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


"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


"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.