Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mexico Day Three

Well, day two didn't start out quite as stellar as day one, but even with some minor technical difficulties we made great progress. The issue that has arisen is that we don't have anyone who is professional at any one thing, but rather many people who are familiar enough with everything after given some instruction. Our Mexican carpenter, Ricardo, is a great guy and is helping us in every way he can. But, because we have so many questions, it is difficult for him to keep up and not let other things fall a bit behind. That being said, he is very graceful to us and helped us all along the way.

The main accomplishments of the day were:

Painting the many pieces of wood that went around the trim of the house - the painting crew was busy all day with either touch ups or new jobs and colors to make the house look pretty.

Roofing - we finished framing the roof (this was part of the technical difficulties at times) and also laid down the sheets - this required quite a bit of cutting from our cutting duo of Ashley and Paul. They were pros today in skilfully measuring and cutting all day. We've also got the tar down which will be extra protection against the rain. Tomorrow we'll finish the roof by putting the shingles on.

Electricity - the electrical wiring was also quite difficult without anyone proficient at it other than Ricardo. We drilled holes in order to get the wiring in, set up the outlet boxes throughout the house, and put the wiring in so it's ready for installation tomorrow. Hard to imagine that people are not used to having reliable electricity in their house!

Drywall - drywall is one thing Chris McCormick is a pro at - he's made sure to be a key player in setting up the drywall each year so this year he really took the lead in getting the team ready. The ceiling is almost entirely done, and that is the most difficult part. Tomorrow by lunch all the drywall will be up and hopefully we'll be doing the mud as well.

We are really connecting well with our family. The little 3 year old, Angel, is an absolute treat to be around. He is constantly playing good guy/bad guy with us, shooting at us with his left-over sheeting gun Paul made for him. Along with him, Remedios is still helping in everything she can - from painting to carrying anything we need help with. This will truly be a house she helped build. The 14 year old girl, Gloria, has to work all day because of the financial situation of the family. She came home just before we left and just lit up at the progress being made for her new home. Just imagine the pressure a 14 year old must feel providing for the family like this! It's tough enough to have to be in high school but to carry the weight of providing for a family.... hard for me to think about.

Thank you for praying for us and taking the interest in the updates. I look forward to reflecting on my day and thinking about how God is working in us as we are working on this house. Tomorrow is referred to as "hump day" around here - getting over the hump and being ready for the end of the week. It can be the most difficult day to work and to keep a positive attitude towards one another. So we need your prayers still! Until next time...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mexico Day Two

Mondays are always difficult days - the dreaminess of building a home in four days gets met by the reality of the hard work required to actually accomplish that dream. We arrived to our site and there was a rectangular concrete slab in the ground... and we (yes, your kids and leaders) are building a home on that concrete slab in four days! Our energy was good most of the day and we got great work done. The first order of business was forming teams (paint crew, framing crew, cutting crew), and then getting the wood unloaded from the van so we could start building the walls of the home. Everyone had their hands on deck today, it was really neat to see. Students who didn't feel comfortable hammering at the beginning of the day were doing it like pros by lunch time. We successfully got all of the framing up for the 4 sides of the house, plus 3 more pieces framed which form the division between the two bedrooms and living room in the house. By 4:00pm all of the siding was also hammered onto the frame and the roof was being started. It seems like we are right on cue so far.

Some notes on students...

Anthony seemed a bit hesitant to really hammer in those nails, but after a few he was going to town on them like a champ.

Boston took the lead and did a great job on one of our teams that was putting up the siding. He was on the ladder guiding the pieces in like they were a puzzle and he was the master puzzle solver :-)

BJ was a cutting maniac with Paul Stordahl! The two of them, along with Ashely Camuso for part of the day, cut at least 100 pieces of wood with the precision of seasoned veterans.

Josh is more than capable on the siding as well, maneuvering his way around the top of the siding like a man on a mission.

Caleb wields that hammer like it's an extension of his arm! He was attempting to perfect that elusive "one hit" wonder... getting a nail all the way into the wood on just one hit. I can't say he ever fully accomplished it, but it was fun seeing him try!

Tara had her hand in a bit of everything today. She paints well and hammers at that wood with... well... good effort :-) She is always an encouraging companion to have on a work crew.

Charlene improved a great deal with her hammering abilities. She is a very good communicator out there - finding solutions to problems and helping in any way she can.

As for us leaders... we are hard at work in every aspect of the house - sometimes helping struggling students along with something, but just as often learning from their expertise too! We are going to be tired at the end of this trip, to be sure, but it will be well worth it.

The view from our home is SPECTACULAR. It's perched on a hill and there is a panoramic view of the ocean and mountains around it. It's absolutely gorgeous. I took a few water breaks and just was in awe at the beauty of God's creation. Yet in the midst of such beauty there is great poverty and injustice as well. The middle class hardly exists in our area - there are many incredible homes near the beach but far more shacks in very unhealthy (even un-livable) conditions. So we know this work is important, and we are joining the year round effort of the missions organization to build one home at a time and provide for those who cannot afford quality living standards. The Ensenada Outreach Center, where we are staying, is part of an organization called YUGO - Youth Unlimited Gospel Outreach. This outreach center has built over 1200 homes in the last 14 years, bringing the hope of Jesus while meeting physical needs in the name of Jesus.

I'm grateful to be here. As the week progresses it will grow more difficult to sacrificially love one another because everyone's emotions are drained - pray for us! But with each day comes the reality that this house is (in my opinion) at least about us as it is the family we serve. We come together, we bond, we laugh, we suffer together, we solve problems, hold ladders, help one another up, and enjoy each other's company. God is moving here among us, at the work sites, in our family groups, through the devotionals we go through on our own. Our theme is "God For Us" out of Romans 8:31 - "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us!" We are spending a significant amount of time unpacking the Gospel together and applying it to our hearts while we serve. This is not some way of earning God's love - this is an overflow of being so full of his love which we've received that we express it by pouring our own lives out just as Christ did for us.

