Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions

I wanted to share something that I am reading which I was blessed and challenged by. Jonathan Edwards, a well known pastor and great man of the faith from the 1700's, developed a set of seventy resolutions as standards for his own life. He desired to read them once a week and constantly commit his life to them. They are taken from Edward's book "Life and Diary of David Brainerd". Here are a few of them that stood out to me and I also want to live my life by. I hope they bless you.

5. Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. To live with all my might while I do live.
7. Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
8. To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
9. To think much, on all occasions, of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom and hell.
17. That I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
20. To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
22. To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the might, power, vigor, and vehemence, yea, violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way...
37. To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent; what sin I have committed; and wherein I have denied myself.
55. To endeavor, to my utmost, so to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments.
58. Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation; but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness, and benignity.
61. That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatevre excuse I may have for it.
63. On the supposition that there never was to be but one individual in the world at any one time who was properly a complete Christian... to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More thoughts on belief....

So I have been wrestling a lot with the concept of belief, and here are some of my latest thoughts...

At Cornerstone we have been reading through 1 Peter on our own, and a passage really stood out to me. Here is 1 Peter 1:3-9:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Please take a moment, or hopefully more than a moment, to really meditate on this passage. We really need to hear Peter. He speaks of "the salvation that is ready to be revealed", or the second coming of Christ and His ultimate salvation. He says we should rejoice in that greatly, or like he says in v.13, "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." It is clear that he is imploring his readers to focus Heavenward, a future oriented hope.

He then goes on to say that "trials... come so that your faith... may be proved genuine." Wait, what? Why would faith need to be proved genuine? Well it seems that Peter is implying that some claims of faith are disingenuous, those that would not continue to hope in Christ's salvation in the midst of trials.

So then the question for you and I is this: how do we know that our faith is genuine? Just claiming to believe is not proof. And I'm not saying we need to prove it to anyone or to God, but I mean more so for ourselves to know if our faith is genuine, if we are really saved and will be in Heaven. It seems that is Peter's focus.

Well why would trials be the way that we see if our faith is genuine? I think the answer to that is within the context of the passage which we discussed already, Peter's imploring them to set their hope fully on the future salvation. Trials force us to let go of our hope in this world. Rejoicing in trials and suffering is predicated on a hope in something greater, something better to come. If I truly believe in Christ and His promises bought for me on the cross for the future salvation, then I will gladly endure trials because of what I know is coming. If I don't really believe in Christ and His promises, then I will continue to place my hope in this world and this life, and my so called "faith" will start to crumble and reveal itself as disingenuous during trials. As Peter alludes to, trials will "refine" and test what is really there, if anything.

Hebrews 11 gets at a very similar idea, as the writer speaks of faith and says that all of the great men and women of the faith in times past saw themselves as "strangers and aliens on earth" (v.13) and "were longing for a better country - a heavenly one" (v.16). The author implores us to do the same, to long for the heavenly Kingdom.

It is in this that we find faith to be genuine. Jesus speaks of it like this: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." The person who is willing to give up this life for the promise of a much greater one to come is a person who really believes in the promise. The person who is unwilling to give it up doesn't really believe. I think this is why Jesus makes the cost so high, so that faith would be proved either genuine or disingenuous.

We better be careful in our avoidance of trials and suffering. The culture in which we live trains us to avoid any type of suffering at all cost and instead seek comfort, which is quite possibly a big reason that the church is doing so poorly in America. We are a people who claim to believe in future glory and satisfaction, but so many self professing Christians in America are in direct contradiction of that claim by living for temporary glory and satisfaction. As Americans we are people who live for instant satisfaction, and it is just that which cripples our openness to the true gospel. Our avoidance of trials and suffering could very well be an indication that many (vast majority?) of the self-proclaimed belief in America is not real, and that so many of us are not really saved. At least we can say this: when are lives are filled with comfort and little suffering/trials, it is very hard for us to know if we are truly saved.

It is easy for me to say that my hope is fully "on the grace to be brought to (me) at the revelation of Jesus Christ" when my life is going great. It is another thing when I am called to suffer for this hope. I pray that my faith may be proved genuine in time... I don't think it has been yet... This doesn't mean that my faith isn't real, rather it means that it hasn't been fully proven yet. It could very well be real, and I feel strongly that it is, but I want it to be proved genuine as I undergo trials and suffering in this life. It will force me to see where my hope truly lies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Have you ever played a good game of Monopoly with friends? You sit down with four other people who you are close with, and know that you will be spending the next 3+ hours with them competing for the coveted crown of best Monopoly player.

Now if you are anything like me, a competitive person, you start getting a little too much into the game. In your first few roles you land on "Chance", then "In Jail: Just Visiting", and then "Community Chest". You find yourself with $10 extra from finishing second place in a beauty contest, but meanwhile your competitors each have one or two properties. You can already see yourself falling behind, and even though you know it is just a game for fun, you start getting anxious and even maybe a bit frustrated.

Things start to change for you as you snag St. James Place, Indiana Ave, Pacific Ave, and Boardwalk in your next four roles. You are now the envy of everyone sitting around the table, and you feel pretty good about yourself, as though you were more valuable of a person because two little squares dropped out of your hand and stopped in a certain way by mere chance. You start eyeing victory and thinking that you surely are headed towards victory.

Eventually your one friend Jack, who is not quite as competitive or competent, makes a trade with your savvy friend Chris. The trade was very one-sided in Chris' favor. Poor Jack is now probably going to lose, but you can't help but feel bitterness towards him because of his poor decision. You convince yourself that you are frustrated because you feel bad for Jack, but really it is because now Chris is more powerful than you. Chris playfully teases you about it, but you don't find it funny and tell him to hurry up and roll because it is his turn.

You start looking around the table looking for one of your friends that you could possibly take advantage of, giving them Water Works for a property that would give you another monopoly. Maybe if you are nice enough, or argue well enough, you can convince them to do it.

You look at the clock and it reads 12:36am. It is down to you, Chris, and Sarah. Chris has his head in his hand, and Sarah yawns real loud as she stretches her arms out wide. She then comments, "Hey, would you guys be OK with stopping here and going to bed?" Quickly you respond, "No way, we are so close to someone winning." Chris agrees with Sarah though saying, "Yea man, I'm tired too. It's just a game. I need sleep for work in the morning." But they don't get it. It isn't just a game. You put too much time into acquiring all of these properties and money; you can't just stop now when you are so close to winning!

You probably think this is silly, and are saying to yourself, "Sean, maybe you are this competitive and crazy, but there is no way I would get so consumed and involved with something that is so temporary and unimportant in the long run." But isn't that what you are doing with your life?

Your life is this monopoly game.

