God is good. God is on the throne. Breathe in. Breathe out.
These were the words she whispered while making snow angels in the crumbs on her kitchen floor. It’s such a vivid picture of crying out to God.
Sometimes we get to seasons that just sap us. The weight of our burdens is too heavy. It’s not that we forget how to pray. We just don’t know what to pray anymore. Words elude us. Eloquent speech isn’t possible.
A simple stanza can help, not just to recalibrate our faith and focus, but also to force us to be still and know that He is still God.
As my kids get older, as I get older, my most common breath prayer comes from Psalm 90.
The short version: “Teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The longer version:
Lord, become my dwelling place. You are everlasting to everlasting. Teach me to number my days. Grant me a heart of wisdom. May your favor rest on us. Establish the work of our hands.
The writers of Scripture have given us so many beautiful affirmations of God’s character! We don’t need to be original. We don’t need to know what to ask for or how it all should end. We can borrow these ancient phrases, breathe them in and out, letting the truth sink into our being. Trusting our great and faithful Father to hear; trusting Jesus the Son to intercede on our behalf; trusting the Holy Spirit to translate the indecipherable mutterings of our hearts into the precise petitions that match our needs.
My life has a recurring appointment at 2am. It doesn’t take place every night. Some nights offer surprising and continuous, blessed sleep. Those are beautiful times. But most nights — I’d say three out of five for the past ten years or so — find me awake for this appointment, battling my past, my present, and all sorts of insecurities and accusations. Voices tell me I’m not enough; I’ll never be enough. They offer evidence of my failures and comparisons to others’ effortless success. They condemn without mercy, a repetitive loop of ceaseless striving and bondage.
The Apostle Paul never explicitly defined the “thorn in [his] side.” We only know it was a painful, persistent affliction he couldn’t shake. I wonder if it was like this.
On the morning after another sleepless night wrestling lies, I woke exhausted. Again. I confessed my struggle and the thoughts in my head to my ever-loving husband, tears silently leaking onto my pillow. Sometimes speaking it out loud helps. He prayed for me, over me. And then we got up to tackle another day.
Sometimes God speaks.
Shannon over at Sweet Blessings offers a really simple and impactful approach to the discipline of daily Bible time. Rather than giving a strict, multi-step regimen, she encourages Scripture writing. She publishes plans that give you just a few verses to copy from your Bible each day. That’s it. No questions; no forced pre-written prayers or contemporary devotional readings. Just writing. It’s simple, but the act of handwriting holy words breeds stillness. Contemplative moments.
This month I’m going through her ‘Birth of Christ’ plan. I have a blank journal. On one page I write the day’s Scripture. On the next page I write my observations about the passage or a prayer. Often both.
On that particular morning the writing was Isaiah 40:1–5. These verses come in the middle of a prophecy spoken by Isaiah to King Hezekiah. The verses, while directly spoken to the nation of Judah in their time, were echoed in prophetic fulfillment by John the Baptist as “a voice of one crying out” in the wilderness.
It is vital that, when studying to understand Scripture (or any literature, really), we consider first and foremost the context. That includes the original writers, the original audience, the original purpose and intent, and the culture and languages in which it was penned. But God also speaks directly to us in our day through these sacred texts. Sometimes it’s a lesson learned through their stories; sometimes it’s insight about our own. The past and the present work in holy concert to exalt Truth.
That morning as I read God’s promises to ancient Israel, the words sank deep into my weary heart.
“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and announce to her that her time of servitude is over, her iniquity has been pardoned…”
Isaiah 10:1–2 (HCSB)
Has my iniquity been pardoned? If I believe God’s words, YES. Christ made it so.
Consider Paul’s writings to the Romans:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free…
Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh…
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”
Romans 8:1-2, 10–12, 15
Does any of this make any sense to you?
Small Steps Toward Realized Freedom
In that moment of reading Isaiah, my heart heard the Holy Spirit affirming Christ’s work in my life, that he saved me for something far greater than slavery to negative thoughts and burdens long forgiven. He showed me that my time of servitude ended long ago — the moment I put my trust in Him.
