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Monday, December 07, 2009

Misdirected Choir?

Do you have an angel in your nativity set? Take it out. It doesn't belong there.

Oh, okay, there may have been an angel or two at the manger, but did you know the Bible never mentions any? At least, never one at the manger. Where the angels appear is rather out of place when you stop and think about it.

From the Biblical point of view, God has just become man. Jesus has been born and the world is about to meet the Savior. A choir of angels should be present to herald this awesome event, right? We may think so, but either the choir got lost or God had different plans.

You see, the angelic choir, or more accurately the angelic army showed up on a hillside outside of Bethlehem in front of some poor, nameless shepherds. If you know the Christmas story well, you need to stop and think about how strange this is: Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords is born, and the angels choose to be with...stinky shepherds. The head angel (choir director?) announces, "I bring good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior has been born!" And the choir belts out, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors."

We always hear around this time of year that Jesus is the reason for the season. That's actually not true. From God's point of view, at least, the reason for the season is YOU. When Jesus was born, God sent his angels not to worship Jesus, but to ordinary people like you and me. He wanted to make sure we knew that this moment was for us- good news of great joy.

Too often we think of worship as giving God his due- "Well, He is God so I guess I should do what He says. I guess I should go to church." Yet here at Christmas, God calls the shepherds to worship because of what He has done. I think you and I are given full permission to do the same.

On your journey, may you here God's angels sing over you- this is good news of great joy for everyone- including you. Live in the joy.

Nick

Thursday, November 19, 2009

God's Good Gift...of Work?

Believe it or not, it's true. God gave work to us as a GIFT. Now, perhaps your current job doesn't feel that way, but I'm talking about the larger principle of humans being created to do something. Consider the following from Genesis 2. When God creates Adam and the Garden of Eden, we read this, "The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it." (vs. 15, NLT) This is before the Fall. This is before sin of any kind had marred Adam's perfect relationship with God. God creates Adam, and the very next thing he does is give Adam a job to do. Just a few verses later, we see Adam hard at work, naming all of the animals that God has created. Again, prior to sin, Adam is spending his time working. What does this mean? A couple of implications:

1) While work was admittedly made more difficult after the Fall (see Genesis 3:17-19), part of God's good plan for us was to work. We were made to be productive and creative, and in our productivity and creativity, we discover some of our purpose. This can be pursued to a wrong end, where people become workaholics and define themselves by what they accomplish. But this can also be pursued in a very healthy way by realizing that God's plan for us will include doing something. Something with our hands. Something with our brains. Paradise is not sitting around all day eating mangos and watching sunsets (though there is nothing wrong with that!). In Genesis, paradise was a perfect relationship with God and work that really mattered because it was assigned by God.

2) In some sense, taking care of creation is a part of "work" for all of us. It's not an exaggeration to say that God's first command to humanity was to take care of the earth, his creation. This idea runs counter to much of modern evanglicalism's current ideology. We have bought into a mind-set of escapism. We have so over-emphasized a coming rapture (which may or may not be an entirely accurate picture) that it leads many to believe that God is unconcerned with the earth. Yet quite the opposite is true. The New Testament tells us that part of God's redemptive plan includes the created world. Colossians 1 says "He (God) made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross." (vs. 20, NLT) Everything means, well, everything. Women, men, children, animals, plants: everything on earth. Going green isn't just a nice idea- it's Biblical. Christ-followers should lead the way in taking care of the planet and encouraging wise use of our natural resources.

Maybe today you'll begin to see your work, and your world, in a new way.

What are you learning from Genesis?

Journey on-

Nick

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Did God Need Rest?

One problem with the Bible is the artificial verse and chapter divisions that we run across. I say "artificial" because no Biblical author actually included these divisions in their writing. We added them MUCH later. But we have come to trust these markers for the end and beginning of thoughts.

Nowhere is this LESS helpful than in Genesis 1 & 2. The creation account appears to end at the conclusion of chapter 1, except for the fact that one day gets left out! The whole creation account is neatly wrapped up in 2:4- "This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth." We may like the idea that creation ends with us (humanity), but the story actually concludes with day seven. Day seven is described this way- creation was complete (vs. 1), and since he was finished, God rested (vs.2). And then God blesses that day and calls it holy.

Hmm. Interesting. This is one of those passages where if we take it at face value, we run into some problems. At face value, this passage suggests that God perhaps NEEDED rest. He had worked hard for 6 days and so he had to take a break a do a whole lot of nothing to recuperate. Some of you grew up in environments heavily influenced by this idea. We work hard for 6 days, and so we need a day of rest. And by "rest", many traditions have meant, "do absolutely nothing fun, creative, athletic, or enjoyable." Some grew up learning to dread Sunday because it meant a day of utter boredom, other than perhaps the few enjoyable moments we had in the back of church drawing pictures with a friend. God needed to rest, and so do we, at least that's what we're told.

But what if God's rest is much more than that? Here are some thoughts from Genesis 2 and God's rest: (this is a MUCH larger topic in Scripture, but I'm going to try and and limit my discussion to Genesis)

1) Nothing about God's nature, as revealed in Scripture, suggests that He gets tired. In fact, we find quite the opposite. So if God didn't rest because He was tired, then we have to look deeper.

2) Genesis 1 & 2 are written with a very clear pattern: God creates something, it comes to be, God calls it good, and the day ends. For 6 straight days, this goes on. Until day 7, when God creates nothing and the day DOESN'T END. This is a powerful suggestion that what occurs on Day 7 continues.

3) God creates a special day that is more than good- it is holy, blessed. That means it's set apart as something different than the other 6. On the last day of the week, God rested- not because He was tired but because He was marking a day that would look and feel different.

4) God invites us into that unique day. I hesitate to call it "rest" because I think that gives us the wrong image. What I find significant is that God stopped all WORK. Anything that had been part of his work for 6 days did not happen on the 7th. And I think that's God's invitation to us- a day that is set apart and unique because it is unlike anything in our week. The day is a break from everything that keeps us on the treadmill of life and causes us to lose sight of anything that is holy, sacred, and divine. Do we have to lay on the couch all day? No! We can and should party! We should exercise. (unless we think of that as work) We should get together with friends. We should worship. We should watch sunsets and throw water balloons with our kids. We should celebrate that for 6 days we pour our lives into doing significant work things, but on one day, we don't have to contribute a darn thing to the world. We just get to enjoy it!

Now doesn't that sound like fun? I think of the 7th day- Sabbath- as a day to rediscover who I really am.

And here's a thought that always stops me- if God, who needed no rest, deliberatly took time for it, what does that say about me, who rarely takes time to rest, even though I really do need it? This is one way that we could begin to trust God's plan- we might not get why one day should be different, but we can look at God and say, "If that's what you did and if that's what you want me to do, I'll do it."

May you discover the joy of Sabbath this week in a new and wonderful way,

Nick

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Can Love God and Science, Too!

Hello folks-

I promised this weekend that I would post to my blog some thoughts on a few of the challenging topics that come up in Genesis 1-2. We didn't "dig deep" into many of these topics at our service- we intentionally chose to focus on the bigger picture of what we learn about God. But that doesn't mean that other issues which arise are insignificant. This week, I am going to try and post on 3 or 4 of those "hot-buttons".

One of the most significant questions has to be the scientific accuracy of the creation account, and particularly the creation of man and woman. In Genesis 2, we find the following words: "And the Lord God formed a man's body from the dust of the ground." Also, "He (God) took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. The the Lord God made a woman from the rib..."

These are interesting ideas, to say the least. What do we make of these? Did God use real, literal dust to make man? Did he truly reach into the blood and guts of Adam's side and pluck out a rib for the building blocks of Eve? Some (what I would call Biblical literalists) believe this is exactly how it happened. They don't care how because they are convinced that if the Bible says it, then that's exactly how it happened. What is sad, in my opinion, is that this can force some well-meaning Christians into really awkward stances, especially when it comes to science. If God really created man from dust, just like that, then a Biblical literalist has to reject out of hand almost any scientific discovery concerning the roots of humanity over the last hundered years. Without even considering the data or the validity of it, they have to assume it's false because they already "know" how we came to be.

