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The Habit of Obedience

In Christianity, Life on July 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

Yep, obedience. An often avoided concept.

After I came back from Michigan a few weeks ago, I was watching my friends’ kids (all under 4 years old) run around the living room where we were meeting together. Occasionally, one of them needed to be pulled aside and taken into time out, or talked with and taught about why something they did was wrong. A few of those times, the parent would warn the child that if they did what they had just done one more time, they would be put in time out. Usually the younger kids would think about what they wanted to choose (it’s funny how early you can see this happening) and do the thing anyway – usually with a clear knowledge that they were choosing to disobey and a desire to test the boundary their parent had set; often the older kids would think about it, then, despite obviously wanted to do again what they had just done, choose (somewhat disappointedly) to move on to something else.

All of a sudden, I envied the discipline these kids were getting. At the young ages of 1, 2 and 3, their ability to reject the strong rebellious desires in them was already being strengthened – and showing itself to be effective enough to help them choose obedience over what they obviously strongly desired.

More than that, they were already learning that obedience is the good choice. In a predictable way, they could see that disobedience caused pain and unpleasantness (including  a parent’s attitude of discipline) and that obedience caused a momentary unpleasantness (of losing the desired item or act) and the longer lasting fruits of parental praise and the fun of enjoying the next thing they decided to play with.

That night in the living room I saw in a clearer way how God has been parenting me – and how Godly parents can help a child avoid some of God’s discipline later. It’s all about training. When you train in obedience you become stronger in choosing the good and rejecting the bad. You’re used to what that choice feels like. You also know it’s repercussions; you have come to know that what seems good in the moment hides an ugly tail. You also come to expect and desire the stronger and longer-lasting pleasures resulting from obedience. In a way, you learn to bring the fruits of obedience close enough to you, and to the present moment, that they outweigh the immediate pleasure the is being offered in the act of disobedience. Another way to say this is that you gain perspective.

Thinking through all of this has impressed on me the necessity to discipline well. If have children someday, I want them to know that God guides them into what is good for them, and that he’s always faithful, steady and predictable in that guiding. I want them to know that they can trust that God will discipline them when they veer off his path and choose their own – that this is a good thing, and it’s good that they can rely on God always doing this, always helping them out. I want them to know that I’m helping them win the fight of life by making it easier for them to choose what’ good. And I also want them to know that just as God’s discipline is reliable and trustworthy, so his his acceptance and love. He disciplines because he loves and because he’s made us his children. 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A Tidbit on Faith

In Christianity, Life on July 24, 2009 at 10:49 am

As I wrote in a recent post, I’ve been through a number of situations recently that have been trying to me.

This doesn’t fall under most people’s idea of a trying situation, but I don’t like flying. Each time I get ready to fly somewhere (as I recently did to Michigan), I have to go through an exercise of faith. In the end, I have to decide that I can’t base my choice about whether I will get on the plane on my knowledge of whether it will land safely, but on my belief that God is good and in control. It’s his decision what happens to me.

I recently realize that this is what I do every day. I operate not on my own knowledge of how things will be, but on my knowledge of who God is. What’s happening here is exactly what James says to do:

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:22-4

Every time I choose to trust God, or choose something that he tells me to choose (despite my preference for something else) I am choosing to not deceive myself; I’m working out my faith. 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What it Means to Cry Out.

In Christianity, Life on July 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm

I’m not sure I’m ready to write about this yet. It’s something close to me right now; I’m still in the midst of it. We’ll see if writing about it is part of the journey.

Sunday as I listened to the sermon I noticed there was a sermon commentator behind me – someone who was listening to the sermon, agreeing out loud with it, and anticipating the answers, and saying them out loud too. To me this was distracting. One thing this sermon commentator said stuck out to me, though. I don’t remember what the pastor was saying (funny) but my commentator said (in anticipation of his next point), “Cry out.”

