Whispering His Name ~ Jesus Calling: January 21-27, 2013

So much of the Christian life is learning to let go. We are always hanging on to things, people, circumstances, habits — even if we know that these things hinder us from having true peace. In many ways we are dependent on (or even addicted to) these things because they make us feel a certain way, even if that feeling is negative. Reinforcement isn’t always positive.

I think the key to all of this is learning that letting go means living in the present and not the past. We hang on to feelings that do not serve us in the present moment, which is where God desires for us to exist. In the present moment, God can begin to wean us from these dependencies and effectively bring us into His living, vibrant, and eternal presence. “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

Starting in the present moment means accepting things exactly as they are, here and now. Not how they were in the past or may be in the future — not how you wish they would have been or would like for them to be. I’m not saying this is easy. Accepting the here and now can cause a great deal of anxiety and can lead us to focus on problems instead of hope. As the author of Jesus Calling says, give up the illusion that you deserve a problem-free life! Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus is not asking us to create different circumstances in our lives. He asks us to have the right response to the circumstances He has given us. When we glorify God in the midst of adverse circumstances, the world is in disbelief. We are given countless ways to gain the world’s peace — the self-help sections of bookstores are overflowing — but have you ever noticed that the self-help books continue to be written while the message of God stays the same? “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39) The source of our peace is knowing that His peace never changes, regardless of our circumstances.

How can we live in the here and now? The author of Jesus Calling encourages us to make a practice of “whispering” the name of Jesus. I love this idea because it accomplishes, in a very simple way, a return of our focus back to a single point: Jesus, the One who never changes. Whispering His name in the midst of chaos and anxiety can calm the storm with the same power that Jesus used to calm the furious squall: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39) Whispering the name of Jesus generates peace and enables us to develop “a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (I Peter 3:4)

Practice whispering the name of Jesus today. Let the sound of His name on your lips remind you of His promise and perfection.

 

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To Buddhism and Back Again

Ah, Buddhism. Where to begin? I’ll just say it.

I am a Christian and I love Buddhism. But don’t turn the channel just yet! I promise I am going somewhere with this.

Those close to me know that I began to study Buddhism in my mid-20’s during a time when Christianity just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I had been raised in a Christian family, went to Sunday School, knew all the big Bible stories (remember the little felt board with Jonah and the Whale?), and had been a good church-going girl, fundamentalist even. But imagine the good church-going girl who leaves her tiny Missouri town, heads to the liberal arts university, starts taking classes in feminist theory and world religions, and BAM. I thought my world was suddenly too big for the God I had grown up with.

Enter the Buddha.

My journey into Buddhism would last for over 10 years, and eventually led me all the way to Mongolia to work alongside monks and other fellow travelers on the restoration of a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery that had been laid to waste during the occupation of Mongolia by China and Russia in the early 1920’s. It was an amazing experience. Working on clearing rocks and rubble to uncover statues and relics during the day and sleeping in a traditional ger (“yurt”) at night. Rising in the morning to the sounds of the cows munching grass outside the door (Mongolia is a land without fences) and walking quietly in the dark to sit in meditation and chant morning prayers.

The deeper I delved into Buddhism the more I felt both comforted and incredibly lonely. The teachings spoke to my deepest being but it always seemed like I was opening up a beautiful treasure box that was disappointingly empty inside. Any Buddhist would tell you that maybe this feeling of emptiness was actually a glimpse of the non-attachment that is the goal of true enlightenment. I don’t know. It just felt empty.

One afternoon a work colleague took me to lunch and asked me very simply, “Why Buddhism?” I recall stumbling and stuttering over an answer. Shortly after that, a Christian girlfriend invited me to a Bible study at her house. My Bibles had been packed away in boxes for so long I didn’t even know where they were, but I found them and I went. Mostly to see what it would feel like, if it would be familiar again to me, or if it would feel empty too.

That was 12 years ago. I believe now that Jesus knew I would choose to spend time apart from Him, and He knew that I would return. My soul belongs to Him but He would not prevent me from seeking and knocking on other doors. Through His servant Paul He tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 12b-13) God promises: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a) I am confident that we should never be afraid of the search.

This post represents the first of what may likely be many posts on “to Buddhism and back again.” I hope to share a humble Christian perspective on the teachings of the Buddha. I hope this will engage and not alienate. I hope to grow in the awe of a sovereign God who is ultimately restoring all things in creation to Himself, including the Buddha.

Fully Understood ~ Jesus Calling: January 14-20

We all have a deep desire to be fully understood by the people we love. This is our life search — understanding from our parents, our spouse, our children. We pursue this understanding relentlessly, forgetting that we are already fully understood by Jesus. The Lord ensured Samuel that “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7). When we are in the middle of sadness, we are sure our hearts are empty and no one can understand our despair. Is it possible to rest in knowing that Jesus looks on your heart, sees you, and offers you the peace of being fully understood? As the author of Jesus Calling says, “Do not be ashamed of your emptiness.” You are a vessel waiting to be filled.

We are offered “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) Jesus is this Peace, offered to us moment by moment. We spend so much of our time rehearsing our troubles and multiplying our suffering. Our human nature propels us to try to figure out what will happen next, how we can prepare, how we can avoid trouble. Our first parents desired this knowledge and it led to the fall of humanity. It was then that the Enemy promised the first and greatest lie: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) The peace that God offered to our first parents — the peace of simply being in His presence and being fully understood — was the peace that we rejected then and continue to reject today.

