Into the Foolishness of God

The power of coming into agreement with God's Word and will

camel_one_previous_owner4Photo courtesy: moxon.net

This post is about how to act like a camel, so bear with me for a moment.

Every once in awhile I come across a familiar verse and see it in a whole new way. There’s this little section in my Bible they call “word wealth” and it aims to reveal the true meaning behind certain words. The original meaning, from the Hebrew or Greek. What’s fascinating is that some of our English words just don’t cut it when it comes to understanding what God was conveying to us through His word. In the same way that Eskimos have several different words for what we just call ‘snow’, there are layers and meanings to our ‘ordinary’ words.

Here’s the verse, which we’ve probably all heard a few times:

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:5

Commit your way. Words like dedicate and devote come to mind. If I commit my way to Him I’m making a kind of pledge or promise to follow Him. All good things.

Here’s what my Bible had to say on it that just was such a powerful picture to me:

commitgalal (gah-lahl) Strong’s #1556; To roll, roll away, remove. In this text the reader is encouraged to roll his works into God’s care. The picture is of a camel, burdened with a heavy load; when the load is to be removed, the camel kneels down, tilts far to one side, and the load rolls off.

Did you catch that? Read it again. We’ve all probably seen a camel kneeling down to drink or let someone off it’s back. It has to get down on it’s front legs and roll the load off it’s back.

Kneel. And roll.

This is such a simple and profound thing for me. We all have loads to carry. Some is just life responsibilities, like work or kids or marriage. We carry them everywhere we go. It’s our God-given ‘load’ and in the right context, it’s a joy to carry. On the other hand, we pick up things along the way that are simply backbreaking, things we aren’t meant to haul around.

Guilt. Disappointments. Old scores to settle. Resentment. Opinions of others. What a long list we can all make.

Is your back hurting? Is your spirit heavy? God is saying it’s ok to bend the knee and take a rest. Furthermore, after you’ve bent the knee, feel free to roll all that junk right off. Lighten your load. Get rid of it. Roll it AWAY from yourself and ONTO a God who can actually do something about it.

How very freeing. Remember what Jesus says to us:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28

Rest for your SOUL. I don’t know about you, but I desire that kind of rest. You know how you feel after a solid nights sleep? I imagine soul rest is even better and more important. It doesn’t mean the troubles disappear, it means though that they are off our backs. Rolled onto a Savior who willfully takes them. What is required of us? Kneeling and rolling. Pretty basic.

Ask God today what you need to roll off your back and onto Him. We aren’t required to walk around heavy-laden on the verge of collapse. It’s not heroic to be overburdened. Camels aren’t the most graceful of creatures I suppose, but neither are we when we are overwhelmed. Kneel down, awkward as it may be, and roll all that stuff off. I imagine we’d all walk a little lighter and straighter without a giant load weighing us down.

Blessings friends.

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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.

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!

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.

 

“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.

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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.

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Our pastor said something at church this morning that really stuck out to me, I jotted it down on the notes section of my phone… (which says a lot, because I barely know how to use the notes section of my phone). He was speaking on evangelism, which at first, made me scrunch up my face and shrink back a bit in my chair. Not so much comfortable with evangelizing,  I have to say. Not in the sense that I usually think of it, anyways. He said there are probably two big reasons why we react this way: we’ve either seen it done really poorly and we don’t want to be ‘that’ Christian, or we’ve seen it done really well and we feel totally inadequate.

It’s the angry loud guy on the corner with a giant sandwich board telling everyone they are going to hell, or Billy Graham himself. No middle ground. So yeah, it’s easy to see how we can push this area aside. It seems impossible, and besides, aren’t certain people just called to evangelize and gifted to do it?

The truth is, we are ALL called to make disciples and spread the good news (Mark 16:15). No special calling required, except our relationship and belief in Jesus and what He accomplished for us.

