Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theology: Without Blood there is No Forgiveness

I've been going through Hebrews lately and came upon a verse that was already highlighted in my Bible but that really hit me this morning. I love how God uses the same verses at different periods in our lives to reveal truth to us, speak to our hearts about our need for him, and convict us of sin. He is perfectly wise and his timing is always impeccable... even if I think it should be different, he has never been mistaken (I, on the other hand, am mistaken often). Here's the verse:

"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin" Hebrews 9:22

The writer of Hebrews (we cannot be certain who it is humanly speaking, but ultimately it's the Holy Spirit) has been talking about how Jesus is the True High Priest, the Greater Moses, the One who made himself the sacrifice and made the blood of bulls, goats, and other animals unnecessary. But instead of going through those things, the focus for me is "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." Wow! There are many "theologians" and "scholars" (I use the term loosely here) who want to say that God could not have ordained Christ's suffering on a cross because that would be "Divine Child Abuse". Others paint God in a negative light as being a blood-thirsty God who desired animal sacrifice just like other false gods that were worshiped in the days of Israel long, long ago. But for reasons we're not going to get into here, those people and their claims are wrong and simply untrue.

The reason forgiveness cannot happen without the shedding of blood, as far as I see it, is two fold: first, it shows how seriously God takes sin, and second because God designed blood to be the very life source of every living person. I'm no anthropologist or biologist, but I do know that once blood stops flowing, a person stops living (good thing I went to school for that one!). God, in his perfect knowledge, wisdom, and passion for his glory, set up the sacrificial system for Israel in order to make them long for a sacrifice that would once and for all pay for sin. The untold number of animal sacrifices were not the point in and of themselves; they were signposts that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. God reminded Israel many times that "to obey is better than sacrifice" (I Samuel 15:22, for example), so we know God never saw animal sacrifice as something he enjoyed. It showed the serious nature of the cost of sin. Sin destroys life, disrupts and breaks our relationship with God and with others. Sin, both unseen in the heart and seen in actions and words, is an assault on the glory of God and the purpose of God's creation. Without someone paying for it, we are eternally in God's debt. Some may want to question why God would take this so seriously if he had perfect knowledge of all things that would happen in human history, but in the end I rest in knowing God is SO good that he requires payment with blood.

Here's the kicker: while God does require blood for the payment of sin, he also provided the blood for sin. The writer of Hebrews goes on just a few verses later to say "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26). Christ came down into human history, sent by the Father on a mission to die for his people, shedding his blood to bring many into glory. He died so that we might have life. He absorbed the debt, he paid our debt (not just canceling it, he paid for it in full), and he went even further than that. For if Christ had just paid our debt bringing our "balance" if you will to "$0 owed", that would only be half of what we need. He has also given us his righteousness! He not only brings forgiveness but wholeness, newness of life, righteousness that only he has to give. We aren't brought back into God's house as servants, but as sons and daughters.

Sin must be paid for by blood. God takes sin so seriously that only the life, and ultimately the death, of the Son of God could make anyone right with him. We long for justice in this world, and rightly so. God is a just God - all sin will be paid for, either through the blood of his son or by the blood of transgressors for all eternity. Come to the cross and thank God for his provision of blood to pay for your sin and bring you to himself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

26 years and counting

Tomorrow (April 27) is my birthday. I am going to be 26. The funny thing about this age is that it is very young to some people and VERY old to some other people (mostly my students). There will come a time when I will be old to everyone, but not yet today. Whenever I stop to think about it, life really does move fast on you. Sure there are some seasons when it all seems to slow down, but for the most part for me it just keeps getting faster. I can remember when Noelle and I first decided we'd be moving to Portland, how it felt so very far away. Now it is almost 3 months to the very day of when we'll be moving, and I know it will move quickly. Life really does move fast on you, especially if you don't take some time to think about it.

