Monday, July 7, 2014

Kingdom of Belief

As a kid (Because I'm not one anymore right??? At least that's what I tell myself) I distinctly remember watching the original karate kid with my mother. I remember laughing at Mr. Miyogi and his anecdotal wisdom. I remember my mom using her best accent to mimic him for days later just to get me to laugh. All in all I have very fond memories of the movie, I mean what 9 year old kid doesn't want to do a jumping swan kick to his favorite bullies face.

While those are the memories that I cherished as a child from this movie, as I have grown up I take notice of an important lesson this movie stands to teach us that I missed as a child. It can be found when Daniel-Son agrees to train underneath Mr. Miyagi. For those who have watched the movie you will remember that Daniel shows up his first few days ready to learn how to punch and kick, only for Mr. Miyagi to instruct him on how to wash and wax his car, paint his fence and sand his deck.

At First Daniel thinks this is probably just some form of an entrance fee, thinking that if he did these long enough he would finally get to move on to learning the real stuff. After a few days Daniel has finally had it and confronts Mr. Miyagi asking when will he finally get to move onto the important stuff. In this moment Mr. Miyagi shows him that these chores that Daniel looked at as only the entry fee and not important are going to be the very things that help him advance to being a karate master. 

Recently in my life I have been learning that in my relationship with the Lord a very similar struggle has been going on. 

I was reading in Romans 4, where the apostle Paul instructs the Christians in Rome that the entrance into God's Kingdom was always on the basis of faith not works. He uses Abraham as his primary example and shows how "Abraham believed in God and it was accredited to him as righteousness". 

As I read this I found myself nodding saying "Ya Abraham's belief earned him that righteous relationship with God." It was in that moment where I felt the Lord press on my heart "It was also his belief in God that carried him through as well". At this I was immediately convicted.

I think too often in my own life and in the church as a whole we make belief in God a momentary thing that grants you access to God but once you are in you move on to the bigger and better things like "warring with sin, and using your gifts". But in this moment with my wife asleep next to me I was reminded that my belief is not just what allowed me entrance into Christianity, my belief is what carries me through.

In this moment I felt very much Daniel, realizing that this thing I had somewhat written off as not so important was actually the very thing that will and is guiding me through life. 

In that moment I had to stop and ask myself "In all life's circumstances am I believing God is who He says He is?" 

I was convicted to have to honestly answer no. I was being so fearful over all the unknown factors in my life right now: finances, the future, or family questions; and doing whatever I could to try and control these areas. In my sin I was believing that I had to fix and control these areas. 

I had to repent and remind myself that God has proven Himself faithful so I need not doubt His provision in the land where He has sent me. 

I needed to remind myself that God authors the family and ultimately when He says it is time it will happen and I need not concern myself with trying to control it.

I needed to be reminded that God relates with man in the present, so that was where my focus needed to be. 

As I let these truths sink in and I chose to believe them I found my very soul being refreshed. It was then that I realized that "Belief is not only what grants you access to the Kingdom of God, belief is what advances the Kingdom of God."

I then remembered Hebrews 11. We commonly call this the Hall of Fame for Faith. I realized for the first time this passage is not praising these people's actions but rather their belief in God that led them to perform marvelous feats for God.

As a matter of fact when your peer closely at the blemishes in these characters narratives, you find that their great blemishes came when they weren't believing that God was who He said He was. Whether it be Abraham not thinking that God could protect Him and Sarah so he sent Sarah to be one of Pharaoh's wives, or Moses not trusting God's provision and struck the rock twice. 

From this we learn that "Bad Belief  is what derails our walk with God". For bad belief will always lead to bad behavior, while true belief brings freedom.

A.W. Tozer said the most important thing about a man is what comes to his mind when He thinks of God.

So I invite you to join in a sacred moment and ask yourself:

 In my circumstances, who do I believe that God is?

Is it true???

If not let us all repent, so that our correct view of God will lead to a life of worship so ,that like the brave men and women of Hebrews 11 , God's kingdom will advance on this earth through us.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sand Art, Stones, and Fearful Commands: Is this truly the story of the Adulterous Woman?

