Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What is Salvation? The beginning of a daunting task

Assuming that a person believes that Jesus is God in the flesh and has committed their life to following Him, it seems that the most important question relating to matters of faith becomes: How is it that Jesus has corrected the problem of sin thereby allowing rebellious people to turn in faith to God?

I recently wrote a five-page biblical plotline paper, and as I tried to strip away everything that is periphery to the Christian faith and consider what constitutes the basic storyline of the Bible, I realized that it is the answer to this very question; so it follows that the way you answer this question will effect the way you read the entirety of Scripture and understand every facet of the Christian faith.

These are not new thoughts, two years ago I began reading the book "Four Views on the Atonement" which centers on this very question, but I have once again realized how important it is for Christians to understand how sin is conquered and communion with God made possible (my basic definition of "atonement").  Not only does this affect how we read and understand Scripture, it has an inestimable impact on how we live each day in a broken world, how we worship the Almighty Creator, and how we approach sharing our faith with those around us.  This question of the atonement, the nature of sin and salvation, is of utmost importance.

So, I have decided to dedicate a series of blogposts to this topic.  I realize from the start that I am biting off more than I can chew, but I will set out to chew it anyways.  My goal is to take a passage of Scripture each week (some weeks that may be 5 verses, other weeks it may be 5 chapters) and consider what implications it has for our understanding of atonement, starting in Genesis and going through Revelation.  There are 1189 chapters in the Bible and 52 weeks in a year, so if I am actually faithful in doing these every week and if I average a chapter each week, it will only take 23 years to complete.  As I said, I'm biting off more than I can chew, but chew I will.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you may realize that, while I am dedicated to thinking and writing, I am not consistent.  I started this blog in order to have a place to write my thoughts about God and life as I walk in faith with Jesus.  There have been times with many thoughts and much writing and times with little thought and no writing.  While I will be writing my findings as I search the Scriptures concerning the atonement, this is ultimately a personal goal to continue to grow in my faith and relationship with God.

May we be near God always, as He is near to us.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3

This was another thought assignment for my Biblical Interpretation class, although I think many of you will find this one much more interesting.  It is based upon 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 as well as some specific questions provided by my professor.  Since what I wrote assumes general knowledge of the passage, it may be helpful to read it before continuing to read this post.

We find from 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 that when a believer finds sin in their life the only appropriate response is to turn and seek God with all their heart; when they do they will learn that there is always more to find, discover, and love.

Paul begins by stating in very stark terms that the only way we can understand God or the things of God is through the Spirit of God.  There are echoes of Isaiah 55:8-11 where God says that His thoughts are greater than the thoughts of man and then calls people to abandon their own thoughts in order to embrace His.  Paul goes on to contrast the spiritual person, who learns the thoughts of God directly from the Spirit of God, and the carnal person, who cannot understand the wisdom of God but instead hears it as foolishness.  This is a common theme in Scripture that is often forgotten in the modern church.  John tells the disciples in his first epistle that they have no need for any man to teach them because the anointing they received would teach them all things (1 John 2:27).  This seems to be repeating the explanation Jesus gives for the Spirit’s coming in John 16:13 and follows the same themes as James 1:1-8 and Peter’s interpretation of Joel 2:28-29.

If it is only through the Spirit that we learn anything of God, then the only conceivable posture for a Christian, whether a spiritually immature Corinthian believer or Paul himself, is on their knees begging God to reveal Himself.  Once a person understands that they know nothing except for what they have received, it will constantly drive them to God to receive.  This is in line with the common teaching of the New Testament (and indeed the whole Bible) that God is looking for those who will seek Him (Matt 7:7-8, Heb 11:6, Deut 4:29, Is 55:6-7, as a few instances).  Within the context of 1 Corinthians, this concept is further developed in chapter 8 when Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.”  Clearly, this refers to Paul as much as it refers to the Corinthian believers.  Thus, Paul’s statements regarding the differences between those taught by the Spirit and those who are carnal, worldly, and receive the wisdom as God as foolishness, which could sound pompous, proud, and judgemental (and have often been used by others in such a way), are actually a humble appeal from Paul for those in conflict in Corinth to seek God and the wisdom that He gives.

