Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Serious Malady of the Soul

"A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and
automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct
methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply
machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our
chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to
make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another
gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by
a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic
results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow
religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of
fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in
religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships,
salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for
the power of the Spirit; these and such as these are the
symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the
... A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), The Pursuit of God [1948]

A lot of times in this space I'll expand on something I read or a thought that someone else conveyed. At times, though, there would be little of value that I could add, and I struggle with whether I should share the insight or just process it myself. This time, I decided to share.

The quotation is from A.W. Tozer and let me just say this. If the words he writes were true back in 1948, how much truer are they now?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Praisers of Piety

I recently completed a survey on Christianity. The survey was intended for people who were disgruntled or otherwise disillusioned with the present-day practice of the faith, and although I was a little concerned that I was chosen as a possible candidate, I took the survey anyway. One of the questions was in regards to how I felt modern day Christians integrate their faith with their intelligence. I wish I could remember the exact wording of the question, but basically the researcher wanted to know whether I believed that Christians checked their brains at the door.

As I've written in this space previously, this is not a question that is unfamiliar to me. After all, I believe a lot of people who were raised in the church, choose to abandon the practice because they thought that there was something intellectually remiss. Whether or not this perception was reality, I couldn't say, but its one of those cases where perceptions count for everything. Many individuals can not intellectually defend their faith so they either chuck it or choose to hold it dispassionately.

There are, however, people who are at the other end of the spectrum. These individuals give intellectual accedence to their faith, but never let it impact their heart. They believe that God is real, but don't have a relationship with Him. Their minds say that there must be a power greater than themselves but they refuse to conform their will to that of the Other. Maybe their condition can be best summed up by the man who cried "Lord I believe, Help my unbelief".

And this problem isn't a new one. In 1728 William Law gave the following explanation for why some people seem never to progress in their faith. " Now the reason of it is this: it is because religion lives only in their head, but something else has possession of their heart; and therefore they continue from year to year mere admirers and praisers of piety, without ever coming up to the reality and perfection of its precepts." Being a praisers of piety, an advocate for what's right is good. Being a practicer of these precepts is even better.

May we never settle for merely being an advocate of good things. May we be ambassadors for the only One deserves to be called good.


Life's A Destination

C.S. Lewis once responded to the accusation that some Christians were so heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good, by noting that it was only when Christians were heavenly-minded that they were able to do any earthly good. The struggle wasn't that Christians thought too much of the next world to impact the one that we have, it was that they thought of it far too little. When the destination's in mind, the journey takes on new significance. Just like the swimmer who was unable to cross the English channel when fog darkened her path, when we choose not to look at where we're heading, we aren't as committed to getting there.

The subject of heaven has taken on renewed interest for me because of a sermon that my pastor recently delivered. In it, he suggested that just as they're are different rewards given in heaven based on the good works that we do here on Earth, there are also different punishments merited in hell for the evil acts committed. He believes that a just God demands these varying degrees of severity and that the condition in which we experience our final destination is ultimately determined by how we conduct life here and now.

Setting aside the controversy that this position generates (and my guess is that it has generated quite a bit), there was some logic in the stance that my Pastor was advocating. Children and criminals are punished based on the degree to which they commit an offense. Why shouldn't this economy of justice also be relevant in the life hereafter? We believe, and in fact are often motivated by the belief that things done on Earth are rewarded in heaven. In the same manner, maybe punishment is delivered too.

Ultimately though my concern is not with what the experience of Hell or Heaven is like its the fact that there is a destination at all. In an age when we are so focused on the process taken to achieve a goal (more often than not to be assurred that we haven't offended anyone), we can forget that there is a goal in place. Our society teaches us that the process is more important that the arrival. In education, in relationships, in business, it's all about continuous improvement. We forget that there is an objective standard by which our accomplishments are measured. In the same way, we forget that our journey here on Earth is just that, a journey. The destination is the ultimate purpose.

And we spend so much time trying to figure out what that destination is going to be like. We struggle to define something that is impossible for us to imagine. We contemplate all the trappings of our heavenly home, the streets of gold and the pearly gates, and forget the reason we want to be there. The reason, after all, is Jesus. As William Barclay once stated, " For the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is. We do not need to speculate on what heaven will be like. It is enough to know that we will be for ever with Him.".

The reason that Heaven is good is that that's where Jesus is. The reason that hell is bad is because that's where He's not. Respectively, no reward or punishment can be greater than that. Heaven is itself the desired destination regardless of what else comes along with it because Christ is there. Hell, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs even if we can expect a "lesser" degree of punishment, because it is where the creation is forever separated from the Creator.

