July 26, 2008

good...is not good enough

This is one of my draft posts I had previously mentioned. I am not completely sure how to best express myself, but this is a topic that weighs heavily on me. I hope this doesn't come across as criticism, but as concern. May you learn these lessons more quickly than I am learning them. I have so far to go.

We all have typical phrases we say to someone who is leaving us, like "Drive safe!" or "Have fun!" When I began living with my brother, I would often dismiss him with "Be good!" Finally I stopped saying that to him, because I hate implying that his being "good" is my main concern for him. If I define "being good" as most would, I set the standard far too low.* As if being good would save souls or get us into heaven. I realized that when I said "be good" to him it was just a cop-out. I was trying to sound more normal when my insides saying something like: I want you to reflect Jesus out there. But I guess that sounds too spiritual for a regular Christian conversation, right? Like, tone it down!

If you have spent long in North American Christian circles, you probably have heard it said that someone is "not walking with the Lord." That is Christianese for someone who has made a profession of saving faith in Christ but is living in a visibly worldly fashion (read: not going to church). In a recent conversation with a Christian lady, she mentioned her son, who is not walking with the Lord and some church kids, whom she described as good kids. Yes, evangelical churches are often full of good kids. My concern is the great overlap between the two categories: many good church kids find themselves not walking with the Lord.

At prayer meeting, we often pray for a few young men have quit attending church. I realize that those are the people that it is easiest to pray for aloud, because we all agree that they are not doing as they should. But I wonder if those who pray realize how many of us good church kids continue to warm stacking chairs in the sanctuary, but have minds that are far, far from the Lord.

The problem is not so much that we do good things, but that we're willing to stop at just acting good. I think that in most people's eyes, I'd look like a "good church kid." Let me give you a good church kid checklist. (Reminder: these are the good church kids, not every church kid).
  • Go to church at least once a week.
  • Don't have premarital sex.
  • Read your Bible.
  • Hang out with Christian friends.
  • Don't curse.
  • Give money to the church.
We know that these things don't get us into Heaven, but we take them as indicators of whether another Christian has their essential ducks in a row. But when we go past appearances...

We go to church. (...but what sorts of conversations do I initiate as we stand in the foyer? I heard about a man who, after his sermons, would sit on the podium and weep. "Listen to their conversations!" he would say. It broke his heart to preach the Word of God, only to have the congregation walk out of church talking about last night's football game. When I hear that someone is struggling with something, do I say I'll pray, but then forget? Do I take ten minutes to call them that week, or do I seek to avoid the "uncomfortable" or "socially awkward" people in order to talk to the cool crowd?)

We don't have premarital sex.
(...but God wants "not even a hint of sexual immorality". Do crude jokes repulse me like they repulse the Father of Lights? How can I watch movies that are impure, with the knowledge that the Spirit of God lives in me? Do my trendy church clothes cause other people in the pews to stumble?)

We read our Bibles. (...we can quote some verses and give devotionals. But we're busy, and more often than not we don't really study God's Word as well as we should. Isn't that just for people who preach and teach publicly? Sometimes the day slips away on me and while I let the world influence me for hour after hour, I give God ten minutes and I can hardly concentrate, because I'm tired. It is no wonder that we fall prey to worldly life philosophies, since our knowledge of the Scriptures remains so shallow although we've grown up in church. If someone does study God's Word in a serious sort of way, they are almost considered a rarity, a super-saint or radical...when this should be the average Christian).

We hang out with Christian friends. (...and we don't drink, smoke or have sex. We talk about the weather, sports, work, school, friends...but I know my tongue is so slow to go to the deeper issues, like What is the Lord teaching you right now? How can I pray for you? A Christian friend of mine told me that in her 25+ years growing up the church, she has never been asked to share what the Lord is teaching her. Why is talking about the Lord at any length or spontaneously praying together so foreign to many Christians? Do we save that for when we're camp counselors or Sunday school teachers? Another friend has told me how difficult it can be to tell a Christian friend that she don't feel comfortable watching a movie they want to watch. Do we consistently encourage each other to spend time, conversation and money on frivolous things? Some nights I know I need to go home and do some Bible study, but it sounds holier-than-thou to say I need to go read my Bible. My fear of what my "good Christian friends" think helps me excuse my sin of settling for the status quo. Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, I was to justify my activities by the fact that Christian friends are doing the same things. The Lord wants us to "press onward toward the high calling". Why do I better resemble a vacationer than a soldier?)

