Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wit's End


"But where shall wisdom be found?.. Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living... God undersands the way to it, and he knows its place." - Job

When do you come to your wits end? For me it doesn't take too much: a stubbed toe, an unkind comment, an impossible question.

But I've been reading Job again. Dangerous stuff. He goes to his wit's end and beyond. He's unafraid to ask any question, turn over any stone, and push his wit into the great blue yonder.

Why is Job so wreckless? I believe its because he's looking for an answer, perhaps the answer. Sort of like humans in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglass Adams, who are searching for the answer to the meaning of life and find it's the number 41, or not at all like them - ha, Job pushes on in a fierce pursuit of a real answer.

What pushes him? Ironically, I believe it's the innadequate attempts of his friends that drive him deeper in and farther up into the truths of God. Job's argument, far from being an audacious claim of self-righteousness, is a profound appeal to God's real and gracious love, wisdom and justice. It's an appeal to the person of God himself.

So where am I taking this? I guess when we're smack dab in the middle of life, it's really helpful to know that no matter our circumstance, there's a God who's wisdom, love and justice is bigger, greater, and more in tune with reality than we will ever be. That's what I think Job is pushing for: a glimpse of God's reality - what's really real. And in the end, rather than specifically answering Job's questions, God gives him a glimpse into God's world and Job is satisfied.

Job knows that he's reaching beyond human wisdom in asking the questions he asks. He knows that he's walking on difficult and dangerous ground. But God honors him for doing so.

To me Job encourages the believer not to settle. The book of Job teaches us that simplistic explanations of God and his actions are innexcusable. That's why all the questions that pop up in light of war, hurricanes, and aids epidimics probably don't have simplistic answers.

We are to push the limits of our wits to think the highest possible thoughts we can of God and do that only in the humble knowledge that our thoughts will never fully comprehend the actions of God. I think this is important, because "Job thinking" encourages us to embrace difficulty fully and not to gloss over it with simplistic explanations or to avoid asking the hard questions.

I believe that what the world needs these days (and whom am I to say it on some blog, but I'll say it anyway) are robust believers: believers in a real God. We will not settle for anything short of desparately clinging to God and addressing him at our wit's end when we address the world. After all, where our wit ends, God's wisdom begins.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"No, Mine!"


"Because he knew no contentment in his belly, he will not let anything in which he delights escape him... In the fullness of his sufficiency he will be in distress... Utter darkness is laid up for his treasures." - Zophar (one of Job's "friends")

I guess I'm kind of a materialist, sort of, sometimes, rarely, never. This truth combined with my recent Bible reading has me a little conflicted.

To give you an example of how materialistic I can be I'll give show you how literal my obsession with stuff is. You all know by now that one of my weaknesses is escape and mountain biking. But I really like my bike. I like it so much that sometimes I'll just stand in the garage and stare at it. I don't know what I'm doing, just embracing the tingly feeling that having something really nice gives me.

I took my bike to the shop the other day and the mechanic said, "Wow, it looks like it's seen a lot of use. If it's just your junker bike, I'd recommend not worrying about the cheap chain." My junker-bike! If I could have figured out where my bikes ears were I would have covered them. What a jerk! He didn't know where he had just trespassed. My poor sweet precious bike. "My Precioussssss!" (Lord of the Rings) "It's the fastest hunk of junk in the Galaxy!" (Star Wars)

I spend a ton of time looking at a mountain bike website. In fact, when I'm working, I try to take a break every 45 minutes or so and I always go to this website. You see it has used bikes for sale. Deals!!! More stuff and eye candy than I can handle. I love it!

In fact, I broke down and bought a sweet deal on a bike from a kid in Florida. I was getting a steal at $240. It turns out, so was he. He had no intention of selling a bike, he just wanted money. Sadly without Jesus, I could see me doing something like he did. Unfortunately with Jesus, my attitude towards him wasn't much better.

It turns out we did our transaction through Paypal, which is quick to make amends for the frauded. So the kid wasn't too smart of a thief ("Stupid punk" are words that pop into one's head.) He may have a Paypal account with his Mom's credit card which means when Paypal refunds me my money he'll be in trouble! I imagine he'll either lose his money or his hide will get tanned. Either way he'll lose and I'll win!

When I was still wondering whether he'd send the bike or not, I sent him a "few" messages. They were a little, shall I say, tainted by sin. In one message that was particularly revealing of me and my materialism, I said shared with the kid that I'd done some pretty bad stuff in my life and so when it comes to steeling, "I'm right there with you man (jerk)." Sounds good right? Well that wasn't the intent of my message. I really didn't know it at the time but I was right there with him and perhaps surpasing him in my sinful, mean, jerky spirit. I continued by saying in very certain terms that if he was scamming me, I would label him a "scammer" and get my money back. Yup, that's the language of a sinner saved by grace. I try to spread it around.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with all this, other than to say that I'm just as addicted to stuff as the next guy. That's why idolatry, which is so popular to talk about these days, makes my "ears tingle" (to get biblical). I think I might surpass the next guy, maybe.

Christmas is a dangerous time for me. I really sort of don't like it. But then I love it! Presents for MEEE?! I have a Pavlovian response to Christmas. My greed swells as the season draws near. And as I'm older now, my family members give me money instead of gifts. This is almost worse as it has me obsessively rubbing my hands together and wondering what I can buy for me this year. I always think something new and shiny (shiny is really important) will make me happy. And it does. A happy jerk.

In Christmas we see a God who gave away everything. And in the passage above we see God's attitude towards the man who hords stuff for himself. Yikes!

I'm still conflicted. I know a blog entry won't cure me. I need a God who gives to take my greedy clutching hands, while I mutter "Give me, give me, give me!" and give me the real gift, the gift of giving. OK, so now I sound like a Hallmark Card, but even though they rake in millions of dollars this time of year, their messages can be true.

Like every Christian everywhere says this year, "May you focus on Christ this Christmas." I concur. But I first need everybody to give me everything they own, and then I will be happy.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Surrender


"I surrender!" - war cry of losers the world over.

I long for God. I believe that all of humanity's experience could be summed up in this one emotion of desire or longing for God. Of course that works itself out in a 6.5 billion different ways (give or take a billion. I'm too lazy to google it). Some people try to smother their longing by embracing substitutes, but they still long after God, even if they don't admit it or even reject him. Humanity was made for God. We all know it.

However, I have trouble with this in the day-to-day of my existence. Last night as I crawled into bed (I'm the kind of guy who crawls into bed and rolls out of it. I believe I'm only at full capacity from about 12PM to 1PM, ironically the time of this entry.) I noticed Don Piper's book 90 Minutes in Heaven lying nearby. Rather than picking it up and looking through it, I opted for loosing myself in one of my mountain bike magazines. And it hit me, "Why so little interest in the afterlife Philip?"

Now I'd definitely label me as a skeptic and critical thinker. So anyone who's been to heaven and back, and writes to tell about it, I'm likely to label a bunch of things like "crazy," "delusional," and even just plain "weird." It's sad I know. But my curiosity is dimmed by my skepticism. I conciously said to myself last night, "His experience probably wasn't real, so why read about it. If it was real, I'd check it out."

And I'm a Christian!!! I believe in the afterlife. My biggest hope is to be united to my father and experience eternity with him. And when an opportunity arrises to learn more about heaven I'm yawning and reaching for a pretty magazine instead. Now I still haven't read the book. I'll have to get back to you on that. But I've heard it's pretty good.

So why, if my central longing is for God and for his heavenly reality, do I approach an opportunity to hear about someone's experience in the heaven with such boredom? Maybe my belief is small. In fact that's what had me thinking last night, "Do you really believe any of this Christian stuff, really?"

I do. But there's times where I'm so saturated in the world that I can't see the Creator for his Creation. And I guess something in me would rather just check out creation. I know it'll never ultimately satisfy, but last night it at least helped me turn my brain off to read my magazine and dream about riding my bike really, really fast.

I'm learning. I'm finding how blind we all are. There are definitely scales on my eyes. My time in scripture is showing me that. Scripture just screams "Cling to God! He alone is your life!"

I'm also learning a lot about surrender these days. Surrendering my little ways to be lead in God's way. I'm far from getting it. Attempting surrender sometimes simply has me muttering in my head, "Stop it, stop it, stop it. God help, help, help." But there have a few occasions where I've taken an action that's resembled real surrender. Hurting, I've called a hurting friend. Scared, I've called an advisor. Yes, my cell phone has been a helpful tool in surrendering to God. Who would have thought? So as much as I'd love to chuck the evil instrument into the nearest body of water just to watch it drown, I'll hold onto it for now.

