Holiness is Not Legalism

We as a Church are so quick to cry, “legalism.”  We throw that word around with, arguably, little understanding of what it truly means.

Legalism is the human effort to win over the approval of God or peers through doing things, or abstaining from things.  It focuses on good deeds, attempting to gain the favor of God, rather than on the heart of the believer.  Legalism primarily emphasizes outward behaviors while neglecting the observance of internal, prideful motivations. The focus of legalism is misdirected as the ability of man rather than the depravity of man. To be a legalist is to prioritize a narrow, rigid moral code above the gracious Truth of the Gospel. The product of legalism is a religion of works, a religion far from the Christianity established by Christ’s teachings.

To state the assumed obvious: legalism is deplorable to Christ. The Lord’s primary concern is the state of our heart, which for the legalist is blackened by selfishness.  We see this in Luke when Jesus comes to eat with the Pharisees.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? Luke 11:37-41

My argument and intent in this writing is not to define what legalism is, but rather to examine common areas of expectations of the Body of Christ that are erringly deemed legalistic. Concisely, to describe what legalism isn’t.

A life of striving for righteousness and holiness is not legalism, it is a life demonstrating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a life that interprets Scripture literally and takes seriously its commands:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

I’ve had countless conversations on this matter and I wish I had a dollar for each time I have heard the repeated argument “it’s not about your works.”

True. The salvation that is made possible through Jesus’s death and resurrection is not made available by meeting some threshold of good works. Not even slightly. But while salvation is an incredibly generous gift that is not warranted by human actions, receiving salvation and becoming a disciple of Jesus is a calling to a life held to a new, higher, holy standard. 

So while it is true that faith in Jesus Christ is not a matter of doing good works in order to hold on to salvation, James makes clear that faith without works is dead.  A life yielded to the Spirit of our Lord will bear fruit–it will demonstrate works of obedience to the commands of Scripture. We as Christians are quick to confuse obedience with legalism. Holding believers of the Gospel to the standard of obeying God’s Word is not promoting legalism–it is living out the desire God had for the members of His Kingdom.

The freedom of Christ is not the freedom to disobey God with expectation of unconditional forgiveness, but rather freedom from the binding sin of the world.  Living under grace is to live a life so understanding of the grace of the Lord, that the heart is drawn to obedience out of reverence. Of course, in cases of genuine repentance, sin is washed clean. But a heart of “ask forgiveness not permission” towards God is a severely misdirected heart.

A life striving to please God with every single choice is not legalistic:

Choosing to not listen to music, or watch TV shows or movies that promote behaviors that are entirely displeasing to God and deplored within Scripture is not legalism. How often we, especially the believers of my generation, pursue pop culture above righteousness.  We preach that there is continual sacrifice involved in being a believer, but when that sacrifice involves admitting that Beyonce, Kanye, Nicki, and the vast majority of popular artists glorify behaviors that we would be appalled by if they took place by a believer in the pulpit in church, we are quick to defend our preferences and habits.

“Just because I listen to these words, doesn’t mean they change my actions.”

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8

Do we overlook this command? Do we choose to ignore it for the sake of entertainment? For the sake of having common interest with our peers? Do we forsake the commands of Scripture for a good beat?

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Colossians 3:5-6

Perhaps these choices do not reflect a heart pursuing such immorality or impurity, but to choose to ignore the immorality and impurity that we condone while watching and listening is to revere these outlets over the glorification of God.

Similarly, it is not legalistic to set standards of engaging God in devotions daily, having routine prayer, or sharing the good news of the Gospel every day. It is not legalistic to abstain from using crude language, to not join in on the Cards Against Humanity game, or to skip the trip to the bars.

We cannot keep promoting that it is legalistic for a Christian to make their pursuit to please God by the way they live. We must aim to please the Lord in all moments–it is a mandate of the God we serve.

We must examine our actions and we must let this examination make it past the initial defense of “legalistic standards”.

We must start being willing to truly yield all areas of life to the glorification of the Kingdom of God. 

 

Advertisements

Social Media and a Neutered Gospel

In our capitalistic society of bigger, better, more, our eyes are constantly fixated, constantly stimulated.  We know what we want more of, and with the help of endless information accessible with a few movements of our phalanxes and phalanges, we have a pretty good idea of how to get whatever that may be. (Case-in-point: I searched “finger bones” and looked at a diagram on Google Images to complete that sentence.)

While the internet and technology have no innate corruption, we as humans have come along doing what we do best: turning good for self-advancement, and self-gratification.  While internet and technology may have no innate corruption, we as humans do.  We are born into a nature of deprivation.  Since our first breath, there has been a longing for more.  This is God-crafted, this is what He knows is best for us.  But where He designed us to long for Him–for His love, wisdom, and worth–we have believed the lies that the world has provisions that will suffice.  It just so happens that in the 21st century, the primary provision that I’ve observed prevailing in this race for our hearts and our minds is our technology, our media.

With the abundant help of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and even texting and GroupMe, we are in a seemingly inescapable cycle of elevating ourselves before others, and draining our sense of worth.  The way we are perceived has become all-consuming.  It’s no wonder, since our perception is as easy to adjust as clicking three buttons to post a picture, or stringing a few sentences together to post a status or caption.  But what follows our pressing of “post” is what’s even more detrimental to the binding of ourselves to this cycle–likes, comments, retweets, replies, follows.  These are our fuel.  We are addicts and these little digital drops of approval are our drug.

