The Real Deal

“The challenge before us then, is not merely to do what God says because He is God, but to desire what God says because He is good. The challenge is not merely to pursue righteousness, but to prefer righteousness. The challenge is to get up in the morning and prayerfully meditate on the Scriptures until we experience joy and peace in believing the “precious and very great promises” of God (Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4). With this joy set before us, the commandments of God will not be burdensome (1 John 5:3) and the compensation of sin will appear too brief and too shallow to lure us.”

John Piper

While driving around with my boys yesterday listening to the news updates of the day, we heard a commentator joke that the level of ‘shenanigans’ happening is reaching epic proportions. It seems like someone has yelled “every man for himself!” and declared the ship to be sinking. From the absurd to the downright illegal, the insanity is really out on display. I realize selfish scrambling is nothing new to humanity, but sometimes you just hear these stories and think “seriously folks?!” It reminded me of the verse in Hosea that warns, “they sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (8:7). Lots of whirlwinds swirling about.

Tricked into thinking the wages of sin are something other than death, we keep falling for the same old tricks. This was our car question yesterday: If we know God’s ways are truly best, why don’t we just follow them? Here are some things we came up with:

  • God’s way is best, but it usually isn’t the easiest.
  • Sin usually looks so much prettier than it really is.
  • We know a lot about Him, but we don’t actually know Him

It’s not for a lack of knowledge that we choose to do the things we do. We just aren’t fully convinced in what He says. Our wills are strong. There’s a disconnect happening. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” When you want someone to experience just how great a book or movie was you tell them to go read it or watch it. When you have something delicious at a restaurant, you say “here, you have to try this!” It’s the same thing with Jesus. We have to actually prefer Him over everything else. How beautiful to get to a place in life where you only want what He wants because you trust in Him over everything else.

I love this verse in 2 Corinthians:

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (11:3).

Paul is warning against over-complicating things. There’s a simplicity in Jesus that the enemy wants to do away with. Eve got all tangled up in this: “Did God really say that? He didn’t really mean it. You can do better…” The rest is history.

When we live out of our feelings and our intellect, God is sometimes God and sin is sometimes sin. We shape it and make it into whatever suits us at the moment.

What if we took His “precious and great promises” at face value, and believed that they were freeing instead of burdensome? Sin would remain exactly what it is, God would be exactly who He is, and we would reap the benefits of being exactly where we need to be in that whole mix: submitted to Christ as our authority and source of all that is good.

God can be a chore, He can be our “plan B”, or He can be our absolute joy and daily bread. We think obedience is burdensome and hard, but life any other way is downright impossible. Look around a the news headlines and all the “shenanagins” coming out from the woodwork… what a tangled web we humans are capable of weaving.

What if we started seeing relationship with Jesus as our blood-bought privilege instead of one more thing to figure out? What if we listen when He calls, take heed when He warns, obey without excuse when He commands, and love how He loves? I think the world is longing for Christians like this. People who demonstrate freedom instead of bondage, clarity and stability over wishy-washy lifestyles, life over death.

Why would we choose anything but Him?

“How little people know who think that holiness is dull.  When one meets the real thing . . . it is irresistible.  If even 10 percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before the year’s end?

C.S. Lewis

Let’s go be the real thing.

Children of (Dis)obedience

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:4

I read the story of the Tower of Babel and I can’t help but wonder “who amongst these people thought this would be a good idea?!” Just a few generations down from the great flood in which humanity was essentially wiped out and given a new start, here they are again, eyeball deep in idolatry, rejecting God, and building their castles in the sky.

Verse 5 is a little cheeky sounding to me, it says that God had to “come down” to see what they were up to. Even man’s biggest tower was still an anthill to Him.

There are worse things than wanting to make a name for yourself and not be scattered all over the earth, aren’t there? Possibly. However, these folks, the descendants of Noah, were given a very specific command: Go and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They were doing the opposite of what they were told to do.

