A Ticket To Heaven?

When I was growing up in the Evangelical church there was a large focus on asking Jesus into your heart. The promised result? A ticket to heaven. Because of that, I grew up with the idea that heaven was this far off place that we would go to when we died. When I pictured it, I pictured angels with harps floating around on clouds. I thought that when I died, I would see this gold staircase leading up into the clouds where Jesus would be waiting for me with open arms. 

Did you know that that was actually not Jesus’ main message to the world about heaven? I’m not saying that it’s unbiblical. I understand its roots, it’s practical and easy to understand. I deeply believe that it is paramount for all of us to have a moment (or two, or three) when we surrender our lives to Jesus. Although surrender is an essential step in our faith, Jesus’ main focus was never on giving out tickets to Heaven. It was to reveal and unveil what we have access to Heaven today. 

People have dedicated their whole lives to studying what heaven is like. There is a lot of speculation, but there is actually not a lot that we can be sure of. But we do know two things for sure: 1.God is there and we will get to experience the fullness of who he is and his glory. 2.There will be no sin, pain nor shame. As a result, we will be able to walk out in the fullness of who God intended for us to be.

Matthew 4:17 tells us “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

It is significant that Matthew tells us that the first thing Jesus does when he starts his ministry is that he tells us two things 1. Repent (that surrender piece we were talking about). 2.That the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not, repent and then you will get to go to heaven someday. He is saying, repent – Heaven is here. 

The kingdom of Heaven is here.

The kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is speaking of is not a physical space. It is the realm in which God dwells and reigns. It is the space where there is no sin, shame or pain. And when Jesus took on the body of a human, entered the world as a baby and dwelt amongst us – He brought heaven down with Him. He embodied the fullness of who God is and through him we can be rid of sin, shame and pain.

He brought heaven down with Him and He asks us to do the same. 

You see, when you surrender your life to Jesus, He takes your sins and buries them at the cross. As a result, we have full access to God. That’s not to say we will never sin again, but through the power of the Holy Spirit we will sin less and become more of the person God created us to be. And as we do that, we carry a little bit more of heaven with us. 

We carry the Kingdom of Heaven with us.

We carry the Kingdom of Heaven with us as we hate less and love more. We bring heaven down with us as we confess our pride and listen with humility. We advance the kingdom when we become less and He becomes more.

I share this for two reasons.

1. More now than ever we need to rally to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.

The king of this world, Satan, has been very busy building his kingdom. I must say, he has had a good amount of success. His kingdom is known for its injustice and hate. It is full of division and pride. It is marked by greed and selfish gain. And behind it all is a spirit of fear.

And I don’t know about you, but sometimes, especially lately, I have looked at his kingdom and felt a sense of hopelessness. Why is he gaining ground so fast? Has he won? 

I think that one of the reasons the kingdom of this world is advancing so fast is that some of us (myself included) at times have forgotten what side we are on. Without knowing it we have fought to advance enemy territory. 

In the name of justice, we have caused division. 

We have battled against hate with a weapon of judgement.

We have fought for our rights with our hearts full of pride. 

Our words declare one thing, when our hearts are aligned with greed and self preservation. 

You see the kingdom of this world is advanced by sin. Even if your words sound pure, if your heart isn’t aligned – without knowing it you are fighting on the wrong side.

We need to stop helping the enemy advance.

2. I also share this with you to give you hope. I don’t know about you but I could really use some hope right now.

Knowing the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand should fill our hearts with hope. Because not only when we follow Jesus do we get to spend eternity in heaven – we have access to heaven now. We don’t have to wait until we die to encounter heaven – that is good news! Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have access to peace that passes all understanding, regardless of the turmoil around us. Now. Because of Jesus, we are able to have joy when we experience trials of many kinds. Now. Because of the cross, we can love and be loved without bounds. Now. We have the ability to advance the Kingdom of Heaven, now. 

I don’t know about you, but that brings me a lot of hope. 

So let’s examine our hearts and make sure we are fighting on the right team. And as we fight, let’s cling to hope.

Because the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

Because there is more,

Lisa

Can’t you or won’t you?

Several years ago I was working with a non-profit. We needed to do something different. We needed to shift our programming to serve our diverse group of students more effectively. I knew I had a lot to learn. I did my research and sought out the top experts on diversity and race that I could find. 

I found one conversation in particular eye-opening. One of the questions I was asking people when I met with them was “How do I engage more with people of color?” In this particular meeting I found myself thinking out loud “Well, I mean, I can’t just get up and move to North Minneapolis.” and “It’s not fair to my kids to just get up and start going to a church downtown. So what can I do?” 

She stopped me in my tracks. 