In the midst of Greek logic and Jewish naturalism, Paul declares that truth comes in neither form.  For Paul, Truth (YHWH) cannot be known through observation or study, rather, He is known when He makes Himself known.  When Paul speaks of spiritual words to spiritual men he is not saying that they are using different words to communicate the gospel, as in a new language or lingo, rather, the spirit (Spirit) behind the words is different, and thus he calls them spiritual words that are communicating spiritual truths to spiritual people.  The reason this can be said at all is because it is not the words that are communicating, but rather the Spirit of God through those words and the people speaking the words (vs 11).  The Spirit must act to reveal God to an individual before that individual can comprehend anything of God.  In this context Paul is showing that this can take place in multiple ways, specifically through the preached word or directly through the teaching of the Spirit.  However, Paul never addresses HOW the Spirit communicates with these “spiritual men”, so the only solid conclusion that we can draw is that there are those capable of receiving from the Spirit and those who are not capable.

Paul then goes on to speak of the carnal man in the beginning of chapter 3.  The carnal man is the one who has not received the Spirit or the words of the Spirit.  He is the one who is a “mere man” and is prone to quarrels, false judgements, and dissension.  There seems to be a dilemma here because Paul refers to the Corinthians as “infants in Christ” while also maintaining that they are “carnal”.  How can this be?  Since we have established that the one who has received the Spirit is spiritually minded and the one who has not received the spirit is fleshly, how can Paul say that they are fleshly but also call them “infants in Christ”?  It would seem that Paul himself is unwilling to completely cast them aside as carnal.  He states it in terms of his own predicament; looking on at them from the outside it appears that they are carnal and not spiritual in any way, but he trusts that they are infants in Christ which is the only reason he still appeals to them as “brothers” at all.  And so he leaves them with a question, “...since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?”  Paul is not yet prepared to make this judgement, so he provides the evidence and asks them to make the judgement themselves.  Based on their actions, Paul is calling the Corinthian church out.  He is saying, in effect, “You know not God nor the things of God.  Your actions betray you.”  And they have no choice but to recognize that what he says is the truth.  Beyond that, Paul is saying to them that he was already aware of it and would have pointed it out to them but their own pride restricted him from doing so.  Conflict was necessary for the real spiritual issues to surface and to allow Paul to address them.

Paul’s warnings here to the Corinthians, as well as his words in Romans 8, show that he considered it impossible to behold God and remain unchanged.  The man who has the Spirit is being consistently given greater revelations of God through the face of Jesus (2 Cor 3:7-18) and is being transformed from one degree of glory to another.  The test as to whether one has received from the Spirit of God is their life, and the warning is to those who think they stand (1 Cor 10:1-13) because the moment one takes their eyes off of Jesus they have already begun to fall, just as Peter began to sink as he walked out to meet Jesus on the sea (Matt 14:22-33).  Like Peter, the only proper response of a spiritual person upon realizing they are falling, is to cry out to God to save them.  In neither context does Paul seem to be suggesting that one ought measure their spirituality against another, rather, he is suggesting that when that person finds areas of weakness they ought to turn but back to Jesus to be refilled, once again, with His Spirit.  Both in 1 Corinthians 2 and Romans 8 Paul is clearly stating that true spiritual transformation will always result in life transformation.  The purpose is not to identify who is spiritual and who is not, but rather to question if I am spiritual or not!

And so, the main thrust of 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 is an encouragement for believers in conflict to consider whether they have truly received the words of the Spirit and whether they are living transformed lives.  Whenever a believer sees sin in their heart or life it should cause them to once again fall at the feet of their Savior seeking His Spirit to fill and renew them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Doctrine of Scripture

This was a "thought assignment" for my Biblical Interpretation class at Biblical Theological Seminary, but I thought some of you might appreciate it as well.

