Monday, December 21, 2009

Pebble Beach

I played Pebble Beach today. It was most likely the only time I will get the chance to do so. About a month ago my father in law informed me that a close friend of his had won 2 free rounds. This guy works for the Pebble Beach company and had said for over 2 years that the next time he wins the two rounds (given away each month to employees), he'd give it to my father in law and I to go play. Turns out that the official rule is you're supposed to play with one person, but by working some strings he was able to get himself on with us. Then by working one more string they had left, we were even able to get my brother in law on for free too! $2000 of golf for free! It was a Christmas miracle I tell you.

So, anyways, I totally stunk it up today. Since last week I have developed what I believe is known as the "yips" in the golf world - an unforeseen problem with your swing that causes you to hit the ball in the wrong direction. I didn't have it on every hole, but on enough to be sure. Not only that, but it rained for about 8 holes. And I'm not talking the misty kind of rain that comes on coast almost every day. I'm talking about side ways rain that felt like the ocean was just spitting on you! We were drenched through and through but kept on going... I mean, this is Pebble Beach here! You don't just quit after 11 holes because of a little rain. Not only was I soaked, so were all my clubs and their grips. On the 15th hole I took off my glove (who needs a glove in a down pour?) and took a whack at it, and I'm pretty sure the club flew further than the ball. It soared for about 3 seconds through the air, hit some branches and tumbled down. Poor 5 wood... it doesn't deserve to be treated so poorly. Fortunately the rain stopped on the 15th hole and the sun actually came out pretty quickly. I miraculously got par on hole 16 and 17, then bogeyed 18 (perhaps the most famous par 5 in the world, literally) just before the clouds threatened again.

If you've made it all the way to this point, I'm impressed. Most people fall asleep when talking about golf for more than 5 minutes, let alone when reading about someone else's round for a couple paragraphs. But let me mention a few things I was thinking about either before playing, during the round, or afterward in reflection.

1. It's amazing that God created a world with such creativity that we can mold it and make golf courses all over it. That also goes for parks, fields, and many more things. God providentially allowed grass to be planted, bunkers to be placed in certain spots, and all of that. Awesome.

2. Amidst such beauty, who cares how you play. And if you do care too much, then you either need to be getting paid tons of money for playing on some professional tour or you need to quit. It was horrible weather and an incredible experience all at the same time.

3. Sometimes, when I'm at places where I know some people have been before, I just get this awe-struck sensation. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and countless other golfers and celebrities have been held captive by the beauty of Pebble Beach for many years, and now I'm in that number - not in the talent sort of way, but in the "I've-been-there-too" way.

4. Jesus is better than Pebble Beach. No, seriously, I was thinking this. The good news about Jesus coming to earth to die for my sins, and rising again and being the Ruler over all the earth is much cooler than saying I played Pebble. Who really cares about Pebble? OK, I do and so do many others. But just think about it... if who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us isn't more important than a place like Pebble, or your favorite vacation spot, or your dream vacation, or that home, or that financial goal, or that relationship, something is seriously wrong with us. Honestly I don't always think in these terms, but as I was thanking God for this beautiful place he made and allowed mankind to carve up into that golf course, I realized that while it's cool to play golf along cliffs and watch your golf ball sail into the ocean several times, it's way better to know my sins have been paid for by Christ and totally forgiven.

More could be said about my day today, but that's all anyone would want to read. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play and would have played 18 holes in terrible weather if I needed to. But while this was a day I'll remember the rest of my life, I'd be OK if it had never happened. Life would go on, God would be God, Jesus would be my Savior, and I'd still be OK. This is the perspective I hope to have on other things as well, and by God's grace will grow into as I mature in him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Fear of the Lord

I was reading in Psalm 103 this morning and it struck me how many things are conditional on us fearing the Lord. This does not mean that God is unfair or does not care about those who don't fear him. There are many who do not know or fear God today who will come to know him in the future, and come to fear (revere, respect, honor, seek to obey) him as well. Much could be said about the fear of the Lord and it is especially prominent in Proverbs. But as I read this morning, 3 promises of God stuck out in particular that I know I need to remember are conditional on us fearing God:

103:11 "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him"

103:13 "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him"

103:17 "But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children"

These promises of God's steadfast love and immense compassion toward those who fear him are astounding to me. In part this is because I know I don't deserve them and I know there are many times I say I "fear God" with a healthy reverence, wonder, and desire to obey him but in my heart do not feel or act this way at all. My prayer is that God would teach me to fear him, develop the profound respect and love for his name and his glory that he deserves, and that I would come to understand more and more his steadfast love and compassion on my soul. As 103:10 says, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." King David wrote this many hundreds of years before Christ would come, and we see this fulfilled most beautifully in he who left heaven for the Divine Rescue Mission. He indeed has not treated us as we deserved, but far better. He has not wiped me off the face of the planet as I deserve for my treasonous sins against his holiness and glory. He shows me compassion, love, mercy, and grace at all times and most completely through Jesus Christ.

My heart resounds with David's as he writes in 103:20-22, "Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you might ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Peter, part 7

I Peter 2:9-12

"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."

In v. 9 Peter uses titles and descriptions for the Church that were exclusively held for the Israelite people for many centuries. What an outrageous thing unbelieving Jews must have believed this to be in his day! "You mean to tell me that GENTILES... pagan, idolatrous, Gentiles... are now the priesthood of God?! The 'holy nation' is no longer just Israel but people from every country who have Christ as Lord? Preposterous!" But this is exactly what Peter is explaining. What seemed so nationalistic for so long (God's people being Israel alone) was in actuality always meant to be people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The Priest had come, became the sacrifice, was raised and now reigns over us all. And now we, his chosen people, are all priests who "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light." Friends, you and I are not just Christians, we are priests, both to one another and to the world. Being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we are representatives of God to the earth, offering the mercy we have been given to others through the cross of Christ. Do you know his excellencies enough to speak about them? Have you grown in your knowledge of what He did for you so that you don't just stumble about in explaining it, but can confidently say "this is what He has done and why He is so amazing"? This challenges me because the world needs to hear it and be able to understand as best they can, yet I'm afraid my ineptness gets in the way of making the message clear.

Peter goes on in v. 11 to urge us, as sojourners/exiles, to abstain from passions of the flesh. Here's one problem I see in Christianity today: we don't act like exiles. We don't act like this world is not our primary "home" - we act as if this earth, America or anywhere else, is our deepest citizenship. Yet Peter calls us deeper, to realize that this new birth comes with it radical new orientation. No longer am I just flesh with a dead spirit, I am flesh with the Spirit of God living in me, having made me new and given me true life. I belong to Him most fundamentally and not my earthly place of residence. This is one important reason to abstain from passions of the flesh - because those things that we thought gave us life just won't, and indeed they never could.

