The War for Conformation

Life can often bring pressures to change.. sometimes the changes can be good and sometimes not so good.. and many times the changes and trials of life bear down hard conforming us in strange ways. When I think about this a few verses come to mind:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. -Romans 12:2

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. -Romans 8:29
There is a tension in these verses. On one hand they speak to the idea that we have a responsibility to reject worldly molding.. on the other hand it speaks to the idea that God is at work making us like Jesus. Another verse comes to mind when i consider this tension.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
-2Corinthians 10:5
This verse is part of a passage that tells us that we are in a spiritual war. It speaks to me of my need to live from my inner most being and not from my mind. When we live from our own understanding we are led around by thoughts that may seem right to us but are not God's best.. reminds me of this scripture:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
-Proverbs 14:12
This graphic verse spells it out.. living from our own understanding produces death.. living from our innermost being leads to life.. it is a matter of conformation. Will we allow our innermost being.. that place where His Spirit lives.. to conform us or will we be conformed by the understanding of our head? I think that it is a war that can be won.. but not with our head.. no matter how smart we are

The Simplicity of Faith

This morning I found myself writing this in an email note to an old friend:
I think that my life took a turn for the dark side when I went from simple faith to complicated religion.
Don't you just love simple and uncomplicated things? Faith does seem to be something as simple as forsaking and trusting. As I reflect on the simplicity of faith I think about what Paul said in the eleventh chapter of 2Corinthians:
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Isn't it interesting how Paul speaks of being deceived by the enemy when we are drawn away from simplicity? In my life I have found faith to be something that brings clarity and simplicity to life. On the other hand religious activities have just complicated my life and sometimes have trumped faith.

Possibly.. with a new year coming.. we can examine ways to embrace the simplicity of faith in, and devotion to, Jesus. What are the religious things that you have found to once complicate your life?

A Christmas Prayer

This beautiful Christmas prayer comes from beliefnet..

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman..." -Galatians 4:4

God with us,

I've come to see you. I'm not as clean as I wish I was, but I'm hoping you'll receive me just as you did the rough, and sweaty shepherds who burst in on you on that holy night so long ago. They were afraid. I guess that spectacular light show in the sky got to them. I wish I felt more afraid than I do. I should, considering this is it: the Incarnation. But all of this is so simple; so ordinary. No, it's less than ordinary. This is abject poverty. Most babies aren't born where the livestock is. I keep asking myself, how can this be God? Yet, here you are. I know it's you, because here I am, on my knees, and my heart is aflame within me.

It isn't as pristine as the Christmas cards make it seem. It's cold, and drafty, and filthy, and it smells of animals and dung in here. No wise men are hovering over you with their gifts. The shepherds aren't even here. Just me, and your folks, and my hands are empty. But Lord, seeing you like this, so vulnerable, my heart is full.

Look at you in that feeding trough. I can't get over how tiny you are, but oh. You are perfect. The scriptures say when you grow up you won't be much to look at, but I don't think I've ever seen such a gorgeous child. I hope I always see you like this: beautiful, new, and surprising.

Oh my! Your mom is bringing you to me! Thank you, Mary. You really are full of grace. This is incredible! I feel so clumsy, Lord. Like I can hurt you if I'm not careful. But you feel so good in my arms. You're like a warm little ball of pure love. Can you feel me shaking? I'm undone. You're right here at my heart. I wish I could stop time right here, and hold you like this forever, loving on you, and kissing you like this.

You still smell like the blood from your mother's womb. Oh, Jesus. You'll have this same coppery scent again in about 33 years. But it'll be a much bloodier occasion than your birth. That time, you'll be dying, so that I can be born anew. Have mercy. I don't want to think about what I'm going to put you through. Not today. But I can't help it.

Oh, man. Forgive me, Jesus. I'm crying all over you. You're the baby, but I'm the one blubbering. I'm not trying to scare you on your birthday, but the shadow of the cross is on this barn, and there isn't a thing I can do to stop what's going to happen to you. So, I'll just continue to hold you tight, if you don't mind. If I can keep you close to me we may just get through the rest of your story together. Despite how small you are, I'm the one that needs you to save me. This is craziness, but this is the way you chose to do it. Who can understand such mysteries?

I'm amazed that you can fall asleep in my guilty arms. Maybe you're so quiet and peaceful because even now you know you'll make it all right. Oh, Lord. Who can understand such mysteries? It's mind blowing enough to think that you are here: God as a baby, born in the humility of a barn, resting in my arms, my ragged heartbeat sounding in your tiny ear. And you will not forget me.

