Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Hero of the Story

Posted by: Katie Robinson
I need some reminding as much as anyone of the fact that if the Bible really is the word of God, then it's way bigger than anyone gives it credit for. 

Here's how the story goes. We all know it.

God creates man, man commits cosmic treason and brings death into the world, causing separation between man and God. Boom, the world as we know it now comes to existence, and we are completely screwed.

Everyone knows there is something wrong with the world, so people throughout history have tried to explain the conflict between that fact and the fact that we also have an innate knowledge of our own value. So humankind has created stories to explain it. The thing about stories is that the authors almost always write themselves into the main character - maybe not even in any obvious way, but in some way or another, they are the hero of the story.

Take Pandora's box: the "gods" (really only idealizations of humanity - human in nature, flawed like the rest of us, but with the power any man would fantasize about) created a box to contain all the evil in the world, but Pandora got curious and opened the box, and evil became a permanent fixture in the universe. But curiosity is forgivable - barely even a minor character flaw. This is a story that people would write to explain why the world is bad without having to explain why people are bad.

God's story is different. He is the hero, not us. Sin wasn't a mistake, it was treason. He creates the universe, we destroy it. True, we are uniquely valuable as human beings, but only because he has put his own image inside us. This is his story, not ours.

It could have ended there - he could have completely written us out of his story. But he didn't. Because God is not an idealized picture of a flawed human created by the human mind - he is something else entirely. We did not create God to explain the human condition - God created us with his own character written into us, and then was gracious enough to enlighten us on not only the history of it, but also the plan to get us out of it.

The great part is, he knew how he was going to fix things from the beginning. The world had just collapsed - God had made a perfect world and humans had destroyed it all in a moment. And right at that moment, God stepped in with his plan. He gave his fearful, naked, and wretched man and woman the bad news first: Death, pain, conflict. But then he gave the good news: All of that death and pain and conflict would one day be defeated by a Savior. God had no good news for the serpent. The particular passage is called the Proto Evangelion, or something like "the first gospel". 

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers - he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Genesis 3:15

And there's the thesis statement of the entire Bible. 

I know it sounds cryptic at first, but what's happening here is that God is setting the stage for the rest of the future of mankind. He is saying to Satan: from here on out, it's going to be me and my people vs. you and your people, but in the end, I am going to win out - my savior will come from the offspring of my beloved you just defeated, and while he will feel death's sting, it will only be as a man crushing the head of a snake after being nipped in the ankle. 

Every single line following is an outworking of this. Looking at the Bible with the big picture in mind makes it read in an entirely different way. From here on out, it's God foretelling the coming of his Savior, and God's people, meanwhile, going head-to-head with their enemies. Cain vs. Abel, Isaac vs. Ishmael, Jacob vs. Esau. Once the descendants of these guys grow into entire nations, familial conflict becomes all-out war. But all of the stories, while they have a particular moral lesson much of the time, are much more than that. 

The book of Ruth is one of my favorites. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that it presents two strong female leads that God uses in really unconventional and unexpected ways. It is also a spectacular story of God's love and provision. But is it the only time God acted to provide for people who loved him at the time Ruth was written? Of course not. So, why zero in on Ruth's story? Here's why:

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son... So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David." Ruth 4:13,17

Yeah, like THE David - King David. A fact repeated almost verbatim in the Gospels: "Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king" (Matthew 1:5-6). This story is here in large part because it's one more step in God bringing about his grand design of providing a Savior, his Messiah. One of Jesus' most frequent titles for himself was "the Son of David" to reiterate this fact, to remind people that he was the fulfillment of their history. 

I get really excited about genealogies - probably a lot more than the average person. Usually the genealogies in the Bible are something that people feel pretty okay about skipping over when they read, but if you check out the genealogies in Matthew 1 or Luke 3, you notice that most of the names listed in the first chapters of the New Testament are the same people you just got done reading about in the Old Testament. I get pumped about genealogies because the thing is, you can't manufacture history. Maybe you can kind of manipulate what your kid does with his life. Maybe even extend your influence to a grandkid or two. But after a few generations, you can't make this stuff up - you can't just make a decision about what your descendants are going to be doing four thousand years from now, it just doesn't work that way.

But God not only wrote the Bible to record history, he is sovereign over history itself. That is why the Bible is living and active - because he continues today to work out his plan from the beginning. He has fulfilled the Gospel, pt. 1. The climax was Jesus at the cross, holding his foot over Satan's head as the snake nipped at his heel. At the resurrection, his heel came down and Satan's power was destroyed, a process which will finally be completed at the final resurrection of humanity. 

