Tag Archive: christianity


The Answer to Our Question

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” -Matthew 4:18-20

I remember talking to my dad about my future a while back. “I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life.” I said. I was very frustrated (as most college kids are) about the fact that the choices I make now seem to pigeonhole me into one vocation or another, seemingly permanently. I didn’t feel prepared to answer the question: “What are you going to do with your life?” I was surprised by my dad’s response to my request for guidance: My dad, a successful doctor (with a Master’s Degree in Architecture on the side), who has all of the signs of cultural success, said,

“Adam, I’m 50 and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”

I share this moment with you all because I think that the question as to our purpose here on earth is one that is burned deep into the soul of all human beings. Most often, we seek to find our ultimate significance through what we do. Isn’t it true that one of the first questions asked of us when in college is “What’s your major?” and, once in the workplace, “What do you do for a living?” I think (and I think that you’d agree with me) that our culture places immense value upon our occupation because it has nowhere higher to look when trying to answer the question:

“Why am I here?”

Enter the Reversal. Look at Matthew 4, where Jesus begins his ministry on earth and calls his first disciples to follow him. “Follow me” he says. You see, without some source of significance, without a caller to give us a calling, we create it on our own. For Peter and Andrew, their purpose on earth was probably something along the lines of “To be an honest, hard-working fisherman, God-fearing Jew, and steady provider for my family.”

Sounds great, right? Not when compared with what Jesus had in mind. You see, he calls us to so much more than a vocation or even to his mission. Jesus’ answer to our Question isn’t even on our level. He doesn’t answer primarily with a task but with himself. He gives more than a calling. He gives the opportunity to walk with the caller. True significance in this life can’t be found in a job, but in a person.

And our task flows from Him; to be his humble disciples, spreading his word to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:12-20), in whatever vocation we find ourselves. He doesn’t just say: “Follow me” He gives a completely new level of significance to the familiar task of fishing.  You know what I love about these verses? He didn’t say : “Come with me, I’m going to make you a Rabbi” as would have been the custom for a Rabbi to do when gathering disciples. Translated into today’s terms, he didn’t call them necessarily to be “Pastors.” He called the fishermen to be… fishermen. Brilliant, right? Jesus called them to do what they were already doing, but to do it with Him and For Him and in a way that Honors Him Alone.  Not all are called to be preachers, but all are called. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on the fact that the Lord has bigger plans for your vocation than you currently imagine, be it student, businessman, engineer, janitor, whatever.

And there’s the reversal: Jesus calls us to be… us, but to do it for Him. And that is the trick to deep significance in this life. Follow the Call closer and closer to the Caller. Jesus answers our question with nothing but himself.

Advertisements

The Bible: More than just “Food for Thought”

It’s a given fact that the act of reading has many benefits. If you know someone who is a professional writer, they will tell you that one of the greatest secrets to being a writer is being an avid reader; those who read can write more quickly, clearly, and colorfully than those who don’t read. Professional authors aren’t the only ones to reap the benefits of reading. We know that “Leaders are Readers,” as Tyler so poignantly put it in his previous post. We all have something to gain from the general practice of reading, but I think that we have much, much more to gain from the disciplined practice of reading the Bible.

I’d like to give a bit of backround upon Biblical literacy before I begin, so bear with me! The Protestant Reformation brought with it the largest wave of biblical literacy since the original authorship of the New Testament.

“That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself.”

The Bible hadn’t been in any sort of common vernacular since the days of the translation of the New Testament into the Latin Vulgate by Jerome, which occurred somewhere around 383 AD. That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself, and dependent upon a priest to even hear it spoken! Can you imagine the mysteriousness surrounding the Bible during those times? With Biblical illiteracy fresh within their minds, the Reformers strongly held to a doctrine known as Sola Scriptura, that is, the belief that Scripture alone contains all that is necessary for full salvation and spiritual growth. We would do well to carry their convictions. While it might be trendy or even marginally beneficial to read the holy books of other religions, we know that only the Bible will lead us to spiritual life.

