Wednesday, November 16, 2011

what if.

I've been trying real hard lately to be disciplined and more intentional about spending time alone with God. This is hard for me. I've never been good at it. I get bored, I get distracted, or I drift off deliberating on what it is I have to accomplish during the week, instead of sitting in God's Presence.
This morning, I caught myself wondering again, but in a different way. And I want to address it.

It is my opinion, that too often we Christians spend our time alone with God trying to convince ourselves of something we do not truly believe. And when I say "believe", I am not attacking your foundational conviction that the God of the Bible is real and sent His Son to die for us all. I am addressing the day in, day out, belief that God is who He says He is.

So at 7am this morning, as I watched the rain fall on the tail-end of Autumn, I asked myself, what if? What if God truly is the Pursuer of my soul? What if I actually believed that God is the Wooer of my heart? What if Matthew 10:30 was real to me?...that God cares for me so intimately that He knows how many hairs are on my head? How would that make my life look different?
Would I still have as many worries and concerns or would my burdens be lightened because I would trust what God says about me over what I or my friend say about me? How would my relationships look different? Would I be more patient and loving with people, or would I continue to not live past my nose when my circumstances get hard and life is "unfair"?

Is it that simple? Not easy, but simple? Is that what Jesus meant when He said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children (Matt. 19:14)? Because kids just trust? Because kids don't worry about next week or next year. Because kids are only aware of today and they're okay with that. I really believe God is who He says He is.

I think if I did, I'd be strong. I could be a leader. I could handle sadness and not get depressed. I would utilize self-control. I would think of others more. I wouldn't fear being alone for the rest of my life. I'd see Death as a swinging door. Nature would be more beautiful to me. I would be bold. I would be humbled.
Don Miller once stated that Christian Spirituality cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. And I agree. I want my time alone with God to be an experience. I want the God of the Bible to tear up all of my formulas and ravage my heart. I want to preach God to people without using words. I want to show you Love when I am down-trodden and weak of heart.
I want to let God be in my life who He says He is.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

an excerpt from Donald Miller's book "Searching for God Knows What"

I know there are people who have actually gone from misery to happiness, but they didn’t do it by walking through three steps; they did it because they had a certain set of parents and heard a certain song and knew somebody who had a certain experience and saw some movie, read some book, had something happen to them like a car wreck or a trip to Seattle. Then they called on God, and a week later read something in a magazine or met a girl in Wichita, and when all this had happened they had an epiphany, and somebody may have helped them fulfill what this epiphany made them feel, and several years later they rationalized this mystic experience with three steps, then they told the three steps to us in a book. I’m not saying they weren’t trying to be helpful; I bring this up only because life is complex, and the idea that you can break it down or fix it in a few steps is rather silly.
The truth is there are a million steps, and we don’t even know what the steps are, and worse, at any given moment we may not be willing or even able to take them; and still worse, they are different for you and me and they are always changing. I have come to believe the sooner we find this truth beautiful, the sooner we will fall in love with the God who keeps shaking things up, keeps changing the path, keeps rocking the boat to test our faith in Him, teaching us to not rely on easy answers, bullet points, magic mantras, or genies in lamps, but rather rely on His guidance, His existence, His mercy, and His love.
Personally, I was miserable before I understood these ideas, but now I am so happy I laugh all the time, even in my sleep.
This passage was excerpted from Searching For God Knows What.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reconciling Revenge

today i thought i'd share a post on revenge by Jordan Green.

