Still Offended By Goodness

“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” 1 Peter 3:13-15

There is a predictably one-sided and hysterical article that came out at HuffPo bemoaning the fact that Chick-Fil-A is still continuing in their “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior” by donating vast amounts of money to hate groups. Genuine shock and outrage that they did not receive the previous memo to abandon their beliefs has ensued. I’m not going to link to it this time, it’s too ridiculous and it’s easy to look up. The ‘hate groups’ that are referred to by the way are Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, so there’s that. Without heading down a huge rabbit hole (or shall I say chicken), I want to use this as a little jumping off point to talk about this marvelous paragraph in 1 Peter about how we believers are to deal with the haters.

It’s a story as old as humanity itself, Peter is addressing his letter to Christians who are suffering persecution and rejection because of their obedience to Christ. Their contemporaries are shocked and a little insulted that these folks don’t still choose to run with them in the same sinful circles (4:4) as they once did. Peter urges patience and humility in the face of unjust persecution.

So he begins by asking the question, “who is going to harm you for being a follower of what is good?” The answer is clearly those who aren’t following what is good. Misery loves company… sin loves company… and when you choose not to walk in it or celebrate it, you become a natural target. The Chick- Fil -A debacle was a manufactured outrage from the beginning, a lose-lose battle for anyone holding Christian beliefs. As painful as it is, being a follower of what is good automatically makes you a target.

Peter goes on to say that even when we suffer for what is right, we will be blessed. The enemy will do everything in his power to get us to jump ship or join forces with the other side. The media is in an all out war against a chicken restaurant for heavens sakes, the likes of which you simply do not see with any other company. God says be blessed in the midst of it. Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays and still does better than McDonalds and Starbucks franchises combined. Obviously, something is working. We think we need to do things the world’s way to keep up and it just isn’t true. Honor God, honor His ways, and be blessed by being different.

The last few sentences Peter writes are powerful. “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” Now honestly, how often is this happening? Do people see a hope in us that makes them genuinely want what we have? Or are we too busy fortifying our own little walls to keep everyone out? Peter is telling us we need to be shining examples of HOPE in a world gone totally bonkers. How do we do that? “With meekness and fear…” Meekness and humility are almost entirely extinct traits in our society. What if we could be settled in our beliefs, but still humble enough to want to share them with others? What if we could stand our ground against this anti-Biblical agenda that wants to erase truth, but do it in a way that our conscience is clear before God? That’s the ‘fear’ part right there…we have to fear God more than men. Chick-Fil-A, as a company, is doing exactly what we all need to be doing on a personal level.

“They think it strange that you do not run with them…” (4:4)

Let them. We have to be ok with this. Biblical love is sharing the hope and truth that is in us with others. It is not nodding and agreeing with sin so that people will like us. Peter and the early church faced persecution and so will we, and friends, Chick-Fil-A is the tip of the iceberg. I use it as an encouraging example to be true to God, serve Him, serve others, and let the haters dig their own proverbial graves.

Whats that silly internet meme? “Ain’t nobody got time for this?” That’s the truth.

Are people mad that you still haven’t caved to their demands that you embrace the world? It’s ok.

Are folks offended that you continue to believe what Jesus said even though their own modern-day analysis says you are a fool? Super.

We need not be afraid of suffering for what is right. Not ever.

Draw people with the hope that is in you, and do it with meekness and fear. The gospel has a beautiful way of proving itself true time and time again.

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

 

 

Humility 101

“The world screams “You are enough” and we are desperate to believe it. But being enough is different from being worthy and valuable. We are beautiful people flawed to the core, but deeply worthy of love and of priceless value to our Creator God… every one. Jesus has no favorites. So to say “without You I am nothing” is not to say we have no value. This prayer simply says that by ourselves, we are unable to thrive.” Lisa Whittle

That last sentence hits me so hard… we are unable to thrive on our own apart from God. As much as we may try, (and boy do we try) it goes against everything in our spiritual nature to try and live life on our own. Now our flesh is another story, it wants its moment in the spotlight, to be sure. We try to “be enough” as we strive and wrangle our way to the next thing, and the dust never seems to settle. It’s actually quite alright that we aren’t enough, because that’s the beauty of serving a God who is:

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” 2 Corinthians 3:5

So we are not, in fact good enough or sufficient. Not on our own, anyways. Believing that our strength or wisdom comes from within is a short trip around the block, we end up right back where we started. The beauty of the Gospel is that it turns us away from our selfish, narrow selves and towards something far more satisfying and larger. It’s not that we don’t have value, in fact we are so important to God that He doesn’t want us wasting our lives on things that leave us empty. Likewise, we don’t ever need to feel bad about not being enough.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

The story in Mark 9 where Jesus’ disciples struggle through this makes me laugh and cringe all at once:

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

Here they are, in the company of Jesus, traveling the long road with Him as He performs miracles and begins to reveal what is coming next – and they are arguing about which one of them was or would be the greatest. Lord have mercy. Literally.

