Thursday, December 29, 2011

Post-modernism and Christian Truth

While knowledge may be subjective, truth cannot be. Truth is defined as: the facts corresponding with reality. Reality is absolute; therefore truth is absolute; however, our knowledge of truth may not be absolute. Real Christianity ought not to say “My truth is better than your truth” but “I know the Truth, and I want the chance to introduce Him.”
"Tolerance of other views is one of the pillars of postmodernism. However, there is one group of people to whom this ‘tolerance’ is not extended... those who believe truth to be important!"
While I do value people who disagree with me, I do not believe it is right to expect that I validate a belief which contradicts my own as “another acceptable truth.” Nor do I expect them to validate my beliefs. Man, by other men, can only be held to standards he first holds himself to. But by God, man is held to God’s standards. So while truth is, in fact, relative to all things, it is not subject to human opinion. By that I mean, the claim to know truth does not necessarily mean truth is known.
I understand the cultural difficulty presented by claiming to have access to a truth which is absolute, because that means rejecting all other claims to truth as being false. But Christian principle must be built on the understanding that Christianity alone is truth, and that Christ is the one Truth and all other “truth” is idolatrous.
If “knowing” is replaced by “feeling”, idolatry is obsolete and principles are merely preferences.
There is no argument against post-modern thought which can “win” because through the lens of post-modernism, everything is acceptable as long as it does not claim to be “right”.
So, in a culture saturated by this style of thinking, how can one engage in dialogue, without losing their objective worldview? The answer is probably not simple, the idea of “love your enemies” comes to mind. Show grace and tolerance, offer hope, live in peace with people who disagree with you. It has never been the place of Christ’s followers to be the judge of anyone’s soul.
I understand the appeal of subjective reality. It removes moral consequence to whatever degree makes you comfortable.
I may be willing to change as my understanding of truth changes, but I am not willing to compromise my belief in truth as an absolute. I believe the Bible was inspired by a sovereign God who predestined the fate of all men and poured out His grace by the death and resurrection of His only son, Jesus Christ. I believe that one day all people will be judged by God, and they will be separated into those who will spend eternity in Heaven, and those who will spend eternity in Hell. The Bible is not politically correct; it actually says that it will be offensive to many.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why I am Glad that I am Depressed

"But [Jesus] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."... For when I am weak, then I am strong."

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

"All things work together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purposes."

I take this to be truth. It is what gets me going. Because even though my human strength is gone, God is strong enough for me. And depression is that exactly, it is a season in my life when my own strength is so far gone, that I continue to breathe literally only for the grace of God. I understand it, and even though it hurts, in the moments of deep anguish, I am strong. I cannot imagine going through depression without the love of a sovereign God, and the sovereignty of a loving God. Because those are my joy, not the fleeting moments of man made happiness I strive for, and fail to gain all too often. 

The more deeply I understand the true meaning of God's grace, the more willing I am to trust Him in the darkness of this valley. God has me where He wants me and will lead me where He wants me. I do not need clarity; I need trust: hope and faith. Hope for good, and faith in good. Together they become trust that God is good. That He is planning good and doing good on my behalf.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Freedom Through Christ: The Gift and Good News of Grace

         Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin. And by that, I do not mean, when we accept Christ we will never sin again; rather, when we sin we are free from the eternal consequence of condemnation. Grace is a merciful acquittal. In Christ, there is no condemnation; and God's forgiveness will always be more that our failures.
       "Grace is not license to sin; it is license to live and love freely without fear."
Can a righteous king show grace to his undeserving servant? Can a just judge  show mercy to a criminal? God is both just and merciful. Where sin increases, grace also increases. God will forgive exponentially. Grace is the sinners' privilege; the self-righteous are deluded into believing they don't need it. All who accept forgiveness are forgiven.

"I feel like the message of grace is not that all are good, but that Christ is God's goodness for all." There are 2 major points in the Gospel. 1) Christ came for the sick. 2) Everybody is sick.
         Repentance is not a means of earning forgiveness; rather, repentance is out of acknowledgement that we have been forgiven. Jesus is proof God did not set us up for failure while expecting perfection, but rather God set us up for perfection and expected failure.
         Evil exists to create contrast for God's goodness. Like light which seems that much brighter in darkness.   If love stood unopposed, it would not really win. If there was no wrong, doing right would not be so amazing. It is when we choose, right over wrong that God is working in us.
         Getting along with sinners is good; Jesus did it, without judgment, extending grace and mercy. But let us not forget, we are all sinners.

