The Measure of a Year

My newsfeed on Facebook has been filled with negativity about 2016 ever since Christmas Day ended. This or that celebrity died, this situation in life went wrong, that job was terrible, this person was diagnosed with cancer, that situation has caused insane stress. That kid picked on my kid and this kid is saying my kid is a bully. A certain percentage seems to think Donald Trump is the anti-Christ. On and on, etc., etc. I made a post on Facebook a few days ago saying I thought 2016 had been just fine until I saw that 139 police officers had been killed in the line of duty this year. It seems that the majority of people have at least one complaint about 2016.

Quick question:

How do you measure how good or bad a year is?

Obvious answer, right? How much went (seemingly) wrong versus how much went (seemingly) right.

Thus proving we are a shallow society engulfed in our emotions. How often I’m tempted to think the collective level of “happiness” associated with my situation actually defines whether or not my situation is good. Perhaps the problem is the definition of good. Is something good if I approve of it, or is something good because it leads to a more well-rounded person?

If good is merely the totality of my circumstances, then the definition of good will never be constant. It might be good today, but if tomorrow is even better, then the definition changes to suit the day. If tomorrow is worse, then good is defined by yesterday, even though two days from now might take over the definition. You see the problem, I presume.

If the latter is the definition, then there’s a great chance that those situations we are tempted to believe are ‘bad’ could potentially be leading us into a deeper life as a more equipped, able, and prepared person albeit via difficult circumstances. The book of Job gives the account of a man who had it all, lost it all, praised God through it all, and had it returned to him tenfold (right? Tenfold? Is my memory correct on that number?). Job might have been waiting for the ball to drop to get the year in the past and look ahead toward what was coming. His circumstances were horrible, but if I had to guess, I think Job’s ability to keep perspective would have prevented him from blaming his woes simply on the year. Let’s not forget that the year has nothing to do with our circumstances. We live in a fallen world. A fallen world has everything to do with our circumstances. Sin has everything to do with our circumstances, but the story doesn’t end there. We have a decision to make. We have lots of decisions to make, actually. One is our response. One is how resolved we will be when we walk through the fire. One is whether or not we will accept personal responsibility as opposed to placing blame elsewhere.

Growth has never been easy or comfortable. I remember growing as a teen. I shot up in height over a short amount of time. I was sore for about two years straight because of how much I was growing. How much greater is the pain of spiritual and personal growth at times. Our resolve as a nation is weakening. Our ability to press on is weakening. I’m personally part of a generation (Millennials) that moves on quickly if we don’t have the sense that we’re making an impact. We believe that this must not be for us if we don’t see results by the end of the three minutes we type in on the microwave. We are where we are for a reason. That reason might be that we’re blowhards who ignore the gentler nudges of the Lord and we have therefore landed ourselves in a mell of a hess. The reason might be because we need to be reminded that none of this was ever about us, but instead it’s always been about the glory of the Lord. Maybe we are where we are because we’ve been faithful to the Lord, but there still isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel on any of this making sense. In Philippians 3 Paul nails down that we have no confidence in the flesh. Still, “we press on to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (verse 14).

This life is not the prize. It never has been the prize, and it never will be the prize. Our prize is in heaven. Our reward lies there, not here. No matter how good we deem the good days, they still aren’t our reward. They’re blessings, but they aren’t rewards. Our bad days aren’t punishments. They might very well be discipline to help us get back on track so that we can reach the prize, but the bad days aren’t punishments for not having good days. They’re bad days. They’re bad seasons. They’re growing pains. They’re the result of a fallen world that turned to sin instead of communion with the Lord.

And so we press on into a new year. 2016 was not a bad year. It was a year — just as all the other years were years. Our situations and our levels of personal happiness do not define the greatness of a year. But y’know, if anything, maybe the year was great because the good Lord in his infinite mercy didn’t obliterate a nation that remains hellbent. We have improvements to make – no doubt. We had difficult times as a nation – no doubt. But for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, let’s not forget the big picture. To quote Billy Graham, I’ve read the last page of Revelation. It’s all going to turn out okay. This world is not our home. This world is not our prize. Press on.

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Forget doing something great. Do some good.

Y’ALL.

I’m sitting here revisiting Beth Moore’s Children of the Day study (an in-depth study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), and I can’t even FINISH today’s lesson because you guys have to hear a portion that is so applicable to our lives (which is ironic, but more on that to come)! Please read on because this is about to burn up my fingertips before I can even get the darned thing typed.

More often than not over the past year, I’ve found myself turning to Scripture and trying to find verses that apply or relate to my situation. I’m not trying to proof-text (take Scripture out of context and isolate it to mean what I want it to mean), but I’m trying to basically force God to speak.

In reading through various social media posts from friends and friends of friends, it’s obvious that I’m not alone. But is this the right thing to do? No. We have to grow up in our faith, so to speak. This is something that a baby Christian does, and understandably so! I wouldn’t even categorize myself as a baby Christian based purely on the length of time I’ve been a baptized follower, but somewhere along the way I forgot this lesson.

“Scripture is at work in our works even when it doesn’t speak a specific word toward our tasks. That means that my morning reading could be the genealogy of Matthew 1, but I can still get up from my kitchen table better equipped as a ministry employer because the Word possesses inherent strength and shapes character. An open Bible also awakens our ears (Isa. 50:4).” (Beth Moore, Children of the Day – assume all following quotes are from this study).

From Psalm 119: 169-176, The Message Translation:

“Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word. Give my request your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of your promise. Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you’ve taught me the truth about life! And let your promises ring from my tongue; every order you’ve given is right. Put your hand out and steady me since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel. I’m homesick, God, for your salvation; I love it when you show yourself! Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. And should I wander off like a lost sheep – seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice.”

From Beth:

     “Fellow student, God’s decrees are putting iron in our souls even when we still lack specific direction in our task. Try to resist forcing Scripture to fit or reading your situation into every verse, sermon, or devotional. An egocentric approach to Scripture – eyeing it chiefly with ourselves in mind – will throw us off course and dramatically increase our tendency to misapply it.
If we’ll ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit as we read and study, He will alert us when He’s speaking to our situation through a precept that doesn’t blatantly fit. Our inner man will bear witness with His Spirit.
Reading in panic mode can also throw off a sound application of Scripture. It’s my least effective frame of mind for receiving direction and equipping from the Bible. That’s when I’m most apt to use the day’s Scripture reading like a crystal ball. By all means, when we’re panicked, let’s cry out to God and ask for help and tell Him how desperate we are to hear from Him. But hacking through the Scriptures with a mental machete is hazardous.
When we are in panic we end up blaming God for misdirection when we wrap the wrong word around our steering wheel. Times of fright or distress present us an opportunity to get on our faces before God and request a trade-in for trust mode. Don’t try to make Him speak. Let Him speak. He wants to, and He will when the time is right. We don’t need to put words in God’s mouth. Whatever the task at hand, it will not come down to achieving; it will come down to receiving.
These two words can be deep breath to an asthmatic soul: “calm down” (Isa. 7:4). Go for a walk and reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness. Praise Him and profess confidence in His commitment to equip you for every good work. Quiet yourself in Him for a while. Sometimes we’ll find that we’re trying too hard. Often the equipping will follow the calming because God honors a posture of trust.”

Not reading myself into Scripture is SO HARD sometimes, and this smacked me over the head and hugged me all at the same time. But she doesn’t end there. This whole week is about our ministry to the world and how we’ve been equipped to do good for the glory of the Lord. She transitions to talking about “finding our niche.”

I’ve talked with a number of friends younger than me at various times in my life, and inevitably those who are Christians get caught up in ‘following God’s will,’ and trying to figure out what He wants them to do with their lives. For the life of me I can’t remember who told me this, but someone once told me something to the effect of, “Go and make disciples. That’s God’s will for your life. Period. It’s not complicated. God’s will for your life is that people know him through you. There are a million different ways you can do that. YOU make the decision for how you want to do it. Don’t pin it on God if you choose to do something that makes you miserable simply because you thought it was the most religious path to take. If God blatantly calls you somewhere, by all means, go. Go do that. Absolutely. But for the vast majority of us who don’t get to have our callings blatantly written in the sky, we’re to make disciples. Do what you love and use it to make disciples.” Okay, paraphrase is mine, but you get the general idea. We get WAY too caught up in trying to decipher what one specific path we should take. It’s nonsense. Just go and make disciples.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 (ESV):

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.”

Here’s Beth again:

     “Let’s bask in the first: “every resolve for good.” Forget setting out to do something great. That goal entangles our egos every time. Instead, let’s resolve to do some good in Jesus’ name. If our good turns out great, then give glory to God. It was all about Him anyway. If we feel like it failed to achieve the fruit we hoped for (I’ve bee there many times), did we do anyone any good?
To find your niche, go meet some needs. There’s no end to them. Students need tutors. Shut-ins need visitors. Sick people need someone to pick up their medicine. Demoralized people need someone to listen. Pastors need encouragement before they pass out or pass on. Small group Bible studies need places to meet. Ministries need volunteers. Church nurseries are desperate for workers. Kids’ ministers are clamoring for servants who can keep commitments. Hungry people need food collectors. People who live out on the streets need shelter and, if they’re too trapped in addiction to desire it, they could use a blanket when it’s old. So many young women need mothering. Elderly women need to matter. And everybody needs spiritual mentors. Don’t worry about doing something great. Resolve to do some good.”

SOMEONE give me an amen here, brothers and sisters! Maybe I’m the only one who needed to hear this, but my goodness, the woman couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any harder if she would have tried.

