Last Sunday, our church began the Bible in 90 Days. I decided that not only would my goal be to read the Bible in 90 days, but I would write about something I’ve learned every week. This is what I got from the first week.
The earth was given to Adam with a command and a promise: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not [n]eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16) But we all know how the story ended; Eve, being deceived by Satan, takes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and she and Adam take of it together.
After Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and its gate shut, their sin consumed the land and it was considered “corrupt in the sight of God” (Gen. 6:11). The intent of their heart was continually evil and violent. The Lord was so greatly saddened that He decided, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the [f]sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7) But, in the very next verse we see that Noah found favor in the sight of God. He is described as a righteous man, blameless in his time, he walked with God. So on the day God decided to blot out creation, He first gave Noah a command: “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. 14 Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood…” (Genesis 6:13-14) After the flood came and subsided, He gave him a promise: “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your [g]descendants after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for [h]all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:9-16)
Two generations later and we read of Abram, son of Shem, son of Noah. He is notably one of the most famous Bible characters for this exact reason: Abram was seventy-five years old when the Lord spoke to him a command and a promise saying, “Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so [b] you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who [c]curses you I will [d]curse. and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) Abram did what the Lord asked and left Haran for Egypt and he was made great among kings and men, given a tenth of kingdoms and possessing more than any other. Abram continued to be faithful and at the age of ninety-nine the Lord gave him another command and promise: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your [f]descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your [g]descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your [h]descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” 9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your [i]descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your [j]descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your [k]descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:6-14) Now earlier, God had promised that the heir to Abram’s house would come from his own flesh, so Sarai gave Abram her servant, Hagar, and Hagar bore Abram, then eighty-six years old, a child named Ishmael. But Ishmael was not God’s promised child, and because of Abram’s impatience, Ishmael caused him much grief and was cast out of his home when he was about fourteen. A year after God gave Abram a command and promise at ninety-nine years old and Abram obeyed, the Lord called them “Abraham” and “Sarah” and she bore a son, and his name was Isaac.
The more I thought about these stories and how God weaved Himself in and out of every one, never giving up on His firstborn but choosing instead to walk with her, using those he found righteous as instruments of His glory, I saw that there were conditions to each promise God gave. He didn’t just reward them for their faithfulness; He commanded them to do something before they received the fullness He promised.
For Adam and Eve, it was to deny temptation. God knew Satan roamed the earth, He knew temptation would arise. If Adam hadn’t eaten the fruit that day, he could’ve eaten it another. The Lord gave Him the fullness of a promise and Adam even walked in it for who knows how long, but God’s promise was contingent on Adam resisting the temptation to eat of the one tree that was off limits. The same for us would be the promise of the Kingdom. The fullness of the Kingdom is ours, but God’s command is that we “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Because of Adam’s sin, we will constantly war against temptation and the evil one. And it isn’t so much that we win every battle, but that we set our hearts on the prize for that which God has called us and desire the sweetness of pleasing Him more than we desire the temporary gratification of participation with the world.
For Noah, what saved Him from the destruction of mankind was his dedication to righteousness. In his case, he already knew the surpassing greatness of pleasing God rather than participating in the World’s corruption. He didn’t need a promise from God to obey—he heard and followed, and from that the Lord brought a covenant to Noah that from him the world would be inhabited and never again destroyed by a flood. Noah wasn’t perfect, but he knew the voice of God. Sin shuts our ears to the words of the Father, but the pursuit of righteousness opens our hearts to be led by the Shepherd.
Abraham, oh Abraham, there is so much to learn. I think Abraham received some of the greatest promises from God, but he also received some of the heaviest commands. Before God would give Abraham anything from the abundance of His hand, he first had to leave his place of comfort. He couldn’t receive the fullness of God’s promises where he was comfortable; he couldn’t become a great nation in his father’s land. Sometimes that which we thing is the method by which God will release His promises becomes the box with which not only do we confine ourselves, but confine God. When we resist leaving our place of comfort, we’re telling God that this idol means more to us that His promise. But because Abraham obeyed, left his father’s house and went out to the land which the Lord told him, he was made exceedingly fruitful, a nation from which kings arose. He obeyed and the fullness of the Lord’s promise was completed in him.
