Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Confessions Of A Recovering Change Junkie

My wife and I have a coffee plant named Clarence. My mom gave him to us the week before our wedding. I remember thinking a tropical plant like Clarence couldn't survive in a climate like ours, but appreciated the gift.

Despite my skepticism, Clarence has enjoyed his Tennessean home and grown over twice his original height since he came to live with us. My wife and I high five every time a new leaf sprouts and dream about roasting our first cup of anniversary coffee in about three years.

Over the last few months, we didn't see any new leaves on Clarence. He just sat there, green as ever, soaking in water and sunlight. But I was anxious to see more growth. I wanted him to become the coffee plant I pictured in my mind. Meanwhile, I failed to notice how his stem had thickened.

When God takes me through periods of growth, I feel energized and want to write fifty posts on what I learn. Those periods may cause me discomfort, but I know God is at work.

When I don't see any change in my life for a long period of time, I worry about my lack of visible growth. Am I becoming lukewarm? Have I acted to casually about my faith? Do I listen to God enough? How much of my house is built on sand? And so on.

My life as a Christian has more angst than I'd like to admit. Looking at where I am in life, I can obsess over how I'm not where I want to be while overlooking how far God has brought me. I keep looking for new leaves without noticing the strength building in my roots and stem.

I feel I should tell you I know my righteousness doesn't depend on how well I behave. Hebrews 10:1-11 explains how all the sacrifices and religious rituals could never make a person righteous. Only the payment Jesus made by offering himself as a sacrifice made it possible for us to have lasting righteousness.

Then verse 14 says, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

In that sentence, I see a few things. First, Jesus does the real work. My role in that verse is passive. He has perfected. I am being sanctified. At most, I think my effort goes into responding to the work the Holy Spirit does in me. Second, I see that while I still go through a process of sanctification (that is, the act of being made holy), I am made perfect by Christ's perfect offering. I'm already holy while God makes me holy.

The last sentence may have sounded contradictory, but look at Clarence. He is a coffee plant, even though he's still becoming a plant that makes coffee. I might obsess over the change in his process of becoming a plant that will one day produce coffee, but he's already a coffee plant. I know in my head it will take years for him to make even the smallest batch of beans. In the meantime, his roots go deep.

I may not always have a thrilling story to tell people of what God's doing in my life. It's not all sprouting leaves. There are long periods of time where God works on my roots, my foundation, and reassuringly tells me "You're good. You're good."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Defining Characteristic Of Christianity.

I don't know if someone out there has a list of reasons why to like Christianity, but I'll say this next reason lands at #12. Why #12? I wore it in little league. Now you know.

Reason #12 why I like Christianity came to me while I read Isaiah 46:3-4. It says, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."

Think about the above passage as if God said this about you:

"Listen (your name), I came up with the idea of you before you were born. I will take care of you from conception to death. Never at any point in your life will I not help you and carry you."

God might not use a double negative like that, but whatever. Aesop said God helps those who help themselves. God here simply says he helps you in everything throughout your entire life.

Over the last few years, I've written plenty of posts taking shots at my Baptist upbringing. But strict, behavior-focused, follow-the-rules-for-holiness lifestyles exist outside of Baptist churches. Maybe the Assemblies Of God church I attended in middle school had more fun singing and dancing during meetings, but they still didn't want me to go to the movies.

Most, if not every, world religion tells people to do and say certain things to achieve holiness. In Isaiah 46:1-2, God points out how the idols of the surrounding culture place burdens on people and offer no help or freedom. Then God says, "I'm not like that. I want to take those burdens from you. I want to carry you through the hard days you encounter. I want to do the work of your salvation."

Reason #12? I like Christianity because God doesn't expect me to live a perfect life. He wants me to pursue Him and allow Him to do the rest.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Praising God When I Don't Feel Like It

Please read the sentence after this next one. During my freshman year of college, I had to take a course called "Ordinary Citizens In Nazi Germany" as a part of my orientation. The class discussed how an educated society could agree to support a man like Hitler and what we should learn from it today. 

The class wholly bummed me out. Like, we had a solid week of critiquing propaganda films followed by a week of holocaust footage. During a Michigan winter? You try to stay cheerful. 

Before each class, I began to listen to The Promise Ring's "Why Did We Ever Meet?" By "listen", I mean "dance around the room and sing at top volume". In my mind, I was defying the winter, the horrible class videos, and my crusty professor's emotionless, mustachioed commentary. 

And for the mile-long walk from my dorm to the humanities building, my plan worked. I chose to sing something uplifting despite how I actually felt, and it made me feel better. 

I didn't come up with this idea. In Psalm 42, the writer says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." Doesn't that make you stop for a minute? In this worship song, the writer reassures himself he will praise God again in the middle of the song! 

A friend once told me he didn't sing during times of worship because he seldom felt honest singing along. "If I don't feel like praising God, then why would I sing 'I will praise you'?" At the time, I couldn't argue with him. But now I see the flaw in his thinking. I mean, thirteen years later, but still, I see it now. 

The Psalmist sang praise and worship to God even when he acknowledged his real feelings. I sang and danced because I wanted my feelings to change. 

But more than this, it's a question of who or what we think deserves our worship. If you were to choose  to honor how you felt over honoring God, then aren't you worshiping your feelings? Haven't you made your emotions your god? 

Have you ever felt like you didn't want to worship God? What did you do?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Letting Transformation Happen - Or, how I learned to look at Romans 12:2 in a new way

As a person who sometimes writes words, I try to pay attention to grammar. I mean, sometimes I try to pay attention to grammar. Other times, I toss formality to the side and say to heck with it.

Thanks to great English teachers, though, I gained a keen awareness of overusing passive tense. See how I tried to avoid the landmine there? "I am keenly aware" to "I gained a keen awareness", aaaand sidestep...

But sometimes we need to use passive tense. Sometimes it's the best way to say what needs to be said. Like the two passives in that last sentence. And now two sentence fragments which would probably have passives. Did anyone else start counting? Okay, I'll stop doing that now.

As I prepared my discussion notes for a youth group meeting, I learned how Paul intentionally worded Romans 12:2. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In Enjoying God's Grace, Terry Virgo highlights the phrase "be transformed" and says this comes through God's work in us. At various stages of my life, I've taken this verse to mean I had to try very hard to renew my mind by changing my behavior. Without exception, this led to disappointment. My behavior couldn't bring me salvation, so how could I expect it to sanctify me as well?

I had one of the youths read Proverbs 23:6-7 and we talked about how our thoughts reflect what's in our heart. And if I've learned anything about grace, I've learned I need to let God change my heart.

So how do we let God transform our hearts and our minds? One youth said we have to have a humble and responsive attitude to whatever God might put on our hearts. In other words, don't resist the changes He wants to do in you.

Anyone else out there try really hard to change themselves? Have you ever experienced God changing your heart and mind outside of your own effort?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Should I Listen For What God Has To Say?

To anyone who has read the Press for any length of time, you should know I believe God still speaks to people. Sometimes, the things God says are useful for other people. Prophets, by and large, are not always men with unkempt beards in the desert. Sometimes they look like my friend, Sean.

About four years ago, Sean told me he felt like God wanted him to tell me something. He handled it very well. First, he prayed about what he heard for several days. Second, he asked other leaders in the church what they thought of the word and if they thought he should share it with me. But that's just an aside. I want to focus more on what he actually said. 

"God knows you want to serve Him as your Lord. But I think God wants you to know Him as your father." 

Every so often, I would pray about this word and get a little more understanding each time. The other night, A light clicked when I heard someone read John 15:15. 

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."

We do still serve God, sure. Just before, in verse 14, Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." At first, this might sound like the neighborhood bully giving you orders and threatening to not be friends with you if you refuse. But if we know God in terms intimate enough to call Him friend and father, then we would also know who He is and what authority He holds.

I have a very good relationship with my dad. Like most dads out there, he used to expect me to obey him without justifying his reasons. But there came a point where he stopped using the "do it because I told you" line and started letting me in on the big picture. Despite my tendency to argue, seeing his vision for what we needed to accomplish motivated me to follow his plan.

And so, God speaks to His friends. Learning how to hear is one thing, learning to listen another, and understanding His heart behind the words yet another. When we read a command in the Bible or feel the Holy Spirit put something on our hearts, we can have the assurance it comes from a close friend and loving father who wants us to join in what He does in the world.