I would generally consider myself a pacifist. I say “generally”, because I don’t really know how I’d react in a given situation. If, for instance, a crazed hobo woman attacked my daughter, I’m fairly certain I would resort to physical violence in order to get her to stop. So maybe I’m a pacifist when it comes to larger communities, like nation-states and youth groups. Because of my semi-pacifist philosophy, I’ve always had one major hang-up with narrative morality, an idea this blog’s esteemed owner discusses in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. That hang-up is this: when played out in story, revenge is sort of awesome.
For instance, I’m reading through George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series right now, and there are plenty of characters in this epic, sprawling fantasy series who I want to pay. And I don’t want them merely brought to justice in a court of law and imprisoned for life. They are evil people, and I want them to die the most painful deaths possible. Most of them do end up dying horrific deaths, simply because (SPOILER ALERT) a lot of people die in these books.(END SPOILER ALERT)
Of course, the characters in Martin’s novels aren’t real, but real life has its share of bad guys. The latter half of the 20th century seemed to mark a turn away from Old Testament-style justice. Adolph Hitler: committed suicide to avoid capture by the Red Army. Joseph Stalin: died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 74. Pol Pot: died at home of a heart attack. Slobodan Milosevic: heart attack while under trial for war crimes. Saddam Hussein: hanged after being convicted for crimes against humanity. The point is, the deaths of some of the 20th century’s worst people were decidedly unlike that of your average Bond villain.
Then, in the last six months, Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi died extremely violent deaths. The former, of course, was shot in the head during a raid by US forces. The latter was captured in a hole, beaten viciously, and, according to some reports, took around 30 minutes to die after being shot in the head and chest.
Now, I know I am supposed to love my enemies, to pray for them and even bless them. I know this because it is discussed pointedly in Romans, Luke, 1 Peter and 1 John. But what’s curious to me is how these deaths feel to me from a purely narrative standpoint. And, if I’m honest, the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi feel somewhat…well…right. As much as I tell myself the death of a human being should never be celebrated, I do at least feel some satisfaction knowing these men are gone. Gaddafi was a madman who ruled with an iron hand, who lived in unchecked opulence while his people suffered. Osama Bin Laden was Osama Bin Laden. One of the key components of Protestant Christianity is the belief we do not get what we deserve, that through following Christ all sin is absolved, but there is still a very real part of us that wants to see certain people get what’s coming to them, from cruel despots to schoolyard bullies. If narrative morality is ingrained in us by our creator — and I think for the most part it is — why is vengeance so undeniably gratifying?
The easiest answer is to say we want justice, and that’s partly true. We yearn for God to put the world right. But there’s more to it than that. One of my favorite stories takes place in Corrie Ten Boom’s book Tramp for the Lord. Ms. Ten Boom is lecturing in Germany when she is approached by a man whom she quickly recognizes as a particularly brutal Ravensbruck guard. Before he can speak, she forgives him:
“For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
What we truly want is for villains to repent. Ideally, we want a villain to understand what he did was wrong, and redeem his horrible actions. When that doesn’t suffice, we want him to realize he was not as powerful as he thought. This is why, when a villain dies in a story, we are shown his reaction one last time as he plummets to his death or realizes a bomb is about to explode. We want to see him recognize he is a broken man.
The question from there is whether we want our villains forgiven, and I suspect that’s a matter of perspective. Did anyone really want Die Hard to end with John McClane forgiving Hans Gruber, grasping hands, and experiencing God’s love? Doubtful, but this is partly because Hans Gruber is not a real human. He’s an avatar for evil. Real people are a lot messier, with compounding factors like traumatic childhood experiences and mental illness.
Like all sin, we each have our limits. The tools God gives us to push those limits — empathy and a willingness to cede control of our lives — are crucial in determining our reactions. If I had known Muammar Gaddafi, or Osama Bin Laden, I wonder if that glimmer of satisfaction I felt would’ve been diminished completely, and a story read as justice served would more closely resemble a tragedy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

are you a Christian single, or a single Christian.

Singles Fellowship

Singled Out by God for Good
by Paige Benton Brown

Had I any vague premonition of my present plight when I was six, I would have demanded that Stephen Herbison (incontestably the catch of the second grade) put his marriage proposal into writing and have it notarized. I do want this piece to be practical, so to all you first-graders: CARPE DIEM.

Over the past several years I have perfected the artistry of escape regarding any singles functions—cookouts, conferences, Sunday school classes, and my personal favorite, putt-putt. My avoidance mechanism is triggered not so much by a lack of patience with such activities as it is by a lack of stomach for the pervasive attitudes. Thoreau insists that most men lead lives of quiet desperation; I insist that many singles lead lives of loud aggravation. Being immersed in singles can be like finding yourself in the midst of "The Whiners" of 1980's Saturday Night Live—it gives a whole new meaning to "pity party."

