On Colleges and Keeping Up

Hustle is an idol if it leads you to cut ethical corners in order to stand out in a competitive world. Katelyn Beaty

I for one am completely fascinated by this past weeks crazy college recruiting scandal. The well-oiled machine that is our national media never misses a beat. I’ve been trying to understand why it has affected me so, and I think it’s largely because it simply hits me in a vulnerable spot: the kids.

I talked with my boys about the antics of these unhinged parents and what could be the driving force behind all this. The irony of it all was of course further compounded by the fact that one of them is a seemingly squeaky clean Hallmark darling whose entire career is based on portraying wholesome characters. You just never know.

I’m acutely aware of the dilemmas and difficulties of raising teens in a culture that wants to undo every value and belief we hold dear. We struggle on a regular basis with boundaries, ethics, identity and truth. The comparison game is strong. Everyone is living in a bona fide pressure cooker that could blow at any moment if we don’t properly let some of the steam out.

We came to a conclusion that much of it has to do with daily, gray-area choices we all make. One compromise leads to another. Pride, when fed and encouraged is almost impossible to tame.

Do I brag about this success or stay humble?

Do I cut corners here if nobody will ever know?

Should I turn a blind eye to something I’ve seen that I know is wrong?

One of our biggest struggles has been the old “well everyone else is doing it, we need to keep up” excuse. I call it the Lance Armstrong defense. You have to do certain things just to even the playing field, or else you’re going to be left in the dust.

Before you know it, you’re photoshopping their face on some other kid’s body and bribing the ACT test-giver.

It’s easy to poke fun at this crowd. I’ve read up on the other non-celebrity parents, and quite honestly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. I do understand, as we all do, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to be somebody in a world where there are already so many somebody’s.

It’s quite literally the oldest story in the book. Satan tempted Adam and Eve into believing they could have fulfillment outside of God. He convinced Eve that she could acquire something better and elevate herself to a new level of importance.

This whole thing is a losing game. The ends do not justify the unethical means it takes to get there. What is their end game anyway? To bounce from one material success to another, never slipping, never letting anyone see what you’ve sacrificed to get there? I’ll pass.

This is why we reject the hustle, the self-help nonsense and the even (I’m sorry to say) the Christian cool kids who are taking us further into the grey fog of compromise. I’ll be the first to admit, swimming upstream in a downstream world is not easy or even enjoyable at times. But sin always, always ends up costing us more than it can ever give us. The obsession with worldly image is taking perfectly kind and rational people down a path that will destroy them. I used to try and shield my kids from defeat, but now when it happens I don’t necessarily shun it. There’s big things to be learned through disappointment. It’s the same disappointment though that can drive us to make foolish decisions. I loosely joke with them and ask “Would you be the Tim Tebow or the Lance Armstrong?”

I’d like to think Jesus would come down and personally smack me upside my head if I ever stooped to something so low, but let’s be honest here… we are all just one selfish, insecure decision away from doing something really dumb. We are not above our teens any more than they are above us, and we all need the same thing:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage… for you brethren, have been called to liberty… but God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 5:1, 13,/6:14

Friends, we don’t have to live on the hamster wheel. It’s hard to be in the minority, but it’s actually also a great honor. The world is destined to be deceived, they are bent on it. Let’s remember we don’t have to claw our way up the totem pole or prove our worth. We are worthy and loved already, our kids are too, whether they wind up at Harvard or living in our basement.




Basking In Our Awesomeness

I love reading people’s differing reactions to big, juicy, topics of our day. I shouldn’t, but I do. The way people perceive the same things so differently fascinated me. My blog friend Jen Oshman wrote an amazing article yesterday at the Gospel Coalition reviewing the newest self-help/Christian book by motivational speaker Rachel Hollis. I would highly recommend reading her thoughts, they are fair and Biblically sound. For something marketed to Christian women, there is reason to be concerned. The book pushes Jesus far out to the sidelines and encourages women to be selfish, self-absorbed, shameless social climbers and dream-chasers. Although I wouldn’t read it, lots of women I know do choose to pick it up and soak it in. They quote it and post excerpts because it makes them feel something, it stirs the mind, body and heart to get it together and do better.