We have become slaves to the instant gratification we get from someone expressing any sense of care or admiration for something we’ve shared. We are puppets to the world of “what’s popular” and making sure we obtain it.  The rush we get from receiving a notification of any kind is scientifically proven to be addictive.  Think back to the biochemistry lesson in high school.  Dopamine–the “feel good” chemical.  I’m fairly certain when I was studying that flashcard on Quizlet I didn’t include my enslavement to it in the definition. But the reality is, every time we get a notification, another drop of internet approval in our bottomless bucket of worth, dopamine is released.  So, because we feel good, we go back for more. And more.  Confession: I’ve checked Facebook three times since I started typing this.  The irony truly pains me.  I just checked Snapchat.  I’m sorry, reader, for my laughable hypocrisy.  Know that not one of the words I’ve typed has not been directly written to myself and my own tendencies.

While we’re on the subject of blatant ironies, let’s address how our consumption with social media has taken a huge hack at our social competencies. We are substituting the initial awkwardness that comes from meeting someone new and tediously building levels of respect and friendship with virtual “interactions”.  Instead of figuring out how to navigate the uncomfortable ropes of learning a person and developing a mutual sense of trust and understanding, we resort to the easy, instant method of friend requesting or following, and keeping up with their “lives” via updates that all 800+ other followers receive.  I do intentionally quote “lives” because we all know how humorous it would be to think someone’s life is wholly represented by their postings.  Yeah, duh, of course we all know that and never assume someone is as put together as their internet profile displays. Psh.

Have you ever run into someone in public that you “know” from social media but have never actually met? Yes, you have. And there’s a reason you have that rush of awkwardness through your veins and immediately scan the room for the quickest and most subtle escape route.  You’ve communicated with a person and felt like you’re a part of their life without knowing them–it’s forgery.   You’ve forged a friendship for your own sense of popularity, or worth, and when confronted with that reality, it’s uncomfortable.  Rightly so.

As people, we are robbing ourselves of deep friendships, meaningful relationships, and some of life’s greatest moments. As Christians, we are robbing ourselves of all that, as well as the ability to be the Gospel to a world in dire need of it.  We preach that we believe God places us where we are intentionally, and that in that place we should do everything we can to glorify Him.  Yet, we fill our time in the places God has maneuvered us with the sharing of useless (often fake) news, and endless scrolling through feeds with eyes of envy and coveting.  We say we’re using the internet for His glory because we shared a post telling us that if we deny Jesus before others, He will deny us before His Father.  See that Facebook friends? I’m SO unashamed of the Gospel.  Bring on your petty “persecutions,” liberal left, because I can take it…until it causes any dent to my reputation or perception.  Then I’ll tell you I’m not one of those crazy Christians–I’m really no different than the next guy because I’ve watered the Gospel down enough to nearly be clear! (End rant.) (Again, I do not excuse myself from any of my flamingly sarcastic accusations. God has convicted me just as much as a pray He does in whoever may be reading this.)

Back on the track of preaching the Gospel where God has purposely placed us.  The Gospel is neutered without eyes to see needs, feet to go to these needs, and hands to meet them.  We say we know we are called to put on the eyes of our Lord, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but the reality is our eyes are fixated on others’ broadcasts of achievements, constantly missing the voids and desperations beneath these veiling posts; our feet are stumbling along with the current of complacency and self-advancement, missing the opportunity to step down to a lesser place to step out towards a longing soul; our hands are working day in and day out to increase our level of excess even further.  The race for more has blinded us from those who don’t even have enough–in the literal, physical, and physiological senses of the word.

Not only are we living in a way that fails to reach the world with the Gospel, we are robbing ourselves of the Gospel.  Just as I wrote in The Strangle of Comparison,” our God not only created us, but adores us.  Our worth comes from Him alone, and not from anything we can accomplish on our own.  But with our constant need for approval, and the rat race that we’ve created with our lives, we have (unsuccessfully) filled the void that we were born into with facades of worth.  In fact, I promise you my sinful heart will judge the quality of this post by the reaction it receives on the internet.  Lord, forgive me for my rebellious spirit that strives to be filled by anything but You.  Forgive me for believing the lies that the quality of Your words to me can be scored by my peers.

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a “one day when I have time” list. It’s likely filled with items as seemingly insignificant as household tasks, and those as significant as ministry dreams. We tell ourselves we don’t have time–after all, we can barely find time to sleep. But what about the quick break from homework that turned into an hour and a half of perusing news feeds? The scroll through Instagram while on the toilet that turned into 20 minutes and numb legs? (Me at least once a day.) The “checking the scores really quickly” that turned into an hour scroll through BREAKING news of Ezekiel Elliott in a bucket and Lane Kiffin left by a bus–again?  We have time.  To say we don’t is an astonishing lie to ourselves. We just don’t use our time humbly.  We don’t look at it as the gift that it is–a gift to propel us to fulfill our role of serving, of making disciples, of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.  What does it say to our neighbor if we spend 95% of our time tending to our “own life” and 5% reaching theirs? That’s not a kind of “love” I’m familiar with. Ouch. I felt that one too.  Again, forgive me Lord.  I need Your work in my heart and in my mind more than I even know.

