The focus on the present

Finally back to put up some posts again. The past few days have been both exciting and crazy. My wife and I have been home since Saturday as we try and get used to this new phase of life. It’s been a crazy one. Watching my son in his first few days of life has already helped me see things differently, and sometimes just a little more clearly.

Newborn infants can be pretty demanding. Their mood can change without a moment’s notice. It can almost get to be a little overwhelming. While in the hospital nurses would need to check Ezra at different points and do random tests to make sure everything was in order. Sometimes it involved cold metal objects being place on his skin while other times it required a needle being stuck in his skin. He hated it with a passion. In those moments the only thing he could focus on was the pain and uncomfortable nature of the event. He would fight hard to keep people from doing what they needed to do to him. He was entirely engrossed in the moment.

We tend to be like this with hardships in life. Sometimes it is through a crisis in life over a loved one. Other times we desperately seek Gods direction with what seems to be no clear answer. Sometimes we just face a hard trial through the loss of work, death, illness, etc. In those moments all we ever seem to do is focus on the hardship. We fail to look past it and remind ourselves that this event is serving a purpose.

When those tests were being done on Ezra they were being performed for a purpose. It was to ensure his good health. Those hardships were used to protect him, and make him stronger. The thing was that I could try and explain this to Ezra all day long, but he would be simply incapable of understanding it. The only choice he has in the end is to trust that his parents will be there for him, hug him afterwards, and keep him safe in the end. It requires a remarkable amount of dependence on his part, and a large amount of patience on mine.

Sometimes I think even if God tried to explain to us the reason for our hardship in the moment we would not be able to really understand it. Sometimes we are too focused on the pain of the present that the future is impossible to comprehend. It is in those moments that we simply need to stop to breath and trust in God. His patience towards us in those moments has to be astronomical. Imagine how much more effective our hardships would be if we took those moments to lean on God and depend entirely on Him.

I may not understand why some of the things happen to me. I don’t even understand everything that is happening to me in my current stage of life. However, I am ok with not understanding. I am going to trust that God is uses my hardships to lead me down a new road that He has set up for me. I guarantee you you will not always understand, but I can always guarantee you that you will come through when you depend on the one who fully understands.

Christian Success

Hello brothers and sisters!

God has put this topic on my heart to speak to you about for the past couple of days. This is what should we define success as?

This topic is central to being a Christian, as it tells us where our priorities lie.

If you are like me, I have problems keeping my definition of success and as such my priorities straight in multiple ways. One way is that my priorities will shift subtly daily. Certain things will lose their importance if I do not re-affirm their importance daily. Another way that my priorities will shift is that a lower priority will overwhelm a higher priority subconciously.

Usually for me this happens with a primary and derived priority. What I mean is that there is an overarching abstract priority that creates a lower, but concrete, priority.

One example of this is this blog. Fletcher and I have talked about blogging and writing for several years. We have both talked about the reasons why it is important, its value, and most important its purpose.

That is and prayerfully will always be to share with others what God shares with us.

As a concrete sub-priority there is the maximization of how many others we share with. This is why we share our posts on facebook and twitter, and are exceptionally thankful when y’all share our posts with others.

However, very conciously I had to fight in the R&R post on the Gospel to prevent myself from changing the Gospel to try and attract more people. This obviously goes against the priority of sharing with others what God has shared with us, but it is affirmed by increasing the number of others. Notice that the overarching priority is abstract, it cannot be measured how well we shared with others what God had shared with us. However how many people are being reach is easily measured and as such is concrete.

Because it is easy for my head to work around concretes, the concrete priority was pushing me to ignore the real purpose and goal.

Easily the most common situation with this is results. I struggle the worst with not allowing results to become more important than other things.

To put it clearly, we prioritize what is coming out of what we do more than what we do. We feel unsuccessful when we don’t see results from what we do.

The big realization is that success in the Christian life is about obedience…not results or anything else!

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.” – [1Sa 15:22-23 NASB]

This means two things.

One we should be very vigilant in maintaining a correct focus and priority in our lives of obedience to God.

The second is that whenever we redefine our success in terms of anything else, we are living in rebellion to God.

This is incredibly encouraging. I would regularly slip into a habit of defining my success as a follower of Christ to the perceived success of the ministry I was engaged in. I would feel like results defined my success. This definition of success will always fall short as we have no control over the results of ministry, only God does. Because of this, along with our limited perspective, we may be ministering in a way that we will see no results. We must be content with obedience to God. Always check the obedience of your heart to God before anything else.