So, apart from just holding to a view of Sola Scriptura, why should we read the Scriptures? To start with the seemingly most obvious:

  1.  It is the manner by which the God of the universe has chosen to communicate with us. For whatever reason, God chose to get his words to us in written form. That means that, whenever I open that book, on some level, the God of the universe, both through providence and through the work of the Holy Spirit, will speak to me. I may not know it, just as a plant may not feel water in its roots after every rainfall, yet, God will soften the soil around my soul and deeply, deeply change me.
  2.  Many people have given their lives to get me the book that I have today, most notably William Tyndale and John Wycliffe. So often we easily forget our history as the church. We have ancestors in our tradition who gave their lives and suffered horrible deaths because they were so passionate about the Bible – the same book that we often justify not reading because we are “busy” or “tired.” I think it is an amazing thing that there have been so many who have gone before us that have drawn the inner strength to do great things from the same book that graces our coffee tables and bookshelves. Read it!
  3. We need the words on those pages to be alive spiritually. Quite simply, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8:3, Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4) We need to encounter God’s words more than we need food. Do you believe that?

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible, but I hope that those listed above will prove sufficient to at least drive you to consider the amount of time you spend reading the Bible. The Bible isn’t just “Food for Thought”; it’s food for our spiritual lives.

Great Success?

Ambition is a sneaky thing. It’s one of those words that seems to have both a positive and negative connotation. As I think about my life, one of my greatest prayers is the request that God would simply show me the calling that he has waiting for me. What is it that he wants me to do? Where do I go next? There is a whole wealth of christian literature out there that strongly promotes a mentality of working hard and achieving great things for God’s kingdom in one’s life. Immediately what comes my mind are the books Don’t Waste Your Life and Do Hard Things by John Piper and the Harris brothers, respectively. Though these influences play somewhat of a role, I think it to be interesting that the strongest thing that screams into my ear “DO SOMETHING!” is not a christian source, but the world. Within that question, “What’s your major?” lies a whole world of meaning. “What will you do with your life?” That question scares me. One of my deepest fears is being pigeonholed into a job. On the one hand, I desire to be a provider for my family and seek stability. On the other, I can’t bear the thought of reaching the end of my life and having missed out on some grandiose calling and adventure that the Lord had for me. I want to do something big.

But where is the calling? “Just show me, Lord, and I’ll do it!” I say. quietly, the Lord responds: “If I gave you a calling, you would forget the caller.”

 

Oh.

 

You see, God isn’t in the business of giving us idols. If my future could be an idol, He will teach me to say, “All my hope is in you, not my future.” Think about Matthew 7:23, where Jesus says the the evildoer, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” At the end of time, what matters isn’t what I’ve achieved but who I know. Do I believe that God has a great, awesome calling for each one of us? Absolutely. Do I believe that he has placed some call upon my life? Certainly. I do know that he wants me to get to know him and to spend time with him.This is the most important call upon our lives; to know God.

To paraphrase Os Guiness, “As we fulfill our calling, we do not tire, for we get closer and closer to the caller.”

Knowing God comes first. If we try to find significance in what we do with our lives, we will fail. Our significance must come from an inward relationship and connection with the very person who created within us the need for significance. On our deathbeds, we will only be able to say, “My life was a success” if we have realized our true, primary calling, which is to know and to love God.

 

What Is Love?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

The word “love” is mentioned 235 times in the ESV New Testament (according to a quick biblegateway.com keyword search).  Clearly, love is something that God is quite concerned with.  In fact, when asked which was the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law, Jesus responded,  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV)  So, love is the thing we are to be concerned with.  Despite this, I think our society has tragically distorted and misunderstood the concept of love.  We tend to confuse it with other, similar terms that have very different meanings.  So then, what is love, and what is it not?

First of all, love is NOT…

  • Tolerance.  Much is made in current popular culture of tolerating those who are different from us, those we might disagree with.  So what does tolerance actually mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary says that “tolerate” means “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference,” or “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance” (www.oxforddictionaries.com).  It often carries the connotation of allowing something because you have no choice, such as “I don’t like olives, but I will tolerate them.”  But in Matthew 22:39, quoted above, Jesus does not call us to endure our neighbors, or to allow the existence of our neighbors without interference, but to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Quite a difference – one is almost begrudging of the existence of the thing to be tolerated, while one unconditionally cherishes it.
  • Condoning.  There is a common belief that to love someone means to support all of their actions and attitudes.   That idea falls apart pretty quickly, though; say a parent has a teenager who is dabbling in illegal drugs.  Is the parent loving if they support the kid’s habit or give him/her money to support it?  Absolutely not.  The loving parent will do anything they can to get the kid out of the situation and cleaned up.  Simply put, not everything we do is good for us; those who truly love us will correct us when we go astray and help lead us out of the darkness of sin.

