Welcome to …

It is the Eve of Independence Day, and one week after the Supreme Court ruling regarding you-know-what. I don’t want to give the decision the dignity of even being mentioned by topic or name. Like you, I have pondered this culture-changing event, and its dreadful implications. There are folks more qualified to speak about this than I am. Yet, I do want to sprinkle a spoonful of thoughts into the mixing bowl. They are submitted on principle, not for sport.

There are two thoughts that I will present to you: where we are and what we can do (really what we should have been doing all along).

First, welcome to Pseudo-America, your current locale. It is called Pseudo-America because it isn’t the USA that our forefathers intended, and it isn’t the country that stood for two centuries upon pillars that set it apart from other countries in its political, moral, and spiritual standards. As you know, “pseudo” refers to that which is false (untrue) or fake (not real). I have chosen that term carefully. Why? Because this new America craves an illusion over reality; it’s a contrived country.

Here is the creed of Pseudo-America:

  • Let us suffocate our past, along with it’s traditions and ideas of morality.  We will no longer be restricted by what was, rather we long for what will be … based upon our fickle desires.
  • Let us state that we are slaves of our own chromosomes, victims of our own biology who want no key to free us, or rules to inhibit us.
  • Let us declare that those who oppose these views are hate-filled, and hateful by opposing us, because Pseudo-America’s mission is done in love, and in the name of love.

This new creed must be recited in a loud and shrieky voice so that it will drown out the voices of reason, good sense, and decency.

I hope that you are sighing and rolling your eyes. I also hope that you are thinking. My bit o’ satire was intended to provoke thought, not for amusement. Looking back, the distance from America to Pseudo-America seems to have been a long one, but a quick trip. It was intended to feel that way by the Pseudo-American chauffeurs that hurried us here.

Now that we are here — and it looks like there is no going back — what do we do? Three passages of Scripture provide a summary of how we are to camp in this desert.

First, while this is our homeland, it is not our home. As Christ-followers we look to an eternal home, not an earthly one. 1 Peter 2:11 describes us as “pilgrims and sojourners,” some translations refer to us “sojourners and exiles.” A jarring reminder that we do not belong here for long, but we are here for good.

Second, even though we are to look forward to our home with Christ in heaven, we are also to be disciple-makers, truth-declarers, error-correctors, and faith-defenders while here. Paul told Timothy to declare God’s Word and to be ready in season and out of season. For the record, “out of season” refers to the time when people do not want to hear God’s Truth. We are definitely in the “out of season” era. “In season”  is a light year behind us. The point to ponder in this verse is Paul’s command to “be ready.” It has the idea of being prepared against sudden and forceful attack. (Wow, it’s as if the Bible knows what is coming and what to do about it.) So, get ready. Read your Bible, study it, study sound books on doctrine, brush up on apologetics (defending the faith and sharing the truth with non-believers), pray for opportunities, and then use all of this as you have opportunities to share or defend the Christian faith. Colossians 4:5-6 prescribes it thusly:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (ESV)

You might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental work; it is, and the lack of it in the past is what has gotten us into this mess. Apathetic Christians, party of millions, your table is now ready.

Third, live a life that honors Christ and demonstrates the Gospel. Paul describes this in Colossians 1:9-10

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (ESV)

It’s as if these principles have been in the Bible all along. Ahem, they have been. So, dust off your Bible, read it, soak it in, ask God to give you insight, and follow the Holy Spirit as he gives you encounters for sharing truth, correcting error, serving others, sharing true love, and living a life that imitates and honors Christ.

In closing, I would like to offer a sincere Happy Fourth of July to America (wherever she is)!

Small steps are best…

Yesterday I was reading in Proverbs 6 and jotting down a few thoughts for my daily Tweet from the book of Proverbs. Verses 9 – 11 snared my attention. While the context of the passage concerns the lazy and foolish, nestled in verse 10 I caught the glint of Bible gold, and tried to dig it out.

“9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Straight away you notice that the word “little” is used three times in verse 10. As verse 9 provokes the sluggard to wake up, and verse 11 describes the sudden arrival of the consequences of laziness (you might want to insist that your teenagers read this), verse 10 tells us about the steps that link laziness and the certain ruin that follows. In describing the process that leads to that trouble, the word “little” pops us three times. Intriguing. Ponder on it a bit.

