Week Four: Created to Become Like Christ aka “You are What You Eat”

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Have you noticed all the choices that we have today? From what to watch to what to wear to what to eat, it often seems like the possibilities are endless. When I was growing up, we had only 2 grocery stores to choose from, cable only had 50 channels tops, and there were only really 3 restaurants in town. Now there are more than 5 different grocery stores within 20 minutes from my house, cable/satellite TV has over 900 channels (really??), and there are new restaurants opening  faster than I can count (even my parents are getting a Tropical Smoothie Cafe within 10 minutes from their house).

And while all of these options are great and definitely have their advantages, there are some distinct disadvantages that come along too. For instance, sometimes all of the choices can be overwhelming (where in the world are we going for dinner or what in the world should we watch) and lead to conflict if everyone does not agree. Additionally, not all of these options are best or healthiest for us. Included in those 900+ channels are several that I wish I could delete from everyone’s televisions because their content is both damaging and destructive. Included in those countless restaurants are fast food chains that are definitely fast, cheap, and easy, but as the picture above describes, the food does not have any true nutritional value for our bodies. We may feel full and our hunger may be momentarily satisfied, but in the end, we have not really increased our health. If we are not careful and vigilant, these disadvantages can take over and greatly decrease our health and quality of living.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. We have so many options for what we are going to focus on, who we can become, and what we can choose to allow to influence who we are. And while many people get lost or overwhelmed among the chaos, and some choose hurtful influences over their healthy alternatives, we as Christians are given a filter to discern and provide guidance among our options. Rick calls this filter our third purpose: becoming more like Christ, and living from this perspective allows us to evaluate each event/decision we encounter and determine the best course of action. Much like choosing a specific diet or eating lifestyle (LOL) that gives us parameters for what is best to eat as well as what not to eat, focusing on becoming like Christ gives us guidelines for how to protect and promote our spiritual health. In other words, regardless of the countless choices available, when it comes to both our physical and spiritual health, you are what you eat.

You are What You Eat

OK. So I realize that my catch phrase for this section might be a bit of a stretch, but at least it is not a song, right?! 🙂 Honestly though, the more I have pondered the “you are what you eat” mindset, the more I realize it really does resonate (at least for me) with this week’s readings. As this saying implies, what we choose to eat or the diet we maintain determines a lot about our physical health and quality of life. While the occasional fast food stop is not going to cause a heart attack or severely disrupt a healthy lifestyle (and yes, I do eat fast food and am not ashamed), a consistent fast food diet has been proven to be detrimental. In contrast, if we want to have a healthy body, then we need to watch what we ingest on a regular basis. If our normal diet consists of primarily fresh foods with a variety of meats, fruits, and veggies, this will result in a healthier body and a healthier you.

As noted above, the same principle applies to our spiritual lives: If we truly want to become like Christ, than we need to be intentional about what we “eat” or allow in to our minds/souls.  This means getting to know what a healthy spiritual diet looks like so you can make the most of the “food” that is available to you. Rick does a great job of breaking down the components of a healthy spiritual diet, which consists what I will refer to at the 3Ts: large amounts of TRUTH, moderate amounts of challenges aka TROUBLE, and as little TEMPTATION as possible. Let’s explore this spiritual diet plan a little bit further:

  • TRUTH: This is our spiritual protein, and should be one of the main components of our spiritual diet.  Not only does it satisfy our hunger, but it helps us grow healthy and develop strong spiritual muscle. And fortunately, we have a wonderful, endless supply of it right at our fingertips with the Bible, now forever in my mind as spiritual steak. Since we regard the Bible as the Word of God (or steak of God :)), it is not just a an airy feeling or empty belief, but a thick, heavy absolute that we can use as a foundation to build and grow upon. Our Bibles are filled with these proteinous (pretty sure I just created that word) truths that we can name and claim for every situation we encounter. So, as Rick describes (p.190-191), we need to be intentional about taking in and digesting as much truth as possible through memorization, meditation, and application (I feel like we’ve heard this before 🙂 ).
  • TROUBLE: In addition to spiritual protein, we also need a variety of spiritual fruits and veggies, which in this case involves the challenges or troubles we face in life. While not typically the favorite of the food choices (especially the veggies) for our physical diets due to their many textures, tastes, and seasons, fruits and veggies are actually good for us and contain helpful nutrients that supplement the proteins noted above. While a person may still survive without ever eating them (I know a lot of kids and adults that try), their physical health will surely suffer without these nutrients and the benefits associated with these plant-based foods. And as we have seen before, the same principle applies to our spiritual health: although not typically the favorite and occurring on a continuum of duration, severity, and seasons, we need the important lessons and byproducts of trouble to truly grow. If nothing else, trials can produce a sense of appreciation and value (for what we do have and when we overcome) that would not be available without some sort of risk/challenge. Because trouble tests us, it allows our true nature to be revealed, refined, and redeemed. So, how do we properly digest our troubles (all I can think of is with cheese on top, just the way I like my broccoli LOL 🙂 )? Rick tells us that we can embrace our trouble and do the following: remember God’s overall plan is good, rejoice and give thanks (yes, even in the midst of the trial) as much as possible, and refuse to give up/persevere (p.197-199).
  • TEMPTATION: These are the spiritual sweets and I am not talking fruits.  I am talking the high sugar, high fat, high yummy “treats” that taste absolutely amazing in the moment but have no nutritional value whatsoever! Often they look the best (hmmm… beautifully decorated cupcake or a brown banana??), smell the best, and sometimes even taste the best, but in reality do not promote our health at all.  And what does that mean in light of both our physical and spiritual diets? It means that if we really want to maximize our health, we need to stay as far away from them as possible (unlike sweets in the real world, where it is ok to have a piece of cake every now and then, temptations are pretty much never ok). So why is it still included in our discussion of spiritual foods? Because much like the luscious culinary treats that exist all around us (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, lattes, YUM), we are also surrounded with spiritual temptations that look like treats: a “romantic” extra-marital affair, just “one” celebratory drink ten times over to help us relax, a little multiple hour long “downtime” with our favorite TV show, and the list goes on. We can try to pretend that they do not exist by not talking about them, but the reality is that if we really want to be healthy, we need to confront and conquer their existence. The beauty of this category is that while these temptations are ever present in our lives, it is actually in the saying no and choosing something else (like a healthy helping of truth; chicken anyone??) that we find victory and empowerment.  It is this choice, and what we choose to do with these “foods” that will either complement or detract from our health. As I am learning in my own physical health walk, I can be eating a healthy diet of proteins and fruits and veggies, but if I am also ingesting a large amount of sugars, I will never be optimally fit and healthy. Same with our spiritual lives, if you really want to be at your best in becoming like Christ, you will look to limit and even remove as much temptation as possible from your life. How can we do this? As Rick shares (p.204-208), we can refuse to give up or be intimidated (just because you indulged yourself with a doughnut yesterday does not mean you have to again today), recognize where your weaknesses are (mine are sweet tea and chocolate; and speaking truth not in love and trying to control instead of trust), and request God’s help (grab an extra helping of truth to satisfy any hunger/craving). I would add to this to enlist others to “eat” with you to provide encouragement, accountability and support!

Recognizing the power of these 3 T’s combined is like understanding the power of actually eating a variety of proteins, fruits and veggies, while limiting sugars as much as possible: you will experience the amazing results of a healthy, fortified physical body that can withstand sickness, physical labor, and feels energized and ready to go. When we harness their power and purposefully ingest large amounts of TRUTH, understand and embrace moderate amounts of TROUBLE, and limit our intake of TEMPTATION, we will see similar results: a healthy, fortified spirit that can withstand difficulties, maintain motivation and focus, and has an energy and effectiveness in all that we do. I don’t know about you, but I get excited just writing/thinking about it. Somebody sign me up!!! 🙂

How does this apply to me?

Wow. I will repeat and capitalize for emphasis: WOW. This section’s reading could not be more applicable to me and the season I have been in for a while now.  Not only have I been on a physical health kick and getting back to both working out and trying to eat right (which means bye bye fast, cheap, and easy 😦 ) but I have also been on a renewed spiritual health journey (ditto).

At the end of last year (which I have shared about in previous posts), I noticed that I was definitely spiritually showing what I was eating: on the regular, I was either running on EMPTY or on the verge of CRASHING!  Instead of feasting on the truth and gleaning what I could from the troubles I was experiencing, I was alternating between starving myself (too busy, too tired, too behind to try again) or giving into my temptations (things like too much TV or too much sleep or anything else to keep me distracted) for that temporary high only to experience the crash that follows. I was caught in an unhealthy cycle, a spiritual eating disorder if you will, and it became obvious that something desperately needed to change.

Fortunately, as Rick describes, GOD WILL ALWAYS PROVIDE A WAY OUT of unhealthy patterns, thoughts, and behaviors. No matter what you or I am facing, there will always be a way to rise above, to flee from temptation, and to overcome in victory. This way out always starts in our minds (we have to think it to act on it), especially when it comes to our spiritual health. The thoughts in my head at that time were all negative “I’m tired and just need a break (sometimes this is legit, but mine was over and over and over again)” “I’ll try again tomorrow (knowing that I wouldn’t; I was just procrastinating)” or “I’ll never be able to get where I want to be, so why even try (total lie here).” I am pretty sure that if you take a look at your own thought life, you could point out a few negatives that are not helping your spiritual health (maybe physical too) as well. If I chose to continue to listen to these thoughts, I would be in the same place I was then, but thankfully, I looked for a way out and God was right there waiting (same goes for you 🙂 ).

