Friday, August 31, 2007
Today I am going to break that mold a little bit. On May 31, 2007 (we broke up in July 2008, but I still think these are good things to remember), three months ago, I was introduced to an amazing woman, a woman I am able today to call my girlfriend. Alyssa and I have had an amazing journey these past three months as we have gotten to know each other. It has required a lot of time on the phone (she lives in New Mexico, a long ways from where I live in Iowa), prayer, and patience. I am constantly floored by how God has worked through this relationship to bring us closer to Him.
I want to take a few paragraphs and share with you what I have learned about being a good boyfriend through my relationship with Alyssa.
1. Be a leader.
I did not say, “be a dictator.” A leader doesn’t have to have things his way, but rather seeks to do what is best for all parties involved. One of the ways this has shown up in our relationship is that early on in our phone conversations I asked if we could pray together before hanging up for the night. This has become one of the best parts of our relationship becomes it has helped us keep our focus on God. He is the source of life and love and He will guide us to where we need to be.
Another way this has played itself out is the establishing boundaries. Now we have established boundaries together, but at different points in the relationship each of us have spoken up and said, “I think we need to talk about this...” This is hard to do because we have no idea how the other person will react, but it is absolutely vital. A leader will do what is right, even if it makes him uncomfortable.
2. Be yourself.
One of the struggles I have had in previous relationships has been the feeling like I had to be someone else. I felt inadequate and that if I was going to impress the girl I had act a certain way so she would like. Since day one Alyssa has always made me feel like who I am is good enough.
We can’t go changing all the time to meet the expectations of others. God has created us with a certain personality, brought us through different circumstances, and blessed us with an unique set of talents to make us who we are. We are special and we don’t need to change who we are or pretend to be someone else to get the approval of someone else. If we stay true to God’s design He will bring us to the place, the person, and the situation He wants us to be. Trust God with your life.
3. Be a listener.
One of the things that impressed Alyssa right away about me was the fact that I listened to what she had to say. I remembered the names of her friends, different events from her childhood, and other small details. Remembering this details helps build intimacy because it shows the other person that you care about them.
The very first step in remembering is listening. So many of us have never been taught good listening skills. We are more concerned with what we are going to say that we don’t hear the other person or we are so distracted because we are watching TV at the same time was we try to carry on a conversation and the result is that we don’t catch everything the other person is saying. We get the gist of it, but the important details escape us. Taking time to listen pays huge dividends in the end.
4. Be creative.
It is so easy to buy things to give to your girlfriend, but often times they don’t carry a great amount of sentiment. When we are creative it sends the message that we have put thought into the gifts that we give.
One way this creativity is seen is buying gifts that have a special meaning for both of you. Alyssa told me a story about her first day at the Christian High School she attended and how nervous she was about it. A rainbow caught her attention before she went to school and it gave her a sense of peace and hope. Rainbows have always held a special meaning for me, and so when I was in Walmart one day buying gifts for my nieces and nephews I saw Cheer Bear (a Care Bear), a pink bear with a rainbow on its chest, and immediately thought of Alyssa.
Creativity is also seen in making special one of a kind gifts. Each of us have special abilities we can use to create something special. Though I don’t consider myself much of a poet I have written two poems for Alyssa. My creativity will be expressed, most of the time, through writing, but there are so many other ways it can be expressed. Be creative and don’t just settle for the same type of gifts everyone else gives.
5. Be a talker.
Though I am usually very quiet, especially when you first meet me, having a relationship that has been built on phone conversations has forced me to talk, and has helped me see the value of it. Talking is vital in building relationships, and is so often overlooked in our society that teaches that relationships are built on physical chemistry.
Intimacy is built when you are able to talk about dreams, expectations (for the future and also in a relationship), opinions, and problems. We have talked at length about each one of these and it has brought us closer. We are encouraged by the fact that God has given us similar dreams, that we have common expectations, and that we feel that we are able share problems with each other. Don’t be distracted by the physical, but instead take time to really get to know each other by talking with one another.
I could go on and on with this list, but I will not bore you any further. I do what to share with you one last lesson I have learned and that is this: pray. One of the things we have prayed about from the very beginning of this relationship is that God would keep us both on the same page, and time and time again God has proven faithful. It is a common experience for us to say: “I was thinking today...” and the other to laugh and say, “I was thinking the same thing.” From expectations to problems God has kept us on the same page and that is the result from our desire that God guide this relationship.
I get to go see my beautiful girlfriend on Sunday and I am very excited about it. What makes me even more excited is to see how God uses this relationship to grow us into the people He created us to be.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Do you think that witnessing a miracle would make your faith stronger? I have my doubts. From the pages of Scripture this never seems to be the case. Take for example Paul and Barnabas’ time in Iconium:
3 So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands. 4 But the population of the city was divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. (Acts 14:3-4; NET)
In the midst of miraculous signs, given by God to validate the message of the two missionaries, the population is divided. Some accepted the miracles as statements of God’s blessing and others explained away the miracles and opposed the message of Paul and Barnabas. Miracles will not make a person already chosen to disbelieve the Gospel believe. The presence of miracles might make a person’s faith stronger, but they are not the missing piece of the puzzle that make the doubter suddenly believe the error of his/her ways.
