Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Website

I have moved my writing to a new website I started recently. I was posting everything on both sites, but for the last couple of weeks have only been doing so on the new site. From time to time I will update things on this blog, but this will primarily be more a personal "journal" of sorts, which I hope is still interesting enough :-)

The website is It has been a project for me for a while and by the end of this year there will be some significant additions to the site, including an opportunity for you to partner with me to help pay for my seminary education. My goal is to get people interested in chipping in $10 a month, with the idea that if enough people do then it will be a significant contribution to my schooling. For more information click on "The Experiment" on the top of the page (if it's not there yet, it will be soon).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Serve? Why Be Humble?

As a new youth pastor in 2006, Philippians was the first book I went through with the little clan of students I was starting with. I can remember vividly a discussion I had with one of the students, a senior at a local private Christian high school, when we went through Phil. 2:1-11. She told me that her leadership group had adopted Philippians 2:1-4 as their passage to describe how they wanted to serve the school unselfishly. The interesting part of the discussion was when she said “It wasn’t until tonight, when you went past verse 4 into verses 5-11, that I realized just why we should want to obey verses 1-4.” What a tragedy it is when the commands given to Christians are detached from the gospel truth proclaimed to their hearts!

It has been my passion for years to see the answer to “why serve”, or “why be humble” as “because of Jesus”. Because of him, I can joyfully let go of competition or rivalry and work alongside people, enjoying their gifts and employing my own for others’ benefit. The easiest verse to overlook in these 11 verses, for me, is verse 4 – look also to the interests of others. If I don’t actively do this, I won’t do it at all. It’s perhaps slowly becoming more natural through the work of the Spirit, but only through consistent repentance of failure to do so. God looks after my needs and interests (not always what I believe I want but what he knows I need) so I can in turn look away from myself towards others. Christianity is unique in that, rather than saying “turn inward to find joy and meaning” it tells us to “look outward, to Jesus, to see the One who gave everything for you. And in turn, respond and give everything to and for him.”

While the academic “theologizing” of 2:6-11 is important (understanding what it means that Jesus “made himself nothing” for example), it is rarely those explanations that motivate our hearts to worship and serve God. Instead, we need to see the fact of his obedience, his humility, and his service of us on the cross, dwell on it, and live our lives in light of it. My hope is that I can become obedient in all that God would have me do with a willing heart, taking joy in my gifted-righteousness through Jesus. I love the “therefore” in v. 9 as well – because of all of this, in view of what Jesus did on the cross, the Father raised the Son and exalted him, and gave him the name above all names. One day all people will recognize Jesus as Lord; I want to spend my life acknowledging that fact and helping others to do the same.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And, trust me, I love Thanksgiving Day. I love celebrating a tradition our country has held for several hundred years, and I love all the food too. My wife and I are hosting our first thanksgiving this year, with several family members flying up to see us in Portland. Noelle is slightly nervous about making the turkey - her first one - but we've already practiced on a whole chicken and did very well, so I'm confident she'll be just fine. But this post isn't exactly about Thanksgiving day... it's about giving thanks in general.

I Timothy 4:4-5 says "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." Think about that... everything created by God is good. In this day and age, that verse flies in the face of popular thinking which favors the spiritual over the physical. I know I, for one, find myself sometimes feeling guilty if I'm enjoying physical things, created things. I trick myself into believing that God is most happy with me when I am totally detached emotionally from beautiful sites and good food, thinking instead that I should enjoy him spiritually. While we should enjoy God spiritually - meaning, regardless of our circumstances, or in the middle of tough times, or in the ordinariness of most of life - we as Christians are unique among the world in that we know God is the God of all things physical and made us to enjoy physically pleasing things. Everything created by God is good... the eggs I had for breakfast on an English muffin; the turkey in my refrigerator with which I'll make a sandwich for lunch, the lettuce and fixings that will make a salad later tonight. All of these simple things, created by God, are good. And they are to be received with thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. Obvious enough ideas, I know. But are you thankful? To give thanks regularly is to pause and remind yourself and those you are with that God has made things good. We, sinful mankind, abuse what he has made and we are not thankful for what he's done in giving us good things. But as Christians, with minds renewed by God's Spirit living in us, can give thanks today for all he has made. Take some time today, and the next day and the next, to give God thanks for simple and good things you have. Repent of constantly focusing on what you don't have, on what you think you should have. Give thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Creation Matters

I've never understood the obsession people have with how old the earth is, or the universe for that matter. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I don't have a bone in my body that is interested in geology and stuff. Sure I appreciate it and I know we need thinking Christians in those fields who are interested in discovering more about God's activity in the world, but it sort of loses out in my list of top 10 things to get amped about in life. But during a recent theology class, my professor got into the subject of creationism. He had many insightful things to say and I resonated very much with it. He has a view of Genesis 1 and 2 which is not the majority view - it hovers somewhere between new earth and old earth and, so it seems, he could care less about the final answer to the age of the earth. Ultimately he said he's an old earth guy but if evidence persuaded him to young earth he'd be happy with that too. His main point? Know what you are actually supposed to be fighting against.