For me, this meant getting my head (my mind) back in the game. I had to take a real, honest look and evaluate my current spiritual diet, which was severely lacking in the major food groups noted above. It also meant I had to do some intentional “meal planning” for the new year, and set myself up for success by setting goals, boundaries, and enlisting the prayer and support of trusted others.

Specifically, I started by making my times with God and in His Word a non-negotiable priority that was to occur first thing in the morning. This does not always mean that I get to read an entire chapter of scripture or pray for hours (although that sounds lovely), but I want to and do my best to start my day with the Lord. I have also made it a point to surround myself (my desk, bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms) with scriptures as my helping of truths that I can snack on throughout the day. These provide the positive thoughts to replace the negatives I shared above: “In my weakness, He is strong,””Make the most of every moment/do not put off for tomorrow what could be done today,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).”  I have also sought to eat my veggies/embrace my current troubles (my husband’s crazy work schedule, sleep deprivation with my littles, illnesses that tend to strike at the worst times, my mayhem in general) and surrender them to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving (at least he has a job, my kids are healthy and alive at night, all of the illnesses thus far have been temporary and not life threatening, and there are miracles among the mayhem). Finally, I got serious about setting boundaries to protect and limit those temptations (no TV after 10pm unless special occasions, alarm on my phone to wake me up for quiet time in the morning, people in my life that would confront, challenge, and pray for me). It has not always been easy, and there have definitely been some hiccups along the way, but it has been completely worth it to see my spiritual health improve!!

Our Challenge:

There is so much about these readings that stands out to me, but one of the biggest takeaways is that much like becoming physically fit, becoming like Christ does not happen by accident nor is it automatic. As Rick explains, “It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing” (p.179). This would be the essence of our challenge this week, consisting of the following steps:

  1. Take a look at your current spiritual diet. How would you describe it? How does it describe you? Maybe you are right on track, with healthy portions of proteins, veggies, and no sugars and are enjoying the benefits. Maybe, like me at the end of last year, you notice that you are spiritually starving and looking to those empty carbs to fill you up, when in reality you are crashing and lacking energy. Wherever you are, this becomes your starting point for the challenge.
  2. Take a look at your thoughts associated with your spiritual diet. Is your head in the game? Why or why not? If you are experiencing spiritual health, take note of the truths that have been most relevant in providing motivation, affirmation, and freedom and keep them to encourage yourself during difficult times and/or share with others that are struggling. If you are stuck in a mundane or unhealthy place, write out those negatives that are keeping you down (like I did above) and seek out some meaty truths to confront and conquer them.
  3. Take a look at the 3 T spiritual food groups described above. Is there anything missing or over-represented in your diet? Choose at least one thing you need to increase or decrease in your spiritual life right now to move towards greater spiritual health (more steak anyone) and share that with someone. Commit to including or excluding this thing for the next month, and then re-evaluate using these questions again.

Embarking on a new diet, whether physical or spiritual, can be intimidating at times, but I also find it can be exciting and refreshing when you are primed and ready for a change. I know it was for me, and I am praying it will be for you too! Because remember, when it comes to becoming more like Christ and really growing in this third purpose for our lives.. we are what we eat (is anyone else hungry??)! ♥

 

 

 

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Week Three: You Were Formed for God’s Family aka “We Are FAMILY”

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Last week, we discussed our initial purpose in life: being planned for and living for God’s pleasure. Recognizing this first purpose, we understand ourselves as being made out of His love to then love Him in return. We realize that we find ultimate fulfillment and a joy of our own when we live for Him, and when we do anything and everything unconditionally… just to see Him smile (you can hear the song, can’t you? 🙂 ).

Its amazing to me that God did not stop there, that He was not selfish in this love cycle He created. Instead, He knew that we would want others like us to be around in our lives just like He has others like Him around (the rest of the Trinity) and thus, He created more than one human (it is not good for man to be alone). Enter the first FAMILY, or grouping of connected humans, and our second major purpose in life: being formed for God’s family.

Apparently I am on a song kick, because this past week as I was reflecting on this concept of God’s family, all I could think of was that lovely pop 80’s style song : “WE ARE FAMILY… I got all my sisters with me!” 🙂 I even sang it so much that my 3 year old started singing it too and now it is one of his favorites (sarcastic yay). But seriously, the point of this song (other than to be catchy and make money) was to express the positivity of having family, being a part of a family, and knowing that you have all of your family members with you for fun and support. This is what God wanted for us when He initially created the family. However, as we can see from the original family, blood relatives are not always the best (I am pretty sure Abel felt that way), and along with our souls being damaged and in need of restoration with the entrance of sin, even the family is in need of redemption and thus, God responded with HIS family… or the creation of our spiritual family through the church.

We Are Family

What do you think of when you hear the word family? There are so many meanings in today’s world, and depending on your own experience with family, your thoughts and feelings could be positive or negative or typically, a nice mixture of both. And while there are definite negatives associated with the concept of family, as noted above, those are a result of our sinful, selfish, fallen condition and not what God originally intended. Instead, He meant for the family experience to be positive, and that is why He has given us a second family, our spiritual family comprised of other Christians, in which we can choose to live out the positive aspects of family life through His redemptive guidance and power. When we join God’s spiritual family, these are the benefits we can expect:

  • Living Life Together: One of the greatest things about family, both biological and spiritual, is that it is comprised of more than one person, which means you do not have to go through life alone. You have other people to live life together with, which involves people to share in the ups and downs and provide support, encouragement, and entertainment. With our biological families though, we do not get to choose who we are related to, and so we may still experience loneliness or isolation due to unhealthy dynamics, death, geographical distance, and/or trauma. This is why I love having a spiritual family available to live life with as well. While we technically do not get to choose our “relatives” here either, there are some options as to finding Christian brothers and sisters that we connect with and a church family that we enjoy being a part of. It has been awesome to experience that no matter where I live or where I travel, I can always find extended family members (other Christians) to be “together with” and journey through life. Especially since we currently live hours away from our biological family, it is our spiritual church family that we spend the majority of our time with, share many holidays with, and endure life’s challenges and joys together. If you are feeling lonely and your biological family is either far away or unavailable, I highly encourage you to look for support from your spiritual family: is there a local bible study forming where you could get to know people? What about a local service organization where you could serve with others? If there is a church or missions organization nearby, there is never a time where you would have to be alone. Growing up as an only child, this is music to my ears (LOL)!
  • Cultivating Character Building Community: In addition to having an extended family to share life with, our spiritual family exists with a definitive purpose that many of our biological families lack (although some biological families have this as well): they exist to cultivate our character to become more like Christ. Family from this perspective is not just about keeping a name going or extending a bloodline, but it is about building each other up, holding each other accountable, encouraging each other to find freedom from our sinful past and move towards the freeing future Christ has for us, and helping each other achieve the things God has set before us.  When we live life together, we get the chance to do all of the above as well as confess to each other the things we are struggling with, proclaim the things we are excited about, observe each other as we walk in Christ, and share our convictions and constructive criticisms to encourage growth and insight. It is not always comfortable, but being in a spiritual family that cultivates your character is always beneficial.
  • Experiencing Opportunities for Growth through Challenges: While we can have fun living life together and cultivating our characters, being in a spiritual family, just like in our biological family, is not always roses and butterflies. People will still say and do hurtful things, and we will have to determine how we will respond.  Fortunately, because with our spiritual family (and sometimes in our biological family as well) we have Christ at the center, we can look at any challenges and conflicts we face as opportunities to live out His love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with each other. Using Matthew 18 and the steps outlined for resolving conflicts within the church and our spiritual family, this means we can lovingly consider, confess, confront, and continue to live life together.

While God does want us to be able to experience all of these benefits of being a part of His spiritual family, I am not naive to think that every church experience is like this. I have been involved with church families that are not beneficial, could be described as toxic, and have lost sight of Christ in the midst of everything else. Because our spiritual family is still comprised of sinful humans, we still have negative experiences amidst the positive. However, if each of us intentionally seeks to live out the benefits noted above; If I seek to live life with you, cultivate our characters to become more like Christ, and utilize the challenges we may face as opportunities for growth, then we can move towards the positive, redemptive experience Christ has in store for us as spiritual brothers and sisters. If your current spiritual family is not doing these things and you are not experiencing the benefits as listed above, then it may be time to prayerfully consider another church family that has similar goals and intents to live out the purpose and plan God has for His family.

 How does this apply to me?

This whole concept of family, both biological and spiritual, is under attack. With a variety of enemies (selfishness, pride, infidelity, revenge, manipulation, etc.), our fallen human condition is often on autopilot to destroy and divide instead of build up and unify. We can see it in our biological families as divorce and death and drama divide us, and these same divisive forces exist in our churches. I personally come from a biological family rampant with division and drama, even to the point of many of my family members no longer talking to each other and being cut off. I am fortunate to have grown up in a strong spiritual family and have always been a part of my local church, but even here I have experienced some of my deepest hurts and faced some of my most significant challenges.

