Free A’s And No Homework!

One of my favorite lines from THE INCREDIBLES movie is “if everyone is special, then nobody is special.” It comes from a villain who is plotting a way to make everyone into superheroes, thus negating the current superheroes’ power and prestige. I tried hard to prove this “everyone gets an A” picture as fake news… but alas, it is not. Where was this when I was crying over my math homework in fifth grade? Obviously, it didn’t exist because we lived in reality where you had to earn your grades. Interesting to note that homework and cupcakes are also banned at this particular school in Arlington, Virginia. Of course they are.

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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.

Plucking Forbidden Fruit

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 3:6

“Good intentions get the best of us, don’t they? Eve probably didn’t go into her day with a diabolic item on her to-do list. 

Prune roses. Check. 

Feed the goofy-looking animals with really long necks. Check.

Take a stroll with God around lake. Check.

Try out new fruit. Check. Usher sin into world. Check.

Neither do we go into our days thinking, I’m going to be a control freak today and make myself miserable. Instead, we go into our days with self-made edicts of love. No one is more surprised than us when we turn around and find ourselves plucking forbidden fruit from trees that we had no business touching.” Jennifer Dukes Lee It’s All Under Control.

Do you ever notice the things that most drive you crazy in others are usually the exact shortcomings or sins that you yourself struggle with? It’s not easy to admit, but the controlling tendencies in others bring out the controlling tendencies in me. It would be funny if it wasn’t so darn sad. We vow we’ll never be like so-and-so… we would never handle the situation the way so-and-so did… only to find ourselves stuck in same miry mud puddles they are in.

Since the dawn of creation, we have craved control. It can come from an innocent place or a devious one. For most of us, I’d venture to say we don’t want bad things to happen, so we clench our fists as tight as we can. That old metaphor is true though, the tighter you squeeze, the more sand falls out onto the ground.

There’s this ‘surrender’ word floating around and it sounds nice.  We sing the old hymn “All to Jesus I surrender… all to Him I freely give”… all while checking our phone and adjusting our calendars. It’s not surrender if we don’t actually lay something down.

Here comes the inevitable BUT…

BUT I can’t just throw all caution to the wind and hope it works out! I can’t just let those proverbial chips fall wherever they may! Peoples lives are at stake here! Little people, big people, work people, projects, households… ALL THE THINGS!

Ironically, surrender doesn’t mean we toss up our hands and hope for the best. That’s fatalism, and Jesus wasn’t in the business of making things overly complicated. He said to we must surrender our lives to His will. There will be a cross to carry, but it is far better than the baggage we accumulate through our stubborn and prideful control.

It’s both funny and tragic that we are often so blind to the futility of all this micromanaging. Like Eve, we think things can work out better if we can just get our hands in the mix. In the end, we just come out with sticky, dirty hands. We don’t mean to go after the forbidden fruit, but our stubborn flesh just won’t rest until it gets to have a say in everything.

Do you know what I’m learning the hard way? We don’t need to have our hands in everything in order for it to work out. Moms of teens are really bad at this at times. Ask me how I know. Every day I have to choose to let them go just a little farther out into the world. Every day I want to intervene with my big ol’ opinions. It’s not always necessary and God is faithful to remind me that I have to lay down my control and pick up my cross.

Half-hearted surrender isn’t very useful. Jesus asks for everything we’ve got, and in return, He promises to keep it and sort it better than we ever could have ourselves.

“Then He placed His right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17

Can you picture Him? Hand on our shoulder telling us not to fret. Like two giant bookends, The First and the Last is here with us and He promises to guard whats in the middle. We can trust that we don’t need to go chasing after other fruit.

