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Friday, February 23, 2007

A Secret of Following

Can you ever have too many good quotes? I for one don't think so! I do apologize for any of you who read this and grow tired of so many quotes. But here's one I feel is worth pondering a bit.

"Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, 'Pray for me that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.' That is our first task; to grip the hands of Jesus with such tenacity that we are obliged to follow His lead, to seek first His Kingdom." Richard J. Foster, Freedom from Simplicity

What a great thought! I know that many of us are highly interested in what it takes to be fully-devoted Christ-follower. We're not interested in half-hearted, mediocre, luke-warm commitment. We want to give our all for Jesus just as He has given his all for us. So how do we do that? How, as temporal, simple human beings do we completely devote ourselves to following Someone who is Wholly Other? As Foster states, we grab hold of him with such fierceness of resolve that we can't help but go where He is leading! As we wrap our lives around Jesus and make it our highest aim to know and serve Him, we can't help but follow in His steps.

May He lead you in your journey today.

Nick

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Heart of Evangelism

I've been reflecting on this reading lately as it relates to the Christ-follower's call to make His name known to all people:

"True holiness is a witness that cannot be ignored. Real sainthood is a phenomenon to which even the worldling pays tribute. The power of a life, where Christ is exalted, would arrest and subdue those who are bored to tears by our thin version of Christianity and wholly uninterested in mere churchmanship...We must recover for ourselves the significance and the necessity of the spiritual disciplines. Without them we shall continue to be impotent witnesses for Christ."
-Albert Edward Day, Discipline and Discovery

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the "going" nature of faith that we can supplant true spirituality with mere activity. We're so concerned with what we're doing on behalf of Christ that we lose sight of who we are in Christ. And this is a crucial mistake, because true evangelism is the overflow of our sincere devotion to Christ. If you had to pick between spending time in prayer and spending time in "evangelism" (as if it were an activity we could segregate into time allotment) I would say pick prayer every time. For if our heart is developed in Christ through prayer, we can't help but become evangelists.

In Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase of the Bible, he translates I Peter 2:11 to say, "Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul." At first glance, we might not think of this verse as having much to do with evangelism at all. But in this letter, the apostle Peter goes on in the very next sentence to say that when we live in this manner of holiness- where our soul-care is of utmost importance- the result is that the ungodly will see Christ in us! We can never sacrifice eternal and unchangeable realities for the fleeting moments of pride and self-gratification so prevalent around us. What seems appealing and pleasant to us now may be seen as a great abomination when we see it from eternity's viewpoint. Have in mind the things of God- things that will last, that will grow and enrich your soul- and not the things of man, things that we grasp and strive for but that leave us empty. All the praise in the world and the highest pulpit to preach from won't mean a thing if it's "us" and ego-driven. Our souls are in His hands, and so we trust Him with all that we have.

And when we live in this way, we can't help but proclaim the truth of our Savior to people everywhere, both in word and in deed.

May your soul be His alone as you continue this journey.

Nick

Friday, February 16, 2007

The End of All Things

Ok, so it's not the end of all things, but every time I come to the end of this two week experience, it feels like a major accomplishment! It's a bit odd to feel "filled up" spiritually and mentally, and yet be drained physically and emotionally. I hope that you have enjoyed walking this journey with me and I hope that in some way, even if it is small, you have been challenged in your thinking by something you've read. I'll keep posting after this- so keep checking back in! It probably won't continue to be daily, but I'll shoot for a couple times a week.

So, what will I take from this experience? One thing I always take from this is the grandness of God and my relative smallness. Growing up in a safe, evangelical context, I have learned to see and speak about God in ways that make sense to me. When I come here and am challenged by different theologies and different ways of seeing God, I feel like God grows in size. Now, we know that it is impossible for God to grow; but in my perception of Him He has grown larger. He is more than I know and more than I can understand. This continues to lead me to a place of humility and dependence. Life can be so "me-centered", so the larger God becomes in our mind, the more foolish this way of living appears. He is all, and so our best decision is always to give Him our all.

