This week we talk about Chad’s ailments, golf’s parallels to church life, music, and the saga of the lost keys.
One night I walked into Sawyer’s room at bedtime to find him crying bitterly. He had disobeyed earlier in the day, and even though he had already shed tears of remorse about it, his earlier sin was still haunting him at bedtime. It had been an inconsequential mistake, really. He had been a little too slow to respond when I asked him to do something. I had completely forgotten about the incident. Yet, here he was, still mourning over his bad decision when he should have been resting up for school the next day.
We’ve all been there. When we have asked for forgiveness and gotten it, when we have repented and tried to move forward, but seem to hear repeated taunting in our heart and head: I’m awful. God can’t use me. I am the last person who should be trying to tell people about Jesus. And, just like that, we carry the burden of our sins with us instead of dropping them at Jesus’ feet. We cling to what we have done and let it destroy us instead of clinging to what Christ has done and let it restore us.
Maybe for Christians it isn’t even the sin itself that is the real setback. Maybe it’s the way Satan will use that sin to tell us all kinds of lies that make us ineffective ministers of the gospel. That is his goal, after all: to usher as many people into Hell and darkness as possible. And there may be no greater avenue through which he works to make empowered Christians go limp than through the aftermath of a moral failure.
When we are faced with the devastating reality that we have messed up once again, we must remember that the heart is wicked and deceitful. The same lying heart that leads us into sin will try to convince us that we cannot recover from our failure. It will tell us that God couldn’t love us, that we are of no use to the kingdom. These are the tools that Satan uses to distort our view of the gospel and keep us from being a threat to his detestable schemes.
Don’t listen to that lying heart. Don’t listen to that sworn enemy. We belong to Jesus. He is our witness and our defense. Get up, dust yourself off, and thank Him that His mercies are new every day. Pray for strength. Rely on the Holy Spirit. And, move forward with a clearer view of how great His salvation really is.
I love the internet. I love social media, news, the wild opinions, and even the endless debate. Except when I don’t. When I get sick of listening to the same people say the same thing over and over again. When everything that could possibly be said has been said, many, many times, but people are still going. Sometimes I just have to walk away. I have to get some perspective.
I remember when my first really huge post was getting me absolutely roasted in what seemed like every corner of the internet. My stomach was twisted into knots as I read comment after comment, discovered yet another place where people were discussing me on some board somewhere, and I felt like I was embroiled in a huge scandal. My life seemed filled with conflict and angst and upset. And then I realized something.
I realized that I could get up, close my laptop, and look at the world around me. I was sitting in the cozy living room of our sweet parsonage, and only steps away my children (who love me) were playing happily. My devoted husband would soon be home from working at the best church in Texas. I had a light bulb moment: I had let what I had read on the internet that day overshadow the reality of my actual life. My real life was not rife with conflict and strife. It wasn’t a battleground. My real life was actually a pleasant, low-stress existence. But, I had let myself get sucked into the world of every opinion, and once I got lost in that jungle of harsh debate and little civility, I had a hard time finding my way out again.
I think many of us are there right now. Within Christian circles, debates are raging. Opinions are pouring in. Passionate pleas and rude attacks and the-sky-is-falling attitudes are everywhere. Debate can be a good thing. We should talk about things, hold each other accountable, call out what needs to be called out. Go for it. But, when stress begins to fill your heart and mind, when your blood pressure begins to pulse wildly, when you can think of little else but what a stranger said in a comment box someplace, then maybe it’s time to take a step back. Maybe it’s time to close that laptop and look at the life around you and recognize that you don’t have to solve every problem the internet dreams up. Walk away for awhile. Sit on the porch with your wife. Play a board game with your kids. Call up an old friend. Realize how great your life is, and how little real life conflict you are probably actually having to deal with.
The internet won’t fall apart if you don’t read every article and comment. Jesus came to give abundant life. Maybe that abundance is right in front of you, but you can’t see it for your computer screen. Don’t confuse internet bickering with your real life. Get up. Walk away. And see how God is working and blessing right in your own house, your own church, your own town, where most of the people you encounter have no idea what the latest Christian controversy is.
I’m not saying stay out of the discussions. But, find a balance that keeps you from feeling like your life is just one big drama scene when it clearly is not. Look up. Take heart. And see what God is doing right where you are.