Surrender and repentance resemble eachother, and they prepare the way for God. Much like John the Baptist calling out in the desert, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near," I'm learning to say "The kingdom of God is near, try putting down your toy for a sec and obeying his voice." I'm learning that what feels like death is the beginnings of God-life. God's life within me. When I surrender, he never ever drops me.

Watching me walk in God's ways must make a pretty funny looking metaphor. I take one step of surrender in his way, only to take off in a dead sprint towards selfishness and escape. But I'm really grateful these small steps of surrender are happening. And grateful for the extreme speed and efficiency of my God. He chases me down every time and brings me back. For as much as my hunger is for him, his hunger is for me. He doesn't need me like I need him, but wow does he ever love me.

So try surrender, it works.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Dynamic"


"And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power...
If any among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise." - Paul to the Corinthians

Dynamic - adj., "of or relating to physical energy or force."

A little while ago I mentioned to Melissa that I'd grown to hate the word "dynamic." Just to be lovingly obtuse, Melissa said she loves it. She said that it's a terrific word for describing the Gospel. She just had to bring the Gospel into it, didn't she. Like wives the world over she's right, always right, never wrong, ever.

So why do I hate the word? For the past 5 years or so in ministry I've been hearing it in relationship with great speakers and teachers. Possibly it's because I'm not a great speaker, so I forfeit my dynamism. Jealousy is no small demon. But I think I also have a good reason for being uncomfortable with the word being applied to people. I think we worship them.

We worship great teachers, speakers and pastors when we apply to them what we should be applying to their message. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 2 & 3. He's nothing but a servant and his message, which he spoke with great "weakness, fear and trembling," is everything.

There are a bunch of reasons why I put mere mortals on pedestals. One of the most perilous is that I put them on a pedestal in order to distance their message from me. If their message is truly "dynamic" in that it contains the powerful and transforming message of the Gospel, it often makes me want to hide. A form of hiding that I use is, "Wow! He must be a really holy guy. That's an amazing message."

I then put that preacher, teacher or speaker on a pedestal and pray that God would somehow make me like them. That's simply not the Gospel. That's idol worship that is discouraging and, eventually, deadly. It kills our walk with Christ because God's standard is not some teacher, preacher, speaker or writer (we do this with them as well - but I'll forgive you if you worship me, j/k), it's his son Jesus Christ.

We are called to be like Jesus Christ. So when someone is admired for his dynamism, I can't help hating the word. Because I know where buzz words like these lead. They lead to people worship.

On a side note, how many of you have heard about a "dynamic" speaker and gone to listen to him/her with great excitement and have simply been wowed by their passion and intellect. And leaving you've thought, "That was awesome! I didn't get it, but it was awesome!" Sometimes we're just thick, but sometimes these "dynamic" individuals don't transmit anything real or transformative. Or their dynamism overshadows their message's dynamism.

People worship is foolishness to God. For obvious reasons. He wants us to receive his dynamism in the person of his Son and through his Holy Spirit. And at the end of 1 Corinthians 3 we find that we have "all things" already in Christ.
"For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's"
That's why Melissa is right, as always. The Gospel is very dynamic. It's so dynamic that Paul intentionally played the fool by worldly standards in order that people like me wouldn't be tempted to hide their lives in his dynamism. Hide your life in Christ.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Striking Words


"Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." - Job

In my circles, if anyone uttered something like this, they'd be driven out on a stake. Or perhaps they'd be tied to a stake, while Christians carefully arranged the annual Reformation Day Bonfire around said individual. I know something would happen with a stake. I don't think "stake" is a word you ever want to hear after you've carelessly said anything around even remotely religious people.

The audacity of what Job said really hit me today. He begins with a totally suicidal hope in God and ends with a declaration that would have most of us looking up at the sky in a crouched position. They say chances of getting hit by lightning are slim, but if you're Job, or if you say things similar to Job, you may be warranted a realistic fear. "Those are striking words," someone who is guilty of really, really lame puns may say.

Are we honest with God? Job is. What sets Job apart from his friends and most of us is that he believed in a real God. Not a God that can be systematized, broken down into principles, or reduced to the straight-forward methods of cause and effect. And I don't want to undervalue Job's friends here. Their arguments were pretty sophisticated and on a surface level reading I believe that they would have had me convinced. But Job has a bold conviction that pushes past all their theorizing in a desire to be in and deal with the real God.

Job's argument would be just as missinterpreted today. Our own understanding, especially in the west, is that "righteousness" is our own individual goodness. Biblical characters would take issue with this definition. Righteousness implies right standing before God - a right relationship, not a personally willed goodness. OT righteousness was dependant on a God's faithfulness to His Covenant in which he provisioned a sacrificial substitute for his people. The NT is no different.

That's precisely why Job can argue his righteousness. He knows he's not a good person. But he believes that a real God has provided a substitute for him in the sacrificial system and that his case as a righteous person would stand before God. And sure enough it does.

Now don't missunderstand me, I'm not a biblical scholar and there may be a few holes in my thinking. But I believe and have asked around enough to feel that I'm going in the right direction in this interpretation.

Where am I going with all this? I'm wondering if we can have the same confidence and boldness before God that Job has in this striking verse. I believe we can. In fact, God's boundless provision for us in his very own son, his only son, encourages us to be bold. Bold in our individual righteousness? Absolutely not. Bold in our personal standing before God? Absolutely!

I believe that this can bring us into whole new realms of honesty and peace before our God. Rather than distancing ourselves before a God of cause and effect, a God of systems, theories and deadly threats, we can embrace the truths that we have a God of real justice and mercy to go to. The justice poured out on his son and the mercy given to us. We see the culmination of God's story at the Cross, but we also see it all through the OT and in Job.

While I'm a miserable wretch of a sinner (and I don't know the half of it), when I'm in trouble, suffering or simply broken by the fall I can call out to a God who pleads my case. Unlike Job's friends who "Speak falsely for God" and are "worthless physicians," we as new creations in Christ can bring our real suffering and crap to God.

With God, the real God, there's no need to hide. What began in the Garden's first game of hide-and-seek has been going on ever since. It's hard to be deprogrammed from our instinctual fear of God's exposure. And fearful we would be, if not for his provision. I find myself often running and ducking behind bushes, rather than leaning hard on my provision and allowing God to remake me and show me Life.

I believe the lies that say "If you do this, God does this." That's simply how the world works the lies say. But the truth is that we serve a God to which "we can argue our ways to his face." All because our ways are literally the perfect ways of Christ. Here I know I'm in a little over my head. But unless we get in a little over our heads in this ocean of God's truth, our lives will remain small, and it's quite likely we'll be satisfied with a God that's a figment of our own imaginings and not the real thing.

Plus unless we wade out into the truths of God's Good News to the Nations, it's likely we'll never find the joy of swimming in Him or share that joy with others.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"This is Going to Hurt!"


"AAAARGH! HSSSS! Dad, could you try not to drive over cracks in the road! Try to turn slowly and stop slowly too. This really hurts..."

"AAAh. That was a good nap. Where am I? Oh, there's my bike. There's my cracked helmet. Is it broken? What's wrong with my head? It feels flat like a pancake!"

"Woa! That hurt. He just kicked me in the face! Ouch! I can't believe I'm still standing! I'm fine everybody. Uh oh, I don't feel so good, everything is getting fuzzy."

"Alright, here I sit in the woods, totally alone. Surely my arm is just seperated. That means 4-6 weeks of recovery and I'll get to ride again. Let me try to move it. Hmmm... I don't think my arm is supposed to sound like a bowl of rice crispies."

"Oh no! Yikes! Woops! Shoot! Wow, where did that come from! Oh deary me (in French)!" are thoughts that typically preceed the ones I've expressed above. As one joke goes: What are a redneck's last words? "Here, hold my beer and watch this!"

I grew up a cautious kid. My brother taught me this. He did everything but spotaneously combust. But as I grew older a little of the Evil Knievel got into me. I don't know how. He just did.

It started with an innocent drop of the curb with my bike at age 25ish and now that I'm 34 I regularly jump my bike 10 feet in the air. I don't say this to brag. Nobody seems too impressed. Most just shake there heads in wonder. Especially when they're the ones who drive me to the hospital. (In case your worried, I haven't been to the hospital in about 5 yrs., knock on wood.)

But there was some sort of shift that occured in my thinking or perhaps resulted from one of my innocent blows to the head. It had me seeking adventure, and often as not, also had me in the emergency room filling out reams of paperwork and answering zillions of mundane questions.

Where do they get those questions anyway? "Have you ever eaten fertilizer in the presence of an ant?" "I don't know!"

Perhaps my concussions effected the questions. I dunno...

