Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quiet thoughts

Sometimes I want to scream and pull my hair out.

Tonight is not one of those times.

Tonight is, instead, one of the times when I sigh quietly, glance a little wearily toward heaven and wonder why God has ordained this season as He has.

It is not a bad season; indeed in many regards it is a very good season. But it has its difficulties, and at the moment they tire me.

"Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various kinds of trials and temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. And let patience have its perfect work in you, that you may be whole and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:4-5)

Sometimes it's the little trials that are the hardest to walk through. The subtle ones that aren't really that big of a deal - but they don't go away, and thus slowly wear on you. We have a tendency to remember James' words when we're in massive trials that strain our faith in terrible ways. But I think they're at least as applicable in these smaller ones that simply go on. I do not think it was for nothing that James wrote of the trials' producing patience (some translations say "perseverance" or "steadfastness"), rather than simply courage or faith. We must endure.

It is in the endurance of the "little" trials that simply go on, in the faithfulness in the little things, in the continuing during the rote events of our day-to-day existence that God draws us truly close to Him.

We gain glimpses of His splendor and His holiness and His glory in brilliant flashes of inspiration: those moments where the clouds are torn away for an instant and we see with clarity the depth and breadth of His nature, before they are swiftly veiled again. But it is in the walking through the cloudy days, when we cannot see, that His character becomes real in our lives: not merely a vision but a transformation.

And so...

And so I carry on, praying that the testing of my faith will produce patience. Praying that this season will be no longer than it has to be. Praying that God will bring it to a close in a way that brings Him glory, that fills my heart with worship. Resting confident in the knowledge that He will do precisely that.

And so I softly sing as I head towards bed:
In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand...

- Chris

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Speaking and silence

Does God often choose to speak only in the silence?

Or is He always speaking -

and we hear Him only when He overpowers our noise

and when we are silent?

- Chris

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Faith without works is dead. (James 2:17)

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
(Emphasis added)

Faith. Without it we cannot please God. To the point that it's not just difficult, but impossible to please Him without it. And yet - how often do we really walk in faith, as defined not by our own understanding or the watered down preaching we too often hear, but as by Scripture? How often do we live assured of things hoped for? Not often. Rarely, in fact. The concept strikes the modern Western mind as odd - to be assured of something one is only hoping for is irrational. It doesn't make sense. How can one be confident in that which one does not know? And this is all the more true with the notion of having a conviction of things unseen. (Unseen in the sense of unobservable - anathema to the scientific mind, which claims everything must be reducible, quantifiable and subject to analyzing.)

We in the Western church may just have lost our faith. We don't really believe the impossible can happen - so what surprise is there when it doesn't? And yet we often complain at God's failure to appear, to bring revival, to work in miraculous ways. Sometimes we just miss the fact that He is acting, quite independently of us, thanks to our inattentiveness. But sometimes, He doesn't move because of our unbelief. We ought to expect God to do the impossible, to move in remarkable ways.

I am not arguing here about the "charismatic" gifts, but about God's move in our hearts, in our workplaces, in our nation. I am posing the question: Why have we not seen true revival come, despite the clearly attested evidence of spiritual hunger? And I believe the answer may be as simple as the fact that we're not asking for it - and when we are, we're doubting, not really believing that God will do it.

There's something important to catch here, too: we can neither please God nor draw near to Him if this is our attitude. [That's a big deal: a lot of people think that simply reading the Bible will make you close to God. He says no: we have to have faith, a faith that transforms us. Then - and only then - will reading the Bible draw us close to Him.] Why can we not draw near to God if we are not asking and believing that God will do it? Because this is not an attitude of faith. Faith says, "You can do this, and it's in line with Your character and Your precepts. God, move in power!" and then expects that He will move. (I am not, it is worth noting, advocating a prosperity gospel. Choosing to live our lives in line with the will of God, and to earnestly seek the accomplishment of His will is far more likely to bankrupt us in this world than to make us rich.) Is this expectation too bold? Perhaps for a culture saturated in wishy-washy-ness, with a picture of a God who prefers to sit back on His throne and let people scurry about their business. But this is not the picture of the God of the Bible. This is the picture of the Deists' God: a watchmaker who refuses to interfere. The pattern throughout history is that God answers His people's prayers. There are times when, for His glory, He waits - sometimes without explaining Himself to His people. But often, frequently even, He moves. And we are commanded - not suggested, not prompted, but commanded - to come before His throne boldly.

