Fewer Hot Takes, More Jesus

Reading in 2 Timothy this morning and it may as well be subtitled “current events”. Paul’s life on earth is coming to and end and he knows it: he writes from a prison cell with the knowledge that he’s probably about to die for his faith. He therefore doesn’t mince his words, wasting no time reminding readers that there isn’t time to be ashamed or fearful of what may lie ahead.

Here’s the short list of some of the things that we are promised to come across:

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (3:2-5)

Sound familiar at all? Have you looked at the news cycle today? Honestly, it’s beyond parody. As we slip further and further down the rabbit hole of truth being whatever we want it to be, lets take a look at some of Pauls’s advice:

He tells us to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (1:13). In this culture of keyboard warriors, arguing over words could be an olympic sport. Unsound words bombard us all more than we even realize. Once someone loud enough decides something is true, it just becomes true. Todays example: employees over at Google have come to the conclusion that the word “family” is “offensive, inappropriate, homophobic and wrong”. Family. As in… a unit of people living together or related to one another. We all know it’s the tip of an otherwise very large iceberg… but words are worth fighting for because truth is worth fighting for.

Interestingly enough, Paul also makes a point to warn us about getting involved in too much nonsense. I absolutely love and cling to these verses:

  • “But shun profane and idle babbling, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” (2:16)
  • “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” (2:23)

So we are to hold fast to the sound words, and steer clear of the ridiculous stuff. This makes sense until I realize that almost everything lately seems to fall into the “foolish” category. How do we know when to fan the flame or when to let it die out? The truth is worth fighting for, but we have to be very careful about how we fight.

Are we arguing for the sake of it? Do we want to score points for our team? Put someone in their place? That isn’t of God, that’s just good old human pride. Our society as we know it is not only camped out here, they are entrenched. Whatever it takes to take “them” down a notch and bring “us” up is fair game.

By humbly correcting those that are in error, by showing people a better way…  they are removed from the snare of the enemy (2:25). Humility and graciousness don’t make us pushovers, they simply make us true and effective disciples. As for those who are “always learning and never able to come to the truth” (3:7), those are the ones we are to avoid. Some people are more interested in the fight than the solution.

As the wise man Kenny Rogers said years ago… “You gotta know when to hold ’em… know when to fold ’em.”

We can stand up to injustice when need be. We can also walk away from the proverbial dumpster fires when we must. What a freeing thought that we don’t actually have to take  every dramatic development on all at once.

This epistle is short, but I find it so relevant for us today. Things may not get easier. In fact, we are pretty much guaranteed that we are going to be sharing space with some unsavory and difficult characters. Paul tells us not to be ashamed to speak up, but do so with grace. “Be strong in grace!” he tells us… (2:1) Did you ever think of it that way? The grace of God makes us strong.

We are not fearful and we are not ashamed. Christians who are full of grace and full of truth are what the world needs. Less witty comebacks and hot-takes… more time with Jesus.

“…love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power that eventually transforms individuals.” Martin Luther King

 

 

Boys Will Be Boys… If We Let Them

“The warrior must learn to yield his heart to nothing. Not to kill his heart for fear of falling into temptation, but to protect his heart for nobler things, to keep the integrity of his heart as a great reservoir of passionate strength and holy desire.” John Eldredge

Because I am on that crazy Twitter thing, I get a front row seat to the latest cultural outrages and moral lessons du jour we all are supposed to be having big opinions about. The latest brouhaha being the Gillette razor company and their new ad challenging men to confront their innately barbaric behaviors and act more civil. Depending on your personal views, it’s either touching or pandering propaganda. Regardless, for some reason it’s going down as one of the most ‘disliked’ ads in internet history. In an interview, the president of the company said,

“By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

It sounds nice and good on the surface I suppose. Lots of buzzy buzzwords, but it’s not horrible. Everyone should at least aim to not be a jerk to others in life, right? A new generation y’all… working toward their personal best, whatever that may be. We are holding each other accountable for what, exactly? The criminal behavior of some? Or just behavior we deem unsavory and disagreeable? Who decides what everyone’s personal best should be? 

