Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jesus on the Offensive

Every person I talk to that works vocationally for a church or ministry has frequently said something about their current fear or former fear of offending their congregation by their message. Whether it's by saying Jesus is the only way to a post modern culture, the uneasy task of calling out the sins of their listeners and the subsequent feelings of guilt that are sure to follow, or by demanding repentance to an audience that is there to be entertained, it seems like all teachers have over-thought the offensive nature of the Gospel of Christ. Instead of letting the Spirit speak through them, they have been speaking out of the worldly wisdom commonly used by marketing and strategic planning consultants as opposed to the eternal wisdom of the living God. (See 1 Corinthians 2 and 3). This does not mean that in speaking to believers and non-believers the Love of Christ does not radiate through us in our words or actions, especially if we're speaking and acting out of the Spirit.

I've spoken frequently about the fear based teaching we get on Sunday's or otherwise and I've personally offended numerous brothers in Christ who disagree with my stance on the lack of the Gospel being preached out of the pulpit. My view on this is in no way to be seen as a cheap attack on the church through a barely read blog. By no means do I hate the church, and to make this clear, I do believe it is an important aspect to developing community like we see in Scripture. However, like the churches in the book of Revelation, the lack of the Spirit in today's church is somehow both concerning and inspiring (quite a paradox). It is concerning because of the worldly wisdom being taught while inspiring to every follower of Christ who must see this as an opportunity to "bring the Spirit back" (there's a cover for you Justin Timberlake).

In my devotional time this morning I came across a fantastic quote by Oswald Chambers. To set the context of the quote, Chambers is speaking about Luke 9:57-62 in which three men tell Jesus that they will follow Him wherever He will go. Jesus, ("knowing what was in the heart of man"-John 2:25) chose not to praise these men for what they had to to say. Instead he responds by offending them in numerous ways asking them to completely abandon their whole life which included ditching the funeral of one man's parents and in another case just saying good bye to them. Their words were not enough, he wanted followers by both word and deed. He desired the men to come to the end of their finite perspective in exchange for an eternal one. Of course, this would make no sense to the Evangelist today who's goal appears to be getting a person to "pray the prayer", hand them a free bible and get them "plugged in" to a church who uses the bible (What?! How silly does our method sound when it's actually written out? But it's true.).

Chambers goes on to say,

We would have said, "I can’t imagine why He lost the opportunity of winning that man! (the one who says he'd follow Christ "wherever") Imagine being so cold to him and turning him away so discouraged!" Never apologize for your Lord. The words of the Lord hurt and offend until there is nothing left to be hurt or offended. Jesus Christ had no tenderness whatsoever toward anything that was ultimately going to ruin a person in his service to God.

"The words of the Lord hurt and offend until there is nothing left to be hurt or offended". Those words have convicted me all day and they should convict you too. Unfortunately for me I realized today that I'm easily offended, and I'm recognizing that if the Lord is offending me, then I haven't abandoned all of myself to the point that I no longer have any pride in my own life. If I'm being offended, then there is something in my life, some sin, some desire, some temporal pursuit that I have refused to let go of. If Jesus is offending me, then I have not taken on his perspective in that particular area of my life. If Jesus is offending me, I should take pride solely in the fact that I am his and he is pruning me so that I may be turned into the wine that others will smell and taste him as I'm being poured out on this world.

Of course, recognizing that Jesus' teaching is what offends as opposed to our own wisdom for a Sunday sermon, weekly bible study or morning Men's group is an important aspect of the discerning Christian teacher or disciple of Christ who aims to speak truth into the life of family,friends or those who don't know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Understanding our position and sphere of influence is an important gift, and packaging a message in your listeners language is not only important but crucial in helping them understand the word of God. But keep in mind, if the truth of God's word is being sacrificed, if you are afraid to offend people in hopes that you may be able to save them by your own rhetoric, I'd urge you to remember John 6:65 in which Jesus says" one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

It is God who does the enabling, it's not your crafty words or funny intro to your sermon and if you are speaking by the Spirit it's very possible that the words you say may offend somebody in a way that God is hoping for. If they do, don't feel bad, instead you should experience joy that Jesus has showed up and don't forget that as Chambers said, "Jesus Christ had no tenderness whatsoever toward anything that was ultimately going to ruin a person in his service to God." Don't get in the way of God pruning his chosen ones, don't quench the Spirit of God, instead be still and listen to what He says to you so that you may speak the truth in Love.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 35)

"I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay (laurel) tree." Psalm 37:35

Does anybody every wonder why the term "nice guys finish last" seems like the one cliche that you can always count on to be true? No matter how well I run my business, no matter how often I do the right thing as a man of integrity, it just seems like I can't compete with the person who is willing to kill their pet hamster in order to make fifteen bucks. The state of the economy in the United States, especially the Real Estate market is one in which I just can't figure out. From "The Fed" (which is a private owned institution that somehow controls all of the money and interest rates for the United States), to the Mortgage Brokers who put borrowers in different loans than they claimed over the phone (thanks to some fancy language), to the Politicians who seem to make all the rules, it always seems like the guys who are screwing the "Average Joe", are the ones getting ahead. One of the worst things I've ever seen are these "Stimulus Bills" promoted by the U.S Government as the answer to all of the financial woes. How is it ever a good idea to tax the citizen in order to pay off the money that the Government itself is using to keep alive the very companies that put that same citizen in the financial mess they're currently in? I don't know about you, but I get tired of watching companies that should be out of business and all of their key players in jail (like Enron) appear to flourish on their Balance Sheets, increasing their worth on the stock market and increasing their power over the people who do

I don't want to go any further on the financial issues in our Country, though I'm grateful for them as we have the opportunity to see where our security lies; but I want us to consider how the present day person (or institution) in power, who is not being led by Jesus Christ (considered by God to then be "evil" or "wicked" in Scripture), fits the mold of the "wicked" in today's passage. It seems like once you are in power, it is tough to come down from that platform, especially when you've convinced people they're worthless without you. Like the "Bay tree" which stays green even in the winter (though the roots are shallow), the wicked of today and in David's time always had the appearance of being able to flourish by Earthly standards in any situation even though they are only an axe away from being chopped back down to the ground.

