Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Week of Advent - Preparation for a King

How would you feel if I was to tell you today that a King was coming over to your house for lunch?  That in our midst right now is the king of an entire nation, a people, and you are responsible for preparing lunch and a resting place for him amidst his travels.
The responsibility of preparing for a King has been lost to us.  The thought of preparing the way for anyone of greatness doesn’t even occur in our minds.  With the advent of TV, where those of high standing enter our homes every day without us even needing to give a second thought, to think of the advent, or coming, of a king makes no impression upon us.
But today, as we light the first candle of the advent wreath, to remind ourselves of the coming of our king, let us take some time to reflect on the thought that the King, the One and Only, made his dwelling among us.  Let us prepare our hearts and our minds for the advent of one who is greater and far above all else that we can think or imagine.
It reminds me of the verse where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Let us prepare our hearts today for the advent of our Savior, that he may come in and eat with us, our heart united with our King.


I've never been a huge fan of Christmas.  Go ahead, flog me, shun me, beat me, or kill me, but its just the truth.  Like many other Christians, I don't like the materialism that has come along with it, the coveting and discontentment and fighting and bickering that results.  I like Christmas trees in the church about as much as I like the American flag, I see both as icons that we have heightened to mean as much to us as the gospel itself, things that we have elevated to the point of making them idols, and therefore they should be abolished.  But at its heart, even this is not the reason that I have not been a huge fan of Christmas.
I see Christian holidays as a manifestation of the desire humans seem to inherently possess for religious observance.  Now I know that many of you will say that I am reading way too much into this, but all I have to say is consider the number of people who attend a Christmas Eve service or Easter Sunday service as compared to the rest of the year.  Paul makes reference in Colossians, Romans, and Galatians to the freedom that Christians have to NOT observe holidays (which was in stark contrast to all the religions around them at the time) although in all of these places he never condemns the practice of observing holidays.  So, like Paul, I neither condone nor reject holidays, but I simply feel that there is the tendency in holidays to become religiously legalistic and focused on things other than the gospel and Christ, so I detect a danger in them.

Having stated these things, this year I am required to plan music for the "Christmas season" and have had to prepare Advent readings.  I originally dreaded this, the whole "Christmas season" tends to grate on me a bit, with the false "cheer" and "hope" that goes along with it, and I often feel that our society has progressed to the point and has taken over Christmas to the extent that Christians observance of Christmas is quickly becoming just another way of being "relevant" and of bending to the world rather than asking the world to bend to us.
As I thought more about it, though, I started to see the value of these things in a fresh and new light.  Having prepared for advent at this point, and having thought through what it means and should mean to the Christian, I have come to see the following attributes of advent as valuable.
1) Advent is to remind us of the expectancy that the Jews pre-Christ had in looking forward to the Messiah.   It is to remind us that, just as they were expectant that God would move and do things amongst them, we should be expectant of the hand of God in our lives, and of his immanent return.  This expectancy has been lost for many Christians today.
2) I also see the value, as much as I resisted it at first, of turning the Church's focus from the culture to Christ.  This is something that must be done every day of our lives, and it is not done by blindly ignoring the culture around us, but rather by carefully considering what we have come to believe about ourselves and our desires and then resubmitting ourselves to God and Scripture, repenting of the wrong beliefs we have had about what we deserve or even need and asking God to fill us with truth.  In this way, I think that it can be appropriate to approach advent as a "counter-cultural" Christmas season.
3) The very essence of Christmas as a legalistic observance by many in our culture gives us opportunities to share the gospel.  While we must be careful that we don't fall into the same traps, we should also join Paul in saying "but what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."  So no matter the motives of our culture in flooding our churches on Christmas Eve, we ought to rejoice in the gospel being preached.

Having said all of this, I decided to post the advent readings that I have written for our services for the next 4 weeks.  These are meant to focus our hearts and minds on the meaning of Jesus coming to earth.  In the coming weeks, allow yourself to meditate upon this man who had no place to lay his head, who gave up the comforts of heaven to come to earth, who humbled himself to the place of a servant, who gives us hope in things outside the material world in which we live.  Allow yourself to step back from the busyness of our culture, and the passionate lusts that those around us submit themselves to, and instead to passionately lust after God, who is able to more fully fill you than anything else ever will.  Don't forget God this Christmas season, but rather embrace him, love him, desire him, share him, and focus on him.

Enjoy the Christmas parties, and the fun of decorating, and the joy of giving and receiving presents, and the love of family and friends, and the hope of days off from work.  But do not do these things as ends within themselves, but rather do them with your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the hand of the Father.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weed Control - Thoughts on Strongholds

Yesterday I was working in my flowerbed (for about 10 hours…) and came up with an illustration.  I wrote it out for Dana and thought I would share it here.

