On Discipline and Better Things

On Discipline and Better Things
Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

Back in May, I began a journey of discipline. It started out as a dietary change – I gave up sugar and most carbs for the entire month, with a few cheats here and there. It was hard. I failed often, and my cravings got the better of me. Since I wasn’t wholeheartedly committed, since I wasn’t disciplined, I fell off the plan for June, July, and the early part of August.

When August came around, I committed to discipline again. I’d recently been prescribed medicine for my frequent migraines, and I didn’t like how it made my body feel. I began my journey of discipline again, except this time I plunged in. I gave up sugar. I restricted my carb intake to 20g net carbs or less a day. And, I began running.

That was 5 weeks ago. I have only cheated once – a few bites of wedding cake last week. I’m amazed at how good I feel. My body doesn’t ache. I have had zero migraines in 5 weeks. My energy is consistently high. I’ve gone from living sedentary to running 4+ miles multiple times a week. And, I’ve lost just under 20 pounds. It’s incredible.

This journey of discipline isn’t about weight loss, though that is nice. It’s about saying no to some things, and it’s about pursuing the better things. I was not unhealthy before – in fact I had a recent checkup with a doctor where I got a good report of healthy, if not a little overweight. But though I may have been healthy, I didn’t feel good. I had low energy most days. Getting out of bed was a struggle. My brain fog prevented me from focusing on tasks for too long. I wanted something better.

As I’ve gone through this transformation, I’ve given much thought to the idea of discipline and the pursuit of better things. It’s what the Christian life is about, really. We give up some things – they may be bad or good, depending on what it is – for the better things. By the transforming power of the gospel, we say no to sin and pursue holiness. We hold loosely to the temporal for the promise of the eternal. We give up the world to gain Jesus.

Paul says it this way,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 

and

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…let us hold true to what we have attained.

Now, do I miss donuts? Sometimes. Yet, now that I’ve tasted the better things, I no longer have the appetite for the lesser things. The few bites of cake I had last week were a letdown, and a reminder that though they may be good, they do not satisfy. Just like the lesser things of this world. Money, sex, extravagance, pleasure, unholy relationships. They promise so much but deliver so little.

I’m reminded of C.S Lewis’ poignant thoughts on this subject:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

What are the lesser things you’re holding tightly to? What are the better things you should be pressing into?

Five Minute Friday | Safe

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I’m joining the ranks of some other lovely ladies who choose to free write for five minutes on a one-word prompt. No editing, no over-thinking, no analyzing grammar and style. Just writing. Today’s word: safe.

Setting my timer and starting in 3…2…1…NOW.

Safe. To be safe. To not be dangerous. This is what I think at the mention of the word safe. The antithesis of danger – playing it safe, avoiding risk, running away from harm’s way. It brings to mind this Jim Elliot quote:

We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the twentieth century does not reckon with. But we are “harmless,” and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are “sideliners” — coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!

I am so guilty of sidelining. That’s surprising when I think about how one of my highest spiritual gifts is prophecy. But, you see…I’ve lost my prophetic voice. I so long for others’ approval, or I fear the danger of disapproval, that I play it safe. I want to be respected, admired, considered an equal. And I sacrifice my voice in exchange for it. I stay safe.

I don’t want to be safe. I don’t want to be a sideliner. I don’t want to be harmless. I want to be dangerous for good. I want to take risks so others can know goodness, and mercy, and grace, and compassion, and unfailing love. Oh that God would make me unsafe.

What about you? Are you dangerous, or are you safe?

A poem for Throwback Thursday

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Earlier today I saw a tweet from BigMama about how poetry from middle school girls are the great treasures of the universe. While I don’t have any poetry from those days anymore, that tweet led me on a quest through some old hard drives from 8-10 years ago. I basically fell into a wormhole from 2006, filled with pictures and writings from my college days. I’m not sure it did any good because now I regret everything.  We all thought we had it figured out back then, didn’t we? Anyway, in the spirit of throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share a poem from those days of early adulthood angst.

Carry My Yoke

How oft I have longed, for the one who would see
A heart so delicate, dwelling in me.
I chase after my lovers, fallen to my curse.
And no matter my indulgence, I am still slain with thirst.
No love satisfies the depth of this yearning
The vessel is parched, the desert’s heat burning.
Broken by my adultery, exposed in my shame,
Marred by my vanity am I when You call out my name.
“I am gentle, I am humble” were the words that you spoke,
“Seek and you will find Me, let Me carry your yoke.”
What is this selflessness, unabashed by my crime,
Tender and patient, whilst strong and sublime?
Once emptied by hedonism, I gain fullness in You.
A heart scorched by wild wandering is wet with Love’s dew.
“I am gentle, I am humble” were the words that You spoke,
“Seek and you will find Me, let Me carry your yoke.”

 

Loneliness, friendship and faith

Loneliness, friendship, and faith

In case you didn’t know, we recently uprooted our lives and moved to a new town. (Again.) (For the 7th time in 5 years.) (You can read more about that here.) Since we’ve moved so many times, we often find ourselves displaced from our network of friends and having to start over in a new place. With these many transitions, I’ve observed that, in my adult life, it’s much harder to start over in a new place and establish quality friendships.

