Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Doing something

A little while ago, I wrote about feeling a call to get involved in the world around me. There was some fasting and there was more praying. And God has been working....

Almost out of the blue, the Youth Director at our church asked me if I wanted to come along on the summer mission trip to urban Washington, DC. Now understand that I don't typically do a lot with the youth programs. Not because of any reason other than my kids are elementary school age so most programs I'm involved in are their programs. So anyway, this would have seemed like it was coming outta left field if I hadn't been open to what God had for me.

After praying about it, I felt that it was right where I need to be. So I'm headed off to The Pilgrimage in DC for a week (June 5 - 11) with about 15 folks (mostly teens) to get involved. It's not quite the same type of involvement that Evan has, but I think it's a good start...

I'm not yet sure about what all we will be doing in DC but I am sure that it will be God's work as long as I maintain an open and humble posture (not something I'm especially good at, by the way). The Pilgrimage uses Micah 6:8 as their motto and I think it fits nicely with where I am right now:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8, NIV)

So I'm very excited to have this planned. I have a feeling that there will be something in all of this that heightens my awareness and experience of God in my daily life. And that, dear friends, is something...

Father God, I humbly ask that you let your servant hear and follow your voice. May my heart always long for you in my life and may my hands always strive to do your work. Lord I ask for your guidance and, if it is your will, your blessing as we step out instead of just reach out. In all that we do, may God be glorified above all. Amen

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time out for a public service announcement

A friend of mine (Mark) has created a site dedicated to "Pragmatic conservation for all of us." Mark's site is called Who Saved Watt?! One of the cool things about the site is the Saved Watts link on the left side. It let's you calculate your savings for switching out compact fluorescent lightbulbs for the incandescent bulbs you have today. I recently switched out 16 60W bulbs in the house.

Who Saved Watt?! also has several good tips on how to be practical in "being green."


I saved

Monday, May 5, 2008

Are We Rich Young Goats?

Let me try to explain where that title came from...

In a small group I'm in we have been doing a study of the Gospels called "The Teachings and Experiences of Jesus" (from the Serendipity Bible for Personal and Small Group Study). We hit on a powerful one-two combination the last two meetings: Matthew 25:31 - 46 (aka The Sheep and the Goats) and Mark 10:17 - 31 (aka The Rich Young Man).

A quick paraphrase of the passages: (probably not doing the Gospels justice, but bear with me)

In Matthew, Jesus is talking about the judgement of people based on their treatment of people in need. Those going to the Sheep side treated others well (food, water, hospitality, clothing, comfort) while those in the goat category did not.

In Mark, Jesus is approached by a "rich young man" asking Him what he can do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus' answer to the man is to sell all he has and give the money to the poor. The man leaves sad. Jesus continues the lesson saying that (this is my take here) we cannot get in to Heaven if we value and hold on to the things of this world more than God.

OK, are you with me so far? (If not, read the passages over at The Sheep and the Goats, The Rich Young Man. I'll be right here when you get back...)

Now, the reason I say this was a powerful one-two punch needs a little more background. I live in a land of suburban splendor that sits side by side with severe poverty and affluence. The make up of the group (indeed the majority of the church) is upper middle class suburbanites (me included). So, a lesson that has Jesus talking about taking an active role in the lives of those who are less well off followed by one where Jesus says "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25, NIV) had folks feeling some, um, discomfort.

Both of these lessons can strike directly in to the hearts of Suburbia.

How easy is it to say that we put God first in our lives? How much harder to actually do it in today's world. How much easier is it to mail off a check or drop a few extra bills into the plate on Sunday than it is to spend time investing in someone else's life? If God told us to leave family members behind to follow Him, would we suddenly become very hard of hearing?

Now, I'm not saying that being financial successful is bad or evil. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul writes "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (my emphasis added). So, it matters what you ultimately value with respect to your financial matters. Finances are like anger. Referencing Psalms 4:4, Paul tells the church in Ephesus "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26 - 27, NIV). That is, it is not sinful to have anger or be angry. It all depends on what you do with it.

