Saturday, December 31, 2011

Who Loves God?

Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of his Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to him on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then he will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” The one who is known by God is the one who loves God.

We all were born loving everything but God, but now that we know God—or rather are known by God—we should not turn back to be enslaved by them all over again! Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, because now we see and know only a poor reflection, as in a pond; then we will see and know God face to face. Now we know in part; then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.

On that day we will realize that Jesus is in the Father, and we are in Jesus, and he is in us. Whoever has Jesus’ commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Jesus. If we love him we will be loved by the Father, and Jesus himself will love us and reveal himself to us so that we may know Him, even as we are fully known.

Now this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

A compilation of verses from Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 John)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The River of Life

Sometimes life feels like this river.  Things are always moving forwards, whether we want them to or not.  Sometimes everything passes by slowly, we are lulled along, almost feeling like we are moving in circles, only to find that those circles were bringing us closer and closer to the edge of a waterfall, where we quickly and viciously move straight forward, falling and jostling until we hit the bottom in utter bewilderment.  Sometimes we hit waterfall after waterfall, we run into rocks and around logs, running and running wondering when it will end, only to suddenly find ourselves cut off from the rest of the stream, resting in a side pool, not even moving at all.

Rest and rush. Rush and rest. The rhythms of life.  When we rush too much we become wearied and banged up. When we rest too much we become stagnant and stale, and we may even dry up.

Lord grant that we may run in the stream of life that you have provided. That we might be content with both the falls and the pools and live for your glory no matter where we find ourselves.  And let us remember that at the bottom of every waterfall is a pool and at the end of every pool is another waterfall, so that we might always be prepared for the things you bring our way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Very Own Sanctuary

I read an article today by Gordan MacDonald that talked about sanctuaries.  He speaks of a sanctuary as any place that we can go to in order to commune with God in a deeper way so that we walk away changed.  He talks about sanctuaries he has experienced throughout his life; all of them places that he visited once but they continue to leave an impression in his mind.  The whole point of the article is that we should make everywhere we go throughout the day a sanctuary within which God is able to work.  However, what really struck me in the article was the last few paragraphs where he says:

This morning I read once again (Mark 1) where Jesus, after a busy day, got up early the next morning and went off to "a solitary place where he prayed." I think Jesus would have thought of that place—quiet, beautiful, bereft of crowds—as a sanctuary.
We're not told what Jesus did in that outdoor sanctuary, but it's clear that when the time ended, he was committed to his mission of proclaiming his gospel more than ever.
A sanctuary, no matter what form it takes, is a place where one should experience interior change. Among the changes? A reminder of the beauty and love of God, a fresh realization of one's brokenness, a host of things to be thankful for, a chance to give from the fruits of one's labor, an experience of deep prayer and the sense that God has heard, and a time to hear the reading of Holy Scripture and feel it planting its powerful content in one's soul.
Many of us enter sanctuaries tired or disappointed or angry or fearful or lonely. Others enter with appreciations for loving relationships, life-blessings, and a desire to deepen or grow. But the thing of greatest importance is how do we leave? Redirected, newly focused? Having experienced grace and forgiveness? Appreciative of the people we've been with? Freshly committed to Jesus?
When I lived at my parents house I had a sanctuary, a place I could go alone in order to pray, read my Bible, meditate, and lay out any and all emotions before God.  There was a small Maple tree in our backyard, which I called my prayer tree, that served as my sanctuary.  But since I've moved out and gotten married I've realized on several occasions that I know longer have that place.  And living in town, in a small apartment, makes it even more difficult.  My sanctuary was always a place that I could go to and talk out loud to God; I could yell, I could cry, I could just sit in silence and smile, and no one would know or see.  I realized, several months before leaving, that I would be leaving that behind when I left my parents and would need to find a new place to make my sanctuary, but I haven't done that yet, and some days I really notice.

Where do you go to meet with God?  How do you cope when you are not able to make it to your sanctuary?  How often do you take (make) time to get alone to talk to God, listen to God, and meditate on the Word of God?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laugh Every Ten Minutes, Cry Every Ten Days

I was reminded last night that I once said, "In order to be emotionally healthy people should laugh every 10 minutes and cry every 10 days."  It's funny, because I don't cry nearly that often anymore (now I'm laughing about crying), and if I were to be asked now I would probably say that it is emotionally UNhealthy to cry that often.   However, as I reflected upon that comment, the season of my life in which I said it, and the surrounding circumstances, what I realized is at the time I was probably right - I DID need to laugh/cry that often.

It seems there are two camps that it is all too easy to fall into
some people have intense pain inside but choose not to look at it or recognize it, thereby laughing all the time and never crying
while others have lots to be joyful and happy about but choose to only look at the difficult and depressing, thereby crying often while rarely laughing.

At the time, when I said we should laugh every 10 minutes and cry every 10 days, I had some deep emotional pain that I was going through.  For 2 months I went through a grieving type process and was working through some intense pain, that at times was unbearable.  However, it seems to me that what kept me emotionally healthy and stable, even in the midst of that, was that I not only looked at my pain but also at the joys of everyday life; the fact that I didn't cry myself to sleep every night but at times chose instead to laugh at the jokes of friends and family and see the joy and blessings around me.  However, equally important was the fact that I did cry; the fact that I didn't cover up my pain with jokes but was rather raw about it when appropriate times arose and shared my deep pain and anguish with those who were close.  I cried every 10 days and laughed every 10 minutes, because that was my proportion of pain/joy at the time.

And that was my conclusion last night, in reflecting upon my statement.  I do not think that every person really needs to laugh or cry that often to be emotionally healthy, but I DO think that every person should laugh AND cry.  We all have painful things in our lives and we all have amazing things in our lives; what is important is that we recognize both, admit both, and share both.

When was the last time you cried?  When was the last time you laughed?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Beginnings and the Winter Solstice

Last night I could not sleep.  Dana and I went to bed around 10:10 (she wasn't feeling well) and I laid and read until 11:30.  I was reading "Prayer" by Yancey, which I currently have a love-hate relationship with (I'll save that for another post) but last night I found what he said to be rather good and convicting.

At 11:30 I turned out my light and rolled over to fall asleep, only to find that I was rather wide awake.  While reading "Prayer", I had decided that I needed to work at waking up earlier and taking time to run (I sit all day...) and pray (after, not during, running).  So I had an alarm set for 6am, and here I was at 11:30pm wide awake and unable to sleep.

Normally if I were to find myself in this type of situation I would get annoyed, roll around, get up and do push-ups/sit-ups to burn off energy, go to the bathroom, etc, but thankfully I had just been reading Yancey's book, so I thought "What a perfect opportunity to pray!".  So there I lay and I prayed about life, church, marriage, which led to reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead into the next year.  One conclusion that I came to is that in this past year I have felt a relational distance between myself and God that has seemed to grow.  It seems to me that I don't love God as much as I used to, I don't talk as passionately about his as I used to, I don't speak to him as often as I used to, I don't read his word with as much wonder and desire, I don't seek as persistently, pray as passionately, or evangelize as urgently.

The other thing I thought about as I laid there and prayed and thought is that it was December 21 (well, by that time it was past midnight and therefore was December 21) which I remembered to be the Winter Solstice (the shortest day/longest night of the year).  I have since found out that the Solstice date changes and this year it is actually 12/22.  However, what I realized was that one year was ending and a new was beginning.  We had seen the light of the sun grow in intensity and longevity through the Winter and Spring and the wane through the Summer and Fall, and last night as I lay awake the earth was reaching that point of starting it all over again.

And so I felt that it was in some way appropriate that I also had felt at times the presence and light of God growing within me, blossoming and burning in intensity, and then at other times waning until that point last night, where I wondered how the spark had become so small.  So now, as we head into the time of year, as the sun begins to shine more brightly, I will begin by praying that the Spirit might also shine more brightly in and through me, and I will take strides to make spaces in my life for God to speak and act and burn within my heart.  By this time it was 1:30am, I had not laid there and prayed for the whole 2 hours, I also got up and ate, went to the bathroom, did sit-ups/push-ups, read my Bible, read other things, and generally been annoyed by the fact that I could not go to sleep, however there were some ripe conclusions left in my mind after 2 free hours of pondering.

And so I started my pretend New Year (I thought it was the New Year.....just turns out I have to wait a day) at 6:45 (bumped the alarm back 45 minutes) with a run and some time in prayer / meditation over Scripture.  I hope that these can become habits that allow me to grow in my knowledge of and love for God so that I can better serve Him and the world around me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Blessing Worth Framing

I found this in Philip Yancey's book titled "Prayer" and really appreciated it. It really speaks for itself, so I don't feel the need to say much more here...but I'm seriously thinking about using this as a benediction some Sunday at the end of one of our services.

