Wednesday, August 26, 2009

indecision- the enemy of spiritual growth

i must confess that my nature is to procrastinate. in high school i consistently put off my homework until the last minute. in college i would wait all semester to work on the big research paper and do it the night before. i usually waited until the last minute to pack for a trip or wake up in the morning. while i do not by any means recommend this method, i continued to do it because it worked for me. i never missed an appointment and rarely forgot anything i needed to pack. i still got good grades on my work and didn't waste valuable video game time on homework until i absolutely had to. so, no real harm was done.

however, there is an area where procrastinating leads to death. i know that sounds extreme, but it is true. it is such a temptation to become stagnant and inactive in my faith. with the promise of grace on the table, often times there is little motivation to put in a full effort in changing my bad habits or thoughts. if God loves me no matter what, He won't care if i don't get up early to read my bible, right? if He can look past the sins of people in the bible who did WAY worse things than me, why should i try to fix the problems i have? this line of reasoning leads to spiritual death. it leads to a heart losing its ability to smell the sickening stench of its own sinfulness. it leads away from God and right into the clutches of satan. i cannot afford any longer to put off the changes i need to make in my spiritual life.

while i was thinking about all of this, i stumbled upon this quote today from provocations by soren kierkegaard-

'cowardice settles deep in our souls like the idle mists on stagnant waters. from it arise unhealthy vapors and deceiving
phantoms. the thing that cowardice fears most is decision; for decision always scatters the mists, at least for a moment. cowardice thus hides behind the thought it likes best of all: the crutch of time. cowardice and time always find a reason for not
hurrying, for saying, “not today, but tomorrow”, whereas God in heaven and the eternal say: “do it today. now is the day of
salvation.” the eternal refrain of decision is: “today, today.” but cowardice holds back, holds us up. If only cowardice would ap-
pear in all its baseness, one could recognize it for what it is and fight it immediately.'

we have become cowards- we lack the desire or the fortitude to change for the better. not to pass the buck, but it is my belief that a contributing factor to this problem is the teaching of the church today. now when i say church, i don't mean the one i work for, or churches of Christ or restoration movement churches. i mean the church as we know it in western civilization. we live in a culture saturated with sin, and have ourselves become infatuated with sin. instead of avoiding what we consider slightly sinful, we are too quick to embrace the ways of the world. our hatred and disgust for the sins in our lives has been diluted. the call of our loving Savior's voice has been muted by the call of a more interesting and more easily accessible lover- the darkness and intrigue of the world. so in the end, the average churchgoer doesn't look all that much different than people of the world- we still gossip, visit questionable websites, have judgmental hearts, speak words without love, cheat on our spouses physically and mentally, treat our kids poorly, etc. we just have a different way to spend our sunday mornings and wednesday nights. we have become dangerously passive and inactive when it comes to avoiding sin and embracing holiness.

i know, i know. my words sound harsh and critical. maybe overly critical. the call of discipleship i am laying out for all of us seems to go a little overboard, doesn't it? but the vital question we must ask in this- do those words seem harsh in comparison to the teaching we hear from our church or compared to what Jesus calls us to? in my opinion, we have gotten away from the extreme side of christianity. we have allowed it to become a passive part of our lives, not something that actively drives every thought, word, action and decision. we don't share our faith in God because it may offend. we don't live too radically because it may look odd to the people around us. christianity has become an activity, not a way of life. church has become a way to punch our 'get out of hell free' card, not a place to come and encourage the followers to remain faithful. but God did not send Christ to start a social club that happens to believe in Him. Christ did not lead 12 men around teaching them the right programs to start, the correct marketing schemes to launch to get big attendance numbers or the right songs to sing in worship service. Christ came to the earth and asked for people to follow Him. that is what we as a church must teach and embrace. so, faced with the decision to follow Him or to be indecisive and continue to err on the side of apathy, which will we choose? i think it's time to stop procrastinating and embrace a life of discipleship.

