Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Loving Great Days

Sometimes great days come unexpectedly, like a sunny day when the forecast predicts rain. Other times you can see them coming from a mile away, like when you are anticipating the vacation-of-the-year for six months (or in the case of my in-laws, 2 years!). Today was of the first variety, a great day that came unexpectedly. Looking back, I should have seen it coming, but for some reason it didn't hit me until recently. It started around noon when Noelle made a surprisingly delicious mahi-mahi on top of a fresh salad (she may blog about it later... but she doesn't blog about her amazing lunches for some reason). Then we headed out to "Edgefield" - a 60+ acre Disneyland for grown ups type of place. The place has a hotel, a couple restaurants, a distillery, pub, winery, two par-3 (a.k.a. "executive") golf courses, movie theater, and probably more that I'm missing. We went the golf and winery route today.

It turned out to be a perfect weather day - slightly cloudy, about 68 degrees, comfortable as can be. We played 9 very short holes of golf (no hole was more than 80 yards... and when some courses have 530 yards on one hole, that's a short course) in about an hour. Noelle played the round of her life and almost made a hole in one!

Yes, she sank the birdie putt.

After golf we toured the vegetable garden before heading the winery where our server was by her lonesome, apparently not expecting anyone at 3:15pm and preparing for the busy time coming in a couple hours. We had some great drinks and shared a plate of spinach and artichoke dip... delightful. It was the perfect afternoon - a surprisingly jovial affair of laughs, good golf shots, and beautiful scenery.

Noelle starts work next Monday, so that's why we decided to take off to Edgefield for the afternoon. The Lord must have known what was in store for us because I honestly could not have planned a better day together. Sometimes you just need a great day when you don't expect it. We've been blessed to have many great days together since moving to Portland - hiking, trying new restaurants, having a best friend visit, getting to know churches and friends. But today was just special for some reason.

Open up your eyes and give thanks to God for great days. And even when days aren't "great"... maybe they're average, maybe there's disappointing for one reason or another, realize that all of life is a gift of God to be lived with a grateful heart.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Getting Over The Hurdle

"I'm too busy to _________". How many times have I said that, or thought that, in my lifetime? Hundreds to say the least. And the truth is, at times I AM too busy to do certain things. And then there's the fact that many things are not worth doing. But, here's where I'm going with this: there are many things that are worth doing. Writing, for me, is worth doing. I love sitting at the computer and hammering out a few pages for a paper or a few thoughts on this blog. And yet, I just can't "get over the hurdle" as it were. I write twice a week at best. I think about writing quite a bit, yet I just don't sit down and do it. One author I like, Donald Miller, says (in a book or his blog, I'm not sure) that there are many people who like the idea of writing but don't ever get down to business and write. I want to get down to business and write.

So, how do I get over the hurdle with this one? I've thought about trying to write something every week day, spending at least 30 minutes a day on a topic, Scripture, life experience, whatever. And the truth is that right now I do have the time to do that. I'm in school full time and I am already experiencing school work piling up on me, but I have the time. And here's the last fact: everyone has the same amount of time in a given day. So how do the great ones get great at their craft? Whether it's music, writing, a sport, acting, being a doctor, teacher, lawyer, pastor, the list goes on... the great ones do it by discipline and practice - they say no to things that get them off focus and stay on task. I'm going to be that person.

I want to be great. Not great in the way most people think of it. I want to be "humbly great". Jesus says in Mark 10:43-45 "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Much could be said here, but my reason for quoting this is that Jesus doesn't scold the disciples for aspiring to greatness... he scolds them for aspiring to worldly greatness which typically exploits, discredits God, and exalts the self. I want to be a great servant. I want to be great. Lord help me.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Today's Short Devotional: Ongoing Sin and The Power of God

Colossians 1:11 - "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy..."

I am often beset by ongoing sin - that attitude, thought, habit that I don't easily shake and from time to time get depressed about, believing the lie that I'm never going to overcome it. But there's good news from God's Word about ongoing sin in a Christian's life: The power of God, which is at work within you, is stronger than any sin.

