Thursday, December 14, 2006

Taste and see...

As has been discussed ad naseum, prayer and scripture reading are good for us. These bring us into fellowship with God and, as a result, we are trained and transformed.

As ever, we must guard against treating these activities as mechanical endeavors like household chores that simply must be done in order for us to maintain the lifestyle we enjoy. This is an important and relevant observation, but only tangential to my thoughts this morning.

We determine to find joy in prayer and scripture reading precisely because in them we experience God himself. We seek prayer and the Word not only because they are "spiritually nutritious", but because they "taste" good too. Very well, but I think there is more.

Fellowship with God (for which purpose we engage him through prayer and the Word and at which availability we ought to be continually amazed) also prepares us for joy in everything. He makes all of life taste better. The Lord makes life not simply more fun or stress-free. Fellowship with God himself cleanses our palate so that we are more sensitive to all that is savory in this world and so that we more easily and accurately distinguish between that which is sweet and that which is bitter.

It must be emphasized, however, that it is not for a better life in this world that we seek fellowship with God. Rather, it is because God is better than anything else in this life. The Lord is sweeter than the richest treats, more thrilling than this world's greatest adventure, more satisfying than the deepest bonds of human intimacy.

Our Lord mercifully enhances the good we experience in our lives, but they must remain worldly experiences, which can only be at their very best a pale mist, a blurred reflection, a silent ghost, or a vague shadow of the very goodness of God.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. ~Psalm 34:8

Saturday, October 14, 2006

We're on a Mission from God!

So said the Blues Brothers many years ago, but my spiritual siblings and I are serious.

The idea in our heads is only this: We want to grow in Christ. We want the maturity that has been available to us from the beginning but which we have turned down for far lesser things. We want to be empowered by an obedient heart to not only make right choices, but also to serve in this world the way God intends. We are learning that obedience begets obedience more and more joyful in hope.

This is why we want to envision our presence in the world as a mission trip. We know that we are here only temporarily and that we are commanded to spread the Word. Does that not sound like a mission trip? We know that heaven is our true home, and that, when the mission is over, we shall go to our home (I can't quite say return).

As an example, on a mission trip in 2005, all of our time was devoted to God. We had so little time for distractions and temptations and were happily committed to this level of devotion. We want this to be our modus operandi everywhere, all the time.

We asked, "How can we make our everyday lives more like a mission trip". Our interest is not in changing the appearance of our lives, but in changing their substance. In order to answer, we recalled our activities on missions in other countries like teaching & preaching (both formally and informally), prayer walking, and visiting the homes of believers and praying for them, and Evangelistic Bible study, which has begun. We were also reminded of the practice found not only on the mission field of 'praying on the spot' when asked for prayer. Why pass up such an opportunity for fellowship in the Spirit? We are preparing ourselves with a mind-set for seizing opportunities to do these things.

There are challenges of course, and we discussed them at length. They consist primarily in the necessity of mundane tasks (likely boring, stressful, or both), isolation, and the various and sundry distractions not present in less prosperous regions of the planet.

We resolved to remember that, as the 'tent-makers' we must be, we work at our respective jobs in order to support our missions. If we lived in a far away land, we would likely work in some capacity, either to justify our presence in less than open countries or to provide support for ourselves or both.

Not only so, but I have recently been reminded from a number of different sources in a short period of time that work is ordained by God, it gives him glory, and in our culture the opportunity to performed skilled labor and those who engaged in it were more respected and sought after than celebrity and wealth are now. By these reminders and their chronological proximity, I conclude that God is, in his way, reminding me of the truth that work is part of his plan for history and, as such, it need not be shunned, but embraced.

We resolved also to support each other by talking every day on the phone when talking in person is not possible. With the technology available to us, there can be no involuntary isolation. We have the ability to easily communicate and, in so doing, encourage and remind one another of our mission. We are committed to it.

We are still stumbling through this, trying to figure it out and to remember and implement what we think we've learned. But the very simple act of thinking in these terms has had a tremendous impact. We have more hope and joy in even the most trivial of activities that we must endure because we see now what has always been true, even these trifles are part of our mission that lead us to and contributes to the success of the more exciting parts. We also see all kinds of distractions and temptations more clearly as the hindrances they are, and more easily resist them. It is no exaggeration to say, though imperfect in our persistence, we each have our chin up and a spring in our step.

