Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guard Your Hearts, But Don't Guard Your Hearts

There are some pretty standard phrases commonly used in the Christian Lingo that I think need to be addressed. Please excuse any perceived violence or aggression toward these phrases, but know that I think violence is necessary because of the destructive nature of the ideas behind these phrases. Here is the phrase I want to talk about today. "Guard your heart." Make sure you are "guarding your heart." Girl, you better "guard your heart." "Guard your heart, man." Everyone in the Christian world hears this phrase, and thinks it to be wise counsel for things like dating and marriage. I do not. I know what you're thinking. "The Bible says we are supposed to guard our hearts." Yes. It does. So let's examine it, because I believe that what is meant by the words in Scripture, and what is meant by the words of our culture are two different things.

"Above all else, guard you heart, for everything you do flows from it." (NIV) Prov 4:23

"Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life." (NLT) Prov 4:23

"Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (ESV) Prov 4:23

Yes, you are correct! It is in the Bible. The only problem is that what is traditionally meant when it is said...IS NOT IN THE BiBLE! This phrase is used in dating a lot. Most of the time, it is used fairly early in the dating process. "I hope things go well on your date, just make sure and guard your heart." Translation - "I hope things go well on your date, just make sure to never put your heart in a vulnerable position that might result in you getting hurt." What?!!! This is the very reason why the commitment to marriage is being postponed longer and longer. Because dating is driven by fear. Fear of getting hurt. That's the reason why marriages are falling apart. Because marriage is often dictated by fear. Fear of getting hurt. Walls are built around the daters heart before the dating even begins. Walls of defense. Walls of protection. Walls of fear. And most of the time, these walls are built strong and firm on day 1 of marriage. These walls that we have begun to label as "good", are a deceitful lie from the enemy for the purpose of destruction. These walls are not from the Lord, and absolutely not what is meant by "guard your heart." Tear them down.

The definition of guard is "to watch over in order to protect or control." To "guard" something implies a "shield" or a "defense". I do believe that the Scriptures are commanding us to put a shield around our heart, or to build a wall around our heart. But, if the "shield" or "defense" is against a person, or even against the possibility of being hurt by another other person, then we are building the wrong walls, and shielding our hearts from the wrong things. These hearts are enclosed by a wall that the enemy built. I would contend that we could potentially even be shielding ourselves from a good gift that the Lord desires to give to us, but the enemy wants to keep from us. These walls are built on sand, and will be destroyed when the storm comes.

To shield or defend our hearts from hurt presumes that God does not want us to feel grief, be rejected, encounter sorrow, or to have our hearts broken. Not true.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise." (ESV) Psalms 51:17

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (ESV) Psalm 34:18

"He (Jesus) was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (ESV) Isaiah 53:3

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction." (ESV) 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

These are only a few examples, but this theme is literally all over the pages of Scripture. These verses not only indicate that we are certain to face sorrows, grief, rejection, affliction, and broken hearts, but also promises us that this is where He will be near, He will save, He will comfort, He won't despise.

Why would I shield myself from the place where I will experience His nearness? Why would I protect myself from a place where He brings comfort? It simply doesn't make sense. Does that mean we should desire pain? Yes and no. We should desire the presence of the Lord, and His presence is often found in pain. So, if encountering His awesome presence means being despised, rejected, full or sorrow...bring it (always a scary prayer). But, that does not mean He only uses the place of sorrow to offer His nearness.

So, what are we to shield ourselves from? What are we to guard our hearts from?

"Be alert, and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (NIV) 1 Peter 5:8

"For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (ESV) Ephesians 6:12

These verses indicate two things. Our defense need not be against man (flesh and blood). Our defense needs to be against the enemy, the devil, the powers of darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness. We need to put walls of defense up around our heart, in order to protect our hearts from the enemy, because "all of life flows from the heart." We have a heart that can easily be deceived (Jer 17:9). How do we resist the enemy? How do we protect ourselves from being deceived by the enemy? It is simple. Know the truth, so you can recognize deceit, in order to combat the lies.

