Identity Crisis (Part I)

1. You are not your opinions.

I know, it’s an election season, and I know, if they would just listen to the powerful, compelling arguments you’re shouting over their replies, then they would see the light, they would make the right decision, and they’d be so, so grateful to you for opening their mind to the truth about the state of our country and how your candidate can finally fix all the world’s problems. Am I right, or am I right?

Listen to me, and listen well: you are not your opinions. Sometimes we hold so tight to those–and I’m not just talking in a political context–it’s as if we’re afraid that if we let go of them, if we let them change, we’re losing a part of ourselves or compromising a fundamental truth. But get this: you’re not. As a full-fledged, God-created human, you’re so much more than your agenda. There are things so much more important than your opinions–including your values and relationships.

It may be an uncomfortable experience to realize you’re wrong, but you know what that is? That’s pride. And you know what? You can move past it. And I think usually, this leads to increased understanding and a better existence for all of us.

2. You are not your failures.

When looking at your fellow humans, it’s pretty easy to see primarily their successes. That’s because successes tend to be pretty public and failures tend to be relatively private.  Hank Green, YouTube sensation and creator of VidCon, recently uploaded a video about this very subject (you can check it out here), and John Green, acclaimed author of the best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, responded similarly (here). Both of them have experienced tremendous public success, yet both admit here the real story, the things we don’t see–the things that went wrong.

That’s not a good feeling, the feeling of failure. I’ve definitely experienced it, even in the last week. And you have that voice repeating over and over in your head: “Not enough.” Not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not creative enough, not talented enough, not prepared enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough. Not enough.

But take heart: do you hear his voice? My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Failure is something you do, not something you are. And it’s done, and it’s over. That door has been closed; do you see the brightness up ahead? The mountain peak may be obscured by clouds, but when you reach the top, it will have been worth the climb, the scratches and soreness along the way–even if it turns out to be a different mountain than the one you thought you were climbing. You are so much more than any one role you take on–or thought you would take on. You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement.

3. You are not your successes.

You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement. This one can be tempting, because we often don’t realize we’re doing it. In fact, we often choose to adopt it to counteract #2. I may have failed in THIS area, but don’t forget about… And to a certain degree, that’s good, to not let your failures crush your dreams. But maybe this isn’t quite the right way to go about it. I think in reality, the realization of the weight you put on your failures is less the opposite of being defined by your successes, and more the result of it, the other side of the same coin.

You are more than your roles. More than a title, more than a job, more than your grades, more than your status, more than your reputation, more than your accolades, more than your position. And all of those things can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

4. You are not the standard in your head.

And neither is anybody else. It’s really, really easy to get caught in the trap of comparing yourself with others, or at least, the version of others that you see. We’re surrounded by mirrors, digital and actual, that reflect back at us the standard of what we should be, bouncing back into infinity like at the hairdresser’s until they’re magnified beyond attainability. Maybe what we should really be asking ourselves is, Is that really what I want to be? Maybe what we should really be doing is redefining the standard.

Jesus set it as himself. And then he died so that you didn’t have to meet it. That’s why the curtain tore, you know. It was tearing away the division, the lies, the sin that separates us. It was torn so that you could enter the Holy of Holies, unashamed and radiant. That is the truth of who you are. You are an orphan adopted, given a new name, chosen and treasured…and loved. What a powerful word.

5. You are not your reputation.

I barely even recognize any more how much of what I do is focused around gaining the acceptance, admiration, or approval of others–whoever those others may be. Your social media followers, your classmates, your coworkers, your inner circle, your teammates, your employer, your teachers, your family, your coach. Every decision you make is influenced by the people around you.

So for one, make sure they’re good people. And for two, make sure you don’t let it define you.

In reality, there is only one accolade we should be striving for. And that is, at the end of the day, to see his face, and hear his voice: Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

May you have the strength to climb the mountains and the faith to make them tremble. Remember, his grace is sufficient for you.

Blessings,
Bre

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Why do you stand here?

men of galilee

the angel asked. It was as if he was mocking their astonishment at their Teacher’s ascension. Didn’t you know this was going to happen? his merry eyes seemed to say. He’s going to come again, too. Will you still be standing here staring?

