For The Simple Folk

Reading backwards through the Psalms this morning… does anyone else have that habit of flipping through a magazine from back to front? It probably means something weird psychologically, I don’t know. I noticed some neat things when I read them from the bottom up:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” 138:8

“I have chosen the way of truth.” 119:30

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with a whole heart. You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.” 119:2-4

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” 119:11

I’m not one for ten-step programs or reducing God’s word down to bullet points, but I think there’s something really beautiful here in the Psalms and in the way they all fit together to give us a bigger picture:

We hide His word in our heart > we whole-heartedly obey Him > we choose to make His truth our truth  > He works out and perfects everything that concerns us.

So often, we read a verse like 138:8 about God working things out for us, and we shut our Bibles and think ‘well, God’s in charge!’ and move on doing our own thing. We want the end result, but aren’t willing to really dig in deeper to see what our role may be. Psalm 119 is all about Gods word and how we are to treasure it in our hearts. Without first doing that, we aren’t able to obey Him or choose truth. It follows that our obedience to His word knits us together with His will which brings us to that much-coveted outcome of Him perfecting the things that concern us. I don’t like formulas, especially when they concern our living, breathing relationship with our Creator. We are way too easily swayed by human catch phrases… but I do know that we as Christians must treasure His words to us more than anything else.

“The entrance of Your words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.” 119:130

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to know the truth, you just have to love His word and give it priority in your life. When we love what God has to say, we actually can’t help but “hate every false way” (119:104).

But we straddle fences we know we should get down off of.

We dip our toes into waters that have a potential to sweep us away.

We casually play with fire knowing full-well it could burn our house down.

And we lament the fact that God isn’t “perfecting” the things He said he would.

I saw a pretty little picture frame at a boutique the other day that read “Nothing can stop Gods plan for your life”. Is that true? In theory, yes… God is God and He has a marvelous plan, but we have choices to make that either keep us on the path or knock us off. That phrase implies we can do whatever we want and God’s blessings will still come to pass. We need only to glance around at the world to see that doesn’t work.

Yolk yourself closely with an unbeliever and see what comes to pass. Allow drugs or alcohol to rule over your body and see what happens. Keep anger and unforgiveness stirred up in your heart and show me how that little phrase can possible be true. It can’t.

God is the great redeemer of all those things and more, so let’s not think we need to be perfect or that I’m throwing any stones here. I’m saying we can really clog up the works when we don’t treasure and love what He says in His word. His mercies are new every morning, we never fall too far out of His reach. It should be our hearts greatest desire to choose Him over and over again so that we don’t have to live in a constant state of panic. We say we want a steady and blessed life, but we place ourselves too far out of bounds for that to be possible. the Bible tells us we are like sheep and our only safety lies in sticking close to our Shepherd. Wandering off to greener pastures invites disaster. He’ll come and get us, He’ll “leave the 99” (as the ever-popular Reckless Love song plays over in my head)… but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s ok to go wandering off like a dumb sheep all the time. He wants us with Him. He gave us this wonderful Word of His so that we would actually desire to stay close, sober and alert. That’s how things get “perfected” in our lives.

My girl Lisa Whittle sums it up nicely, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

“At a certain point we have to ask ourselves if we want to continue to settle for a hot and cold Jesus life and if we can really stomach one more year of the spiritual roller coaster. At some point, we have to choose to do something else. When we are truly tired of being on the spiritual roller coaster, we will do something about it. Until then, we are only a little weary and a lot on the fence. A true commitment to God is a thorough, overarching commitment over every area of our life. It’s the kind of commitment that lasts, and keeps us off the highs and lows of Christian living. Commitments to Him have never come cheap. It’s not enough to say “Yes, I accepted You as a Savior” and then go on our way. It has to be about “Today I choose You again.” And if there is to be a sacrifice in all our choosing, let us not look at the denial but at the better that has come from it. For in our love and obedience, we become grounded, steady, solid as a rock. It’s not our figuring out how to get more brace or lifting more spiritual weights by joining every Bible study we can get our hands on. It’s in the choosing of our God and choosing Him over and over again.” 

Choose Him today. Choose Him when it’s hard, love His Word more than you love your own way. God knows we are simple people, He doesn’t ask that we figure it all out, He just wants us to be all-in so He can do all that ‘perfecting’ we so desperately want and need.

