Monday, October 31, 2011

God First, Man Second: 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

“LORD, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’ “But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

I heard an evangelist speak from this passage just last week. I won't review his points here, but it struck me as another good passage of scripture that highlights the distinction between God and man and how the order is important. Even King Jehoshaphat got that.

Don't get me wrong, I know this king is generally one of the good kings of Judah. But he doesn't always strike me as the sharpest tool in the shed. After all, he hung out with the evil King Ahab of Israel and allowed himself to be used by Ahab. (You can read about that in 2 Chronicles 18.)

Back to this story, Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah are about to be attacked by 3 big armies, so he prays. Always a good decision. This prayer he prays shows he gets it. He places God first, ackowledging that we are dependent on God.

Even when he starts to sound a bit accusatory, he is still showing that we are hosed without God's help.

So who is God? He is the ruler with all the power.

Who is man? We are the creatures who depend on God. We can't save ourselves, nor should we try.

Have your prayers ever looked like this when you needed something? What do your prayers usually look like?

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Else Would He do?

I have a great wife. Before you assume I did something wrong and needed to do something to fix it, hear me out. She likes watching sports with me. Sometimes we play a game while watching a game. We do it mostly while watching basketball or baseball. It's called What Else Would He Do?

You see, there are some athletes that don't look like athletes. They look like bankers or businessmen. Take John Stockton for example.

John Stockton looks like a math teacher. If you saw him on the street and never watched sports, you might not believe that he leads the NBA all-time in assists. But he does.

Here are a couple of others that we've pegged with different careers.

Brad Miller would be a banker.

Brian Scalabrine would be a red-headed step-child.

Christian Laetnner could be the lost member of the Backstreet Boys.

I think I like this game because I realize that none of us neccesarily looks like the typical version of the job that we have. Yes, I am a youth pastor and yes, I have a goatee. But it's not like it's the source of all my youth pastor power.

It's not just our looks either. Where we were born, what our parents did, which hand we eat candy bars with...none of this determines what we do.

The fact is that we all make choices. We can choose to work hard or we can choose not to work at all. Personally, I hope the NBA players choose to work. But that's just me. What about you? Have you ever imagined a professional athlete in a different type of job?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just Do Your Job

The big assignments seem to avoid me. I don't mean that there is nothing for me to do. I mean that my assignments don't always seem very significant. Even at home.

I was coloring with my 5-year old yesterday when I once again got the small assignment. We were coloring from the same book, which meant we would have to choose a 2-page spread to color. Below is what my 5-year old chose for herself.
Ok, that is alright. She chose a ballerina bear. I could do something like that. I've got years of coloring experience, after all. But what do I get?

Candy wrappers? And not just one candy wrapper. Four candy wrappers. Except for the one which is slightly different than the others, this assignment did not leave me much creative input. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Perhaps you feel the same way. If we're to believe all the hype, then where does that leave us with regular assignments?

If we were made for more, then how come it seems like we get less. I'm training to be more humble. It's not something I'm doing on purpose. It's not like I'm in intense training, vying for the Most Humble Man Award. But just to be sure, I could totally win that award year after year. I'm sure you're not surprised.

Nevertheless, I am in training. I haven't chosen it, yet it has chosen me. I realize I'm in training every time I compare what I do to what somebody else is doing. In case you're wondering, no, that is not the best way to train for humility.

It's all too easy to imagine what else I could be doing. In my imagination, it's always bigger and better. After all, who imagines life as smaller or worse than it actually is? And although I've never been one for pithy poetry and posters that make solutions easier than they actually are, I do believe in the endeavor to bloom where you are planted.

I was reminded of this when coloring with my daughter.
We need to accept the assignment we've been given and do our best there. Because sometimes, you'll be called on to do more, like when my daughter asked for help finishing her page. I totally owned those color choices.

Monday, October 24, 2011

God First, Man Second: Genesis 3:21-24

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. ~Genesis 3:21-24


Each Monday I like to start with scripture and ask what it says about God, then what it says about us. You might think today's selection is a bit odd, since it consists mainly of God's judgement on Adam and Eve. But I think we do learn some things about God here.

