the honest place

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I guess a blog is supposed to serve as an honest place, a place to breathe out words that matter to you. But if I’m honest, it’s been a struggle to come back here.

I’m impatient with the words.

I’m tired of the masks tied onto each one.

I’m fighting voices in my head, words with swords and knives.

But I cannot surrender to the silence. I find myself here, shadows around me as I trip over letters and spaces just hoping to find that honest place again.

There are longer spaces in between each sentence.

There are pauses in between words.

I am searching and sacrificing words just to scrap the bottom of the place that pulses true.

If I find it, I know there will be gold. I know there will be something worth saying.

And I know it will matter somehow.

bigger than me.

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When I was nine years old, I had a consistent and consuming dream of owning a horse. And while this is common fixation among most little girls, I spared no imagination or time focused on making this come true. I can vividly remember researching exactly how many acres of land a horse needed and what kind of fencing and food and training would be necessary. I pestered my dad constantly, “When can we get a horse? What else do we need? Why can’t we do that right now?” Probably out of exhaustion, he told me one day that we still didn’t have a fence so we couldn’t even consider bringing a horse home until we had that finished.

This did not discourage me.

I woke up early the next morning and strutted to the barn gathering any spare piece of lumber I could find (or carry) and I began building my horse fence. A herd of rabbits could have easily knocked down my final project, but I didn’t care. I was on my way to completing the mission of my heart. I can still remember my dad’s face when he saw it there, crooked and leaning against the side of the barn (it could not stand up on it’s own), but he smiled … and a couple of weeks later we started building a proper horse fence.

Looking back, there is something about a child’s dream that astounds me:

It has no limits.

Children have no idea of the hurdles and roadblocks and impossibility of what they are asking sometimes, but they dream away. It makes me wonder if this is what Jesus referred to when he said, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15 ESV)

They believe in Jesus and in a kingdom without limits or exceptions or impossibilities.

This is the nature of faith. It believes some big stuff that absolutely can come true, despite the wills and wishes of men, because of God.

When I met Jesus, I traded some silly earthly dreams for some bigger kingdom dreams. These dreams keep me up at night. They tug hard on my soul. They make me stare at this computer screen pushing the words out and then chopping up every word because maybe it can be said better. They push me out of my comfort zone. They make me expose more than I wanted. They follow me on the drive home from work. They find me in the middle of the grocery store. They press harder and harder into my skin until it feels just like my own pulse.

Because I cannot go where I do not see the great divide between broken hearts and a Love that heals. I see her in the back of the room, choking down another lie and I want to give her truth. I see the bare bones she tries to hide and I want to feed her something that heals. I see the fake smile that betrays her heart and I want to send her to the green pastures and the still waters, where He restores souls. I see the weary, heavy darkness under her skin and I want to introduce her to the Light of the world, warm and safe and satisfying. I hear her endless words and shallow stories and deep disappointment — and I just want to interrupt her with good news.

Yes, there is a great and wide divide here. But a bridge has been laid down, costly for sure, so that she can reach the other side.

And the dream to see the distance removed between these broken hearts and a Steadfast Love is bigger than me. It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever dreamed. And all I’ve got is a couple of leftover boards and some nails, but I’m building and looking at a smiling Father whose kingdom is one without limits, full of crazy dreamers.

the color of being found

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The paint mixing machine hummed a low tune.

As I waited for my paint, I leaned against the counter in Walmart, busy scrolling through the rest of my grocery list. However, the tired face helping me seemed to find an interest in talking while he worked. I lifted my eyes after his second attempt at conversation, and we ended up chatting about hometowns and growing up. He told me about a street in Michigan that forked into a house with welcoming front steps. Thoughtful as the color blue, he smiled and nodded at his tale and remembered the friends he made on that broken street.

However, something unseen disturbed him. The forehead that was fighting for his hairline wrinkled into many furrows; his eyes heavier than rain clouds. He muttered something under his breath and then decided to say it out loud:

Why do people have to change? How do we forget someone we loved?

