The Beauty of Smallness

“If you must choose between Bible and breakfast, choose Bible, and grab an energy bar. Then plan better. Man shall not live by bread alone.” John Piper

This really made me chuckle, but if you know anything about John Piper, he is not kidding about that breakfast bar. He wrote an entire book about not wasting your life. Perhaps this is a perspective that comes with age and hindsight, but I find myself resonating quite a bit with what he’s saying. Don’t be wasteful with your time, your talents or your calling. That old saying ‘the days are long but the years are short’ is so very true.

We inhabit a big, loud world where the only way to get any attention is to be big and loud. We are supposed to hustle and be fierce and do hard things, at least that’s what all the coffee cups tell me. Honestly, I don’t wake up feeling fierce or fearless or any of those things. Most days, I just wake up… tired. The last person I need more of is myself, so when I scroll my phone and read things like “I am my own healer, protector, muse… what I have to offer is limitless”, I feel a little nauseated. Sometimes I literally can’t remember what day it is, so to be my own muse or healer is a bit much. All this inward focus, this incessant need to be bigger than we actually are, it’s sucking the very life right out of us. Have you noticed it lately? When everyone is big, no one is. It’s like the crazy awards shows on TV… there are so many now that no one pays attention to any of them. Everyone is so busy congratulating themselves, no one is impressed but them. I can say the same for the selfie phenomenon… the longer you spend editing that picture, the less impressed I am. It’s off-putting when others do it, but still our flesh pushes us to keep sticking our big faces out there for recognition. It’s fascinating really. How do we navigate this trap? Is being small the same as being insignificant? Piper puts it this way:

“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments were are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”

I’d like to stand at the Grand Canyon and feel small. I would not like to be the self-obsessed tourist trying to get that perfect filtered shot of myself overlooking the biggest hole on earth. Does anyone remember traveling before the invention of the smart phone and selfie stick? You could just be present in the moment and not worry about how you were going to share this moment with the entire free world. I cried the first time I sat in Notre Dame Cathedral because I felt so small. I was in total awe of the men who built such a place and the God they served. Even staring out the window of an airplane is enough to put things into perspective.

The self-focus thing is such a tiresome, dead-end road. One of the things I’ve realized with my own family is how much better we function when we get out of our own selfish little patterns and go join in something bigger than we are. Some days that means just getting up and going to church. We really do have to be reminded these days that there is an actual world outside our door with actual (not virtual) people who may need us. Irony of ironies, the more we bask in our own little world trying to make ourselves big, the smaller and more insignificant we become.

I saw this list while looking up Piper’s book, and though it reads a bit harsh at first, I think it is spot on.

What do all these things have in common? Choosing to place self over Jesus. Making myself big while I shrink Him down to nothing. It’s that simple. So the original question maybe is more serious than I thought: do I sacrifice anything at all to just be with Jesus? Would I settle for the silly breakfast bar if it meant settling my heart for the day? I’d like to think I would, but some days I’m not so sure, because, well #6 on that list…

So, help us Jesus, to run the race set before us, to bear our cross daily, to humble ourselves and be made small so that You have room to do big things. Help us to maybe leave the selfie stick at home and go feel small in a big world.

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!

Psychological Shots

“A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him. No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life… such things if used with discretion may be a blessing along the way. The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin.” AW Tozer

This passage hit me hard today. The notion that so many souls have lost (or never found) that thing which fills the heart and makes it want to continue onward in spite of difficulty is devastating. That so many among us really do require “psychological shots” just to keep going is absolutely terrifying.

We put everything we have out there for the world to approve, and then die a little inside when they don’t. Take a shot.

We spend money that we don’t have on the latest fashions we think will satisfy us, but they don’t. Take a shot.

We travel to the far corners of the earth but it’s never far enough. Take another shot.

I am in awe of a culture that has acquired so much knowledge and information and yet is totally devoid of any wisdom or useful truth. We follow the well-beaten path to happiness only to find out it’s a dead-end. We pop the pills the commercial says will make us less depressed and we feel worse. I was talking with my boys yesterday about the importance of just being in community and helping people out. The gist of the conversation was that we are blessed when we bless others, tis better to give than receive, etc. It sounds cliché, but the truth is that until we understand we are created for more than the seeking out of our own happiness, we are doomed to a life of futile searching.

This thing that Tozer writes about, the idea of being unable to live without the constant stimulation of the world, the little ‘shots’ of temporary happiness, this frightens me. We are addicted to all the wrong things and are conditioned to crave temporary fixes. People charge ahead, taking hit after hit of their drug of choice and eventually just smack right into a wall. It’s that abuse of the harmless things and the neglect of the necessary ones that has us so desperately mixed up.

