Category: Following Jesus

7 Signs That Your Goal Has become an Idol

 

Since the day my Varsity volleyball coach asked us to list three goals for the season, I’ve been drawn to goal-setting and the process of pushing aside everything that could possibly obstruct me from reaching my goal. I’ve been the live-with-all-your-heart type, and whether we’re talking about my career, my hobbies, or my creative pursuits, I don’t like doing anything half-way or half-heartedly.

But what happens when the goal you wrote at the top of the list becomes an idol?

It happens. Whether it’s the goal of running a sub-five-minute mile, climbing to the top of the corporate ladder in any given company, or losing ten pounds, it’s all too easy for a healthy goal to become an unhealthy idol.

Here are just a few indicators that the goal you’re chasing might just be an idol:

  1. You think about it in an almost constant undercurrent of subconscious thought.
  2. You sacrifice significant amounts of time with the people you love in your pursuit of your goal.
  3. The people you love become disgruntled with the pursuit of your goal.
  4. You begin to feel angry, anxious, or stressed when it seems it’s taking too long or you’re being hindered in some way.
  5. You feel like your heart’s been torn in two when you encounter a major setback.
  6. Your goal is mostly about you and makes little positive impact on the people in your life.
  7. Your goal has very little to do with loving God or loving other people.

I’ve made idols of all sorts of goals. What starts as a God-given incentive to join him in what he is doing becomes a self-centered imperative to make much of my own life.  Throughout the course of my life, I’ve made idols of the decorations on the living room wall, running, comfort, collecting things, dieting, perfect grades, state and district titles in athletics, creative lesson plans, and much more.

So what are we to do when we realize we’ve turned our goals to idols that are sucking the energy, spark, and focus from our lives?

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes:

And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play…Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:7,14 (NKJV)

We’re called to flee from the idols set up in our lives. But how do you flee when your idol is something you’re forced to face every day?  How do you flee when your idol is your job, your house, your child, or your wardrobe?

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

Casting down our idols begins in the mind. To stop the cycle of perseverating over a thought, idea, object, or pursuit, we replace the incessant thoughts with the truth of God’s Word.  We take our thoughts captive and focus on our first two callings in life: Loving God and loving others (Luke 10:27, my paraphrase).  If a thought doesn’t lead us to greater love for God and greater love for others, if it doesn’t honor Christ, we take it captive and replace it.

There’s a common phrase in our culture that tells us we need to “let go” of thoughts that aren’t obedient to Christ, but 2 Corinthians 10:5 speaks a different word of advice: “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

We’re called to take our thoughts captive, ask where they came from, and closely examine them by shining the light of truth upon them.

Here are some Words of truth to replace the idolatrous thoughts that encumber many of us:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 NASB)

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)

let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

 

Casting down idolatrous goals doesn’t mean we stop setting goals altogether. God is a God of order, organization, and kingdom purposes.  When we join him in what he is doing, setting goals is healthy and reasonable.  It’s simply up to us to remain alert and ensure that our goals don’t start to carry more weight than they should.

How to set goals, honor God, and live by faith without making your goals idols

What If Hospitality Isn’t What We Think It Is?

 

I accidentally read about a book about hospitality this fall. I suppose no one ever accidentally reads an entire book, but that’s almost what happened.  I started reading the book because I met the author this summer, and she struck me as authentic, kind, and devoted to her faith.

As I leafed through the pages of the book, Michelle’s words began to echo in the deepest recesses of my soul, and I knew she was speaking truth. An Invitation to the Table: Embracing the Gift of Hospitality by Michelle Lazurek changed the way I perceive hospitality forever.

All fall I pondered our neighbors’ gift of hospitality. They invite the neighborhood into their home for birthday parties, autumn celebrations, slime-making, hotdog roasts, and more.  They bless us with huge amounts of delicious food, crafts for the kids, and genuine kindness that touches our hearts.

All fall I wanted to be more like them.

And then I picked up Michelle’s book, and I was sure her words would challenge me to be a better hostess, spend more money on community potlucks, and invite our friends for dinner more often. Michelle’s words did remind me that this kind of hospitality is important.

Her words also showed me that hospitality is much more than a clean house and good food. She writes, “Hospitality is more than just inviting some friends over for dinner.  Hospitality means messing up your life and sacrificing every convenience and comfort for the sake of promoting the gospel. . . Jesus set the expectation that if people wanted to follow him, they had to forgo everything they ever knew and, in essence, become foreigners and aliens in the land, relying on other people’s willingness to accept them into their homes. . . In the same way, we must offer our lives as an example of hospitality and live hospitably with others.”