God promises that “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Seeking His peace moment by moment is probably one of the most difficult things we can do. But we can do it, knowing that we are fully saturated in His grace and fully understood.

The Discipline of Thankfulness ~ Jesus Calling: January 7-13, 2013

Thankfulness. Help. Trust.

Have you ever considered thankfulness as an act of discipline in your life? We tend to think of thankfulness as an emotion that arises when things are going well, when something great has happened, when we feel a prayer has been answered, and we break out in spontaneous praises of thankfulness to God. But what about the times of struggle? Disappointment? Loneliness? Depression? Self-pity? Are we praising God during these times as well? God asks us to develop a discipline of thankfulness in our lives — thankfulness as an act of will.  We do all kinds of things in our lives as an act of will — we go to work each day, we exercise, we pay the bills, we buy the groceries, and…we give thanks?

God wants us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is His will in Christ Jesus (I Thessalonians 5:18). He ensures us that He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present Help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), giving us reason to then rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). In other words, at the very moment that you don’t feel you have any reason to be thankful, get down on your knees and praise the One who says that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

As with any discipline, you only become more familiar with what you are practicing the more that you practice. Any athlete, dancer, artist, or yoga practitioner can tell you this. But as Christians, we have a promise that goes along with the discipline of thankfulness — we are promised the presence of God! As we draw near to God in the discipline of thankfulness, He draws near to us because He literally inhabits our praises (“Yet you are holy, dwelling in the praises of Israel” [Psalm 22:3]).

Thankfulness is an investment in our relationship with God. This is the investment that Jesus was referring to when he told us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21) We respond to His presence with praise and thankfulness, the relationship is strengthened, trust is gained, and we deepen our familiarity with our Creator.

Jesus Calling: January 1-6, 2013

As I move into 2013, I find myself seeking and anticipating a time of renewal. My daughter is finally getting to an age where I don’t feel that she demands all of my attention and I can return to some of the things in my life that have been put on the back burner. One of the tools of renewal is the Word of God, and I love that Jesus Calling begins with the encouragement “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) We cannot truly have a renewal of the mind without regular time spent in the Presence of Jesus.

A consistent theme in the first week of Jesus Calling is the presence of God. Throughout the week, the author chooses beautiful phrases and scriptural references to remind us about the attentiveness of His presence, His healing presence, the light of His presence, the peace of His presence, and His universal presence. It is one thing to understand that Jesus said He will never leave us or forsake us. But do you also realize that this means His presence is constantly with you? That in the here and now He is fully and universally attentive to you?

Don’t get me wrong — this is not an “all about me” idea. Many believers make the mistake that everything Jesus did and said was all about them and now they just need to figure out how to squeeze the blessings out of this salvation thing. Wrong. Everything that Jesus did and said was because He was carrying out His father’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. We are part of that plan. God has desired relationship with His creation (including us) from the beginning, but it took the sacrifice of Jesus to bring that relationship back to fullness.

Relationship requires the presence of both individuals. As many people in broken relationships know, it doesn’t work if only one person is present. Jesus offers us His constant presence and in return He asks us for our attentiveness to that presence. He asks for trust, deep dependence, and profound reliance. His presence is our constant companion and place of refuge. The author of Jesus Calling encourages us to hide in the secret of His presence, knowing that we are in the Presence of the One “who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20)

Enter into His presence today.

My Daughter, the Princess

This weekend, my almost 3-year-old daughter was invited to a little boy’s birthday party. She is just now “getting” the idea of birthdays and birthday parties, so needless to say she was extremely excited to go. In addition, this little boy is a playmate from church and one of her favorite people. Before we left she announced, “When we get there I am going to give (insert little boy’s name) a big hug and a big kiss and tell him that I am a princess!!”

My first thought was “go for it!” but then I got very emotional and proud of her for having the sweet audacity to tell a young man that she is a princess. You see, growing up I was always quick to give the boys a hug and a kiss but never knew that I also needed to remind them that I am a princess. I didn’t receive that kind of guidance growing up. I didn’t know how to relate to boys other than to do whatever it took to get their attention — positive or negative. God love my Dad, but he just wasn’t there for me in the sense of teaching me about the kind of respect and positive attention that I should expect from a boy. I didn’t learn that until I understood Jesus as my Father and me as His bride.

A dear friend of mine always tells her two foster girls that they are “Daughters of the King” and I am trying to carry that lesson over to my daughter. And a daughter of the King is — you guessed it — a princess. My prayer is that it will be rooted deeply in my daughter’s psyche that she is a Daughter of the Most High King Jesus, that she certainly is a princess in His eyes, and the boys better know who her Daddy is.

2013…Jesus Calling

As I begin to think about blogging again, I realized that I should probably review my “About Me” page to see if it is still relevant! Probably the most upsetting thing was having to change “thirty-something” to “forty-something” but hey…not much I can do about that. The goal of this blog is still relatively the same, although God has certainly been moving in my life differently since I became a mother almost 3 years ago. I realize more acutely that time is extremely limited and I don’t want to miss a moment of my daughter’s life if I can help it.

This year I will be re-reading Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional and blogging about it each week. If you haven’t picked up this devotional, you should (there’s even a gorgeous leather edition). I can’t count the number of times of the last year that I shared her words with a friend or family member, either by email, Facebook, or even snapping a photo of the day’s message with my iPhone and sending it via text message. It is amazing!! I will of course try to post about other things that inspire me, and I welcome suggestions from any readers out there.

Blessings to you in 2013.