Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Psalm of Comfort

Psalm 138
Thanksgiving for the Lord's Favor
A psalm of David

I will give thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to Thee before the gods.
I will bow down toward Thy holy temple,
And give thanks to Thy name for Thy lovingkindess and Thy truth;
For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name.
On the day I called Thou didst answer me;
Thou didst make me bold with strength in my soul.

All the kings of the earth will give thanks to Thee, O Lord,
When they have heard the words of Thy mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord.
For great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly;
But the haughty He knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me;
Thou wilt stretch forth Thy hand against the wrath of my enemies, 
And Thy right hand will save me.
The Lord will accomplish what concerns me;
Thy lovingkindess, O Lord, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Thy hands.
  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Unusual Beliefs --> Unpredictable Results

     I was talking today with a friend, and we were discussing a David Platt quote along the lines of it being impossible to truly identify with Jesus and call yourself His without being a disciple of His. We've discussed before on this blog about Jesus' call to radical abandonment in Matthew 10 and Luke 9 and 14 especially, and so a quote like that only more bluntly sums up what we've said before.

     But in speaking with her, I was at a loss to explain what I meant at one point and finally blurted out a phrase, which we adjusted later to more accurately sum up our thought. It got me thinking all day... that the sum of the gospel, for me right now at least, comes down to "unusual beliefs that will lead to unpredictable results."

     As I process again and again (as I think we should constantly) the gospel and the words of Jesus and how they should shape and lead my life, I'm realize that what I believe is unusual and at odds from what is normal and acceptable. It's not common to say that God has claim to your life that overcomes affection, logic, and desire. It's not accepted or in many circles even acceptable to say that God owns you, that you're no longer your own, that God's foremost goal is not your happiness but your sanctification and His glorification.

     These are unusual beliefs and claims, claims that are uncomfortable to read and even less comfortable to try to get a grasp on and apply practically in our lives. It takes a major paradigm shift in order to see the world through the light of the words of Jesus in His word, and to grasp what it truly means to follow Him and identify with Him.

     These are unusual beliefs, even uncomfortable beliefs, that really threaten so many deep-seated ideas about God and even myself. But what's even more unsettling than the beliefs themselves is that I have no idea where these ideas will lead or where they will drop me at. Looking forward, beliefs such as that God rules over my life and His commands and direction are far more important than my dreams, plans, or comforts can be disconcerting.

     To realize that Jesus' call for one's life surpasses your comfort zone and maybe your dreams or desires or maybe just where you feel safe can be scary. At a minimum, it rips the safety net from beneath you and shoves you into an uncharted ocean with an unpredictable destination. You're scared to take the next step... and at the same time, you know you'll never be satisfied until you do. You're scared to death of what comes next, but you know you'll never know peace where you are.

      Unusual beliefs that lead to unpredictable results. A bit scary, mm? A little daunting, when you think about it? But doesn't it make sense? That if Jesus is really worth losing my life for, giving everything for, then He should be worth following to an unpredictable future? If Jesus' worth is what we say it is, then our response should be whole and unfettered devotion to Him, even if it means leaving predictability behind.

      He is worth it. His call, to a radical obedience, is worth it, because He is worth it. And that is the knowledge that propels us to hold Him, when weighed in the balances against all relationships, all dreams, and all desires, to be greater than all.

Monday, September 12, 2016

To Follow Him

Following Jesus... is to lay down every desire of my heart that runs counter to the heart of my Lord.

Following Jesus... is to hold loosely to the things of this earth in order to hold tighter to the things that will last.

Following Jesus... is to abandon safety, comfort, ease, tranquility, and the norm as values to be held dear in favor of the risk, discomfort, danger, and battle.

Following Jesus... is to defy the world's standard of wise and sensible in order to become foolish under the banner of Jesus and share in His shame... in order to share in His glory.

Following Jesus... is to submit every dream, thought, plan, and ambition to the obedience of Jesus Christ and sacrificing every one of them on His altar.

Following Jesus... is to at times be misunderstood, slandered, abused, mistreated, avoided, persecuted, hurt, and and lied about. Don't be surprised; it happened to our Savior, I can hardly expect better.

Following Jesus... is to consider the lives of the dirtiest leper, the most wretched sinner, the most despicable and unloved, the abused, the lost, the hurt, the broken, and the torn down to be of infinite worth to my Father and worth laying aside my own comfort and safety for.

Following Jesus... is to lose my life in Him, and in losing it, to find it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Just Do It!

    The past couple weeks, I've been on vacation. Before that, I've been dealing with various projects and church stuff and other things... in a nutshell, I've been busy or mentally exhausted enough to not want to have to bother with the blog over here. Hopefully this post marks the end of that couple month part of my life.

    The past couple weeks, I've been walking through a very difficult time in a friend's life. She's been wrestling through a couple personal struggles, things that include nearly daily panic attacks and anorexia. I'm 18 years old, and I have absolutely no experience dealing with such things, so it's been a trying couple weeks for both of us. But it's also been eye-opening to me about how grace affects our thinking... and how often our patience runs thin and we just want to forget the whole grace thing and jump to our default.

    This may be news to that friend, but there are nights after a long day where the temptation is to message that dear friend to just... do it. Just eat. Just do this. Just don't do that. Just do it. It's easy to talk about grace as a philosophy or a concept, but isn't it harder to actually go and apply it to real life people in difficult situations and realize that this is when the proverbial rubber meets the road?

    See, I think we tend to talk a lot about grace as theology but ignore it as practicality. Even those of us who are more "into grace". I think grace tends to become a theological concept, something for sermons and for counseling... but only for the first five phone calls. Or the first ten calls. Right? Isn't that the temptation? Like after a certain period of time, it's time to stop talking about this grace stuff, this trusting Christ to change us into His image and likeness as we learn to love Him, and start talking about, well... buckling down and doing it!

    Isn't that where we tend to see a lot of our thinking devolving to if we just cut out all the Christianese and theological lingo we tack on... doesn't it come back to a glorified, spiritualized Nike commercial? One where the cross meets you when you're lost and have nothing, and then helps you back to your feet so you can get your life together. One where grace is a concept, but a concept that eventually, after enough tries, devolves to "Just do it already!" Where grace works the first ten times to pick you back up, but then we realize that you're just not trying hard enough to hear about grace again.

     C'mon, we say, isn't that a bit excessive? I mean... Paul gave commands! Paul told us to do things, and Jesus told us to, and James did... but what is sprinkled so liberally through their writings? The gospel of Jesus' atoning work on the cross for us so liberally sprinkles Paul's writings and the other apostles it's practically impossible to read a set of commands without in some way running into the gospel staring you in the face again.

     Giving commands, without any relation to the gospel and the working of Jesus in our hearts, simply cripples us with guilt as we realize that if I'm honest, buckling down to work harder doesn't usually result in the results I'm looking for. We realize this constantly as we pray for God to change our hearts to be Christ-like. We pray for God to make us unselfish or strengthen us to be more loving.

     So why are we so quick to run out of this same grace for other people, grace that is born of the realization that those in Christ re being sanctified and worked on by Him, and that we are all simply learners at different rates and places along the same journey toward the image of Christ, and that it is Him who is the grand architect of this, not us? If sanctification is God's work in another person, maybe one with more unconventional struggles than myself, just as much as it is God's work in me, shouldn't that change our outlook and our response to fellow believers, and of our response to even ourselves as we deal with guilt and our view of ourselves?

     I am not trying to imply that it does not require any effort in order to follow in the steps of Jesus or to blame our own sin struggles on the Holy Spirit for not having sanctified me yet. This is not an excuse to blame shift. What it is is an encouragement to show patient, abiding grace to other people in their struggles, a grace that comes alongside others to help each other rather than stand over one another and rebuke each other toward action with trite encouragements to more self-effort.