And this is why I am so glad that Rick ends this section’s reading with a focus on the importance of protecting our family. I have been so convicted about this lately in my own heart and life. I know how to love God and be in relationship with Him on my own (being an only child really helped me with that), but living out this love with a family (both biological and spiritual) is totally different. Honestly, it is often a huge struggle for me. While I truly love loving others (it is one of my main passions), there are times when staying home sounds so much better, especially since any event outside of the home (or even in my home for that matter) has morphed since having kids. Not only is it difficult to make it to things, but then expending energy and effort while attending seems even more of a stretch.

However, as I have pondered and prayed, God has really laid it on my heart that there are specific things I can do to purposefully protect and prosper my spiritual family, which I believe starts with my marriage and then extends to my church family.  These things include, but are not limited to, what I am going to refer to as the 5 Ps (to help my memory):

  1. Praying: I need to be purposefully and actively praying for the family in my life (both biological and spiritual). For me, this means my husband, my children, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership at my church (elders and lead ministers and families). And while any type of prayer is helpful, I have recently felt lead to pray for each of them by name… to truly battle on their behalf through the power of prayer. While there are many others things I pray for on a regular basis, including loved ones and missions and circumstances, etc., I want to make sure that my family is included, even when they are not currently requesting or seemingly “in-need” of prayer.
  2. Prioritizing: In addition to praying for my family, I know I need to put first things first. In this case, it means making time for my home life first (and ensuring this is in order), then my church family second, and then the other miscellaneous things (like pre-school, art class, work, etc.). When I set aside time in my day or week to attend to these people first, it really makes all the difference for them and for me because they have no doubts of how important to me they are and I do not have to be “stressed” because I know that I have already taken care of what is most important. For me, this means getting up earlier or staying up later than everyone else to get my things completed (quiet time, exercise, shower etc) so that I can make others my priority when they are around.
  3. Participating: When I do prioritize and set aside the time for my family, I want to go beyond just checking that box and actually make sure there is quality time, not just a quantity of time. I love that Rick describes this with the term “focused attention” (p.127) or ensuring that you are present in the moment and attending to the person/people that are with you. For me, this means intentionally putting away my phone or computer and interacting with my children or husband during our times together so that I can focus my attention on them without the distractions of text messages or email or Facebook. It also means not worrying so much about taking pictures of every moment, but actually living those moments (as my 3 year old so often reminds me).
  4. Promoting: This is a big one for me as it means being intentional about focusing on and pointing out the positives of my family. This does not imply that negatives do not exist or that they should not be dealt with, but I find so often that if I choose to dwell on these negative reminders of reality, I miss out on all of the great things taking place as well. For me, I have to be intentional about focusing on and promoting the positives, both to myself as well as when I am speaking to others. A great example of this can be found when considering my church family: do I seek to promote the positives of what they are doing well? Or do I have a tendency to be super critical and only focus on the negatives and things they could do better? To be honest, I have been more on the critical side lately, and it has all been small, insignificant things that I have been judging. When I really step back and think about my church family, there are so many positives that I would much rather promote (the way we love, the way we reach out to the community, the way we invite in and love the broken).
  5. Persevering: I am a firm believer that once you are a part of a family (whether biological or spiritual), you are always a part of that family (although this does not mean that you never change churches; it just means that you are always a child of God at each church you attend). And this means you may at times feel stuck with certain people or in certain places, but I encourage you (and me) to persevere; to remain steadfast in our endeavors to pray, prioritize, participate, and promote with our families. For me, this means applying the 5 Ps in my marriage even when times get rough, staying and seeking to love my children even when they are disobedient and frustrating, and sticking with my church family through the great times and the difficult times (church crisis, current construction, etc.). As promised (Romans 5:3-5), I have found that this persevering results in good things… both for me and for my family!

Our Weekly Challenge:

So when it comes to our family, the challenge for this week is actually two-fold (I know… the posting was late and now there are 2 challenges, but bear with me, they are worth it!!):

  • Examine how you are currently living out Purpose #2: Being Formed for God’s Family in regards to your spiritual family.

How would you describe your current understanding of family? Is it only biological, only spiritual, or a mixture of both? How does this description match up with God’s family as described above? Do you currently belong to a church family and why or why not? If the answer is no, this is where I encourage you to start. While it is easy to find a listing of local churches on the internet, I have found that word-of-mouth is really the best way to find a church. The past two church families we have been a part of were recommended by friends, so this may be a good place for you to start as well. Or maybe you just noticed the sign or live within walking distance, and both of those can work too. No matter how it happens, to start reaping the benefits noted above, the first step is to find and get involved with your local spiritual family.

  • Once you are actively involved in your spiritual family, examine the quality of your interactions.

Are you proactively, purposefully protecting the family that you have? Are you present and participating? Take a look back over the 5 Ps noted above and determine if there is something(s) that resonates with you that you could start doing today. It may be for your husband, for your pastor and his wife, for the people in your small group, or even the lady that always sits in the second seat in the second row at second service on Sunday 🙂 Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will purposefully act to protect and promote the family God has given us… that we may be able to sing (at the top of our lungs if you would like) that… “We are FAMILY… I got all my brothers and sisters with me! ” ♥

 

Week Two: Planned for God’s Pleasure aka “Just to See Him Smile”

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As humans, we are all about smiles. From the very first smile of an infant to the warmth of a kind smile from a stranger, the smile is one of our best non-verbal communicators.  We even have a range of emoticon smiles to choose from so that we can send smiles to each other over text (or email; my students always make fun of me because I am constantly smiling when I type 🙂 ).  When its been a great day, a beaming smile shares in the celebration and joy. When its been a bad day, a sympathetic smile offers encouragement, support, and hope.  When we are in love, there is nothing better than bringing a smile to the face of our beloved (which in turn, usually makes us smile as well).

So when reading this week and thinking all about smiles, I could not get the chorus of an old Tim McGraw song out of my head. Now I get to share it with you (your welcome):

“Just to see you smile; I’d do anything… that you wanted me to…

When all is said and done, I’d never count the cost; It’s worth all that’s lost…

(ooo ooo) Just to see you SMILE.”

I first loved this song, and its catchy little tune, when I was young and in love and would listen with dreamy eyes and a goofy grin on my face thinking about my boyfriend (now husband). It was summer and the windows were down and we were driving along a country road in the truck and my heart and smile were all a glow (yes, this is actually for real). And when hearing this song since, I always think about him and the romantic context of the song, wanting to do anything and everything to make each other smile (I probably still get the goofy grin).

However, this past week, I heard this song with new ears and a new thought:

Have I ever considered God smiling?

I have envisioned God in multiple public contexts; angry and lightening in his eyes when His wrath is in full rage; eyes closed with silent strong tears, the lines in His face deep and furrowed with grief when sin hurts one of His children yet again; bright and shining and brilliant when standing strong and radiant in all of His glory (so bright that there is not actual facial recognition). Personally, during my quiet time though, I’ve always pictured Him with a serious but soft expression, the perfect balance of grace and justice. All of these I would use to describe my God at different times. But never with a smile.

And yet, this is exactly what Days 8-14 were all about. As Rick focused on Purpose #1 of our lives, he explains that our primary purpose revolves around the fact that we were planned for God’s pleasure. We were created as His children, and much like the motives of many parents today, the whole point in having children was to enjoy His creation and this enjoyment usually brings about the anticipated response: a smile. In essence then, we were created and are here to see God smile.

Just to See Him Smile

In the lyrics above (which you can YouTube to hear as well), Tim McGraw sings an ooey gooey love song about how he would do anything to make his girl smile.  While I do not agree with all of the verse lyrics (if you listen to the rest of the song, there are some unhealthy relational dynamics taking place; but that is a different posting), I love the chorus and how he seeks to put his beloved first and selflessly love her no matter the cost to himself.  Since most women dream of being pursued by such a partner, the song became a huge hit and even I can remember being captivated and hoping for the same attention of a special someone who would do anything “just to see me smile.”

While this seems standard for romantic relationships, Rick explains that this same dynamic can and should apply to our relationship with God.  Our primary purpose, which we have heard before, is acted out through a lifestyle of worship or in other words, living “just to see God smile.” This means we can take Tim’s lyrics above and use them to remind us of how we can live to see God smile. Let’s take a closer look:

“Just to See God Smile…

  • I’d do anything, that He wanted me too…”

The first thing that hits me here is the expanse of this lyric. Note the word ANYTHING… In the context of human relationships, this usually means spending time, money, and effort on the other person. It may occasionally require more, like re-locating or finding a new profession with less responsibilities, but typically the ANYTHING is exciting because of the love that is behind it.

Do we see doing ANYTHING for God in the same light?  I’ll do ANYTHING that He wants me to. This anything covers so many things, but Rick gives us some specific examples in our readings of what this might actually look like. In this context, anything includes but is not limited to: loving Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, expressing our gratitude to Him, using the gifts He has given us, talking to Him all the time, thinking about Him and meditating on His word, being honest with Him even when we are angry or upset or doubtful, valuing what He values, getting to know Him for who He really is (not who we think He is but what His word actually reveals to us), persevering and continuing to pursue Him even if we feel He is distant, and making Him a priority in our lives. If we are operating from a place of love, then these things also become exciting as we live out that love in our expression of the anything that makes Him smile.

  • When all is said and done, I’d never count the cost… Its worth all that’s lost.”

So not only is Tim willing to do anything for his girl, but he will not even keep track of how much it costs him, because it is totally worth it. This definitely sounds like how God loves us, especially when it comes to sacrificing His own son, but does it accurately describe how we love Him?

