Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Heart of Man

Well, it's been quite a while. I barely knew how to pick it back up again. The way I chose to go might not be the best way but it's something I've learned recently that I wanted to share. So I don't know if I ever said it earlier, but I have a weird interest in the genocides of Rwanda and Europe. I don't know where it came from but that's just the way I am. Anyway, I'm currently reading a book called Life Laid Bare , a book that has recorded accounts from survivors of the genocide in Rwanda.

While reading it a little while ago, I couldn't help but remember the words of Jeremiah uttered countless years before his fateful and inconceivable tragedy. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?". It's amazing how quickly perverse we become when God allows us to be. For the simple sustainment of everyday life, we need Him oh so much than we care to admit! Just look at the things man are able to commit! And this isn't the worse of it. I am in no way one to diminish the blow felt by Rwanda but a much greater tragedy has occurred. A massive rebellion. We've rebelled against a holy God and that is the worst that man, created to love Him, can do.

Our hearts set us on a suicidal journey of looking for things that will make us happier, healthier, and more prosperous. Whether we think the best will come from money, or things, or the mass extermination of unwanted people, it's all the same and all just as wicked in God's eyes. The heart is a deceitful little thing that has so much power over us. How can we overcome it's wickedness? Only through the strength of God. This walk is becoming harder and harder for myself and I imagine it'll become even harder very soon. Thankfully we have a sovereign God who is in control of all things, and a mediator who has suffered more than anyone ever has, we have Christ to reconcile us to the God we rebelled against.

Look at how desperately wicked the heart is...look how desperately in need we are of change, real change. Let us never underestimate our sinfulness, but rather take it deadly serious. It's so easy to write them off as nothing much but when we do that, we grow hardened. Imagine getting so hardened that we could even's happened before. I think Rwanda is a wake up call for us all. We need new birth and new life, we need Christ.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thoughts on Bono's Thoughts

Okay try not
 to flog me whilst reading the following: Yes, I am a fan of U2. I mean come on, if you like rock how can you not like U2? And yes, I do believe personally that Bono is a Christian. Yeah yeah, I know that most of us think he's just some weird environmentalist who seeks for the betterment of humanity only for tax cuts. I don't think so. What spurred up this random declaration of devotion to Bono and his clan? Well I recently finished an amazing book called Reason for God by Tim Keller. It's somewhat along the lines of Lee Strobel's works, just far less wordier. Anyway, apparently he's apart of the Bono sect of believers as well. I felt it would put Bono in a new light to post what Keller cited in his book, an excerpt of an interview with Michka Assayas:
Assayas: Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that far-fetched?

Bono: No, it's not far-fetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says 'No, I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying I'm the Messiah. I'm saying I am God incarnate.' And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no, I know you're expecting me to come back with an army and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is either Christ was who He said He was - the Messiah - or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson... I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that's far-fetched..."
I definitely agree, Bono. And as always and even more, you rock.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cue the Cameraman...

I've become quite a fan of the U.S. version of the Office. I mean, it's not the best show to watch but it is extremely funny. Really, I like the concept of it. If you've never seen it, it's basically like a documentary-sitcom. Unlike the normal show, the Office is taped by one video man in a single shot view (and the characters are aware of its presence and sometimes reacts to it), with no studio and no audience or laugh track. I just think the idea is so original and it really works.

Well I was watching it earlier and I began to wonder how it would be if my life was documented like that. What if your life was documented like that? Would you be proud of what's caught on tape? The beauty of the show is that the story line is an honest one, the characters are without any pretense in front of the camera. So in all honesty, would your life be one that glorifies God? Mine wouldn't, at least not how He wants it too. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "... whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Are we taking this command seriously?

Take it loosely, but think of the world as a cameraman. They're watching so closely, observing how we live honestly. "...let your light shine before others so that they may...give glory to your Father in heaven." We're the image bearers of Christ, the characters in this pretense-free documentary called the Christian life. What's our image saying about our Father? Are we giving Him justice?

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Cool Christian: Paradox Maybe?

I've been wondering about some things lately. One of the most reoccurring thoughts that plague me is how I am to relate to this current culture, namely, to the world. How important is relation to the world for the Christian? Should we strive to be relevant or seek to be as different as possible? It would seem that the latter would be the obvious choice but I don't believe this problem is quite so black and white as we wish.

Let's go through both scenarios, shall we? You have one Christian who's as cool as grandma's new hip. They dress like the celebrities, listen to the popular music, go to the places, and speak all the cool slang. This Christian is so relevant, in fact, that there is no difference between themselves and the world. They are so culturally in sync, that the opportunity to affect the world is completely shot. But then there is that weird Christian on the other side. They dress like bums which coincides parallel to their personalities that scream "get away from me you nasty heathen!" They are so committed to being culturally irrelevant that they too shoot down their opportunity to affect the world. So, where does this leave us?

I struggle with the first scenario constantly. I want to be relevant, to be culturally correct, to be counted as cool in the eyes of this world. This desire, however, cannot coexist with the command to be a light in this world of utter darkness. But how can I, how can we find the balance? I was snooping around on Myspace, yep... there are genuine Christians on Myspace, and I found this awesome response from Jon Foreman, the frontman of Switchfoot:

...our current western church (including myself from time to time) is far too interested in being cool, being trendy, being relevant.
Jon goes on to say that all we're trying to do is, "figure out what it means to be a believer in the here and now."
That's what I'm attempting to figure out as well. I think being a believer in the here and now means to love, not this world, but the people in it. Jesus didn't say, "Get away from Me you nasty heathen!". In fact, it was the seemingly righteous that He condemned! But, Jesus also didn't look like the world. He had the perfect balance of being relevant enough to still show His light and affect the world around Him. This is our calling as well. As Jon so eloquently puts it, "We're called to love each other and love never goes out of fashion."

We cannot become preoccupied with having an image of coolness, being culturally correct to the world. It was not what Christ strove for and it is not what He called us to. He rather called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, whether they are Christians or not. He has given us the task to let our lights shine before others, specifically the world, that they might glorify our Father in Heaven. It will never be cool to be a Christian, and in the end, it won't matter how cool we were. What matters will be how we illuminated the light of Christ, a light that cannot shine through complete similarity or utter indifference. The world does not need the Christian who is just like them, nor can they have any use in the Christian who cares nothing for them. Jesus is not our homeboy, and the world does not need that kind of Jesus anyway. They need the Savior who loves... and they need His disciples who will love them as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Taking a Break...

Obviously, my posting has been a little meager than usual, for which I apologize. School's in now, thankfully my last year, and things are a bit hectic. I've also signed on to help with the building of a new and exciting project called The Pains of Childbirth. I rather give this project my main focus while it is in it's beginning stages. Once things start running smoothly, I should return as frequently as ever. Hang in there folks...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where Else Can I Go?

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life..." - John 6:68

I mentioned before how I often struggle with doubt and unbelief. Though it is still present, God had really strengthened my faith. He uses many ways to minister to my doubting soul and the most recent would be through a passage in John I read this morning.

