Hustling Ourselves To Death

“Are we really this empty?”

I find myself asking that question a lot lately. Check the trending headlines or your social media and you’ll see it: we are a culture grasping at straws for the next thing to come and soothe us, define us, entertain us or empower us.

If you aren’t “hustling”, you’re not getting anywhere. If you aren’t first, you’re last (I actually saw a mom post those words to Instagram when her son placed first in a ski race my son was in). If you don’t have 300 likes you might as well delete that post (again, true story). Life has us scrambling, and the selfish idols we pile up in the chase have us numbing ourselves with anything we can dig up.

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Smoking in the Trenches

There’s a really thoughtful article over at Sheologians this week discussing, among other things, how we use words and the importance of speaking Biblically. What does it mean to use Biblically sound words? Why is this important? We aren’t talking about not cursing here, it’s something fairly sneaky that’s happening, and it’s incredibly important.

“And so, when you peruse Evangelical Facebook and Evangelical Twitter and Large-Evangelical-Blog-Sites, often what you come across is a euphemism from the pit of hell to describe the state of sin we all experience. The Old Testament describes sinners as having the poison of asps under their lips and having throats that are like open tombs (try imagining the smell of that real quick) and here we are like, “I’m just so messy, teehee! Join me in acknowledging your messiness! Isn’t it great? Let’s all be messy together!”

The ones preaching the gloriousness of sharing in each other’s “messiness” are the ones that have given up the ghost. They aren’t the ones storming the tower. They’re the ones smoking a cigarette in the trench because what’s the big deal about taking the tower, anyway?

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Is Holiness A Turn-Off?

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“As we study the holiness of God, we shall see in increasing clearness  how, like fire, it repels and attracts, how it combines into one His infinite distance and His infinite nearness. But the distance will be that which comes out first and most strongly. The sense of sin, of unfitness for God’s presence, is the groundwork of true knowledge or worship of Him as the Holy One.” Andrew Murray

Remember the story in Exodus 3 where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because where he is standing is holy ground? Moses hides his face in absolute fear, understandably so. We are well aware of our distance, of our unfitness. We feel it through our sin, our selfishness that we can’t always overcome, our flesh when it demands it’s way. It isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, but it does push us into making a decision: does it repel us from God further into our own darkness and hardness or does it bring us low and nearer to Him? God sees Moses’ pain and dilemma and shows him there’s a way out.  The man cries out “I’M NOT” (eloquent, ready, etc.) and God replies  “I AM” (all those things and more).

We are not, but He is.

We are not holy or worthy, but He is. He tells us “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Old Testament makes us acutely aware of this distance, our unfitness to draw near, and the New Testament provides our promised savior who came and bridged that gap. If What is in Him, it now also in us. The holiness of God in the ‘old’ leads straight into the love of God in the ‘new’ – but it’s not a one way street. That love should point us right back around to desiring holiness.

We hear about the need these days to just love more. Yes and amen. Our greatest commandment is still to love God and love people. What does that look like? Love doesn’t just pop up as some separate entity or feeling because we want it to, not real love anyway. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We all have the capacity for it, but it’s through Jesus that we are able to actually walk it out.

Be holy because I am holy. Love because I first loved you.

As we draw near the fire, we become holy and we receive the ability to love. Holiness gets a bad rap though sometimes – it means judgment gets reconciled with all that love. We need holiness. Not to go alongside our love, but to give birth to it in a sense, because without it, it’s just fleeting human emotion. Sin has hooked us and the world has guilted us into thinking convictions equal unholy and cruel judgment.  The “no hate”/”all you need is love” campaigns mean nothing without the backing of a Holy God behind them. If those things worked, we’d be living in a pretty wonderful world and we’d have no need for a Savior at all. Jesus came not to improve us, but to give us new life. His holiness gets grafted right into our very being. If we find ourselves empowered by the idea of love that starts and ends with our own awesome abilities, we are missing love the way God intended it to be, the emptiness of it all will eventually come to the surface.

Love flows out of holiness. It’s the source from which all else is made possible. It’s not some extra attribute we strive for like kindness or charity, holiness is the pure character of God where mercy and judgment join together. Sin has so desensitized us that we no longer recognize holiness or even seek it. Love is the idol of the day, it sits separate out on it’s own little island and gets trotted out by Christians and non-believers alike as a kind of argument-ending silencer – who can argue with love? It sounds good. Only a jerk wouldn’t want people to love more. It just doesn’t thrive without holiness as its foundation. When coupled with Christ, that love is tangible and unstoppable. When it is born of our own desires, it’s fragile and fleeting.

