It’s all about perspective

I sat down earlier this week to write in my journal, my mind racing on a few things that I had let get under my skin.  I was ready to let it all out, analyze all the circumstances, and try to process why I was letting myself feel so defeated.  As I picked up my pen and put it to paper, however, this is what came out:

 

Don’t look at the circumstances.

Look at Jesus.

 

I stopped, actually a little bit surprised at what I had just written.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was exactly the line of thinking that I needed to follow.

 

I didn’t need to spend any more time dwelling on my circumstances.  As a matter of fact, overthinking and letting small annoyances take up too much mental and emotional space is one of my greatest flaws (#recoveringperfectionist).

 

It’s too easy to look at my circumstances and, from my limited perspective, feel overwhelmed and frustrated.  I need to spend less time looking at things from the wrong perspective.  Instead, I need to get the perspective of Jesus.

 

I remember a time several years ago sitting up by Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest.  As I watched the early morning mist roll off the lake, the only sound was the small ripples of water washing up on shore.  I got up from my chair and walked until my toes were right at the edge of the lake.  The tiny ripples of water just barely splashed over the soles of my sandals.  As the chilly mountain lake tickled my toes, I looked down and saw a small ant scurrying along the edge of the water.

 

In that moment, I thought about how important perspective can be.  To that tiny ant scurrying along, the ripples from the lake were giant-sized.  To me, the ripples were barely enough to splash over the edge of my sandal.

 

A few weeks later, I was back to my sunny southern California beaches learning how to surf.  I watched my friend from the shore for a little bit and the waves looked small and friendly enough so I grabbed my board and started to paddle out.  In case you’ve never surfed before, you should be forewarned that the hardest part is paddling out past the breaking waves.  All of a sudden, as I was laying on my stomach paddling out, those small and friendly waves towered over me and threatened to knock me off my board.  What looked small and friendly from the shore became overwhelming when I was in the midst of it.

 

For the ant by the lake, a small perspective made small things feel giant.  For me on my surfboard, a too-close perspective made things feel giant too.

 

When it comes to circumstances, it’s no different.  If our perspective is too narrow and we only look at a problem from our limited point of view, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Or if we’re wrapped up and too close to a situation, we can easily start freaking out.  It’s not that the circumstances are all that bad; it’s that our perspective is bad.

 

I needed that reminder again this week, and maybe you do too.  I’d let myself get wrapped up in my circumstances instead of getting wrapped up in the love of God.

 

I flipped over to Colossians 1:15-20 and decided that instead of spending the morning thinking about my problems, I wanted to think about Jesus.  Here’s what I read:

 

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created:  things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

 

All things are created in Jesus.  Created through him and for him.

 

Our new puppy (that refuses to be potty trained)?  Created by and for Jesus.

My friends and family? Created by and for Jesus

The home that we live in? Created by and for Jesus.

The people that sometimes drive me crazy?  Created by and for Jesus.

My circumstances in life? Created by and for Jesus.

 

Even the circumstances I was in that were causing me grief that morning?

Created by and for Jesus.

 

If everything is made in Jesus, created through him and for him, there is NOTHING in my life or yours that Jesus isn’t present in.  Those circumstances you wish were different?  If you get the right perspective you might just find that Jesus is trying to get your attention.  Maybe there’s something he wants you to learn.  Or maybe he just wants you to know that he’s holding you and you can stop freaking out because he’s with you and he’s got it under control.  I’m not saying there’s no such thing as bad circumstances.  Believe me, I know there are.  What I am saying is that no matter the circumstance, it will always look better if you can look at it from God’s perspective.

 

Sometimes we don’t need to change our circumstances.  In fact, it might be better for some of us if for a while we stopped asking God to change our circumstances and instead started asking him to change our perspective.

 

Don’t look at the circumstances.

Look at Jesus.

 

And then look at your circumstances from Jesus’ perspective.  I promise it will all look a lot better.

 

Galatians 3: 1-5

GALATIANS 3: 1-5

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

 

Before starting this passage in Galatians 3, take a quick look at how Paul ended chapter 2.

Galatians 2: 20-21 >>>  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

And now take a look at the opening of Galatians 3.

Galatians 3:1 >>> You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

The crucifixion of Jesus is central here.  As followers of Jesus, we share in the death of Jesus.  Forgiveness of sins did not come cheaply for Jesus, and neither can we cheaply accept it.