However, there have been challenges, and interestingly they have varied according to our weaknesses. One has struggled because he has been overwhelmed with assigned work and associated deadlines, another has been, quite the opposite, inebriated with leisure. All the more reason we must continue to be consistent to "spur one another on".

The Lord willing, we shall.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How Will I Know?

I never cease to be amazed by the devotional book My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. The entry for 10/10 in particular is humbling because of its profound wisdom and its combination of sophistication and brevity, but also startling because of its immediate relevance to what I have been thinking and saying about sanctification and obedience. Please read and consider Oswald Chambers' teaching: How Will I Know?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Daily Repentence

You may have heard it taught, as I have, that sanctification is a life of daily repentance. I believe this is true because this conclusion acknowledges the fact that we are not perfect and will likely sin sometimes (rarely, we hope). So, if we Christians do sin, then repentance is required again, not in order to reapply for justification, but in order for us to continue in the process of sanctification.

In fact, if this were not so, sanctification would not be necessary at all, for we would have achieved perfection. How can we ever hope to grow in holiness except to repent of particular sins for which we have not yet offered repentence and to repent of that to which we have returned whether by premeditation or impulse?

This daily repentance can encourage us to persevere against any sinful habits we have. Not only so, but we should not feel defeated or discouraged from a genuine pursuit of sanctification by occasional (or perhaps even habitual) 'back-sliding'.

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" ~Romans 7:24-25

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." ~Hebrews 2:18

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." ~John 17:24

Trust and Obey

The very texture of my life has been stress, anxiety, guilt. At this moment, living feels a bit oddly vacant because this ever-present texture has retreated to reveal space and the light of hope.

This is all very nice and poetic, perhaps even narcissistically grandiose. But what happened? Did I have some kind of psychological breakthrough? Did I discover some long-suppressed memory from my childhood? Did I learn "I'm OK, you're OK?"


I learned I'm not ok. I've known this, but I know it now a little more thoroughly than before. And, I believe I know it because of joining with brothers and sisters in a conscious pursuit of obedience in things previously excused. So it is with the blessing of sanctification, "being made holy". Sanctification requires humility in increasingly greater measure, which explains my natural aversion to it.

My job, debts, commute to work, 'emotional baggage', I commonly say are stresses in my life. These stresses I now understand have never been the external influences I imagined them to be. They are stressful only because I make them that way in my self-reliance, greed, lust, and pride.

Idolatry, every one.

How can faith in Christ and faithfulness to the one, true, living God lead to anxiety? But, rebellion against God is stressful.

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;" ~Romans 8:6
"The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." ~Proverbs 28:1

Anxiety and guilt are God's blessing to me. The alternative is being numb to the evil of my sins and given over to them.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." ~Hebrews 12:11

Our circumstances do not dictate our demeanor. As we turn our hearts toward Jesus, putting our trust in his provision, not only forever, but also even for now, we find peace in obedience that is in no way oppressive, but rather liberating. Obedience that comes from faith really is joy sublime.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ~Philippians 4:6

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hang in there!

Who says, "hang in there!" to someone who just got a promotion or won first prize in a competition? Why should we need encouragement when things are going well?

Something occurred to me this morning while I was putting on my shoes. I've been less stressed out and less troubled for the past 2-3 weeks than I had been previously. The reason for this is beyond question. Having determined that I should be living as a missionary right here, right now, I have put much more trust in God regarding all areas of my life. Not only so, but I can see that God has worked in a number of other ways as well in order to shepherd me into this transformative thinking. I have more faith, less fear; more joyful hope, less dread. This is wonderful, though not nearly complete.

We are not yet in Heaven where there is no sin and no temptation. Here in the world, there is still danger. As I reflect on the past couple of weeks, I see a tendency in my behavior toward complacency. It's striking because I expect a trend toward action driven by joy, excitement, a renewed sense of freedom. All those things are present, but my flesh is still at work also. I believe, based on what scripture teaches about human nature, that such gravity toward complacency during times of peace, prosperity, and blessing is exceedingly ordinary.

But I don't want spiritual growth to cease or even to slow down! While the troubles of this world provide a strong temptation to turn to idols of all kinds, even the blessings of God can be turned around in my childish mind to become a temptation to idolatry. It may even be that they are a greater temptation, because in striving for God, we must sometimes release our hold on the peace and prosperity that he has graciously poured out, but this is not only contrary to our flesh, but also to our common sense. In my immaturity, it is precisely for peace and prosperity that I seek God. But it should not be so. God himself is our very great reward.