As a younger child there were a few days in the elementary school calendar that I looked forward to more than others. While playing with parachutes and soccer balls at Field Day excited me, there was an equally fun day for me that came twice a year: The Scholastic Book Fair. I wish I could say that this was because even at an early age I had a true appreciation for gathering knowledge through books but alas I can't. At the ripe age of 9 I loved the book fair for two reasons; first getting the newest Kobe Bryant poster and secondly getting cool book marks.

My favorite bookmarks were those that contained optical illusions within them. These illusions operate on the premise that at first glance one object or picture seems to be present, but over time you come to see a different picture that was wholly different than what you originally saw. This idea of an illusionary bookmark is one that has been carrying over recently to my time in the Bible recently. Allow me to explain.

In recent months as I have been reading the Bible I have noticed how often myself and the church culture settle for the first reading or first meaning or first takeaway that we see from the text and as such we only get the first picture. I think this is because too often we read the Bible as a straightforward manual to better living rather than the beautiful transformative piece of literature it was written in.

 Before I go on please do not misunderstand me for saying that we should not take the Bible literally or that we should read ideas into the passages. This idea could not be farther from what I'm advocating. What I'm stating rather is the need to read it literarily (as a piece of literature) and as such not settle for the first idea that pops off into our mind, but rather like a illusionary bookmark, continue to delve and examine the text to see if there is a more fuller meaning and message we are missing.

A prime example of this principle that has been nourishing my soul can be found in the 8th chapter of John with the familiar story of the Woman caught in adultery.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, this moment begins right on the heels of a heated moment with the pharisees (or the religious leaders of the day). The Pharisees then bring out a woman who had been caught in the midst of adultery and they place her at the feet of Jesus asking Him what they should do to her. They clearly expected Him to condemn her and even referenced the Law of Moses as giving Jesus reason to condemn her to death by stoning. Rather than do this though Jesus bends down and writes in the sand, then states that whoever is without sin can throw the first stone. One by one the Pharisees drop the stones, and the woman is left with Jesus. Jesus tells her that He does not condemn her and tells her to go and sin no more.

If you have grown up in the church or even been to a few  Bible studies no doubt that you have heard this story taught and preached. In these sermons typically a pastor will camp out on a few ideas:

 The first being "What did Jesus write in the Sand?" from this point many hypothesize that Jesus was writing the sins of the Pharisees as to put them in their place. The application then becomes what would Jesus write in the sand if you were in front of Him?

A second common point addresses what Jesus says to the Pharisees regarding him who is without sin be the first to throw the stone. The common application from this becomes that we should not judge those caught in sin due to the reality of the presence of sins in our own lives. 

The last common point preached refers to the last part of Jesus final declaration to the woman "... go and sin no more". This is applied to our lives by most pastors as a charge to go out and quit sinning because Jesus tells us to.

Are these really the main points of this story? Is this passage truly a call to a recognition of the sin in ones life? Or like a illusion is there something far greater going on that is right in front of our eyes? 

We only get to see the true beauty of this short moment in the ministry of Jesus when we truly make Him the focus of our reading. Allow me to illustrate:

These Pharisees bring a woman caught in grotesque sin to the Son of God (the true Judge of the World) expecting Him to condemn her and allow them to stone her to death. While He does write in the sand and command those without a stone to throw the first stone, that is not where the true beauty of the story lies. It lies in the first part of Jesus's address to the shamed and humiliated woman: 

"Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The greater beauty of this Story comes from realizing that every one of us is the woman at the well. We all have been caught in grotesque sins and have stood before the judgement throne of God expecting Him to respond angrily and harshly, only for the mystery of grace to confound us when Jesus replies "Neither do I condemn you". 

The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus was condemned on behalf of our sins, Jesus took the punishment for this woman and all of us on a tree on Calvary. This passage is not a call to stop and think about our sin in a shameful way. It is an example of the grace God offers his children as He declares that if we are in Christ we stand pardoned not condemned. 

