Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The machine

I just bought the Oh! Gravity album by Switchfoot and listened to it all last night. I then listened to it again this morning. The lyrics are really good and I think one song has some thoughts that need to be analyzed.

One of the main things that Jon Foreman (the lead singer) says in his albums (the other ones have a similar message) is that the material world isn't all there is. Meant to Live boasts about "second life" and the innate feeling that "everything inside screams" for it. In Oh! Gravity the song American Dream speaks to the need for more in order to prove success.

When success is equated with excess
The ambition for excess wrecks us
As top of the mound becomes the bottom line
When success is equated with excess

We can't find new life this way. It's not the way to this life's greatest joys. Jon goes on in that same song to exclaim:

I want out of this machine
It doesn't feel like freedom

I do too. Freedom is "the power to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints" and if we are acting on the compulsion that the more things we have the better we'll feel, well I point you to almost every celebrity. They have almost everything they want and how happy are they? I think that unless they're lying to themselves or have God in their life, they're not very happy.

Back when I learned about economics in High School, they gave me the definition of economics: "the efficient use of limited resources in the face of infinite wants." And that, my friends, is all our problem. We have infinite wants, celebrities have infinite wants, we all want, want, want and never stop wanting. If freedom is the absence of "externally imposed restraints" we will never find freedom unless we can fulfill our eternal wants.

People see those above them, those with seemingly everything they need, and assume that "if I can just get all that they have, then I'll be happy, then I'll be free." What happens when they get there? They realize, as many have, that when they get to the top of the ladder, it's leaning against the wrong wall. No matter how rich you get, no matter what possessions you own, no matter how much you strive for those things, you'll never be fulfilled.

Jesus offers (and is the only one qualified to) us a way to freedom. Let's face it, wanting infinitely is an "external restraint." If we could somehow lie to ourselves and say we didn't want those things, then that lie would be an external constraint as well. The only thing that can satisfy an infinite amount of wants is an infinite being. And the only thing that can be infinite and act towards us, is God.

So why do we search in finite things to stuff this infinite hole? Because we can't see another way. Because the correct way is often the hardest way. Because we're lazy? Maybe...but I think if we looked through the eyes of faith more often. If we saw that our wants were actually infinite, it would make sense that only an infinite being could make those wants go away, and make us truly free. John 8:31-32 "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Jesus offers a way, hold to his teaching and you will know the truth. Psalm 23:1 "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." What does a shepherd do, teaches sheep to follow him, to keep them safe. If you hold to his teaching you shall not be in want.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The cry of those in need

There are many people in the world in need. I don't know the exact percentage but there are so many millions, if not billions of people who live on less than a dollar a day. That in itself is horrible and should be fixed with the resources we have. However, I'm not addressing the needs of the hungry and poor per se. I'm addressing those who have much spiritual riches and yet don't see the spiritual poverty around them. I am among the spiritually rich. If I could somehow check my spiritual bank account online it would just display an infinity symbol. Not, of course, because of anything I've done to deserve that, but because of what Jesus did for me.

Now because we have these riches and this life inside of us, we must give it away. In math, when you subtract anything from infinity, it equals infinity. So there's no need to worry about the amount we're withdrawing from our account, it will always be full. Who are we withdrawing for? The hungry. The needy. The tired. The thirsty. The ones who don't even know they are bankrupt.

They are crying out and the world has absolutely nothing to offer them. Mark, a new guy to our community, an old guy to the faith, said this last night and it hit me that it needed to be said again. We should hear a wailing from the universities around the city. We should see the desolation among the people of our generation. We have so many blessings. We have so much love surrounding us all the time. We are so RICH and we can't even see it. Jesus gave, he gave so much that what he gave 2,000 years ago is still giving!