So why am I relating painful thoughts from my recent past? Is it to illicit sympathy. I'll never turn down sympathy. But the real reason is something Melissa said to me last night, "I feel like I'm dislocated, that my whole life is dislocated."

If there's anything I can relate to it's dislocation. If any of you have seen Mel Gibson attempt to reset his shoulder in Lethal Weapon and have tried to do so yourself, you know that dislocation feels different than it does in the movies, apparently. I felt like a very small beaten up poodle after that particular episode of "Phil is just as cool as Mel Gibson."

But Melissa was getting at something we all feel. There's always something wrong. Something is constantly amiss in our lives. Something we can't quite place our finger on but know simply isn't the way it should be.

This dislocation or brokenness we live with determines the way we interact with the world. We relate to others in it's shadow, and we hide it, smother it, medicate it, excuse it, and pretend it simply doesn't exist.

If we're to be biblical or real, we have been literally ripped from our home! We belong in Eden as children of God. We lived in creation as slaves to Satan. We are/were truly dislocated.

The Gospel is about God's great work as a physician. But as believers, we still have the lingering effects of dislocation. The drunken wooziness, resembling my concussions, still permeate our lives. We still feel dislocated. We still relate dislocated. We still hurt.

In a culture of instant fixes, our lives with God certainly don't move within our time-tables. We underestimate the ongoing effects and power of sin, we pridefully claim victory where all we're doing is stroking our spiritual egos, and, perhaps most sadly, we rarely relate to our fellow humans in their dislocation.

God's timing is not our own. If he were to snatch us up to him, that would be his timing. If he were to instantly sanctify us, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

But our God seems to be one of process, and wants us involved in a process where we participate in resetting the dislocated world around us (Which is quite a privilege!). I have friends, believing friends, that are in so much pain that they can barely believe. I have friends, believing friends, who woke up this morning and jumped out of bed ready to serve the Lord but by this afternoon will find themselves, weary, dissenchanted, and, yes, wondering why they feel dislocated.

Does the Gospel not work? Not like we think it should.

Does it work? Yes. God seems to be in no hurry. His project is bigger than you or me. But it involves you and me. It involves the real healing of our dislocations. It includes the restoration of our only home. And ultimately it involves us finding our support in Him, our joy in Him, our very lives in Him. Only then will our lives be reset. But as we all hate hearing - it's a process.

I had a doctor who sort-of set my arm after it broke. I don't like hearing people say "sort-of" in hospitals. I had broken my humorus (ha-ha go ahead and laugh), and he informed me that he hadn't done a very good job. He failed to explain why. My guess is that he was just feeling a little bored. Perhaps he had set a dozen perfectly that day and was feeling undervalued. Poor guy. He explained that my arm would probably be a little shorter than usual. "Thanks," I thought.

God isn't tired or bored with you or me. He's thorough, and our dislocation is very, very serious. He's tireless in his diagnosis, careful in his healing, and utterly trustworthy in his process.

That is why he is called the Great Physician. Which is Good News when you've had as many accidents as I have!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coin, what coin?!


"Master, I knew you to be a hard man..."

Jesus told difficult parables. I find his thoughts hard to unravel. Even with all the teaching I've received and my fat ESV study bible, Jesus seems to be intentionally obtuse.

In the parable of the talents, the "wicked and slothful" servant was ruled by a perception of his master as a "hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he scattered no seed." My commentary says that this was a misperception that led to this servants laziness and irresponsibility, but I find it notable that the servant was not repremanded for his perception of his master. He was repremanded for what he did with his talent.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of this. But my guess is that my commentary is right. If Jesus is talking about the kingdom, the king figure is surely God and it was the perception of the servant that lead to his disobedience and his untimely and not-so-pretty end.

Could this be a lesson for us today? I think it is. I so often think of God as miserly, mean and spiteful. I have to admit that his parables don't do to much to make me think otherwise. For it's my perception of God that determines my interpretations.

I find myself much like the wicked and slothful servant. Thinking of God in ways that are not only depressing but are flat out wrong!

As AW Tozer, GK Chesterton or CS Lewis once said somewhere, the most important thing about a man is what he believes about God. That's precisely why I'm extremely thankful how God's reshaping my thinking.

I have a ton of gratitude for the God of scripture. His kindness and ear for those who mourn their sin, for the spiritually destitute, the poor in spirit and for those who simply haven't got a clue, is drawing my thinking in more appropriate directions. I'm finding God again. And finding more of the real God.

My prayer is that I won't be like the wicked and slothful servant whose disservice began with his misperception of the character of his master. He had a slanderous heart. We seem to be born with it.

God is really, really patient. To take servants like me and patiently illustrate his faithfulness, true justice and love in the life lesson of life, is truly astounding. I think that when I get to heaven's gates, I'll shed a ton of these missperceptions, but my desire is to shed a few now, so that I can live.

I believe that I've been made alive in Christ. So it follows that living is a good idea when your alive! I can only do so inasmuch as I think about God in ways that honor him.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away...


"Let love be genuine... bless those who persecute you... Live in harmony with one another... Never be wise in your own sight..." -Paul (just being mean)

I thought it'd be fun to do a thought inventory for Philip today (then I woke up this morning). If I begin with the not so precise moment I rub sleep from my aching eyeballs, look around and try to make sense of where I am, what I'm lying on and whose body this is I find myself in, my thinking goes somewhat like this: "Where are you? In your room. Who are you? An older version of yourself. What are you supposed to do today? Ohhhhh crap!!!"

Typically I mutter "crap" or some similar version to myself as a host of worries, fears and anxieties rush at me like a very, very mad herd of rhinos. This drives me to God. I have no where else to go. To hop out of bed is to be trampled into a little red pulp.

But once I'm up and about, I feel a little bit better and begin to think about how I can make this the best possible day for me that I've ever had. My thinking on any given moment in an average day goes something like this: "Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me... Hum di dum... Something else? No... Me, me, me!!!"

That's why the Gospel is so interminably frustrating for the human being. It tells us that life isn't about us, our personal satisfaction and having the perfect me day (the audacity!). I like me days. And frankly, I don't like the gospel a lot of the time. It sort of distracts me from my purpose: Me.

Me is a small world, in a small galaxy, that's ever shrinking and not expanding, whatever you smarty pants scientists believe. Planet me is in very real trouble of implosion. That is precisely why the Gospel is good news, though it can feel very, very bad.

To extend my metaphor, there's another universe, of which me has always been a part, that revolves around someone else - God. His expanding universe encompasses me, wrests me from my small insular selfishness and basically just flat out rescues me from my collapsing world.

"Me-ness" put God on the cross. "Other-ness" is the new thought of my redeemed mind. I guess that's one more reason that the Gospel is our only hope.

If we'd all only pay attention to the timeless epic that is Star Wars, we'd take the posture towards God that Princess Leia does in her desperate plea for help, "Help us Obi-Wan you are our only hope." Then maybe God would spare our home planet from being blown up by the Death-Star. Then maybe we wouldn't have to be slow roasted by Ewoks to learn humility. Or maybe we wouldn't have to fly around in the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" listening to a Wookie moaning in our ear. Then again, maybe not.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Can't Touch This"


"I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in a man who walks to direct his steps."

Set in the middle of Jeremiah's depiction of a Israel's pursuit of false religiousity and idolatry, these words ring out with timeless truth. Israel as a nation had been duped into the belief that they could direct their steps. The same goes for me.

Somehow I think that I have God-like qualities; that I know my destination, purpose, direction and hurdles. But if I take a second to stop and think (sometimes a good idea) I'm hit with the futility of my thinking. I can't discern the beginning or the end of "my way."

This is a scary and dissorienting truth to find in scripture. Why? Because I'm struck by the reality of my own lack of control and power. Some things are not for me, including the direction of my steps.

Now I'm not saying that I'm not responsible for the directions I take. But I am saying that their is one who knows my circumstances, steps and their destination.

This is becoming less scary these days as I'm finding out more about the One who knows my direction. God forgives. According to his character is necessary for him to do so. Just look at the next verse in Jeremiah: "Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing."

What does Jeremiah mean by "justice?" Does he mean that he has right standing on his own or that it's necessary for God to simply have mercy. I don't think so. But let's leap to the new testament and take a look at John's statement "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Here we have portrayed for us a justice that requires our forgiveness. In Jeremiah's time it was found in God's covenant and sacrificial law which pointed the way to Jesus himself being our sacrifice.

Why must God forgive? Because for him not to would be unjust! For him not to forgive the repenter would be for him to forsake his covenant, his promise, and his own body that was torn in two for us!

I find this to be a great comfort these days when I think about my own inability to control and have power over my circumstances. God in his Justice is my friend, my record is clean, and my life is in his hands.

