Grasping or Grabbing?

I’m re-reading some chapters of the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst and was struck this morning by this paragraph in which she addresses our never-ending need to be filled, with something… anything… that satisfies our deepest longings.

“If we grasp the full love of Christ, we won’t grab at other things to fill us. Or if we do, we’ll sense it. We’ll feel a prick in our spirit when our flesh makes frenzied swipes at happiness, compromising clutches for attention, paranoid assumptions with no facts, joyless attempts to one-up another, and small-minded statements of pride. We’ll sense these things, and we’ll be disgusted enough to at least pause… All these things we’re tempted to grab at? They won’t fill us the way they think they will.”

Frenzied swipes at happiness, paranoid assumptions, small-minded statements… all things we do in our flesh hoping for some relief, some acknowledgement that we are doing ok. She uses Paul’s prayer in Ephesians as a wonderful example of the difference between grasping and grabbing:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to GRASP how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be FILLED to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

When we grasp (understand, take hold of firmly) the love of God and all the true riches He has in store for us, we are FILLED. Genuinely filled, like eating a healthy meal that nourishes instead of a temporary sugar or caffeine fix.

The world tries to get us to grab at any old thing for that fix. If we go out into the world, out into relationships expecting to be filled by them, we are going to be sorely disappointed. People disappoint. It’s inevitable and a part of human nature. If we are finding ourselves driven and controlled by things out of our control, we need to pause. It’s like putting water into a bucket with a giant hole at the bottom of it.

What’s the difference if we are rooted and grounded in Christ and His love? What if we let Him fill us up first and then we go out into the world, into friendships, into family life already satisfied and grounded in who we are?

We aren’t flattened by someone’s hurtful words. We don’t need to compulsively ‘fix’ every little thing. We aren’t obsessing about how or what or why or when (insert dilemma here) will be fixed. It’s not to say we’re ignoring life or problems, we just are grounded in Jesus and want to allow Him to steer the ship. We stop grabbing at what the world can do for us and we learn to grasp how profound God’s love is toward us and all our dilemmas.

Full, fulfilled, secure, accepted, content… these are all what comes when we allow ourselves to be defined by our Maker instead of other people. What a difference to go out into the world this way. We can be genuinely happy for others’ successes. Our ability to see the best in people replaces the side-eye cynical junk we’ve learned to live with because we’ve been hurt. We learn there is beauty in quiet surrender of things we don’t fully understand. The things we once grasped at become a little less intriguing in the light of being filled up with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come so we would spend our lives grasping at straws and fretting over our position or status. Laying that stuff down isn’t easy, but how amazing that we have a Savior who came and actually told us to unload it all at His feet (Matthew 11:28).

He tells us to come to Him and He will give us rest. Make rest your starting point. Begin there, at His feet and get filled up. Instead of going out into the world as a sponge and soaking in all the things that never fulfill, go out already full and see the difference. Things don’t soak in as easily. We can discern things more clearly. Our emotions aren’t dependent on the actions of others. That’s how relationships thrive, that’s how our hearts come alive. No frenzied swipes at control, no weird assumptions that turn us into our own worst enemy. Just reliance on the One who asks us to sit quietly at His feet and get filled. The people who do that are the ones I want to surround myself with. I want to be like that. The freedom that comes when we let Jesus fills us up is better than any temporary success or self-made victory.

“The more you taste the sweet joys of Jesus, the more will sin taste bitter to your soul. Fight satan’s taunts with God’s pleasures.” John Piper 

 

Just A Reminder… He Really, Really Loves Us!

IMG_0313“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17

A few weeks ago, I was walking past my kitchen table and saw this. My Bible was laid open from the day before, the sun was shining just right through the lights above the table. It lasted just a minute, but I’m glad I caught it. It slowed me down and gave me a smile. I sat down and just thanked God. I thanked Him for His love, His truth, His words to me.

So much wisdom and truth for our lives is contained in His word, and it’s so very easy to walk past it. We run to it in emergencies, but God intends it to be our DAILY bread. The fruit that grows in our lives is a result of constant abiding, not connecting and then disconnecting and then connecting again. A long, continual abiding yields fruit.

We need the wisdom from above. We need it because it’s the only pure thing we have. Our natural ways steer us towards anything but gentleness and mercy. Even on our best days we are still full of selfish, self-centered ambitions.

Gentle? Willing to yield? Not without Jesus.