To the many of us who have focused on Jesus's final words in this passage as a call to stop sinning. Jesus did everything with purpose in His ministry including wording that command with a connecting clause. Without the realization that we are not condemned and the resulting freedom that occurs it is impossible to war against sin successfully. 

For it is only when we are feasting on God's grace that we have the strength to say no to our vices. 

So friends I invite you to glimpse and savor the deeper beauty that arose from that day at the feet of Jesus. The mysterious grace that a perfect savior showed a scornful, shameful woman. I then invite you to along with myself remember that we are that woman, having warred with our own sin and deserving of condemnation but spared by the gospel of God's grace, and in doing so thrive in the power of the realization that you do not live punished by the Son but rather purchased by the Son.

Romans 8:1 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Redeeming the Why

Within popular Christianity today there is one word that more often than not strikes fear into those who face it. This question makes the youth group teen quiver in embarrassment, makes the insecure mother respond with "Because I said so", and can get you dirty looks from the elderly section at church. The word I'm talking about is "Why?". Whether it be phrased as "Why do you believe in Jesus?" or "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

I can only speak from my own experience but in my church experience asking a question starting with "why" was taboo. If you did ask it was because you "lacked faith" or "doubted God". I think for too long this simple question has been ostracized to such a point that if you ask "Why" you have less faith than someone who just believes. The question I want to ask, ironically, is why?

In my experience most of the time the fear of the "Why" boils down to one of a two reasons:

1.)  Ignorance-

When it comes to this fear one of the most common reasons people within the church fear the question "Why" is because they themselves do not know why. They simply are masking ignorance with the stupid, and in no way spiritual, blind faith. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we should always be ready to give a defense for the hope within us. Therefore it is not more spiritual or more trusting in God to not question, but rather is disobedient.

2.) Fear of not knowing all the answers-

While no good church person would tell you that they are afraid of the answers to these pressing questions. They worry that if they dig too far, they might just find out the are believing a lie. If this logic would be true, it is still faulty to continue to live in denial of the word "Why" because one would be dedicating their life to an elaborate lie. Luckily and beautifully for us as believers of Christ we need not fear the answers for we know the One who is the Truth, and the Author of all things Jesus Christ Himself!

Admittedly there are questions we don't have all the answers for... but news flash no one does. These unknowable answers shouldn't stop us from pursuing all the truth we can about Christ.  Allow me to explain:

I have a wonderful, beautiful fiancee. One day we hope to have children. No matter how many questions I ask her about child birth I will never know what it is like to give birth (of which I'm very thankful Lord). However, just because I will never fully know the answer to that aspect of my fiancee doesn't mean that I shouldn't explore other truths about her such as her favorite flowers, or candy, or  movies. If I didn't ask these questions to further explore what makes Sarah who she is, I would have a hard time loving her.

In the same way when we let the fear of not being able to answer all the questions stop us from asking them at all, we are not living a more faith filled life. Rather we are denying ourselves from knowing God on a much more intimate level.

Ultimately though the real damage for me comes in this: The one word the Church seems to want more than any to be erased from the "World's" dictionary is the one word the Church should be begging them to ask.  For the question "Why" signifies a pursuit and probing for truth on the part of the questioner. So rather than shy away from this question we must redeem it, and use it to point people to the truth they are looking for: Jesus! 

 In order to do this though we must be willing to prayerfully engage the scriptures for ourselves and ask the tough questions believing that this pursuit of truth will lead us into a deeper devotion to Christ.
We must not take conventional tradition as truth but rather we must challenge it with the Scriptures and be willing to change if we are not in line. We must be willing to not settle for a blind faith, but rather be prepared to give a defense so that we are begging our friends and neighbors to ask us "Why?"

This is the goal of this humble servant of Christ, that in someway through this blog we can journey and ask these questions together allowing the truth of God's word to wash over us. That we would allow the Truth to trump tradition in our lives and churches. In this blog I will attempt to do just that, I would be thrilled if you would come along for the journey over these next few months!

For it's as the old hymn says "To love you is to want to know you more"