Becoming A Walter

Payton_6:26_becoming a walter One of the most thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter is an ordinary man living an ordinary life, yet has big dreams of adventure and bravery. But Walter is far from brave. He’s timid, reserved, keeps to himself. The day finally comes when Walter has to decide if he’s ready to stop making excuses and just go. Though somewhat reluctant at first, he tosses his fears to the wind and turns his imaginative dreams into stunning realities, realizing what an extraordinary life he had been missing all along.

Imagine what the world would be like if we stopped making excuses. What if we stopped using the word impossible?

It amazes me to see all the incredibly talented, creative, ambitious people in this world. God has filled the earth with beautiful humans who have beautiful dreams. We all have our niches and knacks, plans and goals, and this is no accident! We were created to glorify our Father with our lives, and He has work for each of us to do. Whatever gifts or passions He’s given us, He has a specific calling for us to bring honor to His name. He lights a fire in our souls to pursue those passions and chase those dreams.

But sometimes we run the other way. Lately I have noticed a trend of young people, especially, who desire so desperately to follow Christ, yet resist His calling and instead linger in indecision and doubt, often losing great opportunities to be on mission for Christ. We say things like, I just don’t know what the Lord wants me to do, and end up waiting or settling on something less, when we could be taking part of His grand design for our lives. So why do we hold back? What is stopping us?

We turn doubts into excuses.

We are often our own worst enemy. Playing the devil’s advocate, we can talk ourselves out of anything. Our minds play with doubts, and we allow those doubts to trap us in stagnation. We’ll even give them “godly” labels. I need to pray about it more. I’m waiting for God to give me the green light. Do these sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard them come out of your own mouth. Of course we should pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom, but we can’t use those as spiritual cushions to sit back and do nothing. We seek, we pray, but then it’s time to get up and go in faith. Just the fact that you have these talents and dreams in the first place is proof enough that God wants you to use them!

“God hasn’t opened the door.”

The open door/closed door philosophy runs rampant throughout the church. We assume if a situation is difficult or holds some obstacles, God has “closed the door” and we should walk away. But God has not called us to an easy, comfortable life, so our dreams won’t always be easy or comfortable either. He calls us to be challenged, to go above and beyond, to overcome. The dreams He gives us will reflect that. Sometimes He allows us to be challenged to see how far we will go to follow Him. Will we give up if it’s too hard? Or will we keep pressing forward in faith? So if a dream looks tough or even impossible, it probably is! For the sake of His glory and our good, God gives us wild, impossible ambitions that can only be accomplished through Him. It’s up to us. Will we face the difficulties with boldness and show the world what our God can do? Or will we walk away in defeat?

We are paralyzed by fear.

Fear comes in many shapes and sizes; fear of man, fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of expectations. They can cripple us if we let them. However, God does not want us to live in fear, but in freedom! We serve a lionhearted God who fills us with His courage and sets us free from the bondage of fear. Our love and obedience to Him must outweigh our fears, or else we will be too distracted by outside influences to be successfully on mission for Jesus. Fears are tempting, but we don’t have to give in to them. In Christ, we are confident and secure and brave.

Friends, if you’ve been hesitant about chasing the dreams God’s placed in your heart, I want to encourage you to embrace the bravery of Christ and go! It’s time to stop making excuses. It’s time to become a Walter Mitty. God calls us to an adventurous life of following Him wherever He leads, trusting deep in our great God and glorifying Him with everything we do. There is no room or need for doubt and fear. Jump off the fence and turn your what ifs into right nows. Start that business, go on that trip, get involved in that ministry, talk to that stranger, begin writing that book. Breathe faith into the dreams God has given you and stand in awe of what He will do.

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The Worship of Work

Annah_6:22_worship of work

Ugh, work. Disliking work is universal to the human experience. Most people hit their alarm button in the morning and wish for a day off. A lot of us end up plodding through each day, living for the weekend.

Ask anybody on the street “So why do you have a job?” and the answer will probably be along the lines of “Because I have to.” Even those of us in good jobs are still working them to provide for ourselves, for our families, to pay for the house and the car and the groceries and the college debts. It’s a matter of survival, not joy.

But there has to be more to what we spend most of our lives doing, right?

