Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion

I’m a fairly emotional person, but I decided at a young age that I didn’t trust them. So I always try to make decisions based on what I know rather than what I feel, and that has served me pretty well over the years. There are some biblical precedents for living that way too. But what do you do with all your emotions? Because we all have them, even if we’d like to deny it.

God created us with emotions for a reason, and maybe we can’t always trust the way they make us feel, but they’re a part of our lives, for better or worse. The problem I run into is that I don’t take care of my emotions. I ignore them. I push them down and cover them up. And that might work for a limited amount of time, but eventually they’ll get out of hand. When my emotional batteries drain down to zero, that’s when I implode, and I usually take a few people down with me.

Managing emotions isn’t about ignoring what we feel. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, it’s learning to recognize what is worth investing in emotionally, and it’s taking the proper time to rest after you’ve been through an emotionally draining experience.

6T45YAK7M1Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-30.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

This passage has a couple of different meanings, all of which are probably relevant to the average 21st Century Christian’s life. Jesus is mostly talking about the weight of religion and religious rituals that cause stress and exhaustion. Following Jesus isn’t religion. It’s not jumping through hoops or putting on a show so that God will be pleased with your performance. Jesus just asks you to come as you are and follow Him, believe in Him, trust Him, and live like He did. And it’s not a matter of performing or getting a perfect score or wearing the right clothes or knowing all the answers. None of that stuff matters.

Trying to do everything right all the time is exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances all the time wears you out. It’s a never-ending dance that you will keep trying to do for the rest of your life, and you’ll never succeed. That’s not the life Jesus has called us to.

But the meaning of this passage goes beyond just freedom from religion. In the Amplified Version, where it says that “you’ll find rest for your souls” it actually means “renewal and blessed quiet.” Following Jesus means that your soul will be refreshed. You’ll find peace in following Jesus, far beyond what any perfect performance can bring.

Jesus knows that we’re emotional creatures. We were created that way, and it’s not wrong to feel. Yes, our emotions can get the better of us when we stop focusing on what God says is true, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can manage our feelings with wisdom. But even then, you’re going to wear yourself out. The emotional stress of the day is going to take it’s toll, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, and if you don’t take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re going to be running on empty when the sun rises tomorrow.

It’s okay to feel. It’s not wrong. Just be sure that what you’re feeling aligns with God’s Word, and if it doesn’t, take steps to make it right. If what you’re feeling doesn’t match up with what God says is right, shut it out. Don’t think about it. Don’t focus on it. Do what you can to change the way you think, and you will change the way you feel.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion. Jesus never asks us to work ourselves to death. That’s the farthest thing from what He wants. Yes, there are hard choices to make. Yes, following Jesus sometimes means you’ll go through dark times. But you can go through darkness and challenging circumstances and still be emotionally healthy.

So are you feeling rundown today? Run to Jesus. Go tell Him what you’re feeling and let Him take that heavy burden off your shoulders. He’ll replace it with one that’s a lot lighter, and He’ll show you how to find rest and peace in Him.

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Grace for your heroes

Who is your hero? Don’t think about it too long. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? A teacher? A mentor? A parent or grandparent? We all have heroes. Some are older than us. Some are even younger than us. Others are our same age. And even though we know they are “only human” we still elevate them because to us, they’re larger than life. It’s not that we put them on a pedestal (though some of us do), it’s just that we have such high expectations for them.

So what happens when your hero falls? What happens when your hero makes a judgment call that hurts someone else? What happens when your hero sins?

Does it shake your world? Does it rock your faith? Or do you deny it and stand with them regardless of the truth? You know what I’m talking about. You exclaim that the stories can’t be true. You insist that your hero can’t have done anything wrong. How could they? They’re heroes. They know better. They know people are looking up to them, following them. They wouldn’t have made such a horrible choice. They couldn’t have.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone fails. Even your heroes.

8ZB9C03AIJToday’s verses are Romans 3:10-20.

As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.
Snake venom drips from their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.
They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

The truth about following Christ is that everyone needs grace, from the worst of us to the best of us. No one is perfect. We know that, but knowing it and living it are two separate things.