If you’re like me, you’ve focused WAY too much on doing something great and forgotten to do some good. I’m so thankful for the Lord blessing me with a kick in the pants today. It was an encouraging kick, though! :) I hope your wheels are spinning just as mine are right now both about the way you approach the Word, sermons, etc. and the way you serve. I don’t need to say anything more. What God says and what Beth said speak for themselves. You apply it yourself.

Here’s to doing some good and letting the Lord speak when and as he desires,

Hannah

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The Language of Crying

As is customary for me on Christmas Eve, I can’t sleep. It used to be caused by the anticipation of Santa Claus stopping by to fill up the area underneath the Christmas tree. Let’s be honest: I was 22 or 23 before I stopped getting absolutely giddy about Christmas morning for that very reason, Santa or not. :)

For the past few years I’ve been unable to sleep for a very different reason (and thankfully a much better one). The story of God coming to earth in the form of a baby has gripped my heart in a new way (and a different way each year) over the past few years.

I began a bible study on the book of Malachi on Monday. One of the very first subjects the author of the study covers is this idea of “rhetorical disputation.” To quote the Grinch, “Holiday hooby whatty?!” It’s the concept of God saying something to his people, and his people automatically respond with something along the lines of a ‘prove it!’ mentality (in other words, they question it), to which God gives them one heck of an answer that more than proves his original point. The book of Malachi starts with God saying, “I have loved you,” and his people responding with, “How have you loved us?” Go read Malachi 1 for God’s pretty poignant response. The beauty of the statement is the verb form of “have.” It lends itself to meaning that he has loved them – period. Not, “I have loved you because you got your act together,” or “I have loved you as a result of the good works you do,” or “I have loved you because you’ve followed the rules.” If there was ever a nation that didn’t do what God said, it was his own people Israel! But the “have” there implies that God has already loved them before they straightened things out, before they walked the straight & narrow, and outside their efforts as humans. Way cool.

Malachi has had me thinking about the 400 year silence between the end of his book and the beginning of the New Testament time period, which begins with the birth of Jesus. And here’s what has struck me this year that I’ve never thought about before: The first time God speaks in 400 years, he uses cries and whimpers instead of intelligible words. A newborn baby’s first screams and shrieks outside the womb are the very first sounds to come from Heaven in 400 years! One moment God hasn’t spoken for four centuries, and the very next moment the silence is broken by childbirth. By this point, Israel wouldn’t have necessarily known what to even listen for when trying to hear Yahweh. They’d never experienced it. They were 400 years removed from the last time a prophet brought the Word of the Lord to the people. Who would have expected to listen for God to speak through one of our most common reactions to life, heartache, struggle, overwhelming joy, death, victory, a baptism, conviction, repentance, loosed chains of addiction, music, love, lost love, burning anger, sadness, life-altering news, and a host of other situations? It’s crying. He cries. Think about it: What better way to communicate to the world than with the reaction that is so common in so many circumstances that every human experiences at some time? It’s a universal language! The first time God ‘speaks,’ he uses a language that anyone could have understood: the cry of a newborn baby. John 1:4 – “In him was life (emphasis mine), and that life was the light of all mankind.” Life is never more apparent than the first few moments after a mother gives birth! It’s never more anticipated than then! And it’s marked with a cry.

If we need to know and see how personal, how real, how raw, how relatable, how tender, heck – even how forceful and strong (have you heard a newborn cry recently?! The little dudes don’t hold back!) our God is, we need to look no further than the manger and hear the first sounds that rang out from Heaven in over 400 years. Jesus’ cries were, in that moment, heard only by those who surrounded his manger that night, but they have echoed in eternity as the most relatable speech he could have brought to earth to begin his life.

And that life is full circle. He both begins and ends his life crying. One cry brought about the newness of life and the beginning of a 33-year-long journey that led to his final cries on the cross as a grown man, battling all of hell’s forces to save the wretches like you and me.

Our God truly is amazing, and he is so, so good even when our lives or situations are not. I hope you’ll take time this Christmas Day to consider Jesus’ cries, and to express to him the cries of your heart. He knows it. He gets it. Lay your heart’s cry at the manger, and listen for his. What a beautiful way to break 400 years’ worth of silence: the cry of newborn life.

Merry Christmas.

..Hannah

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I’m moving to Virginia!

Since I’ve known since January, I figure it’s time I announce this. :) That picture you see is in the choir room at a school tucked away in the mountains in Virginia. So….

I’m moving to Grundy, Virginia to work at Mountain Mission School!

For those of you familiar with MMS, you know that this is such a unique opportunity – one that still makes me ask God, “Are you totally sure you have the right person for this?!” I’ll be teaching choir and living with the high school girls. For those unfamiliar with the school, the staff is full time. Like, full time: The staff members are teachers, counselors, mentors, shoulders to cry on, cheerleaders, etc – and I think those are just the roles they play before 10 AM. :) Life is lived day in and day out with these kiddos. It’s a mission of the neatest kind. Kids from 18 months through 20 years old are living and being raised to know Jesus at Grundy. I’ll be moving on June 29.

Common questions I’ve been asked recently:

Are you excited?

Yes, I’m excited, albeit completely terrified. I’ll be excited once the stress of the move is over and I figure out what I’m doing (And no, I haven’t started packing, so if you have any boxes you need to get rid of, I’m your girl! …or if you want to sell me a flat screen TV at a decent price :) Doesn’t have to be flat screen, but they’re easier to mount :) ).

How in the world did this come up?

Long story short, I heard about the job not being filled and tried to avoid it like the plague. SOMEONE (read: Dave Sims) told them I had a music degree and a background working with juvenile delinquents & teens in general. The rest is pretty much history.

Are you near the beach? (Where’s Grundy?)

The exact opposite, actually. :) It’s in Appalachia right next to the Kentucky border – about 45 minutes from Pikeville, KY. I’ll be about 6-7 hours away from FoCo. In other words, not so far that y’all can’t saddle up the horses and come visit. :)

Is that the choir that comes to Sterling every now & then and sings?

Sure is! MMS’s choir is a traveling choir (so much like Chorale, for those of you fellow IWU Chorale clods). I will, of course, post all tour dates. If you can, come see the kiddos sing! You will not regret it! Friends from college & friends all over, I would love to see you again if we’re ever singing in your area, and I know you’d be blessed by their songs.

How can I be praying for you?

Short answer? Yes. That’s how you can pray for me. All of the things need prayed for. :)
Allow me to be transparent for a second. When I made the decision, there wasn’t an, “Ah ha!” moment with God where the sky split open, a dove descended, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I was meant to do. Quite frankly, I don’t much buy into this ever-present idea of seeking out a calling for one’s life day after day. I can tell you what your calling is: Go and make disciples of all nations (did I mention Grundy has over 60 countries represented there?). That’s what you’re called to do. You’re called to make disciples wherever you’re at. I believe God places calls on peoples’ lives, absolutely. Paul is a great example. But Paul was going about his business, doing what he thought he was supposed to be doing when God made his red carpet appearance (Granted, Paul was murdering Christians for their faith, but he was convicted that he was doing the right thing, and he pursued that. I’m not saying that makes it right. I’m saying he went about with his daily life and God stepped down into that to get him to go elsewhere. He didn’t spend night after night agonizing over whether or not he was “following God’s will for his life.”) All of that to say, I’m leaping in faith. I’m diving in head-first and not looking back. I’m doing it because I’m (at least somewhat) equipped to do it, and Grundy has a need. There’s the bare-bones answer. So I need prayer! Ways to be praying:

Pray for the kids. This whole thing is first of all about Jesus and second of all about them. They need your prayers to continue to grow and be shaped into the people God wants them to be. Pray that whatever it is God needs them to know, I get out of the way and teach it in such a way that it goes beyond choral music. Pray that this is never about the music, but that the music is just another avenue to glorify God. Pray for a smooth transition for them as they adjust to a new teacher!

Pray that I stay open to opportunities and surrender my abilities to God. I was recently asked to teach elementary music, and I have absolutely zero experience in that arena. I feel like the widow bringing two small coins. I have literally no experience, but I’m willing to try it. Pray that continues. I’m the kind of person that either shuts down completely when I don’t have immediate success, or I go all-out and fight to get to the top. Neither of those are healthy, obviously. Pray for balance and just a willing heart. That’s all God needs to work through people, if I remember correctly.

Pray that I would stay out of the way. If I’m going to do this and do this well, it will be purely because of the grace of God. Done any other way, it’s destined to fail. We have a huge opportunity coming up at the end of October and the only way it’s going to be considered at all “successful” (albeit in worldly, human terms) is through our hard work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and God’s sweet & sovereign grace!

Building relationships with the students. This will have to have careful attention, especially this first year, as these kids neither know nor trust me.

Adjusting to Grundy life. It’s a total 180 from life as I’ve known it for 25 years!

While I’m very sad to be leaving Fountain County, I’m pretty excited (read: still terrified) for what’s ahead, especially considering some prayers I began praying and questions I began asking God around October of 2014.