Thank you for praying, and keep it up!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mexico Day One

We arrived! We´ve been in Mexico for over 24 hours, and this period is the vacation portion of the trip. We are able to go to taco stands (maybe two or three trips!), hit up the beach which is about a 10 minute walk down the road, and just relax. We begin working hard tomorrow morning and everyone is excited to get going. Dale says teenagers are actually telling him they'd rather fast forward through today in order to start working - how's that for a novel idea! But this is an important relationship building day together and it's great to prepare for the week ahead.

Last night we met the families we will be building homes for and had dinner with them here at the camp. The family PBC is building for is a widow with 3 kids (20 yrs, 14 yrs, 3 yrs) and they are very excited to be receiving it and are thankful to God we are here. It will be a privilege to build it for them - please be praying for them (I believe her name is Remedios) and for us as we do want to get to know them as best we can this week.

Tonight we'll be having a bonfire worship time together, spend time in our family groups (groups of 5-7 people you meet with every day to pray, chat, and encourage each other), and having some free time. Hopefully there will be another good night's sleep before we get going on all the hard work.

God always does incredible things in the life of each person through this trip. Be praying for hearts to be receptive to God's Word as it is studied every day in the devotionals and taught each night during chapel. Pray that relationships continue to grow amongst the team and that people who may not feel confident they really want to be here right now will have their minds changed and love this place. For you parents, thank you for your trust in us as adults to care for your kids and serve with them - there are about 70 students here and 40 adults! Quite the ratio for adult-student interaction.

I'll try to update a couple more times - maybe even every day, but no promises :-)

Friday, March 26, 2010

One more go around

It's hard to believe this will be the last Mexico trip for me at PBC. This will be my 6th time making this trip - the first was as a senior in high school, second was as a college intern, and now this is the 4th as the youth pastor of PBC. Each trip is memorable and different, even if they locations are so similar. Each year God shows up in powerful ways in my life, drawing me closer to him, reminding me of his grace and abundant provision in my life. Each year I am humbled to see that I do not deserve one thing, but all that I have has come from the Lord. Each year I am motivated all the more to humbly serve in my day-to-day life at home - to serve my wife, to serve the church, to be ready and willing to help anyone in need. Each year God changes lives, and I believe this year will be no different.

How can you pray for us in Mexico?

1. Pray that God would work in the hearts of unbelievers on the trip with us. Yes, there are people who don't know Jesus that join us on this trip. Some people realize they've been playing the game of religion for many years though they've grown up in church, and others come to faith in Christ even though they originally just wanted to go to have some fun and build a house. Pray for conversion

2. Pray for safety - we leave at midnight and drive for about 14 hours, and will do it again on the way back. We build a home in 4 work days - we have to move fast but want to work safely. We have people up on the rafters putting the roof together, then hanging out on the roof all day while we lay the shingles down. We need God's protection for many reasons.

3. Pray for close relationships on our team. We need people working together, but the life-changing part is often the relationships that are formed and deepened on a trip like this. Pray that God warms everyone's heart to one another so there is a deep love amongst brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Pray for the adult leaders. There are a lot of adult leaders this year, which is great. Sometimes that can create some clashing of interests or some stubborn tendencies in people, and pray that this is dissolved. Pray for our health and pray for our servant-heart toward the students we are with. Pray that Dale, myself, and others who will be preaching/teaching do so in loving ways that are Spirit filled and Christ exalting to the glory of the Father.

There are more things to pray about, but I am out of time - thank you for praying. I hope to be updating people via this blog about the trip as it progresses.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who Framed Jesus?

Recently there was a show on the Discover Channel called "Who Framed Jesus?". My curiosity was peaked about it by the title but I didn't have time to watch it so I recorded it and got around to finishing it yesterday. I must say it is a very interesting and provocative take on the final hours of Jesus' life. I've seen a fair share of these sorts of shows on National Geographic and Discovery, but this one covered more things in depth than most I have heard. I will cover just some of the material they covered, since I didn't take notes and will be going a little bit off of memory. The main reason I'm writing this response is because I view it as a God-ordained lesson for me - I was literally watching a class lecture and reading from a very good article for class yesterday on the very stuff I watched during my lunch break (I work from home and like to consider it a "lunch break" to keep myself on task for the day). So with that in mind, I'll give it my best shot.

First, let me set the overall mood of the show. It was seeking to answer the question after which the show was named, and did so by naming several alleged perpetrators to the death of Jesus - the Pharisees, Judas, Caiaphas the High Priest, Pontius Pilate, and Jesus himself - and it recounted the biblical account and then cast doubt on that with scholars (I use the term loosely) from various universities (Princeton, Stanford, Jewish universities, etc.) giving their reasoning as to why certain accounts fabricated things to make the story sound true. Throughout the show it reenacts scenes that gospel writers recount and then cuts away to give a brief interjection by these scholars, giving their take on what really happened. I will list several points the show made and make a few comments.

The show focused quite a bit of attention on whether or not the Pharisees framed Jesus... whether or not they were influential enough or actually had a motive to want Jesus dead. The curious thing that was missing was, basically, the Bible. While it did mention accounts towards the end of the life of Christ where Jesus had run-ins with the Pharisees, it did not mention the numerous places where it clearly states that the Pharisees wanted Jesus killed and were scheming to get him in trouble. Instead, the Pharisees were given a bit of a pass, giving the implication that the Pharisees couldn't have pulled it off on their own. This is a true enough statement, but I'll get to that in my conclusion.

