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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Baby Tigers and False Peace

“Is it even possible to live a holy Christian life? The kind of life we talk about and aspire to, but seem to fall short of on a daily basis?”

Some form of this question has been buzzing around in my conversations the past week or so with different people in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans fall into two categories on this subject: man-centered or God-surrendered.

A man-centered approach to this life assumes (rightly so) that we are a hopelessly flawed bunch of people trying to do our best. Not just flawed, but sinful. We float from one good intention to another, sometimes succeeding, but often falling short. We hope that we can meet the goals we’ve set, but we are realistic about the fact that we are mere mortals and certainly not saints. The bar is always just a little bit out of reach.

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Sidewalk Peddlers

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“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions” (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily int eh school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

 

 

Chasing Self Isn’t Brave

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The following Facebook post by writer Lore Wilbert is bold and strong and necessary, like a much needed shot of espresso on a dreary morning. She speaks with grace and conviction. Dear believers, something precious is getting lost in the shuffle of our ridiculous obsession with popular opinion.  We are called to first and foremost to holiness. Does anyone remember that word? God is called “HOLY HOLY HOLY” two times in the scriptures and that’s a big deal. The heavenly hosts repeat it three times. This isn’t a quality that exists in a vacuum, out in space somewhere. It comes to us through God Himself, as we are conformed to His image. There are some very loud voices speaking the name of Jesus and preaching a one-sided gospel. It’s a self-serving gospel devoid of a cross, absent of repentance and absent the chance for true freedom. Jesus does not cheer us on to chase our sin, no matter how “brave” or “authentic” we think we may be. We don’t get to choose our own truths, and I for one, am grateful for that. “You must be holy because I am holy”, Jesus said (1Peter 1:16). When something is made holy, Biblically speaking, it is set aside, consecrated and made pure. It’s not a joyless pursuit, but it does require sacrifice, and death to self. People who ebb and flow with the cultural tides are not brave, they are taking the easy way out.

“If people start talking about “my truth” and “your truth,” look them right in the eyes and love them best by speaking the truth. There’s an awful lot in the world that’s not certain, but there’s an awful lot more that is. So rocky as life may seem, seek & find truth. If Jesus is your Savior/Lord, then the biggest truth is His way is the way to life. All of His ways. Not just ones that fit your narrative.

Listen to me, sisters: I’m not going to try to be subversive or coy about this: right now there are women whose blogs you read and books you love to quote who divorced their husbands for a myriad of reasons and are marrying other women. They’re captivating you with their stories, they’re drawing you into their narratives, they’re snaring you with their joy. Listen to me: it’s a trap. It’s a trap they don’t even know they’re setting and they don’t even know they’ve walked into.
I try not to be too noisy about things like this online, but my heart is breaking in a thousand pieces over the past few weeks as I see the fruit of their pulpits eek its way into my sisters lives.
The way of Jesus is narrow—and full of joy. The word of God is hard—and obedience always is. The help of the Holy Spirit is near—because you will need his comfort.
If you’re confused about any of this, the theology, the choices, the decisions made by these women who might have said and taught some things that have *really helped you* in some ways, or even what I’m saying here, here’s what I think you should do: go to your pastor or an elder, or a woman you know who really loves and cleaves to the word of God with her whole life, and lay all this before them, and ask them their thoughts. I’m not your pastor or teacher. But neither should these popular bloggers and teachers be. God, in His goodness, designed the local church to be able to more effectively shepherd you than any blogger, book-writer, podcaster, or conference teacher can or *should.*
Again, though, flee from anyone who starts talking about their truth or yours. Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, and saying there’s only one truth is exactly why. ” Lore Wilbert

Go forward in love, always. Also go with wisdom and discernment, popular does not always mean correct and the joyful way is narrow. The Church doesn’t need any more self-help gospel, we just need people who cleave to the Word and who are willing to practice what they proclaim.

The Shoes of Peace Aren’t Flip-Flops

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In the Bible, the Hebrew word for peace, shalom is a deeply meaningful word. More than just the absence of conflict, shalom is an expression of wholeness and completeness.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives us a beautiful picture of believers living together in shalom and it’s far more than just a static absence of conflict.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Bear with each other. Do you know what that means? It means to tolerate or put up with someones wrongdoing. Why? Because the Lord has forgiven us all of far worse. We are told not to enflame their passions, stir their pot, fan the flames… what have you. It’s not that we are doormats to be mistreated, or victims to be abused, but we are not to be so selfish or hard-hearted that we cannot forgive.

God’s people aren’t immune to unforgiveness. Paul is addressing them directly telling them to clothe themselves with humility and kindness so that when offenses happen (and they always will) they don’t rule the heart. He’s showing them a way through it, a proper way to handle it so that the whole community will remain whole, in shalom.

When Paul wrote about the shoes of peace, he wasn’t talking about a flimsy pair of flip-flops. He was talking about the special sandals Roman soldiers wore to battle. Because they typically fought side by side, the thick-soled shoes enabled them to dig their feet firmly into the ground and not slip. The shoes grounded them.

The shoes of peace are an essential part to our offensive armor. It’s not always a bad thing to dig your heels in if it means you’re standing on the truth of shalom.  The enemy likes nothing more than to see our feet slip. If he can disturb the battle lines, he advances. That’s why forgiveness is so necessary in our lives. By harboring bitterness and resentment, we lose ground personally and corporately. As recipients of grace, we are commanded to also give grace. We are commanded to live in shalom and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts no matter what.

