Monday, July 29, 2013

A Modern Family's Guide to Surviving the Sabbath

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

This is the message I keep hearing. Everywhere I look, every song I like, every book I read, every message I hear...REST. You have my attention, God! I am listening!

In my previous blog post about striving, I talked about my journey toward resting in obedience rather than striving and wrestling with God for control. It really resonated with people. This is a hot topic!

One of the things my husband and I have integrated into our family life in our quest for rest and seeking obedience in our walk with the Lord is observing the Sabbath. It's an interesting topic. One that people don't really feel they need or maybe feel as though it's an option. I'm here to tell you, it is an important practice in the Christian life! If you are not currently embracing the concept of taking a Sabbath rest, I encourage you strongly to try it! Your life will never be the same and you will NOT want to go back to the way you were before.

Life is busy. This is not breaking news to you. God knew that life would be busy. And so He modeled for us a way to break through the busy-ness of life and get away from the noise long enough to hear His voice. In Genesis 2, we see where God finished His work of creation, and then took a day to rest. People argue, "I'm not doing a Sabbath because that's Old Covenant." Sabbath existed before any covenant did! The precedent was set by God Himself! Kinda hard to argue against that.

You may think that you're too busy to "waste" your time on a Sabbath day. I don't know how to explain it, but since we have committed to keeping a Sabbath day, I've been able to get more done in 6 days than I ever could in 7.

We observe our day of Sabbath on Saturday since our Sundays are full with responsibilities at church. It's a wonderful feeling to go in to our worship experiences on Sunday with a rested heart and mind!

On paper, a Sabbath sounds wonderful! All this restful time and moments spent in solitude with God and reading the Bible...Well, in practice, it's different for us as a family with young kids. Over the last year, we've worked on making the Sabbath work for a family. Here are some ideas:

- First of all, if you have young's not going to be an incredibly restful experience! Remember those pre-children Saturday naps? Sabbath or not, those days are gone. However, one thing we try to do is have our kids all either nap or sit down for a movie or some video games in the afternoon so Mom and Dad can rest a bit. It may not be a nap, but it's not chasing kids around either! It's just a season of life- later on there will be time for lazy naps. Until then, take what you can get!

- I try as best as I can to minimize housework on our Sabbath day. I try to prepare as much food as possible the day before (or, my favorite, order pizza), we use paper plates (sorry environment...we do recycle though!), and I do my best to get all laundry and similar household work done the day before. I used to get really frustrated because I found myself still cleaning up after everyone. People, give yourself permission to not get the kitchen cleaned up on your Sabbath day. The mess will be waiting for you the next day. That said though, there's no reason to get legalistic about it. If you need to fold some laundry, wash a pan, or do some yard work, do it- particularly if it's something that you enjoy (like working in your garden). The point of the day is not to get nitpicky about what constitutes "work" and what does not. The point is to prioritize engaging in restful, meaningful activities and to take a break from the normal busy schedule of life.

- Plan something fun with the family- go to the park. Go swimming. Pull out some board games. All those little things that you've been hoping to get to all week long but haven't been able to? Do those. Ask your kids for input on something fun to do as a family and do it. If you have hobbies like sports or a particular craft or art activity, incorporate those into your day.

-Try to carve out some time for solitude. This could be a challenge, but for us, the way it works is my husband and I try to give each other some downtime by trading child-watching time. The way this might work is he plays with the kids for an hour while I go for a walk in the woods, or read a book or the Bible outside on the hammock. Then, we switch.

-Above all else, use the day as a way to recall together the many blessings in your life. Slow down and watch your kids play. Put on some worship music and sing together. Put the kids to bed early and enjoy some one-on-one time with your spouse. There is no formula to this- as you go through the day, just try to keep relaxation and enjoyment as your goal.

Particularly if you have a family with small children, your day of rest may not be all that restful. But it will be a change of pace in which you can enjoy life and take a break from working and the normal routine. Our kids look SO forward to Saturday "rest day", as they like to call it. They know that they will have time to do things they enjoy and that as a family, we'll be spending time together. It's a day we look forward to and a day that makes us appreciate the love and the life that we have.

SO if you're feeling frantic and pulled apart by how busy your life feels, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, take a day to rest. You will be amazed by how the Lord responds to your obedience to this necessary and highly enjoyable commandment. And you'll be amazed at how truly rested you feel!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stop Striving!

I started WorshipU through Bethel church 10 weeks ago with a couple goals in mind- I wanted to pick the brains of some of the best songwriters in the worship music world and wanted to pick up some practical tips for how to be an awesome worship leader.

