Thursday, March 31, 2011
How could Jesus want anything but God's will to be done? This quote is so proving to be so pivotal in my understanding of Jesus. He was no halo-clad, blonde-haired, beautiful saint in a toga. Jesus was a real man, with real struggles. Jesus' struggle was profound.
In the Garden of Gethsemene, in his anticipation of the cross and the rupture of his relationship with his father, I can't even begin to plumb the depths of his anxiety, fear, and troubled-spirit. Can you imagine sweating blood? I can't, and I've dealt with some pretty fear inducing stuff, like tasting "tootie-fruitie" ice-cream for the first time (my fear was well founded).
In Jesus' experience in the Garden there is some stuff we do know. He was anticipating the loss of a parent, the loss of life, the reality of torture and deep-spiritual darkness. This last had to be the worst, for he was facing pure, undistilled evil. And he was facing it as a human.
I've never really given this too much thought. That Jesus didn't somehow have super-strength to endure the cross and ensuing hell. We find in scripture that he had to face it fully human, and as fully God. The fully God part only made it worse, not better. He was capable of experiencing infinate pain that goes, umm, infinitely beyond our feeble imaginings.
All of this taken into consideration, we have in Jesus, illustrated by this quote, someone who knows temptation towards self-preservation. And to the degree that I'm capable of being honest with myself, self-preservation defines my life. What I want, when I want it, I need and if I don't get it, you'll pay.
Jesus now lives in me. So there's severe tension with my self-defining attitude. Great tension. People who think that the Christian life is easy, haven't yet faced themselves. We are bent on evil, Jesus is bent on good. A battle ensues. But Jesus is tender with us in the battle as he knows what it's like to be tempted after something other than God's plan.
That's what I find in this verse. A fierce declaration of loyalty in the fiercest storm of temptation this world has ever know. I don't think I'm using hyperbole. In Jesus we get the real deal.
For the longest time, my whole life on and off, I've thought that we get a weirdo who floats around and lives on a different plane than the rest of us. That goes utterly against the incarnation, and the experience Jesus went through. As my eyes are opened to reality of what happened at the cross, my temptations begin to go all fuzzy. That's what I'm counting on anyway...
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
On days like today, when I'm this weary, God knows my way. I know my thoughts are a trap. If I look around I don't have anywhere to turn. No one who really cares.
But if I cry to God and repeat, "You are my refuge, my portion in life. O God, hear my cry, for I've hit rock bottom. Please deliver me from those who want my life, because they've got me beat.
Please lead this prisoner forth, that I can thank you. That the righteous will come around me and rejoice over the fact that you are a rescuer."
-My paraphrase of Psalm 142
If you happened to read my blog yesterday, you may still be depressed. It was a tough entry on a tough day. It's not easy being Phil sometimes. Life can easily get me down. I heard on the radio a few years ago that people who are depressed have a perspective on life that is more realistic than most. I'm just really, really realistic sometimes.
But this Psalm is such an encouragement to me today. For it preaches that life, real Life, doesn't come from me. It comes from God. My God. The one who is my refuge. The one who is my portion. The portion that's been layed asside for me.
I love that David chooses to use the word "portion." When I think of the word I think of getting a heaping portion of my favorite food: carrot cake. I just can't wait to dig in, taste it's sweetness and wash it down with whole milk. I crave the satisfaction of a stomach full of carrot cake.
It's interesting to think on this and the connection Jesus makes with us feeding on him. He is to be more our sustanance than food itself. It's the truth, perhaps a truth that's going on all the time even though we barely recognise it.
For example here I type along (hum-di-dum-qwerty-whatever-hits-my-puny-brain-stuff)and he's the one enabling me to breath and do all the other stuff that I don't understand. I don't understand it because my stupid 8th grade Biology teacher thought we were smart enough to handle post-graduate-doctoral-totally-nerdy textbooks. I weren't smart. And I'm not the leastest bitter.
