Saturday, February 28, 2015

10th Day of LENT: Invisibilia

Over the past few weeks I've been listening to an NPR Podcast called Invisibilia. It had it's last episode a couple of weeks ago, and I was crushed, because I had become used to listening to Alix and Lulu while I worked out, or while I was doing mindless data entry (which is about 20% of my job sometimes) at the office. I sometimes would burst out laughing at something they said or did, and since I work in an open floorplan...was given the opportunity to spread my love of Invisibilia to all the inquiring ears around me.

solids, liquids, gases, plasmas...thoughts?
Invisibilia is about the unseen forces that control or significantly impact human behavior. The show super "sciency" but that never stopped me from thinking about all of the faith-based invisibilia that I also believe in, as a Christian. The very first episode is about thoughts. Strangely, I never thought about thoughts as invisible. Clearly, they are invisible, but I guess I've never put much thought into how important my thoughts were. In another episode of the show, someone says that thoughts are matter. Matter as in the substance or substances of which any physical object consists or is composed; something that though seemingly intangible, occupies a space that we haven't yet measured. 

Today's reading was in 40 Days of Growth was: 

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. - Philippians 4:4-9

There are two conflicting invisible things in this scripture. And both of them are related to our thoughts: 
  1. Anxiety
  2. Peace
They way we think determines which one of these invisible things we invite into our life. It seems simple: focus on the good thoughts and let the bad ones simply float away. Or if you have to focus on have to capture them and change them into beneficial thoughts: 

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
- 2 Corinthians 10:5

The scriptures are full of verses about our thoughts. I've read all of them (because I finished my Bible in a Year plan), but yet...why have I not put a lot of focus on my thought-life? As a Christian, I know the first thing we try to change. From the moment we come to Christ, to all the little moments after that when we're confronted with moral failure, we try to change the same thing: our actions. 

Yet, this is likely incorrect. Our actions are secondary. Maybe even tertiary. We want to change the visible first. But...the invisible deserves our primary attention.

Three ways to control your invisible thoughts:
  • First, of course, we must put our faith in Jesus Christ, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). That's our first faith in the invisible: salvation faith. 
  • Second, we have to yield ourselves to that invisible God, for him to do a supernatural (and invisible) work in our natural bodies. We yield ourselves to God for a transformation that is described as "the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2). In other words, we open ourselves up to a new way of thinking. This is faith in God's sanctifying power. 
  • And lastly, we just trust and keep reminding ourselves that invisible things are happening ALL around us, and trust that God is working all things both visible and invisible to our ultimate good according to His will and purpose (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28). And then...dwell on it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lent day NINE - Perfection

I am a perfectionist.

"Excuse me...the clambake is canceled?!" (sob)
I'm not proud of it. I'm not sad about it. It's simply who I am. I like for things to be right. And when they aren't right...I go a little crazy. What comes to mind immediately, is my 30th birthday party. I had it all planned out, it was going to perfect. A private clambake thrown in the beautiful, sunny courtyard of a swanky New American restaurant in downtown D.C. But on the day of my birthday, it rained.

Like TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR rained. My perfect day was now imperfect. The restaurant staff had moved the party into a wonderful private room, but it didn't matter. On my 30th birthday, at the point where I'm truly too old for this...I cried.

After all this, I calmed down, and really found the evening to be quite enjoyable. Even without being perfect.

Today's scripture is about perfection. And I have a couple of different ways of looking at it:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. - Philippians 3:12-16

Perfect (adjective) - excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement; entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings.

To be at a point, where I could apply that definition to myself...seems a little bit on the impossible side. And to think that I'm at a point where I could throw up my hands and say: "I'm perfect!" feels a lot on the insane side. This is a tricky scripture. Which I break down into 3 parts: 

I'm Not Perfect
I'm not perfect, Paul says...but he is running after perfection. He's running for perfect knowledge and perfect relationship, which would result in perfect performance. I'm not sure he's saying that this is attainable in our human bodies. I'd say he's definitely not saying that. But he's going for it. Why? Because it's offered. He says he's reaching out to the God who is reaching for Him. He is aligning his goal for his life with God's goal for his life. Odds of success just shot up. 

Forget the Past
Forgetting what lies behind is deep. Only the future matters. Tomorrow is gone. Blessings are new each morning, and then that day is gone. Everything good in it is over. And everything bad in it is over. Nothing from yesterday disqualifies. And nothing from yesterday was great enough to make it okay for you to stop running. We are in a relentless, daily, race for spiritual perfection. 

