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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gift, Not a Burden

I am often, constantly reminded of the two options, choices, perspectives I have.

Gratitude or complaint.
Self-centeredness or God-centered.
Acknowledging the Creator or denying His work.
Gift or burden.

There's a point in the lives of fictional Friday Night Lights characters Eric and Tami Taylor after they've welcomed a baby girl into their family and life is realistically transitional and chaotic. In a conversation about what to do when they go back to work and what to do about childcare and how to parent their teenage daughter, Coach Taylor says, "that is not our burden.."

and then he pauses.
I'm watching and holding with bated breath in the pause. What is he about to say?? Well whose burden is it??
and then he finishes, "that is our gift."

That is not our burden, it is our gift.
What a grace filled truth.

All that we do. This. These are all gifts. Every moment of breath the Creator gives, every hard decision we have to make, every new change.. are gifts. I clench so tight and hold so firm and sigh deeply and wail on cue when really, God is saying look around at what I've given you!! And then I remember the word asset and I remember that everything is a gift to be opened now or later.

Switching from burden to gift creates an atmosphere of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving assures humility.
Humility breeds dependency on Jesus.

I preach this to myself over and over. We don't have to live in the eyesight and mindset of burdens, but we can rejoice wildly. And no, that's not natural and no, it's not second nature - but I believe the more I call on Jesus, the more I see. The more I make the switch. The easier it becomes to say thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Learning to Be Servants

"Thinking like a servant is difficult because it challenges the basic problem of my life: I am, by nature, selfish. I think most about me. That's why humility is a daily struggle, a lesson I must relearn over and over. The opportunity to be a servant confronts me dozens of times a day, in which I'm given the choice to decide between meeting my needs or the needs of others. Self-denial is the core of servanthood."

My lovely Advance life group girls are currently learning about how to be servants for Christ. We've been asking ourselves and challenging ourselves with what the heart and the mind of a servant looks like. Characteristics of a faithful servant, the motivations behind serving, the identity of a servant, service starting in the mind. It's been challenging, encouraging, fruitful, life changing stuff!

Servanthood not as something you do, but as someone you are. A servant. Someone who serves others.

Rick Warren and his masterpiece Purpose Driven Life has been rocking my world. His writing is simple, to the point, straight forward, and convicting. We've been reading bits of it and rethinking on what it means to serve and how we can go out and choose every day, in every minute, to serve in love. It's really exciting stuff (ask my girls about their little, big, and huge loves - they'd love to share)!

Servanthood is redefined in the name of Christ. It's not something lowly or weak or embarrassing. It's Christ and it gives life and it's freedom and it's compassion. It is the very nature, the life and heartbeat of our call as Christians. Jesus came to serve. We serve God by serving others.

What's been most interesting to me (being a mind person) is the statement that 'service starts in the mind' (it has its own post). Really? It starts there?? But it has to start there. If you're not thinking about others, then are you really putting them first? And if you can't put other people first, then how can your actions really serve them? Because I can move my hands and move my feet and smile really big - but am I really thinking from a mind and heart of Christ? Do I do it for my glory? Self-denial is the core, the core, of servanthood. Hello.

Read this from Purpose Driven Life - "Henri Nouwen said, 'In order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others.. thus we become free to be compassionate.' When you base your worth and identity on your relationship to Christ, you are freed from the expectations of others, and that allows you to really serve them best."

Being a servant is freedom. When we root our identity in Christ and then give our lives away, to Christ and to others, we are free to love! Free to be compassionate, free to serve, free from expectations, free to be vessels of His Spirit. Free.

We, as a group, are in the process of developing compassion and the habit of intentional, servant love. It's been a joy and a challenge and a charge to intentionally think on someone other than ourselves, to break pride and self righteous thoughts, to contemplate on every day, every minute as opportunities to love, and to serve without recognition. We've wrestled with the impact our actions have - what we do feels so small compared to all the world and its suffering - but then we come around to the impact of a big God who is faithful. One small piece is God's purpose and that one small, faithful piece is enough.

So many more good thoughts as we continue to mold each other! A blog series?
I'm so proud of my girls.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No Excuses

I've been thinking more and more on a different way of living. Sanctification and the process of renewal is never-ending - there are always new ways that God renews and redeems and keeps working in me and through me. So lately, I've been thinking on thinking (always. I am always thinking on how to change my thinking. always). Having a new mindset.

It's so easy to make excuses, isn't it? Is that just me? There's always a defensive mindset, attitude, words that come up so quickly - 'I didn't mean to' or 'I meant to' or 'this is what I meant..' and really what it attempts to say is 'let me make sure you don't see me any differently. I'm still awesome, right?'

I mean, what is that?? Why is it so natural!?

That has to be a self-centered tendency in us that says we've got to make it out in a good light. It's a way of living that screams insecurity in identity. It puts emphasis on actions over heart, self over others, worry over assurance. An excuse is really that ridiculous.

I've been reading awesome bits and wise pieces of Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (lots more blog posts to come on that) and one of his parts on servanthood and how to be in ministry as a servant has really been rocking me. He says, "service starts in the mind." Thinking like a servant. What an awesome challenge! Adopting humility, rooting your identity in Christ, dying to self, putting others first.

So maybe it's thinking like a servant.. all the time?
I think the two are connected - making excuses and thinking differently. They have to be. Because when we change our thinking to become more Christlike, we stop making excuses for mistakes we make or things that don't happen the way we wanted and we start being okay with it. Because it is okay! Our lives aren't grand adventures to make a lasting impression of ourselves, but to make the name of Jesus Christ famous. Making excuses and living me-centered is counterproductive to living a Gospel kind of life.

A Gospel servant centered life is identified by Christ.
Jesus says, come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Rest from impressing, seeking, striving, excusing, performing.

Warren also writes, "you must decide whether you want to impress people or influence people."
Impress or influence.
I love that. What a choice.

We are essentially all influences. Our actions, words, responses all have the opportunity to influence the people around us. So the choice comes in the acknowledgement of that influence - using it in the feverish, fruitless act of impressing others (self) or as an influence to something greater, our greater God. Choice of self or others. The best way to live an influence kind of life is to live dedicated to the best kind of influence - for Christ. Taking yourself out of the picture and giving yourself wholeheartedly away for the glory of God. At your work, your school, with your peers, your authorities, your parents, your siblings.

And then impressing people becomes a waste of time and excuses look oh so silly.
Live like a servant of Christ and be free.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Loving Tim Riggins

It's official. Thanks to my dear friend Jenny, I am addicted to a little town called Dillon, Texas and their local high school football team.

Friday Night Lights. People, I can't stop watching it.

It's a story of a town and a people obsessed with football. Their lives are run by it. The forays into faith and conviction are interesting and impressive. The character development is small town fascinating. The obsession with football is most intriguing.

And of course, my favorite is the sad, broken, defeated character of #33, Tim Riggins.
(A note to the writers, directors, editors - I'm only in season two and I will be sorely disappointed in anything less than Tim's full redemption. Don't let me down).

Riggins' character is not a happy one. He drinks all the time. His parents have left. He was homeless for a while, moving from place to place. He gets in trouble, is failing in school, people tell him that he won't amount to anything and that he's going nowhere. Football seems to be his saving grace.

There's a part of his character that lives like he has nothing to lose. He's willing to lose so others gain and he's willing to protect other people in an almost self-deprecating way. He's caught in misunderstandings all the time and because of his demeanor and personality and reputation, he often gets the short end of the deal and doesn't seem to mind. He does it without complaining, without saying a word.

It's strange. I want to yell, "do something for yourself! fight back! say something!"
But the other part of it is weirdly.. admirable. Honorable.

There's a scene in season two where Tim is caught in a misunderstanding with Coach Taylor's daughter, who was on her way to doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing. Out of good intentions, Tim helps her and is caught in a compromising situation; conclusions are rushed to and Tim is thrown under the bus. And the whole time I'm thinking, 'this wrong will be righted.' But as the show continues, Tim remains silent. It is so weird to me, I can't even take it. My thinking is so different - I've always got a word to say. I want to make sure I'm seen in a good light. I often act like I have a lot to lose - pride, reputation, perfection. I think, why wouldn't you just say something?? Speak up for yourself?? But maybe that's because it's not about that. It's not about saving face or making sure you end up in a good light. Maybe it's thinking less about yourself and what other people think of you and just thinking more about other people.

Knowing my identity rests in Christ, do I really have anything to lose?? The way #33 lives is really almost counter-cultural.

Sure, this character has been beaten down and life hasn't treated him kindly and he has no allies - and that may be the fuel to the way he lives. He knows abandonment, so he may really have nothing to lose. And I know that he's often a jerk and selfish and does detestable things and I believe strongly in the idea that people are responsible for their own choices. But whatever the motives of Tim's character or the stupidity of his actions may be, it has me convicted. Rattled. The people who are used to doing without and are used to being told they won't amount to much - what are we saying to them? The people who are selfish and irresponsible and act like total jerks and do ridiculous things - how do we love them??

When we show love, people shine.

I know there are ways to get angry and to tell the people that annoy you just why they annoy you and I know that it's easy to want to teach people a lesson. But there is always love. There's something about spreading love and encouragement that makes someone act like a better version of themselves. When people are making poor choices, do we love and encourage alongside?

Donald Miller says in Blue Like Jazz that instead of withholding love, we need to pour it out. Pour it on. God has never withheld love to teach us a lesson. And I do?? Our part is to communicate love and approval, to tell people they matter enough that they have been crucified for. Let God do the change and speak truth in love from the heart.

I think the reason this rattles me is because Tim Riggins is real. People like him exist everywhere. There are people who need to know they are loved and that they matter and there are people who are cheering them on from their corner. The people who act tough, like they've got it, the people that need words of life. I relate and I know the great power that exists in words. The great, wonderful, beautiful, enormous opportunity to choose our words wisely. The worth, value, significance, and importance that the love of Jesus Christ places on our lives. We have the responsibility to communicate that. To communicate words of life.

