Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Year of Thanks

2016 has been quite a ride. I got engaged, married, had my fiance move out to Altoona with me, participate in ministry with me, moved myself, and a whole lot more. But there has also been a lot of hard times too. I lost a great aunt, I watched my country almost implode over a presidential election, and had numerous celebrity deaths occur. I'm sure there's more but I can't think of anything else.

During the month of November I saw a couple of people on social media do "30 days of Thanks" in honor of Thanksgiving. I saw other people completely skip Thanksgiving and move straight on to Christmas. It's as if we need these holidays to get into a proper mindset for being thankful. I have a problem with this. So I want to change the tone of 2017. Every day I am going to post at least one thing that I am thankful for. No matter what's happening, no matter where I am or what kind of day I'm having I will find something to be thankful. I challenge anyone who reads this to do the same.

Let's have a great and thankful 2017!


Monday, August 29, 2016

Sometimes Traditions gotta go

When you come to appear before me, 
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations--
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
the have become a burden to me;
 I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even through you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Was yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.

Quite a while back I did a series on communion. The reason for that was because on a Sunday an elder at the church I was attending got up in front of the congregation to pray for communion, and switched into praying for offering. He was not aware of what he was doing, it was tradition and habit for him. And it caused problems that many of the older congregation laughed off, while the younger generations were displeased with the slip up. Not because of a major reverence for communion like Catholics (which is fine) but because to us, it disrespected God. 

There was a story that I heard about an old church that had a division. They took communion every Sunday, and when they set it up front they placed a sheet of cloth over it. The older people in the congregation made a big show of it, revered the cloth, said that it symbolized the cloth that Jesus was buried in. Finally the pastor had enough of it and started a fight about it in the church. Eventually one of the previous elders was brought in to discuss when and why the cloth was used. He said that back in the 40's they didn't have air conditioning, and so they kept the windows open in the summer. The cloth then was to keep the flies off of the communion things.

How often do we do things just because "That's the way that they've always been done!" How often do we just follow those in front of us when it comes to religious practices? We forget why we do things and we begin to focus on the wrong aspects. And God hates it when we do that. 2 Corinthians 13.5 tells us to examine ourselves, to see if we're in the faith. Test ourselves. Galatians 6.4 tells us to test our own works. Be mindful of what we're doing and why we're doing it. Never be afraid to challenge why you do something.
Each week at CSF we take communion. Why? Because scripture says that every time we come together to take it in remembrance of Jesus. On top of that it's to refocus ourselves on why we're here. Not just here as in in CSF but in this world on this campus whatever it may be. It's to remember that Christ died so that we may live, and we must live according to the calling to which we have received. It's an intentional act. Not tradition, not because people before us did it. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What are we called to?

One of my favorite quotes of all time is, "If nothing else at least you can be a bad example." We all have a story, we all can teach each other truths about God. This is all in the same train of thought that gives us the phrase, "If God can use me, he can use anyone."

A lot of the first chapter of Galatians is Paul defending his apostleship, his calling, his message that he preaches. This can be seen in the greeting, and also in verses 11-24.

First off he makes it known that the Gospel that we preach is not good news that comes from man. Yes, I said we. You're a part of this too. This good news isn't something that man can do; man can't fix the problem between ourselves and God. We're the offending party, nothing we can do will take back the offences we've made. It's only by grace that we can be forgiven and reconciled. This is not something that can be done by man. Paul even writes that he didn't receive it from man, but instead by a revelation from Jesus. This revelation was a calling from God, one given out of his grace.

How awesome is that? We are called to God, by God, out of his grace. He has no reason to call us to himself, but he does, because he is gracious and merciful. This tells me that God desires reunion with his children over satisfying his wrath immediately.

