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.

A God-surrendered person realizes that yes, that bar is set pretty high and the chances of us performing our way to the top are slim to none. They take into consideration however, something that the others do not: we CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens us… through His power alone. God-centered people don’t do things God’s way because they are superhuman holy rollers…but they do believe that Christ’s power in them makes all things possible.

When we get cozy with our sin we will find all sorts of ways to gloss over it… but God says “be holy as I am holy” (1Peter 1:16). He doesn’t tell us to be perfect or without flaw, but our general walk should be toward holiness and away from the sin that entangles us. Sometimes that walk feels more like a slow marathon through quicksand… but we keep going in the direction of holiness. Why? Because we feel like it? No. Because we know “the way of man is not in himself” (Jeremiah 10:23) and that in Christ we are “a new creation; old things have passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Rosaria Butterfield wrote a fantastic article showing us the futility of the man-centered approach to sin:

As believers, we lament with the apostle Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:19–20). But after we lament, what should we do? How should we think about sin that has become a daily part of our identity?

Now that it is in the house, don’t buy it a collar and a leash and give it a sweet name. Don’t “admit” sin as a harmless (but un-housebroken) pet. Instead, confess it as an evil offense and put it out! Even if you love it! You can’t domesticate sin by welcoming it into your home. Don’t make a false peace. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get sentimental about sin. Don’t play the victim. Don’t live by excuse-righteousness. If you bring the baby tiger into your house and name it Fluffy, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and Fluffy is eating you alive. That is how sin works, and Fluffy knows her job. Sometimes sin lurks and festers for decades, deceiving the sinner that he really has it all under control, until it unleashes itself on everything you built, cherished, and loved.

Holy cow… or baby tiger. Time to remember that the gospel we trusted in for our salvation is the same gospel that keeps us marching in the direction of home. We will always struggle with sin, but it sin doesn’t get to make the decisions. Paul wrote “…that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God…” 2 Corinthians 1:12. So, in answer to the question “is it possible to live a holy Christian life?” I say it’s not only possible, but should be expected. How different things would be if we thought that way… with simplicity and sincerity about seeking after Jesus.  No false peace, no excuses, no baby tigers in the house. Just authentic forward movement, not by our might but by His spirit.

For The Simple Folk

Reading backwards through the Psalms this morning… does anyone else have that habit of flipping through a magazine from back to front? It probably means something weird psychologically, I don’t know. I noticed some neat things when I read them from the bottom up:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” 138:8

“I have chosen the way of truth.” 119:30

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with a whole heart. You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.” 119:2-4

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” 119:11

I’m not one for ten-step programs or reducing God’s word down to bullet points, but I think there’s something really beautiful here in the Psalms and in the way they all fit together to give us a bigger picture:

We hide His word in our heart > we whole-heartedly obey Him > we choose to make His truth our truth  > He works out and perfects everything that concerns us.

So often, we read a verse like 138:8 about God working things out for us, and we shut our Bibles and think ‘well, God’s in charge!’ and move on doing our own thing. We want the end result, but aren’t willing to really dig in deeper to see what our role may be. Psalm 119 is all about Gods word and how we are to treasure it in our hearts. Without first doing that, we aren’t able to obey Him or choose truth. It follows that our obedience to His word knits us together with His will which brings us to that much-coveted outcome of Him perfecting the things that concern us. I don’t like formulas, especially when they concern our living, breathing relationship with our Creator. We are way too easily swayed by human catch phrases… but I do know that we as Christians must treasure His words to us more than anything else.

“The entrance of Your words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.” 119:130

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to know the truth, you just have to love His word and give it priority in your life. When we love what God has to say, we actually can’t help but “hate every false way” (119:104).

But we straddle fences we know we should get down off of.

We dip our toes into waters that have a potential to sweep us away.

We casually play with fire knowing full-well it could burn our house down.

And we lament the fact that God isn’t “perfecting” the things He said he would.

I saw a pretty little picture frame at a boutique the other day that read “Nothing can stop Gods plan for your life”. Is that true? In theory, yes… God is God and He has a marvelous plan, but we have choices to make that either keep us on the path or knock us off. That phrase implies we can do whatever we want and God’s blessings will still come to pass. We need only to glance around at the world to see that doesn’t work.