“We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they could have exclaimed. But they had. They’d been with him for three years, watching him heal the sick, turn water into wine, make the blind to see and the lame to walk. Peter, James, and John had been with him at the Transfiguration. They’d seen far more dramatic things than a simple disappearance. In fact, you’d think they’d be used to it by now! Jesus had been coming and going like a wizard with a hole in his Floo-powder pouch for several weeks, appearing and disappearing from the Upper Room and on the road to Emmaus. So why did this event leave the disciples staring?

Maybe it was his words before he left. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” What was this Holy Spirit? Maybe they were waiting around for it to descend right there–not that the disciples had a great track record for taking Jesus at his word.

To be fair, who could blame them? He had an awkward tendency to say the craziest things. “If anyone comes to me and does not despise his mother and father…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Whaaat?

The disciples sometimes take a lot of flack from the modern-day church for this. He’s talking about himself, you idiots! But seriously, what would it look like if we started taking Jesus at his word? “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Seek, and you will find; knock, and I will answer.” “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Think our lives might look a little different?

Before Jesus left, the disciples had asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” His answer? Not yet. Wait and see. And in the meantime, he had a job for them.

“Why do you stand here?”

Maybe it was because they didn’t know what else to do. Maybe because the weight of Jesus’ last charge hadn’t fully sunk in yet. “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here? This same Jesus, who you have seen go up into heaven, will come back in the very same way.” The angel spoke with urgency, galvanizing them into action. These were the words that lit a fire in the early church! The disciples had to prepare for their Lord’s return!

But he didn’t come. Not yet.

I think the two thousand years since then have made us complacent. We metaphorically stand and stare into heaven every day, blinking into the sunlight and wondering what to do.

“Why do you stand here?”

If Jesus came back today, would he ask you the same question? Don’t just stand here; move! In your current vocation and location, what is he calling you to do?

Maybe you don’t know. Overwhelm is an understandable feeling. Maybe you should start by taking Jesus at his word: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Ours is the same charge as that of John and Peter–of Paul and Joshua and Timothy and Moses. Maybe we should spend less time squinting into the sky and waiting for answers to come to us, and a little more soaking in his word and letting him teach us how to love. Maybe that’s where the answers really come from. Maybe sometimes, when we think we’re waiting on God, God is really waiting on us.

So why do you stand here?

When the morning dawns

Wrote this poem last week during National Poetry Writing Month. The last line of every stanza is taken from Psalm 46:1-5.

When my heart is faint and my courage weak,
And I know not for what I seek,
When the weight of the world drives me to my knees,
God is our refuge and strength.

When what I see is not what’s real,
And I’ve lost trust in what I feel,
You are my solid rock, my shield,
A very present help in trouble.

Though I may wander, your truth will remain;
Regardless of storm clouds, forever you reign.
Nowhere could I go to escape your domain!
Therefore we will not fear.

You are my constant, my compass, my chart;
You’re the North Star to my wandering heart:
Faithful and steadfast in light and in dark,
Though the earth give way.

He hems me in, before and behind;
Oh, where can I go that I may hide?
He’s in the depths and in the heights,
Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.

He’s counted every grain of sand;
He quiets the wind with his strong hand.
The sea is no match for his command,
Though its waters roar and foam.

Pick a star, he knows its name.
I long to look upon your face,
Content in your sufficient grace,
Though the mountains tremble.

Unto you I cast my cares,
Pile my stones into a cairn.
My lungs are full of mountain air;
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.

In your true Word do I delight,
A light that does not fear the night.
I’ve fought the fight, at last to find
The holy habitation of the Most High.

I hear the voices of the saints;
One day he will call my name.
I long that those who know me say,
God is in the midst of her.

Because he is faithful, because he is true,
Because so far he went his passion to prove,
Because his command even death can’t undo,
She shall not be moved.

By the world unseduced, she is seeking the truth,
Hangs on to the faith that his promise will prove,
Clings to the Rock that she knows will not move;
God will help her when the morning dawns.

