From the Road

Only a short way from Atlanta for the Passion 2010 conference. Pictures in this post are from my seat on the bus using the Hipstamatic iPhone app. It has different lenses/films you can "load" to give different looks. Seeing a lot of tweets/updates from people that say "expectant" in regards to the conference. Though it's good to look forward to what God's GOING to do, I think it's important not to let that override our sense of what God IS doing. Also, when going into a conference like this expecting great things, it's hard to stop and actually admit they are happening. We sometimes don't ever realize how good it is until it's over. Instead, we should be in constant reflection on the current moment and allowing God to work in us at the time. If we allow ourselves to get sucked into NOW instead of anticipating THEN, we will get stronger glympses of God's radiance and his desire for our lives.

Here's a few more "glympses" I got on the 7 hour bus ride...

Do You Get It?

My blog centers around one central theme, that of keeping balance between extremes. Because when one leans too far to one direction or the other, they lose it. But let me talk about one thing that Christians can’t be in the middle about... it’s the extremity of basing their life’s joy, meaning and purpose on Jesus Christ.

Right now I’m reading the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. And in this book Keller sums up the concept of sin like this:

Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God.

What he is saying here is that anytime a human seeks worth and value in anything other than God, then he is in sin. And this is the root of the sinful condition of all humanity. He goes on from there by citing different examples of things that many people seek their identity in. Things such as lovers, careers, children, moral causes are all things that people base their life’s meaning on. And when any of these things come under threat or get out of hand, then their purpose in life is diminished.

I see this all the time, in other’s lives and my own, when someone has based their life’s identity around their job, a spouse/child, entertainment, or even a moral cause. And this thing or person becomes so ultimate in their life that all joy and purpose is based around it. A lot of people even turn areas of Christianity into their identity. Some people are so devoted to the concept of missions, or church-planting, or worship services that they lose sight of what the end goal of those things are. In short this is called idolatry, and it’s easy to see now why God would make that the first commandment. Because the moment anything takes a greater place in your life than God, everything else falls apart.

So with this in mind, I just want to harp on the fact that God’s design in his creation is for Him to be utmost in our affections and self-worth. A lot of Christians don’t seem to get how essential this is. They think that the Christian life is about doing the right things and being obedient to God’s law, no matter how unpleasant it may be. And then some people understand that Christianity is NOT about doing the right things, but about grace, and they think they “get it” and others don’t. But the truth is the essence of Christianity is not about having correct beliefs and then living out those beliefs. The core component of being a Christian is your desire to love Christ as much as you possibly can. God longs for us to seek our utmost joy in Him because He’s the only one that can offer complete joy. The end goal of being a Christian is NOT to simply be in good standing with God, but to treasure Christ as the highest value in life. And everything else flows from this.

This leads me to a part that many think is just redundant, yet they don’t really grasp the seriousness of it. Most Christians have been over-fed the line “put God first” when discussing God’s place in your life. And this essentially wraps up what I’m trying to stress here. But to me this phrase isn’t strong enough because all it implies is giving God priority on your list of activities as if He’s just an item that we check off. What I feel is missing here is the emphasis on the fact that God should be a purpose for your life, not a portion of your life. And not just a purpose but the purpose!

You see, it’s quite possible to go through life spending the correct amount of time doing your devotion, or setting aside the right amount of money for tithing and yet never come any closer to the goal of Christianity. All of these things give God a priority over other things, but if your affections are always drawn to other things for enjoyment then you haven’t really grasped the concept of treasuring Christ as ultimate. But if Christ takes his rightful place over your life as the soul thing that gives you meaning and identity, then you will not only find complete joy, but the other pieces of your existence will fall into place and make sense.

So my urging here is that you get the idea of what Christianity really is about. That Christ become our ultimate source for meaning, value and joy. Because apart from Him being central in our lives, not only does everything fall apart, but being a “Christian” becomes pointless. If you say you’re a Christian and yet find your utmost joy in sex, sports, family time, staying busy etc., then I would encourage you to ask the Lord to give you a heart that’s only satisfied in Him. Because a heart that’s satisfied in anything else only sets you up for disappointment, pain, and separation from God.