Today's message is a short one. The surface life of the person you are dealing with, working for, being led by, or who you may call a friend is totally irrelevant on the grand scale. God, and his people should be much more concerned with the Spirit and Soul of a person than the outward appearance of success and personal accolades. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to hang out with one of my favorite people, a guy named Tyler (who humbles me by being five times more intelligent) that is headed to France as a Missionary. In our discussion, we were talking about who we really are; in essence, our essence. He made a great point about how our bodies, though being very real, and very much a part of who we are while on Earth, have no effect on who we are in light of eternity. His example to me was that even if he lost his arm, he'd still be Tyler and would be able to grow in character, in Faith, and in the ability to lose himself so that He may find God. He went on to explain how life has more to do with the growth of our Spirit, one that will truly flourish as we accept the Spirit of God to take over our lives when we accept Jesus Christ.

As I studied this piece of Scripture this morning the idea of the "bay tree", which like the wicked appears to flourish in any season immediately brought to mind a story about Jesus talking to the religious people in Matthew 23. The chapter starts off by pointing out that the "religious folks" (Pharisees) who appeared to have it all together on the surface, were truly wicked as according to Jesus they would, "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." (Matt. 23:4). He then states that "Everything they do is done for men to see" (23:5). Proving more that the person leading, even the most religious person on the surface, may truly be "wicked" in that they are more concerned with increasing their own position of power than with helping others see the truth of eternity. Next, Jesus made the point that these Pharisees were never willing to serve (as a true follower of Christ would be) and then he states "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (23:11-12). Towards the end of the chapter (v. 27-28) is where it gets really good when Jesus makes the statement that reminded me of the "bay tree", "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

For anyone reading this today who is a follower of Christ, this story is really meant to put all of us "religious people" in check as we get high on what we look like to others. Maybe we have taken advantage of being a person of faith, and spread ourselves out taking advantage of our influence, even though it has become more about us than Christ. Or maybe you, like me have aimed to be as what a good friend calls, "the best of the worst", lacking humility as we try to come off humble. Even we "religious ones" don't recognize that by trying to appear fine on the surface it can come at the expense of sacrificing the transparency and authenticity of who we are in Christ, making us no different than who God considers evil. This does not mean that we can't still be joyful when we are sad, but it does suggest that instead of always making sure we look like a Christian on the outside, it's the work done in our hearts that makes us walk in the ways of Jesus.

Today don't get so caught up with playing the part of "faithful" follower, or pastor, or small group leader on the outside in order to stay at the top of your own sphere of influence, that you resemble the whitewashed tombs or the bay tree, more than you resemble Jesus. Regardless of what is going on around you, no matter who is getting ahead, I urge you keep your eyes on the prize that is our Savior, understanding that at some point the wicked perish, the trees die and all that is left is who you really are; a Spirit (that Paul says will have a heavenly body) who will last for eternity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 34)

"Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off." Psalm 37:34

Living today seems harder than ever. Though I do not want to take on a "chronological snobbery" approach to this life, it seems like there has never been a harder time to live. Unemployment in America is higher than at any other time since the Great Depression, more people have lost their homes to foreclosure than at any other time in history (and more are coming next year), big business appears to own everything, the Government is running/ruining anything it can get its hands on (that's both parties), and we have people fighting over health care while we're at war in the Middle East and dealing with an Economic collapse in our own nation. All of this is happening while there is more money in circulation than at any other time in history. Shouldn't that make us happy and content? Strangely enough we are living in a time in which we are considered the "healthiest" generation with a longer life expectancy than any other people group in history (pre-flood) and yet clinical Depression has reached levels that never seemed imaginable. We know more about our Universe due to increased technology but we deny God's existence even though we can't explain any other way that the Universe could have come in to being. Moreover, we can communicate with people anywhere on the globe faster than you can say "Twitter" but we can't get on the phone with our own families or friends and forgive one another so that we may live in a graceful and peaceful environment in this short life that we have.

(Note: "chronological snobbery" is a term used by C.S Lewis to help people understand the timelessness of truth, beauty, etc. In our day we believe we are more advanced (and we are) because of new technology, more modes of transportation and a myriad of ways to communicate but when we take on a view that we are "better" than times past, and are only able to "get it" now because of some new Science or IPhone application, we are practicing "chronological snobbery".)

I struggle with the idea of being "in" in a culture that seems so upside down. The older I get, the more I watch how fast my daughter is growing up, I feel like I'm "out" instead of "in". (Now "out" means I'm gay, which I'm not, so maybe I should say "out of touch".) In a society where it is "cool" to dress like an outcast (because it's in), follow a specific political agenda because it's hip, or become "cause" oriented because you are so in touch with your compassionate side, it's hard for me to ignore the fact that being a "radical", or being "cool" today seems completely boring and "put on" when compared to Jesus of Nazareth; a guy who was so much more radical than anything this world has to offer that he didn't have to promote himself. When he had the opportunity to rule an Earthly Kingdom, his response was that His kingdom was "not of this world". When He could have had legions of Angels rescue Him from the cross, He decided against it because it would have ruined the possibility of Grace; the undeserved forgiveness offered to all of mankind for their past, current and future sins. Jesus was concerned about changing people from the inside out. His plan was to lead his followers on a "narrow road" yet when I look around at our culture, specifically Christians in our culture, we have taken on the "outside in" approach as that is what appears marketable to the masses.

