Monday, December 20, 2010

The Immature Church

My Mom and Dad just showed me an article by Jaynan Clark, the president of the Word Alone Network.  Rather than speak for her, I will just copy down what I consider to be the 'meat' of what she has to say.

{ "We are living in a time that publicly despises such a proclamation (referencing the Gospel message).  We have denied our sinful state to the point of not even wanting to talk about "sin" anymore because it is such a "downer".  Our refusal to acknowledge its dominion over us has resulted in a context that inhales and exhales as hedonistic, narcissistic, defiant spoiled children.  Some of these "children" are in their sixties and seventies, and have never put the lessons of the 1960's into perspective. The free love, self-gratification, "I'm OK--You're OK, so get out of my face, who are you to tell me how to live, slaves to the self and the pursuit of personal happiness folks are running the show.  They are in positions of leadership in government, business and denominational churches.  The "me" generation has not yet accepted that their "me-ness" is the ultimate First Commandment violation.  Putting oneself in the place of God has dire consequences for all.

This celebration of the self--belief in the divine spark of goodness within, rejection of absolute truth claims, belief in the Gospel without the law, redefined freedom that applauds action without consequences, redefined love that is a tepid tolerance, and blind acceptance of everyone and everything--has led to this place and time when reevangelization is our primary calling.  It must begin in the very churches that pass out this other religion of "selfism" as if it was their "mother god's" milk." }

She has a lot of great and challenging things to say, many that I have been thinking about before.  One of the more profound things for me was her statement that the churches main goal is reevangelizism.  Do you know what that means? It means that the 'Christians' in the church don't know the Gospel and that our leaders must devote themselves to tell these, 'supposed Christians,' who Jesus is.   Scripturally this is not the purpose of the Church.  Today's church is immature; in reading acts and the epistles of Paul, there is a stark contrast in the structure, courage, integrity, and depth within the first 'church' than there is today.  The church isn't supposed to evangelize to itself, evangelism is supposed to be for the expansion of the Kingdom of God that already exists.  Rather those within the church should be equipping and discipling one another to evangelize... we have a long way to go.  Reevangelism must happen before we can reach maturity. This of course is a call to action. Lets get to it, there is no better time than now!

"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.  And God permitting, we will do so." Hebrews 5:11-14  -- 6:1-3

"Enemy-occupied territory - that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.


"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the World.  That is why the world hates you." John 16:21

"They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." John 17:16-19

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:11

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a savior from there, The Lord Jesus Christ." Philippians 3:20

So I have had this idea going through my head for quite a while.  I do not assert that it is a unique idea to the world; but this past year it has been a unique idea for myself.  It is the idea of detachment.  It is my belief that being detached/disconnected to the world is good and beneficial, while being attached and connected is actually negative.  Now before I say what I think detachment is, I want to say what I think it is not.  Detachment is not something that encourages laziness or contentment.  It does not allow for immature and rash behavior, nor does it render people stoic and unfeeling.  Rather it is quite the opposite.  It is a state of being that helps us fully engage with the life that God wants for us here on this Earth.  It is an acceptance of life to its greatest degree, a recognition of what is and what can be!

In order to understand this idea of detachment, it is first important to understand how it comes about.  Detachment revolves solely around God, for if it was about me personally I would not be detached.  As most of you who are reading this have experienced, life before Christ = life in this world.  Being a part of this world means that we are very dependent and attached to it.  Our decisions revolve around our feelings and desires, we are guided not by what is right and wrong but by what is most convenient or easy.  We worry more about how we appear to others, then how we can help them.  We are plagued with insecurity, self righteousness, jealousy, bitterness, and an all encompassing yearning for acceptance. ( I feel like I always need to buffer my statements, so that my few 'followers' don't get the wrong idea.  I am not trying to say that Christians don't deal with these things, but that our deepest desire as Christians is to conform to God, not the world.  To read more of this see previous blog).

Something miraculous happens when we are transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.  We know we are accepted!  Death no longer prevails over our lives, for we are promised eternity in Heaven!  Our perception suddenly, or gradually, changes; we now think "this life isn't about is about God."  How profound a revelation, what peace it can bring, if only we accept it.

Detachment then, is living my life for God rather than for myself.  As Christians we want to strive to glorify God in all things, for this is the only thing that matters.  My happiness comes second to doing what God wants, my well being also drops in priority.  No longer am I in the American "pursuit of happiness," but in the Christ like "pursuit of God".  God is so much better than happiness, although more often than not he fills us with Joy.

Detachment from the world and attachment to God revolutionizes how we make choices.  Decisions now are more influenced by who God is and what God wills, than by my feelings, others opinions, or my personal expectations.  As Christians we want to conform to God; what God sees as good we ought to see as good, what God sees as bad we ought to see as bad.  Things that make God angry and sad ought to make us angry and sad.  Likewise what makes God happy and joyful ought to make us happy and joyful.  The Sacrifice of Jesus, which gives us access to God and entrance to Heaven,  allows us to become detached from this world.  This detachment allows us to glorify God, to let Christ live through us, and to proclaim the Gospel through all things.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I probably should not be spending time on this now with finals going on, but it has been on my mind.  Being at Concordia I am very exposed to the 'liberal' side of Christianity.  However, I'm slowly coming to think it may not be Christianity after all.  Our country is moving towards a relativistic view of God.  I would like to look at just a few 'lies' that are being spread.

1.  Using our talents, in general, is glorifying to God.  God just wants us to utilize what he has given us.
This is a lie.  It says in 1 Peter 4:10-11 "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."  Therefore when we use our gifts, not only should we recognize who gave them to us, but also for whom we are using them for.  We should use them not for our own purposes, but for the purposes of God.  We need to cognitively seek God in everything that we do.  When we utilize our gifts and talents we do them because of God and for God.  This is much different than merely using them because we can misuse our talents and our gifts.  For instance I have always struggled with pride, and I often use my gifts for my own glory.  I can try to justify it saying, "I'm really doing it for God." But in reality I only care about how it makes me appear and affects me within this world.  We, as humans, are fantastic at lying to others and even more so to ourselves. 

 2.  Similarly people today want to say, if we do good things, and if we are good people; then we are seeking God.
This is a LIE. Romans 3:10-12, "As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  God is the only good.  When Christians do good things, we do them as a response to what God has already done.  All glory to God.  Over and over in scripture, we are instructed to give God the glory.  Even Jesus humbled himself and did not think himself equal with the father. We cannot do anything to gain salvation, we cannot do anything to attain oneness with God.  If we strive  for liberty, justice, peace, love, unity, or saving the environment, but do not seek God; then our lives are meaningless. 

