Archive for ‘Christian Living’

November 9, 2010

Spiritual Addiction

Whenever I hear the phrase “Spiritual Discipline” I shudder. Even more so, I find myself revolted almost to the point of nausea, spiritually speaking – that is.  Let me explain before you put your finger down your throat and say “gag me.” I find the term an oxymoron, as if we can just discipline ourselves into spiritual vitality.

An oxymoron is not a gullible teenager beset with a horrible case of acne. An oxymoron is a phrase that has words that are incongruous or contradictory but presented to be congruous. I love the idea behind the reason for and things that are what we are pointing to when we think and teach “spiritual disciplines.” But the oxymoron gets in my way. What an unfortunate term to describe the portion of Christian life that portrays coming to the Living Water and drinking at the source never to be thirsty again. Can you think of a worse sales technique than calling – “ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – a spiritual discipline? If this was a corporate slogan then that would be a company soon out of business.

Yet, it is a slogan we Christians have hailed as a banner in our attempt to communicate a vitally important aspect of our walk with God. Indeed, we cannot walk with God without them. It would be like trying to live without food and water.

“Spiritual Disciplines” as a phrase creates a negative image in my mind. It is an image of a pharisee, who beats himself low as one who is observing the law, moaning as he fasts and rubbing his knees as he prays. Oh, the sacrifices! Oh, the pain! Oh, the inconveniences! “Look at all I have traded away for my discipline. My will and strength have won the day.” In short, I struggle because of how easy the term plays into the accusation of legalism.  It would seem that the surface problem of spiritual disciplines is legalism. Either from those who slave away under the practices  as if the disciplines are the end themselves or those antinomianists among us who claim “Legalist! Legalist!” if we dare raise the topic with them.

But there is even a deeper problem with our use of “spiritual discipline.” It is two-pronged.

First, we treat it like an option.

Second, we approach it as a task.

“See, he is preaching legalism!” You might be shouting out now. Maybe we could start texting sol (shout out loud) to tell people we are yelling at them from our armchair. So, maybe you are typing into the comment section right now “sol, sol – you legalist.” Thank you for listening. Please come again.

Think about it. We are constantly selling spiritual disciplines as optional tasks for the believer that are, naturally, to our benefit should we wise up and engage in them.

But for the believer, they are neither. Consider prayer and Bible study – two spiritual disciplines – in this regard. Have you ever thought of them as any thing but optional or tasks? I would like to offer a different way to consider them. They are, frankly, food – spiritual they may be – but food and drink none the less.

The Aspect of Intentionality

I like to eat. I like to eat a lot. And I eat a lot. This might surprise you; complete disclosure here – I eat at least three times a day.  Another surprise. You might have heard of these three periods before. Indeed, they have become so important that many people identify each period with its own name – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, it might be enough that I eat at least three times a day, but again, full disclosure forces me to admit that I eat at least six times most days.

The only time I have not eaten at least three times a day has always been by my choice. In other words, it is only by my intentionality that I miss these meals. Flip this around then and realize that it is by intentionality that I eat six times a day most days. You might say, “Wow, you sure are disciplined.” And after blushing and mumbling some nonsense about “Aw, shucks!” I would quickly change the subject. (Back to reality) Only nobody ever has told me “Wow, I am so amazed at your discipline to eat food three times a day.”

But, why not? Surely discipline is an aspect of my eating habits. I am even intentional on what I eat – eating protein, carbohydrates and fats at those meals. That is a reflection of the aspect of discipline involved in how I approach the succulent morsel of meat and tasty portion of blanched asparagus on my plate, with who knows what other pleasant surprises have been added to my tantalizing delight on the plate. Still, discipline is just one aspect of my eating habits. Hence, to call eating a discipline would fall far short of giving it its just due. Yes, intentionality is there – but there is more.

The Aspect of Necessity

I have called eating a habit, which may be interpreted as just another way as saying disciplined act done on a regular basis successfully making it easier to do than not to do long-term. But I would say when I eat, the reason it is a habit has more to do with its necessity for my survival, then it does an intentionality to master the art of eating. On some level I eat because I have to if I want to continue in this life. While our salvation doesn’t depend on our praying, we will pray if we are saved. It happens in accordance to salvation (see John 14).  This is very much like plugging in a rechargeable battery that is about to die. No one points to it and accuses it of legalism. “You legalistic battery. How dare you suggest to the rest of us batteries that necessity of getting recharged. We are just fine a.s….w..e…..c…o…n…t…i…n…u…e…….i….n……..o…..u…..r………..w……a……y……….” Sure you are (and since this is a blog, please assume my sarcastic tone here due to my utter incredulity for such a preposterous position). I have had periods of inconsistent and weak prayer. I have had times where I have not been intentional in setting aside a time for prayer. But I don’t think I have ever had a day when I haven’t prayed. Think about it. A passing one line sentence multiple times during the day. Of course, lean days and days rich in intentionality of prayer have taught me the necessity of prayer in my life. The more I pray, the healthier my diet. We all do it, but some of us do it with more intentionality than others and there lies a distinction.

