Nothing But Cowbell

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Do you ever come up against people or arguments that are so one-sided, so determined to remain in their own four walls that you genuinely don’t know whether it’s worth it to fight or flee?

I watched a fascinating video yesterday posted on the Sheologian’s website about what happens almost weekly at an Arizona Planned Parenthood clinic between pro-life and pro-abortion protesters. There’s a pastor who shows up to talk with the abortion rights people. He asks calmly about their position and if they would please speak with him and have a conversation about what they believe. This is what happens: cowbell.

This lady stares into her smart phone and relentlessly shakes a giant cowbell in his face. She then says she doesn’t engage with crazy.

I began thinking about how much of our time is spent uselessly trying to argue against the cowbells. To be totally fair, I also considered the times I’ve spent being the one ringing that big ol’ bell.

Noise is nothing but a distraction from the truth. Truth is what leads us to freedom. If all a person can do is ring the cowbell and make more noise, there’s no getting around it and there’s certainly no hope for ever receiving any truth.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about foolish arguments:

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” (26:4)

Strangely enough, the very  next verse seems to say the exact opposite thing:

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (26:5)

 

Wait… are we supposed to engage or run? Fight or flee? I think instead of being opposed to each other, these two verses build upon one another. The first verse is warning us not to stoop to a low-level because it simply makes us into what we are standing against. It’s the whole “two wrongs don’t make a right” analogy your mom always told you when you were a kid. When someone is wrong, they only way they can draw you in is through deceit and distraction. The enemy would like nothing more than to see us all standing around shaking cowbells at one another because it distracts from what is really happening. It’s a lose/lose situation, even for the person who originally was standing on the truth.

Verse 5 is the different side to the same coin. It tells us to answer these arguments “lest he be wise in his own eyes”.  A right word at the right time can change everything. The point is not to shame someone and hammer them for being wrong, but to expose untruth and folly so we are not wise in our own ways.

What strikes me most in this story of the pastor is that he isn’t obsessing over winning or being right, he’s just desiring truth to get out there. Whether it’s accepted or not isn’t really his issue. He speaks it, but doesn’t get sucked down the rabbit hole of hostile and foolish arguments. God’s path to victory is often via a humble and low-road. The great thing about truth is that it doesn’t really need us to defend it. It just is. We stand up for it and speak it, but the fight isn’t really ours to take on.

Two strangers confronting one another on the street is one thing, but take this now and apply it to your actual life with family and friends. My eyebrows raise and my teeth clinch a little just writing that. Sometimes there are cowbells ringing all over the place, from the ones we love the most. At times it’s us holding up a giant noisemaker refusing to budge or hear any truth. Satan would like nothing more than to keep us clanging and shaking bells in each others’ faces. I love this passage from Lisa-Jo Baker:

“We are never in more dangerous territory than when we’ve been wounded by someone, and as we lie there bleeding and hurt, Satan tries to poke and prod and torture us into a reaction that is wildly out of proportion to the original wounding.” 

Wildly out of proportion. This is his trap, believers. The desire to be heard leads us down an irrational and ungodly path where truth gets tossed aside and our winning becomes the most important thing. We have to ask ourselves which we care most about, doing right or being right? I’m a huge believer in the notion that when we continue to do what is right in God’s eyes, according to His word, He will lift us up.

The noise of foolish arguments is designed to keep us distracted, spinning our wheels, angry, and obsessed with the wrong things. Cowbells are everywhere. I thank God every day that there is so much to be found in His Word to guide us around all this noise. If you’re holding up a big bell, consider setting it down and listening to the person in front of you, above all, consider listening to God. If you’re faced with someone ringing relentlessly in your face, ask for wisdom about how to engage. Or disengage. That’s the beauty of walking with Jesus. His truth is our most powerful weapon. Far better than a giant noisemaker.

Just A Reminder… He Really, Really Loves Us!

IMG_0313“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17

A few weeks ago, I was walking past my kitchen table and saw this. My Bible was laid open from the day before, the sun was shining just right through the lights above the table. It lasted just a minute, but I’m glad I caught it. It slowed me down and gave me a smile. I sat down and just thanked God. I thanked Him for His love, His truth, His words to me.

