Does Jesus Command Us to “Be Ourselves”?

ourselves

“Be yourself”.

It’s the rallying cry of our generation. Be true to our personalities. Stay in our natural grooves. Stick to our comfort zones. Whatever you’d like to call it. We trade this mantra like a recipe, a handy formula for success in personal interactions, handling of money, dating, choice of college major, what have you. Feels pretty affirming.

At first.

This last weekend, I was myself. I made a joke at someone else’s expense. It was an outgrowth of my teasing sense of humor, and it wasn’t taken well. I apologized, but you can bet that “myself” didn’t look so appealing to me in hindsight, which is always 20/20.

Just how much sin do we keep under the umbrella of “being ourselves”?

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When God Shreds a Millennial

porkA few years ago, I stood in my church’s kitchen combing through massive chunks of steaming pulled pork. It was to be sold heaped between hamburger buns as part of a mission fundraiser.

As I coaxed the juicy meat into smaller chunks, I was disappointed.

I’d recently been pulled out of a couple ministry opportunities at my church. I’d been assured that it wasn’t about my heart or competence – just other things going on.

The struggle in my heart was real. Sin kept whispering at me, You wanted to do X and Y and here you are in the kitchen, holding a fork. The Spirit in me wasn’t that stupid. I knew it’s not about me. I knew ambition is unholy. But sometimes lies can feel overwhelming, especially in my already-formidable climate of fear and self-criticism. A gale against a fragile sapling of holiness, trying to stay upright.

Unlooked for, as I stared down into the pan of shredded pork, God spoke into the gale.

I am shredding you.

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I Don’t Feel God’s Love

benchA reality that has confronted me the last few months:

I do not, on any given day, operate with God’s love as my background.

When I worship at church, when I read his Word, when I go about my day in general…love isn’t really there. I suppose it took me a while to realize it because it’s hard to recognize absent things that you’ve rarely felt.

Instead, what I mostly sense from God is…a vague dissatisfaction. Criticism. Perhaps annoyance. “It’s never good enough.”

But like a ship tacking into the wind, that’s starting to change.

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Did You Become a Better Person in 2017?

climbNo, I’m not dead.

*big sigh of relief (or disappointment)*

I just stepped away from the blog for a few weeks over the holiday, and honestly, it was nice to escape the pressure. I’m back now, and looking forward to your readership in 2018.

It’s funny…when people ask me how my 2017 went, I’ve found that my usual reaction is to fall back on the typical “oh man it was horrible, toss that one in the bin and bring in 2018!” that we all cynically throw around for a laugh. Or some version of that.

But then I stopped and realized…my 2017 was actually rather terrific.

…is it okay to say that?

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Thinking It’s Up to You: Another Wave We Mustn’t Look At

christ_walking_on_the_waters2c_julius_sergius_von_kleverThe lesson of Matthew 14:22-33 should be rote for us by now. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, gets out of the boat, and walks out to meet him – until he starts paying more attention to the waves instead of Jesus. That’s when he starts to sink.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, the lesson teaches us (echoed by Hebrews 12:1), and not on the wind and waves of your circumstances.

Great lesson.

Unfortunately, we’re all still rather bad at it.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we don’t realize all the many forms that “looking at the waves” can take.

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What an Unbelieving Air Force Sergeant Taught Me About Obeying God

f-16-66232_960_720During my time in the Air Force, I had a boss named Sergeant Carlson.

He was the kind of leader you talk about years later and would still gladly shake his hand. He had a gift for balancing the needs of the mission with genuine concern for the troops under his charge. We knew he really cared. We also knew he wouldn’t hesitate to snap us back in line if we needed it. (As with any young punk, there were days when I needed it.)

A season came in which I was not performing well. I got two Letters of Counseling (LOCs) in a short span, one from Sgt. Carlson, one from another sergeant in our office. My mistakes had grounded a couple jets from their scheduled sorties. I had earned both reprimands straight up, and thanks to God, I had enough maturity to accept them with humility.

But inside, the story was different: one reprimand was a lot easier to accept. You can probably guess that it was Sgt. Carlson’s.

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Don’t Resist Gratitude

Don’t fall for the lie that supports your discontent: that gratitude is a cliche.

That it’s a wispy, Hallmark-level cop-out thrown at you to distract from how you’re really feeling about things.

That it’s God’s consolation prize given in place of just fixing your problems.

A grateful posture this Thanksgiving really can do you enormous favors.

It can calm the storm in your heart. I mean, how wonderful would it be to go an entire day emotionally ironclad, completely unperturbed by anything going on in your life?

It can make you more attractive to people. Gratitude shows on your face. It gets people wondering how you do it, how you maintain an attitude of thankfulness in the serenity while everyone else rags Jesus about how the boat’s being swamped.

It can drive worry, fear, and overthinking out of your heart.

It can actually get you closer to your goals, as all of the above benefits are conducive to moving forward.

But most of all, it acknowledges God. It serves as defiance against despair, a down payment of the victory to come. It bears witness to his supreme goodness, gives him the praise he deserves, and fulfills our life’s purpose by giving him glory.

When God leads you to be grateful this week, don’t hear “Stop pestering me with your problems”. That’s the enemy souring his words. God has heard. The only question is whether we will be grateful in the meantime.

The poorest, loneliest, sickest citizen of his kingdom has more to be grateful for than anyone on earth.