The Church and culture

I pray that this isn’t true of any ministry I ever serve. I pray that we love because Christ first loved.

“I think when Christians talk about reaching the culture, we sometimes don’t want to reach it for the sake of God as much as for ourselves. We want to win for winning’s sake. We want acceptance because we’re tired of looking foolish. We want success as the world defines it. We want a loser-free church that is hip and sophisticated.

But none of this squares with what Jesus told us about his kingdom. He didn’t tell us to aim for numbers or adoring crowds or cultural acceptance. He told us just to love him, love each other, and love the world by telling them about him.”

Josh Harris, Dug Down Deep pg. 214

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Stuck at work on a beautiful spring Saturday…

… But I’m reading Lucky magazine and Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris….

I’m almost finished with Dug Down Deep and I highly, highly recommend it. I’m currently reading the chapter about spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit and I love this quote:

“I’ve come to see that you can limit God in different ways. You can limit him by thinking he can never work in spectacular ways. But you can also limit him by thinking that only the spectacular is meaningful.” pg. 186

I think that’s a lot of wisdom contained in two small sentences. That gives me much to think about while I’m stuck inside today.

He also says “To be indwelt by the Spirit of the living, eternal God is a greater gift, a more overwhelming honor than any position, any possession, any amount of wealth, or any human achievement. There is no greater gift that God bestows than the gift of his Spirit. Are you aware of how he is working in you?” pg. 186

Great question. What is he doing in me? How is he working to change me, sanctify me, and make me look more like Christ?

Character Close Up: Abraham, a man of great faith

You should check out Romans Chapter 4 – it’s amazing. Paul discusses salvation and uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith, not works. After a long, hard day on Capitol Hill yesterday, the verses in Rom. 4 were like oxygen to my lungs. Reading Scripture is the best way to do what Hebrews 12:12-13 says – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (referenced also in this post). It changes and renews me. Totally amazing.

Abram (it’s later that he becomes “Abraham” and/or “Father Abraham,” as you may know him), is first referenced in Genesis 11:26. He’s at the tail end of a long genealogy of the descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s three sons – read Genesis, it’s fascinating!)… I love how with Abram, the genealogy continues, but the story becomes much more important. Scripture begins by detailing his life and his circumstances. He’s married to Sarai (Gen. 11:29), who is barren (11:30), and he lived in Ur but moved to Haran with his family (11:31). His story can be found in Genesis 11-25. To give you a bit of perspective – there are only three chapters in the Bible to describe and detail creation and the fall, while fourteen chapters are given to discussing Abraham and his life!

There is no indication that Abram knew God until chapter 12, which is titled in my Bible, “The Call of Abram.”

But God gives him a huge directive with a tremendous promise (12:1-3):

“‘Now,’ the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'”

And Abram BELIEVES AND OBEYS! Verse 4 says “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.

It’s this kind of faith that sets Abram apart as a hero of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

And this kind of faith isn’t seen just once in his life, but many times. God promises him a son and descendants that would be as numerous as the stars (15:5), and Abram believes! This faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (15:6) even before Christ came! There’s too much to Abraham’s story to tell it all here – but he believes God time and time again – even when the command of the Lord will hurt him or those that he loves (submitting to circumcision in Gen. 17 at the age of 99, offering Issac as a sacrifice in Gen. 22, etc.). He’s not always perfect – he definitely fails to trust God at times and gives away his wife twice when he’s scared of kings killing him so they can have her (Gen. 12, 20).

Despite his failings, God gave him a huge amount of faith. I want to have faith like Abraham – enough to simply hear God and obey, with no hesitation or delay, no weighing of pros and cons. Hebrews 11:8-10 highlights the incredible faith that he had, saying, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country […] for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Thus continues the themes of waiting, faith, and patience. Abraham’s life shows that God never fails us. His promises are true. Hebrews 12 clearly shows that we’re to run our races as Abraham and other men and women of faith ran – always trusting and obeying the voice of God. It’s this kind of faith that God blesses – not our works. Abraham was blessed because of his faith, not his circumcision. Look at this:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:18-25, emphasis added).

and all I could say and can say to that is WOW.

Preview – Character Close Up: Abraham

I’m falling behind on posting daily, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking! Up first thing tomorrow morning will be a look at Abraham.

Cool thing about this guy? He’s the one we can look to for confirmation of the idea that salvation is for the world (not just the Jews) and is by grace alone, not by works lest men should boast (Eph. 2:8-9)!