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. v.6-8

God knows, better than we know ourselves, what we are capable of when left to our own devices. This was just the beginning. Interesting that the flood did not and could not wipe out the stain of Adam’s sins. Humanity continues in it’s pride and desire to be it’s own boss.

The disease of sin has been passed down to us, it’s in our very genes. Ephesians 2:2 says we are born “the children of disobedience.” Instead of filling the earth with the Good News, we are busy building our own little kingdoms. Jesus came to undo what the first Adam had done. He came to break the sin-curse that plagues us and root it out once and for all. Have you ever pulled a giant weed up by the roots? It’s remarkably satisfying. If you get it at the roots, it’s not coming back. Too often, we pull and tug at what we can see of our sin but fail to deal with things at the root. Trimming a weed to make it look better doesn’t get rid of the weed problem. Jesus restores us to our original place in the story… free from the curse and free to live a life of obedience to God.

We don’t always respond to the word obedience with open, welcoming arms.

Ever tried to correct a teenager? “I’m doing the best I can! I’m not perfect!”

Ever been comfy enough with sin that you really just don’t even want to give it up? “Don’t be so legalistic! Jesus came to free us from the law! We aren’t supposed to be earning our salvation!”

If talking about living in obedience makes you feel more condemned than free… if it brings up more excuses than solutions… well, you’re not alone. We mess up, then give up, making all kinds of excuses as we go. This isn’t God’s plan at all, thankfully. Salvation isn’t earned, it’s worked out (Philippians 2:12). Our obedience, our love toward others, it’s just the evidence of a real faith working inside us.

How confident are we in Jesus? Do we go all-in with Him regardless of what people will think? In spite of our discomfort? Or do we obey when it’s convenient and take to building our own little cities when we think we can do it better? It’s so easy to start piling up our bricks isn’t it? They keep us sheltered and together. But God isn’t all that concerned with ‘safe and in place’.

James tells us pointedly that faith without works is dead… our obedience (or disobedience) is a natural outflow of our faith. We aren’t meant to struggle along like beggars, we actually get to go “from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7). He gives us strength to obey, a desire to obey, and a heart to obey. One strong choice leads to another, and before you know it, obedience is more natural than disobedience. Our default becomes not what our flesh wants, but what God wants. Not always the easiest choice, but for sure the best choice.

God wants us to honor Him by putting Him first. I don’t think we are created to handle “big” very well. Making a name for ourselves shouldn’t be on our to-do list. Making His name known should.


To Lent… Or Not To Lent?

The supermarket Peeps are out. This can only mean one thing: on to the next religious/commercial season!

In about a week, Catholics and some Christians will observe Ash Wednesday and begin the season of Lent, a time of remembering the wilderness journey of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for us. Much like Advent, Lent is a season of preparation and waiting.

So begins the annual debate amongst Protestants and evangelicals, “to Lent… or not to Lent?” We have a funny relationship with this season… trying to strike a proper balance between the secular and the holy is no small task. Some will go out of their way to not celebrate Lent, calling it a return to the ritualistic stuff the Reformation did away with. “Fish on Fridays!” was a strict observance of my Presbyterian church when I was a kid. Did you know McDonalds’ Filet-O-Fish sandwiches were created to keep Catholic customers happy during Lent? And that the entire Swiss Reformation was kicked off by a couple of priests who decided they wanted some delicious sausages on a Friday during Lent? It was actually called the “Affair of The Sausages” and it’s as entertaining as it sounds.

I came across two images about Lent that sum up this whole debate: The first, a Catholic priest telling us that the purpose of life ain’t about being happy kids… but the purpose of life is to attain perfect life. Or something. I’m not sure actually. In the comments section this guy actually told a new convert to try their “Holy40” program because if you start off too severe at the beginning, you may not make it. The ‘Holy40’ has a nice ring to it I suppose, sounds a bit like the Christian version of chart-topping hits. Regardless, this guy isn’t messing around. You must ‘develop’ a good Lent he says… behave yourself… use the program if you know what’s good for you.

