spoken in love, and where we recognize that everyone is on a journey, realizing we are all at different places in that journey. And somehow, someway, I find that God is allowing me to be a small part of beginning to create such a space in a broader context than I ever imagined. In a small way, I see that happening as IF:Sugarcreek is coming to Sugarcreek, Ohio on February 6 & 7 via a live stream video event, as we join what God is doing in Austin, Texas and around the world right from our own little hometown. No need to pack up and hop on a plane to be a part of what God is doing, this is coming to you right here in your community.

God has been so gracious and brought together a group of six women who have come alongside me to make this possible this year, and I’m so grateful. We don’t know what to expect but we’re believing that God will do immeasurably more than we could ask or even imagine. We are so excited that we have registrations from people from a number of different churches and contexts from throughout our community and that we will get to meet new people and encourage them to live into God’s call on their lives wherever they may find themselves. Because we believe in coming together to build the Kingdom together, and we believe in affirming where God has called you, no matter how that looks or where it may be.

Do not let fear keep you from joining us – bring your fear, your questions, your doubts, your misgivings, bring them right in. I know I will there with all of those things. We believe we should bring any or all of those things, because if we’re honest, we all probably have at least one of these lurking in the corners of our hearts – and what better place to bring them than here? Don’t check them at the door. And just one more thing, no need to put that mask on and make sure everything “looks good”. Just come. Bring all of yourself. Bring your true self. Let’s be courageous and brave together. Let’s see what God has for us as we gather together. The winds are blowing and there is a fresh fire alight in the world, and this is one of many places around the world where I see this happening. I believe the Holy Spirit is always working and moving in the world around us; I see Him moving here and I know I want to be a part of it, I want to join in. We would love if lots of you would join in as well.

So, if you want to the nitty gritty details about when, where, what and how, keep reading. IF:Sugarcreek will be streaming the IF:Gathering event live on February 6 & 7, 2015 at Provia Door at 2150 State Route 39, Sugarcreek, Ohio. Since we are streaming live and the live event being in Austin, Texas which is in the central time zone, it will get just a bit late here in Ohio on Friday evening. Registration is required and the deadline to do that is February 1. The registration process is a two-part process, beginning with registering with IF:Gathering here. They have costs involved with doing an event such as this, and we encourage you to support what they are doing. Without them and all their hard work which continues year-round, this would not be possible. They ask you to give what you feel God would have you give, with a minimum of $1 required to register. The second part of registration is for the local part of the experience and we also are asking you to give what God lays on your heart to give, again with a minimum donation of $1 payable to Rosanna Mullet which should be mailed to 781 Smokey Lane Rd NW, Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681. We have limited space available, so please be as sure as you can that you are able to come if you sign up. We do ask that if you are registered and something comes up last minute that makes it impossible for you to attend that you notify us as soon as possible.

IF:Gathering does not release the speaker list ahead of time (they really want you to join because of Jesus, not because of certain speakers, but we’re all human and WE WANT TO KNOW!) so I’ll give you a taste of last year’s speakers. They were amazing – so gifted and so full of Jesus! Some of the speakers were Christine Caine, Ann Voskamp, Jen Hatmaker, Rebecca Lyons and Shelly Giglio, just to name a few. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Oh, and the worship times were so good too – great musicians to lead in worship.

Schedule & Theme

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sign-In and Appetizers: 1:45 pm – 2:45 pm

Session One: 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm  “A Call to Believe”

Dinner Break: 6:00 pm – 8:00  A Catered Dinner will be provided.

Session Two: 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm  “Why Don’t We Believe?”

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Session Three: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm  “How Do We Believe?”

Lunch Break: 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm  A Catered Lunch will be provided.

Session Four: 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm  “What Could Happen IF We Believed?” 

 

Find us on Facebook at IF:Sugarcreek and follow along there for updates and details. You can also ask questions there (as well as here in the comments). We really hope you will join us if God is nudging you to do so.

My friend Irene reflected here a bit on her experience at IF:Gathering last year…

“Heading to IF I had no idea what to expect, but it was much more than I could ever have imagined. First you should know that I would not have been able to go to IF had not someone paid my ticket and invited me along for a gathering that I will never forget. Just with that, gratitude filled my heart and as things came together to go I knew it was just where God wanted me to go.

“So as I reflect on what I experienced at IF in Austin, as we walked in I remember feeling like I could turn and run because of all the people, but it did not take long for that all to change. We were greeted like everyone was greeted there, like we mattered.