Until tomorrow I’ll leave you with this thought – if it’s the law that saves us, then all of God’s promises are void (Romans 4).

Playlists and heart conditions

Jason Upton is quickly making his way back up to the top of my iTunes “most played” list.

If your playlist says anything at all about your heart, then I think something very good has been going on in mine. You know how some artists somehow manage to capture all of the thoughts, dreams, and ponderings of your heart? He’s definitely been the one I most identify with lately. And he’s also pretty much all I’ve listened to for the last week or so.

The Holy Spirit has used his songs to strengthen my heart – reminding me that even when everything in my life is unknown and nothing is certain, that God Himself is my sure, steady Rock and Redeemer. Furthermore, his music reminds me that life isn’t about me. Life is about being pursued by God and in turn, a pursuit of God Himself. Apart from God and a relationship with Him, we have no life.

I had several conversations yesterday that were very instrumental in continuing to shape my understanding of this season of my life and what God’s doing in me. The first was great because my friend drew my attention to the fact that all that is going on in my life simultaneously is happening with purpose. God is allowing there to be a great amount of uncertainty in pretty much all the major areas of my life because He’s definitely, without a doubt, asking me to increase the level of trust I place in Him. Think of any major area of life – yeah, I probably have no idea what God’s doing in me there, other than that I know that there’s nothing that’s sure except for God Himself.

The other conversation was also beneficial, but in a different way. It was another reminder that even the things in life that should be the most certain, just aren’t. And maybe they’re not meant to be in the sense that I want them to be.

There’s a line in Jason Upton’s song “Just Like You” that says “I’ll risk it all if You’ll make me just like You.” It’s an amazing line and is one that definitely I can relate to, but it struck me that we really risk very little. And what we risk is of no real eternal consequence. We risk our finances, our career path, our security, our rights, and many times our dreams. But when you really consider the value of those things to eternity, we find that they pale in comparison and we’re faced with all of our childishness, our grasping, our selfishness, and our inherent lack of trust.

My favorite song of Jason Upton’s is called “No Sacrifice.” I highly recommend it. It’s been a song I’ve clung to for years.

“To you I give my life, not just the parts I want to
To you I sacrifice these dreams that I hold on to

Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life

To you I give the gifts
Your love has given me
How can I hoard the treasures that you’ve designed for free?

Because
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life

To you I give my future
As long as it may last
To you I give my present
To you I give my past

Because
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life”

Rest

I’m enjoying blogging every day. I find that it helps me focus on the truths I’m reading in Scripture and that it allows me to process what God’s doing in my heart more completely.

The theme of today has been rest. No, I’m not still at home in my pajamas. But I was ’til about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon! Today’s the first Saturday in over a month that I was able to sleep in, make breakfast, and spend some time with God. I have a favorite spot for quiet times – a massive green chair in my living room that’s perfect for cuddling up in and reading my Bible.

Like I said yesterday, I set my heart last night to embrace this season of waiting and to use this weekend to rest. And really rest regardless of what my schedule dictates I must do.  So I took this morning slow and haven’t rushed at all today, even when I was running behind. I was right – this is exactly what I’ve needed and I need it far more often.

I drank several cups of coffee, listened to Jason Upton, had a long phone conversation regarding ministry with a very dear girl, and spent time this afternoon catching up with an old friend over Mexican food (we actually found a decent place in Crystal City!) and ice cream. Time spent like this is soothing to my heart and I begin to remember what relationships are about.

Rest changes me. Yesterday the rain made me irritable and tired. Today, the rain almost emphasized rest and peace. Even the torrential downpour wasn’t going to be allowed to ruin my day (I’m totally a sunshine girl). If I owned a pair of rainboots I would have taken a long walk and gone and splashed in the puddles. You see, my perspective is really all about my heart condition. Where I set my heart is crucial. If I allow my heart to grow angry and restless, I will be angry and will get no rest. If I’m focusing on God and His Word, I will have peace and rest, and my soul will be restored (Psalm 23:3).

Proverbs 4:23 says “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” I’ve heard that verse used in every sermon on relationships I’ve ever heard. And it applies there, but we need to see it as valuable outside of that context as well. I need to guard my heart against worry, stress, and insecurity. I need to be wise with my time so my heart can grow and find rest in God’s Word. If my heart’s not right, nothing I do will be right. It makes total sense.