The Bible is by far the single most influential, miraculous compilation ever to be recorded. Most people see the Old and New Testaments as two completely different things. I've known several people who have expressed belief that God created the old sacrificial system as a means to manage the morality of his people, but then when it wasn't working, he actually changed his mind and decided to try something different by going the Jesus route. This couldn't be more untrue.

The Old Testament isn't just a bunch of random stories put together to piece together the history of an obscure people. It is all about Jesus. The New Testament isn't just compiled works of instruction put together to morally and structurally guide a fledgling religion and its people. It is all about Jesus. It's another chapter in his story, his cosmic plan for the redemption of mankind. And Jesus is the hero.

Here is the video Derek tried to show at Bible Study last week:

Bible Did You Know from Robert Murphy on Vimeo.
Here is the video from last week. Hopefully it's not blocked on your computer too. 
I swear it's appropriate. -Derek

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talking to God

Posted by: Megan Griffith
If you were to ask me how I felt about my spiritual life, I would tell you I read my bible regularly, I listen to all kinds of podcasts to immerse myself in knowledge, I love worship time and make church a priority in my life, I spend countless hours actively getting involved in women's lives and involved in fellowship and I set aside part of our weekly income for tithe. It looks good. But the part that's missing, the most important piece of the whole puzzle, is prayer. Because my prayer life is... meh.

It's hard.

I pray. But I feel like I get so wrapped up in the formality of it all and worrying about if I'm doing it right that I just skip over that part some times. Or if someone asks me to pray for them, I'll do a quick, "Hey God- you just heard what they asked me to pray for, so uh... ditto."

I have a brother that is one semester away from a Master of Divinity. Not only is that quite possibly the coolest degree name you could ever put on a resume, but the guy just EXUDES righteousness. Blessing the enchiladas includes eloquently praising God for his sovereignty over our lives and the glory of the cross, which sure as heck knocks, "rub-a-dub-dub thank for the grub. Yay God!" out of the water. In my less-than-righteous days, I would roll my eyes every time we bowed our heads because I knew it would be a sermon before I got to eat meatloaf. Now, it's kind of intimidating because I don't talk like that, and I'm kind of afraid that God will be less satisfied with my prayer.

In recognizing this fault in my walk with the Lord, I did what any normal obsessive compulsive person would do: I researched the crap out of it. I studied blogs, sermons, podcasts- you name it. The number one thing I found is that prayer is communication- it's conversation, and like any conversation, it's motivated by relationship. I'm not going to have an intense conversation with a total stranger, and I'm not going to be affected by someone who I don't talk to on a regular basis. Reflecting this in my life, I realized when I'm faced with a problem, the first people I call are my husband, my mom and my friends, in that order. It's always under the guise of being wise and seeking counsel, but God is rarely the first phone call I make. I may talk to Him about it, but only after I've had conversations with my go-to people and tried to work it out for myself.

Really, it should be the polar opposite. Steele Crosswhite said, "prayer is an overflow response to our relationship with God." I think the most important word here is "relationship." Through Jesus we have the freedom to belong to God as children and not be enslaved by our sin (Galatians 4:21-31). It isn't about talking to a distant deity. God is our Father.

This changes everything.

I don't talk to my dad like this: "Dear wonderful father of mine who art in McKinney, Texas, seated in a recliner, master of all things Tivo; if it would be to your glory, may I have $20?"

No, I say, "Hey Dad, can I borrow 20 bucks?"

Likewise, God is our Dad. He WANTS us to talk to Him, whether the stuff is big or small. He loves us and He LIKES us. He wants to be part of our lives. It doesn't really matter if we speak to Him eloquently or if we groan because we don't know what to say (Romans 8:26). He doesn't only require the big prayers, like asking Him to spare someone from death, He wants the small prayers, like asking to help find a parking spot at Target. The point is it's a conversation that expresses the relationship that the Father has with His kid. He is a part of everything and wants to be a part of your everything.

Something I've also discovered on this journey to understand the conversation between God and me is that you can't outscream God. It's an intense idea when you think about it. A lot of times I'm only ready to go to God when I'm calm and at peace. But that's not real life- sometimes I'm ridiculously angry about what life throws at me. I take it out on my husband, I call my mom crying and venting, I freak out on my friends. And I'm back at square one. God is not the first phone call I make. But at my weakest, most terribly painful moments, my husband failed to soothe me, my mom kept saying the wrong thing and my friends didn't even know what to say. But God was there. He knows better than anyone and He wants to be the one I vent to. At those moments, it's not pretty and it's not eloquent, but it's real and it's passionate. Relationships are not all happy and springtime, sometimes they are digging through the mud, and that goes for the relationship with God too. He can take it. He WANTS to take it.

