Humility 101

“The world screams “You are enough” and we are desperate to believe it. But being enough is different from being worthy and valuable. We are beautiful people flawed to the core, but deeply worthy of love and of priceless value to our Creator God… every one. Jesus has no favorites. So to say “without You I am nothing” is not to say we have no value. This prayer simply says that by ourselves, we are unable to thrive.” Lisa Whittle

That last sentence hits me so hard… we are unable to thrive on our own apart from God. As much as we may try, (and boy do we try) it goes against everything in our spiritual nature to try and live life on our own. Now our flesh is another story, it wants its moment in the spotlight, to be sure. We try to “be enough” as we strive and wrangle our way to the next thing, and the dust never seems to settle. It’s actually quite alright that we aren’t enough, because that’s the beauty of serving a God who is:

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” 2 Corinthians 3:5

So we are not, in fact good enough or sufficient. Not on our own, anyways. Believing that our strength or wisdom comes from within is a short trip around the block, we end up right back where we started. The beauty of the Gospel is that it turns us away from our selfish, narrow selves and towards something far more satisfying and larger. It’s not that we don’t have value, in fact we are so important to God that He doesn’t want us wasting our lives on things that leave us empty. Likewise, we don’t ever need to feel bad about not being enough.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

The story in Mark 9 where Jesus’ disciples struggle through this makes me laugh and cringe all at once:

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

Here they are, in the company of Jesus, traveling the long road with Him as He performs miracles and begins to reveal what is coming next – and they are arguing about which one of them was or would be the greatest. Lord have mercy. Literally.

Who had the best argument I wonder? John? Peter? Judas even? Jesus waits until they enter a house and then asks them “oh, by the way, what was all that arguing about?” Crickets.

I imagine how I am when my boys argue over something so ridiculous it just takes all my energy not to throw up my hands and leave the room. Jesus being Jesus, He sits down and has to explain a few things to them. Humility 101.

He has no favorites. When left to our own devices we are all kind of a selfish mess, wondering about being the greatest or the most (fill in the blank). There’s always someone better, and none of us are sufficient. What a relief that instead of living under condemnation, we can just go all-in with Jesus and thrive where He takes us.

Through abiding, we live. Through humility, we thrive.

Lord help us let go of the idea that we can ever be ‘enough’ and let us see the greater purpose that You have in using our insufficiency to glorify You. 🙌🏼

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.

 

The Feelings Train Has Left The Station

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I love me a good ‘satire-as-truth’ article, so here’s a little bit of reality-based humor from over at the Babylon Bee:

SEATTLE, WA—After reading several chapters from the gospels over the weekend, local progressive believer Wendy Butler reportedly published a Patheos blog post in which she criticized Jesus of Nazareth for “not being very Christlike.”  

The blog post took Jesus to task for His “unloving and problematic” teachings.“He devotes entire sections of His sermons to ranting about archaic religious concepts like hell and the last judgment instead of just coming alongside the marginalized and affirming their sins,” Butler said. “Very little of what He did on earth I would describe as life-giving. Frankly, I do a better job of being Christlike than Christ Himself.”

Zing! Is anyone offended?

Our experiences lead the way when defining how we think about God, its partially true. It isn’t right, but it’s true. How can some have such a reverent outlook while others dismantle Jesus down to nuts and bolts only to put Him back together how they’d like to see Him? To be fair, it plays out on both sides of the fence, the end result being the same, a kind of build-your-own-Jesus that never really resembles the real one.

I’ve known people whose Jesus still lives up on a cross , defeated and sad. They revere Him but know none of His power. Others take a more charismatic view, Jesus is their sandal-wearing buddy, here to serve or comfort in time of need. We conveniently take certain passages from the Good Book and use them to reinforce ‘our Jesus’. Each side has their go-to verses they like to use: “He hung out with sinners!” vs. “He turned over the tables in righteous anger!” and everything in between.

Here’s the rub: we are all human with vastly differing views and experiences. The minute we start trying to form the Word to suit our agenda is the moment we might as well toss in the towel. We have to begin with Jesus. He is our starting place. We don’t need to pull out passages that prove our point, we need to just point to Him.

Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 
We are told in Proverbs that wisdom and knowledge is found when we seek it out like treasure and when we cry out for discernment (2:3-4). We do have the answers, and they actually are kind of a “one size fits all” in the sense that Jesus is who He is. Now, of course He deals with us on a most personal level and it is a beautiful thing, because we are certainly not one size fits all people. He knows our life road map that got us where we are, our quirks, our wounds, the silly stuff we believe that may not be entirely true, He gets it. He just offers us all a clear lifeline out of the muddy waters and into the Living Waters of truth.