We this time and time again in Scripture from the ancient Israelites to the contemporaries of Jesus, miracles do not convince people to trust God. You would think that they would, awesome examples of God’s power, but they are too easily explained away and forgotten.
So what is the evidence that people need? It appears to me that the evidence that people need to put their trust in God through Jesus Christ is love. The fully devoted follower of Jesus is to live a life of love, this is our foundational purpose in life. Jesus told us:
'"Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31, NET)
The life that we are to live is a life marked by love, and that life will validate the message we proclaim. Jesus taught His disciples:
34 "I give you a new commandment - to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples - if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35; NET)
How do we prove that we are Jesus disciples? Through our love. If we are not living lives that are characterized by love it doesn’t matter what we might say or do because our message will fall on deaf and/or hostile ears.
The message of Jesus Christ is advanced not through witty arguments, fancy buildings and programs, or even awe-inspiring miracles. The message that we need to be sending is a message of love. Not so much by what we say, but more by the things that we do. All I need is love, not a miracle.
Monday, August 27, 2007
On the one hand this isn’t a terrible thing. The life we dreamed of when we were younger was filled with many unrealistic expectations. In fact if we achieved those dreams our lives may have turned out for the worse rather than the better. Think about the life of sports and rock stars. Would we be able to live a life which pleases God if we were surrounded by the temptations they face? What if you married the first crush you ever had; would reality be like the fairy tale you dreamed? We recognize that it is not a horrible thing that all our dreams go unfulfilled.
On the other hand we have dreams which we believe are essential to our happiness. The single person might begin to believe that the one thing which will make their life truly happy is to be married (while a married person might wish for the freedom of singleness). Or a person might believe a certain job, person, or possession is essential for their happiness. When these things do not come our way or are taken away our dreams of a happy life are shattered. We shake our fist at God and shout; “Don’t You care about my happiness? I thought You loved me!” More often then not God’s answer to us is silence. We pray and pray and pray and God remains unresponsive.
According to the Bible God does care about us. 1 Peter 5:7 reads; Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (NLT). So we are left with a dilemma. Either the Bible is lying and God doesn’t care about us (or doesn’t even exist) or God wants something different from our lives.
I am convinced that God has a wonderful life for us. The problem is that what God dreams for our lives and what we dream for our lives are two different things. If we were honest our dreams are selfish, sure they may be simple dreams, but they usually center around some selfish desire. God’s dream for us is about being part of what He is doing in the world.
Until our dreams are shattered and we wake up to God’s dreams for our lives; we will always put more effort into achieving what we think will make us happy rather than on what will make us holy. Ultimately God’s dream for our lives is more concerned with our holiness than our happiness. It is by allowing our dreams to shatter that God helps us discover the life He has planned for us. Can there be a better life than the one which comes from the Creator?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
"What if some--the majority--the overwhelming majority of mankind, do not submit to their lawful king, and yield obedience to his laws? Surely they are, or they would not be punished for their rebellion by the king himself. See Luke xix. Every one of Adam's family, who has ears to hear, and understand the word of the Lord, preached to them, is under equal obligations to obey him. The same gracious reward is offered the obedient, and the same punishment threatened the disobedient.
"But the kingdom of heaven of which we speak, is his church, composed of all such as believe in Jesus, who have repented of their wicked rebellion; who have reformed their lives; who have bowed humble submission at the feet of their king, and have been born again; born of water and of the spirit. These are the subjects of his kingdom, as we are every where taught in the scriptures. Let us attend to this as among the most important matters of the christian faith." ~ Barton W. Stone, The Christian Messenger, March 1835
Saturday, August 25, 2007
The mission of Jesus Christ was not just to save people from our sins, but it also included providing the opportunity for all creation to be made new. Things are not the way that they should be, and Jesus came in order to make things right. Without Jesus there would be no hope for the future because the breakdown of society and the environment is all that we would have to look forward to.
Since Jesus came we have the hope of things being made new. This process of being remade does not just happen at some time in the distant future, but it happens the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17; NLT).The Apostle Paul tells us that becoming Christians means that the process of being recreated has begun in our lives.
This process begins only when we choose to become disciples of Jesus. The problem this raises is that while we are becoming new the world around us continues the life cycle of becoming older and breaking down. The recreation of the world has to wait, but it it will happen.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God' children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Romans 8:18-21; NLT).This time that God has given us provides us with the opportunity to learn how to interact with the world around us. While things are not what they should be we have this time to treat things as though they were right. That way when the time comes and things are made right we can be counted on to do the right thing.
As new creatures it is not just about us and our relationship with God, but it also includes our relationship with other people and with the world around us (society and environment). One of the mistakes the American Church has made has been to neglect the wider world. We have not talked about being stewards of the world God has given us. We have done a poor job at taking care of the poor and needy among us. We have not started meaningful relationships with other Christians. We have allowed out relationship with God to consist of just a Sunday morning experience. It is time for us to change these things. To be a new creature is not just about us, but it is about how we relate to the larger world around us.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Consider what Erwin McManus wrote in Seizing Your Divine Moment:
I don’t know what it means for others, but for a follower of Jesus Christ, what it means to live on the edge is to stand at the epicenter of where the kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of darkness. When evil raises its ugly head, taunting God and tormenting the weak, the adventurer rises up and moves toward the challenge. Like a guided missile, the adventurous spirit moves toward its greatest challenge. (p. 159)Sadly Christians have usually interpreted this to mean we are to fight the fight of correct doctrine and morality. In the process we have missed the bigger battle, the fight against the kingdom of darkness as it oppresses people. Yes, there is a time when we need to fight to preserve correct doctrine and to remind people of the difference between right and wrong.