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

There are times when each of us will struggle with faith. Faith by definition is the "assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen." It isn't tangible, it isn't something I can point to. It is simply a gift from God, a gift that is often hard to accept. We want proof, and many times my soul does not give me the proof I so desire. But even when my spirit is cast down, even when we are as low as can be, one fact remains: Christ is the Son of God and He alone has the words of eternal life. Sure, I don't always feel that it is true but praise God that it isn't subjective, fleeting like my emotions. It is an objective truth, the truth where we either stand or fall. Where else can we go? Where else would we want to go?

No matter the circumstance, along with the words of Peter, remember the beautiful words of Job before him, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Turning Our Hearts Back To You

Aren't you glad that God is a sovereign God, a Father who lovingly holds on to us even when we desperately pull away? How often do we thank Him for His promise that none who comes to Him will ever be cast out,
that "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ"? Have you ever considered the situation we would be in if salvation was completely and solely dependent on our own faith? I would have fallen a long time ago and so would you. Paul promised in his first letter to Timothy that even "if we are faithless, He remains faithful." Praise God! It's not up to me, it's not up to you. We are faithfully held in His sovereign arms, never to fall away.

Father, how often we become self-dependent in our lives. We seek to be independent, to make You love us through our actions. Yes, faith without works is dead, but without faith, our deeds are worthless. You call them filthy rags in Your sight. Help us to love You, to desire You. Only the children will see the kingdom of Heaven, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see You. Make us children in our dependence, grant us innocent faith in You. The sacrifice You acknowledge is a broken and contrite heart. Break us, humble us, that we may submit the lordship of our lives to You and You alone. Forgive us where we've turned our hearts from You. Turn them back to You. Thank You Father for Your sovereignty, Your grace, Your love, Your mercy, and even Your justice. Thank You that we are not in control, but You are in control; for what disarray and madness would be prevalent had we been left to ourselves! Keep us Lord where we should always be, knelt before the cross of Your Son Jesus Christ. Thank You for His sacrifice. Your word says that because of His righteousness, Your servant, made many to be accounted righteous, because He poured out His soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Make us to be holy as Your are us what it means to be holy as You are holy. Thank You God for Your wonderful salvation through Your beautiful Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It's great to know that our Father in heaven is Lord over all. We should praise Him each day for His sovereignty in our salvation, that even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground, including myself, including yourself, is sinking sand.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

God's Fatherly Love and His Bratty Children

Technically I'm still in my writer's block situation. Even still, I've been thinking lately about some things. I finished this book today called God's Smuggler, by Brother Andrew, and I grew a bit convicted in two areas. This guy, Brother Andrew, went into communist and totalitarian countries, smuggling in a beautiful rarity, the precious Word of God. From the Ukraine to Romania, Cuba to Russia, Brother Andrew, along with his band of twelve full of faith, smuggled Bibles where there were literally none.

I was convicted to the core of my lack of faith and my absence of true appreciation for the Word of God. For the latter, I've just counted a sum of twenty-two bibles in my own home. I rarely think of people who have none. Or much less, people who've never seen a bible in their life. As I pictured the lovingly and disbelieving faces of our brothers and sisters around the world upon holding a Bible that Brother Andrew smuggled in, I can't help but think of how I don't give it the same reverence. In one scene, Andrew lays a bible in front of a pastor who doesn't have one. This pastor stops talking, looks at the bible and begins to run his fingers gently down its sides. What love! Guys, this is the Word of God, a privilege that was not necessary. God, because of His love and desire for relationship, gave us His written word that we might love it as Himself. I think its time to treat the Word as what it is, the golden, strong as steel string that ties our hearts to God's.

To the former, I feel as if I'm at a slight disadvantage. I wonder why it seems that people in impoverished countries tend to be more stronger and faithful. I suppose that what they lack physically, they make up spiritually. Every care is cast upon God, and every need is subsequently met by His faithful hand. I, however, depend on myself for nearly everything physically. And to be honest, I think nothing of it. Doesn't everyone rely on themselves for their needs? Do you, yourself, do the same? I think this is our disadvantage. We have so much, our faith is never tested. But isn't that the only way it can grow?

I don't have an answer but I'd love one. How can we, people of great privilege and blessing, practice a day to day childlike dependence on Christ and Him alone? Seems to me that God requires nothing less.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Are All Writers Ugly?

In the back of my mind, even without a hint of detection, there seems to be a reoccurring theme. I hear past comments made to me like "hey, you look like you should write a book." I mean, what does a person who looks like they should write a book look like? I don't have a very pleasant picture in mind.

So I sit and stare at words and none of them seem to desire to form themselves into a bookly context so I suppose I'm in that dreaded stalemate...writer's block. But since I don't have anything intellectual to talk about, there are some updates worth mentioning:

1) I've recently discovered that I'm a tad tight with my currency...I say thrifty, mom says it's being cheap.

2) This week I read perhaps two of the most convicting books about indwelling sin. Totally recommend them if you don't mind feeling like a jerk: The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard and The Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.

3) Tomorrow is my driver's test, Lord help me.

4) I've reached new heights in my domestic skills. I can now officially prepare hot dogs...and as pathetic as that sounds, it is yet another breakthrough for yours truly.

I think that's about it. Back to pangs of writing. Ah the woes of a creative spirit...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Joseph...the Idol Christian?

Though I've already established my love of Donald Miller (just read Searching for God Knows What..amazing book, better than Blue Like Jazz!), I wanted to share a little something he persuaded me to do. So like I just said, well typed, less than two seconds ago, I read his book and he had talked about how he went through the gospels and observed Christ's life. He gushed and rambled about the things that were revealed to him when he stripped everything else away and focused on Jesus and His example of a righteous life. I thought the idea was fascinating and now I'm attempting to do it myself.

Obviously, I started with Matthew. The first story told is the story of Joseph and Mary, verses 18 and 19.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

So as I see it, Mary and Joseph weren't married yet, but practically so. I have to imagine that Joseph loved Mary very much. Can you imagine his reaction when he found out Mary was pregnant? In his mind, he justly perceived that she had defiled their commitment, the text plainly call him a "just man". If I'm not mistaken, this type of defilement was punishable by death from stoning. Joseph would have been totally justified in turning her in and giving her over to death. He didn't. "Unwilling to put her to shame, [he] resolved to divorce her quietly." Joseph possessed a different kind of love for Mary, a love that loved more than it hated, a love that sought merciful mercy instead of justified justice.

Now flipping the tide, imagine when someone has wronged us. Imagine, or remember a time when you were betrayed by someone. "Revenge! Revenge! Revenge!", is the impending cry, is it not? This would be according to the way of this world, but Christ calls us to radical love, a love that seeks the good of our enemies rather than retaliation. Besides Joseph, who better to view this new kind of love than God, Himself! Consider the passage found in Romans 5:5-12. Joseph only perceived, and perceived wrongly, that he had been wronged. But God was wronged, a creation that was made to love Him sought pleasure in equality with Him. Like Joseph, God was more than justified to leave us in our condition, yet He "shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Sin is rebellion, we were in "enmity with God." As Joseph showed Mary loving mercy instead of righteous judgment, as God Himself showed us loving mercy instead of righteous judgment, so are we to display mercy to our enemies.