Some in the Twitter-verse called this ad “breathtaking and necessary”, jumping on the idea that toxic masculinity has ruined basically everything, and a new kind of modern masculinity needs to take it’s place. Others say the condescension is just too much… imagine a shampoo commercial asking women to rise above their innate manipulative cattiness… I don’t see that succeeding in the same way. See the problem? It’s not that anyone is actually threatened by a silly razor commercial, or even against the idea of respecting one another… it’s the continual, relentless message to men and boys that something is inherently wrong with them because they are male, and the one-sided argument that they (never women) contribute to a toxic kind of society. The Dove commercial parades women of all shapes and sizes around and tells us “you’re fine just how you are!”, while the message to the guys is, “men, you have some work to do.”

As a mom of two boys, it is definitely NOT my goal to raise hyper-aggressive, emotionless man-bullies. My basic dream in life is that they grow up to be godly men of character, integrity and morals. I just don’t believe in neutralizing or stifling what makes them who they are and replacing it with something completely unnatural.

Men are born warriors. Whether we like it or not, whether it offends us or not, they have innate drives in them to protect, to compete and well… be different than us women. Just last night my teenage son “accidentally” kicked his foot through a wall in our game room because he lost a ping-pong game to his little brother. A foot through a wall you guys. My first words were, “Whyyyyyy would you do that?!” My brain can’t comprehend it. Of course I don’t want ragey, angry boys parading through the house punching things when they don’t get their way… but I know that sometimes boys will be boys. (The Gillette commercial says I can’t use that phrase to excuse terrible behavior, but I’m using it.) There is biological stuff happening here, and if women can use the hormone argument, so can growing boys. It doesn’t mean it’s excused or that there isn’t a consequence – he’s going to pay up for the new drywall, I assure you. It doesn’t mean my kid is a neanderthal either. No, a girl would probably not kick a hole in a wall over a ping-pong game, but you know what? My boys would never spread gossipy rumors about people the way some girls at school do on a daily basis. Pick your poison, because it goes both ways. Masculinity run amuck is indeed harmful, and so is its feminine counterpart.

Just last week, The American Psychological Association  came out with what they say are very well-researched ‘guidelines’ regarding what they think makes a healthy man. Being adventurous, taking risks, stoicism and competitiveness are out. It’s scientifically acceptable for a man to want to become a woman, but abnormal for a man to pursue the innate drives that make him an actual man. What garbage. 

So, to the John Eldredge quote and why I am addressing this topic: we can’t kill our hearts just because we don’t know how to completely control them. Yes, we humans have a terrible knack for veering off course with our God-given abilities and drives… but if we would yield to our Creator and His purposes… if we would channel all that passion into a great reservoir of holy desire as he calls it… wow. A change of heart, not a change in gender roles, makes men and women Godly and effective. Trying to squash boys down to fit some new idea of masculinity won’t lead to a better culture. Showing them how to protect their heart for the pursuit of noble and better things though, that makes a man. In fact, it makes us all better in the end because we are being who we were created to be.

Hooray to a razor company for wanting to raise the bar a little in our bottom-feeder culture… but no to thinking that the way to do it is by taking away the very things that make men (and women) who they are. God created us to be different. It’s a shocker, I know. Our hearts don’t need to be tamed, they need to be directed. Full-steam ahead, passionate men and women with a holy desire are a force to be reckoned with.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

How We Contend

To contend: battlecompeteface offfightracerivalvie

The little book of Jude at the end of the New Testament is easy to overlook. It begins and ends with the promise that we serve a God who keeps us and preserves us (v. 1, 24). The body of the short letter however, is a call to arms. Jude pleads with believers that they must not fall into complacency because a ton of people have come onto the scene promising big things but delivering emptiness.