First, God makes garments of skin for the sinful duo. That tells us that in the midst of His disappointment that He still has compassion. This is still true today. We see it every time we receive a second chance...and a third....

We also see that God is willing to punish. Adam and Eve were bainshed from the Garden and were blocked from ever returning. Yeah, unlike the many spoiled children we see today who misbehave and still get the ice cream cone, God will punish for sin.

What about us? Well, in the midst of, arguably, our lowest point in history, we are still on the receiving end of grace and mercy from God. Yes, we got evicted from our home, but at least we weren't sent away naked. God could have said that we had to go get our own clothing. We might still be wearing leaves. That might chaff.

Oh, let's not forget that we did become knowledgable of good and evil. This is a trait that we share with God. That's not nothing.

So starts our week together. The good, the bad and what we learn about God and ourselves, even in the midst of trials. When is the last time you learned more about God or yourself through punishment?

Friday, October 21, 2011

God Saw it Happen

The other morning a bird flew right into our bay window. My wife commented that the window must be too clean and that the commercials are correct. My two young girls, 10 and 5, both started crying. We looked as the bird just dropped to the ground and sat there.

Its neck was a little to the left. Anything could have caused that, right? Just because it wasn't moving didn't mean anything. It was right before we were leaving for school, so I didn;t want them leaving upset. So I was trying to think of a soothing scripture to share. So I said, "You know that God saw that too, right?"

While that was technically true, I can't help but wonder if, in her head, my 10-year old asked why bad things happen and God does nothing. God saw it too? Ok, it's true that a bird does not fall from the sky without God knowing it. And while I believe that God may have chuckled at one of His birds doing such a stupid thing, that was probably not the verse to use with my children.

God saw it too.

I know, it sounds ridiculous now that I retell the story. Maybe when a close friend or family member dies, I should use the same line. You know, because feelings don't matter as long as you're quoting scripture.

A lot of life is like that. And knowing that God sees the suffering does not always make us feel good at the time. But it is a good reminder that, when bad things happen, God is still watching. And sometimes He watches when the bad turns good. Like when that same stupid bird hopped up and flew away 10 minutes later.

When have you been glad that God was watching?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Enemies of the Heart

Enemies of the Heart is the newest title from pastor and author Andy Stanley, although this is the first I have read. Sorry, Andy. But if this book is any indication of the punch that Andy delivers, it won't be the last.

The subtitle is Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You. Andy cuts right to the point in this book, expressing what I feel are some deep ideas in a way that everyone can relate to. That doesn't mean he dumbs it down. He tells it like it is.

Stanley's theory is that we have tried forever to fix ourselves by fixing our behavior. As you may have noticed, in yourself and others, it's not working out so well. The problem with behavior modification is that this is not the core of our problem. The problem is our heart, where everything stems.

This can be a bit hard to swallow, as all of us want to assume we're actually good people. But again, experience begs to differ. So does the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that we are a people with a bent on doing evil. It's called the sinful nature. The Bible says we are all stuck with this disease and that Christ is the only cure.

Stanley further shows how Jesus points out that these problems stem from the heart. After making that truth crystal clear, he spends the rest of the book talking us through spiritual exercises that will address the heart issue and make the heart stronger. It's all very practical, though not always easy. But who said exercise should be easy?

I received the e-book version of this book from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. They didn't tell me I had to say anything nice, just say something. They're pretty cool like that. You can purchase the book here. I would highly recommend that you do so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Assuming You're All Alone

Of all the wild prophets, Elijah set the bar pretty high. Elijah was kind of a head-case. He did some great things for God, even got a get-out-of-death card. But there's a scene or two where he goes all narcissistic on us and thinks it's all about him.

It's not just that it happens, but when it happens that surprises me. It's right after he defeated 450 Baal prophets in a God-contest. Yeah, he won. He should be high-fiving the king or chest-bumping other prophets.

Instead, we find him all alone on a mountain, wanting to die. When asked why, he said he was the only one following God. He said he had done all he could do. He said he was done. What's admirable is the passion he put into what he did. But he misses the point here, if only for a moment.

Elijah assumed he was all alone. But God had 7,000 just like him.

When your count is off by 7,000, that's a pretty big deal. Try it sometime. Mess up your checkbook by 7,000 and see how your spouse reacts. Better yet, see how the bank reacts. This isn't a small oversight. This is an error.