But there's another reason we need to abstain from passions of the flesh. Peter tells us they "wage war against your soul". Sounds dramatic! Yet is this not exactly what happens? We know God calls us to deeper intimacy with Him, to deeper waters, and yet the temporary things of this world can have such a strong grip on our souls that we avoid God and consume ourselves with earthly, meaningless pursuits. Instead of developing our souls, seeking to grow in knowledge and wisdom, we absorb ourselves in sports knowledge (who won the World Series 27 years ago?), in the latest tabloids (how many women is it for Tiger Woods now? Are Brad and Angelina still together?), and so many other pursuits. While "passions of the flesh" may refer specifically to acting out sexually outside of God's intent, it has other ramifications as well. Anything that can cause us to avoid God, avoid spiritual depth and maturity, I believe to be passions of the flesh. And the truth is it is killing your soul - waging war and winning the battle for so many of us. Peter is not a kill joy - "guys don't go do stuff you want to do, even though I know it's fun and wish I could do it too". NO!!! God is calling us, through Peter's inspired writings, to come deeper with him and aggressively reject things that are trivial, meaningless, and ultimately wage war on our souls. We may not know it, we may not be able to see it, but there is a war being waged this moment on your soul.

Here's one way I know war is being waged on my soul: it is often times far more appealing and more satisfying for me to watch Sportscenter for an hour without distraction than it is to read my Bible for 15 minutes without distraction. The moment I open the Word, begin praying, read a book about growing spiritually, whatever... the moment I do these things is the moment a million things come to mind - that person to talk to, that game I don't know who won, that headline I want to read more about online, etc. etc. etc. War is being waged on my soul whether I know it or not.

Lord help us! Keep us focused on you this day, on your excellencies, and on the marvelous light you have called us into. Thank you for saving me, for dying for me, for rising so I can know I have everlasting life in you and with you. I want to play my part in this royal priesthood, whatever that means today. Thank you for living in each one of us who are your people. Draw men and women to yourself today, and may you receive all the glory. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Peter, part 6

I Peter 2:1-8

Peter continues to exhort believers to take action in their lives, particularly to put away certain attitudes or traits from their lives. Hypocrisy is still one of those traits Christians are known for. The command to not be a hypocrite has been around for a long, long time! Yet today it is no different than in Peter's day - many people are claiming to follow Christ but have no true relationship with him. This only muddies the waters for Christians and non-Christians alike to try and discern who is really "walking the walk". Verse 2 seems to give us one indicator of a sincere Christian seeking spiritual growth: long for the pure spiritual milk of the word. Just as an infant knows they are in serious need of something, so we need also to instinctively know we are in need of God's Word in our lives. Peter's "if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" is almost a bit of a jab... he's making sure people understand that what God is after isn't a moral code of obedience but a "tasting" - an experiential knowledge - of God's goodness.

Then Peter gets into a prominent theme in Jewish culture: that of the corner stone. The corner stone was the stone that was in a certain place in the structure of any building by which everything else was built. It had to fit perfectly, having exactly the right dimensions, or it would cause the whole building to be built poorly. Peter takes what would have been a common imagery in Jewish construction, as well as a popular concept in the Old Testament, and applies it to Christ. Christ is that corner stone on which the Church would be built. Not only that, but we also are living stones, being built into a spiritual house as we all are put into place to be in line with the Cornerstone. The picture is remarkable. Christians don't need a temple... they ARE part of the living temple of God! Christians don't need a sacrificial system... THE sacrifice has already been made for them and now they make spiritual sacrifices in the name of Jesus, giving glory to God. Christians don't need priests to pray for them... We have a High Priest in Heaven and we are a collection of priests, a "holy priesthood" together coming before God in Jesus' name. This also means we can't escape under the guise of "It's not my responsibility to know Scripture and point people to Jesus, that's the professionals' job." We each are responsible to know God is good, to be able to put to words what He has done, and to represent him as priests represented God for Israel.

Peter goes on in vs. 6-8 to quote the Old Testament, showing that God had planned this all along. The "stone", or person, that would be rejected would become the cornerstone of all truth, the cornerstone of faith, the cornerstone of all hope, and the cornerstone for the spiritual house that every Christian is a part of. God always has wanted faith and not just sacrifice. God has always promised us that many will reject him but that this does not make it any less true.

Thank you Lord for being rejected and yet for being the cornerstone. Help our feeble and weak spirits to know that YOU are good, that you are the cornerstone, and that we together are being built into a spiritual house in line with the Cornerstone. We are priests together on a mission to add more building blocks to the house for your glory. Amen

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Peter, part 5

I Peter 1:20-25

Peter is continuing his discourse on what Christ did and who Christ is, telling us in v. 20 that "He was foreknown before the foundation of the world..." Jesus is God who has lived eternally past and will live eternally in the future. But why did he come? Peter answers that immediately - he came for our sake, the sake of those who are believers in God through Jesus. Christ came into human history
for my sake and for your sake. He didn't just come to give us truth, to be the truth, which he was and still is today. He came for us, so that we could belong to our Heavenly Father. God the Father raised Christ from the dead and gave him glory so that our faith and hope are in God, Peter goes on to explain. The "so that" is important here as it shows the purpose for which God raised Jesus from the dead. In some way it seems to me that the resurrection, while of course necessary in the salvation plan of God, also served to increase our faith and hope in God himself. We believe God and hope in him because Christ was risen from death. He conquered it, and God will conquer it for us as well. My hope does not have to be rooted in what I can do anymore, nor do I have some vain "hope" that in the end I've done enough for God to accept me. He has accepted me and given me a new and living hope, as Peter has already mentioned, through the resurrection of Jesus.

Peter begins a new thought in v. 22, moving from the explanation of who Jesus is and what God has accomplished into exhorting believers toward maturity in Christ. His basic message is this: because of all God has done, love one another from a pure heart. The super-natural response for each individual Christian is to
NOT keep it to themselves but to share this love that God has given them with others. Specifically Peter has in mind Christians loving other Christians - this does not mean we are only to love Christians and shun non-Christians, but rather the point here is that there needs to be a mutual love for one another because of what God has done in each heart. The line of reasoning for v. 22 and 23 could go something like this: Since you have been born again to a new life following Jesus, obey Christ's greatest commands to love God and love one another in brotherly (and sisterly) love. The important idea is "since" - that is, because God has given you new life, a new and living hope in Jesus, the response must be one of love. And as the world sees our love for one another - which must be different and deeper than the world's vain version of love - spiritual light is reflected in our Christian communities to a world desperately in need of light.

The idea of being "born again" (in v. 23) is one of the best known and most mocked ideas in all of Christianity. Yet it comes up several times in Peter's writing, and he obviously gets it from Christ. Here's the deal: you simply can't get away from the fact that conversion is like a new birth. You were born into futility in this world, spiritually dead, blind, and dumb. You cannot save yourself and the only hope you have is for God to do a supernatural work and re-birth you and me. While there are many ways to describe what happens to someone when they become a Christian, one inevitable fact remains: they are born-again as Christians. What I find ridiculous is when people say "born-again Christian" as if there is another kind of Christian. There isn't. If you're a Christian, you're a born-again Christian. I will be the first to admit that I get uncomfortable at the questions some pose, such as "So are you a 'born-again' Christian?" But the fact remains that this is exactly what happened. I once was dead and now am alive. I once had no true hope and now have a living hope because I belong to a living Savior and the only true living God, my Heavenly Father. Born again is exactly what happened, and if you're not born again you're not a Christian. This new birth is of "imperishable seed" Peter goes on to explain. This is because my first birth was natural (though the birth process is amazing, it is still natural) and this second birth is super-natural. It is the coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ that so changes you that you're literally re-born.