Amazing grace.

Sleep in heavenly peace, Lord Jesus. And welcome. I'm glad you're here.


Letting Go of the Results

I visited a blog today where a young man spoke about the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.. those young Israelites who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's giant golden idol. It caused me to think about Stephen, one of the deacons in the early church, who was stoned for confronting religious leaders. Consider this response to Nebuchadnezzar's threat of death by fire in the third chapter of the book of Daniel:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Don't you just love their response? Breaking it down ... these men simply said that our response to trials are not dependent on the results ... we trust God ... we let go of the results ... we follow His leading ... and we leave the future in the hands of God. In a sense we never really trust the Lord until we let go of the results. Not that it is easy. ツ

What's Love Got To Do With It?

I woke up this morning thinking about a scripture from the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians. That chapter is sometimes called the love chapter because of its focus on, and definition of, love. It's placement in Paul's letter is an interesting one because it falls between two chapters (twelve and fourteen) that address spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. It is like he was saying that spiritual gifts only operated in the way that they were designed to when love is present. Consider these verses that begin the chapter:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
As I read these verses my mind races back to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lays bare the inadequacy of external religious rules and laws and speaks to the motives behind our actions. Jesus goes to the heart of the issue when he says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
In these verses Jesus speaks to us of the real issue.. the one that law cannot address.. a motive of hate instead of one of love. Much of the gospels cover Jesus' ongoing dialog with religious leaders who did not seem to understand what it meant to have a love motive.. at one point Jesus instructs thems to go and learn what it means to be compassionate.. a rather insulting thing to say to someone who professes to be a religious leader.

I think that the life of Jesus is filled with images of what it means to love. On many occasions the gospels speak of Jesus being moved by compassion. How do you think the writers knew that Jesus was being moved that way. I suspect that Jesus was visibly moved and perhaps cried as he ministered healing to those who were hurting. In truth love was pouring out of Jesus and sometimes it poured from His eyes in the form of tears that everyone could see.. as it says in Hebrews Jesus is touched by our weaknesses.

The message that Jesus came to bring and demonstrate is that, as Paul says, we are nothing if we do not act with a love motive. We are nothing when we are not compassionate. We are nothing when we are arrogant, envious, prideful and selfish. But.. and this is a big but.. we are something when we love.. we are something when we are patient, humble, forgiving and kind.. we are something when we bear with people.. we are something when we believe the best about the them and hope with them.

We are something because when we love we are like God.

He shall reign for ever and ever

I have been thinking about the meaning of Christmas lately (no surprise there) and these scriptures in specific:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. -Micah 5:2

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. - Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

There are many other prophecies in the Old Testament that speak to Jesus' first advent that I could list. These verses amaze me in the way that they speak to the nature of His coming and the nature of the Messiah. These verses tell us not only the specifics of His birth but the specifics of His essence.

In these verses we see that His birth would be
  • in a specific place.. not just any place in Israel;
  • a divine one.. no man would be involved in His conception;
  • a human one.. a virgin would give birth to the Messiah.
We also see in these verses the nature of the One born:
  • Ruler in Israel.. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  • Immanuel.. God with us.. God born of a woman.. amazing!
  • Wonderful Counselor.. was there ever a wiser teacher than Jesus?
  • Mighty God.. He is not only the Son of God.. He is God the Son.
  • Everlasting Father.. Jesus has all the attributes of God, including eternality.
  • Prince of Peace.. Jesus came in love and peace to bring peace and love.
I love it that the passage in Isaiah 9 does not stop with the Messiah's birth but goes on to speak of a kingdom and government with no end. In truth the birth of Jesus Christ set in motion an eternal change.. it ushered in a new era in the kingdom and government of God.

So in this season when we celebrate the coming of God to earth take a moment and celebrate with me the eternal reign of Jesus Christ.. and sing with me the refrain from Handel's Messiah:
"Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords."
Hallelujah!! Hallelujah!!

The Deep Waters of the Heart

The twentieth chapter of proverbs speaks to us of how the heart has deep waters that can be drawn out. It speaks to us of the negative influences of the flesh and the positive ones of the hearts. It identifies the weaknesses of alcohol, cheating, revenge and rash speech. The chapter is also filled with the attributes of steadfast love, wise counsel, purity of heart and the glory of gray hair.