Please then, please pray for your searching friends, for your hope-deprived buddies, for your worn out wanderers, for those you know need something they're looking in the wrong places to find. Pray for them and ask God to use you to bring them the truth. Bring them the life. Bring them the way. Before it's too late

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A perfect sinner

Last night I had a thought that is a little undefined maybe even wrong (so if I don't explain this clearly please ask for more). The basic words of it are "The only thing I know how to do perfectly is sin." I know how so well I could do it in my sleep, and I don't even know if that's possible. I had this thought and it got me to thinking, "What exactly is 'wrong'?" I know that the translation of sin "hamartia" in the Greek is "missing the mark." If you were an archer it would be equivalent to not hitting the target with your arrow. So doing wrong can be equated to sinning when it relates to God. We can do wrong by sinning, falling short of the mark that God has set up for us.

First of all, because of what Adam and Eve did, we are born with a "sin-nature" a predilection, a proclivity, a bent, almost a need to sin, and because of this we will, without God's help, always sin. And most of my life, because I've grown up in a Christian home, I've been perplexed by the fact that I can't make myself not sin. I can't, through my own will power, want the same things that God wants all the time.

Last night this thought, that I'm perfect sinner, hit me so solidly and I finally had it, something that made sense. This is it, I'm not somehow defective or created wrong or even hopeless. I'm exactly as perfect as I can be. I'm just following my nature, who I am without God, when I sin. The only reason that I feel guilty or convicted for doing the things in my nature is because, even though I am a fallen human, I also have a spirit in me that knows what is right and wrong. Because Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I have inherited that knowledge, it's written on my heart. I know that what I've done when I sin doesn't meet up to God's standards. So my conscience speaks loud and clear that I've sinned.

So what's boy to do? Although I'm doing what comes natural and I'm actually really good at what comes natural, I still feel guilty for it. How can I stop doing what I'm pretty much programmed to do? Call on the Lord. Call on my father and repent. Turn away from the sin and ask for Jesus to pull me out of that muck and mire. There's no way, on my own, I can get out of sin. It's like a man in quicksand, he can't escape from it and the more he tries the deeper he sinks in. But if he would just call out, reach out his hand someone else, who is on solid ground, can pull him out slowly and surely. Once he's out (to continue the analogy) he may be covered in mud but he's no longer sinking.

God sets a very high standard, a very small mark that is very far away, for us to hit. "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) We can't enter through the narrow gate without help. Jesus has made a way and only through belief and surrender to him can we enter in and commune with the father.

This knowledge is useful for everyone, even those who have been Christians since they were young. Jesus will always be there to pull us out. His spirit will always be available to change us if we are willing to surrender to it. Just call out, hold out your hand and be made clean.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Waking up

I don't know about you but when I wake up in the morning it's a battle. My head is full of thoughts and none of them prompt me to find a way out of the covers. Even as I walk around my apartment getting ready to go I find myself repeating things in my head that I know are not true. Lies that hide the joy that I should be feeling. Things like, "Why are you late, again? Can't you learn to get up earlier?" or "Don't you love God enough to get up early and read your bible? You're some kind of Christian." I'll admit the things I hear aren't that harsh but they feel that harsh and I think it's a consequence of not living in grace.

Grace, that all encompassing word, it means so much, but how do we receive it so early in the morning? When our heads aren't even focused enough to put our feet on the ground, how do we receive an abstract concept? First let me define grace.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

This states that grace is "not from yourselves" grace is a something that you can't do something to receive. It states that grace is the "gift of God." What is a gift of God? More importantly, what is a gift? A gift is "something acquired without compensation" or "A voluntary transfer of property for which nothing of value is received in return." So this would imply that a gift from God would mean the same thing. A gift from God is something that he gives us without compensation, some 'property' transfered to us where nothing, absolutely nothing of value is given to him in return.

So this leaves us where? Well, when the grace of God is given to us we, being human, want to have done something to have received this gift. We want to have a reason for God to have given us grace. But there is nothing we can do to make God give us grace. Grace is a gift, therefore you can't earn it. It would be like working at a construction site all day and walking up to the foreman and saying "Could you give me my gift now?" He'd have to say "Don't you mean your pay?" "No I want my gift, you see, I worked all day for this gift so I deserve it! Where's my gift!?" You can see the ridiculousness. Once you've done something for that foreman with the expectation to be given something, you've changed the relationship between you and him. You are no longer giftee and gifter, you're now employee and employer.