Change Your Attitude
Perfection comes in the search for perfection. Know this. And if you don't know this, you'll come to know it. You'll have an attitude of what many corporations calls "Continuous Learning." 

But that last piece. Keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. I love it. He's like...we're already there! Or at least already on the road. Just keep on it.

Run for the prize!
But for me, I don't know if I've ever been as choked up about spiritual imperfection as I have been about being rained out of my birthday party. I mean, I want to be perfect, but usually I shrug off morale mishaps like: "...grace." Which is totally real, but where is the mourning and the brokenness?! Sometimes I think I'm only a perfectionist for things I think can be perfect. The things I can control. 

But, in truth, I have never ever made a single thing perfect! If anything could be perfect...this is it! Because God has called me to it. If I was to ever chase perfection in any should be THIS one. 

I need to press. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

LENT, day 8 - WAKE UP!

I read this week's reading this morning. And I became...worried. This piece of scripture is confusing, and it comes from a group of scriptures that are universally considered to be a little "taboo" because of it's sheer scariness.

Of course, the reading comes out of the book of Revelation. And one of the most revelatory things about this book is that this IS God. The same God from all the other chapters. We're so accustomed to a God of grace that we're literally a little shocked (and kind of off-put) when He shows that He is also a God of justice. Justice in accordance with His infinite holiness, and not our shady relativism. I honestly, had no idea what to write, at first. However, I got a small deja vu moment while reading it the second time. And that deja vu was that "everything is connected" feeling I mentioned earlier. So without further ado:

Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels
 - Revelation 3:2-5

Just this past week, in one of my small groups, we were talking about the Flood in the book of Genesis. And we were literally comparing the end of the world at the beginning of the Bible to the end of the world a the end of the Bible. In many ways, I think they are VERY different. But there is one way in which they are the same...

The people were absolutely shocked:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  
- Matthew 24:37-39

In the scripture in Revelation, Jesus is not referring to his 2nd coming but He is talking about shocking them "I will come like a thief..." Correction would be coming to them, and it would be harsh. When I was a kid, a whoopin' could happen suddenly. Not to me...but to other people's kids. My mom believed in a really long lecture prior to discipline, so I was never caught off guard. But I knew kids who after being given instruction, were never warned again. They just are talking and laughing and SUDDENLY they've been hit in the mouth. Not like punched in the face. But whatever they were saying was out of line, and they were immediately stopped. But why did it happen like that? 


I mean, physically awake, but mentally asleep. Careless in their conversation. Oblivious to the displeasure of their parent. Spiritually, the church in Sardis is asleep. They are careless in the work of the Church, and oblivious to God's displeasure. Until NOW. They are now getting the lecture that precedes discipline. And it goes something like this: 

You have a problem...
  • Wake Up! - Open your eyes and seen. Become alert and aware. This is first.
  • You're Not dead...Yet -A person who does nothing but sleep, doesn't eat. They don't exercise. If you slept all day, every'd certainly die. Imagine being asleep for 4 days straight (not a coma, just sleep). No food. No water. No exercise. When someone shook you awake...what would happen? You'd have a very urgent to-do list, or you'd die. Take care of the urgent spiritual needs. Strengthen what remains of YOU! This is second.
And do you know why you have a problem...?
  • A Job Half-Done is Not Done at All - You thought you were done. You tried to checklist your salvation...didn't you? "Accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Check!" "Baptism? Check!" "Go to church sometimes? Check!" But did you present your body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, yielded over to perform the works that God has prepared for you? (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 2:10)
  • Remember when You were Happy? Remember when you first heard the gospel and it changed your life? Remember how excited you were? How happy? What happened to that? What has pulled your attention? What do you want that's more? To what lie have you subordinated the truth? All rhetorical questions. But go what your first heard and received. And repent all over again. Be broken by the gospel all over again. I once heard a pastor say that we always want something "new" both carnally and spiritually. But sometimes you don't need "new" need "original." God is calling you back to that original spot that was so incredible. Sometimes you have to go back.
So, this is going to hurt me a lot more than it'll hurt you...
  • Don't get shocked... - You won't even know what hit you!
Don't go down like that people!  But how do we wake up? How do we spiritually see?! 
I think, first, you have to realize that you're asleep. This could be very difficult!! Last night, I kept having this dream that my front door was unlocked (which scares me), and so I got out of bed, locked the door, and went back to sleep. Easy peasy. Except...that never happened. I never got up! I dreamed it.  And then I realized I dreamed it. I'm so sleepy, but still I force myself out of bed, literally rolling onto the floor, walking to the door, locking it, and then going back to sleep. Except...that never happened either. I dreamed it AGAIN! And then I was freaked out, worried that I was in actual danger and that God was warning me to get up and lock my door...but even that fear was only embedded in my dream. I never got up. Not until my alarm went off at 6:38 a.m. And so I hurriedly put on my workout clothes and headed towards the door to go to the gym. But I forgot something. So I go back to my room, get the forgotten headphones, and then just stood in front of the door. I couldn't decide if I threw the deadbolt before I went back to my room for the headphones. Or if the door had always been...unlocked. 

