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.

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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Hustling Ourselves To Death

“Are we really this empty?”

I find myself asking that question a lot lately. Check the trending headlines or your social media and you’ll see it: we are a culture grasping at straws for the next thing to come and soothe us, define us, entertain us or empower us.

If you aren’t “hustling”, you’re not getting anywhere. If you aren’t first, you’re last (I actually saw a mom post those words to Instagram when her son placed first in a ski race my son was in). If you don’t have 300 likes you might as well delete that post (again, true story). Life has us scrambling, and the selfish idols we pile up in the chase have us numbing ourselves with anything we can dig up.

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Those Adult Coloring Books Though…

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Image Credit: Patheos.com

 “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” Timothy Keller

Accepting that ‘radical truthfulness’ about who we are can be brutal. We have a difficult enough time being honest with ourselves regarding our hopeless state, and hearing it  from an outside place like church can be downright intolerable for some. Our culture (and parts of mainstream Christianity) have run full speed ahead with the notion that we all relatively fine. Our sin-nature has been whitewashed and watered-down to include nothing more than little faults we can fix ourselves with a good self-help book. Lowest common denominator kind of preaching my get people saved, but where is the righteousness, peace or joy we as believers are supposed to have? (Romans 14:17) We are a people “ever learning, but never able to come to any knowledge of the (real) truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Once we leave the safety of the revealed truth provided for us by God in His Word, every step we take becomes shakier and more unbalanced.

Truth is hard. It makes us uncomfortable and exposed. It requires something of us. A few weeks ago while browsing my local Christian bookstore I noticed a new section, an entire wall really, that was dedicated to just one type of book: the adult coloring book. Dozens of them. Markers and paints sold separately, of course. You can while away the hours coloring intricate Biblical scenes, verses, mostly just designs with a verse printed on the sheet. Part of me gets it, I really do, it’s a craft and people need to put down the iPhones and check out once in awhile. If coloring does it for you, fantastic. I cringed though, at the scope of this whole thing – so much so that I snapped a picture and texed it to a friend with the caption “does this seem weird to you?!” with a laughing emoji.

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So again, I’m not making fun of it, I’m just feeling like there are some red flags going up in how we are becoming less and less interested in God’s word, which leads to a really anemic kind of faith and a lukewarm, indifferent attitude towards the truth. Unbelievably, this new section is where the ‘classics’ used to be shelved… the irony isn’ lost on me. They’ve been moved to the back of the store now, I weep a little inside thinking about it.

So we have a ton of “love” (or feel good stuff) with about an ounce of God’s truth. This is why we have Christian (I use this term loosely) writers endorsing gay marriage, coming out themselves as gay, mixing the Bible with the teachings of Buddha, and on and on. It’s a self-serving age and a self-serving spirituality.

For those of us still holding on to our actual Bibles, this presents a problem. The vast majority of us I would assume, don’t hate people just because they struggle or have wandered, quite the contrary. Our hearts as true disciples of Jesus should be 100% FOR people. We have sadly become really comfortable with being comfortable. We snack on sugar all day when we need to be eating our vegetables. We try and fuel ourselves on pretty, filtered Instagram memes when we need the Jesus of the Bible.

David and Jason Benham have written a fantastic article entitled “Understanding the Balance of Truth and Mercy” and have a great analogy on the love/truth conundrum:

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “It’s not enough to help hurting people; you must also stop the things that hurt them.” In the Bible, we call this the balance of truth and mercy. God commands that His followers show mercy by helping hurting people, yet He also requires they expose the things that hurt them so they can be led to the truth.

This requires supernatural balance, because there are ditches on both sides of the road if you err to the extreme of either side.

To be all merciful and yet refuse to speak the truth is like building a hospital at the bottom of a cliff without also installing a guardrail at the top. Sure, you’d help plenty of hurting people, but you would stop no one from falling off.

To be all truthful and yet lack mercy would be like installing a guardrail without also building the hospital. You would definitely prevent a lot people from hurting themselves, but you’d have no way to help those who fall.”

I simply love this picture they paint. We need both guardrail and hospital. Help those who have fallen, be ready in season and out to speak God’s healing truth (2 Timothy 4:2), but also have some safety measures in place that keep them from going over the cliff in the first place.

They are correct in saying the balance is supernatural – avoid the ditches by experiencing God’s amazing grace and uncompromising truth for yourself… they go beautifully together and were never meant to work alone.

So take time to color, have some candy now and then, it’s ok. Take even more time to know and speak the Word, it’s the only way we are able discern that candy from poison.

 

What costs nothing is worth nothing

images“There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and they think they have enough – a cheap Christianity which offends nobody and requires no sacrifice – which costs nothing and is worth nothing.” J.C. Ryle

When the Pope visited the US recently, one of the funniest headlines I read was “People shocked to hear the Pope is still Catholic…” It was tongue-in-cheek and meant to be sarcastic, the point being that people are far more comfortable hearing wishy-washy opinions and feel-good messages than doctrine that requires us to take up our cross. When he took a Biblical stance on some issues, those who were getting comfortable with his perceived ‘progressive-ness’ were suddenly offended.

