2008 in Review

At the end of the year I like to take a look at the posts I have written.. I see some common themes and a few new ones. Here are some excerpts from my favorite posts by month:
  • January: The Knowing Heart
    It was like Jesus was saying, yes I know that you are not sinning with your flesh but don't you understand that the real issue is not your flesh but your heart. Your heart is the place where sin is conceived.. it is the place where you know that it is wrong.. it is not simply because the law says it is wrong.. it is because the deepest part of you knows it is wrong.

  • February: Wholeness
    Sometimes it takes external pain, disability and brokeness to bring us to a place of wholeness. I know that physical and emotional pain have led me in paths where I have been confronted with Proverbs 3:5-6.. confronted with the idea that trust is all about inner wholeness.. and leaning on my own understanding has been an obstacle in that path of wholeness.

  • March: Strength in Weakness
    My one and only video sermon where I speak to the idea of what it means to be strong when we are weak.

  • April: Hope and Expectations
    In contrast to hope expectations cause us to never rest.. they torment us with questions about why things are the way that they are. Expectations generally focus on what we do not have.. what could be if God would answer our prayers according to our expectations.

  • May: Healing Friends
    I have grown so tired of people giving me advice that costs them nothing.. it has become more than an annoyance. It is like someone coming up to an overweight person and telling them of a great Christian weight-loss program.. or speaking to someone who is really hurting and giving them a bunch of Christian cliches about overcoming trials.. it is insensitive and annoying.

  • June: When God Laughed
    It was as if God was lovingly telling me to not hide myself behind my rules. Looking back I think that it was an invitation to come out of my legalistic closet.. it was also a message of hope for a future marriage.. which came much quicker than I ever dreamed of when I remarried a year later. After that experience with my ring I began processing those feelings deep in my heart and worked on getting emotionally healthy.. and I began the active process of grieving.

  • July: The Miracle Lottery
    So what is wrong with wanting a miracle? Probably nothing - unless it short circuits your life and hinders the forward progress of it. Often a desire for a miracle can be likened to a state of denial.. a way that the body copes with trauma or loss.. and it is okay for a season.. but when it is prolonged it becomes problematic because it prevents us from accepting our state of being and makes contentment very difficult.

  • August: My Chinese Adventure
    Each time we crossed over the border we had to go through a random checkpoint where our bags would be examined. Both times that I crossed carrying two bags and I got through without being checked – guess the Lord was watching over me.. I just acted lost and dazed.. not a hard act for me.. and the guards let me pass. Only one of us got checked and they just had their bibles confiscated.

  • September: Christian Karma
    From my perspective these karma-like concepts negate the idea of grace and cause actions to be the products of faith instead of the byproducts of faith. The scripture in Galations is a simple one that simply says that when we respond to the Holy Spirit we sow eternal seeds and when we respond to our flesh we sow temporal seeds. That scripture has nothing to do with Christian karma.

  • October: Waiting on the Lord
    I heard it said a number of years ago that waiting on the Lord is not like waiting on a bus.. it is not a passive activity. Waiting on the Lord is an active process where we continue to minister.. continue to love.. and continue to trust the Lord as we pray.

  • November: The Wild Man of the Universe
    Many of us don't like the idea that the scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (and other hearts for that matter) because it goes against our idea of what God looks like. We want God on our own terms.. we want to define Him as a tame God that always acts in loving ways.. of course we reserve the right to determine what love looks like :)

  • December: Grace Comes by Prayer
    Very often we are oblivious to the presence of the grace that comes when we pray because we do not understand that a primary reason that grace is given is to help us to endure - we need grace to endure.. and grace comes by way of prayer. I know that in my own life I feel that I am caused to endure because of prayer.. my prayers and the prayers of others.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or yesterday when you first read them.

Humble Entrance, Humble Life, Humble Death

I am in awe of the way that God entered the world. I would have thought that He would have come:
  • To a wealthy and powerful family;
  • As the son of a member of the religious hierarchy;
  • To us in physical power and not infant weakness;
  • Wanting to be served not serve;
  • As a conqueror and not as a savior.
It reminds me that the scriptures tells us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
The link between the cradle and the cross in inextricable. Jesus came to us as a Sacrificial Lamb.. He lived a life of suffering.. infinite divine existence willfully constrained to a temporal human life.. I am in awe of Jesus.

