Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's Been A While...

Life has been a little more busy than I would care for it to be, but in the midst of all this craziness God has been at work. I have felt the movement of the Holy Spirit in me and around me. But, it's definitely been a learning experience. We are all too often blinded by the Spiritual World going on around us...both the struggles and victories...both the work of God and the schemes of Satan. I have come to believe that we can't comprehend, even in slightest, the world we truly live in without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In him all things move and work together for good.

With that thought, I would like to share some stuff from a book I've been reading called The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.
Smith says, "The constant aim of the Spirit is to point us to the Father and
the Son, and not to himself. Everything that happens to us in our
Christian lives, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit. We become
discontented with our lives, and it is the Spirit who gently nudges us toward
Jesus. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the events of our lives with the
single aim of making us disciples of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is at work in
our lives in subtle ways, ways we cannot often discern. But the Spirit is
at work nonetheless. The components of change happen when the Holy Spirit
is at work in the midst of them."
While I have nothing to say that would disagree with this statement, I'm left scratching my head wondering why this third party of the Trinity is only hinted at in our circle of Christian community. You would think that we would be adamant about learning more from the Holy Spirit. You would think that we would be compelled to figure our more about how he works in our lives. You would think that we would be convicted to share with the coming generations that God the Father has given us the "Spirit of his Son" (Galatians 4:6) to rule in us. For years I have been trying to change myself for the glory of God. For years I have been trying to get better at following Jesus, but every single effort was negated because I was living on my strength. Let's just say, I'm pretty weak. I wonder what life could and should be like for Christians today if we were able to discern more from the Spirit of God and if we surrendered to the it's power on daily basis. A Divine Spirit lives in me to give me strength and direction in a world that seeks to steal both. Also, Paul tells Timothy that this Spirit is not about fear, but that we receive "power, love, and self-discipline." I just have to wonder...what all is Christ's Church missing out on when we live life without recognizing the offer of God's Spirit?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Fearful Heart's Contradiction

I would like you to read a couple excerpts from Christian Perfection by Francois Fenelon.

"What folly to fear to be too entirely God's! It is to fear to be too happy. It is to fear to love God's will in all things. It is to fear to have too much courage in the crosses which are inevitable, too much comfort in God's love, and too much detachment from the passions which make us miserable." He continues later saying, "We must be born again, renounce ourselves, hate ourselves, become a child, be poor in spirit, weep to be comforted, and not be of the world which is cursed because of its scandals. These truths frighten many people, and this is because they only know what religion exacts without knowing what it offers, and they ignore the spirit of love which makes everything easy. They do not know that it leads to the highest perfection by a feeling of peace and love which sweetens all the struggle."

Wow! I'm not exactly sure where to start, but I do have a few thoughts.
1. I know God to be a true lover of my soul. I have tasted this love of God, and it has convicted me...mostly. Openly speaking, I have still found myself fearful of being "too entirely God's." I am not sure I can really explain that, but there has been more than one time I have felt like Neo from The Matrix standing on one building being beckoned by Morpheus to jump. The jump seems impossible, and the fear of failure clouds my mind. How insane is it that I fear failure in the hands of God the Creator?!?! I am embarrassed to even confess that. Yet, I am convicted by Fenelon's understanding and King David's words "Come, see and taste how sweet is the Lord." What immaturity to fear to be too fully God's.
2. Fenelon goes on to challenge every would-be Jesus-follower to renounce the passions of this world and boldly confess our brokenness before the Great Physician. If there is anything I have learned over the past several months, it is that I am a horrible sinner. There truly is nothing good about me. And, there are times that I find myself living in pride and taking credit for the greatness of God in my life. Jesus-followers cannot live any other way than with an attitude of surrender and an emptying of oneself.
3. I am learning this last thought on a daily basis. God's way of living is more of a blessing each and everyday I surrender because he offers (John 10:10) so much more than he asks of us. For those out there who see God as a taker and not the Giver of Life, please reconsider submission to our Savior. I can speak from experience that God's Spirit does live in you and work through you to offer you peace, joy, and a love beyond what I could have imagined. This supernatural Holy Spirit is the cure for all of our sinful sicknesses.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Things that drive me crazy...

