Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where are you going? (Part 1)

Proverbs 4:26 "Know where you are headed, and you will stay on solid ground" (CEV)
Do you know where you are going? Have you found out what the purpose for your life is? I've been giving these questions a lot of thought lately and realize that sadly I would have to answer no to both of these. I believe that this is one of the fundamental errors of many Christians, and even more so, many churches today. We quote Scriptures such as "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer 29:11 NIV), and think that all we have to do is just trust in the Lord to lead us and everything will fall into place. But is that the way our attitude should really be? Now obviously we should look to the Lord for guidance, and that He does have a plan for our lives. Those aren't the aspects of this thinking that I'm questioning. What I am questioning is our attitude that things will simply happen when they're supposed to happen. What would it look like if Christians would not only trust in God for our future, but search out what that is. What would it look like if we understood what our purpose is and then intentionally did things that fulfilled that purpose? What would it look like if each church would examine its strengths and weaknesses, the grouping of people that God has brought together and seek God for what His purpose is for that particular church body. What would it look like if we would remove the distractions, whether good or bad, and focused on the goal that God has for you/me. These questions have been going through my mind and as I've begin to start seeing what the answers point to I'm excited about what this could mean. I understand that alot of these ideas come from Rick Warren book The Purpose Driven Life (which i havent read yet) so for many this may be something you've been thinking about for awhile. But for me this is a new idea. So for the next week or so I want to develop these ideas and focus on a couple of the different aspects. I'm not really sure how many people actually read these posts, more than anything this is an opportunity for me to get my thoughts in writing, but i would like to hear any ideas or disagreements that these topics spark.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Matthew 25:31-46

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

This post is long overdue, and many of you have probably heard me talking about this at church already, but i started on it a couple weeks ago and never got around to finishing it so here it is. Over the last couple of weeks this section of Scripture has been weighing extremely heavy on me. For one thing, it seems so wrong with our modern day Christianity. Does seem to be the focus of the church? I'm sure that many of us would say that it is important for us to care for the poor, but do we really see it as the criteria which is the deciding factor between heaven and hell? I've been wrestling with that question for awhile now. Then the other day God brought a couple other stories across my path that really made it all a little clearer.
The first is the story of the rich young ruler found in the Gospels. If you dont know what it is it is found in Luke 18. But basically this man was a religous man who wanted to know what he had to do to get to heaven. Jesus told him to "sell all he possessed and give it to the poor, and then to come and follow him." If you look up a couple of posts you'll see that the phrase "come and follow me" has really intrigued me. And the coupling of that phrase with the call to sell all he possesed directed at this man really struck a chord with me, I felt like there was something more there. To follow Jesus meant to leave everything behind, which for this man would have meant his power, his authority as a ruler. What Jesus told this man was basically to get rid of the temporal things that are holding you back and come and follow me, do what I'm doing.
So now I have both of these ideas going through my mind, the call to follow Jesus and the passage on the day of judgment. If Jesus is calling us to do what he's doing it begs the question, what exactly was/is Jesus doing. So i started to read through the Gospels and I came across a passage that was at the beginning of Jesus ministry. In Luke 4 an account is given of something Jesus did while he was in the temple. And at the startof his ministry Jesus read this passage in the temple: 'the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has annointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.' And the my eyes started to be opened as I saw Jesus doing this over and over throughout the Gospels. This was what Jesus came to do, this was the purpose for Him coming to earth - which could lead to a whole other discussion. And he is calling us to follow Him, to do what He is doing. To do what He did. So often we miss the point, we simply want to get outta here and get to heaven. But thats not what we're supposed to be about. We're supposed to be about the restoration of souls, to bring people back into the community. Do you realize the type of people Jesus went to? Not the ones like this rich young ruler who had it all together, who were following the commandments, who were simply looking for Jesus to come to take them out from roman oppression and give them power. Jesus went to those who had absolutely no hope if the Messiah didnt come. The ones who were shut out of the community, the ones who were looked down upon. And thats who he's calling us to as well. I encourage you as we approach Christmas to take seriously the call to follow Christ, to look at what he did while he was here and to be about doing the work of the Kingdom of God. Don't get caught up in the temporal, because it is merely that.. temporal. Also, read Isaiah 61 sometime - which is the passage Jesus quoted - and see it not as a prophecy simply about Jesus, but the mission statement for the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