"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." (ESV) James 4:7-8

Stop guarding your hearts, and start guarding your hearts. Tear your walls down, and rebuild your walls. It will be for your good and His glory!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Poison Your Brain So You're Friends Think You're Hot

Ok, so most of you probably know that I used to be a personal trainer. I want to make sure and re-emphasize the words "used to", because if you know me, I'm sure it's very evident that this "used to" be a very big part of my life. I am very grateful for that time in my life, as it was definitely used as a season to be encouraged and drawn to Christ, as well as a season for the removal of unseen idols. From an educational standpoint, I would say that I was not among the most knowledgeable of trainers, but I definitely gained a substantial amount of knowledge regarding the makeup and movement of our bodies, as well as information about general fitness and nutrition. Part of the reason that I left this career  was out of a response to a Spirit-led tug toward preparation for pastoral ministry, but part of it was for a different reason. For a season, I was definitely caught up in the industry, and all of the idolatry that can potentially come with it. I worked out 6 days per week, ate 6 meals per day totaling over 6,000 calories, and couldn't walk past a mirror in sight without checking myself out. Caught up. It was very hard not to be, considering that virtually every person in my immediate surroundings was also caught up. Toward the end of my training career, my eyes began to be opened up to those sort of idolatries; not just in myself, but in all of my clients. I have always been a guy that finds a lot of joy in helping others. I loved the fact that I could be used to help people meet their goals, and that they would feel more confident about themselves than before they came in the gym. Here is the problem with that though; the Lord began to re-define the word "help" in me. I was able to "help" many people lose a lot of fat, tone up, get a six pack, and just get sexy altogether. But again, toward the end of my training time, what my clients saw as "help", I began to see as not helpful at all. I would say that during the entire 3 years of my training career, I probably had 3-4 clients that I actually "helped", now that I have a new definition of the word. 

I will tell you what I mean by addressing an issue that I believe our culture has fallen prey to. I believe that our culture has substituted internal health with external health. I can go one step further by saying that I believe that our culture has chosen external health AT THE EXPENSE of internal health. Here is what I mean by this. How many of you drink diet drinks? There are probably many of you that would answer "yes" to that question. If I were to ask you why you drink diet drinks, the majority of you would probably say something like "less calories" or "less sugar." Everyone is under the impression that "sugar means fat," and that "low calorie diets will keep you from getting fat." So, underneath our motivations to drink diet drinks would most likely be to avoid getting fat. This is a perfect example of what I'm addressing. Diet drinks absolutely have fewer calories. Diet drinks absolutely have less fat. But, there is an ingredient in diet drinks called aspartame. Aspartame was actually denied 86 times by the FDA because of its' level of toxicity to the brain. Many studies have linked aspartame to complications such as; multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, methanol toxicity, and birth defects. But the good news will keep you from getting fat. Solution: poison your brain so that your friends will think you're hot!

Every one of my clients was so intent on being sexy, avoiding fat, getting swole, and fitting in their jeans. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to help them, but by continuing to do this, I was potentially playing a significant role in fueling an image-motivated, approval obsessed, self-conscious mind. "Helping" them was more realistically turning into "hurting" them. 

I am absolutely not writing this to harp on diet drinks. Diet drinks are my illustration, because I think this issue plays itself out in more than just a gym. Christians, this is an issue we must also war against. We were called out of darkness, so that we could be saved, but also to represent Christ through our lives. Every one of us would say that it is absolutely absurd to  "poison your brain so that your friends will think you're hot." But how many of us do this everyday? Imagine a brand new cherry red 2012 Mustang GT, with 20 inch chrome wheels, euro lights, racing stripes, and tinted windows. Imagine if someone offered you this car for free, the only catch is, there's no engine. There's absolutely nothing under the hood. Would you take it? NO! Because it will not be able to accomplish what a car is meant to accomplish. It may seem like it could, but it will not. I fear that we, as Christians, look no different than the rest of world in this category. How often do we create an image of ourselves that would demand the respect and approval of the rest of the world? Or worse than that, the church? We've bought into the lie that if you look good, you also feel good. I contend just the opposite. How exhausting is it to clothe a painful, hurting body with purple robes, diamonds, and gold every day? What a foolish substitution! Especially considering what we are offered. To substitute godliness with the appearance of godliness does nothing but pour salt on your wounds. We've got to get out of this! We've got to walk in the light and lay down our hopes for our reputation! I pray the Lord would help us believe that we have been clothed in pure, white vestments. 