Paul wants his reader to understand the magnitude and visibility of what Christ went through.  When Jesus offered himself up to be nailed to the cross on our behalf, the effects were far reaching.  Only through death could the payment for our sins be fully satisfied.  Only through the blood of Jesus could our lives truly be changed.  We are foolish to think our human effort will accomplish what Christ’s death did for us.

Both salvation and sanctification — the process of growing to be more like Christ — are a work of the Spirit.  And the way for both was opened through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Look at Paul’s rhetorical questions to make his point in this passage, and circle all the places where Paul talks about the Spirit.

Galatians 3: 2-3, 5 >>>  Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? … So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

 

>>>Here’s a few questions to think about:

Do you need to stop trying so hard?  When you start to worry that you don’t measure up, or you’ve done something (or too many things) wrong, remind yourself of this truth:

God is WITH YOU and WORKING IN YOU not because of anything you do or don’t do, but because he has promised!

God’s presence and activity in your life depend on him, and not on you!

In which of the following areas of your life do you struggle with feeling like you’re not enough?  Check any that apply, or write your own in the space provided.

__ Job/career

__ Finances

__ Friendships

__ Family

__ Dating/Marriage

__ Parenting

__ Body image

__ Social media

__ Possessions

__ Other 

 

What would it look like to walk in the truth that you don’t have to strive to be good enough in these areas — God is with you anyway?

 
What are 3 ways you can remind yourself this week of the truth that your worth and God’s work in you are dependent on the Spirit, and not in how well you perform?

Galatians 2:11-21

GALATIANS 2:11-21

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

 

As the early church was learning to integrate Jews and Gentiles into one new multi-ethnic family of God, one of the problem areas was sharing meals.  One of the distinctives of what it meant to be Jewish, much like the mark of circumcision, was a strict dietary code.  To Jews, sharing a meal with a non-Jew was viewed as potentially problematic because in doing so they could compromise their own dietary laws.  This is why, out of Peter’s fear of judgment from other Jews, he compromised the truth of the gospel when he went back to living under the law by refusing to share a meal with Gentiles.  Peter’s compromise then led others astray, so Paul confronts Peter in front of the the group.  Paul wants Peter and all of those refusing to share life around the table with their new Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ to repent.  In this instance, Peter’s influence led people in the wrong direction as he folded under peer pressure.

Paul continues to emphasize what it takes to be justified before God.

Galatians 2:16 >>>  [We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Bible study tip >>> Look for repeated words and phrases. Circle all the times when “justified” and “faith” appear in the passage

To be justified is to be declared righteous before God.  It means we are put into right standing and right relationship with God.  Paul clearly emphasizes that no amount of following the law will fix us or bring us into right standing before God.  Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.

However, if our works can’t save us, does that mean we can do whatever we want?  Paul answers that question next.

Galatians 2:17-19 >>> 17 But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.  19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

Justification by faith does not mean we just don’t worry about the law and keep sinning.  Christ’s death fulfilled the law.  If anything, Christ’s life on earth gives us a perfect model of how to live and love the way God intended.  Christ simply freed us from having to rely on the law in order to earn God’s approval.  If we still want to hold up the law as essential to earn our righteousness, all we will end up proving in the end is that we can’t live up to those standards.  Christ presents us a new option: we can say goodbye to our old way of life and learn a new way of life in him!

Galatians 2:20 >>> I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We have died to our old way of life and have been invited to live under a new law — the law of a Savior who loves us so much he would give his life for ours.

 

>>>Here’s a few questions to think about:

In this passage, Peter’s influence led others astray and needed to be called out.

Where do I have influence?  Where is my influence leading people?

 

Faith is trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  It’s taking what we believe and then living as if it’s really true.  Faith in something should show up in our actions.  Our faith is not in the law.  We don’t need to act as if we are dependent on the law.  The law isn’t bad — it’s just not what determines our worth or our salvation.  We live out the truth that Christ has already completed our work of salvation.

Is there an area of your life where you feel anxiety over not being good enough?  What would it look like to claim and live out the truth that Christ has already declared you loved and redeemed in that area of your life?

 

We have been crucified with Christ and our old habits and harmful patters have been put to death — but sometimes we live as if they still run our lives.  Sin no longer has any hold on us except what we choose to give it.

Is there an area of your life God might be asking you to continue putting to death?

