Monday, April 28, 2008

Men's Retreat 08

Thoughts on the Men’s Retreat 08

Friday Night
* Community exists and is Biblical when lives are being transformed into the image of Christ in ways that glorify God and give witness of the gospel to the world. In other words, community involves sanctification, glorification, and evangelism.
* Community is not small groups. Connectedness is not the same as community. And Bible study does not equal community.
* The Trinity reflects the community God desires for His people and in fact, God has invited us in to the mutual love and servant hood that exists in the Godhead.
* Therefore, tolerating disunity in the body of Christ is to dishonor the nature of God. God exists in community and therefore any believer not in community is an orphan. All this being said, community in a fallen world is a mess as we all battle the influence of the sin nature and expose the sin in our lives.
* The compelling components of community include spending intentional time together, living in the light, Biblical conflict resolution, initiate and respond to crisis, external focus of sharing the good news with those outside of the community.

Saturday Morning 1
* As a man, I am called to reject passivity where I fail not because of what I do but because of what I don’t do. This tendency is reflected as early as the Garden of Eden.
* As a man, I must accept responsibility. God has given me roles to play as a husband, a father, a friend, etc. I must be diligent to steward these well through the power of Christ living in me.
* As a man, I must lead courageously. Not in a domineering or disrespectful manner. But as one who has pursued Christ and is following Him faithfully.
* As a man, I must expect God’s reward. In other words, I should live in light of eternity.
* This question was significant for me: What do I get angry about (particularly in my family)? Is it because God’s best is not happening or because I am not getting what I want?
* Deut 11:18 is the model of what I should do as a Dad in teaching the Word to my children. I should strive to know their hearts and train them to love God in their own unique personality and protect them in their inherent weaknesses. I should be careful of my tendency to be critical and expect my idea of perfection in their life but should gently and intentionally teach them how to be a faithful follower of Christ.
* To be a good husband, father, friend, worker is not the goal. In fact, to do any of these things for personal benefit apart from honoring Christ is idolatry.

Saturday Morning 2
* How I spend my dash (the line between birth and death on my tombstone) is of utmost importance. I want to hit the tape running and finishing well. To do so, I must be faithful to be in God’s Word, practice the presence of God through constant prayer, live in community and consistently serve others.
* Plans fail with lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed. Growth takes place better in a circle (with many advisors) than it does in a line (seeking individual input only).
* I desire to be a man of prayer, who after 25 years, is still praying for the salvation of the same people who have not trusted Christ.

Sunday Morning
* Lessons learned from a life well lived
1. Be with Jesus – This is the anchor of my soul and should be the passion of my life (Ps. 73, Ps. 27:4, Luke 10:38-42)
2. Relationships Matter – I must be intentional in my pursuit of knowing and being known. The goal is transformation into the image of Christ, for His glory and for the evangelism of the world.
3. Being is more important than doing – In other words, who you are is more important than what we do.
4. Doing is important – We should seek to make a difference by the power of Christ in submission to the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Disappointing Reality

