Friday, July 27, 2007

Unbiblically Burdened?

I want to talk about something that has been on my heart for a while now: people who are unbiblically burdened. This burden comes in many forms, from a pastor* who is over-worked, a deacon* who is emotionally drained, or even a congregant* who is made to feel guilty.

Jesus told us, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB) Did Jesus lie? When I look around I see souls who are heavily burdened and most of them do not even realize it. The burden has become a second nature to us, we do not realize it is there, but if it were missing it would probably make us very uncomfortable.

Our brothers and sisters all around us are feeling unwelcome, unwanted, and not needed. Yet, they are all asked to come back, to bring their friends, family, and strangers. They are asked to join more programs, give more money, do more stuff - but for what? Where does this all lead? Some say it is for the Glory of Christ - maybe, but does this go against what he said about his burden?

Should the pastor* be working 60+ hours a week, preparing lessons, counseling strangers, visiting hospitals, funerals, weddings, neglecting his family, etc.?

Should the deacon* be making major decisions about minor things, visiting every church member's* home, worrying about temperature control, the phone system, utility bills, etc.?

Should the congregant* be working 40 hours a week, only to feel guilty for not being at church* on Wednesday nights, not signing up for this years Awana or VBS, missing Sunday School to go to the Beach, etc.?

All of these things and many more make people feel like they are not doing what they should be doing, what they need to be doing to be righteous in God's eyes. A lot of time we feel guilty for not doing just a few of these things. Some will even doubt your salvation if you are not as involved as they think you should be. It is common for people to associate this guilty feeling with the Holy Spirit urging them to meet these requirements. But is it the Holy Spirit?

I wrote this post because I want you to know something; sometimes that guilty-feeling is not coming from the Holy Spirit. If someone says something the right way, a lot of times we do not think twice about it, especially if we trust the people speaking. If everyone else is doing the same thing, we might believe it is what we need to do too.

This is where discernment comes in. The best question anyone has ever asked me is this, "Where is that in the Bible?"

The next time you feel guilty about something, ask yourself, "Where is that in the Bible?" and then do a long Bible study. Do not stop with the first answer someone tells you - sometimes people whom we consider to be very Godly have beliefs based on misinterpretation, Scripture taking out of context, or just plain old tradition. Dig deep and hard, pray, talk, pray, ask questions, pray, study, pray. You just might find that Jesus' burden is much lighter than the load you have been carrying around, the load others expect you to carry. Then I would encourage you to use what you have found to help and encourage others. This way, they are not stuck carrying a load Jesus cares little about.

*I use these terms very loosely to fit the structure of the traditional church - forgive me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shaken or established?

Last Sunday morning, I continued to teach from Proverbs on the subject of trusting God. This time, I began with the following verse:

No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved (shaken). (Proverbs 12:3 ESV)
Similarly, another proverb says:
When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. (Proverbs 10:25 ESV)
Everyone faces storms in their life... the tempest is always near. What happens when the storm is blowing your world away? Do you find yourself shaken? Or do you find yourself established?

The way we respond to "storms" in our lives could be one way to evaluate whether we are truly trusting in God or if we are still leaning on our own understanding. These storms can come in the form of health or financial problems... job woes... relationship issues... but, they all boil down to one thing: Can you trust God even when he acts in a way that you do not expect?

As I've mentioned before, this concept of "trust" is about finding our safety and security in God alone. As long as we continue to trust what we can explain and what we can understand, then we are still leaning on our own understanding. If we find that we can stand firm - established - seeking safety and security in God alone even when life does not go as we expect, then we know that we are learning to trust him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Knowing God's Will

Lately I have been thinking on the topic of knowing God's will. I believe that God's will is something that Scripture says we can know (Rom. 12:1-2). Some aspects of God's will are even clearly stated in Scripture. For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 says "For this is the will of God, your sanctification..." But what about those decisions we have to make in life that Scripture does not directly speak to? How are we to discern God's will in those decisions? How do we know whether it is God's will for us to take that new job, move to that new city, or use the resources he has given us in a certain way? At a more basic level, does God's will have anything to do with these types of decisions or can believers just decide what to do based on logic and their own wisdom? I have a few thoughts on how I think God reveals His will to us in these decisions, but I would love to hear the thoughts of others before I offer my own.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Your everyday, ordinary life

As I've mentioned before, I'm reading various sections of the New Testament in The Message. I finished reading the book of Acts Saturday night, and I was looking through a couple of passages Sunday morning, when I read this passage:

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (Romans 12:1-3 The Message)
I love this sentence: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. This is truly the desire of my heart, and I believe it is the type of worship that God desires - worship that comes from the everyday, ordinary life that has been transformed by God... "by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him".

