Words That May Not Mean What You Think They Mean

In honor of the end of a year filled with=racial tension, pandemics, heated debates over small bits of cloth, and other nonsense, I thought it would be fun to incorporate one of my favorite quotes from The Princess Bride into a blog series. That is, assuming I have time to write said series, and assuming anyone still reads blogs since I’ve been MIA dealing with analog life stuff for a few months.

Who am I kidding? Analog life keeps me busy enough that the only time I’ve actually had to write was during my COVID-19 infection quarantine when my brain decided to socially distance itself from the rest of my body and what was left behind behaved as if a good 14 hours or so of sleep provided only enough energy to maintain a semi-conscious state for the remaining 10 hours of the day.

Not a single minute of which became writing time.

Still, this quote is appropriate for the “It’s not religion; it’s a relationship,” rather backwards, inside-out, and top-down sort of non-religion-religionesque type of thingie that the world calls Christianity.

And so, from the mouth of the beloved fencing expert/professional vengeance-seeker, Inigo Montoya, I give you one of my top 127 favorite quotes from the movie:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya

Ta-da!

Yes that’s right, I’m going to dip my toes into the murky tide of how some words are commonly used as opposed to what they actually mean.

In doing so, I imagine I will step on a few toes and maybe stub mine a time or two. Even still, I think it’s a good practice to stop and think about the words we are tossing about like whiffle balls in case they might be hand grenades.

Or at least, maybe we should take a moment to explore the words we are using to ensure the sounds coming from our faces are being interpreted according to our intent.

I know, I know…

Inconceivable!

Stay tuned for an irregularly-published series on words and their meanings…

Aftermath

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ…
Read the rest of Luke 2:25-35

Luke 2:25-26

Another Christmas morning is in the books. For several weeks now, most of us have been caught up in a whirlwind of parties and preparation, baking and shopping, wrapping and decorating.

Today we stand in the aftermath. The seasonal crescendo has come and gone, leaving behind memories, decorations, and perhaps a few stray shreds of wrapping paper beneath the sofa. The excitement wanes as we once again submit to the tyranny of the mundane.

I wonder… in the days after the first Christmas, did Mary and Joseph experience a similar sense of encroaching ordinariness? Their lives had been turned on end by angelic announcements followed by a singular pregnancy and the anticipation of Messiah.

I imagine the high emotions of those days – awe at the coming task of parenting the Son of God; sorrow over rejection from friends and family who see only evidence of promiscuity in the swelling of Mary’s belly.

But now it was all past. The daily drudgery of caring for the Infant, providing food and shelter, and waiting out the time of purification had settled in.

Do you sometimes wonder, “Is this it?”

Do you think our Lord’s human parents did also?

This is the point when Simeon entered – a full forty days after the drama had faded into routine. But Simeon did not see merely another couple with a child performing the necessary rites of a Torah-observant Jewish family. Simeon saw the glory of the King through the ordinariness of daily Jewish life and new parent fatigue. And he embraced the Babe, proclaiming the good news and praising God as he did.

Perhaps we can learn from Simeon. Perhaps we, too, can diligently seek our Savior in the midst of familiar workaday routine. What if we embraced every tiny glimpse of Him, proclaiming the mercy and praise of God to our families each day as we’re going about the necessary duties of life?

Perhaps we can use this time to teach our kids that Christmas isn’t Christmas because of the gifts and twinkling lights, but because of Christ. Maybe together, we can start identifying Christ in our everyday lives and praising His goodness to all who stand near.

Maybe for us, every day can be Christmas.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What are some practical steps you can take to discover Jesus in the middle of your day-to-day life?
  2. How can you celebrate the birth of our Savior long after the seasonal festivities have ceased?
  3. Try instituting a new habit: With your family, spouse, small group, or a couple of friends, start a daily conversation about where each person saw Jesus in their day.  This can be done verbally in conversation or via text, email, or whatever. Just learning to recognize and acknowledge Him in our lives can be tremendous!

You Keep Using That Word, Part 2: Progressive

I need to preface this with a shoutout to the author whose podcast and book put a name to a dark and nameless dissonance I’d been often frustrated by in my walk with the Lord.

As an atheist who came to know God through the Bible long before stepping into a church congregation, I’d puzzled for years over a disconnect I found between me and some who call themselves Christian. We used the same terms, claimed the same Lord, even referenced a few of the same Scriptures, but what we meant by these things didn’t seem to mesh.