The Aspect of Passion

I admit that there may be people who eat just to exist. And there are people who treat prayer the same way. But most people have a passion for food. And some Christians have a passion for prayer. Our habit of eating lies deeper than just a need to carry on, but also has a joy to it. Of course these passions are manifested in different ways – vegans, beef eaters, BBQ-ers, Cajun and spicy food, ethnic diversity in eating, and the list is seemingly endless. I love to eat. I have a recipe page on my blog. I am passionate about my food. My favorite channel on tv might just be the Food Network.

And I am desperately passionate about God’s Word and prayer. I find it strange that we can talk about these two areas as if we are Stoics. We find it strange when other Christians stop what they are doing and ask us if they can pray with us. Is it strange if they ask us to go eat lunch with them? We are more comfortable drinking a cup of joe with like-minded believers than we are opening the Bible. We can only do that at the designated time. Or we barely skim over the passage or can hardly think of  God’s attributes to praise him so that our prayer is less than a minute in length when we do pray. I lament over this point because I think it is here where we see the damage with a term such as “spiritual discipline.” When we treat our consideration of the intentional and necessary aspects of spiritual vitality as the only tasks to achieve we have undercut our vibrancy in life.  This is an issue of presuppositional proportions. We don’t look to be passionate in our prayer life or Bible study life because it was never on our radar screen.

The Aspect of Addiction

Finally, it pains me to admit this, but I am addicted to food. When I wake up in the middle of the night I head for the refrigerator. My discipline, habit, and passion to eat have resulted in it turning into an addiction. It is on my mind even when I’m not eating. This to me is the goal in my prayer life and Bible study. Indeed, I pray daily that God would make me a prayer addict. Does that sound funny to you? This is why to me we should be calling spiritual disciplines instead spiritual addictions. They require discipline, but that is just one aspect and there is so much more to our time with God. Not all addictions are formed immediately, but they all have the same result – you just can’t get enough.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and instead of turning to the refrigerator or whatever it is you turn to, turning to God in conversation through prayer and reading His Holy Word. Doing it because it comes so naturally and, when you think about it, it is what you want to do.

So, perhaps, today I am praying that you will have an addiction too.

November 1, 2010

Multi-Site Churches

Here are three links that have interested me as I’ve thought about the validity and issues behind having a multi-site church. The first is a friendly jousting between Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll and MacDonald. It is a short video. The second video is about an hour-long and it is a panel discussion done at Southern Seminary with Al Mohler guiding the discussion. Between the two debates I would say that what I would like pursued more in-depth is a discussion on the Greek word (ekklesia) used in the New Testament for the local body of believers.

The last link is a letter from a site/church of a local multi-church – The Journey. True to  how they (The Journey) understand each site to being its own church and in close relation to what Driscoll and MacDonald say, this letter is about a site becoming its own church apart from The Journey. It seems to be a wonderfully healthy testimony to what proponents of multi-site churches claim.

October 27, 2010

Jobless for a Year

Today is a special anniversary, one I will never forget – October 27, 2009 will always be a special day for me. Indeed, it is a day I reckon as an anniversary. For it was on this day last year that I was laid off. Why is this good news? It is good news because I must give glory to God for providing for us – not that he had any obligation to do so, but he found it within his pleasure to do so and so we praise him for such mercy.

I remember the day well. It was as surreal as my wedding day and the birth of my firstborn. I felt detached as I knowingly packed up my personal belongings into two boxes full of pictures and children’s artwork, carrying each one into the car – separately, to prolong the inevitable. I remember the gracious, and last, conversation I had with my employer. Sales just were not coming in, my place just could not be rationalized. Saying our goodbyes I drove home wondering. My thoughts were mostly on my family – my wife and children. How could I provide for them? We had not a month’s worth of savings in the account. In less than a week a mortgage would be due with no funding to go towards it. But my thoughts also turned towards God. What was he doing? What was the lesson? Where is this journey suppose to take us? In many ways I felt I was driving down a tunnel. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but drive as I might, no matter how long or how fast it never got closer. It was always a dim, distant light. That was how I felt.

And a year has passed. We have not missed one bill. We have not had one late payment. Our pantry stocked almost the entire year and just recently needed replenishing. We have not gone hungry or cold. Indeed, we have had extra. We have been so overwhelmingly abundantly supplied for that our cup has run more than over. And still we live paycheck to paycheck. Only there is no regular, dependable paycheck this time. It has come from odd jobs, temp jobs and the love of others.