Let’s face it: most of us spend a lot of time on Facebook. I just wanted to drop in quickly today to assure you that your Facebook feed can actually be a source of great inspiration, encouragement, and godly wisdom. It’s all about the pages that you follow.
A friend recently told me that she spends a lot of time on social media for her job in marketing, and she was wondering how she could combine her time on Facebook with her desire to grow in Christ and expand her knowledge about His word. So, I’ve compiled a very short list of some pages that I follow that keep my feed filled with interesting and edifying articles. These are listed in no particular order.
The Gospel Coalition This page features content from pastors, bloggers, and people from all kinds of disciplines who write about current issues from a Christian worldview, the Bible, church, and lots more.
Thom Rainer If you enjoy thinking through church issues, or if you are in the ministry, you will enjoy Dr. Rainer’s content.
Tim Challies Tim rounds up some of the best stuff around the web every day (and once on the weekend), plus he writes about varied topics that are of interest to Christians. I always check Challies first.
Albert Mohler If you’re interested in the direction the world is taking and what Christian people should think about it, Albert Mohler will keep you informed. The Briefing is a short podcast where he discusses the issue of the day.
Richard Ross I look forward to Dr. Ross’s status updates every day. If you have a passion for seeing teenagers change the world for Christ, you will want to see what he has to say. His faith in the middle of trying circumstances is inspiring.
God Centered Mom Heather MacFadyen hosts this podcast that features guests who offer all kinds of insight on Christian living and especially Christian parenting.
So, this is a short list, and I’ve chosen these because there’s quite a bit of variety among them. But, this would at least be a good start in making your Facebook newsfeed a little more inspiring and Christ-centered. And, by the way, I do I have one more suggestion: Your Mom Has a Blog. Ha! I pray that this list is a help to you as you try to purge your social media of the time-wasters and hone in on some stuff that will make you more like Christ.
Who do you follow that you would recommend?
Chad and I have spent most of our married life in cities far from our families. During our first two years together, we were almost 900 miles from our parents and siblings, and we quickly learned that our friendships were going to be an essential part of life. We have shared victories and failures with dear friends through the years, celebration and mourning, laughing until we were all gasping for air, and learning big life lessons that we never saw coming. It’s hard for me to even put into words what these precious people have meant to our life.
Yet, in the middle of all of the beautiful, when lives intertwine it’s not always neat and tidy. Sometimes we have to speak hard truths to each other. Sometimes misunderstandings happen. And awkward conversations. Sometimes we have to say I’m sorry. And sometimes we have to figure out how to forgive, even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. Friendship can be complicated. But, it’s always worth the risk.
This is a theme of Christine Hoover’s new book Messy Beautiful Friendship. There seems to be a friendship trend happening in Christian publishing, and this tells me that relationship issues are heavy on the minds of women everywhere. As a pastor’s wife I often hear from women that they don’t know where they fit, that they feel left out or lonely. There are plenty of books out there about self-esteem, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a practical guide to real friendship as the one that Christine has laid out here.
She wrote the book for Christian women who need a “fresh perspective” on friendship, and I think she presents that perspective quite well. She spends the first part of the book exploring reasons why friendship as adults can become so complicated. She points out that part of the problem is unrealistic expectations: “When I am disappointed with my friendships and I take time to dig a little deeper in my heart, I inevitably find that I’m looking for my friends to relate to me as only God can… People are not fillers for a present God, and God is not a placeholder for future friends.” Friends aren’t meant to be our sole providers of a sense of worth–once we relegate them to that job, of course we are going to wind up hurt and disappointed. She warns against stoically deciding that God is all we need (thereby failing to pursue friendships) and against turning to God only when we are feeling like our friends have let us down.
One of the more frustrating things that I see in church life is that the very same women who feel isolated and lonely rarely take steps to nurture relationships, but simply give up and place all of the responsibility on others to engage in a friendship with them. I was so happy to see that Christine addresses this very issue. Using Paul’s definition of Christian friendship in Colossians 3:12-15, she writes, “Paul certainly goes beyond vacationing together and making small talk and waiting for someone else to initiate. He exhorts us to actively pursue being patient, forgiving, loving, and being thankful for others as we relate to them. The focus is on what we give to others, not what they give to us.”