So, yesterday as I was working, I came up with an illustration of what a stronghold is.  I don’t know how well this will work writing it out, I feel like I talk better than I write…  But anyways, so I was actually working through the dirt, under the surface, which a lot of gardeners don’t do, and like, you come across these clumps of roots, and from experience I know what roots belong to different plants.  So, I know which are the good ones and which are the bad ones, and one reason that my flowerbed is so weedless is because when I’m working in the dirt I ALWAYS pick out the bad roots and toss them.  But then I got towards the back of the flowerbed, where I don’t work as often, and some of the roots were really thick, so I pulled out the clumps, but there were still bits of roots left.  So this is what I realized.
Sometimes there’s things that take root, through a little seed here or a little plant there, and it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  Some things get pulled out, but others get left.  At first, we barely notice, but then it starts to not look that good so we start to pull the weeds (the things above the surface that are noticeable).  What we don’t realize, though, is that under the surface there are roots forming, and so it seems that while we’re pulling so many weeds, the more we pull the more that come up.  And so, what we need is to have the dirt completely turned over, to have what’s inside revealed, and pick through keeping the good and tossing the bad.  And what I realized is that those roots that build up over time are like strongholds, and we can have divine strongholds and evil strongholds.  They start with an unchecked thought here, or a bad attitude there, and then they become a way of thinking, they become ingrained, and if they go unchecked they will soon take root and create a clump, so that when one little weed is pulled it doesn’t even begin to reach the problem.  Once the stronghold is established, then, it’s not enough to turn the surface and pull out the roots, because there are so many little pieces of it that we can’t possibly get it all out at once, so what it takes is the removal of as much as possible, and then every time a weed appears we must once again turn the surface, look inside, and find the root of it, pulling out as much as possible, and with much care and precision and work, overtime the stronghold will disappear.
Another side to it is that when there are good roots put in a place where the bad ones are being pulled out, they choke out the bad.  So if we are careful to add good in the places where we are pulling out the bad, while also pulling out the bad, we will create strongholds of good thoughts and attitudes.
This should be our desire in working with children.  We should be quick to point out to them, not their wrong actions or behaviors, but instead their wrong ways of thinking and feeling.  If we were to get less annoyed with their unsightly weeds and instead be more concerned with their wrong beliefs and attitudes we would be much more loving, caring, and nurturing in the way that we treat them, much more understanding when they do wrong, and see much more fruit in their growth.  We should become less concerned about weed control (controlling the actions) and much more concerned with root control (changing beliefs and attitudes, pulling out the harmful and planting the good) so that our children (and us) may become places of divine strongholds in our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs, and then when the summer comes and the plants are all up, we will see the fruit of the Spirit rather than the fruit of the flesh and we will be able to use our time to harvest rather than constantly tiring ourselves in the useless and fruitless pulling of weeds.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

David's Desire to Build the Temple

1 Chronicles 17 (the same story can be found in 2 Samuel 7)

I recently reread the somewhat well-known story from the Old Testament when David expresses his desire to build a house for God. I was struck by the fact that what I was commonly taught, that David's desire was good and that he should, in some ways, be pitied because he was not allowed to build the temple, seems to simply not be accurate based on the passage. I will break down two things that I saw in this passage, which I believe would be accurate applications to draw to our own lives, but which stand in direct contradiction to what I was always taught as a common interpretation.

Point 1
What was David's motive? "I'm living in cedar God should be". What is God's answer? "Did I ever say I needed to live in cedar?" Application - maybe instead of building a house for God David should have reevaluated his own standards of living and come to the point of living more simply. This would seem to be more inline with other passages such as Isaiah 5:8-30, Matthew 8:20, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Luke 12:13-21, Hebrews 13:5, etc, etc, etc...

Point 2
We all from time to time struggle with this idea that we in some way can give something to God. We want to see God as needy so that we can feel good about being able to help him. I think that we can see this in David's desire and God's response. David says, "Here I am living in a palace of cedar while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent". Nathan says that he should do what he had in mind because God is with him, but then God comes and corrects David through Nathan.

I'll break down God's response -

I have never needed anything - verses 4-6 This stands in stark contrast to the gods of the surrounding nations who needed houses built for them. God, instead, dwelt wherever he desired. (On a mountain, in a bush, in the tent, in a cloud)

You and the nation of Israel have always been in need - verses 7-10

I will build you a house - verse 10, expounded in 11-14

Basically, David for a second forgets his place, he forgets that God is God and he is not, and he desires to give God what he perceives he has. God, however, is quick to remind him that anything that he has was given to him by God, and to prove this God says that he will give him even more. I love when God comes back to David and says, "I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you". Why do we not teach this?