So much wisdom and truth for our lives is contained in His word, and it’s so very easy to walk past it. We run to it in emergencies, but God intends it to be our DAILY bread. The fruit that grows in our lives is a result of constant abiding, not connecting and then disconnecting and then connecting again. A long, continual abiding yields fruit.

We need the wisdom from above. We need it because it’s the only pure thing we have. Our natural ways steer us towards anything but gentleness and mercy. Even on our best days we are still full of selfish, self-centered ambitions.

Gentle? Willing to yield? Not without Jesus.

Satan likes to complicate simple things. He wants to keep us away from these words of life, he wants us to think it’s too hard. Here’s a truth for you today: IT ISN’T!!!

God’s word and the understanding of it should be our very lifeline, not just another thing to check off after all our other lists are done.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17). Do you see where it starts? Right there in His words to us. It’s our launching place from which everything else comes. Faith. Forgiveness. Direction. Wisdom for our actual lives, our very real issues and very big decisions we make.

This was a reminder to me to slow down and remember the simple truth that God loves us so very much and wants to just be with us. The rest will fall into place, we don’t have to strive for it.

Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Staying connected to Him keeps us from those consequences of our selfish ways. Our heart starts to beat in sync with His, we step when He steps, we wait when He waits… when we are full of His truth there isn’t room for all the other junk. We can be gentle when others are not. We show mercy. We have forgiveness. Best of all, we don’t go searching for love or accomplishment in all the wrong places.

Give His words a chance. He tells us that He will “open our understanding” so we can understand His words (Luke 24:45). Watch and see… He is closer than we think!

The Narrow Gate for the “Christian Machine”

Walls-of-Jerusalem-300x225“When the world says, “Oh, you’re narrow,” you say, “Maybe I am narrow, but the way is narrow, and the path to heaven isn’t as broad as a 16-lane highway. You know why I am too narrow? I’m walking with my God.AW Tozer

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that probably isn’t the most popular of ideas: Christian friend, we need to get back to being narrow.

< sounds of heads imploding, hands going up in protest, fingers starting to point…>

Hold on a minute. Isn’t that what is getting us in all kinds of trouble lately with the world and the people we are supposed to be reaching? Our narrow-mindedness? Our total inability to include others and welcome them no matter what?

First and foremost, lets see what Jesus said about this narrow way:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.” Matthew 7:13

The gospels, by definition are narrow. Jesus presented a choice and just like His disciples, we are free to follow or continue on our own way. Following Him though, comes with some requirements. We have to deny ourselves and carry our cross daily (Luke 9:23). People who followed Jesus in His day lost a lot of things, but what they gained was immeasurable. The point made over and over in the gospels is that of a narrower path than what the world presents to us. We will be mocked because He was mocked. We will be rejected because He was rejected. Not once did Jesus appease anyone or bend the requirements for them. The narrow gate is smaller, but it is always open.

So what to do when the narrow way Jesus told us to take becomes (in the eyes of the world) the narrow-minded way? When standing on truth gets you thrown under the proverbial bus and labeled as a narrow-minded jerk?

Here’s an example fresh in my mind of how tricky this is becoming.

Months ago, popular blogger and Christian writer Jen Hatmaker came out in support of same-sex marriage as holy and acceptable. Predictable pandemonium ensued, many agreed and supported her and many disagreed with her. This is not surprising in the least. She came out with a blog post a few days ago in which she railed against the “Christian Machine” response to her new position and how utterly devastating it was, and linked it to Jesus’ pain and the mourning we feel on Good Friday. The response to this blog post was overwhelming sympathy and many stories from hurt people reiterating their painful experiences with this ‘machine’.

First, I don’t doubt for one second the hurt and pain we in this so-called ‘machine’ can cause one another. Harsh words spoken in an absence of love are no way to represent the true Jesus to people, saved or not. Without love, our message is doomed before it even gets off the ground.

That being said… the message of LOVE also comes with a partner and it’s name is TRUTH.  We’ve lost the conviction that God’s Word must come before the shifting tides of culture or the witty words of human authors. I’m not bashing the author, I think her heart is so very much FOR helping hurting and lost people. I just think we can’t dispose of doctrine along the way. Twisting and contorting scripture to make something appear to be harmless, so that all these hurting and lost people feel included isn’t our job. Our job is to LOVE the people and show them that narrow gate. We don’t need to apologize that it’s narrow, or try and explain the narrowness away… we are to show them to it and declare how fantastic of a gate it is. Demonstrate that it’s not actually confining, mean-spirited, or exclusive in the ways they think it is.

