Sunday, December 23, 2007

Season of Rejoicing

I wanted to write a post for Christmas, but I wasn't sure how to tie everything that I was feeling into one blog post. The commercialization of Christmas is all around us, and threatening to choke the Christian's out. The only way I could think of to express this was in the following short story. Before I post the story, let me share again the Scripture I used last year at this time.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

And now, for a short story. Enjoy.

A Season of Rejoicing
Emily slammed her fist on the steering wheel and mentally screamed at the car in front of her. It was noon on Christmas Eve and in front of her a seemingly endless row of cars stretched out towards the mall. Horns echoed across the highway as other impatient Christmas shoppers angrily navigated the holiday traffic, confirming that she was not the only one who had forgotten Aunt Sally and Cousin Jim's presents. She navigated her way through the sea of cars and found a parking spot at the end of a row. By the time she walked to the store it was nearly 12:30 pm. Her guests would begin arriving soon.
Inside the department store she fought through the crowds of people, silently agreeing with the complaints she heard in passing. After selecting the last presents she needed, she joined a line at the register which stretched into one of the aisles. As each minute eased past her she grew more impatient and more upset with the cashier and other customers. She finally made her purchase and hurried out of the store, brushing past the red-clad Salvation Army worker. The steady clang of their bell gave her a headache, adding to the irritation she felt.
By 3:00 Emily made it home with her purchases, having made a second stop to pick up needed cranberry sauce and gravy. Barely pausing to acknowledge the group of family and friends steadily gathering in her living room, she hurried to the kitchen and began to cook. In between stirring the gravy, defrosting the pumpkin pie, and peeking at the turkey in the oven, Emily hurried to the garage to wrap the last of the gifts. She then turned off the stove before depositing the gifts beneath the tree, only partially noticing the laughter filtering through the house.
The last few hours of the day seemed to fly by as Emily prepared the meal and then cleaned up after everyone had eaten their fill and more. By 7:00 pm exhaustion began to hit her and a wave of sadness passed over her as she realized that Christmas Eve was nearly over. Picking up the last of the dirty dishes from the table, she added them to the pile in the sink and donned her apron one last time to begin washing.
Just then a sweet melody of Christmas music drifted towards her from the living room. The voices of her friends and family carried the sounds of the season to her ears and exhaustion overtook her as a silent tear slipped down her face to join the murky dishwater below. The joyful voices of those around her did not reflect the feelings that the busy, commercialized Christmas season had taken for her. As she tried to regain her composure and ignore the thought that no one had offered to help her, no one had noticed her hard work and preparation, she felt a warm hand on her back. A strong voice behind her whispered in her ear “Emily, Emily, you are bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary…” Turning around to see her brother standing there, Emily looked up with confusion. “Luke 10:41-42,” her brother Christopher said, still gently. “When Jesus was in the house of Mary and Martha, Martha was so caught up with the preparations of the season that she nearly missed the entire reason that she felt the need to prepare – the Lord was in her house! I know you want to make Christmas special for us, but don’t let that desire overshadow the reason we celebrate. We would much rather see your smiling face praising God with our Christmas hymns and joining with our fun, than have the table clean and floor vacuumed. Those things are nice, but Em, please don’t let man’s ideas of a perfect Christmas overshadow God’s perfect Christmas gift. Let’s spend time together, as a family.”
Conviction filled Emily’s heart as she realized that not once in the past month had she stopped to think of the birth of Christ, not once had she thanked God for His precious gift. Tears filled her eyes as her brother wrapped his arms around her. “I wanted everything to be just right…” she whispered. Christopher stopped her with his hand on her face, gently wiping the tears. “It is Em, it is. The Lord is in your house. That’s all we need…”
Emily let her brother lead her into the family room where her tears were soon forgotten. Before tearing open the gift wrap and exclaiming over material gifts, the group gathered around the Christmas tree and in front of a roaring fire read from the Bible the first story of Christmas.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Revival of... football players?

The Detroit Lions are starting a revival. And it's not in new sportswear.