It’s really, really easy to fixate on the “good” Christians, the ones who know the Bible, the ones who talk to God, the ones who have the answers. They’re the people we go to when we have questions. They’re the ones we ask when we’re afraid or uncertain or when our faith is faltering. And in our minds we think there’s absolutely no way that they would ever turn against God. They would never disobey. They would never do anything God says is wrong.

No one is righteous means that no one always does the right thing. Does that mean you shouldn’t trust anyone? Does that mean you shouldn’t build relationships with people? No, that’s not what it means at all.

It means that even your heroes need grace. They need the same grace from you that Christ offered to them.

Not excuses. Grace has nothing to do with making excuses. Grace doesn’t live in denial either. Grace recognizes that you’ve screwed up royally yet doesn’t hold it against you.

It’s good to have heroes. It’s good to have people in your life to run to when you’re scared or feeling vulnerable. Just remember that people are people. Don’t put your trust in people. Don’t build your foundation on any person other than Jesus Christ. Because He is the righteous one, and He doesn’t change.

Seeking mercy even though you don’t deserve it

Nobody’s perfect. We say that all the time, but do we ever really think about what it means practically? If you’re not a perfectionist, maybe this doesn’t happen to you. But when you screw up, how long do you spend beating yourself bloody because you should have known better? How long do you lock yourself in the dudgeon of self-incrimination where you proclaim awful truths about yourself? Or am I the only one who does that when I make mistakes?

We all screw up. We all jump the gun. We all fall on our faces. How much is worth to us to know that God understands?

black-and-white-person-woman-girlToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:1-3, 9-10.

In the future, when you experience all these blessings and curses I have listed for you, and when you are living among the nations to which the Lord your God has exiled you, take to heart all these instructions. If at that time you and your children return to the Lord your God, and if you obey with all your heart and all your soul all the commands I have given you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you and gather you back from all the nations where he has scattered you…. The Lord your God will then make you successful in everything you do. He will give you many children and numerous livestock, and he will cause your fields to produce abundant harvests, for the Lord will again delight in being good to you as he was to your ancestors. The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

God knows that we’re going to fail. He wants us to do our best not to, of course, because that speaks to a heart attitude. But He knows that we can’t be perfect. He knows that we can’t earn redemption. That’s why Jesus died for us.

Our job is to take responsibility for our failures and turn our eyes to God. If we’ve broken God’s rules, if we’ve done what God says is wrong, we need to admit that. We need to confess to Him that we’ve screwed up, and then we need go back to doing what He says is right.

There’s something inside us that tells us He doesn’t want us. Our poor, confused, deluded hearts will point us in the opposite direction because of our shame. But God doesn’t care about your shame or your failures or your screw ups. He just cares about you. So turn around. Go back to Him. And He’ll restore what you’ve lost.

God is a God of mercy. He’s never turned anyone away if they came to Him truly seeking. That hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed.

So you’ve screwed up? Join the club. God’s waiting with forgiveness and mercy and help. So what are you waiting for?

Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

When you think about the church as a whole in general, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe if you’re in another country where the Bible is illegal and churches are threatened, you have a different perspective than we do here in America. But here in the US, generally what I run into when I talk to people about the church is the idea that “church people” are always fast to pass judgment.

This is a horrible example and it may not even be relevant, but one of the most popular comedy sketches in the history of television was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady–a cantankerous old woman character who fussed and fretted about modern trends and popular culture (and it was pretty funny, honestly).

I’ve had this conversation with people before. If you go to church, it usually means that you have no problem condemning actions or choices or the beliefs of other people. You sit on a high horse and pass judgment on people you don’t know. Whether it’s actually true or not, that seems to be the general perception.

But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t the Bible a book of dos and don’ts? As Christ-followers, don’t we have the right and a duty to tell other people when they’re wrong?

Oh, this is such a slippery slope. And in situations like this, it’s always best to go back to the source to see what the Bible actually says.

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

This is still the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ best known messages. One of many things I love about Jesus is that He wanted people to understand why He’d come. He didn’t just walk about thumping people on the head and telling people that they were wrong. He spent His time building relationships with people.

But by that same token, as He says in this verse, He didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to finish what the Law started.

