A Resolution to Rest

It seems like our lives are often dominated by busyness. And around this time of year, when our New Year’s resolutions are at the front of our minds, it’s easy to tell ourselves that there’s more that we need to take on. The truth is that often, the mindset of needing to do more isn’t always healthy for us: not mentally, not physically, and not spiritually.

Did you know that rest is important to God? I think that if it’s something important to Him, it needs to be something that we give more focus to. So, I have an idea: can we make a resolution to rest?

That’s going to be difficult, I know, so below are four statements that I think are going to be helpful when the temptation comes to work, work, and keep working, when what God wants from us is for us to cease working for a time, step away from everything, and take a break.

  1. Because God deems rest as something important, I will rest. He sets an example for us in the Creation of the world: He worked for six days, and rested on the seventh. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8) is the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments, and it’s based off of the example God set in Genesis. To keep the Sabbath day holy is to set it apart from the other six days. That means that the other six days of the week can be spent working, but the seventh day is set apart — kept holy — because it is set aside for rest.
  2. Because I can only pour out so much before I am empty, I will rest. We have to take time and step back to recharge, study, pray, and be refilled. Think about breathing — in the same way that we can’t exhale and inhale at the same time, it’s difficult to take things in as we pour ourselves out. Just as inhaling and exhaling are set apart from each other, we need to set aside time to be filled up, and time to pour out to others.
  3. Because my strength and salvation are found in rest, I will rest. This is from Isaiah 30:15, where it says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” “Repentance,” in this particular passage, translates to “withdrawal” or “retirement.” “Rest” means “rest,” but there’s a connotation of quietness as well. “Quietness” means to be quiet, or to be tranquil. It seems to me that this passage points us back to stepping away from work for a while and sitting in peace, trust, and tranquility. In those things we find our strength and salvation. This was something the Israelites, who Isaiah 30:15 was directed toward, didn’t grasp. But God is clear: strength and salvation are found in taking time to breathe, rest, and reflect.
  4. I will not feel guilt over time that I set aside to rest, and I will guard my Sabbath day. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of “I need to be doing something right now.” You have six other days to get work done, so work on those days. Your house will probably be just as messy on a Sabbath as it will be the next day, so take care of it then.   Also, there may be the temptation to fill our Sabbath days with things that don’t give us rest. You’re not under an obligation to do things on the Sabbath in which you don’t find peace and tranquility. Guard yourself against those things.

Typically, we think of Saturdays as our Sabbath day, and that’s okay. But if that doesn’t work for you, Scripture doesn’t seem to indicate that it’s mandatory to observe the Sabbath on a Saturday — just that we do take time to stop our work from time to time. If you have a Tuesday off from class or work, use that time to rest.

Also, you may be asking, “How do I rest?” I once heard a pastor say that on his Sabbath, he simply asks God something along the lines of, “What do you want to do today?” And sometimes, that answer involves him spending time with his family at a park. For you, it may mean that you go read in a quiet room for a few hours.

There’s no wrong way to observe the Sabbath, so long as we do things that bring us peace and restore our souls. The Sabbath was intended to be a blessing to us, and I think that it holds very practical purposes as well. We need to get into the mindset that it really is okay to not always be doing something, and that can be good for us. There’s time to get work done, yes, but there can — and should — also be time to relax and be recharged. So, are you willing to make a resolution to rest?

Being Called

A lot of us would like to know what’s next for us in life. We’d like to know where we’re going to work and live, if we’ll ever get married, how much money we’ll make, and have the answers to a million other questions we have. It would be great to know all the steps God would have us take to go exactly where He wants us to be in life. And it may feel like God’s will for our lives is hard to discern, and that may lead to worrying about whether or not we’re on the right track. In response to all of that, I want to offer you some encouragement about God’s will for your life: you’re probably right where you need to be.

That might be a frustrating statement to those who still aren’t quite sure what they want to do with their lives, or if what they want to do is what God wants them to do. My advice is this: do what you want to do, because in that, you can honor God. Some people will receive specific calls into vocational ministry, or into missionary work, or into engineering, or graphic design — but if you’re not sure what to do, do what you want. What I’ve realized is that what we are called in to is not as important as what we’re called.