This is why I want people to know how to hear what God has to say.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is It Possible To Understand The Bible?

Nearly every social group, whether among friends or coworkers, has someone who knows everything. That isn't to say the person actually does know everything, but they definitely talk as if they do. Cars? They've fixed every problem with their brother-in-law's toolkit. Computers? Yeah, they took a class. Russian literature? You know you're in for an earful when they open by spelling "Dostoevsky" (me? I Googled it).

Recently, it occurred to me why every group has a know-it-all. Because to some degree, we're all know-it-alls. Maybe we don't pretend to have a grip on mathematics or global economics, but we will exhibit a deep well of hubris when it comes to subjects familiar to us.

Jesus dealt with this attitude all the time. Pharisees, (the lawyers) for example. They knew the words of the Bible and all kinds of loopholes in the Law. But they missed the point of the Bible, the purpose of the Law. Zealots (the Tea Party types) probably memorized every possible scripture foretelling the coming Messiah. But instead of a political upheaval, they got a humble teacher who told them it wouldn't happen the way they thought or when they thought it should.

Now, anyone could easily read this and try to say interpretation messes with the truth of the Bible. Or maybe they would say the Bible never made sense in the first place.

I may be in the minority when I say this, but I think the Bible might only make sense when God explains it.

Luke 24 tells the story of two men walking to Emmaus after Jesus has died and talking about the reports of his resurrection. Jesus appears next to them and joins the conversation, but verse 16 says "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Jesus asks them what they're talking about, and one of the men replies, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" Jesus plays dumb and asks, "What things?" The men begin to tell Jesus about... Jesus, and how they hoped He would be the one to save them. Then, they go on to tell him about some weird reports of how He had come back to life.

Jesus, still unrecognized, says, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And going all the way back to the books Moses had written and all the prophetic books, Jesus explained how all the scriptures pointed to what had just happened in Jerusalem.

It wasn't until they had walked together over seven miles and sat down to dinner that "their eyes were opened, and they recognized him."

A lot of Christians might consider Paul one of the smartest people who ever lived. A Roman-era Ben Stein. He studied under the best Bible teachers and gained respect with the Jewish leaders. We're not told this explicitly in the Bible, but I'll bet he was the know-it-all in his group of friends.

Long after Paul's conversion, he told the Corinthian church, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

I don't want to claim the Bible can only benefit someone by way of a mystical experience. The people following Jesus, Paul, the Zealots, and the Pharisees all gained good knowledge from God's word. By hearing and reading scripture, they gained more knowledge, not less. However, the knowledge doesn't seem to make sense as a whole unless the Spirit reveals the meaning.

Do you have trouble understanding the Bible? Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit reveal something to you in it?

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Important To Remember How To Live Life And Not Only Write About It.

Ahhhh... That was nice. Anybody still there? Well, if you are, we might have more fun now.

As I'm sure many weblog writers know, I arrived at a point where I wasn't living life so much as I compiled content interesting enough to write. Imagine the state of my faith when I only read the Bible to find my next weblog post, and when I only prayed to hear God give me some new insight I could share with my tiny group of readers. 

Then after hearing a message from Francis Chan at Verge 2012, I decided to take some time to remember what it felt like to read and pray just so I could experience God's presence. It was good to get away from finding ways to make myself interesting by talking about God and instead become interested in God Himself again. 

But I'm currently preparing a post I think someone may need to read. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Worshiping Exhausted

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to lead the Lifehouse Nashville worship team. The week leading up to Sunday sucked out nearly all of my energy and I saw the rest of my team dragging a little as well. At the end of rehearsal, I asked, "Who here's exhausted?" Everyone raised their hands.

We went to an empty room to pray together and I said, "So we're all wiped out. What better time to worship?"

I'll admit I often ignore my early morning alarm instead of getting up to spend time with God. My excuse usually has something to do with how tired I feel. But if I think about it, I find so much rest when I enter into God's presence.

In Psalm 84:10, the Sons of Korah famously sang, "For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."

Last Sunday, I realized if I had to choose between serving in worship or sitting around somewhere to "rest", I would rather worship. If I need to choose between sleeping for an extra half hour and waking up to hear from the Holy Spirit, I would probably find more energy talking to the God of the universe.

When you're exhausted, what do you?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's The Goal Of Being A Christian? - Part seven of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

Last night, I asked the youths at Lifehouse a question every Christian should consider. We read 2 Timothy 2:4-6. "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops."

These three people, the soldier, athlete, and farmer all work hard. But they have motivation to reach a goal. The soldier wants to please his superior officer. The athlete wants to become a champion and win his contest. The farmer works hard so he has a good crop. But what's the goal of being a Christian? A few said, "telling other people about Jesus."

Telling people about Jesus is good, I replied. Jesus himself commissioned us to do just that. But why would Jesus want us to tell people about him?

Some other youths suggested, "So we can go to heaven?" One even said, "So we can have all that great stuff up there."

I decided to stay away from breaking down the idea of Beverly Hills Heaven. Instead, I remembered something I had heard from John Piper a few years ago. "What if you could go to Heaven and know for certain you would have the sweetest house, with the best skatepark and a chocolate fountain? What if you could never feel pain again and see all of your dead loved ones? If Jesus wasn't there, would you still want to go?"

Some of them immediately responded with "No", but I really appreciated one of the guys saying, "Well, I know the right answer is 'no', but I don't always think about it that way."

How many of us do think of it this way?

Maybe the goal of a Christian is simply to know God and have a relationship with Him. Maybe the goal of evangelism is so we can introduce other people to God and help them to know Him. I told the youths, "Don't read your Bible or pray or come to church just because you think you have to. At the same time, you won't have much of a relationship with God if you don't put any effort in getting to know Him. We should do the stuff because we want to know Him."

What do you think is the goal of Christianity?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Redefining The Pursuit Of Happiness

As a rule, I don't spend much time talking about current events. This rule helps me in two ways. First, I don't want people to expect it from me and ask questions like "How do you feel about the election" or "Where do you stand on the subject of ___". I didn't start the Press so I could comment on politics, pop culture, or any other hot button discussion.

Second, staying out of these discussions helps me to stay on topic. Jesus changed my life and God talks to me through the Holy Spirit. It's an utterly basic Christian statement that confuses the hell out of people, even some Christians. So I attempt to use the Press to explain what this means and what I have learned through it.

That said, I'm not completely oblivious to what goes on in the world. I do think about it in private. But even in private, when I talk to God, I ask Him to help me understand how I feel about the situation and I ask Him what He thinks. Typically, we end up talking about the issues behind the issues. The source and not the topic.

There are a lot of intense stories going on in the world today. I could join the chorus of comments I see in my social media feeds, but I don't, you know, want to. I'd rather talk about something more universal than a particular news item. I want to talk about people trying to find happiness, and why it makes for either the best stories or the most tragic news.

When I hear about someone's drug problem, crushing debt, divorce, etc, I feel a weird mixture of sadness and compassion. I feel bad for their situation, but I also feel compassion because I know why they made those decisions. They, like me, like everyone, want to find happiness. I'd say this makes up the driving force behind a lot of the choices we make.

The question is, where do we find our happiness? Is it in our own pleasure and comfort? Is it in a long and healthy life? I think many people would say so. So they try whatever might offer to give them these things. They try marriage, and when that gets hard, divorce. They try vitamins and positive thinking, or they try drugs. They try buying comfort or a particular lifestyle, even if they can't afford it.

To sum it up, they look at where they are in life, see their unhappiness, and decide to do whatever might change the situation. Of course, some of these decisions are huge, and I mean life-altering.

Making these kinds of decisions can be exhilarating, but they're often joyless in the end. Years ago, I used to think I was unhappy because I felt lonely. So I got myself into a few unhappy relationships. When I saw these didn't work, I thought maybe I just needed to commit to someone. That led me to an unhappy engagement. Thankfully, I recognized the insanity before it led to an unhappy marriage.

We've all done this. We continuously try to add stuff to our lives, hoping to find happiness with the next thing. And eventually, we end up like this:

Could this be a parable? Are we like Steve Martin? Do we treat God like Bernadette Peters as we walk away, collecting our empty pleasures? Have our good intentions ruined us and made everyone cross-eyed?