"Even though my head knows Christ has won the war with sin and death, the battle in my heart rages on." God fought the war against sin and death which he won. Now he is asking all of us which side we want to be on. Are we for God, or against him?
         Fear of negative consequences, fear of shame, and fear of pain. These things, if we allow them, will paralyze us and stunt our spiritual growth. Comfort and familiarity are so often what we seek even as they are often at odds with God's desire for our lives.  Independence and self-righteousness are not true to God's calling for us. Rather we must depend on Him and find righteousness through Christ.

  Salvation is free; discipleship costs you everything.
         We all choose our second death; we die to our flesh and live in spirit eternally, or we live in our flesh and die spiritually for eternity.
I have not the right, ability, or desire to condemn. Only to love, forgive, and show mercy. If you are Christian, take this to heart. Live like you're already dead. There is nothing to fear. Because of God’s sovereign nature and our eternal life, we are either always in danger or never in danger. I believe it is the latter. Even though I am young, my body is falling apart. And that is alright. My flesh (human nature) died years ago. And if my heart stops, I will live on in God. Dying is the only way to live. Dead people have nothing to fear, no reason to doubt, nothing to lose and everything to gain.

        Unless you hunger for righteousness, you will loathe it. But if you do hunger for it, even the hardest parts will satisfy you.
         If God is love, and created love, doesn't that mean he defines love? If he does anything, it is out of love. We should match our love to his. I think that culture sometimes sees the gospel as Jesus saving people from God. But it isn't. It's God saving people from sin through Jesus. God claims He is love, that He is just, that He is faithful, and that He is sovereign. One thing He never claims to be is simple. God's too big to be held down by the principles of an era.
  God says, "I know what I want; I like what I want. I want somebody to praise me."
We struggle to understand Jesus' dual nature because we struggle to accept our own. The flesh and spirit are engaged in battle, separated. The duality of Jesus' nature: His spirit is God's Spirit, his flesh is of man. In the same way, our flesh is human, our spirit is of God. 
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” 
“So now it is no longer I who [sin], but sin that dwells within me.”
         Love is unlimited, and economics only matter when there is scarcity. Love is not a commodity because there is more than enough for everybody.
God's character is extravagant love and abundant life. The wages of sin have been paid. Get out of the checkout line. Live a life of love. Culture tells us to withhold our love, giving it only to those who deserve it. That is powered by the false ideal that our love is limited. God's plan isn't Christ asking us to split the check. We can never earn salvation. We do good because we love God and love people. The Christianity that is about moralism or condemnation is a false religion. True Christianity is to love God and be loved by Him. Our relationship with God should be communal, personal, and intimate. Family of, friend of, and bride of Christ. God unifies all loves.

The context of "being all things to all people" is a context of love. Without love as the motive, behavior does not matter. GOD wants love.
         As Christians we tend to forget we are only bound to one law: Love. We keep adding rules and we forget to love God and each other. Love never fails. But failure is not falling; failure is not getting back up. Love is hard. We will stumble and fall. We must get back up.
When you begin to understand the magnitude of God's love shown through Christ, sacrifice becomes a reasonable act of worship.
God is a God of both justice and mercy. Truth and grace. He will give what you deserve or what you deeply need. Desire mercy, desire grace.
True love must include honest vulnerability. Despise immorality. Hold on to the things which are right as though your life depended on it.

In The Garden With God

All of nature tells of Your salvation
God, the wind whispers Your love
And Your grace rustles through the leaves
The branches dance to the music of Your joy
And the trees bow down before Your might
Your voice is in the thunderclaps
And we wait in anticipation for You to speak
Your mercy covers us like storm clouds
You inspire the flowers to beautifully bloom
You conduct the choir of the birds in their song
You are a master painter, working with the colors of the setting sun
But of all creation's wonders, You chose mankind
 To make in Your own image
And the whole world You have made
You gave to us as a gift
In the garden you have given us
You ask only for us
To walk with You
To talk with You
And to call You
Father, Friend, and Love

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forgotten Grace: God is not a Deadbeat Dad

God’s message is one of love. Love for all people. Regardless of circumstances, all people are loved by God. If we are to hate what is evil and love all people; people are not evil. Evil is in us not by our effort or desire but because of the Law of God which is in us, part of our nature since the Fall. The Law is our knowledge of good and evil, and by knowing good and evil, we have succumbed to evil. God has created us each in His own image. His image is perfect, and His will is perfect.

