How We Contend

To contend: battlecompeteface offfightracerivalvie

The little book of Jude at the end of the New Testament is easy to overlook. It begins and ends with the promise that we serve a God who keeps us and preserves us (v. 1, 24). The body of the short letter however, is a call to arms. Jude pleads with believers that they must not fall into complacency because a ton of people have come onto the scene promising big things but delivering emptiness.

Jude says these folks are “grumblers and complainers” who go around using flattering words to get what they want (v.16). Sound familiar? Complaining while at the same time using smooth and savvy words to get their way. It’s apparently nothing new to humanity, but we seem to live in a culture that has perfected this little art form.

So how do we “contend” for our faith? Jude tells us we have to build ourselves up in prayer and keep ourselves in the love of God (v. 20). Interestingly, he gives us an instruction for dealing with people who have gone astray: Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear (v. 22-23). 

Sometimes contending means showing mercy and compassion, not knocking someone over the head with the latest how-to book. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight, but we do so with love. Doubt can be effectively chipped away at with steady doses of truth.

I also like the next verse that says sometimes you just have to snatch people out of the fire. It’s not always intellectual or neat. Sometimes people are standing at the precipice needing to be pulled back. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we always need to “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The way we contend is important… we always need elements of truth mixed with love. I love the verse in 1 Peter because it reminds us that we are to be living with a hope inside us that makes people stop and wonder… “what’s going on there?” If we walk around like the grumblers and complainers, nobody is going to see anything worth having. Gentleness mixed with reverence for what Jesus can do in a person’s heart is a powerful thing.

How do we contend? How do we fight the good fight? With both words and actions, but above all else, with the power of Christ working through us. Sometimes it’s a gentle word to a friend, other times it’s a walk into the fire with them.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6). 



The Brains God Gave You

“My oldest son recently became a teenager and I attended a meeting for youth group parents at my church. The leaders said they’d be tackling a myriad of topics this year, ranging from respecting one’s parents to unpacking the transgender phenomenon permeating our local high schools. A parent asked, “What curriculum are you using?” The leader responded, “The Bible.” We need more of this, please and thank you.”

A really insightful article today at Uncomfortable Grace discussing our need to use the brains God have us when discerning who and what we pledge our allegiance to. In this age of opinions and outrage, we must be careful to not set our minds to autopilot when it comes to deciding where we plant our own flag.

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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.

On Nightmares and Disarming Foes

“Whatever foes may be before the Christian, they are all overcome. There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there are rivers, but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we wear that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point. God has taken away in the person of Christ all the power that anything can have to hurt us. Well then, the army may safely march on, and you may go joyously along your journey, for all your enemies are conquered beforehand. What shall you do but march on to take the prey? They are beaten, they are vanquished; all you have to do is to divide the spoil. You shall, it is true, often engage in combat; but your fight shall be with a vanquished foe. His head is broken; he may attempt to injure you, but his strength shall not be sufficient for his malicious design. Your victory shall be easy, and your treasure shall be beyond all count.”  Charles Spurgeon

Have you ever woken up from a wickedly vivid dream and thought… yikes! what can that mean?! I had a dream like that last night and was only reminded of it when I read this quote on Instagram this morning (how pleasant when social media is actually helpful). We were in a large house and there was a giant snake on the loose… like, it just kept popping up, falling from the ceiling, slithering all over the place, an absolute nightmare. A whole crowd of people were trying to pin it down and get rid of it, but we just couldn’t. It finally went to bite someone and once it latched on, we realized it didn’t have any fangs and were so relieved that it couldn’t actually harm us. We ended up hacking it to pieces… it was really gross and unpleasant.

I know God speaks through things like this if we will only pay attention. Life is full of little puzzle pieces that fit together like that if we are on the lookout. There’s a song that plays often on the Christian radio called “Fear Is A Liar” and I can’t get it out of my head. The enemy is such a liar. It’s actually quite devastating that we don’t realize it sooner. He whispers junk to us all day long… as we drive, while we work, it’s relentless.

I saw a facebook post for a young teenage girl who said that for her birthday in lieu of gifts,  she’d like everyone to donate money to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, because it’s something she personally deals a lot with.

You guys. It broke my heart. There is no reason people should be in this kind of a state. Not because we don’t have problems. Not because we don’t struggle. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t support organizations that are meant to help people, I am saying that FEAR IS A LIAR and if we don’t recognize that fact first and foremost, we are simply thrashing around in quicksand with no hope of getting out.

Yes… there are lions and serpents and raging rivers and fiery flames. If only we understood… not just intellectually, but in our very bones, that Christ has indeed already defeated all those things. Satan is in his death throes, he knows his time is limited, and he will do anything to have more company on his way down. Jesus isn’t just waiting for us up in heaven somewhere, He’s here now and offers us life abundantly. 

When we know that fear is a liar, we understand that the beasts have been de-clawed, the sword has no sharp edge, and our armor is fireproof. It makes me heartsick to see teenagers so tangled up in pressures of the world that a pill is their only consolation. The number of adults out here in ‘suburbia-land’ that are numbing themselves with addictions of all kinds is awful. Ignoring our fears won’t make them go away.

