Dismal Forebodings

One of my favorite books as a teen was the classic Christian allegory Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It’s the story of a little girl named Much-Afraid, who lives in the Valley of Humiliation with her family The Fearings… they plague her existence with their negativity. The aunt who raised her is called Mrs. Dismal Forebodings, a fearful old soul afraid of her own shadow. The poor old woman could hardly stand to go outside or open a window for fear of what calamity may befall her. One day the Shepherd comes to invite Much-Afraid on a pilgrimage to the High Places where He promises her a new life and identity. She is frightened at the idea but longs to leave the Valley and go with Him. Her family is no help. Everyone in the old Fearings clan is so wrapped up in their own bondage, they try to keep poor Much-Afraid locked up with them. When the Shepherd passes by the cottage  with his sheep, He gently calls to her to come along. Her cousin Coward covers her mouth so she cannot respond. They all begin babbling negative thoughts so she cannot hear the Shepherds voice. She feels an “incoherent fear” come over her and is so confused, she can’t even move. The valley-dwellers love company and will do almost anything to keep someone from leaving for the mountains.

Dismal Forebodings… the inexplicable feeling that the bottom is about to drop out. The nagging fear when you wake up in the middle of the night and everything seems dreadful. Little things are big, big things are paralyzing. Have you ever just longed for it to be morning? Not because the sunrise brings a solution, but because things just aren’t as bad in the light of day. You can combat things more easily, move around, get some perspective. The night is just dark and quiet. We spend our days soaking up fear like sponges, it’s no wonder we can’t sleep at night.

Bible addresses fear a lot. Everyone from Abraham down to the disciples is given some kind of ‘fear not’ along their journey:

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ Genesis 15:1

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Joshua 8:1

“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Mark 6:50

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

In addition to the ‘fear nots’ the Bible tells us not to worry, despair, or be anxious. As long as we humans walk the earth, there will be no shortage of things to fret about.

So we have pills advertised non-stop on our televisions and calming apps on our phones. If the first pill didn’t work, there’s an add-on pill, surely that will help. The app tells us to be ‘mindful’ of what triggers us. Map it out. Rate it on a scale from 1-10. Control it, and maybe it won’t control you. It’s a sidestepping game, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

When Much-Afraid finally leaves the Valley with the Shepherd, He tells her they are climbing up to the High Places. The journey will make her whole and most importantly, she will get to know Him better – but they must climb together. She will not be able to go around the mountains, that would be useless. There can be no gazing up at their beauty from the valley. What she needs is up on the steep slopes, and she is going to have to climb up to get to it.

It can be a hard climb up and out of fear. I thought that as my kids grew older, I would get better at it, but the fears just rearrange themselves into newer, more distressing forms. It’s not going away with a pill or an app… only the light can dissipate the darkness.

“The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection. If there is one thing  which I should enjoy doing at this moment it is turning a jellyfish into a mountain goat. That is my special work,” he added with the light of a great joy in his face. “Transforming things —to take Much-Afraid, for instance, and to transform her into—“ He broke off and then went on laughingly. “Well, we shall see later on what she finds herself transformed into.”

May we be changed. May we go with the Shepherd up to the High Places and see who we really are. Floppy jellyfish can become mountain climbers when they put themselves under His care. It’s Jesus’ special work to transform us and what an honor it is to leave the valley and go climbing with Him!

 

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

 

 

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…

truth-in-love

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.