Friday, April 10, 2009

it was a good friday

today was a humbling and wonderful day. it was an eye-opening day. i participated in a community Good Friday service. i was asked to lead a prayer, which i did. but then a strange thing happened- i worshipped from the bottom of my heart. i felt emotion when i thought about the words uttered by Jesus- 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' i cried today as i sang 'beneath the cross of Jesus.' i got chills as i thought about the word becoming flesh and taking on my sin. i felt conviction as the words of the message asked me which of the characters i played as i stood at the foot of the cross. i experienced the presence of God.

i understand and fully acknowledge that i am not the only one to experience emotional worship today. but the reason i write these words is because i realized something as i had this experience. i cannot remember the last time i experienced something like this. i cannot remember the last time i was truly moved to tears over the thought of Christ dying for me. i cannot recall the last time i held back tears as i sang a song in church. i cannot remember the last time i truly worshipped with all of my heart.

this was an amazingly saddening realization to come to. i am a minister. i lead devotionals and bible studies and teach class all the time. i lead worship nearly every week. my entire vocation is centered around God, and yet i had to honestly confess to myself that i was caught up in worship today for the first time in a very long time.

i don't know if i get into a rut or if i am so focused on getting it right so other people can experience God that i neglect to do that myself, but this honestly was one of the most eye opening days i have ever had in my entire life. at the age of 28, in the midst of my first long term ministry opportunity, i found myself in the throne room of God and it was unfamiliar territory. i pray that i am alone in this, but i fear that i am not. i pray that church has not become more about the building and the do's and do not's than about God, but i fear that it has. i pray that ministry has not become about programs that lead others to deep spirituality and allowed us as ministers to neglect our own spiritual health, but i fear that it has. i pray that i have not been so concerned with everyone else experiencing God that i have at times forgotten to allow myself to experience Him, but i fear that i have.

my prayer in this is that God will allow us to seek Him, not a religion that simply admires Him. i pray that we will strive not just to be fans and spectators of our Savior, but strive to be followers and disciples of the Christ who died for us. and i pray that God will renew our passion for living in His presence.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

everybody will be happy over there

after i wrote that last blog on simple pleasures, i got to experience one- dairy queen ice cream cake. it was amazing. it brightened my day, especially that layer on the inside that is fudge and cookie crumbley stuff- to die for. (probably has the nutritional value of butter flavored crisco, but still tastes amazing) simply put, food brings me joy and i can only hope that God's eternal Presence does include some sort of food experience. in fact, my idea of heaven is a buffet with big tvs and sports games and comfortable couches. (i will apparently be severely obese in heaven...) i picture Heaven as all my simple pleasures wrapped up into one amazing, eternal package. but i'm not sure that will be the case.

i am human. i have always lived on earth, wearing flesh over my bones and walking around in this finite shell i call my body. because of this, it's hard for me to think about heaven. i can't conceptualize what being in God's Presence will be like. will i be scared? will i be happy? will i recognize people? will there be earthly things? will i long for things like ice cream cake, or will just being in the Presence of my Father be so overwhelming that i won't even think of anything but worshipping Him?

i wonder if Heaven will be anything that i even have the capacity to picture in my mind. mostly what i think heaven will consist of are love and peace. we go through so much turmoil and pain in this life because of our fallen nature. being separated from God because of our sin invites so many problems and complications in this life. but when we are reconciled to God through the Blood of His Son, i think all of that will disappear. so while i don't know what Heaven will look like or smell like, i know it will be so much better than even the most amazing moments here on earth.

feel free to share your thoughts on what Heaven looks like to you, and i guess one day we'll see how close we were to the truth.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

simple pleasures

i am trying to find joy in the little things lately. as a friend's blog just reminded me, we are far too often waiting for the big, extravagant events in our lives to show us God's face and assure us of His Presence. so here are some things that make me happy and bring my joy, which i (and c.s. lewis) believe to be a gift from God used to connect us to Him.