But it's hard to believe that, isn't it? I woke up this morning with that thought in my head... God, who lives in me and is always present, is always stronger than my sin problem. Keep reading the verses after Colossians 1:11 and you will see that God has "qualified" us to be saints (a normal Bible word for Christians) and he "transferred" us to the kingdom of His son, Jesus Christ. Those are passive words, meaning you receive that action on yourself rather than causing it to happen to you. Your redemption, the forgiveness of your sins, was never based on your qualifications. If anything, those disqualify all of us from ever being in relationship with our Creator. But he has loved us, and by faith in his Son we are washed of our sin (past, present, and future) by his grace and mercy.

So, don't believe the lie. The power of God is stronger than all other powers. Cling to his strength today. Endure temptation, be patient in affliction, remain joyful in the Lord because if you have him, you have enough. Amen.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are You Content?

There is an epidemic in America that is rarely talked about. It's not one that makes national headlines or that has everyone freaking out quite like H1N1 or Anthrax, but I'd still call it an epidemic because of the tragic consequences it secretly causes in so many lives. I'm talking about the epidemic of being discontent.

Think I'm overstating the case? Being a little over-dramatic? Ok, I'll admit it's possible. But think about it. So many billions of dollars are spent every year because people are not content with who they are, where they live, what they own, and who they hang around. As I've heard it said several times before, the fundamental goal of marketing is to show you a product or experience, convince you that your life is not good without it, and then tell you how to get it. Think about that next time you see a Snuggie infomercial, a Bo-Flex machine commercial, or a car commercial. Everyone is obsessed with finding that one thing that will make them more happy, more content, satisfied with the direction their life is heading.

And, truth be told, I'm often no different. I don't always notice it as discontentment, but it's there. Often I just feel like it's a random impulse to buy something or do something. But when I reflect back on it - many purchases I made without planning for it, for example - I realize the root of it is a discontent heart. But what am I going to do about it? How do I move from discontent to content? Is there really anyone who can be truly content?

It is here that the Apostle Paul has some inspiring words for us. Difficult, but inspiring. In Philippians 4, as he is closing out the letter and thanking the Philippian church for their generosity, Paul mentions something extraordinary. He says "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." These are beautiful words of a content man. Why so content?

Paul was content because he had been radically changed by the Gospel. He had became intensely aware of what God had done for him in Christ. He knew that as long as he had Jesus, he had all that he needed. Here's the thing: in my own heart, I know that as I typed that last sentence it doesn't describe me. I often want "Jesus + _______" You name it and I feel like I need it. Just one more thing - a bit more money, some more clothes, a nicer car, whatever. But Paul was writing from prison and yet he knew how to endure and be content because he knew his Savior guarantees he is always present PLUS there is eternity awaiting, when we'll be in God's presence forever. And that is enough.

So, what's the secret to contentment? How do we cure ourselves? We focus on the Gospel. We look to the cross. We realize we've been fooled and fooled ourselves into believing lies about what we need and repent. Paul knew it... not because he worked "hard" at it, but because he had been changed so thoroughly that it was true in his life.

Lord help us.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What I'm Reading: Lectures to My Students

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers of the 19th century, or probably any century for that matter. He was a full time pastor from the age of 19, and is thought of as having one of the first true "mega-churches" in the world. The church was easily over 5000, and that was quite an accomplishment considering they didn't have many advancements in technology we have today. He also started a college for training pastors, and many of his lectures were compiled into a great book I'm reading called Lectures to My Students.

Spurgeon has many incredible things to say in the book, but what I'm reading about right now is what he calls the need to be "decisive". Essentially it's the need for people - not just pastors - to have resolve in their beliefs and not be shaken from them. And it got me thinking quite a bit about what I'm resolved to believe in. Spurgeon laments the wishy-washy (I made that up, he didn't say it that way) theology of many pastors and the defiance of many educational institutions toward objective truth. And this is in the 19th century... I can only imagine what he'd say about the 21st century! The strength with which he preached and the strength which come leaping off the pages of his writing is something I absolutely aspire to.

