12.13.2009

as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes

"Jesus, Light of the World"
* O Come Let Us Adore Him"



* Redeemer King
* Jesus, Light of the World (no idea real song name)









* Heaven's Light (no idea real song name)
* Luke 1:78-79
* Because of Your Tender Mercy"

12.03.2009

how much more will your heavenly Father give

I posted a clip of Voddie Baucham more than a month ago. In it, he half-answers the question of why does God allow suffering to exist by reframing the question around God's sovereignty and turning the question to how is it possible a holy God lets me live. It is a factually correct perspective in the sense that all of us should be grateful for whatever we have, and God owes us nothing at all, and God can do whatever He wants. All of this is true. But two things occurred to me today that make me question the relation of this perspective to the Gospel.

One: I had to inform my employees that they were receiving bonuses, but the bonuses were drastically reduced from prior year amounts. The talking points given to me by HR to recite made it seem like the message I was supposed to send them was "It's a tough economy, you are lucky you have a job, and you are lucky to get any bonus whatsoever." While all of that is true, there is no grace in reminding them of their luck to then reframe their disappointment into some sort of joy.

Two: My daughter was hoping to get new earrings today. After getting her ears pierced several weeks ago, today was the day she was told she would be able to switch from the basic stud to different earrings. Because I was disappointed in one of her school grades, I chose not to get her new earrings even though I had told her we'd consider going afterschool to get some. My reasoning to her was that I was disappointed in her grades, and this was one of the punishments she was receiving. Again, factually true, and a teaching moment that actions have consequences, no doubt. But was there also not a teaching moment here on grace had I gotten her earrings? That she deserved nothing but punishment and instead received a gift of love?

A holy God owes mankind nothing. True. Sinful man deserves nothing but condemnation. True. After the very gift of life and breath, everything after that is a bonus. True. We should repeat these facts again and again because it gives us the proper perspective on God. False.

The good news of God is that despite what we have earned, He loves us and by His loving grace, He offers us abundant life. That is the repeatable message. That He is a loving Father, one who is not prone to reminding us at every turn that everything is His and He can do whatever He wants. That He is a loving Father, one who is not prone to lording His sovereignty and supremacy over us again and again. That He is a loving Father and despite the fact that we disappoint Him every single day with the grossness of our sin, He blesses us beyond measure. That is the Gospel: love and grace and mercy over condemnation. Sorry, Voddie. That's how I choose to remind myself of who my Heavenly Father is, and who my Savior is -- He loves me, not I'm not dead, woo hoo.

so choose life in order that

If you asked me a decade ago if I was in favor of the death penalty, not only would I have said "Absolutely", but I would have volunteered to be the one who pulled the switch. A few years ago my stance softened as I considered Gen18 and read up on Catholic teachings on the sanctity of human life. Evangelical Republicans preach the evils of abortion while ignoring their staunch advocacy of capital punishment, something I was having second thoughts about. This week, a senseless tragedy occurred, and facebook statuses of a large number of my Christian friends railed for the killer to be caught, and when he was himself killed, a surprisingly large number of Christian friends reveled in his death.

Let me be clear on this point: bloodlust masqueraded as justice is terribly wrong.

Second thoughts no longer exist on this issue, as I am convinced there is no reconciling being against abortion with supporting capital punishment. Life is life -- whether it is the life of an innocent one, or the life of the most wicked of us all. Christ came to redeem the lives of both these types. A Christian cannot, cannot root for death to win. That is like rooting for the Empire, or rooting for the Axis. John10 makes the very clear distinction between what Christ brings (LIFE) and what the devil is all about (DEATH). Even when seeking justice, one cannot side with death. Death is the enemy; death is the consequence of sin; death entered the world via liar's lies; death is the opposite of the good news of God.

My heart breaks at injustice, and every inch of me seeks for God to strike down evil. In fact, I pray for His smiting on my enemies. But in the end, my sense of justice is often very different from God's sense of justice. And my sense of proper consequences is very different from God's sense of proper consequences. So rather than think about justice and consequences (of which I am clearly often wrong), far better for me to think about something I do know about -- the good news of God: that Christ came to vanquish death and bring life.

Deut30 presents us the choice to choose between life and death. Not life sometimes and death sometimes, but to choose one over the other. I choose life, the side represented by Christ. And you?

11.24.2009

but to save the world

Been a long while, I know. The very strong potential was for that long while to go without end. That potential still remains.

In any case, end or no end, it's worth reading THIS and seeing upfront and center the clear Gospel message. Man dies. Man's death saves the lives of others. This story is extraordinary in and of itself, and it's only a shadow of the true Gospel. In the case of the true Gospel, move from 8 lives to infinity lives. And move from saving the lives of friends and families, to saving the lives of one's own enemies out of sheer love. Story is touching in its own right. The Gospel? Even more so.

There is some subset of human begins who read stories of sacrifice and miss the sacrifice paid for them at Calvary. If only they could see.

10.29.2009

I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised

My father passed away two weeks ago today.

That sentence was incredibly difficult to write, as if in the writing I was somehow solidifying the fact and making it impossible to reverse. There is a profoundly deep well of sadness within me, a sorrow through whose shadows my screams find no bottom to that pit. And yet there is clear light amidst this turbulence. They say that trials in life are tests of faith, and over the past two weeks, I've grown to understand that more.

Some view the test of faith like a spelling test -- an examination with a pass/fail score. In your response to trial, do you still cling to that God of yours, or do you abandon Him? And there is that aspect to tests of faith.

Others view the test of faith like an air pressure test on your tires -- a gauge that measures some amount. In your response to trial, how big is your faith? Do you only see God when the streams of abundance flow? Or can you when in the desert, when walking through the wilderness still stay "Blessed be Your name?" And there is that aspect to tests of faith as well.

I have come to also see the test of faith like a rorschach test -- a test after which you learn something about yourself. I've said several times before that I want an unbelievable faith. And this recent test of faith for me has revealed what my faith looks like.

And while my sadness is infinite, I find myself believing more fully in the sovereignty of God than I ever had. I still see the goodness of God. I see the grace He has poured out to me over the last few years and last few months. I see His love poured out on me through His people. I see His heart for the lost, and His love for the found. I see a God whether the sun's shining down or whether the darkness is closing in whose name I can bless. I see a God who I will never be able to outlove who loves me to there and back and to whom I can run and I can run to his heart, a heart big enough for all my shadows I will not despair I will not despair. I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock in whom I take refuge.

10.25.2009

against you, He has cleared away

"Forgive One Another" {Eph4:32}
* Lots of words/phrases easy to say -- "I forgive you" is not one of them
- Requires humility to be able to give grace to another who has wronged you
- Corrie ten Boom story
* Forgiveness is commanded; rooted in God's forgiveness of us, and in person of Jesus
- Matt6:12
* Forgiveness is at heart of Gospel {Col3:13}
* No exclusion clauses in command to forgive others
- Matt18:21-22
- Forgiveness towards someone who repeatedly wrongs you does not exclude correction, rebuke, etc
* Forgiveness a heart decision {Matt18:23-35}
* Forgiveness to be given regardless of circumstances {Acts7:51-60}
- Steve Saint story
* Forgiveness done in light of Christ's example {Luke23:34}

10.17.2009

on Him, because He cares for you

O little one of infinite sadness, do you not know that all your cares can be given unto Me? Do you not recall that I will sustain you? that I will bear you? that I will shield you with eagles' wings? Do you not know that I derive no pleasure in death? that I long for all to come to Me? Do you not remember that I will defend you? that I will provide for you? that every hair on your precious head was numbered once by Me? O little one of infinite sadness, do you not know that I have great plans, plans for every one, every one, and no ache in you is greater than the one I have for all as well? Do you not recall that I will never leave you, nor forsake you, nor ever let you go? that what once was no longer is? that what once will be needn't burden your soul to break? O little one of infinite sadness, My heart is big enough for all your shadows, do not despair. Do not despair.