All this has kept bringing Jeremiah 2:13 to mind. God confronted Israel and said, "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

God offers us life and wants us to find our happiness with Him. Instead, we've chosen to find these things on our own. From the moment Adam and Eve decided they knew a better way to life and happiness, mankind has lived in misery. Instead of going back to the source of true joy, we dig. And unless we realize everything we make cracks and crumbles, we'll keep digging, hoping to make something out of it.

So as I read all the news that's fit to tweet, I think about what Jesus said in Luke 9:23-25. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Idea Of Enough

Ever since my wife worked as an intern for Nashville's NPR station, I've found myself listening to their programming during my commute. I recently heard an interview where the guest told a story about Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller at a party for a wealthy banker. Vonnegut asked Heller if it ever upset him that the banker made more money in one year than he had ever made from the book Catch-22. Heller replied, "No, because I have something he will never have. I have enough."

We don't hear many people say that. We typically think about what we could have if we only had a little more. The meaning of "enough" is certainly hard to grasp. But then, what is the source of "enough"? I think it depends on what you want to gain. 

Some teachers talk about Luke 18:18-25 as if it's a story about the evils of money. A rich man asks Jesus what he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus tells him, "live a perfect life by keeping the law." At first, this sounds like Jesus is saying "Just do what the Bible says". But I think Jesus knew nobody could live a perfect life except for himself. If that's the case, then maybe we can see Jesus' first response as his way of saying, "Well, you aren't capable of gaining eternal life." 

The rich man then says, "I've been doing that already. There's got to be something else." So Jesus looks past the dude's pride to its source and says, "Sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow me." This shook the rich man, because, well, he was rich. But more than that, he put his trust in the security and comfort offered by wealth above the life Jesus offered. 

Those teachers I mentioned often stop the story when Jesus says, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For 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." Then these teachers have expounded on money. 

I don't think the point Jesus made was, "Money is evil. Only poor people are righteous." Jesus merely revealed the man's idol. It could have been anything, guys. If a socialite had approached Jesus, he could have said, "How difficult it is for a popular man to enter the kingdom of God!" If this conversation happened between Jesus and a genius, it could easily have been, "How hard it is for an intelligent man to enter the kingdom of God!" If the men found comfort, security, and identity in his friends or the power of his mind, then he would have made relationships or intellect his god. 

I think we could fill in the blank "How difficult it is for a _________ man to enter the kingdom of God" with any descriptor. In fact, Jesus could simply have said, "How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God!" 

If he had said it this way, maybe we would better relate to the people hearing him. In verse 26, the people said, "Then who can be saved?" We all struggle with idolatry. I think John Calvin rightly said the human heart is a perpetual factory of idols. If we constantly find ourselves putting our trust in wealth, relationships, intelligence, or anything besides God alone, then who can be saved? 

Jesus then says in verse 27, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." 

So if Jesus wasn't saying, "Money is evil," what was he saying? I think he took an opportunity to tell us "You can't do anything to gain eternal life. Only I can do that for you. And if you try to do it on your own, you may as well try to successfully shove a giant animal through a tiny hole."

When we make something like money an idol, it will never give us enough of what we want. The idol will continuously promise to fulfill our desires, and then fail to really deliver. 

But what is impossible with these idols is possible with God. If we truly seek after God as the fulfillment of our desires, putting our trust in Him, finding our security and comfort in Him, He will always provide what we need. He is enough. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Attitude Over Action - Jesus and the condition of the heart

Long-time Press readers know how I've tried to read the Bible as if I've never read it before. It helps me to notice new things in the text without sliding through all the familiar passages. Throughout the last few months, I've noticed something as I read through Luke's gospel. Much of Jesus's teaching focuses on people who think of themselves as religious. He tells them to focus on the condition of their heart rather than keep score of how well they obey the rules.

Before I continue, I want to say how I understand religious people. It doesn't make sense to assume they know how much they suck. I doubt a single Pharisee thought to himself, "I'm going to be a hypocritical, judgmental, A-hole." The Pharisees as a sect came into being because they wanted to pursue holiness, they just developed the wrong idea for the source of holiness.

They upheld the law as God's standard of holiness. They also knew how easily they could break the law, so they decided to set up additional rules to "build a fence" around the law. This phrase came from a particular law where a home-owner accepted liability if someone fell off the roof of his house and died. So they would build a fence around the roof to prevent accidental deaths. Over time, these "fences" around the law became equal in importance to the Pharisees, and so people were expected to perfectly uphold hundreds and hundreds of rules in addition to Torah.

To this, Jesus told the teachers of the law, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers."

My friend Tim recently shared something about this during our Sunday night meeting. He said ranchers can't always build fences around their giant spaces of land. So they'll dig deep, deep wells because the cattle will stay close to sources of fresh water. There are some people concerned with defining their faith in terms of boundaries like those mentioned in Colossians 2:20-23. "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations - 'Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used) - according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Where this describes a Boundary-Defined Faith, Tim encouraged us to pursue a Transforming Faith. Like the deep wells on those ranches, we seek the source of life like a well of fresh water and find our place there. Jesus told a Samaritan woman about this well and the transforming life it brought. In John 4:13-14, "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water (referring to the well by which they sat) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

If you read on from there, you see that this woman had some real problems in her faith and lifestyle. But Jesus doesn't tell her to wake up and get her life straight. He tells her, "I'm offering to change your heart," and knew the change of heart would lead to a change in her life.

What do you think? Does attitude matter more than action? Is the condition of the heart more important than having a religious life?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Memorable Object Lesson - Part six and a half of Questions From The Lifehouse Youth Group

Where have I been? Bed-ridden. Possibly as a result of hanging out with the very youths I speak of today.

What did I have? I'm not sure, but you don't want to hear about it. It would gross you out.

And yet, I'm about to tell you the grossest object lesson I ever gave the youth group. It happened at the end of the meeting I mentioned in the last post.

Someone brought up the point, "If we don't have to worry about losing our salvation or having God get mad at us because we've sinned, is it a big deal if we just keep sinning?"

Okay, yes. The answer is yes. But only because understanding the magnitude of God's goodness in offering salvation and the full depravity of our sin should make us want to live a different kind of life. It's the same kind of answer I would give to someone who asks, "Can a person sin in Heaven?" Well, yeah, I guess. Satan and the other demons did. But if you were in the presence of God and aware of the consequences that come with it, why would you choose to sin? It'd be like watching someone lose their leg during Shark Week and then thinking, "Yeah, maybe I'll cut off my leg. Just to see what it's like." You'd probably have lost your mind, right?

Paul made a similar statement in Romans 6:1-2. "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?"

After reading this in the youth group meeting, I had a thought. "I'll tell you how I think about this personally.

"When I was in high school, I didn't always cut my toenails. I ran around the beach a lot, swam in lakes, and never thought to wear sandals in the shower after gym class. So I ended up getting a pretty nasty fungal infection in both of my big toenails. They got all yellow and think and ingrown."

"Did they hurt?" Someone asked.

"Yeah, they hurt! After a few years, they hurt so bad I decided something had to be done. I didn't have insurance, and I didn't want to pay full price at a hospital, so I asked my friend Dale to pull them off with pliers."

A few of the kids paled. Awesome, I thought. Nothing like a gross object lesson during youth group. "I bit down on my bandana, gripped the sides of my chair, and Dale tore both of those suckers off my feet.

"I won't go into the part where I went to the emergency room the next day. The point is, it hurt worse than any pain I've ever felt. And I've had to go through this four times at the clinic since Dale first pulled them.

"Now, if I knew for sure after the first toenail pull I would get clean and healthy nails in their place, would I take care of them differently? Or would I live my life of poor foot hygiene like I did in high school? I can tell you this, I would I clip them regularly, wash my feet intentionally, and wear sandals in public showers. I would want to live differently."

And like I told the youths that night, I hope this story sticks with you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Are You A Sinner Or A Saint? - Part six of Questions From The Lifehouse Youth Group.

If you don't know, let me tell you. Teaching theology to teenagers presents some challenges. How do you sum up enormously important topics like grace in a way that doesn't sound condescending? Here's one way in which I tried.

