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.