                                                     The Bible’s Teaching on Inspiration
Instructions: On a separate sheet of paper, list what implications the following Scripture passages have for the “doctrine of Scripture.” List as many as you can. Be as specific as you can.
Deuteronomy 18:18-22
·         In context: Because of the request of the people at Horeb to not hear the voice of the Lord but for Moses, instead, to speak for Him, Moses says that God will continue to raise up prophets to speak for Himself.  But Jesus is the final prophet, and now the Word of God is placed into every believer’s heart through the Holy Spirit.  We now, through Jesus, can gaze upon the glory of God and hear from God directly.
·         vs 19 – God speaks through the prophet, but it is still God himself speaking “I myself will call him who does not listen to the prophet to account”
·         God speaking through other means in no way diminishes His Word
Jeremiah 1:4-9
·         These verses could seem to imply that God ordained Jeremiah to speak for Him, placing His “words” in Jeremiah’s mouth so that whatever Jeremiah spoke, God spoke.
o   vs 12 The very next thing God says to Jeremiah is that He is watching to ensure that His word is fulfilled
o   Throughout the book Jeremiah continually says , “The word of the Lord came to me” and during his prophecies seems to interlace “declares the Lord” more often than most.  It would appear that Jeremiah was still very clear as to when God was speaking to (and through) him and when he alone was speaking.
Num. 22:38, 23:5, 12, 16
·         Are Abraham’s descendents God’s only people?  If so I am in trouble, as I am not Jewish.  Balaam reminds us that “the eyes of YHWH roam to and fro throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  Our faith is not in Abraham, our faith is in Jesus.
·         I do not understand how this passage has anything to do with the inspiration of Scripture.  Yes, God has spoken through those outside of Judaism, but He has chosen to reveal Himself in certain specific ways through  the line of Abraham (and David).
2 Sam. 23:1-3; Matt. 22:43; Acts 1:16
·         The Spirit of the Lord can, and at times does, inspire people to speak for Him.
·         Jesus and Peter both understood the Old Testament (or at least the words of David) to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit.
·         The Holy Spirit was the one speaking, but He was using David as a mouthpiece.  It is fairly specific, though, that the Holy Spirit was the one speaking.
·         Peter uses the test of Deut 18 for Scripture itself.  It must come true.
1 Ki. 17:24
·         This seems to say more about the woman than about Elijah speaking God’s Word.
·         Interesting parallel to Jesus and His miracles.  They were signs that He was speaking the words of God.
2 Chron. 35:22 (?)
·         God is sovereign over everything, He is all-powerful and all-controlling.  Is there ever a time, event, or person through whom God is not speaking?
·         Is this specific revelation or general revelation?  Necho is speaking at God’s command; does that mean he is speaking God’s words?
2 Chron. 36:12, 21-22
·         In order to fulfill the word He spoke through Jeremiah, God moved Cyrus to speak :)

Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Ezra 1:1
·         Same as 2 Chron 36
Isaiah 51:16, 59:21
·         It is the Spirit that empowers Isaiah to speak
·         God can place His Spirit on whomever He pleases
Ezek. 3:27
·         God controls how and when His Word is spoken
Zech. 7:12
·         God speaks through prophets by His Spirit
2 Tim. 3:16
·         We can KNOW that God has spoken in Scripture
2 Pet. 1:19-21
·         We can be assured that God spoke through the prophets in Scripture
·         We are not to treat Scripture as the words of mean speaking for God, rather, we are to regard it as God Himself speaking.
           Also: Exodus 4:10-16
·      God says, “I will help BOTH of you speak”
·      Moses is giving Aaron the thoughts and ideas of God, Aaron is communicating those thoughts and ideas to the people, but in the end it is God who is speaking.
·      vs 11 – Should it surprise us that the one who created human mouths is able to communicate through them?

1)  At many times and in many ways God has spoken.  At many times and in many ways people have presumed to be speaking for God when they assuredly were NOT.  Hence, the value of Scripture is that it is undeniably God’s Word.
2)  When God speaks through people, we are to regard their words as God’s words.  Thus, we ought to regard every word of Scripture as the Word of God
3)  God has spoken through broken vessels many times, even through Moses’ bumbling speech.  Thus, when the process of transcription and translation has contained errors, we can still consider Scripture the undeniable Word of God.
4)  Scripture as we have it today is not without errors, but we should not question whether this or that section is the words of men or the Word of God.  God is clear that He uses His Spirit to inspire men to communicate on His behalf.
5)  We should not expect that Scripture is the ONLY way that God gives special revelation since He has placed His Spirit on people many times throughout history to speak for Him.  However, since Scripture is undeniably special revelation, any future revelation must stand up to the test of Scripture.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reading Scripture: Is simply reading enough or should we expect more?

At the end of September and beginning of October I posted these two quotes from "God on Fire" by Fred A. Hartley on Facebook.
There is nothing more wearisome, pointless, or boring than trying to carry out church life without the fire of God's presence.
Any religious experience that does not lead us to an encounter with the fire of God's manifest presence is a big ripoff. A fruitless vine. A rainless cloud. An idol. It promises great things and yet leaves us empty.
To me, they seemed to echo themes of Scripture:
These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Isaiah 29:13 - quoted by Jesus in Matt. 15:8-9
This states that it is possible to worship ("carry out church life" as Fred A. Hartley says) without truly encountering God.

