Brother Andrew on uncommon sense

“Unmistakable inside me, sublimely indifferent to every human and logical objection, was a little voice that seemed to say ‘Go.’  It was the voice that had called to me in the wind, the voice that had told me to speak out in the factory, the voice that never made sense at a logical level.”

God’s Smuggler (near the end of Ch. 5) by Brother Andrew, with John & Elizabeth Sherrill

Stillness

Most people know Psalm 46:10 . . . at least the first part.  It says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  But that’s not the whole story, and it’s a bit of a personal crusade for me that people finish the verse.  In the second half, there’s a purpose to the command of the first half:  “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Let’s just dwell (i.e. take up residence, make ourselves at home) in this one verse for a few minutes . . .

(Ah, the Scriptures are so full of truth.  Thank You, Father.)

z walk talk

Be still

I saw this quote on a t-shirt once.  It made me laugh out loud—how true!  But God’s command for stillness is not like ours.  We tell our kids to be quiet or sit still out of respect for some situation (at best) or for our convenience (at worst).  One translation (NASB) of this verse begins, “Cease striving,” which seems to fit the overall context of the Bible better because I can’t think of anywhere that the Bible commands us not to move.  Another (HCSB) says, “Stop your fighting,” which definitely fits the immediate context of the chapter better.  (It was a battle.)  These days, we think of ‘still’ like inactive:  sitting with a book or even taking a nap; a better picture is those strangely-dressed guards at Buckingham Palace.  While absolutely unmoving, they are completely alert.  (They might be faking the alertness part.  It’s not like you can ask them, but go with me here.)  It’s a watchful stillness . . . a calmness with purpose.  Basketball players on the bench are similar; they continue to pay attention, to be actively involved in the game, even when they aren’t one of the five on the court.  For the rest of us, our Lord is saying to stop working yourself into a tizzy.  Stop worrying and pacing the floor.  Stop checking the phone every five minutes just to make sure it’s still working.

Know that I am God

Stand back and watch God work instead of trying to do it yourself.  It’s not a matter of allowing Him to work, like when you hold the door for someone to enter a room or ‘let’ your 5-year-old wash the dishes.  It’s admitting that you can’t do it, or at least admitting that He does it WAY better than you.  More basketball (and it’s not even basketball season):  it’s LeBron James taking your place in a crucial basketball game while you go sit on the bench.  Whose contribution is better for the team:  yours or LeBron’s?  Yeah, me too.  In the rest of life, everybody is better off if God handles things.   (This basketball analogy breaks down at a certain point, so don’t take it too far.)

I will be exalted

Stillness is not primarily about my peace.  That’s secondary.  And it’s certainly not about me having an easier life.  Ha!  LeBron doesn’t take my place in the game so that I can ‘take a load off.’  He plays so he can score, so the crowd will go wild in his praise, so his team can win.  We have to stop making all of life be about us.  Only God has the right to be self-centered.  (Sorry, LeBron.)  Stillness creates space in my brain for me to actually see clearly—see that He is able, sufficient, worthy of my praise.  Fundamentally, there is more glory to be gained for Him by my stillness than my busy-ness.  (I wrote more about busy-ness here.)

 Among the nations

The command is to be still, not silent (unlike the palace guards).  Take it outside of yourself.  Stillness admits that He does the real work and creates an opportunity to worship Him not just in my conscience (that space I created in the previous paragraph) but in my conversations.  The best basketball players are vocal on the bench and praise their teams outside the arena, too.  Multiply the glory by telling someone—anyone!—what He did when you quit trying so hard to do it yourself.  Then this verse, like so many others in Psalms, connects with the Great Commission.  Yeah; just think about it.

 I will be exalted in the earth

Those last two parts are so important that He says them again.  Two-thirds of the verse are about Him.  Only one-third is about what I’m supposed to do.  Hmm . . .

It seems backward (uncommon sense), this idea that we stop doing so something can get done, but it works.  First, we let go of this idea that we have to do everything ourselves.  Then, we just let Him do what He does.  As a result, we will see two things.  (1) We get what we want:  a solution or resolution . . . and peace along the way.  (2) He gets what He wants:  GLORY!

Because of what He wants, He will take care of what I need.

In a context similar to that of Psalm 47 (a battle), Isaiah also quotes the Sovereign Lord, saying, In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength (Is 30:15).  See?  Our way out (salvation) and our ability to endure (strength) come from stillness.