In Christian circles, the battle appears to be between old and young earth schools of thought. But in the scientific community, no one regards that as too big of an issue. The greater issue is not "How long ago did the universe get created?" but rather "Is the universe created or random?" Dr. Breshears makes it clear: the true opposition to any Christian view of creationism is not the opposite Christian view, but rather the dominant view of evolutionism (not sure if that's a word but it's one he uses). Evolutionism is the philosophic conviction that everything has come from nothing; nothing created all that we see. Everything that exists is here because of natural processes, completely without the governing of any creator.

Dr. Breshears went on to say that if you are ever talking to someone from outside the faith about the concept of creation, never argue about the age of the earth. It is a useless argument which, in the end, we can't know with perfect certainty. Plus it gets us derailed from the central issue. Rather we need to argue for the fact of creation through reason and data. And the good news is that the data is constantly pointing to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. This may sound like old news, but has only been true for about 25 years that most of the scientific community agrees on this - they used to vehemently argue that the earth and universe have always existed ("steady state universe" was the term). The great thing? Scientific data keeps pointing back to Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." The problem? The philosophic conviction of evolutionism often keeps intelligent people from following the truth wherever it leads.

Creation is an extremely important doctrine which Christians must hold onto and defend. From the truth of creation we understand that man is made in God's "image" - mankind reflects, to some marred degree because of sin, the characteristics and traits of God. We also know God is not one with the universe, and therefore the earth is not to be worshiped but God alone. We also see God's rhythm for working and resting in creation, something God has made us to enjoy in order to be healthy. We see that God is so powerful that creation came about by the word of God (identified as Jesus in John 1:1-14). We also see reason to enjoy creativity and beauty - God has made a world incredibly creative and humans have the privilege to create in some way just like God did. This list is by no means exhaustive.

So, rejoice in the fact that you have been created by a good and loving God. You are not random, purposeless or meaningless. God has made you in his image and salvation through Christ is, in part, a renewal process of the clear image of God you were made in. If it's your cup-of-tea to research more of the scientific side of things, go for it! Praise God that he has made a world where the more and more we learn about the universe, the more and more we see it pointing back to him.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thoughts on Forgiveness

The type of forgiveness put forth in the Old and New Testament sets Christianity apart from all other faiths. Forgiveness is spoken of on a human to human basis and a God to human basis. While forgiving one another is an extremely important concept, I am seeking here to illumine some important ideas of God's forgiveness towards us in this article.

In Exodus 34:6-7 God defines himself. He descends in a cloud on top of Mt. Sinai to Moses, declaring his name and character. While I've written about all of the character traits he lists elsewhere, I am being struck deeply with the concept of forgiveness. Moses records that God forgives "iniquity, transgression, and sin" (ESV). The NIV puts it a little better when it says he forgives "wickedness, rebellion, and sin". Wouldn't it suffice for God to just say he forgives sin? Doesn't that encapsulate everything? Thought "sin" is a word nowadays that describes any wrong doing, their are interesting differences in the Hebrew words used in the text.

Wickedness: wrongdoing, with a focus of liability or guilt for this wrong incurred

Rebellion: revolt, i.e., to rise up in clear defiance to authority

Sin: to miss a mark or a way; what is an offense to a moral standard

God reveals that he is the one who forgives all of these things! He forgives guilty people who willfully and knowingly do wrong to others; he forgives those who clearly and intentionally rise up in defiance of his rightful authority, and he forgives those who miss the way he has laid out for mankind to live. God has a moral standard, we fail to meet that standard, and he is willing to forgive it. This is good news!

But, as you may imagine, there's more. The fact of the matter is that God makes it clear that he will "not let the guilty go unpunished", and this is a concept repeated throughout the Bible in one way or another. So, how can we guarantee God's forgiveness? Faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.

First, the cross. The cross says, basically, "your sin is this bad". It must be justly punished and death is the just punishment for sin. Death is the result of sin - from the first sin of Adam and Eve to every other person - all death can ultimately be explained by sin. It would not be wrong to say that even though there are thousands of "causes" for death ranging from murder to cancer to accidents, the foundational cause of death is the existence of sin. And so, God deals with sin perfectly in death. And this is why the death of Jesus on the cross, in my place, means so much to Christians. We realize that not only does God faithfully give the punishment for sin, but he graciously substituted his only Son in our place, dying for the forgiveness of our sin. In forgiveness God "lifts up", or takes away, our sin from us. He placed it on Jesus and gives us Jesus' righteousness as a gift (Romans 3:21-26). Martin Luther famously referred to this as "The Great Exchange".

Second, faith. We must receive this good news (Gospel means good news) as true and respond by repenting of sin. Repenting means basically to turn around, to do a 180 from the direction you were going and head in a new direction. To repent of sin and trust in Christ's death on the cross for you is what it means to place your faith in Jesus. It begins in an instant, when you acknowledge it as true and acknowledge your need for Jesus, and continues for the rest of your life as a Christian. Indeed, we must "live by faith", believing constantly that God's promises are true and his ability and willingness to forgive is as great as he says it is.

