Sunday, April 29, 2012


The other day, I was making lunch when our 6-year-old asked the question someone always asks around noontime, "What are we having for lunch?"

"Egg salad sandwiches," I told her.  (Because the day after Easter, what else are you gonna do with all those hard-boiled eggs?)

"Yummy!  What are we having with it?"

For some reason, this response vexed me.  Isn't it enough that we're having one of your favorite meals??  Why do you need more??

"We don't need to have anything with it," I answered, "We can have the sandwiches all by themselves."

Laughing, "Nuh-uh!  We have to have vegetables or something!"

"No, we don't!!  We're just having sandwiches.  You don't have to have anything with it."

I was frustrated by her lack of gratefulness, her demand for more.  But then it hit me: why am I blaming her?  She's been trained to think this way.  We live in a "with it" culture.  We can't simply have, we must have "with it".

We can't just have the salary...we have to have the bonus and benefits to go with it.

We can't just have the blessed marriage...we have to have the fancy house and full bank account to go with it.

We can't just have kids with character and Christ-centered hearts...we have to have sports stars and valedictorians to go with it.

We can't just have the car...we have to have all the extra features to go with it.

We can't just have the inherent beauty God created us with...we have to have makeup and expensive clothes and colored hair and steroid-built muscles to go with it.

And heaven forbid we have just the hamburger...we have to have fries to go with it.

"With it."  Our culture lives on it.  Thrives on it.  Dies by it.  We live every day seeking to squeeze every ounce of "with it" out of life.  And it kills us.  Because there's always something more to have "with it".  But the worst part is...

......we do the same thing to Jesus.

We won't just have Jesus.

We have to have works to go with it.
We have to have evidence to go with it.
We have to have a ministry to go with it.
We have to have "our" church to go with it.
We have to have rules to go with it.
We have to have happiness to go with it.
We have to have _________ to go with it.

The disciples did the same thing.

"Phillip said, 'Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'"  (John 14:8)

I think what Phillip is saying is, "Jesus, it's great that we can see You and all, but we need something more.  Could You show us the Father to go with it?"

"Jesus answered: 'Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.'"  (v. 9)

I think Jesus is saying, "You don't need anything to go with it!!  I. Am. Enough."

He had just finished telling them, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."  (v. 6)

Not through works.
Not through evidence.
Not through ministry.
Not through the church.
Not through the rules.
Not through happiness.

Nothing with it.  Just Jesus.  He's the only way to the Father.  He sustains all things (Hebrews 1:3).  In Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).  His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Just Jesus.

We must let go of our need to have "with it".  Because our need for "with it" is ultimately a lack of faith in His sufficiency.

Paul says we must not only quit seeking to have "with it", we must also let go of the things we already have in order to fully know Him. 

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him."  (Philippians 3:7-9)

We have to have "with it"?  Rubbish!  All we need is to gain Christ and be found in Him.  He is enough.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Because I said so."

If you're a parent, you've probably said those words.

If you have a parent, you've probably had those words said to you.

I know I've said it (though I'm not a parent, just an overzealous oldest sibling) and have had it said to me, and I'm better because of it.

However, in some of my college classes on child development, I learned about a parenting approach that doesn't allow room for that phrase.  This approach places an enormous emphasis on reasoning.  Parents don't tell their children to do things.  Instead, they ask them and then proceed to explain all of the reasons that the child ought to do what they've been asked.  So, for example, the child isn't told, "Go clean your room."  The child is asked, "Would you please go clean your room?  You'll be able to find things so much better, and it will smell nicer, and your clothes won't be wrinkled if they're not on the floor, and you'll be happier in a clean room."  It is then the child's choice whether or not to clean their room.

In this "reasoning" theory about parenting, children are always provided with the answers to the question, "Why?".  The answer is never, "Because I said so."  Instead, it is spelled out clearly in a way they can understand.

On the surface, this sounds good.  However, I must respectfully disagree with this approach.

It is my belief that children first begin to understand their relationship with God through their relationships with their parents.  In the parent-child relationship, children learn trust, dependence, love, obedience, consequences, communication, and a host of other qualities that they then learn to translate into their relationship with God.  Children who grow up trusting their parents and finding them worthy of that trust will most likely be willing to trust God and believe that He his trustworthy.  Children who grow up in a loving relationship with their parents will probably accept the loving nature of God, while children who grow up with distant parents who rarely show love to them are more likely to view God as harsh and distant.  (Obviously, there are many exceptions to this.  This is just a general theme I've seen play out in people's lives.)

Thus, if children grow up with parents who obligingly answer the question "why?" after every set of instructions and spell it out with commonsense reasoning, will they not expect the same from God?  When God tells them to do something, they will probably want to know, "Why?"  But let me ask you this...

