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I hear this a lot these days: “I can love Jesus without going to church.”

I suppose you can. But you won’t get very far.

If you’re one of those people, don’t tune out. There’s something you need to hear.

When I was in college, I saw a tshirt that said, “Jesus is not a religion.” I loved it. I thought it was so perfect. That’s right, Jesus not a religion! What a revolutionary thought!! It was that mindset that set me down the path to the version of Christian “spirituality” I sported for many years.

I loved to say that I loved Jesus, I just wasn’t sure about some of His followers. I loved saying I wasn’t “Christian,” I was “spiritual.” I loved feeling like I was on the fringe. I loved feeling like I was on to something revolutionary.

All I was really on was a watered-down, self-help, “Christianized” version of hedonism. If you’re unfamiliar, hedonism is the religion of self. It is the concept that if it feels good, do it. It is based on the idea that we shouldn’t be discomforted, we shouldn’t have pain, we shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable in life.

Of course, this is a great idea except for the reality that we’re usually discomforted, usually have pain, usually uncomfortable in life. It’s a fact of life. Life stinks. Things are hard. People hurt us. We get sick. We lose things. We lose people. We lose everything. It’s the way of the world. Don’t believe me? Please show me what rock you’re under – I’d love to know what it’s like to live life without problems.

No, life is painful and things happen. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in misery. See, I think the spiritualized version of Jesus was rooted in the right idea. Jesus wants us to live a blessed life. He TELLS us not to worry. He tells us to trust in God and cast our cares at His throne. So shouldn’t that mean that life should be good?

Well, yes and no. You see, the truth is, when you really know what it means to have Jesus in your life, it’s not that you don’t have the problems, it’s that you know the problem-solver. It’s not that you don’t have the pain, it’s that you know the doctor. It’s not that you don’t lose things, it’s that you know the Guy who has (and made) IT ALL. And you trust Him for it. Daily. Hourly. Minute-by-minute you choose to trust. That takes training. That takes discipline – more discipline than I have on my own, I’m afraid. I NEED encouragement to keep that up. I need people around me encouraging me just by the fact that they love Him, too.

The blessed life is NOT void of problems. It’s just a life that trusts those problems to our loving Father.

How can we do that when we’re not learning about Him? How can we trust Him when we’re not getting to know Him more everyday? How can we do that if our preconceived notions aren’t challenged?

I’ve heard people say that they can love God without going to church. Yes, you can. But you won’t get to know Him very well without a little guidance. I’ve heard some say that’s what the Bible is for. That is absolutely right. The Bible is our SOURCE for the voice of God, the truth of who He is, and His Will for our lives.

But I don’t know a single person on planet earth who knows everything there is to know about the Bible perfectly.

I don’t know anyone who has it all figured out. Not a pastor, not a theologian, not even Billy Graham himself. We’re human. We all interpret things erroneously from time to time. We all view the Bible through a bias, whether we admit it not. That’s why we NEED each other. That’s why God DESIGNED us for community. That’s why He CREATED the church.

Iron sharpens iron. It’s that simple. If we become Christian recluses, we are putting ourselves in danger of creating our own religion. We are putting ourselves in the path of the enemy. Without help, without accountability, without the edification of believers around us, we CAN’T GROW IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. Yes, we can grow. Yes, we can love the Lord. But without help, we WILL misinterpret the Lord. We WILL create our own theologies. I see it all the time. Friends, family, acquaintances – all around me, I see people who have formed their own version of Christian “spirituality.” Maybe it’s based around politics. Maybe it’s based around self-help “Oprah-isms.” Maybe it’s based on their pain and hurts. Maybe it’s based on bad theology. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. But it’s NOT the heart of the Father. And it’s causing them to wonder why they’re not experiencing that “peace that passes understanding.”