I don't know or even understand the randomness of this thought, but I tend to be quite vindictive and vengeful, even when I can be justified in being so. But Christ has called us to a new love. These are His words, His demand(yep, this idea was fueled by What Jesus Demands from the World...):

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you..."

He says to us differently. We are called to ultimate love, a self-sacrificial love that seeks mercy rather than justice. After all, weren't we shown the same? If it's good for Christ, it's good for us. "Truly truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." Sure, maybe it's out of context, but hey, it works!

What Jesus Demands from the World

Well this was my latest Piper fix, and it was perhaps the best Piper book I've ever read. In What Jesus Demands from the World, Piper presents fifty commands from the very mouth of Jesus and explains how to live out these demands. When I think of Christians like Paul, Peter, James, the writer of Hebrews, I love reading their letters and receiving assistance in this tough Christian walk. But I don't know, it was something about reading this book and reading the actual words of Christ.

I mean, after all we are Christians, not Paulians, or Peterians, or Jamesians. We follow Christ. Not that there is anything wrong with following those men. Paul himself said "Follow me as I follow Christ." I love what they've done for me in my relationship with Christ. I can't imagine having to figure out what they explained so simply(sometimes) on my own. And in essence these are the words of Christ because they are Spirit inspired. But still, these are Jesus very words from God's own mouth!

Many of these demands went totally unnoticed. One demand that really slapped me in the face was the demand that my righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. The few chapters that talk about this demand truly changed my thoughts about living my life for Christ from the inside out, not just outward as the Pharisees. Some other shiners were "Love God with all Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", "Worship God in Spirit and Truth", all the chapters about loving your enemies, especially "Love Your Neighbor with the Same Commitment You Have to Your Own Well-Being" (a huge blow to the pride) but really, I'd have to cite them all to say which ones I love the most. Besides, I don't want to spoil it. Needless to say, every chapter is worth dissecting to the very punctuation.

What Jesus Demands from the World is definitely one of Piper's easier books to read. He really explains quite simply what Jesus was commanding of his followers.
Many demands are actually different sub-demands from the actual one that Christ said. Each chapter is no more than five pages, a rarity with Piper. Not to say that it isn't loaded with information and Scripture references. It is as Bible-saturated as ever. It is one of Piper's best in my opinion and a book that every true disciple of Christ should read, and not only read it, but to abide in them. After all, didn't Christ also say, "If you love me, keep my commandments"? We don't love Him by keeping His commandments, but because of our love for Him, we can't help but obey. What Jesus Demands from the World is a priceless gem in this pursuit of love.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

When I Don't Desire God

It's been a while since I've read Desiring God, the book that really put John Piper at the top of my favorite authors' list. His declaration that Christians should be hedonists, though foreign, was an enlightening idea for me. The summary sentence, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him", has truly become an attitude I try to fashion my life toward. Desiring God showed how we should seek Christ as the ultimate treasure and treat Him as such. When I Don't Desire God seems more like an instructional sequel. The first assumed that we desire God, the second shows us what to do when we don't.

You really can't go wrong with any Piper book. The man is truly a man after God's own heart and my favorite thing about Piper, what really attracts me to his writing, is that I see how he desires to desire God. We tend to get caught up in obedience and knowing God just intellectually, which can easily turn into drudgery unless we seek a true and loving relationship with God. Piper has shown me that yes I should obey God and yes I should learn about Him, but all in an effort, an end to know Him, to love Him, to desire Him.

Piper drastically changed many assumptions I had before reading this book. The most important and relevant was my assumption that not only is joy an emotion, but it's something that we either have or don't. I mean, some people are predisposed to being happier than others. Some people are easily depressed, others are easily joyful. But what I realized is that joy in God was not an option, not a decision based on people's predispositions. Rather, it was a command! And when we don't desire God, it is breaking His command, sin! Obviously I was taken quite aback, baffled even. God is constantly commanding that we "rejoice always", that we "count it all joy", that we "rejoice with joy". These aren't mere suggestions, their commandments and Piper calls us to take it just as seriously as we take following any other command. After making that point as strong as possible, Piper then lists weapons, such as prayer and the Word, and strategies to assist in our fight for joy.

I have been persuaded that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. It should be a Christian's desire to love and desire God more than any other. Donald Miller, another favorite, says it this way: "...if God is a perfect and loving Being, the most selfless thing He could do would be to create other beings to enjoy Him. And then I started thinking that if those creatures fell away from Him, the most selfless thing a perfect and loving Being could do would be to go and get them, to try to save them from the death that would take place in His absence." The most selfless act we can do when we get a gift we love is to share it with others.
Christ is the ultimate treasure. God, being selfless, created humans to enjoy Himself. What a love! When I Don't Desire God is a wonderful read that truly inspires us to forsake mere knowledge of God and rather seek wholeheartedly a loving relationship with our Father and Lord.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Back from the Rebelution Conference...

And what an awesome conference it was! Who cares about the long...long drive to Dallas? Actually, I thought the eight hour drive was quite enjoyable but that's just me. We even "made some memories" as my pastor's wife says, getting flat tires, missing turns, reading signs incorrectly, attempting to keep our bottoms from generating bed sores...and that is quite a task with limited space. But really, I'm sure you don't care to know about that stuff.

I can't praise God enough for inciting a new wave in our generation. A revival of some sorts to do hard things and live for the glory of God. He is truly turning our hearts back to Him. Over 1900 young people came together from all around (two siblings came so far as Saudi Arabia!) to worship and learn ways to live for Christ by doing hard things. The conference was from 9 AM to 5PM, split into four sessions, built upon the Rebelution's three pillars of character, competence, and collaboration. Through the twins' three messages and their father's beautiful sermon of the gospel, forty young people and adults made professions of faith.

It was truly a blessing to be able to go back to the Dallas conference again. Alex and Brett, the founders of this movement, are going to college this fall but if they decide to do the Rebelution tour again, I highly recommend people of all ages, anyone with a desire to passionately live for Christ, to attend. They try to hold the tours in places where groups of states can access them in a matter of hours. If that's not a possibility, read their book Do Hard Things or visit their website I believe you'll be truly blessed by this powerful message. May we all emphatically embrace this movement to forsake laziness and idleness that has become so praised and prevalent in our society and rather seek to ditch comfort and do hard this for the glory of God.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Being Superman in the Spirit

Personally, I believe Christians don't put enough effort into their walk of faith, more specifically, their sanctification. Seems we're just waiting to become holy. As if one day we'll wake up and suddenly be perfect. I wish, but for some reason, God didn't ordain it that way. Instead, He made it a life long walk that is never easy but always possible, with His help of course. I'll admit, we can't make ourselves any holier than we were before, but that doesn't mean we sit on our bottoms and watch our walk stroll on by.

Alright, I don't know where this rant is going but I'll continue on. From personal observation of myself and other Christians, I've seen that we tend to lack in the spiritual disciplines. I mean, who even knows what that phrase means!? The disciplines are helpful tools in spiritual growth such as bible study, bible meditation, scripture memorization, prayer, accountability, and I'm sure numerous more. But even with those few, how well do we fare out? Being honest, I'm not too hot.