Some people obsess over work, others fixate on exercise. We have our social media accounts, our video games, our alcohol, you name it. We crave diversion and entertainment wherever we can find it, but whenever these things become our main thing, they’re going to disappoint. I was stunned when I came across this display at the bookstore the other day:

Now, to each his own in the entertainment department and I realize you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that, so I looked up the synopsis for the this little gem on the left: “The sinister mystery of how a teen girl named Brooklyn became the epitome of evil in this terrifying prequel to the series MTV calls “Mean Girls meets The Exorcist.” Please note to what group of readers this is marketed towards. And we wonder why kids are so nasty, so mean, so utterly lost.

Friends, we are absolutely created to enjoy life, but not at the expense of our souls. We are created to live from the inside out, not the outside in. No amount of stimulation from any outside source is ever going to satisfy that proverbial “God-shaped hole” in our souls. Our hearts can be downright deceitful at times and lead us off to follow after the wrong things (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not meant to go at it alone, not ever. It’s natural that we hunger and thirst and seek… but we have to go hard after the thing that will fill us and steady us in an unsteady world.

Some will say that following Jesus is too simplistic for todays problems. Others will find the burden of picking up ones cross and following entirely too complicated. The truth though, is that it’s the only cure for what ails us.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” —Proverbs 4:23

We can’t overcomplicate it, nor can we underestimate the power Christ has to infuse lasting joy into our sin-sick hearts. Take delight in Jesus first and foremost, and He will satisfy those deepest longings (Psalm 37:4).

First World Easter

Easter week. Holy Week. My favorite holiday and my favorite celebration. In the same way we observe advent, I think the time before Easter deserves our attention and willingness to quiet ourselves to hear with clear minds the story that changed everything. Our lives are not very conducive to this message, however, and the gospel gets lost in our hustle. As much as we may try, we won’t find any answers in our good works or our poetic brokenness… the answers are at the cross. Easter week is a week to remember those truths.

“The reality is that if we are seeking a better life for ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking to perfect ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking an aesthetically pleasing, pretty, romantic life and happiness by the brief emotional espresso shots/pat on the back sensation of helping others alone, we will never, ever be satisfied. If we are claiming to find perfection and happiness in our own brokenness and sin, we will definitely never be happy. Why? Because our first purpose is not inward, but rather it is to glorify God.

If we are getting our scripture and God’s holy infallible word from the Instagram Bible alone, if we are depending on aesthetically pleasing and pretty motivational blurbs with vague and fluffy words to push us through our first world lives and problems, we are not really looking for a relationship with God. We are looking to feel okay with where we are at. We are looking inward for emotional fulfillment. We are looking for our own idea of perfection.

It is good to help people. It is good to love life. It is good to love the beautiful and good. But this should all be the fruit of seeking to glorify God and follow His Will first. And quite honestly, as someone who tried to find the aesthetic, emotional, Instagram life, I don’t want that kind of first world, lavender lotion, piano riff, and local coffee someone-give-me-motivation-to-do-my-laundry-and-homework-oh-life-is-so-hard Jesus. I want the almighty King of Heaven whose bloody, painful, violent death saved me from the depths of the fiery and damning hell where I deserved to go (and still deserve to go, except for His mercy). I want to glorify and sing the praises of the God who gave Paul and Silas the strength to sing loud, fierce praises at the bottom of a filthy, nasty-smelling prison cell with their legs jammed into stocks for the entire night. I want the Lord and Savior whose astounding grace motivated Ignatius of Antioch to suffer through being dragged three thousand miles with ten abusive Roman soldiers to Nero’s Colosseum to be eaten alive by tortured lions in front of a jeering unsaved crowd and to write that he longed for eternity. These are true instances of brokenness, but instead of letting these situations break them and then holding on to their brokenness and saying “Oh! Look what I’m doing for Jesus!”, these men set their eyes on Christ and sought to glorify God and not themselves and certainly not their lives.

Faith is not pretty, and neither is life. Making it pretty by embracing our sin and the effects of sin around us and photoshopping it will not help us, either. Trying to find satisfaction through charitable acts will not help us either, if we are not seeking and embracing Christ and His Word first. For we do not find Christ in our brokenness. We find Christ in His Word and through there, realize our brokenness and the horror of it and seek repentance and sanctification. We are to rejoice in our suffering, as Paul calls us in Romans 5:3 and 4, but because of our hope in the glory of God. We are not called to revel in our problems and look for emotional nirvana. We are to look upward. ”  Rachel Stevenson

Look up friends, not in. Acknowledge the unfinished things, but rejoice in a Savior that died on a cross and announced once and for all that “IT IS FINISHED.”

