Thursday, May 30, 2013

Whispers from a Broken Man

Life can suck sometimes. Lord knows I know it. I'm writing this today as a broken man who's faith is flickering within a downpour of pain and hurt which shows no signs of stopping. It's been a long six months and I think even the internet doesn't have enough space for me to run a recap.

But today, as I was praying for the faith of my future spouse, I went back and looked through an old prayer journal and searched for a specific trial I'd experienced. It had lasted from April until October. Six months. Six months of pain, hardship, ups and downs. Six months of brokenness.

Here's a couple excerpts:
The Beginning: April 8
Yesterday I realized that while I’m definitely afraid of what may happen regarding this situation, me being a disappointment to you is a pretty big concern of mine. Father, I don’t know what lesson I should be learning here and I don’t know if this is a punishment because I’ve been sinful in some area, but I really don’t want to disappoint you. It may sound silly but the thought almost brings me to tears. Knowing all that you’ve done and all of who you’ve been to me… I don’t want to spit in your face. I just hope you’re not disappointed with me. I asked for suffering so I’m not really tripping over what’s happening (well I am a little bit)... Father, you know the truth. I don’t want to be dramatic but you know the truth and you know how this is affecting me. I cry out your name… I am in need of your mercy Jesus… despite my pride and my shame… I’ve been humbled and fall on my face but oh how I need you. How badly I need you Lord God…    
I can remember how I was in shock for a few weeks. And then the hits kept coming, faster than I was able to process. I kept expecting God to move and for him to answer my prayers and... He wouldn't. Eventually, I crumbled to pieces. I kept wondering: How on earth is this going to help me love God more? I did nothing to earn this pain, why would I thank God for ending it?
The Lowest Low: October 3
For six months I’ve sought to try and I’ve tried to praise you despite the fact that you have ignored every one of my pleas for help. Where can I start? The list of grievances is so long. I’m struggling to believe that you do actually love me. I’m struggling to believe that you do actually care for me. It’s as if you want my faith to fail… it’s as if you don’t want me to be one of your followers. All you have to do is tell me if this is the case… I just don’t get why you would lead me into situations and then abandon me… I’ve cried out to you day and night and each time I’ve waited expectantly only to find that you’re nowhere to be found. At what point do I give up? At what point do I wake up and say; maybe you haven’t picked me after all… maybe it was all a game I was playing in my head… the house of cards of my faith is shattering beneath the silence.

Aces and jacks
Plummet, tumbling softly
As autumn breezes dislodge
Carefully constructed structures
Queens soon pursue kings,
Falling headlong into the blazing pile.

I had made my bed besides
Diamonds and spades
Only to watch gravity bully them,
Tying shoestrings together,
Stomping their hearts into the dirt,
Spraying graffiti on clubhouse walls.

Rest in peace,
My home: the intoxicated dance of a royal flush.
That was almost my last prayer. I remember having to drag myself back the next morning in repentance. I remember having to ask God for a desire to pursue Him. Yes, my theology had failed me. Here I was, a seminary student, who no longer believed that God was loving. And what made matters worse was my utter helplessness and complete inadequacy. I was broken...

But then, God ended what had seemed like an endless flood of trials. And I was floored.
The End: October 6
Praise be to the Lord,
For his mercy endureth forever.

Praise be the Yahweh,
The Lord of Hosts,
Angels and created beings
Stars and all the heavens,
Join in praise to the Only Living God

Praise be to the Lord
For his mercy endureth forever.
For he has showered me with grace
And mercy when I deserved it least,
In his lovingkindness, he extended his
Hand to me in the depth of my affliction.

Praise be the Lord of Hosts,
For the darkness cannot consume him.
No amount of evil,
Can overcome the depths of his love.

You did not wait for me to be faithful. No, you healed and saved me despite my sinfulness. You saved me in the depths of my sin and darkness. When I turned my back on you and when I doubted you… you came through… As always you come through. Such a burden has been lifted off of my back in this moment. I cannot express in words the sheer magnitude of your grace. I am befuddled and amazed. You are such a gracious and glorious God. Your mercy truly endureth forever… Your love truly extends throughout all generations. Glory to the Lord of hosts… for none can deny your mercy. None can deny your grace. Holy is your name. May all the nations praise you, may they all praise you in the assembly.