Rise Up

I have a friend who told me a most eye-opening story the other night. She was speaking with a fellow mom who candidly just blurted out how Facebook was making her feel like crap. “Do you ever feel like that?” she asked. When my friend explained she wasn’t on any social media and neither were her teens, she was met with total confusion. “Well… do your kids even have any friends then?” was the honest and brutal response. It turned into a whole long debate, but ended with my sweet friend holding up her phone and proclaiming “this may define you and your family, but it’s not going to define mine!” And that was that.Sadly, unplugged people like her are kind of an anomaly these days. We treat them like weirdos and wonder how they ever get anywhere in life. To say we are letting the tail wag the dog is an understatement. We genuinely believe that going with the flow is in our best interests, even when it causes hurt and harm. It’s not that we don’t have the intelligence to know better, we do. There’s just this nasty thing called pride that will not be hushed. It’s fueled by a relentless enemy who knows that if he can keep us focused on ourselves, we can’t focus on much else. This passage from Lisa Whittle takes the breath right out of my lungs as she laments seeing kids she loves fall into this trap:“I have heard this story over and over again, and I’m sick to death of it. Another talented, God-breathed soul with a limitless future stuck in a web of earthly entanglements that will alter the course of his life. My anger takes me aback. I expect the sadness. I expect the tears, I don’t expect the mad. But my sadness has taken me here, to the manic food chopping and yelling out loud at the devil. With deep love often comes a rising up, and this is where I am. I am fighting for this kid and my kids and all the kids whom satan wants to take down with drugs and sex and alcohol and porn and self-harm and eating disorders and violence and apathy and entitlement and mind games. All my heart and soul and love is rising up within me and crying out.”I think this is what my normally quiet friend must have felt. In this long list of tragic vices, I find apathy to be the worst. It robs us of any desire to get out of our predicament. We stay lazy and self-focused and uninterested in rising up.Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” If our highest goal is to look good or if we are driven by a fear of missing out… we are going to “cast off restraint” and make poor choices. It can be as dull as wandering aimlessly or as deadly as running totally wild. A vision is more than just a pipe dream or even a goal… in this context, it means revelation from God. A Biblical vision gives us a bigger purpose outside of ourselves. It’s the thing we align ourselves up with because we believe it to be worthy. It’s looking beyond the little screen in front of us to something larger.Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Approval from God first and foremost. Let the rest shake out how it will, but being right with God is first. Yes, we will look weird at times. We may even miss out on some things. There’s a heavy-handed message telling us to keep on in that rat race and que sera sera… it’s the enemy hoping we’ll trade in the vision for some cheap imitation. The God-breathed kind of adventures are so much more interesting than the filtered little worlds we create. Being unapologetically tied to His Word eliminates a ton of dicey situations if we have the good sense to seek it and treasure it. This “web of earthly entanglements” is no game, but neither is the riches in grace that have been provided to believers through Jesus. Power to rise up and fight for what the enemy has stolen. Crazy love that keeps our feet planted when they want to turn and run. A sound mind that can be quiet and humble in a world gone totally mad. Power, love and a sound mind are riches worth fighting for (1 Timothy 1:7).Will we rise up and fight against this apathy? Will we tell the demanding world that it isn’t actually the boss of us or our kids? We don’t need to go cold turkey on it, but we do need to hitch our wagons to something that isn’t fleeting, something bigger than what we create. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

Rejecting and Reinterpreting

“Oh be careful little eyes what you see… be careful little ears what you hear… be careful little hands what you do… be careful little feet where you go… be careful little mouth what you say… there’s a Father up above and He’s looking down in love… so be careful little eyes what you see…” 

Anyone know that song? It’s Sunday school 101, my boys used to love driving and listening to it. They would cover their eyes and ears and mouth as they sang it and yell “be CARE-ful eyes! be CARE-ful ears!”  Oh my stars how I wish we could still practice that little exercise. The song randomly popped into my head this past week and I was humming it for a good few minutes before I stopped to wonder why I was singing a kid song from years ago. I had been reading some quotes on Instagram from Rachel Held Evans new book and they had me all knotted up. The world we live in today allows for such easy sharing and spreading of ideas. This isn’t a book I would ever buy, but thanks to the glory of the internet and enthusiastic book reviewers, little pieces of it found their way to me. I don’t mind when this happens, I think we need to at least examine ideas we disagree with and know why we believe the things we do. I’ve been focused lately on the unchanging Word of God, the unchanging character of God and what that means to us living in a world that is rapidly changing. Anywho… here’s kind of the crux of her new book:

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“Spiritual maturation”… sounds excellent. “Wholeness” also sounds downright lovely. How do we become mature and whole? Her answer is apparently by downright rejecting or reinterpreting certain Biblical stories that no longer suit our cultural sensitivities. Her writings have a distaste and disdain for God’s word and character that make me question why one would even continue to give this Jesus the time of day. I’m all for critical thinking and asking the hard questions, but reinterpreting the Bible to fit your tastes is backwards. Her insistence that God’s word didn’t quite turn out the way it was meant to is blasphemous. I don’t mean to sound like an old curmudgeon, but the beauty of the Bible is that it is pure and true for all mankind, no strings attached. The obsession with divisions and differences has changed all that:

“By that I mean we’re all actually interpreting the Bible in a context. We’re all bringing our backgrounds, our gender, our socioeconomic status or race. We bring all of that to the Bible, so we’re limited in how much we can really learn from it because of that, unless we deliberately and willingly and joyfully hear what other people have to say. Somebody coming from a minority community is going to read the Bible differently than I am. 

So. Many. Buzzwords. It’s a given that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences. However, it is not correct to assume that because of those differences we all are limited in what we can “learn” from God’s word. The Bible continually reminds us that we must receive before we learn. We receive Christ as a gift. We receive wisdom and truth through the Word and through the Holy Spirit. These are not intellectual pursuits, but spiritual ones. Learning is fantastic but not until you have first received. The same surrender that is required of a servant is also required of a king. You see, her way of studying God’s Word is doomed from the start. It may be interesting to turn stories on their head and reinterpret them, but this is powerless Christianity. In trying so hard to make the Bible relevant, she’s completely neutered it. If that’s what you’re going for, by all means enjoy the study. I am of the opinion that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4:12.

I picture it as a river in which God is upstream from all of us. His love and truth flow downward to us all. There is no discrimination or altering of any of it. We all get washed with the same truth. It may be cold, but it’s pure. That truth is our starting point. Doing it backwards leads to confusion and obsession over the wrong things. Trying to get pure water from our little downstream inlets just doesn’t work.

This stuff is a hit with those who want to be told it’s ok to be blasé about God’s Word. It’s a fun study, but an utterly feelings-based and humanistic one. It’s the kind of thing I feel like my college-self would have been drawn to. It’s artistic and witty with a touch of intellectualism. Before we fully experience the sufficiency of God’s Word and the joy that comes from it, we are eager to find something new and exciting, but it’s akin to getting blood from a turnip. No amount of human creativity can compare to the power that lies in His word. The idea that we can just enjoy all these poems and letters and stories for the distant writings they are is very scholarly, but they put Jesus on the same level as any other historical figure.

The truth of the Word convicts us of our sin and asks us to sacrifice. It frees us from habitual questioning and doubting and guides us into a place of joy and trust. We don’t check our brain at the door or stop asking questions, we simply start from a place of holiness instead of offense at the scriptures. Books like this are rebellion in its purest and sneakiest form. We aren’t called to sit in judgment of the Bible and decide for ourselves. Sliding down the path of least resistance, consuming whatever is tossed out to us is not a path to victory. Little by little, the repetition of the narrative chisels away at our foundations making us shaky and unsure. Park yourself in God’s Word. All of it. Most of these arguments can be refuted with a basic understanding of scripture. God is not a genocidal maniac and Jesus isn’t a mild-mannered pushover who wants us to be nice.

God’s stories are not harmful nor are they as complicated as they are made out to be. We don’t need to do a large-scale sociological study on them simply because they are offensive to our current ideals.

Our experiences are valid, but we are not to be defined by our sin, no matter how much attention it may get us. Start with God. Begin with Him, and let everything else fall into its proper place. True maturity and wholeness come not by picking apart God’s attributes, but by surrendering our offenses and hurts to the One who came and died for us. Freedom is found by narrowing in more and more on Jesus and His Word, so that we become an arrow pointing straight to Him.

-Leading seekers to an abiding relationship with Jesus? Yes.

-Pointing people back to themselves and wallowing in victimhood? Pass.

-Putting out a slick message that embraces rebellion and waters down the necessity of a Savior? Nope.

-Speaking honestly and sincerely about hurts while trusting God’s Word holds the balm we need to be healed? Absolutely, all day long.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

God is upstream to us. That’s our starting point. Don’t let human interpretations muddy your waters and get in the way of your most sacred relationship.