The next picture is one of a lovely affirmation done in the oh so popular new marker script that has taken over our Instagram feeds. This sweet girl promises us that free Lenten printable are coming soon to her shop… (!!!) but that she is actually dreading the approach of the season. She goes on to give a tortured but honest explanation of how if we just ‘do the work’ we too can be transformed by the glory of Easter.


So enters all kinds of confusion about fasting, rituals, personal choice, and spiritual growth. Fat Tuesday binge drinking is followed by somber Ash Wednesday piety. We bask in the work of the cross but work our tails off to feel worthy of it. It is all very odd. Something I’ve noticed about this season, especially in the more evangelical circles, is our affinity for the “40 Day” cycle. Much like Advent in December where we count down the days to the arrival, the “40 day road to Easter” gives us a chance to reflect, wait and hopefully draw nearer to Jesus.

Here’s the hook: 40 days has huge Biblical significance and can be a meaningful time for us. It can also be just another checklist exercise in futility. Here are just a few real-life book examples of the 40-day obsession that got me wondering if maybe we’ve gone off the rails just a little bit:

40 Days to a More Generous Life, 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, 40 Days of Decrease, 40 Days of Biblical Declarations, 40 Days to Lasting Change, 40 Day Soul Fast, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge, and my favorite, 40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood… sign me up for that one.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s offered to us. Some of these books or studies can be beneficial, some I know are not. We just love hitching our wagons to anything with a scheduled outcome though, don’t we?

I think we can all benefit from heartfelt reflection as we lead up to Easter. I personally am not giving up any coffee or wine, but I am picking up God’s Word. I like to focus on the Gospels, the story as it is told to us, Jesus as He is represented, as He IS. We have an old book of paintings that tells story of the Passion of Christ, it’s simple, but there’s nothing boring about it. It has the Bible verses at the bottom of each page. It doesn’t offer any new strategies or foolproof charts, it just tells the greatest story ever told. Charts and strategies comfort us, but time will prove they are a trap. Even the most spirit-filled, Biblically sound Jesus-lover has to watch out, for it sneaks through the back door of our minds and before we realize, we are trying to formulate ourselves out of our problems. It’s the gospel of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and just all -around self. It’s why these books sell so well. There must be some little trick, if we can just figure out the key, we’ll have it all figured out. By our selves.

Contrary to popular thought, we actually are called to humble ourselves and take up our cross daily (Matthew 16:24). Notice the word “daily”. Not just during Lent or Advent. I think most of us could spend 40 days just on that idea alone. We sacrifice daily. We crucify our flesh daily. We humble ourselves daily. The last thing any of us need is something to make us feel more inferior. Things may go awry during your 40 days of this or that… it’s ok. It’s not about finding perfection, it’s about finding Jesus, and ourselves within Him.

The point of this coming season is that Jesus took our place and gave us life from death. Ash Wednesday gives way to Resurrection Sunday. I agree with the old Reformers that we don’t need a calendar or holiday to begin or end anything with Jesus, He’s ever-present and doesn’t change. We don’t have seasons of obedience or sacrifice, any more than we have seasons of gluttony or sin. We have our daily bread, our uninterrupted abiding and communion with Jesus.

I do love this time of year and the chance to pause and reflect. I don’t mind Lent as long as it leads away from myself and towards God. But we mourn no longer. We are no longer slaves to sin or self. Ask Him what He would have for you during this time. Let Him decide what your 40 days will look like and I guarantee it’ll be better than any study book you could every buy.

What do you do (or not do) for this season?

Narcissistic Meanies


I get all kinds of ideas while walking through Target. Things just jump out at me like you wouldn’t believe. Recently it’s been the vast array of ‘kindness’ merch in their dollar section. Cute mugs and cups, napkins and cups all reminding us to be kinder people. The kindness campaign is out in full force.

“Kindness is free, sprinkle that stuff everywhere.”

“Kind people are my kinda people.”

“Be a kind human.”

It’s all very cute and sweet. We should be kind. It’s like the new commandment of our culture… if you can be anything, be kind. I wonder if it’s because we have actually lost so much of our decency toward one another that we now need this reminder. Is it possible to just wake up and sprinkle kindness around?