To put it simply, this looks foolish. It sounds and feels ignorant. Many Christians grow up afraid of science, because they are concerned that somehow science will discredit God. But what if all of our science and research is actually revealing God's creative design and his loving nature? Here are some of my thoughts about creation and science:

1) Genesis 1 and 2 are not written as science or history. While these chapters may have statements that sound scientific or historical, that is not the aim of these words. So it is unfair for us to try and twist and turn them into scientific proof texts that are air-tight reports of how God created earth and humanity. Genesis is the story of God and his people. We learn far more about God from these passages than we do about the how, what and why of creation.

2) Genesis 1 and 2 leave tons of room for good, healthy scienctific pursuits. As I read these chapters, I am impressed at their beauty and their openness. I believe that someone could embrace the findings of evolution AND embrace a loving Creator God that stands behind it all. A Biblical literalist just rolled their eyes and closed this blog, but it's true! Read the chapters yourself, keeping in mind they are not science or history, per se, and see if you don't find room to believe in many different kinds or methods of creation. What I DO believe is significant is the God who orchestartes it all. I am FAR more concerned about what you do with Him than what you do with this account. (Even the brevity of these chapters should convince us that God is not trying to tell us HOW he created- I mean, basically 50 verses total. That's it. The introduction to most science essays is longer!)

3) We can take a rational, eductaed approach to science. When researchers come out and say they've discoverd a 7 billion year-old man, what's your immediate reaction? I think many Christians say "no way" and ignore the article without giving it serious thought. Now, I am not saying that every scientific discovery is accurate or un-biased. I'm not saying that every scientist represents the data with 100% accuracy. But I am saying that it's okay to read, study, and learn from them. Because here's the truth- science can never explain away God. The more we learn, the more fantasitc, wonderful, and amazing we find creation to be. And if that's true, it would stand to reason that God himself, who designed it all, would be even more fantastic, wonderful, and amazing.

So, did we come from real dust? I don't know. What I do know is that God made me, and then He breathed life itself into my lungs. No matter what else I believe, this fact alone tells me that I matter to God. And so do you.

May you know the loving Creator on your journey today,

Nick

PS- I would love to hear your comments and feedback! You don't have to agree with everything I say. Let's process these ideas together. All I ask is that your comments be appopriate and civil. This blog is not intended to be a zone for heated debates and name-calling. Other blogs do that very well! But if you've got real questions and real doubts, then this is the place for you! Be totally honest here. What questions or struggles do you have with creation and science?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Difference a Day Makes

I was reading a little Dietrich Bonhoeffer this morning- and by the way, who doesn't love a theologian and teacher that does all of his writing under the shadow of a Nazi government and ends up dying in a concentration camp for participating in a scheme to assassinate Hitler? You know his writing will have some real zing to it- how could it not? Anyway, I digress...

In his small book,Meditating on the Word, Bonhoeffer makes this statement, "The present day marks the boundary of our cares and concerns. It is long enough to find God or to lose him, to keep faith or fall into disgrace." In this chapter, Bonhoeffer is calling out for Christ-followers to see the daily need to meet God in prayer and in the Word. He advocates a kind of discipline that we might call "legalism"- meditating on Scripture each day, whether we feel like it or not, as an "obligatory service to the One who desires our prayers and praises."

There's something about me that wants to run from this idea. I want to believe that my relationship with God can be more free than that- more natural and more spontaneous. Yet I know the truth of Bonhoeffer's words. A single day where I have ignored the presence and person of God in my life is more than enough to get myself off track. I am amazed at how quickly my thoughts can turn from positive to negative, my soul goes from faith to fear, and my focus blurs from sharp to hazy. While I want to believe that I can get to know God when I feel like it and on my terms, I am learning that there is too much laziness, too much distraction in me, for this to build a deep connection with God.

So, I am coming to a reality of devotion- I must bring myself before God each and every day, or else face an uphill battle to recover what is lost. One day is more than enough to lose sight of what matters most. Thankfully, one day is also enough to start fresh and fix my eyes on Him.

May you seek Him in this day as you journey on-

Nick

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Swing Low

Have you ever noticed that when you get sick physically, it affects you in so many more ways than just your physical body? Being sick always reminds me how "connected" we are to ourselves. We tend to break life up into segments- physical, emotional, spiritual, etc, but all of the pieces of who we are overlap and work together to create the great whole.

So, when I'm sick, I don't just hurt physically. I suffer mentally. (Granted, most people believe that I suffer mentally on a regular basis.) I also suffer spiritually. For whatever reason, a sick body typically leads me to a sick soul, where I feel very weak about who I am.

Since this is a blog primarily about spiritual things, I thought I'd share a few of the ideas I have about staying strong in a time of suffering spiritually. Maybe some of these will be helpful to you if you find yourself in a time of "soul sickness." Here's a few things I do, to varying degrees of success:

1)Recite one-sentence prayers. I don't know about you, but I really struggle to pray when I'm sick. I tend to have less compassion for others when I feel this way, but I also feel that a mental fog makes it tough to concentrate. I find the ancient "Jesus Prayer" to be useful- Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner. Repeating this over and over keeps my heart open to God.

2)Remembering Scripture. I Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 12:1-3, and Ephesians 4:8 are helpful to me in times of feeling low.

3)Don't Get Dramatic. When I'm sick, I can feel like the world is closing in and nothing is worthwhile. I have to remind myself that this is no time to make major life decisions, or to think that those major decision are even on the line. Sometimes, I have to just take a deep breath and say, "this too shall pass". It doesn't sound very spiritual, but it helps remind me that healthier days, physically and spiritually, will come.

How about you? What do you do when you start to feel a spiritual low? We've all been there- share your thoughts!

May you stay encouraged on your journey today,

Nick

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stop It!

This weekend, I mentioned a classic Bob Newheart sketch from MadTV where Newheart plays the role of a psychologist. His advice is pretty hilarious! Take a look here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYLMTvxOaeE

(You'll have to copy and paste the link into your browser. For some reason, the blogger "create a link" feature isn't working today. Thanks Blogger!)

Enjoy the journey-

Nick

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Lost Cause?

I've been having a great e-mail discussion with a friend. Lately, we've been bantering back and forth about what it means to "be holy." The word 'holiness' sounds very religious and isn't something we readily warm up to in faith. But holiness is called for throughout Scripture. In a meager attempt to help redeem this concept, I share my thoughts with you here.

Now for holiness. I agree that there's a lot of gray area out there and difference of belief will occur- we even see this in the NT with eating food sacrificed to idols (not a real hot topic anymore). But what I would describe as black and white are those principles that can be traced throughout Scripture and give a clear and consistent picture of what God calls holy. In the gray areas, we come with humility and seek harmony with God and others. In black and white, we have to lay down our feelings (because that's part of surrender) and be willing to say, "I will do this because you are God and you know better than I do. I will trust you."


Holiness seems to call us to a form of law-keeping. But, some might inject, aren't we free from the law if we follow Christ? When Scripture teaches that we are free from the law, the meaning is that we are free from law-keeping as a way of being made right with God. That is now the sole role of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. We still have a law to keep, however- the law of love, or the law of Christ, which is mentioned several times in the New Testament. I would describe that law as "doing what please God". Augustine once said, " If you love God, you may do as you incline” True- because a person who truly loves God will be inclined to please God, which is why Jesus and Paul both summed up the entire law in the simple command, “Love God”.


Like I said this weekend- whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything for the glory of God. But how do I know what pleases God? By looking at Scripture to see what things God consistently calls good and what God consistently calls evil, and then having the humility to wrap my life around that viewpoint. Not in a legalistic, judgmental, I'm-better-than-you-because-I-keep-so-many-rules, kind of way, but with a heart of love for God that has been changed by Jesus. What has changed? That I am not on the throne of my own life deciding what is good or holy. In other words, I've come to realize that I am not God, and that is a good thing.


And I think that when the law of love is obeyed with an attitude of grace and joy, this is VERY attractive to others. When others feel accepted for who they are, when people see a life well lived, when people observe love, joy, peace, patience, etc, not only in your life but also directed towards them, this is an attractive holiness. I think why people flocked to Jesus wasn't because he was just like them in every way (participating in their sin), but because he was a holy man, a prophet, that wasn't afraid to look them in the eye and call them friend. He wasn't afraid to touch them as the Pharisees were. He had a joy-filled relationship with God and he invited others to know that same relationship.


On our journey, may we have this same kind of attractive holiness.