Jude says these folks are “grumblers and complainers” who go around using flattering words to get what they want (v.16). Sound familiar? Complaining while at the same time using smooth and savvy words to get their way. It’s apparently nothing new to humanity, but we seem to live in a culture that has perfected this little art form.

So how do we “contend” for our faith? Jude tells us we have to build ourselves up in prayer and keep ourselves in the love of God (v. 20). Interestingly, he gives us an instruction for dealing with people who have gone astray: Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear (v. 22-23). 

Sometimes contending means showing mercy and compassion, not knocking someone over the head with the latest how-to book. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight, but we do so with love. Doubt can be effectively chipped away at with steady doses of truth.

I also like the next verse that says sometimes you just have to snatch people out of the fire. It’s not always intellectual or neat. Sometimes people are standing at the precipice needing to be pulled back. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we always need to “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The way we contend is important… we always need elements of truth mixed with love. I love the verse in 1 Peter because it reminds us that we are to be living with a hope inside us that makes people stop and wonder… “what’s going on there?” If we walk around like the grumblers and complainers, nobody is going to see anything worth having. Gentleness mixed with reverence for what Jesus can do in a person’s heart is a powerful thing.

How do we contend? How do we fight the good fight? With both words and actions, but above all else, with the power of Christ working through us. Sometimes it’s a gentle word to a friend, other times it’s a walk into the fire with them.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6). 



On Studying Well

Something I get asked fairly often is “how do I get to the point where I actually want to spend time in the Word and enjoy it?”

My short answer is probably frustrating and redundant: “by spending more time in the Word.”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be familiar with what God says to us. We accept the authority the scriptures, their place in history and their effect on human events. Most of us desire to gain knowledge from our study time, which is good and noble. Why then, do so many of us struggle to even want to dig deeper? We have everything we could possibly need and more at our fingertips… commentaries, books, studies, you name it. Yet we simply don’t make the time. When we do, we often stop at the knowledge part and never move on to much application.

When I was a teen, the big buzzword in our church youth group was the “devo”, short for devotional. We would carve out time every morning to do our devo, journal some verses, and dutifully pray over what we studied. I even had a notebook that was neatly divided into four sections for praise, thanksgiving, confession and requests. It was well-intentioned and helped me build a good foundation for understanding God’s word, but something was still missing.

Years go by and we grow and change, our study and understanding of Jesus and His word hopefully growing and changing with us. There are high points and low points, times when we stubbornly turn our backs on Him and moments when we run straight into His arms. It took years of spiritual rollercoaster-riding for me to finally put into place some practical steps that helped me stay connected and abiding. Realizing this was His will all along, I tasted the freedom and joy it brought and never wanted to go back. Here are some of the “big ideas” that helped me, I hope they can help you too:

  • Just be a branch. In John 15, Jesus gives us a powerful picture of our position in life. We are branches attached to the Vine. It is through constant and consistent abiding in Him that we receive everything we need to be alive and bear fruit. The burden producing fruit isn’t on us, it’s a natural occurrence to our staying connected. Branches don’t disconnect one day and reconnect the next… they simply stay connected and receive what they need. Study the branch and vine relationship!
  • Camp out in the Word. It’s easy to want to follow a chronological reading plan, and they can be useful in giving us a total overview of what the Bible is about. It is important to study the entirety of the Bible for ourselves. Often, He wants to speak a specific word to us and have us meditate on it. If we are bouncing all over the place trying to keep up with a reading plan, we can miss out. When God places a verse on your heart, don’t rush on to the next thing. Cross-reference it, look up commentary about it, journal it, and let it sink in. If it’s too hard to believe at first, that’s ok. Our job is to remain and allow Him to clarify things and change our hearts in the process.
  • Stay Thirsty. Ok, yes I realize this is a slogan from a beer commercial, but when it comes to our spiritual growth, it’s true. No matter the circumstances, we must stay thirsty for more of God. Great times should push us forward just as much as difficult times. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Once we have experienced the joy that comes from abiding, it’s only natural that we will be thirsty for more.
  • Remember Obedience. This part isn’t very fun or cozy feeling, but it must be said. The Bible is clear that life is not always going to go our way. We can’t just go around doing whatever we please and expect God to bless our endeavors. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that a condition for discipleship is denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Obedience can be a sticking point for us though, if we see it in the wrong light. We don’t obey just to get a reward, we obey because we love Him and cherish His commands. We don’t follow rules out of legalism, we do it because we are in relationship with Jesus and because He has freed us from sin so that we may obey Him. It’s a privilege and a blessing to want to live in accordance with His word. We’ll mess up, we will fall short… but when our hearts are set on following His direction, we say no to the wishy-washy rollercoaster life that gives sin such a foothold over us.

