Friday, February 22, 2013

Seeing the danger, like Prudence does

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty." - Proverbs 22:3

What warning signs do you notice? I have quite a few. When my weight tips up to a certain point, I change my eating habits. Or at least panic and think a lot about changing my eating habits. I'll be right back...gonna go grab a few m&m's. When I don't get enough face time with my children, thanks to computer and phone screens, I start hearing warning bells. When I lose that sense of connection with my husband, I need to make some room and energy to talk and just be with him.

I need certain kinds of social interaction. Sometimes, even when I've been around people a lot, I'm missing connections with friends, and it is time to seek that out. There is a bell that goes off in my head when I have gone too long without calling my mom.

When the kitchen gets too messy, or there is no food in the house, or too many bills have stacked up, or I can't remember when I last did laundry...these have their own alarm sounds.

Have you developed eyes to see danger in life choices? Sometimes people are unhealthy for you; do you hear the alarm? Sometimes shopping is a bad choice. Are you about to say yes to something you shouldn't? Many of our warning bells develop thanks to mistakes, ahem, I mean, experience.

Discipline helps us establish guardrails. Our pastor has said, in connection with his latest sermons, that while the church must at times serve as an ambulance when someone's life goes over the cliff, it would be nice if we have established guardrails. I hope you bump up against guardrails sometimes. The prudent are thankful for them; the simple just Youtube their car upside down in the bottom of the ravine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Speak of the devil

There is an idiom that says, speak of the devil (and in he walks), or talk of the devil (and he is sure to appear). We use it casually in social situations when someone walks up whom we were just talking about. Implicit in this saying is a warning about invoking evil. Odd little superstitious phrase...

The New Testament speaks a lot about false teachers who will arise in the church, deception that will be rampant in the last days. In 2 Peter 2, the writer describes these false leaders: "Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings, yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord" (v.10-11). In Jude, there is an example of an angel bringing the Lord's judgment: "But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (v.9). I don't think we are supposed to speak to Satan and his demons. Our eyes should be fixed on our Lord Jesus, who destroyed the curse we were under by His work on the cross (Galatians 3:13).

In the book of Job, would his situation have changed if he had rebuked the enemy? Job is commended for not sinning amidst a horrific Satanic attack. His friends were telling him that God rewards the good and obedient, and he should get in line with the Lord, and Job maintained that he was righteous before God, and that God Himself had afflicted him. Job never took his eyes off of God, even while he accused Him of causing the tragedy he was facing. When the Lord spoke, He said to Job's friends, "I am angry with you...because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7).

The Lord and Satan have two conversations about Job, of which the poor man is unaware. In the second, the Lord says to Lucifer, "He still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason" (Job 2:3). Friends, there are times things happen, and we do not understand them. God does not abandon us in those times; likewise, He does not always stop bad things from happening. Job's wife advised him to curse God, and he replied, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). Jesus also told us that in this world we would have trouble...but we should take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

On Sunday, we sang praises to Jesus in my church, repeating a chorus that says, "The enemy is under Your feet/We are free/We are free" (Hillsong's Alive in Us). The earth is His footstool. If the enemy has been given some reign over our world, the Son has authority over him. We choose to give the Son authority over our lives when we call Him Lord. Be aware that the enemy is there; he is real. But our Lord is the one who receives our attention. The enemy is under His feet.

In the garden, Satan approached Eve in the form of a serpent. She talked with him and plunged all of mankind into sin. At the moment God confronted us in our first sin, He declared that a child of the woman would arise who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). This is our Jesus. I know it is subtle, but please hear me: you do not need to adddress our enemy to find your victory. Talking with Satan hasn't really helped us. Talking with Jesus, the Victorious One, the Serpent-Crusher, who allows trouble into our lives and yet is always with us--He is the One to whom we cry out.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Quirky theology

I have been teaching about worldviews in homeschool, and one of the things I try to impress on the girls is that most people do not have a consistent worldview. Most people have a smorgasbord belief system, picking a little from here and a little from there, often not consciously.

In the Islamic worldview, judgment of mankind involves a scale, where your good deeds and bad deeds are placed in a balance. The goal is for your good deeds to outweigh your bad deeds. This thinking pops up all over our did a Muslim belief get into our psyche so much? Perhaps when Europeans went on Crusades and learned algebra and chess from the advanced cultures of the Middle East, they brought home this thinking as well, mixed in with their own skepticism over a church that sent them there.

The Nordic people, often called Vikings in our history books, believed that in the afterlife, unless you were a really bad person, you would be reunited with your loved ones at a feast in the great hall of Valhalla. Many Americans hold this thought of the afterlife, which is nothing like the Christian view. The goal of our lives is to run to Christ, and when He returns or we awaken at the resurrection, we will finally see Him. We will either be condemned for our decisions in this world, or rewarded with eternal life in His presence.

