Monday, December 31, 2007

Give Me Your Hand

Wow! Almost three weeks since my last post. Time flies when you're...busy with holidays! :)

Peace. Do we have to agree to worship together? Well, on some central points, I believe that we do. Let's be honest, we must worship the same God, base our salvation upon the same Savior, see our redemption as by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. But why is it so hard to disagree AND love each other on other issues?

We've had some people leave the church recently, wrestling with my view of what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of election. Of course, the first response of my heart was to revel in how "right" that I was and that these brothers and sisters just didn't get it. You know, I thought that I was becoming less arrogant, but the Holy Spirit has a unique way of revealing to me again how desperately presumptuous that I still am. Jesus asked me again, "Why did I have to die for you, Richard? Are you so right that I died unnecessarily? Is it your righteousness in the doctrine of election that saves you?" Well, what could I answer to that?! Humbled again.

I am so prone to stand at a distance with those whom I disagree with. My propensity is to write them off and let God wrestle with them...without me. I still have a lot to learn about humility and love. I still long to wrestle messily in humility and truth-seeking, and I need you to help me do so.

I guess that's what bothers me most about a break in fellowship over differing opinions. Not that we disagree, but that we don't wrestle together, stretching our doctrines out over the Word of God together IN LOVE. Wesley puts it well, speaking on Christian love when we penned,

"Is your heart right with God? If it is, give me your hand. I do not mean, 'Be of my opinion;' you need not. Neither do I mean, 'I will be of your opinion;' I cannot. Let all opinions alone; only give me your hand."

Why can't we disagree together, wrestle to understand God's Word in truth together as we seek the Lord, and do it in love. Humbly realizing that we are only OK with God at all because of Jesus Christ, not because of our wisdom or righteousness or "having it all together doctrinally." I am not trying to minimize the importance of doctrine, it is eternally significant, but cannot we wrestle to love each other within our struggle. That seems to be the import of Christ's instruction and the work of His Spirit within us. It seems to me that Christ is more interested in HOW we wrestle together than necessarily over what we wrestle with. Octavius Winslow wrote such:

"Oh! It is a tragic thing to stand aloof from a holy man of God because he is not in all things of our own opinion! Such a violation of the first law of Christianity does despite to the Spirit of grace, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of God, and either proves our own utter destitution of the Spirit, or must result in the withdrawal of His sensible presence, and a consequent spiritual leanness, darkness, and desertion of the soul."

And oh how right he is! For when I hold aloof from my brothers and sisters who differ from me, it is I who suffers the dry destituion of the soul wandering from Christ! And an unwillingness to wrestle together means that we are trusting our own righteousness that has made us right with God, not the righteousness of Christ! We have forgotten the gospel once again and are living like we don't functionally and presently need Jesus! Damn this sin within me, and it has been damned. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Let's wrestle together over truth, God's Word. Let's tussle with what the Word of God actually teaches. And let us do it with love for each other and the humble truth of the gospel that we are all in desperate need of Jesus today, to heal our broken minds and bring us home...together.

I want to invite all of you who know me, please don't fear that I will throw you out if you disagree with me. Please do not fear that I will try to throw you down or belittle you when we see things differently. Now, I do believe what I preach, and any preacher is a fool, a hypocrite, and a people-pleaser who does not (and I fear God, not man), so please don't expect me to just agree with you because you see something one way either. Expect to wrestle together, to struggle to see the Truth of God's Word together, but we can do it hand in hand, each seeking to benefit each other in love. Please, if you're tempted like me to run from a wrestling match, think of the call of Christ to love one another and to speak truth to one another. Let's wrestle together, like Jacob. We may come away with some bruises and limp, but we will have seen God together and the gain of this kind of growth greatly outweighs the pain of letting the ego go.

And above all, pray for me, that I would know Jesus more day by day and by seeing Him I would see less of myself and live for His glory. Because when it comes down to it, none of us changes by sheer force of the will or the power of the intellect. We change by the power of the Holy Spirit who works all things according to the counsel of His will.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No Worthy Title

Sometimes I cannot even believe how quickly I wander from the Truth. My capacity for hypocrisy is really quite extensive. Case in point:

This past week I preached on how God's sheer grace leads us to have hope that God can change anybody, that we do not need to coerce anybody, and that we have respect for everybody who disagrees with us. Objectivelly and Scripturally it makes perfect sense: if God saves us by sheer grace and NOT due to our wisdom and if He chose us so that we chose Him, then we have no leg to stand on in comparison to anyone else.