How many times in the Bible do you remember God answering the question, "Why?"

I may very well be wrong, but there aren't many instances coming to my mind.  Instead, I keep thinking about all of the people who were called by God to something very difficult and were given no answer to that question.

Abraham -- First he was called to leave behind everything that was dear to him and go to a strange place he'd never seen.  Then he was called to sacrifice his son on the altar.  Neither time did God offer an explanation for why He was asking those things of Abraham.

Job -- God allowed everything he held dear to be taken from him by Satan.  When Job mourned the day of his birth and wondered why such calamity came upon him, God offered no explanation.  He responded by basically saying, "I'm God.  You're not."  That's the only "why?" Job got.

David -- His Psalms are filled with questions of "Why, God?"  He never receives an answer.  But he always comes back around and says, "Oh yeah!  I remember who You are."

Peter -- Oh, dear Peter!  I think he always wanted to know why.  Why throw my net on the other side?  Why did I sink?  Why can't I follow you now?  But the answers are markedly absent.

All of them were required to follow the instructions the Lord gave them, and they received only one answer to their "why"s:

"Because I said so."

I think the same is true for us.  God often calls us to places that are uncomfortable and uncertain, and perhaps we don't see the reasoning behind His instructions.  We want to know why.  But we're probably out of luck.  You see, we must learn what Job learned.  He's God.  We're not.  And He doesn't have to tell us any more "why" than,

"Because I said so."

Now don't get me wrong about this whole parenting thing: I think there are times when kids need to know the reasons behind the things they're told.  Why you don't play in the street, why you don't talk to strangers, why you don't share your toothbrush with the dog, etc.  Some things you just need to know.  But they also have to learn that obedience isn't dependent upon the "why".  When Mom or Dad says something, you obey, even if it's only "because I said so."

The same goes for us as children of God.  He might tell us the why sometimes.  Why to steer clear of immorality, why to be careful who you surround yourself with, why to keep our focus on Christ, etc.  Some things He wants us to know.  But we also have to learn that our obedience isn't dependent upon whether or not we know the "why".  When He tells us what to do, we obey.  Because He said so.

Monday, April 23, 2012

That's What It's All About

If you've never done the Hokey Pokey, you've been deprived.

I mean, really!  It's classic!  Other than singing "Father Abraham" in Bible Hour (or youth group...), what other song can make perfectly sane people shake their arms, legs, heads, and entire selves while turning in circles?  It's great!

And it simplifies life.  Because it ends with a declaration of certainty: "That's what it's all about!"

Then some comedian with too much time on their hands posts on facebook, "What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?"

It's not, of course.  But it begs the question..."What IS it all about?"

Jesus Christ.

I know that.  You probably do, too.  If you don't, I hope you come to know it.

But what does that look like manifested in the everyday life of a human being?  How do we live in a way that shows it's all about Him?

I've come to a conclusion to which He's been leading me for a long time.  I've known it, even lived it, though most of the time not very well.  But this weekend, He emblazoned it on my mind.


You don't have to look very hard to see that children were clearly at the top of His priority list.

Matthew 25:40,45
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me...whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.'"

Matthew 18:1-6,
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'
He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And He said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
'And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.'"

Matthew 19:13-15,
"Then little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'  When He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there." 

Mark 10:13-16,
"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'  And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them."

James 1:27,
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

As I've looked these up to post on here, I've noticed some things either for the first time or in a new light.
  • Not only is what we do for them unto Him, what we don't do for them is unto Him, as well.
  • When Jesus "went on from there", it wasn't until after "He had placed His hands on them".
  • Jesus wasn't just mildly unhappy that the disciples were keeping the children from Him; He was indignant.  That's some seriously strong feeling.
  • The word "religion" basically means our external expression of worship.  We worship by taking care of the children.
So what's it all about?  Is it about showing up every Sunday and Wednesday?  No.  Is it about showing up for every other activity, VBS, community outreach event, Bible study, and service opportunity?  No.  Is it about volunteering in any and every area you can find?  No.  Is it about going on every mission trip and attending every camp?  No.

What's it all about?  The children.

Maybe you think this is an extreme view.  Maybe you think I'm taking this whole caring-for-the-children thing too far.  Maybe you think I'm making light of whatever ministry you're currently involved in.

I'm not.

It's not an extreme view and I'm not taking it too far, because it's what He said.  You just read it in the italicized words up there.  Verse after verse of Him declaring, "The children are important to Me!!!"

And I'm not attacking your ministries, because I'm sure you're involved in some incredible ones.  That's not the point.  The point isn't the ministries that we are doing.  The point is the one we've left undone for far too long.  The children need Him.  And what are we?  We are His body on this earth.  They need Him.  In us.

