Saturday, February 16, 2013
I've been too excited to write this blog entry. So I couldn't wait and am writing it now.
Pray, Live, Tell, Serve, Give.
So yesterday, I wrote about prayer. Prayer is what keeps us in that close personal relationship with God. And as we follow through with what His word tells us, whether through the Bible, prayer, or other legitimate means, faith is produced in us. And as I said in my "Grab the Rope!" entry, faith requires (and should naturally produce) action.
But what is that action? Most people think of "works" as serving opportunities or outreaches, missions trips, generous offering outlays, or standing on the street corner with a big sign. While most of these are beneficial as a form of "works," I don't think that's what that verse (James 2:17) is talking about. Those things would be better placed in the "Serve" category in the Campus Missions credo.
From my studies through the books of Hebrews and I Timothy, those "works" have struck me more as the things we do and decisions we make on a daily basis, not necessarily even in view of other people. They are the things we do that define who we are.
But don't the great works of our faith (service projects and mission trips) define who we are? They define some things about us, and sometimes they make a name for us. But they don't define who we are in the depths of our hearts.
Here's an example. In 2004, Mel Gibson gained much fame for his part in producing and directing "The Passion of the Christ." Many Christians have accepted the movie as a great depiction of the story of Jesus. Mel gained a lot of credit for the significant role he played in making the movie a reality. But not very long afterward, he was arrested for DUII, bringing to light other details about who he was that showed his true lifestyle as different than how a believer ought to live. His gained fame from his part in "The Passion," but it was his subsequent actions that defined who he was.
Now, I'm not here to judge Mel Gibson; that's not my point. My point is that a person is (or should be) known as being a Christian by the decisions they make every day, not the few big successes (or failures).
I was born a Christian. Well, not exactly, but as I was taught how to walk and talk I was taught that I was a Christian. And I believed it. I always believed that God was real, and never doubted anything about God that Mom taught me. When I was in Junior High, I realized I could experience a relationship with God personally, not vicariously through Mom. And after these initial encounters, I dedicated my life to teaching others that they can know God personally, and that this type of relationship is what makes life worth living.
But there were some things about how I acted on a daily basis that were contrary to the person I was supposed to be as a Christian. Now, I'm not saying I was Jekyll and Hyde, perfect church kid at church and evil twisted hypocrite at home. Not at all. I was just like everybody else, dealing with things that always tried to hold me down and keep me from spreading my wings of faith and really flying. And sometimes, I would let those attacks keep me down, and I really would feel like Jekyll and Hyde.
We've all been there. I knew God was allowing me to deal with those things for the purpose of deepening my faith. And these times of varying connection and devotion to Him made me understand what His love, grace, and mercy really mean, better than anybody who doesn't ever get that low.
But when Priority (the High School/College choir at PCC) went up to sing a certain song, I knew God was speaking to me: "If you really want to be called a Christian, you need to live like that."
Listen to the song here.
So all the struggle to be free of these things became so easy, as all I had to tell myself was that I am a Christian, and that is not how a Christian lives. This meant my life glorified God. This meant my life's witness was complete. This meant my Jekyll lost his Hyde. And this meant my life was open for God to use in even greater ways, and I saw the rewards, both in my life and in the lives of those God touched through me.
Now, this is what is meant by the "Live" in the paragraph above. We, as Christians, will never be perfect on this earth. But, it should be our goal to try as hard as we can to get there. That's what Christ wants of us. He didn't just save us and say, "Wait until heaven to live for me." We can live for Him now! That is our witness, what defines who we are. These are the good deeds that speak louder than what our words can say, but that also validate what we claim about our faith. The faith produces these deeds.
But you may say that there is no way in the state you are currently in that you can live like that. This is a lie. The important detail is that God will give you the strength to get out and will provide the healing you need to stay out. He also provides the forgiveness so we can let go of past mistakes, and grace and mercy so that when we do make mistakes we can continue to move forward. God wants you to succeed. That's why He died for you!
So, when you are feeling like the challenge to be the "perfect Christian" seem too daunting, know that God is on your side and reach out for His strength, and remember the words to that song.
"I want to live like that and give it all I have, so that everything I say and do points to You..."
Friday, February 15, 2013
So, the youth ministries at Portland Christian Center have recently revived the "Campus Missions" that we focused on a few years ago. I still, to this day, receive emails from the Campus Missions organization since I was a Campus Missionary when I was ending high school and starting college. My Fire Bible was given to me by the organization when I signed up. And although we all kind of stopped focusing on the formal responsibilities of what we signed up for (considering most of the people who signed up with me have gone on to college), the five key principles of Campus Missions are still ingrained in my mind.
Pray, Live, Tell, Serve, Give.
I still think that no one list of "tasks" so clearly and succinctly sums it up better than these. Not only can these be applied to the life of someone who has formally taken on the responsibilities of a Campus Missionary, but these are the underlying principles of living that "missional" life that Pastor Ray has repeatedly taught us about. To me, the missional lifestyle is not a special, higher way of living that is different from what "normal Christians" choose to follow, but is the natural response for someone who has responded to the call of Jesus to surrender our lives to His will and follow Him. It's the way we are supposed to live.
