Monday, August 31, 2009

Judges

So I read Judges today. Yep, all of Judges. What a strange book. It's like the people of Israel need a flashing neon sign at all times telling them that God is with them because the second after His appointed leaders die, all hell breaks loose, and the Israelites start "doing evil in the sight of the Lord" like it's their job. By far, the most important thing I learned from this most interesting book is God's love of using messed up people to accomplish His will. If you don't know the background to Judges, then let me lay it out for you.

Israel has successfully entered the promised land, and Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses croaks, decides it's high time to kick the proverbial bucket as well; leaving Israel without a true leader. No worries though, as long as they continue to worship God they'll be fine. Not a problem right? And this is where we start seeing how incredibly thick we as humans are. Idol worship ensues, as does mixing with other non-Jewish cultures after "unsuccessfully" (they didn't even try) driving them out like they were suppose to. The story goes downhill from there, fast, so God (because He is just and hates evil) allows the surrounding countries to defeat and oppress them. Then God, in His compassion, hears the cries of His oppressed people and raises up from among them a hero (Judge) who will lead them in battle and keep their enemies in fear. The Judge frees Israel, and they rejoice in God until their hero dies. Then BAM, like they hit a fricken spiritual brick wall they immediately slide back into idolatry and immorality. God allows them to be conquered again, and again saves them from their anguish by using a Judge. Their reverence for Yahweh again lasts only as long as the life of their war leader, and the process starts over again and again and again and again (etc.).

My fascination with the stupidity of the people is only eclipsed by my astonishment of the personalities God chose to raise up as leaders. Gideon was a wimpy polygamist who needed so much reassurance (miraculous signs) from God that he was going to be victorious that it practically wiped out any level of faith the man may have had. Also at the end of his life he set up several idols to other Gods much to his discredit. Perhaps the best known Judge, Samson, did just about nothing righteous. He slept with prostitutes, was married to a woman who tried to kill him three times before succeeding, and the one "Godly" act he did was done in disobedience. The time when the Holy Spirit was upon him, and he killed 1000 Philistines, he did so by grabbing the jaw-bone of a dead donkey, which explicitly went against God's commandment to the Jews to not touch dead things. God chose to empower this guy as he was in the process of disobeying Him. He payed for it though. His eyes were gouged out, and he was turned into Philistine party entertainment. With his final prayer, he asked God to give him the strength to bring the structure down. Whether or not taking out 3000 Philistines while you kill yourself (as Samson did) can be considered a righteous act is up for grabs.

One doesn't have to just read Judges to find this trend. David (the man after God's own heart) was a bloodthirsty, adulterous, unstable, murderer; Jonah (one of the first missionaries) was a vengeful legalist; Abraham (the Knight of Faith) tried to sell his wife for his life twice; all the disciples were cowards and morons; Paul was a persecutor of the saints; Jeremiah was a whiner; Moses was a stuttering murderer; in fact, most of the people who have more than a brief mention in the Bible have major flaws. And yet, God uses them. Over and over he delights in taking what is broken and turning it into a shining light for the glory of His name. Over and over he uses incredibly flawed people to accomplish His heavenly aims. He consistently brings Himself glory in His incredible redeeming nature. Ultimately sending His son to perish on a cross, crushing Him with the sin of those He has chosen to forgive.

So I ask you, what are your darkest sins? The ones you nestle deep within you and pray nobody ever stumbles across. Think of your blackest and sickest moment. The moment when the sin you fight the hardest won its greatest victory against you and managed to drag you down into the most loathsome pit you've ever been in. The moment you can only think back on in shame, weakness, and overwhelming guilt. Visualizing it? That very moment, the one you are the most ashamed of, is the very moment Christ died for you. It was that very sin that He bore on the cross that day. In that instant it was your turn to hear the words of your Savior softly whisper, "The price of sin is death, and you had a price to pay. I payed it. You are forgiven." I pray today that you would believe that. That you would know the cross to be sufficient enough to cover your transgressions. That you would not hide from God out of shame and fear. Take heart, for there is no condemnation for you!

However, God is not satisfied with merely forgiving you. No, He wants so much more for you than just that. He wants to use your life in His ongoing saga of redemption and grace. Yeah, you may believe yourself to be a broken, miserable, sad excuse for a human being... just God's favorite kind.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Healthy Disposition

The passage isn't preached very often. Indeed it is not one you use to grow your church with by any means. In fact, if you DO cover this story be prepared to have a bit more seating in your church the next week. Because I have no fear of "attendance", today's post will cover an event that is mentioned in all four gospels to varying degrees of detail. However, the lesson it holds flies in the face of much popular "Christian" reasoning.

John the Baptist was a man set apart for the gospel. His existence was prophesied in the Old Testament which foretold a "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path's straight.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5) Gabriel, the divine messenger of God, payed his father a visit in order to announce his birth. He was born of a women who was "advanced in years," well past the time of her life where she should have been naturally able to bear children. He lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and honey, and his preaching captured the attention of thousands. While baptizing Jesus, he heard the audible voice of God proclaim Jesus to be the Father's Son. All in all, this man was obedient to God in every aspect of his life that we know of. He denied himself in every way, and his very existence totally depended on God. Jesus Himself referred to His forerunner as "the greatest among those born of women." (Luke 7:28) And here comes the tricky part.

Shortly after he baptized Jesus, he was thrown in jail by Herod for speaking out against Herod's adultery with Herod's brother's wife. The long dark days and nights in those cells did a number on John's steadfast faith, and he began to have doubts. Being the good spiritual leader that he was, he doubted his doubts instead of giving into them, and he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if "he is the one who is to come, or if they should expect another." (Luke 7:20) Jesus responds by using several prophecies from Isaiah about the coming Messiah. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Luke 7:22-23) The first thing we should learn from this is that sometimes having doubts while we walk with God is okay. If the greatest man in history had doubts, it's only logical that we can too. Jesus certainly did not scold him. The second lesson is much tougher.

The list that Jesus gives them to recite back to John has a glaring and prophetic omission in it. Jesus purposely leaves out one of the Isaiah prophecies, "and the imprisoned go free." John was in the darkest moment of his life, a miracle life that had been completely devoted to the Lord, and he wasn't going to get out of his situation alive. A little while after receiving Jesus' answer, he was dragged out of the prison and up to a party room where he was publicly beheaded as a drunken gift from Herod to his daughter-in-law. In this life, following Jesus did not work out well for him. Prosperity gospel preachers (in particular) will NEVER touch this passage, and this isn't the only one they'll steer clear of. The bible never promises that all will go well for you in this life if you follow its advice. In fact, it doesn't take more than a skim reading of Paul to realize that he does everything but promise the opposite. You WILL have a hard time in this life if you truly give it to Christ.