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus states, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." I must say before I get rolling that I absolutely love the Church! I'm truly grateful to be part of the bride of Christ! But it pains my Spirit to see the crowds of consumers who show up on Sunday to be "fed", taking from God and not giving their life for Him (I'm guilty of this too at times). I'm talking about the people showing up on Sunday, thinking that if they "just do Church, and join a life group" then they've fulfilled their God quota, or that they've fit in to their culture as a Christian. Little do these people realize they have joined the "wide road" that leads to destruction as Jesus is not their everything but only one of their things. Sadly, the Pastors, scared to lose these cultural, consumer Christians who pay their bills rarely preach repentance for fear of losing their financial base and do not Shepherd these Sheep to greener pastures planted by God. They tell people to "come as they are", yet they send them home after letting them know Jesus loves them, and teaching them a second language called "Christianese" all while never asking people to truly be "born again" so that they may inherit the Kingdom that comes along with traveling on the "narrow road".

Doing the "churchy Christiany life" is harming people more than helping them as a majority of the people in our own faith, scared to fail by Earthly standards, think that they can love both God and the world equally (the wide road). As we show compassion, teach these "learners of Christ" (as opposed to followers) some great stuff about how to live, we never actually call them out of a life of Earthly living, which would actually lead them to find their security in Christ. In reality, if we think about it, what the Church is doing is leading people to Heaven "through the fire" as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3. It is my opinion Christians today are only learning to waste their life better, as they know who Christ is, but still walk on the road considered to wide to Jesus.

As I read today's passage in the Psalms, I love the very first line about keeping God's "way" so that we may inherit what He has for us as the others are "cut off". In a culture that tells us that the "world is our oyster" and then tells us that we can love both Jesus and a "comfy" life out of the other side of its mouth, we recognize the contradiction in the message. Either God is lying or culture/generation are lying. I'm going to tell you bluntly, it's your culture that's lying to you and it's effecting what it really means to follow Christ. It's effecting the Spirit's role on Sunday, it's effective the way we evangelize, it's effecting unity in the Church and it's effecting the way Jesus is "marketed" to the masses.

The reason I love that line about "keeping God's way" so much is that it is actually very similar to Jesus' teaching about the "narrow road". The word "way" is the focus and in Hebrew the word "way", is translated into the word "derek" which means "a course of life or mode of action". Jesus was never concerned about the masses. He never signed an endorsement deal to bring him followers by putting him on a billboard in which he was paid to promote the "Jesus Sandals". Jesus' concern was to save the brokenhearted and the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans while teaching them a new "way". He aimed to bring all those to Him who new first hand that if life was only about what happens here, then "life isn't fair". The early followers of Christ in Acts were known as "the way" and it's no coincidence that they carried that name. In Christ is a new life and the old is gone. Jesus was interested in saving anyone and everyone, but never if they planned on keeping their own life which is the reason he invited anyone to join His "way". If you disagree, look at what He told the "young rich ruler" in Mark 10.

My goal today is not to bash Sunday church or the people who share the same Faith as me. It's not to push myself up as somebody who "gets it". My goal today, through Psalm 37:34 is to remind us that God has a plan for those people who choose to walk on His narrow path, no matter how much pain, hardship or suffering we endure. It's through that plan of the narrow path that we are to inherit His perfect Kingdom. As you see others around basking in the success of "making it" while the world is falling apart, don't be jealous or discouraged as that reaction only indicates your immaturity in Christ and His eternal perspective. I also want to say that I think it's wonderful if you go to church on Sunday (as we do sometimes) but doing that is not enough. Doing a "life group" or a "bible study" is not enough. The only thing that is enough is finding Jesus to be your everything. Life is found in glorifying God and the joy that comes from accepting the gift of grace from Jesus Christ. Without Christ there is no life, and a life without His Spirit is one in which finding your security in Him seems not only silly but ignorant. You have a choice, and you are either in or you're out. Repent today, let God transform you from the inside out and start living a life of fullness and vision, a life in which our joy does not go up and down like the stock market, but is full because of what we have in Jesus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 33)

"The LORD will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial." Psalm 37:33

I don't know about you, but as a little kid I had a habit of breaking, losing, or ruining toys and "things" that weren't mine. I never did it on purpose, but it seemed like I would stop paying attention to what I was doing at just the perfect time in order to ruin or mess up something of worth. One instance has never left my head and the feelings in my gut of condemnation can be recalled any time I need a definition of that word. I was about eleven or twelve years old, playing in my parents garage on some weight machines (something else I also managed to mess up). I don't remember exactly what happened from the point that I got off the weight machines, but a few minutes later my stomach was churning as I was staring at a nice scratch in the back right door of my Dad's brand new "7 series" BMW. He had just gotten the car as a result of his first "big" year in business for himself and it was his new favorite toy. I remember pondering whether or not to "come clean" as I had a friend over and didn't want him to be sent home. I also remember considering the alternative of telling him that, "I didn't do it. Must have been hit by another car in a parking lot" until I realized that he'd park this car at the end of a parking lot so that this type of thing couldn't happen. No matter what, He was going to know I did it and I feared that this "sin" was about to lead to death as I went in and told Him. I walked up to him, wooden spoon in hand, pants down and told him to take it easy. Not really, but in hindsight that would have made the story better right? I actually went in, told him, saw his face turn red as he tried to hold in his frustration and gave me grace as he turned this difficult situation into a lesson about why I shouldn't be moving large things next to a car if I'm not strong enough. It also has given me the reputation as somebody who doesn't lie, something that has stuck with me the rest of my life.