A Word On Endurance

I’ve been thinking lately about how good things always seem to sting at first. It seems like nothing good ever comes out of being comfortable but instead it comes out of enduring some sort of pain or discomfort. Doing the right thing is never easy.

Think about it... in order to receive the benefits of being healthy, you must first endure the prick of the needle that applies the medicine. This small example seems to speak the same truth of almost all good things that happen. Now by “good things” in this instance I’m not speaking of everyday pleasantries or enjoyments, but things that really progress one’s circumstances and have long-term benefits to our lives.

Just so we’re on the same page I’ll give more examples. Think about how in order to reap the benefits of a successful career one must first endure getting an education and/or proper training. For a family to know the blessing of raising a child, the mother must endure months of pregnancy and the labor of child birth. Or how in order to achieve that perfect physique you have to work long and hard exercise routines and keep a strict diet. All of these things start with hard things that we have to endure. But when it’s all said and done, the ends always justify the means.

I think sometimes we forget how important it is to endure struggle and hardships. Most of the time we’re not thinking about the blessings we might receive on the other side, but only dwell on the pain it might take to get there. I personally struggle with this constantly in my walk with Christ. I do my best to avoid the trials that God puts before me instead of enduring them with the faith that He will bless me through them. *Side Note* Now some might argue that we shouldn’t focus on what we get out of the trial but what God gets out of our labor. I would reply that if you do not focus on the prize that you will receive then you are merely serving God out of obligation and duty as opposed to the joy and hope that He has promised you. God wants you to be joyful in your suffering because you have a reason to, not just because He says so.

Now so far this just sounds like another “trials and sufferings” sermon that we’ve all heard. But really my thought process in this has to do with the fact that life is full of times where rich blessings only come after we challenge ourselves to do something new, uncomfortable, and hard. The salvation process rings of this in the fact that admitting you’re a sinner is not an easy thing to do. It hurts to come to the realization that you’re not in control of your life and you’re NOT a good person. But as we will find, the benefits of a life with Christ far surpass the comfort we sacrificed to get there.

As we continue in our walk the process keeps repeating itself. The more we dig into the word the more convicted we become of our sin. So God calls us to repent and admit to Him(and sometimes to others) that we keep failing. But the restoration process that follows that admittance proves to be worth the pain we endured. In our relationships with others the thought of sharing deep personal issues, or confronting friends about their problems is unsettling to us. And yet if we would just endure that initial pinch of discomfort we would enjoy a bond that would grow stronger and closer than ever.

For me personally, there have been several instances in my life where God has urged me to test my understanding of Him and I was scared of the process He might lead me through. Things that I always believed were true about scripture and the work of Christ were suddenly being challenged in my mind. I had to come to terms with understanding God differently than I had before. The thought of questioning my understanding of God scared me because I was afraid I would abandon the faith I’d always known. But the knowledge of God that He granted me in the end far outweighed the cost it took to get there. By challenging my faith it was only made stronger.

In the life of a church this phenomenon must be understood in order to establish a healthy, Biblical body of believers. There must be understanding that not everyone is going to feel good about everything. Sometimes when conflicts arise, there must be more conflict in order to reach a resolution. When members act un-biblically by causing dissension or acting against authority, there must be discipline and sometimes dismissal. All of these bring an air of unrest and discomfort for people because it challenges their understanding of how a church works. But they must always remember that doing the right thing is never easy.

So my challenge for you is this... do not be afraid to endure uncomfortable, stinging circumstances. Challenge yourself to do things that are new and different and see how God will use those to make you stronger. If there’s something about a situation that scares you, search it out and try to gain understanding of why you’re uncomfortable with it. More times than not God will work in ways that involve hardships at first, and sometimes that’s the best way to recognize where He’s guiding you.

Thoughts on Humility

Just thought I'd throw a quick thought out before I head to bed. When following famous, successful Christian leaders(culturally speaking), I've seen that they often are asked by others how it's possible to stay humble in the midst of all their fame and attention they've received. And it's a worthy question if you think about some that have hundreds of thousands of followers, news agencies banging on the doors and other leaders of their kind giving them pats on the back. It's got to be really hard not to become confident in your abilities and talents real quick as if it were something YOU started.

