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Cleaning out your Heart House

Cleaning out your Heart House

Now that we’ve talked about what freedom truly is in light of Christ’s sacrifice I’d like to talk a little bit about what our response to that newfound opportunity for freedom can be. (I hope the wheels started turning in this direction last week with the questions I left you with.)

Do you have a habitual sin? Is there something that you find yourself struggling with over and over, constantly wrestling with and needing to approach God to repent for? I think that’s the case for most of us.

God doesn’t want that for you. He wants to give you freedom from all that. Not in an instant, but over the scope of your life. And the more we give God the thing we most dislike to give him – our sins – the more he can give us this kind of freedom in return. 

That’s why the Gospels, and Christ himself, spoke so much about repentance. It’s not about making yourself feel bad or saying how awful you are, it’s about cleaning house so that when freedom is offered you have room for it. 

But if the house of your heart is anything like my house, you probably don’t just need to clean it once. 

You probably need to clean it, like, all the time.

Repentance is continuous throughout our lives. We keep being human and we keep giving in to sin. We don’t get to clean up once and then just let the dust accumulate. 

Our best response to Christ’s gift to us – the freedom He wants to give you – is to keep cleaning up, keep making room, keep decluttering our hearts so that freedom can flourish and thrive there instead.

To repent. 

Repentance usually isn’t a summertime talking point in the church, but I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to bring it to mind. Goodness knows we aren’t only sinning in certain seasons of the year! If you days slow down in summer like mine do I hope you take this time to repent and clean house. 

We all need it, goodness knows.

With joy!

Jill

 

Free for What?

Free for What?

Last week we quoted the verse “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” but how much do you really understand what that means? 

First of all, how did Christ set us free? 

And secondly, what is the freedom that he set us free for? 

Let’s take the questions one at a time. 

First of all – how did Christ set us free? The simple answer is through his death on the cross. In that act he challenged death to a duel and won when he rose on Easter morning. After he had passed through that gauntlet as true God and true man he brought the rest of humanity into that victory with him. No longer was death the end of the story for humanity because we have a champion who had defeated it. All of the sudden our fall into sin was not the end of the story. 

We have been set free from the ransom of sin, which is death.

So then, next question, for what freedom did he do this? What was he seeking for us in defeating death? The opportunity for us to do what we feel like? That seems woefully inadequate. We more or less already had that freedom, unless it was infringed upon by social or political groups that happened to be in power at the time. 

There wasn’t really anything supernatural holding us back from doing what we wanted though – that was pretty much the norm of life shackled by sin. I think it is clearly reasonable to insist that there must be a deeper, better freedom which he was seeking for us in setting us free from death.

The freedom to join him. 

The freedom to do what we ought and therefore come into the glory of Heaven alongside him. That seems more worthy of his sacrifice. As Christians, we should never seek the freedom to just do what we feel like or just not have anyone interfere in our lives. We should never seek freedom from God as so many do in our culture today, but freedom for God – freedom to be able to love and serve Him the way He desires us to. And like we said last week, the primary thing that keeps us from this freedom is sin.

Sin is a dirty word in our culture. Some would argue that the concept of sin is completely lost and I would likely begrudgingly agree. 

(In fact, equally sadly and hilariously as I am writing this email, the autocorrect on my computer continues to change the word sin into other words, as if even my computer itself is saying, no no, you can’t possibly mean to be talking about sin. That doesn’t exist.)

But it does. We know it does. 

And it, sin, not rules or regulations, is our greatest obstacle to freedom.

Christ died and rose to bring us into this freedom from sin – so what should our response be to that?

What do you do with this freedom Christ purchased for you? What can you do this week to more completely embrace the gift of freedom you have been given?

Who Knows What Freedom Really Is??

Who Knows What Freedom Really Is??

Like so many topics that we discussed together, freedom is incredibly fraught with misunderstanding. If you live in the United States like I do then you’re likely very aware of our colloquial understanding of freedom as “the ability to do what we want.“ 

(I can’t say that I know much about the way freedom is understood in the rest of the world, so if you have insights from other continents I would be extremely interested in how your culture views freedom, so hit reply and let me know if you have thoughts to share!)

But it’s also an often quoted scripture verse that says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”– so is the idea that God came to let us simply do what we want

That doesn’t seem quite right – does it?

So what the heck is freedom really? 

The freedom Christ desires for us is not simply the freedom to do whatever we want, but the freedom to be able to do what we ought. 

The main thing that keeps us from being truly free is sin – not undo oversight or pesky laws. When we find ourselves in an endless loop of doing something that we know we shouldn’t, repenting, and then doing the thing again much to our dismay, we have found an area in our lives where we are not terribly free

It is up to us to turn those things over to God and focus on them and our moral and prayer lives so that we can finally, once and for all, find freedom from those shortcomings.

It is a favorite image of mine that I heard from a preacher once that it is not freedom to sit down at a piano and bang away with no knowledge of how to play. It is true freedom to be a master pianist, free to combine notes and techniques and styles with grace and eloquence. 

It is not freedom from rules that makes us free, It is in excellence in application of those rules, God’s laws for our lives, that makes us truly free. So that’s what we’ll be talking about the rest of this month – what it looks like to be free as a Christian and how that freedom manifest in our lives. 

My hope is that this will be a meaningful month of meditation for you, especially if you live in the United States like I do, as we lead up to our national holiday at the beginning of July – often associated deeply with the freedom that can come from living in a democracy.

I’d also ask that wherever you live you offer up a short prayer for the United States right now, as we head into fall elections and continue to struggle to best protect and care for the most vulnerable in our country.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Some Thoughts on the Sin of Racism

Racism is evil, and racism is sin.

There’s no getting around that.

And though, as a white woman, racism is not an area of expertise for me (I deeply encourage you to head to @beabridgebuilder to learn and listen because their curation of resources is so much better and more comprehensive than anything I could put together and what I am using myself to learn) I do know something about spiritual warfare and dealing with sin. So that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

Because, since racism is sin, the devil loves it.

He is the Divider, the Accuser.

He loves it every time we dehumanize each other, whether because of skin color, differing politics, social status, or shirt size. It doesn’t matter to him – he’ll take it all.

And that’s why I think it’s worth it to take a beat in the midst of all the other important conversations going on right now and remember some of the spiritual realities we’re dealing with.

First of all, we have to start from a place of seeing the Image of God in everyone we interact with – black people, as that is the primary issue at hand, but also people who are a part of the problem – bigots, people hardened in sin, deniers. We can’t trade one hatred for another. 

Secondly, we aren’t all called to do the same work. We have to resist the urge to judge others based on what we personally see them doing, because we might not be seeing the whole picture in dealing with this sin, just as in many others.

As St. Paul tells us there are many gifts and many callings that flow forth from the One Holy Spirit. If a friend is seeming “silent” on social media they might still be living in their own calling and indeed doing their part to uproot this sin, perhaps to fasting and prayer or action in a bodied way. They also might not, but there’s no way to know. We can’t judge the movement going on in their heart and mind.

If we feel the need to speak to them about their effort in fighting racism, I think it’s most helpful to point out ways we may see their specific gifts serving the pursuit of racial justice in a way that encourages them to get involved and doesn’t accuse them (let’s leave the accusations to the Accuser). 

Thirdly, we can’t end sin under human power. We need Jesus. And just as we can’t use this as an excuse not to do the work that needs to be done (the quote from the Talmud comes to mind: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”) we also need to remember that better social systems won’t end sin.

We need a Savior for a reason. As long as people are working under their own power they are limited. It is only in God that all things are possible.

And lastly, we need to both acknowledge where we are right now and where we desire to go, both personally and as a society, accepting that there is a distance between the two and that distance will not close overnight.

What we are facing right now is not a sprint, but a marathon. Just as the systems that perpetuate racism were developed over time, it will take time to disassemble. Emotions burn bright, but typically the flames do burn well enough to support a long campaign. It’s not healthy emotionally or spiritually for any of us to work in frenzy. Our light will quickly be exhausted. 

And so in the midst of this work, whether you are black, brown, or white, it’s necessary to rest. Rest is only possible in God. Hell is an existence of no rest, no peace, no joy, and no God. We can not live truth from a place like that. Rest doesn’t mean abandoning the work and it doesn’t mean complacency. It means we are letting ourselves be fed by God so we can continue the work.

I have seen many people in the last few weeks faulting those around them for not speaking quickly enough or with the length and clarity desired. And though some of those criticisms might be valid–I don’t pretend to know the motivation of others speaking or not speaking–speedy response for its own sake is not the best goal.

I would argue that the best goal is for each of us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us how this particular sin is nurtured in us and then invite that same Spirit into the work of uprooting it. That might be a public process, and it might not. It might be tangled up with other sins and we might find ourselves, regardless of our race, fighting some deep demons.

Those demons need to go, for sure, but it might take some time. 

And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what I feel most moved to say – time is necessary and God is necessary. We need time to learn, time to listen, time to let God move in our hearts. We need God to break into our hearts and help us change.

I’ve seen so many of the devil’s fingerprints on my own reaction to everything going on – urging argument, urging hard-heartness, urging pride, urging speed, urging frenzy that comes from anxiety and not the swiftness that is of God. I’m a broken, sinful, messed up human being and this situation seems to be a powder keg of everything I don’t want to face about myself.

I think a lot of people are feeling that. And we don’t WANT to feel that.

It hurts to see how much sin still flourishes in us, especially when we deeply love Christ. The climate of my heart is still way too amenable to the growth of everything that hurts the heart of Christ.

We all have work to do to uproot sin – racism, pride, anger, lust, and many more – and it’s going to take the rest of our lives. I see many people already starting to ask if all the people posting black boxes on their Instagram are still going to be around in 3 months. As Christians, it should be the expectation that we are in it for the long haul because we know that sin isn’t going to stop when fighting it in this particular inciting incident stops trending.

Fighting sin takes endurance that only comes from being fed by a relationship with God. We can’t go on solo offensives no matter how noble. We will be beaten and we will be broken even more. (ask me how I know…)

So for what it’s worth, my goal has become to simply walk with God in this situation. I don’t have the answers, but He does. We absolutely need to listen to our black sisters and brothers right now, but we also need to listen to God. Only He can help us faithfully navigate our hearts out of sin and into the light. 

God bless you.

Practical Steps for Living Courage

Practical Steps for Living Courage

Last week we talked about making courage an everyday occurrence so that we can grow our own aptitude for it and demystify the experience. 

But on a practical level, what does that mean? What can we do to be courageous?

I did a little brainstorming and came up with a few different lists – beginner, intermediate, and advanced – of things that can be added to life to flex our courage muscles. These are simply ideas, and hopefully will get you thinking about opportunities in your own life for courage whether they are on the list or not.

Beginner-

Practice something you’re bad at. Literally be a beginner. Let it be OK that you were not competent before you start. Small as it may seem, allowing yourself to start when you know you will likely fail (perhaps over and over again) is a great act of courage.

Greet someone who has never greeted you. Begin to see the people around you as people, not strangers, not simply fellow humans, but as real people with lives as complex and all consuming as your own. And then greet them as such, even if they are unlikely to return the favor.

Notice what makes you feel afraid. A huge barrier to courage is a fear that surprises us and knocks us off-balance. But, if you begin to bring mindfulness into fear that you feel you can start preparing for situations that will likely make you feel afraid and you can plan a better response for the future.

Intermediate-

Actively seek a new friendship with someone you don’t know yet. Nothing like putting yourself out there to grow your courage muscle. Even if you don’t become besties, the effort to reach out to another person will help you grow in bravery and allow the other person to feel seen. Win-win.

Brainstorm everything you would do if you were free from fear, and then do some thing from the list. I think this speaks for itself. If you look at your fears in the face and see what they’re holding you back from, you will have a powerful list of ways that you can face that fear head on.

Humbly ask for help. It’s super hard for us to ask for help most of the time. But, when we need help, it’s a beautiful opportunity to grow in two incredibly important virtues – humility and courage. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. (One of my favorite quotes is “Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” by Khalil Gibran. Food for thought.)

