Forge a new path.

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In last week’s post, We have to die. I shared about a way that I have found helpful to unleash more of the Holy Spirit in my life; surrendering and dying to myself. Not just in theory, but in reality – in the day to day grind. 

This week I want to talk about another practice that has accelerated the Holy Spirit’s movement in my life. 

Repentance. 

Before moving forward, I do recognize that surrender and repentance could be looked at as one in the same. But as they have played out in my life, they have looked really differently. Dying to myself has spoken to areas of my life that aren’t inherently wrong, just not surrendered. Repentance has dealt with the core of my sin. Because of that, I felt compelled to share them as separate practices. Stick with me. 

If you know me or have been reading my blogs, you know that I grew up in the church. I had an incredible church experience growing up. My faith was my own from a young age. My heart was bent towards God since I was in 3rd grade. Because of that, I have taken many faith concepts for granted. Repentance is no different. 

You see, I had an incredibly strong moral compass. I skipped school one day with my friend in high school and all day she kept saying to me, “you cannot tell your mom you skipped school,” knowing that I was horrible at keeping secrets, especially from my mom. I tried so hard to keep it in, but the minute I walked in the door, I cracked. I told my mom I had skipped school. She snickered a bit under her breath, while trying to hold it in front of my dad.  

One time the lunch lady gave me an extra quarter back in change and I returned the quarter and gave her more money than I owed. Who does that? 

Because of my sturdy moral compass, I honestly didn’t really feel like I had a need to repent. Jesus died on the cross and forgave my sins. Fact. I was a good person. Fact. 

I perhaps didn’t appreciate the need for repentance, but as I have shared before, I have always been quick to talk about my sin. In certain Christian circles, it’s almost as if sin is exalted. I recall sitting in coffee shops with my friends in college. We would be sharing our “struggles,” and it seemed as if the more honest I was, the more sympathetic nods I would receive. 

The problem with that was that no matter how much I talked about my sin, I wasn’t changing. And I knew there was more, I wanted something better.

As I began to question how to experience more of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was drawn back to the “historical” concept of repentance. As I continued to research, I was reminded about how important repentance was in the bible.

When we meet John the Baptist he is is declaring in Matthew 3 “….Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 4:17 tells us “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.’” It struck me that according to Matthew when Jesus began his public ministry, his first words were “repent”. I think that should cause us to pause and take note. This might be important. 

So what does it even mean to repent?

The biblical definition of repentance is “to turn from sin and turn towards God. It is a change in direction.” 

Everyone I know that has chosen to give their lives to Jesus would love to do this. I would love to turn my back on sin and turn toward God. That is my life’s goal. But again, like many profound truths, how do we do that in real life? When life is hard. When we are busy. When we feel like God is not near. How do we turn ourselves away from sin and towards God? 

So I kept digging, trying to find the answer. The idea of repentance seemed so simple, yet so complicated at the same time. As I continued to dig I felt like Lord impressed upon my heart…

Start with saying I’m sorry. 

Even as I type these words, I resist. Those words are often spoken without much meaning or attention. I often find myself saying to Bryan, “Stop saying you’re sorry, just change your behavior “ (we don’t mince words in our house). But as I continued to circle back to those words, I was reminded-sometimes you have to fake until you make it. You have to start somewhere and in this case I have found that it had to start with words.

Confession precedes repentance.

We would all be whole, healthy and free of sin if all it took was to say you are sorry when you sin, but that isn’t enough…is it? It is not the words within themselves that begin to change us, it is what the words start doing our brain, and with that, our heart. 

Another disclaimer, I am not a brain researcher and what I am about to share is over simplified.

Let’s talk science, neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training and practice. New thinking changes brain structure and function. With each repetition of a thought, emotion or word, we reinforce this new pathway. It’s like a hiking path. The first time that we try blaze a new path, it is full of weeds and grass. It’s hard to navigate. Then the next time we try it, it’s not quite as bad. There are some weeds and brush to push aside, but the path is more clear and easy to navigate. Before we know, the path is clear and easy to walk on. 