The Bible tells us a few things about what we’re called. I want to focus in on two of them: His, and Christians. They sort of go hand-in-hand with each other. We were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20.) Jesus’ blood was the currency with which we were purchased back from the bondage of sin and shame. So, it’s simple — we’re His because He purchased us, and we’re Christians because we follow and worship Jesus.

But, because we are Christians, we have a call on our lives to proclaim the Gospel to the world, and because we’re His, we operate from a place in life where our calling — The Great Commission — has been laid out before us. In a past devotional, I’ve used the phrase “Come and see, then go and do,” and that’s my version of what a Christian’s life should look like: draw near to Jesus, feel the sweetness of His love and experience the wonder of salvation and grace, and then go and tell the world about it through your words and actions. Come and see, and then go and do. That’s our calling as Christians, and we have it because we’re called His.

It’s possible you could be called to live in a cave for 12 years while sharing the Gospel on an island I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, you could be called to be a school janitor. Either way, you’ve been placed around people who need Jesus, and you’ve been placed in a situation where it’s entirely possible to honor God. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to answer the office phone by saying, “XYZ Company, Jesus loves you!” or have a giant poster behind your desk with a quotation from Scripture — you can do either of those things, but what if our witness extended beyond that? Because we are His, we live differently, and by doing so, we reveal Jesus to people around us. When whatever we’re doing is rooted in who Jesus is, He gets the glory, and it becomes apparent that whatever you’re doing is done a little differently. And that gets people’s attention.

Colossians 3:17 says this: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In that is one of the keys to proclaiming Jesus wherever we are in life. Does what you’re doing or saying show the love of Christ? Then do it. If not, then don’t.

Done correctly, I don’t think that there’s a difference between working at an engineering firm in Dallas, or ministering on a different continent. Yes, foreign nations may need to know Jesus, but so does that child in your class from the broken home. So does that client going through a divorce. So does that coworker who’s looking for the reason for her existence. And if you live life in the name of Jesus, trusting in His promises, people are going to see that. If you shine the light of grace, love, and truth wherever you are, it’s only a matter of time before someone takes notice, and it changes their world.

So, if you’re wrestling with what you want to do with your life, do what makes you happy (as long as it’s not sinful, because God can’t be honored by sin.) But as you go about that, remember your ultimate calling. Because we belong to God, we’re liberated from the question of “What’s next?” God’s will has been laid out before us: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20.) Our question is now, “What’s the best way of making disciples in the place God has me in right now?” And maybe that’s something we can ask God. I think that if we ask for doors to be opened, for people who need God to be placed in our paths, and for opportunities to arise to share our faith, He is One to come through.

We’re people who have been called as His own, who bear the name of Christ, and because of that, have a will and a purpose wherever life takes us — and that will is that we live out our faith through words and actions, all for the glory of God. What we’re called is bigger than what we’re called in to.

Sample: Introduction to My New Book!

Below is the introduction to a book I’ve been working on for the past few months, called The Great Revival: Rising up Again after Life Kills You.  I hope you enjoy it!

You and I need a revival from time to time.

I think that’s just how life is: every now and then, things fall into disrepair and need to be restored. I’ve never owned a home, but I have extensive experience inhabiting them, so I know this happens. If you look around wherever you are right now — your house, apartment, mud hut, Buckingham Palace — you may see some things that need repair and replacement. Maybe the paint is starting to crack and fade. Maybe there’s a leaky pipe somewhere that’s causing water damage. That’s life, isn’t it? Reparations must happen from time to time. Things must be renewed. HGTV wouldn’t have much content on their channel if that weren’t so.

What if I told you that, like a house, our souls and minds might need revivals every now and then? I say that because life sometimes throws us down into valleys. And when we find ourselves trudging through a valley, we may look around and find there is nothing around us but bitterness, restlessness, or despair. A death or job loss may have come into your life like a flood — unexpected, destructive. An illness may blow through like a tornado, erasing plans and leaving worry and fear in its wake. We don’t always know how to prepare ourselves for the storms and valleys that life brings.

This book was written based on a storm in my own life that began in the summer of 2015, three weeks after I turned 25. I was a youth minister, and I was excited to be at the church I worked at, and I couldn’t wait to see what God would do with me there. I was going to change the way that church ministered to teenagers in our area. I was going to try out new ideas in hopes of reaching more youth than we ever thought we could. Great things were on the horizon.