It freaked me out a little. In the grand scheme of things that's a semi-meaningless story except...don't sleep through your warnings. Don't sleep on your warnings. It might be very real.

Wake up.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent Day SEVEN: Prodigal Son

Let me first start out by saying: today was rough! Loooong day at the office. But I still have to get my blog in . Today's reading in the 40 Days of Growth was Luke 15:11-32 and it was about "The Prodigal Son." I've already written a blog on this subject (see Instant Gratification ) but clearly it has come back around.

The Prodigal Son is actually a bit of a testy parable for me. I once heard "the prodigal son" preached in such a way that I got a little perturbed. I heard a preacher imply that the older son in the story went to hell. Like for real. And I was off-the-charts mad! Of course, I have some biblical reasons for why I disagreed with this sermon; for example, the last two verses:

And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” - Luke 11:31-32

The underlined bits, in my opinion, are crucial to my "the older son isn't SO SO bad" thinking (which will later be abandoned). But aside from my biblical reasons for disagreement, there is a much bigger reason: 

I AM the older son. I generally hate when blessings fall on people I think are hardcore sinners...even though I am also a hardcore sinner. I'm a work in progress...I'm getting over my hateration. 


Do you know the story of the prodigal son? If not, this is my really quick breakdown of the plot: 

Characters: Father, Older Son, Younger son
Expostion: Younger son wants his portion of the inheritance so he can strike out on his own. The father obliges. 
Rising Action: The son "turns up", wastes all his money and ends up in a pigsty eating pig slop (which has to be rock bottom for the son of a rich Jew). He decides to go home and offer himself as his father's servant. 
Climax: The father sees him coming from far away and runs to him, kisses and hugs him, puts a ring on his finger and throws a big party for him. 
Falling Action: The older son who is somewhere being dutiful hears the commotion and asks what's going on. They tell him the sequence of events and he gets pissed. He's never had a party. Not even a pat on the back. And he's done everything right! How is it that someone who's done everything wrong gets rewarded. He's PO'd.
Denouement: The father comes out to explain to the older son why they must celebrate (verse 31 and 32 above). 



That seemed like a lot, but trust me, it's shorter than the 21 verses. Honestly, I identify with that older brother A LOT. I mean, I'd be mad too! I don't mind the younger son being back (I don't want him dead)! But...what about me? Is it really so evil to think: but what about me?

As such, for someone to imply he's hellbound just because he was a little testy...makes me super testy. Because I like for people to...wait for it...get what they deserve. 

Which is where people get their "hell" ammunition. They say, the older son thought the father owed him because of his "works" and the younger son presented himself to his father "in faith." So one was righteous and the other was garbage. 

NEWSFLASH: Everyone is garbage!

Luckily we have a "different strokes for different folks" kind of grace. God knows where your foolishness lives. God knows where grace needs to be applied in us and for us. So, in my opinion, all we see here are two sons with two different sorts of problems:
  • One lacks self-control. And he didn't return in some amazing faith...he simply ran out of money. And he came looking to earn his keep as a servant. God doesn't want your love and respect only when you're at rock bottom. God has not called us to "rock bottom worship" and guilty service.
  • One lacks humility and puts more stock into his actions than his actual relationship with his father. This guy is a SON, but he's acting like a hired hand looking for payment. As such, when his pride got hurt he threw a temper tantrum. And God definitely hasn't called us to that either.
Both sons are dumb. But both of their foolishness gets the same response: LOVE. 