     I want to sum up, because this may seem more complicated than it really is. Simplified down, my entire point is found here: Moral living, the kind of change that "Just do it" inspires, is not the goal of my walk with Christ. It can be a useful message to hear occasionally from a trusted person when I need a push forward, but it fails to change the heart and only changes the outward. True heart change, what Christ is after, is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit in us, each of us, in your annoying Christian brother in the other pew just as much as in you. So pressing each other toward Christ does far more for our path toward sanctification than does pressing each other toward outward conformity without inward change of heart.

     Anyone can change behavior patterns. Atheists, Hindus, Confucians, Buddhists, and Muslims all are quite capable of living outwardly moral lives.Our first goal for ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches, and the like should never be moral superiority but a close and fervent, living, breathing, vibrant walk with Jesus, from which heart change can flow. And if we truly believe that, the way we relate to brothers and sisters, particularly struggling ones, changes. It ceases to be about making them get their lives and acts together in order to be obeying the morals nearly so much as it is pressing them, gently but surely, toward Jesus and back toward the cross... where the Holy Spirit will open their eyes and guide their steps from the inward, outward, rather than stagnating on the outward and never getting beyond that to the inward.

     The Pharisees had the outward perfect... and Jesus called them whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside full of rotting flesh. Not a pretty picture, right? That's what moralism without sanctification is to Jesus. Demanding someone change the outward for the sake of the outward, without inward heart modification, is worse than useless... it's guilting. Because no number of motivational sayings will help a person resist temptation when they're weak, particularly when they're weak alone, and failing when the outward is the goal only leads to more guilt, which leaves us vulnerable to more attack.

     The goal of our walk with Jesus is a closer walk with Him as our sanctification progresses. Sanctification is not a changed moral life. Sanctification is a changed heart, changed desires, that will, over time, change our moral lives. So, as friends, as believers, as family members, let's press each other nearer and nearer to the cross. Occasionally, a friend will need that push forward in their moral living... but far more often and far more likely, your friend will need that reminder that the power of God and the atoning, strengthening, long-suffering grace of God reaches them where they are today.

     So, you've heard it. You know what to do now. So just go out and do it! Just do it already! ;)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our God Is....

    "But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth." (Ps. 86:15)

    "The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness." (Ps. 145:8)

    "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness." (Ps. 103:8)

     I love Psalms. While I love some modern praise music, there is a simplicity to the psalms that I love. I think we sometimes overlook the simple praise to God for His character qualities. David so often takes the time to sing praise to God for aspects of His character, His mercy, His truth, His Word, His lovingkindness.

    This isn't a long post, but I love this little collection of verses, verses that are simple and pure praise to God for being who He is. They aren't complicated, but they are deep reflections of the character of God. He is merciful and gracious, compassionate and slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness and in truth.

    Do we understand that this is David's rejoicing in these truths of who God is? These are verses of who God is and what His thoughts toward His chosen people are. Rejoice in them! Take comfort in them! When you are down or feel condemned or under His judgment, look at them and consider once again the beautiful grace that beckons us and calls us to rejoice in Him as our Savior, our Father, and our King.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Failing's Not Just For Failures

    This week was our church's VBS, and somehow, I have become our team's consistent skit villain. I was the prodigal son, a selfish king, Balam, and Peter denying Jesus, all in the past two weeks. I hope that doesn't say anything about my reputation!

     But one of my parts was Peter denying Jesus from Mark 14:66-72. It won't be a long post tonight, but I wanted to touch on something I've been thinking about ever since portraying him in that skit. It's very easy to get the feeling after we sin, particularly after falling to the same sin again, and again, and yet again, that we lose our ability to be used by God.

     Reading the story of Peter though says so much to me about God's ability to use us despite our inabilities. Loud-mouthed people, soft-spoken people, gentle people, even pushovers, abrupt, rough, even offensive people, ugly people and pretty people, city people and country people, every one of us with our gifts and our weaknesses, come together into one global army for the purposes of God... and He uses us.

     With our weaknesses and our flaws, with all of that, He uses us. For His purposes and for His glory, despite horrible sin or nagging, small sins, it is His power that shines through the worst of us and the best us, the prettiest and the ugliest. Everything we accomplish is for Him alone and through Him alone.

     Whatever your reason for believing yourself incapable of use by God, I challenge you to read Mk. 14:66-72 and then repeat your reason. It will pale in comparison. God can use a loud-mouthed fisherman named Peter who denied Him three times... He can definitely use you. You're never too far gone or have too many problems for God's use.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Update

    It's been a hard couple of weeks and a busy few days. I know I've been pretty quiet over here, but I just wanted to poke my head in to say that I haven't left. I need to let my mind and heart clear a little bit more before I'm ready to write again. But I will be back very soon! Thanks for reading, everyone!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Test of Discipleship

    "And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, 'I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.' And He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Permit me first to go and bury my father.' But He said to Him, 'Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.' And another also said, 'I will follow You, Lord, but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Lk. 9:57-62)

     My brother called my attention back to some of the more radical passages of Scripture this week. Having to reprocess many of the passages that set me on my journey two years ago has really been a convicting few days, and my poor brother has had to put up with a lot of "I don't know's" and "I had never thought of that"'s. (Thanks, Corey. :)

     Christian has become such an over-used term I avoid calling myself by that name now and try to use the term "follower of Christ"... but no one term has ever caused me to feel as hypocritical as that one does. Really, Taylor? Are you a follower of Christ? A devotee, a disciple, a follower of Jesus? Because if I am, then I should be able to go back and retrace the Jesus of the gospels and see His life in mine, right?

     If I'm honest, you can't. What sense of life change is there in me that sets me apart as someone living for another kingdom? What part of my life tells those in contact with me that I am different, that I am not another teenager fighting to the top of my sport but a disciple of Jesus Christ with a calling that transcends this world? The real question... am I really what I say I am?

     I know salvation is by grace alone through faith, and my failures are washed away in the blood of Christ and that I am raised in new life in Him... but new life for a purpose. New life to speak forth and point to Jesus Christ and to present Him and His love in every avenue of my life. Can I honestly say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ? I have to say that, at this moment, no, I cannot. At best, I am following from afar.

     "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and contemplate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all His possessions." (Lk. 14:26-28, 31, 33)

     If part of Jesus' gospel presentation was a warning to count the cost, I think it can safely be said that following Jesus without personal cost then is not actually following Jesus. I don't say that to take a slap at evangelicals at large today; I say this as a rebuke to myself as much as to anyone. If my life has no trace of cost for the sake of Christ, I have no business saying that I am following Jesus since Jesus' call to discipleship inevitably was joined to a warning of the cost or a call to the radical.

     I'm trying to slowly return my life toward trying to follow after Jesus, being a disciple of His. Not a Christian, but a follower of Jesus Christ. Please pray for me as I'm kinda lost as to what to do. But it's a good kind of lost. :)

   

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Let's Try Something New...

    So, this is a trial video to see if it possible to figure out the transfer of a video from my cheapo phone through Google drive to my computer hard drive to my blog. I would like to start putting some videos on my blog and hope to drastically improve the quality as I figure some things out, but I'm putting up this trial video here. Be forewarned. If you're a photographer or videographer, you may go into a fit and might possibly become suicidal. Don't say I didn't warn you.

video

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Who Will Deliver Me?

    In case you didn't know, I'm not perfect. Surprising, right? Despite what you may have thought, yes, I too sin. Daily. Hourly. And when we narrow the scope of sin to all those things done not for the glory of God, I sin minutely. Constantly. Sometimes sins I feel guilty about, others that shock myself with my callous attitude toward. Some are considered more major than others, others are so small most wouldn't even realize they're a sin. Nevertheless, I am a great sinner.

