Our Quest for Simplicity

 

2Simplicity. When first reading that word, I had to laugh at the irony of how complicated a concept it is. Is simplicity converting to minimalism? Is it a quiet heart? Is it the childhood world of little-to-no responsibility? Is it contentment? It all depends on the context, but it could be all of this (and more!).

The idea of a simple life sometimes sounds like a fable straight from the walking paths of Eden, especially when we are knee-deep in the trenches of life post-Fall. Our responsibilities make demands, our families need ministering to, our paychecks need worked for, our yards need mowing, our houses need cleaned, our stomachs need fed, our students need taught, our friendships need cultivating, and it goes on and on. So much of life’s complexities are rooted in the most basic of our human needs! Our jobs provide homes, food, clothes, etc. Social media and social functions are our attempts to satisfy our need for community. The endless forms of entertainment fulfill our bottomless pit of hunger to be…well, entertained! And even as we heap upon ourselves more scattered busyness, each of us yearn for simplicity. For rest.

When contemplating the answer to our quest for simplicity, my heart turned to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6…

“…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

“Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
Matthew 6:31-33

In an Old Testament world, Jesus has redeemed us into New Testament people. He has changed Adam’s curse of complicated, tiresome work and given us the simplicity of one command: Just seek the kingdom and the righteousness of God. Seek Him first, and all our needs—provisional, communal, and even our pleasure—will be provided for. If we rest in the work Jesus has done in our place, all the things we strive after will be satisfied in Himself.

“Christ has lifted the curse of work. He has replaced anxious toil with trust in God’s promise to supply our needs (Philippians 4:19) and has thus awakened in us a different passion in our work. We turn with joy to the call of Jesus: Seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness…” -John Piper

I’m relieved and thankful that simplifying my life isn’t found in “100 Easy Steps”. Jesus is my simplicity. Seeking Him will cause all the complicated things to either fall into their proper place, or fall away completely (thus indicating their necessity at all). I’m in awe of a profoundly simple truth: that the more we “strive” after Him, the more we will find that His easy yoke and light burden is the means for our rest in Him (Matt. 11:29).

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If God so loved us…

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mom4This past Sunday was the second Mother’s Day I have spent without my Mom. She suddenly passed away over a year ago. I miss her patient, listening ear and her gracious advice. I miss her getting to love her granddaughters as she loved me. I miss her friendship; the kind full of trust and safety to speak all things knowing they fall on ears that love you unconditionally. You can even confess difficult things, like humiliating sin, and you not only find Christ-centered correction but also Christ’s love.

I didn’t realize how weighty of a space my Mom took up in my life and heart until she was gone. But another thing I did not fully realize was that my mother’s love (and all the things that she did in outpour of it) was not just a biologically maternal thing. Yes, she loved me because she was my Mom. But she was alive in Christ, and it was my Savior’s love that poured from her. And it would be an understatement to share my joy and relief when I began to recognize the same love coming from people who weren’t even my blood family. This love came from the Church.

These precious people truly love me. My hurts, my wounds, my sins, my struggles, my fears…they all matter to them. In their arms, I find a safe place where there will be truth and affection from people who actively cultivate my growth in Christ, building me up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). In their arms, my daughters have found grandparents who love them dearly, and who value even their growth in Jesus as much as I do.

In the New Testament, I weep when I read the Scriptures that command the Church to imitate Jesus in their love for one another.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 4:32, 5:1)

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God send his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him…beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

And from our Messiah’s very words,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. But this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

I weep when I read these, because this is the beauty of the Body. They are people who know the love of God demonstrated in Christ, and in turn, love me so much. To these people, I’m indebted, and I’m eternally grateful to God that I get to be a part of them. And when I say “the church”, I don’t mean a particular place of worship I attend. I mean the people that I attend with. I mean my dear friends who live in other towns, and other states. I mean members of the Body, wherever they are, who know Jesus and who love me like He does.

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Sharing from a Silver Platter

photo (8)Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the things the Lord has graciously done in my life that have been detrimental to my faith. I was born to Christian parents who did their best to raise me in the fear of the Lord. Since infancy I’ve been surrounded by the Body of Christ; people who love me and value the deepening of my faith as much as I do. And at a very young age, I began developing a thirst for Christ that sent me searching for a God who continues to let me find Him (Deut. 4:49, ESV).

All of these, I realize, are gifts from a divine Father. We do not have to look far into the world to see that not everyone is born into a Christian family. Not everyone is surrounded by the Body of Christ—by people who are able, or willing, to invest in them spiritually. Not everyone has the Holy Spirit, giving them an instinctive desire to know Jesus and obey, thus making elementary truths easy to understand.