Again, what on earth am I getting at? I'm just trying to figure out what's keeping us from disciplining ourselves spiritually. Paul specifically tells us that godliness will not just come about, it must be worked on. "Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." - 1 Tim. 4:7-8. What a picture? We train for godliness in the same way we would train our physical bodies. It's hard, it's painful, but in the end, it's for our greatest benefit, being found in the likeness of our Lord.

So, I suppose I'll leave you with an admonition, even though I think I always do that. What makes you lack in your training? What tends to come before your godly exercise and discipline? Whatever it is, I know it isn't worth what will be gained if we faithfully adhere to Paul's advice. I suppose he was attempting to save us from his own fear that he admits to us in 1 Cor. 9:27..."But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." Let's not disqualify ourselves, rather let us train ourselves " the words of the faith and of the good doctrine."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Crippled Beggars, Dead Dogs, and Myself

"What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?"- 2 Sam. 9:8

Have you ever read the story of David and Mephibosheth? I've come to see that it isn't the most popular Old Testament story. I mean there's stories of rivers parting, wars galore, fish swallowing humans, how can this small and seemingly insignificant story compare? To be honest, this insignificant story has changed my complete outlook on how I relate to God. Yep, it did that much.

For a little overview, the story starts with David seeking relatives of Saul. Because of his previous covenant made with Johnathan, David desires to show kindness for Johnathan's namesake. After some searching, it is revealed that there is one, a son of Johnathan, who is crippled in both legs. When summoned, Mephibosheth lies at David's feet wondering why this great king would regard someone as lowly as himself. Instead on nurturing Mephibosheth ideas, David gives him everything his grandfather Saul owned. Not only did he give Mephibosheth basically everything, but he proclaimed that Mephibosheth would eat at his table always.

This could have been just a historical account that was recorded, but as someone who tries to draw comparisons into everything observable, I did so with this account as well. This story, this beautiful record of grace and mercy, is somewhat in my opinion symbolic of the grace and mercy God Himself bestows on sinful, crippled dogs such as ourselves. First, just as David seeks out Mephibosheth, God seeks out us. Romans 3:11 plainly says, "No one seeks after God." Instead, Jesus says it clear as crystal in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Just as Mephibosheth wondered, every single day I can't help but wonder why God would show loving regard to someone like myself. Paul describes my thoughts exactly, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom.5:6-8)

After lying at Christ's feet, not only does He give us new life, but He gives us eternal life, an eternal invitation at His table. And lastly, as crippled beggars, we won't walk with pride into His presence. Instead, He carries us. He's always carried us. And frankly, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else except in the hole-stricken hands of my Savior.

Great story huh? I told you so.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Case for Faith

Will all the doubters please stand up? Skeptics raise your hands! Lee Strobel is the writer for all who identify. He's probably more famously, or infamously, known for his book The Case for Christ, which was also quite the read. While Christ was great, it didn't affect me as much since I didn't need to examine the case for Him. Christ isn't the problem in my personal bout with doubt. I am. My faith is the problem. Thus Faith was more in my direction.

Just like in his other book, Strobel goes on a year long quest, conducting several interviews with the greatest Christian thinkers of our time, and seeks to present or destroy the case for faith. Strobel takes eight of the main arguments against faith in God, and boldly confronts experts in the objections. To pehaps spark a desire to read it, here are the eight arguments Strobel centers his book around:
  1. Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot
  2. Since Miracles Contradict Science, They Cannot be True
  3. Evolution Explains Life, so God Isn't Needed
  4. God Isn't Worthy of Worship if He Kills Innocent Children
  5. It's Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God
  6. A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell
  7. Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence
  8. I Still Have Doubts, So I Can't be a Christian
Each objection is carefully examined and thoroughly explained by each interviewee. The only problem I find generally with Strobel's books is that he only interviews Christians, which gives his cases somewhat of a partial view. It seems as if he conducts these cases with the goal of getting positive answers, which he will if he asks the "right" people. I'd enjoy it more if he were to take each objection and perhaps interview an unbeliever and a believer, both experts in their fields. Obviously most Christians wouldn't see this problem, but many an agnostic or atheist has pointed this error out in Strobel's writings. However, if an unbeliever discards previous notions and assumptions, these arguments are quite compelling and give great evidence, if you will, of God's existence and faith's ability to trust Him.

Regardless, Case for Faith is another great investigation from Strobel that does wonderfully in compelling any open minded unbeliever and reassuring any skeptical and doubting Christian. If you identify yourself in either of these positions, I recommend this and practically any of Strobel's works. Happy reading.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The American Nightmare

"When success is equated with excess, the ambition for excess wrecks us." - Switchfoot (from "American Dream")

There are few things that annoy me, really few. In fact, I could probably number them on one hand. Materialism would be one. I refuse to sit on a high pedestal and claim that I don't fall under this American misconception, I do. And so does everyone else. However, I would like us to stop for one moment in our ever busy lives and think. Here's my question:

Why is that where material things are viewed most precious, Christ is subsequently viewed as nothing more than trash?

Odd question, I'm sure. But try and hear me out. America, the most "Christian" nation on the planet is also the most materialistic. And because of the latter truth, the former truth has essentially become false. Our nation's colors are red, white, blue...and green. And though I hate to admit it, green has become the most prevalent.
Spurgeon, one of my Christian heroes, once said, "You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." The problem is that we fall into a circular maze that never ends. We want more, we get more, and we want more. However, I have to believe that there is something more than having everything in this life, that the best things in life aren't things after all. Where is the answer?

Matthew 6:19-20 gives the solution to the American nightmare of materialism, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." What better answer can there be? How can we fall off this hamster wheel of excess and materialism? By valuing things of God more than the things of this world. I know the answer to Christ's question when He asked what the man who gains the world really profits. He profits nothing. The world will pass away, leaving that man destitute and empty in the next life. But the one who finds ultimate pleasure in the ultimate treasure, Jesus Christ, they are the ones who have profited everything!

All this to say, we've been duped into believing that success is excess, but this misconception in the end wrecks us. Christ is the only solution, the only answer. The American Dream is nothing more than a nightmare and Christ is the only treasure that can awaken us from it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress

Other than the Bible, I personally and vehemently believe that every Christian should read this allegoric tale by John Bunyan. It is a timeless story that completely encompasses the Christian life in it's entirety. Bunyan so beautifully describes the trials and triumphs each Christian will likely experience on their individual pilgrimages to the Celestial City.

The story follows a man name Graceless who lives in the City of Destruction. Graceless spends all of his time reading a book that gives him a great burden upon his back that will not go away. He despairs and worries to the point of sickness how to be relieved from his burden, his sin. Graceless then meets Evangelist who points him to the direction of deliverance and he, like every other Christian, forsakes all, wife and children even, to be saved. Subsequently named Christian, the rest of the story follows him through unforeseen trials such as the Slough of Despond and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and through great times of Christian fellowship with friends and fellow pilgrims Faithful and Hopeful, documenting their journey all the way to the desired city of paradise.