Yolk yourself closely with an unbeliever and see what comes to pass. Allow drugs or alcohol to rule over your body and see what happens. Keep anger and unforgiveness stirred up in your heart and show me how that little phrase can possible be true. It can’t.

God is the great redeemer of all those things and more, so let’s not think we need to be perfect or that I’m throwing any stones here. I’m saying we can really clog up the works when we don’t treasure and love what He says in His word. His mercies are new every morning, we never fall too far out of His reach. It should be our hearts greatest desire to choose Him over and over again so that we don’t have to live in a constant state of panic. We say we want a steady and blessed life, but we place ourselves too far out of bounds for that to be possible. the Bible tells us we are like sheep and our only safety lies in sticking close to our Shepherd. Wandering off to greener pastures invites disaster. He’ll come and get us, He’ll “leave the 99” (as the ever-popular Reckless Love song plays over in my head)… but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s ok to go wandering off like a dumb sheep all the time. He wants us with Him. He gave us this wonderful Word of His so that we would actually desire to stay close, sober and alert. That’s how things get “perfected” in our lives.

My girl Lisa Whittle sums it up nicely, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

“At a certain point we have to ask ourselves if we want to continue to settle for a hot and cold Jesus life and if we can really stomach one more year of the spiritual roller coaster. At some point, we have to choose to do something else. When we are truly tired of being on the spiritual roller coaster, we will do something about it. Until then, we are only a little weary and a lot on the fence. A true commitment to God is a thorough, overarching commitment over every area of our life. It’s the kind of commitment that lasts, and keeps us off the highs and lows of Christian living. Commitments to Him have never come cheap. It’s not enough to say “Yes, I accepted You as a Savior” and then go on our way. It has to be about “Today I choose You again.” And if there is to be a sacrifice in all our choosing, let us not look at the denial but at the better that has come from it. For in our love and obedience, we become grounded, steady, solid as a rock. It’s not our figuring out how to get more brace or lifting more spiritual weights by joining every Bible study we can get our hands on. It’s in the choosing of our God and choosing Him over and over again.” 

Choose Him today. Choose Him when it’s hard, love His Word more than you love your own way. God knows we are simple people, He doesn’t ask that we figure it all out, He just wants us to be all-in so He can do all that ‘perfecting’ we so desperately want and need.

On Nightmares and Disarming Foes

“Whatever foes may be before the Christian, they are all overcome. There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there are rivers, but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we wear that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point. God has taken away in the person of Christ all the power that anything can have to hurt us. Well then, the army may safely march on, and you may go joyously along your journey, for all your enemies are conquered beforehand. What shall you do but march on to take the prey? They are beaten, they are vanquished; all you have to do is to divide the spoil. You shall, it is true, often engage in combat; but your fight shall be with a vanquished foe. His head is broken; he may attempt to injure you, but his strength shall not be sufficient for his malicious design. Your victory shall be easy, and your treasure shall be beyond all count.”  Charles Spurgeon

Have you ever woken up from a wickedly vivid dream and thought… yikes! what can that mean?! I had a dream like that last night and was only reminded of it when I read this quote on Instagram this morning (how pleasant when social media is actually helpful). We were in a large house and there was a giant snake on the loose… like, it just kept popping up, falling from the ceiling, slithering all over the place, an absolute nightmare. A whole crowd of people were trying to pin it down and get rid of it, but we just couldn’t. It finally went to bite someone and once it latched on, we realized it didn’t have any fangs and were so relieved that it couldn’t actually harm us. We ended up hacking it to pieces… it was really gross and unpleasant.

I know God speaks through things like this if we will only pay attention. Life is full of little puzzle pieces that fit together like that if we are on the lookout. There’s a song that plays often on the Christian radio called “Fear Is A Liar” and I can’t get it out of my head. The enemy is such a liar. It’s actually quite devastating that we don’t realize it sooner. He whispers junk to us all day long… as we drive, while we work, it’s relentless.

I saw a facebook post for a young teenage girl who said that for her birthday in lieu of gifts,  she’d like everyone to donate money to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, because it’s something she personally deals a lot with.