Yes, God is concerned about our obedience in the big things, but when we learn to lay before him our "sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life", then we begin to understand what it means to worship him in spirit and in truth. I'm not sure that we can worship God in the big things, if we have not learned to worship in our everyday, ordinary life.

For two of the last three Sundays, I've been teaching on the topic of "trust in the Lord" from the Proverbs. The main text was Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (ESV) As I studied the phrase "trust in the Lord" in Proverbs, I realized that if we truly trust in the Lord - that is, find our security or safety in him - then that trust will demonstrate it through our lives in obedience (Prov 16:20), humility (Prov 28:25), and complete submission to him (Prov 29:25).

Again, this trust is demonstrated in big ways in our lives - our families, our jobs, moving to a new location, etc. - but it is primarily demonstrated in the small, everyday, ordinary decisions that we make - the way we speak to a friend, the way we spend a small amount of money, the way we get upset when our favorite television show is pre-empted.

Trust God in the small things, and the big things will fall into place. Worship God in the small things, and the big things will fall into place. Forget about God in the small things, and the big things will be for ourselves and not for God.

I'm learning - I hope others are learning - that God is interested in my everyday, ordinary life. Can others see God demonstrated in your everyday, ordinary life?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What about Prayer?

God has been teaching me a lot about how to communicate with him. It has been a struggle I have had for years (probably since the Holy Spirit indwelled me). I first did what every "good" Christian does - prayed every morning, every evening, over my meals, etc. That is what I was shown/told to do, so I fell in line. My prayers were usually filled with "God," "Lord," "Father" all over the place and all the time. I think it is pretty much what we do instead of saying "um." You have probably prayed like this... it sounds something like:

Father Lord God, Please, Lord, heal so-and-so, Father. Father God, bless so-and-so. Oh Lord, reveal your will to so-and-so, Father, God, Lord. Lord, Father, be with so-and-so, Lord God, as they do such-and-such. Father, thank you for such-and-such, Lord, God. I pray this in Jesus' Holy name. Amen.

A while ago I realized how silly that is. I mean, imagine if you were talking to me and you repeated my name at every pause. I would think you are nuts! So I made a dedicated effort to only refer to God one or two times during a prayer. So my prayers sounded something like:
Father, thank you for such-and-such and please be with so-and-so as they do such-and-such. Please reveal your will to us and allow us to accept it. Father, forgive us for such-and-such and protect us from the evil one. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

But then my prayers began to decrease. Why? Well because of my understanding of cause-and-effect and my understanding of God's sovereignty. I knew that we were suppose to pray, you know, "You have not because you ask not" and other verses that indirectly teach us to pray. So I did pray; mostly trying to be obedient, but in a way I thought it was futile because I knew that God knew what I needed and I knew that God was in control. In a way it was because I had faith in God that I did not really see the need to pray for things. But again, I did pray and did so out of obedience---I just wasn't really convinced it was necessary.

After a while I read a few articles and books on prayer to see what God was teaching others about prayer. I found them lacking and no real help to me. I already knew most of what they said and it did not help me weed out any of my beliefs. I waited, I continued to pray as I knew how, and then something "occurred" to me.

Regardless of what I believe about the world (cause/effect) and God's sovereignty. It did not stop me from having conversations with my friends and family. So why should it stop me from having a conversation with our father?

I am still learning and trying to understand prayer, but now I come at it almost entirely different. I still pray over some of my meals and ask God to bless them. I still pray for guidance, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, revelation, etc. I still pray that His will be done as it is in Heaven. But I also pray to him just for the sake of having conversation. I tell him what is going on in my life and what is troubling me. I tell him about the driver in front of me who must be drunk or stupid - and I ask that he help me not think things like that about complete strangers. Sometimes we talk about the things I see in the church that upset me or the things I see in myself that upset me. We talk about my two dogs. We talk about my lovely wife. We talk about the people who are discipling me. We talked about this blog post, past and future blog posts as well. We talk about sudden issues that happen to come up - a sickness, a death, an accident, etc.

You see, we have these conversations daily, throughout the entire day. As I sit and reflect on different things, I bring it to him. Somehow he has shown me how to do that. It was not anything I read from scripture, or anything anyone told me, at least not that I recall. Rather, I think it was just a realization that we are suppose to have a relationship with Him. How can I have a relationship with someone that I do not really talk to?

Where is God taking me now with my prayer life? I do not yet know, but I have been reading through Genesis lately and I realized something. When the people from that time spoke to God, they spoke to him with a boldness that I do not see today. I think this directly reflects what it means to have a true relationship with Him. So, now I try to approach him with boldness. After all, Paul does tell us that we do have a bold confidence to enter into his Holiest Place because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross (Hebrews).

I would love to know your thoughts on prayer?