Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Today I spent some time reflecting, journaling, and praying through 2008. I have much to be thankful for, and much to give God praise for. It is humbling to see His faithfulness over the course of the year. I made note of different opportunities that He gave me in ministry, relational blessings, financial provisions, and ways in which He has stretched me and grown me.
However, at the same time I have come into the end of this year feeling tired, anxious, and struggling to trust Him in areas of uncertainty. I am thankful in some ways for this odd tension of a mindfulness of His faithfulness and power, and at the same time a wrestling in my spirit to fully trust and follow. It has put me on my knees, literally. I have not been one to pray on my knees, but have been intentional in assuming this posture lately. This has been both a blessing and a challenge (I highly recommend it, if you don't). As my good friend Aaron recently wrote (paraphrasing) as prayer becomes more habitual and more intentional, there is a "weightyness" that comes with it.
So I head into 2009 needy, needy to depend much on Him, needy to stay on my knees.
I am reading through the Cost of Discipleship right now by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. It is a great read, and a very challenging read. I also just read through the gospel of Matthew (it too is a great and challenging read). I have been reminded of Jesus' frequent invitations to "follow." You see it repeatedly in the gospels:
Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21
Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21
Luke 5:27, 9:23, 9:59, 9:61, 14:27, 18:22
John 1:43, 10:27, 12:26, 21:19, 21:22
This adds up to 21 times throughout Jesus' recorded ministry in which he invited people to "follow." I think sometimes in Evangelical, "Bible believing" churches we are guilty of reducing the gospel to "easy beliefism." It becomes all about articulating the "right stuff." So we ask people to repeat prayers or to answer "is this what you believe" questions and then declare people as saved. In the midst of all of this I think we must be careful not to miss Jesus' words of "follow me."
To follow, no doubt, requires faith. You cannot follow Christ without faith in Christ. Jesus repeatedly said, "your faith has..." However, to follow Christ is deeper and "messier" than reciting back a ten point doctrinal statement. To follow is to "put feet" to what we say we believe. Following is where our orthodoxy flows into orthopraxy. It is hard. Bonhoeffer's book (mentioned above) walks through the sermon on the mount that Jesus preached. Bonhoeffer seems to imply, "what if Jesus meant what He said to His followers?". I think the tendency is to seek to "hermeneutically soften" Jesus words using other Scriptures. I'm not sure if we can do that as we live out Luke 9:23 where Jesus said,"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." "Followship" is impossible apart from the grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
My thinking on this is in process, so I won't ramble any further. I like Shane Claiborne's thoughts from his book "The Irresistable Revolution." He shares...
"But then you start to think there must be more to Christianity, more than just laying your life and sins at the foot of the cross. I came to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and weren't giving me anything to pick up. A lot of us were hearing, "don't smoke, don't drink, don't sleep around" and naturally started asking, "Okay, well, that was pretty much my life, so what do I do now?" Where were the do's? And nobody seemed to have much to offer us. Handing out tracts at the mall just didn't seem like the fulness of Christian discipleship...I was just another believer. I believed all the right stuff - that Jesus is the Son of God, died and rose again. I had become a "believer," but I had no idea what it means to be a follower. People had taught me what Christians believe, but no one had told me how Christians live."
I want to be a follower. I need to learn from Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
This time of year is a time of much activity - good activity. Ministries like ours are abuzz with various activities before the holiday break. In the midst of much activity I have been reminded both through Pastor Ford's messages out of Revelation 2 and through personal devotional time that we must be careful that in our work for the Lord we don't forget about the Lord of the work. In other words, our duties must flow out of our devotion. It is the Mary/Martha tension of being vs. doing. This has been an ongoing lesson and challenge for me in my 7 1/2 years here in Chicago as I like to pride myself on "staying busy." I wanted to share a devotional that spoke directly to this the other day and caused me to do a heart check in the midst of a busy month. Here it is...
"A Heart That Loves God" - taken out of Experiencing God by Henry & Richard Blackaby
No amount of activity for God will ever take the place of a heart that is right with Him. Through the ages God's people have been persuaded that they could please Him through their service and their offerings, regardless of their heart condition. King Saul offered generous sacrifices, hoping God would overlook his disobedience (1 Sam 15:22-23). David may have assumed that after all he had done on God's behalf, God would overlook his sin (2 Sam 12:7-15). Ananias and Sapphira thought that their generous gift to the church would compensate for their deceitfulness (Acts 5:1-11). Paul was certainly one who had thought his zealousness would please God. After his conversion, however, he concluded that even if he had faith to remove mountains, gave all he had to feed the poor, and offered his body to be burned for the sake of God, and yet had a heart that was not right, it would all be for nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3)
We are susceptible to the same misunderstanding as all of these people were. We can be deceived into assuming God is more interested in our activity for Him than He is in the condition of our heart. God has consistently made it clear that He will not be pacified by even the most generous offerings and zealous service if our hearts are not right with him (Micah 6:6-8). No matter how much we do in God's service, regardless of how active we are in our church, not matter how honorable our reputation in the Christian community, He will not overlook a sinful heart. His desire is that we devote ourselves to knowing Him and loving Him with all our hearts.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Yesterday at church Sister Betts did a children's message (You know the scene: all the children to the front of the church for a short sermonette as all the parents look on.) on Advent. She explained that the word "advent" means coming. She reminded us that with Christmas coming we are not only reminded of the coming of Christ at His birth but that we are also reminded of the promise of Christ's return.
Pastor Ford then preached a message on Submitting to the Sovereign Savior out of Revelation chapter one. I hung out this morning in that same chapter during my quiet time. I was reminded of one of the amazing facets of the second coming - "Every eye will see Him,". Verse seven states, "Look He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him." That is hard to even get your mind around. As one preacher stated, "We are going to marvel at Him!"
Revelation 1:3 = Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.