You guys. It broke my heart. There is no reason people should be in this kind of a state. Not because we don’t have problems. Not because we don’t struggle. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t support organizations that are meant to help people, I am saying that FEAR IS A LIAR and if we don’t recognize that fact first and foremost, we are simply thrashing around in quicksand with no hope of getting out.

Yes… there are lions and serpents and raging rivers and fiery flames. If only we understood… not just intellectually, but in our very bones, that Christ has indeed already defeated all those things. Satan is in his death throes, he knows his time is limited, and he will do anything to have more company on his way down. Jesus isn’t just waiting for us up in heaven somewhere, He’s here now and offers us life abundantly. 

When we know that fear is a liar, we understand that the beasts have been de-clawed, the sword has no sharp edge, and our armor is fireproof. It makes me heartsick to see teenagers so tangled up in pressures of the world that a pill is their only consolation. The number of adults out here in ‘suburbia-land’ that are numbing themselves with addictions of all kinds is awful. Ignoring our fears won’t make them go away.

I am scared every day for any number of reasons. Sometimes, I wake up in the night with thoughts that will not be hushed.

What if my kids believe the lies? What if this job is a dead end? What will I do when they don’t need me anymore? Did I remember to close the garage door? There’s probably a bear in there right now… 

It’s enough to make a person literally crazy. No wonder everyone is taking a pill and downing a bottle of wine.

What if we lived and made decisions based on the actual truth instead of our fears? What if, instead of short little bursts of inspiration, we stood flat-footed on the solid-rock truth that Jesus actually DID disarm our enemy long ago?

So there’s a snake in the house… he can’t hurt you. Get it out.

So the flames are burning hot and strong? Your armor is fireproof. Walk through it.

So the enemy is pointing a knife at your heart? It’s been blunted. Push it away.

He will try, but everything about him is phony when placed in the light of what Jesus already has done. Yes, there is trouble around every corner, but dear believers, it doesn’t have to paralyze you to the point of inaction. If we spend all our time running from what scares us, how will we every know the joy in chasing after Jesus?

Combat, yes. Battle, it’s certain.

The enemy is defeated, and that makes all the difference.

These Three Things

A “JOY FUELED, OBEDIENCE-FILLED, CHRIST-EXALTING LIFE…” Jaquelle Crowe

I read this phrase this morning and it just popped right off the page at me. If I could articulate my deepest hearts desire, it would be that my kids grow up experiencing these three things. To be driven my a profound joy that isn’t based on circumstances, to desire obedience to God’s Word and ways and to live out a life that glorifies and points people to Jesus. When I think on these things, my heart nearly bursts for the hope and potential we all could experience if we surrender ourselves to the great I AM.

I keep a special little picture album tucked away in my Bible and was looking through some of them this morning. Special moments, people and places from other lifetimes seemed to leap off the page and transport me back in time. Old snapshots of my childhood mixed in with some of my boys when they were younger suddenly had me frozen with a weird kind of fear. What if that was as good as it gets? 

It’s not a very Godly thought, but it creeps up on me sometimes. As time marches on, children grow up and you face things you’d rather not. They don’t need you in the same way they used to. Some days, the best I can hope for is that they acknowledge my presence in the room with a kind-ish word. I’ve learned though that I don’t want them to desperately need me, I want them to desperately run after Jesus. My job is to point the way, but also to get out of the way and allow them to run their race. That is so much easier said than done.

I will go to the ends of the earth to help them find JOY in this dark world. I’m almost paralyzed some days with fear for what I see happening in their world. It’s no joke being a teenager these days. I try and wrap my head around it and end up in total despair. They are a generation that runs on virtual reality, instagram filters and being the best of the best. It’s an impossible and phony world. How do you make them understand the silliness of it all? How do you make them see that their worth isn’t based on what others think? There is a joy to be found in Christ that no circumstance or person can ever take away.

Without OBEDIENCE to His ways, nothing else can fall into place. While riding in the car the other day after spending time teaching some teens I said to my boys, “You guys, like 85% of your life right now is just about avoiding dumb-a#$ decisions.” Spiritual, no? I remember a time when rules and disciplines made me feel like I was missing out. The sooner we understand God’s boundaries are more like guard rails keeping us from falling off a cliff, the better off we will be.