Paul writes that he was called to preach to the Gentiles, the undesirables to the Jews, continually telling us God wants all to come to him. What does this mean for us? We are called to desire that all people come to Jesus in repentance and humility that they may receive the same salvation we have. Easy to think about in terms of your annoying neighbor, that kid in your class that smells bad, or even a Patriots fan. you may not think so, but comparatively it is.

Comparative to what you ask? Kim Jong-Un. God wants him to be reconciled with him too. Too abstract for you? Too distant? What about Putin? Or Donald Trump? God wants them too. Or what about members of ISIS? Terrorists killing Christians in the Middle East? Or what about the terrorists that organized and execute all the attacks in France over the past year? Do you desire that they come to know Jesus? Do you want them to share in the salvation that we have?

It took Paul three years to come to terms with this idea (I think that's a lot of what his time in Arabia was). It took Peter 3 times to get that it's okay to evangelize to Gentiles. Is it going to take us a long time to realize that God wants us to pray for the evil people of the world? Will we ever? I sincerely believe this is something God calls us to do. And I want to challenge you with it. Right now, I want you to spend 5 minutes to pray for ISIS members to repent and come to God for salvation. No mention of them "Getting what they deserve" or "being vaporized by a missile" or killed slowly and painfully. Instead pray for their salvation.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The only Gospel there is

Yeah it's been like 4 months since I've written anything on here. I could make excuses, but I just lost my mojo and got lazy and burned out. Starting now though I'm going to be getting more serious about things.

Part of the problem is I kinda ran out of things to write about. Yes I could talk about politics, social issues, cultural changes, or whatever else. But I don't want to do that because that's not what I'm here for. I think that writing about those things will take focus off Jesus which is the last thing I want to do. I also don't want to do a cop out and just start in a book, and go through chapter by chapter about what's being said. But I think that's a place I need to start now. So be prepared.

Currently I'm working on my Thesis proposal. I've been reading a lot of different books looking for research, and I came across an interesting topic in one of them: What is to be believed in to be saved? Similarly the question of: What is the Gospel? was also asked. Some scholars and theologians say that Christ Crucified is the gospel and what should be believed in. Jesus himself though says that doing the work of God is believing in the one he sent, that is Jesus. Paul writes in Galatians 1.6-9 the only gospel is that of Christ. I almost wrote Christ crucified there because of notes that I made in my Bible, but Christ crucified I don't think is the gospel message. It's part of it I believe, but not the entire thing.

The entire gospel then is that of Christ. There is no other gospel besides this. Looking at the book of Galatians, this is one of the first things Paul addresses. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting hi who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."

There are some major problems going on in the Galatian church, and I think some of those problems can transition into today (not the Church exactly, but culture influencing church goers).

First let's understand what the gospel is: It's the Good News. What's the good news? That God died? No. That God died and came back to life? Closer. What about that through Jesus we can have a reconciled relationship with God? Bingo. That is the Good News. That is the Gospel. There is a narrative that explains how the possibility for reconciliation came about, and that's where we get the death and resurrection of God in the form of Jesus. And it's only through Jesus that we can partake in this good news. That's where things get controversial in today's culture.

Oh there's plenty of ways to get to what someone would consider heaven! That is if you believe in the afterlife. If not, that's alright too! When you die you won't go anywhere. All you gotta do though is be a good person in life and I'm sure you'll get to a positive afterlife. Thanks Oprah.

The Gospel says something different though. It's not just about "the afterlife." It's about reconciliation with God. It's about peace and love (not like hippy peace and love but peace after a war and reconciliation). And there's only one way to gain this peace and love, and that's through Jesus.

This is something today's culture does not accept, that there is only one God, and his name is YHWH, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It is only through repentance that we receive his forgiveness, and only out of his grace may we receive his forgiveness. And it is only because of his forgiveness that we can be viewed as righteous and come into a restored relationship with him. This is the only Gospel there is.

Anyone who preaches a different Gospel, let him be accursed for leading children of God astray. Does this make you upset? Doesn't matter to me. I am here to please God, not man.