Part two of the book focuses on issues that threaten friendship. Here she talks about how past hurts and insecurities can hold us back. How a lack of vulnerability can make us hard to get to know. In this section, she begins to build a practical picture of what a good friend looks like. A good friend knows and loves Christ. She seeks to get to know others. She is generous in showing others the kind of friendship she wants for herself. She seeks to think the best of others instead of the worst. Christine starts to lay a foundation here that causes us to examine ourselves and consider what kind of friend we really are.
Part three is the section where she really begins to get into some practical advice for friendship seekers. She advises us to take initiative in forging friendships, being vulnerable enough to share ourselves with others. Imperfect hospitality should be another important part of friendship building. Are we willing to welcome people into our wild and chaotic lives, laundry piles and all? At the end of this section, she even recommends naming all of the friends in your life and gives some suggestions for places to look around you for friends that maybe you haven’t even stopped to acknowledge as such.
Part four of the book is simply entitled, “Being a Friend.” Christine gets into some absolutely essential details of building deep and lasting friendships here. Some of these are things that honestly might have been no-brainers at one time, but maybe it’s our technological society that has caused us to forget some of these truths of friendship. Christine provides crucial instruction for those who struggle to maintain friendships, and they are things that our world seems to have forgotten, with social media bringing out the narcissist in most of us. She writes in depth about listening. About reaching for friendships that are two-way streets, where we ask questions out of genuine interest and truly listen to the answers. About speaking sweetly to our friends, with words that carry grace and truth and kindness and patience. About diving into difficult times with people, praying for each other, speaking the truth in love, using social media to enhance our friendships, and dropping our unrealistic expectations.
This section tells the touching story of Christine’s friend Claire, and how Christine was able to walk with her through a cancer diagnosis and eventually her death. It’s a powerful story of the “real” behind true friendship. She writes about what an honor it is to enter into the adversity of another person. It’s inspiring to read about Claire, especially after seeing that Christine dedicated the book to her.
Here we also see a more in-depth discussion of different ways that we place God-sized responsibilities on the shoulders of our friends, and how that will always lead to heartache. She writes: “Jesus stands between us and our friends. This is a safety valve for all of our hearts. If we turn that valve off, we suffocate our friends and weigh them down with our expectations, because what we crave can only be met in Christ.” She shows how this type of idolatry is sin and how it will always lead to “dysfunctional friendships that are rife with conflict.”
.The final section of the book is about receiving friendship. True friendship means that we have to depend on each other. We have to ask for help when we need it. We have to be willing to accept a wound from a friend that is spoken in truth and love. We have to appreciate what is in front of us. She closes the book with a helpful trick for doing away with ungratefulness in our relationships. She says that when she is getting grouchy and whiny, she stops for a moment and imagines what life would be like if she didn’t have the friends that are currently in her life. (Note: this trick works for husbands as well. When you start getting frustrated and annoyed, just imagine how you would feel if this were your last day together. It’ll help you drop your bad attitude in no time.)
There is so much more in this lovely book that I could tell you about. I highly recommend it for anyone who cares about friendship. And, that’s all of us. As a sidenote, if you are a pastor’s wife, you’ll relate to many of the situations that Christine finds herself in. You can buy Messy Beautiful Friendship here. Buy a couple of copies and send one to a friend. We will all benefit from considering Christine’s practical advice and wise reminders of what real friendship looks like.
Christine was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.
Last week Emerald and I sat at the back of the fellowship hall while Chad talked about the resurrection. The crowd that had come for lunch was now just nibbling on brownies and finishing up the last of their sweet tea, and Emerald crawled into my lap, nothing to do but watch her daddy as he gestured and preached at the front of the room. Early on the first day of the week, he read, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Emerald turned to look at me with wide eyes. I know this story! she said, excitedly. Then she rested there, sitting in my lap, leaning on her mama while she heard again the truth that Jesus is alive. She has heard descriptions of this all-important resurrection morning over and over again in her short life, like a refrain that is always chanting, There is hope, There is hope, There is hope…
And, she recognizes it every time as news to smile about, because this is Jesus, our friend, come back from the grave. She has seen more than her fair share of bodies in caskets. The pastor’s child learns to be comfortable with funerals and the strange way that the outward shell of a human being will sometimes lie there in a satiny bed at the front of the church. She has watched many a dear wife stand at the casket, tears streaming down, saying one last goodbye to the face of the man she has loved so well. Emerald has stood aside while her daddy walked past, leading a casket out of the church. She has played quietly just steps away from deceased church members who had only a few weeks earlier smiled down at her sweetly in the very same sanctuary. She has walked through a sea of tombstones, balancing on the concrete dividers between plots like a circus performer. And, she has heard her daddy repeat those solemn words over a gaping grave: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Blessed are they who die in the Lord, for they will rest from their labor and their deeds will follow after them.
