Monthly Archives: February 2013

True Religion

I like to study theology. I like to read through the bible to see what I can learn about God, about human nature and about His mission for the Church. I love it when I’m able to bring together passages from different parts of scripture to gain a deeper understanding on a topic.

Sometimes, though, the mind of a theologian can miss a foundational element of bible reading: application. As someone who likes to piece together doctrinal puzzles, it’s too easy to make knowledge the end goal in bible reading. Often the bible isn’t complicated and you don’t need to study Greek or go through cross references to understand what God wants to teach through His Word.

The week, my small group from church looked at James 1:19-27. This week was the final week in a series we had been going through challenging some of our perceptions on how we engage in church. It had been a good series and we talked a lot, which tends to happen in small group bible studies. We’d shared a lot of insights and personal application points and had great conversations. In this last week, we were challenged not to let it end as a good conversation, but to apply what we had learned.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25

It’s surprisingly easy to be a hearer of the word, isn’t it? We get good advice, interesting facts, answers to questions and ammunition for theological debates. Sometimes we hear the word and see where we’re not living right and rejoice in conviction. “The word really rocked me today.” So what?

It’s really easy to dream about being a doer of the word. “Imagine what my life would look like if…” The future is a glorious place where we get to envision our potential, fantasize about fulfilling our calling, maybe even visualize life without certain sins or shortcomings. Someday…

To be honest, I don’t always want to be a doer of the word. Specifically, I don’t want to grow in being a doer of the word. It’s hard. It requires me to deny myself, go out of my comfort zone and admit that I’m not all that. I’d much rather sit back and remind everyone of all the ways I’m already doing the word. Then they can admire me and say good things about me and I can feel good. And when I’m challenged to grow, I can “theologically” rationalize why it’s not necessary for me to do anything too difficult. I like deceiving myself.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. – Philippians 3:12-15

I’m challenged by this statement: “Let those of us who are mature think this way”. The longer one is a Christian and the more a person grows in Christ, it becomes more tempting to sit back and admire the past. But Paul uses words like “press on” and “straining forward” in speaking to the mature believer. If Paul is straining forward towards greater growth, what excuse do I have?

So what does this look like for me? What can it look like for you? Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out. Part of the journey in walking with Christ is allowing His Spirit and His Word to guide us in knowing His will for us, moment by moment. I do believe the book of James gives some ideas to start with.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:26,27

A couple of questions I ask myself:

  • How can I be growing in watching what I say? For me, this is definitely a good place to start
  • How can I practically serve and care for the oppressed, marginalized or weak in my context?
  • What I am doing to keep myself from taking on the mindsets, attitudes and sinful behaviours of the world around me?

I’ve had a few days to think about these and have come up with a few resolutions for myself. I’ll be sharing them with a few close friends and inviting them to help keep me accountable. I encourage you to do the same. Theology is great, but it’s not enough to simply hear and know the word; we must become doers.

Pithy Sayings of a Young Fool

Today is my 21st birthday. I have so much to thank God for as I look back on my life, especially in the last four years of university. And in looking back, I decided to share a few lessons I’ve learned from experience. I’m not an expert any area of life, nor do I claim any special authority. But if someone can learn from the life God has blessed me to live, I’ll consider myself blessed. And so here are 21 Things I’ve learned in 21 Years

You can learn something from just about anyone: If someone is 99% wrong, that means they’re 1% right. I’m coming to see that maturity allows you to pick out what’s right and growing from it before/instead of bashing the wrong.

Leadership is all about serving: If you want people to comment on your leadership capability, look for practical and innovative ways to serve others.

The best friendships require work: Friendships that are too easy are likely friendships of convenience. The friendships that last are built on more than common interests

It’s better to assume that parents are always right: Parents have years more experience at this whole life thing. They can be wrong, but usually they’re not. Sometimes though, it’s more fun to learn from your mistakes 🙂

Teach from your experience: The truths that you can communicate most clearly and enthusiastically are those that you have experienced. If you’ve experienced it, you know it’s true

Use your gifts to serve: If you want to know God’s will, start by doing what He’s made you good at. Otherwise, you’re trying to do someone else’s work and they could have done a much better job than you.