Love IS…

  • Action.  Contrary to what chick flicks would have us believe, true love is not a warm, gooey feeling of affection toward someone.  True love is action – doing things for those you love.  We can say we love the poor, but unless we do something about it, what good is it to them?  Or to use a more personal example, I can feel what I think is love for Tyler, my boyfriend; but if I never actually do anything to show him that I love him, well, the relationship probably wouldn’t last very long.
  • Accountability.  If I love someone, I am sharing a piece of myself with them, and I am answerable if I let them down.  I can profess to love the homeless of Champaign-Urbana and volunteer at a soup kitchen every weekend in order to show my love for them.  But if I then start a campaign in the city to shut down these types of charities, you can bet the hypothetical soup kitchen patrons would hold me accountable for my actions.  As well they should – my campaign to shut down the soup kitchen is hurting the very people I claim to love and rendering my claim invalid.
Both of the “greatest commandments” involve love – for God and for our neighbor.  There are lots of misconceptions about love in American culture today; what it is, how to show it, its results.  Love is certainly not easy for us, but real love that does not trivialize or hinder is a rare and priceless gift to a hurting world.
For a different perspective on love, check out Adam’s series on love starting here.

Love = Miracle Gro, Pt. 2

In my previous post, I started to look at Paul’s Apostolic Prayer found in Ephesians 3:16-19. Here’s the passage:

Ephesians 3:16-19:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

I love the way in which the New International Version words this passage. Some words that stand out to me are: strengthen, rooted, established, love, wide, long, high, deep.

I think that Paul had an image in his mind of some spiritual reality when he prayed this prayer. There are two very clear possibilities that I see (though I’m sure there are more) for the image that is being presented by the phrase “rooted and established”: a tree and the foundation of a house. Whether we are speaking of  a house or  a tree, the “soil” around us is love.

I think that Paul had a tree in mind, and here are some reasons why I think so:

1. The ultimate purpose of being “rooted and established” is found in the final words of the verse: “…that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (emphasis mine). The language is one of drawing “power,” “Strength,” and, “the fullness of God” from God.

2. In the prayer, Paul is asking that the church in Ephesus be given stability by God. We know this because he asks that they may be strengthened. Houses don’t gain their stability as much from the soil as they do from their own foundations. Trees, however, gain almost all of their stability from the quality and depth of the soil. Without good soil, your roots will be ineffective.

In either case, Paul prays that we might be established in love.

My next question is: “Whose love is the soil?” At first glance, there is some ambiguity as to whether or not the love Paul speaks of is ours or Christ’s. Looking at verse 18 tells me that this love is Christ’s. There is deep, deep earth beneath our feet here. We aren’t being planted or built upon some sort of sandbox which is only a couple of feet deep. We’re being planted in the love of an infinite God. This love is wider, longer, higher, and deeper than we can even understand with God himself helping us to fathom it.

So, looking at the passage again, we see that the ideal “growth environment” for our faith is to know the love of Christ that is deep within our “inner being.” Our Spiritual “Miracle Gro” is Christ’s love.

Past all of the images and ideas, what does all of this look like? Well, look for my next post and you’ll find  out!

This post is part of a series. To view the previous post, click here. To view the next post, click here.

Love = Miracle Gro, Pt. 1

Ephesians 3:16-19:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Recently I decided to take a look at the Apostolic Prayers of the New Testament. I chose to study eight of these passages. There are more prayers offered up by Paul and more prayers offered up by the other Apostles which are recorded in the New Testament, but I found these eight to be the most direct and easy to approach.

With that said, here are my thoughts upon the first one: Ephesians 3:16-19.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (v 16-17a).”

From this I draw several conclusions.