I know full well that what I'm about to write will be frustrating to some. I don't mean to be indicting or judgemental here, but I do want to express a frustration. When you contemplate Christianity and Discipleship, what comes to mind? When you ponder what this whole following Jesus is about, where do your thoughts take you? When you boil down all the things that the church should be, what is left at the center as most important?

I truly love my job. I love working with teens and their families. I love serving as a minister inside the church...on most days. However, there are times I would be willing to do any other job. That's probably an overstatement, but I have definitely said that out loud before without fully thinking it through. I have devoted my life to knowing my God and following his will. I have offered my life back to God to use me in any way he sees fit, and it seems pretty obvious to me that for the time being that I am supposed to be at Broadway.

Forgive me if this is not where you saw this thought going, but there are parts of me that really struggle being proud of my heritage in the Church of Christ. I know full well that this struggle may be generational. I know full well that this struggle may be a "me" problem, and I am willing to work through this. Many of the most influential people in my life have been "die-hard" Church of Christ. They have blessed me in transformational ways that I will never full be able to thank them for.

Over the past two weeks, I have been in some very discouraging conversations. These conversations have been centered upon women's role in the church, instrumental music, baptism, and communion. I don't have time to go into all of these thoughts. If you'd like to know what I think, let's grab some coffee. However, what drives me crazy, what makes me want to scream, is this attitude of being right. In each of these five or six conversations I've been apart of, I have felt an attitude saying that we are right and they are wrong. When I say "they", I mean other churches. When I say "we", I mean the Church of Christ. When did being "right" become the end all be all of following Jesus? When did discipleship become about distinguishing ourselves from the Baptists, Presbyterians, or Methodists down the street? When did knowing God become about forcing others to conform to our way of doing things? I know in my heart that God has passed down the appropriate ways to live for him. I know through my study that God has thoughts on what is "orderly" for corporate worship. I understand that we all have our preferences, but it seems like that's what the majority of our fights rest on. The "I like it this way, so that's the way I want to do church" life. That attitude doesn't bother me all that much. I have my own preferences about church and how we do it. What bothers me is this "I'm right," and "they are wrong" mentality.

If some of the people who have raised me were to read this next comment, they might disown me. I'm going to say it because those of you who know me know that I respect those who have gone before us. But, there are days I want to go to another church. There are days I would like to go to any other church, and by that I mean any other church outside the Church of Christ. When I meet or hang out with my friends in youth ministry who don't go to a Church of Christ, I find myself constantly defending my beliefs. I have been told a thousand times, "Don't you think you're the only ones going to heaven?" I get this question a lot too; "So if I use a guitar, God won't listen to my singing?"

I know there are many in the "C of C" today who don't think this way, but I have been reminded the past couple of weeks that there are still quite a few out there. My goal and the focus of my life centers on this thought, "If I could bring someone into the presence of Jesus, what would he want them to know or experience?" I have a hard time believing he'd want me to bring up instrumental worship. I think he'd have a completely different mindset. The Holy Spirit's movement in my life leads me to believe Jesus would want me to humbly love and live out an example of abundant life before them. Obviously, there are those who would disagree with me. To those people I say, I respect your thoughts and opinions, but this is the man I believe God is calling me to be. And in all of this, I feel more free in Christ than I ever have.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Question is God

When you think about yourself, what comes to mind? When you truly do some deep reflecting, what happens? For some of us the deep reflecting times don't happen too often. I used to live that way. There was no more uncomfortable and guilty struggle than when I openly and honestly reflected upon who I was. I spent each minute looking at the good and bad in my life wondering how I could fix things. It is very easy to see sinfulness, focus on insecurities, and exaggerate downfalls. Celebrating joys and successes is often very hard.

Now days things have changed. My thoughts or self-reflection time doesn't go that way anymore. I have learned something very interesting about God and myself. During the self-reflection times God has reminded me that even my personal evaluation is not about me. It's a funny concept. One would think that self-reflection is just that...it is a way to evaluate yourself. But, God has been teaching me something lately. His work seems to be completely focused on pushing me to the side. To be truly transparent, he seems to be killing me off. Now days my self-reflection rests entirely upon what he is up to and how he is changing me. Over and over I try to take control of the transformation process, but I am continuously reminded that my growth is really about him. The Spirit's work in my life leaves me as the passive one in the relationship. God is working on me, through me, and all over. My job or role in all of this seems to be submission.