On another note, I am currently preparing lessons on prayer for our youth retreat coming up in the end of January, so as I work through thoughts for that I will post them here.
My basic format at this point is:
Lesson 1 - the importance of prayer from James 5:13-20 which tells us that Elijah was a man just like us, but when he prayed it didn't rain for 3 years, and then when he prayed again rain came to the earth.
Lesson 2 - We pray to the Father because....
Lesson 3 - We can pray because Jesus....
Lesson 4 - We can pray because the Spirit....

We'll see where things go from there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Brings Tears to My Eyes

The music video for "Does Anybody Hear Her" by Casting Crowns literally made me cry.  Father, that you would give us eyes to see the world as you see it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cars, Driving, and the Provision of God

Cars are dangerous, high-maintenance, expensive, and at times annoying (well, at least every car I have owned has been the last three and whenever I'm driving the first one is true).  But yet we all own them and use them daily.  I've been reminded of frailty of our inventions and the provision of my God from a recent trip [honeymoon] to Tennessee with my beautiful bride.

Experience #1
There's only one way to say this: We didn't trust either of our cars to take us to Tennessee and back.  So, we asked my parents and they were gracious enough to allow us to take their 2001 Chevy Malibu instead.  Our suspicions were confirmed when, on Saturday while driving home, my mom informed us that she "was afraid she broke my car".  In reality, my car broke itself.....I believe it is masochistic.
I thank God, though, that He gave us (well, mostly my wife) the wisdom to not take my car all the way to Tennessee but instead to ask if we could use someone else's.  And also that I have such loving parents who were willing to allow us to use their car even though it meant they needed to drive mine for a week.

Experience #2
We stopped at a Bed & Breakfast in Virginia on our way to Tennessee on Sunday, November 13.  This was very wise, it was a beautiful place for a fairly low price, and all-in-all a great way to start our honeymoon.  Obviously, this was Dana's idea.  However, when it came to planning our trip home she let me make the decision, so we drove the whole way from Tennessee to Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 19.  Economical? Yes.  Fun?  Not really.....
In any case, my decision to drive the whole day Saturday did lead to some interesting experiences, one which relates to the overall theme of this post (yes, there is a point to my ramblings).  We were driving up I-81 going around 70-80 mph (the speed limit is 70 at places!) and all of a sudden a car about 100' in front of us just started to spin.  It looked like he was on black ice - he pulled more than a 360, at one point actually in our lane facing us.  Amazingly (God's providence?) he did not hit anyone and we were able to make it around him safely.  I stopped (mostly because Dana said "You can't drive away, you just witnessed an accident") and went back to make sure he was ok.  The man in the car was completely unharmed, although very shaken up, and had no idea why his car had suddenly started spinning while he was driving around 80 mph down the highway.
 Isn't it amazing that we rely on such frail yet complex machines for our everyday needs?  So often we use our cars without thinking about it, but these two experiences reminded me of how much trust we put in our cars (and other's) each and every day.
In the same thought, though, these two experiences reminded me of how much we rely on God's provision and mercy each and every day.  If sin was allowed to run its full course in this world I would be dead.  If God were to leave us to ourselves we would rip each other and ourselves apart, much as my car seems to rip itself apart from time to time, however God, who is rich in mercy, out of love reaches into this world that He created and orders things according to His glorious plan of redemption.

And so I have been reminded once again not to merely rely on the inventions of man or even on my own ability to think, work, or drive but rather to rely upon the strength, grace, love, and mercy of God.  I will continue to drive our cars, and they will continue to be unreliable machines that eventually need to be replaced, but I will put my trust and my hope in the One who orders the universe and knows when each part will break and how it will affect my life and others.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Back With a Song

Well it's almost been a month since I last posted.  Life has obviously been crazy with starting a new job at a new church, a snowstorm that took out power for almost a week at said church, and a wedding and subsequent honeymoon (which was AMAZING).  As I'm trying to settle back into "normal" life I decided the first blog post I would make as a married man is a song that my lovely wife shared with me this morning.

The song is "Everything I Own" by Jason Gray.  You can listen to it on GrooveShark.

What would I give to be pure in heart
To be pure in flesh and bone
What would I give to be pure in heart
I’d give everything that I own
I’d rid my whole house of its demons of lust
And open the windows of trust
And out of those windows all fear will have flown
I’d give everything that I own

What would I give for the words of God
To come tumbling from the throne
What would I give for the words of God
I’d give everything that I own
I’d open my head and they’d roll right in
When I opened my mouth they’d roll out again
And uproot the weeds of the deeds I have sown
I’d give everything that I own

Now what would I give for my children’s strength
On the day that they stand alone
I mean what would I give for their strength to stand firm
I’d give everything that I own
I’ve wasted my life in accomplishing things
Ignoring the giver of wings
So Lord teach them to fly to the foot of your throne
I’ll give everything that I own

All I’ve accomplished, the titles I hold
My passions, position, possessions and gold
To God they must look like a thimble of foam
And it’s everything that I own
Dirty rags are all that I own

So I stand before God with my stubble and hay
He just laughs, but says there’s still a way
Because “Father, Forgive” are the words Jesus moaned
When He gave everything that He owned

So what would I give to be pure in heart
For the known to be made unknown
What would I give to be born again?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wedding Thoughts

Tomorrow is two weeks before our wedding.  It is very odd in some ways, something that I've looked forward to for so long and that Dana and I have looked forward to together for quite some time as well.  There have been lots of preparations, lots of thoughts and planning, but as I look forward to that time the overwhelming sense I get is one of unpreparedness.  In so many ways its hard to believe that the day is less than a month away; the funny thing is that a year ago we thought we would already be married at this point, but it still seems like it is a long way off.  Maybe some of that is due to the fact that it has been pushed off so many times, so now that it is actually coming around it is hard to believe that this time its for real.  Or it could be the fact that I've started a new job in the past month and with all the newness related to that it is hard to comprehend starting something else so very new so very soon.  Or it could just be the fact that this will be the most important day of my adult life, and it is natural, in some ways, to both anticipate it as well as repress thoughts of it.

Overall, I must say that I am very excited, and perhaps the biggest reason it is hard to imagine getting married in two weeks is the fact that I feel like we already are.  So much has happened in the past few months that has required us to work closely together and to rely on each other, and we've made some large life transitions together with me interviewing at Swamp and starting in my new roles here, that in many ways it seems like our lives have already pulled into one.

But yet there is the anticipation of so much more.  In two weeks many of the simple life decisions that I make (such as how I clean up after myself, how I do the laundry, how I cook dinner, even how I clip my toenails!) will not only effect me, they will also effect Dana.  Soon, when I make decisions, and not just large ones such as what job I have and where I live, but little intricate things of life, like what I'll eat for dinner and whether I'll go out at night or stay at home, will not only effect me, they will effect Dana as well.  And I have great excitement about that, there is the sense of anticipation, the joy of sharing life with someone, but there is also some anxiety about it.

And so I find myself at this place, two weeks before our wedding, both anticipating the day but also struggling to remember that it is not that far away, and all of these things draw my mind towards a passage that I think is very important for me to remember.  Ephesians 5:25-30:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.
 My prayer is that in the coming weeks and months I would remember this anticipation, that I would remember the desire to share life with Dana, that when things get tough I would look at how blessed we are, and how blessed I am to have her.  But most of all, I hope that I can keep my gaze firmly focused on Christ, that I can remember how it is that he loves us so that I can turn around and love Dana, that I can make the choices along the way to give myself for her, and most of all that through our relationship she would be drawn closer to God.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Root of Bitterness

I found this to be a provocative illustration of Hebrews 12:15 when it speaks of the "root of bitterness".  How often our lack of forgiveness and unwillingness to address something outright can lead to a root of bitterness, a poison tree, living in our lives.

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

William Blake

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

John the Baptist - Not Receiving What You Want

This past week at Senior Youth we read Matthew 3 and discussed it a bit.  I had some notes in my Bible from a previous time reading through Matthew, but they really stuck out to me again, so I thought I'd share.

In Matthew 3 we are introduced to John the Baptist, the man preparing the way for the Lord.  He is so radical in his life for God that he lives alone in the desert, he eats weird and wacky things, and he isn't afraid to criticize and even insult the leading political and religious party right in public (of course they can't throw him out of synagogue or town because he's already outside of it all...hmmm...maybe a lesson for us.  We may speak and act like we have nothing to lose in sharing our faith if we really had nothing to lose.  But that's a side point.)

So John has given everything that he is, everything that he has, to follow God's calling on his life and to prepare the way for the Lord, for Jesus.  And his message is as such, because he even tells them, "I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."  Imagine that!  So here's this guy with all these people coming out to be baptized by him and to hear him speak and his message is, "Hey guys, I'm not the real deal.  I'm just the precursor.  I'm just here to get you looking and seeking so that you're awake and alert when the real thing comes along."  What humility!