When the familiar words of the Easter account crop up in her world once again, she knows very well what kind of good news it really is. It is news that says the cemetery isn’t the end of the story. It is news that says it is possible for a beloved, precious, vibrant person to lie in a casket and then get up again, more radiant than ever.
Adelade got a new Bible on Sunday and turned to the Easter story, just exploring her pretty pink copy of God’s word. She read in Matthew: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
She looked at me, mouth gaping in disbelief. She couldn’t believe she had never in all of her twelve years read or heard this. But, there it was, in black and white. When Jesus was raised, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, all kinds of loved ones who had been tenderly laid to rest came walking right out of once sealed, lifeless tombs. It was as if the cemetery suddenly woke up. Everything about Jesus’ death and resurrection turned this planet upside down, starting with the day that Jesus and a host of holy men and women simply got up, left the graveyard, and walked back into town.
Adelade shook her head, trying to decide what that would have been like. A mother, washing laundry in the river, looks up to see the teenaged daughter that she has endlessly grieved for. A playing child squints into the sun as he sees a familiar figure walking quickly up the path. He runs to meet his dear daddy who has been in the tomb for over a year. Here he is, looking stronger and more alive than ever before. All over the city, reunions. Cries of joy. Shouts of praise to the God of life. Declarations that death really is dead.
And, on another path, Jesus’ closest friends who had watched Him die a brutal death would realize that everything He had told them had come true. He is alive. The resurrection is once and for all, real life eternally.
This is our story. This is our destiny. We are the people of the empty tomb. The cemeteries will bust open one day, and Life will win.
So, here is the challenge in the days after Easter. When the echoes of the glorious music we sang on Sunday morning begin to fade. When thoughts of all that is wrong start to crowd out the truth that one day every little thing will be just right. Are we living, on the Tuesday after the resurrection, as if we really know this story? Are we, like little Emerald, content to settle into the joy and the hope of it, the sheer love of a Savior who says that no casket can hold us? That it can’t hold our dearest ones? Are we trusting in the God of Easter morning to handle whatever is coming?
We must live this short, troubled life with a resurrection mentality. With a soul that never stops smiling over Easter morning. With a mind that remembers that the risen Savior proves that death and sin have no power here. With a faith that can stand at the foot of an open grave, knowing this is not the end, not even close. I know this story, we will whisper with a smile, and we will lean on our risen Savior. He is alive forever, and so are we.
It was well past midnight, but my dad and I were still up hashing things out. I was a passionate, opinionated, God-fearing teenager who thought she had her faith and this world figured out. He was a well-educated, wise, heart-wounded Christ-follower who had buried both parents and his brother, who was his best friend. I talked and he listened. And, then I talked some more. I told him about how he and mom ought to be. I told him about how our church ought to be. I told him about how we should live and what we should say and what I believed God was doing.
Looking back on it now, I’m embarrassed that I laid so much of my ignorance at his feet, or, rather, shoved it down his throat, while he listened with patience and kindness. Once I finally ran out of things to say, he gently, carefully corrected my thinking. He showed empathy and understanding, even where my lack of life experience gave me the most ridiculous ideas. And, where he had to clearly oppose my awkward and silly notions, he did it without laughing at me or berating me or telling me to be quiet.
I’m sure at times my attitude was hard for him to take. I’m sure he could’ve told me a million different ways that I was getting it all 100% wrong. But, he never did that. It was as if he understood that in those moments when I opened up to him, when I came to him to espouse my theories and hear what he had to say about them, I was coming with my little teenaged heart in my hand. He took it, tenderly, and he gently helped to shape and mold it, without the harshness that I probably deserved. He could’ve crushed my heart with rock hard indignation and a pounding with his Bible. But, instead, he led me slowly, with a soft touch and a warmhearted understanding, showing me through scripture why many of my thoughts weren’t in line with what it’s really like to live out a true and lasting faith in Christ.
This was discipleship, in its most Christ-like form. My dad has always had a big, friendly, lovable personality and plenty of opinions of his own. But, in those moments, he was meek and mild, yet filled with godly wisdom. He discerned what I needed to hear and how I needed to hear it. He sought to know me, and he listened when I talked. He was tender with me. Never hard or harsh or impatient.