Peter then uses the Old Testament to say something that the Bible says over and over in different ways: you and I are a blip on the radar of human history, like the grass in a field or a flower in a garden. If this were a movie, you would be in it for, oh I don't know, 0.3 seconds or less. You'd have to try and pause the scene at just the right time so your friends could see you in the far back-drop of the scene. We are not the main Characters... God is. We are not the main point... He is, and His Word stands forever. It cannot be stamped out, killed out, chased out, legislated out, or anything else. Verse 25 says "And this word is the good news that was preached to you." This good news about Jesus that Peter was inspired to proclaim will stand forever, changing the lives of all who receive it in faith. Praise his name.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Peter, part 4

I Peter 1:13-19

Peter is beginning to move from his opening discourse, rich in theology and elevating the salvation of God in Christ, to getting into the "nitty-gritty" of the Christian life. Like other authors the Holy Spirit inspired to write Scripture, he will mix theology with practical implications, but here it's more on the implication side - basically answering the question, "so what?" What difference does this living hope through the resurrection make in my behavior, motivation, thinking, and so on?

Verse 13 begins with "therefore". Whenever you see that word, always ask this question: What is the therefore, there for? It's a little play on words that helps me remember everything is connected. One danger of blogging about chunks of Scripture is my tendency to isolate it and treat it like its own entity, when that is entirely wrong because Peter is writing a letter, possibly all in one sitting, that is a unified whole. Peter's appeal here is that, because of all the prophets prophesied about and because this has been fulfilled in Christ, we need to be sober minded and ready for action, living for Jesus. Our hope is to be set on something interesting, namely the grace that will come to us at the revelation of Jesus. This is speaking of a future grace that we have not yet received. That is not to say we haven't already received grace, because we most certainly do every day, but Peter is reminding us the God is not done dispensing grace and when Christ comes fully revealed as King of all creation, his children will receive even greater grace. Beautiful.

Something comes up in this passage a couple of times that I think is worth focusing on. Peter talks about our "former ignorance" in verse 14 and then refers to the "futile ways inherited from your forefathers" in verse 18. The call is to not live like you once lived, before you knew God, before you knew what Christ had done for you, before you had received grace and been filled with a living hope. Notice though that Peter does not deny the pull of the former passions, but simply call us not to be conformed to them any longer. Christianity does not deny the existence of evil nor does it pretend that all Christians have some experience of immediately being released from addiction, temptation, or past sins. Some of those sins are simply ignorant people not knowing how to live, and some of them are the sins of our forefathers (dad, mom, grandparents... anyone influential in our lives in my opinion). We all have these things - ways that we see ourselves being just like what we hated in our parents, former passions and addictions that still haunt us and that we still pursue. But Peter does not simply say that being a Christian means gritting it out and becoming moralistic in order to stop these things, he gives us hope once again based on the character of God and the work of Christ.

Peter calls Christians to avoid these former ways of life based on God's character. He refers to God in verse 17 as both Father and Judge. We are his children (verse 14) and he is our true Father. We have inherited sins, addictions, and so much more from our parents but God becomes our Father through Jesus Christ his Son. We are adopted into this family of God, born again to a new Father, thus being able to leave behind passions and sins of our fathers. This is not an excuse to distance ourselves from our parents, but it is an encouragement to know that you once belonged to a lineage that was carnal and ignorant, but now have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and your identity at its core has been altered to now belong to God as Father. But God is also Judge - he will judge the living and the dead and we are included in that. Now is not the time to get into all the judgment stuff (nor am I adequate yet at explaining it), but Christians will be judged by God their Father, albeit in a different way than non-Christians. Just think of it! Your Father is your Judge! Does that not take some of the edge off of this whole "I'll be judged" thing? You step up to the judgment seat, and who is judging you but your Heavenly Father who sent his Son to die so that you might live, who has already forgiven you and who is there to talk about your life with Him... not your life previously without him. Amazing.

Lastly, the great news is that you and I are ransomed from the futile ways of our forefathers, which I see as another way of describing our passions of former ignorance as well. We were ignorant of God's ways, blinded to His goodness and maybe even denying his existence - certainly denying his authority! Yet we were ransomed, which is an illustration of being released from slavery. Perhaps one of the most dangerous and deadly things about sin is that we don't realize we are slaves to it. We get so comfortable in it at times that we forget, or perhaps never knew, that we are enslaved to passions of our own and passions/sins of our family lineage as well. Yet Christ gave his life, like the lamb of the old covenant, in our place and for our sins. He is the Lamb of God, perfect and without sin, who paid the price (thus ransoming us from slavery to sin) so that we might be free to know and love Him. What a wonderful Savior. So the call is not to "try real had not to sin anymore like your daddy did" but it is to "live in the new life with your Heavenly Father who ransomed you through the blood of his Son to live with a living hope, set on the grace of God". This is our motivation for obedience as children, because we have a Father in Heaven who has accomplished all that we couldn't so we could belong to Him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Disney's "A Christmas Carol" Review

Last Friday night my wife and I joined some friends for opening night of the "new" movie from Disney, "A Christmas Carol". It is the classic tale from Charles Dickens, done who knows how many times already in movie form. While the big push from the entertainment industry is to see movies in 3-D, we decided not to pay the extra money and saw it in regular fashion. The following are a few thoughts about the movie.

First of all, the movie is very well done when it comes to the animated side of things. It seriously amazes me just how advanced it all is getting. Gone are the days of Toy Story when animated movies were always cute, fun, and with some moral lesson usually built into them. These days animated movies seek to get as real as possibly and actually draw out truly suspenseful scenes. A Christmas Carol has some of the most tense/dramatic scenes I've seen from a animated movie yet.

I have not read the original book but have heard from several sources that this movie is the most true-to-the-book that has been made. The characters that are supposed to be scary are actually scary, to the point where your heart is racing a bit and you are sort of jumpy in some scenes. Since the animated movies I've seen are the likes of Shrek, Over the Hedge, and Ice Age, this was a surprise to me. Honestly, I'm not sure you want your 8 year old seeing the movie just yet... in my opinion, it really is that intense in some parts. However if it is true to the story then it does a great job brining out what Dickens likely wanted to be brought out.

There are several parts of the movie that Noelle and I chatted about on our way home. I don't know Dickens' spiritual state, whether or not he professed Christ or not. But the movie certainly had a spiritual element to it. the "ghost of Christmas present" was a jolly fellow, one you saw and just had to think "Jesus" when you saw him. He didn't necessarily say he was Jesus in the movie but did make reference to not being associated with certain "men of the cloth". The context, if I remember correctly, was the Scrooge was getting outraged as he saw the abuse of power from certain clergy in the visions he was shown (each ghost shows Scrooge scenes of either past, present, or future events that affect Scrooge's outlook on life). Also, the spiritual realm was closely associated with people being chained down in some form of punishment for not using their lives well. It was not a direct reference to Hell per se, but it was very intriguing to see some form of after-life punishment for people portrayed in the film.