Then I heard Alisa Childers reference Progressive Christianity. Whether by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, instinct, or both, I knew this was the name of the lurking menace I’d encountered.

If you’re looking for an excellent Christmas present or a great Christmastime read for yourself, I HIGHLY recommend Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers. She writes with grace, tact, and candor of how a self-proclaimed “flaky artist type” took a plunge into the deep waters of apologetics and learned that her faith is built on Rock-solid ground.

Buy it. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Now on to today’s program:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Galatians 1:6-8

Progressive. The word just sounds so… dynamic, doesn’t it?

It hints at sophistication; of gaining ground. When attached to a noun, this adjective lends a sense of importance, of forward motion, and of… well, of progress.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

– Inigo Montoya

But in truth, progress isn’t the significant thing. Making progress in the right direction is of far greater importance.

Four times now, I’ve made excellent progress on a hike – along a route that diverged moderately from the planned path. Once my companion and I forsook the path entirely and struck out on our own.

Such enthusiastic and progressive hiking experiences culminated in a variety of results. One particularly memorable result involved an unintended tour of adjacent mountaintops while keeping one eye on the sun’s position in the sky and the other on our (fortunately) distinctive goal.

We did make it to the goal before sunset, though our appearance must have been alarming. We were immediately offered food and water.

I suppose experiences like these have taught me to be cautious of vague descriptors such as progressive.

So when I first heard of “progressive Christianity,” I initially responded with a mixture of puzzled disbelief and a primal shock of icy horror.

If progressing up the wrong mountainside prompted wide-eyed day hikers to thrust their half-empty water bottles towards me, what is the appropriate response for people progressing towards the wrong eternity?

Though we’re easily lulled into believing our physical, mental, and emotional needs are the most important thing in life, the plight of those meandering comfortably and happily down the broad path to destruction is far more desperate than, say, a starving hiker lost in the backcountry with nothing but the clothes on his body and the seal of the Holy Spirit on his heart.

Progressive Christianity shares very little with actual followers of Jesus the Christ. It is progressively moving towards quite a different goal. A more honest devotee would call it progressive churchianity – or even what it is – secular humanism dressed in a dollar-store Jesus costume complete with Anglo-Saxon features.

Ironically, Christianity as it is understood through the Word of God, the teachings of the Christ, and the early Church is progressive.

It speaks of progressively becoming more like Jesus of Nazareth; of progressively dying to oneself and one’s sin; of daily progress towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Of progressive expectations of persecution and suffering laced with the joy of knowing it all has a purpose and an eternal hope.

However, the other thing wears the name of Christianity much like decaf wears the name of coffee. It has little of the flavor and none of the power.

What passes under the title of progressive Christianity has a form of godliness but denies its power. It promises something which resembles peace on earth and good will towards men while assuming a lack of peace and good will among men is the worst part.

Progressive Christianity treats the spiritual equivalent of ebola with a splash of lavender essential oil and a sweet little smile.

And it is making progress in our churches. Just not in the right direction.

The One I Forgot To Post

Written for my church family for October 1, 2020

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

Devotion

Written by Heather Davis from the Station Hill Campus

The late Ravi Zacharias once wrote, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”

Ravi has finished well. According to his daughter, “He turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done,” until he no longer had strength to speak. He reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul also used his final days to point others to the goodness of the Lord, putting pen to parchment in order to encourage younger disciples to stay strong. His words still encourage us today.

But ministry wasn’t easy on Paul. In his many travels, he endured varied forms of beatings, hunger, thirst, and frequent danger, only to find himself deserted by friends at his defense following his final arrest in Rome. Yet rather than bitter brooding over this slight, his letters from prison urged others to stay the course—because although the race is hard, the end is worthwhile.

What compelled these two men to spend every possible moment sharing their hope in Christ and strengthening believers? I believe they felt the brevity of this life and the weight of eternity for those who did not yet know the Lord. To the end, they kept their eyes fixed on the Founder and Perfecter of their faith. The rest flowed naturally from His Spirit welling up within them.

I can’t speak for you, but I find it all too easy to fixate on self and circumstance. When I do, whether my days are filled with difficulties or comforts, the temporary things of this world loom large.

