March 18, 2010

What Jesus Sang

This is something really profound that I discovered a while back, and have recently run across and decided to share. At the end of the last supper, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn for the end of the Passover meal (Matthew 26:30). My footnotes specified what was sung after said meal: Psalm 115-118. While Psalms 115-117 are great, I want to point out some very poignant verses from 118. I've made bold the verses that are especially profound in light of the fact that Jesus was singing them so close to the cross... those of you who love Jesus like I do, this will mean a lot to you.

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2 Let Israel say:
"His love endures forever."

3 Let the house of Aaron say:
"His love endures forever."

4 Let those who fear the LORD say:
"His love endures forever."

5 In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
and he answered by setting me free.

6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

7 The LORD is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies.

8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.

9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

10 All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

11 They surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

12 They swarmed around me like bees,
but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the LORD helped me.

14 The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.

15 Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
"The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!

16 The LORD's right hand is lifted high;
the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!"

17 I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.

20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.

21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.

27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

March 12, 2010

Love As Action II: Sitting in Chairs

I am sitting in this chair as I type because I trust it. I believe that this chair will continue to support me and keep my off the floor for as long as I remain in it. If you asked me if I believe that the chair would keep me off the floor, I would say yes, I do. This would be evidenced by the fact that I would, at some future point, proceed to sit upon the chair.

What if I never sat in the chair after that? You might become suspicious of my earlier stated conviction about the chair. You might ask me, and rightfully so, if I actually believe that the chair would hold me. I had essentially professed a belief in in the consequence of an action of mine, an if-then statement: if I sit down in the chair, then it will hold me off the ground. My verbal statement of belief, which isn't physical, is directly connected to tangible reality: my actions.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? [...]

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

-James 2:14-19

If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.

-Quoted from Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I claim to believe in chairs, gravity, and the sturdiness of wood. Therefore, I sit in chairs.

I claim to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, as completely God and completely man, as the savior of broken people, as my personal, all-powerful savior. I don't always sit in that chair, so to speak. By God's grace I've learned the importance of loving Him; but I can't claim that every little action I take is motivated by the desire to love God and love other people with His love. I want it to be that way though; yes, it's an "ideal," but half the time someone tries to comfort me with that it's because they don't see the purpose in trying.

When I do fall short, I must not wallow in shame and guilt; there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," because He has set us free from the law (Romans 8:1-2). However, I shouldn't abuse grace and use that as an excuse to become lazy and idle in my pursuit of Him (Romans 6:15-18); that would be manipulative of God, and trust me, He'd know.

When I claim to be a God follower, a Jesus freak, it follows that I am saying I want to live like Jesus. I say I believe this with no reservations, and I don't want to shy away from it because I believe that the brokenness of the world, God, Jesus, and His desire for people to come to Him and His love are objective truths. It's easy enough to write bold things like that as I sit here in an empty house, but my desire is to live that out with my daily life, with each of my actions, so that God's love might be shown. I'm not perfect, but God knows that. He knew that before I did, and planned well in advance for that... in fact, it's an integral part of His plan. So is your imperfection. Since He's the one I'm relying on, I don't have to worry about Him not coming through for me.

I trust in the chair beneath me, but only for temporary resistance to gravity. I trust in the God above me, for salvation and provision in this live. The chair's made of wood; while sturdy, I don't think it could handle all my shortcomings if they physicalized themselves suddenly. But I'm still trusting the chair enough to sit in it. God's a lot more than wood, and I'm learning to trust him with a lot more than just keeping my butt off of the ground.

March 5, 2010

Don't Discredit God

Philippians 1:6...
...being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Most people like to have control over their lives. We like to be certain of everything, and not to have questions or uncertainty or something that we can't explain. It's uncomfortable. Personally, I have never been a control freak with regard to other people; but I have a desperate desire for control in my personal life. I like deadlines, obvious directions, clear communication, and a knowledge of the path in front of me.

I was getting very clear direction from God concerning my course of action in an area of my life. I had received multiple confirmations of this direction form many areas, from leadership to my small group to prayer... but just because I was apprehensive, I kept second-guessing God. I went into a conversation with a very trusted older friend looking for a definite yes or no; the answer I got was "If you're getting a yes from God, then yes; if you're getting a no, then no." It wasn't exactly definitive, which frustrated me a little... but it ended up being what I needed to hear.