Love is a high calling, and it does not keep track of right and wrong. Love forgives and continues to forgive beyond what is natural, beyond the requirements of the Law. Love is extended into grace, which is goodness in place of deserved punishment
We focus so much on our innate evil, and on the fact that all separation between sinner and saint comes down to grace alone. There is no work we can do to attain more favor, more love, or more grace from God; if there were, grace would not be grace but works.

We need to be hospitable to sinners, to the poor, sick, hungry, broken people. To offer a place at our table is to say, “You are forgiven, you are accepted, you are loved.” When we consider ourselves to be messengers of the Gospel, do we know what that good news is we carry?

It would not be good news if we were to be judgmental, to hate sinners, to wage a war on culture and sin. Christ alone was without sin, and he did not even throw the first stone. The implications of that go deep, and they should move us to tears. We have forgotten how wretched we are without God’s grace. I can have no part of a religion where the need to appear righteous before man causes us to refrain to show ourselves as broken and in need of grace before God.

The adulterer, the addict, the homosexual, the promiscuous, the glutton, the liar, the thief, the murderer, and the idolater have a place with Christ at his table. Together they can sit and be friends, sharing life with each other. With them is Abba Father, God. He is a sovereign creator, but he wants to be intimate with us.

When we are hurt and broken and messy, we can come to Him and cry, “I don’t know what to do.” And he will comfort us with an embrace. Even though we are covered in our messiness and he is so clean, he approaches us and holds us and lets us sob. He does not try to fix us or tell us to clean up first. He holds us in His arms until we are ready to talk to Him.

I don’t know many Christians who have that. We talk about grace, and we accept it theoretically. But when it comes down to it, we don’t put it into practice; not for ourselves and not for those around us.

So do we bear a message of grace, or one of condemnation? Are we puffed up, letting our egos tell us that somehow we have achieved a state of being in which we are better than the “lowly sinners.”? We talk about grace, but I intend to start living it because healing does not come from church politics, or missions funds, or manifestos. It comes from the grace of a loving God, poured out freely; loving God because He loves us and forgiving others because He first forgave us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Saintly Sinner's Prayer of Abundant Grace

My eyes are red and teary
For I worship men and idols
But do not turn to You, the Living God

Turn my heart away from iniquity
God, revive me even as I turn from You
You are a merciful and gracious God
Your Kingdom reigns over my heart

I have been consumed by my own consuming
I have been owned by the things I own
I have fooled myself into believing
That you accept my idol worship

Redeem me in this place
Break my heart again
For my lack of justice
Because I have forgotten compassion

Put fire in my heart to refine it
And tear down the strongholds within
Bring me to ruin before Your great mercy
Because my heart has turned from You

You, the God of my father
Who offered to redeem me
While I was yet a sinner
I have laughed at You
And spit insults at Your name

My hardened heart needs to be broken
Bring me to my knees, O God
Give me hardship; persecute my body
So my heart may rejoice
As I turn my soul back to You

I cried out to you at night
And fasted for many days
But my prayers were a foul odor
Because of my self-righteous hypocrisy

I will cry out loud
"You promised never to forsake me!"
But I have forsaken You
For the idols my hands made
I have consecrated offerings to material things
And raised others above Your name

I will say to You, O God
"I am of Your people
I am Your very body."
But You saw the poison in my bones
And the cancer in my heart

Your servant is made small
And I will ask You,
"Where are the sheep I am to feed?
Where have they all gone?"

And You say to me,
"Shepherd boy, cry out.
Turn your eyes back
to the cross and
you will be healed again.
I will return to you many more sheep
than you or your father have seen.
I will make your soul and body awaken
 with the joy of grace,
the mercy of peace,
 and the Law of Love"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Grace Is Blind

The thing that interests me is that word grace, and all the things it promises. How deep its meaning is. Grace, by nature, is so easy to abuse. If you can’t abuse grace, it really is not grace. Yet, as we begin to understand it, we will not want to manipulate grace, or cheat it; we will want to start sharing it with others. I met this guy recently and he told me a cool story, and I never tell true stories. But this one is so good, so much stranger than fiction, I could not help but share it with you as best as I can.