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Lost in translation

Do you let life interpret God or does God interpret life?

(You can read that multiple times if you need to.)

We may not say it, may not give it voice, may not ever even shape it into words in  our minds, but we do this all the time. Your situation shapes your view of God. It shapes your emotions, love, contentment, and peace. It shapes your trust and your faith. As soon as things start going bad, you start questioning your relationship with God. Oh, I haven’t been spending enough time in the Word. Oh, God hasn’t been speaking to me lately. Oh, I just don’t have that spiritual strength I used to.

Here’s the reality: Your relationship with God does not depend on how you feel, but what he’s done. And God does not depend on how I feel, but on who he is. God does not depend on your circumstances, status, struggles, or state of mind. God’s character is not determined by your situation, stresses, social circles, or stage of life. The truth of who God is is unaffected by your decisions, desires, despair, and delusions. God is based on one thing, and one thing only: Himself.

In Exodus 3 when Moses stood barefoot before the fire that did not destroy and asked God what name he should give to the Israelites to describe their God, the Lord answered with five powerful words: I AM WHO I AM.” Tell them “I AM” has sent you.

I AM truth. I AM righteous. I AM love. I AM holy. I AM good. I AM just. I AM strong. I AM gracious. I AM glorious. I AM enough. I AM sovereign. I AM in control.

Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes, in the good times, we take God for granted and forget to be in awe, to be constantly learning more fully who he is and so then when the trials come we’ve forgotten that. We’ve forgotten who he is, this God we claim to serve.

He is a God who transcends circumstance and surpasses situations. He destroys excuses, eliminates obstacles, and supersedes fear. He is over all and in all. He is sovereign, and he is strong. He is powerful, and he is protection. He is refuge, and he is restoration. He carries us through the fight and protects us through the night. He is over every worry and every conflict and every stress and every complicated situation life throws at you because He is Lord.

Ask yourself this question this week, and remember to keep your eyes above the waves. Blessings!
–Bre

a

HOPE

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing
that by the power of the Holy Spirit
you may abound in hope.

 The God of hope. That’s a new one.

We don’t usually think of a God of hope. We think of a God of wrath, of power and holiness. A God of fire and thunder and wind and storm. A God who sends down lightning from above and shatters the walls of Jericho. A God of power and strength and rage and perfection. A God who demands, a God who judges, a God who is far, far away or a God who is all too close.

Or, we’re all too happy to ignore that part of God. We see a God of love. A God of love and grace and peace and mercy. A God who is gentle, who is near and undisturbing. A God who sends us a Baby, a God who died on a tree, a God who is the rescue from my sins and this world around me. A God who cares and who will take care of all my needs.

Both/all of those things are true of God. I think a lot of times we have trouble seeing both at once. I think a lot of us like to fit God in a box. We like a self-made, custom-fit God to neatly slip into our puzzle exactly as we want him to.

NEWSFLASH: that’s not how it works.

Something I’ve been learning over the years is that God does not depend on how I feel, but on who he is. Neither my pain nor my pride can change his character. I could go on and on about this, maybe I will someday. But for now I want to talk about this verse I found yesterday, in Romans 15:13, because God is a God of hope.

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing
that by the power of the Holy Spirit
you may abound in hope.

Hope. We don’t give a lot of thought to hope, a lot of times, do we? 1 Corinthians 13;13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” We hear a lot about faith and love, and for good reason. But hope? Hope doesn’t seem to fit.

Hope is wishy-washy. Hope doesn’t seem to require grand, sweeping gestures to prove our devotion to God. Hope doesn’t come down and bleed and rise again for me. Hope doesn’t have an application for me. Hope is only for the desperate. The needy.

WRONG. On all counts.

Hope is a challenge. A dare. Hope is what Christ died for. And hope is life-changing–because we are all desperate and needy. Hope is security in something bigger than yourself.

God is a God of hope.

Is it making sense now?

Hope is not a quality. It is a promise. The Bible is full of them. The one that most particularly struck me this week is found in Isaiah 33.