Those lofty dreams came crashing down one morning in my senior pastor’s office. I was told I was being let go. The issues at hand would have been easy enough to fix, but alas, the decision had been made to relieve me of my duties. After that meeting, I had to go clean out my office, packing up my plans and ideas that simply wouldn’t come to fruition there. There’s not a feeling quite like what I was experiencing at that point. It’s a feeling of sadness, loneliness, stress, and confusion. All the sudden, I was expected to just leave and not come back. That wasn’t going to be my office anymore. If I went anywhere the next day, it wasn’t going to be to work. These people that I had worked so closely with were suddenly just releasing me. Then the anger and questions rolled in. Why would God place me there, only to pluck me out so soon? What could have been accomplished if that didn’t happen? What am I going to do now?

Sometimes, that’s just the way life is. And though we can’t always immediately see a reason for our suffering, there’s never a point where Jesus isn’t at work in our lives, ready to heal our wounds. Therefore, I think brokenness serves a certain purpose in our lives, and that there is no pain without purpose.

A certain Bible passage comes to mind regarding that exact thing. In John chapter 9, Jesus and His disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”[i] Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”[ii] That’s where, I think, pain meets its purpose — that through pain and despair, the power of God can be made known.

I didn’t just lose a job that sunny day in July of 2015. My spirit was crushed, I was discouraged, and I was left wondering what to do next. Was I going to continue with youth ministry? What about seminary — was there a point in continuing my studies? It wasn’t a fun place to be in life. But, slowly and surely, rebuilding and restoration have taken place, and I now see a new side to that story. And what I’m seeing is what you’re about read. There’s a new coat of paint, the pipes have been fixed, but the work continues.

You and I are going to walk through tough seasons, but we’re also going to stand on top of mountains, looking at all it took to get to that place. We’re going to come back to life after seasons that we spend walking through valleys of death. When something is dead, it’s not beyond God’s ability to revive it, and my hope is that this book will serve as a reminder of that truth for anyone who finds him or herself in the midst of a storm.

[i] John 9:2

[ii] John 9:3

Healing, Living, and Proclaiming

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” –Psalm 118:17

This life offers us a lot of opportunities to get hurt.

Perhaps someone has betrayed you. Maybe there’s a death you just can’t get over. You may have unexpectedly lost a job, or you may be worried if you’ll still be employed next week. Maybe a relationship in your life has gone awry somehow. You and I have no doubt had our fair share of wounds, right? So, how do we recover from them?

The first step toward healing is that we need to admit that something is not right. We live in a fallen world with fallen people — something’s bound to go wrong! Admitting that we’re not okay can be a humbling experience, but it’s one that allows Jesus to begin His healing work in us. Something like this can be seen in psychiatry: there has to be a willingness to change before change can take place. And it starts by admitting we need help.

I think of the bleeding woman in Luke 8:43-48 who reached out to touch Jesus’ robe as He passed by. When she touched Him, her bleeding stopped. But somewhere in the 12 years she had been dealing with her condition, I bet the thought occurred to her that, “Hey, this isn’t what life is supposed to be like.” So, she reaches out to Jesus. And that’s our second step.

We can’t expect to mend spiritual or mental wounds on our own. Once we’ve decided that we are indeed hurt, we need to have an encounter with Jesus. The woman in Luke 8 reached out and touched Him. In Luke 5, a paralytic is lowered through a roof, and Jesus restores his mobility. We’re not meant to walk through life with ailments that don’t stop bleeding and make themselves hard to move on from; nor should we let our past, fears, insecurity, or whatever other baggage we carry keep us paralyzed and unable to move forward. And Jesus is the One who brings an end to our bleeding and allows us to get up and walk once more. So, doesn’t it make sense to let Him heal us, rather than trying to do it on our own?

Sometimes, like the paralytic or the bleeding woman, we’re instantly healed, but that’s not always the case. Not with wounds that affect our minds and spirits. In my experience, time, Scripture, prayer, and other people have been the best medicine. And slowly but surely, I’ve come back to a place where life is okay again.

Our third step is that we need to cling to hope. Somewhere in our grief and sadness, we need to resolve that though we may be walking through a valley, the valley will not kill us. God is just as faithful in the valley as He is on the mountaintops. And though it may feel like we’re being tried and tested, similar to what the writer says in Psalm 118:17-18, we are not going to succumb to our wounds. So, we cling to hope and life, and then we proclaim what God has done.

