WE'RE ALL JUST LOOKING FOR THE REAL THING

I don't talk about it often in the public arena, but a few years ago I had a major breakup with the church and the Christian machine. It wasn't as if there was one incident that led me to feel betrayed by the Body of Christ- but rather a litany of tiny beliefs, circumstances, and actions that began to push me away. I was rather confused at incongruences with what I saw JESUS DO versus what I saw the Church do. Eventually, the confusion led to bitterness, and the bitterness turned to both resentment and anger. 

I don't think that I'm alone in this. It seems that every person I speak to is going through a transformation of the faith and, in some instances, leaving it. They're not just leaving their churches. They're also leaving God. They're not just putting off the label of being a Christian; they're also denying Christ. Of course, it's not always that extreme. Rather, the people who find themselves frustrated, confused, and angry often demonstrate their feelings in other ways. Most often with passivity, avoidance, and apathy. Churches have begun to wonder why they feel dead, and I think that at times -- this has something to do with it. 

When congregants are wounded, the Body is wounded. And when we deny healing to those parts, we limit the capacity of the Kingdom

For those that have been hurt by the Church, the wound goes deep. For me, at least -- because I had taken great pride in the community I had chosen and the pastor I followed and the people I bound myself too, I didn't realize that my identity had become them. I had wrapped my belief and my motivation tightly around the organization and the system. And so, when the evidence compounded against them with no explanation or change, both my purpose and my identity fell apart at the seams. I don't think we realize we're doing it. It's unintentional. But eventually, if we aren't careful - we began to idealize the house and the people who lead it. Tragically, we allow our idealization to become that which directs our thoughts of God and His character. 

Now, on the other side -- I think what really breaks my heart is seeing how we, both Believers and the rest of the world included, allow the imperfect Body to be the final word on how we see the perfect God and Christ. We seem to think that an untrue Christian has the power to make God's word less true. Crazy, isn't it? 

Maybe I'm just speaking for myself here, but I think what we all really want, is the real thing. We're tired of disparity and disunity, and we're tired of walking pharisees living out less than holy intentions. We're tired of fake people pretending to have it all together. And, we're tired for the call to be vulnerable when the supposed safe landing place is daggered with judgement and consequence, not understanding and grace. Let me clarify something here -- the real thing doesn't mean that we'll always agree. Or, that there isn't sin that needs to be called out. However, it means that we give time and space and relationship to those things that are confusing, that don't make sense, and that seem to not line up. It means having hard conversations with each other and being comfortable with not having all the answers. 

I'll tell you this - while I'm not against movements and hashtags and unifying under specific and real problems,these are not the banners we should be living for. Not as believers, anyways. The real thing is believing that it's not the body of people that can fix what's broken - but the head that leads it. The church you are going to, the pastor who heads it, the small group you attend, the protest you march in, or the denomination that you're certain has it right - these aren't the real thing. The real thing is Jesus. I know that we want to believe that the world we're living in isn't that simple. And yes, there are times (so many times) where we have the mandate to speak up for the marginalized and the broken and the weary. After all, this is our call as believers (because if Christ did it, then so should we). However, the problem that comes from these well-intended organizations and movements is that again, they become us. We begin to lead people to us, to our cause, to our church, and to our beliefs - instead of leading them to Christ. 

We become so distracted by ourselves. We want our voices heard and our stories known. We want other people's voices heard and their stories known. We think that this is how people get saved. And, I guess I wonder if we're out to save others for themselves, or for God? And I wonder if we've realize we've turned people into their own personal saviors, instead of pointing them to the Savior? 

As long as we make it more about us, and less about God -- WE JUST AREN'T GOING TO GET ANYWHERE.  Instead of unity, we'll become more and more disintegrated. Instead of healing, we'll see ourselves become more broken and fractured. We cannot fix ourselves. Only God can.

I guess I'm just saying, maybe it is this simple: spending less time focusing on what we each have to say for ourselves and more time on what God actually demonstrated to us about Himself. This is where the healing is. And this is where the Kingdom doesn't just expand and flourish, but the Body of Christ becomes whole. 

In the meantime, here's what we can do. We can point to the cross and to Christ incessantly. We can look less at what makes us different, and declare over and over again what makes us the same. We can inspire revival under the banner of a God who saved us from ourselves. We can see the Body of Christ as an extension of God, but not make it responsible for what we ultimately believe about Him. We can advocate for those who don't have a voice not by lending them ours, but by lending them God's. We can find our identity in being God's, not being _______. Finally, we can show people what they are looking for. We can show them the real thing. We can show them a Savior who is working in us, through us, and for us. A Savior who supersedes all others in authenticity and vulnerability. A Savior who is perfect regardless of what others say or do. And, a Savior who doesn't need looking for because He's already come looking for us. 

