Courted and Persuaded

Courting is kind of an old fashioned idea, gone out of style except maybe for the occasional Hallmark movie. It’s a flattering thing, when someone finds such value in you that they want to win over your affections. Courting implies a pursuit of some kind, one person chasing after another because they value their affections. It’s a lovely thought.

Until… it’s not. Hallmark movies aside, what about when the pursuing party isn’t all that wonderful? Think of slimy politicians courting their voter base with empty promises. We all would like to be pursued by someone worthy, but what about when something very unworthy is knocking at our door?

I read this morning in Galatians a plea from Paul to the church that struck a chord:

“They zealously court you, but for no good. Yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.” Galatians 4:17

He’s speaking of false teachers who prey on believers for their own benefit. I got to thinking about the world as a whole, how it entices us and knocks at our door… how it courts us with outstretched hand to follow its lead. We fall into a kind of daze at the promise of something better and we follow it right into a dead end, or worse. The promises are empty.

He goes on to say this:

“You ran well, who hindered you from the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” 5:7-8

This persuasion… this arm-twisting, this luring, this tempting… this is not from God! Paul is acknowledging that they were doing so well, until they allowed themselves to be courted and persuaded by the wrong people.

We feel this draw every single day, this almost magnetic pull the world has on us. It holds out its hand and summons us to come and follow. Some of us get lost in hours of scrolling or shopping, hoping the world will fulfill its promise to satisfy us. Others throw themselves into work, thinking the world will reward their sacrifices. Some habitually get lost in pills or a bottle because its better than feeling disappointed again.

It doesn’t really matter how we do it, what matters is that as children of God, we shouldn’t even be willing to allow the enemy to court us or persuade us in any form.

Paul says that we are known by God and he can’t even fathom how we could turn ourselves over to such weak and beggarly elements whose only goal is to push us back down into bondage (4:9).

Ok Paul, since you put it that way… weak and beggarly. These things that seem so powerful over us are really nothing in the light of His love for us. Jesus doesn’t offer us some second-hand, watered-down alternative to the exciting world outside our doorstep, He offers us the real thing. It’s the world that is watered-down and phony. If we flip the script, we’ll see that the things we are courted by and persuaded into following are all just smoke and mirrors. Beauty, popularity, fame, position… it’s all more temporary then we’d like to admit.

Paul finishes the chapter by reminding us that we have been called to liberty (5:13). Freedom is our calling, and it comes when we refuse to be courted by the world and all its charms. Liberty is our calling, and we walk into it when we refuse to be persuaded by things that are not of Him.

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.” AW Tozer

Too Many Cooks

images

I always joke that I would have been better off living in the past when things weren’t as hectic and complicated. When I’m at home, I watch The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie almost religiously. I find the simplicity of it all incredibly relaxing. My husband laughs at me and reminds me Laura Ingalls was probably freezing and hungry a good deal of the time. Sigh.

There’s an episode of The Waltons where the family has a telephone installed in the home and it rings during dinner time almost throwing poor grandma Walton into convulsions. The very idea of such an intrusive distraction is just too much for her to bear.

I wonder what these people would think if they could return to 2017 and see the way we live. Phones in our pockets, twelve different social media platforms, televisions at gas stations blaring the latest news. Our days are a whirlwind of craziness, we are always searching and rarely finding anything worthy of our attention. The hours are filled with fillers… scrolling, sending, receiving and checking for the next thing. Information overload.

When my boys were babies I remember them not being able to handle too much stimulation. If a room was too loud for too long, they simply shut down and went into a deep sleep. I sometimes feel that way at the end of the day if I’ve spent too much time feasting on the world’s junk. Exhausted. Spent. Checked out.

‘The struggle is real’ as they say… we are created to search, but we’re also created to find fulfillment in the right places. Christians these days are fantastic at seeking, but I wonder how are we at genuinely settling down and receiving? Are we even capable of quiet anymore? We are wired to take in eighty bits of useless information in a minute, but can we sit down with Jesus for an hour and take in maybe one big, fantastic truth from Him? Something like:  You are loved. I am for you. Settle down. Hold fast. Confess. Worship. Simplify.