One other thing I've realized about life: God does not owe anyone another day on this planet. Each day is a "gift" in the sense that God gives it to us, but just because it's a gift doesn't mean we can do whatever we want with it and pretend God didn't give it to us. Every single day could legitimately be your last day. Could be my last day. Whose to say I'll make it til 9:37 a.m. on April 27th to celebrate the actual moment (I believe that's the time at least) of my birth? Just stop to take a few breaths and realize you're alive right now. There will come a day when you won't be alive... take that in as well. It could be within a week, it may not be for 70 more years, but there will be a day when you're not alive on this planet any longer. Sorry if I'm rambling about this but sometimes it just needs to hit you, all of this stuff about life and death and not being owed another day.

Finally, I love being alive. I'm very happy to be alive. I even love most things about my life. And by God's grace, I'm learning to love the things I don't really love. I'm learning to see how sovereign God is over human history, over human disease, over the Fall (not the season but the sinful state of humanity), and how in it all he is good, he is redeeming a broken world to it's original order, he is making all things new. So when I have a smile on my face through difficult times, it won't be fake... I'll be walking through difficulty with a faithful Lord and Savior. I'm only 26... I'm an ancient 26 to some people... and I do hope that God intends to give me another 70 years. But no matter the length of days I have remaining, this I know: I belong to him and forever will. Amen.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lies we believe: All hard things are bad things

If there's one thing I've learned in my 25 (almost 26!) years on earth, it's this: life is hard. People are always going through difficult things - health problems, issues in relationships, conflict at work, financial difficulties, the list goes on and on... most people could easily list a dozen things in their lives or the lives of those they love that are hard right now. But here's the lie many people believe: every hard thing is a bad thing.

Where does this lie come from? Where does this get implanted in children, teenagers, and adults alike? How come we spend so much time setting our lives up to avoid hard things, while reality would show with unbelievable clarity that we cannot escape difficulty? I'm sure the sources of this lie are plentiful, but two that come to my mind are marketing/advertising, and the illusion of "The American Dream".

Marketing (and advertising, but I'll just use the word marketing) bases its success on convincing us that the good life is the comfortable life. It's the life without conflict or difficulty, and only their product - be it a car, a beverage, or a nose trimmer - will bring you closer to the ideal of the comfortable life. But cars break down, beverages run out, and nose trimmers... well, they don't really satisfy either but let's not get mad at the nose trimmer for that. Nose trimmers do a great deal of good for people with abnormally long nose hairs. Back to my point... I've read numerous articles that say we are bombarded with around 3000 images every day that try to sell us something and try to convince us that what we need is more comfort and less difficulty. This inundates us from a young age to believe that the goal is comfort and the enemy is hard things.

The illusion of "The American Dream" also wages war on the reality that life is hard. I think that this generation is understanding it a little better than the past couple generations, but nonetheless, the dream of home ownership, a nice backyard, some money in the IRA, and the status symbols of the best technology and fanciest cars (at least fancier than enough people you know to make you feel good about yourself) are paramount to millions of people. But so few people attain it and, from what I can tell, most people who get to the place others only dream about getting to will say it's all empty and vain.

There are many other things that convince us that all hard things are bad things. But this is a lie my friends, a flat out lie. God has allowed difficulty, suffering, hardships (call it what you may) in our lives to bring us closer to him, to pry from our greedy little hands the very things that enslave us, and to show us that he is the ONLY all-satisfying experience in the world. To be clear, I'm not saying we should embrace hardship in such a way that we look for it or create it for ourselves, but I am saying that we should be ready to, at any moment, have our worlds rocked and be brought to our knees. You and I are one phone call, one stupid driver on the road, or one parasite away from everything being changed. And you know what? That's not a bad thing. God is enough in those moments when people desert you or die, when way more money is going out than coming in, when health is hard to regain.