Here’s an application that I want to pass along to you: we live in a day, culture, and church culture which salivates for things that are new, big, and fast, and this trend should be resisted. Before you balk at this please think back to all of the new programs that your church has started, the big conferences that have been promoted, and the sermons and books that have promoted quick spiritual results (those types of sermons and books use terms such as “keys to success, steps to growth, secrets of growth,” etc.) over the past five years. Here is the stern-faced, straight-talk truth — there are no quick steps to sound spiritual growth. Christian growth is a process, not an event. In fact, it is a process that involves discipline and determination, not secrets or keys. For example, Jesus stated in John 15:5 that we are to abide in Him as the True Vine. Abiding is not an event, it is a dedicated process. In the same vein, Paul declares in Philippians 3:

“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that knowing Christ, gaining Christ, walking by ongoing faith in Christ, and knowing Him and the power of His resurrection are the aims of his life. Each of those elements that Paul mentioned involves a process, not a singular a-ha moment or spiritual big bang.

Here is a pragmatic reason why growth in Christ is a process and is not caused by infrequent leap-frog events — incremental growth nurtures good habits and grows character over time, while lightning-strike moments are difficult to build into your daily life, and to maintain. In other words, one type of growth is sustainable, the other type is rare, and tricky to weave into your life.

Am I saying that the impact from a powerful sermon, statement from a book, or attendance at a Christian seminar or conference is bad? No, absolutely not. What I am saying is that those moments aren’t the norm, they are Holy Spirit- driven moments that are extraordinary. On the other hand, the insight and wisdom that the Holy Spirit grants to you as you study and ponder on your Bible (or my Tweets and blog, heh-heh), pray, talk with fellow believers, and participate in worship are ordinary, frequent, and solid means for growth. This is where the real growth happens. It’s day to day, not from big event to big event.

This should come as a soothing balm to our consciences and souls. God does not expect us to have Moses-at-the-burning-bush encounters each day. He does expect us to devote daily time to Him, meet with Him in His Word and prayer, and live with our hearts and minds ready to encounter him throughout the day and around the bend.

To nearly exhaust the point, the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul wrote at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:7:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

He said that he had fought the fight, not that he had won it in the second round of the match; he had finished the race, not that he had won it in record time; he had kept the faith, not that he had discovered keys or steps to make it happen rapidly.  You get the idea.

You are probably wondering how Proverbs 6:10 and its repeated use of “little” ties into all of this. Here is how. It’s the little things that matter and have great impact in your life of following Christ. The lazy man in Proverbs 6 is not ruined by momentous events; he is wrecked by all of the miniscule choices, and tiny things that he avoided doing. In turn, your life is made of up a million mini choices and events. Your Christian walk is composed of the day-to-day, little things previously mentioned. Don’t seek the large and lively, stay true to the small and simple. Go little by little.

Let’s allow Proverbs 13:11 to summarize and make the final point about how the little steps make a big difference:

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Nuff’ said…

A book, Twitter, Proverbs, and Lucy the pup…

It has been almost two months since my last posting. I am pleased to tell you why that is the case. First, I began posting meditations on the “one anothers” of the New Testament here on the Bearded Acorn with the hope that my ongoing study of and scribbling about them might blossom into a book project. It did, and then some. In fact, I am now 14 chapters into a book manuscript. Much of the study and heavy lifting is in the rear view mirror. What remains to be done is the tedious, head-scratching work of revision, along with spit-shining, and then submitting it to a publisher, which will likely happen in early August. I share that as an update for you, and as an item for you to pray about for me. I will say that learning to write a book for the first time is like … well, it’s like learning to write a book for the first time.

The second reason that I have not posted on this blog in a fortnight or two is because I have had a desire to begin a second project. This project is for those of you with a shorter attention span, or that have a leaning toward writing that doesn’t exceed 140 characters (25 words). These quips will sprout from my daily reading in the book of Proverbs and be shared through Twitter.

Many years ago when I was a new Christian (in 1993) my pastor encouraged me to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs everyday. Preferably, the chapter that corresponded to that day’s date. For example, today I am reading Proverbs 30 since it is the 30th day of the month. While I haven’t done it every day since 1993, I have done it almost daily. And, it has paid off. It directs me to do things that emerge from my reading and to avoid doing things because of what I have read. Give it a try. I offer you a money back guarantee on it as a discipline that will help you to grow in Christ.

Just how will the book of Proverbs and Twitter come together here? Read Ezekiel chapter 6 to find out. No, I am just kidding. Here’s the real story — I will tweet out an application from my daily reading in Proverbs. It will not be a quotation of a verse or two. Neither will it be a re-hashing of verses. Cliche. Instead, it will be a bending and application of one verse from that day’s reading. By bending, I mean that within the proper context and interpretation of the passage I will shape it into a tweet that will show you another side, or an odd side, of the verse and share it in a way so as to provide some application of it for you. And, fear not, there will be some satire and humor involved as well.

Here are two examples from this week from the 28th:

“Prov. 28:19 – Work well with your portion and you will have plenty. Chase things with no worth or substance and you will lose all, or more.”

“Prov. 28:23 – Rebuke shapes and smoothes the bedrock of friendship. Flattery attempts to insert silicone implants into it.”