I love the idea that we have the power to literally change our brains. But what I find more fascinating is that Jesus was talking about it way before science caught on. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Jesus wouldn’t tell us to do something unless it was possible. 

So let’s start with words. We have to go to the Lord and say we are sorry. And then we have to do it again and again and again. And don’t just say the words, when you do it, ask the Lord to change your heart. Ask the Lord to bring you to a place where you hate the sin and how it keeps you from walking in freedom. And then someday before you know it, they won’t just be words anymore. It won’t just be the words spoken aloud, your heart will begin to change. You will hate the sin in your heart as much as you do with your words. 

The sin in your life will be massaged away, you will become less and He will become more. And the Spirit of the Lord will be unleashed in your life. 

This week I want us to try something together. If you find yourself frustrated, angry, judgmental-whatever it is. I want you to stop, acknowledge you are wrong, say you are sorry and make amends. And then take it a step further. After you apologize, I want you to physically turn around and take a few steps in a different direction. See how you feel. And keep doing it, I think it will make a difference.

Because I believe that one day you will turn around and see a clear path ahead.

Lets forge some new paths,

Lisa 

 

 

We have to die.

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In my last blog post, I challenged you to look at sin from a different angle. I encouraged us that instead of looking at sin as a list of “do’s and don’ts,” to look at sin as what stands in the way between us and fullness of the Holy Spirit. When I am able to do that, sin goes from being a religious concept, to the barrier that keeps me from a thriving, life giving relationship with Jesus.

I mentioned at the end of my blog that I would be sharing a few “foam rolling” exercises that will help release the knot of sin that restricts the unleashing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

Before we go there, I want to address something. I think that sometimes evangelical Christians are hesitant to talk about our role in our faith journey. We get scared that all of a sudden we will get all religious and “works based.” Let me be clear, our efforts will not change God’s love for us or whether or not we will go to heaven. But if we want to live in the fullness that God has for us, we don’t get to be innocent bystanders. 

First things first, we need to die. 

Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I have read this verse possibly a hundred times. They are very familiar words to me. However like a lot of other scriptures, I love the concept, but I don’t always know how to bring it down to real life. 

In order for Christ to live in me, I need to die. But how do I do that?

Before moving forward, I want to clarify some language. I am going to be using the words “Surrender” and “die to self” interchangeably. According to YourDictionary.com (which may or may not be a legit dictionary, but I appreciated the definition) the definition of “surrender” is: to give up control of something or to give something up to another. To die simply means to cease to exist. 

 Those two words are certainly not one in the same, but in this context both concepts and words speak to the point- we must become less so Christ can become more in our lives .John 3:30 says “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”  Less of us means more of the Holy Spirit. 

We love to sing about surrendering. As I write this blog, I have worship music on in the background. At least every third song speaks to this idea of surrender. I find myself in worship services being overcome with emotion as I declare that I will surrender my life to Jesus. It is really easy to get caught up in emotion around a song, it’s a totally different thing to really surrender. All day, every day. 

So where do we start? 

It starts with everyday life. It’s the little moments of surrender throughout the day that lead us to a place of true, full surrender. It’s hard work, it is not for the faint of heart. But I promise it is worth it. 

I am usually more successful at surrendering throughout the day when I start in the morning. Every morning when my alarm goes off and it’s time to get up and go running, I feel angry. Why did I think that would be a good idea to get up early to run? As I slowly get up I am reminded of how great I feel when I’m done. I’m not saying that I physically feel great when I’m done, but I feel centered. 

You see when I run, I pray. I pray for the people in my life that I love. I pray for the people I know are struggling. And I surrender my day to the Lord. I think through what I have planned for the day and I lay it down. I die to myself and my plans for the day. I ask God to show me throughout the day when I am not surrendering. 

