Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Milk

I don't know how to pray for myself as I ought. Of course, I don't know how to pray as I ought in general, but in particular, I don't know how to pray for myself. I have some idea of how to pray for others. But for myself - I realized yesterday that I don't have a clear picture of what I ought to pray, where I ought to start.

A striking recognition, that. It started to cross my mind a few weeks ago as I began to develop a daily prayer plan - and realized that I was including only prayer for others. I made a note to myself: develop a personal prayer plan.

That seems so elementary. Yet as I walked into the student union on campus yesterday, it was as though the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I didn't hear a voice, but I was powerfully convicted. You don't know how to pray for yourself. You almost never pray for yourself. I blinked, paused to think about it. You're right, Lord, I thought. I don't. I don't have any idea what to pray about.

We excel at asking for His help; we effortlessly pray for our needs to be met. We may even pray for direction and vision. But beyond that... What are the questions to ask? What is to be the focus of my prayers? How am I to go to a deeper level in this, to grow in maturity in praying for the work of the Spirit in me, in praying for righteousness and for deliverance from sin? I, for one, don't really know how what that looks like. Or I didn't; I'm starting to catch the tiniest of glimpses.

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If we are not ever mortifying our sin, it is killing us. Period. I've been reading slowly through a volume of John Owen's works titled Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a compliation of three of his treatises on that topic that was published a few years ago. Writing centuries ago, this Puritan thinker challenges me immensely. Every time I make it a page in this book, I am forced to grapple with how powerful sin is, how deep and penetrating its hold on my heart, how ineffective my own efforts to combat it and how terrible the need to daily combat it with the graces of the Spirit.

Owen comments at one point that we often react - quite naturally - in opposition to sin, rising up with all the power in our human souls to attack various sins. He notes, however, that this doesn't necessarily mean we're truly seeking to kill the sins that fill us: all too often, this stirring of our combative faculties is but the attempt to quiet a troubled conscience or do enough against sin that we have respite from the convicting promptings of the Holy Spirit.

To truly mortify sin in this life, he contends, is to daily do battle with it, to intentionally seek out every crevice in which it hides and shine their the light of the graces of Christ. Our only hope of defeating sin - though we shall not see it dead in this life - is to pursue it as a great enemy and seek its defeat at every opportunity, actively engaging in the fruits of the Spirit and denying the fruits of the flesh. And to see sin brought to its lowest in this life comes only by not relenting when sin is quiet in our lives, but instead to press on all the more firmly, intent on not merely leaving it temporarily subdued but on its utter eradication.

Love against hate and apathy, joy against despair, peace against turmoil, patience against rashness and impatience, kindness against a critical spirit, goodness against , gentleness against a critical spirit, faithfulness against fickleness and disloyalty, self-control against laxness: this is our battle against sin, daily. Humility wars with pride, doubt with trust, and the victory is contingent on the strength of Christ worked out in us always.

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The Spirit spoke through Owen and Jaimie Dawn to me yesterday. I have been wrestling these past weeks with this idea, quietly and not even aware, not recognizing how much of the undercurrents of my emotions were the Spirit leaving me unsettled until I was willing to confront this head-on.

Most of the time, God has to do something drastic to get my attention when it comes to sin issues in my life. Even in areas of ministry focus and direction, it often takes the spiritual equivalent of a smack across the face for me to realize what God is saying. Why is that? There's a connection between the two.

It's in my pursuit of Christ. It is not enough for me to continue to grow in my walk with Christ as I normally have thought of it: increasing steadily along this path. There is more, and I'm beginning to catch a glimpse of it.

We must have no less intentionality about praying for the fruits of the Spirit than against the fruits of the flesh. We must daily press in against the sins in our flesh, never growing even slightly complacent lest it burst out against our laxness. And in just as deep a measure, we must daily press in toward the fruits of the Spirit. And this is to be active!

Wherever we are at in our walk with Christ, we are called to more. It is not enough to pursue Him today as we did yesterday: it simply will not do. We begin to understand this, and then the enemy throws us a lie and we buy it.

What is the lie? It's that the way in which our pursuit of Christ is carried out doesn't change or grow, just the measure to which we know Christ in that pursuit. We must continue to grow not only in the measure of our pursuit of Him - that is, in the breadth of the pursuit - but in the manner, as well - that is, in the depth of the pursuit.

As we grow we do not merely take in more milk - we learn to eat solid food.

I have not led that speak to all of my life. To my reading and study of Scripture, yes - but I must learn to eat solid food in prayer, in mortification of sin, in evangelism, in everything. Milk doesn't cut it anymore.

May the grace and peace of Christ be your joy and your strength!

- Chris

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Strength

Emotions flaring. Anger, sorrow, sadness, joy, happiness, contentment, all mingling in one tangled swarm rushing over me like microbursts: cloudless skies suddenly pouring down rain and then blue again.

And in all of this, God is King. He is great, mighty, awesome, the savior who will redeem, who has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This past week has been one of frustrations, slowly being submitted to the King. Work was difficult. Life was topsy-turvy. Emotions that I set aside came flaring up when I least expected it. And in all of this, the steadfast love and faithfulness of God abounded. Rightly so - that is who He is! He is a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. I see that a bit more every day. Most often I see it in the times and places that are trying.

As with seasons I've had before, I have no major trials at the moment. Instead, I have a flurry of small to medium-sized difficulties on my plate. And that can be far more discouraging and even debilitating than large struggles. Quite simply, we take each one too lightly in general because they are so small, instead of realizing that as with every trial we face they require not our strength but that of Christ. Our own strength will ever and always fail us - but we are more likely at stages like the one I am currently in, somewhat reliant on God's strength but not entirely there - to trust ourselves for the small stuff.

When we do thus, we find ourselves tired, falling apart, unable to press on and wondering why. Ultimately, it's for that simple reason: that we are not to operate even in these smallest things out of our own strength.

And in many ways it's far more difficult to surrender those small moments to Christ. We are far more tempted to think our own strength sufficient to handle a small emotional letdown after a rough day at work than to think it sufficient to deal with cancer. (The latter takes an entirely different set of graces working in our hearts!)

We find, however, when we are willing to admit our own utter insufficiency - not merely a partial or incomplete insufficiency - that Christ's strength is indeed great enough for the small things. I say "great enough" intentionally, though it might seem the opposite of the normal understanding: it takes a truly great strength to deal with the smallest issues of another, instead of brushing it off as not worth one's time. One of the many amazing ways in which the greatness of God is revealed is His passion for what we often see as banal and meaningless.

He calls us to be faithful in little if we wish to be faithful in much. He calls us to be holy as He is holy. He is faithful equally in the little and the great. And when we are not faithful, still He ever is, for He cannot deny Himself, cannot be other than He is.

And in this we put our hope: not our own strength, but in the work of Christ, the future but so-solid promise of a city with foundations and a Lamb for its lamp.

Grace and peace cover you.

- Chris

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Developing discipline

Following off of some of the recent posts, what does it take to build a lifestyle of discipline - of committed dedication and consistent effort toward Godliness? This is an important question for us to answer if indeed we wish to develop such an ethic of life.

First and foremost, when it comes to heart change and spiritual growth, we cannot make the change ourselves. Only God is capable of changing human hearts - in that first great step, of exchanging hearts of stone for hearts of flesh, but also in developing Christlikeness in us. We are incapable of disciplining ourselves in our own strength; only by the grace and through the power of God, dwelling in us, can develop self-control and self-discipline. (You'll note that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit - not a fruit of man's intent to change himself.)

This means that for our part, we must begin by recognizing our own inability to make real change in our lives. It's one thing to build a disciplined life in terms of physical health; it's entirely another to build spiritual health ourselves. We must recognize our need for the work of Christ in our lives, for His transforming grace working in us by the powerful actions of the Holy Spirit. And then we have to act on that recognition by asking for His help. And He will certainly give it: He delights in giving us things that are in line with His will and purposes - and working toward being in the image of Christ, dedicating ourselves to lives disciplined to conform to His life, this is very surely in line with His will.

