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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's Important?

I'm plowing through the Gospels at the moment, feeling sometimes like I'm reading the same passage over and over- ha, because I am! But when God repeats things multiple times, like he does with the synoptic Gospels, it means we're supposed to pay special attention- sorta like you saying very, very.

So I've been thinking about Jesus going off alone to pray and how He constantly asked people He healed to not tell anyone- a true lesson in humility and priorities. Speaking of priorities, I read a few paragraphs just now so rich in importance that it's too good not to simply quote directly:

"Prayer is a kind of priority that lies at the root of all the others -- at the root of life itself. It's a lot like eating; if we rarely eat, our physical health will suffer. We'll be weak and sick. It will affect our ability to carry on the activities of life. In a similar way, if we rarely pray, our spiritual life will lack vitality. We'll approach the challenges and successes of life on our own, as though we're not totally dependent on God even for life itself.

"Without prayer, we begin to take credit for the good things in our lives, chalking them up to our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work. We begin to forget that all our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work are gifts from God -- He gave us the mind, body and circumstances of life that enabled us to have and develop those attitudes.

"On the other hand, without prayer, we fall into fear, anxious worry and even despair at the failures, frustrations and bad events in our lives. We become unsure of God's love for us, unsure that He stands with us in our problems. We feel alone and afraid, doubtful about our ability to cope with what life is heaping onto us.

"Prayer is the grease, we might say, that keeps the gears and wheels of life in good working order. Without prayer, we see ourselves as alone against the world, left to fend off the storms of life on our own wits and brawn. It is in the course of prayer that we learn to see the true state of things -- that we are creatures within a creation, creatures dependent on our Maker and on all the other parts of the creation, and as such, never alone."
-Excerpted from Grace Communion International -- gci.org/bible/mark1j

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Old Testament God

“Ezra was praying and confessing. He was crying and bowing down in front of God’s Temple. While Ezra was doing that, a large group of the Israelites—men, women, and children—gathered around him. They were crying. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, spoke to Ezra and said, “We have not been faithful to our God. We have married the people living around us. But, even though we have done this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make an agreement before our God to send away all these women and their children. We will do that to follow the advice of Ezra and the people who respect the laws of our God. We will obey God’s law.”
‭‭Ezra‬ ‭10:1-3‬ ‭ERV‬‬

Not that I'm choosing, because it's an entire book,  but I must admit I find myself drawn more to the Old Testament than New. "What? Why?" I'm glad you asked. You see, the Bible is this simple, straightforward message wrapped up in deep complexity, baffling stupidity and general unfairness (if that's a word). And the Old Testament even more so for me and I'm drawn to it. The Old Testament covers more time, more people. It addresses more issues and breaks open more completely all the uncomfortable things to reckon with of our loving, gracious, giving-good-things-only God.

You see, God is love. He is slow to anger and quick to show mercy. He does forgive us wholly. But he also asks us to be holy- to walk according to His ways, to spend time with Him and with others trying to be like Him to figure out how to do it better. He asks us to give ourselves wholly and to willingly submit to Him- to have faith in the things unseen and an open mind that the things we can't understand -whether because of cultural or personal bias- are things He understands and He's shaping for our good.

He asks us to see beyond ourselves, feel beyond our human bodies and hormones, think beyond our culture and upbringing, and all the while to not grow weary doing it. He asks us to understand the brevity of the covenant we make with Him when we accept His free gift of life forever with Him. Just as these men in the Book of Ezra are becoming holy in order to be in His presence as prescribed by their covenant, he asks us also to be holy in our covenant's order.

Don't hear me sugar coating this passage because by of my culture and my feelings- it's hard to swallow. But I find the things I have to really chew up to get down results in one of two paths, both leading to the same end. The first, makes me think about my biases, my mistruths and the ugly things of this world that went on then just as now. And in my life, just like this story, the Lord protects His people. The second, I'm called to submit to the Bible's teaching- to believe it's a map of God's great love for me and an opportunity to get to know the real God- the loving but equally and at the same time all-powerful and relentless to carry out His plan for His people God.

We like to ignore many of the Old Testament stories, really any story that doesn't fit with the peaceful, prosperous life we think of as connected to God. But He's Ezra's God. And He's the God of Exodus 11 and many other hard to let sink in passages. But this is when we need to see the simple, straightforward message amongst the complexity- It's because being in right relationship with Him is top priority and nothing, absolutely nothing should ever get in the way of that. And when in right relationship He will show you your right path so that you may walk in it.

And while you're washed in the blood and made white as snow, completely and without need of anything but that faith, the journey along the washed path will be one of cleansing power and hard to understand things, but filled with great opportunity to submit and choose faith in the comfort of being within His great love.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

So Much Like Sheep

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)

Today I was reminded about the Lord being my shepherd. You see, I didn't get a job that I thought was a done deal. But nothing in this life is really a done deal- am I right?