Overall, I'm glad I went to see the movie. It ends with a good message (don't all Disney movies do that?), but takes you through the classic tale in phenomenal animated quality. I would suggest keeping an eye out for these spiritual parts of the movie because they are very intriguing. In th end, the Gospel message of Christ is not proclaimed in the slightest; in fact, Jesus Christ is not mentioned once so far as I can remember... and it is a Christmas movie! The message is a pretty moralistic one I suppose (do good and you will be blessed, don't do good and your spirit will suffer after you die), which sadly passes as a Christian message in many people's minds. The Gospel message of Jesus needs to be secured deep in our hearts - that we are sinners saved by grace, through faith, and this is a gift of God. We remember our Savior's coming at Christmas, remember his sacrifice and his resurrection, and can rejoice in the fact that we do not need to fear the afterlife, for the One who controls this life and the next lives in us and has secured eternity with himself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Peter, part 3

I Peter 1:10-12

We have here some of the most revealing words written about God's plan for the ages. Peter masterfully sums up what God was doing through the prophets and prophecies, and who the prophets were serving in their ministry.

Peter begins v. 10 with "concerning this salvation" - the salvation he has been explaining in the opening 9 verses. This is the salvation about the wonderful mercy of God, the resurrection of Christ, the living hope that we have as believers because we believe in a living Savior, and even the various trials we need to persevere in so that we may have a faith more precious than gold. Peter informs us that it is this salvation that the prophets had prophesied about so long ago. He does not name any one prophet but lumps them all together, as if to say "Remember all those prophets? Well every one of them were being informed in bits and pieces of the glorious grace that was to come through Someone." Though they did not name Christ as such they knew he was coming, they knew he would suffer and die for our sins, would rise again, and would fulfill many other specific prophecies as well.

Verse 11 tells us that the prophets eagerly inquired (of the Lord, I would imagine) what person this would be and when these things would take place. What anticipation they must have had! O to be one of those fortunate and faithful men, who even though many suffered and died in the service of the Lord were able to get a foretaste of things to come. Here the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ, which is a wonderful reminder that the Holy Spirit is not some rogue part of the Trinity swooping down at Pentecost in Acts 2 and taking over. He is part of the eternal Triune Godhead, involved in every part of the creation and new creation process. He does not operate on his own, but points us to Christ and is thus the very Spirit of Christ. He is the one who witnessed to the prophets, who inspired every word in the entire Book.

Verse 12 is a verse that everyone needs to memorize... and if not memorize word for word, at least become intimately familiar with the key ideas. The prophets were told that they, who lived thousands of years ago, were not serving themselves but US! Now of course, Peter is writing to a group of people here. However he is writing to a scattered and general group of people, and this is most certainly still true today. The "you" in the text is not so much specific people, but A Specific People, if you will, the people of God. The prophets were aware that they were involved in something much greater than themselves, something that would not come to pass in their lifetime even, and yet they gladly pressed in to the Holy Spirit and shared what they received from Him. So, how did they serve us? They served us by foretelling what would come to pass in Christ, namely the "things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." We see here that the news continues to spread through word of mouth, through preaching.

Preaching is under suspicion in many circles today, and partially for good reason. Many preachers have abused their positions of authority, manipulated and maligned the word of God, and had self-serving goals in the pulpit. However, the perversion of some preachers does not mean that the concept of preaching is to blame! Preaching is simply proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, the news that He is the Savior of the world, the One who came from Heaven, died for our sins, rose for our new life, and the One who will return to judge the living and the dead. Preaching happens when we instruct, from God's Word, others to follow Jesus Christ - his example, his teachings, his heart. Preaching is still a primary tool God uses to bring people to a saving knowledge of him. Many preachers do not preach in the biblical sense, but have made it a time for counseling sessions, nice anecdotes and self-exaltation. They will be judged harshly for this, but let us not think God does not still use preaching in mighty ways today.

Finally, this news, this GOOD NEWS about Jesus Christ which the prophets of old had some knowledge of and we now have a fuller picture of on this side of the cross, this is something into which "angels long to look". This blows my mind! Angelic creatures who serve God faithfully, who worship him constantly, are floored at the concept of God rescuing sinners. Think about it though: there are many fallen angels which we call demons, who denied God's authority and sought their own. They have been judged by God already and will be finally judged forever with Satan on the last day. However, us humans, who also deny God's authority and even his very existence (which, James tells us, even demons don't do!), God has pursued, died for, and saved?!?! This is truly magnificent, altogether mysterious and head-scratching to angels looking into it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be dwelt upon more frequently, more deeply, and it needs to cause us to be in awe of God, as the angels are. We so frequently and so foolishly believe we have it all down, and perhaps this is in part because we have so simplified it that it fits onto small brochures we can pass out to people. But angels are still longing to look into the Gospel, still awe-struck at the God of the universe for doing this. We too need hearts full of wonder at God's merciful dealings with us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Peter, part 2

I Peter 1:6-9

We pick up with Peter's flow of thought from v. 3-10. He tells his readers in v. 6, "in this you rejoice..." They rejoice in God's mercy (v. 3) expressed through Jesus Christ and the living hope they have because Jesus is alive. In short, Peter is confident they are rejoicing in God. It makes me think, what am I most joyful for? What do I rejoice IN? The answer is easily found when trials come your way. In fact this is Peter's next thought in v. 6-7, what happens in trials. The thing I most rejoice in is revealed when trials come. Joy is robbed if your have been rejoicing (taking the greatest joy) in anything but God. Because everything else people hope for outside of God can die, break, betray you, hurt you, and so on - thus stealing our joy. Peter's readers rejoice not in themselves, their talents, their money, their spouse, children, job, hobbies, none of that. They are rejoicing in what God has done for them through Christ, because of His great mercy.

Peter introduces an idea common in the Bible in v. 7: trials are good for us as Christians. This is completely antithetical to the notion that many of us have about trials, whether we are Christians or not. We think in terms of what's "fair" or "unfair" and we base that, really, on a very Karmic idea of the world. We hope that if we do more good than bad, then more good should come back to us. And we think (even if we wouldn't admit it) that if something bad happens to us, then we are being punished - either by God himself or just by karma for something bad we must have done. What a horrible, satanic, dreadful way to live! Though God has instituted some level of cause and effect in the universe, it is not the ultimate reason for everything that happens to us. God allows, dare I say brings about, some difficulties into our lives to test the genuineness of our faith and grow us in maturity. Here testing of faith is equated to the heat that even gold can be destroyed in. But the only thing heat will do to true faith is make it more pure. It is not the heat that makes the faith, but it's the heat (trials, difficulties, suffering of many kinds) that shows our faith and purifies it.

The result of these necessary trials in our lives? "Praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Is your faith honorable? Is mine? This is a difficult question for me to face for I fear the answer is "no, actually, it's not". My faith wanes quickly. I want a deeper knowledge of God and deeper faith in Him. I want my faith to be honorable and praiseworthy when Christ returns and restores all things. But that's why God has given me TODAY - to take one step closer to Him, to choose Him over everything else that is vying for my attention, that clamors and claws its way into my heart. Oh Lord, may my heart grow deeper in faith!

Verse 8 is seriously an incredible verse. Remember who is writing this. We are reading a letter from Peter... the same Peter that denied Christ three times, the same Peter Jesus asked three times "do you love me" and the same Peter who was there when Jesus said "Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed" to doubting Thomas (John 20:29). So, now read v. 8 again - Though you have not seen him, you love him! Peter saw him and Jesus wanted to make sure he loved him. I sense Peter applauding the faith of his readers, who have believed and love Jesus without seeing him (they're probably one generation after Jesus, in contact with people like Peter who DID see him). Not only that, but they rejoice in Christ with a joy that is "inexpressible and full of glory". The idea of a joy filled with glory is mind boggling to me. I'm not sure if I get it, and I definitely don't sense that this is my kind of joy... not yet at least. Christians alone can have a glory-filled joy - a weighty, beautiful, meaningful, full-of-truth kind of joy that nothing else in the universe produces outside of God himself. A joy that cannot be stolen, that is inexpressible - words cannot fully convey the glory of knowing the glorious One who made you and saved you.