Have I recognized my pardon? Or am I, like a stubborn dandelion seed, still clinging to the dead and familiar rather than flying free to produce life anew?
What is the purpose of my penance? Why persist in listening to lies that oppress and keep me captive?
This sounds like a simple switch of the brain. If I just change my mind, then I won’t struggle. I wish it were that simple.
Transformation is a complicated journey, but maybe the first steps are simple. Not easy, but simple. Maybe tiny victories can be found in remembering truth and fortifying my faith with those truths.
Maybe changing my mind in the daytime can create new habits for those 2am meetings.
And maybe one day those middle-of-the-night appointments will no longer be kept.
YOUR TURN: What lies might you believe that keep you captive? What steps can you take today to realize the freedom Christ came to give?
People love to cite the first part of Proverbs 31:25:
“She is clothed with strength and dignity…”
But the last half of that verse is my favorite. In fact, if I ever get a tattoo, it will either be a black-eyed susan around the birthmark on my back OR it will be the second half of this verse… somewhere I can see it.
“She laughs without fear of the future.”
You know, 2020 was supposed to be the worst year ever. That’s what everybody said. It was a dumpster fire, and nothing was supposed to top it. Smooth sailing from then on, right?
No one saw 2021 standing in the wings waiting to make 2020 look lovely. Peaceful and even a little life-giving.
This year has been rough. I could make a list of all of the unprecedented, never-before imagined things that have happened in and to our family in the past ten months. I won’t, because it’s depressing. And it’s not the end of the story anyway.
There are nights I don’t sleep. There are days I cry and eat way too much chocolate. There are times I haven’t a clue what or how to pray at all. And so I breathe in. I breathe out.
And I remember that that woman I admire so much from Proverbs isn’t laughing out of ignorance or insanity. She’s laughing because she knows exactly who holds the future. She doesn’t need to fear, because all her tomorrows are already ordained. She doesn’t know what they hold, and she has no promise that they’ll be better than today. But she knows the One who holds them, and she delights in the confidence of His great love for her.
Scrolling through twitter, a specific post caught my attention. A prolific author and Bible teacher (who shall remain nameless) was promoting a new podcast by some friends of hers. She claimed they would help listeners “parent like a Christian.”
What does it mean to parent “like” a Christian? Is that different than being a Christian parent?
The phrasing caught me funny, like calloused skin on a stretch of silk.
We can put this “like a Christian” tag anywhere we want. Parent like a Christian. Work like a Christian. Talk like a Christian. Argue like a Christian. Dress like a Christian. Perhaps it calls us to be distinct. To be in the world, but not of it, as the Apostle Paul encouraged.
That’s not a bad thing. But is it enough?
I wonder if the subtlety of the phrasing encourages surface performance and projection. If we play the part, if we look the right way and project the accepted image, then — mission accomplished. It also allows us to identify who’s in and who’s out, right? I mean, if I know how Christians are supposed to parent, work, act, dress, eat, argue, vote… Well, then we can check off the boxes, for ourselves and others, and consider the job done. Easy-peasy.
Behavior modification. Classification. We can measure that.
Is that all we’re after? The illusion? The status? The club membership?
The Gospel I know goes much deeper than that. People change, but not of their own knowledge or power or habits. It’s internal, immeasurable, supernatural … and entirely inexplicable apart from the Holy Spirit.
“What use are the superficial changes we make if we neglect the deep work God wants to do inside us?”
This may feel like an exercise in nuance or semantics. Maybe it is, but I believe it’s important. There is a difference between doing something LIKE this and BEING this.
Imitation vs. Authenticity
Doing something LIKE (a Christian or whatever) reflects meritocracy. It’s good works by ambition and discipline. It’s satisfied with well-built facades. It focuses on what can be seen and measured.
