It Starts with Us

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“When?”  The whisper in my soul is louder than a jet plane.  For weeks I have been irritated — no, beyond that — I have been deeply disturbed by how much hate I see in the name of love.  And not just from the world; from those who claim to be followers of Jesus — the one who said His people would be known by their love.  I have even felt traces of this sentiment in my own heart.  I want to see change, but I’ve wondered what can be done.  We are afraid.  Living in the middle of a seismic culture shift, we are afraid that the ground is disappearing beneath our feet, and so we are grasping at anything that will maintain our fantasy that this nation is somehow still Christian.

Again I heard it. “When?”  When what?  I see marches and protests in the name of everything anti-Christian on TV.   When will all this be over?  When will Jesus’ kingdom come and true peace be experienced under His perfect rule?  This cultural earthquake is part of the groaning that I feel, groaning for the creation to be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

When?

But the question goes deeper than that.  It is personal.  When will I?  When will I what?  What could I do anyway?  I didn’t know.  So I did what I sometimes do when I have a question I can’t answer but I’m feeling too lazy to think through it.  I ignored it and got on Facebook.

How many more articles did I see outlining everyone’s opinion on women’s rights, the refugee crisis, abortion, politics… you know what I mean.  I have no idea.  But I do know that in the middle of my frustration, the answer started to dawn on me.   

When will I let my desire for change change me?

Then the answers in the form of questions flooded me so fast that I could hardly keep up.

When will I personally choose to not be afraid but to courageously love the person who seems to be threatening me?  When will the Gospel take priority over my comfort?  When will my heavenly citizenship take priority over my earthly one?

When will I care more about the person sitting across from me than I do about the rights I think I deserve?  When will I audaciously fight for the Biblical rights that person should have no matter the effect on my own?

When am I going to look into the eyes of the desperate refugee, and see a person rather than a stereotype?  What about the illegal immigrant, my LGBT friends, my Muslim neighbor, the unwed pregnant girl, her unborn child?  When will I refuse to jump on a bandwagon shouting “Black Lives Matter” or even “All Lives Matter,” and instead look a person in the eyes and say “Friend, YOUR LIFE MATTERS.  You matter, because you are loved by God. You are important, and I love you.”  Because the truth is, often our rhetoric is just a socially beneficial way of saying “my life matters.”  And our lives in service to Christ have never been about us.

When?

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When will I relinquish my “right” to be well thought of?  When will I love people by speaking the truth even if I am misrepresented as a bigot or a homophobe or a culturally-irrelevant, Bible-thumping zealot?

When will I step back from the hate and the mockery, and find the true Gospel love that popular culture cannot comprehend?  When will I realize that love cannot be sacrificed on the altar of conviction, and that I must do the work to hold the two in tension?  When will I realize that our freedom cannot be maintained by denying freedom to others, and that we will be most hopeful when we are a beacon of hope to the world?  

When will I, like Jesus, lay down my life for others, rather than grasping for it as it slips through my fingers? 

When will I realize that a culture shift starts with one person choosing to make the right decision and inspiring everyone around them to do the same?  

When will I realize that I am the only person whose actions I can control, and that the change has to start within me before it can ripple out? 

The time is now.  You and I are the next generation.  It starts with us.  Love, freedom, truth, grace, and evangelism in this generation start with us.  We will live in fear until we learn to love freely out of our titanium confidence in God’s secure hold of us.  Perfect love casts out fear.

When?  When will I?

When will you?

Letters to My Future Self: Surrender

Dear future Kristen,

I am writing this letter to you coming off of a very difficult season of struggle against sin.  I am hoping that the next time this letter comes to your attention you will have made significant headway in the quest for humility and sacrifice and joy in God.  Right now, though, the struggle is tearing me apart.  On one side I feel God pulling me more strongly than I have ever felt toward Himself, while at the same time in a corner of my heart, rebellion still lurks as a squatter, relentlessly yanking me back from giving it all to Him. I don’t want the rebellion, but my heart still wants to fight against God, while at the same time I also desire to fight my heart. Now do you understand why I feel torn to pieces?

Why do I tell you all this?  Well, I think it’s because this is by far not the last time you will feel pressed by sin. We are still in our fallen bodies and that wretched flesh still lives inside of us. Yet at the same time, we have the Spirit. He wants different things than our flesh and actively fights against our flesh to destroy it. (And He will destroy it, hallelujah!) The result? We become a cosmic battleground where God fights the wars of His kingdom. It’s Galatians 5 all over again. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” It is the reality of the Christian life.

