Equipping the Saints: The Simple Genius


Roaming the Internet in search of genuine Christian expression paints what I believe is an unnatural picture of what constitutes the full expression of the Christian faith. Perhaps it should come as no surprise though, given the technical nature of the Internet and the costs involved to maintain an Internet presence, that the denizens of the Web, especially those who speak most loudly for the Faith, are college graduates.

But when I look over the people who have had the most impact on my life as a Christian, the majority never got beyond a high school education. And it never fails that I continue to learn the most about Jesus from people others might deem “simple.”

From a viewpoint of Christian education, these so-called simple people are often the ones with the most unshakable faith in Jesus. If anything, my experience has been that the people with the most degrees are the ones who flirt most often with doubt and who end up getting distracted by rathole theological discussions that ultimately never go anywhere or accomplish anything.

After a while, you start seeing that the difference between the simple person and the guy with the degree letters piling after his name comes down to whether they genuinely live with the Bible as their primary source of knowledge or some other tome (or set of tomes).

The people I know who never ventured into the ivied corridors of academia tend to have a more humble opinion of their own abilities. Ask the college graduate just who provides his living, and he’s most likely to point to himself. The simple person says, “I have all this because God is good to me, and not because of anything I have done.” Simple people say that whatever God says, that pretty much settles it. The college man says he will need to consult all sources before coming to an opinion. When simple people face disaster, they note that both good and bad come from the hand of the Lord, and are we not to accept both? The college grad wonders what he did wrong or to whom he should assign blame.

Are these generalizations? Sure, but I will argue they are not far off the mark.

I continue to get more from so-called simple people, the ones ignored in a lot of churches because they never went to seminary, didn’t graduate from a prestigious Bible college, can’t talk about Proust or quantum physics or how Wall Street schemes up new derivatives. Do we know what she knows of our Lord?Simple people often work simple jobs also, the kind that don’t get them a cover story on Business Week. Simple people who farm the land or work as greeters at WalMart aren’t the ones that churches push front and center when the photo op comes; they’ll choose the captain of industry with the Harvard M.B.A. And when Christian publishers fight to place another Christian Living bestseller on the top shelf of the local bookstore, they’re not beating down the doors of the old waitress at Denny’s, no matter what 50 years of walking close to the heart of Jesus has taught her. No, they want legitimacy, the kind found in clobbering home runs, or running a megachurch empire, or having once been a cohost on The 700 Club.

Not a day passes when I don’t consider that I have learned the most in my walk with Jesus from people who would otherwise be ignored because they don’t have flashy credentials. And I wonder just as much how it can be that we routinely pass by these repositories of simple faith and hard-won wisdom gained at the feet of Jesus. They languish, not because they have nothing to say, but because we’re ignoring them.

If you take all the Christians blogs out there, including this one, and pile their collected wisdom against the pile comprised by what the simple people know, it would seem like the smallest foothill on the way to K2 and Everest.

I think the greatest loss of wisdom in our churches today is that we’ve pushed out the simple people. We’ve done a lot of that to the elderly too. And when that elderly person is some simple soul, it’s the double whammy.

It’s time to take the microphone away from the 35-year-old Th.D. and give the podium to the stooped old lady in the back pew who never made it past 10th grade. I’ve heard what all the self-appointed church genuises have had to say and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Let someone else talk for a change.

You know that I’m not disparaging education, far from it. I’m saying that some education can only be gained in simple faith and through the crucible of time.

When I was in college, a friend once asked me if I had a wish for my education. I told him bluntly that I would trade every single bit of arcana I had picked up in my collegiate travels to know the Bible backwards and forwards.

There are people among us who have done just that. We need to get those people to share what they have learned. Many of those people are the ones who truly live by “give us this day our daily bread,” who actually spend two hours a day in prayer rather than just trying to impress others with all the theological treatises on prayer they’ve read. They know the Lord, not just about Him like so many of the rest of us do.

You can read all the Christian books in the world, but one saint who has lived it all is the more precious library. That’s the person I want to hear from. Don’t you?

Then please, let us step out of the way and encourage them to speak.

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 4


Pure goldLast week, in the third part of the “Banking on God: Crisis” subsection of this series, I asked some pointed question concerning the lack of preparation our churches have made to weather bad times. Today, I’d like to begin to offer solutions.

In talking over today’s post with the Lord, one word came back to me again and again. It’s a word that’s fallen out of favor in far too many churches. We have young people in churches all over this country who have never been taught what this word means. We’ve got people leading our churches who have no concept of how this word applies to any part of American civil existence, yet it’s a word that defines God more than any other word:


For our churches to be prepared for down times they must be holy.

Now I’m all for grace. The Lord’s grace covers each of us and makes us perfect in His eyes. But think about when the Lord led His people out of Egypt. What did they leave behind? Egypt. And all its trappings. All its idols. All the things that would hinder. Because when we go on a journey—and prevailing through dark times is a journey—traveling light is its own reward.

