Desiring God: the beginning

I stole this title from John Piper’s book by the same name because it is very fitting for my spiritual life right now. So many times in my life I have found myself moving along, not falling into temptation, but not seeking God. It’s a fairly neutral life which acknowledges God as present, in control, and available, but does not actively seek Him.

I know this neutral living is not how we are called to live as true believers, but the desire to seek Him isn’t there. I long for other things in my life; good job, close friends, involvement with youth. In all of these, I do my best to bring God into the picture and spent time praying, but it seems like something is missing. I am missing out on the simple relationship with God- getting to know Him and enjoy spending time with Him. Not involved in an activity or a pursuit, but just growing in my knowledge and the image of Him.

The problem is that this does not come naturally to me…to anyone. At times I want this more than others, but keeping the passion for Him is hard. I was reminded of this during church this past week as we looked at the story of the prodigal son. Both sons had the wrong sort of relationship with the Father and what they both had in common was a desire for the things the Father gave, but not the Father Himself. The younger son wanted freedom and the inheritance from his Father. The older son wanted his rightful due for his obedience. Neither of them simply wanted to be with the Father.

I am keenly aware of my lacking desire and am wanting to change that. Sitting on my shelf is a book that may help. John Piper’s “When I Don’t Desire God” seems like a perfect fit for someone like me who finds themselves, more often than not, lacking a desire for God Himself. I pray that God will use this book to change my thinking and desire Him always. As I take this journey, I will share my thoughts both on the book and what it means for my life. And I pray this journey may reach beyond me to help you grow in your relationship with God.

Snapshot Christianity

I love analogies. So do many in the Christian faith, as it is a good way to communicate spiritual truth in ways that we can understand. Jesus used them to teach about the kingdom of God and communicate God’s Truth to those around Him. However, any analogies we use must be founded on the Truth, otherwise they will leave us with a distortion of God’s word. And the reality is, these snapshot stories and phrases CANNOT give us a full picture of the truth.

Mark Bates, of Village7 PCA church gives a great example in his sermon from 9/5/10. When sharing the salvation message, we have an affinity to use the picture drowning and God throwing out the life line and all we have to do is grab hold of it and we will be saved. Preaching from Ephesians 2, Pastor Bates revealed how wrong this picture is. Paul clearly states that we were NOT drowning in our sins; we were DEAD! We have swallowed the waters of sin, died and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. God, in His mercy and love, dove to the depths, raised us up, and made us alive in Christ. A dead man can’t do anything. We can’t save ourselves, even one bit. It is ALL God’s work.

While I could go on with this topic, I feel there is a greater, general lesson to apply. It is all too easy to take the rough, tough Truth of God and reduce it down to little analogies, stories and sayings that sound good but lose their connection of the Truth. Another way we do this is quoting scripture out of context. Except for the most of the Proverbs, verses were not written to stand alone. This is also easy to do with some topical Bible studies.

All of these methods of understanding Christianity are simply snapshots. They are stand alone pictures, viewing the Truth in one way, distorting it. Remember, the Bible claims to be “living and active.” Snapshots are far from that. (Pardon the Harry Potter reference- I’m reading them right now) In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, pictures are not action-less; the subjects in them move in a repetitive cycle. While this is a step in the right direction, it still does not capture the living aspect of the Truth. The Truth is like real life compared to these two. It is living, active and real. Snapshots just won’t do.

What snapshot do you have of God? Christ? Christianity? What truth do you believe in? Is it one founded on sayings and those few verses you have memorized? Seek for yourself the Truth of God and you may just find your eyes opened.

Real Treasure

Like most little girls, I remember making “beautiful” jewelry. By threading yarn or some such material with brightly colored plastic beads of various sizes and shapes, it was possible to make the best jewelry possible, worthy of wearing to any and all events. While I’m sure some of the delight in the necklaces was due to the effort put into making it by hand, these beads on yarn was seen as beauty to my little 6 year old eyes. What I had made in Sunday School would stay around my neck, or even possible passed on to my mommy to wear and show off. Wearing my masterpiece to school was fine, but not with my nice dress on Easter. Though my mommy put on the necklace at church, it was not good enough to wear our with daddy. She chose the pearl necklace he gave her. Despite my insisting that my necklace be worn in these situations, what I valued as beautiful was not considered as such by others.

As I grew up, the world of beautiful jewelry grew exponentially beyond those beads. I can oh and ah over diamond necklaces and admire the beauty in the variety of precious stones in jewelry. The colors are more natural, the sparkle is real and the price tag…well, we all know that is high. All of these attributes of real jewels give them worth. While the little bead necklaces carried sentimental value because they were made with my hands, pearls, and diamonds have value because of what they are.