Peace.


Nick

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Destinations...

This weekend, I read this prayer at the end of the message. Perhaps you'd like to hear it. I love that it's written by a well known explorer. This is the prayer of Sir Francis Drake...Disturb Us Oh Lord...

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life:
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope and love.

And also a little fun- the destination really does matter! Just ask Jack Handy:
"One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh no,' I said, 'Disneyland burned down!' He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late."

May the conduct of your life take you closer to the ultimate destination on this journey-

Nick

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chew Your Food

I don't know why, but I've always assumed that when I read the Bible, I'm supposed to read a lot. Like the more I read, the better. If you are "spiritual", you read a couple chapters a day. If you're really "spiritual" you read more. Billy Graham read 5 psalms a day. THAT must be spiritual. Quantity matters more than quality.

While this may have increased some general Bible knowledge, a mentor pointed out to me that this isn't the best way to grow. It's like eating at a buffet- you eat and eat, and most of it's good, but in the end you don't really enjoy it because you tend to over-do it. He encouraged me to eat slowly- in other words, to read just a small piece of Scripture at a time, and then meditate on it throughout the day.

For this to work for me, I can read no more than 2 or 3 verses. Sometimes I read more until I get to a verse that really speaks to me, but lately I've been reading through Philippians a couple verses at a time. This little letter is so crowded with food for thought that a couple of verses is more than enough to chew on. And something good is happening in this meal. While I still have to fight the nagging doubt that no one truly "spiritual" would only read a couple of sentences at at a time, I find this routine gives me a chance to really reflect.

One quick example. Philippians 2:12 and 13 is good food for almost a week, but one thought in particular has stood out to me. Here, Paul encourages us to, "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear." In the next sentence, he reminds us that, "God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what please him." Isn't that a great thought? I love the idea that even as we give our all to please God by following His word, He is working in us at the same time. What's more, this verse would seem to suggest that by the nature of our working hard to obey, we open up our lives even more to God's work in us. We work. God works. We work out what God is doing in us while God works in us doing His will. This kind of divine partnership provides strength for the journey.

Had I been reading my typical 3 or 4 chapters at a time, I likely would have never paused here. But here I am, still chewing several weeks later.

What are you chewing on? Is it time that you slow down enough to believe that quality out-does quantity, even in spiritual matters?

Today, may you know the kind of God that is working in you- both to give you the power to please him AND the desire to do so.

Enjoy the journey-
Nick


(I realize that it's been sometime since my last blog. Let's just say that our family vacation was good and getting ready for the Fall has consumed quite a bit of time- but God is good and the next season of ministry looks great. Thanks to you who read regularly and have checked back about 100 times with nothing new. As always, I'm honored that you read what I have to say...NS)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Can't Remember Your Name...

I have this thing that happens to me nearly every time I watch a movie. I'll see an actor or actress whom I recognize, but I can't recall their name. I will literally spend the next several hours, if necessary, trying to recall their name and what else I have seen them in. This drives my wife crazy because she's happy to just enjoy the movie. It drives me crazy because my mind literally will not rest until I've put a name to the face.

Names mean something. Names are a big part of our identity. When you know a person by name, you ascribe to them a level of value and worth that might not be given to a nameless face.

Genesis 4:26 reads, "At that time, people first began to worship the Lord by name." God had an identity and he had begun to reveal his name to people. He was being made known. And as people understood God's identity, they began to worship Him.

In my estimation, the rest of the Bible becomes a battle of names. God's name is known, but humanity begins to worry about their own name. As people become more concerned with their own name than the name of God, big trouble happens. When people seek after the name of God and place His name above their own, His peace grows.

I am reflecting today how worried I can be about my own name- how many people know me, who remembers me, who values me. And in this mindset, I see myself being drawn away from the one great Name. How about you- whose name are you worried about?

Your name is a strong and mighty tower
Your name is a shelter like no other
Your name let the nations sing it louder
'Cause nothing has the power to save
But Your name (Your Name
, by Paul Baloche)

My his name be on your mind today.

Enjoy the journey-

Nick

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Poem for the Busy and the Hurried

We have spent some time this week in class talking about the Biblical idea of Sabbath that God gives to Israel. He invites them into the same cycle of work and then rest that he exhibited in creating the world. This idea- of taking a whole day to quit doing and just be- is largely lost in our society, even in religious circles. It seems out of touch and like a big waste of time.

I can't help but think, though, that in our hurried and frenzied pace we have lost something. We have lost sight of who we are- not human doings, but human beings. This poem was a good reminder to me to slow down. To take time and let go of all that I hold on to and think I control.

Gentle me,
Holy one,
into an unclenched moment,
a deep breath,
a letting go
of heavy expectancies,
of shriveling anxieties,
of dead certainties,
that, softened by the silence,
surrounded by the light,
and open to the mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
upheld by the unfathomable,
entranced by the simple
and filled with joy
that is you.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace

May your journey be marked not by the speed at which you rush through life, but by the quality of life you are taking time to live...

Nick

PS- In our series at East Hills on spiritual practices, we're talking about Sabbath this weekend! I hope you'll join the rest of the crew there...


Monday, July 20, 2009

You Are What You See

In class today, we discussed a great short story called "the student, the fish, and the agassiz". In this story, a student is asked by his professor to study a fish called a haemulon for hours on end and carefully record all of his observations. After 10 minutes, he's ready to call it quits, but the professor insists. So for several DAYS he looks and records, looks and records, eventually shocking himself by how much there is to see when one slows down enough to pay attention. He reports that after this experience, any fish he draws ends up looking just like a haemulon. He studied it so closely that when he thinks of fish, this pattern has been forever etched in his mind.

It occurs to me that the human brain works like this. Our mind comes back to some topics repeatedly, either by choice or by assignment, and this forms a pattern in our brain that begins to shape how we view everything else. This can happen in positive ways or negative, but I am convinced that it does happen.

If someone is addicted to video games, everything they see will start to remind them of screen images and game characters. They will be ordering lunch at Burger King and thinking about game strategy. If someone is addicted to sex, they will see sexual references and innuendos all over the place- even in places they know they shouldn't. If someone is addicted to looks and appearance, their mind will begin to obsess about dress, fashion, and hair style at bizarre moments. Unbidden, these thoughts return because the brain has been taught what to think about.

Romans 12:2 tells us to let God transform us by the renewing of our mind. What does it mean to be renewed? If I renew a gym membership, I sign on again for the experience and benefits I've had before. If I renew my driver's license, I revisit the qualifications and get certified for more years of operating a motor vehicle. I think to renew our minds means to mentally revisit what truly matters. We are renewed by going back to the image, the picture that can truly change us, namely, the loving, sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we return to this image, and this passion, over and over, it will begin to transform us. We begin to see life through a new lens, and much like the student in our short story, when we go to draw life, all we can seem to draw is pictures that look like Jesus.

If my mind and my life will be shaped by something, and I believe that it will, then I want to make sure and choose wisely what is shaping me. Is it culture? Sex? Entertainment? Or is it Jesus? And the best part, I believe, is that when we look at him over and over, he brings true fullness and life to everything else.

What are you looking at? Because THAT'S what you are becoming.

On your journey, I hope you will be looking to Him...the one who is worthy.

Nick

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stepping Down

In a world that prioritizes accomplishment, popularity and esteem, stories of those who willingly step down from such societal values can get lost in the shuffle. Here's my attempt to keep one in the light.

Many of you know the journey of my uncle John. For 6 and 1/2 years, John was the Senior Pastor of a large (several thousand in attendance) church in Oregon. In mid-October, John's body was attacked by a mysterious disease that left him first hospitalized and then under home-rest continuing to this day. The doctors are still puzzling over the what and why. We may never know.

Throughout this time, John's role as Senior Pastor was never doubted or questioned. He was in a sense "on Sabbatical" but no one debated whether or not he should keep this job. This past weekend, John announced at the weekend services that he was resigning from this post and taking a lesser title; part-time associate. I was not there, but the comments of those who were and have posted to his blog (http://www.salemalliance.org/serendipity/) lead me to believe it was a powerful moment.