Here are some scriptures that will hopefully encourage us today: 

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
(Zechariah 3:1-4 ESV)

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

(Galatians 1:10 ESV)

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

(James 4:6-10 ESV)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:5-9 ESV)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two Truths And A Lie

Have you ever played the game "two truths and a lie"? If you haven't, I will explain the nature of the game. Basically, I would come up with three statements about myself. Two of them would be true, and one of them would be a lie, and the object is for the other person to guess which statement is a lie. Here is an example:

1. I have performed on the Ryan Seacrest Show
2. I made it to Hollywood on American Idol
3. My cousin won the Masters Golf Tournament 2 times.

Now, the object would be to guess which of these three statements is not true. I will just tell you that I never made it to Hollywood on American Idol. I tend to think I could come close, but that's beside the point :)

 Anyway, the interesting thing about this game is that it's very possible for a lie to seem like it's true, and for a truth to seem like it's a lie. This brings about an interesting question. How can you know if something is a lie? I contend that the only way to know if something is a lie, is to know what the truth is. For example, I could tell you that I did make it to Hollywood, and the only way you could actually know if I were lying, is if you had evidence of the truth; or if you personally knew that I did not, in fact, make it to Hollywood.

This is such an important concept as a believer. Even using that word, "believer", implies in a belief that something is true. The reason why this is important is because, as the game demonstrated, lies can actually deceitfully present themselves in such a way that could convince us that they are actually true. Sometimes lies seem like the truth. To get personal, sometimes the way we feel about something we know to be a lie, makes us actually want it to be the truth, and therefore stand on it as if it were the truth. Sometimes, though we would say with our mouths that we believe that something is a lie, our hearts may actually be believing that it is the truth. So, again, the only way to know that something is a lie, is to know what the truth is. Here are some examples of lies that the culture tells us about ourselves, that we often believe to be true:

1. Women must be sexy and revealing to be beautiful. (seems like that is truth, right?)
2. Men must be rich and powerful to be respected. (seems like that is truth, right?)
3. In the end, money really will make you happy. (seems like that is truth, right?)

 These are very simple, general lies that we are all familiar with, but you get the picture. Again, the only way to know that these are lies, is to replace them with the truth. For example:

1. "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Prov 31: 30)
2. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:10)
3. "For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil." (1 Timothy 6:10)

 Knowing that we often fall prey to even the simplest, most direct and obvious lies that are given to us, how much more important is it to know the truth, when considering lies that we are believing that we may not even be aware of? What about lies concerning what we believe about God? I do not know what all of these specific lies may be, but one thing I do know, is that there are lies that each one of us are believing that are simply not true. Not just that, but we are not even aware that many of these are even lies. They seem true to us, so they must be true. Again, the only way to know if they are lies, is to KNOW THE TRUTH! Ephesians 6:14 says, "Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth." The only way to extinguish the lies that will be thrown in our direction, is to know that they are not true; and the only way that we can know that they are not true, is to know the truth. In this case, the truth is His Word. I fear that we have taken feelings, and the way that things seem, and claim them to be true, without actually considering what the truth really is. I know that this is the most overly used Sunday School answer ever, but the reality still remains; we must read our Bibles more.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