With God though, he gives because of what HE did. He went through the pain of crucifiction. He went through the torture of public humiliation. He took on all the sins of the world. He did and because that was Jesus' purpose, God gives us the gift of grace. It's a gift because we didn't die. It's a gift because we didn't take any punishment. It's a gift and all we are ever asked to do is receive it. How? By asking.

So when I wake up tomorrow morning I'm going to ask for grace. Grace that covers my short-comings, grace that washes away my pain, grace that heals my guilt, grace that soothes my heart and mind. I know God will give it to me because he died for me before I even knew I needed him to.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We are more than our bodies

This weekend a group from the Fenway Church that I'm part of went over to Framingham, to the Marist house, to have a retreat. We had many times of singing to God and about God and a few times to listen to the speaker (David W. Hill). During the singing times we heard many things in our hearts from God's spirit. One of the themes that arose was how we, as a church, are many puzzle pieces joined together to make a beautiful picture. On our own we may look strange, with bumps in odd places, with curves that don't seem to be useful, but together, when all of us are exactly as we should be, we make a beautiful picture.

This idea mixed with the revelation from David W. that he, when he gets to heaven, will be a dancer for Jesus. And this idea makes perfect sense to me. You see I believe that because we are made to reflect the glory of God, that we are made in his image to shine his glory, then of course we will have purposes after we die. Purposes that on earth might not find their perfect outlet, but when we're there, in heaven, will be fulfilled. We'll suddenly know why we love to jump around and dance so much, like David figured out, we'll know why we love to travel, to make art, to build creative shapes, or to sing all the time.

Our purpose here in this life is to know God and to make him known, to bring him glory and we do this by living in the spirit, by obeying his commands (Psalm 119), and through our talents. The talents that God gave us are maximized in their potential by the whole "body" of Christ, the whole church working together in community. Not only are we fulfilling his purposes as we work individually but as we work corporately we magnify the effectiveness of what we've been given to do. This is a little obvious, of course "many hands make light work." But I'm trying to say that for some of us, our purpose is to build up the people within the church, for some it's to talk to people outside the church (more often than inside), and for others it's to play music or build houses. What our purpose is will become clearer when we are in a community of Jesus followers. And that is the exciting part, we get to be more of who we are the closer we get to each other. I can't stand feeling out of place and in the church, I don't have to. In the church we find our calling on earth and form our spirit for our calling in heaven.

Thus we are so much more than this blob of flesh and bones that people see on the outside. We are a glowing spirit that shines from its core the glory of the one who made us. The more we learn about that glorious one the more we become like him. I am so glad that I know who I am, I am a child of God, a puzzle piece in a picture of God, a brick in the building of the Lord, a cell in the body of Christ, and loved. I've wanted to know who I am my whole life and as I learn who God is, the answer to who I am going to be for eternity becomes clearer and clearer.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Obedience and God's Will

John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

John 17:4 "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do."

John quotes Jesus here in these verses and we can be very comforted by his words. This world is full of trouble, and by trouble I mean major and minor inconveniences. Major being the things like deaths, divorces, break-ups, and catastrophes. Minor being hangnails, lost wallets, lost cell-phones, weather, and embarrassments. Jesus tells us to take heart in those situations, because he overcame the world. How did he overcome the world? By being obedient to God's will. Jesus came into the world for a specific purpose, to satisfy God's justice, to allow God to be fully just and fully merciful, and he fulfilled that purpose by being obedient to God's will. Instead of taking the throne by force, he took it by humbleness.

How do we remain obedient to God's will? Well this is a question that has racked my brain for some time. Not that I'm old or anything but I've thought about it for years. Last night, I think I finally received the answer.

First off, God wants us to be in a relationship with him. He wants us to be near him and in communication with him. He made that possible by sending his son to die in our place, to be sacrificed in our stead. Because of that we can be near to God even though we are sinful beings.