I often think that we make it too hard on ourselves. We feel so overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible studies and books and seven-step programs out there that we never really get started. We forget that God Himself is our source and He’s all we need. James 1:5 tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. How encouraging this should be for us! We can start right where we are at, with our questions and our doubts. We should actually expect Him to illuminate His word and clarify it for us.

We can’t live for very long on the spiritual experiences of others or expect anyone else to do the digging for us. The challenge (and blessing) of getting in the Word for ourselves is that we have to get our hands dirty. We must taste for ourselves that the promises are true. Once that happens, I promise you, you’ll never want to go back to a lukewarm relationship with His word.

Stay thirsty, friends.

The Choice To Start

I wrote the other day about how disappointed I felt in myself for not following through with some things I wanted to do last year. The biggest one for me by far was not making the time to sit down and share with my boys things that I felt would be helpful to them in their walk with Christ. There were a few books that really impacted me, books that deal with this crazy upside down culture and our role as Jesus-followers in it. If you have kids, you know the feeling: I want them to get this! I want them to understand this! If they can just see through all this nonsense to the truth… maybe they won’t fall for the lies… maybe they will be different…

I spend a lot of time floundering around in the sad reality that we live in a world that is basically amusing itself to death, sacrificing everything meaningful for superficial ‘likes’ and virtual approval from total strangers. This isn’t the world I grew up in and it’s hard for me to relate to how deeply this affects them sometimes. The things I struggled with seem like small potatoes compared to what my kids have already seen first-hand. You Tube influencers confound me. Idol-worship of people so completely in love with themselves makes me cringe. The absence of the ability to think for themselves scares me. G.K. Chesterton said, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with news that the grass is green.” We are there, and sometimes I feel like an eighty year old grandmother who can’t adjust to the times. The reality though, is that I am a Jesus-follower and a parent who is charged with discipling two young men in a world turned inside-out. The reality is that God never changes, even when culture does. The truth is, in the past I have let it overwhelm me to the point of inaction. It’s so much easier to just cruise on through the days, dealing with things as they come, but never really being intentional about getting to the heart of it all. What’s that old saying? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s true. Suddenly I have a high schooler. In a moment he will be out on his own. A minute after that, his brother will follow. What do I want them to hear from me before they go? We spend our time doing the best we can, telling them what not to do, lecturing them on the dangers that lurk behind every corner, but are we giving them something to actually live for?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”  We have to have a vision from God, something positive and promising to go after, if we are going to really live. Without it, we just run wild without any direction or intent. This explains why “good” kids do really dumb things. Adults too, for that matter.

So this morning, I decided to just get going. I sat down and began a little folder for each of my boys. I don’t really have a well thought out plan, and that’s ok. The problem I encountered last year is that I had so much I wanted to share, I didn’t share anything. I couldn’t organize my thoughts, so I did nothing. Today, I started with this verse and a C.S. Lewis essay called “Men Without Chests” about how head knowledge is no match for the unbridled passions in our belly that override our reason. We need a chest to help the head rule the belly. Strong men know how to keep the fire in the belly from burning down the house. Seemed like something good for young men to hear. I crudely typed out some thoughts, printed them out and stuck it in a folder for each of them. I boldly asked for 20 minutes of their time, which in a world where online games rule the day, is a bigger deal than it may seem. We started. They were mildly interested, and that’s ok. I hope we can build on it.