But when I set my mind on the goodness of my God and His offer of eternal life and joy in Christ, the jaw-dropping ceaselessness and permanence of eternity come into razor-keen focus. Suddenly my present entertainment or struggle seems trifling. Instead, my awe of God reminds me: people are dying without Jesus, and when they face the ultimate Judge, they will be truly alone. Others are drifting from the Truth and being led astray by false teaching, and they need discipling to keep them mindful of the Way.

With the King of kings as my focal point, I begin to view everything in terms of eternity. No matter what happens to my physical body, I have a hope beyond time.

But my friends—or even my enemies—may not. So I keep pressing on.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What occupies your thoughts more—your present circumstance or your eternal blessing in Christ?
  2. What are some small, daily habits you can form to make discipleship a natural part of your life?
  3. If you aren’t already passionate about discipling others in obedience to Christ, consider committing to prayer that the Lord will change your heart and focus to be in line with His command to make disciples.
  4. Memorize Deuteronomy 6:4-9 with your family or friends. Print or write it out and post it somewhere as a daily reminder for discipleship.

Comfort Zones

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

My analog life is coming at me hard and fast these days, which hasn’t allowed a great deal of time for writing or bloggish fellowship. I miss everyone, but I also know this is a busy-but-brief season.

In two short years, my nest will likely be empty of all but animal fur, echoing with the memories of busy teenagers and their friends.

Before I grow nostalgic over events yet to be, allow me to segue into a funny moment I recently enjoyed with my heavenly Father. It happened during new faculty orientation when my boss mentioned the need to step out of our comfort zones.

My comfort zone. I stopped just short of laughing aloud.

(Legitimate reminiscence begins here).

As a young atheist, I swore I would never have children, aspiring instead to the status of eccentric aunt. I would spoil my nieces and nephews with the money I earned from the cool job I’d have – a job which I adamantly declared would NOT be teaching.

However, God did not allow me to continue in my atheism long, startling me into full awareness of Him by gifting me with our son, Nathan – whose name I much later learned is Hebrew for “He gives.”

Do you enjoy irony?

Evidently, so does my God.

Before the dust settled around the collapsed house of cards my old worldview turned out to be, God gave me two more children in fairly rapid succession.  But He was only setting the stage.

Now that He had my attention with an undeniable call to motherhood, He placed a new calling on my life: Homeschooling.

What, Lord?? You must be kidding!”

He wasn’t.

He called me to teach my children – not only about Him, but about reading, writing, and all the things as well. In the meantime, the Lord continued removing cushions from my comfort zone. 

For example, I was painfully shy and loathed talking in groups. He had plans for that, too.

You know that awkward silence that happens when a group leader asks a question and everyone looks at the floor and hopes someone else will speak up? Guess who gets to break those silences? Turns out, speaking up was a nonsensical fear.

To avoid writing a lengthy, multi-part series about the methodical deconstruction of my comfort zone, let me fast forward a bit.

After a decade of homeschooling, breaking awkward silences, teaching classes of young children, and a grand array of other things I said I’d never do, I thought I’d learned my lesson pretty well. However, I’m afraid I did state out loud to others that middle school students were not my favorite age group.

You see where this is going, don’t you? I should have…

Back to orientation for my new job – as an office assistant and a middle school photography teacher.

On the way home, I talked with the Lord, reflecting about how I no longer had a comfort zone. Since my first faltering steps of obedience, He’s taken me on a whirlwind journey down overgrown paths and little-used avenues in directions I didn’t even know existed.

I’ve never once known what is coming next, but somehow I’ve lost my anxiety about the future along the way. Pretty sure I dropped it along with a sizeable hunk of self-interest during one of many full-bore pivots around a blind hairpin turn.

Anyway, as we talked, I heard that beloved, oh-so-familiar whisper. You still have a Comfort Zone; just not the same one.

He’s right. He always is.

My comfort zone is much more expansive than it used to be. It’s less a zone than an Eternity.

You see, my present comfort zone is precisely in the middle of God’s will. It’s always an adventure, not always exactly comfortable for my flesh, but it is the safest and best place I can be.  

And it’s exactly where I want to be.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, 
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever, 
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Isaiah 26:3-4

In the Weeds

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; 
be gracious to me and answer me! 
You have said, “Seek my face.” 
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
(Psalm 27:7-8)

I’ve become obsessed with weeds.