Many people have also asked how all of this is going to work out now that I’m now dating someone who lives in South Carolina. I’ll tell y’all the same thing I’ve said since Grundy became an option in December when I wasn’t dating anyone: I’m not at Grundy for one year. I’m not at Grundy for 25 years. I’m at Grundy for however long the good Lord wants me there. If that’s one year, fine. If that’s the rest of my life, fine. If that’s 7 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 3 days, then fine.
God has continually reassured me since making the decision (in January) in the gentlest yet most obvious ways that this is exactly what I need to be doing at this time. As I said before, there was never some moment of the sky being split open and I was given a 100% definitive answer, but since making the decision there has been continual reassurance that I’m walking/tripping/stumbling/skipping/falling flat on my face on the path I should be walking down/tripping all over/stumbling here and there down/skipping down joyfully/falling flat on my face on. :) I watched a video about adoption a few weeks ago and the mom’s words really struck a chord (ha! get it? Chord.. Cord.. I’m teaching choir….) with me: “Pursue it until God closes the door. If the door doesn’t close and you’re continuing to ask him to guide you, keep going.”

Truth be told, I tried multiple times to get the door to close. It didn’t, and it wouldn’t. I’ll be at Grundy until God grants me his blessing to go elsewhere or until he calls me elsewhere. I’ll pursue him where I’m planted, regardless of where that is, and I’ll continue to contribute to making disciples where I’m at, wherever that is. As for tomorrow, I’m not going to worry about it. Jesus can take care of it. I have enough on my plate today. And as for June 29, the day is quickly approaching, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t tear up even thinking about it. I’m leaving a lot of wonderful people and the place that has been home to me.

So there it is in a nutshell! I covet all of your prayers and cardboard boxes. :)
Pray. Seek. Do.

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Accountable for bloodshed: Turning the other cheek – Part 2

Day 5 of the Scripture challenge – final day, so I figured I’d save the most controversial for last. :) If you missed them, check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. Also, you should probably read the first part of this blog prior to continuing as well.

Before I go any further with this, we need to have a chat. I don’t give two stinks about whether or not you agree with me on any of the verses/passages I’ve written about.. If you agree with me, I don’t care. If you disagree with me, I don’t care. The only thing I care about is that you truly dig into God’s Word on your own and make a decision in light of the entirety of Scripture, the context, the language snafus going from Hebrew to English, the cultural context, etc. If you can tell me you’ve really dug into these topics and yet disagree with me wholeheartedly, then fine. That’s on your plate, and what I believe is on my plate. I’m accountable for that, and you’re accountable for what you believe. If you’re comfortable with that and okay with that and have no qualms, then more power to you. Romans 14 is where you need to direct your attention right now. Please, please please read this chapter before proceeding. We’re all at different points on the spectrum of weak and strong. While I believe that this truly is an issue that scripture is pretty black and white about (an example of one that is not black & white could be drinking or watching rated R movies – lots of context and details to think about), it does require a considerable amount of digging and wrestling through. This is one that I am continuously re-evaluating to be sure that I’m not blinded by my upbringing or something similar.

Second little tid bit I want to cover is this: Why should you believe me? What authority do I have? Well, none. I have no authority. I have no degree in bible, philosophy, theology, biblical Hebrew, biblical Greek, underwater basket-weaving, flame-throwing, or anything related. My degree is in Church Music and Worship. The only thing I can tell you is this: I’ve wrestled with this topic time and time again. I’ve looked at the entirety of Scripture, and I’ve taken into consideration the fullness of God’s character that I currently understand (this is an ever-evolving concept for me, as I am always learning about him). So with that…

Day 5 – Matthew 5:38-39

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Let’s start with a viewpoint that is all but the exact opposite of mine in a lot of ways: Read this. No really. You have to go read this. Disclaimer: If you don’t have time to read this stuff, then this isn’t the blog for you. You need to read everything I’m telling you because it matters and it’s important. Do a little work and read. Also, for the rest of this blog I will refer to gun ownership quite often, as this is the most common method of lethal force in the face of grave or immediate danger or threat to life and limb (which happens to be the definition of when a free and law-abiding citizen can legally use lethal force).

First of all, if we really want to talk about the way of Jesus not making sense, then I would encourage this guy to get off the Internet, sell his computer, sell his home, and take seriously Jesus saying that “the son of man has no place to rest his head.” If we are truly going to follow in Jesus’ footsteps the way blog author Tim Archer seems to be interpreting Scripture, then let’s bust out the For Sale signs. To push a few more buttons, how very interesting that some want to label me as unChristian for defending self-defense (even from a biblical standpoint) yet they themselves have an iPhone, a Mac, a TV, and so forth. Nevermind the fact that many companies today are exploiting overseas workers through the production of these items, but instead, please tell me how it is scriptural for you to own any of those luxuries, especially when they can be used for such terrible things. Oh, but you can control what you see on TV and what you use your iPhone to search for? I likewise can control the use of my own guns. And mine are made in the USA – legally, by adults who are paid fairly. Just sayin’.

If you are a gun owner or support the right and do so for self-defense reasons (among others, but if you shoot purely for sport and not for self-defense, then this won’t apply to you), I hope you have wrestled through the concept of self-defense. I hope that if you are both a committed disciple of Jesus and a gun owner that you have, at some point, questioned your own views. This is important. I definitely disagree with the guy for multiple reasons, but I’ll get to that. However, he’d be correct to say that Jesus didn’t fight back…at least during his crucifixion, when he was dying for the sins of the world. Jesus was not a popular guy with the government or with religious rulers – we know that much. However, the New Testament doesn’t seem to touch the self-defense issue, while the Old Testament states that it’s entirely justified (Matt. 5:18 – please keep this in mind). Was Jesus ever attacked and we don’t know it? Did he ever have to defend himself and we don’t have it recorded? Logic would say that he would have had to have fought back if his life was going to be put in immediate and grave danger, would it not? If he couldn’t flee, either he or one of the disciples would have had to have fought back! (Likely Peter, seeing as how we know he carried a sword — and by the way, Jesus was cool with that). Jesus couldn’t die prematurely. He had to die a very specific death. Quite frankly, given the corruption of individuals like Herod, it would in no way surprise me if this guy tried to hire con men to do away with Jesus before he was taken captive to be killed. Is there proof that Jesus ever defended his life against a premature threat? No, but I think I’m allowed to ask the question.

Working off that, I think Scripture speaks quite a bit to individuals not fighting back in the middle of religious persecution. We have record of early Christians willingly walking into the arena to be torn apart by wild animals. Iranaeus didn’t consider himself a Christian until he was martyred. However, this isn’t the context in which this guy is writing. Am I going to whip out my gun and shoot someone who says, “Bow to me!”? No. Regardless of Christian beliefs, I know the legal system: if my life isn’t in immediate and grave danger, I can’t pull that trigger without being charged with, bare minimum, second degree murder. If that man pulls a gun on me and says, “Reject God and bow to me or be killed!” in the name of Islam will I do it? I’m torn. My immediate reaction is no because that is religious persecution, and that is what Scripture speaks to. How quickly we forget that Peter was carrying the rifle of his day – a sword. He whipped it out and hacked someone’s ear off, to which Jesus told him to put it away, but he never told him to get rid of it. How interesting it is that it doesn’t record him calling the weapon evil or reprimanding him for having it, or telling him to sell it. I’m not going to put words in Jesus’ mouth and try to guess why he didn’t tell him to. But can we just read a passage from Luke real fast? Luke 22:3-38-

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

Hmm.

The author of this article talking about religious persecution and trying to cram self-defense into this belief system, and that just doesn’t work. If someone attacks me on the street unannounced and I can defend myself with my pistol, will I? Yes. Quite frankly, I see nothing in Scripture that speaks against this. What in the world does someone attacking me on the street, who doesn’t know me, who has no clue I’m a Christian, have to do with religious persecution? We’re confusing two very different situations. To add fuel to the fire here, I’m torn with this issue of persecution. If others’ lives are at steak, you better believe I’ll fight back. 100%. I’ll touch on this later, but whether or not they confess to be Christians, I legitimately do not know where they will “end up.” I’m not God. I don’t hold those answers. To allow someone to be killed because I think I know where they’re going is dangerously close to playing God in my opinion. I believe we also have a responsibility to one another to keep each other safe. Ezekiel 33. I’d rather err on the side of defending innocent life and eliminating a threat that is pure evil and a threat to the lives of others as opposed to knowing I stood back and did nothing. If you were to survive somehow while the other died, I wish you the best of luck in living the rest of your life without feeling as if their blood was on your hands when you could have done something about it yet did not. If that’s a risk you’re willing to take, then that’s your call. However, as someone who seeks to be a peacemaker and live in harmony, yet is trained to restore harmony when someone upsets that balance, I will not hesitate to use said training. I’ve not been trained as a cold-blooded killer. I’ve been trained as a law-abiding citizen, who makes it a point to mind her Ps & Qs, who absolutely will not result to lethal force unless it is the only option in defending my life, the life of the innocent, or the life of a loved one. I hope to God I never have to use it.

Anyway..

I’d be interested to know how he would define who Jesus’ enemies were as well. I’m assuming the answer would be anyone who didn’t agree with his teachings, seeing as how we don’t really have reference to any other type of person within Scripture (yes, there were people who wanted to kill him, but it was because of his teachings). Jesus’ resistors were those who didn’t buy into him being the Messiah. They were the ones who wanted to kill him, for both good and bad reasons (i.e. the religious leaders). Bad reasons – their egos were hurt and they wanted this guy out. “Good” reasons (in their mind, for their day and time) – if you believed someone to be an absolute heretic in what they preached, and also believed they were total blasphemers, then by Old Testament law it made sense that they wanted the guy dead! That doesn’t mean they were right, but it at least gives us a little understanding as to what they were thinking. I think there was a guy named Paul who did something similar to Christians and admitted that he thought he was doing good and realized he wasn’t. Back to my original point: Jesus resistors (as far as we know) weren’t people who wanted to kill him in cold-blooded murder with no rhyme or reason. To do so would have gone against Old Testament law. That takes care of the religious leaders. Government officials – this guy was clearly not good for keeping the government in power over its citizens. He was disturbing the peace. Whether or not they followed OT law matters very little in regards to my point. My point is that all of the people who wanted to do away with Jesus had reasons for wanting to do away with him. All of these reasons were justifiable in their minds, culture, and society and actually make sense if we’re willing to be such heathens to go as far as placing ourselves in their shoes. Jesus was not randomly attacked that we have recordings of, which is the discrepancy with what this guy is saying. If this guy wants to try to relate unjustifiably justified (ha!) reasons for eliminating upheaval with something like a random attacking, shooting, or home invasion, then I wish him all the luck in the world. The two just don’t add up, and quite frankly, I just don’t see proof that personal defense when attacked ruthlessly and pointlessly is bad or contrary to Scripture.