Messing up our lives.  These words have echoed in my mind for months.

While we are called to open our homes to others, hospitality includes opening our hearts to others and providing a safe place to unload heavy burdens and connect. Hospitality can happen in our homes, but it can also happen on the corner of mainstreet, the bleachers of a high school basketball game, or the produce aisle of the local grocery store.

Hospitality is reaching into someone else’s world and inviting them into yours.

~~~

I was somewhere between middle school and high school when alternative music started making waves through Sony Walkman headsets across the nation. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Live changed the way our generation jammed, and they echoed the unspoken words of the angst we experienced in our adolescent quests for identity.

Michelle writes about this movement in a way that captures the culture of the 90’s:

“They did not just change the way I listened to music, but everything else changed too. I soon found myself walking down the hall decked out in identical Converse shoes and red plaid flannel shirts with my friends.  Soon, I was not myself anymore.  I found myself belonging to something much bigger than the music – a whole way of life.  Because I liked the same music as my friends, I found something I had in common with them.  They soon invited me to parties and to sit with them at lunch.  My commonalities with my newfound friends helped me relate to them.  Soon I wanted to do what they were doing and go where they wanted to go.

“Nirvana wasn’t just any band. They changed the face and future of music.  Although their music was original and innovative, they didn’t just create a fan base, they created a culture.”

What does Nirvana have to do with hospitality? By creating a culture where people felt free to connect, they unified young people who were questioning everything about their lives.

I’m not proposing we model or repeat the messages portrayed in all of Nirvana’s songs, but I do propose we create cultures of love and inclusion wherever we go. By the way we treat others, by the kindness – or lack thereof – in our eyes, by whether we live in a hurry or live gently, we choose to either extend open hearts of hospitality or leave the doors of our souls closed and locked.

Our neighbors have exhibited hospitality that reaches to the deepest levels of human connection. Not only have they learned the art of presenting good food and fun activities, they do it with kindness and care.  They’re more interested in connecting with us than appearing perfect.  They’re a living example.

So how do we follow Michelle’s advice and embrace the gift of hospitality? Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of both an open heart and an open home.
  2. Make yourself available to step into the lives of others.
  3. Show up for events that matter.
  4. Listen without offering clichés.
  5. Sacrifice your comfort for the sake of someone else.
  6. Invite someone into your home and don’t worry about the clutter or dirty floors.
  7. Invite someone to lunch at a restaurant and make it your goal to see through to her heart.
  8. Live slowly enough to hear more than just the words of others.

 

Hospitality begins in the heart. May we learn to lay our lives down for the sake of others.

 

Resources:

Michelle Lazurek, The Ripple Effect (Coudersport, PA: Michelle Lazurek, 2013), 19-20.

Michelle, Lazurek, An Invitation to the Table: Embracing the Gift of Hospitality (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2016).

 

Why This Spiritual Attack Is Not Against Your Finances, Your Health, or Your Car

The year I started writing words for the world to read, things started falling to pieces all around us. We encountered three bouts with the stomach bug in four months.  The kids were constantly rundown with various viruses.  There were financial strains, serious health scares, and much more.

We were about ten months into a sequence of unfortunate events when I heard a single statement through a static-blurred radio station while driving to the grocery store. I don’t remember who spoke the words or exactly how he phrased them, but the man’s message was this: “Satan’s not out to break your car, wreck your finances, or steal your good health.  What he really wants to do is cause you to doubt God’s goodness.”

I was three weeks into a very trying month – a month filled with one trial after another. . .

To continue reading, join me at Putting on the New.

If You’re Searching for More from Your Life

 

White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting.  We’re waiting for the coming King.  Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world.  Waiting for God with us.

The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall.  She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things.  At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.

Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return?  Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?

Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.

I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.

This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for.  It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times.  It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:

  1. Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.

The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.

  1. Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.

Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.

  1. Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.

When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.

  1. God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.

In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him.  Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.  Above all else, prayer is about a relationship.  Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.

  1. If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.

A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).

  1. Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.

We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.

  1. Rest is a state of mind.

We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means

resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.

  1. Every great accomplishment begins with one step.

Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke.  Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .

  1. Life and death are in the power of my words.

Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.

  1. God wants us to ask for the things we need.

Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level.  We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else.  We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture.  But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives.  Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.

~~~

When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.

Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work.  It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life.  It was satisfying and purposeful.  It drew me closer to the heart of God.  And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.

Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .

4 Reasons It’s Ok You’re Not Where You Want to be

 

 

We woke to white flakes on kelly green grass, and the kids squealed like they’d never seen snow. I sat for a while and watched it flutter down like a gentle foreshadowing of what’s to come.  Like most things, the novelty won’t last.

