Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Upbeat of Job

No doubt, Job dwellers have increased in the aftermath of two horrific tornado outbreaks, one that pounded Alabama on April 27, and a second that cut Joplin, Missouri in half on May 22. In wake of these tragedies, relief and response strategies have become spotlight topics again, and people across the country have begun investigating various calls to action: how to react, encourage, help victims emotionally process the ‘what nows’ and how to quench unbelief and apprehension, etc.

In times like these, numerous doors are opened to Good Samaritan hearts, which can reach in and reach out to an ailing community. With mobilization materials and deployment discipline, hope will ultimately win the war, even if preliminary battles are lost. But the greatest tool concerning the grief journey is a double-edged sword, known as the Word of God. Meditating on a book like Job can stir us to appreciating God’s master plan, even in light of great tragedies.

We often do not view Job and Psalms in the same light. Job is perceived as a sober book, left on the shelves of our hearts, joining Lamentations and Leviticus among others. But if one reads closely, one can find some of the purest passion found in entire Bible.

Take Job 8:5-7 and 19:25 as examples:

“ 5 But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state.Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”

“ I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”

1.Job 19:25 Or vindicator
2.Job 19:25 Or on my grave (dust)

Talk about uplifting resounds! Job, who lost more than other human, still has the mind, heart and strength to emphatically proclaim truths about God. His sufferings, like many, came in the form of an extreme, testing season. When the pain overwhelmed him, he did not shrink in his despondency, but rather used it to bounce his cries back to God.

When hurt and sorrow fill one’s cup to the brim, God doesn’t want us to be caught up in what we deem non-relatable. He wants us to talk to him with an open, honest and humble heart. When humility meshes with thanksgiving, faith is produced. And faith can yield some astounding positivism in light of significant tragedy. As faith builds, so does our belief in the promises and purposes of God. Remember Job had it pretty rough, rougher then any of the families who lost loved ones and homes in this spring’s historic storms. But God is in the business of coming through for the broken. And as our earthly home encounters more growing pains, we must be mindful of the trust deposits we give to Christ. No matter what side of disaster you find yourself, be grateful and be giving. Know that victory is never completely out of the picture. And read the book of Job, you just might come away with something powerful and profound to take to the world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Decreasing to Increase

Before church this morning, I asked the Lord to help me understand what it means to "decrease", while allowing him to "increase". Although the broad definitions haven't been difficult in recognizing (see Acts 17 and Mark 8), the current crux has come in applying the inherent details (i.e. What does the art of losing myself specifically look like today? Are the core AND surrounding mantles of each spiritual blockade in my relationship with Christ being identified?) Recent conviction has taught me within discipleship and freedom prayer arenas, Christians are perhaps overfocusing on the root of sin, and missing the bigger picture (a.k.a. the root-taproot-stem combination, to speak in plant anatomy terms). What this means is we're not thoroughly connecting the dots to the factors that strengthen the root of each sin. I believe many of us can determine the home base of our own personal iniquities, but there's that challenge of going taking the extra step (this is why I bolded "surrounding mantles").


Several weeks ago, I received a series of stirring awakenings. Two weeks of subsequent processing has led to the following belief: Among this rising generation, there exists an alarming spike in indifference due to a) a lack of genuine Spirit encounter and b) an ignorance created by engaging culture too intimately. In other words, young Christians are reaching out to the "deviants", but they're not reaching in (or encouraging them to reach in themselves). Such funk is generating a hazy ambiguity over the concept of God's glory. People naturally struggle to relate with what they consider to be non-encounterable. And I wonder if today's youth are separating desire from commitment, inadvertantly stiff-arming grace. I see many young people missing one or the other - in some cases, both! Despite the decline in legalism, I fear such blindness is merging tighter with apathy and is heart-shaping the church in all the wrong ways. My concern is that evangelism and discipleship will be negatively affected, unless something is done.

Sometimes, I feel at the end of my rope (Psalms 109:21). I'm a desperate leader, wondering why the passion in my heart can't stick like velcro to those around me? Is it because I haven't totally fixed EVERY area in my heart and God is holding me back in my effectiveness? Do I have to derive both the core and mantles of each personal weakness, not just the core? I wish I knew the answer.