Pray, then pray some more: When you pray a magical thing happens- God hears and answers. At the very least, He teaches you how to pray better.

Faith grows when it’s acted on: What separates Christianity from other philosophies is that it demands our lives in response. Inherent in our faith is that it is deeper understood and appreciated when it affects our actions.

The people who are closest to you are the hardest to love. They’re also the most important: Family is the easiest group of people to take for granted, the hardest group to love, and the first group to rally around you when you’re weak.

Stuff comes and goes; people are what matter: I’ve had five new phones, six new suit jackets, some sweet necklaces, an expensive watch and new beats headphones. None have changed my life. I had a great conversation with a friend last week that’s challenged and influenced how I look at my future.

You’re not as good as you think you are: There’s always room for growth.

You’re not as bad as you think you are: There’s always cause for thanksgiving.

Communication is a two-way street: What people hear is as important as what you say. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, it’ll make communication much smoother.

Conferences and retreat experiences can’t substitute diligent service: I’ve been to many great conferences. Some have changed my life, others were just nice. The difference wasn’t the speakers or the worship band, but what I did after it was over.

Sometimes, others know you better than you know yourself: Listen when people give advice and ask why. You’ll be amazed by how much you learn about yourself.

Jesus is enough… period: Learn it, live it, teach it. Jesus is the foundation on which our lives are built on. Nothing else will do; nothing else can be added.

Take every opportunity to learn God’s Word: God’s Word is best understood and lived out in community. You need to study the Word on your own, but you need to learn it from others.

It’s better to do a few things well: You can’t do every good thing or take advantage of every good opportunity. Commit to a few things and do them with all your energy. If you’re a student, you can do fewer ministry activities than your pastor.

Know your weaknesses: Know what you’re not good at so that you can ask for help. Whether it’s delegating tasks to others or having people teach you how to improve, everyone is better off when you’re aware of what you can’t do well.

Encourage everyone truthfully: Nobody is so good that they don’t need encouragement. Nobody is so bad they can’t be encouraged. Find something you truly appreciate about someone and tell them. Don’t make stuff up.

Driving in snow can be fun: It’s slower and more nerve-wracking, but you get me a car on an abandoned street or parking lot…

Divinity Died

Divinity died
Immortality was mortified
What fantastically shocking theology
that the maker of all things for three days was unmade
and the creator by His creation crucified
let that sink in for a second
let that rattle around in the mind He made to reason in such a way
that His story seems unreasonable

Divinity died
Immortality was mortified
Perfectly preeminent, present before the beginning
In Him was the life and the life was the light of men
Yahweh, I am that I am
for three days was, and wasn’t
let that sink in for a second
let the reality of eternity condensed into human frailty
blow your finite mind

Divinity died
Immortality was mortified
The source of all things good
so repulsed by the bad in me and yet so in love with His image in me
Love and justice at war in Him
Life or death at stake for me
let that sink in for a second
let the resolution to the divine tension astound you
and drive you to your knees in awe

Divinity died
Immortality was mortified
And finite man so full of self
stands in the face of amazing grace
and responds with disgraceful apathy
I don’t know about you but I often respond to His call for Lordship
with nothing more than casual worship
let that sink in for a second
let yourself be awestruck by the fact that even when we are faithless
He remains faithful
let your heart weep for the sin which clings so close
let your heart rejoice for the presence of His Spirit transforming you
let your life be empowered by the reconciliation you did not earn
the gift you could not afford

The mystery of the gospel
Divinity died
for me
for you

Doing What I’m Called to; Leaving the Rest to Others

Recently I had a conversation with a successful Christian professional. She’d gotten a great job out of university and I got to hear a bit of her experience in the business world. It was a really cool conversation, but I left with a very clear impression: I could never make in the business world she navigates with relative ease. It’s been a while since I’ve felt inadequacy to such a degree, like I didn’t measure up. Suddenly my plans for the future seemed so lame in comparison to what she had accomplished.