To evangelize is simply to declare the good news to those still in captivity. He used the verses in Isaiah 52 to paint a beautiful picture of this:

Awake, awake!
Put on your strength, O Zion;
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Shall no longer come to you.
2 Shake yourself from the dust, arise;
Sit down, O Jerusalem!
Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion!

Put on the bright garments and take off the mourning clothes. Shake off everything that holds you down and stand up!

Israel was still captive, but God was calling them to anticipate their coming freedom and act accordingly. How much more then, should we, being set free, put on our bright garments and stand up? We are supposed to be known for our JOY, Christians. Not phony, fake smiles and slick Instagram posts, but real, abiding joy that comes and stays despite challenges and in the face of difficulties.

“Live and love in a way that demonstrates the reality of your rescue” he said. Are we living that way? Or are we parading around in our dark mourning clothes all hunkered down in the dirt? Do people recognize something different in us or are we so blended in with the world that nobody would ever know if we were Jesus-followers or atheists?

To evangelize is simply to get up and share the good news. With actual people in our lives. We can demonstrate it in so many ways, but we are called and commanded to do it. We make things way too hard when we think this is something to be left up to the pastors of the world. Taking little steps with the people in our lives can make a huge impact.

Don’t be afraid to declare the good news. We may not all be bold like Billy Graham, but we do have the Holy Spirit and that’s pretty amazing.  As long as it’s not angry yelling on the street corner, I bet we’d be surprised at people’s responses to actual good news. The world needs it the way dry soil needs water. Get out and share Jesus and demonstrate to the people you come across the reality of your rescue.

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“Unless you are convinced that in the blood of Jesus when He died on the cross there was included, as a purchase of that blood, your right to a full, Spirit-filled life – unless you are convinced of that, unless you are convinced that it isn’t an added, unusual, extra, deluxe something that you have to go to God and beg and beat your fists on the chair to get, I recommend this to you: I recommend that you don’t do anything about it yet except to meditate upon scripture bearing on this truth.” AW Tozer

This is a bit of a crude example, but are we signed up for the all-you-can-eat buffet or are we dining à la carte in our spirit lives? Jesus came that we may have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY and that includes living in great freedom. He’s like the whole buffet, drink refills and Jell-O desserts included. Paid for in full, and have at it.

We seem to struggle with this. Some people seem to be tangled up more than others. It isn’t that Christ has freed some more than others, it’s that some of us haven’t fully accepted and appropriated what He’s done in our own lives. He’s purchased the buffet for us, but we’re stuck still trying to buy things off the menu. There isn’t some extra-supersized version of freedom that some get and some don’t… He came and freed us all from every sin that ensnares (Hebrews 12:1). All of us. Every sin. Every struggle.

The dots don’t always connect, though. Sure, Jesus came and died for our sins and we’re going to heaven… that’s our big picture. But setting down each little habit, temptation or struggle and accepting there is something better… it’s hard. We waste so much time slogging through the mud thinking ‘oh well that’s just life’ while all the time Jesus is saying ‘no, it’s actually not… I freed you from this already!’ We accept certain little sins and allow them to set up shop in our hearts.

A life of righteousness, peace and joy isn’t just a PERK to be enjoyed by some, it’s our RIGHT as children of God. Tozer said we have to be satisfied and convinced that it’s not abnormal to experience these things. “In a world where everybody was sick, health would be unusual, but it wouldn’t be abnormal. This is unusual only because our spiritual lives are so wretchedly sick and so far down from where they should be.”

Before we can walk this out, we have to realize this is what Jesus came and died for. We don’t need to beg or beat our fists at the skies, our ticket has already been bought and paid for. If we aren’t experiencing it, it’s because we haven’t fully accepted it and are trying to do something in our own power. Jesus is at the buffet! It’s all been provided for us!