What hard thing are you going through right now? How do you view that hardship? Do you see God's goodness in it or is your only prayer that God would alleviate your suffering? Have you reflected on your Savior's suffering on the cross in your place, for your sins lately? Have you, with Paul and many others, been so radically changed by the Gospel that your prayers are more grateful in times of hardship rather than less? If not, ask God to shift your thinking, to grow your understanding of what he may be doing in the difficult time, and realize that while we can't escape the lure of marketing/advertising/the American Dream illusion, we can transcend it and cling to God.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I love vacations. From the trip to Washington DC to the summer camping trips, my family did a pretty good job taking vacations when I was a kid. They weren't over the top, and my parents were sure to go on the most expensive vacations just the two of them (which is totally going to be my personal philosophy as a parent), but the little 3 day trips and the 7 day trips alike instilled in me a love for vacations. I'm about to board a plane all night and fly from Sacramento to New York, then finally to Boston late Friday morning and see some of our closest friends for a few days.

But my point here is not to flaunt the fact that I get to go on a vacation and you don't. My point is that vacations are important - really, really important. If we don't take breaks - whether they are one or six days - we will die. I don't know if you'll really live a shorter life because you don't take vacations, but I do think something in you will die if you don't take breaks. It's easy to believe that, in our go-go-go society, resting and stopping for fun and relaxation is more of a waste than a benefit. But it's not true - you need vacations, times to rest, reflect, see new things and visit loved ones. They are good for the soul and need to be planned. In my opinion, they are every bit as important as eating and drinking for your survival.

What happens when we take vacations? We get restored. We get rejuvenation. We may get inspiration. We get a renewed sense of our finiteness... as we go around to other places and see people living our lives just like we live out ours, we realize that while on one hand we live in a small world (you can call someone in China right now if you'd like, which is pretty wild), on the other hand it's a great big world and we have a great big God. He has created all people in his image, not just those in Placer county. And I'm thankful for that realization. I don't need to travel across the country in order to realize it's a big world and God is a big God, but doing so definitely is a powerful reminder.

Vacations are good for you.... plan one, save up for it, and go on it. Take the time off. Take the kids out of school for a couple days (not that I condone lying as to why your kids aren't at school). Go off with your spouse and enjoy life, the life God has granted to you. The life that is not guaranteed or deserved. Do it. Seriously.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The future of my blogging: My 3 topics

I asked for some input a few days ago about the structure of my blog. I received some valuable feedback, and some encouraging things as well - for those of you who read it and who commented, thanks! My brother gave me perhaps the best idea: "Thoughts from Scott's younger brother"... while I'm sure such a riveting title would be infinitely useful to the masses, after much prayer I've decided against it (sorry Scott). However, I believe I've settled on three consistent themes or topics I will write about. My plan is to put these phrases/words in front of any entry that falls under this theme, while still putting some more random thoughts down from time to time as well. The three topics are:

Theology: This word captures many more things than most people think. I want to be a student of theology for the rest of my life. Theology has been given many definitions (some better than others), but my basic understanding of theology is that it is a description of how we understand God, his character, and his relationship to the world. With that in mind, this word is broad enough to include very personal entries as I reflect on God but also be instructive about important themes in the Bible.

Lies We Believe: We all believe things that aren't true. A lie is something that contradicts reality. If I say I drive a Honda but in reality I drive a Toyota, I am lying... contradicting reality. That's an easy and impersonal example, but the more difficult thing is that we all believe lies about ourselves, God, other people, money, sex, possessions, churches, and so on. Some of these lies are easily corrected while others are so hard to undo in our souls that it takes years to let the truth change us. I want to explore all kinds of lies we believe and hopefully offer the truth from God's Word.

What I'm Reading: I strive to be a lifelong reader and learner about all kinds of things. Whether it's reflecting on some personal time in God's Word, something I'm learning in class from a professor or an article, a book I'm reading for personal enrichment, or just an article about something, I want to write on those things.

So there you go... I hope this is going to stay consistent but I will certainly take some creative liberty if one of these isn't working out. It will be nice for me to "assign" topics to myself and seek to continue my passion for writing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Some quotes and some thoughts

Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is an excellent book. A while back I started doing a review of each of the five sections the book is split into, but apparently I got bored with it because I only did three of the five parts... not much of a book review if you ask me. So I picked up the book and found Part Four, and scrolled through some of the sentences I highlighted (I used to like bracketing and underlining but I can't do straight lines so I found highlighting to be less nauseating). And, just like when I first read through it, there are some great points he makes. This is a book by a Christian man about living your life in terms of a story - understanding yourself in a sub-story as he calls it, inside the larger story of God's story of redemption. I loved the whole book but want to focus in on a few points Miller makes in Part Four.