I am also impressed again with the value of others. As the greatness of God helps move us beyond "me-centeredness", so does a recognition of the need we have to interact with others. I am blessed here, and back home, to be part of a great community. In this intensive time out here, we have no choice but to lean into relationships and learn from one another. Honestly, when I return home, I realize that I have gained as much or more from interacting with my peers as I have from the classes themselves. I would say that the classes give us a context from which to build community. In some ways, I think this is a little how church services work. The church service is not the end all and be all of our faith. Those that treat it as such usually end up with weak and poorly developed spiritual lives. The gathering of believers, however, gives us a context out of which we build community and meaningful relationships, both with God and one another. I don't know how connected you are to others in your world, but I hope you are becoming more and more convinced of our need for others; our need to have people who pour life into us, challenge us, and in turn are challenged by us. It is this "healthy friction" that causes us to grow and become less like fallen beings damaged by sin and more like men and women created in His image to honor Him with our life.

May you know the love of God and the partnership of others as you journey in this life,

Nick

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rising From Our Knees

Well, only one more day of class left to go! I think my brain is full and I may be too tired to say anything profound, but I'll still leave a thought from today. (I realize that after hearing this, some of you may feel that perhaps I have been "tired" my whole life! Just trying to make a joke at my own expense. Ha, ha.)

We've started each day of class by looking at a leadership example from the Bible. Today, we began by looking at Nehemiah chapter one out of the Old Testament. In this book, Nehemiah has just received some depressing news from Jerusalem- the people were in distress, the wall was torn down, and the gates had been burned. As a Jew living in exile, this dire message from his homeland broke Nehemiah's heart. The Bible tells us that he sat and wept; praying, fasting, and mourning for his people. The next many verses are his cry to God, asking Him to remember the people of Israel.

For many people, the story would end here. Sad news is received, mourning follows, and life goes on. But not for Nehemiah. The last thought of his prayer is, "Please grant me success now as I go to ask the king for a great favor. Put it into his heart to be kind to me." Nehemiah has grieved, but now he is ready to go. The passion he feels for his people has stirred him into action, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to see the fortunes of Israel change.

One more thing- this chapter ends with a seemingly "cast-off" sentence, "In those days, I (Nehemiah) was the king's cup-bearer." The significance of this statement may be lost on modern ears, but in Nehemiah's day this role was one of great importance. He was one of few people who had unlimited, daily access to the king. Nehemiah goes on to leverage this position to ask for help on behalf of Israel. King Artaxerxes ends up commissioning Nehemiah and a group of Jews to return home to re-build the wall and refashion the gates, a task which they would complete 12 years later.

Notice what has transpired here: Nehemiah receives bad news and we see that he has great passion. Then we learn he is a right-hand man of the king, someone powerful enough to help. And finally, in chapter two we learn that God's hand is on Nehemiah and God blesses him to go and accomplish this task. Put plainly, a need arises which matches up with Nehemiah's passion, and he in turn uses his position to go forth and accomplish God's purposes.

I wonder how many of us would stay in our "prayer room," content to mourn the fortunes of those we love but not willing to do much about it. But be assured of this- there is a place in your life where your passion and position are lining up with God's purpose, and as they do- be ready! He's going to use you! In fact, the reality is that for many of us, that opportunity may already exist! The question is, will we have the courage to move from a place of prayer into action? When we do this, we are accepting the fact that often times, we may be a part of the answer to our own prayers. As we pray, God says, "I'm so glad this has caught your heart- now go, I want to use you to answer your prayers and mine." Is this too much for us? I don't think so. Why else would God grant us passion, and places of influence or "power"? He wants to use us!

Lift your life to Him and offer Him all that you have. And don't be surprised if He takes you up on that offer!

Journey on-

Nick

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our Greatest Need

This morning our professor made an interesting statement. He asked the class, "Do you know the answer to every community problem?" We all stared at him a little dumb-founded. Could any one answer possibly suffice? The problems that communities face are so diverse and complex, how could any such simplistic solution exist? But the confidence of our professor was unmistakable. He believed in the answer he was about to give. Seeing no hands raised, he continued by answering his own question. "The answer to every community problem is simply more leaders."

What do you think of that? I know that at first I really had a check in my mind. But the more I think it through, the more it makes sense. This isn't to say that money, systems, resources, etc, are of no importance. It simply means that without leadership, all the money and resources in the world won't solve the problems. Some pundits would interject at this point that governments, schools, and various businesses have proven this! When leaders get involved however, real change becomes possible. And when I say leaders, I don't have in mind only those who are naturally born to lead. What I have in mind is people who care enough about a situation or purpose that they rise to the occasion and take an active role in working for a solution.

If this statement is true, that the answer to every community problem is more leaders, then this is a very challenging thought. You see, most of us would rather throw money at a problem. Or hire an expert to take care of it for us. Or merely go somewhere else where the problem doesn't exist. If the answer is more leaders, more people that will say, "follow me as we give ourselves to this cause", then we are drawn personally into action. This kind of self-sacrifice for the good of a group can be the hardest thing in the world, but it can also be the greatest.