Well, technically, it’s the flowers I’m obsessed with, not the weeds themselves. I’m very blessed to live in an area where social distancing and shelter in place orders are balanced by large yards and plenty of growing things.

Not all of my pals in the blogosphere are so fortunate.

So I thought I’d take a break from my typical Scripture meditations and share some of my favorite bits of Psalms and photos of my recent neighborhood wanderings to brighten things up.

I know a lot of us could use some color in our days. My God must be a fan of color, too. He’s decorated the entire natural world with it. And if He lavishes such detail on the weeds of the field, He will certainly have attention for you.

Seek His face; it is more beautiful even than these…

Closeup of purple dead nettle in flower

Purple Deadnettle is a common front yard weed in my region. It typically blooms in late winter or early spring, often gracing our Middle Tennessee yards in March.

My front yard in mid-March
Field of purple dead nettle near the pond

I’ve seen this weed bloom every spring for the last four decades, but this year I decided to find out more. Besides learning the name, I also learned it is edible! Do a Google search and you’ll find tons of recipes with purple dead nettle as an ingredient.

Apparently it even has nutritional and medicinal properties. I failed to try it out this year, but you can bet I’ll be tossing some in a smoothie or salad next spring. I’m curious about the taste, but alas, my husband mowed before I’d done my research.

The bees seemed to enjoy it, though.

I’ll feature just one more, very similar, early spring weed today. To be honest, before this year, I never noticed there were two lookalikes vying for space. The flowers of henbit are remarkably similar to the dead nettle, but the shape of the plant is very different.

You can see the difference in the leaf structure, though the flowers are remarkably similar. But never fear! Both henbit and dead nettle are edible plants, so just be careful they haven’t been sprayed with herbicide.

I’ll be back soon with another favorite Scripture nugget and some more photos from my suburban adventures. Until then, stay safe and stay sane in the middle of COVID madness!

Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; 
for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
(Psaalm 27:11-14)

Rest

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

Did you know the Sabbath is mentioned in 36 different verses in the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) alone?

Besides those, 20 additional verses do not expressly use the term Sabbath but speak of a seventh day of rest, making an average of 11 mentions per book. In a written tradition using repetition for emphasis, this commandment is underscored with greater intensity than the one prohibiting murder.

Let that sink in a moment.

On this year’s trip through the Bible, I’ve been drawn to the numerable mentions of Sabbath and have been prayerfully meditating on why. By God’s grace, I think I’m beginning to see glimpses of a few reasons.

There’s too much for a blog post, really, but I wanted to look at one facet: Have you ever wondered why God would command us to rest when rest is not only something we all need, but also a wonderful gift?

I think in part, this is so we would see the rebelliousness of our own stubborn hearts.

Sabbath – one day in every 7 to rest – is really an enormous benefit to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But of course, we humans have an incorrigible contrariness about us when it comes to God and His commands. We tend to want to do things our way, decide we know what’s best – even decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

And we’ve decided Sabbath isn’t all that important. Especially today in our 24/7, fast-paced world, rest is something we would much rather complain we can’t find. A glance at the mental health statistics in my country suggests how well this is working for us.

Maybe that’s what is going on now with COVID-19. Maybe, just maybe, this is a kind of Sabbath thrust upon a people who refused it otherwise.

In America, we often talk about how busy we are, how we never have time to stop. Some of us even claim we find it a struggle to read our Bibles every day.

Well now we have time. What are we going to do with it?

Isaiah advises:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 58:13-14

What if we rested? Physically, yes, but also embracing the full idea of Sabbath as God meant it to be. Keeping it holy. Dedicating it to Him. Taking delight in Him, in His Word, in worship of Him.

What if we took this time – these next few days or weeks or whatever it turns out to be – and really dove in deep to Bible study, to prayer, to searching our hearts, and repenting of sin?

What if we really pondered the Word of God and spent time talking through it with its Author?

What if we pressed into obedience and taking every thought captive to obey Christ and honestly loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds?

What if we did this openly with our families, praying together, reading together, talking about the greatness of God together?

What kind of peace and joy might that bring?

This time of quarantine and social distancing could be lonely, frightening, and difficult. Or it could be the greatest blessing we’ve ever received.

So? What are you going to do with it?