I don't mention this to bring glory to John. I know he wouldn't want it. I don't mention this to suggest others should be renouncing position or influence. If God has put you there, then use it. But I am writing to illustrate what Jesus does in the heart of his people. It makes no sense to step down from a "lucrative" job with status, esteem and influence, even if you're on the sidelines. Culture tells us to hold on and enjoy the privilege life has brought you.

What John did, he did for the good of others. He saw a church that loved him and would never ask this of him, but that was perhaps being held back while waiting for their fearless leader to return in full strength. And so he released them to pursue God and wait on him alone.

What motivates us to do for others instead of only doing for ourselves? I believe that this is the transforming power of the Cross. Knowing Jesus isn't about a religion, but about a relationship that transforms us on the inside to be the kind of loving and giving people on the outside that God created us to be. Unfortunately, I believe, the world at large doesn't see this from Christians enough. Do they see it in me? Will they see it in you?

May you be the kind of person that esteems what God calls good, even if it runs against all that our culture holds true. Our culture will fade, but the kingdom of God will last forever.

Journey in His glory,

Nick

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is God Mad At You?

I had an illuminating moment this weekend. As part of the Father's day weekend at our church, all of the kids came up on stage and helped sing one of the songs. Talk about a great photo opportunity.

My four year old, Alyssa, is just getting to the age where she can participate in these kinds of "big kid" events. As she strode up to the stage, she beamed with joy. The kids all put on sunglasses, only Alyssa's were on a little crooked. She was about half a beat behind in all of her motions, but she was late with gusto. And I sat in my chair and just laughed my head off. It was a huge joy, on this special day, to take absolute delight in one of my children. What a memory!

After the kids went downstairs, we read a Psalm together about David crying out to God for help. And this is God's action about halfway through the poem, "He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me."

As I reflected on this idea, I couldn't help but think about the joy I had in watching my daughter and how this Psalm was saying that God felt the same way about me. Wow.

How do you think God feels about you? I think if you ask most of us (Christian, non-Christian, whatever), we would say that God is angry, upset, disappointed, or let down by the shallow, self-centered lives that we live. Strangely, this view of God is largely absent from Scripture.

Did you know the most repeated verse in the entire Old Testament? (The part of the Bible most people refer to when describing God as judgmental, angry, disappointed with us, etc.) It's this:

But you, O Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to get angry, full of unfailing love and truth. Ps. 86:15

This phrase is repeated no less than 9 times! Do you think maybe it's time to change the way we view God? I mean, can you imagine a God who sits in heaven and takes incredible delight in your life, in who you are, because he made you and he loves you? I think this would change the way that I live. I know it would certainly change the way that I pray.

I hope today that you will know a God who delights in you. Get to know that God.

Live, laugh, and journey on,

Nick

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Practice makes...better.

Did you grow up hearing that line, "practice makes perfect"? I know I did. Now, I'm not saying I disagree with the statement, but I think it's given me a false idea about what practice produces in my life.

We started a series at church this last week on Spiritual Practices- normal, everyday stuff that we can all do in order to train ourselves to be like Jesus. The love and grace of God given to us through Jesus is truly the hope of the world, and we are all vessels of this hope. That's a pretty high demand on people like us (like me) that stumble through many of our days. Even on my best day, it frightens me just a little that I am the hands, feet, and mouthpiece of Jesus to a world in need.

What does this have to do with practice? Well, I know that I got to a point in my life where I assumed that practice would make perfect. Whether it was practicing the piano, my free throws in basketball, or reciting a poem in English class, I began to expect perfection. This is a great goal, but what about all the times when I would finish a time of practice and still not be perfect? To be honest, I felt like my efforts were wasted. I hadn't really accomplished anything because I was still flawed. In many ways, this made the idea of more practice discouraging- why put in all the effort only to still be prone to mistake and error?

I think we feel the same way about spirituality. Why put in all this "work" (at least we think of it as work) when we instinctively believe that at the end of the day we will still be far from perfect? This is where I find it important to quit trying to be like Jesus- I truly can't try hard enough. But I can train, and practice, even if it means I'm still flawed. Because what I'm learning is that practice makes BETTER. Practice moves me in the right direction. I had a coach who always said that everyday you either get better or worse. He was speaking about football, but I think this idea is true in life as well. I am either moving towards my wife and family in love, or I am gradually moving away. I am stepping closer to God's love and grace in my life, or I walk away, even if it is a slow retreat.

But with this idea in mind- practice makes better- I am free to practice and still fail. I can practice and train, and have grace for myself when I'm not perfect. To fail doesn't mean my practice was wasted- only that my practice is still in the process of transforming my life and my character.

I want to be a transformed person. I hope you do to. The process may feel long and plodding, but I get a sense that God's in less of a hurry than we are. And maybe that's okay.

Now that I am free from "practice makes perfect", where are those piano books?

Journey in freedom-

Nick

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Are You Here?

What is it with our constant need to be connected? I've noticed some things happening around me lately. I have a track kid that actually texts the whole time she's running. (Not at meets, although if they'd let her, I think she would...) I run meetings now and regularly see people looking down and typing into their phone. People at restaurants will leave one perfectly good conversation to go outside and pick up another one. I will be with my family, but then feel the need to check an up-to-the-minute baseball score on my phone. I hear that Ashton Kutcher has over a million people follow him on his Twitter feed. He just barely beat out Oprah and CNN for this honor as the first one. (For those readers who are unfamiliar with Twitter, just smile and nod. It's coming. You'll know all about soon!)

As someone who sits on the borderline age-wise between the internet age and the stone age (I mean, the paper age- is that better?), I am not speaking out against any of these things. I get involved in cell phones, Facebook, and texting quite a bit myself. But I want to pause and make an observation today. Are we developing an inability to be fully present? In every conversation, we silently think of others we could have through our phone. In every moment, we wonder what's going on in the world around us. As we live a real, right-now life, we wonder about the status of others. Tweets. Feeds. Status updates. You have a text. Which life are you living?

I am writing this, not as a polemic against others, but as a reminder to myself. The people right in front of me in this moment are the most important. Do I take away from them because my mind is somewhere else? I want a life where I know how to slow down, think deeply, and appreciate the simple things in life. Does my connection to the world actually hinder this? I also want a life where I am free to consider God and look at what He's doing in my life. Can this happen if I am not fully present with Him? Through-out history, God has chosen to "break through" people's layers of activity to get their attention, but it seems to me like He's more likely to speak to those who are listening. In listening to so many around me, am I losing the ability to listen to the One who is with me?

Thoughts to ponder. I do not reject or embrace any technology outright, but I want to be willing to ask, "What kind of a person is this creating me to be?" I hope you might do the same...

Journey on, friend,
Nick

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Learning to Speak All Over Again

One thing that has really amazed me the last few months in my classes is just how accessible the gospel was in the 1st century. Living some 2000 years later, we have accepted some of this jargon as typical speech when it comes to the Bible, but many of these phrases were cutting edge material in the first century!

Did you know that the fastest growing "religion" is the 1st century was the emperor's cult? It was basically the Caesar's attempt to get everyone to do what he said. But within this spreading national religion of Rome were embedded some significant words. Everyone was to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord!" The spread of this religion was known as spreading the gospel of Caesar.

The apostle Paul then, among others, would grab these phrases that were on the minds and the hearts of the people and turn them into declarations about Christ. Another significant example would be the prevalent theme of "wisdom" in 1st century philosophical circles. Again, Paul is intentional about using this concept, but developing it into the "wisdom of God."

Here's what I'm pondering today. Phrases like this made a ton of sense when they were first used. Yet we still use them to speak about Christ today. I'm wondering if some people have little interest God, Jesus, or the Bible, because they don't speak the language. We expect people to relate to some of these phrases that mean little to them in our modern culture. It is almost as if people would need to be experts in 1st century Roman culture to really appreciate the message about Jesus. This is bad. We need to change our vocabulary so the timeless message carries real force again.

Isn't it about time we learn to speak a new language? Isn't about time that we learn to speak about Christ and the hope he offers in ways that grab the hearts and minds of people today? I'm wrestling with this thought today. If proclaiming "Jesus is Lord" was a direct affront to Caesar's religion in the 1st century, what would that look like today? Thoughts?

What are other phrases that Christians use that have very little meaning outside of a church building?

What phrases could we begin to use?

On your journey, may you walk with a Christ who is as relevant in 21st century America as he was in 1st century Rome.