If that's what you're looking for. The context does matter. Jesus is speaking to Pharisees. He's speaking to a whole group of older brothers. But just the fact that he was speaking to them speaks of his love for them. Sometimes we talk about the Pharisees as if Jesus hated them. Which is ridiculous. Jesus loved them, and came to save them. Just like the rest. 

The prodigal son is a story about the lengths that God will go in order to save the lost. Why is only the young son "the lost" when the father is outside pleading with the older brother?

Believe me. Regardless of who you are: the unrighteous or the self-righteous...God is pleading with you! God is looking for you. God is loving you, and pouring grace out on you. 

The Father in the story is a good father. To both of the sons. So, it doesn't matter what kind of bad kid you are (I'm the arrogant, stuck up kid).

You are still loved.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lent day SIX - Deception

You know, deception is an incredibly simple thing. I think everyone is good at a different type of deception. Some people are excellent bluffers. Some people can act indifferent when they are really on edge. Me? I'm really good a spinning a tall tale and having some poor chump believe me. In short, I'm an excellent liar. 

Of course, this is nothing to be proud of, because lying is sort of TWO of seven abominable things:

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.
- Proverbs 6:16-19

I used to lie quite a bit when I was a child. I once blamed someone for a childhood crime I committed. And I lied so well, that they believed they did it! I kid you not. During my childhood people were punished on my false testimony (both siblings and classmates). What's insane is that I shouldn't have even been considered credible. I was a terror. But when people hear the right words, strung together in the right way...I don't know what happens. They're simply...deceived. 

Proverbs 6 is not my verse for today, it's just that this verse came to mind when I thought about deception. Today's verse in the 40 Days of Growth reading plan was Ephesians 5:6-20. I'm focused on the first few verses: 

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:6-14
This could easily turn into a blog on "cheap grace." But I think we all know that there is no such thing. Christ died for sin. So grace didn't come cheaply. We KNOW that. So why does Paul have to tell people to take sin in their lives seriously? Someone told them that living impure, immoral and selfish lives was A-OK. And Paul had to speak out against that. Why?

My Main Takeaways 
  1. "Let" no one deceive you..." means we allow ourselves to be deceived. Why? Because we already had knowledge to the contrary. In the above, Paul says don't let anyone deceive you by saying it's okay to live an immoral/impure/selfish/hateful life because those things caused God's wrath in the past (e.g. the Flood), and is the object of future wrath (e.g. Christ's 2nd Coming). Peter had the same idea in his letter (see 2 Peter 2:1-5). do we get this "God is not cool with sin, but God is cool with my sin" modus operandi?

  2. "You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord" further proves that you gave in to deception because you have a comparative frame of reference. You know what it is to be ignorant and unknowing. But you have been enlightened. Act enlightened and further seek enlightenment by "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."
  3. "Do not participate in 'unfruitful' deeds'..." Unfruitful activities are those that do not produce good or helpful results; it's a completely unproductive activity. Why would someone live a life comprised wholly of unfruitful deeds? Because someone told you it was fruitful! And, here's the clincher, you believed them. 
I speak from experience. Close your eyes and imagine the PERFECT life. Go. 
perfect life
What did you mind automatically go to? The beach? Are you dancing in the club surrounded by hotties with a drink in your hand? Are you swimming in a claw-foot tub of money?  Are you jumping from an airplane? My imagination of my life, what it should be, what I want to be, how I achieve those things are the stuff of fantasies. And it's not all that godly.* Fantasies/dreams are usually what happens when my eyes are...closed. 

Awake, sleeper! 

Open your eyes, arise from...where? The dead. The deception is that dead things are alive. And that dead things make you alive. That darkness is light. That's sleepy talk. And sleepy talk is always flat-out ridiculous. You've already been made alive in Christ. up. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent Day 5 - The Imitation Game

As you can see, I'm in an Oscars mood.

I saw all of the films save one: American Sniper. I'll watch it one day. Out of the 8 films, I had 4 Favorites:
  1. Whiplash
  2. Theory of Everything
  3. Imitation Game
  4. Selma
In that order. None of these won best picture. Womp, womp.  But congrats to all the winners everywhere! All of the nominated movies and actors were wonderful this year. Probably one of the best awards shows in years.

But...what does this have to do with my Lent blog series? Why am I on Day 5; what happened to yesterday's blog?

