Monday, March 31, 2008

Obedience & My Version of God's Will

I'm reading Judges 1-2 this morning. The Israelites have lost both Moses and Joshua and are about to embark upon a season of revolving leadership that eventually culminates in their demand for a king, rejecting pure theocracy for a more culturally acceptable system of government.

In these first two chapters, I am reminded of the importance of obedience. In their conquest of the land of Canaan, several of the tribes failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land and cleanse their new dwelling of false gods and evil influence. Yahweh intended for them to take complete habitation of the land, establishing his kingdom not just as the predominant religion, but as the only one.

The disobedience of the tribes reminds me of my own life. I'm not an advocate of "Christian culture" to become the only valid culture in the US; I don't know that an essentially state-sponsored Christian religion is the best method for the kingdom of God to impact the world. This method has failed miserably time and time again in other countries over the centuries. However, I am more concerned about the advancement of the kingdom of God in my own life and in my sphere of influence. Am I being obedient to the commands that God has whispered to my heart in times of clarity? Or do I, like the Israelites, fall to compromise when I am in the midst of following Christ? When faced with decisions (should I kill this "king" or simply subdue him?) and my spiritual horizon is overcast, will I do what I heard God command? Or will I settle for my version of God's will?

My prayer today is that the Holy Spirit would 1) help me remember what God has commanded me to do, 2) reveal to me the "kings" and "inhabitants" that are already established in my life and 3) give me the strength to be completely obedient, refusing to resort to my version of God's will.

Judges 1-2

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Goodwill Goldmine #1

Vanessa and I made a little trip out of state this weekend. Now that she has started eBaying children's books, it's a prerequisite when we go out of town that we stop at a Goodwill. If I have ever been glad to go to a thrift store, it was this time! This Goodwill had THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of used CDs. As I shuffled through their shelves of unorganized discs, I found about thirty albums that are on my "To Buy" list... and there was one set of shelves I didn't even touch! Unfortunately, my conscience would only allow me to buy eight (and one of them turned out to be a DVD). I will be back as soon as I am able. In the meantime, here is my first "Goodwill Goldmine" mix.

1. Bullet the Blue Sky - U2
2. Dry the Rain - The Beta Band
3. Rattled by the Rush - Pavement
4. What's the Frequency, Kenneth? - R.E.M.
5. Even Flow - Pearl Jam
6. Squares - The Beta Band
7. Ballad in Plain Red - Derek Webb
8. Drive - R.E.M.
9. Grounded - Pavement
10. Jeremy - Pearl Jam
11. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
12. Everybody Hurts - R.E.M.
13. I Repent - Derek Webb
14. Man on the Moon - R.E.M.

By the way - I am not revealing the location of my very special budget CD source! Sorry!

(I obviously do not listen to only Christian music. I am a mild audiophile and love music of all sorts, especially artists whose work have provided a soundtrack for my generation, my life personally and especially my faith. The vast majority of the music I listen to is 100% clean, but every so often a song will have a distasteful word in it. I have wrestled with the place of "secular" music in my life for years and have come to believe that whether or not a Christian should listen to it is a personal decision that has to be made with a person's maturity and ease of influence in mind. There was a time in the development of my faith when I needed to set non-Christian music and its influence aside. However, I'm not a kid anymore and my faith is founded. When I listen to music made by non-Christian artists, I try to understand their view of a world that is not Christ-centered; I believe it helps me keep from becoming blind to the state of the world around me. I love good music and I enjoy posting my playlists, but they are compiled with my tastes and personal standards in mind, not those of younger Christians.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Me Last!

My almost three-year-old daughter has a habit that, even at her young age, strikes a wrong chord in me. It surfaced again today as we walked up the steps to my mom's house; in the long line of Foster-Whiddons, I was last and Zoe was just in front of me. As we made our way onto the porch, my little girl picked up her pace and told me repeatedly and emphatically, "Me first! Me first! Me first!" In classic parental reverse-psychology, I responded, "Fine! I want to be last! You can't be last! That's my spot!"

My own statement reminded me of a message I heard recently at the Creative Church Conference (C3) at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia, delivered a sermon in which he described what it was like to be the pastor of Darlene Zschech, one of the most recognized worship leaders in the world. He illustrated his point by proclaiming that when they go on trips together, people want a picture with Darlene and he is the guy who ends up holding the camera! Pastor Houston's challenge to a building full of ambitious leaders stuck with me - practice being last.

Being last does not come easily to mankind; it definitely is not at the top of my list of personal goals. However, I want to be like Christ, and Philippians 2:5-8 describes how my attitude should look in order to reflect his:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Oh Jesus, help me learn to be glad to be last. Help me lay down my pride and place others above myself. Let "Me last!" be the cry of my heart!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Feeling Unhealthy?

Do you ever feel unhealthy? When you've eaten too much junk food, when you're on your third soda and it's only 11:30AM, when you haven't raised your heart rate past a mild trot in weeks? Unhealthy is not a good feeling - it hints of current shame and impending doom.