So I find myself in a weird, spiritual twilight zone. My self-reflection times have me asking one question...God. I don't think that's even a question, but that's all I ask and contemplate. Every question revolves around the Holy Spirit's work in my life. Where is it? How's it working? Am I surrendering? What is God saying and teaching? The craziest thing has happened. I feel more at peace about who I am now than I ever have before. That being said, there has never been another time in my life where I have felt more in limbo. As different or even arrogant as this sounds, I think I'm transforming more into God's image. My faith is deepening. My eyes are opened to the Spirit's work in me and around me. My heart is more subdued to God's will than ever before, and I have only asked that one question...God. What was this cognitive understanding about God has become this interesting daily conversation and inner dialogue. Well, it's not really much of a conversation right now I guess. For years I spent my time telling God what I needed and wanted, and right now he is the only one speaking. I'm just here listening, waiting, and yielding to the Spirit. Is that weird? Is it normal? I don't know. But, it feels right.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is this Hypocritical?

Over the past several weeks I have been following the Miss USA Pageant hoopla. If you don't get out much, here's the story in short form. Miss California, Carrie Prejean, had just finished her swimsuit walk. She changed into her evening gown and headed out to the front of the stage to answer her "worldview" questions. Perez Hilton, a pageant judge and open homosexual, asked Miss California to give her thoughts on same-sex marriage. Now Miss California, Carrie Prejean, is from a Christian family and goes to San Diego Christian College. Knowing her background, you could have guessed what her thoughts would be regarding this subject. She graciously explained that her view of marriage followed God's design of men and women to marry. Carrie Prejean tried her best to come across kindly as she contradicted many opinions in this country that same-sex marriage should be alright. Miss California did not win the Miss USA Pageant, and there are some out there who say her downfall was her honesty over that question. Liberal media outlets are beating her down across our nation as a conservative bigot. Other media centers closely attached to the conservative views are treating this woman like some heroine for Christian values.

So which is she? I'm not sure I would describe her as either of those perspectives. I definitely wouldn't describe her as a conservative bigot who is "intolerant of perfectly ok lifestyles" as one liberal talk show host said. I also do not think I would describe her as a great voice for the conservative Christian cirlces. This may not be a popular thing to say, but where did she find her platform to share this "Christian perspective?" No one would ever have known who Miss California was unless she was Miss California. Forgive me for being "Debbie Downer" here, but it is hard for me to listen to Christian truths from a woman who was wearing a revealing white bikini ten minutes before this comment. How many men and young boys were able to get her body out of their heads in order to hear her perspective on God's original design? How many young women walked away with mixed messages about who God is because one minute Carrie Prejean is revealing her body curves for show and the next she's revealing our Creator? Too many of our girls already think that their bodies are there to get them attention. That's the only reason we even heard this woman is...because some judges liked her body. Am I crazy, or does anyone else see the contradiction here?

Now...I cannot be too judgmental concerning this issue because I have not done a great job of integrating Christ into every aspect of my life. I'm sure more than one person sees "Josh the Hypocrite." I am sure there are too many instances in my life where I have spoken out of both sides of my mouth. However, God calls us to speak the truth. God calls us to speak his absolute truths in a world of tolerance to everything. If I am living a life of two different messages, then someone needs to restore me. If someone is skewing the integrity of God, then we must call like God sees it so that we are truly sharing his glory. God calls us to die to him so that he may fully transform us and integrate his Spirit into every single facet of our life. When will we (me as much as anyone else) allow God's glory to permeate our entire being? What a day that will be when collectively the Body of Christ surrenders completely to the overwhelming transformation of God.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Maintaining a Bonsai Tree

Do you know anything about Bonsai Trees? I don't know a whole lot because my first experience with a Bonsai Tree was watching the classic movie "The Karate Kid." There was also this really strange kid at my Junior High named Cody that like trimming up Bonsai Trees. I didn't really talk with him more than I had to because he kind of weirded me out. That's probably how you get into the landscaping business...just kidding Tim Oliver. Anyways, I have never really heard of anyone planting one. Typically people just buy them already grown, right? Maybe I am assuming too much about a subject far outside my expertise, but that's my foundation for this thought. The only bonsai trees I have seen are already fully grown, and the buyer or caretaker's job is to water it and trim it up as it is needed.