Back on topic: while it's dangerous to go to far in individualistic thinking as a westerner, the truth is that Jesus goes after and delivers the individual. He loves me, and in his rescue the community rejoices.
I believe that, in the process of support-raising, he will deliver this weary old soul of mine. And he won't just do it for me, he'll do it so that all the righteous will rejoice. I'm not saying that we'll get all our funding. Nothings for certain, save the fact that Jesus saves.
His plans are beyond mine and I know that I'll one day rejoice in them. My vision is so myopic, but his is truly comprehensive. He has the good of all of his children in mind.
This is the nature of our God. He's a rescuer. He delivers. He brings his children to rejoice in the bounties he brings home. And when he's around we're truly at home. God come home today.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Here I am, supposed to be raising support to reach youth for Christ, and I'm hesitant, fearful, lazy and just plain sick of it. I'm not the charasmatic picture of someone "on fire" for God. I more resemble a weak spark. I'm "a little spark" for God.
I feel worn, weary and discouraged. ("Fun! Keep writing Phil!") Life with Jesus isn't supposed to feel this way is it? It's supposed to all pan out and be groovy. In fact life with Jesus is supposed to fill us with unquenchable joy right? I don't know.
I hate "happy-all-the-time-Christians." Maybe I shouldn't type this, but I do. But it's not the picture we get from the Bible is it? The Bible shows us people at the end of their rope living in desperate hope. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Right now, I don't like doing what I don't want to do. And given the opportunity, I'll avoid hard work like the plague. Or at least the hard work of fund-raising that I've been called to. By grace I've done a lot of hard work. But I'm feeling restless these days.
Why don't I just throw in the towel? I wonder sometimes. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this. Here I sit at almost 80% support, with two beautiful kids and a gorgeous wife who cares and gives and gives me to shame. And I just want to sit. Plus I can't find any towels to throw.
I'm all out of phone calls. I'm all out of emails. I'm all out of vulnerability. I'm all out of being a missionary. I just want to hang it all and go fishing. It's what the ancient Chinese would do when they were disenchanted with the world. It was their subtle way of saying the world could go to heck.
I guess I'm disenchanted. I know I'm being pretty dramatic. And this is probably just me coming down off of a coffee high, but it's how I feel. I'll probably be happy again by the afternoon. It's the way of the human. I know nobody wants to hear me gripe. But the Christian life, the life of being stretched to do what everything in me wants to run from, does make me grumble. Or it at least gives me indigestion.
With all of the above being the way I feel, it's weird because I can calmly and reasonably say that I still have hope. Jesus is familiar with my suffering (even if it's just being human) and in Hebrews I hear he prays for me. He prays that I would not only have hope, but that I would live with joy and a purpose. And I'm not talking "Purpose Driven Life" stuff, I'm talking about walking with my God in the cool of the Garden kind of purpose stuff. I need more than Christianeze self-help, I need Jesus.
In the morning before my coffee, I need Christ. At noon-time, the time of this entry, I really need Christ. In the afternoon, I need Christ. In the evening I need Christ. Through the watches of the night I need Christ. We all do, especially when we don't know it.
Sometimes this need is what I run from. I hate being needy. I hate not being able to make life work. Sometimes I hate it when people remind me to trust. I'm like, "I've tried trusting and it doesn't turn out all peachy." Thankfully I don't feel this way all the time. This is just a faze, perhaps a coffee faze. It will pass.
So what do I do in the meantime? I should trust when it feels all wrong. I should work when it doesn't make sense. I should practise a little radical self-love, by inviting the Spirit to sing the Gospel music to me. I want to wallow around in self-loathing, but I'd much rather hear the music. I need to relax, pray and breathe.
Most of all I should let this big God of mine be big. I should recognize that he takes my faltering, stuttering, sin-riddled steps towards him and makes something beautiful happen: His Kingdom Coming. I don't think God's looking for me to be a saint. He's looking for a sinner to do his work. I've got the sinner part down.
