Exploring the Deep

Passionately pursuing life, faith and adventure…

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pause and plant

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” — 2 Peter 1:5-11

This scripture has hung in my heart and mind all week. I’ve read it before, but its call to a personal and active maturing captured my attention this time around. How often are we guilty of reading scripture, desiring to grow, but not taking the necessary steps to actual growth? True confessions: I’m guilty.

This passage in 2 Peter calls us to “make very effort.” Not to make AN effort, but EVERY effort. That means it’s up to me. It doesn’t call me to a lackadaisical approach, but a full on pursuit.

I love scripture. It captures my heart, mind and imagination with the stories of how:
– God performed miracles among the Israelite’s (the manna, parting the Red Sea, Abraham and Sarah)

– The promises God has for us today (He’s preparing a place for us in Heaven, He is FOR us and not AGAINST us, He heals the ache in the heart of the hopeless)

-And its call for higher living (love your neighbor as yourself, take care of the widows and orphans, defend the cause of the fatherless)

All of that is fine on the surface. They are nice little stories and sentences that make us feel good and give us hope. I go back to them over and over again when I feel weak or insignificant or maligned. But when I’m being honest with myself (and you), it’s not often that I pause and plant my feet in them, making a conscious effort to live them out in fullness. Sure, in part scripture encourages me and sets me back on the path. But the all-out pursuit isn’t there like it is with a fitness regimen or when I’m planning a vacation or organizing a work event. Those are times when I focus and work hard (“make every effort”) to accomplish a goal so that I’m not “ineffective and unproductive.”

When I think about my faith, what is the difference that keeps me from the pursuit? Me. Like so many, I am my worst enemy.

I write this as much for you all to consider, as for me to grasp. I feel like Paul when he wrote to the Corinthian church about running in such a way to receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

I am thankful that as I run the race – as I work at maturing my faith, self-control, godliness, love and the others – it is for something more than just being “better.” I’m thankful that it’s not my effort that saves me (only His grace can do that), but my efforts do confirm God’s work in me. The constant growth keeps me effective, productive and in-tune with Jesus and what His life and death means in my life. It keeps my eyes open to the pain and brokenness that surrounds. It guarantees that I will not stumble, even when life gets difficult. It confirms that I am His – not just in word, but in deed.

So let me ask the difficult question: are you making “every” effort or just “an” effort? Have you paused to plant your feet in the promises of scripture or are you tip toeing across the surface? What is holding you back from the pursuit? I’d love to hear your stories!

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Get a grip.

Get a grip. When life seems out of control and topsy-turvy, that’s what we do. When emotions begin to overshadow reality, that’s what we do. When we lose sight of our focus, that’s what we do. When we feel like we’re losing the most important things around us, that’s what we do. We take a firm grasp and wrestle to keep control. We fix our eyes on the very thing that seems to be fading away and fight to keep focus.

Does it work? Do we regain our hold? In the physical sense, oftentimes, yes. But there are times that it doesn’t. Times when holding tightly actually kills the very thing we are gripping.

About a year ago I read “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. Aside from the obvious challenge set out in the title, the book offered me several other personal challenges, including trusting at a deeper level.

It’s easy to trust for some things – the stove will heat when turned on, a light will shine when a switch is flipped, a chair will hold when sat upon. But other things are more difficult to trust – a stranger to keep his word, a new recipe to work out perfectly, a sunny winter day in Seattle. But what about our relationship with God – what is your level of trust?

I have an easy time trusting my family and friends to do what they promise. We have history and they’ve proven themselves in ways that I can see and recount. Although I trust God to do what He promises, I have a more difficult time. There is a catch in my natural self that second-guesses His follow-through because I can’t see, touch or smell Him. The times when prayer wasn’t answered the way I anticipated were the times when God answered a different way. Trust wasn’t broken, but it was tested…and the fault is only my own for expecting God to do things the way I planned. It’s those moments when I remember that God is in control and to get a grip.

In “One Thousand Gifts” Voskamp writes: “All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy’s fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness. But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness….My one wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy….

“The secret of joy’s flame: Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control…let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love.”

It’s difficult to hold on to sand. The more we tighten our grip, the more it slides out from between our fingers. In order to keep it in our hands we are forced to turn our palms upward and keep them open. We must become comfortable with the balance between an open hand that can hold the sand, but that can also lose it. We must trust. It’s like our relationship with God: we must keep our hands open to receive what He is giving, but trust Him enough that if what we are holding is taken away that it is only to give us something better.