Jesus is my president,
Nick

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Your Life: A Copy Machine

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are influencing other people to become like us. We can't really help it. When we are in friendship or close relationship of any kind with another person, we can't help but rub off on them a little bit and influence who they are because of who we are.

We see this all the time in our own children. When my 4-year old repeatedly toes the line between obedience and disobedience with me, I can't help but see reflections of how I must have been as a child. I hear her use words and phrases that I know are fairly unique to my vocabulary. She gets excited about things that excite me. (How many 4-year olds do you know that can go to a high school track meet and jump up and down in the stands shouting, "Go runners!", as if she's at the greatest sporting event in history?)

I wish this kind of influence was confined to my children, but I know it's not. While I may not have this same level of influence in other relationships, I am aware that who I am shows up in ways both large and small in the lives of others. My life is like a copy machine. So is yours. Whatever we set down on the glass gets duplicated onto the pages of other lives, sometimes clearly and other times a mere blurry reflection. But a copy nonetheless.

Which has me pondering today- what am I duplicating? E. Stanley Jones, a missionary pioneer to India in the early 1900's, once wrote, "O Christ, I want the Spirit within me to duplicate nothing- nothing except You." That seems like a prayer worth praying. For in all that I am, very little is truly of lasting value. My interests, desires, hobbies, etc, will one day be only memories. But the person of Jesus, his character and his love, will endure. To what extent does my life reflect this? And how do I live more intentionally so that one day my daughter loves Jesus more than running? How do I live this way so that what "rubs off" of me onto others is more of Jesus and less of the books I'm reading or the movies I'm watching?

What do you think? I think Paul in the New Testament gives us a hint. He says in I Corinthians 11:1- "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Paul recognized that the only basis he had for asking others to follow Him was his own pursuit of Christ. I believe this is also true in our lives. We will duplicate the love and nature of Christ to others only so far as we are pursuing this love and nature in our own lives. Kind of gives new purpose and meaning to the old "personal quiet time" idea. I guess in the end our pursuit may be personal, but it is never for our benefit alone.

May you consider on your journey today what kind of copies your life is making. If this thought scares you, don't hesitate to call in the Master Repairman. His work is free, but not cheap.

Blessings-
Nick

Thursday, April 30, 2009

God even in the Dark

Many of you know of my uncle's situation and have continued to pray and ask about how he is doing. I invite you to continue in the journey with him. Here's a great video his church, Salem Alliance has posted:

http://www.salemalliance.org/home/stumbo.php

I have also been greatly encouraged by the words he is sharing regularly on his blog. God speaks through him during this season of recovery. Perhaps it will bring that same courage to you:

http://www.salemalliance.org/serendipity/

God is present, and He is good.

Journey on,
Nick

Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't Forget to Dream...

The other day, I was getting ready to come to work, making my morning latte. My 4-year old was awake, and as usual was very chipper and chatty. She bounced into the kitchen and spouted, "Dad, when I grow up, I'm going to be a baker or an art student. Which do you think I should be?" I couldn't help but chuckle inside because I knew she was dead serious. So I asked her back, "So, you'd either like to make cookies for a living or learn to draw really pretty pictures, right? Maybe you could do both." My daughter's response was typical Alyssa- "yeah, but I'm kinda scared because I've never taken an art class before." After that, she bounced away, end of conversation.

My 4-year old daughter dreams a lot. She has new ideas of what she will be and do on a regular, almost daily, basis. I will bet that as a kid, most all of us were the same. Shoot, even a few years ago I had more dreams. But somehow, in the grind of doing life, I dream less and I just go through my days. Now, don't get me wrong- I love my job and I love what I do. But I go back and read my journal or ideas I had from 5 years ago. I find bigger ideas and more God-sized plans than I'm working on now. Somehow I dream less and just live more.

While some might argue that this is a positive step of maturing and "getting your head out of the clouds", I can't help but feel today like I am poorer for this loss. And that the people I interact with get less of the real me.

I want to dream more. Dream about what God could do, and what I could do. Maybe you do, too. How do we do this? Some ideas from me...

We hang around other people who like to dream and ask crazy questions. We need people in our lives that say the words "what if..." more often.

We hang around God more, and ask Him to define who we are and what we do, rather than letting the routine of our life, or the world around us, define who we are.

And if we are real brave, we take steps towards actually living out the dreams. We take an art class. We bake cookies for a living. We invest time in non-sensical ventures just to see what happens. And if God should show up...just watch out.

What do you think? Are you still dreaming big dreams? How do you keep that alive?

My your journey be more thrilling adventure than predictable plod today,

Nick

PS- This past week, the number of followers to this blog doubled. Woo-hoo! Okay, it only went from one to two. "Following" a blog is a good way to get updates on when new posts hit. If you like reading this blog and interacting with me here, sign up. Join the community.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Credit Cards with Hooks

You never realize how attached you are to something until you try to quit.

So the other day I called to cancel one of my credit cards, per the advice of Dave Ramsey. When I finally got connected to a "retention specialist", I explained that I was using less credit and wanted to cancel. I literally repeated this line 6 more times over the course of our conversation, during which the representative basically offered to make me a Vice-President in the company if I would remain a loyal customer. Breaking this attachment was as difficult as removing the plastic box that most kid's toys come fused inside these days. Finally, I got my account closed. And as I hung up the phone, I felt something unexpected: Freedom. One less company that I owed. One less business relationship to maintain.

I have become more aware of my attachment lately...

I don't realize how attached I am to coffee until I try and go without. Yesterday I didn't have coffee until after lunch and the headache almost killed me.

I don't realize how attached I am to professional baseball until I try and ignore it, and the desire to look at box scores becomes constant. (Yes, I am that pathetic)

I don't realize how attached I am to my credit card company until I try to cancel.

This has made me think about our attachments to this world. What we let get our hooks into us really does pull us in that direction. As I think of Jesus, I am aware that his one attachment was to the Father. He only said what the Father told him to say. He only did what the Father told him to do. And He was FREE. More free than anyone ever has been.

I am thinking today about how nice this freedom would be. What would life look like if this was MY only attachment?

Journey free today-
Nick

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jesus: Not a Motivational Speaker

Have you ever thought about what a poor motivational speaker Jesus would be? In a world that wants to feel good and get pumped up, Jesus would get booed out of many auditoriums.

Consider the evidence of John 15. Jesus is mere moments away from being arrested and later killed on a cross. He has a few hours left with his followers to prepare them for this coming trial. Maybe these guys were expecting some encouraging words (you can do it!), but Jesus takes a different approach. Instead of feeding them sugar candy, he goes for some meaty stuff:
-"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first."
-"Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you."
-"If they had listened to me, they would listen to you." (Implied: but they didn't and they won't)
-"You will be expelled from synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God."

If I'm in this crowd, I'm thinking to myself, "Thanks Jesus- those are just the words of hope I need right now!"

Yet Jesus had a very specific purpose in bringing up these dire warnings: "I'm telling you these things now so that when they happen, you will remember my warning." In other words, Jesus tells them about all of this ahead of time, so that when it happens, they won't be surprised. They will understand this is part of the cost. They will know that this is all part of the deal. Jesus wanted them to accept that being a partner with him in testifying to the world meant they would also be partners with him in suffering.

I have been pondering lately how little I suffer for my faith. Jesus seems to say in this passage that pain and hurt WILL BE directed from the world towards those who follow him- towards those who understand his radical call to not be of this world. I know we live in a much friendlier and "politically correct" society than these disciples, but I can't help but think that my complete lack of suffering MAY have something to do with me, and not just my culture. I'm wondering if I take seriously enough Jesus' call to join him in proclaiming the truth and actually living like I'm from another world. I'm not saying I want to become a crazy person, but I do want to be more like Jesus. And being more like Jesus just might mean that my actions result in hate and rejection from the world, because that's exactly what happened to Jesus.

"The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of this world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."

On your journey, may you be okay with a world that hates you if it means being more like Jesus-

Nick

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does This Make Sense?

I have been pondering lately if my faith can be logical to those who don't share it.

In our local area, we have a weekly feature in the newspaper called "Ask a Professional." Various business leaders write answers to people's burning questions as a way to promote their business. One of these articles is always written by a local pastor, who attempts to take a major issue of faith and simplify it into three short paragraphs. I think he does a great job overall, but I am wondering if this approach really makes any sense.