Can't we see that our lives are but a short game or scene in the whole big picture of eternity? Yet why are we so wrapped up in it? Why do we get so much identity in how much stuff we have, how much pleasure we can get from it, how many friends we can have, how many people we can get to like us?

All these things, these accomplishments, these things for you to boast in, are less to your credit than rolling an 11 to get on Boardwalk. You were GIVEN a body, the ability to breathe/talk/walk, parents who care for you, and so many other essentials and pre-requisits to any of your so called "accomplishments". You don't get any of the credit, and have no more reason for pride than you would in your Monopoly game for having the dice fall the right way. After all, why are you here in America with tons of opportunity and priviledge when so many are suffering and hopeless in India, Africa, and other places?

Pretend someone walked into your monopoly game and offered to match all of your money and properties with real money and property. The choice would be obvious to sell him everything you have in exchange for the real stuff, even though you know you wouldn't be able to use real money and property in the Monopoly game. At that point, you see the huge gain that you would receive for tomorrow when you step back into reality and out of the artifical circumstance created by the game.

So if we believe that in less than 80 years all of us will have to pack up the game and put our piece, our money, our properties, and our houses/hotels back into the box, why are we so consumed with winning (being happy, succesful, pleasured, popular, etc.) here? We must realize that eternity (or "real life") is approaching very quickly, and we would be wise to invest as much as we can in that rather than this silly, little game. We also owe it to those playing the game with us to help them see the same thing, that Jesus Christ has offered to buy their pathetic lives and give them new, eternal life.

But here is the key: We gotta take the deal. We gotta sell it all. Please friend, I implore you with tears, sell it.

Almost everyone is consumed with this game called life, but please see beyond the board and pieces; cash out. Then spend the rest of your time going around the board telling others to do the same, even if they throw you in jail or force you to pay rent when you don't have the money. They will think you are crazy because in Monopoly world you appear to have so little, but you know that once the game is over you are going to experience true prosperity and they will be beggars for all of eternity.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Much Do You Really Believe?

So many of us flippantly say that we believe in Jesus. Some of us do; many of us don't. And of the ones that do, I would argue that we all struggle with practical doubt/disbelief. I'm sure when people read that they maybe get nervous, and say "no I don't doubt Jesus, I believe it fully!"

Let me use this as an example:
If you are a follower of Jesus, I have a few questions for you. You believe that being reconciled to and adopted by the Father is by far the most important thing for anyone right? OK, good. You believe that you are called to love your neighbor as yourself, seeking their ultimate good right? OK, good. You believe that most of the people around you are heading towards a very real eternity in torment an anguish, with just a few heading to Heaven (Matthew 7)? OK, good.

So now if you answered yes to each of these three questions, then surely you are CONSTANTLY praying for the lost and seeking to share with them about Jesus. I am positive, based on what you said you believe, that your greatest desire in life, and even your obsession if you will, is to lead people to know who Jesus is and walk with them in discipleship (Matthew 28). Surely, if you know Jesus and are spending eternity with Him, you wouldn't be worried about money, security, fame, being liked, etc. when the vast majority of people around you are on their way to spend eternity in Hell, right?? And especially so if we understood how much God loves those people and wants them for His own possession and glory.

On top of that, as we already established that you are supposed to love your neighbor as yourself, your heart must be breaking for those who are suffering as sex-trafficed slaves, those starving, those without clean water, those hopelessly lost without hearing the Gospel, right? I mean I am sure that you are constantly praying for these people and giving of all your time and money possible to help right?

See here is what I see in my life: a disconnect between what I PROFESS to believe and what I actually DO with my life, which directly flows out of what I ACTUALLY believe. And my friend, if you see similar patterns in your life, I suggest that you join me in seeking a deeper belief in Christ and that what He says is true. Deitrich Bonhoeffer put it well when he said: "Understanding Christ means taking Him seriously." I'm so tired of not taking him serious enough.

So hear me say that I do believe in Jesus. I trust that through placing my faith in Christ, I am saved and adopted. But my battle for believing in Him is still going today because I want a deeper faith than the superficial garbage we are presented with in the vast majority of American Christianity.

How is deep belief in Jesus going to change your life? Is it scary to you? Does it mean you will spend way less on yourself, and live only on what you need so that others might live and hear the Gospel? Does it mean that you will talk about Jesus more, seek out non-believers, have people think you are weird, or possibly even get in trouble for the sake of their eternity and God's glory? Does it mean you will spend hours in the Word and prayer to beg and plead with God to save those around you, trusting that He wants to do it and will answer your prayers? Does it mean you will turn from your comfortable ways (t.v., video games, laziness, safety, internet, etc.) and go do the things you don't want to because you love God and others?

So what do you believe in? Please, please, prove it as well as seek deeper belief, even as I myself strive for it as well. We don't have time to be messing around. It is getting late and getting serious. Eternity is casting it's shadow upon us, and we cannot ignore it any longer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Playing Roulette

"Anxiety, misplaced shame, indifference, regret, covetousness, envy, lust, bitterness, impatience, despondency, pride—these are all sprouts from the root of unbelief in the promises of God."
- John Piper

So recently I have felt myself crying out "increase (my) faith", much like the apostles in Luke 17:5 as I, much like them, realize more and more the cost and call of Christ on my life. As I see more of what I am required to do (giving up my life, dying to self, fighting sin, living sacrificially, loving selflessly) I cry out for more faith.

It is kind of like this: I feel like my life is a big roulette game and I have a million dollars, which represents my time, love, and worship. Roulette is a game with a big wheel in which you place your money in one or more pockets guessing that a little ball will finally land in your pocket at the end and then you would win. If it doesn't land in your pocket, you lose all that you put in.

Before I was a Christian, I had all of my million dollars split up among different pockets titled "money", "popularity", "security", "success", "women", "basketball", "self", and a few others. Once I realized that these pockets were losing me money and I became a Christian, I took about $10,000 off of each of those and put it on Jesus, so I had about $100,000 on Christ. I was still unwilling to take ALL of my money off of these other things and put it on Jesus. That is just too risky, I thought, because what if Jesus didn't come through or wasn't real? I didn't realize that I thought this at the time, but I was definitly (and still am) doubting Jesus. If I wasn't doubting Him, then why wouldn't I happily put it all on Him?

Now I am realizing that I can't "hedge my bets". For so long I would leave some money on all of those different pockets just to make sure that I didn't lose big, but even though this is what the vast majority of American church-goers give, it isn't the faith Jesus calls for and quite possibly isn't saving faith. He calls us to "pick up our cross and follow Him", to lose our very lives for His sake. There is no part way, or half committed aspect to Christianity. But the more that I take my money off all of these different things and get closer to having everything riding on Jesus, the scarier it gets for me, because if you have all of your money riding on one thing, you have a greater chance of losing big.

