Saturday, July 28, 2007

Content with the Common

I don't know many people who like to think of themselves as settling. We all want to believe that we can get the best life has to offer, and although we may intellectually acknowledged that there will probably be some trade-offs and compromises along the way, we don't want to believe that life's treasures can't be ours. Who gets married not thinking that they are wedding their soul mate? Who purchases a car not believing that it will just what they expected? We are hard-wired to seek out and acquire the best and we convince ourselves that the things we do are in line with this proclivity.

Except when it comes to things of the spirit. For some reason, in this one area we tend to settle for less than everything. Maybe its because we know that to achieve the ultimate we have to get up all of ourselves: a scary proposition regardless of how sold-out you are. Maybe its because the topic is ethereal and we delude ourselves to think that we won't experience the side effects if we don't take it for all its worth. Maybe its because we don't life in holy fear of the consequences. Whatever the reason, it seems there are more people content to go to church and relegate discussions of the spirit to listening to a sermon from the pulpit than there are who would be willing to give up any Earthly luxury for a the same period of time. We put God in box because we are comfortable with Him being there. We can check Him off the list and move on to the things we understand, the things that can be defined, and the things that we can control. In other words, oftentimes with God we are content with the common.

The problem, of course, is that God is anything but common. When we try to define God we no longer experience Him. He is mystery and mystery can never be contained. When we don't approach His throne with awe, we lose the potential for Him to penetrate our lives and work His transformation. And that's why we come to God to begin with.

When our lives are focused on God, awe and wonder lead us
to worship God, filling our inner being with a fullness we
would never have thought possible. Awe prepares the way in us
for the power of God to transform us and this transformation
of our inner attitudes can only take place when awe leads us
in turn to wonder, admiration, reverence, surrender, and
obedience toward God.
... James Houston

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mountain Climbing

Its hard to see the pasture when the mountain looms in front of us. In the past year, I've had people in my life who have gone through some terrible things. For them, the promise of better things ahead, at least in the immediate future, rings false. They are not experiencing restoration of their soul (Psalm 23). Instead, they are poised for danger, ready to defend themselves against attack.

Interestingly, most of the time when people climb to the tops of these mountains, they are the loudest proclaimers of God's faithfulness. It's like the mountaintop view allows them to see more clearly, both where they are going and where they've been. They still might have unanswered questions about the experience they've been through, most of us do, but God's grace has been demonstrated unequivocally in their life, and they know for certain that the One who formed the mountain will guide them to the other side. Remarkably, oftentimes the more they've had to climb, the greater their trust in God is. As Franics Shaeffer wrote, "The higher the mountains, the more understandable is the glory of Him who made them and who holds them in His hand."

What heights of love, and what depths of peace we can see from a mountaintop view!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Escaping Expectations

I know I'm not alone when I say I hate to disappoint people. Like many others, I have this tendency to want to make other people happy. Thankfully, I have friends in my life who help make sure that I don't get too carried away. One such friend regularly reminds me to have a mental makeover in order to make sure that I'm doing things for others out of a spirit of generosity not obligation. It definitely helps me stay sane.

Because of my desire to try to please people, I often find myself attempting to lower expectations. In fact, given the opportunity, I try to disavow them all together. I don't want someone else to think I can do something or be someone that I'm not sure I've progressed to. So I strive to lower the bar, to set other people's eyes on what I'm fairly confident is achievable. It's my way of managing other people's potential disappointment.

Sometimes we do the same thing with God. Especially for those of us who are blessed with having been raised in a church, we usually have a fairly good understanding of what God expects from us and what He doesn't. In fact, He intentionally makes it difficult to obscure. "Follow Me" is what He said to the disciples . . . and its what He still says to today.

The simplicity of Jesus' instructions don't make them palatable. We know that we should give up all rights to ourselves and we also know how much we want to do our own thing. We know we should love others with a greater magnitude than we love ourselves yet we find ourselves sitting in judgment. We try to tell God, "no, Lord, don't send me." because we're not sure that we're up to the task.