God is the fullness of a good promise. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and then not fulfill?” God’s promise has never ceased—we’ve only separated ourselves from His presence and fullness. In fact, He desired to see His promise come to pass to such a large extent that He gave us Jesus as the ultimate atoning sacrifice so that upon His return we may partake of the promise of God brought into fruition, because “as many are the promises of God, in Him (Jesus) they are yes; therefore also through Him (Jesus) is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
But now let us remember that though His steadfastness be forever, it is not for us to abuse. His promises are contingent on our dedication to follow Him with all of our hearts.
And out of our obedience, may the earth shake with a resounding “amen” in the day that His promise is fulfilled!
I listen to a lot of sermons during work, but I avoided this one for quite some time. Not because I considered it offensive, but because I thought it sounded unnecessary. But today I listened and I’m sorry I waited so long. So, I share with you in hopes that you receive out of it as much as I did and that you’ll pass it on, as well.
Several years ago, during my Amazon book-buying phase, I purchased unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. I had no idea what it talked about, no idea what its purpose was, I just wanted to read it. I suppose it was the McLaren phase I had entered into, or the emergent movement that so easily captivates an audience like a bad car wreck, till one finally sees the internal destruction and can’t help but avert your eyes. Well, it sat on my bookshelf for years until recently when I decided to pick it up. I read it, I digested it, and now, all over facebook, twitter, and affluent news sources, we’re seeing a manifestation of one of unChristian’s main points: Christians are considered antihomosexual.
Lately there has been a “call to arms” by some Christians, calling other believers to wake up, condemn the church for its behavior towards the LGBT community, challenge authority, stand for peace and abandon the judgmental church. I understand, but, in large, I disagree. I don’t have a problem with homosexuals. I don’t even have a problem with antihomosexuals. However, there is a large disconnect between what the Bible says and what some believers are actually doing in an attempt to make a difference; doing the same thing every other judgmental and misconstrued person is doing, just focusing attention on another department of wrong. This is the epitome of insanity:
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
While I do not agree that all evangelical or progressive Christians have this mindset, for the purpose of this comparison, we will summarize differences between the two:
The evangelical Christian believes:
- Homosexuality is a sin
- God designed marriage as 1 man + 1 woman
- Condemn and exercise homosexuals in an effort to “heal” them from sin
- Fight against legislature supporting gay marriage
- Protest, embarrass, and encourage hate of anti-traditional values
The progressive Christian believes:
- Homosexuality is not a sin
- A committed relationship between same sex is blessed by God
- Support homosexuals attending church
- Usually don’t attend church because of disagreement with “typical” Christian behavior
- Promotes peace, acceptance, and equal rights for all mankind
There are valid points to each category and I could spend forever debating the validity of each topic, but that isn’t what I want to say. While I think that there is a desperate need for unbelievers, homosexual or not, to be reached, what I wish in the deepest part of my heart is not simply to see a healing between the homosexual community and the church.
I want to see a healing within the body of Christ.
Where is the logic that ostracizing another type of Christian leads them to the error of their doctrine?
Where is the logic that abandoning the church out of disagreement encourages unbelievers to attend church?
Somewhere down the road, we assumed that God wanted us to do His job and tell others where they were going wrong and, in an effort to defend our positions, scripture was misquoted, wrongly interpreted, chosen not to heal but to wound, to win an argument instead of encourage pursuit of God. But today I don’t write to correct, I simply write because I think we’ve missed a huge opportunity: pray for one another.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, Ephesians 6:18
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:19
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44
If we want to be more like Jesus, we must become pursuant of prayer, not excellent in the art of Facebook rants. We must pray not just for unbelievers or homosexuals, but pray for the body of Christ! Pray for your brothers and sisters, for if you want the homosexual community to receive revelation of the Father’s great love for them, why would you not want the same thing for the Christian with whom you disagree? Do you think Jesus abandoned the body of Christ when they didn’t agree? They stabbed him in the side. They put a crown of thorns on his head, and yet the last prayer he offered up on their behalf while on earth was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Yet here we are, in our ignorance fighting with human reasoning, manipulating the Bible in pursuit of what we think is best instead of praying that His kingdom would come, spreading the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. Who will accept the gospel of Christ when all they see is it being used to bash other believers, to judge, to offend and hurt? Instead I urge you, pray for one another. Pray as Paul did, that “Out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
That is a prayer that brings salvation, healing, and repentance to both believers and unbelievers.
