Empty Shelf Challenge Book #14: “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat” by John Ortberg

I finished my 14th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg

I’ve actually finished 18 books at this point due to being wicked pregnant and encouraged to stay off my swollen feet. Today is the baby’s due date, so I’m trying to finish up a few of these posts before she arrives 🙂

I was  introduced to John Ortberg almost a decade ago. I don’t remember who encouraged me to read his books, but I’m so glad they did!

I know I had started this book previously, but I’m unsure if I ever finished it before. I ‘m so glad I did now! It was a very appropriate book for the season that we’ve been in for over 2 years now, almost 3, when God called us to make the big step of moving to Virginia. Though we are now back in Massachusetts, that was another big step in choosing to trust God when we’re not sure what He could be doing.

The premise of the book is based on Matthew 14, where Jesus walks on water toward the disciples and beckons Peter to come to him. The book outlines several other stories from Scripture where people are called out of their comfort zones and into a life of faith and trust.

I’m not much for underlining in books unless it’s a text book. I’m more of the dog ear type. Well, this book is more dog-earred than any other I’ve read this year. Just so many relevant and challenging points. So many little takeaways. Here are a few.

“What am I doing that I could not do apart from the power of God?” pg. 79

“If I had it all to do over again – I would have trusted Christ more.” pg. 88

“Your heart is revealed and your character is forged when life does not turn out the way you planned.” pg. 100-101

“Worry is fear that has unpacked its bags and signed a long-term lease.” pg. 123

“It is fear that threatens to keep people from trusting and obeying God.” pg. 124

And there were many more.

If you are in a season where God is calling you to do faith-filled scary things, this book is for you. If you simply want to learn to rely on God more in everyday life, this book is for you. If you are tired of fear dictating your choices, this book is for you.

I imagine that pretty much covers everyone 🙂

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Freedom Friday: The Power of God’s Will

For it’s only in Your will that I am free*

Do you ever think about the Garden of Gethsemane? With Good Friday coming up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words Jesus said as He prayed one of His final prayers here on earth.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”**

Prior to this prayer, Jesus asked all the disciples to sit in Gethsemane while He took Peter, James and John further into the garden to pray. He stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

After uttering His first prayer of submitting to God’s will, He walked back and found His three closest friends – asleep.

“He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”

***********

I first heard the song “Jesus, All for Jesus” at a women’s conference. I was struck by its simplicity and depth and challenged by the lyrics.

But I find myself singing one line over and over as Good Friday approaches:

For it’s only in Your will that I am free

The only place we are truly free is in the center of God’s will. This was true for Jesus, too.

But how can horrific suffering that ended with death on the cross be freedom?

Isaiah records in a section of Scripture that prophesies of Jesus’ coming and is often referred to as “The Suffering Servant” that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

The cross was God’s will for Jesus.

The first time I saw the above verse, I didn’t know how to respond – because I knew the implications. It was the fulfillment of God’s perfect will that Jesus die on that cross – for me and for you. It was the only way for us to be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). And not a quick, easy death (because God could have done that), but one that involved being crushed and suffering immensely.

Jesus knew that there is no life apart from God’s will.  And so He surrendered to the will of His Father.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11

For the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

For our freedom (Galatians 5:1).

And for His glory (Philippians 2:11).

Jesus, All for Jesus
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands

For it’s only in Your will that I am free
For it’s only in Your will that I am free

Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be*

*Song lyrics are from Jesus All For Jesus (Featuring Robin Mark).

**The story of the Garden Gethsemane, as quoted above, is found in Matthew 26.

Freedom Friday: Does Jesus Accept You as You Are?

Imagine you’re at a bus stop.

Technically, it’s a free shuttle. The sign at the covered bus stop says that the free shuttle runs on this route.

You wait. You wait some more. Several buses come and go, but no free shuttles, and none of them end up at your needed destination.

Finally, you ask someone walking up the street if they know anything about the free shuttle.

