Sunday, January 15, 2017

Relive Your Day

Do you remember what you did every day last year?

I don't, or at least I didn't think I did.

My memory is sub-par to say the least. I can remember the name of every bus stop in the TriMet system, but it takes a whole lot of work to even remember what I ate yesterday.

I keep a journal, in a matter of speaking. Because my hands get cramped when I write with a pen, I instead use this nifty app called "Captain's Log" which allows me to record an audio log entry and automatically sends it to a folder in my Google Drive. It's about as easy as it gets if I want to remember what I did every day.

This became important when I realized that I wanted to determine exactly when I have finished every Star Trek novel I have read. So far, I have read 42 books since June 2015. Determining when I have read them will help me know the statistics of what my best reading months have been and what I could expect if I decided to be more committed to realistic reading goals.

So, I printed a list of the books I read and went to work. Often, I could attach a memory, such as a day trip to Mt. St. Helens or a vacation to Atlanta, with each book, helping me to have a basic time structure to work with. Instagram posts of which book I read helped quite a bit as well, as one would expect.

But this didn't provide enough detail to find when I read every book. So, I accessed my Google Timeline, which keeps track of everywhere my phone goes for every day. Kinda spooky, but also very helpful.

So I looked at every day for like a year and a half, trying to find when I went to my Butler Starbucks that I spend most reading time at, or when I went to other locations to read. I then cross-referenced my trips with the audio log entries I recorded and was able to get each book down to an accuracy of about one or two weeks. Good enough for what I needed.

What amazed me, however, was how much of the year I actually remembered. Many days, I went from home to work then back home again. Sundays and Wednesdays I went to church. But at least two or three days a week there was somewhere I went that was unique, and I would say to myself, "I remember that!"

This really surprised me. I realized how much I really did in a year that seemed relatively uneventful. I was reminded of my successes as well as my failures. I took joy in that days when I did awesome and inspiring things, and felt shame for the days when I recall I was less than perfect.

I was reminded that every day matters. Everything we do is retained in our minds, whether we can recall it or not. And God sees everything we do.

Even when it seems that we are doing very little interesting in life, there is always the opportunity for each day to bring blessing and encouragement to us and the people around us. Every day, God's mercies are new and His plans are enduring. When we feel we are stuck in a rut, every day is a opportunity to get out of that rut and seek after the things that God has for us.

So I was able to determine how much Star Trek reading I accomplished over that 20 month period. But I was also able to see how much happened of even more value, and that is something that makes me even happier.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Okay To Act Like It

Those of you who know me well will probably have no issue with this question: What is my favorite hobby/interest ever?

Obvious, right?

It's music!

Most people around me would say TriMet (Portland's bus system). Yes, that is my most quirky interest that I have spent more time on than any other. But when it all comes down to it, music has always been my first love. Listening to it, playing it, singing it, studying it. I love music.

The thing I love most about music is how it speaks to me. This is why I love Christian music; the message in the music matters so much to me, so I want to be hearing the best message. The interplay between the lyrics and music creates something in me that nothing else can.

It is clear to me that God created music, because it is so special and amazing. And it never fails that the song I happen to be hearing has something in it that I needed to hear right then and there. God speaks through music every day.

One thing I have always wanted to do with this blog is write devotionals based on the songs I am listening to at the time. This is one reason why I don't have ads on my blog page, so that I have no monetary gain from this and can therefore reference copyrighted material, giving full attribution to the author.

Lyrics are poetry. They are crafted not just to mean something powerful but also so that they are aesthetically pleasing.

It has been a rough week for me. I, the typical human being, have made some mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but I expect good things from myself. So when I don't meet those expectations, I feel pretty low.

But I am reminded of a song that I have been listening to on the radio, the new single from Hawk Nelson called "Live Like You're Loved." The first line of the chorus says this:

          "So live like you're loved. It's okay to act like you've been set free."

This is really encouraging. Except that, after making mistakes, I don't feel like I'm free. How can I act like it if I don't feel like I am?

What I love about this lyric is how blunt and unpoetic it is. In an industry that is based on alliteration and the right blend, here's this lyric that just jumps off the page awkwardly. It's in your face. It sounds more like a guy scolding his friend than a poem.

But I'm pretty sure they intended it that way.