food (especially meat)
basketball games
someone saying 'duties' or 'do do'
little kids telling stories
the scent of cucumber melon
watching a movie
finding french fries in the bottom of the bag when i thought they were all gone
an encouraging word from a friend
helping someone in need

i fear that julie andrews is going to start singing at any moment during this post...
-end sidenote-

sitting on the porch on a nice day
sunsets (great, now i sound like a scene from fiddler on the roof. maybe i should put musicals on the list...)
a nice cold glass of sweet tea
having a good laugh
hearing a favorite song on the radio
quality pens and pencils (for real, i love writing stuff)
riding in my car with the windows down
an unexpected gift
owning a mac
voice cracks
taking a good picture

feel free to comment and tell us the simple things that bring you pleasure and make you smile. and remember to recognize the blessings in your life every day.

are you for real, Jesus?

justification is a strange thing. through the magic of internal wordplay and mental gymnastics, we can get ourselves out of just about anything. for instance, i remember having chores as a kid and thinking stuff like "mom couldn't really mean i should do ALL the dishes," or "i'm sure she didn't mean to take out the garbage TONIGHT." i knew for a fact that she wanted all the dishes done and the garbage taken out immediately, but my laziness flipped a switch inside my brain. for just a few moments i became this lawyeresque creature, sifting through the sands of my mother's instructions with a fine-toothed comb, eagerly and desperately seeking the linguistic loophole that would release me from my immediate responsibilities. when i finally found the word or phrase that could spring me from the prison of my pending chores, my job was done and i returned to the mindless activities that awaited me. and the satisfaction of my work would overshadow the disappointment i should have felt in myself for weaseling my way out of chores.

oh, how grand it would be to say that this was in my past. but i really can't. in fact, there are a lot of us who do this every day. let me give you a few examples...

"Jesus couldn't have really been asking me to love God with ALL of my heart."
"surely Jesus didn't mean to imply that i should take up my cross and follow Him if it is difficult."
"no way can God expect me to remain pure sexually. this is a different day and age."
"pray for those who persecute me? i think that may be a metaphor..."
"i know Jesus tells us to confront someone directly if we have been offended, but it's way easier to just gossip about the person."

maybe i am the only one who does this in my spiritual life at times. if i am, i apologize for wasting your time. but this post is meant to wake up the excuse givers- the people who approach Christ's call in the same way i approached my mother's call to housework. stop coming up with reasons why you can't serve and do what you can. get rid of the contentment with what your life is now and replace it with a vision of what your life could be. stop letting sin rot away your life and embrace holiness. be honest about who you are, who you want to be, and what it will take you to get from one to the other. stop blaming your problems on everyone else- own up to your mistakes. the bottom line is that sin is easy and discipleship is hard. but often, the more difficult option is the best.

Monday, February 9, 2009

beam me up, scotty!

sunday i had the privilege of sitting next to scotty during our worship service. i had one interaction with scotty previous to this- the first time i met him i went to shake his hand, not realizing that scotty skips the pleasantries of the hand shake and goes right to bear hugs. before i knew it, i had a scotty scarf hanging around my neck in the church foyer. scotty is about to turn 40 and is mentally handicapped, so even though it was abnormal and uncomfortable to be hugged by a stranger, i let it slide. scotty doesn't know you aren't supposed to be that affectionate to people at church- a simple handshake or head nod would do. i then found during our second interaction on the front pew that there are actually a lot of things about church he doesn't know yet. scotty doesn't know you aren't supposed to sing so loud in church- you may be a distraction to those around you. scotty doesn't realize that you aren't supposed to wave to the guy leading prayer- it may distract him from his responsibilities. scotty doesn't know you're not supposed to talk to people during communion- it kills the somber mood of the moment. scotty doesn't know you aren't supposed to clap joyfully unless you can do it on the beat- it may annoy the musically gifted people around you. it is amazing how sitting next to someone that had so much he didn't know revealed exactly how much i really don't understand about what the church should be.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

waiting for the thaw

i took this picture last week. i just thought it was a beautiful way to capture something that shouldn't be... a frozen porch swing. this staple of the summer reduced to being a stagnant reminder of just how cold and icy it is outside... how far from the warmth and shorts and frisbees and backyard barbecues we really are. every time i looked at that swing as i left the house, it left me longing for change. i was left face to face with my desire for the newness that spring brings. and if i were to allow myself, it would have quickly turned into the bitterness and unhappiness that winter often brings. if i let myself dwell in that place of longing for what was to come, i could easily ignore the beauty of what was before me.