And, it has made all the difference in the world.
Dads, be tender with your kids. Yes, discipline them. Set boundaries and rules and set up consequences and stick to them. Care enough to hold them to high standards. My dad did all of these things. But, don’t lose your tenderness toward your silly, awkward, messed up, mixed up, attitude-ridden kids. They need to see the love of Christ demonstrated through your tender daddy heart. And, if you aren’t feeling any tenderness, only hardness, pray and ask Jesus to soften you up.
I think my interactions with my dad during those all-important late night discussions helped to form my view of who Jesus really is. I needed to know that He isn’t constantly frowning down on me, that He doesn’t use His word as a weapon against me, but as a loving guide for living an abundant life. I needed to know Jesus’ tender heart and His meek and mild ways, His humility and His majesty. All of these things shone clear on those dark nights, when my dad listened and my dad talked. I am forever grateful for a father who was tender toward a ridiculous teenaged girl. He gave me a clear view of Christ.
I remember reading about Felix Manz when I was in college. I read about how he was taken out to a freezing river in the middle of a bitter Zurich winter, how he was tied up and thrown into the frigid waters, the “third baptism,” they called it, for the Anabaptist who had dared to teach adult baptism. Like most Christian young people, I was fascinated by the stories of the martyrs and spent quite a bit of time reading the dramatic accounts of their steadfast faith, even to the point of death. I suppose when you are a young, spoiled American Christian, it can help put things into perspective for you to read about what Christians through history have endured. And, today, to see what kind of persecution is so rampant all around the world. It will cause you to sit up a little straighter. To consider how easily that you are distracted and led astray. It will cause you to wonder what you would really do if it were you. You, kneeling on a beach someplace, about to be beheaded for believing with all your heart that Jesus is real, that the Bible is true, that real truth is worth dying for.
Yet, it wasn’t Felix Manz’s death that intrigued me so much. It was a different part of the story that has caused his last day to stay firmly planted in my mind for all these years. While Felix was being led through the streets of Zurich to his certain death, his mother was nearby, watching the nightmare unfold. And, all the while, the crowd that had gathered could hear her crying out to her precious son, encouraging him to stand firm, to remain true to Christ is this hour of such great temptation. There she stood, I imagine, in horrible agony as she watched them tie his arms to the stick they had jammed up behind his knees, singing out all the while for him to go into his cold, watery grave with complete trust in Jesus. And, then she watched as they tipped him into the water, disappeared from her life forever. I wonder how many scenes of his childhood pulsed through her mind at that moment? Yet, she never wavered. She knew, as she had taught her dear son, that a man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.*
It takes an all-consuming faith to produce Christians like Felix Manz and his mother. It takes a singular focus. It takes soul-encompassing commitment to living a life that sings out the refrain every day: This is all that matters. This is all that matters. Unless we beg God to transform us into people who are passionately driven to glorify Him in every move, then I fear that we are not becoming and are not producing in our children the kind of Christians who would stand for Christ to the difficult end of a persecuted life.
Lately I have felt such a sense of urgency. Why are Christians continuing to treat this faith as if it is a poorly producing side business in the middle of a hugely prosperous life? Why are Christians abandoning their church families so their kids can play baseball on Sundays? Why are Christians refusing to teach their children the hard truths of Scripture, and why are they reluctant to learn them themselves? Why are Christians satisfied with a faith that only vaguely informs their decisions, that only mildly affects their thinking, that only produces warm feelings and never heart-crushing, soul-wrenching grief over their sin?
It’s probably because many who claim to be Christians actually aren’t. When real persecution comes, those people will fall away quickly. Their half-hearted attempts to live as Christians will turn into no attempt at all, and they will no longer identify with the Bride of Christ.
But, the rest of us. We must think about where the trajectory of our current faith life will lead us and our children. Are we giving ourselves over completely to the God who saves, saying with our every breath that He is all, that He is worthy of our life and our death and anything else in between? Are we beginning now to build a faith within our family that will truly be able to withstand harsh and terrible and cruel and unreasonable persecution, should it come knocking at our door? Are we teaching our children how to live for Christ and how it is an honor and a joy to suffer with Him, even to die for the glory of His name? If we should ever be called to sacrifice our lives for this Truth that we know, will our hearts and souls and minds be prepared, because of an all-consuming, life-long obsession with Jesus Christ, to die for His sake? To cheer our children on to stand firm if they are called to lay down their precious bodies that we love?