Second off, what did Jesus do while he was on earth? He remained in constant communication with his heavenly father. He prayed to him, he listened to him, he fasted and he just spent time with him, alone. Then he went out and glorified God. In God's name and with faith in God he healed people, he forgave sins and he restored people to fullness. So in John 17:4 he tells God what he was doing here on earth (not like God doesn't know, but for our benefit) he says "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." He was bringing God glory by doing the things he did.

Thus he had a relationship with God that blossomed into a radical healing power that brought glory to God in heaven. In that whole time do you think that Jesus was in God's will? Of course! Then there's the answer!

To know and work in God's will we must be obedient to God every single day. The things that seem the simplest, praying, reading our bible, talking to God, being with him, are actually the most important. Therefore I think that these areas are the most attacked, the most fought against and the most difficult things to do. Even when we're doing them we are discouraged by thoughts of futility: "What's the point of reading the bible today, I'm not getting anything out of it?" or "Why am I praying, I have to get to class/work/etc?"

The key to turning into a person like Jesus, a person who can heal the sick, raise the dead, speak words of love, and bind up emotional wounds, is obedience. The key to becoming powerful in God, is humbly sacrificing a portion of every day. So, as David Hill senior has been saying recently, make an appointment to meet with God every day. Make that appointment and keep it. Keep it like you would keep a doctor's appointment or an appointment with a celebrity or politician, or someone important. Because after all, who is more important than God? If you do you may be discouraged, attacked, or downtrodden, but take heart Jesus has overcome the world.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thoughts and the animal I am

I know that some of you reading this don't believe in evolution and I am not one to disagree with you, I don't either (I believe in Micro-evolution not Macro-evolution, but that's a different blog). However, the point I would like to make this morning involves agreeing, at least for a moment, that we are animals in some regard. That God, while making us, possibly used some of the design that resides in animals' circuitry, in us. He gave us all a brain that, I've learned from my psychology classes, can be taught things. Just as a dog can be taught to sit. I came to this conclusion many times before but one particular morning not too long ago I realized something that helped me understand myself. It requires a bit of back story...

I have a boot in my apartment that holds the door to my room open. The door, if the boot is not present, closes by itself and is sort of inconvenient, so the boot is necessary. Whenever I want the door to my room to close I kick the boot out of the way as I walk in and the door, quite conveniently, closes by itself. Thus by having the boot, I've turned a hassle into a blessing. Lemons-lemonade. The first time I kicked the boot and I noticed the door closing, I was actually a little frustrated. But then as I realized how nice it was that the door closed itself, I began telling myself to kick the boot as I walked into my room. This was essentially a reward. Telling myself to let my foot hit the boot was equivalent to Pavlov giving his dogs food. So now, whenever I walk in, I kick the boot. I've taken a small, accidental motion and turned it into a learned response.

Now I think we do this with everything. And this is why I say we are animals. I believe we have a spirit inside us that controls this animal, this body that we cart around, and I believe it's flawed. I say it's flawed because, well, look at the world. We've taught ourselves that whatever feels good is what we should do. We've taught ourselves that listening to our elders is antiquated or old-fashioned, repressive, even just plain wrong.

All this is to say, we need help. We can try to make it through life teaching our animal bodies to do what our spirit wants, but we are still going to fail. This is why new year's resolutions fail, why people go to the gym but then stop, why people can't quit smoking, why drinking is such a hard habit to quit. We have no resources in our own bodies to make this kind of behavior stop. The animals that we are are sick. Back at the beginning of mankind we made a choice to depend only on our animal resources, our own brains, to make a decision and it worked. But now we can't seem to pick anything else. We can't make ourselves decide something other than disobedience to God.

But thanks be to God who leads us in his power! We have the victory. We can be obedient. We can make one choice that will make all other choices possible. Namely, Jesus. Jesus died for the disobedience our great-grandparents committed. Jesus broke the sin that trapped us in a circle of shame and bad decisions. Because he died we can ask him to come into our messed up animal and make it pure again. We can be given his spirit to control this body's decisions and his infinite resources will help us make the right choices. The choices that break us free from addictions like alcohol, drugs, pornography, fantasies, food, cigarettes, etc. The spirit of Jesus Christ in us can make a way where there seems to be no way.