As I read today's Scripture, recognizing that it is a response to verse 32 which reads "The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death" I can't help but think of how grateful I am to have a Father God who's on my side, who sees what I'm going through, even when it seems as though it may kill me. I also have God, who because of Christ, sees me as blameless and righteous as I let His Spirit live in me and make the decisions for me. In my story, though I sinned as a little boy (numerous times...still do) I am able to recognize that like my Dad's response, I will not be condemned when I come to trial. Though my circumstances may become tougher because of my own actions or the actions of those who don't like me, eternally, as Romans 8:1 states "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Today's passage raises a few questions to myself as well as the potential readers. Are you feeling like God has abandoned you? Are you questioning whether or not God exists because of the people around you treating like you a mental midget for having such a medieval philosophy? Have you done something that you consider to be unforgivable because of the hurt that it has caused another person or do you feel worthless in this life? Do you believe you are unworthy of God's love, because of the person you are "in the flesh"? Let me briefly answer each one of these for you in the Spirit of today's Scripture and with the use of God's eternal word.

Psalm 37:33 starts off by saying, "God will not abandon Him to his power". "Him" is you! God will not abandon you no matter what you are going through. If you need some reassurance in this, I would encourage you to not only read the entire New Testament to see how well God knows you and your needs (as well as loves you and offers eternal life in Jesus Christ), but to take a couple of minutes after this blog today to read Psalm 139 in which David gives us a clear description of where God is and how well He knows you. Here's the link...

The second question above was, "Are you questioning whether or not God exists because of the people around you...?" This answer is two part. The first part is that the people of this world (minus the Spirit of God in them) are wrong as 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." When we take other people's words for anything, without figuring them out for ourselves we are actually being immature, selfish and lazy. God doesn't always make sense to man, and therefore the only way to discern what God is doing (i.e allowing evil, death, etc...) is to get to know Him by accepting Christ. Keep in mind, that the idea in which God operates, and us following that plan SHOULD appear to be "folly" to those who don't share the same view of Christ. The second part of this answer lies in the "Spirit of God" line. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul states, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual." If you are questioning God's existence and the realness of Christ because the smartest people you know don't follow this view, I'd suggest writing out who's "wisdom" you want to trust. The wisdom of the Spirit is eternal and true, while the "wisdom" of man only gives answers based on a finite perspective. Spiritual truth is real, and the way to interpret it is not by asking somebody who doesn't speak that "language". That's like asking a bumble bee to tutor you in Spanish. You would never do that, and having the things of God interpreted by MTV, the news, Wikipedia, Kanye West, a friend who doesn't know Christ or even the President of the United States is also a bad idea.

"Have you done something that you consider to be you believe you are unworthy of God's love?" These can be the toughest for people, especially men who believe they must prove to God their "worth" in order to receive His love and pardon from sin. We constantly aim to prove ourselves to parents, family, friends, our boss, and our culture to show them our worth. But our worth is different to God. We have eternal worth, intrinsic value as the Christian Philosophers would say, because we are created in His likeness (see Genesis). Because of our worth, the Gospel was presented in which eternal life with the Creator could be guaranteed by the acceptance of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing we can do will separate us from the love of God which is why the constant prodding of Jesus to follow him, never leaves us alone. The inheritance of God's Kingdom comes with that faith and our perspective is changed from finite to eternal. Keep in mind that God has to love us, because we are made in His image (this includes both those who follow Christ and those who don't, which is why Christ is an option for all and not just a few). However, 1 John 3:1 in context, makes it clear that the family of God are those who accept Christ. It says, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us, is because it does not know Him." If you choose to love God in Christ, you are in. If you choose to go about life alone, you can expect to never understand where the one true God is leading His people.

I hope you realize today that you are a child of God and it's up to you whether or not you continue to seek emancipation from Him, or if you accept His free gift of love and grace through Jesus Christ. When you accept Christ you are accepted into the true family of God. As a member of that family, God does not condemn and will not abandon you. Trust Him with your life today, understanding that His ways are not ours, and that's a much better option as we see daily what the best thinking of human beings has done to the world we live in.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 32)

"The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives;" Psalm 37:32

You know what I'm tired of? Scare tactics. Everybody uses scare tactics to manipulate others into backing a specific agenda or ideology. We see it everywhere, like in College sports where boosters threaten Universities that their pockets will no longer be "bottomless" unless a specific coach is fired or hired. You can't miss it in politics where everything is "extreme"; one silly idea is that we all deserve health care as if it's a birthright. This specific side then scares us by saying that if we don't give everyone health care we're letting all of humanity down (according to Scripture we are born sinners and the wages of that is death, so praise Jesus that we even get to live at all). The other political side argues that to change anything about the health care system is to make this a Communist nation (Why is reforming health care a problem? Isn't the governments role to protect the citizens? Just seems like both parties could meet in the middle, and not do a government plan/Co-op; as a government run anything doesn't seem to work (USPS for example) but make sure the Government oversees that the citizens and businesses are no longer raped by the health care and drug companies). We even see scare tactics by the church. We talk or sing about the "Amazing Grace" of God, and then scare people into giving their lives to Him. The biggest decision they'll ever make, and we expect them to give in without actually presenting the true Gospel of Christ. Instead of accepting a life in Christ, many new believers are so scared of hell they take on their own version of "Pascal's wager" without ever becoming a disciple.