Besides learning about truly valuable jewelry as I have grown up, I have also seen how similar my dreams are to brightly colored beads on yarn. As a child, I dreamed of a prince who would sweep me off my feet, friends to laugh and spend time with, and a life of emotional bliss. My view of God was also one of those brightly colored beads. He was this “person” in the sky who was in control of everything and “wanted a personal relationship with me.”

Life has gotten much too complicated for bead necklaces on yarn. There are complexities I never imagined. My prince has come, but there are so many emotional issues as two people work towards being united in marriage; you don’t always feel like a prince and princess. Good, close friends are hard to find, and once you find them, hard to keep as life sends you in different directions. There are tensions internally as I wrestle to figure out who I am. There are tensions externally as I learn to live and work with those I don’t like and honor my parents yet be an adult.

And then there is my relationship with God. Only now can I truly say He is incomprehensible. Justice and mercy. Disciple and love. Standards and grace. A relationship with Him is not easy, especially when my humanness can’t know Him even half-way. Though desiring to follow His will for my life, it isn’t as simple as “do as your parents say” or “do unto others as you would have the do unto you.” Needless to say, life is not at all what I thought it would be.

What I thought was valuable as a child is now worthless. I need a redefinition of what has worth in this life. The value I once placed on my bead-necklace dreams will not work. God, give me a mind to understand the diamond dreams you have for me. There are more complex, but so much more real than all the things that I once held dear. Help me give up on my bead necklaces and in return recognize and accept your sparkling, real dreams for me. For these jewels are Your plan for me; true beauty which reflects Your worth.

Guilt

“Here I am Lord and I’m drowning in Your sea of forgetfulness. The chains of yesterday surround me.”
~East to West, Casting Crowns

I wonder if we place ourselves on the beach of this sea, looking out and remembering our sins. Satan calls us forward and God calls us back. We take steps just barely into the water, believing that a little guilt and remorse is healthy. What we don’t realize is that this sea has a powerful undertow. I got swept away and was drowning, overcome with what I had done. The chains beat against me and I thrashed and cried and couldn’t breathe. But God was there to pull me out and the rope He used was my boyfriend. On the beach I got my breath back but facing God was still a challenge. I knew I needed Him but I was still too close to the sea with seaweed chains hanging on to me. The power that had pulled me under was still on my face. Yet my boyfriend pulled me away from the sea and toward God. I was able to face God as I should- guiltless.
This sea is a beautiful thing God has made to separate our sins from us. But as with most things God has created, Satan has corrupted it. The power and forgiveness of the sea of forgetfulness as the waves crash against the shore are wonderful. But the undertow on the beach and in the shallow is dangerous. Beware of “healthy guilt” for there is no such thing once you are forgiven!

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
~Hebrews 10:15-23

Rebirthing

This is my blog on religions ideas, thoughts, and brief lessons. My break from blogging on here is related to my recently relationship with God. I have learned a lot about myself over the past 6 months while life took many twists and turns. There was a move to the south side of Denver into an apartment with a roommate from Craig’s List, the abrupt ending of a relationship that was very special to me, and adjusting to a new Starbucks store that was very stretching.

I wish I had blogged, or at least journaled, during this time period. I have chewed over many thoughts about Christian living, my background, forgiveness and Christianity outside the cookie cutter. While these thoughts may not be direct and raw like they were at the time, I know they will color any following blogs.

“[I] Feel your presence filling up my lungs with oxygen” I am now attending Denver Seminary working toward an MDiv in Youth and Family Ministries. I hope to blog my reflections on class and other things going on in my life. Welcome back to my reflections on life and faith and learning to live a life Not My Own.

Transformation

I want to say up front that almost all of this is “stolen” from Scott Larson. If you stumble across this, I hope you won’t mind. Also, this has my thoughts thrown in. Don’t judge Scott Larson by this post!

I recently braved the Denver snow storm and went to Denver Seminary for their Denver Youth Ministry Symposium. Scott Larson from Gordon College and Straight Ahead Ministries spoke about youth ministry and the importance of transformational interventions, not rehabilitation.

The idea of transformation has been in my mind since my former employer updated their mission statement: “It is the mission of New Horizons Youth Ministry to help struggling youth transform into healthy Christian adults. I have to admit, I didn’t like the word transform. It sounded to me like nothing of who they were was good and they needed to be transformed, from simple cars to amazingly strong machines (sorry, had to use that reference 🙂 ). I was so thankful for Scott Larson who came to Denver and spoke about transformation. He allowed me to see it in a better light. The key was something I already knew, found in Romans 12.

“…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” The issue is a failure to think correctly, not something at the core personality of the student. They are not bad, their thinking is off which leads them to poor behaviors. That being said, the key for change is not to focus on doing- the behaviors of the students. Our society tells us that the things we DO effect the things we HAVE which totals up to who we ARE. But this mentality with students- with anyone- leaves us with nothing until we can do and have things. It ties who we are at the moment to our past behaviors until we can somehow behave differently.