"Joy is what you feel when conflict is over. But it's conflict that changes a person." p. 180

This is everyone's experience, isn't it? Ask someone what has changed their life the most and they will almost inevitably tell you a story (because connecting life events and finding meaning in them is telling a story) about something very difficult in their life. The divorce of their parents, the abandonment of friends, the death of someone they loved, the loss of a physical ability, losing a job, and so on. The pain is not nice and it's usually not enjoyable, but it is what changes people. Going through hard times, particularly as a Christian, is what instills the Gospel even deeper into our hearts. And we can look back and see how we became more patient, how we trusted God in deeper ways, how we depended on him every day, and how he formed our character through the crucible of conflict and pain.

"Part of me wonders if our stories aren't being stolen by the easy life." p. 186

The easy life... the "American Dream"... I think these two ideas are synonymous. If you were to get the honest truth out of most of us, especially younger people who haven't had life beat this idea out of them yet, we'd tell you our highest aim is wealth and comfort. We want to work enough to make enough to eventually not have to do anything. We want to retire young, get that second (or third) home in whatever idealized area of the world we want to move to, and we think that's the dream. But it isn't. It's boredom. It's ridiculous. It's insanity. The easy life, or the dream of the easy life, robs us of wonderful stories our lives were made to tell of sacrifice, love for God and others, risk taking, and adventure making. God's highest concern for you life is not that you achieve the easy life; it's that you glorify him by mirroring his story of redemption, reconciliation, and grace to the broken, unreconciled world around you. And the more we tolerate the easy life's empty promises

"Growing up in church we were taught that Jesus was the answer to all our problems." p. 203

Isn't he, though? No, actually, he's not. And he never promised to be. Miller makes a great point as he recounts his Christian experience after believing the lie that Jesus fulfills every longing we could ever have here on earth. He talks about how Jesus is sold like an infomercial - "If you'll just believe in Jesus and let him in your heart, he'll bring you everything you long for and keep the bad stuff away." But that's B.S. if I've ever heard it (if you're not sure what that stands for, think about it some more. If you're still not sure, ask your parents. If you are a parent, just ask me). There is a longing that each of us has for full redemption, when pain and sadness and death is completely swallowed up. The good news is that God does promise that to us - just not in this life. God does fulfill us, but he doesn't answer all our questions this side of Heaven and all of our problems aren't necessarily solved. Jesus is our hope, our Savior, our redemption and our propitiation. Let that be enough, and be satisfied in all he is for you.

This is just a small sampling of some of the quality material in this book. I probably read Miller's books faster than any other author because it flows extremely well, is entertaining, and is always poignant. I recommend ordering it from Amazon sometime soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The future of my blogging

Lately I've been thinking about the best way I can promote my writing passion and develop any God-given ability I may have to write. Several things have come to mind but the most consistent one I can think of is to give my blogging a bit of structure - I need a plan, basically. I'm a planning kind of guy, and while I do enjoy flexibility and spontaneity at times, I definitely favor structure and deadlines. So, here's my plan (and where I need some help): I am going to come up with two or three consistent themes for me to write about each week, and a specific day on which to write about these things. I want the themes to be broad in scope but succinct in what I call them.

For example, I'm thinking "theology" will be one of my themes; so, perhaps every Monday my title will be "Theology: _________" and give that title. Another example of what I've been thinking about it "Discipleship: ___________". But I know that these may be things I'm interested in, and while it's important that I be interested in them I also enjoy knowing people read my blogs from time to time (I used to care much more about people reading my blog than I am now). So, my request is this: please tell me what you'd be interested in hearing more about - what, if it were on my blog consistently, would you want to read? What could a title for it be (no more than 3 words)?

Some other names/titles I've thought about: culture; what I'm learning; reflections; story; lies we believe, and so on.