This guy was a Christian, he had been raised in church, and he really wanted to live out his faith. This story happened some time during his senior year of high school. A lady from his church asked if he could help a family in town move, move the furniture and heavier boxes into a u-haul. He agreed to meet up at the family’s house when school got out that Tuesday afternoon.
So three o’clock Tuesday, this guy showed up at the doorstep of a family he had never met. He dropped his backpack in the foyer, and met the lady from church, Katie, and the mother of the family he was helping. She was trying to clean and pack and watch her four year old daughter Grace all at the same time, but it was really difficult because her husband was at work still. Katie had asked another guy from the church to help out as well named Andy, but he did not show up when he was supposed to.
So this guy told Katie and the mother they could pack and clean, and he would take care of Grace. He watched her dancing around, and she came up to him and started to feel him. It turned out, Grace had been born blind. That family had been dealing with it for four years. He read her a storybook that had both written words and braille. He was actually a little freaked out when she wanted to play outside, and every time she wandered too near the street, he called out, “Grace! Come back.” and he would run after her and grab her so she would not get hit by any cars.
Finally, an hour later Katy and the lady came outside and told him that Andy was not gonna make it for a while; he had been held up at a job interview. So this guy took out his cellphone and started making calls to people around town who he thought might come help.
His first call was to his youth pastor, but the youth pastor said, “Sorry. I am too busy preparing for youth group tonight. I can’t help.
So he called one of his close Christian friends, another kid who had grown up in church, but when he answered he told the guy, “Sorry. I can’t make it. I am really swamped by all this homework, and then I have to go to band practice for church.”
The guy was kind of bummed that his Christian friends let him down, but he had an idea. He decided to call his really good friend who was not a Christian but was a reliable guy. When his friend answered the phone, he said, “Yeah. I can do my homework later. I will be there in ten minutes, and I am bringing one of my friends I was with, too.”
Well, this guy, his friend, and his friend’s friend worked till seven o clock and Andy and the lady’s husband showed up, and they finished packing everything and moving it to another house across town. By the end of the day, they were all exhausted. The mother started to pay them, and Andy got twenty dollars. The guy’s friend and the friend’s friend also got twenty dollars each. When the lady got to this guy she gave him a hundred dollars. He asked if it was by accident, but she said, “No. You deserve more. You could have just left when no one else showed up, but you stayed. You watched Grace, and you brought people to come help us.”
As I have been studying the Gospel of Luke recently, two parables really seem to be highlighted by this guy’s story. In Luke 10, there is a story about a man in need who is passed by two very “holy” men, men who consider religion more important than mercy. Then another man comes along, a man who normally never would have associated with the victim because of cultural tension took pity on him. He took care of the hurt man, and helped him. Jesus said that third man is the one we should be like.
That is not to say, “Christianity is bad.” I would not say that, but tradition is not nearly as important as the needs of a fellow person. “Love your neighbor” even if you have youth group or work or band practice. God first, people second, everything else after that.
Another story, in Luke 19, is about a nobleman who was trying to become king, and he gave some servants money to invest while he is away. One servant has ten times as much, a huge return, and he is rewarded richly; the king let him keep the money and made him in charge of ten cities. Another servant has five times as much, still a huge return, and he is rewarded richly as well with the money he made and rule of five cities. But there was a servant who was afraid, and he hid the money. He did not even put  it in a bank to collect interest. His money was taken from him and give to the one who had ten. The punishment was severe.
So that high school guy invested his time, and his relationships, and he was rewarded well. It is such a cool story, and it really brings the gospel to life. I think we could all learn to take risks, to be good Samaritans, and to share God’s story of grace as we await our welcome of “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Parable of the Sower: Why We Should Have Crap in Our Lives

Jesus is talking to a bunch of people, and he starts to tell a story.

“There is a farmer, and it is time to plant, so this farmer takes up his seed and starts to throw it about. As he is doing this, some of it falls on the path, and is trampled or eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky soil, and it grew, but withered and died because its roots took in no water. Some sees fell amongst the weeds, and it grew up, but was choked by the weeds and died. Lastly, some fell on good soil and it grew and its yield was a hundred times what was sown.”

Now Jesus’ closest friends asked him what he was talking about. And he told them they were the only ones he could explain it to, but for the crowds he spoke in parables to fulfill a prophecy. So this is how Jesus explained the parable to his disciples.

“The seed is God’s word, the Scriptures and myself. The gospel, if you will. The seed which fell on the path are those who hear the gospel, and the devil comes and takes it from their hearts so they can’t believe and be saved. The seed which fell on rocky soil are the ones who rejoice when they hear the gospel, but they don’t take root. When trials and tests come, they fall away. The seed which fell amongst the weeds are those who hear, but as life happens they are choked by worry, riches, and luxury, and they never mature. The seed which falls on good soil are those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain, and by perseverance produce a crop.”

So that is the gist of what Jesus said, but I think since most of us are not farmers in first century Israel, it loses something: cultural context.

The seed: It is still the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. That part won’t change, we know God’s word to be unchanging and eternal.

The seed which falls on the path: This also stays pretty similar, these are the people whom the devil attacks, convincing them to reject the truth.