The next person they focus on is Caiaphas, the High Priest. Caiaphas was certainly a powerful man in Israel, but was he respected or influential in the Roman courts where Jesus would need to be tried? Many times the show pits Matthew against Luke, or Mark against Matthew, and so on, as if there is no real continuity. There were a few times it mentioned "all of the accounts do talk about ______" but the vast majority of the time the goals seemed to be to discredit the validity of all of the writers because they each give a slightly different angle. In the end, the consensus was the that gospel writers needed a "fall guy" and Caiaphas seemed like the write guy - he was powerful, he was a Jewish leader, and Christians supposedly needed the Jews to seem guilty and the Romans to have a pass since Christians were trying to get power in Rome. It's interesting, but it's false - Caiaphas did want Jesus dead, he knew Jesus was making claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah (Christ and Messiah mean essentially the same thing), and knew that the just penalty for such blasphemy (as he believed it to be) was death. He wasn't a fall guy but was rather a key player in the false trial.

Pontius Pilate was examined as well, and this was very intriguing to me. What these scholars did was mention that there was a historical view of Pilate as a ruthless ruler but then in the accounts of Jesus' trial Pilate comes across as weak, indecisive, and bending to the will of the people. This is where my class work came in handy for me. Pilate was indeed a ruthless ruler who hated the Jews - in Luke 13 we read of a time when the Jews were upset because he stole from the Temple treasury. Pilate knew the situation would be hostile so he had his soldiers dress up like Jewish citizens and then, when the signal was given, they took their covering off and murdered many Jewish citizens. This was indeed a ruthless man as history itself testifies to in various writings. But, something was missing in the show that pieces together why this man would bend to the will of the Jews. Pilate was one of many rulers, like mayors but with more power, who had to be accountable to people higher than himself. He had a friend named Sardejus who was the one who reported to Pilate's authorities. Sardejus would basically lie for Pilate and say things were going great and peaceful in Pilate's territory, thus letting Pilate continue his ruthless ways. Sardejus eventually tried to overthrow a powerful Roman ruler and was killed in the process, leaving Pilate without his ally to report to the authorities. Fast forward to Jesus' trial: he knows that if he does not do something to get on the Jews' good side, he may have a riot on his hands because he had no one backing him up any more. So this ruthless man of history and this man of the biblical accounts of Jesus' trial are harmonized - he didn't want to help the Jews but made a political move to appease them. He washes his hands of Jesus' blood because he sees he's not guilty of anything, and yet instead of dismissing Jesus and the Jews he appeases the Jews' request to have Jesus crucified. But the show conveniently skips over this documented historical fact.

The final portion of the show portrays Jesus himself as the one who schemed to get himself killed. Now this is a little trick because, according to the Bible, Jesus did know his fate and did allow (even cause perhaps) the events to unfold as they did. There were prophecies about himself that Jesus made sure to fulfill - riding into Jerusalem on a colt, having Judas betray him, and so on. Jesus even told his disciples (John 10:18) "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father". Rather than appreciate the beauty of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf as the divine and perfect plan of God to redeem sinful humanity and bring eternal life, the show and its participants decides to portray Jesus as faking fulfillment of prophecy in order to gather a following. What this eliminates is Peter's claim in Acts 2:23-24 - "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."

God the Son submitted to the eternal plan of God the Father (the whole of the Trinity, really) to become to sacrifice for our sins and bring us to God. Jesus' death reconciles us to the Father, yet death did not hold him because he was the sinless and perfect Son. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, just as John the Baptist said. This show, and others like it, are crafted in such a way as to cast doubt and encourage cynicism towards the message of Christ. What is curious is that there is never any hope given by people for our eternal future - the point is simply to attempt to dismantle the faith of so many. Did the Pharisees want Jesus dead? Absolutely. Did Caiaphas? Yes again, for he knew Jesus' claims and hated him for it. Did Pilate have his hand in it? Yes. Did Jesus himself have his hand in the whole thing, allowing it all to come to pass? Most emphatically, yes he did. The glorious truth is not that these things take away from the grandeur of Jesus' death, but they add to it. We have this BIG of a God! A God who uses religious leaders, the events of false accusations and false trials, and even a pagan ruler to achieve his purposes of paying for our sin and giving us the gift of eternal life. Praise his name!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is academic stuff helpful?

As I've been going through my seminary courses thus far, one thing remains consistent: the more I read the Bible for class assignments, the more difficult it becomes to separate that mindset from the mindset of more personal "devotional" time with the Lord. I've experienced this for many years, including the time in college as well. But I've been reading more large chunks of Scripture in my current class than ever, maybe 20-30 chapters at at time for some of the old testament prophetic books. So, for me, this all begs the question, is the academic stuff helpful?