We have to be able to have intelligent conversations with ourselves and others about why we read and think the way we do. Too often, I hear about women reading this kind of thing, feeling both inspired and frustrated and not sure what to do about it. Something is off, but they keep on reading, accepting at face value the ideas as absolute truth, and they are left with some big questions.

The article relates to the book, but goes beyond it into some questions we all should be asking ourselves. Oshman calls the crux of the message both “exhausting and damning“. That is serious stuff. We can’t just live awesomely and plow over people on the way to our dreams. My favorite quote is this:

“We were made to be more than self-made. We are God-made. God-rescued. God-loved. Only as we orient our lives and dreams around Him will we experience true and lasting joy.”

I don’t think it’s too terribly controversial to say Jesus doesn’t promote us promoting ourselves. He loves us, has good plans for us, but dedicating our lives to our own awesome image is just gross. I’m pretty sure it’s also idolatry.

The steady diet of motivational DIY spirituality should be giving us indigestion. But like a Snickers bar at 3pm, we still crave it.

It’s a healthy discussion I think… one that will never be put to rest and that’s ok. We need to understand why we are drawn to the things we are drawn to… good and bad… wise and frivolous… so that we can make solid, life-giving choices. Jesus is the reference point, though. Not our dreams, aspirations or fragile egos. Don’t call the Bible “nuanced” when it’s clear. Don’t create tension where God has given an abundance of truth and grace.

Lent is upon us… we remember that we are dust, but are not condemned to remain dust. We actually are made for more, as the shiny new books tell us. God doesn’t want to take away or deprive us of our dreams, but He probably would like us to examine how much of our big giant selves we are inserting into the space that should be reserved for Him alone.

He gets to be first. We need to come in a strong third, maybe fourth even. Love God, love others, chase those dreams, but please… remember they originated with Him, not ourselves, and finding earthly fame at the expense of your soul is a terrible trade off.

Equipped

“We still talk of all our struggles in the present tense. We exchange brokenness like it was good news, and comfort each other with still more brokenness. We want to declare each other “enough.” We have treated Christian identity like it was the great afghan of coziness underneath which all of humanity ought to be settling in for a long nap. But what if our identity in Christ is not a blanket? What if, instead of a cozy place to hibernate, what we are being handed in Christ is actually cold steel, intended for a completely different purpose? Your identity in Christ is a weapon, one that will put to death the old man that lives within you (Romans 8:13). We have been baptized in his death, in order to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). If we are not equipped through Christ to fight the sin nature in all of us, it does not matter how thick or cozy the comfort blanket is. Underneath it, the cold hands of sin are still around our necks. That fight cannot be comforted away. We cannot soothe each other into relief from our problems.” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/your-identity-in-christ-means-war

Mmmm…. blankets. I have an obsession with them. I stockpile them. Have you tried the new weighted blankets advertised on tv? Heaven. I’m a huge fan of a) not being cold, and b) being surrounded by something comforting. This article made me squirmy a bit because it hit me right in my soft spot: comfort. I think we all desire a cozy place to snuggle up and be left alone, and that can easily translate over into our spiritual lives. The status quo is holding steady, we don’t want to really rock the boat, we just want a place to feel wrapped up and secure. Ok, so we are ‘broken’ as they say… but we don’t mind huddling up and just be broken together. I have developed a great aversion to that word – I do not want to sit around and be broken with people. It’s not that I think everyone is ‘whole’, I know we aren’t even close. I just find the concept of celebrating it like it’s our lot in life a bit… backwards.

This analogy really made me think: what if Jesus is offering us something better than to just wrap ourselves up and shut out the world? What if He’s handing us a cold, steely, sword? The further I go into the whole ‘identity’ thing, the more I realize how temporary all of our little “identities” really are. These things aren’t the end game, and counting on them to fulfill us isn’t a good strategy. With good intentions, we sit around piling blankets on one other, but what we really need is to start handing out some weapons.

That kid who feels anxious on the way out the door? Shoes of peace.

The friend who has trouble surrendering everything to Jesus? Belt of truth.

Ourselves, when we feel constantly attacked by the enemy? Shield of faith.