Then we move to what the world calls the practical part of this - but we recognize that the first step is the most perfectly practical step in the whole equation. These latter steps depend entirely on it, for without the help of God they will take us nowhere.

We need a plan - a concrete set of steps to reach our goal. That requires us to know our goal as well. Utlimately, of course, it is Christlikeness. What are the small goals along the way? What are the waypoints, the check-stations along the way that we use as our goals and benchmarks for progress? Here we must be careful, recognizing that works alone do not equal righteousness, nor merit salvation, but salvation and growing righteousness do produce good works.

We must identify the areas in which we are weak, and seek Christ's help to make them strong. We must consciously engage those areas, and prayerfully work through the sin roots behind our problems. (Our issues are not primarily psychological, whatever the world may believe, but spiritual: the roots of all our conditions, even those that are psychological, are sin - either in a general sense, leading to the fallen condition of our bodies and minds, or in a specific sense, leading to our particular issues.)

We need time for studying Scripture. We need dedication to memorizing Scripture. We need to be devoted to prayer. We need fellowship and accountability - we desperately need community.

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My thoughts are somewhat scattered tonight; I am tired. I hope I am less so tomorrow.

- Chris

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Conviction

So... God continues to expose the sin in my life. This is ugly, people. And yet, somehow good. Somehow good. Not pleasant or pretty, but good. He shows me the sin - lets it come out, rear its ugly head, then shows me the consequences. It destroys my relationship with Him; it destroys my relationship with others; it destroys me. It's as though God is intending to dig up everything at the next level all at once: expose it for what it is and then call me forward— out of it, into life.

This is hard. Seeing the sin has meant sinning, and I'm not a fan. God has used it to reveal my heart, though: to reveal how dark it still is, to reveal how against Him it still is in some ways, to reveal how out of tune with Him it still is.

And here's the scary bit: I'm not nearly as broken as I should be. I can tell that. And it bothers me. That's a good thing. But this sort of revelation ought to utterly humble me, bring deep and piercing contrition. And it doesn't. It brings contrition, or at least feeling bad, but not to the depth that it needs to.

So I am crying out to God to break me, to open my eyes to the darkness of sin. To how evil it is, how worthless, how revolting it should be. I need a breakthrough.

And you know what? I have hope. Because my eyes are not on my sin... they are on Christ. And He is more than able to save. He saves to the uttermost. It is His grace that changes us, not our own strength, and His grace that destroys sin and makes us like Him. It is His grace that convicts, that breaks our hearts, that remakes us.

So as I am slowly broken, as I am slowly humbled and transformed, as I am made aware of just how deep the stain goes... I am also made aware of just how deeply the grace of God penetrates, how incredibly patient is the Holy Spirit, and how amazingly merciful was the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

I am a sinner, wretched and unworthy. And He saved me; He saves me; He will save me - to the uttermost.

In this I can take hope.

When the people were broken because they knew their sin:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, as Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 (ESV)

When the Lord had spoken judgment on Israel through Zephaniah:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout o Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the LORD is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

"Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.

"The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing..." Zephaniah 3:14-17


Go in peace. Know that the God of grace will save you to the uttermost.

- Chris

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Turning to the Word

The past week has been somewhat interesting for me, spiritually. I've been struggling, honestly, to remain focused in my study of Scripture, and really having to choose to press in with regards to my walk. Yet, at the same time, it has been a fruitful week. God has spoken to me immensely - using Scripture, bringing it to mind in crucial moments when I've been confronted with the blackness o fmy heart.

My entries on this blog have reflected that a bit. Emotions have been all over the place, and God has used that to expose things in me: chipping a little off the surface of my heart here, peeling away some of the façade there, revealing my sinfulness for what it is, revealing my sin for what it is.

And, as I noted, it's been a point of gratitude and, to my surprise, even joy to me.

Yet, as ever, I am not content. The more God pierces me and destroys the old self, replacing it slowly with the image of Christ, the more passionately I am driven to seek Him, to make His glory my all.

I was reflecting in the shower this morning (a common pastime of mine): how important dedication is if we are to be effective ministers of the kingdom of God. Many of us have dreams and visions of what could be, can be, should be - in our lives, in the body of Christ, in the world. And yet, most of us never attain all that we could of our part in realizing those hopes. And the ultimate cause is that, by and large, we lack dedication. We do not have the discipline to press in, even when tired, even when discouraged, to continue to seek after the heart of God no matter what opposition may came.

And it takes great discipline and great fortitude indeed. All those I can think of that have powerfully impacted the world for Christ - the Bunyans and the Wesleys alike - were people dedicated to the pursuit of God, the increasing knowledge of Jesus Christ, the deepening attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Above all, that manifested itself in every case I know of as a deep and passionate dedication to the word of God: a commitment to study it, value it, know it. And yet the first thing to go for many of us, when we are tired or busy, is our time spent pursuing the knowledge of God in His word. It's absurd.

The witness even of this week, for me, is that God faithfully uses His word in my life. Over and over again, He has spoken through Scriptures that I have memorized or have come across in studying to speak conviction to me, to encourage me, to point me back to Him as my source of life and hope and joy, to remind me that it is not I but He who is the source of anything I can offer to this broken world.

So I challenge you even as I challenge myself: renew your commitment to knowing God as He has revealed Himself. To be certain, He can speak to us in other ways, and I believe He sometimes does. But first and foremost - most reliably, and most certainly - He has spoken to us through His word. Let us not so cavalierly abandon it; let us not so readily set it aside. Let us hold fast to an unflinching commitment to know and understand and believe the word of God.

Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." John 18:37

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2


- Chris

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Emotions

Emotions can be surprising things. They're a veritable whirlwind, a storm, at some points, and a calm sea breeze at others.

In the last 24 hours I've gone through an insane progression of emotions, all of it spawned by trivialities. And what's interesting to me is that in the midst of that, my actual desires and choices were relatively constant. Despite having an extremely (indeed, maddeningly) changing emotional state, my actual decisions remained unaffected, at least on a large scale. Momentary decisions were less than their normal tempered selves, but even those I overruled by and large - less with reason than with will and acknowledgment of the folly of letting those things rule me.

I've learned a lot from David over the years. In many of the psalms he wrote, we see a fairly consistent pattern: some set of emotions is playing out in his heart, and - be they fear, anger, sorrow, joy, or any other - he deals with them and then turns to praise God. No matter his circumstances, no matter how confused or even angry toward God he was, always he praised his King.

I'm not there yet, but I'm learning, largely from his example. Others do it, too: Habakkuk comes to mind. And through the word that God has given us, the Spirit speaks powerfully. In many ways, I can see that I've come very far indeed from where I was only a year ago. In others, I have very far to go. Yet what is important here is that I am learning, growing, being made more and more into the image of God.

Have you ever pondered that? Our God feels emotions - intensely - yet never acts on "pure" emotion. He acts out of wisdom, always. That's quite remarkable, from our limited human experience. And yet as we are slowly sanctified and are increasingly able to do so ourselves, though in limited fashion, we begin to understand who God is a little more. The process of sanctification is striking and remarkable. In it we are transformed by increasing knowledge of God, and as we are sanctified we increase in our knowledge of God. It is a circle, feeding on itself - the opposite of the sin circle that leads us in the other direction. The more we know God, the more we will be like Him, and the more we become like Him, the more we can (and do) know Him.

I come again to this place of awe, of reverence, that our great and mighty God, He who is infinite in power and majesty, in righteousness and holiness, in love and mercy, has rescued me. His grace daily changes me and makes me more as I ought to be: an image of Christ, Himself the image of the invisible God.

Praise Him from who all blessings flow!