If you’ve gotten this far in this post, you’ve beaten the odds of your attention span failing you.  We have our good friends, Internet and Mobile Devices to thank for that one, too.  Since you’ve beared with me this far, I promise to wrap things up soon.

Let’s do ourselves a favor and stop robbing ourselves of some of the greatest blessings in this life.  Taking our fixation off of our devices and accounts is not even all about spiritual implications; it’s about the daily; it’s about the relationships.  It’s about gaining pure communion with others through spending uninterrupted time with them.  It’s about stretching ourselves to grow to a place where we can honestly admit our struggles to real people rather than “humble bragging” all over the internet in order to mask these struggles.  It’s shattering the veil that says we have our life together.

But, yes, as everything is: it’s mostly about God and the expansion of His Kingdom.  It’s about acknowledging that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow and choosing to not spend today behind a screen.  It’s about walking humbly with the Lord, choosing habits that make us more aware of His presence instead of blinded to it.  It’s about being more burdened by the need to lift up His name than lift our own.

Share the pictures of your family, your real-life friends, your dog.  But share them with a heart that finds worth in what Jesus did on the cross, and not what your followers do with their “like” or “comment” buttons.  Lift your eyes from your news feeds and ask the Lord to point you towards a need.  You may even be surprised when He points out those of yourself.

You a loved; you are made whole; you are called–live out of those truths and no others.

When The Center of God’s Will is Filled with Brokenness

When we have utmost confidence that we were pursuing the will of God in entering a situation, and that situation ends in disappointment, heartbreak, devastation, or all of the above, it’s natural to question whyWhy God? I heard You so clearly yet here I am. 

Maybe the call to move to a completely different city or state came with so much confidence and expectation, but now all you feel is lonely and confused.

Maybe there was assurance that beginning a relationship or entering a marriage was God’s desire for you, but now a breakup or divorce has taken place and your hurt has you doubting all that you were so sure of.

Maybe you were boldly called to adopt a child only to have it all fall through at the last moment, and now you’re questioning whether God even wanted you to adopt in the first place.

When we think about and imagine God’s will for us, we nearly never daydream about a story ending in turbulence and pain.

We’ve falsely created an illusion of God’s will: a will of safety, comfort, and endless confirmation that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.  We say, “I just want to be at the center of God’s will,” but do we truly understand the implications of this statement?

I, personally, consistently find myself defaulting to the mindset that the center of God’s will is the easier place to be.  Scripture has made clear to me that my ways will only lead to destruction so, contrary to what I know to be true through the Word, I subconsciously conclude that God’s will is opposite and will have an opposite effect.  I neglect the promise that, in this life, I will have troubles.  I neglect the promise that these troubles are often at the very eye of the hurricane that is God’s mighty purpose. 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:2-5)

God is Love above all else. But just as a parent’s love for a child results in properly executed discipline and teaching, so does that of our Heavenly Father. As James points out through the usage of “whenever,” our trials are guaranteed.  But, in accordance with the way of our Gracious Father, this guarantee is presented in the context of great hope. Though sometimes nearly impossible to see, our trials are a gracious gift–a gift that leads to stronger faith and wisdom when we respond as the Lord desires. So, how does He desire we respond in our brokenness?

With genuine cries. With our broken pieces scattered over the floor, desperate for the provision of the only One holding the power to restore our pieces to wholeness.  With worship of the God we know Him to be, whether we believe it in the depths of the moment or not.

How we react in times of pain and hurt are the truest reflection of our character and the depths of our faith.  It’s far less difficult to treat those around you well when circumstances in your life seem to be working in your favor, but when they all seemingly turn against you, how will you behave? How will you carry yourself?  When someone directly causes you hurt, your response in your actions to them is especially revealing.  In the failed relationship or broken marriage, will you treat the other with grace and respect or will you let the malice from hurt overpower the Spirit living in your heart?  In the adoption that falls through, will you react with love and respect towards the birthparents or whomever parties are involved, or will you react with spite and resentment?

In your times of pain and hurt will you revere the Lord in your heart or will you reject Him in anger? Will you run to the feet of the cross that gave you life, or will you turn your back in disbelief of His goodness?

We must renew our minds in the truth that our trials are gifts–that our Father whose greatest gift of all was to have His only Son be brutally sacrificed is a Father whose perspective of suffering is far grander and more glorious than we can comprehend. If brutality and the greatest injustice since the beginning of the world is also considered the pinnacle demonstration of Grace–the most beautiful and perfect gift–who are we to say our comparably minuscule sufferings aren’t the Lord’s provision of love and blessing in our lives?  When the lie that our sorrows are a punishment or a result of neglect from God speaks louder than the truth that our sorrows are a call to pure intimacy with our merciful Father, we must pray against the enemy’s twisted power. We must react with worship of a God who is infinitely stronger than the manipulation of Satan. We must renew our hearts, renew our minds with Truth.