This would mean two main things to me: 1. that we would not keep track of how much doing our “anything” costs us (in time, money, effort, comfort, sleep, etc.) and 2. that we see doing our “anything” as more valuable than the costs we are not keeping track of (time, money, effort, comfort, sleep, etc.). In a world that is obsessed with keeping track of everything (calories, salaries, weather, if you can record it… there is an app to keep track of it I’m sure!), it seems crazy to consider not keeping track of the ANYTHING we have done for anyone, but especially for God. But this is how we want to be loved (as Tim so nicely croons) and it makes sense to me that God might like that kind of love too. Instead, we convert these costs into investments, and choose to see them in a positive light. In the human context, every dollar spent, sleepless night, and dinner out is an investment in the relationship to come. The same applies to our relationship with God; if we are truly living to see Him smile, then all of the “anything” we are doing, even if it is quite costly, is an eternal investment in our relationship with Him.

How does this apply to me?

If I take these two lyrics and their meanings to heart, it totally changes my understanding of what it looks like to live out my faith from a practical perspective. For instance, anything really means anything. On a daily basis, my anything can span from changing dirty diapers (every.single.day) to extending discipline with grace to a disobedient preschooler to making a meal to feed my family to doing my best with my teaching and grading to checking in on and praying for my friends to doing yet another load of laundry to staying up another sleepless night to comfort a crying little guy. Notice it does not say: I will do the biggest, greatest, most public and awesomest thing ever for you. Nope, it says anything… which encompasses the big and the little but most importantly, the things that your beloved wants most. This one is not so difficult for me; I had to figure out long ago that if I was going to find meaning in the most menial and mundane of the daily tasks I complete, I would have to see it as if doing it for the Lord, which gives me a great sense of purpose when cleaning and cooking and hanging out with my kiddos. Since God has called me to be a wife and mother and friend, etc., each of the tasks I complete within these roles is doing my anything. Sometimes I lose sight of it (as noted in last week’s posting on perspective), but most often, I’ve got this one down.

To be completely transparent, its the second lyric that I struggle with the most. This week, as I was praying and pondering and writing, I realized that I have a tendency to keep track of my “anything” (both against my husband as well as against God) and occasionally like to remind both of them of all that I am doing for them. I use my records as leverage or to justify something that I want in an effort to control our relationship, because like many other humans, I have a tendency to operate from an if…then… mentality.  If I do this for you, then you will do this for me. But in reality, this is not how I want to be treated and this is not how true love works.

I do not have to remind God of all that I have done for Him so that He will love me or care for me or be there for me; He does that already. And His love will not change based on what I do or do not do for Him.  What I do for Him is really about me expressing my love to Him in return.  When I see it in this light, I do not have to keep track or count the costs, because I can see them as the investments and gifts that they truly are (same goes for my husband; If I am really being the wife that I want to be, then the investment of my anything is worth any cost; but that is another posting yet again).

Our Weekly Challenge:

What about you? Do you see the tasks around you: your work, your family roles, your ministries, your schoolwork, your marriage, your parenting, etc., as the ANYTHING you would do to see God smile? Are you keeping track of all these things and counting them as costs or do you see them as investments? What would it look like if we really took these lyrics to heart and applied them to our lives?

This week, I encourage you to start with the first lyric: Are you willing to do anything to see God smile? Anything? For real ANYTHING? 🙂 Yes, for real ANYTHING.

I’m betting that you probably have a good idea of at least ONE thing that God has wanted you to do with your life that would result in a smile on His face. I know I do. It might be choosing to keep loving a certain someone even though it may be frustrating, continuing in a certain job even though its not your favorite, stepping up in a certain ministry role although you are a little insecure or out of your comfort zone, or maybe even something fun like saying Yes to a vacation because its been years and God wants you to enjoy this world He has created.

And then add in the second lyric: Convert any costs to investments.

It is important to note that this may be easier during different seasons of life. Even though you may be sacrificing some money as a tithe, some time on Wednesday nights for ministry, and some sleep one weekend a year to volunteer at a Youth Conference, you are still having fun and so the “costs” do not feel so bad. But what about when life gets hard? When the ANYTHING is something that is not fun or what you really want to do? When the job is still difficult but He does not open another door (because maybe He has a reason for you to be there), when the husband/wife keeps getting further and further away be He does not release you from the marriage and asks you to keep praying, keep pursuing, when the healing does not come but He encourages you to live every moment that you still have in hope versus fear? This is when we are really encouraged to choose to see the eternal investment, to show our love back to Him, and to sing the song over and over again in our hearts as we press on. I do not expect that it will always be easy, but I do know that I choose to see the difficult anythings as my investment in both the present and the future.

I don’t know about you, but I am actually excited to see what this will look like as I implement it in my life. I know that so far, from having a head start (since this posting has taken me about a week to get together), I have found myself humming the tune off and on with a lighter heart and focused intent to see my anything as an investment throughout the day. I pray that you will too, and that together we can live out our initial purpose of being planned for His pleasure and make His “ANYTHING” a priority in our lives … just to see Him smile.♥

Week One: What on Earth Am I Here For? aka PERSPECTIVE

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PERSPECTIVE.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in some serious need of perspective lately. From politics to pampers, my world has been pretty crazy these past couple of weeks (hence the late posting once again) and I have felt like I have been going crazy with it. There have been multiple moments where it seems that my mayhem is definitely not miraculous and is more like a meaningless mess that is moving me quickly toward madness more than anything else (loving all of those m’s).

If I allowed myself to stay in this state of mind reflected when my mayhem leads to madness, I would give into the lies that tell me “this will never change,” “I will never be valued or loved or cherished,” “everything and everyone is against me,” and “none of this is worth it.” You probably know your own lies that get you when you are down… they sneak in and distort your vision like an old, comfortable but incredibly scratched, damaged, and for the most part, ineffective pair of sunglasses. They might keep your eyes shaded from the sun, but actually getting anything accomplished without being able to see clearly is questionable. I get the false sense of being able to still “see” but my vision is disturbed and I may not always be able to accurately see what is in front of me or appropriately interpret what is taking place. I was definitely wearing these glasses at the end of February; no matter what I did, the mayhem had become the master, and I was a complete mess.

And while I could justify all of the above and spend this entire post complaining or throwing myself a pity party (which does happen from time to time), the TRUTH of the matter is that what I really needed was a good, healthy dose of new perspective. I needed a new set of glasses, a pair free from damage, clear of scratches, still effective at keeping out the sun but also allowing me to see clearly the things before me. And this is exactly what Days 1-7 of our readings were for me. A cleansing of sorts, the truths Rick presented and discussed spoke deep to my soul and provided the perspective from which to understand all that was happening and make sense of it all. I am guessing if you are reading this… that maybe you could use some new perspective too (and if not, all his points are still great reminders 🙂 ).

Perspective

Whenever I think about the word perspective, I automatically see the food critic from the Disney movie Ratatouille, a movie about an aspiring chef who is trying to follow his dreams but also is battling the slight obstacle of being a rat (apparently I am a bigger movie buff than I thought 🙂 ). The food critic, whose name evades me, was renowned for writing horrific reviews even on good food, and having the highest of standards but in a bad way. He is considered one of the movie’s main antagonists, as he seeks to shut down the restaurant, mainly out of bitterness and pride and power instead of being truly about the food. In one of the scenes, he talks about the importance of perspective, and how all of a sudden he changed his mind about the food because his view had changed. Upon eating the special ratatouille dish, he immediately thought of a happy memory, his crazy critical personality melted, and he became happy for the first time in a long time. His perspective had changed, and along with it so did his interpretation, his attitude, his demeanor, and really the rest of his self.

In this first set of readings, Rick offers us an opportunity to change our perspective (and likewise, our interpretations, attitudes, demeanors, and selfs) by introducing a variety of truths. I want to highlight a few of these truths that really stood out to me (although each day was like a smack in the face/breath of fresh air with the equally important truths 🙂 ) and expand upon them for a moment:

  • ITS NOT ABOUT YOU (or ME).

#truth. Yes, I just did a # and word as a sentence, but it was so worth it and it is so true. When was the last time someone stopped you and said: “Hey DUDE (sorry I live in a house of nothing but dudes)… ITS NOT ABOUT YOU.” I can tell you it is not very often for me, and that is probably because I would respond with an attitude or a punch or something in the negative. Fortunately, Rick decided to remind me in words and was not available for me to lash out at, and so I had time to let the statement sink in and speak to me before I reacted defensively. And when I really thought about it, this was exactly what I needed to hear.

Why? Because when I am operating from the view that it is “all about me” there is a huge amount of pressure on me and everyone/everything else around me. Everything begins and ends with me, it has to be perfect, everything has to meet my expectations (mainly myself and I am my own worst enemy), and when it all falls apart, it is all my fault. See all the me in that??? UGH! And this is when my mayhem gets me the most, because all of a sudden it appears that it is all about me and I am the center of everything and eventually I cannot handle it all anymore.

The TRUTH though is that (thankfully) it is not all about me (we will address what it is all about in the next point) because there was someone/something that existed before me (and you) and created me (and you). There is something bigger than me, something that can handle this world and its mayhem because He is miraculous, and does not enter into the same madness I do when it all goes awry. He knows me inside and out (I love the example Rick discusses of the Inventor knowing all the secrets of how to best use the invention; yes, this applies to us as well) and I can rest/find relief when the attention gets off of me and onto Him. What does the children’s song tell us: He has the whole world (including me and you) in His hands? This leads us right into our next point: If its not all about you (me), then it is all about Him.

