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.

Too Many Cooks

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I always joke that I would have been better off living in the past when things weren’t as hectic and complicated. When I’m at home, I watch The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie almost religiously. I find the simplicity of it all incredibly relaxing. My husband laughs at me and reminds me Laura Ingalls was probably freezing and hungry a good deal of the time. Sigh.

There’s an episode of The Waltons where the family has a telephone installed in the home and it rings during dinner time almost throwing poor grandma Walton into convulsions. The very idea of such an intrusive distraction is just too much for her to bear.

I wonder what these people would think if they could return to 2017 and see the way we live. Phones in our pockets, twelve different social media platforms, televisions at gas stations blaring the latest news. Our days are a whirlwind of craziness, we are always searching and rarely finding anything worthy of our attention. The hours are filled with fillers… scrolling, sending, receiving and checking for the next thing. Information overload.

When my boys were babies I remember them not being able to handle too much stimulation. If a room was too loud for too long, they simply shut down and went into a deep sleep. I sometimes feel that way at the end of the day if I’ve spent too much time feasting on the world’s junk. Exhausted. Spent. Checked out.

‘The struggle is real’ as they say… we are created to search, but we’re also created to find fulfillment in the right places. Christians these days are fantastic at seeking, but I wonder how are we at genuinely settling down and receiving? Are we even capable of quiet anymore? We are wired to take in eighty bits of useless information in a minute, but can we sit down with Jesus for an hour and take in maybe one big, fantastic truth from Him? Something like:  You are loved. I am for you. Settle down. Hold fast. Confess. Worship. Simplify.

Most of us are in such a whirlwind most of the time that it’s difficult to even discern what is happening to us.

“The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.” AW Tozer

Here is a man ahead of his time, showing us that mindlessly seeking after every new thing isn’t unique to our century. It’s true, we see mediocrity around us and we want to rise above it. We desire better things. We inherently know there’s room to grow. There’s absolutely  nothing wrong with that, we are created to live abundant, fruitful lives.

But to what end? To get ahead of our neighbor? To promote ourselves? Or to glorify God?

We’ve deceived ourselves into thinking the answer we’ve been looking for lies just beyond, in that new bestseller, that ’40 days to (fill in the blank). Every month there’s another idea presented in shiny packaging by a shiny writer and we think, ‘Ok! I’m on board! I’ll read, I’ll journal, I’ll draw prayer circles around my children, whatever it takes!’

And then… fizzle, poof.  It’s on the shelf of our good intentions collecting dust.

If something isn’t pointing us toward Jesus and away from self, it’s probably not going to stick. Self is a dead-end road. Jesus, however, is the fountain of living water that never runs out. God desires that we love Him for Himself, that we “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The spirit of this age loves to complicate what is simple, to corrupt that which is pure. Too many cooks in the kitchen of Christian thought and you end up dangerously close to burning the whole thing down.

I truly believe one of the most dangerous habits of our day is over-complicating the ways and truths of God. Some of us have a great talent for it. We are professional seekers who never find a single thing worth holding onto. Seeking is important, but we are meant to find something at the end of the search.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart…” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Too much clutter, too many opinions, and information overload dull our senses. We can’t see clearly through the lens of the world, and there is an enemy who wants nothing more than to keep things out of focus for us.

“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.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

It’s no Walton’s Mountain up in here, but it is possible to disengage awhile from all the distractions that keep us always seeking and never finding. Put all the well-meaning clutter on hold for just a day and open up God’s Word. Soak it in and see what comes of it.

Too many cooks will indeed spoil the broth. Let some of them out of the kitchen for a bit and see how things turn out.

 

 

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).

Don’t Complicate It

“There’s nothing hard about the Word of God. It’s so simple, you have to have somebody help you misunderstand it.” Andrew Wommack

I love this quote so much. We really do make it hard sometimes don’t we? The Bible tells us that the Word is near to us (Romans 10:8) and that it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130). God’s truth was never meant to be obscure, confusing or difficult. Of course we grow into it in different ways over time and don’t always understand everything. But His words to us are meant to be pressed into, tested, tried and proven. To those who don’t believe and who haven’t surrendered their life to Christ, they are foolishness. For believers, the Word is our weapon, our compass and our comfort.