We give money to the church.(...but what do I know of sacrificial giving? I give out of my excess and still have money left for entertainment or things I don't need. As if missionaries aren't needing money for flights, radio programs, bicycles...food. As if most of this world won't go hungry today.)

We don't curse. (...but as I've already said, the conversations I initiate often lack any substance. I'm using language, but not using it responsibly. I like gossip more than I'd care to admit.)

I have spent most of my life comparing myself to other Christians, when my standard should be Christ. Therefore, I continue to fall into the "good church kid" category. Others might think I seem good. But my pride is slain when I compare myself to Christ: My haughtiness compared to His humility. My fallen thoughts next to His holy ones. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried that he was "undone" due to his uncleanness and the uncleanness of his people. Job hated himself. Daniel weak and sorrowful, Daniel, Paul and John all fell to the ground. When I stand bare before the One "to whom we must give account," my goodness looks filthy.

In conclusion, it takes some work to be good. But at some point, things level out for the good person. Life reaches normalcy, and you are maintaining but not advancing. As long as the outside looks good, you think you're OK, because you're living for the praise of man. But the life Christ calls each believer to is alive and dynamic. To cease to advance is to fall back. In many matters no one else can tell me what is right or wrong for me. I must know the Lord intimately if I am to know His mind in each matter. You and I stand accountable before the Lord--and will not the judge of all the earth do what is right? May the gracious Christ be our measuring rod:
"till we all come in the unity of the faith,
and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to a perfect man,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"
(Ephesians 4:13).

*I know that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 6) includes "goodness", and that we are taught to be "good", but I think you'll see my point as I continue.

July 19, 2008

salvation in isaiah

i am still intermittently studying Isaiah. last year when i chose to start on Isaiah, i wanted to do some digging and chewing, and i have. sometimes this study is tough going: the gap between Isaiah and I (culture, language, era, background, etc.) is so great and so new that it seems like i'm plugging away at "insignificant" details of seemingly little spiritual relevance (like trying understand the reference to "wine on the lees" in 25:6). at times i do a lot of digging, only to come up with information that seems un-revolutionary. i want to
(1) objectively understand the original intent of the author (this is first and hardest), but i know that i also need to
(2) personally (subjectively) apply spiritual truths to my life.
i try to both use some pre-chewed materials (commentaries, study Bible) as well as a concordance to try to help me bridge the gaps and understand the text, i also try to do some serious observing of the text and cross referencing (if possible!) without a lot of leads.it is easy to lose sight of the big picture (especially since i'm slowly acquiring it and quick to forget it--such is life!). the other night i stepped back and looked at one of the grand themes of the entire prophecy, salvation. here are a few stage 1 objective facts:
  • the theme of Isaiah is "salvation is of Jehovah/the Lord". this is also what Isaiah's name means.
  • Isaiah's prophecy mentions the word "salvation" 26x while all the other Biblical prophets together only use the word 6x
  • the term salvation is used much more in the second portion if Isaiah, chapters 40-66, where the theme is comfort (whereas the first portion of Isaiah deals more with judgment). it has been suggested that Isaiah's two sections could be called man's need for salvation and God's gracious provision of salvation.
  • God is closely linked with salvation (12:2, 25:9, 49:6, 56:1)
  • often the word salvation is closely accompanied by the word righteousness (51:5-8, 56:1, 59:9-11, 60:17-18, 61:10, 62:1-2) or the idea of strength (12:2, 17:10, 26:1, 33:6, 63:5-6)
the way two believers apply those same truths to their lives (stage 2) could be very different, although they observed the same text.

i need to learn a good balance between what i am broadly terming the two stages. moving too quickly to stage two results in incorrect understanding and application. this is dangerous, because if we think incorrectly we will act incorrectly. conversely, if i never move on to stage 2, i commit spiritual abortion. the living and active Word cannot just be academic: it needs to bear fruit in the way i live. as i try to persevere through the harder parts of the text, the Lord blesses me with new understanding. may my living also be new.