"The Nativity Story"

This weekend I went to see "The Nativity Story" with my family. Heading into the movie I wasn't really expecting much to be honest, in fact there were several other movies out that I would have much rather gone and seen. But I figured my parents probably wouldn't want to go see the new James Bond movie and I had heard that this movie might be good so i figured I'd at least give it a chance. When I left that movie I was so deeply challenged by Christ it was remarkable. That movie made me think more deeply about what it meant to be a Christian more than many sermons that I've heard unfortunately. The writers did an excellent job of not romanticizing the birth of Christ, even more so than I could have anticipated. Several areas that challenged me: First of all when you think of the issues surrounding the birth of Christ, it almost seemed like his coming made things more difficult for those immediately surrounding Him. I don't know if I've ever really realized how much Mary and Joseph would have been looked down at for her being pregnant out of wedlock. Do you really think that people would have believed her if she said that she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit? Imagine if someone would say that to us today, how would we take it? Also really let the fact that hundreds of innocent babies were killed by his coming. Herod sought out all the boys in bethleham two years and younger and had them slaughtered. Imagine being a parent of one of those sons, how would this make you feel towards God and Jesus if you knew the reasoning behind this massacre. Secondly I realized how completely wrong the form of th Messiahs coming seemed to be. One aspect of the movie that i absolutely loved was that throughout the story they would show seens where someone would be quoting from the life of Elisha. They kept repeating the story of when God told Elisha to stand on the mountain and there was an earthquake, a strong wind and a fire, but God was not in any of these. Rather he spoke to him in the form of a still, small voice. And to unerstand this even more fully we must understand that these other things were how Elisha was used to God speaking, in power. But God spoke to him in a completely unexpectant way, a way that forced Elisha to stop and listen. And as they were saying this throughout the movie, they would also show scenes where Jewish zealots and prophets would be quoting prophecies of the coming Messiah. A baby was the last thing that these people were looking for, they were looking for a ruler to come in power, and so many of them missed the coming Messiah. This idea of the revolutionary aspect of Jesus has challenged me so much as I read through the Gospels. It has brought up so many questions. "Why in the world did God choose to come in this way?" If I'm honest i am at a complete loss to understand this, I mean there's some parts I understand but its so mind boggling. More than anything this movie reall challenged to truly contemplate Christ this Christmas. And not simply his birth, which i absolutely remarkable that the God who created the world would become one of us, but to also focus on the revolutionary aspects of his ministry on earth. The more and more I study Christ the more and more questions I have. As we approach Christmas I challenge you to dive into the Gospels and to allow them to challenge you on what Christs coming to earth requires of you.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Last night I came to the realization that lately something has changed in me. You see I used to be one who was extremely interested in theological debates. All throughout college I was always looking for opportunities to get into a discussoin on whether calvinism or arminianism was correct, or which view of Revelation we should take, and while that still interests me as i read the Bible i find myself looking less and less for passages to back up one particular view and am being challenged more about the way i live my life. I'm finding that the Bible speaks less of ideas and beliefs and more on actions. And while that may seem like an obvious statement I feel like the church as a whole is missing this point. Somehow over time we began to shift our focus away from the here and now and simply focus on heaven and how we can get there as painlessly as possible. But thats not the point of the Bible at all. As I read through the gospels I'm challenged over and over again with the call to be active in the world, and particularly to reach out to the outsiders. To the poor, the orphans and the widows. When was the last time that I've done that? The main objective of following Christ is to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of God to the here and now. And doing that does not mean getting people to sign up for our particular church, or to patronize people with our beliefs. It's about helping others. If you notice throughout the gospels Jesus did not make people say the believers prayer before he healed them. He did not make them follow Him for a time before he offered them a helping hand. But it was because he healed them, or because he fed them that they followed him. This has been a challenge to me as I've struggled with these passages because so often this is not evident in my life. And you may say "well I dont have to many people around me who are poor or destitute" (which has been my excuse for a long time). And if thats the case I have a feeling we're in the wrong place. Christ did not call us to live in our nice little secluded communities where our wealth and comfort keeps us isolated from the needs around us (ouch!). We have an eternity to be comfortable. As I write this I feel the weight of what this might mean for myself, but at the same time I'm excited for the same reason.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Body of Christ