Instead of the pervasive parental “Sit down and shut up!” that “Be still” conjures in our heads, here’s the beautiful picture we get from this verse.  He grabs my fluttering hands, holding them firmly between His strong, warm palms.  He looks me in the eye, waiting until my breathing settles and I can return His gaze calmly.  My shoulders relax and my heartbeat slows.  I see the depths of calmness in His face.  Then, He gently but confidently speaks, “Stop getting yourself all worked up and remember Who you’re talking to here.  I want universal props; I want everyone in the world to know how awesome I am, so I am going to take care of it.”

Flat Earth Society

          From the ends of the earth I call to you,
          I call as my heart grows faint;
          lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  –Psalm 61:2

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have stretched myself flat

peering over the edge

grasping knuckles white with tension

toes dug in

until my eyes adjusted to the darkness

straining to see nothing there

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have walked on the high-wire edge

ankles wobbly

quads tight

traversing the tiniest pebble

like it was a boulder

 

because the earth isn’t round

I reached out for God to balance me

eyes locked ahead

heart whining

for a safer path

that doesn’t exist

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have surely fallen off by now

 

          You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
          God our Savior,
          the hope of all the ends of the earth
          and of the farthest seas.  –Psalm 65:5

 

Flat Earth Society – a poem based on Psalms (click to tweet)

Slavery: Any Volunteers?

Some stayed on the beach.
Some went in the boat.

Some hang out in the Kingdom.
Some serve the King.

Some enjoy so-called freedom.
Some are truly free.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples (Luke 14:28, 33).

In Western culture, the owner, contractor, and architect sit down to estimate the cost of a building before they shovel even that first scoop of dirt. If the owner can’t afford it, the architect makes modifications or they wait for more money. Few things are sadder than a half-finished, overgrown skeleton of a building. It means someone failed . . . and lots of people didn’t get paid.

The undertaking of following Jesus whole-heartedly is of far greater significance than a new house or office building. Following Him means becoming His slave.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . (Rom. 1:1 NIV)

I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ . . . (Rom. 1:1 MSG)

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus . . . (Rom 1:1 NASB)

You’ve probably heard about the voluntary slavery of Bible times. If an indentured servant decided he didn’t want to leave at the end of his term, the owner would pierce his ear (basically). It’s in Deuteronomy 15, if you want to read about it.

What does it cost to become the permanent, forever-after slave of Jesus Christ? Can you just get your ear pierced and be done? I got my ears pierced when I was a kid and again when I was eighteen. Believe me, that’s not what my piercings mean.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions . . .” (Matthew 19:21)

We walk from so-called freedom into this servitude. Imagine first selling absolutely everything you own—down to your spare toothbrush and your warmest winter coat, your e-mail accounts and your 401k. Then you step in front of the King (we are, after all, becoming servants of THE King), and you lay every penny that you made on the floor in front of His throne. On top of that stack of money, you lay your skills and talents, your degrees and certificates, your reputation, your parenting philosophies, even your marriage. Scary? My hands shake even typing it.

These actions say, “I absolutely and completely trust you, my King and Lord, to supply everything I need and to direct every action I take.” You leave off worrying about whether or not you’ll need that big winter coat tomorrow because you know He’ll have the perfect overcoat ready for you tomorrow morning since He knows exactly what the weather will be. You stop worrying about your reputation because you bear His Name (synonymous with His reputation), and it is without equal. You no longer rely on your résumé because He already knows exactly what assignments fit you and will satisfy you. Thus, you finally find peace because you trust Him.  It seems backwards–unlike what we expect.  It’s that uncommon sense again.

In not a fan, Kyle Idleman puts it like this, “When you finally surrender all that you have and all that you are you will discover the strangest thing. It’s only by becoming a slave to Jesus that we ever truly find freedom” (153).

Oswald Chambers on uncommon sense

“I have the unspeakable knowledge that my life is the answer to prayers, and that God is blessing me and making me a blessing entirely of His sovereign grace and nothing to do with my merits, saving as I am bold enough to trust His leading and not the dictates of my own wisdom and common sense.”

-Oswald Chambers, quoted in Oswald Chambers:  Abandoned to God,
by David McCasland

A Martyr Mindset

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness –2 Cor 11:30.

It’s such a comfort to know that the flaws in my personality, gifts, talents, and skills are exactly the places where God can show Himself most clearly.  My weaknesses leave more room for God to work and be glorified:  like gaps in the clouds let the sun shine through (see the photo at the bottom of this post).  I’ve experienced it many times.  But let’s push this very-well-known verse a little farther.