How then does a family of five survive for an entire year with perhaps four to five months worth of odd jobs? The answer is God. He is our all. Of course, I should not have been surprised. He has been the author of all our provisions in the past and will continue to be in the future. Why would it be different now? We have been given six (or seven – we’ve been given a truck since this post) cars in a row as a foretaste of this time. Consider them the first fruits of how God pays a salary.

Of course, this is no indictment on those who God has not provided for in this way in their lives though they are in desperate need. God’s grace is in response to nothing in us. It has just been his good pleasure. But let us not forget those who are in need tonight – desperate need.  Right around the corner there are senior adults who must choose between a mortgage and medicine. And there is a 30 something couple with children in tow looking for an overpass to sleep under tonight. The orphans, by law or death, are waiting for someone to live with them – just live. And the widows are slumbering in cold, cockroach infested nursing homes tonight chewing their nails as they live the glory days when someone just came to visit. If anything, this time has told me to go and do likewise to these. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11 that the proclamation of the Gospel is accompanied by something else. Matthew 11:2-6

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples  and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.  And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”

This year, in review, has taught me many fine lessons. More than I care to share here. But let me leave you with a life vision for me. This isn’t my vision as a pastor – I have that, nor is this my vision as a husband – I have that too, and it is not my vision as a parent or child, rather this is simply my vision as a Christian.

I had a preaching professor who had a doubloon made in New Orleans that he gave to all his students. One one side it read “Preach the Word” in Koine Greek. I don’t remember the either side. I still got that doubloon somewhere. But if I were to do an imprinting of a doubloon or coin on one side it would say, “Those who please God walk by faith.” And on the other side it would read, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” For these two sides of the coin are really the same thing. This is my vision because I want to be holy as God is holy. I want to hear from him “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Finally, then, as I sit and ponder what a year it has been I am forced to take a deep breath and admit I’m yet to know what it means to walk by faith but now, Dear Father, I ask that you take me there.

I pray peace to you all in the name of Jesus Christ.

September 11, 2010

Love, Hate and 9/11

Nine years after 9/11 and it might as well have been yesterday considering all the emotional turmoil that has been blown into the atmosphere by the political-religious implications of both a mosque being built near the site of the attacks as well as a pastor from Florida wanting to burn the Quran today as some act of condemnation. The issue at stake for most of us is to figure out how we should feel, think and respond to these three events. That’s right. They are three events – and two haven’t even happened yet.

Most of the filtering that I have been exposed to has dealt with amendment rights. However, I am more concerned with Christian obligation. What should a Christian response be?

Let me start of with a story from Bob Sjogren from Unveiled at Last.

You remember a church service you attend back in the winter of 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage by terrorists in Teheran…Glancing at the order of service in the bulletin, you saw that Greg Livingstone was scheduled to give a “missions minute.”

“Right,” you thought. “This guy’s really going to be able to say something significant in 60 seconds. The one-minute missionary.”

The anthem ended and a square man who looked like a boxer stepped up to the podium. Without so much as an introduction, he asked, “How many of you are praying for the 52 American hostages held captive in Iran?”

You, of course, raised your hand. All present raised their hands. “Wow, that’s terrific,” he said. “There must be 4,000 people here.”

“Now, let’s be just as honest; Jesus is watching. How many of you, ” the boxer continued, “are praying for the 45 million Iranians held captive by Islam?”

One hand slowly went up. Two hands.

“What? Only two people?” he yelled. “What are you guys, Americans first and believers second?” (p.55-56)

I have to ask about our concerns over the mosque being built are we Americans first and believers second? Are we more concerned political and patriotic sensibilities that the demands of the gospel? What is the demand of the gospel in this situation? Do you see the Muslim as your neighbor? Or do you see him as your enemy? It really doesn’t matter how you see him does it because our heart, which should be full of grace to all without qualification should respond the same to both.

Let’s see if Jesus can give us some guidance.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 ).

What, then, is at stake? Yes, on one level it is patriotic sensibilities. But on another level – the more important level, for the child of God, it is about God being glorified. Notice that love demonstrated toward just those who are part of your community, whatever that community is, is not much and it certainly does not reflect the redeeming, saving, life changing power of God’s love. If our reaction is first as an American then we might perchance want to first rise in protest against the mosque being built near 9/11. And if we were not of God’s Kingdom then we might be willing to ignore the outrageous-ness of a book burning – any book burning, much less a book burning of another religion. And to think that any other person on the face of the earth is dealt the hand of persecution from a Christian is an offense to the very nature of the cross which our Christ bore.

But God proclaims and teaches all the nations of the earth the power of his love because Christians have a love that overcomes the deathblow of an enemy with a kiss and prayer in return.  Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived the gospel when he taught that a true understanding of the grace of God could lead to the loss of a Christian’s life as he loves his enemies – a reality that became real when he was hanged in a German prison camp a week before liberation. His life did not end with bitterness, but praise and thanksgiving that he could defend the helpless, bring light to the wicked actions of the oppressors and love them all indiscriminately. He told his executioner, “You think you are ending my life, but it is only beginning.” (a loose rendition as I can’t find the exact phrase this moment).