So, where is this going? Good question.

I recently finished a great book titled "Starving Jesus" by Craig Gross and J.R. Mahon (it was the impetus for this post). The book, and the nationwide tour that inspired it, are all about getting, as the authors say, "off the pew, into the world." The intersection of my experience with this book and these lessons in the small group have convicted my heart pretty seriously. I know that God wants me to do something, but I'm not sure what and, honestly, I'm kinda scared about it.

So, I'm going to try to be very open about it all. My goal is to start from a posture of acceptance and submission to God. I will be praying a lot more and I will be starting a fast. I'm not sure for how long, I'm not sure that the duration really matters. By starting from there, my hope is that God will open the eyes of my heart to see what He has planned.

I think I'm going to need all the prayers anyone feels like sending my way...

Peace and Blessings

Friday, May 2, 2008

Executive or Assistant?

I just recently finished reading John Eldredge's newest book "Walking with God." It's a really good read in which John chronicles a year of his life intentionally walking with God daily. I won't go into a detailed book review here but I will recommend it to you if you are interested in "conversational intimacy" with God.

There is a part in the book where John talks about people's view of God in their lives. He pointed out what turns out to be something I've done way to often in my life. He says that our view is flawed when we try to set up our lives to be the way we want it and then treat God as kind of an executive assistant.
We really believe that God's primary reason for being is to provide us with happiness, give us a good life... In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote that to enjoy our work and our food each day is a gift from God (2:24). We are created to enjoy life.But we end up worshiping the gift instead of the Giver. We seek for life and look to God as our assistant in the endeavor.

This parallels what Donald Miller said in his book "Blue Like Jazz":
For me... (God was not) a person, an actual being with thoughts and feelings and that sort of thing. To me, God was more of an idea. It was something like a slot machine, a set of spinning images that dolled out rewards based on behavior and, perhaps, chance... If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few times.

How many times are my prayers worded like "God please help me do this thing that I have decided I must do" and "Lord, please give me the strength to do this thing that I want to do..."

For me it is a control thing. I have this need to have some say in what happens. Some how my worth/value is tied to it. If I can only get this thing to happen in a particular way, it will be considered successful. If I have a string of successful things, then I will be considered successful. If I am considered successful, then I will be worth more, or be more valuable or more desirable, in the eyes of.... who?

I mean, I'm blessed to have parents who have always been there for me and love me very much. I have an incredible wife who doesn't care if I build a $100 piece of software or a $100 million dollar company as long as I'm happy doing it. I have children that see me as being "priceless" as a Dad (ah, the innocence of youth!). So who am I trying to impress? Who is it that needs to see my worth?

It must be me, huh? But isn't it always about me? Or you? Or us?

What about our "assistant"?

What about God?

I find at least 11 places in the Old Testament where loving, serving, or obeying God "with all your heart" appears (NIV): 7 in Deuteronomy (6:5, 10:12, 11:13, 13:3, 3-:2, 30:6, 30:10), 1 in Joshua (22:5), 2 in 1 Samuel (12:20, 12:24), and 1 in Proverbs (3:5). All of them pertain to either loving or serving God with all your heart and all your soul.

The phrase shows up 5 times in the New Testament: Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and 12:33, Luke 10:27, and Colossians 3:23. In the Gospels, the phrase is either spoken by Jesus or affirmed by Jesus as the greatest commandment to mankind. In Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells the "holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse" to work "with all your heart" as if working for the Lord.

Needless to say, putting God first is so important that it shows up in this exact form so often.

Since Eldredge is the much better writer of the two of us, I'll let him summarize:
It's not that God does't want us to be happy. He does. It's just that he knows that until we are holy, we cannot really be happy. Until God has become our all, and we are fully His, we will continue to make idols of the good things He gives us.

I highly recommend both of the books quoted here (well, actually all three of them. The Bible isn't a best seller for no reason...). If you want to look behind the scenes at two people discovering and learning about relationship with God, these are good choices.

Peace and blessings.