His words stunned the pastels around us. I struggled with my throat, knowing such a raw pain might not want comments. He spilled a sad story about a broken friendship, a misunderstanding, a silence that was cutting him deeper and deeper with every hour that passed. I held on to my shopping cart tightly; my words lost among his gray place as his honesty fell down hard on the linoleum.

Somehow a strangers presence was all he needed to hear his pain spoken out loud.

. . . . . .

Why do we excuse the power of being seen? Our lives are sprayed with struggle and pain like the random colors across his tee shirt and we just want someone to notice us; to see the colors wild or free; colors deep or shallow. We are Hagar in the wilderness with dust soaking our tears, running from pain before it stains our soul completely, running away from the inside out.

How startled we are to hear a voice calling behind us. To realize someone is running after us.

I love the story of the runaway soul in Genesis 16. She is broken, angry, afraid, confused … and carrying within her the seed of someone else’s choice. But “the Lord found her…” in her wilderness of body and soul. She could not outrun Him. And neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, could separate her from this ferocious, pursuing love of God. And she named this God, “You are a God who sees.”

You may feel overlooked, forgotten, or invisible. But you are seen, child. You are seen.

. . . . . .

He put the gallons of semi-gloss in my cart and shrugged an apology for spilling more than paint. “Please don’t apologize. Sometimes just getting it out of our chest feels better, huh?” He nodded in agreement. I turned my cart around to leave, but looked back, “I am very sorry about your pain. We all struggle with feeling forgotten and invisible. But I’m glad to know that Jesus never takes His eyes or His love off of us. He sees you. Maybe He is just waiting for you to look back at Him…

His face washed with light, a smile that said, “Thank you.”

3 Lies About Bible Study

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Let’s be honest, it’s a big book.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s got a cute cover or readable font or devotional snippets splattered across the pages — the Bible can seem quite intimidating. Research shows that 9 out of 10 people own a copy of God’s Word (and get this, those same people own an average of 4.4 copies of the book), but around 10% of those people admit to reading it daily.

I’m not writing this to cause guilt. I’m writing this to inspire questions about this reality. Is it because people feel that the Bible is irrelevant? Confusing?  Unnecessary? Too overwhelming for the average individual to tackle on their own?

For such a large group of people to actually own a copy of the Bible but remain completely unconcerned about it’s contents should cause us to ask some serious questions. I know there are spiritual factors at play here, such as Satan “blinding the minds” (2 Corinthians 4:4) to prevent people from seeing and savoring Scripture. But how do we engage in the battle for people’s hearts, knowing that God alone can spark the soul to crave holy words, yet set our lives in such a way as to break down the barriers between people and the dusty Bible lost under their bed?

I think it can start with revealing some lies we believe about studying the Bible. I have both believed and witnessed some of these lies below. My hope is that by untangling some of these common misunderstandings about Bible Study we will be encouraged to open Scripture with less intimidation and appropriate expectations.

  1. Bible Study should be easy.

Have you ever opened your Bible to some random spot in the middle and stumbled into frustration when it didn’t make sense? Perhaps you were preparing for a huge test at school or recovering from a painful relationship or cleaning out from under your bed and discovered your Bible and thought, “Hmm. I wonder if God has anything to say to me?” and in just a few lines it feels like God is being way too complicated.

If someone discovered any other piece of literature under their bed, we would laugh if they got frustrated by jumping to some random part of the text and complaining that they didn’t understand what’s going on. But somehow we expect the Bible to instantly make sense like some article on Facebook. The Bible has a flow of thought, a purpose, a timeline, and a context that is important to understand before we start making conclusions (or getting frustrated) about what God is saying. Understanding that framework takes time and effort, something we might be unwilling to give.

The word “study” means “to apply oneself, to examine or investigate carefully and in detail.” It’s not easy sometimes. It takes effort, time, and devotion to begin mining the treasures found in these pages. But it’s completely worth it. Trust me on that fact.