While everyone is focused on the mean-spirited ‘machine’, I have to ask a genuine question: do we even recognize anymore that Biblical discernment is necessary and that sometimes disagreement needs to be voiced? Not in a crazy hateful manner, but in a “speak the truth in love” kind of way. That’s mostly what I saw in response to Jen’s postings. Were some hurtful and wrong? Yes. But the vast majority reacted exactly how you’d expect them to react – with respectful and heartfelt disagreement. Did she lose sponsorships and business deals? Yes. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “betrayal” or a “punishment” as she did. I’m sure that’s how it felt, but in the same way she stood up and declared a belief, so did those who disagreed with her doctrine.

Here’s the thing – it’s not all about same-sex marriage and it’s not all about Jen Hatmaker. It’s about sin and our desperate need for a Savior to deliver us from the grasp of it. He did just that. We are spinning our wheels when we focus on all the ways people have let us down, how the  ‘machine’ has disappointed us, etc. We who disagree aren’t all hateful, spiteful, backwards or closed-minded. A lot of us feel passionate about God’s Word and the freedom it gives when we allow ourselves to be set free by it.

The Bible tells us not to get wrapped up in foolish and ignorant disputes with people or engage in useless idle talk (1 Timothy 1:6, 6:5). Focusing too much on how awful those bad apples are only keeps us from seeing all the well-intentioned believers who may be standing nearby ready to walk us up to that narrow gate. Having pity-parties feels good for a time, but it’s a distraction that keeps us on the wrong path. I read plenty of loving responses to her statements that were also truthful. That’s how it’s done.

The flip-side of this is that we are not to be argumentative, but ready to teach and with all humility correct those who are in opposition to God’s truth, not so that we may be proven right, but so that they may escape the captivity of darkness (2 Timothy 2:25).

THAT’S how you demonstrate the ‘narrow-gate’ without being ‘narrow-minded’ as they say. The internet has created a kind of black and white world in which the end game is all about winning our side. Someone makes a declaration. People react. More people react to those reactions, etc. We need to step back and ask ourselves “what’s my purpose here?” Proving my point? Putting that person in their place? Useless.

Speaking truth in love in order to demonstrate to others the freedom the narrow gate offers? I’ll argue that point all day long.

 

Your Seventh Grade Self

“We want to matter to the people we think matter. We want the people we think matter to single us out. We want them to spend time with us. We want them to invite us in. 

We want in. Left on the wrong side of the door, we can regress into eighth grade versions of ourselves in mere minutes. We worry that we’re too tall, too short, too uncool or unfashionable or uncomfortable in our own skins to fit in. 

There is a voice that whispers all the reasons we deserve to be out – a voice that taunts. There is a voice that relentlessly lists every time we’ve found ourselves on the outside and actually revels in each remembering. There’s a mean girl inside us all who will hypnotize us if we let her. Everyone is on the outside of something, but that is only half the story. The GOOD NEWS is that we are all on the inside of something – often without even realizing it.” Lisa-Jo Baker

I cringe at the thought that there’s still a teenager inside of me someplace, that middle school version of myself that could be in the proverbial clouds one minute and crying in a heap on the floor the next. Friends, non-friends, cliques and classmates were the center of the universe around which everything else revolved. It wasn’t true of course, but that was my reality anyways. One day you’re in the group, the next you get passed a note on pink lined paper informing you “you’re out.” I’ll never forget at some point in seventh grade when I was told there was no more room at the table for me (the literal lunch table) and that I needed to go find a different place to sit. The world may as well have ended. We can all probably remember times like these, they play like cassette tapes in our heads. We have all been there, on the inside and suddenly on the outside. On the flip side, there are probably just as many times when we ourselves dished it out to someone, knowingly or not, and left them on the outside looking in.

In seventh grade I had no concept of a bigger picture, no grasp of how soon it would pass, and no understanding that most of these people wouldn’t matter in a year or two. I didn’t quite yet see Jesus as the friend I really needed, the one who would never leave. He was there, I remember, I just put things ahead of Him in the pecking order. I prayed and prayed to be let back into the group, not realizing I was already on the inside of a lot of other things. I had other friends. I had outside activities. I just chose to focus on the one thing I couldn’t be a part of.