Monday, April 16, 2012

Feeling Guilty for Feeling Guilty

There is something that I wanted to share with you guys, because I know this: I'm not the only one who wrestles with guilt. So I thought I would share how the Lord is continuing to teach me what He actually says about this. In the Christian world that we live in today, I'm certain that this is a word that you either hear or say on a daily basis. If you are ever around church, or are in a home group, or walk closely with other believers, then you probably hear/use this word regularly. I think we would all agree that the words we use regularly are extremely important, and may bear more weight than we can actually see. If you're familiar with a term called "Christianese", you know that this is a compilation of words that Christians use regularly to evoke emotion. Some of these words include "peace", "repent", "led", and even "worship." When asked about the definition of some of these words, we could probably give answers that appear to be accurate and profound by using the very language that I'm speaking of. These words are generally showered in emotion, and sound appropriate to both you, and the Christians you are speaking to. The only problem is this: we may not be sharing what the word actually means, but merely sharing what the word means to us. Sounds harmless though, right? After all, they're just words. I think the text would imply differently. James 3:6 says, "the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life." This passage also speaks of the tongue saying, "how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire", and that it is "a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Obviously, the words that come out of our mouth have greater dangers than we may realize. I would probably say, as I'm sure most of you would, that there can be much harm done to many other people by the words that we choose, but what if the majority of the harm that is done, is actually done to ourselves?

I will give an example, which points back to the reason I am writing this. Let's choose the word "guilt." I know two things: I know that the words that I use can "set on fire the ENTIRE course of life"; and I know that I use the word "guilt' regularly. As I've looked over the way that I have used this word, I'm beginning to realize that the consistency in which I use it, coupled with the horrific misunderstanding of the word and its' implications to me, have played a significant role on the way that I feel about myself. I am always battling this feeling of guilt for my sin. But that's just it! I By saying to you that I struggle with a "feeling of guilt", I just demonstrated to you that my whole understanding of even the idea of guilt has been skewed, which also means that my whole understanding of the way I see myself has been skewed. You see, the very foundation of the word "guilt" is NOT an emotional term. There's no such thing as a "feeling of guilt". The word "guilt", in its' very nature is a judicial term...that's it. You're either guilty, or you're not. AND PRAISE CHRIST THAT WE ARE NOT GUILTY!!! So, when I feel guilty, the problem is NOT that I need to feel less guilty, but that I actually need to see and believe that I'm simply NOT GUILTY! Though I may feel guilty, the truth is this, that "He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands...and nailed it to the cross!" (Colossians 2:14). He also "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them." (Colossians 2:15).

Historically, I've only used the word "guilt" to describe the way I'm feeling. As I mentioned, my misuse of the word has ultimately played a part ("set on fire the entire course of my life") in the way that I see myself in Christ. I hear lots of other people say they feel guilty all the time...I say I feel guilty all the I must be guilty. I have just allowed my feelings to dictate my faith. One of my favorite books is "The Valley of Vision", and one of my favorite prayers from the puritans says this: "Lord, help me honor Thee, by believing before I feel; for great is the sin when I make feelings the cause of my faith." I think it's imperative for us to "gird our loins with TRUTH." (Ephesians 6:14). In a real, physical battle, our loins are most certainly our most vulnerable part. Therefore, we must be careful to pay much attention to the way that we feel, because the majority of the time, the things that we feel are simply not true. We must always pit those feelings up against the TRUTH of His Word. By doing this, we will gain much faith in His promises, and with this faith, we "can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one" (Ephesians 6: 16). We too often allow the feelings that we feel, mostly based around the words that we use, to establish themselves as true in our minds, without ever having grounds to do so. The truth is that we have been set free, we are not condemned, and we have been given sonship, no matter what the accuser says! I will leave you with a passage to meditate on, as this passage has been very influential to combat the way that I feel by replacing it with who God says that I am in Christ. Love y'all.

"Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord (most believe to be pre-incarnate Jesus), and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?' Now Joshua was standing before the angel (Jesus), CLOTHED WITH FILTHY GARMENTS. And the angel (Jesus) said to those who were standing before him, 'Remove the filthy garments from him.' And to him he said, 'Behold, I have taken your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments."

Zechariah 3:1-4

The truth is, we are NOT GUILTY! I guarantee Joshua was feeling pretty guilty with those filthy garments. But Jesus steps in and says, "but you're not." Praise Christ!!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

We Must Go

I have been spending some time in both Haggai and Jeremiah as of late, which has pointed my thoughts in a certain direction regarding the church in America. I cannot help but notice similarities with the people of both Judah and Israel and the people of America, and I do not exclude myself from any of these similarities. I wish I could honestly tell you that it has greatly burdened my heart in such a way that has produced evident change in some of the regular decisions I make, but as of yet, it has not. It is my prayer that the Spirit would grant us all eyes to see the areas where we, as the American church, need to change. That we would not just have a flash of concern that soon dies, but that we would be given God's heart, as well as the anguish that comes along with it.

In the first chapter of the book of Haggai, Haggai is called to speak to the people of Judah regarding their consistent disregard for the house of the Lord, which was lying in ruins at this time.

Haggai speaks to them saying,"Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore, thus the Lord of Hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves but no one is warm. And he who earns wages, does so to put them into a bag with holes."

Here is what is happening. Judah was recently in captivity, under Babylonian rule,and the temple had been destroyed, but the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and issued an edict which permits the Jews to return to Jerusalem, strictly for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. The problem is that the Jews had neglected the work of the Lord, having more concern for the rebuilding of their own houses. To understand this better, we must also understand the importance of the temple to the Jewish people. The temple was imperative to the Jews, because it was believed to be the dwelling place of the Lord. If the temple were rebuilt, then the Lord would dwell with them and bring holiness to the people. God desired to renew a covenant relationship with His people, but the closeness to the Lord was decaying, which led His people to more rebellion.

The problem here, is that in neglecting the house of the Lord, the Jews were rebelling against the Lord. But they did not seem to see it that way. They had recently been set free from captivity, and were now permitted to go rebuild the temple!!! But they seemed to have misinterpreted what the purpose of their freedoms were. Now that they are free, their intent became to celebrate their freedoms with selfish pursuits. There was another problem here though. I believe they also had a skewed view of what God wanted for them. This was evidenced by the fact they were celebrating their freedoms in a way that exalted themselves, while God seemingly stood by on the corner and watched. It was as if they were under the impression that the purpose of their newly acquired freedom was, well...for their freedom and advancement. This was not God's hope. God did not pull them of captivity so that they could use their freedom to gain success, wealth, and prosperity.

This is where I believe the problem lies in America. I feel as though we all share an attitude that says, "God just wants us to be happy," whether we would say so or not. When we think of America, I'm certain that the majority of us would first have a sense of gratitude for our freedoms, blessings, possessions, which we should be very grateful for. But, I contend that these freedoms are very dangerous as well. Why? Because they can turn our attention inward. The Jews were probably very grateful for having been released from captivity, but they were more concerned about the liberties that come along with their new found freedom, instead of the whole purpose behind why they were given freedom. When do we use our freedoms to feed the hungry, stand beside the broken? When do we stop just singing our own Christian songs, and actually move into action?