Bible study doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s not effortless.*

  1. The Bible is all about me.

We might not think we believe this, but our frustration and disinterest in Scripture may prove us wrong. The Bible is not about us, it’s about God. Once we learn who  He is, we will understand who we are. But the goal of Bible Study isn’t to learn more about us . . . it’s about encountering Jesus. Approaching Scripture looking for/at Jesus will radically change the way you interact with the Bible, plus it will bless your socks off. We need to shift our expectation of Scripture from “who am I and how does this help me?” to “who is Jesus and how should I respond to Him?”

We confuse ourselves with the Main Character of the story. If the Bible is all about me, then Jesus was just some pawn used solely for my benefit. It becomes all about MY good, MY kingdom, MY pleasure, MY authority. And that is a terrible, destructive mentality. I am well acquainted with my own corruption and I need salvation to come from something other than myself. I need rescue and hope and peace and protection and authority. So I come to the Bible looking for Jesus — because in Him I find the treasures of life and meaning and future. (check out John 5:39-40)

  1. The Bible should make me feel better.

This is kind of a spin-off of the last point, but I think it deserves to be spelled out. But first some disclaimers:
Has the Bible ever made me feel better? Most definitely.
Is my emotional well-being why the Bible was written and should I come to it with this expectation? No.

Again, it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And sometimes what Scripture reveals does not make me “feel better”! I see my sin, I see a heart obsessed with pride, pleasure, and position, I see a God that brings judgement and hope to sinners like me, I see that I am not in control, I see that His kingdom (not my kingdom) will advance. The Bible isn’t full of “happy-go-lucky” feelings like some Pinterest board.

But it’s truth. And it’s sturdy. And I can lean on it with all that I am.

I think we expect Scripture to be a sweet little text message from God with all the appropriate emojis and warm wishes so we can go on with our merry little way knowing God’s got our back and everything will work out just the way we want. What a fragile, selfish world we would live in if that were the case. God’s message is much wider, deeper, fuller, more costly, and beautiful than any self-focused message we would wish for. Let your heart be exposed when you approach Scripture. Let Him speak for Himself. Confess your emotional frailty and your desire to control your life. Admit you need peace. Admit you need hope. And then open the pages and look for Jesus. Watch who He comforts, who He reaches for, how He loves.

Then ultimately you will lose yourself in His character, His plan, His mission . . . and find peace that surpasses understanding.

Scripture always surprises me. It always gives abundantly more than I expected.

The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference. — Tim Keller

**I recommend a simple (not effortless) type of Bible Study called “inductive Bible study.” Check this out.

Why God actually WILL give you more than you can handle.

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I’ll be honest, this blog post has been banging around in my heart for several years now like a caged animal. I never felt ready to turn it loose because I wanted to iron it out in my own mind while facing some fierce winds and high seas. I also wanted to make sure that my squabbles weren’t with a simple misspoken phrase instead of what I now believe it is, a sloppy theology.

As the title suggests, my issues are with this “Christianease” phrase that is carelessly spoken over illnesses, bad days, stressful situations, and hard places – times when the heart is ripe for solid truth and instead we feed it sour milk:

“God will not give you more than you can handle.”

This idea deeply concerns me for several reasons. First, because it’s a lie.

I passed by a friend whose life is tattered by some pretty intense trials. As I quickly caught an update and we whispered a prayer in the hallway, she squeezed my hand and tossed this little comfort over her shoulder as she left, “Good thing God said He would never give us more than we can handle…”

We parted, but that last sentence wouldn’t part from me. I couldn’t swallow it down. The phrase is empty of truth and seems to honestly misrepresent God.

I mean, what kind of God would speak this to a mother who recently had her two year old son stripped away in a tragic accident and will never hold him in her arms again? Or the husband and father of four whose loses his bride to cancer? What about the sisters and brothers who watch siblings shatter their lives with drugs and alcohol or the friend who gets a call that this time the suicide attempt worked?

What kind of comfort does the idea that “God thinks I can handle this” give to those who are bleeding and shattered and gutted by pain?