So, what are you resolved to believe in? And, how does it affect the way you live out your life in the day to day? This is what I'm thinking about specifically right now. Because, truth be told, the life we lives declares with much greater force what we believe than anything we declare with our mouths. For an easy example, the guy who weighs 400 lbs because he eats fast food twice a day has serious health risks, yet he claims to be in the best shape of his life. We'd all say that he is delusional, or at least that his words and actions don't match up. It won't take much of a test to see that what he says is the lie; how he lives is the truth. In the same way, how I'm living today is the truth of what I believe. Do I believe Jesus is Lord over all? Do I live with a grateful heart, or with an attitude of presumption as if God owes me something? Do I really worship God or is my daily life suggesting that I worship money, comfort, pleasure, and so on?

These are big questions, but they are important ones. I appreciate Spurgeon's resolve to force his students to dig deep and really take a look at their life to see if what they declare they believe indeed matches up to the way they are living. We would be wise to do the same.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What I'm reading: Surprised By Joy

Few people influenced the world with the written word like CS Lewis in the 20th century. His style, his imagination, his wit, and his depth of writing were captivating for millions of Christians who still recommend Mere Christianity to anyone interested in the core of the Christian faith; or for weightier matters there are amazing works like The Weight of Glory. On the fiction side, many people sadly do not know that The Chronicles of Narnia were written by Lewis with a provocatively Christian message woven within the elaborate storyline. And I should confess now that I only read one of the books in the series as a child (I still haven't gotten into reading fiction... maybe one day when I grow up).

But for all of his incredible writing and the global popularity which he still has even 40 years after his death, it wasn't until recently that I read his own personal autobiography, Surprised By Joy. In it Lewis describes primarily the first 20 year of his life - the schools he went to and what he thought of them, the relationship he had with his father and brother, and some key relationships along the way. It is filled with all of Lewis' elaborate descriptions and Irish (yes, Irish... he lived most his life in Britain but was born in Ireland) humor. Some of it, to be honest, goes either over my head or just is lost on me altogether. But I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the book, particularly the last third as he speeds up the process how he came to faith in Christ. It's an incredibly honest appraisal of faith - from denying the generic religion he grew up with in his family, to rejecting any idea of God on the basis of reason or science, to ultimately realizing his arguments had gaping holes, life was without meaning if there was no God, and only Christianity can legitimately account for some of the deepest questions humans wrestle with.

The main point I want to make here, however, is the number of relationships Lewis had with Christians before becoming a Christian. Every school he went to from his teenage years onward had at least one or two people who were Christians - people who Lewis wrote off immediately for the most part, but eventually people who he respected. These were thinking people, reasonable people in his mind, who believed in the supernatural, had a faith in Christ which did not remind him of the stuffy religion he remembered as a child, and seemed to love Lewis though he rejected (for a time) their "superstition". And, most importantly to me, they knew their faith and talked about it.

Just about everyone I know had at least several friends or family members who were Christians before they became Christians. Sure, some people have the testimony of "a friend took me to church and I became a Christian the first night I went", and that's an excellent story. Most people, however, are more prone to go to church because they were invited, be interested, ask questions (often big, difficult-to-answer questions), feel a sense of the presence of God in their lives and the truth of the Gospel message, and then trust Christ as Savior. But, the key in almost every story is relationships. And that's what I want to be about in my evangelism. Relationships and conversations. Not just friendships where we get together, enjoy good food and drink, and go home (not every time at least). But the kind where we really get to know each other. The kind where I ask questions of what they believe in, what matters most to them, what they think about God, and so on. I want to be winsome in my ability to direct a conversation towards Jesus. I feel like Lewis was that way. Man, I wish I could have met the guy.