Hirelings

 images

“When you adjust, you are dead. If you adjust, you are done. But if you dare to stand, the world will adjust to you. I can promise you that. Not all will adjust to you, but at least some will. We are not going to be sheep running over the precipice because other dumb sheep are running over it. We see the precipice – we know it is there. We are listening to the voice of the shepherd, not the voice of terrified sheep. The terrified, intimidated sheep are going everywhere.” AW Tozer

Jesus tells us in John 10 to be careful about who we allow to have charge over the sheep. There is someone hired and paid to watch over them but as soon as the wolf shows up, he flees (v. 12). He runs because he doesn’t actually care about the sheep at all. His concern is getting paid wages and keeping himself from harm. Sheep aren’t that smart, they go where the crowd goes whether it’s to safety or over the precipice, which is why its vital that we sheep know and recognize the Shepherds voice. Earlier Jesus says that His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger, but because they know their Shepherds voice, they will hear their name and only follow after Him (v. 4-5).

The trick of satan is to cram so much junk into our heads that we believe everything and nothing all at once. The Shepherds voice gets drowned out with all the other voices and before we know whats happening, we are living with a certain confusion and fuzziness that we can’t even pinpoint. We should be shouting truth from the rooftops but instead we find ourselves sitting out on the fringe watching as the loudest voices pull more and more sheep into their fold.

The loudest voices aren’t always right. God’s Word tells us that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Friends, grace-filled Christians aren’t Christians who say “yes” to every voice they hear. The grace Jesus preached went hand in hand with standards of truth. They work wonderfully together. Saying “yes” to all the voices all the time has gotten us into a lot of trouble. The reason our culture is off the rails is because people have stopped hearing the voice of the Shepherd and allowed their heads to be filled up with every loud and clanging thing that comes their way. Right now, loud is winning the battle.

Hirelings try and turn the absolutes into optionals. They want us to think boundaries are obstacles to be overcome. Their words sound loving, but they will never ever go to bat for the sheep. “They began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused” (Romans 1:21). Too many opinions and not enough truth lead us down a dark path. This is why we have to be so careful about who we allow to speak into our lives. Just because someone has a conference tour or a bestselling book doesn’t mean we don’t need to filter their human wisdom through the lens of God’s Word. Too many voices. We gather information from all kinds of sources we think may know better and are more confused than ever.

My kids made me watch the movie Twister a couple weeks ago, by the fifth tornado I was checked out, but the end made me think about something; our heroic storm chasers are facing down a massive F5 tornado and have (naturally) cornered themselves in a flimsy old barn. They run to an outlying building where they anchor themselves to some steel pipes. The building and barn are blown to bits and the pipes are the only thing left intact, because they were anchored deep in the ground. The voice of the Shepherd is like that steel pipe, it keeps us from being blown away when the storm comes. Anchor yourself to a wood barn and you can forget it, you’re done for.

Friends, too many of us are tying ourselves to flimsy things that are not going to support us when a storm hits. Voices that say they are for us but are standing stubbornly against the Jesus of truth and grace. It pains me to see Christians twisting themselves into pretzels trying to explain away the Word of God in order to please the masses or even the  neighbor next door. People are more receptive than we think to truth, they crave it actually, we all do.  It’s like sitting through an entire lunch with a giant piece of lettuce stuck in your front teeth and your friend never says anything. I’d want to know if there was lettuce in my teeth, or toilet paper dragging from my shoe… what kind of friend ignores the truth and doesn’t speak up?! It’s not loving to hand ourselves or others over to the hirelings who aren’t going to be there when trouble comes.

God and His word are wonderfully, amazingly clear and uncomplicated. If we aren’t already tied to it, there’s no way we will be able to sustain the secular winds that are blowing our direction every day. It’s a choice to listen to the Shepherds voice. It’s also a choice to go with the sheep. Sin eventually gives birth to death, it’s a fact. Lets be careful not to adjust too much to the voices of the hirelings, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem. Let them adjust to the Jesus we demonstrate, the Shepherd of grace and accountability, and if not, let us hold steady anyway.