3. The biggest lie of them all is that loving people is the same as loving God. 
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27.  This shows that loving God and loving others are two different things.  Now loving God incorporates loving others, but not the other way around.  Now all three of these are connected and very similar; so what conclusion can we draw from them.

"What is your deepest desire?" By deduction from above, if one says, "Being a good person, living life to the fullest, or doing everything to the best of my ability," then they are not Christian.  If this is their deepest desire then they are making those things their God.

However a Christian is someone who has been transformed by Jesus Christ.  A Christian is someone who loves the lord, not because of what they have done, but because of what He has done. Their lives are changed not because of knowledge, but because of understanding. If a person is Christian they will answer somewhat like this.  "My deepest desire is to know God.  To be in a closer relationship with him.  To seek him, and to strive to be like Christ."  Now this answer incorporates all the previous ones.  It includes being a good person, living life the fullest (given in a different light then most people who use that phrase), and doing everything to the best of their ability, yet it is so much more.  It is about God, not about us.

If our deepest desires revolve around ourselves, then we have it wrong.  This does not mean that a Christian does not sin; nor does it mean that a christian doesn't have sinful desires.  Rather it is a reflection of the deepest desire.  Do we desire to do what God wants us to do (by doing so we die to ourselves and find life in Christ); or do we want to utilize things for our own glory.  Its a simple yet difficult distinction between choosing ourselves or choosing God.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Political Hypocricy

During this time of campaigning and voting I have come to notice a very disturbing thing; the devotion, dedication, and radical support that we give to a political belief we have.  This in itself is not what troubles me, but the contrast between one's political support and the support one gives  to God's Kingdom is astounding.  Regarding political beliefs and candidates, supporters go to extreme measures to spread that belief and encourage others to cast their vote in accordance to it.  In the past couple days I have seen political supporters going room to room 'Evangelizing' to others.  They know they will get snubbed in some instances, and persecuted in others; but because they hold so tenaciously to their beliefs, they spread it anyway.  When it comes to politics, we want to get everyone involved, we push for truth, and we are taken back when we are met with ignorance.  Why don't we do the same thing, or even more so, in spreading the Kingdom of God?  Which of the two are more important?

God's Kingdom is far superior to those of this world.  It contains all that is good, all that is beneficial.  In fact the cause of His Kingdom, and the purpose for which it stands is far more important than any standpoint in our political systems.  For it doesn't have to do with health care, retirement, or education; but with the very lives that we cling too.  God's Kingdom is eternal life, the most important and profound revelation..period.  If God's Kingdom reigned in this world, our silly political systems and candidates would be rendered obsolete.  All good things would be fulfilled, and we would not have to vote or argue to get something accomplished. Why are we not campaigning with the same zealous nature for God's Kingdom, when it is far more important, and far more effective than the things we are devoted to?

In general, people are more involved and more passionate about a political standpoint than they are about Christ.  This seems absolutely absurd.  I'm sure there are democrats and republicans who would willingly face persecution in regards to their political beliefs, in fact I know some; but when it comes to their religious beliefs they are too meek to step forward.  Why is that?  The one revelation that changes entire lives, that saves us from eternal damnation and grants us unity and happiness with a loving God, is shunned and hushed up. God's sacrifice to welcome us into His Kingdom should be at the forefront of our thoughts day in and day out.  How profound is the message of Jesus Christ and how beautiful and wonderful a thing it; truly it must be the greatest cause one can fight for. Sadly what we ought to do isn't always the same as what we are doing.  Is our understanding of God so limited that it holds less relevance to our lives and to the lives of those around us than politics?

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only the it cannot be is moderately important. - C.S Lewis

Clearly it is possible for humans to be passionate about something, to hold a belief that is so strong that they want everyone else to know about it and believe it as well.  God, Jesus Christ, needs to be this thing.  It is of the utmost importance.  Anything without God, even politics, is meaningless. Yet for many, belief in God is a private matter, one that should only be spoken of in church or at home. That is utter blasphemy, at best it is a product of ignorance, at worst it is an excuse to be lukewarm partaking in evil.  Christianity without Evangelism does not reflect belief in the God that is revealed in Scripture, nor does it stem from an understanding of His sacrifice for us. Spreading the good new is clearly tied up in following after Jesus.

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:18-19

Now I do need to point out that it is important for us as Christians to be aware of our government, and to be responsible citizens within it.  But our political views should reflect God's will, not take precedence over our devotion to Him.  If we are involved with politics, it should be for the purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God; and it should be the revelation of Jesus Christ that pushes us to do so.  

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim and Earth and you get neither." -C.S Lewis

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Being Intentional

Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.(unknown)

 "Have the courage to say no.  Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it is right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity." - W. Clement Stone

"Integrity is what we do, what we say, and what we say we do." -Don Galer

 "Integrity is telling myself the truth.  And honesty is telling the truth to other people." -Spencer Johnson

Simply let your 'yes' be 'yes', and 'no' 'no'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:37

  Integrity is a very important trait to have; but even more important to practice.  In my opinion integrity has a lot to do with being intentional.  Being intentional means knowing what you are doing, and why you are doing it.  Another way to look at it is 'know thyself'.  Life is much more vibrant when we say what we mean and we mean what we say. They way we express ourselves should reflect what we actually think.  Many times we act only in accordance with the expectations and assumptions of other people; this does not reflect intentional will and therefore shows lack of integrity.  

One example we can look at to explain integrity is complimenting others.  If I compliment someone, I want to mean what I say.  I'm not going to throw fake compliments around just to make people happy, or to give the illusion that I am a good person. However I do want to give true compliments for other's happiness.  Untrue compliments are not necessary; for one can intentionally perceive true values and give praise accordingly.  There is no hierarchy of gifts in God's eyes and there shouldn't be in ours either. 

I am not big on receiving compliments, but I appreciate it when someone intentionally lifts me up. This being said I do not like compliments if they are fake or forced. So being intentional is about being real, not fake.  I want to be real; I want to call things as I see them.  As a friend and a Christan it is very important to intentionally lift others up.  Appreciating someone for who they are is real and truly beneficial; creating untruthful compliments is just a reflection of laziness.  Because again, everyone has qualities and gifts, and everyone needs words of encouragement.  It is possible to truthfully fulfill that need.

This runs true for more than just compliments. In fact compliments are inconsequential in comparison to the many other areas in which we should be intentional; but it does make for a good example.   We ought to be intentional with criticism, praise, conflict, forgiveness, evangelism, our actions, opinions, beliefs, and even our thoughts.  Our society does not push people to be intentional. The 'World's' perception on friendship, love, and life, is very insubstantial; seeming to pertain only to appearance rather than reality.  As Christians we are called to be real, to live intentionally, to be truthful, and to have integrity.  Integrity and honesty are very important; especially within the church.  Being intentional with one another can be hard, but the benefit it has for a community is beyond comparison.