How we need to think, for our students and ourselves, is that who we ARE effects the things we DO and that results in the things we HAVE. Who we are, both as God has made us and His promises about us, are unchanging. Knowing the promises gives us hope and strength to do the right thing. Knowing how God made us gives insight into the things we will be good at as we step forward and live.

Not only does a shift need to occur in the order in which we think and act, but a shift needs to occur in the vision we set in front of our students. As Scott Larson said “transformational change requires vision greater than the pain to take you through the transformation.” We need stretch the student’s mind to think about a positive vision that they want for their life. This cannot be something placed on the student by leaders, but come from the student themselves. Otherwise the student will not mind failing and the leaders will be trying so for this student who is apathetic.

Once there is a vision, the student needs to see their currently reality and push themselves to raise that reality to the vision. Too often there are excuses as to why the vision cannot be reached. Here the relationship with the student and constant reminder of the vision must overcome the pain that will inevitably come from transformation.

Ok, that’s all I have. If you like the topic and want Scott’s actually words on it, he has many books you can check out. Or if you want more of my thoughts, let me know in the comments!

There’s Only Grace

I got into a conversation today with a “friend” about relationships and how they work when the guy makes a mistake. She and he husband have a payback scale to know what needs to be done to repay her for the mistake he made. There are roses for a small thing, seafood dinner for something a bit larger, and it grows all the way into a nice piece of jewelry that will be hers if he messes up big time. But cheating shouldn’t be an issue for them: she told him that if he cheats, she will make sure he isn’t physically a man (my rephrasing of her words).

I laughed at first at her response to the potential of being hurt, because it is not how I am responding to a current male mistake. But the more I thought about it, I realized the stark differences, between her and I, and then between her and God.

I don’t want to pick on her, but her example is one common version of what many people (women) would say when “their” man has hurt them. Yet what is so ingrained in our human minds about being re-payed does not come from our Maker. And this goes beyond just male-female relationships; it includes any time a person has been hurt by another and feels the need for penance.

A well known example of God being hurt by someone is David. The King and leader of God’s people first lusts, then acts on that lust, committing adultery. Then to cover up the results of that adultery (pregnancy), he has the woman’s husband killed by sending him to the front lines of battle and retreating other soldiers. If Bathsheba had been your daughter, might you want to make sure David was no longer physically a man?

But what is God’s first response to this compounded sin? Nathan confronts David with his sin and David repents: “‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.'” (2 Samuel 12:13) God forgives!!! It doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for their sins, but they are forgiven. While the Law says that both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10), God lets them live. And He even uses their line to bring about His Son.

  • Man, knowing fair well his own imperfections, expects his fellow man to be perfect. When one fails that expectation, the offender must take some action to win back his “perfect” standing.
  • God, knowing fair well man’s imperfections, calls all men to be perfect, just as He is. When one fails that calling, God showers grace, remembering the true state of imperfection over the expectation. There will be consequences and hearts must turn back to Him in repentance (Psalm 51:17), but there is grace. The relationship is more important than the perfection.

Now to the one who hurt me, just in case you read this:
I follow my Maker saying “I forgive you.” There will be consequences for your actions, but there is nothing you need to do to win back a standard of perfection in my eyes. I desire a repentant heart, one that has turned to God for help and one that wants to do things correctly. I desire a relationship with you.
But I am imperfect and can never be as grace-full as my Maker. But I strive for it in my actions and words. With His help, may you see His grace in me.

this blog is titled after Matthew West’s song “Only Grace” from the “History” release.

I am a C…

I defined Christianity as centering on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And Paul talks later in Corinthians about Jesus being the foundation. It is how we build upon it that can differ.

I don’t want to be called a Christian according to one friend’s definition. But I wouldn’t say I am a “super Christian” as she described another friend. By her definition, you can cuss or you can be offended by it. You can get drunk under age or you can rarely drink. You can wait to have sex until you are married or have sex with your boyfriend.

My initial thought is this: there is an often missed distinction between being saved and being a Christian. The distinction is sometimes made in classrooms at Christian schools or maybe mentioned in church, but gets titled justification and sanctification. There is a single action required to be saved “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Or maybe two, depending on where you look: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

That is Christianity: the religion, the act, the belief. Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The foundation which is salvation. But there is building going on around and on top of that foundation. Do you build with gold, silver and precious stones? Or wood, hay and straw?

How you build upon this salvation defines a Christian life or not. A Christian is one who builds with the gold, silver and precious stones. Those are the values and guidelines written throughout the Bible. Following those is what defines a Christian. If you love God, you will obey His commands. And sometimes there is a big step between believing and loving and obeying.