Galatians 1.6-10

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Promise

Lately I've been reading a lot of C.S. Lewis, but a that comes with the territory of taking a Theology of Lewis class. I've also had the idea of "Promise" on my mind lately. This could be because of the connection to covenant and that I'm getting married in less than 6 months, but I think there's more to it than that. I was asked to speak on Hope a couple weeks ago on campus, which didn't happen because you can't just down right speak on Hope. Hope by itself is nothing, yet connected to everything else it can be considered the key to Christianity. I'm not sure though, that's something I'm still trying to figure out. But while I spent two weeks thinking about Hope I came away that it is no more than just wanting something, but more than that, it's a deep desire for something, usually a specific outcome. In Christianity what do we hope for? That God exists? That we've done the things we need to so we can get into Heaven? That we've received salvation or grace or forgiveness?

What if we hoped in the Promise of God? The New Covenant? What is the New Covenant? Well Jeremiah 31 has a lot to say about it. God's going to put his law in us, not on tablets but on our hearts. He will be our God and us his people. All will know of God, he will forgive us, and forget our sins against him. I think there's a lot to what is written there, but I also think there's more. Looking at the idea of where the Law is, and adding that to what Jesus preaches his first sermon on in Luke 4, I think a major aspect of the New Covenant is freedom, like what we looked at Monday.

Imagine if you carried the Law on tablets of stone. That's 613 laws, etched out on stone tablets. That's a lot, and heavy. But in this new covenant, they're written on our hearts. While painful, a lighter burden. But God does not just offer a lighter burden, he also offers a fuller life, one that we can't obtain ourselves.

Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that evil is not done for evil's own sake, but instead evil is done for something good, some kind of gain or pleasure. No one steals just because they feel like stealing. They may enjoy stealing, but then they're gaining pleasure from it along with whatever they stole. As seen Monday, we're released from that type of action in our freedom, because God wants to give us a great life. God says that he'll be our God and us his people, but he goes more intimate with that in the NT. He uses language relating to adoption, making him not our God, but our Father, and us not his people but his children. And God is the perfect Father. So how does this lead to us having a fuller life? Check out the beatitudes. What do we see God doing there? Reversing fortune. Our God will reverse our fortune, those that mourn will be comforted, those with a poor spirit will be filled. And this is a point that I continually saw in Lewis's writings: God wants to give us the fullest life imaginable. This doesn't mean we'll be devoid of hardships, or that we'll get whatever we want. This is no health and wealth gospel, God, Lewis, and myself are not like Joel Osteen, there may be times where you life downright sucks. But we can take pleasure in our sufferings because compared to the riches we will receive in heaven they are nothing. But more than that, we have the perfect Father that wants what's best for us, and will make sure that we will never go without what we need (Matthew 6). Not want, but need, big difference.

I challenge you to look through the Gospels and see what it is the Jesus promises, and tell me that God himself is not promising you the fullest life imaginable.

Freedom: A New View

Lately I've been contemplating freedom. A few weeks ago I began to lose my temper, as I often do, and while standing in church, listening to the worship band play as I drank my coffee, I got to thinking. What followed was a train of thought about how Christ gives us freedom in a completely different way than we usually think he does. That week at CSF I felt called to present this idea to my students. I was still working through this thought process when I talked with them about it, teaching them this new idea that I had. That night after they left at 1 in the morning, I sat down at my computer and wrote what follows. Usually I don't like to recycle things, but I think it's an incredibly important, and interesting topic to discuss and think about. 