For the first'll see. For the second, I have decided to skip Sundays on a Catholic  technicality (though I'm not Catholic). Technically, Sundays are not part of Lent, as it's "the Lord's Day", a celebration day, and a sort of sabbath. A sabbath from blogs.

In Today's reading in 40 Days of Growth (which is technically yesterday's reading that I skipped), I was given this awesome passage:

Be kids!
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. - Ephesians 5:1-5

Disclaimer: There is a lot going on in this scripture, and I'm probably not going to do it justice.

This scripture made me think immediately of The Imitation Game. Particularly a scene where Alan Turing is explaining what the "Imitation Game" is:

Alan Turing:  It's called "The Imitation Game...would you like to play?
Detective: Play?
Alan Turing: It's a game. A test of sorts. For determining whether something is a... a machine or a human being.
Detective: How do I play?
Alan Turing: Well, there's a judge and a subject, and... the judge asks questions and, depending on the subject's answers, determines who he is talking with... what he is talking with... All you have to do is ask me a question.

That was the movie definition. Officially, Turing was describing the Turing Test, which is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

So to be an imitator of God, is to, in a very real sense, "play God." When we hear that phrase "to play God" it has an immediately negative connotation. But here we have Paul commanding this of Christ followers! However, the way in which one "plays God" is specified. It doesn't mean to decide if someone lives or dies, or to hold someone's future in the palm of your hand and crush it at your pleasure. That's Hollywood stuff. To truly play God means to walk in love and to give yourself up for others.

"I came to seek and save that which was lost" - Luke 19:10

"I am come that they might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10:10

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage - Philippians 2:6

If Jesus was humble...why are we so proud? If Jesus is loving and accepting, why are we hating? If while we were dirty, God put His hand on us, why do we act like some are untouchable? Distasteful? And if Jesus came so that "they" (I'm thinking that's like everybody) might have life, why are we picking and choosing the people we think are good enough for God's kingdom? 

Clearly somebody is losing the Imitation Game! If we're playing to win, we're supposed to exhibit loving behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of...God!

This is tall order. Especially because Paul follows up his request for imitation with the Ephesians' current situation: immorality, impurity, greed. All the things that arise out of a lack of love.

I have to admit I'm a poor imitation. On the wrong day, at the wrong time, if someone asked me a question, they'd definitely know who they weren't talking to: the Holy Spirit (aka God).

And, it's not just me. People are looking at the church with more and more skepticism everyday. For so many reasons. But is one of them that they're hearing my voice. Your voice. Bobby, Sue, and Jane's voice? Is it because people can easily tell who they're talking to, because it sounds nothing like Jesus?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lent Day 4 - The Theory of Everything?

Is it a strange thing that everything seems connected? Or, is it strange that we don't notice the connectedness of life until we start focusing? Or is it that nothing is connected, and that our strange minds make links between random events that are totally disparate and exclusive?

If you thought I knew the answer to this, you have not read my blog before now. I don't pretend to know much of anything. I just have thoughts. Guesses. From time to time, something that I could call divine inspiration, but concrete tangible, the-proof-is-in-the-pudding knowledge alludes my grasp. And I am okay with that.

Today's reading in my "40 Days of Growth" plan was Ephesians 2:4-10 (NASB):

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

This morning I read a completely separate devotional about consecration, which is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service. The devotional was about me consecrating myself to God. All of that "Not my will, but God's will" type stuff. 

I found that very connected to the above verse. The "solemn dedication to" part, I think, is what I read this morning. And then the "special purpose or service" are the good works, which God prepared beforehand for me to walk in. Connected. 

To some extent, this scripture struck something of a chord with me, as I think it made me imagine myself as having no control. We are made alive, raised and seated. We are workmanship (something effected, made, or produced)...and it reminded me of how I'd felt during the devotional that morning.

Nearly 7 hours apart, two different readings connected and created the same thought: 

Have I really said: "Not my will, but Your will, Lord" and meant it? 

I prayed it this morning, and followed it up with: "Help me to really mean that."  I think I mean it. My head means it. But something is held back. It's so important that scripture says we are saved by grace and not of ourselves. Because we want to boast. We really want credit for the good that we do. But this says that we were created to do those things! So then, where does the credit go? To the creator or the thing created? 