BEING (a Christian or whatever) is simply who you are. It’s less about the top of the iceberg and more about the whole of the iceberg. It isn’t built around you; it wells up inside you. Good works follow because God is good and having him work in us naturally produces overflow. The discipline and ambition may follow, too, but not because we have to perform. Not because we need to earn our space or rank. Not because people need to see us.
In fact, Jesus spoke out against performative faith: praying in public and making a show of offerings. These people “have received their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:5)
And let’s be real: performances are exhausting. Always having to be “ON” and make sure our true colors don’t bleed through… I’m not interested.
Nope. I don’t want to DO anything LIKE A CHRISTIAN. I want to BE A CHRISTIAN, transformed and renewed, understanding fully who I am and to whom I belong and why he has me here. I want to go far deeper than what is seen on the surface.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who loves well. May we live generously, freely, compassionately, fully. I want to throw out any concept of rank and be one who mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice, regardless of personal circumstances.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who walks humbly. People shouldn’t have to earn acceptance from me. They don’t need to check off boxes or prove themselves worthy of my accolades or approval. Recognizing that all people are created in the image of God, I want to see myself as no better or worse than those around me. Oh, we will disagree. We may adamantly oppose one another’s ideas and beliefs. But the people behind those beliefs are still worthy of respect and honor, even if for no other reason than the holy image they bear.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who chases after God daily. In all things. In all roles. In every space and with every breath.
Okay, wow. That’s a lot. I can hear some of you. “Tanya, that’s a tad over-zealous. A bit out of reach.” Yup. You’re right.
Confession: I fail. A lot. Pretty much daily. In several ways daily.
But that’s the point, isn’t it?
No, “failure” is not the point, but the reality that we cannot do any of this on our own IS the point. If we could become righteous and good-works our way into God’s favor, then we wouldn’t need Christ. We wouldn’t need the Gospel. We wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit or the Bible or church or anything else. We could strong-arm our way into acting LIKE a Christian rather than ever actually BEING one.
So here’s the big question:
How can we BE CHRISTIANS rather than just living LIKE Christians?
WE PUT OUR TRUST IN GOD. Not in our ourselves nor in our understanding of him or his word, but directly into him, trusting his personhood and building a relationship with him.
This is so much bigger and harder than lip service. It is an active habit, an internal conviction that often won’t be visible to others.
WE FOSTER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Spend time reading his word, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other believers who can encourage us. Create space to meet with God, not just to vent rehearsed lines or frustrations, but to listen as well. To listen and learn.
Again, this is something that may be seen by others, but more often than not, the reality of it is submerged. It’s personal and private.
WE ALLOW OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TO PERMEATE OUR LIVES. Healthy, growing relationships don’t live confined to a specific building or appointment times. They invade our personal space in the very best ways. They influence our thinking and our habits. Flourishing relationships help us become something better. They change us. Living, growing faith should do the same.
Put away the clipboards and the checklists. Stop striving in your own power. Be still in the presence of God and then walk with him, letting him direct your steps. The rest will take care of itself.
A Humble Disclosure
I’m posting this after a pretty rough week. Details need not be shared. Just know these written words, these holy musings pierce my own soul too. I’m not preaching at anyone. I’m wrestling with my own shortcomings, my own superficiality, my own struggle to take faith deeper. All of this is so much easier said than done. Please do not think for a microsecond that I have mastered any of this. Know that you’re not alone in imperfect, messy living out of our faith. We are growing and learning together.
When people hear reference to ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), they think of the dogs in the Pixar movie UP!or maybe Dory from Pixar’s Finding Nemo. (I promise not to mention Disney movies in every sentence.) Being easily distracted and forgetful may be part of it, but there’s a lot more to it than most people realize.
ADD is more complex than short attentions and memories.
In the past few years counselors and psychiatrists have begun using a new label: VAST. It stands for Variable Attention Stimulus Trait. I like this because (1) it doesn’t carry the stigma of a word like “disorder” and (2) it better describes my experience.