She said “Lisa, you need to acknowledge that it’s not that you can’t move to North Minneapolis or that you can’t go to a church downtown – it’s that you won’t do those things. You need to own that.” 

I’m sure I just sat there for several minutes with my mouth wide open. I have a strong personality and I am rarely challenged like that. (Just FYI, I welcome the challenge – I’ll respect you more for it.)

She was right. I could move to North Minneapolis. I could switch churches and go to a church downtown. It’s not that I couldn’t, I just wouldn’t. 

That conversation has stuck with me since we first talked and it’s been on constant repeat over the last few weeks. 

Especially this phrase “It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t.

Let that phrase sink in for a minute. 

How would things be different, in all areas of our life, if we evaluated if we are using our can’ts as a shield for our won’ts?

Let me give you an example.

I can’t be nice to my sister, she has hurt me too badly. vs. I won’t be nice to my sister, she has hurt me too badly. 

That one small word changes it all. When we use the word can’t, we (most of the time; there are truly a few things we can’t do) are deferring any responsibility. We talk and act as if the choice is completely out of our control. But when we replace the world can’t with won’t, it changes everything. The word won’t implies full responsibility, we are actively making the choice not to do something. 

I think in our current discussion about race, we have often gotten the words can’t and won’t mixed up. 

I mentioned in my last blog that my initial response to the riots and protests was fear. I felt paralyzed. I started to tell myself “I can’t deal with this, it’s all too much.” “I can’t really do anything anyway, I don’t live in the city.” “I can’t talk any more about race than I already have. I’ve done the hard work.” 

But over the last week as I have been able to step back, I realized that I wasn’t using my can’ts properly. I was using my can’ts as a shield for my won’ts. It’s not that I couldn’t deal with it – I have dealt with really hard things in my life. I was choosing not to deal with what was happening around me. It’s not that I can’t do anything because I don’t live in the city, I wasn’t – I was choosing not to. It’s not that I can’t discuss race anymore, I wouldn’t – I was making the choice not to. 

We need to own and acknowledge if we are using our can’ts as a shield for our won’ts before we can get to an authentic place of can’s and will’s

In the context of the current racial tension and unrest, have you found yourself telling yourself there are things you just can’t do?

If so, write them down. Then replace your can’ts with won’ts. 

After reframing mine, my statements sounded like this…

“I won’t deal with this, it’s all too much.” “I won’t do anything anyway, I don’t live in the city.” “I won’t talk about race anymore.”

Yikes. That does not sit well with me. When I took a pause and took ownership of my words, I was surprised at what it revealed about my heart.  

It revealed that there was a part of me that didn’t want to engage with another hard thing. It revealed that I did feel overwhelmed by everything going on around me. It revealed that I had pride in my heart about the work I have already done. It revealed that I still have a lot of work to do.

Replacing your can’ts to won’ts may not change anything for you. Regardless, it’s worth digging into. Because if you are like me, there is a chance it might reveal something about the condition of your heart that is worth looking into. 

It’s worth looking into because lasting change does not come from passionate words, it comes from a pure heart. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of lasting change. 

I have so badly wanted to go back to that conversation I had with that woman and respond differently. If I could go back, this is how I would respond. “I can, but I won’t, move to North Minneapolis. I am called to our community. I feel like we are planted here for a reason. I can, but I won’t, go to a church downtown, unless I am called.”

But….

I will go out of my way for my kids to have friends that are black and brown.

I will go introduce myself to my black neighbor at the end of my block and invite him to our next potluck.

I will commit to learning about the history of black oppression, especially in Minneapolis.

I will commit to always looking at my can’ts as won’ts, examine the state of my heart and make changes as needed. 

I will be part of lasting change. 

Because there is more,

Lisa

I am the Suburban mom.

Yesterday, I read that a legislator demanded that the government apologize to the suburban moms who were afraid as a result of the riots last week. 

He was talking about me. I was the scared suburban mom. 

This past week many people have asked me how I felt about the events that have unfolded over the last few weeks. My response has been consistent – I have been very unimpressed with myself. 

If you are a student of the Enneagram, I am an 8. Eights thrive when they can advocate for the underdog. When I picture my best self I imagine myself standing up on a podium, megaphone in hand, inspiring a crowd to rally against injustice. 

But when the looting started and it started to get close to home, I didn’t grab my megaphone. Instead I took a nap. I felt scared and overwhelmed. I just wanted it to be all over. 

You see, as much as I am an advocate, I also have a high felt need for safety. I didn’t feel safe at all. 

I also felt angry. My 12 year old daughter struggles with anxiety. She is already struggling to navigate the challenges that have come with being in the middle of a pandemic. Now this? The first night our city had a curfew, she cried herself to sleep. She was sure that someone was going to come into our house, steal all of our stuff and shoot us. I tried my best to hide my feelings, but it was a struggle. Honestly, I wondered the same thing. 

