Friday, August 22, 2008

Stirring and Robbing

What helps us focus on God? It's easy to boil down spirituality to reading your Bible and praying, but I think it goes way beyond that. Because of the monks, people have traditionally taught that to be "spiritual" you need large amounts of time by yourself. I think that time has a lot of value, but there's more to it.

I was reading Matt Chandler's blog ( and he wrote about things that stir his affections for Christ, as well as habits that rob his spirituality. It made me think about a list of my own. I think we all have our own list: things that really inspire us and make us feel alive, as well as things that make us feel stale spiritually. Here's mine.

Things that stir my affections for God:

1. The writings of C.S. Lewis.
2. A hot shower, followed by a good cup of coffee while journaling a prayer on a cold morning (especially in Russia).
3. Teaching young Christians about living for Christ.
4. Meaningful conversations with older Christians.
5. Listening to heartfelt, genuine sermons.
6. Spending time with the homeless and knowing I'm doing what Jesus did.

Things that rob my affections for God:

1. Spending too much time watching TV, movies, or video games.
2. Being lazy and undisciplined in general.
3. Being around unfocused Christians.
4. Spending money only on myself.
5. Knowing the Bible without it changing my attitude in life.
6. Too much sarcasm.

What's your list?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Word

I've been reading "The Imitation of Christ" a little here and there lately, and I've really loved it. It's a devotional book written by a monk in the 1300s. It's been especially good for someone being in ministry. The guy talks a lot about making sure you don't replace intellectual study with care of your own soul.

"I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers, if we live without grace and the love of God?"

The Bible is not just for information, but transformation. (not from the book)

It's so easy to have a theoretical faith, I think. I don't want my faith to be theoretical or intellectual. I want it to affect my soul, my mindset, the way I view people, the way I view life. Sadly, sometimes that takes effort. Instead of studying Greek words in a text, I'm trying to ask what practical implication it has for my life. That can be difficult when I study the Bible upwards of six hours a day in school. But I have to, or I'll get spiritually sick.

The reason it took so long for me to become a Christian is because I knew many people who talked about God on Sundays, but then it was like He went on vacation the rest of the week. I wanted nothing to do with that. I couldn't flirt with God, I knew I needed to marry Him.

I love God. I think He wants me to live out His Word not just in the letter, but in the heart. I'm striving to "be an imitator of God" (Eph. 5) when I approach the Word. Instead of asking "What does this mean?" and stopping there, I want to ask "How can I be more like my Father?"

I love that approach.

How do you read the Bible?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sinus Infection... Or Something

Yes, I'm very sick. I'm feeling a little better right now, but last night I was miserable. I laid on the couch with a pounding headache that wouldn't go away for a long while, and I could hardly breathe. I hate being sick, because I never get just a "little" sick. I usually feel like death is coming for a day or two, and then it just goes away. As I laid there, all I could think about was how much my head hurt and how nothing seems to be making it feel better. I was dreading going to sleep that night, wondering if I would sleep at all. At that time it seemed like I was always going to be sick, like it would never get better and I would always have this stupid headache.

And then I thought of Jesus. While last night for me felt like Hell, it was small beans compared to His last few days before His burial. I couldn't think about anything but the pain last night. But I wonder what Jesus thought about? I wonder how powerful
His love must be to sit there and continually take it in that painful haze of beating beaten and made fun of, betrayed and tortured. It wasn't glorious or neat. It was messy. And it hurt.

I can't even imagine being that sick to help another person, let alone dying gruesomely for someone. Jesus always puts things in perspective, doesn't He?

Any time I start thinking I'm a big deal, I look at the cross and realize I put Him there. When I start beating myself up and feeling guilty, I look at the cross and see how much God loves me and wants to forgive me. And when I start feeling stale about my spirituality, like I'm bored with it or that I just don't feel very passionate that day... I always go back to the cross. I have to sit and think about how much trouble God went through to bring people back to Him. He gave up so much, because He loves us. I can at least put a little effort into praying when I don't feel like it, or reading my Bible when it feels dull.

I love the cross of Christ, because every day it gives absolute meaning and purpose to my life.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Church Buildings

I guess it's good that few people read this blog, because I think this post would make people angry.

I have a lot of personal heroes in the faith from history. Jesus gave up all He had in Heaven to give His life to this fallen human race so He could love us and bring us to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave up a wealthy lifestyle to help lead the underground church in Nazi Germany. Mother Teresa gave up her life to help people who were at the bottom of the barrel of life's sufferings.