Since we're reading his book, Enjoying God's Grace, I borrowed an example from Terry Virgo. I asked the youths if they've ever traveled a long distance into another time zone. Most of the kids raised their hands. "The car radio clock or your wristwatch might say it's 3:00 PM, but anyone in Atlanta would tell you it's 4:00 PM. Which is true? Is it 3:00 or 4:00? Or maybe some of you have flown several hours and gone into another part of the world. Now, not only does your watch tell you a certain time, but your body feels like what your watch tells you. It may feel like bed-time, but it's early in the afternoon where you've landed. Which is true, what your feelings tell you or the time set for that zone?"

After becoming a Christian, I still sinned. I was and continue to be kind of a bonehead. So which was it, was I a sinner or a saint? I asked the youths this question. Most of them said "sinner". One kid said, "both".

The Bible tells us when we put our trust in Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives, we go through a transformation. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Paul further describes this change in Romans 6:6-11. "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

After having one of the youths read the passage from Romans 6 aloud to the group, I asked them the question again: Are you sinners or saints? You may feel like a sinner, but scripture says your old self has died and you are no longer enslaved to sin. You've been set free. Death no longer has dominion. It doesn't rule over you. "It sounds like it's one way or the other," I said. "You're either a sinner or a saint. That's your identity. The Bible says I don't have to pay for my sin or carry the shame of it. Which should I trust more, what the Bible says is true or how I feel?"

I told the youths I knew it was a lot to take in. I'm nearly thirty and I still have a hard time remembering all of this. I told them to think about our discussion and talk to me if they had questions. After the meeting, one of the guys thanked me for leading the discussion. "Yeah, thanks," I said. "I don't know how well I explained it."

"Even if we don't get it all right now," he said, "it was good just to talk about it."

Maybe it would be good for the rest of us to talk about it as well.

Next I'll talk about the other object lesson I gave them. It'll be shorter and more disgusting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Need To Stop Playing Catch Alone - A non-legalistic type of discipline

Recently, I heard a comedian say he had no toy more pathetic than a bounce-back. If you aren’t familiar with this product, you probably had more friends than I did as a child. Basically, it's a trampoline set on its side. When you throw a baseball, it'll "throw" it back to you. When my brothers didn't want to play catch with me, I hauled out the ol' bounce-back.

As you might imagine, it's accuracy in rebounding the ball made me jump and dive for a lot of catches. This helped me on the field when I needed to snag line drives, but my throwing accuracy was only so-so. And hitting? I was probably somewhere around .250 in my little league career. Not exactly the Mendoza Line, but nothing to crow about either.

Even though I knew my weaknesses, I kept practicing with that bounce-back. I didn't tape off a box on a backstop or hang an old tire to get better command of my throws. I spent more time on Mike Tyson's Punch-Out than I did swinging in the batting cages. Those wild throws and swinging strikes embarrassed me, even when no one saw them. So I kept practicing what I knew I could do well.

Okay, in terms of my life as a Christian, this analogy breaks down. But I did think about the bounce-back this weekend when John Privett from Lifehouse Church taught through Luke 5. Then he read verse 16, "But he (Jesus) would withdraw to desolate places to pray." John stopped and asked, "Now why would Jesus need to take time to pray? Why did he need to go off by himself in solitude?"

Lots of people object to the "do-this-don't-do-that" image of Christianity. In a way, they should. We're saved entirely because God offers to remove our sin and also credit us with the righteousness of Jesus. If we've accepted this forgiveness and receive His grace, we don't have to earn God's favor by doing all of the right things.

This went entirely against the four-point "what it means to be a Christian" lesson I learned in Sunday School. We would count them off every week: 1. Accept Jesus into your heart (always confusing concept) 2. Pray 3. Read the Bible 4. Go to church.

Maybe the list could have been cut in half and simplified. 1. Repent 2. Make Jesus the Lord of your life. Or maybe 1. Become a Christian 2. Try to live the way Jesus taught his disciples to live. I don't know. Maybe that's not helpful. But I think it gets more to the point.

Whatever the case, Jesus is my example. He knew God was pleased with him (Matt 3:17 and 17:5), so the fasting, prayer, and times of solitude weren't ways in which he made God happy. I think Jesus did it for at least two reasons. First, I'm sure it helped his growth and the strength of his relationship with God. When Luke 2 says Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God, I doubt this happened without any action on his part. Earlier in the chapter, he's in the Temple keeping up on discussions with the Bible teachers as a twelve year old. The kid hadn't even been Bar-Mitzvah'd! How did he get to that point? Wouldn't it make sense he spent time in the Bible?

Second, I think Jesus practiced these spiritual disciplines because they didn't fit in with the demands of his schedule. It seems he wants to get away and pray right when there's the most demand for him. With so many people to heal and so many messages to teach, where does a guy find time to sit and pray in peace? He had to make time. He had to say no to demands.

There, right there I thought about the bounce-back. I rely on what comes easily. I study the Bible. I pray. I worship. These are all acceptable. People tell me I do these things well and I know God is already pleased with me.

But then again, I don't necessarily see growth in other areas of my life. If I say I want to be a more humble person, then maybe I should practice doing something good without announcing it. If I want to grow in wisdom, maybe I could learn how to spend time with men who will actually challenge me and help me mature. If I want to have more joy, maybe I should learn how to celebrate my relationship with Jesus and demonstrate it once in a while. All of those things might be hard or embarrassing, but I need to show some initiative.

Sometimes you have to get over yourself and ask someone to play catch with you.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting Wise - One way in which God used the church in my life.

*I'll tell you now. This is something I thought about today and I haven't exactly honed it down to my usual style of weblog post.*

Several years ago, a friend called me to see if I wanted to "hang out after everyone got out of church." I wasn't going to church at the time. Or rather, I was attending a church, but a church of several thousand where I could burrow in the back seats, unseen and undisturbed.

When I told him I wanted to stay in that night, I admitted to what I was doing instead: sitting in the basement, soaking my feet, watching the Gilmore Girls, and drinking gin (with a splash of cranberry juice, you know, for color). One of the biggest reasons I drank alone back then was because, well, I didn't want to be around people when I got shiker.

Around that time, I read Proverbs 18:1 and began to feel uncomfortable. "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." Even if I went out, I could put on the Isaiah Kallman act and never let anyone into the messier parts of my life. Even if I went to church, it was about as intimate and connected as any game at Comerica Park. Even if I talked to people sitting next to me, we would just share commentary.

It took long while for me to realize I lived like this because I was selfish. I didn't want to admit my problems and look weak or foolish. Worse, I didn't know if I really wanted to change. This last point shook me because I was smart enough to recognize my imminent destruction.

The problem went beyond my tendency to hole-up in my parents' basement and drink. My life needed something besides more people and less booze. I needed something else. Other sections of Proverbs spoke to this need. Like 11:14, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." Or 19:20, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future."

I needed to let people into my life, yeah. I needed to let wise people into my life. And I needed to apply their advice.

I'm glad God sent me to Lifehouse Church here in Nashville. Not only do I love the people and the mission, I appreciate how I couldn't casually attend. The people there challenged me. They gave me advice when I needed it. I learned how to grow in humility, although I'm still working on that one. Before you ask, I do drink considerably less, even if I make more of my own beer.

Proverbs clearly says God is the source of wisdom, so I don't want to give the people in the church too much credit. But I'm certain God used the church to help me become the relatively healthy adult I am today.

What's your church experience? Have you seen a good change in your life? Or has it been terrible? Boring? I'd like to know.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Just Because It Made Me Feel Better.

Earlier this year, I admitted to my quarter-life crisis. I began to panic when the question, "What am I even good at?" popped into my head. And so, the post linked above...

This crisis has nagged me since well before I got married, but my responsibility for another person has at times intensified the anxiety.

Instead of simply caving into the fear (let's call it what it is, right?), I worked on a song for over a year and thought you might like to hear the final result. Here's The Summer Country performing "All Of The Best".

All Of The Best

Twenty-seven, in an entry level job
Working part-time with uncertain hours
And you're thinking how success comes to the young
And you wonder why you never got so far
The world can seem so cruel
When you feel overlooked
But you trust
Good things will come

Now you're praying
You're pleading with the Lord
And He hears you
He's given you His word
So you tell Him how you want to be a man
And provide for a health insurance plan
But there's no certainty
Except in Him who you believe
And you trust
Good things will come

You say, "All of the best now,
"All of the best now will be mine.
"One day, all of the best now
"All of the best now will be mine.
"Will soon be mine."