Who had the best argument I wonder? John? Peter? Judas even? Jesus waits until they enter a house and then asks them “oh, by the way, what was all that arguing about?” Crickets.

I imagine how I am when my boys argue over something so ridiculous it just takes all my energy not to throw up my hands and leave the room. Jesus being Jesus, He sits down and has to explain a few things to them. Humility 101.

He has no favorites. When left to our own devices we are all kind of a selfish mess, wondering about being the greatest or the most (fill in the blank). There’s always someone better, and none of us are sufficient. What a relief that instead of living under condemnation, we can just go all-in with Jesus and thrive where He takes us.

Through abiding, we live. Through humility, we thrive.

Lord help us let go of the idea that we can ever be ‘enough’ and let us see the greater purpose that You have in using our insufficiency to glorify You. 🙌🏼

Life Is Too Short For Chess Games

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I saw an Instagram post yesterday with a framed picture by a fireplace that read very simply “Fidelity to the Word of God and not to an outcome.”

The quote under it, from author Lore Ferguson Wilbert stuck with me all day:

“I made it as a reminder for us and those who cross the threshold of our home. We don’t play chess with our lives, making the most strategic, financially savvy, career-making, and good for mostly us decisions. We walk by the words of scripture, the Living Water, and the book of Life. Nothing else trumps the word of God.”

The chess thing really struck me for some reason, perhaps because my 10 year old recently taught me how to play and I’m really bad at it. There’s a purpose and an end game to every single move you make. You need to not only watch what you’re planning, but what your opponent is cooking up. There’s short-term tactics and long term strategy. You gather information and store it up. It’s fascinating, but can be mentally exhausting.

Like a giant game of chess, many people are just out to make the “good for mostly us” kind of decisions. We’ve been conditioned to make moves based on where it’s going to land us on the board. Life has taken on the appearance of a giant competition, and seemingly those who know the game are the ones getting ahead.

Of course, we are given brains and logic by God Himself to make wise decisions about our lives. We aren’t robots and we aren’t cave people. Life requires all kinds of judgments on our part to keep moving, and naturally we want to do what is right for ourselves and families.

If you’ve walked with Jesus for any amount of time you’ve probably come to realize this truth: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts. ” Isaiah 55:8-9

I think we often read this and think “oh well, God knows best, que sera sera… whatever will be will be.” That’s flying blind and I don’t think that’s what He intends for us. Once we understand that instinctively our thoughts don’t always match up with His, (we have this thing called flesh, it has a tendency to get in the way a lot) we can also see that that’s not the stopping point. His thoughts and ways are higher (better) than ours. Not unattainable, just something greater to which He desires to reveal to us.

Paul tells us that we have the MIND OF CHRIST (1 Corinthians 2:16), therefore we can be a part of these ‘thoughts and ways’ if we are surrendered to Him. When we have the mind of Christ, we desire what He desires. It’s naturally going to be the best thing for us, but we aren’t stuck in the prison of self-serving, self-promoting strategic chess playing with our decisions.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death…” Proverbs 14:12

So much of it is a trap. You fight for something that in the end doesn’t satisfy, you burn bridges to get ahead when it only leaves you isolated and alone. We’ve all had our well-laid plans derailed and seen how in the end, God’s way was far better.

I don’t think we serve a God of chaos who just throws random circumstances at us willy-nilly to see if we’ll choose the right door, like some cosmic game of Lets Make a Deal. I actually think we often create our own chaos by not putting His precepts first. We could save ourselves a lot of confusion and heartache by doing what that little sign by the fireplace said. Focus on God, not the outcome. He has that part handled. When we make the Word of God our dwelling place, not just our drive-through, we actually enjoy just being with Him in the process. We attain the mind of Christ and His thoughts and ways. We can relax and not obsess over all the next moves, because God will reveal them to us.

The “good for mostly us” kind of lifestyle has left behind a trail of chaos in it’s wake. It trickles down from bosses to employees, friend to friend, parents to children. Have you seen any little league or kids sports lately? Just last week I saw an 11 year old get caught cheating and his response was “if you don’t cheat a little sometimes, you’ll never win.” I’d rather lose with my integrity intact, thank you very much. The point is, when we let God’s Words slip through the cracks in any area, we become a slave to self-centered positioning. It’s the natural progression everything will take if we take our eyes off Jesus, and it will always lead to an empty, unfulfilled, chasing-our-own-tail kind of life. I think God honors humility, not strategic moves.

