Stirring the Pot with Grace…

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There’s a fantastic article today over at The Gospel Coalition discussing the ins and outs of standing up for Truth (with a capital T) in a way that is effective and not destructive.  “How to Defend the Gospel from Its Enemies – and Friends” gives us some good pointers on navigating our way through a culture full of lies and half-truths while keeping our wits and dignity about us.

 

Here’s the crux of the problem: We don’t want to be Christian wallflowers who sit in the corner while the world burns, wringing our hands and waiting for Jesus to return. We’ve been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess.2:4) to go out and proclaim the good news. Proclaiming, however, doesn’t mean carelessly flinging out every opinion and engaging in every argument. Wars are waged over the inter webs nowadays, battles are fought, won and lost over strokes on a keyboard. The careless pot-stirrer must learn to “correct with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24) or run the risk of becoming totally irrelevant.

I think we’ve all been on both sides at some point. We take a back seat on certain issues because they either don’t affect us directly or because they seem too big an obstacle to overcome. Other times, something hits our hot button and it’s off to the races:

Just off the top of my head:

-A ‘Christian’ author goes to nauseatingly great lengths to contort and twist scripture to make it more palatable for a new generation, denying the Word says what it says and sugar-coating it to the great approval of thousands. (HOT BUTTON)

-Crazed women running around by the thousands screaming about rights and dignity while preaching how great abortion is. (HOT BUTTON)

-Loud chip crunching by your husband late at night (HOT BUTTON, but for another time…)

I digress. On any given day, just pick your outrage, for there’s plenty to be outraged about. The difference between “us” and “them” however, needs to be noticeable. For the sake of leading others to the truth and for the sake of preserving our own sanity… we must know how to engage (and disengage) Biblically.

The first point in the article is one I love and never even considered:

It’s a privilege to even have this problem to wrestle with.

It doesn’t feel like a privilege when your kid comes home and asks “why was there a man dressed as a woman in the bathroom at the bowling alley?” (True story… time to engage.)

It doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy when you hear what crude words and topics are floating around the elementary school playground and have to bump up your imagined parental speech schedule by a few years.  (Time to engage.)

It can seem like you’re always walking uphill, the wind in your face, fighting and wearing down with every step. I have no good tidings to bring on this subject – it’s not going to get easier or better. Until Jesus comes back, culture and the world are heading toward decay and disorder. But take heart:

“God has surely smiled on us, placing into our hands the stewardship of his truth here in this day when the world denies the validity of any truth. May we be fully pleasing to the Lord in how we handle our sacred trust in such a time as this!” Ray Ortlund

So when we feel like we’ve stepped through the looking glass into an upside-down world, may we be encouraged that we’ve been entrusted with such a task from a God who equips and provides all the tools we need to navigate our way through it. It’s good to stir things up, a settled pot burns at the bottom, so keep stirring kids.

There is of course another side to that, and the closing point the author makes is a good one:

Ugliness Can’t Defend Beauty

Sometimes, we just need to let it go. Drop the chalupa, back away from the keyboard, the meeting, the person, whatever. Paul warns us to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 22-23). The ones who stand against us often have no desire to hear, only to be heard. We need to discern the difference. As much as that nutty women’s march agitated me, I’d never desire to go mono e mono with a woman dressed as a giant you-know-what who can only shout obscenities. No thanks. The same should apply to our everyday encounters. Is it worth it? Am I glorifying God or my ego? Ugliness can’t defend beauty. Being a warrior for Christ-less Christianity won’t move any hearts, it will only harden them.

We are warriors, but not the self-serving kind. That junk belongs to the world. Believe it or not, God doesn’t actually rely on our persuasive talents, but He does desire we be good stewards of His Word. Period. No talent or bravery needed. Only a pure desire to share His good news in a graceful and truthful manner. There are crazy talented authors out there, but it’s a challenge to find one with a solid grasp on the truth. Why? Because they can rely on their big, talented, witty selves. There’s no room for Bible truth when your goal is self-promotion. You have too many people to please.

So how about we position ourselves somewhere between the wallflower and the pot-stirrer? How about letting Jesus work HIS truth the way HE wants right up through our very souls so that it pops out of our mouths (or keyboards) just the way He would want? Not too harsh. Not wishy-washy. Just right. I’ll close with the great Charles Spurgeon, who says it more eloquently than I ever could:

“The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”

Too Many Cooks

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I always joke that I would have been better off living in the past when things weren’t as hectic and complicated. When I’m at home, I watch The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie almost religiously. I find the simplicity of it all incredibly relaxing. My husband laughs at me and reminds me Laura Ingalls was probably freezing and hungry a good deal of the time. Sigh.

There’s an episode of The Waltons where the family has a telephone installed in the home and it rings during dinner time almost throwing poor grandma Walton into convulsions. The very idea of such an intrusive distraction is just too much for her to bear.

I wonder what these people would think if they could return to 2017 and see the way we live. Phones in our pockets, twelve different social media platforms, televisions at gas stations blaring the latest news. Our days are a whirlwind of craziness, we are always searching and rarely finding anything worthy of our attention. The hours are filled with fillers… scrolling, sending, receiving and checking for the next thing. Information overload.

When my boys were babies I remember them not being able to handle too much stimulation. If a room was too loud for too long, they simply shut down and went into a deep sleep. I sometimes feel that way at the end of the day if I’ve spent too much time feasting on the world’s junk. Exhausted. Spent. Checked out.