Satan likes to complicate simple things. He wants to keep us away from these words of life, he wants us to think it’s too hard. Here’s a truth for you today: IT ISN’T!!!

God’s word and the understanding of it should be our very lifeline, not just another thing to check off after all our other lists are done.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17). Do you see where it starts? Right there in His words to us. It’s our launching place from which everything else comes. Faith. Forgiveness. Direction. Wisdom for our actual lives, our very real issues and very big decisions we make.

This was a reminder to me to slow down and remember the simple truth that God loves us so very much and wants to just be with us. The rest will fall into place, we don’t have to strive for it.

Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Staying connected to Him keeps us from those consequences of our selfish ways. Our heart starts to beat in sync with His, we step when He steps, we wait when He waits… when we are full of His truth there isn’t room for all the other junk. We can be gentle when others are not. We show mercy. We have forgiveness. Best of all, we don’t go searching for love or accomplishment in all the wrong places.

Give His words a chance. He tells us that He will “open our understanding” so we can understand His words (Luke 24:45). Watch and see… He is closer than we think!

Those Adult Coloring Books Though…

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Image Credit: Patheos.com

 “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” Timothy Keller

Accepting that ‘radical truthfulness’ about who we are can be brutal. We have a difficult enough time being honest with ourselves regarding our hopeless state, and hearing it  from an outside place like church can be downright intolerable for some. Our culture (and parts of mainstream Christianity) have run full speed ahead with the notion that we all relatively fine. Our sin-nature has been whitewashed and watered-down to include nothing more than little faults we can fix ourselves with a good self-help book. Lowest common denominator kind of preaching my get people saved, but where is the righteousness, peace or joy we as believers are supposed to have? (Romans 14:17) We are a people “ever learning, but never able to come to any knowledge of the (real) truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Once we leave the safety of the revealed truth provided for us by God in His Word, every step we take becomes shakier and more unbalanced.

Truth is hard. It makes us uncomfortable and exposed. It requires something of us. A few weeks ago while browsing my local Christian bookstore I noticed a new section, an entire wall really, that was dedicated to just one type of book: the adult coloring book. Dozens of them. Markers and paints sold separately, of course. You can while away the hours coloring intricate Biblical scenes, verses, mostly just designs with a verse printed on the sheet. Part of me gets it, I really do, it’s a craft and people need to put down the iPhones and check out once in awhile. If coloring does it for you, fantastic. I cringed though, at the scope of this whole thing – so much so that I snapped a picture and texed it to a friend with the caption “does this seem weird to you?!” with a laughing emoji.

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So again, I’m not making fun of it, I’m just feeling like there are some red flags going up in how we are becoming less and less interested in God’s word, which leads to a really anemic kind of faith and a lukewarm, indifferent attitude towards the truth. Unbelievably, this new section is where the ‘classics’ used to be shelved… the irony isn’ lost on me. They’ve been moved to the back of the store now, I weep a little inside thinking about it.

So we have a ton of “love” (or feel good stuff) with about an ounce of God’s truth. This is why we have Christian (I use this term loosely) writers endorsing gay marriage, coming out themselves as gay, mixing the Bible with the teachings of Buddha, and on and on. It’s a self-serving age and a self-serving spirituality.

For those of us still holding on to our actual Bibles, this presents a problem. The vast majority of us I would assume, don’t hate people just because they struggle or have wandered, quite the contrary. Our hearts as true disciples of Jesus should be 100% FOR people. We have sadly become really comfortable with being comfortable. We snack on sugar all day when we need to be eating our vegetables. We try and fuel ourselves on pretty, filtered Instagram memes when we need the Jesus of the Bible.

David and Jason Benham have written a fantastic article entitled “Understanding the Balance of Truth and Mercy” and have a great analogy on the love/truth conundrum:

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “It’s not enough to help hurting people; you must also stop the things that hurt them.” In the Bible, we call this the balance of truth and mercy. God commands that His followers show mercy by helping hurting people, yet He also requires they expose the things that hurt them so they can be led to the truth.

This requires supernatural balance, because there are ditches on both sides of the road if you err to the extreme of either side.

To be all merciful and yet refuse to speak the truth is like building a hospital at the bottom of a cliff without also installing a guardrail at the top. Sure, you’d help plenty of hurting people, but you would stop no one from falling off.