We put too much pressure on getting things just right before we start anything and we wind up doing nothing. I liken our time today to the first time a person exercises in awhile… kind of a hot mess, but better than nothing. Little moments of faithfulness every day, like exercise or a good daily vitamin, is worth far more than sporadic moments here and there. I have a vision based on God’s promises and that gives me hope that we can grow together in His wisdom. It’s never too late. There will be eye rolls along the way to be sure, there will be dramatic whining and bad attitudes at times, and that’s ok. It won’t be perfect, but with time and faithfulness, I hope that they can have a prophetic vision all their own to keep chasing after.

The Stirring

“Aren’t we quick to jump toward Jesus but slow to walk the journey out with Him? When He asks, “What do you want?” Jesus is asking us, What do you really want for your life, because you have to know this going in. You can’t just follow Me without understanding what following Me means, and at some point you have to stop being constantly stirred but never compelled enough to take action. Do you want the now life? Or do you want Me more than anything else? Having Me will be the greatest fulfillment of your life, but fulfilling doesn’t always mean pain-free. Do you want to be the normal, everyday person who is flawed and doesn’t have life all together but watches God do amazing things through your life? God help us, this is tough, but we cannot continue to dip only our toe in the pool of faith, teasing God, not being serious about Him.” Lisa Whittle/I Want God

When I was a teen, by best friend and I would get each other new journals for the new year. It was exciting times for us… looking back over the past year and starting over in a new one. When you’re 14, a year can bring a lifetime of change. As I got older, I continued to journal, but in different ways. I didn’t keep track of events in the same way, but I did write verses or quotes that inspired me. Last New Years I began reading a book I just knew would be good for my family to read together, so I made pages of notes and promised myself we’d all sit every day and spend time learning together.

Spoiler alert: we did not. I sit now with the same journal and feel frustrated and disappointed in myself. It’s not that we didn’t do other good things, we certainly did. I just got myself too psyched out over the whole thing and waited for the perfect moment, which if you have ever met teenagers, you know never comes. I was stirred up to be sure… but I never was compelled enough to just take action.

The same thing happened with my cycling routine I told myself I would have. I had the indoor bike and the time to do it. I had a plan. January turned to February, before I knew it Easter had come and gone… and I was not doing it. In my mind I was stirred up, but I wanted other things more.

It’s perfectly fine to have these setbacks, it’s normal. It did get me thinking, however, about how fast we are to jump into things but how half-heartedly we do it. Noble things. Healthy things. When Jesus asks the two men following Him in John 1:38, “What do you want?”, He’s asking them to take a minute and think about what they are about to do. Do you really want to follow Me down this road? It means you have to want Me more than all that other stuff. You have to be serious about Me.

So just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we have to wait it out. God holds out a hand and motions for us to just get started. I think the most frustrating thing for us this time of year is the stirring in our hearts we have for change and the inability to actually carry it out… they are incompatible. Before the well-laid plans can come to fruition, we have to answer Jesus’ question honestly and seriously: What do I want?

The spiritual answer is of course, “I want You Lord!”! The more realistic answer would probably fall more into the category of “I want You BUT… I also want my comfort and security.” Yes, we want Jesus, but we aren’t willing to put everything down on the altar for Him just yet. He doesn’t force us to but both feet downstream, so we stand halfway in and halfway out, holding our little idols and getting nowhere fast. It’s scary as can be sometimes, but I want to be able to just put both feet in and go.