What is the result of all this? Of this faith and love? Of these trials that are necessary for our good? Of this great mercy of God and this living hope? The salvation of our souls, that's what. Our belief, or faith (they seem interchangeable here), results in salvation. It results in the forgiveness of sin, the payment Christ made on the cross being credited to you as if you had paid it, and in receiving His righteousness as if you earned it. But you didn't. You (hopefully) simply believed the great news of Jesus Christ. You received as truth that could save your souls the news of who He is, what He did, and that He lives today and will one day complete everything that has been begun. What a glorious Savior. As we'll see next in v. 10-12, this was God's plan all along.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Peter, part 1

I've been inconsistent at this whole blogging thing for the past few weeks. It's not that I don't have anything to write, but I guess I lack some motivation when every piece that I write is isolated. For some reason I feel like I need something to start and finish instead of just put random thoughts down. So I decided I am going to blog through I Peter. This is for two simple reasons: First, I love the books of I and II Peter. Secondly, I have been working my way through the New Testament for a while and just started I Peter a few days ago... yes, it's really that simple. The blogs will honestly be more for me than for anyone reading them (if anyone does). I want it to be theological and devotional at the same time. I think it will be beneficial in my walk with the Lord to have a place to put my thoughts in paragraph form (I have a notebook I jot stuff down it but it's bits and pieces of what I think about). So, let's get to work.

I Peter 1:1-5

Peter starts off by naming himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He knows who he is and what he has been called to do by the Lord. As soon as Jesus had ascended back into heaven, he took on his role and was instrumental at Pentecost and in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit came in power to Gentiles as well. He was not without his faults even in this role - one such example is the racism he showed against Gentiles, which is mentioned in Galatians 2 and for which it seems he repented of. Paul is writing to Christians all over the place. This seems important because it does not get specific like Paul normally did when he wrote to a person (like Timothy) or a church with issues that he addressed (like Galatians, Corinthians, etc.). One thing I was not aware of, which my ESV study Bible points out, is that Peter is writing primarily to Gentiles. This is peculiar because he uses the word "dispersion", which was a normal reference to scattered Jews in the Old Testament, as well as the dispersion of Jewish Christians due to persecution in Acts. But the cities he references are Gentile (to the Jews, Gentile means any non-Jew) and point therefore to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to spread the news about Jesus far beyond Jewish borders. Peter has a pastoral heart to encourage these Christians and teach them the Gospel.

Verse 2 blows me away. Few verses have as clear a witness to the Trinity as this verse does. God the Father is mentioned as the One with foreknowledge of his elect people, God the Holy Spirit is said to be sanctifying the believers, and God the Son is the One we are to obey (as the Spirit sanctifies/matures us to do so) and the one who has sprinkled us with his blood. The sprinkling with blood is a reference to the new covenant we have with God through Jesus Christ. In the old covenant, blood was shed and sprinkled in several places around the altar, and even on the people, symbolizing their union with God as His people. Now, the new covenant has been inaugurated, the Lamb of God has come to make a permanent sacrifice, and we are symbolically sprinkled with his blood through faith in Christ, thus becoming God's people. Again, the fact that this is a Jewish guy (Peter) writing to a non-Jewish audience is critical because Peter uses a Jewish reference point (sprinkling with blood) to describe what has happened to them. Here he is clearly indicating that we are all God's people through Jesus Christ, and this is not a primarily Jewish privilege any longer.

The Trinity seriously hurts my mind to even think about. But as a quick side note I did hear a very interesting thought on the Trinity from Tim Keller. He was giving Augustine's take on the Trinity and basically said Augustine is the one from whom most well known arguments about the Trinity have come from throughout history (Augustine lived in the 5th century). Not that Augustine had everything right, but this may be helpful. Here's how the thought goes: if there is no God at all, then chaos rules the universe. If there is a uni-personal God, all by Himself, then power dominates the universe over love because love cannot exist outside of relationship. But if there is a Triune God, each being distinct yet still one God, then loving community is the basis of everything in the universe, for it existed before humans ever came into the world. Interesting idea to me.

Verses 3-5 include an opening statement of praise to God then one long run-on sentence about what God has done. I love long run-on sentences because I'm not allowed to do them in our grammar system, but they show one complete thought in the Scriptures. Verse numbers sometimes get in the way of this and even do damage to the over-arching thought because people will start from a verse that is not the beginning of the sentence, and thus may get an incomplete picture of what is being said. One thing that strikes me here is that the cross is not mentioned here directly - the death of Christ briefly is but the main focal point is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. It seems to me that Christians, myself included, spend a great deal of time understanding the cross - why Christ went to it, what was accomplished on it, and so on (which is very, very important to understand) - yet they don't think much about the resurrection. But as Paul said in I Corinthians 15, the whole message of Christianity falls apart if Christ isn't alive. Peter says in verse 3 that we are "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". It is not the death of Christ that gives us this hope, but the FACT that Christ is alive! We have a living hope because our Savior is a living Savior. We have an eternal hope because our God is eternally alive. A dead Savior is no Savior at all. We are also promised an inheritance that will never fade, be defiled, or perish under any circumstances. It is "kept in Heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (v. 5). How sweet is that! It's not our faith that guards our inheritance in Heaven (as if it were up to us to keep or lose it!), but it is guarded by God's power. Faith is important because this happens through faith, but it seems to me here that even this faith is held by God's power.

The opening thoughts of Peter describe the glorious Gospel through which we are saved. It is not only for Jews but for the whole world, as God is the one, true God of the universe. Salvation is a triune effort from beginning to end, and we are also held by God's power through faith, by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit for all eternity. This will all be finally revealed "in the last time". At the end of history, God will fully unveil his sovereign plan and bring us into eternal dwelling with Him. It will be unlike and exceedingly better than anything we could possibly imagine!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Hate The Fall

I hate the fall. And no, I don't mean the fall that we are entering into right now. I don't hate the leaves changing colors and the air cooling down. I don't hate the rain or the wind or any of that. In fact I very much love the fall season. I love the crisp air, I love how hot drinks make you feel on a cool day, I love turning on the fire place (I have a gas fire place, unfortunately), and I love hearing the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof and the street. Yes, all of that is great. But, I really do hate the FALL.

To alleviate any confusion, I'm talking about the fall of mankind. That's the fall I hate. I woke up this morning thinking about it because I woke up with a sore throat. And I knew it was coming is the worst part. Yesterday morning I woke up with just a little something "extra", if you will, in my throat and I knew what was coming. To be sure, people are suffering much more than me at this moment, but getting even a little bit sick reminds me that my body is decaying. I'm 25 years old, which puts me squarely in the generation who still avoids thinking about death and acts like they aren't getting older. But I am thinking about it. How did we get here?

