Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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What’s True No Matter What We Hear or How We Feel

A saleslady followed me as I hurried through her tiny shop in the Albanian airport. With a few English phrases and a heavy accent, she attempted to peak my interest in various trinkets. But I didn’t see anything that appeared authentically eastern European.

I picked up a jewelry box.  Pleased by my attention to something, finally, the saleslady leaned in and whispered,

It’s handmade in Korea.”

Amused, I returned the jewelry box to its shelf and rushed off to the gate with nothing except a story about Albanian souvenirs made in Korea. I found this experience hilarious and even wrote a blog post about authenticity, based on the jewelry box from Korea.

Eight months later I returned to Albania and traveled to Kruja, a town known for its quaint shops of handmade goods. And there, I realized that “Kruja” sounded like “KreeYA” (or “Korea” to my foreign ears). I had misheard the saleslady, and the jewelry box was authentically Albanian after all.

My story had a punch line, and the joke was on me!

But truth be told, the ears of my soul have experienced hearing problems too. Perhaps you can relate with where I am most susceptible: somewhere deep inside my soul, I hear that my worth is based on my performance or tangible measures like job status or blog stats or “likes” on social media.

I falsely believe that I am accepted because of what I do rather than what Jesus has already done.

Of course, this deep-down whisper that I need to have it all together to be worthy is a lie from the enemy, a falsehood that deserves to be placed back on the shelf. But I tend to cradle it for a while.

Sometimes it sounds like this:

I wish I were more like that person.

What I have to offer is too small.

I am invisible.

Even as I struggle with insecurity in my writing/blogging (should I give up? is it worth it?) I enjoy the opportunity to review books occasionally. A few weeks ago, I signed up to read and review Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing Life Growth Guide. I confess it wasn’t a “oh-I-really-need-to-learn-from-this” as much as it was a “okay-I-like-free-stuff-send-me-the-book” decision.

God is so good and He knows what we need before the realization ever crosses our minds. And so, Session Two: What’s True No Matter How We Feel was written for me. The book review invitation was sent just to me. And the postal carrier smiled knowingly when she came to my door.

(I’m kidding, of course, but isn’t it sweet to be reminded of how God knows us and speaks to us in such creative, personal, and affirming ways?)

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In Session Two, Holley encourages me to hold to what’s true, no matter how I feel. She writes that the enemy wants to make us like anyone but Jesus. Deception, insecurity, comparison, and discouragement are his strategies. Often, he utilizes a subtle, familiar question:

Did God really say ….? (to Eve, in Genesis 3:1)

In Holley’s words, it’s here – Genesis 3:1 – where insecurity makes its debut, and the question takes on various versions:

Did God really say you’re loved?

Did God really say you’re accepted?

Did God really say you’re chosen?

Did God really say you’re forgiven?

What if Eve had paused for a moment, considered the truth of what God had said, and refused to receive the enemy’s seed of doubt? Of course we won’t know the answer to that question, but we have moments of decision too.

God wants us to understand who He created us to be so that we can fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. And He has told us in His Word. It’s clear and authentic. When we hear the Truth, we don’t have to wonder where it came from.

Yes, God really did say that He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

Yes, God really did say that I am adopted into His family (Romans 8:14 – 17).

Yes, God really did say that I am His workmanship, chosen and created specifically and uniquely by Him (Ephesians 2:10).

Yes, God really did say that He has removed my sins from me, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

In the Life Growth Guide, Holley offers tools to help readers tune in to these life-changing truths. By walking through the guide, I’ve become attentive to what I’m hearing, mindful of what God says about me in Scripture, and equipped to replace lies with the Truth:

When the enemy tells me that I am a failure, I trust that I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me (Romans 8:37).

When the enemy tells me that the past is a source of shame, I claim the promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

When the enemy says that that my struggles will drive me to despair, I consider my trials as joy because their result is maturity and perseverance (James 1: 2- 4).

Psalm 33:4 says that “The word of the Lord is right and true.” As we sit with God’s written Word and seek His Spirit, our spiritual ears are increasingly tuned to His voice. If accusation comes from within, we can discern it as a sour note and replace it with the truth. When we need correction, God’s Word convicts but never condemns. His Word, in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit, is always consistent with His true and trustworthy character.

Our hands are incapable of containing the whole of God’s voice, of course, but imagine with me the joy of wrapping fingers around such an authentic treasure and never, ever returning it, with disinterest, to a shelf.

Let’s open our Bibles and start there.

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I encourage you to check out the resources which accompany You’re Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be. Visit www.HolleyGerth.com/amazing.