I've got to quit thinking that I've got this whole "missionary-support-dad-husband-writer thing." I don't have it, and never will, but Jesus does and in him I hope, be it ever so weakly... be it just a spark. God can use a spark...
Friday, March 25, 2011
"We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." - Paul trying not to be confused with Zeus
I was reminded yesterday of the fact I live in America, the land that has taken Christianity and formed it into a religion all its own. What I see on TV, on the internet and in our Christian culture is such a mixed up hodge-podge blend of American pragmatism, materialism and religion.
Now I don't want this to be a bashing session in which I unload all of my baggage in self-righteous indignation towards American Christianity. What I do want to do is see more clearly how I have bought into this mutated religion that is not Christ-like in any form. Here are a few personal beliefs to get warmed up:
I believe that if I'm a good boy and go to church, I will be blessed.
I believe that if I work really hard and am really responsible, God will be pleased.
I believe that those who have money have been blessed by God.
I believe that I will have a successful ministry if I just follow the right models.
I believe that I can do it, because I'm an American...
As you can see, I'm in trouble, and I can hardly believe what I believe. It's so silly. What does wealth, ministry models and nationality have to do with following Christ. Nothing. Let me say it again so I'll believe it: Nothing!
God didn't bless America to the exclusion of other countries and cultures. I do believe that God has blessed America with democracy, freedom and some other things. But in this sense he's blessed many a country. We are certainly not the focus of his blessing, the new Israel.
And these days, I'm not so proud to be an American. I'm not so proud to be a human. Since I'm bigoted, shallow and selfish I have fashioned a Christianity all of my own making. Will it save? Absolutely not. Will it maintain the status-quo? Certainly.
But the radical nature of the kingdom is totally different than the Christianity we see in our culture. I've suspected this for a long time, but it's mostly just made me prideful, self-righteous, critical and unhelpful. It's easier to be critical than helpful. I want to serve the church, but maybe first I need to get on board with God's business of reforming it.
I don't like radical Christianity. It makes me think of social activism, which I'm totally scared of. But Jesus was a radical with a radical message. A hard message. A message of hope for the down-trodden and a message of impending wrath and judgement for the oppressor and for the comfortable.
I don't have to look far for comfortable Christians. I don't have to gaze beyond my own navel. I need reform. I need Jesus. I need ministry. I need fierce and penetrating repentance through the work of the Spirit. As John the Baptist says, "the ax is at the root!"
I live in the South, so everywhere I look I see Christians. As I'm typing this two old ladies are praying beside me. "Firm believers in a vague religion," as a friend of mine likes to say. And I worry. I worry that who I am and what I believe is not wed more to my culture than to Christ. I worry that what I will pass on to my children is just a plastic image of the real thing. I don't want to give my kids plastic Jesus action figures, I want to point them to the real guy.
As Paul says to the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith."
As you can see, I need the Gospel to reshape my thinking and my attitude. What I see in American Christianity makes me sick. But unfortunately I suspect it makes me sick more because of my own theological biases and doctrinal superiority than for the humble reason that we aren't following Christ.
I'm tired as well. Even as I write, I'm feeling pretty grumpy. Disillusioned. And it's a Friday too. How can this happen on a Friday? Maybe because I'm catching a glimpse of the distance between my religion and the way of Life. They are miles apart.
Today I must rest in Jesus. I must rest in the one who has the power to reform. I must rest in the one who bridged the gap for me, enabling me to be a son. Only from a place of peace and intimacy with Jesus will I be a helpful critic of our culture. And only there will I find direction for this tired old soul of mine.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner..."
Thursday, March 24, 2011
-Moses responding to the first "Are we there yet?" (It wouldn't be the last time he fielded that one).
The Israelites had barely slipped their sandled toes onto the first tiny grains of sand in the wilderness before they were complaining. Of course, I don't blame them, they had a massive Egyptian horde after them. The Israelites sometimes get a bad rap. I think I'd at least be muttering something uncouth under my beard. As an Israelite I'd have a really scraggly beard and would never, ever have to bathe. I'd look like a pirate. My son David would love it.