 

 

 

Galatians 2: 1-10

GALATIANS 2: 1-10

1 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

One question the early church had to address was how to integrate Jews and Gentiles into one multi-ethnic family of God.  (“Gentile” simply refers to anyone who is not Jewish.)  For thousands of years the Jews had been following the Torah, or the laws of the Old Testament.  The question they faced was how these new Gentile believers would relate to the Torah.  For example, one of the laws of the Old Testament that was a point of tension was circumcision, and in Galatia some Jewish Christians were teaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised.  Paul argues in Galatians 2:3 that not even Titus, a non-Jewish believer, was compelled to be circumcised.  Read Acts 15: 1-21 to see more about how this discussion went.

Acts 15: 7-11, 19 >>> 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” …  19 [James spoke up] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

Peter and James, both present at the discussion in Acts 15, were two of the most important leaders in the early church.  However, three times in this passage in Galatians Paul calls out “those who seemed to be leaders” (2:2), “those who seemed to be important” (2:6), and “those reputed to be pillars” (2:9).  While acknowledging the position these leaders have, Paul cautions that position and appearance are not the most important — the truth of the gospel is the most important!

Bible study tip >>> Look for repeated words and phrases.  Go back and look for repeated phrases like the one above about those in positions in leadership.  (Hint:  There are several references about Paul’s mission to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.)

>>>Here’s a few questions to think about:

Look for the four times in this passage that Paul mentions his mission to share the gospel with the Gentiles.  Paul’s purpose and mission are connected to his passion that nothing be added to the gospel.  He is adamant that no extra burden get in the way of Gentiles accepting Christ Jesus.  Paul is willing to fight in order that nothing gets added to the purity of the gospel.  When purpose, mission, and passion align like it did for Paul, it creates a powerful force!

What is something you are passionate about and willing to stand up and defend?

How does your passion point to a mission or responsibility that God has entrusted to you?

 

Paul was willing to stand up to other leaders because he believed so strongly in the gospel and knew the mission God had called him to.

Are you more concerned with position and appearance or with the truth of the gospel?

Is there anyone you’re trying to impress right now that results in you compromising how you live out the gospel?

 

 

Galatians 2_5

Galatians 1:13-24

GALATIANS 1:13-24

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

 

In writing this letter to the Galatians, Paul is trying to counter the false teaching of those who came after him and preached a different gospel.  Let’s take a look at what Paul has said already about the origin of the gospel he shared with the Galatians:

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

The true gospel is the gospel that comes from God and not from human origins.  Paul is concerned the Galatians have been deceived by a false, human-made gospel.  He’s writing to persuade the Galatians to return to the true gospel that is revealed from God.

Paul continues on to share the story of how his own life was radically transformed by the true gospel.  He continues developing the idea that the gospel he preaches is revelation from God alone, and not something he learned from another human:

15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.

Paul was not dependent on anyone else to learn and grow in his faith.  He didn’t have the faith someone else handed to him.  He didn’t wait around for someone to tell him what he should believe.  He had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, and then he devoted himself to searching and studying the Scriptures to learn more!

 

>>>Here’s a few questions to think about:

Go back to Galatians 1:11-12 and 1:15-16 and look for the words “revelation” and “reveal” in how the gospel came to Paul.  Look how the gospel is similarly talked about in Romans:

Romans 1:16 >>> For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Receiving the gospel is categorically different than learning a history lesson.  As the gospel acts on your life, it comes with the power of God to bring about life  change!  It’s not something to be learned; it’s something to be received and responded to.

How did you first receive the gospel?  Can you relate to the idea that the gospel is supernatural and not just another idea man came up with?

 

Read Acts 9:1-31.  When Paul received the gospel, he spent some time away studying.  He wanted to be sure the gospel he believed and the gospel he preached were not influenced or led astray from another human, but purely the revelation of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Is there anything you believe that might be from a human source in regards to the gospel?

What would it look like for you take time to get to know God better for yourself instead of relying on what someone else has told you about God?Have you come to know God yourself

Galatians 1:10-12

GALATIANS 1:10-12

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

We can’t serve Jesus freely and fully if we are preoccupied with people pleasing.  Paul declares that he is free from needing to earn the approval of others.  He knows his worth is already secure in Christ.  It’s not something he needs to earn—from God or from others.  Read verse 10 again:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

If we put our worth up for grabs, and think that we have to earn the approval of others in order for them to confer worth on us, we get sucked into a vicious cycle of people pleasing.