The clear answer is "yes, it's helpful". Maybe that's obvious enough considering Noelle and I are moving to Portland this coming July so I can go to school full time for this academically oriented stuff. But sometimes it's important for me to remember just why it's so important. That will be the topic of my blog tomorrow, because I just got done with an incredible class period revolving around the final chapters of Matthew. Alongside this great lecture and reading, I finished a documentary from the Discovery Channel called "Who Framed Jesus?" and the two coincide very well. I will get a bit more academic in my approach because sometimes it's necessary and helpful. The documentary does an amazing (and not very impartial) job of skewing certain historical "facts" and "difficulties" within the four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), but mangles it pretty badly. If we aren't prepared with good, logical, academic responses for these make-shift scholarly accounts, we'd be in a pretty bad place after such a video. Hopefully the short essay will be helpful, as I know studying this stuff has been very helpful to me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thoughts from Angels and Demons

Noelle and I just watched the movie "Angels and Demons" starring Tom Hanks. It's sort of a sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" - which, for the record, I enjoyed as an entertaining movie with a fairly interesting story line and nothing else. While many people have criticized both of these movies for many reasons (plenty of them good reasons, I'm sure), I found two things particularly interesting in Angels and Demons. I don't know if they were major philosophical points the author/director was trying to get across or if I just picked up on them, but here they are:

1. The media is able to be tricked easily into believing something and then project that to the whole world.

At least twice in the movie someone was killed and the media twisted it in order to cover for the Vatican. Or, perhaps more accurately, the Vatican released an official statement about the incident and the media ran with it. The movie showed at least 4 different languages represented in the media, covering much of the world who would be eating up this lie. I am not sure if this was a major point they were trying to get across but I know I saw it as pretty important. We can indeed be fed a good deal of important information from media outlets such as TV, internet, radio, and newspapers (does anyone read those anymore?), but they can easily be twisted or lied to (or do the lying themselves) and it suddenly gets received as absolute truth. A dangerous concept in real life to be sure.

2. There was a strong sense that passionate belief in something does no make it true or right.

Towards the end of the movie a major decision was about to be made, something that would change the course of the Catholic church. The cardinals were conversing and becoming convinced of something and one of them said that if the Holy Spirit is leading them to do __________ (I won't give it away), they should do it because it is God's will. Come to find out that they were wrong and evidence showed just moments later. The point here is that passionate belief about anything can be misled. Even cloaking it around words like "Holy Spirit" and "God's will" doesn't make someone less susceptible to being fooled. We need to seek wise counsel, rely on God's leading (just because we could be led astray doesn't mean we always will be), and take a humble and patient approach to big decisions. Only God is perfect, and while we can make wise decisions it is best to do so slowly and with more prayer than we normally think is necessary.

Just some thoughts from a decent movie draped in Catholic mystery.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Confusing as S***

Ok, don't get all upset that I just used a "cuss word" in my title - I can explain... plus, I only hinted at what it was. How do you know it isn't suit, or sick, or slit? Just saying you shouldn't assume anything. Anyways, I use the title because that's what the person I was talking God stuff with used when the Trinity came up - that's just how confusing it is! I readily agreed with him because, while I may have chosen some other verbiage, I find it about that confusing as well. The conversation I got into with this very bright young atheist was pretty profound. We went all across the board and I wanted to be available for any question he had, and hopefully did a decent job at explaining things too. It was the second talk we had gotten into in the past month about God, but this one was much more about the good news of Jesus and what God is all about, whereas the first conversation was a bit more philosophical about whether God could actually exist.

We talked about all kinds of good stuff: how some parents manipulate young children into making them "become Christians" when maybe they just scare them into repeating meaningless words, about the role of giving money and why that can be an act of gratitude and faith for a Christian do to so, about how in every church you have people who are fooling themselves into thinking their attendance gets them an "in" with God, about how God might call you into something really crazy like giving up a high paying job to be a missionary or inner-city school teacher but at the same time it will always be worth the risk because it is the path for the deepest joy with God for those people, about how God is the happiest being in the world and is definitely not a prude, and a slew of other things. That last sentence may have been one of the longest run on sentences I've ever typed, but it was worth it! It was a very enjoyable conversation and this guy asks very insightful questions that help me put into words what I believe and what the Bible tells us about God.

We also talked about the cross and how through the cross God forgives our sin - our all out rebellion against his name and character. I literally could sense God bringing Aslan, yes the Aslan from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to my mind and used his death in Peter's place (it was Peter, right?) as an example of the Gospel. Because God is just, someone will pay for sin - either we will as individuals pay for our guilt before God or Christ will as we receive that gift by grace through faith. I'm not sure I worded it all right, but the point of it all is that we really conversed about God. It was casual and comfortable (at least it felt that way to me) but was also honest and covered some hard stuff. One thing I learned from the conversation was this: always make sure you are honest - when you don't get something, don't pretend you do. When you think something is a good point someone makes and want to think more about it, say so. If you don't, you will probably come off as arrogant and stupid all at the same time.

I thank God for my friend who I was able to talk with the other night and look forward to more discussions. Like I told him at the end of our 90 minute conversation, we've only scratched the surface.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I lost

Ok, so I lost my little challenge to myself - I failed to blog last night. But here's why: I was in an amazing conversation with someone about Jesus. No, really! We talked for over an hour - he's a smart guy, a self-proclaimed atheist (for now), and we had a great discussion. He asked really good questions and I felt that I was much better than I expected in giving a reasoned answer for the faith - something I would say God himself did through me, actually.

But, this is just a prelude to that conversation because i'm exhausted (I went snowboarding today, and no I'm not complaining) and need some sleep. Actually, alot of sleep - hopefully 9 or so hours worth of sleep. But I plan to recap the conversation from Thursday night sometime tomorrow. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Working from home

Sometimes I get real antsy when I've been in the house all day. There are some days - usually Mondays and Wednesdays but occasionally Fridays too - when I'm inside my apartment working on either school or ministry stuff for 5 hours or more at a time without going outside. I've realized several times that this may be something God is preparing me for a great deal more of in my future. What I mean is that perhaps I will be working from a home office as a church planter some day, or perhaps if I ever get to write a book I'll be couped up doing that in a home office for long periods of time, or perhaps it will be in the next several months as I start going to school full time and spending even more time writing and reading. We'll see.