There are several ways to use the Life Growth Guide in conjunction with Scripture. The six sessions are designed to be utilized individually or with pairs/groups – in person or online.

  1. Who God Created Us to Be
  2. What’s True No Matter How We Feel
  3. Our Amazing Journey with Jesus
  4. God’s Plan for Our Relationships
  5. God’s Purpose for Our Lives
  6. How We Can Thrive for a Lifetime

I’m currently participating in the You’re Already Amazing Life Growth book club. Each week I receive an email reminder and I watch the corresponding video at HolleyGerth.com/amazing. (There is a free online video for each of the six sessions). The videos are also available on DVD. As a bonus, Holley has created some goodies to go along with the You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide. Go to her website to print, pin, or share these pieces of word art to remind you of what’s true!

I received a copy of the Life Growth Guide from Revell in exchange for my review. The expressed opinions are purely my own.

 


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Take Your Journey: Words of Blessing for Graduates

Dear Graduate,

In Deuteronomy 1:7, the Lord said to Moses, “Turn and take your journey …” It was time for the children of Israel to possess the land that God had promised their forefathers. Like them, you stand at the brink of newness where your days are marked with change and potential.

As I think of you, I remember words of blessing and wisdom that friends, counselors, and mentors have shared with me. I haven’t always heeded them as I would like, but I remember that the origin of the word “graduate” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “a step.” Each day you and I have fresh opportunities to step forward, learn, and take our journey. May these words help us to remember why we walk in Christ:

May you live with eternity in your heart, knowing Jesus and following Him wholeheartedly. When you ask Jesus to enter your heart, you begin an everlasting relationship with Him, and I pray that you will take this lifetime to enjoy and love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Commit your ways to Him, and He will guide your steps. Every blessing in Christ is yours, and all your days on earth aren’t enough to fully grasp how rich you are. But take His Word, like a treasure map, and press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ.

May you be a Grace-Receiver. You’ve spent most of your life as an achiever, and we celebrate your accomplishments. But when it comes to life in Christ, you cannot earn more of His love and grace. He has already lavished His affection upon you, giving His precious and holy Son so that you can draw near. No matter your status or title (or lack thereof), you are fully significant and treasured in God’s sight. There are no degrees of His love toward you. So when the world asks you to prove yourself, remember your place in God’s heart.

As a beloved child of God and a receiver, you are also a Releaser.  You have a sacred responsibility to help others realize their belovedness. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Live with awareness that the things you own can eventually own you, if you let them. In this fresh place in your life, determine now to devote your gifts, resources, and time to His Kingdom where your investments will never spoil, fade, or perish. I pray that you live with upturned palms, releasing your plans and your possessions and watching what God does with your loaves and fishes.

May you reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son as you discover the joy of giving bountifully. God created you with something to offer, and may you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – release His goodness into your world.

May you see yourself and others as Image-Bearers. In the wise words of Sally Clarkson, “Deciding to like yourself is a choice to validate God’s design.” Yours is a high calling to add beauty, in your unique way, to this world. Turn down the volume on your inner critic and move courageously into that which makes you experience God’s smile. And may your eyes see the people in your path as fellow souls and may your voice speak for the inherent value of every person at all stages in life’s spectrum.

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Embrace weakness as a teacher. Remember that God isn’t waiting on you to be perfect; He is waiting on you to say Yes. May you realize that your inadequacies are invitations for God to work as only He can, showing His great strength and revealing His glory.

Flickr, Walt Stoneburner, CC 2.0

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Live fully in the blessings and responsibilities of community. For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. May your relationships be at a soul-level where you are mutual speakers and receivers of truth, courage, and grace. This requires you to communicate beyond letters and images on a device.

Be attentive to the generations before and behind you; in them lie precious opportunities for learning and legacy.

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May you rejoice with those who rejoice; and in times of weeping, may yours be the comfort of “common fortitude.” Let your knees bend beside others before a grace-filled table. Oftentimes this requires humility and forgiveness on your part.

Your place in the Body of Christ is a gift, but it is not without challenges. After all, community is where you learn to love others as Christ loves. As you seek to live authentically in community – with fellow, messy people – God will do His deepest transformative work in you.

Understand the difference between image and identity. Our culture simultaneously encourages “image-is-everything” and “be-true-to-yourself.”  But these mindsets can’t co-exist harmoniously. As we increasingly invest our efforts in image management, we are displacing our true identities. According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. That’s you, child of God; Scripture declares that your origin – your living and moving and being – is found in Him. We live, however, in a society where values and standards are relative, undisputed evidence is disregarded, and anything is fair game for dispute, especially our Creator and the Truth that He embodies. And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

Graduate, may you grasp this distinction and choose to be true to your origin, your Creator. He will ask you to follow His revolutionary ways where the last is first and the least is the greatest. May your reputation be less about your image and more about your influence for Christ. You are not defined by your selfie.

