Fear and Hustling

Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rain righteousness upon you. –Hosea 10:12

I’m no farmer, so I looked up the exact meaning of the word fallow in the dictionary after coming across this verse. It means land that is unseeded, unsown, idle or obsolete. It’s land that could be used to grow crops, but has been left alone to compact and harden. Fallow land will yield absolutely nothing come harvest time, except possibly some weeds.

Hosea is pleading with the people of Israel to get real about the sin in their lives and turn away from it. Throughout the book, he refers to them as an unfaithful harlot whose straying has wreaked havoc, causing all kinds of idolatry and chaos. This verse is an encouragement, a plea in the middle of an otherwise dreary chapter, to snap out of it and return to the God who really is on their side. Continue reading

Just Go Fishing

“The world seems to have a real genius for being wrong, even the educated world. I can see how a right man might live in a wrong world and not be affected by it except that the world will not let him alone. It wants to educate him. Society, being fluid, usually moves like the wind, going all out in one direction until the novelty wears off. Whatever people happen to be interested in at the moment must be accepted as normal… our highest ambition should be to become integrated to the mass, to lose our moral individuality as a whole.” AW Tozer  Culture

AW Tozer wrote here in this essay of just wanting to go fishing, but the world and its nonsense just wouldn’t leave him alone. I’m sure we all can relate. There are times I walk into a room and my husband is watching the news and I just walk right out… my brain just can’t handle it. It’s like Alice in Wonderland up in here, and everything is topsy-turvy.

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Psychological Shots

“A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him. No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life… such things if used with discretion may be a blessing along the way. The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin.” AW Tozer

This passage hit me hard today. The notion that so many souls have lost (or never found) that thing which fills the heart and makes it want to continue onward in spite of difficulty is devastating. That so many among us really do require “psychological shots” just to keep going is absolutely terrifying.

We put everything we have out there for the world to approve, and then die a little inside when they don’t. Take a shot.

We spend money that we don’t have on the latest fashions we think will satisfy us, but they don’t. Take a shot.

We travel to the far corners of the earth but it’s never far enough. Take another shot.

I am in awe of a culture that has acquired so much knowledge and information and yet is totally devoid of any wisdom or useful truth. We follow the well-beaten path to happiness only to find out it’s a dead-end. We pop the pills the commercial says will make us less depressed and we feel worse. I was talking with my boys yesterday about the importance of just being in community and helping people out. The gist of the conversation was that we are blessed when we bless others, tis better to give than receive, etc. It sounds cliché, but the truth is that until we understand we are created for more than the seeking out of our own happiness, we are doomed to a life of futile searching.

This thing that Tozer writes about, the idea of being unable to live without the constant stimulation of the world, the little ‘shots’ of temporary happiness, this frightens me. We are addicted to all the wrong things and are conditioned to crave temporary fixes. People charge ahead, taking hit after hit of their drug of choice and eventually just smack right into a wall. It’s that abuse of the harmless things and the neglect of the necessary ones that has us so desperately mixed up.

Some people obsess over work, others fixate on exercise. We have our social media accounts, our video games, our alcohol, you name it. We crave diversion and entertainment wherever we can find it, but whenever these things become our main thing, they’re going to disappoint. I was stunned when I came across this display at the bookstore the other day:

Now, to each his own in the entertainment department and I realize you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that, so I looked up the synopsis for the this little gem on the left: “The sinister mystery of how a teen girl named Brooklyn became the epitome of evil in this terrifying prequel to the series MTV calls “Mean Girls meets The Exorcist.” Please note to what group of readers this is marketed towards. And we wonder why kids are so nasty, so mean, so utterly lost.

Friends, we are absolutely created to enjoy life, but not at the expense of our souls. We are created to live from the inside out, not the outside in. No amount of stimulation from any outside source is ever going to satisfy that proverbial “God-shaped hole” in our souls. Our hearts can be downright deceitful at times and lead us off to follow after the wrong things (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not meant to go at it alone, not ever. It’s natural that we hunger and thirst and seek… but we have to go hard after the thing that will fill us and steady us in an unsteady world.