The seed which falls on rocky soil: This, perhaps, looks a little different today than 2,000 years ago. Jesus’ time did not have all the technology and science we have today. Modern medicine makes it easy to misplace our faith; we trust doctors over the Great Physician. Divorce law has made it much too easy to end a marriage. God is not in our culture to the degree he would have been with the Jews or even in America 100 years ago. The message is still the same, these are the fickle people who accept the gospel because they think it will make life easier, and when life still gets hard, they run.

The seed which falls amongst the weeds: This is probably the most common, at least in America. Though we are in the midst of economic turmoil, we are still one of the wealthiest nations. If 1 in 5 of our citizens struggle with hunger or homelessness, that leaves 80% well fed with a safe place to call home. We are worriers; we worry about the future: how we can get more money, how we can get a better education, how we can get a career to provide out future family with stability and wealth. Even on welfare, Americans are richer than most of the world. And with so much wealth and luxury, we forget to love people, and to serve, and live sacrificially. Our culture tells us, “Look out for number one.” That is not inherently a bad saying, as long as we know that “number one” ought to be (and is regardless) God. We should be looking out for God’s interests, not our own. Our culture breeds selfishness, greed, and independence as virtues when we ought to be selfless, generous and totally reliant on God. It is so hard to embrace the teachings of Christ when money whispers lies in our ears. It tell us, “I am what is important. You can’t help people if you don’t have me. God wants you to be happy, and only I can make you happy.”  Well, those lies are from satan, and we ought to know by now only God can make us truly happy.

The seeds which fall on good soil: This is what we should all want to be. This is fruitful Christianity. Something I have realized about good soil, though, is that it is fertilized. Yes, God wants us to be seeds in good soil. Our lives have to be dirty and full of crap (in the literal sense of the word) in order to produce that fruit which God is so pleased with. So there cannot be rocks or weeds in our soil. We cannot let trials turn us from God, and we certainly cannot let worrying about life keep us from maturing in Christ. God will provide. When the trials come, God is enough. When it seems like you don’t have enough money, God is enough. We need to remind ourselves constantly, God is enough; he will provide. Then we will produce an abundance of spiritual fruit, and God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The good life, the better life, the best life

I am a human being, naturally depraved, and if you are reading this, so are you. This is alright. It is natural. Being a bad person is the original state of being every single baby is born into. By all rights, we have no reason to do good. But there is this chance for redemption which is presented to all of us as a choice. It is to accept the supernatural death and rebirth of self into a new person, no longer bad. Through Christ we can become more than natural. Paul clarifies this with a statement, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." The object is to go from a natural state to a supernatural state.

This concept is simple, but at the same time confusing to some people. Jesus spoke once to an educated man, a ruling council member in Jewish society, a Pharisee named Nicodemus. This man recognized that God was with Jesus, but Jesus told him in order to see the Kingdom of God, a man must be born again. Nicodemus did not understand at first. He thought Jesus meant be born from their mother again but Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." We are all born and we all die, but we choose when to die and when to truly live. All are faced with the choice, the blood of Jesus is enough to cover everybody who was ever alive and ever will be. Not everybody accepts. So many reject God's offer of salvation. We all choose our second death; we can die to our flesh and live in spirit eternally, or we can live in our flesh and die spiritually for eternity.

This is not a happy topic. It is sad and hard to understand, but Heaven and Hell are very real. And so is God. We who are saved, who have died to self, who daily carry their cross, who were crucified with Christ, are called to a higher purpose, to higher standards. No longer can we live as though we were members of the world. We are to be above reproach, to live with love and faith and goodness. To seek holy, righteous purity of flesh and spirit. In our DNA is flesh, sin, and ultimately death, but we receive a new, spiritual DNA when we receive our new life. The DNA of truth, love, and ultimately life.

In Ezekiel, God gives the prophet this vision:
The calling of the watchmen.
If you see danger and do not call out in warning and a man dies, his blood is on your hands.
If you see danger and do call out in warning and a man dies, his blood is not on your hands because you sounded warning.
This is true still, but under the new covenant with Christ we will not be condemned to Hell for not warning our friends, family, neighbors, and even enemies of the eternal danger, but it is our greatest calling. We are to speak the Truth and proclaim the Good News. We are to offer Life to those who are dead. When I say dead there, not the death of their flesh, because then it would be too late, but spiritually many are dead as they live in this world. They do not know the Truth, but they are accountable to be judged nonetheless. For Christians, the judgement is not of our sins, which God chooses not to see because of the lens of Jesus' blood, but of our fruit. He cares about what we do with the resources and gifts we are given.