Today was one of those days when it was tough to be inside and I got antsy. So I created a couple of things I "needed" to get done outside the house and left. It didn't do me any good - now I'm antsy again! I just ordered a pizza for Noelle and I from Cool River and now am excited to go pick it up in a few minutes... this is a very random post but it is my thoughts and the good news is that I'm being consistent in writing and it's becoming more normal to write something than it is to not write anything at all. Good stuff.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A short note on John 3:36

John 3:36 has always confused me:

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

Now, why does John (inspired by the Holy Spirit) say, on the one hand, believing the Son will result in eternal life while disobeying the Son keep the wrath of God on someone? I thought it was a matter of belief or disbelief... or is there more to it? To be perfectly honest, it sounds religious and scary. While it is scary because eternal destinies are being explained in just one sentence, it is not religious, actually. The word in the Greek (one word in Greek is translated "does not believe" in English) carries with it the idea of a rejection, a non-compliance with, a disobedience that is caused by a disbelief. So it is not merely breaking rules that John threatens us with here - it is the decision that we've all initially made to disobey God - to not believe in his Son, to not believe he alone is Life, he is the provider of everything we need for eternal life. We've all rejected him - those who continue to do so will continue to be under the (righteous and just) wrath of God. Those who believe in Christ - wholly trusting in his name for our eternal life and the source for us receiving God's mercy - have eternal life. We have, as our current "possession", eternal life! God's Spirit lives within us, filling us and causing a new birth that will result in an eternal dwelling with God in heaven. Praise his name.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wages of Sin vs. Free Gift of God

I used to work at Scandia Family Fun Center off of Madison Blvd. Yes, the pretty ghetto place right off of I-80. I worked in the snack bar and it was not a great job. Sure it had some perks for a 16 year old like everything being free for me and my friends, but it was hard work and not exactly "exciting". Serve a kid a slurpy, give someone their batting cage helmet and bat, try to count some snot-nosed kid's 1000's of tickets with the ticket counter that always managed to get stuck when there were tons of tickets to be counted, and so on. Not anything glorious, but it was a job and I think I got a bit above minimum wage too. Plus, there was an employee's mini golf tournament which I won on one occasion... that may have made the whole job worth it!

I say all of that because I was thinking about it this morning after reading a very well known verse - Romans 6:23. It says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Growing up in Sunday school I must have known this one since kindergarten or 1st grade... not that I really got it, but I probably got a nice gold star on the Sunday School poster next to my name for saying it by memory. Good times. Anyway, the verse is very powerful when you think about what is being implied. I believe Paul was a master communicator who was filled with the Holy Spirit to write down God's inspired Word, the Bible. Therefore, let's break these two concepts down.

For the wages of sin is death

Paul has been arguing in Romans 6 (and other places) that sin leads to death. It is the logical outcome of our rebellion against God's holiness, his commands, and his overall character. It is what we all deserve - it is what's "fair" in this life. (As a side note, I believe this means we should love the fact that, for believers in Christ, life is not "fair", meaning that we don't get what we deserve, which is eternal damnation in hell as righteous punishment for our sin.) The reason I brought up my Scandia experience is that my wages for all those hours under my boss was some money - it was my justified payment for what I did. In a similar way, the justified payment, or the justified outcome, of anyone's life lived under sin and not under God's grace which comes through faith in Christ, is death. That is, both the physical death we will all experience (unless Christ returns before that happens), and also eternal death - separation from God forever. These are the wages of sin, and these are the wages everyone either is under today who is apart from Christ, or was under before you came to Christ (or before he came to you and rescued you, which I would argue is a more accurate way to describe it).

But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul now juxtaposes what belonging to sin leads to with what belonging to God leads to. The free gift is the exact opposite of the justified payment (wages) - there is nothing about a free gift that anyone can boast in and say "Ya, I got it because I worked really hard for it." Sometimes kids think they got a free gift from their parents because they manipulated their parents and dropped not-so-subtle hints about what they want for their birthday, but if the parent is a good parent then, in the end, they know that the kid got it because of a free gift of love. God is the "Free Gift Giver" here - he is the one who knows our condition better than anyone and yet still offers this free gift through Jesus Christ. We do not earn it, we receive it (Romans 3:24). You are a Christian because you received something from God... you did not pay him back and thus receive your just due.

And what is this outcome of this free gift to be received on faith? Eternal life! The contrast should be obvious by now, but the outcome of all your work under sin as your "boss" or more accurately as your owner, is death - physical death and eternal separation from God. Yet the outcome of God's undeserved gift of grace is eternal life IN Jesus Christ. Eternal life is given for everyone in Christ - everyone who has come to receive this gift and live for him. Everyone who has come out of the bondage of sin, the ownership of such a brutal taskmaster, and into this marvelous light. Everyone who has seen their rebellion and seen what their Creator did in order to have them back. Everyone who recognizes that the chasm between them and God would never be jumped over or somehow breached unless God himself became a man and took our punishment for us. The gift of eternal life is entirely free to you and I, but not to God. It cost the life of the Son, who willingly sacrificed himself on the cross for our sin, in order that we might become children of God.

Praise his name today! While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We who were working for sin, under the bondage of sin, on our way to receiving our just payment of death have been rescued. Yes we will die in this life because of the effects of sin, and yes there are still consequences to our sin that we still struggle with. But you can go about your day and the rest of your life knowing God has rescued you, given you free grace through Jesus Christ, and that your physical death one day has been transformed so that it is no longer the end of anything but the doorway into eternal life with God our Savior.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

She loves life with me

So Noelle and I were working in getting to sleep (for you single guys, it's always more complicated than just climbing in bed and falling asleep), and she told me she loves life with me. I'm not entirely sure if she is thinking coherently because we are both so tired - we went to bed much later than normal last night AND lost an hour of sleep! Recipe for disaster. But, regardless, it is always nice to hear such kind words. Then, of course, I realized I hadn't blogged yet today and so we discussed whether I should bother or not and I decided I definitely needed to. I'm committed to this every day til Mexico thing and am actually hoping to be able to get on the internet and blog during Mexico a couple times as well... no big commitment there however.

