Clearing the Clutter to Make Room for Something Better

The holidays have passed. The kids are back to school. The Christmas décor is sagging, reflecting the hurried pace of the last few weeks. Sigh. Time to pack them away for next year.

It’s ironic that in the rush of the preparation for the big day (Christmas), the peace of Christ can seem illusive and slightly out of reach – lost in the crowded malls, long lines, overcrowded schedules and unrealistic expectations. The voice of God that should be preeminent this time of year can too often seem distant – drowned and muffled by the voices telling me to “go”, “do”, “eat” and “spend”.

The week after Christmas is one of my favorite weeks of the year because the pace of life slows down dramatically.

This year in particular, our family made a conscious decision to hit “pause” to create space to rest, reflect, refresh and enjoy relationships.

No schedule. No commitments. I didn’t cook. Didn’t do laundry. Didn’t clean our house. I bought a ham, a palette of Cup of Noodles, made sure we had cereal, juice and milk and called it good. (In case you’re wondering about vegetables, there are a small handful of freeze-dried peas and carrots in every cup of noodles.)

Don’t judge me. It was only one week.

As the pace of life slowed and our scheduled enjoyed some much needed breathing room, I began to realize how easy it is to substitute activity for relationship. Spending a lot of time with someone doesn’t guarantee that you’ll truly see them, intently listen to them and authentically connect with them.

Could the same can be true regarding our relationship with God? Can we become so consumed with our Christian activity that we overlook the necessity of pausing long enough to hear His voice? Stopping to appreciate the nuanced beauty of His creation? Lingering to enjoy His presence?

We can go to church, serve in ministry and even read the Bible, yet still fail to see Jesus, hear His voice and connect with Him intimately. Time with God isn’t a box we check off every day. It should be a delight, not an obligation. Yet, when our schedules scream it can easily be reduced to a task in a long line of duties and expectations.

In a culture that values how fast we run, how much we do, how full our schedules are, Jesus, during His ministry on earth, modeled something quite different for us. He exemplified an unhurried life that valued and delighted in spending time alone with His Father. The book of Luke gives us a glimpse into how Jesus handled the delicate tension between the demands of His schedule and His relationship with His Heavenly Father:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16

Jesus was unquestionably a busy man whose time was in great demand. He also possessed God’s perfect love and intense compassion for people, feeling the weight of every need, every heart break and every loss. Yet, He wasn’t driven to meet every need and demand.

Jesus’ schedule wasn’t dictated by the circumstances surrounding Him. He made time alone with his Father His first priority and that is what fueled the rest of His decisions and charted the course of His day.

The clutter of activity and over-commitment wearies our soul but doesn’t take us very far. 

Jesus knew this.

Jesus knew that He couldn’t meet every need and make everybody happy.

Jesus knew that true worth and value are found in intimate relationships, not in big crowds, productivity and packed schedules.

He knew that clarity for his life could only be found through spending time in the presence of God.

jesus-knew-that-clarity-and-rest-are-only-found-when-we-create-space-for-the-presence-of-god

Jesus knew that clarity and rest are only found when we create space for the presence of God. 

Jesus knew that to hear the voice of God, you had to clear away the noise and clutter.

And Jesus knew that it’s in the silence, in the space, where God begins to transform us. 

This year, let’s make a commitment to pull away, create space, be present and listen to God who’s desperately longing to speak to us.

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Living for a Bigger Story

 

I love using the mobile app Waze to find my way around town. The calm, computer-generated voice gives me the assurance that I’m going to arrive at my desired destination. Every turn is anticipated, mapped out and scripted for me, highlighting where the accidents and heavy traffic are. Shoots, I’m even made aware of the upcoming potholes and unexpected objects in the road! It’s comforting to drive when I know there are no surprises in store for me.

But real-life isn’t like driving with Waze. It’s not like strolling through a flowery meadow or floating gently in a pool on an air mattress with a fruity iced tea in hand (you know, the kind with the toothpick umbrella containing the pineapple and maraschino cherry)?

God doesn’t guide us through life, whispering step-by-step instructions to us.

Rather, I’ve found real-life to more closely resemble climbing a rugged mountain or traversing a forging stream. It’s full of unexpected objects in the road, detours and last minute course adjustments.

And instead of using a detailed road map to direct our every step, we’re asked to use our faith and trust God.

For a person like me who has control issues, this can be troubling – even terrifying at times.

“Just tell me what to do, Jesus, and I’ll do it. Point me in the right direction and I’ll walk.”

But what do I do in the silence?

How do I walk forward when I can’t clearly see the direction I’m supposed to go?

How do I have faith when things are uncertain?

How do I trust God when I don’t see any evidence of results?

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, we see two kinds of people contrasted: those who lack faith and those who have great faith.

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:5, 6

Ouch! Jesus goes to his hometown – the town where He was raised, the streets where He probably played as a kid, the families and friends He grew up with – and Jesus was stunned, shocked, amazed by their lack of faith. People whom Jesus knew, loved and cared about, didn’t believe He was who He said He was and that He was able to do what He said He could do.

In Luke 7, we see another interaction Jesus has, this time with a centurion (a Roman officer who was in charge of 100 men). The centurion had a servant who was sick and dying so he sent someone to go find Jesus to help.

