Living Sacrifices

It’s the 4th of July here in the States. A time when we celebrate our independence from that monarchy and reign of the British so long ago. I joked it was the original Brexit on a couple of social media platforms because IT WAS. We often take this time in America to show our respect for the Founding Fathers of our quite young nation (look at other countries y’all, we’re pretty green behind the ears still) and honor those who have sacrificed for our country through battles and wars.

We are very sentimental that way as Americans, remembering the sacrifices of others to give us the independence we exercise through tubing on the lake, shooting off fireworks until the neighbors call the cops, and playing Florida Georgia Line at top volume. We like that word sacrifice alot around this time of year, what with Memorial Day and 4th of July, and the regal nature in which we honor those that ultimately sacrificed their lives so that we can not be under a reign of a monarchy or dictatorship.

But I don’t think we like that word being applied to our lives, or what we are asked to do. It’s good for others, but no so much ourselves. Believe me when I say I wrestle with this just as much. Because sacrifice means something has to be given up, it has to be surrendered…or even killed. So I look at Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 12 and start to see the bigger tension evolving.

“That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

See we are living…breathing…acting…doing…and yet, we are to be sacrificing ourselves for God, to Him, because that is the reasonable response to the God who saves, redeems, loves and sacrificed Himself for us. It means to me I have to kill off myself in every moment, give myself over not to my whims, desires and emotions, but the Spirit within me. Not choosing this world (as Paul continues on telling us) to live into but transformed by Him in every single part of us. It is the surrender of ourselves for the sake of something better-the very best we could ever encounter, God Himself.

So when I want to dwell in this place of sacrifice and seeing how others have given of themselves I cannot help but look at the sacrifice of Christ and the daily act as this living being of sacrificing myself unto Him, His reign, His rule and His will. Not for some selfish pursuit or half-hearted liberty I can conjure up but for the ultimate liberty in Christ.  Not to pursue my own life, but one sacrificed fully for the very best thing…Christ.

Oh that I wish it were as easy as I like to deceive myself that it is. But sacrificing myself and all that selfish desire, ambition and emotion is hard. The person that says it’s easy is lying, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean I give in and lean back into a self-pursued life. It means going hard into transforming my mind, knowing my strength is not my own, but Christ’s in every. single. moment. if I but ask, seek with my heart. Y’all, this Christian life of sacrificial living isn’t easy but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to surrender my attitude, my mouth, my mind, my weakness…every single bit of me even the parts I really don’t want to give up, to know I am serving God in faith.

So where might you need to live as a sacrifice today? What area has God been hammering in on you that needs to be killed off in order to be set apart?

Over All,Even the Small

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It’s hard to fathom an “over all” ruler sometimes, especially in America where we cling desperately and aggressively to our democratic ways. We are the rulers of our choices. We are entitled to the rights and privileges, we get to vote for goodness sakes! We get a say in it all!

Believe me, I’m not advocating for a dictatorship in any way, but it’s funny how it shapes how we view so many things.

This week I have been especially drawn to the sovereign nature of things, of life, of Christ specifically. For me I see His sovereign nature as this big nebulous, orchestrating large movements and shifts in cultures and peoples. As I have dug deeper in study I am seeing that “over all” means over all. It means the big and the small, the minute detail and the largest scope of life.

Often we get it, but we don’t believe it in our daily life. We see the sovereign God of all at this 3,000 foot level where He’s reigning and weighing in on the big stuff-creation, judgement, salvation, redemption. But He’s also very present in His sovereignty in the small that I see as my life. He heals miraculously both in my broken heart and the terminal illness of another.

I often discount His character in my life, His presence of the nature that He can never not be. All of God’s character is present all of the time in the big, and my small. For He is Lord of all, meaning that decision I am making and the circumstances of my life. I see Him in the long game, but He’s in the short game as well with me.

It means He is sovereign, Lord of all, in the now of life. In this moment. In this thing. In a diagnosis. In a heart break. In an interview. In a birth. In a death. In my writing. In your hobby.

He is over it all. All.

Maybe I’m alone in realizing this, that He cares and reigns in my smallness. That is matters to Him, being over all in my small.

“In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and of Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God will bring this about in His own time. He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings,and the Lord of lords…” 1 Timothy 6:13-15 (HCSB, emphasis mine)

So I look at Paul’s words now as he’s encouraging Timothy in the small of the work before him, to pursue righteousness and fight the good fight of faith. And I see these words below. The giving of life, the keeping of His commands…because He is Sovereign. He’s the God of BIG and small. In the fight and the rest. In salvation of all, and redemption of me. In each and every moment of my perceived smallness. Because He is a BIG God, He’s also the God of all..even in the small.

“that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:17 (NKJV)

Being complete is something every human being wants. To be made whole. Finished. We get the line from Jerry Maguire, “You complete me,” and we swoon. We look to stuff, people, jobs, food and experiences to complete us.

They do for a time. But much like that sugar high, there inevitably becomes the crash afterward. A crash that opens that chasm wider, often laying bare the incomplete nature of ourselves.