In the slain and risen Lamb, we have been given EVERYTHING we will ever need for living a life pleasing to God, and ultimately, eternal life. What I’m saying is that there are many of us, like myself, who have “seemingly” been handed the things of the Kingdom on a silver platter. There are certainly people who come from ungodly lifestyles, non-Christian families and no church family who come to know Christ! This is the beautiful work of the Spirit.

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But when I read Peter’s reminder to be diligent (2 Peter 1:15, 1:10) with our faith and the gift of being called—I have an urgency not to squander what I’ve been given in Jesus, because it’s seemed so easy for me. Our world is full of people who don’t have the silver platter; we need to be a Church that is filling the world with people who are “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:8b, NASB).

Sisters, let’s not squander or waste the riches made available to us in Jesus by being complacent and fruitless. Let’s grow in the knowledge of God, diligently working out our salvation (making our salvation evident) so that He “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13, ESV) will make us fruitful by His Spirit in us. We have been given the silver platter of riches in Christ and it is a well that will never run dry. The world desperately needs us to share it.

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Alpha & Omega

When praying through and meditating on this one verse, I felt the most overwhelming transcendence.  Transcendence means to feel significantly small in comparison to something—or some One—significantly greater.  I get a similar feeling when I spend some quiet beneath a clear, night sky.  Observing our beautifully created universe (which I am even limited to see with my naked eye), whilst standing on our microscopic speck of a planet, makes me feel very small.

“I am the Alpha…the beginning…”

Jesus is our Alpha (first letter in the Greek alphabet).  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” –John 1:1-3

In the beginning, when God said, “Let there be light”, Jesus was there.  When the greatest Mind of eternity spoke the sculptures of mountains and paintings of planets into living existence, He was with God and He was God.  And all of that was spoken by an uncreated One who shames every “great” human mind—every intellectual, every artist—with His excellence.  Everything begins with Jesus, from the beginning of the created universe, to the beginnings of YOU in the micro universe of your mother’s womb.

“…and the Omega…the end…”

Jesus is our Omega (last letter of the Greek alphabet).  He is the end of the curse of the law.  He is the finished work of God.  Our souls find rest and satisfaction—an end to all our striving & yearning—in Jesus.  The first day of creation began with Jesus, and the last day of this passing world will end with Jesus.  And behold, He is making all things new (Rev.21:5)!  And we who are part of his Body, His Bride, His New Jerusalem; we will have an inheritance of His goodness and glory.

Jesus; Alpha and Omega.  This is transcendence that makes me feel so incredibly small, and yet so affectionately loved by Him who is greater than I.  He, who is my beginning (creation) and my end (salvation).

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Adopted

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Photo Credit: Jen, Mexico 2008

The beauty of adoption in the Gospel is very close to my heart.  If the Lord so wills, we dream of a day when we may adopt a child into our family.  I dream about loving a child, who was not born of my body, in the exact measure that I love the ones who were.  The very real struggle of adopted children being treated differently than biological children breaks my heart, because the Gospel paints a very different picture of those who are adopted.

“…you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”  Romans 7:15-16

The Almighty God has adopted us as His offspring.  He has seen us in our helplessness, dead in our sin, enslaved by fear…and He made us his own (Philippians 3:12).  He is rich in mercy, and His love for us so great, that when we were dead and enslaved He made us alive and free in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5).

 “…God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons….so you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God.”  Galatians 5:4-7

Adopted.  This beautiful name that we, the Church, are given is not a second-rate place at our Father’s side.  According to the Gospel, adoption means you are the child of those who adopted you; you are as much their child as if you were born of their body and blood.

Jesus Christ was the first, true-born Son of God.  And now, through Him, God has taken a people who weren’t his people and now they are called beloved, & “sons of the living God” (Romans 9:25-26).

We are his children, by grace through faith.  When the enemy attempts to strike you with doubt in who you are and what God has done for you, remember this, dear one:  You are created by His hands, adopted as a son [daughter] by His blood, filled with His Spirit, and seated with His Son.

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Invisible Feast

This familiar line of Psalm 34 is so profound from an evangelistic perspective.  King David spends most of this song proclaiming the benefits of his personal experience in trusting God, then tells anyone who hasn’t experienced this to taste and see for themselves.  The whole point of tasting something is expectancy.  Your eyes see a bowl of food and before a bite even touches your mouth, your tongue and salivary glands are perched, receptive for a taste.

So sadly, in our growing agnostic and atheistic culture, there’s a problem with tasting God.  It’s choosing to see an empty bowl, yet challenged to taste its contents.  How do you taste something that you cannot reason exists before you?  If you have an empty bowl, you have no expectancy.  No faith.