I fear that we perceive salvation to look like this. We are justified through Christ, which then points us toward sanctification. Sanctification is absolutely necessary, but I don't know if we understand the purpose of sanctification. It seems as though we think that after we have been justified, our lives need to look like this: Get Better. Get better at something that has already been finished. But why? God absolutely desires holiness, and the Holy Spirit is absolutely given as a Helper to help us become more and more holy. But our own holiness is still not the goal. The goal of our holiness is that people would see Christ in us. Not so that I would simply become holier than I was before. Even in our pursuits that may seem to appear right, (avoiding sin, godly living, purity), I still feel as though we don't understand why we should do so. If we take our new found freedom, and use it to advance ourselves, God will NOT bless our efforts. God's heart is the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and He wants to use Christians to do so. But if our intent becomes to gain personal advancement out of our freedom, then we have missed the mark, and need to repent. If I become so consumed with my sins, my needs, my desires, my hopes, my worries, my struggles, my joys etc., then I have a misunderstanding of the gospel, and why God removed the chains of slavery that once bound me. God sets us free, so that in our freedom, we would be used to set others free, not build more houses for ourselves. We Must Go rebuild God's Jerusalem, and we must do so now. There are children going to hell, while their Christian father's sit and watch television. There are students in Sunday School who are not hearing the gospel, and Sunday School teachers who are more concerned with the fact that they get to add another tally to their attendance sheets. Concern quickly dies, which is why I hope the Lord would share the anguish that He feels over His house which lies in ruins.

I will leave you with more scripture:

"for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

Jeremiah 2:13

"He has told you O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah 6:8

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Time To Speak

This week at work, on Wednesday, we took our regular morning break at 10:45. Our breaks last 15 minutes, which is just enough time for me to drive to the nearest gas station around the corner from our office. Occasionally, I hit a wall around 10 or 11, so some coffee/rockstars are often needed. Anyway, I drive up to the gas station at about 10:51, and as I pull up, I notice there are four African-American teenage boys standing outside the door, all of them wearing the same t-shirts. The shirts read something like this... "Organization to keep young kids off the streets." As I began to walk toward the door, one of the young boys stopped me, and began to give what seemed to be a speech or a pitch that they probably had been trained to give. The boy was probably 15 or 16 years old. He began to tell me about their organization, and how their purpose was to give at-risk teenagers jobs or tasks, in order to keep them off the streets. Although I do not know anything about the boys, they all seemed very troubled. Needless to say, I was ready to listen to what they had to say. They each had a cardboard box that was filled with crackers and cookies of some sort, that they were intending to sell. I did not have any cash on me, so I was unable to buy any of their cookies. I thanked him, and proceeded to go inside to get my much-needed rockstar. As I was getting my drink, I could not stop thinking about these young, troubled teenagers, and the difficult life they must face everyday. In addition to that, I could not stop thinking about the gospel, and the hope that is found in it, and how badly I wanted to share it with them. Though I wish these were the only two concerns I had in my mind at the time, I would not be speaking truthfully if I didn't tell you of the third concern I had..."I'm gonna be late." After I purchased my drink, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 10:55. I was due back in the office on the phones no later than 11:00. As I said, all I wanted to do was stop and talk to these boys, and tell them about Christ! Maybe they already know Christ, maybe they've never heard the gospel, maybe they've refused the gospel. I didn't know the answers to these questions, but everything in me wanted to find out. So as I walked out the door, the boys were there, and the only thing that came out of my mouth was a mere, "Hey, thank you guys for standing out here in the heat. I'm sure it's hot, but it's good to see you guys out here." I proceeded to walk to my car, opened the door, and sat down to turn my car on, only to see my clock that said 10:56.

Time reigned supreme. I had a responsibility; an obligation to my place of employment. The entire drive back to the office, I really struggled with this. Was I just going to let my job responsibility stand in the way of these boys' eternity? Is that even a fair question? Of course, I need to steward the job that I have been given well, but should it be at the expense of the gospel being spoken, and possibly believed for the first time? Maybe that would be the only time for some of those boys. As I drove back to work, I started to think about how often situations similar to this one occur, and how time always reigns supreme. I was frustrated, but I couldn't figure out if my frustration was toward myself for not ignoring my responsibility, or toward the entirety of this issue that we face here in our busy, one place to the next culture we live in here in America. Everything revolves around schedules, meetings, responsibilities, deadlines, obligations, and time constraints; and I think this is paralyzing for the church as well. We are not outside of this problem. No, we are right in the heart of this problem, and may not even realize the extent to which it keeps us silent.