After enumerating all the horrible stuff that he had endured or overcome (five times whipped, three times beaten, three times shipwrecked, etc. – 2 Cor 11:21-29), Paul says, in essence, “Then there was this one time . . .”.  The Apostle Paul snuck out of a city by climbing through a window and being lowered to the ground in a basket (Acts 9:23-25).  A BASKET, people!  Think about that.  It’s totally out of character for Paul.  Was he having a wimpy moment?  Did he suddenly “chicken out”?  Why didn’t he march right up to that king and tell him about Jesus, as usual?!?

Because Paul knew that martyrdom isn’t always the path to Father’s greatest glory.  Sometimes God calls us to make the meek choice, which means not defending ourselves . . . or Him.  Notice I said “meek”, not “weak.”  It is that very “weakness” (from an outsider’s point-of-view) which best accomplishes God’s purpose.  What the world sees as cowardice may be exactly what He wants from me or you.  They thought Jesus was weak because He let Himself be hung on a cross.  Hmm . . .

Should we renounce our faith? Never. Should we sometimes flee, sometimes stand firm? Yes. His will is not this cut-and-dried, always-the-same kind of thing . . . even within one life.  I’ve met quite a few people (okay, I used to be one of them) who think that the most difficult, brash, heroic, suffering-filled thing MUST be God’s will.  With all due respect to the thousands of actual martyrs that God has called to release life for His glory, I call this attitude a “martyr mindset.”  Who is the hero in those situations?  That is, who actually gets the glory?  There’s often a little something inside us that says, “Look at me!  I’m suffering for the Lord,” or we take it into our prayers:  “Oh Father, look how I’ve suffered for You.  Now I deserve _______________!”

As each trial arises, we need to ask for clear direction: “What is the path to His greatest glory here?”  The hardest thing or the greatest suffering may not always be what He wants from us at that time.  It’s uncommon sense, but when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10).

Be ready to face the whip but also be ready to climb in the basket. 

Yeah, I know.  It's a rough life . . .
Yeah, I know. It’s a rough life . . .

“Do Me a Favor?”

This idea of doing favors and owing favors came up in my English class late last year, but it had to . . . percolate through my brain . . . and integrate with some other input before I saw the spiritual application.  Other input like:

We have limited the impact and meaning of Christianity by majoring on personal salvation given to us in and through Jesus as Redeemer while effectively leaving the Jesus as Lord part out of the equation.

–Alan Hirsch, in the forward to Sacrilege, by Hugh Halter

Think about a time when someone approached you and asked, “Will you do me a favor?”  When did you answer that question in your mind?  Did you need to know what they wanted first?  Probably not, unless you are a very suspicious person.  Most of the time, we answer immediately because our answer is based on the relationship we have with that person rather than on the task they will request.

In addition, that person knows the depth of the relationship, and we trust the person to ask for something that ‘fits’ the level of relationship we share.  We also understand that favors imply reciprocity.  You “owe” me in direct proportion to the magnitude of the favor I do for you.

There are certain people who could ask me for a kidney, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give it.  They could ask me for a $1000, and I would walk straight to the ATM.  (These few people know who they are, so don’t try it if you’re not one of them!)  It really doesn’t matter what they ask because the relationship is so deep and so strong that I will do it regardless of what it costs me.  And I will not expect to be repaid.

When we surrender ourselves to be Followers of Jesus, it’s so much more than signing up for the Heavenly choir!  We have given Jesus permission to ask us for as many favors as He wants–from huge to hardly noticeable.  Our answer to Him cannot be based on the significance of the task or the number of ‘favors’ we’ve already done for Him.  It must be based on the existing relationship we have with Him.

Here’s what typically happens:  He says, “Get ready.  I’m about to call you to something.”

We reply, “Well, what is it?  I probably need to pray about it first and decide if I’m ‘up to it’.  Then I need to see how it fits into my schedule and what repercussions I should expect.”

NO!!!  The conversation should be more like, “My child, I want you to . . .” and we say, “Yes, Lord” before He even finishes the sentence.  In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”  “Yes, Lord,” he answered (Acts 9:10).  Then God tells Ananias to go to Saul/Paul–a scary proposition!  Ananias has some . . . let’s call them ‘hesitations’ (9:13-14), but he has already said “yes”, and there’s no doubt that He will obey.  A willingness to say “yes” doesn’t mean you’re foolhardy; it doesn’t mean you’ll never be afraid.  It means that you trust the One Who Asks, and you agree with Him regarding the status of your relationship which, as I said, determines your response.