I always find this phrase a bit trite. I’m not sure what it really means; I’ve heard it used in many different ways, frequently by people that I suspect also don’t know what it means. So, I got a little annoyed and tried to block out the commentator.

But apparently this commentator was part of God’s bigger plan.

Later I met with a friend to discuss something particular that’s going on in my life. This thing has been difficult, and I’ve tried to tackle it in a multitude of ways – none of which have provided and ultimate answer or solution. I had started to feel like I’d run out of paths to try. Among other things, my friend brought me a picture from God. I won’t share it here, but the meaning of it was this: I needed to drop my bucket deep down into the well in order to find more water. Sorry if that sounds kind of vague, but take a minute to pause: what does that image call to your mind?

As I talked more with my friend, I started to see (and she frankly and helpfully told me) that I needed to let myself need. As my understanding of this developed, it became clearer that I like to take care of myself. Well, maybe I don’t like it, but it’s what I’m used to doing; it’s a survival mechanism I developed growing up when Jesus wasn’t real for me. Because I didn’t feel cared for or taken care of, I decided I would take care of myself, protect myself from hurt and learn to be “ok.”

But God wants more than ok. He’s bigger and better than this world. His thoughts are higher than ours, and we cannot even imagine the good things he has planned for us.

What I’ve realized is that before God can give me these good, big things (some internal and some external) I have to learn that my ways of getting water on my own aren’t good enough. I can dip into a shallow pool, but that’s not going to last me – especially as God grows me to desire more of him in my life.

Something else I’ve learned in this process is that God has made me with certain desire. If I give up, or settle for something less, I won’t be satisfied. Part of dropping the bucket is asking him for those things, and letting him know I’m not satisfied with what I have now. And really, this is asking him to bring more of himself into the world, in a deep, true, big and powerful way. It’s like the light bursting through hazy, muddy clouds; it’s like Jesus being born and coming into the world.

I have to be brave to ask for these things, because to ask I have to admit that I’m not satisfied with where things are now. It means admitting that my life now isn’t where it should be, or will be; it isn’t where I want to end up. It also takes confidence to acknowledge these desires I have for more, to believe that they are good and valuable. It takes a belief in my own value to ask for more, to ask for the things that I desire, and to know that they are good (having put them to the test and ending the negative part of the process there).

Lowering the bucket means that I don’t have what it takes. I am powerless. I am powerless to attain these things God’s given me a desire to attain. Funny isn’t it? Like Jacob I contend for God’s blessing and find that he wrestles me ’til daybreak, beats me, and blesses me anyway, just because he chooses to. I can struggle and fight until I’ve reached the end of my rope, and I think good actually comes out of this. It tests me, and grows my muscles and teaches me how strong I am. But all of my hope in myself fails in the process. And that’s good.

Right now I feel emptier than I ever have, and that’s good. I feel fuller in myself that I ever have. I think I’m learning the distinction and dividing line between God and myself – and who’s actually ultimately in control.

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Dark Things to Diamonds

In Christianity, Life on July 7, 2009 at 8:46 pm

I’ve heard people say that it’s important to spend time with God daily, building up a reservoir of him in yourself, so that when something happens, or you come across someone in need, you will be ready to pull something up out of that reservoir. The people I’ve heard say this are frequently ones that I consider more mature than myself. Rather than believe them and start doing it myself, the rebuff I offered in my head was something like, “the Spirit doesn’t work that way – he’s always with you and can give you something in the moment.”

While I think it’s true that the Spirit will provide you with what you need in a situation (God’s plan is, in fact, often bigger, more loving, etc, than your own), there are some situations that are best met by a reservoir. Recently I’ve gone through a number of circumstances that offered me the opportunity to respond in several ways – all of which boiled down to either responding out of light or out of darkness; out of the stuff of God, or the stuff of sin.

I haven’t passed these tests as well in the past, and realizing this helped me see that my days and weeks and months of fighting the good fight in myself (by God’s power) had changed me. Or, it had built a reservoir in me. Wait – which was it?

