What’s Your Passion? Living for the Things That Matter

I’m preparing to speak at an upcoming women’s retreat and the theme is “Start a Fire”. No, this isn’t a retreat for closet arsonists. It’s a time designed to get fired up for our Creator. But in preparing for the retreat, I began meditating on the word ‘passion’ and started thinking about what most of us are passionate about. fire-heart

What gets you excited? Hot under the collar? What makes you shout in excitement? In other words, what’s your passion?

For some people it’s their kids and grand kids. For others, it’s sports or finding the perfect sale at their favorite store. Coffee and chocolate. Pinterest, decorating, hunting, or, ahem, dare I say it? It seems that judging by the insane number of arguments on social media of late, politics might be a passionate interest for a few of us. Call it a hunch.

If you’re not sure what your passion is, there’s a simple way to find out. We talk about what excites us. What you talk about most is what you dwell on. What you dwell on is your passion.

gossip

This can work in either extreme. The intensity of feeling between love and hate often seems like a fine line. We can be on fire for good things or on fire for, well, not-so-good things.

While I was pondering all this, I googled, “What are people passionate about?”. Of course, I hit about 10,000 sites all offering bloviating advice on everything from soap operas to diet pills. But one particular page caught my attention. The author suggested every person in the world must be passionate about these things or they would be doomed to a life of misery and perpetual angst. Her list insisted to be a successful human, one must be passionate about: their fitness, be in-tune with their current romantic interest, acquiring knowledge, acquiring money and simplifying their life.

Can you see me rolling my eyes? eye roll 2

Don’t get me wrong. None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But the problem is none of them will last. Paul said exercise for the body does profit a little. It’s important to care for the temple God gave us. But we aren’t supposed to worship the temple. Eventually, it will die. And what will we have left to show for all our passionate efforts?

Knowledge without wisdom does nothing. Neither does relationship without love. The more money one acquires, the emptier they feel. And as far as pursuing a simpler life goes, that’s mighty hard to do while simultaneously pursuing riches. The two cannot coexist.

So what am I trying to say?

We all need to take a step back from time to time and examine what our passion is. Is it our family? Our possessions? The next big thing on the schedule? The sports team we love to follow? Our own personal dreams? I’m hesitant to even pursue those, because I’ve learned the hard way that dreams can become gods if I take my eyes off Jesus.

What we talk about is what we’re passionate about. I, for one, need to make sure that what I’m excited about are things that matter. Things that will last far beyond the here and now. Love, faith, and hope. Investing in people. Not things or accomplishments.

Passionate people have courage. They’re positive. They live unbalanced for the things that matter most. They aren’t consumed with perfectionism and fear. I want to be a passionate person, but only if my enthusiasm is for Jesus.

That’s a passion that will last.

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The Window Washer: Fear-Defying Faith

The past week was a taste of paradise. I was overjoyed to attend a writers retreat for the authors who are signed with the fabulous agents of Books & Such Literary Agency. Boy, did they spoil us! We met in Monterey, California to enjoy a time of learning, fellowship, planning and fun. My brain is overwhelmed with everything they taught us, the creativity and joy were contagious and the view couldn’t be beat. But best of all were the friendships forged. As you can see, the love between the authors of Books & Such are a rare gift.

me-and-lauraine-snellingme-and-sherry-kyleme-and-anita-draper

With my hilarious author friends (left to right) Lauraine Snelling, Sherry Kyle, and Anita Draper.

Something interesting happened during the last afternoon, however. Several of us had walked outside for a fresh breath of ocean air during our break time. As we leaned over the hotel’s third floor balcony, I just happened to look down and my heart slammed against my ribs. Directly below us was a window washer, standing atop a six foot ladder perched on the edge of a narrow walkway on the second floor, calming whistling as he attended to his tasks. Although it’s hard to tell in these pictures, there is absolutely no ledge to keep his ladder from sliding to the rocks below. None.

window-washer-monterey

I watched him in fascination for several long minutes. Every time he moved farther down the walkway and he swung that ladder wide over the air, dangling the metal contraption into space, my stomach clenched all over again. But the man’s step never wavered. His whistle never stopped. If anything it was like the task was second nature to him, no different than breathing or eating.

If it was me wobbling on that ledge, the scene wouldn’t have been nearly so tranquil, I assure you. The whistle would have sounded more like the screeches of a dying cow rolling down a cliff.

And that’s just me getting to the top of a ladder, the second story ledge not included.

The window washer was comfortable because he had done his task so many times, fear was no longer a factor. He knew the ledge. He knew its strength and its width. He’d tested it over and over again. He could move in freedom, without thought and with a song on his lips while an ocean raged behind him and sharp rocks sat like teeth underneath because he had faith the ledge would hold him up. And it did.

cliff

It’s the same with God. The older I get, the easier it is to trust Him. Why? Because He’s proved Himself faithful over and over again. The storms are just as strong, the fire just as hot, the enemy just as diligent, but the fear doesn’t rattle me as it once did. Oh, there’s still some fear. I’m far from what I should be. But the goal is imperfect progress as the Father molds and shapes us into the image of His Son.

Perfect love casts out fear. The deeper we move and live in the knowledge of God’s love for us, the more the fear shrinks.

Maybe someday, I’ll even be able to whistle atop a ladder perched on a second story ledge.

I would love to hear from you. Do you struggle with fear? Have you found it easier or harder to trust God as time goes by? Why or why not?

The One Christian Cliché I’ve Tossed for Good

Thees and Thous.

Hedge of protection.

Traveling mercies.

Let go and let God.

So many odd phrases pepper our western Christian culture. Some are rooted in Bible and some have been twisted over time. Some were never in scripture to begin with.

