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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