- Chris

Monday, July 14, 2008

Troubleshooting

A short but important life lesson:

I spent about four hours attempting to troubleshoot a problem in a piece of code I'm writing for the research I'm doing. Not even a terribly important piece of code (though understanding how it works is important). And then today I walked up to a professor who knows his way around Fortran and the problem was solved inside of five minutes.

Far too often we're afraid to ask for help - especially from those who are best able to give it: parents, mentors, and so on. Why? Usually it's a stubborn brand of pride: we want to prove that we can figure this out, we can do it ourselves. But we were not made to function that way - we were made to function in community. God has given us the body of Christ for a reason: because we need each other, and there is wisdom in others that we do not (cannot!) have in ourselves.

And that's particularly important to remember when troubleshooting. When dealing with sin, when working through conflicts, when struggling with the travails of life - when troubleshooting - never dare to do it alone. Do it in community as we are commanded.

- Chris

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Prayer

God answers prayers.

A lot of people doubt that. A lot of people who claim to believe that, doubt it. It's hard to believe, in our post-Christian world, in our supremely secularist culture, that God really does interact with everyday life and engage with the prayers of His people. And it's difficult for people to believe - so they pray without faith, so their prayers are not answered, so it remains difficult for them to believe. And yet God invites us to come before Him with confidence, to bring before Him our petitions and our requests. He promises to give us all that we ask in His name.

What is it, then, that we are so afraid of? Is it that we will offend God by asking apart from His will? We offend Him at least that much all the time simply by living lives that are not surrendered to Him. A prayer asked in faith is at least believing that he is who He says that He is. Of course, a prayer asked only in selfishness has issues all its own, but without faith it is impossible to draw near to God. Impossible. That's a pretty strong statement, of course, yet Scripture makes it abundantly clear.

And I have seen direct answers to prayer. I have seen God respond to requests in ways that are not explicable in terms of natural phenomena. I have seen, even in the last few months, Him working people's hearts in ways that I prayed for but did not tell them - over and over again I have seen it. I see Him doing more than all we can ask or think. I see Him capable of so much more than we dare to ask of Him.

We are content asking for hard bread when he will give us a feast.

I am not saying that we should embrace some sort of "word of faith" idea that believes that if we just ask in faith, God will give us everything we want. To the contrary, I do not believe that God gives us everything we want - though I absolutely believe He supplies for all of our needs. But when things are clearly in His will, why do we not dare to pray for them with faith: the expectation of seeing them be?

I would posit that it is because we are afraid, or ashamed. Afraid of offending God, or ashamed because we feel unworthy of His answering our requests. We are unworthy: this is part of the greatness that is His. He nonetheless delights in giving us the things we ask for. he enjoys answering our prayers and our requests.

So when we pray, we may pray with confidence, with boldness, with assurance. Why pray so hesitantly? The Godly men and women of Scripture did not. They asked for God to act and move in their world in very real, very particular ways. And He answered. As I have done the same, He has answered. We have taken more away from Christ's prayer in Gethsemane - "Not my will be done but yours" - than from His answer of how we ought to pray. Ought we not pray as He did? Certainly, to a point. And I do believe we ought to pray, "Not my will be done but yours." Yet, at the same time, we must not be afraid to ask our hearts' desire. In that same passage, we see Jesus Christ pleading with the Father, "Please, let this cup pass from me! Yet not my will by yours be done" (emphasis added). He asks his desire, then recognizes the sovereignty and rightness of God's will. So we ought to do: pray for our desire and yet hold it with an open hand, gladly accepting whatever he chooses to give.

And in the so-called Lord's prayer (our prayer, for He never had sin to repent of), you will note no hint of pleading or begging, nor any reticence. It is filled with direct requests - all of which are focused on the glory of God, but many of which are also eminently practical. Why can we not pray thus?

So pray thus! Be bold as you come before the throne of grace! Know that your Father loves you and delights in giving you the desires of your heart - and that He is good, and so when He does not, that it is truly for our good.

In short, to pray effectively, as in all things in this life, we ned only one thing.

We must know God.

- Chris

Friday, June 20, 2008

Conclusions

The political arena, though we should not abandon it, will never be a source of salvation. Nor will we ever make a Christian nation by means of politics. Christianity will influence America only when we make Christ first, and never when we seek to advance His goals by political, rather than spiritual, means.

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If the goal of Christians active in the political arena is to prevent Christians in America from suffering persecution, then, in the inimitable words of internet slang: "Ur doin it wrong." We are not to run from persecution, ever, and while we are not to seek it, either, we ought to gladly embrace the opportunity to suffer for the cause of Christ. He promised that if we follow Him, we will have persecution; the apostles made it very clear that opposition and persecution are normal and indeed normative parts of the Christian life. So if we are striving to avoid persecution, we are striving away from what Christ has promised.

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On the note of suffering, if Christ said that those who suffer for His name's sake are blessed, why be so bothered by it? And why reject something so fundamental to our growth, our sanctification, our ultimate glorification. Anyone who has lived any length of time knows it to be true that our greatest growth is nearly always in our deepest valleys, and that God is most readily apparent in our lives when we are most dependent on Him - typically when things are at their worst.

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We do not value all labor as we ought. We think things are beneath us. And that's sad. The fact that we would elevate the work of the academician over the work of the carpenter is a tragedy. The fact that we have culturally come to believe that people without a college education are somehow less worthy is a horrifying state of affairs. How many parents have said - either directly or implicitly - to their children that the career choice they have in mind "just isn't good enough"?

And why have we embraced this mentality? Because our culture places a higher value on intellectual work than on physical labor. Personally, I think that's folly. I understand that many people's decisions now come out of the simple economics of the situation - but those economics are themselves only a reflection of cultural mentalities: that working with one's hands is somehow less than working with one's mind.

Jesus was a carpenter by vocation, not a philosopher or even a priest. Chew on that for a minute, and maybe rethink the way you see the world.

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Racism goes all ways, and all its ways are ugly. It's a vile sin, a stain and a blight on humanity, and I wish it were gone. I wish Americans as a whole were not so xenophobic - and that many of the ones who aren't would exercise some common sense.

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Why is it that we think things are one-or-the-other in every circumstance: the rule of law or mercy, for example? Why not both?

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Humility is a misunderstood and highly lacking virtue in our society. Misunderstood, because most people don't think it's a virtue and the few who do tend to think it's nothing but constant self-abasement, rather than quiet and simple recognition of who one actually is, and who God actually is. The talented think themselves greater than they are. The untalented do the same. And the ones who think humility important pretend they do not think themselves greater than they are - but they think it all the same.

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Sanctification isn't something you or I can manage. All our effort will take us precisely as far in growing in holiness as it will in bringing us salvation: namely, not at all. The only effective agent of setting apart for God in our lives is the grace of God.

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We ought to be sanctifying our minds, not just our deeds. That's more than just not watching bad movies: it's watching good ones. It's more than not just reading bad novels: it's reading good ones. It is more than merely the rejection of bad ideas in culture: it is creating good ideas in culture. It is more than simply decrying the woes of politics: it is to work toward just laws.

It is more than seeing a fallen world. It is seeing the King and Savior who is making it more than not-fallen: good.

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Grace and peace be with you. Worship God!

- Chris

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

hear and Obey

We are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

I spoke to my dear friend Jamin this past week while driving to Ft. Worth, and - as is ever the case with us - we found ourselves amazed at how God was working the very same things in our hearts and our lives. It has been thus as long as I can recall, even in times of conflict. Such a friend - such intimacy and fellowship - is a rare blessing. And we both have been pondering things we see in the church: needs, flaws, brokenness. We spoke about fellowship - and about fruitful fellowship. We spoke of prayer - and of effective prayer. We spoke on evangelism - and on evangelism not as conversionism but as disciple-making.