And then he does, or should I say, He does.  Jesus comes along, he comes right to John where he is baptizing; this man whom John has been speaking about and prophesying, the one who will be great and mighty, who will baptize with the Spirit and fire, and here he is, in front of John, asking John to baptize Him!

And now, when we understand all of this, it makes the next sentence so much more clear.  John says, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  I've heard many people puzzle over what this means.  Why would John want to be baptized?  Jesus wasn't out baptizing people, why would John expect Jesus to baptize him?  Because John's message was that Jesus would baptize people.  John wanted to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire!!

But he never was.

This is the sad story of John the Baptist from which we each can learn some lessons.  Think of John, wasting away in prison, thinking through his life and his message, thinking "Where is the fire and the Holy Spirit?"  The one thing that John longed for, the one thing that John preached for, the one thing that he asked Jesus for, he was never to receive.  John died before the Spirit came in tongues of fire on Pentecost and the final piece of John's message was fulfilled.

What is it that you long for?  What is the one thing that you just wish God would do?  What are those things that you find yourself talking about spiritually and wondering if they will ever be accomplished?
Are you getting tired of waiting?  Are you getting tired of talking and praying and seeing no fruit?  Are you wondering if you were wrong all along, if this is maybe not God's will?
May the story of John the Baptist encourage you to keep pressing on no matter what the outcome.  May you never tire of the things that God has placed on your heart but continue to proclaim them and to live them out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Intentional Mission and Living Outside of the Christian Bubble

I read this article last week and found it to be extremely helpful.  I myself became convicted about the Christian bubble that I lived in while I was in high school.  I grew up in a Christian home, most of my activities were through church clubs and youth group, I played in a Christian band with my family, I attended Christian school and was then home schooled, and on and on I could go.
While I was in high school I became convicted about the fact that I had no friends outside of the church, and so I started attending Bucks County Community College.  My favorite place to hangout was on the front steps with the smokers (yes, my parents feared that I would end up with lung cancer...), but what I found to be amazing is that I had deeper spiritual discussions with these people than I had ever had with my Christian friends.
There was the ex-Jehovah's Witness who had toyed with paganism and Druid practices but didn't really believe in anything.  He was mostly hoping to graduate from college and achieve a "normal" 9-5 life (he was in his 30's and had worked nights most of his life).
And then there was the atheist who wanted to discuss physics and the probability of a God existing.  He also liked to tell stories of peeing out of his 3rd story window in Quakertown at 2 in the morning because he was so drunk.  He challenged me both intellectually and spiritually.
And there was the brain injured NA addict (yes, he was addicted to Narcotics Anonymous) who should have been attending SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) judging from his conversation and constant flirting with girls who were obviously not interested.

I could go on and on, but I actually have a point I'm trying to make...

When it came time to make that big decision as to which college to attend I had most of my friends and family pushing me towards a Christian college.  They had a fear of the interaction of a Christian teen with the secular culture, but I looked at it and thought, "I'm planning on being a missionary.  How will I be able to handle going to a culture where I am immersed in secular life and have no Christian contacts if I can't even attend a secular university?!"  And so I attended West Chester University and made more friends outside of that Christian bubble.

But now fast-forward to the present, to me right here today.  I find that I have slowly and all too easily slipped back into old habits and old ways of thinking.  I made attempts in this past year, while working at Christ Community Bible Church, to live outside the bubble.  I had the diner that I ate at twice a week for 3-4 months in order to build relationships, but just around the time that I started building those relationships I lost my focus on why I was doing it, got consumed with the amount of money I was shelling out for it, and stopped going.  And then there was the bar that I started going to on a weekly basis, but then I started to wonder/worry what people at church would think if they found out I was regularly eating/drinking at a bar, and my mind also once again turned to the amount of money I was shelling out (bars are a bit more expensive than diners...) and so I stopped.

So now, as I start a new job, begin at a new church, start a new marriage, I am once again confronted with the question of, How will I live outside the bubble?  Although the question becomes even more complex because it is now, How will we (Dana and I) live outside the bubble?  How will I lead a youth group that intentionally lives outside the bubble?  How will I lead the congregation in worship that intentionally pushes them outside the bubble?

And so I start this all off with a blog post, remembering the past, assessing the present, pushing towards the future, and asking you the question, How will you live outside the bubble?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Prayer Letter

I sent this letter to the prayer chain at Christ Community Bible Church this week.  Thought I would share it here as well.

We asked for so much prayer in the past few months that I thought it was appropriate to share some answers that God has brought along. Swamp Mennonite Church voted on my position as Minister of Music and Worship / Youth Pastor last Sunday (October 2) and God blessed us with a confirming vote of 98 positive out of 98 votes. It was truly an answer to prayer! (Although there's one man who still insists he voted no :) It seems like every church needs a jokester.)
And then, this past week we signed a lease on the 24th apartment that I looked into (I didn't drag Dana along for all 24 of them). We have our keys and our lease officially starts tomorrow (October 12) which is exactly one month before our wedding! We will be living at 15 S. Main St Quakertown, PA 18951. I will move in in the next few weeks and then Dana will join me after our honeymoon.
We are definitely experiencing a mix of emotions right now. We're excited, happy, scared, tired, thankful, and many other things.
Thank you for all of your prayers and your loving support. You are a great church family and we miss you already. Sunday mornings are still especially difficult as there are reminders all around of what we are leaving behind, so you can continue to pray that in those moments we would look to Christ and remember all that He left behind in coming to us. Pray that we would humble ourselves and be willing to serve those around us, and also that we would be able to quickly build solid relationships that provide us the love and support in this branch of the family of God.

Sorry, this got long, but a lot has happened in the past month.
In Christ,
Nathan (and Dana)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship

I just came across a paper I wrote my senior year of high school.  I enjoyed reading it so much that I decided to add it as a page here at the top of my blog.  I hope that you find it encouraging and convicting in your walk with the Lord.  It is a bit long but I just read through it in about 10 minutes, so if you have the time feel free to take a look at it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Responses to Pain

It seems to me that there are five possible ways for a person to deal with emotional pain.

1)  The first way that a person tends to deal with pain is reciprocation.  This is the natural sinful desire to hurt someone back for the hurt that they've caused you.  However, in our more ethically advanced society this does not always come out as direct backlashes, rather it comes out through hateful attitudes, indifference towards the person, doing the things that drive them nuts.  Sometimes we don't even know why we're doing it, but deep down inside it traces back to the hurt they've caused us.  A lot of times these hurtful / hateful habits start with one simple decision to not speak to someone or to not do something that we normally do to care for them.  If we can stop ourselves from making that first decision to act in an unloving way it seems to me that we would keep ourselves off the slippery slope of reciprocation.

2)  The second way is somewhat a halfway point between the first and third, so I won't say much about it.  Sometimes we don't reciprocate to the person who offended us (for whatever reason, intimidation being a common one) but instead take out or emotional pain, hurt, and anger on someone or something else that is around us.  It has been said, "Hurting people hurt people" which is often true, however I still believe it is only one of the options.

3)  The third way that people deal with pain or hurt is to just accept it.  They decide that it is not worth retaliating and they are not willing to make someone else hurt for them so instead they take it in and they just hurt, A LOT.  Unfortunately this has been painted as the Christian approach to pain by many, but it is actually very contrary to the Christian understanding of forgiveness, but we'll get to that later.  The problem with this approach is that our hearts, our emotions, cannot sustain this level of pain if we never release it, so this tends to come out in explosive anger or self-destruction.  In fact, I believe that part of the rise of self-destructive habits in our culture (such as cutting) is due to the fact that option 1 and 2 have become less and less socially acceptable, as well as option 4 and 5 as we will see, so more people must turn to option 3, which only tears them apart.

4)  The fourth way that people deal with pain is somewhat of a hybrid between option 3 and 5, so again I won't say much about it although I could (and probably should).  The fourth thing that people do when they are in extreme emotional pain is to take it out on God.  They get angry at God, they shake their fist at God, they yell at God, they curse God.  Interestingly, most Christians would see this as the least Christian response out of any of those yet named, however when you read through the Psalms you start to get the idea that this may be as close to the truth as we've gotten yet.  I believe that there is a place for this response to pain and hurt IF it leads us into the fifth way to deal with pain.