A Christian’s stance on the mosque in New York City then must be, first and foremost, concerned with loving Muslims in such a way that we do not create new barriers to the proclamation of the gospel. If some injustice is actually occurring with the building of the mosque near Ground Zero – and that is something each person must workout for him/herself – then the Christian response is to figure out how to love in such a way as to make it overly, abundantly obvious that an injustice is occurring without engaging in hateful rhetoric or actions. Jesus again gives us guidance if this is your conviction. Matthew 5:41  “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” This response would require creativity with an overly abundant gracious response. Think that even Donald Trump has offered to pay over 125% value of the property to the owners in order to end the conflict. If Christians are so convinced it is wrong then we should be offering 500% or more as one possible alternative.

This stance should also inform those who want to give a pass to the pastor in Florida. His actions are not in alignment with Christ’s instructions to us. Burning books is not love. Proclaiming the errors of the Quran and dialogue and living a life of mercy ministry among Muslims is love. Creating additional boundaries of mistrust through the abuse of their values is not. No Christian would available for in-depth searching dialogue with a Muslim on-board on of the airplanes who crashed into the world towers if he (theoretically) could proselytize us after said event. Why would you expect a Muslim to respond any different? Do we value the Bible or the Trade Towers more? Now flip it over as a Muslim – no question that a holy book gets the nod.

Which really brings me back to what you need to figure out – are you first an American or a Christian? The answer to that question will dictate the attitude of your heart.

September 1, 2010

Going Backwards

I saw this hilarious video (not funny to #20).

And what did I think when I say this video? I thought, “Boy, that sure looks like me and the carrying of the Gospel message.” Too harsh? I don’t think so. Just like the football has been passed to this tailback, so the Gospel has been handed down to me from earlier generations. The stakes are high (Judges 2:10  “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel”).  Romans 10:14-15  continues this instruction by adding “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”

So I’m invested. I care. I have a deep yearning to figure out the Christian life. Especially the part about furthering the Kingdom of God. You know the Kingdom that is in you (Jn 3:3), has come (Mt 4:17), but not come (Lk 22:16), seeks to defend the poor and defenseless (Mt 11:2-6),  and give action that gives understanding to the scandal of the cross (Col 1:24).

And perhaps you are in this place too. You are hoping I’m going to give you five points of success. Perhaps these five points of success will mean victory in your life. Now you can finally go forward, toward the right end zone. Sorry to disappoint you. I could do the five points. I have them in my head now, milling about, making it messy up there. But instead I want to share an observation from my struggle that perhaps might be of some benefit to you too.

My observation is this: Too often the very things getting in the way of my living out the Gospel are not what we like to typically target in our bully pulpit. Although I certainly have those struggles too. But it is something much more subversive because it is like a undetectable submarine in my conscience constantly accomplishing its mission unbeknownst to me. It is my presuppositions. It is funny that as I wrestle against the Holy Spirit in the sanctification process that it is this that is coming up. My presuppositions on how to “correctly” do church, minister to my family, reach out to my community, etc. You name an aspect of the Christian life and I have presuppositions that are brewed and bred right in here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that like to get in the way. Only I don’t see it. I try to incorporate them into the Gospel and I miss it.

I admit that I have been stuck on part of this issue for a while – knowing that I’m stuck in my presuppositions but not finding a way to gain “a bird’s eye view” on them. It is very, very hard to see your presuppositions for what they are.  It takes a lot of work, at least that has been my experience. So, here I am stuck, and then I read a book recently that helped with my “aha” moment. (side note: that is why it is so important to read, you get to have some really important discussions one-on-one when you read.) It was Jim Belcher’s Deep Church. What he helped me to see was that much of my crisis on how to the live the Christian life was more of an argument between postmodernism and modernism as opposed to biblical living.  That is a mouthful for me.

I started to think about it and I realized that God gave us examples of postmodernism and modernism in the Bible and their traps.  First you have the modernists in the Bible – they are the Pharisees and Scribes. Turn through the Gospels and on every other page you’ll find an expert of the Law testing Jesus. They were famous for building a fence around the law so they wouldn’t break it. “You can only take so many steps on the Sabbath before you break the fourth commandment of the Decalogue.” Or something similar (this is what Jesus is targeting in the Six Antitheses in Matthew 5). Or the Law expert who challenged Jesus when he asked Jesus, “How do I inherit eternal life?”

Jesus: What does God’s Word say? What is your interpretation?

Law Expert: I’m to love the Lord my God with all my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual ability – and love my  neighbor as myself.

Jesus: That’s it!

Law Expert: Just so we don’t equivocate – when I say neighbor – I mean just people like me.