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Right here though, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we find that completion and equipping for every good work is available. Eureka! We can be complete. We can be equipped. We can do good works.

But it’s not through our own doing. It’s not through means of our own making or will. It’s not one ounce of anything this world brings to us and lays before us. Nope. If we track back to see where this statement starts, we find Paul pointing to Scripture. To God’s very breath breathing out the words we read, we ruminate, we chew on, we inscribe on our hearts and minds.

And it is profitable. For changing a life and for knowledge and wisdom. It equips and it teaches. It corrects and it convicts. It is God’s breath into our lungs, our lives, our day.

These very words from Paul, were not his own, but God’s breathed out to give to Timothy. For his good, and for His glory. They point back to Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he continues in the same vein, exhorting him to flee the materialism that would attempt to deceive him into thinking it would make him whole. Instead in 1 Timothy 6:11 we see him telling Timothy to pursue after character qualities and fruits of a Spirit-filled life.

It equips. It teaches. It corrects. It convicts. When we breathe in the words of a God who took notice of us, to breathe them out, we find the gap closed over. The chasm no longer is void, but filled with the truth of Him. It changes our lives, bears out fruit that is from the Spirit, and redirects our pursuits to look like Him and not like the world.

He completes me.

Contented with Milkshakes

Last Saturday I had my first ever Chick-Fil-A milkshake. What have I been doing with my life before this? Y’all have been holding out on me on this. As I inhaled that delightful concoction all too quickly, I began to think on contentment.

Gorgeous day, time spent doing a hobby I love, and a really good milkshake. I felt content.

As I am learning though, I realize contentment isn’t found in the things of life-circumstances and offerings of this world. While those things I was enjoying are in fact good, I can’t run back to those to provide me contentment day in and day out. They would ultimately provide me with obesity, diabetes and probably a jobless existence taking photos of flowers.

Looking around me this week I saw contentment being sought in so many things that hold no value or worth, things that are mere distractions from the godly contentment found in pursuing God’s will. Sadly I saw people resting their contentment in another human being and what they could give them (trust me I have been there and still work through that). I have to admit this week my contentment was lacking due to a busy workload-so here I am confessing that I was trusting in my job for contentment that it can never bring. Some choose alcohol, others choose food. Some seek out that contentment in their families or friends, which are good things but will let us down if we seek after just that for our contentment.

When we place things that this world offers (or tells us that we have to have) as necessities in our lives beyond what God provides, we usurp His will with our own pursuit of contentment, our own will. Don’t get me wrong here, we can still enjoy the things of this world. But when godliness and contentment depend upon our environment or circumstances, both will always be shaky, never finding stability.

Paul speaks to this as he addresses the Philippians in his letter to them. His contentment came from the acceptance of God’s will in his life and pursuing the desire to see God’s character reproduced in him. He wrote this from a perspective of having walked through so many seasons of life and change. He found that contentment never rested in his circumstances but in His will lived out in Paul’s life. Just a couple of verses later is a verse often quoted in relation to sports or hard times but I think it points back to contentment.

Walk with me here in this thought. I don’t think Paul was referencing doing just any old thing as long as Christ’s strength was in him. In context of these verses, it affirms Paul’s truth of faith, that contentment is accomplished in Christ’s strength, not in our own. In every situation, in every need The secret of contentment he alludes to is found in verse 13.

I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.

Yet we wield that verse too many times to work in our own wills for our own definition of contentment rather than that which Christ can best work in us. We struggle and fight against circumstances that we just don’t like simply due to our selfish nature (preaching to myself here y’all) but when we stop, seeking His strength in the hungry moments, in the wanting moments, in the situations and circumstances, we find contentment lies within His will for us.

When I seek out the things which I believe will bring contentment to my life, I find they are fleeting and asked to be pursued over and over again. However when I live in His will, seeking His strength, contentment is lasting and real. It’s the acceptance that His will is good for my life.

So will I be content with fleeting moments of pursuit of my own will or accepting His will as good? Milkshakes pass away, but contentment in Him is eternal.

Do you ever look around when you are reading something really good, something that speaks to you and you just want to tell everyone? You want to run up to them and say “Did you know this already? Think about this! This is soooo good! You have to read it!!”

Just me? Oh okay then.

If you are one of the Bible study girls I have been with in the last few years, you would know my penchant for Paul. He’s my main squeeze and we roll well together. So it’s no surprise that when I revisit his letter to the Philippians, as I talked about a little yesterday, I find something anew, words that speak to where I am now in this moment.

I find I want to camp out there, sit awhile in words of truth that make my heart beat a bit faster, my mouth fall agape, and wonder if Paul is sitting in my life right now. Then I remember that God is the one who is in my life, seeing and guiding me to where I need to be in Him and leading me to these words from Paul that were given by God.

When we camp out, when we take time to truly sit in His Words it becomes alive and breathing to us. It breathes in hope, joy, peace, patience, love…and sometimes conviction. Okay probably more conviction than I am comfortable with, but here we are. Words written in a prison that I now sit on my couch rejoicing over, crying over because they are the words meant for this time in my life.