    Nearly every day, I shock myself at some point with my own callous treatment of other people. That I seem unmoved by some people's pain, or my own impatient, self-righteous treatment of others in day to day life. I'm ashamed of the thoughts that run through my mind, and even more ashamed of the ones I let lie there sometimes and fester when I know they're wrong. I'm ashamed of the words that sometimes spring to my lips, though I catch them before maybe they become audible words. I have been struggling with anger toward God for several weeks now, and the doubts keep coming up.

     I don't say that to ease my conscience by publicly airing my sin; I say that to simply point out that I have sin in my life that I struggle with daily and sometimes have victory over, other times don't. I don't speak this as someone looking back over my past when I used to sin but as someone who right now, today, sins.

     I've written from here before, but it never ceases to amaze me. The book of Romans is such a powerful book that unlocks the gospel of justification by grace through faith in such a way that leaves me utterly astounded by the God of such a gospel. Romans 1-6 explains man's depravity and God's grace in the clearest language in the Bible yet in more depth than anywhere else. Romans 7, Paul's drift changes from the theological concepts of salvation toward the practical living of the Christian life in 7-8.

     It's a long chunk of Scripture from Romans 7, but I think it's extremely pertinent to what I'm going to say and so I'm going to quote quite a long passage here.

     "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For the good I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good."

      Did anyone else find themselves nodding, "wow, I couldn't have said that better myself, Paul!" That so accurately sums up where I am so often! With Christ in me, there is something in me that drives me toward desiring good and the Holy Spirit is at work sanctifying me and my desires, but there's something in me holding me back. Keeping me down, tempting me, and reminding me of my past failures. The good I want to do and in my head I purpose to do, I so often don't, and I instead practice the very things I detest! How?!

     It's because there is evil dwelling in me in the form of my flesh. There is a part of me that will tempt me and try to draw me back toward the temporary pleasures of sin, and there will be times I give into that side of me. Some seasons of my life, it seems like I never disregard those temptations; other times, I feel great times of victory.

     But what is Paul's answer? Try really hard? Give up? We can see what sounds like apparently hopelessness in Paul's writing here... This is totally me taking license with the Scripture here, but I like to imagine Paul writing this verse and then pausing for a moment overcome with emotion. He just reached the climatic build of man's horrid, desperate condition before God that he has been building through the entire book. I imagine Paul stopping for a moment to ponder the massive consequences of the one little verse.

     "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" That is the climax of the book of Romans. You can see the desperate emotion in Paul's words, the realized helplessness of men fighting against their sin nature alone. But Paul's next words ring out in victory that shatter the hopelessness of the previous verse.

     "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh, the law of sin. Therefore is there now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

     I feel like V from V for Vendetta, "Now for the crescendo!" That statement holds the despair and the victory of the gospel in one fell sweep. Who will set me free? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ! The answer is obviously in who he is thanking!

     Who will set us free from this slavery? Who will cancel the condemnation that comes with the flesh and the wretchedness of who I am? Who is it that will transform my very nature into something completely different, something pleasing to God through righteousness not mine? Jesus Christ.

     Who will set us free from the body of this death? Paul identifies it rightly as death, death in our own wretchedness... who will set us free from this condition? Jesus Christ! In Him, there is no condemnation. There is freedom. There is the power to do what is right. The power to fight victoriously against some of those temptations, against all of them. Will we fail sometimes? Yes. But the power is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.

     Paul is on a roll as he launches into chapter 8. "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh... And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba, Father!'" 

     In Christ, we are not the same. Thank God, who I am is not defined by what I do but who lives through me. I have not received slavery; I have received adoption. I am defined by who God is through me. Blessed be His name!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Who am I?

    I remember, it was just too blasphemous. No way could I accept that statement. I put the book down... and picked it up and read it again. Three times. No, this wasn't true. I put down the book and went inside the church, only to hear a guest speaker say the same thing. I just couldn't get away...

     If you know my story, you know that the statement I'm talking about is the radical doctrine of substitutional, vicarious atonement.Crazy that I grew up for ten years in evangelical churches and still didn't know what that was, but it's true. That's why 14 year old me was reading a book that dared speaking of me as the bearer of the righteousness of Christ and I had to put it down.

     For those of us who grew up being taught the Bible, we know who we were. Particularly Baptists (where I grew up) are known for repetitively hammering who we were by consistent teaching on sin and vice and so on. Simple Christian theology dictates that we know who we were... we were sinners. Maybe we realized as a child that we've sinned before and so we require forgiveness before God; maybe we were older and realized to a greater depth how great our depravity is before God, that our entire nature and disposition runs counter to God. In any case, one part of the gospel I definitely got was that I was messed up on my own.

     Who I was was pretty clearly and often spoken about. We were sinners before God, guilty, black, rebellious. We were the ones who nailed him to the cross. We were the ones who fell short of God's design, His perfect plan for the world.

     But what was never addressed is the new question: who am I now? Who am I now? I know I was a sinner before. I know I was a rebel. I know I was worthy of damnation. I know all that... but who am I know? Am I the same person with a new, fresh slate to draw my new identity out on depending on what I do? Am I the same sinner, but with the past grudgingly forgiven so I can slink into heaven just as the gate is closing, forgiven but still evil?

     This new identity... do I have one? Am I the same person, just forgiven, like a murderer who murders but is pardoned and the whole world knows he's still a murderer, just not a punished one? That was the lie I fell for for years. I got that I wasn't going to hell, but that was the extent of who I was in my new identity. My new identity was "forgiven sinner". I was just as evil as ever, I just wouldn't be punished for it. God was the cosmic benevolent old man, who saw the grandson break his favorite fly rod but didn't do anything about it.

     "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

     "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

     "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."

     "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." 

     A new creature? Old things have passed away? Grace may reign? Become the righteousness of God? Perfected for all time?... Does that sound the slightest bit blasphemous?

     In Jesus, we have an entirely new identity; in fact, I'm a new person. I'm not who I was before, and the new me is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I am no longer a sinner. That is not my identity any more, no matter how much I may sin while clothed in my new identity in Christ. Every sin is washed away by the blood of Christ, nothing staining my new identity as the righteous child of God made right with Him through Jesus Christ.

     I am no longer a sinner... I am a saint who still sins. Yet even that sin is done away with, washed away, removed forever, by the never-ending supply of the blood of Christ my Savior. I am not anything to be despised or disgusted with anymore, because I am a child of God made new, completely new in Him. I am not the same person I was. I have an entirely new identity in Jesus Christ, not merely a cover-up or a facade to camouflage my old one.

     Who am I?     I am radically loved by my Father.
     Who am I?     I am a child of God, His by adoption and fully His child.
     Who am I?     I am justified, no longer under the wrath of God.
     Who am I?     I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ, lacking nothing before God's throne.
     Who am I?     I am no longer a sinner, with no vestige of the guilt and the stain left upon me.
     Who am I?     I am an entirely new person, complete in every way in Jesus Christ.
     Who am I?     I am a transformed being, from a dead son of Adam into a living son of God.
     Who am I?     I am a co-heir with Christ, one who has been glorified and made beautiful in Him.
     Who am I?     I am one who has been bought with a great price.
     Who am I?     "My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I
                             have done nothing to earn it or deserve it." (Brennan Manning)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Cry of Anguish... and a Song of Praise?