Every disciple except for John, the one Jesus loved, met a violent and brutal end at the hands of the people they were trying to save, and John himself died in exile. Stephan's last breath was used to beg God's forgiveness for the men who were stoning him. Paul suffered hardships, floggings, stonings, cold nights, hungry days, ship wrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and in the end was beheaded in Rome. These were men who were entirely devoted to God; who gave every aspect of their lives for his cause, and they were murdered after living penniless and pain-filled existences. (I have yet to even mention the fact that the Savior we follow died an excruciating death after a hard life.) Most of us don't face these kinds of struggles today, but most of us will face dark and troubling times. Where then do we get this prevalent idea that life will be pleasant for us if we follow God, and why, when our lives go awry, do we feel anger or resentment towards God for our trouble? Why do a good number of "Christians" listen to this Prosperity gospel bull-crap when life shows itself to be contrary to the message preached?

To answer my own questions, its a heart issue. We still don't believe that we have wicked hearts. Ultimately we don't believe that we all deserve Hell. We don't believe that God, in His mercy, is offering us a way out of our unpayable debt. We seem to think that we're mostly good people, and we're doing God some sort of favor by responding to His message of salvation. Therefore, since we're being gracious enough to give our lives to God, it's expected that He should be so kind as to give us what we think will make us happy. Here's the truth: He doesn't need you. He doesn't need me. He has every right to do whatever He wishes to any of us at any point in time for He is sovereign and He is just. You're not here to live in "health, wealth, and happiness," you're here to glorify God with every breath. Luckily though, that's what will ultimately give us the most fulfillment and joy throughout the course of our lives and beyond. He has our eternal well-being in mind. Often times, we just can't see the bigger picture.

"Pick up your cross, and follow Me." - Jesus

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Valley of the Shadow

(I'm going to preface this post by stating that it is for believers.) I'm sure you've heard it. If you attend any Christian conference or are apart of any Christian organization long enough you get what I like to call "the testimony." A man stands up front and begins to unravel a tale of woe. He was addicted to fifteen different drugs. He was sleeping around with twenty-three different ladies. He lived for drinking and partying six of the seven days of the week, and on the seventh, he felt empty and was contemplating suicide. Then, suddenly, Jesus found him in as miraculous a way as was possible, and he irresistibly gave his life to the Lord. That was the last time he ever sinned. The cravings for drugs, the suicidal depression, the overwhelming lust, the cry for human admiration, it all died away instantly. Now he reads the bible five times a day and always gets something out of it, God's call in his life is as clear as day, and his miraculous healing will always stand there as a testimony to his miraculous faith. After his uplifting speech, he flies off the stage and back to his seat.

As strange as this may sound, these testimonies always made me feel worse. I've been a Christian three times as long as that sucker, where are my wings? Why am I still hopelessly entrenched in an often losing battle with the same sins that plagued me the day I was redeemed? What a load of crap. A load of wordy, uplifting, feel-good crap. Because that NEVER happens. Oh sure, God might rescue you from a certain sin the moment He saves your soul. However, that isn't what happens to most people. Here's something you won't usually hear from church people, progressive sanctification happens horrifically slow and is immensely painful and/or dull. Instant sanctification, on the other hand, is a lie for those who still dwell among the living. The people who tell these "testimonies" usually act like the conversion was the end of a long and difficult journey; the hard truth is that the conversion actually marks the beginning, not the end, of the difficulties.

Just once I want to have someone stand up front and say, "You know, I've been a Christian all my life. I accepted Christ earnestly at a young age, but each moment is a struggle. Every day I have to fight for intimacy with my savior. Every single day is a tiring battle with the darkness I hide inside my soul. A fight to shine the light on the wickedness that is so much an ingrained part of me, so that my God can continue to painfully cut it out of me and replace it with Himself. Every second of the day from the moment I wake up to the time I lay my head on my pillow at night I am forced to consciously choose to die to myself. I feel unworthy most of the time. I fail so often that many times I've just wanted to give up, but I press on in the future hope I have that one day I will be free of the sin that I can't seem to kill. The one that consistently controls me, lurks in the shadows of my heart, and drags me into its clutches the moment I let my guard down. I long to be free of it, and my God has promised to sanctify me. I trust Him, but the meantime has been no moonlight picnic."

And Jesus understands this truth. Day by day we have to come to God admitting that we have nothing to offer Him for his grace, but "blessed are the poor in spirit." Moment by moment with have to, with God's help, continually struggle to put to death the flesh and seek his face, but "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." And moment by moment we have to cry out to God and mourn the fact that we are a broken and terrible mess and that we cannot fix ourselves, but "blessed are those who weep" and "blessed are the meek." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psalms 51:17)

If you ever come to the point where you feel like you're at the end of your spiritual rope, like God is just out of your reach, you are not only still a loved and cherished child of your heavenly Father, but you are exactly where He wants you to be, and the work He began in you, He will carry to completion. If you slip and fall along the way, you are not a condemned sinner, you are a saint who sins. Remember, you are the beloved of God. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue to follow hard after your God wherever He is leading you. Fear not, for He will never let you go, and although there might be a great deal of pain involved, the most secure place you could ever be is in the center of His plan for your life. There is no easy way, there is no fast track, and there is rarely any instant gratification. Obtaining the joy set before you will be a vicious struggle the whole way. Keep your head up, dig in, and hold on.

"Oh God, my hands are shaking again! Calm down, calm down. Now I can't feel the floor, and my vision takes its toll on me. I'm the desperate, and You're the Savior. I'm the desperate, and You're the Savior. Oh God, it's racing through my veins! I'm afraid there must be some kind of mistake. Oh, I'm in over my head again! Reach in and grab a hold of me! I'm so scared that I've started to slip! They say that I'll never change. I'll prove them wrong, prove them wrong. I hear the calling, but it's passing through. Clean me up, show me how to live. Tear me down, let me start again." - underOATH

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From the Heart

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin. Quite a churchy word ain't it? One can barely attend a service these days without hearing it dropped in some context. In fact, being the second of the spiritual laws, one should presumably never attend a service where it's not at least hinted at. The death of humanity. The curse upon us all. But what exactly is it? What exactly is sin? Sin is anything contrary to God's nature, or, put another way, anything that fails to bring Glory to God. Just as our actions can't ever save us, our actions don't really condemn us either. Our blatantly wicked heart does that.

For that is where sin really resides, inside us all. Godless actions themselves, although they are commonly referred to as "sins", are actually just the outward manifestations of the evil within. Sin is the beast lurking in the heart of every human being that has walked this earth save one. It is the glue that would have us attach ourselves to anything but God. Anything. This can range from blatant immorality to more mundane activities that don't focus on God. Even good and beautiful things can be corrupted. If a mother loves her child more than her creator, that is sin. If a man loves his country more than his God, that is sin. Perhaps the deadliest forms of sins are the things that humanity would consider worthy passions. The attribute that makes these types of sins so deadly is how pure they may appear on the outside. Motherly/Fatherly love, loyalty, apologetics, charitable works, (etc) all of the examples you can think of can be a beautiful form of worship to the Creator, but if they fail to be done for His glory, they end up being greater evils than lust, murder, stealing, and lying. At least with the latter sins there should be a piercing sense of guilt and shame that can reveal to the perpetrator the evil inside themself. A heart that worships something deemed honorable is harder to turn. Indeed some of the blackest, hardest, and hopelessly lost of all hearts haven't missed a Sunday Church Service or Bible Study in as long as anyone can remember. Lucifer was one of (if not the) greatest and most beautiful of God's angels. The greater the potential for glorifying God, the greater the demon it produces when it goes astray.