Here's the truth you and I need to remember. God's grace has set us free. The blood of Jesus on the cross was more than enough to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and his resurrection is the ultimate victory over death. The gift of God is grace. It is a gift; I don't have to earn it. Nothing I can do will make me more or less worthy for salvation. It is a gift.

In John 8:36 (NIV), Jesus Himself says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." We are free, now and forever.

Sometimes we need a good Gibbs slap to remind us that, even though we may stumble, we are free of the chains we were once in, and free of the eternal judgment for the mistakes we make.

Therefore, it's okay to act like we're free, even if we don't feel like it. Even if we don't feel worthy of it. It's not about whether we deserve it, it is what we are. We are free.

So act like it! Don't let sin convince you that you are not good enough for freedom. Walk in confidence, knowing that God loves you and sent His Son to die for you. You are free today, and that will never change.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Answer Man

Can you think of that one person in your life who seems to know the answer for everything? That one person you can go to (before Wikipedia) who will probably have the answer to your question, whatever it is?

For me, thats my dad. He seems to know something about everything, especially when it is related to engineering or science. He always finds ways to educate himself about these things, and I can trust that he will have the answer, and that it's probably the correct one as well, or close to it.

Think of the movie Elf. What did the publishing company do when they ran out of ideas? They brought in Miles Finch. He was reputed as someone who would certainly have the answer they needed.

Well, in my last post, I wrote about being one of those people who seems to have some sort of answer for everything theological. I know I don't have every answer, but at least I have enough knowledge to be able to offer something of value.

I also have almost a quarter century of experience on this earth. It's not a ton, I know, but I've surely been around the block enough times to have a handle on a lot of things. When life throws me problems, my theological knowledge and my life experience usually proves sufficient for me to know what to do, or at least know what the next step is that I should take.

But what baffles me to no end is that even though I have the answers, I am terrible at using them! Either I fail miserably at my attempt, or I just go the other way completely. There are issues that I have been dealing with for years, and to this day I haven't even started to even address them, even knowing what I should do.

This proves to me two things. First, God gave me a brain that works so I can come up with answers to my questions. Second, I am a fallen human and cannot succeed in my own capability.

I am thankful beyond words that God accepts me as I am, and that I don't have to know all the answers or get everything right all the time. I am also thankful that I can rely on God to have the absolutely correct answers and the faithfulness to never fail me even if I fail Him. And the Holy Spirit can also work with me to help me understand and be able to do what I should to in any given situation.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight."

No matter if I have the answers or not, or if I do what I should in response or not, I can rely on God to help me get where I need to go. That is such a great relief.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Know-It-Alls

Small group discussions are always a bit uncomfortable for me. No, it's not that I don't like sharing or hearing what other people have to say. I love being a part of deep conversations about God, and I love hearing other peoples' different perspectives or new insight about spiritual things.

The issue is that, when I was young, my very knowledgeable Christian mother taught me almost everything she knew about the depths of the Bible and theology. I was homeschooled by the same mother during junior high and high school, and have continually engaged in intense discussions about the details of scripture. In other words, I know a lot.

And I am not the only one. In the larger group discussions I have recently participated in, there is usually at least one other person who is sitting there with hand raised and the facial expression like they are going to explode, because they know the answer and aren't being called on since they answered the last three questions.

No one will come out and say anything to make fun of the small group theologian. But I still find myself feeling awkward and slightly embarrassed when I have the answer to almost every question, and even more so when my answer sounds so scholarly and confusing that the other people at the table look like I was telling them about quantum physics.

This shouldn't be. It seems like I should be ever confident and never uncomfortable about having a relatively deep understanding of Scripture.

The problem is that I don't want to be seen as a know-it-all.

For all my life, I have been tagged as the "smart one." "Oh, he knows so much!" people will exclaim. "He's so smart!"

Well, what they didn't see was how dense I really am when I come to using that knowledge. What I have in the ability to retain knowledge I lack in the ability to understand verbal instructions or use intuition to solve problems on the fly. I can go from being the sharpest tack to the dullest in a heartbeat.

What I found was that people stopped at my smarts and wouldn't look past them to see the reality of who I am. I am a person like everyone else, with my successes and failings, my skills and the areas in which I lack.

People don't tend to like know-it-alls. They can be intimidated by them, or they just find them annoying or condescending.