Yes, I can be often distracted. I interrupt myself incessantly. I’m easily overstimulated and get irritable with repetitive or conflicting noises.
And, yes, I struggle with short-term memory. (Lists and calendars save me daily! You should see my collection of notebooks.)
But my attention and my emotions ricochet to opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re not always short and interrupted. Sometimes they’re intense and insular, sacrificing all else.
I can spend seasons in hyper-focus. My husband calls it “kidnapping.” A special project or pursuit (or sometimes a book) will steal me away with little notice. I simply cannot think of anything else until I finish it. This is especially true when I set a goal about which I am passionate. It could be days; it could be weeks.
Friendships are hard for me. I can’t remember names. Interruptions and disappearances aren’t great for relationships. Knowing how hard it is for me to control these natural inclinations, I can grow self-conscious and insecure, further complicating things. Rejection, criticism, and approval resonate deeply with me, often — right or wrong — becoming part of my self-assessment immediately.
Can any of you relate to any of this?
When life gets full, the blog goes silent.
And so — When life interrupts me, when a million things seem to happen at once, I disappear. I dig deeper into what seems to need my attention most urgently (real life people and problems within arm’s reach), and other things have to wait (online communities and seemingly inconsequential projects).
What has required my attention lately? Moreso than this blog? Quite a few things, actually. Spanning personal, professional, and ministerial. Those who subscribe to my newsletter got an update in their inboxes a couple weeks ago.
(If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here to join my Inner Circle of prayer warriors and fearlessly curious followers. If you are a subscriber and didn’t get the email, check your spam folder or click here.)
I’ll not apologize for being silent here. Other things have needed me. Truly and absolutely. I will, however, wonder if evil forces use all this to conspire against me.
I’ve been writing in relative obscurity for almost fifteen years. There have been seasons of prolific publication and seasons of abject futility. Each time I gear up for a re-start, with revitalized passion and purpose, life interrupts and my momentum all but dissipates.
That sounds as if I have no control. That’s not at all what I mean. I’m quite opposed to any semblance of victim mentality. I am, however, acknowledging that this makes me vulnerable to spiritual attack and blockades. And it makes my journey uniquely challenging.
Be watchful, mindful, and still. Work and trust.
In the New Testament we read:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
This warning comes at the end of Peter’s letter, just after a series of instructions for leaders in the church. The admonition, however, is not just for leaders. It is for anyone who seeks to follow Jesus and live a life dedicated to honoring God.
Let’s add a few more passages to this conversation.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:11–12
What does any of this have to do with attention spans or spiritual attacks? I’m not just randomly cherry-picking passages. These are entwined in our daily walks with God. How?
We know that evil forces conspire to keep us from God and from good works. They will utilize our weaknesses in those endeavors. May we BE WATCHFUL. What makes you an easy target? How can you guard against those attacks?
May we BE MINDFUL of the gifts God has given us — me and you — but also aware of our weaknesses and limitations. Time is a big one. How are we using it? Are we remembering our finite reality and numbering our days well?
May we BE STILL remembering that God is ultimately sovereign. There is no trial he will not enter with us. No mistake we can make that he can’t redeem. No pit we can fall into from which he cannot lift us. He is good. We can spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. Let’s take some time to think about him instead. It is infinitely more comforting.
We love to quit, don’t we? Let’s not. Rather than seeing hurdles as signs that we’ve taken the wrong path, let’s view them as challenges we were meant to overcome. KEEP WORKING. Don’t give up.
That last passage, the one from 2 Corinthians, is striking me firmly this season. It sits in a chapter about generous giving within and between the churches. While the context is money, the heart of these verses goes much deeper.
Are you eagerly willing to complete what you’ve started? Are you excited to chase after the tasks God has given you? To pursue holiness in big projects and small?
That takes a lot of trust! Trust that God called the right person, that he’ll use you, that he’ll equip you… And trust that your success isn’t measured in human terms. How does one quantify willingness? How does one measure the spirit of obedience? It’s not about what we have or even what we give (of our time, talents, sweat and resources). It’s about our humble and faithful pursuit of righteousness.