I am scared every day for any number of reasons. Sometimes, I wake up in the night with thoughts that will not be hushed.

What if my kids believe the lies? What if this job is a dead end? What will I do when they don’t need me anymore? Did I remember to close the garage door? There’s probably a bear in there right now… 

It’s enough to make a person literally crazy. No wonder everyone is taking a pill and downing a bottle of wine.

What if we lived and made decisions based on the actual truth instead of our fears? What if, instead of short little bursts of inspiration, we stood flat-footed on the solid-rock truth that Jesus actually DID disarm our enemy long ago?

So there’s a snake in the house… he can’t hurt you. Get it out.

So the flames are burning hot and strong? Your armor is fireproof. Walk through it.

So the enemy is pointing a knife at your heart? It’s been blunted. Push it away.

He will try, but everything about him is phony when placed in the light of what Jesus already has done. Yes, there is trouble around every corner, but dear believers, it doesn’t have to paralyze you to the point of inaction. If we spend all our time running from what scares us, how will we every know the joy in chasing after Jesus?

Combat, yes. Battle, it’s certain.

The enemy is defeated, and that makes all the difference.

These Three Things

A “JOY FUELED, OBEDIENCE-FILLED, CHRIST-EXALTING LIFE…” Jaquelle Crowe

I read this phrase this morning and it just popped right off the page at me. If I could articulate my deepest hearts desire, it would be that my kids grow up experiencing these three things. To be driven my a profound joy that isn’t based on circumstances, to desire obedience to God’s Word and ways and to live out a life that glorifies and points people to Jesus. When I think on these things, my heart nearly bursts for the hope and potential we all could experience if we surrender ourselves to the great I AM.

I keep a special little picture album tucked away in my Bible and was looking through some of them this morning. Special moments, people and places from other lifetimes seemed to leap off the page and transport me back in time. Old snapshots of my childhood mixed in with some of my boys when they were younger suddenly had me frozen with a weird kind of fear. What if that was as good as it gets? 

It’s not a very Godly thought, but it creeps up on me sometimes. As time marches on, children grow up and you face things you’d rather not. They don’t need you in the same way they used to. Some days, the best I can hope for is that they acknowledge my presence in the room with a kind-ish word. I’ve learned though that I don’t want them to desperately need me, I want them to desperately run after Jesus. My job is to point the way, but also to get out of the way and allow them to run their race. That is so much easier said than done.

I will go to the ends of the earth to help them find JOY in this dark world. I’m almost paralyzed some days with fear for what I see happening in their world. It’s no joke being a teenager these days. I try and wrap my head around it and end up in total despair. They are a generation that runs on virtual reality, instagram filters and being the best of the best. It’s an impossible and phony world. How do you make them understand the silliness of it all? How do you make them see that their worth isn’t based on what others think? There is a joy to be found in Christ that no circumstance or person can ever take away.

Without OBEDIENCE to His ways, nothing else can fall into place. While riding in the car the other day after spending time teaching some teens I said to my boys, “You guys, like 85% of your life right now is just about avoiding dumb-a#$ decisions.” Spiritual, no? I remember a time when rules and disciplines made me feel like I was missing out. The sooner we understand God’s boundaries are more like guard rails keeping us from falling off a cliff, the better off we will be.

Living out a CHRIST-EXALTING life isn’t something we have to strive for, it’s the natural outflow of His love passing through us. We exalt Him when we choose Him over the popular crowd. We honor Him by valuing what He says over what the hot shots in our culture say. Picking up our cross and laying down our idols is hard, but it’s just where we need to be.

The world mocks this kind of life relentlessly and the enemy is working overtime lying and deceiving any who will listen. He whispers to us that we are a victim… Jesus says we are heirs to His kingdom.

I have more questions than answers about all this sometimes… it seems like an insurmountable climb when so much is working against you. I’ve had to go on a news-fast just to get my emotions back in check.

Jesus had not left the building, even though it seems to be burning down.

He tells us to take heart… for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

I’m going to go write these three things down and place it on our mirrors I think. It’s not an unattainable desire, it’s what we should be living out every single day because He lives in us!

Fight Fight Fight

Excerpt from The Message Shouting To Us From The Kavanaugh Hearings by Michael Brown of The Christian Post:

“I do not know whether Christine Blasey Ford or Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth. But I do know this: Brett Kavanaugh’s impassioned speech, fighting for his life and his family and his reputation and his career, is a wake-up call to us all, especially if we are Christian conservatives. It is high time that we stand up and fight.

Of course, I’m not talking about “fighting” in a worldly, destructive sense. I’m not talking about fighting with hate. Or with intimidation. Or with violence, God forbid.

Rather, it’s time that we stir ourselves out of complacency and take a principled stand for what is right. It’s time that we awaken from our spiritual stupor and get involved in the culture, from our children’s schools to the White House. It’s time that we speak up and speak out and declare Jesus boldly and without shame.

