New Year’s Dreadsolutions

I have a love-hate relationship with running. I have wanted so bad to be a runner, but I could never seem to push past my exercise-induced asthma to make it happen. In college, my best bud Sally Jo and I would wake up at an ungodly 5:30 in the morning to go run around College Field. I. Hated. Every. Minute. But I desperately wanted to run. So over the years I have kept pushing. Most days I’m still a hater.

2013 has been the year for me to change my perspective. Instead of dreading is as a horrible task that I’m not good at, I decided to embrace it. I downloaded Pandora on my phone and decided to worship while I ran. I chose a Meredith Andrews station and this was a sampling of what I got:

Worth It All (even the sweat)

Here With Us (so I don’t die alone)

Word of God Speak (and tell me it’s almost over)

Revelation Song (reveal the weight I will lose)

And then, all joking aside, the cool down:

O, How He Loves (even when we don’t reach our goals)

My Beloved (He loves me no matter how long I run or how I look)

And lo and behold, I ran 4 miles in one sitting (somehow that phrase doesn’t seem to fit there.) That may not mean much to some people, but to me, that was HUGE. 

I got tired of not-being-able. 

When you get tired of saying you can’t, you will find that you will. 

I can do all things through Christ. Oh, but the excuses crowd in and the motivation moves out and the intentions move aside and the only thing we have left is the “couldn’t”s. 

This thing of New Year’s resolutions? It’s for sissies. (What about mid-year resolutions? No one ever hears about those.)

My experience with losing weight has confirmed in my mind that the only way to do ANYTHING is to change your heart. You can change your mind a million times. (It IS a woman’s prerogative.) You can change your food and your exercise. But until you change your heart, your mind won’t change. Permanently. When you see the pecan pie. When you see the new outfit you want. When you become discontent.

Perhaps contentment is at the heart of it all. It strikes a weird balance… being content enough to whisper thanks for what things are and discontent enough to make them better. But I promise you, contentment works that way. If you’re determined to be content in any situation, you’ll find that you have the power to be better. To be more. 

Perhaps the only way to be more is to be content right now, because then the road to success doesn’t seem to take so long and you will have learned to be disciplined instead of riding on a wave of desire or trend and the more means more when you finally reach it.

The greatest lie is the one that causes us to be constantly grabbing for what we don’t have instead of holding tightly to what we do have. One day we’ll wake up and realize that what we always wanted is what we had all along. 

If we spent more time looking back on our blessings rather than counting the things we wish we could change, we might have fewer resolutions and just be at peace with ourselves and the world. (That being said, we do not live in a utopia and there is always room for improvement. I consider every day a new year in that respect.) 

So, what things would you change if you could? How about we narrow it down… what is the ONE THING that you would change if you could? The proper reaction to a thing we can’t change is to embrace it and give thanks and learn to be content despite it. The proper reaction to the thing we can change is to change it with God’s help. Slow baby steps of obedience. Could we be brave enough to say, “I’m content either way, Lord, but if you’ll help me with this, I’d like to be more effective for Your kingdom in this area.” Positive words of affirmation and constant reminders of God’s promises keep a stale “resolution” going.

I encourage you to reflect on the greatest things from 2013. (And don’t forget to count the worst things. They’ll show up later and they might even turn out to be the greatest things.) And then, find a verse or a word that you want to define 2014. It might change your life.

 

Because in the end, what’s important is not what was changed. It’s about us being changed.

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God With Us

To some, it is a warm place inside where they feel safe, accepted, and renewed to share their faith with Christ. To others, it has such a harsh implication that they would rather be inflicted with pain than darken the doors with their shadow. To yet others, it is a neutrality, and more often than not, a thing to feel guilty about. Their presence there neither betters them nor hurts them, and they see little reason for going other than their conscience.

I have struggled with this subject of church. People talk more about church than they do about the Godhead. Is there a problem here?

It seems as if I always went to church as a kid because I had to, or felt guilty if I didn’t. I longed that a holiday would fall on a church day so as to excuse my absence. And when I did want to attend church, it was for my own benefit: friends, popularity, or the feeling of satisfaction.

Getting married only complicated the problem, because as much as one would like to dismiss the differences, it can’t be helped that two people with two entirely different church backgrounds are trying to compromise on a style and a denomination. We “church shopped” (I love that phrase) and became very involved with a home-church for some time. It gave us a foundation for what church really is… the people, and not the building. We all say we know that. But do we? 

And we still had wrong ideas we needed to dispel.

We thought church was the primary place we were supposed to serve.

We were wrong.

One of Satan’s best tactics is to confuse. To redirect priorities and distort truth. He has accomplished this through styles of music and dress, diversity of Bible versions and programs, and denominations. Jesus very rarely argued points of the law. When the religious leaders confronted Him about the law, He redirected them to truth. To the bigger picture. To freedom.