In Romans 10:13-15, it says...
"For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

I have been to Africa on two occasions. We have occasionally joked about something we like to call, "Africa Time." For example, if we were to schedule some sort of gathering at 10:00, we should plan on beginning everything at 10:30, or possibly even 9:45...who knows? All of the people who are coming to the gathering will be arriving based around "Africa Time." Though on the surface, this seems kind of silly, and may possibly seem to be the result of a non-advanced culture, I think that at the heart of this issue, they are more advanced than we are. I argue this because PEOPLE should be the main motivator, and the epicenter for any sort of advancement. The problem is that, in some cases(most), we have flipped this. Advancement for the sake of advancement has taken precedence over advancement for the sake of people. What I would like to highlight is not the fact that, in Africa, everyone is almost always late. I think that we would be selling their culture short if we were to stop there. I want to highlight WHY they are late. You see, in Africa, if you are on you way to a responsibility of some sort, (which would also include your job), and on the way you ran into ANYONE you had ever met before, or even seen for that matter, you stop. But when you stop, you do not merely stop and say, "How are you?", "Good, how are you?" No, you stop and have a real conversation with that person, and it's because that person is more important than your deadline.

I once saw a video called "God Grew Tired of Us". The video was about the story of a group of "lost boys" in Sudan, who were eventually given an opportunity to move to America. The video portrayed each lost boy's story of their new life in America. I remember one story of a young Sudanese man who began to live in New York City, and he shared an experience he had faced, where he was walking along the streets of New York, and saw a lady crying loudly on a bench. He watched as every person noticed her troubles, but continued on their way as if she were not there. I don't believe for a second that no one was affected by this woman. There were probably some who could care less, but there were also probably some who did care, but cared more about their time constraints, leading them to continue walking. The Sudanese man said that he was amazed, because something like this would have never happened in Sudan. He said that every person would have stopped. Needless to say, he stopped and spoke with this woman, and was able to encourage her greatly.

Though this whole issue is frustrating, again I want to point out that I am not outside of this struggle. I often choose to walk by, but not because I don't want to speak with them. It's because I always have somewhere I have to be. Am I saying that we should relinquish all responsibilities all the time? I don't think so. As I've wrestled through this frustration, I've also struggled to come up with an over-arching solution. My aim is to make us all consider our priorities, and be certain to prioritize the gospel over every circumstance. The "How's" and "What's" will all be situational in accordance with your own personal responsibilities. The only thing I am certain of, is that in opportunities that are "missed", we better plead to the God who saves on behalf of that person. For we know that John 6:44 says that, "no one comes to the Son, unless the Father draws him first." We can find some rest in this, but that rest should NOT be a sufficient substitute for seeking a solution to our problem of time here in America. That rest cannot be a sufficient substitute for searching your heart to figure out where your priorities are. That rest cannot be a sufficient substitute for silence. Though the Father is the one who first draws, "how are they to hear without someone preaching?" Though we may not have the time to speak, I believe it's time to speak!

I will leave us with a verse to meditate on in response to this problem. I pray the Lord teaches us to overcome, and grants us the wisdom to do so.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
Psalm 90:12

"O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days, let me know how fleeting I am."
Psalm 39:4

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the the Greek. For IN IT the righteousness of God is revealed..."
Romans 1:16-17

It's Getting Late. It's Getting Serious.

Here's the song that's been on my heart this week as I wrestle through this...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Take Up Your Cross

I have been ruminating on a thought/passage for a few weeks now. I have been studying Jesus' command to those wishing to come after Him, saying, "let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8) Traditionally, when the church hears or speaks these overly used (out of context) words to "take up your cross," it is in reference to what Paul would call "momentary light afflictions." (1 Corinthians) We use pithy statements like, "oh, this is just my cross I have to bear," while referencing regular occurring life circumstances like stubbing your toe, or struggling to pay your rent. I DO NOT believe this is what Jesus meant when He gave this command to His disciples. If we continue to reference this passage in this way, we will be reducing Jesus' command for salvation to whatever portrait suits our fancy, so that we do not really have to take up a cross. Yes, literally take up a cross.