Quarterback Jon Kitna is the starting quarterback of a top NFL team in 2007, but first and foremost he is a Bible-believing Christian.
The team holds regular chapel every saturday night, and even the non-believing members come for encouragement. But it hasn't stopped there.
Thanks to the influence of Kitna and a few other devout Christians on the team, Detroit is seeing a new unity in their NFL team. After every practice, the Lions pray together. And now Kitna holds a Bible study for the team every Monday night in his basement. What started as a small gathering has lead to a regular attendence of 40 team members and family, as well as almost 20 salvations and baptisms.
The team is now 3-1, proudly playing football with their new-found unity and inspiration.

For the original story, see:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

such brilliant splendor

Last night I came home late to find that the sky was amazingly clear of clouds, for the first time in over a week. As I stood in the yard and watched the stars for a minute, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness, it seemed as though thousands more stars appeared each second.

How is it that a human being can look up into an infinite darkness peppered by thousands of dazzling stars, and not see the hand of God? We go to our museums and "ooh and aah" over paintings by famous artists, and yet when we leave our houses we fail to see the glory of our Master Painter. He has painted for us a world of beauty to enjoy, and we deny Him due praise while we honor men and women who imitate Him.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
*Psalm 8:3-4*

Everything that we dream up on paper was first painted for us in full across the earth and sky. Even the most expensive and beautiful painting is only an image of the original.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ruth - Woman of Excellence (Prov31)

The description of a godly woman in Proverbs 31 begins with verse 10:
An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.

An excellent wife, you're thinking. How can someone hope to prepare to be an excellent woman when each person's definition is different? Dr. Phil has his opinion and Oprah has hers. To one an excellent wife is the one who will go to the football games with excitement. To another she is one who will cook well, to another the one who will hold a well paying job, and so on. How can you define an excellent wife?
Rather than calling for an excellent woman, however, I believe that the Scripture is describing not just an excellent woman, but a woman of excellence. Ruth was such a woman. Boaz recognized this in her simply by watching her actions:
"Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence." - Ruth 3:11

The Hebrew word in these Scriptures actually translates as a "virtuous" woman, or "literally...of valor, in the sense of all forms of excellence."**
All forms of excellence. The godly Proverbs 31 woman strives for excellence in all areas of her life. She is virtuous, and holds high standards. She, like Ruth, is loyal.
This verse also asks who can find [an excellent wife] for her worth is far above jewels. The godly Proverbs 31 woman is not a young lady who conforms to the world. She is not one of millions, but one in a million.
Boaz saw Ruth from afar and noticed her loyalty, humbleness, and excellence. When those around you look at you, do they see a shallow girl following the world or do they see a rare young lady pursuing purity, worth more than riches?


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unsocialized Homeschoolers?

So this isn't about becoming a Proverbs 31 woman, but it's still good (look for that tomorrow or Thursday).

Socialization: Homeschooling vs. Schools

This is an interesting article which presents the unpopular view that homeschooling is actually better for a child than public school.
"[Dr. Thomas Smedley] conducted a identify mature and well-adapted behaviors in children. Home learners ranked in the 84th percentile, compared to publicly schooled students, who were drastically lower in the 23rd."
I have found that being homeschooled didn't just prepare me for college academically, it did in fact prepare me socially. Spending quality time not just in the company of people my age, but with (many!) older siblings and two parents helped to instill ideals and beliefs in me that will stick long after my diploma fades.
Interestingly the article also notes:
"Christian producer and occult expert Caryl Matrisciana reports that 75 percent of public-schooled American youth brought up in Christian households disown their Christian faith by the first year of college. NHERI finds that this is only true for less than four percent of homeschooled youth."
While I have known and do know many Christians who have survived the battle grounds that are our public schools, I would not trade my homeschooling education for anything.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Humility Through Calling.

The calling of God produces humility.

I Corinthians 1:25-31 (nasb)

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

Those who are good looking or talented in the world's eyes are quickly elevated to positions of respect, admiration, and celebrity. The hard working mother or father would be thrust aside if Catherine Zeta-Jones or Dale Earnhardt walked into a room. Celebrities, athletes, and politicias pride themselves in what they have made of themselves.
God has a different way of raising people up. Rather than seeking out only the talented in the world's definition, He calls the lowly.

Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? - James 2:5

"He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S,
And He set the world on them. - I Samuel 2:8

While His desire is that everyone serve Him, it is when He raises up those that the world has thrown aside that He is truly glorified. When God blesses those not exalted by the world, they cannot boast in themselves, but in who they are in Christ. Hudson Taylor puts it this way:

"God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him."

Maybe you cannot speak eloquently, perhaps you are shy, or maybe you have low self esteem. Find your identity in Christ and allow Him to bless you with His talents and giftings. As with Moses who had a speech impediment. God raised Him up as the leader of the people of Israel. When it was all said and done Moses could not point to himself as a great leader, he could only point to what God had done in his life.
Don't be discouraged because you do not think you have any talents. Make God your only desire and He will raise you up as His servant. Only then will you no longer be able to say "Look what I have done!" but rather you will say with confidence "Look what Christ has done in me!"
By taking ordinary people and making them worldchangers, Christ receives all the glory. What the world has cast aside God can raise up into something even greater.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Empty Me

Holy fire burn away
My desire for anything
That is not of you and is of me
I want more of you
And less of me

Empty me, empty me, fill me
With you, with you

Jeremy Camp, Empty Me

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bait for the World?

Matthew 4:18-20

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

When we as Christians read these verses where Jesus calls Simon Peter and Andrew to be not just a fisherman, but a fisher OF men, we tend to create for ourselves a convenient metaphor explaining the process of being “fishers of men”. It might look something like this – Christ calls us to be fishers of men, which means that while we are in God’s boat (the church) we see non-Christians lost and floundering in the sea of the world, so we cast out our baited lines and draw them in so God may save them. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, this convenient metaphor presents a problem. Many Christians say that what we have in Christ can be bent in just a way so that it looks cool and desirable to the world, so that we can use the things of God to bait the unsaved. That word, bait, makes me think of trickery. Do we have to disguise the Word of God with some tasty bit of the world so that we can get our hooks in the minds of the lost? Why do we as Christians feel that what we have needs to be changed, covered over, or sugar coated in order for the world to want it?

I believe that this is one of the reasons why new converts often witness to more unsaved people in their first month of serving Christ than many other Christians do in their entire lives. New converts have a fresh passion, recent experiences of the truth of God’s grace, and they feel no need to gloss over Christianity and package it for the world.

As children of God, we have been entrusted with the precious Word of God. It is a treasure that is to be faithfully guarded and truthfully presented. Yet despite the fact that God trusts us with His amazing truth, we grab bits and pieces of the world, sprinkle them among our messages and say “Look! We can be just as cool as you! Don’t you want to be one of us now?”

Why would someone desire something that they already have? The unsaved, the lost, the lonely, and the hurting are looking for something to satisfy them. They search among any number of things, and while Jesus Christ is the only One who can provide lasting satisfaction, we take that truth away from them when we create a “cool” Christianity. They will not know true freedom in Christ if we continue to present the Christian faith as simply everyday life plus church. We say “It’s ok, as a Christian you’ll be able to wear clothes like that, just with different logos. You can listen to the same music, just different lyrics.” How will that ever draw them?! They are seeking something new, something different, something truly satisfying.

Our metaphor needs to be cleared up.

For a moment, get rid of the image you have in your mind of that typical fisherman in the yellow coat, sitting on the edge of his boat with a fishing line. If you notice, all throughout the gospels that when we see the disciples fishing, it is nighttime (as in Luke 5:5 “…we have fished all night…”). In those times, they fished at night by shining a light at the water. As the bright light pierced the thick darkness of the evening and shone into the water, the fish were quickly drawn to the surface toward the light. These fishermen didn’t bait their fish; they simply showed them what they had – light. The fish came to the surface when the light became visible and the disciples (or any fisherman at this time) were then able to gather them up in their nets.