We got here because mankind has perverted our created intent, rebelled against our glorious Creator, and have been put under a curse as a result. This is commonly called "the fall" and we need to learn to attribute much more to it than we do. Yet most people, including many in the academic sphere, avoid admitting we are all fallen and the world is under a curse. We want to believe mankind can fix themselves, that if we just get more education we will be o.k., or if we get more funding in the ghettos to clean up the streets, or more cops in bad neighborhoods, and so on, that we can save the world. But if we look at history just for a few moments, we will see nothing we have tried has worked. The truth is, we need a Savior. We need Someone who can change us, Someone who can identify with our troubles, temptations, and humanity and yet Someone who is altogether different from us.

The Someone we need is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who came from Heaven, came to a fallen and broken world, and died for it. He died and rose so that we might die to sin and live with and for Him forever. He didn't become fallen, but He came for the fallen world. For some crazy reason, the God of the universe, the very God who has laid a curse on this world (because He is just and must punish sin), has also loved it so much that He sent His Son (because He is merciful), Jesus, to bear the weight of the curse so that we would could come to know Him, love Him, and start returning to our created intent and be in relationship with Him (redemption). The story continues... the fall is still upon us, the consequences of our sin (sickness and death especially) are all around us, and yet our hearts and minds are changed because God has revealed His truth to us. We can now live as lights in the world as a witness to his love and truth, even in the midst of this fallen world. And we are promised that the world will, ultimately, be "re-created" - renewed by its Maker to its perfect, original place to be enjoyed by all those who know and love Him. No, we will not be chubby angels on clouds, nor will we just "sing of His love forever". I'm sure we will sing - but we will eat, dance, drink, love, laugh, and enjoy eternity with God and experience indescribable glory forever.

Yes, I hate the fall. I really hate sore throats, disease, cancer, death, accidents where children get killed, the fact that mental and physical disabilities exist (though God can, and does, redeem people with them and use them mightily for his glory), and so much more. Yet when I am reminded that the fall is not final, it is temporary and will be removed, and the curse will be lifted, I am filled with hope and joy. Christ is my Savior, my Lord, my King, my Friend, my Advocate, and so much more. The Holy Spirit lives in me to point me to Christ, teaches me about my fallen state but also about His transforming power, and works through me. The Father and all His perfection is my future.

For the record, I didn't think about ALL of this at 5:30 a.m. today... it sort of just came to me as I wrote.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can verses become "too familiar"?

I've been thinking lately about some of the most well known verses in the Bible, and wondering whether or not some of them become too familiar to us and therefore lose significance. Many verses could be mentioned, but the one that comes to mind is Proverbs 3:5-6. In case you don't have it memorized (shame on you! Just kidding), it says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths." This is one of the verses we will be using tomorrow night for youth group, particularly trying to answer the question "how do I know when I'm actually spending time with God?" My thesis if you will is that simply activities such as reading the Bible, going to church, going to youth group, and other activities do not guarantee that you are spending time with God. Basically, the simple formula "reading the Bible = spending time with God" is not always true.

For me, Proverbs 3:5-6 is helpful in answering the question about spending time with God. I believe it sheds some light on the issue, namely that if reading the Bible doesn't always equate to time spent with God, trusting in God with all my heart and acknowledging him in all of my life does indicate I'm spending time with him. And if that is the case, then it can often be that the "less spiritual" things like going to school, doing homework, going to work, eating a meal, exercising, and so on can indeed be times spent with the Lord. It seems to me that Christians do a great disservice when we believe (or teach!) that the spiritual things are prayer, solitude, studying the Bible, and church attendance and other things mentioned above are not-so-spiritual. In the end, God is with us at all times by the Holy Spirit living in us, and therefore we are always spending time with God; or, at the very least every activity can be spending time with God if we are trusting in him and acknowledging him in our lives.

What other verses are "all too common" verses for us today? How can another look at them help us grow in our walk with Christ?

Friday, October 9, 2009

seminary and free $??? Oh ya!

I've been going to seminary since January of this year. Seminary is something I've wanted to complete for quite some time, but it was a difficult process figuring out where to attend. Most seminaries have a distance learning program, so it took a while to figure out which one was best for me. In the end I chose Western Seminary and have been very happy with that choice. I'm in my third class, which is interpreting Genesis - Song of Solomon. This portion of Scripture is either something I know little about, or know something about but am gaining a much better understanding because of this class. I am able to watch DVD lectures throughout the week, participate in forums with people taking the same class all around the country, and turn in papers online. While it doesn't quite have the effect of being in class with people, it is still able to provide a good measure of depth and learning.

As you might imagine, funding your master's degree can be difficult. Noelle and I are following a budgeting plan to pay for each class in full (usually around $1600 per class), but it certainly has been a stretch. In the end it is a matter of faith and "putting my money where my mouth is" quite literally. I believe I am called to teach and preach, and thus believe I have a responsibility to do everything I can to be equipped to teach faithfully and truthfully from God's Word. One way to do this to go to seminary. While I have heard some criticize seminaries by renaming it "semi-taries" (a little play on words I do find humorous), I am yet to encounter any air of dead religion from my professors or the experience over all. Just recently I came across a seminary scholarship that provides $1000 to a seminary student. The scholarship is being provided by Logos Bible Software company. They provide incredible Bible software that ranges from $150 - $1400. My pastor and I have one of their programs and I have benefited greatly from the resources in it. Scholarships for master's programs like the one I'm in can be hard to come by, so I quickly jumped at the chance to apply - the scholarship would fund over 1/2 of my next class!

God has been incredibly faithful throughout this year financially. There have been several unexpected financial burdens, but we are seeing his provision in every way, and this would be no exception. A seminary scholarship at this point would, quite honestly, free us up to be more prepared for the holiday season that is fast approaching. We very much love the chance to be generous around Christmas to our close friends and family, as well as those in need, and an extra $1000 unexpectedly sticking around in our bank account would certainly help do that. If you know someone in seminary, make them aware of the scholarship! No matter who receives it, I am sure it will be a tremendous blessing, one that will not soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The two men of James 1:12-15

James 1:12-15:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

I've been working my way through the New Testament over the past year or so, and just started perhaps my favorite short book of the Bible, James. Martin Luther is said to have criticized this book, saying that it didn't have anything about the gospel in it. Truth be told, it doesn't - nothing is said about Christ dying for our sins, about Christ as God, about the resurrection, and so on. It does talk about faith in chapter 2 but even that part (faith without works is dead, etc.) can be tough to understand. But, as great as Luther was, he was wrong to say James shouldn't be in the Bible. It's almost a Proverbs in the New Testament, and I love the Proverbs. Sure you may need to look elsewhere for the outright doctrine of justification or penal substitution, but James has a great deal to say to Christians who are suffering, struggling with sin, or need to mature in areas such as partiality, using their tongue wisely, and so on.

All that to say, the passage in James 1 struck me as a "compare and contrast" passage between the two men presented, sort of like Proverbs does over and over. First we have the blessed man, the one who "stands fast" under trial - meaning he successfully navigates life's difficulties, sudden crises, sicknesses, rebellious children, hard times financially - he is the man who loves God through it all and is promised the crown of life after he dies. This is beautiful imagery of the mature Christian who takes to heart James 1:2-3 - "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Here is a steadfast man, already blessed on account of his walk with God, his love for God, and his steadfast character. He is not perfect, but he is blessed.

