Keep Your Gifts

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Happy post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas season! It’s full speed ahead from here on out people, so hold on to your Santa hats. I’ve lost count of how many “simplify the season” Advent reading plans or books I’ve seen this week. It seems like every year the stores come out with more “stuff” to help us simplify. It’s kind of ironic.

I thought I’d share a little excerpt from an amazing book I’ve been reading by David and Jason Benham called Living Among Lions; How To Thrive Like Daniel In Today’s Babylon. The kids and I have taken our time in this book, we’ve been reading bits and pieces since the summer, and I find I keep returning again and again to it as we navigate our way upstream in a world that wants to carry us downstream with the masses. If you’ve never studied Daniel in-depth, this is a great place to start. The parallels between his life in Babylon and our current culture of crazy are amazing. I’m fascinated by the ability he had to know and hold on to his identity in a world turned upside-down. As we plunge head first into the season of gifting and buying and just general ‘wanting’, I thought I’d share this:

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else.” Daniel 5:17
Daniels friends let it be known that the God of heaven was their King. Daniel himself kept his windows open and prayed in defiance of a king’s decree. Later in his life, Daniel refused the king’s gifts because his faithfulness to God didn’t have a price. He refused to be bought.
By gifts we mean the goodies of the world that stand in the way of the greatness of God’s kingdom. They come in any form of fame, fortune, or promotion promised by getting along with the world.
Daniels life didn’t have a price tag. His services weren’t for sale. No amount of worldly gifts for kingly accolades could deter him from his mission. He was a man of deep conviction, dedicated commitment, and undeniable courage; the grace of heaven was far more important to him than gifts of men.”

How are you ‘getting along with the world?’ Some of us are in deep. Most of us could probably stand to take a step back and think about it. Sometimes we need to tell the world, “keep your gifts.” This is the time of year where we have all the ‘stuff’ on our minds. We need to buy, we want to receive, the circle of ‘stuff’ is in full swing. In yesterdays mail, I received no less than ten shiny catalogues full of tempting things promising me nothing short of Christmas bliss if I would just place my order. All those things are great – until they aren’t. I think we’ve all been there when those scales tip in the other direction. The mall one week before Christmas. The credit card we should never have maxed out. The comparisons we make when someone else has what we want.

The thing I love about Daniel and his friends is that they were able to live and actually thrive in a world that was hostile to them at every turn. They never compromised with Babylon. They never idolized their gifts. There was a stubbornness about them that we would do well to have today – not in a hardness of heart/unkind way, but in a full surrender to what God wants over what the world says we need.

In this season of fancy packaging and gifts galore, lets take some time to evaluate just what we are seeking after. Contrary to popular belief, none of us really need the gifts from the mall as much as we need the security Jesus brings us. It’s almost cliche and that’s a sad thing, but can we please reel it in a bit starting in our own homes? No amount of shiny things, beauty treatments or perfectly decorated cookies is going to keep you sane or happy this season. The empty promises of the catalogues are just that. There are good gifts to be had and there are things we need to take a pass on.

Help us Jesus to value what is true and lasting over what compromises our heart and leaves us grasping for more.

Cliché-anity

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“Much of Christianity is trying to make things fit logically that do not match what you are seeing in front of your face.”

Well now aint’ that the truth. This is a quote that could come from a pastor or a seeker, a well-seasoned Bible professor or a disillusioned young person. It’s actually a comment I read from a “former-Christian” now atheist mother who writes about her journey from faith to reason, both relative terms I think. The funny thing is, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she says. Here are some of her thoughts in a nutshell:

  • 21st Century Christians are basically the worst. They don’t even read the Bible they so easily thump over everyones head.
  • These above mentioned Christians are hypocrites because their words never match their actions.
  • The world just sucks, trying to reconcile a loving God to this hot mess of a planet we live on is too hard.

I’m paraphrasing her thoughts, but that’s pretty much the heart of it. Trying to fit the pieces together is an impossible and daunting task. I have to say, I’m grateful I don’t have a mind that cares to go to great lengths to disprove the creator of the universe. Call me provincial, but it seems like a ton of work. I sat through my share of college courses on the subject and none of it really impressed me much. I’m not criticizing critical thinking or asking hard questions, I just think the answers are usually not as complicated as we make them.

I’m always intrigued by people who have “left the faith” so to speak, the ones who at least have been presented with truth, lived it for awhile and then decided it’s not for them. My belief is that if you experience the real thing, the real Jesus, you’d never depart from Him. He’s too good. The truth is, they’ve never truly “tasted” as the Psalmist puts it, that the Lord is good (34:8). They’ve tasted bitterness, hypocrisy and indifference from fellow ‘believers’ and their perfectly valid questions have gone unanswered for too long. So they depart.