  •  ITS ALL ABOUT HIM (which is cool, because He is all about you/me).

When I get caught in the “it’s all about me” trap described above, it is never good. While it might feel ok in the beginning, and sometimes even nice to be the center of attention at times,  when I try to do it all, be it all, and have it all, I am always disappointed and quite honestly, it usually leads to severe personal and sometimes, professional distress.

However, when we shift our focus from being all about us to being all about Him, we start to realize that there is more to life than just what we want or what we do or how well we do it. We see that He has a plan, both for us and for others, and we play a pivotal role as we interact with Him and the things He puts in our path. While we are still held responsible for living and moving and obeying, we rightfully see Him as ultimately in control, ultimately responsible, and ultimately powerful. We can rely on Him, depend on Him, look to Him, trust Him, and expect good things from Him. He takes on the many pressures described above without ever tiring or weakening, and He has the power to miraculously master our mayhem (AMEN!).

This does not mean that we become nothing or meaningless or unthinking natives that just thoughtlessly worship without value or worth (my strong will often balks at the idea of making it all about Him for this incorrect but very valid concern). It is actually the exact opposite because we get caught in a positive, healthy, valuing cycle when we make it all about Him. Unlike the human relationships we know that can be healthy at times but will at some point be selfish and hurtful, a relationship with a perfect God means from His end, it will always be perfect. And this means, in true healthy relationship form, we can be ALL ABOUT HIM without concern, because He is ALL ABOUT US.

Read that again: HE IS ALL ABOUT US. We do not have to worry about anything at all because He does that for us. For Him, it is all about us: everything He has done since the creation of the world has been to show us His love and to take care of us. He created a place for us to live and grow, He gave us cool pets and friends and lovers and the ability to experience relationship and work and joy and excitement. And when we allowed sin and pain and death to enter the world, He made a way then too with forgiveness and reconciliation and hope. wow. He tells us not to worry because He will provide for us, He tells us not to fear because He protects us, He tells us not to take on everything and to exchange our loads because He can carry us, He tells us that He loves us with an everlasting love and has made a way for us in eternity… From start to finish, beginning to end, He is all about us. And for that very reason, even in writing this, I cannot help but want to be all about Him too (I just really need to remember this when I am in the midst of everything else!!).

  • OUR PERSPECTIVE OF ALL OF THIS IS EVERYTHING.

Wow. If it is really not about me and all about Him, then as I said before, I am in great need of a change of view/perspective. I am not sure if Rick realized this or not when he was writing Days 1-7, but it appears to me that this first set of readings is really about how important this perspective is and discerning and deciding what glasses we want to wear to view our lives on a daily basis. Think of it this way: When we were born, we were given a pair of spiritual glasses with which we can view the world. They protect our soul, provide a filter for what goes in and out, and determine how we “see” the things around us (yes, I know I discussed this a little bit above). However, as we age and live through multiple events and experiences, these glasses become affected. Sin creeps in and distorts our view, lies and irrational beliefs crack and scratch the glass, and sometimes, we even come to believe that we HAVE to wear these glasses at all times or else something bad will happen. These glasses take on the “its all about me” mentality and everything we attempt to do and see is directly influenced.

The main point: when we wear our innate glasses, we cannot see clearly, and as you know when you physically cannot see clearly (try driving a car or hiking a trail without being able to see clearly), we are rendered ineffective and miserable (and possibly even destructive to ourselves and others).

Fortunately, God knew that our glasses would get messed up by the mayhem all around us, and so He offers a new pair of glasses that have an eternal lifetime warranty and that are protected from all dust, drops, water, and any damage you can ever think of. They are the Lifeproof of glasses because they are backed/guaranteed by the absolute truth of who He is and His word. And even better, these glasses are free… we just have to take off the ones we are wearing and put these on instead. Like Cinderella’s slipper, these new glasses will always be a perfect fit, and allow us to see beyond the things of this world and beyond with clarity, understanding, and truth. They are coated in the truths above, and when we put them on, we can see that its not about us, it is all about Him, and that there is more to life than what we are experiencing in the here and now. Sounds good doesn’t it?! It sure does to me!!!

How does this apply to me?

It is no coincidence that I was reading each of these truths on those exact days when I was struggling. My heart, my mind, my soul, and my sanity all desperately needed the reframes of Rick’s interpretations of Christ’s words. Why? Because even though I know about the cool glasses God gave me (described above) and I have worn them for years, every now and then I set them down and pick up my old glasses instead. And I bet that you do too.

There is something about us humans that when things get rough, we look for comfort everywhere but the true, healthy source. We put on our old glasses, our old ways of thinking, because its what we know its what we are most used to, and it “feels” right in the moment even if it is not good for us in the long run. In the developmental world, we call this a regression, and we see it all the time with young children who have experienced some sort of crisis. For instance, when a new sibling is added to the family, there is often a regression of sorts: a previously potty-trained child starts having accidents again, a seemingly well-mannered child begins having tantrums again, and/or a previously all-night sleeper starts waking at night. All of these are considered normal because their little bodies revert to a previous time in which they have prior experience in order to regain attention and remaster the obstacle, thus promoting themselves amidst the chaos. It makes sense to me that even as adults we would do the same thing, just in a more abstract manner (I have yet to revert to not being potty-trained due to my mayhem, although I guess it is not outside the realm of possibilities 😉 ). So, we put on our old glasses because even though we know they aren’t helpful and we know we have moved on, we long for the false comfort of the familiar, the attention that even the negative brings, and a sense of mastery if and when we can overcome them once again.

But as we saw in this week’s readings and the main truths, as we mature and grow into adulthood, there should come a point when we make the choice not to regress and instead be intentional about how we choose to see the world.  It really is all about our perspective and intentionally determining which pair of glasses we are going to wear. I will not lie: I wore those comfy glasses for a couple weeks last month. AND IT WAS HORRIBLE. I got to the point where I was dreading just about every moment of my day, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed and hide (FYI: this is different from clinical depression where someone does stay in bed and hides due to legitimate mental health concerns; I just felt like it but still was able to get up and function). I wanted everyone and everything to leave me alone, and I was definitely not fun to be around for my husband, my sons, or even my friends (although I am so thankful they stuck it out with me!).

Fortunately, as we have seen above, God has given me an alternative, a choice to wear the free gifted glasses that allow me to see the world through His eyes, and look for the miraculous among the mayhem. To see that when Liam goes for week 3 of his nap-strike, I can be overwhelmingly grateful that he has healthy lungs to scream, and an operating mind that is keeping him awake; to recognize that even though my husband has cancelled on me for the millionth time, it is because he is working hard at an important job that pays our bills and allows me to hang out with our boys and do things like write this blog; to reframe my momentary cough and flu-like sickness as being legitimately temporary, not life-threatening, and in the scheme of things, while frustrating, really not a big deal. When I put things into proper perspective (as my sister so kindly reminds me all the time with the picture she made me captured in the graphic above that is currently displayed on my desk), my mayhem seems much more manageable and even… dare I say it, a tad miraculous?? 🙂

Our Weekly Challenge:

I bet you know what’s coming 🙂 Big question for this week:

WHAT GLASSES ARE YOU WEARING???

Are you wearing the old comfy pair that may feel nice in the moment because they are broken in but you cannot see a thing because they are dented and scratched and dirty? Are you exhausted because no matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to clearly see or complete even the simplest tasks because your vision is impaired? And honestly, sometimes its nice to hide behind the excuse of not being able to see because then you don’t really have to do anything?

Or are you wearing your crystal clear, eternally guaranteed glasses and you can actually see what is in front of you,  see the truth, and actually complete the tasks set before you? Not only can you see what is there (even if it is not pretty or appears impossible), but you can also see beyond that to the meaning and truth involved in eternity, which provides faith and hope?

My challenge to you this week is to answer this question honestly and really determine how you are currently seeing the world. For me, it is how I see my family. I know I have taken off my new glasses and exchanged them for the old when I start dreading my mothering tasks… when Liam’s crying becomes nails on a chalkboard instead of an opportunity to love him with the love in my heart and Gavin’s constant “why” sparks annoyance rather than my own sense of curiosity. For you, it might be dreading another day of work at the office… because the tasks are mundane or the co-workers are annoying or the toxicity of the environment has permanently colored the lens of those old human glasses. Or you might notice it in a friendship or marriage relationship, when you begin dreading any and all interactions and the thought of even being in the same room as the other person fills you with anger or bitterness or anxiety and you are just plain done with trying again.

If this is you (and obviously it was me too), then I encourage you to review this post again, review days 1-7 again, and write out the truths that set you free from the tainted views above. Take off those old glasses… and trade them in for a pair that will never fade, never break, never distort what is in front of you.  Put on that new pair of glasses, take a good look, change your view, and embrace a new perspective.♥

 

Secret Five: Knowing aka “Come… and Know Me Better Man”

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If you have never experienced the masterpiece that is known as The Muppet Christmas Carol, then you may be wondering what in the world the above picture is and/or that it is the strangest model of Jesus you have ever seen (which it is not Jesus or even meant to be Jesus, so no worries here). Even if you have seen the movie, which just happens to be one of my all time favorites (light the candle not the rat; light the candle not the rat 😉 ), you are probably still a little confused as to why this picture was chosen for this blog and if I have potentially lost my mind just a little bit. Well have no fear, the answer to all shall be revealed and probably is a combination of some of all of the above.