The general idea behind these thoughts is that the Lord is so glorious, so beautiful, magnificent, and fulfilling that it is a blatant fallacy not to worship Him with every moment and aspect of our lives. The creator of this Universe, the orchestrator of all time, the author and perfecter of saving faith, the almighty Three-in-One, the giver of eternal life (etc. ad infinitium) such an impressive resume demands praise; endless, perfect, self-abandoning praise. But who can do that? Absolutely no one. Most people spend their lives completely absorbed with themselves, and even those who praise God once in awhile have their praise rejected. God desires (and is worthy to have) only the purest of lips belonging to the holiest of hearts sing His praises, and people who care about anything more than God are blaspheming God by even insinuating His existence much less praising Him. If you praise God loudly in church, but care about something more than Him, then how much more prolifically your life sings the praises of your real desire.

The answer? Reliance upon the death of Jesus Christ to give us the holiness of heart necessary to pray to and effectively praise God and the interceding of the Holy Spirit before God on our behalf. It is the Spirit that allows us to speak to the Father openly and creates in us an all consuming desire for His will. "What is God's will?" you ask. That He be exulted and glorified above all that He has created. That He would be our sole purpose, anchor, desire, and love for the rest of our lives. He is certainly deserving of such. Indeed, we can sing His praises for the rest of all eternity and never begin to glorify Him as much as He deserves. Thankfully, He's going to give us the opportunity to try.

"All glory to the One in Existence. Bring upon Your name, Your grace, Your everything!
All glory to the One in Existence. Bring upon Your name, Your grace, Your everything!
Tombstones serve as mirrors and the graves are infinite.
Take a look through the lens and through your eyes.
End the partitioning." - The Devil Wears Prada

Friday, July 17, 2009

Of Faith and Works

Ok, so I was going to title this post "The Futility of Human Effort Verses The Futility of Deficient Faith," but that would have been an obnoxious mouthful, not that I in any way have a qualm against obnoxious mouthfuls. Indeed I find them quite entertaining and incredibly humorous. However, as I'm writing a blog post and not a dissertation, I'll stick with the easier to swallow title. Faith verses works. Belief verses actions. Grace verses human effort. However you want to phrase it, the tension between the two has been a prevalent one throughout church history and even today. The purpose for the debate is easy to see. Even if I were to pull two passages from the bible (giving no context):

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

It would appear that even the bible contradicts itself on these two points. However, as I am a strict inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God guy, I'm about to give some clarifying context. When Paul was talking to the Ephesians in the first verse, he was going against a widespread belief (even in our world today) that our actions can save us. That we can somehow, by our good or religious deeds, build a bridge to God. Manifestations of this include (but are not limited to): walking old ladies across the street, giving money to charity, going to church every week, not swearing, abstaining from premarital sex, sobriety, becoming a pastor, etc. etc. etc. Do these things all the time, Paul argues, and you will still wind up seperated from God for eternity in the next life. Deeds do not take away the sin for which God is judging us, and one sin against an infinite God is an infinite trespass. Sin equals death, therefore it takes the death of an infinitely pure person (Jesus Christ) to atone for just one (and thankfully all) sin(s). And anyway, God sees our "good-works" without Him as us glorifying ourselves, and that He will not have. Paul's point then: Futile are actions as a way to make atonement with God.

James, on the other hand, is asking his readers to honestly check the sincerity of their salvation. If someone truly places their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to free themselves from sin, gain salvation, and turn their body into a new temple of the Holy Spirit, how can they not have a logical outflow of good deeds in their lives? James was telling his readers that if they believe Jesus is God, or even proclaim Him as their savior, but they do not see any works in their lives to back up what they say, they are no more saved than demons. Demons also believe in God and proclaim Christ as Messiah, but they shudder at and despise the fact. James' point then: Non-existent is the faith where good works are non-existent. This is a dire warning to anyone who calls themselves Christian. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of pretending your saved because of your belief if it has had no impact on your life. Without works, your faith is dead.

Finding the balance between works and faith is key in my day-to-day walk with Christ. Stray to far towards faith, and I end up producing little fruit and doing nothing with the gifts that God has given me. My friends go unwitnessed to, and my walk becomes all about me. Stray to far towards works, and I lose sight of God's grace in my selfish ambition to wrack up as many "spiritual points" as I can (attending church, leading a bible study, discipling some guy well, spending # hours reading my bible, being an all around "nice guy", etc.) and then using these points to make myself believe God owes me something or other, which only leads me into frustration because He rarely plays by my rules. Also, works based salvation causes me to be prideful. I start measuring my own works against others and scaling my walk with God based on how frequent these actions are occurring, forgetting that it's by God's grace alone that I am saved.

To bring it back to you, the reader. How do you measure your daily walk with God? Whether or not you got your quiet time in today? How much you give to the Lord financially? How many Sunday church services you've attended in a row? Whether or not you've shared your faith? Do you ever find yourself feeling like you (or another) are more or less spiritual based on these actions? Then you are living in a works based mindset and need to remind yourself that it's not about you, and it never was. What Christ began in you He will carry to completion. It's not on you to be more or less spiritual. On the flipside, do you ever do any of these activities at all? If the answer is "no", then I have a serious warning to give you that you have probably not recieved the grace of God. It will change your life.

In conclusion, actions are completely unnecessary for salvation, but they prove the presence of the faith required for salvation.

"Complexity haunts me, for I am two men
Entrenched in a battle that I'll never win.
My discipline fails me. My knowledge it fools me,
But You are my shelter, all the strength that I need." - dc Talk

Monday, July 13, 2009

Within a Yard of Hell

In light of my Law Posts, I thought I would use this post to explain a little something we Christians are known to do. You've probably experienced this once or twice (or more) in your lifetime, and if you haven't, you are definitely due. "What is the 'this'," you ask. Pointing out how vague that last sentence was. The "this" is evangelism: the full frontal assault on your worldview that we Christians seem to enjoy doing so much. Why can't we just hang out in church like we're suppose to and leave the rest of the world alone? Why must we challenge what you believe in such an arrogant fashion? I mean, come on, "the one, absolute, universal truth about reality"? Who do we think that we are? At least there are some respectable Christians who know where their opinions matter and keep their dogmas to themselves, like "so-and-so", he never confronts anyone about his Jesus.

Guess what? I'm going to make the bold statement that it is a very unlikely that "so-and-so" is really a Christian at all, either that or he hates you. Let me explain. How can "so-and-so" have fully grasped the helpless and hopeless situation he was pulled from by the all-consuming love of God and not be changed by it? If he truly believed that he was saved from the depths of hell by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ his risen Lord and Savior, how could you as his friend have heard nothing about it from him? You who are on the very same path that he "believes" he was rescued from. Why would he stay silent instead of telling you what should be the absolute most important thing in his life? If he truly believes it, that is.