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Don’t be afraid of stillness. Align your life with God’s pace rather than taking on the cultural badge of busy-ness. Solitude opens your ear to God’s voice, and it is a gentleness not to be feared. Setting margins is hard work – and counter-cultural – but you will be blessed beyond measure by the time you prioritize for prayer, listening, and paying attention to what God is doing in and around you. May your outward life grow from His peaceful presence within.

It may be tempting for you to spread yourself in service, but may you understand that “saying yes to everyone is not the same as saying yes to God” (Lysa TerKeurst). As a recovering people-pleaser, I often wondered how Jesus could walk away when crowds of needful people sought Him. But I’m learning that God was His pacesetter, and Jesus exemplified the significance of time alone with the Father, taking rest, and determining to do nothing except His Father’s will. God offers us more than full schedules; He offers us life to the full, and I pray you will discern the difference.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Doing less when we’re in God’s will is far more efficient than doing the most we can on our own (Holley Gerth).

Pay attention to your “shoulds” (as in “I should do this or I should do that”). Not all “shoulds” are bad; if you’re a college graduate, you obviously told yourself many times that you should get up and go to class and you should study for your exams. But some shoulds are legalistic and demanding and woven into our lives so subtly that we don’t notice that the threads are suffocating ourselves and our relationships (I should have it all together or You should make me happy).

As I make more of God’s acceptance, I am less inclined to boss myself and my people around. And I’m finding that this perspective doesn’t lead to passivity; in fact, it enlarges my freedom and capacity to act, love, and serve – out of grace, not guilt. And I learn that laughing at myself is not a bad thing; perhaps I should do it more often.

Don’t get too comfy. If you can accomplish your goals with your resources, your plans are too small. God can do anything big with anyone willing.

Take any opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of your neighborhood, zip code, state, and country. Ask Jesus to give you His eyes for the world. Pursue a life that is large in love and solidarity for your worldwide brothers and sisters. Each day, ask God to show you how He wants you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Oftentimes this request will lead you beyond your own capacity and comforts, but as God plots your course for His glory, get ready for more grace and fulfillment than you ever imagined.

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Live open-handed in the ordinary. May you understand the necessity and value of faithfulness in life’s mundane moments. Whether you are going to a job day in and day out, or meeting one more deadline, or maintaining the car, or working through piles of laundry, see these opportunities as your places to worship and serve God.

Don’t compartmentalize your life into secular and sacred. All Christ-followers are called to full-time service, wherever our mission fields lie. Remember that Jesus called ordinary men and women in the midst of their ordinary lives, and the Gospel spread throughout the world without televisions, telephones, or social media. You have this one life to tell God’s story, so be salt and light wherever you are.

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Choose gratitude. May the Holy Spirit open your hands and lift your arms in praise, even when – especially when – life is hard. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it” (A. W. Tozer). Instead of complaining or fretting, settle yourself in the One who loves you to the extent of giving Himself in your stead; allow trust in His character and His goodness to permeate your soul.

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May you have days when the sunshine warms you and God delights you with love and laughter. Celebrate His gifts everyday. May our Lord open your soul-ears to hear the song He sings over you. May you always remember the wonder of being called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Gratefully breathe every breath for the glory of God.

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“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23 – 26).

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 17

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What I’m Learning about Authenticity

A saleslady followed me as I hurried around the tiny shop in the Albanian airport. With a few English words and a heavy accent, she attempted to peak my interest in a few trinkets. I had explained to my daughter that I wouldn’t be able to shop during the mission trip, but I wanted to bring her something anyway. With a ticket to home in hand, this shop presented the last opportunity to find something original from a faraway land.

But I couldn’t find anything that appeared authentically eastern European. My eyes landed on something purple, my daughter’s favorite color, so I picked up the little jewelry box.  Pleased by my attention to something, finally, the saleslady leaned in and whispered a special secret:

It’s handmade in Korea.”

Ah, the pursuit of authenticity.

What does it look like? Will I know it when I see it?

You and I live in a media-driven world that allows us to express ourselves on a larger scale than ever before while enhancing and lessening the likelihood of true authenticity. Our modes of expression range from superficial – like Snapchat photos – to sincere – as in honest reflections posted on a blog. There can be a place for both, I think. Some days I just want to post something trivial like a picture of my dog enjoying a summertime car ride. Other times I share thoughtful words. But lately, more often than ever before, I ask myself why I share at all, especially as a blog writer.