I’m also reminded of Colossians 3:2-3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My life’s been hidden WITH Christ IN God. I cannot think of anything more amazing. And that should be my focus – the focus of both my heart and my mind; my will and my emotions. When all of those parts of me are in line with Scripture, then rest becomes easy.

The waiting (from 3/12/10 – posted 3/13/10)

“The waiting is to teach us our absolute dependence on God’s mighty working.” Andrew Murray, Waiting on God.

My last post was on running and focus. Today is about waiting. All day at work I watched the clock. Time is never slower than when you’re watching it (a lesson from yesterday, for sure). And that’s especially true on a Friday afternoon. And then I sat in traffic for an hour and a half on my way to see Josh. Let’s just say I am running very low on patience these days.

So yes, life is about running and running well – to reach the finish and receive the prize. But today, I realize yet again that even in all of our running, there must be rest. On Sunday I’m meeting with my mentor, Lauren. In her e-mail to me today, she mentioned that we’ll be discussing balance, rest, and finding quiet places with God.

Balance for me is something that’s very difficult. I like to be always busy, always moving, always running quickly. I think though, that there are weeks and months like these last few, that God has to walk me through to show me how very dependent I am on Him. Sometimes I cram too much ministry into my heart and life to make enough time for quality rest and time with God. I’m in the midst of a humbling process and am realizing again how very human I am. And to remember once again, that unless I’m filled, I can’t pour out. I must be full of God and His Word to have life and to give life.

This life, after all, isn’t about me – it’s all about Him. He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25b), and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Apart from Him I can do nothing. If I feel like I can’t breath, or I’m exhausted by life and how quickly I move, it’s likely because I’m not relying on Him or drawing on His strength. I’ve once again fallen into pride – HUGE pride – the belief that I can take care of myself, order my own life well, help people, and make a difference without being carried through all of it by the One who gives me life itself.

This weekend, I’m going to practice waiting. And it’s going to involve some worship, some sleep, some working out, and some time in my favorite chair in my living room with God. It’ll be totally worth it and I’m sure it will be exactly what I need.

Fight the clock or focus on the finish line?

One of the things I like the most about MBC is that so much of what they do is first thrown up on a white board and talked about, debated, marked out, rewritten, and reframed. If you walk around through the upstairs office areas, almost every cubicle and conference room has one. There’s always vision being written down, pictures being drawn… notes being taken. I love that work culture!

The point? I’m really visual. I’m so much better at seeing than hearing (something I really need to work on). So last night, when a friend drew an illustration to drive a point home, it helped a lot with redirecting my perspective.

I wish I could recreate it for you – just so you could see it too. I should have taken a picture with my blackberry.

But since I didn’t, I’ll attempt to explain it.

So many times we’re somewhere between the starting line and the finish line. But instead of focusing on the finish line – where we’re headed – we’re instead looking at our stopwatch and timing our progress. Instead of a race to the finish, we race against time. It’s like there’s a huge clock just above us that weighs us down and we can never quite outrun it. When we do that it’s almost like time stands still and we seem to move in slow motion. That, according to my friend, is the best way to get impatient, take your eyes off of the goal, and lose focus.

And it’s true. It reminds me of the story of Peter walking across the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-34. He took his eyes off of Jesus, probably just for a second, and remembered where he was instead of who he was walking to and where he was going. In that second, he stepped from faith into fear and began to falter.

I’ve always loved Hebrews chapter 12. Verses 1-2 are favorites of mine, but today I read the whole chapter and really took some time to think about the context (Heb. 11-12) and the illustrations therein. Here’s chapter 12:1-14:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”

So what does this mean to us? We sin when we lose sight of the goal and live in fear. Jesus endured the cross because He focused on the joy that would come. Likewise, we’re to not grow “weary or fainthearted.” Fainthearted means “lacking courage,” and weary means “physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.” Basically, we’re not to become exhausted and we’re to run hard with our eyes focused ahead.

It’ll take discipline. And discipline is good. It’s one of the ways God loves us and I think I’m getting a lot of it right now. I need to better discipline my heart, my mind, my will, and my emotions. I all too often find myself weary, lacking courage, and checking the time. The promise here is amazing – if I will be disciplined – if I’ll lift my hands and strengthen my knees – righteousness and holiness will be present in my life. Pretty cool. I’m going to work to focus on the goal instead of fighting the clock.