So why don't we? Is it, perhaps, because we don't really believe in the God we claim to believe in - at least, not in a way that registers in our actions and not just our minds? Is it because we too often let our "faith" be mere mental assent, rather than transforming truth that alters the way we live our lives, that calls us to walk in expectation of the miraculous?

Why don't we see miraculous provision of the sort that George Müller experienced? Why do we not see revivals like those led by Whitefield and Edwards? Why do we not see great brokenness for the lost? Why do we not see powerful, ongoing and constant Reformation? Is it because God is not willing to move? Or is it because we are not believing that He will move?

We may see people becoming disciples of Christ when we expect it, instead of anticipating rejection of the gospel. We may see people stepping up to the plate in our churches when we expect it, instead of bemoaning the fact that they don't. We may see people begin to hunger for the Word of God when we expect it, instead of sighing over their lackadaisical approach to studying Scripture.

We may see God move when we dare to believe that what we believe is really real - not just some nice idea; not just some good notion; not even something we can intellectually assent to: something that is worth living our lives differently for - something that we do live our lives for.

I'm tired of the pattern I see, both in myself and in so many around me, of complacency. God isn't moving in any great ways, so we sit back comfortably and wait for Him to do something. Only, maybe - just maybe - He's waiting for us to ask Him to.

Does He need us? Absolutely not.

Does He delight in working through His children? Absolutely yes.

It's time to believe. It's time to have faith - to draw near to God, to please God, by believing that He is and that He rewards those who seek Him. It's time to live the life of abundance that Christ promised. It's time to stop expecting mediocrity and then being surprised when it's what we achieved, and to start expecting powerful works of God and rejoicing when we see Him move.

Pray with expectation. Don't be tossed by every doubt that enters your mind. Be assured of the things you hope for, and confident in that which you cannot see.


Know God.

You might start by praying for Him to take away your doubt - and believing that He can do it. He not only can... He will.

Grace and peace - and boldness - be with you all.

- Chris

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Call and the Vision

How do we reconcile a vision of being radicals on the streets with a vision of engaging our culture intellectually and philosophically? How do we keep from becoming ivory tower intellectuals or marginalized hippies? How do we mesh together the utter simplicity of a life truly following Christ with the philosophically rigorous worldview He brought us?

In short, how do we both live and communicate the gospel to people in every station in this world - from the heights of affluence to the depths of crushing poverty? I believe it must begin with a call to holiness - true, personal holiness: not a set of legalistic rules, but a hunger for transformation into the image of Christ and a desire to live as He lived.

And from whence comes that desire for holiness? What causes it to spring up in us, driving us forward toward the excellencies of Christ, forcing us to forsake all this world offers as mer rubbish? I believe it is encountering God as He is (not as we wish him to be): being confronted by His glory (the fullness of who He is). Love. Mercy. Justice. Righteousness. Anger. Wrath. Compassion. Creator. Lamb. Lion. Suffering Servant. Victorious Warrior. King of kings. Lord of lords. Almighty. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Prince of Peace. Lord of Hosts. On and on the list goes - unending and infinite as He is.

Where - and when - do we find ourselves confronted with such a vision? Everywhere. All the time. But we must open our eyes. For His glory is in the radiance of a sunrise, the brilliance of a smile, the warmth of a close embrace. It is in the loneliness of the rich and the hunger of the poor and the uncomfortable comfort of the middle class: all reflecting His glory in their brokenness, calling out, "This is not what ought to be! Where is our hope, our deliverance?"

And the answer is a naked man on two pieces of wood, who spent most of his life as a carpenter in a backwards village in the back end of a corrupt empire - and the remainder of it as a homeless preacher who alternated between astonishing popularity and abysmal unpopularity. The answer is simple, and oh-so-hard: "Pick up your cross daily." He calls us to die. To stop thinking like the world. Do things God's way. It doesn't make any sense, because the ways of God are foolish to men.

People keep telling me, "Yes, but it's a process." I absolutely agree; none of us are there yet or anywhere close - but I think we need to be careful not to let that become our excuse for why we're not striving to be. Many of us are not living as Christ-followers, content instead in our cultural Christianity. We can all-too-easily abort the process. Especially here in America, where there are so many voices (and so many things) calling us back to the way of the world - including parts of many churches, which are more focused on material prosperity than pure and undefiled religion.

We could feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, help the dying pass with dignity, mourn with the grieving, rejoice with those who rejoice. We could live as Christ called us to.

So why don't we? Selfishness. Love of comfort. Fear. Lack of vision. Especially lack of vision. Most of us don't even think about the disparity between our lifestyles and Christ's calling on a regular basis. I don't spend nearly enough time seeking to bring my life in line with the Sermon on the Mount, much less on everything else Christ taught.