As I journey through life – professionally, relationally, spiritually – with an open hand, I find that my grasp is stronger. What do you need to release so that you can get a grip?

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My Christmas faith.

Each Christmas I love to read the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s so much more exciting than many people give it credit for – it’s filled with scandal, attempted murder, miracles and new life. I mean, seriously, this is what we go to the movies to see!

It’s a story we’re all familiar with, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16) Lives are turned upside down by the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus.

But this year a different aspect stands out: faith. Over and over in the story, believing what God said is the key. From Mary to Joseph to Zechariah to the shepherds, fear and disbelief was often the initial reaction, but faith quickly followed.

In Luke 1:45 Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” This morning I had to pause and ask myself a few questions: Do I believe what God has said to me about my life will be accomplished? Do I believe this for myself or just in this Christmas story and in others’ lives? Can I truly be blessed by the Lord if I believe in Jesus but don’t believe for the miracles He’s promised?

To have this faith! To trust so deeply! To receive His blessing!

Praying for each of you – as well as myself – for faith to believe for the miracles God has spoken to us. May we each be called blessed as we trust Him. Merry Christmas!

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I’m not who I once was.

“I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.” — Galatians 1:13-16 (The Message)

Although my life before Christ was nothing like the apostle Paul’s, his story resonates with me. I didn’t persecute Christians, but I did question my believing friends. I wasn’t zealous about advancing my own beliefs, but I was passionate about understanding why others believed what they believed. I was interested in God, but not church. I wanted something bigger to believe in, but wasn’t sure Christianity was it. Like Paul, even then God was drawing me toward Him.

This fall I’ve reconnected with several friends I haven’t seen since our high school graduation 14 years ago. We talked about college, first jobs, relationships, kids and moves. We reminisced about people we knew, random things we did, and our less than stellar moments. I realized I’d forgotten a lot from middle school and high school. (Or perhaps I repressed it?) I was reminded about who I once was and how I’ve changed.

For many of my friends it was the first time they’d heard my story about coming to faith. It’s humbling to look back and see not only how God was calling to me to Him, but also how He used some of these friends in the process. They endured through countless questions, watching me do stupid things, and yet believed that God could do a miracle and so prayed for me throughout high school (and beyond). It is truly an illustration of God’s great generosity, extended through others’ faith.

And now I have the great honor and responsibility of praying for friends who are like I once was. Looking forward to the day when I get to catch up with them and hear their story of faith!

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Trusting in the One Behind the Wave

It’s a daily task for me to surrender to the ever changing, ever flowing plan of God. He knows the deepest cry of my heart. He knows when the wave is building, pushing from the outer reaches of the ocean, chugging toward the shore. He knows when it’s reaching higher and higher, preparing to crest. He knows when it reaches the peak and begins to push over the top and race toward the Earth again to crash into the shore.

God understands the surge – the powerful times when life seems to build and all is exciting and good and exhilarating and scary at the same time. Times like the past few weeks when I can see marked maturity in my leadership abilities – to ask for and accept help, when God trusts me with specific conversations with individuals, when life’s puzzle pieces begin to fit.

And God understands the crest, the pivotal moment when everything changes to a fast, powerful downward rush – when life seems out of control and you fight to just stay above the water. Times like today when all the recent change and news and busyness suddenly seemed to bring to the front of my vision where I’m at in life and what I feel like I’m missing.

I remind myself that God is in control during both of these situations. He is the power behind the surging water; He is the buoy that keeps us afloat. When life’s circumstances turn from a great build to a great crash, He is there.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord‘s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” — Lamentations 3:21-24 (NIV)

I’m on a growth curve in my faith. When life’s difficulties surface, it’s easy and it’s habit to pull away and secretly wish that life was different. To wish that I could snap my fingers and find that the situation has changed. To ignore it. To jump to a quick solution that doesn’t have best interests in mind. But that, I’m learning, is when it’s best for me to wait patiently on God and listen to His voice.

When the water is beginning to crash down, I must take a deep breath, relax into the current, and trust in the power of the One behind the wave.

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Since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. For our high priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.

Hebrews 4:13 (new century version)