Imagine an associate of yours is walking across the road and was about to be run over by a truck, how much would you have to hate that person to not push him out of the oncoming trajectory of that many tons of steel? Or at least say something to him like, "Hey, look out for that rolling metallic object"? In the same way, a true Christian looks out at the world through God's eyes. Souls. Billions of souls that need to hear the message that could save them from something far worse than any death this world has to offer, and yet so many Christians keep silent. Why? Fear of man? If you truly believe that God is everything He said that He is, (the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the source of all knowledge, power, goodness, strength, beauty, and wisdom, the creator of this universe) how can you still fear man? Man can do NOTHING to you. My guess is that if you claim to be a Christian but have never shared your faith, you have a very limited view of who my God really is and what He can accomplish in and through you, or, you are really just another face in a world headed for destruction. I'd say a lost soul Satan has cleverly disguised to look like a Christian.

It doesn't matter how much you know about the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, or all the various rituals based off that. What you need to know is that God came to His creation in the form of a man, and He died as a propitiation for your sins (He took the punishment you deserved) in order to glorify Himself by showing you infinite grace in light of your infinite trespass. How can you fully believe this and do/say/signal nothing to the people beside you? How can you give no effort to save even those closest to you?

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20)

In light of what I (and more importantly Jesus) have said, as Christians, we are called to be full time missionaries. I'm not talking exclusively about the overseas kind although that very well could be where you end up if you truly believed that God was your all-in-all and gave your life to him. I'm talking about your day to day lives. You should be telling your friends/neighbors/co-workers/everyone about the hope that you have in Christ. Not in a judgmental or condescending way, mind you, but in a loving and compassionate way, realizing that if you did not have Christ in your life you would be in the exact same spot they are, on a path to eternal separation from God. Stating as the martyr John Bradford once famously did, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

That's why we go to the ends of the earth. That's why we assault people with our worldview. That's why an average of 171,000 Christians are martyred worldwide every year (I didn't make this up, check it out yourself). Because we have been given a direct order from our Lord, one that should have been a logical outflow in the first place. That is why we plant our feet firmly at the gates of hell, spread our arms wide in the face of the oncoming masses, and hope that God gives us the strength to save those that He allows to stray into our fragile arms. Being a Christian is not safe, but in the same sense it's more fulfilling and secure than anything I had ever dreamed it would be when I gave Him every aspect of my life so many years ago. If you haven't, try it. Just try it, I'm begging you.

"Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." - C.T. Studd

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It's About Time

Death is a point in all our lives that we are rushing towards at unbelievable velocity. Our lives are but a vapor in the grand scheme of things, and it will soon arrive: The moment of truth, the point of no return, the true final frontier. The second in your life where you will honestly look back and ask yourself if what you really did mattered at all. What was your goal? What was your highest priority? Did you spend your time on yourself or others? Did you matter at all?

Of all the gifts that we as the human race have been granted, our most precious by far is time. With time you have the opportunity to pursue every other goal. With time you can make a difference. With time you can search out who you are. With time you can make the choices that will change not only your own life but others around you as well and believe it or not, we are constantly hurtling through this resource at the speed of light, and it's not an infinite supply. As hard as it may be for you to put this thought in your head (I have trouble wrapping my mind around it sometimes as well), you will one day run out of time, and you will die. God will decide that you've had enough heartbeats, and you will breathe your last. Either on a deathbed from old age, tomorrow as you step off the street corner and into the path of an oncoming steamroller, or a myriad of other ways, the question is not an if, it's a when. Are you prepared for that day? Are you preparing for it in any way? Have you even thought about it at all?

What does your life revolve around right now? Do you focus on yourself all the time, or others? A better question, is what you're living for right now worth dying for? Would you lay down your life for the purpose of your life? If we cannot say that we would die for what we are living for, chances are we're living our lives to seek out our own selfish agendas. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I find that in my neutral state of mind, I tend to stray towards seeking personal comfort and security. Now, there's nothing wrong with either of those two states per say, but should pursuing them be the sole purpose of my life? Imagine all my friends and relatives standing around at my funeral if I pursued these objectives. What would they say about me if I left that kind of legacy? Or what if I pursued power? Wealth? Material possessions? Fame? Intellect? These are all temporary things, and what good are they in the end?

"Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He can take with him nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hands." (Ecclesiastes 5:15)

The "religious" aspect of where I'm taking this should be obvious by now. You are going to die, and when you do, you will have to give an account to my God on how you used the gift of time He gave you. No amount of intellectual "logic" games you play inside your head will ultimately get you away from the truth. You will meet your Maker, and He will judge you on your life. If you died tomorrow, which is entirely possible, what would He say to you, especially in light of the sin post I wrote earlier? "Well done, good and faithful servant"? "Away from me you evil doer, I never knew you"? "Why did you not even attempt to seek the truth in your lifetime"? "Why did you ignore Me when I spoke to your heart"? "Why did you turn a deaf ear to My servants when they tried to warn you?" "Why did you not even care?"

It's your life, and everybody else is going to try to tell you how to live it. Here's my input, do the research on spiritual matters yourself. Read the book of Matthew found in the New Testament, and see what you actually think. Examine both sides unbiasedly, I believe you'll find that many Christian doctrines are a lot stronger than secularists would have you believe. When you do finally discover an answer, let it impact your life. Let it change you, and live your life in light of what you find. If Christianity is really baseless, then you have nothing to fear in reading a bit of Scripture. And yes, I am going to close this post with a quote by John Piper.

"I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Readers Digest, which tells about a couple who "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life - and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: "Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life."


"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Concerning Myself

So I was feeling like crap the other day. I was depressed and didn't feel like I was spiritually growing at all (the very reason, I thought, that I had come to this project in the first place). It had been like that for a couple days leading up to this particular day, and I was starting to question why I had even come on this project. I worked all day and disliked my job. I read my Bible and got nothing out of it. I even attended a project wide meeting with a famous Crusade speaker (Rick James), and I sat there listening to him bored almost to tears, critically picking apart his sermon while he gave it, and literally rolling my eyes at the obvious points he made. I felt lonely. I felt under-appreciated. I was annoyed at people. I was generally uninterested in my surroundings. I was in a constant state of daydreaming about the future; completely caring less about what was happening in my present. I knew on a subconscious level that the problem was an inward one, but I didn't really know what that problem was or particularly cared either. Probably because, on some sick level of my conscious, I enjoyed being like this. However, as I was reminiscing about the past, I remembered back to the last time I felt approximately this way. Sometime in the last winter I had gone through a very similar slump and was only rescued by a certain realization God gave me about my state of mind. Suddenly the reason for my current ennui became very apparent to me. Read this paragraph again and take a wild guess why I felt the way I did...

That's right, it was all about me. Everything I did, said, thought, participated in, even my spiritual walk, had become all about me. What had begun by the Spirit I was now trying to accomplish on my own, in other words, I was being an idiot (Galatians 3:3). What can I get out of this situation? What can I learn from this passage? Why am I not having a good time? Why do people not bow down the moment I walk by to kiss the tops of my shoes? What even went into the thought process involved in the creation of that last sentence? All about me.