           What are we free from? I think this is the first question that needs to be answered. Initial answers from some people are, “We’re free from sin.” But one of my students’ first answer was, profoundly and correctly, “I would say sin, but we’re not actually free from it despite being saved.” And he’s right. I don’t think we’re free from sin. Look at Romans 7. No matter what, I still sin. Paul writes “that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.” But we have “died to the law through the body of Christ, so that [we] may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.” So if we die to the Law in Christ to live in him, and in him is life but the Law death, is the Law sin? Absolutely not. The Law tells us what sin is! But once we know what it is we can’t help but recognize that we do it. Then we get into the do-do. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very things that I hate.” There are a lot of do’s following this. But what Paul continually says is that even though we know the Law we are going to sin, and are more likely to sin because we know it, and become conscious of sin. Look at Luke 7.36-50 (yes I know it’s a lot, just go read it). Answer me this: Why was the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet? Got an answer? It’s because she understood the weight of her sin, she understood that it separated her from God and was begging for release, for freedom from it. She wasn’t asking for freedom from sin. She was asking for freedom from the weight of it. She knew the Law, and because she knew the Law she knew the weight of sin in her life, and she knew the consequences. And this is where we get to the point of what we are freed from: The consequences of sin. This, to be fully understood, has to be taken back to forgiveness.

            The three major aspects that we see in forgiveness:

1. Forgiveness comes from grace (Ephesians 2.8)
2. God separates us infinitely from our sin (Psalm 113.12)
3. God completely forgets our sin (Isaiah 43.25)

Salvation from our sins can only come from forgiveness. No action, either good or bad, can ever be taken back, it is marked in time forever. No matter what we do we cannot make up for the act, the only thing to make reparations for it would be to either take it back or have it forgiven. And if we have the actions that caused and offence forgiven, we don’t have to deal with the consequences of that action (if the consequences stem from the offended parties action).

            So, an example. Your dog is loud as crap at night and keeps me awake. One day I take it and drive it an hour away and drop it in a field. You find out. I have now committed and offense against you. The dog is gone, I can’t get it back. The consequence would be you take me to court and then they continue on. Or, you could forgive me. I can’t get the dog back; I can’t make amends for the offence given. In no way can I earn your forgiveness. But if you forgive me, and forget the offence (as God does) we then have a completely restored relationship, and that can only come from grace, unearned favor, or in this case forgiveness. And because of your grace and forgiveness, we don’t go to court and I don’t go to jail, or are given a hefty fine, and I am unobligated towards the consequences of my offence; or sin. Salvation then, only comes from forgiveness, which can only come from grace. Scripture explicitly says the other points and is better referenced.

            Now that we have established that what we are freed from are the consequences of sin, we can get more into the idea of freedom. Since we have been freed from the consequences of sin, then why do we still sin? Sin I think can be defined as a short cut. Why? C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity helps us explain that, “wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only  because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him.” When I sin it’s not because I think “Well why not, let’s just be downright evil.” Even if that was my thought process, it would be me being evil to take pleasure from being evil.

            One of the easiest examples for this is sexuality. Sex is a gift of God and it’s great. But it’s wrong to have sex outside of marriage. So doing something that God gave us to enjoy is bad? In the wrong circumstances, yes. Sex is to be enjoyed fully inside the confines of marriage. Not out. You can’t fully enjoy sex outside of marriage, you just can’t. It wasn’t designed for that (Lewis has a lot more to say about this but it takes us off topic). But to have the pleasure of sex, which is a good thing, while unmarried is to commit sin; doing an act which is condemned by God in order to gain something good. But the good that you gain is but a shadow compared to the good you could have if you wait. And because you sinned there are consequences to that. STD’s of course, but more than that, you begin to have a poor relationship with your partner, and if (more likely when from my experience) you break up with that partner and get another you’ll have a poor relationship with them. Answer this honestly to yourself: If you know that your significant other had sex before they had sex with you won’t you question if they’re comparing you to them? If they miss the other person for their sexual ability? If they want to break up with you because, “You’re just not as good as so and so.” These are very real consequences to having sex before marriage. But boiled down, these are merely consequences of sin which effect relationships, and are consequences from attempting to gain something in a wrong way.