I grumble all the time. As a "writer," it's practically part of my profession. But there are times, where God clearly tells me to be silent and watch him work. This seems to be one of those days.
Today I suffer from what I'd call a "queenless, bee-hive mind," thoughts are buzzing willy-nilly all over the place in my brain, searching for something sweet to land on. Thinking of, one landed in my coke way back when ... when I was a teenager, when I was young, when I had a world of possibilities in front of me, when I had a long life to live with little to no consequences, when I wasn't the grizzled and bedraggled old coon-fart that I've become... Anyhow, it gave me quite a crunchy surprise. I then mused that whilst I was in the dawn of my years I do prefer bees outside of my mouth.
But as my thoughts buzz, God's telling me, ever so tenderly, to slow down, to be quiet and to watch. Watch him do his thing. And when God says things like this, stand back... Way back. Ten-years-old-having-made-your-first-model-rocket-out-of-everyday-household-items back.
God is doing something in this crazy world I live in. And this morning, I can't quite put my finger on it. But it's nice to be reminded who's in control. It's something I need to hear everyday. Even if I can barely hear anything above the bees, and my own grumblings.
So rather than write on and on, I'm going to try and watch. "For I only have to be silent..."
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I could write about how I just blew an hour of work looking at mountain bike parts I could never afford. When I'm tempted to look at mountain bike parts, I'm like a monkey who's just been introduced to banana chips. But I don't feel like castigating myself for my irresponsibility and you'd probably not enjoy reading it. Even though I deserve some castigation, it gets me nowhere and gives me headaches.
Here's something. Something a little more relevant. Something for days like this when my faith is shrunken to the size of a small pea (not the big ones injected with hormones that Melissa warns me against). Something for guys like me who struggle with really-tiny-minuscule-little-person faiths (or iguana faiths I don't want to leave you out Fred).
"On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased."
The truth is that I have more faith in me than in God. After all, even as I pick at the blister on my hand, I'm made of flesh, bone and blisters. I can see me. I can handle me.
Left to myself I search the internet for banana chips, I mean bicycle parts. I rarely want to be about the business of work. Work is restrictive, uncomfortable and just not me centered enough. Why can't work get in line?
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I've been rescued from the world of cause and effect. My sinful cause is met with Christ's sacrifice. I have been given the word of life, I am clean and Jesus abides in me. I have no better promise, no greater reality. God has breathed into me and I can breath deeply and be satisfied. It's good to breathe.
And it's primarily about God. He loves. He's just. He's merciful. He is good. He will be glorified. Bank on it. Better yet, invest in it, gamble on it, mortgage the house!
Monday, March 21, 2011
Here I sit at Pashas (my sweet little Coffee shop at the foot of Lookout Mountain, TN) on Monday morning, trying to rub the sleep and pollen from my eyes. Mondays. Wow, I bet a lot has been blogged about Mondays and pollen for that matter. But I'm really feeling my Monday this morning and I just don't have the strength to add to the pile of literature. In fact I can't even think of a creative word that would mean "a large body of written work." So as you see, I just used "pile." Great words for writers are words like "stuff," "sort-of," "that thingy" and I can't think of any others.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
There once was an Old Testament without Jesus. It was old, crusty, dull and boring. It was rotting...
There never was an Old Testament without Jesus! From the beginning to the end of our Bible, Jesus is central.
I was talking this over with my pastor friend this morning, and he was tearfully painting with broad and generous strokes the meta-narrative of the scriptures (the tears were from allergies). It was a beautiful painting. One that when he finally stopped brushing, we both stood back and gaped at.
My conclusion as we gaped was that God's love is ridiculous. His was that it was irresponsible. Jesus was here, there and everywhere. In God's Shekinah Glory, in his dwelling with the people, in the beginning through the Lord's spoken word: "Let there be light." Jesus was in every Covenant. In fact in every Word the Lord spoke, Jesus was present, coming forth. He was there in the giving of the Law - God's perfect parameters for a people chosen to be Christ-like, a light to the nations.