Most of us are in such a whirlwind most of the time that it’s difficult to even discern what is happening to us.

“The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.” AW Tozer

Here is a man ahead of his time, showing us that mindlessly seeking after every new thing isn’t unique to our century. It’s true, we see mediocrity around us and we want to rise above it. We desire better things. We inherently know there’s room to grow. There’s absolutely  nothing wrong with that, we are created to live abundant, fruitful lives.

But to what end? To get ahead of our neighbor? To promote ourselves? Or to glorify God?

We’ve deceived ourselves into thinking the answer we’ve been looking for lies just beyond, in that new bestseller, that ’40 days to (fill in the blank). Every month there’s another idea presented in shiny packaging by a shiny writer and we think, ‘Ok! I’m on board! I’ll read, I’ll journal, I’ll draw prayer circles around my children, whatever it takes!’

And then… fizzle, poof.  It’s on the shelf of our good intentions collecting dust.

If something isn’t pointing us toward Jesus and away from self, it’s probably not going to stick. Self is a dead-end road. Jesus, however, is the fountain of living water that never runs out. God desires that we love Him for Himself, that we “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The spirit of this age loves to complicate what is simple, to corrupt that which is pure. Too many cooks in the kitchen of Christian thought and you end up dangerously close to burning the whole thing down.

I truly believe one of the most dangerous habits of our day is over-complicating the ways and truths of God. Some of us have a great talent for it. We are professional seekers who never find a single thing worth holding onto. Seeking is important, but we are meant to find something at the end of the search.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart…” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Too much clutter, too many opinions, and information overload dull our senses. We can’t see clearly through the lens of the world, and there is an enemy who wants nothing more than to keep things out of focus for us.

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

It’s no Walton’s Mountain up in here, but it is possible to disengage awhile from all the distractions that keep us always seeking and never finding. Put all the well-meaning clutter on hold for just a day and open up God’s Word. Soak it in and see what comes of it.

Too many cooks will indeed spoil the broth. Let some of them out of the kitchen for a bit and see how things turn out.

 

 

The Old Cross and Modern Thought

fullsizerender

“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” Charles Spurgeon

“There has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.” AW Tozer, The Old Cross and the New

There’s a noticeable and growing hesitation lately in Christian circles, to take a stand for the truth. A  watering down the true gospel in exchange for something more comfortable and less demanding. Believers are in quite a bind, stuck between a culture that is perpetually offended at the basic beliefs of Christianity and Christians who have tossed aside truth for this “new cross”

Tozer speaks of CONTENT and EMPHASIS. Just think about how this plays out in todays Christian churches or bookstores. The new cross idea makes no demands but as Tozer says “offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better. The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.” 

Yikes.

Read any of the best-selling Christian books lately? Attended any conferences? Is the emphasis on Jesus at all? Our need for Him? Or does it seem like a big bunch of feel good, self-help bumper stickers that tell us to embrace our disastrous selves and love our messy lives?

Life is messy. We are at times, giant disasters. We live in a world given over to sin and selfishness and it gets worse by the day. The answer to all that, the remedy to our sin, is Jesus and what He did for us. It’s not going to be found in this new cross.

My heart breaks to see so many well-intentioned believers (women especially) taken down this dead-end path of almost cult-like adoration for certain books and authors who promote this grey-area discipleship. People want less teaching and more funny stories. Fewer Bible verses, more Bible coloring. Why? Because it’s easier than addressing what’s happening in our hearts or our lives. It’s hip to be a hot mess. While the stories are engaging and often times hilarious, there’s a sense that we all just are supposed to embrace the crappy stuff and hug it out, because this is life. The new cross doesn’t come with much hope.

