Questions everyone is asking

Every person around the world is asking three important questions.  Questions that need answers for our lives to have meaning and purpose.  Who am I?  Where do I fit?  What difference do I make?

The first is a question about identity, meaning a young person’s conception and expression of who they are. This question holds up the mirror and scrutinizes me.  Often this is a question that goes unanswered.  For a great many people the discovery of self is pushed aside in favor of being a part of the crowd, getting that big job or promotion, or something else that forces us to look away from who we are and instead forces us into a mold.  The church is one place that this happens and everyone is squeezed into the same cookie cutter and asked to conform.  And yet it is in the church, at least the one that Jesus is building, where we were called to find ourselves.  We were meant to discover our identity by coming to know the One who created us and called us to be. The Bible says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Ephesians 1:11, The Message).  

We were all created with purpose and meant to live with passion.  And when we ignore this first question these get robbed from us and we instead live lives of mediocrity and conformity.

The second is a question of belonging, or a person’s quantity and quality of life-giving relationships. This question looks around the room, eager to explore us.   Answering this question without answering the first one is where many people get led astray.  We learn early on in life to adapt ourselves for a desired outcome.  ‘If I behave this way then people like me.’  Often the desire to fit in over rides our need to be ourself.  Both questions are important but they need to be answered together.  One cannot look for a place to fit in without taking the time to know who they are inside, and how to express that in the world they live in.

If we look to fit in without knowing ourself we will always be squeezed into the closest mold we find.  It is important that we all have a place to belong.  A place where others can communicate worth to us.  The first place is in a relationship with Jesus.  It is the first place and the most secure place to find this value.  And it is the place where we will have the highest value.  Jesus declared that you and I were worth dying for, and then He proceeded to do just that so that the door of relationship could be opened again.

The third is a question about purpose, or a person’s commitment to and ability to engage in meaningful activities that impact others. This question peers out the window and wonders about our world.   All of us start with the dream of changing the world.  It often doesn’t take very long for that dream to be taken away.  Life keeps coming and the demands it places on us are extreme.  And often just being able to pay bills and keep food on the table takes precedence over changing the world.

But every one wants to make an impact and to leave their mark on the world we live in.  We all cannot be Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King.  But the opportunities to change the world are available to us if we are willing to know ourselves.  Because that is the foundation we all build from.  Without that foundation the drive to conform will be to high.

“What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know… The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do… to find the idea for which I can live and die. SOREN KIERKEGAARD”

The world is looking for people who will rise up with passion and say that there is a better way.  To live a life full of purpose and passion is something that we all can do if we are willing.  It is up to each of us to determine how will we answer these questions?

When Your Faith is Empty

got-faith_t1‘Have a little faith.’  It’s a phrase that gets used a lot in our world.  It is used in many different contexts and there are many different understandings.  For some it is simply a belief in an unknown.  You can’t explain why you believe, you just do.  For others it is seeing the best in people or situations.  Others see it as things will get better, as ‘the night is darkest before the dawn.’  Some see it as a way to get things from God.  If I just believe enough then God will …

Faith is something much deeper for us as Christians.  It goes beyond the wish list and blissful ideas of a better future.  It grabs ahold of your soul and creates passion inside that cannot be pushed away.  Faith is a deep-seated belief that cannot be swayed or dismissed that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He said He will do.  It is the gift of faith that allows you and I to connect with God on a personal level.  It is faith that opens the door to experiencing God’s greatness.  But what happens when that faith begins to fade?  running empty

Circumstances can cause you to lose faith if we allow them to.  The passion we once had for God can diminish and if left untended will go out.  Jesus warned ” For many others, the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in—nothing left of their love but a mound of ashes.” Matthew 24:12 MSG  The passion people have for God can go out, and the excitement for who God is and what God is doing can disappear if we allow it to.