            Salvation then frees us from the eternal consequences of sin, let me be clear in that. God won’t free us from the consequences of our actions, only in the eternal (unless there is Divine Intervention which is an entirely other topic). The eternal consequence of sin is eternal separation from God, that is, Hell, and that is what we are freed from. But if we’re freed from the eternal consequences of sin, what about the acts of sin? As Paul writes in Romans 6.1, “So what shall we say? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means!” “By no means” is honestly a poor translation for that term, he is saying “no” in the harshest, most powerful way possible. Drop “by” and “means” and throw an explicative before “no.” Now you’re getting a better idea of what Paul is saying. We’re free from the consequences of sin; therefore we are no longer slaves to sin itself! But we died to that! We have been set free from sin!

            But we already said that we’re not free from sin, we’ve (I hope) well established that we’re free from the eternal consequences of sin. Because we’re forgiven we have a proper relationship with God. And because we have a proper relationship with God and we’re saved we have every reason to follow the greatest commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor. Love, like faith, cannot be true if you don’t act on it (see James 2). So because I love God, I’m going to act like it; I’m going to act like I’m saved. This includes following his commandments (John 14.15). What are his commandments then? Basically to not sin, which we (thanks to Paul) have established that we can’t do. But, again according to Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 7.25, 8.1; emphasis mine). So because we’re in Christ, there’s no condemnation against us for our sin? True statement. But because we love God we follow his commandments, and when we screw up, because we will, it will be forgiven. Because of our relationship with God, we act like we have a good one, like we’re righteous.

            This then begins to free us from sinful acts. Like I said, we’re going to mess up. But we don’t have to sin. While slaves to sin we are obligated to sin, we cannot defy our master. But we have been freed from that master because we died. A master cannot keep us in bondage if we’ve died. Think Jon Snow and his vow to the Night’s Watch: He vowed that he’ll serve until his death, he got stabbed a lot, died, and (if he is resurrected like we are) he no longer is held to his oath because we fulfilled it to his death like he was supposed to. It doesn’t have a special clause in it about those that are resurrected, and neither does sin. We have no obligation to sin. So why do we? We go back to sinning to gain something good, or taking a short cut. And this is where I think freedom can easily connect to hope.

            In salvation we have hope: Hope that God will forgive us come judgment, hope for reconciliation, hope for retribution, hope for restoration, hope for eternal life. Because I trust in God I hope that he’ll bless me with a wife. If he does, then I can have sex (yay!). So I hope in God to have sex with a wife, and I hope in his promises to give me what I need and more. And if I hope in that, and trust in that, and expect that, then I don’t need to go about taking the shortcuts to gain what I want because I trust that God will give it to me. There is a hope there. And we hope so much that we expect to gain it. So sin is pointless then. I have no reason to sin if I expect God to give me what I hope for. And the closer I am to God the more I hope for what he wants to give me, not just what I want him to give me. This is our freedom from sinful acts. But there’s another, deeper level here.

            Christ says on the Sermon on the Mount that if you’re even angry at someone you’re liable for the same judgment as if you murdered them. Thoughts and emotions lead to action. If someone makes me angry, I have an emotional response towards their actions or words that leads to thoughts of violence towards them. Why do I want to be violent towards them? Vengeance for the offence they’ve given me. But I don’t have to fulfill my own vengeance, I believe that, if they have no repented of their offence, God will give me justice against them. Vengeance is his! (Deuteronomy 32.35) It’s not ours to take. So I don’t have to waste my time or energy devising a plan for revenge, I’m free from that. So then what’s the point of being angry at a person for something they did to me? The anger will be wasted because it’s not my place to judge them for that or take revenge. Therefore I have freedom from my anger. God will take care of that person however he sees fit. If they’re saved, he’ll correct them. If they’re not, then the question must be asked: Do I really love God if I want an unsaved person to deal with the eternal consequences of sin because they made me angry? Was their offence that bad for me to desire them to go to Hell? God didn’t think so for me and I have more and worse offences against him than they do against me. If you think you can say that you still love God but want that person to burn in Hell for cutting you off in traffic, you need to seriously reevaluate your relationship with God. But if you can say that you do love God, and you want that jerk that offended you in whatever way to come to know him, then you don’t have anger towards them, you instead have compassion, and you are free from those emotions.

