Friday, June 19, 2015

Killing the Pursuit of God


The church has worked recently (in the last 20 years or so) to remove much of its programming in hopes that by doing so Christians would use the extra time to lead their families and pursue personal relationship with Christ. Instead, these Christians simply filled that time where church program used to be with sports, recreation, tv, and just hanging out. Where we thought our many programs were hindering families from growing strong, in actuality they very well may have been the last thing our churches still had to help develop people into a true and relentless thirst for Christ. Instead of teaching people to be desperate for knowing God, we said, "don't take it too far and thereby neglect your family." That doesn't sound too bad really, but think about it. We, the church leaders just said, "knowing God is not as important as keeping your family happy." Even if we didn't say it in those words, that's what people heard.

Now why did we head down this path? Maybe it was reactive, or restorative to a previous generation. A.W. Tozer points out that programming actually began to replace true worship in the 1940's or earlier (from Pursuit of God). If that is accurate, then maybe our reduction/removal of those programs was an attempt at restoration of that true, thirsty worship. I think that is probably the initial motivation.

However, I think we might have jumped into that decision a little too fast also. I think leaders realized how much easier it would be to staff the remaining programs, the "important" ones. I think leaders realized how much more time they could have with their own families as well. Add it all up and maybe we just didn't take enough time in prayer and meditation on the call to kill those programs.

So where we wanted to instill a deep thirst and hunger for knowing God more, we may have inadvertently finished killing the Pursuit of God altogether. It makes me wonder if for the last 100 years we have allowed Satan to quietly and subtly destroy the essence of what being a Christian really means. And that is a scary thought. The good news is this: even if we have diluted the Christian faith to the point that it is no longer real and salvific faith, we simply need to repent. We just need to again put God back at the top of our list of desires. We simply repent of our complacency, our self-justifications and truly thirst and hunger for the One True God. Thirst to know Him and know Him fully. Simple, right?

What's great about that kind of thirst is that we will always want more of God. We will never stop short again and become complacent. Sine we are dying to know Him completely we just keep running closer to Him. Why? Because on this side of eternity, in our finite world, we cannot know Him fully. But it shouldn't and won't stop us from trying and thirsting for that. This is one time where Always wanting what you can't have is good. Of course, you can have it; you just have to want it more than anything else. Pursue Him, seek Him, and He promises you will find Him. You can and will fully know Him in the life to come, the eternal life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Election Highlight


The past two presidential elections (especially the most recent one) have really highlighted some things for me in the current state of the "American" Christian Church. Not that everyone that identifies as Christian fits the mold of what I am saying in this little rant, but it seems much of the Church does. To be totally fair, I was part of this and still fight it frequently.

As my wife will tell you, I love to argue. Real arguments (not fighting) are just outright fun for me. So, politics and politically heated times can be very tempting to me. When I fall into the trap of political wrangling I often forget my real foundation though. I forget that I am, or I claim to be a Christ follower. So, I enter into an argument where my political logic and philosophies rule my outlook and discussion. I try to convince those who disagree with me of why my view of the best way forward for this great country is better than theirs. I get passionate about this, and these "conversations" can become quite heated. Still, these types of disconnected conversations (keeping my Christian faith somewhat out of it, relying solely on logic/economics) are fun.

The problem comes when issues that demand the tight linkage to my faith are in the crosshairs. What happens when the primary point of value of life (abortion/death penalty/war), taking care of the poor, or family values (gay rights, protection of marriage, etc.) become the topic of choice? I, and I am thinking most Christians, tend to take a totally different approach in this argument. It is no longer an argument based on logic, but turns to an argument based on our own Christian values. Then we try to turn that back to a logical argument to win over the person/group with which we disagree. If you read that and think, "isn't that how a Christian should approach things," you are asking the same thing I have over and over again. I REALLY want to say, "yes, of course it is." As I think about it more and evaluate my answer against the Bible I begin to think differently though.