I love Psalm 116:2- "Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!" It's amazing when you really think about it- the God who created the entire universe and is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-being, wants to listen to us. He wants to be in conversation with us. When faced with that logic, it's crazy that people (myself included) wonder why we have to pray to God if He already knows what we're going to pray for and what's going to happen. The truth is, we GET to pray to God. We have the unique privilege that no other creature on Earth has to be able to actively hang out with the Creator and be best friends ALL THE TIME. When faced with that perspective, my prayer life turns from being an obligation, to being something I want to do before hanging out with friends, before sand volleyball, before going on a date, before walking the dog- anything. Thanks, God, for giving me this pizza that I'm about to eat. Thanks, God, for giving me this phone I'm about to text on. Thanks, God, for giving me this breath that I'm going to use to make a bad joke with. Hey, God, what did you think about Glee last night? Hey, God, can you help me find my car keys? He's prepared to revolutionize my life, and all I have to do is keep up the conversation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thoughts on Death to Life

Posted by: Jenny Schreiner
Until recently, when I read verses like Luke 14:25-33 asking me for my life, I had these highly romanticized notions of what God was asking of me - skipping college to be a missionary in Thailand, creating health clinics in poor latin american countries, or starting a church in Spain. I often even told God that He could take me early if it meant others would come to know Him. None of these ideas/dreams/desires are bad, they come from a heart to please God. And for many people, God asks these things for their lives. But in my dreaming of living adventurously for God, I missed out on an important possibility: denying yourself, taking up your cross & following Christ may not be an exciting adventure involving learning a tribal language to translate the Bible, it may "only" require daily living a mundane, unexciting life in obedience to God.

Let me explain. At times, with being a stay at home mom, I struggle with the repetitiveness of diaper changes, laundry, dishes, babies crying & lack of being able to do a lot of evening activities. However, the past week God has been kindly reminding me that when I told him he could have my life it included the unglamorous. I still live for the gospel; however, it's played out differently than I imagined it would be. I've been learning its so important to not have conditions for what you're willing to lay down your life. Seems obvious. But its taken me quite a while to actually learn... and I have so much to learn. *sidenote - I love, love, love Owen & Eden. It is a blessing to stay at home. Even though I have times that I cry & have to work through my attitude, I would not change how God has orchestrated our lives.*

Along with this, as we lay down our lives to become disciples, I've been reminded that it begins with our normal, daily lives. This past week I was reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (thanks for mentioning the devotional in your post Julia it has been good for me to read it). Here are his exhortations on being a disciple (from September 11th):

Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings— it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.

The things Jesus did were the most menial of everyday tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels, dishes, sandals, and all the other ordinary things in our lives reveal what we are made of more quickly than anything else. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the most menial duty as it ought to be done.

Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (13:15). Notice the kind of people that God brings around you, and you will be humiliated once you realize that this is actually His way of revealing to you the kind of person you have been to Him. Now He says we should exhibit to those around us exactly what He has exhibited to us.

Do you find yourself responding by saying, “Oh, I will do all that once I’m out on the mission field”? Talking in this way is like trying to produce the weapons of war while in the trenches of the battlefield–you will be killed while trying to do it.

We have to go the “second mile” with God. Yet some of us become worn out in the first ten steps. Then we say, “Well, I’ll just wait until I get closer to the next big crisis in my life.” But if we do not steadily minister in everyday opportunities, we will do nothing when the crisis comes.

So for me, my surroundings give the menial tasks of caring for two kids under two. For you, it may look like answering that phone call in corporate america, driving alone for countless hours, working on relationships with roommates, however it looks your life provides many opportunities to deny yourself & respond like Jesus.