Life is too short to be playing chess all day. We can’t see four moves ahead, and I think that’s not a bad thing. When we yell “Jesus take the wheel!” we actually should mean what we say. We don’t totally check out, but we do need to allow Him to show us the direction to go. We don’t have to be swindlers to pull ahead in life, quite the opposite actually.

Lord, may we delight in Your Words to us and desire to put them before any outcome we may desire. May we not obsess over attaining a position, but be humble in where we are placed and wait on You to promote us the right way.

Find something that reminds you and those you love of this truth: in this house, in this life, we put God’s ways above the ways of the world. We may lose position sometimes, but we will also gain it back, in unimaginable ways. Let Jesus be one who moves you around the board, let Him decide what gets sacrificed and what stays. He’s the outcome, He’s our end game. Fix your eyes on Him and watch as the rest flawlessly falls into place.

 

A Teachable Spirit

From Andrew Murray, Daily Experience With God

“Why is it that, with Christ as our teacher, there is so much failure and so little real growth in spiritual knowledge? Why is there so much hearing and reading of the Bible, so much profession of faith in it as our only rule of life, and yet such a lack of manifestation of its spirit and its power?
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Many have taken Christ as savior, but not as teacher. They have put their trust in Him as the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, but they know little about following the Lamb or receiving from Him the lamb nature.
This teachable spirit that refuses to know or do anything on its own wisdom is to be the spirit of our whole life, every day and all day long. It is said of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, “He shall teach you all things” (John 14:26). If His whole life and work in us is a divine teaching, then we must have this teachable spirit within us.”

Sometimes we need to unlearn the wrong things in order to learn the right ones. His yoke is so easy once we humble ourselves and submit to His way of teaching us. May we listen in the morning to the voice that calls us saying “learn of Me and find rest for your souls.”

It’s ALL Spiritual

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This is such a difficult day. Remembering the events of 13 years ago like they were both an eternity ago and yet some of it feels like yesterday.

I’m finding this to be a frustrating day as well. Frustrated at where we are at. Starving for leadership and a way past all this darkness that has in no uncertain terms, declared war on us simply for being the light.

The feeling that I want someone to stand up for us is overwhelming me today. I want someone to call it for what it is and do something about it. Recognize the enemy. Go after them.

But the opposite happens. It seems like it will continue to happen. It’s confusing and maddening.

God is patient when we’re all stirred up, He listened to me all morning rant about injustice and stupidity and evil. Then I went to the mailbox and found something I had almost forgotten about. A necklace I ordered weeks ago. It was kind of an impulse buy – proceeds went to a charity, it was cute, there was a coupon… you know how it goes. So I pulled it out and read the inscription: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. And I felt it in a different way than ever before.

“When you see only injustice…” Act justly.

“When none show mercy…” Love mercy.

“When pride is all around…” Walk humbly.

This is hard for me today. It does’t exactly flow happily through my spirit the way it did when I bought it online. Actually doing this is difficult.

Then He took me to Ephesians for another reminder that is sometimes hard to swallow.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12)

When all my anger is focused on what I can see (politicians, world events, snarky comments by others to name a few) I am missing the truth and struggling in vain. The real enemy behind all this is much bigger than any one person or group.

Without getting into all the political details… believe me this is difficult… let me just say this: we have failed to see or speak the truth about our enemy. It’s either through ignorance or on purpose, and I don’t know which is worse. God reminded me today that it’s more important than ever to speak the truth about our unseen enemy. He has declared war on us in every way and wants nothing more than to steal, kill and destroy. Pretending he isn’t there doesn’t make us any safer, it actually puts us in more danger. Ignorance leads to defeat. We are not to be ignorant of our enemy. I’m ready to roll. Bring it. Put on the full armor of God and lets do this.

Oh but there’s that Micah 6:8 verse… love, mercy and humility and all that.

I don’t feel loving today. I feel injustice piling up faster than we can shovel it away. I don’t feel very humble either. We’re right, they’re wrong. The mercy rule isn’t at the top of my list right now either. I watched the Karate Kid last night on TV and can’t help running that awful dojo teachers words through my head, “We do not train to be merciful here, mercy is for the weak!!”  Ugh. Lame.

God reminds me that while I long for earthly justice, He is eternally just. He steps in for us and defends us when others won’t. My longing for leadership brings me to the feet of Jesus, the leader and author of my life. I can’t live by the ‘no mercy’ rule because He had mercy on me. He will bring it to pass. It may be a rough ride, but He is faithful to us.

So on this day and in this age when injustice seems to rule over us… I am reminded that I am connected to the source of justice itself. A God that will stand up for me and lead in ways no earthly person ever could. He will defend us when others won’t. He knows our enemy and is able to defeat him. And though it’s hard to remember, it’s ALL spiritual.