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.