Sure, it probably started innocently. What is this lesson trying to teach me? How should I live my life? How big of a church will God give me if I become a pastor? How does the group I'm currently hanging out with perceive me? Do they think I'm as funny or intelligent as I think I'm being right now? And you can quickly see the escalation. Soon my thoughts about myself were completely surrounding me. Pride crept in, and in no time I was so absorbed with myself that I lost sight of the reason for my existence and couldn't help but be depressed. I had given up the solid ground of God's word and the truths He has revealed to me through it, and I had started relying on my own "feelings" to conduct how I approached any given situation I was in. Logically then, my self-worth swung back and forth on a crazy pendulum from making much of myself and little of others (and thereby convincing me that I had little to gain in any given situation and was wasting time) to questioning if I had any worth at all, and my depression followed.

With this God given realization in hand, I began to fight back against my prideful indulgences. I even had to refine the little questions slightly in my head. What is this lesson trying to teach me about God, and how does God want me to live my life in light of the truth it presents about Him? How is God using me to impact those I come in contact with right now? Am I reflecting God's grace to those around me? These questions keep my mind and my heart from running away to sacrifice more God given time to the alter of myself that I create when my self-absorption envelopes me. (Which is more often than I like to admit, though rarely do I slide this far...)

Most importantly though, when I stop making much of me and start focusing my glory elsewhere, I seem to inevitably end up aiming it at God. Whether I'm serving another, listening to a sermon uncritically with an open mind, reading my bible, or just spending time thinking, I end up making much of God, and that gives me a joy and a satisfaction that can't be found anywhere else. For, if the purpose of my existence is to glorify God, how can I find satisfaction or meaning solely in myself? This world is about Him, history is about Him, my own life is about Him, so when I start surrendering my thoughts to myself, I'm surrendering to something less than eternally fulfilling which can only leave me ultimately unsatisfied and depressed.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

"The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar." - Anonymous

Friday, July 3, 2009

Vintage: Going in Blind

("Going in Blind" was written by me almost a year ago now as a Facebook note, hence the title "Vintage". I guess this means I'm getting lazy, and if you are familiar with this particular note, I'm sorry. However, I really like it (humble, ain't I?) and am reusing it here with the first paragraph modified a bit to make the thought more universal...)

Today's society enjoys scorning the idea of faith. They believe that if they can corner a Christian to admit that they are relying on faith, than the believer's ideas are nullified and illogical. Probably because in the secular world, there is a major misconception about not only the Christian understanding of faith, but the whole notion of faith itself.

By society's definition, "faith" means believing in something while lacking substantial evidence to do so. They tend to think that faith has nothing to do with truth or reality. Some would even argue that this is precisely the reason Christianity is called a "faith" in the first place - because it doesn't correspond to reality. To them, faith is something we are either brainwashed to believe (most likely when we are young) or something that we come to believe out of shear primal necessity, always in the absence of any evidence to do so (the hologram of a safety net, if you will. It's not really there, but it's mentally comforting anyway.) This has a profound impact on the discussions about God a Christian experiences with non-believers, as the questioner no longer asks for evidence/rationalities of God's existence, but rather focuses on the believers themselves and tries to find explanations as to what would cause them to believe in such absurdities in the first place.

Put in easier terms, faith is construed as the ability to believe in something that you have no idea about (a shot in the dark, a blind leap). By that measure, a strong faith would be believing in something you suspect isn't true, and the strongest faith of all is believing in something that you KNOW isn't true. By this assumption, faith disappears in the presence of knowledge and hard facts. So once the other side has me admitting faith, they could mentally draw me as an unknowledgeable crazy person clinging to my beliefs for psychological benefits in the absence of reality, and there was really (from their point of view) no more arguing left to be done. The belief in the absurdity of faith is actually more common than you might think (if you happen to be under the delusion that it's uncommon...). Apologist Michael Ramsden gave one example of how it works its way into discussion:

"When people say to me, 'Michael, I am so happy that you're a Christian, and I wish I could believe what you believe, but I can't.' What they usually mean is this, 'Michael, I am so happy that you are happy. There seems to be a joy and completeness in your life that I find attractive. But the reason you are happy is because you are a Christian. In other words, you believe in things that are not true or real.' (Now what do you call people who believe in things that are not there? The answer is: lunatics.) So rephrased one last time, 'Michael, you are actually completely insane. But the main thing is that your delusional mind keeps you happy. And I am happy that you are happy. As a matter of fact, I'm so desperate to be as happy as you, that I too would embrace insanity just to join you, but I can't do it. I've thought about it, but I just can't.'"

Sadly, this view about faith as believing what cannot be justified is held not only by secularists, but also by many Christians themselves (Yes, in a theoretical sense these "believers" consider themselves insane, and their "beliefs" unjustifiable). They downplay the human ability to know God on a personal level, question the validity of the Bible as the inspired word of God, and rely on the "feelings" they get during a worship service or other such activities as substantial evidence for their "faith" in Him. In turn, they do not engage with others about the value of Christ in their lives because they do not think that their belief is logically arguable in the first place (among other reasons...), and most importantly, while relying on shallow "feelings" they experience instead of truly seeking God, they never get to know Him very well themselves.

But faith is not a blind leap into the dark, nor is it the act of wishing something were true that we know deep down is probably not. When I say I have faith in God, I am not saying that I have placed blind hope in his existence. I KNOW he exists. Saying I have faith in God is to be measured on the same grounds as me saying I have faith in the Canadian Prime Minister (I would use the President of the United States here, but that might give off the wrong impression these days). It is making the proclamation that I believe in the Minister's moral character and his good judgment as an individual; not that I am personally hoping he exists. In the exact same sense, having faith in God means that I trust Him completely, and that I expect Him to make His decisions with my eternal best interest at heart. That is what faith is.

Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, everyone places faith in something or someone. Atheists place faith in themselves and their own ability to determine that God doesn't exist, agnostics place faith in their knowledge that God is unknowable (a contradiction unto itself I might add, if nothing can be known about God how can we know he's unknowable?), Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims... Everybody on this planet has a faith of some kind that they have placed somewhere, even the ones who want to pretend that they don't care about meta-narratives (overarching or transcendent views of reality) because denial of all meta-narratives is itself a meta-narrative. Therefore to point out where somebody begins to rely on faith is to point out the obvious and the necessary. If I am correct in my assertion that faith is a universal human trait, the question then becomes, where have you placed yours?

"Our careless feet leaving trails; never minding the fragile dirt we all end in." - Demon Hunter

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Law #4: Recieving the Gift

(This is a continuation from Law #3, and the final spiritual law.)

The title of this post accurately describes what must be done to earn salvation. Nothing. We must accept what has already been done for us. Accept that it is by God's grace alone that you have been saved, and not by anything you can do (Ephesians 2:8). Everyone to whom these four laws have been presented in the fashion I just presented them has this opportunity. Simply place your trust in the fact that Jesus took your sins with Him to the cross and cleansed you from all unrighteousness. It's that simple, and yet it's so difficult. We as prideful humans have such a hard time accepting the gift. It feels so unfair, and we want to have to work for it a little bit so it feels less like we're cheating God (or, as is more likely, we're too prideful to admit our dependence), hence the rise of religion. But Romans 4:4-5 says, "Now to everyone who works, their wages are not credited to them as a gift but as an obligation. However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, their faith is credited as righteous."