The book also has a less famous second part that follows the pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana, their sons and maiden, Mercy. While just as allegoric as the first, I personally find the second part does a better job in showing that the Christian life is not an individual effort, but something that requires help, fellowship, and edification from other believers. While Christian had the company of Faithful, then Hopeful, Christiana is blessed with the fellowship of her entire family. So, while the second part is less likely, it is a more graceful picture of what the Christian life should be.

I once read that after the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress was the greatest selling book. Though this is probably not accurate anymore, I still understand while it was at one point. In a way, Bunyan humanizes the Christian life and represents it as the adventure it truly is. I recommend it to every Christian and every non-believer who desires to know what this calling is. Christ commanded us to count the cost before we begin the journey. Pilgrim's Progress, I believe, is a great way to evaluate that cost.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Doctrine of Election? Yikes!

I'm convinced that anyone who has ever looked into the doctrine of election has shared the same face of confusion that I have. This doctrine is not only confusing, but downright mind poundingly brutal to understand. For a quick definition, election is the act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure (Grudem 670). Upon first hearing of this doctrine, the first thought that rushed to mind was the obvious conclusion, if God chooses some for salvation, that means He chooses others for condemnation.

Now, just accepting my God of love, how could I believe such an atrocity? To think that God would purposely cause people to be damned for all eternity, sounds like such rubbish. But oh, though it may sound atrocious, it is truth, it is justice.

Proof of the Doctrine of Election
  1. " many as were ordained to eternal life believed." - Acts 13:48
  2. "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son..." - Rom. 8:28-30
  3. " order that God's purpose of election might continue..." - Rom. 9:11-13
  4. "The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened." - Rom. 11:7
That last one rubs me uncomfortably the most. Though I accept and believe the doctrine of election, I've always struggled with the thought that it seems so, uh oh, unfair. My main objection to election was the belief that election makes unbelievers unable to believe. I'm sure others have thought the same and seen this as unfairness on God's part. Points I've come up with, supported with Scripture, that have silenced this objection in my mind may hopefully help anyone else struggling with the same difficulty.
  1. If God would not choose some, none would come. Rom. 3:11, " one seeks after God." Can't really be much clearer than that right?
  2. It is because of our own unwillingness that many are unsaved. Matt. 23:37, "How often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"
  3. We as fallen humans do not have the right to question God's fairness anyway. Rom. 9:19-20 "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will? But who are you, o man, to answer back to God?"
So my personal conclusion to this puzzle is that though I may not completely understand it, even if I never will completely understand it, regardless, we should accept it with all humility, knowing that God has graciously provided a way, no matter how difficult it may seem, and we should, in return, give Him all praise and glory for His mercy on those deserving of nothing other than His wrathful justice. It is the way God ordained it and I know He is sovereign and makes it come out for our good and ultimately His glory.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Great Divorce

C.S. Lewis had more talent of writing in his little finger than I have in my entire body. The Great Divorce was one book that especially captured the vastness of Lewis' creativity and imagination. Perhaps, one of the greatest allegoric tales ever written, The Great Divorce, put simply, is about how every human being must choose which world they desire to belong to.

I especially loved this book because of what it symbolized, the need for each person to get off the fence and choose which master they will to follow. One of the greatest follies of Christians today, including myself, is a desire, whether admitted or not, to be accepted by both God and the present world. To give an image, picture a man who is stationed between the world and heaven. His arms are desperately stretched and strained, reaching for both, and thus missing both. This book even inspired a song I attempted to write and in one part, I referenced this exact picture.
"You sweat and toil, extend yourself far more than most
In stretching for two worlds, you forfeit claims to both..."
When we attempt to please both God and the world, we end up pleasing neither. Every time I find myself attempting such an impossible task, I think of what Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 6:24, "
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." Either we will love this world and be a part of it, or we will love God and "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..."

So really, what is all this rambling about? Actually, I'm talking more to myself than any other. I have the overwhelming desire to please God, but at the same time I desire the friendship of this world, and to be frank, this is what God considers adultery. We cannot have our cakes and eat them too, we can't sit on the fence, we can't serve to masters. We must have it or eat it, we must commit ourselves to one side or the other, we must serve one or serve the other. God did not allow us to have it both ways. He did not leave this option to us.

If we have submitted our lives to Christ, we must submit our entirety to Him. Either He is Lord of all, or He isn't Lord at all. Be overwhelmed and passionate about the same desire that Lewis describes when he says these beautiful words:
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
We were made for another world, a better world. To choose this world would be settling for less, much less. We all must choose, and none can escape the choice. Divorce this world and submit your all to the Lord who guarantees life here and even better, life beyond.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Do Hard Things

I must admit my skepticism upon reading a book by two teenagers. There were three reasons why I gave the Harris twins a chance. One, I went to their Rebelution conference last year in Dallas and they spoke extremely well. Those who speak well can usually write well also. Secondly, one of my favorite books is the Outsiders. S.E. Hinton was fifteen when she began writing this amazing book, and eighteen when it was published. Lastly, I didn't want to be yet another critic who despised the youth because of their youth. All that to say, my skepticism was not only wrong, but quickly dismissed.

Do Hard Things is something like a rallying cry to our generation, or as they like to say, a "teenage rebellion against low expectations." It's divided into three parts. The first part, Rethinking the Teen Years gives the historical basis of the "teenager". You'll be surprised to find out how long this sort of person has been around. The twins explain quite eloquently the myths we are forced to believe, myths that are pierced into our thoughts by media, culture, and even adults, parents included. The second part, Five Kinds of Hard, is a synopsis of what the twins define as hard things, though they insist that hard things are not defined in these five only, but can rather be listed under them. The last part, Join the Rebelution, is an urgency for every teenager, or practically any one who desires, to join this rising counter culture of rebellion against rebellion, being salt and light of the earth, and living our lives to do hard and great things for our God.

To my surprise, the twins used Scriptural references throughout the entire book to support this God-glorifying and God-seeking rebellion. They give numerous, almost exhaustive, examples of other teens who have dismissed the myth of low expectations and instead have immersed themselves in the passion to do great things for the glory of God. Such examples include familiar rebelutionaries such as Leeland Mooring from the Grammy-nominated band Leeland, and Zach Hunter, a personal hero and teenage abolitionist who founded the Loose Change to Loosen Chains ( organization to end modern day slavery.

Do Hard Things is an encouraging book, especially to readers such as myself who are tired of the nothingness that teens tend to partake in, and are rather searching for something more, something different, something hard to glorify God. Whether it be a hard thing like frontier missions, or hard things like going above and beyond academic expectations, the Harris twins challenges the youth generation to abandon and rebel against what society thinks of us. Brett and Alex words it well: "Most people don't expect you to understand what we're going to tell you in this book. And even if you understand, they don't expect you to care. And even if you care, they don't expect you to do anything about it. And even if you do something about it, they don't expect it to last. We do."

Read the book and join with the Harris' and other rebelutionaries around the globe in this rising rebellion against low expectations, and achieve great things for God. "Yes, it will be hard. But we're rebelutionaries. We do hard things."