“Yes, the free shuttle goes on this route and will take you right where you want to go. Just sit back; relax. This is the route for the free shuttle. Don’t worry.”

Relieved, you sit back in the shelter of the bus stop and wait. You check your email on your phone, text a few friends, check your Facebook. Soon, you realize another hour has passed.

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Just then, another bus comes, and someone gets off. “Please,” you say, “do you know when the free shuttle will be coming? I’ve been waiting a long time!”

“It’s Sunday,” the man replies. “The shuttle doesn’t run on weekends.”

***********

3 weeks ago, I wrote a post on what allows me to still wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet and to still listen to the song, “Healer.” What allows me to do that is grace.

This week, with some big news in the Christian media (which I’m not going to comment on :)), I kept hearing the phrase: “Jesus accepts people as they are.”

I hear this phrase a lot from my American Christian friends. I can’t say that in the past this phrase ever bothered me all that much. I can’t even say I really gave it much thought until those recent conversations.

Something about the way the phrase was used didn’t sit right with me. I started to wonder if this phrase actually accurately depicts the fullness of the Gospel.

We generally use this phrase as another way of saying, “We shouldn’t judge where people are. Jesus accepts people where they are and so should we.”

But what if that’s only telling people half the Gospel?

Mary Heathman, in speaking at a conference I recently attended, said, “Grace and truth are two sides of the same coin. They are not two different coins.” She went on to say that one without the other isn’t grace or truth; it’s pseudo-grace and pseudo-truth. Grace and truth, in essence, are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other.

I immediately think of John 1:14:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

What if “Jesus accepts you as you are” is just the grace part? Can we really have grace without truth if Jesus was the fullness of both?

Isn’t that sort of like telling someone that yes, the shuttle you’re waiting for does run this route, but not telling them the specifics of how to get on the bus?

Did Jesus accept the rich young ruler where He was? How about the woman caught in adultery?

Can you think of examples in Scripture where Jesus accepted someone who was stuck in sin where they were (grace) without calling them to something better (truth)?

Because I can’t.

This verse is the closest I can think of to the sentiment of “Jesus accepts you as you are” stated by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Sigh. We all give a big exhale when we read this verse. What a peaceful, embracing sentiment. Jesus continues:

Take my yoke upon you

Now hold up! That doesn’t sound very “come as you are”-ish! Exchange my weariness and burdened self for a yoke?

Yes.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Jesus’s yoke may be easy, but it’s still a yoke. His burden may be light, but it’s still a burden.

Perhaps this is why He implored the crowds listening to His teaching to count the cost before committing to being His follower:

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:28-33

The problem may very well be with our definition of the word “accept.” However we couch it, the thought that Jesus might accept or embrace us where we are is not necessarily reassuring.

Because I don’t want to stay here.

What we do know is that Jesus is always calling us to so much more than what we’ve experienced thus far. He calls us to abundance. Therein lies the hope of the Gospel: the promise of life-changing transformation.

For that, I’m all in.

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Keep It Simple

Years ago, I wrote

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.

Simple Girl
I am a simple girl
I live a simple life
I want to have a simple job
I want to be a simple wife

But I’m beginning to see that my life is not my own
And the path that I would take is not for me to choose
And all I want to be and all I’ve ever known
I’d give it all up for your sake; what do I have to lose?

My life would be nothing without You
My life was nothing before You
My life would be nothing apart from You
I can do nothing without You

© 2000 Unveiled Faces Music

I still want that simple life.

A picture of the sunset in Cape Cod

Yet I complicate things.

When reading these lyrics, I am reminded of a saying from 12-step programs, Keep It Simple.

How can we keep things simple when life seems overwhelmingly crazy?

1. Focus on what you know.
When trying to make a decision, I often think about all the unknowns and uncertainties.  It’s usually unhelpful and unproductive. 
It’s much more helpful to focus on what I know to be true.
Another saying I’ve taken away from my time in 12-step programs is, I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let God.