Comfort is fantastic, but not at the expense of our souls. Nobody would ever wrap themselves up in a blanket made of fiberglass, but that’s pretty much what we are doing by ignoring the war at hand. We have to make those ‘cold hands of sin’ unwrap themselves from around our necks and pick up our weapons. Don’t fear the brokenness, but don’t forget the One who came to actually heal it and bind it up for good. (Psalm 147:3)

The Beauty of Smallness

“If you must choose between Bible and breakfast, choose Bible, and grab an energy bar. Then plan better. Man shall not live by bread alone.” John Piper

This really made me chuckle, but if you know anything about John Piper, he is not kidding about that breakfast bar. He wrote an entire book about not wasting your life. Perhaps this is a perspective that comes with age and hindsight, but I find myself resonating quite a bit with what he’s saying. Don’t be wasteful with your time, your talents or your calling. That old saying ‘the days are long but the years are short’ is so very true.

We inhabit a big, loud world where the only way to get any attention is to be big and loud. We are supposed to hustle and be fierce and do hard things, at least that’s what all the coffee cups tell me. Honestly, I don’t wake up feeling fierce or fearless or any of those things. Most days, I just wake up… tired. The last person I need more of is myself, so when I scroll my phone and read things like “I am my own healer, protector, muse… what I have to offer is limitless”, I feel a little nauseated. Sometimes I literally can’t remember what day it is, so to be my own muse or healer is a bit much. All this inward focus, this incessant need to be bigger than we actually are, it’s sucking the very life right out of us. Have you noticed it lately? When everyone is big, no one is. It’s like the crazy awards shows on TV… there are so many now that no one pays attention to any of them. Everyone is so busy congratulating themselves, no one is impressed but them. I can say the same for the selfie phenomenon… the longer you spend editing that picture, the less impressed I am. It’s off-putting when others do it, but still our flesh pushes us to keep sticking our big faces out there for recognition. It’s fascinating really. How do we navigate this trap? Is being small the same as being insignificant? Piper puts it this way:

“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 were are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”

I’d like to stand at the Grand Canyon and feel small. I would not like to be the self-obsessed tourist trying to get that perfect filtered shot of myself overlooking the biggest hole on earth. Does anyone remember traveling before the invention of the smart phone and selfie stick? You could just be present in the moment and not worry about how you were going to share this moment with the entire free world. I cried the first time I sat in Notre Dame Cathedral because I felt so small. I was in total awe of the men who built such a place and the God they served. Even staring out the window of an airplane is enough to put things into perspective.

The self-focus thing is such a tiresome, dead-end road. One of the things I’ve realized with my own family is how much better we function when we get out of our own selfish little patterns and go join in something bigger than we are. Some days that means just getting up and going to church. We really do have to be reminded these days that there is an actual world outside our door with actual (not virtual) people who may need us. Irony of ironies, the more we bask in our own little world trying to make ourselves big, the smaller and more insignificant we become.

I saw this list while looking up Piper’s book, and though it reads a bit harsh at first, I think it is spot on.

What do all these things have in common? Choosing to place self over Jesus. Making myself big while I shrink Him down to nothing. It’s that simple. So the original question maybe is more serious than I thought: do I sacrifice anything at all to just be with Jesus? Would I settle for the silly breakfast bar if it meant settling my heart for the day? I’d like to think I would, but some days I’m not so sure, because, well #6 on that list…

So, help us Jesus, to run the race set before us, to bear our cross daily, to humble ourselves and be made small so that You have room to do big things. Help us to maybe leave the selfie stick at home and go feel small in a big world.

Human Altars, Life Mottos, and Beth Moore

“At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” (Judges 21:25) 

This is the last verse in the book of Judges. I read it and turned the page to see what came next, but that’s it: there was no king and the people just did whatever they wanted. Throughout the book, we see how Israel has devolved into moral and religious corruption. God continues to draw them with His mercy, and they continue to reject Him. Over and over, it plays like a broken record.

The tribes were given specific directions, but chose to do their own thing. What is interesting is that in the absence of leadership or relationship with God, they formed their own little idols to worship. It’s the human condition to worship something… they just chose the fake over the real. There is a depravity happening on an individual level and on a wider cultural level, it permeated everything they did and it had awful consequences. They were in a kind of moral free fall, and interestingly enough the book ends there. The people just did their own thing.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with a culture that claims to embrace logic and science, but in reality lives solely by feelings. The radical feminists’ entire agenda relies on the necessity of a fixed gender. The transgender phenomenon relies on the exact opposite argument. What is happening? The blatant dishonesty and willful ignorance involved is mind-numbing. Want to murder your baby just before it’s born? No problem, it’s not really a baby anyway and it’s your right. But please love all and accept everyone. Your six year old boy feels like a girl? Great! Follow that path and do whatever you like, nothing is real until you say so. Unless you need it to be. Wait… now I’m confused again. 