The changing seasons are an ongoing reminder to assess my life, balance my priorities, and try to make certain that my walk with God and my walk with the people I love are where they ought to be. But that’s just the question: How do you really go about assessing the subjective parts of your life?

I used to think a time would come when I’d sense that I’d arrived to some sort of long-awaited destination in my relationship with God. There have been noteworthy moments – moments that impacted eternity – but for the most part, I find myself considering that I’m not yet where I want to be.

My late teens and early twenties were mostly just a scramble to keep myself afloat. My mid to late-twenties were sparked with radical enthusiasm and devotion.  And my thirties find me settling into a pace that mostly looks like faithfully fulfilling whatever is set before me, a scarcity of spiritual mountaintop moments, and long stretches of spiritual steadiness.

Watching the first snow of the season, I decide to extend grace to myself. I decide that it’s ok that I’m not yet where I want to be, and I remind myself that none of us will “arrive” until we stand before the throne of God at the end of our earthly lives.  I consider the reality that there’s not really room to judge anyone else’s journey, and this means I don’t need to judge my own journey either.

My journey has been imperfect, and my life remains imperfect. I blow it almost as often as I get it right.  I miss opportunities to extend kindness to others.  I search for patience, and it’s nowhere to be found.  I question whether or not I’m making the impact I hoped to make when I set out on the journey.  I forget to pray.  I complain about things.  I do the exact things I don’t want to do.

In light of all these things, it’s ok that I’m not where I want to be, and here’s why:

The One Who Made Me Will Bring Me to Completion

I can trust that the Maker who knit me together in my mother’s womb won’t quit on me. He’ll finish what he started.  He’ll bring the work of my life to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Grace and Knowledge Don’t Just Show up – They Grow

2 Peter 3:18 reads, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord . . .” Every person is somewhere on a journey that leads either toward God or away from him.  Until we see him face to face, none of us have arrived to a perfected state or a perfected relationship with him.  What’s most important is that we’re continuing to grow closer and not inching ever so slowly away from him.

Endurance Leads to Maturity

According to James, trials lead to endurance, and endurance leads to a kind of maturity that leaves a person complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4). For this reason, we keep pressing through our imperfect lives and our imperfect relationships, and we trust that all of our trials will lead us to greater maturity.

God Loves Me As I Am

God’s love for imperfect people was proven once and for all at the cross (Romans 5:8). He loves me right now, at this step of my journey, just as much as he loved me in my wayward early twenties and just as much as he’ll love me on the day I enter my eightieth faithful year of walking with him.

He loves each of us where we’re at, and he’s bringing us to completion. We’re simply called to keep pressing toward him.

~~~

We run through the morning snowfall together, and the kids catch flakes on their tongues and spread their arms wide in a display of awe-struck freedom. They’re wild with life and joy, and I suppose I could learn a few things from their childlike enthusiasm.

When Where You Are Is Not Where You Hoped to be

 

It’s a brisk autumn morning with frost on the lawn and the kids and touching it with tiny fingers and a sense of awe that somehow slips away as years slip past. I’m staring down the face of a question that’s been echoing in my mind for twenty-four hours now: Where are you?

This fall has been marked by big bumps along the usually smooth road of our lives – bumps that make us step back and appreciate the simple things of life, bumps that make us grateful to still be here together laughing and crying and kicking soccer balls across wide spans of green grass. This question – where are you? – doesn’t loom like an accusation.  It simply invites me to step outside the momentum of my days and honestly assess what’s driving my life.

This question presented itself last week when I admitted that I was afraid – afraid of what the future might hold, afraid to take the next step toward a goal, and afraid that more than one of my dreams might be on the verge of collapse. It presented itself again yesterday morning, when a friend sent a text with this very question staring at me through the screen on my phone, and it arose two more times as I watched Christine Caine share a message online.

It’s the question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden after the apple was eaten: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

God knows everything, and God knew where Adam was hiding. Is it possible that he asked this question so that Adam might step back and take a long, hard look at his situation, honestly assess it and give words to it?

Adam answers, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Adam answers honestly: Afraid, naked, and hiding.

The Lord responds by first cursing the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. He then speaks difficult words for the two people who once walked in unbroken fellowship with him: He tells the woman that he will multiply her pain in bringing forth children and make her desire for a husband who will rule over her; he tells the man that the ground is now cursed because of his sin, and in sweat and toil he will eat from the ground, and it will be filled with thorns and thistles.

I read these words while Christine Caine preaches about following the Lord, and I give thanks for the price Jesus paid on the cross. The curse of Adam is that all die, but in Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Jesus literally paid the price for sin by becoming the curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  He reversed the ugly scene in the garden through the sacrifice of his life.

Because of Jesus, I have confidence that when the Lord asks, “Where are you?” I can answer without a fear of condemnation. There is no condemnation in Christ.

And so on this morning, frosted window panes soaking in the dawn’s first rays of golden sun, I admit to the Lord exactly where I am. I let the sun warm my face.  I receive the truth that he loves me exactly where I am, and he promises to shine light on each step of the path in front of me (Psalm 119:105).

Some of us are afraid today. Some of us are naked and ashamed.  Some of us are filled with regret, sorrow, grief, pain, and dismay.  There is grace for all of these things.  We are simply asked to come.  We are called to draw near – just as we are – and trust that the one who began the work within our hearts will complete what he started (Philippians 1:6).

I close with a question today: Where are you?

It’s not a question about where you’re pretending to be. It’s a question for the silent moments of the day when you’re alone with your thoughts and you let yourself be honest about the circumstances of your life.  Are you too tired to keep going at this pace?  Are you hurting?  Are you indifferent?  Have you grown cold and hard?

Will you trust the Lord to meet you in that place? He already sees.  He is present.  It’s for your sake that he poses the question.  Will you let him step in and work within?