What's worse is when the Christian community gets on their political high horse and acts as if God is not sovereign (I've suffered from this for years). We believe that the United States is Israel "part deux" and because it's "chosen" there is no way that it can fall apart. Sure, we should vote on the things that we truly believe in (we as followers of Christ should understand freedom and liberty more than anybody), but we act as if losing our citizenship in America means losing our citizenship in Heaven. I don't want to see socialism or communism as much as the next guy, but is our hope really in this Country? Today's verse is a great reminder of what Christians can expect in the world around them before Christ returns. We should not be surprised to see everything "coming apart at the seams" in America and elsewhere. We should in no way fear "Global Calamity" even when it is used as a scare tactic for the current (or past) governments to get what they want. Personally, if things were not falling apart (scare tactics or not) I'd be more concerned as I'd have to start questioning whether or not God's word is trustworthy. Two particular scriptures in the New Testament go along perfectly with today's passage.

The first is 1 Peter 4:12-17 which states, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

The second is Matthew 24:4-14 in which Jesus states, "...Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

As followers of Christ, we must not fear these times, or be shocked that these things are happening. This also doesn't mean we need to become apathetic in our position towards worldly affairs. What today's message is helping to remind us is that we have a God on the throne who is bigger than all of the worlds problems. We have a God who makes us aware of what will happen in the world, and what will happen to us as followers of Christ before Christ returns. This is is not a message of scare tactics, but of truth, and as Christ says in John 8:32 "...then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free". Be free in Christ today, glorifying Him as you find your joy in Him. Trust your life to Him and know that not only does He know what's going on around us now, but He predicted it for us to know ahead of time. Find comfort in knowing that a Father who loves you, has a perfect plan and He wants you to be part of it in Christ. Do not fear those who hate you, and take courage as you are part of an army that will be crowned "eternal champions".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 31)

Before I get started, I want to say how much I miss this every day. If the Lord gives me the time, I will write this daily. But, my main ministry (my wife and daughter) take precedent over everything else and when I haven't been writing, just know that I'm serving them whether it be by working more, giving them more time, or praying for them. Now for today's word...

"The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip." Psalm 37:31

I write this on Sunday September 13th, 2009, the first day of the NFL season and the end of the second week of college football. The weather has gone from hot and sticky with no visibility and a steamy mirage just steps in front of me to a cool breeze, beautiful (yet comfortable) sunshine and a view of the soon to be snow-capped mountains some sixty miles away from where I'm sitting. For me, fall (which starts September 22nd) is the best time of the year, a time in which everything "seems" right. Football is on all weekend, kids are back in school, my electricity bill drops by 50% as I no longer have to run the air conditioning all day, plans for my wife's birthday are being drawn up like a basketball coach with three seconds left to play, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and anything in the wardrobe can be worn as it's just "cool enough" for jeans and a sweatshirt, yet just "warm enough" for shorts and a t-shirt.

There is something about the changing of seasons that gives us a clean slate, or at least the feeling of one. Like a snake changing it's skin, we feel as though we are coming out of the old scaly summer into the paradoxical smoothness yet crispness of the fall. But, from our experience in years past we soon will remember that with the new season comes new challenges, new joys and new sorrows. Though the seasons are an amazing rhythm to life that we innately know God has created to give us "newness" and "freshness"; as soon as the new season is close enough that we can see it, we drop God's hand and sprint into it without Him, thanking Him for bringing it, then choosing to run on the bumpy road that He sees as a life we choose to once again, live without Him. We refuse to accept the gift of changing seasons in which we can experience each moment to the fullest as we find joy in what God will do while we walk with Him; in exchange for taking advantage of a "new" time as a chance to create a new "essence" for our lives. The sad part of course, is that the closer we are to God, the more we realize that the true essence of our lives has been given to us by Him, yet when we dropped His hand sprinting into our "new" life, we dropped all meaning and our steps are no longer firm.

Personally, this lack of contentment is something that I've struggled with every day of my life as long as I can remember. As a child I wasn't allowed to have certain shoes because they cost too much and I would dwell on that even though I had a great pair of shoes already. When I was 12, I couldn't wait to be a "teenager" as if there is some perk for me (although today it seems that 12 is the new 18). When I was 15 and got a driver's permit I was frustrated that my parents couldn't have had me a year earlier so that I could be driving without them by now. At 18, While being recruited to play college basketball, I told coaches not to waste their time because I was "too good" to play at a small school like theirs. Thanks to God's sense of humor, I ended up at Vanguard University going 7-27 as a Senior losing to all those "small schools" that recruited me. The list goes on, but as I'm about to turn 29 I'm realizing that true contentment can never be found in the things of this world. The life I was trying to create for myself in the upcoming "season" was empty if my heart hadn't been transformed into the heart of Christ.

I don't know what it is that makes us believe the "perfect" mate, job, car, toy, etc... will bring us the meaning of life that we missed in "seasons" past. Just to make this clear, when I say "us" I'm not talking to the non-Christians here but to the actual followers of Christ, me included. We have fallen into the trap of "existentialism" from the 1960's. We sing Beatles songs like they are worship music yet don't pay attention to the lyrics. We show up at church to find this "give yourself a better life" (not the gospel) message gift wrapped with a new name in some new fancy Christian book that everybody at church is saying you "must read". Gone is the steadiness of God and learning about who He truly is in His own word because according to some guy who's teaching you, God's word may be fallible. Gone is the absolute truth that Jesus is who He says He is (and was actually killed for saying) and in is creating a Jesus in our own image. Let's face it, we say we love Christ, but most of the time, we love that "we love" Christ because we think we are giving ourselves meaning and creating a much better eternal life than the alternative. Gone is letting God's word do the teaching, and in steps the hip new speaker with the popular book that doesn't make anyone feel left out. We all "might have a shot" if we are willing to change who Jesus says He is, is the new message even if it means an unsteady life in which we "figure out our meaning". In the Spirit of compassion we've thrown out the true Gospel in exchange for the crowd pleasing good intentioned unsteadiness that is known as post-modernism.