The fact that he attempted to –

“According to the norms and standards of this world, Jesus’ way is a complete and utter failure. It offers little to no protection to its followers. It’s manner of dealing with evil men does little to dissuade them from their immoral deeds. It gives us no sense of vindication, no gratifying undoing of the wrongs of men.

By men’s standards, Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

That’s why so few would be willing to turn the other cheek, for example. They want turning the other cheek to stop the violent man in his tracks. They want submission to aggression to cause the aggressors to repent of their ways and begin to defend the innocent.”

– tells me he’s missing the disconnect. The NRA has nothing to do with religious persecution. I’m not resisting persecution by being a member. I’m not resisting anything, actually. I’m taking advantage of a freedom and right that I have as defined by our founding fathers (who were VERY Christian, might I add), and I am doing so not to take advantage of being able to take someone’s life, but to defend my own God-given life. You could argue that I’m resisting the government, but I would challenge your interpretations of my motives. I’m advocating for freedom. Pardon me here, but there are times when I think the, “Live and let live” philosophy isn’t a bad idea. Don’t interrupt social peace and you won’t have to worry about social justice. Period. Use your gun for good and you don’t have to worry about someone else using it, not for bad, but to defend their good.

“Just as Jesus’ way doesn’t fit the real world, the world’s way doesn’t fit Jesus’ kingdom. In the Kingdom of God, the world’s way doesn’t work.”

Please don’t try to tell me that Jesus wasn’t a fan of justice. I don’t even need to reference the Temple incident. I know that’s already in your mind. If you aren’t isn’t a fan of that one, let’s look at one that would seemingly derail my point. The woman caught in adultery. First of all, I’d like to point out that the story had absolutely nothing to do with adultery or the consequences thereof, yet we’ve made it about that to argue that Christians should be against the death penalty. Substitute any sinful act you want, and it still has everything to do with trying to catch Jesus in a bind. They could have used a hundred different scenarios to do this. Adultery was not integral to this story. However, let’s assume it was for the sake of me being on the losing end of the argument. Jesus doesn’t say they can’t stone her, but he makes it apparent that they have no right to (again, nothing to do with adultery) in light of their attitudes and knowing their approach and why they were doing what they were doing. What’s he tell the woman? He doesn’t condemn her, but tells her to go and leave her life of sin. Now allow me to make one of my beliefs very, very clear: Jesus died for eternal consequences. Not earthly ones. This woman, guaranteed, did not live an easy life after this moment. She was a whore. If she had no family or her family wouldn’t take her back, she had nowhere to go. She would have few to no options. Let’s just be real about the situation. The earthly consequences she would have endured from this moment on would have given her challenges for the rest of her life and most likely made her miserable. She is reduced to begging if she is to “go and sin no more.” Even if she weren’t, the emotional baggage she’s left with, the physical repercussions, the social repercussions, etc are all earthly consequences. Jesus didn’t take these away from her. This is the result of sin. We bring it upon ourselves with our own willful decisions to go astray. I’ve made my own stupid decisions, and I have to live with those consequences, fully aware that Jesus has forgiven me, but fully aware that there are consequences to my actions. Jesus didn’t die for those earthly consequences. That’s when you have an imbalance between grace and Truth. For there to be zero consequences would be all grace and no Truth. Perhaps I am horribly wrong, but I’m going to draw the conclusion that the same can be said for an individual who chooses to randomly step in and impose on someone’s well-being by being a life-threat to them. Part of the consequence of breaking into my house with intent to do harm to myself or my family will not bode well for you, gun or no gun. Welcome to natural consequence. If you personally want to take the stance of, “Well, I know where I’m going. I don’t know where he’s going,” then that’s fine. If that’s your conviction, so be it. That is not mine, ESPECIALLY if others dear to me are involved. I will not sit back and make the claim of, “Well, I know where they’re going, so it sucks, but it’s fine.” Quite frankly, I do NOT know where they’re going because I am NOT God. What do I do about family members who do NOT know Christ, as I do have many of those? Do I allow them to be murdered? If you’d like to accuse me of placing more value on one life over another, I will remind you that three more fingers point towards you when you point one towards me. Unless you are living the life that Mother Teresa lived, I’m going to challenge how much you truly value the lives of others around you. Just because I defend something as controversial as gun ownership and the use of such things in situations of self-defense does not mean I’m the only one defending something that’s up for interpretation. Congratulations on tithing a whole 10%, but please justify the usefulness of owning a new car, a laptop, a Blu-ray player, or a $70 pair of shoes that cost $10 to make and gives back even cheaper pairs to the shoeless “for every pair you buy.” Here’s a thought: buy a pair yourself and give the shoes to someone in your own community. Oh, but heaven forbid we actually do ministry ourselves.

Going further along in the article… All of the Revelation references speak directly to religious persecution – of which I clearly agree with – but they still have nothing to do with personal defense. I have SERIOUS issues with something he said: “It (the way of Jesus) doesn’t protect the weak or avenge the innocent.” If this is true, then expect Esther to show up in hell. She put her head on the chopping block to save her people. Damn her for defending them. Damn her for exposing that shrew Haman. God’s people should have willingly endured what Haman was going to bring against them. Pull away your abortion arguments. Stop defending the innocent.

Can I be brutally honest? Like, Hannah kinda-honest? I wholeheartedly believe Satan is taking advantage of our “turn the other cheek” belief. I really do. I think he’s sinking it into the hearts and minds of Christians that we are to, in no way, defend ourselves against any sort of evil or injustice. God commanded that we endure persecution should we stand toe-to-toe with it. I get that. In my mind it isn’t all that fun of an idea, but I get it. But to willingly allow some random psychopath to take away God-given life? Do we hold so little value over this awesome experience of life that we are in no way willing to defend it? We’ll defend the unborn, but we all of a sudden have a moral dilemma defending the born? We contradict our own views! It doesn’t add up! Christians should have called David Green and told him to drop the Hobby Lobby issue. Tell him to supply the healthcare for abortions. No more fighting. Tell him to turn the other cheek and not fight it. If we’re going to use this guy’s logic in one area, then let’s start using it everywhere. If we are going to build a theology off what this man is saying, then we should probably inform every police officer who is a serious Christian that he needs to take off his uniform and put the gun down. After all, they shouldn’t be fighting the violence.

Shoot, let’s get scientific about it. Your parasympathetic nervous system controls fight-or-flight. I am wired in such a way that, in darn near every situation I’m up against, I fight, and I fight hard. Do I look at God and tell him his design was flawed? I know we have the sin issue to deal with, but what do you do when your physiological make-up predisposes you to defense in a literal split-second situation? (let’s not confuse physiological and biological – I don’t want to leave gateways for the alternative lifestyle argument to somehow creep its way in here) Why does God design people who have justice (whether it be to defend life against attack be it physically, emotionally, or otherwise) almost literally coursing through their veins? Maybe it’s generations’ worth of sin. Perhaps my family comes directly from Cain and what I think is justice is actually cold-hearted malice. I’m sure you could somehow make the claim that my personality may very well be the result of generations of sin. I don’t have that answer. But I’m having a difficult time trying to figure out why God has made me so damned passionate about justice if there isn’t a reason behind it. Maybe I’m too much like Paul and think I’m defending the right thing when in all actuality I couldn’t be further from the truth. If that’s the case, then I’m hoping I head towards Damascus sooner rather than later, because fecal matter is about to hit the fan in our society. If I’m not supposed to be defending these issues the way that I am, then I hope he pulls me from this road quickly, because I’m very committed to defending what I believe.

Overall, I’m not seeing a balance of Truth and scriptural proof *IN CONTEXT* in what this guy is saying. He doesn’t explore how he may be wrong. He doesn’t explore the other side to things. I don’t see a lot of wrestling. I see a lot of sensationalist, Jesus-wants-you-to-be-miserableism coming from him, and that’s what I have a difficult time accepting. No, Jesus’ way isn’t easy. Anyone who’s been seriously following Christ for any amount of time knows that. But we contradict our own views as I’ve said before.

“If you’re looking for something that works, don’t look to Jesus’ teachings. But remember one thing: if you choose what makes sense to men, you’re choosing something that God despises. If your views line up with the views of your non-Christian neighbor, you’re probably not using God’s values. If your outlook is that of the Democrats or the Republicans or the Tea Partiers or NPR or the NRA, then you’re probably not following Jesus’ way.”

This is manipulation and it flat-out ticks me off. If nothing is ever going to make sense in this world, then first of all, you’re saying God can’t make sense of it. If it makes sense to no man, then I’d challenge whether it makes sense at all. I have a lot of non-Christian friends who are against guns. I guess that gives me freedom to value them… In all seriousness though, this man is attempting to bring doctrines of persecution into things that have absolutely nothing to do with persecution, and as I’ve said, that’s the root of my issue with what he’s saying. Also, the NRA holds prayer meetings, and my views are pretty in-line with that, so I guess I’m as sinful as they come (sorry, more sarcasm)..