Twenty-eight now and pulling salary
Nine-to-five and every weekend free
How're you feeling wearing that shirt and tie?
Does it strangle? Does it make you want to...
Die to everything you knew
With everything He's given you
Can't you trust
Good things will come?

And say...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chronological Snobbery And Modern Application - A continuing look at the popular view of scripture.

"You can't take your faith too seriously," one of my wife's relatives said to me. "Sure, it's good to have. It's important. But there's faith and then there's the day-to-day real life."

I asked this person to explain the difference.

"Well, it's like how you want to teach people about the Bible. You can't take it for what it says because a lot of stuff has changed since then. Now we've got electricity, indoor plumbing, medicine, and stuff like that."

I asked if those things really made a difference.

"Sure they do!" she replied. "Times have changed, so the best thing to do is relate the Bible to real life today. I hope you do that when you're a pastor."

Having just met this person, I didn't feel like explaining why, if I ever became a pastor, she probably wouldn't enjoy most of my sermons.

I'll admit I don't get out much. I go to work, church, band practice, and occasionally a two-for-one night somewhere. So I actually appreciate having conversations like the one I just described because it tells me something of the cultural view of Christianity.

My wife's relative, for example, showed me how people still possess what C.S. Lewis called "Chronological Snobbery". Her argument seemed to say people who didn't know about electricity and penicillin were obviously ignorant. How could we take their inferior wisdom so seriously as to believe the Bible for what it says?

Just because people in ancient Israel believed both A: The Bible was God's word to man and B: the sun rotated around the earth does not mean belief A loses credibility in light of Copernicus.

Having said this, I do think we should discuss how we can apply the Bible to our lives in the present day. Philosopher Francis Schaeffer once said, "Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting." I believe I'm better equipped to do this if I know more about the language and thought-forms of my surroundings.

Now's your chance to help me out. In one sentence (if possible), tell me what you think about the Bible and/or Christianity.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Did God Forsake Jesus?

In previous posts, I've referred to my friend Joe's sick sense of humor. I couldn't tell with his most recent comment if he asked in earnest, or if he wanted to teach me something new with questions. Joe, if that's the case, how very rabbinical of you.

He asked, "I'm curious, if Jesus didn't question the Father's love EVER, why did he say, 'My God, My God why have you forsaken me?'?"

This question has haunted lots of Christians with a chilling thought: Did God really turn away from Jesus? Did Jesus experience fear or doubt during the crucifixion?

We all know I'm not a certified theologian. I have plenty to learn about God and His word. But I want to suggest an answer to this question.


I don't think Jesus was asking God this question because he doubted or because God had actually forsaken His son.

First, consider how many times Jesus heard this phrase, "If you are the Son of God, then..." Satan said this when tempting him in the wilderness. The people asked this of Jesus when they wanted him to give a sign proving his claims. Some witnessing the crucifixion said it when they told him to come down off the cross.

In Luke 4:9-12, when Satan tempts Jesus to prove God's love for him, Jesus recites Deuteronomy 6:16 and says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."

Throughout the Gospels, people asked Jesus to show them a sign. In Luke 11, Jesus responds by rebuking their request. Then he teaches them the meaning of Jonah, how it was a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. Again, I see this pattern. People ask for proof, Jesus responds with scripture to declare his trust.

Finally, people passing by during Jesus' crucifixion call out in Matthew 27:40, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!"In verse 46, Jesus recites the opening line of Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" But this is a Psalm of trust. David expresses pain and feelings of desolation, but then says, "Yet you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame."

And after this, Luke 23:46 reports Jesus saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" To me, this doesn't sound like someone who felt forsaken. It sounds as if Jesus trusted in God throughout the ordeal.

And what does this mean for us? If Jesus suffered worse than any of us in crucifixion and taking on the burden of all our sin, is it ever acceptable for us to give in to despair? Should we agree or disagree with Hebrews 13:5 when it says God will never leave or forsake us?

I'm sure there are more questions. I'm sure there is clearer explanation. But maybe this is a good start.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"We Are Nazareth."

When Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4, he teaches at a synagogue in Nazareth. It's his hometown. These people watched him grow up. They're excited to see Joe's kid give the message, but they don't know what's coming.

Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then Jesus says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." He has declared he is the Messiah. Last night, my friend Jamie pointed out how Jesus must have said all this with great authority because the people at the synagogue marveled and spoke well of what he said. There was a moment where they believed, "Maybe Joe's kid is the Messiah."

Then Jesus goes on to tell them, "'Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well."' And he said, 'Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.'"

Maybe you already understand why the people in Nazareth decided at that moment they had to kill Jesus. Maybe it makes perfect sense to you why the people went from excited amazement to furious bloodlust. If you're like me, though, you have to go back through that passage a few times to figure out what happened.

Jesus said he is the Messiah. The Jews were waiting for someone to come free them from the Roman occupation. They wanted the Messiah to put Israel back in power. They wanted all sorts of things they thought would happen the way they wanted it to happen. Jesus knew this as soon as he said it, so he explained, "It's not going to look like what you thought or happen the way you expect, and I'm going to offer the same freedom to people you hate. Here are some biblical examples to back it up."

There it was. The Messiah they wanted would never say or do the things Jesus had just said and done. In the eyes of the Nazerites, Jesus went from the greatest man ever to a blasphemer who deserved death.

It should bother us how much we're like Nazareth. I know so many people who have said, "I can't believe in a God who..." They reject God because He doesn't act the way they think He should act or say the things they find acceptable. If they don't like something said in the Bible, they either reject it or reinterpret it.

The Jews were excited for what the Messiah would do for them. Freedom, healing, cancelled debt, justice. But they wanted the Messiah on their terms, and those terms were unconditional. Are we any different? Do we want Jesus or all the things he can do for us?

If Jesus were here today, how many of us would be excited until He started talking? How many of us would maybe think about trying to kill him again?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

If God Really Cared.

Something just occurred to me.

People sometimes look at their circumstances and wonder if God really cares. If God cared, He would do something about it, right?

Scripture says of Jesus, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

So did Jesus wrestle with doubt and wonder if God cared about him? In Luke 4:9-12, we see Jesus facing this very temptation. Satan, in a series of temptations, took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and said, "'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you," and, "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." And Jesus answered him, 'It is said, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."'"

My friend John put this into context for me last week. This is just like when we say, "God, if you really loved me, my wife wouldn't have this brain tumor." Or, "God, if you really love me, I won't be single into my thirties."

God understands our struggle and our circumstances. Jesus confronted questions just like ours. But Jesus didn't doubt God's love for him. He knew he didn't need to test it. We can also have assurance of God's love in what Jesus did for us. He already offered us salvation. What else does He have to prove?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Doing Doesn't Help - A further look at why will power doesn't work.

Really quick, guys. Really quick. Or at least sort of quick.

I said something in the last post about a cycle of condemnation/rules/failure and referenced Romans 7. I want to expand on that a little.

The Lifehouse Youth Group talked about this during our study of Terry Virgo's Enjoying God's Grace. Some people talk about Romans 7:15-19 like it's the greatest puzzle in all of the Bible. Maybe you'll agree.

"For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."

How's your brain? Does it hurt? I've heard all kinds of explanations for this passage and been confused by the wording enough to accept anything teachers have said. Most of the time, my teachers focused on how we relate to Paul, despairing over the sin we keep doing.

I don't think Paul wanted us to focus on our behavior and I don't think he wanted to discourage us with our depravity. Look at what verse 18 says, "For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." How many Christians know what that feels like? We accept Jesus and embrace forgiveness, but then we keep messing up. As soon as we mess up, we think to ourselves, "I've got to read my Bible more, or pray more, or be more accountable with other people in the church. Or maybe I should fast." I know I've thought those things.

That's why I think he uses the word "do" over and over again. When we mess up, we want to know what we can do to make it better. We know we want to do the right thing, but we don't have the ability to carry it out. We'll continue to fall short of perfection.

After talking about confession and accountability, John writes in his first letter, "I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He goes on to say we demonstrate our love for him in what we do, so we don't have any reason to consciously enter into intentional wrong-doing. But it is not our behavior that saved us. We are not righteous. Only our advocate, Jesus, is righteous.