But a true experience of the Word comes from a true study of the Word. So many Christians say they believe the Bible to be true, but never spend any real time in it. We are open and love to hear what others have to say about it. Walk into the Christian bookstore or visit one of the popular blogs of our day and prepare to be overwhelmed. Why is it easier to read someone else’s thoughts about God than go to God’s Word? We like to be entertained. We like bullet point lists. We like new and fresh ideas. All of those have their place, but they cannot take the place of the one true Word. If it isn’t pointing you back to Biblical truth and what God says, you’re just going in circles.

There was a time in history when people were told they couldn’t understand the Bible and they needed it interpreted for them. Martin Luther came along and we all know how that turned out, thankfully. But today we struggle with some of the same problems. We have the Word available to us in every form and language. We just live in a world that tells us it’s not enough. Surely there must be some new revelation or new ideas we can read about. Everything that was once non-negociable has become muddy and unclear. New versions of the truth are thought up and promoted to keep things ‘relevant’.

But God’s word doesn’t need revamping. The last thing we should be doing is dumbing-down God’s word to suit anyone. It never became irrelevant in the first place. Our enemy loves to make us question what God said and twist it around to suit his purposes. He loves to deceive us into creating our own version of truth. And he has succeeded in some ways, pulling us away from the Bible and convincing us it isn’t all that powerful. We have completely over-complicated the art of simply being alone with God.

The popular, edgy authors and bloggers tell us it’s cool to doubt and question. Uncertainty is the new humility. Whatever works best for you is best. Embrace your doubts. God doesn’t mind our questions and doubts, but He certainly doesn’t want us to bask in them and remain there! That’s why we have His Word! The greatest way to promote victorious living is to promote the Truth. The truth sets us free. When we look less and less to God’s word and more to man’s wisdom, that Biblical truth is obscured into a kind of universal mush. And that’s exactly why we don’t see the power that we should in our lives.

We already have the truth and we already know it:

“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.” I John 2:20

So I would just say this – for every fancy book, blog or sermon – may we also give ourselves time to soak in the Word. Not what our favorite person says about it, but the actual, living Word of God. It isn’t boring, and it really isn’t complicated. It isn’t obsolete either. No one can say it better that God Himself.

Profoundly Simple

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“Keep it simple, keep it pure. Keep it sincere.” The more I dive into the Word this year, expecting some complex revelation to wash over me, the more I hear this. Back to the basics in the New Year. My 9 year old woke up yesterday morning and told me about a dream he had. Just before he woke up, there before him was a  bright sign declaring “God Helps At Hard Times.” He remembered it and was struck by it. I asked him to write it down for me. He did, in bubble letters, because he said thats how it was written. God used bubble letters. Awesome.

Childlike. Bordering on cliche. Of course God helps in hard times. Sunday school 101. Check. Got it.

As we talked about it though, I started to wonder…

Do we turn to Him in our “hard times” for real? Or do we retreat into ourselves and our own futile efforts?

Have I been an example to my children that God really is the strength in our weakness? Or have I taught them to try and ‘perform’ their way out failures or difficulties?

I came across this beautiful bit of truth this morning and the question hit me again:

“PILLAGE AND LOOT THE WORLD FOR ALL IT’S WORTH, BUT ONLY IN JESUS IS THERE 100% ACCEPTANCE BEFORE EVEN 1% PERFORMANCE.” Ann Voskamp

Whoa.  I stop for a moment, knowing how much I need this and how much I barely grasp it. We can’t perform our way out of trouble or failure or disappointment. Hard times come in all degrees. Some are annoying. Some are downright tragic. What is our first instinct when we are challenged? When the enemy pushes every button, tempts us in every way to give up and give in… where do we turn?

“God Helps At Hard Times.”  If we let Him.

The simple things are often the most profound. Oh how we long for the new, the fashionable, the ever-changing. The world we live in demands it. We can check e-mail, twitter, facebook, instagram and Pinterest all while sitting at a stoplight. Sadly, modern day Christianity also demands it. People aren’t comfortable with the pure, straightforward truth of the Word anymore. There must be something new to discover or believe. The old truths need a new spin. New books must be bought. New catch phrases are created. And we lose Jesus in the mix.

God’s truths to each one of us are new every day. They aren’t stale leftovers of what someone else received. They’re personal. They aren’t complicated, but they are very profound.

This new year, I don’t need to go buy a new Bible study based on how promising it’s cover looks. I need to open my own Bible. I need to listen to my kids. I need to look for God in the simple things and let Him reveal Himself through them.

Two weeks into the new year, I am asking God what HE wants for me this year.

Keep it simple. Keep it sincere. Keep it real.

God IS with us.