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