Then again, this conforming to culture should not surprise us, even in our own church. Because we live the same lifestyle as those who don't follow Jesus we give all of our time on the weekend to watching football (ouch) at the expense of prayer that brings us closer to our Creator or giving our families the attention they deserve. During the week we may spend our evenings in bars buying rounds to fit in so people don't think we're those "crazy Christians who are out of it". (having a drink is not the issue here, it's the lifestyle). As one guy told me, a "Christian fanatic" is really some person who loves Christ more than you do. In today's culture I aim to love Christ without being "fanatical" yet I call myself a "fan" of numerous sports teams which as we know is short for the word "fanatic", how does that work? An even bigger issue is that we all watch the same smutty TV that allows us to see the same commercials as the non-believers. The ones that remind us that our walk here through life is always in need of something, it can't be firm. We're bombarded with the lies that nothing will make the steps of life firm. Many times commercials give me the feeling I have right after I put on a great new pair of white shoes and a small speck of dirt gets on them the first day they're being worn. That sick feeling that I now need to buy new ones. Finding contentment in anything other than God is like having delicious sugary treats at every meal, sure they taste great but eventually you realize that it's not worth feeling sick and sticking with substance is the only way to get true nourishment.

Today's scripture is clear that we can put an end to the senseless chasing after a life of meaning and contentment. God has already presented us with an opportunity to experience contentment in Him as we accept a life in Christ. According to God's word, the righteous man has the law of God in his heart, and that is enough in this life and for eternity to keep him content. Romans 13:8-10 tells us that,

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. "

When we love, we are acting out of the law that is on our hearts, the law that keeps our steps firm. We are actually fulfilling it in the same way Christ did, by loving God and loving others. When we are acting like Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are walking on a path that is firm both now and into eternity because God's law is eternal. Numerous times in Scripture we are taught that God is never changing in His character, yet, we choose to walk away from Him, forsaking the narrow, firm, steady path, in exchange for the lies of the Price of this world. Don't be duped by anyone who tells you that you can figure out what you're here for. No book written other than the Bible can fulfill that, and God clearly states that in knowing our true meaning, we will walk a steady path. The only way to accept what God can and will do in your life, is to get out of His way, quit trying to figure out what He wants you to do and understand that our main job of life is to accept the gift of Christ and respond by loving God, loving others, and glorifying God in our joyful acceptance of His constant grace.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 30)

"The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just."

Isn't this the truth? It's passages of Scripture like this that make me question my own righteousness when I consider the time I spend trying to make people like me more with my words and the fact that I'm always sharing my opinions on worldly issues though they have no eternal significance. (Of course, I'm reminded of what makes me righteous when I re-read 2 Corinthians 5:21 which states, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.") So, before we get going on today's Scripture, we need to be reminded that our righteousness comes strictly by the grace of God through His son Jesus Christ. It's nothing we can do on our own, and only comes by giving up the right to yourself in exchange for the filling of God's Spirit.

Now with that being said, one word in today's scripture seems to stand out to me when it comes to what we will speak about if we are to be followers of Jesus. The word is "wisdom" and God's usage of this word is much different than our own. Sure, Scripture teaches us many things about the importance of the words we use in our every day living, but the frequency of our speech can be determined by us, while it appears that if we are to speak wisdom, it will only come from Him. Proverbs 10:19 states, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise." This proverb is a perfect example for us to see that we can control how stupid we sound to others by personally deciding how much we say (wish I would consider this more often) However, this still doesn't explain why our words should be considered "wise" and where that wisdom comes from.

This may seem funny to say, but I often struggle with being "wise" by the world's standards. I am frequently asked for advice when people are going through difficult circumstances and my response is to provide them with what seems to be a common sense answer to their problem. However, my typical "wise" speaking is done out of what I consider to be right, and the sad part is that God's sense does NOT equal my common sense or the common sense of the world. So, as I meditate on tonight's passage, I decided to research what wisdom sounds like to God.

In this "pursuit of God's wisdom" I came across Proverbs 2:6 which states, "For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." I can't help but look at this and feel silly for thinking that I'm able to come up with "wise" answers without the Spirit of God giving those answers to me. Interestingly enough, this Scripture not only states that like each breath we take, wisdom is also given by God but that only out of His mouth, comes true wisdom. Tying this in with today's verse, we recognize that if we are to speak, we ought to sound more like God (full of real knowledge and understanding from an eternal perspective) than somebody like Oprah, Ryan Seacrest, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Maher or Barack Obama. What I mean by that is that God strictly speaks truth while the latter icons speak out of fear in a style known as "political correctness".

This idea of speaking out of fear is what separates true wisdom from the wisdom of the world. Pop psychology, Pop culture talking heads, emerging church pastors (heck, most pastors in general) and politicians all speak out of the fear of man and not out of the wisdom of God. What I mean by this is that in order to keep people around, create a larger following, keep people showing up on Sunday, or having more people voting for you, the message is geared towards scratching a followers "itching ears" by not offending them or alienating them even if it means not speaking the whole truth. Though the local marketing and branding firm would consider this approach "wise" (as would Joel Osteen), speaking out of the fear of man is not considered wise the more I read in God's word, even if YOU think it may bring more people to Christ.