We are beyond the stage of being provoked. We are beyond the stage of being challenged. We are beyond the stage of being opposed. We are beyond the stage of being shamed. To remain silent today is inexcusable.

Last week, on the evening of September 19, I start mulling over the phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” applying it to the radical pro-abortion movement. That prompted me to write the article, “Prepare for the Wrath of the Pro-Abortion Militants.” The article, which was published the next day, ended with this line: “hell hath no fury like that of the militant pro-abortionists.”

But the all-out assault against Justice Kavanaugh, an assault that began long before any of these allegations had come to light, is an assault against all people of biblical faith. It is the defaming, slandering, denigrating assault that would have come against any conservative nominee, especially the more that candidate held to biblical principles.

Put another way, what we saw in the Kavanaugh hearings is the tip of the iceberg in the battle for conservative moral values. And those who most vehemently oppose us don’t care about fighting fair. Or pursuing justice. Or following the truth.

If they can destroy you with lies, so be it. Whatever it takes to advance the cause.

And make no mistake about it. As Brett Kavanaugh just learned, this vicious attack will hit your children (and grandchildren) directly. And if we fail to speak and act and stand, we fail to protect those we love the most.

To repeat: To remain silent today is inexcusable.

The Kavanaugh hearings made that very clear. Bitingly clear. Strikingly clear. Screachingly clear. We have to be tone deaf not to hear it.

So, pray as if we served a God who answers prayer. And preach as if people’s lives depended on our message. And get involved in the culture as if it hung precariously in the balance. And vote in the midterms as if nation’s direction were at stake. And, using the godly, non-violent, love-empowered weapons we have in Jesus, stand and fight, fight, fight.”

Defeater Beliefs

“I’m a Christian, BUT…”

“Well sure I believe the Bible is true BUT…”

We live in a time and place where fence-sitting could be a national sport. It’s good to be grey, bendy, undefined… unless you have defined yourself in which case, be whatever you want. There’s always some crazy hoopla surrounding “Christian” celebs or pastors who choose to go off into the grey, and rightly so.

There’s a great article, entitled “Gracious Confidence is More Appealing than Angst and Doubt that appeared in the Gospel Coalition and really hits the nail on the head I think. The idea of “defeater” beliefs is fascinating to me because it’s these beliefs are being used to draw people in. I have to say, I’m of the opinion that there’s so much beauty and freedom to be found in true Biblical Christianity, you don’t need to have a “yeah BUT…” excuse at any time. Too many big shots are out there preaching a pathetic version of the Bible because they are afraid of bringing the truth to sinners. How arrogant and prideful we have become when we take the responsibility upon ourselves to impress people with our words and actions. Love everyone, yes, but for heavens sakes give them something to believe in.

“But what happens when there are immediate “defeater” beliefs, such as “Christianity is intolerant because you believe Jesus is the only way” or “Christians believe in hell,” or “Christians discriminate against LGBT people because they don’t perform same-sex marriages”? When we come up against these objections, it’s easy to assume that the way to win hearing is to present the teachings of the Christian faith in the most tortured way possible, almost as if we too are as uncomfortable with our religion’s teaching as they are. We build common ground by acting as if we hold in common an outsider’s aversion to Christianity.

By presenting the image of ourselves as “wrestling” with challenging teachings, we think we come across more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. We’re convinced we are more winsome when we make it seem as if we’d love for Christianity or the Bible to be different, or we’d love to find a way to interpret these texts differently, but right now, we’re just in the same season of struggle as many people of faith are, as we try to reach the modern world. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. There is nothing attractive about people proclaiming the lordship of Jesus who, deep down, resist some of the King’s commands. It’s like saying, “Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like it.”

There’s nothing attractive about inviting people to become part of a community that doesn’t know what it believes, or that is fundamentally uncomfortable with its own teachings. Yet this is the approach that I see among many evangelicals, particularly those of my own generation, who are trying to gain a hearing for the gospel.

I get it. It’s tough to present the beauty of Christianity in a culture in which the plausibility structures are set against you, in a pluralist society that sees all evangelism as intolerant, in an age that sees one’s self-expression (especially sexually) as fundamental to identity. Yes, it’s tough. We can all feel that pressure.

But we do ourselves no favors by backpedaling, by coming up with tortured explanations of why we believe what we believe, or by acting as if our hands are (unfortunately) tied by the biblical text we say is our authority.”

It isn’t authentic to not know what you believe. If we want to share the good news we must first not be ashamed of it, because it is indeed good news. When we act as though Jesus was just messing around when He said A, B or C we are saying our small brain knows better. Here’s a tip: we don’t.

We struggle and we sin, but we don’t totally leave the ranch for other pastures. There’s a truth that anchors us, centers us, and keeps us within the realm of Gods bounty, but when we proclaim to know more and simply bask in our “wrestling” we miss the freedom that Christ died to give us.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

With gentleness and respect. We respect man more than God Himself when we change His gospel. We may be smart and witty and oh so plugged in to the heartbeat of our culture, but it benefits us nothing if we lose Christ along the way.