I can assure you, it gives none.

As I try to understand why the church has so carelessly embraced this idea, I wonder if it all of this started out of a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 10:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

This is describing temptation — not trials. Now, I understand that temptations and trials often flirt with one another. Many “trials” present the temptation to grumble against God; to sink into frustration; to become irritated at everyone around us, to question “why, God?” in the middle of a stressful week. But God offers us a way of escape within every temptation. Though “my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Secondly, the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle promotes independence and not dependence on God.

Below are actual responses I’ve witnessed after being offered the “God won’t give you more than you can handle” statement:

  • Gosh, I must be stronger than I thought!
  • God surely must have a lot of confidence in me.
  • Well then, I must be Superwoman!

God doesn’t send trials to prove that we are capable.

God sends trials to wreck our self-confidence so that we can fall recklessly upon His grace for each and every breath we take.

Listen to Paul, slowly:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength [much more than they could handle!] that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV)

Paul is gut-honest when it comes to trials. He admits it was much more than they could handle; their strength was gone. But he pulls back the curtains of heaven and helps us hear the kind whispers from our Father:

“Set your hope on Me. I will not fail you. This was sent [granted, even! (Philippians 1:29)] to break the confidence you have in yourself, in your surroundings, in your wealth, in your health, in your position, in your will-power, in your desire to succeed. You must fall on Me alone. I will sustain you by My Word, My strength, My position, My comfort, My steadfast love. You are weak, but I can be proven strong within you.”

This is the only Rock that cannot be shattered and always restores the shattered.

When the waves crash and the trials burn, we stand not on the idea that God will not give us more than we can handle, but that God will show Himself strong through whatever weakness He finds in us; He is our only hope in hopeless situations; He is producing imperishable beauty within us; He will hold us and care for us through it all.

“tired of tents” [what to do when you are tired of transitions]

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There is nothing I hate more than being lost.

This was actually one of the main reasons I didn’t want to learn to drive at 17 years old because I was terrified I would make a wrong turn and loose my way home. I don’t know why this fear plagued me so intensely, but it was huge. I always followed maps or detailed verbal directions because I didn’t want to find myself in the unfamiliar, the unknown, or the wrong place.

It’s funny how faith challenges those fears in me too.

I was reading through Hebrews 11 the other morning and was confronted with the types of places that faith takes us. Here are a few samples:

  • By faith Noah … constructed an ark. [this was crazy, remember?] (Hebrews 11:7)
  • By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out … And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
  • By faith Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24-25)
  • By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:27)

Faith calls us to unfamiliar places. It requires us to surrender the feeble “control” we once had over our lives and follow Jesus anywhere with everything.

Faith also promises a life of transition this side of heaven. Yes, we all know that our final eternal home is in heaven, but we get frustrated when life won’t give us anything but transition after transition and we want to settle down for good. To follow Jesus means giving our lives over to Him for the purpose of conforming into His image. This process is at the heart of every trial, every transition, every call toward the unknown.

But sometimes — we forget that. And as we forget, we begin to resist. The unfamiliar begins to wear on us. The excitement we once felt gets stale and bitter. Our lives look nothing like we thought they would. We just want to be settled and unpacked and at rest. And we want to go back to familiar … to what we used to know … to being in control and or just being comfortable.

Surprisingly, we are not alone in these regrets. God tells us about another group of people who grew tired of the wilderness of faith and wanted back into the bondage of “comfortable”: the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 1, we find Moses recounting their story and exposing their unbelief. He reminds them of the promised land, sayingIt is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

But they’ve stopped believing that.

“Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. (Deuteronomy 1:26-27 ESV)

Those might seem like harsh words, but this the root of every rebellion and complaint:

  • “God must hate me.”
  • “He wants to destroy me.”
  • “God will not keep His word.”