So, perhaps even moreso than at other times, in times of peace and hope that come from spiritual growth, we must press on persistently in fervent prayer, scripture reading, and the encouragement of one another in the Spirit. These must remain our commitment to God in order to continue to fulfill our mission.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
"Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward."
~Genesis 15:1

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:12-14

It's All Relative

Mt. Chimbulak, Almaty, KZ

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Encouraging Greeting

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. ~1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter identifies himself and he identifies the recipients of his letter. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ. In identifying his readers, Peter uses multiple synonymous phrases. In so doing, he gives definition to God’s elect. God’s elect are a) strangers in the world and b) chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

But Peter also says that his recipients are scattered throughout [regions of what is now Turkey]. But if this is intended to be definitive, Peter must believe God’s elect reside nowhere else in the world. This seems highly unlikely. So in naming the places his recipients live, he must have another purpose. Perhaps the point is not that the elect live only in these regions, but quite the opposite: the elect are scattered and may be found anywhere, but are placed broadly and mixed in with the world. Perhaps alternatively, while the elect can be found beyond the regions mentioned, Peter expects only the elect in these regions to receive his letter.

In all three of these definitions, we are encouraged. First, calling us strangers in the world, Peter prepares us for his exhortation to holiness. But we are also reminded why we are strangers: we are God’s elect.

Second, while we may feel isolated and alone, we are not. There are many like us, though we may be spread thinly among the pagans.

Third, we have been chosen by God. Therefore, his hand is at work in us and around us, for surely he would not abandon what he has claimed as his own.

Peter also tells us for what purpose we were chosen, which encourages us further because it is a grand purpose that can only be fulfilled by God’s hand. We know then that he must be with us in order to see it to completion.

This purpose is twofold. First, we are chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ. Second, we are chosen for sprinkling by his blood. God’s choice is not made through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, but this is how the purpose of obedience is fulfilled. These purposes are not only an encouragement, but a call. We not only must strive for obedience and holiness (sprinkled by his blood), but also we are able to achieve it because of God’s choice and the work of the Spirit.

To close his greeting, Peter blesses us with abundant grace and peace. Grace may be in demand all the more when there is no peace, as in times of suffering detailed later in Peter's letter. But, Peter wishes us peace as well. Not only so, but he blesses us with both and in abundance so that, whether or not in times of suffering, we have each overflowing and overlapping.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Eye of a Needle

"Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." ~Mark 10:23-27

I've heard that one entrance into Jerusalem was very narrow and was named "The Eye of a Needle". It was necessary for a camel laden with many parcels to be unburdened of them in order to fit through the portal. It might be deduced that a rich man would have more parcels on his camel or camels and that passing his wares or goods through this entrance would be very difficult.

It has been taught that Jesus refers not to the the eye of a needle, but to this particular entrance into Jerusalem. It’s also been taught that the original Greek word translated as "camel" actually means "camel hair", and this more accurately elucidates Jesus’ teaching. I propose that neither is the case.

I believe both of the aforementioned teachings diminish the severity of Jesus' teaching and are driven by a desire for the rich to get into Heaven. This may, perhaps, be understood as a desire to serve two masters, as Jesus specifically states cannot be done (Matthew 6:24). Even we who are not rich are tempted to desire to become rich, and a cursory glance at the passage may leave us thinking the rich are excluded by that status from entering Heaven.

Whether “the kingdom of God” refers precisely to Heaven or to the body of Christ in the world, “to enter the kingdom of God” must mean to be “included in Christ” and therefore destined for Heaven.

It is much easier for a camel to pass through a portal named "The Eye of a Needle" than for it to pass through the eye of a needle. Easier it is also for a camel hair to pass through the eye of a needle than for the whole camel to pass through.

But, dependence on a narrow portal or a camel hair for understanding Jesus’ teaching in this passage are excuses for the impossibility of the Master’s statement. But the disciples understood its impossibility. This is precisely why they respond, “Who then can be saved?” However, we don’t need to stumble over this impossibility of passing an entire camel through the eye of a needle because Jesus says ever so plainly, "with man this is impossible". We must accept that “with man” it is impossible “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But this does not mean that a rich man cannot be saved. What follows gives even rich men hope, "but not with God; all things are possible with God."