So, if you are interested check them out at @JodySmotherman on Twitter.

For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception in January. You know that you are expected to go and look up the verse and read it before you read my thoughts. Just one of the ground rules that will help you to get the gist of it and to make sense of my non-sense.

There you have it. The two reasons why my posts were halted: working on a book and getting my Proverbs tweets ready to load and fire off. It’s also worth mentioning that family, work, small group Bible study, and getting a wonderful Australian Shepherd puppy — the kids named her Lucy — has taken up some time as well. For the record, Lucy is one of the smartest and sweetest mammals, including humans, in North America. She loves the tweets from Proverbs, you might too. She loves chewing on and shredding my book manuscript notes even better. In two months publishers might get a kick out of doing the same. Sigh

The Bearded Acorn is now officially back open for wordiness.

Check the scoreboard, or don’t!

Siblings are excellent score-keepers. Just yesterday, when I was about to take my oldest daughter on an errand with me her younger sister remarked that the oldest had gone on an errand with me by herself last week. Siblings have a knack for this type of reckoning. Filing events and recalling them later are fundamental to this score-keeping mindset.

You are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. It is an astonishing picture of God’s forgiving grace. I must ask if you have ever read the ending closely? If not, then take a moment and do so. At the close of this parable in verses 25-32 a different, striking lesson emerges: Score-keepers are in abundance, and ready at all times.

As you recall, the parable rises with the prodigal’s return from — as one translation renders it — “riotous living.” Imagine yourself touring with Hank Williams Jr. for a year or two in the mid 1980s — whiskey-bent and swine-trough-bound — and that will chronicle what the son was returning from and repenting of. His father accepts him and the parable closes with a feast. It’s not over. At the edge of the frame you see the older brother wiping his brow as he strides home from a day of toil on his father’s ranch. He hears the commotion and calls one of the servants to see why there is music, dancing, and barbecue. The servant tells him that it is a homecoming party for his younger brother — now flat broke, friendless, and ready to sign up as a servant in his father’s house.

The story turns dark, as in the dark shades of anger and envy (Those two emotions never wear light colors, even in the summer months.). Older brother refuses to go to the celebration. Instead, he pouts, and fumes. Does that sound like any siblings you know, or any that currently eat at your dinner table?

So, the father comes out and “entreats” Lemon-Heart (he has this nickname because first century stories and early manuscripts of the book of Luke claim that he was breast fed with a lemon…nah, just kidding, but you know the type) to come into the party. Then, it gets interesting, and insightful. The words that Jesus weaves into verses 28-30 provide for us an electron-microscope-level of insight into the human heart.

28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

You can certainly feel the anger, and self-righteous indignation in those verses. Let’s lift a few phrases out of them to simplify, and concentrate it. “I have served you…I never disobeyed…yet you never gave me…and this son of yours…” Now that is hard-heartedness! No rejoicing over his brother’s return; just anger over it, and perhaps over not being in the spotlight as he had been while his brother had been out chasing women of ill repute. Hard-hearted and sharp-tongued. As an aside, would a feast of a young goat have made Lemon-Heart happy? Certainly not. He can’t be happy because he is a self-consumed scorekeeper. Scorekeepers are never happy, the only reprieve from their internal misery is enjoying the stumblings and failures of those around them.

What does this have to do with the “one another” principles that we are going to explore in the upcoming posts? It has everything to do with them in that it is the precise opposite of all of them. I can’t think of a better way for us to see what the “one anothers” are than by seeing what they are not.

Back to Luke 15, Lemon-Heart found out that his father loved him and still had a sizable inheritance in trust for him, despite Lemon-Heart’s septic tank attitude. In his self-pitying fit — “Hey, I am the victim here!”– ole LH had mourned a financial loss that wasn’t his own and nurtured a grudge that was entirely his. Score-keeping in its professional form. Lemon-Heart had the makings of a good Pharisee, maybe that was part of the point. Hmmm…

Do you have the same tendencies? Before you rush toward an answer of self-justification let’s jot a few questions up on the chalkboard that will guide you toward an honest answer:
1. Are you genuinely pleased when other believers receive good or have success? Think hard, and specifically. Take your time, really.
2. Are you genuinely happy when other believers receive good when they have done good and “earned” it? Be careful with this one.
3. Are you genuinely content when other believers, particularly those who you aren’t very fond of, receive good or have success when they do not seem to “deserve” it? That one points out a works-based heart/mind quickly, and leaves a bruise.

If you answered “yes” to number one, then you are on good ground for living out the “one anothers.” If you answered “yes” to number two then you may have the right spiritual attitude, or have a works-based mindset, it’s hard to distinguish with just one question. If you answered “yes” to number three then you will do well with the “one anothers” and seem to grasp the basics of grace.