The real question is this, what has your heart and mind? Does Jesus hold your heart and mind, or does the United States of America hold your heart and mind? If you place priority on Jesus as Lord over your heart/mind, then the argument over "values based" issues should take a very different form. The biggest reason for this is your desired outcome is TOTALLY different. The outcome you want when you put Jesus first is for other hearts and minds to become more like Christ while you do the exact same thing. Arguing whether or not abortion should be a protected right or 100% banned is no longer a conversation worth having when you approach it from a truly Christian heart. Ok, catch your breath, push your jaw back to a closed position, and follow me a bit longer. It isn't that I am saying abortion isn't important or that God doesn't care if abortions happen. What I am saying is arguing the legality of abortion is worthless if the other side (your "opponent") does not share the same view of the value of human life. And, if they don't share your belief in the value of human life, why don't they? I would posit an opinion holding a limited value of life indicates at best a dangerous view of Christian values. This could, and likely does end up being flat out anti-Christian. Don't like talking about abortion, then take the death penalty or war. Same approach there; war can be justified easily when it's about legal/nation views, but talk about value of human life and now we are talking about faith/belief.

Again, the crux of this is simply recognizing the desired outcome of our conversations/debates with others on sensitive matters. Asking the WHY is crucial. Why do I want to engage in this debate? If I answer "in hopes that this person votes for my desired candidate," then I clearly show my heart/head make politics/nation more important than Christ. However, if I answer, "to grow or make a brother/sister in Christ," I show my devotion to my Lord. If I have that right (correct, not politically right) then instead of engaging in political jargon, I will, with grace and love discuss with my fellow creation of God how to be more aligned to the teaching of Jesus in ALL of these issues.

If we, as the Church do this consistently maybe we find that our country starts to move back towards being a Christian-focused nation at the core. My belief is that the Church in the USA over the last 100 years (maybe longer) has traded her passion for reaching lost souls for Christ to passing laws to protect "Christian Rights." We must get back to being as bold in speaking to others about Jesus as we have been about professing our belief in which candidate/party should lead a country. If the Church gets back to making disciples who truly follow Christ, the votes will take care of themselves. And, if they don't Christian's just keep being Christians in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, even if it's like it was for the first Christians under the harsh Roman Empire.
 
I guess I can boil it all down to this: I want to be, and want the Church to be more passionate about being Christ-like and saving the lost than we are about our political wishes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Do You Know Your Needs?


I've heard many people ask how we in our highly indulgent western cultures can truly pray, "give us our daily bread." the question comes from two types of people. The first type consists of mostly preachers/pastors/church leaders. They ask the question in hopes that we will hear in the asking a convicting statement, but then almost every time follow the question with something like, "but don't get me wrong, having lots of stuff is fine." so, instead of being convicted we hear that daily bread only applies to those without means to have more.

That leads me to think that, sadly, the second type of people who raise the "how can we ask for daily bread" are actually more sincere in their asking. This group are people who use this and other texts to point out how hypocritical Christians are. This is one of those great and pointed reasons why they will not consider Christianity.

The funny thing to me is that neither group is really asking the right question. This isn't a how can you question; it's a do you question. That is where it becomes personal and convicting. asking how makes is general, asking do you makes it personal. So, "do you ask for daily bread?" and (with all respect for "not adding anything to scripture") let's add two more words to that, "do you TRULY ask for ONLY your daily bread?" Since I believe 99% of us will answer in the negative, let me ask the next and all important question. Why do we not truly ask only for our daily bread?

There are probably a million reasons for why we don't ask only for daily bread. I think the top of that list is likely we simply want more than that. The concept of "daily bread" just doesn't quite cut it for our happiness. Maybe that is a bit harsh sounding. Then answer this: can you honestly even tell me what you think daily bread consists of for you? I can tell you that is a VERY tough question for me to answer. If I am 100% honest, I will answer something like, "one small meal, a couple glasses of water, shirt, shoes, pants (and hopefully underwear), and a small room (with or without a bed), and maybe a cover if it's crazy cold. The problem is, I'm rarely honest about the answer. That list has NEVER been my answer to the question of "what makes up your daily bread."

The ability for us (or at least those who are likely to read this) to honestly consider the bare necessities as all we want from God as far as our physical needs goes just doesn't seem plausible. To live in a manner below the supposed poverty line is simply ludicrous. After all, doesn't God want me to be successful? Well, does He? In short, no. I don't think God cares about your success one little bit. He couldn't begin to care less about your success so long as that success is defined by man's view, and it is. The success God cares about is when He welcomes His followers (don't take that word lightly here) into His eternal kingdom and says "well done my child." That phrase will not be in reference to how well you moved up the corporate ladder, or how much you left your kids in your will. That phrase is reserved for how well we reflected His grace, love and mercy to others and how well we did at following His example of self-sacrifice.