But God had other plans. I went in to this course work the same way I go in to every other venture and the way I approach every single area of my life- I wanted to "do" instead of "be". God quickly made it very clear to me that this time was not going to be practical, though I have learned some practical things. It was not going to be a time to sharpen my skills as much as it was going to be a time to soften my heart. He showed me that I operate primarily from a place of striving instead of from a place of rest. Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God" always just sounded like a kind suggestion or option for me. But now I realize it is a command and that I was willfully ignoring it.

It is a statement of fact to say that I have a busy life. I am married. I have three kids (boys, mind you) ages 1,4, and 6. We are still finishing our final touches on our house (and by "final touches", I mean things like "siding" and "drywall"). I work part time for our quickly growing church as the Director of Worship. Jarrod and I lead a Connect Group. In my spare time (what, wait, you mean there is spare time?) I write blogs and devotionals and songs and read loads of books. We go on camping adventures as a family. I hang out with my close family members often. I have a large garden I (try) to keep up with. I love to bake. I love to have a clean, organized house.

People, on a very regular basis say to me, "I don't know how you do it all." 

Well, I know how. I exhaust myself. Because I don't just "do" all the stuff above- I try to do it all perfectly. And here lately, especially in the areas of family and ministry, God has essentially put His hand out and said, "Stop." And I am so glad that He has.

Christa Black is the speaker at Bethel who has driven this truth in to my life more than anyone else. A wife, Mother, and amazing songwriter and musician in her own right, this lady is busy! And yet she knows the way to have a full life, but not a life that runs you over and makes you crazy.

Some of her wisdom: 
You can only love God as much as you know He loves you.

“Obedience is better than sacrifice.” In other words “To hear is better than your effort to do the right thing.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
  • God’s obedience is shama (Hebrew) - To hear, to listen towards.
  • Obedience is not rules. Obedience is towards a person. Obedience is about love. Obedience is all about relationship.
  • Obedience is not the act of doing something.
  • Obedience is not measured by the act I do or how well I perform.
  • If you are going after discipline, discipline yourself to be in love-retreating into the presence and receiving and hearing.
  • Receiving and hearing must come before doing.
  • Resting and hearing inspires us to do things for Him.
  • Obedience is an expression of love.
  • God loves to be with His kids. It’s not about what we do or how we do it. He shows up when we seek Him.
I have a personality that loves to do and achieve. I despise process. Science and Math were always a huge waste of time to me, because I do not care HOW things happen, I just want them TO happen. And I will make them happen with a fierce determination. A person like me is an amazing wife, Mom and employee. Because I will work myself until the bitter end to get something done and to get it done well and try to please the people who matter in the process, subtly discarding the rest. I am the Western Industrial World's dream come true. Tireless, tenacious,hardworking, excellent. In other words, I have no idea how to rest. Call it "personality", call it "wiring", I thought I was stuck in this mindset. But you know, God is powerful enough to change personality. He is the master re-wiring expert. And He has changed my mind.

I don't believe God is opposed to people doing things. Jesus, after all, did a whole lot of "doing" in His life. But He always got away and listened before the doing.  

His relationship with God was more important than the results He got.

Excellence was the goal, not tidy perfection. Yes, Jesus was perfect and sinless, but a lot of the things He achieved on this earth were more than a little messy. The start of His life, being born in a filthy cave with livestock comes to mind, as does His brutal death on a cross. 

So this is what God has been speaking to me- louder than song ideas, louder than tips on how to manage a team of people, louder than how to be more skilled or organized. 

His voice is speaking loud and clear- "Carrie, I love you. Just slow down and let me love you." 

And that statement is a game changer. 

I've been so busy doing, that I forgot to be His daughter and let Him be the Father. I've been so busy being perfect that I forgot to value processes and people. I've worked so hard to get my voice heard, that I forgot to listen to His. And even worse, I have applied this "Just Do it!" attitude to my relationship with God- like somehow if I am good enough or work hard enough, I can earn His favor- a cycle that ends in complete frustration. 

And isn't this right where the enemy wants us? Spinning our wheels as hard as we can, but never leaving the rut? Burning out quicker than quick and never getting to our destination and certainly not picking other people up to take the ride with us?

This is the brand of sin I hate the most- the kind that comes in and robs you in broad daylight. 

I can't explain how thankful I am that I was lured in to doing WorshipU out of my own selfish ambition to "do" more. In the process, God has shown me that it's more important to "be". What it looks like practically is I'm not as worked up about things. If a dilemma comes up, I'm not going to scheme in my mind constantly. I'm not going to feel compelled to have a museum showroom level of housekeeping. My kids aren't going to go to bed without me saying goodnight because I have my head buried in a computer screen. I won't go to bed and find that my husband has been asleep for hours without me as I was finishing up working on songs that were very forced and not worth singing anyway. 