What a concept.

If God is really faithful, if He doesn’t jump off the throne at the first hint of an obstacle, then continually choosing to believe that He is who He says He is sounds like a much better plan than drowning in uncertainties.

Here’s what I know:
God is good.
He is loving.
He provides.
He stoops down to make me great.

That’s what I will focus on.

2. Stop analyzing, and keep praying.
I usually spend more time than healthy trying to make sense of things that may never make sense. I try to make decisions by weighing pros and cons, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets.
I try and figure out what seems good.
What appears good to us is often the enemy of God’s best.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Then I remember: you have not because you ask not.

In Luke 18, we have this example of a persistent widow.  She continued to ask the judge for what she wanted until she got it.  In Matthew 7, God is described as a good father who does not give His children stones when they ask for bread.

Put your analysis on pause, and ask the God of the universe to lead you in His paths.

3. Choose to trust.
Friends, if you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know this is one of my central themes.  If I say I believe the Word of God, which states that God is trustworthy, then I need to choose to trust Him.

Choose to trust Him in the way you think and the things you think about.

Choose to trust Him with what you say about yourself, your situation and your God.

Choose to trust Him with your actions and in the decisions you make.

God has our best at heart.  I need to remember that.
Keep it simple.

I am praying Romans 15:13 for you all this week:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Freedom Friday: Totally Surrendered

I mentioned last week I’ll be starting a series on Jesus, what He said, why He came, and what He asks of us.

When people ask me the key to learning to walk in freedom, I answer without pausing:

It’s total surrender.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 (NASB)

Yet my heart aches. I see so little surrender in the people around me.

I became a Christian in college. So did many of my friends. We attended campus ministry together.

Mike O, my spiritual mentor, and myself (looking rather zombie-like)

The campus ministry I’ve been part of has a strong emphasis on sharing Jesus with the world. And thus, many of my friends and me left college, ready to take on the world for Christ!

Or so we thought.

A good number of these people are no longer even following Jesus.

Some of those that do follow Jesus live a pretty standard American life. Some attend church regularly, some give financially, some are involved in humanitarian and/or evangelistic efforts.

But not many.

I’ve found myself wondering, Why? What changed?

I need to first look at myself.

While I’d like to believe that I live a totally surrendered life, I am self-aware enough to know I have plenty of blind spots.

Self-reliance is always a challenge for me. So is pride. We want what Jesus has to offer. We also want the Christian life to come easily, without sacrifice on our part. We don’t really want to do what Jesus requires of us in order to live the life He desires us to live.

What does Jesus require of us?

A lot. More than we care to admit.

Did you ever notice that Jesus would often try and talk people out of following Him? He said this, as recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 14:

If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

Does that sound like the gospel of today? Where is total surrender spoken of today?

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NLT)

As I found myself heartbroken over a recent conversation with a friend, I had to stop and pray, Let it begin with me, Lord. Break my self-reliance and my pride. Strip me of the things I cling to that keep me from living a fully surrendered life. All I want is all You have, Jesus.

Let the truth set me free, Jesus, by empowering me to being faithful to Your teachings. Let Your words sink so deeply into my heart that a totally surrendered life naturally flows out of me.

Let it begin with me, Lord.

Freedom Friday: Why Jesus Said He Came

I’ll be starting a series on Jesus, what He said, why He came, and what He asks of us.

A few months ago, I began to wonder: why did Jesus say He came? We often say, “Jesus came to….,” but I wanted to research Jesus’s own words about His purpose in coming.

Here’s what He has to say. I believe all references are NIV1984.

“I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, 
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” Matthew 10:34-36

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

“Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Mark 1:38-39

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Mark 2:17

“
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

“
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38

“
Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'” John 9:39

“
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” John 12:46-47


’“You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” John 18:37

This is not your typical Freedom Friday in that I’m not going to tell you about my life and experiences. I’m also not sharing my thoughts on these verses. Rather, I encourage you to really read and dig in to these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead as you learn about Jesus and His purpose for coming to earth.