May you live in the ever present awareness that God is God and you are not. May you remember that all good gifts are from above, that anything you have is not your own, that even you yourself are not your own but were bought at a price. May you not desire riches or fame, may you not bring God down to your level of materialism, may you instead move beyond our culture to live a life pleasing to the Lord in every way as you properly understand his Word of Truth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Call to Prayer Through Anguish

Here's a video I would highly recommend watching.

I can say there's truth to what he's saying because I've been baptized with anguish at times, but it really hit home about God not desiring for a flash of emotion, for us to feel it and pray for an hour and then get up and leave it behind, but He's looking for people who are so caught up in Him, who so desire to see Him move, that they stay in that place of anguish, of brokenness over the state of things, that they are willing to cry out night and day.

I realized something else too, I feel like I've moved from this place of anguish because I've started to feel like there's something I can do, I've started to deceive myself into believing that I can change things, and until that pride is broken true anguish and prayer will not be born.  When we have hope in anything except God and what He is doing or will do we will not be truly broken over the state of things in His church.

Father, break my heart within me.  Reveal to me your will and your desires.  Open my eyes to see what needs to be done.  Cause us to weep and mourn over the state of our hearts and of the hearts within our congregations.  Grow within us a desire for you and your heavenly kingdom so that the things of this world become unpleasant and dry and even painful.  Lead us towards you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Worth a Read #2

This is a blog that I follow, and this story is definitely worth a read.  I hope that some day I am able to write like this...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spiritual Hobby-Horses

We all have spiritual hobby horses.  Those things that bother us in the Church and if you get us talking about them we could go on for hours and hours.  We have it in our minds that if the Church just got this ONE thing right then it would be healthy and grow.  We beat up our pastors because they don't preach on this enough, and we think that it should be stressed every Sunday morning, and night, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and maybe even send out an email Saturday night before the service to remind everyone.
For some it's evangelism, for some it's prayer, for some it's service, for some it's worship, and the list goes on and on.
I have my hobby horses too, things that I think the Church needs, and I constantly have to fight these things.  It can make preaching or preparing worship services difficult, because every pastor has to fight the urge to get up front every Sunday and say the same thing over and over because if people could just get past this one thing then everything would be all better.
I believe that this is the benefit of being guided by the Bible, of preaching straight through a book, or having a schedule of Scripture that guides worship planning, because it protects us from just emphasizing what we desire and see.  As we teach through Scripture and read through Scripture, through ALL of it, we start to see God's hobby horses.  We start to see that these things that we thought were so important are rarely mentioned in Scripture.  While they are important to God, maybe they're not the MOST important to God.  I think that this makes reading through whole books of the Bible and striving to read through ALL of the books of the Bible consistently is a good practice.  It tunes our hearts and our minds to the will of God and allows us to see what God considers important and the hobby horses that He stresses.
So, if your pastor preaches through books of the Bible, maybe you should be less critical of the topics that he preaches on.  Maybe instead of telling him to stress things that he isn't stressing you should look into your own heart and see if you are out of balance.  Maybe you should try a little harder to get off of your hobby horse and get onto God's hobby horse, the gospel.  Because you can't read anywhere in the Bible too long without running across the fact that we are guilty sinners in the hands of a great God who has taken away all of our guilt and shame and pronounced us holy and blameless on the basis of His works rather than our own so that we can now live by His Spirit and in His righteousness by His grace.  The gospel rings out loud and clear from every page of Scripture and is the hobby horse with which God addresses all other things.
Stop emphasizing worship, or prayer, or service, and start emphasizing the gospel in your own life, and then see how God uses you in others lives to accomplish the same.
And if your pastor doesn't preach through books of the Bible, if he consistently teaches the gospel more than all other things, maybe you should write an email, or get on the phone, or drive over to his office, and thank him for all the hard works he does, because trust me, it takes much work for him to get off of his hobby horses each week and present you with the truth of God's word.  Instead of trying to get him onto your hobby horse, take time to thank him for presenting God's hobby horse.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Worth a Read

Whenever I post a poem I am always keenly aware of most people's distaste for and inability to understand poetry.  However, I found this one to be very easily understood and I liked it a lot.  The interesting thing, to me, is that if you look at many of the principles in this poem they are Scriptural and could be called Christlike.  So we must always keep in mind that the way to becoming these things is not a road of trying, I've seen too many people try to be something they are not, rather it is a transformation of the mind AND heart through humility, prayer, and meditating on Scripture.  Enjoy.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling