Discerning Right from Almost Right

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“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” Mark 7:9/13

Traditions – beliefs, activities, etc. that are passed down and repeated. I’m a huge fan of traditions. Everyone has them, some make no sense at all other than that’s the way it’s always been done. Our biggest ones revolve around food. Whatever that says about us, I don’t know. But come Christmastime, you’d better believe the same recipes are going to be made in the same way on the same day as every other year. It’s tradition.

Jesus is challenging the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that they value their oral traditions and laws more than God’s commandments. They are putting something secondary in first place and negating what is most important, essentially voiding the power of God in their lives.

This has started me thinking about things we do that may be hindering our right relationship with Jesus. I’m never ever interested in tearing someone down or criticizing just for the sake of it. There’s way too much of that going around. But I AM all about recognizing truth and addressing those little ‘red flags’ that pop up from time to time in our lives.

Here’s the vague story – I’m keeping it vague because I believe it’s more important to focus on God’s intentions and desires for us than get bogged down in man’s opinions. Anyways… a marvelously popular Christian with a huge following recommends a book. Ten zillion people respond gleefully and announce, “I’m on my way to the bookstore now!” and “Downloading it now!” within minutes on social media. They know nothing of this book, it looks interesting and it must be great if so and so is recommending it, yes?

Here’s where things get weird. I’ve read this book. And it has some pretty big issues. Someone writes what I’m thinking in my head all along. “Umm… I’ve read this book and would like to say that it isn’t really Biblical. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t match up with God’s Word, so please be careful.”

DUCK AND COVER.

This poor thing was raked over the coals. The usual catchphrases came out about “who are you to judge” and “no wonder people leave the church” (I’m not joking, someone said that). Quite a few more dissenters came out and tactfully pointed out some huge problems with this book and received the same treatment. It was a fascinating, not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Usually, I don’t engage in stuff like this, it’s like going down a rathole. But this time – it was too absurd to ignore.

Here are some things I’m taking away from this little debacle.

  • It’s good to stand up for the truth, as long as we do so in love. If something strikes you as off, or doesn’t match up with God’s Word, speak up! Nobody is correct 100% of the time. Not my favorite author and not yours. We are human. God’s Word has to be our measuring stick, not the opinions of others. People really freak out at this and pull out the “judging” card. Discernment and judgment are not the same. I Thessalonians tells us to “test all things, examine all things” (5:21). Without discernment, we are “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
  • People are thirsty and desperate to hear from God. I’m not being hard on people who seek out answers in the latest Christian book or fad. They are hungry for God and seeking after Him. But in that desire to grow and change, we fall for things we shouldn’t. We may be in a desperate time in our lives where we’ll try anything to get our answer. There is always room for improvement in our prayer lives for example, but are we going to God or do we seek out a method? Our thirst needs to take us to His Word first. Books are great for filling in little areas and mixing things up, but we need to be motivated by what HE says above others.
  • When someone claims to have a “new and improved” way of praying or just doing life with Jesus or claims to have cornered some area of the Christian life… hoist up that red flag and hold it high. I’m not saying we don’t all receive revelation, we do. It comes from the Spirit and God’s word and through people and circumstances. All good things. But the Bible tells us that we already have an anointing from God and we know all things (I John 2:20), meaning what was true hundreds of years ago is still true. The pioneers didn’t have Lifeway Christian Store and they did just fine with their Bibles. God didn’t give us 21st century people new ways of hearing Him that didn’t exist for someone else. Believers have the very MIND of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). We need not be confused or on the lookout for some magic formula to get closer to God. We already have what we need.
  • I realize that most of these writers have good hearts and want to encourage people and help them. But there is such a danger in putting our traditions and methods above what God has already provided for us. Just as the Pharisees did as they clung to their stories and fables. The particular book that started all this was drawn entirely from a story from the Jewish Talmud. The main character is never mentioned in the Bible at all. The author implicitly says that you can’t just read the Bible. It gets very murky from there, but his whole premise is about drawing circles (actual, physical circles) around yourself and praying inside them until God answers. I circle and underline promises in my Bible, but this is different. There’s more to it, and I believe his heart is good, so I’m not meaning to attack here, I’m just saying this is dangerous as it leads us away from the person we are praying TO and makes us rely on a method that is found nowhere in the Bible. A woman who had never even heard of the book replied that she was going to go sit in a hula hoop on her floor and pray for her answer. Ugh. God doesn’t care if you’re in your hula hoop or your car… He hears us when we pray. And we must pray with a pure heart, not out of a ritual.