Jesus: Your interpretation has fallen short. Your attempts to put a perimeter around loving your neighbor stops you from going far enough. You have failed to obtain eternal life.

That is an Israel’s paraphrase commentary of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Check it out. The law expert, like most of Jesus’ antagonists in the Gospels, is so concerned with the tangibles that he misses the heart behind them, which results in his not understanding them at all.

Then you have the postmodernist (or one of them) of the Bible: The Samaritan Woman at the well (interesting that both examples contain Samaritans in them). Consider my loose commentary on their conversation in John 4. Let’s call her Sammy.

Jesus: Can you give me a drink of water out of this well?

Sammy: You’re asking me for a drink? We are suppose to hate each other, you know.

Jesus: If you knew who I am, it would be you asking me for my drink for it is the drink of eternal life.

Sammy: Are you loopy? You don’t have a bucket? Besides, where is this well that you get this water from (and why aren’t you there now)? Besides, what do you have to offer me that is better than what I have now? I drink from the well of people who are no doubt greater than you.

Jesus: The well from which you drink does not satisfy. The well from which I’m talking about springs up eternal life.

Sammy: I’m game. If this water means I don’t have to continue to labor over this well again in the future then I’m interested. I’ll take you up on your offer.

Jesus: So, go get your husband and we’ll talk.

Sammy: Oh! Well, uh, um, I’m not married.

Jesus: Right you are. You’ve had five husbands and you are currently living with a guy who is not your husband. This is a good starting point to talk about how to get eternal life so lets talk about it.

Sammy: Okay, okay. I can see you are a spiritual guru and clearly your knowledge of my past endorses your claims about eternal life. I get that, but let’s not get to excited about specifics talking about actual sins, or specific theological nuances or distinctives.  You say God is in that religion, I say God is in found in this religion and I’m good with that.”

Jesus: Sammy, truth is real and there is only one way to get eternal life. Hearken to the Spirit and Truth and you will have eternal life.

Please recognize how loose this is or I would feel very badly if they thought I was trying to play fast and loose with God’s Word. The effort is in trying to get you to see what is going on behind the conversation. Here this woman doesn’t want to deal with specifics. She doesn’t want to deal with her specific sins and she doesn’t want to deal with the specifics of one religion compared to another, but she does want eternal life as it means a more convenient life for her and she is only concerned about details when it is in relation to the material world (such as having a bucket). She just wants a nice, unconvicting warm cozy covering of a religion. Now that, to me, is a good reflection of pomo Christian living in America trying to figure out how to live godly while still being postmodern.

To borrow a term from Jim Belcher, there is a third way, a better way and to get there we have to see how deep our modernistic/post-modernistic presuppositions really infiltrate our worldview as we attempt to live godly in Christ Jesus. And Jesus gives us the way to approach the subject by his handling of both the Law expert and the Samaritan Woman. He deals with them with where they are at. He shows the Law expert that his propensity to details and creating perimeters in his zealousness for God is getting in the way. And Jesus shows the woman at the well that to live a life that refuses to account for the details of living and belief is just as problematic. The Jewish man over-examined in an effort to explain away his actions while the Samaritan woman refused to consider her actions so she didn’t have to explain them.

August 27, 2010

Thin but Anchored

I finished the last post by asking how does knowing specific reasons behind why God leads Christians down a path of suffering help us survive.  This is not just an academic question. In many ways, a question like this helps give depth and understanding to the Christian life. For some, the answer results in turning away from Christianity and for others it strengthens the resolve. The reason for this is because this is a question that deals with hope. And despair. Resolve. Or to vacillate.

Everyone, regardless of their worldview, has to deal with  hopelessness at some point in life. It may be fleeting. Or it can last a life time. It can be private – the emperor’s new clothes; or it can be as plain as the clothes you are wearing right now (I hope no one is reading this naked, after all).  Hopelessness is a strange bedfellow. It happens because of family, community, work, finance, recreation, romance and the list goes on. Just think of the time in your life when you couldn’t see any hope – no answer to relieve you of whatever caused your despair. After all hope is powerful and it cannot be underestimated. The need and want to hope is powerful indeed. We cannot underestimate people’s needs for it – and all that we are willing to trade in to have it. We trade in logic as an example. Try to explain the statistical absurdity of the lottery to the impoverished who are so decimated by their situation that their only hope (seemingly) is something that siphons their meager bank accounts. Yet they play. Or people sucked into a prosperity gospel – bankrolling the expenses of false prophets just for the hope of good health or the promise of a comfortable lifestyle.

So this universal human experience – albeit its many manifestations – must be addressed. Unfortunately, I fear, too many don’t dealt with it. We find our worldview lacking to give us satisfactory answers and we don’t know how to press on and we feel defeated. We feel as if life has killed the dream we dream (which is why this song, for me, epitomizes the issue).