God's forgiveness runs deeper than you know, deeper than I know. It is impossible to overstate the importance of God's willingness to pardon us, to lift up our guilty sentence and give us, free for us but costing his Son, forgiveness. If you are a Christian, dwell on God's forgiveness in your life. If you are not a Christian, I plead with you to consider this good news, this Gospel. Do not assume God will wink at your rebellion, your disobedience, or even unknown sin in your heart. The way to a right relationship with the creator God who has made the earth and all that is in it is through faith in Jesus Christ. Trust that he is just in all his ways and will punish sin, and trust that he is gracious enough to freely forgive you in the name of Jesus.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recommended Francis Chan videos

Below are a couple of great Francis Chan videos - one on living by faith and not in fear, and another about temptation. Some heavy hitting stuff!

Francis Chan - Balancing Beam

Francis Chan on temptation

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stringing Pearls

I'm reading an excellent book called Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus for one of my classes. Click on the title to be taken to Amazon to see the book. I'm just a few chapters in but thought I would share some fascinating stuff about how rabbis in the first century often taught their students. It really sheds light on why we often miss the full meaning of a passage or statement because we are so far removed from the world of first century Jews. But we should not despair because the fact that we are far removed from that culture does not mean we can't uncover truth that they knew. The authors of this book mention something called "stringing pearls", and much of what I'm going to say is coming from chapter 3 of their book.

"Stringing Pearls" is a phrase used to describe the method many Bible teachers used to get their point across to their students and increase the students' knowledge of the Bible. The teacher would use parts of verses but intentionally leave off the other part, forcing the student to go back and look at the verse to see what was meant by the statement. Or, they would string together parts of several verses to get one major point across. Jesus seems to have incorporated this method of teaching often. It doesn't mean he was struggling to come up with the words or forgetting the ending of well known verse - he was actually so aware of the Scriptures that he would use parts of verses to make a whole point.

Going one step further, it seems that even God the Father was a fan of this method of using the Bible as well. The example given in the book is the one I want to make you aware of because it takes us way beyond the simple statement. In Mark 1:11, God the Father speaks the well known words "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." I'd always taken that at face value - and even if that's all we ever did it would be quite the explanation of who Jesus is. But the Jews who heard this mysterious voice from Heaven, who were accustomed to their teachers "stringing pearls" together, almost undoubtedly put the three phrases together from three important sections of the Bible. Check it out:

"You are my Son" is from Psalm 2:7 - "He said t me, 'You are my son, today I have become your father"

"whom I love" is from Gen. 22:2 when God commanded Moses to take his only son, whom he loved, and offer him as a sacrifice.

"with you I am well pleased" is from Isaiah 42:1 which everyone believed was a Messianic Prophecy, meaning a statement from God that would have future fulfillment in the Messiah (Jesus).

God, by stringing pearls together from the three major sections of Scripture - Torah, prophets, writings - was declaring that THIS man, Jesus, was the Christ - the long awaited Messiah. Not only that, he hinted at the sacrifice Jesus would become by referencing the story from Gen. 22. And not only that, but by using Isaiah 42:1 he decisively told the people that Jesus is the divine and holy one who they were waiting for. As the authors say, "By quoting all three (sections of the Old Testament), he is proclaiming that the entire Scriptures point to Jesus as their fulfillment" (p. 45).

This whole concept was news to me and I'm excited to dig in some more to see what else I can learn about the Jewish culture that will help open up the Bible in greater ways to me. You really should pick up a copy of this book!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 33

As far as I'm concerned, some Psalms stand out much more than others. This isn't to say that they aren't all important; it's simply to say that different Psalms have effected me at different times in my life. For example, I usually can't resonate with Psalms that give a cry for the Lord's presence because I rarely feel without his presence. It has happened, but rarely. Or, I don't feel such strong negative emotions against enemies (because I can't say I have any) that I'd ask God to wipe them out. That being said, Psalm 33 is one I completely resonate with, particularly right now. I've been learning a great deal in one of my classes about the character of God, and this Psalm exalts in his character. Let's get into a few of the sayings and briefly see how they could (or should) affect us.

"He (God) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord" - v. 5

God is not someone who sits in Heaven waiting to strike someone down for lying to their mother. God is not wringing his hands together with a smirk as to say "I'm going to get you one day!" No, the steadfast, or the remarkably consistent, love of God fills the earth. He sustains everyone - even the most ardent hater of God is breathing today because God is allowing him/her to continue breathing. We need a fuller view of God's love, one that is biblical - that while he hates sin and will not leave the sinner unpunished, his love and compassion fill the earth.