I'm not sure where the idea comes from that we will become angels, like you see depicted in It's a Wonderful Life. Angels are a different created order. We will receive new bodies, but they won't have wings. We don't become spirits that work to help others still laboring on earth. And who is Joseph, the angel Clarence consults?

I'm currently reading the Harry Potter books, and in the first chapter of Book 6, two Ministers of Magic enter the office of England's Prime Minister in order to inform him of magical going-ons that are affecting his world. At the end of the encounter, the Prime Minister sputters, "You can do magic! Surely you can sort out--well--anything!" One of the wizards answers him, "The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister." And I begin thinking about theology.

J.K. Rowling does not present a Christian worldview, nor does she claim to do so. In fact, her world of the dueling wizards is more similar to Zorastrianism, a belief system that sees good and evil at war in the world. For some reason, good has a slight edge, or we want good to win--it intrigues me why there is no explanation for this. If two sides exist, like in a war, I'm not sure why one side is inherently better than the other. In Harry Potter books, there are clearly two sides: Dumbledore, the powerfully good side, and Voldemort, the horrifically evil side. People of the magical world choose sides, go to war, and some innocent, non-magical people get hurt in the crossfire. The reader cheers for the good side.

This is not the Christian world. God and Satan are not closely matched forces at battle with one another. God is supreme, all-powerful, all-knowing. Satan is a created angel in rebellion against Him, who has been granted freedom for a time, for God's purposes to be accomplished, and then he will be judged. There is no doubt about the outcome.

I'm sure that I have weird little issues with my personal theology lurking about. I pray that my thinking will become sharper, but that despite my thinking, God will be honored in my choices, until we reach Game Over.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to follow Jesus, part 2

For almost a decade, my family belonged to a church that I just loved. I worshiped freely there; I served and supported so many ministries in which I saw the heart of God; I was taught well; my kids were taught well; I got to hang out with real people seeking Jesus, just like me. When a church lines up so squarely with what you believe about following Jesus, all you have to say to others is, "Come with me. Come see what following Jesus is like." It's wonderful.

Until you walk away. When we left the church, I lost the place where I worked in God's kingdom. I don't think I idolized my church, although that certainly was a temptation. But losing it brought to the forefront the things that I do to follow Jesus. This list isn't exhaustive; I'm just sharing my journey.

1) Decide you want to know more about Jesus. You can serve comfortably in a church; you can enjoy doing good things. But you're not a Christian unless you are following Jesus. Read about Him. Ask questions about the Bible. Grow from where you are now. If you have good basic knowledge, memorize Scripture. Meditate. Teach. Disciple a friend. Anytime you are using what you know, it should drive you to want to know more. When life kicks you around, it should make you want to know more.

2) Believe that you hear His voice. I have had several people ask me how to know if God is directing them to do something. My answer is somewhat simplistic: if you think it's Him, act on it. He is God, and He is capable of stopping His child from misunderstanding, and He is certainly able to correct us. We're just the child. If you don't try to obey His voice, you will never get anywhere. Running water can be directed; standing water stagnates. The more you listen and obey, the more clearly you will know Him. In John 10:3-4, Jesus says, "[The Good Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." Later in the same chapter, He says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Sheep learn their shepherd's voice. You can do this--Jesus said so.

3) Obey. I know this sounds like point #2, but if you don't believe He directs you, you can't obey. But if you do believe He directs you, then do what He says. When the Word convicts you, don't keep reading because you have three chapters to get through that day: do what it says. When the Spirit directs you, obey: take the shopping cart back to the carrel, give away some money, call someone who pops into your mind. Do it. When you obey, your faith grows, and Jesus was always chastising the disciples for having faith that was too small. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." The simple principle of obedience has pulled me out of dry spells and continued to spur my growth even as a mature believer.

4) Pray. Don't just worry about it. Don't just talk to your friends. Talk to God. Take the time to lift up others. Pray Scripture. Write out your heart to the Father. This is a daily lifeline to me, especially when my own nature is swarming me. Prayer keeps any day from being wasted.

5) Mess up. If you're perfect and have everything figured out, I'm not interested in you. When we look at Jesus in the Bible, He is magnificent. The disciples, however, are a wreck. I wonder if He showed us them in all their proximity to His glory just so we would know that we're also going to look messy? We're going to fail. We're not a completed piece of art work for others to admire. We're a living sacrifice, which is bloody and stinky and either wounded or smoky. Beware of speaking the language of the Pharisees, the ones who had it all figured out. Try out these words: I made a mistake. I don't understand. I haven't figured out [blank].

6) Be with people. Whether you are naturally outgoing or prefer lots of alone time, people are necessary to help you grow in Christ. We joined a new small group recently, and I told my husband, "I like it. It's like every other small group we've ever joined--there are lots of people I wouldn't choose to be around. This is just where we should be." It's good to have people who are like you, with whom you can be comfortable, and people who will rub you the wrong way, so that you grow. (I'm lucky enough to have a best friend who is both of those things at the same time. Thanks, Bonnie.) Be with people; serve people. Following Jesus isn't a private, solo act.