The reality is that in doing so we often attack the same people who are being attacked by the darkness. In other words the Church needs to become more “social” in the fight it is fighting. We need to show more concern for the pregnant teenager, rather than just declaring abortion evil. We need to be more concerned about the quality and equality of education rather than just being caught up in the evolution/creation debate. We need to seek to help the poor rather than just calling for welfare reform. The kingdom of darkness oppresses millions of people and rather than living a life of adventure to rescue them we stay home shout to the world about how evil they are.
The theme of Jesus’ preaching centered around the Kingdom of God.
14 Now after John had been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and proclaimed the gospel about the kingdom of God. 15 He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near! Repent, and keep believing in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14-15; ISV)One of the concepts behind the word repent is the idea of defection. When we repent and trust Jesus we sever ties with the the kingdom of darkness and give our loyalties to God’s Kingdom. If our loyalties are with God then we will give our lives away to what He declares is important. We will continue to live out Jesus’ mission:
1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (Isaiah 61:1; ESV)In other words we will confront the kingdom of darkness and usher in the Kingdom of Light. Here is an example of how Jesus did this during his time on earth:
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves,” (Mark 11:15-7; NLT).There are two reasons why Jesus cleared the Temple. One is that the merchants were taking advantage of the poor. Their prices for animals to be sacrificed were extremely high, and since sacrifices were required, the poor had to pay these high prices.
Another reason, one often missed, is that the place which was used for this market was the space where both Jews and Gentiles could come to pray. By setting up this market the Jews were squeezing out the Gentiles, for this was the only part of the Temple they could go to. Not only were the poor taken advantage of, but the Gentiles were also being disregarded.
Jesus steps into this time in history and he confronts what the oppression the kingdom of darkness has put on people. He chases out the animals and the money changers and teaches them that these activities are not part of God’s kingdom. People were being oppressed, and that made Jesus angry.
I believe we don’t get angry enough when oppression occurs around us. We believe that is just the way things are or that we cannot do anything about it. What we learn from the heroic characters from the stories we love is that they challenge the forces of evil even though the odds are greatly against them. Ultimately it is not about whether we win or lose, but whether or not we are going to go on the adventure God has put before us. Will we live a life of faith or will we seek safety. A life of faith will not guarantee safety.
Life is found in the adventure of faith. Are you living on the edge? Are you willing to take up the fight for the kingdom of light against the kingdom of darkness? That is where Jesus is leading, and only there will we find the life we desire.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Wouldn't it be nice if God simply gave us everything our hearts desired? After all what better way to show people that He is a loving God than to grant their every request. I want to marry this lady; zap, it happens. I want this job, zap, I have it. I want to win the lottery, zap, time to go to the bank.
While it might seem to be wonderful for God to simply answer all our requests we know that it is not the best thing. All we have to do is remember that spoiled child we have run into. You know the one whose parents never say no and give him or her everything they want. That child is not better off because he or she gets their way. It could be argued that they are put at a disadvantage since they never able to learn how to work for or save for something they want.
Even before sin came into the world God intended for man to work and not simply given what he wanted. It is through this process of obedience and toil that we are able to grow in a relationship with God, becoming more and more of what He wants us to be. God isn't interested in making us simply happy; He wants to make us holy. If you come to God hoping to be made happy you will be disappointed. Happiness is not the goal, rather it is the product of the holiness we have.
Transformation doesn't happen by God zapping change into our lives. Transformation is a process, and it is process we have to choose to be a part of. If we are unwilling to participate in the process God is unable to transform us. Think about what Erwin McManus wrote in Stand Against The Wind:
If Rome wasn't built in a day, neither is character formed in one moment. There is a process in our becoming all that God created us to be. This is the human side of divine change. Transformation is both the miracle of God and the stewardship of man. Godliness is a result of both divine activity and human action. God promises to do what we cannot do ourselves, and He commands us to do that which He will not do for us. There is both miracle and responsibility. God entrusts us with His resources, and then He holds us accountable for what we do with them. (p. 46)
It is true that God has given us a new heart when we trusted in Jesus to take away our sins and united our lives with Him through baptism. We cannot believe that is the end of the transformation process. The writers of the New Testament were concerned that their readers would be good stewards of what God has blessed us with.
Read how James says we are to be good stewards:
7 Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 8 Come close to God, and he will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable, mourn, and cry. Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10; ISV)
It appears that James expects his readers to do something in this transformation process. We are to submit to God, to resist the devil, to cleanse our hands, purify our hearts, and be humble. If we are not willing to change God will not change us.