In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is faithful and he will be faithful to complete what he started in each of us at salvation.
So whether I am eternally distracted or seriously under spiritual attack doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get up again and take the next step with God. And the next step. And the next step.
We may be running a race, but it’s not a competition. Keep running, my friends.
Any kid who has grown up around Bible stories knows what idolatry is.
It’s bowing down to golden statues and carved images and worshipping any deity other than God Almighty. We learned this when Sunday School teachers told us about Moses and The Ten Commandments; about Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar; and then when missionaries shared slideshows of foreign temples and unfamiliar people in ethnic dress lying prostrate in lands far away.
From a kids’ perspective, this all felt very exotic and kinda stupid. Modern, educated people would never fall for something like that, right?
Some insisted Westerners were not immune to idolatry. They said anything that “sits on the throne of our hearts” other than God is an idol. That’s true! But then we drew outlines: drugs, sex, and money. Those were the usual suspects.
The take-away seemed to be: if you stayed away from sex, drugs, and obscene wealth … well, then you were safe. Idolatry wasn’t something you needed to think about.
But we do. Need to think about it, that is.
Idolatry can be carved images and golden statues and money and addiction and all sorts of tangible, easily-identifiable vices. But it can also be ideals. It can be priorities. It can be politics or politicians. It can even be Christian leaders. If we find ourselves getting super-defensive, we might need to step back and take a look at our heart’s throne. What’s really comfortable there?
Last week a gold statue was wheeled into a conservative political conference.
Now, I know the statue is not a calf and that very few have literally bowed down to it. (Yes, I have seen photos of bowing.) It’s not an exact copy of what we see in the Old Testament, but does it need to be?
I find it and the celebration of it disturbing … darkly humorous … and definitely ironic. Especially for a group composed predominantly of people who claim to be Christian.
My point is less about a direct parallel and more about consciousness. Are we paying attention? Like, really?
When I was a teenager I bought a necklace with Marvin the Martian on it. (Anyone remember him?) When I wore it to youth group, a friend’s mom took me aside to question why I was worshipping this idol over Christ. (Yes, really.) It’s silly and ridiculous, and I am not at all suggesting we can’t be fans or even supporters of our preferred politics or pop culture or whatever.
What I am suggesting is this: As Christians we are called to a higher standard. As Christians, we should be wise and discerning. As such, we must perpetually challenge our choices with good, honest questions.
At what point does fandom become idolatry?
When does allegiance become dangerous?
Are our politics speaking louder than our witness?
When others see us (and our conferences and merch and everything else), what would they say we worship?
When I ask questions like this, when I call out believers to be better, people accuse me of being divisive. That’s not at all my intention. I write this truly out of admonition. I say it to myself as well as anyone and everyone else who claims to be a Christ-follower.
May we remember why we’re here.
Hint: It’s not about making ourselves or America great.
Scripture is a funny thing. A group of people can read a passage together, and each member of that group could extract different layers. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s Word, both corporately and individually. And the more you read it, the more you see. Sometimes what we see first, what rings most familiar and comfortable, may not be the point at all.
He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
When you read this verse, what do you see? What sticks out to you most?
This is a familiar passage, in part. Jesus quoted the bit about man not living on bread alone when refuting the temptations of Satan prior to beginning His public ministry (Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4). So we probably recognize that, but have we looked at the rest of the verse? The context of Deuteronomy may be less familiar to us. Who said this? To whom? And what is he talking about? Let’s take a look.
What’s the deal with Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy means “second law.” It’s the fifth book of the Bible, and its name is quite appropriate since this is the second time the Israelites were given the Law.
The first time was when Moses received the tablets on the top of Mount Sinai. This story most remember. Moses came down the mountain to find the people worshipping a golden calf they had created from the jewelry they were given while leaving Egypt. Not a great moment.