Don’t be deceived.
This time in American history is unlike any other. Some believe the nation will turn itself around, and others believe we’re a sinking ship. Either way, this is the time for the church to unite, not divide. Don’t be deceived into believing our dissention comes simply from opinions on homosexuality. Rather, realize that our worst enemy is walking among us, ready to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10a) and “looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).
But let us become diligent in prayer, for we have this great hope: For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4) and the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16).
Our Christ-like love is not just for the unbeliever, but for all creation, believer and unbeliever alike. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), therefore we all are in need of a savior.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
I recently heard a short discussion about the story of Abraham and the time it took for God’s promise to come into fruition. For those who may not be terribly familiar with the story, Abraham (formerly Abram before the Lord gave him a new name) left his home in Harran after the Lord told Him to go, promising, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you” (See Genesis 12:2-3). Well, in Genesis chapter 13 we read the Lord’s promise to make Abram’s decedents “like the dust of the earth” (v. 16) and although Abram was just a little older than seventy-five, Genesis 15:6 says that Abram “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Now bare in mind that the Lord credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness after he was instructed to not produce an heir with a slave woman, that his wife was to be the only producer of an heir to the chosen people of God. But, of course, nearly ten years later and no heir in sight, what did Abram do? He knocked up Sarai’s slave woman and she bore Ishmael, a product of disobedience and lack of faith in the promise of God. So, there’s that.
However, despite Abram’s disobedience and lack of patience, the Lord did not forget His promise. God appeared to Abram with a call to return, remember, and “Walk before Me faithfully and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1). It was thirteen years after Hagar bore Ishmael, and twenty-three years since God’s original promise to Abram but even though the Lord reiterated His promise, He told Abram (now named Abraham at the renewing of God’s promise) that he’d have to wait another year! Oh hilarity. Sure enough, despite his failures, despite his lack of faith, despite his age and ability, the Lord kept His promise and made him the father of nations, even at 100 years-old.
Do you remember a promise the Lord gave you? I do. Some I’ve seen some to pass, some I hold hope for, and others I simply believe, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14)
I imagine that bearing a son was one of Abraham’s greatest desires and perhaps something with which he experienced much turmoil. Sarah (formally Sarai) was barren and from the moment they were married until she was ninety years old they lived with the disgrace (culturally, not that I think fertility issues is disgraceful) of having no fleshly heirs. But the Lord knew the desires of Abraham’s heart and even though Abraham sinned and lost sight of what the Lord had promised him, in His kindness He came calling him to repentance, remembrance and restoration.
Don’t give up on the promises of God. Don’t lose sight of what he has spoken to you. But more so, even if you have, return to the Lord and walk before Him faithfully and be blameless. His promises are yes and amen. He has not discredited you, He has not forgotten you, and He is still working in you to being His promises to pass.
For you, His promises are.
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind. Does He not speak and then not act? Does He not promise and not fulfill?”
1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” 2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
6Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,a because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. Genesis 35:1-7
I began to write a new years “resolution” post the other day but for some odd reason I just couldn’t seem to find the right words to explain what I felt the Lord was saying. Thank goodness I didn’t because now I see that He had only revealed half of the message– I had received just enough for me to begin processing and applying it to my life with success through Christ. He revealed two things as I asked Him what was on His heart for our 2012: 1. dream bigger because He is bigger, and 2. take things with Him one day at a time. For those who know me, I’m an anticipatory thinker. If it’s February, I’m thinking about June. If it’s 2012, I’m planning 2015. My dog, whom I love to death, is only four years old and I’m already thinking about what we’ll do when she passes away. This is one of my greatest struggles and has effected me greatly in my walk with the Lord. Despite my growth in this moment, I was dreaming of myself four years from now and then projecting that image back into current day, which is wrong not only because it is my human imagination of where I think I would be with the Lord in four years but it also would leave me disappointed in where I am today. So, since the dream I placed before the Lord in 2012 to which he replied “dream bigger” I knew was only achievable in and through the Lord, I began applying the second to the first: taking things one day at a time in order to reach the goal that God had set before me. I began asking the Lord to give me strength to be closer to Him and grace to seek Him, but nothing happened. I successfully read my Bible three days in a row (pop the sparkling grape juice, people!) and that was about it. I was becoming so frustrated with the fact that nothing was changing that my heart was greatly at risk of becoming something fiercely jealous, offended, and angry–all over something that I know now isn’t God’s responsibility.