Before you (or I, since I am guilty of this) say something like, "what Jesus really means is to acknowledge our basic needs and be aware and grateful for all our extra blessings," take a look at some of Jesus' other words. In Luke 9:58 Jesus says "foxes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Sounds to me like Jesus didn't even consider a place to sleep among his daily bread. Want the best part of that statement from Jesus? It is in response to the statement in the preceding verse where a man said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go." See, I told you not to take the word follower to lightly. I just don't think you can take the whole of Jesus teaching and make the idea of the "Lord's Prayer" daily bread as a simple acknowledgement of your blessings. It is WAY more than that to Jesus. He truly meant it as depending upon God for your daily needs.

Now true, Jesus isn't likely talking just about physical needs here. I think He is indeed talking about EVERY need. The point isn't does He mean food or love. The point is that whatever your NEED, truly NEED is what we should be asking God for. Let's be real. Ask your Heavenly Father for what you NEED and start forgetting about all the stuff you want that the world says you need. Who defines your needs, you or your culture. Who do you listen to in order to determine what you need, your college buddies or God's Word? Let me suggest we start with God's Word as our only need and slowly move out from there. Let's look to Jesus and His TRUE followers from the Bible to see what REAL NEEDS look like and begin to bring our lives into alignment with that.

Let's start honestly, with integrity praying "Father, give me ONLY what I NEED for TODAY. And let me be content, no let me be thrilled beyond my hearts capacity with Your provision each day." That's a Chris-follower's prayer!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Elevate

I haven’t posted anything on here in a while. There are plenty of reasons (excuses) as to why I haven’t, but I think really it boils down to priorities and focus. Over the past year or so as I have written on here it is clear that I am not a fan of allowing my job dictate what my priorities are. However, that is exactly what has been happening over the last few months. Maybe that happened because I stopped reading as much (Bible or otherwise), or maybe I just got a bit lazy/burned out. Whatever it is, I still don’t like it. I know I need to get back to where my beliefs drive my priorities and actions. I know I need to live an elevated life that rises above this planet and trusts in God instead of jobs. So, the next several posts will be focused on that thought: living an elevated life.
I think the real reason I want to write about this elevation idea is how I have felt over the past few months. I knew something was severely off, but I mostly just ignored that feeling, kept my head down, and did my job. I still was busy with church work. I still did some of what I should be doing at home. But, it was just that, doing. The motivation wasn’t what it should have been. In fact, I am pretty sure there wasn’t a true motivation. It really was just getting it done for the sake of getting it done. Yuck!
Now, I want to get out of that funk. I want to get back to the excitement and passion I saw when I reread several of these posts from last year. And it all comes down to living with a God-centered motivation. That then drives my priorities, desires, and actions. I think that’s the simple definition of what I am calling the elevated life: living in a way that your actions and priorities reflect a God-centered life of loving and doing for others. This is then juxtaposed against the culture-centered life where moving up the ladder and getting stuff is the priority.
Alright, as with most things I want to be sure I am grounded in the Bible with my thoughts. In that mindset, I started thinking about all of the examples of Biblical characters who strove for that elevated life. It’s easy to come up with some of them: Abraham, Joseph, Noah, Moses, Joshua (and Caleb), Job, Elijah/Elisha and most of the prophets (especially Hosea), David. Of course all of those are old testament folks, so how about the New? Well, Paul (not Saul), Peter, James, John, the Centurion, Stephen, Phillip, Barnabas, Onesimus, Timothy, and of course Jesus. Those and many others are great examples of living an elevated life in the face of the distorted culture. All of those, except for one, also are examples of striving for an elevated life and yet still being prone to failing. So, they really are good for us to learn from. Then I also want to look at examples in the Bible of those who didn’t strive for the elevated life and instead ran after the world. Adam/Eve, Cain, Lot, Sarah, Jacob, King Saul (and several other Kings of Israel), Jonah, Israel as a whole actually. Add to that Ananias/Sapphira, the rich young ruler, the mom of James and John, Saul (before Paul) sort of, and maybe the easiest example, Judas.
To be sure, there are many more examples of each. And some of the people in those lists could at times be on both sides of the fence, which is why I really want to spend some time on this idea. I can easily see in myself times where I have aligned to an elevated life and plenty of times where I didn’t I want to learn from these examples how to spend more time elevated closer to God. I also want to more easily recognize those times when I am not.
With that, I think I will start with a little dive into King Saul first. The guy started out so right, yet ended so far off the mark. What happened there? How can I avoid that same pattern? Who can I look to for help in calling me out? And can I even manage to put aside the pride that seemed to blind the King?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Compass is Broke!