Maybe I’m “clinging to guns & religion.” Shoot, maybe I’m just clinging to guns.  Until God convicts me that defending my own life that HE gave me against monsters who have nothing to do with persecution, chances are I’m not going to give up this fight. If Obama or some ISIS extremist wants to knock down my door himself and tell me to bow to him or I get shot, then that’s different.

From Titus 1: “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silent, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.”

Maybe I need to do some examination and this is me. Maybe I’m not conforming to the image of Christ. When I pray, “More You, less me,” maybe I’m not really open to that. After all, there’s no record of Jesus carrying a weapon (also no record that he didn’t, but let’s operate under the assumption that he didn’t just so I’m on the losing end), but there’s also no record of him rebuking at least one of the disciples for carrying one.

One more thing. It’s interesting that some Christians want to bash gun ownership and gun owners any time this topic is brought up. That’s probably a super effective way to evangelize to those who are adamantly pro-gun and yet don’t know Jesus. I hear that whole relating thing is worthless. After all, the Bible never mentions anything about becoming all things to all men.

Oops.

Quite frankly, I’m very, VERY disappointed with those Christians who are adamantly refusing to see the other side, especially when the argument for pro-gun/pro-defense practices can be made with a biblical perspective. I’m disappointed because individuals who have never taken into consideration how a person can own a gun and can defend life and can still follow Christ is far beyond irritating. Think critically, dear friends. Think far more critically than you are now. Please think critically if you are an individual who knows little to nothing about self-defense and its presence throughout Scripture except what you’ve heard in sermons. If you have not actually looked at this outside of church, if you have not honestly studied any of this but instead you’re piggy-backing off of someone else’s theology, a societal trend, or an emotional reaction, then please – for the sake of those of us who are attempting to build a biblical and accurate viewpoint (however controversial it may seem because your favorite pastor is completely opposed yet knows nothing himself), either shut up or start digging and studying (I say that with all the love and respect in the world. But there are really only two options here).

Defend yourself. Defend the people you love. Defend the gift of life God’s given you instead of trying to be a martyr in a situation that doesn’t call for martyrdom. Find the lives of the innocent valuable enough to defend them both before and after they’re born.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Accountable for bloodshed: Turning the other cheek – Part 1

Day 5 of the Scripture challenge – final day, so I figured I’d save the most controversial for last. :) If you missed them, check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. I apologize for Day 5 coming on Day 12 or something like that. Life exploded over the past couple of days.

Before I go any further with this, we need to have a chat. I don’t give two stinks about whether or not you agree with me on any of the verses/passages I’ve written about.. If you agree with me, I don’t care. If you disagree with me, I don’t care. The only thing I care about is that you truly dig into God’s Word on your own and make a decision in light of the entirety of Scripture, the context, the language snafus going from Hebrew to English, the cultural context, etc. If you can tell me you’ve really dug into these topics and yet disagree with me wholeheartedly, then fine. That’s on your plate, and what I believe is on my plate. I’m accountable for that, and you’re accountable for what you believe. If you’re comfortable with that and okay with that and have no qualms, then more power to you. Romans 14 is where you need to direct your attention right now. Please, please please read this chapter before proceeding. We’re all at different points on the spectrum of weak and strong. While I believe that this truly is an issue that scripture is pretty black and white about (an example of one that is not black & white could be drinking or watching rated R movies – lots of context and details to think about), it does require a considerable amount of digging and wrestling through. This is one that I am continuously re-evaluating to be sure that I’m not blinded by my upbringing or something similar.

Day 5 – Matthew 5:38-39

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

I’ve heard few to no pastors offer much insight to this verse when it’s used in a sermon. Generally we’re telling people to resist defending themselves in a host of situations. The cut & dry version I’ve learned? I think I’ve been taught (from the pulpit in a host of different settings) that I should be willing to get the living tar beat outta me for Jesus and never defend myself. The goal of this blog is to pair this verse with the concept of self-defense, as I have heard many people use this verse in defense (ironically) of not “fighting back” when it comes to defending one’s life. (Disclaimer: I could nearly write an entire book on this topic, therefore that should tell you I could go on all night. I’m going to try to keep this as short & sweet as possible since Part 2 gets some real-life comparison between someone who has the exact opposite view of me. If you want to know more, then study more).

Some questions that I hope are running through your mind:
Are we justified in defending ourselves, our loved ones, and our homes? Is that what this verse speaks to?
When do we fight back for safety?
How do we fight back?
Does this mean that if someone attacks me on the street that if I have a concealed carry permit I can’t defend myself?

I want to explore some of these questions. I’m not seeking to give specific pin-pointed answers, but instead I want to provide you with some food for thought that perhaps has not been considered. You can draw your own conclusions.

Whenever a passage includes unexpected or unusual details, we should probably ask why they’re included and what they mean. A key word here is ‘right.’ Jesus is talking about being struck on the right cheek, specifically.

Jesus does not just tell someone who takes a fist to the face to expose the uninjured side. He gives clear instruction to expose the left cheek. This leads to a couple important questions. Why would Jesus indicate that the first blow will come to the right cheek? Why would he instruct someone to offer the left cheek to an attacking Roman soldier?

Roman soldiers tended to be right-handed. When they struck an equal with a fist, it came from the right and made contact with the left side of the face. When they struck an inferior person, they swung with the back of their right hand making contact with the right cheek. In a Mediterranean culture that made clear distinctions between classes, Roman soldiers backhanded their subjects to make a point. Jews were second-class. No one thought twice about the rectitude of treating lesser people with less respect. (Paul Pensley, Turning the Other Cheek)

In light of this information, should we view this verse as the guiding principle for home/self-defense, or is Jesus perhaps speaking more to defending the equality of the Jews with Roman citizens to the point of telling them to make a very, very bold statement about said equality? (I laugh when people say Jesus was passive. This man was anything but passive) Jesus’ words and instruction to the Jews was to make the Roman soldiers treat them like equals. A literal turn to the other cheek would leave them no options.

Regardless of the level of controversy, Scripture does reinforce the idea that self-defense is necessary and permissible. Another question we need to ask is one that I asked in an earlier post: Does this one verse that I’m looking at truly align with the entirety of the message of Scripture? Let’s check out a few verses:

“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2)

“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?  Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).

“If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood” (Ezekiel 33:6).

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe”  (Luke 11:21).

I find the verse from Ezekiel to be particularly interesting. If we see someone is in danger and we do nothing to protect their life, we’re held accountable for that. In other words, if I as a parent (let’s pretend) should, for some ungodly reason, be the coward of all cowards and do nothing to defend my child’s life if I know a psychopath has broken in my house and gone to his/her room, the psycho has the child’s blood on his hands, but I’m held accountable for not doing anything. Are you listening? This is the Word of God speaking.

I want to take into consideration another concept that Christians tend to feel very strongly about, and that’s abortion. I’d say that as a whole, we’re vehemently opposed. In fact, I’ll tell you how opposed I am: If I hear of a Christian who is ever okay with abortion in any circumstance where the mother’s life is not in immediate danger, I assume they aren’t actually a Christian. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Bible is it ever okay to terminate a pregnancy due to a rape, due to a one night stand, or due to the doctors believing the child is going to be deformed or handicapped. No where. So let’s just make that clear how vehement I am about this topic. Abortion is a no-go. I get the sense that many others are just as adamant.

With that in mind, I’m confused when I hear someone strongly oppose abortion while also strongly opposing the use of force to defend one’s life when said life is in grave and imminent danger. I’m going to set this aside with one question: Why are we willing to defend the life of the unborn but not of the born?

I worry that those who tend to lean to the passive side as well as the side that somewhat to adamantly opposes personal protection are a) buying into poor theology and b) grieve the heart of God. Hear me here: I believe God hates it that some of those he created are willing to murder in cold blood others he has created.. But I also believe there is a righteous anger and frustration in his heart when he hears one of his own who are not willing and ready to defend the lives of others around them when the murderer comes knocking on account that they never truly understood what it meant to turn the other cheek. I truly, honestly, and wholeheartedly wonder what runs through God’s mind when he hears of a husband who’s unwilling to defend the life of his wife and children in the face of adversity and sheer evil because he has a poor understanding of what it means to turn the other cheek. Speaking for myself, I value the gift of life given to me by God himself. I value the “miracle of life,” as we endearingly call it when a child is born, that he freely gave to me 25 years ago. I believe life is still a miracle, and I believe we should fight to defend said life. If we’re fighting for the fact that we’re fearful of death, then I believe we fight for the wrong reasons. But to say that God doesn’t want us to? I have a very difficult time with that in consideration with the rest of Scripture. A very difficult time. Ezekiel 33:6.

I’m not going to go on and on about this as I could, because I’m already pushing a 2,000-word blog. However, when we look at Scripture, we need to look at the entirety of Scripture and we need to dig. As pointed out in earlier posts, you can’t assume that the English language adequately encompasses the full meaning of the text, nor can you always take verses at face value because they have much richer meanings when we look at cultural context. If no one gains anything else from any of the junk I write, I really do hope that you see it’s necessary to dig beneath the surface.

Part 2 of this blog will look at someone else’s viewpoint that is radically opposed to my own. You’ll need to read the article beforehand and then click back here and read Part 2. I’d encourage you to take the time to truly read and consider both, not just skim and peruse.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Jeremiah 29:11. Insert projectile vomit here.