He knocked me upside the head with that this weekend.  I was sitting on the floor of the shed that's being built in our backyard, but so far it's just a platform.  But I wasn't there alone.

My parents were there.
Three of my four siblings were there.
My three foster siblings were there.
My two exchange-student siblings were there.
Two of my former foster siblings, back for a visit, were there.
And our three weekend guests from the children's shelter were there.

As I sat with all fifteen of them, eating pizza and drinking grape koolaid, I felt the Lord saying it to me.  It was a whisper in my soul, and yet a shout through my entire being:

"This is what it's all about."

I don't do it well.  Most of the time I'm selfish, wanting to keep my time and space and stuff to myself.  But He keeps pushing me.  He keeps giving me moments of clarity like that when I realize it's not about me.  That's a really hard thing to live.  Because as my grandmother once said, "A sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it's a sacrifice."  It requires the giving up of something treasured.

That's the thing about the Hokey Pokey.

You have to put your whole self in.

That's what it's all about.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I ate three Reese's Pieces for breakfast this morning.
Not three of those big Reese's cups.
No, three of those little Reese's-flavored M&M looking things.
I knew I wasn't going to be able to have lunch until 2:00. So if I got my metabolism going by eating breakfast at 7:00, I would've been starving by the time I got to eat lunch. Instead, I didn't eat breakfast, which didn't jump-start my metabolism, so I could survive until my late lunch without my stomach howling at me. It worked.

See, the thing about humans is, once we start eating, we're bound to want more before long. Have you ever noticed that the more often you eat, the sooner you get hungry again? It's true. And not just physically.

I've started my days with just three Reese's Pieces worth of Jesus before.
Not even enough to be three of those big Reese's cups.
And what happens?
Spiritual metabolism.
When I don't start out consuming Him, I forget to hunger for Him as my day goes on. I don't jump-start my spiritual metabolism, so I think I can survive longer without Him.

But if I start out consuming Him as the Bread of Life and the Living Water, I'm bound to want more before long. I've noticed that the more often I take Him in, the sooner I'm hungry for Him again.

Wait--how does that work? In John 6:35, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty." So why do I find myself hungry for Him over and over? I think there are some key words in that verse that answer that question. "He who comes to Me." When we come, we're no longer hungry. But we must come. When we don't, we're hungry, which drives us back to Him for more.

...unless we go so long without consuming Him that our metabolism shuts down and we forget that He is vital to our existence. Then we don't want to come. So we're not filled. And we waste away. We cannot subsist on a Reese's Pieces diet of Jesus.

We must keep coming. When we come, we're filled, which makes us hunger for Him even more. So we come again, and we're filled again, which makes us hunger for Him still more. The more we hunger, the more we come, and the more we're filled.

Stay hungry, my friends. And somehow in the world of our God that is so upside down from our own, by staying hungry, we stay filled.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Know

"I know, I know
that my Redeemer lives
I know, I know
eternal life He gives
I know...I know...
that my Redeemer lives"

We sang this song at church on Sunday. I knew we would. It was Easter, after all. You have to sing that song. That or "Up From the Grave He Arose." It's just one of those things you do.

Many of the songs we sing, especially the hymns, are musical renditions of Scripture passages. I often don't realize it until I come across a verse and think, "Hey! I know that song!" Most of the time it's a psalm. Not so with this song. This song, this lively, enthusiastic, resurrection from the book of Job.

Yes. That Job. The Job who was righteous in God's sight. The Job that God gave Satan permission to test and torment. The Job whose children were killed, whose livelihood was stolen, whose very body was torn with sores. The Job whose friends, shall we say, lacked the spiritual gift of encouragement. That Job.

That was a shockingly beautiful revelation to me.

You see, we sing this song on Easter. Easter. The season of life. Everything is alive. It's spring. The trees are alive. The flowers are alive. The baby bunnies and chicks are alive. And, of course, Jesus is alive. We stand in a church amidst treasured friends, singing our hearts out in celebration of the resurrection, and we feel alive, too. In moments like that, it's easy to sing.

"I know, I know
that my Redeemer lives
I know, I know
eternal life He gives
I know...I know...
that my Redeemer lives"

But when these words were spoken for the first time, life was not the dominant theme. In fact, there was no life to be found. Everything dear to Job was dead. His wife told him to curse God and die. He himself lamented the day of his birth. His friends were spending hours telling him about the demise of the wicked and how God was punishing him and he had only misery and death to look forward to. Job is surrounded by death, yet he speaks confidently about the certainty of life. I want to be like that.