10.11.2009

do so as one

"Live in Harmony w/ One Another" {Rom15:5-6}
* God is glorified by our unity & harmony w/ each other. People form their opinion about God by what they see in us. {Rom15:5-6,12:16}
* Unity & peace in His family is a big deal to God {Ps34:14, John17:20-23, Eph4:1-6}
* Amount of blessing/disc we receive from God is greatly determined by our harmony {Ps133, Matt5:9, 1Pet3:8-12}
- Like orchestra: diff instruments w/ diff notes/sounds that sound great when played together
- Ed note: The blessing IS the harmonious community
* It takes tremendous effort & sacrifice to maintain harmony w/ everyone {Eph4:2-3, Rom12:18}
* Our ability to influence unbelievers is determined by our unity {Phil1:27, John17:22-23, Acts2:46-47}
* God won't use a person to do His work who has unresolved conflict w/ someone else {Matt5:23-24}
* Lack of unity slows our growth {1Cor3:1-3}
* Practical steps for developing unity
- Realize unity & harmony are possible
- Christ prayed for our unity while on earth -- possibly still prays for our unity; we have supernatural help in this
- 2Cor5:17-18
- Realize unity & harmony not automatic: accept responsibility, pray for it, make every effort

10.07.2009

nor do they pick

For some closing at a later date. All about choices.
* Would you rather game
* Football or baseball: no right or wrong
* Salad dressing type: doesn't matter
* Millions of dollars or abject poverty: one clearly better
* What to wear: not final; changes every day
* Heads or tails: not real help to you
* One choice. That has a right answer. That matters more than anything. That results in the glorious riches of heaven. That is permanent, now and forevermore. That will close that gap twixt you and eternity, square with the Almighty forever.

One choice.

10.05.2009

he would not have allowed

The clip below is a pretty unique response to the answer of "Why does God allow suffering?" It doesn't answer the question so much as it reframes the issue. Many of the theological questions we ask are human-centric questions. The clip below reminds us that a better answer would be to understand the question from the eternal view.

10.04.2009

His disciples were together

"Love One Another" {John13:34-35}
* Doug Nichols testimony
* Thoughts about One Anothering
- Our flesh is selfish and must be trained to put others first
- "One anothering" is a learned habit that becomes a growing skill that evolves into character {Isa1:17}
- Our relationship w/ God is affected by our "one anothering" {1John4:12}
* What does Bible teach about loving one another?
- Command to love given in context of serving
- Called a "new commandment"
- Jesus' love for His disciples the standard for our love for one another {John13:34}
- It begins w/ decision rather than emotion {1Pet1:22}
- Often mentioned in letters to early churches {Rom12:10, 1Cor13, 1John3:11, 1John3:16-18}
- Love for one another the proof we are followers of Christ and has potential to impact world {John17:20-26, 1John4:7-21}

pressed into service to bear

Struggling lately with my role as a shepherd of the flock. Headed to a retreat with other shepherds yesterday, and in the middle of my foul mood, the Lord rebuked me about my attitude. Here I am, a leader among the brethren, and my heart towards everything I am doing and want to do and need to do was either resigned to the worst or begrudging. And the Lord reminded me about three things.

* First, I serve -- and all believers serve -- at the good pleasure of God. It is in fact a supreme privilege and great honor to be able to represent Him on earth, and to do His work, and to lead others to do His work. If it feels like prison rockbreaking, it is because our attitude is out-of-whack. There are millions upon millions of believers, and not all are being used by God. To be counted among that group of those being used is a unique privilege, and one we should not forget.

* Secondly, I serve -- and all believers should serve -- as a response of gratitude to God. We owe Him eternity and our very lives, and every blessing big and small. The cattle on a thousand hills and all we own is His. We cannot earn His love or our salvation. We have been given tremendous heavenly blessings. To serve Him is the very least of what we can do in gratitude.

* Lastly, I serve -- and all believers serve -- because we are commanded to. If serving the church feels like a responsibility, well, it is. I may have unhappy moments being a father or a husband or a son or an employee, and guess what? Too bad. Suck it up. Being worn down is part of a broken creation, and an aspect of lots of different things in life. If I can persevere as a father and a husband and a son and an employee, why can't I as a shepherd of the church?

Christ doesn't want my tithe if I am unhappy giving it to Him. Christ doesn't want a song sung if my heart isn't in the words. Christ doesn't want me sitting glumly in church if I'm not there to listen. And Christ doesn't want -- nor does He need -- my service as a shepherd if I cannot do it out of loving obedience to Him. Much to think about.

10.01.2009

began to argue with

The video below has been (or will be) making the rounds for believers. Nicely-produced video. Great arguments made by the little kid. Don't want to ruin it for you, but likely fictitious since the man the kid turns out to be has an unclear and conflicting testimony. Nevertheless, worth watching.

has been reserved forever

The wondrous one asked my thoughts on the last v of Dan12: "But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age." Specifically, she wanted to see how the phrase "allotted portion" fit into my belief that the concept of heavenly rewards is bad theology. Considering the rest of Dan12, and how God is basically commending him for his faith, it seems to lead one to believe that one's allotted portion are one's saved-up rewards.

Nope.

Some digging into the phrase via Blue Letter Bible, along with some commentaries, and it's clear that the word used for "portion" is the same word as "lot". "Allotted portion" is sometimes translated as "inheritance." Similar to when Christ tells His disciples that He's prepared places for them in John14. God commends Daniel and basically tells him to keep the faith till the end of his days, where he will then enter into his eternal home with God, everything all reserved for him.

Sorry, Randy Alcorn & all your fans. Keep wishing for more than an eternal home. I'll stay away from that audacious level of greed, thank you very much.

9.29.2009

his house like the spider's web

The random video clip below shows a recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI wherein a spider (most likely a Prot spider) crawls all over him. I can guarantee the spider would have burst into flames if that had been JPII.

9.28.2009

to leave them, for they were

A week ago, my pastor preached a sermon on discipleship that mentioned that the fishermen who dropped their nets when called by Christ likely knew Him beforehand -- had, in fact, spent copious amounts of time listening to His teachings and witnessing signs and wonders before the call. Studied Luke5/Matt9/Mark2 story of the calling of Levi/Matt yesterday, and his dropping of his former life was also more than likely not a spontaneous reaction to the calling of God.

I think it's easy for us to imagine these dropped nets and careers as ideals of faith -- that meeting Christ is such a powerful experience it causes one to leave one's former life at the drop of a hat, even at first impression. I don't think that imagined faith ideal loses its luster in the light of the knowledge that these disciples had long known Christ to be something special, and that they were in fact, just waiting for the sign that would indicate He was ready to take on his kingship. You see, the leaving of one's BC life is no less difficult whether you've known Christ for ten years, or whether you've just been introduced.

Obedience to following the path He has laid out for you is not some singular point along one's faith walk. It is not that jumping off point. Rather, it's a continuous look for the snapped twigs and dropped clues that signal where He's taking you. And along the way, there are forks that may require you to leave behind that bread crumb trail you've been placing just in case you wanted to go back.

I could probably stretch this analogy even further, but I'll let it linger in your mind instead.

9.23.2009

flees because he is a

At the end of Braveheart, before William Wallace is summarily executed, he is allowed to speak one last time. And he uses all that is left in him to utter aloud the word "Freedom." It is a stirring moment that reaches something in us that longs to be unconstrained. My littlest sweet thing is 21-months old and is carried or strollered around whenever we go out. And she can put up with this for only so long before she squirms in an attempt to walk on her own like the rest of the family. And when given that opportunity to do so, she literally squeaks in excitement and pleasure the moment her tiny feet touch the ground, and she's off and wobbly-running.

In both these examples, you might argue that freedom is a good thing. Wallace fights for political independence and freedom from undue oppression -- a good thing. My sweet thing squirms for personal freedom and freedom from (what seems to her to be) physical oppression not hindering the rest of her family -- (I suppose) a good thing. But because there are good examples of freedom, our spirits perhaps confuse all desire for freedom -- even the bad ones -- as some greater good.

Is freedom from personal obligation and duty and responsibility a good thing? Is freedom from a made promise or commitment a good thing? Is freedom from a spouse attached before the altar of God a good thing? Is freedom from church membership when things go awry a good thing? Is freedom from keeping your word a good thing? Is flight rather than persevering fight a good thing? Is running, always running a good thing?

9.22.2009

through sunshine after rain

The clip below is a beautiful visual meditation of a great song that reminds us no matter the life situation, Praise the Lord. Every church in America could create a similar clip from examples in their own flock, and what a fragrant offering that would be to the Lord, testifying to His sovereignty and grace.

have been hidden from your eyes

In the last few days, Facebook friends of mine have been posting some petition to keep out apps that have the potential to read inbox messages -- just the potential, mind you. It reminded me of petitions against cameras on street corners, and complaints about federal wiretapping. A few years ago, there was discussion about GPS chip implants, allowing parents to be able to know where kids are at all times, and I remember thinking "That would be awesome!" And yet everyone around me was horrified that the government would soon have the potential to know where you are and what you're doing at all times. And I suppose I get why non-Christians would care about their privacy, but I don't know why believers do.

