Fear and Hustling

Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rain righteousness upon you. –Hosea 10:12

I’m no farmer, so I looked up the exact meaning of the word fallow in the dictionary after coming across this verse. It means land that is unseeded, unsown, idle or obsolete. It’s land that could be used to grow crops, but has been left alone to compact and harden. Fallow land will yield absolutely nothing come harvest time, except possibly some weeds.

Hosea is pleading with the people of Israel to get real about the sin in their lives and turn away from it. Throughout the book, he refers to them as an unfaithful harlot whose straying has wreaked havoc, causing all kinds of idolatry and chaos. This verse is an encouragement, a plea in the middle of an otherwise dreary chapter, to snap out of it and return to the God who really is on their side. Continue reading

Courted and Persuaded

Courting is kind of an old fashioned idea, gone out of style except maybe for the occasional Hallmark movie. It’s a flattering thing, when someone finds such value in you that they want to win over your affections. Courting implies a pursuit of some kind, one person chasing after another because they value their affections. It’s a lovely thought.

Until… it’s not. Hallmark movies aside, what about when the pursuing party isn’t all that wonderful? Think of slimy politicians courting their voter base with empty promises. We all would like to be pursued by someone worthy, but what about when something very unworthy is knocking at our door?

I read this morning in Galatians a plea from Paul to the church that struck a chord:

“They zealously court you, but for no good. Yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.” Galatians 4:17

He’s speaking of false teachers who prey on believers for their own benefit. I got to thinking about the world as a whole, how it entices us and knocks at our door… how it courts us with outstretched hand to follow its lead. We fall into a kind of daze at the promise of something better and we follow it right into a dead end, or worse. The promises are empty.

He goes on to say this:

“You ran well, who hindered you from the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” 5:7-8

This persuasion… this arm-twisting, this luring, this tempting… this is not from God! Paul is acknowledging that they were doing so well, until they allowed themselves to be courted and persuaded by the wrong people.

We feel this draw every single day, this almost magnetic pull the world has on us. It holds out its hand and summons us to come and follow. Some of us get lost in hours of scrolling or shopping, hoping the world will fulfill its promise to satisfy us. Others throw themselves into work, thinking the world will reward their sacrifices. Some habitually get lost in pills or a bottle because its better than feeling disappointed again.

It doesn’t really matter how we do it, what matters is that as children of God, we shouldn’t even be willing to allow the enemy to court us or persuade us in any form.

Paul says that we are known by God and he can’t even fathom how we could turn ourselves over to such weak and beggarly elements whose only goal is to push us back down into bondage (4:9).

Ok Paul, since you put it that way… weak and beggarly. These things that seem so powerful over us are really nothing in the light of His love for us. Jesus doesn’t offer us some second-hand, watered-down alternative to the exciting world outside our doorstep, He offers us the real thing. It’s the world that is watered-down and phony. If we flip the script, we’ll see that the things we are courted by and persuaded into following are all just smoke and mirrors. Beauty, popularity, fame, position… it’s all more temporary then we’d like to admit.

Paul finishes the chapter by reminding us that we have been called to liberty (5:13). Freedom is our calling, and it comes when we refuse to be courted by the world and all its charms. Liberty is our calling, and we walk into it when we refuse to be persuaded by things that are not of Him.

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.” AW Tozer

Free A’s And No Homework!

One of my favorite lines from THE INCREDIBLES movie is “if everyone is special, then nobody is special.” It comes from a villain who is plotting a way to make everyone into superheroes, thus negating the current superheroes’ power and prestige. I tried hard to prove this “everyone gets an A” picture as fake news… but alas, it is not. Where was this when I was crying over my math homework in fifth grade? Obviously, it didn’t exist because we lived in reality where you had to earn your grades. Interesting to note that homework and cupcakes are also banned at this particular school in Arlington, Virginia. Of course they are.

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Baby Tigers and False Peace

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

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

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

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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!