It a funny concept. Seems that it's easier to tweek things than grow them from start to finish. I have been rethinking my Christian faith quite heavily lately, and I have been monitoring the faiths of others in my community. To be completely honest, I have noticed something very disturbing. This is going to sound judgemental and I don't mean it rudely, but this same concept seems to have infested our churches. Tons of people coming to church with a faith grown by mom or dad or someone else. It's not just teens, but many adults. The faith they profess is not something they have been apart of from the beginning but rather the work of another follower way off in the past. These "followers" are coming to church sustaining their faith like a Bonsai Tree. They tweak and do behavior modification instead of true submission and transformation. When I say "they"...that's me too. At least, that was me. My parents and spiritual mentors were there to plant the seeds of Discipleship in my life. They were not there to give me a faith that I preserve until I give it to my children.

I think this may be the cause of so many leaving the church and, more importantly, leaving Jesus. We have been teaching a fundamental lie in our Christian gatherings. We, leaders like myself, have been teaching others how to retain faith instead of teaching them how to be soil. Remember the Parable of the Soils? The basis for the entire parable is that we are the soil and not the seed. My perception is that we have somehow gotten mixed up in our identity. We think we're the plant that needs pruning when we are really the soil. There is a significant misunderstanding of Scripture, Discipleship, and Body Life going on here.

Behavior modification is not the way of a Disciple. Death, Rebirth, and continual Transformation are the pillars of Jesus-followers. Christ came to kill me and raise me anew in his likeness and will. Jesus, our Messiah, knew he couldn't just chop off a branch here or there. He understood that the entire tree needed to come down because the tree wasn't his focus. The tree was only the product of the worthless soil that was me. Christ came to transform the soil into something that would produce beautiful fruits of the Spirit.

So here is the ultimate question...does your walk with God look more like someone pruning a Bonsai Tree or the soil yeilding God's beauty? I truly believe that the Disciple lives the journey of "good soil." We are remade by Jesus, we then bear fruits of the Spirit, we are often tilled up for another use in God's will, and we then bear more fruit looking like our Lord. It's a recurring process but a method that validates purpose and faith in this life.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm Pretty Arrogant

If I had to list my "Top Ten" sins that seem to haunt me on a daily basis, it would take a split second to know what sits atop that list. It's pride...no doubt about it. I find myself continuously thinking I am bigger and better than I am. I take pride in my independence as a person. However, I know full well that I am the best I can ever be when I am spralled out before God claiming my nothingness. Arrogance finds it way into my heart, and I can even rationalize why I don't need God to help me beat different sins in my life. Pride comes in the form of compliments for me, because there are instances I can remember when I served God for my glory and not his. I typically have more advice for others than I'm willing to hear, and I generally want others see me as a guy who has it all together instead of the rehabilitated Disciple I'm called to be.

John Wesley writes, "The first advice I would give to those who have been saved from sin by grace is to watch and pray continually against pride. For it is pride not only to ascribe what we have to ourselves, but also to think we have what we do not. One man, for instance, ascribed to his knowledge of God and was therefore humble. But then he thought he had more than everyone else which is a dangerous pride. We often think that we have no need of anyone else's advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as the parts of a body so that we cannot say to one another, 'I have no need of you.' Even to imagine that those who are not saved cannot teach you is a very great and serious mistake. Dominion is not found in grace. Not observing this has led some into many mistakes and certainly into pride. Beware even the appearance of pride! Let there be in you that lowly mind which was in Christ Jesus. Be clothed with humility. Let modesty appear in all your words and actions. One way we do this is to own any fault we have. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong, do not refrain from acknowledging it. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God - in fact, it will further it. Be open and honest when you are rebuked and do not seek to evade or disguise it. Rather, let it appear just as it is and you will thereby not hinder but adorn the gospel."

I'm trying to learn the deeper meaning of my place in this life and before God. My head desires to claim helplessness, but my heart struggles to fight humility. The greatest feats I have accomplished in my life have nothing to do with public applause or modifying my own behavior. The greatest feats I have accomplished are when I have surrendered my whole self to Jesus and become the vessel of hope, love, and humility that manifest the Messiah who saved me. And so today I pray for tears of humility and brokenness to remind me of my helplessness because I want my heart to match my head. I must have the movement of God's Holy Spirit, or I am dead.