In his book, On Writing, Stephen King opens with a section he calls his C.V. It is filled with short anecdotes about his life and how he grew up and what led him to be a writer. At one point he mentions that he believes in God but has "no use for organized religion.” I highlighted this line in the book because I kind of wonder what he means by it – what anyone means when they say that. The internet will tell you that organized religion by definition is, "religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established." But if you believe in God on some level, well then I would imagine you might want to talk about that sometime. And if you talk about that and have any really good thing to say about it, other people might want to join in. And when you have a group of more than about 20 people coming together to talk about anything, well then you have to kind of, well, organize it. What’s this going to look like? Is it a meeting? Who gets to talk at the meeting? There has to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to this gathering so what will each contain? Are there rules for the meeting? Any organization has rules. So there have to be rules for membership. Well then all of a sudden it looks like you’re organized - you've got rituals arranged and established. So you're gathering to talk about God and there are rules for doing so.

So if that’s what they mean, if that’s what people have no use for, then maybe what they really dislike are the rules. Maybe you just don’t like the rules and rituals put in place by these groups of people that gather to talk about God. But one thing you might want to consider is that, if you find yourself fleeing from all “organized religion” perhaps you're fleeing because you don’t want anyone telling you what you can and can’t do. Maybe you want to be God and you believe, instead, in yourself. You can tell yourself what to do – you don’t have to go to an organized meeting where they might press on you - on your ideas about what's right - or tell you that you’re wrong about this or that. In speaking about a critic of Christianity, G.K. Chesterton said, “The restraints of Christians saddened him simply because he was more hedonist than a healthy man should be.” Perhaps you are that man and the restraints sadden you - they press on you just a little too much. E. Paul Hovey said, "Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them."

Christianity will always press on you and me because we are not God and we will be constantly sanctified - shaped, molded, growing - in some way until Heaven. I wrongly believed that becoming a Christian meant you were done - like it was this one time moment and from then on you were ready for Heaven and everything was easy and there was no sin and no struggle, only perfection. Like maybe we just went to church because we wanted to glory in our perfection in Jesus. But the truth is I wasn’t perfect – I was a mess (and still am! Ask my husband!) And I didn’t know how to wrestle with my sin. I didn’t know about sanctification at all. I didn’t know that the whole of the Christian life is more of a two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. Belief in the gospel is an everyday need, not a one time prayer. I missed that in Sunday School. I think they left that part out. 

So, if I grew up in church and didn't understand it, then I wonder about people who didn't grow up in church. When people say they don't like organized religion I wonder what gospel they've heard in their life that has made them flee. Because if the gospel is good news (and it is!), then it shouldn’t make you flee, it should make you cling to it, white knuckle death grip on those crutches carrying you through til glory. And if it’s not, then why not? What have you missed?

A lot of people have too many doubts to trust a god other than themselves. They'll tell you, "I just feel a lot of doubt about _____." Well, welcome to the club. We all feel doubts sometimes. I listened to a sermon on the plane ride home last month and he said it’s okay to have doubts, but instead of sitting in them, you must doubt your doubts and ask Jesus for clarity. It’s okay to have doubts. It’s okay to not get it. Jesus’s disciples walked with him in the flesh for three whole years every single day and still didn’t get it. It's what you do with your doubts that matters. Criticize them. Turn them over in your hand and ask why they're there. Dig down to the roots of your doubts and find out what it is you really believe. Don't just trust your doubts because then you end up believing in them over believing in Jesus.

Growing up in Christian circles and working in a church for several years and also just being a Christian myself, I find that a lot of times we have doubts because we think we can control God with our behavior and then one day it just doesn't work anymore. We follow Jesus and think it’s all great because everything is going just how we planned, and then one day it’s not and we’re left blindsided because we thought we were in control of this bargain. We start to doubt because the god we trusted didn't trust our plan. Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jesus. Who do you think you are? Didn’t you see how I tithed my whole life? Didn’t you see how I helped that homeless guy back there? Didn’t you see me when I went to church every week? Didn't you see how I always obeyed my parents? Hello? Didn’t you see my perfect family? Things were going great for us according to my plan, so what gives?