The answer lies beyond both emotions and reason. It lies beyond emotions because our emotions can be misleading. We can’t always trust our heart so to speak. For example, we can overreact in heated arguments with loved ones – saying things we don’t mean just to inflict pain. Or we can stop trying to love our spouse just because “we lost that loving feeling.” It is good to know that love is more than just a feeling. Not that emotions don’t have their place, but in a place of hopelessness all your feelings are going to do is perpetuate a state of despair. It is unreasonable to think we just will our feelings from one state into another by sheer will power.

Reason – or knowledge – also falls short. You can have all the right information in the world – all the answers – and still by submerged in despair with no comfort. Knowledge itself nor the capacity to reason a situation through mere intellect is enough to fortify one’s souls to deal with the onslaught of the difficulties of life. For example, we know that reason by itself falls short because James tells us so (James 2:19).

I have another reason to dismiss emotions and reason as the deciding factor in how a Christian should work out an understanding of suffering in his/her life. The reason has to do with our current culture. Before us we see vie two competing worldviews – postmodernism and modernism. And each elevates one of these answers as the path that will lead us to the answer (ultimately I think there is at least a book full of answers – as my last post implied, but this is a blog so I’m only picking one for today). But for the Christian, I think there is a different answer. It may seem silly at first, but stay with me on this. The answer that God gives Christians to persevere through despair and hopelessness is…hope. What? Were you expecting something else?

This is part of the faith journey that we are invited into by God. What gets you through the day when you feel not just paper-thin, but cigarette paper-thin? You need an anchor. A heavy anchor that can handle the weight of the storm. Here you are getting tattered and beaten up. How do you stand your ground. Well, you don’t really. You need something to keep you anchored as the storm picks you up, tosses you around and tries it’s best to destroy you. A heavy anchor….

…like Ununoctium. The heaviest element known to man (I think). It sounds like a good answer, but it isn’t. Ununoctium is like emotions and reason. It is synthetic and it  is temporary. It gives all the appearances of being the answer, but in the end – at the height of the storm it dissipates and you are left helpless.

No, you need a heavy anchor like uranium. It is heavy – the heaviest natural element (again, I think). And it is never going to disappear on you. In fact, it can even be used as armor if nothing else. Interesting thought. How does this anchor of hope look?

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance,  endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

The anchor of hope is made of faith. We are on a faith journey. Our covenant that we have been joined to God in is a covenant of faith. It has always been that way; that is why God’s covenant people are called “faithful” in the Bible (Gen 15:6; Ex 19.9; Hebrews 11 as examples). The nice thing about faith is that it is a gift from God (Gen 15:6 cf Gal 3:6; Rom 3:22-24; Eph 2:8) – not something we have to muster ourselves. We don’t have to muster up the will or the activity that surmounts to faith (Rom 9:11,16). Our actions are in accordance to it. So, as we struggle with life, our faith produces hope as we persevere. In this respect I think Augustine’s statement “I believe in order that I might understand” makes all the sense in the world. Take that saying and put it in a different context and it seems, to me at least, a little nonsensical. But in the world of living, when it is hard to make sense of a despairing horizon, it makes all the sense in the world. Perhaps the faith journey is the furnace where our emotions and knowledge are tempered. It is at this junction that our worldview most noticeably informs our understanding of reality. For Christians, like Augustine, it is not a vacuum behind the “believe.” It has in view the power behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the hope to which we set our eyes upon. That before God we have been declared innocent. That God, right now, is transforming us into innocents and that one day we will stand completely transformed. Our souls long for hope in despair because we were created for hope – and dwell in it in life everlasting we will.

August 20, 2010

Pinching Jesus’ Cheeks

Ever been in the place where you feel that  if Jesus were standing in front of you that you would pinch his cheeks?

For example –

Jesus:    Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall  (Matthew 7:24-27).

Me:  Awe, aren’t you cute (Pinching Jesus’ cheeks ensues in a manner similar to seeing a new born baby with hamster cheeks and you just can’t help but pinch them). Isn’t Jesus cute! (I exclaim to others around me).

– or –

Jesus:   I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14.6).

Me: Uh, yeah, okay. Sure thing (Slight squeeze with a little hand slap like when we want to chase a child off).

– or –

Jesus: Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand (Luke 14:27-31)?

Me: YEAH (Pinching Jesus’ cheeks like you do with another adult that you’d like to knock out, but don’t because it just isn’t a good idea)!

Does this sound a little sacrilegious? Well, it is, but I got to admit that I think we all pinch Jesus’ cheeks every once in a while. Because the one thing that pinching cheeks seems to connote is that you know better. Pinch the little baby’s cheek, because she is so cute and her precocious preciousness is fleeting and you know it. Pinch the child’s cheek in a condescendingly affectionate way because you see the bigger picture and he doesn’t. Squeeze your friend’s cheek because he is belligerent and arrogant and you are warning him to back down without getting hostile.