Now don’t get me wrong, acquaintances are easy to come by. But, real friendships, the kind that span the years and traverse the miles between you, are difficult to grow and maintain as adults. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. What is about adulthood that makes nurturing relationships with others so challenging?

I find this struggle all the more troubling because I’m a Christian. The church is supposed to be synonymous with community. Especially in the Southern Baptist world, we hold fellowship meals and talk about the importance of “not forsaking the fellowship of believers,” and yet church can be the loneliest place for many, myself included.

For example, since moving here last August, we’ve visited most of the churches within our denomination in town. We found ourselves gravitating to one in particular – it’s doctrine matches ours, the pastor preaches through the Bible expositionally (which is our preferred preaching method), and our daughter enjoys the children’s ministry activities on Wednesday nights. We have grown increasingly involved in the life of the church – we’ve joined the choir, and I’m playing bass for the worship team.

Yet, we can go through several Sunday and Wednesday services and nobody talks to us. This isn’t a large church, either – there are maybe 100 people there on a Sunday morning. You may think, perhaps the problem is that we haven’t connected to a small group. That isn’t the case. We’ve been regularly attending the small group class for our age/season of life since we started attending in September. People do talk to us in small group – but, if we are absent for several weeks in a row, nobody reaches out to us – not even the small group leader. 

You may also think this is an isolated incident – that this particular church might need to grow in their biblical understanding of community. However, in our many moves, we have found this situation occurring more often than not. I have often wondered if maybe there is something wrong with me/us because it happens so often. Yet,  the more I talk to other believers inside and outside of my denominational affiliation, I keep hearing this same story of loneliness and isolation among the people of God.

The weight of this problem struck me last week. I was at the gym with an old friend – someone I’ve known for over 15 years. We’ve known each other since high school, and though our lives have gone different ways at different times in adulthood, we have reconnected recently since I moved back to our hometown.

During our time at the gym (we call it “treadmill therapy”), she confided to me that she and her husband are starting marriage counseling. As she shared this deeply intimate struggle in her life, she said to me, “I’ve felt like I can’t talk to anyone about this. I can’t tell my parents, and I can’t talk to anyone at church about it.” She’s felt isolated and alone – navigating the murky waters of the sea of marital conflict on her own.

Her experience is just one of many similar to it. Bible-believing, faithful, church-going men and women who sit in pews every single week are battling unseen conflicts on their own, without a community to circle up around them and go to war with them.

Why? That’s the question I’ve not been able to answer, yet. I don’t understand why it’s been so hard for us to find a community of gospel friendships. I don’t understand why it’s easier to find camaraderie among coworkers than among co-laborers in the church. I think familiarity has something to do with it – the more you’re around someone, the more the relationship grows. Yet, if the gospel is anything, it should be the ultimate source of familiarity – our mutual need for grace in light of our shared weakness.

As you can see, I have more questions than answers. Have you had this struggle in your adult life? Have you ever had to start over and build new friendships? What was your experience like?

5 Free Digital Discipleship Tools to Connect You to God’s Word in 2017

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As we approach New Year’s Eve, now is the time to make New Year’s resolutions for lifestyle changes in 2017. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve resolved to spend more time in God’s Word next year. Whether you want to read the Bible more consistently or work on scripture memory, here are five digital discipleship tools that are free and effective for connecting you to God’s Word.

1. The Marketplace Ambassador Advancement System (advance.cbmc.com): Discipleship is not only an individual experience, it’s meant to be experienced in community, just like Jesus shared his life with his twelve disciples. The Advancement System is an excellent platform for diving into God’s Word with another person in an authentic life-on-life, discipling relationship. This resource contains bible studies, audio files, videos and more to encourage men and women in the marketplace to be ambassadors for Christ in their workplaces, churches, homes and communities. It’s constantly updated with new and improved resources, and it also comes in app form. The Advancement System is your Great Commission tool-belt for discipling another person to spiritual maturity who can then make disciples as well.

2. First5 (first5.org): If God is first in our lives, shouldn’t we give him the first 5 minutes of each day? That is the premise behind the First 5 app. Developed by Proverbs 31 Ministries, the mission of First 5 is to connect a woman’s heart to God in the first 5 minutes of her day. You can set an alarm in the app to notify you each morning, so you can wake up with a short teaching from God’s Word in order to “exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world” (Lysa TerKeurst).

3. She Reads Truth & He Reads Truth (Shereadstruth.com/Hereadstruth.com): Whether you’re a man or a woman, getting in God’s Word is essential for spiritual growth. These websites (and apps) provide bible studies with stunning visuals to engage your mind with scripture.

4. Got Questions (GotQuestions.org): Sometimes, we encounter Scripture and it leaves us with more questions than answers. This website, and app, is an excellent tool for finding answers to many commonly asked questions about the Bible, doctrine, Church history, and more. You can also submit questions if you can’t find what you’re looking for in their database.

5. YouVersion (youversion.com): This app has been downloaded over 200 million times, so you may already be familiar with this resource. YouVersion is an excellent tool because it offers a variety of translations, whether you want to read the Bible or hear it. It provides options for accountability and keeping track of your progress. Plus, there are constantly new features added, including an option to create scripture images to share with others through social media or via text.

Whatever your spiritual goals are for 2017, these five digital discipleship tools will help you stay consistent and track your progress throughout the year.

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