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.