Thankfully, Paul gives us some help.  Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The flesh is still there, but it’s straight-jacketed as long as you are walking in the Spirit.  But the problem is that the flesh is like Houdini. As soon as you stop intentionally walking in the Spirit and letting Him keep it restrained, it finagles a way out of the straight jacket and back into rule of your heart. The other dangerous thing about the flesh is that you love it. It feels good, even though it’s end is the way of death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death…” (Romans 8:6).  Like Tozer said, it is an opaque curtain of self that keeps you from seeing the glory of Jesus (and therefore being transformed into His image), and it is so intertwined with our hearts that to rip it away and crucify it hurts like hell. But truly, the path of the flesh is the path of hell – forever death without ever being able to embrace the beauty of Jesus.  And you will know the death of your flesh now, or forever death then. Choose death now.

But how?  How on earth do you kill that slick, parasitic con artist that will destroy your faith and steal your joy and leave you hopeless and empty and begging despite all you have given it?  You choose to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what He asks for or requires of you. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Christ Jesus, if you are His, if you are a blood-bought servant of Jesus Christ, you have crucified the flesh. Why? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and you walk with Him. Note: that does not mean you can never sin again. But it means that as long as you are walking by the Spirit and saying “yes” to Him, you will not sin. 

However, to do so you must learn to surrender.  In our Christian subculture, we often entertain the idea that surrender is a “one time thing” we do in a moment of emotionalism, but I don’t think that is true. True surrender is life as sacrifice.  That’s what Paul means in Romans 12 when he says, “Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice.” You don’t surrender once. You surrender every single time that you must again choose to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to yourself. Your decision of surrender lies not in saying “yes” once in a moment of emotion, but in choosing to say “yes” over, and over, and over and over again, no matter what He asks for. 

The question that remains: Why should you do so? Paul answers that question as well. “Present your bodies… which is your reasonable service.” Why? Because Jesus deserves it!  “I make my appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies.” See what Jesus has done, understand that He deserves your “yes”, and then choose to say “yes” to Him.

I say this to you now, in light of the struggle and the sin that I’ve seen in my own life lately because I know that God reveals sin to us progressively.  As we fight and defeat one sin, another is brought to our attention. But I want your future struggles to drive you to God and cause you to submit to Him out of thankfulness, rather than causing you to run from Him. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes sin runs deep. But grace is always there and always accessible because the God of infinite grace never leaves His children. Never. Ever. You must believe that.  Never forget that He loves you and wants to hear your voice, so don’t stop talking to Him, even when He seems far away or you feel like you’ve failed him again. Maybe you have, but He still loves you! He wants you to run to Him! Believe that!! Keep holding on to hope — hope will not put you to shame as long as it is in Him and His Word.  

One last thing: sometimes choosing to obey gets really hard and tiring. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to produce any fruit and isn’t going to make any difference. But I promise you it will. If nothing else, it is worth it for Him alone. He says, “Do not be weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”  He says, “Keep doing good. Keep doing good. Don’t give up. Sow good seed, no matter the blood and sweat and tears it takes to sow them, because God will make them grow.” The joy of reaping will be worth the pain of sowing. You have to believe that it’s worth it. Because it is.  

Soon the clouds will clear, and the dim reflection you now know of the Lord Jesus will give way to unobstructed, face-to-face fellowship.  And in that moment all the pain you experienced in striving to please Him will be utter sweetness, and any trite sweetness for which you sacrificed His fellowship will be as bitter as wormwood and gall in your stomach.

So stay in the fight till the final round. Jesus is worth it.

Yours truly,

Kristen

I Went on a Walk

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The other day I went on a walk.  It’s really not a rare occurrence; in fact, my parents don’t even ask me any more where I’m going. I just say, “I’m going on a walk around the neighborhood, and I’ll be back.”  Might be long, might be short, who knows?  Most of the time even I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. You just follow the curves of the road, and turn when you feel like turning, and know that eventually you’ll make it back home.