Advanced-

Put yourself in the path of someone who vehemently disagrees with you, and commit to listening to them. I really don’t recommend that you do this on social media, but Instead look for an opportunity to meet a real person face-to-face and listen to them.

Get involved in activism that seeks to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and commit to viewing those who disagree with you as people first, opponents second. There are more than a few fronts where you can be involved in meaningful, bodied activism (no, not hashtag activism) that will allow you to grow in bravery and speak for the voiceless. There are a myriad of fronts that need brave voices to speak for racial justice, the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the imprisoned, and the marginalized. 

Wear your faith on your sleeve, but also commit to knowing the answers to the questions you’re going to get. As the Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15, we must be prepared to give the reason for the hope that lives within us. A lot of people have a pet objection to faith, God, Jesus, the church as a whole. These arguments are not impenetrable, and it’s not too challenging to anticipate what might be coming. Commit to educating yourself about your faith so that when you are brave and open about it you are able to face the questions that come in love and grace, but most importantly with truth.

These are some ideas to get you started, and I sincerely hope you come up with your own as well. It is worth it to seek to be brave every day so that when the opportunities come that we did not seek we are ready to embrace them with magnanimity, as a fighter finds peace even in the midst of the conflict which he has been trained for.

Have other ideas? I’d love to hear them! Just hit reply and send them my way! If I receive more good ideas I’ll put together a round up when I get back from maternity leave!

Imagining Courage vs. Living It

Imagining Courage vs. Living It

When we’re talking about courage the subject of fear so often comes up, and often as some kind of opposing emotion to courage – as if we cannot be both at once. 

I think there’s a vision of courage that we bring from childhood into adulthood that isn’t terribly helpful – the childhood view of adults who seem endlessly competent and able to deal with every situation – that we find, when we are ourselves adults, to look terribly different from who we find ourselves to be. 

That has been one of the most interesting realizations of motherhood for me. As a child I have such vivid memories of how endlessly self-assured my parents seemed. I trusted them implicitly and it was as if there was absolutely no situation that arose in the first decade of my life that they were not completely equal to. 

College students seem much the same to me as well, since I had the privilege of growing up more or less on campus at Purdue University, where I came to know and love so many wonderful young women who were my earliest role models. They seem to know everything that they could need to know – how to dress, how to do their make up, how to get into an excellent school like Purdue. 

I lived in anticipation of the day that I would become like them, or become like my mother, and just know what to do all the time. Imagine my deep disappointment when I reached college myself only to discover that I still felt like I was still about 6 1/2. I had no idea what the heck I was doing and soon realized that no one else did either. And yet when I interacted with children I saw that same adoration that I had had myself. I came to realize for the first time that I was no different than the college girls I had adored as a child, and we were all of us just figuring it out as we went along. 

Talking to my mom about motherhood since having my own children I’m coming to see how many times she was doing the exact same thing I do on a daily basis – completely making it up as I go along.

As we grow we began to see the separation between our childhood view of things and the way things really are, but I don’t know if everyone’s viewpoint of courage grows in quite the same way. I think that our childhood ideal of courage is one of those things that kind of stubbornly sticks around, setting up very high bars for ourselves in terms of what we should feel prior to being brave. 

Sure, we intellectually embrace the idea that you can be both afraid and courageous and throw around terms like “do it scared“ and “live bravely“, but that’s one of those things where I feel like there is a gap between what we say and what we feel to be true.

So what’s to be done about this? 

I feel like my experience of motherhood gives me an insight into this. The day I brought my first child home from the hospital I was more overwhelmed and terrified than I have ever been on any other day in my entire life. But there was no escaping it. I was a mom now I needed to figure out how to be one. It was a part of my identity that was not going to change, but I need to figure out how to grow into it. 

And so it took doing mom things, day after day, our after hour, year after year, to begin to shape myself into the mother that I already was. 

I think it’s the same thing with courage. If being courageous is something that only happens incredibly rarely in our lives, if ever, I think we’re going to really struggle to let go of that youthful vision of what it should feel like to be courageous. 

But, on the other hand, if we create opportunities for courage on a regular basis, then we can become more and more the courageous person we were created to be – the courageous person God already placed inside us.