Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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

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

Father, hallowed by your name

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

Your kingdom come

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

Give us each day our daily bread

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

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

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

And lead us not into temptation

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

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who is God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Identity and Worship

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life's a Garden... Dig It!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making the Best Use of The Time

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Ode to Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, all of you.