Sometimes that is possible. There are days when we can take the high road, smile at ourselves in the mirror and just push through with kindness. How about the other 364 days of the year? I don’t have an endless bucket of kindness confetti to throw around, and when someone hurts me, having ‘be kind’ written on my coffee mug isn’t going to help.

We are surrounded by meanness because we are engrained in a culture that actually encourages us to put ourselves first. I cringe when I imagine the things my kids see and hear and never tell me. Hurtful things. Stinging remarks.

“A culture of meanness has cropped up around us. It’s a meanness that is fueled by narcissism, by a wave of cynicism, and an over-appreciation for snark. Meanness and narcissism hold hands. Meanness says , “What I feel matters most. I have no empathy for you. If you are in the way, I will run you over.” Jennifer Dukes Lee

And all the while, we are filling our heads with stuff like this:

Photo: Instagram, Rachel Jankivich

I love this because author Rachel Jankovich adds her own little notes to these garbage sayings to point out how ridiculous it is to be so self-absorbed. (The purple writing is hers.) People who believe they come first will never be ‘kind’ people, no matter how hard they try to throw that confetti around. Narcissism makes us mean. Becoming your own hero makes you a real pain in the you know what. Treading on the feelings of others to make yourself bigger doesn’t make people want to be around you. This is not kindness.

I learned a fancy phrase awhile back when reading about our kindness-obsessed but actually mean culture: cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is the disharmony between two musical notes that don’t go together. When the human mind does it, it’s trying to make two opposing ideas gel together. Like demanding tolerance but never giving it. Preaching niceness while acting anything but nice. You get the picture. It happens when we believe and accept every thought that passes through our heads… things clash.

The thing is… we can’t just go out into the world and be kind. We are too selfish. It’s who we are. If we could do it, the world wouldn’t look like the dumpster fire that it is. Our nature is to serve ourselves first, even as Christians who want to act differently:

“For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me nothing good dwells. (Romans 7:15-16)

And when we are basking in Instagram posts and freshly-penned self-help books that tell us to seek out our own happiness first?

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Kindness is awesome, but it can’t be our starting point. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit along with some other often overlooked goodies like… patience, self-control and faithfulness. Can you imagine a “self-control” or “faithfulness” campaign taking hold? I somehow feel like that merchandise wouldn’t fly off the shelves as fast: “Sprinkle self-control around like confetti!” “Faithful people are my kind of people!” Hmmm…

How do we combat a culture of meanness and narcissism? Not by trying to be kind, but first chasing after holiness:  “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15). “He has saved us and called us to a holy life…” (2 Timothy 1:9). We are called and commanded to first be holy – separated – different than the others. From holiness flows all the rest of the wonderful things, like kindness and goodness and self-control. The fruit is the result, not the cause.

Holiness isn’t perfect living, it comes first by being justified through Christ and then by living obediently for the long haul. It’s a life that puts up boundaries when need be, a life that is anchored to something other than feelings, a life that is steady because Jesus makes it so.

So go out and be kind… spread it around… buy the t-shirt… but campaign for holiness. Without it we are at the mercy of the meanies, and one step away from becoming just like them.

Self Care Shenanigans

“Lets talk like Christians. Lets talk about fellowship and rest. Let’s talk about serving God and others. Let’s talk about thinking others are more important than yourself. Your time in the Word is not self-care, it is obedience. Having a coffee is not self-care, it is something to thank God for. The selfish bus is going to hell, and it is driving there fast, why would we want to be on it at all? ” Rachel Jankovic

It’s all the rage lately, the self-care phenomenon has been in full-force since the new year. Everywhere I go, I am encouraged to take a moment for myself, be mindful of what is stressing me out, and simply turn to something that makes me feel better about it all. This bag here was at Target, reminding me to love myself more. It’s not a new craze, but it seems to be really taking off lately. From living minimalist to blowing bubbles in the park, the universe (or the savvy marketers) want me to get hold of some awesome me-time. Here’s a helpful little list from some scholarly people at the University of Buffalo in case you need some ideas.