5)  The fifth way that people deal with pain is to give it up to God.  This is when someone says, "This is too much for me to bear, dear Lord, please take this from me."  This was Jesus' response in the Garden of Gethsemane when he pleaded with God to take the cup from him, interestingly God did not but by Jesus giving up the pain, by him pleading his case to his father, he was able to then bear up under it.  Too often people confuse option 3 and option 5 because they tend to have the same short-range results.  When people take the pain on themselves the result is that they do not act out against another person, and when people give the pain up to God the result is that they do not act out against another person.  However, the difference is not in what they do not do but in what they DO.  The person who takes the pain on themselves becomes self-consumed, they either end up feeling high and mighty and like they are better than anyone else or they end up feeling like crap and hating themselves, but the person who gives their pain up to God is freed to love no matter what, to accept the circumstances (NOT the pain, that they've given away) and continue to love and live for God despite them.  In fact, the person who has taken this approach will actually love MORE when they are hurt, because when they give the pain up to God they will see their own sin, their own faults, their own failures, and it will give them a compassion and sympathy for the person who has hurt them.  In options 1 and 2 you don't love others because they become objects to inflict your pain on, in options 3 and 4 you don't love others because in your mind THEY should be loving YOU (because you have so much pain), but in option 5 you are freed from any of this and are suddenly able to love.

So cast your cares upon him because he cares for you.  He is more than able to take them upon himself, in fact, he wants to take them upon himself.  You don't have to bear them any longer, you don't have to cause others to bear them any longer, you can be freed and you can love.  There is that split second when someone hurts you where you decide what to do with it.  Some people immediately scheme about what to do back, others go and yell at someone or break something, others ignore it and simply internalize it, still others get mad at God and shake their fists; but in that split second, make it your conviction, your desire, your impulse to turn to God and say "Father, take this cup from me, it is more than I am able to bear.  I know that Jesus already took this pain upon himself, I know that he already bore this sin, I know that he loved even when he was spit upon and beaten, send your Holy Spirit to put the same love in my heart."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book List

As many of you know, reading is important to me. It is a way that I can learn from some of the most educated and experienced people, both living and dead. I especially like reading older books; the fact that they are still around shows that there is something worth preserving (and hopefully worth learning) from them. And so my Book List page has been an important section of this blog for quite some time now, but recently I have struggled to know exactly how it should look or how I (and you) should be able to interact with it. Today I think I may have found a solution.
There is a website that manages the books you've read, want to read, and are currently reading and will allow me to publish reviews to this blog as well as maintaining a page of all of these types of books for me. I have set this page up and labeled it "New Booklist (Beta)". If you would check that out and let me know what you think of it, that would be awesome!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unemployment, Priorities, and the Habits I've Formed

It's 2 months that I've been unemployed.  It's weird, I think this may be the longest I've ever gone without any specific responsibilities.  I've always either been in school or working, but for the past 2 months I've kinda been floating in a sense.  It seems like I've done nothing but at the same time like I've been non-stop busy.  Looking back over the past 2 months there's actually quite an array of things I've accomplished, but there's also been a lot of wasted time.
What struck me today, though, is the habits that I've formed.
In such a short period of time I've developed certain ways I go to bed, certain ways I wake up, certain ways I eat, certain ways I communicate with my family.  And they are unique, different from when I was working full-time.  Somewhat because time constraints are different and life goals are different and even my energy level and activity level are different.
What's even more interesting than the habits that I've formed (and how quickly I've formed them without even being consciously aware of them) is how hard it is to change them now.  I've come to realize some of them in the past week that are probably not the best habits to have (such as staying up til midnight every night on my computer instead of just going to sleep at 11 when I get tired...)

I've noticed that habits tend to form quickly around major life-style changes, so I typically set out with very specific habits that I want to form and very specific ways that I want to mold myself.
Part of the problem this time around was:
1) I did not know how long the state of unemployment would last, so it was hard to know what type of long-term habits to set up
2) My activities were very different from week to week (even day to day...) so habits I did try to start rarely lasted more than a week
3) I really had no long-term goals for this period of unemployment other than getting married, getting a job, and getting an apartment (not necessarily in that order...) so it led to a lot of unplanned time (which tends to lead to poor habits).  A note on this: I did have a lot of short-term things that I wanted to accomplish but I burned through most of that list in the first month.

So, why do I bore you with this long recounting of the past 2 months of my life as well as an assessment of my current state?
For one reason alone: Hopefully reading this has made you think a little about your life, about your goals, about your time management.  What types of habits do you have?  Are you living with habits from a previous "segment" of your life that are currently just bogging you down?  Do you know why you do those things you do?  Like that candy bar you're eating, or that hour you spent this morning trying to wake up, or the nap this afternoon, or the hour on facebook.  Do you do these things because of an accumulation of poor choices along the way?  Perhaps its time to get rid of some of the baggage, perhaps its time to reevaluate, perhaps its time to consider whether you've made habits for the things that are important in life.  Your children, your spouse, your spiritual development, sharing God's work in your life with others.

Sometimes we have to shake ourselves up a bit when life has settled in too much.  Sometimes we have to reevaluate and reassess why it is that we do the things we do.  And sometimes we have to make hard, real, and drastic choices to simply be different, to just not do the things that we've done and rather do something else.  To take off the old self and put on the new.  To conform our image not to our impulses and desires but rather to the image of Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

But God, I Don't Love That About You!

I was rereading something I posted last February on the topic of God's mercy and justice being seemingly contradictory.  Its interesting because I came to the point that I realized that I didn't love something about God, I didn't love his wrath and his justice.  It made me think of a passage from Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".  Here's what Rob said and then an excerpt from what I said.
...A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.  If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities...If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good...And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don't love God.  They can't, because the God they've been presented with and taught about can't be loved.  That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.
Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God.  God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction.  God is the rescuer.  This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.
First, I would like to note that Bell sees God as "changing gears" from loving to wrathful, which means that he struggles to see God's love in His wrath.  I wonder how Rob views verses that speak of God crushing His own son, his perfect, sinless son who deserved none of the wrath He received... Can that God be trusted?  Although, since to Rob "love demands freedom" I guess if Jesus freely chose to take that penalty for sin it was loving for God to give it to Him.  What if God isn't changing gears, though, what if the plan all along has been the punishment of sin with forgiveness offered through Jesus in this lifetime?  If that has always been the plan, and if that is who God is, then he's not changing gears and it would seem to me that if we don't love him that's our problem, not his.  Please understand, these are just my thoughts, I'm not saying they're right or wrong, but its just an interesting dilemma.  What I DO know, though, is that I don't want my understanding of God to be based upon what is comfortable or makes me or others feel good or even what seems to make the most sense (based on my perspective), rather I want my view of God to be based upon God's revelation of himself to me through his Word, both written, lived out (in Jesus), and communicated to my heart (through the Spirit).

Anyways, here's some stuff from my post when I was struggling through this in the beginning of the year:
And do you know what my conclusion was?  God, I get it, I see it, like, I can't even describe to you, the reader, how clear all of this was in my eyes, but I said to God, I don't like it.  In fact, I realized that this is a piece of God that I don't love.  I don't love his wrath or his jealousy.  I don't!

And so my prayer is, Father, teach me to love you as you are.  Teach me to see your manifold wisdom in choosing some for life and others for death.  Teach me to see your love in you wrath and your mercy in your justice.  Teach me to see you for who you are, to be amazed, and to love and worship you, because I know you are worthy.  I don't want to just know the answers, I want to love the answers, and more than that, I want to love the one behind the answers.
I want to be clear.  I respect Rob Bell, I understand his points and I know he's trying to be Scriptural, I agree with him that too often we've painted God as an angry god and portrayed Jesus as rescuing us from God, and I also understand and agree that we shape our god and our god shapes us, however I don't think that the answer then is to think of what type of god would give us the most peace and then shape God to be that, I think that the answer is to try to get rid of all of our preconceived notions about God and truly encounter Him through His Word, through service, and through life and only then will we experience true peace and joy and come to a more complete knowledge of who He is.

To His honor and glory; may His name be praised forever and ever.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sin Within Us

I'm reading the book "When Sinners Say 'I Do'" by Dave Harvey.  We're going through it at a men's breakfast I've been attending, so yesterday I read the first two chapters.  He quotes John MacArthur at one point, and what he said really stuck out to me.
Christians are rapidly losing sight of sin as the root of all human woes.  And many Christians are explicitly denying that their own sin can be the cause of their personal anguish.  More and more are attempting to explain the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology.
How often we do this!  How often I do this.
Rather than humbly recognizing that we are sinful and taking responsibility for our actions, we instead point out that it was them who made us angry, or that we were tired from work, or that we've never been truly loved so how can we show love, or our personality just makes us that way, or we were "in a bad mood".  We've been told over and over by the world that we are basically good, and many times we've bought into it, so rather than seeing ourselves as God sees us, broken and in need of a Savior, we see ourselves as slighted by everyone and everything, we see ourselves as deserving of better but receiving less.