Unless you're at places you shouldn't be at (ex: adult bookstores), or doing things you shouldn't be doing (ex: getting drunk at a bar on the way home from work), what does it matter who knows? I don't care if people track me or read my emails. They'll see I lead a fairly boring life and do lots of stuff for church. And when I sin, then I sin. I'm not ashamed I'm a sinner. Even if the government isn't watching, God is watching. You do remember that, don't you, Luke?

I did hear one argument that if it one day becomes illegal to be a believer (that day is soon coming), and the government can track you, they can arrest you when they know you're gathering for underground church. But eventually even that argument is ridiculous. I'm ready to be persecuted for my faith, and to die for the sake of the gospel. Turns out most believers can say they would too, but when reality comes in the form of GPS chips and online apps, they shrink away.

9.21.2009

little girl, I say to you

The video below shows that SCC is no longer trying to hide the fact that his one purpose is to make you weep uncontrollably. Mission accomplished.

and felt compassion for

It is always interesting to see what triggers our hearts' responses. Yesterday evening, my daughter watched the death throes of her pet fish of five years. We told her the fish wasn't looking well and she stared at the bowl in glistening-eyed sorrow, and when he flailed around and then fell silent and we told her that might have been the end, she burst out in heart-rending tears. Compare that to her response when we told her seven months ago that her great-grandfather had passed away -- silence, but no tears.

Contrasting responses are not confined to young children. I'll read the newspaper or scan CNN or pass by the evening news as they discuss this-and-that murdered family, or so-and-so abducted child, or whichever new hero passed away in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not a whisper of emotion will flicker within me. But whenever my wife tells me she's about to throw away some ratty undergarment of mine that I've had for years beyond acceptable usage, my heart will flutter because she's tossing out something that has been so loyal to me for so long. Don't judge me. Add your own contrast: passionate about a sports team but not the Lord; calm about the kidnapping of a missionary but livid that your waiter spilled your soup; tears shed over the death of a fictional movie character but no grief on Good Friday. And on and on, that list.

Which is why still one of my favorite quotes is "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." Christlikeness is not just the behaviors that conform to Christ, but also the underlying heart. I'll know my heart is growing when the passing of T-shirts bothers me less than the passing of strangers.

9.20.2009

followed Him, because they saw

"Come, Follow Me" {Matt4:18-22}
* For the sake of the call
* Context: disciples did not respond without knowing Christ beforehand; had spent lots of time with Him before His call to begin ministry
- Diff twixt disciple & believer
* Disciple is a fully devoted follower of Jesus {Matt16:24}
- Marks: obedience, service, desire to please Christ
- Spectrum: curious-convinced-committed
* Not all believers are disciples {Luke14:26-27}
- Church is full of half-hearted Christians/lukes
* Being a disciple is a great privilege w/ significant cost {Luke14:25-27,33}
* Disciples are devoted to Word {John8:31}
* Disciples love Him more than anyone & anything {Luke14:26}
* Jesus does His work through His disciples {Matt4:19,14:17-19}
* Disciples have a special relationship w/ Him {Matt12:48-49}
- Ex: saw Him transfigured, got parables explained to them, saw His resurrected form
* Baptism a public declaration that we are disciples {Matt28:19}
- God loves ceremony (see marriage, child dedications)
* Mark of a disciple: love for one another
* Disciple is devoted to making other disciples (evangelism/outreach) {Matt28:19-20, 2Tim2:2}

9.19.2009

who can listen to it

Been awhile since I read through Daniel carefully, which is amazing considering I hold Daniel up there with Joseph as models of faith with no reported flaws. And the story of him and the lions' den in Dan6 is so popular, it often escapes us that it is not just Daniel's faith that played a role in his salvation. In v16, we are told that King Darius delivers a prayer to the Lord as he casts Daniel into the den. "May your God whom you serve continually deliver you" is what he exclaims. Then in v18, we are told Darius spent the night fasting for Daniel. Daniel gets all the credit here, and certainly he must have prayed for his deliverance, but it is Darius who is the standout here, at least for me.

Interesting theological question I am too lazy to look into right now, but does God hear the prayers of people who don't believe in Him? On one hand, He must since everyone's very first prayer for salvation comes when we are still His enemies. We do not know Him when we ask for Him to enter our hearts and take up permanent residence, and He hears that prayer. On the other hand, prayer is this privilege and power we have as children of the living God. Those not in His family do not have the direct access that we enjoy as believers. And yet here in Dan6, Darius' prayer was answered (or maybe just Daniel's prayer that is left unwritten).

I'm not coming to a conclusion here. As I said, too lazy.

and the other disciple ran ahead faster

I have a long history with running.

When I was a kid in a big family in a small house, I often felt so stifled, I'd ask to go outside and run laps around the tiny yard. In school when the PE teachers made us run laps around the indoor gym, I'd be the one running full speed and lapping those others who were halfheartedly trotting in the appearance rather than the spirit of the exercise. My best time in school was a sub 7:00 mile, not bad for someone with tiny legs and a small stride. During college, as a way to deal with grief, I ran the Cambridge loop almost every day for an entire Spring.

I have a long history with running.

When I was a kid in a big family in a small house, I often felt so stifled, I'd lie in bed pretending to sleep, my mind miles away in a fantasy where I wasn't in the family I was in. In school when the teachers would ask us about our summers and holidays I'd make up stories to mask the monotony of poverty and a childhood unlived. My best time in school was every minute I wasn't home, feeling bad as someone with large wells of pain and an infinite depth of sadness. During college, as a way to deal with grief, I almost leapt into the Cambridge depths in some final escape.

I find myself these days both running and running.

I feel as fit as I've been in years, slim and stronghearted. But I also feel as unsettled as I've been in years, discontent and weakhearted. And in both instances, I feel as if I'm going through the motions. Training for a 12K? Sorta. Running just to run? More true. Being obedient and spiritually disciplined? Sorta. Running just to run? More true. Is the solution to keep running till all these things sort themselves out? Or stop for a second just stop for a second and ask myself where. Where. Where is this all going?

9.14.2009

with you and become one people

"Being Lake City Community Church" {Eph2:11-22, 4:1-6}
* If you are a believer in Christ, you belong to a community
* Our community originates through reconciliation {Eph2:11-16}
- Reconciliation through Christ changed relationship from hostility to peace
- Salvation not just about you/God, but also you/each other (two sides of a coin)
- Gal3:28
- "A redeemed community is at the heart of God's plan of redemption"
* Our community grows through discipleship {Eph2:17-22}
- Purpose of discipleship is to build the household of God
- As we grow in God & become stones, we grow others & gather more stones
- Goal is not to be the 1 glorious part of a body, but to be 1 part of a glorious body
* Our community functions through loving one another {Eph4:1-6}
- v1: The main topic/mission: worthy walk
- v2: The necessary essentials of success: humility, patience, love
- v3-6: The result: unity of Spirit, one body

9.07.2009

and it is enough for us

Have I been lazy posting? Yes. Will I ever return to normal posting? Lord only knows. Does anyone care? Can't imagine so, least of all me.

"Joy of Contentment in Christ" {Phil4:10-20}
* Contentment = "state of being satisfied with one's possessions, position, & status in life"
* Joy comes through Lord's provision (v10) -- high points in faith walk often come after God provides special gifts
* Joy remains in a heart of contentment (v11)
- Where I am
- What I do
- What I have
- Who I'm with
* Contentment is learned (v12)
- Learned through being in need (same as "humbling self in Phil2:8)
- Learned through having plenty ("Wealth has destroyed the character of more people than poverty has")
* Contentment is strengthened by Christ (v13) -- "all things" refers back to v12
* Contentment is demonstrated through sacrificial giving (v14-20)
- Giving is good (noble thing) (v14)
- Giving is partnership (v15)
- Giving is ongoing (v16)
- Giving is credited eternally (v17)
- Giving is pleasing to Lord (v18)
- Giving is rewarded (v19-20)
* Application
- Learn contentment (resist comparison, rejoice in present, refocus on eternity, release to others)
- Grow in giving
- Trust Christ as Savior

8.28.2009

will not hurt them

Please read THIS ARTICLE. It is a profoundly moving explanation of suffering in the light of God's love. It links suffering to the Gospel message, and the triumph of God over evil. It is one of the few articles I've read that helps make the problem of suffering make sense. It is a model of Christian testimony: perfectly instructive, and simply beautiful.