 

Unity at all Costs?

keep_calm_and_know_when_to_fold_em_bicycle_playing_cards-rb44017dd04804dab9b0874688de0f0f4_fsvzl_8byvr_324

 

“You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away, know when to run…”

Thanks Kenny Rodgers, this is some wisdom right here. I’m going to tie it in with some Charles Spurgeon, so bear with me here…

The idea of compromising in order to win people to your cause seems pretty relevant today. Prophets turned promoters, teachers whose sole focus is on loving and embracing everything are pretty mainstream these days. Is God really asking us to unite no matter what and avoid division at all costs?

“If good men were all for union and bad men for division, or vice versa, that would simplify things for us. Or if it could be shown that God always unites and the devil always divides it would be easy to find our way around in this confused and confusing world. But that is not how things are. Light and darkness are incompatible; to try to have both in the same place at once is to try the impossible and end by having neither one nor the other, but dimness rather, and obscurity.

Truth is slain to provide a feast to celebrate the marriage of heaven and hell, and all to support a concept of unity which has no basis in the Word of God. When confused sheep start over a cliff the individual sheep can save himself only by separating from the flock. Perfect unity at such a time can only mean total destruction for all. Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar. Maybe what we need today is not more union but some wise and courageous division.” Charles Spurgeon

Unity at any and all costs isn’t Biblical. Unity amongst believers isn’t the same as unity with the world. We are many times warned against it:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Romans 12:2

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

In John 17, Jesus is praying for His disciples and repeatedly acknowledges that “they are in the world” (v.11) but “they are not of the world” just as He is not (v.16) It’s a popular Christian saying, I think there’s even a popular song about being “in it not of it…”. But Jesus follows up this distinction with something pretty important: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (v. 15) He continues by saying that He has actually SENT us INTO the world (v.18).

So we are in the world, but we do not really belong to the world. The danger isn’t our existing here, it’s that we are living side by side with evil. His prayer for us is not that we be plucked out of the world, but that we be kept from the evil one. How is that accomplished?  Discernment.

Spurgeon reminds us that light and darkness cannot “coexist”. We are inhabitants of this world but we are never once asked to conform to it or compromise with it. We are sent to speak the truth in love, but that truth cannot be compromised to please the masses. Promoters are all about publicity,  popularity and pleasing the masses. Disciples bring the truth, regardless of circumstances or how it may be received.

The concept of “shaking the dust off your feet” is given to us by Jesus in Matthew 10 as a way to deal with those who reject the message. It’s ok to fold ’em and walk away. In 1 Timothy we are warned to withdraw ourselves from men who suppose that “godliness is a mans of gain” (v.5). 

If we want to avoid being an offense to the world, we are in the wrong business. The gospel is more often like a surgeons knife than a band-aid. It’s often bitter before it’s sweet. It cuts to the soul and calls all the darkness inside us out to the light. If we cling to His truth and know when to walk away from what is not of Him, we find our sweet spot. Not all unity is blessed – and not all division is bad. Truth makes us grow, while compromise kills.

Lets see what can happen when we let God show us what to hold and what to fold.

Time for some sifting and separating…

images

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in our field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, but at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30

I had lunch the other day with a friend who is deeply involved in ministry with both children and adults. She is ‘out in the field’ you might say, every single day. She told me there’s a word that keeps coming to mind lately in her dealings with people both in and out of the church; Sifting.

Sifting… of tares from the wheat. Separating and isolating what is useful from what is not.

Like almost any other church or Christian school, we try to look like a uniform bunch of wheat from the outside, same shape, size and color. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that of course, it isn’t all wheat. As much as we try to make this field a bubble, it’s still just an open field.

Jesus says later in the parable that the field is the world (v. 38). In the world there is an enemy roaming about sowing tares among all this wheat. The unfortunate thing about these ‘tares’ is that they grow almost exactly like wheat in appearance. Even the workers of the field could not distinguish them from the good crop. The only way to deal with them was to wait until both had matured when there was a noticeable difference in appearance and then separate the two. Even then, the process was violent and time-consuming.

The words of the servant to his master resonate so much with me. “Um… sir? Did we not plant only good things here? What just happened that there are all these weeds popping up? This is unacceptable!”

Things sown in darkness will eventually come to light. The Master knows exactly what is going on. Just as the worker is ready to go ‘gather up’ the noxious weeds, the Master stops him. “No. Wait. You’ll do more harm than good if you pull them out now, for their roots are so intertwined, you’ll kill everything. Wait just a bit longer…” That poor guy. That probably wasn’t the answer he was looking for.