IT'S TIME TO LET GO

I don’t fly much. But, I’ve learned that when I do - what I bring, and how much, makes all the difference. At least in my opinion, the less baggage the better. Right? I believe the same is true when traveling from one year to the next. Less is absolutely, and always, better. 

Sometimes, our baggage is tangible; often circumstantial. Perhaps we left a job, ended a friendship, or suffered through a long illness. There's just no way around it, life is unpredictable and some seasons are just plain hard. Other times, our baggage is spiritual. Our struggles live deep in the heart. We're paralyzed by insecurities or distraught over disappointment. The pendulum can swing wide here; there's just so much we can carry. In both cases though, we practically carry this baggage with us wherever we go. And without realizing it, we're impacted. Our shoulders slump. Our arms ache. We walk differently than we normally do. We become restricted by unnecessary and unhealthy perspectives or beliefs that profoundly disturb the way we live out our daily lives. 

Baggage comes in all shapes and sizes but, truth is, we all have it. For both our sakes though, I'm going to stick myself out on a limb and declare that with Jesus, maybe we don't have to. Maybe instead of poking around and unpacking what we've been carrying, we can do something radical instead -we can let go. 

Because confession is synonymous with acknowledgment, and you can't let go of what you haven't first admitted is already there - I'm going to go first. Here are the three things that I'm letting go of in 2018, to never be seen or carried again. In Jesus Name. 

1. EXPECTATIONS. It's not about avoiding disappointment. It's about realizing that I am actually not God. Go figure. No one needs to live up to my ideal of them, and no one ever will. My perspective will always fall short of what's best for me, and for others. And, where many people regard expectations as a means of overextending a hope, or a dream -I've found that they're more like blinders. In the pursuit of an ideal, from anyone or anything - we lose sight of what is God's best.

In the Kingdom, we can operate out of a place of expectancy instead. It's here that we trust God's work in ourselves, in others, through others, and entwined in each and every circumstance that we may face. Expectancy is different because it's believing that God has our best in mind. It's about not looking at what the world should or could provide, but rather about what God will provide. Expectancy is keeping our eyes open for Him in every aspect, fully believing that He will show up for us and that, while we may not be aware of it -- He is absolutely doing the same for every other person, too. 

2. A VICTIM MINDSET. "I can't. I didn't. I have no choice. I am not in control." All of these, in one way or another, I've thought or said out loud or believed. It's hard to even admit - but where seasons of life have become difficult it's been most comfortable to lay down and die. Have you ever heard that phrase before? It means to give up hope, to quit, and to have no ambition. How many times after long-suffering through a habit we want to kick, a harsh environment we want to leave, or a tough relationship we just don't understand we have just said, "I can't do this anymore; I won't?" Instead of making a move towards something better, something greater -- we just allow whatever it is to consume us. 

I'm learning that this is what separates those who experience real change in their lives from those who don't. We all fall, we'll all stumble - but what makes us or breaks us if we're willing to get back up again. Then, we have to define what sort of mindset we will allow to define us; the fall and the failure or the victory of Christ? When we choose Christ, we get to live from victory not victimhood. That's how we break free. 

3. MY PERSONAL AGENDA. What if we woke up every day with the sole goal of tackling what was on God's agenda, instead of ours? What if we literally asked Him what he wanted us to do that day? What if I said He cares just as much about the little tasks as the big dreams? It's both thrilling and a bit intimidating, right? It also requires us to relinquish a lot of control and more significantly, our self-focus. However, this is where I see the Lord doing the most work; in the surrendered. If I give Him my career, He'll take it and expand it. If I give Him my dreams, He'll make them more than I ever thought possible and exactly what I need. If I give Him my errands, He'll show up at the grocery store and in the drive-thru line.

For God, it's not about control. It's about the possibilities that come to fruition when we bring the Kingdom with us. When we allow Him access into our lives 24/7, we're doing more than just changing ourselves. We're changing the world. 

In the last several years, God's been persistent in teaching me the same lesson; with different words and through various events. I don't know that it will ever change. But, these three things only serve to prove what His grandest plan has been for my life all along; and it's this: to live is Christ, and to die is gain. And if all I have to surrender is all that has only has served to imprison me, than so be it. 

Come at me 2018, cause my hands are free. 


IN THE WORD

2 Peter 3:8-9 | Romans 8:28 | Deuteronomy 20:4 | 1 Corinthians 15:57 | 2 Timothy 1:7 | Proverbs 3:5 | John 15:1-7

JESUS CLEANS UP THIS HOT MESS

When I first entered into motherhood, I was determined to not succumb to any of the more well-known stereotypes. I refused to be a "scary mommy," a "mama bear," and even the typical "hot mess." I went into motherhood bright-eyed and naive, ready to smother my children with kisses and our daily endeavors with an "WE CAN DO ALL THINGS" optimism. And for the first year or so, I actually felt like I was thriving. Trophy Wife?! What about Trophy Mom? My son was sleeping at night. I was making homemade pureed food. I was working part-time and was successfully organized. I got dressed everyday and did my hair and put eyeliner on. I was kicking butt. 