Even to this day when Moses [Scripture] is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. - 2 Cor. 3:15-16
Here Paul states that the Jews read and heard Scripture without truly encountering God in all of His glory.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. - Jeremiah 29:12-13

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, his is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him...If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:21, 23
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20
These three Scriptures all suggest that there are those who call themselves "the people of God" who have not actually "found God", "been shown Jesus", or "eaten with Him".

- - - - -

Quite unexpectedly to me, the posts from "God on Fire" were met with quite a discussion regarding the nature of Scripture and what we ought to expect when we seek God.  The heart of the discussion seemed to revolve around the question: Is reading Scripture an encounter with God, or is it possible to read Scripture and not have encountered God?  I would affirm that Scripture is, in fact, the words of God, it is God-breathed, and so, in that sense, when one reads Scripture they have heard from God.  However, I would also suggest that, as one can read a letter that a person has written without ever meeting or knowing the person, so it is possible to listen to God speak through Scripture without ever meeting or encountering God, without ever truly hearing God.  The difference is not in the nature of Scripture, as God's words, or in the nature of the experience: an exciting, emotional, supernatural encounter should not be expected; rather, the difference is in the heart of the reader (worshiper, seeker).

I am currently in a course at Biblical Seminary on Biblical Interpretation, which has once again brought this topic to the forefront of my mind.  After a month and a half of contemplation I still was not any closer to a conclusion on the topic.  I knew that I agreed in essence with the argument others were presenting on Facebook: affirming Scripture as the words of God and not requiring some secondhand experience with an "inner light" or emotional experience apart from Scripture.  I knew I also agreed with Fred A. Hartley: simply reading the Bible, praying, and attending services of worship does not necessitate an encounter with God; there are those who worship, but not in spirit and truth; there are those who approach God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him; there are those who seek God, but not with all their hearts.

Today I was reading "Eat This Book" by Eugene Peterson and he said something that brought clarity to my thoughts on this.

"The primary organ for receiving God's revelation is not the eye that sees but the ear that hears - which means that all of our reading of Scripture must develop into a hearing of the word of God."  "Language is essentially oral.  We learn our language not from a book, not from a person writing words, but from a person speaking them.  The written word has the potential to resurrect the speaking voice and listening ear, but it does not insist upon it.  The word can just sit there on the page and be analyzed or admired or ignored.  Just because we have read doesn't mean we have heard it."
And so, these are my conclusions:

1) It is possible to read the words of Scripture without receiving the person of Jesus.  This was true of the people of God in the past: the Jews of Isaiah and Jeremiah's day, the Pharisees of Jesus' day, and the Christians in Laodicea.

2) We ought not to expect some mystical or emotional experience when seeking God.  The fire of God's manifest presence, being filled with the Holy Spirit, is not evidenced by radical moments but by radical lives.  We are not seeking an experience, we are seeking God!

3) Any reading of Scripture that does not come from a heart of seeking God results in listening to the words without hearing The Word.  Hearing The Word will always result in living the words.  Evidence of an encounter with God is transformation; therefore, "church life" and "religious experience" that does not lead to change and transformation has not moved from the realm of human activity to a true divine encounter.

Therefore, I would say that it IS possible to read Scripture without encountering the fire of God's manifest presence.

May we be those who hear and obey.  May we be those who seek with all our hearts.  May we be those who love God and are known by Him.  May we encounter the fire of the manifest presence of the living God.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Creation: Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

Friday was difficult.  I made some poor choices and found myself feeling guilty, ashamed, and childish.  As I talked to God about it I found myself asking, "What are you doing Lord?  I've tried everything to fix myself.  I've tried changing my environment; I've tried changing my thoughts; I've tried changing my habits; but I just keep finding myself making stupid choices.  What does it mean that you've created me anew, because let me tell you, I sure don't feel like I am.  And how do I live as this new creation?  What does it look like?"
When Paul says in Romans 7 that he does what he does not want to do he ends with "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  But what about when we're stuck in the wretchedness of the flesh and deliverance seems nowhere to be found?  What do we do?  How do we walk?  What does it mean, in that moment, that we are a new creature?  These are the questions I was asking God.  And I came right out and said, "I've come to the end of myself.  I just don't know how to continue walking this walk.  It seems like everything I try fails."  And I left it at that in His hands.
And the funny thing is, if there's one thing I've learned about God over my life it is that when you honestly ask a question He answers.  And so the topic of our sermon this morning was new creation.  And as we looked at Galatians 6:15 which reads (in the 1984 NIV) "The only thing that counts is new creation" my eye was drawn back to chapter 5 verse 6 which says "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

