Pulling From the Source

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Recently, in the Twitterverse, I came across a post on a blog site titled: “Missional: Is it Religious Gentrification?” by Tyler Tully. Having just moved to Sacramento, and am in the thrust of joining with my boyfriend (there’s got to be a less “cheesy,” more fitting title – just saying), Chris, to start a church in Midtown, and having heard the word “missional living” tossed around, much like the word “discipleship,” of course I was interested in hearing someone’s take on this “movement.” Our mission at Midtown Community Church is “leading people to live Christ-centered lives every day.” We want to live as missionaries to the people of Midtown and to be the church to them – to love on and serve them – to do life with them. The question I’m always asking myself is what does that looks like in my life.

Having grown up in the church in the American culture, I don’t think I was ever encouraged or taught what the true posture of a Christian is – and I was blind to it to a certain extent. Being a Christian who follows the Great Commission and the Great Commandment requires a deliberate, intentional and disciplined way of living and thinking. Living missionally is most definitely not natural or easy. It’s not an extracurricular thing we do every so often – it encompasses and touches everything and who we are – because this lifestyle is how we’re called to live as Christ followers.

Back to the blog post I came across. There was a portion of it that really leaped out at me, and got a culmination of thoughts whirling around in my head that I decided to work out by writing down. Here’s one of Tully’s comments/perceptions on the missional movement:

The last 10 years have shown more buzz around the term missional, although many of us are still scratching our heads about what that really means…While we’re trying to understand, worship, and participate in building the Kingdom of a marginalized 1st century Galilean, we are still operating from a place of access, privilege, and homogeneity – and we need to admit that the missional movement conversation has been dominated by the Dominators, if we are to see any meaningful Kingdom building. In other words, the missional movement needs to repent.

My brain is like a ping pong match between his words and my own wrestling with what it looks like for me to live missionally – to be the church, making disciples, getting outside your “comfort zone” and pouring into the people around you. All of that is so heady and sounds amazing. There’s this stirring in your soul, much like the reaction Lucy, Peter and Susan had in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to the statement: “Aslan is on the move.” It wells up when you read about men of God, like Daniel, or books like Crazy Love, You Lost Me or Tangible Kingdom. You say to yourself, “YES. I want to be a part of that. I want to live that way.” And then the inevitable “Ok, so now what do I do? What’s my role?” If I’ve discovered anything about human nature, and myself, I find there’s this subtle, easy tendency to live vicariously through other’s testimonies of how they’re living missionally – it sounds so grand. It’s that innate desire for a tangible kingdom – for something more than what this world has to offer. But, like bystanders at a sports game, you really have no stake in it – it’s not your victory or loss. You didn’t train, sweat, struggle, get pounded, or make the winning play. Fans may take it personally, but it’s definitely not physically affecting them.

I’ve come to realize that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s complicated. That’s my problem – I tend to overthink because I’m a recovering perfectionist. I want to immediately know what I need to do, how to do it, and have “missional living” down overnight. Boom. Reality check. In asking “How do I do this?” “How do I get results?” I came to realize that I was stopping with “I” – that I was dependent on myself to find “solutions” and to make this missional thing happen. It’s rather exhausting, because, let’s be honest, we’re the worst saviors ever. After I arrived at this realization, I was struck with a “light-bulb moment” from a conversation on Psalm 1 this past Tuesday. This was it: It all boils down to the SOURCE of your approach to “go forth and make disciples.” Because here’s the truth we all know: Anyone and everyone can and does plug into their community (this fever among the millennials to belong, yet not commit), whether it be an intermural league or social club of some sort.

It’s a good to pour into others on their turf, but here’s the question: What source am I pulling from to pour out? If it starts stops with just me and my own willpower – well I already know that only takes me so far. It’s like a kid putting on a firefighter uniform. They can look it, wish it, but they sure aren’t it when it comes to putting out fires and saving lives. They don’t have the training and experience. Ah, now I’m getting somewhere (maybe). This is where we look back at my earlier reference to Psalm 1. Verses 1-3:

“How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinner, or sit in the assembly of scoffers! Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands; he meditates on his commands day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he does.”

It doesn’t say the blessed or godly man is defined by all the things he does, but by who he is, why he is blessed – and, in turn, how that shapes his everyday living. What’s his source? He takes pleasure in doing God’s commands – he fills up his mind and heart with knowing God’s Word. It correlates with the tree (“down by the river!!”) in verse 3. This tree can withstand any season and whatever that season throws at it because its roots are pulling directly from an unending supply of water. It doesn’t stop there though…with just the intake of water. The water causes something to happen to the tree. You see this outpouring and harvest of it bearing fruit…so others can taste and see God’s goodness. But the tree couldn’t have, in and of itself, produced the fruit or survived without the river/water/stream. Relationships.