While we are to be good stewards of what God's blessings in our lives, including our new heart, it is still God who is responsible for the transformation. This is what the apostle Paul wrote:
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. ~ Romans 12:2; NLTLet God transform you, the Apostle Paul writes. It appears to me that the process of transformation is just as important as the transformation itself. It is through this process of transformation that we ultimately learn faith and love. Just as if I were to take a pill that would remove 30 pounds of fat from my body might bring me down to my ideal weight but I will have missed out on gaining the discipline and work ethic that I need to stay there. While a pill would be nice, in the long run it is what I learn in process that really matters.
God's way is not my way. I want Him to zap me and remove all the temptation and all of the problems I have in my life. God wants me to love and trust Him, and allow Him to lead me through a process which will transform my life for eternity. To God, the process is just as important as the final result.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
"Where testimony begins, faith begins; and where testimony ends, faith ends. We believe Moses just as far as Moses speaks or writes: and when Moses has recorded his last fact, or testified his last truth, our faith in Moses terminates. His five books are, therefore, the length and breadth, the height and depth, or in other words, the measure of our faith in Moses. The quality or value of faith is found in the quality or value of the testimony. The certainty of faith is the certainty of testimony. If the testimony be valid and authoritative, our faith is strong and operative. "If," says John, "we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater," stronger and more worthy of credit. The value of a bank bill, is the amount of the precious metals which it represents, and the indisputable evidence of its genuineness; so the value of faith is the importance of the facts which the testimony presents, and the assurance afforded that the testimony is true. True, or unfeigned faith, may be contrasted with feigned faith, but true faith is the belief of truth; for he that believes a lie, believes in vain.
"The power of faith is also the power, or moral meaning of the testimony, or of the facts which the testimony represents. If by faith I am transported with joy, or overwhelmed in sorrow, that joy or sorrow is in the facts contained in the testimony, or in the nature and relation of those facts to me. If faith purifies the heart, works by love, and overcomes the world, this power is in the facts believed. If a father has more joy in believing that a lost son has been found, than in believing that a lost sheep has been brought home to his fold, the reason of this greater joy is not in the nature of his faith, but in the nature of the facts believed." ~ Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger, August 1833
Saturday, August 18, 2007
35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do us a favor." 36"What is it?" he asked. 37"In your glorious Kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you," they said, "one at your right and the other at your left." 38But Jesus answered, "You don't know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?" 39"Oh yes," they said, "we are able!" And Jesus said, "You will indeed drink from my cup and be baptized with my baptism, 40but I have no right to say who will sit on the thrones next to mine. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen." 41When the ten other disciples discovered what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42So Jesus called them together and said, "You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 43But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. 45For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many." ~ Mark 10:35-45; NLT
In this passage we discover an amazing political statement of Jesus. Whether or not we want to admit it Jesus was a political individual. Yet we miss out on the politics of Jesus because they are so different than the way we do things. Too often when Christians, and thus the Church, gets involved in politics we tend to follow the way of the world. Our politics too often resemble the world around us rather than our King.
The politics of this world are about force and propaganda. In our democratic language we might use the words of power and “spin,” but they are still there. Jesus makes it clear that we are not to follow the politics of this world. We are to be different. Rather than trying to gain power and force people to follow our laws we are to serve people and give our lives.
The politics of the Church isn’t about getting the right laws passed or making sure our rights are protected. The politics Jesus wants His people to follow are about serving others. Thus Christians are not to be political to preserve a certain way of life, but help those who are in need of help.
Part of the problem that we run into in a country like the United States is that we have a voice in the government where as in the day of Jesus, and for most people, they do not. For us we need to find the balance between doing our civic duty and serving others. We also have to remember what is important is not the future of our country, but the expansion of God’s Kingdom.
Sure things are not what we would like them to be. We are concerned with the immorality that has become so open around us and that drives us to want to make and enforce laws so that people would act more like we want them to act. A change in behavior means nothing without a change of heart. Isn’t that the point Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “You have heard it said…but I say…”? The goal of Jesus’ politics is not to get people to behave in a certain manner, but to change their hearts.
This is best done by serving others out of compassion. People will follow leaders whom they perceive care for them. When Christians give their lives over to service for others, when we realize that our greatest influence comes out of love, we will seek to meet people where they are hurting rather than bickering back in forth in the halls of the government about what is the best way to handle things. The power of the Church is not found in the elections booths or in government positions, but in the serving of the least important citizens.
Here is my great concern: that the Church in the United States is too entangled in the politics of this world and not interested enough in serving others. The Church will do more for this country, for this world, by serving the least important citizens. That is the way the Church will have a lasting impact on the morality of this nation. Are you willing to serve?
"Whatever else Jesus came to do, one this is clear--He came to set you free. God is not a warden; He is a deliverer. And so earnest is He about your freedom that He was willing to be taken captive and crucified on your behalf just so you can run free." ~ Erwin McManus, Stand Against the Wind, p. 14
Friday, August 17, 2007
In the stories of Middle-earth: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings all characters who have to face the choice that will determine what side they are own. Take for instance the wizards of Saruman and Gandalf. Both were Maiar in human form (like angels found in the Bible), and both were sent to Middle-earth to help resist the evil of Sauron. Saruman and Gandalf had the same background and mission.