8.26.2009

has filled your heart

I'm going to veer dangerously close to (or possibly over into) blasphemy. I'll start by making it clear that I believe wholeheartedly in the Trinity. That I worship the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit -- growing up Catholic, how could I not? That I understand and believe all three are Almighty and Divine and worthy of all praise. You don't need to convince me of their individual and collective importance.

That is not to say I love all three the same way.

All of us will say, for instance, that we love our mother and father the same. It is for most of us, of course, a complete and utter lie. Every child either loves one parent more than the other, or at the very least, loves them the same but differently. And that is not a bad thing. Mothers and fathers have different roles and different personalities. It would be unnatural to love them exactly the same. In the same way, I love the different persons of the Godhead differently.

I love the Father the way I love my earthly father. I respect and revere Him. I have a holy fear of Him. I understand that all I have comes from Him. I serve Him and am obedient to His will. I know He is in complete and utter control of every millisecond of my life. I love the Spirit in much the same way. I appreciate that my gifts come from Him. I am grateful that my salvation was through His moving in my heart. I am thankful that when I utilize gifts such as teaching or preaching, I am completely dependent on Him for getting me through it. But -- and here comes the blasphemy (?) -- I don't love the Father and Spirit the same way I love Jesus.

I love Jesus in the way I love my wife. I feel close to Him. I talk to Him more naturally and freely and casually about anything and everything. I can picture Him smiling and delighting in me. I think about Him all the time. When I am away from Him for long periods of time and realize it, I long to be with Him in the way I miss my wife when I'm on the road. My heart is bent toward wanting to please Him and make Him happy. His unhappiness and displeasure in something I do saddens my heart more than anything ever could.

I've mulled on this difference all week. And I have no problems reconciling or admitting this truth. And it is possibly why I struggle so much with the "Love God" vs "Love Christ" question. Because in my own heart, the latter is the clear choice; is always the clear choice. I suppose I can't lead others into my own brand of blasphemy (if it is such). But if Paul, the greatest preacher and teacher and evangelist who ever lived, agrees with me, how wrong could that love be?

8.24.2009

and love which are found in Christ

For the last few months, been debating with other leaders over the wording of the church motto, with the focus of the arguments being who we state as the central recipient of our love. The default position was "Love God". I have been carrying the flag for the position that it should instead be "Love Christ". The God side of the argument has no credible argument save one: that as a Trinitarian faith, we can't focus exclusively on Christ; instead we are to love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit -- condensed into simply God. Else we risk being modalistic, a theological position that believes there is only one God (not three) who appears in three separate forms.

I am willing to take that risk of false appearance.

No matter what position we choose, we risk some appearance. Any critic can find fault with whatever wording he wants. We should care less about how we are being perceived, and care more about stating our passion. And I will continue to carry the banner for the position that there is no more important statement of belief than loving Christ.

Christ is the difference-maker. The difference between us and a Unitarian church is that we love Christ not the generic term God. The difference between us and other theists is the existence of Jesus. You know who will get into Heaven? Not people who love God, but people who love Christ. God the Father even chooses to exalt Christ: He deferred Creation to Christ (John1, Col1) and is deferring Judgment to Christ. The NT is filled with very clear thoughts on whom we should be focusing on, and it is Christ. Paul says that to live is Christ. He says he counts all things as loss in view of the surpassing value in knowing Jesus Christ. Heb12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. In John14, Jesus is letting His disciples know that when they follow and obey and love Him, they in turn love God. Acts4 tells us there is no other name under which men will be saved. We are taught to be more Christ-like not God-like. Christ is part of our main identity: we are to be CHRISTians not theists. More and more, serious disciples of Christ are distancing themselves from the label Christian, actually, and using the term "follower of Jesus." Our focus has to be, it has to be on Christ, not God, and I am unapologetic about that.

8.23.2009

and chases after rewards

Long layoff. Returning from vacation. Fighting through the fog. More tomorrow.

"The Joy of Pursuing Christ" {Phil3:12-21}
* No formula or switch for spiritual maturity -- must pursue it
* Hunger (v12-13a)
- Typical Christian not hungry for more
- Obtained "all this" -- refers back to v11 and Christlikeness
* Devotion (v13b): Narrow focus
* Direction (v13c, Heb12:2}
* Determination (v14, 1Cor9:24-27}: Like hunter stalking prey
* Discipline (v15-16): "live up to" = live by rules
* Discernment (v17-19): Choose to follow Christ over His enemies
* Decision (v20-21)

8.10.2009

Do not think that I will accuse you

Internet Monk always has thought-provoking ways to examine Christianity and the practice thereof. This post has just such a thoughtprovoker. What kind of a sermon would Satan preach? Unfortunately, I disagree with the argument that's set up here.

Satan is more than an accuser of sin. Satan doesn't have to assist us in identifying what we do wrong. The Bible says in Rom1 that the evidence of God is clear, and that man knows right from wrong. Even infants feel shame when they've done wrong; it is inherent in us. What Satan actually accuses is God. That God is at fault for all this. That God made us this way. That God has planned our life in every little detail so He's responsible for our sin and our failure. That God must not love us. That God ultimately, is not worth following or loving or giving our lives over to. That's the damaging part of what Satan does, not just telling us what we aren't getting right. Satan's goal is not to make us feel guilty or forget our freedom from sin in Christ; his goal is to drive a wedge between man and God. That part shouldn't be forgotten.

Secondly, it is not Gospel-less for Pastors to be preaching and teaching about our failures. Doing so is not, in fact, repeating the message of Satan. The Bible says in 2Tim3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." Pointing out our failings and giving us instruction on what we should be doing is preaching the Word of God. It is neither legalism nor Satanic. In Rom6, doesn't Paul go over the whole "May it never be" spiel where he discusses the relationship of his sin to the Gospel? And while he ends by pointing out that we are free from the condemnation of sin, he begins Rom6 by making it clear that we shouldn't be sinning. And a good pastor will, in fact, teach on proper behavior.

Good question. Wrong argument. But a great future post would, in fact, be the sermon the devil would give. Although I don't know that I should be spending the energy on that, given that he doesn't need the help.

8.02.2009

continued to grow and to become strong in spirit

"The Joy of Finishing Well" {Phil2:12-18}
* Work out your own salvation (v12-13)
- "Work out" = to finish something/to complete; not same as "work FOR" salvation
- Remember 3D salvation
- Believer's role (v12)
- Believer's attitude {v12, Eph6:5-6}: w/ fear & trembling -- "proper reaction to who God is & our weakness/tendency to sin"
- God's role (v13): more than an example -- "to will and to act"; "not by imitation, but by incarnation" (Christ in me)
* Stop complaining (v14-18)
- DO everything sans complaining or disputing (v14): reminiscent of Israelites in wilderness {Deut32:5}
- "Don't let your mind wander into doubt & disobedience simply because you don't understand God's will"
- For the sake of the unsaved (v15-16a)
- "No darkness so dark a single light doesn't dispel it"
* Application
- Pursue spiritual growth
- Serve others w/o complaint
- Shine for Christ
- Bear fruit

7.30.2009

understanding to the simple

Everyone should read this article from EO. I've been saying all along that translations like The Message or the Living Bible are from the devil. This article doesn't actually say that, but it makes a great point that there is something wrong with the simplification of the poetic word of God that is common among evangelical churches. In our desire to make the Word make sense to the lowest common denominator, we strip the Scriptures of their beauty (and often their meaning). We seem to lack trust in the Holy Spirit to make the Word make sense, and so we dumb it down for the flock.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NRSV -- that's it. NIV, go to the back of the line.

7.28.2009

and the sheep follow him because

A Sunday school class at our church is exploring the topic of "discipleship" for the next few weeks. This runs concurrent with a bigger discipleship ministry we're launching this year that I've been working with one of our associate pastors on. This past Sunday morning's class introduced the concept of being a true disciple of Christ, and explored the difference in merely being a believer, and being an actual disciple. To be sure, the differences are many, and difficult, and costly.

Which leads me to the question: why even try to be a disciple?