Maybe the two aren’t so different. All I know is that the investment I put into myself as I read the bible, chose faith over unbelief, chose to acknowledge and reject sin in myself, chose to accept accountability and openness in confession and much much more had built up wisdom, obedience, faith, etc that were now proving themselves useful as good answers to the potentially confusing situations I was now facing.

And – they were proving themselves immediately accessible. The situations that prompted this realization and discussion didn’t allow me the time or place to absent myself and spend time with God. I had to immediately respond – and I found I was doing that in a good way.

Maybe this is just maturity – and maybe that’s all that building the reservoir means – allowing God to change you and put his deposits of light deep within you so that’s what comes out when you’re pricked.

I’m the reservoir – of good or evil, whichever way I choose when I’m offered the choice. Luckily God’s always digging deeper in me, transforming dark things to diamonds. As I choose God daily, and choose in favor of the light in me over the darkness, I become more light. 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When God Chooses

In Christianity on April 21, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I’ve recently been learning about what it means to have God’s favor. It’s a bit different than I expected.

The other night I opened up my bible to Romans, Chapter 9, where Paul talks about who Israel is. He tells us that Israel is not the biological children of Abraham (to prove, if this were the case Abraham’s offspring would be reckoned through Ishmael). Instead, Israel is the children of God’s promise, that is, the children of his promised son, Isaac. (9:6-9)

Paul goes on to teach us about what Paul calls “God’s purpose in election.” (9:11) He says that though Jacob and Esau were even twins and of the same mother and father (unlike Isaac and Ishmael), and Esau was born first, God’s plan was the “the older would serve the younger…’Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (9:12-13)

The point that God’s making here, says Paul, is that he chooses who he chooses. Jacob, Isaac and so on, didn’t claim God’s favor on their lives because of anything they had done. As Paul says, God distinguishes between Jacob and Esau “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” (9:11) So, it is made clear to all of us that God’s purpose for is is “not by works but by him who calls.” (9:12)

This is comforting. When we ask God why he blesses us (perhaps fearing he will stop blessing us someday), or when we fear that God’s blessing is leaving us, or isn’t there, or has never been there, we can stop and remember that God’s calling is unfathomable. It’s not by our choice or effort, it’s just because it is. I love how circular God’s argument is – and that, for him, a circular argument works because he’s God. Using something God said in Exodus, Paul explains how God is just (which is what we’re worrying about when we fear our works won’t measure up to receive God’s favor): “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (9:14-15)

If God has mercy on us and turns our hearts to him then we partake in the promise God made to Abraham. He has chosen us.  We are in his promise, so we can stop trying to please him and know that he has chosen to be pleased with us. (I wonder if this is another image of Christ and the church:  husbands and wives should continue to be for each other (even if they are not always emotionally happy with each other) in the same way that Jesus has chosen to be for everyone God has chosen for him, to the point of sacrificing the most that is humanly possible.)

Knowing these things frees us up to actually follow God.

A few mornings ago as I woke up I felt the like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. This isn’t new to me; it’s something I struggle with periodically. That morning I suddenly realized that I could trust God with that weight. And, if I’m not being weighed down by things that aren’t actually on my shoulders, I can carry the loads that Jesus has actually put there. I will actually be able to follow him.

If we believe God has irrevocably chosen us, just because he has chosen that he will have mercy on us (as Paul explains in Romans 9:16-24) then the weight of our world is on him. He’s carrying our broader scale life and our ultimate destiny. So, we can just confront what each day presents, and find that it is appropriately small.