Everything that God had done throughout the Old Testament was a picture to demonstrate that God had a relationship with people. The Laws weren’t given as a means to get to heaven or to reach God. The Laws were given to show people they could never be good enough and that they would have to rely on God’s grace through faith for salvation. Sound familiar?

Jesus came to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a broken world. And He didn’t accomplish this by walking around beating people down because they had sinned. He didn’t make it happen by standing above everyone and pointing out everything they’d done wrong. He didn’t do it by jumping down somebody’s throat because they say something that disagrees with God’s Word.

No. But at the same time, Jesus didn’t pull His punches either. He spoke the Truth because He is the Truth. He didn’t change one thing about Scripture that God had already established. I mean, think about that. God doesn’t change, and Jesus is God. So if you can’t separate God from Jesus, you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible.

You can respect another person’s choice to believe something without believing it yourself. You can demonstrate love and kindness toward people who believe differently than you do without thinking poorly of them. Pointing out where people are wrong won’t help you build a relationship with them. When you point at someone else’s faults, remember there are four fingers pointing back at you. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are being critical of someone else’s choices. We can’t make decisions for other people, and I’ve never once seen where a heated debate changed anybody’s mind.

Be clear. What the Bible says goes, and you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible. What God says is true and right. Period. Whether we like it or not. But nobody has the right to tear someone else down for what they do or don’t believe.

Jesus wanted people to understand why He was here and make up their own minds. That’s what we should be doing too.

 

Rules matter, but grace matters more

I’m home. Finally. After two weeks of crazy travel and general insanity, my folks braved the construction traffic and picked me up from good old Mid-Continent airport yesterday evening. The journey home from Chicago was somewhat ridiculous, since I couldn’t get a direct flight, so I got from Chicago to Wichita by way of Minneapolis. And something happened on that first flight from Chicago to Minneapolis that’s somewhat embarrassing….

I couldn’t get my seatbelt fastened.

Like, not at all. It was like somehow the belt in my airplane seat was designed for a stick person. Now, I’m not in denial here. I know I’m not a small person, and thanks to two weeks of eating trade show food, I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose any weight, no matter how many miles I walked every day. But this has never happened to me before.

My first reaction was utter horror. How humiliating is it to be unable to buckle your seat belt on an airplane? My next reaction was terror. I’d never been on an airplane before without a buckled seat belt. What would the flight attendants do if they found out? Would they throw me off the plane? Would they make me stand up and have to explain why I couldn’t get the belt fastened?

I actually sat and prayed because I didn’t know what to do. I could tell them that I couldn’t get the belt fastened, but what good would it do? There were no empty seats. We were already getting ready to take off. And–let’s face it–if the plane crashes, is a seat belt really going to help all that much? I mean, maybe it will. I don’t know. I’ve never been in a plane crash.

In any case, I didn’t see that they would be able to do anything about it, other than just tell me to sit still and not say anything. So that’s what I did. I pulled the belt across as tightly as I could, so as far as anyone could tell, I was buckled. Even though I wasn’t.

Nobody asked me about it. Nobody gave me any trouble. Nobody threw me off the plane or made me stand up and promise to lose weight before I fly again. And as I sat there rigid as a post through the whole flight, the only thing I could think about was yesterday’s post–about following rules.

Rules are important. They’re essential. We have to know the rules so we know where the boundaries are. God gives us rules so that we know what’s right and wrong, what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. But what happens when you can’t obey the rules?

The rule on this plane was to wear your seat belt when you’re sitting down, and I couldn’t get my seat belt fastened. Maybe the belt was too short. Maybe I’d had one too many cookies at the trade shows. Either way, I was going to have to disobey a rule. So what did that make me? Willfully disobedient?

Sometimes, life happens. Sometimes you make a decision to break a rule because you don’t see that you have another choice. Nobody can obey all the rules all the time. So what happens when you break the rules when you knew better?

Aircraft_SeatbeltToday’s verses are Romans 3:20-24.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Nobody can obey the law all the time. Nobody can be perfect. God knows that. That’s why He gives us grace every day.