Now these verses are not referencing each other and I don't think we can take it as a direct comparison statement in which Paul is specifically stating that new creation and faith expressing itself through love are equivalents, but at the same time, as I looked these verses over, I felt that in a very real sense we can understand and describe the new creation in this way.  What does it mean that we have been created anew?  It means that we have faith in God, we have faith that He is redeeming us, we have faith that he has and is delivering us from this body of death, even when it doesn't look like it.  And because of this faith, we are able to live out of love, we are able to leave guilt and shame behind and instead operate out of the grace and beauty that we have received in Christ.

And I sat there amazed at how quickly and concisely God chose to answer my direct question to Him.  We serve a great God who "is delivering" us.  Trust Him.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Intimacy with God

I woke up around 4:30 this morning and rolled around restlessly in bed until 5.  Dana warned me multiple times that if I kept moving about I was going to "get the boot".  I finally got up and ate something; I never really had dinner last night so my stomach felt hollow.  Then I headed back to bed.  As I lay there I thought, "Why are you laying here trying to sleep when you know you're going to wake up in two hours more tired and you've been looking for time to pray?  Maybe this is God's way of giving you time with Him."
So, I lay there and fought with myself for a few minutes and finally told myself I was being ridiculous and got up.  Its funny how, when we haven't been regularly taking it, time alone with God can seem like such a chore.  Honestly, it seems like most days anymore I forget how much I need God and how sweet He is.  Father, how I need you!  How I love you!  How I want you!  You are sweeter than any other thing, more present than the world around, but so often my eyes are squeezed so tightly shut that you seem a million miles away.
So, I got up and took a walk.  Prayer is a funny thing, I find it has a lot more to do with creating space to be alone with God than with saying or doing anything specific.  I just enjoyed the beautiful morning with God.  After my walk I watered my garden and then made some coffee and sat out on our "porch" in a light rain.  When it wasn't raining I read "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller, and when it started raining enough to wet the page I would lay the book down and take it as God's cue to just enjoy Him.  So I sat for an hour moving between reading and "praying" and was reminded how important these times are.
So, here's some little nuggets from Paul Miller about prayer which stood out even more to me given the context of the morning.

"Besides asking and believing like a child, learning to pray involves learning to play again.  How do little children play?  If you ask a parent how long a one-year-old stays on task, they'll just smile.  But if you must know, it varies anywhere from three seconds to three minutes.  It isn't long, nor is it particularly organized.  How can that teach us to pray?  Think for a minute.  How do we structure our adult conversations?  We don't.  Especially when talking with old friends, the conversation bounces from subject to subject.  It has a fun, meandering, play-like quality.  Why would our prayer time be any different?  After all, God is a person."

"Jesus is, without question, the most dependent human being who ever lived...When Jesus tells us to believe, he isn't asking us to work up some spiritual energy.  He is telling us to realize that, like him, we don't have the resources to do life.  When you know that you (like Jesus) can't do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense.  But it goes even deeper than that.  Jesus defines himself only in relationship with his heavenly Father.  Adam and Eve began their quest for self-identity after the Fall.  Only after they acted independently of God did they have a sense of a separate self.  Because Jesus has no separate sense of self, he has no identity crisis, no angst.  Consequently, he doesn't try to "find himself."  He knows himself only in relationship with his Father.  He can't conceive of himself outside that relationship...That's why contemplating the terror of the cross at Gethsemane was such agony for Jesus.  He had never experienced a moment when he wasn't in communion with his Father.  Jesus' anguish is our normal."

May you take time today to be alone with your Father.  Ask Him for things, tell Him things, just be silent with Him.  And may you find the intimacy that we all crave and desire deep within our souls.  May you find rest, peace, hope, and joy.  And overall, may you experience the love of God washing over your heart, soul, and mind, cleansing you of sin and filling you with His presence.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Approaching God as Pilgrims and Disciples Rather than Tourists

I've been wanting to read "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" by Eugene Peterson for a while now.  Today I finally picked it up and started, and only two pages into the first chapter I have something I want to share.  I hope you enjoy this analogy as much as I do; may it encourage you to a life of faith and love for God.