Warning! What you are about to read is the true confession of a sinful man. I personally find it disappointing and slightly nauseating. But it is what it is. Read on at your own risk...
In less than a year, I will transition from a 15 year full time career in health care to a mostly unknown world of full time ministry. As I have faced this reality during recent weeks, I must confess that I have struggled to decide if what I am doing is truly a step of faith or just sheer stupidity. I find that there is a fine and slightly blurred line between these 2 options. Yet, I am compelled to walk in the direction both Teri and I are convinced God is leading us. One step at a time.
During this journey, this crucible of faith as I like to call it, God has revealed a number of disgusting traits that I am ashamed to possess. His gentle and yet firm hand continues to chisel away at the ugly parts in my life and I am convinced that I am a lifetime project. Most recently, the hand of God is chipping away at a particularly painful place. It is disappointing...consider this your second warning.
I have convinced myself that during these final months that I should do things that I want to do that I may not be able to do during full time ministry. This includes things such as triathlons and bike races that often take place on Sundays. Along with this includes the purchase of items that I will not be able to afford in the future. This mentality has bled into so many areas of my life where I have adopted the very simple attitude of: "You better do it now because, very soon, it will no longer be an option."
It's like a man's dieing wish. Do everything you ever wanted to do because very soon it will all end. How depressing! Yet, I must admit, I believed it (maybe I still do). And so I set out to make the most of the time I have left.
At first it was innocent. The lifestyle changes were healthy and the decisions were made in moderation. Yet, as time grew, so did the attraction of the passions. I no longer simply want to experience the moment, I wanted to succeed. Not just succeed by finishing, but succeed by finishing first. I needed more time to train, better equipment, new challenges. Not unlike the rising fuel costs today, the price keeps going up and I keeping pumping the gas into my life in order to fuel the passions.
Here's the problem: I am an addict. It is part of my personality. It is amazingly easy for the innocent things I enjoy to transform themselves into a deadly boa constrictor which slowly but eventually suffocates the life right out of me. This is not a new issue. It just is more exposed lately because of God's revealing touch.
All the while, I am adding more to my plate. I have met with other pastors to gain insight into my future career change, by the wise counsel of friends I am working to plan out my first year of ministry, I am meeting with the church staff to walk through important issues, I continue to lead a Men's Bible Study, I lead efforts to plan our Men's Retreat, I teach a SS class, I take seminary classes, I preach on occasion, I meet with our neighborhood Board, I take care of the honey do list, I build furniture, I serve as an elder, I strive to be a faithful husband and a loving father. Date nights, one on one time with the boys. Lead projects at work. Serve on more committees and boards, soup kitchens, and all the various and asundry things that are right and dutiful.
I have become a victim of pleasing people and fulfilling passions. I have bought the lie of Satan and I am in debt up to my ears. What has promised fulfillment and contentment has slowly drained the lifeblood from my soul. To continue would leave me a shell of a man and what a perfect strategy of the enemy. I have walked right into his trap. It is a setup destined for my personal failure.
God is not tempting me. This is from the Devil. He knows the passion and drive of my heart better than I do and he has lured me with my own lusts. And when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
I have gorged myself on the things that bring me satisfaction and pleasure, treating them like a vanishing commodity. It is like a person who learns of an impending famine so he consumes massive amounts of food and dies from overeating. Lust - sin - death. What an ugly picture. And yet, it is the picture I see when I look in the mirror.
Maybe I'm scared. Maybe I'm lonely. Maybe I'm depressed. I think it is all of the above. And instead of finding fulfillment in Christ, I have chased the illusion of the world. The treasure I have stored up is beginning to reek a foul odor. And the stench fills the whole earth.
I looked down at people who so mindlessly fill their lives with fabrications of fulfillment. The empty promises that only leave us longing for more. Careers, houses, cars, travel, style, music. Madonna's new song "4 Minutes" echoes the call of our culture when she says, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but if I die tonight at least I can say I did what I wanted to do."
I no longer have the ability to look down with disdain at others because, the truth of the matter is, I would only find myself staring into a mirror. Clearly, I am not immune to following the same siren call of empty promises.
This must have been the lesson intended for God's people in the wilderness when He fed them manna from heaven. I would have joined in the master plan they had to store up the manna for a future day when it might stop raining the bread of sustenance. Yet, when they did, the bread spoiled and was covered in worms. They were forced to daily depend on the provision of God without any effort to store up this treasure on their own.
Such is the lesson I am learning. God will provide and I must relinquish control to store up treasure which serves only to expose my lack of trust in His provision. Daily he provides. Daily.
There will be more to this ongoing story. As for now, let me stop and pray.