Then, my son turned two. We had another baby. I quit my career. And suddenly, I didn't feel like I was doing such a good job anymore. In fact, the word "failure" began to root itself in my subconscious; fighting to take any optimism I had left and destroy it. Suddenly, being a hot mess was my reality and very quickly became my identity. 

We do this with a lot of labels, don't we? We call ourselves a lot of different things; like victim, loser, crazy, not good enough, too emotional, worthless, unimportant, unseen, and even still; sinner. And, while we don't want to be known by these names; we seem to accept them more readily than we ought.  

As my friend Brandi Lea shares often when she speaks - we all have stacks of evidence that validate these labels, these ideas that we have about ourselves. They just don't come out of nowhere. There's a reason for why we think these things to be true. Most of the time, anyways. However, there comes a point where we all have to eventually make a choice. We either spend all our time sorting through this evidence - searching for validation and attempting to understand the why OR we choose to walk away from it.  

We have to learn that there's a big difference between recognizing our circumstances and the labels that come from them, and LIVING IN THEM. 

Consider the woman at the well- a New Testament hot mess if I ever saw one. Her circumstances and her actions had come to define her. So much so, that she lived life in the margins; drawing water from the well when no others would be near. And yet, Jesus decided to meet her there; in the margins and in the wreckage of her heart. She was so stunned by His presence and His request for water that she asked Him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" I imagine that what she could have been thinking was, "How can this man ask ME - not just a samaritan woman guilty of sexual immorality but a woman who is unclean, worthless, passed over time and time again AND a hot mess - for a drink of water?!" Remember, the women at the well was fully aware of who she was. She wasn't in denial of her circumstances, she had just allowed them to become her life sentence. 

But, Jesus sat down anyways. He asked for a drink anyways. And, He does that with us too. 

He sees us in the wreckage - the spilled milk and dirty laundry. He sees us with our messy buns, worn-out leggings, and no make-up faces. He sees us - tired, overwhelmed, and unsure. Whether in the thick of motherhood or in the chaos of chasing after dreams, or in the cubicle of our 9 to 5 job - He sees our messes and He enters in. Sometimes, the wreckage has little to do with what is going on around us and a whole lot more to do with our hearts. Maybe we're full of doubt, insecurities, or jealousy. Maybe our greed has consumed us, or bitterness and jealousy has darkened our perspectives. Maybe we are addicted, depressed, or just plain angry. But one thing is for sure, we know that we're in desperate need of rescuing.

He's not in the business of denying the pain that we're in, He's just out to help us find a better way. Jesus doesn't just sit down with us and listen to us complain about the difficulties of our lives. He leads us into transformation. He not only gives us a way out, but He gives us a new name. 

The thing we seem to miss in the recounting of the woman at the well is that Jesus gets STRAIGHT to the point. He's not messing around. He says to the woman, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." I don't know about you, but Jesus's words here tell me that if we really knew the gift of God, we'd be diving head first into the living water of our salvation rather than living eagerly in our mess and our sin.

What I find interesting is that Jesus then asks the woman to fetch her husband. That's when she confesses that she doesn't have one. Jesus knew. They both knew of her past - of the five husbands she had had. And, they both knew of her present - the man who she was not in holy matrimony with, but sleeping with nonetheless. Did Jesus ask her that to make her feel ashamed? I don't think so. I think Jesus wanted to point to her sin to remind her of her desperation. 

Granted, she didn't want to talk about it. And, just when she started to get uncomfortable she changed the subject. She's like most of us, I think. No one wants to be called out. No one wants to be told that they've normalized their sin. No one wants someone to come up to them and say, "Actually, there's a better way." This is how we get out of our mess, though. It's not enough for us to see it through our own eyes - we can easily just rationalize and excuse and deny. I've found that what really brings about life change is when someone else can see it too; when we filter our sin through God's eyes.

What's really cool about this interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well is that he turns the conversation on it's head. Instead of focusing too long on who the woman was, He tells her WHO HE IS. After the woman declared that they would know all the answers when the Messiah came, Jesus interjects with, "“I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” 

He's the gift. He's the rescuer. He transforms us. 

Jesus shows us that while we might be living in sin, or simply surviving, or just trying to get through another bad day - He'll always step in. We're never too outside the margins for Him. But, He won't leave us there. He'll use those messes we've made and the ones others made for us, for His glory.; to point us right back to Him. Nothing goes untouched, nothing goes unredeemed. Nothing goes unseen. And then? He'll declare His goodness in our lives- past, present, and future. We will experience the the fullness of Christ rather than the emptiness of our day. 

The woman at the well is proof, like so many others- that Jesus cleans up this hot mess. 

IN THE WORD

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” || John 4:1-26