Expectations, however, only seek to define that which has not yet been determined. If we fail to live up to God's expectations, He'll find another way to accomplish His purpose. When we evade God's expectations, we avoid the risk of failure and the reward of obedience.

We can't escape the expectations of others. But when we run from God's expectations for our lives we disavow our chance to be involved with His agenda and to be used for His renown.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Status Symbol

My car has very few identifiable marks. There are no bumper stickers, no license plate frames, and certainly no vanity license to give even a hint of who the car might belong to. Maybe it's a part of my desire to exude mystery and intrigue. Maybe I'm just lazy and cheap. Regardless of the reason my car is free from the adornment featured on many vehicles nowadays.

My musings on cars, and the lack of flashiness that mine possessed, occurred to me as I was spending another morning driving down the Orange County freeway. I'm not sure when cars become a canvas for furthering our personal expression but somewhere along the way they did. You can find out a lot about a person by reading their car. Often times you'll learn a person's political believes, favorite bands, religious adherence, sport team's allegiance and even sometimes their brand choice for personal computers. An object that was intended to get us from Point A to Point B is now another opportunity to achieve status in the minds of the world. With it, we convey the groups that we belong to, espouse our personal philosophies and challenge others to disagree. It's just another way that we advance our agenda. Even "Christian" bumper stickers are usually us-focused. They rarely convey the grace and justice of God. Instead, they are almost singularly about our religious experience.

It's interesting to me that we use our cars to convey membership in a certain club, to express commitments to certain belief, but we rarely use our time to build relationships that could do the same. It's almost like we want the car to speak for us, which of course it was never meant to do. It might convey status but it can never show love. It may identify membership but it can never illuminate grace. It may preach philosophies but it can never be a messenger of good news.

Using our cars as a status symbol, as way to further demonstrate our commitment to God is a good thing, but let us be wary less it become a substitution for the real thing.


Making the Most of An Opportunity

In a recent conversation with friends we talked about the opportunities for evangelism that airplane rides present. You have a captive audience and few distractions. In the course of the discussion I shared that although I know its not good, I often hope that the seat next to me will be empty. I look at plane rides as an opportunity to process, not convert. I don't like getting into discussions with strangers at a party let alone getting into theological discourses when escape options are limited. I happened to be taking a business trip that week and several people irresistibly teased me that they were going to keep me accountable about the opportunity. I steadfastly maintained that the likelihood that I would start a revival mid-flight was slim to none.

It turns out that my entire row was empty on the outbound flight so I no need to fear. But the lesson from the discussion remains. And I think that if I had the view of people that God had my motivation would change. It's not that I don't share with people my beliefs because I'm fearful of their rejection; at least that's not the entire story. More likely I'm fearful of presuming to know their needs when I mostly obviously don't know their lives. The proper perspective would consider this: Jesus was rejected more completely than I could ever be and that while I might not know their lives, the need they have is universal. Spurgeon once stated, " If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our armsabout their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for." My efforts may be in vain, but let them know be unattempted for expansion of Christ's kingdom should be my primary aim.

Some may wonder what happened on my plane trip home. In God's great humor, He arranged it so that I was sitting next to a long-time family friend who happened to be on the same flight. Our discussions about God were more genuine and more vulnerable than could have ever taken place with a stranger. I also believe that they will prove fruitful in the end. It goes to show, even when our intentions may be the complete opposite, God can use us for His purposes

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Where Strength is Found

One of my favorite songs from Third Day's live albums starts with the lead singer, Max Powell, stating, "I can't go on. I can't go on" and then turning to a bandmate he asks "Can you go on?" After receiving an answer in the affirmative, the show continues.

