Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Will You Follow Him?

Pride: my biggest weakness right now. I believe that pride is the root of all evil. As I wrote in The American Dream, "A very wise man once told me that the root of all sin is pride. And it's true. Because of pride, we are able to splurge on ourselves yet turn blind eyes and ears to the poor and needy. Because of pride, we become stubborn, thinking only of ourselves and not of others. Because of pride, we bully people or lie or steal or kill, or commit any other sin." The way I see it, all sin stems from pride. Pride is the reason man shakes his fist at God. We sin because we are imperfect, selfish people, and pride is behind all selfishness.

And so I believe that humility is very valuable. The point of our existence is to bring all glory to God. But we live as if it's all about us. When we live selfishly, we miss the point of living. We miss out on the joy of giving, on the contentedness of simple living, on the happiness and peace of following Christ.

Located in Matthew 5 are the famous "Beatitudes." I've heard many sermons on the Beatitudes, and there's a reason: if you're looking to live a life that's all about God, reading the Beatitudes is a good place to start. The following are the Beatitudes, as taught by Jesus to His disciples:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

If you approach this passage with a selfish mindset, you can't help but marvel at the insanity and stupidity of this passage. You might think, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are you when you're insulted and persecuted? Blessed are you when people slander you and gossip about you? That's bizarre! That's insane! You'd have to be crazy to believe that!" But here's the thing: to God, this passage makes perfect sense. Remember that God is the God who said that in heaven, the first will be last and the last will be first. Remember that God's system often words backwards to ours.

If you approach this passage with a Godly minset, then you can't help but marvel at the beauty and the genuis of this passage. Why? Because this is our roadmap to a Christlike life. Sure, it may not make sense if we use worldly logic. But we must think like God. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." If you want to live a life that brings all the glory to God, you must first learn how God thinks. To Him, you'll be blessed by being poor in spirit, by being meek, by being hungry and thirsty for knowledge and righteousness, by showing mercy, by being pure, by being a peacemaker, by being persecuted for your faith, and by being insulted for your faith. When all this happens to you, rejoice and be glad! Because great is your reward in heaven.

God doesn't think like us. In Isaiah 55:8, God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." If you want to life a life that brings glory and attention to God, then you have to think like God. But that isn't what we were originally talking about. We started off talking about humility. So if you want to life a life that brings glory and attention to God, then you have to be humble.

The two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us are 1) To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and 2) To love others as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). In other words, treat others as you want to be treated. This is the lifestyle Jesus wants us to follow. When we live with God as our top priority and others as our second, then we've truly found humbleness.

I invite you to join me in the search of humility. I have lived a life that is all about me, and it isn't worth it. Chances are, you've discovered that too. But will you do what it takes to find a life with true meaning and purpose? Will you dare to take a leap of faith and live a life that's all about God? In order to do so, you have to love God above everything and love others more than yourself. With God's help, this is possible. It takes a lot of prayer, practice, and patience. So will you give up your life, die each day, carry your cross, and follow Him?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Peace Of God

I've been reading through Boy Meets Girl again and God has shown me some new things to work on. I've learned that I'm not trusting God with the who, how, and when in my marriage. I want God to tell me who it is, how it will happen, and when it will happen. After all, that only seems logical. I can't follow God unless He tells me who, how, and when, right? Otherwise, I might make a mistake and somehow mess it up.

But I'm making a major error when thinking like that. When I focus on the who, how, and when, then I'm eliminating any room to trust God. If I knew who I would marry, how we'd meet, and when we'd start our relationship, then I wouldn't need God! I actually blogged about this two months ago (Trust: Faith, Hope, & Love), but it's taken a whole new meaning on to me. Everything I wrote is true in Trust: Faith, Hope, & Love, but I've recently realized that there is more to it. Not only am I to trust God with His timing and His planning, but I also need to be content with being single. I need to not be anxious about marriage. I need to think of girls as sisters in Christ instead of potential wives. I must confess: I'm afraid I've made an idol out of marriage. I desire marriage too much. I'm frustrated with being single. I want to be in love. I think of girls as potential wives and not the sisters in Christ they are. Marriage is on my mind all day and I'm always wondering who, how and when. I need to change. But how?

One of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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." How amazing is this! These two verses have been such a comfort to me. I don't have to be anxious or nervous about anything. I can take my requests to God through prayer and petition. And this is the best part: the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. Wow.The peace of God. The peace of God transcends all understanding. The peace of God will guard my heart. Now we're on to something.