It is pretty weird when I go to Chicago. That city is the only place I have ever been where I get completely turned around. No matter which way I think I should go, it ends up the opposite of the correct route. Seriously, even when I look at Google Maps, or better yet, Bing Maps and see the path highlighted for me, I STILL end up going the wrong way. Again, ONLY IN CHICAGO. Anywhere else and my bearings are right on.
Well, I had another one of those times in Chicago this week. I now KNOW the right way to get from the hotel to the office. It still felt totally wrong though. Everything in me was screaming I was headed the wrong way, but I just pushed on and continued down the street that experience had taught was correct. Then I reached my destination. Whew! Fortunately, after that I just needed to hail a cab to get to the airport and return home to Atlanta where my sense of direction miraculously returns to normal.
Then, on the airplane I got back into my current book, “The Christian Atheist” by Craig Groeschel. I read the chapter that talks about “believing God, but pursue happiness at any cost.” I have already spent a ton of brain time on this thought myself. I already came to similar conclusions as Mr. Groeschel too. But, just having the real world feelings I just had in Chicago, the idea really took hold. Then, I read the Proverbs Craig points to, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Pr. 14:12 and 16:25 too). Now I’m not saying my out of kilter sense of direction in Chi-town could have led me to die, but that awkward feeling…it’s just something to look out for.
See, we are in a world that isn’t our home. We are out of place here on earth waiting for a time when we will be in our true home with God. Until then, we are outsiders (happens to be one of my favorite songs by Need to Breathe) in this world, and we should feel awkward here. When we feel at home, when we feel comfortable, when we feel happy, it’s time to be a little more cautious. Hmm, did I just say “we shouldn’t be happy?” Sort of, but not really. It’s fine to be happy, but what is it that is making us happy? Am I happy because I am within God’s will and serving Him? Or am I happy because of what I can accumulate, build, create on my own? Or even worse, am I happy because I think God is serving me?
See, to be pursue happiness, is to pursue something other than God and always leads us into prideful sin. I think this is why Proverbs 16:18-19 correctly warns against pride and aligning with people who are filled with pride. It always takes us away from God.
I guess I can boil these thoughts down to this: I should not be comfortable here. I should never feel like I have this world figured out. I should always feel just as I do in Chicago – backwards and upside down. If the world says I should go left, there is a really good chance I ought to go right if I want to get to my Godly destination. It will often feel wrong, but our feelings aren’t what should be leading us. God, through His Word and His Spirit is what leads us. Our feelings listen to the world; our prayers and submission to the Spirit help us to listen to God and His will.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feeling a Bit Torn

It's not often that I feel the need to justify my feelings/beliefs prior to laying out an issue, but I feel this one demands it. I know at least a few of the people who read what I write on here, and I KNOW you will mostly be offended by what I say this time. Truth is, this is not an easy issue for me to take a stand on either side of it. I truly am torn here, but I find myself siding with hope in a Big God who can do HUGE things.

I also need to say another thing as far as how I read the Bible. I indeed believe in the 100% truth of the Bible as God's Word. That includes both the old and new testaments. That said, I believe the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament as our foundation for living. If you want to argue that, fine. Just know I take Jesus at His words when he says "you heard it was said…but I tell you…" Seems like to me Jesus intended to supersede the Law. Paul also indicates this all through Romans, as does the author of Hebrews.

Last point of justification before getting to it: I am first a Christian, second a husband, third a father, and then (maybe fourth) an American. The interesting thing in that list is the only one that is NOT by my own choice is my nationality. That comes simply due to the fact that my parents lived here when I was born. So, my national pride (which is actually pretty darn strong) is a far cry from being as important as those other three items in the list of what/who I am. Over and above all of those things in that list is this: I am a human being, created in God's image just the same as all other human beings.

