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


"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


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


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


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


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...