May we come to see ourselves as God sees us.  May we lay aside our pride and come to see that we are sinful beings, that we are rotten to our core, and that we desperately need God to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: "Love Wins" (2011) by Rob Bell

As promised I am writing a review of the book "Love Wins" by Rob Bell.  I don't think of myself as a good book reviewer...because I tend to focus in on what the book meant to me and what stuck out to me rather than treating the book as a whole and giving it an unbiased presentation and review, so I apologize for that.  However, if you are reading this you probably already know my style of presentation and know that you'll receive here more of my opinion which you are to weed through rather than irrevocable truth which you can stand on (for that I would have to refer you to Scripture).  So please bear with my wholly nonacademic, unstructured, and probably improper review of the book at hand.

First, I feel a need to defend Rob Bell, if for no other reason than the fact that he has been somewhat unfairly and unjustly (in my estimation) attacked from so many angles for the writing and publication of this book.  There are some who have called for a boycott of everything associated with Bell, removing his videos and writings from church libraries and even personal libraries, because of what was written in this book.  In fact, some of my readers may have done such things (as I have), but I have come to the conclusion that if we are going to throw out the whole of Bell's work based on this one book then we should also throw out the whole of C.S. Lewis' work based upon his book "The Great Divorce" and the whole of Martin Luther's work based upon his anti-semitic views which were so strong as to actually aid Hitler's work in the Holocaust.  No human perfectly understand the truth, but every Christian should be seeking the truth through the Word of God, and as such we should expect truly godly persons to, at times, say and even teach things which are in error, because it is only then that they are being honest as to what they believe and even honestly searching Scripture to understand what it teaches.  Basically, what I am trying to say is, the fact that Rob Bell is searching out the meaning of heaven and hell in light of Scripture, publishing something that is contrary to commonly held beliefs because he believes it is what God teaches in His Word even though he knows that it will severely taint his reputation and ministry, does not, in my opinion, lessen his place within the Christian tradition, but rather raises him to the level of such men as Luther, Huss, Calvin, C.S. Lewis, and others.  In fact, the Protestant tradition is based upon men who were willing to say what their consciences compelled them to believe based upon Scripture rather than what was commonly held to be true.  This does not validate the content of the book, but rather the person of the author, and I hope that it helps you to see why I have a great respect for Rob Bell and for his willingness to print such a controversial book even though I wholly disagree with a great deal of what he says.

Now, onto the book itself.
Some observations (this is the "unbiased" section where I simply try to give an honest evaluation of the book as a whole. The next section will contain my opinions of the content):
1) Rob Bell is a rock star turned pastor.  This book follows suit.  It is not, as you may expect a book challenging current beliefs about heaven and hell to be, an academic, heavy read, rather it is best read as fast as you can and definitely not with a highlighter and pen in hand.  Read first, think later.
2) Following the previous observation, Love Wins is not a compilation of research or a synthesis of information, rather it is a man presenting his opinions about eternity.  Obviously his opinion is informed by many sources and has been developed over many years, but you will not find citations for his thoughts or even a bibliography at the end of the book (although there is a "Further Reading" section at the end, containing a grand total of 7 books).  In my estimation, this is a great weakness in the book, I can't even begin to try to figure out where Bell got his ideas from in order to further consider or study them.
3) Rob Bell is a man well versed in Scripture.  One thing that you will find throughout the whole book is Scripture reference after Scripture reference.  Although the majority of them seem to come from the Gospels and the prophets (I didn't keep tally) he does have a great number of references from every section of the Bible.  This, in my opinion, is a great plus to the book.
4) Rob definitely seems to have been hurt by the evangelical community at some point in the past and has obviously ministered to a great number of people who have been.  Consequently, there are times in the book where he'll challenge the "common conception" about God or the after life, however I question whether there is really anyone who believes these things which Bell argues against or whether they are just straw men that he has created in order to beat down.

What I'm left with (this is where you'll find what I think of Bell's conclusions):
1) I think that Love Wins addresses some serious problems within Evangelical Christianity which should be addressed and which are, indeed, problems.  One of these is the common view that we will spend eternity in heaven.  I think that Bell is right that the gospel is not about God destroying the earth and taking us to heaven but rather it is about him restoring the earth and then bringing heaven down to it.  This is one example of a side issue that he addresses in the book that I am actually thankful for and think is good and appropriate.  For these things I applaud Bell and hope that some in the evangelical community listen up and return to the Scriptures to see what they actually teach.
2) One major issue I have with the book Love Wins is Bell's definition of love.  Perhaps the greatest problem is that he never really defines love.  It becomes evident as you read, though, that to Bell love is "the freedom to choose" (page 104 & 113).  In fact he says "Love demands freedom.  It always has, and it always will."  But he never backs this up with anything.  He gives Scripture for just about everything he suggests in his book except for this one (and you could say, this core) assertion, that love is freedom.  I, personally, hold to a different definition of love.  I define love as "seeking the greatest good of another".  Unfortunately, I also don't know where I came up with that definition or why I hold to it.... But if you define love as seeking the other's greatest good rather than the giving the other the freedom to choose it changes the whole argument of the book, which is why I wish Bell would have put more effort into explaining his view of love.
3) Another major issue I have with this book is Bell's treatment of Hell.  Perhaps his greatest argument against the common understanding of Hell is that it is not clearly taught anywhere in Scripture.  And to prove this he lists "every" verse that mentions Hell.  The problem is that there are no Greek or Hebrew words that refer to the Christian understanding of Hell (which he admits).  So congratulations Rob, you have now listed every verse that mentions the Old Testament Jewish view of the afterlife or contains the Greek word that it seems Jesus used to refer to Hell at times, but you've missed every other passage (and there are many) that deals with what the Scripture would present as the Christian view of Hell or that would speak about someone going to such a place!  Basically, Rob builds a case against the Greek word "gehenna" (because it was a literal trash heap outside Jerusalem) saying it is the only word in the New Testament that can be literally translated "Hell", but he misses all the other times that Hell is spoken of by way of another illustration or even through inference.  What bugs me even more about this is that he later criticizes "the church" for picking certain illustrations in the Bible (such as Old Testament sacrifice as a symbol of Jesus' atoning work pg 129) and using them exclusively while forgetting about all of the other illustrations that exist.  However, when it comes to hell, Bell exclusively uses the illustration of gehenna (a trash heap) while ignoring all of the other references which use other words.  So I will use his own words against him on this point "The point, then, isn't to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism.  To elevate one over the others, to insist that there's a 'correct' or 'right one', is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors.  They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp" (pg 129).  Yes Rob, you are absolutely correct, and I would say that Jesus was doing the same thing by speaking of Hell as the trash heap outside Jerusalem.  It doesn't negate the reality of Hell, rather it shows how seriously Jesus took it, so seriously that he would use any appropriate metaphor to communicate to his followers its seriousness.  Ok, there's much more I could say here, but it gets too long...
4) Another concern of mine is Bell's implications towards Satan and the fallen angels.  Bell points out all of the passages that speak of God restoring ALL things and emphasizes that this means that ALL people must eventually be saved.  However, if you follow this interpretation of these passages you must end up at the point where you believe that God will eventually restore the fallen angels as well.  I do not know whether Rob would agree with this or not, however from my perspective it would seem far more difficult to explain away the passages that refer to Satan's eternal consequences than it is the ones which refer to that of humanity.

I would like to end by saying that there are some things which I greatly appreciate about what Rob Bell has to say and even about the message of Love Wins.
1) Rob twice (that I can remember) takes a specific theological view and expands it using Scripture.  So on one occasion he lists all of the illustrations used in Scripture of the atonement and ends up with the sentence "What happened on the cross is like...a defendant going free, a relationship being reconciled, something lost being redeemed, a battle being won, a final sacrifice being offered, so that no one ever has to offer another one again, an enemy being loved."  I've found that some people so stress the judicial action of the cross that they forget that Jesus was also purchasing a people for himself, that he was pouring out love upon his enemies, that he was purchasing back something that was once his own.  And we do this with other things, we may focus on the church as a family but forget that it is also a body, a building, a hospital, a bride.  I love the way that Rob just lists all of the illustrations from Scripture out one after another so you can think about the differences between them and realize how easy it is to get wrapped up in a single illustration rather than seeing the picture that God is trying to draw by using ALL of the illustrations together.
2) I also love his treatment of the story of the prodigal son.  He talks about accepting the gospel as humbly accepting God's version of our life story instead of our own, and how often as Christians we need to again trade in our story of guilt, condemnation, or self-righteousness for God's story of unconditional love, grace, and human insufficiency.