So if we approach obedience like we approach favors for friends, we will consider our relationship with Jesus, and answer based on its depth and importance to us rather than looking at the task.

The relationship determines the response–not the risks, rewards, or rights.

And what, you may ask, about the reciprocity aspect of favor-doing in this context?  Well, He already gave everything, didn’t He?

Backward Answers

This is another one of those amazing thoughts that God gave me through reading to my son from his Bible-story book.  Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories . . . I don’t know . . . but it often speaks to me when I get too wrapped up in the history/technicalities/details of the full Word.  That’s the ‘curse’ of a seminary education.

It was during the reign of Ahab, and Elijah had “caused” a famine in the land.  You can check my facts in 1 Kings 17, but as I said, I DO have a seminary degree . . . **just kidding** (about being a know-it-all, not about 1 Kings 17).  While everyone else subsisted on the verge of starvation, God fed Elijah, who was hiding in a ravine.  But then God let Elijah’s water supply dry up.  God immediately told Elijah to go to Zarephath, where a widow agreed to make him some bread every day despite her own lack of supplies. Continue reading

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Have you ever had one of those moments when the Holy Spirit stretches out His big highlighter and causes the words to just jump out of the Bible?  I had one of those recently while reading a children’s Bible story book to my son.

When the Hebrews left Egypt, God sent them through the desert.  You can read it for yourself in Exodus 14.  I remember studying this in graduate school—how there were shorter, more direct paths to the Promised Land.  God sent them southeast when their destination was northeast.  He sent them toward the Red Sea, for which they had no boats, when they could have walked across that little spit of land that is now the Suez Canal.  He intentionally put them ‘between a rock and a hard place’.  (This idiom apparently comes from a Greek myth, but nobody knows for sure.  I tried to look it up.)  So why would God do that?  And what does it mean for me?

1.  It brought Him greater glory—both among the Hebrew people and among the nations.  “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Ex 14:4).  Sure, He’d already sent ten plagues and miraculously allowed millions of people to just walk right out of slavery, but that wasn’t enough.  They needed to see and experience His direct deliverance.  That meant a trip through the desert first.  The desert preceded the Red Sea:  the dryness preceded the trial, and the trial produced the glory.

2.  With God, it’s rarely about the destination.  God’s primary purpose was not “to get to the other side.”  This dramatic deliverance should have helped the Hebrews trust Him later, like when there was no food or when the spies came back with a discouraging report.  It didn’t work, but that was the people’s problem–not God’s.

3.  God ensured that it would be a LONG time before Egyptians could chase them again because Pharaoh had to re-build his whole army.  The Hebrews couldn’t see this at first.  All they saw was the sea and the army (the rock and the hard place).

Now what does all this mean for me?

It means that God sometimes directs me (and you) through something difficult on purpose.  The trials, the challenges, the ‘dry spells’ have purpose.  His goals (our spiritual maturity and His glory) are not the same as our goals (finishing, accomplishing, succeeding, relaxing, or something similarly self-aggrandizing).

Just like Jesus’ time in the wilderness, those dry places in our lives refocus and test us.  The Hebrews focused on the test:  What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?  . . . For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness  (Ex 14:11-12).  They blamed Moses and saw only the ‘common sense’ outcome, which would have been tragic.  Jesus, on the other hand, remained “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1).  Even when Satan directly and specifically tests Him, His focus on His Father never wavers.

“A saint doesn’t know the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it.”  –Oswald Chambers (MUFHH)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.   Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  –James 1:2-4

This is the pattern for me to follow.  Knowing that the struggles and the trials have purpose makes them easier to endure, but I still tend to dwell on the circumstances.  He calls me to maintain my focus on Him at the same time.  I need to think, “He brought me to this place so that He could deliver me.”  In His deliverance, I will find greater joy–joy that I could never know without this trial.  And He receives greater glory–glory that I would not be able to offer Him without this same trial.

Rethinking Peter’s Denial

All we have in Scripture are the facts: Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38). Peter did it. Jesus looked at Peter.

Usually, when we read this or hear it preached, Peter is portrayed as the bad guy, and we come away a little disappointed in him, maybe even a little offended.

  • How could he possibly deny Jesus like that after spending all that time with Him?!?
  • If I was Peter, I would have been proud to stand with Jesus.
  • Peter was WRONG!! How could he have made such a BAD choice?

As I read John’s account this week, however, I began to think about Peter a bit differently . . . and I confess I began to identify with him. Continue reading