Father, I don’t know how you did this… I don’t know how to even thank you. Father, you have been gracious beyond the ability of my words to express. My tongue is tied in knots and trips over itself as I try proclaim the wonders of your majesty… you are holy. Holy is your name…

I don’t know how you did it or even why you did it but you worked everything out. For so much of my life I have begged and pleaded to have the faith of mustard seeds and to move mountains with it… but you are so much bigger than I ever imagined. God, you are gracious and merciful. Thank you so much for your grace. Thank you so much for your mercy. Thank you God… you are awesome and amazing… Thank you so much…

I can’t get over how much grace you’ve showered me with… I have in no way earned your favor or your deliverance. I did nothing that was worthy of it. Father, thank you so much. Til my last breath I will proclaim. Great is the Lord… Great is your name… I give my life… to sing your praise.

Thank you so much… this is more than I deserve.

I don't write a ton of blogs these days. Mostly because school has put "time" in a Full-Nelson. And today is no different. I have about 200 pages of reading awaiting my perusing. And right now I am hurting... quite a bit. The past few months I've fought back more tears than I can count. I've begged God to stop hurting me. I've pleaded with Him to stop. I've implored Him to give me some semblance of help. I've yelled at Him for taking any and everything that I hold dear. But even in the midst of swirling winds, as waves rise up like towers, threatening to smash out any remnant of hope within you, know that we do not serve a God who leaves things broken. He is a redemptive God. He is faithful and He cares. Oh just imagine! The God of all Creation is specifically concerned with you!

I hope that this blog reminds you of one thing: God is faithful and sovereign. Maybe that's two things. I'll let you philosophers figure that one out.

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering what's the point. Well, I'll give you four:
  • God Doesn't Require Perfect Faith- I love how at the end, I was able to see that my faith was so insufficient. It lasted for six months of agony and uncertainty. But then it cracked under pressure like a thin slab of concrete. But God's help isn't locked up in heaven waiting for us to muster up enough faith to reach it. People will tell you that, but they're lying. But know that, you can also ask Him for the faith to believe even in the midst of doubt. He's big enough for you to ask the tough questions. He's gentle enough to care that you're hurting. He's good enough to love us even when we're fed up with Him.
  • Rejoice In Pain- Our circumstances don't change who God is, they just change the way we look at Him. But fight that. Cling to who you know Him to be until your fingers bleed. In October, my faith shattered completely. I knew God was real but I really started to view Him as that angry man in the sky with a magnifying glass, bent on giving me pain because He was bored. But that's not who He is. And in pain, He is testing your faith to make sure that it is genuine. Believe that He is all that He has claimed to be.
  • Look Forward with Hope- One day, the pain will have faded, the season will have ended, and you will look upon your Savior with renewed eyes. I know this from experience. One day, you won't really have words to express how awesome He is and you'll be at a loss for how He really is Faithful and True. God will prove to you once again that He is all that He's claimed to be and that He is realer and greater than you ever could imagine. Long for this day. Look forward to this day. Expect this day because it's coming. Sooner or later, our hope will be obsolete.
  • God is Faithful. God is Sovereign. Jesus is Coming Back- Yes, the pain looks insurmountable. But God has promised to rectify the brokenness one way or the other. Either He will deliver you from the pain or He will use it deliver you into His presence. And honestly, I do not know which is to be desired. Or maybe I do...
So, as the good Apostle once said, let us be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Sing the Mighty Power...

These past couple of days I've become a slightly addicted to re-mixed Hymns. Mars Hill Church has a pretty awesome album of old-school hymns played to more modern music. The one I've been playing on repeat lately is "I Sing the Mighty Power of God". God's power is completely and utterly incomprehensible. As one of my professors stated the other day, the Bible says that God spoke the world into existence but who can actually describe what this means? Who can describe this process? I don't know about you but I draw a giant "?"