Freedom Friday: A Place for Obedience, Part 3

This is a continuation of a post from the last two weeks, A Place for Obedience, part 1 and part 2.

I state in freedom step three (Embrace Grace) that Jesus didn’t just die to modify our behavior. That doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t have guidelines for our behavior. Of course it does. Just as a good parent gives their children boundaries to live by, so does God. It would help us to reframe, in our thinking, both why God gives us these guidelines and what should be our motivation for following them.

I’ve shared here that I’m a mother. At the writing of this, I have 2 sons under the age of 5. I tell my children not to touch the hot stove because I don’t want them to experience the pain of being burned. I ask them to hold my hand when they cross the street because I am more aware of the dangers involved than they are, and am able to be more alert and observant of potential harm. I ask them to be kind to their parents, each other and others because they’d like to be treated kindly themselves.

When they do not listen or obey, I do not withdraw my acceptance of them. I do not withhold my love because they make choices contrary to my teachings. Instead, my heart breaks that due to their disobedience, they have now experienced a type of pain I hoped they could avoid. Even though they were disobedient, I still rush in to comfort them in their pain. Later, we talk, outside of the moment, about the cause and effect that was put into action when they disobeyed. We also discuss how they could make different choices next time.

Through all of that, they are still my children, and I would proudly say so, even in their disobedience. God says the same. Do you know that, before Jesus ever accomplished anything noteworthy enough to include in the Bible, God proudly declared, “This is my son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) I say this same of my children. He is my child, whom I love dearly. He is human. He will make mistakes. He will be imperfect, just as I am imperfect. I can model how to forgive, ask for forgiveness, and make different choices in the future.

God does not want to see us harmed. He urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB) He reassures us that “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Has obedience become a dirty word in today’s church culture? I can understand the tendency to avoid it. Out of the holiness movement of the 20th century rose much legalism. Lots of rules were enacted to measure “good Christian behavior.” This is similar to what I did in my life. I was trying to “white knuckle” my way to holiness.

The backlash from this has been to more fully embrace grace. Now, it seems behavior is talked about much less. Pastors are afraid to stand in the pulpit and say, “This behavior is not God’s best for your life,” for fear of offending someone.

Where’s the balance? If it’s true that God’s grace empowers us, if it’s true that we are clothed in God’s righteousness, how are we to live?

When I left behind homosexuality in March of 2000, I made a choice. I chose to walk in obedience to what I believed God said in His Word about my sexuality.

Did choosing to obey make me more free? This is a question I have really wrestled with. If Jesus came to set us free through Spirit-empowered living, what part did my choices play in that?

We can ask the question from the opposite angle. If I had chosen instead to continue to walk in disobedience to God, would that have helped me learn to walk in freedom? Certainly not. Romans 6:16 (NLT) says, “Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master?”

We can choose to obey God not because we are concerned His love for us is conditional. We can choose to obey Him out of a trust that He has our best interest in mind. We can obey because we believe He has good things for us.

When I began to walk in obedience, I obeyed God because I was afraid of His rejection. I thought His feelings were as fickle as mine: that if I made good choices, He loved me and was pleased with me, but if I made bad choices, He was immediately furious and turned His back on me.

That’s not the character of God. God said about Himself to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

That’s the forgiving, loving, patient God I now know and try to love with all that I am. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) I can now obey Him out of a place of love and a deep recognition of all He did to give me life. Jesus showed His love by hanging from a cross. One way to show my love is through obedience.

Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Depending on your background, when you read that passage, you may hear, If I loved God, I would obey Him perfectly, but because I’m not, I must not love Him. This is what I hear, through the filter of knowing God as patient and kind, If I fully love God with all that I have and all that I am, out of that heart of love and trust will flow obedience because I know of His goodness and faithfulness.

Jesus goes on to immediately talk about the Holy Spirit.

Continued next week….