When we allow our sins to be placed onto Jesus, we gain a blank slate, and all our sins are poured out on Him and subsequently cleansed. God looks on us as He would one who is righteous and pure. We thus gain several things: 1.) We are now back in fellowship with YHWH, and He can hear our prayers. 2.) The Holy Spirit (a topic I'll also cover later) indwells us and empowers us. 3.) We begin an eternal journey that will draw us ever closer to our Creator throughout this life and culminate with us spending eternity with Him. 4.) We gain forgiveness for every sin we ever committed and will commit.

What must you do to place your trust in Christ then? Simply say something in your heart along these lines...

Jesus, I know that I'm a sinful and desperate person. I'm sick Lord, and I'm separated from You. I ask You now to come into my heart, Lord. Indwell me, stay with me, guide me until my life is through, and on that day, please take me home with You, Lord. I surrender my life now to You, use me as You will. Amen

Now the emphasis here is not on the words themselves but their meaning. Their is nothing magical about this particular set of sentences. You could say them a hundred times every day for the rest of your life, but if you don't mean it, it wouldn't make any difference. If, however, you say it once, and you really mean it (even just a summarized version of it), Jesus promises that on the day of judgment you will stand among the redeemed. Will you be changed because of a decision of this magnitude? Duh. Will you have to give up some of your hopes and dreams in order to pursue the heavenly goals of God? Probably. Will it be worth it? Completely. Imagine the line below is the timeline of your life. It is an infinite existence as your soul cannot die. The red section at the beginning would represent your time here on earth, and the rest of the infinite line would represent your afterlife. (The choice you make in the red affects the never ending white line.)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Anything you have to give up in this life for the sake of Christ is not even comparable to the promised future glory.

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with Me." (Revelation 3:20)

"Everybody eventually surrenders there lives to something or someone. If not to God, you will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to resentment, to fear, or to your own pride, lusts, or ego. You were designed to surrender to God - and if you fail to, you will create other things to give your life to. You are free to choose what you surrender to, but you are not free from the consequences of that choice." - Rick Warren

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Law #3: The Sacrifice

So picture this, if Law #2 is true (which my bible clearly states it is), then we are all screwed, and the entire human race is on a death march to hell, with no exceptions. Imagine God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all watching this procession of people with no hope and no chance at any future. A people that were created to have a perfect relationship with Them, but the sin that burdens us keeps us in step to the place where we will earn what we deserve, death. Eternal damnation. It's breaking Their collective hearts, but God in His righteous justice has to punish us for the decisions we willingly make. The price must be paid. The Son turns to the Father and asks what can save His creation, what can redeem the long line of doomed people before Him. The Father shows the Son all of time, the entire scope of the human race, and then points out one place in particular. A point in time and space where there is a great deal of death, pain, suffering, shame, and separation as the sins of many are unfairly heaped upon one who takes these sins upon himself, purifying the givers and condemning himself to a bitter and terrible death instead. It is an ugly scene; dark, bleak, and cursed. God looked at the Son, and whispered, "It won't save them all, but it's the only way." Jesus stared at the abominable sight, understanding what it meant. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply, turned to the Father and said, "Alright, I'll go. Send Me there."

That is the third major point of the gospel message. Jesus came to serve as our substitute. Being fully God and fully man, He was capable of living a perfect life and, while dying, to carry an abnormal amount of sin upon Himself. He died, and took our sins with Him when He did. He separated Himself from his eternal connection with the other two Personalities of the Trinity and bore human sins in order to purify them. With His dying cry of, "It is finished," He sacrificed Himself and opened up heavens doors for anyone to enter in. Now, anyone familiar with the story of Jesus knows that He did not stay dead. He conquered death. The reason is to prove He is God and to show that He had conquered the sin that smote Him, but it works well for the symbolism that teaches us that when we place our trust in Him, we die to this world, and rise in a new life with Christ. A life with God that will never end.

This point is also what sets Christianity apart from every other religion on earth. Religion, by it's definition, is man's attempts to get to God by appeasing Him and following His rules and regulations. Christianity states clearly that man sucks too much to even attempt to get to God, and God, knowing this, gave His Son as a sacrifice to pay the price that we could not pay, thereby saving us from ourselves. Therefore God bridged the gap, not us. The Three-in-One is the only One that can be glorified at all this way. Well, that's pretty much the tale up till now. These last three points I covered are what Christians (who know what they believe) believe, and you may even intellectually agree that what I articulated in these three laws makes sense, however it is not enough just to know these truths, and that leads us to Law #4.

"He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!" (Romans 5:7-9)

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." - Jesus

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Law #2: We Suck

This post is a continuation of Law #1, and being thus, I suggest most humbly that you read the first one first.

So I titled this a long time before publishing the personal post and kept it's title "as-is" because I thought that it would be a fun transition to move from self to corporate in the accusation of suckiness. Honestly, it's hard to get around the fact that we as the human race suck at life. We are all infested with this gross inner darkness Christians like to call sin. Don't believe me? Watch more news, or get out in the world more. Even better, just look at yourself; examine what motivates you. Think you're perfect? (If you do, I'd recommend consulting your significant other. Single? Your best friend(s). If they're honest with you, they'll inform you otherwise.)

Sin separates us from a perfect and holy God. From the moment we take our first breath, we enter an evil world. A world of pain, suffering, and the prevalent sin that engulfs it all. "Sin," you say, "sin is just a churchy word that religious individuals throw around to justify themselves!" People tend to think of sins as actions. Lying is a sin. Murdering your great-aunt Cindy-Lou is a sin. Sex before marriage is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Stuff like that. They reduce sin to a physical activity. This definition has two side effects:

First, because sin is seen as actions, religious people believe that if they just stop acting on their impulses, they are more righteous and can thereby draw closer to God. Their relationship with God (or whatever goal they wish to achieve) and their eternal destiny becomes based on a heavenly scale of the good and bad things they do in their life. They spend their life never knowing quite where they stand or what sins will come back to bite them in the end, hoping against hope that they did enough good deeds to tip the outcome in their favor. Being a religious studies major, I can confidently say that this thought process explains every religion in the world, people trying to do good things to earn their way to heaven (or whatever spiritual goal), relying on themselves for their salvation. I've got bad news for those of you who think that by going to church, reading the koran five times a day, emptying yourself of all desires, eliminating the engram, being a good enough person in your life, (etc.) will save you, it won't. Nothing you can do can erase the sin that you've already done, and any sin is a death sentence, "for the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) Not death in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one. Eternal separation from the source of life (i.e. God).

The second effect is non-spiritual people being completely turned off by religion. It's a system of impossible rules to regulate people and keep them in their place. Religious people are slaves to their beliefs, they HAVE to follow a certain lifestyle to stand correct before God, and the majority of that lifestyle sucks. The people not interested in religion would rather not be burdened by it, and they are sick of the self-righteous hypocrites that have submitted their lives to these institutions condemning them for going against rules that the secular individual doesn't even believe are necessary in the first place. If the actions are the sins, they figure that they can just do some good now and again and try to keep the bad to a minimum (better to admit you do "sinful" crap than be one of those "perfect" Godly hypocrites).