And yet, here I am again, running away from those who disagree with me. I find myself frustrated with people because I think that they should be perfect (of course, I don't expect that from myself). And instead of staying and wrestling with them (see previous post on the messy church) I run from these encounters. It's in these moments of messiness, when other don't see the disagreement as a problem and I see it as very important, that I completely lose patience and lose hope that God is working. I write people off and presume that I am wise. It's amazing how quickly I lose sight of Jesus and His glorious grace toward me, THE sinner!

Even in prayer with others, I find myself judging their prayer, as if their words and understanding of deep spiritual truth were indicative of whether or not God is working in them! I believe that corporate prayer is vital to a deepening dependence upon God and our part in His glorious redemptive plan in the world, and yet I stay away from prayer groups where the predominant prayers are different than mine. Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't matter who we pray to, it must be to Jesus (and that's the Jesus as the Bible reveals Him). However, though these are my brothers and sisters, I can't get past our theological differences. And rather than stay and wrestle for the Truth, from Scripture, I simply complain and stay away!

Oh, Jesus! Come quickly!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Some Family Time

Katie, the kids, and I went up to the Northern Lights Christmas Tree Farm in Pleasant Hill yesterday to pick out our Christmas tree for this year. I guess that makes sense that we went to get a tree, huh? It was a wonderful time together with much-needed outdoor mud play, even if it was a little brisk. Here are the kids riding on the hay. The girls are their normal selves, happy to be picking out a tree and very excited for cookies and hot chocolate afterwards. Ricky seems a little pensive with the jostling of the haycart and the noise of the diesel tractor droning on through the puddles. Of course, I think he also saw a cow, which was very exciting. He can say "moo." So can the cow. It was a big day.

It seems like we get these days too far apart, and I hate to sound cliche, but the days do tend to pick up speed as we grow older. Katie and I are almost 30 years old, and where we are today is not where I expected to be at 30 years old. We are pleasantly surprised at what the Lord is doing in our lives and have to take a few moments to breathe every once in awhile, because amidst all the turmoil of raising three children, pastoring a church, and generally staying sane, God has been incredibly gracious to us. All I have to do to remember that is look on these three little faces and see the fingerprints of God on the canvas of my life. These ones are a few of the greatest gifts that God has graced us with and we are honored and overjoyed to call them our own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Glorious Dance

I bought a digital keyboard around 10 years ago. For those in the know, it's a Kurzweil PC-88mx. I still don't know what 90% of the keyboard buttons do. There's nothing like a little technology to reveal my ignorance and bring me down to size.

I recently found the buttons that play a demonstration of the keyboard's capabilities by playing music in different voices and modes. My daughter, Charlotte, who is 7 years old and learning the piano, asked how I made the piano play that song.

In hindsight, I should have feigned technological ignorance again. Now, at this moment, I am listening to a song that I'm pretty sure was a part of Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade for about the 45th time since I got home 20 minutes ago.

As much as I am growing to hate that Kurzweil (time will hopefully fade out the distaste), I am blessed to be able to watch the energetic joy of these little girls whom I call my own. They dance and dance and dance, completely oblivious to the fact that they received their father's "white man" gene, which renders one's legs completely insensitive to rhythm. It's a genetic disease. I've never even seen my father try to dance...and I'm not sure that I want to. But, in spite of the epileptic motions that my daughters consider as graceful as the most beautiful ballerina, I am enthralled at their joy.

I wish I had that joy. To be able to be completely unaware of myself and how I appear, just to dance in the glory of the music. I guess that I am more a product of my culture than I know. Lowered expectations and my failure of even those has hardened me to a sense of hope. What I know in my head, a lot like understanding music theory and notation, cannot replace the simple joy of the dance. It's not as if joy has completely moved out, but cynicism has moved its furniture into the living room.

It's time for another eviction. A gaze again at the great Musician. To hear the genius of grace and the glory of the gospel symphony, where God's mercy counterpoints God's holiness at the cross. I need to dance again, to feel the gospel move my soul to joyful, if not graceful, movement.