The Bible’s answer is a clear yes. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” So here at the beginning of time, we find a working God who fashions humans to work, and builds a world meant to run on work. In His perfect design, work was a glorious, productive thing. Even our hobbies and creative passions that we enjoy so much are a callback to this: they’re all a form of work.

John Piper writes, “God has infused the act of work with meaning and divine significance, enjoining upon humans an obligation to engage in work even as God works.”

So how does God work? Looking at the Bible, I think there are two kinds of labor we see God doing.

  1. He brings order, making beauty and harmony out of chaos and dysfunction.

Everyone’s pretty familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says everything in the universe is on a constant slide towards disorder and chaos. This is sin’s effect on creation, written into the physical laws of our world, and it’s absolutely contrary to God’s design. The kingdom of God is a direct reversal—a wonderful contradiction—of this  law. It’s a kingdom of restoration from dysfunction, of harmony from chaos, of beauty from brokenness. Even most of Jesus’ miracles when He was on earth reflect this reversal. They’re restorative: healing sickness, calming storms, opening blind eyes, reversing death.

  1. He creates something that wasn’t there before.

This is pretty self-explanatory; we ourselves are evidence that God is a Creator. However, it’s interesting to note that some of Jesus’ other miracles are creative: turning water into wine, multiplying bread and fish by the thousands, shaping a coin inside a fish’s mouth.

Bringing things into order or creating new things. This is God’s work. And every human task on the planet falls into those two categories. Every single one.

We can’t create out of nothing, like He can, but we can create out of His creation, whether it’s building a magnificent skyscraper, writing a novel, or just baking a cake. We can’t do the grand-scale restoration that Jesus will do throughout creation when He returns to wipe out sin, but we can set the broken bones, mop the dirty floors, regulate someone’s taxes, or fix clogged plumbing.

So when you work, you become the living mirror-image of God. You’re a direct echo, on a smaller scale, of what the all-powerful Creator of the universe has been doing since the beginning of time.

Romans 12:1 says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

If when you work, you are patterning your actions after His with your body and mind, then you’re worshiping.  Rick Warren puts it another way, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.”

So it’s our radical obedience to God that makes everything we do an act of worship—and radical obedience to Him might not always translate into radical action. Most of the time, it won’t.

After all, we still live in a fallen world where as God told Adam, work comes “with painful toil.” It’s futile and mundane. But once we understand what work is, what it someday will be, then everything changes. The dirty dishes, the endless diapers, the mountain of paperwork become both a beautiful song of praise to our God and a lived-out expression of what we were born for. We bring order and we create. When you think about that, how even the most tedious jobs are a tiny, finite snapshot of His nature, it’s humbling. God’s very being and purpose is on display through His work, and He allows us to participate in that for His glory. Does that make you feel energized and ready to go tackle the jobs He’s entrusted to you?

One of my favorite books is Hinds’ Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It’s a lovely allegory about a crippled woman named Much-Afraid, who sets out on a long journey following the Shepherd to the High Places, His radiant kingdom on the mountaintops.

As she works her way towards the peaks, Much-Afraid often builds little altars where she lays down small pieces of her sin-nature: her pride, her selfishness, her fear, her impatience. There’s nothing epic about these places or the sacrifices she makes. Just one quiet moment after another where she learns to surrender again to her Lord. And every time she builds an altar, she picks up a small, ordinary rock to remind her of her choice. By the time she gets to the mountains, there’s a little bag full of these stones hanging around her neck.

When Much-Afraid finally reaches her High Places, the Shepherd meets her on a mountain summit. He puts out His hands and asks for her altar-bag. “But Shepherd,” she stammers, “they’re just stones.” He insists, however. So she turns the bag upside down, expecting her rough pebbles. Instead, shining jewels in every color come tumbling out.

The Shepherd smiles, takes the jewels in His hands and shapes a circlet. And then He crowns Much-Afraid with the tiny, insignificant rocks of her faithfulness and His glory.

We can find holiness and beauty in every task we are called to, because by their very nature, those tasks are already holy and beautiful.  For Christians, work is an action of surrender, of slowly becoming more like Him. Our work is our worship, lived out at one small altar after another.