I can't imagine what Heaven might be like. Nor can I imagine hell. Regardless, I want to know that my destination is secure.

"Life is a journey not a destination" we're told in an effort to moderate our activity. Turns out, they couldn't have been more tragically wrong.

11:30 PM - 1 Comments -


Monday, February 12, 2007

Starts with Goodbye

. . .Sometimes moving on with the rest of your life starts with goodbye".

I'll often tell people that I hate goodbyes. The reason I say this is because its true. I do hate goodbyes. There are probably several reasons for this, many of which have been explored elsewhere on this blog. From the feeling that something is ending to the loss of control, goodbyes are not my strong suit. What I hadn't realized until recently was how much my aversion to goodbyes had to do with my dearth of emotional processing capacity. I, it is sad to say, am a neophyte when it comes to expressing emotions. I've learned that I don't even know how to fight properly. When I became frustrated this weekend, my friend didn't believe I was mad because I started laughing as I tried to reprimand him. My ineptitude in expressing my emotions caused me to grow even more angry while he felt content in his "acceptable" behavior. But I digress, severely.

Although my feelings toward goodbyes may be rooted differently than others, I know that I'm not alone in my distaste. Goodbyes have caused pain since the beginning of time. In fact, in a sense, God's punishment for man's sin was a goodbye - an eternal separation from God's presence. Its why we talk about Jesus providing a way back to God - we were separated from something we once knew and our relationship needed to be restored. Goodbyes are often associated with bad things and we rarely look forward to them with anticipation.

But goodbyes are also necessary things. As Carrie Underwood sings, "sometimes moving on with the rest of your life stats with goodbye". You can't take hold of what's next until you let go of what you have. It's like the third grader who tries to grab the next run on the monkey bars without ever picking up her hand. It's impossible to do. The moment of faith and despair that lingers as the hand moves from one bar to the next is necessary for forward progress. It's a step that must be taken and letting go of what she already posses is required. So it is with us, we must step out in faith to move forward.

Just like the girl on the monkey bars, there's that moment where we're holding on to nothing. As our hand swings from one bar to the next, there's a huge chance we might fall. In fact, in no other time in our journey does excitement and fear mingle so closely together. But the progress that's made makes embracing the fear worth the effort. And the excitement of what's next propels us onward.

The thing to remember is that sometimes we have to let go of good things to move on to even better. Letting go is not acknowledgment of a lack of acceptability. It is, however, acknowledgment that the time has come for something else. And whatever that something is, God has ordained it for a particular time and place in our lives. To miss it, would be missing out on His blessings. To eschew it, would be denying His will for our lives.

C.S. Lewis states, "there are better things ahead than any we leave behind". May this heavenly vision be our destiny.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Assorted Thoughts On Life

It's amazing what you can learn from junior high students. I tell people that if you want a lesson in perspective hang out with some middle school students for a few hours each week. You learn a lot about what's important and what's not, and you laugh - A LOT.

Tonight, as I attempted to teach several seventh grade girls how God responds to deeds done in faith by crediting it to us as righteousness I received a lesson on the difference between temptation and testing. We're studying the book of James, and in chapter one the writer shares that 1) Trials should be counted as joy 2) Joy comes from knowing that testing helps develop us into the people that God wants us to be and that 3) Temptation comes from the devil, not from God. Although our plan for tonight was to finish the 2nd chapter it did not stop us from going back and revisiting the lessons from the early verse. And of course these verses beg the question - how do you know the difference between testing and temptation? Often times they can feel the same and both are definitely difficult, so how can we differentiate the two. Although, I am by no means a Biblical scholar, this is what I shared:

1) Testing never has to do with a moral truth, because when God has clearly articulated what's right and wrong, He'll never encourage us to do something that's against His commands

2) Testing is for our good; God uses it to bring us closer to Him. Temptation is for our detriment; the Devil uses it to pull us away from God.

3) Testing is for a finite time; temptation can be a lifelong struggle.

4) God always provides a way to pass the test; however there are no short-cuts we must go through the trial. Temptation is not a requirement; it's a lousy bi-product of living in a fallen world.