The Discipline of Grace

Before this book, I had never read any material by Jerry Bridges. Now I can't believe what I have been missing for so long! His simplistic yet thought-provoking style of writing is extremely captivating, causing one to go into depression as the end of the book approaches. Bridges takes the time in this book to recognize the grace bestowed upon us by God, and shows the reader how to balance the gift of grace and the duties and disciplines of a child of God. To better word it, I'll quote the subtitle of this wonderful material, "God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness."

Bridges begins the book by quickly dismissing the popular yet mistaken notion that God's pleasure in us is dependent on our performance. He affirms that God's grace is unmerited, outside of Christ, and inside as well. After giving examples to support his reasoning, Bridges moves on to give some disciplines that Christians should take part in, only under the grace of God. His also dismisses the belief that after conversion, the gospel is no longer of importance. Not to give anything away, Bridges shines a beautifully illuminating light of the importance of the gospel in the Christian life and urges the reader to preach it to themselves everyday.

Reminding us that though we have died to sin, Bridges notes that we are still susceptible to it's relentless influence. We are, as he says, no longer under it's dominion but still stricken with it's presence. Upon listing the disciplines he defines in this book, he first encourages the reader that through all self-discipline and God's discipline on us, all is covered under His grace. It is all given as a pursuit of holiness, to conform to the likeness of God's Son. The disciplines Bridges defines are in no way exhaustive, but rather gives readers an idea of where to start in such a pursuit. Bridges gives a respectable amount of Scriptural references to support every discipline and I personally believe that every one defined will help in our conformity to the holiness of Christ.

Bridges says that, "...though sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, it does involve our wholehearted response in obedience and the regular use of the spiritual disciplines that are instruments in sanctification." We are called to a life of obedience and conformity to Jesus Christ our Lord. While convicting at many times, this book has been one of the best to challenge and equip me to pursue God by pursuing with vehemence the holiness that He requires in His children and I know it can do the same for any Christian of any age who desires to pursue the same goal.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Balance Between Grace and Responsibility

Grace is quite amazing isn't it? To receive something that was not earned, that was not merited, something simply given out of mercy, what better way is there to show love? I doubt that many people stop and truly think about the reality of grace in their lives, despite whether they are Christians or not. Matthew 5:45 expresses this very idea,
"For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Just think of the simple ways God's grace is manifested daily. Do you have any power within yourself to keep your own heart beating, the very muscle that sustains life? Have you any power within yourself to wake up in the morning and start a new day? Sure, you set the alarm clock, but who's to say if it will or will not go off? God's grace is the very reason we are able to do anything, but sadly His grace is highly susceptible of becoming distorted in one of two ways. Either it is completely neglected, or it is completely taken advantage of.

The first doesn't need much explanation. The ones who ignore God's grace are the ones who ignore His very existence. Ah, but the one who takes advantage of His grace, that's where the line becomes unclear. Finding the balance between God's grace and human responsibility, that's where the difficulty lies. I hope I didn't confuse anyone into thinking that I'm referring to the doctrine of election, where grace and responsibility are often seemingly incompatible. This isn't a Calvinist apologetic post. Rather, I'm referring to where we as Christians must identify where God's grace "ends" and where our responsibility and self-discipline begins, specifically in our pursuit of holiness.

Because we define ourselves as Christians, logically there was a time when we realized that only God's grace could save us. We've come to terms with the fact that in and of ourselves, we can not do anything, even things as simple as breathing! We've acknowledged the necessity of God's grace for everyday living. This is the correct approach to grace. However, this can lead to a misconception that we can do nothing, period. Not only can we do things, but we must do things. As a rebelutionary, I cry loudly that we should and must do things, do hard things.

When grace is given, it seems that the natural approach for someone is this, "Well I could probably do better, but I know that God's grace is sufficient so I don't really have to push myself very far. I mean, I won't be perfect anyway so what's the point? God's grace will cover me." I couldn't say that this line of thinking is completely wrong. God's grace is sufficient and it's true that we will never be perfect, but that is not an excuse to not try. The bestowal of grace is not an excuse to lack in personal responsibility and self-discipline. When grace is given, the correct approach is not the one mentioned above, but one sounding more along these lines, "God's grace is sufficient for me. He has given it when I didn't and could never deserve it. Because He's shown such love to me, I can't help but reflect back that love. Though I know I'll never be perfect, because I love Him so much, I at least would like to try. Besides, I know that even in my failures, His grace is sufficient." See the difference? The first Christian is simply lazy, neglecting spiritual discipline by flashing the grace of God. This Christian will never do anything. Because they've figured(correctly) that they'll never be perfect, they've decided to not even try. The second is a believer in pursuit of holiness. Though he or she knows that there will never become a time of arriving, the pursuit remains because of their love for God.

So where must the line be drawn? We must accept that without God, we can do nothing. Then, after that realization, we must logically conclude that now that we are under God's grace, we can do anything in Christ. I've said it once before, we are not saved and done, we are saved and do.
We must forsake the misguided ideas of complacency that can develop when we take advantage of God's grace. Not only can we do things in Christ, we must do things in Christ. Whether it be practicing spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, Scripture memorization, and prayer, or if it is doing hard things for God, like missions work or witnessing, we should do them to glorify God because the one who bestows great mercy is the one who deserves great honor. Who has shown greater mercy than our Father? It must be our natural response then, to discipline ourselves for His glory, under the care of His grace, as we pursue in the likeness of His Son.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Olympian Christian

"...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."- Hebrews 12:1

Athletic activities are probably the best things since sliced bread. I mean think about's fun and it's healthy! In particular, I like to run. Something about deeply breathing and absorbing the sites around me in silence makes me automatically start having alone time with God. So there's three, running is fun(well not so much to my best friend Kate), extremely healthy, and pleasing to God. Another thing about running is that it can be so awesomely compared to the very essence of the Christian life.

With my favorite time of the year coming up, the Olympics, I started thinking about the passage in 2 Timothy where Paul compares the Christian to an Olympian athlete. My favorite events in the Olympics are outdoor running events. Have you ever watched those men and women run? Have you seen the stark determination embedded in their sweating faces? Their muscles are clenched to capacity and strained beyond. By simple observation, you can see that their only goal is to win the race and receive the medal(or crown in Paul's time). Sadly, I don't see the same determination in Christians these days. We aren't straining to finish the race. We barely ever acknowledge that we're even in one. You know what I've noticed during the Olympics? The athletes that show no determination or endurance are usually the ones who lose.

Kate and I are reading an amazing book together called "The Disciplines of Grace" by Jerry Bridges. In one chapter, Bridges talks about two kinds of ways to approach obedience in the Christian life. The first, and more predominant approach is what he called the "cruise control" obedience. Cruise control is where in an automobile, when the driver reaches the desired speed, they can enact this feature and take their foot off the accelerator. Imagine if an Olympian runner did the same. The runner reaches the desired level of speed and remains there. What will happen? The closest runner will speed up, pass him, and win the race. When we reach the level of obedience we desire, perhaps the level where everyone around us is, we turn on cruise control and take our foot off the accelerator. That's nothing but a wasted run ran by a lazy runner. That's nothing but a wasted Christian life lived by a lazy Christian. The other approach was race-car obedience. I don't watch much races but I know for a fact that no race car driver would ever put on cruise control! That'd be asking to lose the race wouldn't it? Well so we should be. We should run top speed from start to finish.