Let’s not allow traditions and methods to get in the way of Jesus and the living Word. May we not be sidetracked by superficial things that are just empty promises based on performance. Lots of people have lots of things to say – good and bad. We are made to build one another up and encourage each other in the Word. Let’s go to that first and be discerning about what we let into our hearts and minds.

Plastic Crosses

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“Love without a Cross has no backbone. Love without a Cross can’t stand – because it’s only about feel-good and not about being made new. While political correctness may say, “Only talk of ‘Love’ and no messy cross and maybe we’ll find one of many ways to the good life,” Jesus quietly offers: “Come to Me at the Cross, all you are heavy laden and burdened and weary and messy: I am the way to the eternal good life.” Ann Voskamp

The headlines have been screaming out lately. Mayhem, murder, chaos. It’s starting to hit the proverbial fan, and more than ever we need discernment and truth. Long story short, we have to get back to the cross. This post from Ann Voskamp this past weekend was direct and to the point. It was so refreshing. The cross is so offensive to so many. The cross reminds us that we can’t do it on our own.

She writes, “”Maybe somewhere along the line we just wanted to become people of inoffensive Love – not people of the offensive Cross?” As Christians, our job isn’t to gloss over the hard things. How often we hide the Truth we know under a bushel so we don’t ruffle any feathers.

I read another blog post on the same subject that pleaded with believers to speak kind words to one another and make the good things we do outweigh the bad. People gushed. I read through the comments, and I can assure you, I was the only one not gushing. Of course we need to do good and teach it to our children. But checking off our Christian “to-do list” isn’t our biggest problem here. There is an unspeakable evil rising up that requires more than us sticking to the Golden Rule. It requires us to surrender ourselves to the one and only thing that can defeat such evil – and that is at the foot of the cross at the feet of Jesus.

This isn’t popular, apparently. Even among believers. It’s easier to say “oh well, God is in control” and go on living in the bubble we’ve created. It’s easier not to think about it because if we do, it just might challenge everything we’ve been believing and that is pretty scary. Am I going to be ok? Are my kids going to be ok? Is this going to ever affect me directly one day? We need to look up once in awhile with clear eyes to see and ears to hear what Jesus is telling us in all this. Because all the answers are in His Word and we can’t be afraid of asking the hard questions.

The cross we are called to is rugged. It’s full of splinters and rough edges and it’s bloody and messy. But from those wounds come our healing if we are willing to stay there. In our rush to just make sure “Love wins”, we have to be careful not to take actual Love out of the equation. We’ve turned it into something it isn’t. The fake plastic crosses have to go. Yes they are smooth and nice to look at and don’t require a lot of upkeep. But they are impostors and they are holding us back. The real cross requires things of us that may not always be comfortable, but they are always right. The “good life” isn’t a life full of unoffensive, plastic crosses. The real “good life” is spent at the real Cross, with a real Jesus, dealing with real problems. Messy as it may be, offensive as it may be, that is where we will see good overcoming evil.

A World of Nervous Activity

“Every age has it’s own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity, which is in Christ, is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities, which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.” A.W. Tozer

If ever there was a quote that became more true with the passage of time… this would be it! Tozer wrote this over half a century ago. I wonder what he would have to say about our world of nervous activities now. He would have to put it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email. Yikes.

It certainly hasn’t become more simple. Our time and attention are certainly occupied by a million things. I saw a coffee cup at the bookstore the other day that read “stop the glorification of busy.” Wise words. We embrace our hurried little lives. Our conversations focus on our full schedules and how overwhelmed we feel.

We are busy people. It’s the way of the world. But it shouldn’t be running us into the ground. We have no excuse for being tapped out all the time. What a disservice we do to ourselves and our families when we are just busy being busy.

Being simple in a complex world is not easy. It’s kind of frowned upon. We are plugged in. I think back to life before cell phones and think “how in the world did we survive?” But we did. And part of me thinks we may have been healthier, more balanced people.

So here is a verse that helped me put some things into perspective. It’s Paul speaking to his beloved Corinthians, who have gone a little astray in their thinking.

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted –  you may well put up with it!2 Corinthians 11:3-4

He is afraid for his flock. He is concerned they are being led astray by slick doctrine that is in opposition to what they were taught. As a parent, I read his words and feel his pain. He is pleading with them to renew their minds and get back to the simplicity they once knew and acted on. It’s not so much that there is a false doctrine being spread around, it’s that they are putting up with it. They have become sidetracked and he speaks of being jealous for them with a godly jealousy (v.2). This isn’t a human jealousy. It’s a concern for their holiness and for the truth.