    So I've been quiet over here for a few weeks... I try to be pretty open about my struggles and who I really am, so I'm not going to lie about why. The last few weeks, I have been almost completely apathetic in regard to my relationship with Christ, and I've been struggling with being angry with Him. A friend has been going through a very hard time, and a few weeks back I let my frustration over that friend's suffering get the better of me, and let it lead me into apathy, anger, and some darkness myself. Thus the silence on here... it feels hypocritical to write others about God when I am not in a right relationship myself.

     A couple days ago I admitted to myself where I was and started taking some steps toward pursuing Christ again. Ironically, it was the very friend I've been angry for that sent me the references I'm talking about tonight: Psalm 13 and 22.

     Psalm 13 opens with words that really spoke to me right where I have been, "How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?" I've read enough psalms not to be surprised by what came next, but it still stuck out to me... David closes the Psalm with the words, "But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation, I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me."

     My plan was to look at 13 first and then go check out 22, so I didn't spend long thinking about that. I was going to spend more time on it when I came back... but 22 caught my eye too. Before I even started the chapter, it was clear the course the psalm would take. Under the title of Psalm 22, the NASB has printed, "A cry of anguish and a song of praise." Honestly, I didn't get any further than to breeze through the psalm to verify that yes, that is exactly what Psalm 22 is.

     My mind stopped there. A cry of anguish and a song of praise. Wait, what? How? Why? Who does that, I guess was more my question. A cry of anguish, a cry of heart-wrenching grief... followed by a song of praise. Mixing grief with praise, deep sorrow with a kind of joy... this should be something that clicked before.

     Several weeks ago, I arranged a sermon on the book of Job to keep in my back pocket if the need arose. In Job 1, after Job loses everything, he says something very strange in v. 21. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has given away." This I understand. He poetically draws a parallel... he came into the world with nothing, he leaves the world with nothing. It was God who blessed him... it was God who know cursed him. Pretty standard stuff here... until the end. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

     A cry of anguish... mixed with a song of praise. Raw honesty enough to admit being crushed and vulnerable, but real faith enough to see past the momentary anguish and see the sovereign and good God that presides over it. Anguish and praise... Anguish in my present situation, praise in looking past it and seeing the God who is there and who is good in it and sufficient through it.

     Anguish will come... but don't let the anguish control. In the anguish and the silence of God, praise. Blessed be the name of the Lord, in the giving and the taking. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Good Song

         I've been becoming more and more a fan of Michael Gungor's music. "Us for Them", "Vapor" and now "Hurricane" have become some of my favorite Gungor songs in the past few weeks. His style is just one I really enjoy.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

I Will Not Fear

    I've been quiet here for the most part for a while now. That's a combination of school, some time consuming extra-curriculars, and working on two different posts that required more study and thought than just sitting down with my Bible for a couple hours and putting something together. Tonight I wanted to address something that's been on my heart for a few days.

     I'm looking into the future, my plans, my dreams, my hopes... and I'm coming back with one major feeling: fear. No one warned me life was quite so complicated or quite so demanding. I don't mean that in the whiny "why didn't someone tell me" sense, simply in the sense that I'm caught off guard with the demands of life right now and the uncertainty of the future. As any young person looks forward (and for that matter, I have no doubt older people do too), it feels like doubts and fears on every side. Who do I marry? What do I do for work? What does God expect of me in this situation? Any one of those questions has a thousand sub-headings... will she want to marry me? Will I be a good husband? How do you know when you're ready for marriage? Is there a right or a wrong to finding God's will for my life's work? What if there is a wrong and I pick wrong? What if I feel called to the ministry but I see the immaturity in so many areas in my own life? You get the point... the fears are everywhere.

     Maybe your fears are larger: will I survive this cancer? Maybe it's seemingly smaller, I don't know. I don't think it matters. Honestly, we are bombarded by fears in this life, and at this place in my life, it's a new feeling. The uncertainty and the fear, for myself and those I care deeply about, wears me down and leaves me sitting here going, "What on earth happened in the past year that changed me so drastically?" Hint: I grew up.

     Suddenly, your fears aren't somewhere off in your future. They're in your face, staring you down when you're awake and staring you down while you lie in bed at night. For so many years, "I don't know" was a reasonable answer to those pressing questions regarding what you were doing after high school. Suddenly, that uncertainty is pressing down on you every moment. The future, your choices, and all the ways you can screw those two things up that will affect you and your future and those involved with you in the future can be choking.

     There are excellent works on finding hope in God and strength through Christ in suffering. Reading Job, listening to John Piper, and other things have been immensely encouraging the past couple weeks. But to be honest, I'm not in the mood for that level of depth tonight. I'd rather just look at two verses that just grab me and shake me in the midst of my fears.

     "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." 

     What's striking to me here isn't that Jesus provides for our peace by leaving His presence in the form of a comforter (mentioned the verse previously). Maybe I've just heard that enough that I get that now. It's that He specifically identifies His peace is very different from the haphazard security of the world. It is a very different kind of peace. It's a peace that doesn't avoid tragic situations or dangerous places or hazardous predicaments. The peace is not based in any way upon situation but upon God.

     The world's way of gaining peace is removing obstacles and difficulties. By smoothing the road, the lack of difficulty results in peace. When Jesus is providing for His follower's peace, His route is not to smooth the road for them; in fact, looking forward to the end of their lives, we can see smooth roads and lack of obstacles and difficulties is the opposite of their fate. There's was not a situational peace but a personal presence of God that transcended the situation and told them that no situation mattered if an almighty God was with them and sovereign over all things. The peace He leaves with them is not contingent upon the ease of our path but on the greatness of the glory at the end and His own presence at our side.

     "The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore I will look with satisfaction at those who hate me."

     I like this verse a lot. Like, a whole lot. There's a defiant nature to this verse that just shouts out reckless confidence in our God that appeals to me and, at the same time, intimidates me. It doesn't say that God will make our situation rosy and make everyone like us and remove all our conflict. It says that if I align myself with God... it doesn't matter what people say or think. I live, quite literally, for an audience of One. If the One is pleased, then I have no cause to be afraid of what anyone else will think or expect.

     If we're honest, isn't a lot of our fear very man-centered? This verse I like so much because it removes the man-centered dimension of fear by declaring that when I am right with God, I can smile at the people who hate me and are yelling at me. There is no intimidation, no fear, no being bullied when we are right with God. This psalm is so clear... if God is for me, I have no reason to fear anything. Nothing that happens will pluck me from His hand or push me past the reach of His grace, and with God on my side, what people think or say does not matter.

    It means a lot to remove the aspect of fear that involves pleasing other people. Part of being right with God is being in a position of respect under our authorities, but it doesn't mean recoiling in fear lest I hurt their feelings or they dislike some part of me. It means that under Christ, I am who I am, and while I pursue holiness, there is no cause for me to be afraid.

     There is no fear! Not specifically what the verse is addressing, but "I will not fear" is a pretty broad and easily applicable statement. Do I fear what other people may think of me? Do I fear messing up or failing? Do I need to fear the future? I will not fear. Even if the future is still as uncertain as it was before, the basis of my hope is as solid as a rock. My identity and eventual future is solid in Christ Jesus, the Savior who secured my redemption, my status as His child, and my eventual home with Him. There is no fear. There is no call for fear. The uncertainties are still there, but the results are in God's hands and I can trust Him.

     I will not fear. I will follow after Jesus Christ, and I will not fear. Even if all else fails, that way I gain a far surpassing joy and pleasure. He is my audience of One, the only One whose opinion will count. And under His grace, I will not fear.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Good Sermon (Part 1)

    This is one of the most powerful sermons by John Piper I've ever heard. It hits right at the heart of the pain and the suffering that all followers of Christ (and honestly, all human beings) come to face in their lives.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In the World, Not of the World

     Oh... how many times was that club used to realign your behavior! :) Anytime we dared point to other people or other ways of doing things than how we did it in our conservative circles, the answer was always the same... "We are to be in the world, but not of the world." That trumped dating, dressing casually or even non-formally at church, rock music (even Christian rock), alcohol, and in some of the more extreme cases, playing cards.

