Showing posts with label Journal Entries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Journal Entries. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In retrospect, and looking forward —

In retrospect, and glancing forward —
I find myself at edge of precipice
With endless fall below and
Crumbling cliff beneath my feet
But no fear

For I have leapt from jagged face before
With nothing 'neath my feet but faith
And ever certain, ever true
The hand of God has carried me through

The glory of a free-fall step
The glory given to the King of Kings
Whose grace and strength become my wings
And there is no greater prospect
Than falling fully, truly on His word
For truer, surer than the dawn
Is all that we have heard
Is all that He has said

Pursuing Him together

A life of corporate worship can be born only where lives are devoted to private worship; but private worship can thrive only where corporate worship is practiced faithfully. The two are utterly inseparable. We are individually called to follow God, but we do not follow Him except that we do so together. Corporate worship is the overflow of private worship, and private worship the fruit of corporate worship. And worship is more than song!

Worship is the ascribing of worth to God in everything: in song, yes, but also in plumbing and writing software and cleaning bathrooms and grieving and sex and mountain climbing and falling ill and praying and hearing God's word faithfully taught and fasting corporately and feating together! Worship is living for the glory of God, and that can no more be done alone than it can be done without doing it oneself. Glory!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jeremiah, Lamentations, and prayers

Jeremiah (the book) can perhaps be summed up thus: God redeems through judgment and ransoms through suffering. The rhetorical questions posed in chapter 3 resonate through the entire book: their quiet but powerful statement that, all reasons so far as man can see aside, He will redeem and restore and forgive His people. There are both quiet foreshadowing (like anticipatory echoes) and forthright proclamation of Messiah to come. Glory!

In Lamentations there is a frightful but rightful weeping over all that transpired up to the fall of Jerusalem. Great grief, terrible in its depth - for God's temporary and temporal judgment was fierce indeed. (How much more so - and thus, how much greater the suffering of those subjecting themselves to it by willful sin - the unending, everlasting torment of Hell! This is a fearful thought indeed!)

[Oh God, let me grasp how grievous that punishment, and how glorious Your life, that my heart might rightly appraise the task of spreading the Gospel! Let me know both how terrible the bad news is and how very great (both of itself and in contrast) is the Good news! Let me live my life thus in light of Light and Life!l]

[Make my life a sacrifice to You.]

[Make my life a pleasing incense to You.]

[May my prayers accord ever with Your will. May they be bold and filled with power. May the change this fallen world!]

[May my words, spoken and written, and the testimony of my deeds, be a compelling and fitting call to Life: to a proper understanding and appropriation thereof by the redeemed, and to the attaining thereof by the lost.]

[Make my influence great, and make me nothing, for the sake of Your name, that Your glory be known in all the earth!]

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 clich├ęs 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

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, July 3, 2007

Trying something new

This journey into the heart of God, into an understanding of His glory, continues to amaze me, awe me, leave me humbled and without words to express the magnitude of the changes He is working in my mind and in my heart. I am in awe of God. I want to share that. So I'm going to do something a little bit different. Every so often, I'm going to pull from particularly good sessions of studying the Word and share what insights God is giving me. I hope it's a blessing to you!

Monday, July 2, 2007 - Journal Entry
Text: Psalm 29 (drawing on ESV, NASB, NKJV, NIV, and AMP for study)
Glory: His glory demands our holiness. We have to worship Adonai in "holy array," in the "beauty of holiness." Interestingly, that can also be translated as a command to worship God "in majesty." Now majesty is closely tied to glory. In fact, it's frequently found in the same passages, often even in the same sentences, when referring to God. So then holiness and glory are intimately connected, at some level I do not yet understand (see v. 2).

In Hi stemple, everything says "Glory!" All cry it, and all are saying it (various translations). That's a continuous present tense verb, and thus the action is continuous - it's not a singular event. People are constantly calling out "Glory!" in God's temple. Worshipping requires acknowledgment of His glory. Is it possible that worship is simply that? Calling out "Glory!" to Him with everything in us (see v. 9)?

"The glory due His name" would literally be translated as "the glory of His name" (emphasis added). It's already His, it ialready is an attribute of His name. [Your name is glorious? This is beyond me... I ask for understanding and wisdom.] His name is glorious because His name is Him at some level: His names are His character, His person revealed to us. But if "just" His name (as if that phrase even makes sense) - "just" one of His many names - is glorious, how much more so His totality, the immeasurable sum of His infinitude? It is beyond description (see v. 2).

We are to worship "in the beauty of holiness" or in "holy array." The NKJV references 2 Chronicles 20:21 and Psalm 110:3. In the former, we see "holy attire" fitted to the priests who led the army to battle. They were to sing to the Lord and praise Him in that garb as Jehoshophat went to war to save Judah - the same as they had done when taking Jericho hundreds of years earlier. Notice the context: there is a great shout in response to God's word coming just verses earlier (an interesting parallel to the shouting in the temple in Psalm 29). Also, earlier in the chapter, Jehoshophat declares that God's name is in the temple (2 Chronicles 20:9). Most of the time people reference His glory being in the temple (the Hebrew word Shekinah - His presence and glory filling the temple, for which a later prophet mourned when it was taken) - but here Jehoshophat say's that it's God's name in the temple. That's a powerful statement, and somewhat confusing. How is His name there? And how closely does that tie to glory, both from the semantics and grammar here, and from the reference back to Psalm 29? There is a strong connection here, one I must needs grasp.

Now, Psalm 110 is one of the prophetic, Messianic psalms of David. It addresses the coming savior - Christ. People wear holy garments in the day of His power, offering themselves freely (v. 3). Holy garb is required - but it's a given, too: His people will be set apart (holiness is the state of being set apart for God). And so we come full circle.

God's glory demands our holiness - our being utterly set apart for Him, dedicated to Him. he - His glory - does not need us; but He demands our allegiance and our holiness nevertheless.

[God, make me holy as You are holy. Set me apart for You that I may display Your glory. Let me know Your glory more. Let me know You in Your glory more. Amen.]

- Chris