~~~

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When Life Takes a Detour

 

Bekah was born on a clear November evening. As mothers do, I remember that day when we turn the calendar to the month of her birth.  I remember the way the oak trees along wolf creek beamed with tawny leaves, glowing radiant orange beneath the setting sun the night before she came to us.  I remember the contrast of kelly green fields of clover against the leaf-strewn wood line, and I remember thinking she’d never arrive.

Preparing to welcome our firstborn to the world felt mostly like one giant detour in the plans we had made. I planned to continue teaching right up to my due date.  We planned to vacation in the summer.  I planned to continue leading Bible studies, ministering to teens, and dedicating entire weeks of my life to youth retreats and mission trips throughout the pregnancy.  I was sure I’d be able to keep running until at least the seven-month mark.

None of that happened.

It was a detour that hurt. I felt like my entire life had been taken away.  I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum – severe pregnancy sickness – and forced to an immobile position on the couch or in bed throughout much of the pregnancy.  So much for running, mentoring, and teaching.  It all had to stop.

It was a crushing detour. So many of the things that were closest to my heart were taken away, and I was forced to simply rest – alone with my thoughts and my nausea.

What do we do when life takes a detour? What happens when all of our best-made plans are suddenly stripped away?

Looking back, I’ve realized that often, what I thought was a detour was actually the destination God had ordained for my good.

I can truthfully say that the months of hyperemesis were a destination of sorts. Throughout those months, I learned that my worth is not at all related to what I can produce or whose life I can make an impact upon.  I learned that God loves me relentlessly even when I’m too sick to engage in any sort of spiritual discipline.  I learned that it’s ok to need other people.  I learned that if all I had left in this life were Jesus, he would be enough.  It wouldn’t be easy.  But I’d make it.

Toward the end of the pregnancy I made a list of 102 things I learned through the sickness. I’m not sure where I put that list.  I’m pretty sure I made it with the hope that God would see all I’d gleaned from the experience and spare me throughout the course of future pregnancies. (I was sick the second time too, so apparently the list didn’t accomplish the entire purpose I had hoped for it, but that’s ok.)

The experience reminds me that life often seems to move in the opposite direction of what I had planned or hoped. Sickness comes – sickness more serious than hyperemesis.  Dreams are crushed.  Plans are shattered.  But God is still good.

And sometimes the detour is actually the destination. Sometimes we fully believe God called us to climb to the top of the mountain, and we do everything we can to get to the summit.  When an unforeseen valley springs up between the foothills and the summit, it’s easy to wonder where God’s at in the valley.  And when the valley winds through the mountains and eventually leads to an entirely different mountaintop, it’s easy to wonder what God’s purpose is.  It’s easy to wonder if we heard God wrong.

But often, we heard God correctly from the beginning. He simply wanted to show us the first mountain to get us moving in the right direction, and he knew all along that he would lead us to the valley that redirected the journey.  God does this.  And we can rest in knowing that when we seek him with our whole hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).  He will lead us on the journey.

Watching Bekah barrel through a leaf pile in the yard, seven years feels more like a week.  And I’d take that detour all over again for this one mountaintop moment with her.

purposefulfaith.com

Sarah Frazer

This post is shared on two blog link ups. Thank you Kelly and Sarah!