I don't want to be seen as a know-it-all. I want people to see me as a normal person as I really am.

Except in the areas of the Bible.

I am perfectly okay with having extensive knowledge about God's Word. I teach everybody all the time that we were meant to know God's Word better than any other knowledge we may possess. I use the opportunities when I have the answers to teach the others around me the truths of God and the testimonies of what He has done.

I may feel uncomfortable at times. But I am never ashamed.

Consider the selected words of the psalmist in Psalm 119 (NIV):

97 Oh, how I love your law!
    I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
    and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
    for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
    for I obey your precepts.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path.
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

There is nothing sweeter than the knowledge of God. Remember, God's Word isn't just a text; knowing God's word is one in the same with knowing God Himself. We should never tire of wanting to know more about God!

So, fellow "know-it-alls," speak confidently! Be bold with the words you speak, because you may speaking the words of life to a needing soul.

And to those who are just learning, keep pursuing God! You will never regret knowing God more. And you will also never run out of things to learn either. God is greater than our minds can ever fathom.

What a privilege it is to be able to know my Maker and Savior.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wordiness

Some people like to talk. I am one of those people.

If you have conversed with me, you may have found that I tend to dominate the conversation. I have to fight myself to let other people talk. It's not because I'm narcissistic, it's just because I have a lot to say!

Well, actually I am relatively me-centered, especially in conversation. If I like the topic, I dominate it. If I don't, I can be quite apathetic.

The better word is 'pathetic,' but I would rather keep my dignity somewhat intact.

Anyway, since I was the person in college who scoffed at 'minimum word counts' for papers, my blog posts have tended to look my like the Affordable Care Act text than a devotional. I always have a lot to say, and I think deeply on things, which produces even more to say. Therefore, I always feel like I have to pack at least three sermons' work in one post.

But on the other side of things, I have a short attention span. If anything is too long, I would rather spend my time elsewhere. I get bored easily; if it doesn't get to the point quickly enough, then it's like an absolute struggle to actually get through it. It becomes more of a chore than a joy.

Then something revolutionary happened. I started a devotional plan on the YouVersion Bible app.

These are short, to-the-point snippets of gospel truth that can help supplement one's own Bible reading. And they usually come in a bucket of three to ten days' worth of devotions. Suddenly, I realized that this is what I really need to write.

You see, wordy doesn't always mean better. Sometimes, simplicity and brevity is what matters. It helps emphasize the main point in a way that it actually impacts the reader's life.

The Bible itself is actually made up of smaller segments grouped into one large book. Jesus told parables, short but powerful stories. Paul wrote letters composed of smaller topical segments that went together to form the whole. In the Book of Proverbs, each verse stands alone. And the list goes on. God understands how the human mind works.

So I will take up the challenge of decreasing my wordiness. Yes, I like using flowery language. But please allow me the opportunity to share the random knowledge of God's Word with you in simple, easy to digest posts. It's like the $15 bag of M&M's I bought: it isn't hard to eat it when you have small portions every day.

Friday, November 27, 2015

With All Your Strength

Judaism has this thing called the "Shema". Ever heard of it? Well, you probably have.

The Shema is a prayer that Jews pray very often. It is simply quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Christ quoted the beginning of this and named it the greatest commandment (with loving your neighbor as yourself the second greatest). Although we as Christians aren't bound to follow the Law anymore as the Jews were, we know the God has a Perfect Law that we should strive everyday to follow. Following His commandments is one of the most important ways we can truly love God.

But I want to take a moment to point out a small but incredibly freeing detail I found in this verse.

The Gospel books that recount Jesus' quotation of this verse each use different arrangements of the various things we are to love God with. Mark 12:30 features the most well-known combination:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

There are many ways that we could break the human person down into parts, but the way I always use to analyze myself is the three-fold structure of heart, mind, and body. The heart is the true core of the person, sort of where the person's soul lives. It is what truly determines who a person is, as it is where our true desires rest. I believe that it it here where God looks to determine if a person is truly following Jesus. The mind is the place where thoughts and choices are made, the logical and rational center of the person. It is a part that the Holy Spirit directly influences in helping us make the right decisions in life, but it is still not a redeemed part of the person. The mind becomes "stuck in the middle" between the soul and the flesh, and that can lead to some of the most crucial decisions a moral person can make. The body is, well, the flesh, and the flesh is certainly sinful. God can work in the person to master their body, and He can help the person's body to be "reprogrammed" to be less fleshy and more holy. But it is still the flesh and is prone to its lusts. It can never be truly trusted, and therefore has to be kept in check by the heart and mind and can never be allowed the final say in decisions.

