Please…Go Outside

“The artificial world lies and cheats. It seduces us with the worst of all lessons: that life is easy, and comfort is the goal. Thus it kills initiation at every turn. It cheats us of nourishment and strength and the very training we need. The answer is not only online filters. The answer is to choose a life where you prefer the Real over the artificial everywhere you possibly can. Reality was meant to shape us. The artificial is built almost entirely around our comfort and ease. Take back your soul. Re-engage the process of your initiation by choosing the Real everywhere you can.” John Eldredge

I read a blog post a few weeks ago called Choosing What Is Real by John Eldredge and have been revisiting it over and over ever since. Perhaps because it’s summertime, and I’m over the top about everyone getting the heck offline… it’s also because I am more nauseated than usual about the inter-webs and the ways in which we rely so heavily on them for identity and entertainment.

The idea that we not only spend most of our lives indoors behind a screen in an artificial world, but that we actually prefer it is so very disheartening. Anyone with kids understands this truth all too well. The ways in which games are being marketed towards getting them sucked into an artificial world is nothing short of evil marketing genius. If it’s not games, it’s the social apps that put everything on parade all day long. I’ve touched on it before, but I have an somewhat irrational aversion for most things YouTube related. I know there are interesting things to watch, but the amount of trash out there is mind-boggling. I know this because I have boys who watch really dumb stuff. You watch one video, and another automatically pops up, then another… before you know it, you’re sucked into some of the most absurd things you’ve ever witnessed.

To be clear, I’m not lamenting the good old days or wishing technology away. I’m not standing in my yard yelling at young kids to get off my lawn… not just yet. I’m saying that there’s something bigger at stake here, and it has to do with more than just safety filters.

I saw something yesterday that sent my mind into overdrive on this topic. There was a YouTube convention in which tens of thousands of teens showed up to see a certain famous online personality and get a picture with her. I had never heard of her, or any of them for that matter, but I’m fascinated about what draws the teens in, so I checked out her Instagram page. Turns out, she is no more than a vulgar, half-naked, barely legal in most states brat. She flaunts her body parts, her drugs, her mouth, and gets utterly nonsensical fights with other YouTube stars I’d never heard of. This is what passes for important to these kids. I experienced a level of disgust and wonder that I had not felt in some time. Otherwise lovely and smart young people are flocking to this stuff like it’s no big deal and I promise you, it’s slowly becoming the voice in their heads when it comes to their worldview. When you idolize someone else’s identity, you have no room to develop your own.

When Daniel and his friends were taken captive to Babylon, the king tried to get them to assimilate into their new culture. If he could get them to develop an appetite for the things of Babylon, they would be at his mercy. The thing is, too many of us have cultivated a voracious appetite for the artificial and it’s making us lose our sense (spiritual sense and common sense). We have to get back to desiring real stuff. When 20,000 kids show up at 6am to stand in a line to meet a rebellious smart a#%, they are searching for something. When they spend the entire day on their phones communicating with people they’ll never know, they are searching for something. Imagine for a second if they all stopped seeking the fake and instead went for the real thing.

Friends, young or not, our identity must be rooted in something besides a phony culture. If all technology fizzed-out tomorrow, would you still be you? If nobody was there to give you a thumbs up, would your habits or lifestyle change? That old saying about knowing whose you are so you can know who you are is true: without a deep understanding that we are children of God (Romans 8:16) we are destined to be slaves to an ever-darkening culture that will mold us and shape us but never ever satisfy us.

Our culture is aggressively seeking to assimilate us to it’s ever-changing values and ideas. Most of it is done through the artificial world of the internet and through people who have utterly sold their souls to do its bidding. We need real… people, experiences, moments. We are created for it. Though it isn’t always comfortable, it’s what pushes us forward and strengthens us. We have got to get our eyes off of ourselves and go join the real world.

I’ll end with a reminder from John Piper’s bestseller Don’t Waste Your Life:

“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”

Christ offers a joy that can’t be bought. He gives us a satisfaction that ten million Instagram likes can’t begin to match.

Let’s stop being so pathological. Let’s go be real. 😉

Sticky Labels

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” WC Fields

Conservative. Liberal. Classical liberal. Evangelical. I was reading a comment thread where people were arguing the virtues and vices of all these labels we take on or give out. On and on it went, everyone arguing in circles about “what does it all mean”… telling people to agree while simultaneously disagreeing with everyone. Lord have mercy… there is an obsession happening over identity.

Identity is a big deal. We need everyone to not only see and hear our specific brand, but to put a big stamp of approval on it as well. We need it so badly, we are willing to go to outrageous and embarrassing lengths to prove our points.

One of the enemy’s greatest desires is to confuse us in this area by slapping all kinds of labels on us in the hopes that we will carry them around like dead weight. Lies that people speak over us, circumstances we refuse to leave in the past, all the junk we collect through the years becomes our filter by which we define ourselves. We all I bet can vividly remember being called something awful as a kid and internalizing it for years.