Romans 12:3 - "Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us."

Proverbs 11:3 - "Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people."
Psalm 119:160 - "The very essence of your words is truth; all your just regulations will stand forever." 
Exodus 20:16 - "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

Proverbs 12:5 - "The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful." 

1 Timothy 1:19 - "Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked." 

Luke 16:10 - "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

God is the ONLY good; SEEK HIM

     There is only one good, and that is God. There is only one good thing that we can do for one another; that is pushing each other to seek God in everything. Without God nothing is good, not compassion, not aid, not rejoicing, not sadness; not happiness, humor, or community. If we aren't pushing each other towards God, then we are doing nothing. Without God, all of our interactions are meaningless.  God is the one who gives our life purpose, who gives our life meaning.  It is He that brings joy and happiness.  

      "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight (Isaiah 5:20-21). One of the most important things to know, is that we don't know.  Our definition of happiness, joy, and all other things are limited and tainted by our sin.  What we want is not always what we ought to do.  True happiness and joy comes when we align what we want with what we ought to do.  So what ought we do?  This wisdom we are not going to find in ourselves or in others, therefore we must look to God and look to scripture. "All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)." He is the author and perfecter of our faith, he was sent to bring us life to the full. Again there is nothing good outside of God.  

          If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians: 13:1-3).  Now it is important to keep in mind that this love is not defined by the World, but defined by God.  In my previous blog "Sacrifice, love, and God", I draw out what that love is.  

      John 15: 12-13 says, “My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Sacrifice is a necessary condition to Love.  So what is sacrifice?  We understand sacrifice through God's greatest sacrifice, Jesus Christ.  "Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love."  We therefore can say, whoever does not sacrifice does not know God because God is sacrifice.  In order to love we need to understand sacrifice, the only way to understand sacrifice is to know Jesus.  It follows that the only good sacrifice is done in regards to the will of God and to glorify Him. If good deeds are made good because of love (as seen in 1 Corinthians above), then only through Jesus Christ can we do good things.

         So what does that mean for our interactions with one another?  What can we do? Nothing apart from God.  Everything is given and comes from God, therefore we must bring ourselves to Him.  As a community, as friends, as the family of God we have but one task; SEEK GOD.  This should be our ultimate focus, this is above all things and incorporates all things.  When a brother or sister in Christ is down, the greatest thing we can do for them is to help them seek God.  When we interact with unbelievers, the only good thing we can do is to show them God and help them seek him.  When we rejoice, alone and with others, we should praise God together and seek after Him.

       Nothing is good apart from God.  That means if we comfort one another, rejoice with one another, or interact with one another apart from God; all we are doing is giving the allusion or appearance of what is good. The greatest comfort, and most selfless thing one can do, is to point a friend to God in everything; not taking credit or expecting reciprocating benefit.  By default this brings about the most fulfilling community, the most beneficial and real relationships that we can have here on Earth. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us form all sin (1 John 1:7)."  Individually striving after God, within a community of those who do the same, is the Kingdom come.  This happens because it is God that is doing the fulfilling, working through people yes; but it is by His mighty hand we are saved.

         "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11)."

        So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jew, Greeks or the church of God; even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)."

       Too often we accessorize God; we use Him instead of letting Him use us.  We do not worship an idea of God but a real, loving, powerful, creator, that is at work in our hearts and in this World.  It is time that we stop compartmentalizing our lives, and give everything to the one who can do something with them. 
"God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  For in him we live and move and have our being.  As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring.  Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone; an image made by man's design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 18:27-30)."

         Not seeking God results in spiritual death; this is hard to recognize because so many do not know what spiritual life is.  "Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.  They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.  Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave will enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and Masses with all their brawlers and revelers (Isaiah 5:11-15)." This is a wonderful chapter and I would write the whole thing on here if I thought people would read it (which you should anyway).

      So what does it look like to seek God?  I ask myself this question, which I got from Pastor Paul Washer online; My life has finally come to an end, at a ripe old age. At the funeral service, friends a family came up to pay their respects, what will they say about me?  Maybe they will say how I was a good person, a dedicated husband, a truthful friend, a loving father, or a disciplined worker.  The world regards these characteristics as good, but they are all worthless without God.  "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For everything in the world, the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, ...but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1John 2:15-17)."
On the other hand, they may say that the greatest aspect of me, was not me at all, it was God. Hopefully they would say that I loved because of God, that I sought after God in everything I did, and that it was God that made my life the way it was.  If we worship an idea of God, people will only see the illusion of God; if we worship God, then they will see God himself.

         If God is not apart of our relationships, then they are meaningless.  If God is not involved in our activities, then they too are meaningless.  If God is not present in our care for one another, or our thoughts, then those too our meaningless. In these instances we have but one consolation, that God can work through us despite us.  "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:9-11)."  Therefore we glorify God for his abundant love and mercy, and continue to strive after Him.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” --Howard Thurman

         "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched; this we proclaim concerning the Word of LIFE.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete (1 John: 1:1-4)."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Controversial Fellowship

There is a problem in the way we, as Christians, live our lives.  Especially in relation to people we have fellowship with.  The church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be our community.  It is with these people, under God, that we are supposed to find our home here on Earth.  So what does that mean for our fellowship with unbelievers?  Where should (not do) they fit they within our friends group. The conclusion I have reached is not widely accepted.  In fact it is a very hard thing to accept, and even harder to act accordingly.  But the fact of the matter is, Christians should not gain their satisfaction, or feel fulfilled, by relationships with unbelievers. 

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' 'Therefore come out from them and be separate, touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14)."  

On a fundamental level, do we have anything in common with unbelievers?  Actions can be the same, feelings can be parallel, but the belief/implication behind them are different.  As Christians all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings should be revolve around Jesus Christ.  Everything has new meaning, and is more fulfilling.  A Christian will participate in an activity as a free human, while a non-Christian will participate within the constraints of their own perception.  Things are said that reflect an understanding that does not involve Jesus, actions are taken that often times only stem from selfish motives.  Unbelievers do not have the freedom that comes with understanding the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; therefore they are enslaved to expectation and preconceived notion.  When a non-believer does something nice for me, I am grateful and will say thank you; but if a believer does the same thing, there is much more depth in the action, and much more fulfillment. 