Our proclamations are going to sound different from one another, but they are always going to be an invitation to all who hear them into a process of healing through Jesus Christ. We may have fallen into the muck and mess of life, just to look up and find Jesus standing over us. We may have been betrayed, but we’ve found faithfulness in God. We may have come from a shaky spot in life to a place of security. We may have climbed out of a valley of questions and uncertainty, and have found once more that God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105.)

Healing isn’t always an easy process. It’s one that’s humbling. I imagine the paralytic who was lowered through the roof had to be in a position where he was literally lying on the ground before Jesus, helpless — not the most majestic or powerful of positions, but sometimes, life leads us to places where all we can do is lie down and wait on God, and that’s the point that we’re in a position to be healed. I think that at the end of it all, we’re left in a much better place in life. We come to a place where our bleeding stops, we can move forward, and where we can look down on the valley we walked through. And that’s living in the context of Psalm 118:17. God has not allowed our wounds to consume us, but rather, when we enter into a healing process with God, we overcome those wounds because of what He’s done in us; therefore, we have not died, but lived.

 

 

Community Stinks

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Christian community”? Prayer? Bible studies? Free food?

I bet you didn’t think about death, did you?

Take a look at John 11:33-43. In this passage, Jesus has come to a pair of sisters named Mary and Martha, whose brother, Lazarus, has passed away. There are several things that happen in this passage that are applicable to us as we engage in Christian community.

Look at verses 33 and 35. Jesus asks Mary, in regards to her brother’s body, “Where have you laid him?” Mary responds, “Come and see, Lord.” And then, Jesus weeps. It’s not clear whether or not Jesus cries (the Greek suggests that He silently sobs) out of grief or out of sorrow, or over the lack of faith of those He is surrounded by; but either way, it must have been a sight to see the Son of God shedding tears. It’s a reminder to us that Jesus was and is very much human.

Next, look at verse 39. Mary, Martha, and Jesus approach Lazarus’ tomb. Martha says, “[B]y this time, there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” My reaction here would have been to wrinkle my nose and step away. No one wants to deal with stinky corpses. But, Jesus is a much better person than I could ever be. He doesn’t retreat or say, “Four days? Nope. I’m not dealing with that.” He goes about what He came there to do. He shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” (verse 43) and Lazarus does just that, like nothing had ever been wrong with him.

So, what does all of this have to do with walking through life with other believers?

In the same way that Mary invites Jesus to come and see the tomb where Lazarus was buried, community involves seeing the dark parts of one another’s lives. I think that when we are able look into brokenness, it allows us to see what exactly needs to be repaired. The brokenness in our lives may take on several different forms: worry, fear, confusion, distractions…the list could go on and on. We’ll come back to that in just a second.

The second point is that Jesus weeps. It reminds me of Galatians 6:2, where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens. In this moment, Jesus certainly shows His humanity to those around Him by sharing in their sadness. In the same way, we may find ourselves immersing ourselves in the grief of those around us. That’s okay, but we do have a duty in those times, and it’s to call that which is dead back into life.

In other words, we work with each other to replace brokenness with truth from God. By the power of God’s Word, confusion can be replaced with clarity, fear with peace, distraction with focus, and even death can be replaced with life.

You and I certainly have the ability to speak life into each other’s tombs. We call out to death — or each other’s burdens and struggles — and exchange it for life using God’s Word, through prayer, and with wisdom from the Holy Spirit. In doing that, we pour life into each other.

Community stinks sometimes — and by that, I mean that we’re going to encounter death and its odors from time to time. We may step into places in each other’s lives where things just aren’t as they should be. And it certainly isn’t always going to be easy — in fact, I think the deeper sense we have of community, the more tombs we’re going to look in to. And the more tombs we see, the more chances we have to revive things that have died. And yes, that’s going to be dirty, hard work, but it’s done in the name of Jesus, and it’s going to lead toward life.

So, as you walk with others, put your faith into action. Shed light and life into tombs. Come and see, go and do, and expect to get dirty.

Souvenirs, Salt, and Light

I’ve spent the past few months working on a new book called The Great Revival: Reflections for When God is Doing a New Thing.  I’m excited about it and really do believe it holds a great message for people who have found themselves in rough patches.