If you answered “no” to all three, then we know what you were nursed on as an infant, and you immediately qualify for advanced placement at the Pharisee Institute of Religiosity.

Siblings may be good score-keepers and grudge-tenders, but spiritual siblings — brothers and sisters in Christ — cannot be, and are not allowed to be. Now that we have wounded, hopefully fatally, the idea of competition and score-keeping in the church, we can begin the “one anothers.”

The barbed wire that binds…

 

In the previous post I suggested that we approach the “one-anothers” of the New Testament like a walk along a fence row that separates the sheep from relationally odd sheep. Now underway, we will find that Jesus’ words in John 13:35 create a higher, tauter fence than we first imagined. This fence actually separates disciples from disobedient believers and non-believers, or sheep from fence-straddlers and goats.

This passage contains truths that are worthy of fine attention. And once pondered they jolt our senses. Rather than carve up these verses and pass around a portion for all, I will instead provide a sample along with some thoughts. This will allow you to take the passage, and dig in for yourself, which is best.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus states in John 13:34 that he is giving the apostles a new commandment. This is an intriguing statement because in the Old Testament God’s people had been commanded to love in the Law of Moses. They had been told to love God wholly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). To love was not foreign to them. So, this command was not new in the sense that it had never been prescribed, it was new in what it expected of them.

To be specific, it is the not the “love one another” part of Jesus’ imperative that was new. It was the scope and empowerment necessary to obey it that were new.

The scope and depth of that command are staggering. We are to love other believers “just as,” or in the same manner that Jesus loves us. This doesn’t allow for a micrometer of wiggle room, or for any excuses, or for negligence. We are to love one another “just as” Jesus did, and displayed. It is a love that is evident and sacrificial.

To offer that type of love to other believers seems impossible. It is impossible; we cannot do it on our own. To fulfill this command requires that we depend upon the operative work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Only the Spirit of God can bring the love of Christ to reality in our lives, and then extend it outward to others (Romans 5:5). What begins to come into focus is that growth in the “one-anothers” is a deliberate and precise way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.

While the analogy of our walk along the pasture fence began as one that was homespun, now with Jesus’ words from John 13:35 woven in it grows more serious, and surgical. Namely, the thought stands up, clears it throat, and asks, “Can one’s approach to and practice of the “one-anothers” authenticate one’s claim as a Christian or negate it?” The affirmative answer hushes the room.

John 13:35 provides an excellent mirror for self-inspection of our attitudes as well as a magnifying glass for dissection of our behaviors and service to other Christ-followers. There is more than weight to these words of Jesus, there is a density to them as well. Instantly these words, and their implications, kindle our consideration, examination, contrition.

We ponder on those words and use them as motivation to lead us on our uphill walk through the “one-anothers,” which will define and describe how life is to be among Christians. We do this arriving at the realization that love is the barbed wire that connects and supports the “one-another” posts in the fence row.

Along the way we will see artifacts marking the barbed wire: sack cloth and blood, rust, and bits of hair. Each are from those who have walked this fence before us. The sack cloth and blood from those who have climbed over from the non-love side remind us of their courage, which became repentance and obedience. The rust advises us of the rains and seasons of our walk, and that many hands have held onto the fence and catalyzed corrison from one side or the other, while deciding whether or not to cross.  The bits of hair alert us to be on guard as we walk in love; there are enemies of love, wolves among sheep. The strands of hair — the bristled back hair of wolves — doesn’t signal to us from the top strand of the wire. They rest snagged in the bottom strand.  Wolves have their own way of crossing, low and slow.

The fence is only part of the terrain. Before we survey the rest of the scenery in the first leg of our trip, let’s make note that the barbed strands serve as a means of separation and protection. Both are essential.

Barely into our stride we can see that one side of the fence boasts of a calm pasture, flowers, and a kind path smoothed by millions of steps. That leisurely side is not the side of Christ-like love.

The other side has brambles, rocks, and tall grass, with a faint trail, hardly visible. This one is the way of love; it is the way of Christ-fueled desire and discipline that follows him and loves his sheep.

Closing out these stout verses is a crushing thought: Our love for one another will be the mark of our true faith in and following of Christ. In other words, our love for fellow believers becomes an authentication of our discipleship … a disciple’s watermark.

You were warned that this trek would be a tough one — lots of sweating, straining, and aching. The sun is behind us. Grab your things. Set your mind; we have a long walk ahead.

The “one-anothers”

Under the hat of modern evangelicalism dwell many heads: some gold, some wooden, some stubble. This is evident by the variances in professions and practices of faith. While this post could meander down a passel of trails lined with these variances, it will not. Instead, we will begin a brisk walk along a fence row that separates sheep from … relationally odd sheep.