On a former blogging spree I went on a few years ago, I sought to teach what these five concepts meant, and so I started a string of five entries, one for each. Pretty sure I never got to the fifth one. And so it went with any blogging initiative I began in the past. But this time around, behold, I have the Blogger app! I have no excuse but to write about them.
And the thing is, these are things that God has taught be so much about since the last time I tried to teach (about something I really didn't understand), and these have also been the source of much of what God has taught me. There's too much deep, juicy stuff that God has taught me for me to just keep it quiet. So, here I am again.
"So, here I am again." That sounds familiar. It sounds like what I felt like every time I used to go to God in prayer. "Again" meant, like, since the last time I talked to Him, which was like, oh I don't know, three weeks before! Do you think those prayers had any power, considering how "often" I came before Him?
Well, things have changed. I have since come to the realization that there really is no way to have that deep, personal relationship with Jesus without going to Him in prayer as often as possible. And while I pray every night (increasingly on my knees, passionate to seek Him), that's still not what prayer for a person living the missional life means.
"Pray without ceasing." - I Thess. 5:17 (NASB)
I think that makes it clear enough. But do you want it to be more clear? Okay.
"Pray continually" - I Thess 5:17 (NIV)
"Never stop praying." - I Thess 5:17 (NLT)
"Pray constantly." - I Thess 5:17 (HCSB)
Doesn't matter how you say it, if you want to take hold of the life that God wants for you (missional living), you must pray every opportunity you have. And for me, that looks like praying under my breath in public or getting on my knees at night because it helps me focus and keeps me from being distracted. Prayer is not an email you send once and then wait for a response within 24 hours - it's a chat screen on Facebook that's constantly up and connected.
People seem have a misconception about prayer that it's some devoutly religious, formal concept that just identifies you as being a Christian. While it should be taken seriously and revered, it is a deeply personal connection with my Friend, Father, Brother, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Bridegroom who is and forever will be always who I need and who I need Him to be. And that is why I stopped my homework and wrote this: I felt the urge to pray.
I hope you commit yourself to not just praying everyday, but praying continually. God is your Friend who is always there and who always wants to talk to you. So talk to Him!
Friday, February 8, 2013
Greetings (after too long a wait).
We are all engaged in a spiritual battle regardless of whether or not we want to be. One thing God has truly been teaching me over the last few months has been that, if we want to win this fight, we have to really understand which part we play in the victory and which part God plays. Too often we try to take control of something we're not supposed to take control of, or we try to make God do everything when, in reality, we have more of a part to play then we think.
When we realize what part each of us plays in this picture, that's when we come upon the true meaning of one of those "buzzwords" that we think we understand, but we may really not understand at all: faith.
Faith is trusting that God will keep us and lead us through whatever comes. But, sometimes, we think this means not doing anything and letting God do everything. This is not an accurate picture of what faith is; if it was, then there would be no distinction between those who believe and trust in God and those who simply believe but go no further.
On the other hand, sometimes we think that faith is doing everything we can to do what God wants us to do. We say, "My faith is shown by how I act, and if I fail You, then my faith has failed." Again, this is an inaccurate picture of what faith is, because it does not include what God does in the situation.
Faith is trusting that God will guide us out of whatever situation we might be in, and acting accordingly. It is not the action of our faith that saves us, but the action of our faith does demonstrate whether or not we are truly trusting in God to be God. If we are not living according to how God wants us to live, or acting like how he would want us to act in the trial we're facing, this is sure evidence that we are really not trusting God at all.
I was praying last night, and God gave me a picture of what faith looks like. It's like being in a dense fog, and seeing a rope be thrown toward you. But faith is not the rope, for the rope does no good if you just stand there and stare at it. Faith is grabbing the rope and believing that someone will pull you out.
I'll give you an example: say you need a financial miracle. You trust God that he will provide miraculously what you need. But it is unlikely that you will see any miraculous sign if you sit around all day and do nothing. You have to work hard, whether at an actual job or at just living life and loving the people around you. This shows that you're not worried about whether God will come through or not, but that you are trusting that He will provide and you are living accordingly.
Now, as I said before, we are in a spiritual battle that is deeper than what we see or feel. Every decision we make either demonstrates that we trust in a God who has already won the battle, or shows that we may believe that the victory is still up for grabs. The thing that we forget sometimes, however, is that the battle rages on all the time, not just in the trials. Even the times of plenty and goodness are times in which the battle still rages.
This is why faith is so important. It shows that we trust God that he has already won in every situation, and that we live accordingly. This is what James was talking about when he said that faith without works is dead. Faith is grabbing the rope when it is thrown to you, not just expecting that someone will tie it around your leg and pull. Faith is what takes us from simply believing in God to trusting completely in Him, and then living like that.
This, however, does not mean that we have to be have perfect faith in order to be saved. That's not the point; if our perfect faith could save us, then salvation through Christ Jesus would be unnecessary. But as a Christian, we should be striving daily to trust God more and give God glory in everything we do. Remember, this is the reason why Jesus came and died for us: so that we can have this faith and be able to glorify God in everything we do.
So remember, when you find yourself in the dense fog (whatever it may be), grab the rope!