We people are often compared to sheep in the Bible. Sheep- incredibly dumb, aimless and unteachable animals destined to die. Literally. And Psalm 23 has great insight into God's plan for us sheep. Sheep are skittish creatures. They won't even drink from water with loud noises like a stream. Skittish.

But God leads us beside still waters so we don't have to feel anxious.

A shepherd's rod was used to fend off predators and his staff's cruck to pull the sheep back when they got caught in a thicket or went off the path- these things can hurt but they comfort us.

And the only, only time a sheep lays down is when it feels completely safe- no storms, predators, sickness or anything. Anything. And considering that "anything," isn't it amazing that He goes to great lengths to make everything safe so I can lie down in green pastures and not want?

These skittish, lost creatures would literally die of thirst standing by a stream. They need constant leading, just like us.

Have you seen one of the popular drawings of Jesus with the lamb around his shoulders? When a sheep disregards the shepherd over-and-over-and-over, the shepherds used to, in their gentle guidance, break one of its legs and put the sheep around his neck. He walked for the sheep and in the process of healing they got to know each other intimately. They learned to trust and love each other. And once the leg healed a bell was tied around that sheep so the other sheep would follow this one as it would forever stay close by the shepherd's side.

Amazing, huh? So whether you're being pulled by His staff back on the path, He's calming the waters so you don't feel afraid or He's really had to break you, He has a promise for you:

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23:6 ESV)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Working for it

I've been reading through a book that a friend gave me for Christmas, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It's a fantastic book so far, filled with real-life struggle and application. I love to read. I admittedly don't do it as much as I look back and would like. Things always seem to come up- really important things I'm sure. 

My lack of reading and general building-up of the mind over the last few years got me thinking how much I've become like the culture -- quite feelings based. Judaism was quite rules-based. They had several feasts in Jerusalem with required attendance each year. 

They sacrificed, they followed the letter of the law, even the lengthy rules priests added on through the years. Muslims have set prayer times during the day and many wear certain clothing. Mormons require service years. The list is infinitely long but the examples hold that religions require certain things of you, lifestyle things, hard things. Things that take up time and will-power.

But somehow in our world, we've gotten the idea that Christianity is about freedom and how we feel. God wants us to be happy, right? He wants us to want to pray and read the Bible. He wants us to want to go to church. And those are all basically true. They are truths, but we use them as excuses. 

Paul Scherer once said, "The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel." In the book I mentioned at first, Peterson rightly says that we live in the "age of sensation" where "we think that if we don't feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it." The reality is, God says more clearly that "we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting." Worship is an act, not always a feeling.

Don't hear me say we should swing the other way and become legalistic. I believe in God's great sovereignty and our incredible lostness without His calling and direction. But I also believe He's called us to work and He can will us to do it but He'd also like to see some initiative. He'd like to see us use our freedom authentically, not wasting about with things that feel good for a short while but actually put us back into bondage. As C.S. Lewis once said, "We are far too easily pleased."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Life Would Never Be the Same

I hope this makes sense to you and I'm not just an island out here feeling like I've been led astray by the mystical part of popular Christianity. It's partly my fault really. You see, we all seem to want that "I once was lost but now I'm found" moment. We want the dramatic difference, the breathtaking, end-all-be-all time when we put the ugly behind us and are completely changed.

But the truth for the vast majority of us, if  not absolutely all of us, is that while we may become new and be completely washed clean, we're still very, very human and very, very, very ourselves with the same insecurities, vices and difficulties.  

And yet, I've been a believer decades and I've just verbalizing that I'm still waiting for my moment.

My salvation is steady but my ability to follow ranges from hyperbolic to stagnant in any number of moments. When my emotions run haywire, which is an all too often occurrence, I long for relief, for a day or even a cluster of moments when the constant stream of thought isn't running through my head. After an undetermined period of time I believe quite possibly more than I believe in anything else that a flashpoint will occur and I will be free of that particular struggle. 

So I trudge on, believing that with a little hard work, a bit of time and God's grace for a flashpoint, I'll have that moment that I can look back on forever as the moment I turned from the thing.

The reality is I rarely live in reality. My life tends to rock as though I'm constantly at sea and I float along with wherever the current takes me. Motivation will come so I sit passively until it does, often waiting past a reasonable timeframe for inspiration. Things usually work out- I get it done. Heaven forbid I work on that last pesky fruit of the spirit, self-control. 

I'll stop with the doom-and-gloom, even though that's pretty much the reality of the human condition. Instead I choose to look toward the ultimate Healer no matter how much I revert back to my emotionally-driven, usually illogical and mediocre ability to follow. I will trust in the One who called me His and I will be thankful that His love isn't determined by the strength of mine. 

I do argue that the strength of mine better establishes my faith and any ability to have peace and thereby correctly-defined happiness in this life. Conversely, or perhaps confluently, my salvation is not at all determined by, praise God, the strength of mine.