‘The struggle is real’ as they say… we are created to search, but we’re also created to find fulfillment in the right places. Christians these days are fantastic at seeking, but I wonder how are we at genuinely settling down and receiving? Are we even capable of quiet anymore? We are wired to take in eighty bits of useless information in a minute, but can we sit down with Jesus for an hour and take in maybe one big, fantastic truth from Him? Something like:  You are loved. I am for you. Settle down. Hold fast. Confess. Worship. Simplify.

Most of us are in such a whirlwind most of the time that it’s difficult to even discern what is happening to us.

“The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.” AW Tozer

Here is a man ahead of his time, showing us that mindlessly seeking after every new thing isn’t unique to our century. It’s true, we see mediocrity around us and we want to rise above it. We desire better things. We inherently know there’s room to grow. There’s absolutely  nothing wrong with that, we are created to live abundant, fruitful lives.

But to what end? To get ahead of our neighbor? To promote ourselves? Or to glorify God?

We’ve deceived ourselves into thinking the answer we’ve been looking for lies just beyond, in that new bestseller, that ’40 days to (fill in the blank). Every month there’s another idea presented in shiny packaging by a shiny writer and we think, ‘Ok! I’m on board! I’ll read, I’ll journal, I’ll draw prayer circles around my children, whatever it takes!’

And then… fizzle, poof.  It’s on the shelf of our good intentions collecting dust.

If something isn’t pointing us toward Jesus and away from self, it’s probably not going to stick. Self is a dead-end road. Jesus, however, is the fountain of living water that never runs out. God desires that we love Him for Himself, that we “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The spirit of this age loves to complicate what is simple, to corrupt that which is pure. Too many cooks in the kitchen of Christian thought and you end up dangerously close to burning the whole thing down.

I truly believe one of the most dangerous habits of our day is over-complicating the ways and truths of God. Some of us have a great talent for it. We are professional seekers who never find a single thing worth holding onto. Seeking is important, but we are meant to find something at the end of the search.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart…” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Too much clutter, too many opinions, and information overload dull our senses. We can’t see clearly through the lens of the world, and there is an enemy who wants nothing more than to keep things out of focus for us.

“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.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

It’s no Walton’s Mountain up in here, but it is possible to disengage awhile from all the distractions that keep us always seeking and never finding. Put all the well-meaning clutter on hold for just a day and open up God’s Word. Soak it in and see what comes of it.

Too many cooks will indeed spoil the broth. Let some of them out of the kitchen for a bit and see how things turn out.

 

 

Eat the Fat, Drink the Sweet

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And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8: 9-12

So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”

The children of Israel were making their way back to the land of the living. Their exile is behind them, and it was time to rebuild and rededicate their city and their hearts to God. The great wall of the city of Jerusalem had just been completed and now the focus shifts to the people of God’s holy city. This was the Feast of the Tabernacles, a time for great joy and celebration, and Ezra was leading the march by holding a big ol’ Bible conference if you will, a revival of sorts. He fashioned a platform in the city square for the Word and the Law to be read for hours a day. When the people heard it, they stood up (v.5). They sought desperately to understand it (v.2-3) and they rejoiced greatly when their hearts received the truth (v. 12).

Sometimes though, when we hear these words of the law, it isn’t all smiles and praise hands is it? Verse 9 says that all the people wept when they heard God’s law being read to them.

The words are too hard. Obedience to them is impossible. It’s oppressive. It’s narrow.

There are many who feel this way about God’s Word. We don’t know where to begin. It seems entirely too narrow and too heavy… who needs more lists and formulas to deal with? Not the Israelites. These people are coming off years and years of captivity and learning lessons the hard way.

Enter Ezra. Enter Nehemiah. Enter the Levites. Enter the people who “gave the sense and helped them understand the reading…” (v. 8)

See, once we understand that the word and the law is given for our freedom and our protection, things turn quickly from weeping to rejoicing.

What did these teachers and leaders say to them?

Go your way.

Eat the fat.

Drink the sweet.

Help those in need.

In one verse, joy is restored. It is restored because the people finally understood and took to heart what was required of them, and it wasn’t oppressive or painful. When we “go our way” we find out our place and our purpose. Notice it doesn’t say “go your OWN way”like the Fleetwood Mac song, it says that we go our way. A way set apart for us, a path that is ours to take, set before us by God who loves us and has a perfect will for us. We are able to enjoy life, pour out to others and be filled by God.

The joy is restored all because the people finally understood the words that were declared to them.

There’s a lot of talk about walls these days. Building them up. Tearing them down. There’s so very much mourning and weeping and complaining. People running in circles flailing about yelling that the sky is falling… if not literally, most definitely spiritually and emotionally. The Israelites were mocked endlessly for the wall they built. They were intimidated and threatened. They worked anyway.

We all have our work to do, but it cannot be accomplished if we sit around mourning, weeping and complaining.

If only we understood the words that have been declared over us. Words of life and not death. Words of encouragement and not defeat. Words of promise and not doom.

We don’t have an Ezra or a Nehemiah or Levite priests, we have something far better. The Holy Spirit guiding and leading us into all truth (John 16:13).

Take time to investigate all that truth.  Soak it in. Make it personal, because it most certainly is meant for each of us in the deepest part of our hearts.

Rejoice greatly in it, just as the Israelites did. There is a sweetness to everyday life that comes when we do. Give His Words a chance to be the very joy and strength that changes your mourning into rejoicing.