Please give me any feedback through this blog and through Facebook's comment section. Or write me a message or email with some ideas. Thanks!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What if he isn't alive? What if he is?

If Jesus isn't alive...

we have no reason to celebrate like we do as Christians.

we are all fools for believing the biggest hoax in human history.

how can you explain the instant life transformation of the disciples, most of whom died gruesome deaths because they wouldn't stop saying he was alive?

there is no hope for anything after this life.

he is a dead Savior and therefore no Savior at all.

none of us claiming to have "new life" or be "born again" actually are... we just wished it upon ourselves and perhaps radically altered our lives on our own power.

our money and energy is wasted to advance a cause for someone who died almost 2000 years ago.

we should go back to living primarily for ourselves rather than some guy who had some nice things to say but couldn't back them up.

Easter really should be about a bunny who lays colored eggs for children to find.

I am wasting my life in a meaningless, empty, foolish endeavor to serve a dead person who never rose, and therefore has no power to change anyone's life and am the biggest liar I know.

If Jesus is alive...

we have every reason to celebrate like we do as Christians and should be the most consistently joyful, happy people on earth.

he is the living Savior who has been building his Kingdom and his Church for nearly 2000 years, and will one day return to fully receive his Kingdom for all eternity.

we have hope for today, tomorrow, and eternity.

the death of Jesus on behalf of sinners like you and me makes sense... he died to pay for our sins and rose to give us new life in him.

the Holy Spirit now lives in us, opening our minds to the truths of the Gospel.

there is every reason to use our money and energy to serve him.

Easter is rightly about him, not a bunny and eggs.

I am spending my life doing meaningful, beautiful, and eternal work - and not just because I work for a church but simply because I am a Christian who seeks to bring him honor in all I do and be a witness to the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friends, spend some time reflecting on what would be different if Jesus in fact did NOT rise from death but is actually in the ground, still rotting away like every other dead person. Such a thought on Christians should cause great distress if that is in fact the case because we've been dooped by simple fisherman, a tax collector, and some other normal guys who turned radical about a man they believed to be alive. The Gospel is not a set of facts you must adhere to - it is NEWS of a risen Savior who conquered Satan, sin, and death through the cross and resurrection. The cross means nothing without the resurrection. The death in our place on the cross receives much attention and rightfully so, but if he did not rise it would have no power.

If you'd like to add to this list please do so by either commenting on the blog or commenting on the link provided on Facebook. What else would be different if he didn't rise, and what should it mean to us that he did rise?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mexico - Final Recap

It is finished! Our work in Mexico is done and we handed the keys to a brand new home to a mother and her 3 children at 4:30pm yesterday. It was a full day of work as we had a lot to do in order to get the house ready for them. We built two sets of bunk beds, finished the touch up paint all over the house, started and finished the paint job inside the house, installed some "beauty" features (basic trim around the windows... but I wanted to make it sound a little fancier!), installed the door (more on that in a moment), and cleaned up all of our mess the best we could by sweeping, cleaning the windows and screens, and scraping mud/paint off of the floor that had accumulated.

While we did get it all done, it was an adventure from the very start. Our van made it to our site just fine, but we quickly found out that Ricardo, our beloved lead carpenter, had gotten stuck in the mud on a road about 1/4 mile away. He tried to take the same route he'd been driving on all week but it was too steep and muddy, and he slid back a few feet into a mound of mud and rock - we walked down to the van and attempted several methods to push, pull, or lift it out but it was to no avail. The kids had great attitudes and sought to solve problems in order to get to work. Eventually we flagged down one truck to transfer some of the materials out of the van and into the bed of the truck, and got started on what we could. The person who helped us just happened to be a man who the EOC had built a home for a while back... cool to see how it all circles back around to be a blessing and then receive a blessing in return! Then a larger 4x4 truck came with chains and yanked the van right out of its predicament and we were ready to rock and roll. The only issue there was that it was almost 11:00 a.m. and we had quite a bit to do.