There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset.  Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure.
Everyone is in a hurry.  The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach and teach, want shortcuts.  They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity).  They are impatient for results.  They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points.  But a pastor is not a tour guide!
For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world's ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim.  Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ.  We are in a growing-learning relationship, always.  A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman.  We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.
Pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.  We realize that "this world is not my home" and set out for "the Father's house."  Abraham, who "went out," is our archetype.  Jesus, answering Thomas's question "Master, we have no idea where you're going.  How do you expect us to know the road?"  gives us directions: "I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life.  No one gets to the Father apart from me" (Jn 14:5-6).  The letter to the Hebrews defines our program: "Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?  It means we'd better get on with it.  Strip down, start running - and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in"  (Heb 12:1-2)

May we not approach religion as tourists, looking to see the sites for a day here, a month there, in between the regular duties and responsibilities of life.  Rather, may our religion, our experience of God, be our life; may it inform everything we do, say, and think.  Let's not give God a day to transform us, let's give him our lives.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Oh, For a Closer Walk with God

I came across this hymn today in planning for next Sunday's service, and the words struck home in my heart.

Oh, for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb! 
Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and his word? 
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed, how sweet their memory still.
But they have left an aching void the world can never fill. 
Return, O holy Dove, return, sweet Messenger of rest.
I hate the sins that made thee mourn, and drove thee from my breast. 
The dearest idol I have known, whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne, and worship only thee. 
So shall my walk be close to God, calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road that leads me to the Lamb.

We all have moments when we feel distant from God.  Sometimes it seems God has moved far away, and sometimes it seems we have.  When we feel that way, when we feel empty, alone, or with less of God than we've had, this needs to be our prayer, "Help me tear [my idols] from your throne, and worship only you."  There are always things that we make more important than God, but these moments of emptiness, these times when we are confronted with the coldness of the world and the darkness we live in apart from the Spirit of God, these are opportunities to fall more in love with God, not less.  These are times when we learn faithfulness and joy, not because of our circumstances but because of truth.

The truth is that God loves us.  The truth is that God has made a way for us to live in communion with Him.  The truth is that God has brought peace for us and our world.  The truth is that, no matter how we feel, we ought to live lives of peace and love once we know these things.  And the truth is that, if we continue walking and living in accordance with God's word and will and continue to seek Him in all that we do, we will find Him, we will see Him, and we will know Him.

Oh, for a closer walk with God.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where Do You Go To Pray?

I posted this to facebook back in December on a Sunday morning.  I thought it was worth reposting here.
Went to Walmart this morning around 6 before coming to church and I had the thought "Now THIS is America's temple." What would it look like if we would "Every day meet together in the temple courts, devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Many of us go to Walmart multiple times each week anyways, why not coordinate our trips and take 15-20 minutes to pray together, share what God's teaching us through His Word, and simply be in fellowship. Perhaps we aren't seeing God "add those to our number who are being saved" because we are hiding in our churches rather than meeting in the temple courts.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Resurrection: Do You Believe This?

I came across this video today and it seemed an appropriate response to my recent post on life after death as well as my current spiritual condition.  I'm realizing more and more that I've been living in a state of hopelessness.  As I'm faced with the reality of brokenness: within myself, within the church [Christ's body], and within our world; I've come to a point of despair.  I wonder if there's any hope, any meaning, any purpose.  Why read, learn, and grow?  Why follow and love?  Why get out of bed? Why care?

But there are faint glimmers.  There are breakthroughs.  There are those moments when I am down on my face wondering if God even hears, if He even cares, that I hear the still small voice, that I feel His touch, that I remember, turn back to Him once again, and believe.

The other night as we were getting ready for bed I was overwhelmed with a desire for God.  I lay in bed unable to fall asleep as my heart burned within me, and finally I realized that I needed to get up and make space in my life for Him, for intimate one-on-one time.  There's been less and less of that.  So I got out of bed at an already late hour and started reading in John 13, which is when Jesus washes the disciples feet, and I read right up through His arrest in John 18.  I honestly forget what night it was, but it must have been Maundy Thursday because I did not continue reading through the crucifixion as it was not yet Good Friday.