The truth is, the enemy does NOT want us in the House of God. He does NOT want us to experience a community of believers who are all in the same pursuit. He does NOT want us to grow in the Lord. He does NOT want us to be challenged in our faith so that we grow in the knowledge of the Father. He does NOT want us to be encouraged by someone who has been where we’ve been. He does NOT want us to encourage someone else with our story.

All I know is, knowing that the devil doesn’t want those things for me only makes me want them more. And the more I’ve immersed myself in the church, the more blessed I’ve been. I’ve seen Jesus in a friend who opened herself up to tell her story of a wayward sister. I’ve seen Jesus in a pastor as he told his story of a past he regrets. I’ve seen Jesus in an acquaintance as she told her story of redemption with more power in the tips of her fingers than I have in my whole being. I’ve seen Jesus in the broken. I’ve seen Jesus in the joyful. I’ve felt Jesus in the music. I’ve felt Jesus just being in the presence of others who are feeling Him too.

It’s (and I hate to use this word) almost magical, this thing we call church. It’s miraculous. That’s what it is. To be gathered with a body of believers, lifting up the name of Jesus, every knee bowing, every tongue confessing, is a blessing beyond words. And if you’re not there, you’re MISSING IT. Stop robbing yourself. Stop making excuses.

I’ve heard it all.

“I don’t like the way my pastor preaches.”

“I don’t like the worship style.”

“I don’t like that there’s no Sunday School.”

“I don’t like that there is Sunday School.”

“I don’t feel comfortable in crowds.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I’m tired.”

“I don’t like Christians.”

You can make up a thousand excuses to NOT be there. But what’s your excuse for your soul? If you’re as desperate for the Father as I am, if you want His presence, His miracles, His blessings as much as I do, what’s stopping you?

The truth is, no one is stopping you but you.

Go to church. You deserve it!

It has been a busy season of life, to say the least. Between kiddos, husband, family, work, worship, church groups, songwriting, and trying to do all of that while keeping the house from looking like a disaster area, I am little tired. Okay, really tired.

I used to never take naps because I knew that if I napped, I wouldn’t sleep that night. The other day, I took two long naps and STILL slept like a baby that night. Now THAT is what I call a sabbath. It was bliss. But it showed me just how tired I really am.

In the midst of the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. I find myself a little shorter on patience, a little quicker to get upset, a little less “graceful” than I fancy myself to be. I was getting frustrated and upset at who I saw myself becoming. And of course, that little crack in the door meant the enemy came sneaking in with thoughts like this:

You’re not a very good mother.

You’re not cut out for all of this.

God is not honored by all of this.

God is disappointed in your choices.

He’s good at his job, that one. He knows exactly what to say to push my buttons and make me feel like a failure at something I’m already in the midst of accomplishing. He is really good at finding cracks and sticking his toes in them.

I’ve heard it said that “What the enemy cannot prevent, he perverts.”

Truth. He’s not preventing me from doing what the Lord has called me to, so he’s trying his best to pervert it.

Last night I was thinking and praying about all of this. I am only doing things I know the Lord has called me to do. But I’m still tired. I’ve prioritized. I’ve eliminated. I’ve trusted. I’ve obeyed. I’ve prayed. But I’m still tired. What can I do?

And, just like He always does, He led me right to exactly what I needed. I opened the most recent issue of Studio G (the women’s magazine by Gateway Church) and came across an article about mental health and how we need to not only do good things for our bodies, but most importantly our minds. It recommended choosing a few scriptures that speak specifically to things we’re struggling with or wanting to conquer, memorizing them, and focusing on them everyday.

So I did.

The two scriptures the Lord led me to are Psalm 91:9-10 and Psalm 103:1-2. I guess He led me to them because I love David so much. I relate to that guy – a genuine lover of the Lord who just keeps messing up; a guy who cries out to the Lord in genuine angst and always returns to trusting Him despite a lack of understanding. I get that.

So I’m memorizing these scriptures. I’m speaking them over myself. I’m reminding myself that the work of the Lord might be tiring or overwhelming at times, but it’s always worth it. And it’s not ever going to be too much if I’m doing it at His pace, in His Will, and with His guidance.

Onward, I march.

Let all that I am praise the lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. (Psalms 103:1, 2 NLT)

If you make the lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. (Psalms 91:9, 10 NLT)

Is it just me or does your inner self ever ask questions like this?

“But I thought as a Christian, I wouldn’t have any problems…?”

“Why am I still struggling? Shouldn’t faith eliminate the struggle?”

“I thought Jesus would get rid of my problems. Is there something wrong with me?”

Maybe you don’t literally ask yourself those questions. But maybe it silently nags at you from time to time. Maybe you, like me, find yourself beating yourself up when things aren’t as easy as you felt they should have been. Maybe you are your own worst enemy. I know I am.

My pastor mentioned recently that most people think the Promised Land is a symbol of Heaven. But he clarified: it’s not a symbol of Heaven, it’s a symbol of the Blessed Life. There are still enemies in the Promised Land. There are no enemies in Heaven.

What does that have to do with the price of eggs?

Well, for me, it made something click.

The Blessed Life is not a life devoid of problems, devoid of attacks, devoid of enemies, devoid of THE enemy. The Blessed Life is the life that knows, believes, serves, trusts, and walks side by side the One who has already defeated the enemy.

Sweet.

I think, especially in American culture, we get this idea that we’re not supposed to face hardships. We live in a mindset that we’re not supposed to get sick, we’re not supposed to fail, we’re not supposed to face difficulties, and that if we face any of those things, we need find a way to eliminate them as soon as possible.

But when you read the Word you find out very quickly that it’s hardships, trials, difficulties, attacks, and more that bring us to an understanding of our need for redemption. So maybe instead of looking at our life as a series of bumps in the road that should never have been there, perhaps we could start looking at our experiences as opportunities to get to know the character, heart, and love of God the Father a little better. Perhaps we, like James, could take to heart this notion:

Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. ~James 1:2-4

Think about David and Saul. Saul was DEAD SET against letting David fulfill his destiny. He was absolutely terrified that someone like David should become king and he was bound and determined to keep that from happening. It drove him mad. He chased David around like a lion hunts a gazelle. David had to go into hiding to keep Saul from killing him. David was on the run.

At any point, David could have stopped Saul in his tracks, killed him on the spot, and justified his actions as self defense. He probably would have gotten away with it, too. But he didn’t. He remained humble. He decided to trust God and not take matters into his own hands. And in the end, Saul killed himself as a coward. His obsession against David drove him to madness. And David rose to his destiny without ever having to fix the Saul problem.

Maybe we could take a lesson from David. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate problems from our lives constantly we could instead recognize the merit in learning a little patience, a little endurance, a little long-suffering. Maybe we could use difficulties as a chance to get to know what God is trying to do instead of trying to keep our lives problem-free.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take medicine when we’re sick or ask forgiveness from our family or friends that we’ve wronged. Certainly problems come with a level of responsibility on our part. But maybe it’s time we entertain the notion that the responsibility is not to fix the problem, but to do our part to live in right-standing with God, seek His face and counsel in all things, and trust Him to take care of the rest.

I think we all know that even when we do try to “fix” things, we rarely succeed. Maybe it’s a sign to stop trying. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to dodge bullets and instead put on the full armor of God. Maybe it’s time we stop asking God to keep things from happening to us and instead ask God to show us what we are supposed to learn from our difficulties.

And maybe, just maybe, we can learn to live by faith, not by attempted difficulty prevention.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. ~Ephesians 6:10-18

Oh man, I LOVE that passage.

jesuskeepsdisappointingme

I have a question today. It’s simple, really. But I’ve been pondering it a lot lately.

Do you love Jesus?

Do I love Jesus?

To clarify, in the context of this post, this is not a question for non-believers. Certainly if you don’t believe in your need for Jesus, if you’re not a believer, I am praying that your eyes will be opened. Certainly if you don’t have Jesus, you need Him. But that’s for another post.

Today’s question is for believers – do we love Jesus?

I’m not asking this question as some sort of ploy to get us all to question our salvation. The Word is clear that salvation is eternal.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

~Romans 8:38-39

No, I’m asking this question because I have realized that there is a distinction between loving Jesus and loving what He does for us. Certainly we believers love what He does for us. We love His joy, His blessings, His peace, His love. We could (and do) go on and on about what He did for us. And there is nothing wrong with this. We should. We should count our blessings daily. We should remain eternally grateful for the gifts of the Father.

But is that all we love about Him? Are we so focused on what we’re getting out of the relationship that we’re neglecting what we should be giving? Love is a two-way street, after all. Do I love Jesus for Jesus? Or do I love Jesus for His gifts? Do I love Him for loving me? Or do I love Him for what I could potentially benefit from knowing Him?

Maybe it’s a distinction you’ve never pondered. But it’s beginning to dawn on me that it’s a pretty significant distinction.

Let’s take this into the context of marriage. If all I ever expect from my spouse is his service to me, his devotion to me, if all I ever ask is that he fix my problems, be my rock, forgive me every time I fail, be my shoulder to cry on, how long is my marriage going to last? Love is reciprocal, after all. It can’t be one way or eventually it will be no way. A marriage that has one side always receiving without ever giving is a marriage that is doomed to die.

So what does that say about our walk with Christ? Are we always praying for Him to fix things? Heal things? Give us things? Make things better? Bless things?

Certainly we should pray for those things. Certainly our faith is in part knowing that He is the fixer, the healer, the giver, the blesser. But if that’s all it is, I fear it’s doomed to die. I fear that if we remain a one-sided, self-centered lover of what Jesus does, we’ll never ever see those blessings for which we beg come to fruition.

So what is our responsibility then? I believe it starts with loving Jesus for WHO He is not WHAT He does. After all, a life committed to Him will only remain committed if lived in the understanding of His great love, His great character. Commitment to “getting” will turn up fruitless in the end.

No, not because God is a childish god who folds his arms across his chest and pouts at our selfishness, but because God is a god who wants our genuine affection. That’s why He’s gentle to never bully His way into our hearts. That’s why He’s careful to never force anything upon us, especially devotion. That’s why He gave us free will – so that we would freely and genuinely choose to love and serve Him. If it’s not real, He’s not interested.

So if we’re not loving Him, but instead loving His benefits, do we really love Him at all?

In my own life, I’ve been learning this in a big way. I’m learning that devotion to Christ requires sacrifice. No, not for my salvation. That’s free. But if I’m following Christ expecting blessing, healing, fixing, comfort, peace, prosperity, and on and on, and I’m not doing my part to bring those things about, I’m basically a beggar with my hands out, standing at the throne of the Ancient of Days saying, “Give me. Give me. Give me.”

No, we approach the throne of grace with thanksgiving, praise and adoration. If we try to skip over the adoration part and head straight to the blessings, we will remain sorely disappointed.

I fear that’s one of the biggest problems with believers today. We want the benefits of God without falling in love with Him first. It would be like our one-sided marriage: the wife wanted love and affection from her husband without ever giving it to him in return. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the favor? It won’t come. It will remain lost.

So I ask myself today, do I love Jesus or do I love what He does for me? Do I love Him for who He is or for what I am praying He will do for me? What about you?

If in your life of faith, you keep (perhaps secretly) feeling like Jesus is disappointing you, perhaps it’s time to take an inventory of your heart. Are you taking the time to read His Word, learn who He is and fall desperately in love with Him? Or are you standing before Him, asking for a daily handout?

The distinction is the difference between the Blessed Life and the disappointed life.

boldhumility-01

Bold humility. Humble boldness. No matter how you word it, those two words don’t go together. They are counter-intuitive. One should cancel out the other.

To the world, that is.

But I’ve learned something pretty profound about God as I’ve walked with Him – He’s all about surprising us with opposite, counter-intuitive, seemingly impossible thinking.

When we say, “Stay. It’s not going to work,” He says, “Go. I’ve got this.”

When we think it’s crazy, He says it’s His plan.

When the world says, “Your life has to look a certain way,” God says, “Let me show you what real life (joy, peace, grace) looks like.”

I’ve learned this in little lessons all along the way, but never so big or so profound as I have lately. God is trying to get my attention. Scratch that. God IS getting my attention. He has been showing me that following Him, TRULY following Him, means laying aside droves of preconceived notions, false identities, and failed theories. It means having both boldness and humility at the same time. No, not boldness to trust myself – boldness to trust Him. And humility to know that He is worth trusting.

That’s what I’m learning right now. If faith is really going to be faith, it is going to require action – crazy action. It’s going to require defying pre-defined parameters the world has set for us. It’s going to mean getting kicked around by nay-sayers now and then. It’s going to mean questioning yourself. A LOT.

But I’m learning too that faith, following God blindly, at all costs, also means freedom! It also means joy! It also means reckless abandon! It means being liberated from fear. Fear of ourselves, fear of others, fear of failure, fear of fitting in. It means trusting, no KNOWING that God is who He says He is and everything else is just minutiae. It’s fun! I’m learning to love watching the reactions of those around me when I tell them about my life as of late. Some look at me with a blank stare. Others are quick to say, “Oh that’s great, yeah,” in a feeble attempt to hide their discomfort. Others stop and ponder, poising themselves to offer advice. Some of the advice is worth taking. Other advice goes right into the round file…

Whatever the case, I know this one thing for certain: I’m not trusting me anymore, I’m trusting God. I’m going to approach the throne of grace with a smile on my face and say, “God, whatever you want. Lead me. I’m yours.”

Not because I want to prove anything to anyone. Not because I want to fit into a Christian crowd of elites. Not because I think I’m better for doing so. No – because I know that on my own, I’ve tried and failed over and over again. On my own I’ve made up solution after solution for problem after problem – and they have each failed miserably. On my own, I’ve done nothing but make things worse. But with Him, all things are possible. With Him, I can see light again. With Him, I can rest, trust, breathe, for goodness sake!

So I’ll be bold. Bold to trust this God I claim to serve. And humble to kneel at His feet and say that He and He alone is the author and perfecter of my faith.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the lord ’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Hebrews 12:1-13

wedding_stacy

Above: Stacy (left) with her beautiful daughter (right) with my husband on our wedding day

It was five years ago today. We lost a friend that was one of the most selfless, kind, truly honest persons I’ve ever met. Her name was Stacy. She was a wife, a mother, a friend, a lover of Jesus. And to me, she was a rock. I miss her every time I have a funny story to tell. I think of her every time I pass by the places we frequented together. I miss her every time something happens in my life – my children she never met, the crises of faith that I would have shared with her. You see, Stacy was one of those people that would tell you like it is and somehow make you feel better in the process. She had a way about her that was one of a kind, and she was truly my best friend.

I learned at her funeral that I was one of many, many who felt this way about her. And that’s why I know that this song will encourage anyone who knew her. But it is also meant to encourage anyone who has lost someone or something they weren’t supposed to. You see, sometimes life throws us a curve ball. But a blessed life is not a life void of problems, or trials, or losses. It is a life that faces whatever comes with faith in the God who makes all things new, brings hope to all loss, and life to dead places. A blessed life is a life that just keeps believing, somehow.

So on this, the five-year anniversary of the loss of a dear friend to so very many, I would like to share the song I wrote for her the day she passed. Let it encourage you, lift you up, and remind you that life is precious.

We miss you, Stacy.

Song

Somehow (mp3)
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Devotional

Somehow (PDF)
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