But think about it: These people had been living in a pagan nation for over 400 years. They had been oppressed and enslaved and didn’t really understand what God expected of them. That’s why they needed the Law to show them how God’s Chosen People were to live differently.
Fast forward a bit: God led them right to the Promised Land, but fear ruled the majority of the spies. They told everyone what they saw, and the people refused to enter. Because they refused to trust Him, God sent them on a little hike and gave them a little time to think.
Deuteronomy comes after forty years of wandering, right before the Israelites made their second attempt to enter the Promised Land. With very few exceptions, the generation that walked through the Red Sea and heard the Law from Moses died in the desert. Their children were now leading the tribes. It was their turn to hear the Law for themselves. Thus — Deuteronomy. Second Law.
Deuteronomy gives this new generation of Israelites a fresh start. It’s a combination of history — Hey, this is what went down. These are the promises God made to your ancestors, and this is how they responded. — and instruction — Remember those promises. Remember the lessons and the consequences. You now get to choose a better way.
Context is vital.
Let’s look at that verse again.
He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Some will look at this and skip right to the familiar bits at the end. See! — we need to study our Scriptures! Physical hunger is less important than our spiritual needs.
Some will look at the beginning and see judgment and cruelty. See! — God let them go hungry! He’s sadistic. When He does feed them, it’s some weird food they’ve never seen before.
We can see the beginning of the verse or we can emphasize the end, but if we skip the middle, we’ve missed the whole point. The middle is our context. It’s our WHY.
…so that you might learn…
God is a good Father. He didn’t lead the Israelites into the desert to kill them. He didn’t send them out there to die and be punished. He sent them out there to wander and learn of His goodness and faithfulness to them. He wanted them to learn to trust Him.
Why didn’t they go into the Promised Land when He led them right to it? Because they were afraid. They were trusting in themselves instead of trusting in Him. They needed to see that they could not provide for themselves — not food or water or protection. They needed to learn that God is their Provider and Protector. He is the One who will fight their battles for them.
Learning the Hard Way
Have you ever had to learn the hard way? Or known someone who insists on the rougher route?
Just like the Israelites, we can lean on our own understanding. Just like the Israelites, we can forget God and all that He’s done for us. Just like the Israelites, we sometimes get sent on a little hike.
Maybe the job opportunity didn’t come through as we’d hoped. Maybe healing didn’t come as fast or in the way we expected. Maybe a global pandemic sent all our plans flying out the window.
We all want to be in control and when we realize we’re not, our equilibrium can go wonky. We may question things we know to be true (like God’s character or sovereignty) and we may temporarily lose our way. We often feel very, very alone.
You know, when the Israelites were in the desert, God provided for them, but not bread they recognized. He gave them a miraculous new food, one they couldn’t possibly credit to their own efforts or merit. It was a gift.
When things don’t go the way we want, let’s ask questions.
This post was originally created as a status update for my personal facebook page, the second of two posts decrying the incongruity paraded at the Capitol this week. Because so many have shared and copied these words, I want to give them a permanent home. I encourage you to also read the article by David French that prompted this lament. You can find that here.
Oh, Church… We can’t keep saying “This wasn’t us! This isn’t who we are!” We can disagree with the actions and call them “fringe”, but if they’re playing our music, waving our flags, wearing our symbols, and speaking in the name of our Lord, we need to do something about it.
That “something” starts with confronting the lies we’ve permitted to fester within our communities.
I confess I’ve dismissed conspiracy theories, even ignored them. I thought they would just go away. Instead, they’ve taken root and spread like kudzu. There are many unbiblical, un-Christ-like positions we’ve permitted to remain in our midst far too long. Dare I say— We’ve even nurtured them. It’s got to stop. We need to root them out and fill those voids with truth.
We need to remember who we are and what we’re called to do.
Jesus didn’t save us so that we could possess political power. He saved us so that we could have relationship with Him and love and serve others.
When the vast majority of Americans believe Evangelicalism is a political movement rather than a religious conviction, we have a serious problem.
When we have droves of our own leaving because they don’t want to be associated with the label, we have a serious problem.
The moment we decided character doesn’t matter, that policy positions are more important than heart conditions, we sacrificed the Gospel.
Now, listen —- We’re not going to turn this into an “us vs. them” argument. This isn’t about Right vs. Left. This is about our house. Let’s stop making excuses. What are we doing in our Christian communities to preserve and promote TRUTH? To live and exhibit LOVE? To disciple others to reflect the GOSPEL?
Because if those who stormed the Capitol claim to be with us, we’ve clearly confused and distorted the message. We need to get it right.
You won’t get where you want to go if your map is for the wrong state.
And, no matter what Joey Tribbiani says, trifles do not taste good if the ingredients you use aren’t right.
The starting point matters.
We may all agree with that, but often our actions and thoughts tell a different story. We might lean into the belief that “it’s the thought that counts” or “the ends justify the means.” We often insist that EFFORT or PASSION are what matter most. How hard are you working? Have you earned your success? It’s all part of our American values.
It’s not about us as much as we think (or want).
In Matthew 7 Jesus tells the story of two builders. I’m sure you’ve heard it. One builds his house on the sand, while the other builds his on the rock. When the storms come, the house on the sand — as the Sunday School song says — “GOES SPLAT!!”
Kids laugh at that. It’s funny. And children’s books often ham it up even more.
Authors and illustrators depict the man who built his house on the sand as lazy, carefree, and in a hurry. He slaps together his house with crooked corners and worn boards, then sits sunning in a beach chair with an umbrella in his drink.
The second man — the man who built his house on the rock — is strong, calculated, and hard-working. His house comes together over an extended period of time. It sports brick walls, neat windows, and solid construction, sometimes looking like a mansion compared to his neighbor’s shack.
And just like that — we’ve conflated God’s Word with our own cultural virtues. The one who is smart, diligent, and passionate always gets ahead, right?
Here’s the problem: Jesus doesn’t suggest any of this. He doesn’t diminish the work, skill, or commitment of the builders. He doesn’t say one house stood inferior to the other. He simply highlights the different foundations.
You could argue that a “smart” builder would know better than to build on sand, but the builder is not the point. And Jesus isn’t arguing that.
He directs our focus to the starting point.
What are our starting points?
When we talk about loving our neighbors, what is our starting point?
Do we, like the lawyer in Luke 10, seek first to define who qualifies? Are they close enough, trying hard enough, needy enough, righteous enough? Do they look like me? Can I trust them? Are they trying to take anything that’s rightfully mine? We often want to assess if they’re worthy and really our responsibility.
When we talk about politics, what is our starting point?
A lot of us start with our rights. We protect those first. We may listen to arguments and choose a side, then hit up the Bible for Scriptural supports. Is that how we want to do this?
How often do we start with what’s best for the community? Or what might rescue the oppressed? Can we seek to know the heart of God FIRST, then see how we can apply that to how we live and vote? Do we look at all of God’s instructions or just the ones that fit our agendas? And those supports should be evaluated in context, not just squeezed into a catchy meme or shareable graphic.
When we study the Bible, what is our starting point?
Maybe we start with a problem we have or a source of pain. We want relief, so we go to God’s Word. Is there a book or study that will directly address that issue and tell us how God can fix our problems?
Or maybe we approach the Bible to confirm what we already believe. Do we pull out our concordances and search by keywords to affirm choices we want to make? (Or have already made.)
Now, there’s nothing wrong with seeking wisdom from the Bible. It’s good! And we absolutely should seek wisdom from God, but should we be starting with US? If we only and always approach Scripture with the question — What can God do for me? — we have the wrong starting point.
We can view the Bible as a manual, but … Do you have a personal relationship with your washing machine? That came with a manual, too. This self-help approach makes our faith less about a relationship and more about a transaction.
Seek FIRST His Kingdom.