Living out a CHRIST-EXALTING life isn’t something we have to strive for, it’s the natural outflow of His love passing through us. We exalt Him when we choose Him over the popular crowd. We honor Him by valuing what He says over what the hot shots in our culture say. Picking up our cross and laying down our idols is hard, but it’s just where we need to be.

The world mocks this kind of life relentlessly and the enemy is working overtime lying and deceiving any who will listen. He whispers to us that we are a victim… Jesus says we are heirs to His kingdom.

I have more questions than answers about all this sometimes… it seems like an insurmountable climb when so much is working against you. I’ve had to go on a news-fast just to get my emotions back in check.

Jesus had not left the building, even though it seems to be burning down.

He tells us to take heart… for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

I’m going to go write these three things down and place it on our mirrors I think. It’s not an unattainable desire, it’s what we should be living out every single day because He lives in us!

Noise Makers

When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.”And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land.” Matthew 9:23-26
Short, but to the point today. This little miracle is sandwiched in between several other stories of Jesus’ supernatural healing in Matthew and it’s easy to skim through and miss some important details. Fresh off the healing of the woman who had been in need for years, the narrative jumps right into the ruler’s little daughter who was lying lifeless inside the house.
There was much commotion in and around the house. Flute players and a large crowd were wailing and crying and making all kinds of noise. When Jesus enters and announces that she is indeed not dead, but sleeping, they mock Him. He knows what He is doing, obviously, but before He raises her up, He sends them all out.
Sometimes, there is just too much noise. The well-meaning crowd can cause more harm than good if left to their own ways. How beautiful that Jesus wants to intervene for this child, but He first must quiet the place down and put the crowd outside.
I think we all have a crowd of flute players and wailers in our own lives. People who mean well, or just maybe want in on the scoop, but who aren’t necessarily helping our situation. There’s that old saying “make room for Jesus” and I think it’s true – we can’t hear Him or fully cooperate with Him if we have a house full of noise swirling around us all the time.
Sometimes, it’s between us and God. Period. It’s hard to shut out the voices, but when we finally do, miracles can and do happen. Put that crowd outside once in awhile and let Jesus in. The fantastic thing is that they all will see the fruits of this obedience and hopefully be changed by it too. This story says that “the report went out into all the land.” People mock and make noise because they don’t understand. Not everyone is worthy of a front row seat to something that’s between you and Jesus, and “too many chiefs” as we like to say, can really veer you off course. If He wants to come in today, make room. If the crowd of voices is too noisy, it’s ok to escort them outside for a bit. Sit with Jesus instead and watch as He performs what He has promised. Then… and only then… go share that good news with everyone else.

Holding On and Letting Go

For everyone who wants a formula… for all of us who clutch our to-do lists thinking they are the gateway to freedom only to find ourselves exhausted and worried sick… here’s some chain-breaking truth from Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book It’s All Under Control:

“Here’s the truth that no one ever tells us –  or at least that no one ever told me: You don’t have to pick one road and walk that path for the rest of your life. Gospel living is not an either/or question. It’s both/and. It’s coming back to that fork in the road every day – with every decision, every obligation, and every relationship – and asking God to help you choose. This is the crossroads where we finally learn what’s ours to control and what’s not. To be truly surrendered to Christ, sometimes you’ve got to walk the road that says “Hang on.” When you walk that road, you will have to hang on tighter than you thought you could. Other times, you’ll have to walk the road of letting go.

How will you know which way to walk? You’ll know because you don’t stand at the crossroads alone, left to your own devices. “Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the road. Walk down this road” (Isaiah 30:21).

In a moment of clarity, yo will know which way to go… when that clarity comes, trust the wisdom that God has given you, as scary as it is, and then take the next step. As you step out in faith, God’s peace will prevail – and that peace can come both in the letting go and in the hanging on.”

It’s not an either/or question! Oh how I love to live in the black and white world of my own decisions and processes. It’s so much easier there… if I do A, then this will happen, if I choose B, this will be the outcome. My critical thinking skills don’t always serve me well when Jesus invites me into unchartered territory. He wants me to follow Him, and I demand the GPS printout of the entire journey. The crossroads isn’t something I naturally embrace.