I had reached a breaking point. Too long had I attempted to “start over” and draw close to God. Countless times had I tried to fast more, pray more, read more yet got not an inch past my current situation. But this point was different. I was so desperate, wretched, and mad that if it took airing every sin I had ever committed to the entire body of Christ, if it just brought me closer to the Lord, I would do it. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around where I was going wrong until it was said described to me so clearly: God gives us the strength, but it’s up to us to make the change. How could I have never seen it before? I sought the Lord, but let go of nothing that came between us. Of course, I had my many excuses. I didn’t want to seem ‘holier than thou’ or legalistic, judgmental towards others who may struggle with the same thing, but in reality, that meant I just loved those things more than God.
In Genesis 35 we see one of the first examples of God telling His people to make their own choice: lay down your idols and leave the place of your inheritance. God didn’t say, “I will remove your idols from you and transplant you with all joy and celebration. Don’t worry, I’ll do it all.” Not by any means. This task was Jacobs and by the strength God had given him, he buried the idols and moved to Bethel. Many times in the Bible God tells people that by what He has given them they must take hold of it for themselves. Numbers 33:53 says, “Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” God prepared the land for them to possess it, but it was by their choice whether it became theirs or not. That is why it wasn’t Moses that entered into the land of Rest, but his son did. Moses, though he knew the land had been prepared for their possession and given to them spiritually by God, was not willing to physically overtake the land and enter into its rest.
The Lord has spiritually prepared a place of rest for us in His presence, but it is up to us whether we discipline ourselves in order to get there. Though it is not by our strength, but by His spirit (Zachariah 4:6), we can do nothing unless we choose to take the first step toward what is spiritually ours.
Once of the places I began was understanding what was fully and rightfully mine in Christ. Signs and wonders are rightfully mine through the power of Christ (Acts 4:29-30). An abundant life is mine through Him who came (John 10:10). I have healing because of the stripes that He bore (Isaiah 53:5). I am loved with an unfathomable greatness (Romans 8:37-39). All of these things are given to me, but they are my choice to possess. Secondly, I made the decision to allow the Lord to show me what was separating me from His presence. Just as God told Jacob to “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes,” so we must make the conscious choice to remove those things, whatever they may be, in order to place God first. I found it a great struggle, and there was a surprising amount of things that I loved more than God (not to say I didn’t love God, I simply didn’t love Him in the manner I believed I did). Daily I still continue to uncover, weigh, and judge the desires of my heart against my desire for God and ultimately, if my desire to hold on to anything outweighs my desire to hear His voice or dwell in His presence, it is an idol separating me from fully encountering God.
I write this as my altar of remembrance before God. I have chosen to take possession of that which Jesus came to give me.
Just as He says, “1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in Goda; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-3) Let the bride take hold of that which He has given us and prepare ourselves for Him; for the day of His returning let us be made ready.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him:
for the marriage of the Lamb is come,
and his wife hath made herself ready.
Have you ever unintentionally said something that you never gave much thought to till it came out of your own mouth? Like a cool quote, “When one door closes, another one opens” or “youth is wasted on the young.” While at a 1-day retreat for our Church’s leadership team, I said something in a passing manner that, unintentionally, has resonated in my mind ever since.
In our discussion of the praise and rejection of man (our entire group read Dealing with the Rejection and Praise of Man by Bob Sorge), I mentioned how the book showed me an ungodly and unnecessary fear I experienced in leading worship. My remark was, “How am I supposed to lead people into worship if I’m walking backwards into the presence of God?” At the time, I only directed it towards my revelation that I focused more on the people and their reaction than directing my worship toward Jesus, but I see now that walking backwards in the presence of God can be commonplace; it can encompass our lives and be blindly done.
We are all leaders in the body of Christ. We follow the path of the Shepherd and behind us is a blazing path that we clear for others to follow. At the end of your life you will leave behind people who walked into Jesus because of the path you chose to follow. This doesn’t just apply to youth pastors or community leaders, worship leaders or senior pastors. This applies to the janitors, to the elders, to the nursery workers, and the congregation. It applies to teaching a Bible study, it applies to managing finances, it applies to answering phones and writing songs. No, I’m not speaking of looking for affirmation nor am I speaking of a fear of man, this is something that potentially trumps these: loving man more than you love God.