Finally, God has been redirecting my attitude towards dying to myself. "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) In context, this verse is referring to financial giving, but I believe the concept applies to giving of your life. I want to be someone who joyously, not grudgingly, gives my life over to God to do as He chooses. I have been reflecting over the words of a man named David Linvingstone, a missionary in Africa. After having many illnesses, the death of his wife, and a lack of response to the gospel, he remarks that he "never made a sacrifice." I don't think he means his life was without difficulty, he is referring to fact that in light of all God has done for him it is not a big deal to give back his entire life. I am learning to delightfully hand over my life to God & joyously accept his lot for me. Furthermore, in Mark 10:28-30 there is a promise connected with leaving everything to follow Christ - It says we will receive a hundredfold back in the time & the age to come. So not only has God saved us from hell, but he also promises to give back 100x what we give up. Wow. What an amazing God we serve! I pray that we each can come to a spot where with open hands we can say, "This is no sacrifice, here's my life."

Friday, September 9, 2011

A New Me

Posted by: Brian Griffith
I often think about what my new identity in Christ means for me. When we accept Christ into our lives, we are given a new heart, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. I often think about my new heart; and how even I can see the difference from less than a year ago.

A year ago, even though I was exploring the truth of christianity, I was not a Christian  A year ago I was a very hard hearted and selfish person.  While I loved my wife dearly at that time [and love her even more so now], I found it difficult to serve her. I promised her a few years earlier that I would quit smoking- a year ago I was still breaking that promise. I'd tell her I would do something and then not do it. I would get mad at her quite often if I didn't feel like she was doing her end of the house work.  Between all that and my tendency to go full on drama queen when I'd get drunk, it's only by God's grace that she ever married me at all. But about 11 months ago I met Jesus, and my life began to change.

The week of or the week after coming to Christ, I can't remember exactly, I learned my grandfather had terminal lung cancer that was essentially untreatable. It could be treated but the best it would do is extend his life a few months- there was no hope of recovery. The old me would have simply distanced myself from him, preparing myself for the inevitable, so that when it did come, I wouldn't feel so bad about it. But the new me wouldn't let that happen. I shared my testimony with my grandpa, and tried to get him to meet Jesus. Unfortunately that didn't happen and he passed without knowing Him, and something happened to me that hadn't happened in years: I cried.  I'm 28- the last time I remember crying was when I was a freshman in high school. Knowing my grandfather's fate, I broke down in our kitchen and cried. My heart was [and still is] absolutely broken for my grandfather. Then a few weeks ago when I tried sharing this story with our bible study, I broke down and cried again. I'd had a point in telling it- that point being don't make a half hearted effort in sharing the gospel- but that particular week it had been weighing so heavily on my heart that I just could not help myself. I cried in front of people that I'd only met that night.

I think anybody from our bible study who was around a year ago when I first started coming around can testify that I NEVER would have broken down like that in front of other people, apart from Christ. My pride never would have allowed for it; furthermore, my emotions toward my grandfather wouldn't have either. Sure, I loved him before I was a Christian, but I didn't love him as strongly as I did after coming to Christ. And something that occurred to me after bible study that night, was if that's how heart broken I was, having only known Christ for a few months- how does God feel when one of his children turns his back on Him? How does God feel when he has to judge one of his children to spend eternity in Hell? I can only conclude that God feels much, much worse than any of us can understand or comprehend.

Next month I'll have been a Christian for a year; and I can already see one relationship that my choice to follow Christ may cost me. See, a lot of people who follow Christ will lie to you. "You're sick? Come to Jesus, he'll heal you." "You're depressed? Come to Jesus, he'll make you happy." You get the idea. And I'm not saying that Jesus doesn't heal us or that Jesus doesn't make us happy, or rather help us find joy. But too many people promote this idea that following Jesus makes your life perfect and that you'll never experience suffering again and this can be just as bad as telling people you shouldn't worship Jesus at all. Because then your friend meets Jesus and not everything is perfect and your friend is left confused. The bottom line is, Christ suffered and died for our sin- you should EXPECT to suffer for Christ. It doesn't mean that you will, but expect to, and prepare your heart for it; so that when the time comes you're not one of those people who questions why God is "punishing" you when in reality, he's giving you the opportunity to glorify Him.

The relationship I speak of is the one with my brother. He's not blood but I love him just the same. He's never known a good father; so he hears God is our father and he runs away. He has questions, or at least tells me he does, but won't ask them. He shows little regard for anybody but himself. He's very proud and desires to be the center of attention. When I first became a Christian he was happy for me. But as I've continued to share what I'm learning with him, he's pushed farther away. When I do get any kind of response from him, it's usually very hateful. Not towards me, but towards God and Christianity. I've prayed for him nearly every day since coming to Christ, that he would meet Jesus as well; but lately I've been praying that my heart be prepared for the possibility that he will never come to Christ and furthermore, that my decision to follow Jesus may cost my lifelong friendship with him. I question if I'm ready to suffer in that way; but the reason I'm preparing to face it is because I know that what Jesus offers me is much more valuable than clinging to a dead relationship with someone I love.  It's not that I wish our relationship to end, but I'm not who I used to be, and Jesus is now the hope for my life.