Shakespeare stated that brevity is the soul of wit. Likewise, it is the soul of sturdy writ. So, let’s take long strides with few words on our walk in order to move us through this meditation which will serve as an introduction to several that will follow.

The topic focuses on relationships among believers. This is not about relationships of the God’s-will-for-finding-your-soulmate-completer-dot-com variety. Rather, we will consider the teaching of the New Testament on how we are to relate to one another within the body of Christ.

The spectrum of relations among Christians in congregations ranges from the priggish parishioner who can only look down his/her spectacles in judgment to the needy hug-o-phile who loves and accepts everyone into her/his affirmation-fest. You know both, and the free-ranging herd in between. A quick pondering of this nutty gamut is puzzling at least, off-putting at best, and repulsive at worst.

If evangelicals are going to promote, or feebly peddle, a “relationship with God” to the lost folks around us, then shouldn’t we place our relationships with other believers under the microscope beforehand? Yes. Yes, we should. Unless, we prefer instead to add a fresh coat of white wash to our already shiny exoskeletons.

The key phrase, and central idea, to this series of posts is “one another.” I will not make this cute by converting those two words into the hyphenated term of “one-anothering.” We’ll be glad later. Also, I will not use the popular term “perspective” in regard to biblical teaching and relationships. “Perspectives” are akin to rabbit holes dotting my favorite woodlands: all too common and often empty. There. Besides, God’s perspective is the only one that matters.

Depending upon how you cut and stack them, the New Testament contains over two dozen “one another” commands. They are not tips or suggestions; they are commands. There is some overlap and cross-pollination among them. So, I will attempt to simplify this by sorting them into one of two boxes: attitudes to build in ourselves and service to offer to others. Clarity will emerge from doing it this way once the light of more posts peeks through the clouds.

Let’s get started with the most common, and foundational, “one another” in the New Testament: Love one another. To “love one another,” is a single command among the King-sized list of the “one another” principles, but it is repeated over a dozen times in different ways, and with different descriptives. The one instance that is familiar to most, and sets the tone for them all, is found in John 13:34-35. There are weighty words and sobering truths compressed into those two short verses.

Pull up to the gate, put on the parking brake, look up the verses, and sit there before we begin our fence row trek.

Roll down the window and take a deep breath. Those verses will cause your brow to moisten.

The hike that we will begin will be uphill, and will bring on a full soul-sweat. You will need to pack some water, and snacks, and extra socks. From where we will start to where we will arrive will result in some calluses, and a better heart.

Time and place

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” Acts 17:26

The long-held, oft-rekindled day dream was assassinated suddenly and viciously, sniper-style. One simple half-verse from Acts 17:26 did the deed. This portion of a verse that was mentioned in a Sunday sermon, in passing nonetheless, exposed the daydream, and then dispatched it.

Let’s rewind a few decades to set the context. All boys want to be heroes, often in some other era or locale. I was no exception. Eventually, all boys become men — at least in the chronological sense. So, even into my forties a smidgen of this type of daydreaming had remained. The idea of living in and thriving through yonder times of greater simplicity and civility were enticing, yet unreal.

At times, the Bible had curbed this occasional daydreaming. But the lack of a specific verse, or at least the impact of one, had made it possible to return to my intermittent daydreaming of things being different: a different time, different place, different role in life, etc. As best that I can tell, these occasional spells of a discontented mind and spirit are a universal symptom of a fully-baked-in sinful nature. It runs in my family; it runs in yours too.

This went on for years, waxing and waning parallel to my wanting and whining. Then, for no reason — at least not one of mine! — this auxiliary verse in a sermon blind-sided me. As I began to read and re-read the verse, the pastor’s voice garbled, and then faded as the spiritual spotlight narrowed onto the verse. Then, the hands of honest examination and conviction had my long term malady firmly in grasp, and asphyxiated within seconds.

Note the phrase in Acts 17:26, “having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” Dang. This spoke with clarity and precision. No nuance or clemency present there.

The truth here is clear. God has designed each life for a place in time, and for time in a place. His purpose is for me to be here, now. And in the now, I am to be here. The dream of living in a time (more simple) or place (more natural and less civilized), or both, can be a camouflaged shirking of my current Kingdom purpose and responsibility. The real danger for us — not just a road sign warning — is that in longing for a different station in life we will focus on “what if” instead of “what is.” “If” versus “is” can be a distracting duel at best, paralyzing at worst.

After struggling against this spiritual current in Acts 17:26 for a minute or so, I gave up, repented, and the merciful floatation device of grace was cast my way. I took on a lot of water in that short struggle. The water-logging was good for me, and still is.

Do not suppose that I am suggesting that imagination — or fanciful thinking — is wrong, or sinful. Or, that daydreaming is sinful. Joy and imagination are important to my life, and should be so long as they do not scale the fences of Scripture and scurry into momentary longing for something other than God’s design.