Yet we can see this power all the time. Last night after small group, one of the young men said to me: "I take it no one here plays X-Box..." which led me to promptly bust out laughing. If you don't know our group, we're anything but a bunch of clones. We come from VERY different backgrounds, cultures, cities, and experiences. But at the same point, we're all focused around seeing the Glory of God and proclaiming his glory. This unity around the Mission of God and the Glory of God overcomes all other differences. We don't lose our diversity, yet we still gain unity. Suffice it to say: yes some of us do play X-Box.

And I guess this is the difference between being "religious" and "Christian" (although Christianity is a religion/worldview). As we proclaim the glory of Christ and see people reconciled to Christ, I don't want them to look like Daniel, I want them to look like Christ. Hopefully, they'll pick up some of my more honorable habits and then throw away those that aren't so hot. As followers of the risen Christ we have been given the opportunity to behold the amazing, transformative power of God. We who were once dead, have been raised and united to life with Christ.

So what is the Mighty Power of God? And why are we so hesitant to proclaim it? Why is it so easy to compartmentalize our walk, hide our identity, and allow Christianity to become a part of our lives instead of Christ being our life? If we've been raised from death (in ourselves/Adam) to life (in Him), how can we cut him out?

To be honest, I think we so often overlook how the gospel is working and doubt the true power of God. In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to celebrate the year of Jubilee every seven years. This means that they were to stop working, free all slaves, and party in praise of him for an entire year. An entire year of not working... scary thought? But the idea was to trust in the power of God and rely on Him to provide. Even in war times, he promised to literally fight their battles (at one point slaying the entire Assyrian army with an angel and no Israelite soldiers). In response to their faith, he promised to provide. And he does this for us all the time! He gives us victory over sin, saves our friends and family members, increases our knowledge and love for Him... etc.

Ultimate demonstration of God's power
This same power of God from this same God is available to believers. I'm not saying sit down and "have faith" that God will give you a winning lotto ticket. No, but trust that in proclaiming his Mighty Power, in opening up every area of your life to Christ, and in pursuing His purposes, His power will be demonstrated. And then look for it to happen! And then when it happens, praise and rejoice for it (i.e. don't overlook it). As family members, friends, co-workers come to know of the Father, as prayers are answered, as you grow in Christ and become more like him, sing the Mighty Power of God who made the mountains rise, who spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies. Sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Be Missional?

Someone asked me the other day why we (our church) was trying to be missional? Why weren't we just sitting back and basking in our knowledge of God? Why go out and seek the lost? Being missional is uncomfortable and evangelism isn't easy, why should we go out and do it? To be honest, the answer is simple: We (the universal church) should be missional because God is missional! If we're to reflect the nature of the God we worship we have to reflect his character and Yahweh is a missional God.

Plant seeds for the Gospel
But where do we see this is scripture? I could easily point to the person and work of Jesus Christ who descended into Earth to seek and save the lost. But that would be too easy. I could point to the Great Commission and Jesus' command to preach to all nations. I could talk about the Doctrine's of Grace, Hell, Salvation, and God's wrath/love... Instead, we'll focus on the beginning and start in Genesis.

In Genesis 1, God repeatedly creates spaces (heavens, earth, and the seas) and then fills them with things. After creating each space and filling it, he declares that not it is "good" (tov in the Hebrew). In Genesis 1:27, when he has finished creation with the formation of Man in his own likeness and image, he describes it as exceedingly "tov". God also tells each species to "be fruitful and multiply" thereby filling the earth with even more "tov" things that reflect God's goodness, character, and glory. Each space is filled with good things that point to and reflect the character and nature of the only living God. These things are good, they are beautiful, and their reflection of God's goodness is an act of worship.

Then Genesis 3 happens. Eve looks ate the fruit of the tree and, after listening to the serpent, decides that it is "tov"/good. Instead of listening and trusting in the Word of God, she tries to redefine what is good and evil. Adam follows suit and sin enters the world through him and now, instead of the earth being filled with good things, the earth is filled with evil (the opposite of the original design). All of the descendants of Adam, instead of filling the earth with the image of God are now filling the earth with the image of someone whose very nature rebels against God.