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise." (v1)

Alcoholism is nasty.. those who are addicted lead lives that are devastated and bring devastation. It is why this verse speaks of being led astray by alcohol. Scripture advises moderation in these things.. it speaks negatively of drunkenness yet it also teaches us that Jesus changed water into wine. For 30 years I did not drink alcohol.. didn't feel I could exercise moderation.. these days I enjoy an occasional glass of wine.

"The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out." (v5)

My pastoral ministry involved all sorts of counseling opportunities. Many times I felt an opportunity to draw out the deep things in the hearts of people who were hurt, wounded or just seeking wisdom. It was often quite glorious to see friends weep with joy as they connected with the deep things of their heart.

"Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" (v6)

I sometimes think that life and love is all about being faithful. Really.. love that doesn't last.. is it really love at all?

"Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?" (v9)

I think that one difference between an Old Testament view and a New Testament view is the view of the heart or innermost being. The believers heart is pure.. it is not divided.. it is not wicked.. because of Jesus we have a new heart.. our issue is to fully live from it instead of our own understanding.

"Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord." "'Bad, bad,' says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts." "Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel." (v10, 14, 17)

How we treat each other is so important to God. His desire is that we love each other. You cannot love your neighbor and cheat him. Trying to get the best of another.. even at a garage simply wrong.. it should not make you feel good when it makes another feel bad.

"Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war." (v18)

Once my wife was advising me to seek counsel about a problem I was having.. I was not open to the idea.. she retorted and said "I thought you believed in counseling".. ouch. The things we need counseling on the most are often the things that we do not want to get advice on the most.. sometimes we need someone to tell us we need help

"An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end." (v21)

Mostly it is better for wealth to accumulate over a long period of time. Most of us could not handle wealth or fame when we are young.. it is hard even when we are old.

"Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you." (v21)

We are never more like the enemy of our souls when we refuse to forgive and seek revenge.

"A man's steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?" (v24)

We often walk through life not really understanding the things that happen to us until we seem them in hindsight. Until we do I think that it is best to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

"It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows." (v25)

I have sometimes made a fool of myself by make commitments too quickly. Reminds me of what Jesus said about counting the cost before you make a commitment.

"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair." (v29)

This verse comforts me greatly.. arthritis of my wrists and ankles have greatly decreased my strength.. yet I feel my innermost being is stronger than it has ever been.. not that I wouldn't mind have that strength or brown hair again.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

2009 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.

This year I began posting my thoughts about the book of Proverbs one chapter and verse at a time.. you can read and browse through them (the first 19 chapters) here.

Here are some excerpts from my favorite (non-proverbs) posts:
  • Jesus on Prayer
    What it is like to pray like a hypocrite? I think that praying in this way means to pray superficial prayers.. prayers that do not engage your innermost being.. prayers that simply regurgitate platitudes and cliches.. sadly.. I have prayed these kinds of prayers. I am reminded that Jesus (in Luke 18:9-14) warned of praying proud prayers saying that only people who pray humble prayers will be justified before God.

  • Spiritual Umbrellas
    Rain can often represent difficult days for us.. times of testing and trial. During times of rain it is so easy to get our spiritual umbrellas out and 'protect' ourselves from the full effect of the rain. Often we will use the umbrellas of withdrawal.. of manipulation.. and of passivity to protect ourselves from the effects of the rain.

  • Interactive Living
    Guess what I am trying to say is that I think God involves us in the process of His will for our lives.. he engages us in different ways.. he asks us questions.. he seems to have ways of getting our attention and getting us out of our small boxes.. and I am thankful that he does.

  • Everyone Wants a Miracle
    Everyone wants a miracle. The words seemed understated and almost nonchalant in nature. I sat back and began to ponder about how most of us,when we face a trial or sickness, pray desperately seeking a miraculous answer to our prayer. We all want a miracle of some sort. We all want God to show up in power!

  • The Prayer Question
    So often I focus my prayers on answers and really don't put myself in a place of vulnerability and humility. I come to the Lord knowing what I want. I have a specific answer to my prayer in my mind and really don't want God to answer in any other way.

  • Religious Lipstick
    Owning up to my own bad behaviors and realizing how I used lipstick to pretty up my and others' bad behaviors has been a long and difficult journey. I so often want to be "positive" and "optimistic" about my life.. to see the bright side of sin.. to say "It's all good!".. I guess I just love the color of that lipstick :)

  • Courage of the Heart: Jill's Story
    Sometimes someone comes along that helps us remember what it means to be courageous.. what it means to be a Christian going through a horrible trial. I am thankful that I found Jill's blog several months ago.. her life has been so inspirational.. she encourages me to count it all joy as I go through trials of my own.