First of all, our God is so kingly and so mighty that he uses riches, not resources. In human terms, God doesn’t deal in dimes and nickels. He’s the kind of guy who has a wallet stuffed with $100 bills. Not only this, but he can afford to just pay for things out of excess! If he went to a restaurant, he could just slap down four or five of his bills and effortlessly pick up the tab for the entire restaurant. And at the end, he would say “it’s ok, keep the $67.85 in change. I’m no where near running out of cash.” Only God can be loose with his spiritual money and not be guilty of wastefulness due to the treasure trove of riches he has at hand. And it is a looseness with his spiritual riches that Paul prays for here. That the Lord would literally dump “power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

Secondly, I want to ask the question, “what does it look like to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner being?” The answer, I believe comes after Paul finishes his prayer, in verse 20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory…” (Emphasis mine). I pray that we might develop the habit of looking introspectively on a regular basis to see where the Lord is at work within us. It is a Christian precept that the Holy Spirit abides within Christians. Paul is asking for a veritable explosion of powerful work by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Ephesian Christians. In such a way that they would not be able to deny that something craaaaaazy was going on inside of themselves and that it was not their imagination; that they could see where they were and where the are now thanks to what God has done.

Finally, I want to look at the intent of this prayer (a brief glance will show that Ephesians 3:16-19 is comprised of three complementary prayers). Why? “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The working model would look something like this: God sends his Spirit (the Holy Spirit, which IS power) into a believer’s life. The Spirit brings a both a significant internal transformation and a marked increase in spiritual power to a believer. The believer, seeing more and more what the Spirit is doing, will naturally have more and more faith (we are human and our faith is wobbly and weak at times). This whole process will strengthen the believer as a whole, which brings us back to the beginning of verse 16, “…he may strengthen you with power…” The end result being a believer (and a group of believers [“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”; “hearts” being plural]) who is experiencing an influx of supernatural power thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit and who responds to this influx with ever-strengthening trust not only in the existence of God, but in the reliability of God to help him when in times of trouble or adversity.

Whew! In the next post we’ll be looking at why I titled this series of posts “Love = Miracle Gro. Thanks for reading and I pray that the Lord would make this prayer of the Apostle Paul true in the life of anyone who reads this post!

This post is part of a series. To view the next post, click here.

Inside Out – The Reversal

“The Lord works from the inside out.  The world
works from the outside in.  The world
would take people out of the slums.  Christ
takes the slums out of people, and then they
take themselves out of the slums.  The world
would mold men by changing their
environment.  Christ changes men, who then
change their environment.  The world would
shape human behavior, but Christ can change
human nature.”

~ Ezra Taft Benson

Spiritual Symbiosis

Recently, God has been working in my life to show me how deeply my friends have impacted my faith (if you want to read more about how your friends impact your life, you should read Bethany’s post). He has shown me this lesson the hard way, I think. The last year has been very spiritually difficult for me. Quite simply, I just haven’t felt close to God and I feel as though I’ve been stuck inside my comfort zone.

So I began considering what sort of tools have helped my faith grow in the past. One of the largest factors, I feel, in personal spiritual growth is social spiritual influence. We, as Christians, must be surrounded by others who share our faith, and, even further, are moving in the same direction as we are. One log on a fire will quickly burn out if not surrounded by the right materials, of which other logs are the most important.

I think that one of the largest reasons that this past year has been difficult is the change in my environment. I went from a private christian school to a public university. Before, almost everyone that I knew was a Christian. Now, almost everyone that I know is not a Christian. I do have some great Christian friends, but the volume of influence just isn’t there. That being said, the Lord has truly used this past year to help me ensure that my faith is truly my own, not just the result of my friends or surroundings.

Christianity is a social religion. It is also a private religion. How are the two linked? I think A.W. Tozer spoke incredible truth when he said:

” …one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

A.W. Tozer (emphasis mine)
We have to have a faith in the first place, or we can’t share and contribute in a Christian community. We must be in a Christian community or our faith won’t last long.