"The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations" - v. 10-11

God has a will and a plan for the world that will not be thwarted by mankind. In fact, God will confuse and destroy a nation's plan if need be! The biblical view of God's control is such that he is intimately involved in human history - not only the history of his people, but every nation. This means that any nation that has fallen and is no more has become that way by God's plan. History is not simply the study of things past as if they are mere "happen-stances" as some call it - history is, from a Christian perspective, a study of how God has intervened to accomplish his purpose in the world. And his purpose is the redeeming of a people from sin, rescuing them by grace through his Son dying and rising. He has his hand in much more than we have aware of.

"Our soul waits for the Lord, he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name." - v. 20-21

What is your heart glad in today? What brings you the deepest joy? If we're honest we could each name different things that excite and bring joy in our lives - children, marriage, money, accolades, new cars or gadgets... the list is endless. The cry of the Psalmist (and whoever is with him worshiping God) is that God makes his heart glad. Think about that. I often pray for things or events to take place in order to make my life easier or happier. But perhaps what I need to learn and begin praying for is that God would make himself so delightful to me that he would make me glad. By trusting in his holy name - that is, his proven character of grace, mercy, patience, love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice (Ex. 34:6-7) - we can delight in him.

Lord, the deepest source of joy is often the very thing that I shun: you. You are the God of all, the One who has made the earth and all that is in it. Make us people who trust so fully in your name, who delight purely in your name, that the world around us would notice something is significantly different in us. Thank you for your faithful love and your salvation. Your counsel and plan will remain forever; I want to fulfill your will for my life personally and your kingdom in general. When I am worried about my future may I remember the words of Psalm 33:22 "Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you." Amen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My 100th post! The Lord's (or better, Disciples') Prayer

Anyone who spent more than a few weeks in Sunday school memorized the Lord's prayer. It's got to be one of the top 5 most familiar passages in the Bible, right up there with John 3:16 and a short list of others. Today I was reading the version from Luke 11, which is even shorter than the already short version most people know from Matthew 6. I wanted to share some reflections on it. Before I comment on each phrase, it's important to note that in reality this is the "Disciples' prayer" because it is a prayer model. Jesus did not need to pray for the forgiveness of sin; he instructed his disciples to do so. Maybe that's old news to you, or maybe I just blew your mind with that little piece of information.

Father, hallowed by your name

Jesus begins by telling us who God is. He is Father. This isn't saying that we can't pray to Jesus... in the end, I'm of the opinion that it all gets to the same place. Anyways, the importance is that Jesus revolutionized the concept of God in the first century when he told his disciples call God daddy - "pater" is the Greek, and the more familiar "Abba" is the Aramaic word. Essentially, Jesus is breaking down the false notion that God is only way out there in the universe or unapproachable. He is imminent, meaning near. He is listening. He cares like a good dad cares, and he responds not only like a good dad responds but also with the wisdom that is his because he is God. When you pray, you pray to the Father. But his name is also holy (hallowed) - it is to be revered, never to be abused, and is to be held in high esteem. Only Christianity holds this tension of God as the close and personal God and the God of the universe simultaneously.

Your kingdom come

God's Kingdom had emphatically come in the person and work of Jesus. It is here, a present reality to be experienced and lived in. Yet it is still coming and will one day fully come when God reconciles all things to himself and his people are with him forever in perfect harmony. We need to regularly seek God's kingdom on earth, as members of it who acknowledge God's rule over the whole earth and as ambassadors for it, inviting people to repent and trust in God alone. His kingdom is powerful, for he is the all powerful king.

Give us each day our daily bread

We live in a culture that celebrates, even worships, excess. Bigger is better. Newer is better. More is better. Always. Yet it is our obsession with more and our rejection of "enough" that is leading us deeper into depression, obesity, and greed to name a few. As followers of Jesus we must pray that God makes us content with what is needed today. Truly, God provides more than we need almost every day, and that is his grace. But we cannot associate more with better all the time. We must fight for contentment, for joy to come from God and not from things.

and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us

Sin is indebtedness to God... do you get that? We can describe sin in many ways, and one such way is that we owe God our allegiance, love, respect, and worship but give him none of those things. Not naturally. We steal all of those things away from him and are indebted as sinners who deserve his wrath. Jesus' simple instruction is to regularly confess sin and ask forgiveness. The beauty of this is that he doesn't tie it to the sacrificial system but to an earnest plea based on God's loving mercy. And, in return we are rightly expected to be changed by God's forgiveness to forgive others. As Jesus said several times, how can you expect God to forgive you your many sins if you cannot forgive someone, from the heart, of anything they commit against you?

And lead us not into temptation

This phrase has always been a hurdle for me. Why do I need to ask God to not lead me into temptation? James 1:13 tells us that God does not tempt anyone, and other places in Scripture are in harmony with that. So, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we know it's not as simple as asking God to stop tempting us. I believe Jon Foreman has it right in his song "Your Love is Strong" (great solo song on a great solo album, by the way), when he repeats the Lord's prayer but says "Keep us far from our vices". We are asking God not to allow things to come into our lives that will tempt us to forsake him. For some it may be material wealth, for others it may be business success, accomplishments and recognition, or a fast growing church. None of those are evil in themselves, but anything can be a temptation for us to be prideful and think we did it on our own.