I thank God for my involvement with Power to Change at McMaster. It’s introduced me to a style of ministry I enjoy and am able to do quite well. I’ve been blessed to go on three short term mission trips with Power to Change and will be spending one year in Uganda to serve with them after I graduate. And yet, I find myself thinking, could I be successful outside of this particular context? Am I pursuing a lifetime of Christian ministry simply because I couldn’t cut it anywhere else?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Many of my friends are going to graduate and pursue jobs medicine, engineering, nursing, teaching, etc. Some of my classmates are going to make big discoveries in biochemistry, biology, neuroscience and more.  They will become professors at prestigious universities and fly around the world to lead huge networks and speak at global conferences. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with my career aspirations or with theirs.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. – Ephesians 4:4-7

Every Christian has one thing in common: We worship the same God. Our faith is consistent even in its many expressions. There is one mission we are called to as an act of worship. But we are blessed with God’s grace as individuals. We are gifted individually.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes – Verses 11-14

The New King James Version says “He gave some…” We are all members of one body, all called to worship Christ, but some are given the task to teach, inform and build up the body. This becomes evident as we look into church history. We talk about the church fathers Ireneaus, Tertullian, Augustine, and others and their role in defining orthodox Christian belief. We talk about the doctrinal positions of Calvinism, Arminianism and the Reformation in terms of the inspirational figures of John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius and Martin Luther. Many theologians today refer to the legendary works of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon.

In the Old Testament, God spoke through prophets, individuals blessed to deliver and suffer on account of God’s revealed Word. The early church resolved doctrinal disputes by bring them to the apostles (Acts 15:1-35). Certain individuals particularly gifted in evangelism have taught and trained the body of believers in reaching those in our lives who don’t yet know Jesus: Bill Bright, Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias come to mind.

It becomes quickly evident that our understanding of doctrine doesn’t evolve as the result of a democratic process, but through the faithful ministry of gifted individuals. Even today, the church is being built into doctrinal maturity, not by the impressions and opinions of everybody who has a dream or vision, but under the faithful tutelage of diligent teachers.

Over the course of my life, it’s become evident that I find my greatest joy in teaching, leading and building into believers. God has blessed me with many opportunities to grow in these areas on my campus. I am not particularly special or spiritual; it is not on my merit that I have been given these gifts, and I cannot exercise them for my glory. I am as much a sinner in need of grace as anyone. Yet it pleased God to gift me to serve His church in this way.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Verses 15-16

Paul doesn’t end this passage talking to the teachers in the church. He reminds us that we all have a responsibility to grow personally, and to build up the united body of believers. The whole body is held together by EVERY joint and equipped when EACH part is working properly.

I’ve had friends say to me, “I wish I could be as spiritual as you, teach as well as you, or do the things you do.” I would say the same to them. No gift is more necessary than any other in the church. God has prescribed that we all would help each other grow into maturity. I’ve had a chance to see this play out within our campus ministry. I’m very passionate in casting vision and looking to get people excited to accomplish a goal, but I am horrible in organizing that excitement into anything practical. I thank God for more practically, detail oriented minds who actually make things happen. I can bring up many scriptural passages to answer a theological question, but am not very good at caring for someone who’s hurting.

The church needs the business professionals, the doctors, the researchers, the early childhood educators, the artists and musicians, the philosophers, the psychologists, the librarians, etc. We all have something to teach each other, and what we have to teach is necessary in helping the church grow into maturity.

So yes, I probably would fail in the business world, but I’m not called to that. I’m called to run my race and learn what I can from the business professional and together, we equip the body of Christ to fulfill the mission that Christ has called us to.