This is how I know that I am a new creation in Christ. A year ago I never would've been prepared to end my relationship with my brother. A year ago I never would have told my grandfather how much I love him. A year ago I wouldn't share the gospel with total strangers who I pick up on the side of the road. A year ago I wouldn't have invited a prostitute to church.

With my new heart has come new desires. Those desires are anchored in Christ, who I strive to please. No, I'm not perfect. No, I'm not sinless and in fact, some days I am deliberately sinning. Not because I feel God owes me but because I still get selfish sometimes. But over the past year I know my heart has changed because I love people who, even after knowing them for more than a year, I would not love apart from Christ. I know my heart has changed because I desire to serve Christ and the people I love; and I want other people to meet Jesus and experience the life that he gives. I know my heart has changed because I want to manage money better so that I would be a better steward of the resources that God has entrusted to me [and my wife].

Who or what you live for determines your identity, both for yourself and for the people who look at you. If you live to save the planet, your life will reflect that. If you live to serve others, your life will reflect that. If you live for yourself, your life will reflect that. Make no mistake friends, living for Jesus is the best life. It's not always the easiest life, it's not always the most glamorous life, it's not always the wealthiest or happiest life; but it is the best life, because in truly living for Christ, you will rejoice in Christ and the opportunities He gives you. And your life will reflect that to others; and by God's grace, they will want to meet Jesus as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grace in Weakness

Posted by: Julia Rude
I was really encouraged by the bible study we had on Wednesday night - something that I have been praying the past few years is that the gospel will never become “old news” or unimpressive to me - this I feel is a danger to being a PK. God is so faithful though - once again I was encouraged and amazed by God’s love and unbelievable grace, it’s truly amazing! Believing that we are saved by grace and not by works goes against my flesh. My natural tendency is to work for whatever I want, or to work to win other peoples approval, but God is constantly reminding me of my wickedness and how the only way I have a right standing before Him is by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Understanding that salvation is a gift and it can’t be earned, that this is the way God set it up so we are completely dependent upon him for joy, peace, hope, peace and life. I am reminded every day of my sin and my desperate need for his grace in my life, recognizing that without him I can do nothing. God’s grace is wild to me - that He has given me so many good things, none of which I was deserving of. As I understand God’s grace more and more my hope is that I am able to extend that to the people in my life so Christ can be glorified.

My friend Liz and I get together pretty frequently to talk about what God has been teaching us and about what’s going on in our lives. She is super wonderful and has been a great example to me in the area of faithfulness, I am super thankful for her! Anyways, after about a year or so of her talking about Oswald Chambers' “My Utmost for His Highest” I realized that there is probably more than one copy of it and I should get my own and read it for myself. If you’re unfamiliar with this devotional all you need to know is that it rules. Reading a passage of scripture and his thoughts about it has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. Each day I have read it the past few weeks I have felt like I understand the Christian life a little bit better. Last week I read one entitled “Usefulness or Relationship?” and it went along with Luke 10:20 “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This devotional was especially encouraging in that we shouldn’t get so excited about our service to Christ, but that as Christians we have a right relationship with him. He went on to talk about how God isn’t so concerned about the measure to which we are useful to him but how much we value our relationship with him. I was talking to a sister this morning about how we sometimes fall into the mindset that we have to do, do, do or have a Martha-like attitude thinking that God is really pleased with us when we are constantly worrying about how “useful” we are being for Christ, while in all reality He doesn’t need us at all but chooses to use us for His own glory. This sister and I were also talking about 2 Corinthians 12:9 which says “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” She asked me when the last time I rejoiced in my weakness, and I just laughed. Naturally we just want to hide or deny our weaknesses; we have this pride that we can get by on our own while in reality that pride is standing in the way of God’s power in our lives. I just hope to grow in my understanding of how God is the one who makes us adequate for his service and I don’t have to feel like I have to be perfect or something to be used by Him. I have been reading the gospel of Luke lately and these verses have been on my mind:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10

I just want to have this attitude that Christ has done so much for me and giving my life and all that I am is really appropriate and makes perfect sense. In order to have this I need to be reminded of his grace and love in my life and to see myself as his servant rather than acting as if God owes me anything.