There’s a lot of buzz lately in Christian (especially womens) circles about the need to be brave and fierce and true to your ‘tribe’. It’s all about that ‘tribe’. That’s all fantastic, provided your tribe is grounded in the truth of God’s Word. We are meant to support one another, but we are not meant to replace Jesus for someone else. That’s the thing about following the feelings, they aren’t solid and what’s true today may not be six months from now.

There’s a lot of truth to the satire, we decide we know whats best and what Jesus really meant when He said such and such. We tweak it a bit to fit our desires. And it takes off like wildfire into the next thing and the next, and before we know it, Biblical Jesus is a blurry image in the rear view mirror and we are taking off full steam ahead on the feelings train that we have no business driving. When you have voices inside Christianity doubling down on distorting the gospels to fit a hurting culture, you wind up with half the listeners believing a lie and the other half left either in fear of speaking up or disgusted confusion.

“Your Jesus is meeeeaaannn. I don’t like mean. I like tolerance. Jesus loves everyone. It isn’t right to hurt and exclude people the way you do.” 

“Your Jesus is a hippie. The real Jesus stood for truth and justice and would never put up with sin. It isn’t right to be so permissive of outright sin.”

While we’re busy firing off cheap shots at the other camp, that ugly snake slithers away hissing and grinning at having performed his duty to perfection.

When Jen Hatmaker and others came out in support of gay unions as godly and permissive, the church understandably fired back. I read a LOT of the responses and fallout when this happened and I can honestly say the disagreement was for the most part, civil but strong. Her response to it all was to attack the ‘Christian Machine’ that oh so predictably called her out on her claims. There were many heartfelt, well thought out responses to their very heartfelt departure from Biblical teaching. I’m not attacking her, I’m pointing out that when we place our self and feelings at the center of our arguments its a losing battle. When the argument becomes about ‘you’ it’s over. The vast majority of people weren’t attacking her, they were standing up for long-held Biblical truth, which, by the way, we are supposed to do in love. If our response is to shut others down and (like the lovely young lady in the satire article) imply we have the upper hand on compassion that Jesus Himself doesn’t seem to have, well then, prepare for some healthy debate coming your way.

We are all fallible and prone to wander. We all want the latest hot take of how to make this life thing work to our advantage. Most Christians I know of, Hatmaker included, want to mend hurting hearts and bring people to Jesus. Nobody wants to be smacked upside the head with a hard cover King James and told they’re scum. And those who have been pulled from the ledge will tell you they don’t want to be coddled in their sin either. (See Rosaria Butterfield’s beautiful essay on that topic if you want to be encouraged about speaking truth in love).

We are mandated, by Jesus Himself to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) AND honor Christ as Lord, being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; doing it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). So the two dueling-Jesus guys actually do meet up in the middle! They both exist! Let the truth speak for itself. We miss so very much when we try and mold Jesus to be how we want Him to be. Let the entire Word of God be your home base, your safety, your map; the real Jesus will show up in ways you’d never expect.

 

 

Light Bearer

“…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” Philippians 2:15-16

As we prepare to send the kids back to another school year and prepare for the changing of seasons, I’ve been praying over how to pray for them. As they grow, you move into uncharted territory with these not-so-little-anymore people and prayers that once seemed enough don’t feel the same anymore.

Their world gets bigger, their circles grow, they aren’t safely sheltered anymore but very much exposed. The idea of sending them out to the world is terrifying at times. My instinct all summer was one of “prepare, prepare, prepare…” for whatever that’s worth. Prepare for the good and the bad because they both will come. And so we do. We impart what we can to them and pray some of it sticks.

And Jesus reminds me this morning that it’s not about my preparation or lack of it. It isn’t in the little verse cards they made for their lockers. It isn’t in my attempts to get it all said, because there will always be more to say. It’s in knowing who God is and who we are in relation to Him. And so I was lead to this verse in Philippians that reminds us of some basic truths;

  • It’s a crooked world. We can live holy and pure in the midst of it.
  • It’s a dark world. We are called to be the light.
  • How do we do it? We hold fast to His truth.

That’s worth more than all my well-intentioned lectures or lessons. It’s not from a fancy best-selling book of the month, it isn’t dressed up or altered in any way. It’s just God’s roadmap for us. I love the simple.

Love God. Love each other. Hold fast His words. Be the light.