Immanuel Kant explains this in a similar way.  He uses the words Autonomy and Heteronomy to show the difference.  If one lives autonomicly, then their lives are ruled from inside themselves.  Their actions are made based upon something they see as right; and right for all people to do.  Someone who lives heteronomically is controlled by things outside themselves.  They are enslaved by expectation, assumption, success, and pleasure.  Autonomy is freedom, freedom from the things which dictate our actions and from the 'laws of nature'.  It follows that the only thing that is good, is a good will.  Only Jesus gives this freedom.  Christians have it, non Christians do not.  Therefore all actions, words, and thoughts reflect either enslavement or freedom. 

Christians, being free, provide a fulfilling community to develop (at least it is supposed to, and does when done correctly).  Differences and conflicts are regarded in a different light.  Anger and malice is limited and dealt with properly.  Confrontation occurs out of love, and allows healing for all parties involved.  Christians interact with one another with the understanding that we are all sinners, and therefore equally deserving of the same thing, death, and the same gift, life.  With the same foundation of freedom, which is given to us by God, a Christian community is free from the constraints of the World to have true fellowship. "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:12-14)."

Now before I go too far, I need to interject that we, as Christians, are called to BE friends to all people.  However the same isn't true for us.  All other people don't have to be our friends. We cannot expect to gain our 'social fix', if you will, from non Christians; because on an eternal level, they have nothing to give us.  Now we can learn and benefit from non Christians, but the true fulfillment exist only within the Body of Christ.

"My command is this; love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 16:11-15)."  So was Jesus friends with everyone? Yes.  Was everyone Jesus' friends? NO.  His friends were those who were like minded in regards to the Father. However it is good to remember that Jesus did spend time with those outside of his disciples group, but it was with his disciples that he was closest to home.

"He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matt. 12:46-50)."

So when we reflect upon our own community, we must ask if it is truly fulfilling our need of fellowship.  If they are not Christian, then they cannot fulfill this need.  If they are Christians then they are pushing us towards Christ, wanting us to seek God in everything we do. If not, then they have little to offer besides camaraderie and simple pleasures.  We have much to offer the world, because God has given us much. We are sent to lead the enslaved to freedom.  We want to expand the family of God and let others taste the same freedom from their own desires, and gain reprieve from the evil of those around them.  A function of a fulfilling community is one that pushes us to our Savior, no matter what the circumstances, all other factors are trivial in comparison. 

To some this seems like an impossible thing to do, or perhaps even an evil thing. For the truth of the matter is, most of us don't differentiate between our friends.  We think of them all equally and seem to find fulfillment with all of them.  If this is the case for you either your perspective of fulfillment is wrong, the 'Christian' friends you have aren’t actually Christian, or both.  I think the differences in our relationships with believers vs. unbelievers should actually be a product of our re-birth under God.  When we become a new creation we are no longer of this world. How than can we gain fulfillment from someone who is a part of this world, and is dictated by the ways of it?  We are the city on a hill, the salt of the Earth.  If the salt loses its saltiness, what is it good for?  Christians are supposed to stand out. Christians are separate, by the very fact of being Christian.  There is a different standard, a different form of life that exists within the community.  Again, what does light have to do with darkness?  When we become apart of the Kingdom of God, we come into the light, therefore we are no longer in darkness.

If we gain our communal fulfillment from a non-Christian group, something needs to be changed.  We do not need to leave that group but to find a church (body of Christ) to become a part of.  We are who we surround ourselves with, and sometimes it is necessary to break of 'friendships' if they are negatively effecting our walk with Christ. I was talking with my Uncle Paul about this topic, he said something along the lines of, "When I am with a group of non believers, not only am I uncomfortable but I feel like I have so much work to do." What value do our interactions with unbelievers have unless we are looking to help them see, understand, and accept Jesus Christ?  In my opinion absolutely none.  There is no good outside of God, there is nothing worth while outside of the Body of Christ.  Then our interactions with unbelievers should be just like my uncle said, work. It is good work, and it is beneficial for us as well.  The only worthwhile thing we can do for unbelievers is to help them find Jesus Christ.  This can be done through actions or words (I think one leads to the other). If we do things with unbelievers that don't pertain to God, that time is worthless; for we gain nothing from it, nor do they.

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:36-38).'"  When Jesus saw unbelievers he had pity on them and felt compassion for them.  Why is it that we don't usually feel the same? I think we are supposed to, and our interactions should reflect those feelings.  If we don't, then we need to come to a new understanding to align ourselves with what scripture says. 
This could be an easy concept to agree with, but a very hard one to live according to.  I would love to have some critique on this, whether or not you agree or not.  This is something I believe to be true, but if it is not, I don't want to believe it.  

"On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm until the end will be saved (Matthew 10:18,22)."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Usefulness of Philosophy