As we sat and talked more about this ‘sifting’ and what it meant, there was both an excitement and a dread about the whole thing. Excitement because nothing agitates me more than false ideas parading around as truth. It’s my thing, my hang-up, my niche, whatever you want to call it. I don’t even mind that there are weeds in the field of the world, but I cannot bear when they parade around as the real deal. Christians in name only who are joined at the hip with the world, feeding off of the latest pop-culture Christianity instead of God’s Word… I just cannot. Dread, because this sifting is going to involve people who, up until the end, had the appearance of wheat. The only place to go once bundled and tied up is into the fire. That’s a huge deal.

“Let them grow together… BUT…”

Things can’t and won’t “co-exist” like this forever. As I write this, there are ten of those cultural Christians telling their followers that it’s ALL GOOD. Love all, serve all, do whatever and accept whatever because that’s what Jesus did. I’ve read some whopper posts in the past couple of days. One told Christians to stop complaining about what the government is doing and start feeding the poor, because… Jesus or something. Someone announced today that she isn’t even sure if prayer works, but that we should all be praying just in case. These are the weeds people. They look right from a distance, but a closer look reveals they are from an entirely different seed.

“BUT… gather the wheat into my barn.

The separation will be made. The sifting will happen. Only God can do this, only He can untangle the roots and shake us free from everything that has tried to be a snare to us. This is good news for those of us who are like that field worker. We can rest. He knows just when and how to do it.

At the end of our lunch, we threw out the question to ourselves and to God… how do we do this? How do I remain “wheat” in a field of weeds? Why are certain untruths/injustices SO VERY AGITATING to me right now? What is our role in all of this?

I don’t have all those answers yet, but I’m grateful that we serve a God who will show me when I ask. He wants to reveal truth to us and equip us to use it. In the end, we get gathered into His big barn anyways, lets bring as much wheat as we can with us.

A Teachable Spirit

From Andrew Murray, Daily Experience With God

“Why is it that, with Christ as our teacher, there is so much failure and so little real growth in spiritual knowledge? Why is there so much hearing and reading of the Bible, so much profession of faith in it as our only rule of life, and yet such a lack of manifestation of its spirit and its power?
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Many have taken Christ as savior, but not as teacher. They have put their trust in Him as the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, but they know little about following the Lamb or receiving from Him the lamb nature.
This teachable spirit that refuses to know or do anything on its own wisdom is to be the spirit of our whole life, every day and all day long. It is said of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, “He shall teach you all things” (John 14:26). If His whole life and work in us is a divine teaching, then we must have this teachable spirit within us.”

Sometimes we need to unlearn the wrong things in order to learn the right ones. His yoke is so easy once we humble ourselves and submit to His way of teaching us. May we listen in the morning to the voice that calls us saying “learn of Me and find rest for your souls.”

Free to Follow

Sheep:  Surprisingly dim-witted, fearful creatures who, when left on their own, will wander into dangerous or precarious situations.

Sheep Dog: Surprisingly brilliant, faithful, obedient servant whose sole purpose is to communicate the shepherds will to the sheep and carry it out.

Shepherd: Benevolent overseer of both sheep dog and sheep, focused on leading all into good and safe pastures.

On a recent trip to North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, we had the opportunity to watch this relationship in action.  What I learned was for me, very profound and a very visual, literal reminder of God’s love and care over us sheep.

The Man and His Dog

The first thing we noticed was the wonderful relationship between the man and his trusty sheep dog.  The dog never left his side while he talked to us.  He waited patiently for his turn.  He explained some simple commands to us that the dog knew and told us what would happen.  He softly said to the dog ‘away’, and in a flash, the collie was gone, heading out to the sheep.  ‘Away’ means to go in a counter-clockwise direction, to approach the sheep from the right and circle around them.  Before we could blink, the dog had circled the four little sheep and had them tightly knit together exactly where the shepherd wanted them to be.  He called the dog to return and he did immediately.  The sheep began to wander the second the dog left.  Now he called out a new command, ‘Come By’, which meant approach in a clockwise direction from the left.  Once again, everyone was back to where they needed to be.  The sheep squished as close as they could to one another and did as they were directed.  Amazing!  The dog returned to his master and was given a cool drink and a treat.