Matthew 5:14-16 says “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” God is calling us to be His light, to shine through the darkness in the world that presses in on all sides. When the lost see that light, when they see our passion as we live out our love for Him and do not serve the world, then they will want what we have. We just have to stop living our lives attempting to be accepted and cool in the eyes of the world, baiting them with watered down Christianity. Live as one who is truly set apart, one who holds the answers!

Called to be Where You Are

My pastor preached yesterday on Mark 5, the story of the demonposessed man who was crying out and cutting himself. My attention was drawn more, however, to the end of the story.
verses 17-19:
And they began to implore Him to leave their region. As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."
This struck me as amazing. The man wanted to go out and follow Christ, but Jesus didn't want him to. His plan was for him to go back to his home town and tell of all that had happened.
Sometimes, even though we may want to go to a foreign country and preach the gospel, God needs us to reach the very people that are surround us.
Sometimes it is harder to go to our own community. When going to a foreign country you do not have to deal with "your own people" if you will. For example, if God called me to be a missionary in Africa, I would go right now, and to me, it would be easy. I would show them the love of Christ in the way best understandable, and I would even be ok "roughing it" in the hard conditions. But now that God has called me to my college, it's a whole different story. That means that I have to stand up in front of my peers. The people who are my age. The people that I want to respect me. It would be so much easier to blend in. But I have to stand up and stand out. I have to risk making a fool of myself for Christ in front of my fellow students. And let me tell you, that is way harder than going to a foreign country where you are an outsider anyway. Here in this country, in this college, the press for "cool" and "acceptance" can be so overwhelming.

When everyone around you is drinking, taking drugs, and having sex, will you stand out? Not just sit silent and not take part... but stand UP? Speak out.

And maybe that is where we find the sacrifice in giving our lives to the call of God. While it would be sacrifice for me to go to the foreign mission field, it is a daily challenge to live my life as a light on campus among people who's respect I desire.

His Purpose for a Purpose

There are two different ways which I have found make something that I do effective. The first, is if God is behind it. Almost anything that you do, if you pray and it is done within God's will, you will be effective. The second is if there is a purpose. Compared to when I do drama for a room full of people, when I practice in my bedroom it seems dead. But on a stage it is powerful and effective because there is a reason for me to do it.
We look at the early Christians in the Bible and are amazed because they seem to have superhuman abilities when it comes to witnessing and sticking to their faith. But the truth is, they were no more than you or I, they simply lived their lives with a Purpose- the purpose of serving Christ. If you want your life to have meaning you have to live it with a purpose! Paul, James, Timothy.. they weren't any greater than you can be if you follow God's purpose and plan.

1 Peter 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps...

We have the perfect example of how to live our lives to the fullest potential for God, what is stopping us?

1 Corinthians 5:5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight--
He has prepared us and He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us. Live your life with the purpose of completing God's will in your life and showing His will to those around you!!

Fixing our Gaze on Him

On the way to my graduation I was reading a book which was set in Israel around the time of Jesus. During the story, the characters found themselves in Jerusalem, and a certain custom was described. Under traditions it was required of all Jews that when they were outside they had to face the temple at all times. This must have given way to all sorts of humorous ways to work while walking backwards or even sideways. But the idea of it struck me. This old custom of the Jews might have seemed a bit extreem, but it's symbolic of how we as Christians are to live. In Israel, the Temple was the dwelling place of God and the Holy of Holies was where He resided. In effect, it represented God Himself. Just as the Jew had to face God's house/God and keep it in view at all times, we need to keep God as our focus at all times. In the words of some of my favorite pastors "The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing." For the Jew, everything he did had to revolve around the temple - he could not do anything that would cause it to be removed from his view. As a Christian everything you do needs to be done with your gaze fixed on Christ - if it will cause your gaze to be shifted from Him, don't do it!
One last thing to bring up is that it said "when they were out of doors" they had to face the Temple. As a Christian, it is often very easy to live a good life "inside", that is, around your family or your pastors, or even inside church. The real challenge is keeping God your focus when you're "outside" in the world.

II Corinthians 4:18 -- So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Psalm 141:8 -- But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.

Psalm 25:15 -- My eyes are ever on the LORD,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

Hebrews 12:1-2 -- Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.