We must forsake this attitude of complacency and run full force to win the race that is set before us. Then when we finish, we'll be able to rejoice with Paul in saying, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Then and only then will we be able to hear those wonderful words from our sovereign Coach, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And The Verdict Is...

"...bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." - John 15:8

There is one trial that every man must face, no matter how sinful or righteous he may be. It is a trial that is inescapable. No no, I am not talking about judgment before God. We all, one day soon, will stand before God and be justified or justly punished by our life on this earth. This isn't the trial I have in mind. That is a trial that is to come. The one I speak of is a trial that is presently going on daily.

How does one conclude that another is guilty of a crime? The best fighting chance anyone has of proving anything is through evidence. And good evidence at that. A prosecutor must present exceptional and indisputable evidence to convict a murderer. They must gather such things as finger prints, DNA, witnesses, etc. Whether we as believers know it or not, we too are being constantly examined for a "crime" we may have committed. What's the crime, you ask? The crime of true discipleship. Is there enough evidence for one to convict you of being a Christian?

Evidences of True Discipleship
  1. The defendant knows that in himself, he is nothing, but through faith in Christ and grace from God, he is declared righteous in the eyes of God. "God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus..." - 2 Tim. 1:9
  2. The defendant loves God and obeys His commands. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." - John 14:15
  3. Love is overflowing from the heart of the defendant. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love, abides in death." - 1 John 3:14
  4. Fruits of the Spirit are evident in the defendant's life. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." - Gal.5:22-23
  5. The defendant is and aims to be pure as Christ is pure. "And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure." - 1 John 3:3
  6. The light of Jesus Christ is illuminated in the defendant. - "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matt. 5:16
  7. Lastly, the defendant is persecuted for the sake of Christ but does not retaliate nor hold ill will towards their persecutors, but rather rejoices in the opportunity for suffering for the sake of Christ. "A servant is no greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you." - John 15"20; "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces...hope.."- Rom. 5:3-5

As you measure yourself up to the overwhelming evidence of a true disciple, how do you stand? If a stranger was to watch you for a day, will there be enough evidence for you to be found guilty or not guilty of true discipleship? Whatever the verdict may be, I'll reiterate Christ's warning: "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit." - Luke 6:43-44. What does your tree say about you? Are your guilty? I realize this may seem far-fetched, but examination of faith is made daily against us even when we don't know it.

The world is watching friends, what is their verdict for you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Am the Great Outlaw

So, my best friend recently gave me a book to read called Faces About the Cross by Clovis G. Chappell. I'm not terribly far in it yet but it's been a wonderful read so far. Chappell takes the stories of minor characters that played a role during the crucifixion and gives insight on each one individually. Yesterday I read the chapter entitled The Great Outlaw and if ever there was a time where I saw myself, my true self, it was there.

As we all very well know, Christ did not die alone, but was crucified alongside two others. Two robbers specifically. Both were filthy criminals absolutely deserving the punishment handed to them. Both men were in the same situation, heard the same crowd, observed the same Man, but came away with two entirely different attitudes toward that Man.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews.” - Luke 23:32-38

Let us picture ourselves there. We join the crowd and march with them toward Calvary to view the execution of three men. We watch as they march up the hill with their dreaded crosses hoisted upon their backs. When they finally make it to their doomed destination, they must lay down their cross, lie upon it, and be horrifically tattooed to it by nails. Can't you hear the shrieking cries of the men? Their oaths and curses thunder over the sounds of the crowd. One, however, does not curse but rather, He...prays. And it isn't that He is praying for relief like the other two. Rather, He is praying for the very ones who crucified Him!

We can assume that both men heard this prayer. However, they're two different responses to such humility. While one abandons the same humility, the other mirrors it beautifully.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” Can't you just hear the pseudo meekness and blatant pride found in this declaration? Yes, this man seeks for the right One to receive salvation. Only, he does not seek it because he sees his own sin. Rather, he feels the pangs of death and is seeking a way of escape. He doesn't desire to change his soul, he only desires to save it. He has become the very picture of Matt. 16:25, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Oh but the other outlaw, that great outlaw, let us observe his own reaction. But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” And He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” While in the same exact boat as the other, he doesn't join in his taunts, but rebukes them! This outlaw sees his sin, his wretched filthiness is uncovered drastically in contrast to the bright purity of the Man on side of him. He knows that he has deserved death, and one much worse than that which was given to him. But instead of joining the crowd and the other robber, he truly sees Christ as He is, sees himself as he is, and makes the most humble request. "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Notice, he does not ask to join Jesus. He seems to feel, as Chappell writes, "that a single thought on his part will suffice him for time and eternity."

And how does Jesus reply to his humble prayer? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Even though this man didn't ask for salvation from the consequences of his sin, even though he only asks for sheer remembrance, Christ, as He always does, gives us more than we ask and promises this great outlaw eternal life! And friend, Christ has promised us the same. Only, first we must do just as the outlaw does, see Christ as the perfect Lamb and sacrifice, observe our own destitute state apart from that sacrifice, and ask. That's it, just ask. Christ has promised that,"...everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."

We're right on side of Him. We all are receiving one of the most inhuman and painful deaths ever known by man. We deserve to be where we are. We're completely lost of hope and in need of someone. We must realize that that someone is the very One who hangs before us. When we see Him there, we look back and surprisingly see that we do not look at Him from the side anymore. Now we look up toward Him because we are no longer there with Him. He has taken our place and suffered death so that we may live. Though we are all outlaws deserving death, we are given a choice. We can either be the petty outlaw who seeks to save his own life but will only end up losing it in the end, or we can be the great outlaw who loses his life in the hope of rising again with His King. Which outlaw will you choose to be?

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Asymptomatic Fight for Perfection

"But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy..." 1 Peter 1:15

I love school. I love to learn and frankly, I'm good at it. Usually, I stay awake for each class but two classes, and only two, sometimes lose my attention and naturally, I begin to drift further and further away from consciousness. These two classes would be algebra and chemistry. Today, however, algebra managed to capture my attention and actually teach me something about my relationship with God. Funny how things work like that huh? Well, I learned about exponential growth and decay (can't you imagine me just snoring right about now...) and something called the asymptote. For those of you who haven't been in an algebra class ever or lately, the asymptote is basically a straight line continually approaching but never meeting a curve. So what does this possibly have to do with the Christian life?? Well my friend, it defines it completely!

Peter tells us that God expects us to be holy just as He is holy. Holiness is perfection, something that, through this admonition, we are expected to strive for. Our Christian life is a line that keeps rising, if we're doing what we're supposed to do, but never quite make it to where we hope to. Let's face it, we're only human, we'll never be perfect. Anyone who thinks they will ever be perfect have embarked on an impossible journey that will only result in failure. Doesn't John tell us, "If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us"? We can never and will never reach the perfection that God has required of us. We are simply asymptomatic creatures, striving for something we'll never attain.