I mean, if being a believer is enough to get you into Heaven, why put all that extra effort into maturing and following Christ, knowing the inherent costs? One believer remarked that it was a matter of obedience -- there really were no other options. Another believer remarked that there was this holy fear that he would appear before the throne with much regret at having wasted moments of his life not impacting the world for the glory of God. I don't know if there's any one right answer. I think everyone has to answer that question for themselves.

Myself, I cling to something I wrote a while back about why I choose to follow the Lord. It is echoed by one of my fave verses in the Bible -- Phil3:7-8: "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".

7.27.2009

the ones who have heard

A few days ago, a brother and I discussed the topic of discipleship, and he showed me this chart that was a like a roadmap of spiritual maturity. It listed various aspects of our Christian walk, and defined the characteristics of that aspect into different levels of maturity. For example, Scripture-reading is a mark of discipleship. A beginner-level Christian will read the Word every now and then; a mature Christian will read lots of it every day, and memorize it. I like the concept of detailing the different stages of maturity, but what caught my eye was the inclusion of "Evangelism" in this chart.

This was not the first time the typical evangelical position on evangelism has rubbed me the wrong way. Several of the classes we offer on developing new Christians or veteran Christians includes a section on witnessing and how to spread the Gospel to others. I am in the clear minority when I say that it is wrong to encourage Christians to evangelize the way most churches encourage witnessing. It is even worse to track maturity by the number of testimonies delivered that month, or the number of souls won over by your ability to knock on doors and hand out tracts.

Evangelism is a gifting. Eph4:11 makes it clear that God made people different in their ability to spread the Gospel effectively. We cannot all be Billy Grahams based on the number of times we share our testimonies, or get bold with strangers and acquaintances. To measure spiritual maturity based on the number of spiritual discussions with people around us recently is ridiculous. You are either gifted with evangelism, or you are not. In the end, it is the Spirit of God who creates conversations, it is the Spirit of God who opens hearts, and it is the Spirit of God who wins souls. Churches ask you the asinine question, "Well imagine what would have happened if that person wasn't obedient to God and didn't share his testimony -- all those people wouldn't have gotten saved." Really? People are that indispensable to God's plans? These are the same people that hold to the doctrine of election -- if God chose the saved, they will be saved, your participation in the event notwithstanding.

I am not saying that mature Christians don't share their faith. All Christians should share their faith as they are prompted to do so by the Holy Spirit. I am also not saying that churches shouldn't encourage believers to share their faith. They most certainly should. I am saying that not all Christians will be given the opportunity to seriously witness, and I am saying that tying evangelism to maturity is improper. Some Christians will be given more chances to share testimonies than others. Some Christians might be beginner-level in their maturity, but gifted with the ability to win over souls; while other very mature Christians will never have a testimony that affects others. There are lots of aspects of the Christian walk that can and should be tied to every believer. Myself, I don't believe that evangelism belongs in that group.

7.26.2009

others of His disciples were together

"The Joy of Selflessness" {Phil2:1-11}
* Basis of Christian Unity (v1)
- Encouragement from being united w/ Christ
- Comfort from Christ's love
- Fellowship of the Spirit
- Affection & compassion
* Steps to Christian Unity (v2-4)
- Be like-minded (v2a)
- Have same love (v2b)
- Be one in spirit & purpose (v2c)
- Be unselfish & humble in all relationships (v3-4)
* Model to follow (v5-11)
- His unselfish behavior (v5-6)
- His unprecedented humility (v7)
- His sacrificial attitude (v8)
- His glorious exaltation (v9-11)
* Application
- I make unity my aim
- I consider others more important than myself
- I am unconcerned about personal position
- I make myself a servant
- I obey even when inconvenient

7.19.2009

from your own steadfastness

"The Joy of Faithfulness for Christ" {Phil1:25-30}
* w/o faithfulness, enduring joy difficult to obtain
- Faithfulness most mentioned of all attributes
* Paul's confidence (v25-26)
- Convinced his work was continuing to minister to churches
- "No one is indispensable" -- Paul chooses to be obedient in God's chosen role for him.
- If not increasing in joy, not growing spiritually. "Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God."
- Chief end of man? To glorify God AND enjoy Him forever.
* Paul's challenge (v27-30)
- politeuesthe = good citizen/live worthily {v27a, Eph4:1, Col1:10}
- We are CHOSEN to be sons and daughters of God
- Stand firm in one spirit (v27b)
- Strive together in unity (v27c)
- Suffer gracefully for Christ (v28-30)
- Bible never hides the cost of faithfulness
- Impossible to do all this on own strength {Phil4:13}

in the place where He was

As an elder of the church, I spend a lot of my shepherding time listening to the frustrations of the flock. That inevitably means I spend a lot of time counseling others against looking for a new church. Some may find this counsel self-interested, but I assure you it is not. Whether or not church attendance waxes or wanes affects me personally not one whit. My counsel is never motivated by a desire to fill the pews and coffers. It is rooted in a fundamental view of the church.

At the end of Matt12 (v47-50), Jesus makes a stunning revelation. When asked about His mother and siblings, Christ stretches out His arms to the disciples and crowd and states that everyone was His sibling. In v50 Jesus says "whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." Jesus makes the connection that fellow Christians are like a family.

In that vein, leaving churches should be like leaving one's family -- done only in very rare and extenuating circumstances. And while there is no singular verse where the Bible states "Don't ever leave your church", the family analogy is clear enough. And throughout the Pauline epistles, Paul preaches unity and oneness as he encourages splintered churches to stay united. He spent a lot of time, for example, discussing when divorce is acceptable; he never wrote up when leaving a church is acceptable. I think that's telling.

Here are the only acceptable reasons in my mind where leaving a church is not SIN:
- Moving away: Just like when two people get married and move out-of-state for a new job, taking them away from their families, it's permissible to leave a church when you're no longer in the area.
- Getting married: Two young people get married and decide to find their own identity and their own family. That often includes being separated from two home churches (or one common church) to be on their own.
- Church is preaching bad doctrine: If you're a Christian and your immediate family begins practicing paganism, you might leave to protect your faith. When your church begins preaching health&wealth or declaring homosexuality and abortion aren't sin, run run away.

That's the complete list. Every other reason is sin. Don't like a particular program? Tough luck. Stay and vent to the church leadership and call for change. Have an issue with another brother or sister? Tough luck. Stay and practice forgiveness. Want something cooler and shinier and new? Tough luck. Change your selfish heart. American culture has programmed us to believe in individual choice, where we can have things our way. And when our church doesn't behave how we want it, we change it like we change socks or restaurants. American culture is the WORST possible teacher as it concerns selflessness and humility and patience and loyalty and faithfulness. Trust me, when I hear about families leaving churches, it says far more to me about the deserters than it says about the church.

7.13.2009

for many years to come

Yesterday we sang a modern adaptation of a familiar hymn. And while I was worshiping, I couldn't get the name "Ancient of Days" out of my head. It reminded me of a contemporary song I sang during college Christian gatherings.

The term appears three times in the Book of Daniel (all in ch7) as he describes a vision he sees of God Almighty. And the term refers to the eternality of God. No matter how far back we can imagine time, or how far forward we can project it, God was and is and is to come. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in John (ch8). The Pharisees accuse Jesus of having a demon, and then ask Him if He thinks He's greater than Father Abraham. When Christ tells them that Abe rejoiced to see His day, they laugh and point that Jesus is younger than fifty, and He thinks He's seen Abe? Jesus responds "Before Abraham was born, I AM."

Scientists foolishly chase after the age of the earth, as if by pointing out it's 4 million years old says something more than if it's 4000 years old. And then relatedly what does that say about God? Make it 4 zillion years old. That God you keep mocking is still beyond your reckoning.

7.12.2009

and to die is gain

"The Joy of Serving Christ in Spite of Troubles" {Phil1:12-24}
* Background
- Paul the author (approx. 61 AD)
- Written from Roman prison
- Philippi site of first European church founded by Paul {Acts16}
* "Joy is a supernatural delight in the person, purposes, & people of God"
- Joy a gift to believers from God
- Joy experienced most fully when we are obedient
* Not losing my joy because of circumstances (v12-14)
- Paul's imprisonment served to advance Gospel (v12)
- Advance = military term used to describe pioneer front-running
- Chains gave courage to fellow believers ("blood of Christians is seed of the church")
* Not losing my joy because of critics (v15-18a)
- More important than others' opinion of you? Preaching of the Gospel of Christ
* Not losing my joy because of possible death (v18b-24)
- v23: "depart" = take down tent and move on
* Application
- Choose to focus on God's purpose at present
- Choose to remember God's overall plan
- Choose to live to honor Christ
- Choose to view death from God's perspective

7.11.2009

indeed the Savior of the

Much has been made about the death of NFL star Steve McNair. At today's funeral, Vince Young -- a quarterback whom McNair has mentored since high school -- said an interesting thing: "Steve was like a hero to me, and heroes are not supposed to die." Moving? Yes. Correct? No.