For the Christian, traveling light means leaving behind the things of life that rise up and ensnare us. Frankly, we’re so ensnared in our American Dream, in our so-called “rights,” and in our sense of personal well-being that holiness has taken a backseat to cultured appearance, doing things our way, and entitlement. But none of those common things will see us through tough times.

One passage God revealed to me comes from the rock apostle:

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
-1 Peter 2:6-12

The other meshes with it, but in a more urgent way. Jesus says this of dark times and preparation:

Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.
—Matthew 24:17-18

People who live in the shadow of tribulation need to understand that holiness and the journey before them are intertwined. We need to abstain from those things that will make us stragglers, easy pickings for robbers, and in danger of falling behind the rest of the band.

So we start our list with this critical need.

1. We must be holy

    This means dropping everything that makes us “common.” Christians are to be a peculiar people, an aroma of heaven amid the scent of death. And the only way we can be that aroma is if we are holy.

If we’re surfing “those” sites on the Web—stop. If we’re listening to trashy music—stop. If we’re watching trashy movies—stop. If we feel compelled to buy this throwaway thing or that—stop.Stop living a common life. Start living a holy one.

We must watch our mouths, attitudes, and thoughts. If we’re not happy with the way we deal with any of those things, then we must get before God and make sure we’ve mastered them before we take another step on the journey.

A holy nation doesn’t need unholy stragglers. It doesn’t need common, ordinary people, but uncommon, extraordinary ones, people who think right and not left, people who can’t be conned to leave the path of holiness.

If your doctor said, “If you drink another diet cola, you’re going to die,” do you think you would drink another diet cola? No. You’d make a decision then and there to stop drinking the darned things.

If your house were on fire, would now be a great time to watch March Madness? No.

Stop sinning. Just stop it. Stop being common. Be holy.

Look, the things we do every day either move us closer to the Lord or draw us away. It’s high time we start purging all the distractions. Our very lives may depend on that, because God works through people who are serious about holiness. If we’re going to need miracles, we better darned well have nothing we’re doing in a common way that will hinder those miracles.

2. We must live simple lives

Just as we can’t have anything in our spiritual lives that might weigh us down, we can’t be weighed down by material things. The American Dream is not God’s Dream. Please read that again. God is not interested in the American Dream but in a Church that does what He says.

If your American Dream and mine are hindering God’s purpose in our lives, then it’s time to dump that American Dream. You know what is hindering you. If not, then find out by drawing near to God. He will tell you what you need to purge.

For most of us, we own too many perishable things. It’s time for us to give them up. Some of us will need to give those things away to others who might need them. Others will need to hold on very lightly so that if God says, “Hold for now,” we can easily let go when He eventually says so.

The first thing we can do is to stop the frenetic consumption. Stop buying more junk. That stuff will only hold you down. You don’t need an iPod. You don’t need a big screen TV. You don’t need most of the things you own. I suspect that the average family could give away 75 percent of what they own and still live responsible, meaningful lives.

How many pairs of shoes do you really need? And do you need to buy $200 running shoes? Why the new car or computer every couple years? Why the multiple gaming systems? For those of us who are compulsive book buyers, do we really need to stock our Christian library with yet another how-to tome that we’re not putting into practice? Seriously.

If the Hebrews in their flight out of Egypt had as much accumulated junk as we have, there never would have been an Exodus. They’d still be packing to this day.

Our preparation must include a purging of those things that will hinder us.

3. We must be generous to others

Here’s the best word I can give to any of us who self-label as “mature” Christians: It’s not about us. The days when it was about you and me were over the day we bowed our knees at the cross. We died. It’s not about us.

It is, however, about others. The Christian is a servant whose heart inclines toward others, toward God and toward other people.

If we live simple lives that are not focused on self, then we are freed to live for others. That makes us uniquely generous.

Living generously for others means that your privacy and mine are a thing of the past. The dead have no privacy. The dead can’t be inconvenienced by others. Dead people can’t complain about the living. If we have to live in dark days in situations that would have violated our privacy in lighter times, tough. Time to grow a thicker skin.

Because we are no longer so concerned about our own cocoon, God will use our newly available selves to move in generosity like we haven’t in the past. We may even quit jobs that consume all our time and energy and take lesser jobs that may once have been beneath us, so that we might better serve and have time to be generous.

And being generous means giving out of what we personally have received. It’s too easy to recommend that someone else be generous. Each of us needs to give out of his or her own rich blessing of God.

4. We must be guided by the Holy Spirit

Agabus, a prophet, stood and announced to the early Church that a famine would hit the whole world. The early Church immediately set about to address that word. This is God speaking to His people to ready them for the next step. This is how we must live.

If we are not attuned to the Spirit of God, if we despise either the written word or the prophetic word, we will not hear the next step. No more serious condition exists for a people journeying through dark times than to fail to discern the direction we need to take. And if we want to hear God, we need to get back to that first condition above: holiness.

Holiness and hearing God go hand in hand. The trappings of the world will dull our hearing. So will a lack of faith to hear.

I said earlier this year that 2008 was the year that the Church must start getting serious about listening to the Holy Spirit. Today, I think that is even more true.

