What does the Lord ask of you?

I have been reading through the Bible in 2015.  A week or two ago, I came across a passage I liked…

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

As I was underlining it, I was thinking- “Great! Cliff’s notes!” And (because I am me, “This would make a great piece of art…”)

What does the Lord require of you?

  • Fear the Lord your God
  • Walk in obedience
  • serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul
  • Observe the Lord’s commands

What a great list.  Something to aspire to.  Something you can take, put in your pocket (bind to your forehead?) and check yourself against daily.

But as I was sitting with this verse, a voice whispered…  but this is the old covenant…

Let me start off by saying, there is nothing WRONG with this list.  It is scripture!  Words from God!  But, as I was reading this list, I was reading about ME.  What  can do to make myself right with God.  How I can ensure that my walk with God is ‘correct’.  How I can give myself a daily grade that ensures that I am being a good enough Christ follower.

One thing God has been teaching me lately is that my faith is much less about me and my efforts than I think.  Rather, it is so much more about GOD, and what He has done for me.  I have been trying to live out a faith based on the old covenant- my perfection, my efforts.

I think it is so very… human of us to want to be in control of our relationship with God.  Are spiritual practices good?  Of course.  But they do not control how much God loves us.  Whether or not he will bless us.  Instead, God’s blessings are given freely.  And don’t always take the form we believe they should (read: money, happiness, easiness of life).  In fact, God’s blessings can sometimes take the form of thorns in our sides, things that we must endure and grow through.  Things that force us to turn to Him.

So what does God ask of us?

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1 John 3:23

Belief. Love.  Actions rooted in love and belief are SO much more grace filled than those born out of a sense of obligation or striving.

Can it be this simple?  Can our faith, and faith practices, be built on love and belief instead of guilt and striving?  Do you, like me, find yourself tempted to live out of the Old Covenant?  If so, take a few moments today to pause.  To allow yourself to feel loved, wholly and holy, just as you are.

Paraclete

I don’t know about you all, but I have a powerful need for encouragement.  Perhaps it’s because success at my job isn’t easily measurable.  Perhaps it’s because my love language is words of encouragement.  Perhaps its because I am simply human.  All I know is that I need to hear that I am loved, that I am valued, and that I am doing well on a regular basis.

Which is unfortunate.

Because this world isn’t exactly engineered to do that.  We live in a society of cynics.  People who employ sarcasm as a weapon.  These days, we are all critics.  Voicing our opinions on Facebook, on yelp reviews, in countless ways.  When I read my book, my default mode is to examine what I didn’t like about it, instead of what I did. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, etc.  Will I notice when it begins to creep into the way I view my life?  My faith?  My children?

Here is the truth.  I do not know a single human being in my circle who is not in desperate need of affirmation.  Whether we realize it or not, our souls yearn to be blessed.  We all need to be told that we are seen.  That we are loved.  That we are important.  And it doesn’t take much to do that.  But here is the problem… in order to truly be able to bless others, we must know what it is to be blessed.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
John 14:16-17

According to GotQuestions.org, “The Greek word translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26;15:26; and 16:7) is parakletos. This form of the word is unquestionably passive and properly means “one called to the side of another,” with the secondary notion of counseling or supporting him. This Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He is a personal being who indwells every believer.”  In other words, we have a full time encourager, who lives with us and constantly is whispering words of truth and affirmation into our lives.

How do we attune our ears to hear the Holy Spirit?  I believe the easiest first step is learning what is NOT his voice…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

If you are hearing a message that makes you feel less:  less loved, less free, less beautiful or wonderful, I am willing to bet it is not the voice of God.  When we encounter God, we always want to be higher.  Even when we feel convicted, it is a conviction out of a need to be closer to God, not a feeling of condemnation or shame.

Who are you to God?  The Bible is full of answers.

You are:
Dearly Loved
Bought with a Price
Redeemed
Forgiven
Perfect
Whole
Created to be You on Purpose
There is a Plan for your life
It is a Good one
You are a Bride
You are Beautiful
You are Unique
You are Seen
You are Known
You are Not Alone
A Son or a Daughter
A Brother or a Sister
Restored
Important.

Take some time today and read over the list.  Reflect upon something that sticks out to you.  (Or add something to my list!) Realize that this is the TRUTH about you.  Hold it in your mind as you go about your day.

You.
Are.
Loved.

Murals

Just thought I would share 2 murals I’ve been working on lately…
This one is finished…

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

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This one is work in progress…

Matthew 13:31-32
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

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Leave a Bite

To the true disciple a miracle only manifests the power and love which are silently at work everywhere as divinely in the gift of daily bread as in the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. ~Fredrick William Robertson

I have noticed a trend in my life lately.  God has taught me in my life thus far that if I notice a trend, an echo, to stop and to pay attention.  That this is somewhere where He is at work.