Life with my wife (yes, it rhymes) is seriously wonderful. It's not always easy, not nearly perfect, but it is wonderful. We are grateful to God for bringing us together and while we are two very imperfect sinners saved by grace, we are able to love one another with a growing love for each other and the life we share. God is good, this is a good season and a pretty sweet spot in our lives. We're excited for the future but also wanting to wholly lean on his mighty hand to provide and his perfect wisdom to lead us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

3 Things More, 3 Things Less

Today was a good day. It felt like a true Sabbath for Noelle and I - we woke up after 8:30 this morning, which is almost a miracle in and of itself. Of course that was only after I woke up at 5:30 and realized my body's "clock" is getting earlier and earlier. We were able to spend a casual morning getting a few things done, Noelle went to a short rehearsal at Thomas' house for tomorrow, then we went out to Folsom for a bike ride. The trail along the American River is just stunning at parts in the spring. Amazing colors all around and bikers of every shape and size. Then we went to the Coffee Republic for a drink and some time to read. After a quick grocery trip to Trader Joe's (we always spend more there if we're together), I dropped Noelle off at home and got some time to myself at a park nearby. I was surprised to find a bench in a little enclave near the creek... it's going to become my new alone-time spot.

I always get reflective on short excursions by myself, and this time was no different. I started thinking about the type of person I want to be in about a year's time. I came up with 3 things I want to be (or do) more, and 3 more I want to be (or do) less. Here they are:

I want to be more healthy at this time next year

I want to exercise more regularly and focus on eating better. It's shocking to me whenever I hear research about how the stuff we eat has so much to do with our temperament, energy, and so on. Maybe it's logical but it's easy to go through so much of our lives without paying attention to what we're eating, how much we're eating, and how it's impacting us. So I want to eat less unhealthy stuff and way more fruits and veggies.

I want to be more dependent on the Holy Spirit at this time next year

I want to learn more about the Spirit. Sometimes he seems so spooky and the idea of being "filled with the Spirit" as Paul tells us to be in Ephesians can just be weird to me. But at the same time I desire to know what that means and actually be filled with the Spirit. I want to depend on him for direction in big and little decisions, in how to react to someone I don't particularly like, or in what to say when conversing with someone about Jesus. I just want more of him.

I want to be more conversational about Jesus

I just want to talk about him more with people. "Witnessing" or "evangelism" are common words for it, but for me it's more about asking people where they're at and starting from there, rather than starting with something like "If you were to die today do you know where you'd go?" I want to be winsome, honest, and humble with people to see how I can express the Gospel in real, tangible, understandable ways. To do that I need to know my stuff, know my Lord and Savior well and know what he's done for me. I want to do that.

I want to be less narcissistic.

I think I could say this one every year. Another word for it is selfish but I like narcissistic better for some reason. I can be incredibly, ridiculously self-centered in my thinking, speech, and behavior. I want to be quicker to think of others, their needs, and my role in encouraging and serving them.

I want to be less judgmental.

Another one that could be on my list every year. I judge people by the way they dress, eat, talk, look at me, don't look at me, and on and on. I can write someone off based on the brand of shoes they wear... it's ridiculous but I know I'm not alone. I assume the worst about all kinds of people and group people together by all kinds of sinful, dreadful ways. I want to do this less and less and come from a position of acceptance and love before I do any judging in my heart.

I want to be less likely to rationalize my own sin.

I talk myself into all kinds of things and rationalize my way through it so it doesn't seem so bad to me by the time I'm done. Whether an attitude or an action, I want to confess and repent quicker than I sin, running straight to Jesus instead of away from him. It's in my sin that I need him most, and I can also rationalize how much I don't deserve grace (which is true of course). Instead I want to approach the throne of grace with confidence in my time of weakness and frustration. Rather than rationalize my sin, I want to spend time rationally thinking through my faith, my great Savior, and my response to his mercy.

These are a few things I want to do more and less by next year. By God's grace it will happen. By the Holy Spirit's presence and power I will grow in wisdom and love for Jesus. And, Lord willing, I'll still be alive next year at this time to think through a few ways I want to grow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It's short... but it counts

So Noelle and I just prayed and were ready to go to sleep, when... I realized I hadn't blogged! I know no one else cares but this is my word we are talking about here! Every day til Mexico! So here I am, being ridiculous and getting out of bed in the name of forming a habit and keeping my word... to myself. But nonetheless, I think it's a good sign I'm headed in the right direction

So there, I blogged

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jesus just a good teacher?

For my seminary class today I read Matthew 11-19 and something struck me. Some people say that Jesus had a lot of great things to say and he was a good teacher, but he never claimed to be God or anything like that. For people who think that or something like it, I just have to ask "have you ever read the words of Jesus?" Jesus' words are gnarly and hard to understand - and even what is easy to understand is often times hard to swallow because of what it implies. Without going into every section of what I read, I'll just bring up a few things that I read today that made me pause (even though, I confess, I was reading quicker than normal because it was for class):

Matthew 11:25-27 - At that time Jesus declared "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone tho whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

OK, doesn't that sound harsh? Jesus thanking God the Father that the truth has been hidden from people? And Jesus declaring only HE knows the Father truly, and the only people who get to know God are the people to whom Jesus chooses to reveal God? I'm just saying, that's not "nice guy Jesus" - that's hard-core, I-am-the-truth-deal-with-it Jesus. It's the kind of thing that got him killed eventually.