I know that for many people, just this idea about leadership is bothersome. Leading is a scary concept! By and large, most of us don't think we have what it takes to lead. And by and large- I say you're wrong! God has crafted and created each and every one of us with talents, traits, and personalities that uniquely qualify us to lead in a way that no one else can. Do we lack knowledge to lead? We can be trained! Do we lack courage to lead? We can find support from God and others! Do we lack opportunity to lead? God can and will lead us to the place.

As I look at the local church- not just ours but churches all over the place- I can resonate with Dr. McCloskey's words. The answer to every church problem is simply more leaders; more men and women who are captured by God's grander vision of life and have given themselves to him. When our willingness to lead aligns with God's passion to use us, nothing can stop us! Search within yourself- you know the power to influence others is within you. And it's not just you; it's what God has made you to be. Will you lead? Will you wrestle with what this means until God puts an answer on your heart?

As you journey in His grace, may you turn around to find that others have followed your lead.

Nick

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why Do We Worship?

If you had asked me this question in the past, and by worship I am here referring to the kind of corporate worship we do when believers (and unbelievers, too) gather together, I would have responded that we worship in order to draw near to God. The music we play and sing on a Sunday morning (or Saturday night, or Sunday night, or whenever) is meant to usher us into the presence of God so we can experience more of Him.

Recently, God has been changing my mind on this. Today at a chapel service, we sang the song, "Beautiful One", and it contains the line, "Beautiful One, my soul must sing." Now, I will grant you that this line is not taken directly from Scripture, but at the same time I would suggest that it conveys an idea which is deeply rooted in Scripture. The idea being brought forth in this statement is that we first contemplate and enjoy the beauty of a risen Christ, and as we behold him in his majesty, splendor, and humility, then we cannot help but sing. We must worship. Worship in this case becomes our joyful response to what we have already experienced.

This might sound like a minor distinction, but let me explain why I think this is such a tremendous change. When we approach worship as the means of coming to God, then our personal worship is dependent on the music; we need music done in a way that agrees with us and helps us feel "in the mood" to worship. If the musical style or selections of that particular morning are contrary to our desires, our worship is hindered. We can't worship because the music doesn't "work" for us. We make comments like, "How can I focus on God when I'm so distracted by the music?" When we say this, we show that we need the right music in order to get to God.

On the other hand, if worship is our response to the goodness and beauty that we see in Christ and in God the Father, then we can worship regardless of the style of the music. This morning in chapel, the service was highly liturgical. I am not from this kind of religious background and I would typically be very critical and skeptical of a seemingly contrived and overly-structured worship service. For some reason, however, God gave me grace this morning. I arrived in a spirit of gratefulness to Him, looking to respond to that in worship. And by no means am I looking to congratulate myself in this, but I want to confess that the worship was moving; not because the presentation or leader was so overwhelming, but because God had freedom to move in my heart. When worship is our response to God rather than our means of approaching God, we can respond by using any kind of music! Whether it's a hymn, a chorus, a responsive reading, or even meditative prayer, all of these can be meaningful expressions to God.

So if you find yourself struggling to worship because this instrument is too loud or that voice is too quiet, turn your mind away from the presentation for a moment. Allow your heart and mind to fixate completely on Christ and his life given for you. See him there on the cross out of His love for you until your soul and spirit begin to respond; until you say, "My soul must sing!" And as you return to the corporate worship occurring around you, begin to respond to God out of this vision. I think you'll be amazed at how worship comes alive- even if you don't like the song!

"Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will alwyas give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20)

May your journey be filled with worship to the living Christ,

Nick

Monday, February 12, 2007

That's What He Said...

Another week of class has begun! The weekend was a great time to catch up on some sleep and downtown, but went by far too fast. My class for this week is called "Transformational Leadership." This is a type of leadership marked by a desire to see real and lasting change happen in the hearts of both followers and leaders. We'll spend a lot of time over the next few days discussing the true nature of leadership, how change occurs, and how we can grow in leadership.

I thought as a way of introducing this week, I'd provide some of the quotes that were meaningful today. Read on! For no matter what we may call it (coach, pastor, friend, parent, boss, mentor, etc.) we are ALL involved in leadership on some level.