So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. Luke 7:6-7

This man believed the spoken words of Jesus had more than enough power to heal his servant. What a huge statement of faith, especially when you take into consideration that this man was a Roman centurion and not even Jewish!

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke 7:9

Two different times, Jesus was amazed. He was amazed at the lack of faith from the Jewish people He knew intimately and loved deeply and He was amazed at the great faith of a stranger who He didn’t know and had never met.

If Jesus looked at your faith – the great things you’re attempting, the bold things you’re believing He will do, your expectation for God to stretch you and use you in the lives of others…

Would He be amazed by your faith?

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Does your life point others to the greatness of God?

Or… would He be amazed at your lack of faith – limited by a small-thinking, fear-filled, self-engrossed, adventure-less life?

I desperately want my life to resemble a life of great faith, but if I am to be completely honest, I often reduce my life to become manageable, reasonable, attainable and pretty average. I follow my map, consult my budget, plan my timeline and believe for things that don’t require much faith at all. Really, they’re things I can probably accomplish on my own strength.

Oh, but God desires to stretch us!

To enlarge our faith, for God to be made so big in our life that others want to know about the God we serve.

Consider whose amazing faith your life better resembles – the Jewish people from Jesus’ hometown or the Roman Centurion?

When our faith is small, our focus becomes small. We look for answers instead of looking to Christ. We trust in our personal road map for our life instead of trusting God. We ask for things we think we need instead of asking for more of Him in our life. Instead of partnering with God and what He is doing in the world we bask in the comfort of our own minute, selfishly-focused perspective.

Does your life tell a bigger story? When the world sees my life, I want to be a reflection, not of what Kris can do in her own power and planning, but in the greatness of what God can do through a life that is fully surrendered and possesses amazing faith in an Almighty God.

Don’t live a smaller story – a story that tells about a safe, calculated faith.

Ask God to stir your heart to take a step of faith.

Who knows? Just maybe many months (or perhaps years) from now you will look at all that God has done and you’ll be able to trace back to this moment when God inspired you to believe Him for something that could not have happened without amazing faith being partnered with His presence and power.

 

Contagiously Clean

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13

Leprosy is a horrible disease that affects the skin destroys the nerve endings, making its victim unable to feel anything. Sores break out on the skin and when they begin to ulcerate, the smell is horrible. Those diagnosed with leprosy were declared “unclean” in the Jewish culture, and because leprosy was contagious, those who contracted it were forbidden to live in the community. They were considered outcasts and even those who touched them would also be considered unclean.

In this Bible story, Luke tells us that this man was covered in leprosy. Imagine the disfigurement. Sense the stench coming from his body. Feel the fear that gripped people as they saw this man enter the community, their community – a community filled with their children and the people they loved. And this man had the audacity to enter their midst, with his body decaying and oozing leprosy in their town.

What would you do? How would you treat this man? Honestly, I would grab my kids and run. Sadly, I don’t think I would even try to be kind or compassionate; I’d be more concerned about staying away from him.

Most likely this man was used to rude treatment, insensitive comments, fearful gazes and people shrinking back in his presence. He had lived as an outcast, rejected by society, a disgrace to his family, and shunned in the Jewish culture.

In desperation, as a last resort, this man musters a shred of hope and cries out to Jesus, “If you are willing…”

Notice that he didn’t say, “If you are able…” This man knew rejection. He wore the scars of shame. He lived in the shadows as an outcast—unloved, unwanted, unaccepted and avoided by people. His concern wasn’t in Christ’s ability. It was Jesus’ willingness to help him.

Would Jesus help someone like me?

Could Jesus love – or even kinda care about – someone like me?

And Jesus responds by touching him.

What a tender moment Luke captures! Jesus touched the man before he cleansed him. He drew near to this man while he was still unclean, still an outcast, still unacceptable, still avoided by society. Jesus identifies with him by becoming unclean himself before He heals him.

Is your story any different? Not really. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul reminds us that

God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

It is in our uncleanliness, in our pain, in our ugliness that Jesus extends His love to cleanse and heal our lives. In our awkwardness and feeling alienated from God, Jesus reaches out to us and does a beautiful thing.

He becomes sin for us, sharing our pain, taking the burden of our shame upon Himself.

Sin, like leprosy, isolates us, cloaking us in shame. Even more importantly, it isolates us from God. It’s highly contagious – running unrestrained and rampant in our world like chicken pox in an elementary school.

Shame tells us that what we’ve done is too bad to be forgiven, that our mistakes are irreparable and our failures are unrecoverable. Shame whispers to us that our lives are beyond repair.

But to the contrary, Jesus is contagiously clean. Anything He touches is restored. Anything in His presence is transformed, made holy, righteous and whole. In His light, the darkness of shame begins to recede, making way for truth. Pure, hope-full, grace-filled truth!

Our failures become opportunities for growth, our mistakes are forgiven, leaving us to experience His abundant grace generously, and undeservedly poured out to us.

You don’t have to shrink back in fear; you no longer have to live isolated, bound by sin and cloaked in shame.

You don’t have to doubt God’s willingness to cleanse you.

In Christ, you are clean.

What fear, failure or feeling of shame keeps you from believing the truth that, in Christ, you are clean?

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7