The Israelites lived in tents during their stay in the wilderness and it’s true that we also live in tents (1 Corinthians 5). I don’t know about you, but I would not like living in a tent for any lengthy period of time. But God is up front about what life on earth will be — temporary. It’s easy to forget that God promises everything we need right here in the transition. And Moses reminded them too:

The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. (Deuteronomy 1:30-33 ESV)

Sometimes it may feel like “this way” is wrong or too hard or devoid of His goodness. But it’s not. He goes before you. He fights for you. He carries you all the way.

Our faith pleases Jesus. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) And I confess that the moments my faith is weak and my frustration climbs in when I’ve stopped wanting to please Jesus and only please myself. If you need faith, come with me to the Word that confirms that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the words of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Walking with Jesus is not always comfortable, although He offers Himself as our comfort. It is not always familiar, but He becomes closer than family. And it doesn’t always feel like we are in the right place, but He gives us the Right Person to walk us through each season, each transition, each step closer to home.

when a “good girl” meets the gospel.

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I couldn’t understand why the last words of this story made my heart uneasy.

This woman publicly known as a sinner slips into the same room with Jesus at a dinner party and begins to wash his feet with her costly ointment and her hair, weeping. The other guests shoot glares and make judgments not about the woman [for her reputation outruns her] but about the character of Jesus. For if he only knew who was touching him, he would not let his reputation be stained by such filth.

Jesus slices through their judgement by asking this question, “Who would love more? He [or she] who is forgiven less or forgiven more?” And while they presented the obvious answer, their hearts were numb to the reality. Jesus turns to the woman and says,

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47 ESV)

Those last words caused my heart to squirm a little.

You see, I was raised to be a “good girl.” I grew up in a family that claimed Christianity; we went to church, read our Bibles, didn’t use profanity, dressed modestly, held Bible studies, avoided any secular movies or music. As long as I can remember, I have tried my best to obey my parents and earn their favor by staying within the lines of Christianity. I never participated in the “common sins” that people gossiped about; never slept around, did drugs, rebel, or use foul language. I often had mothers come up to me and sigh, “Oh, I wish my daughter was just like you. You are such a good girl.”

And then stories like this in the Bible would prick my heart and keep me up at night, pondering.

For me the gospel always went down smoothly, but I usually left the table still feeling hungry. I struggled with secret shame, I fought depression, I questioned God’s love, and I was exhausted trying to make myself and others believe that I was good enough.

I watched this woman collapse at Jesus’ feet who “loved much” only because she understood the great distance between her heart’s filthiness and His gleaming holiness. That’s where we differed, I discovered. I was convinced that somehow I could measure up to God’s perfection — that somehow my goodness would reach His. And even when I did stumble and the shame and guilt came to choke me, I only needed to compare myself to someone else for reassurance that I was still a “better girl” than they were. But the anxiety and pressure always remained.

You see, I had swallowed a carefully crafted lie that when presented the gospel says, “Well, there isn’t that much to forgive.

I would have never said that out loud, but I believed it. And maybe you have too.

It robs us, sisters.

When we believe this lie, His love becomes a shallow puddle and not the mighty deep ocean that it is.

That’s the crooked power of sin: it blinds us. We see ourselves not as we really are, but as our hearts convince us. 

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2 ESV)

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

The truth is: there are no good girls. And let me tell you why that is GOOD NEWS:

There is a Good God who redeems and washes sinners.

Every “good deed” I’ve done is a stench compared to the Holy One who never acts from an evil heart. Sin is never just skin-deep. It is a sickness of the heart that pollutes everything I say, do, and believe. My motives for praise, power, and pleasure destroy any “goodness” you may see on the outside and reveal a heart obsessed with itself. There is a war within me, a battle that rages on daily.

Yet when I see myself as I really am, my heart becomes ripe for the gospel and desperate for good news. And that’s exactly what happened when I began to step closer to Jesus and open His Word … the mirror unfogged and I could see not only the ugliness of my heart but the vast richness of His love.

The gospel became a banquet that I could feast on daily, always leaving my soul full and thankful and overwhelmed.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3 ESV)

The gospel always insults “good girls” but only to set us free.

Trust me, I know — I was blind but now I see.