Secretarial Duties, Leviticus, NYC, and Sabbath

You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD… Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
(Leviticus 19:30, 20:7-8)

Hi. It’s been a bit since I’ve written, I know. My plan was to pour all my writing effort into a book I need to finish, and so I signed off around the middle of January while in the middle of a blog writing respite.

But of course, my plans and God’s plans differ from time to time. When they do, experience has taught me it’s wiser, safer, and saner to leave my plans where they fall and follow His way.

So the last few weeks, I’ve been filling in for the lady who works the front desk at my girls’ school while she recovered from surgery. This made the first full-time job (outside the home, anyway) since the birth of our now-19-year-old son.

It was terrific fun. I love the kids at the school; loved getting to know them better, loved working with the staff, loved being there.

Still, I’ll be glad to get down to business in March and finish the book. I hope to write some short posts here, too – one a week or so. But today is just a quick check-in; a hello, still alive, before I head up to NYC with the 10th grade class.

I’d like to take this little check-in moment to fill you in on my year so far. Our church is reading through the Bible chronologically this year, and I am loving it. Many days, I’ve both read and listened to the day’s selections – an exercise which seems to press the Word into my conciousness a little more deeply.

While this is not my first time through the Word chronologically, it may as well be. That’s what I love about the Bible. I can read it over and over and over again, and there’s always some new nuance or some truth I’d previously overlooked before to greet me. It has a quality of being at once both comfortably familiar and startlingly novel that I adore.

In the last week or so, two things have been impressed on my mind.

Well, let’s be honest. There have been so many more, but to keep this brief-ish, I’m choosing to focus on two…

Foremost is Sabbath. I hope to write more about this soon, but for now let’s just say I have been astonished at how much coverage Sabbath gets in the first 3 books of the Bible.

By the time you reach the point I’m at now – Numbers 6 – you’ll have read a reference to the Sabbath or the seventh day 79 times. Sabbath is also the only one of the Ten Commandments predating the Mosaic covenant.

Hmm. Maybe it’s important.

The other is a fun fact I learned just this morning. Out of curiosity, I counted and discovered the phrase, “I am the Lord,” is repeated in Leviticus 52 times.

I firmly believe the refrain exists because we need a continual reminder that GOD is God and we are not.

What are the implications of these two small truths? Profound. Enough to prayerfully consider for the next few days.

Lord, change us and teach us that You alone are God. Show us how to live like it each and every day, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Wisdom

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5:15-17

All-knowing God, You are the Source of true wisdom, for it is by Your knowledge and power that all things were created. As the Beginning and the End, You encompass the fullness of reality – in fact, reality is Yours to define.

When we begin to think of You in this way – Your eternal magnificence, Your unfathomable power, and Your absolute sovereignty – we are overcome by worship. You truly are the great and mighty God who knows all and who works all things according to Your perfect plan. May Your name be forever praised!

Teach us to look to You and You alone for the wisdom we need to navigate this world and make the best use of our time. We confess our weakness before You; our tendency to get caught up in the “wisdom” of this world which is foolishness compared to Your eternal perspective. We take our eyes off of Jesus and we forget to keep our minds fixed on the things above rather than the things on earth.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

But Lord, remember that we are dust and that the events of this world seem so long and so very real to us as they happen. Have mercy and strengthen Your servants. Teach our hearts to see all of life through the lens of eternity and to redeem the time we are allotted, not using the minutes and hours for self-gratification but to bring honor and glory to You. 

You have given us the Living Word to keep our hearts in check, but again we must confess: Too often we neglect it, or we rush through it as a check-list item on our agendas rather than savoring the Word and ruminating on it throughout the day.

Lord, today we humbly ask that You will firmly plant in us a strong and growing desire for Your Word. Teach us to long for it, to meditate on it, and to cherish it. May it be that our first response to crisis or a need for guidance is to open the Book and search its pages for wisdom from You. May our hearts surrender to the truth we read there, holding nothing back.

Our God, make us a people of the Word, holy and pure before You and useful to You in this world. From this day forward, may it be that never a day passes but that we seek Your face in the pages of Your Word and in prayer, humbly bowing ourselves before the Throne of Grace.

And when we receive our marching orders, make us to set out with confidence, knowing that whatever may happen to our bodies in this world, we share in the victory already won by Jesus Christ our Lord. To Him be the praise and the glory in all things, amen. 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:56-58

No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?