If we are fearful or fretful it’s because we aren’t accepting what He’s already provided. Jesus didn’t die for our sins so we would be panicky Christians holding on to our lives with clenched fists trying to figure our next move. When we try to work things out with our intellect or strength we are limiting ourselves to the à la carte menu, which we all know is a huge rip off. Sin makes us freak out, it makes us irrational, and it makes us do really dumb things quite frankly. The enemy wants to keep us there as long as possible, thinking that spirit filled life is unattainable.

In a world where everyone is sick, yes it is unusual to be healthy. You stand out, and that’s a good thing. It isn’t abnormal, though to be well. Not in Christ’s eyes at least. We aren’t perfect, but we are well. Of course sin is sin and we make mistakes, but we also realize we don’t need to be ensnared over them. We have a ticket for the buffet and we are not going to settle for a small plate.

Tozer advises us to just meditate on that for a bit. Don’t fret. Don’t go out and do a bunch of things to fix yourself… just go see what Jesus says about it. He’s quite patient actually and more than willing to show us the way to the buffet.

It may not be perfect, but it can be well with our soul if we will just accept what He’s already purchased for us. Be WELL, friends!

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“and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit…” John 15:2

The pruning knife. A much maligned and misunderstood concept for us believers I think. John 15 was always one of my favorite chapters to read, admittedly I didn’t really understand much except that Jesus said He was the vine and we were the branches, and something about staying connected. I always liked the beauty of the grapevine. And the wine part, obviously. That’s the great thing about abiding in Him though, He’s always peeling away layers and showing us more as we rest and grow in Him. We could read the same chapter and verse our entire lives and God would still have something to show us on our last day.

So we read John 15 and take in the big ideas, He is the vine, we are the branches, etc. Something shifts a little when we’re told of certain branches getting pruned so that they will bear even more fruit. One thing I think a lot of us believe is that God’s pruning shears are like a giant weed-whacker. A kind of cosmic machete swinging wildly chopping off this and that from our lives to teach us some kind of lesson. We say things like:

  • Well, what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger!
  • This (sickness, calamity, misfortune) must be God’s will, He wouldn’t give me more than I could bear!

I’ll stop there, you get the point. Is this true? Is God’s pruning basically just Him hacking away at things in our lives? If we are sick or fall on hard times can we call it ‘pruning’?

Here’s something neat I read about pruning vs. other forms of trimming or shearing:

“Pruning is always done by hand (so put away that electric hedge trimmer!). Each branch or stem is cut individually, with cuts carefully placed based on bud growth. Pruning results in a more natural look and is generally better for the health of the plant. It allows you to make more judicious cuts to shape the plant and address specific issues, such as diseased or damaged branches. And by letting light into the interior of the shrub, you encourage growth throughout the entire plant, not just on the branch tips.”

Did you catch that?

  •  Always done by hand. No weed-whackers randomly cutting here and there.
  • Big cuts are sometimes necessary and they address specific issues
  • Attention is taken to let light in to the inside, not just the outside tips

The thing with vines is that they can become so well-rooted and mature they need very little water or fertilizer, but they cannot survive without constant pruning. Last seasons “stuff” will only do damage if kept for this season. Sometimes perfectly healthy wood has to be cut away. We once took a tour of a vineyard where they told us a branch can grow up to ten feet long and get pruned down to just a couple of inches. Those few inches are enough to bear healthy grapes. The sap has to be saved for the fruit, not wasted on extra branches and leaves. Let that sink in: no matter how healthy and mature the vine, it still needs vigorous pruning. 

So in order to prune us, does God send random problems and hardships? Problems are a part of life, but they aren’t necessary to bear good fruit. If we mistakenly accept and welcome them into our lives, we aren’t living Biblically or very intelligently for that matter. The word used for pruning (or purging) actually means to cleanse. This makes complete sense when you read verse 3: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” 

It’s actually through His WORD that he prunes us. Cleanses us. Purges us of all the extra bark and leaves that no longer help us. His word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), it’s living and active and it is more than enough to discipline and correct us (2 Timothy 3:16). Words of conviction, but also of comfort. Words that melt down our selfish plans but refine them into better ones.

