Monday, May 16, 2016

When Moving Forward Means Leaving Something You Love

Two tiny words can change everything. When Jesus speaks the words, “Follow Me,” nothing stays the same.

This is my final post here at The Sobieski Crew. Jesus is asking me to follow Him to a new place that He’s prepared, and that means leaving this space I’ve loved for the past six years. Really, it’s just another stage of the journey. 

God told Moses to record every stage of Israel's journey so that future generations could learn about a God who keeps His promises.

At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. Numbers 33:2

Moses painstakingly catalogs Israel’s every move. They leave one place and camp at the next. Moses records it. They leave again and travel to a new place. Moses writes it down. By the time I read the next forty plus verses, it strikes me that perhaps the destination isn’t what matters most.

Just over a year ago I wrote about this exact passage.  The camping is what glaringly stood out to me back then when I was in a season of God asking me to stay put. I grumbled, because all around me others were setting out towards new places, and I felt stuck. Now it’s finally time to leave. I thought it would be exhilarating. I thought I wouldn’t be afraid.

I’m heading to another camp, and eventually God will move me on from there. It’s never about where we stay or where we’re headed; it’s more about the One who walks with us and uses every step as a way to transform our hearts and minds.

Sometimes leaving comes as a relief; if the camp was anything like Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink (see Numbers 33:14), it can be easy to pack up and move along. But most of the time leaving is hard, because we leave behind what we love.

Every stage of the journey requires leaving something behind; sometimes it’s a piece of your heart.

The Sobieski Crew has become home to me. It took some time to settle in, but I’ve loved every single time you’ve joined me here. I’ve loved your willingness to wrestle the tough stuff, share the messy stuff, and linger long enough to discover the beautiful stuff that matters most.

I hope you’ll join me over at my new space, which is coming really, really soon! I’ll still be talking about the tough stuff, the messy stuff, and the beautiful stuff - just from a different “camp.” This new space will allow me to better connect with you which is why taking this step is already worth it.  

This move is really just about following Jesus.

Israel left each camp and set out for new territory because God led them. They trusted Him, so they followed. God commanded Moses to record Israel’s journey, and He wants us to reflect on our own journey, too.

Is God asking you to leave something behind and follow Him?

In some ways leaving brings amazing clarity. It reveals whether we love Him more than what He’s asking us to leave behind. He never promised it would be easy; He only promised that the overcoming part would be His. Our job is to trust Him. Our job is to follow.

For those of you hunkering down in your camp right now, remember that God is with you, and God is for you. Rest in Him. Do your thing right where you are. 

For those of you taking brand new fearful steps into unknown territory, remember that not a single step is uncharted. If you are following Jesus, He has already walked every step of the way and is waiting for you in the next stage of the journey. It will be hard. It will be scary. You will wonder if you can leave without looking back. You can. You will. It will be worth it.

Follow Him wherever He leads you, because Jesus loves you.


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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Secret to Living Under Construction with Peace

It seems as if my entire life is under construction. Undone, incomplete, not yet finished. This is where I live. The yellow CAUTION tape is for my protection, but I can’t wait to rip it down and see beauty. God’s truth has a way of speaking directly into my impatience.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

We live in an imperfect, puzzling time where things don’t always make sense. It’s messy and unfinished. Living in the construction zone gives me anxiety. I crave clarity. I strive for perfection. I thrive in order and calm, and most days, it’s a stretch to find just a stitch of calm.

I get this same uneasy feeling when I read through books like Leviticus and Numbers. I get overwhelmed by the utter mess man has made of God’s creation. I have to remind myself that these are incomplete parts of God’s story that point to His ultimate plan for redemption. This story doesn’t end with the fall of man and the wrath of God. It’s true in scripture, and it’s true in my life and in yours.

Without Jesus every story is incomplete.

Jesus was with God as He spoke life into being. Restoration has always been part of God’s plan. Even at its messiest, God always knew how the story would end. He sees through the chaos of unfinished and past the imperfections of brokenness all the way to His final completed masterpiece.

God’s story starts and ends with Love.

God is Love. He reveals Himself through Jesus, the visible face of the invisible God. You may have heard 1 Corinthians 13 referred to as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible, but really, it’s an entire chapter about Jesus. In the margin of my Bible I wrote these words some time ago: Replace ‘love’ with ‘Jesus.’ I’m not sure who inspired me to jot those words next to these verses, but they have changed the way I read this familiar passage.

Jesus is patient,
Jesus is kind.
He does not envy,
He does not boast,
He is not proud.
Jesus does not dishonor others,
He is not self-seeking,
He is not easily angered,
He keeps no record of wrongs.
Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Jesus never fails.  (verses 4-8)

We can live with peace in the construction zone, because God’s work is a labor of love.

The word undone means incomplete and unfinished.  It also means destroyed, distressed, or troubled. I’m learning that it is possible to live unfinished and also untroubled. Fear convinces us that God will leave us here in this undone state, but Perfect Love is willing and able to drive out fear.

Jesus is God’s completed work of redemption. In Him we have been made complete. (See Colossians 2:10) When we long for completion, we need look no further than Jesus- the One who gave everything to bring us back into the arms of the Father.  

We can live undone because of what Jesus has already done.

God already sees the completed you, so He can look right past the mess. All because of Jesus. There will be a time when it all makes sense, when every piece fits beautifully together, and all is completely restored. The story isn’t finished, but God’s already revealed the ending. He invites us to live underneath the banner of love and trust Him to finish the work He began.

When living undone starts to feel overwhelming, may we look to Jesus’ perfection rather than our brokenness. May we be reminded of God’s faithfulness even as we are tempted to give up. May we trust Him to see us through, surrendering everything unfinished to the One who said, “It is finished.”