The key ceremony is the pinnacle experience of the entire week. Each person gets a moment to share something of their experience, thanking God for the privilege of building the house and blessing the family. Each of your students spoke from the heart, there were tears shed by many, and then Remedios was able to unlock her door and step into her new home. The concept of having a sturdy, reliable door is something most people don't think about in the U.S. - we think about fancy doors, unique doors, double doors, and so on - but for people in Remedios' situation, simply having A DOOR is a radical change. Now she has a safe place, a place she can call her own (though ultimately she knows it is the Lord's), a place to lock and unlock as she sees fit. These are the little blessings that really aren't so little in the grand scheme of things.

Last night we celebrated "Maundy Thursday" (not sure if I spelled the right), the night when Christ washed his disciples' feet and instituted the Lord's Supper. We had foot washing stations spread out in the room and each person had their feet washed then washed the feet of another person. It was uncomfortable for many, it was awkward in some ways, but it was all beautiful and a deep experience of Christ's humility in washing us of our sins. After that I was able to share some thoughts from the week and then we participated in communion together. It was a fitting way to end the week and will stick in my memory for many years.

It is Finished! That phrase is much more than a celebration of a house being completed in 4 days by students and adults who largely are not construction-oriented and yet finished the job. It was the cry of our Lord on the cross as he breathed out his last, accomplishing all that the Father had for him to do. Today is Good Friday - the annual celebration of the core of the Gospel - Christ's death and subsequent resurrection on Easter. And while the death and resurrection of Christ needs to be on our minds every day, being brought deeper into the core of who we are to understand the depth of God's love for sinners, this weekend is a special one to remember it is a historical event and not a mere tale. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday celebrating his finished work and the new life he brings.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mexico Day Four

God is good! We got completely caught up yesterday thanks to the help of a beloved former student of Dale's named Loren Spencer. He is in his mid 20's and has been coming to Mexico since high school, even though he lives in Wisconsin and has to fly out each year to make it. He is an amazing handyman and is a fan favorite around here - everyone affectionately refers to him as "Sexy Loren" which, of course, is embarrassing in his eyes but he knows it's all in good fun. So, we did all of the shingling on the roof and finished little details around the outside of the house, as well as doing all of the drywall and texturing the walls. The texturing part was a real blessing to our group because if we didn't have that machine (and only 3 houses out of 15 this week being built get it) we would have added a couple hours of sanding the mud down flat so the paint job looked nice.

Everyone was in better spirits yesterday as well, as we could really feel the house coming together. Rick and his son Jake came down yesterday as well, which was a real treat. I think Rick put somewhere between 1 and 3 nails into the house... so he can say he had a significant part in building the house of course! But it was great being encouraged by them, and Rick spoke last night during our chapel time.

Last night is one of the greatest parts of our whole trip each year. Every team comes up with a skit and it's a competition to see who has the best skit - judged by Rick, David (pastor at Valley Springs), and two local staff people at EOC. There were several hilarious skits and competition was fierce. PBC's skit had a "LOST" theme, and we really did great! We just barely got edged out by the Food Distribution crew who had a Food Network theme. They had all the most famous cooks of the past few decades on the "show" and it was quite funny. Rick said he had us in 1st place but, alas, that didn't hold up and we took 2nd out of the 8 crews. You'll have to ask the students more about the skit when they get home.

Last night and this morning it rained for several hours on us, so please be praying for today. It is extremely muddy which makes it much more difficult to finish the house today, which is the goal. The house we are on is on a hilly slope, so the van with all the materials needed for bunk bed as well as the tools we need to use will not be able to make it up the hill. So we'll be walking up and down in order to prepare, which will slow things down a great day. The rain has subsided for now so we're praying it stays just wet on the ground without adding anything else. It is a blessing that it rained during the night and not on us as we were working. Pray for our attitudes to be patient, helpful, and encouraging. And pray that we really take to heart the fact that this is the sort of thing people deal with every time it rains down here. They walk everywhere with heavy, muddy feet, and I'm sure there are many more struggles that we don't even know about when it rains. Pray that we make it through this conflict and grow stronger from it. Thank you for your encouraging comments and prayers. We love you all and I'm excited to report the good news of finished house later today!