"Hero" is one of the most overused words in the English language. We use it to describe people that inspire us, or people who do great things. A hero is someone who gives his life for the life of another, and by that definition, the greatest hero who ever walked the earth was Jesus Christ, whose life was given for the life of all who ever lived and all who ever will live. Death was not some unnatural end to His heroism; it was the natural conclusion.

Friend, most heroes are recognized by the ones they saved out of the depths of their gratitude. Have you done that today for yours?

7.08.2009

fixing our eyes on Jesus

My church is considering simplifying its vision statement, and at a meeting last night, we discussed various iterations of the phrase "Love God. Love One Another. Love the World." Unsurprisingly, if you google the phrase, a multitude of churches with some variation on this tri-fold motto appears. Be clear that I support simplifying our current mission statement. I also support the intent of the phrase above since its basis is Biblical, rooted in Jesus's condensing of all the commandments into but two.

But my support of the phrase ends there. At last month's meeting, a wise brother remarked that the phrase lacked Christ, and that a unitarian church could hold the same motto. And that insight has affected me greatly over the past few weeks, to the extent that I made my voice clear that I wouldn't support any new vision that was not Christ-centered. The far, far better motto is "Love Christ. Love One Another. Love the World."

Do you know how many of my friends would claim they love God because they are spiritual and love people? Do you know how many of those same people I'm praying for their salvation? That overlap is almost 100%. If I raise my children to love God and people and the world, they will still burn in fire in eternity if they do not love Christ. Acts4:12 refers to Jesus and says "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Christ is the difference-maker. The whole point of the existence of ANY church is to bring men to Christ, not to God. If we're going to be using any short phrase to put on banners and wristbands and mugs and bulletins, one of those words has to be Christ. I'd argue that if you really want to simplify the vision, you could cut out the last six words and just go with "Love Christ."

The difference between the proposed vision and the revised vision is but one word. But that word is THE most important word in the whole universe.

7.06.2009

and your heart will rejoice, and

"I Choose Joy" {Philippians}
* Difference twixt happiness & joy
- Difference mirrors temporal v eternal
- Happiness short-lived & fleeting
- Joy doesn't come as quickly, but longer lasting (a conviction)
- "Joy has as its core: hope"
- Happiness directs itself at objects/people; joy directs itself at God
- 12 refs to joy in Phil
* Three reasons for Paul's joy
- Gratefulness to God (right soil for joy to grow in)
- Faith in future
- Affection for others (brotherly love) -- love & joy are linked

7.05.2009

because I was with you

One of the most amazing people who knew the Lord was Elijah. You look at the miracles Moses did (plagues, Red Sea, manna from Heaven, et al) and you think no one else could bring about such wonders. And then here comes Elijah and you're reminded of the fact that it was never the prophet who had the power, but rather the God in whom he had placed his trust. And if you're called to be a prophet, you can bet that Lord won't forsake you, who called you.

In 2Kings2, Elijah goes up in fire and horses and wind and Elisha is left there with only a worn cloak as consolation. Fortunately, Elisha had wisely asked Elijah before he left for his spirit rather than riches or some other wasted gift. And upon the fiery departure of his mentor, Elisha walks back to a river in which his mentor had just recently performed a miracle. And right away, he decides to utilize his new-found power. But interestingly, as he repeats his mentor's miracle, there seems to be some small instance of doubt. Rather than a bold command for waters to part, Elisha asks aloud -- as if he's checking, just in case -- "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And God answers with a definitive miracle, as if He were replying to that question "with you, just as I was with Elijah".

Everyone at times finds themselves feeling distant from God. And they play this game of spiritual chicken where they maybe will start praying, mentally asking God to return. More often than not, they do nothing and wait for Him to show Himself strong before they recommit to Him. But 2Kings2 serves as a powerful reminder that if we are honest in seeking His spirit, and wishing to be obedient to His calling, that it requires us to step forward in faith -- even if it's a faith with a little bit of doubt in it -- and that we just need to ask where He is, and if we're honest and obedient and faithful, that answer will come back a resounding "Right here, with you, my child."

7.04.2009

My people of their rights

From something a few years ago:

"[On July 4th], this country celebrates independence; it celebrates freedom. It reserves a day to honor freedom won by the sacrifices made by others. My friend, the greatest freedom ever won for you was won by sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary two thousand years ago: freedom from sin, freedom from death for all eternity."

Do you know true freedom? You don't know if you don't know Jesus Christ.

7.02.2009

they, after worshiping Him, returned

Hey, Kris. Want to know why you won? Maybe related to His blessings for you because of this:

7.01.2009

your good behavior in Christ will be

At a conference this week, and heard a very good speaker this afternoon who does amazing things with his kids each year. Aside from the purposefully heart-twisting videos of his kids (along with a live performance), the speaker mentioned the six stages of moral development that he leads his kids through over the course of the year. The higher the stage, the more mature the character.

Stage 1: the student is good because he fears punishment
Stage 2: the student is good because he gets a reward for doing so
Stage 3: the student is good to impress others
Stage 4: the student is good because it is the rule to be good
Stage 5: the student is good because he understands he has a social contract with others and wants to treat them the way he wishes to be treated
Stage 6: the student is good because he is good

There is a very clear parallel here to our spiritual maturity. A believer with an immature or new faith obeys God out of fear of His punishment. He then moves to being obedient because he thinks it earns him favor with God. Then he is obedient so that other believers see him as obedient. Then he is obedient because he understands God wants him to be obedient. Then he is obedient because he expects all believers to be obedient. But best of all is when he is obedient because he is a true believer and simply has an obedient heart.

Hear that Randy Alcorn and JBC? Rewards for obedience should not be your primary driver of behavior. You act the way you act because that is who you are in Christ. Keep your precious crowns. I'll keep my loving obedience.

6.27.2009

until he has finished

We sang a new song in service last week, and repeating it again tomorrow. It's been made popular by Chris Tomlin, who is like merlin when it comes to covering other artists' stuff. But the song was created by a less well-known group. Full lyrics can be found HERE Clip below shows the Bluetree lead in an acoustic version of it.

I wrote about "hope" a few days ago, and the reason this song is growing on me is that the chorus speaks to a hope. Many behave like they think God's work was done at the cross, and after that He kicked up His feet. But God is no absentee landlord, and He is still at work bringing about His grand plan, and great things He has done, no doubt, but keep looking forward and up, because the great, it's still a comin'.

6.26.2009

therefore there arose a discussion on

I fly often, and my usual flight is a 5-6 hr trip. Because I don't suffer fools, 9 out of 10 times I don't speak a word to the person sitting beside me beyond a casual greeting. Every now and then I'll encounter someone I'll speak to for 5-10 min snippets. Last night, however, I ended up speaking to the guy beside me for several hours. The primary topic of conversation? Video games. Last night, my conversation moved from handheld games to opinions of specific games to the game industry to the different consoles, and embedded within the conversation I discussed anecdotes about video games.

What's interesting is that I can imagine many topics around which I'd carry on long conversations (with strangers or with friends): video games, favorite sports team, politics, golf, movies, etc. And the reason people can bond around these topics is that people have their own experiences and stories that they can tell about that topic. Conversations succeed when both parties can excitedly and/or passionately take a point of view and discuss. But what I realized this morning is that -- even in conversations with other believers -- there aren't a lot of conversations I have with people about faith that don't feel like I'm teaching Sunday School or trying to convey a message.

Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of conversations that include elements of faith. I've had arguments about theology. I've shared my testimony. I've discussed prayers. I've shared thoughts about particular scriptural passages. But these were all specific instances around specific topics. What is harder to recall is an organic conversation about faith that jumped from faith topic to faith topic where both parties shared stories about their faith. And I don't know if I'm alone in that experience or not. Thinking it would be great if I and all other Christians had similar conversations where we begin with Noah's Ark and move from there to Job to eternal security to Lazarus to election to why Joel Osteen is the antichrist, embedding our excitement and passion and personal stories about this walk, this wonderful walk we have before us at all times.