       So often Philosophy, and therefore philosophers, get a bad rap.  They are considered egotistical, strange, and foolish for spending their time on something so frivolous as philosophy.  However I have discovered that this is not the case, that in fact we all use philosophy and that it might be the most important exercise we can do in our lives. Much of what I will write revolves around the ideas of Plato (just so you all know I'm not smart enough to come up with it myself).  I would also like to add, that I do not believe myself to be a philosopher,  for I am much to foolish and selfish to be labeled as such.  I just study philosophy which is much different.
        Philosophy: The rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
       There are two types of power, first is worldly power.  Worldly power is the power to persuade; this persuasion gives the allusion of well being without the 'wellness' actually existing.  It's roots are in ones selfishness.  For instance, one can alter there visage to appear a certain way without actually being as such.  I saw a commercial the other day for a 'corset' for men.  A tight shirt that prevents the extra belly fat from hanging over the belt line.  So the worldly power is all about appearance, whether it is truthful or not.
        The second type of power is Philosophy, getting to the truth, and being virtuous.  We have both implicit and explicit associations.  Many times these two things do not line up.  For example, I can claim to not be racist.  However, if I were to take a series of tests, matching faces with adjectives, I may find out that implicitly I actually am racist.  In the same sense one can claim to be just, even appearing so on the outside; but inside there is very little semblance of virtue.  When our implicit associations conflict with our explicit associations, meaning we hold two beliefs that contradict one another, we are unbalanced.  We are not in harmony with ourselves and therefore we are not happy.  What philosophy does, is it helps us align our associations so that we become balanced.  Our implicit and explicit associations become the same. Once we are true to ourselves and to others, only then will we find contentment and happiness.  
       This is called the Appearance versus Reality Distinction.  This can be taken into account when caring for two things, our bodies and our souls.  When we care for our body,  we have two choices.  The first choice, which uses worldly power, is that we can appear as if we are fit, using cosmetics, or plastic surgery.  We can eat food that appears, or seems good for us, which is junk food, but in reality it has negative effects on our well being.  In regards to caring for the soul, the worldly power causes one appear good without actually being good.  Again this leaves the individual to be unbalanced, unhealthy, and therefore unhappy.
      The second choice we have is to use philosophy.  If we want to be fit, philosophy says, exercise and eat right.  For exercise and health food choice give us the conclusion we desire and balance our implicit and explicit associations.  To care for our souls we need legislation and justice.  Philosophy tells us to strive for virtue, and to strengthen our character.  This second choice is clearly the better of the two, even though it is harder.  The 'real' is unpleasant but helpful', wheres the 'appearance' is pleasant but not helpful.  The 'real' is very similar to medicine.  It may not be pleasant but the outcome is well worth it.
      For many the appearance may seem to be enough, but here is the problem with that.  Aristotle draws up a theory of our soul; in which we have two parts.  Our souls contain an irrational and rational side.  Our irrational side also has two parts; the vegetative which pertains to growth (just like plants), and the appetitive.  The appetitive side of irrationality has to do with seeking satisfaction for our bodies.  This kind of soul exists in all living things, for all living things seek to please their physical needs.
      On the other hand we have our rational soul.  It is here that we are set apart from all other animals.  We have the ability to reason, and to use this reason to guide our actions.  It is in our reason that we are set apart, and by using our reason we can find happiness and balance in our lives.  The best situation is to have our Rational side control our irrational/appetitive side.  An easy example to illustrate this is in regards to food and hunger.  When we are hungry our appetitive side demands food.  However, also in our appetitive nature we want satisfaction.  If we are controlled by our appetite, we will eat junk food, and things that are not actually good for us.  Why? To sake the yearnings of our irrationality.  This of course leads to unhealthiness, and even earlier death.  Clearly it is not beneficial.  Using the same example we control our appetitive nature with our reason, we satisfy our appetite while eating good, healthy, wholesome foods.  Not only is this more beneficial but, actually will become more enjoyable, and will elicit the most happiness in the end.  This pertains to all aspects of our physical needs, and can be exemplified in a like manner.
      If our appetitive nature controls our reason, we become enslaved by our desires.  We become little more than animals, because our sole purpose revolves around satisfying our cravings. Most people will claim to want independence/self-sufficiency and freedom.  Therefore we must utilize philosophy to gain freedom from ourselves.  "The proper function of man, then, consists in an activity of the soul in conformity with a rational principle (Aristotle)."

      The pleasures of the mind are much better than the pleasures of the body, especially when the mind controls the bodily pleasures.  For the pleasures of the mind are substantial, long lasting, and fulfilling; while the pleasures of the body are insubstantial, brief, and unfulfilling. Philosophy is important, in fact, it is essential.  It is utilizing philosophy in our every day life that brings us true happiness; not perceived or imagined, but actual happiness. This can be taken too an extreme, whereupon our emotional capacity shrinks and we are become stoic to those around us.  "Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish selfish to seek other than itself." -Gibran

"To know is the best, and this will bring happiness. To know that you don't know is good. To not know that you don't know that you don't know, is the worst, and results in unhappiness." --Idea of Plato

"A useless person is one who cannot see the truth for himself nor can he learn it from others." --Aristotle

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Awe and Wonder

            Have you ever felt wonder, or a sense of awe? I have, and it is ethereal.  For me it transpires the most in nature, when all of my senses are being used to experience the moment.  The smell of pine, the swish of tall grass, the chirrup of crickets, the rough feel of bark beneath my fingertips, the feel of the sun, and the taste of fresh air; together, in harmony, elicit a sense of wonder and awe in me.  What is this phenomenon of wonder and where do these feelings come from?
           Kant has a theory, mainly in regards to beauty, but I think it can just as easily be related to wonder.  When we are struck with the beauty of a place, experience, or situation, wonder is born.  This feeling almost detaches us from reality.  In fact we can only experience true awe and wonder when we have no purpose for the thing which produces our wonder.  Using beauty as an example; if I view a flower and see it as beautiful, it means I have no desired purpose for that flower.  However as soon as I decide to pick it and bring it to someone, it loses its beauty to me, and I lose my sense of wonder along with it.  For wonder is elicited with purposefulness without purpose. We perceive that the flower has a purpose, but one that is not to our own ends. 
           True wonder then exists completely within the individual.  It actually is a moment when we are free from ourselves.  When have no immediate interest in the object of our attention, then our desires have no place in our experience.  Normally we are enslaved by our desires, but when we feel wonder and awe we step away from our selfishness for just a moment.  After the experience one can reflect and analyze the feelings that transpired, but by this time our reflection only pertains to the memory of what we felt.  In order to feel a sense of awe, to become awful as it were, we must try to experience without purposeful intention.  This is very hard to do, and that is why wonder strikes us unawares.  We can be completely focused on the task at hand, look up, and be completely wowed by what we behold.  That again, results because we didn’t expect it, and we didn’t use it; we just experienced it.  
           Wonder plays an important role in our existence.  It helps us realize that there is something more to our world then our independent lives.  When we are struck with awe, we bare witness to reality in a new and profound way.  We catch a glimpse of how everything and anything reflects God's glory and majesty.

"We need a renaissance of wonder.  We need to renew, in our hearts and in our souls, the deathless dream, the eternal poetry, the perennial sense that life is miracle and magic." -E. Merril Root

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baby Blocks and Wheat Bread

Throughout my life God has really taught me many things but one sticks out in particular.  Life in Christ is the best life..period.  Nothing we can think up, devise, or emphasize is better than what God has already laid out for us.  In fact they don't even come close.  And I am not saying that my life is perfect but God has blessed me with so many things and with so many people.  He has allowed me to experience the joy, wonder, thrill, challenge, comfort, and love that exists within a Christian community.  John 10:10 says,  "But I have come to give you life and life to the full."  If there is one misconception that I would love to see changed, is that Christianity is boring, or restricted form of life and therefore of a lesser quality.

Throughout the Bible God gives us many rules, commandments, and guidelines.  To many, especially after comparing the life of the world, these seem very restricting.  Why is it that God set all these guidelines? The easy answer is to say, so that we can be saved, or so we can get closer to God.  We sometimes fail to see or admit that God tells us these things, because in doing them, we will have a better life.  He loves us and wants us to find joy, peace, happiness, and has given us the answer of how to find it.   For with out a doubt this is what human beings, since the beginning of time, have been seeking after; true happiness and fulfillment for our existence.