However, sin is so much more. Sin is not actions, the actions themselves are just a logical outpouring of the condition of the heart. You see, sin is a reality everyone is born into, it is ingrained into us. We aren't good people who do bad things, we're bad through and through. "But wait," you say, "don't we do good things too?" Yeah, with incredibly selfish motives. We want to be seen as good in the eyes of others, because being seen as we really are is shameful, or we try to please God (some higher power) through our actions. Too bad God sees our attempts to make ourselves righteous for what it really is: us arrogantly trying to glorify ourselves. "So you're saying that there is nothing we can do to get to God, and we're all screwed from the start no matter what?" Yep. That's pretty much sums up Law #2. There is no action you can ever take to bridge the gap between you and God, and nothing you can do to force Him to forgive you of the sin that created the gap that separates the two of you in the first place. So, why is man not able to have a deep and personal relationship with God or experience his loving plan as stated in Law #1? Sin. Turns out we just suck too much."For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

Stay tuned for Spiritual Law #3!

"Virtue needs some cheaper thrills." - Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Suck...

I know I was suppose to go through Law #2 this time, but I felt called to do something a little different with my blog tonight: write a little something more personal about what God is doing in my own life right now. I wrote the title of this blog at first as a kind of joke or a way to center my thoughts, but you know what? It accurately describes me to the point where I'm going to let it stand as is. I suck. Bad. Let me tell you why...

I will now preface what I'm about to say with a little information about me. I love knowledge. I love knowing stuff and having a reason to believe the way I do. I do it under the preface that I'm basing all my faith on fact... but that's just it. Often times its all about "facts" for me. I read my bible, study theological books, and love to be the guy who always has the correct answer, but for shear application? Actually sitting down and applying the facts I uncover in my study to change the way I view God and thereby alter the way I live my life? I'm a fricken doctor dying of a curable ailment and forcing his saving medications on the people walking by rarely bothering to take any himself. Sure, I know when I'm doing something sinful. I can quote 20 verses that tell me "xyz" is sin. I can theologically weasel my way around the conviction these verses bring by telling myself that God forgives everything no matter what as long as I confess it to Him. I can point out the place in the scripture that plainly states that putting into practice this loophole of grace is evil, but does this knowledge ever impact my life in a meaningful way?

The truth is, I'm a wreck. I'm a liar, a fraud, a fake, a kleptomaniac, a wicked and proud piece of crap who loves putting himself above others because I think they know less than I do. And you know what? God has smacked me in the face this summer so hard with these truths about myself that I'm still reeling. There are guys here with only a teaspoon of the theological information I possess, but they are miles ahead of me in their spiritual walk. While I stumble around and trip over my own pride and arrogance, they stride confidently as men of grace, integrity, genuine agape love, and selflessness. They have servant hearts and caring souls, and I don't. Are they perfect? Not by a long shot. Are they more Godly than I am? You bet. As I run around my life mistaking my undeniable apathetic nature for "trust in God", believing my spiritual and physical gifts are something to be proud of and not even considering the One who gave them to me, using God's holy scripture to arrogantly score myself spiritual points in everyday conversations, and all around being a sick and disgusting hypocrite about it all.

Example? We'll go with the kleptomaniac tendency I accused myself of earlier. For two years or more I stole every song, movie, video game, software program, operating system, television series, book, comic, and whatnot I wanted from the internet. Call it piracy, call it "doing what everyone else does", call it whatever you like. The truth is, I did not pay for ANY of it, and therefore I stole it. The night God convicted me of this was one I'll never forget. The group was doing a student-led 20 minute "waiting on the Lord" prayer which I entered into with an open mind but was bored with at about the 5 minute mark. Suddenly I got this random urge to look at the contents of my 500 gb external harddrive I had purchased a few years back. So, after the prayer time, I went back to my room and started sorting through it. Folder after folder, file after file, application after application, God confronted me with the evidence. The verdict was undeniable. Hundreds and hundreds of DVD rips, fifty or so stolen books, several pricey software programs, thousands of stolen songs, etc. Doing the math, I figured that I had close to, if not slightly over, $10,000 worth of stolen material that I carried with me pretty much wherever I went for two straight years, and I'm a bible study leader? I'm suppose to be a tool that God can use back at Iowa? I'm going to eventually make my living preaching the gospel of Christ? What a joke this God of mine must be if He is willing to choose me for his work... (I have since deleted the entire contents of my harddrive and repented. How could I not after being faced with that kind of incrimination against my soul? However, even with the overwhelming conviction, I still had one of the most intense spiritual battles I have ever been through just to click the confirming delete button.)

Funny that I used to be proud about how long I've been a Christian. Phhhhttt.... There are boys here in Ocean City that have walked in the power of the Holy Spirit a tenth of the time I have (if that), and yet they are far my spiritual superiors in just about every sense but my stupid head knowledge. I have, for the first time in my life, felt dwarfed by the guys I encounter every day. All I can say right now, is that if you are a man on my project reading this, I feel so honored that God would choose me to stand amongst a witness of your caliber. I praise God and feel so blessed for every conversation, every accepting smile, every awkward hug, and every moment I can continue to stand in your presence, ashamed as I am of my weakness. I have heard many metaphors about good Christian men reflecting the light of God's glory, and right now, your luminosity is overwhelming me. Thank you.

"If I am tall, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of giants." - a hybrid of a quote by Sir Isaac Newton

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Law #1: God's Love

God created you and has a wonderful plan for your life! Sound cheesy yet? Then let me explain...

Christians, including myself, believe that God created the human race in hopes of having a deep and intimate relationship with it. All of the Bible, even the Old Testament when read in context, clearly teaches this doctrine. Before sin entered the world, the two humans present here lived in perfect harmony with Him, and He desired nothing more than that they love Him, glorify Him, and be His representatives here on Earth. Even after the Fall (the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), He pursues His creation with the burning desire that none perish (2 Peter 3:9). He loves us all so much that He was willing to sacrifice his son for us on the cross in the hopes of bringing us back to Him (John 3:16). That's pretty much all there is to the first Spiritual Law, now on to some theological side-tracks (represented in light blue!) having to do with what I just said.

Concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When the Bible says good and evil, it is speaking in a figurative sense much in the same way David was when he said to God, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!" (Psalms 139:7-8) David is obviously not saying that God resides only in heaven and in Sheol leaving everywhere else to fend for itself, but that YHWH resides everywhere. A place does not exist where one can run to in this lifetime and escape from the His sovereignty. In much the same way, putting two contrasting ideas (good and evil) in the tree's name signifies that it supplies knowledge of everything in between these polar opposites. Adam and Eve now knew, not all knowledge, but more knowledge than they could morally handle. There innocence was lost as they realized all the new ways they could sin.