Jesus' response to the apostles when they ask for more faith is very interesting in Luke 17. First He tells them that if they have faith like a mustard seed there will be nothing impossible for God to do in them. Then He goes on to tell a small parable:

7"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "

This wasn't the answer I was looking for from Jesus, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. The point is that I am not following Jesus to make sure that I get my reward in the end, even though there is that promise of reward. The point of me following Jesus is BECAUSE HE IS WORTHY OF BEING FOLLOWED. He is God, my creator, my savior. I didn't create myself, and on top of that I have rebelled against God's standards constantly and become evil. I am not worthy of my life. He not only created me, but died to save me. Therefore He deserves EVERYTHING from me. He deserves all of my worship and love based merely on what He did, whether He does anything for me or not.

Now I totally agree with Piper when he says "God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him", but my motivation can't be just to be satisfied, otherwise that is selfish. My motivation should be to glorify Him and give Him what He deserves, and in so doing I am supremely satisfied in His love and care. I want to enjoy Him as a wife enjoys her husband, but I don't want to just be using Him to get what I want.

God I want this kind of faith and worship. "Increase my faith!"

"You don't get justified by believing that Jesus died for sinners and rose again. You get justified by banking your hope on the promises that God secured and guaranteed for you through the death and resurrection of his Son. The faith by which God justifies us, forgives all our sins, reckons us righteous, is the experience of being satisfied that God will come through for you according to all his promises."
- John Piper

"This battle of faith, or battling against unbelief, is a life-long battle. When you become a Christian by banking your hope on the promises on God secured on the work of Jesus Christ, the battle has begun, not ended."
- John Piper

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Let's Emphasize what the Bible Emphasizes!!!!

"The sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that in our doctrinal and ethical teaching we should emphasize what Scripture emphasizes and be content with what God has told us in Scripture. There are some subjects about which God has told us little or nothing in the Bible. We must remember that 'The secret things belong to the Lord our God' (Deut 29:29) and that God has revealed to us in Scripture exactly what He deemed right for us. We must accept this and not think that Scripture is something less than it should be, or begin to wish that God had given us much more information about subjects on which there are very few scriptural references."
- Grudem. Systematic Theology. 134.

So I was reading for my Theology I class last night, and this punched me in the face for two reasons.

1) If I look at my life right now, like honestly look at my life, it is plainly clear that my life (my actions, thoughts, feelings) do not hold the same emphasis, or focus, on the things that the Bible emphasizes or focuses on.

Here is an example with some arbitrary numbers: let's say that 7% of my life has been focused on romantic relationships with women. Well how much emphasis does God put on romantic relationships between people in the Bible? It is less than 7% for sure. Or here is another one: let's say that for 12% of my life I have either been playing, watching, thinking, or talking sports. Does this compute with Scripture? Definitly not. Does God care about human romantic relationships and sports? Of course! But my point is that my attention or focus put on it is out of proportion with the heart of God and His word. Or how about the amount of focus I put on people liking me, or being funny, or finding security in this life, or money, or worldly power, or worldly succes?

I could go down the line again and again with things that I emphasize in my life that don't match up with what God emphasizes in the Bible. If I were to really start getting in line with Scripture, it would mean more than just saying I believe a few things from it, but I would need to live my life 100% about the mission of God because the Bible is 100% about the mission of God. That is what God is about! So if I desire to be like Christ and have the mind of Christ, shouldn't I focus my life (actions, thoughts, feelings) on what Christ does?

This also has big implications for how I do ministry and disciple people. I probably spend way too much time talking about the things that God is not as focused on. My conversations should be soaked in scripture both in the sense of quoting it but also in the sense we are discussing here: that it is consistent in the emphasis or focus. I find myself all the time talking about romantic relationships, sports, and just other dumb stuff with other Christians. Man, I just think we need to get our minds off of these distractions and focus them on what God focuses on.

2) We as a church seem to emphasize topics that are relatively unemphasized in Scripture almost as a though we were intentionally trying to create disunity. Why else would we care so much about issues like church order of woship, musical style, the exact nature of Christ's presence in the Lord's supper, the exact way that Jesus is going to come back, the exact way that someone should be baptised, etc.? It is as if we defend these minor doctrinal points in order to make our denomination or church better/different than others. Is this desire not coming from our own pride, whether it be an attempt at self-justification or being able to tell other people they are wrong and thus wield influence and power?

THESE THINGS DON'T MATTER THAT MUCH in comparison to the bigger issues of the Scriptures: God's faithfulness to His people, the necessity and unexplainable value of Christ's death on the cross, God's glory, our need for Him, caring for the poor, preaching the gospel, our sin/depravity and the need for repentance, loving God and loving others, etc. Don't get me wrong, all that is in Scripture and all of life is valuable in His eyes, even the less significant issues, but God does not focus on clarifying them as extensively as we seem to desire. So what do we do? We try to do it ourselves, or fill in the supposed gaps that God seems to have mistakenly left in His word. Wouldn't it make sense that if it mattered so much, for example, whether or not it is actually Jesus' body and blood or just a representation when we take communion, that God would have clarified it in the Scriptures for us? He doesn't though, so shouldn't that tell us to stop focusing on that so much?

If we would just focus on what God focuses on in the Bible, it would be so much easier to have unity in the church without compromising at all. I'm not saying we should care less about doctrine, but I am saying that we should care less about the doctrine that God cares less about and care more about the doctrine that God cares more about. This doesn't mean we move to the popular "co-exist" movement that reeks of humanism and moves away from Jesus and the cross. This simply means we live Biblically, not pridefully.

I probably could have said all of this better...but I just kinda wanted to put these thoughts on here and see what people think. So please share thoughts, because as always I need help working through this stuff and need other perspectives.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Change and Responsibility

Donald Miller, in Through Painted Deserts, writes "I could not have know then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way."

"I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently. Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning."

"It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: Leave."

I have to change or I will die. The temptation to slip into mediocrity, or to be OK with the mundane, or to be satisfied with average... is a strong one. But I must resist. I must continue to change, and change I will.

We seem to construct responsibilities, whether they are self-imposed, culture imposed, legitimate, or superficial. We then go on to convince ourselves that it is what life is about. But we should only feel responsible to responsibilities when they are fulfilling their responsibility.

School exists to prepare us to live a meaningful life, but what if leaving school fulfilled that in a greater way?

Work exists to give us a way to contribute to society and honor God, but what if leaving our career fulfilled that in a greater way?

Friendship exists to model the love of Christ and for ministry, but what if leaving those friends allows us to model His love and do ministry in a greater way?