Did I over-simplify things a little? Maybe, but I think you can see how the framework is fairly applicable to most things in life. The main difference is the change from redeemed (heart) to fallen (body), with the mind somewhere in the middle. Usually two of the three parts are required to make any decision, whether holy or sinful. And it is important to remember that, while redeemed, the heart can still make terribly sinful choices, even if we are saved. Thank the Lord for the mercy and grace He shows.

So what's my point? Look back at the verse from the Shema:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Notice the presence of the very framework I have just outlined. First we have the heart and the soul, which are closely related. Then we find the mind, which while still prone to failing is something we can consciously control to a rather reasonable extent.

But where is the body? It is not present. Instead, we find our "strength." Why strength instead of body? It is because God knows our bodies are fallen and sinful. No matter how hard we try, we will never get our bodies to fully comply with the holiness of God until they are raptured and transformed into our perfect heavenly bodies. Until then, all we can do is try really hard. This requires strength.

God knows where to look when He is determining a person's commitment to Him. He knows that our actions do not necessarily determine our standing before God. Do we need to refrain from sinning from the flesh? Of course. But look at King David, a man who is still well-known for his sinful failings. God was well aware of those failings, and David had to surely suffer the conseqences on this earth from his bad choices. Yet, he is called and respected as a "man after God's own heart." This is because He knew how great God is, and he had a personal connection with God that was because of his great faith and love for his Father.

Now we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, things that David didn't have in the same capacity. We are in good hands because God looks at the heart. He clearly states that our actions do reflect the state of our hearts, but He also knows that we are bound to slip up, sometimes even a lot. It is the heart that He uses as his grand determiner of faith, the catalyst for salvation.

So do all you can to love God with your heart, soul, and mind. And doing that, use as much strength as you can to master that flesh that wants for disaster, knowing that God is pleased with you not because of how much you try, but because you do try because you love Him. Let His love wash over you and free you of the burden that says you have to get it right every time. There is grace and love waiting for you to surrender and receive. Let His overwhelming joy and peace stir in you in such a way that it causes you to give back to God in form of the love He so desires.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why Messiah?

Merry Christmas! It's October. So why am I sending you Season's Greetings in the wrong season? Because it never is the wrong season.

I am one of those people who rolls his eyes when he hears Jingle Bells in August. I choose the "skip when shuffling" check box on my iTunes for my large collection of Christmas music on my iPods. And lights and decorations don't go up until, well, usually a week before Christmas.

Am I Ebeneezer Scrooge? Not in the least. I LOVE Christmas. It is most certainly my favorite time of year. I just prefer to keep it in that time of the year, just so that all the splendor and joy of the season stays special and unique, something to look forward to.

Maybe the trees and wrapping paper can stay in the season, but unfortunately, usually so does the message.

Every year, around Thanksgiving, radio stations start changing over to Christmas music (because really no one has come up with any good Thanksgiving music), and the malls and stores start heralding in the now quite politically-correct Navidad. And suddenly, the story of Jesus' birth comes back to our memories. Thoughts of Mary and Joseph riding on a camel in the heavy December snow and the joyous, worshipful celebration of the shepherds and the three wise men over the newborn baby bring pleasing thoughts to our mind.

In reality, the true story of Mary and Joseph arriving to a place that had a manger sometime in late-September gets forgotten the rest of the year. People don't understand the significance of the shepherds who came to see the newborn Christ and the two to twenty Magi who showed up as much as two years later. Growing up in the church and around all things Christmas, it became quite the ritual to celebrate the holiday. I mean, Jesus was born! But obviously, Jesus birth did not save me of my sins. His death and resurrection did, which is why we really should place more emphasis on Easter than Christmas. So why is Christ's birth such a big deal that the Roman Catholic Church turned the observance of the event into the most multi-culturally significant celebration in human history?

Three reasons. Three really important reasons.