With this truth I can open the death-grip I have over my own direction and rest in the "God who loves me and gave himself up for me." As the great theologian MC Hammer once, "My justice, you can't touch this."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Give me, give me! I need, I need!


Something is not right. Deep inside I can feel it. There's something deep within me that cries for more, more than I've been striving for: my desires, my comforts, my pleasures, my hopes, my dreams. A voice deep within me cries for Christ.

I wonder if this will pass. If I'll wake up tomorrow and begin again chasing after the wind. If I will staunch the wound of my bleeding heart with my mass of temporary pleasures. No, not this time I determine, this time I want Christ. Do I?

I feel like a stubborn child, stomping his feet and screaming, "I'm tired of this, give me, give me!" Or like Bill Murray in the movie "What About Bob?" saying (in one of my favorite movie moments of all time) "Dr. Leo Marvin, give me, give me, I need, I need!!!" (If you haven't seen this movie, you must.)

You'll have to forgive my melo-drama. I get this way often. I see the gap that represents the life I now live and the life that I believe I could have in Christ. But I'm beginning to suspect that there's someone else closing the gap. There is someone else building a bridge to me.

That's one of the amazing things about knowing Jesus Christ. He never gives up, he never quits, he never gets tired, or fed up. He always pursues, he always rescues, he loves and loves and continues to love, in spite of our hatred and indifference. In him and in him alone we find "steadfast love."

So as much as I feel helpless, hopeless and frustrated by my stubborn refusal to embrace what is already mine in relationship, "forfeiting grace," there's another party at work: Jesus. As much as I think I'm that child crying out for him, he's the shepherd recklessly endagering himself to get to me.

Who can't love this Lord? I can't on my own. As I've said before, I often find my actions betraying that I'm a god-hater. There really is that much of a gap! But he's finding me. He's taking this crying child and wrapping him in bonds of familial love. He gently, patiently holds me in his muscular arms of rescue. He sings over me and rocks me to the rythm of grace and a new reality and a new way of life, life with him, life secure and life eternal!

Do you see this? Do you believe in a this kind of a savior? On the cross he purchased not only our freedom but our eternity with him now. He both lives within us and pursues us. His strong arm doesn't let go though we beat against his grip. He allows hardship to draw us close. He brings joy to broken hearts. And he will not give up, he will never give up until we one day embrace him fully as his children and become what we already are, His.

Can we reject him? Of course. Can we run from him. Yes, I do all the time. But can we out-run God once he's begun his pursuit? I have my doubts. Thank God for doubts.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thoughts from another "Crazy Horse"


"Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD." -Jeremiah

As I write this morning, I'm recovering from a serious Starbuck's overdose. "Hyper" could be one word that describes me. "Manic" another. Unfortunately recovery means sliding down the other side of the mountain that was my caffeine high. Yup, even as I type I'm starting to feel the fatigue and misery seeping in behind my eyeballs.

But what has me writing today, I think (I have a host of subconsious sinful propensities), is that I've been learning a lot about my life recently. I chose the passage above because I thought it was funny and really reveals the way I am. If only I could be a stork, turtledove, swallow or crane.

I'm not. I'm more like the horse charging into battle. The implication is that I'm charging into the wrong battle. If I'm not running towards "sin," I'm running towards performance. Rarely am I running towards a person. People are teaching me that. Real flesh and blood people.

I've become part of a group of believers who meet regularly to talk, and here's the difficult part (although talking is hard for us guys), talk honestly. And honestly, I'm finding out I know little about a personal relationship with God. Very little.

Now I don't want to overstate this. It's not that I've never experienced intimacy with God, I have a lot. But in regards to my typical daily experience of him, am I relating to him in a way that recognizes who he really is: my creator AND my friend?

I often sort of think of him as a dissappointed friend. Sadly wagging his head as I stumble through life. But people are showing me different. Real flesh and blood people.

Why am cryptically repeating "real flesh and blood people." Well, I'm realizing that in my interactions with these guys, I'm getting to know my Father and Lord all over again. It's not anything profound, but that's just like God isn't it. We're simply sharing about our lives and reminding eachother of God's love, grace, and holiness. We're simply taking time to be Jesus to one another as he chooses to use us. I guess it is sort of a profound thing. Profoundly simple.

I'm a heady Christian, not a hearty Christian. God is using my friends to show me this. I like God in my head. I'm comfortable with him up there. My heart is all fleshy and sensitive. And my heart often tells me I should be about the things my head is calculating. Sometimes I wish I could shut up my heart (he's sort of annoying).

But my friends are helping me befriend my heart, which is teaching me, through difficult lessons, that my life is defined by my closeness to my Father, not by my effectiveness or productivity. I'm becoming less the horse and more the turtledove you might say. Or I hope.

I thought I'd also share with you another verse that popped out in my reading. I thought it came from the same chapter in Jeremiah, but it didn't as two pages stuck together and I missed a whole chapter. (Reveals a little about how closely I read doesn't it.)

But here's the passage: ". . . let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, and that I am the LORD who practises steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth."

Did you hear that? Not "boast in his good Christian walk." Not boast in his "openness with sin." Not "boast in his neat writing abilities." Let him boast in me.

Like I've said, people are showing me God again and it's getting hard not to boast in him. It's also getting hard not to relax, as Larry Crabb says over and over again in his book The Pressure's Off, "the pressure's off." God simply wants me to draw close to him. He'll take care of the rest. Why and how? Because he's God, and, that's right, he's God.

Flesh and blood people are teaching me this as they are drawing close to me. We're not alone in this walk, and we never were.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"130," God said.


"May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money." -Peter

Last night I was the Bob the Lifeless Blob basking in the blue glow of the TV. As I flipped (my finger was still working) I landed on a "Christian" channel preaching the "Good News." It was bad, really really bad. So bad in fact that I decided I'd call in and ask what in the world were they thinking.

The host of the show was saying that Prophet Billy Smith had prophecied that there was a significance to the number 130, and it was just a word from God and because it was a word of God it needed to be obeyed. From there they popped up on the screen opportunities to obey this command from God via Joe Blow via the host.

I notice that it's always a good idea not to actually film the dude having the prophecy. It's good to have him seperated by a third party, because it might cause people to doubt if they saw the process. I can see him with pencil in hand, scratching his head, slapping gum, picking his nose, and finally righting down a number. "Yep, that's it 130! God told me 130!" "130 what Billy?" "Dollars of course!"

So after introducing this magical number, the host went on to explain all the intricacies of biblical prophecy with the idea that none of it makes any sense. He explained with examples from Leviticus. I was thinking that was a good place to start. But he said that the key is that we take hold of the prophecy by wrapping it in obedience, because then it would become our own personal "battle seed of victory."

He went on to say (with an actual picture of someone writing a check in the background!) that people could obey this prophecy by giving $50, $130, or $1,300 gifts. Other than thinking that this guys idea might serve me well in support raising (j/k), I was thinking how the number 50 got in there. His argument would probably be that it was also a word of God, since God has obviously revealed that if we are bad with numbers, the default was simply to go with $50. Step asside logic, enter madness!

Well I didn't really want to rant and rave this morning. I just wanted to ask the question, "Do I ever do the same thing?" Unfortunately, as I've been thinking about it, I do it all the time. I may not go to all the trouble to do an in depth analysis of biblical prophecy. But I do often think that if I do this thing for God, he'll give me victory.

The tomfoolery of it all is befuddling (I've been waiting to write this sentence). Why I think God is my lucky charm is head-scratching and gum-smacking sort of stuff. Why I think that if I obey, God will make my life peachy and get with the program, my program, is pretty sad. I often think that God is like a waiter waiting on my order. He's not!

OK, so some of you are wondering how my conversation went when I called into the station. It was a little dissappointing. I met a real person just doing his job. I asked him if he knew what was being preached on the station: silence. I asked him if he knew it was totally unbiblical: silence. I asked him if he got calls like this a lot: he said he did. Then I just told him that I felt I needed to talk to somebody about it and he said he understood.

It was really sad, because here I realized I was calling in to express my righteous indignation and was being met with patient silence. It's almost like God was answering the phone for this station. My indignation was slowly turning to shame as this guy showed patience, composure and even empathy. I don't know if he knew that the finger I was pointing at them was slowly being pointed in my direction, but it was, and like Simon in the story out of acts, I was patiently being reminded that things of God can't be purchased.