Recently, I read a book called Resident Aliens, in which the authors bring up the point that Jesus wasn't crucified for talking about things that made sense to everyone. He was crucified because he so radically challenged people's way of thinking that they just couldn't handle him anymore. When Jesus preached, he didn't appeal to people's common sense and he didn't believe that if they just understood him they would want to accept his teaching. Jesus called people to become citizens of a kingdom where the values were completely upside down from what people knew. This kind of decision required repentance, conversion, and faith.

How often do I try to talk about my faith so it will make sense to other people? Do I really believe that if they "get it", then they will feel compelled to believe because it just makes sense? The letter of Paul to a church in Corinth reminds us that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." The Bible seems to tell us that faith doesn't make sense- our spirits must be made alive and awakened by God. When we are drawn to Him, we must make decision along the way that don't workout logically in our brain, but somehow in hearts we know them to be true.

So, perhaps when we talk about our faith, we should not look for "understanding" as a good sign on the part of the listener. When our message is confusing, troublesome, and rejected frequently, then we'll know we're sharing the gospel in its truest form- the gospel of king a who died in shame as ultimate victory.

Journey on!
Nick

Monday, March 02, 2009

Duty or Love?

It's always nice to be convicted by your own message.

This past weekend, we looked at John 14 and I was really encouraged to remember that God never intends for us to do this life- to try and follow Him- on our own. The Holy Spirit, given by the Father, is truly a gift. How often I loose sight of this!

There is a passage in John 14 that truly puzzles me. Not that I don't know what it means- the meaning is pretty clear- but I'm puzzled by how it can be true. Jesus says in John 14:31, "I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father."

These are two ideas that don't go together in my way of thinking- doing what is required (or duty), and love. For instance, in marriage, if I only do what is required of me, if I only "do my duty", I would hardly call it love. In order to make our marriage work, I stay faithful to my wife, communicate my schedule, and pick up my dirty socks. I would hardly call this love.

But Jesus looked at something God required of him, which in his humanity he really didn't want to do, and said, "In doing this, I show I love God". For Jesus, to be obedient to the Father even unto death was how he communicated his love for God. And I would say the world took notice. We are still taking notice of this requirement of love.

I usually think of love for God as an emotion, or a deep heart commitment. But what if God is really looking for a life that is completely sold-out to him, following His word even unto death? What if this kind of life, offered gladly and willingly, is the true measure of love? Then I have work to do. Room to grow. Call it what you like, I need to rethink the way I "show" my love for God.

Have we made our love of God such an emotional, heart-issue, that we've forgotten the essential nature of obedience?

May your journey today be a wonderful adventure of fulfilling the requirements of love for God.

Nick

Thursday, February 26, 2009

True Sacrifice...

I have friends who are convinced that John Locke, a main character on LOST, is like Jesus.

If you follow the hit show at all, you know that Locke has been on a mission to get people back to the island. He has been told, and finally becomes convinced, that the only way to accomplish this is by dying. Only through his death will the mission be accomplished.

I finally figured out last night why this idea bothers me so much. Throughout the show, it has become evident that Locke's primary concern is for the Island. Not the people. Not his "friends" or his "enemies", but for the Island itself. The Island has miraculously healed John, and he senses his destiny lies there. So he acts on behalf of the Island. He also acts, not out of love for anyone or anything, but for himself. Because this is his destiny, his motivation is primarily self-directed.

This is not like Jesus. The kind of sacrifice that Jesus showed us, and then called His followers to, is motivated by love and done for other people.

So why bring this up? It's just a TV show, right? I mention this only because I see this idea of sacrifice, the John Locke variety, creeping in all over our world and being labeled as "like Jesus." We fool ourselves into thinking that any act where we sacrifice makes us like Jesus. Just going without, or experiencing pain, or having a rough day, does not make us like Jesus. We have been called to sacrifice, but this sacrifice has been defined for us: motivated by love, and done for others.

For this is the kind of sacrifice that truly changes the world.

Journey in Him,
Nick

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Need This On Monday...

I was sent this quote in an e-mail this week. In a "me" obsessed world, this is a powerful reminder of what faith is all about.

"God's loyalty is...foundational because it stops us from defining Christianity in terms of our personal performance and religious achievements. Many of us live as if the Christian life were a matter of feelings about God and duties done for God. We live as religious egotists. We say that we are doing well with God if WE are disciplined or if WE are obeying hem. We think that we are close to God if WE feel close to him. We believe that Christianity is true if WE have been made happy and successful by it or if our religious techniques work. We delude ourselves by thinking, 'If only I could conquer this nagging problem, then I would be a true Christian.' For many of us, our Christian faith is as good as we are, and not as good as God is. “

“But as long as we make our feelings, our discipline, our consistency, our techniques and our success and happiness the foundation for Christian living, we shall never know true Christianity. It always begins with God, never with us. He is loyal. That is the most basic truth. 'If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself' (2 Tim 2:13)"

[from the book, THE ADVENTURE by Jerry Sittser]

Journey on in his faithfulness,

Nick

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Takes Practice...

Practice. Never been one of my favorite words.

It conjures up images of 5:30 AM basketball practices when I was a sophomore in high school. It reminds me of double-days for college football in the muggy Minnesota heat. It puts me right back on the piano bench as a grade-schooler, struggling to learn songs that my older sister had long since mastered.

Yet once again I find my life circling back to this word. I have been reading through the book, "Your God is Too Safe" with a group of guys, and we recently went through a chapter on being aware of God's presence in your life. The author, Mark Buchanan, made it clear that becoming readily aware of God in our life requires...you guessed it...practice. He even references one of my all-time favorite (and least favorite) books, "The PRACTICE of the Presence of God" Written by a simple monk, this books encourages the reader to know and relate to God even while peeling the potatoes. (Seriously- check it out.)

In regards to "practicing" God's presence, Buchanan writes,
"We need to practice the presence of God: not just to acknowledge in some philosophical way that God is present, but to rehearse, to repeat, to work and rework our knowledge that even though we don't see Him and sometimes don't feel him, he is there. He is here. When we practice the presence of God, we train ourselves to desire His presence..."

I certainly want to desire His presence. But with all this talk of practice, I can't help but reflect on my experience of learning to play the piano. For me, that kind of practice was a constant ebb and flow in my life. I would go through seasons of intense desire where I really wanted to get good. But inevitably, before I would reach a true level of competence, I would become content with my current ability. As soon as that happened (and it always did), my desire to practice immediately went away. Sometimes it would be weeks, even months, before I would return to practice again. The net effect of this pattern is that to this day, I have likely spent more hours at a piano than anyone in the history of the earth who is still unable to truly play. Why? Because I got tired of the practice.

I guess today I don't have a real "motivational" thought, but instead I want to wrestle with this idea. I want to express a very real fear and a worry of my own heart that I will do the same with God. I will seek and desire His presence to a point, but when I sense a certain closeness with Him, my practice will end. And over and over, rather than walking in true friendship with God by continued practice, I will go through this cycle of unlearning and relearning.

How do we break from this cycle? I am not sure I know. Perhaps it has to do with focus, or commitment, or perseverance, or any other number of words that could be thrown out in a cliche fashion. Or maybe it's something more. Maybe the "answer" is in finding a certain level of contentment with this pattern I have, believing that even in the ebb and flow of my heart, and the on-again, off-again nature of my practicing His presence, that God is doing more in me than I know.

May you know, and practice, His presence on your journey today,

Nick

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Redeeming the Time

Howdy folks! It is good to be back in the gentle green of Washington State.

In a life that has grown increasingly busy, and noisy, running is one of the times that I can find some solitude to listen and think. I'm more and more in the habit of listening to messages on podcast while I run, rather than any genre of music. I find this ironic when I run past people who are blaring their ipod so loudly I can make out AC/DC from blocks away.

Anyway, yesterday on my run I was listening to a message by Andy Stanley, who leads a large church in the Atlanta area. He has a fresh, innovative way of thinking and if you've never heard of him, go find his stuff on itunes. He's worth the time. The message I listened to was all about time. I'll summarize here what he said (or more accurately, what I got out of it!)