I’ve just been learning this, and I’m still in the process of practicing it. I know each of us has different areas where we struggle. I struggle with feeling the weight of huge long term things (and also am good at seeing things that way); others may struggle with looking at the details and forgetting the direction they’re going in (and be great at arranging all the details so that someone else’s long-term plan is possible). So, find how these ideas fit into your life and who you are. 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A helpful quote

In Christianity on April 17, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Just want to share a helpful quote from a book I’m reading by Elisabeth Elliot. She’s talking about how rules and order can increase originality. What’s helpful to me is knowing that God is always drawing me to be more precisely who he’s made me to be – which involves constraints. Among other things, it involves saying ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to others. Here’s the quote from Elisabeth Elliot as she speaks about “divine restraint”:

“A river flowing through a chasm, walled in by high rock moves with a rush of concentrated strength which dissipates the moment it reaches the flat plan”

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The inside is bigger than the outside

In Christianity on April 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

Today I was reading in Matthew 9. One after another Jesus heals people. I knew Jesus healed a lot of people while he was on earth, but today when I read it seemed to me like he was just doing so much. Two things came out of this realization.

1. Jesus asks each of a question: “Do you believe I am able to do this?” He asks this question of two blind men. (Mat 9:28) There are many communal things in this life, where we work together with other people, and we feel like our lives are tied in with theirs. But this question is something we each have to answer alone. We have to do so honestly, and no one else can answer for us. What struck me today was that this question also is the one that decides who we become and what our lives look like. Which leads into number two.

2. As I continue to grow older I’m surprised and pleased to find that I become more like myself and less like other people. This means I may seem strange sometime – but everyone should seem strange sometimes. It shows that we’re each ourselves, different from everyone else. As this strageness is exposed we learn from eachother and become more aware that God designed us as his body, to work together and be (for ourselves and for each other) what no one else can be. In Matthew 9:18-26 we hear a story of a daughter who has just died and her father (a ruler) who comes to Jesus saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” (9:18) Jesus goes with him and finds a noisy mourning crowd gathered at his home. Jesus tells them, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” (9:24) Then it says, ” But they laughed at him.” (9:24)

I’m not sure what Jesus meant when he said the girl was asleep, not dead. He was entering a situation that seemed final. Everything looked a certain way. The people believed the girl was dead, they believed in the processes of the world, and had no room for believe in something else – unlike the girl’s father. What struck me was that they laughed at him. That line might have been less impactful to me if it said “But they disagreed”, or something along those lines. Laughing in this situation show more disdain and even shows the people might think Jesus is a little crazy.

But Jesus believes. He has faith in God’s ability to work. I think there’s a line in The Sound of Music that goes something like, “You have to find your life.” Maria tells Captain Von Trapp that it’s what the Reverand Mother told her when she was afraid to face her love for him, and everything that would mean. Something similar to that line comes to mind here. “You have to say ‘yes’ to your life.”

Which means that you will look very unique. Which is precisely what I’m loving and thanking God for. He’s taking me through a process of finding out who I am – as I’m sure he wants to do for each one of us! I’m thanking him that he’s been taking me through confusion and difficulties so that I can stumble around in order to find the true path.

When Jesus asks the blind men if they believe he’s able to do this, their response of ‘yes’ is asking for something huge. Can you imagine what it would be like to be suddenly cured of blindness? They’re asking for something that is crazy to hope for. But it all depends on your perspective.

Jesus gives them back who they are. Who they were created to be, and who they would have been in a world where sin doesn’t mess things up. It’s of primary importance that Jesus asks whether they have faith in him. This is what he came for. He came so that people would believe in him and find life. So what’s the next step? It’s finding out what that life is.

That’s why it’s crazy and not crazy at the same time. It’s the life you are supposed to have; it’s what’s true, and good; it’s what’s of God – the very being we long for and that feels like home. But it’s also so different from anything else we have here. That’s why the crowd laughes at Jesus. He’s busy doing God’s work – very busy! Healing all sorts of people from all sorts of things, including death! And that’s his focus. Not the crowds around him. He focuses on each person and asks them if they believe – to be healed, but also ultimately to experience the life he has for them. (I bet those people remembered his real love and power when they hear about his being crucified and then coming back to life).