Just a thought from Bob the Lifeless Blob (In case you're wondering, this is not really the way I think about myself. And as my wife expressed the other day, most of my blogs seem to be centered around my struggles with sin. Sorry about that, when I'm sanctified a bit more, maybe I can write about prophecy (tongue firmly planted in cheek)).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Igor


"For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." -Paul

Idols, idols, idols! They’re popular to talk about these days, but they sure have me feeling guilty. They have me jumping every time I turn a metaphorical corner. I’m afraid that my metaphorical posture will become that of Igor (which is fitting for the season). I can picture it now, my shoulders blocking my ears and periphery in sheer terror of the next pop-up idol to appear in my life.

My life is so full of idolatry that it’s a wonder that I can call myself a Christian. Heck, just about 20 minutes ago I was giving in to my compulsion, perfectionism, and need for validation, by doing something that was pretty much a waste of time. If any of you know me, you probably will ask, “Were you out jumping your bike again when you should be fund-raising?” Umm, yup.
And here’s some of my dialogue: “God I know you don’t want me to be doing this right now, so please change my attitude. OK, here goes, wee!” (I really think I said this!)… Frustration and a few choice words later: “God, it’s me again, could you just enable me to get that one jump just right so I can quit, go inside and be about what I know I should be about?”

For me mountain biking is like playing Tetris in the 8th grade all over again: “Just five more minutes God. Just one more level God. Just let me beat my personal best one more time God.” Meanwhile Mom’s yelling, “Philip, I’ve called you eight times for dinner!” “Be there in a minute Mom!” Minute for an 8th grader can be roughly translated to a Mostly Intuitively Not Understanding Time Especially-when-Mom-is-yelling-in-the-background (I like my use of adverbs). Well actually, it’s more like “perfectly willing to submit to obliviousness in regards to time,” which comes out to PWTSTOIRTT, which could be retranslated “Pretty Wrong To Say To Owls Resting in Tree-Tops.” I hear Owls are wise and know a lot about time.

Idols are easy to come by and hard to get rid of. And they have something to do with our pursuit of our kind of righteousness, which could be otherwise thought of as our personal sense of well-being and validation (cue Tim Keller for most of his sermons!).

But I have someone who embodies perfect righteousness for me! I have what I think I don’t, and what I unwittingly and sometimes wittingly (like about an hour ago) try to get on my own.
For me idols are failed attempts at validating my parking ticket of life. If I could only remember where I parked my car, maybe I’d be spared a lot of grief. Wow I’m metaphorical today!

The verse above hits me with its blunt portrayal of the human dilemma. But it’s a verse that for the believer is pregnant with a personal promise – namely the person and work of Christ. I need him today, because my guess is I’ll probably be out riding again this afternoon. It’s just too pretty of a day. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not practicing cheap grace. I tend to practise a really really “Close-out Sale, Everything Must Go Like it’s Going Out of Style” kind of grace. That’s how cheap I often make it. It’s also why this poor sinner finds satisfaction when he tastes the real thing.

Here’s to tasting the real thing through surrender and obedience! I have my doubts about me but not about him.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Headache!


I don’t really know what I’m going to write about today, but I know that I’ve got to.

A lot is going on in my heart and mind these days, and I don’t want to leave it there. I want to see it in print. Plus I’m afraid it may give me a headache or even worse, depending on where stored up thoughts choose to attack my body.

Sin has me once again in a quandary asking God what he’s doing in my life. I think God has me in a better place, a place of confident repentance and assurance of my right standing before him in Christ, I think…

I’ve been learning that I’ve got no power over sin. In the Lord’s Prayer, I ask that God “keep me from temptation” because I’m beginning to realize that temptation is deadly. Temptation, for me, almost always leads to sin.

I’ve believed that if I just simply harness the power of God and ask for his help, he would “help” me to resist temptation.

No. I’ve got no power to resist sin. All the power comes from him. All the obedience is from him.

True surrender is a novel concept in my thinking. I’ve always thought of it as an act that we perform. But in actuality, I believe it’s something that God enables as he allows sin in our lives to take us to a place of desperate hope for a savior.

We all need a savior every day.

I’ve always asked if I’m surrendering my life enough, or if I’m clinging to God enough and on and on. But God’s slowly showing me that it’s not about my strength that carries me. Life and righteousness are God's, his alone. He gives it where he pleases and he is generous.

He’s even generous enough to let me try combating my sin “with his help” and failing over and over and over. Why do I say that he’s generous in this way? Because the sooner he defeats the damnable idea that I’ve got my life and sin under control the better.

In the Psalm 71 the psalmist cries out “O Lord, in your righteousness deliver me, rescue me and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come.”

As much as I will probably focus on my own “self-salvation project” today, I’m grateful that God gave me the time and space to simply reflect on the truth that he alone is the savior. Perhaps while he’s going about saving me, he’ll also keep me from headaches and what's happening to that poor kid in the picture above.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Impossible!


In all my running, fumbling and restlessness there's a reality. It's something that's foundational to my world and the world around me: It's that I am loved beyond my wildest imaginings.

I heard a story just 5 minutes ago actually, and I need to get it down before I forget it: It's about a college football player who played somewhere for some team (Is it that obvious I don't follow football? Talk about having a hard time thinking of stuff to talk about with guys at social gatherings!) This young man (I can say "young man" now that I'm in my mid-thirties) seemed to have a close relationship with his father as the coach had noticed that he walked around with his father arm-in-arm.

The story goes that his father passed away about a week before one of the team's big games. The young man went into the coach's office to ask for some time off to attend his father's funeral. Of course the coach told him to take all the time he needed and not even to worry about the game.

But when the player got back from his father's funeral before the game and went back to the coach's office. There he asked him if he could start in the big game. The coach said "Sure," thinking that he would pull him after a few plays, as he really wasn't that good of a player.

He was put in the line-up and just so happened to receive the field-goal kick. He then surprised the coach by busting a few tackles and getting to the 50 yard line.

On a whim the coach decided to leave him in the game and had him run the next play. He busted more tackles and was able to run it into the inzone for a touchdown.

This sort of thing happened for the rest of the game, baffling fans, scouts and coaches. Who was this player (I still don't know - though it's a true story)?

After the game, which they won as underdogs, the coach pulled him aside and asked him why he played so well. The coach kindly emphasised that he knew he wasn't that good (with coaches like this, who needs enemies?). The player responded, "The reason I had such a great game coach is that my father was blind and this was the first game he was ever able to watch."

I share this story, not as some cheesy, feel-good tidbit for your day, although it might fit the bill, but more because it hit me sideways just a few minutes ago. To use a football term, it pancaked me - the term used when you get hit so hard you're flat like a pancake (or waffle if the guy is wearing cleats).

Why did this story strike a chord in me? Simply because it echoed of the heavenly story. If we latch on to the fact that we are ridiculously loved, loved audaciously, fanatically, and against all odds, great things become possible. Maybe even impossible things.

I get so hung up on sin, guilt and shame that I do my heavenly father the discredit of not meditating on his great love. In the cross story we see love at it's deepest and purest form: God taking on all of our sin and brokenness and feeling his infinite wrath for it. Why did he do it? Because he passionately loved people like you and me.

When we become enchanted by this reality (enchanted by reality, hmm...), great things are possible. My problem is that I pursue the great things without the assurance of this sort of love. I've spent a life-time of keeping this sort of love at arms length. A friend of mine once said that being loved like that is just too painful.

And it is painful. Painful because there is nothing we have earned, merited or achieved about this kind of love. It is solely a one-way thing. And if we're able to take time to meditate on it we are left stunned by the fact that it's unbelievable. That's why I think calling myself a believer is sort of like calling myself a Astro-Physicist. I have no real idea what I'm talking about. The love that I believe in shatters boundaries that I didn't even know were there.

The love I believe in is impossible, but that's just why it makes the impossible possible.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Run


Running, running, running. Moving, rushing, charging. Restless, distracted, disconnected. Looking, searching, groping. And always running.

Words like these seem to describe me these days. Everything I run towards to grasp vanishes into mist in my hands.

Temptations beckon as lessons learned are forgotten. I find myself falling and falling again.

As I've written before, for each one of us, the Christian life is impossible. It's full of paradoxes: you must die in order to live, admit defeat in order to win and suffer in order to grow. Argh!!!

It kind of leaves my puny brain bewildered. I often wonder what in the world to do next. I feel like a fish swimming in an ocean of temptation. Even good things ensnare and enslave as I set my hopes on them, and I do it all the time!

Yet somebody is beginning a work on me that I can't explain, and that makes sense if it's God working, as I sense it is. And all my true hope is set on this work. Because otherwise I know that I'm a human time-bomb set to go off, which will not only self-destruct but hurt all of those around me.

