#Passion2010//First Impressions

I don't have the time to go into all my thoughts leading up to the conference right now. But I intend to do a review of the whole experience at the end of the trip. But I do want to say that many of my presumptions going into this (most likely) last Passion conference are already starting to get blown down. I asked God to do that to me, and He's shown himself out once again.

The theme of the week is "Awaken"... it's about coming to that moment where God opens your spiritual eyes to the bigger picture that he's working out. It's about trading something small for something way bigger. It sounds cliche on paper I know, but it's so representative of many different times in my life over the past few years. It seems like more and more often God reveals something new to me that I never really grasped before and it is literally like he's woken me up.

But this concept has really impressed me coming from the Passion guys because I've been skeptical lately that college students don't really get this idea, that we're all in one big picture for God's glory and our joy and EVERYTHING works towards that goal.

In the first session Louie introduced the whole concept by using a story I never thought would fit... the story of Lazarus. He talked about how Jesus took steps that everyone else thought was stupid and didn't understand. Jesus actually waited till it was too late and allowed Lazarus to die... Why? So that HIS glory could be displayed in a greater way. God, in His sovereignty weaves everything in our lives together for that purpose. And I'm so glad that all these students are getting fed that message because it is just the beginning of a path that will lead to fuller, deeper understanding of God's true character.

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.

MJ & God

I was thinking today about Michael Jackson and what he would have said/did say when standing before the throne of God. If asked “why should I let you into Heaven”, I can imagine him saying “well...” as he starts to give an answer that might sound something like this...

“Surely you know the amazing things I did while on earth, and of all the people that loved and respected me...I’m kind of a big deal. I was abused as a child, yet I grew up to be one of the most impacting artists of all time. I wrote so many genius songs and presented staggering performances that amazed millions of people. I have a love for people and children all over the world and believe everyone can ‘make a change’. The impression I’ve made on others has carried on to inspire so many new artists/singers/songwriters and who knows how many people they’ve impacted as a result of my inspiration. I’ve fathered 3 wonderful children who I love very much and always gave them the best that I could. I lived my whole life trying to help and love people because I think that’s what everyone should do.”

But I think in that moment as he starts to speak, he stops to look around and observe the magnitude of the presence he is standing, an indescribable setting that displays all of the awesomeness that is God, and His glory that resonates beyond all understanding. Then as he tries to comprehend all of this he looks over his shoulder to see where he’s come from. The world in which he once reigned now only compares to the tip of a pin next to where he is. So he turns back around and with a shrug mumbles... “nevermind”.

Let us not forget that the award that awaits us as Christians is far greater than any position, power, respect, pleasure or feeling that this world can ever offer.

Tworship?

For some reason today I came upon at least 3 articles addressing the concept of twittering in church. For some reason it's a real hot topic and I've been surprised at the number of strict opponents of the phenomenon. But this particular blog post I came across really took the words out of my mouth and it applies to most everything in life that deals with battles of extremes. My reply I posted to the article deals with what the essence of my blog is about... that being/doing the extreme of any certain thing leads to unbalance (and usually idolatry) and that the key is to "keep balance".

I replied specifically to others in the thread and I won't post those here, but you can view them on the original article's page which is linked here.

Thou shalt not Twitter during worship, says . . . who?

by Bruce Reyes-Chow

My response:

Every area of life carries potential of becoming idolatrous. Anything that is abused or excessively acted out as to detract from one's relationship with God is an idol. However what most people overlook is that the opposite of excessively acting out or abusing something is to deny one's participation or association with the subject altogether. And the problem that gets misunderstood is that this denial is in and of itself an idol.

In the context of this article, Twitter use is being questioned because it has the potential to become an idol and take the place of our communication with God during the specific setting of worship services. However, what is overlooked by many is that to argue the opposite of using Twitter in church is to have the wrong answer as well. To try to argue that no one should ever use it during service is to create an idol of solitude and concentration that must be acted out in order to communicate with God. That is to say that this demeanor is the requirement for getting the proper effect intended for church gathering times.

I would say this mentality is wrong because it denies the Holy Spirit to work through any atmosphere except that of silence held by the congregation during preaching and possibly singing if applicable. I have come to learn that most areas where two sides are debated like this (to do/not to do) that it must be understood that balance is the key to avoiding idolatry. If one is truly a Christ-follower and attends church in order to commune with believers and to be fed by the Spirit, then who can deny him the opportunity to share that with the online community? For one to cast judgement that he is either right or wrong for tweeting or not tweeting is to deny that person of their own convictions by casting legalistic demands on them.

For me, the balance happens by tweeting when I feel necessary and not tweeting when I am aware that it is a distraction to others or to myself. But to declare a universal mandate of right or wrong for the whole church community is to create a rule with no justification that only denies both parties of letting spiritual conviction(not social conviction) guide their actions.

In response to the typical arguments against twittering I would answer their questions this way: Are there people that only tweet to glorify themselves? YES... But are there those that use this technology to further the impact of the message? I would say even more so! Can the tweeting be done at other times? Possibly, but it seems to me that the impact of an audience that is (digitally) engaging in what's being presented is so great during the time it's happening.An example from Mars Hill Church shows what people tweet during church and I can't help but see how excitement and community would grow from using technology in this way.http://blog.marshillchurch.org/2009/03/02/sunday-in-the-life/

I don't even feel the need to address how tweeting hardly differs in the slightest from note taking and could be a huge benefit in that way. My church does not specifically utilize twitter or texting as a dedicated tool in our services, and that's ok! But that has never stopped me from tweeting my thoughts on the experience/message when I feel the need.

Thanks for the words Bruce.