And in the hands of our God, who brings order, who creates from nothing, our little mundane work-stones become something precious.

 

 

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Threaded Together

Cori_06:19:16_threaded together Perspectives always fascinate me. The idea that many people can view an occurrence in many differing ways, factual or not, seems simple and obvious. But I think it’s a gift that we’ve been given the ability to make opinions about ourselves and the world around us. I’d say its actually healthy that disagreements happen in order to come to a greater understanding of ourselves, the world, and each other. Like all gifts, our opinions and ability to choose our perception of the world can get misused.

It is no secret that this year has been a difficult one for our country, and the world at large. Tides are changing politically, socially, and culturally everywhere we look. And faster and in greater shifts than they ever have before. It is easy to pay attention to the pain and hurt in the world and believe this is the direction the world is headed: down a dark and irredeemable path. But if we take a look back, we know that darkness has been in the world since the beginning. This is obvious. The world has been subject to disasters everyday, natural and human since the beginning of time. Just because it seems like these horrible things are shoved in our faces every time we look up, doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.

Bringing back that hope doesn’t start with a Facebook video, or even a blog article. It starts with setting down our tasks and our self-focus and remembering that we are here to learn from each other. It doesn’t happen with a social media campaign. This will only happen naturally.

Maybe I have too much hope in humanity, but I believe that we really aren’t all that different from each other. Drawing social lines has been huge recently while people seek to define themselves by their race, sexuality, religion, and other constructs. I believe that it all stems from a desire to be known. To be understood and find a place somewhere. So if we were able to put down our expectations and definitions of others, would we be able to see someone we recognize? Would we recognize a child of God? And would we see that in the grand scheme of things, our definitions of one another don’t really matter if we can’t see that we are alike?

In a world where darkness lives (but does not rule), we cannot deny the power of unity. People have been divided against each other more now than ever. And this may have many causes: the freedom to express yourself on social media anywhere at any time, the ephemeral nature of said communication, and our ever increasingly busy lives. We simply have lost our people focus. Things move so fast now that we hardly get time to process and give thought to our feelings before we’re approached with the next thing demanding our attention. If we could remember that not every issue needs our attention and opinion, we could remember that behind each person asking their sexuality to be validated, each crime, each abortion, each act of terrorism, are people who want to be known and misunderstand themselves and the world around them. It is not up to us to decide if they deserve to be heard. It is our duty as fellow people to listen and understand them. It is a duty that is nearly impossible if our scope remains focused on the day to day.

The other day I was thinking on all the factions into which our country have split recently, and wondering if we will eventually become so divided that we see our desperate need for each other, get over our opinions and realize that we exist to support one another, not combat with ourselves. I think we can get there. Historically speaking, its happened before. It’s a matter of when.

Even before the Cross, there was a plan weaving itself together to ultimately culminate in the redemption the Cross would bring. And we know that God didn’t just clear our sins that day. He wanted to bring family back together, especially when it seemed impossible. So what is our response to a world that seems to be getting darker quicker? Perspective.

We’ve all got an idea of the way the world should be, but it is easy to feel hopeless about making a change. I wish people could see that what they say and do matters beyond what they think. I wish that instead of being content to sit out, people could realize the huge amount of wisdom and talents they have to offer and live that out. I wish people would stop trying to define themselves and think about what defines us as people. Maybe then we’d get back to some simplicity.

I do not know about the future of our nation, our world. I do not know where it going, and I do not know what God’s plan is to relieve the tension that is ever growing, but I do know it has to do with a lot of love. And I do know what I can offer: prayer, and that same love.

 

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How to Hear God’s Voice

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If you clicked on this article, I’m guessing that hearing God’s voice hasn’t been the clearest facet of Christianity to understand. In the Bible, we see men like Moses and Abraham hear God so audibly- or so we assume. Moses goes to a burning bush, Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Both situations are seemingly ridiculous unless the men were certain it was God talking to them.

Which they were.

I’m not. I’m almost never certain that I’m actually hearing God. When I think I’m hearing Him, its not clear enough to follow without doubt. I’ve heard Him give crazy directions. I’ve followed them, and they ended up being true. BUT I’ve followed others, and I was completely wrong. I’ve been wrong in hearing Him, and at times, I’ve gotten extremely flustered with the idea of hearing God. Wasn’t hearing God supposed to be restful? Without burden? It felt the opposite.