In the same way that Jesus focuses and pursues the life God the Father has called him to, and asks us if we too believe and want to share in that. Each of us has to say ‘yes’ and step onto that strange and unknown (but good and right feeling) path of the possible impossible, or say ‘no’ and be among those who just don’t see and laugh at Jesus, right before he’s able to do what they say he can’t.

If we say ‘yes’ to belief and therefore to God’s plan of realigning us with who we really are, I think we’ll find that we look more and more like ourselves, and less and less like anything else around us. That will mean that we’ll be in Jesus’ shoes sometimes and be the one that everyone’s laughing at – because they can’t see the normal and true reality of something unseen to purely human eyes and minds.

As I do get to know the normal reality of myself, I experience myself as more and more supernatural. It’s because I’m more than I would have hoped for – because God is more than I’ve hope for or imagined. He keeps showing himself bigger and better. It really is like there are universes opening before me that I’ve never seen. Maybe that’s what Psalm 138 means when it says: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (139:14) I am a work of God’s and as I see how wonderfully I’m made I begin to see more and more how wonderful and vast everything he made is. I being to suspect that each thing is deeper than I’ve yet seen, because I’ve experienced my own depth and know, as I’ve already found, that there’s much more there still to explore, and more than I yet imagine.

Or as one of the Faun’s puts it in The Last Battle (by C.S. Lewis), “The further up and the futher in you go, the bigger everything gets. 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Water the disciples

In Christianity on April 11, 2009 at 9:08 pm

The verse “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mat 10:16) was on my mind today, so I searched for it on biblegateway.com and found out that it’s in Matthew, Chapter 10. The entire chapter surprised me, and I began to realized that there is a lot of meat in it, some of which I often hear talked about in a way I’m not comfortable with.

Matthew 10 has to do with belief. Other ways of defining the theme might be:  “us and them” or “choose your side” or “you’re on a side, so show it.” (As in James 2:18 – “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”)

Today I want to talk about verses 40-42 which include the well-know verse that people quote as: if you give someone even a glass of water you’ll be rewarded; or sometimes: if you give someone even a glass of water in my name you’ll be rewarded. This is used to explain why it’s good, period, to do charity work. They are saying: Anyone can help people, and should, and even if they’re not acknowledging Jesus when they do it, he’ll still reward them and is glad they’re helping. And perhaps there’s some truth to that, but its not what the verses area saying.

Let’s look at what the verse actually says: And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” Jesus promises a reward because the water-giver gives it to Jesus’ disciple, not because the water is given.

The verse before confirms it:

  • “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward…”
  • “…anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.”

What’s the point? It’s what all of Matthew 10 is about: belief. When you give water to a disciple, or receive a righteous man or a prophet because he’s one of those things, in that moment you’re saying, ” I believe that there is such a thing as righteousness (and therefore also that it’s possible to be unrighteous)” or “I believe that Jesus is real and he speaks to us through prophets” or “I affirm your following of Jesus and out of respect to him, etc. I will serve you with even this small thing of a glass of water.”

Jesus sums it up: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Mat 10:40)

In a way, these verses aren’t about serving each other. They’re about saying what you believe in and what you’re living for. Just as a prophet or righteous man is rewarded for his faith in God to enable him to prophesy or be righteous, Jesus recognizes the same faith is at work when you welcome one of those prophets or righteous men. And we’re rewarded for our faith and it’s being acted out – whether that means prophesying or welcome a prophet.

What can we draw from this new reading of these verses? For one, it’s good to serve other believers, welcome them into our home, etc. because they’re doing God’s work. If we do this we’ll increase whatever other people in our churches are doing, as well as encouraging them and ourselves. And, Jesus particularly notices it.

Sometimes serving other Christians because of the work they’re doing, and with a mind to advance it can fall by the wayside, but Jesus says it’s a very real and profitable part of being a Christian and acting out your faith in him (which pleases him, other Christians, and probably yourself). 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