The Lord's prayer has much more application than I've reflected on here, but I hope this is helpful. The point isn't to repeat it daily but to incorporate the themes of God's nearness and greatness, his Kingdom coming and being seen in us as believers, his provision for our needs, his forgiveness of sin, and trusting him to keep us from that which would pull us away from him.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who is God?

Recently in class a discussion arose about who God has revealed himself to be in the Bible. Three presuppositions have to be included before going any further in this discussion: First, that there is a God; second, that God has revealed himself; and third, that God has revealed himself in the Bible. I'm aware that many people do not agree with any of these presuppositions, or at least with some combination of them. The point of this post is to prove that God exists; nor is it to prove that the Bible is God's word to us and his primary means of revealing himself. Those are excellent and important discussions, they are just not what I'm aiming to accomplish.

So, what am I aiming to accomplish, you ask? The question in class was specifically "when God described himself in the Bible, what was the first attribute he ascribed to himself?" As Dr. Gerry Breshears is fond of doing (at least from what I can see after 6 classes with him), the answer is not what we all thought it was. What would you say is the primary attribute God revealed about himself? And more specifically, where is it recorded in the Bible?

The answer is found in Exodus 34:6-7. And wouldn't you know it, these two verses are the most quoted verses in the Bible by the Bible!Needless to say, I would have gotten that one wrong had it appeared on a test. So, what did God say about himsefl? Check it out:

The Lord passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands (or, the thousandth generation), forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, tot he third and the fourth generation."

The first thing God says about himself is this: I am merciful. Another common word for mercy is compassion, and many translations have that word instead. God, at his heart, is compassionate. He is gracious, he is slow to anger, he is steadfast in his love. This is who God has revealed himself to be! Not a prude, not seeking someone to judge forever, not contentious or a kill-joy. Gracious! Compassionate! Loving! How have we neglected this verse so often? Why do I almost never hear this verse read? Why does the world generally regard the God revealed in the Bible as anything but compassionate?

These are haunting questions for me. I grew up in the church and while I'd like to think that somewhere along the way teachers brought this verse up, I can't remember it. Instead I remember stories that should be reserved for R rated movies (the flood, Daniel in the lion's den, the three amigos in the fire, David and Bathsheba) being put onto flannel graphs. But this isn't about my childhood. It's about the character of God being accurately portrayed. And, shockingly, the place where God reveals his character to us is one of the least recognized but most important passages in the Bible.

But, what about the horrible part at the end of those verses? By no means clearing the guilty, visiting the sin of fathers onto their children. What do we do with that? Verses like this have always been extremely difficult for me to understand, especially considering the fact that in the same sentence God has revealed himself as gracious, loving, and forgiving. Dr Breshear's was very helpful on this subject in class. He gives an analogy: Suppose a father is a drug addict and dealer. And suppose the police find out, arrest him, put him in jail, and send the kids into CPS to be in foster care. The father has been justly punished for his wickedness, but what about the kids? They are impoverished because of his sin. God, in a similar way, does not clear the guilty - meaning, the unrepentant guilty, who do not turn to him in faith that he will forgive. God is just. But the punishment that comes onto people will last for generations. This is because we are in family systems and are not the autonomous individuals we often believer we are in the West. Sin, and righteousness in a similar but opposite way, have effects that are passed down through generations.

The point? It is God's primary character to be gracious, forgiving, and loving. But he will not clear the guilty, because he is just. Grace and justice are partners, not opponents. God's character is not in conflict; he is consistent. And it is that consistent character that led Jesus to the cross. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, died to satisfy God's just demand that payment be made for sin. Yet Jesus took that punishment on himself, extending grace (compassion, mercy, unearned forgiveness) to us who believe in his name for salvation. That's the gospel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Identity and Worship

If I asked you who you are, would you know how to answer me? And I don’t mean “what is your name” but who are you? What are you all about? What makes you the person you are today? Could you give me an answer now, after I made it more specific? Truth is, a person knowing who they really are isn’t a given. In fact, to some extent we’ve all lost our true identity.

Because of sin, not a single person lives as we were meant to live. We were created by God to exhibit his character (made in his image), yet we fail to do so. Rather than exhibit his character, we have a twisted character and make decisions every day that indicate we do not know who we are or who God is. Rather than image a God who is loving, gracious, pure, and forgiving, our world is full of people who are self-seeking, believe the universe centers around them, and generally do not give much attention to others outside of their very small group of people they like. We don’t worship God, but choose instead to worship anything but him. In short, we are idolaters.