Help people. Do the good works, but find your strength in the cross. That’s where all the power and joy are found… not in striving to impress. He died so we may live life and live it abundantly.

The cross wasn’t cheap or smooth, it was costly and rugged. It’s easy to forget that with our Pottery Barn table settings and easy coffee shop culture. I hope we can be reminded of it all this week, the brutal beauty of the whole story.

Be blessed this Easter friends, cling to the old rugged cross and the great hope it brings to our old rugged lives.

Joy Is Our Default Setting

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We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God. 2 Corinthians 1:12

November days can be dreary. The world seems like a foggy and grey place as well. The past few days we find ourselves in a familiar cycle of shock, sadness and general confusion. We dig deep to understand the complexities of the human heart, usually ending up where we started, in our corner with the particular brand of beliefs or anxieties we started with. We start down rabbit holes that don’t have an end, find ourselves in labyrinths that just keep twisting, and notice our questions just lead to more unanswered questions.

We demand to know why evil is allowed to run amok, we fly around trying to figure out how to make it stop… we go through the same motions over and over again. With each awful, heart-shredding event, we bow our heads and repeat the anxious prayers of our hearts with the hope that they will somehow stick.

But this sin. This crazy, from the pit of hell, not real life sin… it has us pinned down. It can be bold and brazen. We see it on the evening news and we die a little inside at the reality of it all. It can also creep up silently and set up shop in our minds and hearts as we navigate a world gone off the rails. We hear people say things like “where is your God now and if He’s so good why does He allow such evil?” After the Texas church slaughter a fancy pants politician quipped “We have priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers” hoping to push us away from such silliness and towards a law that would have prevented this mess. Wrong. I want to write four paragraphs about that quote alone, but just… no.

Those who have never experienced love have a hard time loving. Someone who doesn’t know the truth of prayer mocks it recklessly. Making fun of what you don’t know is weak. So we divide up into our two teams and reload. This is not sustainable behavior.

I don’t have any fancy answers and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing the cacophony of talking heads on both sides. Sin gripping the heart of man was, is, and always will be the problem. If we know the story of Jesus at all, we know that the law was powerless to make men live right, but what the law couldn’t do, God did do through His Son (Romans 8:3). Change the heart and you change the whole man. Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:16). Therefore, we have got to be in the business of being love and speaking the truth friends. Back to the Bible. Back to doing what Jesus instructed when He said “Go and make disciples.” We’ve got to get out of our comfort zones for this. It might get awkward. It might save a life.

So again, I go back to Paul’s reminder: “We behaved with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Behave and act with simplicity and sincerity. Not sticking our heads in the sand, but not running around like a chicken with it’s head lopped off either. The wisdom of the world is not real wisdom, it is anti-Jesus, anti-love and soul-sucking selfishness. We act by the grace of God. We live by the simple and sincere truths in His word. That’s how we find pops of color in a grey world. That’s how we find joy in tragedy. We aren’t immune to the consequences of sin, but we aren’t ruled by sin either. Joy that runs deep is our default setting dear friends – if you’ve lost it, return to Him in simplicity and sincerity and find it again.

All You Can Eat Buffet… Jesus Style

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“Unless you are convinced that in the blood of Jesus when He died on the cross there was included, as a purchase of that blood, your right to a full, Spirit-filled life – unless you are convinced of that, unless you are convinced that it isn’t an added, unusual, extra, deluxe something that you have to go to God and beg and beat your fists on the chair to get, I recommend this to you: I recommend that you don’t do anything about it yet except to meditate upon scripture bearing on this truth.” AW Tozer

This is a bit of a crude example, but are we signed up for the all-you-can-eat buffet or are we dining à la carte in our spirit lives? Jesus came that we may have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY and that includes living in great freedom. He’s like the whole buffet, drink refills and Jell-O desserts included. Paid for in full, and have at it.

We seem to struggle with this. Some people seem to be tangled up more than others. It isn’t that Christ has freed some more than others, it’s that some of us haven’t fully accepted and appropriated what He’s done in our own lives. He’s purchased the buffet for us, but we’re stuck still trying to buy things off the menu. There isn’t some extra-supersized version of freedom that some get and some don’t… He came and freed us all from every sin that ensnares (Hebrews 12:1). All of us. Every sin. Every struggle.

The dots don’t always connect, though. Sure, Jesus came and died for our sins and we’re going to heaven… that’s our big picture. But setting down each little habit, temptation or struggle and accepting there is something better… it’s hard. We waste so much time slogging through the mud thinking ‘oh well that’s just life’ while all the time Jesus is saying ‘no, it’s actually not… I freed you from this already!’ We accept certain little sins and allow them to set up shop in our hearts.