In regards to what kind of change is transformational: "It is a change in the core trajectory of my life. It is deep, personal, and lasting." (Dr. McCloskey- professor)

Speaking of our ability to change: "A person's openness to transformation is more a function of their emotional maturity than of leadership style." (McCloskey) What this says to me is that willingness to go through deep change is a sign of maturity- not just a character trait.

About servant leadership: "There is not much traffic on the extra mile." (unknown) Will you and I be willing to go that far?

How people handle change: "All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move." -(Benjamin Franklin)

A quote about being teachable: "An intelligent mind is simple and teachable, it sees its faults and allows itself to be guided. A mind that is dull and narrow never sees its faults even when shown them. It is always pleased with itself and never learns to do right." (Teresa of Avila)

About the power of being a learner: "In times of change, the learner will inherit the earth, while the learned are beautifully prepared for a world that no longer exists." (unknown)

The need for humility in the leader: "As small as my slice of knowledge is, there is a lot that I don't know, but even more that I don't know I don't know!" (McCloskey)

Why transformational leadership is needed more than dynamic, charismatic personalities: "Charisma may carry the day, but the transformational leader will carry the decade." (McCloskey)

A reminder on how we can all develop as leaders: "The process of becoming a leader is no different that the process of becoming a fully integrated, healthy human being." Warren Bennis

I hope some of these will stimulate your thinking. May we all offer ourselves to God and allow him to direct us, and use us, as He pleases.

May your journey be filled with peace.

Nick

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mushy Brains

Well, class is finally over for the weekend. After 5 intense days of systematic theology, I think I can safely say that my brain has been overloaded and turned to mush. It will take the weekend at least to return to a normal state of functioning! I hope that you've enjoyed this journey through theology and all of the questions it brings up and asks us to consider. Honestly, I just hope a few people have actually read this! If you are reading, I encourage you to participate by leaving a comment or question. In this way, we can dialogue back and forth and learn from one another.

I'll close the week with the idea that closed our class time. The main point is that every theology and Christian system is influenced by the context and culture in which it is presented. Because theology and terminology will differ from culture to culture, you have to decide how you will approach your individual culture. We looked at a chart with the far left hand side being "liberal and inclusive" and the far right hand side being "conservative and exclusive." On the one extreme, culture is viewed as completely good and healthy. In this view, the gospel is merely brought forward as a way to enhance an already meaningful way of life. On the other extreme, culture is seen as being evil and corrupt. In such a case, the gospel is taken to people in order to rescue them out of evil and bring them safely into a new culture.

By and large, Christianity in America has camped out on the far right- viewing society and culture as the fallen by-product of fallen humanity, and so we establish fort-like churches where we can shelter and protect people who are set free. I think there is something to be said for this idea, but by and large we have so sheltered ourselves within our own "holy" culture that the message just can't get out. The world passes by in front of us- within easy reach but out of touch to a church that no longer speaks their language. Now don't get me wrong- I also think it's a mistake to treat culture with arms wide open and unquestioningly accept all that it has to offer. But for those who seek to follow Christ, we need to move towards a greater degree of syncretism (harmony)with our society. Not to the level that the gospel is watered down or even worse changed, but to the level that we speak intelligently with people who have little or no knowledge of a Biblical worldview. To put it in the words of one author, "we need to start sitting in the smoking section." Ok, so most places have out-lawed smoking in public places, but you get the drift. Theology, doctrine, and apologetics are all wonderful and good, but if we can't speak the language of our culture, these ideas will never be heard by thsoe who could benefit from them most.

How do we do this? In the most simple of ways. Getting to know our neighbors. Taking in a community play. Hanging out at Starbucks past our bedtime. Watching a movie outside of our generational or genre preferences. Reading a book or buying a CD by a non-Christian author. In no way should these activities take the place of our spiritual disciplines, but being intentional to add them to our life can help us be relevant to the world around us.

Just my thoughts. Do you agree?

Enjoy the journey.

Nick

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Free Will Theology?

Today in our theology class we had a rather lengthy discussion about a new brand of theology known as Free-will theology, or open theism. For those who many not be familiar with this term, let me do my best to explain. Keep in mind that I myself am just a student, so this will be pretty simplistic. Open theism basically says that God is present with us in time but does not know the future. Now, because God knows us better than we know ourselves and because he knows all things, he can predict with a high degree of accuracy what will happen, but in truth the future is impossible to know. Because God does not know the future, this gives us true free will. The open theist's contention is that if God knows what I am going to do before I do it, then I am not truly free. This free-will theology isn't challenging God's ability to know all things- they just claim that it is impossible for anyone, including God, to know what will happen next because that is based on humans freely choosing to create that future.