Instead, the wisdom of God for the common man is defined by Proverbs 1:7 which states "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". We can't be considered wise, unless we understand where wisdom starts. If you are aiming to please man by telling them what they want to hear out of fear that they won't like you, or show up at your church, or vote for you, it is clear that you are not filled with the Spirit. The man filled with the Spirit has abandoned himself out of a healthy "fear of God" and is not concerned with what the world says is wise. What is wise is always speaking the truth out of a healthy fear of God even if it doesn't make sense to the world around you. This is not something we can do on our own but only by the grace of God who reminds us that true wisdom doesn't sound like the words of a man speaking what he thinks makes sense and instead sounds like the Spirit of God speaking through a man who's life is abandoned to Him.

If your speech constantly sounds like a commercial pushing your product (yourself, your message, your company, your church, etc...) by telling people what you think they want to hear instead of speaking the truth (which is wise), than I'd suggest you take some time before God to see if you truly fear Him. If you fear a life that is not secure by worldly standards, than you don't fear God. By fearing God, you give up the right to yourself which is the beginning of wisdom and as a result the words that you will speak will only confirm Psalm 37:30.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"The Shack"...Good or Bad?

I came across another person today that was going gaga over this book. Personally, I don't get it. Sure it's entertaining, but it's more dangerous than entertaining. Here's a quick 8 minute video on Mark Driscoll's take after reading "The Shack" and the dangers of using this book as a way to get to know God more practically by our own standards. If you have read this book, you owe it to yourself to check this video out and think critically about what you're reading. I Look forward to getting some time to write on Psalm 37 tommorrow. Good Night and Blessings to you all!

(Keep in mind, there are multiple view points on this book but as followers of Christ our aim should always be on the "Way, The Truth and the Life". Before you talk about how this book has changed your life, I'd urge you to study what is really being taught to see if you truly agree.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Upcoming at the "LBTT" (Light Before the Tunnel)

It's been a crazy couple of weeks at work and I miss getting on here daily to both personally learn from the Scripture that's being shared and write about what God is speaking to me through it. If you have been following along with Psalm 37 you will recognize that we are only 11 posts away from finishing it up. Just to make it clear, that will not be an end of this blog and I'm excited about what God is going to do with it. Once this is done, the content (not the site) will get a slight face lift as I will aim to bring you more truth this side of Heaven. I will be posting links to the things I read, reviews and/or thoughts on the books I'm going through and Lord willing more written content that will inspire the integrity of a life lived in Christ.

As I've reached out a few times before I've asked you all what is going on in your life and I've had the blessing of answering quite a few of you through email. I want to put it out there again that if there are questions you have as you struggle in your faith (like I do at times), topics you want to read more about, suggestions on books to read, or anything else that is moving you to talk to me please don't hesitate to shoot me an email (it's on my profile page).

In the meantime I am praying about what God would desire to say through me. As you have noticed I have not posted since the 2nd of September and besides being busy, the main reason is that I wasn't inspired to do so. I aim to keep this site pure in that I desire to "discern truth", "abandon self", and "trust Him" all in the power of the Holy Spirit. I want to make it clear that at no time do I want to write something just because it's "been a couple of days". If God has something for me to say, He will give me the time and inspiration to do so.

Today, as you prepare yourself for going back to work or school tomorrow I want to leave you with a quote that should enhance the preparation. It's from Florence Nightengale and it reads,

"Life is a hard fight, a struggle, a wrestling with the principle of evil, hand to hand, foot to foot. Every inch of the way is disputed. The night is given us to take breath, to pray, to drink deep at the fountain of power. The day, to use the strength which has been given us, to go forth to work with it till the evening".

As you enjoy the rest of your day, pray that God would fill you this work week with His peace and unfailing love. My hope is that none of us would aim to be God's trophy in our own power and ability but instead to increase in our fellowship and relationship with Jesus Christ that God may be glorified due to our proximity to Him. It's in our proximity to Christ that the abundance of life in John 10, John 14 and John 15 may be lived out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 29)

"the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever." Psalm 37:29

If you're thinking you've read this line before you have not lost your mind. We've already discussed it in Psalm 37:9 and Psalm 37:18 and I'd encourage you to go back and check those out because today my "inspiration tank" is running low. Anyway, though I feel a little "flat", I do think the Spirit is teaching me something new (or reminding me something old is more like it) even though we've discussed today's topic twice already. For whatever reason, today's verse struck a different cord in me about how I ACCEPT the gift of Jesus and the inheritance that comes along with being a child of God.

I don't know about you but I have a really hard time receiving gifts. I don't like to open them in front of people, and most of the time I almost find it easier to just keep giving as opposed to getting. I think the biggest reason that I have a hard time receiving gifts is due to the old cliche, "nothing in life is free". Personally, it seems that every time I receive a gift my initial thoughts and feelings are not ones of gratitude but are actually plans about how I'm going to out give the giver (after that is figured out in about 10 seconds the giver gets the big thank you followed by a hug, kiss or both depending on how close we are).

It's not that I don't like when people get me something, it's more about how I just have this insatiable urge to prove to them how grateful I am by getting the giver something in return. The idea of a free gift in this world doesn't make sense and in the grand scheme of things, there always seems to be a "catch" to whatever is given. Today, as I think about the gift of Heaven, and this unbelievable inheritance I receive because of the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; My mind spins in circles about how I'm going to prove to Him just how thankful I am. This spinning mind typically has me hurrying around so fast trying to please God, that I fail to just relax in an attitude of gratitude for His gifts of love, mercy and my eternal inheritance. The more i consider His gift I'm coming to realize that my version of a return gift needs only to be in my attitude of trust in Him and not in the way that I prove to Him in my own power just how grateful I am.