What is idolatry? It is, quite simply, worshiping something other than God. ”But isn’t the opposite of worship just not worshiping?” No, the opposite of worship is idolatry. As humans we have an insatiable desire to worship. I believe God created us to worship – and just because we fail to worship him does not mean we don’t worship at all. We give our time, money, and emotions away and invest our trust in gods who are not the real God. I’m guilty of this – we’re all guilty of this. No matter how much truth we’ve heard, some of us since we were young children, we will give ourselves away, believing something or someone will give us the identity we are looking for. In the end, whether it takes weeks or decades, this ugly truth rears its head: all that we have hoped in, all that we have staked our identity upon, could not bring us the joy and satisfaction we were seeking.

So, how does Jesus change any of this? Why does the Gospel matter in this situation? It is the good news that you and I are not too far gone, nor is the road a long one to return to the One we were made for. In fact, the gospel is the opposite of religion in this very important regard. In religion, you need to make things up. You need to climb the mountain, you need to pay back your wrongs. Some people believe this is the case with Christianity, but it’s not – at least not biblical Christianity. Over and over Jesus makes the invitation to freely receive his grace. To be sure, sacrifice is involved. But not the sacrifice we think of. The most important sacrifice is the one Jesus made for our sins, on our behalf, when he died on the cross. The sacrifice anyone may make as a Christian, assuming they understand what they’re doing, will be a willing and joyful response of faith to give their lives for the one who gave them life. True life. Identity.

As a Christian, you are a child of God. That’s your identity. You are adopted into the family, through Jesus Christ the Son of God, and have by faith received new life. You are not any of the titles this world wants to give you. They may be compliments – boss, executive, rich, successful, beautiful, and so on. They may be insults – loser, addict, good-for-nothing, and so on. Your identity is found “in Christ” – a phrase often used in the New Testament describing our identity. Do you know him? Have you dropped your false identities? Have you confessed that you’ve worshiped other things than the one true God, trying to make an identity for yourself from those things?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life's a Garden... Dig It!

Only the few of you who saw the epic "Joe Dirt" will appreciate the title to this post, and that's OK with me. I can't officially endorse it to the teenage population, but I must saw it's downright hysterical. Anyways, that's not the point of this post. I was finishing up a good book today called "Sacred Pathways" by Gary Thomas and the final chapter got me thinking. uses an analogy about two women who each plant a vegetable garden side by side. Over a period of six months one of the women generally disregards the garden. She figures it's going to take care of itslelf. She checks on it occasionally but isn't overly concerned about it. There were warning signs of some unhealthy plants but she figured they'd work themselves out eventually. The second woman spent time just about every day tending to the garden. She propped some plants up, gave specific attention to detail for each plant, and did her best to keep weeds out of the area.

Around the time for these vegetables to start producing, which of the two gardens produced more healthy vegetables? The obvious answer would be correct: the woman who took care of her garden. The moral of the story, though, is not in enjoying tomatoes. In fact I hate tomatoes and my wife loves them. But that's for another day.

The moral of the story is in regards to these two women and our own relationship with God. Thomas sums it up well on page 220: "If we tend our garden, we'll have plenty of food with which to feed others. If we give our garden just cursory attention, we may have enough to feed just ourselves. If we completely neglect our garden, we're going to be so hungry we'll become "consumer" Christians, feeding off others." I couldn't agree more with this statement. In my seasons of busier-than-is-good-for-me living, I'm often barely taking the time to nourish my own soul, let alone provide encouragement for those in need of it. I am worried, stressed, and typically self absorbed. There's a garden called a relationship with God that needs attention, but I'm too busy to notice. Conversely, when I'm busy but don't give into the temptation to push time with God aside, I'm actually more full to see the needs of others and lovingly respond.

So, how's your garden going? Are you seeing healthy fruit, enough so that you can enjoy serving others because you being fed by God? Or are you tending to your own matters by yourself, avoiding or neglecting the garden of a great relationship with God? Spend some time thinking about how you best connect with God - maybe by listening to worship music, maybe in silence, maybe by reading chunks of Scripture (this is important no matter how you best connect with him!). There are other ways - prayer walks outside, getting into certain postures like on your knees or raising your hands. Tend to your garden; the Lord is ready to give you more abundance than you think!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making the Best Use of The Time

Here is one thing I know of after 26 years: everyone has the same amount of time in each day. Sounds obvious enough, right? The thing that has been bothering me about myself lately is that I'm wasting time. Now, I am a firm believer in "wasting time" to a certain degree. I think you need designate times, particularly on weekends for example, to do nothing. It's called resting, or taking a Sabbath (though Sabbath includes more than just doing nothing). So that's not the kind of wasting time I'm talking about. What I'm being bothered by in my own life is the times I'm choosing trivial, meaningless things above things that could make me more effective for the Lord.

This is a season in my life that many people don't get. I've moved away from many family and friends with my wife for a time of studying, preparing for whatever God would have me to do with the rest of my life. And I'm making pretty good use of the time when it comes to studying and trying to soak up what I'm learning. But I want to do better. The most effective people, in any arena, all have the same 24 hour periods of time that any of us do. What's the difference? They make the best use of their time. To be sure, some people who are "effective" are neglecting some areas of their life - kids, wife, husband, health - in order to succeed in business and/or church. But a great number of very effective people aren't letting other areas slide in the name of being successful. They are just disciplined, making the best use of their time. And, from a Christian standpoint, they know they are doing exactly what God calls them to do.