Holy Spirit, work your magic upon the lyre of my heart and set my soul to dancing, completely oblivious to how I appear, lost in the wonder of the music of your gracious love.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Message from Mary

I thought that I would pass on an e-mail from Mary Haag, freshly back in Cambodia:

Hi you all.
I just wanted to let you know that I'm here! Currently in the OMF
library which has aircon. One of the missionaries hooked me up for
WiFi and now I'm off! The trip went well though I got very little
sleep even with a sleeping pill. Though I had a headache earlier, I'm
actually not tired though being awake for over 36 hours, minus maybe 4
hours of sleep on the plane. I think I must be getting by on
adrenalin. I'll not go to bed till night, so still have 8 hours or so to go. I had some amazing conversations on the journey.
Strange and wonderfully confirming. I had three extended conversations
which lasted for hours and hours. Two were Filipinas and one was a
Cambodian American who was returning to Cambodia for the first time
since escape from Pol Pot in 1979. I admit that with the first lady I
just felt exhausted at times by the heavy conversation and sometimes
wished she would be quiet. But when I sat by another Filipina and she
warmed to me I began to just go with it trusting to give energy and to
see how God might lead in just using counseling skills indirectly. I
feel I really was able to help these ladies, and practice my skills.
It was fun (most of the time). They thanked me many times for
listening. I'm left with some thoughts about it all. First, is the
very real opportunity of doing counseling naturally with Asians.
Amazing that they really did warm up to me, a stranger. But another
thought has to do with my own sanity. It was a bit intense. I can see
the danger of doing it naturally without boundaries. Also, I feel
confirmation of the need for me to have a safe home where I'm not going to need to do more intense interacting with an extrovert housemate or her ministry friends.
I was able to get my visa smoothly as everything happened just as I'd
been told. There was a man with a sign from the airport waiting for me
and had my government letter of attestation to get my visa. I was
directed to the head of the line with my official document. A good
group of old friends were at the airport to greet me. I felt so warmly
welcomed. We laughed with joy all the way "home" to the mission home.
So fun to see the folk from the team. Oh how blessed I feel to know
these wonderful folk! I've already seen three students. Two lovely
ones came with flowers. Over the weekend I'll be hanging with one
couple mostly unless others invite me out. The mission home staff are
on a retreat so no meals are planned. All is well as it gives me a
chance to be with the team in smaller groups. So, nothing much else to
tell you at the moment. The thought, I could actually send me in a
picture now that I have a digital camera. But, won't at the moment.

Thanks for all! Much love, Mary

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Church of the Messy

I have been pondering this past year, its goals and successes, failures and necessary changes. I'm constantly surprised at all that the Lord does behind the scenes of what I see. I mean, I am that arrogant. So arrogant as to believe that nothing really happens in people's lives unless I guide them and show them and reveal things to them. Oh, Come quickly Lord Jesus, for your preachers are prone to arrogance and presumption!

I'm reminded of my propensity to pride as I saw two of my sisters this week struggling to understand one another. One of my goals for this year was become more transparent, to be quick to repent and lose my power. And I lauded it as a goal for the church, too. And here I was seeing the Lord working out Spirit-led transparent community between these two women.

As they struggled to be understood, each desiring so badly for both to see Jesus and to honor His Word, I saw the messiness amidst the struggle. And it hit me amidst all the emotion. The severity of growth is only accomplished in the messiness of other-centered transparency, of letting oneself be vulnerable and open to criticism and painful response. Each of my sisters were wrapped up in this struggle to know and be known, to wrestle with the Lord over what His Word actually teaches. Coinciding with each move toward understanding came the counter-reaction of hurt feelings and wounded fear. Not fear of the struggle, but fear of losing each one another in the struggle. Fear of rejection and the bruising of the soul. And they humbly and openly pressed on, spurning their egos their love for each other was evident. And the incredible outcome of these two amazing women's struggle was a deepened love for each other and a new sense of togetherness that did not exist before. I saw God bringing all things together under Jesus as He brought these women together soul to soul.

So, it was I who needed again to be taught this week. And I was taught, not through my books or articles, but through the messy proclamation of these two sisters. Authentic struggle with the Lord and the humbly honest seeing of Jesus together results is messy but glorious growth.

And I have to ask myself: Am I willing to get messy? Am I willing to reveal my deepest vulnerability and be weak? Am I becoming like a child, a messy, unconcerned about how I appear to the adults, child? I would like to think that I could handle this seeking of Jesus in a similar manner and come out of the hunt with a deeper love for my brothers and sisters, a greater sense of comaraderie, and a higher vision of God's glory in my relationships.