And then we spoke on something just as important as all of these. It is important to strive for a vision of all that God is calling us to: excellence and Christ-likeness not only as individuals but corporately. But it is not enough to identify the places we are failing, nor even to recognize what needs to be done. We may stand about and analyze the problems and solutions all day. But if we do not act on the vision that God has given us, we are nothing. And, like a thunderstorm without rain, Christians who are all flash and talk but no fruit are a terrible thing: how great our frustration when the storm does not deliver on its promise! And how much greater the disillusionment of a world that sees us time and again make noises about the problems in the church but fail to ourselves actualize those changes!

Effecting change is difficult, of course. One must have a clear vision of the goal - and, more importantly, of the purpose of that goal. But one must also have the support and cooperation of others - including leaders, if one is a layperson, and including one's fellow leaders if one is in a position of authority. Beyond this, change requires patience and diligence, and it requires a deep and immense dedication to prayer: both for the seeking of God's will and direction, and to importune Him to bring about heart change. Without heart change, all the external changes in the world are meaningless.

And so we come to it: the great burden and great joy of our service in this life. We are called to execute the changes that the body of Christ requires. The call is on us to stop sitting and to go and be obedient to the call of the Holy Spirit as He in His grace opens our eyes to truth. If you see a need, perhaps it is time to stop complaining about it and to start filling it. If there is a lack in the body, perhaps it is you who is to meet it. If there are problems, perhaps it is your responsibility to step up and by the grace of God help fix them. Instead of throwing down a gauntlet and pointing the accusing finger, perhaps if one has vision that his brethren lack he simply ought to begin walking and let the results speak for themselves.

I am not saying that there is no place for conversation or contemplation. I am saying that faith without works is dead and that even if we accomplished great things for the Kingdom of God, it would be worthless if not done in love and grace. When we see a brother - or a congregation - struggling, we ought to simply dive in, get our hands dirty, and work - all the while, praying fervently and with passion for God to move. What right have we to criticize so angrily who will not ourselves set our hands to the plow and toil for the good of the Church and the glory of Christ Jesus? Do we really live to serve and obey Him whom we proclaim as not only Savior but also Lord?

His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. Let us follow Him. Let us be known by our love for one another. Let us be like Him: serving where there is a need.

- Chris

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sanctified - together

There is a necessary tension in presenting truth with grace. Truth is of the deepest necessity, but presented absent grace, it brings condemnation. Grace is a deeply felt need, but grace absent truth brings stagnation.

In this tension can be found nearly all of the difficulty in presenting the gospel, especially to those who are hurting. We must pour out our love upon the lost - dreadfully aware of our own need for Christ and His supremacy, and dreadfully aware of their need for Him - by speaking the truth. It is essential that the sinner hear of his sin and need, that he be made fully aware of his own depravity. Yet to do this, even to do this and present hope, without pouring love into the life of a person, is to push them away from the gospel. All too often, we assume that merely speaking the truth is enough to bring someone to Christ.

And certainly God may use this kind of witness. But His delight is in a witness that is demonstrated. We know God's love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, at the perfect time, Christ died for the ungodly - you and me. And the world will know Christ's love for them when we choose to die to ourselves and live for Christ: for living for Christ will of necessity mean living for others.

This is an area I struggle with. I love truth. I love right doctrine and practice. I love people seeing God as He truly is. Because of this, I can be harsh, rough, even cold in the way I treat people when discussing points I'm passionate about. And in this, God is teaching me, softening me, gentling me, growing me.

This is one of many reasons we are given each other in the body of Christ. Because without that, it would be far more difficult for me to grow in this were I without faithful friends who regularly correct me when I stray out of line. Moreover, it is where I find those who are far better at gentleness and respect than I - where I can learn by watching those more mature in this, where I can be taught how to walk aright in this.

And from all of that is born a greater presentation of the glory of Christ to this dark and dying world. We are not given the body merely for each other - but because in serving one another and helping one another and teaching one another, we reflect the very nature of God. We reflect fellowship in a way that we never could alone, and God by His nature is never alone: for He is ever in perfect loving communion and fellowship with Himself.

The Church is not for you, nor for me: it is first and foremost for Christ, and it is for us together, not you and me apart. And how glorious this Bride will be when presented to her King that day: her stains washed away by His blood, her skin made clear and beautiful by His sanctifying grace, so that she at last reflects His glory perfectly: not completely (for such is impossible) but perfectly: without blot or blemish, without any distraction, without any idolatry.

Unity, communion, intimacy: the God of all dwelling Himself among us and making us like Him in ways beyond merely cleansing us of sin - making us like Him together, corporately, not merely as individuals. This is a marvelous thing indeed, and it is unique. In no other religion is the call to both diversity and unity: either they call for people to lose themselves in the whole, or to seize their own identity all the more strongly. Only in Christ do we find a call to become our individual selves more perfectly by becoming part of the whole (the Church) more perfectly, simultaneously and in an indescribably intermingled process.

We are sanctified corporately, not individually. It is for this reason that we dare not forsake the gathering together, for this reason that we ought to delight in each others' presence, even when our relationships are difficult. It is for this purpose that God brings us into the specific places of fellowship that He does. And in all of this, He is being greatly glorified and magnified.

Praise Him, O you peoples! Together make Him of great renown, lift up His praise to the heavens, raise your voices high!

- Chris

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Bride

That the church might be the Bride!

I sometimes lose sleep because I'm talking about this. I wonder if I'm crazy. Because I keep dreaming, envisioning - I have this burning flame in my chest, this passion that deepens and saturates me more every day.

I love the Bride of Christ.

But right now, in America, there is a lot wrong with her. It's like cancer in an arm... and it's spreading.

Middle class mediocrity - a peculiar brand of materialism that is never quite satisfied but is nonetheless somehow contented with "good enough." Lethargy and complacency. Leniency with sin. Hesitancy with truth.

Because it's comfortable. It's safe. And - they think - it's good business.

I cannot express the anger, the frustration, the sorrow that rises in me when I see the church act like a corporation, pastors functioning more as CEOs than shepherds, ministries thinking like business ventures.

I long to see the church live in real fellowship, deep community where people love each other, where relationships are true and meaningful because they penetrate to the very nature of who people are. I long to see the church have real accountability, people seeing each other's struggles and starting with prayer for each other, then helping each other.

Sometimes my heart aches because "youth ministries" and "college ministries" and "children's ministries" get in the way of true discipleship. A friend of mine once pointed out that the Bible only has one word for "children's minister" - father. I hunger for churches where the focus is on discipling families all together, drawing fathers and mothers after Christ so they may draw their children after them - where older couples can mentor younger couples and people in the same stage can support and understand each other; where children play together their whole lives and know each other deeply and truly; where every family knows each other - where the young catch a vision because their elders are living it out.

I dream of a church where the Great Commission and social work and life are all one and the same, all the time. Where it is common for people to bring their friends who are unbelievers to be in the company of believers. Where missionality is not a buzzword but a way of life. Where serving the community is normal, because that's what Christ did and called us to do. Where every aspect of life is reflective of Christ - including our response when we fail.

I hunger for "worship services" that are all about the worth of Christ. That are not about our own needs being met - though they will - but are instead about ascribing Him the glory that He is due, and about serving one another as we serve Christ. There can be praise offered that ranges from the simple chorus to the lengthy hymn, and all of it properly focused on the glory of Christ - whether lament and prayer for aid, or cry of thanksgiving, or shout of praise, or quiet meditation on the character of God, all of it offered both with the depth of intimacy of calling the Father "Daddy" and approaching with reverence and awe.

The Church is Christ's. I dream of seeing the church in America awaken to that reality and set her eyes no more on the lies this world offers. Oh, how glorious that day, when the millions open their eyes to see how much better Christ than every created thing: how much less that which has been made than its Maker, and the more so as it has been subjected to futility! How grand it will be when she at last it fixated on the glory of Christ as her one chief end - and all else be nothing in comparison. Oh the longing for the day when as one we proclaim that we have counted everything as rubbish and refuse compared to the all-surpassing glory of knowing Christ - our Lord, our Savior, our God and King!

