Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Simple Life

Life is complex, harsh, and often times just too complicated. Even if we removed the demands of our jobs or activities we'd still have our relationships. And imagine if that too we could remove, we'd still have our selves. And being completely honest with our selves, we'd quickly realize that we're no less complex when we are alone than we are with busy lives. So what is this simple life and where can we find it?

I've discovered something. I used to think of how foolish this was, but now I'm starting to realize just how brilliant this way of thinking is: it's not about me. We all know this, but if your anything like me, you've not liked it and really have not understood why it must be this way. I didn't come to this conclusion overnight and it has been quite the process. From my devotions this morning I have two thoughts as I continue to make life less about myself and more about God.

Thought #1 When it is about me, my world collapses around me.

There is some great irony here that I must speak of. We want (I want) life to be about me because it seems to me that if it is about me, then life would be awesome! What I've found and seen in the lives of others is that life just does not work that way. Essentially if life were to be about me, then I'm saying I know what is best. And in order to know what is best I have to absolutely "know" everything, including what will happen some day. There is no possible way for anyone other than God to be in that position. If I pretend that it is about me, when my knowing doesn't prove right, then my world collapses down on me and I'm left wondering what happened. Here's what happened: I can't know everything, thus life can't be about me! Proverbs 21:2 says that "a persons way seems right to them, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Thought #2 Obedience is simple and actually brings freedom!

I saw a tweet yesterday from one of my former students. She said she wishes she could go back to the simplicity of childhood. My take on that is that with adulthood comes independence and with independence comes the realization that is much easier to be dependent. I really wonder why God made us the way He did. We want to do things our own way (its all about me) in order to be "free." Truth is, that "freedom" causes us to be more dependent on those we don't want to depend on. I believe that is why most people express frustration with life. There's a great tension because they want "freedom," but find that it is just slavery.

Here's my conclusion. Obedience and dependence on God is actually a freeing and life-giving thing! Constantly praising Him when our created selves do something great instead of making it about how great I am makes it about God and not me. Going to Him for help when we or life around us are breaking down gives me peace because it is actually not about me. I read this morning that ALL things are from, through, and to God (Romans 11:36). So life cannot possibly be from me, through me, or to me. Simply put and simply lived, its all about God!

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light - Matthew 11:30

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Church Vans and Spiritual Lives

I came to the conclusion today that church vans are strikingly similar to our spiritual lives. For those of you unaware of what the church van is like, let me give you glimpse into what the mechanic calls "a massive monstrosity of a van." Church vans are DIRTY. Outside and inside, as you can imagine, these massive monstrosities are not clean. After a youth trip I'd bet there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 pounds of snacks and 10 gallons of pop consumed inside the beast. More of it than I care to admit, ends up on the floor or in the cracks of the seat. Outside there are dents from Frisbees, smeared candy from students who spit it out of the window at high speeds and plenty of road grime and rust. I feel bad for the company I hired to completely detail the inside... they may call it something not appropriate for this blog after they realize what I'm bringing in...

Now on to our spiritual lives. The prophet Jeremiah says that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" I tend to agree with him. Our hearts are at the core of our spiritual lives as well. As Proverbs 4:23 rightly points out, "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Life starts in the "heart" and moves (big word alert) centripetally. Kinda like that spin art you played with as a kid. You drop the paint in the middle and the spinning action forces the paint to cover the sheet moving from the drop to the outer edges. I imagine that is what our spiritual lives are like and the heart is the drop of paint, meant to spin to the edges.

Here's my comparison, what I pondered today after leaving the mechanic with the Massive Monstrosity. This van is really dirty, but it would be a full time job to deal with it. So what's important, what should I focus on? Then it hit me! The inside is most important. If I were to neglect the routine oil changes, air filters, and other repairs, the monster would die. And there is little difference with our spiritual lives. I feel like many Christians spend much more time worrying about what the outside looks like: church attendance, volunteering, tithing and so on. Those are great things, but only taking care of those would be like me washing the van instead of changing the oil. Vacuuming up the many crumbs instead of replacing the old battery. Eventually the monster would die, but at least it would look nice, right?

Take care of what's important, the rest will work itself out. One of my favorite Old Testament heroes is David, who was the smallest of Jesse's sons. When Samuel was checking out Jesse's family to decided what son would rule the kingdom, he went to the nicest looking, biggest, strongest seeming boy. God gently reminded Samuel that he should not "consider his appearance or his height" because "man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Life is messy as the interior of our church van after 14 youth descend on it with massive amounts of snacks. Over time we tend to get dirty inside and out. If you are as time strapped as I am, my advice is to care less about the outside and more about the heart. Take care of yourself by having daily devotions, journaling, praying, and possibly blogging. Find some silence in a day, go for a walk, and talk to God. Take care of the inside and let the rest be not as important. Do this and you will experience life tuned up as it was meant to be, in relationship with the Life Giver!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Satisfaction

Satisfaction is a one way ticket to a dead spiritual life, broken relationships, and personal ruin. I believe that we were meant to be satisfied by the "search" and not by the "find," yet the "find" becomes our focus. In fact I think that it is the search that defines our life. Let me explain.

A simple game taught me a profound lesson. "Daddy - where are you!" Over and over again my daughters begged me to play hide and seek. Even the simplest of distractions would drive them to tug on my shirt and direct me to hide, or count while they hid. There was a great attraction to the thrill of the search that would ensure "hide-n-seek" would consume our play time. Finding me or me finding them would not end the game, it would just reset it.