During the past couple of weeks, while I was finishing reading Secret Five: Knowing and also recovering from a horrible flu virus that has been attacking our family for the last month (hence this post is quite late), I had some large amounts of time to reflect on this final chapter and its incredible gift of wisdom. And honestly, each time I would reflect, all I could see and hear (it might have been the cough syrup I am not going to lie) was the character portrayed above, also known as the muppet version of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

This second visitor to Scrooge, focused on the present Christmas moments, is by far my favorite.  For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, this Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly, bright, welcoming muppet with kind eyes, a warm smile, and inviting voice. He introduces himself by welcoming Scrooge to a large feast, filled with all the amazing and delicious foods associated with Christmas, and encouraging him to “Come and know me better man!” His job in the movie is to open Scrooge’s eyes to what is happening in the present as a result of his “bah humbug” behaviors and impart the knowledge of what Christmas is really about. I cannot help it: every time I see and hear this character on the movie, I just want to hug him and join in on the festivities (especially the feasting) because his presence is so inviting. I honestly cannot even stop from smiling while writing this and thinking about it.

And while smiling and thinking and hearing the muppet’s voice, it struck me: Do I respond to Jesus the same way I do to this muppet character (a question I never dreamed I would ever ask 🙂 )?

For real though, do I see Jesus as warm, welcoming, loving, and jolly? Do I see Him as inviting me (and you) to partake in an amazing delicious feast and enjoy spending time together? Do I hear HIS VOICE saying “Come… and Know me Better man (Sara)!” Because if we look through the Scriptures, I am pretty sure all of the above (minus the muppet part) is true. Jesus came not only to give us life, but also to connect with us in the here and now (the present) and help us to get to know God in the flesh so that we can also know God in the spirit. And herein lies the fifth and final secret to living: getting to know God.

“Come… and Know Me Better Man!!”

This one-liner that has been haunting me for the past couples of weeks (I obviously need to watch the movie again 🙂 ) has truly been changing my perspective on getting to know God. When I started to examine the questions above as to my response to Jesus versus this fictional character, I realized that while I have always loved Go, it has been more from afar. I have never really viewed his invitation in such a welcoming, intimate, and inviting way. I have always seen it more as Him getting to know me (letting Him into my life, sharing my thoughts and dreams, looking to Him for my next steps and following His will) versus me getting to know Him (who He is, what He likes/dislikes, letting me into His life, getting to know His thoughts and dreams). He does not say, “Come and let me know you better”… He says “Come… and get to know me better!”

And yet, as Warren explains, this getting to know Him process is the whole foundation of everything when it comes to our life; both in terms of our original existence as well as our Christian living. Think about it: when we were first created, it was with the intent to know and learn (for example, experiencing and naming the animals) about our world with a rational mind created with logic and the ability to ponder and analyze. We were also created from the very beginning to exist in relationship, both with God and with each other. So, from day one, we were created to KNOW things and to KNOW God by getting to KNOW His creation as well as by being in relationship with and getting to KNOW Him. From day one, He was the first one to ever say “Come… and KNOW me better man!”

And since we did not seem to grasp this and instead turned against Him and looked for other avenues of knowing (like sin and fruit and Satan and death), He even sent Jesus in the flesh to pursue us and invite us yet again to come and know Him. And this time, Jesus goes one step further and in my mind, embodies the invitation of the present because he welcomes us as FRIENDS. Can you believe that? Sometimes, it is actually hard for me to believe, but I am glad that Jesus used this picture because it creates a sense of invitation and intimacy much like the one of the muppet that has been used throughout this post. If Jesus and I are friends, then we are going to hang out, we are going to eat yummy food together, we are going to do fun things together, and we are BOTH going to get to know each other (not just Him getting to know me or me getting to know Him).

How does this apply to me?

Friendship with Jesus and knowing God better both sound great to me (especially if there is hanging out, yummy food, and fun things involved) but again, what does this look like practically? Last time I checked, I have not actually met Jesus in the flesh per se, and as I am typing this, He is not visibly sitting on the couch beside me drinking a cup of tea or waiting to go get nachos (although that would seriously be awesome!!!). According to Warren (and sounding very similar to Gordon’s idea of spending time in the garden), we get to know God when we spend quality time with Him on a regular basis (yep, sounds like a friendship to me). Practically, he recommends:

  • Knowing God Through Physical Presence (our bodies): I don’t know about you, but there is something about being in the same physical space as someone that helps the “getting to know you” process. When our bodies share space, we breathe the same air, experience similar weather and sensations, and take part in sub-concious interactions with non-verbal and chemical communication. This allows us to get to know each other on multiple levels, and this is why most of the deepest human relationships require some form of physical relationship (such as going out to coffee, hanging out for a game/movie night, getting nails done, etc.) to really grow. I know I see this in my deepest relationships; even though the majority of my “best” friends are far away, we take every opportunity we can get to spend time together as much as possible. It is not just about being in the same space that is important, but it is being willing to sacrifice and take the time and effort to be in the space that matters as well. When I get to see my friends that are out of town, I usually have to travel too… which requires moving my body and utilizing my body to honor our friendship. If I am willing to do so for my human relationships, it makes sense to me that this would be the case with our relationship with God too. If I really want to know God, and get to know Him in our friendship, then I need to be willing to physically spend time with Him as well as utilize my body and its abilities in support of our relationship. While this sounds weird to me as I am writing it, the example that keeps coming to mind is actually moving my body out of bed to do my quiet/prayer time in the morning. THIS IS THE TOUGHEST PART OF MY DAY!!! It is so hard for me to get out from under the covers while it is still dark and get to my prayer chair, but it is the giving of my body in this way that really helps me to know and grow in my relationship with the Lord. While I can (and do) still pray staying in my bed, I also have a tendency to fall back asleep and am less likely to get into the Word when this happens. My selfishness has decided that I win and my body works for me, instead of sacrificially using my body to support the relationship.
  • Knowing God Through Mental Presence (our minds): In addition to being “with” someone in body and being physically present, I think it is just as important (if not more so) to also be willing to share our minds with someone and be mentally present as well. I cannot tell you how many time, especially as a mom, I have felt so bad because while I am physically present and trying to have coffee with a friend while my kids are running around, I can barely pay attention because…my kids are running around 🙂 It is very hard to truly get to know another person with distractions such as this, because even if I catch some of what is being said, I am not likely to retain any of it because he/she does not have my full attention. Once again, this hits me deep when I think about applying a similar principle to my relationship with God. So often, if I do make the time to be physically present (at church, in my quiet time, during small group), I am horribly distracted in my mind while I try to plan my grocery list, think about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow, or zone out because its the only time where no one is requiring my attention. And if I am distracted by these things when I am with God, just like being distracted with one of my friends, I am not likely going to be aware of what is really happening or going to retain any of the knowledge He is imparting because I am not really paying attention. My takeaway from this one: when I actually give my body to God and make it out of bed in the morning, I should probably check on my mind too and see if I can give Him my full attention as well. I might actually get to know Him a little better this way! 😉
  • Knowing God Through Our Actions (our wills): If I am taking the time to be present, both physically and mentally with my friends, then it is very likely that I will get getting to know them and growing our friendship through our interactions. As this process takes place, I will get to know what they like and do not like, the things that make them smile, and the things that are most important to them. And if this is happening, then I will probably start to ACT on some of these things to be friendly and show them that I care. For instance, I found out years ago that my god-sister, whom I love dearly, loves caramel apples. They are one of her favorites and so anytime that we are together on vacation (our families vacation together on a bi-yearly basis), I do everything I can to find a caramel apple. Why? Because I want my WILL aka my actions to show her how much I care, that I know her, and I was thinking of her and loving her. Once again, when applied to my relationship with the Lord, this makes so much sense. If I want to get to know Him and grow our relationship, then I would look for similar opportunities to allow my actions to show Him that I know Him and care about Him. This might not involve a caramel apple, but instead might look like choosing to make financial decisions based on His principles of stewardship or sponsoring a child through a missions organization or even something like complementing a stranger on how I love her hair/nails/shirt. The point here is that I utilize my ACTIONs towards Him, just like I choose to do for my friends.
  • Knowing God Through Transparency (our hearts): This is probably one of the hardest ones for me in friendships, mainly because it is difficult for me to be vulnerable at times (I am working on this one). However, this one to me is where we choose to intentionally share ourselves with each other, meaning our thoughts and feelings and the deepest parts of our hearts. This is where true friendships really shine, because as we hang out, get to know each other, grow our friendships by acting kindly toward one another, we build trust and share the not so pretties with each other. And if we can do this and still choose to stick with each other, it creates a bond that grows stronger over time and can provide much comfort, encouragement, and support as we go through this life. I am blessed to have several of these friendships, where I feel safe and secure enough to share my heart with my friend and know that she can do the same with me. As I am writing this, I am envisioning that God wants us to know Him in this way too. That we can go to Him with our truest self, share our hearts, and seek out opportunities to get to know His heart as well. However, there is a question that keeps coming to mind on this one for me: Do I make myself available for God to share His heart with me too?? If one of my friends needs to talk, I do my best to make time for it as soon as I can. Do I do this with the Lord as well? Something for me to be thinking on as we continue… maybe something for you to ponder as well.