Such mindfulness! After you’ve listened to the cat purr, planted a flower, and/or walked a labyrinth… do you feel better? If not, you need to up the workout routine and drink more water, obviously. The anxiety has disappeared. Or not.

Hold on, you say… there’s nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves!

Mark 12:30-31 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Notice the often overlooked part of that verse… love your neighbor as yourself. We already love ourselves pretty well I’d say. We are born loving ourselves. God wants us to value ourselves, we are His creation!

Ephesians 5:29 says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”

None of us need to “practice” loving ourselves as they say. We value, nourish and cherish ourselves as His creation, but we certainly don’t need any more help looking inward.

So what is wrong with a little self-care? The entire movement is an experiment in mindlessness. Do yoga, watch a candle burn or whatever else is on that list and feel better for a minute because you are focused on that particular thing. Taking a hike usually makes me feel better. So does eating a cake-pop. Life has little pleasures that are meant to be enjoyed (without guilt by the way) and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But to look out onto the sunrise with no acknowledgement of it’s Creator? To worship and obsess over my aging body without remembering Who made me and numbers my days? Futile. Sad, actually.

I honestly believe the world has turned everything into an inward-pointing exercise and is discovering there’s not much “in there” to get very excited about. Social media leaves us empty and longing. Drugs and alcohol hold things off for just a little while and wear off. We’ve minimized our pantry and gotten rid of things that don’t ‘bring us joy’. In the name of freedom, we’ve banished all rules moral codes that held us back from enjoying our own lives. So now we try the self-care thing and see where that will take us.

But Jesus took time for Himself! Indeed He did. But not in the way the Target bag suggests.

Jesus took time to be alone with the Father, for sure, but it wasn’t under the silly guise of “self-care”… it was because He knew His very life-source was in something outside of Himself. He looked up, not in. We go to the Father because nothing in this world can fill us but Him.

The worship of self is a dead-end street. Looking inward and living for self is one of the most futile and vapid things we could possibly do. I feel like the more the world realizes this, the more rabid they get about chasing it: when one thing doesn’t work, it’s on to the next. Now we need bags and mugs and shirts to remind us that we need to love ourselves more? Ick.

No thanks. The human definition of fulfillment is not God’s. If the thought of being ’empty’ scares you, the worst thing you can do is try and fill your own cup. We don’t share a moral compass with a “me first” world, so to glean self-care tips and tricks from them is a recipe for disaster. I for one, refuse to take my cues from a bunch of people whose morality changes according to the latest political fad.

God’s kingdom works backwards from all that. When Jesus fills us up, we have an endless river of Living Water to pour out onto others. We don’t need to obsess over where our next fix is coming from. As we understand the treasure we are in His eyes, our self-care routing becomes so much bigger than our own fulfillment.

Psalm 115 talks about the ways in which we become like what we worship. The idol-maker worshipped his idols, the work of his own hands. If we just look inward at our own sinful and flawed selves, we will become more sinful and flawed. How exhausting. Love who you are in Christ, but don’t fall into self-worship.

It’s ok to talk like a Christian. We need to think like Christians too. We are new creations, image bearers of the Living God. We can love ourselves while keeping the worship on God where it belongs.

We have to get God’s words ingrained on our hearts, because the inspirational quotes are out there… and they are coming for all of us. 🙂

Unhappy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

Yesterday, our country celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent activism. Today, many are celebrating the “birthday” of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion on demand. The irony of posting “happy birthday” to Roe v. Wade is lost on many it seems, but I digress. Regardless, we stand at 60 million abortions and counting since the decision 46 years ago.

Planned Parenthood made the rather bold move of equating MLK’s civil rights struggle with the struggle for reproductive “freedom”, a statement that prompted his niece to come out and say that making such claims on his birthday was “inhuman”. They were not alone, however, as story after story posted on mainstream media this week seem to agree:

  • Abortion is about freedom. Freedom to start a family on your own terms.
  • Jesus never mentioned abortion. The Bible never mentions abortion. You can oppose choice, but claiming it’s about Christianity is baseless.
  • Most Americans support reproductive justice and safe access to abortion.
  • Abortion helps ensure that every child is a wanted child.
  • Abortion is normal.