often i do the same in my walk with God. i see the possibilities in my life and in the church, and i get stuck daydreaming of what could be instead of doing all i can to bring what could be into the reality of the moment. often i read Jesus' words about the Kingdom of God and think of what a great day it will be when that Kingdom is in effect. when the poor are treated well and love reigns and prejudices die and God rules over all things. what i too quickly forget is that God's Kingdom is eternal, and eternity includes the here and now. so let's not wait for the thaw, and become frozen along with our scenery. let's feed the hungry today. let's clothe the naked today. let's allow love to rule over hatred, pride and prejudice today. let's allow God to take His place on the throne of our lives now, and do all that we can to bring the warmth of the Kingdom into reality in this moment.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

pete and repeat

i have decided instead of writing big long things all the time i will just write when thoughts crop up. here is the first attempt.

the other day i decided to start listening to music when i get ready in the morning. so i put in a cd in my stereo in the bedroom and headed to the bathroom. i listened to a few worship songs as i brushed my teeth and shaved. then i jumped in the shower, excited to sing along as i sanitized myself. well, as fate would have it, the cd began to skip. over and over again i heard 'in Christ alone, my hope is found He is... in Christ alone my hope is found, He is... in Christ alone my hope is found, He is..." despite the greatness and sincerity of the words being repeated, this obviously got a bit annoying.

my thoughts led me to think of how God must feel when he listens to my prayers sometimes. there have been times in my life i have fallen into the same sins over and over again, and prayed for God to help me and to forgive me. then i would sin again, and go back to God with the same exact prayer. although i was sincere and meant everything i said, if i were listening, i would have been annoyed, just as i was at the skipping cd. and therein lies the greatness of the God we serve. although He has every right to get annoyed and could easily just block us out, He chooses to listen, and care. and beyond that, He chooses to forgive us. so when it seems your prayer life sounds like a skipping cd or broken record, do all you can to fix it, but know that God is still listening, still cares and is patient enough to listen to the repetition.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

lessons learned

here are ten things i have learned lately. some are kinda serious, some are more goofy in nature, but all are valuable to me.

1. there is no substance on the planet that holds in heat more efficiently than hamburger helper. i had to wait 15 minutes the other night until mine was cool enough to consume, and even then i found little steamy pockets as i stirred. in fact, i may work to market a line of outdoor clothing made of hamburger helper. i am convinced it would keep you toasty even in the coldest temperatures. plus, with the economy the way it is, edible clothing is a good idea. but i digress...

2. 'hey, what's shaking' is not a good way to greet someone with parkinson's disease. for the sake of everyone involved, just choose another phrase.

3. i am not a very patient person when it comes to certain things. technology malfunctions and driving are the biggest challenges.

4. confrontation and disagreement are two different things. i need not be afraid of either as long as i am honest and caring in dealing with them.

5. pop in indiana has more fizz. you may debate me if you'd like, but it is true.

6. i will never stop thinking the words 'poop' and 'duty' are funny. i know it is immature, but i cannot help but at least chuckle when i hear them.

7. there are a lot of good people in the world despite what the news tells us.

8. i am often negative, but it is mostly because of a burden i have to see things be the way they should be. for example, i will focus on the few things that may be wrong with my life or in the church or with a situation instead of acknowledging all the positive things. it is not because i want to be debbie downer, but because i want to see my life and the church and the situations i am in be good and fruitful and Godly.

9. i love mcdonalds. my cholesterol level does not.

10. i have been blessed with a good family and good friends. moving away has made me realize that and appreciate the people in my life all the more.