The basics of Christianity involve some paradoxes – we must die to live, become the least to be the greatest, be poor to become rich. We don’t value or live by these commands because we’re intent on our own ways and our own understanding. In the eyes of the world, surrender and humility get you no place fast. We want to be free to “be ourselves”, but our freedom comes through obedience.

It’s far too complicated a subject to solve with cliché sayings, these are people’s hearts. Her wounds are not my own and her experiences are different than mine. You know what she’s right about? Jesus-followers don’t know the Bible very well. By allowing the wrong people to spoon-feed us junk sayings and ideas, we lose. Christian-ish clichés like “everything happens for a reason” and “God never gives us more than we can handle” don’t save people from falling off the cliff, they push them right off of it.

So yes, trying to square Jesus with this world and reconcile what we see in front of our faces with what the Bible says is going to cause us to pause. It should. The issue is that we don’t dig deeper.

To the Christian who is a little too comfortable with just the nice-sounding platitudes, please go deeper. The pressure’s off, Jesus is the one who changes hearts. He wants to use you though, and we have a duty to share the good news. Know how to love someone back from the brink with actual answers. Remind them that God isn’t up in heaven somewhere eating grapes and being indifferent to us. Tell them about the reality of the unseen world and how the enemy works overtime to convince us that what we see is what we get.

Some people are just dead set on disproving everything a Christian has to say.  There’s always a “yeah BUT…” question to follow any answer. A hard heart is a difficult thing to pierce. But to the disillusioned who are turned off by all these shenanigans carried out by so-called Jesus followers… please pick up His Word. Don’t equate human behavior with the truth of who Christ is. We are all works in progress.

A lot of our drama could be avoided if we understood what He says about who HE is and who WE are in Him. He wants us to love Him with our hearts AND minds (Luke 10:27) which means we don’t check our logic at the door, but we are open to what He says. In return, He promises to actually guard those same hearts and minds with His peace (Philippians 4:7). Well, well well. Now that is an excellent promise if I ever heard one. I give Him my heart and He guards it. I give Him my mind, and He keeps it in perfect peace.

No fluffy sayings. Real meat and potatoes stuff that you can chew on. Christians need it. Atheists need it. Everyone in between needs it. All for Jesus and Jesus for all.

 

Joy Is Our Default Setting

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We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God. 2 Corinthians 1:12

November days can be dreary. The world seems like a foggy and grey place as well. The past few days we find ourselves in a familiar cycle of shock, sadness and general confusion. We dig deep to understand the complexities of the human heart, usually ending up where we started, in our corner with the particular brand of beliefs or anxieties we started with. We start down rabbit holes that don’t have an end, find ourselves in labyrinths that just keep twisting, and notice our questions just lead to more unanswered questions.

We demand to know why evil is allowed to run amok, we fly around trying to figure out how to make it stop… we go through the same motions over and over again. With each awful, heart-shredding event, we bow our heads and repeat the anxious prayers of our hearts with the hope that they will somehow stick.

But this sin. This crazy, from the pit of hell, not real life sin… it has us pinned down. It can be bold and brazen. We see it on the evening news and we die a little inside at the reality of it all. It can also creep up silently and set up shop in our minds and hearts as we navigate a world gone off the rails. We hear people say things like “where is your God now and if He’s so good why does He allow such evil?” After the Texas church slaughter a fancy pants politician quipped “We have priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers” hoping to push us away from such silliness and towards a law that would have prevented this mess. Wrong. I want to write four paragraphs about that quote alone, but just… no.

Those who have never experienced love have a hard time loving. Someone who doesn’t know the truth of prayer mocks it recklessly. Making fun of what you don’t know is weak. So we divide up into our two teams and reload. This is not sustainable behavior.

I don’t have any fancy answers and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing the cacophony of talking heads on both sides. Sin gripping the heart of man was, is, and always will be the problem. If we know the story of Jesus at all, we know that the law was powerless to make men live right, but what the law couldn’t do, God did do through His Son (Romans 8:3). Change the heart and you change the whole man. Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:16). Therefore, we have got to be in the business of being love and speaking the truth friends. Back to the Bible. Back to doing what Jesus instructed when He said “Go and make disciples.” We’ve got to get out of our comfort zones for this. It might get awkward. It might save a life.

So again, I go back to Paul’s reminder: “We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Behave and act with simplicity and sincerity. Not sticking our heads in the sand, but not running around like a chicken with it’s head lopped off either. The wisdom of the world is not real wisdom, it is anti-Jesus, anti-love and soul-sucking selfishness. We act by the grace of God. We live by the simple and sincere truths in His word. That’s how we find pops of color in a grey world. That’s how we find joy in tragedy. We aren’t immune to the consequences of sin, but we aren’t ruled by sin either. Joy that runs deep is our default setting dear friends – if you’ve lost it, return to Him in simplicity and sincerity and find it again.