I like to use a silly example to explain how this plays out.  Imagine one of those baby block toys, the ones where the triangle fits into the triangle hole, and the circle fits into the circle whole.  Now we are the triangle piece, and we have gotten it into our heads that we if only we can fit into the circle hole everything we will be good.  And just like a baby we start jamming, twisting, and turning that piece, to try and fit it.  But no matter what we do it just doesn't seem to work.  Negative consequences result in our lives when we try and fit into someplace we were not created to fit into.  We become helpless, we hurt ourselves and other people, anger becomes a problem, depression could result, and at the very least we never fulfill our life's true potential and end up living in some sort of half life.  God, just like a parent, is watching and shaking his head.  He created us and because He created us he also know what will truly fulfill us, and bring us happiness. He has given us instructions, and continues to tell us to try it His way.  He does know what is best for us, because he created us, and because He loves us.  Life apart from Christ is no life at all for we are still dead in our sins.  God did not send Jesus to only give us eternal life, but so that we can have the same life here on Earth as well.  For as Christians we are already apart of his Kingdom. 

The life he has for us is spectacular.  Relationships take on a whole new level of openness and trust.  We feel connected to God and others in a way that is sometimes unbelievable. The body of Christ, the church of God, is supposed to be the kingdom come.  This kingdom is full of everything that is good, where relationships are real and fulfilling.  No gossip, no vainness,  no grudges are present.  The fruits of the spirit abound and are an integral part of this perfect Kingdom.  Conflicts are handled in a mature and Godly way so that the truth can be revealed in the situation.  In regards to the world, life in Christ gives us freedom.  Before Christ we find ourselves in bondage to the world, to expectations, to success, to our selfish desires.  This abundant life, and the transformation of our souls gives us freedom from the shackles that hold us.  Activities can be enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment instead using them for a means to an end. An end that is usually selfishly motivated. Conversations, and interactions with others no longer revolve around impression, or manipulation.   Of course this is speaking in absolutes and the Kingdom won't be complete until Jesus comes again; but striving to bring this Kingdom is what gives us the closest to that abundant life that we can achieve.  Once we become apart of the Kingdom and bringing its reign here to Earth we realize that we matter less and less.  We begin to loss our worldly selves and find our true identity in Christ.

This is very hard for a lot of people to do, including myself,  because the 'worldy' life seems very appealing.  But it is just like the apple in the garden that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve.  This worldly life I like to compare to wonder bread.  The wonder bread life is fake/processed, insubstantial, and unfulfilling.  Because of the way we are created, it isn't even good for us.  However wonder bread has some tantalizing aspects.  It is sweet, sugary, fluffy, it goes down easily, and everybody else says it's good.  The fact that it doesn't do much for us doesn't stop us from craving it or following a poor example from someone else.  God's abundant life however is like home made wheat bread.  It is substantial, fulfilling, full of nutrients, and it is good for us.  As many of you can attest, (and just remember this isn't a perfect analogy), when one moves from the wonder bread phase to the wheat bread phase; our perception of both changes.  Many may have a taste aversion to wheat bread at first, but once they realize it's benefits and choose to taste of it regularly, they realize it is just better than wonder bread.  Wonder bread can even become revolting,  I would choose to eat home made wheat bread any day over wonder bread. 

Lets choose that wheat bread, and bring the 'bread of life' to others around us.  It just isn't fulfilling to eat of the wonder bread life and the happiness that is perceived to exist in it, is temporary, unsubstantial, and unfulfilling.  God offers us the life we seek and the life we intrinsically desire.  Sometimes it is hard to adjust our eating habits to follow God's will, but it is well worth it.

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." John 5:24-25

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins." 2 Peter 1:3-9

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Following after Christ, an option?

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation the old has gone and the new has come.. 2 Cor. 5:17

For it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.. Galatians 2:20

If anyone would come after me he must deny himself pick up his cross and follow me.. Matt. 16:24

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.. Romans 12:2

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever... 1 John 2:17

But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Rev. 3:16

Trust in the lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.. Proverbs 3:5

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.. Galatians 6:17

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his sould? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  Matthew 16:26

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?  Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:10-12

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Cor. 6:14

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  Matt. 12:30

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.  1 John 3:10

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Phil. 4:8

These scripture passages, along with many more, have helped me draw one conclusion.  If we believe in Jesus, then we have no choice but to follow in his footsteps wholeheartedly.  He does not only want parts of us, we are not called to compartmentalize our lives, giving some to God and keeping some for ourselves.  There is no room to be lukewarm, we are either hot or cold, "may your yes be yes and your no be no."  When we find new life in Christ there is a radical transformation.  We, as Christians, are not of this world, for the Kingdom is yet to come.  What does that look like, how differently are we supposed to act, and what does tha mean for my well being as a person alive in this world?

This is something I have pondered quite often and for long periods of time.  I have thought about myself and how I wage war against God day in and day out.  I want to do things my way and yet I realize that my way, unless it is parallel to that of God's, is no the best way.  I am continually realizing how selfish, conceited, and sinful I really am.  By facing my own reality, God has allowed me to perceive selfishness in other people as well.  It is some sort of empathy that I gained from knowing my own natural selfishness.  This has brought me to realize, along with scripture, that everyone is naturally self conceited.  Is this a pessimistic view? Sure it is.  Is it true? Sadly.  Every day I bear witness to myself and other people going through life with their own priorities, and it is their own well being that is at the forefront of their minds.  We seek temporary pleasures and insubstantial activities to feel comfortable or at ease.

this has brought me many times to ask, what does it mean to be a Christian; or to claim to be?  For many people, claiming to be a christian is a social status, or a label that changes the way others view them.  They want to be considered righteous, or religious by other people.  this is a very selfish way to use the sacrifice that God gave to us through His son.  For other people claiming religious status is similar to having a security blanket, or insurance policy.  They hope that by stating that they believe in Jesus Christ they will have eternal life, and then can continue living the lives they had lived before they knew of Jesus.

In Luke chapter 19 Jesus tells the parable of the 10 Minas.  To make the story short,  King/Leader gave money to three servants and told them to invest it while he was gone.  He then would see the profit they made on his return.  Two of the three servants did as instructed and came back with more minas then they had from the beginning.  The third, who had only been given one Mina, decided to bury it instead of investing.  He brought it back to his master believe that this one mina was all that mattered.  The owner however was very angry claiming that this servant did not do as asked.  " I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.  But those enemies of mind who did not want me to be king over them- bring them here and kill them in front of me." (Versus 26 and 27).