See, the Lord told us that there would be seasons in life. Seasons of birth...and death. Seasons of planting...and uprooting. Seasons of healing...and killing. Seasons of building...and tearing down. Seasons of laughing...and weeping. Seasons of dancing...and mourning. Seasons of gathering...and scattering. Seasons of embracing...and refraining. Seasons of searching...and giving up. Seasons of keeping...and throwing away. Seasons of mending...and tearing. Seasons of speaking...and silence. Seasons of love...and hate. Seasons of peace...and war.

It's easy to speak of life during half of those seasons. The birth, the planting, the healing, the building, the laughing, etc. We sing it, we live it, we shout it from the mountain tops.

"I know that my Redeemer lives!!!"

But what about the other half? The death, the uprooting, the killing, the tearing down, the weeping, etc. That's the true test. Do we believe it even then? Maybe we can't sing it. Maybe it's hard to live it. Maybe we don't have the strength (or the desire) to shout it from a mountain top. Maybe all we can do is whisper it, curled up in a ball of tears in the dark of night.

"I know that my Redeemer lives."

The point isn't how loud or confident the words sound. The point is the One in whom those words declare faith. Those words say, "I see my circumstances. I bear the weight of my surroundings. I'm aware of the hopelessness. I breathe the despair. I feel the desperation. I live in the pain. But that doesn't change what I know.

I. Know. That. My. Redeemer. Lives."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Going 50 in a 65 World

The speed limit on my most-traveled highway is 65 mph.

Except in this one spot.

See, there's a bridge that crosses over the highway and they're doing some construction work on it. So naturally, there are cones and trucks and workers on the highway underneath the bridge. Thus, per construction zone code, the speed limit has been significantly decreased. (Because somebody thought it would be a good idea to not run over workers. Genius.)

So the speed limit drops to 55 mph...

...and then to 50.

Now if you've ever been in a construction zone on a highway, you know how hard it is to slow down to the new speed limit. When you lose 15 mph, all of a sudden it feels like you're crawling, regardless of the fact that you're still a good 10-15 mph faster than the average city street.

I was driving through that construction zone the other day when I realized that since they started the construction work, I hadn't ever actually slowed down to the new speed limit. I felt slightly torn as to what to do. I knew I ought to slow down. It's the law. It's what's right. But no one else was. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE else was still going 65.

Do you know how hard it is to go 50 when everyone else is going 65?!?!

Not only do you feel like you're traveling at a snail's pace, but people swerve around you and glare at you as they pass and make it abundantly clear that they're quite annoyed with your rule-following.

Some people stay behind you at first. They sit back, and who knows what they're thinking. Maybe they're hoping you'll speed up. Maybe they're feeling guilty for not following the speed limit themselves. Whatever the reason, they hang back behind you for a ways. But eventually they get impatient and they too jerk into the next lane and put the pedal to the metal.

Our culture has a "speed limit" at which people are used to traveling. It's a way of life to which we've all become accustomed.

But the Lord's "speed limit" is different. Way more than a 15 mph difference.

Isaiah 55:8-9,
"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

The world says, "Have what you want, and have it now!"

The Lord says, "'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." (Lamentations 3:24-26)

The world says, "My life is about me!"

The Lord says, "It's not all about you. It's about Christ." (Rough paraphrase of Philippians 2:1-11)

The world says, "Spend your life and your money accumulating stuff to make yourself happy!"

The Lord says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19-20)

The world says, "Make yourself comfortable!"

The Lord says, "Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me." (Paraphrase, Luke 9:23)

That all sounds great when you're sitting in church on Sunday singing and smiling and shaking hands with people who agree with you. But what happens when the rubber meets the road? What happens when following Christ means doing something different from the world? Worse, what happens when following Christ means doing something different from the church?

Do you know how hard it is to go 50 when everyone else is going 65?!?!

It's hard. Really hard. Especially when you love the people who are going 65.

And it gets harder. Because people fly past you, making sure you know how annoyed they are that you're going 50. Some of them really do think it's dumb. Others are trying to bury their guilt because deep down, they know they ought to be going 50, too.

It's hard to stick to the speed limit under all that pressure. It's hard to follow Christ when it means going against the flow. And the more cars that fly by, the more tempting it becomes to speed up. Don't.

Galatians 6:8-9,
"The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

I think the Message version of that probably says something like, "If you speed, you're gonna crash. If you go the speed limit, you'll get there safely. Keep going the speed limit, even when everyone else is speeding. It'll be worth it when you get there."

So, if you're going 50...awesome job! I admire you! Be uplifted and don't give up!

If you're going 65...slow down! The Lord's speed is so much better! Be convicted and hit the brakes!

If your speedometer bounces between 50 and 65...welcome to the club! The Lord isn't finished with us! Be encouraged and keep slowing down!

Lord, teach me to go 50 in a 65 world...