When Jesus said ‘take up your cross’ He wasn’t kidding. He said the world will persecute you, they will hate you even. There was a strange poll published awhile back that said that one-third of professing Christians claim that while they believe they are saved by Jesus, He really doesn’t play that big of a role in their day-to-day life. They were referred to as ‘nominal’ Christians – proud that they didn’t stand out, happy they don’t have to argue with people abut silly doctrines, content to be in the obscure background.

But ‘nominal’ isn’t a very flattering word. It means to be so small or slight and existing in name only. It isn’t a compliment. If we are living to put the world at ease and be comfortable, we have gone off track.

Jesus said the world will hate us sometimes. Our culture will take the truth, twist it up into something totally unrecognizable, and toss it back at us like a grenade. We can be shell-shocked and quiet, or we can do what we are called to do and continue in the truth with love.

Sometimes there isn’t much of a reward for standing up. Sometimes you will lose a friend. Sometimes it’s your life. I don’t believe for one second that any of our sacrifices go unseen in God’s eyes. This is His game, we play by His rules and let the chips fall where they may. I think in the end, we will find it far better to be a truthful Christian than an accommodating, nominal Christian. Jesus promises us that when we take HIS yoke upon us we will find rest (Matthew 11:29). It is the truth that sets us free, not hiding in the shadows.

“It is better to stand alone with the truth, than to be wrong with a multitude. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. It is better to be hated for telling the truth, than to be loved for telling a lie. It is impossible to find anyone in the Bible who was a power for God who did not have enemies and was not hated. It is better to ultimately succeed with the truth than to temporarily succeed with a lie. There is only one Gospel and Paul said, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Adrian Rogers

There is a cross to carry. There is a burden to bear. The reward is that there is also unspeakable JOY to be had in standing up for Jesus and demonstrating His true character to a world that has turned unspeakably inside-out and upside-down. Let your Christianity be unmistakeable, not in a way that repels people, but in a way that draws them out and toward the true, living God.

Don’t Ask Me… Ask God

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Would you hit “send” on this one? I just couldn’t help myself.

I wanted to write more. I wanted to tell this lady that I understand this thirst and this searching, but running to a human to point you to another human is like taking a big trip around a cul-de-sac; it’s short and you just end up back where you started.

But this is where we are at. We bombard ourselves with what everyone else thinks before taking any consideration that God actually has better thoughts and truths than all of us put together. The amazing thing is that He wants to impart all of it to us. ‘m convinced our brains have been reprogrammed for quick results and human approval. We are losing that desire to sit quietly and listen to God’s voice through His Word. Not the ability… we all have that. The desire is lacking. We prefer someone else’s experiences over our own. We want someone else to define truth for us, to outline it in a way that makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, until it replaces our own genuine experience with God and His Word to us specifically.

We learn through experiences, but life can go sideways sometimes. We devour the latest books, but authors are just people like us. We get sidetracked by superficial and we begin to trust other things more than we trust His Word to us.

Want to find out what grace REALLY is? Open His Word. Grace is what God did for us, His unmerited love towards us. It’s all in there. If you keep seeking it out, you’ll see more and more of the big picture. You’ll see that faith is our response to His grace. You’ll see how it all fits together and how we are created to walk in ALL the truths of His Word as a whole, not just one virtue or concept at a time.

One person’s thoughts on grace may be good and interesting. How about we see what God Himself has to say about it as well?

I’ve had friends ask me “what does the Bible say about…” and I’m happy to offer my two cents. I’m happier to point them to the Word and let God reveal Himself to them. He is in there you guys. It may not seem like it, but give Him the time He deserves. It will be a challenge and it may not be as fun as the new book you just bought, but I promise you, it will be more. 

He is no respecter of persons.(Acts 10:34) He’ll show up. The very author of your faith will show up and show you what REAL grace tastes like. You can’t get it from a commentary or from someone else’s experiences.

The Bible isn’t obscure or too hard for us. (2 Peter 3:16) No degree needed. No extra knowledge necessary. Just an open heart and your attention.

Uncertainty is NOT the new truth. Being fuzzy on things isn’t the new humility. People are willing to kill for a lie and yet so few are willing to speak up for the truth.

Christians, please know the Word. Study it, stand up for it, and love it. It is all we have in the world that will not change. Let it be the first place we go with our questions – it’s a win/win situation. God will not fail to reveal Himself, not ever. It’s up to us whether we accept what He says.

Let the Word challenge you, let God paint a picture that is just for you. It will be better than anyone else’s you could ever seek out.

Everyday Supernatural

“The secret of a Christians life is that the supernatural becomes natural in him as a result of the grace of God, and the experience of this becomes evident in the practical everyday details of life.” Oswald Chambers

The SUPER natural becomes natural to us. God’s very best becomes the norm. What an amazing idea!