Thousands of years later, God sends his Son to seek and save the lost. In dying on the Cross, he takes on the evil of the world and gives, to those who believe in him, the free gift of righteousness. Part of me supposes that if the New Testament were written in Hebrew, it would state that we have received the "tov" that comes by faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). Christ redeemed us, made us new, and by His grace we are made good in the sight of God.

So how does this tie into the character of God? How does this relate to the things of God and missions? In redemption, God is once again filling the earth with things that are "tov"/good. And it isn't a "tov" that we've received from our own actions but one that comes directly from Christ and faith in his name. In sharing the gospel, in redeeming the lost, in proclaiming the glory of God, in enduring persecutions for the sake of the gospel, in standing strong for the truth of God, we get the chance to demonstrate to the world that this is the God we serve! We serve a God who chases after lost people. We serve a God who crossed the infinite gap between heaven and earth so that we could be reconciled to Him. We share the gospel because it fills the earth with the righteousness of God. We go on missions because there are places in this world that do not know of the grace of Christ. If we're going to emulate the person of Christ we must be about his business. We can't ignore this aspect of his character. In short, we're missional because the God we serve is missional.

God chose to use us to proclaim his glory to those who don't know Him, both near and far. To quote David Platt: "We are plan A, and there is no plan B..."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Walking in Repentance

When I was in college my roommates and I developed the not-so-great habit of "your-fault/my bad". If there was a misunderstanding between us or if I'd done something that seriously annoyed you, I was quick to insert a "your fault" and then proceed to the next topic (followed by your uncomfortable laughter). In a similar manner, if something was undeniably my/my roommates fault (e.g. the time I locked us all out of the house again, my roommate put a hole in the dorm room wall, my roommate put a hole in the apartment wall, my roommate put a hole in... you get the picture) we would quickly insert a "my bad" as if that resolved the issue. Once the words were spoken, I was no longer responsible.  The only thing less sincere is the "thank you's" that follow the unwrapping of Christmas Sweaters (you know the one with the giant reindeer...? Because everyone wants a sweater with giant reindeer...).

As I've grown in Christ I've noticed that sin always prevents me from embracing the mission of God. But recently, I've felt extremely burdened not only by my sins but also the sins of my family, my friends, my community, and my nation.

As followers of Christ we've been called to live Lives of Repentance. The word for repentance literally means to turn in the other direction. We turn from the things we've worshipped and we turn back to God. What do we repent for? We repent for the sins of omission (allowing things to happen) and commission (doing wrong things). If a family member or friend is living in sin and I say nothing, what am I communicating? Christians have both the privilege and responsibility of representing the Christ on earth. And people are who they worship.  If I turn a blind eye to sin in my life or in the lives of others, I'm really saying that "the God I worship doesn't care about sin" and nothing could be further from the truth.

Now I'm not advocating an angry and aggressive condemnation. If it doesn't look like Christ, don't do it. But then again, don't forget that Christ lovingly called people out on their sin so that they would repent and turn to God. What sins are keeping you from embracing God's mission? Perhaps it might be as simple as the idolization of your mission over His. Perhaps you fear man more than God or are just generally apathetic to the existence of sin. Maybe you've grown attached to comforts and have become numb to the starving, desperate souls around you. Whatever it is, the Bible urges us to deal with our sin (kill it) or reap the consequences (Romans 8:13/Hebrews 12:6).

The confession and repentance of sin(s) should be a consistent rhythm throughout our lives. It should be something that we walk in. And it's not just confessing sin to God, but the bible also tells us to "confess our sins to one another" (James 5:16). We have to expose the darkness in our lives. We have to address the idols of our community. And we do this all for the glory of our king. The gospel changes lives and by the grace of God we can have new lives and experience the freedom of exposing sin to light.

Lastly, heartfelt repentance stems from seeing and knowing the glory of Christ. When Isaiah saw God's glory he fell on his knees and cried out "woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and I live amongst a people of unclean lips." He was burdened not just by his sins but also the sins of his people. And in this repentance, God picked him up, dusted him off, cleaned him up, and sent him out on mission (Isaiah 6:1-13). Mission is always rooted in a lifestyle of repentance.