Often in our walk with God we struggle with the idea that we know better than God. As Christians, we struggle with God’s instruction. Perhaps we struggle with our love for materialism and don’t want to heed God’s warnings (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13). Or the idea of being married is so important to you that you think that God’s wise instruction not to be unequally yoked doesn’t apply to your situation (2 Cor 6:14). Or that your life belongs to you (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23).

Or you want an easy life – not the life of Bill Gates, but a life without turmoil and hardships. I think this is the place where we are most likely to fall into the trap of pinching Jesus’ cheeks – you know, actually thinking we know better.  Fortunately, our wisdom is God’s foolishness (1 Cor 1:25) but we must wrestle with coming to terms with these difficulties.

After all, we do have promises such as 2 Timothy 3:12, where we are reminded that ” In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. ” I love this verse because it reminds me that the requirement to be persecuted is not living a godly life in Christ Jesus, but wanting to live a godly life. All you have to do is desire it. And Paul includes things like being shipwrecked, labor, hardship, being hungry and thirsty, cold, without clothes, insomnia as part of his list of persecutions he experienced in 2 Corinthians 11. So persecutions can manifest themselves in many ways because “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).”

But there are other reasons for difficulties too. Things such as God gives blessings and sufferings indiscriminately to those who live in His creation (Mt 5:45), God disciplines those he loves (Heb 12:5-11), that the universe groans under the consequences of sin and that these consequences are a reminder of our needing salvation (Rom 8:22-25), that by our suffering Christians exhibit to the world Jesus’ sufferings so they know who it is that can save them (Col 1:24), and all of this ultimately leads to the glory of God (Rom 5:2-4).

But this all leaves me with a question. How does this knowledge help me? I’ll attempt to answer this question in my next post.

July 8, 2010

100 Pictures Equals 775,000 Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words then tell me what this is worth! His inspiration comes from this website.

June 18, 2010

Father’s Day for Dummies

Loooovvveee Father’s Day! Don’t you? Breakfast in bed. Cards from smiling ladies as we shuffle out to church. Come home to find a little lady bringing me my slippers. Watch something sporty – even if the only thing on is NASCAR. Fall asleep in my lazy boy recliner while someone tucks me in as another someone lifts my head and gently puts a pillow underneath. Wake up two hours later to discover four wrapped presents right there before my eyes. I tear up as I rip through the first one and discover a miter saw hidden below. I turn to the second one, which is a box of Romeo y Julieta Reserve Maduros. I flick a match and puff on its wonderful earthiness as billowing smoke envelopes everyone in the room. I shred the third one to discover a collection  of my most coveted books on my wish list. As I sigh in great pleasure a nice toasty cup of chicory coffee is placed in my hand (that’s the fourth present) as I begin to read. Not a peep I hear until “I love you” is gently whispered in my ear as the call to dinner. Beef tenderloin and cheesecake wrap up a delightful evening with the children tucking themselves into bed as they blow kisses to me from down the hall. Soooo relaxing.

Does this sound like your kind of Father’s Day? Well, then…WAKE UP! Men, here is your pep talk going into the weekend. This may come as a shocker to you but Father’s Day is not for you. Well, at least, it shouldn’t be for you. It is for your children. This Sunday is another chance for you to reevaluate the way you spend your time with your children. They need you. I’m not talking about “they need you at work bringing home money” or “they need to know you’re in the same building as them.” No, what I’m talking about is that they need to know that you care about them in a way they understand love and affection from their daddy as it is weaved into their identity. This means undistracted time doing things with them that they want to do.

Think about two possible scenarios:

Scenario #1: You have been selfish as a dad every Father’s Day as described in my opening paragraph. Twenty years from now you look back and will remember how many of them? How many gifts? How many dinners? My guess – none.

Scenario #2: You have spent real unadulterated quality time with your children. You look back in 20 years and you remember details of giggles, smiles, laughs, hugs and kisses that blur into a wholesome memory. Better yet, you realize that by changing your focus on Father’s Day you began a habit of working at communicating love to your children in a way they understood. Your relationship with them is decidedly better for it.

Now consider these two scenarios from another perspective:

Scenario #1: Your children look back after 20 years of Father’s Day with disdain. No fond memories. No real reason to celebrate having a daddy. A day when daddy took full advantage of what he did every day the rest of the year – tell them how unimportant they were by the way that he spent his free time. Specifically, they weren’t worth his time or energy. If he did spend time with them it was only doing things he wanted to do; never what they wanted to do.  They swear that when they have kids they will never make the same mistake.

Scenario #2: Your children look back with fond memories of detailed adventures and ice cream escipades where the world was conquered in a day by them and their daddy. They share stories of joy to the smallest details to their children on future Father’s Day as they relive in their own heart how their daddy loved them deeply. How thankful they are for those constant messages of affirmation.