There are many more things I could say.  As I stated at the beginning, there are many side points that Bell makes in Love Wins which I greatly appreciate and think we would all do well to learn from, however his overall point seems underdeveloped (lacks a good definition for love), unscriptural (completely leaves out most passages dealing with hell and ignores some implications of his new doctrine), and ill-informed (at least judging from the extreme lack of citations or sources).  I appreciate Bell's tenacity, I appreciate his desire to minister to people who have been hurt by the church, I appreciate his ministry, I appreciate his support of those who are questioning and doubting, I appreciate his love for the Lord and his desire to share that love with others, however this book did not seem to me to be a compelling resource for considering the ultimate things of life.

I would like to end with one thought, though.  Rob does portray some glaring problems with the view of heaven and hell currently held by most evangelicals.  They are problems that I myself have seen when considering eternity in light of Scripture.  It is no secret that I still struggle with my current understanding of the atonement, and I am still seeking answers to some of these questions.  So I would encourage you: read this book.  Ask the questions.  And then seek the truth in Scripture.  I purposefully read Love Wins before reading Erasing Hell by Francis Chan or any other book on the topic because I wanted to allow myself to ask the questions.  I think that too often we try to just take the "answers" from those who have already worked these things out through Scripture rather than ourselves digging into the Word and seeing what God is saying there.  If this review leaves you with anything, I hope it is a desire to read Love Wins and see what Rob Bell has to say.  Not reading it with a critical, angry eye, picking out every little thing that contradicts what you believe, but rather reading it with a humble spirit, allowing his corrections to fall upon fertile soil, and then going to Scripture to see what God really says.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Where Are You Most Vulnerable to Satan's Attack?

We have an awesome Men's Ministry at our [old] church.  (I have to start clarifying...because if everything goes as planned this coming Sunday will be our last Sunday there.)  We typically have a monthly 4M (Men, Meat, Message, Movie) night with anywhere from 15-30 guys.  I attended last night's 4M and the message was on the armor of God.  They're having an Advance (because we don't want to be retreating in our Christian life, we should be advancing) in November where they will be talking about individual pieces of the armor of God, so last night was just a generic discussion of the armor, or more specifically of the Christian life as a battle (one of my favorite metaphors for the Christian life, by the way).

Pastor Jeff led the discussion with several questions and most of it was just "hoohaa, I've heard this before, now I actually have to work to try to figure out how to apply it....." type stuff (if you've been in the church for anything close to a long time you probably know what I mean).  However, there was one question that really stuck out to me and grabbed me.  Jeff asked "Where are you most vulnerable to Satan's attack?  Where does he most often strike you and where do you most often fall?"  This is a question I've heard before thought about many times, but he put the question so directly that it really hit me.  I thought of it another way "What thing(s) in my life keep(s) me from obeying direct commands from God?  What ways does Satan tempt me so that when I have a decision for right or for wrong I will choose wrong?"  This is a great question to ask yourself as well.  What is it in your life?  (feel free to comment)

As soon as he asked, I knew my answer.  My biggest area of weakness (and she knows this and I think would be comfortable with me sharing it) is Dana.  And no, its not what you are all now thinking.  Yes, sexual sin is a weakness for any man, especially an engaged one, but that's not my biggest struggle.  My biggest struggle is when there's something that I think/know that God wants me to do but I also think/know (although in my mind I always KNOW it for a fact) that Dana would not be a fan.  I don't have any specific examples, typically they're too embarrassing to share...because when it actually comes around to it and I admit it out loud I realize that Dana wouldn't have cared one way or another and I was actually being very childish.  But it happens with enough regularity that I would consider it my weakest point.  But its not just with Dana, its with others as well.  I just have this tendency to fear what others think (or so I always thought).  But as I tried to articulate this to the men last night, I realized that that's not what it is at all.  Because the fact of the matter is, I don't really give a hoot about what others think of me.  I mean, to a certain extent any one of us likes to be liked, but when people fawn over me or tell me how great I am, it actually irritates me, but when people correct me or say things they dislike about me it is actually invigorating to a certain extent (not in a weird type of "I like to be hated" way, but in the sense that I like when people see that I'm humanly imperfect).

So as I grasped for words last night to explain this, to make sense of why I am so vulnerable in this type of decision making, it all of a sudden hit me.  It's not that I care what they think, its that I care what I think!  Its that, in my mind, I have created my perceived role in the situation and I must live up to that role, otherwise I feel that in some way I have failed.  And for the most part, this is actually a strength of mine!  It causes me to be self-motivated, it actually helps me make difficult decisions that may offend people, it causes me to be relentless in pursuing my calling, but it creates a problem when my view of my role is not God's view of my role, or even worse, when I think that it is my job to be God!  Ultimately, for me, it comes down to a pride thing.  At times I think that I have to do XY and Z, not because I really do, but because in my mind I am the only one who can do it, or because in my mind I need to do it or I will be disappointed in myself.  And now that I realize this, I feel like it is very freeing, very liberating.  Because, before, if I felt like God had something for me to do that interfered with my idea of what I needed to be/do for Dana, I would cave to my preconceived view of my role instead of to God's desire.  And in my mind I justified it by saying that this is what Dana needs.  But now, when such a situation arises I can ask "Is this really what Dana needs, or is this what I think Dana needs but in reality God (and possibly even Dana) see the situation differently?"

I thank God for this question that was asked last night that helped me to realize these things.  I thank God for our Ministry to Men at church that gave the platform for me to think about and voice these thoughts in my head.  And I thank God for Dana and all of the rest of you that put up with me when I try to be God for you instead of submitting to His will and design for our relationships.

Now I would challenge you to ask yourself, "Where am I most vulnerable to Satan's attacks?"...

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Plunge into the Discussion

This is not my review of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".  For my review click here.

I must say that I heard many bad reports about Rob Bell's most recent book "Love Wins", which is why I got a copy of it.  I am a firm believer in not bashing anything until you've read it, so I decided I would not make any comments, positive or negative, until I have completed the book.
Also, since I am working towards the pastorate I thought that this would be an important book to read as Bell is a very popular pastor and this book has made some waves in the Christian community.  I think that it is important to be up-to-date on current issues and it just so happens that this is one of them.  As such, I am reading this book as I do any book (Christian, secular, fiction, non-fiction), with the premise that the author is not perfect and will therefore say imperfect things and come to imperfect conclusions, but the author is also a thinking, rational human being and as such may say things that inspire honest thought and the pursuit of the truth (whether actually found in their words or by way of the questions it raises in my mind which I then seek to answer through Scripture and thereby come to a fuller understanding of God and His workings in the world).  So I am reading "Love Wins" with two purposes in mind 1) to raise questions in my mind which send me back to Scripture in order to better understand who God is 2) to better understand the issues at hand in order to help others also walk these difficult paths of thought.
I must also say that I have struggled to understand and grasp the concept of the limited atonement for a long time.  It was somewhere around 8 years ago that I asked Pastor Jeff if there were any Scriptural strains of Christian thought that embraced a universal atonement view (he actually referred me to some influential theologians, whom he quotes with some regularity, who do not hold to limited atonement.  I have since forgotten who they were and he does not remember the conversation).  As recently as this year I spent some time again struggling with the idea that God could create people knowing, and even willing, that they would spend eternity in torment.  I understand that sin against a holy God deserves an eternal punishment, I don't have space here to explain why, but I understand that, however there is something that still doesn't sit with me that a holy God would therefore create people knowing they would sin.  In any case, I say all of this to say that I give Rob Bell some props.  He has guts.  Whether he is right or wrong to publish his questions and contemplations, I'll leave that for others to discuss, but I can say that I have struggled through the same questions, have come out with anything but adequate answers, and am typically very cautious as to who I tell that to and how I say it.
So for what it's worth, right or wrong I have a certain level of respect for Rob Bell.  Right or wrong I have a certain level of respect for "Love Wins" (on multiple levels).  Right or wrong I think that it is healthy to ask questions, even when they stray from what is "religiously correct" to ask, so long as we return to Scripture as our guide.
I will finish the book "Love Wins" soon hopefully.  I am about half way through it and already have some thoughts (negative AND positive) swimming around in my head, but as promised, I will not voice them until I have completed the book in its entirety, at which point I will most definitely post my review (as nonacademic and informal as it may be) of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".

Thoughts on a Flower

Today I was thinking about flowers...yes flowers.  (And yes, this may have something to do with the cold reminding me of an unfinished project which I really should start up again...)  While thinking about flowers, something interesting occurred to me.

Flowers hold a sense of beauty in our minds.  It doesn't matter the type of flower (except for maybe dandelions...) or the time or year, a flower always holds a certain level of beauty.  We use them for decoration, cutting them and placing them around our houses; for cosmetic purposes, placing them in our hair or on our clothing (I only do this in private...); for perfume, taking their scents to make ourselves smell more beautiful.

