When Jesus Marveled

“Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to tho one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” Matthew 8: 5-10

Jesus marveled. A Roman centurion had faith that astounded even Jesus. He believed that his servant could be healed with just a word from the Lord. Apparently this kind of faith was pretty rare. We read this and think “well, good for him, he figured it out, whatever it is!”  But what is “it”? I think faith (the effective, Biblical kind) has been made complicated. God made it quite simple. He gives us examples in His word to show us that faith isn’t difficult or beyond us, we just need to have His perspective on things.

Simple examples from everyday life:

Roman centurions weren’t known for their love of Jesus, much less having great faith. What this man understood though, was authority. He was in charge of people. They would act at his command. He figured that if his servants obeyed him, how much more would demons have to obey God at His command? He recognized that all he needed was a word from Jesus for his servant to be healed.

No limiting Jesus:

The centurion recognized Jesus didn’t need to physically come all the way out to the house to heal his servant. Jesus knew it too, of course. The Roman spoke what he understood to Jesus, essentially saying “this is how I understand it to work… so if this is correct, save yourself the trip and just speak the word!” Jesus is gracious to meet us where we are – He’s always willing to “make the trip” for us. How beautiful though, when we understand His ways more fully and step into line with them the way this man did!

He was spiritually-minded

The Roman understood one thing that is easy to forget: the Truth of the unseen world is stronger than the ‘truth’ of our physical world. The world we see was created as a result of there first being a spiritual realm. It was called into existence because God spoke it. The Bible tells us that this physical world is changeable but the spiritual realm is fixed (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Being spiritually-minded doesn’t mean we discount or ignore problems. We read “be spiritually-minded” and wonder if we’re just supposed to think positive thoughts and hope for the best. But anyone can tell you that doesn’t work.  When we see physical problems, we zone in on them and then ask God for help. His Truth goes out of focus. When our minds are fixed on just the physical, we can’t operate in God’s Truth. The Bible tells us that to be spirit-minded is life and peace, while being carnally minded is death (Romans 8:6). He is telling us to get our minds off of what we see and feel and onto His Truth. In a world that tells us to focus on our feelings and how every little thing affects us, it’s no wonder we don’t see faith operating the way it should. God doesn’t want us to deny a  problem – He is asking us to deal with it from the spiritual side.

Faith makes the unseen visible

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  This is a very popular verse. I always skimmed over it thinking faith is just a kind of hope that we have for something that hasn’t happened yet. But it says evidence of things not seen. It doesn’t say “evidence of things that don’t exist. There is a huge difference! We aren’t hoping for pie in the sky things that don’t exist, calling them into being like some magician. That’s not God and it’s not Biblical. Our faith is for things that exist, but aren’t seen or manifest yet because they are in the spiritual realm. Our job is to plug in and come into agreement with God and get those things into the physical! 

This goes totally against the world we live in. It’s not natural to put more stock in the invisible than we do the visible. But by abiding in God’s Truth, soaking in the word and letting it take root, it can happen. The Roman soldier knew something I wish I had known a long time ago: all it takes is a word from God and belief on our part to believe that He can do it. That’s it.

It’s important to open the Word and see it with fresh eyes. It can be hard. Things don’t always jump off the page and excite us. We are trained to move on to the next thing if we aren’t entertained. But we have to keep at it. Sometimes we need Jesus to come all the way out to our house and meet us there. It’s ok. He’s happy to do it. How powerful, though, to have a simple faith that takes Him at His spoken word.

This Roman was about the least qualified person in Israel to understand what he did. Part of his very job was to keep the Jesus people at bay. His simple acceptance of who Christ was opened the door for him. Jesus marveled at his faith, not because he had figured out a complex, hidden mystery of the ages, but because he really believed in the person of Jesus and in His power. The invisible became visible.

It just takes one word.

A Blazingly Holy Life

IMG_1790“Do I believe I need to be holy? Do I believe that God can come into me and make me holy? If, through your preaching, you convince me that I am unholy, I then resent your preaching. The preaching of the gospel awakens an intense resentment because it is designed to reveal my unholiness, but it also awakens an intense yearning and desire within me. God has only one intended destiny for mankind – holiness. Oswald Chambers

Holiness – does the idea that we are created for this awaken resentment in us or does it encourage us to press in even harder to Jesus? What makes some resentful while some hopeful?

The reality of who WE are – sinful, struggling, imperfect – forces us to accept we will never be very good, much less HOLY. It’s an impossible goal. The heart resents what it can’t achieve. The law is impossible to fulfill. People stop here in resignation.

The reality of who CHRIST is – relational, forgiving, perfect in love – allows us to run to Him (in spite of our shortcomings) and enjoy the freedom of our salvation. He fulfilled the law, and we are free to be holy, not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of the fact that we are saved through our faith.

I think the reason people become resentful and give up is because we’ve equated “holiness” with “sainthood”. Doing good deeds. Never feeling tempted. Never failing or struggling. For those on the outside looking in, this kind of Christianity  doesn’t seem possible or attractive.

“Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also…” Matthew 23:26

Jesus went straight to the heart. He wants us to understand that what goes on inside will naturally be made known on the outside.

What if we just exuded “holiness” as a natural result of abiding with Christ? We aren’t saved because we’re holy. We are holy because we are saved. It’s a by-product of our relationship with Him. We are saved based on our faith in Jesus.

What a gift! Just to embrace the ‘new man’ that God created us to be and the gifts we receive when we put our faith in Him. How I wish people could see this in us more. It isn’t about performing or doing. It’s about receiving!

The world needs to see the joy in true holiness. It’s a fruit of our salvation, not some unattainable, dull state of being that only a few are able to reach. If we are saved through faith in Jesus, we are destined to be holy. We are made to be holy. Not perfect, but holy. Set apart.

If we are authentic, this will flow out of us like water in a fountain.

“We are saved and sanctified for God, not to be specimens in His showroom, but for God to do with us even as He did with Jesus, make us broken bread and poured-out wine as He chooses. That is the test – not spiritual fireworks or hysterics, not fanaticism, but a blazingly holy life that confronts the horror of the world with a fierce purity…” Oswald Chambers

Confront the world with a blazingly holy life. Even as broken bread and poured out wine. It isn’t unattainable or set aside for perfect saints. Confront the world with a fierce purity and natural holiness – that’s how we will make a difference in a dark world.

What Does Sovereign Really Mean?

IMG_8572And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

If you were to make a Top Ten list of most quoted Bible verses, I’m almost positive this beloved verse from Romans would be on it.  It’s a comforting message, the idea that God is in control even when adversity comes our way, God will work it out.

It’s the kind of verse you see on kitchen plaques, bookmarks, t-shirts… it’s like a warm, fuzzy sweater. Welcoming and soft.

Church teaches us that God is sovereign. We usually take it to mean that everything has to pass by Him before it comes our way.

On the surface, this idea that nothing happens with or without God’s approval is nice. In times of distress, we say things to each other like “God is in control, we have to trust His plan!” We have to conclude that if He is sovereign, He allowed the difficulty. We are told He is just putting us to the test. We experience sickness, disappointment and tragedy and force ourselves to push through it knowing God allowed it for some good reason. Right?

It’s a temporary solution. It comforts us when something awful happens, but in the long run, it just leads us to doubt His character and become totally passive. We may accept hardships as best we can, but deep down, we hold Him responsible. He could have prevented it and He didn’t. The gatekeeper let some stuff get past the gate and we aren’t sure why. It really puts us into a bind.

Thinking this way strangles our faith. If God controls every outcome, then what’s the point of praying about anything? We give up and resign ourselves to a “whatever will be will be” attitude. We’ve taken his sovereignty to mean He exercises absolute control over everything, like a king on a throne directing and dictating all that happens. The Bible never says that. There are plenty of things God desires or wills that never come to pass. And there are many awful things that happen that cannot be attributed to Him because they go against His very nature.