The application of this is that whenever you feel as if something is off in your life or ministry, you check your obedience:

  1. Is the primary act of your life worshiping God?
  2. Are you remaining open to His will through regular time spent with Him through a cultivation of spiritual disciplines?
  3. Is there anything He has revealed to you through His word, His Spirit, or His people that you are ignoring or refusing to incorporate into your life?

A story of a boy named Ezra

This post will be short. The takeaway will not be able to be elaborated on in full. It’s a busy time which is why this post is short. My son was born yesterday. It was an amazing experience. My wife and I already love him deeply. He is an amazing kid. My wife went through a rather long period of labor. There are plenty of things classes and books do not prepare you for as a father and husband. One of those is seeing your wife go through the pain of childbirth. Depending on the pregnancy, childbirth could likely be considered a form of torture. Seeing my wife in the pain she was in tormented me. It was so painful to see her struggle. It was harsh knowing that there was nothing I could do to fix it. I would have taken on the pain for her in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t.

I stood next to my wife as the labor became more intense and the time for pushing began. I became overwhelmed with tears. I wondered how anyone could ever go through this more than once. How could this possibly be worth it? It was a horrible moment of pain. Then out of nowhere he arrived. In one moment I went from only seeing him as a silhouette on a sonogram to a fully alive child. I turned and saw this child, and heard the most beautiful cry I have ever heard in my life. The tears continued to come, but they were no longer out of pain for my wife. Our son Ezra had arrived, and it was an amazing experience brought about in the midst of pain. It was a mess. He was a mess, but we were drawn to him out of a love that is only ever expressed in those made up fairy tales.

That’s us and God. We are a mess born out of a messy situation into a messy world, but somehow God still loves us in a way that is so intense and profound that we could live for eternity and only barely scratch the surface to it. He saw ur pain and was willing and able to take it on himself. he loved us even though we created a situation for ourselves that literally made us unlovable.

It leaves us to wonder what is in us that could possibly make God still love us. The truth is that there is no answer to the question. God loves us so intensely and fights for us so intensely because that is simply who He is. He loves us because that is what He does. We have not earned that love. We have done nothing to make ourselves more lovable. The only things I had known of Ezra’s life here on ths earth up to the point of seeing him were the pain it took to get him here, and a cry of frustration over the lights and noise, but yet I loved him anyway.

This is the story of Ezra, but it is also the story of you and I. For God so loved the world. A world undeserving, often ungrateful, hateful, and wicked. He loved us so much that He gave His only son. Belief in Him means experience the intensity of that love for all eternity. It is an eternity where we only begin to scratch the surface.

Rights!

Surely we all have heard it and said it at various instances.

“I have a right to…”

“It’s my right!”

Or at other instances those declarations are implicit rather than explicit. When I become irritated at being interrupted, that irritation exists because I feel it is my right to be able to say my piece. When I start having a heated argument with some of my closest friends, it is clear that I am exercising my right to be right and my right to be heard. When someone makes a small mistake in something they say or do and I correct them even though it was unnecessary I am exercising my right to perfection.

When I exclaim to my friend about how slow he is being, I am exercising my right to everyone functioning on my timetable. When someone screws up at something and I treat them harshly because of it I am exercising my right to correctness. When I one-up someone’s achievements I exercise my right to superiority. When I look out for myself and my interests I exercise the right to self-preservation. When I respond in anger to an insult I exercise the right to honor. When I hold the sin of someone against them I exercise my right to remember.

When I kill someone in self-defense I exercise the right to live.

I thank God daily that He does not exercise His rights. If He did there would be no salvation for any of us. If Christ exercised His right to utter superiority, He never would have condescended to us by becoming one of us. If Christ exercised His right to correctness, all of us would be judged harshly. If Christ had exercised His right to live, there would be no way for our salvation.

Rather, Christ exercised His grace in love. Grace means giving up your rights for the sake of another. As Christians we are called by Christ’s example which we profess to follow to lay ourselves down through the rejection of our rights in order to more perfectly become the servants of those around us. Rights are about the consideration of self, grace is the consideration of others. Because of this it is our holy mandate and privilege to lay down that which we by rights are owed and instead place the rights of others before ourselves. Because we love we give grace. Because we give grace we do not require our rights to be observed by others.

Paul put it like this in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is obviously only possible through dependence on God’s provision and providence, not only to enable us to behave this way but also to sustain us if we do not look out for our own interests. Regardless brothers and sisters, I exhort you to remain dependent on God in this fashion. Please lay down your rights and encourage me to lay down mine so that we may follow in the example that has been set before us as the race to run.