Some signs your faith is running low are;

  • You go through the motions without emotion
    • If your walk with God has become mechanical then your faith is running low
  • Your passion is gone
    • A sign of low faith is what once excited you is now empty
    • Reading your bible and praying is a chore
    • Attending services is simply what your supposed to do
    • Soren Kierkegaard said that “if passion, intense personal involvement with the truth of something, is eliminated, then faith can no longer exist”
  • Your walk with God has become an intellectual exercise
    • Knowing all the right scriptures and having all the right doctrines, but no transformation
    • The Pharisees had most of the scriptures memorized and discussed them diligently but it was worthless activity for them
    • Jesus said of them “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” John 5:39 NIV
  • You have a faith no one wants
    • While it is true that many will not want to walk with God and know Him we often use that as a justification for no one coming to know Christ
    • What may be true is they don’t see anything happening in your life so they don’t want what you have
    • The early church had a faith that was transforming lives and everywhere God moves people want to be apart
      • “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NIV

The good news is your faith can be restored again if you want it to.  But it is going to take some work on your part to do so.  Taking time to once again connect with God is the first step, because that is where your faith originated from in the first place.  Romans 12:3 “…God has assigned to each of us a measure of faith.” Voice.  So if your running low it is time to reconnect with your source.  Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 NLT

We also to need to make sure that we are surrendered to God.  Often our faith has diminished because we allowed our focus to either wander from God into other things, so we need to reconnect, or we chose to not do something that God asked of us.  The reasons we have for it may sound really good to us, or it may simply be that we didn’t feel we could.  Whatever  the reason God is waiting to see if we will allow Him to lead us, which is what Him being Lord is all about.  If He isn’t driving, then our faith isn’t worth anything.  Surrender is essential to a passionate love for God.  Without it there can be no faith.  Alan Hirsch wrote “We do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because we have not attempted obedience.” 

We can have faith that transforms lives if we want to.  The question we need to answer is

What kind of faith do you want to have?

What’s Going On God? – pt. 5

Confrontation and Transformation.  Two extremely important components to God’s plan in our lives.  God always reveals His plans for us to bring us to the place where we are willing to see ourselves for who we are, including all the parts we don’t want to see, so that He can transform us into the image of Jesus and accomplish His purposes through us.   Things happen TO me, So that things can happen IN me, so that things can happen THROUGH me.

Our circumstance that each one of us face are tools which God uses to draw out of us the areas in our lives that need to be shown to us, and so that He can change us.  If we are unwilling to see ourselves as we are, we won’t change because we won’t see the need to.  People all around the world have the same response when confronted with change.  “Well I’m a good person…”  If we don’t see the need for change, we cannot make the changes necessary, and if we don’t make the changes or allow God to make the changes in us we will miss out on the purpose we were created to fulfill.  So God allows circumstances in our lives to draw out of us the things we are often so good at hiding.

There are two things necessary in our lives for this process to accomplish what God desires in us.  We each face different circumstances, and many of them can be extremely difficult to deal with, but we all need two things if God is going to be able to use the circumstances to accomplish His purpose.

The first is a humble heart.  Without humility we will be unwilling to see the areas of our lives that need to be addressed.  Without humility we will be focused completely on getting what we feel we deserve.  Humility allows us to see things differently and be willing to set aside our plans and purposes.  Humility allows us to be willing to see the need for change and to accept the work of God in our lives, even when we are not always able to comprehend or understand what He is doing.   It is a humble heart that will allow God to confront us and change us.  Saul was proud and didn’t respond to the dealings of God, but every time God dealt with David he responded with humility and God was able to do amazing things in and through him.

If you think you know better than God you will won’t respond to His work in your life.  Denying the changes in your life does not make them any less important or necessary to our growth.  Denial is not a river in Egypt. If we insist on denying the reality of our lives we will never see the possibility of our future. 

Humility also releases the hand of God in our lives.  If we want to struggle and fight on our own God is willing to let us, but He would prefer if we allowed Him to mold and form us.  James 4:6 NKJV“God resists the proud,  But gives grace to the humble.”  God offers us His grace if we are willing to be humble.  Grace is “the transforming power of God, doing in you what you cannot do for yourself.”  God’s power working in your life, accomplishing God’s plan.  Without grace we would all be lost.  If we are willing to humble our hearts, God is able to accomplish great things in our lives, and through our lives.

Second we need a close relationship with God.  It is our relationship with Jesus that draws us into God’s plan for our lives, and it is what sustains us as we move forward into God’s purposes.  It is our relationship  with God that allows us to

  • feel and be secure in the love and safety of the hands of God regardless of our circumstances
  • allow God to deal with us knowing He is doing it for our benefit and not His.
  • allow God the freedom to work out the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

     

     

No relationship = No change

Are we keeping our relationship with God current?  Jesus said in John 15:5 NLV I am the Vine and you are the branches. Get your life from Me. Then I will live in you and you will give much fruit. You can do nothing without Me.”  It is our relationship with God that allows His life to flow in us, and it is His life in us that allows the changes to happen. 