Matthew 13:41-43 - "The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."

Jesus again takes the authority and position of Deity, telling people what will happen at the end of time. he is the one who will gather up people who are his enemies and destroy them forever. I know we all like the "righteous will shine like the sun" bit, but let's not let that piece of good news downplay the difficult words about so many millions of people's eternal destiny's. Plus, there's so many times when Jesus says "he who has ears, let him hear" - we all need God's Spirit to open our ears (spiritually speaking) for us to understand his word to us.

Matthew 19:14 - but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them and went away."

So this one isn't tough but is actually cool... Jesus tells us repeatedly that we need faith like a child to enter his Kingdom. We have to depend completely on him, trust him and know that he is good. Even through so many of what he said is difficult to understand and swallow, when is as crystal clear as this the only question that remains is "Do you believe like a child? Do I?"

In the end Jesus was either an out and out liar or he was the Lord of heaven and earth he claimed to be. He was either a blasphemer who deserved the death he got on the cross (the death penalty was the appropriate punishment for anyone who claimed to be equal with God, which Jesus repeatedly did), or he was the promised Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God, the only One who could absorb the wrath of God on himself to such a degree that it was totally spent so that all who believe in him may have eternal life. But let's not kid ourselves that he was mostly a nice guy, good teacher, or any of that other bull... ok I won't swear on the blog, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday nights

It hits me every once in a while just how much I'm going to miss the students of PBC when we are gone to Portland. Tonight was one of those nights. There were quite a few students there tonight and the mood was really good. Unfortunately my teaching time and the small group time got condensed a bit because the game took longer than I had expected, but it's OK as long as it happens once in a while. God is most certainly able to work in the nights when I feel a little out of control... some may say he's more likely to work in more significant ways on those nights.

We covered John 3:16-21 tonight and it was a whirlwind for me. One big question I wanted to get answered is "What does it mean to believe in Jesus?" I basically said that the idea of believing "in" Jesus is an important one that we often don't think about, which is unfortunate since our eternal destiny is wrapped in to what we believe "in". Believing in Jesus is much different than just believing something is true, like a fact. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 - that's I fact that I believe in. But it doesn't shape my life and change me from the inside out. So believing in Jesus is far more than a mental agreement over facts about Jesus. It's a whole-hearted, complete dependence on God that says "I'm all in" - it's staking everything, your eternal destiny and your tomorrow as well, on Jesus.

Enough of that... Noelle just got home and it's time to catch up on some American Idol.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some thoughts on marriage

Yesterday was Noelle's 26th birthday... 26! I'm almost there but it just sounds so much older than 25 to me for some reason. We had a great day together - went to lunch at Mizu (only because La Provence was closed), then bought some kitchen trinkets at "Sur La Table" (you say it sur-la-tahb... so snobby). Then we were with friends for dinner. And since I didn't really reflect all that much on marriage when our 3 year anniversary passed back in February, I wanted to reflect some on marriage... my marriage and marriage in general.

I'd like to think Noelle and I are pretty unique in our relationship, seeing as we are pretty darn similar in so many ways. While "opposites attract" is true for so many people, our similarities attract us to one another while (simultaneously at times) also drive us crazy about each other. But then again everyone wants to think their marriage is unique so who knows. But one thing I do know: I'm a better man because I'm married to Noelle. I really am. Not only does she help me remember all kinds of things - where my keys are, how much money we spent on stuff, why I need her so badly - she actually seems to enjoy my quirkiness and challenges me to grow constantly. if you're married I think you'll understand the next thing I'm about to say, and if not then you'll probably not be sure what to think. There are just some times when I have this urge to retract, to run and hide emotionally, from Noelle. Not because I don't trust that she loves me. If anything it's because I know she loves me so much that I'm tempted to retract and hide. I can be so fickle like that... swaying back and forth between wanting to fully engage and invest in our marriage and other times want to just get by with as much as I need to in order to call it a marriage not a "living arrangement". Being married to me has to be hard for so many reasons, and Noelle makes it look relatively easy and actually enjoyable. I'm sure that's all God's grace to her, because on her own power it just wouldn't work.

Marriage in general is a concept no one else besides God would have invented. Our society has this horribly wrong concept of it being like sitting in a bed of flowers together all day... at least for the first two weeks. Some people have wisened up and said they never want to get married and say that it's a form of slavery. And, honestly, I think they are right if you think about it without God in the equation. If it's a human invention it's just something to keep humanity going and it's a way of forcing people to do things - and in that regard it can become like slavery or some form of torture. Why not just live it up on your own and do what you want? But, if marriage really is the idea of the God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, then marriage is the most important form of human relationships (and the most beneficial). And I believe that's exactly what it is. In marriage two sinners come together and commit their lives to one another (that's the idea at least) - in sickness and death, whether rich or poor, blah blah blah. And God himself is the Author of this great relationship, the One who brings people together who are far more narcissistic than either believes and then he grinds away at so much of our sinful, horrible, deplorable selves. And hopefully we become more like Christ in the process. Being married is both the most beautiful part of my life and the most difficult. It's beautiful because I know God is at work, blessing us, and drawing us closer to one another and to him in the process. It's the most difficult because I am (almost) always in the presence of someone who cares deeply about me - not just in meeting my needs but in my spiritual growth, in my responsibilities as a man, and in my accountability in my job and other things. it's a beautiful, difficult, wonderful blessing to be married to a woman who knows God, walks with him humbly, and seeks to honor him by loving me the best she can.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A quick note

Today was Noelle's birthday so I haven't had much time to write. I think I'll reflect a bit on our marriage tomorrow and on marriage in general. For now let me just say...