To be all truthful and yet lack mercy would be like installing a guardrail without also building the hospital. You would definitely prevent a lot people from hurting themselves, but you’d have no way to help those who fall.”

I simply love this picture they paint. We need both guardrail and hospital. Help those who have fallen, be ready in season and out to speak God’s healing truth (2 Timothy 4:2), but also have some safety measures in place that keep them from going over the cliff in the first place.

They are correct in saying the balance is supernatural – avoid the ditches by experiencing God’s amazing grace and uncompromising truth for yourself… they go beautifully together and were never meant to work alone.

So take time to color, have some candy now and then, it’s ok. Take even more time to know and speak the Word, it’s the only way we are able discern that candy from poison.

 

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

 

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

 

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition 

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.

 

 

 

Call Up The Fire

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“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you… meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them… continue in them…” (1 Timothy 4:14,15).

Stir up the gift that is in you… Do not neglect the gift that is in you…

Paul is writing to his “beloved son” Timothy who was trusted with ministering to the church in Ephesus. He encouraged Timothy to see to it that people weren’t deviating from the truth or getting involved in silly and useless arguments. He is reminding his young disciple that growth in the church and in the hearts of the people doesn’t just happen – they must be attentive and careful not to neglect what God has entrusted them with.

When Paul says “stir it up”, he is using a word that means “rekindle or fan the flame”.

A fire goes out when it’s deprived of oxygen. When it’s attended to however, the little embers can become something great. We all have some embers burning unseen under a pile of logs. They are the very dreams and thoughts of God Himself toward us. Amazing things that He placed in us as gifts and callings, the very best version of ourselves waiting to be awakened.

Sometimes though, it’s easier to just let the embers be. Calling up the fire can be frightening, especially when we don’t know what will happen.

We’d like to speak up for truth, but we don’t want to be made fun of. We have some exciting ideas, but they may not work out at all. Being “in the world” and not “of the world” is a fine line sometimes, what if we make a huge mistake?

Paul understood this. After he told Timothy to stir up his gifts, he reminded him of something very important: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  There is no shame in stirring up and attending to the gifts and dreams God has placed in your heart. How many amazing things never happen because we are simply too scared to blow on the fire a bit? We’re so afraid of starting a wildfire that we let our flame burn out completely. One of the greatest tricks of the enemy is to get us comfortable with the status quo. He doesn’t want us poking the logs. He wants our embers to burn out, and he is pretty good at placing fear and complacency in our hearts to make sure that happens.

God created each of us to fit our own unique mold. Our dreams, gifts and goals are different from anyone else’s. We waste a lot of time fretting about what everyone else is doing and trying to fit into someone else’s mold. What if we focused on what God has already placed inside us and gave those embers a little breath? Tip off a log or two and stir things up. Allow God to show you what your fire looks like.

The world is burning. It’s a destructive, awful kind of heat that promises to consume everything in it’s path if it isn’t fought. It will do us no good to sit back and hope it passes. It isn’t the most popular thing to say, but we are in a battle friends. It isn’t a new thing, God’s Word talks about it all the time and commands us to participate. We need to fight fire with fire. The good news? The fight is a good one, a worthwhile one. It requires maturity and conviction and a deep, abiding connection to Jesus. Whatever your gift, stir it up and do not neglect it. Be so genuinely who God created you to be that there is no room for anything else. Meditate on the gifts that are in you already. Find them, dig them up, and give them oxygen. This is how we are meant to operate! When we step out and embrace these things, fear of failure or the unknown has no place. We are able to do everything with power, love and in a sound mind.

That’s a pretty big deal. God’s power, His love, and a mind free from fear clears the path for our little embers to become something powerful!

Go poke an ember. Blow on it. See what God has in store.

The Word and the World

“We must base our thinking on the rugged facts of life according to God’s book, and not according to the finesse of modern civilization. Let us not be so careful as to how we offend or please human ears, but let us never offend God’s ears.” Oswald Chambers

Let’s face it, being a Christian these days (a Bible-believing Christian that is) is offensive and divisive. Not because we embrace those things, but because the message of Christ is a stumbling block for many. The message of the cross is foolishness to most people (I Corinthians 1:18) and it is completely at odds with what our culture values. The gap between what the world preaches and what Jesus says grows wider by the day. It’s easy to find ourselves in a kind of spiritual no-man’s land between the two. Do we make the Word of God try and fit into the world? Or do we try and influence our world with the Word?