Thus, as a re-cap, to practically get to know each other (as well as God), we can do so by being physically present, mentally present, using our actions to serve one another, and sharing our hearts with each other. Much like the way these  getting to know each other methods create a foundation for our human friendships that can then provide comfort, support, and enjoyment throughout life, the beauty of using these same principles in getting to know God is that it provides the foundation for everything else we have talked about with the other 4 secrets of living. Warren says it best:

“You can see how these four elements work together with the five secrets I have been sharing with you. The secret of living is fruitbearing, and the secret of fruitbearing is abiding. What is the secret of abiding? It is obeying: give God your will. What is the secret of obeying? It is loving: give God your heart. What is the secret of loving? It is knowing: give God your mind” (p.83).

So What do I do now?

There are so many directions we could go in for this last SMARTER not HARDER challenge for February’s book club, but I think I am leaning towards taking an inventory one more time. How well do you really know God? Would you consider Him a friend (all reverence still intended)?

If you have never seen the Muppet Christmas Carol (gasp), I actually encourage you to take the time to see it, especially the muppet I have mentioned so many times during this posting. What if you and I envisioned Jesus calling to us in this manner – inviting us as friends to dine at His table and get to know Him better?

If you are up for it (I know I am trying to be! ), I encourage you to say yes and try one or all of the four practical ways of getting to know Him better this week. For me, I started this morning, by seeking to know God with my physical and mental presence as I forced my self out of bed and into my prayer chair to give Him the first of my day in both body and mind. This has been the most difficult thing for me in the past few weeks, but after making it happen this morning, I can see such a huge difference in my attitude and demeanor when I start my day with Him. And honestly, my heart does truly desire to answer His call… and above all else… to come, and know Him better man♥

 

March Book Club: The Purpose Driven Life

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*** I.O.U:   I KNOW I OWE ONE MORE POSTING ON SECRET 5 FROM FEBRUARY; IT IS IN PROCESS AND SHOULD BE OUT BY THE END OF THE WEEK 🙂 BUT I WANTED TO GET THIS OUT FOR  MARCH SO WE CAN ALL GET TO READING THE NEXT BOOK TOO 🙂 ***

So far in our book club, we have focused on setting up your inner world (your soul if you will) for the best quality of life possible. From ordering your inner world to learning the 5 secrets of living, I believe we have already acquired an extensive amount of knowledge on what it looks like to truly live from the inside out and develop an inner stamina that helps us not only survive, but actually thrive. However, one thing we have not truly covered as of yet is what we are supposed to do while we are thriving. I know we have discussed “fruit-bearing” as our reason for living, and that we are meant to be “called versus driven” but what does that actually look like for me as an individual? What are you and I called to do? And thus, enters a book dedicated to answering this question of “what on earth am I here for?” with The Purpose Driven Life.

Why I Chose this Book

I am not typically about the latest trend in Christian writing, as you can probably tell from my hard to secure first two books on the book club, but occasionally, there is a popular book that catches my eye because it speaks to something I consider significant. This would definitely be such a book, as I am both personally and professionally a huge fan of having purpose. I believe in the very core of my being that each one of us was created with a divine design to live out a divine purpose in our lives. It is when we do not know what this purpose is, or when we are not currently pursuing it or living it out, that we often experience distress and personal disturbance.  This is usually why I have a job as a counselor, because in the midst of broken marriages, hurting families, grieving hearts, oppression from addictions, and a variety of other mental health concerns, people have lost focus on their purpose in the midst of their pain and they are no longer functioning optimally together or apart.  As we work through the pain in counseling, we also work towards re-defining and re-establishing this purpose, so that health involves more than just healing but hope for the future as well. As a result, any resource that helps you and I determine what our purposes are and how to get to them is something I want to know more about. 🙂

Although I cannot remember the exact circumstances that took place when I first found this book, I do know it was around my formative college years when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next with my life. Like many others, I was excited at the prospects, but I also wanted some form of guidance and direction about which path I should take next. Whether you are in a similar time in your life or not (now I definitely have the career thing figured out but there are new challenges and opportunities that could use some defined purpose 🙂 ), if you do not quite have sight of the goal of your purpose here on earth, then I encourage you to accept Rick’s invitation for a 40-day spiritual journey to really focus on what God’s purpose is for you in your here and now. And even if you have got it all together (which sounds really good right now so congrats!!!), I invite you along for the ride to be praying for those of us who do not have it all figured out and as a refresher as there may be some wisdom you can glean from these pages to share with someone else (I love it when that happens).

Tentative Schedule

So this book adds an interesting twist to our monthly book club (which I did not think of previously but will be addressed now). Since it is actually a 40-day experience, I do not want to try to shove all 40 days into a 31-day month but am planning to let my experience overlap into April (the book for April is shorter and so we should still be able to do that in the smaller time window). Therefore, starting today on March 1, I plan to begin my Purpose Driven Life journey and commit to (as best as I can) reading a chapter per day for the next 40 days (following the plan outlined in the Table of Contents). As I am reading, I plan to reflect on each weekly grouping with the tentative schedule below:

What on Earth Am I Here for?                    Tuesday, Mar 8th

Purpose #1                                                        Tuesday, Mar 15th

Purpose #2                                                        Tuesday, Mar 22nd

Purpose #3                                                         Tuesday, Mar 29th

Purpose #4                                                         Tuesday, Apr 5th

Purpose #5                                                         Tuesday, Apr 12th

 

My Hope for this Experience

One thing I love about this book is that from the very beginning, Rick sets this up as more than just a reading experience. It is meant to be a spiritual journey, one in which we do not just read the material each day but actually interact with it (p.9-10). As Rick encourages, my hope is that we can really do just that: interact with the material and underline and highlight and write up this book, even if you have already read it or done so in the past. I love to re-read my notes written at a different time, and see what new insights I have gained in my second (or third or fourth) reading as I find that different truths have a tendency to stand out at different times in my life.

I also hope that you will try your best to follow the schedule and read one chapter a day during this process. I know that it will be difficult for me, and may not happen (thank you for grace), but I do really want to set out to read and reflect on one chapter a day for the next 40 days. While it puts our scheduling a little at odds and overlaps into April, I believe the investment in time and effort is totally worth it. I am always excited to see what will happen when I set aside an appointed time and make plans to seek the Lord, especially when it comes to my calling and purpose and guidance. I am excited to see what He is going to do with you too!!!♥

Secret Four: Loving aka “The Power of Love”

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This has thus far been the hardest posting for me to write. And although our family has been plagued with multiple illnesses including some flu-type virus (although not the flu according to the doctor) for the past month (which does account for why this post is tardy; sorry!), I think it is more about the heart of the matter than the timing (I know, imagine that right?!).  My initial draft began with a witty and somewhat sarcastic description of Valentine’s day; observing the convenience of discussing love around this time of year and venting some of my own issues with such a commercialized expression of love (I really am ok with Valentine’s day, but I also like to make fun of it 🙂 ). But as the posting became wordier and wordier, I realized it was more about “me” speaking than really addressing the important subject at hand: the relationship between LOVE and obedience.

Not Valentine’s Day love, not romantic love between a husband and wife, and not even parental love between a guardian and child (which is often considered the purest of all). No, we are talking about the ORIGINAL kind of love, the kind we were ultimately created for, the truest love in the truest sense. It is the love that changes lives, that turns people around, that stops us in our tracks and pulls us back to our senses, that picks us up when we are broken and mends all of the hurt within us, that looks on us with beauty and grace when all we see is ugly and guilt; it is the love that envelops us and moves from the inside out and only exists because He first loved us. It is the love between Creator and created… and it can only come from above.

The whole point of last and this week’s reading is bridging the gap between this kind of love and our choices in life: there is a direct connection/relationship between our experience of this love and our obedience (actions).  If we want our actions that speak louder than our words to truly show and say that we are bearing fruit, abiding and getting as close to Christ as we can, and obeying (following Him), then this all must come from an inner motivator. And the most powerful motivator of all is this kind of LOVE.

The Power of Love

As you can imagine, there are a variety of motivators behind why we do what we do. When it comes to the obedience we discussed last week, Warren singles out 3 motivators for us to focus upon and assess in our own lives to see what is driving our choices to obey or lack thereof. Take a look:

  • Fear: Everytime I see this one I think about any big decisions I have had to make as an adult. From which college I should attend, to whether or not we should really get married, to buying our first car and then our first house, I am always motivated mostly by fear when it comes to obedience about these things. I want so badly to obey, mainly because I am so scared I am going to screw-up and ruin my life (and now the lives of my husband and children as well ) if I do not make the right choice. I cry out to God in desperation because I am in FEAR of what will happen if this is not the right choice. And while it may sound like crying out to God brings me closer to Him, I find that I actually feel distant from Him because when I am operating in FEAR mode, He is this far-away mean God waiting to punish me if I step out of line. I envision Him outside of His true character (which is not very nice) and only loving when I make the “right” choice. And there has to be a “right” choice, right?  Well, during one of these “fearfully” obedient moments, I will never forget the counsel of a trusted Christian friend who encouraged me that maybe there was not only one “right” choice, but that God was giving me full liberty to choose from any of the choices and He would bless all of them. Say what?! I know it’s crazy, but it makes total sense now that I am a parent. On any given Saturday, I might ask my son: would you like to go to the zoo or the aquarium? And there is no right or wrong answer, just very cool but different things at both. Is it not totally possible that God looks at some of our decisions the same way? Would you like to live in Virginia or Texas? Would you like to work here or over there? Would you like to keep renting your apartment or move into a house? Would you like to attend this college or that college? Puts all of those big decisions into a totally different perspective huh? Now, while it still does not answer the question, it has always helped me move from FEAR mode to LOVE mode (which I will describe below).