The second man is completely different from the first. This man is not only lured and enticed by his own desires, he is audacious enough to blame God for his temptation! James corrects this view by rightly declaring that God is neither tempted to sin nor does he tempt anyone to sin (by allowing difficulty to come into our lives God is NOT tempting us to worry, for example - the difficulty only exposes our heart's inclination to worry and not trust God). The second man gives into his desires because he is weak, immature, and ultimately not living out of love for God but love for himself. The fruit of this kind of living is ultimately death, for sin comes from such desires and death follows as the result of sin.

Here's the point: I am the second man! I read the contrast between the two and desperately want to say "I'm becoming more the first man every day!" and yet I don't know if that is true. Sure there are glimpses of hope, rays of light that shine through when I refuse temptation, trust God, and love Him more than sin. And while Christ is my Savior and Lord, whom I seek to follow with all of my heart, this passage helped me see just how far I still have to go. It is a glorious truth that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works of righteousness... because I don't have any! My hope every day comes from clinging to the cross, putting all my hope in the grace of God who I have offended with my sin and deserve eternal punishment from. Yet I have received grace and mercy, have trusted Him, and each day strive to love and trust Him more. So, while the first man is who I am, by the grace of God I will become more and more like the second, blessed, man and will be with him forever wearing the crown of life. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Martha, Martha

I wrote the other day about the spiritual funk that I've been in for a little while now. Funny how just after I acknowledge I'm in a funk and ask God to change whatever needs changing in my heart, he brought me to Luke 10:38-42. It's the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus enters a village and is invited by Martha into her home. She is busy cleaning things up, getting food ready, and doing all the right entertaining things for her guest. Meanwhile her sister Mary just plops down and sits and Jesus' feet as he teaches (it seems to me there were other people Jesus was teaching too, making the entertaining job all the more difficult on just one person). Martha is frustrated with her sister, and out of this frustration says to Jesus, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." Now, I can't blame Martha for feeling frustrated. She and Mary were possibly the only women in the house and much work needed to be done while guests were there. I would think Jesus would excuse Mary from the teaching session to assist her sister. Instead he reveals what's really going on in Martha's heart.

Jesus looks at Martha and says, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." It isn't that Martha just wanted to be a good host, but Martha's heart was weighed down in anxiety. Martha's busy-ness was keeping her from the one necessary thing: time with her Lord. She acknowledged him as Lord and yet was not doing the one thing she most needed to do. Jesus could say the exact same thing to me! I'm busy doing ministry, hosting things, planning things, even reading my Bible for class and to prepare Bible studies. Yet it is so, so easy to get caught up in all the things I'm doing and hardly acknowledge that Jesus is "in the room" - that is, with me by his Holy Spirit, indwelling me and teaching me. But am I listening? Am I taking the time to just be with my Lord? To ignore the email, sports scores, facebook updates, and so on just to read his Word, receive his grace, bask in his mercies which are new each morning, and give him my heart? So often it is the trivial things (which are not evil in and of themselves) that are keeping me in the spiritual kiddie pool instead of swimming in the deep waters of the Christian life.

So, this is my life lesson this week. It came unexpectedly as I was preparing for Wednesday's Bible study, which focused on the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). It caught my attention and so I read it - and felt the warmth of God's presence speaking gently to me that I needed to stop being such a Martha and recognize the one "necessary" thing is time with Jesus, giving him my whole self. Of course life is busy still and I shouldn't abandon my responsibilities for the sake of "more time with Jesus". What I need to do is prioritize: time with the Lord, learning from him, loving him for who he is and what he's done, and then going about the ministry he has appointed me to do. I hope this is encouraging for you - I have a feeling I'm not the only Martha out there.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spiritual Funks

I feel like I'm in one of those spiritual funks right now. The kind of funk where I'm doing quite a few things, things "for the Lord" yet don't feel connected at the heart level to Him very deeply. It's frustrating because I can't always explain what causes me to get into these. There are times I can point out what it is pretty clearly. Other times it just feels like my busy schedule gets in the way. Discouragement tends to increase in these times as well. I know that one of my consistent sins I need to repent of before the Lord is the "numbers game" sin that is prevalent in ministry leaders. I'd say that over all our group is pretty strong and growing in relationships with one another and with God, and yet sometimes what I feel is a "success" is more often tied to whether or not a certain number of kids were there rather than whether or not I sensed that the students were loved and genuinely connecting with one another.

One thing I do know: when I feel in these funks, taking the time to be with God personally is less frequent... which in turn usually feeds this funk I am in. I've seen over and over that the primary way out of this state is time with God. So it's sort of redundant at this point: time with God is the one thing I most lack when in a funk and the one thing I most need to get out of the funk. There is no magic number or length of time that "gets someone out" - it's just a consistent observation in my own life. Honestly, I'm writing this more for myself and my own thoughts than for anyone to read this, but if you are reading this and have insight into your own spiritual funks and how you tend to get out of them, I'd be happy to hear about them. Feel free to email me or comment below.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Money and Christianity

My wife and I have been taking part in a very interesting 13 week seminar by a man named Dave Ramsey. Dave is a well known author and speaker, and is a Christian man. The seminar is called "Financial Peace University" and is set up so that a group of people get together once a week, watch a video lecture for about an hour, and then discuss it together. We've been doing it for four weeks now and have really enjoyed it. While not all of the topics he goes through are immediately important to us, they almost all will be sooner or later. From savings to investing, from dumping debt to learning how to invest, he covers it all.

The reason I bring this up is this: it seems to me that within the Christian community and the history of our faith, opinions about money have been as different as people's opinions on whether or not Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time (for the record, he most certainly is). What I mean is that some people take verses of the Bible and use it to defend saving your money, leaving an inheritance for your kids, saving for retirement, investing, and so on. And then others take verses from the Bible and use it to say that we should give all our money away, keep as little as possible for ourselves, trust that God will sustain us and that we don't need a whole lot in savings and on and on. To be honest, it sort of makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Dave Ramsey uses the Bible quite a bit when giving financial principles - the interesting thing is, it seems like they are literally ALL out of Proverbs. Then other people never use Proverbs and only use certain things Jesus said about money, which may or may not even be relevant to the financial principle they are trying to make.

I don't have some grand way of wrapping this up, other than to say I'd be interested in your opinions and comments if you have any. What have you heard about money and principles about finances that you liked or didn't like? Do you understand the tension that I'm speaking of in this blog or does it seem to come from nowhere? One more thing... I Timothy 6:9 says "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." What sort of ruin and destruction have you seen come with the ungodly "desire for riches" that Paul speaks about - either in your personal life, the lives of those you love, or by observation of our culture.

Soli Gloria Deo

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Most Cliched chapter in the Bible

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice"
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God"
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me"
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus"

Anyone know where all these verses come from? Only the most cliched chapter in the whole Bible - Philippians 4. It's got to be the chapter with the most mug verses (as in coffee mugs) listed, and the most t-shirts with Bible verses ever made. I can't count how many times I've seen "Phil 4:13" on a football players eye liner, or a workout shirt with some slogan like "His pain, your gain" and then Philippians 4:13 slapped on there like a cheesy ad-on. It's one of those chapters that, if you're not careful, could rob us of some of the real depth of these verses.

We were reading and talking through Philippians 4 in our young adults group last night, and constantly had to say things like "I learned this in a song but never thought it through" or "It's a nice idea but can it really happen?" Once we looked more at the context of each verse and actually followed the thought process of Paul (as best we knew how), we did start to see some measure of depth actually restored to the verses.