For Saruman there came a time when he thought the best idea would be to join the side of the Enemy. His desire to have the One Ring, to have the power it represented, was more than Saruman could resist. The powerful wizard chose power over the responsibility that he had been given.
Gandalf on the other hand remained true to his call. Even when the Ring was within his grasp he resisted because he knew the great evil that it represented. Gandalf had a choice in the matter, but he chose to resist evil rather than side with it.
There comes a time on the journey to destroy the Ring that Sam wonders about turning back, but he realizes that in the best stories the heroes continue to move forward, against impossible odds, even though they had the chance to turn back. Frodo and Sam did not have to go all the way to Mount Doom, but they chose to complete their mission.
I realize that Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth is fiction, but this theme found in Tolkien’s writing is a very important theme for us to understand. Everyday we are faced with the choice to move forward with God or move back and side with the enemy. It is certainly a choice I have faced throughout my life. It is not just the choice to sin, but it is the choice whether or not to side with the Enemy and abandon God. It is the choice to use the talents God has given me for His purposes or to use them for my own gratification. It is the choice to keep my eyes on the big picture rather than just the moment I am living in right now. Yes, I have faced the choice to leave the Christian Faith and to live life on my own terms. God has given me a say in the matter.
Each and every one of us has been given a choice by God. It is not about saying we believe in Jesus and going to church. It is about pledging our allegiance to God and to His purposes. Are we going to use the time, talents, and money God has given to us for His work? Are we going to move forward, living a life of holiness, even if the rest of the world persecutes us for what we believe? Will we chose to follow Jesus even if it seems hopeless to us?
God has not dictated the course our lives. God has created us with talents, allowed us to develop certain skills, and brought us through experiences that can be used for expanding His kingdom, yet the choice on how to use these great gifts God leaves up to us. He has given us the ability to determine whether or not we will follow His Son Jesus or to join the opposition work of the Enemy. That is the choice we have to make, and it is the choice which determines our eternities.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Think about how postmodern culture came into existence. It is the result of people being influenced by media and education. People don't consciously choose whether or not they are going to be postmodern or not, rather they are the product of the influences which have come into their lives.
We will face this long term problem if we, as preachers and Christians, seek merely to respond to culture: we will constantly find ourselves to be at least one step behind. Just as soon as we think we have things figured out, the playing field changes. This will leave us frustrated because we will constantly be wondering if we are even connecting with the world.
It is important that we understand the times in which we live. So I am not saying that studying and trying to understand culture is not worthwhile, but I am saying it is not the most important thing. As the Church, rather than responding to the culture as we have come to understand it, we need to create our own culture. We need to believe that the message we have can transform people's thinking. We can influence people and create a culture in which we can more effectively communicate the truth of God's word and minister to people. A culture, that quite simply, shows the world there is a better way to live.
The culture I am talking about is not the culture of our nature, but the culture of our individual church families. Just as each family has a different make up in culture (traditions, the way they communicate, etc.), each Church family will have a little different culture as well.
The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians:
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is (Romans 12:2; NLT).One of the goals of the follower of Jesus Christ is to create, or perhaps a better way to put it is, to transform culture so that it reflects God's will. The Church in the United States is failing because we are trying to respond, or react, to the culture we live in, rather than transforming culture by creating a new culture in our church families.
I guess the bottom line is that part of our goal is not to simply respond to the culture in which we live, but rather create a new culture which is different than the world around us. It is the difference between simply adding Jesus and being transformed by Jesus. A new culture is what we are after.
Of course this is a bunch of silliness. These self described freethinkers have just traded in one set of beliefs for another set of beliefs and one collection of doctrine for a different collection of doctrine. They are not free because they are must adhere to a legalistic dogma or will be branded as heretics by those who hold to the “true” faith.
One reason I think freethought is a delusion is because very little, if any, original thought takes place. Think about the heaps of material a person has to read and study to get all sides of an issue. The task of wading through all this information is enormous, let alone the actual hard work of developing theories and testing those theories. Most of these self described freethinking pundits are nothing more than devoted followers of their new faith than being actual freethinkers. It seems to me that our worldview depends more on the faith we have in the source of the information we receive rather than actually thinking about that information.
A second reason for believing freethought is a delusion is that all of us are influenced by different things in our lives. Circumstances, people, education, and politics are just some of the influences which give us the worldview that we carry with us. What may seem to be a logic argument to us may not be logical to the person next door. Now apply this principle across the scope of history. How a 1st century Jew discovered and related truth would be very different than how a college professor in 21st century United States handles truth. A freethinker isn’t anymore free from these influences than anyone else in the world.
A third reason I believe that freethought is a delusion is limited in its focus. A freethinker is a person who believes that modern western thinking is the pinnacle of thinking. But mindsets and thinking changes like everyone else. The postmodern person doesn’t put as much value in science and logic as they do on experience and emotionalism (the current global-warming scare has less to do with science as it does on an emotionalism reaction to mass media propaganda). To say that science and logic are the best ways to discover truth over things like experience, tradition, and revelation is both arrogant and limiting. A freethinker is just a person who claims, like anybody else, that his/her way to the truth is the best way.