Lord, Thank you for continuing to chisel. Thank you for your grace and mercy amidst my selfishness. I abandon my control and ask you to lead me in your everlasting way. A road much less travelled than the one I am on.
Be gentle. For I am a fragile man from my own demise. My actions have demonstrated my lack of trust in you; for if I truly believed you were the satisfaction of my soul, I would not have assumed the role of captain on this ship. If I trust your provision for my life, I would not be attempting to store up my own. You have become the one who takes things away, not he who gives abundantly. Forgive me Father for this sad misconception.
I am empty, but I am kneeling. Please fill me up with things that matter. Set my heart on things above. Help me to consider the depth of my faith in You and my trust in Your provision.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Shack - An Uncomfortable Tension

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a new and increasingly popular book entitled The Shack, by William P. Young. The book came with strong endorsements such as Eugene Peterson who compares the work to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. That is no small endorsement!
Yet, on the other hand, there are those who are equally adamant in the opposite direction. This same friend attended a service at Mars Hill where Mark Driscoll openly opposed much of the book's content as heretical. As is the case with many popular works, you see both extremes.
As I consider my personal thoughts on this book, I admit some level of hesitancy. I consider it a slippery subject since the book is admittedly a fiction novel. But clearly, the author has a message behind the made up story and that message is important to evaluate - especially in light of the popularity of the book.
And I will say up front that I found many things in this book that were good and right. I underlined several sections that I plan to use in future sermons. There were some very good illustrations and word pictures which helped me understand some very complicated truths. Yet on the other hand, I was unsettled by the representation of the Godhead by the author. Not the character choice per se, but more the attributes attributed to God that at times seemed to contradict the divine self revelation in scripture. So the question I wrestle with is this: At what point does the material of a book become so far out of bounds that it discredits the whole?


After having written several paragraphs of thoughtful consideration, I realized 2 things.
1. There is not enough space to write everything and
2. I don't want to.

Here's the bottom line of the book in my opinion. This generation is searching for a "relateable" God. It is not just this book but also included in the list are recent best sellers like The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose Driven Life, You're Best Life Now, The Jesus I Never Knew to name a few. It is, in my opinion, the driving force behind the emerging church. I have no commentary on the individual books or the emerging church in general, just the recognition that they are all calling us to a deeper more intimate experience of God. It is a yearning of this is my yearning as well.
The Shack is the latest effort to present God in such a way that we relate to Him with a deeper sense of intimacy. And in my opinion, this book did that as well as any I have read. But here is the uncomfortable tension: Making God reachable by reducing His holiness or making him so holy He becomes unreachable.
My first response is that we don't make God Holy - He is Holy. The fact of the matter is that He is only reachable by grace through faith. We don't relate to Him better if we see him on more human terms. We relate to Him better because of God's grace to draw us near to Himself. We respond and therefore experience this truth by following Him in obedience. He initiates, we respond.
I think we should all do a better job of responding to the "notes from God". The still, small voice that speaks volumes into our lives. The one we often ignore. Just like the voice I heard last week when going to eat lunch with my son. I knew the principal had been dealing with her father's declining health and as I filled out forms in the office, I overheard her conversation on the phone about issues she was dealing with as her dad was not improving. The small voice said, "Go to her and listen to what is on her heart."
That voice was overruled by a stronger more demanding voice that said I needed to get out of town and people were waiting on me to do so.
I learned today that her father died. I am certain I missed an opportunity to minister in a meaningful way. My selfishness reigns and I am disgusted.
Heaven help us if we need to see Jesus as a black grandmother figure, or the Spirit as an Asian version of Tinkerbell or Jesus as an average middle eastern guy. I am not demeaning these characters of the story and it might be helpful to consider such things so far outside our normal paradigm. Yet, in my opinion, it reveals a much bigger issue - We have lost our experience of practicing the presence of God. We grasp for these images when the one's we have are not working.
And here is my point: no book will ever be written (other than the one inspired by the voice of God) that will ever create the image we need to experience God more fully. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. For His ways are not (and never will be) as our ways.
I hope this book is helpful to people. I found some things that were of benefit to me. I found some things that I do not agree with. Some of the issues were distracting to me in the story. But more importantly, most of what I found was an echo of a generation searching for an experience of truth.
I believe the book should have an epilogue that says, "I hope you have found this imagery helpful. Now go in peace and ask God, by His grace, to reveal Himself to you. And may you have eyes to see, ears to hear and the faith to believe. All a gift from God."