The book of Genesis lays out for us the whole problem that we have a tendency to forget: God gave man power and dominion over the world and man handed it right over to Satan. We live in a fallen world where sin and satan wreck havoc. Slogans like “just relax, everything will work out” lead to disaster. We have a part to play, and it isn’t a passive one:

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

This is the opposite of thinking “whatever will be will be.”  The word ‘resist’ here means to “actively fight against”. There are things of God we are to submit ourselves to and things of the devil we are to resist. Actively.

Back to the verse in Romans…

It isn’t saying that everything that comes our way is from God. It says that God can use those things and work them out “for those who LOVE God and are CALLED”. This isn’t everyone. It certainly isn’t the world at large. The previous verse says we must be willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. God desires this for everyone, of course, but it’s our choice.

Is He sovereign? Absolutely! In ways we cannot even imagine. He is above all, but He isn’t up in heaven like some cosmic man behind the curtain pulling levers deciding every outcome. He isn’t causing adversity. He will never cause something to happen that goes against His nature. Afflictions are not FROM God, they are what the enemy uses to pull us AWAY from God (Mark 4:17).  What a slick trick of the enemy though, to convince us of the opposite.

God may not be the author of the adversity, but He can bring something good out of it! That’s the difference. That’s the beauty of this verse. When we understand His ways are just and His character is good, we can trust Him. We aren’t holding our breath worried He may let something slip through the cracks to test our faith or fortitude. When we understand God is on our side it changes everything. Adversity will come, but it can’t overcome us.

So we can shout confidently, from the proverbial rooftops… or from our minivan, office, hospital bed, grocery store aisle, wherever:

“We know that all things work together for good to those who LOVE GOD, to those who are CALLED according to His purpose!” 

Trees and Branches

IMG_5297I came across a poem the other day that made me laugh. Not in the sense that it was funny, but in the sense that it was so strange it made me chuckle and cringe all at the same time. It was written by a self-proclaimed “spiritualist” and made it’s way into the “Christian” (loose air quotes here) blog world.

Here’s the crux of the poem:

You take a walk in the woods and see all these different trees. Some are crooked, some tall, some not very healthy. You understand that certain trees just didn’t get enough light or water and thats why they are how they are. You don’t get upset about it, you just accept it. So why can’t we just do that same thing with people? Why do we judge and get upset when people are not what we want them to be? We should practice turning people into trees in our head and let them be as they are.

Serious. Just imagine everyone like a messed up tree and they won’t seem so bad and you’ll be a better person for it.

It was received with a thousand “amens” and multiple comments about how practicing “non-judgment is the most important thing…” etc.

I get it, I get the gist of what the spiritual guru man is trying to say – there’s stuff that happens that makes us windswept and crooked and stumpy and imperfect and we need to let everyone be who they are. No person (or tree) is perfect. We can’t look at the faults of our fellow “trees” while ignoring our own, etc.

I appreciate the comparison, but this is where spiritualism, in all it’s fanciness, diverges with Christianity. The spiritualist reaches out and tries to make sense of the imperfect with more imperfect. It’s like a short journey down a dead-end street. As Christians, we have God’s word, thank goodness. It’s clear. It’s pretty simple. It’s always the best way. This is why I’m so cautious about these popular sites and authors who just write down whatever sounds fashionable and comfy for the moment.  When you take out God’s word and insert popular opinion, things get muddled.

I do not believe our highest goal in life should be to “not judge”… I don’ even think thats Biblical or possible. Letting people stay thirsty or in the dark (like the sad, proverbial tree in this poem) is not what God wants for anyone.

God created man in His own image, for relationship and growth and experiences. 

If we want to compare ourselves to anything in the tree family, it should be a BRANCH. Jesus gave us the example himself in John 14.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (v 5). 

Branches cannot exist on their own. They are connected to something bigger. If Christ is our vine, we have all the water and light we will ever need. Branches get pruned and taken care of so that they may bear fruit.

That wild, twisted, thirsty, light-starved tree in the poem? It bears no fruit. It’s half-dead. That’s how we would be without Jesus. The enemy would love for us to just accept that lowly position and “let it be”. Christ came to transform us, and to rescue us.

In all the “not-judging” going on, people are wilting away and starving for truth. In the name of “letting each other be”, we are letting each other remain in the dark.