Marriage exists to assist us in the ministry of Christ and model God's love relationship here, but what if staying single allows us to do it better for the time being?

Have we merely slipped into doing school, work, friendships, marriage, family and all other things in life simply because it is what we are "supposed to do"? I don't like doing what I am "supposed to do". Or maybe I should put it this way: I question whether or not all of this stuff, and by stuff I mean what our culture and even Christian culture expects us to do to be a responsible person, is what I am really "supposed to do". Let's be willing to be radical for the Gospel; not radical for radicals sake, but because we are called to follow a homeless, poor, rejected, unpredictable, controversial, and "unresponsible" man named Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sin City... Hope for Redemption?

Being in Las Vegas puts me through a lot of emotions and thoughts. I think my initial response is awe at the lights and extravagance of everything. But then I remember where all this money came from, and where all this money could have gone. I think about how if people decided to give their money to poor people who are starving around the world instead of giving into the excitement and rush of thinking they just might beat the odds and win more of this little green paper thing that seems to control us, the world would be a much better place.

I can't imagine what Christ must think of Las Vegas. I know what I think though: mission field. Many people seem to feel like Las Vegas is scary because of all the sin, maybe that they will be guilty by association if they go. I almost felt a bit ashamed telling Christian friends that I was going to Las Vegas, as if going there automatically means you are going to sin, or are less of a Christian because of it. But seriously though, this is where Christians need to be. Maybe I will end up there.

It's crazy, but I don't feel more tempted to sin in Las Vegas. There were half naked girls all over the place, and I am the first guy to admit that I still struggle with lust, but for some reason rather than being tempted to lust I began to get teary eyed (and I am even now as I write) to the point of sobbing for these two women who were up on a stage right in the middle of a casino in their underwear dancing. Do they have any hope? Do they know about the Jesus who loves them and thinks they are beautiful because He made them, not because of their body type, breast size, or face? Has anyone told them that even though it might be harder financially to not do what they are doing, Jesus would protect them, care for them, and save them freely without them needing to strive for it or compromise?

Who is telling the people in Vegas this?? There are some great ministries in Vegas I am sure, and I got to hear about a couple, but man my heart was breaking for them much like it does for kids starving in Africa, India, and other places around the world. God has been so gracious to me in giving me more and more of a heart for people who are starving and thirsty physically around the world, but do I not have the same compassion for those doing the same spiritually? And shouldn't I have more compassion for them, as they are in threat of eternal death more so than just physical?

I think also I need to approach my daily life more like Vegas. Being in Sin City makes it easy for me to remember, "this is not OK... this place is not my home... it is not OK to fit in here and be like everyone else... I need to watch myself so that I'm not led into sin" and the such. It is easy for me when we stopped to see a play outside and all of the girls were half naked (and the play made absolutely no sense.... it was just to show half naked girls) to guard my eyes and look away and not lust. The same is true for money: it is easy in Vegas to remember that greed destroys your heart, and how selfish and sickening materialism is.

But why is it so hard to keep my thoughts pure when I am other places? Why doesn't my heart break as much for the women that I see daily on the street? Why am I not as sickened by materialism when I am in a place that only seems to not be as extravagent by comparison? Why do I so easily forget the mission that I am on when I am in a place more comfortable and apparently less evil than Vegas?

I want to live a life of mission focused on Christ and the Kingdom of God. Lord help me live that out here in Simi Valley.

The Grand Canyon

After getting stuck behind a big oversized truck who was going about 25 miles per hour on a single lane road with a speed limit of 70 for about 45 minutes, the driver finally thought it was time to pull over to the shoulder to allow the 20-30 cars waiting behind him to pass. A few miles later we stopped to get a little lunch, but took it on the road with us because we were pressing for time to get to the Grand Canyon before the sun went down. After about 10 minutes or so at Burger King I pulled out back onto our route, and sitting in front of me is the same oversized truck going 25 miles an hour.

Yet the Lord was so gracious in getting us there before the sun went down so that we could see this massive, beautiful hole in the ground. You wouldn't think that a big empty spot could be so majestic or attention drawing, but it deserves all of the hype.

After I had about 7 anxiety attacks from kids playing really close to the edge, thinking they were cool while almost dying, our group hung out well past most people leaving the lookout we were at to watch the light slowly die to our left over the canyon wall and watch the stars begin to light up. Gradually the big hole in the ground in front of us became a fog of darkness, seemingly wanting to convince me that it was no longer there, that there wasn't a drop just a few steps in front of me that went straight down hundreds of feet. Up above, the stars had now filled the sky and created an ambiance that is hard to match. It's crazy to think that God could create the world so that a little river could create a huge hole in the ground and also put all of these massive balls of fire in the sky, seemingly just to dazzle us.

I made it a point to sleep outside that night, almost as if I could cuddle with the stars or find some sort of peace from God through it. Whenever I sleep under the stars I think I'm going to stay up for hours watching them, but then my eyelids and the promise of sleep start calling my name and its off to unconsciousness. For some reason I thought it'd be a good idea to sleep on top of my car. Too bad my back was bent backwards along the curve of my hood, so about an hour or two into my sleep I arose to lay down on the ground with my sleeping bag.

In the morning we arose while the sky was still full of stars to try to catch the sunrise over the canyon. We went out to a new lookout and watched as the sky slowly began to brighten just in front of us, then the sun starting poking its head out over a elevated rock on the other side. As a group all of our cameras came out to pose with the sight and marvle. I almost feel like in some ways I was too concerned with capturing the sight on a camera than I was with really soaking in the sight personally. It can be so easy to want to share an experience with people that you don't even experience it yourself.

On to Vegas.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Grand Junction, Colorado

So we had planned on leaving this morning at 6:45am, but there was a specific gender, not male, that was late and we finally left around 7:30. We headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park first thing. I tell you, I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I'm not used to seeing things so big and grand in Ohio or anywhere else in the East.

We drove all the way up to 12,000 feet in the air and pulled over to this one spot on the route. We had to climb just a few hundred feet up to find the peak of the mountain we were on, but I tell you, that hike was exhausting! It left many of us feelin a bit dizzy and sick because of the atmosphere. I actually got a bit cranky. But it was so worth it as we were able to see mountains all the way around us for miles and miles. It was quite the sight.

After several hours in the Rockies, we headed back down and went along I-70. The thing is, in Colorado, the sights are just as beautiful along the highway as they are in the parks. We drove through an amazing canyon, drove alongside the Colorado River, saw all types of different looking mountains, saw a natural hot spring, and witnessed a sunset that lit up an entire mountain top.

The best part about the trip thus far though is by far the people on the trip. We've had some great discussions and really grown together already. We had a little argument in the car and then discussed it for a couple hours and learned a ton about each other. Being in Christian community and sharing in this experience together is a blessing.