I believed for years that I could control God with my behavior. In 2011 I wrote, 

“For YEARS and years I have been pleading with God. Begging and pleading with him for peace and comfort and all the freedom he offers. All the things he says he’s going to offer and give to those who love him. I do love him. I have loved him and tried to follow him, sought after him, tried to point kids toward him, given my money and time to him, prayed my guts out to him, read about him, tried to know him and understand him, listened for him, tried to listen to him, had discussions about him, cried out to him. AND YET, I feel I’ve been drowning in sadness and unmet desires and broken dreams.”

I believed that if I did all this then God would owe me - that somehow I could put God in my debt. Why the unmet dreams if I've done all this work for you, God? If that’s not bargaining with the Lord, I don’t know what is. But the thing is, God doesn’t do bargains. He doesn’t take negotiations. There’s nothing you have that he doesn’t already own. What could you possibly give him? He made it. Out of nothing. The breath in your lungs. The ability to read these words. These are things of God. 

So I realized it’s not about actions and behaviors and bargaining chips. It’s about Jesus. It's about every person, circumstance, trial, or victory leading you to more of Jesus. I just wrote about this in one of my last posts. It’s not about your story or what you want or what you think or feel. It's not about the rules you follow or don't follow. It’s about Jesus and your choice is if you’re going to join in on the epic adventure he has written for you or pull back against it.

I was journaling on that same plane ride and I wrote,

I hope you know at the end of the day it’s really just you and Jesus. He’ll bring people into your life and you’ll invite people in along the way. Some won’t always stay. Some for a season, others a lifetime. But at the end of it all it’s just about you and Jesus. 

What you believe about him, what you say about him, what you think about him, these are the things that are going to matter at the end of it all. It will shape your decisions, your thoughts, your actions, the leanings of your heart. What you think about Jesus will be the only thing that matters when you die. So you can pass on "organized religion" and that’s fine. But what are you going to do with Jesus?

Stephen King's book about the craft of writing was really pretty good. I think he wanted me to get more out of it about writing than about his one sentence worth of thoughts on religion, but for some reason that's where my heart was stuck. So he doesn’t believe in religious rules but neither does Jesus, so that’s pretty good news for all of us – for him, for the doubters among us, for me, for you. Oh, there’s value in the gathering of believers, yes. But forget the rules. Jesus just wants you, not your good behavior. He's after your heart.


I was scrolling on Twitter the other day and saw this little excerpt someone tweeted from a book or study by Scott Sauls and it struck me in such a way that I felt compelled to take a screenshot.


So often we're taught that our number one goal is to be like Jesus. WWJD, remember? (Aaron and I were talking about those bracelets the other day. We want to bring them back and start wearing them around. Anyway, that's not the point.) Even if you don't believe in Jesus as God, you probably know about him as a nice guy. So what does it mean to be like Jesus? Why do we say that? Do we even know what we mean when we say that? Can we start healing people of their illnesses? Raising them from the dead? Raising ourselves from the dead?!

I think when people say that we should try to be like Jesus, they're talking about his kindness, gentleness, patience. His calm, steady hand. His willingness to sit with the people who were a little weird or a little quiet or a little hard to get along with. His ability to comfort and love with reckless abandon. They're talking about the way he spoke life over everyone he encountered. Okay, sign me up. That’s the kind of person I want to be – the kind of friend, the kind of spouse, the kind of coworker, the kind of parent - the kind that listens and loves and looks like Jesus. But the only way we can do that, the only way we have a shot, is if we’re sticking close to Jesus. Like Scott's tweet alluded to, I think we focus a little too much on being like Jesus and not enough time being with him. We like to think we know who he is because we read the Bible one time or we hear it once a week on Sundays, or because YouVersion sends us a notification of a Bible verse every morning, but do you really spend time with him to get to know him better? Do you spend time with Jesus so that you can show people what he’s like or do you settle for knowing a couple stories from the felt board in elementary Sunday school and recalling the one verse you have memorized?