Here's a quick video on the difference between remorse and repentance by Mark Driscoll.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Evangelism 101

Sharing the gospel with the kids of San Soucci, SA
A few weeks ago, we started a series on evangelism entitled: ENGAGE. The series is basically oriented around becoming a more missional church and being a people that is on mission with God. To quote Brad House, a pastor at Mars Hill Church: "God's story frames our story, if the Trinity is on mission (seeking the lost), then you cannot be in God's story without being on mission with him".

Throughout the Bible, God is always seeking lost people and he is seeking them with the aspiration of . In the Old Testament, Jerusalem stood out as a holy city (or was supposed to... they seriously "Chicago Cub'd" it ) and was supposed to live in such stark contrast to the surrounding areas that men would come to them. But in the New Testament, this has kind of been flipped. The church has been commissioned to go out and make disciples, not to wait for disciples to come and find them.

So that's all well and good from a theoretical standpoint, but what does that mean practically? Well first it means that we need to be seeking to build relationships with lost people (people who have not trusted in Christ). But it also means that we need to be abe to communicate the gospel when the time comes.

Here are a list of the Main Evangelism Strategies:

Proclamational Evangelism: you see this strategy quite a bit in the New Testament but not as much today. It involves preaching the gospel from a pulpit, soapbox, street corner, stage... wherever lots of people can hear you.
    • Pros: Many, many people can trust in Christ.
    • Cons: There's very little room for follow up and the "confession of faith" may be unclear.

Relational Evangelism: involves building a relationship with someone and overtime giving showing them the effects of the gospel, the love of Christ, and gradually addressing their questions and concerns. All relational strategies have to become aggressive at some point or the person will ultimately remain lost.
    • Pros: A strong relationship is developed and built which could feed directly into discipleship. There is plenty of room for follow up and potential pitfalls can be addressed.
    • Cons: It takes quite a bit of time to develop the relationship and it does not reach large groups of people. It can also communicate a lack of urgency.

Aggressive Evangelism: taking someone down the "Roman Road" or some other form of gospel presentation with the intention of offering an invitation for them to trust in Christ.
    • Pros: It communicates a sense of urgency and the need to repent and believe is evident. If a lost person has questions they can ask at any point.
    • Cons: There is not as much room for follow up. Many people find this mode intimidating especially if they don't know you.

Written Evangelism: Giving someone a tract, letter, brochure, or personal testimony that walks them through the gospel with the intention of bringing them to trust in Christ.
    • Pros: Ensures that the gospel is communicated clearly. Allow the lost person to go back and reexamine the information that they've been given.
    • Cons: Is pretty impersonal and many times a lost person may not read the information and simply throw it away.

Remember, the point of a "strategy" is to lead them to Christ. That means that you shouldn't "have" a specific strategy, you should use whichever one works best for that person. The purpose isn't to win some intellectual argument or even to answer all of their questions. The purpose is to lead them to the cross and to the feet of the Savior. Evangelism isn't about us and our preferences, it's about God.

Lastly, I encourage you to get to know people. Find out where they are on their spiritual journey by simply asking: "where are you on your spiritual journey". Use the Bible (God always says it better than we can), keep Christ central, and trust Him with the results. And remember to speak graciously and to pray continuously. It is the Spirit alone who gives life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Curing Consumerism

Just one more dot and I'll be satisfied...
We're consumers by nature. We stand in long lines to buy fancy shiny trinkets only to replace them in a few months. The iPad gets replaced with the iPad2.468768 and Faltscreens get replaced with 4D Surround Sound Home Theaters. And I'm not knocking anyone with technology. Technology is a good thing. Prezi (as soon as I can figure out how to use it) makes life so much easier and without the blue dot on Google Maps I would forever be lost. But, when searching the heart, why are we so eager to sacrifice the mission of God for our own comforts?