I often feel spiritually unhealthy. My heart burns for the devotional life, for spiritual disciplines, for discipleship. How can you be spiritually unhealthy when you love such things? Several reasons:

1) A loss of focus on the Teacher. All the things that make spiritual growth happen can become ends in themselves. The disciple has to remember that his journey is about one person - Jesus. If he works hard, learns a lot and grows immensely but is no closer to Jesus, the journey is in vain. Why am I doing what I'm doing? Why am I a Christian to begin with? I need to get close to Jesus, apart from my official position in ministry.

2) A lack of obedience. As the disciple learns to follow Jesus, the Teacher will ask him to do things that are uncomfortable. He will be stretched beyond the aspects of discipleship toward which he is naturally bent. If he naturally leans toward evangelism, the Lord may ask him to learn to study. If he leans toward private disciplines, the Lord may ask him to evangelize. God will lead toward specific conversations, influences, relationships, etc. It is too easy for the follower to dismiss and forget about the thing the Spirit has shown him to do and pursue other holy discipleship endeavors, sedating his conscience with easier good works. What has God directed me to do that I have left incomplete? When the LORD left his final instructions with his friends, he told them to make disciples and teach them to OBEY his Word. I need to obey.

3) A lessened influence in the world. Christians have a bad habit that is destroying the influence of the Church - the longer we are believers and the more involved we become in our local church, the more removed we become from the unbelieving world around us. This is a tragedy. This trend does not model Jesus' life and ministry at all. The LORD did attend synagogue and have conversations with the religious community, but he was frequently accompanied by the "seeking" unchurched. Seclusion in the Christian ghetto does little for the advancement of the kingdom of God; it encourages an us-verses-them mentality and our hearts no longer bleed for the lost and hurting. The Christian subculture feels safe for the believer but is death to the purposes of God in the earth. Am I having significant, caring conversations with those who are far from God? Do I have friends who are unbelievers? If not, I am convinced that I am not really following Jesus and I am living in disobedience and sin.

If my life is suffering from these diseases, I will live with a sense of current shame and impending spiritual doom & failure. We are called by Christ to live lives of eternal impact - am I having the impact I'm supposed to have? Am I a significant player in the kingdom of heaven, a notable character in God's story of redemption today? I want to be healthy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kingdom come... in me!

I want to live my life with an awareness of God, listening to his Spirit and in consistent conversation with him throughout the day. I want to be obedient to do the tasks he lays on my heart and spiritually awake, praying as people and situations pass through my thoughts. I want to be easily moved to worship in the context of "normal" life, seeing God at work all around me.

This is what I call "walking in the Spirit." I want it.

I want to move in the gifts of the Spirit that I know I have. I want to learn the gifts of which I am not yet aware that I have. But more than this, I want to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit and live in obedience to God. I want to do the hard things that the LORD asks of me, the things that scare me to my core and seem completely unpleasant, the things that come with no fanfare or emotional gratification. I want to walk the way Jesus walked, operating under the direction of his Spirit, being led by his yoke and pulling it with him at my side.

I don't want ordinary life. I don't want ordinary Christianity. I want Jesus and his kingdom at work in me. "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You've Got It - Now Use It!

I'm selling my 98 Nissan Altima and in attempt to utilize it's full resale potential, I've been taking care of some repairs. There are only a few and most of them are minor, but one issue drew my attention more than others - the air conditioner. For just over a year I have been without AC. I suffered through one sweltering south Georgia summer with no relief, afraid to take my car to the mechanic with this issue. I have heard all the horror stories about AC repair and two different mechanics speculated that my repair would top the $1000 mark. So I suffered.

However, I mentioned my AC issue and its symptoms to a friend of mine a few months ago (a fellow pastor with lots of car repair experience). He made a recommendation that gave my frugal heart hope. "It sounds like you may just have a belt that has broken. Start there - hopefully that'll fix it." A few days after his advice a popped my hood, located by condenser and, sure enough, there sat three pulleys longing for a belt to turn them! I did not need the AC at the time (it was winter), but yesterday I went to the auto parts store, purchased my $10 belt and engaged the air conditioning system that has been sitting under my hood for over a year - unused, full of potential to improve my driving life!

I see a spiritual lesson in my idle air conditioner. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. The Spirit is referred to as "wind" or "breath" in biblical Greek, and just like my AC he is ready and waiting to fill our lives with a breeze that re-energizes us and improves the journey of life. In fact, the Spirit of God does much more than make life better - he teaches us, draws us into the Holy of Holies with the Father, comforts us in our dark times and corrects us in our fallen state, forming us into the image of Christ. Such potential just waiting to be engaged!

Why do we suffer, trying to live the Christian life without him? Often we are afraid of the cost. We have heard others' stories of following God and we don't know if we can pay the price. Or perhaps life is good in this season and we don't feel that we need the Holy Spirit; a more desperate time is coming and we'll deal with our need at that time.

How can we engage the Spirit of God? There are so many simple ways! Don't assume it will be a difficult process - start with the easy stuff. Take time to pray... for yourself, for others. for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Study and meditate on the Word. Serve others. Share Christ with those who are far from him. Be obedient to the tasks the Lord lays on your heart. Ask God to give you more of his Spirit, without preconceptions of what his giving will look like. We have a wonderful Father who desires to give us good gifts - especially his own Spirit!

I'm reminded of an old dugout cheer - "You've got it, now use it!" We have the Holy Spirit waiting under the hood to be engaged; let's use what we've been given! We need not suffer any more!