I am praying for myself, each of you, and Midtown Community Church, that the Lord will give us more of a love and delight in pursuing Him, reading/memorizing His Word, obeying Him. Not that I don’t find delight in Him now, but I want more…and to do it better, more consistently and faithfully.

There are many things in this post that I could break down further, but it would become a book.

Bottom line: If I don’t fill myself up with Him, I have nothing to give to begin with.

Let’s guard against our tendency to make everything technical, legalistic or a 10-step process.

Lean On

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What do you lean on?

One of my favorite passages and promises in Scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I know It’s a very well-known verse, and probably appears on as many journal covers, bookmarks and coffee mugs as Joshua 24:15 and Isaiah 40:31. But this weekend, I wanted more from it – to scratch deeper beneath what I’ve gleaned from it so far and chew on it. So, here are my thoughts on it and what I’ve pulled in from other commentators.

I think the main aim of the verse is to walk in a straight path. Meaning, God doesn’t want us to veer off the path into disobedience or into a wasted life or anything that would dishonor Him. Whenever Scripture talks about paths, my mind leaps to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the path into the Slough of Despond and how they veered off the path, which led them to the prison of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle. So, that’s the goal: straight paths; straight to everlasting joy – straight to a God-honoring life.

There appear to be 3 steps to get there:

1) Trust in the Lord with all your heart. We need to bank on the promises of God – making our lives a moment-by-moment trusting in a good, all-powerful, unchanging, loving, all-providing and all-satisfying God. Brandon Barker, one of the spiritual formation pastors at The Village Church – Dallas Northway campus, said something Sunday evening I’ll never forget: “Some of us don’t lack boldness, we lack trust.”

2) Don’t rely on your own understanding. This is a conscious choice NOT to be self-reliant (why can’t this just be easier? The battle of self vs. God – so messy). To say to self, “Self, you are inadequate. Brain, you can’t come up with enough wisdom on your own.” I feel especially in the last few weeks that the Lord has been trying to break me of this. Now, getting away from self-reliance doesn’t mean you don’t make plans or don’t think…you just don’t bank on them. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:31) — James 4:13-15 also comes to mind. So, in the midst of our planning, thinking, etc., we’re leaning on something else and not leaning on our own resources. What a tight rope and balance.

3) In all your ways acknowledge Him. In Hebrew, this reads: In all your ways KNOW Him. At every turn, at every choice you make, at every new conversation you’re in….you’re sending up the message: “God, I acknowledge you here. I know you here. You are decisive here. I need you here.”

And if we follow those, and trust Him, He’s going to make our paths straight – going to keep us from wasting our lives and bring us into everlasting joy.

How AWESOME is that truth?! So, lean on – lean on the Lord.

(Note: ok, I admit I was trying to get clever and play off the book title “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, even though it doesn’t remotely relate – har har.)

Understanding Your Needs

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This morning, when I read Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” I understood it in a whole new light.

Whiplash

Starting in verse 25, Jesus tells us reasons to not be anxious about our lives, what we’ll eat, drink, wear, etc., and points to the birds and flowers and how God feeds and clothes them (and are we not more valuable than them). I’ve always understood those verses to mean God is faithful and will provide everything we need. So you’d think that would mean we’d always be comfortable and safe from harm or pain. But this is not so, because I then think of Christians persecuted, raped, beaten, tortured, starving, and dying around the world. Also, for those of us who are sick, who’ve experienced loss, who are striving for something and can’t seem to get anywhere, who can’t seem to “catch a break,” who can’t afford to meet rent or buy groceries, etc. What about us/them? Is this an empty promise? Is He a cruel, unfeeling, unfair and unjust God? No. God never contradicts Himself. Indeed, He promised us that if they killed him they would kill us, too (Matt. 24:9). And Paul says (paraphrased) who can separate us from the love of God? Death, famine, plague, etc.? (Romans 8:35-39)

Quick detour. Think of it this way (I don’t claim originality with this analogy; I reference Matt Chandler, lead paster at The Village Church). Imagine you’re a parent (maybe you are), and your two-year-old wants a whole can of Coca-Cola (or your dog wants your slice of chocolate cake). Would you give it to them? No. Why not? Well, you don’t want them to get sick. Do they see it that way? Of course not. You’re the mean, bad person. We all know how this goes down. The pouty lip, whiny begging and then wailing as if you’d committed the worse crime to them. They see the treat as the best thing in the world for/to them. Are you being unfair and cruel or loving and merciful? You’re giving your child (or pet) what they need.

The revelation

Back to the passage. Here’s the beautiful part. If you look back to the beginning of verse 33, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” there’s where the answer is! God promises to gives us everything we need in order to serve and glorify Him…to further His kingdom. “…and all these things will be added to you.” So, whatever it takes, He will make sure you have it. What a glorious hope and assurance.