"God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid." Isaiah 12:2

July 05, 2008

recommended reading

A few months back I asked some of you for suggestions of good children's books for our church library. Thanks to those of you who gave me ideas. I wanted to share the list of new books that was put in our church bulletin. Also below is a list of new adult (or teen) books that were purchased. I cannot endorse every book on my lists 100% as I haven't read them all, but I wouldn't have purchased them if I didn't expect good things....

I was happy to pick up The Jesus Storybook Bible--Every story whispers His name (Jones/Jago) and The Big Picture Story Bible (Helm/Schoonmaker). They present the Bible as one big story. The illustrations are cute, but the text follows in that path, tending to paraphrase facts almost a little too childishly. Both in illustration and content these books are less serious than The Lamb and the gospel is not as clear. All this said, these books are still neat Bible-overview resources that would make good gifts (for kids who already have The Lamb, of course :) ).

Kids' books
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – Every Story whispers His name (Jones/Jago)
  • The Big Picture Story Bible (Helm/Schoonmaker)
  • The Lamb (Cross/Mastin)
  • The Memory Bible (Elkins/Cameron/Semple) Includes music CDs
  • Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers — The Trinity (Allen)
  • Seven Special Days (Gambil/Gillett--Happy Day Books)
  • The First Brothers (Curren/Eitzen -- Arch Books)
  • The True Story of Noah’s Ark (Dooley/Looney)
  • Life in the Great Ice Age (Oard/Snellenberger)
  • The Tower of Babel (Taylor) Pop-up book
  • Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Temple (Burgdorf/Eitzen)
  • A Parable about the King (B. Moore/Warren)
  • Barabbas Goes Free (Rottman/Kitchel)
  • Mommy, Why Don’t We Celebrate Halloween? (Winwood/Berg)
  • Bombus Finds a Friend (Larson/Haidle)
  • God’s Wisdom for Little Girls – Virtues and Fun from Proverbs 31 (E. George/Luenebrink)
  • Heroes for Young Readers - A series of 16 books about various “Christian heroes” such as Gladys Aylward, Nate Saint, Amy Carmichael and Jim Elliot
Adults' books
  • Why Pro-Life? Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers (Randy Alcorn)
  • The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage (Erwin W. Lutzer) “There is a battle is raging for marriage. The implications for society are profound. Yet many people are asking: Is it really that big a deal?”
  • Yoga and the Body of Christ - What Position should Christians Hold? (Dave Hunt)
  • Running Against the Wind - The Transformation of a New Age Medium and His Message to the Church (Brian Flynn) “A crucial warning against New Age and Eastern spirituality being introduced into the Christian church as forms of legitimate...spirituality”
  • A Time of Departing - How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions (Ray Yungen)
  • The Exemplary Husband - A Biblical Perspective (Stuart Scott) “The strength of this book is its high view of God and theological foundation”
  • The Excellent Wife - A Biblical Perspective (Martha Peace) “A Scripturally based, systematic and practical work for today’s women”
  • Damsels in Distress - Biblical Solutions for Problems Women Face (Martha Peace)
  • When People are Big and God is Small — Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency and the Fear of Man (Edward T. Welch)**
  • The Journals of Jim Elliot (Edited by Elizabeth Elliot) “Jim’s journals reveal the inner struggles and victories that he experienced before his untimely death.”
Especially for Young Women/Young People
  • Secret Keeper - The Delicate Power of Modesty (Dannah Gresh)
  • And the Bride Wore White Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity (Dannah Gresh)
  • Lies Young Women Believe and the truth that sets them free (N. L. DeMoss & Dannah Gresh)
  • Stop Dating the Church — Fall in Love with the Family of God (Joshua Harris) “We’re not into commitment – we only want to date the church. Loving Jesus Christ involves a passionate commitment to His church – around the world and down the street.”
**I'm looking forward to reading this one, sounds very applicable!