We have to know and believe that our trials are not for waste.  With every new struggle and pain that we overcome alongside our loving Father, we are strengthened in perseverance.  We are strengthened emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  When, amidst our brokenness and weakness, we ask the Lord for provision of His wisdom, the wisdom we are gifted does not vanish after each tribulation has been overcome.  Rather, we remain stronger, wiser, and even more properly equipped for God’s ministry than we were before.  With ministry being the ultimate purpose for each of our stories, we can rest in confidence and peace that every trial and tribulation is vital to the fulfillment of our purpose.  Each trouble should not be seen as a bump in the road along the way to the finish line, but rather as an essential maintenance check that removes both seemingly good and bad elements of our lives to enable growth and a stronger drive to the finish line.

The center of God’s will has guaranteed trials.  It has guaranteed pain, suffering, and times when the depths of faith are sincerely revealed.  It is in absolutely no way the easier place to be.  But it is a place of pure joy, a place of peace surpassing all understanding, and a place with the arms of the Father wrapped tightly around you as you cry out to Him, as you’re renewed, and as you’re closer to His heart than ever before.

 

When Nationalism Overpowers Evangelism

In writing this, I am not seeking to take a political stance.  I am not arguing in any direction for or against immigration reform.  I merely want to bring to light a consistent attitude and perspective that has always existed, but has become increasingly present, especially in this season of rampant opinions and relentless assertion. 

The American Way.  Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. This nationalist ethos is what gives us chills during the National Anthem, drives us to go out and buy the biggest American flag Walmart sells, and makes us blare Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” at maximum volume. We have great pride for our country, and rightfully so.  Millions of men and women have sacrificed their lives so that we can live in freedom, and that deserves to be celebrated.  It deserves all the chills, goosebumps, and tears that are stirred.  I’m not writing to argue that we shouldn’t love our country.  In fact, if you know me personally, you know that that would be the furthest thing from my intention.  “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” happens to be, and will always be, my favorite song.  After Christmas (because that’s one day that just can’t be topped for me), July 4th is my favorite day of the year.  I’m quite fond of the 2nd Amendment. And there’s nothing quite like BBQ on the lake.  You get the point. I really love America. But above loving my country, I love the God who created all the nations of the world, including my country.  And I don’t believe these two loves conflict.

As Americans, we are undoubtedly privileged.  Some more so than others, but as citizens, we have rights that so many in other nations lack.  The last time we woke up and consciously thought about our thankfulness for our Unalienable Rights was probably never, but needless to say, they’re still there. 

With the privilege to these rights, its become common for us, as Americans, to hoard.  We want to keep them all for ourselves and deprive anyone who didn’t win the birth lottery, by being born in The States, of them. 

What does this look like in action? “You’re in our country–speak our language.” Expecting immigrants to conform to our cultural standards of dress; assuming every immigrant is here illegally and desiring their deportation; or a recent finding on Facebook: “I can’t go to a Muslim country and drink beer or wine, or eat bacon or pork BBQ; and my girlfriend isn’t allowed to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt in a Muslim-controlled country.  So why the hell do Muslims think that they should be allowed to tell us that we should change our laws or customs in America to accommodate them?!” Classic.

We love the idea of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but we frown upon these ideals and rights being received by those coming from other nations.  So to this, I ask, what if God had this same perspective when sending His Son to die?  I suppose Jesus’s teachings may have gone something like this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that only those who get lucky and are in the right place at the right time may have life, and have it to the full.”  This may be a stretch of a comparison, and in no way am I trying to distort Scripture or use an eisegetical method, however, this hypothetical edit does serve to illustrate the idea I’m trying to convey.  If we, as both Evangelicals and Americans, are seeking to, foremost, serve Christ according to His teachings, we cannot ignore the importance of immigration to His Kingdom. 

We are called to go to the nations.  We are called to share the Gospel with the nations and create disciples.  You know this, I know this, we all know this.  But do our lives and our attitudes align with this commandment? 

You’ll write a check for hundreds of dollars to support a family friend traveling to unreached people groups to share the Gospel, but when the issue of Muslim immigration is raised, your first instinct is contempt and the need for said Muslim to conform to the so-called American Way.  But where is the logic in this? 

While I firmly believe there are procedures that need to be in place for immigration, and security is absolutely essential for this country, I also believe that immigration should be viewed as a gift from God.  People from around the world are literally giving up everything they have to be welcomed here.  We, as Americans, are in an incredible position to do that welcoming. God is, quite literally, bringing the nations to us.  How much easier could obeying the commands of the Great Commission be? But instead of accepting the Muslim’s attire and culture, meeting them where they are, seeking to serve them, and loving them with the truth of the Gospel, our instinct is to reject them until they can create of themself a cookie cutter version of an American.

Please comment/email/knock on my front door if I’m wrong, but I have never heard of a time in history when human hatred has been the leading source to exposing the love of the God. It really is so simple. However, I understand it’s more simply said than done when nationalism takes it’s grip. But I encourage you, American, to take a step back from the fervent red, white, and blue you feel pulsing through your veins, and gaze at the greater picture the Creator of the Universe has been painting since the beginning of time.  We are blessed to play a role in His story–a story of love, grace, and redemption.  We are blessed to live in an amazing place where we are free to share that story.  Don’t let these blessings go to waste. 