This probably well-rehearsed skit is amusing and relatable because we've also been in situations where we feel like we can't go on. Whether we're playing a live concert or we're faced with seemingly insurmountable life challenges, every one knows what it feels like to be spent. Some seem to get more than their fair share than others, but everyone gets to that place sometime. It's the moment of complete helplessness, and if we allow, the moment of complete surrender.

"There are no athiests in the foxhole" is an old saying that demonstrates are susceptibility to turning towards God when our needs are mostly strongly felt. Many times however in turning to God in our moments of desperation, we ask for rescue and not for Him. We seek escape not His presence. We ask for relief and miss the opportunity for growth.

Luis Palau said, "When you face the perils of weariness, carelessness, and
confusion, don't pray for an easier life. Pray instead to be a stronger man or woman of God." May this always be our prayer.

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Intentions Matter

My experience in graduate school was filled with drama. I was a bit surprised by this considering I had left the playground long ago, but nevertheless there was definitely some "I'm rubber, your glue" moments. One bit of drama was conceived when a cohort of students mutinied against a professor for all sorts of perceived injustices. When the administrator of our program came to talk about the situation he was given a list of reasons for the perception that the professor's actions were wrong. As the discussion continued someone questioned the professor's intentions. The administrator seized upon this moment to query whether intentions really mattered; the final outcome was the same regardless of the thoughts that preceeded them. As the class nodded their assent, I raised my hand to disagree (a huge shock to those who know me well :-) ). Of course intentions mattered, I posited. If someone's late because they intended to be so, and if someone's late because of circumstances outside their control, I'm mad at the first, and sympathetic towards the second. Just because the outcome is the same regardless, doesn't mean that the thought behind the action is worthless.

On the converse side, sometimes is our good intentions that redeem even the most ordinary of behaviors. Simple acts like cooking a meal, letting another go first on the freeway, or smiling at a stranger on a walk can be redemptive if the intention is to glorify God. Jean N. Grou stated that, " It is quite possible to perform very ordinary actions with so high an intention as to serve God therein better than in far more important things done with a less pure intention." When we act so as to bring God glory, the act may be commonplace but the intention is divine.

The challenge is for us to live our lives so that bringing God glory is always our intent. In the mundane and in the sacred, our job is to worship and honor Him. If we accomplish this through how we treat the clerk at the store, it is greater than if we found the cure for cancer with the intention of glorifying ourselves . . . Or more specifically, doing so is closer to us living in hte manner in which we were created to be.

I'm not sure I convinced our program administrator that intentions are important. It really doesn't matter to me. But I hope to live my life in such a way that glorifying God is at the forefront of even in the most simple actions and that bringing Him honor is always my intent.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Prove It

As Christians, we are often told of the importance of sharing our faith with others. Although this possibility conjures up all sorts of anxiety and trepidation, I don't think that the most difficult audiences are those who are unfamiliar with faith. Generally speaking, they may be more willing to hear about the trust we have in God because human beings tend to be curious by nature. I think the more difficult audience are those who are know Christ's teachings but choose not to follow them. The disciples who abandoned Jesus after their disillusionment (John 6:66) were probably more reluctant to believe in a resurrected Savior than were the Gentiles whom Peter and Paul set out to teach. When we are familiar something we tend to disregard anything that conflicts with our already confirmed perceptions. We let our bias dictate our input and so willfully or not, we are reticent to change our point of view.

The reason that discussing Christianity with a former professing adherent is difficult is because their argument against faith often takes faith out of the equation. Knowing the Scriptural account, they know that many things can not be proved; believing their validity requires faith. Yet often times they use the inability to scientifically demonstrate certain tenets of the Christian faith as a reason to refuse to follow Christ and we often get caught in circular arguments where in order to win them to the kingdom we try to prove what can only be attested to by faith. Faith, after all, is the evidence of things hoped for. If they have shun all hope, then the evidence will remain hidden.

A.W. Tozer put it this way, "The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof,
and the worshiping heart needs none." May all our hearts be filled with worship.

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Better Things Ahead: July 2007

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Better Things Ahead