In worship that night at my church's midweek youth service, I got convicted of what I had been doing. After so many positive confirmations from God of the direction I was to head in, I still wanted more proof. In worship God didn't give me a definite yes or no; He let me know that I hadn't been trusting Him. He had given me a really clear direction, but I kept coming back saying "Are you sure? Could you tell me that one more time? I just need to be completely sure." He told me to trust what He had told me and to acknowledge that He is in control even in my uncertainty.

I had more than enough confirmations to be confident of my direction, but I kept discrediting what God had told me before and came back to re-confirm. It's like my Dad telling me that I could take the car somewhere and then coming back to ask him if I could take the car somewhere... five more times. If God has put a purpose on your heart, don't discredit that. Move forward in it as soon as possible after seeking wisdom from brothers and sisters you trust. Start that prayer group. Invite that person that God has put on your heart to church. Pray with and for a non-Christian, if they'll let you. They usually will. If you've received clear direction, don't waste time by pretending that you're still unsure.

This is not to say that you should rush everything; some situations take time to work out and patience to see through and find a opportunity in. But don't plan on witnessing to someone "next week." Commit to it next time you see them. Step forward in obedience and God will reward that; and for His sake, don't wait until tomorrow to do it. Give control over to Him and step forward in faith, and God will see it through.

Philippians 1:6...
...being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

March 3, 2010

Promises and Exile

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

When David was anointed by Samuel to become the next King of Israel, I'm sure he was pretty excited. Good things started to happen pretty quickly: he was summoned to Saul's court because he was known for his harp playing, and he quickly became a favorite of Saul. He steps out in faith and kills Goliath, being much younger and presumably smaller than any of the Israelite warriors; he just trusts in God's promise that He will let the Israelites prevail against those who spoke against the name of the Lord. For this, David is promised riches and the King's daughter in marriage; he's now set up to join the royal family.

Things are looking pretty good for the small town shepherd boy who always lived in the shadow of his older brothers, as he's just one or two steps away from stepping into that kingship he was promised. If I were him, I'd be on top of the world. After the Goliath incident David is made a military commander and meets with great success in the field, and everyone loves him.

But then his best friend's dad, Saul, a.k.a. King Saul, randomly attempts to kill David while he's playing the harp. The only reason I can imagine that David stayed around after this was that he was anticipating kingship; he didn't want to be far away from the throne. If he were just a regular servant, he would have every reason to get out of there.

More military campaigns, more success. And then a girl. Saul's daughter Michal falls in love with him. Maybe that attempt at murder was just a one time thing and there's nothing to worry about... after all, how can Saul kill his son's best friend and his daughter's love interest?

It seems like everyone underestimated how crazy Saul was. After a short episode where he tells Jonathan and all his servants to kill David (they don't, by the way), Saul goes after David personally. It's a repeat of last time: David's playing the harp, Saul has a spear. Fortunately the spear only ends up in the wall.

Recognizing a pattern, David gets out of there. Finally. Holding out for the crown doesn't seem to be an effective strategy at this point. Very confused and frustrated, he asks Jonathan "What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?" (1 Samuel 20:1). After some investigation, it's decided that David has to leave for good... he and Jonathan cry together before he leaves.

Where's God's promise at this point? So many things have happened that appear directly contrary to what God said would happen. God said he would become king, but now he's a lonely exile.

In Gath, a land of enemies, he pretends to be insane to avoid trouble. He gathers a band of discontented men soon afterward.

Saul has the priests of the Lord killed, all 85 of them, because they knew about David's escape but didn't tell Saul. Then he has the entirety of the village of Nob killed for similar reasons.

Imagine having that on your conscience. Then imagine that your entire family, along with everyone else's family, is kidnapped while you are away on errands. And your men start to talk about mutiny. How close does that crown feel now?

David doesn't lose faith, though. The families are recaptured. Saul commits suicide in battle, and David is anointed as King... after a very, very long time. But now he's prepared. He's led people through extremely tough times, and learned to really on God in each and every situation. He's now prepared to take hold of that promise.

Anything, no matter how terrible or inconvenient, that happens to you can lead to success; especially those things which seem to be perfectly detrimental to what God has promised you. Our perspective is so short-sighted. We can't see what's ahead, or how what hurts now will grow us years down the road; but He can. So, remember: when you are promised the crown and then you are exiled from your very home, don't worry. Cry, and be sad (that's normal), but ultimately... don't worry, don't turn away, and keep on walking toward Jesus. God's road map for our lives has a lot more depth to it than we can understand.