Some will say that following Jesus is too simplistic for todays problems. Others will find the burden of picking up ones cross and following entirely too complicated. The truth though, is that it’s the only cure for what ails us.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” —Proverbs 4:23

We can’t overcomplicate it, nor can we underestimate the power Christ has to infuse lasting joy into our sin-sick hearts. Take delight in Jesus first and foremost, and He will satisfy those deepest longings (Psalm 37:4).

Weathered

You’ve probably heard Paul’s encouraging words in 2 Corinthians 4:17 reminding us “that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It’s a reminder that the hardships we face here on earth really are small and temporary compared to our promised eternity with Christ.

“But while we are here among men with our sensitive hearts exposed to the chilly blasts of the unbelieving and uncomprehending world, it is imperative that we take a realistic view of things and learn how to deal with disadvantages. And it is important that we tell the whole truth to those we are endeavoring to win.” AW Tozer

Although not a specific response to that verse, the words of Tozer here elevate my heart a bit. Taken alone, Paul’s words are a bit of a hard pill to swallow. While being completely true, they beg the question ‘what about now?’ The Bible is clear that we aren’t just supposed to be hanging on until we get to heaven, scraping by while the world runs us over and leaves us for dead… not at all. We are to fight the good fight while keeping our eternal perspective. Paul understood this well and each earthly problem he encountered was kept in check by the weight of the truth of a far greater reward.

Those chilly blasts from the world hitting our human hearts… they hurt. We can’t prevent them, but we must be people who know how to handle them.

My husband coaches boys lacrosse a few times a week. He had a boy quit recently because he was being picked on by some fellow teammates. They were swiftly dealt with, he spoke to the team, and tried everything to get this kid to finish out the season, but his eleven year old heart just couldn’t handle it. Our hearts broke for him. We had an interesting talk about it all, wavering between two opinions: do you pull him out of a bad situation to protect him from these boys or make him stay and finish out the season and challenge him to stand up for himself? Not an easy answer.

As believers, we need to understand that the world is not always going to be on our side. In fact, if it is, there is probably something a little too worldly about us. Following full speed ahead after Jesus means bullies, harassers and general pain in the you know whats are going to hit us up at times. Jesus didn’t sugar coat things when He told us we would have to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Our hearts need to get accustomed to a harsh wind, not to the point of becoming hard, but they must become stronger.

Once a year, the hubs and I bike up (or try to bike up) Colorado’s infamous Mt. Evans. It’s a slow go, but it makes for some amazing scenery. At 11,000 feet, we reach my favorite point of the climb where the bristlecone pine trees are located. Most of them are over 1,000 years old and they are a sight. Twisted and contorted by wind and snow, they stand firm. They look completely absurd, but are the oldest and strongest living things around. Here’s my favorite:

Every time I puff my way up the hill, I am in awe of this thing. Oh the storms it has endured! As I look at it even now I can’t help but think how there are times we just need to stand our ground and grow deep roots. No, we aren’t going to look as elegant as the other trees, but the other trees wouldn’t last a second up there. Let’s be honest with ourselves and those we are trying to reach with the Gospel message. It’s not a cake walk. If you want easy, go to the hothouse where the delicate flowers are. They look awesome but they have to stay inside or else they wilt. As Christians we have to embrace the uncomfortable idea that we aren’t much use if we stay in the hothouse. We are created to withstand the winds, not alone, but under the wings of our Protector. I’m afraid we are learning that every uncomfortable circumstance is something to be avoided, but it’s not true. I know I run for the hothouse a little too often when God wants me to stand up to be winds.

His word tells us to keep an eternal perspective while fighting the good fight of faith here in this life. “In this world you will have trouble… but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus has deprived the world from its power to harm us. Paul’s message is more than a “chin up buttercup” encouragement to grin and bear it through hard times. His words remind us that though the winds blow, they can’t blow us over. Amazingly, that’s the “realistic view” Tozer was encouraging us to have. We don’t always get to escape difficulty, but we can avoid succumbing to it. The whole truth of carrying our cross includes cold winds, but it also includes them being used for our good!

Hirelings

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“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.

 

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!

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).