The one who was abandoned. The one who is sick. The ugly one. The divorced one. The failure. The dummy. If the enemy can’t label you, he’ll do everything in his power to see that nothing sticks; you have no true identity, it changes with your feelings and you float around like driftwood waiting for something or someone to define you.

We all go through it, we try and act like everyone else to be accepted. When I was a teen it was giant hair and rolled jeans. Things have escalated since then… I dare say the enemy has stepped up his game. Teens now can adopt one of seventy three different genders if they want. I’ll say it, it’s positively demonic. When you lose your identity, you are at the mercy of evil.

God tells us “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Our identity comes from our Creator, there can be no other way. His word also tells us this: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Our true identity is set, but what we believe about ourselves is what steers the ship. God sees the big picture about us, but it’s up to us whether we walk in that or not.

The Bible addresses this a lot. Abram, Saul, and Simon became Abraham, Paul and Peter not because they morphed into different people, but because they finally walked into who they always were meant to be. We have an authentic identity, all of us, and lots of phony ones competing for position. Study the story sometime of Daniel and his friends in Babylon and the ways in which the Babylonians tried to strip them of their very identity. We learn in Sunday school of “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” but we actually need to know them as “Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” as well. Their Hebrew names conveyed trust in God and confidence. Their new Babylonian names identified them as cowardly slaves to man.

I spent the first three months of my life with a different name. After I was adopted, my parents gave me my true name. To my birth mother I was Ronna Kay, to my mom I became Shara. I never think about it, but how strange! All the while, here is Jesus knowing me better than anyone and exactly who I would become. This verse in Revelation 2:17 has always stood out to me:

“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

A new name, a true version of who we are. Can you even imagine this?! It’s not a tossing out of who we are here on earth, but a celebration of who God created us to be and our being welcomed into that beautiful truth. We don’t have to wait until heaven though to embrace it. We do need to throw off all the false things trying to weigh us down, and that isn’t easy in a culture obsessed with validation. We are slaves to the approval of others and it is becoming our undoing.

What would a Kardashian sister do if social media suddenly went away? If you work out at the gym and don’t post about it, did it really happen? It’s funny and tragic at the same time. We are tied up in the wrong stuff, carrying around too much baggage and worrying about insignificant things. One of the most difficult things to show kids these days is that their value is not determined by their peers. Easier said than done.

Our culture loves its labels. To the point where it’s bordering on absurd. We are aching to be identified, but ready to pounce if someone “mis-identifies” us. The irony of it all is that we all want to be a part of something. We need an identity to cling to. It isn’t found in man, it can’t be found in achievements, it’s only found as we see ourselves as a beloved creation of a loving Creator. Any other way leads to chaos, which we witness on a daily basis. For example, schools and businesses going “gender-neutral” all while adopting dozens of genders. You are nothing and you are everything all at once. Pick a label, any label.

Looking to anything else but Jesus to define us is an exercise in futility.

Until we all get our white stone, we have the joy in looking to our Creator to give us identity and purpose. Not the kid on U-tube, not our jobs, not even those closest to us. When you know God and who you are through Him, you don’t have to conjure up false labels, you just get to step into yourself.

“You are God’s masterpiece.” Ephesians 2:10

The Old Cross and Modern Thought

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“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.

A World of Nervous Activity

“Every age has it’s own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity, which is in Christ, is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities, which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.” A.W. Tozer

If ever there was a quote that became more true with the passage of time… this would be it! Tozer wrote this over half a century ago. I wonder what he would have to say about our world of nervous activities now. He would have to put it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email. Yikes.

It certainly hasn’t become more simple. Our time and attention are certainly occupied by a million things. I saw a coffee cup at the bookstore the other day that read “stop the glorification of busy.” Wise words. We embrace our hurried little lives. Our conversations focus on our full schedules and how overwhelmed we feel.

We are busy people. It’s the way of the world. But it shouldn’t be running us into the ground. We have no excuse for being tapped out all the time. What a disservice we do to ourselves and our families when we are just busy being busy.

Being simple in a complex world is not easy. It’s kind of frowned upon. We are plugged in. I think back to life before cell phones and think “how in the world did we survive?” But we did. And part of me thinks we may have been healthier, more balanced people.

So here is a verse that helped me put some things into perspective. It’s Paul speaking to his beloved Corinthians, who have gone a little astray in their thinking.

“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. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted –  you may well put up with it!2 Corinthians 11:3-4

He is afraid for his flock. He is concerned they are being led astray by slick doctrine that is in opposition to what they were taught. As a parent, I read his words and feel his pain. He is pleading with them to renew their minds and get back to the simplicity they once knew and acted on. It’s not so much that there is a false doctrine being spread around, it’s that they are putting up with it. They have become sidetracked and he speaks of being jealous for them with a godly jealousy (v.2). This isn’t a human jealousy. It’s a concern for their holiness and for the truth.