When we realize our worth is not not on the table, it frees us up.  All the energy we expend worrying about what others think and working to impress them can now be redirected.  Instead of being compelled by people pleasing, read what Paul exhorts us to do instead:

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 >>> For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Now let’s take a closer look at verse 11:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.

The gospel is not something humanity would ever come up with on our own!  Every other religion teaches how we can save ourselves.  Only the gospel recognizes the root problem of sin and that we can’t save ourselves.  We need a Savior!

>>>Here’s a few questions to think about:

On a scale of 1-10, how much of a grip does people pleasing have on your life?

 

People Pleasing Scale

What is the danger of people pleasing?  In what area of your life are you most tempted to give in to earning the approval of others?

People pleasing is all about motivation.  You might struggle with people pleasing, or there might be another motive you struggle with.  As followers of Jesus, we’re called to be motivated by the love of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:14 >>>  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 

What is one specific situation you want to be more motivated by the love of Christ?  

 

Galatians 1 10

Galatians 1:6-9

GALATIANS 1:6-9

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Bible study tip >>> Look for repeated words and phrases.  Go back and look for all the times “gospel” appears in this passage.

Paul is defending the true gospel — the good news that salvation by grace alone and by Christ alone is available for all.  Other teachers have come to Galatia and added works to the gospel, and Paul is furious!

Look at the following verses about the good news that salvation is for all people.

Luke 2:10-11 >>>  But the angel said to [the shepherd], “Do not be afraid.  I bring you GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for ALL THE PEOPLE.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Galatians 3:8 >>> The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced THE GOSPEL in advance to Abraham:  “ALL NATIONS will be blessed through you.”

The Gospel is the good news that all peoples of the earth might be saved by the grace of God by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.

We can’t earn it.
We don’t deserve it.
We simply have to receive it.

Here’s a few questions to think about:

The gospel is all about GRACE.  Paul is furious that others are trying to add to the requirements of how we can be reconciled to God.

Is there any area of your life where you are living to earn God’s approval instead of living by grace?

You already have God’s approval.  How would it feel to live in a state of grace instead of a race for approval?

The gospel is for ALL THE PEOPLE and ALL THE NATIONS.

Is there anyone you’ve given up on, thinking they’re outside the reach of God’s grace?  

How can you extend grace to all people you come in contact with today?

 

We can't earn it

 

I Believe in You

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was the way they believed in me.  From their vantage point, there was nothing I couldn’t do if I only worked hard enough.  Their confidence often gave me the courage to keep going when I wanted to give up.  Whether it was making the Varsity soccer team or doing well on a math test, I knew my parents believed in me and that spurred me on to success.

Sometimes all we need in life is someone to believe in us.  Someone to say, “You’ve got this.  Keep going!”  A friend or family member to call us out to be the best version of ourselves and keep believing in us when we’ve stopped believing in ourselves.

You are exactly who God intended you to be.  He who makes no mistakes gave you precisely the right mix of natural abilities, personality, and spiritual gifts.  You are His workmanship, and He has created you perfectly and particularly to accomplish specific tasks in this world (Eph. 2:10).

Over and over again in the Bible, God calls out the screw-ups and least of these and says He is trusting them to carry out His mission in the world.

“Gideon, I know you’re from the weakest tribe of Israel, but I’m going to use you to free my people from oppression.” (Judges 6)

Ruth, I know you’re an outsider, but I’m going to use you to save your family and be a part of the lineage of the Messiah.”

“Peter, I know you’re a hot-headed fisherman, but I’m going to use you to build my church.”  (Matthew 16:18)

I struggle with believing in myself.  Every day I seem to find a new insecurity or a new reason to doubt myself.  It helps me tremendously to read these stories in the Bible and be reminded of how God uses imperfect people to perfectly accomplish His mission in the world.  On good days I can move past my insecurities and believe that God is bigger than my mistakes.  On good days I trust that He will use me and all my flaws to help push back the darkness in this world.  After all, the greatness of the gospel shines the brightest through the cracks in my life (2 Corinthians 4:7).

But on some days, I need more than that.  On some days, my insecurities are crippling.  I need a friend to tell me they believe in me, and remind me that God believes in me too.  I need someone who will call out the good in me, and remind me of who God made me to be.