The servant hid away his one Mina even though he had direction from his master to invest it to make more.  In the same way are we to treat the knowledge and guidance that God has given us.  If someone only has one Mina, i.e. only belief in Jesus Christ, and has not been given direction on what to do with this belief,  I think they are therefore justified with Christ.  However, if someone believes in Christ and is then instructed to love their neighbor, it is equivalent to the servant being told to invest their money.  they now have two options; they can strive to love their neighbor because they believe that Jesus died for their sins, or they could choose not to love their neighbor.  If the second choice is made, to me it is as if the first option is completely negated and therefore not a viable option.  It is a direct rejection of not only God's world but of God himself.  If we 'believe' in Jesus Christ; and I mean actually believe, and God instructs us in the way to live, the choice has already been made.  "For it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."  A byproduct of belief, and our choice to accept Christ, comes a response to follow in His footsteps.  this response, which isn't a choice but results from a choice, is the transformational power of God working in our lives. It renews our spirit, and we become dead to this world and alive in Christ.

I was reading a book that my uncle Paul gave me called "Surprised by Faith."  In it the author had a small chart explaining our relationship with Christ.  I believe this runs true in regards to all relationships.  First we have knowledge of God/Jesus.  Once we have this knowledge we then need to make a choice (whether to follow him or not).  Only after this choice is made will we have a response, which the changing of our lives and they way we perceive the world.  If the response is not there it means the choice was never really made, or that we chose something other than God. 
     "By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  Matthew 7:15-20

To some this may seem impossible because we will always be sinful while on this Earth.  However there is an important distinction.  Before we abide in Christ and He abides in us, it is us and sin against God.  Once we believe in Jesus and that we are free from sin it is now God and us against sin.

I read a book by John Hick and in it he states that if one is to claim to be religious, their religion should be at the forefront of their lives, anyone who does less than this, are not religious.  Does the importance we put on religion matter? Should we be thinking of God all the time, thinking of glorifying Him in absolutely everything we do? Should god be the ultimate focus in our families, our friendships, our minds, our attitudes, our speech, and our actions?  According to God the answer is yes.  "And He is the head of the body, the church.  he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." (Colossians 1:18

Following after God is what life itself is all about and is therefore the most important.  To place things above God is a rejection of Him.  We are called to be different, to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  When non-Christians look at us they should be able to see something different. (this difference should not be hypocrisy). To me this all seems very daunting and I know I will still put things, especially myself, before God.  But it is the mind set and our point of focus that matters.  It is the Christian paradox, to strive for perfection knowing full well we will never get there on this Earth.  But we have a wise, loving, and powerful God to help us, and he has given us the holy spirit to guide us and teach us as well as empower us to do what is necessary.  We are not alone.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." Matthew 7:24-27

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Natural Dissonance

It is in nature that I feel closest with God. I am in awe of the His glory that is written across this Earth. Waterfalls, caves, forests, streams, oceans, grasslands, deserts, and mountains have an alluring quality that is hard to resist. Nature is wild, untamed, dangerous, and thrilling; while at the same time exuding peace, security, simplicity, and above all wonder. To behold the beauty and majesty of this Earth that God created is such an honor. To believe that he created it for us, is well, overwhelming and humbling.

I am naturally a reflective person, and when my breath is taken away by God's power, beauty and majesty, I can barely express my thoughts or feelings. Every aspect and every facet of the area around me becomes something of interest. Last week at Okoboji I walked outside just as it began to stop raining. The day had not been good for me and I was feeling quite broken and distressed. God however was not cooperating with my emotions. The ground was wet, and the scent of the damp ground hung around me. Rain still sprinkled from the sky and shafts of golden light streamed through the tall gnarled oak trees. Birds were flitting from tree to tree, squirrels scampered across the ground searching for newly fallen acorns, and dragonflies swooped through the open air. As I walked down to the lakes edge, waves lapped gently at the shore. I looked up and my breath was taken away as I beheld a rainbow that arched across the sky, every hue of its bow standing out in stark contrast with the white clouds behind it. A light breeze played through the leaves above my head and the bird sang out to one another. There was a puddle close to my feet; an as droplets of water fell from the heavens, they formed bubbles across its surface; they made faint popping noises as each one floated gently into a pebble causing small ripples on the water. The air sparkled as the sun's light danced through the raindrops, and yet my heart was far from dancing.

Never had I felt so lost, so alone; and yet there I was amidst such beauty. I realized what it meant to yearn for heaven, because I was bearing witness to the dissonance and incompleteness of how things are amidst our sinfulness. It says in Revelations that God will create a new heaven and a new Earth. I like to think that they will be one and the same and the Earth will be restored to its original splendor. Just imagine what Earth was like before we defiled and tore it to pieces. No cares, no worries, just us and God dwelling in the garden once again. Oh how I look forward to that day. I want to walk through the forested glades, skip through the meadows, dance in the rain, sleep under the stars, and soak in the sunlight. Doing so in perfect unity with our God of Love.

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8)

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” --Thoreau

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time” --John Lubbock

Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day, and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee every where at home. Grow wild according to thy nature, like sedges and brakes. -Thoreau (Walden)

“May the raindrops fall lightly on your brow. May the soft winds freshen your spirit. May the sunshine brighten your heart. May the burdens of the day rest lightly upon you, and may God enfold you in the mantle of His love.”
--Irish blessing

“May flowers always line your path and sunshine light your day. May songbirds serenade you every step along the way. May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that's always blue. And may happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through.”
--Irish blessing

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brokenness: A Reality we must face

 We are sinful people, many times we forget this.  We are inadequate, selfish, petty, unworthy, and unclean.  We do not have the ability to understand things on our own, nor are we capable of doing good without the help of God.  The fall of man separated us completely with God, rendered the Earth faulty, and filled our lives with pain and turmoil.
Romans 3:10-20 says, "As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.  The poison of vipers is on their lips.  Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery make their ways and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.' Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of faith."

There are two parts to having and pursuing a relationship with God.  First we need continually understand how lost we truly are, how incomplete, how selfishly confused.  This is a painful process but a necessary one.  When speaking of brokenness in regards to Christ we often say we must be broken.  I believe we just need to realize our brokenness.  If we live in the world, try and fulfill our own selfish ambitions, take control over our lives and other people, we already are broken even if we don't realize this.  We are not living the way we are supposed to be, there are negative consequences, and we are not experiencing abundant life.  Sometimes it is hard for us to realize this, it has taken me a long time to realize my own brokenness and I'm sure will be hard for me to continue believing it.  We become blinded to reality by the lies of success, of false truth, and the hope that we actually can make something of ourselves.  We want to think we can change the world, do good to others, discover our own truth; this is all a reflection of our desire to own ourselves.  It says in scripture "For the wages of sin is death." We have all sinned, therefore we deserve to die, we deserve to go to hell.  We are broken people who have no control, no power, and no intrinsic benevolence.  We rarely think of ourselves in this manner and even more rarely act as such.  But to truly understand the grace of God and find our identity in him I believe this is necessary.  This sounds very depressing and pessimistic but feeling completely inadequate is the only way to have full reliance on God; and from my experience the only way to really have a repentent heart.