Several articles lament the devastating effects of what happens when women don’t get an abortion. We are told that this sacred right is under attack now more than ever. The New York Times ran a story telling us all to get better prepared and more aggressive, because abortion is still not easy enough for some women. They may have to drive a few hours to a clinic. They may miss the gestation ‘deadline’ in their state be “forced” to go through with their pregnancy. Not to fear, the New York assembly will vote today to legalize abortion up until the time of birth. The Mother Jones article referenced above reminds us that when women are “forced” into having a baby, they just can’t ever catch up financially to their fellow sisters who had access to this most empowering and lifesaving procedure. Un-ironically, they bemoan the devastating effects that will last for generations. They assure the reader that over time, women who have had abortions are just fine… their children however, really pay the price from the get-go and are set up for a life of hardship. Better to never be born than to suffer financial hardship or inconvenience.

Of course, no one speaks of the effects of a culture that makes women feel they have no choice but to choose an abortion. The “me first” society in which anything goes is never to blame. We’ve somehow equated being ’empowered’ with a most un-empowering act and called it freedom. Their tagline is “on demand, without apology.” 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently that anyone who disagrees that there is a right to abortion is “not in line with where we are as a society.” 

I realize this is a topic that stretches far and wide with lasting consequences on both sides. Those staggering numbers are people’s actual lives, and as much as those parade signs implore me to be loud and proud about my body and my choice… I sink low with the heaviness of how we have created a culture so detached and so numb to anything outside ourselves and our immediate wants. I don’t sit up on a pedestal and judge women who have been through this. I ache for them to know the forgiveness and healing that only Jesus can give. But we have to surrender the empty propaganda and accept the truth of what this is really about.

The “shout your abortion” crowd calls their movement a triumph. Collectively, I think we know better than to go that far. The sacrifice they make to avoid a temporary or permanent change in lifestyle is a heavy one. Many do not regret it. Some do.

Forty-one years ago, a young woman carried me for nine months and then parted ways with me. Was it inconvenient? Yes. Was it humiliating, embarrassing and confusing? Yes. Was there a bigger picture for her to think about? Yes.

Time doesn’t make it go away. That beautiful woman still struggles. I have my little moments where the trauma rears its ugly head. When all is said and done, is she any more traumatized than the woman who chose an abortion all those years ago? I think not. As an adoptee, the lens through which I see all this is admittedly colored. But the excuses just don’t sit well with me. The frequency and ease with which this is happening should be distressing to everyone. Our self-centeredness is leading us to self-destruct.

So when a guy like Justin Trudeau has the nerve to preach to people like me with the weak argument that I’m wrong because I’m not marching lockstep with the rest of society, I take it as a compliment. History is littered with the masses making utterly tragic decisions thinking there is safety in numbers.

I realize that without a Biblical worldview, my arguments are useless. Sin wreaks havoc on the human condition, and a person without Christ can easily normalize sin. Abortion is never normal and it never will be. If our biggest fear is that we don’t have enough access to it, we need to re-examine why it is we are so thirsty for it in the first place.

The greatest human stories come from struggle. I am forever grateful that the woman who couldn’t take care of me at least had the conviction to see things through. I would argue that many women who were afraid of the consequences of having a baby have faced equally devastating consequences by not having one. Regardless, let us please instill the truth in our children and ourselves that life is never disposable. May we understand and accept that sin has consequences, but Jesus forgives and frees. He is able to take the mess we’ve created and make something good out of it. My entire life is a testimony to that truth, and if it changes just one person’s mind, if it leads just one person to the foot of the cross… it will be well worth it.

So un-happy birthday Roe v. Wade… you may be legal and even loved, but I will keep speaking up and speaking out against your disastrous consequences until you are no longer so high on that altar.