All that is good in creation is from the spoken Word of God. All good is from and connected to Christ's work.
That's what irks me when I find my own dispensationalism popping up time and again. The idea of two covenants, where one just wasn't good enough is problematic. God doesn't make multiple plans. His idea from the beginning was to fully express himself in the person and work of Christ.
It's why David can revel in God's forgiveness. David had more faith in God's veiled covenant, than I do in the unveiled (thank you pastor). Sadly a veil still lies over my heart.
In Psalm 119 we see David revelling in God's Law and Word. That which created the mountains, rivers, trees, animals and us. God's Law is good. We miss-read Paul when we call it bad. We made the Law bad. We did so by making it a means to get to God, rather than the gift of parameters for a people chosen out by God. It's what we've always done.
And the Gospel is bigger than any of us. My pastor explained that the idea that God would die for us individualy is to minimalise God. God's good news was for all creation and not simply us. We are simply the beneficiaries. God's glory is expressed by his goodness, and his goodness is throughout the whole Bible.
So don't tell me Jesus isn't in the Old Testament, because I'll quickly have to repent for believing the same way most of the time and for forgetting to "Hear O Israel, Our LORD is One!"
Just a few minutes after I typed these words (and I'm not lying) in walks a Messianic Jew who says the phrase above in Hebrew! His name was Joseph, pronounced with a "Y," and he made my day. Life with God is always more beautiful than fiction. Here's to the greatest fiction ever told: (whisper) "It's true!"
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
I chose the passage above as my "mantra", because it was written by David and is a powerful summary of a wholistic understanding of what God does for us as his children: He gives us the benefits of forgiveness, healing, redemption, and good things! He even renews our youth, something that I should pray for every day. Especially when I'm trying to get out of bed.
In fact at age 34, my body, while still working relatively well, is showing the questionable signs of aging. Stuff like bloating, excess weight and a myriad of things that are depressing (like new lines on my face) remind me of this need for youthful renewal. I'm still waiting God! I believe God to be full of dubious promises. I don't think that I'm going to feel like an "eagle" anytime soon. What gives God? God: "You have no idea what an eagle feels like. They actually feel pretty terrible most of the time."
But the biggest promise, or reminder in this Psalm is it's opening verses: "Bless the Lord Oh my soul. Let all that is within me bless his holy name..." Our biggest blessing in this life is that we get to bless God. I know it sounds a little circular, but as with so many riddles, there's something profoundly true in the mystery of the riddle.
That we, of all God's creatures can bless God is pretty amazing. Other creatures do so with their lives. But we get to bless not only with our lives but with our very consciouses and subconsciouses for whackos like me.
So as I meditated my way down into my deep conscious last night (the murky depths where my anxieties seem to reign) I was struck by the calming effects of these words. And for someone who has grown up in a tradition that poo-poos experiencial encounters with God, I was somewhat scared and delighted as warm fuzzies washed over my body.
It was probably the simple fact that I was sitting in a comfortable room, in a comfortable chair, with comfortable thoughts running through my head. It sort of felt like the time I was given morphine for my broken arm. No wonder people like to meditate!
There was a gift of peace and warm fuzzies that felt pretty good as I reached about 40 minutes of repeating the passage. My father-in-law walked in at about minute 20, so I'm sure he was wondering what in the world I was up to, sitting in a chair apparently doing nothing at all.
That's the beauty of meditation, I wasn't doing nothing, but I was stopping to attend to someone. To attend to God. Of course my motives weren't that pure, I was looking for the elusive warm fuzzies. But someday I'll be able to do this face to face, and I for one can't wait, especially if he's passing out warm fuzzies.
But before you go off and dismiss me as a warm fuzzy new age weirdo, which totally fit me last night, and which I see so many Christians doing on the world-wide-interweb-of-hate, I think it's really important that we, as evangelicals, learn what it means to stop and attend to the important.
