Friday, June 24, 2011

Holy or Happy?

What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us Happy?

This quote comes from Gary Thomas and his book, Sacred Marriage. I was recently reminded of this quote earlier this week by a friend of mine. It has stuck with me all week, but in a slightly different way. The question that I've been pondering this week is this;

What if God's purpose for my life is Holiness rather than Happiness?

Somewhere, somehow, a lot of us grow up programmed with a sense of entitlement. Maybe it's the growing up in America where we have so much, with the primary message being "if you work hard enough, you can have it all" know, the American Dream and all. Whatever the reason, this sense of entitlement is simply something like this; I deserve to be Happy. Then we become Christians and we carry this over into our faith journey. Somehow we believe that God's greatest desire for our lives is that we be happy. There are huge ramifications if we live life this way;

- It makes God's favor to be something we earn. If I'm not happy, surely I must be doing something wrong.
- It makes us the god of our life. If I am happy, it's only because of what I'm doing right.

When we live life believing that God's greatest wish is for our happiness, then when we are in times of deep trial, testing or pain, we have no way to reconcile the God that loves us with the God that allowed all of this stuff to happen...because, surely He wants me to be happy (or so the thinking goes).

But what if, what if God's greatest wish for you has very little to do with happiness, but instead holiness?

"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.' " (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Holy in simple terms means "set apart...different." God is holy; He is set apart, He is different, there is none like Him and never will be...He is Holy. And He calls us to be holy; different, set apart. We are to love when the world hates; we are to live in freedom when the world is bound by sin; we are to live in power while the world suffers in weakness; we are to be temples of God...we are to be holy.

Holiness and happiness do not go together. A holy person can and will have times of happiness, but also times of desperation and pain. But it is through the tests, trials, and pain that we learn to trust God and lean on Him. It is through those times that God wrestles the steering wheel from us. It is through the fire that He seeks to make us holy. Someone who trusts little and seeks control of their life isn't living a "holy" (different/set-apart) life. They are living like everyone else. On the contrary, someone who lives with extreme faith in the face of tests, trials and pain is definitely living a holy life...a life "set apart" or "different."

And in the end, if it is true that God wants our Holiness more than our Happiness, well then, that changes everything...everything!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who is God?

Creation offers us a glimpse of who God is...
Have you ever tried to describe God? Do you ever stop to ponder who He is? Do I ever stop long enough when I pray to consider just who God is and who I am approaching in prayer?

I love this song by David Crowder, which perfectly summarizes my feeble attempts to describe God.

I need words, as wide as sky
I need language wide as, this longing inside
And I need a voice, that's bigger than mine
And I need a song to sing you, that I've yet to find

Words are not enough to describe God. Still, we should try. We should try to describe Him. Why? Because when we do, we are forcing our minds to learn about Him, to know Him, to understand Him. Yes, it's impossible to understand God because He is unfathomable. It's impossible, but not pointless. In our pursuit of describing Him, we pursue Him. And in pursuing Him, we learn about Him...what matters to Him, what is close to His heart, and how we can bring pleasure to Him. Consider these words from God Himself;

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
The promise is we'll find Him...not necessarily understand Him or His ways, but find Him. We find Him when we seek Him. Stop right now, stop what you're doing, and start making a list. Describe God. Who He is. I'll start for you...

- Savior, Friend, Redeemer, Banner, Holy, Near, Sovereign, Loving...

Now keep going with your list. And know that as you pursue God, you will find Him. He loves you, and He loves to see you seek Him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Walk with B

The other day Julie and I took our son on a walk through a forest. There was a nice path to follow and we had lots of fun getting him into the outdoors. I noticed something though, when walking with Brennan. He's all over the place! And my "position" with him constantly changed.

- Sometimes I walked behind him, just "letting him run"
- Sometimes I had to hold his hand and "guide him" in the right direction.
- Sometimes I had to jump in front of him and re-direct him away from something dangerous.
- Sometimes I would run ahead of the path, turn and face him, and try to entice him to come to me.
- Sometimes I had to use more harshness, saying "Brennan, NO!" if he was in a tight spot.
- And, of course, for part of the walk I put him on my shoulders and carried him.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you.

I believe that short walk with Brennan perfectly illustrates our walk with God. We are all over the place, constantly getting distracted from the path that God has for us. And God uses all sorts of ways to help us stay on the narrow path. It is narrow, and the distractions are plentiful. There are a million things that vie for our time and attention, and yet none of them will lead to any sort of lasting peace. Only God.

God will carry us at times, push us from behind, run ahead of us and "woo us" to Him, walk side by side holding our hand, and even run off the trail to rescue us when we go AWOL. And just as I had my eyes on Brennan during the entire walk, God never loses sight of us, (even though we may lose sight of Him). He is always there.

Where are you right now? Are you on the path? Have you veered off? Are you walking with God, ahead of Him, or is He trying to get your attention to come back to Him?

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to "win"

I'm a sports fan...I admit it. I'm having a fun time keeping tabs on the NBA finals right now, usually catching the 4th quarter of the games. This finals matchup is very interesting because it pits two teams and two players against each other who both desperately need to win to "validate" their place in the game. Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki are both great players who have never won and NBA title and both have received their fare share of criticism for their apparent failures.