I was struck by this section of John 14 as it seemed to speak right to my current deliberations, and now this video brings it to mind.  "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

What a promise!  What a hope!  This is why we do not despair: because he lives, we also will live; because we are in him, we love him; because we love him, he loves us and shows himself to us.  I want to see the Lord.  I want to see Jesus.  I want Jesus to show himself to me.  And he promises that he will.

I do not despair.  There is hope.  Jesus has been raised!  Do you believe this?

Disclaimer:  I wish that I didn't have to say this, but I feel that I must.  Rob Bell and his theology are controversial.  I have written previously on this topic, and while I don't agree with everything that Rob has to say I can still appreciate his work and find that on this day this is what I needed to hear.  Set aside the points of disagreement and this is without a doubt the gospel message: this world is broken, dark, and despairing, but that's not the end of the story.  What a message!  What a hope!  God help us believe it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Want to be an Enabler

Who wants to be labeled an enabler?  This term carries extremely negative connotations: those close to an alcoholic who not only allow negative behaviors but unknowingly encourage them; the parents of a 27 year old who is fully capable of working and supporting himself but is instead living in their basement playing video games all day; a parent who actually rewards their child's temper tantrum by buying that candy bar in the supermarket aisle.

For most of us, this is what it means to be an enabler.  And who wants to be known as someone who enables negative behavior?  Why would we want to encourage someone in a direction only to have them go off the deep-end, passing into the abyss of failure, addiction, or even insanity, while we stand by allowing them to continue in their negative patterns?

So whenever we see someone stepping out in a way that seems unsustainable or slightly inappropriate, we are quick to discourage what we consider dangerous.  If a guy in high school wants to start an outreach to unwed mothers we fear inappropriate relationships and recommend that he find a less ambitious way to reach out in the community.  If a 21 year old is passionate about art and wants to pursue further education in that field we warn them about the difficulties there and discourage them from taking that step.  If a 30 year old father is considering leaving behind career and stability in order to pursue schooling and full-time ministry we suggest that they wait til their children graduate from high school and their finances are more secure.  If a 12 year old imagines the possibilities of starting a business by buying and selling used electronics among their friends we discourage them because of the inherent relational and legal problems.

Danger is discouraged, risk is avoided, and passion is extinguished.  And then we wonder why our culture is complacent and coddled.  We wonder why no one stands up for what they believe.  We wonder why we've raised a generation without an entrepreneurial, inventive, or leading spirit.

Recently I remembered an idea I had in my teens that is still a passion in my heart.  It was shot down by someone in authority who probably doesn't even remember or think anything of it.  Now I find myself in a position of authority but not pursuing what I believed to be God given desires and goals.  Why is it that now that I have the ability to call the shots and turn the ship I continue to head in directions that I questioned 5-7 years ago?  Because I hear those voices in my head, I hear the voices of discouragement, doubt, and fear.

So I've decided something: I don't want that to be my voice in someone else's head 5-7 years from now.  All passion has inherent danger.  If you encourage people to listen to God's voice and follow they may try to sacrifice their son on an altar (Genesis 22).  They may marry a woman who is carrying someone else's child (Matthew 1) or worse yet they might marry a whore (Hosea 1).  They may lay on their left side for 390 days without moving only to turn over to their right side for another 40 days (Ezekiel 4).

I want to be a voice of reason.  I want to be discerning.  I want to be wise.  But at the end of the day, if someone comes to me with an idea, I don't want them to leave having heard, "You couldn't possibly do that", rather, I hope that they leave hearing, "That sounds dangerous, that sounds difficult, but if you really believe that's what God is calling you to then let me walk along beside you."

I want to be an enabler.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I Don't Believe I'll Live Forever

Do you believe that we will live forever?

I don’t…

If I believe I’m going to live forever, then why did I spend more time this week building my finances than my relationship with God?
If I believe I’m going to live forever, then why did I spend more time worrying about what people think of me than I spent thinking about my character?
If I believe that I’m going to live forever, then why did I spend more time this week pleasing people for a moment than I did helping them to consider the eternal consequences of their life and actions?
If I believe that I’m going to live forever, then why did I read books this week rather than soaking myself in the living Word of God?

Why do we
......play games? 
......crave entertainment? 
......waste away in front of the TV? 
......work 80 hours a week?
......buy so many clothes? 
......spend hours a week worrying about how we look?
......spend so much time and money on hobbies?

Why do we do these things?
Because we don’t believe that we will live forever.