Our culture tries to dictate to us what we should believe.  I read on a blog just today a comment to the writer that said, “I just LOVE your version of God! Your version makes more sense!”  Of course we want God to make sense, but creating our own versions of Him to fit into today’s culture isn’t a winning strategy. This writer has a cult-like following. People call her ‘brave’ for making Jesus fit into today’s culture.  Do you know what I think is brave? Standing by the authentic, Biblical Jesus and holding fast to what He said. Deliberate, thoughtful reading of God’s Word is a huge part of that. Without it, we form our own ideas, our own versions of the truth that never work. The more powerless we feel, the more we build up our own ideas to explain away why things aren’t working.

“having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power…” 2 Timothy 3:5

 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they  will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3

People who desire the applause of other people will say what others want to hear. There’s much dialogue to be had with no real solutions.  In our efforts to revamp Jesus, we’ve totally lost Him. He doesn’t need a PR firm, He just needs us to proclaim what He has already done.

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” 2 Timothy 4:2

“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”  Colossians 4:4

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Matthew 10:27

“They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Acts 16:20

When we just share  the “rugged facts” as God gave them – not our own watered-down versions or what we think people want to hear – the randomness and powerlessness stops. In it’s place we find freedom, and answers that translate over into our every day lives. Relationships are mended. Sicknesses are healed. Strongholds are broken. That’s what happens when we apply God’s Word, because there is a person behind those words backing them up. The bravest choice we can make is to value God’s opinion over man’s. That’s being a disciple. Accepting that it means what is says and says what it means.

Be clear. Be bold. Love the truth and speak it in love. That’s how disciples are made and lives changed. Honor God by putting what He says above all else.

Plastic Crosses

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“Love without a Cross has no backbone. Love without a Cross can’t stand – because it’s only about feel-good and not about being made new. While political correctness may say, “Only talk of ‘Love’ and no messy cross and maybe we’ll find one of many ways to the good life,” Jesus quietly offers: “Come to Me at the Cross, all you are heavy laden and burdened and weary and messy: I am the way to the eternal good life.” Ann Voskamp

The headlines have been screaming out lately. Mayhem, murder, chaos. It’s starting to hit the proverbial fan, and more than ever we need discernment and truth. Long story short, we have to get back to the cross. This post from Ann Voskamp this past weekend was direct and to the point. It was so refreshing. The cross is so offensive to so many. The cross reminds us that we can’t do it on our own.

She writes, “”Maybe somewhere along the line we just wanted to become people of inoffensive Love – not people of the offensive Cross?” As Christians, our job isn’t to gloss over the hard things. How often we hide the Truth we know under a bushel so we don’t ruffle any feathers.

I read another blog post on the same subject that pleaded with believers to speak kind words to one another and make the good things we do outweigh the bad. People gushed. I read through the comments, and I can assure you, I was the only one not gushing. Of course we need to do good and teach it to our children. But checking off our Christian “to-do list” isn’t our biggest problem here. There is an unspeakable evil rising up that requires more than us sticking to the Golden Rule. It requires us to surrender ourselves to the one and only thing that can defeat such evil – and that is at the foot of the cross at the feet of Jesus.

This isn’t popular, apparently. Even among believers. It’s easier to say “oh well, God is in control” and go on living in the bubble we’ve created. It’s easier not to think about it because if we do, it just might challenge everything we’ve been believing and that is pretty scary. Am I going to be ok? Are my kids going to be ok? Is this going to ever affect me directly one day? We need to look up once in awhile with clear eyes to see and ears to hear what Jesus is telling us in all this. Because all the answers are in His Word and we can’t be afraid of asking the hard questions.

The cross we are called to is rugged. It’s full of splinters and rough edges and it’s bloody and messy. But from those wounds come our healing if we are willing to stay there. In our rush to just make sure “Love wins”, we have to be careful not to take actual Love out of the equation. We’ve turned it into something it isn’t. The fake plastic crosses have to go. Yes they are smooth and nice to look at and don’t require a lot of upkeep. But they are impostors and they are holding us back. The real cross requires things of us that may not always be comfortable, but they are always right. The “good life” isn’t a life full of unoffensive, plastic crosses. The real “good life” is spent at the real Cross, with a real Jesus, dealing with real problems. Messy as it may be, offensive as it may be, that is where we will see good overcoming evil.