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This makes me think of a scene in the Peter Pan film sequel, Hook.  A grown-up and skeptical Peter joins the lost boys at the table for supper.  After grace, the boys begin rabidly pulling off the lids of empty stock pots, grabbing for empty bowls, and scarfing down their seemingly invisible feast.  They gulp, smack, and sigh with satisfaction as a hunger-wearied Peter watches in unbelieving yearning.  He resolves to go hungry, until he scoops a spoon through his empty bowl and has enough faith to at least pretend to fling “invisible food” at one of the boys.  Peter is shocked to not only see the boy’s face covered in flung food, but also a whole feast on the table before him.

The moment faith enters into the heart, it reaches into a bowl of seemingly invisible fare, and finds riches in Christ beyond human comprehension.  Those of us who have tasted this, know this in our very soul.  So how do we encourage the skeptical onlookers to taste with expectancy?  We follow David’s example in the rest of Psalm 34, and share our testimony of God’s existence in our lives.  As Peter Pan watched the lost boys enjoying a meal he couldn’t see, so the lost world must see our total joy and satisfaction in Jesus Christ!  We needn’t stuff invisible fare down our unbelieving friends’ throats; because without faith, they can’t taste it. Let’s just live!  The evidence will be you, alive in Christ; “his praise continually in your mouth” (Ps.34:1), and your deepest needs met (Ps.34:4, 34:10) in the fullness of Him.

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Adventure Feels Like Today

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In June 2011, I was sitting on a bunk bed draped in mosquito net, after spending a day snuggling precious ex-street girls.  The Kenyan night critters had begun their serenade as I scribbled away in a little brown journal given to me by my Grandmother.  She told me to fill its pages with my all my missionary journeys.  “You tell of all the things the Lord has done,” she challenged me.  Children’s homes in Kenya and Zimbabwe were in great need for nurses, and since I was a prospect-less single, I had decided to invest my life in nursing and Africa.  I was excited to see where the Lord would take me, and how He would fill the pages of that little book.

Three mission trips and three years later, that trip to Kenya was my final record in that journal.  There were no more missionary adventures.  I was surprised by a whirlwind relationship and marriage to a godly man, and the gift of two precious daughters.  Our lives haven’t taken us to any foreign soil yet.  That brown journal sits lonesome on the bookshelf of the 40ft camper home that I share with my little family.  While my life is blessed, indeed, it doesn’t look like I thought it would that summer night in Kenya.  This looks very different from the future that the India-bound-bachelor I married had in mind, too.

Sometimes our plans for the future are so much more adventurous and glorious in our mind than how they turn out to be; however, rarely does our human mind accurately display to us true adventure and glory.  Every dream-life comes with its own set of reality and hardships, just like our non-dream-lives do.  I read a blog post about contentment in which the writer profoundly stated, “The future doesn’t feel like the future.  The future feels like today.”1 And in the monotony of today, my friend, is where we will always struggle to be content.

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I struggle with contentment in this tiny house on wheels, parked in my Dad’s driveway while we’re waiting on new direction.  I wrestle with joy and purpose in today’s to-dos, when they look so much like yesterday’s to-dos.  Joy and Contentment aren’t birthed when we are in the circumstances of our dreams; quite the opposite.  Unshakable trust in our lavishly loving God is a holy pursuit, but we can’t learn to do it until we’re asked to live in circumstances far from those of our dreams.

Maybe one day the Lord will lead us to a foreign mission field, but I’m here right now.  So today, I pulled that brown journal off the shelf, and penned about today.  I wrote about how the Lord has blessed me here, and the things He’s shown me in the trenches of marriage and parenting.  I scribbled of the things He has shown me about mission work; that our mission field is everywhere.  My missionary adventure is found in the dishes that need washed and the diapers that need changed.  It’s in sharing the Gospel with our families, communities, workplaces, and church families.  Our adventure is in the lifetime of todays that we will live, doing everything we do to the glory of our gracious God (Col. 3:17).

I invite you to join me in taking my Grandma’s advice.  I’m going to “tell of all the things the Lord has done” TODAY.  I don’t want to miss out on the joy of where God is leading me by dreaming of a future that won’t feel any more like an adventure than today already does. Because trusting God in our today IS our biggest adventure.

AMYCARMICHAEL1. Pleasant, Everly. “This Is the Day.” Web log post. <http://everlypleasant.com/day/>.