So it seems to me that if we choose to take our problems and desires to God, then His peace will guard my heart and protect me. And not only that, but according to these verses, it's better to have the peace of God than to have all understanding. And one glance through Proverbs tells us how important wisdom and understanding are. But apparently, it's better to have God's peace than wisdom and understanding.

And this is key if I want to change. I have adopted the prayer of David Tate, a man whose story is told in Boy Meets Girl. I cannot recall his prayer word for word, and since I just loaned my copy of Boy Meets Girl to a friend, I'll just share with you what my prayer is: Father, I don't want to be anxious about this area of my life. I need to know who, just as much as how and when. I want to be content. I want to trust you. I want Your peace, which protects my heart and my mind. Amen.

Remember that our mindset should be that everything should be done to bring glory and attention to God, not ourselves. If we live with this mindset, then we'll learn to trust God. I believe the best thing I can do for my wife right now is to live my life with the purpose of bring all the glory and attention to God. I want to die each day and life for Christ. For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Let God write your love story for you. He doesn't need any help; He's the original storyteller. All He asks is that you live your life to bring Him all the glory. Will you do that?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The American Dream

If you haven't read Radical by David Platt, I highly suggest reading it. I am over halfway through and it's been changing my life page by page. Platt, the pastor of a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote this book challenging the American church and American Christians to evaluate the way we live. But I want to avoid writing a book review, so I'll instead share how it's challenged me.

In this post, I want to talk about the American dream. I've never considered myself to desire the American dream. I had considered the American dream to be having a family, a dog, a job, two cars, and a nice house living in the suburbs. This basically describes the stereotypical American family, I think (though there are naturally many exceptions). Platt points out that James Truslow Adams is credited with coining the phrase "American dream" in 1931. Adams spoke of it as "a dream... in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest statue of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are" (James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America; Boston: Little, Brown, 1933). I believe this definition, the original definition, perfectly illustrates America today. We are a self-reliant, self-serving people. It's all about promotions, pay raises, climbing the corporate ladder. We say it's a dog-eat-dog world. Kill or be killed.

I love the way Platt explains it. He says, "The America dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves and, we are drawn toward such thinking. But the Gospel has different priorities. The Gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in His power. In the Gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from Him."

Platt would go on to say how this is what Jesus meant when in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart form me you can do nothing." This is so counter cultural to the way we live today in America. As Americans, we have been led to believe that everything is about us. Just read Adam's definition of the American dream and the selfishness of our nature speaks for itself.

A very wise man once told me that the root of all sin is pride. And it's true. Because of pride, we are able to splurge on ourselves yet turn blind eyes and ears to the poor and needy. Because of pride, we become stubborn, thinking only of ourselves and not of others. Because of pride, we bully people or lie or steal or kill, or commit any other sin. And even insecurity and self-consciousness is another form of pride.

But the gospel is radically different than the American dream. Where the American dream calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to ourselves, the gospel calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to God. And this is what hinders so many from truly following Jesus. They simply cannot fathom the idea that they are not the center of the world.

I want to challenge you to examine your own life and see if you are leading a life that's all about Christ. And I don't mean going to church, reading Christian books, watching Christian movies, listening to Christian music, going to a Christian school (or better yet, being home schooled), having only Christian friends, etc. I believe it's easy to assume this type of lifestyle is tantamount to a Christlike life. And I'm not saying these are necessarily bad things. But this is not a Christlike lifestyle. No, a Christlike life is one where you die to yourself and live for the glory of God, not the glory of you. It's a life where you are willing to leave everything if God asks you to. It's a life where you live every day trying to figure out how you can glorify God and spread His name that day, and then doing it. It's a lifestyle that cares for the poor, the needy, the hungry, the widows, the orphans, the starving, the sick, the naked, the jailed, those "less fortunate than us."

The American dream is to do everything you can to bring glory to yourself. Is this how you live? Is this why you serve or give? Is this why you go to church or play sports or pursue higher education or fight for the promotion? Is it to make you look good and to make others notice how good you are? Or are you living a radical life? A life maxed out with selfless love? A life that models Jesus' love and dedication to the least of these? Jesus said it Himself: You cannot have two masters. You cannot serve yourself and Jesus. So which is it? Who will you serve?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is The Bible Incomplete?