Do I hang on? Am I supposed to let go? If so… when? How? Life is one giant game of knowing when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em… and I’m pretty uptight at times about both of those things. I hold dear things that He wants me to loosen my grip on. I dismiss people or opportunities too quickly when He places them in my lap and says ‘give this a try’. Jesus stands at our crossroads and waits. He waits for me to put down my excuses, fears and well-intentioned lists and pick up my cross. The direction we go is up to Him and what a relief that is. I’m learning that He’s the only one who can tell me with clarity what to let go of and what to hang on to. I have my reasons, but they are usually wildly misguided. I want to be able to stand at each fork in the road and confidently… surrender. I want to obey. Control is a big, fat illusion to help us cope, but in the end, it leaves us busted up and more freaked out. Friends, we can’t control our way into a peaceful life, it comes through Jesus and Him alone.

Reading Jennifer’s book has been a journey in understanding that we do not have anything under control… but we serve a God who does. Are you a Driver? A Devoter? A Darling? We all have some quirks, some superpowers and our own kryptonite. This book is a Biblical look at the things that drive us to control our lives and the One who holds the key to unlocking it all.

The book is out today, and you can find the link here

Be blessed in the holding on and in the letting go friends!

Plucking Forbidden Fruit

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 3:6

“Good intentions get the best of us, don’t they? Eve probably didn’t go into her day with a diabolic item on her to-do list. 

Prune roses. Check. 

Feed the goofy-looking animals with really long necks. Check.

Take a stroll with God around lake. Check.

Try out new fruit. Check. Usher sin into world. Check.

Neither do we go into our days thinking, I’m going to be a control freak today and make myself miserable. Instead, we go into our days with self-made edicts of love. No one is more surprised than us when we turn around and find ourselves plucking forbidden fruit from trees that we had no business touching.” Jennifer Dukes Lee It’s All Under Control.

Do you ever notice the things that most drive you crazy in others are usually the exact shortcomings or sins that you yourself struggle with? It’s not easy to admit, but the controlling tendencies in others bring out the controlling tendencies in me. It would be funny if it wasn’t so darn sad. We vow we’ll never be like so-and-so… we would never handle the situation the way so-and-so did… only to find ourselves stuck in same miry mud puddles they are in.

Since the dawn of creation, we have craved control. It can come from an innocent place or a devious one. For most of us, I’d venture to say we don’t want bad things to happen, so we clench our fists as tight as we can. That old metaphor is true though, the tighter you squeeze, the more sand falls out onto the ground.

There’s this ‘surrender’ word floating around and it sounds nice.  We sing the old hymn “All to Jesus I surrender… all to Him I freely give”… all while checking our phone and adjusting our calendars. It’s not surrender if we don’t actually lay something down.

Here comes the inevitable BUT…

BUT I can’t just throw all caution to the wind and hope it works out! I can’t just let those proverbial chips fall wherever they may! Peoples lives are at stake here! Little people, big people, work people, projects, households… ALL THE THINGS!

Ironically, surrender doesn’t mean we toss up our hands and hope for the best. That’s fatalism, and Jesus wasn’t in the business of making things overly complicated. He said to we must surrender our lives to His will. There will be a cross to carry, but it is far better than the baggage we accumulate through our stubborn and prideful control.

It’s both funny and tragic that we are often so blind to the futility of all this micromanaging. Like Eve, we think things can work out better if we can just get our hands in the mix. In the end, we just come out with sticky, dirty hands. We don’t mean to go after the forbidden fruit, but our stubborn flesh just won’t rest until it gets to have a say in everything.

Do you know what I’m learning the hard way? We don’t need to have our hands in everything in order for it to work out. Moms of teens are really bad at this at times. Ask me how I know. Every day I have to choose to let them go just a little farther out into the world. Every day I want to intervene with my big ol’ opinions. It’s not always necessary and God is faithful to remind me that I have to lay down my control and pick up my cross.

Half-hearted surrender isn’t very useful. Jesus asks for everything we’ve got, and in return, He promises to keep it and sort it better than we ever could have ourselves.

“Then He placed His right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17

Can you picture Him? Hand on our shoulder telling us not to fret. Like two giant bookends, The First and the Last is here with us and He promises to guard whats in the middle. We can trust that we don’t need to go chasing after other fruit.