I guess the tree analogy isn’t so bad after all – but it should point us to what we DON’T want to be. For the “spiritual” the very best they can hope for is acceptance of all the ugly and unhealthy in life. The most important thing to them is that we don’t judge them for it. I so wish they could see the freedom Christ offers. Living water and endless light and life when we join ourselves to the Vine. We still have our knots and bumps. We are all crooked. Branches need a lot of pruning. But we don’t have to go at it alone.

We aren’t meant to live separated from our source of water and light. And we aren’t called to leave others in the dark either. It’s ok that there are crooked, thirsty trees in our midst – we all were at one time. Let’s point them to the light and the water though, because none of us were created to stay that way.

It’s ALL Spiritual

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This is such a difficult day. Remembering the events of 13 years ago like they were both an eternity ago and yet some of it feels like yesterday.

I’m finding this to be a frustrating day as well. Frustrated at where we are at. Starving for leadership and a way past all this darkness that has in no uncertain terms, declared war on us simply for being the light.

The feeling that I want someone to stand up for us is overwhelming me today. I want someone to call it for what it is and do something about it. Recognize the enemy. Go after them.

But the opposite happens. It seems like it will continue to happen. It’s confusing and maddening.

God is patient when we’re all stirred up, He listened to me all morning rant about injustice and stupidity and evil. Then I went to the mailbox and found something I had almost forgotten about. A necklace I ordered weeks ago. It was kind of an impulse buy – proceeds went to a charity, it was cute, there was a coupon… you know how it goes. So I pulled it out and read the inscription: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. And I felt it in a different way than ever before.

“When you see only injustice…” Act justly.

“When none show mercy…” Love mercy.

“When pride is all around…” Walk humbly.

This is hard for me today. It does’t exactly flow happily through my spirit the way it did when I bought it online. Actually doing this is difficult.

Then He took me to Ephesians for another reminder that is sometimes hard to swallow.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12)

When all my anger is focused on what I can see (politicians, world events, snarky comments by others to name a few) I am missing the truth and struggling in vain. The real enemy behind all this is much bigger than any one person or group.

Without getting into all the political details… believe me this is difficult… let me just say this: we have failed to see or speak the truth about our enemy. It’s either through ignorance or on purpose, and I don’t know which is worse. God reminded me today that it’s more important than ever to speak the truth about our unseen enemy. He has declared war on us in every way and wants nothing more than to steal, kill and destroy. Pretending he isn’t there doesn’t make us any safer, it actually puts us in more danger. Ignorance leads to defeat. We are not to be ignorant of our enemy. I’m ready to roll. Bring it. Put on the full armor of God and lets do this.

Oh but there’s that Micah 6:8 verse… love, mercy and humility and all that.

I don’t feel loving today. I feel injustice piling up faster than we can shovel it away. I don’t feel very humble either. We’re right, they’re wrong. The mercy rule isn’t at the top of my list right now either. I watched the Karate Kid last night on TV and can’t help running that awful dojo teachers words through my head, “We do not train to be merciful here, mercy is for the weak!!”  Ugh. Lame.

God reminds me that while I long for earthly justice, He is eternally just. He steps in for us and defends us when others won’t. My longing for leadership brings me to the feet of Jesus, the leader and author of my life. I can’t live by the ‘no mercy’ rule because He had mercy on me. He will bring it to pass. It may be a rough ride, but He is faithful to us.

So on this day and in this age when injustice seems to rule over us… I am reminded that I am connected to the source of justice itself. A God that will stand up for me and lead in ways no earthly person ever could. He will defend us when others won’t. He knows our enemy and is able to defeat him. And though it’s hard to remember, it’s ALL spiritual.

Know the Genuine from the Counterfeit

This past week I have been all aflutter with the news that the very prominent megachurch duo Joel and Victoria Osteen made some “questionable at best, blasphemous at worst” kind of remarks and, thanks to social media, are being called out on it. For whatever reason, nothing rolls my socks as much as false and fraudulent Christianity. Taking God’s word and tweaking it for our own purposes. Making it up as we go, whatever feels comfy and cozy Christianity. Yuck. So… being in agreement that things like this need to be exposed, I was happy to read the articles and blog posts. Admittedly, I kind of lost it when people commented saying things like this:

“You shouldn’t be so harsh and mean… who are we to judge?”