Matthew 22:36-40 says, “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Both of these are a great feat, something to strive for and to pray for, however it is terribly easy to confuse the order in which they’re written. Man is not our first love. We were not created for each other. Acts 17:28 writes, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Oh, for our minds to be consumed in the reality that helping the world, sharing the gospel, preaching the good news is only attainable when we have first decided who, not what, will be the focus of our lives.
We are path blazers. If we walk forward focusing on the people we are leading, our path will not be straight. It will weave among thorns, we will lose people by jealousy, by faltering, by idolatry. But if our eyes are set on Him, we walk the straight and narrow being led by unending grace to persevere and mercy to pursue Him. The Aramaic Bible translates Proverbs 3:6 as, “Know him in all your ways and he straightens your paths” and Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” There is a charge here, not to pursue the salvation of men first, not to be captivated by watching people raise their hands or come to the altar first, but to seek first the Kingdom of God—to know Him first in all our ways.
Do not think that ministry is where this task will begin. While the Lord can change our hearts overnight, we are still sinful man and our nature will conflict with looking away from earthly things. This change starts in the secret place. It starts at home with a choice to look at God first, bills second. God first, job security second. God first, raising children second. God first, marriage second. It feels foreign and may be controversial, I know, but the only way for these to follow us in a straight path is if we look away from what becomes idols—successful ministries, marriages, children, finances, volunteering, busyness, affirmation and praise—and walk forward with our eyes looking towards God.
“How am I supposed to lead people in [insert noun here] if I’m walking backwards in the presence of God?”
The Pursuit of Happyness. Remeber that movie? The story of one man losing it all to fight his way back to the top. Remember the scene of him trying to fall asleep in that public bathroom, holding onto his son–the only sliver of humanity he still posessed–crying, fighting to keep the door shut from in-comers? I do. And though I’ve never been homeless or literally lost it all, there is no question that the pain and doubt of pursuit is relevant to us all.
While we may appear as though we’ve got it all together, we’re on the right track, we’re in the midst of a great thing, some of us are Chris Gardner in his best business suit: externally capable but internally homeless. I so admire Gardener though, not because I blieve he’s an example after which I desire to model myself, but because of his endless pursuit of what he wanted.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to be honest. I want to grow in pursuit and my first choice in pursuing pursuit… that’s awkward… is to be myself. If Chris Gardner never came to grips with reality he would have lived comfortably in a homeless shelter and if I don’t come to grips with the selfish and lazy reality inside me, I’ll live comfortbly with much less than what the Lord has for me. A great example of pursuit and all it encompases is in Song of Solomon 1:5,
“Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon”
She was so aware of her faults and failures she said, “don’t even look at me!” But that is where her pursuit truly began because as she understood her darkness, so He was telling her,
“How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.”
When I face the darkness in my heart, I am truly filled with righteous anger, frustrated by my own indignance and apathy. But just as He told her she was beautiful, He tells me, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I don’t have the ability to overcome all my faults. While righteous anger may burn for a time, it will dwindle; but the strength of the Lord outlasts all and is freely given away. I’m not sure what pursuit will look like in my life but I know it will come by His strength in me.
In Your stregth, Lord, fan within me the flame of pursuit.
Several months ago the Lord asked me a very serious question (He likes to challenge me mentally that way). It was one of my lowest seasons yet and I spent my time obsessing on the feeling of absolute worthlessness. I was insistent that at the young age of 22 I had missed it–I had wasted time doing things that didn’t help me in my calling. Apparently, going through four years of college for Church Music was not helpful in my calling as a worship leader. Even though I spent 2-3 nights a week singing or leading worship in the House of Prayer, it was not satisfactory. I needed MORE, I wanted MORE, and I wanted it all. Then He asked me,
“If you died without ever fulfilling your calling, without ever leading worship again, would I still be enough for you?”
I’ve thought of that question nearly every day and my response has been a half-hearted, white-lying “yes.” I had become so obsessed with doing what I thought I was made to do that I forgot the whole point: the who and why of it all. Months went by while this question chipped away at the fear and darkness in my heart. I suddenly found myself telling the Lord to take away music if He must. If leading worship was what kept me from seeing and loving Him fully, He could have it. All the years of work, all the lyrics and ideas, I told the Lord to take them. While I may not have meant it 100%, I knew it was something I needed to say (and if He knows my thoughts like David says, He knew where I was coming from).
