When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash

4 Ways to Confront Your Own Biases

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A year ago, headlines were swirling with the refugee crisis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and a polarizing election season. This week, the events in Charlottesville have gripped and horrified the nation.

We’re angry. We’re disgusted. We’re in disbelief at the bold portrayal of hate. We’re in disbelief at many white churches’ silence yet again. But dare we advocate for not looking away this time without looking inward first? We may not be lining up with torches proclaiming white supremacy, but what subtle biases are buried within our hearts?

We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls–even if we’re not blatant about it. How exactly do we uproot biases lodged down deep?

Join me over at RelevantMagazine.com where I’m writing today… 

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He Transcends Time Again

Time

He did again. He transcended time.

A simple chalkboard message God gave me in June was really for a mystery I would face in July. Oh, why does He love me so? Why does He hold my tender heart again and again?


The Author has done it since the beginning of His Great Story…

… a thread of redemption woven throughout centuries. Centuries.

A timeless God, perfectly planning events.  Perfectly planning time.

I’m amazed at His pursuit of us. I see God’s intentional love story planned from the first day His heart was wounded by His own creation. I marvel at His crimson thread woven throughout generations, stitching together a masterpiece of grace. I see His tenderness preparing our hearts for what’s to come.


And here I am — humbled — when I think of my own story, my own little mural, as compared to God’s huge rescue plan. And yet this timeless God, the Planner of events and healing and restoration, does it again and again. He prepares our hearts in advance for what we face today. 

I believe deeply in God’s sovereignty and His big picture and a story larger than my own. I find comfort as I meditate on these beliefs and my smallness.

We moved this past spring, and in June I hung our 20 year-old slate in our new dining room. I didn’t know what to write on it, so I penned these words from a Hillsong United song. It seemed strange that this particular phrase came to mind, for I don’t really have trust issues — especially with God. But the words are poetic, and the song is beautiful, so I went with it. Several times over the past month, I challenged myself to erase it and write something more relevant to me or my family, but nothing came to mind.

God’s grace.

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You see, He had me write myself an encouraging note a month ago because He knew I’d need it this week. We didn’t face a huge tragedy or crisis, but just enough of a disappointment to remind us of our frail hearts. And our need for Him.

I love how He works like this. I love how He transcends time.

There have been books picked up again – after being ignored for months – whose truth spoke to present circumstances. I’ve journeyed with friends through their pain, only to discover later their path would become my own. I’ve written words in the past to encourage others whose messages would later heal me. I ponder at how He prepares our hearts – so tenderly, and then not-so-tenderly other times.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” God asks His people.  “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16, NIV) Carved on His hands. Etchings transcending time. My walls – my days – my salvation and forever security are on the forefront of His mind.

Oh, His thread of redemption pierces me with truth and weaves a larger beauty I could never create myself. I’m covered by this masterpiece. I hide in its comfort. I wrap myself in His grace.

And once again, I’m amazed at His timeless grace evidenced in this very time.


photo source: Murray Campbell on unsplash

Preparing for Easter (Tuesday): The Unseen Story

story227 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:27-31 


There were throngs of commoners, local women who were unknown, shrieking and mourning over the torn Man stumbling by. Some hid their eyes from the suffering, but those who dared to look wailed with grief and fright. The story of Jesus’s torture had spread like wildfire as injustice burned fear deep within their souls.

The self-proclaimed Messiah seemed to always surround Himself with ordinary people, and now, too, even on His execution day, He engaged nameless individuals in the crowd.

To their surprise, Jesus turned. He turned and looked right at them and predicted their suffering. “Your city,” He warned, “your city will be destroyed. Weep for your future. Weep for your children’s future. You will seek refuge from destruction and have to flee from what’s familiar to find it.”

Predicting the destruction of Jerusalem that would later come in AD 70, Christ used His own suffering to teach about Jerusalem’s coming doom. City-dwellers and rural residents alike longed to be rescued from oppressive Roman rule. For years, they had begged God for a political leader only to meet a Messiah who spoke mysteriously about a world beyond what they could see. They wanted relief for their everyday, but He spoke of peace for eternity. They wanted an alternative to crooked laws, but He offered deliverance from their sin that was staining their choices and relationships and communion with Jehovah.

“You’ll have to flee what’s familiar…” Challenging them to consider a kingdom beyond what they could see, Jesus offered something bigger than even the Roman empire. 

And He calls us, too. The Restorer of what’s broken calls us beyond what’s tangible, beyond our temporary comforts, in order to find healing.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget we were made for a different world. We imagine relief from this tangible world, but Christ’s deliverance is bread for the famished soul; it’s peace for the war waging within our heart and thought-patterns.

Are you begging for a change in circumstances? The Rescuer sees you and is offering to transform you.


photo source | steve halama

Preparing for Easter (Join Me)

Train 2I seem to have stepped on a fast-moving train. I don’t remember boarding, and I certainly didn’t know it would move at this speed. I think I would have chosen something else.

I look around me, and I see beauty. I really do. I see beauty in the scene outside my window, and I pause for a second to breathe deep and drink it all in. But I’d rather be breathing deep on the other side, feet standing their ground, motionless. And I see beauty in the faces of those outside, watching my train race by their peace. They’re all so different, and I wish I could hear every single one of their stories.

But I’m racing instead, journeying to who knows where at record speed.

It’s humbling. I’ve learned to set boundaries, but now they’re mocking me. I’ve learned to say “no”, but I’m clearly not in control right now. I’ve promised over and over to live, but it’s taking great effort to not be numb.

In one week, I’ll celebrate Christ’s resurrection. I’ll delight in His triumph, and I’ll claim the hope that comes in knowing there’s a story bigger than my own. I’ll read that rescue plan with my name on it, and I’ll be amazed life truly can come from death. I’ll remember I was created for a different world where dying and suffering and bad choices and sin will be no more. I’ll exchange loneliness for eternal community with God… insecurity for the bliss of not thinking about myself… shame for Christ’s righteousness.

But I’m racing, and I don’t want to miss it.

Maybe your life is moving too fast, too. Maybe you had every intention of a Lent reading plan, but now you’re just trying to wake up from the detachment. Maybe you’ve forgotten you were created for a different world, and the urgency of your everyday is forefront on your mind.

I invite you to jump off the train with me and pause. Come with me into six different stories from just one day in history before we celebrate on Easter morning. We’ll slow down and touch some tangible things from Christ’s execution day. We’ll turn them over and over in our hands, and hopefully our hearts will follow. We’ll ponder and reflect and in doing so, we’ll be able to celebrate Christ’s resurrection that much more on Sunday.

A path. A story. A game. A cross. A curtain. A tomb.

Yes, instead of racing, we’ll open our eyes and ponder how each of these elements in Luke 23 connect to not only our own stories but with an eternity we can not see yet. We’ll start on Monday.

Monday | The Immigrant’s Path
Tuesday | The Unseen Story
Wednesday | The Game of Mockery
Thursday | The Other Cross
Friday | The Temple Curtain
Saturday | The Borrowed Tomb
Easter Sunday | Resurrection: Just the Right Time

I hope you’ll join me.

goodfriday

photo source (train) | Femke Ongena
photo source (cross) | Jametlene Reskp