It's our error. We make it when we assume no one can empathize with us because no one has ever been hurt like we have. We make it when we assume no else has a busy schedule quite like ours. We make this mistake when we assume that our experience is unique and the factors will never change. And we make this mistake when we want to quit rather than look for someone to team up with.

We do this relationally. We're way off on our math and end up in embarrassing situations because of it. Why didn't we ask for help. We assumed we were alone.

But we're not alone.

Monday, October 17, 2011

God First, Man Second: 2 Chronicles 7:13-16

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. ~2 Chronicles 7:13-16


Revival! The very word breeds energy. It gets the juices flowing. And nothing speaks of revival more than this interchange between God and Solomon. This happens just after Solomon finishes the Temple of God, although I imagine, as king, Solomon did not actually get his hands dirty. But whatever...

I'm also quite sure that this little conversation happens long before Solomon writes Ecclesaistes, when everything is meaningless. No I imagine this was at a time when Solomon still had the wisdom to catch what God was saying.

God indicates that there will be a day when He shuts up the heavens. There will be plagues and locusts. It will happen. But just as surely as that happens, He will also open those heavens up. He will listen and hear. He will heal. These are the focal points of this conversation. God can do it. God will do it.

The people will be revived. There is no mistake in that. The mistake comes when we start to believe that revival is one of the 3 wishes we have when we rub the magic lamp that contains God. That's the problem when we read this passage of scripture backwards and assume it's more about us than it is about God.

All we have to do is humble ourselves, pray, dance a little jig and...voila! No, its not a magic key. God's hand is never forced. The healing comes because God is a Healer. The prayers are heard because God is a Father. The sin is forgiven because God is a Savior.

Thank you God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ahab's Reaction

I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle with what to say right after a Church service. Be it a youth group, small group or especially the Big Show, I am usually at a loss as to the best transition into what feels like 'the rest of the week'.

It feels weird to follow a Sunday morning worship service with, 'Hey anybody up for the Pizza Hut buffet?' Shouldn't something from the previous hour with god have affected me more than that? Shouldn't my focus on hunger be more spiritual than physical?

As much as I internally struggle, it would appear that King Ahab had none of these problems. He has a front-row seat to one of the greatest Old Testament displays by God. You can read all about it in 1 Kings 18.


The Cliff-notes version is that King Ahab just saw 450 Baal prophets slaughtered after losing a my-god-is-better-than-your-God battle with Elijah. Now he's told that rain is coming, something not seen in Israel for 3 years.

What's his reaction? Worship? Repentance? Reconcile with Elijah? Lots of people in the Old Testament came up with songs to commemorate this sort of thing. He didn't say a prayer or even suggest a moment of silence.

Nope. He decides to go have a bite to eat. This has got to be the epitome of being all about yourself. An experience to rival all others has just been put on display for Ahab and all he does in response is to fill his own temporary needs.

Yes, Elijah did tell him to go eat and drink. But if Ahab had any sense of following after God within him, he would have said that worship...or prayer...or something was more important than getting a value meal at the nearest McKing.

I'm guessing he didn't debrief with his attendants while at a buffet. I know a guy's gotta eat, but this smells like more evidence of a life spent ignoring God.

What about you, ever had difficulty transitioning from a worship service? Do you have any ideas how to best go about this transition?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mystical Union

It's not about me, it's not about me, it's not about me.

Sometimes I have to say that a lot to keep reminding myself. I found that to be true while reading Mystical Union: Stuff They Never Told You About the Finished Work of the Cross. In fact, I hate to admit just how much I struggled with this book. The book is by John Crowder, an advocate of supernatural Christianity, although I have to wonder if there is any other kind.

I write this review as a member of a holiness movement myself, which is one of the reasons I hate admitting my struggle. I believe in God's complete and victorious work on the cross. I believe that, by grace alone, I have been saved by God. I believe that this life is all about God and Jesus and, therefore, not about me. I'm comfortable with all of that.

In fact, I have often taught and confused the next generation with what I was taught was a second act of sanctification. This work being the entire removal of sin from our lives. Some call it Christian Perfection, some call it Entire Sanctification. Despite many people's struggle with it, I've taught it and believe in it.