As I thought on these things that afternoon, another verse came to mind: “Aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and work with your own hands, as we commanded you…”   1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Well, that does it. A solid one-two gut punch from Acts 17 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians add some specificity to those in Acts 17:26. We are to aspire to lead a quiet/simple life (wait, that fits with my daydreams), mind our own business/affairs (that destroys the daydreams), and work with our own hands where we are (that buries the daydreams and firmly packs down the soil). Thanks, Paul, apostle of truth and terseness; you are correct, again.

The next time that my boy-headed thoughts trot off into another era to pretend to be bigger, better, or more with less, I will remember that I was divinely inserted into this time and place for the King. He has decided for me about this place in time, and time in this place.

Small is good, and best…

 

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 states: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

As I left work the other evening I was reflecting on my day. I enjoy my work and the people that I work with. When I stepped outside into the parking lot it was cold. “Bad cold,” as my dad would say. It was so cold that it makes your teeth ache. Yet, I love cold weather; the colder the better. As I walked to my truck I caught myself humming. I was humming a hymn. The fact that I was humming, and unaware of it caught me a little off guard. I began to think about why I was humming. It was simple. I was looking forward to seeing the kids and eating supper (I love to eat, it is not an emotional thing or coping mechanism, I just love the taste of food). It wasn’t remarkable things like the fact that my blog received the most daily visits in its short history (4 weeks), or such, that had me in such a good mindset; it was simple things like food and family.

Ecclesiastes 2: 24-25 came to mind. Take a moment and read those two verses. Read them slowly and then ponder on them. In these verses Solomon is telling us that one of the best things in life is a good meal, and being satisfied at the end of a day of good work. He states that this is from God’s hand. It is astounding that the Bible tells us that some of the best things are the smaller and more common things. Family, meals, warmth, work, a good book, all of these can satisfy.

Here is a subtle but tremendous truth that emerges from these verses, and from the verses that follow it as well: God’s people have the ability to enjoy the smaller things because they know that they are from Him, are enabled to do so, and have the wisdom to do so. Those who do not know Christ cannot and will not savor the simple things from God. For the unredeemed, these things may be enjoyable, but will soon fade because they are seen as means to some other end. Namely, they are seen as temporary pleasures that line the road to greater pleasure. They are seen as small parts, or portions, not as the whole.

Simple is better. Most folks would agree with that. But, there are a blessed few who know it, pursue it, and are content in it.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul is concerned that the followers of Christ in Corinth would be led astray from the simple and pure life that is in Christ.

Driving complexity out of the Christian life is one of the primary things that we should be mindful of in these hurried and harried days. The Christian life is challenging, but it is designed to be simple. Let us guard against and fight complexity tooth and nail, for the sake of our joy, for the sake of our churches, for the sake of our Lord.

Of the many things that God’s Word does for us, one of the most necessary and urgent is that it clarifies and simplifies life….if we listen to it, think on it, and apply it.

Good food, time with family (in-laws not included), a book, a quiet moment, all are some of the richest moments in any day, and in life. See them as gifts. They are. Enjoy them. Recognize some of them today and thank Him.

 

 

Beautiful work…

 

Matthew 26:1-10

In this passage both the woman and her act are familiar to us.  Jesus said that both would be famous (verse 13). This singular act by a common person will be shared throughout time wherever the Gospel travels. In my mind that is un-get-a-hold-able. To put ourselves in the middle of this passage, and gather in the magnitude of what was being done and said, imagine that Jesus took one of your acts of service to Him and declared that it would be forever known to and remembered by His future followers. Gulp. It is a remarkable scene.

Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders were gathered at “the chief priest’s palace” plotting to kill Jesus (verse 3, note: a good rule of thumb is to avoid any clergy, pastors, or leaders who have “a palace”). While the murder of Jesus was being planned by the elite at a palace, Jesus was settling in at the house of a leper named Simon. Remember that a leper in Jesus’ day was rejected by society and forced to live a hermit’s life, and a life of shame. So, here in the home of this social outcast, reclining at the dinner table was the Lord of the universe and Savior – Jesus of Nazareth. Grace was actually sitting at Simon’s usually vacant and lonely table.

Enter a woman who came to offer to Jesus something that is so humble, intimate, tender, and sacrificial that it is beyond words. In fact, in the original language of the Bible (Greek in the New Testament) it is tricky to translate her act into plain ole’ English.  The phrase for what this woman did is rendered by different translations as “good work,” “noble deed,” and my favorite … “beautiful thing.” It is the only time that this phrase is used in this way in the New Testament. How about that? The word for her deed is multi-faceted. It has the idea of beauty, goodness, and nobility. Wait, there’s more; it also has the idea of an outward beauty or goodness being expressed due to inward beauty or goodness. Yahtzee! Are your eyes moistening up now? Mine are.