The word “simplicity” here means ‘pure’ and ‘single’. He is speaking about their minds being corrupted, which is where it all starts. If we are corrupted, it’s because we aren’t living single-mindedly. We are going in different directions. It’s duplicity. That’s what the enemy is out to do to us in our business and in all these ‘nervous activities’. He is out to get our minds to go in a million different directions so that we lose our single-minded focus on Jesus.

When satan came to Eve, he took a clear-cut truth and twisted it. God told her not to eat of a certain tree. Satan got to her mind and made her question something that was never confusing to begin with. Paul is pleading with these believers to not allow that kind of craftiness to contaminate their thinking.

We live in a culture that equates busy-ness with worthiness. We serve a God that desires a simple purity and a single-minded devotion to Him. It doesn’t mean we have no depth or no fulfilling activities in our lives, it just means we need to be careful of where we allow our hearts to wander. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians really hits home with me. It’s like a parent pleading with a child they love. Please don’t be deceived by the craftiness! Please understand what it means to be pure and single-minded!

I think Paul was trying to get the people to see that if they would just embrace the simplicity of Christ, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about all the other things trying to get their attention and lead them astray. A laser-focus on Jesus keeps all that other ‘stuff’ from pulling us into the world’s never-ending spin cycle of activity and superficial junk!

Lord, please show us how to get out of the pattern of always being busy and over-occupied. Show us what is important and how to get our minds settled on you. Our brains have become wired for activity and you desire a single-hearted devotion before all of those other things. Help us get rid of the clutter that is just taking up space in our heads and to replace it with your wisdom which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

Fruit that Remains

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Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, andI in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

Trees and Branches

IMG_5297I came across a poem the other day that made me laugh. Not in the sense that it was funny, but in the sense that it was so strange it made me chuckle and cringe all at the same time. It was written by a self-proclaimed “spiritualist” and made it’s way into the “Christian” (loose air quotes here) blog world.

Here’s the crux of the poem:

You take a walk in the woods and see all these different trees. Some are crooked, some tall, some not very healthy. You understand that certain trees just didn’t get enough light or water and thats why they are how they are. You don’t get upset about it, you just accept it. So why can’t we just do that same thing with people? Why do we judge and get upset when people are not what we want them to be? We should practice turning people into trees in our head and let them be as they are.

Serious. Just imagine everyone like a messed up tree and they won’t seem so bad and you’ll be a better person for it.

It was received with a thousand “amens” and multiple comments about how practicing “non-judgment is the most important thing…” etc.

I get it, I get the gist of what the spiritual guru man is trying to say – there’s stuff that happens that makes us windswept and crooked and stumpy and imperfect and we need to let everyone be who they are. No person (or tree) is perfect. We can’t look at the faults of our fellow “trees” while ignoring our own, etc.

I appreciate the comparison, but this is where spiritualism, in all it’s fanciness, diverges with Christianity. The spiritualist reaches out and tries to make sense of the imperfect with more imperfect. It’s like a short journey down a dead-end street. As Christians, we have God’s word, thank goodness. It’s clear. It’s pretty simple. It’s always the best way. This is why I’m so cautious about these popular sites and authors who just write down whatever sounds fashionable and comfy for the moment.  When you take out God’s word and insert popular opinion, things get muddled.

I do not believe our highest goal in life should be to “not judge”… I don’ even think thats Biblical or possible. Letting people stay thirsty or in the dark (like the sad, proverbial tree in this poem) is not what God wants for anyone.

God created man in His own image, for relationship and growth and experiences. 

If we want to compare ourselves to anything in the tree family, it should be a BRANCH. Jesus gave us the example himself in John 14.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (v 5). 

Branches cannot exist on their own. They are connected to something bigger. If Christ is our vine, we have all the water and light we will ever need. Branches get pruned and taken care of so that they may bear fruit.

That wild, twisted, thirsty, light-starved tree in the poem? It bears no fruit. It’s half-dead. That’s how we would be without Jesus. The enemy would love for us to just accept that lowly position and “let it be”. Christ came to transform us, and to rescue us.

In all the “not-judging” going on, people are wilting away and starving for truth. In the name of “letting each other be”, we are letting each other remain in the dark.

I guess the tree analogy isn’t so bad after all – but it should point us to what we DON’T want to be. For the “spiritual” the very best they can hope for is acceptance of all the ugly and unhealthy in life. The most important thing to them is that we don’t judge them for it. I so wish they could see the freedom Christ offers. Living water and endless light and life when we join ourselves to the Vine. We still have our knots and bumps. We are all crooked. Branches need a lot of pruning. But we don’t have to go at it alone.

We aren’t meant to live separated from our source of water and light. And we aren’t called to leave others in the dark either. It’s ok that there are crooked, thirsty trees in our midst – we all were at one time. Let’s point them to the light and the water though, because none of us were created to stay that way.