I fear that most of us are so far removed from that type of faith that we hardly even understand what it would look like.
Our children are facing a different world than we have known. Their faith is going to have to be real and alive and immune to the mesmerizing but useless distractions of this world. Our children are going to need a faith that devours their entire lives, that dominates every thought, that changes the way they see and hear and understand everything around them. We simply cannot continue to categorize our lives, badly arranging our priorities around things that don’t last. If we keep sending the message that this faith is just part of our lives and not the only thing that matters, then our children will continue to believe us.
They will settle for a version of Christianity that will not stand. That will not speak. That will not mean much more to their lives than a basic hope of being rescued from Hell. And, when persecution comes, it will be a faith that doesn’t lead them into obedience and courage and self-sacrifice, but rebellion and fear and self-preservation. And, the truth is that such a faith offers little hope of salvation. Is it possible that we are leading our children into a counterfeit faith?
We love our comfort too much. Our entertainment. Our popularity. We prioritize happiness over Godliness. We see no joy in suffering. We see no reason to deny ourselves. And, we are thrilled if we make it to worship twice a month.
It will show. When persecution comes. It will show.
Now is the time to decide that this faith is all or nothing. This is how we lead our children into holiness, into steadfastness, into perseverance. We live it now so that we can live it on the day that persecution comes. We live it now so that one day when we are long gone, if our children are called to lay down their lives for this great and glorious faith, they will still hear our voices crying out: Stand firm. Remain true to Christ, even in this hour of great temptation.
He asked me to tell you that He heard you. It’s gonna be okay.
The words were emblazoned across my computer screen, the large-print Facebook status of a stranger. A thousand readers had given the thought their stamp of approval, and many had left comments. You could almost hear the tears welling up inside of them as reader after reader declared that they needed to hear this. That this was just what they had been waiting for. They were tagging people in their lives who needed to hear from God.
Who knows what kind of situations these people were waiting for answers about? Who knows what context in their own lives that they applied these words to? Who knows how many thousands of people saw this simple Facebook status and believed that it was a message straight from God Himself?
The truth is that we will never know how many people saw this thought and decided that whatever they are dealing with is going to work out just fine. Maybe a mother with a sick and dying child took this as a sign that he will be healed. What will it mean to her shaky faith when he dies and she is left with the empty promise that supposedly came from God? Maybe it was seen by a man who has been searching for God’s approval for the divorce he plans to file for next week. Did he see this and feel a peace about leaving his family? How many hundreds of lost people saw this message? And, how many skewed ways could they apply it to their own flawed understanding of salvation?
John warns us to test every spirit. How good are we, really, at testing what we see and hear against the word of God? How good are we at discerning which thoughts are worth hanging onto and which need to be cast aside? The truth is that most of us stink at testing every spirit. We hang onto to every vague idea that appeals to our flesh and our need for reassurance. Faith is supposed to be confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1), but we want solid proof, not hope, and we want to see now, not later. Thus, we see some vague “word from God” on Facebook, and we hang onto it tighter than we have ever held onto God’s actual words.
I’m not trying to be too hard on the author of this status update. She probably posted it because she wanted to encourage people. She probably really felt like this was a message she was supposed to transmit from God to her readers. But, we all would do well to avoid the temptation to cling to such words as if they dropped from God’s mouth to our Facebook newsfeed. The only words of God that will sustain us and make us sure of the hope we have within us are the words that God breathed onto the pages of Scripture. And, if we let anything else distract us from His perfect revelation in the Bible, then we are reaching for false promises and a flimsy substitute.
God’s word is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. It’s enough. Don’t settle for a dim counterfeit.
Last night at church, we hosted Hilarious Hair Night in our children’s ministry. I am the one who plans our theme nights, and I’m pretty sure I love them more than anyone. I love getting dressed up in a silly costume or wearing my clothes inside out or going to church in my pjs and a robe. I just think it’s fun. And, there’s nothing I love more than when I find fun people who will dress up crazy with me.