PS Maybe I'll do a true review of the book at a later date. As for now, I feel my earlier reflections are more important.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Curse of the Law

I have been reading through the "Daily Bible" which is organized in chronological order. It has been a rich time in the Word for me as I read through the events of scripture in the order they occurred. I realize how much I miss by reading only excerpts or even single books without following the complete flow of the biblical narrative.

I recently finished the section on "The Law of Moses". Chapter after chapter of law. Religious and ceremonial law that insure allegiance to the one true and living God. Laws which instruct His people to give both the first and the best to God and to priests and Levites who are called to serve the people. Laws regarding Feasts which were designed to worship God, renew devotion and be reminded of His faithful provision for those who obey Him. The Feasts in and of themselves present an incredibly beautiful image of the atonement of Jesus Christ. In addition to the feasts, the sacrifices and offerings from burnt offerings to cereal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Laws for purification. Laws for government and civil affairs. Laws for marriage, divorce, and sexual relations. Laws regarding diet. Laws of warfare. A simple comment of blessing for His people who keep the Law. A long warning and list of curses for those who disobey the Law. For 3 weeks now I read about the Law of Moses and its instruction for the people. The most comprehensive, radically different, and morally demanding law that any nation has seen to this time. WHEW!!!!!!

To be honest, as I read chapter after chapter, my first thought was, "This is oppressive!" Not to mention the fact that no one had a copy of this law for future reference so that they could make sure they were doing as it was instructed. In fact, it was read aloud to the people in it's entirety only once a year. As I put myself in their shoes, the only reasonable conclusion I could come to is that the only way I could survive the judgment of God in a system such as this is to constantly be on my knees in repentance and offering sacrifices of my very best in life to cover the guilt of my sin. It would seem to me that this would be a daily mindset. Something that would be routine for me to go before God, recognizing my sinfulness, offering sacrifice and seeking His forgiveness. I could not see anyone being able to set out to do as the Law commanded without regard to a routine posture of repentance before God. That seems to be the point!

The Law was important for it was a picture of the holiness of a people of God. The sacrifices were essential because it covered the inadequacy of any one person's ability to keep the Law without failure. In other words, the Law of Moses was designed to instruct God's people to live with a posture of repentance before a Holy God. The Law came so that transgressions would increase (Rom 5:20). But yet the Law is good (Rom 7:16) because where sin increases, grace increases all the more. Those who live under the Law, live under a curse (Gal 3:10). I believe Paul writes this under the inspiration of God knowing that no one can keep the law so anyone who tries will inevitably live under its prescribed curse for those who fail. The Law is good because it leads of to faith and dependence on Christ.

But now we live under grace. And so the Law no longer we think. But perhaps the Law was never intended to shape our behaviour but was designed instead to change our heart. And if this is true (and I believe it is) the purpose of the Law remains to this day. How comfortable we become in grace and how easy it is to forget the need to assume a posture of repentance and humility before God. How negligent and lax we are about giving God our best. Second or Third best will often suffice. Our worship is obligatory and does not flow out of a thankful heart. We have lost the appreciation of how His love has covered our sin and protected us from His judgment. If this was better understood, the people of God would worry less about the style of worship and would be content to give a shout of praise that would spring from a heart of thankful praise. Whatever that might sound like when it leaves our lips is much less important.

Believe me, I would never wish it on anyone. I personally do not want to live under the Law. Yet I am saddened by my own complacency under the rule of grace. I need to assume the posture of people who lived under the Law while giving praise to God for His indescribable gift of grace. Forgive me Father for not considering this more often.