So don't try to counterbalance sin with good works. It's bound to fail. Confess, repent quickly, and ask God to put your sin to death. You're not strong enough to do it on your own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

There Is No Resale On Salvation - A ramble about baseball and feelings of condemnation

I don't know if I've said this before, but like I've said before, I don't know a lot of baseball fans in Nashville. To clarify, I don't know if I've said the phrase "Like I've said before, I don't know a lot of baseball fans in Nashville." But I'm almost certain I've used the phrase "I don't know a lot of baseball fans in Nashville" at least once.

Now that we're clear on what I mean, let's get to it. I don't know a lot of baseball fans in Nashville. So you might understand my excitement when my wife announced she wanted to play fantasy baseball. "I want to learn the game so I can appreciate it with you." Tell me that isn't the sweetest. I dare you.

I created a moderately low-competition league with some of our friends so she didn't have a lot of pressure and feel like a failure. She took charge of planning the live draft party. Our friends let us know what they planned on bringing to the drink and snack table.

Then draft day came. After cleaning the house and setting up the living room, I realized no one had mentioned bringing anything to drink. I called the one friend who hadn't already told us what he planned on contributing. When I asked him what he was going to bring, he paused. He wasn't sure what to bring and asked if we needed anything. I told him we were drinkless. He said he'd take care of it.

When I hung up, a bell went off in my brain and I asked my wife, "Did I just tell him to bring something when he might not have planned on bringing anything?"

"Yes, you did."

I immediately called my friend again and told him not to feel obligated. He said not to worry, he wanted to contribute but didn't know what to bring until I called. No matter how my times he said I wasn't rude, I still felt like a jerk and bought drinks as well. "Rudeness guilt," I explained to my wife.

Yeah, that was a long story for a point as small as this: I feel bad when I make mistakes. Who doesn't, right? But I've written a couple of posts quoting Romans 8:1 and still don't always remember the words. "There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus."

None? No guilt?

The truth is only Jesus has lived a life without mistakes. Luke 4 shows him resisting all kinds of understandable temptations. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus understands our mistakes because he went through every kind of temptation. He had every opportunity to make the same mistakes we've made. Maybe not specifically making rude assumptions prior to a live draft, but surely rudeness in general.

When Jesus died and got up, he paid the price for all of our failures. Who tries to buy something after someone has already bought it? Salvation isn't resale. The price was paid once and for all time. So it's not our behavior which makes us good, but our trust in what Jesus already did for us.

I think conviction should motivate us to do things differently, but condemnation encourages something else. Condemnation drives us to use will power. It makes us strive and fail over and over. It makes us feel more and more condemned. Paul wrote about this cycle in Romans 7.

So yeah, rudeness guilt is silly. Next time, I'll just apologize and learn from my blunder.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Authority To Serve - How I realized I was insecure because of my pride.

The well's been a little dry, folks. I promise there have been three days between last week and this where I pulled up Blogger to write. All three times, I sat there looking at the cursor, thinking about Billy Crystal at the beginning of Throw Mama From The Train. "The night was... moist..."

Somewhere, at some time, I developed this idea of the Press as a serious source of theological thought. But the name of the blog itself should remind me I'm just a dude. 'Am-ha'aretz, ordinary and unlearned. Not every post is going to make you weep with its depth of sensitivity and thought. Sometimes I like to post Judas Priest videos.

And that's okay.

But sometimes I hang myself up on the thought of how much people like me. Of course I assume people like me less than they do in real life. But the idea, the thought, will drive me to do what I think will make you all like me more. Which probably makes me less likable in the end.

And, if you can believe it, I know this spiral happens because of my pride. I sit at the bar in my head talking to the Me I think I am and say, "People should see how great I am. You've got to do a better job letting them know."

Before the apostles were "the apostles", they were "the disciples". In Luke 9:1-2, Jesus gave his disciples authority to minister to people. This is pretty early in the book. The disciples sometimes found themselves in the same pride/insecurity cycle I've ridden all week. They argue over who is the greatest among them while they're walking next to God incarnate. Two of them want Jesus to guarantee places of honor and respect, so they have their mom ask him for it. I mean, really, would you have your mom ask your boss to give you a promotion?

But Jesus had given them authority to minister. He knew they were ordinary and flawed. So when they were proud, he reminded them greatness is found in serving people. Greatness is in humility. The cycle should rotate the other way. If we think we're great, our greatness should motivate us to minister to others. To serve them in their need.

By minister, I don't mean simply preaching or imparting wisdom (although that can certainly be a part of it). Luke 9:1-2 described it as healing people, releasing them from spiritual bondage, and telling people about the kingdom of God. In the next chapter, the disciples return and say, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And Jesus tells them, "Hey guys, that's great, but don't rejoice in your authority. Pride caused Satan to fall. Rejoice in the fact you know me and have salvation." That was my paraphrase, but you get it.

Jesus gave the disciples authority, but they were proud screw ups. Did that mean he didn't want to them to keep ministering? Did they need a week of paralyzing self-doubt to get their heads straight? No, guys. That doesn't work for, like, anyone.

A friend of mine once said, "You don't have to have everything figured out in order to help other people. It's okay if you're only a step ahead of where they are. Help them make that next step."

So, my apologies for standing still. In the future, if we're going to stand around, we may as well watch some YouTube together.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nobody Here But Us Paralytics - How I recently discovered a new way to look at grace.

Lately, whenever I feel like a failure for missing my (self-imposed) weblog deadlines, I tend to think of posts on the subject of grace. If it's a pattern, I've only just now begun to realize it.

Patterns are fun, right? I get pretty psyched about palindromes and finding abecedarian words. But I've never taken the time to look back through my now 150 posts to see if there are any long-running themes to The Press.

Do you know how many times I think I've written a post before, but don't take the time to confirm my suspicions? I'm on a tight schedule most days. I'm busy. Or my wife wants me to watch Battlestar Galactica with her.

If I were to look back through my posts, I wonder how many of them would have comparisons of how I understood the Bible as a kid and how I understand it now. Having read the Bible a few times already, I became familiar with many of the passages. While that's sort of a goal in reading the Bible, I also find it's easy to skim over the familiar parts because I don't think I need to learn the same thing twice.

But then, if I take the time, I always learn something new in the familiar. This time it happened while I read the story of Jesus healing a paralytic man in Luke 5:17-26.

A large crowd had gathered around a house where Jesus taught and healed people. "And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." Then Jesus heals the guy. The dude carries his own bed (I imagine it was more like a rug I slept on for a few months) out of the meeting.

Now this is interesting. Jesus forgave the sins of the man and healed him. But this could give you a theological headache if you think about it. What did this guy do to receive either forgiveness or healing? Did he pray a certain prayer of repentance? Did he even ask for healing? Based on the text, it looks like they just wanted to be near Jesus.

Here's my new reason for loving this story. The guy couldn't do anything for himself. He was completely helpless. Just like me. By forgiving and healing this man, Jesus gives an amazing demonstration of grace.

Now I'm sure there's more to this story, more lessons, more ways to understand my relationship with Jesus. I expect this story will get more interesting the more familiar I become with it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Sign Opposed - The controversy of Jesus.

This week, I have spent a lot of time reading Luke 2:22-40. In this passage, we read of Mary and Joseph dedicating baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem.

When the family arrived at the temple, they met a man named Simeon. God had told this man he wouldn't see death before he saw the Messiah. When Simeon saw Jesus, "He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.'"

Then Simeon turns to Mary and Joseph, blessing them. He says to Mary, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Since reading this prophecy, I've thought about the controversy Jesus causes even to this day. He taught of a Kingdom very much unlike the systems of power we have in the world. It pissed off the rulers of his day enough to murder him.

Simply calling Jesus God makes people angry or at the very least uncomfortable. All kinds of religions try to explain away or incorporate Jesus, but they refuse to recognize him as the Son of God and the only way to the Father.

I think the sign Simeon mentions is Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection. In Luke 11:29-30, Jesus says, "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation."

Jonah, as every Sunday School kid will tell you, was swallowed by a giant fish then spat out on shore three days later. Jesus referred to this as a foreshadowing of his death, burial, and resurrection on the third day. This sign alone, if nothing else, would have to suffice as proof of his deity.

Friends and family have tried to tell me they see Jesus as a moral leader, a wise man, a brilliant teacher, but they deny or ignore this point: Jesus died and got up. Those who recognize this about Jesus find themselves confronted with a choice between rejecting him or worshiping him as God. Not a God, but God. There is no middle ground.

