For The Simple Folk

Reading backwards through the Psalms this morning… does anyone else have that habit of flipping through a magazine from back to front? It probably means something weird psychologically, I don’t know. I noticed some neat things when I read them from the bottom up:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” 138:8

“I have chosen the way of truth.” 119:30

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with a whole heart. You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.” 119:2-4

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” 119:11

I’m not one for ten-step programs or reducing God’s word down to bullet points, but I think there’s something really beautiful here in the Psalms and in the way they all fit together to give us a bigger picture:

We hide His word in our heart > we whole-heartedly obey Him > we choose to make His truth our truth  > He works out and perfects everything that concerns us.

So often, we read a verse like 138:8 about God working things out for us, and we shut our Bibles and think ‘well, God’s in charge!’ and move on doing our own thing. We want the end result, but aren’t willing to really dig in deeper to see what our role may be. Psalm 119 is all about Gods word and how we are to treasure it in our hearts. Without first doing that, we aren’t able to obey Him or choose truth. It follows that our obedience to His word knits us together with His will which brings us to that much-coveted outcome of Him perfecting the things that concern us. I don’t like formulas, especially when they concern our living, breathing relationship with our Creator. We are way too easily swayed by human catch phrases… but I do know that we as Christians must treasure His words to us more than anything else.

“The entrance of Your words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.” 119:130

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to know the truth, you just have to love His word and give it priority in your life. When we love what God has to say, we actually can’t help but “hate every false way” (119:104).

But we straddle fences we know we should get down off of.

We dip our toes into waters that have a potential to sweep us away.

We casually play with fire knowing full-well it could burn our house down.

And we lament the fact that God isn’t “perfecting” the things He said he would.

I saw a pretty little picture frame at a boutique the other day that read “Nothing can stop Gods plan for your life”. Is that true? In theory, yes… God is God and He has a marvelous plan, but we have choices to make that either keep us on the path or knock us off. That phrase implies we can do whatever we want and God’s blessings will still come to pass. We need only to glance around at the world to see that doesn’t work.

Yolk yourself closely with an unbeliever and see what comes to pass. Allow drugs or alcohol to rule over your body and see what happens. Keep anger and unforgiveness stirred up in your heart and show me how that little phrase can possible be true. It can’t.

God is the great redeemer of all those things and more, so let’s not think we need to be perfect or that I’m throwing any stones here. I’m saying we can really clog up the works when we don’t treasure and love what He says in His word. His mercies are new every morning, we never fall too far out of His reach. It should be our hearts greatest desire to choose Him over and over again so that we don’t have to live in a constant state of panic. We say we want a steady and blessed life, but we place ourselves too far out of bounds for that to be possible. the Bible tells us we are like sheep and our only safety lies in sticking close to our Shepherd. Wandering off to greener pastures invites disaster. He’ll come and get us, He’ll “leave the 99” (as the ever-popular Reckless Love song plays over in my head)… but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s ok to go wandering off like a dumb sheep all the time. He wants us with Him. He gave us this wonderful Word of His so that we would actually desire to stay close, sober and alert. That’s how things get “perfected” in our lives.

My girl Lisa Whittle sums it up nicely, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

“At a certain point we have to ask ourselves if we want to continue to settle for a hot and cold Jesus life and if we can really stomach one more year of the spiritual roller coaster. At some point, we have to choose to do something else. When we are truly tired of being on the spiritual roller coaster, we will do something about it. Until then, we are only a little weary and a lot on the fence. A true commitment to God is a thorough, overarching commitment over every area of our life. It’s the kind of commitment that lasts, and keeps us off the highs and lows of Christian living. Commitments to Him have never come cheap. It’s not enough to say “Yes, I accepted You as a Savior” and then go on our way. It has to be about “Today I choose You again.” And if there is to be a sacrifice in all our choosing, let us not look at the denial but at the better that has come from it. For in our love and obedience, we become grounded, steady, solid as a rock. It’s not our figuring out how to get more brace or lifting more spiritual weights by joining every Bible study we can get our hands on. It’s in the choosing of our God and choosing Him over and over again.” 

Choose Him today. Choose Him when it’s hard, love His Word more than you love your own way. God knows we are simple people, He doesn’t ask that we figure it all out, He just wants us to be all-in so He can do all that ‘perfecting’ we so desperately want and need.

Noise Makers

When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.”And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land.” Matthew 9:23-26
Short, but to the point today. This little miracle is sandwiched in between several other stories of Jesus’ supernatural healing in Matthew and it’s easy to skim through and miss some important details. Fresh off the healing of the woman who had been in need for years, the narrative jumps right into the ruler’s little daughter who was lying lifeless inside the house.
There was much commotion in and around the house. Flute players and a large crowd were wailing and crying and making all kinds of noise. When Jesus enters and announces that she is indeed not dead, but sleeping, they mock Him. He knows what He is doing, obviously, but before He raises her up, He sends them all out.
Sometimes, there is just too much noise. The well-meaning crowd can cause more harm than good if left to their own ways. How beautiful that Jesus wants to intervene for this child, but He first must quiet the place down and put the crowd outside.
I think we all have a crowd of flute players and wailers in our own lives. People who mean well, or just maybe want in on the scoop, but who aren’t necessarily helping our situation. There’s that old saying “make room for Jesus” and I think it’s true – we can’t hear Him or fully cooperate with Him if we have a house full of noise swirling around us all the time.
Sometimes, it’s between us and God. Period. It’s hard to shut out the voices, but when we finally do, miracles can and do happen. Put that crowd outside once in awhile and let Jesus in. The fantastic thing is that they all will see the fruits of this obedience and hopefully be changed by it too. This story says that “the report went out into all the land.” People mock and make noise because they don’t understand. Not everyone is worthy of a front row seat to something that’s between you and Jesus, and “too many chiefs” as we like to say, can really veer you off course. If He wants to come in today, make room. If the crowd of voices is too noisy, it’s ok to escort them outside for a bit. Sit with Jesus instead and watch as He performs what He has promised. Then… and only then… go share that good news with everyone else.