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The Worth of Knowing Jesus

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. “  Philippians 3:4-6

This list of credentials may be words on a page to us, but in the life of a Jewish Pharisee, this was everything.  In his mother’s womb, the blood of Abraham was running through his veins.  The sign of the covenant on his flesh just days after birth.  He was a tireless student of the Scriptures, and a blameless keeper of the Law.  In the world of young Saul and according to this list, there was nothing he lacked!  As long as he kept this track record, his part in Abraham’s covenant and his righteousness before God were secure.

But when the Son of God encountered this passionate Saul on that Damascus road, everything changed.  The slain and risen Messiah broke through the scales on his eyes and fulfilled every prophecy and every law etched into his Pharisee-mind.  The newly reborn Paul would come to know that his righteousness no longer depended on his lineage, or striving to keep the endless Law blamelessly.  It was now dependent on his faith in Christ.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”  Philippians 3:4-9

Of all the profound things we find in the letters from Paul, this is of the many that move my heart the most.  The word for “knowledge” or “know” here is from the Greek word γνώσεως, which means a personal acquaintance.  Not as having knowledge of someone or something, but like knowing someone personally.  Not only does Paul consider all his fleshly credentials as nothing, but EVERYTHING as nothing, compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus personally!

I’m so in awe of this.  If we are puffed up by our knowledge or accomplishments; if we use our religious endeavors to just look good for others; when we are burdened with our self-worthlessness and striving to earn our righteousness…let’s remember this apostle, who had more earthly right than anyone to boast perfection in all these things.  But he encouraged us to leave all that behind, and know the One who is our salvation, our defense, our rest, and our righteousness.  As we push off into this New Year, let’s take Paul’s advice in imitating him (Phil. 3:17), by pressing on toward the most valuable pursuits above any others…to know Christ and be found in him.

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Knowing Jesus (not just knowing about him), and being found in Him, shames any other pursuit with its loveliness!  To know this King who loves us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).  And we will find that even in our darkest days, just the desire to know Jesus will be a feast to our hungry and thirsty souls (Matt. 5:6).

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Jesus Makes All Things New - a review of Andrew Peterson

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And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Revelation 21:1-5

Ever since Eve turned a listening ear to a deceiving serpent, there hasn’t been any new suffering under the sun.  There have always been broken families, miscarriages, diseases, corruption, murders, disasters, and war.  But unlike years past, my 2013 seemed to be peppered with reminders that we live in a post-Fall world.  Amidst the noise of the headlines and heartbreak, a theme kept ringing in my heart… “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” and “Jesus makes all things new.”

There have been no recording artists (so far) that have affected my life like Andrew Peterson.  He has been anointed with the gift of true storytelling; the ability to share a deeper meaning in words and song.  I’ve lost count of how many of his records and books I have gifted, because I want others to be blessed as I have.  At a time when Contemporary Christian Music is succeeding to replicate secular pop culture, Peterson and his Captains Courageous (singers/songwriters/producers Ben Shive & Andy Gullahorn) exceed the mediocre with Scriptural depth and real-life honesty.  Their live concerts are a beautiful experience, and shouldn’t be missed.

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Lyrics from “All Things New” by A.Peterson

Through all the reminders of darkness and evil present in the world, Peterson’s music has ministered to me and my husband with the good news of Jesus.  Whether he is singing about growing up, the Gospel, marriage, parenting, his love for Illinois (our own beloved home-state), death, or resurrection…Jesus makes all things new is the heartbeat of every line of music.

The world was good,
The world is fallen,
The world will be redeemed

If you’re a lover of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.M. Barrie, etc. you will be blown away by this artist!  While Peterson’s songs are taking us on an adventure in a childhood haunt, reminiscing through favorite books, or singing of an Old Testament story, they’re telling us a greater Story: that Jesus will not only make all things new one day, but by his Incarnation, his Cross, and his Resurrection, Jesus is already making things new.
He has made us new (2 Cor. 5:17)
He’s given us a new mind; the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
He’s given us a new way to view the curse of work (Matt. 6:25-33)
And we have the gift of His Spirit.  (Gal. 4:6)

I’m so thankful for this music and these writings that proclaim precious truths that are being forgotten.  We have been given eyes and ears to recognize the image and voice of our Shepherd.  Despite all the terrible in the world, we (the sons and daughters of God) along with all creation, testify to his existence.  His goodness and loving-kindnesses burst like light through our suffering and sorrows.  This serves as my reminder that though a prince of darkness is here, a righteous King-who gave his life for me-is on the Throne.  And we should make ready, because he and his day of reckoning are coming soon.

For more information on Andrew Peterson, his records,
& Christy Award-winning series The Wingfeather Saga, visit The Rabbit Room.

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