Be careful little eyes what you see.

The Airing of Grievances

“I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

Frank Costanza

Hopefully you all are old enough and refined enough to remember the celebration of Festivus, the fictional secular holiday that took place on the TV show Seinfeld as an alternative to on overly-commercialized Christmas holiday. After an awkward dinner, the family gathered around to lament the ways in which they were disappointed by one another over the past year.

Speaking of grievances, the is certainly no shortage of them going around lately. Big ones, small ones, accusations, denials, apologies… you name it. Since privacy is a thing of the past, we all have a ringside seat to the public ‘airing’ of these grievances. So-and-so pens an “open letter” to such-and-such… he or she responds with an apology or retort, to which five other people respond with their own open letters or dissenting opinions. It’s truly a sight to behold.

It’s an interesting thing watching a secular culture address issues of wrongdoing, repentance, and justice. There are very real, very grievous sins that need dealing with, while other troubles would be better left out of the public eye. The world has constructed a kind of system in which it’s easy to accuse and imperative to apologize if you know whats best for you. But does this system satisfy victims? Does it lead to genuine repentance on the part of the accused?

Sin is a very serious thing, and as Christians, we should take repentance and forgiveness just as seriously, both individually and corporately. The devil has a field day though, when we get so mixed up in the emotionalism of the latest outrage that we fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Accusations and apologies must never be weaponized, for when they are, the beauty and freedom of what Jesus did for us is whitewashed.

The secular world has no basis for their demands other than what is popular at the time. They are a mob that rides a cresting wave of opinion that will soon change. We must not believe that the world holds more truth than scriptures. True freedom and liberation come when we address sin Gods way. I read a blog yesterday that put it this way:

“This is where the devil hijacks our repentance — on both ends of this transaction. If he can get the perpetrators to confess vague sins, he can keep sinners shackled in the ambiguity of sorrow and regret without any real confidence of forgiveness and freedom. And if he can get the victims to traffic in the vague confessions, the devil can keep victims in the ambiguity of sorrow and shame without any real confidence of resolution and freedom. And tenderhearted Christians can get sucked into this black hole because it can feel very spiritual and brokenhearted. But there is a massive difference between the broken and contrite heart that God loves and leads to true freedom, and the emotional death camp of vague guilt and shame. Another way to say all of this is that Christian repentance must be obedient to God’s Word, not merely an emotional dumpster dive. And this means that when the world around us is demanding submission to their false gods, Christian apologies must be even more careful, especially for those who would be leaders or teachers. We have an even greater responsibility.

What sticks out to me is the repetition of the word freedom. The goal, the endgame, the purpose for us in all this is for us to have freedom through what Christ has accomplished. The secular way offers no resolution, and it doesn’t want one. The enemy wants us to spin in circles in a vicious cycle of offense that never ends. So again, we don’t ignore sin, but we must be extremely careful about what the world is demanding we bow to. Throughout the Old Testament, Israelites were told to bow to false gods, and it’s no different today. Often these gods come in the form of ideas and ideologies the world demands we embrace. The waters have become muddied with false choices about race, gender roles and privilege. It’s not that we don’t owe apologies at times, it’s that we must be very careful about what we are submitting to.

Timothy warned about this: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

The point is not that we be ‘right’ all the time. We are to point people to the truth, that they too can escape sin and its consequences. The purpose of Christian leadership is not to demonstrate how fantastically ‘in tune’ you are with the current trends or how ‘woke’ you may be to everyones offenses:

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This isn’t a Bible verse, it’s from the Westminster Catechism, but it sums it up nicely. We are not here to bask in offense or victimhood any more than we are here to dominate or put ourselves on a pedestal showing off how compassionate we are. We forgive because we are forgiven, we confess our sins to God and to one another for the purpose of reconciliation and freedom. The “emotional death camps of vague guilt and shame” are not our dwelling place, no matter how important we may feel there. We are called to deal with sin differently, in a way that allows for true healing and freedom.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

An offended Christian will usually turn into an offensive Christian, and we aren’t meant to carry that burden. Abiding in Jesus allows us to deal with the truth of real sin and not pick up needless offense at every turn.