I wish I could give a step by step guide on hearing God. I’ve looked for those, but I’ve realized that they didn’t exactly work for me. I seemed to hear God a lot differently than others. I got jealous of my friend who heard from God so vividly. I got jealous of the people who would get “words of knowledge” for people… or people that didn’t get anxious at the idea of being asked, “Well, what did God tell you about it?”

The truth is: no step-by-step guide worked for me because I am not the same as anyone else.

I hate that its taken me so many jealousy-infused years to realize this. I may not hear God’s voice in the same way that my friends do, but that doesn’t make the way I hear it worse.

Maybe God talks differently to us all because most parents talk to their unique children differently. My mom, for example, knows my sister’s personality enough not to talk to her in the exact way she talks to me. My sister is unique, and is encouraged in daughtership differently than I am.

Why would it not be the same with God? Sure, there are some things God would never say. He doesn’t lie, He is good, He loves us. But, in terms of how He talks to us, I believe He knows us all well enough not to talk to us the exact same way.

In Romans 12:4-5, Paul says,
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. refers to all people as making up the body of Christ.” I love that Jesus never expected us to have the same gifts.

So, while we all want to know exactly how to hear God, I would dare to say we already do. The verse in the Bible that says ‘sheep hear the Father’s voice’ was always daunting to me. I thought if I wasn’t hearing everyday, I must not be God’s sheep. But rather I know God says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Being a daughter of God is about accepting His gift and sacrifice and putting our belief in Him, so how could there also be a qualifier like hearing His voice in a certain way? It would be convenient if something like that could prove that we believe because we like proof. We like to know we are safe. But the crazy thing is that Jesus said that even some who prophesied in His name would be strangers to Him. (Matthew 7:22-23)

So, I suggest that instead of understanding hearing God’s voice as proof to our status as sheep, we let our status as sheep (that comes from belief) encourage us that we already hear God’s voice. Perhaps if we can do that, we can start embracing our God-given uniqueness…and become more confident in our own way of hearing God. This could be through something audible, or through the beauty of the breeze. God knows what you need and He knows how to encourage you in sonship and daughtership.

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Life In The Dirt

Annah_5:25_life in the dirt

Over the last few days, you might have been following the headlines about EgyptAir flight 804. A few days ago, when the death toll first came out, I read that it was 66 passengers and crew lost on a plane built to carry 170. A wave of relief washed over me, that the plane wasn’t full to capacity.

And then I felt sick. 66 lives gone in a second, and I’m happy there weren’t more? What kind of twisted mentality is that?

We live on a horrifically dysfunctional earth. It’s a world where tiny children fight cancer, where schoolgirls are kidnapped into sexual slavery, where people die of hunger when a bowl of rice that costs 2 cents could save them, where elderly folks are left lonely and filthy in nursing-home beds.

It hurts and it’s overwhelming.  So we avoid it, try to rationalize it (only 66 lives), stuff it down, or grieve briefly and then hurry on because if we actually stop and realize the weight of all the suffering, we’ll crumble. I get this, really. I have a panic disorder that can flare up with too much pain and stress. When your body reacts to heavy, fearful things by shutting down, you tend to run from those things.

But self-preservation isn’t a virtue found anywhere in the Bible. As Christians, we are called to more.

So what does the Bible say about how we engage with a torn-apart world?

I want to look at two episodes from the New Testament: the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), and the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead (John 11). Both stories show Jesus coming in direct contact with this world’s brokenness. They’re a little different: the woman’s brokenness is the consequence of her choice, while Lazarus’ death is brokenness from living in a fallen world. But both are the results, direct and indirect, of sin.

In John 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple when there’s a sudden commotion. A group of Pharisees and religious teachers—a mob, really—enter the courtyard, dragging a woman they’ve caught committing adultery. They shove her in front of Jesus and demand, “Teacher, in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

The woman shrinks into herself, clutching her torn clothes, ugly guilt written all over her face. And Jesus says nothing. He bends down, into the dirt, and writes with His finger.