On a different matter, why does Jesus even make a distinction about the rich? Is it not impossible “with man” for any man to be saved? Isn’t it only possible “with God” for even the poor to be saved? Does Jesus mean that it is more difficult for a rich man to respond to God’s irresistible call to come to faith than for a poor man? Alternatively, and more likely I think, he is teaching, as he does elsewhere, about the powerful temptations of wealth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Rich Young Man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher", he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good -- except God alone." ~Mark 10:17-18

Jesus is not saying that he is not good or that God the Father is the only one who is good. Jesus confronts the man's faith. If the man testifies, as he did, that Jesus is good, then by doing so, he has testified that Jesus is God. There is no alternative.

"You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy. "
Jesus looked at him and loved him. ~Mark 10:19-21a

Jesus said "you know the commandments" to once again confront the man's faith. We may trust the man's assertion that he had faithfully obeyed the commandments. We can be sure that Jesus knew whether it was true. We might suppose that Jesus loved the man because he truly had been obedient to the commandments, but we may also suppose that Jesus loved him because he knew the man could not have kept the commandments though he sincerely desired it. However, by asking Jesus, "what must I do", he has testified that the commandments he has kept are insufficient for salvation. In fact, in Matthew's and Luke's account, the man asks, "what do I still lack?"

The man knows something, if not everything, about Jesus identity. He comes to our Lord the same way I often have. That is, either to establish in front of witnesses that God has already approved of him or to find out what steps must yet be taken. Having no idea how to obtain Jesus public approval, I have said, "I just want to know what I must do -- what prayers I must say, what tasks I must perform, etc. -- to secure my eternal future, so that I can get that taken care of and then get on with my life."

"One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. "
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." ~Mark 10:21b-22

I've heard it said that the man lacked willingness to give away his wealth. He was miserly or greedy or both. This is true, but the "one thing" he lacked was not to "sell everything" or to "give to the poor". It was "come follow me", a relationship with Jesus. With all of his obedience to the commandments, the man was still in need of faith in Jesus in order to have eternal life. Even though Jesus encouraged the man, saying he would have eternal treasure, his wealth was an idol for him and stood as an obstacle.

I say in essence, "Just tell me what hoops to jump through, so I can turn my back on you." Jesus says, "Come follow me."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Happy Ol' Me

The Bible teaches us that we, having been justified by our faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, now have a new nature in addition to the sin nature we have always had, now often referred to as the "old nature".

Living according to my old nature, I could be found happy, excited, and content at times or sad, angry, and discontent at other times. My old nature sought solutions to discontent from sin or, at least, from a sinful perspective on life. In fact, it is clear to me now that God used my discontent as part of his plan for leading me to knowledge of and faith in Christ. But, having assumed (quite ridiculously, now that I think about it) that the happy times I experienced with only a sin nature were not necessarily sinful in nature, I have been trying, in the course of my "new" Christian life, to find contentment by reproducing or replicating the circumstances or attitudes that seem to have led to contentment in my "old" life.

So, I now have a new nature. But I sought solutions from what satisfied my old nature. Not only do those 'solutions' fail me now, but because they come from a perspective informed only by a sin nature, those solutions are necessarily sinful, even if they don't include any of the "big" sins like murder or adultery. The Lord is our refuge. All else is idolatry.

This in spite of the many occasions in which I have reflected upon my former way of life and wondered, "how could I ever have been satisfied with that or found pleasure in it?" The simple answer is: ignorance is bliss. But, I refuse to believe that knowledge is angst. Paul addresses all these things thorougly in Ephesians.

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in there understanding and seperated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely, you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
~Ephesians 4:17-24

I had some time ago memorized these passages and believed, until now, that I understood them well. Yet I learn. Contentment can be found niether from our old life nor from our old way of thinking. And, true knowledge does not result in angst or fear. In fact, Paul prays that we will have knowledge and he tells us it is precisely so that we may have not fear, but hope.

"I keep on asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritence in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." ~Ephesians 1:17-19a

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


As we cling to the remains of the day in order to avoid 'missing out' on more fun in the form of television, video games, or whatever, perhaps we are inclined in the same way to cling to this world, fearing to 'miss out' on all the pleasure this world offers. I wonder if the desire to put off sleep is an indication of a larger desire to put off death. But death is something we should desire because the presence of God in Heaven will be even greater pleasure than, not just anything, but everything this world offers.