A Strangers Voice

Next the owner asked us if we would like to try it and call out some commands.  He approached my father in law and asked him if he remembered how to make the dog run clockwise around the sheep.  Sure, easy – ‘come by’.  The man gave the go-ahead, and my father in law called to the dog ‘come by!’.  We waited.  And waited.  The dog looked up at his master and did nothing.  ‘Try again!’ the man said laughing.  ‘Come by!’ hollered my father in law.  Zip.  The owner took a couple of steps back near us behind the dog and gently called ‘come by’.  Off went the dog as fast as he could to round up the sheep.  Of course!  We were duped.  The dog only responds to his masters voice!  In a show of perfect timing, my mother in law nodded her head and quoted from John 10:  “The sheep know Him and know His voice, and a strangers voice they will not follow.”  No matter how many times someone else commanded that dog, he would not go.  He knew only his masters voice and obeyed only him.

Wayward Sheep

Watching the sheep was quite comical to me, they looked so completely stupid, like they had absolutely no idea where they were going, what was going to happen, they just followed whatever was leading them at that moment.  When the dog came, they followed him like they were being drawn by a magnet.  When the dog left, however, they aimlessly followed one another, almost like they were blind.  Dangerous for a sheep.  I asked the owner if the sheep ever simply did not respond to the dog.  He laughed and told me that was not possible.  It’s in their very make-up to respond to the dog.  They need to be lead.  They are inherently fearful and lost creatures who will follow each other off a cliff if left alone.  The dog’s presence, he told me, is very reassuring to them, it gives them direction and purpose.  They know they are going to be lead into safety and away from danger.  They need a leader.

Good Pastures

Something that struck me about these sheep is that wherever they were lead to, their first response was to simply start eating the grass.  They never really looked around to see where they were or what was around, they just put their heads down and enjoyed themselves.  When the dog returned to take them someplace new, they stopped eating and went.  I thought about this for a minute and started thinking that it may not be all that bad to be a sheep.  They are content wherever they are.  They know instinctively that the Shepherd and the dog are leading them into good pastures where they can relax and eat.  What a great picture of how God wants his flock to respond to His leading!  How often do I run around and try and figure out where I am, where I am going next, looking all around in a panic, when all God is asking me to do is relax and enjoy the pasture He’s brought me to!  He told us sheep need to feel safe before they can lie down or eat.  The dog’s guidance made them feel that way.  They had no problems relaxing and enjoying where they were.  When it was time to move on, they instinctively understood that they needed to move on.  Instead of making fun of the dumb sheep, I was beginning to see that I AM a sheep and I actually WANT to be a sheep!

Follow the Good Shepherd

It didn’t take a whole lot for us to see what God was revealing to us through this wonderful encounter with this shepherd and his little flock.  God has not left us alone in the fields, without instruction.  He has clearly articulated His love for us and His desire for us to trust Him through his Word.  The basic difficulty is not that we don’t understand His instructions, it’s that we are not willing to lay down our will for His.  Our love for Him is demonstrated through our obedience to Him, in our delight to carry out His will.  Without Christ as our mediator, we are powerless to do what the Father wants. The man clearly demonstrated this to us when he held the border collie by the collar and called out a command to the sheep, ‘come by!’ he yelled.  Nothing.  The sheep are incapable of carrying out any obedience without the help of their mediator.  Interesting and profound thought for me!  Without Christ, we can do nothing.  We are wandering sheep.

Psalm 23 is a beautiful reminder of this relationship.  It’s so often associated with funerals though, that I had to take a step back and try and read it as though I had never heard it before.  “The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want… He makes me lie down in green pastures…”  This is a fascinating relationship!  We are fearful, wandering creatures, prone to total self-destruction when left to our own devices.  God takes great delight in leading us and loving us.  He desires to “prepare a table for us before our enemies” and let us experience just how secure we are in His presence.  He not only leads us, He enjoys our company.  We are not made to go it alone.  We need our Shepherd and we need our sheep dog.  When Christ approaches me, whatever the direction may be, I want to respond.  I don’t have to worry about where it’s all heading, my job is to respond to where He goes.  I am thankful to be a sheep.