Lord, I want a messy life, one of deep growth and severe love. I want it for your people, too. Make us a messy church, one of brokenness, humility, honesty and a perseverent pursuit of love for each other and above all, of You. Make us a church of the messy, that our deepened love for and understanding of each other would glorify You and You alone.

Soli Deo Gloria
To the Glory of God Alone,


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fidgety Loneliness

My wife is gone for the night visiting a friend up north. So, after playing with the kids and doing a few things around the house (in case you're reading this, Katie, I did do the laundry!) I thought that I'd go to bed. Well, I made it to bed, alright...but not to sleep.

Isn't it weird how we get so used to being close to someone that we cannot function properly when they're not there? It's like when you dive deep into the water and you don't realize how uncomfortable not being able to breathe is until your lungs start to burn and you start to stretch for the surface of the water, aching for that ecstatic moment when you break through the surface and inhale all the heavens into your lungs. Missing someone is like that.

When Katie is gone I get fidgety. I wriggle and itch and hear myself breathing (I'm not sure how she puts up with me, by the way. I just realized that I'm very annoying at night). I talk to myself and no matter how long I lay there, I simply cannot sleep. So, here I am at 2:09am, fidgeting.

What shocks me is really how often that I take her presence for granted. She's simply there, being a great wife and mother, a beautiful daughter of God, but I come to expect that and not really appreciate her and her beauty in my life. I guess that's a good thing about being away for a night. Reality. Just like breathing, we don't realize how sweet air is until we cannot have it.

Maybe this is part of what the Lord said through Jeremiah when He told us that the heart is so deceitful and desperately wicked. We are so prone to take beauty and blessings for granted, until the Lord takes them all away. Then we realize how truly gracious that He is. He does the same thing with sin. He gave us over to sin so that we would see and feel the emptiness and return to Him. In a sense, He gives us what we are wanting, knowing that it will not fulfill this deep God-shaped hole within us. Even His judgments are from a gracious heart. I so don't deserve His kindness. So, I look for the discipline of the Lord until the sweet sweet breath of His glorious grace fills my heart again and I realize how truly beautiful He is and again delight in Him.

I so don't deserve my Katie's kindness, either, but I rejoice in her love. And, I cannot wait for my love to return, to delight in her again, for her presence to fill my evenings with life...and sleep.

To the Glory of God

Monday, October 8, 2007

Prone to Presume

I’ve been thinking this past few months of my own attitude towards the kindness of God, particularly how I am so prone to take it for granted. I have grown up in a world where it’s in vogue to be the victim, where blame is always cast upon the “other” person (I mean, we all know that the world’s problems are entirely the fault of the previous generation and we have all the answers if only the world would listen to us!).

I have grown up with an attitude of entitlement and presumption. Presumption, there’s the word. I presume to do better than others, think more clearly than others, be better than others. All of this is an incredible stroke of pride and self-centeredness, really the root of most of my sin and the destruction of many of my relationships.

The amazing thing about sin is that it deceives us into thinking that it is right and good. So, we transfer this presumption onto the ultimate Good, God Himself and His glorious gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. We presume that we are good enough, that we deserve God’s grace, if not in conscious thought, than in our subconscious emotive person. It shows in how we treat God (especially when He tells us “no!”) and how we treat others (with jealousy, bitterness, and unforgiveness.) To this end, our presumption is revealed by our desire to be recognized and honored for our performance, and our unspoken (and possibly unrealized) expectation that God doesn’t take our self-righteousness too seriously. I mean, since He forgives us we can sin as much as we want, right?

PRESUME – The word itself comes from the Latin prae, meaning “before” and sumere, meaning “to take.” It is the act of seizing or occupying without right.

Like I wrote above, in my own life I struggle with presumption. It is so easy, because of God’s love, to begin to take His kindness for granted. I find that it is easy to function as if my sin does not really matter because God has forgiven me in Christ, so I treat sin lightly and in a nonchalant manner. This is the slippery slope of pride and it begins with a very low view of God’s holiness.

In the early church (very early!) there was also a couple who acted in presumption upon God’s kindness. Let me set the stage. In Acts 2 the gospel was preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and many people were saved to follow Jesus. As the early church started we find that Luke describes this community in this manner:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” ~Acts 2:42-45

Here we see the early believers selling their possessions and giving to those who had need. We move on to Acts 4:34-37 and we see as specific man named Joseph and nicknamed Barnabas (son of encouragement) selling his land and giving his proceeds to the apostles. This man Joseph must have been a very likeable person, possibly popular. After all, he was given a nickname by the apostles and was so known by his deeds of encouragement.