Tomorrow we are waking up really early to head out to the Grand Canyon. We hope to get there before sunset and spend the night there at a campground. We will be going through some of Utah and then through desert in Arizona. Pray for our cars to keep going strong!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Denver (not in Kansas anymore)

So we spent about 10 hours on the road today going through Kansas and some of Colorado on our way to Denver. Kansas is so flat that you can see for miles and miles off of the highway. We drove along this road amongst an ocean of green going as far as the eye could see. Kansas is pretty bare of large attractions and industrialized areas, but it was really cool in a different sort of way.

Speaking of cool, about 40 miles or so out of Denver we began to be able to see the mountains in the distance through the misty clouds and the sun directly above. Cat exclaimed, "are those the mountains there?!" It was so beautiful that it was hard to believe. The mountains towered over the city of Denver and served as a picturesque background to it. They stretched in length for what seemed like forever, and contain a beauty that I have been unexposed to before.

We are waking up early in the morning tomorrow (6:15am) to get on the road and explore the rest of this amazing state! I will hopefully be able to write on that soon. Talk to ya then!

In Kansas

I am sitting in a gas station with WiFi in Salena, Kansas right now. It is seven of us on the trip: Luke Marzano, Melissa Toomey, Kari Dye, Cat Van Wagner, Autumn Partlow, Lainey Hart, and myself. We left at 7:00am yesterday and didn't arrive at the hotel just short of Kansas City until around 11:30pm (which would have been 12:30am without the time change). So it was quite a long day on the road, but we broke it up with a lot of different stops. It's so crazy to think we have driven over 1,000 miles already across the country. I've never been this far west. Luke is shooting some video and different people are taking pictures, so those should be coming soon on here.

So as I am half way across the country and in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, it is really setting in that I am moving to California now. It is quite a big change, but I'm really pumped!

We are staying at my aunt and uncle's house in Denver tonight. Tomorrow we are going to see Rocky Mountain National Park, Hanging Lake, and the Colorado National Monument. We'll be camping out there. Then on Friday we are going to the Grand Canyon and will camp out there. Saturday it is on to Las Vegas. On Sunday we will finally land in Simi Valley, Lord willing.

I'll try to update this as we go. Later!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Life Be Like...

This whole past week I have been able to say my goodbyes to all of my friends in Marietta, OH. On Monday (27th) night some of my friends threw me a little surprise going away party. During much of the week I was able to spend time with people close to me whether it was in a hot tub, at a campfire, at dinner, getting ice cream, or whatever it might be. Time well spent. My last night in Marietta, Friday, was spent with youth members, college students, and other friends of mine at a sleepover in the church. We played games, had some time in the word, had a little departing service, and said our goodbyes as I drove off with my car packed.

Now it is on to the next adventure. Maine:

My brothers, Eric and Stephen, and I took off for some family vacation time in Maine early Monday morning. We arrived at our gate with about an hour to spare and sat down on the little black chairs that are so common to airports. I cracked open Donald Miller's book "Through Painted Deserts" and took my place reading where I had left off, about 2/3 of the way done. A couple of pages in, I heard over the loudspeaker: "For all passengers traveling on the 11:15am flight to Portland, ME, we have overbooked this flight and are asking for three of you to change your travel plans to accomodate. We are offering you a $400 voucher for future airfare with Continental airlines."

I glanced around a bit to size up the competition and then shot up out of my seat and asked the man what the itinerary would look like for these three people. He told me that they would take a flight at 3:30pm to Boston and then take a cab to Portland, with all of the expenses being paid for. After a short huddle with my brothers and a quick phone conversation with our mother, we told the man that we'd do it. $1,200 in airfare ain't too shabby for arriving in Maine 7 hours later than expected. Another lady at the desk gave us vouchers for airfare, food, and the cabs we'd need to take.

$8 for lunch isn't all that much in an aiport. The three of us found a spot though, got our food, and sat down to eat. My younger brother, Eric, told me that he has been reading through his Bible everyday for the last several months and has already made it to 2 Kings. Talking about the Bible and different questions he had sparked a conversation about faith between the three of us that must have lasted an hour or so.

3:30 rolled around rather quickly and we took our places in our first class seats that we were given as a part of the deal. I don't really understand the whole first class thing. You spend possibly hundreds of dollars so that you can have a little leg room for a couple hours and get an extra pop. I think it has a lot more to do with status. See the thing is that first class people go on the plane first (how this is a luxury doesn't make sense to me), so maybe some people get a kick out of having everyone walking back to coach seeing them in first class and thinking that they have a better life than them. I honestly felt like a jerk as the stewardess was handing me a coke (first class people get a drink to begin the flight) and people were walking past to the back of the plane.

Well we landed in Boston and then had to get a taxi. Continental was shelling out $360 for this drive to Portland. Our cab driver was a black man who had permed hair that went down to his neck. He casually mentioned that our voucher did not cover the gratuity. After texting my mom to see how much you tip a cab driver, I ended up giving this guy $40. I guess it is a small price to pay for the $400 voucher that I will be using to fly back from California. We got dropped off in Portland to pick up my brother's suitcase, and then grabbed another free (aside from tip again) cab to take us to our house. This driver was actually from Kenya, Africa. He and another guy were speaking Samali to each other before we got in the car, and he told me that he came here in 2004. There are like 3 black people in Maine, so it was cool to see that they at least doubled that a few years back. After it became apparent that he didn't understand me that well after my first few questions, I went back to reading as I was not feeling up to trying to force the conversation. He was a really nice guy though and we tipped him a little extra.

So we finally arrived in Maine around 8:30 last night. My brother Eric and I went kayaking together around the lake today. We talked about politics, careers, money, and faith. I told him how I thought living like this doesn't make any sense in light of people dying around the world. I explained how I struggle a lot with being surrounded by wealth, and how if I don't go with it some I will look like a jerk. The hardest part is that I know I like it. Not all of it. I definitly don't like the isolation, or the apparent death/coldness that comes with it, or the arrogance, or the lack of love. Yet still there are parts I like, and I don't like that I like it.

Anyway, leaving for Cali in one week exactly.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yard Sale Thoughts

So some of my friends and I just did a yard sale to raise money for World Vision, an organization that does a lot to fight poverty overseas. We raised close to $600, which is great, but I honestly was somewhat humiliated and frustrated while I was there. I HAD SO MUCH STUFF. I filled my entire car, a friend's truck bed, and another friend's back seat with bags of clothes, furniture, dishwear, and other miscelaneous items that I simply do not need in order to live.