Maybe the thought of getting up and going for a run makes you nauseous. It takes all of your strength to get in the shower, get the kids ready and get out of the door at a respectable time. Running is my place, find yours. Pray in the shower, pray in the car. The good news is that you don’t even have to speak out loud, God can hear our silent prayers. But start in the morning. Go through your day and lay it down. Surrender your day to the Lord. When I do this, it really changes my day. It changes my heart. I become less and he becomes more.

Then the day begins. Posture your day with this question in mind: “Is this you God or is this me?” 

Let me give you an example. 

If you know me, you know that I really like to be in charge. And I’m pretty convinced that my ideas are the best ideas. That’s why God continues to put me into teams, to remind me that other people have good ideas as well. This past spring my coworker and I were getting ready for VBS. I remember that she shared an idea. Just as I was about to disagree, I paused and asked myself “Is this you God or me?” I knew it was me. It was me wanting to give my input, share my ideas-because of course, my ideas are the best ideas. But in my pause, I shut my mouth, I died to my idea, I died in my desire to be in control. I got out of the way and gave space for the Holy Spirit to move. I was filled with more grace and more patience. As the Holy Spirit had more space to move, what came out of that conversation was bigger and better than either of our ideas.

John 3:30 says “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

The more that I get out of the way, the more space I create for the Holy Spirit to move. 

At first glance it would be easy to think that I am talking about dying to sin. That is certainly part of it, (which we will talk more about in another blog post), but the focus today is not just dying to our sins, its dying to ourselves.

Let me explain. 

We need to die to our dreams. Even if we feel like God gave them to us.

We need to die to our plans, even if we feel the path before us is paved. 

We need to die to our ideas, even when feel like they are the best. 

We need to die to our desire to be in control, even though it makes us feel safe.

Dreams, plans, desires and ideas are not bad within themselves, they become problematic when they get in the way of God’s dreams, plans, desires and ideas. 

I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, but three years ago I was offered my dream job. I felt like it was the job God created just for me. It lined up with my passions and gifts. I was good at and I wasn’t the only one who thought that. It was a no brainer, of course I would take the job. But I didn’t feel any peace. I would take one step towards saying yes and would be met with confusion. I would rework a scenario in my mind to make sense of it all, move forward and again be met with chaos. I really wanted that job, it was in ministry so of course God would want me to have that job too. As you can probably sense, the job didn’t work out and I was really upset about it.

What I needed to do was die to myself, my ideas, my dreams (that I felt were from God), but instead I pushed and I pushed. I said things I didn’t mean and burned bridges in the process. 

It took me a while to finally surrender that dream, but you know what happened when I did? I finally felt peace, the peace that passes all understanding. I didn’t feel confused anymore. I had a clear picture about what God had for me. It wasn’t the picture I would have painted, but I would have no other way. And as I continue on this journey to die to myself, to my ideas, my passions and my dreams, I’m experiencing unprecedented growth in my faith and in my relationships.

The idea of surrender is emotional and romantic, it’s easy to sing about. But the day to day reality is hard and requires resilience and patience. But I promise it’s worth it. So start with the morning. Surrender your day. Position your day with this question in mind, “Is this you God or me?” And if you’re anything like me, 98% of the time it will be you. Then lay it down, die to yourself-to your ideas, your dreams and your plans.

And watch, as we become less, he becomes more. Before you even realize it, this confusing, intangible concept of the Holy Spirit will become a powerful, driving force bringing life to and making dry bones dance. 

Muscle knots.

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I had coffee with a group of friends last week and someone mentioned my blog. She said, “I haven’t gotten a chance to read your blog yet, but I’m intrigued. I believe in Jesus and I try to follow him, but I don’t really get the Holy Spirit.” 

I don’t think she is alone. I think a lot of us, myself included, deeply believe in Jesus and do our best to follow him, but really struggle when it comes to understanding the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” What that passage is saying is that once we chose to believe in Jesus-we are given the Holy Spirit. If we were given the Holy Spirit, why then is it so hard to understand what to do with it? What keeps us from experiencing it?

Sin. 