I dream of heaven. But the kingdom of heaven is come - not yet in its fullness, but it is come, for the Holy Spirit is at work bringing it in the hearts of men. Everlasting life begins not when we die but the moment we first begin to live - when the Spirit breathes in us life and faith and through the blood of Christ sets us free from sin and death and to a life with abundance, beyond all we could ask or think, greater than any mind has imagined.

Is it folly? To be certain, it is! Yet it must be, because the wisdom of God is foolishness to man. I will then be foolish all the more in the eyes of the world, for the wisdom of men is demonic, false, evil. The wisdom of God is to be prized.

Christ calls... I will follow. And I will not cease to dream.

But it is not enough to dream.

It is enough to obey.

What lies ahead? I cannot say. Only this do I know: that the Only True God has a purpose for each and every life, and if I may be a part in awakening even a few hearts to the glory of His way; if I may be but the smallest part in calling the church to be the church, then it is more than enough for one lifetime.

For His glory!

- Chris

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A much needed update!

Summary of life/general update commence.

I went to Ft. Worth with Jaimie last weekend; we visited her family and hung out with some of her friends. I like them all quite a lot. Weekend in summary: we drove down Friday afternoon, and got in at about 5:40, if I recall correctly. We then celebrated Jaimie's mom's birthday with some extended family and friends. It was cool getting to interact with the people that have been such a huge part of her life.

Saturday we connected at about 11 (I spent the night at the house of some family friends of theirs), had lunch, and then visited her grandmother, who's recovering from a triple bypass. It was good to be able to spend time with her, and her roommate (who hadn't had many visitors while in the rehab/nursing home), and I enjoyed the time a lot. We headed back to their house, and Jaimie and I spent about an hour at a nearby park, enjoying the weather and talking. We then had dinner, and went to a concert her sister was performing in - of which her sister's performance was far and away the highlight. The other performances were really not terribly impressive, but hers was, and it was nice to be able to meet her in person (we've conversed briefly via facebook, but no more, prior to this).

Sunday, we spent part of the morning together, and then drove back to Norman, leaving her house at about 1:00 pm. Our conversation on the way back was just as wonderful as our conversation on the way down was, and was thoroughly profitable.

I'm blessed by how God has been working in us in these past months, and I'm amazed at some of the ways He's used her in my life. Over the last couple of years, I've been learning to be joyful again. In the last months, God has used her amazingly to teach me how to be happy again - and that's a big deal. As my parents can attest, I was a very happy little boy; over time I lost a lot of that. God is restoring it through Jaimie. And that's incredible.

There's so much more that God is doing than this, too, in my life. I'm very seriously considering what ministry will look like next year. I don't know exactly, but I'm increasingly serious about it, and along the way praying about what I'm going to be doing this summer ministry-wise. I'm excited about all of it!

I'm incredibly grateful for the way that God uses friends in our lives. Last week I was struggling a lot with being down on people and situations with regard to ministry and the advance of the gospel, leading me to frustration with myself and to a throw-my-hands-up-in-the-air and ask "Why bother?" attitude in a small way. And then, my best friend Jamin called me and started asking about precisely those things, encouraging me and enheartening me. God is so faithful - above all we could ask or think or even imagine. He is good to us.

Composing is going really well right now. I finished a setting of Psalm 67, titled (fittingly, I think) Let the Peoples Praise You about two weeks ago. It was my first full-scale choral work, and I think it came out rather nicely; it seems there's a good chance of having it played next semester. I'm currently working on my first solo piece in two years, an oboe solo, that I'm really loving. I'm working on a title for it, still simmering and thinking.

God's word continues to be a blessing to me, as ever it shall - so full of the riches of who He is. My study through Jeremiah has been good, and though it's a long book that's taking me a long time, I'm getting a great deal from it: learning more and more who God is and what His heart is for His people and for the world.

I'm looking at trying some new things in discipleship - going prayer walking together, going out and sharing the gospel directly together, and so on. It's a bit scary, but also exciting. I'm looking forward to it, a lot. More than that, I'm praying that God uses it in my life, in the lives of the men I'm discipling, and in the lives of those we encounter along the way - all to His glory and the spread of His name.

I love living.

- Chris

Friday, April 4, 2008

Clarity

It has been, to say the least, an interesting week.

My last several posts were very different from one another, of course - they dealt with significantly different topics. But in a lot of ways, there was overlap. There always is. At the heart of every situation, every issue that we deal with, is one fundamental reality. We serve Christ. We seek His glory. We honor Him in all.

I have spent time talking in considerably more detail this past week with both outsiders completely uninvolved in the situation - people who know none of those involved - and with those most directly involved. My parents have had much good counsel. I wish I had more time to talk to them, honestly. They're smart people. In the midst of that and a lot of prayer, I've come to certain conclusions.

First, the leadership in the BSU is absolutely trustworthy. They're human, but they are Godly men following God. Imperfect, of course, and I have no idea whether they've made any significant mistakes in their handling of this situation. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because God is bigger than any they might have made. They are following Christ; and He is good and sovereign.

I'm hanging out with Jaimie, now, and she's also amazing. More thoughts, later.

- Chris

Monday, March 31, 2008

Humility in sharing the Gospel

Last week I was in Glorieta, New Mexico, at the Dying to Live conference, organized by the University of Oklahoma Baptist Student Union and University of Southern California Christian Challenge (BCM). The week, praise God, changed a lot of lives.

Our speaker and his wife are well-traveled missionaries who have spent much of their sharing the gospel in countries where it is dangerous to do so, and dangerous to convert to Christianity. Over the course of the week, they painted a picture for us of lives lived in service of the advancement of the Gospel - with humility, willing to get out of the way of all that God is doing. His points were so important that I'd like to highlight and comment on a few of them. (It's not quite as good as liveblogging the conference, but it's something, at least!)

His wife opened the week with the observation, "Serving God is not a matter of location but of obedience," and this was a continual theme throughout the week. Whether in North Africa or East Asia or Midwest America, the key factor in the advance of the Gospel is our obedience to Christ - not where we are. God longs to bring salvation to this world. He died to bring salvation to the lost. While we were certainly encouraged to consider where God might call us to serve (and rightfully so!), he and others were faithful to remind us that all of us are called to serve. Some may be more particularly gifted to the task of evangelism and "missions," of course, but all of us - without exception - are called to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that Christ commanded.

I was glad when he pointed out that this meant that many are called to go where the gospel has not been. He told an amusing story of his own discussion with a missions sending board. When they asked him expectantly about his own "call to missions" - some personal experience in which he felt God was telling him to particularly pursue overseas missions - he simply recounted reading Matthew 28:18-20 and realizing that all are called to share the gospel. The anecdote highlighted just how foreign some of our ideas are to a simple reading of the Bible.

Indeed, one of the primary themes of the week was realizing that there are many things we do - many good things, even - which are not necessary. While the structures we have built in the West - our denominations and seminaries and institutions and printing houses - are in many ways good things, they are not necessary things for the gospel. (That is not to say we ought not value them: for without them we could not have the blessing of rich teachers like John Piper available to any American anywhere. These are good things. But not necessary.) When we strap our conventions to the Gospel, we hinder it, and we can get in the way of all that God is doing. We can, through our good intentions, bring increased persecution to our brethren in nations less secularly free.

The contrast between secular and true, spiritual freedom was highlighted effectively at numerous points. Not least were his examples of the true stories of people he has known that have undergone extraordinary persecution - years in jail, beatings, and so on - who have nonetheless considered themselves perfectly free to share the gospel. This was a stunning contrast to our state here in America where most Christians are in bondage to fear of misunderstanding, fear of ridicule, fear of man, to share the gospel on a regular basis. We who are freest in the world, from a secular perspective, are often less free in reality than our brethren who, from the world's eyes, are far less free.