I've recently been exposed by a fellow blogger to the idea that there is a possibility the Bible doesn't quote everything Jesus said. That's true. There's no way you could copy down every single word a man ever said. But that isn't what this person was getting at. When I posed the question, "If there are second chances in hell, then why didn't Jesus tell us that?" in my post My Final Belief About Christian Universalism, he commented in response to my post, saying, "The catch here, of course, is that you are stating that Jesus did not say something. That is a statement that you cannot prove. You can only prove from the bible what Jesus did say, not what Jesus did not say." This question bugged me. Not because I felt he was right, but because of how dangerously wrong he is.

Allow me to explain. By saying, "You can only prove from the Bible what Jesus did say, not what Jesus did not say," we are really saying that the Bible is incomplete. That it doesn't fully and truthfully contain the truth and Gospel of Jesus Christ. That it somehow only contains partial truth. If we allow ourselves to believe that perhaps the Bible doesn't contain something very important (like Jesus telling us about second chances), then we essentially have just said the Bible is false. Incomplete. Untrustworthy. 

Think of it this way: If we use this mindset, it would be all too easy to say that to be a Christian, you have to live on the moon. If Jesus didn't say it, it can be true. So why not assume that the moon is the key to salvation? Jesus didn't say it wasn't. Now yes, Jesus taught you have to repent, believe, and follow Jesus each day. But maybe Jesus was thinking that we could only do this on the moon, but He just didn't want to tell us? Maybe we should mass-migrate to the moon....

Or we could trust that the Bible is without error. It's complete truth. It's is the Word of God. It contains the Gospel that Jesus preached. It's something we can place our trust, hope, and faith in without worry of it's credibility. It won't fail us, so we can live by it. And that's what I believe. We should only base our lives and our theologies off what the Bible, and what Jesus, says. If we go off anything else, we are sure to miss the mark.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Final Belief About Christian Universalism

In light of a few recent comments, and in a few other conversations, I'd like to share my final thoughts on Christian Universalism. In my speech, which I gave a week ago, I tackled the one major fault with Christian Universalism: their belief in second chances after death. Now I could tell you, my blog readers, about all the verses that talk about the righteous going to heaven and the wicked to hell (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev. 21:6-8). I could point out that the verses the Christian Universalists base their hope of second chances in are taken out of context and don't match up with the rest of Scripture. I could point out that if everyone will have second chances in hell to go to heaven, Jesus died and came back to life for nothing. But I won't. Instead, I'll ask a question. If there are second chances, why did Jesus never tell us about them?

If there are second chances for us in hell, then why didn’t Jesus tell us that? Jesus certainly had many opportunities to tell us that we would get second chances in hell. So why didn’t He? Why did he constantly warn his audience about the dangers of hell when he should have informed us of those crucial second chances? The answer is simple: because there are no second chances.

For those interested, I got a 97 on my speech.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Using Fleeces To Make Decisions

Have you ever felt called to do something but weren't sure if it was God or something else calling you? I have. Life is full of difficult and challenging decisions and choices. How do we know what to choose? How do we know what God wants us to do? How do we know which way to go in the fork in the road?

You may or may not be familiar with the story of Gideon and the fleece. That's okay. After this post, you'll hopefully never forget it. This story is one that when you face major decisions in your life, like where to go to college, who to marry, where to live, or which job to take, you'll remember Gideon and follow his example. Gideon's story is found in Judges 6-8, but we'll be looking at Judges 6. Before I give you the text, you'll need some context. Some foreign armies are ravaging Israel (what else is new?) and God calls upon Gideon to save his country.

"'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The LORD answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.' Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.' ... Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew."

I know that's a lot of Scripture but don't tune out. Look at what just happened. Gideon felt called to do something (save his country), but he had doubts ("I am the least..."). He wanted assurance from God that this was really His will. That isn't unreasonable. Let's use college for an example. If you feel like you know where God wants you, but you don't feel a peace about it (you still have doubts), ask God to show you proof that He wants you there. It's up to you to decide what your "fleeces" are. You do need to understand that God may lead you to go somewhere else. If your fleeces show that God is telling you "No", accept it and look for where He really wants you.