Watch this movie!!! You'll cry!
Which loosely brings me back to strange connectedness. I'm snowed it today. So, I decided I'd watch Oscar-nominated films that were available for rent. I started with the one I supposed I'd like the least: The Theory of Everything. I think I supposed that, as a Christian, I would take offense at a movie about someone who has spent their life denying the truth of the scriptures I plan to quote for the next 40 days.  That someone is of course, the physicist/cosmologist/super famous scientist, Stephen Hawking

First off, I want to say it was an excellent movie. It just was. I cried, I laughed...and I feel like I came to a place of deep respect and admiration for Dr. Hawking. But for some reason, and this is strange, the movie felt connected to my earlier devotion and later biblical reading. We are all created to do something. I feel like Stephen Hawking was created to be a great thinker. And he consecrated his life to it. To some extent, he had no choice but to consecrate his life to thinking as his mind is the most functional part of his body. Is it crazy that when I thought about how he was given 2 years to live in 1963 and is yet alive today that I had a praise?  It felt weird to me in the moment, but I just went with it. He had a job to do, and he did it. He wasn't pushed or motivated by the same things that push/motivate me. And I will (likely) not reach the level of fame that he has reached. But I felt that it was all connected. Everyone has something to do in this world. And we might not know the point of the "something" we do until the final, indisputable truth (not theory) of everything has been revealed in this world. But it the mean time, it's the nebulous "something."  And I think it probably works best when we consecrate ourselves to it. When we give ourselves over to it. 

When we look up into the sky and simply say: "Take me." 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12


Random connection: Just last night I was discussing the Big Bang, for like 10 seconds while at dinner. Coincidence? Or just strange?! 

Strange note: I have watched both The Theory of Everything and The Grand Budapest Hotel back-to-back. So my thoughts sound a little British. Does it come off in the blog?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent Day THREE: Comparative Experience

Over the past couple of weeks I have had a variation of the same conversation with a few different people. What's interesting about this particular conversation is that it needs no prompting. This conversation occurs organically in the course of close friendships and basic grumbling and complaining (which is supposed to be absent from our lives - Philippians 2:14) about life. The conversations, for the most part, go like this:

"I should be happy. I have a really good life if you look at it in the right way..."

This conversation generally spirals down a rabbit hole of: what is happiness? Happiness vs. Joy? And tons of other things that, honestly, make my brain boil. Everyone has a practical answer for how to be happy. Remember  "Want what you have, and have what you want?" Or the classic Christianese sermon of happiness is based on external circumstances but joy exists beyond the sphere of circumstance and cannot be taken from you? This bothers me, b/c I've definitely had a lot of sad days. Where did my joy go? Did I ever have joy? Have I only ever been "happy" and when circumstances changed it flitted away?

Everything is so blurry in life. Just when I think I have a grasp on certain concepts, I realize it's like holding a handful of water. My hands are wet, but I have nothing that I can drink.  Note: I am not referring to gratitude. Gratitude is something we should all feel and express on a daily basis. I think I'm talking about trying to figure out happiness. And figuring out joy. And how to maintain it. And all that "I wouldn't have known joy without sadness" chatter. That bothers me too! I'd rather not meet sadness. Does that saying transfer to every situation: I would never have known health without sickness? Maybe we should all be sick? I would have never known a good man without spending all those years with abusers? I'll pass. I don't want to only have a life of comparative experiences, but perhaps there's no other way. Thoughts?

Today's reading led me to a comparative experience:

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! - Ephesians 1:15-19 (MSG)

I am generally anti-the Message translation of the Bible, but recently I've come to appreciate it's conversational way of expressing biblical truth. You might read that scripture and wonder: what does this have to do with anything that you rambled on about earlier?

Well, because to be made intelligent and discerning means I was once an idiot. As a Notre Dame graduate, certified public accountant, and derivatives accountant...I take issue at being called dumb. But when it comes to knowing God personally and truly understanding His will for my life, I'm a straight up dunce! Which is why I love Paul's prayer here. I want to smarten up. To have eyes that are focused and clear means I got spiritual Lasik! I couldn't see, but then I could. But the clincher is about what you're seeing. I'm not seeing about God, I'm seeing about ME. I think I know what my life is about. I think I know how to be happy....but really I haven't yet grasped the immensity of God's plan for my life. And what His happiness looks like. Eyes too blurry. But it sounds amazing: "utter extravagance," "endless energy," "boundless strength?" Admittedly, that means more comparatively. It means more to a person who has always had to live life "on-the-cheap" and who has been beaten down and weakened by life. And admittedly, "utter extravagance," "endless energy," and "boundless strength" achieved through relationship with Jesus Christ sounds like happiness.