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Don't forget the Old Testament

As I've been going through seminary I am constantly learning just how important the Old Testament is to the New Testament. It seems to me that the Bible should just be called "part 1" and "part 2" instead of "Old" and "New" because the way it sounds right now it's as if the "Old" is outdated and unimportant. But not to the New Testament writers, and obviously not to God. I know that the current titles of the 2 sides are because of the Old Covenant and New Covenant initiated by Jesus... but even in that Jesus is not discrediting the Old stuff - he's fulfilling it! In fulfilling it he does make the old sacrificial system obsolete and no longer necessary, but our understanding of the death of Jesus, for example, has to come out of an understanding of the Old Covenant sacrificial system where something died in my place.

All that to say, I've been going through Romans in preparation for Mexico - yes, all Mexico participants are going through ROMANS in 40 days. Kind of nuts but also really cool. Sad to say, I'm a full week behind and planning to play catch up this coming week. So while I should be reading Romans 7:13-25, I'm reading in Romans 4:1-12. But nonetheless, as I was reading and answering some of the questions in the devotional, this whole thing with the Old Testament came to mind. Paul basically translates salvation in the Old Testament for us, saying that even Abraham was saved by faith. It wasn't because he got circumcised... that came after God "counted his faith as righteousness". It wasn't because he was Jewish either... the Jewish nation started with him, therefore while he was the first Jew so to speak, he was not a Jew by heritage. All this to say, Abraham started a spiritual lineage of salvation by grace through faith that continues today. Christ died in our place for our sins, just like the old system of a lamb (or other animals) being slaughtered in place of the sinner.

You and I, through faith in Christ, join in this spiritual inheritance and spiritual family - not because our parents told us to, not because we go to church enough, and certainly not because we have first cleaned ourselves up. It's all because we have been given grace by God and received this free gift of eternal life through Jesus by faith.

Just some thoughts

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Resting amidst the madness

This week has been pretty insane for Noelle and I and tonight will be only crazier still with our big dinner fundraiser coming up. Yet somehow everything always seems to come together really well, which I thank God for. This is our 4th annual dinner event and God has provided graciously and abundantly for each year, and I know this year will be no exception.

What I'm realizing is the importance of resting in the middle of these crazy weeks. For example, Noelle and I agreed that Friday night had to be rest night over a week ago. There was a minor crisis about this agreement, however, when I discovered that my old high school's basketball team was playing at Arco Arena for the section championship! My junior year in high school was the only year our school had been to the section championship, and we had won. I can prove it... my name is on the banner which hangs proudly in the gym. But, an agreement is an agreement, and I declined an invitation to go with some friends. Turns out they won in overtime! But, you know what? It slid right off of me because we had a fantastic night resting. We turned off our phones, went to Bel-Air and bought lamb chops, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and wine. We cooked together, and I superbly passed my first test with grilling lamb - they were pink on the inside and packed with flavor. Then we watched some recorded shows we needed to catch up on and went to sleep.

God is teaching me that in the midst of a crazy life, as mine is more often than not, he revitalizes me through these forced rest evenings. They are so good for my soul, and great for my marriage too. So I'm happy I rested... because now I need to work my butt off tonight to raise some dough for Mexico!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Enjoying the toil

Mexico is just around the corner for my youth group and our big dinner fundraiser is tomorrow night. The 3 weeks before this fundraiser always get very hectic - there's always another business to visit for a donation or someone to call and follow up with. Planning and shopping for decorations and what not can become draining. It's in this exciting season of ministry and trip-planning that I easily get drained from the joy of working.

Yet this morning I was reminded that it is a gift of God to take pleasure in all my toil. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 says "I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil - this is God's gift to man." It is God's gift that I should take pleasure in all I do? Yes, it is - it is the way God designed the universe to work.

Even though all work carries along with it the curse and effects of the fall, people who know God are able to still enjoy the process of their work and the fruit of its labor. Sometimes the "fruit" is hard to measure for me because it's ministry with teenagers and I can't be certain just what fruit is coming from it. But I trust that God is bearing fruit and planting seeds in these students' lives and I take joy in watching it happen. God always provides the $1000's needed for the trip and always provides a rich spiritual experience on the trip. I can take joy in trusting God through this process and, while it is stressful, can do this event with a smile on my face.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Every day til Mexico

Alright, so I still am only writing occasionally and there is just something in me that is frustrated about that. What I realized today is that it just simply isn't a habit - like many things in people's lives, if you don't do it often you won't make it a habit. I have a dream of writing some day... like writing a full on book... and I want that passion to continue and be honed on places like this blog - this obscure, there's-a-million-like-this blog. So that's what I'm going to do. I leave for Mexico in just over 3 weeks so I'm going to write every day until then and do my best to make it a real habit.

That being said, God has been incredibly gracious to me this week with all the prep for Black and White Mexico night. The weeks leading up to it leave me with almost nothing to do for "free time" - I visit dozens of business, send tons of emails, and then follow up on as much as I can. But God is providing some incredible things, in a material sense, that have been donated for our fundraiser. Sometimes, because I am weak, I need God to literally show me how good he is in order for me to feel confident in him. And I believe that this weekend, and on the Mexico trip, I'm going to see how great God is in providing for us again.

Lord, I need you to sustain me. I need you to sustain me physically and spiritually - of course I always need this but I am acutely aware of it right now. I'm tired, I'm stressed, and I know that much of this week I've been trying to do on my own. So I release that to you and trust you... and I love you. Thank you for your grace every day. Amen