5) Temptations require resistance, testing requires acceptance.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) upon coming home, I returned to a message from my friend depicting a difficult time that she is going through. She asked if stretching always occurred when one tries to grow. My edited response follows:

I think stretching occurs when God is trying to grow you. It's like the growing pains that occur before growths spurts. Your bones are preparing to take on the additional height and weight that your body knows is coming. It seems counterintuitive that they would hurt before the actual growth occurs, but they often do. It's a sign that our bodies are going through a change. It's a natural process and something that must occur for our betterment, but it's painful just the same.

The important thing to remember when you're stuck between a rock and hard place is that it was while Elijah was crammed in a crevice that God decided to show him His glory. The rock and the hard place provided a barrier that prevents us from moving forward until God has shown us what He wants. Being there is no fun, but in the long run, it's worth it.

If you're going through a trial and feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, look for how God wants to demonstrate His glory. It's why we go through testing to begin with.

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The Multitude of Loneliness

I think it's a feeling that we've all had. You're surrounded by people and yet you feel utterly alone. The logic of it is inexplicable. In fact, it defies all sound explanation. People are everywhere and yet you feel like no one is around. Numerous individuals cloud the stage and you're imagining yourself at the third grade talent show staring back at the hundreds of faces that return your gaze. It's a solo performance and you're abandoned in a sea of humanity. Despite the multitude there is no solace.

I have yet to figure out what causes the feeling. It's not the people you're with or the environment one finds oneself in because I've had radically divergent feelings in comparable situations. Nor is the feeling solely emanating from an internal war, as evident by the fact that similar feelings can create different results. Best I can tell, at least from my experience, there is no one reason that causes this feeling to occur. But when it does, it can be terrifying.

I think it's because we all want to believe that there's something to depend on. Even in the midst of life's struggles we want to know that someone will be there that can support us and help guide us on our way. We want to believe that facing the world alone is not required, because quite frankly, the world can be an utterly scary place. Soldiers are some of the toughest, and most independent people I know, but they are also the ones that tend to value their relationships most profoundly. They know the value of having someone else with them in the foxhole. Feeling of loneliness aren't scary because you are actually physically alone; their terror comes from the feeling that everything is reliant on you. You are the cause and solution and nothing you can do can change that.

It might be for this reason that Jesus reminded us so many times that we are not alone. Before Joshua went into battle, before Jesus departed the Earth, reminders were given that God would be with His followers wherever they went. Not only is the comforting because it's a good thing to know God's on your side, but it's also a reminder that the execution of His work is not dependent on you. The Cause and the Solution of every situation is with you each step of the way. You are not alone, the Impetus of All Things is right there with you.

Sometimes its hard to remember this before you're scheduled to sing in front of the crowd. Sometimes feeling alone is a hard feeling to shake. Thank goodness God keeps His promise regardless of our feelings. And thank goodness that feelings change.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Living Eulogy

The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on."
--Walter Lippmann,

We've probably all done it. It's the exercise that's supposed to prompt you to think about how you want to live your life. The purpose is to consider the memory that you want to leave behind after you're gone. Writing your own eulogy and making a comparison to where you fall short is supposed to show you where you need to make progress in your life. It's a way to set goals, identify dreams and realize aspirations. Contemplative writing designed to startle you into compliance.

As with most contrived things, I never placed a lot of value in the exercise. Sure, there was a purpose in it, and I understood that, but did one really have to go through the process of writing their own eulogy to know what was missing from their life. Besides, it seemed that it was more likely that you'd be setting yourself up for disappointment when you fail to achieve what your self-created eulogy said. One never knows what life will throw at you. How could you begin to anticipate what you want your legacy to be?

In a lot of ways, I still believe that this is true. The biggest impact that we have is not summed in quantifiable statistics that can be anticipated prior to our demise. Sure, we may desire to live in a big house, be a successful businessperson or find the cure for cancer, but our chances for success in these endeavors can not be readily ascertained early in life. The things that we can purposefully impact have to do with how we conduct our lives rather than what we achieve. It's in the manner which we impact other people that our legacy is solidified. They are the ones who reflect who we were after we're gone. It is with others that our impact is eternal.

It's probably why Jesus didn't choose to leave behind a monument or an autobiographical tome as our guide to the Christian life. Instead, He poured His life into others and left behind a group of disciples that reflected His teaching. His disciples were His legacy and they led the way for those that followed. He imparted to them His Spirit and the will and conviction that salvation comes from faith alone. It was this conviction that propelled them to reach the world.

Had the disciples written their eulogies prior to meeting Jesus, they probably would have said something along the lines of "He was a great fisherman". Thank goodness they decided to be fishers of men instead.


Better Things Ahead: February 2007

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Better Things Ahead