He asked us to consider the fundamental question: "Is Jesus worth it?" Is he worth my life? My wife's? My children's? My friends'? It is far easier to declare Christ worth our own lives, I think, than it is to declare Him worth those closest to us. Could you watch your loved one die for your actions of declaring Christ?

He asked us to be mindful of how we evangelize - both here and abroad. He asked us to understand that our actions, however well-intended, have consequences. Many of the believers he has seen undergo persecution did so not for knowing Christ, but for having a non-transferable, culturally structured Christianity.

At the same time, he noted that persecution is normal for Christ-followers, however much we may believe the contrary here in America. The primary cause of persecution in the world is people coming to Christ. We are not to pray for there to be no persecution: we are to pray for those in persecution to be faithful witnesses. He argued - and I agree - that the measure of the move of Christ and His good news is the amount of resistance. (Indeed, as I was discussing later with a friend, we might even take the stance that persecution is normative, based on the evidence from the world at large and from history.) This, of course, poses the question: just how much is the kingdom of God advancing here in America?

He encouraged us to understand the importance of oral transmission of truth. 80% or more of those in the unreached peoples of the world are illiterate. If we are to reach them, we must know Scripture. We must hide it in our heart. We must memorize it - specific passages, and entire stories. And how much more able will we be to share truth, even here in our own cultural context, if we know the truths of Scripture by heart, rather than always having to open our Bibles?

The needs of the lost always exceed the needs of the witnesser.

He shared with us a number of stories of how God is moving in supernatural ways among our brethren across the world - and how He is adding more to our number. The miracles of healing God is doing among Hindus in India, the dreams and visions He is giving to Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, and the ways in which He unites seekers with missionaries are incredible. God is not hindered even by our lack of initiative: He is bringing salvation the world over. He is accomplishing His purposes for the Gospel. (The two questions this raises, of course, are, "Will we be involved in accomplishing those purposes or not?" and "Why is our faith so dim that our first tendency on hearing these stories is often doubt?")

Humbling were the reasons that Christian-background believers gave for their unwillingness to reach out to those around them.
  1. "They are too lost. They cannot be saved.

  2. "We don't want them to be saved."

  3. "Converts have fooled us in the past."

  4. "It is not cost-effective to reach them."

  5. "The persecutors will destroy our church."

  6. "They will marry our daughters." (Yes, this really is the racism it sounds like.

  7. "We will lose our leadership position." (Big deal in a country where this is often the only leadership they can have.)

  8. "Pay us to reach our neighbors."

  9. The heartache of betrayal.
All of these ought to break our hearts to pray for our brethren in persecuted places - but it also ought to make us stop and ask whether we are perhaps guilty of these same kinds of sinful thoughts and behaviors.

One of the significant issues he raised was baptism, as relates to practice overseas (rather than as relates to doctrine). He suggested that examination of the New Testament and realization of the consequences of missionaries baptizing local believers should perhaps lead to a reevaluation of our behavior. Every baptism recorded in the New Testament was administered within and witnessed by the local community; all but one were within a local believing community (the exceptional case of the Ethiopian eunuch). For a number of reasons, including the perceived superiority of the missionary's baptizing, he argued that it is far better that local believers do the baptizing. They do it on a different timetable, after faith has been proven. They do it in the context of the evangelization of the family. They do it in ways that are less likely to cause persecution for the outsider: if persecution comes it will be for Christ and not for the missionary.

Your call is not to a place, but to lost people.

God's will is not a safe place - all clichés to the contrary - but rather the good and right place to be. (Aslan is not a safe lion... but he is good.)

There is a challenge to those called to missionary work - whether abroad or in the US - to remain among the lost, rather than shifting to "pastor" mode and getting caught ministering only to the saved. There is thus a necessity for teams such that those called to evangelism can pass on those they have brought to Christ to others to disciple them. This is best accomplished within the setting of local believers if possible, so that their reliance is on Christ and their own community rather than on outsiders. Moreover, once a missionary has won a few hearts to Christ - or discovered those already won - it is his or her job to act more as "bait," drawing in possible new believers and getting them in contact with in-culture believers. We must decrease so that Christ may increase!

Two fundamental questions to ask in the cause of the gospel:
  • How does truth travel in your culture?

  • What would you do for Jesus if you were not afraid?
The single consistent theme, hammered home again and again, was that we must have utter humility in sharing the gospel. We must recognize our own expendable nature. We must be willing to get out of the way and let God move how He wants, not how brings us the most credit or glory. We must let the glory of Christ, the advancing of His kingdom, and the salvation of the lost be our only goals - never our own gain.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

- Chris

Friday, March 28, 2008

in respondeo (in response)

I couldn't be clearer before, and would not do so because I was unwilling to make public what had not yet been made public.

My MT leader, Chris Goree, was released from his position at the BSU on Wednesday. It was not a matter of any sort of ethical breach; rather it was a matter of a difference of direction.

I'm not picking sides. There's no point. And honestly, I'm not sure there even is a right side here. Both the BSU and Chris and Laurie are deeply committed to the cause of reaching people for Christ, making disciples to follow Him truly, and loving God and loving people. Sometimes people just go different ways - even when they are deeply committed to loving each other, even when they are committed to the same principles and goals. I thought of Barnabas and Paul. (And then, all the staff members we talked with brought up that example. And then Kels taught on it at Paradigm last night. God knows.)

I don't know what motivated this action by my leaders at the BSU. I do not need to. I trust God, even when (as now) it is hard to trust them. I don't know exactly how things are going to shake out, or even exactly what God is calling me to do in response to this. Ultimately, for this moment, it does not matter.

What matters is that we honor those who God has placed in authority over us. Respect them, trust them and follow them so far as we can in good conscience.

And praise God in the storm of emotions that come in a situation like this.

So many thoughts and feelings. Anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Confusion - oh, how deep the confusion! Fear.

I am not afraid to cry, and it is not infrequent that I cry a little. But these past days, I have wept at times. And I am not alone. To say this is incredibly difficult would be to understate the case by orders of magnitude.

And yet -

And yet God is faithful. His grace is present. His love is real. His presence is a comfort.

"This is my comfort in my affliction: for Your word has given me life." (Psalm 119:50)

- Chris

Friday, March 14, 2008

Let His glory be our end!

Let His glory be our end.

That's all I really want in this life. That His glory really, truly be my chief end. Not just in the words I write, or the things I say, but in who I am, what I do, all of my life. I want Christ first. I want the power of the Spirit to manifest the love of the Father through me so that many will see the greatness of Jesus Christ.

I saw a tree budding yesterday. My heart leapt, for what, precisely, I know not: but vaguely I understand that it was in delight at seeing the new life springing forth. There appears to be only death in trees over the winter. Especially this winter.

An ice storm destroyed many of the trees in Norman in December. The havoc wrought was immense, the financial damage across the Oklahoma City region calculable but significant. Cleanup continues even now. Decades old trees were destroyed, bowing under the weight of a quarter inch of ice on every branch. Limbs crashed to the ground, their falls sounding like the reports of gunfire: smashing roofs of cars, damaging houses, cluttering roads. It was ugly.

Months later, something interesting has happened. Norman is an old town in feel: though it is largely well kept, the sheer overbearing weight of the many trees, the fallen leaves, the darker skies have often made the town less beautiful than it might be. And in the aftermath of all that destruction, as the efforts to remove all that was brought down draw to a close... Norman is prettier than it was, in many regards.

To be sure, there are still scars, both visible and not: the pale ends of branches shorn off, the stumps littering the ground. But the sky is more open, the land clearer and the trees less tangled. There is room for new growth. And the growth on the trees that survived seems somewhat more miraculous this spring: because those trees might not have survive, almost didn't survive. Those first shoots of green, never less than astounding, are now enough to make one shout aloud for the glory of their shooting forth green again.

The destruction was a tragedy, in some ways. But it has produced life.