Every move and promise of God in our lives always leads us to the cross of Calvary.

We always return to face our reality and our choice is whether we take up our cross and follow or turn away to our own path.

  • God always brings confrontation for a season to bring transformation for a reason.
  • Things happen TO me, So that things can happen IN me, so that things can happen THROUGH me

There is always a divine purpose to the struggles we have.

What will make the difference will be our focus.

Are we looking at our circumstances or the One who will see us through our circumstances.   It is a humble heart and a relationship with God that allows us to focus not on the problem but on the one who will see us past the problems.

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.”  Hebrews 12:2 MSG

 

What’s Going On God? – pt. 4

A life pull of purpose is available to all of us.  Each one of us is created for a purpose and not a single life born is a mistake.  We have a part to play in accomplishing our purpose and God is actively involved in our lives calling us towards a deeper relationship with Him and a life spent living out the purpose we were created for.  And many of the situations we face every day are simply training and proving areas where God shows us ourselves so that He can change us.

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

Both Saul and David had opportunities to be powerfully used by God in their generation.  Both were hand selected by God with a purpose.  Both men encountered hardships and testings that God used to show them who they really were and to show them their character.  Both men made mistakes and messes, but only one responded to the dealing of God in his life, and only one fulfilled the purpose of God for him. 

Paul as another man in scripture called by God with a purpose.   Now Paul had a little different start than David and Saul.  He was a man of prominence and power.  He was part of the Jewish council, and a staunch advocate for the Jewish faith.  He was a man of principle and extremely devout and fervent.  He went so far as to exterminate everyone he thought was a threat to the Jewish faith.  And yet God chose him.

Unlike Saul and David, Paul had a difficult past to overcome.  Daily Paul had to face the people he had tried to exterminate.  Paul had to forgive himself, and move forward.  Paul refused to allow his past to hold him back.  Paul understood what God said in Isaiah 43:18

“Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past.

Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14

“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul completely focused his life on the purpose God gave him to fulfill.  Paul chose to run forward, and not look back.  He chose to learn from his mistakes and to move on.  Paul’s life can give us hope as well because he shows us the possibility.  We can achieve all that God destines us for.  It is a matter of focus.  Will we accept our reality or deny it.  Will we accept the truth about ourselves, or make excuses.  Only when we see ourselves as God sees us can we move forward to the next stage.

The first stage is Revelation – God reveals to us what His purpose for us is.  Revelation always brings us to the second stage.  Confrontation – Every time God reveals a part of His heart, or His purpose for us He always confronts us with who we are.  We all like to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are really good people.  So God shows us what is in our hearts and the behaviors and attitudes that need to be dealt with and overcome.  So God uses situations we face every day to show us who we are.  Jesus said “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45  All of the situations we face draw out of us what is really in us.  All of the things we don’t want to see.

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

The next stage God brings us to is Transformation.  At this stage we have a choice to make as well. Will we allow God to change us.  Because transformation is not an easy task.  Confrontation causes us to face ourselves and our giants.  Transformation enables us to overcome them.  Transformation is the stage where God helps us to overcome the parts of ourselves that are holding us back.  This means that transformation can be a painful process.

  • This is the stage of surgery, where God cuts away the disease and cancers in our character and places them on the cross.
  • This is also the stage where the flesh fights the hardest against the spirit.

Because our flesh desires comfort and this stage can be anything but comfortable.  The good news is God usually combines this stage with confrontation.  He doesn’t confront us with a list and then expect them all to change.  God will bring something to the surface, causing us to realize it, and then have us face it and overcome it one step at a time.  David and Paul and many others in scripture and in history are proof that God is able to carry us through this into all that He purposes us for if we allow Him to.  The stages of Confrontation and Transformation are not easy stages to go through in our lives, but they are necessary, and God never leaves us to walk through them alone.

Are we willing to allow Him to see us through?