So how do you know what your fleeces should be? Let's use my college decision-making process for example. I wanted to stay relatively close to home (only because of finances). I wanted to go to a small, private Christian school. I wanted to be on a campus with a Christ-like atmosphere. I didn't want to go to a college with a bad reputation for partying, pregnancy, bigotry, or drugs. I wanted to go to a college that had excellent professors. And I wanted to go to a Christian university where my beliefs were similar to the school's. I would mark the colleges that didn't have what I wanted off my list.

Pensacola Christian has a terrible reputation of being unreasonably strict, legalistic, and snotty. Not for me. Belmont recently handled some controversy over a lesbian female soccer coach very poorly, and besides that, many friends who go say the atmosphere is secular and several professors aren't Christians. Regardless of how true these reports are, I wasn't wanting to go to a place with a bad reputation, so I marked Belmont off my list. Next, I looked at Lipscomb. They are Church of Christ, which doesn't really match my desire to go to a university with like-minded beliefs (I'm Baptist). I found nothing wrong with Union University other than the fact is was too far away to commute to. Besides, I never really felt a peace about going to Union.

I found everything I wanted at Trevecca Nazarene University. It had everything I wanted and more. It didn't fail my "fleece" tests.

However, there are times when we feel called to do something and we should automatically know it's from God. For example, if you feel like you should tell your lost friend about Jesus, you don't have to ask God if it's His will. You should already know that it's God's will (...make disciples of all nations...). Things like that should be no-brainers. By reading the Bible each day, we should accumulate enough knowledge over time to know how to respond in these no-brainer situations. Reading the four gospels, Paul's letters, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Proverbs will help build your knowledge of how to respond in day-to-day situations.

You must also discern the difference between Essential fleeces and Optional fleeces. I gave you a list of Essential fleeces when talking about my list for college. An example of an Optional fleece would be me saying I wanted to go to a college with great  cafeteria food. That would be nice, but if the college where God wanted me had bad food, I wouldn't say "No" to God. It's just optional; preferred.
Right now, I'm putting together my list for my future wife. I'm learning that I can't be as rigid with this list as I was with my college list, simply because God may have someone picked out for me that is very different that what I think I want and need. I don't want to limit God. There are many Optional things that I want, but aren't important. For example, physical attributes. My ideal woman would be between 5'4" and 5'7", with brown hair, brown eyes, and a very appealing physique. The reason this is Optional is simply because I may end marrying a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl. Or a short girl. Or a tall girl. And so on. These are preferred and optional things that are what I want, not what I really need. I'm not going to turn the woman God has picked out for me if she is blond just because she isn't a brunette.

As we wrap up this post, I hope you understand the importance of fleeces. Fleeces are invaluable tools in our lives. They can greatly improve your decision making and build your wisdom and discernment. I encourage you to pray and think about what your fleeces should be for the different big decisions in life. Take time to prayerfully consider these things and you'll do well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Chocolates?

In yesterday's daily reading of A Year With C.S. Lewis, I read a particularly intriguing piece from Lewis' work, Miracles. The passage is titled No Chocolates? and interestingly enough is about sex. He says that because the greatest physical pleasure our earthly bodies can feel is the pleasure of sex, we are hindered in imagining the glories of heaven. He says that the glory and pleasure and beauty of heaven will be beyond compare, but we, in our finite state of being, cannot even begin to imagine it.

But it's the analogy Lewis uses that struck me. He says, "... I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No", he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate; he does not know the positive thing that excludes it."

I love how he captures his point in such a simple allegory. He compares sex to chocolate and heaven to sex, saying that since we don't know heaven, we naively consider sex to be the best thing ever. In a similar way, a young boy who loves chocolate but has never had sex would easily believe that chocolate is better than sex. He has never had sex; how could he know how much better it is? We've never been to heaven, so how could we be expected to know how much better heaven is?

I'm reminded by something Paul wrote. In Philippians 3, he writes, "... I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." I think that once in heaven, we will be able to fully agree that all these things we were so consumed with on earth were not but rubble, trash, and garbage in light of the surpassing greatness of the glory of heaven. Isaiah 65 is a beautiful chapter. In it, God describes the new heaven and earth, which is also described at the end of Revelation. God says in verses 17-18, "'Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.'" God essentially says it will be so great that we won't even remember the pleasures of this earth. That sounds incredible! Too good to be true. I must admit, it's very hard to imagine greater pleasures than the things on this earth, pleasures so great that we will never think of these things. But that's what God says. And what God says is Truth.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" ~Revelation 21:1, 3-4