I know, you want to stop reading. I said I was going to talk about the Holy Spirit. No one likes to talk about sin. We ignore it because we don’t understand it. We don’t talk about because it brings too much shame. We feel above it because our hearts are filled with pride. 

Sin is a very familiar word. Through my life, I have tried to explain sin in so many different ways and through so many different analogies.

Actually, I think in certain Christian circles you are almost looked up to when you talk about your sin. I remember sitting around with my friends in college and talking about a struggle I was having. People listened intently and committed to praying. I got messages from friends later to tell me how brave I was to share my struggle. 

You would think with all my awareness and conversation around sin, I would have felt the heaviness of sin and felt motivated to change.

I didn’t.

It wasn’t until I dug deeper into the Holy Spirit’s role in my life that I begin to understand sin in a convicting, life altering way. 

I shifted my perspective from sin of being a list of the do’s and don’ts to being the barrier keeping me from experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit. 

I started to look at sin like a muscle knot. 

We have all had a muscle knot before. We do something physically we shouldn’t or do something in a way we shouldn’t and our muscle fibers tense up and adhere to each other. When that happens, blood flow is restricted. A knot keeps the blood and nutrients from flowing freely through your body. 

If sin is the muscle knot of tensed up fibers, the Holy Spirit is the blood supply. Just as blood brings life to all parts of the body, the Holy Spirit brings life to us.

Most of us have a lot of knots. And a lot of times we get so used to the knots that we stop doing anything about it. We learn to live with the pain, but in doing so we are limiting the life designed to flow through our veins.

There is a disease called “Congenital Insensitivity To Pain” where people cannot feel physical pain at all. When I first heard about this disease, I was almost envious. I would love to live in a way where I did not experience pain. But the more I read I about it, I realized how dangerous it really is. I read somewhere that it is actually common for children to die who have this disease from an illness or injury that has gone unnoticed. You see pain is a survival technique. When our body is in pain, it is a signal that something is not right. It gives us notice that we need to figure out what is going on and fix whatever we can.

{Before I move I must speak to my friends who live with chronic pain. In this post I am speaking about acute, treatable pain. Even the best metaphors break down eventually:)}

What if we looked at sin as a knot that is keeping the Holy Spirit from giving us the fullest life intended for us? What if we looked at the pain caused by the knot as a signal that things aren’t right, that we need to adjust something? What if we looked at sin as God’s way of telling us that he has more and better things for us? What if he is trying to say that if we worked through the knot, we would experience more of him? 

When I began to look at sin this way, I felt motivated. I felt motivated to change. I felt compelled to dig deep into those knots. I stopped  ignoring the pain and tried to get to the root of the problem. I was motivated because it was no longer a list of the do’s and don’t, it was the key to unleashing of the Holy Spirit in my life. 

And when the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives, Galatians 5 tells us that we will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

I don’t know about you, but I desperately want those things to mark my life. 

When I became a more serious runner I started using a foam roller. A foam roller is a device that is designed to massage out knots. You press the point of pain on the roller. And you gently roll back and forth on the roller. Though it is the smallest of movements, it is so painful. The longer you do it, the less it hurts and the less knots you have. The blood is allowed to bring life to the whole body, the way it was intended. 

So we are going to spend the next several weeks going over some ‘foam roller techniques’. These are ways I found in my own life which when practiced regularly cause the knots of sin to dissipate and the life of the Spirit of God to freely flow through my veins. 

 

Lisa

 

What is the Holy Spirit anyway?

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I was asked to speak at a camp this past summer. I was given the theme and was encouraged to run with it. I had never been to this camp, so I had very little context. I was told that I would be speaking to people ages 12-100 and that many of them were long time believers and leaders in the church. Long term Christians can be a tough audience.

Lifelong Christians (myself included) can easily treat pillars of faith as historical facts. Jesus died for my sins. Fact. Jesus rose from the dead. Fact. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. Fact. If we choose Jesus, we get to go to heaven. Fact. These incredibly powerful, life changing truths integrate into our daily lives. The Bible becomes a good book. Prayer becomes habit. Our faith no longer is the wind in our sails. Our faith becomes a noun, instead of the verb that it was intended to be.