I just would have never called it that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent Day 2: You Matter

I just realized, that though all scripture is awesome (2 Timothy 3:16), all does not stoke the fires of the blog. In today's Daily Reading for Personal Growth, 40 Days with God passage, it was strangely less about personal growth, and more about the Christian collective. The scripture was 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the scripture about how we're all part of the body of Christ; and just like individual body parts each person has a particular function. On second thought, that does get at personal growth. In the passage, it's clear that people sometimes dislike their role:

If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 
- 1 Corinthians 12:15-16

It seems that the foot is displeased. It seems like the ear is sad. They feel useless, or else they wouldn't say something as stupid as "I'm not a part of the body." I mean...but's attached! In my mind, I imagine a disembodied ear, kneeling (as much as an ear can kneel) on the ground crying out "woe is me!"  If you were a disembodied body part abandoned on the side of the road, there may be some cause for dismay; however that's not what is going on here. 

Even if the foot is not a hand, it has foot functions, so why would it say: "I'm not a part of the body?" I can't be sure, but I think the foot is so focused (figuratively speaking) on the hand, and the function of the hand, that it doesn't realize they are connected. The foot feels disembodied, but it's not disembodied. The foot has a function, but if it is disembodied, that function cannot be performed. Why? Because a disembodied foot can't move. It can maybe wiggle its toes (I feel like my calf is involved), but it can't move without the leg. And the leg on its own can't move without the hip, and so on and so forth. 

So what does it all mean? 

I don't know! 

But I think it means two things: 
  1. You matter; your function matters
  2. Our functions only make sense in community
Knowing #1 is true, makes you seek the community in #2. When you don't know you matter, you feel disembodied and like your on the outside of community looking in. 

The personal growth in this comes in realizing that you're a big deal within a big deal. Sometimes we feel small and disconnected, but that is likely a lie of the enemy and a little bit crazy. It's just as crazy as driving by a disembodied ear crying on the side of the road. 

Such a thing does not the body of Christ.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LENT: day 1

It's that time of year again. LENT! Ash Wednesday sort of snuck up on me. In my mind, Easter Sunday is always around April 5th or the 12th (though it can fall on any date between March 22nd and April 25th). However, it actually is on the 5th this year, so I'm not sure why this Ash Wednesday shocked me. It just did! I didn't know it was happening, so I had to think of a lenten sacrifice. Got it! Sorta... We'll see how it goes.

Part of my Lent plan is to go through a Bible Gateway reading plan: Daily Reading for Personal Growth, 40 Days with God.

And maybe...sometimes (not committing to every day) write a blog about it. The blog is useful in that, it forces me to do something my pastors goes on and on about: journaling. Except, this isn't as deep, personally intimate as journaling. But it's a decent proxy.

Today's reading came from Luke 18:10-14:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I thought this verse was rather apropos for Lent, because every Lent, I seek to become the humble tax collector (justified and accepted) through the "righteous" actions of the Pharisee, who is ultimately rejected. Generally, Lent is a time to beef up my moral performance, and call it my acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. 

I'm certain I'm not the only one who does this. Am I? Intentions are good though. So, I don't think anyone's Lenten fast/sacrifice is rejected. I just think at some point we have to realize who the sacrifice is for. Who is the fast for? And regardless of who you are, Pharisee or tax's for YOU. I think the difference is in knowing that. I think I didn't know that. 

Never give up. Never surrender.
I struggle against myself. If I say, "it's for me" I'll have another voice saying, "'s for God! I'm doing this for God." But, I have to admit. God doesn't need the fast. I need the fast. I need to feel God-honoring. I need to feel good. I need to get closer to God. I need, I need.  And those were just my honorable needs. My less honorable needs are the other items I fast and pray for: future spouse, promotion at job, a house, an awesome vacation, Mega Millions, etc. I need, I need.  

The Pharisee didn't know he needed. He thought he had something to offer:  "...I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." Big whoop. What is that doing for God? If done correctly, those things should be creating something amazing in you. He's thanking God that he's not like other people. What made him special? He is, literally, commending himself to God. Feels awkward. 

Oh, you fasted?! AND prayed? Wow...
The tax collector knew he needed. He knew he had nothing to offer. He was in a situation where all he could do was gain. He gained what he asked for: mercy and justification, because he came with his palm facing up. The Pharisee came with his palm facing down. He came trying to give God something...and he left with what he came with: nothing that mattered.