But I was thinking tonight about how that question is almost irrelevant if you truly understand how leadership of that kind works. Now we all know that the humility I speak of is a gift from God and only he can grant it. And that's exactly what those leaders generally say as a response. But I don't believe it's like some side benefit that all of a sudden is granted because a person has arrived at a certain level of maturity and fame. I believe that it is arguably the intial prerequisite for even carrying on a walk with Christ in the first place.

What led me into this train of thought tonight though was the idea that humility and spiritual success go hand in hand because the opposite WILL NOT HAPPEN! Growing spiritually while still relying on your own will to keep you on track will always end up a dead end. And the reason for this is not only that our nature is corrupted but also because God won't let you take the credit for your success. It just won't happen. We have to first admit our dependence on God and ask Him to do the things through us that we cannot. And only then will He receive the glory.

So in the case of the successful leaders who have a deep relationship with the father, I believe they have been given humility in order to be better known for Christ's work. Had they not utilized that gift, the result would've been completely different. Though there are instances where prideful, arrogant figures impact thousands of lives and do it in the name of Christianity, they are more often than not preaching a false or light-hearted gospel in order to further their own success. These people usually have what's called false humility where they make themselves appear humble on the outside but are merely doing it as a means to further their success. Many times they achieve this success but it is contrary to the achieving of Kingdom success. A true follower of Christ will only be able achieve large Kingdom impact if done with brokenness, transparency and humility.

Don't Blame the Gun

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this lately... about how sometimes we don’t deal with sin as we should and instead try to blame our sin on a cause or means to the sin. It’s almost like we don’t realize that (first of all) our sin is something that we don’t only choose to do, but it’s a state of being we have inherited from our father Adam, and (secondly) that the tools with which we sin are not the reason for the sin at all, they are merely means to an end. We like to think that we’re naturally good people and it’s our surroundings that tempt us and lead us to do evil.I’ll use a bumper sticker I saw recently as an example. You’ve probably seen it before, it states simply “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. And the whole point is that the gun is simply the tool with which a sin can be accomplished... it is NOT the sin itself. In other words it’s not the gun’s fault, it’s YOUR fault.

So there’s two things I think we should realize: First, that we shouldn’t blame the gun. It’s important to understand that we sin because we are made sinners. Though we do choose to perform sins, the core of our sinful actions starts in our heart because we have inherited this nature from Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). We don’t sin because we are tempted, we give in to temptation because of our sin nature and failure to exercise obedience and self control. Secondly, we need to realize that the means to sins can sometimes be used for good and it would be a sin in itself to deem them as bad when they’re not. In the gun example this would mean trying to redeem firearms by exercising their positive uses instead of trying to abolish them based on the reasoning that they have been used to commit sins . Guns provide protection for our families and our country, they help us gather food and meat for eating and they are a tool that helps our government officials keep an upper hand over criminals and law breakers. So to try to get rid of guns altogether would be to sacrifice the positive effects of using them in order that we might remove the possibility of sinning.

For Christians, realizing these two points helps us to not only understand that sin is an issue of the heart, but it also gives us freedom to begin taking things that some use for evil and start using them for good. A great example of this is technology. Some might say that Christians shouldn’t have internet access because there’s so much temptation to view pornography. But to abandon cyberspace altogether is to lose an opportunity to utilize it in a God-glorifying, missional way. By not stepping up and embracing these new tools and methods God has given us, we’re basically handing them over and saying “here you go Satan, use these... we’re scared of them”.

Now some might quote Matthew 5:30 or Mark 9:43 which says “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”. But this is not sufficient evidence against the argument because Jesus’ deliberate overstatement here is intended to stress the importance of devotion to one's spouse. It’s clear he is not saying that we should remove all things that MIGHT cause us to sin because earlier in Mark he tells us that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft,” etc.

He specifically tells us that the means are not the issue... it’s the heart.

Now in this entry I have only spoken of 2 things that someone might have issues with and thus wrongly accuse of being a cause for sin. But there are many other things that open the door for temptation and create a pathway for evil acts. Basically abuse of anything whether it be watching too many films, overeating(not that many would regard food as a sin) or hanging out with lost people, all of these can lead to committing of sins. But when acted out in a healthy balance they can be enjoyed and used in the way they were designed as well as acting as a means to spread the gospel message.

As my blog title states... there must be a balance.