Instead of frowning at the foreign speakers in the mall, see if they speak any English and take interest in their stories.  Sharing stories is the beginning of relationship building and a relationship is an incredibly advantageous platform for Kingdom building.

Instead of demanding foreign men and women dress according to the American standard, seek to learn about their culture and why they dress as they do.  In doing this, you will be far more equipped with understanding of their backgrounds when sharing of the freedom that can be gained through a life in Christ.

Instead of even seeing someone as a “foreigner”, pray for eyes to see them as another soul.  With this perspective, the Lord will break your heart for their salvation.  Love will become your motivator and your sustainer.

Serve your God, serve your country, and serve those God brings to your country. 

To The Christian Not Going to Camp or on a Mission Trip This Summer

The three months of summer that we’ve all been anxiously awaiting have either arrived or are coming very shortly (prayers for you if you’re still in school).  As young Christians, it seems there are two defaults for summer–serving as a camp counselor or serving on a mission trip.  Both are incredible opportunities and experiences, but when neither of these are in the plans for the summer, some tend to doubt whether their summer will be meaningful and impactful.  For the Christian seeking a summer of spiritual growth, it can be natural to get caught up in the mindset that the summer will be wasted potential.

As someone who has had both mission trip and camp counselor summers, and is spending this summer doing neither of the two, I want to encourage you in your perspective and approach to the next few months.  I want to exhort that the summer will not be void of incredible growth and difference-making if you don’t allow it to be.  

Whether you’re spending your summer taking classes, interning, working, or staying at home, there are huge opportunities for you to be impacted and to make an impact.  You’ve heard it countless times: wherever you are is your mission field. Rather than numbly reading over those words, take them to heart.   Don’t lose sight of the fact that the Lord has purposely planned where you will spend your summer. He knows each and every person you will come in contact with, He knows their needs, and He has particularly placed you to be His hands and feet shall He move you to tend to these needs.  

If you’re spending the summer taking classes on campus, there are countless ways to grow through service and discipleship.

Reach out to international students who will surely be on campus.  Ask them to study or go to lunch with you and seek to have Gospel-centered conversations.  Through one student, you can reach a nation you may have never had to opportunity to physically visit.  I’m always amazed when I think about how God has literally brought the nations to my campus–making Matthew 28:19-20 significantly easier to accomplish–and how often I miss this opportunity. My challenge for you and for myself is to not let this opportunity be wasted this summer.

Get involved in your local church that you attend throughout the school year.  Serve on the VBS volunteer team or in other ministries that you may not have had the opportunity to serve in during the fall and spring semesters.  Being rooted in the local church is essential to spiritual growth and discipleship as God designed it, so use this summer to develop or deepen these roots.

Seek to befriend your classmates and be intentional with forming these new relationships. Summer classes can be a great time to encounter people you may have never come into contact with otherwise, so take advantage of this setting.  Most importantly, be available and willing to be a light for Christ in any darkness you may encounter in these new friendships. 

Use any extra time you have over the next few months to intentionally and devotedly pray over your campus.  While walking the campus is not necessary, it can be a great way to facilitate focused prayer over the various locations and bodies of students on campus.  Pray for those who are there this summer and those who will be arriving in the fall.  Pray for hearts to be stirred toward the affections of Jesus and pray for His name to grow increasingly known amidst the student and faculty body.

If you’re spending the summer working a job or internship, you have a unique opportunity to be on mission within your workplace.

Be committed to building relationships with coworkers.  It’s easy to clock in and out without having any more than surface level, passing conversations throughout the day, but make an effort to go deeper.  Form friendships that can be taken outside of the workplace.  Take time to truly care about the people around you and what is taking place in their lives outside of work. God had surrounded you with the coworkers you have for a unique reason, so seek that.  Ask Him for His guidance and wisdom in discerning your specific purpose in the setting in which you’ve been placed.

If you are interning in a field that you will later be in full-time, use this summer as a time to develop missional focus through your career.  All areas of study and practice can be used for the good of the Kingdom, so use your internship as a time to ask God for His vision in your field.  If you’re in engineering, maybe this looks like engineering water systems or labor equipment for developing countries and communities. In you’re in fashion design, maybe this looks like organizing a fashion show fundraiser that provides prom dresses/tuxes to high school girls and boys that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.  Regardless of the field you work in, there is good that you can do for the community, creating encounters to share the Gospel that may have never been created otherwise. 

If you are spending the summer at home, resist the natural tendency to resort to laziness or routine.

Use this time to reunite with friends from high school, or make friends with people whom you weren’t friends with before.  Step outside of your comfortable circle of peers and get to know new people and their stories.  Sharing stories with people coming from different walks of life will alter and expand your perspectives, increase your wisdom, and allow God to create in you new compassions.

While more simply said than done, use this summer to serve your siblings and parents.  After a week it may be hard, but use these days at home to deepen these forever relationships and be a help around the house.

And lastly, just as I encourage students staying on campus to do, get involved with serving your home church.  VBS songs are good for the soul and no matter how old you are, vanilla wafers never get old.

Regardless of where you are and where you will be, be encouraged that while your summer may not be being spent lassoing kids into a cabin, dressing up in crazy outfits and performing a skit, building houses in an impoverished community, or flying to the other side of the world to evangelize, God will be glorified and you will be stretched, grown, and refined in ways you can’t even foresee.  