“Tell us!” the Pharisees insist. But Jesus keeps writing. The only One in that entire rabble of accusers who has any real right to judge her, and He’s silent.

Finally, He straightens up and looking each man in the eyes, says “Any one of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The arrogant, challenging crowd goes silent. Shoulders droop, feet start to shuffle. One by one the men slink away, their hypocrisy exposed by Jesus’ mercy, until the woman is left alone before Jesus.

“Woman,” He asks, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she stammers in shock and relief.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” He says gently. “Go and sin no more.” He rescues her from her sin and then commands that sin, the death in her soul, to STOP. And she stands straight, able to breathe again for the first time since the mob found her, and walks away into new life.

The set-up in John 11 is simple: Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, has died suddenly. Jesus takes his disciples to Bethany and when they arrive, Mary runs out to fall at His feet. Sobbing, she cries out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Two things stick out to me, reading this account. Jesus already knows what the end of the story is. He’s fully aware that he’s going to put life back in Lazarus’s body, that in about five minutes the tears will turn to laughter. The pain and despair are so, so temporary and He knows that. But He looks at Mary’s anguish, kneeling before Him in the dirt, at Martha’s tears back in the crowd, and He weeps. He cries, simply because they’re hurting.

The second thing is that John says Jesus, seeing the sisters’ pain, was “deeply moved”. The Greek word used here, embrimaomai, literally means “snort like a horse”. The expression is the most emotionally intense found in the New Testament. Jesus isn’t mildly ticked that Lazarus is dead. He’s furious. Picture His eyes blazing through the tears, teeth grinding, strong hands clenched into fists. Better than anyone else, the Creator of life knows how fundamentally wrong it is that death even exists, that it has power here, and He will not tolerate that power.

Jesus walks up to Lazarus’ tomb, fixes His angry gaze on the door and commands death to STOP. “Lazarus, come out!” he shouts loud. And somewhere in that tomb, Lazarus’ dead heart starts beating. His lungs suddenly expand and he takes his second first breath. Out he walks, in his grave clothes, to the sunshine.

There’s a pattern developing here of Jesus being relentlessly present in pain. He wades into the world’s dirt again and again, despite the cost. He shields hurting people from condemnation while not tolerating their sin. He extends mercy, calls out hypocrisy. He weeps for the hurt and gets ferociously angry at the wrongness of it all. He is emotionally available to the full suffering of this world He’s come to save.

Love like this is hard. It triggers anxiety and exhaustion and heartbreak. It led our God to torture and execution on a piece of wood.

“Pick up your cross and follow Me” isn’t just an explanation of what the world might do to us for following Him. It’s a command that we will love the world to the point of ultimate sacrifice, like He did. Are we ready for that? Are we ready to walk into the broken places, to weep and protect and offer mercy and be furious?

One of the Grafted team’s favorite phrases is “not too young to move mountains.” I want to encourage and even challenge all of us, that moving mountains begins by moving one pebble at a time. It’s not that we’ll necessarily find ourselves raising a friend from the dead. Some of the miracles Jesus did may very well be a preview of a restored Earth, not a blueprint for our daily lives. For us, it might start with one bowl of rice, one mosquito net, one soiled bedpan, one brick of a house, one hour spent in prayer allowing ourselves to hurt for the things that God hurts about.

Every day the world breaks a little more, whether we open ourselves up to it or not. When a prostitute looks around and says “help me”, who steps forward saying “I will”? When children’s tummies bloat from malnutrition, who shows up with electrolytes and protein? When refugees are running and hiding and drowning because there’s no safe place, who opens their homes without fear? When the spiritual death in our neighbors’ and friends’ souls is slowly killing them, who gets on their knees and goes to battle?

There’s a lot of amazing believers out there who already do this. But couldn’t it be all of us? What if it could be said of every one of us that to find a Christian, you should look in the places too awful, too dirty, for anyone else to go?

We are ambassadors of the hope that the world was never meant to be broken, and that someday it will be whole again.

We have that hope because when Jesus comes into the picture, condemned women and dead men rise up, from circles of judgement and underground tombs. And then He turns and walks further into the dirt, towards you and me.

“Come out,” He says, Life standing surrounded by Death.

We just have to follow.

 

 

 

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