5. We must think outside the box

When Adam fell, his mind fell as well. Though some Christians actually believe that we are getting stupider with each passing generation, I don’t believe this is true. Christ promises to renew our minds, which is not a vain promise. He will do it.

For those situations where we need to find radical solutions to intractable problems, we must be prepared to think along lines that we may have neglected in the past. Or we must pursue revolutionary, new ideas. Either way, we must use our renewed minds to the betterment of our situation and those of others around us.

Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of meeting a church janitor, a meek woman with an elementary school education. After he preached that Christ renews our minds, that little woman, who was only in the church to do her cleaning, overhead the message and came up to Ravenhill afterwards. She asked if God can really renew a person’s mind, including the mind of a person whom many would consider dull and stupid. Ravenhill assured her that this is how God works.

That woman took the Lord at His word. She promptly enrolled in Bible college and learned everything she could of the Scriptures. She renewed her mind. She then went on to university, learned several languages, taught the Scriptures, and became a noted missionary. All because she believed that God could take the mind of someone who knew nothing and use it for His glory.

A mind renewed by God thinks counterculturally. It will always be coming up with ideas that run counter to prevailing wisdom. This is how God works. This is how we should think.

6. We must have faith for miracles

The shoes of the people of Israel did not wear out. The widow’s oil never ran dry. The centurion said to Jesus, “You say the word and my servant will be healed.”

This is the faith we must have in times of crisis.

Note that this is not a faith that settles for anything less than the miraculous. Sadly, very few people in the United States have that kind of faith. We have a rationalized faith that sees the mountain as a mountain that cannot be moved because…well, it’s a mountain. We make peace with our faithlessness and call it enlightenment. But Jesus does not honor that kind of faith for it is not faith at all.

If we’re to do great works before the darkness rolls in, then we must be people who have taken up the shield of faith, the armor of choice in tough times.

7. We must be prepared to die

In times of crisis, we must be people who love not our lives unto death. Some of us may not make it. That’s the risk of going faithfully into difficulty.

That’s not a message you will hear in too many Christian circles today, but it was an attitude that pervaded the early Church. We need to rediscover that truth.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce of a heaven far more substantial than this earth we’ve called home. Is that true in your life and mine? Then why do we cling so rigidly to this world and not the one that is more real and more worthy of our attention?

If we do these seven things, I believe we will be on the path to preparedness.

In my next post, I will offer practical solutions for battening the hatches of our churches as we prepare to weather crisis. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Sanity in the Simple


If we lose sight of the simple things the Lord has blessed us with, we get sucked into a cyclone of complexity. Yet it is in the enjoyment of simple things in life that joy is found.

It could not have been a more beautiful day today. The weather here was in the high Seventies with a light breeze and very little humidity—hard to believe for Southwestern Ohio in August! Clear blue skies and ample sunshine poured down on the verdant fields and forests surrounding our little homestead. I felt like it was one of those June days when I was barely into my twenties and life was lived in the moment, though it also stretched out dazzlingly before me, a banquet ready to sample. You feel the power of your youth coursing in you and all is well with the world.

Life has a habit of fractalizing, becoming infinitely complex when we examine it with the microscope of time and experience. But this is not God’s way. His voice calls us to come away from the swirl of activity and be one with Him:

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.
–Song of Solomon 2:10-13 ESV

This is a call the world does not understand. I used to believe it was merely a spiritual call, but I now believe it is something more

A few years ago, my wife and I elected to pack up and move out to the country. We both feel that Christians have lost something in our bid to keep up with the world. But there is something sane in the simple rural life. There is health in the raising of one’s own food, of breaking the soil, working it, and seeing it bring forth life. When I am out on my tractor, a stillness comes over me as I tend the land the Lord has given us out of His goodness. I wonder if we Christians lost something dear when we forsook the land for the factory, skyscraper, and office park.

Just the other day, we attended a meeting designed to help farmers grow wine grapes. At one time the Ohio River Valley was what Napa Valley is today. As we walked through the local vineyards, the bounty of grapes we saw drove it home for me: There is a fruitfulness that can be had in fulfilling the very first command of God to Adam. As the song “All Good Gifts” says, We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, and it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. It is not easy work, but there is a simple fulfillment in it that is lost for so many people.

Jesus said that his yoke was easy, His burden light. Too many Christians have taken on a hard burden in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. We were never meant to be yoked with the world and its mind-numbing complexity. Any ancient farmer could tell you not to mix your work animals in the yoke or else they will pull in a constant circle, getting nowhere.

Not everyone can drop what they are doing and do what we did, I understand that (and if this post has been rambling for many of you, well sometimes the deepest feelings come out that way.) But no matter what, I know with all my heart that God wants us to dwell in peace and rest in Him. What that takes may be different for every person, but I believe that sometimes the best way to still the soul is to be in a place that is more still by its very nature.

Ask the Lord to help you find that place. It will be both in you and outside you. If you look for it by His Spirit, you will know when you find it because peace is there, as is the sound of the Savior’s voice.

Does your life feel like a spinning wheel careening out of control? Simplicity calls you to come away. A more serene life dwells in us if we listen to that melodious voice that calls out, “Come away….”