Besides continually realizing our natural depravity we need to continually realize how great God is.  God is everything we are not and then some!  He is the creator of heaven and Earth, the author and perfecter of our faith, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  When we realize that God is everything we are not, and at the same time know that he loves us and sent his son to give us eternal life, we can know that we are complete in him.  The only thing that connects us in our depravity to God's greatness is Jesus Christ.

I don't think either of these aspects could ever be realized to their full extent.  We can always learn more about how selfish and conceited we are without ever reaching the full extent of our depravity.  In the same sense we are never going to fully understand how great God really is.  I think it is also safe to say that we are never going to be able to always seek after these things perfectly either.  We will sometimes think we are great, and sometimes limit God's power.  Of course this is just more of our selfishness coming into play.  However by realizing where we are in relation to God, and where Jesus Christ is to us, miraculous changes can happen.  We understand ourselves and other people better, it is easier to empathize and to feel for other people without holding judgment.

Also upon the realization that all things are found in God, scripture has new relevance. To not rely on our own understanding we must acknowledge God in all things, ie using the truth that is in the Bible.  On top of it all, being able to understand sacrifice (see previous blog)helps us understand what it means to love selflessly and unconditionally.

I write about his only because I am realizing more and more how selfish I am.  Not only that but I am also learning how my vainness negatively affects my life and the life of others.  I am slowly coming to face with reality.  I have also recently felt broken for the first time in my life.  God has given me many gifts and talents I am extremely thankful for them but the way I have tended to utilize them have been for my own gain and to bring myself glory.  This self love has had many negative consequences in my relationships and in my life in general.  But along with everything else it is a learning process; and God has been teaching me many things in my brokenness.  I now know the feeling of inadequacy, helplessness, yearning, and desperation of my reality.  I also have learned a little about the love, joy, peace, and fulfillment of God.  It has really transformed my perspective of myself, other people, life, and God.  I hope and pray that God continues to take more of my self away so that he can fill me with his tender care, mercy, and grace.

Sacrifice, Love, and God

So I gave the sermon this last Sunday here at camp. It was on sacrifice, probably the most important act in Christianity. I don’t know if I presented it well enough but I learned some things while preparing it so I decided I will share what I learned. As we talk about sacrifice it is very easy to agree or disagree without self reflection. So I challenge you to reflect inwardly to really see where you are. Perhaps what I have to say will be a good reminder but maybe it will be a shock back to reality.

Mark 8:34-38 says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.
Now when it says we must deny ourselves, clearly it is speaking of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is giving up something that we consider important, for something we know is even more important.  In this case we are sacrificing for for the utmost. We must give up the life we think is good for us, and accept the life that God says is good for us.

John 15: 12-13 says, “My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
We can learn two things from this. First that love implies and incorporates sacrifice or laying down of one’s life. I believe this can be interpreted literally; meaning that we should be willing to physically die for our friends. However it can also be interpreted as a living sacrifice; this is where we give up our time, money, energy, possessions, and all that is not essential to eternity for others. The second thing that can be learned is that this type of love should be shown to our friends. If this type of love is necessary for friendship our friends are those to whom we sacrifice for. Contrary to popular belief the relationship with our ‘buddies’, that we normally call friends, rely mainly on tolerance and using each other for amusement and being comfortable. Most of the time little self sacrifice is present and as a product very little growth. This is not the type of friend God is calling us to be.

I know about the capability of selfishness amidst good deeds. Sacrifice can be tainted by conceit and self righteousness; so not only do we have to be living sacrifices, but we also must have the right sacrificial attitude. This is outlined in Philippians 2: 5-11, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father”. Now many of you, as I did, may first say that this is an impossible attitude for us to have; perhaps this is true but it should not limit us in trying to mimic it.

In order to have a sacrificial attitude we need to continually understand how horribly imperfect, rotten, selfish, and deserving of death we are; while at the same time continually realizing how great God is. We do not deserve life, “for the wages of sin is death.” Every day we have, every breath we take, is a gift from God. Today many ‘Christians’ and other religious peoples are doing quite the opposite. Instead of glorifying god we glorify ourselves somehow believing we have divinity or something to give to God. But the truth is that God does not need us. He does not need us but he does want to use us. In Isaiah 55: 8-13 says;
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

If we don’t let God use us than he will just use someone else to accomplish his will. Another thing we believe we can give to God is our lives. In Christianity the statement of giving our lives to Christ is used a lot. How can we give God something that we don’t have in the first place? To believe that we control our lives is a lie we tell ourselves. Here is an example: If a man owns and controls a lawn mower he can guide it, fix it, and help it run smoothly, and it will fulfill its intended purpose. If we say we control our own lives then our lives better be in order. However our lives, our bodies are not meant for us to control. When we think we do own ourselves conflict arises, negative consequences occur, the machine that is us does not run smoothly and it does not fulfill its intended purpose. When we ‘give’ our lives to Christ, all we are doing is coming face to face with reality; the reality that we can’t have and control our own lives. God is the creator and controller, the only way for us, as the machine, to run smoothly is to realize this. For god loves the unlovable, uses the inadequate, cleans the unclean, perfects the imperfect, and glorifies the unworthy. We are the unlovable, the inadequate, the unworthy, the unclean, the imperfect, and the unworthy. It is about time we faced this reality. By this understanding we can be living sacrifices with a sacrificial attitude of Christ.

1 John 4: 7-12 helps us form a conclusion. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God, everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning SACRFICE for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Since God loved us we ought to love one another, a love that has everything to do with sacrifice. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love incorporates sacrifice we can replace the words in that verse. “Whoever does not sacrifice does not know God, because God is sacrifice.” If we do not sacrifice it says we do not know God. If we do not know God, than we do not understand the sacrifice he made in Jesus Christ. If we don’t understand that sacrifice, not only do we not love, but we also are not saved.
This spin on love, sacrifice, and God, not only clarifies much of the Gospel; but also highlights one reason why Christianity stands apart from other religions. As far as I know, no other religion emphasizes sacrifice as a necessary condition to love, and therefore a necessary condition to know God. Other religions especially do not show God expressing this kind of love to people.  It also shows that this is not something we attain, but is a mere recognition of what already is. This recognition causes people to become living sacrifices, and does not hinge on people trying to sacrifice.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”