Does the death and resurrection make you uncomfortable or do you find joy in it?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Do You Trust More? - A thought about temptation

No, I don't observe Lent. Yes, I love meat, alcohol, punk music, coffee, and plenty of other luxuries, but I also love Jesus and try to live a life of repentance. Why make a 40-day event of it? I don't mean to make anyone feel ashamed if they observe, I only want to explain how I feel about it.

However, I have thought a little about fasting and temptation after reading Luke 4:1-13. In it, Jesus fasts for 40 days. At the end of that time, the devil tempts him saying, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."

Now, it's the end of 40 days. Jesus has finished his fast. Come day 41, most people would go crazy celebrating Fat Tuesday part two, no matter what day of the week. Instead, Jesus says, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"

Later, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment. He tells Jesus, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."

Since grade school, I wondered what made this so tempting. Wasn't Jesus already God? What more authority and glory did he need? I think the temptation might have been for Jesus to take his rightful place as ruler of the world before God's appointed time, certainly before his death and resurrection. So Jesus replied, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"

After this, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple and turns up the persuasion. "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

Of course, this pissed me off when I first read it as a kid. If the devil can convince me to sin using scripture, who else can? How many people twist the Bible to deceive others? The answer is, sadly, many. But Jesus knew the context of the Bible as a whole. While God made promises to guard and protect, He also made it known we could already trust Him. Jesus said as much when he replied, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Satan attacked three major areas of security. People want their basic needs met, they want control by power or fame, and they want to know God cares about them. If we feel afraid, stressed, or insecure, we sometimes look for the easy way out. We'll do whatever it takes to eliminate those feelings. But I think when we decide to do this, we demonstrate a lack of trust in God to take care of us. Jesus wrestled with this and chose to trust what His Father had said in scripture.

I know I've already thrown in a lot of comments, but I wanted to ask one specific question. Do you trust what God says more than how you feel?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Redirecting Attention - A humble theme.

Whenever I write a post for the Press, I like to present it a certain way. There's usually a personal anecdote, a quote, or some kind of analogy I can use as an opener. A lot of writers do this to, you know, Zazz up the content, keep it from sounding too textbook.

I think I have another reason for using this style, though. If I'm honest with myself, there's a part of me that wants desperately to have people like what I do and I sometimes assume readers will most enjoy my clever stories. It's a part of me I would like to see put to death. No one likes a loudmouth people pleaser.

There's a reason I'm saying this now. Since last week, I've had this post idea nagging at me. I know I should write it, but I didn't know how to package it in a way I thought would appear interesting. I worried I would seem boring if I only wrote what I thought about a passage in the Bible.

I realize I just used this device again. I'm sure I'll continue to use it, but I thought a confessional would help support the point this post.

In Luke chapters 1 and 2, I noticed a repeating theme. Whenever people come in contact with Jesus, they praise God. In 1:39-45, a pregnant Mary visits Elizabeth, mother of John the Immerser (or, yes, Baptist). Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and recognizes Mary is carrying the Son of God. In response to this, Mary focuses her praise on God. "My soul magnifies the Lord."

When an angel appears to the shepherds in 2:8-12 to tell them about the birth of Jesus, a multitude appears and sings, "Glory to God in the highest."

Simeon, upon seeing baby Jesus at the temple, rejoices saying, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation." Directly after this in verse 38, a prophetess named Anna enters the temple. "And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem."

Even Jesus used people's attention toward him as an opportunity to direct it towards God. He once told his critics in John 5:19, "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise."

I don't want you to think I'm separating Jesus from God. I know they are one and the same, one being the Father and the other the Son. But I like how the Trinity praises the other parts of itself. The Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus. God proclaimed His pleasure in the Son after John baptized Jesus. More than anyone else, God has the right to tell everyone "Pay attention to me!" But over and over, I see Him doing it in a demonstration of humility by drawing the attention to the other parts of Himself.

Does that make sense? The trinity is a tricky topic.

Do you struggle with wanting people's admiration? Do you have a crippling need to have others like you? What would it look like to have all of the time and energy spent on making ourselves look good redirected towards God? I wonder what it would be like to have people see me and praise Jesus.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Humble Peasant King.

If you've paid attention for the last few weeks, you know how slowly I have crawled through the first two chapters of Luke. Even though I've read the book several times, I continue to find parts of the story I've never noticed.

In Luke 2, we find the Christmas story as made famous by Charles Schultz. Verse 7 says Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for his family at the Inn. I never asked myself why God would orchestrate the birth of His son like this. If not in a palace, why not at the very least have him born in a comfortable place? Why invite the local ner-do-well shepherds to the party?

I think Jesus hinted at this later to his disciples in 22:24-27. "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.'"

If Jesus had come to earth as a powerful or wealthy man, people may have felt compelled to listen and obey. He might have found more panderers than genuine followers. More than anyone, though, Jesus demonstrated humility and became a servant.

Do you think you would have had an easier time listening to a humble peasant or a proud ruler?

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Do You Think God Needs? - A story I had on my mind today.

A few years ago, a coworker sat down next to me and said, "You know what I never understood about God, I mean, if he exists? Why did he create people then tell them to worship him? Does he need it?" Considering I didn't expect to have a theological sword fight during my lunch hour, I decided not to get too deep into a discussion. Without looking up from my sandwich, I said, "I don't think He needs it. Maybe it just makes him happy."

The guy sat back in his seat and didn't say anything. "I never thought of that before," he said. Then he stood up and walked back into the kitchen. Several hours later, he still had a rattled look on his face. "Are you alright?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. "I just... You really got me earlier." He never thought of God as secure in Himself.

During his message to the Athenians in Acts 17, Paul said, "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."

Even though I don't fully comprehend it, I think God only does what will make Him happiest. I don't think He needs us to make Him happy. I don't even think our sin frustrates or surprises Him. Maybe our worshiping and serving Him is meant for us to join in the joy He has in Himself.

I wonder how many people like my old coworker view God as either insecure or demanding. I wonder how many people in the church assume this of Him as well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Disappointment Becomes Too Familiar.

Last week, I wrote about how we respond to God's promises. Zechariah responded with doubt and Mary with trust. But I didn't ask myself why Zechariah responded the way he did.

Last Sunday, my pastor made an observation I hadn't considered. Luke 1:6 says Zechariah and Elizabeth were both great people who loved God, but they were old and childless. When Gabriel appears before Zechariah in the temple, he says, "Your prayers have been heard." Clearly, they wanted a child and had asked God. My pastor remarked on the disappointment Zechariah and Elizabeth must have felt up to this point.

For those of you who have read this story, doesn't it confuse you how Zechariah first feels terror when he sees the angel, but then gets a little lippy? I wonder if Zechariah had become so used to disappointment he expected a letdown, no matter how powerful the promise.

Imagine how much it hurt Zechariah as a priest, as someone who always tried to do the right thing, as someone who loved God. Imagine the hurt year after year as he and his wife grew older, watching the possibility of a family shrink and vanish.

Suddenly, Zechariah's response to Gabriel makes more sense. "How shall I know this?" I don't mean to say he should have doubted, but I do know how he felt. What startled me was how he asked this in the middle of an audible and visible message from God. Would my disappointments harden my heart to a point where I would question God's promises even if He told them to me in great supernatural power?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Politics Of Fame And Glory - How I realized my self-righteousness was driven by a fear.

If you've read this weblog for the past few months, you might know that I play in a band called the Summer Country. I feel comfortable talking to you about this because there are only, like, twenty of you, and half of you share my last name.

In the past, I've written about false humility and musicians getting more credit than they deserve. I haven't forgotten. Between those two ideas, I live in tension. I don't think I should receive the adoration all who see me, but I don't think I suck either.

So far, this tension has led me to become a terrible self-promoter. I may have mentioned that before, too. Whenever I'm challenged to do something more with the music, I quote Proverbs 27:2. "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Not only is that simply great advice on how to keep yourself from arrogance, it ends the discussion with most people. And it's a discussion I don't like to have with them.

Tonight I asked myself why. Why don't I want to talk about what I do? Why don't I want to listen to the people telling me I should learn how to promote myself?