“Why did we have to suffer at the hands of someone else’s bad decisions?”, I found myself saying out loud (Please keep reading, I’m not saying these feelings are okay). Not that I demanded an apology, but I did wonder more than once why the government had let things get so out of control. 

The morning after the curfew had been instituted we left to go out of town. The whole way up to Duluth I felt conflicted. Were we making a statement by leaving town? We had planned the trip earlier in the week before all of this happened, but all of a sudden taking a vacation felt like we were taking a stance. The whole time I felt like we should be pressing in, not running away. I struggled to stay focused throughout the weekend. My emotions felt confusing and conflicting.

Social media blew up with a slew of new experts on the issue of race. And for some reason I felt like each comment or suggestion was a direct attack on me. When I was trying to sit back and listen, I felt like assumptions were being made about me and my lack of engagement. I felt a deep need to explain myself. I wanted to prove to the world that I do care about racial reconciliation and I have for a long time. Yet I felt like I had nothing to add to the conversation. 

After we returned from Duluth things had died down a bit. My dominant emotion was no longer fear, but confusion. 

Where was my place in this fight? Do I have one? The battle had been won, but the war was not over. Crowds began to fill the streets to clean up the damage. While people hit the streets, I hid in my room and googled “What should I do?” I still felt paralyzed and I could not figure out why. 

I pressed in. I prayed. Then I started to see. 

I felt paralyzed because I had been waiting for my feelings to change. 

I am an incredibly passionate person. I’m getting a bit more level-headed as I get older, but still a lot of my decisions are made from a place of passion. 

So during the riots I kept waiting for the Clark Kent in me to become Superman. I was waiting for the advocate in me to emerge from underneath the rubble of anger and fear. I was waiting to feel that depth of passion that I rely on to propel me into action. I was waiting for my feelings to go from being conflicted to conviction and it wasn’t happening. 

And as I waited for my feelings to change I became paralyzed by them.  

You see by nature, I am a black and white thinker. I am either sad or happy. I believe that I have to be either convicted or complacent. I quickly conclude that I am either angry or accepting. And when I feel both happy and sad, convicted and complacent, or angry and accepting – I don’t know where to turn. I don’t do anything and I become paralyzed. 

Over this last year I have started to learn that I don’t have to be one or the other. I can be happy and sad. I can feel convicted and complacent. I can even be angry and accepting. And I don’t have to wait for those emotions to change to do something. 

I can still feel scared about the unknown, yet seek to understand.

I can feel angry about the world my kids are being forced to navigate, yet feel the same level of anger for injustice. 

I can feel confused and curious all at the same time.

But I don’t get to be paralyzed.

I don’t get to be paralyzed because when I chose to walk with Jesus, I chose to walk. I chose to walk with Him as He confronts injustice. I chose to walk with Him as He extends mercy and grace. I chose to walk with Him as He breaks down evil strongholds and brings freedom to the captives. 

I chose to walk with Him regardless of how I feel. 

So that’s what I’m trying to do. I still feel a bit scared, angry and a bit confused. But as I continue to walk with Jesus on this journey, those feelings are starting to become smaller and smaller. I’m starting to feel my passion arise. 

It’s time to bring out the mega phone.

Because there is more,

Lisa

Less of me. Covid Questions.

[Before I start I want to acknowledge a few things. First, if you read my blogs weekly, this content may sound familiar. I wrote a series on the Holy Spirit last summer and most of the content from this blog comes from that series. Also, I recognize that there is a lot of content in this blog, I attempted to summarize four blog’s into one. I feel like it is important content to share and truly is the key to experiencing peace, joy and hope regardless of circumstances. I would encourage you to go back and read the whole series. But in light of recent events, I feel compelled to wrap up this series and address our current situation.]

The question I left us with last week was, if the Holy Spirit dwells in us and He is the key to peace, hope and Joy – why don’t we always feel that way?

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 it because it brings too much shame. We feel above it because our hearts are filled with pride. 

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

I shifted my perspective from sin 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.

What if we started to look at sin, instead of a list of dos and don’ts, 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’ts, it was the key to unleashing of the Holy Spirit in 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 let me share a few ‘foam roller techniques’ with you. These are ways I have 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. 

(I wrote a blog post dedicated to each one of these techniques, if you are interested in going deeper – click on the links.)

First technique: We need to die.

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. 

How do we become less?

We need to die to our dreams, plans, desires and ideas. None of these things are bad within themselves, but they become problematic when they get in the way of God’s dreams, plans, desires and ideas. 

Let me give you an example.

I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, but four 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 it 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. The job was in ministry so of course God would want me to have that job, right? 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 it 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.