As believers, it’s vital we value and receive God’s holiness in our lives. It’s not something we strive after like some pie in the sky behavior chart where God gives us a gold star for good deeds – it happens when we let ourselves be drawn to the holy fire, not repelled by it. We must crave all of Him, the merciful and the holy because that’s who He is.

It repels or it attracts. It hardens or it melts. Don’t ever underestimate the need we all have for repentance and drawing near, even if it is uncomfortable at first. We don’t escape any hardship by pulling away from the heat, but like Moses we come to find out that He does actually hear us and see us:

“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heart their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… I will certainly be with you.”(Exodus 3:7-8)

Is love the way to holiness? Is holiness the way to love? Is it like the chicken and the egg? Here’s what I know: They don’t exist in a vacuum. God is all-loving AND He’s all-holiness… a contradiction that fits perfectly together when we stop focusing on just one.

All You Can Eat Buffet… Jesus Style

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“Unless you are convinced that in the blood of Jesus when He died on the cross there was included, as a purchase of that blood, your right to a full, Spirit-filled life – unless you are convinced of that, unless you are convinced that it isn’t an added, unusual, extra, deluxe something that you have to go to God and beg and beat your fists on the chair to get, I recommend this to you: I recommend that you don’t do anything about it yet except to meditate upon scripture bearing on this truth.” AW Tozer

This is a bit of a crude example, but are we signed up for the all-you-can-eat buffet or are we dining à la carte in our spirit lives? Jesus came that we may have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY and that includes living in great freedom. He’s like the whole buffet, drink refills and Jell-O desserts included. Paid for in full, and have at it.

We seem to struggle with this. Some people seem to be tangled up more than others. It isn’t that Christ has freed some more than others, it’s that some of us haven’t fully accepted and appropriated what He’s done in our own lives. He’s purchased the buffet for us, but we’re stuck still trying to buy things off the menu. There isn’t some extra-supersized version of freedom that some get and some don’t… He came and freed us all from every sin that ensnares (Hebrews 12:1). All of us. Every sin. Every struggle.

The dots don’t always connect, though. Sure, Jesus came and died for our sins and we’re going to heaven… that’s our big picture. But setting down each little habit, temptation or struggle and accepting there is something better… it’s hard. We waste so much time slogging through the mud thinking ‘oh well that’s just life’ while all the time Jesus is saying ‘no, it’s actually not… I freed you from this already!’ We accept certain little sins and allow them to set up shop in our hearts.

A life of righteousness, peace and joy isn’t just a PERK to be enjoyed by some, it’s our RIGHT as children of God. Tozer said we have to be satisfied and convinced that it’s not abnormal to experience these things. “In a world where everybody was sick, health would be unusual, but it wouldn’t be abnormal. This is unusual only because our spiritual lives are so wretchedly sick and so far down from where they should be.”

Before we can walk this out, we have to realize this is what Jesus came and died for. We don’t need to beg or beat our fists at the skies, our ticket has already been bought and paid for. If we aren’t experiencing it, it’s because we haven’t fully accepted it and are trying to do something in our own power. Jesus is at the buffet! It’s all been provided for us!

If we are fearful or fretful it’s because we aren’t accepting what He’s already provided. Jesus didn’t die for our sins so we would be panicky Christians holding on to our lives with clenched fists trying to figure our next move. When we try to work things out with our intellect or strength we are limiting ourselves to the à la carte menu, which we all know is a huge rip off. Sin makes us freak out, it makes us irrational, and it makes us do really dumb things quite frankly. The enemy wants to keep us there as long as possible, thinking that spirit filled life is unattainable.

In a world where everyone is sick, yes it is unusual to be healthy. You stand out, and that’s a good thing. It isn’t abnormal, though to be well. Not in Christ’s eyes at least. We aren’t perfect, but we are well. Of course sin is sin and we make mistakes, but we also realize we don’t need to be ensnared over them. We have a ticket for the buffet and we are not going to settle for a small plate.

Tozer advises us to just meditate on that for a bit. Don’t fret. Don’t go out and do a bunch of things to fix yourself… just go see what Jesus says about it. He’s quite patient actually and more than willing to show us the way to the buffet.

It may not be perfect, but it can be well with our soul if we will just accept what He’s already purchased for us. Be WELL, friends!

Sinner or Saint?

From “The Bondage Breaker, Youth Edition” by Neil Anderson and Dave Park.