It took less than a minute to realize it's because I'm afraid of my image. Isn't that dumb? I rail against self-promotion because I don't like the idea of selling myself. The underlying, unspoken motivation comes from living in Nashville and hating how other people sound when they constantly self-promote. And I don't want to sound like those guys. But isn't that just as bad? Aren't we all trying to look cool, even if we have different reasons?

I'd be selfish either way. I don't know how to change it just yet, but I realize something does have to change.

Unless you have some great advice for my situation, I'll finish today's post with a song I wrote. I don't want to be famous, but I want people to listen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Motive Of A Question.

Recently, my wife and I began a study in the book of Luke. Having grown up in the church and read the Bible a few times over, I wanted to try reading this gospel as if I hadn't read it. You might know what I mean if you've grown used to God.

I find whenever I read a book, any book, expecting to learn something, I learn quite a lot. I notice more when I read with a goal than when I casually read a story for fun. Midway through the first chapter, I saw something I had never seen before.

Luke opens his account of Jesus with great detail. Much of it deals with Mary and her family leading up to the birth of Jesus. In 1:5-25, Luke introduces Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary's cousin and her husband. As a priest, Zechariah is chosen one day to enter into the most holy place of the temple and burn incense. While in there, the angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah he and Elizabeth will have a son.

Zechariah replies, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." The angel tells him of his coming son then says, "You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

A few verses later, Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will give birth to Jesus. Mary also asks a question. "Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'" The angel explains how the Holy Spirit and the power of God will come upon her so she could give birth to the Son of God. Mary then tells the angel, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

I never thought to ask this before, but why did Zechariah get gagged when both he and Mary questioned the angel? Looking again, I saw they asked different questions. Zechariah wanted a sign because he doubted. Mary wanted to know more about a promise she already trusted.

If God were to give you a promise, something that seemed totally impossible, how would you respond? After reading Luke 1, I think it might be a good question to ask yourself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

That's Entertainment - A connection I made between Mythbusters and televangelists.

Do you have a friend, or maybe several friends, you like to annoy? We do it because we love their reactions, right? I have those friends. One of them lived in Nashville briefly while he attended a trade school and I annoyed the crap out of him.

We sat in the lobby of his school one day waiting for his classmate and Mythbusters came on the television. He shushed whatever I was saying and sat forward. "I love this show. Have you seen it?"

"Have I seen Mythbusters? Yes."

But he was gone. Sucked into the special effects and berets and facial hair. After a few minutes, I asked him why he liked it so much. "I don't know," he said. "I love the science of it all."

"This isn't science," I said evenly. I wasn't trying to pick a fight. It's not science. I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, either. I'm telling you this like I would tell you it's snowing outside and you should wear a jacket.

"What do you mean?" my friend protested. "Of course it's science!"

Then I picked a fight, because like I said, he's one of those friends I like to annoy. "Have you even heard of the scientific method? These guys use special effects. It's just entertainment." Of course this is true, but I just said it to make him mad. And it worked.

This conversation happened years ago, but I thought of it again recently when I saw back-to-back commercials for Mythbusters and some show about "The Mysteries of the Bible". I wondered if scientists see Mythbusters and start correcting the television set. "Nope. You've got it wrong. You didn't test all the variables. Your constant has to be a little bit more reliable than an endless supply of mannequins." Then I thought to myself, "I wonder if scientists react to Mythbusters the way I react to televangelists. 'Dang it. Please don't think every christian is like Joel Osteen.'" It wasn't a perfect connection. I'm just telling you what I thought.

In light of some recent posts, I think a lot of believers have an identity crisis. They believe in Jesus, but they want so little to do with how the entertainment industry identifies Christians that they will do anything to avoid it. Even talk about Jesus. Or whatever.

I have a feeling this identity crisis came from my generation's reaction to Hollywood Christianity. But just because I'm ashamed of televangelists and nearly every scene of the movie Saved! (one of my favorite movies) doesn't mean I should be ashamed of Jesus.

If you're a Christian and you believe the Bible is true, think about Luke 9:25-26. "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

It's important to consider what or who really embarrasses you. Is it Jesus, or some of the people who use his name? Does it keep you from being open about your faith? Does it keep you from praying for people?

What holds you back?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Were We Set Up To Fail? - Some thoughts on the purpose of the law and grace.

We all know of the common objection to the rules of religion. Don't do this. Don't do that. As a kid, I remember neighborhood friends telling me they didn't like the focus Christianity put on following rules.

Today, I started thinking, "Maybe God doesn't like the focus Christians put on the rules either."

There was a period of my life where I resented God for the Law. If He knew nobody could ever keep it, didn't that mean He set us up for failure? Did He really expect us to keep trying to be perfect even though He knew it was impossible?

In Enjoying God's Grace, Terry Virgo writes, "The law was never intended to be a way of salvation. Salvation is entirely a matter of grace." Romans 7, if you have the mental endurance to read it, gives an excellent explanation of the law's true purpose.

I'm wondering if the purpose of all those rules was like a window and a mirror both at the same time. It opened a window to show us God's goodness, but then acted as a mirror to show us how much we sucked. I don't know how the mechanics of that mirror window would work, but then I'm not an engineer.

If God proved to be the only person capable of keeping it perfectly, I think the law was put in place as a way for us to recognize Jesus as God. He said as much himself in John 5. Virgo explains the law was meant, "to show people their need of a covenant of grace."

So what do you think? Is it fair to say God doesn't like the focus Christians put on rules? If we're saved by grace and not by following rules, is it okay to act as if the opposite were true?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What About God Makes You Uncomfortable?

Someone once offered me advice to get my weblog noticed. "All you have to do," they said, "is find some popular blogs like yours and start leaving good comments."

Whether or not they gave me good advice, I don't follow it very well. I think I need to find those weblogs first. I keep telling myself the readers of popular weblogs want funny or serious content, and I don't always feel confident about my writing either way.

Also, I don't like most of the weblogs I read. Maybe that shouldn't stop me, but it does.

Among all the boring words people put on the internet, I do know where to find some great writing. I've particularly loved Stuff Christians Like ever since I first read it in 2008. And while some people don't appreciate Jon's "Serious Wednesday" posts, I relate to those the most.

Today, he wrote about our fear of God making us miserable. I thought you might like to read it, since it spoke to some of my battle with anxiety in a way. I'm not so much worried about God sending my wife and I far off to a place we don't want to go, but I have felt Him pointing me in uncomfortable directions.

I also know scripture constantly tells us we have nothing to fear if we put our trust in God. Jesus told us to be anxious for nothing. Paul asked the church what they had to fear if God had their well-being in mind. This, by the way, was a rhetorical question. Paul had a pretty good handle on rhetoric.

So what if you don't know how you'll find the time or money to go where He's called you?

So what if you feel like God wants you to do your part in reconciling a horrible relationship?

So what if you don't feel comfortable with giving up a luxury or convenience in order to help someone?

God's trustworthy. He wants us to find our happiness, and that happiness is in what He wants.

What about God makes you feel uncomfortable?

Monday, February 6, 2012

No One Likes A Know It All, But Most People Like To Know.

During my high school and college years, I would correct people when they used incorrect grammar. Is it safe to assume most people who read weblogs also write them? If you also write, then maybe you will relate. If someone misused a word as they told a story to a group of friends, I would interrupt. Of course, I couldn't quietly correct them or point it out later when we didn't have an audience. I had to stop them and ask if they were aware of their error. When they couldn't identify it for themselves, I would point out the correct usage with my shoulders back and eyes half closed. It's hard to believe so many years passed before I learned how much people hated me for it.

The latest Press post reminded me of this period of my life. Lindsey's comment about people wanting to avoid a preachy image also brought it to mind.

All analogies break down, but how well does this one fit? If a man becomes a language teacher, are his lessons most effective in the classroom and in the company of friends or family? If a stranger in line at the movies says something irregular to a friend, how much will the person appreciate the language teacher leaning in and offering a correction?

On the other hand, if the man at the movies were to write a piece for work or his own enjoyment, he might wonder to himself if he has used his words well. He might even ask himself how he could learn.

I think plenty of people want answers. Even if they are hostile in one environment, they might be receptive in another. Many of us have trouble discerning the best time. I know I do, and so I have on several occasions assumed, "this is a bad time." But this means I've called most every opportunity a bad time.

How would you discern a good time to talk about your faith? Do you think your decisions come from a discernment of the other person or a gauge of how comfortable you feel?