One of the greatest gifts you can offer someone is to speak the truth of who God has made them to be.  Offer the gift of believing in them, and remind them that God believes in them too.  Is there someone in your life you can encourage today by telling them you believe in who God made them to be?  Be specific, and call out their strengths.  Tell them because you see this specific character trait in them, you know they have what it takes.  Remind them that they are not alone, and that God will provide the strength that they need.

And if you’re on the other end of the equation and need someone to believe in you, then know that I believe in you.  I believe in the potential God has given you, and that you can and will do even greater things than you could ever imagine if you will just keep trusting God.  And, more importantly, know that God believes in you too.

I believe in you

 

 

Finding What I’m Made For

For a few months while I was in college, my friends and I were engaged in a full scale (yet friendly) prank war.  It was guys versus girls in a game of who could out-do who, and it escalated to a point where, to preserve our friendships, we actually drafted and signed a “Prank War Manifesto” to make sure we didn’t go too far.

One of the girls had this 3 foot tall wooden fork and spoon set that hung on the wall in her kitchen, and the guys managed to smuggle them out of the house one night.  To get even, the girls rallied a few days later and went over to the guys’ house when we knew they would all be in class.  We shimmied in through the bathroom window and ransacked their kitchen, making out with all of their silverware—even grabbing the dirty ones from the sink and dishwasher—to hold as ransom until the other items were returned.  For a day or two the guys got by eating their cereal with large serving spoons before they finally agreed to make the trade.

These prank war episodes were punctuated by midterms, football games, camping trips, and coffee addictions.  But in the midst of all of the fun and frivolity of life at Oregon State, we also were trying to sort out what exactly it was we wanted our lives to be about.  We had made our Prank War Manifesto, but the guidelines of how we would live the rest of our life seemed a bit murky at times.

Even now as I launch into my thirties, I sometimes feel like I could use a clear manifesto on just what exactly I’m supposed to be pursuing with my life.

As I make decisions about how I use my time, what habits and patterns I establish, the people I surround myself with, and the education and careers I pursue, do I ever pause long enough to ask what it is I’m hoping to accomplish when all is said and done?

Life can be about a lot of things.  At the end of the day, when I look back, I want to know that my life, my days, and my decisions were being used for the right things.

One of the verses I keep coming back to is Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act Justly.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly.

3 things.  I can try and do those three things.  I think the world would be a little bit better if all of us learned how to do these three things a little bit better together.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your life?  What do you need to say no to, in order to be able to say yes to the right things?

Micah 6 8

What Love Looks Like: Reflections from the Garden of Gethsemane

Olive Tree

About a year ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel.  Walking the land where the history of the people of God played out provided unique insights and a new and deeper understanding of the Bible.

Instead of reading a story, I could picture it playing out in front of me.  Static interchanges became dynamic monologues with dramatic backdrops.  Brief geographic references became touch-points for visualizing a rich landscape and providing contextual clues to help better understand the story.

Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane, east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, was one such location.   My time spent wandering through the olive groves there forever changed how I will understand the events that took place the night Jesus was arrested.

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem

What I never realized before was that the Garden of Gethsemane was one of the best locations from which you could look out over the city of Jerusalem.  Specifically, it overlooked the temple on the east side of the city.  This means that as Jesus is praying, agonizing over his imminent suffering, committing to the Father to carry through the plans to give his life in exchange for rebellious humanity, Jesus is looking out over the city that had rejected him.

How could someone look out over the city that had rejected him, and then still choose to walk back down that hill, through the gate, and willingly offer his life as a sacrifice?

This is a strange kind of love, a love that feels almost foreign in its fierceness.

To help you get the full picture, let me set the scene for you.  You might already be familiar with the story.  Each of the gospel writers describes it with slight variants, but together they clearly communicate that Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36)

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. (Luke 22:39)

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. (John 18:1)

What I never realized, until visiting there myself, was just how close Gethsemane is to the city of Jerusalem.  From the west slope of the Mount of Olives where the garden is located, to the east wall of the Old city of Jerusalem, it is less than a quarter of a mile.

If you’re a visual person, you’ll see the Mount of Olives on the far right side of this map, directly across from the east wall of the city where the temple was located.

From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas
From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas

And here’s the view from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem.  (You’ll see the modern day Dome of the Rock in the place where the temple would have been during Jesus’ day).