On Saturday I began the “Scripture challenge” that’s going around Facebook right now. You post one passage a day for five days, and you tag two new people each day to do the same. Truthfully, I find things like that to be hokey, but there was some conviction for me: What could I possibly post that’s more important than the Word of God? I’m not trying to pull a Jesus juke here, but seriously. Sometimes passages are what others need to hear because they’ve lost a lot of hope. Sometimes they cut us where we need to be cut, but there is always the promise of being renewed, rebuilt, and restored. In an effort to not “Jesus juke” the challenge and make it sound like life is peachy and perfect, or that God is a wealth, health & prosperity God, and being a Christian means happy trails all day long, I’m instead posting a passage each day that I hear quoted rather often and with good intentions, but generally the understanding is lacking or the verse is taken out of context. So if you missed them, check out Day 1Day 2, and Day 3.

Day 4 – Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11. The verse seems to bring warm, fuzzy feelings all around. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Aaaaw. Isn’t that nice? Allow me to explain my extreme want and need to hurl whenever I hear this verse quoted grossly out of context.

For those of you who read this verse trying to find comfort because you can’t decide what major to study, what job to take, what person to date, etc (insert hokey life decision here) you MIGHT want to read this verse in context. The Israelites were in captivity. Not just any ol’ captivity that they’d wandered into, but captivity that God had specifically put them in because of rebellion. Furthermore, what does God tell them in the verses prior to? (starting in verse 5)

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, see the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Emphasis mine)

These people are in the middle of exile.. banishment from their homeland because God had carried them there. Can you imagine the spiritual battles occurring?! Going on…

Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

God tells them that there are going to be people trying to convince them that they come in the name of the Lord, when really they’re doing nothing but tearing down their spiritual understanding in an already-distressed state. I understand that many people read this as “don’t worry, God has it under control.” Yes, that’s true. However, we’re failing to miss the real point in this story…

God may carry us into, or may allow us to be carried into spiritual exile – James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Trials are going to happen. The trials Paul refers to are different from the exile that God has carried the Israelites into. Our faith may land us in trials, as does our lack of faith. Lucky us, we all get to face trials, difficulties, and probably even a little bit of exile-type feelings! :) What did God tell the Israelites to do while they were there? Settle down. Make it feel like home, because you’re gonna be here for a while. Get comfortable and go about your daily life. Don’t change anything. Keep on keepin’ on. Too bad we leave that out whenever we read Jeremiah 29. Get comfortable with your distress, because God may need you there to teach you something. Too often I think we look for a way out of our messes. Should we? I’m tempted to think that even when we bring this upon ourselves that we aren’t necessarily going to find a way out. Jeremiah 30: 12-15 –

Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you. I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many. Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.

Let’s face it: If we need disciplined, it’s because we’ve lacked judgment skills somehow, somewhere. Discipline is necessary. And so when we’re in the middle of that discipline, we can’t act like the two-year-old trying to worm his way out of time-out. We have to see that discipline through to the end. Sometimes discipline might feel a little bit like spiritual exile. And then we try to get out as if we don’t deserve to be there. That’s cute. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think God wants us to be miserable. However, for those of us who have this outlandish appetite for sin, sometimes we need to be carried into exile and left there for a while. I’m not talking a forever, done deal, you’re in hell sort of exile. That’s not biblical. I’m not meaning for exile to sound like we’re separated entirely from God. God was still speaking through prophets while Israel was in exile. He hadn’t left them. He was ticked, but he hadn’t left them.

There are going to be moments when we aren’t going to know why things are occurring the way they are. That may be a good time for us to step out of the situation and ask ourselves if we’ve done something to get ourselves there. If so, we can probably assume God’s trying to get our attention.

For those who are truly walking with God, I don’t think he’ll hesitate to allow unfortunate circumstances to happen if that’s what it takes to get our attention when we’re spiritual space cases. I’m a little put off with people that say God won’t allow something unfortunate to happen to get our attention because he “loves us too much” to do something like that. Oh please. That’s the thing – he loves us too much to want to lose us. If it takes a little bit of pain to wake us up and turn us back to him, then I’m pretty sure that’s worth it.

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Proof. Hebrews 12:5-11. When God’s trying to get your attention, don’t make light of it. Don’t tell yourself you can put off responding until tomorrow. He’ll do what it takes to get you to wake up.

Does anyone ever read past verse 11 (in Jeremiah 29), or anything besides verse 11? Look at what comes after (starting in verse 12)…

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So when will we truly find God and truly understand his plans? When we seek him with our whole heart. Can we have a come to Jesus moment real quick? If you honestly expect for God to reveal some magical, perfect plan (or really, any realistic, God-honoring plan for that matter) for your life without ACTUALLY doing a little bit of work, you crazy. No, our relationship with him isn’t based on works, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I see people quoting the bible on Twitter profiles, in tweets, in Facebook statuses, etc. and yet everything else is total trash. Cussing, hardcore partying, disgusting tweets from some sex-laden account on Twitter, getting high, making excuses for addictions. Do you HONESTLY believe that Jesus is your homeboy and has no issue with you not living right? Get serious. “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34. Oh. Well snap. Guess that says something. Either you’re pursuing God or you’re not. Get off the fence and pick a side. Lukewarm isn’t the game Jesus plays (Revelation 3:16-18. Look it up.) Yes, he has plans for you, but if you’re sitting in the middle of exile, ask yourself why you’re there. Stop trying to fix the problem yourself. Look to Christ. Let him guide you. Let the Lord take you back to Jerusalem. You have to decide that you want to go back, but you have to allow him to take you back. You fell off the horse? Get back up and get back on the darn thing. Repent and do the things you did at first (Revelation 2:5). Keep going. There are few things as worthless as a Christian sitting and bathing themselves in self-pity. Jesus has this thing under control. Trust him and keep going. Guys, culture has lied to you. A lot of churches have lied to you. Some of you have seen the video of Debriah going on one heck of a rant about the church lying to people – it’s solid. A lot of people have silver tongues that promise a life of abundance if you’ll only believe in God. Please find that for me in the Bible. I must have missed that one. This girl right here has lived one serious lukewarm life. I was the ultimate fence rider for years. So many people did a wonderful job of loving on me during those years and for that I’m forever indebted to them. However, it wasn’t until a few friends basically looked at me, and with a whole lotta love said, “Pick a side. You aren’t a teenager anymore. This game is old. Grow up,” that I finally started doing it. And sometimes we need that. So if you’re pulling the crap I did: partying every now and then (“Hey, what’s a little too much to drink going to hurt?”), playing cat & mouse with the opposite sex (“I’ll only go this far…”), dancing with an addiction to, well, basically sex (“What’s it matter? I’ve screwed this up before. One more time isn’t going to do anything..”) – whatever it is you do – stop. Stop it. Just stop. This isn’t going to get you anywhere. There will always be another time. Knock it off and pursue Jesus. Your emotions may not be involved in your choices for a really long time – that doesn’t give you any excuse or reason to not choose the right thing. You want to know God’s plans for your life? Then pursue him instead of the rest of the world. You can’t do all of those things I was doing (or pick your sin – whatever) and still pursue God. It does not work that way. There’s a difference between falling short while pursuing God and pursuing the world while pursuing God. I was not just falling short – I was in an all-out pursuit for both lives and figuring out quickly that one had to win and the other had to die.

Scripture is a continual love story of God redeeming his people time and time and time and time and time again. But the thing about relationships is both sides have to work at it. Yes, God does have plans to prosper his people and not bring spiritual harm to them, however, if we think we can sit back and enjoy the ride without ever getting to know him, without ever listening for his voice and obeying that voice, without spending time in the Word then we’re lying to ourselves.

We should take heart in the fact that God is so relentless in pursuing us and knowing us that he’s willing to carry us into exile when we need it yet still speak hope into our lives. That’s an incredible God – a god that other religions have yet to ever know. Don’t make him into a shallow God that will be at your ever beckon call. His existence is not to cater to you when you need it and step aside once you have it figured out. We’re to be in communion with him. Walk with him. Spend time with him. Serve with him. He has plans for you, but it’ll be hard to listen for them if you don’t know the sound of his voice.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

P.S.

I didn’t include this in the post because it would have made it even longer, however, please keep in mind that this letter is written to a group, not an individual. Often we make it sound like God has one path and only one path for us *as individuals*, and we make ourselves miserable trying to figure that out. Well, take heart, friends. That’s not what this verse is about either. God was speaking to a community, not you as an individual. That’s a different post for a different day, but it’s some food for thought – you can do the dishes. ;)

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Delight yourself in the Lord and he probably won’t give you what you expected.

On Saturday I began the “Scripture challenge” that’s going around Facebook right now. You post one passage a day for five days, and you tag two new people each day to do the same. Truthfully, I find things like that to be hokey, but there was some conviction for me: What could I possibly post that’s more important than the Word of God? I’m not trying to pull a Jesus juke here, but seriously. Sometimes passages are what others need to hear because they’ve lost a lot of hope. Sometimes they cut us where we need to be cut, but there is always the promise of being renewed, rebuilt, and restored. In an effort to not “Jesus juke” the challenge and make it sound like life is peachy and perfect, or that God is a wealth, health & prosperity God, and being a Christian means happy trails all day long, I’m instead posting a passage each day that I hear quoted rather often and with good intentions, but generally the understanding is lacking or the verse is taken out of context. So if you missed them, check out Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 3 – Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Disclaimer: I LOVE this verse and I’ve learned a lot about it over the past few years as it has continually resurfaced in my life in a number of circumstances. Although I’m looking at how we take this verse out of context, I’m saying all of this as someone who definitely got it wrong for a longer amount of time than I’ve properly understood it. I also loathe this verse in a way (not overall – but… well, you’ll see), but I’ll get there.