The last thing I would say about following Jesus is harder to quantify. It's this: don't be comfortable. Jesus all the time calls me to things that I don't like, that I wouldn't naturally choose. In fact, I have gotten so used to His direction going against my nature, that when he called me to lead preschool ministry, I was very afraid, because that was something I wanted to do, and I honestly can't remember following His lead down a path that I desired. It has come to comfort me that His voice is so clearly not my own; His will is more recognizable that way.

Do you follow Jesus? What does that look like? Please leave a comment, to encourage the rest of us. Happy journey.

How to follow Jesus

Two thousand years ago, a friend might say to you, "Hey, come with me today. There's this preacher at the Jordan River saying some funky things. I think he might be the messiah. I mean, Jehosophat thinks maybe he is. I dunno. Come with me." You probably wouldn't get into the Inner Circle of Christ Followers, but if you listened to him, and something in you came alive, then what? You go back home, you think about it, you listen to all the news. When talking with others after the rabbi teaches on Sabbath, you might be bold enough to say, "I think the Nazarene is the Messiah." You might stand up for him in conversations. You might change some things about your life. You might start thinking differently. You would probably hang out with people who were also thinking about him.

I think, if I had been a Jew in Jesus' day, those would have been scary times. You might like his teaching, but then he is executed by the Romans, through the political manipulations of your nation's leaders? Eek. Now are you going to stand up and say, "I'm with the criminal that you all hate a whole lot!" I mean, you had a pretty quiet, normal little Jewish life before this. Standing up often means standing alone. It's not as romantic as you might think.

In Matthew 23, Jesus says that his day is a day of decision, and there is a huge amount of accountability for those who lived while he was on the earth:
And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets....And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. (v.30-31, 35)
We should take warning about boasting over what we would do in Jesus' day, what we would do in the end times, what we would do in the days of Hitler. Do you see your times now? Are you following Jesus in your own day?

Some people learn what it means to follow Jesus because they saw their parents or grandparents follow him. Some people have that question answered by their church: this is what my church tells me to do, and this is therefore the pattern of how I follow Christ. When I was saved as a teenager, I didn't have the background of a Christian home, but my little Baptist church used the resources of their denomination and discipled me with Survival Kit for New Christians (Teenage Edition). It was all about tithing, prayer, attending church, reading your Bible--a lovely gift to start me on my journey.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about some things I've learned about how to follow Jesus. Because he is not teaching today at the Jordan River, we have to rely on each other in this following Jesus thing. He set it up this way, and very deliberately we are told not to give up being together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Make disciples

The last words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, before ascending to the Father, have been dubbed "The Great Commission:"

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
As I go, I am to make disciples. There was a specific time in my life, as a teenager, when I decided I was going to do this Jesus thing. I decided to follow Him, to imitate and obey Him. He has all authority, both heavenly and here on earth, and I am filled with His Holy Spirit. Here we go.

If you look over the three years of Jesus' public ministry, the words we have recorded, what did He teach about making disciples? (Pause. Think.) Nothing, really. He didn't give us instructions on how to establish relationships with the purpose of discipling. He didn't give us a suggested dialogue with key words to share with people. He didn't give us a series of questions to pose to everyone we meet.

He did, however, live out an example. He called twelve men to Himself, out of the huge crowd that followed Him. Three of those men were His inner circle, and Peter was the understood leader, the Master's right hand. It wasn't a prescribed course that He put them through; He simply spent time with them and tried to help them understand what He knew (about how things worked in the world, about the Father, about the Son's purpose). They were kinda dense, and He just patiently stuck with them and tried to help them see.

He said that we would go about our lives, and we would help people learn what we know about Him. There is a lovely implied obligation that we had better learn about Him ourselves. You can't disciple if you don't know. However, if you do know something, no matter how small, you can share it with those around you. Someone is going to need to know what you have learned. Jesus, in His teaching, turned our understanding of everything upside down. People don't naturally arrive at the things He taught. If you want to learn what Jesus said is true, you have to stand on your head, see the world differently, be willing to lay aside your own perspective. It's not always easy, so we encourage each other with what we have learned.

The focus of your life should be trying to learn about Jesus, the things He commanded and who He was (is...I really feel I should say "is"). And then share it with those around you. Do you attend church? That's nice. Does it help you know Jesus and share Him with others? Because that is the main point. What about your home? Do you use the things you have to learn about Jesus and help others along? If there is something you are pursuing that doesn't line up with the Great Commission, consider getting rid of it.