Take Philippians 4:13 for example. it is used often in sports with Christian kids to encourage them to "go for it" and to tell them they are a winner. But what if you have two athletes competing against each other on different teams, both of whom are Christians, and both of whom have repeatedly told themselves "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"? What if you have a pitcher who is repeating that to himself hoping it it means he can strike someone out, while that very batter is repeating it to himself hoping it means he'll home run? What is God doing in that moment up in Heaven? Is the Father saying to the Spirit, "We really shouldn't have put that one in there, now we have to be inconsistent!" And does that Son say "I told you not to let Paul write that" with a smirk on his face?

I know it's getting a bit ridiculous, but here's the point: that verse isn't about you succeeding because Christ gives you the strength to do so. In the context it's basically about contentment in all situations, regardless of the circumstances. Paul had just said that he's learned to be content in whatever situation he is in, and describes his situations as ranging from having an abundance to going hungry. He's been at the highs and the lows, and has come out realizing he can do it all, whatever the circumstance, through Christ who strengthens him. So, the pitcher can handle failure, the batter can handle striking out to end the game, your son or daughter can get through getting cut from a team or not making it into a college, all through the strength that only comes from Jesus Christ. Contentment can be found in great success (where the temptation would be arrogance) as well as epic failure (where the temptation would be despair), and in having more than enough or lacking basic essentials for a period of time.

These verses that are ripped out of their context don't get "greater meaning" when this happens; they actually get short changed and we lose a great deal of their value. When we see what Paul is claiming we begin to see the depth of the Christian life that God offers us in Christ. Avoid taking popular verses as cliches and do your best to reclaim the beauty that is in them as you understand God's Word in deeper ways.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday Review - Disciples as worshipers

I'm going to try and get in the habit of writing a blog each Thursday about what we talked about as a youth group the night before. We have just started a new format in which every student is actually reading the Bible and discussing it. There is a main topic and text each week but the groups (split in Middle and High School) get to tailor what gets focused on specifically. They are learning to ask questions of the text and hopefully come to some good answers from God's Word that apply to their life. I'm excited about the potential of it. Last night was the first night like this, so it was an experiment. We talked about some good stuff, asked some good questions, but perhaps didn't walk away with a real sense of what was being said about worship, so I thought I'd write some thoughts down and hopefully they are helpful.

Psalm 63 was one of our texts (the only one the HS group got to). David writes it as he is fleeing from someone, likely either Absolam or Saul. He speaks of God as having steadfast love, of singing underneath the shadow of God's wings, of being his help, and beholding God's power and glory. There are stirring images of worship throughout the Psalm, and while I spend quite a bit of time talking about "worship" being much more than our singing, it certainly includes our singing to God. Worshiping God in song can change our hearts on the spot, taking the focus off of ourselves and onto God and his mercies, steadfast love, protection, and so on. David declared in several ways that God is worthy of worship, with the community of believers and also personally through anything that comes his way.

Romans 11:33-12:2 was the other text. Paul bursts into a magnificent praise of God in 11:33-36, after writing some deep, difficult, and wonderful things in chapters 1-11. All he can do is stand back amazed at the unfathomable wisdom, unsearchable knowledge, and awesome glory of God in his plan of salvation. Then, he appeals to Christians to, in light of the mercies of God, present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, which is our spiritual worship he says. That word "spiritual" can also be translated "rational" because it comes from the Greek word "Logikos" and speaks of being true to our nature, reasonable. It's a great picture: our lives being laid down, offered to God willingly in his service, is "true to our nature" because of all God has done for us. It simply makes sense. If we take in just a measure of the depth of God's love and the sacrifice he made for us in Christ, the only logical thing to do is to respond in worship and give him our whole lives.

I'll stop there. As we get used to this form of learning together I think we will grow in a deeper knowledge of God's Word and be able to connect important ideas together. I really enjoyed last night - all the talk about Jackals, singing reducing stress in our lives, and so forth was good stuff in my mind. But I hope that this "devotional review" is helpful as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tough verses in the Bible

I love the Bible. I haven't always loved it, but I really do love it now. For much of my growing up years, reading the Bible was a duty-filled process, a guilt laden thing that I "needed" to do. It was not the source of great life and joy for me, nor did I really see it as all that necessary for growing in my Christian faith and knowledge of God. I can even remember a time in college when I was talking with my roommate, who was very committed to the necessity of Scripture for all of life, and asking him if a person could preach a "biblical" sermon (meaning true to God's Word) without using the Bible. He basically said that it's hypothetically possible but there's no reason for anyone to do it. I have come to see that he was right - no one should preach without the Bible being opened, studied, and interpreted accurately with a dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Anyways, while the Bible is absolutely necessary for our knowledge of God, since it is his primary method of revelation, it is also filled with many difficult passages. One such passage is I Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul teaches on women in the church. It's one of those passages that sort of makes you cringe when you read it. It's also a big reason Paul is unpopular, among Christians and non-Christians alike. But just because it's difficult, like other texts, doesn't mean it isn't valuable. If anything, the resistance we feel towards some of these difficult texts shows our commitment to rebellion and our sinful nature's continual hold on our mind.

Without going into every detail, Paul makes the case that women are not to "teach or exercise authority" over a man inside of the church. He also talks about the necessity of modest dress, but for this post my main concern is with the roles inside of the church. The first thing that needs to be made clear is that Paul is not saying women never teach - clearly they do, and should, teach their children, teach other women, and so forth. This is very important. Paul's emphasis is on the authoritative teaching, in a permanent sense, in a church. Simply put, that is not a role God has designed women to have in the church.

But how can Paul say this? What authority does he stand on, besides being an Apostle, to make such a claim? Often times when we make an argument for something we look around us, to the culture, and make our defense from there. Not Paul. He immediately goes back to the creation account, with Adam and Eve. He makes a defense based on the way God created the world to operate. Adam was made first, then Eve, Paul says. This has wrongly been taken to mean Paul believed men were better than women. This is simply a matter of fact, if we take Genesis 2 to be a truthful account of things. Man was created, like the rest of the creatures, from the dust - and woman (Eve) was created "out of" the man, from his rib. We are equal as image bearers of God and yet distinct in the roles we play. God's order in family and in the church are similar - men and women are equal in importance, yet men have been given the greater responsibility in leading, protecting, and teaching. Women also lead, protect, and teach, but are to do so in different ways than men.

Finally, v. 15 is a very difficult one if we don't keep it in the context of the creation account. Paul continues with a reflection on creation and says "she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." WHAT?! Does Paul mean salvation as in forgiveness of sins and eternal life? No, for "saved" isn't in a spiritual sense here. Think about it... after the fall, a curse was put on all of creation, and on man and woman. Man's curse was that the ground would war against him as he worked, and woman's curse was the increased pain in childbearing. I believe a good explanation of this verse is this: Christian women ("continue in faith" indicates Christian women) who go through childbirth will grow in respect to their salvation and Christian maturity, and will find great significance/importance in their God given role as child bearers.

These are difficult verses, and I'm learning a great deal by studying them. Do you have any other thoughts about them? Do you disagree with where I've gone in interpreting them? I'm open to disagreement or other views. Remember, I'm just another beggar trying to show other beggars where bread is - so, show me some bread!

Soli Deo Gloria

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