The Importance of Personal Values

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
We are all faced with many questions and decisions each and every day.  We are called upon to determine the direction our life takes minute by minute from the time we awake to the time we return to sleep.  What is it that guides your decisions?
Many people determine their decisions based on the situation they are currently facing.  Others simply make the choice that best suits their current desires.  Still many others allow friend or family to make their decisions for them.  How do you make your decisions?  What do you fall back on when your world is in difficulty and the pressure is on?  How do you determine what you are willing to do and where you want to go when the stakes are high?
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ― Roy Disney
What you value is important because that will determine what you are willing to do and what you are willing to sacrifice in your life.  And once you know your values you can then decide easier what will best fit your values.  When you determine your values you decide for yourself what success looks like for you.  You can then be an immense success as a stay at home mom, even when the world wants you to be a leader of a fortune 500 company.  Success doesn’t mean that you are incredibly wealthy.  Success is determined by living life according to what you determined was important.  What do you value?  What are you building your life on?
You may determine that family is of great importance and wealth is very low.  This will allow you to decide what job you may be willing to take and how many hours of overtime you are willing to work.  You may determine that financial gain is most important and you will make decisions accordingly.  What you value arises from who you are and gives voice to the person you are becoming.  And if you don’t determine your values yourself, others will determine them for you.  Society, family, friends, employers are all clamoring to push their values on you.  And if you don’t have your own values to push back with you will become what they want you to become instead of who you are.
Determining what your personal values are isn’t as complicated as it sounds.  It will require you to sit quietly and do some thinking and writing, but it isn’t complicated.

First figure out what is important to you.  And make a list

  • There are many things we do that are important to others
  • What is important to you personally

Second think about why the things on your list are important to you

  • Some things are important to us simply because they are expected of us or we were told they were important
  • Some things we adopted from our parents, or mentors or other people we respected but we never took the time to figure out why
  • You need to decide if they are actually important to you, and if they are going to be something you build your life around you will need to know why they are important

Third work with your list and refine it.

  • Many of the things that are important which you wrote down will fit together.
  • Narrow you focus and shorten your list.  You want something you can use to guide your life, not a novel to carry around to read before every decision.  “For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs.” Simon Sinek
  • If your life isn’t spent living out your values they are not your values

If we will work with knowing what we value, and how we define success we can live lives full of purpose and discover and live our lives to our fullest potential.  With a little work and heart searching we can find out what is most important to us so that we are able to chart our course even when the storms are at their worst.

Values are extremely important.  Do you know what yours are?

Knowing Me as I Am

We are all the sum total of a number of various parts.  Our personalities are never made up of one thing.  We all have dominate personality traits and subordinate traits.  We have traits that function well under pressure and those that function well when things are calm.  Not one of us can say we are one thing and one thing only.  Even those most talkative extrovert needs and wants to be quiet and alone at times.  It is within everyone of us.

maninpiecesThe problem with our traits is we often categorize them and decide which ones we like and which ones we don’t like.  We try to set aside and forget about the traits we don’t like, and work to enhance the ones that we do.  We have parts of ourselves that we build our whole persona on and completely ignored and neglected others.

“If, for example, I only know my strong, competent self and am never able to embrace my weak or insecure self, I am forced to live a lie. I must pretend that I am strong and competent, not simply that I have strong and competent parts or that under certain circumstances I can be strong and competent. Similarly, if I refuse to face my deceitful self I live an illusion regarding my own integrity. Or if I am unwilling to acknowledge my prideful self, I live an illusion of false modesty.”

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When we separate and ignore parts of ourselves we think that we are helping ourselves and getting rid of what we feel is negative about us.  But we take away from ourselves when we do.  And the parts we ignore don’t ever actually go away.  They just simmer out of our sight, forgotten and ignored.  We think we have dealt with them and they are gone but they haven’t gone and they are not getting weaker.  In fact out of sight they have begun to build strength and will one day burst forth somewhere.  Just like a volcano erupts when it finds a weak spot, so the parts of ourselves we ignore will come out.  And they will usually come out in a destructive form.

Many addictions that people suffer from can sometimes be traced to parts of ourselves that we have shut down and ignored.  Parts of us that were important parts of ourselves.  David Benner wrote There is enormous value in naming and coming to know these excluded parts of self. My playful self, my cautious self, my exhibitionistic self, my pleasing self, my competitive self and many other faces of my self all are parts of me, whether I acknowledge their presence or not.  Christian spirituality involves acknowledging all our part-selves, exposing them to God’s love and letting him weave them into the new person he is making. To do this, we must be willing to welcome these ignored parts as full members of the family of self, giving them space at the family table and slowly allowing them to be softened and healed by love and integrated into the whole person we are becoming.”