The word “simplicity” here means ‘pure’ and ‘single’. He is speaking about their minds being corrupted, which is where it all starts. If we are corrupted, it’s because we aren’t living single-mindedly. We are going in different directions. It’s duplicity. That’s what the enemy is out to do to us in our business and in all these ‘nervous activities’. He is out to get our minds to go in a million different directions so that we lose our single-minded focus on Jesus.

When satan came to Eve, he took a clear-cut truth and twisted it. God told her not to eat of a certain tree. Satan got to her mind and made her question something that was never confusing to begin with. Paul is pleading with these believers to not allow that kind of craftiness to contaminate their thinking.

We live in a culture that equates busy-ness with worthiness. We serve a God that desires a simple purity and a single-minded devotion to Him. It doesn’t mean we have no depth or no fulfilling activities in our lives, it just means we need to be careful of where we allow our hearts to wander. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians really hits home with me. It’s like a parent pleading with a child they love. Please don’t be deceived by the craftiness! Please understand what it means to be pure and single-minded!

I think Paul was trying to get the people to see that if they would just embrace the simplicity of Christ, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about all the other things trying to get their attention and lead them astray. A laser-focus on Jesus keeps all that other ‘stuff’ from pulling us into the world’s never-ending spin cycle of activity and superficial junk!

Lord, please show us how to get out of the pattern of always being busy and over-occupied. Show us what is important and how to get our minds settled on you. Our brains have become wired for activity and you desire a single-hearted devotion before all of those other things. Help us get rid of the clutter that is just taking up space in our heads and to replace it with your wisdom which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

Don’t Complicate It

“There’s nothing hard about the Word of God. It’s so simple, you have to have somebody help you misunderstand it.” Andrew Wommack

I love this quote so much. We really do make it hard sometimes don’t we? The Bible tells us that the Word is near to us (Romans 10:8) and that it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130). God’s truth was never meant to be obscure, confusing or difficult. Of course we grow into it in different ways over time and don’t always understand everything. But His words to us are meant to be pressed into, tested, tried and proven. To those who don’t believe and who haven’t surrendered their life to Christ, they are foolishness. For believers, the Word is our weapon, our compass and our comfort.

But a true experience of the Word comes from a true study of the Word. So many Christians say they believe the Bible to be true, but never spend any real time in it. We are open and love to hear what others have to say about it. Walk into the Christian bookstore or visit one of the popular blogs of our day and prepare to be overwhelmed. Why is it easier to read someone else’s thoughts about God than go to God’s Word? We like to be entertained. We like bullet point lists. We like new and fresh ideas. All of those have their place, but they cannot take the place of the one true Word. If it isn’t pointing you back to Biblical truth and what God says, you’re just going in circles.

There was a time in history when people were told they couldn’t understand the Bible and they needed it interpreted for them. Martin Luther came along and we all know how that turned out, thankfully. But today we struggle with some of the same problems. We have the Word available to us in every form and language. We just live in a world that tells us it’s not enough. Surely there must be some new revelation or new ideas we can read about. Everything that was once non-negociable has become muddy and unclear. New versions of the truth are thought up and promoted to keep things ‘relevant’.

But God’s word doesn’t need revamping. The last thing we should be doing is dumbing-down God’s word to suit anyone. It never became irrelevant in the first place. Our enemy loves to make us question what God said and twist it around to suit his purposes. He loves to deceive us into creating our own version of truth. And he has succeeded in some ways, pulling us away from the Bible and convincing us it isn’t all that powerful. We have completely over-complicated the art of simply being alone with God.

The popular, edgy authors and bloggers tell us it’s cool to doubt and question. Uncertainty is the new humility. Whatever works best for you is best. Embrace your doubts. God doesn’t mind our questions and doubts, but He certainly doesn’t want us to bask in them and remain there! That’s why we have His Word! The greatest way to promote victorious living is to promote the Truth. The truth sets us free. When we look less and less to God’s word and more to man’s wisdom, that Biblical truth is obscured into a kind of universal mush. And that’s exactly why we don’t see the power that we should in our lives.

We already have the truth and we already know it:

“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.” I John 2:20

So I would just say this – for every fancy book, blog or sermon – may we also give ourselves time to soak in the Word. Not what our favorite person says about it, but the actual, living Word of God. It isn’t boring, and it really isn’t complicated. It isn’t obsolete either. No one can say it better that God Himself.