I couldn't help but wonder how much more than $600 I could have given to the poor if I wasn't so darn materialistic. A kid is dying every three seconds around the world, often from preventable reasons, and there was expensive clothing that I was selling that I have never even worn before. One dollar will supply one person with clean water for a whole year, and there were movies I purchased so casually that I have never even taken out of the wrapping.

I watched as the expensive presents of Christmas and birthday past were taken of by strangers for 50 cents. A dress jacket that I had bought for probably about $100 was marked down to $5 to be sold, and I pondered what kind of difference $100 would make for a child in Sudan, India, Nicaragua, etc. It didn't make much of a difference in my life.

I write this out of a heart of repentance for my blatant arrogance and self-absorption that is not just a thing of my past, but is still very present with my heart. I will fight to remember the poor around the world, because everything within me desires to pretend that it isn't real... as if I could live my life without being responsible. But I am most definitly responsible. How can I not be when I know kids are starving and I buy a shirt for $20 when I already have 30 shirts, and that $20 could have given clean water to 20 people for a year. They are dying of thirst and I am adding another shirt to my closet to feed my vanity. What does it mean to love my neighbor AS myself?? That wasn't just Jesus' suggestion, but a firm command.

Please pray for me as I fight the wickedness within me. I am currently trying to let the Lord purge me of materialism by selling almost everything that I don't need in my life, and fighting the urge to buy anything new that isn't necessary for my survival so that I can give more away and depend more upon Christ. I hope to widdle my possessions down to what I can fit into my trunk on my trip to California. Why would I need more than that?

I believe there is a reason Jesus spoke about money more than anything else, including heaven. He knew how dangerous it was. He knew how wicked our hearts can be with it. He often puts the love of money and the love of God in opposition. He says you can fit a big camel into a sewing needle easier than a rich person can get into heaven. That is scary. I am going to try to take Him serious.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Leaving Marietta

My Position in Marietta Ending:

After serving as the Youth and College Minister out of First Baptist and on the campus of Marietta College for the past three years, I was informed that the church would not be continuing my position for a fourth year. It was communicated to me that it was for financial reasons. I apologize that I haven't been able to inform many of you of this until recently, but I was not allowed to share this news until July 1.

God has done so much in and around me these three years. I have seen the Lord develop an entire ministry and community on campus through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where many college students have either come to saving faith in Christ or been growing in their process of discipleship with Him. This community is in a great place and will continue to be doing powerful Kingdom work well beyond me.

I have seen the Lord impact high school and middle school students through the youth ministry here. Over 100 high schoolers have come through the large metal door of our youth center on Sunday nights, and of those, many have been here just for a time and then disappeared, but there is a solid group of youth who are really pursuing and being persued by Christ.

It will be exciting for me to watch from a distance as these students of all different ages continue to grow and develop their own ministries and purpose in life. It has truly been an honor to be a part of their lives, and I thank them and the Lord for that.

Moving to California:

The next scene of my life is going to be played out in Simi Valley, California. I am going to be taking classes at Eternity Bible College, which is a ministry out of Francis Chan's church Cornerstone. The main reason I am going is to enter into an accelerated time of learning and growth in my own personal walk with Christ, as well as my own call as a minister and preacher of the Gospel. A lot of things have been stirring in me over the last year or two, and I sense the Lord's leading to California to continue to have those passions developed and allow them to really take shape.

I am going to be trying to find some part-time work (possibly refereeing and substitute teaching), and I will be living with five other guys in an apartment. I am going to be getting involved with the ministries of the church in order to serve and learn alongside the believers there. Cornerstone is trying to search out and discover what the Church is called to live like Biblically. They are doing a lot to push towards community, loving one another, and being intimiately involved in each others lives as they serve their neighborhoods and do ministry together. I am pretty excited to get out there! :)

I will be leaving Marietta on July 31st, and will head up to Cleveland for a few days. After some vacation time with my family, I will be leaving on August 11th to go to California.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What the Underground Railroad teaches us today

I went on a bike ride today and along the bike path there was a sign put up to honor the people from Marietta who played a part in the underground railroad. For some reason today it struck me that these people being praised for what they had done were in reality undermining and violating the cultural and political system of their time. According to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Yet it is crazy to me that now, just 150 years later, their actions are not only no longer seen as criminal, but now they are seen as heroic. There were so many "Christians" defending slavery with Scripture that it is sickening when we look back upon it, but time has revealed the hypocricy in that.

I think too about Germany during the time of the Holocaust and World War II. As I read about a Christian pastor named Deitrich Bonhoeffer at that time, I was astounded to find out that the majority of "Christians" in Germany at that time saw it as wrong to resist what the Nazi party was doing or speak out against it. Bonhoeffer was in the minority of Christians in Germany standing up for the Jews and others being oppressed. He saw first hand the danger of nationalism. He had this to say in 1933: "The conflict is really Germanism or Christianity and the sooner the conflict comes out in the open, the better." It got so bad that refusing the draft was "frowned on by most Christians and their churches at that time" (Page 33, A Testament to Freedom).

My main point though is not about war or nationalism (though I will probably write a blog about this sometime soon!), but rather about us getting some perspective on things. So 150 years ago it was seen as right (by many Christians, mind you) to keep blacks as slaves, and wrong to help them receive freedom. Yet in the very same country today it is seen as heroic. And 60 years ago it was seen as right (by many Christians, mind you) to fight for the Nazi party, and wrong to resist what Hitler was doing. Yet history even now has proven how terrible it was.

So here is my question. How much are we also caught up in things of today that are absolutely terrible? Is it consumerism? Nationalism? War? Abortion? Being consumed with pleasure and self? The neglect of the millions suffering around the world? Rampant idolatry with sports and celebrities? Sensual and sexual culture? Humanism? What is it?

As a Christian, I know that one day Jesus is going to come back and everything is going to be exposed for what it really is. Jesus said in Luke 12:2-3, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs." There is going to be a crystal clear perspective on the entire history of the world, and we will be accountable. Slave traders will be accountable for their actions even though everyone around them was treating it as if it was OK. The Nazi party, as well as the Christians who supported it, will be accountable for their actions even though everyone around them was pumping up the nationalism idea. And so will we.

So I hope that all of us can take a step back and look at our lives with eternal perspective, because if we are able to look back just a few years and see the sins of the past clearly, how much more so will our sins be exposed and seen clearly when the Kingdom of God comes in it's fullness?

We have possibly 80 years on this earth, and then eternity ensues. Shouldn't that drastically change the way we live our lives? Wouldn't it make sense for us to stop living to be satisfied here, living as if our hope was in this life? Don't we realize that what we do now is going to impact our eternity and the eternity of others? We will be looking back with extreme shame and regret, extreme joy and peace, or somewhere in between based on how we live our lives and in what we believe (Jesus, money, self, pride, etc.).