One of the reason I love Christianity is because the Bible teaches that each one of us has the freedom to choose what we will believe. God will never force us to believe in Him or to accept as true what He has given to us. If a person chooses to be a freethinker God has allowed him/her to make that choose and it is not my responsibility to change their minds. My responsibility is to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom, as discovered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and hope that the truth will take root in their lives.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Sergius Paulus had an interest in the Truth that Paul and Barnabas brought to him, but this false prophet and sorcerer Bar-Jesus urged the governor to pay no attention to God’s true messengers. It took a confrontation by Paul to demonstrate who had the real power:
9 But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked him straight in the eye 10 and said, “You are full of every form of deception and trickery, you son of the devil, you enemy of all that is right! You will never stop perverting the straight ways of the Lord, will you? 11 The hand of the Lord is against you now, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a while!” At that moment a dark mist came over him, and he went around looking for someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the Lord's teaching. (Acts 13:9-12; ISV).
Paul and Barnabas stood against the evil forces so that this man, Sergius Paulus, who showed interest in the Gospel, could believe. They were not discouraged by the opposition but called on God’s power to help them combat it.
One of the reaction I had from this story is how quickly I give up fighting for the hearts of people and allow them to slip back into darkness. This historical account from the Book of Acts should remind us that we are living in a world at war. Not just the physical wars that are taking place around the world or even the so called “culture war” that so many Christians seem to insist on fighting, but a spiritual war for the hearts and minds of people.
As a man called to be a minister of God’s Word I have a responsibility to enter into this spiritual combat by praying for the people and asking for God’s assistance, by proclaiming the truth of God as discovered on the pages of the Bible, and loving everyone I come into contact with. I have a part to play in this great spiritual conflict.
If we are going to advance the cause of God’s Kingdom throughout this world then we must treat life as a war. The apostle Paul later wrote:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength. 11 Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the devil's strategies. 12 For our struggle is not against a human opponent, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers in the darkness around us, against evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm. 13 For this reason, take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to take a stand in that evil day. And when you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13; ISV)
Following Jesus will not be easy. We will be opposed for God’s great enemy doesn’t what any part of God’s creation to live within God’s will. Satan will attack us and will hurt, wound, and deceive the very people we want to help. When this happens will we be strong and trust in the victory our Lord and Savior has already won? Will we stand firm against Satan’s attacks and continue to do what is right no matter the cost? There are hearts of people at stake. It is time to rise up and fight for the hearts of people. It is what we are called to do.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
This means that we have to determine what motivates our actions. Is it the desire of the flesh? Or is it the desire of the Spirit. To determine origin of our motivation the apostle Paul describes the results, behaviors, or the “fruit” of each type of life.
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, 21 envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I am telling you now, as I have told you in the past, that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us stop being arrogant, provoking one another and envying one another. (Galatians 5:19-26; ISV)
As we are examining our motivations we have to consider:
The works of the flesh Vss. 19-21
The warning Paul gives to those who live by the flesh is that they “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” With that warning ringing in our ears we should take the time and make a close examination of our lives.
These works are, Paul says, are obvious. They are obvious because these deeds are opposite of the law of love that Jesus commands His followers to live by. Instead of looking out for the interest of others these people are self-absorbed and thus only care about themselves.
When we are looking at our motivations we have to consider whether we are motivated to serve ourselves or to help other people. The flesh will always lead us to take care of ourselves rather than to sacrifice and serve those people who are around us.
The wealth of the Spirit Vss. 22-23
Paul says that when we live our lives by the Spirit that there is no law that can stand against us. The Spirit guides us to live the way God us to live. The “fruit of the Spirit” is a life that pleases God and Paul uses these words to describe what the life should look like (in other words these are not the “fruits of the the Spirit” but rather the description of what that fruit looks like).
When love fills our lives then we can know that we are being led by Spirit, just as when peace fills our heart is an indication of being led by the Spirit, and our kindness towards other people is another indication of being led by the Spirit.
Can you describe your life in such terms? Are you motivated by love for others? Does joy fill your heart? A Spirit led life looks very different from the self-absorbed life of the person led by the flesh.
The walk of the Spirit Vss. 24-26
The disciple of Jesus, Paul says, have crucified the passions of the flesh. In other words these sinful passions of been put together by Christ as we surrender our lives to Him.
Though the reality is that if we are not surrendering to Jesus then we will not have the strength to resist the passions of our flesh and the voice of the Spirit will be drowned out. The walk of the Spirit begins with our surrendering to Jesus Christ.
Have you surrendered to Jesus? Are you seeking to do God’s will more than your will? Will you clear your life of distractions in order to hear the Spirit’s voice?
There should be a stark contrast between the way we live and the way the rest of the world lives. The reason is not because of our discipline or strength, but because we have dedicated to being led the Spirit. The Spirit will led us away from the passions of our flesh to the Desire God has for our lives
Monday, August 13, 2007
I would much rather have people who were following Jesus and had incorrect doctrine than people who had correct doctrine but are not following Jesus. A person following Jesus will discover correct doctrine, but a person with correct doctrine is hard to move.
The Pharisees and the disciples are perfect examples of this. The Pharisees were proud of their knowledge and they missed Jesus. The disciples were ordinary and uneducated and often missed Jesus’ point, but they followed. It was by following Jesus that they came to learn the teachings they needed for life.
