Tag Archives: Christian life

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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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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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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Victoria Donner

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