  1. Coming of Messiah — Jesus was born as a Jew in the Jewish culture. He was born into a people group who had previously been chosen by God as a special people with whom He could abide. Unfortunately, as the books of the Judges, Kings, and Chronicles clearly demonstrate, the nation as a whole turned away from God. His patience was finally worn out after several hundred years, and they were thrown into exile into foreign lands. After God allowed for the people to return to their promised Israel, the people of Israel began to become prominent in that area again, though always under rule of somebody else. Jesus came at a time when there was relative peace in the area, but it was a peace that was forced by Roman control. God had promised through Moses and the prophets that the Coming One, the Messiah, would come and bring freedom to His people. Jesus' coming was that promise fulfilled to the Jews, but since they were so short-sighted, they couldn't see beyond their desire for political freedom to see the true spiritual freedom that Jesus sought to bring. And ironically, it was partially their disappointment in Jesus not overthrowing Roman rule that led to the Crucifixion that brought salvation to the whole world.
  2. Other Flocks — There is a special significance in the shepherds and the Magi. Shepherds weren't the most well-to-do folks in the Jewish world, but they were actually quite well-respected due to the fact that the sheep they were raising were used for the sacrifices required by the Mosaic Law. But they were still ordinary, random Jewish people. Meanwhile, the Magi weren't kings but were a form of wise men from some foreign land. They came to see a king, but they also seemed to personally know that they were seeing someone more significant to the world than anything they could imagine. But do you see an interesting correlation here? Messiah, the Hebrew word for Christ, was a very Jewish concept. And for most of history, the Law had only been given for the Jews to try to be right with God. But although Jesus came first to the Jews, His ultimate goal was to bring all nations into his fold. The shepherds represented the Jews, while the wise men represented the Gentiles, which basically means every one of us who are not Jews. Both groups were given the sign, and both came to worship before their King. And because of the love and sacrifice of that King, we all have access to God and eternal salvation.
  3. With God — Although God had revealed Himself in a way to the Jews before Christ came, it wasn't a complete revelation. God gave the Law to Israel to show them and the world a way of living that, if absolutely kept without fail, could provide a way of salvation. Many ancient people had faith, but there proved to be absolutely no way anyone could possibly keep that standard. And God knew this full well, which is why the Law was given. Different than what people may have told you, it is impossible for anyone to ever humanly attain perfection. Because of our inherent sin, there was no way God could actually allow us in His holy presence because, put quite simply, we would die. So the Tabernacle/Temple was given by God so that He could be with His people, but they couldn't be in His very presence. Jesus came so that we as humans could actually be in His presence, but to an even deeper extent than what it would have been like if the people had been allowed in that Most Holy Place in the Temple where God had previously been.
          Imagine two friends, a boy and a girl. There's nothing romantic going on between them. They are just friends. And because they are friends, really good friends, there is a strong connection between them. They know each other well, and people are very aware of the fact that they are really good friends. When people think of one of them, they often think of the one being with the other one because of the bond of friendship between them. But because they are friends, there is only so far that this bond can go. And while people think of one as being with the other, they also know that there aren't always going to stay there.

But if, say, they got married, things would be quite different. That wall that separates their hearts and minds would be broken down. They would be able to experience an intimacy that only exists in a marriage, something that makes any physical relationship even seem to take second place. There is a connection that is stronger than anything on earth. People see them and they don't think of "John" and "Jane" but instead "John and Jane" as though that is one name. He is with her, and it is a different type of "with" than they ever had before.

Marriage was created by God for multiple reasons, but the main one was to demonstrate the relationship God desires with His people. We Christians are called His children, but we are also called His bride. Jesus came to this world so that God wasn't just known as being "with" His people in that He lived in a room in a Temple. God is now "with" us because of the work of Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit in us. God actually lives in us now, and when people think of us, it should be the same "God and us" that is considered one word. This is why one of Jesus' other names, Emmanuel, means "God With Us."

And this is the most important thing about why Jesus came. Christ coming to this earth signaled the end of the friend-zone between us and God and the beginning of the absolute marriage bliss that will be our eternity.

So, Christians, rejoice! Because Your God lives in you. There is no separation anymore between us and the Living God. What an amazing and glorious thing we have. Let it cause us the utmost joy as we remember that the most powerful and glorious being that ever was is truly with us. And we will be with Him forever.

"Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angels' voices! Oh night divine when Christ was born."