Lent

Giving Up Idolatry

Back at the beginning of this blog series, I talked about how at times it would be hard to share that I was giving up something, because it would be admitting that I struggle with it.  All of these have a hint of that struggle, but this one seems especially challenging.  Who wants to say they struggle with idolatry?!?

When I first think of idolatry I think of the Old Testament picture we get of this where people literally would bow down to wooden or metal statues or items.  They would keep certain things in their homes because they thought it appeased all these false gods.  It all seems so foreign to us.  But is it really?

While we may not get on our needs and literally bow down to our television or cell phone, how often, with our time and focus and energy, do we worship these created things?  We may not collect all of our gold together and melt it down to create a giant cow, but like those in the Bible who did this, how easy it is to try to take things in our own hands when we feel like God isn’t coming through in the time frame WE think He should.

The picture of what an idol looks like has changed, but we are just as tempted to have them now as they were thousands of years ago.  One thing that has helped me identify, and try to get rid of idols, came through the song “Clear the Stage” sung in the video below by Jimmy Needham.   The bridge says this:

“Anything I put before my God is an idol.
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.”

When you put it that way, suddenly I realize perhaps I have more idols than I’d ever like to admit. Occasionally, while hard, it is helpful to sit down and use these questions to ask God to open my eyes to the idols in my life.

What do we put before God?  The list some days could be great.

What do I want with all my heart?  What I find fascinating with this one is that some of the things I list for this one are also things that God wants with all his heart. Yet, even the pursuit of the things of God can become idols; my ministry can even become an idol, if my heart doesn’t long for Jesus even more that these things or if I try to do things on my own apart from God.

What are the things we can’t stop thinking of?  Worry can be an idol. Perfectionism. Myself.  What other people think of meFear.  These things aren’t just “good things to give up” … they’re idols. I have to remind myself of that.

What do I give all my love?  And this is where it all comes together… it’s about love.  What will get my love and devotion and attention?

Jesus, clear the stage.  Take that #1 place.  I give up these idols and pray that you would give me faith to trust completely in You. Help me give you all my love!
In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

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Lent

Giving Up Self-Reliance

Independent. Responsible. Organized. Smart. 

While these aren’t the words I pray describe me most, they are a few I have heard repeated throughout my life as ways people might describe me.  They are definitely not negative and I guess  sound great on a job application.  However the reality of these words has sometimes made it hard for me to work well in God’s economy.

God has had to teach me many times what it means to give up my self-reliant, independent, I-can-do-anything spirit in order to bring about the characteristics He wants to use in His kingdom: compassion, humility, service, complete dependence on Him.

I mentioned yesterday the fact that I’ve been trying to memorize John 15, and this is one of the reasons.  This passage reminds me of my complete and desperate need to depend on God every moment of every day. 

Phrases like “apart from me you can do nothing”(vs 5) or “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you” (vs 4) or “you did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you” (vs 16) don’t leave much room for “I can do this on my own.”

The truth is I NEED to be connected to the Vine! I need the heavenly nutrients provided there. I need his wisdom and grace, his guidance and leading, his comfort and peace.  I need Jesus. 

As much as we hate this phrase in our culture, the reality is that I am a very needy person, and so are you.  Being self-reliant gets us nowhere fast.  When we disconnect ourselves from the Vine we find ourselves aimlessly wandering and wondering why we don’t see any fruit in our lives.  Let’s give up that self-reliance today. Let’s DEPEND on our Vine, Jesus… He will come through for us! 

  
Jesus, our Vine, teach us to give up our self-reliant spirits and rely on You. Teach us to abide in your love and bear much fruit as Your disciples. We praise You for the heavenly nutrients provided daily as we remain in You. In Your Name we pray, Amen!  

Lent

Giving Up Going Through the Motions

I am currently reading the book, “Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe To Believe” by Tom Doyle.  I’ve had it on my “to-read” list for a while, but recently have had a few extra reasons to actually get it out and get started.

This book is good, but hard.  It tells the stories of Christians around the world who truly live in places where believing in Jesus could cost them their early lives.  Sometimes the things they endure and live through perhaps even seem worse that dying.

Here is one small example:

“The sober joy of their decisions to remain in Syria brought them to a point of business few believers ever have to discuss.  The men agreed to pool their funds and buy a plot of land, preparing for what would certainly come.  It would be the graveyard where they would bury each other.” (Page 40)

I’m not exactly sure what to say after that.  Thankfully, at least at the publishing of the book, they were glad to say that their graveyard it still empty, but the reality that people have to make decisions like that is many times completely foreign from my experience as a Christian.