This morning, I’ve been thinking back to a trip I went on with some friends while I was in college.  It was a short backpacking trip about an hour and a half from where we lived.  We were in a state park and decided to do some hiking while we were there.

After we hiked, we packed up our belongings and drove home.  I felt filthy until I was able to take a shower.  I was covered in sweat, dirt, sunscreen, and probably a few leaves, blades of grass, and twigs.

When we find ourselves down in a valley after a rough season of life, we’re obviously going to try to get out of it.  And I believe we can do that — I believe it’s possible, with God, to heal, to be renewed, and to come back to a place in life where things are right once more.

But when we’re down in that valley, we’re bound to pick up a few things along the way.  We’re going to come home with a few twigs and pebbles — in other words, memories and lessons from that dark season are going to come with us out of the valley.  We simply can’t just escape from memories and emotions.  That’s not a bad thing.

It may not be pleasant to relive those dark times, but those times do help form who we are.  The key is that we learn from them, though, and not dwell on them.  Dwelling is something we need to leave down in the valley, because all it does for us is lead to anger and questions, and that’s not healthy for us.

As followers of Christ, there’s not ever a time when we’re exempt from being salt and light.  But I think that when people come to terms with the fact that they’re broken, and then admit that brokenness to the world, it causes their light to shine a bit brighter, and it gives their salt that much more flavor.  I think that’s what God means when He says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)  Brokenness puts Jesus on display, and though we don’t like getting hurt, hurt reveals the power of Christ in our lives.  And when we encounter brokenness in our own lives and allow God to heal it, it frees us to lead others toward the healing as well.  God is perfectly capable of using our brokenness for our good and His glory.

This is something I’ve been learning for the past few weeks.  We will encounter tough times — that’s a fact.  We live in a fallen world where things are not perfect, and that leads to situations that we were really hoping we wouldn’t find ourselves in.  But the ways in which we respond to those situations can be either life-giving or life-taking.  Negativity toward a situation takes life away from us.  Dwelling and anger are a waste of time, and there are many other things we’ve going going on.  So why waste our lives with negativity?  On the other hand, learning to forgive and allowing God to make use of our brokenness — those are things that are from God and bring life to us and those around us.  And as it turns out, forgiveness is freeing, and we didn’t end up covered in dirt and sweat in vain if God puts our grime to use for His purposes.

So, your souvenirs from the valley are not bad things.  Your scars and baggage are nothing more than windows that allow the light of God to shine out of you.

A Reminder for When Storms Come

I was a safety expert in elementary school.

Fire?  Get outside as fast as you can, and meet at the mailbox.

Burglary?  Hide somewhere and call the cops.

Tornado?  Go into the hallway bathroom.

I knew my stuff.

But I remember a time when not everyone remembered the instructions for when a tornado was coming.  I was in the hallway bathroom, prepared for a tornado to hit.  But my mother was in our office across the hall, watching a news station to hear more about the storm.  I remember urging her, “Get into the bathroom!”  She knew what to do.  Why was the TV more important than getting into the bathroom?  Why wasn’t she listening?

That took place sometime before 2002, so I couldn’t have been older than 12.  At 25, I now realize why the TV was so important, even when the threat of a tornado loomed over us.  Still, I’m proud of younger me for knowing what to do.

We don’t always know what to do when storms hit — and in this case, I mean storms that affect our spirits and minds.  Sometimes, we disregard things, like that we need to go into the bathroom instead of worrying about what the local news stations are saying.

In the same way, we may forget about who God is when tough times hit.

Storms are subject to God.  We all know the story about Jesus and His disciples on the boat.  A great storm came, and the disciples started fearing for their lives.  Meanwhile, Jesus is asleep.  The disciples awake Him and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)  Jesus stands, and with a few words, rebukes the storm.  And the world became calm once more.

Jesus is in control of physical storms just as much as He’s in charge of the figurative ones.  He can call out to us, “Peace!  Be still!” in the midst of our struggles and battles, just as easily as He can tell the wind to calm down.  That’s our God.  It’s never beyond His ability to bring about peace in the midst of turmoil.  And while we may be like the disciples and freak out in times of chaos, Jesus is not fazed by the messes we find ourselves in.