The reality is that we have become so conformed to the world around us. We do politics very similarly to the world: siding with one party, putting Jesus in a political box, minimizing Jesus' relevance to just a few issues.

We think about solutions to the big problems much like the world: thinking war, politicians, and policies will change the world for the better, as opposed to Christ and His gospel.

We live much like the world: living on more than we need, conforming to a dating/marriage culture that uses people, isolating ourselves from community and being individualistic, caring very little for the poor in practical ways.

We think about our context and residence much like the world: we see America as our home instead of Heaven, we live as if we had our hope in this life, we worship the American flag because it gives us all of our heart's desires and then give leftovers to Jesus and His kingdom.

We worship much like the world: putting religion in a box on Sunday mornings and morality, having Jesus be one of the many things that we "like" without giving total devotion, creating a religion of works that doesn't trust in Jesus' great saving work.

How are we different from the racist slave traders, or the fascist Germans? Have we not conformed to the sins of our own culture? Have we not eaten of the fruit of the tree of greed, arrogance, self-involvement, sensuality, etc? Do we really convince ourselves that we are good because we live in a "free nation" and go to church?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What is Belief in Jesus?

It’s not that I don’t believe is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I do. But belief is something that means so much more than we commonly like to admit. For the longest time I was taught that belief was something easy, something cheap, and something casual; it was easy to believe. It seemed like if you asked anyone around me if they believed in Jesus, they would respond with a casual “yea sure”.

I feel like most people say they believe in an abstract sort of way, but then they don’t really. I didn’t know that believing is a difficult process; nobody told me. We set it up as though it was a one-time deal where you “believed” and then went on about your life with a little Jesus mixed in. As long as this is how we define belief, it is the easiest thing in the world to believe. All I have to do now is go to church on Sundays and give a little money to the church and I am “saved”.

Francis Chan used an example in his sermon that really helped me understand this. While preaching he placed a balloon on a wall, aimed a Beebe gun at it, and asked how many people in the congregation “believed” that he would hit the balloon on the first try. 75% of them raised their hands. Then he asked how many of those 75% would be willing to hold the balloon in their hands while he shot it. 25% of them said they would. Then he asked how many people would be willing to come up and put the balloon in their teeth, turn sideways, and let him shoot the balloon. Only 5 people total were willing to do it.

So here is my question: did those 75% really believe, or were they just saying they did? What does it matter if you say you believe, but aren’t really willing to back it up? If you totally believe that Francis will hit the balloon on the first shot, then it isn’t risky to put it in your teeth. If, however, you are only saying you believe, but aren’t really sure what you think, then there is no way you would do it!

So let me get this straight. We claim to believe that there is this guy named Jesus who wasn’t just a guy, but was actually God incarnate. We claim to believe that this God/man loves us, and was willing to come die on a cross to make it possible for our relationship to be repaired with Him. We claim to believe that when we die, we will stand before Him and He will judge our lives based on how loving or un-loving we were towards Him and people. We claim to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross offers us freedom from the guilt and condemnation that we deserve in which we would be in the torments of hell for eternity. We claim to believe that because of what He did, we can have the promise of perfect relationship with Him and His people for forever and ever. We claim to believe that we have been invited in as sons and daughters, and that we get to take part in what God is doing here in building His kingdom. And here is the kicker: WE CLAIM TO BELIEVE THAT ALL OF THIS IS FOR REAL! We claim to believe that very shortly we are going to be standing before Jesus and then eternity will ensue for us!

I’m sorry. I just don’t feel like I see many people who really believe this. Sometimes I look at my life and wonder how much I really do! I mean if I really fully believe it, wouldn’t my life be totally different? If I believe it, wouldn’t I not care at all about my life here and just be totally obsessed with my God and building His kingdom? If I believe it, wouldn’t I tell everyone about it? If I believe it, wouldn’t I be so deeply satisfied by my Creator’s love that I wasn’t still seeking it out in so many ways here on this earth? If I believe it, wouldn’t I be willing to undergo suffering and hardship for this short amount of time so that I can love God and others more fully in preparation for what is to come. If I believe it, wouldn’t I not care that much about comfort, security, and a nice little life down here because of what is in store for me in eternity?

Seriously, this stuff makes me sick to my stomach. I believe in Jesus, but not enough. But I am realizing that belief is a process. Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” The very implication of Paul saying that their “faith is growing more and more” is that faith/belief is not a one-time deal, or a completed process while we are here. Belief in Jesus is something that needs to develop in the face of doubt, struggle, questions, etc., because there is a reason it is called faith in the first place. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The reality is that we can’t see God because He had to pull away from His creation because of our sin. He is intimately and passionately involved in our daily lives to be sure, but we can't yet see Him in all of His glory, seated upon the throne with all of the angels and saints singing before Him. So we must undergo the process of having true faith: striving towards being sure of what we hope for, which is Jesus’ return and salvation.

Is that really what all of your and my hope is in though? Would you say that your hope is fully set on Jesus’ return and salvation? Or is it in meeting an amazing spouse? Or is it in having a great family? Or is it in having a nice career? Or is it in retiring early and traveling the world?

You see this is what I mean: we act like we don’t really believe. So many of us are setting ourselves up for something really ugly by not really believing. We will have a nice marriage. A nice family. A nice career. A nice house in a nice neighborhood. A nice retirement. And then a nice memorial service. And then comes judgment and eternity based on what we believed in this life.

Putting our hope in Jesus means that if He isn’t real, we are in deep crap. If we were gamblers, it means that we would take all of our money and let it ride on Him being the truth. Are we really willing to do that? After all, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” But so many of us have really nice lives with plenty of hope in this world just in case Jesus isn’t real. If we put our hope/joy/satisfaction in that, do we really believe then? 1 John 2:4 says “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

I recently got into a discussion with a couple of new friends of mine at Ohio State who are atheists. Now I obviously feel strongly that they should believe in Jesus and follow Him with all of their lives, but at least they are willing to admit that they don’t believe. I can respect that. I am scared for them and what eternity will look like for them, but by admitting that they don’t believe, I think God has more room to change their lives and draw them to Himself. After all, Jesus says that He would rather have someone be cold than be lukewarm. So let’s just be real about who/what we really believe in.

I will be the first to admit that I suck at practically believing in Him, but the great thing is that I know my Jesus is bigger than all that and He is faithful to bring me through my lack of belief. I will not allow myself to doubt His love for me in the midst of my struggle and failure, because His faithfulness is not predicated on my perfection. I know my baptism, repentance, profession of faith, and following Jesus was and is for real, and that He is still saving me from my unbelief and sin. That is the thing about faith; it is hard. It is hard to believe that Jesus still loves me, is saving me, and will come to rescue me knowing how much I don’t trust/believe/love Him.