Ephesians 5:15-17: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

A more literal translation of "making the best use of the time" is "redeeming the time", and I like the emphasis on redeeming. As Christians, we are to use the time God has given us on the earth for his glory, going about the kinds of things he's made us for - accomplishing his will. That will is both general and specific. There are many things all of us are to involved in - helping others, loving people in the name of Jesus, gathering as Christians regularly to worship God, confessing and repenting, and much more. And then there's specific things God has wired us for. And while the easy way out is "It's too confusing for me to know what God has made me for," I believe we need to push beyond that and ask God what he's made us to do. What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What do people encourage you to do? God has wired us in our personality, in are genetic make up, and with spiritual gifts for believers in unique ways to be used for the encouragement of others and for God's Kingdom.

So, I'm going to redeem the time. I still need to put my finger on specifics, but I will. Maybe I need to sacrifice habits that are counter-productive. Maybe I need to pick up more books. Maybe there's things I'm not even aware of. But one thing I do know: God has given me an allotted time on earth before I'm in his presence forever, and I will use this time for his glory.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Ode to Friends

Ok, I don't know the definition of "ode" and I'm too lazy to look it up on, so whatever it is, I'm giving it my best attempt.

I've been thinking about my friends a great deal today. Perhaps it started with a text from a dear friend last night talking about listening to Deltron. If you don't know who that is, he is (or was?) a rapper from yester-year who laid down some sick beats. Actually they were ridiculous yet strangely addicting. Brooks, I still have "3030" stuck in my head because of you.

I've got so many friends that it might be impossible to mention them all in one post, so if you read this and feel left out, sorry. I'm going off the top of my head here and just thought I would mention as many people as I can with as many memories as come to mind.

There's Andy, Matt, and Garrett, who each deserve a paragraph by themselves because of so much that I could say about them. The epic tennis and golf mathces in high school when me and Andy would clearly be the better athletes and yet Garrett and Matt somehow managed to win once or twice (feel the sarcasm). The late summer nights swimming at Matt's house and the super-late nights at Andy's house when the 3 of us would watch Matt twitch so bad in his sleep that he would convulse clear off the sofa because he drank like 7 Mountain Dews. Once Matt's body shut down, there was nothing you could do... not even Mountain Dew could revive him.

There's Brooks and Evan, the two most unlikely roommates that somehow fit together like peanut butter and jelly (couldn't think of anything better, sorry). There's the days when Brooks forced us to go on an "adventure" along the cliffs of Point Loma or Ocean Beach, which essentially meant getting your feet jacked up while waves pummeled you into submission. Or the days in La Jolla when we body surfed for hours at Wind and Sea - and the time Evan saved Brooks' life (or was it the other way around) when Brooks wanted to show off his rock climbing skills. And who could forget the amazing and fierce matches with "Hot Shots 3" and "Mario Kart 64". Good times, good times.

There's more PLNU friends, Greg, Jeff, and Bryan in particular, and the one semester in Flex. I may have more memories from my last semester of college because of those guys than any other single semester. Much of it wasn't even stuff we did, but the ridiculous banter that would go on with any combination of the 4 of us and who knows who else who'd find their way in to our apartment. Jeff, the advice you gave me on Metal Gear Solid 3... priceless. Eck, that one time when I jumped on your bed in my sleep and almost killed you... sorry. Greg... you're just lucky it wasn't you.

There's Taylor, the friend who I shouldn't have been friends with according to my mother (though I think she came around). Now that I think about it, none of my friends from Victory thought I should be either. But we beat the odds my friend, we beat the odds. The professional TP jobs we pulled on so many girls (especially the one I can't mention cuz we STILL might get killed if we were ever caught). The overly competitive basketball games on Saturday mornings. And much, much more.

There's Bobby, who packed up for Boston right around the the time song "I think I'll go to Boston" was popular - coincidence? I think not Bobby. But, even so, you and I had some great times and bonded faster than I've bonded with just about anyone. Remember the random sleepover in that huge house I was house sitting for? And how I dominated you in billiards? Awesome.

The PBC friends - adults, students, adult leaders. There truly are too many to mention here. The parents who gave us ridiculous amounts of grace with their kids and my forgetfulness, the students who put up with some pretty bad games (but I had some good ones too!) and the adult leaders who were ever-supportive in every way imaginable. You all contributed heavily to so many memories being some of the fondest in my life.

There's Rick, past or PBC and one of my closest friends. The amount of time he poured into me when he had many other things he could be doing, the nights we had dinner at his home with Elisabeth and others, the trips to Murphy's and the shenanigans we enjoyed up there (especially with you, Thomas!). Rick, you've left an indelible mark on my character, ministry philosophy, and theology... you are forever responsible for how I turn out. Just kidding.... but really, you left your mark.