On Studying Well

Something I get asked fairly often is “how do I get to the point where I actually want to spend time in the Word and enjoy it?”

My short answer is probably frustrating and redundant: “by spending more time in the Word.”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be familiar with what God says to us. We accept the authority the scriptures, their place in history and their effect on human events. Most of us desire to gain knowledge from our study time, which is good and noble. Why then, do so many of us struggle to even want to dig deeper? We have everything we could possibly need and more at our fingertips… commentaries, books, studies, you name it. Yet we simply don’t make the time. When we do, we often stop at the knowledge part and never move on to much application.

When I was a teen, the big buzzword in our church youth group was the “devo”, short for devotional. We would carve out time every morning to do our devo, journal some verses, and dutifully pray over what we studied. I even had a notebook that was neatly divided into four sections for praise, thanksgiving, confession and requests. It was well-intentioned and helped me build a good foundation for understanding God’s word, but something was still missing.

Years go by and we grow and change, our study and understanding of Jesus and His word hopefully growing and changing with us. There are high points and low points, times when we stubbornly turn our backs on Him and moments when we run straight into His arms. It took years of spiritual rollercoaster-riding for me to finally put into place some practical steps that helped me stay connected and abiding. Realizing this was His will all along, I tasted the freedom and joy it brought and never wanted to go back. Here are some of the “big ideas” that helped me, I hope they can help you too:

  • Just be a branch. In John 15, Jesus gives us a powerful picture of our position in life. We are branches attached to the Vine. It is through constant and consistent abiding in Him that we receive everything we need to be alive and bear fruit. The burden producing fruit isn’t on us, it’s a natural occurrence to our staying connected. Branches don’t disconnect one day and reconnect the next… they simply stay connected and receive what they need. Study the branch and vine relationship!
  • Camp out in the Word. It’s easy to want to follow a chronological reading plan, and they can be useful in giving us a total overview of what the Bible is about. It is important to study the entirety of the Bible for ourselves. Often, He wants to speak a specific word to us and have us meditate on it. If we are bouncing all over the place trying to keep up with a reading plan, we can miss out. When God places a verse on your heart, don’t rush on to the next thing. Cross-reference it, look up commentary about it, journal it, and let it sink in. If it’s too hard to believe at first, that’s ok. Our job is to remain and allow Him to clarify things and change our hearts in the process.
  • Stay Thirsty. Ok, yes I realize this is a slogan from a beer commercial, but when it comes to our spiritual growth, it’s true. No matter the circumstances, we must stay thirsty for more of God. Great times should push us forward just as much as difficult times. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Once we have experienced the joy that comes from abiding, it’s only natural that we will be thirsty for more.
  • Remember Obedience. This part isn’t very fun or cozy feeling, but it must be said. The Bible is clear that life is not always going to go our way. We can’t just go around doing whatever we please and expect God to bless our endeavors. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that a condition for discipleship is denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Obedience can be a sticking point for us though, if we see it in the wrong light. We don’t obey just to get a reward, we obey because we love Him and cherish His commands. We don’t follow rules out of legalism, we do it because we are in relationship with Jesus and because He has freed us from sin so that we may obey Him. It’s a privilege and a blessing to want to live in accordance with His word. We’ll mess up, we will fall short… but when our hearts are set on following His direction, we say no to the wishy-washy rollercoaster life that gives sin such a foothold over us.

I often think that we make it too hard on ourselves. We feel so overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible studies and books and seven-step programs out there that we never really get started. We forget that God Himself is our source and He’s all we need. James 1:5 tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. How encouraging this should be for us! We can start right where we are at, with our questions and our doubts. We should actually expect Him to illuminate His word and clarify it for us.

We can’t live for very long on the spiritual experiences of others or expect anyone else to do the digging for us. The challenge (and blessing) of getting in the Word for ourselves is that we have to get our hands dirty. We must taste for ourselves that the promises are true. Once that happens, I promise you, you’ll never want to go back to a lukewarm relationship with His word.

Stay thirsty, friends.