I’ve read some lately about the mentality we develop that somehow there isn’t enough to go around. Enough of what, exactly? Good things. Success, happiness, joy. Invitations, likes on Instagram, places on the team. You name it. We gather our goods around us and hold tightly to them, while giving the side-eye to our neighbor if they have something good as well.

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as hiving only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody.” Steven Covey 

It’s like that idea of holding tightly to a handful of sand, the tighter you grasp, the more you lose.

I thank God for the things I’ve learned since middle school. I acknowledge that I sometimes repeat old patterns of my seventh grade self as well. The biggest thing I’ve learned? Maybe that we are designed by our Maker to be absolutely FILLED with His love first and foremost before we can even attempt to be satisfied by things of the world. Mark 3:14 says that Jesus “appointed the twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach…” They were to just BE with Jesus first. Here are the three words I’ve been pondering for a few weeks: ABIDE. DWELL. DELIGHT.

If we aren’t filling ourselves with Jesus first, everything else is going to fail before it even gets started. If we don’t take time to sit at His feet and soak in HIS peace, HIS truth, and HIS words to us, we are going to go out and grasp at everything we come across, begging it to fulfill us in a way that only God can.

If you know in your bones that you are complete in Jesus and fulfilled in Him… His desires become your greatest desires. How interesting. His ways are all about abundance, not lacking or striving. We are never on the outside with Him. When He becomes the center around which everything rotates, those insecurities and troubles don’t seem quite as debilitating anymore.

He tells us that in quietness and confidence is our strength (Isaiah 30:15). We don’t have to strive to get on the inside of anything, we need to simply sit at His feet and be with Him. Allow Him to bless us so we may go be a blessing to others. There is more than enough to go around, no matter what our seventh grade self may whisper to us. We are always on the inside with HIM.

Better Than A Jane Austen Ending

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“You are loved harder and longer and more urgently than the ending of any Jane Austen novel.” Lisa Jo Baker, Never Unfriended

This quote cracked me up. If you’ve ever read through or watched a Jane Austen story, you know for the most part, it all shakes out in the end. The tangled relationships somehow untangle, the unrequited love finally gets acknowledged, romantic awkwardness turns into glorious togetherness… the universe stops colluding against our heroine and starts working in her favor.

We want to be pursued. We want someone to come knocking at our door. Not just in a romantic sense, but in a relational one as well. Since the earliest days in the Garden of Creation, we have been made to relate to one another and our God.

We spend an awful lot of time knocking on one another’s doors only to be disappointed when they don’t answer. We wait in vain on people to come to our doorstep, to pursue us, and we measure our worth by the frequency of knocks at the door.

Sometimes they don’t come. Sometimes all the wrong ones show up on our front porch. Either way, we miss something hugely important: the One who stands and knocks, softly, intentionally, lovingly, and passionately at our door 24/7. (See Revelation 3:20)

Jesus literally never tires of knocking. Ever. He passionately pursues us in a way the would make Mr Darcy look like an amateur.

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you…”

What if we allowed Jesus to tell us how ardently HE admires us?

Sadly, our culture values quantity over quality, we rarely allow relationships to root down deep, things get plucked up at the first sign of distress. We show up on doorsteps but rarely remain long enough to be invited in. Jesus not only knocks, but wants to come inside. He pursues, but He doesn’t come where He isn’t welcomed.  Before we are able to give ourselves in friendship, marriage, parenting… we must get our worth from Him alone. Allowing Him to love us and pursue us is a sure-fire way to get filled up with what we really need. Then and only then are we free and capable to give it away.

“…anchoring our identity in the God who is obsessed with spending time with us makes us freely available to give grace to our friends who literally, humanly aren’t able to make themselves that kind of available.” Lisa Jo Baker 

Friends, if we aren’t getting our worth from God, we are going to go crazy trying to get it from the world. Yes, we may be well ahead of some in certain areas, but there’s always something we are chasing as well. It’s a rat race with no end game and it will wear you out and choke out any relational roots that may be worth tending to.

Get filled up to fill others up. We all have doors to knock on and doors to answer. May we   allow ourselves to be pursued and chased after by a God who holds in His hand gifts we could never imagine.