In order for us to be whole we need to discover the parts of ourselves that we have cut off and rejected, and begin to understand ourselves as a total picture, not just the design we were trying to become.  Our whole being was something that Jesus thought was worth dying for.  Everything we are including the parts we reject is part of who we were created to be.

The self that God persistently loves is not my prettied-up pretend self but my actual self—the real me. But, master of delusion that I am, I have trouble penetrating my web of self-deceptions and knowing this real me. I continually confuse it with some ideal self that I wish I were.”

If we are to truly discover who we are we need to see all the parts of ourselves as important and valuable.  Only then can God show us how He designed us to be and only then can we actually become all we were meant to be.

“You can never be other than who you are until you are willing to embrace the reality of who you are. Only then can you truly become who you are most deeply called to be.”

 

Transformation through acceptance

transformationWe all know things about ourselves that need to change.  And many times we have even struggled to change them.  At times our effort is successful, and other times we fight to change things about ourselves and end up discouraged by our lack of success.  There are things that our loved ones tell us need to change just to add to our list of things we struggle to become.  Everyone of us can compile a list if we think about it of things that we don’t like about ourselves and want to change.

The list is endless and as diverse as we are.  Everything from weight issues and body types, to personality quirks.  Our lists include addictions and behaviors.   Some behaviors are learned and we have developed them as we seek to be included in our world, or to protect ourselves from it.  Regardless of  where you grew up, or your social status in life you have a list.  There are a lot of things about ourselves that we don’t like.  And many of them we have hidden away securely so that we don’t have to see them and hopefully no one else finds out about them.  Unfortunately our hiding them away has not helped us in any way.

“Self-acceptance and self-knowing are deeply interconnected. To truly know something about yourself, you must accept it. Even things about yourself that you most deeply want to change must first be accepted—even embraced. Self-transformation is always preceded by self-acceptance.” And the self that you must accept is the self that you actually and truly are—before you start your self-improvement projects!”  David G. Benner

In order for us to truly change we need to see ourselves as we are, and accept ourselves as we are.  This can be very difficult for us to do because there is a lot of ourselves that we find unacceptable and fight to guard and keep hidden.  This behavior has caused many of the struggles we now face, because a behavior, or part of ourselves that we keep locked away does not go away and it doesn’t get weaker.  In fact the behaviors and traits we hide away get stronger and more aggressive, and when they break free and get loose they always appear in greater intensity and there is often a disaster.  It is like trying to bottle up a volcano.  It may appear to be calm and serene on the surface, but what we ignore is brewing in intensity and will eventually explode and it always explodes away from where we hid it.

Which is why we often don’t connect our behaviors to their cause, and we end up fighting the symptoms of an issue and never deal with the root.  And this is why we don’t have lasting changes in our lives.  As we accept ourselves regardless of what we find we can then see what actually needs to change and begin the healing or learning process which allows the changes to happen.

All of this is made possible as we learn to accept ourselves as God accepts us.  For many people acceptance is a myth because they do not know the love and acceptance of God.  We have conditions on God’s approval and love for us, and it is always based on our performance.  We feel if we can just be good enough, and do right enough God will love us.  And this behavior is completely against scripture.  Romans 5:8 says He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready.” MSG  God isn’t waiting for us to be acceptable to love us, He loves us unconditionally just as we are.  We cannot do anything to earn His love, and His love for us cannot be diminished or increased. 

We need to allow God to reveal His love to us and truly understand what it means to be unconditionally loved, and to experience this love personally.  This was what Paul was praying for when he wrote  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.”  Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT

As we experience this love and acceptance it allows us the ability to look into the areas of life that we have been unwilling or unable to look.  And as we do we will find God there waiting for us each and every time, and the pain of the experience will be surrounded and invaded by the augustinelove that God has for us, and we will find ourselves knowing ourselves, and in the process we can know God more as well.  We can only change as we allow our lives to come under inspection and open the doors to the things we have kept locked away and allow the love and life of God to fill those areas of our hearts.