In order to understand the meaning behind this text, we have to understand what discipleship looked like to a first century Jew. Typically, boys would become disciples around the age of 13 or 14 by choosing which rabbi they would follow. Jesus' disciples follow a similar pattern, yet very different as well. Rabbis were traditionally given an opportunity to have followers once they reached the age of 80. As we know, Jesus was in his thirties at this time, and the disciples did not pick Him as the rabbi they would follow, He chose them. Talk about counter-culturalism. That's another story. Anyway, a disciple would be someone that would literally mimic every move of the rabbi. Almost like a contemporary game of Simon Says, or Follow the Leader.

Prior to Jesus explaining what must happen, the disciples had a misunderstanding of the King that they were expecting, as well as what they were expecting Him to do. At this time, the Jews were being oppressed by Rome, and they needed a King who would regain the throne, and deliver them from oppression. Peter, believing and confessing that Jesus was the Christ, had his own expectation of what must happen for their deliverance. Upon Jesus' explanation that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again," Peter was thrown off. Peter began to rebuke Jesus privately (funny), immediately followed by Jesus rebuking Peter publically (funny).

Now that we understand what is going on here, as well as know the expectations of a disciple, we will see the importance of Jesus saying that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again." As a disciple, they should very well know the expectations that are placed before them, are to mimic their Rabbi, or as we would say, Follow the Leader. Obvioiusly, Peter was not expecting this, but even more so, he knew of the possibility that he may have to do the same. Finally, Jesus says that "if anyone wants to come after me (follow the leader), he must DENY HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and FOLLOW ME. Now would be the time to be somewhat afraid if you were one of His disciples. Jesus is not speaking from a metaphorical standpoint, merely saying that it might be somewhat hard at times, He is demanding that His disciples take an oath of death, but not just any death, the most shameful of all deaths. This is the cost of following Jesus. He is saying, I am going to do this, and I want you to follow me, and do the same.

This is validated in multiple places, but here are a few examples: Mark 10:35-45, James and John are telling Jesus that they want to sit at His right and left in His glory. Jesus says, "you do not know what you are asking, are you able to drink the cup that I drink," referring to the very same cup that is mentioned in the garden of gethsemane when Jesus is asking the Father for another way, and to take this cup (death) from Him. James and John say, yeah, we are able and will do whatever. Jesus' response is awesome, saying, "Yes, the cup that I will drink, you WILL drink." I guess they asked for it huh? Later we see that both James and John, as well as Peter, drank that very cup.

Now that we see that "take up your cross" is a very literal phrase, and that Jesus requires us to follow Him, to the point of death, even death on a cross, we begin to see the cost of following Jesus. This is very difficult to grasp as Americans, knowing that we are in a place where there is almost zero threat of death, persecution, or even the slightest loss for following Jesus. Typically, one would receive much praise and approval at the decision to follow Jesus, which brings us to a problem. How can we understand this passage according to its' original intent? How can we know the cost, count the cost, and follow Him accordingly, when there seems to be no cost? Maybe it IS hard for a rich man to enter His Kingdom!? We are very quick to have much pity on people in places where there is little food, little comfort, much violence, yet filled with true followers of Jesus, who actually had to make sacrifices to follow Him. My pity is beginning to shift. I pity those who have everything they need, yet do not have Christ. Maybe we are lacking in Christ's afflictions. Maybe we are racking up treasures that will be destroyed by moth and rust, while walking in ignorance to the gospel. It is a dangerous place to say, "Jesus Paid It All", if by saying that you mean, "I have nothing left to pay." I believe Jesus would say otherwise. I pray that He will show us the cost, so that we would not be blinded by the god of this world to the light of the gospel of Jesus. Here lies the seperation between those who profess to follow Christ, and those who follow Christ.