“As we sat and listened to Jen Hatmaker, Shelly Giglio, Ann Voskamp and Jennie Allen just to name a few, my heart filled and overflowed, so many things to remember and take home. As I glanced around the room I saw hundreds of women doing the same and I thought, what could be more beautiful? Women from all over the world together because of Jesus.

“You may ask what did I take home from IF? First of all, IF is a gathering where everyone matters. Then, as Ann Voskamp spoke she asked the question, “What if I am a Jesus user and not a Jesus Adorer?” That, my friends, stabbed my in the heart. I asked myself, am I more of a Jesus user than a Jesus Adorer? As she continued, she said when Jesus is beautiful to us, He moves us and that changes the world, versus when He is only useful to us and we expect Him to change our world.

“As we get ready for IF:Sugarcreek 2015, my prayer is that women could gather and be filled with the love of Jesus  and that their cups would be filled and overflowing.” –Irene

 

Can Our Default Mode Be Changed?

I’ve been feeling quite stuck in regards to writing and publishing anything on the blog for several weeks now. I’ve got so many different thoughts and ideas running through my head, but find myself making all kinds of excuses why I can’t or shouldn’t write about this, that or the other thing. Somebody might be offended, I might open myself to criticism, I’ll be misunderstood, I might even actually show my hand and reveal how I truly feel about controversial issues (and my readers may not agree with me), I may not even know what I’m talking about and look like a fool. Those are a few of the things paralyzing me at the moment. Well, that and the fact that I’ve been sick for over a week and my brain does not function well when I’m sick.

So I’ve been thinking about that and wondering why I get stuck back in my old habits of worrying about what people think and say instead of doing what God has created me to do, and doing it to honor the way He has made me uniquely me. The truth is, old habits and patterns are incredibly hard to break. Our default mode is easy and takes little to no thought, even though it may be one of the most destructive forces in our lives. It’s amazing how quickly I find myself back there, seemingly pulled in by some unseen force, and wonder how I even got there. Our natural default mode is rarely the way we were meant to live and it takes hard work to break out of that and live consistently into the work that God has set apart for us to do.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do simply erase the old default mode and load a new one in it’s place? One where we automatically didn’t care what people thought, where our first thought was that we’re doing what God created us to do and nothing else matters? Where we wouldn’t care about being seen as or called a fool, because we’re secure in who we are – a son or daughter of the King and nothing can change that. Where we could remember that it’s not wrong to have opinions different from the status quo – not wrong, just different. Well, sometimes more than just different, but still not necessarily wrong.

We can probably all think of many people in Scripture who exemplified this kind of default mode in unmistakable and beautiful ways, but I will focus on two here. The first is Jesus himself. When I simply step back and look at his life here on earth, there was no one, ever, who lived this out better. Sure, he was God, so of course he did this flawlessly. But remember, He was also fully human, and we do him a disservice (at the least) when we separate his humanity and his divinity. As a human being, he lived out what I call a perfect default mode – on mission, never losing sight of that mission, and in full fellowship and in representation of His Father. The way He lived out His mission is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. He never forgot who He was, He stayed true to the mission, and He knew His Father.

The other person who comes to mind is the Apostle Paul. He is an example of someone who went from a deeply flawed default mode of keeping the law and killing Jesus-followers in the name of that law, to one whose default mode was radically changed. I’m grateful for Paul, because it gives me hope that I too can change from the inside out. When we read the story of Paul (or Saul, as we know him before his conversion) in Acts, and then read his letters to the different churches following his conversion and subsequent radical transformation, it becomes clear that his default mode had made a radical shift as well. Take for instance, what he says in Galatians 1:10-17:

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” (NRSV)

It would appear that Paul had some of the same core issues I seem to have, one of which has been a history of people-pleasing. It’s what gets me to these places of feeling paralyzed and stuck. Forgetting that I’m not meant to please people, but rather I am to do the will of God, which often means going against the flow. It’s interesting to me that Paul brings that in here, and how when he was converted, did not confer with people, but rather went where God was asking him to go. It was likely not what people would have advised him to do or what might have made the most sense, yet he heard and obeyed the voice of God. He, like Jesus, knew who he was, his mission (and he stayed true to it), and he knew God in a deep and profound way. He went from pleasing people to pleasing God by trusting Him and doing His will.