6.25.2009

think kindly of us, longing to

Every now and then the Lord reveals things to me in flashes. Today while walking back to the office amidst a sea of people, I felt this tugging in my heart full of sadness. I felt this enormous upwelling of some mix of compassion and pity and heart, and looking from face to face to face made it more exponentially powerful. That it lasted just a few seconds is the Lord's grace to me, as any more than that, I do not know how I could've coped. I believe that what I felt was a minuscule slice of the heart of God for His people.

I don't know what He wants me to do with that glimpse. Perhaps it was an answer to an already-uttered prayer. Perhaps it was a sign pointing to some direction that is yet unclear to me. And perhaps it was just a reminder to me that He's always there, that He cares for me and others more than anyone could know or bear, and that my responsiblity is to have that heart, to not lose sight of that heart, to cling to that heart.

as for me, I will hope continually

I've written about President Obama BEFORE [Also, HERE and HERE]. Usually it's not so positive. And the reason is that he is an empty suit. He was not elected based on substance. He was elected based on hope. What Obama represents to his voters is a belief that things can be different: the hope that racism can die out; the hope that world peace can be achieved; the hope that the economy will improve; the hope that the US will be embraced on the world stage; etc etc etc. Looks like maybe that hope is running out.

It's not just Obama. People put their hope in a new coach for their sports team. In new medications to treat their health worries. In a new relationship to cure that internal loneliness. And these things eventually disillusion the masses. Because those hopes are in vain. Our hope can ONLY be in Jesus Christ; He is the only hope that will not fade away. Heb6 says that hope is "an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast". 1Pet1 says our hope is a "living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" and commands us to "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." This idea of the hope of God is a powerful, powerful thing. We have this hole in our soul, one whose darkness seeks some light to dispel it. Our souls are wired to look for that light. And that light will not be found in the bottom of a bottle, in that attractive co-worker, in that optimistic coach, or in the Oval Office. It is only and ever found in Jesus Christ, in Him alone.

"For I hope in You, O LORD; You will answer, O Lord my God." -- Ps38:15

6.21.2009

to save that which was lost

"Loving the World" {Acts20:24, John17:18}
* Clarification: Do not love the world -- love the people of the world {1John2:15-17}
* People matter to God {John3:16}
* Jesus loved lost people {Matt9:36, Luke19:10}
* Jesus met the needs of unbelievers {James2:14-17}
* Jesus sends us into the world w/ a strategy {Acts1:8}
* How we can love the world
- Purposely befriend & pray for those in circle of influence
- Meet practical needs in community (MOPs, AWANA, Food Bank)
- Open hearts to orphan care {Ps68:5-6a, Ps82:3-4}
- Seek to understand other cultures & their needs
- Send works to share Gospel
- Support global workers in prayer {Col4:2-4}
- Support outreach effort to Tamajaq

6.18.2009

therefore your whole body is

I've always been in relatively healthy physical shape, despite a diet consisting of primarily beef, cheese, sugar, and mac&cheese. But the past few weeks, I've been running and working out consistently almost every day. I've also changed breakfast from eggs to Cheerios, and been eating one serving at dinner instead of two. All of this extra attention to my physical condition has had one perverse side effect: I am weighing myself constantly and looking in the mirror way too frequently.

I've noted before that the world corrupts purity -- there is a fine line between lust/love, confidence/arrogance, justice-seeking/legalism -- and I think I'm crossing that line between being aware of my health and vanity. I can make the argument I'm doing this just so that I'll live longer for my family, but half the time I'm pretty sure I'm doing this all for washboard abs. And by the way, I don't buy that argument used by believers who love working out and eating healthily that 1Cor11:19-20 commands us to do so because the Spirit dwells in us. That has got to be as flimsy an argument as believers who defend gay rights by saying that God is love. I'm certain being a believer doesn't require a gym membership.

Not sure where I was going with this. Maybe just to let you know that tickets to the gun show are this way *flexes*.

6.17.2009

to perform the duty of

Met with a brother this morning and discussed the role of the church. One position sees the role of the church as teachers -- enabling individual believers to grow spiritually on their own. This perspective sees the role of pastors and elders and ministry leaders only as overseers of individual growth. One consequence of this perspective is that children -- who are too young to manage their own growth -- must have their paths of growth be led by their parents and not the church. The church, you see, instructs believers to do their jobs; and the duty of spiritual development of youth falls under the purview of parents. Hence, the church plays an assistance role, but only through the parents.

A second position (the current model of most churches, especially from the role of immature believers) sees the role of the church as the source of all things religious -- where ALL spiritual development is in the hands of the church. Many churches see themselves as the doer of all things, resulting in haphazard ministries, all keeping their own successes. They view themselves as the sole fount of all knowledge and growth. You must attend Sunday morning AND Bible study AND prayer night, because otherwise, how would you grow?

The third position sees the role of the church beyond instructor, but not as far as ultimate guide. The church has a more active role in addition to teaching, and that is some actual doing as well. This perspective sees the role of pastors and elders and ministry leaders as overseers of individual growth, and where necessary the responsibility to act as interventions. In this perspective, the church -- as the extended family of the immediate family -- also has a shared (albeit much smaller) responsibility for the spiritual development of youth. No question the onus lies with the parents, but the church plays a role, too.

It's not too difficult to see where I am on this spectrum. Position one vacates all spiritual responsibility from the bride of Christ. The Bible says the church is His hands and His feet; surely they must be used for more than writing on a chalkboard? The second position vacates all responsibility from the believer. Our walks are individual walks, not group walks, and pastors will answer before the throne for spiritual development, but so will each of us individually. I'm a man of extremes and blacks and whites, and I would love to embrace one of these polar positions. But methinks truth lies more to the third option, and there I will seek to lead those that wish to follow.

6.14.2009

we behaved toward you believers

"Loving One Another" {John13:34-35}
* The church has highest possible place in God's heart
- Bride of Christ
- Christ died for His bride {Eph5:25}
- 1John3:16, Matt16:18
* Anyone who doesn't love others doesn't love God {1John4:7-8}
* Love is chief mark of authenticity
* We love by committing to His church {1Cor12, Eph3:21}
- Be involved in small group {Acts2:46-47}
- Pray for one another faithfully {Col4:2}
- Forgive one another & diligently seek unity {Eph4:3, Eph4:32, Rom16:17, 1Pet4:8, Ps133}
- Serve & encourage one another {Gal5:13, 1Thes5:11}
- Serve greater body of Christ in our community {2Cor8-9}

has filled your heart

[From last Sunday]

"Loving God" {Mark12:30-31}
* Most important thing in life is love
- Love better than legalism, ritualism, religion
* God's priorities for my life: love Him, love church, love world
* We love because God loves us (agape love, highest form) -- God source of all true love {1John4:19}
* Love is a choice & commitment {Deut30:19-20a}
* Love is an action, not just emotion
- 1John3:18
- If feeling gone, act & feeling will return {Rev2:4}
* How we love God
- Is worship directed toward Him?
- Heb13:15-16: Continually
- Our lives are joyful anthem of love

6.12.2009

their infants and they would not survive

Oh, my mercy, how did I ever miss the video clip below? Almost five months passed between when America's Best Pastor John Piper delivered the powerful message below, and when it hit my eyes and ears. I don't like anything about the state of MN, but the more I listen to Piper speak, the more I am considering moving to be a part of his church. I guarantee, I GUARANTEE I will do everything in my power to ensure this clip is shown next January to our flock. [Note: I agreed with every part of his message except where he says some of us wept for joy at the inauguration of the antiChrist.]

6.11.2009

opened the book and found

Not sure what I think of THIS version of the Bible. I'm on record as being against the NIV, and although I'm reading through the ESV this year, I still have my reservations. My belief is not every translation is appropriate, no matter what Warren and others say.

I do appreciate that the intent of the authors of this version of the Word is to make it more readable to attract those that aren't currently immersed in daily reading. And if you click on one of the samples you get the gist of what they did -- transformed the Bible into literature. More readable, sure, but here's the thing: the Bible isn't literature. It is a love letter from God to us. It is the manual for understanding and getting through life successfully. It is the tome of all wisdom. But it is not, nor has it ever been bedside reading. This shouldn't be an option when you're looking for a quiet activity in the evening. It should never be "Do I read the Bible or John Grisham?"

