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.

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!

Heart Resolutions

“On a note of hope, on a strong amen

“I will start anew, I will make amends

And I’ll thank the world and remember when

I was able to begin again!”

Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney), Scrooge

We made it! Another Christmas season come and gone. While normal people are sitting around the tree enjoying their homes and families, I am packing away Christmas like it’s my job and staring excitedly at my 2019 planner. Not because I don’t like Christmas, I love it. I love it so much I may have started decorating for it just after halloween. We celebrate long and hard, but when it’s done, my greatest present to myself is a clean-ish house and a fresh start.

We wrapped up Christmas night with a final watching of one of our favorites, Scrooge, and the timeless story of a changed heart and new beginnings. The end always gets me, when Ebenezer’s eyes are finally opened to the beauty around him and he stops focusing on the wrong things. We use the New Year as our jumping off point for new beginnings. Hope is a powerful thing. We all know though, that by early March the shiny promises have begun to tarnish a bit.

The beauty of this story to me is that Scrooge isn’t making any New Years resolutions or empty promises, his heart really is different. You just know that this isn’t going to fade away. The difference between heart and head decisions are big ones. There’s a lot of things in my head I’d like to accomplish, but unless they are planted in my heart, I know all too well not much is going to happen. Good intentions always lead me into frustration because they don’t have much backing them up when it gets difficult.

We need times to ‘start anew’… we need hope… we need to make our amends and move forward, even if it is into the unknown. Each new calendar year gives us the chance to do that in part, but the freedom we have in Christ means that every day can be our January first.

Before any lofty goal can change us on the outside, God’s words to us must ba able to start their work from the inside. “My son give attention to my words; For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:20-23

Every single day can be a new start with Him. He doesn’t hold our past against us, He holds out His hand anew to us every morning and just invites us to step back in to our story.

Fear and Hustling

Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rain righteousness upon you. –Hosea 10:12

I’m no farmer, so I looked up the exact meaning of the word fallow in the dictionary after coming across this verse. It means land that is unseeded, unsown, idle or obsolete. It’s land that could be used to grow crops, but has been left alone to compact and harden. Fallow land will yield absolutely nothing come harvest time, except possibly some weeds.

Hosea is pleading with the people of Israel to get real about the sin in their lives and turn away from it. Throughout the book, he refers to them as an unfaithful harlot whose straying has wreaked havoc, causing all kinds of idolatry and chaos. This verse is an encouragement, a plea in the middle of an otherwise dreary chapter, to snap out of it and return to the God who really is on their side. Continue reading

Just Go Fishing

“The world seems to have a real genius for being wrong, even the educated world. I can see how a right man might live in a wrong world and not be affected by it except that the world will not let him alone. It wants to educate him. Society, being fluid, usually moves like the wind, going all out in one direction until the novelty wears off. Whatever people happen to be interested in at the moment must be accepted as normal… our highest ambition should be to become integrated to the mass, to lose our moral individuality as a whole.” AW Tozer  Culture

AW Tozer wrote here in this essay of just wanting to go fishing, but the world and its nonsense just wouldn’t leave him alone. I’m sure we all can relate. There are times I walk into a room and my husband is watching the news and I just walk right out… my brain just can’t handle it. It’s like Alice in Wonderland up in here, and everything is topsy-turvy.

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