Verses 1-14 declare God’s power and greatness:

You who are far away, hear what I have done;
    you who are near, acknowledge my power!
The sinners in Zion are terrified;
    trembling grips the godless:
Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
(verses 13-14)

But then in verse 17, there is a shift.

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
    and view a land that stretches afar.
In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror:
    “Where is that chief officer?
Where is the one who took the revenue?
    Where is the officer in charge of the towers?”
You will see those arrogant people no more,
    people whose speech is obscure,
    whose language is strange and incomprehensible.
Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;
    your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
    nor any of its ropes broken.
There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
    It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
    no mighty ship will sail them.
For the Lord is our judge,
    the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
    it is he who will save us.
(verses 17-22)

There! Did you catch it? God’s promise: you will SEE.

Because here’s the thing: not only are you desperate and needy, but you are blind.

I know all too well how easy it is to lose my sight. You can probably relate.  In this world, it’s not too hard. I don’t do it on purpose. I just sort of, slip into everyday life, and boom! Lost.

Things start to become a lot more important. Things like status. Like friends. Like reputation. Like possessions. Like achievements. Like goals. Like plans. Like success. Like comfort. Like fun. Like business and busyness.

These are things that are important. Or that would be, if this world was all there is.

You see, because I can’t see it, I struggle to remember sometimes that there is a world beyond this one.

That’s amazing to me. The hope of this place called heaven, where he will wipe every tear, every weary, frustrated, angry tear from my eye, and all these burdens that I feel but don’t quite know how to name, my shoulders release and I fall into your arms…

I cry out to God, why can’t I live like it’s heaven on earth now? What would that look like? For you to be all I need, now? For me to never look back, now? For you to always be there for me, now? Why do I have to be here? Why can’t I go to heaven now and have all of this then come true?

Oh, wait…

God does not depend upon how I feel. Neither does he depend on where I am.

Here’s the thing. Right now, it can be really, really hard to see. Really hard. And I’m about ready to give up. But God is a God of hope. And hope does not give up. And hope promises, that you. Will. See.

You will see.

You will see something beautiful, something glorious. Something unlike anything this world has ever encountered. You will watch the fireworks as heaven and earth collide, and observe the awesomeness as his glory breaks the skies. You will see a city where there are no tears, no heartache, no sorrows, no weariness, no burdens, no depression or desperation or need for anything but more and more of this glorious light, filling our eyes and being drunk by our souls. You will see God for who he really is, and in that moment everything else will have faded to dust.

I crave it. I crave hope. I crave security in something bigger than myself. Because it reminds me, that all this stuff that does create these tears and these burdens and this weariness–it’s all going to go away. It reminds me that he does meet all my needs, now, and he is so, so close to me, now, and why should I be looking back, now?

It reminds me that he promises something beautiful. God is a God of hope. And hope, is how I see.

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing
that by the power of the Holy Spirit
you may abound in hope.

Bre

hope 6

The strength of my heart – Psalm 73:26

Yep, it’s another Psalm this week! Ack, I love the Psalms. I love the Psalms because they’re honest. They’re honest to God, and a lot of times, honesty isn’t pretty. The Psalms don’t hide that. The Psalms show the journey from every place on the spectrum, the web of human emotion, out of the confinement and confusion of my heart and into the light of truth, no room for shadows. They give these feelings shape with words, and bring them before the Father, the Rock, the Refuge, the Lover, the Savior, the Deliverer, the Healer, the Friend, the Comforter, the Holy One, the Creator, the Most High, the All Powerful, the All Knowing, the One who Protects, who Provides, who Understands, who Listens, who is Stronger, who is Greater, the Great I Am. And I…I am not–but I know I AM.

psalm 73-26

This verse comes from a Psalm of struggle. Of disillusionment. Of doubt. Of questioning. Of despair. Of loss of hope. But then, the Psalmist returns to the Rock. He was searching, and finally, he found. He found what he’d been looking for, all this time. He found something that would satisfy what the world never quite could.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And the earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My heart and flesh may fail,
but God is my strength, and my portion forever.

Bre