There's Keith, who even though we were friends in high school we really became good friends in college through multiple 7 hour rides together and then our wives becoming best friends (more on you later Ariana). Perhaps the funniest memory we share between us is that one fateful ride up north when I got so tired (what was it, 10pm?) that I fell asleep... while talking! Fortunately not driving, but who falls asleep while talking?

There's Joe Kappler, who in just one year at PLNU became one of my closest friends and somehow remains that way til this day. Being in Portland has been even more enjoyable because we have more time together buddy!

There's my brother, who although we had our fair share of "I hate my brother" moments as kids is one of my closest friends. Time truly wouldn't suffice to bring up the memories we've had together, the things we've been though together, and the love I feel from him and for him.

There's my dad, who is ever-encouraging and relentlessly optimistic. I call him the "eternal optimist" because of it and love him for it. Dad, I truly do miss your company being hundreds of miles away from you again. But we're looking forward to Thanksgiving!

There's my in-laws, every last one of you. Grant, John, Whitney, Jeff, Lorrie... I literally could not have asked God for a better family to marry into. I'm just very, very thankful. Maybe another time I'll do a whole post on you... but a few sentences will have to do for now.

There's the women who mean so much to the men I've mentioned, and therefore to me. Ariana and her witty, "I'll add skee to anything" ways. Brittany and her great laugh... not to mention amazing desserts. Jen (and Dylan... who's not a woman of course but an man's man) who keeps Matthew in check and thoroughly enjoys good wine with us. There's Christiana (did I spell that right?), who stole Andy's heart and who I wish I was able to know better. There's Carrie, who somehow deals with my brother's antics. I think you enjoy it more than anyone else in the world... at least I hope for your sake you do! There's Anne, who is the perfect compliment to Joe and is the life of the party. There's more, I'm sure - Veronica, Vanessa, the list goes on.

There's one more friend. My wife. My best friend out of all my friends. As many people are aware, she's so much like me at times it's scary. She really is my better half though. She makes me laugh, gives amazing advice, is an incredible chef, and beats me at tennis once in a while too. She's the love of my life and without her I literally do not know what I'd be like today. More could be said... but I'll save the mushy stuff for just her and I.

The point of this all is, I love you guys. I'm thankful for the days we've had together - any memory that I jotted down here is just one among many I had to choose from. It's hard being so far away from nearly everyone we're close to. But, I know that if I were to write something like this in another couple of years I would add a host of new names that I've either just met or haven't yet encountered. God has blessed me abundantly in many ways, one of which is great friends. Again, if you're not on the list, I mean no offense - I just need to get back to studying for a test and this is already getting too long.

Thank you, all of you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Beauty... And Danger... of Tradition

As I get older, there's one thing that becomes increasingly important to me: tradition. In general, I love traditions. Family traditions, cultural traditions, religious traditions, the list goes on. There's something great about many traditions that are handed down, or even ones that become traditions because, well, something was so fun once that we should do it over and over. Traditions also help establish a rhythm to life. There are traditions associated with seasons as well - apples and pumpkins in the fall, Christmas trees and decorations in the winter, and something or other has to be traditional in the spring and summer... I'm just not thinking very creatively about those seasons right now apparently. But the point is, tradition can be a very good thing.

But I've been thinking a little bit as well about tradition in the negative sense. How many times have you discovered that what is wrong with a certain situation is simply a tradition that someone can't seem to let go of? How many churches have split over "traditional vs. contemporary" styles of services, or at least had huge fallouts with letting the declining summer children's Vacation Bible School take a year off to regroup and get stronger? Tradition can become an obsession, and not just for old people. Often times it's little kids who have the hardest time letting go of something they've come to love (even if tradition to little kids is like two or three times).

So, how do we tell the difference between a healthy practice of tradition and an unhealthy dependence (worship, maybe?) of tradition?
There are a few things that come to mind:

First, ask yourself why you are so committed to the tradition. Is it because you thoroughly enjoy it or because you associate self-worth with the tradition?

Second, if the tradition seems to be declining in value for the participants, think about either replacing it or letting it go altogether. For example, if the children aren't as thrilled with the yearly trip to the zoo every first weekend of October, come up with a new family tradition. Or, make it a point to do something every year on that weekend but make it different each year.

Third, pay attention to the emotions that come up when the conversation about ceasing a tradition comes up. Are you defensive? Agitated? Cynical to that point that you swear nothing else could possibly be as good as what you've done for the last decade? If so, you've drifted into the realm of unhealthy dependence on tradition.

All in all, traditions are great. Every time of year brings new traditions for me. When we were in Northern CA, the tradition was to go to Apple Hill at least once in the fall and check out the orchards, wineries, and markets. Now that Fall has officially arrived and we're in Portland, it's time to find a new apple orchard... or perhaps abandon the orchard idea for an Oregonian's fall past time. Now I just have to figure out what that would be.