Achievement is not my goal anymore. Obedience is my goal. 

So basically, will I be less effective? Some kind of hippie just going with the flow living in a messy house being lazy? I believe quite the contrary. I'm still going to work hard at creating an atmosphere in my home, career, and hobbies, but it's going to be an atmosphere led by God. Not by me. I'm going to do things a little slower- because I need time to listen before I take off running to the finish line. 

I have traded in my old values: I have traded in Perfection for Excellence. Striving for Rest. Results for Relationships. Fear of Failing for Obeying His Voice.

If you're like me and feel caught in a never-ending grip of busy. If you're trying to muscle your way through life and make things happen. If you're often frustrated with the pace of things- nothing is happening fast enough. If time is passing by quickly but you didn't even see it coming. If your priorities are completely out of whack. Then BE STILL.

 It's going to be a process for me. I'm always going to have a tendency toward being a Martha rather than a Mary (Luke 10) But I didn't even really know I was trapped before. I thrived on the striving. But the feeling of resting in obedience and receiving His love has by far replaced the thrill of achievement.

I don't have to do it all. His grace is nothing I can earn anyway. His gift can't be repaid. All the things of God must be received with an open heart and out of obedience, we will do more than we ever imagined. Not because of us, but because of Him. That's the kind of life I strive for now. 

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When Hope is Gone

When bad things happen, we feel that breath of hope that was filling our lungs escape our lips. And we feel empty. We are left with questions about life and God and why and how.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16

We have hope because of God's grace- that grace is the reason we hope.

Who is this grace available to?
This grace is available to people who have

1. Made Christ their Savior ("Now may OUR Lord") and

2. those who have placed their future in God's hands and see Him as a loving Father guiding their life ("and God our Father") releasing anxiety, trusting God with the future.

This is something I have always struggled with and that God has given me a lot of victory over in the past few years. I used to be the queen of what-if. I would get so down if things weren't going the way I thought they should go. My mind would swirl with all the negative possibilities. But I now realize that it’s crucial to release the outcomes to God. Let go of tension and stress. This is not only a good thing for us personally, but also important for the Kingdom. People around us are not going to be drawn to Christ if they see us worried, anxious, and hopeless. So if we have Christ as our Savior and allow God to guide us, our hope should be evident to the world-

1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the HOPE that is in you;

But how often do we NOT stand out as being hopeful?

This past week at the grocery store, I looked at the faces of the people around me and there just isn’t a lot of hope in the world right now. People are so weighed down by their problems. Even in my family, we've had some hope stolen in the past couple weeks as Jarrod's dear Grandmother passed away. A young girl in Logan was recently and tragically killed in a car accident, leaving a town and family in shock. It's at times like this that our hope takes a hit.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

The reason why so many people come in to church week in and week out with defeat in their lives, unable to worship, unable to live out their calling and purpose is because they aren't putting their hope in the grace of God. They aren't leaning into the Holy Spirit's power to get them through rough times. They are hanging their heads in shame and are unable to enter into worship because they feel hopeless- they aren't accepting His grace and they aren't actively receiving His love. The reason that people will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, or any number of other fixes to numb their hurts, is because an enemy wants them to not only be hopeless, but also to be destroyed.

There is an easier way.

Burdens of life are heavy, but the grace of God lifts our burdens.

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

How many of you could use some life recovery?

How many of you could use a real rest?

Friends, we need to replace our hope in the temporal and find our hope in the grace that God gives us:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 43:5

Are you dragging something around that you need to let go of?
Do you feel guilty?

Do you harbor sorrow for something you couldn't stop from happening, couldn't fix, couldn't make better but you can't let go?

Do you feel loaded down with responsibility for someone else's behavior or addiction or feelings?

Do you have anger you can't let go of?

Do you have hurt feelings, embarrassment, anxiety?

We drag all these things around with us. We let them take up space within us. We've been carrying them so long we don't know what to do without them.

And it all makes our hearts and souls heavy. So heavy.

What would happen if we were to lay down our burdens? What would happen if we gave these things up? What would happen if we just would let God love us?

Take some time to pray about what is stealing your hope and ask that God would replace that with His grace and His abundant love.

On paper, write a burden (or a list of them!) weighing you down. If you are willing to release the burden, get rid of it in some way! Rip it to pieces, burn it, trash it in whatever way you wish. But DO get rid of it.

His grace is enough. Our hope is found in Him alone.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Perfect song for this topic: Spend some time alone with Him and place your life in His capable hands.