Several years ago now, I was at a real low point in my life. I felt dead, spiritually and emotionally. And as much as I prayed about it and asked God to heal it, rescue me out of it and change it all, I wasn’t spending any time with him. You can ask for things from the Lord, but if you’re not opening his Word to see what he has to say about it, well then do you really want an answer? So one day I just decided to start over. To start at the beginning in Genesis. To stop thinking I already knew it all and begin again at the start of the story.

I took out my Bible and started reading. Growing up in church, I had heard this story probably nine hundred times, but did I really know it? I started at, “In the beginning… “ and tried to get a fresh word from the Lord. And do you know that it says if you seek him, you will find him? I was finally seeking. And it was in the seeking that he met me. And as I spent more and more time with him I was finally able to break free from some of those strongholds that sin had on my life.

It’s like when Peter walked on water. Jesus called him out of the boat, “Look at me, Peter. Look at me. Eyes on me.” And he walked out. He was walking on water. But the minute he started looking away, eyes down, on himself, he started to sink. Eyes off Jesus and you’ll start to slip. That’s just the way it always goes sooner or later. So where’s your focus? Who are you looking to? Are your eyes up on Jesus or down on your circumstances, your sin, your mess?

In a sermon one time, Judah Smith talked about how when you’re trying to quit a sin – when you’re trying to get out from under the weight of a persistent sin in your life – you need to focus more on being with Jesus rather than quitting the sin. When you focus more on spending time with Jesus, that sin is going to start to look a lot less appealing. That temptation will have a lot less hold on your life when you start to look at Jesus instead of that sin and how you can't overcome it, because to be honest, you can't. Not on your own. So, eyes up, friend. Look at Jesus. Spend more time with Jesus. Read his words. Trust his promises. See what happens.

I just finished a Bible study from Hannah Brencher. It’s a really great 15 session study and I encourage you to click here and get a copy sent to your inbox. But in one of the later sessions she’s talking about Satan and his desire to seek, kill and destroy you. Yes, you. That is his one desire for your life. Damage and destroy. Drive you to despair and loneliness and isolation. Drown you in your fears and anxieties until you’re feeling completely alone. And I’m paraphrasing here, but she writes, “Satan does not care about anything except rendering you faithless.” He doesn’t care about ANYTHING except making sure that you do not trust Jesus and he’ll use any means to do it. Whether he has to keep your eyes glued to the past and how things "should have been" or if he has to remind you of all the things you don't have, he does not care about you as long as he has rendered you faithless. As long as you’re telling God he just doesn’t understand your circumstances. As long as you’re believing lies instead of truth – trusting your own heart instead of trusting the heart of God. That’s all the devil really cares about - leaving you in a pit of faithlessness. 

I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have in the world today – faithlessness. Our faith is too small or nonexistent. We like Jesus but we just don't trust him with everything. We’re looking down at the water and wondering why we’re sinking, or knowing why and not caring – not believing that walking on water is even possible. We’re trying to tell people what Jesus is like without spending any time getting to know him ourselves, simply relying on stories we heard one time. We’re forgetting our purpose and living for our own happiness, our own wishes and hopes and comforts. We know about Jesus but we don’t know him.

Are you faithless today? Have you given up on God in one area or another or maybe altogether? Have you written him off and let the devil win this one? Have you succumbed to unbelief and instead listened to the lie that God cannot fix this relationship, this financial situation, this dream, this desire? Are you believing the lie that God is holding out on you, does not want good for you, does not see you or care? Have you been left faithless because of hard circumstances?

Can I challenge you today to look up? Look up. Your Father is waiting. He delights in you. Sees you. Loves you. Wants more for you than a life of despair and isolation and circling back to the same sins on repeat. And regardless of how many times you look down at that water lapping at your ankles, he stands steady, asking you to look up.

If you're longing to see change in your life, start by spending more time with Jesus. Abide in him. Pray against faithlessness and see how He moves. He will shove the devil aside and he will not ask. It’s not up for debate. He will demand on your behalf. He will invade for your benefit, for your good. Eyes on him, daughter. Eyes up on him, son. He speaks in promises. He can be trusted. The Bible is full to the brim with verses that say,

“He will…”
“I will…”
“The Lord will…”

Not, “He might,” “If he gets around to it,” “If something better doesn’t come along,” “Unless he gets busy or distracted or sidetracked.”