Use these next three months to discipline yourself to dig deeper in Scripture daily.  Challenge yourself to read new books, expanding your horizon of knowledge and viewpoints. (C.S. Lewis is always a good start–shameless plug from his biggest fan.)  Take every opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, for if in these steps you keep your focus on the Lord, there is where you will be grown and your faith will be taken deeper.  Stay busy, but seek rest.  Go to bed tired, but with a renewed soul.

Find peace and encouragement in the truth that God’s omnipresence means the impact that He wants to make through you is not dependent on your setting, but on your reliance on and obedience to Him.  

So get pumped for this summer and anxiously await all the excitement God will create out of the mundane if you just allow Him.

Where Is The Lord In The Stress of Finals?

It’s that time of the semester again. Finals week is readily approaching.  We’re caught between the stress of what’s in store for the next couple of weeks and the excitement for the utter relief we will experience when it’s all over and we’re headed to wherever summer (or Christmas Break–depending on when this is being read) is taking us.  We’re so close, but our to-do list makes us feel so far away. 

With the stress of end-of-semester culminating, the Lord has, once again, shaken me with His perspective. 

Our society in general, but specifically college and high school campuses, has romanticized exhaustion.  We’ve elevated it as a status achieved by the most-involved, elite students.  Whether we’ve realized it or not, we question what someone’s doing wrong when they have time for eight hours of sleep at night–they’re not studying enough, they’re not involved in enough extra-curricular activities, they don’t have a social life. 

We view our campus as a competition between students.  Who can do the most? Who can get the best grades? We’ve started viewing our classmates as competitors rather than peers seeking to achieve the same goal. 

“What’s up?”

“Exhausted. Stressed. Ready for summer.”

This is likely a conversation that has taken place in your life recently. Our passing conversations have become a time to glorify our exhaustion.  Our stress level has become a default topic of discussion. 

We’ve taken our eyes off of God and focused them on ourselves.

Where is the Lord in our stress, busyness, and exhaustion?  While we may be relying on Him for strength, are we really seeking His will? Is everything we’re doing for Him?

Our Lord is a God who desires rest for His children.  So much so that He devoted an entire day of the Sabbath for resting in His presence. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

God does not romanticize exhaustion.  In fact, He tells us that it comes when we are relying on ourselves and not His Spirit.  In His presence, we are at peace, our souls are renewed, and we are able to be still and rest. 

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:5)

If we are to come to God and find rest in Him, shouldn’t this transcend into our attitude towards school as well?  Shouldn’t we be at rest with our studies, our honor societies, our clubs, our ministry activities?  Shouldn’t we be allowing the peace of God that transcends all understanding to permeate all areas of our life?

Growing up, there have been teachers who have encouraged us to do our best and make something of ourselves. While well-intentioned, this encouragement has fostered us to view education as a personal achievement and a means to better ourselves and our futures.  We get caught up in doing our best and achieving the next great thing and take for granted the blessing that education is.  We are focused on life after graduation and lose sight of the fact that our education is not for us, but for the Lord.  Don’t get me wrong, your degree is important, but it is merely a means through which the Lord will use you do work for His Kingdom. 

The actual content we learn in the classroom is not what’s going to shake the world with His Gospel, but the way we approach our career is.  No level of understanding of molecular equations, 18th century European history, or financial trends will break the chains of sin off the world, but sharing the truths of the Bible in your workplace will.

So be thankful for the gracious gift of education that you have been given.  Do your best and never take it for granted.  But never lose sight of the greater picture into which you’re being woven–a picture of a depraved world thirsting for the love of Jesus.  Look at your time on your campus not as a Hunger Games for the highest GPA or most impressive resume, but as a unique opportunity to love and serve.  Look at it as a time to develop your strength of character and commitment. Look at it as a time to dig more deeply into who you are in Christ, and let who He is in you pour out onto those around you. 

Don’t let the end of the semester go by in a blur of to-do lists and all-nighters.  Please don’t miss the opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a friend or stranger, love someone well, or share the life-changing news of the Gospel. 

Remember that your education is not ultimately for you

Remember to seek rest in the Lord in all facets of your life.

Remember that your worth is not found in your level of exhaustion, but in who you are as His child. 

I’m Telling God I Trust Him, But Am I Really Telling Him To Trust Me?

Since I first encountered Christ, I’ve been entranced by His power. I’ve experienced the power of His miracles. I believe in the power of His miracles. I believe God is sovereign over the big things and the little things in my life.

But regarding the idea of trusting God, He’s revealed a lot to me lately.  As I’ve been earnestly seeking His guidance in prayer, I’ve heard a whisper.  “Are you really trusting me?” 

Instinctively, I tell God, “Yes, I’ve always trusted You and I always will.” But when I take a minute to think about where I truly place my trust, I realize I often deceive myself into thinking I’m trusting in the Lord, when I’m actually telling the Lord to trust me.  

When situations in life come that cause us hurt, we tell ourselves that we trust God to heal our pain.  But are we really trusting that the passing of time will eventually cause us to forget the hurt and move on?

When we’re caught up in the uncertainty of our future and how we’re possibly going to attain the goals we’ve set for ourselves, is our “trusting in God” actually us trusting that God will guide our steps towards the future we’ve dreamed about?