Nothing To Say

There is a reason I’m a scientist, and not a writer.  There is a lot of writing in science, but the subject of that writing flows naturally out of your research.  There is no struggle to come up with a topic, and being engaging is certainly not a concern (as anyone who has ever read a scientific paper can attest to).  You just sit down and churn out a paper about whatever you’ve been working on for the last several months/years.  I knew the day would come when I would sit down to write my weekly post for The Reversal, but come up dry in my search for a topic.  I have a list of potential topics, articles, and such that is supposed to help me out in these times – but none of those are clicking for me right now.  So if it’s not a lack of topic choices, what is it? I think it is quite simply this: I feel that I have nothing original to contribute to discussions about Christianity and/or leadership.

I subscribe to probably 15 or so Christian blogs in Google Reader, most of them written by people who have written books, spoken to audiences of thousands, etc.  So it’s easy for me to think to myself, “What can I possibly have to say that they haven’t already said?  What do I have to offer?”  I don’t have an answer for this.  I do know that, despite my doubts and discouragement, that God is using me even when I don’t feel usable.

For instance, a year or so ago, I was reading through the comments on a blog when I came across a comment written by an atheist who clearly had recently experienced the hand of God in her life.  I replied to the comment, saying that I would pray for her and included my e-mail address with an invitation to ask me any questions she might have about Christ and/or Christianity.  I didn’t think much about it, until a day or so later when I found an e-mail in my inbox from this girl!  We exchanged probably nine or ten e-mails until she suddenly stopped responding to me; despite that, I knew that God was using me to plant a seed in her life.  It’s up to Him now; what I pray now, and what I prayed then, was that God would use that e-mail chain to draw her to Himself.  Who except God knows what impact my simple comment reply will have in the future?

I may not have many original thoughts to contribute to the blogosphere, but I do have the story of God’s hand in my life.  My hope and prayer is that someone could be encouraged by the little snippets of my life, and occasional useful thoughts, that I share on this blog.  God has given all followers of Christ a story in which He is the main character; it is our task to use it for His glory.

How God Can Use Our Friends

I’ve heard it said that a person is the average of the five people they spend the most time with.  While that may not be entirely true – if that were the case I’d be the average of my officemates (scary!) – I do wonder sometimes if God puts people in our lives in order to draw out or develop a latent personality trait.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about some things, but they have mostly been weather related.  The quickest way to buy my friendship is with pictures of clouds; I just can’t get enough.  However, in other important aspects of my life, such as my relationship with God, enthusiasm has been lacking.  Sure, I experience the spiritual high after a conference or retreat, but it never lasts once I get back to the real world.  Over the last year or so, I think that God has been putting people in my life who are incredibly enthusiastic about their faith and life in general.  As a result, I’ve become much more excited about my relationship with God and truly living it out in my mission field (i.e. grad school).

As an example, Tyler and I recently joined a small group at the church we attend.  When we introduced ourselves, I mentioned that I will be graduating sometime in the next year.  Afterward, one of the members of the group – whom I had just met that night – almost immediately approached me to tell me about a class for graduating students that he was teaching at the church.  Before I knew what was happening, he had my e-mail address and phone number and was planning to get me a copy of the book they were reading.  I went the next Sunday, and it turned out to be a great class in which I learned a lot.  This same small group member is now spearheading an effort to get the group (and group members’ children, where applicable) together to read the entire New Testament in eight weeks.  He is also just about to start building a new house.  Talk about enthusiasm!

The same could be said of many of the members of my Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) small group.  I could go on and on about the ways they have positively impacted my life over the last 16 months, but one thing all of them share (or at least seem to) is a genuine excitement about their faith.  Out of this comes a true compassion for the other members, such that it is not uncommon for one of them to ask me about something I mentioned as a prayer request weeks earlier.  Not that they are only concerned with those close to them; one of them came to our summer reading group last week absolutely livid about an article she had read about human trafficking in the U.S.  That was quite convicting to me, as I tend to read articles like that and just assume they have been overblown by the media rather than feeling the anger that God must feel at these situations.

Faced with such examples of excitement and enthusiasm, I realized that my own life was quite lacking in these qualities.  The last few months have been quite the journey as I have attempted to cultivate a passion for others, for justice, and for God.  The results shocked me – my relationships seem deeper, I hear God’s voice more clearly, and my attention is more God-centered and less me-centered.  In this case, God used people he had put in my life who all shared a common personality trait to develop that trait in me.   We all have friends who share common qualities; could it be that God is using those friends to develop us and make us more like Him?