But as beautiful as flowers are, they actually have a real purpose for their existence.  And that purpose is fruit, reproduction, survival.  The flower gives way to the fruit of the plant, to the seed, and therefore is the plant's way of propagating itself and thus ensuring survival of the species (do plants have species?... Hmmm).  In other words, in nature, the flower isn't where it's at.  The flower precedes the truly [beautiful?] important part of the plant, the seed.

How often do we find this in our lives?  How often do we miss the truly important parts of our days and weeks because we are distracted by the beautiful things that will pass away?  How often do we see only the temporal advantages of something but miss the truly eternal aspects of it that will only come through time?

How great is God to provide us with something as beautiful as a flower, even though it has no obvious (other than attracting bees and butterflies) purposes?  God could have made flowers just as bland as many other parts of the landscape, but He made them different, He made the stand out?  But that doesn't mean they're more important, in fact, in some ways they're less important than some of the more bland parts of the plant, such as the leaves, or the seeds, or even the roots!

I hope that I'm not simply a flower in the chain of human existence.  I hope that I'm not beautiful and smell nice (well, I do hope I smell at least ok most of the time) but provide no eternal consequence, no beneficial development.  I hope that I don't pass away without first planting seeds that will spring up into a harvest of life to those around me and those to come after me.  I hope that God gives me the grace to be as efficient as a leaf, as beautiful as a flower, and as beneficial as a seed (sorry root, I couldn't think of anything nice to say about you....but I hope I have good roots as well).

The End.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Question to my Readers

Last Fall I started keeping track of the books I was reading in a "Book List" tab (if you always read my posts through email or a Reader you may not even know this tab exists!)  Since last October I have read 24 books (hopefully it will be 25 by the end of September, that is my goal) and have faithfully documented when I completed each book as well as writing a short, informal review of the book.  I am running into a dilemma, though, that seems like it would be best resolved by taking a vote from you all, my faithful readers (since you are the ones who will be affected by it).

The dilemma:
At this point my Book List has become quite long, and somewhat unmanageable.  I could continue to add books to it as I read them, but it would become almost pointless (and useless to any of you who may be interested) because of its length.  Also, my purpose in keeping track on that tab was so you could see what I was reading, but also so I could see what I was reading (and make sure I keep reading).  By continuing to add to the same list it becomes harder and harder for me to monitor my reading, thus undermining the purposes of the tab.  I was tempted to simplify the list, getting rid of my reviews, and simply listing the books I have read with the date I completed them, however then I would lose all of the reviews I have written which may be helpful to you as well as me in the future.

Possible solutions (this is what you're voting on):
A)  I can continue on the way that I currently am doing it, simply adding books to the already existing list despite its difficulties.  This isn't necessarily a "solution" per se, but it is an option.  It doesn't interfere with the regular workings/posts of this blog but also allows preservation of the reviews I have written.
B) I could start a new list at the start of 2012, calling it "Current Book List" and then have another tab that is "Archived Book List" where I place all of my older reviews.  This helps me to maintain accountability in my reading, allows you to see what I'm currently reading, and if you so desire allows you to see what I've read and what I thought of it.
C) I could start posting my book reviews as blog posts and with the tag "book review".  This would allow you to search my blog for all previous book reviews, and then I could delete any old ones from the "Book List" tab as I so desired.  Probably I would wipe my "Book List" every year and start fresh with a new list, but my record of previously read books would still remain as actual blog posts.  This seems the least messy and the easiest to maintain, but I'm not sure how you all feel about having my book reviews appearing as posts...

Ok, now its time for you to GET YOUR VOTE ON!!!!!!!!!!!!

Book Review: "Triumphing over Sinful Fear" by John Flavel

Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (1682) by John Flavel  This book is an excellent book that I would highly recommend to any Christian.  Flavel addresses the troublesome thoughts and distractions that we all experience to some degree or another from fear.  Long before the volumes on stress were ever written, John Flavel provided the Christian with a succinct guide to the problems of fears and stresses, the causes of these fears, the effects of these fears, and the remedies for these fears.  This book is short and succinct but also highly motivational and encouraging.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overcoming the Distractions of Fear

I've been reading through John Flavel's 120 page book "Triumphing over Sinful Fear".  It has been excellent so far; short and succinct but also insightful and motivating.  He identifies three types of fear: natural fear - which everyone feels when confronted with danger; sinful fear - which comes from a lack of faith; and religious fear - which is the appropriate fear of God, not a fear of punishment but rather a desire to not offend or disappoint God because we recognize His great love for us.
He then identifies and describes the effects of sinful fear.  The first effect is distraction of mind in religious duty (a term which encompasses all effects of grace: prayer, love, good works, communion with believers, etc...)
I do not doubt that it is one of the devil's great designs to keep us in continual fear and alarm, and to puzzle our heads and hearts with a thousand difficulties which will probably never come upon us (even if they do, they will never prove as fatal as we imagine).  He does this to unfit us for present duties and to destroy our comfort in them.  If he can distract our thoughts through fears and terrors, he gains three advantages to our unspeakable loss.

1) He severs us from the freedom and sweetness of communion with God in duties.
2) He severs the soul from the support and relief it should draw from God's promises.
3) He severs us from the comfort that is found in our past experiences and the relief that God's faithfulness and goodness imparted in former straits and dangers.

How often have I fallen into the distraction of mind that is the result of sinful fear!  I fear what others will think of me; I fear what I will think of me; I fear my propensity for making wrong decisions; I fear my propensity to not make decisions.  And slowly these fears become so burdensome to my mind and my heart that I can no longer pray, I no longer have peace, I forget the things that God has done for me in the past, I forget the things that He has for me in the future, I lose my ability to sense His peace and joy, I lose my ability to love.

How sad it is when a Christian allows the devil to conquer him through the distraction of fear.  As we sit and analyze every possible way that a situation could go wrong God is waiting for us to step forward and see how He will make it right.

May we, you and I, step forward on the wings of faith.  May we stop analyzing every decision for every possible pitfall but rather to step forward, trusting in the promises of God.  May we take away our distractions by no longer focusing upon the problems, but rather praying for the solutions, with our minds set steadfastly upon God and His promises, our hearts sustained unwaveringly by the Holy Spirit, and our souls nourished continually, not by bread alone, but by the very words that proceed from the mouth of God.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trusting Christ in Everyday Life

This is a good illustration by Francis Chan, I highly recommend it.  I found it to be extremely convicting, especially as now is a time in our (mine and Dana's) life when we are looking ahead and trying to discern God's path for us.  It is always tempting to take the easy and comfortable road, to just try to have that "normal life" that everyone strives for, instead of recognizing that sometimes God will call us to do radical and extreme, uncomfortable and difficult things.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: "The Autobiography of George Muller"

The Autobiography of George Muller (1899) Whitaker House (Publisher)  George Muller's autobiography is composed of portions of his diary.  George Muller was converted in his early 20's and later went on to pastor a congregation, start an orphanage which held 1150 orphans, as well as many missionary trips.  Most notably, though, he never received a salary nor solicited funds but rather prayed for his daily needs.  This autobiography is both inspiring and motivating.  I would recommend it to anyone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: "The True Bounds of Christian Freedom" by Samuel Bolton

The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (1645) Samuel Bolton  This book makes a great case for the place of the law in the life of a Christian.  He shows how Christian obedience fits in with God's grace and the effects of sin upon a believers life.  This book is fairly indepth and definitely not a beginner read, however for someone who has questioned how it is that a believer is to obey God without being again bound to the law and therefore legalism, this is a great book.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: "Simply Christian" by N. T. Wright

Simply Christian (2006) by N. T. Wright  The goal of this book is to introduce the major themes of Christianity to someone who may not know the Christian message but is interested in more, or someone who has long been part of the church but is confused as to what the big deal is all about.  Wright does an amazing job of explaining difficult ideas in everyday, understandable language that is both accessible and easy while also being deep and expansive.  He starts the book by explaining four things all humans long for and likening them to an echo of a voice within our world, as the book unfolds he then goes to show how the Christian message explains all of these things, how they link to the working of God in (re)creation, specifically Jesus Christ, and how this all ties back into what it means to be a recreated one who is furthering the kingdom and work of God in the world.  At times Wright oversimplifies things, at times he forces the Christian view into Old Testament Judaism, at times he generalizes on points he perhaps could have been more specific on, but overall this is a book that I would recommend to anyone interested in Christianity but hesitant or unsure of what it's all about as well as anyone who has been in the church for a while but is not sure as to how to get involved.  This book is a great starting point as well as a great reminder to all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hunger for God

"The revelation of Jesus is a layer by layer unfolding of divine secrets to those with one common attribute - hunger.  Age doesn't matter, education doesn't matter, and social status or race doesn't matter.  God gives himself in response to one thing and one thing only, and that is the burning desire to know him.  A poverty stricken woman in a hut in Africa can experience the revelation of Jesus just as easily as a respected theologian in North America.  Perhaps easier.  She better understands what it means to be truly hungry."  (The Presence Based Church by Terry Teykl)

Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: "The Knowledge of the Holy" by A.W. Tozer

The Knowledge of the Holy (1961) by A. W. Tozer (8/2/11)  This is an excellent book which considers many attributes of God each separately while recognizing throughout that they are all connected (or more properly, one unified being, which is God Himself.  Tozer would say that you cannot say God's attributes are interconnected, because you cannot properly even tease them apart.)  He also emphasizes the need to grow in a knowledge of God even though He is unknowable.  The book would be all but perfect if it were not for the last two chapters.  Throughout the whole book Tozer emphasizes the need to not leave out any one attribute in a finite attempt to explain another, but then in the second to last chapter he tries to explain God's sovereignty and how that interacts with human will in such a way as to limit God's omniscience.  He would have been better off explaining sovereignty biblically and leaving the rest up to the reader.  The last chapter then gives the "requirements" for knowing God, which I believe to be overly cumbersome and complicated, and somewhat unbiblical.  However, as a whole, the book is an excellent treatise on the attributes of God, and rather accessible and readable at that.