Isn’t that just AWESOME?!

The part of this that makes me quake is that it’s so easy to proclaim it and let type up these truths, and much harder to believe when the tribulation comes. I know how cowardly and pathetic my own heart is and how often I fail at the little tests.

Will we be able to say in those shaky, scary times, “It is well with my soul”?

Humility = Heroism

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Humility is often viewed as negative or weak in our society. It’s all about the big “You” – standing up for yourself, using people to get to the next rung in your path to power and success, exploiting others’ weaknesses to reach your goals, doing things when they only promote your good, and even only going out of your way to help someone when it’s convenient for you.

Do you really think people in positions of great power are the happiest and most secure? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people who are in positions of authority or power aren’t humble. There are some great leaders.

As Ken Blanchard says:

Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.

Have you ever stopped to think about how humble of some of your favorite heroes/heroines in history – even comic book heroes? They laid down their lives for others and put their needs ahead of their own personal gain. Yet, there was a joy there. You admire them, even seek to be like them.

Humility is beautiful. It calls us to heroism. Not a heroism that puffs up or purposely calls attention to itself. It’s full of grace and thanksgiving. For Christians, it’s a recognition of what God in Christ has done for us “while we were yet sinners.” From that realization, it’s a heart full of love and obedience in living out what we’ve been called to do – to love God and love others (1 John 4:21, Mark 12:30-31). *As my friend, Billy, pointed out and summed up what I was getting at:

All heroes are a shadow of Christ.

Humility stems from love. And love makes you go out of your way for the other person. It’s grace given to you that leaves you shaking your head in glorious astonishment. I’ve seen it again and again in my own life and relationships, from my boyfriend, family and friends. It never ceases to blow my mind and riddle me with great joy.

This thought, and now post, actually stemmed from the movie “Emma” (from the book written by Jane Austen), when Mr. Knightly is proposing to Emma. They’ve been best friends for years, but a set of circumstances drives both of them to realize they love each other, but the other doesn’t know how the other feels. But just this scene, and what he did to “win” her, just evoked that strong imagery of how humility is heroic, romantic and beautiful, especially in relationships. It’s the heart and action behind the words that give the words that much more intimacy and power. Such grace.

Emma: But I feel so full of error, so mistaken in my make up to deserve you.

Mr. Knightley: And what of my flaws? I’ve humbled you, and I’ve lectured you, and you have born as no one could have born it. Perhaps it is our imperfections that makes us so perfect for one another.

*Added in later to original post.

Fear Looks Like Freedom

 

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Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. – C.S. Lewis

I haven’t written on my blog for a long time (since the end of January I believe). In writer’s time, that’s a very long (nigh unacceptable) time. To be honest, I haven’t been inspired to write or if I have there’s always this whiny voice telling me that it’s already been said better or it’s not original at all. I try too hard. I do. I really do. Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m a perfectionist. I hate admitting that. Excelling and putting your heart into something is one thing and totally okay. But for me ::running hands through hair:: I crave perfection and praise. Why? Because, I want it to be about me. I want to be “worshipped,” in essence.

Bottom-line: Pride. Fear of man. It’s poison. Fear is the opposite of love, you know, not hate. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Fear is selfish. Love is selfless. I’m seeking to be perfect in man’s eyes because I fear their disapproval, rejection, disappointment and anger. I’ve been scarred by my fear, because it has led me down paths in life and relationships that have tried to suck the love and joy and freedom out of my soul. I took that path because I deceived myself. Fear that looked like freedom. Is this me beating myself up? Maybe. Self pity? No. Revelation? Yes.

But looking back and beating myself up over my past sin doesn’t do any good. It’s like Christian from John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” in the Slough of Despond, just wading in it until he realized he needed saving, and Help came. Jesus already covered all those detestable sins on the cross. Grace. Love. Mercy. Freedom. I was made perfect through His perfection. I should seek His perfection (holiness), not my own (Matt. 4:48)

How do I begin to seek His perfection? Stop caring what others think? No. Indifference? No. Let’s look to Jesus here. Did He care what others thought? No, He didn’t, but he still showed love, consideration, gave rebuke when needed, and above all, He was more concerned with how He represented His heavenly Father. So, it’s about setting your priorities straight and having your perspective on the eternal, not the temporary praise and love of man (you know I mean, “people” when I say “man,” right? Ok, just checking). Do I need man’s approval? No, but yeah, it’s really a wonderful thing to have, if you have your heart set to thank God for giving you that little joy.

I believe if I desire first and foremost God’s approval, and live my life accordingly, then all the rest will grow unimportant, but still be welcomed. There’s nothing wrong with approval and love.