I needed to become less, so he could become more.

Where do we start?

Start in the morning by surrendering your day to God. Lay down your ideas, dreams and plans before him. Be open to divine interruptions throughout the day. Keep this question in the front of your mind “Is this you God or me?” If you aren’t sure if it is God that is nudging you, error on the side of obedience. I believe that if you have pure heart, God will bless your efforts.

Second technique: Repentance.

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. 

What does it mean to repent?

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

As I started digging deeper into that definition, I felt like God impressed on my heart….

Repentance starts 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 meditate on 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.

It is not the words themselves that begin to change us, it is what the words start doing our brain, and with that, our heart. Science tells us that we can literally change the way we think by doing the same thing over and over again.

It’s called 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 to 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 it, the path is clear and easy to walk on. 

So start with words. Go to the Lord and say you are sorry. And then do it again and again and again until you blaze a new path.

Then practice the act of turning.

After you apologize to God, try physically turning the other direction and take a few steps forward. As I stated in the definition, repentance isn’t just about apologizing – it’s about turning from sin and turning toward God. Just see how it feels. I think, over time, you will really notice that a physical turn can make a significant shift in your heart and mind.

In my experience, as we practice these two techniques, we will become less and He will become more. The knots of sin will be massaged out and the Holy Spirit will have the ability to flow freely throughout our body. As a result, we will experience the fruit of the spirit.

“the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” Galatians 5:22-23

The fruit of the Holy Spirit serves as a Litmus test. A litmus test is a way to prove or measure something. I believe what Jesus is saying to us in Galatians 5 is (paraphrase mine) “Do you want to know if you are filled with the Holy Spirit? Ask yourself, are you loving? Are you joyful? Are you peaceful?….if not, come to me, let’s examine your heart. I think we have some foam rolling to do” 

Become there is more,

Lisa

Do you want to dance? Day 6.

Have you started a Covid-19 journal yet? If not, start there. Go and order a fancy journal on Amazon if that would motivate you. I usually just grab an old notebook. Staple some loose paper together if that’s all you have. After this is all over, you will be glad you kept a journal during this time.

If you are just joining us, start here. Each day this week will build on each other.

We are in the midst of exploring the different roles of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday we talked about the Holy Spirit as the one who leads us to The Truth and helps us become more like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit gives us to power to share the good news.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The Holy Spirit gives us the power and the boldness to share with people who Jesus is and what he has done in your life.

Journal question:

Is there someone in your life that you want to tell about Jesus? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you.

The Holy Spirit gives us each a unique spiritual gift.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge, by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11

The Holy Spirit gives us each a unique gift in order to serve others.

Journal question:

Do you believe that? What gift do you think the Holy Spirit has given you? How does he want you to use it to serve others?

Tomorrow I am going to share the next post in my series, Covid questions. Stay tuned as I share ways to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Because there is more,

Lisa

Do you want to dance? Day 5.

Have you started a Covid-19 journal yet? If not, start there. Go and order a fancy journal on Amazon if that would motivate you. I usually just grab an old notebook. Staple some loose paper together if that’s all you have. After this is all over, you will be glad you kept a journal during this time.

If you are just joining us, start here. Each day this week will build on each other.

We are in the midst of exploring the different roles of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday we talked about the Holy Spirit as a teacher and one that brings freedom.

The Holy Spirit guides us to truth.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13

Not only is the Holy Spirit a teacher, he also guides us to The Truth. I believe this verse is telling us that the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of who God is and what His Word says.

Journal question:

Is there something that you struggle to understand about God or the Bible? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to you.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies you.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11

Sanctified is a word that essentially means becoming more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us become more like Jesus.

Journal Question:

How can the Holy Spirit help us become more like Jesus?

More tomorrow,

Lisa

Do you want to dance. Day 4.

Have you started a Covid-19 journal yet? If not, start there. Go and order a fancy journal on Amazon if that would motivate you. I usually just grab an old notebook. Staple some loose paper together if that’s all you have. After this is all over, you will be glad you kept a journal during this time.

If you are just joining us, start here. Each day this week will build on each other.

We are in the midst of exploring the different roles of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday we talked about the Holy Spirit as a helper and one that brings hope.

The Holy Spirit teaches and gives insight.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to teach us. Each morning before my kids go off to school I pray that God will help them learn and understand what they are being taught. I often pray when I am learning something new that God will help me understand.

Not only that, the Holy Spirit reminds us of what he has already taught us.

Journal questions:

Have you ever asked God to help you understand something? If so, did anything change? Has God ever reminded you of something he taught you? Why do you think he did that?

The Holy Spirit brings freedom.

“Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

Journal question:

What do you think this verse means?

More tomorrow,

Lisa