     Perhaps the clearest example of this phrase's roots is in John 17:16 where Jesus says, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" in reference to the disciples. It's very clear here that Jesus is saying that He is not of this world, and His desire is that His disciples will not be either... so we can at least take that as a fact. Jesus is not of the world, and His aim for His disciples is that we won't be either. Okay, got it.

     But! The question then becomes, "What was Jesus' intention with these words?" Quite frankly, I don't care if an American wants to interpret them this way or that way, but I am definitely interested in the intentions of Jesus in His statement. So did Jesus intend this verse to mean that though we are in the world, we are not to act as the world acts? I believe yes He does... but not in the way that many conservative Christians read Him to mean. More specifically, is Jesus intending with this verse to give us a broad, overarching decree that we are to be noticeably different from the world in our dress and behavior patterns?

     That is a difficult question to answer specifically, because yes, the Bible is clear that we are to be noticeably different. The real question lies in that admission though. How different? Different in what ways? Because this is a question that Christians seem to enjoy answering in certain ways and ignoring in others. I mean, you can say that we are being different from the world by not using playing cards, and you'd be right... but is it the kind of different that Jesus meant? You could dance naked on a pogo stick down main street and be "different", but that's clearly not what Jesus meant. You could wear a head covering and wear sandals instead of tennis shoes in order to be like Christ and wear a far Eastern style robe and be "different", but I don't see conservatives lining up to do those things.

     It would seem that even we realize that Jesus' goal was not just that we would be different, but that we would be meaningfully different in this world, not different for the sake of being different or sounding holy. This becomes even clearer when we examine what Jesus followed these words with. He says in v. 18, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world."

     So we're not different for the sake of being different. Simply quoting "in the world, but not of the world", as the popular Christian adage goes, is no more a satisfactory argument against Christian rock music than it would be against wearing tennis shoes. Both uses of John 17 completely miss Jesus' point; we are different in our behavior because we are on a mission... just as Christ Himself was on a mission. It's not that we're advertising to the world through our dress, bright faces, or long hair if you're a girl or short hair if you're a guy that you're Christ's disciple as so many have implied. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and the people of His home town laughed at the idea that He might be something special... He was just an ordinary boy. It was not His appearance or cultural rebellion that stood out.

     What is it that Jesus says will mark us as His, mark us as different? Is it our dress standards? Maybe, maybe someone will notice a girl in a modest swimsuit is different from the girls in bikinis on the beach. Is it a guy's short hair? Possibly, someone might think it's a Christian thing to be clean cut, though I can name you a number of clean cut, nice looking young guys who have no desire to follow Jesus at all. That's certainly not a Christian distinctive.

     Just four chapters earlier in John, Jesus tells us what it is that truly marks us as His and different from the world: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Ah! Notice, Jesus did not say our spouse finding tactics would tell all people that we are His disciples. He didn't say our music would. He didn't say our clothes would or our refusal to drink alcohol. What sets us apart distinctly from the world is our love.

     In taekwondo, we're famous for one thing particularly: high aerial kicks. Nobody kicks like we do. We do spinning kicks, 360 degree kicks, multiple spin kicks in a row, three kicks in the air off a single jump... nobody kicks like we do. We do a lot of the same moves and adaptations that other martial arts do, but what sets us apart is our kicks.

     We are like other religions and other people in the world in a myriad of ways. We believe that sex our of marriage is wrong like Muslims... we believe in self-defense, just like many atheists do... I happen to enjoy hamburgers, like many cultists do. These things don't mark us as different from the world! What truly marks the disciples of Jesus Christ is our love, the crazy love our Savior showed to us.

     If you want to show the world you're different, refusing to play "Spades" or refusing to hold the opposite gender's hand at a game in youth group isn't the most effective way to do that. Jesus outlined a very different module for us; love. First, love Him, wildly and above all else, and secondly, love your neighbor as yourself. Love is what truly marks us as his, not our standards.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Good Quotes

     “Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven, without having blown the trumpet loud and long for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in hell, when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle.”

      “We are frittering away our time and money in a multiplicity of conventions, conferences, and retreats, when the real need is to go straight and full steam into battle, with the signal for 'close action' flying.”

      “God's real people have always been called fanatics.”
                                                          -C. T. Studd

Friday, May 13, 2016

Peace

    This week began with the three most stressful days of my life. Without going into details, those three days probably crippled me mentally and emotionally more than anything I've ever experienced. Until Thursday, I had eaten precisely two meals this week and hadn't fallen asleep before two in the morning. Most of the day I spent pacing, praying, and sitting worrying.

     Toward the end of one of those days (which are kind of muddled in my head now), I sat down to write for a minute. I just closed my eyes and took a moment to think. What did I want? What was my hope during all this? I thought for a minute, and I wrote one simple sentence, "I long for peace."

     As your world rocks around you, when life cuts like a knife and you feel the pain more keenly than any physical pain you've ever felt, I beg you, hold on! There is peace, against all odds, against what you think and what your mind tells you, there is a peace. When the knife twists and you look back and wonder how you got where you are and why you chose to fight, don't give up!

     "Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Rest. I don't think about these verses too much at this season of life, because as a young guy, part of my excitement at the coming life ahead is the conflicts and the situations that lie ahead. There feels like there is purpose in it.

     But there's also pain in it. There's exhaustion, there's fear, there's stress, and those are the times I look at Jesus and cry out, "Where is your rest? Where is this rest you promised?" In the middle of the pain, it's hard to feel the rest.

     People, listen to me! Whether you feel it or not, Jesus promises peace. He promises rest in Him... peace in the middle of a battle, and rest in the middle of raging seas. That rest and that peace doesn't mean a touchy, constantly hugged feeling or an ethereal, flying feeling. No, here is the voice of experience saying that you can be loved relentlessly and still feel the knife twist.

     The joy in Christ that I know exists is a knowledge, not necessarily a feeling. The unchangeable truth is that when your world is falling apart, a sovereign God is holding you up, whether you feel that or not. That's the pivotal part. You won't always feel it. Some days, the pain out weighs every other feeling... but the truth doesn't change! The truth remains through all of it, that Christ's love is completely relentless, never ending, never changing, never quitting, never tiring.

     "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

    "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

    "...All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth... lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Same Yesterday, Today, and...

     It's 12:20 in the morning, my mind is still processing things from today, and the debate on the resurrection that I'm listening to isn't totally tuning out the other thoughts floating through my brain (yes, listening to a debate is relaxing to me. I'm weird...). It's been a rough couple of days, a couple days I've hardly eaten, hardly slept, stressed myself into (comparatively) mild insanity and I'm getting sick.

     So what do you do during a week like this? We all know the weeks, the weeks when you look at the mistakes you've made and you can't change anything now, but you can feel the cold, hard pain staring you in the face? The weeks where you don't see the truth of who God is... or who you are in Him? The weeks where you wonder what precisely God's planning?

     I don't have many words tonight. I'm tired, but my mind doesn't want to sleep. When all you see is darkness and when our feelings tell us one thing, the thing we have to do, against all odds and against our flesh, we must cleave to the truth! And what is the truth?

     God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What does that mean in simple English? In a simple sentence, God is faithful. Yesterday, as in the past... today, as in the future... forever, all eternity... God never changes. Jesus Christ remains the same, my Father, my Lover, my Lord. And His character remains the same.