In the Christian life, there are levels of commitment we can work toward. ( I am trying to be cautious here, I am not saying that we can be saved by anything but faith, but our faith is made alive through our deeds and when we bare Christian fruit.) The first level is good. When we are good, it is just the simple transition from darkness to light. It is becoming a follower; simply accepting the offer. That is good.

The second level is betterBetter is where a Christian starts to explore the Word, to pray, to live a loving life, to fellowship, but mostly there is not a full maturity. It is a stage of development in which the relationship between a human and God grows, but the person does not fully understand God's will and purpose in their life. This could include being discipled, attending church regularly and other similar things. They are on the right track, but there is work to be done. That is better than good.

Finally we come to best. The best are not easily angered; do not hold grudges or keep score, do not delight in evil; always rejoice in truth, always protect, always trust, always hope, and aways persevere.

What I just described as best, it is impossible, but it is the goal. To make ourselves more like Jesus everyday. As Christians, we have to recognize our failures in order to grow. The Devil has no footholds if we do not try to hide in darkness. In the light, Satan has no power. Daily, we need to remember that God did not create us to work alone. As individuals we fail, as a community, in fellowship with one another and God, we can do all things. (Not that God cannot use a person alone, but more often he works through a group.) The truth of the matter, if we are striving to be like Christ, to better ourselves, to help each other, to do good always, and to live lives of Christian love, we will be the best Christians we can be. I am a human being, supernaturally redeemed, and if you are reading this, you could be too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Resistance Is (Not) Futile: 4 Biblical Strategies For Dealing With Temptation

"Temptation: If you can't avoid it, resist it."

The obvious way to not get hurt is to stay out of danger, and I think we all know that. Then life happens. Things don't go as planned. Sometimes we just can't help it, and we end up in a situation facing the thing which we know brings us harm, sin.
I am, by no means, an expert at avoiding temptation or resisting it, but I have found that God has given us ways to not get pulled in. I think Paul says it best in his letter to Corinth, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." We are not alone, our sins are not unique to us.
I don't want to make a struggle with sin seem simple or easy. I am confident that it is neither, and from my own experience and from what I see in the Bible it is not meant to be. If it were simple, we would figure it out on our own. If it were easy, we would not rely on God to help us.
Last thing before I get started. God speaking through his prophet Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." If we do not want to repent, turning away from our sins toward God, we will not be able to. God can help; people can help, but it all starts with a decision each of us must make on our own. So here goes, the four best ways I know to overcome temptation, "ways of escape" if you will:

1. Prayer. The closer I am to God, the more likely I am to obey him. That is just the simple truth. I find that when my prayer life is good, temptation is not as strong. That is not to say I am not tempted, but I can let God handle it. One of my favorite chunks of Scripture is in Matthew 26. Jesus was tempted to not die on the cross. He begged his Father not to make him do it. He sweats blood. Jesus was clearly not super excited to die. But he prayed and then he obeyed. So when we are tempted to disobey God, to turn from his good, pleasing, and perfect will, I believe prayer is a great way to reconnect with his will for our lives.

2. Accountability. By that I do not mean finding somebody else who is struggling with the same sin and "confessing" to each other. That is a great way to conceal sin, and to justify it to ourselves so we can keep doing what we want because "we are just humans and we are going to mess up but we are telling somebody". I have tried that. It will not ever work. By accountability, I mean finding somebody or multiple somebodies who you are willing to give permission to say the hard things, to tell you when you are in the wrong,, and to really listen when you speak honestly and vulnerably. It should be somebody who can offer constructive criticism and encouragement, and who genuinely cares for your spiritual well-being. If they don't care, they can't help. You need a person that will answer phone calls at 2 am if you need them. The bigger the struggle is in our lives, the more accountability we need.

3. Knowing Scripture. I am a huge proponent of memorizing verses. Not for the sake of knowing them, but for the sake of living them out. Psalm 119 is the best example I know of this:
 "How can a young man keep his way pure? 
   By living according to your word. 
I seek you with all my heart; 
   do not let me stray from your commands. 
I have hidden your word in my heart 
   that I might not sin against you." 

God wants us to love him; we love him by obeying his commands. It is pretty hard to obey a command you don't know. On the flip side, James makes it very clear that knowing God's commands and not acting on them is sinful, too.