Drought in Texas

I received this email from my brother today and thought I would share.  It literally made me laugh out loud! 
There is an article on yahoo about a drought in Texas right now.  Here is a comment that someone posted that I thought you would find hilarious:

It's so dry in Texas that the Baptists are starting to baptize by sprinkling, the Methodists are using wet-wipes, the Presbyterians are giving out rain-checks, The Mormons quit baptizing the dead and the Catholics are praying for the wine to turn back into water. Now that's Dry!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: "Your Mind Matters" by John Stott

Your Mind Matters (1972) by John R. W. Stott  This book offers an excellent balance between knowledge and emotion as well as knowledge and action, while at the same time perfectly explaining the need for Christians to grow in knowledge and to use their minds to the glory of God.  Too often the church has tried to bypass the mind in evangelism, worship, and discipleship; we have made appeals to the emotions rather than to the reason, and therefore transformation is short-lived, radical, and shallow.  This book shows why the Bible stresses that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  It gives reasons why we as Christians need to use our minds, and then practical ways and places to use our minds.  I would highly recommend this book to any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

God's Place in My Life

Yesterday I put up a facebook status that brought on a bit of debate.  My status was "Rule # 1 of life: Don't get attached too tightly to anything but God. He has a way of taking everything else away in one way or another." and in the course of debate I was sent a link to this blog post which was excellent and I would highly recommend reading.  Anyways, through the course of this all, I decided that I wanted to write down some of the thoughts that I'm having in connection to all of this.  If you would like to read the discussion which took place on my facebook status I have included the important parts at the end of this post.

First, I have this horrible tendency to overemphasize surrender and humility so that it can seem like I do not believe in enjoying things around us or seeing any good in ourselves, which are both not true, but it can come across that way.  So, if I go there in this post, I’m sorry, you’ll have to forgive me and overlook those things that I say.

Now, for the real content of my thoughts.  You know, I used to struggle to understand how we are to love God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength but still love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we love our neighbor aren’t we taking some of our love away from God and thereby not loving Him with our complete self?
In the same way, I have struggled many times to understand how I can find my complete and entire satisfaction and joy from God alone without leaving everything behind (which is not possible short of suicide) to live off of God and nothing else.  How I am to be willing to leave everything behind to follow Him, even family and friends, home and job, dreams and desires; but still live with all of these things?
What God has taught me in both of these areas is that it is a matter of a changed perspective, not necessarily a change of habits (although changing the way we view the world will always change the way we live in it).  What I’ve come to see is that I can (and only should) love others as an extension of my love for God.  You see, when I love others out of my own love, they receive a broken, incomplete, selfish love (because that is all that I am capable of), but when I love them because I love God, and I love God because He first loved me, suddenly I am loving them with God’s love which is whole, pure, and perfect (although I am not always a perfect conduit of it).  I actually have a greater ability to love others when I love God with my WHOLE being, when everything I do and say is out of love for God I suddenly am liberated to love others with a much greater love.
In the same way, when I recognize that all the things of this life, all the good that I see and receive, are from God I am liberated to fully enjoy them.  When we enjoy something for its own value or worth it is an incomplete joy and pleasure that we experience, because we must always enjoy them with a fear that we will lose them.  However, when we recognize that our full and complete joy comes from God, and that should this thing before us that we find such pleasure in disappear God will remain, then we are actually free to enjoy everything around us without the fear of losing it, because we know that should we lose it there is One who is exponentially more glorious who will supply all of our needs.

And this is where the whole idea of attachment comes in.  When we become so attached to something that we are not willing to give it up we are no longer loving it out of a love for God and enjoying it out of thanksgiving, instead we are using it to try to replace God in our life and it is competing with Him for first place in our soul.  If we surrender it to Him and make Him alone God in our heart, then we would be willing to echo with Job “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” but since we have made that thing as important or more important than God we suddenly say “But God, I can’t live without that!”.

I’ve been there.  There was a time that my relationship with God was suffering.  I could not sense His Spirit, I could not hear His voice, I struggled through worship services and times of hearing the Word or reading it on my own.  And so I took some time and said, “God, what is it, I will do anything to be brought back into communion and full fellowship with you” and He said “This, give this up”.  I said back “I’ll do anything but that”.  At that point I knew that I was not taking joy in that thing for Christ’s sake but rather for my own.  I was not seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness but my own satisfaction and dreams.  And slowly over the next 4 months He worked in my heart as I ran the other way until finally, after 4 months of running, I was willing to submit and say “Not my will, but thine be done”.  What I learned from that is that it is good to enjoy things, it is good to love things, it is good to desire things; but when we start putting those things over God it becomes a problem.  Not because God needs attention and gets mad and comes and destroys things when we give that attention to something other than Him, but because we were created to worship God and God alone, because I cannot be entirely satisfied by things of this world (I have tried) and I cannot love with my own strength and power, so it is ONLY when I am in submission (yes, it’s a difficult word, but I’ve come to the place where I WANT to submit to the creator and controller of the universe) and surrender that I can truly live and taste the joy of that life.

For the praise and glory of my God and Father, through the work of His Son which restores us to Himself, and the patience of the Spirit in teaching our hearts, I pray that He will open the eyes of your heart to taste and see that He is good.

Discussion from facebook:
My Status: Rule # 1 of life: Don't get attached too tightly to anything but God. He has a way of taking everything else away in one way or another.

Me: The first of the 10 commandments - You shall have no other gods before me.
When we struggle to give something up it shows where our priorities (and worship) are going.
It's a matter of surrender. And God likes to find ways to make us surrender...
I strongly believe it should be the goal of every follower of Jesus to surrender everything in their life to God so that they can honestly and clearly say "Take the world but give me Jesus". We should be willing to leave EVERYTHING behind in order to follow His leading.
It's a process.

Someone A: So 'god' is this heavenly troll who cant stand us having good things in our lives that we enjoy and delight in?
Should we all be monks?

Someone B: On the contrary. God is the best thing we can have. And as humans we don't always see that. It takes God breaking us of our idols to bring us to the realization that he is the best thing we can have. It's not that he doesn't want us to have good things, for in fact he does. But it's when those good things become over important that God may break us of those idols.

Someone A: So, you are saying, he is a possessive control-freak who doesnt want anything to be bigger than him. And in doing so, will take immediate and decisive action against anything that does, using brutal force to literally destroy.
Some happy "Rule #1" there. 

1) No, He is not a "possessive control freak", rather He is a loving Father who knows what's best for us. Sometimes a Father uses discipline to grow his children whom he loves, in the same way God sometimes shows us what is best through discipline.
2) God never takes something away from us because He is afraid that it's bigger than Him or because He is trying to take away our joy. Rather, He does it to show us that He IS what is biggest and that our joy and delight ultimately comes from Him.
3) Following on the last thought, God does not take things away from us so that we lose everything permanently, and when I said about Christians being WILLING to leave everything for God I was not talking about a monastic lifestyle, rather as Christians we should recognize that God is the giver of ALL good gifts, but that as God it is also His prerogative to give AND take away (and yes, sometimes for our good He does take things away).
4) Who am I to judge God? If He feels it is for the best and would bring Him the most glory for me to lose all of my earthly possessions and learn to live on Him alone, should I become depressed and angry like Jonah when the vine that gave him shade withered, or should I rejoice with Paul or with Job that I have been counted worthy to suffer for Him? Who am I to judge the heart of God, is it not instead Him who judges my heart and my motives, and who lovingly instructs me to cling to him alone because that IS what is best for me?

No, He's not a troll and He's not a control freak, He's the creator of the universe who is always lovingly pointing us towards Himself, because that is what is best.