There is another way to look at fear in terms of obedience that is worth mentioning. Some of us choose to obey because we are scared of the consequences of our decisions. We have been raised to believe that the second we step outside of the line, bad things will happen and so we stay as safe and secure and as far away from the line as possible. We always obey, but we do so out of obligation and being scared and we feel oppressed, imprisoned and like we are missing out. We probably also feel incredibly distant from a warm and loving and personable God because we only know rigid, harsh, significant rules with swift and just consequences. While our actions might be outwardly “obedient,” they still have not hit the mark for truly abiding and fruit bearing because we are still missing the importance of freedom and grace. Whenever fear is our primary motivator, it does not last and it causes both us and God pain.

  • Rewards: This one is my jam (which is probably not a good thing; but truthful)! I love getting rewarded for things (#onlychildperfectionist). Whether it is a rewards program for the places I frequently shop or a rewards credit card or a reading rewards program or any type of rewards really, I love them! I have even mastered the art of self-rewards, which got me through my multiple degrees (I would focus on school work for a couple of hours, and then get a treat like Starbucks or something yummy to eat). And honestly, this is probably my default motivation for obeying. When I am nice to my husband, I get the typical reward of him being nice to me too. When I am nice to my kids, I get the typical reward of them behaving. When I obey what God wants for me, I know that over the years, it typically results in my favor so I might as well keep with it right? Of course?!

Except… what happens when that line of thinking does not work right away or at all? For instance, I have been praying for something for years now that has still not come into existence. Even though I have prayed in faith, walked in faith, heard things like “soon” and “it’s coming” which I know are all true, it does not yet exist. My reward is not here, even though I have obeyed. Or what about when you have been super nice to your husband, gone out of your way to make sure the house is clean, his favorite dinner is made to perfection, and made plans for the two of you to hang out after the kids go to bed only to find its been a bad day at work, he is in a bad mood, and he falls asleep before you are finished putting your little ones to sleep? Again, the intended reward did not work out. When we obey solely for the rewards, there will come a time when the reward does not happen or does not suffice, and we may be encouraged to either no longer obey or become resentful in any obedience that does still occur. Plus, this type of obedience is really, honestly, self-focused with a “what can I get out of this” attitude. While on the outside it might get things accomplished temporarily, on the inside the inner peace and security depend on the outcome and there is no consistency to who we are and how we feel.

  • LOVE: While both fear and rewards are quick to lead to obedience depending on your experiences, there is one motivator that has been most powerful ever since the creation of all that we know. It has been written about, sang about, lived out and sacrificed for throughout the ages, and we know it as the concept of LOVE. It can be defined as adoration, pleasurable, positive, kind, affectionate, devoted feelings toward someone or something and when in its purest form (as described above) it has a life-changing, life-giving, life-sustaining power. When we truly love someone or something with this pure self-sacrificial love, we will do everything we can to move towards that person or thing no matter the cost. This love is so powerful because it does not matter if there is something to be feared or whether or not the reward manifests, because ALL that matters, hear me, ALL THAT MATTERS is the object of affection.

This is Paul obeying Christ right into prison and still singing hymns, out of his great LOVE for his Savior and knowing that even though the “rewards” were not evident, he was still going to love. This is Christ loving us all the way to hell and back, because the only thing that truly mattered was relationship and salvation with us. In something a little more little, this is you putting a blanket on your husband and smiling after your evening gets ruined because all that mattered was showing your love for him and now he is resting so at least he benefited (I wish I could say that was me; but there is a reason I used you in this example). This is me continuing to pray and trust and hope and obey year after year after year trusting in LOVE that God is going to come through in His perfect timing even though it does not seem like it in the moment. How does the scripture go? And the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Can I make a quick observation here? Both fear and rewards have been used for years to train animals through schedules of either pain (fear) or treat (reward) in scientific learning theory. Both are successful methods, which is why parents end up using them as well (spanking versus bribing LOL), although some schedules do work better than others (but that is for another time). But you know what is interesting: we are supposed to be more than just plain animals right? The thing that really sets us apart is our ability to reason and will, and with that, have the ability to LOVE and put that love into action. Now, I know from personal experiences that animals love too so please do not hear me saying that, but instead listen to the higher calling to search out your own heart and see if you are operating out of an innate, flesh, learned response (like that of a trained animal) or if you are obeying out of a chosen, desired, will to love the Creator of the universe?

How does this apply to me?

As you can envision, this secret gets to the core of who we are and our relationship with the Lord. Just like Ordering Your Private World, we have now reached the inner layer of the secret to living an abundant life, and that is all about how we love. And not just how we love others, because believe it or not, that might actually be easier, but how we love God, which includes our thoughts, feelings, and by default, our actions (obedience) when it comes to Him.

Since a lot of this conversation thus far has been abstract (things like fear and rewards and love oh my!), let’s see if I can make it a tad more practical (if not for you, then definitely for me). When I talk about love in a human sense, like for a couple or a parent-child relationship or even among two friends, I can always rely on the “love tank” picture. I cannot take credit for it, although I also cannot cite its original source because I have no clue who said or copyrighted it first, but its a well known metaphor in the counseling realm.

Much like the cars we drive have a gas tank that fuels the engine to make the car move, the relationships we invest in have a love tank that fuel the relationship to allow it to grow and progress and make positive gains. When we do things like spend positive time together, take care of one another, do things especially for the other person, it is like making a stop at the gas station to fill the tank. As life occurs and we move throughout events and circumstances, we expend our energy, and our love tank becomes depleted unless we make conscious efforts to refill it. And so on and so forth for as long as we own the vehicle, or participate in the relationship. To evaluate where we are in our relationships, I have partners draw a fuel gauge like the one below and rate where they would say their own feelings of love are currently located. Then, we brainstorm ways to get them closer to full and start a regular evaluation to maintain these levels.

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When this same principle is applied to our relationship with God, we can definitely sketch out a fuel gauge and determine whether our love tank is closer to empty or closer to full. However,  you, like me, may have been deceived in thinking that you are responsible for filling your love tank just like you are in your human relationships. While ownership is awesome when it comes to your human relationships (and I am all about it and encourage it as a counselor), when it comes to our relationship with God, it is actually supposed to look different. This is where the power of that original LOVE combines with the power of abiding and get its awesome life-changing, life-giving, life-sustaining powers.

When we abide; we hook our love tank up to the God of the Universe, and HE fills us up until we are overflowing. We do not have to buy Him flowers, get involved in expansive ministries, give huge tithes or spend all of our time at church or in Bible study or singing praise songs to fill our tanks. It starts with simply inviting Him to love in and through you, opening yourself to be a vessel (or branch) of this love, and letting Him do the rest. As our love tanks fill as we abide in Him, we want to do all of those things because we cannot contain all the amazing love (like a car that just has to race because it is full with the best fuel out there). We want to obey, not our of defeating or selfish motives like fear or rewards, but out of genuine desire to enact this love through obedience.

This may not be a big deal for you, but this is HUGE for me. I am a “works” girl; hence my tendency to obey for the rewards. All week I have been trying to work on loving God (even though I have really not “felt” it) because if I am going to write about it I should be doing it right?! Except, this is one thing that I do not have to and honestly, cannot work at (lightbulb!!). This is the thing that gets at so many “Christians” because it cannot be practiced, manufactured, or created on our own. This is something we have to let God do; something I have to rest in, allow in, enjoy in… and when I finally stopped working so hard to make it happen (about 5 minutes ago to be exact), my whole demeanor, countenance, and perspective changed. My God-love tank went from 0 to overflowing in about 10 seconds (OK maybe a little longer), when I finally surrendered the pressure and determination to make it happen and let Him fill it up. Not because of anything I actually did, but from the stopping of trying to do and just allowing myself to abide and be.

So What do I do now?

I bet you can already see where this is going. Using the graphic described above, I encourage you to set aside a moment each day or couple of days this week to check your God-love tank. It should not take very long, almost the same amount of time it takes for you to glance at the dash of your car and see if you need to stop by the gas station on your next trip out. Are you close to empty or overflowing? This question quickly leads to: are you connected and abiding or unplugged and trying to go it on your own? Are you obeying out of this love, or out of fear or rewards? Where do you want to be? What will you do to get there?

Believe it or not, after writing the above words last night about being “oh so full,” I not only disconnected from the computer as I closed up for the night, but I seriously disconnected from the Lord as well. Which meant this morning, I was desperately dry and my God-love tank was screaming EMPTY as I was attempting to care for my children. We all knew it, and so I took a few moments to look at my gauge, speak to the Lord, and breathe in a prayer to be filled. I thought about the picture of that branch in the vineyard, resting so peacefully and being sustained and filled by the vine, and I let the love flow into my tank. It was by no means a miraculous, quick fill, but it was steadfast and sure and I have been loving, obeying, abiding, and fruit bearing the rest of the day. And that picture has stayed with me so that I could share it not only with my boys, but with you too. I am so incredibly grateful for this gift… and for that amazing, awesome power of love.♥