Through patience and time, He has shown me that if I work in a cubicle for the rest of my life, if I write popular songs, or become a house wife, the Lord is enough for me. He is my ultimate calling, no matter where I am. I’m not made to minister to people first, I’m made to bless the Lord before anything and if I die without ever fulfilling my calling, it will be my joy to see His face, not to see how many people attend my funeral.
In life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in time of need, to bless the Lord is my calling and He is enough for me.
My husband’s least favorite thing is traffic. He could be in the best of moods and the moment those brake lights come on ahead of him, he’s like a feral hog. OK, maybe feral hog is a little extreme, but you understand. Usually, when he gets that irritated, I like to take a moment to point out how he could learn to respond with a little more grace. Basically, I like to Jesus Juke my husband (thank you Jon Acuff for giving it a name). I realize it’s probably not the best practice of a good wife to point out a man’s fault while he’s brake checking the car behind him, but I’ve jumped on the opportunity a time or two. Once when I instructed him, “Patience is a virtue, honey” he responded with the same thing I’d told myself for years: “I don’t pray for patience because then you’re tested in it.” It sounded genuine when I told it to myself, but to hear someone else say that same phrase makes it sounds… well, wrong.
Frankly, I’m not convinced that greed is the root of all evil. There are so many ways impatience has turned a potentially good situation into a disastrous one, and at my expense. Impatience blinds our heart and mind to the big, prospective picture. While I’ve remembered this lesson on and off my entire life, I’ve most recently seen it in the transition of our apartment.
Billy and I live on a budget. I micro-manage our finances and I actually enjoy it. I like seeing the savings account rise and rise, but I hate seeing the checking account deplete with every bill that gets paid. When we decided to add to what little we had in our apartment, our first thought was Z Gallerie, Sur La Table, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, even Urban Outfitters and Kirkland’s (all of these my favorites, of course). It was like pouring salt in a wound when all I could carry to the register was 4 peacock feathers because of the outrageous prices. As time progressed, it went from perusing Z Gallerie to meticulously inspecting the décor at Home Goods and then (with a little help from DIY blogs) it was off to Good Will and CraigsList. My best friend can tell you, I started going list-crazy. Daily I sent her text messages saying,
“OMG I think I found my bookshelf! $55 for dark brown, 5 shelf!”
Which was soon followed by,
“Ugh. I called. Someone is already coming to pick it up at 12 :(“
Sad, isn’t it? I perused every listing, every garage sale for what I needed and seemed to chronically be the 2nd caller. While I knew what the budget was, I began impatiently justifying the purchase of an overpriced item in an area that was really too far away. I just knew I was never going to find the perfect shelf, and even if I did, it would be too expensive or I would be too late; I was convinced that I would never find what I was looking for at the price I needed in the location I needed it.
Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t buy any of those book shelves because then I couldn’t have purchased the one I found on Saturday for $25. What I realized is that my impatience kept me from believing that there was something better, something out there just for me in my price range, in my location. Instead of receiving the fullness of what the Lord knew I needed, I almost ruined it by settling for something less than his best. Scripture says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) and warns us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8) Losing a book shelf to Satan might not be that big of a deal, but losing my hope or dream because of impatience is. Daily it is a choice to deny my impatience and believe that though I cannot see the big picture right now, the Lord is preparing something for me. That makes patience worth praying for.
Be self-controlled, alert, and vigilant; don’t settle for less than everything the Lord has for you.
This morning I read Beliefnet blogger Jason Boyett’s article, “Conversions: From Christian Missionary to Atheist“. He described it as a “challenging story to read” and boy was it. I appreciated the article not only for its honesty but for challenging me to evauate why I myself believe in a redemptive and good God. I wrote down exactly what I thought. And while it was too long and potentially too harsh to be left as a comment, this is where I’m honest and shall offer a genuine response:
I am genuinely moved by the article because I remember when doubt so greatly loomed over me, clouding and confusing every thought. It was junior year in college, the most difficult year I faced (I sincerely believe I suffered some memory loss from how bad it was), and on top of trying to make some progress in my music degree I couldn’t shake the fact that I was questioning the sovereignty and existence of God—while attending a private Christian university. I felt as though I had no one to talk to or ask questions. What I knew was that many peers had lost their faith by turning their search for revelation to the theists, the philosophers, the post-modern evaluations. I didn’t want to lose my faith, I wanted truth. I wanted to understand why I didn’t believe. What I found was grace to ask genuine and honest questions not of a man, but of God. I believe I found truth through the only truthful source.