We're called to read scripture, pray AND meditate. From this movement and vigourous action should result. At least that's what I bank on. And it's true, without internal time with God, we're running on empty.
So here's my plug for Contemplative Spirituality, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Transformation, or Christians Gone Whacko. I hope we don't dismiss what we don't understand, or embrace it for that matter. I plan on critically studying these popular movements as we're called to be discerning, but more importantly I plan on meditating again as I got warm fuzzies.
Warm fuzzies get a bad rap from those who don't experience them often enough. They're pretty neat little guys.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
I wasted a whole bunch of time today at work. Probably 2+ hours! It makes me feel like a heal. Here I am supposed to be raising support for my family and for the mission of reaching out to youth with the Gospel and I find myself simply whitling away my time. Craigslist and Google were my gods today as I looked for shiny bikes that I couldn't or shouldn't buy. Melissa is in charge of finances, so I never really know where we are. Or at least that's what I say when I want to buy something.
Why the endless browsing and internet-powered-window-shopping Phil? I guess it stems from a lack of satisfaction and a restless spirit. On top of that I'm often given to laziness. And these are not characteristics that are outside me, they lurk in the inside. To say that there is some profound fear or anxiety or wrong thinking that drives my disobedience is to shirk the reality that I sin. There may be, but I still choose to disobey. I choose to be deceived. I run.
Am I being hard on myself? I don't think so. Have I been called to something that's difficult in fund-raising? Definitely. But who is it that strengthens us to do anything? Who is it that equips where he calls? God. And honestly guys, I have a hard time making up my bed in the mornings. I can be really lazy. I pray almost every morning that he'd give me the strength to get up and make the bed.
But the flip side to my sin is that the God I believe in and follow I fear for the exact reason that he forgives. I honor him because he forgives me. He gets my allegiance. If he didn't forgive who would stand?
But at the same time he gets so little of my allegiance and fear. It's a difficult thing being a sinful human in this broken world. But God knows this (and in Jesus he knows more deeply then we can imagine) and his provision for me runs deep. If only I'd run to him and find my life in him. Simply trusting and obeying, the children's song to true Life.
I believe that life is difficult and confusing. I also believe we have all we need in God. I believe it 2% of the time anyway. Maybe 1%. Or I guess I'm a skim milk Christian. But I'm God's and he works with me. He even wants to churn me into creme and make a fine cheese of me. Good luck God! He's really surprising. And it's why I want to honor him all the more. May my life reflect the Psalm of ascents above!
I've been wrestling with this recently and asking myself what is "Christian meditation"? What does it look like? I think I've been afraid of demons for so long that I've neglected this art of pausing and allowing God to speak into my life.
I am a novice at letting God's word transform my mind. Even now as I write I'm supposed to be reading my Bible and meditating on the given word of God. And I've settled for researching Christian views on meditation! Not a bad thing to do, but isn't this my fallen human spirit at work? I look everywhere but to God for answers.
Being a writer at heart, I often think that the answers are inside me. That if I would just pause and slow down, that I would find the inner peace I'm looking for. That by clearing my mind of all thoughts and leaving my body I would be in a place where I could draw strength, nourishment and grace for living. That if I would just blog long enough and explore my innermost thoughts, I would find where I err and draw close to God.
These are dangerous patterns of thought. They lead to more of self and not less. Yes, I need to slow down and meditate. But I need to meditate on God, not myself. I need to allow him to show me my thoughts, truths about my body and createdness and guide me in the one true path.
So how am I called to meditate? I believe we are called to meditate on God in an infinate variety of ways. But the infinate ways must be founded in scripture, and as my parents would be quick to point out scripture that is read correctly and not taken out of context. The Biblical story is God's story of love to us. And it is in meditating on that that we can go to the pool of peace, strength and hope that refreshes. It is there that we hear from the Spirit.
Melissa was meditating on the Abrahamic Covenant last night and connecting it to the cross. I knew where she was going so I was like "Blah, blah, blah, no duh..." But thankfully the Spirit interupted me, with a gentle encouragement to wake up and listen. Sure enough she had stumbled upon something big that I had never thought about.