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem

This is the view Jesus looked out upon as he prayed in the garden that night.  His vision was filled with the city that had rejected him; the city that would put him to death the next day.  With this picture in mind, read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ time in Gethsemane:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”  (Matthew 26:36-46 NIV)

In Luke’s account, we learn that Jesus prayed so earnestly and in such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 23:44).


When touring Israel, it’s best to hold expectations loosely.  Some sites will be completely different than what you had expected.  Others you’ll expect to have a certain emotional response, but due to a packed schedule, exhaustion, or a host of other factors that go with international travel, you won’t “feel” what you thought you would feel.

In our two week whirlwind trip that saw over 40 different biblical sites, our time in the Garden of Gethsemane came at the end of the trip.  In contrast to so many other locations that bear the trappings of being overrun by the tourism industry, the garden was simple.  An olive grove on the side of the hill, and no one but our group in sight.

I wandered through the olive grove, reflecting on Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion.  I had expected to be weepy, overcome with the feelings of sorrow and betrayal that transpired in this place. Instead, as I pondered what it must have been like for Jesus to prepare himself for the inevitable, I felt a sense of resolve.

Looking out over the city that had rejected Him, knowing fully that it would cost His very life, Jesus still chose to walk down that hill, across the valley, and re-enter Jerusalem.

I pictured Jesus standing in the garden.  Set jaw.  Lips pressed firmly together.  Eyes intently overlooking the city.  Hands clenched tightly.  Shoulders square.  Spine straight.  Feet firmly planted.  Determination furrowing his brow.

He had a mission to accomplish.  And nothing could stop him from seeing it through.

The soldiers came, one of his closest friends betrayed him with a kiss, and Jesus set his feet towards Jerusalem.  He would give his life even for his enemies, because that’s what love does.

Friends, Jesus chose you.  Jesus chose you even though it cost Him His life. 

Jesus’ love for you is not a fleeting feeling that changes based on circumstances.  Jesus’ love for you is a steady resolve, a determination that leads to self-sacrifices, a choice to love you and keep moving towards you even when you are pushing him away.

I doubt that in that moment in the garden, Jesus had a whole lot of warm fuzzy feelings about what he was about to do.  Rather, he knew what love required.  He chose making a way for relationship with you over personal comfort.  He chose death and suffering because it meant reconciliation.

This love that Jesus shows us in that moment is a strong, fierce love.  It is a love that makes me feel safe, and also scared at the same time.

I feel safe because I know nothing I do will ever change how much Jesus loves me.  If his love led him to walk back into Jerusalem and give his life for his enemies, then surely my moments of sin, selfishness, and stupidity won’t scare him away.  I feel safe because I feel secure in his love, and I trust that he won’t abandon me.

I feel scared because I think we’re called to love how Jesus loved, and that terrifies me.  If his love led him to endure such pain on behalf of the people he loves, what will be asked of me as I try to love people like Jesus loved people?  I feel scared, terrified even, because of what it might cost to love people this way.

I remember specifically at the time I was on this trip, I had one friend who was particularly hard for me to love.  I wanted to be done, and I was tired of being hurt.  The more I moved toward this person and tried to help, the more vehemently I was pushed away.

And yet as I sat in that garden, contemplating what Jesus had done, I realized that love doesn’t care about the cost.  Love is a choice to put someone else’s good before your own.  Love is a resolve to pursue what’s best for another person, even if it demands sacrifice.

Love is not a feeling; love is a choice.

There will always be people I don’t want to love.  There will always be things I don’t want to do.  There will always be pains I would rather avoid and sacrifices I would rather not make.

But this is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t die for me so that I could spend the rest of my life avoiding hard and painful things.  Jesus didn’t walk down that hill, back into Jerusalem, and hang on a cross so that I could hide in safety and waste my life.

We inhabit a very dark, very hurting world.  People are hurting.  Everywhere.  Not just in other countries, but in your family, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, and in your social circles.

Jesus gave his life so that humanity could once again find hope and healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God.

Jesus gave his life so that we could live for him.  So that we could take this new life we’ve found in him, and share it with others.  So that we could love the people around us that are hurting.  Even if it hurts, even if it takes a sacrifice, we’re called to love those around us.

Jesus died for you so that you could live for him.  

Who in your life is God asking you to love today?  

Who in your life have you avoided reaching out to because you know it might be hard?  

How can you take comfort from the example of Jesus and trust Him to provide what you need as you go out to love this world that Jesus died for?

Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Jerusalem's East Gate
Jerusalem’s East Gate