I listened to a podcast yesterday that pointed out some interesting consequences to this kind of direction-less thinking. The sexual revolution of years ago delivered some unexpected results. Decades later we have fatherless kids, rampant abortion, shattered families, pervasive pornography, and a #MeToo movement that acts genuinely surprised that we are in this mess. Who has been liberated in all this? Nobody. In trying to free ourselves of all constraints, we have become complete slaves to an ideology that can change with the weather. 

We cannot just keep clinging to self and expect things to work out. Lisa Whittle, in her book Put Your Warrior Boots On, says one of my favorite things ever: 

“This is why getting right before God is so vitally important. This is why the search in the bottom of a bottle must end. This is why no more playing around with sex. This is why our marriages need to get right. This is why we have to stop playing church. This is why we can’t just do whatever we want. This is why we need to be committed to holy living, at all costs – because sin kills the fight out of us and we need all the fight we can get. Standing is dozens of different moments of yes to God and no to self. We can’t expect to stand for God without practicing. Otherwise, when the time comes, we won’t know what to do.” 

We can choose to be the captain of our own ship, but it’ll be more like a rowboat in a typhoon. Rudderless and entirely at the mercy of the changing waves. We need a captain. We need Jesus at the helm. The wisdom of the world is coming in direct conflict with the wisdom of God, now more than ever. God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (I Corinthians 1:20). When you go against the true nature of God, you are faced with two choices: continue in folly or surrender to the truth. The vast majority of our world chooses to continue on believing and promoting things that are false. What is our role here? Bury our heads in the sand? Argue our point until we are exhausted and even more frustrated? Meh.

We are to joyfully embrace the truth. We are to love our neighbor. One of my mottos in life is “speak the truth in love.” It’s so important. Both sides are important, both are necessary. Humorously, I saw this on Twitter yesterday: 

 

Dang, Beth… did you look me up? Because I actually DO have this in my Twitter bio. I get what she’s saying… don’t whack someone over the head with your big fat truth if it’s going to shred them. But this is Biblical and we cannot and must not discount it just because it isn’t fancy or soothing enough for your feelings. Don’t ever say “no, no no” to anything in God’s Word. Say “yes, yes, yes” even when it makes you uncomfortable. I’ll save this for another day, but enough with people telling us how and what to glean from God’s Word. No more human altars. 

We need a compass. We need absolutes. Jesus is the only sure thing that keeps us from drifting about in a sea of our own mess. The idol of self is getting bigger every day and we must look away from it if we are to stay afloat in this crazy world. 

Screen Reports and Endless Distractions

Does anyone else receive a weekly binging alert on your phone telling you to how much screen time you’ve averaged the past seven days? What an interesting little development this has been for our family. Humorously and without fail, our entire family receives their stats every week as we drive to church. It becomes of course, a competition for bragging rights and/or a totally mortifying moment of shame depending on how much screen time one has accumulated the past week. If your average time has gone down, you obviously brag about it. If you spent too much time on your phone, you sit quietly hoping no one will inquire into your weekly numbers. Its great fun, especially as we prepare our hearts for worship and a sermon. (Insert eye-roll here.)

We like to emphasize just how darned busy we are working, going to school, keeping our proverbial ships afloat… and we are without a doubt a culture that doesn’t value slowing down. I noticed something this week that kind of agitated me: even when we aren’t necessarily busy, we are ridiculously distracted.

When we are home together, we often aren’t really ‘together’ at all. Everyone has their little ‘default’ setting that they go to, and it’s increasingly to a screen. It’s understandable, after long days at school and work, we need our down time. It’s funny how we we unplug by remaining totally plugged-in. Our handy-dandy weekly screen time reports tell just where and how we are spending our time, whether it’s social media, games or YouTube.

Maybe we aren’t as busy as we’d like to think… maybe we are just increasingly distracted.