I've always cringed and shrunk away from calling myself a miserable wretch. But the truth is I am. I am hell-bent on filling my life with the next fix: be it a cup of coffee, a mountain-bike ride, or even a blog entry. I need something to validate me, someone to say I have worth. Someone to say that everything really is all-right and that I am loved and safe.

However, I want all this and my toys as well. I'm still running. I'm not sure I've admitted defeat when faced with myself. I'm not sure I'm ready to quit old habits.

Am I hard on myself? Absolutely! It's the fuel that keeps me going and keeps me from God. Grace is a painful and audacious thing. To think there is nothing, nothing and more nothing that I bring to the cross kind of kicks your pride in the pants. And my pride wants nothing to do with something I can't control or see. My pride resists grace on instinct.

That's why I'm growing more and more convinced that this whole sanctification thing is a process initiated and fulfilled by a very, very patient and loving heavenly father. My guess is he's not going to take all my supposed lifelines at once. He may or may not choose to enable complete surrender to his good way in this lifetime. And ironicly, for me to contemplate complete surrender short-circuits his process. It's not something I can bring about.

I guess all I've got today is the prayer of faith that has been prayed for centuries, perhaps millenia: "Oh Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

And one more thought, that involves running, "I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!" We're all made to run.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hope

Is the Gospel really all that good? I ask myself this question all the time. Sadly more often then not I come up with insufficient answers: answers that don't meet my deep-felt needs and heart's cry for satisfaction, answers that simply paint it as a pretty picture - something that happened that was beautiful but not something that is happening and brings with it all I need.

I haven't written in a few days, because I've been that I'm too much of a sinner to write anything about the Gospel: that I'm a hypocrite, a fraud, and that God has somehow ruled me out of his plan, at least until I put some distance between me and my sin.

There's a root that has dug itself deep into the soil of my soul: that the Gospel is only so good. It's not really good, like say good beyond comprehension! And it's certainly not good enough for the sinner who is sinful beyond comprehension - a sinner like me.

But a new theme has been influencing me recently: that the Gospel is all about hope for sinners. Real hope. Hope fulfilled and met in the real work and workings of God. Not only does the Gospel not disappoint, but our deepest fantasies of hope are shallow when compared with it's realities. Let me say it another way: what we dare not even hope for, because it would be absolutely absurd, even scandalous, comes to us in the reality of the Gospel.

I've internalized the Gospel as only containing so much hope, or so much grace. It's only "so much," for if God is faced with my sin, surely he says, "to heck with that" (just more literally). I confess that I believe in a small.

But the real God heaped all of our willful, premeditated death blows on his Son. How dare I believe that this only engenders so much hope for me? I offend the reality of grace that is God's with this kind of thinking.

Somehow we all think that God can only take so much, when he actually in real time and in real history took on the his own full wrath. How can I really say that my sin rules me out from his grace? It really goes against what is real, really. It's an offense to the truth of God's work and working.

Why do I say "working" in the present tense? Is it because I think the cross wasn't enough? Probably at times. But the truth is that the God that accomplished our freedom on the cross is continuing to pursue our freedom in this world, in the middle of our messy and fear riddled lives.

What does God want from us in return? Nothing. But he does want something to happen in our hearts. He wants us to hope. He wants us to stretch our imaginations as we groan and mourn our fallen state. He wants us to hope that there is a God who not only meets our deepest needs for forgiveness, security, intimacy, and life but far, far exceeds our deepest imaginings of hope for these needs. That's the Good News. And it's in that sort of thinking that we can exclaim with the Psalmist that "our cup runs over," simply because it's not some fancy picture, but a "real and steadfast anchor for our souls."

God's wrath was infinite so that his grace for us could be infinite. Are we bold enough Christians to believe in this sort of hope? I hope so...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Satan Loves Pretty Churches



I was known, but nobody knew me... - Nate Larkin (author of Samson and the Pirate Monks)

What brings about the death of a church? Can anybody tell me? Anybody? Is anyone out there?

I am no authority, but if I was to guess, I think I would begin with sin. Sin seems like a no-duh sort of answer for such a general question. But let's get more specific. What would be the most common form of sin that has the potential to destroy the church from the inside out?

For this, I have another guess. It's the sin we use to cover up our sins: hiding. It began in the garden and reigns supreme in our world today, especially in the Evangelical church.

Once again I'm no authority, but I'm simply speaking from my experience. For I know what my major tactic is with my sin: hide it at all costs. Do not let anyone see it, for if they do, you will suffer seperation, alienation and rejection.

Why, for so many of us, isn't the church a safe place? Let me paint a brief picture. While I'll confess it really only takes me five minutes to get ready for church, if I wanted to look the part I'd need to go shopping. The very clothes we wear do not often represent what we intend - honoring God with our best attire - but rather a form of hiding.

Now there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up for church. But what's happening inside us while we do? Are we dressing up our sins, straightening up our messy lives, rehearsing the correct venacular, and proceeding to church as something other than our very selves. Sadly, I need to admit that this is what I often do.

I don't want to be known, it's too risky. I want to be known, it's the only way out. If I could summarize what is wrong with the western evangelical church today in one word, it would be hiding. We're a people that are hiding.

At least in the New Testament, people would boast over their sins. One NT fellow was even boasting about sleeping with his mother in-law. Talk about a different picture than what we have today. Obviously, that needed addressing, but my guess is the NT church didn't suffer quite as much with hiding as we do today. They were still young enough in grace to not have turned it into looking good. (Of course Galatians was written all about this.)

In talking about the church in this way, I may be falling into one of the many schemes of the devil, so maybe I should delete everything I just wrote. For it's not fair, there are plenty of churches that are reflecting the grace of God through shared brokeness. They are clinging to Christ as their head and are truly growing in grace. In fact, I'd have to say this is true for the churches I attend.

So why am I still writing? Because I still think I need to hear this, even if no-one else does. I really don't want people to know that I'm a miserable wreck of a human being, that I desperately need Christ every second of every day and that I often resist him every second of every day.

But sometimes I wear my wretchedness as a badge of pride. I'll admit that sometimes don't brush my teeth before church, simply because I don't want to talk to people. With make-up and perfume it feels like such a fake venue for authentic conversation.

And when I struggled more with chronic anxiety, I would absolutely dread the meet and great portion of our service. My hands would get clammy and my mouth dry, and I barely could get myself to say hello and say my name. I remember one service, simply leaving to go to the bathroom and waiting outside until this dreaded time had passed.

But back to what's good that's going on in the church when it comes to hiding. Many are beginning to find appropriate ways to confess their sin, mess and struggles through small groups.

I've recently joined a group of guys who are sharing everything we can think of, not just to get stuff off our chest and feel good about ourselves, but to wrecklessly depend on God to bring his grace into our messed up lives.
Small groups are doing this all over the place. I love this aspect of small groups, as hopefully, they are safe-places where people can confess their need for God.

I think I understand that there's a need for coorparate worship. But I also know there's a need to see the body of Christ in action. What I mean by this is that when we're together in large groups we're much more apt to hide. There's just too much to lose in being vulnerable. But it's very important that we see and worship in larger coorporate settings, I think.

Where is all my rambling coming from today? Well I'm just finding out that I've been terribly lonely in my sin for a long, long time. There was simply no venue, or I hadn't searched out any venue to grow with my brothers and sisters. I had often spurned "discipleship" groups as being exclusive and being a substatute for more substantive personal growth in Christ and through "Christian disciplines." What a joke! I realize now what an idiot I was for thinking this way.

My fellow travellers on this path of "Life" (as it's simply called in acts) are helping me to see Christ anew. The cross is growing less in my thinking from a gilded icon at the front of church, to something very personal and very real. I'm finding that community is one of God's greatest gifts to the church. In fact it was the intent of the church. A body held together by Christ.

As I gear up to write for youth with Student Venture, I have to keep in mind that the most common understanding among young people of religion is that it's moralistic, therapeutic, and deistic. I think we've added to this false religion (I know I have) the idea that it's simply personal.

We all hope that the body of Christ would attract and reach out to a hurting world. Being good, or looking good, has just the opposite effect. For in hiding we're not being truly good and in looking good we simply look ugly. May God grant that we be a church that is full of what a friend shared with me recently, "fierce repenters," so that Satan's schemes are undermined and broken people come to taste from the only true fountain of grace: not outward religion, but Jesus Christ.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Eyes That Twinkle


I am a hypocrite that is full of shame. I feel that I am a child of God that has tasted so little from the fountain of God's grace that my lips are cracked and my soul is bereft of life. I have related to God not as my father and friend, but as my enemy whom I'm forced to serve as a "Christian." My life is shaped by this void of faith.

I say these words this morning, not because I am without hope, it's just that in this darkness I'm beginning to see glimpses of a life that I never thought was possible: A life of openness and honesty before God and man.