Praise God that He loved even a fragmented person like me so much that He was willing to create a world where He'd have to send His son, part of Himself, to die just so I could live. And on this journey as I look for my aha moments, I pray God would continue to use the mundane, usual things to lead me to Him so that perhaps I can learn as well from them as from the struggles.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Weary

"The words of Agur son of Jakeh, the oracle, the man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One." (‭Proverbs‬ ‭30‬:‭1-3‬ ESV)

I have a secret I've been carrying around for a while now that hopefully by my confession will somehow free you to rid yourself of any baggage or dark clouds. It's a secret that a friend of mine at church on Sunday exemplified her freedom to confess a similar vulnerability that has since energized me to do the same. I'm really tired, incredibly worn out actually, of a lot of the ways I've practiced my Christianity over the years.

The daily dull routine of obligatory chores aren't working. The Bible studies and reading can bounce off of me as meaninglessly as they flew in and I'm subsequently spending less and less time doing them.

You see, I have always had a very hard time having true, nurturing and challenging relationships. I'm often stuck in the middle of people that do and do not want to hang around me, too often wanting the exact opposite of whatever I'm being offered. That may sound appallingly selfish and misguided, as often in the "doing" of the relationship we get the return, but we equally can't find ourselves in a cult-following: only in relationship with people that look up to us.

This relationship issue has brought with it a world of issues, most notably, although by no means the  exclusive culprit, an ease of wanton indifference from time to time. I have been a Christian my entire life so skipping any normally daily Christian activity, or even church, makes me no less able to shine in any public Christian setting. I can still be the Bell of the Ball. I'm studied, educated and very capable.

But there's the rub. Jesus came for those that realize their sickness. He came to fulfill prophesy, and to use the broken, the without, the least of us all, to accomplish it. You see, my capability actually creates this barrier to God. My intuition, that I lean on so heavily as my guide, while God-given, equally drives God away.

"I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One." If I did, surely I could see past the ignorance of indifference and find authenticity in the very acts that so easily get pushed aside. But there goes my intuition taking over again.

Perhaps you think all these words equate to me being lost. Perhaps you think I'm overthinking it. Perhaps you think I need to let myself off the hook, we're only human and I'm being too hard on myself. Perhaps a combination of it all but one thing is certain: I am always changing - life is always changing - but God, He is never changing. And when I'm ready, He will show me His bigness.

I haven't really provided any path to take, only statements of current existence. But maybe it's a step toward recovery. I'm addicted to the allures of this life, temporary relief and satisfaction much like  any other addict so maybe in this I'll find comfort in the unity it brings to fellow travelers. Or maybe, perhaps maybe, God will speak and He will open my ears to listen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Entrusted with the Gospel


"But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.  But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Not did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ” 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to effectively be a Christian in all circumstances. I find a great deal of what I would term worldly Christians- people who would tell you they believe but quite possibly don’t attend church, Bible studies or any other sort of communal place to worship, regularly sleep with people or drink heavily, both with no or at least inauthentic remorse, curse and use the Lord’s name improperly often, and generally don’t read scripture or spend time in prayer on any consistent basis.

Sounding familiar? They might be called convenience or nominal Christians (Christian when it’s convenient or politically correct) or lukewarm as scripture might say. If you fall into this category (or even occasionally feel yourself there) you’re not alone- we've all been there. But the lingering and most important question is how to safeguard from being there or going there again.

So how do we effectively be for Christ in all circumstances? For me, the way to not be lukewarm is to make the choice in every circumstance to be for Christ and not for public opinion or for myself. It is a lifelong commitment but it’s a daily choice—a daily choice to die to self and live for Christ alone.

I spend a great deal of time making sure I’m still light-hearted, fun, easy to be around, non-judgmental, approachable and unassuming.  Yes, I do buy into the idea that a great many people have been turned away from Christ because of “Christians” themselves. But no, I don’t buy they’re turned completely away if they were meant to know Christ in the first place. It may take them longer, and that’s a serious embarrassment to Christianity, but not irreparable. But despite all my attempts to be the perfect light for Jesus, I’m still going to fall very short.

But that’s OK  I think a great deal of the learning process of salvation is getting things wrong and getting back up to continue on with the fight. We’re going to be misunderstood. We’re going to be called over-serious. We’re quite possibly going to be criticized and whispered about, maybe even shunned. But when it happens our response shouldn't be either extreme- to change or to be prideful. Our response should be to spend even more time with the Lord, allowing Him to examine us, teach us, mold us a little more until we become as much of His spiritual likeness as we are His physical.  It’s a hard and unpopular fight. If it’s not, you’re not doing it right. But that doesn't mean you have any right to respond to the world’s ugliness with anything other than a large measure of grace and guidance.

You've been entrusted with the gospel. Don’t hide behind flattering words or cloaks of covetousness. You've been charged to be bold but you've been equally charged to be humble. And above all remember, it is God who tests hearts so no matter the outcome, find confidence in the counsel you sought and the direction the Lord led you in.