Parenting a preteen daughter prompts me to think about these things. Her generation is all about presenting the right image, generated through snapshots that capture them with the hip clothes, popular friends, and coolest experiences.

Our culture encourages an image-is-everything mindset while also promoting authenticity as one of the most desirable character traits. “Authenticity” is one of the trendiest topics online (especially for bloggers), and everyone’s interested in “keeping it real.” It’s intriguing to me how the timing of the authenticity conversation has, for the most part, coincided with the upsurge in technology.

Is it even possible for a person to possess both an image-generated identity and authenticity?

According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. In a culture where trends, values, and standards are constantly in flux, images are fleeting. When everything is relative or virtual, undisputed evidence is disregarded. In cultural discourse, anything is fair game for dispute, even our Creator and the Truth that He embodies.

And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

It’s a really important distinction.

As a Christian who has social media connections and a blog, I often wrestle with having a public image and being real. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gently reminds me to consider the state of my heart when I’m more concerned with my stats. Months ago, when I wrote about cancer, loss, and grief, I lost subscribers. Statistics, they say, don’t lie.  I lost an audience yet gained hope and purpose and a redemptive thread to weave into my words.

I can write about what people want to read, according to the stats, but if it’s not true to the Reason I write, the Origin of all truth and all healing, then my writing becomes more about my own image and less about the One whose image I humbly bear.

Some of my favorite writers who happen to have large followings share stories of heartache & failure, ask honest and hard questions, and are raising awareness of extreme poverty, injustice, and human trafficking – not exactly feel-good topics. I’m not suggesting a correlation between shallowness and popularity. My personal lesson is to listen to the Spirit and examine my heart and not my site hits. It also gives me permission to stop trying so hard.

I’m all for removing the masks but authenticity, as the current trend, can become just another form of image management or self-presentation.  We rally around those who share their weaknesses, and rightfully so, but we also shy away from “Too Much Information” especially in a public forum. Authenticity, on a horizontal plane, can only extend – or heal – so far.

I’m learning this — trying too hard to be authentic eventually presents as being inauthentic.

These are lessons I’m learning in all areas of my life, not just my writing. The contexts where authenticity means the most are my closest relationships. I hope that my family and friends can count on me to be the same person at home or church or work or play.

Authencity is a simplifier. Yes, I still want to post pictures of my (cutest ever) dog. I don’t want to hide from a social media world. But I need to take care that I’m not conforming through lots of costume & content changes in order to feel approved. I want my inmost tendencies to be more toward discernment and less toward disclosure.

In the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.”

When I open my soul authentically to my Creator, His approval is the fresh breath in my spiritual lungs. This allows me to inhale the sacredness of space, single-heartedness, simplicity, and the work of the Spirit.

Finding my Audience of One is all that matters.

True authenticity is, yes horizontal; but it is more essentially vertical.

If my writing portrays just another human having a human experience, it falls flat.

I want you to see Jesus. I want every part of my life to be true to Him. I want you to see that I’ve messed up. On a horizontal level, you might imagine me as a relatable person. We might feel connected to each other through the common experience of brokenness.

But there’s a vertical component to my life, and my mess-ups would separate me from God if not for His grace. I don’t want a story of all my mess-ups to make a reader feel connected with me. I want the reality of a redemptive God to inspire a reader to connect with Him.

Authenticity is less being true to one’s self and more being true to one’s origin. In Him we live and move and have our being.

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It’s possible to possess both an image-generated identity and authenticity. But only when the image of Christ generates the living and moving and being.

And, for me, the writing.

For you, it might be the teaching or the serving or the parenting or the working or the giving.

Whatever it is, image-bearer, do it as serving the Lord. You and I are authenticated by an Audience of One.

That’s all that matters.

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Psalm 51:6 – Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

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Some excellent online articles about authenticity:

Keeping It Real: The Truth about Authenticity by Megan Hill. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/september/keeping-it-real-truth-about-authenticity.html?paging=off

Does It Matter if Authenticity is Authentic? by Noam Pianko. http://shma.com/2011/12/does-it-matter-if-authenticity-is-authentic/

Authenticity, Honesty, and the Stay-At-Home-Mother by Rebecca VanDoodeWaard. http://thechristianpundit.org/2014/01/28/authenticity-honesty-and-the-stay-at-home-mother/

Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness? by Brett McCracken. http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2/