This lady comes with a “very expensive” ointment — think months of wages – in an alabaster flask, and anoints Jesus’ head with it … in humble adoration and worship. The disciples then go Baptist-like and complain about the cost of the ointment, and its misuse, and even find a reason to justify their opinion on the matter. Sound familiar? Jesus then tells the tight-waded, bone-headed disciples to hush their fussing and learn from her. He says, “for she has done a beautiful thing to me” to prepare for my burial.

Jesus was telling them that it was about time for His death – His death for them, and for us – and they were missing it because their heads and hearts were wrongly focused and loosely vocal. We all suffer from that malady. Picture this whole scene, and let it unfold in your mind, and soul: the inner beauty of this woman’s heart for Christ was expressed through her humble, sacrificial, and worshipful act. Jesus declared it as “beautiful!”

What a thought that we could be and do something for Christ that he would describe as beautiful. Is there anything any better, or more humbling, or soul-satisfying than that?

A follow-up question is: what can we do for Christ that meets that mark? Hold on to your noggin, because the answer is in…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

The answer is that to do what this woman did only requires you to be yourself in Christ, for Christ. We do not have to be or do things that are extraordinary to honor Christ and serve Him in ways that are beautiful to Him. Really, we don’t!

Check out three straightforward principles in Ephesians 2:10:

1. God created you.
2. You are “His workmanship.”
3. You are created to do good works – and beautiful ones – for Christ.

The second point deserves some un-packing. In the original language the word for “workmanship” is the Greek work “poiema.” Does that look like the word “poem” to you? Indeed, not a coincidence. The idea of that word is workmanship, or craftsmanship, or a work of art. Here’s the point: God made you as His handiwork out of His perfect artisan wisdom and power. So, your status is one of being His child and poetic workmanship; your role is doing good works unto Him out of that status.

Let’s line this up with Matthew 26:10. The woman’s outward, beautiful service was a reflection of her inward beauty and goodness in Christ. That made her deed “beautiful.” Your good service for Christ is a result of you being God’s workmanship. The poetry of her soul and service were aligned, yours can be too…by design and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, fulfill your poiema role in life – namely, you being who God created you to be in the fullness of Christ – and let Him take what He has made you to be and cause it cascade into what you do. Beautiful!

You may feel like a dusty, scratched up fiddle in God’s closet. In Christ, you are a Stradivarius ready to be finely tuned, and played for Him, so that the finely created instrument and music match … beautifully!

You want me to do what?

 

In Matthew 21:2-3 we find Jesus issuing a straightforward command to a duo of his disciples. There could be no misunderstanding it. It was simple, concise, and odd.

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:1-5 (ESV)

This precedes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. You are likely familiar with these verses, but let’s ease into them, and sit, and splash around. There are a few things present in these verses that could be missed if we zip by them without taking the time to digest what Jesus was saying, and why He was saying it.

Let’s begin by working backwards through these verses. This can help to set the stage. Verse 5 tells us why Jesus gave the command: so that prophecy could be fulfilled about Him. Jesus did not tell the disciples that this act was being done to fulfill prophecy. He just told them to do it; and they did it. Good, straight-line obedience is shown here. While the act of obeying was straightforward — Jesus spoke, and they went and obeyed — the path getting there wasn’t. We could say that this passage shows the non-linear ways and work of God.

For those of you who didn’t like algebra, non-linear simply means that it doesn’t go in a straight line, or a straight path. So, this passage has a non-linear nature to it. In other words, it takes a direction that doesn’t seem like a straight, or common sense, or logical one to us. We know from Isaiah 55 that God’s ways are not our ways…at all. This passage illustrates this profoundly.

To develop this further let’s put some examples up on the workbench and tinker with them.

There are many times in the Bible when God tells His people to do odd things. The crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus comes to mind as an example of this. Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt and walked straight to the Red Sea, yet there is no Red Sea Toll Bridge for crossing. The enemy is closing in … sweaty-arm-pit-time. The next thing that you know they were walking across the powder dry bottom of the Red Sea. This is a great demonstration of the power and the work of God, though it does not strike me as non-linear for two reasons: 1. That was the direction that they were headed to get to where they were supposed to go. 2. The enemy was right behind them, and angry (the Egyptians were not riding hard toward them to remind Moses that he had forgotten his favorite blanket!). So, while it was a miraculous event, it is in my mind a linear one.

When Jesus miraculously fed thousands, or Daniel wasn’t torn apart and eaten in the lion’s den, or Elijah called down fire at Mount Carmel, the visible, powerful work of God was displayed. And, it made some sense. Further, the acts of God in these and other passages show that His miraculous works were in response to a situation and were the sensible resolution to the situations involved. Or in other words, the conclusions to the situations are imaginable. Had Jesus not fed the masses, and instead given them new sandals, or the lions surrounding Daniel turned in butterflies, or Elijah smote the wicked priests with a pox, then maybe that’s a non-linear response.