This is what has been happening… recently, whenever a friend asks me how they can pray for me, I have the same answer…

Daily Bread.

This isn’t an intentional answer, or a rehearsed response, but instead the heartfelt response to what I need in that moment.  When it happened today for the third time in a week, I realized that there was something deeper happening here.  What is it that I am asking for?

There are only a few things in my life that I know in my bones.  Just a handful of lessons that were so hard-fought that I do not doubt them at all.  God’s unwavering faithfulness is one of those truths.

So what is it that am I asking for?  I know that God will provide, so what is it that I need?  As I look more deeply into the request, I realize that I am not so much asking for God’s provision (which I know will arrive).  Instead, I am asking for the clarity to see that provision for what it is.  The daily miracle.  Blessings given by my Father, instead of just things working out as I hoped they would.  I want to have the eyes to see.  To be attuned and expectant so that when the daily bread arrives, I see it for the blessing that it is.  To stop and be thankful, instead of taking things for granted.  To hear the whispers of God’s answers when I am straining so desperately to hear.

But here is another thing.  When the Israelites were in the desert, they had the literal miracle.  Miraculous bread from the sky, to be gathered at dawn.  A daily delivery for 40 years.  And still, they tried to hoard it.  To gather a bit more than they needed, a buffer against hard times.  I do this too.  Hoping for more than just the energy and patience to get through the day.  Wanting more than just a moment of time by myself in prayer, or with my kids before bedtime.  I am always hungry for more.  And yet God is in the business of giving exactly enough.

One place where I see this show up so often is at the table.  I am blessed, so very blessed to be a human on this planet who does not have to worry about having enough to eat.  I can eat to satisfaction at any point during the day.  And yet, with each meal, I find myself eating more than enough.  One more bite.  One more taste.  One more treat.  Why?  I don’t have a reason.  Or my reason is… because it is there.

So my challenge to myself is this: Leave a bite.  It seems so small, so trite, when I write it down.  But I have a feeling this one may be the hardest one I set for myself this year.  Leaving a bite on the plate is a metaphor, an act of trust, of walking in faith that God will provide.  But it also may break the weird hold that food has over me.

Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Matthew 6:25

My life is so much more than food and clothing.  Yet both of those things are where I turn for comfort.  To boost my mood or cheer myself up.  Calories or commerce.  Those are my two crutches.  Leaving a bite of food is an act of defiance to my secret sin.  It is me saying… no.  I choose to look elsewhere.

Also, the principle of self-sacrifice has been something that has resonated with me lately.  Leaving a bite, for me, seems like the first step in that direction.  Here are the words from John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping that have got me thinking in this direction…

Sometimes the smallest acts of sacrifice or self-denial can break up hard soil. A friend of mine sent me a few sentences from an article she saw online on “How to Stay Christian in College”: . . . make small sacrifices. Make a vow to wake up and go to breakfast every morning, even if your first class isn’t until eleven a.m. Choose a plain cheese pizza rather than pepperoni. You’ll be surprised how these tiny sacrifices work an interior magic, shifting your focus ever so slightly away from yourself.

What would happen in my life if I was less focused on myself and my needs, and more focused on others?  I think it may be time to try and find out… IMG_1759

our God.

I have always had a close relationship with God.  Growing up, I never knew a time when I didn’t belive, when I didn’t know Jesus.  I started reading my Bible when I was young.  My faith has sustained me through  the hardest times of my life.

However, I always felt like my faith was a private thing.  I didn’t often talk about my prayer life, about my time spent reading my Bible, or in devotions.  People knew I was a Christian, but the everyday mechanics of my faith felt like an intensely private thing to me.  The heart of this was good.  I didn’t want to alienate others, or make others feel intimidated by my relationship with God, or feel like they had to compare their walk with mine.

However, in that privacy, a seed of sin was planted.  A tiny sprout of pride grew, and its roots settled into my heart.  It looked spiritual, and sounded virtuous, so I didn’t recognize it for what it was.  But when I read about Mary finding favor with God, or David being a man after God’s own heart, I smiled inwardly, feeling that I had a place amongst this elite club.  I read my Bible cover to cover every year.  As years passed, and I had read my Bible 10, 11, 12 times, I began to feel as if I had this God stuff figured out.  It’s ironic, because I didn’t share my devotional practices with anyone because I didn’t want to seem to be bragging.  And yet, my heart was as prideful as they come.

As I have written before, last year I intentionally DIDN’T read my Bible through.  I spent the entire year in John.  Reading a verse at a sitting, instead of many chapters.  It was hard.  Incredibly hard, I felt a nagging voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t achieving enough for God.  But, for the first time, I was talking openly about my faith.  I started speaking with a spiritual director.  I started this blog.  I forced myself to say out loud that I have read the Bible all the way though.