The question we ask all the time is, "what time is it?" while the question we should be asking is, "what am I doing with the time?" The way we spend our time is crucial, and here's why. When it comes to the things that matter most in life(exercise, relationships, spiritual matters), doing them in small segments of time over months and years has a cumulative effect on our lives. So, when we eat smart and exercise over several months, we'll notice it down the road. The urgent things in life, while not as important, tend NOT to have a cumulative affect. Meaning, when we look back a year from now at how we spent time, we often can't remember the urgent things that took so much time.

The danger in all of this is that missing any one occurrence of the most important things (such a workout, a dinner with our spouse, or a time of reading the Bible) seems insignificant, and so we often push it aside for things that seem more urgent in that moment. The long range effect is that we continually put off what is most important in order to do what seems more urgent, even when we acknowledge that the urgent is less important.

In Ephesians 5, Paul writes, "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

This "making the most of every opportunity" literally read, "redeeming the time". In other words, get the highest possible value out of the time you have been given. This is wise living.

How do we do this? By continually prioritizing the most important things in life- relationships, our health, our walk with Christ- even though each single act may not seem that significant alone. These small but regular investments of time will have a cumulative effect in our lives. This has been so important for me to remember as I return from a long trip. The "urgent" is all around me, screaming at me to ignore what matters more. And so, I'm trying to be smart enough to balance the "right now" with that which is simply "right."

How about you? What things that are most important to you do you tend to put off over and over? What secrets have you learned to stay focused on the important things?

May you journey in joy today,

Nick

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Absolutely Absolute

A few days back, I raised the question about moral absolutes. Are there ethics or moral that broadly apply to every person in every culture in such a way that we would say they are an absolute rule of practice. In discussing absolutes, most philosophers bring up broad terms such as lying and murder always being wrong, and protecting life and defending the innocent as always right.

The problem that "absolutists" run into is when two absolutes collide. (I've learned in ethics that you can make up words to suite your fancy, so therefore if you believe in absolutes, I now call you and "absolutist") What if a mad-man is waving a gun, promising to kill your friend and demanding to know their where-abouts. In this case, two absolutes (not lying and protecting life) would be at odds and therefore you would have to choose to break one of the absolutes. In so doing, you would no longer call that an absolute because there is a situation in which that "law" no longer applies.

There are many ways to deal with this. Some call for an ethic of the "lesser evil". Others call for one of always doing the "greatest good." A method presented in class that I have found appealing is the idea that we don't trust in absolutes; rather, we trust in the Absolute One. We believe in God as the only absolute and we enter into relationship with Him. His commands carry obvious weight, but the absoluteness (I think that's another new word) is not in His commands, but in God Himself. So the reason we obey a command, such as not lying, is because an absolute God has shown us this is the best way to live. But, in a situation where lying, and say loving our neighbor, are in conflict, we are able to choose rightly by looking to God and his love for us rather than trying to decide between two moral laws.

Have I lost you? If not, good. Thanks for reading this far. I hope that my class experience here is serving to at least make you think more deeply about why we do what we do.

ETHICAL QUESTION OF THE DAY:
When we face an ethical dilemma, (a choice where either way we are violating a moral law) how do we decide what is right? In other words, how might we discern God's leading in issues not specifically addressed by Scripture?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Be Vs. Do

Or as Frank Sinatra says, "Do be, do be, do!"

One of the big emphasises in this class has been on the difference between rule-keeping ethics, and character-based ethics. In other words, most ethical systems in the world today focus on doing the right thing at the right time. In this class, we've been encouraged to consider how God has invited us first to become the right kind of people through a reconciled relationship with Him. We're in such a hurry to do the right thing that we rush past our call to be the right kind of person. If we continually ground our life in relationship with God, our behavior will be life-giving, as opposed to straight rule-keeping, which can often ignore the greater life intended behind the rules.

A great example of this is the movie Les Miserables, which we watched in class today. (Yes, this is a GREAT CLASS!) In this movie, the detective Javert is a classic example of someone who always does the "right thing" by keeping the law and obeying every rule. On the other hand, Jean Valjean is a convict who has a life-changing experience when an old priest gives him a second shot at life. Being changed, he devotes his life to doing good for others by being the right kind of person. Throughout the movie, Jean Valjean violates many of his cultures "rules", but it becomes obvious that he lives a moral life filled with goodness. Javert, on the other hand, who never breaks the law, has a life-less, joy-less existance. In the end, he is so confronted and confused by the behavior of Jean Valjean that he...well, I won't tell you the end!

I guess what I am truly reflecting on tonight is that we, if you consider yourself a Christ-follower, maybe think that the world needs to see us doing all the right things- keeping laws, etc. But the kind of behavior that always catches people off guard is that which comes from a new heart and a new spirit. We "be" in order that we may "do". Getting these out of order is a crucial mistake.

ETHICAL QUESTION OF THE DAY:
Are there moral "absolutes"? Meaning, are there ethical principles that are true in every setting and circumstance because they are a natural part of God's created order? More on this tomorrow...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Morality is Wrong?

What a great day of class. This is always the part of my two-week trip that starts to get long. So I am always appreciative of Bethel's approach to these classes. The first week is typically much more heady and theoretical (Greek), while the second week tends toward more practical, here-and-now discussions. This week, I am in ethics, which is a welcomed change of pace from learning Biblical Greek.



I approached this class with the belief that ethics would primarily be about developing a system to determine right from wrong. In other words, I figured that ethics was all about morality. So imagine my surprise when one of our professor's first statements went something like this, "The problem is not that we are immoral. The problem is that we are moral." What!?!

Yes, that was my response. But, somewhat surprisingly, by the end of our first morning together I found myself coming to some agreement with his position. Here's the line of reasoning.



In the garden of Eden (yes, we have to go all the way back to our beginning), God created Adam and Eve as two people in perfect relationship with Him. The word we use for people in right relationship with God is "righteous." Try and forget all the other connotations you may have of the word righteous, because it fundamentally means to be in right standing with God. Anyway, God gave them free reign of the garden, except for a tree in the middle, of which he said they may not eat. You know the story- Satan slithered by and convinced them to eat, and their eyes were opened. As a result of this, God says, "now they have become like us, knowing good and evil." In other words, knowledge of good and evil (morality) was a result of fallen humanity. God's intention was for us to be rightoues, but instead we became moral. The foundational problem with this is that our purpose as humans shifted from living under God's true word to becoming our own moral compass. WE became the moral compass to try and determine right and wrong.



So, from this, all human attempts at being good are doomed to fail, because we inherently base these judgments off of our fallen perceptions. The true call to ethics is to return to God's intended design- righteousness. In other words, we become truly ethical when we give-up trying to be moral and simply enter into right relationship with God by living in obedience to His words. As we saw in the life of Jesus in John 12 a few weeks ago at church, this is the true path for human freedom. It is out of this right relationship that we can then begin to make decisions regarding right and wrong, good and evil. Because in this world, there is still good, and there is still evil. Yet our hope of living for the good and shunning the evil is not found in good and evil themselves, but in right relationship with our Creator. Make sense? Do you agree? Have I totally lost you?



ETHICAL PROBLEM FOR THE DAY:

Over the past few years, you've likely seen the provocative Super Bowl commercials put out by GoDaddy.com. Here's my question for you: is it ethically wrong for a church to hire GoDaddy.com to host their website? I leave the question open...please respond below.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Embracing Moments


It's been 5 days since I've seen my family and new baby Carter. This is a picture from yesterday. If you haven't seen him much, it will be impossible to notice how much he has changed! His cheeks are fuller, his forhead bigger, his eyes clearer- he's getting big without me.
Before I left, I held him and just looked at him because I knew this would happen. I wanted to capture that moment.
Life goes by fast. Appreciate the moments you are in and recognize the beauty of God in the common, everyday moments of life!
Journey on, friend,
Nick

Thursday, February 05, 2009

False Promises

After four days of Greek, I feel glad to still be thinking rationally. These intensives become very draining by the end. Thankfully the air is finally getting warmer. All the way up to 18 today. Heat wave!