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This book, combined with a few other current experiences in my life, is changing me.  I realize that our world, even our American culture is and will continue to become more and more difficult to live in as a Christian.  Since the United States was started, Christianity had been the “norm”… but that is no longer the case.  The fact that it had been the norm is really the exception to what it typically the case.  Again and again, throughout Scripture we see and are reminded that we shouldn’t be surprised when hard things happen to us as Christians, or even because we are Christians.

One of those places is John 15 which I’ve been trying to memorize.   Repeating verses like this over and over and over to try to get them in my brain does not really allow for a “going-through-the-motions” kind of faith:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, it would have loved you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:19-20

So today, I pray that God would help me to stop going through the motions of my faith.  While I am thankful, beyond thankful, to live in a place where I don’t face extreme sacrifice and persecution for what I believe, I want to live as if my faith were life and death.

In the book a man name Farid, one of the men who purchased that graveyard” said this:

“Is your life about Jesus and nothing else?  When you may die at any moment, it has to be that way, but we’re all called to live only for him, no matter what.” (Pg 42)

Jesus, help me give up a life of going through the motions and truly live 100% for You no matter what!  Give me faith. Give me grace. Give me strength. Give me perseverance for whatever that looks like.  This is a scary prayer to pray, but I trust you Jesus! In Your Name I Pray, Amen

 

Lent

Giving Up Looking at Other People’s Grass

Okay, so I agree today’s blog title is a little weird, but stick with me.  How often have you found yourself in a situation where you were looking at what other people’s lives looked like and either:

 1. Wished your life looked more like their’s or

2. Were secretly thanking God your life doesn’t look like theirs.

We often hear the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side” and find ourselves jealous over our neighbor’s “green grass”.  Or maybe, we’re the ones with green grass casting judgment on our brown grass neighbors.

While we may actually do this with lawncare habits, the list goes on and on. We compare jobs.  We compare homes.  We compare lifestyles and budgets. We compare hair and clothing. We compare marriages and parenting techniques.  We compare relationships. We compare the cleanliness of our homes. We compare and compare and compare.  And then we either end up hating our lives or hating God or hating our neighbor. 

Let’s give it up! 

While listening to a webstream of a conference a couple weeks ago, one of the speakers, Eugene Cho made this statement that I can’t stop thinking about:

“Maybe if I keep finding noticing someone else’s green grass, maybe that’s the Holy Spirit reminding me to water the grass I’m standing on!”

Maybe we’ve been so busy looking at everyone else’s grass that we haven’t even thought to water our own… To water our homes, our singleness, our marriage, our kids … To pour life into our workplaces… To give sustenance to our neighbors … To refresh our spirit. 

Today I give up looking at other people’s grass and choose to water the ground I’m standing on. 

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:26-28a)

God, help us stop comparing and judging our lives with the people around us. Let us find joy in watering the places you have us standing in this moment, trusting that You have us here so that people, including us, can know You more. Show us practically what it looks like to invest more in watering the ground we’re standing on, to water our homes, workplaces, and communities. May contentment come as we see our own green grass! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

  

Lent

Giving up the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

The American Dream, right?

While I am so thankful to life in a country with considerably more freedom than many in the world, I sometimes wonder if our lofty ideals actually make us sell ourselves short.  What I find most interesting about these “rights” found in our Declaration of Independence is that life and liberty are rights, yet only the pursuit of happiness.  

What I’ve come to realize is that it’s actually quite fitting, for happiness seems to often be one of those things that we love to pursue but never quite seem to attain.  The grass is always greener on the other side, right? (another blog post about this coming soon).  We pursue and pursue and pursue and often are left coming up short.

Oh how easy it is for me to get caught in this pursuit.  If this happens in my life, then I will be happy.  If I had that item, then I would be happy.  If I didn’t have to do this, then I would be happy.  

It never really seems to work out that way, does it.  So today, I pray I would be able to give up the pursuit of happiness and simply pursue Jesus. He provides something even greater…. He provides joy. And it comes with no “pursuit” involved.  It comes simply in abiding.  John 15 puts it this way:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. … By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love…. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:4-5, 8-9, 11‬)

Teach me to abide, Jesus.  Teach me that You are more than enough.  Teach me to bear much fruit and bring glory to Your Father.  Teach me to be and make disciples. Teach me to abide in your love that Your joy may be in me and that my joy may be full!  Teach me to pursue You and You alone! 