Most of the disciples disappeared into historical obscurity. We have church history that tells us they dispersed into the world to tell people about Jesus. But they didn't leave behind curriculum and manuals. and I follow Jesus today because they faithfully made disciples. They taught someone, who taught someone, who taught someone, who taught someone...who taught me.

Dig in. This is the system Jesus showed us. As you go about your life, you will see that it quietly works.

Let's go.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Why I go to church

In church on Sunday, I didn't particularly care for one of the songs, which gave me some space for my analytical brain to kick in.

I can find worship music that I like easily on the internet. Any time I want. I can worship God anywhere, and have just the right flavor for my personal taste, performed by the most incredible voices and musicians. So why go to church? I love worship at my church, and I'm always kicking myself if we're five minutes late, always relieved if we arrive before the first note is struck. And still I can think, hm, I don't really like this song.

I can stay home and hear great sermons. In fact, whenever we're home sick, I routinely listen to a pastor of a church I can't be a part of due to geography. I'm like a stealth attender via modern technology.

However, when I go to church, I am submitting myself. I am giving up a couple of hours from my schedule to do what someone else has planned for me. I am listening to music someone else has selected, which someone else "performs." I am listening to a sermon that perhaps the youth pastor is preaching, while the senior pastor is out of town. Or a guest missionary. Or a long introduction to communion by a church member who never gives me his name.

I do not submit myself to these people or this particular church group because they are inherently special. I am submitting myself to God. I am honoring Him by gathering with His people and singing His praises, listening to His word. If I am always in control, worshiping God on my terms, at my convenience, in the way I like, then I am following a religion centered on me.

If His Spirit were not present in me, there is no way I would make this choice. It isn't logical. This isn't a rock concert, a "good show," or an advertised "powerful speaker." This is community who loves a Savior. If the Savior weren't there, I wouldn't bother.

But He is. And so I do.

And any given Sunday, if it's not just what I would like, then my willing submission means a little more.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Sabbath year

A few months ago I was in my chiropractor's office. We were discussing where my pain was, and he was adjusting me. "You are more out of alignment than you think," he said. And I cannot remember what comment he made that caused me to reply, "I don't like to relax."

Sometimes the Spirit catches my words, engraves them on a plaque, and hangs them in my mind. "I don't like to relax." What a terrible thing to hang on a wall, as company sits on your sofa and thinks, "That's odd." I didn't say that I enjoy working. I didn't say that I am not good at relaxing. I said that I don't like to relax.

For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fileds or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest grapes of your untended vines. The land is to haev a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you--for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. (Leviticus 25:3-7)
Did you read the long quote or skip over it? I'm very good at skipping over Bible passages when I'm reading. Because I'm familiar with the word, I can get what's being said. I'm more productive that way.

Notice that in the Sabbath year, people didn't work to provide food for their families. People didn't work to build the ministries of their church. People didn't work to improve their homes, or advance their careers, or secure their futures. They rested, in order to honor God, who commanded them to rest. The Lord set the pattern for rest in the very foundation of creation: "Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:3).

The Israelites were eventually taken in captivity, away from the Promised Land. The Lord predicts the disobedience of His people even in Leviticus, as He gives the law:
I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. (Leviticus 26:33-35)
The land will have its rest. The question is, are you going to work with God or against Him?

The Lord speaks a lot about giving and rest. I don't think either one is instinctive. When done in the way He asks, it requires something deep within us to change, to conform to His will. He is honored in our living sacrifice of giving and resting.

I once heard that the Sabbath observed by the Jews in the time of Helenization and later Roman occupation was in stark contrast to "the pagan work ethic" around them. All good pagans know there is work to be done. And you have to keep your nose to the grindstone to avoid falling behind. Jews, however, did this weird thing called "Sabbath" where they stopped working for an entire day, every week. They didn't cook or travel or party. They just rested. It was their way of honoring their God, who provided for all their needs. Crazy Jews. Not very productive.

My internal speedometer, during the time I worked outside of my home, became set very high, maybe 90mph. And now that I am not working, I still rev internally. I am asking God to reset my spirit to a different speed. This calendar year, I am resting. Not because I like to or want to, but out of obedience. It is not easy or natural for me. It is not a relief to finally get to slow down. It is hard work. Resting is not simply distracting yourself until you are let out of the shute. It is not planning and scheming what you will do next year. It's just resting.

There are some days that I fail, and I am grateful that God is merciful, and He has given me an entire year for this endeavor. I remember one time when my husband and I participated in a 40-day Daniel fast. You learn some lessons the first week. Some you don't grasp until the last. Sometimes you feel like you've learned nothing, but the fruit is born out in your life in the months to come because you set aside that time to show honor to God.

For my dear friends who wonder, what does this mean, what should we do, the answer is please chill. I am only sharing this because I earnestly desire for you to follow the Spirit in your own life. The responsibility of holding Sabbath is my own. What is your season? What is the Lord asking of you?