No. HE WILL comfort.
                      Draw near.
                      Hold your hand.
                      Be with you always.

I know these promises to be true. I've seen them in my life and in the lives of others. God is not fickle, flaky, feeble or easily swayed. He promises. And comes through. For you. For me. For us. In his time. Don’t let the devil win here. Don’t let him leave you faithless. Luke 18:8 asks, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Will he? Will he find it in you? When he comes back again or when he calls you home, will he find you faithful? In your marriage. In your parenting. In your job. At school. In your neighborhood. In your dealings with friends and relatives and strangers. In how you speak. In how you act. In what you believe. 

Sometimes I'll feel led to write something and I won't even really have to think about it - the words just kind of pour out of my heart because of what God is teaching me. Today's post is like that. I felt really compelled to write about it but the past few days I have been hesitant to post because I'm not really feeling it. Like, let me tell you what, I need this message for my own heart today. So rather than thinking that maybe God can't use it because I'm not feeling 100% faithful, I'm just going to post it anyway and see what he can do in my life and yours. 

I watched Beth Moore teach on Monday about living a life that is open to what God has for us, and she reminded me to pray for an open mind that has a desire to read and trust the scriptures. I think that's what I need today, so maybe that's all you need today too. A prayer for openness. A prayer for faithfulness. A prayer for eyes up only on him, for a heart that desires to spend time with him instead of just assuming you already know what he's like. Spend time with him. Get to know him so you can truthfully show others who he is.

Let it be so, Jesus. Let it be so.

I love it when there's a song that really speaks to what I'm feeling and this song has been that for me lately. Take a listen if this has resonated with you at all. 

Do not be afraid.

We’re less than one day away from Christmas. Just a few hours away from stopping to celebrate a holiday that, if you look at the headlines saying Christianity is declining, and more and more people are identifying as “nones” when it comes to religious beliefs, it’s a holiday celebrating something we’re not even sure of anymore – maybe we never were. We know that we’re all rushing around shopping and planning and decorating and waiting for that one single day where it will all come together. We feel the anticipation of that day coming and we’re filled with hope. But why?

My brother-in-law loves the holidays. He started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween and it was full on merry and bright at their house long before Thanksgiving. For some reason, I have never really loved Christmas music. A lot of the songs are slow and no one is meeting me under mistletoe and also, who even roasts chestnuts? Don’t those things come pre-roasted at Trader Joe’s? But, this year the words of Christmas carols have really stayed with me. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because it feels like the world is smoldering with a new outrage every day and our days are screaming by, blurring from one to the next. I mean, how did we get to the end of 2015 already? Fall seems to speed by faster than any other season and then it’s the end of daylight savings time and we’ve begun the slow decent into darkness where 5 PM feels like midnight and it’s so cold we all unconsciously (or consciously) start to hibernate like animals. It’s about now when my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking into high gear so “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” isn’t really the jam I want to blast on the way home from work.

But I’m listening to Christmas music this year and really dialing in on some of the words and the predominant feeling I have is that we’re not ready. We’re not ready for Christmas this year because we’re scrambling – the world is spinning chaos and there’s always something wrong and if it’s not one thing it’s another. It’s like we’ll all be running into Christmas morning with our hair on fire but then look at it and say, “Oh this? It's nothing,” and pretend that everything is fine for this one day of the year. Like getting in a family fight in the car, full on shouting match, then arriving at the destination and being all smiles and gladness and “How are you?” “I’m fine. I’m great.” That’s what the holiday feels like this year.

A weary world rejoices. We’re weary, that’s certain. We’ve got the weary thing down. We’re running from one thing to the next and if we’re not worried, the news will tell us what to worry about – ISIS and refugees, presidential candidates and a lion in Zimbabwe, shootings and racial unrest. We have a lot we could fill our heads with every single day. We could bite our nails down to the cuticle if we really wallow in all the ways the world is a weary place. But are we rejoicing? Do we even know how or what to rejoice over anymore?