  

Lent

Giving Up The Fear of Not Being Enough

Why would they choose you?

What do you have to offer?

What makes you think that you could ever do that, especially with your past?!? 

These and other similar lies are questions that I have to believe all of us have thought at one time or another.  I see these kinds of doubts in myself. I see them in my friends. And perhaps more than anywhere, I see this play out in the lives of the young people I get to interact with.  There is this underlying question in our hearts:

Am I enough? 

In the question itself is where the fear lies. Fear that the answer is no and if that’s the case we’re back to that lonely place, that place of looking to what others think to find our worth. 

As I got to thinking about why this seems like such a universal fear, I realized that it probably comes out of the fact that, to some degree, it’s true. We AREN’T enough.  

God made all things and deemed them good.  Yet, as sin creeped into the world with that snake in the garden, it took with it our enough-ness.

No longer are we good enough… We see all the mistakes we’ve made.

No longer are we smart enough… We too, like Eve, get deceived by the serpent, Satan.

No longer are we brave enough or strong enough or thin enough or………… and the list goes on. 

And Satan can get us to believe those things because we really aren’t enough. 

BUT…

Our GOD is enough. He’s always been enough and always will be.  When I trust in His saving grace poured out from the cross, all those “not-enough” fears come untrue.  

Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase “robe of righteousness”.  It sounds kind of “churchy” but it’s a perfect picture for this. Look at it this way, to be “righteous” or have “righteousness” means to be right with God, or perhaps in other words, to be enough. 

In our nature we are UNrighteous… NOT enough. But Jesus came to earth, takes away that “not-enough-ness” and covers us instead with a robe of righteousness, a robe of enoughness, you might say. With that covering any imperfection or hurt or pain or sin, when he looks at us, we now are enough!

The way we give up this fear that we’re not enough is to compare ourselves to God alone.  When we compare ourselves to others we will never measure up (or we become prideful and think we’re better than eveyone, also not a fun place to be). That’s the end of the story. 

When we measure ourselves against God and his standards, well, we don’t measure up there either… not even close! BUT there’s a Savior! He is MORE than enough and comes to make us new, to make us enough.

So now, the only real truth left on the table is that YOU ARE ENOUGH! 

You are smart enough, brave enough, strong enough, good enough! Because you’ve got Jesus’ ‘robe of enough-ness’ on!  No matter how frazzled or fearful you feel, wear that robe proudly today! You are enough!

  

Lent

Giving Up Fear in Loneliness

If you’ve ever taken a Myers Briggs personality test, you know that one of the spectrums that you are rated on is I and E … Introvert and Extrovert.  We often think of extroverts as loud and outgoing and introverts as more isolated.  While that is part of it, this is also measuring how someone gets recharged.  Do you prefer to be alone or have a few close friends?  Or is heading out to a big party where you don’t really know anyone more thrilling to you?  Do you get energy from being around people or does it drain you?  Most of us need both but tend to lean one way or the other.  Over the years I’ve taken this personality test 3-4 times and every time I end up EXACTLY in the middle of “I” and “E”.  I see this as true in my everyday life too.  I NEED both to be with other people as well as to be alone.  Too much of one or the other can be draining to me.

All that to say, even the most introvert of us doesn’t want to be alone ALL the time.  God created us to be in relationship with each other and when we don’t have enough of that (what ever “enough” is for each individual person), we crave it. I might even go so far to say that we perhaps fear that loneliness.  We all love to be alone from time to time, but no one wants to feel lonely.

Just like the other fears I’ve mentioned so far this week, I see this fear creep into my life and lie to me, paralyzing me from things.  When fear and loneliness get together, Satan has a heyday bringing a million “what ifs” to mind and when you’re alone, there’s no one to remind you how ridiculous some of them are?  What if something bad happens to you and no one knows about it?  What if some of the dreams you have for marriage and family never come to fruition?  What if you make the wrong decision about this major purchase because you had to make it on your own?  What if someone breaks into your house?

What if?

What if?

What if?

When I force myself to step back and think about all of these what if questions, I begin to see how unnecessary (and unhelpful) these fears are.  If something bad happened to me, Kathy Figini would know within 5 minutes and have help on the way.  I have friends and family around me to help me make decisions and if I still make a wrong one, they’ll be there to figure out the next steps.  And no matter what any given day or the future in general holds, even if it ends up being bad, it’s not worth my times to live in fear.