They mark a season in Paul’s life, of encouragement as he lives out daily endurances in prison. They mark a season in my life of wrestling, of encouragement and hope and not quitting. They are markers of remembrance, gifted to us if we but take time to be still and sit. It could be a book of the Bible, a chapter, or like me presently, two verses in Philippians that I just keep digging into again and again.

Whatever season you find yourself in, joy, heartache, suffering, hurt, love or peace, choose time to be in tune with what God has for you in His Word. Don’t miss the very goodness He gave through it as a means of speaking to your life in this very present way, in this very present moment.

Confidence Booster

For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee;  regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:3-6 (HCSB)

I like to skim part of these verses above. In the midst of reading Philippians, I looking at Paul’s brag list of his lineage, education and training…and I get a little jealous. If you are like me you start sizing him up against yourself and find you are left wanting.

Here’s the rub though…Paul isn’t writing this for bragging rights. Quite the contrary. Here he is, in jail nonetheless, telling us that if we boast in confidence, he’s got us beat. But if we focus in on that we miss it, tightly woven in just before as he’s talking about his life before Christ, that we should not be putting confidence in the flesh.

Our flesh.
Our own strength. Our own might. Our own individual selves.

None of it. Not a single bit of it should we find or place confidence in within ourselves. The foundation that is built isn’t by our means, or our ways, or in our timing or in our strength. What’s more, our future does not lie in embracing our past.

We aren’t who we were when we are in Christ. We are new. We are being re-newed each day with mercies given by Him. We cannot boast in that. I cannot be confident that I will get my to-do list done each day, but I can be confident that my God is and will be right beside throughout the day.

I can boast that nothing is ever done in my own strength, as much as I try to wrestle it from Him. I know that the ministry I work in, the paycheck I receive and the people I encounter each day are all a part of His plan-not something I have concocted.

If I choose to live in the confidence of my own self, I see a person who tries and fails way too often, who pursues the wrong things, gets distracted by the inherently good things, and someone who desires after more. But His more for me is in no comparison because as Paul continues on in Philippians any of the stuff that I gain in my own self, through my own means, is a loss when it comes to Christ.

When it comes to comparing the two, there isn’t even a consideration because everything I thought was worth striving for when I was far from Him is dingy, ugly and worthless when I see life lived in and through Him. So rather than boasting in myself, who sometimes succeeded in selfish pursuits but found a life fully lived out in Christ was far more adventurous and plentiful. Because He shifts my past to where I am not grasping it for my future. Instead He gives me a new hope, a boasting in His truth, and a foundation that is firm in love and mercy.

That. Him…He is exactly where my confidence lies. I don’t want a righteousness of my own making as it will never come to fruition, lead to only further anguish and self-seeking while giving a false hope that I am able to do it. So I boast in Him. That it not be of me, but of Him.

Hating Your Story

I love hearing people’s stories. I love the whole art of storytelling. I grew up not far from the national center for storytelling, and each fall we would field trip it down for their big festival during school. We would sit in big canopied tents, or on tree stumps and hear these vivid tales of long ago spirits and families.

I knew most of it was fiction, but as I grew older I found that the stories of people’s actual lives truly enthralled me. As much as I love to talk, I love to listen because you find out about a person by the stories they share.

But some people wish their stories were different…that parts of their past would just not have happened or that it wasn’t theirs to own. I have thought much on this recently as my own story found itself being written in a way I truly did not ever think it would be. While I have had to truly work and pray through the story as I write with God’s hands on the pen, I am not hating the story I have in me.

I wondered as I thought on the whole topic of your story if Paul hated part of his story (I told y’all I am a Paul girl). The very thing he was killing over was the very thing he became. He was hunting the person whom he would be known thousands of years later for being-a Christian. It’s a redemptive story, and one we love to share in church and small groups.

It’s easy to see the redemption of it years later, how God wove part of his past into his work for the kingdom. But maybe that’s hard for you to see today, as the story is just getting written. Or maybe it has been years later and you don’t like to talk about that part of your story because of the shame you think it will bring back, or it will change how people see you.

I cannot guarantee that won’t happen, because we are human…and like it or not, we judge when we shouldn’t. It’s a product of our sin-nature and one that we constantly struggle and strain against in moments throughout the day.

In 1 Corinthians 15 we see Paul point to something pretty spectacular about his story that he could very easily have hated…don’t miss it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me.  Therefore, whether it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed.

It’s God’s grace that brings our story into light…that turns the shame into joy, the guilt into freedom. Hating part of your story is a sure fire way of missing out on God’s grace to use it for another. It isn’t our story but His that He is continuing to write.

While parts are still being edited and reworked in my story, I don’t want to hate what He is doing and miss getting to proclaim the work He has done. Ultimately He pens the book of my life if I allow Him, and choosing to hate or erase a part that brought me to His mercy, love and freedom would be to hide the very characteristics He authored in me.