The last few weeks have been such a random mix of weather patterns, and the past few days have brought so much wind and rain that they left most of us wondering if any fall would be left on the trees when the sun finally decided to return from vacation. There’s something relaxing and aesthetically revitalizing about it all, walking all alone down the wet, deserted roads (minus the occasional stray car) and taking it all in. The multi-colored leaves plastered to the wet road by the rain and by merciless cars that drive over them again and again. The streams flooding over the dams that the fallen leaves have created in frustrating futility.  The occasional brave squirrel who knows that there are only a few short days left to gather nuts before winter comes, but turns to dart up that tree and hide as the leaves crackle under my feet.  The clear water droplets forming on the ends of barren branches.  That one red leaf struggling to hold on in the wind. My shoes are soaked now, my umbrella beaded with droplets from the perpetual drizzle. In Greenville, the early November air is revivingly crisp, but it makes rainy days like this one only cold and raw.

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But I love the rawness.

Something in it reminds me of my soul in past months.  The barrenness of the stripping season. Fall is the stripping season, the season of dying.  But the dying is necessary.  It isn’t until everything has died, until millions of leaves have let go and fallen to the earth, that new life can spring forth.  It’s not until I have died that life can truly blossom in my soul. Until all my self-made plans, ambitions, wishes, goals, and identity have fallen to the ground. “For you have died…” (Colossians 3:3). 

It’s one of the great paradoxes that make up the paradigm in which we live.  Try to live, and you will only die; come and die, and you will truly live. “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). I think Jesus means a lot more than we often live like He means.  He is saying, “Give up all that you are. Hold nothing, absolutely no part of your life, back from Me.  Stop snatching at your life, and let Me be your life. Come to Me, lose yourself in Me, allow your identity to be wrapped up in Me.” “…your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). But really, what does that comprehensive, all-inclusive offering up mean? What does it mean for your life today?  It means that all the nitty-gritty of your life (your body, your mind, your emotions, your resources, your time, your future) are no longer yours; they are His and He has the right to do with them whatever is most pleasing to Him.  But Lord, that seems a bit extravagant! Hence the promise: you will save it.  You will finally be free to be who you were made to be. Your individuality will not be destroyed but enhanced, and sanctified. But first, you must die.

We don’t die easily, and we don’t die quickly.  But God is committed to our good and His glory, and so He often walks us through many falls and winters as He teaches us to die. However, the glory of fall and the hope of winter is that spring is coming. Every death that we die is a doorway to life. In fact, the last death we will ever face will only open the door to eternal life — full, free, and forever, before the face of Him who is Life Himself (John 1:4).

I am thankful to be smelling the scents of a long-awaited spring in my soul.  I am rejoicing in the kindness of my God, not only for this new life, but for the winter as well.  For the stripping of the fall that has purified and refined my love for Him, and for the barrenness of the winter that has spawned a stronger faith and sweeter trust in His faithfulness to His Word.  And yes, for the rebirth of the spring that draws my heart up in worship by allowing me to see those things.  I am grateful for the unique way He says, “I love you” through them all.  Truly, He is “faithful in ALL His words and kind in ALL His works” (Psalm 145:13).

But for those of you for whom spring feels more like a nostalgic memory than a present hope: hold on.  I hurt for you and pray for you, and beg you to hold on. Look up. Keep trusting what you can’t see or feel (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Whatever your pain, you can know it isn’t unbearable — He will never give you a greater temptation than your faith can handle (1 Corinthians 10:9). The truth is, you can often handle more than you feel like you can, and He will stretch your faith because He wants it to grow.  He is more concerned with your holiness than your comfort. And you can trust Him in that because He always knows and does what is best.  So hold on. Anchor yourself in the promises of Scripture and trust what it says about God. Keep sowing good seed, because when spring does come (and it will!) all those good seeds will bear beautiful fruit, and all those Scriptures, as dry as they seem now, will suddenly break through with sweetness and joy. Surround yourself with those who know you and your struggle, and your God. Find those friends who will bring you to the feet of Jesus over and over again, allowing Him to shepherd you. Be wary of focusing on “good days” or “bad days”, because it is easy to become self-centered and to idolize the way you feel. Keep your eyes upward and outward, and trust the faithfulness of God.

There is still so far to go, many more winters to walk through and much more faith to be grown. 

But life is a long walk, a journey — might be long, might be short, who knows?  I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. But IMG_2322I do know that I have a trustworthy Guide. He knows these roads; in fact, He carved them out and made this path just for me, only me.  So I will follow Him through every turn and curve of the road because I know: eventually I’ll make it home.