“Have you ever heard a Christian say, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace?” Have you referred to yourself that way? If you see yourself as a sinner, you probably will sin. What would you expect a sinner to do? There will be little in your life to distinguish you from a non-Christian, and you will be filled with feelings of defeat.
Satan will seize that opportunity, pour on the guilt, and convince you that you are doomed to a roller-coaster spiritual life. As a defeated Christian, you will confess your sin and try to do better, but inwardly you will admit that you are just a sinner saved by grace, hanging on until Christ returns for you.
Is that who you really are? No way! The Bible doesn’t refer to believers as sinners, not even sinners saved by grace. Believers are called saints – holy ones- who sometimes sin. We become saints at the moment of salvation- that’s called justification. We live and grow as saints in our daily experience – that’s called sanctification – as we continue to affirm who we really are in Christ. Seeing yourself as a saint instead of a sinner will have a powerful effect on your daily ability to have victory over sin and satan.”

We are sinners. But we are told that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11). The power that sin held over us is broken. It is still present in our lives and all around us, but it no longer holds authority over us. It’s not positive thinking that will free us, although we do need to see ourselves how God sees us. It’s that the power of sin has been broken by what Christ did for us.
How easy it is to think we are victims of the enemy’s scheming. Living like a victim is sometimes easier than getting back up. What’s the point if we are going to be knocked back down again? God has us. We are His beloved and we are not weak prey for satan to come scoop up whenever he wants. As children of the King we have authority! Our identity is in Him as His saints, not lowly helpless sinners.
That we would remember who we are here on earth and know that we can experience every bit of Jesus’ love here and now.

What Does Sovereign Really Mean?

IMG_8572And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

If you were to make a Top Ten list of most quoted Bible verses, I’m almost positive this beloved verse from Romans would be on it.  It’s a comforting message, the idea that God is in control even when adversity comes our way, God will work it out.

It’s the kind of verse you see on kitchen plaques, bookmarks, t-shirts… it’s like a warm, fuzzy sweater. Welcoming and soft.

Church teaches us that God is sovereign. We usually take it to mean that everything has to pass by Him before it comes our way.

On the surface, this idea that nothing happens with or without God’s approval is nice. In times of distress, we say things to each other like “God is in control, we have to trust His plan!” We have to conclude that if He is sovereign, He allowed the difficulty. We are told He is just putting us to the test. We experience sickness, disappointment and tragedy and force ourselves to push through it knowing God allowed it for some good reason. Right?

It’s a temporary solution. It comforts us when something awful happens, but in the long run, it just leads us to doubt His character and become totally passive. We may accept hardships as best we can, but deep down, we hold Him responsible. He could have prevented it and He didn’t. The gatekeeper let some stuff get past the gate and we aren’t sure why. It really puts us into a bind.

Thinking this way strangles our faith. If God controls every outcome, then what’s the point of praying about anything? We give up and resign ourselves to a “whatever will be will be” attitude. We’ve taken his sovereignty to mean He exercises absolute control over everything, like a king on a throne directing and dictating all that happens. The Bible never says that. There are plenty of things God desires or wills that never come to pass. And there are many awful things that happen that cannot be attributed to Him because they go against His very nature.

The book of Genesis lays out for us the whole problem that we have a tendency to forget: God gave man power and dominion over the world and man handed it right over to Satan. We live in a fallen world where sin and satan wreck havoc. Slogans like “just relax, everything will work out” lead to disaster. We have a part to play, and it isn’t a passive one:

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

This is the opposite of thinking “whatever will be will be.”  The word ‘resist’ here means to “actively fight against”. There are things of God we are to submit ourselves to and things of the devil we are to resist. Actively.

Back to the verse in Romans…

It isn’t saying that everything that comes our way is from God. It says that God can use those things and work them out “for those who LOVE God and are CALLED”. This isn’t everyone. It certainly isn’t the world at large. The previous verse says we must be willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. God desires this for everyone, of course, but it’s our choice.

Is He sovereign? Absolutely! In ways we cannot even imagine. He is above all, but He isn’t up in heaven like some cosmic man behind the curtain pulling levers deciding every outcome. He isn’t causing adversity. He will never cause something to happen that goes against His nature. Afflictions are not FROM God, they are what the enemy uses to pull us AWAY from God (Mark 4:17).  What a slick trick of the enemy though, to convince us of the opposite.

God may not be the author of the adversity, but He can bring something good out of it! That’s the difference. That’s the beauty of this verse. When we understand His ways are just and His character is good, we can trust Him. We aren’t holding our breath worried He may let something slip through the cracks to test our faith or fortitude. When we understand God is on our side it changes everything. Adversity will come, but it can’t overcome us.

So we can shout confidently, from the proverbial rooftops… or from our minivan, office, hospital bed, grocery store aisle, wherever:

“We know that all things work together for good to those who LOVE GOD, to those who are CALLED according to His purpose!”