God works like that in our lives, sometimes. He takes great and terrible things, horrible events, and from them shapes beauty. There is an inherent beauty in tragic stories well told: and so also it is with our lives. Though our own plans would surely never include many of the pains we endure, the story is better when told thus, we agree in retrospect. I would trade none of the pains I have endured for an easier way if it would cost me the relationship with God that has grown from those.

As a character in one of my favorite pieces of film said, "You have to die... it's absolutely no good unless you die at the end... In the grand scheme, it wouldn't matter... No one wants to die, but unfortunately we do. You will die someday, sometime. Heart failure at the bank, choke on a mint, some long drawn-out disease you contracted on vacation. You will die. You will absolutely die. Even if you avoid this death, another will find you, and I guarantee it won't be nearly as poetic or meaningful as what she's written."

We have a choice: to surrender our lives to the Author of the story, trusting that it really is the best story for our lives, or to seize control for ourselves. If we choose the former, we will have the opportunity to see tragedies - even our own death, whatever and whenever that may be - ultimately work for the grand tale being told: work for the glory of Christ. Meaning is in Christ, and in Him alone.

A life without Him - or even so-called "life with Christ" but without making Him Lord, making His glory our supreme goal - is not life. It is death. It is a lie.

Christ is truth. Christ is life. Christ is salvation. Christ is the gospel.

He's worthy dying for. Not just giving up our physical existence to violence of some variety or another: giving up our wants, our ways, for His - dying to ourselves that so, in becoming like Him, we become as we were truly meant to be and learn to live, to have true joy, to enjoy purpose and meaning for our existence, to let Christ be our all in all.

Let His glory be our end!

- Chris

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dreams/visions

Visions fill my heart, sometimes, bursting forth in unexpected fullness and with vigor and passion that surprise me though I ought, by now, to be accustomed to them. Visions of a world different from this one in which we live: visions of Christians actually being Christ-followers, of churches becoming the Church, of a people truly living as Christ's Body on this earth. I dream of what that might be like: a world transformed by a people transformed - the renewing of minds leading to a metamorphosis in our understanding of everything. I dream of what we might do, what we might accomplish for Christ if we dedicated ourselves to holiness, to the advancement of the gospel, to making Him supreme in our lives - if we decided that His glory would be our chief end, our great joy, the one source of meaning in our existence.

I wonder if - maybe - we might see a revival in this land.

Revival in this land cannot come without revival first in the churches of this land. We desperately need to understand our desperate need for Christ. We are no longer in desperate need of salvation, but we remain in desperate need for His transforming grace to work our sanctification - for even now that we are saved, our own strength is utterly insufficient for making ourselves holy. There is nothing we can do of ourselves, yet the destruction of indwelling sin and the deep hunger for and pursuit of holiness must characterize our every day if we are to truly be imitators of Christ.

If there is no revival, America will destroy itself: collapsing into a moral sinkhole, spiraling downward farther and farther as it embraces perversion and rot, calling good evil and evil good. People will continue to believe, however foolishly, that they are the arbiters of their own realities, capable of creating for themselves an ethicality and a morality that are somehow true. And as they cling to that false notion, they will run ever farther astray from the will of God. What Christian moral and ethical heritage this nation has are fast fading. We cannot trust that heritage to support us any longer in our efforts for evangelization, for people outside the church are increasingly illiterate of Scripture and ignorant of Truth. We must now instead reach out to people who live in an increasingly pagan society as pagans, not as mere unbelievers already aware of the main thrusts of our faith. We must do as the early church did, and preach the gospel with boldness, with courage, and with understanding. We must live missional lives, not simply make missional statements.

But for our efforts in reaching out to our unbelieving friends and neighbors and relatives to be effective - for us to meaningfully adopt missional lifestyles - we must first commit ourselves to the pursuit of Christ. There will almost certainly be no revival on this land unless God's people truly seek Him and seek brokenness before Him. (I do not presume to know the mind of God sufficiently to claim that there will absolutely be no revival: He is more than capable of moving in spite of the stubbornness of His people - but historically, revival has always come when His people confessed their sins, moved to a state of brokenness about themselves and the lost surrounding them, and dedicated themselves to prayer.)

Real change is possible. I can see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, sometimes, as though it were just out of sight, simply waiting for our appropriation. God works through people. Sometimes He clearly and obviously intervenes in history - but even in those instances, He nearly always does so through people. Moses. David. Elijah. John the Baptist. Peter. Paul. Tertullian. Athanasius. Many church fathers. Luther. Wesley. Spurgeon. Billy Graham. God moves through people. He rarely operates in a vacuum. And I honestly, deeply, passionately believe that He wants to use us: the ordinary men and women of this generation. There will be leaders, men and women of particular and peculiar vision and calling - but the work will be accomplished by the "lay" people. A movement requires leadership, but leadership alone is not a movement: it is when people follow leaders to accomplish a task that there is movement, and it is when movement crystallizes from short-term purpose into long-term vision that lasting frameworks of ministry are built.

Can you see it? Can you hear it? Do you realize that revival could start here, now, with you and me? That the only place revival can start is with you and me? Do you grasp the magnitude of what it would mean for revival to come - the incredible change that would be wrought upon this land and the whole world, if hundreds of thousands or even millions of Americans came to their knees and confessed Christ as Savior and Lord?

Do I sound foolish or crazy, thinking that such a thing is possible? Good! It is folly in the wisdom of man - and no wisdom or plan of man will accomplish it; nor, should it happen, will it be of the efforts of men, no matter how Godly. It will be of the grace of the Father working through the Spirit to proclaim the Truth of the Son. It is certainly not feasible in any way that I know of, save for the outpouring of power and anointing on the body of Christ - and that will come when we are brought to repentance and desperation for Him alone - when we trust no more in our material success, when we are content no longer with our comfortable middle class lives, when we are at last convinced of the necessity of sacrifice and the worthiness of the cause of Christ above our own gain - when we finally begin to count all as loss, rubbish, nothing in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

If this be the wisdom of God, then I embrace it wholeheartedly, no matter how foolhardy it may sound to men. I will pray for God to move until I see Him move; I will preach the gospel to myself daily and preach the gospel to my saved friends as often as I can to remind them of what they have been given and gently but boldly proclaim the truth to those who are not believing so that they may know and be set free. I will press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I will ground myself in the word of God, in prayer, in discipline, in fellowship - true, rich fellowship - and will run the race with endurance.

And I will fail. But when I fail, I will remember that it is His grace that has effectually called me, that has saved me, that is sanctifying me, and that will pick me up and carry me on when I have stumbled.

I praise God for those of like heart, of common vision; I thank God for those who He has place in my life who encourage me by their faithfulness to the word and to point me to His goodness and truthfulness and utter reliability.

I have a vision of what God can do, what I believe He longs to do. It is impossible with man - but all things are possible with God!

Vision with me.

- Chris

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Unbrief Life Brief

It's been a while, it seems, since I've taken the time to reflect much on my own life. I've been busy: with school, ministry, and work. Yet, without taking time to reflect, my ability to contribute well in those areas will fall measurably over time.

Let me sum up. No. That will take too little. Let me explain. (First one to catch the reference and how it's been modified gets 4 Krycho points.)

I've been back at OU for fully three weeks now, and it's been good to be back. This semester is going to be a good one - though, like all, it will have its challenges. I don't know what those challenges will be, yet, of course, but I'm excited to see what God does this semester. Whatever He allows will be for my good and His glory. There are many things that have me excited for this semester.