This week I heard a new definition of pride. A local pastor said that pride is thinking that you are better than another.. he said that when we are impatient with a waitress or a person at the grocery checkout we reveal our pride.. we think that we could and would do the job better even though we believe that those jobs are "beneath us".

Aren't you glad that Jesus is not proud! He came in humility.. lived a humble life.. and died a humble death. The scripture says that because of His humility He bears a name that is matchless in all of heaven and earth.

Would you consider honoring Him today by dedicating yourself to living a life of humility?

Day by Day

Every time I hear this song from the rock musical Godspell I flash back to a time in the early 1970s when my first wife Ellen was blind and I was hurting. Each time this song would come on the radio I would cry.. I was beside myself.. I hurt and didn't know what to do with my pain. Years later I would take my pain to the cross of Christ.

Little did I know that the heart of this song came from this prayer:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.

St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)

I prayed those words again today.

The Voice

This "translation" of the New Testament is billed as "A scripture project to rediscover the story of the Bible" "As retold, edited, and illustrated by a gifted team of writers, scholars, poets, and storytellers". Words like "holistic", "beautiful" and "sensitive" are used in the preface to describe it. The Voice is the culmination of Chris Seay's vision for a different kind of biblical translation that puts the bible into everyday language and uses common English words that can be understood by the average Joe on the street.

On face value this seems to be a noble endeavor and one that may work for many Christ followers that flow in the Emergent stream of Christianity. I say that because prominent among the contributors is emergent sensei Brian McLaren. So I guess before I looked too much into the book I was already on my guard about how The Voice would be "translated".

Before you throw any emergent stones at me you need to know that I generally like much of emergent theology and my critique is not about that stream of Christianity. Mostly my thoughts are around the idea that a "translation" of the bible should be precise.. if it is not then it should be called a paraphrase. So with that backdrop I will give you a few of my impressions of The Voice.
  • It is an annotated presentation. I don't like these types of bibles because, unlike study bibles, they offer embedded commentary rather than factual information. To me this skews the reader to a specific, dare I say emergent, point of view.

  • It changes the way that the text is presented. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit's leading of the original authors it reformats the stories a bit in more of a novel format. I am generally okay with this in a paraphrase format but I am a bit uncomfortable calling it a "translation".

  • I don't like the way that understandable words are "translated" into convoluted ones: baptism becomes "ritual cleansing", repentance becomes "rethink their lives and turn to God" and salvation becomes "rescue us". John the Baptist is called John the Immerser. I don't think that these changes were warranted or needed.
So, given this, you might ask if I would recommend The Voice to others.. well.. maybe if I had more time to thoroughly study it along side of other translations? I'll leave that for other smarter folks :)

I think that there is a place for works like this one. I often enjoy reading from The Message.. interesting how these types of works use "The" to preface the title.. and I think that this work falls into a Message category. What I am a bit concerned about is the people that did the translating. I am uncomfortable with non-scholarly folks "translating" the scriptures.. especially those with a distinct and overt theological bent. In closing I thought that I would simply quote a few familiar passages from John 3 and let you decide if you like it or not.

"I tell you the truth, if someone does not experience water and Spirit birth, there's no chance he will make it into God's kingdom." (John 3:5 The Voice)

"For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life." (John 3:16, The Voice)

Worst-Case Scenarios

Kim Allen offers this observation about the nature of worry:
Worry starts when we project into the future. The mind searches for and examines all the angles it can find related to worst-case scenarios. We rehearse how to respond to what might happen—I'll do this, then she’ll say that, then I'll say this. Before we know it, it's 3:00 in the morning. All this self talk is not only unproductive; it's exhausting!
I resonate with that.. I often engage in this unproductive and exhausting kind of thinking. Can you relate?

It reminds me of how the scripture enjoins us to take thoughts captive. That said, I think that it is not a matter of one thought defeating another.. it is not simply thinking positive thoughts and hoping for the best.. it is not denying the painful realities of our life. It is simply trusting the Lord with all of our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding.

Worry captivates and imprisons us when we lean on our own understanding.. how can it not? When the doctor gives us a "terminal" diagnosis it is difficult to not engage our own understanding and entertain a worst-case death scenario.. in these times it is difficult to engage heart faith.