If you're reading this and it sounds eerily similar to a post I made a few months back, you're right. For some reason it really upsets me that we've turned church into another thing that we consume. Church becomes a means to our ends. We say that if you need community, if you feel down, if you need inspiration, if you want to hear some live cover's of Christ Tomlin and Hillsong... come to church. But that's not why the church exists.

The cure to consumerism is being missionally minded. The church, if it is to serve as a reflection of God, must be about the mission of God because it exists to glorify God. And if it isn't, then we're just attending a Christian Country Club (btw I hate country clubs). We have to be missional. But what does that mean? What does that look like?

A missional church is:
  • Concerned with the Lost- it asks the question, how does _______ (music, service time, etc) reach out to lost people?
  • Pursuing the Lost- the preaching, members, and regular attenders are all looking to share Jesus because they love Jesus.
  • Worshiping Christ's Glory- it understands that Christ's glory is both the end and the means. It seeks to fill the earth with the image of Christ.
  • Seeking to Be Transformed by the Gospel- it seeks to kill sin, tear down idols, address issues, and become more like Christ.
  • Proclaiming the Glory of Christ and His Gospel- it teaches about Jesus, seeks to learn more about Jesus, and be more like Jesus.
Let's be about our Father's buisnessl!
Notice that nowhere in the list is our preferences or comforts. It doesn't say anything about a type of music or style of preaching. As Christians, we can sacrifice our comforts so that the lost can find Christ. We don't have to be enslaved to our own desires anymore!

The gospel frees us to live radically different lives. This doesn't just mean that the Christian stops sleeping around, looking at R-rated movies, and gambling. It means that our entire worldview crumbles and is replaced by one that is Christ centered. I see the first two aspects of a mission church (which involve the lost) getting sacrificed incredibly quickly as churches and Christians sell themselves back to the slavery of their comforts.

You were called and saved for so much more than this! You don't have to chase the wind, you don't have to waste your time on pleasures that don't last... stop drinking from the broken cistern.

In my own life, I'm hoping for a mindset shift. I hope to start thinking and praying with a mindset that is prepared for God to move through his church to reach the lost. I hope to always see empty seats in a church because, if they ever get filled, it's time to find a way to empty them so they can be filled all over again. I hope to be prepared to see a people that is willing to risk friendships, relationships, jobs, finances... everything for the sake of seeing Yahweh's gospel advance through their city, state, and world. I hope to see a church and a people that refuses to worship at the feet of the idol of "comfort" and chooses the glory of God instead.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Spirit

A very distinguished Christmas cookie
Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. For some reason, the brightly colored lights, mountains of snow, warm hot cocoa and endless run of Christmas specials on cable TV brings a certain level of joy to my heart. I've always loved Christmas. Really, I've always loved everything about Christmas (except for Christmas cookies which I still don't get... they don't really taste all that good, they don't have coffee in them, and the frosting tastes like chalk). But this year it's been kind of difficult to "get in the mood".

Earlier this week a group of us sat and prayed at my church, repenting for our materialism and addiction to our own comfort. We begged God to let his kingdom come in our lives, in our city, in our world no matter what it cost us. We asked him to teach us to pray like Jesus prayed.

I guess more than anything, I'm conflicted about how much stuff I have. I haven't had to ask God for my daily bread since undergrad because I've always had so much. Even now, when people ask me "what I want for Christmas" I just see this image in the back of my mind of everyone around the world who has so little. Do I really need a "better" pair of shoes when kids in South Africa are playing soccer barefoot? Do I really need the latest Apple product when 80% of the world is living on less than a dollar a day? And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

To quote David Platt, being a follower of Christ costs something but it also costs something not to follow him. As we hold on to the money and talents God has lent us, others are starving and hungry, dying and in desperate need of the crumbs we through away. 

Ironically, I love giving gifts probably more than the average person. And while I am hoping to become radically different in terms of the way I spend my time, money, and resources, I'm not advocating for the end of gift-giving. But if we're really going to grab hold of the Christmas Spirit, the gifts we give should be of eternal merit. If we're truly want to be like Him, we have to give like he gave.

And with all that being said, I do hope that you have a very Merry Christmas.