Ok, enough with all of that. Here it is. I am literally sad and depressed right now watching and listening to the reactions to the news that Bin Laden has been killed. I am thrilled for the people who lost friends and family on 9/11 and for all of the military who have sacrificed their lives (not just those who have died, but all of them) that they have some closure and a feeling of justice perhaps. But to celebrate this event, the death of a human being, I just cannot join in with that. I go back to something a said a while ago, as a Christian, I am supposed to love even my enemies. You can't tell me that if I love my enemy that I will jump for joy and sing songs when I hear they have been killed.

And what types of things does the Bible say about this? Well, in the Old Testament (hmm, odd I should start there), I think we hear God say vengeance is His (Deut. 32:35). Then listen to what Paul says about that exact verse in Romans 12:19-21, "Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead leave room for His wrath." Really, the last verse in that Romans text is even better, "Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." As always, when you read verse 21 in context, it clearly promotes a loving, grace-filled response to those who do us wrong. Sadly, I think our current celebratory reaction, and I am sure the justifications for that response are also going to be rooted in this same verse taken OUT of context where it can be altered to seem that the "good people should destroy the evil people." This just isn't what the text says.

As hard as this is to hear, or believe, every single person on this earth is created with the image of God in them. Even those people on whom we ascribe evil, even they possess that image. I believe that God can and does call the worst of people to Him. The apostle Paul is probably the best example of that. Paul himself points out how evil he was before God got a hold of him. And now, we consider him as one of, if not the greatest Christian in history. So, even if you find yourself happy and celebrator about the killing of another human being made in God's image, think of how much better you would feel if that same person miraculously fell in love with our creator God through the love of Christians, of Christ. We have taken that hope of another lost soul being found and reunited with the creator and killed it with this action. My belief is that in a Christian view, this killing of hope, this taking of vengeance on our own is not in line with a Christ follower's calling. For this reason, I am glad only in this: I am much more saddened by lost hope for another saved soul than I am happy in the death of a terrorist.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Retreat

I have watched as many of my friends have gone through some serious faith struggles lately. And, sadly, yes I do mean I watched. I have also had plenty of times in my life where I have dealt with faith struggles. For me though, I have always had the fortune/blessing at those difficult times that I was able to go on a church retreat to refocus. Unfortunately, now that I am in my middle-age years (defined as older than 20's and younger than 60 in my dictionary, sorry if I offended you), those types of retreats are much too rare for me. And, from what I can see in my friends' lives the same need for retreat exists in a big way.

Another sad reality is that I believe my friends and I that face these times of doubt, or times of waning faith find our own version of retreat today. The bad part here is that we are retreating away from God instead of into God. We get so comfortable in the surroundings of our culture that when we feel discomfort in our spiritual life, we seek comfort by diving further into culture leading us to retreat from God. Maybe this is a way of avoiding the struggles or facing our doubts. Maybe it is even worse than that, and our retreat from God is truly that: a choice to leave God, even if just for a short time. The worst news there is while we say "for a short time," this often gets out of control and becomes our new way of life. We find ourselves in a lifetime retreat from God.

Instead of retreat AWAY FROM God, away from friends who support us, and away from the very faith with which we are struggling, we actually should recognize that these are the times when MORE is needed, not less. More God, more Bible reading, more prayer, more communications with friends (Christian friends), and MORE GODLY ACTIONS. These are not the times for retreat, at least not retreat from God. It is time for retreat from self, from distraction. Those doubt-filled moments are the very times when God can make Himself most present in your faithful actions. Take those weak moments and trust God to fill you as you simply walk in faith by serving someone else.

This is one of the hardest things for me to do. It's so hard to talk to God when I am wondering if He even makes a difference anymore. But, when I do, He ALWAYS answers in a strong way. These are the times when I get new ideas on how to serve a hurting world. These are the times when compassion wells up in me (a rare thing for me). These are the times when I see and feel the Holy Spirit in and around me. When I am weak, He is STRONG! Take Jesus' lead in this and follow His example in the Garden. Jesus had a rather big faith struggle wondering if the Cross really was the right thing, but He talked to God and faithfully served others, all of humanity in the single, most critical event in history. What kind of impact can God make with you and me in our weak moments if we just hold to faithful obedience?