Jesus loves you,

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Most Important Thing About Your Story

I love stories. Tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine. Stories connect our hearts and intricately weave our lives together. Maybe you’ve heard the Easter story told hundreds and hundreds of times. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you know a few details and understand that this story has nothing at all to do with pastel eggs or a giant bunny. Maybe you think it has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Every time I read this story, God shows me something brand new. It’s the beauty of the living Word at work.  I return to this story again and again because it holds life. It holds meaning. It holds everything I believe together.

Without this story, my story is incomplete.

Today, as I read familiar words and take note of chronological events, two names stand out to me: Simon of Cyrene and Joseph of Arimathea. With some digging, I find a couple of details about each man, but what captures my attention is how each played a crucial role in this story about Jesus. 

The cross is a popular symbol in our culture. Back in Jesus’ day it was anything but popular. It was a symbol of rejection, of shame, of brutality. The cross invoked fear. It represented death. After Jesus was beaten beyond recognition, He had to carry His thirty to forty pound cross to a place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” He would be hung there, disgracefully for all to see.

Meet Simon:
Mark’s account of that day tells us that somewhere along the way to Golgotha, a man named Simon was seized by the Roman soldiers. (See Mark 15:21) He was forced to carry the cross the rest of the way after Jesus’ strength gave out somewhere along that road. Simon was from a region in North Africa with a large Jewish population. Many believe he was traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover.

All we know about this man is where he came from and how he carried that cross behind Jesus. He is never mentioned again in scripture, though some think his son, Rufus, is the same man Paul mentions in Romans 10:13. We don’t even know if he knew who he was following as he carried that heavy, burdensome cross.  I wonder if he thought Jesus had nothing to do with him.

The rest of the story is found in the verses that follow. (See Mark 15:22-41) Jesus was nailed to the cross, ridiculed and mocked, then underneath a blackened sky, He gave up His spirit and died. Those with Him must have felt such incredible despair. Surely this wasn’t what they were expecting. Yet this one event would change eternity. Jesus died so we would never have to. Jesus paid the penalty on our behalf, and it cost Him everything.

Meet Joseph:
Our other guy appears in verse 43. Joseph was a wealthy man (according to Matthew) and an upstanding member of the Jewish council. Mark tells us that he was a follower of Jesus and did not consent to the decision to crucify Jesus, yet there isn’t a trace of his name during the trial. John reveals that he followed Jesus secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders.

We can piece together that he had some influence with Pilate, because he approached him boldly to request that the body of Jesus be taken down from the cross. According to Jewish custom, the bodies of the deceased were taken down before evening, especially before the Sabbath, which began at sundown on Friday. After confirming that Jesus was dead, Pilate conceded, and Joseph, along with the help of Nicodemus, took down the body of Jesus, wrapped him in linen, and laid him in his own tomb. Afterwards, he rolled a stone in front of the tomb and went on his way. That is the last we hear of Joseph.

Why would God include these two men in this story?

The man who carried Jesus’ cross and the man who buried His body couldn’t have been more different. One was a foreigner, the other an upstanding member of the community. One was an outsider; one had inside privileges. One man knew Jesus, and the other probably didn’t. One was wealthy and prominent, known in the Jewish community. The other was an unknown, unrecognized, common man. Yet both were used by God to fulfill prophecies recorded centuries before.  Both were crucial to the telling of God’s story.

This story doesn’t end with a crucified body in a rich man’s tomb. Love drove Jesus to that cross Simon carried, and Love raised Him three days later to walk out of Joseph’s tomb alive and victorious. Hundreds of witnesses saw Him, spoke to Him, and some even touched the scars on His hands. The people were confused and frightened and overjoyed and overwhelmed, though it happened exactly the way Jesus said it would. This wasn’t a mistake in God’s story.

This story would begin to rewrite every story ever written.

Simon’s story and Joseph’s story were about a cross and an empty tomb. It’s no different for us. Every story comes down to the cross and the empty tomb. The cross will always represent death, and the rich man’s tomb will always be remembered as empty. But without the cross, there is no empty tomb. Without death, there is no new life. Without Jesus, every story is incomplete.

You might be accepted or left out, rich or poor, known or unknown, common or privileged. You might be influential and successful, or you might just find yourself at the right place at the right time. You might be a follower of Jesus or you might not know Him at all. These two men were hand picked by God and included in His story for two reasons: because God loved the world and He had a story to tell. Simon’s story told the very same story that Joseph’s story told.  Their stories were about God.

My story is a story about God. So is yours.

We live in a culture obsessed with ourselves- a “selfie society,” some call it. Simon’s story wasn’t about him, and Joseph’s story wasn’t about him either. Right there on the pages of scripture, I’m convicted and convinced that I don’t quite fully understand.

Earlier in Mark, before His arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (See Mark 8:34-35)

The most sinful part of us that cannot live in harmony with God, no matter how hard we try or how good we try to be, must die with Jesus. We deny ourselves when we acknowledge that our lives belong to Him, that our stories belong to God. We take up our crosses when we realize that our stories can only be told in the context of surrendering everything to Jesus.

If we really understood this, we’d acknowledge that we are in this together and that God is writing His story across each one of our hearts. We’d recognize that Jesus is the center of every story, that He is the thing our hearts crave. Deep within our marrow, we would realize that we are known by our Creator, whether we know Jesus or not. We could start to believe that our story is a good one. After all, it’s a story about God. We could put aside making a name for ourselves and instead work together to make His name known. And somewhere out along the road we travel, our stories might become less about us and more about giving away the love of God.

Jesus loves you,