What if the builder who started on the sand didn’t know it was sand? It could have looked solid to him. He may have known more about construction and materials. He may have saved longer and been more respected in the community and in his trade. What if he worked crazy-hard and just built in the wrong spot?
That’s not funny at all. It’s tragic.
And I fear we can make that same mistake far too easily.
We can spend our lives working for something, building a kingdom of our own design, and realize only too late that we’ve started in the wrong spot.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…
Dallas Willard defines the kingdom of God as “where what God wants done is done.”
Jesus isn’t instructing us to seek eternal life in some future heaven. Yes, the faithful will receive that, but we should seek FIRST to do the will of God.
It’s not the quality of work or even the builder’s supreme passion that makes his house stand. It’s the proper foundation. That foundation isn’t politics or logic. It’s not works or skill or popularity. It’s living like Jesus Christ. It’s seeking, above all else, to do the will of God.
When our son was five years old, he fell and shattered his femur into three pieces.
‘Shattered’ may sound a little dramatic, but when you watch your little guy suffer, when every nurse or doctor interrogates you over what happened, when someone in the ER finally confesses that typically injuries like this are caused by baseball bats … well, we may be excused a little dramatic language.
Long story short… He and his sister were playing on one of those awesome, wooden play forts. He tripped, his sandal caught, and flipped him upside down, smashing his leg against the metal rod of a ladder.
Two hospitals, one long ambulance ride, several sleepless hours, a lot of morphine, and one surgery later, my son was bound ribs to toes in what’s called a hip-spica cast. He had this for ten weeks.
This all happened on Memorial Day Weekend. In other words: our summer was immediately and irrevocably changed.
Even after the summer ended and the cast was removed, we faced four months of physical therapy. He had to learn to walk again. School was different, too, as not all classrooms were handicap-accessible.
It was definitely an unexpected season of stretching for our family.
Once, as we went through old photos and reminisced about that season, Zach said: “I feel bad for kids who never broke their legs.”
Baffled, I asked why.
“They never get to spend all summer at home with their families. They don’t get to spin in wheelchairs or have friends draw on their cast. They never get to use handicapped parking or have everyone bring them gifts for doing nothing. I loved that summer.”
Zach has a different perspective, both on that experience and on 2020.
Finding the Silver Lining
When I think back on that summer, my stomach clenches a bit. I groan inwardly, remembering how hard it was. All the bad pieces come to mind. The sacrifices. The difficulties. So much was out of our control. Plans shifted. Dreams were put on hold. Luxuries vanished. I felt trapped. We were forced to learn new life skills and remember what was most important.
I have the same visceral reaction when thinking about 2020.
While I sit here, sighing heavily over all that was lost, Zach insists this has been the best year of his life. Now, he’s not ignorant of the sacrifices or the grieving this year has brought. His baseball season certainly was not normal. He’s seen the changes we’ve had to make, the impact on my job and our family. (This was NOT a good year to work in the travel industry!) He’s had friends lose parents and grandparents. We’ve felt the impact of this pandemic on a very personal, very local level.
But like I said, he sees things a little differently.
At 15, he can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to go back to school when you could do all your work online and in half the time. He’s an introvert, so he’s thrilled to be stuck at home! He’s perfectly content to eat the same meals over and over for weeks without end. Add to this increased frequency of family game nights and mid-week movies… regular pajama days … more time to hang out with his dog … This kid is in heaven.
We all know this year has been rough. Really, really rough. There’s no denying that. But what if we flip the lens? What if, for just a moment, we stop focusing on the hard bits and look for something beautiful?
What good came of this year? What did we gain by stripping so much away?
What creative solutions were we pushed to find? How did those benefit us and others?
What might we have missed if we hadn’t had this journey?
This isn’t just an exercise of reflection, but also one of expectation. What might we — or our kids — be set up to do in the future because of the experiences of this year?
How might these trials have equipped us for greater ministry? To serve better? To love others better?
I would really love to hear your perspectives on all this.