It is not enough for us to base our relationship with God solely on our attendance at a Bible Study, at Church, and our dedication to a daily quiet time. There has to be evidence of the Truth in our lives. What that means is we begin to live the way Jesus would live if He was in our position. We start helping those in need and starting serving those around us. We begin to see our Christianity more in terms of what we are doing with our lives than what programs we attend.
Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us(James 1:27; NLT).
What God desires from us is not a religion in which we sit in our church pews with all the answers, but rather a religion which finds itself in the midst of trouble shining brightly for all to see. Some how we have missed this point. We get so caught up in making sure people attend church that we often miss helping people where they hurt the most.
Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren’t contaminated by their sins (Jude 21-23; NLT).The way God desires us to live is the way Jesus lived. He wants us to show mercy to people and through our actions bring them into a relationship with Him. That is what Christianity is about.
The point I want to make is this: being lights in the world is about how we live. What we believe about God is important, because our belief determines our actions. That is why faith without works is dead. If the Truth we say we believe does not come out in our actions it is evidence that we never actually believed in the first place. By following Jesus in the way we live is evidence that we have placed our faith in God. What is your life saying about your faith?
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Saturday, August 11, 2007
34 David replied to Saul, "Your servant has been a shepherd for his father's flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, 35 I would go out after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!" 37 David went on to say, "The LORD who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!" Then Saul said to David, "Go! The LORD will be with you." (1 Samuel 17:34-37, NET)
Why did David have the faith and courage to face Goliath? It was not a study on the power of God, a class on martial arts, or a contemporary worship service, but real life experience of God's power working through him. David experienced God's power first hand in his life through his confrontation with the bear and the lion, and David knew the same God who helped him defeat the dangerous animals would help him defeat the giant. Recognizing God's power in his life was crucial for David to take the next step of faith.
When I am paralyzed by fear it is not due to a lack of knowledge about who God is and the love He has for me. I know what the Bible says, I have heard sermons on the subject, and I have read books about God's power. Most of the time it is a combination of a lack of experience of God working through my life.
Sometimes I have failed to experience God's power because I have been unwilling to step out in faith. I want to be safe and comfortable and anything that might take me outside of my little comfort zone I don't like. The result is that I don't have very many bear and lion stories that I can look back on and say, "God was at work in this part of my life."
Other times I simply don't expect God to show up. Too often I think I have God figure out and so I don't expect Him to act contrary to the character I think He has. If He happens to do something unexpected it is easy for me to write it off as luck, coincidence, or to my wonderful talent. By not expecting God to show up we miss the work He is doing in the world around us.
Sometime what is missing from our lives and faith is not a new Bible study, a different church family, or a certain book, but real life experience of God working through our lives. It is this experience that helps us learn that we can trust Him with everything we have and everything we are. I believe many Christians today miss out on God and growing to maturity because we are so busy learning about God that we don't take time to experience God. Certainly study is where faith begins, but it is through experience that faith is grown.
Friday, August 10, 2007
It is also seen in a romantic relationship when “physical” activities come to play such a big part in the relationship and talking, dreaming, and getting to know each other takes a back seat. Relationships aren’t built on kissing or other physical stuff, but on things like a shared religious views, common commitments, and other things that can only be discovered through talking with each other and serving one another. To allow yourself to be distracted by the physical stunts the growth of the relationship.
I have also seen how a parent’s distraction harms the raising of children. How can a child grow up healthy and know he/she is loved if their dad spends more time at work than at home. How can they ever know what it is like to truly be a man, to live a Christian life, or to love a woman if they never see it modeled by their dad? Or how about the mom who is more interested in making her children her friends than raising them to be responsible and mature adults? She gives in and never disciplines and her children grow up believing that life is all about them.
Ministers can be distracted with trying to get big numbers and pull off fancy programs and forget that the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. To call the lost to Jesus, and to continue to encourage and train up believers so that they will be mature in their faith. Being distracted by other things other than our main purpose results in Christians who are a mile wide and an inch deep. They may look good on the outside, but inside there is nothing.
How are you being distracted from what is important? I know you are, because if it is important than Satan is going to be opposed to it. Remember he is the thief out to steal, kill, and destroy your life. Distractions are the tools Satan uses to gradually steal away the life God wants you to live. What are the distractions Satan uses to get you to lose focus?
Even more important than identifying the distractions is to know how to deal with them. How can we avoid being distracted and remain focused on what God has called us to do?
First, we have to be in God’s word. The Bible is the main way God speaks to us. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to remind us what is important. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us of the power of God’s word:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart. (ISV)
God’s word will help us judge what is important and what is not. It will help us determine where we need to focus our attention and energy. I promise you without being in the word on a regular daily basis you will be distracted from the best things in life to things of lesser value.
Prayer is another essential discipline needed in keeping our focus. One of the functions of prayer is to take attention off ourselves and put it on God. Prayer is how we seek out God’s will and that is one of the main lessons we learn from Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
9 “Therefore, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. 13 And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:9-13; ISV)
In verse 10 we see that Jesus wants us to change our priorities. It isn’t about my will or what I think is important, but it is about doing God’s will. Prayer should help us refocus our lives on God’s will.