I need God so badly. I am ever needy of his presence. My idols have not only consumed me, they have grown too large for me to handle, wrecking my interior life and threatening the very relationships I hold dear.

Do I have the strength that is needed to face these idols? No. Do I have the faith that is needed to ask for help? Yes. I cry out to God for help, for he is my only source of hope. He is my hope. He is my love. He is my everything.

Do I have the ability to sift, weigh and evaluate what needs to stay and what needs to change in my life? No. I cry out to God for help, for he is my only source of wisdom.

I have become what I most dreaded as a child: an adult. A monster, consumed by my own "needs" and desires. A person who is obsessed with my validation, respect, love, and comfort. I am a consumer. I am not a life-sustainer and I am unworthy of my calling as a minister.

I will never be worthy. I am at bottom a wretch. I am hopelessly addicted to self. My life is so awash in idolatry that even my best intentions have self written all over them.

My life is forfeit. I have given my life to everything but a true love relationship with my father. If I were to die today, I would mourn the state of me.

But there is something kindling in my soul. There is something that has been with me a long time. As CS Lewis says, a desire as if for a far off country. A desire for God.

I have a great history with this God (though I forget in times like these). He has been moving in me for quite some time. He's enabled this hypocrit to be a speaker of grace and truth. He has enabled me to hope when all seems lost. He is ever equiping me for something more: the loss of me.

Is this shame driven introspection that doesn't reflect the truth of my life? I really don't know. And I'm coming to realize that I don't care. For someone, namely my heavenly father, is working something in me that is bigger than me, perhaps even bigger than my greatest desires. I am being drawn near the fount, and I can hear its bubbling waters even as I write.

There is a place for me. A home for my restless soul. There is hope for hypocrits, selfish pigs, the spiritually lazy and lukewarm. There is hope for the sinner.

I wish I could say that I'm done with my idolatry. That I realize that God is my only hope of salvation, and I exercise great will to live for him. But I can't and I won't. Even now I seek to order my day. Even now I seek to sound good, to impress, to be profound. I am a wretch who writes. An idolater who is caught red-handed, removing his idols only to rush them to another room, arranging another shrine.

But this child is finding a home on his father's lap. "Let the little children come to me, for their's is the kingdom of heaven." As I show my father my little idols, he is amused at my obsession of loving them less and loving him more. For my spiritual discipline is merely self-help. It is only as he picks them up, looks at them, turns them over and round and round, am I reminded of the fervent creativeness of my father.

He admires their handiwork, notes their flaws, and shares with me what needs to go, and what I am permitted to work on. (This is no clean metaphor for God and idols. For my God is at war with idolatry.) Anything that wrests my heart from his must go. But there is something I find, sitting on my father's lap, that makes the toys of this world lose all their power.

On his lap, I am safe from their power. On his lap I can see them for what they are: crude attempts to find joy apart from God or attempts to find beauty apart from him. But as he touches them, they begin to look beautiful. They become the gifts of grace they were meant to be.

Oh to relax into this understanding of my God: A God who is furious at those who say, "Let the children play with their toys, God does not have time for children." For there is a divine rescuer who bursts through these indignant and self-righteous crowds to find me playing in the dirt with my toys. My eyes lift up, "Could this be real? Could God really want me?"

This child feels the warm and strong arms wrap around me as and a gentle voice ask, "What are you playing? Come sit on my lap and we'll play together."

God doesn't expect us to figure out what our idols are and rest them from our hearts. He asks us to come and play. To return and rest. To enjoy him. To recognize him not as some sentimental Santa Claus (as some of you may be thinking as I muse on and on) but to really taste and see that he is good. How do we do this? We don't. The crowds must be parted, the father must stoop, the powerful arms must reach out and lift us to our place, our home on his lap.

For what am I made for? I'm made for God and for his pleasure. My pleasure is bound to his pleasure. His pleasure is in me, moving me, lifting me, whispering to me, kissing me, tickling me, making me laugh, and helping me when I cry.

Does he hear this sinners cry for help? Does he see that my idolatry has enslaved me and keeps me from him? He more than hears, he moves swiftly to my side he kneels down beside me and with a twinkle in his eyes (from amusement or sadness I cannot tell) lifts me up on his knees. When he's done bouncing me he asks, "Now what was troubling you my child?"

"My idols," I say.

"Have you been reading Counterfeit Gods?" he asks.

"Yes."

"What have you been doing?"

"Re-arranging them, because I don't want any God but you."

"Hmm, why didn't you ask for my help?"

"I guess I sort of thought, you were busy, what with the whole world and all it's problems."

"I'm never to busy for my children!" he laughs and with that he throws me up on his shoulders and he tucks my toys away into his satchel, and we go for a walk to see his friends.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dust


"He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again." Psalm 78

I found these words smack dab in the middle of a chapter that records Israel's exodus and wilderness experience. God "remembered that they were but flesh," and he "being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them."

The reason I find these words worth writing about is that if I'm really honest with myself, I realize have a hard time remembering that I am "but flesh." Not that I think that I'm not sinful or fallible (although there's no way I can recognise the bottom line on these realities), but I simply don't think of myself in such seemingless simple terms - simply recognizing my state as a human being, made of dust.

A clear examples of this is that I don't think of myself as fragile and made of stuff - mere matter. I don't realize that apart from God and his sustaining power, I've got nothing. I think I have a fair amount to offer. I guess I sort of think I'm a demi-god (Ok, I think I'm a god!), in charge of my little spheres of influence. Little do I realize my own fragility and the emptiness of my kingdoms. For my kingdoms are all in my head, and I'm often deluded enough to believe that I'm a fairly good king or emporer (which depends on the level of my day-to-day delusion).

I was also reading John 17 today, in which Jesus simply pleads for his children, that they would know God's love, that they be protected from the evil one, and that they might be one even as he and the father are one. This chapter is jam-packed full of good stuff. Too much for me to unpack here. But the gist that I saw today is that Jesus is really concerned about us. He knows that we are but flesh, and his compassion flows through the entire passage.

This is the God we have. A God who recognizes our needs, and then rescues, protects, sustains, enables and preserves us as his beloved kids. He has no illusions about our state. He even attones for our silly self-dillusions of grandeur.

For as I write, I realize that I think I really have something to say. The truth is I don't. I need God to somehow enable me communicate, just as much as I need him for the next breath, which is impossible for me to recognize for what it is. It's no coincidence that God breathed life into Adam, he breathes life into me every second and for this I was going to say "I'm grateful." But I can't be grateful enough. My gratefulness is nothing when compared to his compassion and steadfast love.

So how am I supposed to respond to all this crazy stuff about God that blows my puny brain? The more I think about it the more I realize that God's not expecting any sort of spectacular response, for he knows we are but flesh. More than anything, my guess which is backed by the biblical story, is that he wants us to simply relish the sweetness of life. The sweetness of life in him.

Are we supposed to go forth and live for him? No. I believe we're supposed to simply live with him. The rest will take care of itself, if we're seeking the intimacy he offers. For being a passing wind, God doesn't expect much from me, he simply wants to me to enjoy him.

This is no self-indulgent therapeutic spirituality I'm promoting. It's simply the stuff of reality. If we are frail, made of dust, merely flesh, and a wind that passes, we've got nothing but God and are nothing without him. Enjoying him is our chief end and as we do he can begin to use us.

Unfortunately, I almost always get the cart before the horse, and claw through life trying to produce results for God, and am frustrated by my laziness and inability to please God, when what I'm finding (as I actually read my bible) is simply a waste of time. God will always want us more than we want him. And his desire is for us to simply live in his love.

I'm thankful that he invades my kingdoms, my delusions of grandeur, with his steadfast love that brings with it both humility and life.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Longing

I don't spend much time wondering what God longs for from us, do you? This thought has been bouncing around my little cranium the past few days and I'd like to share something that happened that may have given me a glimpse into what God longs for.

Before Teya goes to sleep each night I like to kiss her on the cheek (if she lets me with my "spiky" beard) and softly tell her I love her. Then I typically follow up with a question, "How much does Daddy love you?" And she whispers back in a daze, "A lot!"

What I desire more than anything else in my relationship with Teya is that she be secure and confirmed in my love for her. So these nightly rituals are there to cement what our days together should reinforce - that I am for her.

Well something has been going on the past month or so that's broken up our ritual a bit. There's been a welcome interruption escaping the lips of my daughter. Rather than finishing our interchange with simply "A lot" she's begun muttering "I love you too Daddy."

Okay, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to write about from here. I'm simply stumped. Somethings happened in our relationship that is clearly God's hand reaching into our broken world and restoring something good, something very, very good.