Ok, for many that probably sounded a lot like mumbo-jumbo and reminds you of why you never went to seminary, but here's the deal. For my part, I believe that just because God knows what I will do tomorrow, the next day, or in 2022, that doesn't limit my free will to do that. It just means that God can see the scope of my life and is most capable of guiding and directing me because he knows me from start to finish. The heart of the matter for me, however, has nothing to do with these attempts to define God. We can get so caught up in trying to explain and rationalize what we don't know about God that we lose sight of what we do know.

What do I know? I know that God knows me better than I know myself. "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know what I am going to say even before I say it."

I know that God made me on purpose and crafted me according to his design. "You made all the delicate parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. You saw me before I was born. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed."

I know that God sees me and is with me wherever I go. "You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. I can never get away from your presence. If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there, too."

I know that God guides and directs me so that I can follow Him. "You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. "

And I know that God in his infinite goodness and loved has turned his mind towards me. "How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable. I can't even count them...when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me!" (all references- Psalm 139, NLT)

It can stretch our mind and develop our understanding to try and comprehend God in all His fullness. But the heart of our faith is in what God has already revealed to us. Rest in His Word, and remember that the Word became flesh, lived among us, and gave His life for us that we might know Him who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Journey in His grip.

Nick

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Can God Tell Time?

Well, today's class was probably the kind that only a student of theology could enjoy. We had a two-hour plus discussion about the relation of God to time. Did God create time? Was time just the natural consequence of God creating finite matter? Did humanity in essence begin time when we begin marking off the days? Is God present with us in time, or does he see all of history, and all of the future, from one "above all" position? You might think that these kind of discussions are meaningless (and I'll admit that on some levels they might be!) but when you work out the implications of each question, you begin to realize these are significant matters.

Which brings you to a scary place. In theology, you are studying a subject matter which by nature you have to admit you can never truly comprehend or describe. In most other "ologies", the student sets about on a quest to master the topic. Geology is to discover everything there is to know about the earth, and most would agree that we have the human capability to explain or master our discoveries. With the study of God, however, we have to acknowledge up front that our understanding and ability can only take us so far. At some point, whether the topic is time, predestination, or free will, the student has to say, "I'm not sure. This is what the Bible says, this is what the Spirit has led me to believe, and the rest I'm just leaving in God's hands!"

Remarkable, isn't it, how much that sounds like faith itself? We seek to know God and follow him, but we admit from the beginning that complete knowledge of God and the ability to completely follow him is well beyond us. So, as earnest students, we can also conclude, "This is what the Bible says, this is how the Spirit has led me, and the rest is in His hands!" It's oddly comforting to worship a God that is beyond our comprehension. If we could comprehend him, we would try to control Him or bend Him to our purposes. As we grasp his infinite qualities and immeasurable traits, we can't help but put ourselves in His hands. Because we can't comprehend Him, we are left in a position where we must trust him. And that is worship- willingly placing our hopes, dreams, and very lives in the hands of a Master, Creator and Lord that will always be beyond our ability to fully know.

But that doesn't stop us from trying! And if we keep it in perspective, I believe there is something very healthy in that pursuit. In our quest, we seek not to conquer, master, and change, but to be conquered by His love, mastered by His grace, and changed by His Spirit.

Journey on, my friends.

Nick

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And Now It's Snowing, Too!

Well, as the weather outside stays cold, the conversation inside has heated up. Today in theology, we had some lively debate about Mark 10 and the way we are to interpret Jesus' words about the rich and the camel. (Go look at Mark 10:17 and following if you're confused!) What impressed me was the way in which the class was able to enter into debate, bringing strong personal opinions, and yet able to listen well and gain understanding from opposing points. Sometimes in our pursuit of God, we can become so attached to certain ways of viewing God and the Bible that we close ourselves off from good conversation! Are we guilty of only listening to people who think like we do, or are we content enough in our faith that we can allow ourselves to be stretched and challenged? Churches on occasion act like they've cornered the market on truth, and anyone who disagrees with them is a heretic. Individual believers act the same way, and look down their noses as people with "inferior" versions of faith.