God doesn’t need the devils help when it comes to helping us bear fruit. That isn’t to say that we don’t learn through trials and hardships, of course we do. Lets not confuse God’s way with the world’s way though. God loves us and desires to make us clean through His words and promises to us. His pruning shears are always handheld and used with the utmost of care. They may humble us, but they won’t destroy us. While the world focuses on what the outer edges of our branches and leaves look like, Jesus wants to make sure light is getting all the way to the inside of us.

Leaves from trees put on a mighty show every autumn, but they aren’t really meant to hang around in big numbers on the vine. The vine is all about the fruit. Jesus is all about our fruit. Abundant fruit. Don’t be afraid of the pruning shears, He’s precise and He knows what He’s up to. True, we may be humbled from a giant log down to a smaller branch. We may feel a bit naked without all our leaves, but never humiliated. Those short, bare vines are the strong ones. They may not be the showiest, but their fruit is abundant and healthy!

 

 

 

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In the Bible, the Hebrew word for peace, shalom is a deeply meaningful word. More than just the absence of conflict, shalom is an expression of wholeness and completeness.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives us a beautiful picture of believers living together in shalom and it’s far more than just a static absence of conflict.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Bear with each other. Do you know what that means? It means to tolerate or put up with someones wrongdoing. Why? Because the Lord has forgiven us all of far worse. We are told not to enflame their passions, stir their pot, fan the flames… what have you. It’s not that we are doormats to be mistreated, or victims to be abused, but we are not to be so selfish or hard-hearted that we cannot forgive.

God’s people aren’t immune to unforgiveness. Paul is addressing them directly telling them to clothe themselves with humility and kindness so that when offenses happen (and they always will) they don’t rule the heart. He’s showing them a way through it, a proper way to handle it so that the whole community will remain whole, in shalom.

When Paul wrote about the shoes of peace, he wasn’t talking about a flimsy pair of flip-flops. He was talking about the special sandals Roman soldiers wore to battle. Because they typically fought side by side, the thick-soled shoes enabled them to dig their feet firmly into the ground and not slip. The shoes grounded them.

The shoes of peace are an essential part to our offensive armor. It’s not always a bad thing to dig your heels in if it means you’re standing on the truth of shalom.  The enemy likes nothing more than to see our feet slip. If he can disturb the battle lines, he advances. That’s why forgiveness is so necessary in our lives. By harboring bitterness and resentment, we lose ground personally and corporately. As recipients of grace, we are commanded to also give grace. We are commanded to live in shalom and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts no matter what.

An impossible task if we attempt it in the flesh. An absolutely normal and beautiful part of the Christian walk if we allow Jesus to work it out in us. Satan will never stop sowing strife among us… like little seeds of conflict being constantly dropped in the soil of our hearts. Our job is to recognize them and toss them out before they take root and grow into something bigger. Don’t water them. Don’t tend to them. Don’t let bitterness take root.

It may mean we operate differently with people. It may mean we set boundaries so as not to repeat the same mistakes over again. It may mean consequences. Anger itself isn’t a sin, it’s how we deal with it that leads us either to chaos or peace. Without the proper footing, the enemy will drag us off into total chaos. We are called to a higher standard, not an impossible one, but higher than that of the world. The fantastic news is that Jesus made it totally possible for us to live His way. It actually releases us to great freedom. When we go beyond forgiveness to praying for and loving those who hurt us, we slam the door shut on the chaos. The enemy can’t get in. His seeds can’t take root.

The sandals of peace help us hold the line. A shoeless soldier can be brought down by the smallest of rocks. Don’t let the enemy catch you in that state. We walk in peace, in shalom because Jesus made it possible for us to do so. It’s far easier to forgive and walk in freedom than it is to nurture the seeds of resentment.

Forgive. Walk on. Shut the door to the enemy. Enjoy the freedom and the wholeness that Jesus offers.

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