In declaring our trust in God over a broken family or relationship, are we trusting that God will restore the relationship, or are we trusting that even if He doesn’t, it will be greater for His good and the good of the Kingdom?

For someone who never stops dreaming of the future and greatly values a thorough plan, trusting in uncertainty is one of my greatest struggles.  I trust God’s ability to perform miracles. I trust His ability to heal the greatest of pains and restore the deepest of brokenness.  But so often I find myself presenting the Lord with a series of miracles I wish for Him to perform.  I find myself painting a picture of what I perceive as a beautiful future, and asking for His guidance in making it a reality.  

I present rough drafts of my story for my life and ask God to edit them.  I present Him with all that I desire, and ask Him to make some improvements.  I ask for His guidance, but in the back of my mind, I feel like I still know what’s best for me.  I have my story written, after all.

But when God interjects in my life and makes me question all that I’ve perceived as ideal, I realize what it truly means to trust Him.

When the Lord tells us to trust Him with all our heart, He tells us to trust Him with every next step in every day.  He tells us to abandon what we perceive as best for us, and trust that as we live surrendered to Him daily, He will lead us to what is for our good and His.  He tells us to live out of belief that He can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

To trust God is to be at peace with uncertainty.  It is to find hope in not knowing what our future holds, but knowing that as long as we are seeking His will, all things will work together for our good.

To trust God is more easily done in theory than in execution, but I find hope in the fact that His gracious gift of the Spirit has the power to transform my heart to a state of surrender and trust.  Without reliance on the Spirit, my attempts to trust in the Lord with all my heart will always default to me leaning on my own understanding.  Only by His supernatural work in my heart will I ever be able to truly put my faith in His plan for my life.

Sometimes it takes God’s whisper for me to be reminded of what I’ve always known in my mind but have struggled to grasp in my heart.  Sometimes God has to bring me to a place of utter uncertainty for me to understand how deceived I’ve been in thinking I’ve been trusting Him.  Sometimes He brings me to a place of doubt to wake me up to the power of His Spirit, drawing me in to rely on Him for every next word and action.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If you’re like me, you’ve probably grown numb to the power of this verse, as you’ve seen it on graduation cards, journal covers, Instagram bios, and wall canvases. But I encourage you to read it with a new perspective.

Stop trusting yourself for the plans of your future. Stop relying on your own perspectives and understandings to make sense of your present. Instead, ask your Creator for His wisdom, and submit to the situations He presents you.

Instead of presenting the Author of Life your proposed story, submit to His, which is far greater than you could ever imagine.  

When The Fruits of the Spirit Become The Fruits of Myself

Our society lives with the mentality of “what you see is what you get”.

I see people with seemingly perfect families, people who are confident in their major and career plans, people with ever-growing and close-knit friend circles and I assume they have it all together.  On the other side, I utter “they’re slipping” or “they’re falling apart” when I see signs of mess in other’s lives.

Then, I let this translate into how I view others’ spiritual lives. I see those who are serving, investing in others, consistently attending church, and doing all the right “Christian things” as spiritually strong.  I rarely think of these people as taunted by unbelief, struggling to feel close to God, or spiritually exhausted.

This tendency then translates into my perception of my own spirituality. When everything is going well in my life and I feel like I have it all together, I lose sight of the state of my heart and am blinded by my self-dependency. It’s not until the Lord shakes the ground beneath my feet that the spiritual darkness in my life is revealed.

So often, we think of spiritual darkness as accompanied by poor choices and rebellion. Rather, spiritual darkness comes when we forget our soul’s need for a Savior.  It comes when we wake up and become our own strength for the day.  It comes when we look to ourselves for discernment rather than the Word of the Lord who knows all.  It comes when we lose sight of our dire need for constant renewal in God’s peace and presence.

I substitute conversations with God with conversations about Him.  I substitute being filled with the abundance of God’s love with people who love Him.  I substitute resting in His presence and spending time listening to His guidance with engaging in ministry and doing more to serve.

These are all good things. These are all great things. We should be surrounding ourselves with people and activities who point us to the Lord.  But if we are only being pointed and not pursuing, we are not obeying His commands.  

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)

Above all, we are to remain. I get caught up in my call to serve, and go, and invest, and simply lose sight of my dire need to be still–my dire need to remain.  He doesn’t command us to bear fruit; only the Holy Spirit can do that.  No matter how pure and good our intentions are, no act of servitude or goodness can substitute the closeness to the Lord that comes from abiding in Him. 

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

In this Psalm, David points out what is key to understanding the goodness of the Lord.  “Your goodness and love will follow me.” God’s nearness does not make me good, but His goodness always goes with me because He is always with me. 

I’ve been saved by His grace, and my heart has been made new, but the newness and good fruits in my life are only the work of the Spirit constantly dwelling in my heart. When I turn from the reliance on the Spirit, I leave these fruits behind.  The only way for me to radiate the light of the Spirit in my life is to pursue it in my heart.

When we subconsciously tell ourselves that we can achieve goodness, and do goodness on our own, we essentially say that we can be the very nature of God without the presence of God.  But our self-produced fruit does not rid of us darkness.

“Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” (Ephesians 5:11-14)

All that is brought, and only what is brought, into the presence of the Lord is illuminated to become a light.

So, wake up, sleeper.  Rise from the dead of your self-produced fruit.  Rise from the dead of your spiritual darkness masked by good works.  Rise from the dead of depending on your own strength.  Find strength in your weakness.  Find strength in your daily void that can only be filled by the Lord’s presence.  Find strength in your desperate need for a Savior of your soul.

Find strength in Christ, and Christ will shine on you.

In The Surrender

This morning at 3 am, on my way home for Spring Break, I found myself on a spontaneous detour to the beach to visit friends.  I finished my fourth cup of coffee and turned up my “staying awake playlist” even louder as I continued driving along the dark, winding roads towards the beach house where my friends awaited. I saw occasional palm trees lining the road and took note of some unique looking restaurants that were lit up along the drive, but for the most part, I was focused on the lines painted on the road directly ahead of me.

I arrived at the house, enjoyed a quick visit, and after watching the sunrise on the beach, left to continue my drive home.  As I retraced the drive I had driven just a few hours prior, I was taken aback by what was before me.  The road that I was driving on was paved along the edge of a gorgeous coastline–a vast display of beautifully blue ocean waters.  Just three hours earlier I had been driving on this exact road, my surroundings completely unknown to me.  In this moment of admiring the beauty that was so perfectly painted around me, I couldn’t help but realize how often this is the method by which I go about my days.

How often do we go through our life in the dark, focused on the lines ahead of us as we determinedly press onward to our pre-programmed destination? How often do we miss the beauty that God has given us to walk in because we are too caught up in the to-do list that we have sworn to complete? How often do we become so entangled in our goals and visions that we forget to ask God to reveal His to us?

In the midst of our monotony, we close our eyes to the unpredictable and dynamic picture that is being painted around us.

In the midst of our trials, we are blind to the glorious victories being woven together beneath the surface of our days.

In the midst of our one-track pursuits, we miss the paths of blessing and opportunity that are being paved around our every direction.

We are called to continuously seek Him, yet we continuously seek what is immediately ahead of us.  Our command is so simple yet so often disregarded.

What if we were to pray for eyes opened to the beauty being unveiled around us?  What if, in our trials, we looked immediately to the Creator of all that is good? What if we surrendered our monotony to a pursuit of unpredictability and adventure–the pursuit of Jesus Himself?  What if we stopped paving the roads ahead of us and asked for wisdom of the One who sees our future as a memory?

In the surrender, I foresee an unveiling of a beauty far greater than we could ever imagine for our own lives.

In the surrender, I foresee a perfect story full of trials, triumphs, and ultimate glory for the Author who penned each page.

In the surrender, I foresee a sunrise over oceans once masked in darkness.

It all starts with the surrender.

There’s Something Really Wrong With Our New Year’s Resolutions

‘Tis the season for dreaming of all the goals I have for the next year and reflecting on all those of this year that sadly didn’t make it past February.  As an elite list-maker, this year has proven to be no different for me in the New Year’s Resolution Department. Here I have found myself again with a pen and my journal, planning out my list of resolutions.  I tell myself that this will be the year–that I will sit back on December 31, 2016 and beam with pride at the fact that all my goals have been met.  You might find yourself in a similar situation if you haven’t done away with the idea of resolutions yet.  The outline of all New Years Resolutions seems to be nearly the same:

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise more
  • Eat healthier
  • Get organized
  • Save money
  • Read more books

There’s a common thread through all of these–ourselves. Self-improvement has become so encouraged and celebrated that we don’t even think twice before striving for such goals.  Sure, we would all do well to improve our diets and exercise plans, spend a little more time reading, and tidy up our surroundings.  But what if these weren’t our default areas of improvement?

What if we looked ahead to the coming year and, instead, dreamed of all that we could do for others? No, I’m not turning an innocent topic of New Year’s resolutions into a “world peace, love ur friends, xoxo” speech. But what would the effect be if, on January 1st, everyone woke up with not only the intention of heading to the gym, but the intention of sharing love with someone at that gym?

What if the common thread of our resolutions was not self-improvement, but pouring out all the love that God has lavished on us? How many hearts would be turned to Christ that might not have if our primary pursuit was a six pack?

Don’t get me wrong–I believe you can have both. I believe living wholly for God’s Kingdom and glory naturally leads to a better version of yourself, because as you live this way, you’re becoming more like Him.  I don’t believe God would want you to throw away your health and organization goals, but I confidently believe He wouldn’t want them to be before or separate from seeking Him.

So, yes, hit the gym if that’s your thing. Organize your desk drawers and vow to clean the kitchen floor weekly.  But also strive to love your friends better, your parents, your kids, your coworkers, your boss. Strive to be Jesus to the person who’s ignored.  Strive to see God’s beauty daily (you’ll be amazed when you just pray for your eyes to be opened to it). Strive to pray without ceasing instead of letting worry ever enter your situation. Strive to live not out of fear, but out of the freedom that Christ paid for with His LIFE. Strive to go where you’ve never gone before because you’re finally surrendering to God’s leading voice.

What a year this will be if these are our resolutions. What greatness will occur when God’s powerful love lives through us.