All is calm, all is bright. Bright by the light of mortar fire in Iraq and Syria. Gunfire in Paris and San Bernardino. Bright by the glow of smartphones illuminating our faces as we shove our noses into Twitter and Snapchat. Bright by Instagram ads and TV commercials shouting at us about the next thing we “need”. But does anyone here feel calm? Do we stop running long enough to let the calm settle in or are we sitting in the Christmas Eve church service thinking about the potatoes in the oven and if that last present got wrapped? Who has time for calm when we’ve got bright lights pulling us in every direction?

Let earth receive her King. Oh, we’ve received our king. We have no problem with that. We receive him every day when we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. The problem is getting everyone else to receive him because no one else seems to see that we’re worthy of worship. In a culture where self and feelings trump others and reason, we keep trying to put ourselves on the throne and the rub comes when no one else realizes how important we are. Rude. So we’re exalting ourselves, our power, our money, only to find the king of self is a heavy-handed ruler.

My soul is thirsty for calm and another kind of bright. I could use some rejoicing and I would very much like to have myself a merry little Christmas. But how do we get there? How do we set down the trials and discontent long enough to let the hope and promise of this holiday seep into our bones?

You can downgrade Christmas to simply Santa and presents. You can even skip the church service, especially if you don’t know why you’re going anyway. But for 2,000 years there has only been one real reason we gather on December 25. Around the world on December 25, people will pause and with a deep-seated hope in their guts, they will know that there’s a bigger meaning than gifts and bingo, trees and tinsel and a blow-up snowman in the front yard.

Last year on Christmas Eve, I attended this time of reflection on the meaning of Christmas. It was a practice of Lectio Divina and while we held restorative yoga poses, in the calm and quiet of a small studio as it snowed outside, we listened to the Christmas story – of a virgin and a baby, donkeys and innkeepers, shepherds and angels.

An angel appeared to Mary and said, “Do not be afraid.” He was about to bestow upon her the greatest task the world has ever known – giving birth to the One who created the entire idea of being born, cradling the One who cradles the very stars. How frightening must that have been? Joseph later heard the same message, “Do not be afraid.” And the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks? “Do not be afraid.”

But I think the message of that day is the same message we need today. In light of every new headline – do not be afraid. In light of each new wave of tragedy – do not be afraid. In light of that family grievance, that task that seems insurmountable, the thing that weighs so heavy on your heart in these very moments – do not be afraid. It’s not a suggestion. He didn’t say, “Good luck” or “You’re right. This is terrifying.”

Do not be afraid.

I think we’re all running a little scared. I know I am sometimes. Scared of what may or may not happen – dreams that may or may not come. Scared of what will happen if ____. Scared of what new thing the world is going to throw at us. Maybe it doesn’t even register in our minds as fear, but that’s one of our most basic driving emotions. That’s why we run around so much and don’t let the calm settle in – we wouldn’t know what to do with it if it came. The calm is awful quiet and the calm lets our minds get much too loud. The calm can drive us crazy.

But the reminder at Christmas is do not be afraid. The hope and anticipation we’re feeling is the promise that comes with do not be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid because One has come and is coming again. The weary world rejoices because we don’t have to be afraid. All is calm and all is bright because we don’t have to be afraid. You know that feeling of relief that comes when you realize you don’t have to be afraid anymore? Maybe you heard a sound in the house at night and it’s the immediate pump of adrenaline as you walk out to find the cause, but when you see it was just your cat knocking something off the counter and you’re not in danger and your fear is quelled – that relief is sweet and comforting, a long exhale. That relief is our hope and our promise.

This morning I was driving through the snow and the song, "Do Not Be Afraid" by J.J. Weeks Band came on the radio. I had never heard it before, and maybe it's just another cheesy Christian song, but I felt like it was a timely reminder of this message that has been on my heart. I want to be ready for Christmas. I want to ease into that day with peace and joy, resting in the good news and celebrating the promise that we don’t have to be afraid. No matter what may or may not happen. No matter if everything turns out exactly opposite of what you wanted. No matter if this is the best or the worst Christmas holiday you’ve ever had, the promise is the same. We don’t have to be afraid because we already have someone who locked this whole thing down thousands of years ago.

 "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people…” Good news of great joy. Do not be afraid.