We had some great discussion today relative to I Peter 5:7. You know the verse, but maybe not by the location. How often have you heard, "cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you"? If you're anything like me, you hear this assurance bantered around in Christian circles on a regular basis. It's interesting to look closer at the context. Here in chapter 5, Peter is wrapping up his argument and appealing to everyone, "all of you, serve each other in humility." (vs. 5) And then we are commanded to be humble, trusting that it is God who will exalt us, or give us honor, at the right time. Out of this command, we are encouraged to "give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you." (NLT) In other words, as we fret or worry about our place and our desire to be more important or more significant or more noticed by others, God invites us to trust in Him and not worry about these things. He will give us true honor in his timing, because unlike the world, He truly cares for us. So, rather than being a vague, generic encouragement to give him our worries, this is very specific instruction to first be humble! I wonder how often, if ever, we've thought of that when being told to give God our worries.

This highlights the Christian tendency to pick apart Scripture and use it for our needs. (See Rick Warren, who will shamelessly use 14 different translations in a message to back up his specific point. Don't get me wrong- I really appreciate what Rick does and what he stands for, but his twisting of the Bible to suit his needs sets a bad example.) Rather than really wrestling with the context and meaning of Scripture, we find the quips that we like and try to live off of them alone. We say things like, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" This is a nice sentiment, but if we look at it (Ephesians 4), Paul says this in the context of learning how to get along in every situation- whether with plenty or with little. We use it as a general pep talk for any situation, when Paul offers it as a focal point for living with extra or in want. That really changes the meaning!

Now you might be concerned by this. "Hey, wait a minute, don't take away my favorite verses!" I guess what I would offer is that when we really wrestle with Scripture, the promises get even better. Perhaps we like convincing ourselves that we can do "everything through Christ" but there are just too many real life situations where we find we can't do everything. So then, either the promise is empty, or we've misapplied it. The wonder of this truth is that even if we have to get along in life with very little, we can do it because Christ fills the need in our life. This whole truth is better by far than living with a half-true slogan.

So, can we give all our worries to God? Absolutely. But when we really wrestle with Scripture, we see the beauty of a humble life being the source of worry-free living. When we refuse to pickpocket our favorite Scripture and we embrace the whole context of Scripture, we find real promises for living.

May you journey in godly wisdom today,

Nick

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Speaking Out

Tonight, the group of guys that compose "cohort I" got together for our traditional mid-week dinner. This has become a much anticipated event during the intensive weeks in Minnesota. For one reason or another, we have settled on Fuddruckers for this meeting, which could also be called "a bucket of grease on a bun." Good for the tongue, but not the digestive track.

Anyway, tonight while we were chowing down on 1/2 pound burgers, the conversation veered towards a class we had recently taken "together" on-line. Overall, the class had been a difficult and troubling experience for me, and I ventured out in this conversation with a small critique of the class format. Little did I know that I had just pulled the proverbial plug out of a great and massive dike. For the next half an hour, sustained complaints and frustrations poured forth from this group of friends. We had all had similar, and equally negative, experiences with the class. And to think, I thought I was the only one. For three months as I had taken the class, I had convinced myself that everyone else understood the program and found the class useful and enjoyable. I thought it was best not to reveal my opinions because I did not want to be labeled as a weak student, or even worse, a complainer. You can imagine how therapeutic this half an hour was! To hear my private hurts be shared and affirmed publicly was wonderfully freeing.

I have been pondering tonight how often we go through times like this in life. We are convinced that everyone else has it figured out- how to have a good marriage, how to be a good parent, how to have a fulfilling faith, how stay positive at work, how to forgive an enemy- and so we stay quiet, unwilling to be the weak one or the complainer. And yet how often is it that in reality, our friends are experiencing exactly the same thing?

So I'm wondering, where do we get this need to put on the good face and keep quiet about the things we struggle with? Why do we try to cover up and hide the very things where we most need wisdom and strength? Could it be because we believe that we are alone?

Today, I just want to encourage you- in whatever you face, you are not alone. I can guarantee you, others have been there, probably more people than you would ever guess. And the key for us is to take risks, sometimes even small ones, amongst groups of friends and to open up and be honest. Try it- and you may find, like I did, that expressing the truth was the path to freedom. And a great night of conversation with friends.

Jesus said, "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark." When we hold on to our pain and our weakness alone, we remain in the dark. When we find communities of friends where we can open up, we invite truth in, and in the right contexts we welcome the very light of Christ into our situation.

May you journey in light,

Nick

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Temporary Residents

Today is day two of Greek Exegesis. "Exegesis" is basically short-hand for looking at a passage in Greek until your blue in the face. Okay, it's not really that bad. We have been going through the book of 1 Peter verse by verse to translate the Greek and learn how words function in that language.

One meaningful observation has been on the phrase "strangers and aliens" used in I Peter 2:11 and referenced several other places in the book. I remember running across this wording as a kid and thinking it was kind of cool that following Jesus made me an "alien." But beyond this, the general concept I had was that believing in Jesus made me, and anyone else, out of touch with this world.

The full meaning is much better. For instance, the term first gets biblical mention in Genesis, when Abraham describes himself as a stranger and an alien, living in the land of foreigners. It is an important note, though, that this is exactly the place God has led Abraham. He has become a stranger because God put him in that place for a reason.

By the time Peter writes this letter to scattered believers in present day Turkey, "resident aliens" has become an entire social class of people are on the move, usually to find income in tough times. This was much different than a move in our culture, though. Such a move made them a "second class" citizen who lacked many of the rights that land-owners and natives would enjoy. They had to do their best to live well in a place not truly their home.

Peter refers to believers, and ultimately to us, as these "temporary residents." I like this rendering of the phrase more than stranger and aliens, because it emphasizes that we are indeed residents. Between the cross of Christ, and the glory of God's coming kingdom, we reside here. But our time is temporary. We have been led by God to be in specific places, to integrate as best we can into society in order to bring about change. The instructions Peter gives in the following verses reminds us, as temporary residents, how to spend our time,

"I warn you, as temporary residents and foreigners, to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world." (I Peter 2:12-13)

When we pursue the things of God, and willingly live for him, we make a difference, even if others may at time misunderstand what we do. Continue in honorable behavior, and others will see.

May you know that on this journey, you are a temporary resident.

Blessings-
Nick

Monday, February 02, 2009

Beyond Rules

I am hanging out in the MSP airport this morning after a nice flight into the Twin Cities from SeaTac. I always appreciate how quiet and laid-back the Seattle Airport is in the middle of the night, even if it means I am about to board the red-eye!

Yesterday at church, I spoke about why the Bible has so many rules. We see Jesus in John 12 telling us that he says not only the exact words God tells him to say, but he says them in the way God tells him to say them. If we had to do the same, such as speaking for our boss at a meeting, we would feel confined- forced to behave like a robot. When it came to his relationship with the Heavenly Father, though, Jesus found this arrangement to be the true source of eternal life. (12:50) Jesus was free because he was in complete obedience to the Father.

So also, we can follow Jesus into freedom by living in obedience to the Father. As I read my class text for an upcoming Ethics class, I was reminded of a further development in our attempt to keep God's rule. In her book, Reviving Evangelical Ethics, Wyndy Reuschling argues that a truly Christ-centered ethic must go far beyond rule keeping. As an example, she holds up the third commandment (out of ten, for any that are uncertain of that reference) which tells us not to take the Lord's name in vain. In her view, it is unfortunate that we often reduce this grand call to the simplistic instruction not to swear by using God's name. (Or any derivative of it- we couldn't say "gosh" in my conservative home because that was only one step away from breaking this rule)

Reuschling goes on to point out that God gave this instruction to a group of people that had already committed themselves to him. He invited them into a relationship where they refused to use God's name lightly by invoking it in situations where God and his name were merely being used for the benefit of the speaker. In other words, God was telling Israel not to use him like another one of the house gods common in the world at that time. Other nations had gods, whose names they would invoke for any need. The gods were there to serve them. Jehovah God was reminding His people that their proper relationship with God was to serve Him in humility and fear, only using his name rightly in worship and adoration of Him.

All this is to say that when we set out to keep God's rules, we ultimately fail if we see these rules as nothing more than a checklist of spirituality. While Christian men might think it simple to check-off "do not commit adultery", we need to make sure we have enlarged this rule to encompass all of our heart attitude and actions as it comes to marriage. When we tithe, we can't automatically assume we have been generous. The rule God gives is like the base-line, the starting point for obedience. But if we stop here, we miss the true freedom that God invites us to through giving Him unconditional obedience.

On your journey today, may you see all of God's rules as invitations to know Him more and walk in freedom in this world He has given us.

Nick