     Jesus loves me... yesterday, today, and forever.
     Jesus justified me, made me right with Him... yesterday, today, and forever.
    God has forgiven me... yesterday, today, and forever.
     I am covered in the grace of God...yesterday, today, and forever.
     I have been made new in Christ, again, yes, again... yesterday, today, and forever.
     I am an accepted child of God... yesterday, today, and forever.
     I am no longer a slave... yesterday, today, and forever.
     I am wholly free in Jesus Christ... yesterday, today, and forever.
     The love of my Savior destroys my fear... yesterday, today, and forever.
     There is no dirt or impurity left to me... yesterday, today, and forever.
     There is no iota of disgust on the face of Jesus when He looks at me... yesterday, today, and forever.  
     There is no reservation in the love of my Father... yesterday, today, and forever.

     I am His... yesterday, today, and forever. Not grudgingly His, but delightedly His. He is my Father, my Abba, the One who knows my heart and sees me as His child and His love. I am His... yesterday, today, and forever.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

His Grace is Always Sufficient

    When life is hard...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

    When a friend is in pain...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When you don't understand...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When things don't make sense...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When you don't feel His love...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When you don't know how long the storm lasts...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When the struggle is hard...
           ...his grace is sufficient. 

     When faith feels impossible...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

     When the future is uncertain...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

      In everything this world, the devil, or all hell can bring about...
           ...his grace is sufficient.

      His grace is always sufficient. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I am Not Ashamed

    I struggle with my own critical mindedness. In many ways, it's a blessing. I can find fallacies rather quickly, I have learned to think things through quickly and critically, and I've learned to appreciate the truth greatly. I am truly grateful to God that He gave me that part of my personality. However, it comes with certain negative side effects too. My critical mindedness puts me at odds with the vast majority of people I know because as is common when two people think through an issue: I may arrive at a separate conclusion. When the person I arrive at a separate conclusion from is an authority figure or adult in my life, friction develops, and I wind up causing myself a lot of stress because I do question nearly everything (I'm working on eliminating the "nearly" from that sentence).

     The largest issue I see around me that throws me into fits (figuratively speaking, at least I hope...) is that of works vs grace in regard to our status with God. Over and over again, after a hard day or a particular trying incident, I want to pull back and shut up. Other times, I've prayed and in frustration, questioned God as to why He gave me the tendencies He has that put me in opposition against other people I know. The personality I have makes life in many ways harder than it could be if I were not so dead set on questioning constantly.

     But a verse I read tonight from Romans 1 really hit me. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." No eloquent thoughts, I'm afraid, but Paul is pretty straight up.

     The gospel he preached was extremely unpopular in his day, particular among the people he had been well-respected by, the Pharisees and his own family. Knowing that his own father was a Pharisees and his mentor was Gamaliel, when Paul stubbornly held fast to the gospel, he did so in direct contradiction to his own family, his upbringing, his nation, his former friends, and his mentor. Following the gospel, holding true, and determining to publicize the truth of who Jesus was at all costs did indeed cost him everything.

      But he tells us why here. The gospel is worth fighting for! The truth of who God is and what He says is a fight worth having... and it's a fight we shouldn't be ashamed of. Even when it's hard or it means taking a different stance than an authority figure or a friend you've known a long time, the gospel is truth worth standing for.

     I wonder... I don't do this as the application after a sermon time. I truly wonder... am I unashamed of the gospel of Christ? Am I unashamed to stand up and proclaim to the world that I am, in fact, a follower of Christ? Am I unashamed to stand up and identify before other Christians with the truth of what the gospel is and who Christ is, maybe when that means popular dismissal?

     There are days I seriously do wish I had a different personality, one that didn't so furiously pursue questions or demand answers. But at the end of the day, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, not before the world or my Christian peers. The truth is worth standing up for, unashamedly.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Link

    I don't typically post a single link and leave it at that, but tonight... this was a very thought-provoking article for those of you who grew up, like me, in conservative, evangelical (particularly homeschooler) circles. I'm interested in opinions too, so I want some comments. Yes, people, read it, think it through, and leave some thoughts!

http://www.equip.org/article/christian-families-on-the-edge/

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Bible is about...?

     I still remember. It was pouring down rain in Malawi, and with the roads washed out and without power, four young men interested in the ministry sat down with two older pastors with nearly 100 years of experience in the ministry between them to listen to these men's wisdom. I'll never forget the first thing Dr. Gillespe addressed as he talked to us young guys about the ministry.

     His first point was one that the remainder of the afternoon hinged on. He was giving us tips on reading, studying, and exegeting the Bible for the purpose of preaching, and he started off by giving us a very wide concept that was and remains striking to me. That's what I want to talk about here.

     Before I go any further, I just want to ask a simple question. What is the Bible all about? There are a lot of answers for what the Bible is. A revelation of God's will for His creation. A practical manual for living. A wealth of information and wisdom. We could give a lot of answers that have at least an element of truth in them.

     But Dr. Gillespe's statement was clear. "The Bible is a book about God." Short, simple, and clear, but oh what a a world of difference this little concept could make to our evangelical churches, sermons, quiet times, Sunday schools, VBS's, and just home devotions.

      Does the Bible contain knowledge about science, history, and medicine? Does it contain very practical, moral truths for every day life? Does it contain instructional wisdom and information for life? Absolutely! But go to a modern evangelical church today and look at the sermons. "Building better marriages". "Wise spending". "Practical insight for home management".

     But the sad, glaring truth is that I don't need God or the Bible to build a good marriage, manage my money wisely, or use practical common sense in home management; and a step further than that, I don't need God to apply wisdom, even Biblical wisdom to my marriage, my finances, or my home. I am perfectly capable of doing that without the Bible and certainly without God. Muslims, Mormons, cultists, agnostics, and atheists do it all the time.

     The problem with this thinking is that the Bible was never intended to be a practical guide to life. The results of the Bible's teaching can lead us toward good money management, a happy marriage, or a good home life, but that is not the point of the Bible. Reading the Bible as a practical guide to life, while it may lead to a morally upright life, leaves us empty and as good moralistic people, not believers in Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible for practical guidance for life builds legalistic mindsets that focus on our behavior patterns rather than on Jesus Christ.

     If I read the Bible as an instruction book for life, it is about do's and don't's, rules and guidelines, yes and no's. You can find that in the Koran, the Book of Mormon, any number of motivational books, even ancient philosophies. The Bible is not alone in its practical wisdom. It is alone in its unique claims about the character of God. The Bible, though it contains them, is not about practical guidelines. It's about God.

     If I read the Bible as the revelation of God, a book describing God, detailing the character of God, explaining God, revealing God, then the emphasis changes. Rules direct my thinking to me, what I should do, what I should think. Practical guidelines without spiritual or logical grounding lead me to legalism. My starting point in studying the Scriptures must be that the passage I'm reading points me to Christ in some way, shape, or form. In some way, shape, or form, it reveals Him, His character, and His ways, for His ultimate greatness, not mine. In understanding Him more AND falling deeper and deeper into love with Him, I am conformed to his likeness.

     As you read the Bible, keep it constantly in mind that this is a book about God, not about humans. It is a book to reveal His character, His attributes, and His desires for mankind to His greater glory. In studying the central character of the Bible, we realize more and more of the practical and applicable parts of the Bible... but we realize them through the lens of the God I serve rather than the lens of what I need to do to do to please God. It's about the relationship, not the laws. The obedience naturally follows the love; love doesn't necessarily follow the obedience.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Question Authority

    That phrase raised some eyebrows, didn't it? Many of us in conservative circles were told that that was not true. Authorities know more than we do, and because of that, we obey them and we do not rebel by questioning. Yes, I was told that several times. To say anything other than agreement was to rebel.