Free speech, or simply sin?

The other day Ann Coulter tweeted about the debate. In the tweet she called Obama a retard. The reaction from all sides has been interesting to see. Some people continue to stand for those with mental disabilities, and point out the blatant offense to this kind of attitude. It doesn’t help that this woman has made this mistake in the past, and continues to blow everyone off who brings up the issue.

What I found even more interesting was seeing the people that defended her statement. They proclaimed how it is free speech and that her only desire was to insult the President. She is protected for under free speech, and this should not be condemned and judged for her statement.

I don’t use the word retarded as an insult. I know I have written about this once before, but I felt the need to write about it again. Last time it was simply under the topic of political correctness, but this time I want to take it deeper as a simple obligation as a human being made by a creator.

A few years ago I went to Mexico for a missions trip. It was an eye opening experience in many ways. One day we attended an orphanage for children with special needs. Most were severely disabled both physically and mentally. They were also children that craved affection and love, had different personalities, curiosity, reached out for physical contact, and were simply human beings. During that time I had never heard about the issue of using the r word as an insult. I would not be aware of this huge controversy until years later when I met my wife.

My wife majored in special education. She has a real heart for the issue, and it is one of the things I love about her. I became aware of this movement to stop people from using retarded as an insult. It made sense to me. I didn’t agree with the movement out of obligation, marriage, or some sense of duty, but simply as someone who believes in the need for human decency. I never used retarded as an insult. It never really crossed my mind until the issue presented itself to me. Why would I do that?

Retarded isn’t the only word used this way. Other words like “gay” are often abused with the same purpose. Why would we defend hateful speech under a man-made law? We think free speech is a God given right, but even God restrained us in our speech according to Scripture. What we say, how we say it, and what we intend were all meant to be monitored. Why is it that we feel our laws of America trump the Laws of Scripture?

Even if you are not a Christian you cannot understand this basic principle. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should. However, we fall into this realm where the only wrong actions we care about are ones that are performed directly on us. Shouldn’t we stand up against evil no matter where it strikes though? Evil. Is that really the wright word to use in this situation? I believe it is. Insulting God’s creation is sin. Sin is evil. It is really that simple.

This isn’t just a post about some random movement where crazy people want to stop the use of a word in the average person vocabulary. It is about seeing the need for caring about things beyond ourselves. We need to stop pretending that words only have power if we let them. We need to stop and realize that sometimes words really are just cruel. We need to remember that just because we are not personally wronged does not mean evil is not happening.

What can you and I do about this? Start by policing yourself. Not just with the word “retarded”, but with other things like calling something gay, using a race to make a statement of disapproval, in fact, perhaps you should stop and rethink insulting whatever individual you are in the first place. Ann’s use of retarded wasn’t the problem. It was simply a symptom. The first problem was the she saw the need to hurl a worthless insult at a man whose political views she disagrees with. If she is going to make that mistake, then it is really no shock that she would choose an insult that would be blatantly offensive to a whole group of people.

The constitution is not my Bible. A government is not my spiritual authority. What are you hiding behind to justify your actions?

God is good all the time

Part of this post is going to jump around a very touchy subject. A statement was made by a politician over a controversial issue that stirred up my thoughts on a much broader and more generalized subject. Richard Mourdock was asked about his view of abortion in the case of rape or incest. He explained that while Rape was a horrible act God allowed for the woman to become pregnant during the rape thus God wanted it to happen. He went on to say that we should not allow abortion in the case of rape since it is God’s purpose for that to happen.

A touchy subject to be sure and it is one that I am not going to specifically deal with. Abortion especially form rape is seeded with emotional arguments that can be difficult to reason with on either side. My post today is not so much on abortion because of rape, but rather Mourdock’s strange view of God. Does God really ordain for women to be rapped? Does he ordain for heinous acts to be committed on people?

Some call it the problem of evil. There is no doubt that God puts his children through trials and difficulties so that character and perseverance may be developed, but some of these issues go far beyond trials. They are deliberate evil inflicted on others. Does God really call for evil to be done? Some would like at the God of the Old Testament and say the answer is yes. They look at God whipping out cities, sending his chosen people to drive out nations, and killing people whenever he just gets ticked off. Look at the context and you will see it was always doesn’t out of righteous anger though. God did not inflict evil on others, but rather punishment. Evil is never a form of punishment for God.

Why does God allow evil to happen? There is the age old question. To try and unpack this issue would take far too long. In truth my answer will seem rudimentary and far too simplistic over an issue that seems full of complexity. I believe I push for complexity on this issue has kept us from the simple answer. It is an answer we do not always like to hear, but I believe it is one that has truth to it. God is waiting because He is choosing to be merciful?