Much has been written in Christian circles about singleness. The objective is usually either to chide the married population for their misunderstanding and segregationism or to empathize with the unmarried population as they bear the cross of “Plan B” for the Christian life, bolstered only by the consolation prizes of innumerable sermons on I Corinthians 7 and the fact that you can cut your toenails in bed. Yet singles, like all believers, need scriptural critique and instruction seasoned by sober grace, not condolences and putt-putt accompanied with pious platitudes.

John Calvin’s secret to sanctification is the interaction of the knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Singles, like all other sinners, typically dismiss the first element of the formula, and therein lies the root of all identity crises. It is not that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but that life has no tragedy like our God ignored. Every problem is a theological problem, and the habitual discontent of us singles is no exception.

Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute.

I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children. God can no more live in me apart from the perfect fullness of his goodness and grace than I can live in Nashville and not be white. If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness, he would cease to be God.

Warped theology is at the heart of attempts to "explain" singleness:
  • "As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life”—as though God’s blessings are ever earned by our contentment.
  • "You’re too picky”—as though God is frustrated by our fickle whims and needs broader parameters in which to work.
  • "As a single you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work”—as though God requires emotional martyrs to do his work, of which marriage must be no part.
  • "Before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful"—as though God grants marriage as a second blessing to the satisfactorily sanctified.
Accepting singleness, whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life he has given. I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single, The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.

Such knowledge of God must transform subsequent knowledge of self-theological readjustment is always the catalyst for renewed self-awareness. This keeps identity right-side-up with nouns and modifiers in their correct place. Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian? The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound. Which word is determinative and which is descriptive? You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs—we forget who we are, we forget whose we are. I am a single Christian. My identity is not found in my marital status but in my redemptive status. I 'm one of the "haves," not one of the "have-nots."

Have you ever wondered at what age one is officially single? Perhaps a sliding scale is in order: 38 for a Wall Street tycoon; 21 for a Mississippi sorority girl; 14 for a Zulu princess; and five years older than I am for me. It is a relevant question because at some point we see ourselves as “single,” and that point is a place of greater danger than despair. Singleness can be a mere euphemism for self-absorption—now is the "you time." No wife to support? No husband to pamper? Well, then, by all means join three different golf courses, get a weekly pedicure, raise emus, subscribe to People.

Singleness is never carte blanche for selfishness. A spouse is not a sufficient countermeasure for self. The gospel is the only antidote for egocentricity. Christ did not come simply to save us from our sins, he came to save us from our selves. And he most often rescues us from us through relationships, all kinds of relationships.

"Are you seeing anyone special?" a young matron in my home church asked patronizingly. "Sure," I smiled. "I see you and you’re special."

OK, my sentiment was a little less than kind, but the message is true.
To be single is not to be alone. If someone asks if you are in a relationship right now, your immediate response should be that you are in dozens. Our range of relational options is not limited to getting married or to living in the sound-proof, isolated booth of Miss America pageants. Christian growth mandates relational richness.

The only time folks talk about human covenants is in premarital counseling. How anemic. If our God is a covenantal God, then all of our relationships are covenantal. The gospel is not about how much I love God (I typically love him very little); it is about how much God loves me. My relationships are not about how much friends should love me, they are about how much I get to love them. No single should ever expect relational impoverishment by virtue of being single. We should covenant to love people— to initiate, to serve, to commit.
Many of my Vanderbilt girls have been reading Lady in Waiting, a popular book for Christian women struggling with singleness. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about a subtitle: And Meanwhile, Lady, Get Working. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to require less of me in my relationships than he does of the mother of four whose office is next door. Obedience knows no ages or stages.

Let’s face it: singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. If it were, heaven would be inferior to this world for the majority of Christians (Mom is reconciled to being unmarried in glory as long as she can be Daddy’s roommate). But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date and die an old maid at 93 because God is so good to me. Not my will but his be done. Until then I am claiming as my theme verse, “If any man would come after me, let him. . . "