4. Prior planning. If you know that a famine is coming, you stockpile food. If you know a drought is coming, you save water. If you know a war is coming, you build your army and plan your strategies. We know temptation is coming. So one thing we should do is decide in advance what we are going to do in response to that temptation. I struggle with being prideful. I feed my ego all the time. I know it is not what God wants for my life. He wants me to be humble. So when I go to a meeting or I am hanging out with friends, I have to commit to myself to not push my opinions and to not be condescending. This really interacts with the other "ways of escape" I wrote about. If I commit to praying when I see something that could cause me to lust, or if I know scripture that says not to be anxious and to not worry, if I commit to telling my accountability partner when I feel like I am going to say something prideful and stupid, I am way less likely to succumb to the lust, depression, or pride that I know will only hurt me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why God Does Not Want To Be Made Part Of Your Life

There is this terrifying misnomer that I have heard floating around the church world. It says this: God wants to be part of your life. He wants to be included in your life. He just wants to help you improve your life.
Now, follow me here, I am not saying, “God does not want to be in your life.” I am saying “God does not want to be part of your life.” He does not want to be a hobby or a pastime that you invest a little time, a little money, and a little energy into. He does not want to be some life coach who you call whenever you have a problem, but don’t really want anyone to know about. He does not want to just be present in your life on Sundays and one or two weeknights when you do "churchy stuff."  He does not even want to be a lover who you share almost all your secrets with. He wants everything, all of your life, all of your time, energy and money. He wants to be reflected in every aspect of you, and not the same you from before you knew Him, but a new creation, a new person. He wants you to start looking more like Jesus every day.
So when you are at church, at work, at school,or anywhere with people: friends, enemies or strangers- really it does not matter where you are or who you are with- God wants you to realize that your life is actually entirely His. He wants that to be reflected in how you speak, act, and live. He wants you to be an example of faith, love, and purity. He wants you to realize you are a witness, your entire life is testifying who God is, and He wants you to testify truthfully. God wants you to embrace abundant life; that does not mean checking off a list of things to do or not do. That means He wants you to feel His power transforming you, and He wants you to feel His renewal, His daily mercies. He wants the love He gave you to pour out from your life into other people, and because God's love is so pure and unconditional, that is what He wants our love to look like.
But if there is one thing God wants most of all, it is that you desire to know Him, to love Him, that you would want to grow your relationship with Him. God knows that it is not an overnight process becoming like Jesus. He knows that you are not going to just wake up and never doubt Him again, never have anymore questions. God wants you to struggle with Him because in order to wrestle with God, you must first be intimate with God. And that is the thing He desires of us, the thing which glorifies Him the most, to know and love us and to be known and loved by us.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Discipleship: The Ministry of God

“Faithfulness is multiplication; complacency is addition.”

The leaders of a church must lead, and that means there will be people in the church who are followers, not leaders. Consider a shepherd and sheep; the ratio is a few shepherds to many sheep. Without the sheep, the shepherds have no purpose or livelihood. Now while leadership comes with more responsibility than simply having people follow, every Christian is called to “Go make disciples.” Disciple-making, is something which transcends gifts and calling; it is the goal of every Christian.
Discipleship is clearly patterned for us in Scripture. The word “disciple” is better understood as apprentice/student, which implies there must be a master/teacher for the discipling relationship- discipleship- to occur. A disciple learns the ideas and skills of a discipline, in the case of Christianity, those ideas and skills are from the Gospel. The discipline is becoming like Jesus Christ.
In his “Great Commission,” Jesus says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So making a disciple means being a witness, baptizing and teaching somebody to know and obey God’s truths.
Shepherds choose to shepherd their sheep, and once they commit, they must be faithful even if it is hard or not immediately gratifying. They are responsible for accepting their sheepish disciples; for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training them in righteousness. However, a disciple should be:
Submissive, and
FAST for short. Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” In the same way, we must choose disciples who will be fruitful.
Now a relationship with a Christian peer is a good thing, and I know it is encouraged by Christ in Hebrews 10:24-25. But it is not discipleship. That peer, your fellow Christian, and yourself are in fellowship. But discipleship is shown in the Bible to be a more mature believer teaching a less mature one.
Some examples are Christ and his disciples, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and of course, Paul and Timothy. As Paul tells Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to [faithful] men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
This is representative of the discipleship plan which God wants his church to implement. It is four generations of fruit. Paul teaches Timothy who teaches faithful men who go on to teach others.
What are “the things you have heard me say” Paul is referring to? They are the biblical teachings every Christian ought to know and practice including: Scripture reading, memorization, and meditation; proclaiming the gospel as witnesses in our daily lives; serving others in love; and, of course, making disciples ourselves. How can we make disciples until we first are disciples?