I have made it one of my goals in life to teach my kids not to be too cool for anything. In fact, last night at church I gave all of the kids a big speech about it, because I truly feel that if you think you’re too cool for things, you’re going to miss out on loads of fun. Be the one who isn’t afraid to do funny motions with songs in church. Be the one who knows that the key to a really good costume is not being afraid to look unattractive in it. Be the one who is always game to do the silly stuff, because the truth is that in the end the ones who aren’t too cool to be silly are the people that everyone gravitates toward. They are fun and happy and having a good time. Everyone loves to be around fun people.
These are the kinds of things that I preach to my kids.
But, the truth is that I realized sometime last year that I had become too cool for some things. I’m not talking about silly songs or theme nights. I had become too cool for certain types of Christianity. For particular testimonies or kinds of worship or ministries. I had become cynical about a lot of the things that would have gotten me incredibly excited as a young Christian, and I had begun to look down on those things as inferior.
I remember when I first moved away from my small hometown to go to college. My Baptist college wasn’t big, but for me it was a whole new world and way to think. I went there brimming with positivity, genuinely moved by many things all the time that I could see God was doing in my life and in the lives of those around me. I loved the Christian culture and church life and everything that had to do with Jesus. I was a Jesus freak.
But, I was also coming to adulthood at a time when we were beginning to see that some of the things that we had grown up experiencing in our churches were just sort of ringing hollow. We started becoming critical of Christian culture–not hateful, but skeptical in a way that might cause us to roll our eyes when we heard certain phrases or sigh impatiently when the same old ways were held up as the only ways. We were sentimental for our old youth group days, but we were quick to label things as lame or shallow or stupid if they smacked too much of youth group culture. We were still sweet little Baptist kids who loved Jesus, but we had lost some of our joy. We were trying so hard to figure out how church should work and how Christians should be, and we gave up some of our sheer delight in being a child of God.
I know full well that the church needed some examining (and still does). I know that we were feeling some of the effects of the great big, comfortable, easy, we won’t ask anything of you, let’s burn our secular tapes and feel like awesome Christians, rather soft 70s, 80s, and 90s churches that we were raised in. I know that we felt the need for something deeper. And, I know that in most ways a discerning and sometimes critical eye is a necessary part of the Christian faith. It’s one way that we hold each other accountable and help the church operate for God’s ultimate glory and our maximum growth.
But, something happened to me during those times (and maybe to some of you, too) that I recently realized has followed me for all of these years. The cynical spirit that I developed in my late teens and early twenties never went away. And, to be completely honest with you, I hadn’t really even noticed.
Then Chad and I started getting this stirring in our souls, and it happened almost simultaneously, which is so gracious of God to do. We started to have a deep longing for a closer connection to the Holy Spirit. We wanted to be a part of what He is doing, and I quickly realized that I have probably been missing ways that the Holy Spirit has worked in my life and in the lives of those around me because I had grown cynical and skeptical and critical. Gone were my teenaged years when I saw God’s hand everywhere I looked. Oh, I haven’t missed everything. But, there were sure a lot of things that I never noticed or wrote off as coincidence because I had developed a pattern of thought that rolled its eyes at what some might call a “God thing.”
I had become too cool for all that stuff.
Oh, it grieves me that I let a cynical heart and mind flourish inside of me, choking out the truths that were evidenced everywhere. The truth that simple faith is beautiful. That the Holy Spirit is working everywhere in a million different ways. That Christian music and movies and books and the whole culture, while flawed, is filled with sincere, godly people through whom the Holy Spirit does things that I don’t always understand. That the church, while flawed, is filled with godly, sincere people who have real interactions with the Holy Spirit that are different from my own. That I have so much to learn from those people.
God has been so patient with me.
I don’t want to be a cynical Christian. In many ways, just giving up that too cool attitude in my spirit has restored to me the joy of my salvation. That delight that I remember feeling when I was a teenager, loving so many different aspects of God’s people and the ways and purposes of His Bride.
I’m still a work in progress.
And, I still recognize the need for a discerning eye, especially in these times. Don’t misunderstand me: there are segments of the church that are flying off the rails at high speeds at the moment. It’s so important to test every spirit and cling to the Word of God. We must be diligent in making sure we remain firmly planted in His word, and we should judge everything that emerges from church culture through that lens. But, if someone wants to tell me that they’re too blessed to be depressed, if they want to play me some Michael W. Smith from the 90s, if they want to tell me about the way that God miraculously rescued their cat from the waiting jaws of a German Shepherd, then I will praise God with them, with great joy, and I will sing louder than anyone else.
Because I’m not too cool for any of that stuff.