Over the past two years, I’ve meditated continually on 1 John 2:6.

“…the one who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

walking

Okay. So if I want to be like Christ, I just need to walk like Jesus. I gotta say, that seems like a tall order. It’s like being told in order to be pretty, I should just look like Cindy Crawford. I can’t do that. I’m not her.

Thankfully, I’ve learned walking in the same manner as Jesus is possible. It’s allowing His Spirit to mold me into His image. Letting God chip away the hard places in me until I resemble His Son. It’s a journey of imperfect progress of dying to self as I learn to think like Him. Speak like Him. Love like Him. Having my heart so intertwined with His, that the things that cause His heart to grieve, to dance, to rejoice, to become angry, to weep, eventually become the things that cause mine to do the same.

In the middle of this journey, I’ve come to the realization this process might include unlearning some of the popular Christian clichés of the day.

Christianese is a strange, funny, twisted mess, y’all.

One Christian cliché that makes me giggle is “hedge of protection”. What does that mean?  If you’re going to ask for God’s protection on my behalf, could you ask for more than a string of azaleas, please? Maybe a wall? Particle board? Anything more substantial than shrubbery.

stuck-in-window

Or how about “when God closes a door, He opens a window.” What? So God isn’t big enough to open another door? He’s going to make me crawl through a window? (Or, ahem, pardon my snark, but has anyone forgotten that the enemy can open and close doors too?)

There’s also “God helps those who help themselves”, or “Everything that happens is part of God’s plan.” Both of these are false. There are countless others but one in particular has been bugging me for some time and I’m determined to kick it from my repertoire for good. Yes, I’ve been guilty of saying this Christian cliché classic….

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

What is so wrong about this particular phrase? It sounds Biblical and we know God does not tolerate sin.

“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.” (Psalm 5:4)

The issue with this little nugget of Christianese is the beginning. “Love the sinner…”

If I want to walk, talk and be like Jesus, I must view people with the same heart Jesus did. Jesus never once told his disciples, or anyone else, to ‘love sinners’. He said, “Love your neighbor”. (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark  12:31)       love-your-neighbor                                                                                                        

When we set up a precedent of saying “Love the sinner”, we are in effect placing ourselves in a place of spiritual comparison. Of superiority. “My sin is not as bad as theirs.” Can you hear the pride and condescension now?

Jesus died for all men and women, boys and girls, race and nationality, offender, dictator and criminal. He loves us all. I don’t have time to be worrying about everyone else’s sin issues. I have enough of my own.

I pitched the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” cliche for good. I think a much better thought would be “Hate sin. Love your neighbor. Jesus will handle the rest.”

hate-sin-love-your-neighbor

For a funny look at other Christian cliches, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuK4sZdR36s

Are there Christian clichés that drive you crazy? I would love to hear about it!

Disney Theology

Walt Disney messed me up, and it appears I’m not the only one.

walt-disney-statue

Not long ago I was perusing the books at our local Christian bookstore, and began to notice a troubling theme in many of the nonfiction works. A large number of them boasted subject matter along these lines:

  1. “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
  1. “If we dream big, God will bless us.”
  1. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
  1. “God gives you big dreams so He can fill the gap.”
  1. “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
  1. “God never does anything small.”

And on and on it went.

I walked away troubled, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. After a little while, it hit me. Our Christian culture has fallen victim to Disney theology.

Let me explain.

God doesn’t tell us in His Word that His purpose for our lives is to give us ‘dreams’ and see them fulfilled. No, He has plans for us. Not dreams. A subtle but important difference.

“All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.” ~Psalm 139:16

God has a plan for each of us, but not a plan designed to put another notch on our belt for our own sake. His plans have everything to do with bringing glory to His Name…not our own.

Disney theology is a warped, twisted version of the gospel too many of us are buying into. It’s a combination of the American dream, feel-good theology and pursue-what-makes-you-happy, all in the name of following God. (Just so you know, I double checked a few of the above quotes. Quotes #1, #3, and #5 are direct quotes from Walt Disney himself, all them used in some variation by popular Christian speakers, preachers and authors of the day.) dream-is-a-wish

God doesn’t call us to dream big. He calls us to know and walk with Him.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?” ~Micah 6:8 AMP

The problem with spending all of our time reaching and achieving our dreams, is that our focus can shift from the Dream Giver to the dream itself. If we aren’t careful, our dreams can become idols. If I wake up each day more intent on pursuing my dream than pursuing Him, I’ve lost sight of what’s truly important.

For too many of us, we get caught up in a dream BIG, think BIG, live BIG mentality. But what if God calls you to a small mission field? I don’t mean small as in unimportant, but small in the sense of numbers. What is more important to you…quantity or depth?

Too many of us are wonder junkies for God. We want to hang with Him when He does the big stuff like parting the Red Sea or raising the dead. But what if He were to call you to minister to a tiny congregation of twenty people? Would that be enough? What if, instead of the huge children’s ministry you’d always envisioned for yourself, He asked you to homeschool your three small children instead? What if you were busy looking for a big platform, but God kept asking you to mentor just one woman who desperately needed accountability and guidance? Would you consider that a failure, or living your life well? A dream achieved? walking-with-god

God can call us into big things, but we should also be careful not to spurn His plan when He calls into the seemingly small things. Even Joseph, a man who was given a glimpse into his future with dreams, spent years living in heartache and agony before God brought the plans He had for him to fruition. And there’s something very important to realize in Joseph’s story: he didn’t have to pursue those dreams. There was no striving or chasing after them because when God declares something to be, it will be. That’s the nice thing about God’s plans versus a Disney dream. There’s no stopping what He sets in motion.

There’s no need to wish upon a star.

wish-upon-a-star