My heart aches for those who feel lost and scared in their doubt because I was there. But what I learned not only established my feet upon a solid foundation but it also opened my eyes to many of the lies that were the source of my confusion! There was a commenter on this article named Laura and I particularly appreciated her comment. She expressed that Christians need to embrace discrepancies in the scripture. That is one of the primary issues in the contemporary church–that instead of asking God for the knowledge and revelation to understand and better exemplify what He’s implying through scripture, we float along ignoring the very things for which the secular world is requesting answers. We are spoon-fed by people and things that drive us further into the comfort of complacency instead of seeking out what the truth of God is for ourselves. It is not a firm foundation to rely on what other authors have written or other pastors preached when the Bible describes Christ’s desire for us to know Him, not just what Larry Shoemeister from South Hills church said about Him (note: I made that person up). Did He not say in John 10:27, “My sheep will know my voice”? That means that in the discrepancies, we can’t always find our truth in everything man has written! I am not perfect, C.S. Lewis was not perfect, Martin Luther was not perfect nor was Friedrich Nietzsche or any other author. I seriously wonder why humans allow their foundational truths to be established upon words of finite men. I absolutely agree with Amy when she says that we have to allow “God is bad” to be a possible answer. However, I don’t believe that it has to be the ultimate conclusive answer as long as we’re seeking truth from truthful sources.
With that being said, I have opinions about what Amy wrote in her argument against deism.
I personally think of it as opposing her atheism for Amy to be so involved in social justice and her belief that justice must be received in this life. The concept of justice is one human wronging another human which lends itself to the notion that there is right and wrong, good and bad, and each are in and of themselves. If there is good, and man seeks good from justice, what argument does he have if that good is not based on an unchanging source? Amy cannot seek justice for something she believes is wrong because the offender’s opinion of good may be different from hers; and unless one opinion is based on a never-changing source of perfect good, no argument is plausible. Man is a finite being. For example, Lady Gaga would have been “wrong” in 1890 but today she is praised. Drunk driving wasn’t “wrong” in 1920 but today someone could go to jail for it. Every day man’s opinion of “good” changes and unless Amy believes that there is an unchanging source [God] (Hebrews 13:8) to which good and evil can be compared, nothing works. You cannot be ethical without believing in good and bad. You cannot believe in good and bad unless you believe there is something ultimately good for them to be compared to. That thing cannot ultimately be good unless it is unchanging. Therefore, it cannot be based man’s opinion or laws which have never been–nor will ever be–constant.
Amy quotes Deuteronomy 22:28-29 as one of the scriptures that changed her opinion. However, one note about Deuteronomy is that these were the laws of the New Testament written by Moses for a lawless people. Moses, on Mt. Sinai, received the Ten Commandments from God as the ten fundamental laws that all others would be categorized under. There are no laws then or today that do not stem back to one of these ten fundamental commandments. The subsequent laws that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy were written because of the behavior of unruly people— the exact same reason America writes laws into affect these days. Of course there were ridiculous laws written back then because people did horrible things like rape women and unfortunately not only do we still suffer with rape today but we suffer with ridiculous laws, too. There’s a law in Kentucky that says you can’t walk backwards down the street with an ice cream cone in your back pocket but it doesn’t make me question the validity of all Kentucky’s laws because someone wrote that one into affect. The only difference here is that Moses wrote this to Israelites and it was included in the Bible. It is a historical document that paints us a picture of what life was like before Christ’s redemption. Then God sent His only begotten Son and we were saved from those laws by grace unto all who call upon His name!
I write all of this to say, I know of the many, many ways in which Christians get it wrong every day. Most of us do. However, I know that by writing about her experience Amy has opened the door to a conversation. And my hope is to encourage others to think about what and why, too. I don’t write any of these things in anger nor from a judgemental spirit. I simply believe there is too much evidence describing the great goodness of God to subject my faith to something beyond truth.