An impossible task if we attempt it in the flesh. An absolutely normal and beautiful part of the Christian walk if we allow Jesus to work it out in us. Satan will never stop sowing strife among us… like little seeds of conflict being constantly dropped in the soil of our hearts. Our job is to recognize them and toss them out before they take root and grow into something bigger. Don’t water them. Don’t tend to them. Don’t let bitterness take root.

It may mean we operate differently with people. It may mean we set boundaries so as not to repeat the same mistakes over again. It may mean consequences. Anger itself isn’t a sin, it’s how we deal with it that leads us either to chaos or peace. Without the proper footing, the enemy will drag us off into total chaos. We are called to a higher standard, not an impossible one, but higher than that of the world. The fantastic news is that Jesus made it totally possible for us to live His way. It actually releases us to great freedom. When we go beyond forgiveness to praying for and loving those who hurt us, we slam the door shut on the chaos. The enemy can’t get in. His seeds can’t take root.

The sandals of peace help us hold the line. A shoeless soldier can be brought down by the smallest of rocks. Don’t let the enemy catch you in that state. We walk in peace, in shalom because Jesus made it possible for us to do so. It’s far easier to forgive and walk in freedom than it is to nurture the seeds of resentment.

Forgive. Walk on. Shut the door to the enemy. Enjoy the freedom and the wholeness that Jesus offers.

Stirring the Pot with Grace…

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There’s a fantastic article today over at The Gospel Coalition discussing the ins and outs of standing up for Truth (with a capital T) in a way that is effective and not destructive.  “How to Defend the Gospel from Its Enemies – and Friends” gives us some good pointers on navigating our way through a culture full of lies and half-truths while keeping our wits and dignity about us.

 

Here’s the crux of the problem: We don’t want to be Christian wallflowers who sit in the corner while the world burns, wringing our hands and waiting for Jesus to return. We’ve been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess.2:4) to go out and proclaim the good news. Proclaiming, however, doesn’t mean carelessly flinging out every opinion and engaging in every argument. Wars are waged over the inter webs nowadays, battles are fought, won and lost over strokes on a keyboard. The careless pot-stirrer must learn to “correct with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24) or run the risk of becoming totally irrelevant.

I think we’ve all been on both sides at some point. We take a back seat on certain issues because they either don’t affect us directly or because they seem too big an obstacle to overcome. Other times, something hits our hot button and it’s off to the races:

Just off the top of my head:

-A ‘Christian’ author goes to nauseatingly great lengths to contort and twist scripture to make it more palatable for a new generation, denying the Word says what it says and sugar-coating it to the great approval of thousands. (HOT BUTTON)

-Crazed women running around by the thousands screaming about rights and dignity while preaching how great abortion is. (HOT BUTTON)

-Loud chip crunching by your husband late at night (HOT BUTTON, but for another time…)

I digress. On any given day, just pick your outrage, for there’s plenty to be outraged about. The difference between “us” and “them” however, needs to be noticeable. For the sake of leading others to the truth and for the sake of preserving our own sanity… we must know how to engage (and disengage) Biblically.

The first point in the article is one I love and never even considered:

It’s a privilege to even have this problem to wrestle with.

It doesn’t feel like a privilege when your kid comes home and asks “why was there a man dressed as a woman in the bathroom at the bowling alley?” (True story… time to engage.)

It doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy when you hear what crude words and topics are floating around the elementary school playground and have to bump up your imagined parental speech schedule by a few years.  (Time to engage.)

It can seem like you’re always walking uphill, the wind in your face, fighting and wearing down with every step. I have no good tidings to bring on this subject – it’s not going to get easier or better. Until Jesus comes back, culture and the world are heading toward decay and disorder. But take heart:

“God has surely smiled on us, placing into our hands the stewardship of his truth here in this day when the world denies the validity of any truth. May we be fully pleasing to the Lord in how we handle our sacred trust in such a time as this!” Ray Ortlund

So when we feel like we’ve stepped through the looking glass into an upside-down world, may we be encouraged that we’ve been entrusted with such a task from a God who equips and provides all the tools we need to navigate our way through it. It’s good to stir things up, a settled pot burns at the bottom, so keep stirring kids.

There is of course another side to that, and the closing point the author makes is a good one:

Ugliness Can’t Defend Beauty

Sometimes, we just need to let it go. Drop the chalupa, back away from the keyboard, the meeting, the person, whatever. Paul warns us to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 22-23). The ones who stand against us often have no desire to hear, only to be heard. We need to discern the difference. As much as that nutty women’s march agitated me, I’d never desire to go mono e mono with a woman dressed as a giant you-know-what who can only shout obscenities. No thanks. The same should apply to our everyday encounters. Is it worth it? Am I glorifying God or my ego? Ugliness can’t defend beauty. Being a warrior for Christ-less Christianity won’t move any hearts, it will only harden them.

We are warriors, but not the self-serving kind. That junk belongs to the world. Believe it or not, God doesn’t actually rely on our persuasive talents, but He does desire we be good stewards of His Word. Period. No talent or bravery needed. Only a pure desire to share His good news in a graceful and truthful manner. There are crazy talented authors out there, but it’s a challenge to find one with a solid grasp on the truth. Why? Because they can rely on their big, talented, witty selves. There’s no room for Bible truth when your goal is self-promotion. You have too many people to please.

So how about we position ourselves somewhere between the wallflower and the pot-stirrer? How about letting Jesus work HIS truth the way HE wants right up through our very souls so that it pops out of our mouths (or keyboards) just the way He would want? Not too harsh. Not wishy-washy. Just right. I’ll close with the great Charles Spurgeon, who says it more eloquently than I ever could:

“The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”