            I guess I went on quite a tangent here trying to explain this so that it’s more easily understood. But I think it’s important, but maybe that’s just because as I write this I have to look internally at myself and say, “That’s me, and God is convicting me to fix it.” I know I need to, and I know with his help I can. So if you’re saved, act like it. If you’re saved, quit taking short cuts. If you’re saved, realize that God will fulfill his promises and your hopes in ways you can’t imagine. And if he promises that, you can become truly free from everything.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Do with Intent

Luke 11.27-28: As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

I like this set of passages (meaning Friday's will be the next one). Monday was about replacing what you lost, about have a change in character. Today is about doing with intent.

A woman calls to Jesus that the woman that just took care of him should be blessed. Sure, I can get behind the idea that Mary was blessed. But because of her following God. I don't think we're blessed because we're in situations that God placed us in, I think we're blessed because of how we handle these situations. Do we remain faithful or not? That's the question that needs answered, and I think that's what Jesus is talking about. Mary birthed Jesus and had an obligation to take care of him. I have an obligation to eat, does that mean I'm blessed because I fulfill my obligation? I don't think so. Granted the two aren't exactly equatable, but for the thought they work.

What I do want to propose though is that in all situations we have multiple choices in front of us. For the past couple of weeks after CSF we got to a local sports bar for food and fellowship. I'm 25, one of our guys is 21, and another is 20. Every week I'm faced with a choice, "Should I order a drink?" It's a bar, I'm 25, I don't think it's a sin to enjoy an adult beverage as long as I'm responsible, and I know my tolerance and limitations. So as I sit in this situation I have a couple choices, to order a drink or not order a drink, that is the question. If I decide to order a drink, I may be showing the people that I'm with that it's not a sin to drink, despite what some Christians say. Or I may seem irresponsible to the people with me, who do think it's not okay for a Christian to drink, which they can have that opinion for themselves, as long as they don't force it on others (see Colossians 2.16-19). My ordering a drink may prompt questions which lead to either good or bad conversation. Or I could not order a drink and handle the situation by seemingly avoiding it entirely. Or I could discuss it with the people that I'm with. Multiple choices in one situation.

Now which of those choices would lead me to be "Blessed?" What does God's word say? Well it says don't engage in drunkenness (1 Tim. 3.2-3). Okay I know my limits, so I can drink. It also says not to cause a brother to stumble (1 Cor. 8.9). But Paul's reference really only applies to food, so I can order this drink? But then in 1 Corinthians 11.23, "all things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. So would me ordering this drink be helpful or not? The word of God is pulling me back and forth in this decision between Mt. Dew and a beer. I want to be blessed by God but I can't come to a conclusion on this what am I ever to do?! Simplest answer is to just not order a beer. But we're not going for the simple answer we're going to the critical thinking about the entire matter.

And here comes the idea which is from Monday: What does your change in Character say? Have you struggled with drinking in the past? Avoid the temptation. Those around you, do you know what they struggle with? Avoid becoming a stumbling block. Or what are their views of drinking? Be above reproach. These are the words of God, that we are to do all we can to help those around us, counting them more important than ourselves. We are to be above reproach, giving those around us no reason to think we we are not effective ministers of the Gospel (and that's all of us).

And the simple truth that all of this comes down to is this: In everything you do, do it intentionally. Every story I tell, every action I do, I do it for a purpose in mind. And I always try to make that purpose for the Glory of God, though I don't always succeed. So, once you have your change in Character, begin to act like that character. Or as I like to say, "Act like you're saved."