I bet you'd like me to share that with you now. I won't, since I'm kind of a jerk sometimes, and it may be a helpful exercise for you to meditate on these two events. In other words, I don't want to be that guy who says "You haven't seen the Matrix? It's all about this guy who lives in a fake reality created by robots! You should totally see it!" And if you haven't seen the Matrix, then I'm terribly sorry. I thought it would be better to pop that bubble then the one that may expand from examining the cross side by side with the covenant with Abraham.
Anyways, I should grab a bite to eat and then get down to the real business of Christian meditation: reading God's word and asking the Spirit's guidance for Life (with a capital "L"). I love how in Christ we have all the answers! I only half way believe this most of the time. But it's true, at least about all the answers we need anyway...
My conclusion on meditation, is in practise am I playing God or am I allowing God to play you? If I'm allowing God, the God of the Bible, to play me, I believe I'll be in a good place, a place I'll want to visit again, again and again. So here's to a deep renewal of Christian Meditation, let's not let all the Hindus have all the fun!
Thursday, March 3, 2011
What a list! And what an intimidating passage. Does my life reflect anything of Paul's? Honestly, I'm not sure. Though I'm sure the Spirit is moving in me and taking me in Godly directions.
But what pops me between the eyeballs ("You're my creative writing hero Phil! I love your word-smithy. Bravo, bravo, applause, applause, fog-horn, applause." "No, no, I quiet down everyone...") in this passage is Paul's statement of putting "no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry." With so many people turned off from Christianity and the church these days, this statement and following description is truly a refreshing take on what it means to live.
In the list he mentions "the power of God." I'm glad he includes it, because without it it'd be a impossible list.
The question I want to challenge myself with is "Am I willing to follow God in such a way that I put no obstacles in peoples way?" The way being the "Way" by which the early Christians were called. Umm, no.
I'm a sinner. Duh! But the power of God is at work in me, and I make it my aim to reflect Christ, to live in the light of Christ and to enjoy God's companionship. I believe this will draw others. There's no better way to witness than finding your sufficiency in Christ.
I'll give you a recent example from this sinner's life. And I got a hug and a kiss out of this one from Melissa when I related it to her! ("Store up you treasures in heaven Phil." "But are we going to be allowed to get kisses from beautiful women in heaven? Hmm?") So, I am often tempted to spend frivolously on candy. And I had that craving yesterday. But I decided to test God's sufficiency for me and resist the temptation to wittle away at our finances, which are already tight. In doing so I suffered the "affliction" of being without chocolate, and showed kindness to my wife's wishes which are "I'll kill you if you spend any more money on candy!" It was no huge victory, no big affliction (I had chocolate waiting at home for me), but it was a step in God's way. And I believe it was a light to Melissa.
I hate it when pastors come up with illustrations like mine. "I really struggle with speeding" etc. etc. So I'm sorry for my poor illustration. But if we lived like my illustration all the time, not just giving up stuff that keeps people from seeing Christ in us, but pro-actively loving others in the midst of hardship and being mis-understood (slander) for our sacrificial lives, I believe we would find an intimacy with God that is not only sufficient, but could be best reflected with "my cuppeth runneth overeth."
In the west the bar is set pretty low for living a life that is different and Christ-centered. That's why it's sad that people are turned off from the church. It reflects that people are not living the Gospel. Living lives that are filled with the radical (yes I used the buz word "radical," which I hate) love of Christ. Perhaps the American church has fallen out of love with Christ. So we heap up obstacles that no one in their right mind can get over.
So I wax and wane, and whine! I am so grateful that we serve the God who climbed over every obstacle to rescue us. Out of this gratitude and joy let us clear a path of love toward this world that so desperately needs Jesus. After all Paul was just a dude. He was no saint. He simply knew "the Dude." Let's fall in love with Jesus again.