I don't know what the outworking of all of this looks like. I just know that, by and large, it isn't what we're going. I catch glimpses of the vision here and there - and I'm hungry for more.

If we need revival (and I believe we do), then that gives us two crucial pieces of information: (1) we're dead, and (2) there is such a thing as life. What we're "living" day to day is a pale shadow of what could be, a cheap fake we've been told is the real thing for so long that we've come to believe it. But there is another way! Dead people can live again; indeed, that is the very promise of God in Christ on the cross.

So let us start the process. Let us walk down this road, not looking to the right or the left, looking back only to see how far the Spirit has brought us, focusing always on the power and glory of Christ.

God, give us vision, give us courage, give us passion, give us discipline. Let us see You as You really are and be remade in your image, conformed to the likeness of Christ, sharing in Your sufferings and participating in the fellowship of Your death. Let us walk in new life, not the death of the world. Let us see that Your ways are so much higher than our ways, and then be not content to stay where we are, but to press on after You! Glorify Yourself in Your Church, in Your Body!

- Chris

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Beautiful day

Today was probably the most beautiful day I've seen here at OU. Perfect skies, perfect temperature, perfect weather. It was gorgeous. I wish I had more time to be outside in it. I love days where the air is crisp, cool but not cold, and filled with the indescribably scent of fall. It's a wonderful smell, and a wonderful feeling. I want to just stretch my lungs out enough to pull it all in.

It makes me want to worship... it makes me want to shout at the top of my lungs... it makes me want to leap and cavort about in a wild dance of pure unadulterated joy. It makes me want to compose a symphony large enough to proclaim the beauty of the day, and fills me with the knowledge that such work is forever beyond me, forever unattainable.

How does one capture the mystery of beauty - especially of the beauty that only divinity, only our great God, could have created? How does one describe the taste of fall, the bright flare of sun slightly dimmed from summer, of sky turned somehow bluer and farther away, the crispness of the air that one inhales, the feel of fall all surrounding, penetrating, calling out to the very pores of your body to worship the One who made all this?

Words fail me; music fades into silence; I am left alone in the stillness before God, the wind blowing gently against my face, against the almost-turning leaves, against the slowly browning grass, carrying with it the fragrance of a creation that cries out "Glory to God in the highest!" I cannot but join them, calling out to my creator, my king, with every moment of my life, every ounce of strength, every waking breath...

The heavens declare the glory of God, / the sky above proclaims His handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
The voice of the Lord strips the forests bare, / and makes the deer give birth, / and in His temple everything cries out, "Glory!" (Psalm 29:9)

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!

- Chris

Friday, September 7, 2007

Wandering mind

God's grace is sufficient for me.

He's teaching me discipline right now. Hard work. Good, though.

I'm increasingly disenchanted with physics. (I think I go through this stage every year.) The honest truth is that I like reading books and writing papers more than I enjoy doing hours and hours of physics. The funny part is that I wouldn't trade them. I am so glad to be a physics major, even though I'm pretty sure I don't really want to do physics for the rest of my life. (Then again, it may be where God calls me, and if so, that's enough. See also: my involvement with one particular ministry opportunity this summer. One of those cases where God completely overruled my decision not be involved. Yet such a blessing, such an opportunity!)

I love Rich Mullins' music. It stirs the soul.

I'm praying for God to move in Paradigm, in Ignite, in the rest of the ministries around the OU BSU - and through the other ministries on our campus. I'm praying for brokenness among God's people, and a desperate hunger to see Him move. Revival can come - but it will come when His people are calling out for it, if His moves in history are anything to judge by. I'm excited to see how He moves this year - whatever that looks like.

I'm focusing a lot on prayer this year. It's the focus of my discipleship meetings. It's my small group focus. God is teaching me a lot. How great an honor we have, to be able to come directly (boldly!) before the throne of God, to enter into His presence: because we have a perfect mediator: Jesus Christ.

As John Piper has written, God is more glorified in us when we are most delighted in Him. I'm slowly learning what that means. What does it mean to be thoroughly delighted in Christ in the sometimes dull monotonous passage of every day life? To pursue Him - to love Him with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our strength, all of our minds? To love our neighbors as ourselves?

Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil!
Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad
V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha
b'khol l'vav'kha
uv'khol naf'sh'kha
uv'khol m'odekha.

Hear, O Israel.
The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Bind these words on your heart... think on them and repeat them wherever you go. Meditate on the nature of God. Come to know Him as He really is. Rest in His grace, His peace, His perfect, strong, loving arms.