Jesus told the rich man who wanted to go to Heaven to sell all he had, but the guy just went away depressed because he owned so much. Then Jesus said it was extremely difficult for rich people to make it into the Kingdom. Which, looking at the standard of wealth at that time is nothing in comparison to the standard of wealth in the States.

And then I walk into most church buildings today in America. I think I'm judgmental... I have a big problem with it. I can't walk into expensive church buildings with fountains, expensive decorations, coffee shops, cool logos and lightshows without thinking about how many missionaries all that money could support. Or how many poor families could use that money to help pay rent, mortgages, and taxes. I wish I looked at my own money and thought, "I wonder how much I can save so I can help other people?"

Today someone was talking to me about expensive church buildings he saw, and a look of disgust grew on my face as he was speaking. He got pretty firm with me and told me I shouldn't judge, because those people have good hearts and they want to use it all for ministry and honoring God. He's probably right. I think most Christians have good hearts, and I have no place to ever question that.

But it still bothers me. I still don't get it. Reading the Bible and looking at Jesus' life, it's hard for me to look up and find a connection to what I see in megachurches and the Bible. I'm not saying big churches are evil, but I can't help wondering if we have our priorities a little mixed up.

I remember looking at the flashy (and gorgeous) Catholic church buildings in Mexico City and just being so confused. A gold cross? The cross was a wooden torture stick used for the worst punishment imaginable, and now we wear it as jewelry. Seems to me like it's kind of like having a tattoo of an electric chair on your arm or something.

Maybe someone needs to explain it to me better. It's just hard for me to imagine Jesus attending a big Church seeing all "God's money" spent on so much flash. It makes me sick to even think about...

I wonder how much money is spent on something that happens one hour a week.

It's not like I'm much better. Any time I get shocked by something, I always have to look inwardly. How do I spend my money? Because it's God's money, too. I really want an iPhone, but I know I shouldn't spend my money on it. Not because it's evil... but because I don't need it. I can help people with that money, but instead I want to feed ME. Yuck. I wish I could really be like Jesus... not judging others yet still pouring my life out to others asking nothing in return. One step at a time, I suppose. God help me.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Late Night Ranting

I have a lot of homework to do, yet here I am. Blogging. Oh well. I think maybe only three people read this anyway, but it gives me an excuse to write. :)

I feel kind of down, though I don't really have a reason to be. AIM starts this Saturday. Forty-five or so young people will be coming to train to become better disciples of Jesus, and then sent out around the world in eight months to work under a missionary. I love AIM, and it's weird to think I'm one of the people that help train them.

I feel out of sorts lately. I think life just gets more and more complicated sometimes. The longer I'm alive the more I see drama between people, including myself. All the questions like who I'm going to marry and what I'm going to do with the rest of my life and if I'll be a good dad come surging into mind every once in a while. Life gets hard. People hurt each other, and sin creeps in to all of us. I hate it all, and sometimes I just want to go home. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with life.

I'm constantly reminded that this is when "let go and let God" becomes less like a cliche and more like reality. That sounds nice and everything, but what does it mean? It means I don't have the answer to most of my questions about life, but God loves me and He's there for me anyway.

I once met an adamant atheist on a plane who tried to grill me on every scientific question about the Bible. We finally got to dinosaurs, and he got a little heated. I stopped, smiled, shrugged my shoulders and told him I didn't have the answers. But God does. He calmed down a little, and then quite passionately told me that all the other Christians he talked to said they had all the answers. I plainly told him they were liars, because only God has those. He's revealed to us what we need to know, and part of faith is accepting that that's enough. It gives me comfort to know I'm not God, and that He has all the answers.

It's so hard to be called a minister when you are constantly faced with your own selfishness and laziness. There were times in Russia I tried to find a way out of going to the homeless ministry I started. I had been selfish and lazy that week, and didn't feel worthy to lead an example to other people. And no matter how hard I try to put my sinful part to death, it always seems to boil over anyway.

But I love this, too, because it makes the cross mean something to me. Every once in a while I get just delusional enough to think I'm some kind of big deal. But I'm not, and when this hits me hard in the chest the only response I can have is to kneel very low to the cross and appeal to God's loving sacrifice He made through His Son. I love that place, because it's the only place that life makes sense.

It's there that I realize that I do in fact hurt God, but the good news is that everybody does, and God loves us anyway. Through Christ God makes jerks like me good enough, and that gives me enough determination to get up with even more fervor and keep going... because I love Him.