Turns out I DO know what I think of this version. I'm going to go ahead and take the position that I'll never read it. I prefer my Bible to grow me, not entertain me.

6.05.2009

who can listen to it

Do yourself a favor and click HERE and listen to song #11, I Will Glory in My Redeemer. Better than listening to the snippet would be to get the whole song; it's worth it. The worship war played out by churches pits old school music (read: hymns) against contemporary Christian music. And one of the many ways this war is idiotic is that it defines hymns as a type of music tied to a time period (1800's) rather than what a hymn truly is: any structured song of praise or thanksgiving to God. Some of you might even remove the word "structured" from that definition.

Point being, there are some amazing hymns that have been written in the past few decades. "In Christ Alone" was written in 2001, for example. "The Power of the Cross" was written in 2005. And "I Will Glory in My Redeemer" was written in 2001. On their own, just given the lyrics and the melody, any stubborn, hymn-only stalwart would be hard-pressed to explain why these three songs somehow offend God's ears. Heck, 9 out of 10 of these stalwarts, if asked whether the line "Mine was the sin that drove the bitter nails" was written by Charles Wesley would probably answer yes, and the 1 who said no probably thought it was a Fanny Crosby lyric instead.

Full lyrics can be found HERE. Listen. Meditate. Worship.

6.03.2009

leaving no children

I'm probably going to get excoriated for this post, but whatever. Participated in an interesting discussion Monday night with two folks who believe in having families with lots of children. My definition of lots of children is "more than 2". Their definition is the exact opposite of that -- if you can't field your own baseball team, you're depriving yourself of God's blessings. Other organizations share a similar mindset. Let's get a few things straight here:

* The fact that children are a gift doesn't mean you should hoard as many as possible. Like Christmas presents, one big gift is often the equivalent of lots of smaller gifts. And you aren't more gifted because you have seven kids, and I have three. Perhaps my three are the equal of your seven, blessingwise.

* That whole quiverfull idea -- you know if you're a good hunter/warrior, you don't need to carry more than one arrow, right? And quivers vary in size by task (hunting vs war), by Indian tribe, by size of arrow, etc. I don't know how you translate the imagery of a full quiver into being a dozen kids, and not simply two kids.

* Let's count the blessings God has already given you: forgiveness of sins and eternal life, in addition to whatever material blessings or family blessings or job blessings you enjoy alongside those two great blessings. And because God equates having children with blessings, you want to take advantage of the system and have as many children as possible for the sake of getting more blessing? Greed might not be strong enough a word for this mindset.

6.02.2009

and wrath and anger and clamor

Still mulling over my post from yesterday about it being okay to be mad at God. I've written about SCC before. I think his response to what the Lord allowed to happen (and indeed, ordained to happen) has been a model of pure faith. Others should look at his and his family's testimony over the past year and point and say "That's real faith." A year after the tragedy, SCC's wife posts an honest, wrenching account of how she's feeling. Still clings to Christ, to be sure. Still saddened beyond measure, of course. And sometimes, yeah, she's still angry with God.

Look out, Lord. Someone with weak faith is attacking your sovereignty. Someone proud and arrogant. Better she should pretend everything is peachy in her walk, and ignore her heart. Someone should tell a grieving mother that her anger has no Biblical justification.

It just won't be me, because still to me? They're still Exhibit A in Faith v Unbelief.

6.01.2009

and being furiously enraged at

During yesterday's sermon, a point was made that I chose to exclude from my summary because I disagree with it. The preacher remarked that it is "never okay to be angry with God"; that there is no Biblical justification for it; that it represents an "unbelievable display of pride and arrogance"; and that being angry with God is an attack on God's sovereignty.

First, there are lots of things that are attacks on God's sovereignty. When we are disobedient, we are turning from His divine plans for us. When we complain about our circumstances, we are saying that God's ways aren't so cool. When we decide to be proactive and take our lives in our own hands rather than waiting on Him to open/close doors, we are going against His sovereignty. And while we are wrong in doing all these things, we have the freedom and right to do so.

Second, there are Biblical justifications for being angry with God. The book of Jonah, for example. Throughout the Gospels, the disciples often find themselves exasperated with Jesus. A whole crew of them leave following Him at the end of John6, for instance. Doesn't Moses grumble a bunch of times in Exodus? Point being, there are plenty of Biblical heroes who get upset with the ways of God. And make no mistake, it doesn't accomplish anything, and they are certainly in the wrong every time, but that doesn't mean it isn't okay to be angry with God.

God doesn't want stepford wives for followers. God gave us free will to act and feel as we please. And even when the feeling or the action is not righteous, we have the freedom to express them. And God wants us to empty our emotions with Him. If we do find something in our lives that troubles us, He wants us to share it with him in complete honesty and truth and sincerity. Is it better to react in praiseful acceptance no matter the circumstance? Sure. But make no mistake: the Lord wants you coming to Him, crying out to Him, arguing with Him. At least you are there with Him. The alternative -- lying to Him about how we feel, or hiding how we feel -- is worse. He doesn't want our deceit, and He doesn't want us to give Satan opportunities to sow discontent. Anger is a natural human response and emotion. And the last thing God wants us to do when we are with Him is to lose our humanity.

5.31.2009

despite my groaning

"The Response of a Sufferer" {Hab3}
* When given choice of responses to suffering, best choice (faithful choice) always praiseful acceptance of God's will
* Response#1: Prayer
- Ch1&2 build in frustration, but ends in ch2 (v20) in quiet.
- Then Ch.3 begins as prayer
* Response#2: Waiting
- Hab recalls evidences of God's grace in v3-15
- Recounts blessings of God as he waits on God
* Response#3: Rejoicing
- v16-17 = No matter the circumstances or situation
- v18 = Rejoice
- Cross the ultimate redemption of all suffering & sin
- "Your sufferings are not so great as your sins" -- Thomas Watson

5.24.2009

woes are still coming after these

"Does God Leave Sin Unpunished?" {Hab2:6-20}
* Woe: Prediction of God's just judgment
* Woe#1: Against greed & pursuit of wealth
- Will lead to sudden reversal
* Woe#2: Against unjust gain
- Will result in strong regret
* Woe#3: Against violence & exploitation
- Will bring a shallow return
- v14 also Isa11:9
* Woe#4: Against drunkenness
- Will bring disgrace & retribution
* Woe#5: Against idolatry
- Will be profitless
* Hab2:20
- Temple = Heavenly throne
- After all woes, God still in control
- Will not leave sin unpunished
- God will prevail
* Application
- Repent
- Make good choices
- Believe

5.23.2009

complete in the same mind and

Going to offend with this post, but don't really care. The American Idol finale was this week, and in an "upset" clean-cut singer Kris Allen beat media darling Adam Glambert (sic). Glambert is gay and wears eyeliner, and shrieks like a banshee; Allen is married and smiles alot and led worship in church. They didn't announce vote totals, leading many to believe that it wasn't even a close contest. In a recent interview the finalists discuss their feelings on the result.

Allen makes an interesting statement. He had hoped that his faith and Glambert's sexuality would not play into the voting -- that America should have only taken their musical skills into consideration when picking the winner since this was a singing competition and not a Presidential election. And many would agree with this statement -- hence the outrage at the result. Was Glambert a better singer, a more creative artist, a better musician? Absolutely.

But here's the thing: I do not buy the position that we should keep faith out of our vote. Faith should NEVER be kept out of anything. The devil wants you to believe that faith is something that can be separated from your everyday life; that faith is something that doesn't have its place in some areas of your thinking. That kind of thinking is exactly why Obama is president. But it is a profoundly wrongheaded view of faith. It is in my opinion the reason we have so many lukewarm Christians. These believers think they can have parts of their lives and parts of their belief systems and perspectives be unrelated to faith, allowing them to be so much like the world in everything they do, including voting.

What these lukewarm don't understand is that our whole life is one war. Everything we do and think is part of this war. This is the reason Paul writes Ephesians 6. And even in something as insignificant as a singing competition, our faith matters. We lose and the devil wins when he can make us put blinders on our faith. When we pick anything -- President, American Idol, Best Picture of the Year, favorite sports team, you name it -- our choices, our way of thinking needs to be controlled by our faith in Jesus Christ. CS Lewis understood this point, and made the greatest of quotes: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."