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives. – C.S. Lewis

God wired us to love and to be loved; to serve and be served; to encourage and be encouraged. Some seasons may feel like you’re the only one giving it their all, which may or may not be the case. God sees and knows, and perhaps that’s Him reminding you of where you’re seeking approval, joy, love, freedom and affirmation.

Are these things wicked to desire from others? Absolutely not. But to love them more than God, is sinful indeed.

God cannot gives us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

Keep examining your heart, and please, call me out if you see me fail and stumble of the path. Oh, we humans. God is awesome in the fact that He didn’t have us be alone in our struggles.

7 Tips for Better Bible Study

I came across this blog by Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and had to repost it because all too often we make it all about the reading/gleaning knowledge aspect alone, and don’t take into consideration other key elements. Also, he talks about how bible study encourages and commands us to be the church. As Alistair Begg is fond of saying, “The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.”

An important point that we often miss as believers (in whatever stage of life transformation by the gospel) and that becomes discouraging is we tend to think because we’re limited in knowledge, etc. we can’t be affective or show Christ to others. There are things that you believe in Scripture that are true, but you just don’t fully understand why you believe them, nor can you adequately defend them. Your “ignorance” does not make your beliefs wrong, does it? You may need to grow deeply in your knowledge, but your beliefs are true and remain unchanged. Your conviction of their truth deepens, but the truth is the truth. You tracking with me?

Ok, here’s Driscoll:

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When tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread after a 40-day fast in the wilderness, Jesus responded by saying simply and profoundly, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Paul, when writing to his protégé, Timothy, writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

David writes, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

The implications are clear: life and growth come from the study of God’s words through Scripture. We are not to read and study the Bible begrudgingly but rather view it as the source of life and, like David, love God’s word.

But the reality is that we all struggle at times to study faithfully or joyfully. So, it’s nice to have a few principles to help us refocus our love and study of Scripture. Below are seven principles that I’ve found beneficial.

1. Actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

2. Be under the authority of Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over the Scripture to be interpreted by you.

Hebrews 4:12–13 (NIV): “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Pick up the Bible for life transformation, not just mental information.

John 5:39–40 (NIV): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

4. Pick up the Bible for relational purposes—not functional ones—so that you will love God and not just know or use him.

Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

Memorization, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Meditation, Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

6. Take advantage of godly Bible commentators, your pastor, respected theologians in church history, and wise Christian friends to better understand Scripture.

Romans 12:7 (NIV): “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach . . .”

7. Don’t think you need more knowledge. Often you need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

James 1:22 (NIV): “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Why We Can Have Christmas Cheer Amidst Loss

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post and what I would write for this entire week. It all started when I heard Casting Crowns’ rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on Pandora (Be sure to check it out! Video posted at the bottom of this post).

Given today’s (it was the same day when I started this post) events with the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, I thought it was only fitting to dedicate this little, measly as it is, post to those families who will be missing a little one around their tree this Christmas. I can’t even fathom that pain, even as tears stream down my cheeks.

“I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day” is not among the popular Christmas carols/songs. I only heard of it as a child because the pastor, God used to lead my dad to Christ, loved it – his favorite carol. In fact, if you ever have heard this song, you may not be familiar with the story behind it. As both a lover of writing and history, I love finding what inspired people’s creations. For me, these little additions/discoveries are more exciting than a kid whose eyes light up upon opening a gift on Christmas morning.

This song was originally a poem, written on Christmas Day, 1863, by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His son, Charles, joined the Union cause in the Civil War, against his father’s wishes. Longfellow was informed his son was severely wounded in November. That, along with the recent death of his wife in an accidental fire, inspired this poem and words:

…in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song…

But then, through his pain, he rightly rejoices and see the sovereignty of God as his poem ends in hope:

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…

I’d like to refer to an article by Barnabas Piper, John Piper’s son, titled The tension between “God is good” and “It shouldn’t be this way” 

How are we to respond when we hear tragic news or when we experience something devastating?…It is a mix of “Why?” and “This shouldn’t have happened!” But for many of us, myself included, theology often catches up to instinct and says “Yeah, but God is sovereign” as if this is more true than out first reaction. This theological realization stands in direct opposition to the emotional response. Are we sit back and think that all is ok, then?

In these times of wracking grief it is the reality of God’s sovereignty that keeps us sane, keeps us afloat in our faith. But it is the grief itself that keeps us human and humane. These two realities exist in an inexplicable, symbiotic tension. Without knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty we risk a spiral of hopeless insanity. Without the reality of it-should-not-be-like-this grief we risk losing all connection to what God made us as human beings. With an over-emphasis on sovereignty we become emotionally retarded as we lose the ability to feel and acknowledge real human experience. With an over-emphasis on the emotion, the grief, we wallow in a La Brea tar pit of godless grief.