The truth is though, life teaches us something different. We don’t experience this at all. Sometimes, yes, amazing miracles or provision occur and we are shocked and thankful. Often, we put our faith into something half hoping it will work and half expecting it not to. We make excuses for why this or that happened and we move on. Well-meaning teachings or people combined with our experiences lead us down a path of resignation. We want to see supernatural things, but we certainly aren’t bold enough to expect them.

Certain false beliefs have crept their way into our hearts and minds. They’re comfortable beliefs that allow us to explain away our disappointment or confusion. We fall back on them when things don’t really work out. They are also barriers to experiencing more. Here are some that I know I have believed:

  • God is capable of (insert prayer, need, desire here) but I don’t think He’s willing to do it for me.
  • God is sovereign, if He wanted to (            ), He would just do it. He doesn’t need me.
  • I must not have prayed hard enough. My faith must not have been strong enough.
  • All things work out in the end, que sera sera!

First things first: God is no respecter of persons. (Romans 2:11). The same grace has been extended to all mankind. He doesn’t hold back blessing from some and give it to others. He extended His grace to all. We must believe and know that He loves us and is willing to do great things for us. God isn’t wishy-washy toward us!

Oswald Chambers said this supernatural life becomes natural to us “as a result of the grace of God.” Ten thousand AMENS to that truth! His grace was and is totally independent of us. It is a gift. Nothing we did. So… if all these supernatural blessings, healings and provisions are the result of His grace toward us… why don’t we experience more? Why don’t they happen more often?

We Have A Role To Play!

If His grace alone made all these things happen, the world would be problem-free. Everyone would be saved. There would be no need to pray about anything. We know that isn’t true. The Bible says that Israel limited God (Psalm 78:41). Even Jesus was limited in what He could do because of the unbelief in His home town (Mark 6:5). We humans limit what God can do through our unbelief. He does need us. Our faith is a conductor that directs the supernatural power of God and makes it work! It is what moves things from the spirit world to the physical world. Faith is just our response to His grace! When the two meet up, amazing things happen! The idea that “God will just work everything out” while we sit by and hope for the best is dangerous.

I often see many well-meaning Christian-isms that promote this kind of thinking: “Let go and let God!” “Nothing can stop God!” “What is meant to be will be!”… Not true.

So we have a part to play. Our faith is important. But oh the pressure of having enough faith! Now we swing in the other direction. “I have to have big faith! I have to get better faith!” What does that even mean? I don’t know, but I know we tell ourselves things like this all the time. If something doesn’t work out – and if we know that God isn’t the variable in all this – we blame ourselves. My faith must have been weak. God is disappointed in me. Maybe next time.

Our faith is a gift. It isn’t wishful thinking and it isn’t false hope. Solid faith doesn’t create something out of nothing. It’s just coming into agreement with what God has already done. In the same way He provided forgiveness for our sins, He provided for supernatural things. Faith is just our acceptance of what He has done and our releasing it into being. The pressure is off! We aren’t failing God or disappointing Him, we are sometimes just ignorant of how His kingdom works.

We Give Up Too Easily

In Daniel chapter 9, the Lord showed up with an answer as Daniel was still in prayer. The angel Gabriel assured him that “at the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved” (v. 22-23).  How encouraging! The minute he set out to pray, the heavens heard and responded! But in the next chapter, things didn’t go as well. Daniel prayed for three weeks with no result. Verses 2-3 show us that he was a mess. He was mourning. Not eating. Finally, something happened. A visitor showed up with a message. “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days.” (Daniel 10:12-13)

Twenty one days between the time Daniel prayed to when the answer manifested. It’s clear that the Lord heard both of his prayers immediately. He sent out His answer immediately. But there are things going on that we are unaware of. Spiritual battles in the heavens. What if Daniel had compared this prayer with the previous one and said “well, the answer isn’t coming, I give up.” Yikes! The answer was coming, it just needed to be prayed through! So praying once and throwing up our arms if things don’t work out isn’t a good idea. It isn’t wrong to keep praying about a matter. This reveals that our prayers can be answered but not necessarily manifested. It is so important that we do not get discouraged if the answer doesn’t come immediately! People often get disappointed and say “oh well, sometimes God just says no.” More often, we have given up and resigned ourselves that the answer isn’t coming.

The Bible is clear, God is for us and has fantastic, supernatural provision for those who are in Christ. His arms aren’t crossed and He isn’t mad. We don’t have to convince Him of our needs. He already knows and is ready to move on our behalf! Most Christians don’t really believe that though. We live with a kind of fatalistic attitude that “it is what it is” and we hope for the best while preparing for the worst. But New Testament believers have the very power and authority of Christ at our disposal. He commanded us to use it! Instead of spending our time begging God and trying to make Him answer us, we need to join Him and receive from Him. We should be expecting supernatural things in our lives. We should be operating in the very power that Jesus used. We are not beggars any longer. The supernatural isn’t for super-saints, it’s for everyone. Jesus said true believers would operate in this way and that messages would be confirmed with signs and wonders. (Mark 16:17-20). It’s for everyday life. What amazing things would happen if us Christians really believed what the Word says about us???

It’s not the what the world teaches. It isn’t even what most churches teach. But it is what God Himself desires for us!