OK, enough preaching, you probably don't read my blog to get preached at. But sometimes I have to preach at myself. Sorry.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
When I began my devotions about five minutes ago, I opened to this passage. My blog entries almost always occur this way: I open my Bible to read a little and am struck by something really profound. When I'm looking for stuff to write about, the Bible serves as a book of endless possibilities - it's so full of truth, adventure and insights into interplay of human and divine. It's simply the reason I blog. And the process of blogging enables me to better understand, digest and remember what I'm reading, so I recommend it to anyone who wants to know God better.
But it didn't take me long to find something really profound today. Here I am reading the exchange between Moses and God in chapter 4 of Exodus, and Moses is expressing that he's not really a good choice to speak to the people, using the excuse that he's not eloquent. To put it in it's modern context he's saying something like, "But God" (nasally whine) "I'm not a 'dynamic' speaker." (For an entire entry on why I hate the modern usage of "dynamic" in Christian circles check out the entry "Dynamic" - original eh?)
God's not having it. He does a serious "No duh!" with Moses as he points out, "Moses who has made man's mouth?" I love this. In God's divine humor, he highlights the ridiculous world Moses is living in in his mind. Moses has just seen the burning bush, heard God's voice, had his staff turn into a snake which he fled from (ha!), had his hand turn leprous (fun) and then been healed. You'd think that the last thing Moses would be concerned about would be the fact that he's not "eloquent." But no, Moses is to prideful in his insecurity.
Moses is so much like me. I am so quick to forget all that God has done in my life when faced with any sort of challenge, obstacle or parking ticket. For me public speaking is always a truly terrifying experience to anticipate, but I can honestly say I have not died yet. "I'm not dead yet (Monty Python)."
But I question pretty much anything that God asks me to do that goes outside of my little controlled universe of my imagining. No wonder God got a little miffed with Moses, and he probably gets a little exasperated with me. That's why I love God's humorous response, "Umm Moses, did you know that I made your mouth?" The very vehicle that Moses was afraid to use was God's invention.
I don't want to miss the irony here. It's really potent. Moses was afraid to speak, and every word he spoke was going to come from God. God goes on to harp on this ironic theme by stating that he will be with Moses' mouth. Come on Moses! Aren't you getting it? You're nothing in this equation of Man + God.
And that's exactly the difficulty I cause all the time. I question God's part of the equation, forgetting that my side isn't so hefty after all:
Me - "God I don't want to get up and go to work."
God - "Um, how, pray (God likes sounding religious!), are you going to get up?"
Me - "Duh, I'm going to sit up and get out of bed."
God - "That's what I thought, need I say anymore."
Me - "Yeah!"
God - "How do you think you're going to sit up?"
Me - "With my stomach muscles, Jeez!"
God - "Did you almost say "Jesus" in an exasperated fashion? You know I smite people for less than that! Just kidding. No, who do you think made your 'chiseled' abdomen that enables you to sit up?"
Me - "Um, you. And did you really give me a sweet six-pack this morning?"
God - "No. But I did make all those muscles under your cellulite addition."
Me - Thanks for the sarcasm as always God.
God - No problem.
That's what I love about being in a relationship with the God of the entire universe and beyond. He's bigger than Lord Xenu, the alien that conquered all the other aliens in the universe, dumped their bodies on earth, caught their souls as they rose from earth in special soul-sucking ships, indoctrinated their disembodied souls with a made up history (known to us as "human history") and then let them loose on earth where they found some monkeys and brainwashed them into being intelligent. For this insightful anecdote I thank L Ron Hubbard, outlining some of the key principles of Scientology.
Not only is God bigger than Lord Xenu, he loves to take me back to the basics when I'm scared, fearful and anxious. He reminds me that my world really isn't all that real, and that his world is. It's really comforting. And isn't that what the Gospel is all about anyway: opening our eyes to reality.
So I hope if your worried about something today, that you'll remember who invented your brain that you're using to worry with. I'm sure I'll forget. But God is patient. More patient than Lord Xenu anyway.