Seriously? How could a loving God consider letting evil do its thing be merciful. Here is the deal. One day God will banish evil. It will be gone for good. Tears of pain and sadness will be eradicated. Shame will cower in the shadows where it belongs. Pride and selfishness will burn up like chaff. God is going to put everything right one day. Christ will return, and cleansing will begin.

That period will also be a time of judgment. It will be the last call for those still on earth. The unrighteous will perish. Consequences will be played out. Only those covered in the blood of the lamb will get out on the other end. When evil is dealt with that is it. There are no other chances. Those still living who failed to seek Christ as their savior will be separated from Him for eternity. The end of evil will mean the end of evil men.

God wants to give the world time. His patience is a quality rooted in His mercy and compassion. He understands that the evil is painful. He understands we are hurt and distraught, but He also understands what definitive action would mean. He is showing patience in order to give others another chance. Will His patience end? Eventually, but not yet.

The truth is that I realize this is not even the full answer. It seems difficult to justify how a loving God could let evil happen. However, there are only two things I know that let me sleep at night. God does not ordain evil, and he is powerful enough to bring good out of evil. God is the master at taking the most despicable and evil things Satan can throw at this world, and turning them into a story of good, love, compassion, and redemption. He did it with a cross, He did it with children born out of wedlock, and He even did it in a garden. When Adam and Eve performed the first evil act in this world, God managed to make something good come out of that. He took it as an opportunity to shine his glory on a world that was now tainted with evil.

What shall you and I do in the meantime? Pray for Christ to return with all speed. Pray for the courage and strength to bring his goodness to an evil world while we wait.

Some people just want to see you sin

Some people just want to see us fall. People want to prove that we are no better than them. They want to see us act impurely in order to make them feel more justified in their lifestyle. Some people call it peer pressure others call it bullying. In the end it is just simple temptation.

In High School I worked at an adventure park. I was a go-kart operator. As frustrating as the job was I appreciated my co-workers. None of them were Christian, but they had a strange respect for my morals. Even though I did not want to be a part of that life they wanted to cheer me on, and see me keep to my standards. They were respectful of how I lived my life.

During the winter the go-kart track would close down and I would have to work inside at the arcade. This area of the park was a whole different realm. Christianity was considered a joke. The managers that worked there who professed to be Christians were worse than most “heathens” you would meet. It was a nightmare. It didn’t take long for one of the guys to figure out I was a virgin. I willing offered the information when asked about it. This guy was shocked. He proceeded to make it his mission to help me “get laid”. What a surprise he faced when I told him my virginity was by choice. “You mean you actually try not to have sex?” Yes this concept was a total novelty to him.

It became a game to him. He wished to entice me to fall form the standard I had for myself. He told girls about my “problem”. I had girls offer to help me lose my virginity. This guy was determined to make me fall. When he realized good old fashion temptation was not working he switched to mocking me for my standard. If he could make me feel as though there was something wrong with being a virgin then he could make me slip from my standard.

At one point the mocking became increasingly harsh. He just wouldn’t let up. Some people think we need to be a doormat towards unbelievers. If they mock us we should just let it slide. I believe you can stand up for yourself without crossing the line. The mocking ended when he made the unfortunately inaccurate statement, “You’re not a man until you have sex.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “If being a man means being incapable of giving into bodily urges and lacking total willpower to say no then I will opt out of manhood.” No one spoke of my virginity after that.

Countless Christians face this situation. People want to see us fall. They want to prove that no one can live a life like that. They want to make us sin so they can have an excuse to say that what we believe is fake. Some people simply entice us to sin so that we will sin.

What does this mean for you and me? When we make known what are standards are to others than we should expect to face temptation from them. Not everyone will be this way towards you, but it is almost certain that you will face this kind of difficulty at times. It means we need to choose cautiously who we count as our closest of friends. You do not want to spend the majority of your time with someone who pushes you towards sin, but rather with someone who will call you out on your sin.

No matter what anyone tells you your higher standards does not make you appear “holier than thou”, stupid, or unrealistic. I have found that when I continue to stand my ground in those kinds of moments that I show one of the best testimonies I can. Some Christians will tell you the world needs to hear us call out against its sins more often. I think we need to take a step back first. We need to start by showing the world that we will stand ground against its enticement. Evangelistic opportunities have always been more bountiful when the discussion starts with being asked why I refrain from a sin rather than condemning someone for theirs.