Perhaps first and foremost among those things are the wonderful ministry opportunities God has laid before me. On Monday nights I'll be coleading a small group with Beth Powell - going through The Truth Project with some of the people from the BSU. We're both immensely excited about all God has in store there. (Which reminds me of some prep work we need to do tomorrow for our first meeting on Monday!) Tuesday nights, I still have Ministry Team, and I'm excited beyond description about all that we will be learning this semester as we study some of the minor prophets and examine how God spoke to His people throughout history. (Chris Goree will confirm that I nearly shouted with excitement when he first told me about this study.) On Wednesday nights, I'm attending a systematic theology class with PJ and Katie King (huzzah!), and on Thursday nights I have Paradigm - our large group worship and message with the BSU - and am on the Glorieta planning team, which has thus far been an incredible blessing and opportunity to serve. I also am getting to meet with Chris Goree, who never ceases to encourage me and bring God's word in a way that helps me press on towards Christ and away from sin (and to smile, as well!). Last but certainly not least, I get to continue meeting with the guys I'm discipling, and all of them are, in very different ways, incredible encouragement to me: to see all that God is working in their lives, and to get to be some part of it, is an honor beyond compare.

My classes this semester are also shaping up well: I am taking only 12 hours (though that really comes closer to 15 when one takes into account that I have another 0-hour class and a lab in the mix), all of which I believe I will enjoy. Though there will be a good deal of work, my schedule is such that, so long as I am faithful and diligent with my time, I will have relatively free weekends in which the majority of my work will consist of reading and composing: tasks in which I delight, and which I generally find relaxing and refreshing rather than tiring. My physics classes are work, but enjoyable by and large, and I believe will be more so as I move from the "busywork" stage of the lab into the actual labwork. (The one downside with the lab is my meeting time: at 9 pm on Monday nights - after The Truth Project and an RA staff meeting and a full day of classes. It will nonetheless be largely enjoyable, I think.) Composition lessons remain enjoyable. I just finished a rather lovely (if I do say so myself) setting of Psalm 142, which I will attempt to post at my website sometime soon, and I'm about to begin work on a choral piece, probably setting another Psalm (though this time, probably a praise-oriented Psalm, to contrast with the work I just finished on what is essentially a lament and plea). My Honors Colloquium is also looking very nice, with interesting material and topics.

I'm working out every morning with my friend Britt Clay, which has been enjoyable (in a painful sort of way) and also helped me have more energy throughout the day. It helps that we are getting up at 6 am to work out, since I'm a morning person that requires motivation to get up early (since I also very much enjoy the late hours of the night). The discipline and focus of getting up early has been a great help already this semester, not least in that I find myself far less tired and more able to concentrate throughout the day. Playing Ultimate on Fridays is further exercise and enjoyment, and working towards fitness has been pleasant in every way (save the pain in my muscles).

That's a lot. But it's not too much: to the contrary, I find I am more excited about this semester and all that it holds than I have been about many previous semesters with less work on my plate. I have long been aware that having many free hours does little to fulfill me; nor does merely having hours filled. Rather, having hours well filled with tasks of worth (as I do this semester) delights and encourages me. This is the desire of my heart: to live a life fully, to leave no task undone that is mine to accomplish, to be a true and faithful friend: all that God might be more greatly glorified!

Relationally, this semester (as all before it) looks very different than I might have expected. Different friendships are emphasized than before, and old friendships have in some cases been renewed, in some cases continued to fade away. My best friend is married now; and two of my good friends here are newly married as well. In the midst of all the changes, the constants here and there have been pleasant. It has been good, too, to slowly be growing closer to family. (I need to call all of them tomorrow; I miss them.) To my great amusement and joy (yes, at the same time), some of my great fellowship has included friends I've never met in "real life" - only in the internet... funny how the world works these days, and amazing how God orchestrates things to His purposes.

To sum up, I suppose I should conclude that I am content in all these things, and delighting in learning daily to follow Christ more and more: to dwell more deeply in His word, to spend more time in prayer, to engage more productively in fellowship. I am learning to walk with God. It is as though before I was moving in spurts, followed by troubled staggers, then great spurts again, and so on in a great cycle. Now, for the first time, I feel as though I am finally learning to walk: steadily and surely pressing on after Christ's example, striving for the upward call of God, pressing on though I have yet to attain. His glory is ever more pressing in my mind, and the urgency of the gospel and its great efficacy compel me to pursue those around me with a greater fire, even as my thoughts are kindled with praise to the Holy One, the Lamb of God.

May the grace and peace of our God and Father keep you through the power of Christ Jesus as the Holy Spirit indwells you richly, no matter what come!

- Chris

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

True Fellowship

I was struck by a thought while working through some passages in Scripture this evening. I'm still struggling with the right way to word it. As best as I can manage, the thought runs thusly:

We desperately need to be in communities of active sharing and encouragement regarding the spiritual parts of our lives.

When we are in close Christian community, growth is natural. We naturally pour out to the people around us the things the Holy Spirit has been working in our hearts, and in so doing we continually stir one another up to love and good works. The things God is teaching me will likely differ from those He is teaching you, but the two will always be complementary, for there is no division in God.

Most of the time, however, this is something we must work for, strive to attain. Rare is the community that is so close, so active, and so overflowing with the work of the Spirit that growth naturally comes out of it. I have experienced it, but not frequently. I experienced it this summer. We were all united in common vision, in pursuit of a common goal, and all of us were people dedicated to the study of the word and to drawing ever closer to our God and King. Conversation focusing on what God was teaching us was the norm, and it required no special or particular effort to be challenged by the ways God was moving among us: for it was openly on the table, all the time.

I have wondered why I have struggled in the months since then to keep passionately engaged with some of the ideas that so fired my soul over the summer. I realized that there are two components: first, the fickleness of my own heart, and second, the absence of that sort of community. In the gap left by our leaving, I know many of us did not find ourselves so engaged again. We have not necessarily been out of fellowship - but we have not had the sort of fellowship we experienced there and that God calls us to have everywhere. But in that absence, we can easily let slip our vision, our hold on our passions growing more tenuous as we are not heard by people passionately interested in the things God has been teaching.

The question, of course, is how we can attain that sort of fellowship. Most Christian interactions seem to be divided into two categories: that of the intensely spiritually focused (e.g., church services, discipleship, bible studies, etc.) and what we frequently call "fellowship" but can really range from not even slightly spiritual in focus to as deep and meaningful and spiritual as those intentional activities. I realized that my times of fellowship this last semester have simply been shallower than I would have liked: they have focused more on events and people than on the person of God.

It is not that people or events are bad; they are necessary and indeed good! However, our understanding of events must always be informed by their relation to the person of God and His work in our life. Moreover, this is to be at a level deeper than simply saying, "Here are these events in my life; I know God is working in me through them and drawing me to Him." Rather, we should be continually seeking to integrate the experiences of our life with the picture we gain from Scripture of the character, nature, and personhood of God - the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

This summer, I was passionately devoted to the notion of the God of glory - this God who defies comprehension, yet invites us to know Him deeply and intimately. Since then, I have struggled to maintain that fire. Today it became clear that part of the struggle, in addition to the normal travails of maintaining any vision, has been lacking people who were as excited by the notion as I am around me. Times and places that could have been opportunities to share that truth were missed, and most of the spiritually focused conversations I had in time of fellowship were about our cirucmstances, not about the character of God.

I do not begrudge those times, but I am committing to change that pattern in the months ahead. I believe we need times, dedicated times, where we simply come together as a group and turn our hearts toward God - fellowshipping not only with one another but also with Him: times of worshipful reflection together. Not forced or artificial, but born out of our deep love for Christ and for each other. Not an "accountability group," because the focus ought to be less on our failings and sins and more on the greatness and glory of Christ.

We are social creatures: we mourn together, rejoice together, live together. We must grow together, and we must join one another in excitement - as we each pursuit Christ passionately. When we try to walk alone, our excitement fades. When we walk together, we stir it up in one another, encourage each other, impassion those around us.

I'm going to be looking for opportunity to do this, and regularly, with close friends, both guys and girls - because we need it. (Ultimately, I'd love to be doing it with people of all ages, too... but we'll get there when we can.)

Grace and peace with you all.

- Chris