Why don’t we do this? Why didn’t I just get the family together and share what was on my heart and read the book with them? Why didn’t I hop on that silly bike at all? The brutal truth is because it required sacrifice. Time. Energy. I chose the path of least resistance.

I feel the stirring… many of us do this time of year. The question is, will we be all-in with Jesus or will we keep living halfway and getting nowhere fast? Goals are great, but before we can see them

In Haggai chapter 1, the prophet challenges the Jewish people to get going on the project they had abandoned: the rebuilding of the temple. They had become more concerned with their personal comfort than in completing their God-given task.

“You have sown so much, and bring in little; You eat, but you do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (v.6)

Ouch. Everything they are running after and pouring their time into is a giant waste. Sound familiar at all?

We are flawed, selfish people. We want things to be better, but our past failures have taught us that our good intentions don’t carry us far. There is a surrender that has to take the place of our stubbornness. Both feet in. All the lovely wishing in the world won’t get us where we need to go if we don’t actually want to put Jesus first. It means sacrifice.

“What do you want?” 

I want to jump in. I want to want Him more than my little idols or even my goals. It’s January and we are stirred up – let’s not wait until things are perfect to begin walking out all those things He’s planted in our hearts. I don’t want to sow and have no crop. I don’t want to continue throwing money into a bag with holes. To have more of God, we have to actually want more of Him. He’s so good you guys… when we just surrender, He’ll take it from there.

So… hello 2019! What do you really, really want this year?

With Praise and a Sword

“Our false self demands a formula before it engages; our false self wants a guarantee of success; and mister, your aren’t going to get one. So there comes a time in a man’s life when he’s got to break away from all that and head off into the unknown with God. This is a vital part of our journey, and if we balk here, the journey ends.” John Eldredge

Being on Christmas break and not really knowing what day it is or where we are half the time has opened the door for lots of relaxing and movie watching. One of our favorites is the series of Narnia films. I think I love them more than my kids do, maybe it’s because I’m a grown up now and I can see in hindsight how important the stories are. I wish I had known them earlier.

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader we meet cousin Eustace, a spoiled little boy who mocks his cousins tales of Narnia and gets all his information from books. He puts all his hope into science and deductive reasoning. Needless to say, when he experiences Narnia and Aslan, everything changes.

Eustace is scared of what he doesn’t know. He spends his time trying to formulate a way out of strange situations, and when that doesn’t work, he simply mocks everyone that he deems inferior. He’s scared and confused by adventure. Narnia is the worst place for him because everything he experiences goes against how he has been trained to think. It’s also the best possible place for him, because Aslan refuses to leave the poor kid in his sad state. The redemption story of Eustace is a powerful one, but not without pain.

Thankfully, the young boy was with a group who didn’t dismiss the adventure. The Pevensie kids longed for Narnia when they weren’t there. Once experienced, it was something they wanted to go back to. Yes, it was scary and dangerous at times, but there was something there, someone there that made it all worth it. They longed to be with Aslan again.

As we enter a new year full of unknowns, let us not be afraid of heading off into the unknown with God. Avoiding new things or putting off hard decisions may seem safer, but at best it leads nowhere fast. It’s not blindly jumping and yelling YOLO! with our fingers crossed… it’s a conscious decision to follow Jesus at every turn. It’s a choice to push through difficulty or uncomfortableness and get to the healing on the other side. There comes a time when playing it safe just isn’t safe anymore. We aren’t heading off ill-equipped or without a compass… we have the greatest Guide ever.

This is quickly becoming my New Years battle cry:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a double-edged sword in their hand.” Psalm 149:6

We aren’t exactly floating down the river on a pleasure cruise here… life is a battle, and a hard one at times. The false part of ourselves demands a formula and some guarantees before every venturing out into the unknown. Go without it. I want to be more like those kids in Narnia who craved the adventure in spite of the danger. With praise in my mouth and a sword in my hand.

Happy New Year everyone… armor up and enjoy it!