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?