Jesus said He came to give us LIFE and give it ABUNDANTLY (John 10:10). He never implies the absence of problems, but it does say there’s a way to thrive in spite of them. If you aren’t directing someone to the cross, to Jesus Himself and to the supernatural power of His saving grace and love… where are you directing them to? To themselves? Back to yourself? To your latest book? To the next conference? Those may all be good and useful things, but it’s like feeding a child nothing but candy. Eventually, without any nutrients, they’re going to crash.

Christians following this new cross are heading for a crash. It’s unfulfilling at best, and totally destructive at worst. Tozer writes, “this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. it is false because it is blind. It misses completely the meaning of the cross.”

Content and emphasis. Are we emphasizing staying on good terms with the world? With sin? These are long and winding roads that all lead to a dead end.

Jesus loved without compromising the truth. He taught without modifying the message.  We live in a “sin-mad” world where the truth changes daily. Honestly, I can’t keep up. The new lists of micro-aggressions and trigger-words grow daily. The world’s truth alters constantly. But the Truth with a capital “T” cannot change. That’s why it’s so important for us to feed on more than just candy. Christians must know Jesus for themselves and point others directly to Him. That’s ministry. The fanfare and fluff may be entertaining, but hurting people need Jesus. Period.

“That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it.”

If we want to make a difference, lets start by pointing people to Jesus. We have enough distractions. Someone will always say it better or write it more eloquently. Jesus doesn’t need us to shine Him up or repackage Him. He needs us to be true to the message that has held since time began. That old cross may not be as hip or fashionable these days, but it’s the one that holds the power to transform lives. Rugged and true.

The “Nothing in Particular” Crowd

There was a survey out this week saying that Christianity in America is on the decline. Seventy percent of us still identify as ‘Christian’ in some kind of way, but apparently that majority is shrinking. The percentage of people identifying themselves as “nothing in particular” grew by leaps and bounds.

Nothing in particular, because church is boring and irrelevant.

Nothing in particular, because Christians are judgmental hypocrites.

Nothing in particular because God is gonna do what He’s gonna do with or without our help.

I have no idea if this poll is correct or not.  Perhaps the true Christian population isn’t decreasing at all, perhaps it just wasn’t that large to begin with. It’s easy to go along with the crowd when it’s the popular thing to do. That convenient kind of Christianity isn’t going to get us very far anymore. The greatest way to draw in that “nothing in particular” crowd isn’t with a two minute pop culture sermon. We draw them in with the truth. Plain and simple truth, the way Jesus and His followers preached it. They didn’t have large buildings, money or technology. But they turned the world upside-down and inside out with power from above. The spoken Word and the power that comes with it was all it took to turn hearts and minds to Jesus.

It is heartbreaking that people are choosing “nothing in particular” over the abundant life that Jesus offers. It’s equally heartbreaking that professing Christians are living like practical atheists by believing more of what the world says than what God says.

God’s truth will ruffle feathers. It will stir things up. It won’t always be comfortable. That’s a good thing. Proclaiming the truth is important. Actually LIVING it out is even better.

Let’s have people be drawn to us not just based on what we say, but because of how our lives play out. If God’s power is manifest in our lives, all of the sudden that ‘nothing in particular’ lifestyle doesn’t seem so great. People take notice. They begin to ask questions. No one ever yearns for compromise, they hunger for Truth. Strip away all the fluff and misconceptions we’ve heaped onto it, and Christianity is actually quite exciting.

When we try and impress everyone, we captivate no one.

“The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful adjustment to unregenerate society, they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of Christians. There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.” AW Tozer

Christianity isn’t dying out. It’s becoming more clearly defined. The separation of the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats… that’s what is taking place. Let’s not be “strangely unaware” of the battle around us. Let’s captivate people with the love and truth of Christ.  The enemy would like nothing more than to render us passive “nothing in particular” people. Believers and non-believers alike will be drawn to the true nature of God when they see it manifest. It’s that simple. We don’t need to ‘sell’ Jesus. His power speaks for itself. Be the vessel, speak the truth lovingly without compromise, and watch what happens!