I was in tears several times a few days ago because of all this. It is so frustrating being here without Jesus’ physical presence. Even though it is hard and painful, I want to just run after Him with my whole life, leaving behind all the things that seek to hold me back and keep me in bondage. I want nothing else besides Him, even though my life often paints a different picture.

There was this guy in Mark 9 who’s son had an evil spirit in him. He says to Jesus, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus responded by saying, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes." Then the man said: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

Lord Jesus, I do believe in you; help me overcome my unbelief!

Something is Wrong

I am constantly thinking about what it means to be saved. I look out at America and see that 80% of people claim to be Christians and yet very few are really following. They prayed a prayer. They know the stories and verses. They dress up nice. They come to church every Sunday. Yet they haven’t been transformed. I struggle through what to think of this. I am tired of seeing this complacent, comfortable, non-transforming, fake religion drag the name of Christ through the dirt.

I think most of us know that something is wrong. We read about Jesus, what He said and did, and we read about the early church and we see one thing. Then we look at American Christianity and see a whole other thing. The Barna Group does studies on Christianity in America and after recent studies guess what they had to say when they looked at “Christians” and at outsiders of the faith. There is “no difference” (pg 47, UnChristian).

Most people seem to want to talk about how being saved is all about grace, and that works don’t matter much as far as salvation goes. This heresy was going on even in the early church; it’s called Gnosticism. They believed that as long as you have a special knowledge or got to a certain point, then how you lived your life didn’t matter all that much. Paul hated this. And James spoke out against it saying, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Then there are some who want to say that being saved is about what you do, or works. We know we can’t earn salvation because Paul says “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:12). We can’t come close to earning salvation because we are unable to do any good apart from Christ.

We must see that God does a mighty work in our hearts in order to save us, but if that work is not displayed in our lives by continual transformation, constant death to self, and persistence in leaving our sin behind then there was no salvation that took place in our lives. You can’t earn it, but things change when it happens. You are “born again”; implying difference.

As a basketball coach I think it is helpful for me to look at it like this. At Marietta College there are guys that are on the basketball team and there are guys that are not on the basketball team. As a coach, there is no confusion about which guys are which. The ones that have been invited by the coach, made the decision to be on the team, and are committed to coming to practice every day and working hard for their team and their coaches are on the team. The ones that don’t are not on the team.

Don’t get me wrong, there are guys that are not on the team that play basketball. I see them on the recreation courts shooting around, or playing a pick-up game, or even playing on an intramural team. Some lift weights and work out to stay in shape so that they can play well. Some of them possibly even work harder than the guys on the basketball team, though it’s not very likely. Many of them think they are better than the guys on the team and think they could put together a group of guys that aren’t on the team to take on the guys that are.

But they aren’t on the team.

See here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, just that you are on the team.
But don’t for a second think it is easy to be on this team. Jesus does not have a basketball team. He doesn’t have two hour practices six days a week. He doesn’t recruit people that will slack off in practice or not be ready to play in the games.

He has a team of soldiers. The battlefield is not a physical one, but rather a mental and spiritual one (2 Cor. 10:4-6). The training is constant, hard, and grueling (see book of Martyrs). Anyone is welcome to join, but the cost is high. You give over all rights to your life (Luke 14:27). Everything that you once thought was yours is handed over. Relationships (Luke 14:26). Possessions (Luke 12:33). Heart (Mark 12:30). Mind (Mark 12:30). Soul (Mark 12:30). Strength (Mark 12:30). All of it.

Oh, and there is no quitting this team once you join; it’s all or nothing, no looking back (Luke 9:62), so you better figure out if you have what it takes to go all the way (Luke 14:28-30).

Still interested?

See the life that you have right now isn’t even worth saving, and if you do try to hold onto it, you will eventually lose it. The only way that you can keep your life forever is by giving it up to be on this team (Matthew 16:25).

So guess what, you may not be very good, but that’s exactly why you would join the team. You join the team because you recognize that the Coach of this team is perfect and knows how to make you better. You join the team because you see what your own training and teaching (or lack thereof) from either yourself, your culture, or others is worthless. You join the team because you know that this perfect Coach wants you on the team and you owe it to Him. You join the team because you were created to play under this Coach and be the best you can be in submission to Him, not in your own self.

The crazy thing is that most people think they are on the team. What we have is a few that really are and a lot that are faking it. Why do so many people try to pretend like they are on the team? Well think about it. Why do millions of fans cheer for their favorite NFL team when they aren’t actually on it? We like to live vicariously through others who do the things that we can’t.

In the case of the Kingdom of God, we live vicariously through others who do the things that we won’t. We want to be on the team without the commitment. You see only a select few actually have the talent or ability to make it to the NFL if they really try. All have the opportunity to follow Christ.

Yet so many refuse to do it on Jesus’ terms. Francis Chan said it well in his book Crazy Love, “When I was in high school, I seriously considered joining the Marines; this was when they first came out with commercials for ‘the few, the proud, the Marines.’ What turned me off was that in those advertisements, everyone was always running. Always. And I hate running. But you know what? I didn’t bother to ask if they would modify the rules for me so I could run less, and maybe also do fewer push-ups. That would’ve been pointless and stupid, and I knew it. Everyone knows that if you sign up for the Marines, you have to do whatever they tell you. They own you. Somehow this realization does not cross over to our thinking about the Christian life. Jesus didn’t say that if you wanted to follow Him you could do it in a lukewarm manner. He said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’” (page 80).

This sort of half-hearted involvement on the team, whether through being a fan or trying to pretend that you are on the team when you haven’t really given all up to join, is an absolute offense to the Coach. I mean think about it. Think about Francis’ example. If you were to come to try-outs for a team and tell the coach, “I know that you have these expectations and tell me I have to give it all up to be on this team, but I’m not going to do that. I’ll show up when I have free time and I’ll work hard when I have the opportunity. These are my conditions.” How do you think this Coach would respond?

I know how: “Get out. Come back when you are ready to give it all.”

Does this sound mean? Does this offend you? Check out what Jesus said to thousands of people following Him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out” (Luke 14:26-35).

Jesus says if you aren’t willing to go all the way, if you won’t count the cost and get on the path towards completion, then you are tasteless salt and you will be thrown out.

If you won’t join this team, you will be thrown out. It doesn’t matter how good you are in intramurals or open gym. Yet He is so good as to accept anyone that would come and join. He wants to forgive you more than you want to be forgiven. He is the initiator of this relationship. You can be the worst player or person or whatever; there are no tryouts, only a sign-up sheet called the Book of Life.

So are you on the team?