Picking The Weeds

“If I could just...

-Figure out (A,B,C)

-Follow through on (all the goals)

-Get (so and so) to (do such and such)

-Perform (certain action) and receive (certain result)

Does this sound familiar? I’m realizing the deeper I go and the more I grow with Jesus just how deeply ingrained these law-abiding beliefs are in my mind. The more of the truth I know, the more they seem to pop up, which I suppose is a good thing. I’m no newbie, I know there’s not a darn thing I can do to earn my way into good standing with God, I know the sacrifice Jesus made that covered all my sins that I receive through faith alone. It’s the foundation of everything, my weakness being made perfect in His strength. So I find it fascinating that the more I soak in that truth, the more I feel I need to put to death the idea that I can work for my blessings.

“I once heard of a pastor who spent time each week on a farm pulling weeds, hoping to bring about the renewal of all things on this earth. There is a reason he has to go back each week. The weeds kept growing back, because the weeds are always with us.

And my weeds are always going to be with me, just as yours are always going to be with you. To believe otherwise is to believe according to the law, a dead stalk in dry ground that tells us we’re able to fix inconsolable things ourselves, that perfection on earth is possible. These are beliefs that purposefully set Him aside and force us to look inside of ourselves for the hope and power we need for living. We become the answer to ourselves.” Christine Hoover

What a conviction to my heart. We live in a strange time, when evil hearts compartmentalize evil acts on the basis of their own morality. A woman can be both a health nut and abortion advocate. Child advocates can turn out to be child abusers. On the flip side, Christians walk around thinking we can earn our ticket to a good life by performing (or out-performing) one another. Yes, obedience is a big deal, I’ve spent a lot of time on that. There are consequences to our disobedient choices no doubt, but we must be very careful about slipping into the false belief that we can perform our way to a good life.

“If picking weeds is our hope, then we have none at all. If we demand the present be perfectly beautiful, we not only prove we weren’t actually listening to Jesus’s words but we become deeply offended that God is not living up to what we thought He’d be.”

A good and perfect life isn’t the goal, and we miss so much when we make it our highest aim. Look around this world, sin and evil cannot be controlled and we are driving ourselves mad trying to do just that. Sinners trying to control certain evils while unrepentantly basking in others… there is no answer outline or legislation for that, not ever.

The more things spin out, the more I want to tighten the reins of control. “If… then” sentences begin to pop into my head and I begin to reason myself right out of Jesus’ presence. We live in dangerous territory where DIY spirituality is a real thing. Jesus loves us whether we stick to our well-meaning goals or not. He doesn’t abandon the family dinner table if devotion time turns into a nit-picky argument, (or so I’ve heard). Our obedience is a result of His grace, not the other way around.

Everything He gives us is a gift, un-deserved and un-merited. We accept it joyfully and obey because we love Him. Obedience doesn’t assure us a perfect life, and I for one need to be reminded of that more and more as the world offers up empty solutions for big evils. So yes, we need to pick the weeds, but we need to make sure that isn’t all we are doing. Flowers grow, grass returns, all at the same time. Not only is perfection not possible, it shouldn’t even be on the to do list.

It’s very easy to start bargaining with God, even if we well understand that everything is a gift… it’s our nature to work our way into or out of situations. Jesus says give it a rest and come to Me, you’ll have imperfect blessings and learn to thrive amongst the weeds.

Lord, we don’t actually desire a perfect life, we long for an abundant life with You, weeds and all. Help us not become dependent on “If/then” statements in our walk, but let us receive the beauty You offer that comes through all the imperfect things as well.

Jesus Math

A little reminder that God can do crazy things when we stop being Negative Nancy’s…

I just love this little excerpt from AW Tozer on how the Lord doesn’t necessarily need us, but oh how He wants us to join up with Him in miraculous works!

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” John 6: 5-7

“The Lord Himself was concerned with the people’s need for food. But He made it Philip’s problem. He honored Philip by letting him participate in the solution. The thing is, He did not want just to feed them and have it over with. He wanted some blessing to flow all around as a result of it. So He picked out one of His disciples – Philip – saying to Himself, I am going to bring Philip into this. I am going to honor him by letting him become a part of this plan. He can help Me work it out, although actually I do not need him at all. So Jesus encouraged Philip to tackle the problem along with Him. He nudged Philip a little and got him into a hard spot, just to reveal to Philip his own emptiness.

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Drifting

 

“People do not drift toward holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” Don Carson (For the Love of God)

I looked up “drift” in the thesaurus and one of the meanings was to “coast and glide along without much effort”. 

Sometimes we need to drift along and unplug a little. We need to take care though, that we aren’t disconnecting ourselves in unhealthy ways. We tend to distance ourselves from the things we need (family, face to face conversation) and tightly hold on to things that are not healthy. Hardness sets in quickly and sometimes unexpectedly through little openings we think are harmless.

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Good things and God Things

Happy 2018! I think I’m not supposed to say this, but I don’t mind one bit the end of the holidays. I love Christmas, but there’s something about January. December is a month filled with family, friends, food, activity and just… a lot. I love decorating the house, and I equally love un-decking all the halls. There’s just a fantastic feeling about hitting the reset button in different areas of life.

Like most people, our family has goals for 2018, some big, some small, some practical and others lofty. As we were talking with our kids about the specifics of them yesterday, two words popped in my head: big picture.

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Evangelize With Joy, Not A Sandwich Board

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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.