*This next bit gets a little mathy, but it makes a really cool point.
If Christianity were simply a numbers game (which I would contend it is not) which would work more effectively long term: 1 discipling relationship a year that resulted in 2 that resulted in 4 and so on for 5 years, or 1000 people saved daily for 5 years? The first would result in 32 disciples. The second would result in approximately 1.8 million believers. Apply these same concepts to 30 years, however, and discipleship results in 1.1 billion disciples where the other way is just under 11 million. Do you understand that long term, discipleship is more than 100 times as effective as any form of mass evangelism ever could be? Faithfulness is multiplication; complacency is addition. How should we grow God’s kingdom for him in a world where population is growing exponentially?

So how does one go about making a disciple?
Well, first, we have to acknowledge that the only perfect thing in existence is God, and so by no means is there an end all, be all way to make disciples. There may be, and I would say there is, a “most excellent way.” I do believe that God calls us to a spirit of excellence, and when faced with the options of good, better, and best it is our Christian duty to choose the best.

Secondly, we have to differentiate teaching and training.
Teaching- is sharing the knowledge of ideas and concepts.
Training- is the transmission of skills and abilities.
Discipleship integrates the teacher/student relationship with the master/apprentice relationship to help younger or less mature Christians understand both the intellectual and practical applications of the Gospel in our lives.
Now while some of these following things are not necessities, they may prove useful for making discipleship easy to duplicate.
1. Relationships are not always and do not need to always be completely organic. Having a discipleship coordinator within the church is a great way to help those who ought to be discipling find someone who needs to be discipled.
2. The more mature the person being discipled is, the less structured the relationship can be while still remaining fruitful. Not everybody needs a curriculum to teach or a covenant to sign, but we should not be afraid to use tools to help us organize and maintain healthy discipling relationships.
3. These are some things which a disciple should get from what they learn in the discipling relationship: assurance of salvation, consistent “quiet time” (prayer and bible study), the basics of Christian living (tithing, serving, being in community, knowing God’s word, etc), a feeling that they are connected to a local body of believers, a desire to share their faith as a witness and as a disciple-maker themselves.
A way you can tell that a discipling relationship was a fruitful investment of your time and energy (beyond the fact that God rewards faithfulness) is that your disciple is making disciples who make disciples.
My greatest hope is that through Christ, many believers would take this vision from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 and discipleship would have an exponential effect on this exponentially growing world.
So as I wrap this up, ask yourself, “Am I willing to re-evaluate my priorities, the things which I value and invest my time in, and shift my priorities toward Christ and making disciples even at the expense of old, less valuable activities?” If there has been a better way to do this, don’t you think Jesus would have done it? So let’s have the hard conversations, and let’s go make some disciples.

Q&A: Why Should I Memorize Scripture?

This would be ridiculously long if I included the full versions of each scripture I use. So please, as you read this, read the Scripture along with it. I believe God wants all of his children to know him and to know what he has said.

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus resists temptation using Scripture.
In Psalm 119, David explains that knowing Scripture is the way to be pure.
In Joshua 1:8, Joshua explains that success in life comes from meditating and speaking the words of the Bible.
In Ephesians 6:13-18,  Paul tells us the word of God is our sword, to fight Satan and his angels. Paul says further in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
Not to mention in Hebrews 4:12 it says, “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

2 Timothy 3:14-17 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Peter 1:20-21 “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
These verses show that God uses his word to transform us, but it must be done from within which means we must have his word within us. Therefore, we must know God’s word.

Romans 1:20-21,28 make it clear that it is worth whatever effort it takes to know God’s word. James 1:22-25 tells us that once we know the Scripture (and it is sinful to not know it as a Christian) it is our duty to act upon it. We must be doers of the word, not just hearers.

John 1:1 says Jesus is the word of God. So with that being said, I want to show you in my words what Jesus in John 15:5-8 says.
“If you remain in me [the word] and I [the word] remain in you, I will give you what you ask for and you will be fruitful, which will show others that you are my disciples and will be glorifying to my Father. If you do not remain in me [the word] and I [the word] am not in you, you will not be connected to me, and will not receive what you desire.”
These things in mind, please consider committing to memorize at least one piece of God’s word consistently, whether that is a verse a week, or a few verses daily.
Here are some verses which contain fundamental knowledge of Christ and the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Galatians 2:20
Romans 12:1
John 14:21
2 Timothy 3:16
Joshua 1:8
John 15:7
Philippians 4:6,7
Matthew 18:20
Hebrews 10:24,25
Matthew 4:19
Romans 1:16