If you were to look only at this verse and only at the translation to English, what does it look like this verse says? Well, basically, if you delight yourself in God’s ways and if you follow the rules, it will end well for you. You’ll get what your heart truly desires. This verse is alluring…almost tempting, is it not? It’s like we’re given the secret to winning the spiritual lottery. If I delight myself in God, he’ll give me everything I want.

When I first sought to gain a better understanding of this verse (as I assumed it was the equation to winning that spiritual lottery I talked about), the first question I asked myself was in comparison with the entirety of Scripture, is my understanding reinforced elsewhere in the bible, or do I perhaps have a famished understanding of this verse?

If we’re honest, the view that following rules equates to abundant blessing is not backed. The Pharisees followed the rules. Need I say more?

The second question I had to hound after was what do key words in this verse actually mean in the original Hebrew? All too often our English version just doesn’t do the Hebrew language justice. That’s not to say that we haven’t come as close as possible. Translations continue to be written that help give better insight to what the original language and message said. However, there are words in Hebrew that are too rich to put to English words – we don’t even have words that accurately describe some Hebraic text. Our language pales in comparison (which I find to be stellar)! So let’s break it down into two parts:

1. “Delight yourself in the Lord…”

“Delight” (עָנַג, pronounced aw-nag) literally means to be delicate or feminine (Strong’s, עָנַג.) It carries the idea of being pliable or sensitive.  In this particular context, it means to be dependent upon God and to derive one’s pleasure from Him.

Following the rules while trying to make ourselves ‘happy’ about it and being pliable in God’s hands are two vastly different concepts. One requires a pulse and some will power. The other requires a relationship. Instead of trying to force ourselves to be happy or ‘delight’ in following what many see as a rule book, perhaps we should spend time getting to know the One who inspired the whole shebang while we read into his Word (which starts to look a lot less like a rule book the more we’re in relationship with God). True delight in God – a true desire to be pliable in his hands – requires that we seek him. It requires that we be as intentional with him as he has been with us. Half-hearted obedience is just as bad as full-throttle rebellion.

A few verses…

Psalm 63:1 – You, God, are my god, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

1 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Jeremiah 29:13 – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Psalm 27:4 – One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Philippians 3:8 – What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Please catch this: When we seek God whole-heartedly, sometimes it costs us everything. Delighting oneself in God is not a matter of emotion: It’s a matter of commitment. Is Psalm 37:4 an invitation to a moment in time or is it a command with a promised blessing behind it?

2. “…and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The term translated “desires” (מִשְׁאָלָה, pronounced mish-aw-law) refers to petitions or requests (TWOT, מִשְׁאָלָה.) Do a Google search and you’ll quickly discover that in ancient Jewish culture, the heart was the very core of who someone was. We closely link our emotions with our hearts and thoughts with our minds. Not so for the Hebraic culture. Everything was an overflow of the heart. Both emotions and thoughts flowed from the heart. What we know, feel, and will we ascribe to the mind. They would have ascribed it to the heart. It is considered the very seat of emotional and intellectual activity. Proverbs 4:23 suddenly has renewed meaning: Guarding the heart insured it being physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually guarded, not just emotionally or mentally.

All right so let me throw some of my own thoughts in here. So what about ‘desires?’ I’ve wrestled with this verse recently due to the way God is currently shaking up my life. He knows that I think it’s a desire of my heart that I be married one day, but he’s getting ready to place me in a situation where that isn’t going to be much of an option. I’ve come back to this verse time and time again and told myself, “Just follow him. Trust him. Have faith in him. He’ll work this whole thing out.” Honestly, I think I’m lying to myself because I don’t think I’ve had a full understanding of this verse. Go with me here for a second. The psalmist tells us that God will honor our delighting in Him by graciously giving us what we are asking of Him from the very depths of our being. But here’s the issue: What we think are our deepest desires may not be so. I guarantee you that someone who considers their deepest desire to be an amazing career is not at the root desire. I guarantee you that someone who longs for marriage is not at their deepest desire. I guarantee you that someone who wants their shot at center stage is not recognizing their deepest-seeded desire. These are ways that those desires manifest themselves, but they’re not the root, because we all know there’s more to life than a great career, a marriage that will eventually end (because death will do you part), and fifteen minutes of fame.

So what if this verse speaks to a command to embark on an incredible journey? Not that any of those things are bad – please don’t get me wrong – but what if it shouldn’t stop there? I think this is where we have to recognize that we are not our own. Sometimes we don’t even fully recognize what our deepest desires are. For me, I think my deepest desire is marriage because I’ve convinced myself that that’s the only way I’ll ever truly understand intimacy (something I tend to cringe at, regardless of still desiring it). But if my deepest desire is truly intimacy, and I’m continuing to delight in God by allowing him to mold me, and mold my desires to what his desires are, then maybe the best way for me to understand intimacy isn’t through marriage. Does that make sense? As I allow myself to be clay in the Potter’s hands (as opposed to the clumpy dirt balls I often try to be…), he’ll likely continue to mold me in a way I didn’t anticipate. The clay never has a say in what it becomes. That’s the potter’s job.

If we’re truly allowing him to mold us, he becomes our desire. It’s really that simple. When we delight ourselves in him, he gives us what our hearts desire most, and that’s him. Whether or not we’re in a place where we are willing to recognize that, it’s true. We’ve just tried to shove a lot of things into a God-shaped whole in our hearts. If we rely on him and derive our primary worth, pleasure, and joy from him, then he’s the desire. The promise is not that we’ll receive whatever we think we want. The promise is that we’ll receive what we truly, deeply want…and coincidentally, need.

Just some thoughts. I’ll leave it there.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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If grapes are growing on your pepper plants, then we have a problem.

In case you missed yesterday’s post, click here.

Day 2 – Matthew 7:1-2

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it be be measured to you.”

Lemme guess: You’ve heard and/or used this at least 850 times in your life to prove a point or you’ve heard someone else use it to prove their point.

“Don’t judge me.”
“Only God can judge me. The Bible says so.”
“We have no right to judge those who believe differently than we do.”
“I’m not judging you for your lifestyle…”

If it includes some form of ‘judge,’ you’ve probably heard or said it. Our culture is huge on this one right now, because judgment means we’re telling someone they’re wrong, and who am I to tell someone else how to live their life, or that what they’re doing is wrong? It’s their life, after all. Not mine.

The problem is we have a really crappy idea of what judgment is. We think that someone telling us that what we’re doing is wrong is itself wrong, or we think that just because someone doesn’t approve of what we do, think, or say that they’re hate-mongers who live their lives discriminating everyone.

Just like last night, let’s once again operate under the assumption that we’ve taken this verse out of context and, once again, have a terrible understanding of it.

The problem with this verse is we pull it entirely out of context. We remove that single verse with the takeaway that Jesus told us we shouldn’t judge anyone. Absolutely. Even removing it from the rest of the verses still gives it the same meaning. We shouldn’t judge a single person. We don’t get to make the call as to whether or not they wind up in heaven.

BUT…

There may be more to the entirety of Jesus’ message than simply refraining from passing judgment and making assumptions. Let’s read the rest of the passage:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Jesus knew what our tendency would be. Now that we’re all holy & saved, it’s pretty easy to start noticing the sin of the world. It’s easy to look around and see what’s wrong here, here, here and there when we have the misunderstanding that our relationship with God is defined by what we do instead of what He’s done. And everyone and their brother is right: Stop judging. It’s not necessary.

BUT…

Is it judgment when we recognize a tree by the fruit it bears? Is it truly judgment when we look at someone’s life and evaluate what comes from their mouth with what actions they choose to take? Answer: Put the big girl panties on – this isn’t judgment. Its not judgment for me to look at the life of a Christian friend who spends their weekends getting drunk and to then ask them some questions. It’s not judgment for one of my Christian friends to call me on the carpet when something immoral comes from my mouth. That’s calling a tree by the fruit it bears. Let me tick everyone off: It’s not judgment to look at an individual who claims Jesus as savior of their soul yet hasn’t allowed him to be the Lord of their love life. At some point because of love we need to look at each other and ask why there is a dichotomy between thought, word, and action if we’re seeing a discrepancy.

BUT…

If I’m going to ask these questions, then an examination of my own life needs to happen first. If I myself am struggling with an issue that I’m seeing in my Christian brother’s or sister’s life, then the first step is to get me straightened out. And honestly, chances are that the other person probably knows that they need to clean their junk up (however, that doesn’t let us off the hook of holding each other accountable), so what I’m saying to them will likely not come as a shock. However, tread lightly and lovingly. Calling out sin because you know it exists and having concern for your brother or sister’s walk with God are two very different approaches.