I don't want to approach Lent like the Pharisee. I want to approach it like the tax collector. I'll spend the next 6 weeks trying to figure out what exactly that looks like. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Case of the Blahs...and Joy

I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the blog in 2015. It’s not that I had run out of topics, it’s just that nothing felt exciting at January 1. After I proclaimed that timing was everything…I went through a time of what is scientifically referred to as “the blahs.” I’ve decided there is a time for the blahs. 

But I think it’s over! So, it’s time to come back to the blog. Currently, my church (NCC) is doing a study called “Elements” on the Fruit of the Spirit. I lightly touched on each fruit of the spirit last year while I was going through the Beatitudes. However, at that time, the Beatitude was front and center and the fruit was a backup singer. Now the fruit have gone solo! 

Last week the sermon was on LOVE. And it was great. But that was while I was in the blahs. So…can’t start there. Maybe I’ll circle back to it…but it’s not like I haven’t talked about love before (see Prelude to a Diss). So I’m going to start with JOY.

In my Elements book it told me to read Luke 1:26 – 55. So, I did! Obedience.  It’s a great passage, and it made me think a lot of thoughts. Some rather pointless ones and some that may/may not be profound:
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  – Luke 1:28-29

This is troubling indeed...
I had to wonder: why is Mary greatly troubled at hearing that she is highly favored and that the Lord is with her? When I first read verse 28, I thought: “… I wish that would happen to me!”  I wish I could get that sort of validation. I always feel like I’m one sinful thought away from a lightning bolt! But for some reason, this greeting troubles Mary. Why? I of course have no idea; I’m trying to put myself in her shoes.
Does he come to her front door? Is he already lurking inside her house when she returns from the well? How did this go down? Let’s just agree that the automatic reaction to a strange man is fear.
So Gabriel tells Mary what to expect: give birth to the son of the Most High, name him Jesus, peace out. But Mary has one critical question:
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34

Great question! But the answer included some possibly irrelevant (but yet crucial information): 

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:35-37

The Holy Spirit overshadowing bit? Relevant. The “even Elizabeth your relative…” bit? What was that about? But here’s the thing…it was meaningful, because after Gabriel left, Mary high-tailed it to Elizabeth’s house.
John the Baptist (or JtB as I call him) was a forerunner for Christ. But Elizabeth was also a kind of forerunner to Mary. Something impossible was about to happen to Mary. Something divine. The angel could have just told her about Jesus and rolled. But he dropped a nugget of “Even Elizabeth…” because it was known that 1) Elizabeth couldn’t conceive, and 2) she was very old. (Luke 1:7). And everyone knew it (Luke 1:25). So Gabriel informed her ,as proof that this impossible thing he’d told her couldn’t take place, that something impossible had already happened to her cousin Elizabeth. It was a sign.
Elizabeth’s testimony was a sign.
I rarely look at testimonies that way. They’re just something good that happened to that person. But no, they are a sign of what God does! Of how God works! And that you can believe in the things He’s told you. Why? Because no word from God will ever fail.
That’s enough to create joy right? Well…only if you believe it.
Mary goes to see Elizabeth and a “praise party” breaks out (see Luke 1:39-55), but my favorite part is in verses 43 – 45:
But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

This is quite deep. Why am I so favored that Jesus Christ died on the cross for me? That God, by His Holy Spirit, has drawn me to His truth. That He has allowed my understanding to be opened? Verse 45 is hard. Promises alone might not be enough to receive the blessing. The blessing comes to the one who has believed the Lord will do as He says. Elizabeth believes. Mary believes. And it is their joy. Belief leads to joy. Faith leads to joy. I take the “she” and the “her” very generally, even though it seemingly speaks specifically to Mary. Why? Because Elizabeth is speaking by the Holy Spirit, and as a result she’s speaking very prophetically. That word, I believe, stretches across the millennia and has met me in my living room. And it speaks to me, as a woman. “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” What promises? There are many things that have been spoken to me by the Holy Spirit. And they seemed too high for me. There are many things that have happened to me, by the Holy Spirit, but they were moment that floated away on the winds of days gone by. But if God has made a turn a high thing into low-hanging fruit…I should pick it. And if what God said in the past has still not come to pass, I have to believe that it’s slated for either right now or the future. If I think in this way…won’t I have joy?