  • Creation: Literary or Literal Interpretations
    I think that the issue is not so much the "how" of creation but the "Who" of creation. By faith we can understand that God created all things but dogmatic faith does not dictate the science of creation.. and neither does dogmatic evolutionism. I think that there is a mystery to the creation story.. we only understand in part.. we see it in glimpses through that proverbial cloudy glass.

  • Unbearable Sorrow
    The words take me back to that Intensive Care Unit where I, along with my two young children, watched my first wife breathe her last breaths.. sometimes our sorrow is so unbearable.. often life presents us with seemingly impossible circumstances.. and sometimes it feels like God is not there.

  • Don't Confuse God with Life
    In all this I have discovered that Douglas' perspective is the only one that helps me live a productive life. When hard stuff comes I have not found it helpful to blame God for the difficulties. I have found that having that kind of attitude only makes me bitter. What Douglas says is true.. God is right along side of us in our pain.. He is touched by our sadness.. and our tears do not go unnoticed.

  • The Balance of Seasons
    Perhaps life is not really life unless it is balanced out with trials and hardship? Maybe we would not really know love if we had not experienced hate; and maybe the word "peace" would be meaningless with the word "war". I am beginning to appreciate how life like the year has it seasons.

  • Trusting Providence
    So when life doesn't seem to make sense or when times are hard it is good to know that we can trust God to providentially mold us and help us to manifest His divine character.. even in extremely negatives situations. He is the proverbial potter and we are the clay.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or when you first read them.

Living a Life of Integrity

The nineteenth chapter of proverbs begins by speaking to us of how it is better to live a life of integrity. The chapter goes on to speak to us concerning what it means to walk out this integrity speaking to us of how we blame God.. of how we are attracted to money.. of foolish living.. and of the glory of forgiveness, generosity, love and the fear of the Lord.

"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." (v1)

Is there a better thing to aspire to than integrity.. living an external life that is consistent with our innermost being challenges and inspires me.

"When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord." (v3)

Interesting how this verse speaks of God being blamed for a thing He had no part in. I think God has been blamed by so much of our folly. Sometimes we err when we confuse God with life.

"Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!" (v6-7)

Verses like these teach us about the nature of wealth, popularity and influence and seem to be more reflective of those high school cliques that only the popular kids belonged to. So good to remember that Jesus hung out with those who were not popular, rich or influential.

"It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury, much less for a slave to rule over princes." (v10)

Not sure that I fall into this same category but I once dreamed of managing a large software team.. in 2000 the dream came true when I was promoted and began managing 70 people.. then the dream turned into a nightmare.. I was not a good fit for the position.. be careful what you wish for.. some of our dreams can be a bit foolish

"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." (v11)

It can be so hard to forgive when someone offends you. This verse turns forgiveness inside out and shows us how we can model Christ-likeness when we simply overlook an offense.

"A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord." (v13-14)

This verse speaks deeply to me of the impact that our family has on us.. there is nothing more precious to us than our spouses and children.. it tears us up when they hurt. One of the hardest things I have ever experienced was watching my children grieve when their mother died.

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." (v17)

This verse to me says so much about giving.. it says to be generous.. it gives the poor as our focus of giving.. it equates this kind of giving as unto the Lord.. and it says that God sees and repays us when we do it. So much of Christian giving these days is focused on everything but the poor.. take this verse to heart and be generous when you tip the poor waitress.. and find a local food pantry to lavishly donate to.

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." (v21)

It is good to have plans as long as we are flexible in living them out. Comforting to know that God will adjust our plans to conform to His purposes of making us like Jesus.

"What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar." (v22)

These days much is made of macho men.. we adore them on the football field and love to watch them in the movies. This verse tells us that the hallmark of a real man is love.

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm." (v24)

Much has been said of the fear of the Lord.. the way that I think of it is someone who factors the Lord into every part of their life because the the overwhelming awe they have towards Him.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Two Ditches

Commenting on Sue's post about people calling folks who don't believe in Jesus as "Christians" I said: Seems like there are two ditches in this area. The first is too narrow and the second is too broad. Some want to define Christianity exclusively to their own group or denomination while others want to include everyone who believes in God. These two verses describe this tension:
"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. -Mark 9:38-40

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. -Matthew 12:30
I do think that there are two types of Christians though.. cultural and spiritual ones.. this applies to other religions too. Sometimes people feel that simply going to church makes you a Christian.. reminds me of the saying that says that sitting in church makes you no more of a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.