You may be wondering, why was there a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden anyway? Is that not just asking people to disobey? Well, think of it this way. What is love and devotion without free-will? God could have made the garden a completely perfect place where there was no opportunity for disobedience, but if you withhold your subjects ability to defy you, they can't really love you. God might as well have created robots. Also, if He would have followed that course of action, there would never have been a chance to show one of His most defining attributes, grace (a topic I will definitely hit on later). So, did He set us up knowing we were going to let him down? Knowing that the world would end up as it did? Let's review the facts, He put us in a garden by ourselves, picked one tree and told us we could not eat from it (besides giving it a tantalizing name like "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"), gave us free-will, created us within the same universe that He had banished Satan to after He cast him out of heaven, allowed the two of us (humans and demons) to have communications of sorts, and, existing outside the realm of time, He knows everything that is ever going to happen. What do you think? Furthermore, is that unfair?

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay to make out of the same lump one for honored use and one for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy?" (Romans 9:20-23)

I know I've hinted at, if not downright stated, the next Spiritual Law within this post, but I will cover it in more detail next time.

"We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us." - Andrew Ryan

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OCSP09: The Diagnosis

Established in 1967, Ocean City Summer Project has since become a yearly event for Campus Crusade for Christ. It was the first one of its kind, but due to its incredible success, Summer Projects have now spread all across the U.S. and worldwide. So, what exactly is the point of bringing 100+ christian college students from all across America to a tiny tourist spot on the east coast, housing a majority of them in a massive rickety old building, and integrating them slowly into the surrounding community? The answer is three-fold.

The first is for our spiritual benefit. Since I have gotten here, I have been subjected to so much spiritual doctrine I have felt information overload at times, and that's saying quite a lot because I'm an avid information sponge. I enjoy knowing things and having random pieces of knowledge tucked away in the corners of my mind, but the supersaturation that occurs here, especially during the first week, has everyone scrambling to refresh/reacquaint themselves with their bibles. Since then, things have calmed down quite a bit as we got jobs and slid into a daily routine that will further cement itself in the coming weeks. The learning is still ever-present and applied to every situation, but it's not overwhelming anymore. The doctrine is rich, the conversations are deep, and the relationships are intimate, transparent, and require a level of vulnerability I would love to see the secular world even attempt to replicate. Indeed, I believe it is necessary for the soul to have people know you as well as some of these guys are beginning to know me, and the summer is still very young. All this training will be put into use when we go back to our respective universities in the fall and become leaders of the on-campus movements there.

The second reason is for the purpose of evangelism. (A topic I will probably write extensively on later but for now will just skim.) Because this is a tourist spot, the beaches fill to capacity during the weekend which means thousands of people laying out tanning on the beach with nothing better to do than take our Spiritual Surveys and, if they are interested, learn about what Christians actually believe. I'm betting some of you reading my post right now don't know what that is. Oh, you may think you "know" what Christianity is, but I doubt you really do. I say this because most people I've done the survey with that claim to be a follower of Christ or come from a "Jesus-loving" background actually have no fricken clue what they "believe" at all, so we do our best to educate them mostly by guiding them through the Four Spiritual Laws which I'm thinking about covering in the next four posts, one for each. For the non-Christians reading this, I urge you to actually read through my next couple posts, not to change your life, but to change the way you view Christianity in general. I believe you will find that much of the stuff you may disagree with or dislike about Christianity is not even really Christian doctrine at all. But, the message (especially law number two) is offensive, just a warning.

The final and most importent reason why we are here is the same reason a Christian should have to do anything he/she does, to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31). Everything that exists (even God Himself) exists to proclaim His glory. Therefore, He is most pleased with us when we find our satisfaction in Him, and recently, I have found a great well of satisfaction in my Heavenly Father which could probably be said for everybody else on this project as well. For His glory and His glory alone, I pray that we here in Ocean City continue to do His work as enthusiastically as we have been the past two weeks or even more enthusiastically as time progresses, for there is much still left here to do. "I tell you, open your eyes and look to the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so the sower and the reaper may be glad together." (John 4:35-36)

"No single raindrop believes that it is the one to blame for the devastating flood." - Anonymous

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Welcome to the Machine

Ocean City Summer Project... Let's be honest, it was not my first choice on how to spend my summer. I'm going to get this out of the way right away in case you don't know me personally. I'm a very cynical individual. I take the world in with a blatantly sarcastic and doubtful disposition, not much gets me emotionally riled up, and I tend to shy away from large groups of people. With all this in mind let me explain to you why I'm a follower of Jesus Christ...

I've been a Christian all my life. Indeed, one of the first memories I have is accepting Him into my life when I was around the age of four or five. Not that I really understood what that meant at the time, but it pleased my parents when I told them. However, looking back I can see that God had His hand on me throughout; although I could not point to a specific spot where everything I now believe clicked into place, by the time I entered high school I could have given you a 100% guarantee that I was going to heaven, knowing that salvation comes through the acceptance of the free gift of grace and does not come about by anything I could try to do to please God on my own, because if it did, then Jesus' dying on the cross (and taking my sin with him) would have been a meaningless act (Gal 2:21). I highly doubt that God would deal in meaninglessness, especially where the death of his own son is concerned. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still a broken mess of an individual. It's just that God doesn't count it against me anymore.

I'll save my high school and college experience for another time and skip ahead to why I'm here in Ocean City for the entire summer. Quite frankly, I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for the community I have backing me planting their metaphorical foot firmly on my apathetic behind and making sure that I got here. Let me explain... In order to get to Ocean City you have to apply, which I did last-second-ish and without bothering to fully fill out all the paragraphs as completely as I could have, sort of hoping they wouldn't accept my application. They did, much to the delight of my discipler Brent who was cheering me on from the word go. Next, one has to raise the support necessary to come by mailing out letters asking for money and following up with phone calls... scary business. Once again I showed my overwhelming enthusiasm by sending out my letters incredibly late and sending far fewer than I was suppose to. This did not stop me from raising all the money in about a seven day span with no phone calls required. In fact, the next day after I sent the batch of letters I received my first support check in the mail. I'm not sure if you're aware of how the U.S. Postal Service operates, but it's not quite that fast. To top it off, it was from somebody I had never met who lived in another state. Turns out my dad, a pastor by trade, let it slip to his congregation that I had decided to go on this trip. Then, for some reason, a member of our church told one of their non-Iowan relatives about my future endeavors, and they sent me the check. All I could do was roll my eyes (and believe me, I did) as letter after letter containing checks flooded into my dorm room over the course of the next couple days. After this, it was pretty much a given that I was going to go.

The 26 hour car ride over here was a good time, but when I got here it wasn't so much fun for the first couple days. You see, I'm frightened of people I barely know and downright terrified of people I don't, and there was about 70 of them waiting to greet me. All in all, not a very "smooth" initial week for me in any sense of the word. Since then, I have made friends out of most of the guys and a few of the girls here. More importantly however, I have had an awesome time with my Lord and Savior through quiet times, prayer, and the community he has provided me. Since I've arrived, I've had the opportunity to have many spiritual conversations with random strangers, even the chance to lead two of them to Christ. (Honestly, the cynical side of me scoffs at their sincerity since I only had about 15 minutes with them, which, it argues, is not a significant amount of time to make a life changing decision. All I can do now is trust God's continual pursuit, which I believe I can count on.) All in all, it's been a fairly eye opening start, and I'll try to keep you posted on my thoughts, actions, and such from here on out.

"The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair." - Relient K