So who are we loving?
Because when we love, people get it. We get it. We get that life is bigger than ourselves and we get that we exist for a higher purpose. We get the meat of the Gospel - that we were saved and called to go out in love. We spread the good news of Jesus, through words and actions and encouragement. And it's contagious! Kind words go a long way and produce the fruit of Christ.

And when we love, we live like we have nothing to lose. Because we rest firmly in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and our identity is in His hope. So we can love the unlovable, encourage the failures and the losers, and spend time with the outcasts because Jesus is our Savior. We imitate and emulate Him and spread love all around.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Psalm 40 Story

I'm a girl who loves Jesus.

I'm a girl who thinks reading is the best use of time. Who believes in the power of community. Who thinks words have the power of ultimate healing. Who asks too many questions. Who's scared of roller blades. Who just discovered Coldplay.

I'm a girl with a story. A song.
A story and a song about the inexplicably wonderful, unfathomable, immeasurable grace of God.

I grew up in church. In a wonderful, Gospel centered church that I am blessed to be still be a part of. Sunday school was tables of rice and felt figures of Noah's animals. Middle school was awkward Bible studies and faithful leaders. High school was mission trips and lock ins. I was that girl that attended several Vacation Bible Schools in one summer and received stellar marks in Bible memorization. God was my ambience..

but He wasn't Lord of my life. I was religious, but not a disciple. My faith was shallow and lacked the heart.

And then college came and I shipped myself 900 miles away. It became harder and harder to find a church, to find genuineness in my faith. In four years, my words became sharp, my tongue harsh, my actions impure, my thoughts ugly, my nature prideful. I ran to God when my guilt was too much and once a verse here and a verse there soothed me over, I cut a quick path back to my self righteousness lifestyle.

After graduation, I reluctantly kicked and screamed my way back to Charlotte and parked my 'I'm going back to Boston as soon as I get the chance' attitude. I immersed myself in my church again because I loved it there - all the while hatching plans for an escape back to a college kind of life. A life without Christ, a life without vulnerability, accountability, prayer. A life of prideful behavior, undisciplined thoughts, and impure actions.

Oh, but then some dear, faithful, awesome Jesus loving friends asked me to be a part of their bible study on Wednesday nights. ha. ha. I was too cool for bible studies. Accountability was for losers. But their persistence won me over and I found myself on their living room couch. And as the weeks turned into months, I was shockingly IN LOVE. with the idea of community, the concept of people being together, reading Scripture. It was refreshing, in every sense of the word.

And then one night, it happened. WHAT IS THIS. IS THIS WHAT THE GOSPEL IS ALL ABOUT? He became sin who knew no sin? The wind was knocked out of my sails and I was stunned to my knees. This Jesus, the Christ, this Savior has redeemed every part of me, every part - thoughts, words, actions. and somewhere along the way, I had missed that. I had failed to live that. But His grace is wider than any of our attempts at living life our way and it swallowed me in.

I was baptized!
And then the real battle began.

The daily wrestling of how to fully give my life away. How do I do this - this life fully for Christ? And then my family left my church to join another and the seams began to unravel. The harsh truth and the conviction stared me down every day - in where does my faith lie? in my parents? in my church? or in this ever present, ever constant, faithful Redeemer who laid down His life for me?

It was a critical analysis as fear, anxiety, and judgment gripped me and became my daily language. I became weak of stomach and full of tears. I became harsh of tongue and quick to anger. My thoughts were full of lies and constant and untamed.

But the grace of God!
Oh how it saves.

Psalm 40 is the song of a God who hears our cries. Who raises us up from pits of destruction and sets our feet on solid ground. He puts a new song in our mouths, words of praise. We are new creations with new stories. And no matter how wide or deep or high our miry bogs are - His grace is that much wider, higher, deeper.

This grace of God - it gives us a new song to sing, a new story to tell, a new life to live. We are never too far from His love. We have HOPE and we rest in the knowledge of Jesus - that He loves us fiercely, with a deeply passionate love, and that He is a good, good Father who loves what He created.

Tim Keller says, "Truths about God's glory and Jesus's saving work are not just believed with the mind, but create inner music and an inner relish in the soul. And because the object of this song is not favorable life circumstances (which can change) but rather the truth and grace of Jesus (which cannot), this heart song does not weaken in times of difficulty."

Our songs, our inner music is not based on what we do or what happens to us or how our circumstances look in the moment. It is based on the pure love and pure truth and grace of Jesus, which is unshakeable and unchangeable.

So take heart. Root yourselves deeply in the love of God. Turn to Jesus, get down on your knees in confession and repentance, and feel His grace, peace, and forgiveness wash over you. Live your life by the death and resurrection of Christ. And when you stumble and fall and fail and weep, remember your heart song. It is rooted in something that cannot be shaken.

So. I'm a girl who strives, desires, seeks - who loves God and loves people and who gets it wrong a lot of the time and does no good on her own - but who, in her heart, is learning dependency and humility and a deep deep love for this Savior Jesus Christ.

And that's grace. It's chipping away at my heart. It is only by His grace that we are able to live faithful lives committed to Him.

That's my story. And that's my song.