How many children this weekend will be looking for their daddy’s love and he will be too self-absorbed to notice. Don’t be that guy.

So, come up with a plan. Figure out a way to spend the day with your children that communicates what a prize they are to you.  If you need an idea, here is what I do: I take each girl out separately during the day. They each get to pick something special that we do alone for at least an hour. This year one has asked to go to breakfast with me. We will be eating at IHOP before church. Another has requested that we go to Appleby’s for fries and ice cream – that sounds like a yummy snack. The third is still deliberating. My ladies know my stomach and heart are attached! But these things are just a medium. I have a plan on our outings. I have specific statements I’m going to make during our time together. I will tell them

  • “I love your personality” – and I will mention something about their personality I want to encourage.
  • “You are so beautiful” – and I will focus on their image.
  • “You bring joy to my life” – and I will tell them how.

and I have specific questions for them to:

  • “What makes you happy?”
  • “What do you like to think about?”
  • “What is your favorite thing about your sisters and mommy?”

and then I say to them:

  • “Don’t ever forget that daddy loves you. I’m not perfect. You know that. How many times have I said sorry to you? Too many times. But God is the perfect Daddy. I hope you take days like this and it helps you think about how God is.”

These questions are meant to take us into all sorts of interesting places. I never know where we are going to go with these questions and statements because I don’t know what they are thinking. That is why I ask and state the things I do – so I can hear how they process and where they are coming from. You are the only expert your children need when it comes to a daddy’s love. Just give it a shot.

June 16, 2010

A Commemorative Psalm

Last week as we celebrated our anniversary one of the things Rachelle and I discussed was which Bible verse had become our motto in our first nine years of marriage. We wondered what tomorrow will bring for our next chapter in life, which verses would we turn to for strength, comfort, guidance, wisdom, instruction, disciplining, rebuking, edification and the maturing process in general. It will be fun in ten years to turn again and consider the landscape. But for now I offer a psalm (which we did not discuss) that gives me great comfort as I consider the last mountain range of our life. I wonder why God doesn’t just call it “Israel & Rachelle’s biography.” Of course I know the answer. The answer is it is every Christian’s biography.

So with my precious lady primarily in mind I translated this psalm and edited it in a way that reflects the poetic nature of wisdom literature. Unfortunately, WordPress is not letting me insert all my formatting wants, but for what it is – Enjoy!

Psalm 31

1To the director, a melody of David.

2In You, O LORD, I seek refuge.
Never let me be ashamed;
in Your blameless ways deliver me.
3Turn Your ear toward me!
Quickly rescue me!
Be to me –
– a boulder of refuge
– a mountain fortress
to save me!
4For You are my rock
and my fortress so that for Your Name You lead me,
and  You  guide me.
5 You bring me out from the net they hid for me
for You are my refuge.
6Into your hand I entrust my spirit;
You ransomed me, O LORD God of truth.
7 I hate those who regard empty vanities,
But I trust in the LORD.

8I will shout
And rejoice in Your faithful love for You see my affliction
And You know the distress of my soul.
9 You have not delivered me to the hand of my enemy;
You set my feet in open spaces.
10Show me unearned favor, O LORD, for I am hard pressed;
I am weak from grief –
– my eye
– my spirit
– and my bosom.
11 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years in sighing,
my strength staggers because of my guilt,
and my bones waste away.

12Due to all my enemies I have become
a reproach even to my neighbor,
A great dread even to my friends,
Passersby on the street flee from me,
13 I am forgotten,
Like I am dead,
Out of thought,
I am a ruined vessel.
14For I hear the malicious whispers of many,
terror all around,
as they sit united against me.
as they purpose to take my life.

15But I, I trust in You, O LORD.
I say, “You are my God.”
16In Your hand are my times.
Snatch me from the hand of my enemies
and from my persecutors!
17 Cause Your face to shine upon your slave!
Deliver me by Your faithful love!
18O LORD, let me not be ashamed for I call upon You!
Let the wicked be ashamed!
Let them be struck silent in Sheol!
19 Let the lying lips be mute of those who speak arrogantly against the righteous in pride and contempt.
20How great is Your goodness which You stockpile for those who fear You.
And You work for the refugees who come to you,
which the children of man witness.
21 You hide them with the covering of your face from the plots of man.
You store them in shelter away from the strife of tongues.

22 Blessed be the LORD for He wondrously displays His faithful love to me while in a city under siege.
23I had said in my alarm “I am cut from Your presence.”
But you heard the sound of my supplication when I cried out to you.
24Love the LORD all you His saints!
For the LORD preserves the faithful ones
but he repays in abundance the one who acts in pride.
25 Be strong! Let your hearts be bold, all you who wait upon the LORD!