So what about the one who struggles in their life…in how they live? They build with silver and straw. Must a life be perfect for it to be defined as Christian? And what about the one who only builds with gold? Are they included because their actions line up?

For those that use silver and straw, there is forgiveness. For those who only use gold, there is freedom. But with forgiveness must come repentance. And with freedom must come the heart which loves God.

A Christian aims at at perfection. When they miss, they repent and aim again at perfection. Why? Because they love God and reaching at that perfection is evidence of that love. It is living the life laid out in the Bible for God’s sake.

I am saved because I believe. I am a Christian because I strive and desire to live according to God’s rules and for Him.

It is a selfless life. Not My Own- the radical selflessness of the Christian life.

“For the one principle of hell is–‘I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather the regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is–as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is–what I desire.”
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons- Kingship

Control Freak, part 2

Nearly a year and a half ago I wrote about control in my old blog. It seems to have been a theme in my life, as I am sitting down the write the second part. Last time I wrote something along the lines of free will existing withing God’s control. But this time I want to focus on our control versus God’s control of our lives. Most of this has been sparked from the sermon series highlighting the principles of our church’s program called “Celebrate Recovery.” Many of their principles talk about control- in fact, 3 of the 5 mention control, and one other eludes to it. Number 3 and number 5 caught my attention and started an argument of sorts in my mind.

“Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.”
“Voluntarily submit to every change God want to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.”

I won’t go into these in detail, but I was stuck by the simpleness of those statements and the complexity of the real issue. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of stating the simple sounding truth because it is the truth. But when it comes to working with real people on real issues, the simplicity becomes much more complex. Here is the complexity as I see it.

We all have been given a desire to be in control; it may even be part of the “image of God” in us. In Genesis, God gave man control over the animals and nature. But He did not give us control over each other or our own lives. The plan was for Him to be in control us.

But when Eve took the fruit, she was exercising control over her own life rather than trusting God’s control. Ever since, we seek to control our own lives, desiring the same things Eve did: food (basic necessities), enjoyment in beauty and good things, and wisdom (and fortune and fame, etc). We desire to live fuller lives by following our control for our lives.

If you know anything about controlling your own life, you should know that you can’t truly reach that fuller life you are seeking. When the desire for a full life is unmet, we cling to what we have, which is the control. We still desire to control our lives, even if we aren’t getting the life we want.

The irony is when you give up that control to God’s plan and love, then you will find that full life you desire. And why should we give the control over to God? The verse to quote is Jesus saying He comes to bring life to the fullest. The facts to consider are these: God made you and knows you better than you do. God made the world, and while it has fallen short of His plan, He still knows it better than you could ever. He is perfect- never making mistakes or doing wrong. He loves you, and therefore wants to best for you, according to how He made you, which may not always line up with what you want.

He is more than qualified to control your life and that control will bring you the life you desire. Once this is wrestled with and accepted, then and only then will the principles of the “Celebrate Recovery” be beneficial. Life and change and growth are so much more complex than the simple truths we state.

The control of my life is Not My Own.

Christian Community

I have been a part of many Christian communities in my life: my extended family, various churches I have attended, college, my first job at a Christian boarding school. Until recently, I haven’t put much thought into them: what they mean, what makes them “good” or how they work. But I have always been able to criticize the ones I was in and desire something more. Yesterday I came to one realization on the positive side of Christian communities.

The message at church couldn’t have been better timing to frame my first interaction with a Life Group at the church I attend. Simple Community was the title and it highlighted three things from Hebrews that define a Christian community. Then, later that evening when I attended the Life Group with a recently made friend, I found those three things. After reflecting on it, it was those three things that made that group inviting and just what I have been looking for for a long time.

  • Living out a mission together- the first order of the meeting was to work out the plan for the summer of service the church is putting on and the specific involvement of our life group. Everyone contributed to how we should go about meeting up with the elderly lady whose house were are going to help fix up. There was a mission to serve and everyone was involved.
  • Pursuing Jesus together- there was no formal Bible study due to two member’s birthdays in the previous and upcoming week. They shared about their past years and their prayer requests for the year to come. There was encouragement from the other members and then a time of pray for both of the girls. Together, we were seeking Jesus and pursuing His likeness, both in planning service and uplifting the birthday girls.
  • Sharing a common reality- as the pastor put it, we share the reality of being beloved and broken. Those were clearly seen with this group. They were honest and did not avoid the real issues in their lives. And just because there was a new person in the group, it didn’t mean they tried to sugar coat things. It was a reality of being broken and incomplete overcome by the reality of being loved by God.

I don’t remember all of their names, I don’t know what they do for work, how old they are, where they went to school or their major. But I know a little of their hearts: hearts which are struggling with life and growing and sin. And hearts that are seeking God through it all. And personalities which are full of fun and life.

That was Christian community- preached about on Sunday and evidenced that evening for me, for the first time in a while.