- Chris

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Case for the Real Jesus Review

Late last week I finished reading an advance copy of Lee Strobel's forthcoming book, The Case for the Real Jesus. With this latest book, former atheist and journalist Lee Strobel has turned his attention to some of the various attacks that have been mounted on the Biblical picture of Christ in recent years, particularly the questions stirred up by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and the recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas (along with this year's incredible [in the early sense of the word: not credible] announcement by James Cameron of the discovery of the ossuary of Christ - a discovery deemed not credible over a decade ago by all serious scholars). The book will be published by Zondervan on September 10th in hardback.

The text is 311 pages long, and is broken down into sections (essentially large chapters, save for a couple sections large enough to warrant being broken into multiple chapters). Each section covers a particular challenge to the claims of Christian orthodoxy that has arisen (or has changed significantly) in the past few years. Strobel opens with a short introduction, then moves into the body of the text, examining in turn the following challenges:
  • "Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the four gospels."
  • "The Bible's portrait of Jesus can't be trusted because the church tampered with the text."
  • "New explanations have refuted Jesus' resurrection."
  • "Christianity's beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions."
  • "Jesus was an imposter who failed to fulfill the Messianic prophecies."
  • "People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus."

Each of these points is dealt with in an investigative fashion: Strobel sits down and interviews a widely respected Christian Ph.D. (in each case, people who have earned the recognition of their opponents as well as their supporters) on the topic at hand. Following these sections is a summary-oriented conclusion, several appendices, and an index.

Strobel's style is clear and compelling. He writes like the award-winning Chicago Tribune journalist he once was - and thus weaves together the interviews as compelling narratives. Scattered throughout the dialogues are his own personal thoughts and contemplations. Along the way, he describes the dominating attributes - scholastic and personal - of each of the men he interviews. At the conclusion of each section, he neatly sums up the most important points made by each author, clarifying any hazy issues and tying up any loose ends from the earlier stages of the chapter/interview. His voice is clear and compelling, making for an easy read. (Despite being in the midst of classes and considerable work, I finished the entire book in less than four days.) Honestly, I had a difficult time putting the text down when it was time to go back to doing homework.

The Christian apologist makes no bones about the fact that he is a Christian, nor about the fact that he is ultimately arguing for the Christian view on the subject. At the same time, he does his best to fairly treat the criticisms raised by those who have attacked Christian claims in recent years. Furthermore, he notes that he is concerned as to whether the claims of Christianity hold up against new critical attacks made against them, as it is important for his own faith. As Paul wrote, and Strobel seconds, Christians are to be pitied above all men if Christ did not actually rise from the dead.

The merits of the book are in its clear style and high information content. Strobel delivers an incredible amount of information in a very short span of time, and yet manages not to overwhelm the reader. He accomplishes this by spreading the information out and coherently weaving it together. The interview format contributes to this, but Strobel's own voice and skill with the text are what bind the information together into an engaging narrative, rather than a simple (and dry) presentation of facts. His willingness to press the interviewees on difficult issues is also a significant merit to the text. Though of course he is not looking to disprove his thesis - that is, that Christianity does stand up to the claims made against it - he also is not interested in a padded case for Christianity that will not hold up intellectually. (Of course, many people opposed to Christian apologetics reject Strobel's arguments prima facie on the notion that he's biased, but their argument is flawed, since they themselves are likewise biased, though in the opposite direction. This does not diminish the value of Strobel's contribution; nor does it damage the excellent scholarship Strobel is tapping into.)

I can think of no significant demerits to this book.

My recommendation for this book can be summed up as follows: "Go buy it as soon as it comes out." This sort of apologetic information is essential for any Christian interested in being able to defend their faith against the textual and philosophical criticisms currently being leveled against it. Strobel makes a clear case, loaded with information, in a memorable way that will be useful to believers of all backgrounds. Even for someone familiar with these arguments, this will be an extremely useful refresher.

May you walk in peace and the grace of God tonight!

- Chris

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Steadfast love

I learned something amazing tonight, something I didn't know before. This is life-changing, but so incredibly simple at the same time. (That's often true.)

God delights in His steadfast love.

He delights in loving us, continually and faithfully. He loves loving. He takes pleasure in loving us - unchangingly, unflinchingly, despite all we do.

Simple. Obvious, in some ways. But I didn't know it before tonight. I still don't know it, in the sense of a deep-seated conviction that has transformed my life. That will come...

Grace and peace be with you all. May you know the depth of God's love for you!

- Chris