“I don’t think you should be attacking fellow believers this way… it’s not very Christian-like.”

“We need to just love more. He is helping people and we shouldn’t stand in the way of that.”

I never comment on big Facebook threads, but this put me over the edge. Not that I wanted to stick it to these people, because I didn’t. It’s not my argument to win or lose. God’s word is what it is and can defend itself. But I passionately desired to speak the truth in a way that would hopefully make them think about what they were saying. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us to “speak the truth in love”.  So I put my two cents in. Most agreed, some didn’t. It became like a giant rabbit hole, I found myself wanting to defend every point and counter-point. “If they could just understand what God’s Word REALLY says! They would never think this way!” It was exhausting because I was trying to address every single false argument some of these people put up. 

Then it became clear. The TRUE gospel is inherently offensive to the world and it always will be. It isn’t politically correct. It’s super fashionable right now for people (Christians included) to embrace the “don’t judge” mentality.  It sounds nice and inclusive and justifies everything, so when discernment shows up, they freak out and scream about judgment. I could (and did) speak the truth in the most loving, kind way possible and I still got chastised for “judging.” It’s truly mind boggling. 

I could go on forever about the specific arguments, but I wanted to focus instead on what God revealed to me after all of this. 

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

…But I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” Romans 16:17-19

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that doctrine is going to be altered and people will come who twist the truth. It’s always happened in the church and it always will. I noticed the use of the word ‘simple’ twice:

1) teachers coming along and deceiving the hearts of the simple

2) a call to make ourselves simple concerning evil

They seem to be at odds. If a simple person is one who is deceived, why in the world would we want to then make ourselves simple???

So I studied it a little and learned that while we have one word (simple), the Greeks used two separate words with two separate meanings. 

-The first use means “gullible or ignorant, lacking discernment.” (Bad!)

-The second means “unmixed, pure”. (Good!)

It’s here where I wish the English language (or Bible translators) would have done a better job. So, we need to become LESS gullible and MORE pure. Or as the English would have it, “less simple and more simple…”

God certainly doesn’t want us to walk in ignorance. Unless we move to a cave, we are aware of what is happening in the world and it’s a lot of evil. I believe God is saying don’t indulge in evil. This is different for different people, but for me this means I don’t need to constantly expose myself to the world and all its happenings. I can know what is going on without watching the news 24/7. I don’t have to read ALL the comments on a contentious story. I don’t even always need to get involved in it. We need to know our boundaries and our limits. 

It is good to be informed and to speak truth. I got informed about something this past week that troubled my heart, and I spoke up about it. Christians need to do that. But we also must find balance. Instead of spending all our time studying the “fake”, we need to make ourselves more familiar with the “real”. 

Theres a scene in the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” where the art experts demonstrate how they determine a real Monet from a counterfeit one. They photograph the borders of the genuine painting and then frame it. Whenever a fake comes along, they compare it to the photos of the real one. So – we don’t need to spend all our time focusing on and studying the “counterfeit”. There’s just too much counterfeit out there to keep up with. If, however, we are able to recognize the genuine when we see it – God’s truth, not watered down or altered – then we are truly being “wise concerning what is good”. 

It’s good to take a look at the counterfeit and call it out for what it is. What happened this week isn’t a bad thing. It makes people aware that there may be a problem. But we can’t camp out there. We can’t keep going back and forth arguing because eventually it’s going to lead down a wrong path. We have to get our focus back on the REAL thing. We can argue against things all day long, but there comes a point when we need to focus on what we are for as well. 

When the dust settles, the false stuff will fall away. Whats true is what lasts. That’s where our focus needs to shift to. May we be “simple” when it comes to the discussions and distractions of this world, knowing when to speak up and when to leave it alone. May we also be “wise” in all the genuine, real things of God, knowing that the best way to counter the fake is to make ourselves totally familiar with the genuine.