To Him.

He told Moses that He did not have a place to reside and asked Him to build Him a house. But once the veil was torn, He began residing in His people. Emmanuel, God with us, is here.

And we miss Him as we look for Him in church buildings and worship services. Yes, He is there. But… He is in US!! Are we cultivating His Presence? Are we building His Kingdom or ours?

I do not dare claim an answer for anyone else, but I feel strongly that for me and my house, church is wherever we are. It can be in Dunkin’ Donuts over a hot chocolate. Church can be in my livingroom with precious women eating cookies. (Church usually involves eating, ya’ll.) It can be at a friend’s house talking about God and the things He does in our lives.

I firmly believe He does not measure our loyalty to Him by the number of times we walk through a door. I am the first to admit that this concept is new for me. I have always chartered my spiritual course by my church attendance. My sweet husband has little gumption to go and sing (which he dislikes) and try to follow along in Scripture reading because everyone talks faster than he reads (he went to Chucky Doak, guys. Give some slack). But he LOVES people. And when we have friends over for a cookout, he loves on people and he helps them with whatever they need. He is Jesus to them. And we have church. 

I went to church this morning and I intend to go as many Sundays as I can for the rest of my life. There is nothing quite like worshiping with a choir of other earth-travelers to remind me of my final destination. I love hearing someone else(smarter than me)’s take on the Scripture. But I no longer wring my hands over how often I’ve been or how involved we are. Now I have a higher standard. Called grace. And the new question is, “Have I spent so much time with Christ that others can see Him in me?” If I am relying on my attendance to determine my closeness to Christ, I have the wrong meter.

The church is composed of “little Christs.” Can we call ourselves that and get stooped in tradition and fail to do as He did? People have accused us of not being loyal enough to the Lord because we may only go to one church service a week. I do not mind the accusation, because it shows me that they weigh their spirituality on the scale of attendance. It is possible that the exemption from two other services a week allows me freedom to serve God in other capacities. I would not otherwise have time to visit widows, bake cookies for shut-ins, and celebrate milestones with the elderly. My friends have taken in orphans and by adoption and fostering they have shown Jesus to them. The local soup kitchen helps the homeless and shows them love. (Shoot, we drove around delivering Christmas cards tonight and we turned around twice like stalkers just to help jump someone’s jeep off. If we take the time to look around, there are needs everywhere. Not just the need for a jumper cable. But a need for kindness.) Service outside the church is just as much or MORE important than what we do inside four walls.

We are absolutely to serve the church. We are His bride and should treat each other with love. I don’t love anybody like I love the church. Jesus loves the church, too. He was predictable. He was at the Temple regularly. But Jesus didn’t spend all His time at church or with believers. He was out reaching the lost. Eating with sinners. Loving on people. He got His strength to do that in the time alone He had with the Father. His relationship with God sustained His earthly relationships. If Jesus had to converse with the Father, then how much more do we?

My challenge during this season and at the start of the new year: Feel Jesus in you, and take Jesus with you. My eyes and heart well up at how much He desires to be more apart of what we’re doing. He craves relationship… why else would He come here? Why wouldn’t He send a messenger… someone else?! Because He wants our hearts. Our attention. Our affection. I am pained when I think of how often I offer distractions His place in my life. I can still be His temple, but I won’t be effective until His Presence in my sanctuary consumes me.

Here’s the rubber: church can be wherever we are, because the higher calling is not a place, but a Person. GOD WITH US.

Merry Christmas, blog readers!Image

Cutless

MY MINISTRY with teenage girls has invited me into many different struggles and temptations that I have never personally battled. In this journey, I have come face to face with drugs, sex, and alcohol…three Trojan horses that roam freely in our Christian circles today. So when my friend told me that she was struggling, I was shocked to find out that it was cutting. That had never crossed my mind. I thought that was only for people with some form of abuse or demonic oppression in their past. I was not aware that it, too, lurked in our camps. In HER camp. In trying to determine the reasons why a person would find satisfaction in harming themselves, I was taken to a new realm. Maybe if we inflict pain on ourselves we can take ourselves more seriously, just the same as the dieter who purges or works out for three hours to justify the amount of chocolate cake she ate. This kind of self-inflicted punishment is not the answer for our disease. Our disease is sin, for which we do deserve punishment. Someone had to pay the price we could not. That is why Jesus took our beating and paid the wages of our sin (Rom. 6:23). He took our cuts for us, leaving us cut-less. This victory is huge, for anyone facing the struggle of cutting, drinking, or gorging on Little Debbies. Christ promised to heal our wounds, not to erase our scars. If we accept our scars, we liberate them to be a reminder of what a merciful Savior we call ours. The shame might not be lifted all at once, and the evidence of who we were might not be wholly erased. But it’s remembering the place God brought us from that keeps us on our knees. Long after we’re free.