     Yesterday at a taekwondo tournament I was both a judge and a competitor at, one of the guy's I've coached mom came up to me and asked me a couple questions about procedure and what some of the people running the tournament were thinking when they planned to do this particular thing or bracket these people in this way. I told her that honestly, we judges don't know what's going on, we're just better at pretending we do. I was obviously joking, because in that case I did know what's going on, but there's an element of truth in what I said.

      Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to be an adult so you could do whatever you wanted? Or even as a teen you couldn't wait til you were older so you would beat that temptation or defeat that struggle? Remember how disappointing it was when you looked up and realized that that's not how it worked? Maybe you became an adult, maybe something else opened your eyes, but you realized that, "Hey, I'm an adult, and I'm still really, really confused."

     We've heard the talks, whether they about church authorities or parents or particular church speakers or a courtship girl's dad. We've heard them talked about as if they're miniature gods sometimes, with special insight from heaven and greater wealths of knowledge. I've gotten my share of lectures of even asking questions of those in authority when they make a statement.

     Seeing a bumper sticker that said, "Question authority" got me thinking earlier this week. Is that a sentiment that I as a Christian young man should consider good, because it certainly describes my life. I have been told I question everything, and I honestly can't argue with that synopsis. I truly do question everything, and I intend to continue doing so.

     One particular passage stuck out to me in thinking this over. Acts 17:11 says, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." 

     It's a very interesting verse. One message is clear from this: the Bereans were concerned about truth. They were very eager to hear this new teaching from Paul; literally excited to hear this truth. But, they didn't blindly accept something coming from the formerly respected son of a Pharisee and student of Gamaliel or the present day apostle. They immediately took the message of this respected speaker and turned back to Scripture to check about what he said, and since Luke knew about it to write, it apparently was no secret. It wasn't hidden that they were double checking what Paul said.

     Paul's response to that is maybe not what we would expect from a respected church leader based on how I've been addressed after asking questions and so on in my circles. He calls them "noble-minded" for doing this. Here they are being questioning of him and he's pleased about it!

     True leadership doesn't mind questions, even hard questions, most of the time even challenging questions. Blind followers are for cults, not Christianity. So as believers, we should be actively pursuing what the apostle Paul commended in the Berean church; that is, actively holding ourselves and our authorities to the Word of God, not blindly swallowing what they tell us. We are accountable for our beliefs, and blindly believing our church authorities, our parents, or our friends is, to state bluntly, inexcusable.

     Question authority. That's not to say defy it or rebel against it (though questioning it will sometimes lead us to do those things if necessary). But asking questions in pursuit of truth is NEVER wrong, particularly if we look for those answers from the Bible. Never be bullied into silence or complacency.

     

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Crawl

    I remember the times my Christian walk was like a jog, a run, or a full-on sprint. Times I grew by leaps and bounds, times I had questions, ideas, and theories daily. I remember those times like times of spring and summer, like sunlight. I remember them vividly, individual places I was when I thought of this idea that altered my life or that theory that shaped my thinking or what not.

     Other times, my life truly is a walk. It's a steady, progressing walk, not quick, not remarkably, but constant and moving. I'm not sitting still, I am following Christ and I'm learning... but other stuff gets in the way and it's hard to go on sometimes.

     But then, there's the times where even a day at a time, it's a struggle. No, the struggle isn't to wrestle with deep philosophies and theological concepts. The struggle is to just put one foot in front of the other and trust in the goodness of God. Some days, the stepping is just too hard. Tonight, I can't even step. All I can do is crawl.

     I remember running through the sunlight of new ideas and new theories of my faith... and now I'm crawling through the dark and the mist of the grittiness of my faith when it meets the real circumstances of life. When the theories cease to interest and the trust ceases to amaze, and it's all we can do to slide forward another inch without collapsing and screaming at God, "Why?!"

     Come to think of it, maybe collapsing and screaming "why?!" is part of the journey. Maybe it's not the exception... maybe it's not the time when I rally don't grow. Maybe, contrary to my first thoughts, just maybe, this is where God grows me the most. Because here, in the dark, without the sun and without the light, is where I learn the hardest concept in Christianity: blind faith.

     There's faith and then there's blind faith. Maybe we all use a measure of faith to believe anything we do about anything we didn't personally witness, whether it be evolution or creation, historical data, or archeological finds. But there's times when the evidence and the feelings of my heart scream in my face that God doesn't know, He doesn't understand, He doesn't care... and that is when faith ceases to be enough, and we're forced into the arms of blind faith.

     I can't trust God when I'm trudging forward in the mud, a step, a slide at a time, based on evidence and theories. This isn't a time for jauntily debating with a friend the complexities of God's sovereignty or the meaning and sufficiency of the atonement (though those times do exist). This is the time for me to cling with blind faith to Christ as I crawl along the Christian life.

     Heaven will be full of saints with a worn robes in the front from the time spent in the dark, prostrate on the ground, done, with just enough strength to take that next push forward. Heaven will be full of the scarred, the beaten down, the bruised, the survivors... the ones who didn't jog their way to heaven or coolly whistle their journey toward Christ. It's full of the sinners and the failures and the exhausted and the ones who struggle to take one. more. step.

     "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?' I said to him, 'My lord, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

     We have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. That is who we are. Yeah, those of us who struggle. The failures? The ones who get bested sometimes, who get lonely, who feel loss? Those of us who sin? Those of us who fall short? Us?

     Yes, us. We are the they who are clothed in white robes, who have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! And I want to raise my voice to a victory shout when I say that, because we have no washed them to a dinghy gray or a creamy ivory, almost clean, but not quite. No, have washed them white! Pure. Clean. Perfect. New. Justified. Spotless.

     Sometimes the journey is a crawl. We don't have the strength to run or jog or even walk. But we serve a God who sees us and makes us pure, clean, and perfect before Him, even in our journey. It's not too long or too hard. It's not too much. Even in the darkness, the hard times, He is there... and He is enough. He is always enough.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why Did Jesus Come to Die?

     As a kid, I remember asking my dad why God had to come to die in order to take the punishment for our sins when He wrote the rules for what the punishment for sin was going to be. His response was that that was just how God did it (probably in part because I was too young to understand any more complex answer), but then, as now, "just because" is an answer I hate. I want a reason for why a rule is in place or a belief is taught. In this case, I wasn't satisfied with God wrote the rules that way "just because".

     Think about it for a moment if you never have. Why did Jesus come to die? Well, to take the punishment for our sin and to make us righteous. But why did He have to die that way in order to do that? Because the Bible says only with the shedding of blood is there forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:21). Generally, that is where the conversation stops, even in church circles. But that was never enough for me. Because quite literally, God wrote the rules. If God had said it took four yellow petunias offered while standing on your head in Denver on April 5 to forgive sins, He could have. So because God wrote the rules, there should be one more why in our line of questioning: why did God make it that way?

     I remember asking my dad that, and again, the answer was "He just did", which was probably as much as my young intellect could handle at the time. But I think it's a valid question. Why did God write the rules that way? The way it's taught far too often in our churches and our VBS's, God is the cosmic victim of His own system. Before you start taking issue with that, think of how often you've heard it said this way.

    "Adam and Eve sinned, so they had to die, because sin brings death. (Again, did none of us ever wonder why God designed the world in such a way that sin would enter it and thus bring death when he could have left the tree of the knowledge of good and evil out of the garden and thus left the world without it?) So in order for them to become right with Him, God had to send someone perfect (again, God's rule) to die (also God's rule). The only perfect one was Jesus, so Jesus came to die for us..."

     But do you see what we just did? God just became the victim of His own rule system. God builds a system, man screws it up, and because God loves us so much, He becomes the victim of the system in order to save us. Poor God. The rules were against Him, so He had to find a loophole in order to save us.