As I sit writing I'm realizing that more often than not I'm rarely surrendered to His will. Instead I typically enforce mine in His name as I continually feel like I owe Him. It's tough to admit this but instead of accepting his inheritance and being a vessel of His Holy Spirit; I spend more time figuring out what the "Christian" thing to do is and fail to be available to let God's Spirit work through me. Because of this habit of being unable to trust Him and acting like I don't believe that His gift of salvation is free, I sprint through life trying to prove to Him and other "believers" that I'm worthy of His inheritance even though it's already been promised.

The reason that abandoning the self is discussed so much on this blog is that in our own selfishness and pride, we are constantly getting in the way of God's Spirit. We too often rush blindly into doing what we think is the "right" instead of being patiently directed by God's Spirit where we should go. As you all are aware by now, God is rarely on time but never late in the way He works with His children. Even though we are constantly told that we should be "doing this" or "doing that" in order to grow in our faith with Him and prove to Him why we deserve His gifts we need to recognize the difference between a cultural habit and what is actually God's word. Your need to remember that your inheritance is safe if you are willing to surrender your life to Christ. You don't have to sign up every week to help at a church on Sunday or have a business card that says you work for a ministry to actually have a ministry that is led by God's Spirit. If you allow the Spirit to work a "ministry" through you, you will actually get out of the way of trying in your own power to repay your inheritance, and at the same time let the light of God shine through you in ways you may not know until you receive your eternal gift.

Today, as you read this, I hope that you will set some time aside and be honest with yourself. Are you trying so hard to be like Jesus that you are missing out on letting God's Spirit transform you into Him? Do you believe that God's blessings will only come if you read scripture at a certain time or pray "x" number of times daily. Clearly the disciplines of the Christian faith are imperative but not because we have to do them in order to earn our gift or be considered righteous. We do them because the Spirit in us leads us into what is right and if we could just get ourselves out of the way we may actually begin to look a lot more like Jesus at the same time. The more we become like Christ, the more we take on the eternal perspective that the inheritance we receive is something we could never obtain on our own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trusting Truth- 40 Days of Psalm 37 (Day 28)

"For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;"- Psalm 37:28

Many days I read scripture and have a hard time believing that it is completely inspired (God breathed). Something inside of me wants to call it a fairy tale and more or less enjoy the stories, take what I like and disregard what seems awful by the world's standards. Today is one of those days I struggle to understand why God can cut off anybody eternally. Does He understand political correctness? Hasn't He taken a marketing class about how to appeal to the masses? I have no problem understanding His love for the just, and His love for His faithful ones but how can He cut off not only the wicked, but also their children? Isaiah 55:9 is one of the best responses God gives when you or I have thoughts questioning His best intentions, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts".

To make something clear, I don't know why God allows anybody to not be with Him eternally after we die. The best definition I've heard about those who are "cut off" was by J.P Moreland when he described Hell as a "cosmic quarantine" in which those who didn't want to know the true God while they're here are actually given a place to dwell for eternity because God can not just abolish something made in His image. He also stated "tongue in cheek" that, "God is just giving them what they wanted". In other words, Hell is still an act of love, though we find it difficult to see it that way. We have read over and over throughout this Psalm the eternal promise and protection of God for the righteous ones who have accepted Him. But today's passage, fast forwarded to the present culture has really got my mind going.

As a new father I have a strong passion to love my daughter like God loves us. That love involves comforting, being reliable, sacrificing without conditions and caring just as much as it involves discipline and chastening so that she may learn more about life than getting what we want when we want it. When reading today's verse I really want to focus on the importance of not leading our children astray and recognizing the importance of being a great influence on our children as followers of Christ. Also, context of today's scripture is very important and we need to understand that not all of the Psalms are to be taken as literal, word for word foundational truths which is similar to the way Proverbs should be read. I'll have to explain this in greater detail at a later date, but you need to take my word for it today. Instead, what we read today is a promise that in most cases, evil breeds evil and good breeds good. If you don't live a life with God, not only will you be cut off from Him eternally, but you will also miss out on the blessings He has for you now.

Instead of reading me any further today I have found an article that is very interesting that speaks out to the parents, especially younger parents who need to recognize a need to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2) We need to recognize the importance of today's scripture as a call to remain submitted to the will of God as it not only benefits us, but also benefits our offspring. In the spirit of being "cool" or "with it" we followers of Christ have tried to walk in an that we consider to be gray, while God sees it as black and white. Aim today to live a life submitted to the will of God, a life filled with the Spirit that we may not fall into a fear that we are not "hip" or "normal". What's important is that we remain "in the vine" (John 15) and abide in Christ both for the sake of ourselves and for our families.

Below is a link to the article I'm suggesting regarding fascinating numbers based on polling done by The Barna Group. After reading all of the numbers George Barna concluded, "Millions of Christian parents want to appear to be relevant in their children’s eyes, and to provide gifts that fit within the mainstream of postmodern society...The problem is that many of the entertainment products that meet those criteria conflict with the moral precepts of the Christian faith. Parents have to make a choice as to what is more important: pleasing their kids’ taste and sensibilities, or satisfying God’s standards as defined in the Bible. When the decision made is to keep their children happy, the Christian parent is often left with a pit in their stomach."

Don't be left with a pit in your stomach. As we see in Psalm 37:28, when we act out in evil ways, there are possible eternal (and temporal) consequences for not only ourselves, but also our families. In the spirit of being selfless parents trying to please our children, we actually become selfish and fail to recognize that we are fearing man more than we are fearing God and in turn may be causing our children to miss out on both current and eternal blessings.