This is the human experience: the thrill of the search! The longing of finding! But there's one fatal flaw my 3 year old pointed out when I took her to her first play this past weekend. When we got there to see Cinderella, she didn't find what she was looking for. "Daddy, where is THIS Cinderella," she said as she pointed to Disney inspired drawing sewn into her dress. I'm a guy who loves to have answers, and at that very moment I was caught flat-footed, nothing to say. Should I be honest and say, "Sorry honey, you'll never find what your looking for. Someday you'll discover that story is made up and the actress is like you or I." The problem is when we become satisfied with things that are not eternal, the search ends. When the search ends, so does our life.

 Do you see the vicious cycle here? We are hell-bent, sometimes literally, on the "find." How many times have you secured the thing you were searching for only to be disappointed? Have you ever purchased that item you knew you had to have, then when you found it, it didn't satisfy you? My point is this: seeking to find, and stop seeking, is completely unsatisfying and life-ending. That little voice in your head that says "if I could only... then I'll be complete," continually lies.When one secures the thing they think will make them happy (the "find), if it is not God, it will only disappoint.

I've been reading Hosea for the past two weeks and I came across a striking example the prophet writes: I have been Yahweh your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but Me, and no Savior exists besides me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. When they had pasture, they became satisfied. They were satisfied, and their hearts became proud. Therefore they forgot me. 

God's people forgot God. They forgot Him because they looked elsewhere to be satisfied, and when they found it was not, everything came crashing down. The God I know in the Bible is forever searchable. Finding God does not mean that the search is over or we are left unsatisfied. In fact, it is just the opposite! Finding God is realizing that the very search and discovery process, that we were built to be satisfied by, is something that doesn't end!

 I pray that he will use his glorious riches to make you strong. May his Holy Spirit give you his power deep down inside you. Then Christ will live in your hearts because you believe in him.
   And I pray that your love will have deep roots. I pray that it will have a strong foundation.  May you have power with all God's people to understand Christ's love. May you know how wide and long and high and deep it is.  And may you know his love, even though it can't be known completely. Then you will be filled with everything God has for you.
  God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by his power that is working in us.  Give him glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. Give him glory through all time and for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unfaithful Love

We cringe when we hear it, "He cheated, she cheated - their relationship is over." Time and time again we see examples that spare no one, examples that leave us angry, hurt and fiercely jealous. As a youth pastor I see broken family after family. As a citizen I see a rising divorce rate. As a husband I am thankful to share a healthy love with my wife knowing full well that unfaithful love could ruin everything I have. The greatest consequence and least thought of example of unfaithful love is our relationship with God. I'm unsure what is a greater tragedy: our inability to recognize that unfaithfulness to God brings destruction in our lives or the actual event itself.

I've been reading Hosea along with the students in Axis. God instructs Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman in order to illustrate how He feels about Israel's being unfaithful to him. Not only does he marry this woman but he has two children. Jezreel's name, their first son, meant that bloodshed was coming and Israel would be ended. The next child's name is No Compassion. I think you can draw your own conclusions as to what that means. The third child's name was Not My People. Again, self-explanatory.

As I've read through this book up until this point I've observed the intense jealously of God. God is, and rightfully so, absolutely demanding that we love Him and only Him. When that is not satisfied, well God is not pleased. At first glance that seems selfish or restrictive, but when we understand that loving God faithfully is the best thing for us, it makes complete and total sense. A lack of faithful love toward God means God's departure from us. When God departs from us, nothing short of total destruction happens as was the case with the people of Israel.

The moral of the story is this: recognize God's fierce desire for "loyalty not sacrifice, the knowledge of God and not of idols." When we see examples of unfaithfulness in our culture we tend to call it what it is. My personal thought for this week is to say what I see in my own life, those areas that I am not completely loyal to a love that is faithful to me without end. Keep in mind that God wants to redeem and recover that first priority relationship with you. Don't be like Israel: "Their actions do not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of unfaithfulness is among them, and they do not know the Lord." (Hosea 5:4) Instead follow the advice given to the church in Revelation 2:4-5 "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Speak Their Language

This morning I spent time reading about Paul in Acts 22. Paul finds himself in a position to defend his actions to the people in Jerusalem. After reading two verses, I came across something huge. "Brothers and Fathers, listen now to my defense before you. When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter."

When Paul spoke their language, he captured their attention. Two thoughts crossed my mind: 1. I really like it when people listen 2. Why do I want them to listen? To the first thought I offer that if we want to be heard, we have to speak the language of our audience to our audience. How many times have I been frustrated when I try and communicate a message in my own language only to find that the people I'm speaking to are not listening? It may be that the problem lies with me, that I didn't communicate in a way that encouraged listening.

The second thought came to me after reading a little further into Paul's defense. Earlier in Acts, some of the believers begged Paul not to head to Jerusalem for fear that he'd be persecuted or worse - killed. Paul's response? I'm ready. Paul wanted them to listen to the truth for the sake of the truth being heard. He didn't care so much about the outcome because it was his responsibility to say the truth. It made me think of how often I don't say what I truly believe because I'm afraid of the consequence. I've also thought and felt guilt over my audience's response like there was some way I could make them believe the truth. Paul threw both of those out, not caring about anything other than speaking the truth. The best part about it was that he took on the responsibility to make sure his audience really knew what he was saying - because he said it in their language. And because they really knew what he was saying, the fears of his friends were justified.

My conclusion? Speak the truth in their language so that you ensure they really hear what it is you're trying to communicate. The outcome of their response is not up to you or I. It seems to me that when one does this effectively, we'll be treated the same way Paul was, which was the same way that Jesus was...

"They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting "wipe this person off the earth - it's a disgrace for him to live!" Acts 22:22