And as I let the light in, I see my faith for what it is.  Strong.  Ordinary.  Treasured.  Human.  SO much more dependent on God’s faithfulness to me than mine to Him.

IMG_6647As the year began to draw to a close, I found myself wondering what was next.  Read another book?  Slow or fast?  What was I to do?  And then God answered.  I was meeting with a girl from the youth group, and she was asking me about how to read the Word of God.  We decided to read the Bible this year together.  Meeting every few weeks to talk about it.  Devotion, with fellowship.  Accountability.  Engaging together with scripture, and with God.

This is how our faith is meant to be.  Don’t get me wrong- our God is PERSONAL. You can’t read scripture and not see that (check Psalm 139 for proof).  But our faith is not meant to be private.  God instructs Christians as a community.  In scripture, most of the time when we read the word ‘you’, it is meant to be plural, not singular.  John Dyer explains this concept better than I can..

…Since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.

The scriptures were originally shared orally, told from parents to children, passed along in community.  Then, the New Testament was written, primarily in letter form… intended to be read aloud in church, and then passed along to other communities of believers.  With invention of the printing press, the Bible was put into the hands of the individual.  A priceless gift, don’t get me wrong, but one that can make us forget that we are to practice our faith in community.

So my resolution this year is to read my Bible.  In community.  In fact, I have begun reading it at the breakfast table, with my two kids right there.  So that they can see their mother read the Word of God.  And I am going to talk about it.  With my teenage friend.  And with others.  I am going to dive deeper into friendships, say the hard and vulnerable things, and try and allow others to really know me.  I am going to continue with Spiritual Direction.  In sum, continue to have a PERSONAL faith, but no longer make it PRIVATE.  It’s scary.  But here I go… IMG_6701

hot tea

Resolution #1: Drink More Hot Tea.

IMG_6688So here is the thing about hot tea.  It takes a while.  First, you have to boil the water.  Then, allow the tea to steep.  There is a ritual to the process.

Hot tea isn’t designed to be guzzled.  Gulping mouthfuls could pose an actual hazard to your health.   Just the act of preparing a cup of tea for yourself is a statement of intent.  I am investing 5 minutes in my own pleasure.  

I need that.

For me, drinking hot tea is an investment in my own personhood.  Every time I brew a cup, I am reminding myself that I, too, am a human to be taken care of.  I spend so much of my day in the service of others.  Spooning baby food into hungry mouths, wiping noses, racing to daycare, to work, to the store… Most of the time taking care of myself falls to the bottom of the list of urgent concerns.  So, when I fill my kettle, I am taking a moment to remind myself that I matter.  That investing in my own comfort isn’t wrong, but instead, can be an act of discipleship.  For I, too, am a person God dearly loves.  My feet, too, would be cleansed by our Savior.  He cares about me, not just those in my care.  And therefore, I should too.

The tea kettle also reminds me that not everything is a race.  It’s ok to stop and take a breath.  In fact, the world will not fall apart because you are choosing to alter your harried pace.  Moments when we choose to break the thought pattern of hurry are essential.  It not only reminds us that we aren’t in control, but it also acknowledges the One who is. I can grind my teeth at a redlight, drum my fingers on the steering wheel and curse the city manager who CLEARLY HAS NO IDEA HOW TO TIME STOPLIGHTS (and I do), or I can take that moment to stop the insanity.  Breathe deeply.  Notice the world around me, engage with the children in my backseat.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42

I spend so much of my life in Martha mode.  Intending to spend time at the Lord’s feet, but knowing the practical things that need to get done.  In my mind, these things must be done first, before I am free to rest.  And it’s true.  People need to be fed.  Things need to be cleaned.  I need to pick my kids up from school and to go to work.  But if I wait to sit at God’s feet until all those tasks are finished, I will never get there.  I need moments where I choose to remind myself that God is in control and I am not, that my time and my schedule and my mental to do list is not the most important thing.  Drinking tea has become a daily metaphor of that to me- reminding me to be a Mary, not a Martha.

Opportunity (has) Cost

Two roads in a yellow wood
But only one pair of legs.
Each decision a yes
But in the same breath, no.

A wishbone snaps.
One side victory, the other, splintered.
Each side broken, in different ways.

When we choose
do we hold the duality in our minds?
In each destiny there dwells a shadow side,
A legacy not engaged.

This is the balance of life, the yin and the yang.
And that is how it should be,
For we are made of flesh and not of feathers.

How do we lay ourselves before the throne of God,
Our lives, our collection of yesses and nos.

What story do these declinations tell?
Is it one of faith?
Or of fear?

How do I listen Lord, standing in a yellow wood?
Which path is mine to take?

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