    That idea (and thus what is far too commonly taught) is utterly nonsensical in that it leaves out God's complete omniscience, to say nothing of His sovereignty. If God in distant time past knew Adam and Eve would sin, why did He make the rules so hard? Why did He draw such a rigorously high standard someone had to fulfill? Why did it have to be blood and death? Could it be like... saliva? Or, I don't know, your right pinkie finger? He wrote the rules, so why make it so chillingly agonizing?

     If you've never thought about this before, take a second before reading further and think about it. God wrote the rules that drove Him to the cross. He is the One who instituted that blood had to be shed. This wasn't a cosmic rule somewhere that God had to conform to; God came up with the rules, rules that would ultimately result in a tortuous death of His Son, and He knew it when He wrote them. Why? Think of your answer in your head, because I could only think of one.

     He did so, in my opinion and if you have an alternate one, please leave a comment and let me know, in order to make plain, obvious, and irrefutable the vastness of His love for His creation. He could have forgiven our sins with a word, right? He's all-powerful! But no, He didn't. He chose to become the greatest, most brutal picture ever. He chose to personify love through His own bloody, gruesome substitution... that He designed from before time.

     Remember when Revelation says that the One who opens the scroll is a "Lamb as though He had been slain"? Jesus is identified as "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" in 1 Pet. 1:20. So the death of Jesus Christ is seen and even considered accomplished before the creation of the world. Clearly, Jesus' death is not God's secondary plan in response to man's screwing up his initial Plan A. The death of Jesus was in fact God's initial plan, the culmination of the system He brought into being.

     Rather than forgive us through words or our own deeds or anything else, God chose to forgive us through His own sacrifice and in so doing, show us beyond a shadow of a doubt His enormous, individual love for His creation. This was not His secondary plan or his reaction to mankind's failure, but His original plan from the beginning of time. He would create a race who would become hopelessly separated from Himself... in order to give Himself as the greatest sacrifice and greatest symbol of love the world has ever seen or will ever see.

     When you look at the cross, this is the culmination of eternity past. It's not a knee-jerk reaction to mankind's failure. It was the plan of God to demonstrate undeniable love by saving us through the most brutal, agonizing means possible, showing just how deep and abiding His desire for us was, and glorifying Himself through that. When you see the cross, it's not just ordinary love. It is quite literally the greatest love the world has or ever will see. And if we are partakers in that cross, then we are beneficiaries of that love.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Knocked Down

     I remember it well. It had all happened so fast... the guy I was competing against had come over the top of my kick and caught me with a hard right hook to the nose that sent me to the mat. I'm a light fighter, so knocking me down isn't generally too hard. But this time, my world went black for a moment before I hit the ground, and I could already feel the blood welling up in my nostrils.

     I remember somebody trying to help me up and knocking his hand away cause I could already feel the blood coming from my nose. It was bleeding, a lot. My head hurt, and I already knew I was losing the fight. But I still remember the referee walking over leaning over me and saying those words, "Do you want to continue?" I remember my coach asking how much time was left on the clock. And I still remember what went through my mind and what came out of my mouth.

     My mind thought, "There's no way you can win this fight. This guy is beating you every which way you can turn. His legs are longer, he's kicking harder, he's kicking higher, he's faster... no way." My mouth, very rebelliously, said, "Heck, yeah." I don't use that word often, but it did kinda slip out in the adrenaline high of the moment.

    
    In the Bible, we meet a great warlord named David. We meet this ancient warrior as a teenager, a sheepherder. Yet even as a sheepherder, we see the seeds of his raw courage and great strength. When a lion steals a lamb, this teenage David does not run for his father's servants. He runs after the lion and kills it personally. When a bear steals a lamb, David does not carry the story home so his dad can deal with it. He personally chases the bear down and kills it. This is a teenager I wouldn't want to mess with.

     Just a few short years later, we meet still teenage David standing in a valley, facing a 9 foot tall giant of a man... and David does precisely what we'd expect of a lion-slaying, bear-bashing warrior: he knocks the giant down and cuts his head off with his own sword. Seriously, it's hard to get any more epic than killing the giant with his own sword and then holding up his bloodied head for your and his army to see. It's impossible not to look pretty downright scary in that pose.

     We see the warrior mature into a trusted officer until we hear women surrounded the road that he travels on the way back from his victories, singing, "Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands." I think I've made my point. David is a tough guy, a strong, able warrior, a soldier who literally has thousands of warriors who have died at his hands. But I'm not done describing him yet.

     This David is set up by his prospective father-in-law, baiting David with his love for Saul's daughter, Michal (hmm, none of us have ever heard of over-zealous fathers now, have we? :), tempting him out to do battle in order to see him killed. David beats the odds, killing twice the number of Philistines necessary for him to win his lady-love. This dude is... well, tough. One more step... when David is finally chased out of the capital, he soon gathers a group of rough criminals, men on the run for their lives. These men rally around David and make him their leader. Picture a gang... when was the last time you saw a gang of men choose a scholarly looking dude with glasses and thick books as their leader?

      David was the toughest of the tough. He was a bloody man, a warrior who killed thousands of men. A fearsome warlord, a hard leader, at times a tyrant, a murderer, a rough man.

     "I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears, I drench my couch with weeping." Yes, this was the same guy. The same man who walked into a valley against a raging giant with just a leather sling and mocks him, taunting him before the world, is the same man who writes that he can literally wring water from his bed at night from the sorrow and darkness of his heart.

     If you ever thought it was a sign of weakness to feel darkness, despair, or weakness, I hope that thought just got blown out of the water. It's a sign of humanity that even the strongest, boldest men can experience. The pain is real. The pain is palpable. And that's okay. We get knocked down. We find solace in the darkness; or more frequently, we find more loneliness there. We know the smell of the mat and the feel of blood, our blood. We know the crush of defeat sometimes.

     I won the fight that day. It was my glove that was raised at the end of that match. My face and uniform were still bloodsplattered, I was sore, I was weak, but I won. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't all fun. It was pain and fear and blood and sweat.

     Something, something gets us through those dark times. Something gets us back off the mat. Something makes us look up at life beating us bloody and say, "Heck, yeah, I'm getting back up." Something makes us stand back up, knowing we'll get hit again and again, knowing we'll get knocked down again.

     "Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning." You remember camping as a kid, particularly without a tent? Every noise, every rustling leaf, every shadow, every movement is a bear a pack of wolves, or a sasquatch. Or possibly an ax murderer. But worse... the night lasts forever. It is a scientifically proven fact that nights spent outside in the woods without a tent last an average of 12 hours longer than a night inside a house.

     The night lasts forever! Every noise, ever sound in the wakeful silence jerks our sleepless open again. It never ends. But morning! You remember that first ray of dawn that topped the hills or cut through the trees around you? You remember how eagerly you peered at it, checking and doublechecking to see if you were seeing the real thing?

     And you remember how the pack of wolves turned into a pair of chipmunks, and the fearsome sasquatch became a raccoon passing through camp? When the night is over, the light dawns with all its awe and splendor, giving us the warmth, the light, the hope that we need to keep going, to feel safety, to know hope.

     There will be sadness. But there will be a morning! There will be a shout, a sound of victory, of hope, of joy! If we endure the darkness and the night, the morning is there! If we pull ourselves off the mat, if we wipe the blood on our sleeves and tighten our gloves and reset our mouthguards, we can make it. We can make it through the night... and the morning waits.

     There will be a morning. There will be a morning. Oh, no doubt, the night is dark and foreboding. There is sorrow there, none will argue. But when the night is over, the victory of the light and the sun is clearly seen, flooding our lives with hope and strength to continue on. Hold on for the morning, friend. Get back up, stay strong, and hold on for the morning!