If I had interviewed John Crowder, however, I imagine he would say I haven't gone far enough. Crowder teaches that justifiation and sanctification were all done at the same moment when Jesus died. Some in the holiness movement would have called that Instant Sanctification. That still would not have pleased Crowder because he writes convincingly that this is what is done for all believers.

It's hard to argue against his points. After all, who wants to say that we have some responsibility in this deal, other than saying yes to the arrangement? Believe me, I have said that, but it always sounds arrogant when you try to make yourself even a 5% partner with God. Either you agree that God has done 100% of the work or you do not.

I have just two overall problems with the book. I don't feel I ever got a full answer to what this means, for John, for the sin that is still in existence among those who are Christians. At points he centered on identity. The sin does not define us, which I agree with. At other points, however, he made it sound like to sin was impossible for us, although near the conclusion he did say otherwise. You know, can salt water and fresh water mix? I get the point, but as I look around...

The other detail, minor perhaps, was the million different versions of the Bible he used. He said it enhances his understanding of scripture to see many different translations. I get that. I think it also opens up the possibility of looking for exactly the wording that backs up your case. I'm not saying that is what John did, although at times I did wonder.

Overall, this is a good book that I think is worth the read. I received it from Mike Morrell and my friends at Speak Easy. They don't tell me what to say, just say something. This book will push your thinking and, at the very least, bring you to a greater appreciation of the work of God on the cross.

For more information you can link to.....
John’s online home: http://www.thenewmystics.com/

An example of John Crowder’s good-news bottom-line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOcWH-VkudE (How you respond to this is a good gauge to how you’ll like the books)

A press conference for Crowder’s book ‘Mystical Union’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd8nlvrY-Po&feature=grec_index

The first installment of my blog series on Crowder three years ago – much has changed, much has stayed the same: http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/charismatic-chaos-or-holy-spirited-deconstruction/

#SpeakEasyCrowder

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The World is a Stage

Oh, Bill Shakespeare, you really called it like you see it, didn't you? Perhaps you reflected life in your art. I'll agree with that much. However, I am quite sure that as much as you saw life as it is, you did not see life as it should be.

Yet people seem to accept your words as gospel truth. That could be due to your plays sounding like the King James version of a particular Holy Book. But just because your plays contain thee's, thou's and verily's does not make them equal to the Bible.

Take, for instance, your words that the world was a stage and that we are merely players. Many people may recognize that they are words from a play, but we live like they are gospel truth. For if the world is indeed a stage, then isn't somebody looking for someone to play the lead role?

Why shouldn't that person be me?

Ironically, the famous line comes from Shakespeare's play titled As You Like It. I believe that a starring role is just what we would like. This seems to be the way the world operates. Sadly, it is often brought into the Church as well. But it's certainly not a new thing.

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. ~Matthew 6:1-4, The Message


The truth of our Jesus-following life is meant to be lived inside and out. The world is not a stage. We are not actors. But one way we live this out is with our inner monologue. You know, the diatribe you'd like to use on someone who rubs you the wrong way. Or perhaps it comes out in the many details you share with everyone about everything. Facebook, anyone?

According to Jesus, working behind the scenes should be our goal. The good things still need to be done, to be sure. But perhaps not in a way that seeks the applause of people.

So tell me, have you ever realized you were in the middle of a monologue? Did the monologue get spoken out loud?

Monday, October 10, 2011

God First, Man Second: Colossians 3:1-4

Each Monday I start my week out by looking at a few verses from the Bible and answering two questions. First, what do these verses say about God? Second, what do these verses say about us? In case this is your first Monday on my site, I'll let you in on a little secret. I believe the order that we ask tthose two questions is very important.


 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ~Colossians 3:1-4


Right away I get the idea that Christ is the subject. Why? Because Paul, the writer of Colossians, says we have been raised with Christ. He is the focus. To assume otherwise would be like telling your friend that you went to see Justin Bieber in concert and wondering why he didn't start asking questions about how loudly the crowd cheered for you. So not only did you just admit to being a Belieber, you probably just lost a friend.