Here's the interesting part, though; every game has been close, going down to the last few minutes. And yet following the game, the focus is ALWAYS on which of the players "failed" to perform good enough to lead his team. You get the distinct feeling that the media is already getting ready to "roast" whoever fails to win the title. The legacy of this finals won't be so much who won, but who lost, and in so doing failed. Apparently, in the world of the NBA, you either win it all, or you fail. The question I keep asking is this; is it possible to "win" while losing? 

Ultimately, the question I'm asking is "how should our success be measured?" I believe it should be measured by this question; what did you do with what God gave you? All the talents, gifts, resources that God has entrusted you; did you use them? For Him?

There are so many places in Scripture we see this principle at work;
- The widow's mite,
- The parable of the talents,
- The parable of the sewer,
- Jesus' words on "watchfulness" in Luke 12 (to whom much is given, much is expected...)
- Even the principle of tithing hints at this, (equal sacrifice...10%)

I think the "gold standard" Scripture verse on this principle is Colossians 3:23-24;

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

There are three big ideas or applications here;
1) It's not so much what you do, but what you do with what you've been given.
2) It's not so much what you do, but the spirit and motive with which you do it.
3) It's not so much what you do, but who you do it for.

Coming full circle; in sports, your success should be measured not by the result (did you win or lose), but by how you performed relative to what you have. Did you play as hard as you can? Did you prepare the best you could? Did you hold nothing back? If so, you "won."

And so it is in God's economy...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Amazing Promise

(Long Beach, WA Coast)
3 You will keep in perfect peace
   him whose mind is steadfast,
   because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the LORD forever,
   for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Peace...isn't this something we all want in these troubled times? It's kind of numbing. Everywhere I look I see the results of sin and a broken world. Death, rape, murder, homes lost, starvation and world hunger, DUI, DWI, senseless loss of life, terrorism, politicians we can't trust, governments that are corrupt...where does it end?

And yet into this mess of a world that we created, God enters. He enters to "pay in full" the punishment we deserve. He enters to show us the face of God. He enters, to bring us...peace. Ultimately it's peace with God that we need, and Jesus so willingly took on God's wrath for us, paving the way to peace with God. But there's another kind of peace we need...

Brennan, my 14-month old son, loves food. He is a great eater, even though he only has 3 teeth. The other day he had his first bits of ice cream including the cone. Well wouldn't you know it but a small piece of cone got caught in his throat. You could see this look of panic come across his face as he tried to cough it up between his crying...finally, Mamma had to turn him over on his stomach and help him dislodge the cone. It worked perfectly, and he quickly coughed it up. However, he was a little traumatized and couldn't stop crying for awhile. Julie had to rock him, shhhh him, sing to him, and tell him it would be ok. And it was.

And in that moment I saw God in her...and this is the kind of peace we need. When our world seems out of control and we are on the verge of being swallowed, God enters. He is there, he is always there, even when we don't think He is. As our Pastor put it on Sunday, "He always sees us, even if we don't see Him." He comes to us in our time of need and "rejoices over us with singing" (read The Main Thing if you missed it).

Our job is very clear (but not easy). Trust. Trust God. Trust Him. Trust His love, His plans, His sovereignty, His provision and purpose for you. Trust Him. Let go of your independence, and run to Him. And in turn, He will keep you in perfect peace...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Careful now...

Checkbox Christianity, "Elder brother syndrome," it's all the same. It goes something like this...

- God owes me because I _____.
- If I just ______ than God will ______.
- If I just pray enough, read my Bible enough, serve enough, do enough good things, love enough people, than God will bless me.

Sure, few of us, if any, would intellectually agree with any of that. However, deep down I wonder how often we fall into a pattern of Christianity that essentially boils down to works based salvation. The problem with that? It's all about us. Our works, our deeds, our being good enough. And the problem with that? We're rubbish. All the good we could ever do will never overcome our sin. Where am I going with this? Read the following passage;

7 “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous." (Nehemiah 9:7-8). 

The key words I want to focus on are the last four words; "because you are righteous." God didn't keep his promise with Abraham because of what Abraham did; he kept his promise because God is righteous. And remember when God made that covenant? He had to swear by Himself because nobody and nothing else was higher or worthy of Him to swear by. Anything God might possibly swear by other than Himself would be meaningless since HE CREATED it all in the first place (see Hebrews 6:13).

Remember also the book of Job? To be sure, Job received much misery that was probably un-deserved...but here's the problem. Who's to say what's un-deserved? Whenever we feel wronged, we tend to get defensive and justify ourselves for why we don't deserve it. In fact, Elihu, the only friend of Job who spoke truth to Him pointed this very thing out. He was angry at Job for justifying Himself rather than God. Put it another way, Job was essentially saying, "Hey, I checked off all the boxes and lived right...why is all this happening to me?"

It's so easy to do...self-justification, self-pity, self, self, self. How about this for deserving; an innocent man brutally murdered while the guilty ones got off totally un-punished? If we read that headline in a newspaper, we'd be outraged; and yet, isn't that exactly what Christ as done for YOU and ME?

What's the point, you ask? God's love is vast, and He loves to bless us. However, at the end of the day we must come to the place where we lay down our check-boxes as a pathway to God's favor, and instead pursue Him. Let me say it again; we must come to the place where toss out any notion that anything we do can cause God to owe us something, and replace that with the notion that God's love alone should motivate us to relentlessly and passionately pursue Him. In the end, God's promises to us are not dependent on us, but on Him. And that, my friend, is very good news.

"...know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and nob by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16)

soli deo gloria
To God alone be the glory