"He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue." -Prov. 28:23. One of the things missing in the church today is the ability to confront each other. We acquire this weakness honestly from society around us. Those we look up to can do no wrong, we exalt our heros to an obscene level and quickly overlook their mistakes. And if someone were to approach us to point out a problem we immediately put up our defenses. "Who are you to tell me how to live my life." Despite the fact that the problem is obvious even to ourselves. We also heavily stress the idea found in the gospel of do not judge others. However, are we not missing the point. When Jesus gave this command he was talking alot of the religious laws that were being blown out of proportion to keep the disadvantaged beneath the religious gurus. The issue of confrontation is a very difficult subject, and one not to be ventured into lightly by any means. Yet I feel as though we are missing a major advantage of the body of Christ by simply avoiding this subject. As I read this proverb I was challenged on a couple levels: First of all I need to always keep the other persons interests in mind. Flattering someone does that person absolutely no good (obviously there is a proper place for praise, however the connotations that go along with the action of flattery are usually negative), and it usually simply an easy way out. I need to be willing to risk awkwardness and even the possibility of a friendship for a time in order to try to strengthen those around me. If you notice this proverb says "in the end" you will gain favor. More than likely there will be some negative effects from confrontation. Many times we think "why would i want to look foolish and anger someone when i dont have to." But we must see how selfish that statement is, the call to be obedient to Christ is not always easy and not always pleasant for us. We must focus on loving the other person and on what is best for them. The second thing i notice is that i need to be willing to accept confrontation. Thats a very hard thing for me to do. It takes humility and a focus on Christ in order to accept correction and reproof. I long for the body of Christ to become the body, but it takes work and the ability to realize that its not all about us.

"Come and Follow Me"

Have you ever noticed the way Jesus called his disciples? In each of the accounts in the book of Mark Jesus uses the same phrase, "come and follow me." Does this strike you as odd? Even a better question, does this resemble the call on your life? Modern Christianity promotes salvation as many things, a ticket out of hell, a better way of life, a self-enhancer, but how often is this aspect of being a disciple mentioned. Perhaps this is not such an unfamiliar idea to you, maybe it is understood that one of the requirements of "being a Christian" is the concept of following Christ. But i want to challenge you to engage with that terminology, what does that mean to follow Christ?
As I've thought about this phrase it brings to mind several aspects: (1) In order to follow Jesus, we must know where Jesus is. This requires a focus on Jesus's activity in the world around us. (2) that in turn implies that Jesus is active in the world around us. And not only that, but he is constantly moving, and changing. To follow Jesus requires an effort, a focus on our part. (3) That Jesus is leading. This may seem like an obvious statement, but how often is my mindset to move first and then to pray that Jesus goes with me. We need to remember that we are in active pursuit of Jesus, not bringing Him along for the ride. (4) The call to follow Christ means the freedom to break free of religion, to break free of routine, to break free of the boredom of meaninglessness, and to be in the most passionate relationship we could ever imagine. The call to Christ is the call to a romance unlike this world can ever know. It involves risks, and is unattainable unless you surrender your all. (5) The call to follow Christ is a call to leave the life we had before we met him. You see that when James and John recieved the call they immediately left their fishing nets.
I have been challenged as i comtemplate this calling. And as i realize what it might entail I've experienced not only joy, but a deep fear. The calling is one that should not be taken lightly, but one that must be wrestled with. But the more and more I realize the extreme nature of this call, the more excited i get. The deeper my hunger grows for more of God, and the more i desire to pursue Him.