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.

Sidewalk Peddlers

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“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions” (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily int eh school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

 

 

The Shoes of Peace Aren’t Flip-Flops

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In the Bible, the Hebrew word for peace, shalom is a deeply meaningful word. More than just the absence of conflict, shalom is an expression of wholeness and completeness.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives us a beautiful picture of believers living together in shalom and it’s far more than just a static absence of conflict.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Bear with each other. Do you know what that means? It means to tolerate or put up with someones wrongdoing. Why? Because the Lord has forgiven us all of far worse. We are told not to enflame their passions, stir their pot, fan the flames… what have you. It’s not that we are doormats to be mistreated, or victims to be abused, but we are not to be so selfish or hard-hearted that we cannot forgive.

God’s people aren’t immune to unforgiveness. Paul is addressing them directly telling them to clothe themselves with humility and kindness so that when offenses happen (and they always will) they don’t rule the heart. He’s showing them a way through it, a proper way to handle it so that the whole community will remain whole, in shalom.

When Paul wrote about the shoes of peace, he wasn’t talking about a flimsy pair of flip-flops. He was talking about the special sandals Roman soldiers wore to battle. Because they typically fought side by side, the thick-soled shoes enabled them to dig their feet firmly into the ground and not slip. The shoes grounded them.

The shoes of peace are an essential part to our offensive armor. It’s not always a bad thing to dig your heels in if it means you’re standing on the truth of shalom.  The enemy likes nothing more than to see our feet slip. If he can disturb the battle lines, he advances. That’s why forgiveness is so necessary in our lives. By harboring bitterness and resentment, we lose ground personally and corporately. As recipients of grace, we are commanded to also give grace. We are commanded to live in shalom and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts no matter what.

An impossible task if we attempt it in the flesh. An absolutely normal and beautiful part of the Christian walk if we allow Jesus to work it out in us. Satan will never stop sowing strife among us… like little seeds of conflict being constantly dropped in the soil of our hearts. Our job is to recognize them and toss them out before they take root and grow into something bigger. Don’t water them. Don’t tend to them. Don’t let bitterness take root.

It may mean we operate differently with people. It may mean we set boundaries so as not to repeat the same mistakes over again. It may mean consequences. Anger itself isn’t a sin, it’s how we deal with it that leads us either to chaos or peace. Without the proper footing, the enemy will drag us off into total chaos. We are called to a higher standard, not an impossible one, but higher than that of the world. The fantastic news is that Jesus made it totally possible for us to live His way. It actually releases us to great freedom. When we go beyond forgiveness to praying for and loving those who hurt us, we slam the door shut on the chaos. The enemy can’t get in. His seeds can’t take root.

The sandals of peace help us hold the line. A shoeless soldier can be brought down by the smallest of rocks. Don’t let the enemy catch you in that state. We walk in peace, in shalom because Jesus made it possible for us to do so. It’s far easier to forgive and walk in freedom than it is to nurture the seeds of resentment.

Forgive. Walk on. Shut the door to the enemy. Enjoy the freedom and the wholeness that Jesus offers.

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.

A World of Nervous Activity

“Every age has it’s own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity, which is in Christ, is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities, which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.” A.W. Tozer

If ever there was a quote that became more true with the passage of time… this would be it! Tozer wrote this over half a century ago. I wonder what he would have to say about our world of nervous activities now. He would have to put it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email. Yikes.

It certainly hasn’t become more simple. Our time and attention are certainly occupied by a million things. I saw a coffee cup at the bookstore the other day that read “stop the glorification of busy.” Wise words. We embrace our hurried little lives. Our conversations focus on our full schedules and how overwhelmed we feel.

We are busy people. It’s the way of the world. But it shouldn’t be running us into the ground. We have no excuse for being tapped out all the time. What a disservice we do to ourselves and our families when we are just busy being busy.

Being simple in a complex world is not easy. It’s kind of frowned upon. We are plugged in. I think back to life before cell phones and think “how in the world did we survive?” But we did. And part of me thinks we may have been healthier, more balanced people.

So here is a verse that helped me put some things into perspective. It’s Paul speaking to his beloved Corinthians, who have gone a little astray in their thinking.

“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. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted –  you may well put up with it!2 Corinthians 11:3-4

He is afraid for his flock. He is concerned they are being led astray by slick doctrine that is in opposition to what they were taught. As a parent, I read his words and feel his pain. He is pleading with them to renew their minds and get back to the simplicity they once knew and acted on. It’s not so much that there is a false doctrine being spread around, it’s that they are putting up with it. They have become sidetracked and he speaks of being jealous for them with a godly jealousy (v.2). This isn’t a human jealousy. It’s a concern for their holiness and for the truth.

The word “simplicity” here means ‘pure’ and ‘single’. He is speaking about their minds being corrupted, which is where it all starts. If we are corrupted, it’s because we aren’t living single-mindedly. We are going in different directions. It’s duplicity. That’s what the enemy is out to do to us in our business and in all these ‘nervous activities’. He is out to get our minds to go in a million different directions so that we lose our single-minded focus on Jesus.

When satan came to Eve, he took a clear-cut truth and twisted it. God told her not to eat of a certain tree. Satan got to her mind and made her question something that was never confusing to begin with. Paul is pleading with these believers to not allow that kind of craftiness to contaminate their thinking.

We live in a culture that equates busy-ness with worthiness. We serve a God that desires a simple purity and a single-minded devotion to Him. It doesn’t mean we have no depth or no fulfilling activities in our lives, it just means we need to be careful of where we allow our hearts to wander. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians really hits home with me. It’s like a parent pleading with a child they love. Please don’t be deceived by the craftiness! Please understand what it means to be pure and single-minded!

I think Paul was trying to get the people to see that if they would just embrace the simplicity of Christ, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about all the other things trying to get their attention and lead them astray. A laser-focus on Jesus keeps all that other ‘stuff’ from pulling us into the world’s never-ending spin cycle of activity and superficial junk!

Lord, please show us how to get out of the pattern of always being busy and over-occupied. Show us what is important and how to get our minds settled on you. Our brains have become wired for activity and you desire a single-hearted devotion before all of those other things. Help us get rid of the clutter that is just taking up space in our heads and to replace it with your wisdom which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).