What I'm challenged by today is lets learn to really talk. Let's learn to challenge others in their beliefs and allow ours to be challenged as well. Don't get me wrong here- we've got to have some "lines in the sand" that we are unwilling to cross. But in so many other areas of faith, we would grow a great deal if we were willing to honestly consider different ways of looking at and interpreting the Bible. The truth is that the Bible tells us a story in a variety of methods, and we usually approach it looking for a book of rules and principles. As we listen to a variety of interpretations of God's story, however, we can gain a deeper understanding of what God is revealing to us in His word. So enjoy the richness and the depth of God's story, His word, and then enter into healthy dialogue, even debate, yes even arguments, about what God is saying. These conversations will give new life to your faith!

Stay on the journey.

Nick

Monday, February 05, 2007

16 Below Zero Is Cold

As the airplane began to make its descent into Minneapolis/St. Paul, I was awakened by the voice of the pilot informing us that we were preparing to land. I was in a pretty groggy state by this time, but was aware enough to hear the pilot announce that it was 5:30 AM local time- only 3:30 AM back home. Normally, I would have been distressed by this early hour had not the second announcement made me forget completely about the time. In a rather matter of fact tone, the pilot continued to inform us about local conditions, stating rather dryly that the local weather was -16. I laughed a bit and turned to my seat neighbor; "Wow, I must be tired," I said, "I could swear the pilot just said it's -16." When she didn't laugh, I realized that the pilot was being serious. My next thought was to inform the stewardess that I had changed my mind- I would not be de-planing in Minneapolis after all! My plan was to sit resolutely in seat 16F until the aircraft landed somewhere with temperatures more suitable for life to occur. As you may have guessed, this kind of plan doesn't go over real well with the airlines, and so I begrudgingly grabbed my bag and braced myself for the arctic chill that was about to greet me.

The weather here my not be to my liking, but it is good to immerse myself in studies and to consider what God wants to teach me. This week's class is a venture into the world of theology, the study of God. And I can't help but think about the similarities between this kind of study and my attitude towards the weather today. Sometimes we are so willing to stay simple and basic in our understanding of God that we are like a person who would rather stay on the airplane than venture into the cold. But the irony is that no one was made to live in the cozy confines of an aircraft hull. These flying vessels are a means to take us somewhere- to take us places where the journey can begin. If we stay on the plane, we may keep warm, but we miss out on the grander adventure outside the doors.

Sometimes I hear people talk about "having faith like a child" in a way that Jesus never intended. Jesus' intention was that we come to him in simple obedience to follow wherever he leads. We think it means we can stay elementary in our understanding of God and leave the hard work of more mature Godly wisdom to others. But if there's anything the pursuit of theology is teaching me, it's that God is much bigger, much grander, and much more dangerous than we realize. When we get a glimpse of this, it can be a bit frightening and leave us wanting to stay "safe on the plane." But God is calling us to step out of what might be a childish understanding of Him in order that we discover him more and more in His "holy otherness."

God never intended to make us safe or comfortable. He invites us on the ultimate adventure of following Him; a Being who is dangerous, majestic, and awesome beyond all human understanding.

Button up your coat and step out. God is waiting- journey on!

Nick

Friday, February 02, 2007

Praying Too Hard?

I ran across this quote in my reading this morning and thought I would share it. It speaks to our tendency to approach God thinking we need to "try harder" in order to love Him and serve Him. Somehow, this doesn't seem to line up well with the nature of God; a God who calls us into love, joy, and freedom. The quote goes like this; "A friend once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said, 'How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.' A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God's time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us."

This reminds me that ultimately prayer is God's work, not mine. I approach God and open my heart and soul to Him, asking Him to do his work in me. When I approach prayer as my own task or burden, I put myself in control; as if I could force God's hand. Not only is this theologically inaccurate, but it makes prayer a task rather than a delight. As we watch Jesus praying during his time on earth, we don't get the sense that he was working in prayer, but that he was consumed by joy of being with the Father.

I think of the times when I have felt the greatest joy and love towards my little daughter. I do not work or labor to love her. I do not make a plan and then force myself into loving her. The greatest moments of realizing my love for her have come when I am simply holding her, appreciating her and the beauty God has given her. These intense feelings of love sneak up on me, almost as if I had to be first unaware of them in order to truly appreciate them.

Perhaps it is the same with God. Sometimes we try so hard to love him, when we need to learn how to simply rest in the beauty of his presence. And without working for it or thinking about it, an intense joy and love for him sneaks up on us. We simply "sit in the sun" as the apple does and we allow the Greater to act upon us the lesser. As we pray, we can remember that, "God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him." (Philippians 2:13)

May His light shine brightly on you as you journey on.