That doesn’t mean we’re free to run around breaking God’s rules just because we can. No, that’s not the point. The point is God wants to have a relationship with us. He loves us so much that He wants to be a part of our lives, but we are separated from Him because of our sin. We can’t be close to Him on our own merit because He’s perfect, and we’re not.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus creates that bridge between us and God so that we can walk side-by-side with God, can speak to God, can make requests of God, can call Him Daddy. That’s grace. That’s unconditional love regardless of performance. And God offers it to us free of charge.

You’ve screwed up. You know that, right? I’ve made a mess of living. I’ve wrecked relationships and friendships. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve disappointed people. But God doesn’t look at the failures and shortcomings of my past. I’ve given my life to Jesus, so all God sees when He looks at me is Christ.

That’s grace.

So when you break the rules, you don’t have to be afraid. Be sad. Recognize that you messed up. Acknowledge that you failed. But don’t forget, if you belong to Jesus, God has already freed you from the guilt of your sin. So you can pick yourself and keep on walking.

Peace with God is something only the blood of Christ can buy.

Don’t live to break the rules. They’re there to help you, to protect you, to teach you, but when life happens and you screw up anyway, God will be right there to help you stand up again. So don’t push Him away.

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Why being perfect doesn’t matter to God

Does your brain ever grind to a screeching halt? Where it simply refuses to think one more useful thought? It’s like your mind hits a brick wall and the only thing it generates is an overwhelming desire to eat chocolate and watch Doctor Who. Maybe that’s just me. =)

I didn’t used to need to write anything down. I could keep track of everything in my head. Then I hit high school. Then I hit college. And after that? Well, everything changed. Let’s just say I realized yesterday that I’m going to have to start keeping track of everything I do in a notebook because my brain just can’t keep up.

Why? Because I missed something. I forgot something. I misplaced something important. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s going to be a huge pain in my backside.

There’s too much going on. I’m trying to simplify, and it’s helping. But kind of like cleaning your room, you’ve got to make a bigger mess before you can really start organizing, and I feel like that’s where my life is right now. And that can be really depressing if you think about it too long,

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 94:17-19.

Unless the Lord had helped me,
    I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave.
I cried out, “I am slipping!”
    but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me.
When doubts filled my mind,
    your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.

Life is busy. Everyone is busy in some way or another. If you aren’t, I’d love to know your secret.

Being busy is good as long as it doesn’t take you away from the things that really matter in your life, like your relationship with God and your family. But no matter how hard you work, no matter how much of a perfectionist you are, you’re going to screw up.

You will. Don’t argue.

That’s not an excuse to underperform. And just because you know you aren’t perfect doesn’t justify not even trying. But I know I get so wrapped up in dotting every i and crossing every t that sometimes I don’t even want to take the risk that I’ll screw up. And that’s not how we’re called to live.

We aren’t called to hide in the shadows for fear that we’ll make a wrong move. We aren’t called to hunker down in our safe little bubbles and cover our heads so we make sure we never fail.

We are called to be warriors. Conquerors. More than conquerors, actually. And with God on our side, there’s nothing we can’t do. With God on our side, there’s no fall we can’t pick ourselves up from. That doesn’t mean we should plan to faceplant, but when we do, we shouldn’t let it throw us.

Like the Psalm says, God is there to help us. If not for Him, we all would have been destroyed years ago. God’s love is unfailing, which means that even when we don’t perform at our best, God loves us anyway.

God’s love isn’t dependent on our performance. Aren’t you glad for that? Can you imagine having to do a song and dance to keep God happy? I know some people live their lives that way, and I couldn’t do it.

We don’t have to pay God off. We don’t have to get straight A’s in school or make it through a month without a speeding ticket. We don’t have to keep perfect records or walk on eggshells. God’s unfailing love supports us no matter what. And we should take comfort from that.

If you’re in the same place today that I was yesterday, that should cheer you up. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to know all the details. I don’t have to get everything right. God loves me in spite of all that, and He is going to help me get through it.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t aim to do the best job I can do. But it does mean that on the days when I don’t get everything right, when I forget something, when I make a mistake–He isn’t going to drop me. He isn’t going to forget about me. He isn’t just going to walk away because I’m too much trouble.