What could I possibly share that would capture their attention and challenge or encourage their faith journeys?

I felt like God spoke to me and said “Talk about the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit?!?!?!

The Holy Spirit. 

Before moving forward, I want to put out a disclaimer. I am NO expert on the Holy Spirit. In fact, I’ve often been confused by the Holy Spirit’s role. When I was in high school I would often join my neighbor at her charismatic youth group. I was a strong believer at the time and I would sit back and watch my friend do the weirdest things while being “overcome” by the Holy Spirit. As soon as she was done being “overcome” by the spirit, almost in the same breath, she would begin to gossip about her friend sitting a row or two down. 

Later in my life, I heard about “speaking in tongues”. It wasn’t necessarily part of my faith tradition, but people I respected said it was a regular part of their prayer life. Apparently, when you are speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit overcomes you and you start speaking in a different language, that really no one around you understands. But I was told that when you speak in tongues, you felt closer to God, and I knew I wanted that. So I tried, several times. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with other people. I even faked it once to get someone to stop praying for me. Apparently I didn’t have a spirit language. 

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of learning to do in regard to the Holy Spirit.

I came across John 16. 

John 16:7 says (as he is speaking to his disciples) “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” 

Okay, I have read this scripture tons of times in my life, how have I missed this? Jesus said it was better if he goes?!? Can you imagine what the disciples were feeling at this point? Why would Jesus say that?

Jesus uses several names when he references the Holy Spirit. In this context he is referring to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. I looked up the word Advocate and the simple way to describe what it means is “One that walks alongside.” 

I started to see.

Jesus came down in the body of a man. He submitted to the boundaries of a body. Jesus can only be in one place at a time. But the Holy Spirit is different. He is boundless. The Holy Spirit can be anywhere and everywhere, anytime. Jesus is saying to his disciples, it is better for me to go, because I am only one man – I can only be in one place. But if I go, I will send one that can walk alongside each one of you. I will send my spirit who has no bounds and who will live in you and alongside you, guiding you the whole way.

That is a powerful concept, one that demands our attention. Jesus said it was better for him to go. He has sent someone to walk alongside you.To live among you. He’s given you the Spirit of God, the one who came to make dry bones dance.

There is a powerful story in Ezekiel about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. In Ezekiel 37 God gives Ezekiel a vision. In it, God sent Ezekiel to a valley that was full of dry bones and asked Ezekiel if the bones were alive. Being the smart man Ezekiel is, he replied with reverence, acknowledging that only God knows. God continued to talk to Ezekiel and told Ezekiel to tell the bones to come to life. God tells Ezekiel he would attach tendons and muscles. He will give the dry bones flesh and breath. Reluctantly I’m sure, Ezekiel repeated to the bones (Yup, I said it, Ezekiel was talking to the bones) what God had spoken to him. And to Ezekiel’s surprise, It happened. Tendons, muscles and flesh appeared. Skin covered the bones and they had breath. They stood up.They could dance. 

God gave Ezekiel this vision to share it to God’s people as a promise of restoration. 

A promise of what the Spirit of God can do.

He can make dry bones dance.

I mentioned earlier that I have been confused by the role of the Holy Spirit. I was confused by friend and how she acted when she was “overcome” by the Spirit. I wanted to know God and be filled with his Spirit, but instead I felt pressured and overwhelmed. The Holy Spirit is a confusing concept. I’m going to spend the next month or so talking about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit along the way.  I encourage you keep digging into it with me. Its worth the dig. 

It’s worth it because Jesus said it was better….

It’s worth it because the Spirit of God breaths life into historical concepts….

It’s worth it because the Spirit turns nouns into verbs….

It’s worth it because we can see dry bones dance….

And once you see that, there is no going back.

So let’s continue to learn together,

Lisa