I believe Paul gives us wonderful insight into how this change happens when he says in Romans 12:2 that “transformation happens by the renewing of our mind”. It’s not only a change of heart, but a change of mind. I have found that I need people around me who will continually speak truth to me as I so easily go back to my old ways of thinking (those old ways of thinking often turn out to be lies), who help keep me on the paths of new and true ways of thinking. Those who help me remember it’s not about pleasing the people in my life, it’s about doing the will of the Father, knowing my mission and staying true to it even when many around me want me to do their will (because surely their will is God’s will for my life!), and building the muscle I need to resist the pull to people-pleasing. I also have to be intentional about cultivating a deep and intimate relationship with God, learning to know Him and His voice. I also have to be okay with this process taking some time – it doesn’t usually happen overnight. It may have happened quickly and dramatically for Paul, but for most of us it happens over time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes years to reset your default mode, but also bear in mind that we need God to do this work in us; it’s not necessarily something we can just decide to change on our own – we need the help of God and safe community around us. What’s really happening, hopefully, is that we are being made more and more into the image of Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 3:10, “...put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him...”

So here I am to say, in the next few weeks or so I commit to writing and posting a blog series that I’ve felt God impressing on my heart for a while, and which I’ve been resisting. It will be on identity and image bearing, a subject that is very near to my heart. Maybe that’s why I’ve been resisting, because it will feel very vulnerable to put some of my deepest passion out there for anyone to see. But I don’t want to hold back because of fear; I want to live into this because of love – because I love the Father and it’s a pleasure to do His will.

What holds you back and keeps you paralyzed? Are you living into the life God has meant for you to live? Do you believe that God can change your default mode? 

Reflections on Good Friday

I’ve been reading in John’s Gospel these last few days and listening to the story of Jesus’ last days, His trial and crucifixion on the audio Bible, trying to visualize what was going on and taking in some of the details I so often hurry over. The accounts written by the apostles are rich in detail and I wish I knew more background so I could better understand how the people of that time, and especially the disciples, would have understood what was happening.

The first thing to catch my attention was in the scene where the religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate. It’s fairly common knowledge that the Jews hated the Romans and wanted desperately to be free from their oppressive rule. But. But, when they wanted something from Rome, they made no qualms about using them to achieve their own purposes. Since Jesus claimed to be God, the Jews said He had to be sentenced to death. But the Romans, if I understand this correctly, did not allow the Jews to mete out capital punishment. So, the hands of the Jews were tied. What did they do? They went to the Romans to get them to do what they wanted done. The Jews did not like to give allegiance to Caesar, but when it was convenient, they professed their allegiance. They went so far as to tell Pilate that the only king they have is Caesar. You can read it in John 19.

The other thing that presented itself in this part of the story is that it was not what many would call “the world” who were seeking the death of Jesus. It was the religious establishment. I wonder how often this still happens?? They thought they were doing the “right thing”; as it turns out they missed it entirely.

The other part of the story that caught my attention was where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus ask for the body of Jesus so they could bury Him. Such a beautiful, beautiful scene, where they take enormous risk and essentially give up the privilege of taking part in the Passover since they were ceremonially unclean by coming into contact with a dead body. These secret disciples were willing to do something that even Jesus’ closest known disciples were not willing or did not think to do. I’m sure there is more to this and someday I will take the time to delve into it.

But what I really love is something I heard N.T. Wright talk about on the radio a few days ago. A detail that I’ve passed over countless times because I didn’t realize that it was significant. We all know how Peter denied Jesus three times during the long, dark night leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion the next day. John records that Peter was warming himself at a fire in the courtyard when he denied Jesus. What I didn’t realize is that John uses a specific word to describe the fire – a charcoal fire that had a particular scent associated with it. Then, in John 21, after the resurrection, some of the disciples are out fishing and when they come in, there is Jesus, cooking a breakfast of fish and bread on – you guessed it – the same kind of charcoal fire. It is said that certain smells bring back vivid memories and we can be sure that when Peter smelled the fire that morning, he couldn’t help but remember that other fire at which he denied Jesus. But then Jesus, being the Redeemer that He is, redeems that scene of the first charcoal fire at the scene of the second charcoal fire by asking Peter three times if he loved Him, correlating to the three times Peter had denied Him. What a wonderful picture of love and redemption. There is more to it than what I have gone into here, and I’d encourage you to listen to the broadcast where N.T. Wright talks about it. You can find it by clicking here. The part I’m referring to starts at about 16 minutes if you want to skip to that.

These few small portraits are what I’ve been pondering this week and it’s helped me get a clearer picture of what might have been going on during the week leading up to Jesus’ death. I’ve intentionally stopped reading and listening at the end of John 19. I think we so often want to hurry over to Sunday morning and the resurrection, and we don’t take the time to sit in the pain and in the darkness of Friday and Saturday. I hope to gain a deeper understanding by sitting with the hard parts of Scripture, and to more fully appreciate the glory of the Resurrection on that Sunday morning so long ago, a reality that lives on – this resurrection life – and is available to all who call on Him.

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:38-42