In difficult times it is good to remember that the scripture calls us to:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Isn't it interesting that the apostle begins with anxiety and ends with peace.. begins with the head and ends with the heart. When we pray we take those things that worry us and trouble our heads to the Lord.. through prayer we cast them on the Lord. In return, the Lord may not fix things.. He may not heal that "terminal" diagnosis.. but He will give of peace of heart and mind.

Today if you are struggling.. if worry has overcome you.. if you often entertain worst-case scenarios.. try going to the Lord and engage Him with your heart. Yes, pray with your heart and not your head.. try to not allow your head to dominate your prayers.. so often prayer can just be another way that we worry. Pour your heart out to the Lord.. tell Him what is going on.. entrust Him with your cares and worries.. and let Him fill you with His peace. Cast your cares because He cares.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1Peter 5:6-7)

Humility is not an Option

I recently opined this at Barbara's place:
Most of life is designed to humble you.. humility is the secret to life.. it will cause you to listen to good advice.. it will help you in all of your relationships.. it will help you to interpret adversity in a healthy way.
Do you find this to be true? When I think about humility I think of men like the Apostle Paul. He was a tough religious man before Jesus appeared to him and asked this question:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Have you ever been humbled like this? Before Jesus appeared to him Paul (aka Saul) zealously persecuted Christians. The scriptures say that he "was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." (Acts 8:3). I wonder what it was like for Paul when Jesus showed up and confronted his misplaced zealotry? It had to be humbling and maybe even humiliating to know that he and his "ministry" was fighting God.

Do you find comfort in Paul's story? It helps me to know that God humbled Paul in this way. Sometimes humility really looks like humiliation - can you relate.. I can. So often in my life I have felt like an absolute failure.. so often my pride (especially the religious variety) and my judgmental words have returned to me with humiliating results. It reminds me of this verse:
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1Peter 5:5b)
Pride is not an option for a believer.. and neither is humility. We can either clothe ourselves with humility or find God humbling us.. and the latter often resembles humiliation. So what does humility look like? Maybe it looks like love? How about this definition?
Humility is patient, humility is kind and is not jealous; humility 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. Humility never fails.
In truth humility is an expression of love - for God and each other. When we have pride we do not love.. when we love we are humble. Consider the love of Jesus:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
For Jesus, humility resulted in "death on a cross".. why would we expect it to look any different for us?

Spiritual Food and Exercise

..what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:3-9)

The 8th chapter of Romans is one of my favorites. In this passage the Apostle Paul says some insightful things about the relationship of the heart and the head. Here is what I get from it:
  1. A contrast is drawn between walking in the flesh and in the Spirit.
  2. The ability to walk in the Spirit is not dependent upon one's mental understanding of the law (i.e. the bible).
  3. The mind seems to be something that gets direction from the innermost being (i.e. the heart).
  4. When one walks in the Spirit the mind is not in control.
  5. Having the Spirit is the definition of being a Christian.
What this passage doesn't speak to specifically is how a person can be a Christian (i.e have the Spirit) and not walk in the Spirit. I have written on this topic a few times so I will not belabor it but simply say that it is a matter of which is stronger.. your innermost or outermost being. I think that to be strong on the inside requires two things: feeding and exercise.
Feeding: Growth of any kind requires food.. this is the intake side of life. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food.. I will simply call this food "truth". This truth food comes to us in many forms - personal study, teaching, counseling and prayer.. just to name but a few. For this food to be effectively digested it must be received in humility.. without humility the food will not accomplish what is is meant to do - provide the means for growth.

Exercise: Jesus said (in John 4:34) that His nourishment came from doing Gods will. In this I think that we see a link from just eating and getting spiritually fat to being spiritually fit. Without exercising our heart through faith we simply get fat on the inside and become ineffective in the kingdom of God. Spiritual exercise can come in many forms but is always exercise that is directed from within.. exercise directed from without has little spiritual value. If one is directed from within to do something and then acts on that direction they take part in exercising their innermost being.. bringing spiritual strength.
Apart from spiritual food and exercise we will simply be unable to walk in the Spirit. We will continue to wrestle with the flesh and sinful desires.. but through a consistent program of spiritual diet and exercise we will eventually see our lives change and spiritual fruit grow.