You are probably wondering why I am making a big deal about this idea of God’s work occasionally, or frequently, being non-linear. It’s because it is at the heart of this story in Matthew 21, and an undercurrent that flows throughout the Bible, and it will help us to see and follow Christ in the manner that He desires, not the manner that we manufacture to fit our own needs or wants.  I hope that I have your attention now. Let’s move on and see this in action.

In Matthew 21, there was no enemy pursuing, or needy crowd to feed, heal, or teach. It was just Jesus and his rag-tag band of followers approaching Jerusalem. Jesus was walking to His death — the death that would be the atonement for sinners like me, and you. As He prepares to enter Jerusalem, he tells two of His disciples to do something simple, or so it appears. Let’s reduce Jesus’ words to a checklist that those two were to follow:

  • Go to the village.
  • Find a donkey and a colt.
  • Untie them.
  • Bring them to me.
  • If you run into someone who wonders what in the goose liver you are doing, then tell them that “the Lord has need of them,” and you will be on your way back to me.
  • An Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled although the disciples did not know it at the time.

Is it beginning to look a little odd, or crazy, to you yet? It kinda looks like the disciples were about to pull off a “donkey-jacking” (now, that is a dandy pun embedded in that hyphenated term, please keep reading while I pat myself on the back.) and go for a joy ride — albeit a dang slow one — back to Bethpage. And, Jesus had told them to do this. Chew on this for a bit. Slowly.

Now, let’s take the same scenario and put it into today’s context. This is where your mouth will drop open, and you will run around your living room shouting, “non-linear and non-sensical” over and over, until you spouse tells you to shut up.

Let’s imagine that we are at our weekly small group meeting and prayer time. All of a sudden we have an Acts chapter 2 experience in which we all sense in unison that two of us are to go and do the Lord’s bidding. It is as follows:

A missionary and his family are returning home to start a farm, which they will use to build an orphanage. God wants to use us to meet one of their pressing needs. He had revealed to the missionary family that two people would show up with the very thing that they had been praying for to enable them to do their work.

Two of us are to go to the local John Deere dealership early the next morning. There will be a brand new John Deere tractor and an F-150 Ford truck (four door of course, with a moonroof too!) that will be unlocked. The keys will be in the ignitions of both the tractor and truck. A bag of cash will be sitting in the back seat of the truck. This very tractor, truck, and the cash will be used to help buy the farm, build the orphanage, and honor God. All of it will fulfill the promise of God to these humble missionaries.

We are to take the tractor, truck, and cash and bring them to the missionaries.

And, if anyone stops us and asks what in the heck we are doing, or flashes a badge, we are to tell them that “the Lord has need of these things.” And, they will let us go. Uh-huh.

The point here is striking, and kicking us in the shins. Oftentimes, the things that God does, or leads us to do, make little sense to us, and they won’t follow the straight-line sense or logic that we use in everyday life. That is because when we walk with Christ there is no such thing as everyday life, or common place, or usual. Our life-walk with Christ won’t be on a linear path, or smooth path, or easy path. So, all of this to make this point: an authentic, biblical Christ-following life isn’t a simple line; it is non-linear!

Many sermons, books, TV “preachers,” and such present the Christian life as a set of keys that unlock life’s mysteries and problems, formulas that yield success, and steps that bring prosperity and peace, etc.

The Christian life — as presented in the Bible — is non-linear. There are no magic keys or secret steps, though many books are sold that suggest, or outright claim this. There is no formula either. It isn’t “A + B = C” every time, or ever. It is life of faith. Keys, secret steps, and formulas are ways to walk by sight, and our own senses, and to try to maintain control of our lives, or manufacture our preferred outcomes. God’s ways are above us and beyond us and our faculties. We must walk by faith … faith that is fed and informed by God’s Word and applied by His Holy Spirit.

This non-linear nature of Christ-following can be challenging, or frightening. But, it is actually thrilling. Children, or at least my children, do not have any problem with the wonder, fun, and excitement of non-linear living; they enjoy it. They rarely, if ever, know the outcomes, or connect the dots of different events. Yet, they love, laugh, soak in moments, and look forward to things to come. As God’s children we are to do the same. Child-like (not childish) faith honors Christ. It also embraces paths that aren’t straight, and that do not seem to make sense to us. This post is about to come to an abrupt halt. That is intentional. It is so that the punctuation at the end of this meditation on Matthew 21 and the non-linear — at least to us — ways and work of God is two verses that cause us to pause, ponder, and realize that…

“… give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

His ways are not our ways; they are the way of life. It’s a non-linear life. Buckle up, it’s incredible.