A life of righteousness, peace and joy isn’t just a PERK to be enjoyed by some, it’s our RIGHT as children of God. Tozer said we have to be satisfied and convinced that it’s not abnormal to experience these things. “In a world where everybody was sick, health would be unusual, but it wouldn’t be abnormal. This is unusual only because our spiritual lives are so wretchedly sick and so far down from where they should be.”

Before we can walk this out, we have to realize this is what Jesus came and died for. We don’t need to beg or beat our fists at the skies, our ticket has already been bought and paid for. If we aren’t experiencing it, it’s because we haven’t fully accepted it and are trying to do something in our own power. Jesus is at the buffet! It’s all been provided for us!

If we are fearful or fretful it’s because we aren’t accepting what He’s already provided. Jesus didn’t die for our sins so we would be panicky Christians holding on to our lives with clenched fists trying to figure our next move. When we try to work things out with our intellect or strength we are limiting ourselves to the à la carte menu, which we all know is a huge rip off. Sin makes us freak out, it makes us irrational, and it makes us do really dumb things quite frankly. The enemy wants to keep us there as long as possible, thinking that spirit filled life is unattainable.

In a world where everyone is sick, yes it is unusual to be healthy. You stand out, and that’s a good thing. It isn’t abnormal, though to be well. Not in Christ’s eyes at least. We aren’t perfect, but we are well. Of course sin is sin and we make mistakes, but we also realize we don’t need to be ensnared over them. We have a ticket for the buffet and we are not going to settle for a small plate.

Tozer advises us to just meditate on that for a bit. Don’t fret. Don’t go out and do a bunch of things to fix yourself… just go see what Jesus says about it. He’s quite patient actually and more than willing to show us the way to the buffet.

It may not be perfect, but it can be well with our soul if we will just accept what He’s already purchased for us. Be WELL, friends!

Eat the Fat, Drink the Sweet

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And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8: 9-12

So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”

The children of Israel were making their way back to the land of the living. Their exile is behind them, and it was time to rebuild and rededicate their city and their hearts to God. The great wall of the city of Jerusalem had just been completed and now the focus shifts to the people of God’s holy city. This was the Feast of the Tabernacles, a time for great joy and celebration, and Ezra was leading the march by holding a big ol’ Bible conference if you will, a revival of sorts. He fashioned a platform in the city square for the Word and the Law to be read for hours a day. When the people heard it, they stood up (v.5). They sought desperately to understand it (v.2-3) and they rejoiced greatly when their hearts received the truth (v. 12).

Sometimes though, when we hear these words of the law, it isn’t all smiles and praise hands is it? Verse 9 says that all the people wept when they heard God’s law being read to them.

The words are too hard. Obedience to them is impossible. It’s oppressive. It’s narrow.

There are many who feel this way about God’s Word. We don’t know where to begin. It seems entirely too narrow and too heavy… who needs more lists and formulas to deal with? Not the Israelites. These people are coming off years and years of captivity and learning lessons the hard way.

Enter Ezra. Enter Nehemiah. Enter the Levites. Enter the people who “gave the sense and helped them understand the reading…” (v. 8)

See, once we understand that the word and the law is given for our freedom and our protection, things turn quickly from weeping to rejoicing.

What did these teachers and leaders say to them?

Go your way.

Eat the fat.

Drink the sweet.

Help those in need.

In one verse, joy is restored. It is restored because the people finally understood and took to heart what was required of them, and it wasn’t oppressive or painful. When we “go our way” we find out our place and our purpose. Notice it doesn’t say “go your OWN way”like the Fleetwood Mac song, it says that we go our way. A way set apart for us, a path that is ours to take, set before us by God who loves us and has a perfect will for us. We are able to enjoy life, pour out to others and be filled by God.

The joy is restored all because the people finally understood the words that were declared to them.

There’s a lot of talk about walls these days. Building them up. Tearing them down. There’s so very much mourning and weeping and complaining. People running in circles flailing about yelling that the sky is falling… if not literally, most definitely spiritually and emotionally. The Israelites were mocked endlessly for the wall they built. They were intimidated and threatened. They worked anyway.

We all have our work to do, but it cannot be accomplished if we sit around mourning, weeping and complaining.

If only we understood the words that have been declared over us. Words of life and not death. Words of encouragement and not defeat. Words of promise and not doom.

We don’t have an Ezra or a Nehemiah or Levite priests, we have something far better. The Holy Spirit guiding and leading us into all truth (John 16:13).

Take time to investigate all that truth.  Soak it in. Make it personal, because it most certainly is meant for each of us in the deepest part of our hearts.

Rejoice greatly in it, just as the Israelites did. There is a sweetness to everyday life that comes when we do. Give His Words a chance to be the very joy and strength that changes your mourning into rejoicing.