No matter what, God’s promise over and over and over in Scripture that He is always with us and we are never alone.  We have no reason to fear when God is on our side.  So, in those moments where fear and loneliness meet, may we give up the fear and cling to these beautiful promises of God:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.(Isaiah 41:10)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.  (John 14:16-17)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

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Lent

Giving Up The Fear of What Other People Think

My dearest child,

I see you.  I see you craving the approval of others.  I see you paying attention to each “like” or “retweet”.  I see the way your fear of what people think dictates your life.  I see you and it breaks My heart.

When will you stop living for the opinions of others? When will you realize that they’re so focused on what you think of them, that they probably aren’t even thinking about what they think of you?  When will you finally refuse to let anything but My love for you and My calling on your life dictate your actions?

You have no need to be ashamed and no need to fear.  I am on Your side.  When that is the case, what else matters?!?  Who will you trust in… them, or me, the Almighty God, Your Father and Friend?  Whatever you do, work hard at it, without fear.  But don’t do anything (or not do something) simply out of what others will think; work as if you’re serving Me.

I love you!  My opinion of you is all that matters.  The world may not like you, in fact it may even hate you, but I will ALWAYS love you and I will always lead you and I never fail.

So give up that fear that holds you captive.  Give up the fear that keeps you from abundant life.  Give it all up and let Me flood your life with grace and power and amazing things beyond your imagination. Give it up.  It’s worth it.

Your Loving Savior,
Jesus

(Based off of 2 Timothy 2:15, Galatians 1:10, Psalm 118:6-9, Colossians 3:23-24)

fear of what others think

 

Lent

Giving Up My Fear of Failure

Back at the beginning of January I wrote a post called “Grace… to Fail“.  In it, I describe a day where I tried something in which “failure” felt quite possible.  There was pure joy in that day knowing that despite the outcome, I tried something that my perfectionist, afraid-to-fail, self would have normally kept me from trying: auditioning for the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.  How much sweeter that joy was as this past weekend, I enjoyed my first of what I hope to be many concerts with this great ensemble.

Unfortunately, these kinds of situations don’t always work out this way.  Often, we miss these beautiful, joy-filled moments in life because we’re afraid to even try.  It seems that so many other fears accompany this one… fear of how other people will react when we fail… fear of how we’ll recover… fear of how that may impact opportunities in the future… and more.  Fears so often seem to compound.  One “what-if” multiplies exponentially until we’re paralyzed and refuse to even try.

For me, this fear often plays itself out in my job.  I get scared to try new things or explore possibilities, because … well, what if it fails.    What I have had to remind myself again and again and again is that yes, something may fail, BUT it also may be WILDLY SUCCESSFUL! I need to trust that if God’s leading me, I can trust Him even if, in an earthly sense, it looks like something failed. Also, I have to remember that I’m human… and I will fail.   A life lived only doing “safe” things (if that’s even possible) is… well… boring.  Jesus tells us in John 10:10

“The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly!”

That fear that’s holding you back from trying things… yea that’s from Satan.  He knows the power that’s in us if we move beyond that fear.  He knows the full, joyful, abundant life Jesus has in store and desires to destroy it.  He gets the fact that all he has to do to stop the amazing things God wants to do in and through our lives is to make us a little afraid. He, perhaps even more than us, understands the truth in these other powerful words of Scripture:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

We have power. We have love. We have self-discipline.  God has given us those things.  Fear is not from God.  So let’s give up the fear of failure this Lent (and beyond), lean into God, and trust that when He’s calling us to do something, e will lead all the way.  We may stumble and fall, but he is faithful and His love for us will NEVER fail!

Jesus, fill us with a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.  Strip away our fear of failure, that we may do great things in Your name and for Your glory!  We give it up and ask you to give us courage instead to step out in faith and trust you for whatever the results may be.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Lent

Giving Up Fear… 

What do a dark room, a tall building, and spiders have in common?

They all top the list of things people fear.  While those may be the first things that come to mind, I actually believe there’s another list of top fears that are perhaps even more common.  Things like fear of what other people think or fear of failure. Fears over what might happen to people we loved or fear based in uncertainty about the future in general.

Fear is such a big part our lives and can keep us from all that God has in store for us. This week I’m going to spend each day giving up some of my biggest fears.  Over 300 times in the Bible God reminds us that with Him on our side we have no reason to fear.

To get us started today, here is one of my favorite:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭41:10‬)

Jesus, help us to give up fear today and every day, resting in your hands and trusting your provision for us. In your name we pray, Amen!