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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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

 

Books are Not My Babies…and Other “Idol” Chatter

Y’all, this writing gig is hard.

I recently saw a pic that summed up the process perfectly. “You read a scene and think, ‘That was nice.’ Time it took you to read the scene? Five minutes. Time it took the author to write the scene? Five bazillion hours.”

reading

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. It’s hard work. More than I ever dreamed possible. And just when I think the sleepless nights, the outpouring of creativity, the frazzled nerves will pay off, I get word that more revisions are needed. So it’s back to work. Again.

Years ago, I sat in my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, as a dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears writer listening to Tamera Alexander speak. Tamera said something I will never forget. “The stories you write, the books you sell, they are not your babies. They are products.” baby

Wise words. And, boy, was she correct. That single piece of advice has saved me much heartache. Why? What did she mean? I took her wisdom, at least in part, to mean this: don’t let your heart grow attached to something that will devastate you if it is taken away.

Creativity, imagination and the mysterious muse are beautiful gifts lavished on us by a loving Creator, but when we elevate those gifts into ‘baby’ status in our hearts, we have unwittingly set up an idol. So when our ‘babies’ are rejected, criticized, or anything in between, we grow defensive, we lash out, or live in the land of angry, miserable resentment. Are we consumed with our stories or consumed with our Savior? Worse yet, do we use creativity as a smoke screen? A way to be consumed with ourselves, our Amazon reviews, or our latest rankings as some sort of attempt to prove our own worth or to puff up our battered pride?

Heart _Idols are sneaky things. They come disguised as good things. Great things, and they are. The problem is not the idol. The issue is the shift of devotion that occurs in our own hearts. 

Take our children, for example. Are there more beautiful treasures? We sacrifice for them. We plan for them. We give and dream and hope and pray. We lose sleep and hair and sometimes our sanity, all because our love for them is so great, we can do nothing less than give them our all. I get it.

However, I cringe when I hear parents say they couldn’t live if something happened to their child. Our hope should never, ever be based on our children. No parent should outlive their child, but it happens all the time. I’ve outlived two of mine.

I grieve and cry but I have hope. In the words of King David when his own infant son died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” Because of Jesus, I have a bright, secure future and a peace that remains steadfast, despite the chaos swirling around me. I am not defeated. I am not destroyed. corrie ten boom hold everything lightly

I like the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Whether it’s career ambition, money, material possessions, relationships, awards, children, attention, approval, busyness, entertainment or even yourself, beware of idols. Keep your heart on the One who created it. Don’t give your devotion to something or someone that cannot save. The temporary satisfaction they provide will soon become a consuming pit that will only leave emptiness and regret behind.

Stories are not your babies. They are products.

And babies are cute, but remember, they are also exhausting. Choose wisely.

Apple Versus Apples: An Open Letter To Myself

by Tara Johnson

Recently, my oldest daughter was waxing poetic about the difference between our wants and needs and she prompted an interesting discussion. Bethany, in all her child-like wisdom said, “Mom, did you know our wants are not our needs?”

“Yes, I seem to remember hearing something about that.” I smiled and tugged her blonde hair with affection. “So what does God give us that we really need?”

“Jesus, shelter, food, water, clothes and shoes.”

My youngest daughter piped in. “And a mailbox.”

Turning to her little sister with a flicker of annoyance born of sisterly irritation, Bethany asked Callie, “Why a mailbox?”

Callie shrugged. “For Netflix.”

netflix

Her remark made me laugh yet caused a moment of reflection. There are a lot of things we say we need. But how many of us are just saturated with want?

I need a raise. I need a break. I need faster internet. I need a new phone. I need a weekend of R & R. I need my kids to behave. I need more ‘me’ time. I need a bigger house. I need more storage room…

I fear too often, my own list of complaints resembles Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob. “Gimme, gimme, gimme. I need! I need!” give me, i need

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrCEhRNgGHY

The difference between our corner of the world and other cultures became glaringly obvious when I was speaking at a women’s retreat in Belize. We were talking about idols in our lives and I had just remarked that one indicator of an idol we’ve erected in our hearts can be revealed by the one thing we think we couldn’t live without. So I asked, “What is the one thing you think you couldn’t live without?”

Blank stares.

I coaxed, “Come one. Don’t be shy.”

One woman meekly raised her hand. “Water?”

Her answer took me off guard. “Well, yes. Water is not an idol, of course. It’s a need. What else?”

More blank stares.

“Food?”

The women slowly began chattering about the things they couldn’t live without. Food, water, clothes. Preferably a roof over head. That was it.

The contrast between our cultures slapped me in the face. I chuckled. “You know what? You guys are exactly right. Those are our needs. Those things and Jesus. I guess when I asked that question, I was thinking about the idols many of us worship where I live.”

One woman up front leaned forward. “Like what?”

Grinning, I answered. “One time I posed this question for a ladies group and a woman told me she literally could not live without her cell phone and texting.”

The Belizean woman snorted in derision. “What? You people be crazy!”

Agreed.

When we’re too busy to attend church because we’re gone every weekend doing sports or getting our much need R & R at the lake, we’ve bowed down to the idol of entertainment. When we give away precious time with our children because we’re working late to afford that sleek new vehicle that we just had to have, we’ve fallen at the feet of the idol Possessions. When we sacrifice our sleep because we’re too busy scrolling through social media, updating our pictures or checking to see how many follows or likes we’ve gained, we’ve worshiped the god of self.

need vs want

Am I saying it’s wrong to take a vacation or crave some down time? Absolutely not. Our bodies have emotional and physical needs as well. The problem comes from an out-of-balance life that focuses most of its attention on physical desires and entertainment and starves out the spiritual man. An out-of-balance life has a nasty way of tipping over at some point.

Quite honestly, sometimes we are so focused on what we want, we end up missing the things we need. But here’s the amazing thing: when we focus on attending to our spiritual needs, a vibrant, obedient relationship with Christ, the other needs, the emotional and physical things tend to be filled as well. He takes care of all of it.

Forget the techie gear or our ever-expanding wish lists. What we actually need is a heart focused on Christ. We need to not just make him number one but our everything. We need a heart surrendered to obey Him, even if that hard thing He’s asking us to do isn’t on our wish list. We need to nurture our time with Him.

Food, water and shelter are good too.

Oh, and Netflix.

Have you struggled with this issue? What’s the one thing you’ve always thought you couldn’t live without? More importantly, do you consider Netflix necessary for survival? 😉