The last discipline I think is essential in maintaining our focus is assembling with other believers. It is sad to see how we have made “church” so much a spectator activity rather than a fellowship designed to encourage and grow each other. We need to be part of a fellowship where we can be encouraged and where the members are committed to the spiritual growth of each other. The writer of Hebrews wrote:
23 Let us continue to hold firmly to the hope that we confess without wavering, for the one who made the promise is faithful. 24 And let us continue to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another even more as you see the day coming nearer. (Hebrews 10:23-25; ISV)
The encouragement, instruction, and love we receive from fellow believers will help us maintain the focus we need to have on what is important. They will lead us through dark times and challenge us to hang on when circumstances are hard. Having these type of friends will give us a constant source of accountability in our lives.
We are going to be distracted. That is a reality of life because Satan wants us distracted from what is important. If we are not disciplined then we will not be able to push through the fog of distraction to become mature and complete. Let’s maintain our focus and become the people God created us to be.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Myanmar's Repressive Regime
Kazakhstan Baptists Fear More Persecution
Gospel for Asia Missionaries Face Persecution in India
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Stop neglecting to show hospitality to strangers, for by showing hospitality some have had angels as their guests without being aware of it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were in prison with them, as well as those who are mistreated, since they also are only mortal. ~ Hebrews 13:1-3; ISV
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I allowed the campers to listen to the radio, which might have been a mistake on my part, and as they listened to the music I heard more than one of the teen girls say how much she missed her iPod (after a whole 3 days without it). I just chuckled and thought about how all our technology had a very isolating capacity, which is really seen with personal music players and earphones.
It was on the ride back to camp that I was given a shock. A couple of miles from camp the song Rock Star by the band Nickelback came on. Having heard the song and knowing that it was inappropriate I turned off the radio and said that we were not going to listen to that song. The result was that this van full of fourteen “Christian” youths belted out the song anyway.
I was so surprised that they would continue to sing a song after I had said that I didn’t think it was appropriate to listen to. They had no shame or guilt about singing a song that talked about joining the mile high club and partying with easy girls and cheap drugs. These are High School students who, the majority, had supposedly given their lives to Jesus, but there sure didn’t seem to be any difference between them and the rest of the world.
This is so frightening to me. Of course it is easy to put the blame on these High School students, but let’s face it, that is not where the problem begins. The root of the problem is with an American Church that refuses to talk about the truth of holiness. We emphasis God’s forgiveness and compassion and gloss over His holiness and justice. The entire Gospel is not preached if we are not preaching ethical purity.
John Stott in his book What Christ Thinks of the Church wrote:
The second central truth which cannot at any price be sacrificed is an ethical one. It concerns holiness. The Christian faith is essentially concerned with the person and work of Christ on the one hand and the life of righteousness on the other. Christianity exalts Christ and promotes holiness. To deny Christ and to follow evil are to surrender the citadel of Christianity to the enemy and to haul down the standard of truth. The New Testament writers insist on the defense of these two bastions. They are as savage in their denunciation of immoral people as they are of those who forsake Christ and his gospel. (p. 55)We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, need to get back to insisting on righteous behavior of people who claim to be followers of Christ. This all begins with what we are listening to, watching, and reading. What we put into our mind filters into our hearts and out of our hearts how we live. Remember what Jesus said about the connection of our hearts and our actions?
21 "For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come, as well as sexual immorality, stealing, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, cheating, shameless lust, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. 23 All these things come from within and make a person unclean.” (Mark 7:21-23; ISV)The way we live life is an indication of what we have put into our hearts. If we are allowing the wrong type of thoughts, philosophies, and dreams into our lives then they will show themselves through our actions. We can’t hope to partake in the offerings of this world and not be affected by them. There is no doubt that we must live by a different standard than the rest of the world lives by.
James wrote to people who had made compromises with the world. He called them “adulterers” and “enemies of God”. Then he goes on to tell them to change:
7 Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 8 Come close to God, and he will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable, mourn, and cry. Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10; ISV)While I believe it is true that God gives us new hearts at our baptism, I also believe that we have a responsibility in guarding our hearts. Here James urges these Christians to take actions to purify their hearts. How is it possible for us to purify our hearts? It is possible by changing what we think about and what we put into our minds, and thus allowing the Holy Spirit to work.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
4 Keep on rejoicing in the Lord at all times. I will say it again: Keep on rejoicing! 5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near: 6 Never worry about anything, but in every situation let your petitions be made known to God in prayers and requests, with thanksgiving. 7 Then God's peace, which goes far beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—keep thinking about these things. 9 Likewise, keep practicing these things: what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9; ISV)See how Paul relates the guarding of our hearts to our rejoicing, our prayers, and our thoughts. Those are the actions which allow the Holy Spirit to bring peace and security to our hearts.
Followers of Jesus Christ are to be people who live righteous lives. Righteousness is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, but we are quench the Spirit’s work by putting the wrong thoughts, philosophies, and dreams into our minds. Let’s partner with the Spirit as He changes us from the inside out by thinking and meditating on what is noble, good, pure, and true. It is time we make God’s Word the source of our thoughts and dreams.