BUT…

Jesus doesn’t stop there. He gives us a pretty big warning that’s difficult to stomach sometimes because we don’t always know where to draw the line: There are going to be people who will be the metaphorical two-year-olds, stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and start screaming, “LA LA LA LA LA LA!” at the top of their lungs. Do not waste sacred time here. It’s futile to try to teach a concept coming from Jesus to people who tear apart everything Christians say and do. In short, you can explain yourself til you’re blue in the face on any Facebook argument you want, but if you’re casting pearls before swine, you’re wasting your time. By no means does that mean we give up, but if we’re hell-bent (ironically enough) on getting through to “that one person,” maybe we need to first evaluate motives and the methods with which we go about them. The biggest question you can ask yourself is, “Am I genuinely concerned for this individual’s place in eternity, or am I more concerned with just being right?” Check yourself. Be honest. I’ve been there. I’ve been more concerned about being right than I was about whether or not the person understood who Jesus was, as it was clearly evident in my argumentative nature. This is where honest prayers for wisdom and pure motives are essential in reaching those who we know that have a tendency to be closed off to what we have to say. Sometimes we may be casting our pearls before swine and recognize that now is not the time, but it doesn’t mean that that particular someone will never come around and be slightly more fertile soil to plant in on down the road, so to speak.

BUT…

Remember, we also need to look at context. From here, Jesus teaches about asking, seeking and knocking. He follows up his teaching about judgment with the idea of asking God for honest answers, and seeking those answers out, and knocking on the doors of opportunity. Coincidence? Doubtful. Further, he says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” I guarantee you that if someone came to me and told me about how they’ve been asking God for wisdom, seeking out wisdom in Scripture, and watching for an opportunity to talk with me and be honest and open about what they’re seeing in my life, I’m going to be more receptive. What they have to say might sting, but this is someone who hasn’t shied away from loving me through accountability, but who has also spent time prayerfully considering the circumstance. That’s how I would want someone to approach pointing out the speck of dust in my eye, so maybe that’s what Jesus is getting at when he gives us the Golden Rule. We all need held accountable – every last one of us. Without accountability, you get…well…American culture. You get Hollywood. You get girl power that emasculates and humiliates men. You get the belief that you can and should have sex with whomever you desire, and you shouldn’t have to live with the natural consequences should things not go according to plan. You get the belief that it’s completely acceptable and even healthy to desire the rape-like treatment viewed in movie theaters and read in books. You get the leniency of, ‘if it feels good, do it.’ Without accountability, you get to do whatever you want. And boy, doesn’t that seems like a great idea.

AND…

He then talks about the way to heaven: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Are we seeing a theme here?

SO…

I find it to be no coincidence that Jesus then follows that up with the teaching of recognizing the fruit in peoples’ lives. Apple trees don’t produce bananas. Grapes don’t grow on pepper plants. Judgment doesn’t grow in a Christian, but neither does spineless acceptance that prioritizes peoples’ temporary happiness over the lasting consequences of eternity. And should it be any surprise that he then says (in a nutshell), “Just because you recognized that I was Jesus, just because you went to church yet continued the same lifestyle you had before you knew me, just because you told people about who I was doesn’t mean you ever actually let me have any say in your life. And because of that, sorry, but I never knew you.” (Matt 7:21-23). Surprisingly enough, I think Jesus is telling us that it’s actually about more than what we do. It’s difficult to say that I truly believe that Jesus loves me if my life says I love the world. If your life after meeting Jesus looks the same as before you knew him in both actions and posture of heart, then God have mercy on those of us who saw it and never said anything. We live out what we believe – period. Being able to recognize Jesus is different than actually knowing him. I would recognize Robert Downey Jr. on the street, but that doesn’t mean I knew anything about him. And friend, please – please don’t take eternity lightly. Please don’t assume that the grace credit card will work if life was spent ignoring the call to know Jesus and shape your life in a response to that.

Little surprise that Jesus then talks about the man who builds his house on the rock and weathers the storm versus he who takes the easy way out and builds on the sand. Guys, there’s no doubt that Jesus loves you, but there’s also no doubt that he wants to see our lives respond to that love, not ignore it and/or contort Scripture to make up our own definitions.

Summary: If bananas are growing on your apple tree, then get rid of the weirdness, okay? Go back to growing apples. If you see grapes growing on someone’s pepper plant, tell them! You don’t have the right to lecture them about how the pepper plant is altogether bad and useless – that’s not the truth. Just prune the tree, help them get rid of the fruit that shouldn’t be there, and see them through to growing what they should be growing. Further, find the people who are the Miracle Grow in your life. Find the ones who are willing to take an ax to a branch that has no business growing on your tree, but will help your tree grow as it should. And be willing to be that for someone else.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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With man, this is impossible. With God, it might be improbable. Wait, what?!

Mrs. Brittany Bardsley “nominated” me for the Five-Day Scripture Challenge that’s making its way across Facebook at the moment. The bottom line: You post a verse every day and you nominate two new people every day to take the challenge. Pretty easy, but if I’m honest, it seemed highly annoying…and then I realized that I’m a total chump if I’m annoyed at posting Scripture but not sarcasm. So, in order to handle it the best way I can, I’m trying not to Jesus juke this whole thing. I’ll blog about a verse (or a few verses) for the next five days, no problem. The catch: I’m going to try to tackle some verses that we either have a very poor understanding of, or a very idealistic view of (example: Jeremiah 29:11. We quote that WAY too often. That’ll likely show up here too).

Day 1 – Matthew 19:26

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

If I had a dime every time someone in college quoted this when a big project was due, I probably could have paid for my student loan debt along with a third of the campus. We have this hilarious tendency of pulling out a verse that sounds really nice and applying it to any and every situation in life, even when it’s a far cry from what was actually taking place. Context, dear friends. Context.

It’s really cute to operate under the assumption that God will make all things possible just because he’s God. At least it’s cute if you’re 11 and at a youth retreat. I mean, okay, fine. I guess he can – he’s God. It’s not like he needs anyone’s permission. But do you honestly think this is the best verse to pull out every single time you know of someone who has a loved one on their death bed? Or when a friend is right in the middle of the most hell-infested storm of her life because her husband has cheated on her with multiple women? Or when a family is learning to cope with their child being paralyzed from the waist down because of being hit by a drunk driver? No, really – I get it. He’s God, and yes, he absolutely can and has raised the dead. He can and has healed marriages that are barely hanging on by the final thread of a final thread. Yes he can and has healed the paralytic. But stop. Just stop for one second. Take off the rose colored glasses and just look. Is this really what Jesus was talking about? Did any of those things take place when he said these words?

Not a single one.

In fact, Jesus isn’t working miracles at all right now. He’s teaching. Back up to verse 16. This entire passage is about the rich young ruler who was curious what more needed to be done to gain eternal life. Jesus says hang on to the Top Ten. Our little beacon of success asks which ones. Jesus tells him the big ones: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, honor Ma & Pa Kettle, don’t lie, and love the people around you as you love yourself. The kiddo has this down. He’s been a decent guy. He’s rich, he’s successful, he seems like a decent guy. Props to him, because he realizes he isn’t perfect. He asks Jesus what he still lacks. Jesus cuts right to the chase:

“‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved”‘ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’

Translation: For those of us who are completely content and satisfied with the things of this world and the things under our control, it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to deny ourselves. It’s hard for someone who is rich with excess to deny themselves and be humble enough to admit, “I must give this up. If I’m going to truly follow Jesus, then it’s time to lay this aside and be done with it.” When the disciples heard this teaching, they were confused until Jesus clarified; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (verse 26).

I’m guessing you’ve likely heard verse 26 in this sort of context: “If you believe, God can make it possible. If you have enough faith, God can work in it.” As if our level of faith somehow determines what God can or can’t do. Please. “With God, all good things are possible!” When you actually look at this verse in context it says something totally different. May I?

With man, it will be impossible for anyone to deny themselves.
With man, it’s impossible to make a legitimate sacrifice.
With man, it’s impossible to have lasting self-control.
But with God, the sacrificial things are possible.
With God self-control is possible.

This is very different from the belief that with God, all good things are possible. Yes, all good things are possible, but that doesn’t mean they’re probable. You can have all the faith in the world, but I’d assume that would make it just as likely for you to be a moving target for Satan as you are a recipient of God’s blessing (not that you shouldn’t daily build that faith – good grief, don’t misunderstand me).
 

Let’s not assume that holding fast to rules will somehow gain us eternity. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that if we do it all right, a life of abundant blessing will follow. Let’s not turn the Gospel into something it isn’t. Jesus did everything right and we see where that landed him here on earth. But we also see where that took him in death and resurrection. 

 Summary: Please don’t misunderstand me. I adamantly believe that God can and will bless people however he chooses to. However, let’s not use verses as our shouts of health, wealth, and victory when they’re more geared towards being tokens of honesty about our own condition.

The encouraging part is, no matter what we’re holding onto, yes, we absolutely can surrender it, we just can’t do it on our own. Speaking from personal experience here. It wasn’t until I was willing to spend nights on my face – sometimes until 4 or 5 in the morning – in an all-out battle to not fight on my own but to continue surrendering the struggle minute after minute that any amount of headway was actually made.  Sometimes that’s where you have to go. Sometimes that’s what it takes. If you’re still trying to deny yourself with your own power, trust me: It’s why it isn’t working. That moment that you decide to give in is the moment we succumb to this idea that the temptation is “too strong.” Load of crap: If we take God at his word, then we really do believe he will always provide a way out (in Ephesians – forgive me for not having the exact reference on the tip of my tongue..um…fingers at 1:30 AM). That might require swallowing pride in a new way, but he does provide that.

It’s possible to deny yourself and starve the porn addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and battle against the food addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and surrender the blood-thirsty hunger for control and power.
It’s possible to deny yourself and turn away from the shopping sprees.
It’s possible to deny yourself and close the chapter on your party life.
It’s possible to deny yourself and learn to love who you are for once.

All of this is possible, not with ourselves, but with the power of God Almighty himself.
May we not forget such a bedrock truth.

Pray. Seek. Do.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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