On cue enters our presumptive couple, Ananias and Sapphira. After seeing Joseph’s gift dropped at the apostles’ feet, they figured that they would be an encouragement, too. Now, that doesn’t sound bad, does it? Is it wrong to follow other people’s examples to be an encouragement? Well, no, but what we see from A&P is not a desire to encourage others, but rather a desire to be noticed for encouraging others. Notice what Peter asks Ananias in 5:3, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”

Herein lies the sin: they presumed that it was not that bad to lie to God. Not only was not that bad, but Peter claims that Satan has filled Ananias’ heart. This is in direct contrast to the filling of the Holy Spirit that Peter received before preaching in Acts 4:8 and the filling of the HS of the church in 4:31. I don’t believe that this recorded contrast is a coincidence. There is a deliberate contrast of “fillings” being revealed here.

You see, Satan wants us to seek our own glory, to try to build our own reputation and kingdom, rather than the glory of God and His Kingdom. Ananias was performing an outwardly righteous act to be seen as righteous by men. He was trying to build his own reputation and his own glory. But, God saw his heart and knew his deception. How serious is presuming upon God’s grace? How severe is the holiness of God! Ananias and Sapphira’s presumption cost them their lives. This is not a common belief in the church, but God took their lives because of their presumptive attitude toward HIM. God’s holiness and glory are His alone!

How are our attitudes toward impressing others with our own righteousness? Are we performing good works so that others will see that we have it together? Are we hiding our failures so that others will not see our weaknesses (just another way of wanting others to see our presumed righteousness)? I’m afraid that I find myself falling into this trap again and again. Is there hope for presuming people like me? Absolutely! Learn to hate your egocentricity and the presumption that so easily ensnares you. Learn, by the Holy Spirit and through repentance and faith in Jesus’ power to change you, to reveal your weaknesses to others and to perform good works to build His glory and His kingdom.

An old pastor once said, “You either risk or rust.” In other words, are we willing to risk failure, being seen as failures, to build God’s Kingdom and His glory to the world? The truth is: if we are not risking our reputations, our glory, our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ, then we are rusting into the hardness of self-righteousness and self-centeredness where every joint must be broken free by the painful blows of the Master Metalsmith.

Let us not presume on the kindness of God, but rather be always grateful for His absolute grace towards us in Jesus. He has saved us and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him! Count on it, but do not presume upon it. Be grateful in joy and we will resist, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the oxidizing presence of self-righteousness and self-glory to the praise of His glorious grace in Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone)

First Attempt at Blogging

I hate death. I know that this sounds quite trite, but I really hate death. It's not supposed to be this way. I know all of the theological imports of the necessity, and even the merciful aspect, of death. But, I still hate it.

Death is never comfortable, never quite right. Even when there is hope, there is also grief and loss, even though it's temporary, it's still loss. And it's of the most personal kind of loss: relational. I guess in this aspect, there are many around me walking dead. Broken relationships, a precursor to death. The kind of temporary, yet man-made infinitude of separation.

I hate all its forms.

I will praise the Lord, Jesus Christ, who unites and reconciles under His glorious grace! He who defeated and defeats death, in all its forms. He is the one who equalizes us all, enemy and friend, at the cross. There we find that we are all equally screwed-up in our sin and our self-deception, unable to fix ourselves, save ourselves, comfort ourselves, but where we simply see that we have disowned the One Truth, God Himself.

Thank God for God!! He who stoops down to fix us, reconcile us, save us, make us right, simply by His gracious heart and powerful act of redemption when He offered up Jesus in our place. What kind of God is this? He hates death, too? And in another strange paradox, He defeats death with death. He reconciles us by the death of His Son! I will speak good of Jesus!

I still hate death. But I will not wallow in this hatred, but rather I will speak of the One who has defeated death in all its forms. Jesus, the One who is bringing all things together under His Kingship. The One who defeated death by laying down His own life in all His glory and rising up from the ashes never to die again, to rule over all that is created, bringing life from death. O worship Him, my soul. Let us not again take Him for granted and wallow in the dread, but let us build up His reputation as the Life-Giving King over all.