Thursday, February 25, 2016


In church on Sunday morning, our associate pastor posed three questions: What are you struggling with in your life? Do you believe you can let go of your "baggage"? Can you trust God to help? These questions, along with a skit that involved my friend Dan describing his "baggage" and giving it to God, have stuck with me all week.

I have been thinking about what happens when I try to give all my stuff to God. After the skit ended at church, I kept waiting for the moment when Dan would come running back to try to pick up his baggage again. Because that's what I do. I give something to God, but after a while I go pick it up again. How can I release it completely?

Since I began asking that question, I feel that I have gotten some answers.


First... while it's important that I put down my baggage, I realized it is also necessary to pick up something else to carry. I recall the story Jesus told in Matthew 12, in which an impure/unclean spirit comes out of a person, but later it returns and finds the house "unoccupied, swept clean and put in order." So it moves back in and brings along some of its buddies, and the person is worse off than they had been in the first place.

What this is saying to me is that I cannot expect to simply drop whatever my "baggage" or other issues are; there is more that must take place. If I release all these things and walk away with empty arms, it is far too easy to pick them back up. After all, I am accustomed to carrying them, so I find myself looking for something to fill my arms. Thankfully there is something else, something better, for me to carry. In Matthew 11, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I can pick up his "yoke" instead. In other words, I can fill my empty arms with his freedom and love. 


But even after coming to that answer, I still found myself wrestling with it. Sometimes I find myself drawn back to the very things I've tried to release. And yes, this is partially because I am accustomed to them, but it is also partially because I feel like I can't resist them; they are stronger than me.

In 2 Chronicles 20, when Israel was about to be invaded and attacked by a vast, powerful army, Jehoshaphat admitted that they did not have the power to face the army, and he prayed, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

And God responded, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s... You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you."

My baggage may feel bigger and stronger than me, but the battle against it is not mine, it is God's. The things that tempt me, weigh me down, or hold me back... these things are actually not stronger than me-- because God is in me. The one who fashioned my heart (Psalm 33:15) and empathizes with my weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15)... he is in me, and he has defeated them all. They may feel incredibly weighty and overwhelming to me, but they do not have power over me unless I give them that power.

Can I trust God to help me let go of my baggage? Yes, because he is the one who can be trusted to emerge victorious. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Earlier this week, I read through the books of James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. I started reading and I just couldn't stop. The words I read confronted me with the truth of who I am in comparison to who God wants me to be. They paint a clear picture of the type of person a committed follower of Jesus will be... and I still have such a long way to go. They also paint a clear picture of the weight of Jesus' sacrifice. I can't get over the tragedy and beauty of innocent blood spilled-- God's blood spilled-- for me and the lousy things I have done and still do. Willingly, lovingly, purposefully, he did this for me.

And I take it for granted! I think when you've spent your lifetime in church, it can be far too easy for these ideas of sin, sacrifice, forgiveness, and grace to become... routine. I am guilty of becoming so accustomed to hearing about these things that I barely think about what they really mean. And at the same time, I become so comfortable with forgiveness and grace that sometimes I fail to take my own sin seriously.

Here is my truth: I am all too often enticed by desires that are not reflective of Christ. I say and do things I shouldn't, and I don't do things I know I should. I can be selfish, proud, and judgmental. A hypocrite. I can speak beautiful words of faith, but too often my actions don't reflect my words. And many times I don't take my own propensity for sin very seriously. I can too easily dismiss or rationalize my own sin. When I examine myself I find that sometimes I cling tightly to things I should not, and am more grieved by the thought of letting them go than I am by the depths of my own brokenness.

I am assured that I do not need to feel shame or fear, and that I can embrace God's forgiveness and grace. But at the same time, I am reminded not to take my propensity for sin lightly, and not to take God's grace for granted. I must take my brokenness seriously, just as Christ's death and resurrection are serious.

So far my journey through Lent has led me to a place of confession and repentance. I have come face to face with my brokenness and I no longer want to attempt to ignore it, justify it, or cover it up. Neither do I want to beat myself up emotionally over it. So I have spent a lot of time in prayer, telling God that I recognize my brokenness, and I want him to take it and turn it into something better. Something beautiful. Something I cannot create on my own.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Over the past few days, I have been thinking about what to give up for Lent. I knew I didn't want to give up something that had no spiritual significance for me, just to check off the "fasted for Lent" box on my Good Christian card. Nor did I want to sacrifice something that was merely outward. I could give up chocolate or stay off Facebook (well... maybe), but for me, that would be more about fasting for appearance. And I seem to recall that Jesus had something to say about that.

No, I knew that God was asking for something else from me... something beyond the surface, something heart-deep. And so I began to look beneath the outward actions and instead considered what's within. What attitudes do I hold that are holding me back from living like Christ? Every day there are desires within that pull me away from where my heart and focus should be. I have my pet sins that are so familiar they are almost like muscle memory-- I do them automatically, it seems, without even thinking. And if I'm being really honest, sometimes I don't want to let go of these things because they are comfortable or even enjoyable. But they are not reflective of Christ.

At our Ash Wednesday service, our pastor's words reminded me that God desires a full commitment from me every day. Or as another pastor I follow on Twitter (Eugene Cho) put it, God is saying, "I didn't ask you to give up coffee or candy. I asked you to surrender your life."

One of the readings at church was from Joel 2:13, which says, "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."

I think that is one of the most thrilling things about God. He sees all the ways I fall short, the attitudes and desires I harbor, and the pet sins. He knows it all, and it ain't pretty. But he is not angry. He is gracious and compassionate. His love, mercy, and forgiveness draw me in and compel me to follow. As the final hymn tonight said, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." I am not being called to sacrifice something on a surface level, I am being called to give my heart. All of it, even the messy and broken parts. Especially the messy and broken parts.

So I am beginning Lent with a desire to seek God, to sacrifice whatever keeps me from following him wholeheartedly, and to continue being transformed into someone who reflects the love and grace of Christ.