Unlike the asymptote, we have hope of reaching our destination. No, not through ourselves, but through the perfect life and righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because He lived a perfect life, and because we trust in His redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us and God deems us as holy and just in His sight. Is that not the greatest news ever heard? The God who demands perfection has shown grace enough to provide a way for imperfect humans to reach what He has demanded, through the life and death of His Son.

The asymptomatic line will never cross the x-axis but will only grow closer and closer for all infinity. We will never cross the bar of perfection but through growth in Christ, we will grow nearer. However, this is not a task that should evoke feelings of anger and frustration. We have already been declared holy in the eyes of God. Only, this is not an excuse to not strive to please God through our holiness. "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" No, rather, let us contend for holiness. Sure, we'll never be perfect, but praise God Almighty that such an endeavor is not left up to us but is instead wrapped up in the glorious and holy life of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what I call amazing grace.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Downfall Begins With Doubting

Being in doubt is perhaps one of the lowest points a Christian can ever find him or herself. Because our very life depends on the faith we've submitted to Jesus Christ, when we begin to doubt that faith, we begin a spiraling journey downward. It seems that when all is quiet, when everything is at a standstill, perhaps while trying to fall asleep, we find ourselves deep in thought. Everything we've attempted to escape comes rushing back to the frontal part of our brains and we are far too frightened to fall asleep. For one who's very being is dependent on faith, it's a frightening situation when our faith runs thin.

Why does this doubt strike so often for some? Personally, it feels to me that I'm constantly in doubt. In my case, I just happen to be a terribly analytical and doubting person, two characteristics that I think Christians should try not to fall prey to. I question people's intentions and analyze their actions and words to absolute scrutiny. I do the same to my faith in Christ. I doubt and doubt and analyze to a T whether I ever truly came to Christ. Its a wonder how anyone who is like myself can ever get any sleep at night! However, I've found some reasons as to why doubting can strike us so often.
  1. Unrepentant sin in our hearts may be hindering us from true communion with God. If sin is blocking my communion with God, my doubt seems to flair as my faith begins to fall.
  2. Lack of prayer, which is another form of communion with God, hinders that relationship. When prayer life is neglected, we loose connection with God. Just like in any relationship, it cannot stand if there is no communication between the two parties. If my prayer life is dwindled, so my faith will be also.
  3. Lack of time spent in God's Word can also hinder our relationship with God. We can't have a lasting relationship with anyone if we don't know who they are.
There could be many more reasons why doubt arises in our hearts but these have been the three most common reasons in myself. To be low, to be really low, practically turning away from faith, it's a tough place to be. It's a dark place to be. For one, there's no joy at all. Time spent with God isn't enjoyable, time spent with fellow Christians is brutal, it simply is just the worse time for a follower of Christ. Only once, thank God, I have been this low and I can honestly say that it was the worst time of my life. Going to church was a drag, I hated it because all it did was further show me how outside of God's family I had become. What had plagued me so drastically?

James 1:6 says, " ...for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." In doubt, we may as well be a ship out at sea without a sail, able to be tossed to and fro. Doubting is dangerous and destructive to the Christian. Paul even tells us in Romans 14:23 that not only is it harmful, but it is sin. But what can we do to pull ourselves out of such a hole? First, we must realize that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing. Jesus promises us that with God, all things are possible, only, we must not depend on our own understanding but rather trust in the Lord, have faith in Him. No doubting, not questioning, simply having faith in the Lord. Secondly, we must talk to ourselves, yes, even if it makes us seem crazy. We must remind ourselves of the promises of God. But how do we know His promises if we don't spend time in His word?
  1. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out." - John 6:37 - Be assured that if we come to Christ, He will never send us away.
  2. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." - Rom. 10:13 - If we genuinely come to Him for salvation, He will save us.
  3. "Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" - Rom. 5:1 - We are promised of peace and salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ.
  4. "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.." - Eph. 1:13 - Believing in Christ, our salvation is sealed and can never be taken away from us.
  5. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." - Is. 40:8 - simply knowing God's promises is great, but the promise that His word is faithful and eternal reassures us of every promise bestowed upon us through our faith in Christ our Lord.
Doubting happens, faith is hard. The very fact that we cannot see what we believe is tough but this is the essence of faith. God designed salvation this way and we must be content with what He has graciously given us. His promises are endless and eternal. Turn away from doubt and return to joy in Christ. Everything may wither and fall away, but know that God has promised that His words will endure forever.

Friday, March 28, 2008

To Be Called A Friend

Greater love has no one than this, that one would lay his life down for his friends. Have you ever truly examined the implications of this beautiful passage? The ultimate love, the ultimate way of showing love, is to lay down your own life for another. In other words, self-sacrificial love is the greatest love of all. Doesn't sound like the love we learn of in this world. Television, movies, books, music, they all tell us that love is about getting something. It's not about self-sacrifice but self-pleasure. Where's the self-pleasure in dying for a friend?

I have many acquaintances, few friends. Regarding the friends that I have, do I love them enough to lay down my life for them? Talk about a conversation ice breaker. I love my best friend dearly but would I really die for her? I know her, truly a good person, but is that enough for me to lay my life down for her? I would. However, that isn't really significant because I've already said that I know her and love her. She was already a good person before I met her, so it isn't much is it? Christ, however, died for His friends. Again not exactly special or significant is it? What's the difference in me dying for Kate and Christ dying for us? Huge difference! In my eyes, Kate is a righteous child of God. When Christ died for us, we were NOT righteous children of God and that my friend is where the difference lies. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:7-8). Jesus laid down His life because of the love He had for His friends, even when His friends despised Him. Now that is unbelievable, truly self-sacrificial, truly love.

So Christ died for His friends, His friends. What a special word, one used far too loosely in my opinion. A friendship is a binding relationship between two partners. It's a self-sacrificial love that says, "you you you", rather than "me me me". These two partners are equal. And yet Christ, the very Son of God, calls us friend? Personally, I don't count myself worthy to be a friend of Christ. Rather, I feel like John when he says, "...H
e who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." Christ sees me differently though. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15). Christ called me friend, Christ called you friend. That makes me want to jump from my chair and shout unending praises to God. I hated Him, I cursed Him, I crucified Him, and He calls me friend? Not only did He call me friend, but He laid down His life for me, and for you.

To be called a friend of Christ is baffling beyond belief, but He doesn't stop by merely calling us friends, but by dying for us when we didn't count Him as friend. I said earlier that this was a two-party system. Christ did His part. Now it is our turn. I love Christ, but am I willing to lay down my life for Him? Are you willing to lay down your life for Him? In all likelihood, we will not be martyrs for the sake of Christ, but are we willing to be just the same? So forget dying for Him. Are we willing to be disliked for Him, made fun of for Him, mistreated for Him, persecuted for Him? Are we willing to not only die for Him, but to live for Him? He has called us friends. Greater love has no one than this, that one would lay down his life for His friends. We must be willing to die for Christ but also to live for Christ because He lived and died for us.