Of course I've also heard Teya dancing around and toying with the forbidden words "poop" and "hate," and throwing me into the mix with "I hate you poopy Daddy." But it can't touch the whisperings that have interrupted our nightly ritual. I just share this other side to illustrate that at 4, she often hardly knows what she's saying.

And that's it: In our relationship with God I believe he relishes and absolutely cherishes our fumbling words in which we express our meagre yet real love for him. Last night I shared with Jesus that I love him a lot. I don't know what his reaction was, but if it's anything like this earthly father's, it changed his day or night, whatever time zone God is in.

I don't think God waits around for us to say we love him. He simply desires that we find security and joy in his great love for us. But when this love comes full circle and we dare to put utterance to it, be it ever so paltry, God's got to be delighted. Because as an earthly father I felt a joy over Teya that I can't express.

I often think that God longs for obedience and faithfulness, but I'm beginning to suspect that he longs more for his love to come full circle. He desires that our longing be his longing, a relationship restored and bounded by the chords of his love. That's his promise and what he so furiously pursues (check out Brennan Manning's The Furious Love of God).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Trees Don't Make Good Fathers

"Can a virgin forget her ornaments or a bride forget her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number." - Jeremiah

These are chilling words that echo out of the Old Testament into our 21st century lives. How many days have we forgotten our Lord? How long has it been since we've seen him for who he is and treasured him?

Earlier in this chapter of Jeremiah idolotry is portrayed as someone saying to a tree, "You are my father" and to a rock, "You who gave me birth." It doesn't take too much imagination on my part to see that this is exactly what I am all about today.

I find idolotry really easy. And I can relate to the hopeless dope who calls a tree his father and a stone his mother. I am so quick, as Jonah says, to "cling to worthless idols and forfeit the hope that is mine."

I don't know about you, but I love stuff. I believe in it. After all, I can see it, taste it and touch it. While I don't find myself licking trees, there's plenty of stuff out there that tastes good and quickly subplants God's place in my life.

Idols are a hot topic these days. With Tim Keller's book, Conterfeit Gods, it's kind of redundant to be blogging about them. But I wonder what it is that has us so hooked on stuff. And realize here that I'm not just thinking about material things but also the other idols of prestige, power, influence, respect, comfort, etc., etc., and alas etc.

As someone once said (I think it was GK Chesterton) we humans are "idol factories." We pump them out left and right. Just watch TV for a little while with a pen and paper and right down all the idols that are presented during commercials. Our whole culture is built around this stuff.

And these idols, in my opinion, are all focused on doing one thing, keeping us from living in or with reality. Just like the man sauntering up to trees and stones, we're a whole culture gone blind to the reality that the universe centers around one being - God.

So are idols bad? No, we are. We're the ones who don't want to wake up, to be healed, to see reality. Why? Because we don't believe God loves us, has our best interest at heart, or simply don't want to know him (or all of the above).

After all, we're made in God's image, able to do and create marvelous things. Why do we need to face reality? Let's live in our fantasy until we die. That's the world's mantra. I hear it in every song on the radio, longing simply wed to empty fantasy.

God's offering us reality. Implicit in his frustrated statement that humans are calling trees and rocks mom and dad, is the reality that we were made to have one father. One being in whom we belong. One source of joy, peace, comfort and pride. That's why Jon Piper says over and over "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him."

The Bible is a portrait of a God at war with idols or lies. He wants the truth to win out in our lives and for us to come home to him. We were decieved to eat from a tree, he dies on a tree. We call a tree father, he covers a tree with his blood. He covers the tree that represented Roman power and domination with blood and compassion. And last but not least there's a tree in the city of God who's fruit will heal the nations.

Even as I write down all this random stuff, I'm eagerly awaiting a package in the mail. And to anyone who knows me, it's got to be a mountain bike part. Yup! I know that what's got me all worked up and giddy is just so much of a hunk of metal. Am I willing to call it father? Not in my head no but in my heart perhaps that's exactly what I'm doing.

My heart longs for what this hunk of metal represents: freedom, independance, joy and excitement. But I know that it will just result in a collosal let-down. For God is my only true father.

And even though he's invisible to me now, I know that my heart will be satisfied withnothing less than him. It's found in Jesus' parables on the kingdom that there is a God out there and in hear (our hearts if we're his) who is of inestimable worth. I hope that he enables me to believe it more and more, but for now, I've got a package that's about to arrive. Maybe this time I won't be thinking "Dad" when I tear it open.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Following Jesus is Impossible

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Jesus
Can you believe these words from Jesus? Can you imagine hearing them as a disciple? In light of what crucifixion meant in the disciples' world they would be more than shocked. I think they would be horrified! Perhaps they would have blown it off as one of Jesus' wacky statements that simply lend no explanation, but I doubt it. It's too poignant, too direct, and frankly really, really scary!

It's like someone today hawking electric chairs, "Electric chairs, electric chairs, come have a sit and a zap!" I don't think they'd have any takers. It's like Jesus was saying to his to his disciples, "You want to follow me. Here's the most horrifically gruesome thing I can think of. Now that's what happens when you follow me." Was Jesus just being mean?

How are we to reconcile these words? I don't really know. That's why I'm writing about them, sort of in the hopes that God would somehow help me to understand. It'd be nice if God was like, "You know Phil, I didn't really mean a real cross, I was simply saying the way would be hard, but I'll make it easy for you Phil. You've got nothing to worry about." Somehow I don't think that's God's interpretation.

Since 11 of the 12 disciples were killed or executed, my guess is Jesus was being a little too literal for everybodies' comfort. I confess I don't like this train of thought at all.

I know that the Christian life is all about dying to ourselves so that we can find our life in Christ. In fact that's what the very next verse talks about. But how in the world is that supposed to be appealing?

Let me back up for a moment: I'm the worst surrender-er out there. I really, really don't like (we're trying not to say "hate" these days with our kids - who like to say they hate everything) surrendering my way or will to anybody. I want what I want. And if you somehow interfere with me getting what I want, you can expect me to turn into "sergeant grumpy-pants" issuing orders that nobody likes. Why? Because I'm not happy, and I need to be happy.

So that said, how should I respond to this statement of Jesus'? Should I attempt to "metaphorosisize" (a mix of metaphor and metamorphosis) it into something a little prettier, something I can handle? I'm tempted to. It'd certainly be a relief to get this cross off my back.

But the truth is, Jesus doesn't promise his way is going to be easy. I believe he paints it in terms that are meant to scare us off. We're not supposed to respond with, "Alright, your way is hard, but I can do this." That would be missing the point entirely. Peter had just tried taking this tack with Jesus.

As someone said somewhere in some context, the Christian life is about making impossibilities possible. In other words Jesus was fully aware that he was addressing a group of fraidy-cats with the proposition of jumping in the ring with rottweilers. But what he also was fully aware of was his own strength.

That's what I always forget. You know how the Marines never leave a man behind. Jesus was fully aware of his ability to not leave any man behind, period. To take them through any trial, any difficulty, any torture, and even through any horrific death. I forget this because I forget that Jesus is actually real. He really his. And he's the son of God!

If Jesus is real and the son of God, he can and will sustain us through any sort of trial. It's not like Jesus is thinking, "I'm pretty sure my disciples can handle this." No he knew what a shock this was going to be to them, and he was putting a wall in front of their spiritual progress. In essence, he was saying, "If you want to follow me, you can't, because, guess what, you are going to die, ha!"

That's what I've got to believe about Jesus. That his way is impossible. It simply takes him to do it. I can't follow Jesus. I'm way to selfish. My will always circles back around to me (Yes, I'm a "me-monster"). But if Jesus sees fit and if I'm want to reject my will, he can do his work in me, enabling me to walk the impossible path, the path of death to self and life in God.

So am I saying that this is some sort of magical formula for sanctification and walking the straight and narrow. No. This has nothing to do with a formula and everything to do with a messy process. To our universal chagrin, Jesus is unafraid of taking time with us. From my experience he's more than OK with "process."

Daily as his disciple, I'm faced with this: Am I going to believe in Jesus and his abilities to work life out of the death in me, or am I going to try to find life myself? It's the question that makes all the difference. Not because our sanctification depends on us. It doesn't. But it's not that we're at the mercy of the fates either. Jesus died so that we could now follow. Not in our strength but in his. Even if this following looks really, really scary.

This is no sales pitch, Jesus is still calling us to take up our Roman torture devices, but He's doing it as our Saviour, the only one who was able to save us from our enslavement to sin and more than up to the task of making us more like him.

I think that's why my favourite prayer is simply "Help!" It works because Jesus is real and powerful. Something I often forget.