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!"