When you have doubts, when you start making mistakes because life is too busy for your brain to keep up, remember who God is and remember what He’s promised you. His unfailing love will support you. No, it may not look like what you think it should, but since when did real love look exactly like you expected?

So stop being so hard on yourself. Do your best, but don’t beat yourself bloody for missing a step. God doesn’t hold it against you. So you shouldn’t hold it against you either.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

A different perspective on being an ambassador

Ambassadors are everywhere. We just don’t think about them. I mean, when I think of ambassadors in general, I think of government officials who travel to other countries to represent their home country. I think of politics in general. The term ambassador conjures up all sorts of political symbols and hierarchies that I learned about in high school. But if you think about it, an ambassador can be anyone who represents someone else.

Anyone into Mary Kay cosmetics? I know people who are. Your Mary Kay consultant is an ambassador. And how about the Boy Scouts? Going door to door selling popcorn? They’re ambassadors too. Car salesmen. Customer service representatives. Anyone with a face to a potential customer is an ambassador.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you think about it, especially when you let yourself realize that as a follower of Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are here to represent Him to the world.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

Barney the Beefeater, our “ambassador” at the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

The first thing I think about when I read these verses is what a stunning responsibility this is. To be Christ’s ambassador? To be Christ’s voice to a world that doesn’t know Him? That’s huge. That’s intimidating on a level beyond terror. If you have chosen to trust Jesus for your salvation, that means you are His voice. You are His representative to the people in your life.

Scared yet?

It terrifies me. That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot to live up to. Because when people see me, they’re supposed to see Christ. When people hear me speak, they’re supposed to hear Christ. When I interact with people, they’re supposed to know that Jesus loves them and that He died for them and that He wants to have a relationship with them. And that’s a tall order from a girl who prefers to hide in the corner at social events.

And that’s where my brain goes automatically. How on earth can I meet those expectations? Well, no, let’s be honest here. My brain goes instantly to wondering how I can exceed those expectations. Merely meeting expectations has never been good enough for me; I have to blast the roof off people’s expectations or I feel ashamed of myself. So because my focus is exceeding the expectations (the rules, the regulations, etc.), I start plotting and planning how I can manipulate a circumstance or a situation so that I can control the outcome.

I’m focusing on my performance. I’m focusing on my actions. I’m focusing on what I need to do to make God happy with me. Anyone see my performance-driven perfectionist self rearing its ugly head anywhere in this?

Well, here’s something I realized today. Granted, it’s something I’ve always known, but it hit home with me today on a level that I hadn’t understood before. I am God’s ambassador.

Yes, news flash, I just said that above. But in my mind there are two perspectives to being an ambassador. One, you have to be careful and watch what you say and how you act because you represent an authority in your life. That’s true. That’s 100% true. But that’s not all there is to it. If you are an ambassador, you were chosen for the job.

Now, before you religious scholars get up in arms, I’m not going to get all theological about this. I could. But the purpose of this blog is to provide a place of encouragement, not only for me but for anyone who is searching. And I don’t intend to start a theological discussion about Calvinism vs. Armenianism vs. any-other-isms that are floating around in the world.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that Christ-followers have been chosen to represent Jesus in the world, just like ambassadors. You don’t get to be an ambassador just because you put on a fancy suit and can give pretty speeches or you have a good handshake. No. You apply for the job, and you’re selected for the position. Why? Because your authority, your boss, has seen the potential that you have and wants you to be his representative.

If you have accepted Christ, God calls you one of Christ’s ambassadors. You have something that you can use to reach out to the world and tell them about Jesus, and it’s not something that anyone else can do. So to all you performance-driven perfectionists out there who are running yourselves into the ground trying to make God happy with your list of accomplishments, this is the heart of what I learned today: Stop. God has already given you the job as His ambassador, so stop treating Him like you’re applying for the position. Stop stressing yourself out over whether or not you’re good enough. Stop worrying yourself bald over what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it or what other people are going to think about you.

Just do the job. Just live for Him. Love for Him. Help others for Him. And stop worrying about whether you’re going to do a good enough job or not. Because it’s not about you. It’s about Him.