Isaiah 30:15 says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” 

In a world of perpetual chaos and distraction, getting quiet goes against all our instincts. Quiet is kind of weird. It’s definitely uncomfortable. As a little kid, I was made to take afternoon quiet times in my room with just myself and one book of my choice. No shenanigans like practicing headstands or playing school with my dolls (these were my vices, lol) were allowed. Just a time to calm down and chill out.

We don’t believe that quiet brings us much benefit anymore, much less any actual strength. God tells us differently. Our strength isn’t in our busyness or our accomplishments, it comes when we shut out the noises and go to be with God.

Like little addicts, we get kind of twitchy when we are out of arms reach of a screen. We see the connection it brings as a real path to fulfillment, otherwise we wouldn’t covet it the way we do.

“In returning and rest… in quietness and confidence…”

Like those fantastic noise-cancelling headphones people wear on airplanes, we need to tune out much of what we are listening to and tune in to God’s voice.

Well-meaning friends. The news. Co-workers. Twitter. Facebook. Your own head.

I stuck a little verse up on our fridge in a not-so-subtle attempt to remind everyone (especially myself) of this fact –

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

It’s ok to be busy and it’s ok to crave a little distraction. We just need to remember to present ourselves to God on a daily basis so that His voice remains the loudest one in our head.

Fewer Hot Takes, More Jesus

Reading in 2 Timothy this morning and it may as well be subtitled “current events”. Paul’s life on earth is coming to and end and he knows it: he writes from a prison cell with the knowledge that he’s probably about to die for his faith. He therefore doesn’t mince his words, wasting no time reminding readers that there isn’t time to be ashamed or fearful of what may lie ahead.

Here’s the short list of some of the things that we are promised to come across:

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (3:2-5)

Sound familiar at all? Have you looked at the news cycle today? Honestly, it’s beyond parody. As we slip further and further down the rabbit hole of truth being whatever we want it to be, lets take a look at some of Pauls’s advice:

He tells us to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (1:13). In this culture of keyboard warriors, arguing over words could be an olympic sport. Unsound words bombard us all more than we even realize. Once someone loud enough decides something is true, it just becomes true. Todays example: employees over at Google have come to the conclusion that the word “family” is “offensive, inappropriate, homophobic and wrong”. Family. As in… a unit of people living together or related to one another. We all know it’s the tip of an otherwise very large iceberg… but words are worth fighting for because truth is worth fighting for.

Interestingly enough, Paul also makes a point to warn us about getting involved in too much nonsense. I absolutely love and cling to these verses:

  • “But shun profane and idle babbling, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” (2:16)
  • “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” (2:23)

So we are to hold fast to the sound words, and steer clear of the ridiculous stuff. This makes sense until I realize that almost everything lately seems to fall into the “foolish” category. How do we know when to fan the flame or when to let it die out? The truth is worth fighting for, but we have to be very careful about how we fight.

Are we arguing for the sake of it? Do we want to score points for our team? Put someone in their place? That isn’t of God, that’s just good old human pride. Our society as we know it is not only camped out here, they are entrenched. Whatever it takes to take “them” down a notch and bring “us” up is fair game.

By humbly correcting those that are in error, by showing people a better way…  they are removed from the snare of the enemy (2:25). Humility and graciousness don’t make us pushovers, they simply make us true and effective disciples. As for those who are “always learning and never able to come to the truth” (3:7), those are the ones we are to avoid. Some people are more interested in the fight than the solution.

As the wise man Kenny Rogers said years ago… “You gotta know when to hold ’em… know when to fold ’em.”

We can stand up to injustice when need be. We can also walk away from the proverbial dumpster fires when we must. What a freeing thought that we don’t actually have to take  every dramatic development on all at once.

This epistle is short, but I find it so relevant for us today. Things may not get easier. In fact, we are pretty much guaranteed that we are going to be sharing space with some unsavory and difficult characters. Paul tells us not to be ashamed to speak up, but do so with grace. “Be strong in grace!” he tells us… (2:1) Did you ever think of it that way? The grace of God makes us strong.

We are not fearful and we are not ashamed. Christians who are full of grace and full of truth are what the world needs. Less witty comebacks and hot-takes… more time with Jesus.

“…love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power that eventually transforms individuals.” Martin Luther King