We also read that Christ is our life. That kind of puts a whole new spin on getting a life, doesn't it? Because God has yours. Plus it also makes asking what these verses say about us pointless. Our life is now hidden. It's like playing peek-a-boo, but when you move your hands, all the baby sees is Jesus.

That's not a raw deal, by the way. We have been raised with Christ and we will appear with Him in glory. That's a two-for! Oh, and God remains the subject.

So let's talk about hiding. When have you wanted to hide from God? And when were you glad to hide behind Him?

Friday, October 7, 2011

No Ideas

Sometimes I have a Boyz II Men moment and feel like I've come to the End of the Road. I suppose that's better than having a Backstreet Boys moment and always wanting it that way, whatever that means. But I digress, I've come towards the end of a long few weeks and feel like I have nothing to blog. Which is to say I have nothing to say.

But I want to offer something. When you put a type-A personality into the life of a blogger, you get a blogging schedule that doesn't always match up with real life. So, even though I have mapped out for myself when I want to blog, which you can read here, sometimes life (and an idea) doesn't always flow that way.

So I will not force you to read my nonsense any further. In my continuing search for insignificance, I am discovering many nuances about how I make life about me. This is one of those nuances, always wanting to be the giver and never the one who disappoints anyone at any time. At its core, that is pride willing its way into my life. But not this time, my friend, not this time.

When have you found that you have nothing to give but desired the appearance of strength too much to appear weak?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Give Me Something to Believe In

I believe it was Elijah who asked for something to believe in. Or maybe it was Poison. Either way, it was a catchy tune. Besides that, it's pretty good theology.

After all, we all want to believe in something. Many will say that we may not even realize it, but we all believe in something. I think they are probably right. If it's not God, then it's someone else. If it's not someone else, then it's probably yourself, the last person you expect to be hurt by or disappointed in.

I've seen enough of myself to know that I can't place all of my eggs in my basket. I don't even have to take that by faith. It's simple fact. Don't think for one second that I'm being self-deprecating to feel the love from you. I happen to believe that you shouldn't have faith in yourself either. That may be less about hard evidence I've seen or more intuition about people.

That is to say I'm very much planted in the camp of having faith in something higher than yourself. Oh, and that doesn't mean your wife, although she is probably smarter than you. (Hello ladies!) By higher, I mean much higher...God higher. I think, with every surpassing scientific discovery we make, we come closer to making God's point for Him. He is higher. He is smarter. He is, in fact, more.

So if we initially come to this idea that God is deserving of faith, then why do we make faith about people? We say things like, 'you have to live by faith' or 'wow, look at that girl's faith'. We hold in high esteem these people who seem to have more faith than we do.

But if faith is about the object being trusted and not the person having faith in that object, then really what we are saying is that some people are more willing to embrace the non-factor that they are. Because what they have really done is to admit that they can't do what the object of their faith can do.

So, allow me to reintroduce myself. I'm a non-factor. But I have faith that Jesus is the only factor that I need.

Monday, October 3, 2011

God First, Man Second: Galatians 2:20

Each Monday I am posting a scripture and asking the simple questions; what does this say about God? What does this say about me? I am cooming to believe that the order in which we ask those questions is vital to getting the correct answers.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  ~Galatians 2:20

What this tells me about God is quite simple. God loves me. He loves me so much, in fact, that He gave His Son, Jesus, for me. I know that we're about 2 days away from seeing Christmas decirations hit the stores and there are some sweet toys out there that I want. For my kids. Really. But nothing I give or get this Christmas will compare to this gift that God has already given.

It won't. It can't.

So I know that God knows how to give great gifts. I also know that this was not a simple one-and-done kind of gift. Paul, who write Galatians, says that Christ lives in us. So apparently God is like eating Taco Bell, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Leaving that thought quickly, let's figure out what this verse tells us about us. It certainly sounds like we die. We die by crucifixion and we no longer live, except by faith in the Jesus. Sounds pretty finite, which is probably a good thing. If I were still living, trying to help Jesus make decisions for me, it would probably be pretty obvious what came as a result of my influence. It would be something fairly similar to Leonardo da Vinci painting teh Last Supper, but allowing his kid to put the finishing touches on it...in crayon.

I guess it's a good thing it's not about me.