One thing is for sure: I'm sick and tired of discovering and identifying the problems, but not knowing what to do about it (I'm speaking generally about my generation here). I'm fed up with an over-tolerant culture that has dilluted boundaries across the board with respect to relationships and fundamental morality. And I yearn for a unified, David-like heartcry that ignites believers to know WHY they live and stay devoted to the cause:

Psalm 63: 1-4

"God—you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to you."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rob Bell - "Love Wins" Dialogue (Part 2)

This week, I’ve been pressing further into Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ and have been appalled with his distorted doctrine. The more I read his controversial best seller, the more I disagree with the message. Combined with his Monday night session at the Curb Center, I’ve started to wonder if Bell has crossed into the ‘false teacher’ category.

After digesting his heaven and hell ideologies, Bell appears to twist scriptural truths to satisfy an attempt to create a universally appetizing gospel. But this stance is a total 180° from Christ’s approach. Jesus never bowed down to gratify what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and all other religious owls wanted to hear. In each circumstance, he stood firm and stayed connected to the flow of God’s heart. Although Bell provides stirring questions and a solid analysis on God’s compassion, any positive output is overridden by his covert defiance concerning the cross’s significance.

In a world marred by indifference, partiality, stubbornness, rebellion, and disobedience, it’s no question that the lost and backslidden will love to hear a prominent voice declaring the absolute possibility of every man’s place in heaven regardless of an acceptance or denial of Christ as Lord and Savior. As I will mention later, this seems to contradict the Good News Christ brought during his ministry tenure. Although Bell acknowledges free will, his idea of freedom tarnishes God’s justice and wrath, often misconstrued to be detached from His love. With very few references to the cross in the book, one must carefully dodge Bell’s warm, seemingly relativistic tones. In cunning fashion, he sheds a new angle that falls eerily close to the false belief that multiple ways lead to heaven.

With Easter looming, it’s good to ask yourself: What was the point of the cross? What does it mean to have eternal life? Yes, the extremist, old school evangelical mindset of Jesus’ death satisfying the anger of God is not the right spiritual position. But swinging to the other side of the pendulum is not any better. One must read between the lines and absorb what Bell is indirectly implying and not implying. God’s incredible love for mankind overcomes all that hasn’t measured up to his perfect standards. Within God’s infinite love is a respect for each man’s free choice. Yet, that free choice doesn’t produce freedom if one is living in sin and bondage. One must remember the huge chasm between free will and freedom.

If people who aim for holiness end up at the same ballpark as those who deliberately forsake it, how is genuine love being shown? Think of a parent not punishing his/her child, using the excuse that one day they will grow up, become an adult, they will realize what is right and wrong automatically, and everything will become handy dandy. No! That’s crazy talk.

One note before I continue. Bell loves to criticize all existing fake portrayals of Jesus. While I agree that the church at large has misrepresented Christ, this in itself cannot be used as a ‘last resort’ excuse as to why salvation does not occur. I submit that there are numerous examples of true Jesus being shown all over the world every day.

Back to the cross…

The best testimony to grace is the cross; the highest example of reconciliation is the cross. To replace its value with a feel-good, ‘must not disappoint anybody’, wishy-washy Christianity is pure tragedy. The Bible is infallible. Thus, breaking it down to the point of rearrangement and regurgitation to fit personal customs is wrong. Let’s remember that even before Jesus died, he spent three years preaching the Good News – how he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). No one can come to the Father, except through Him. If people deny Christ out of disbelief or lack of desire, a wedge is ultimately established. What has triggered this theological firestorm in recent weeks is the idea that God’s love, which "demands freedom", will pluck people out of hell and into the safe refuges of God’s celestial paradise, assuming some admittance of error takes places along with a declaration of faith (Honestly, I am getting a huge headache writing this, because I feel as if I shouldn’t have to be writing it).

On a more positive critique note, capturing the semantics of hell proved to be a personal point of interest in Bell’s investigation of eternal realities. But this can impress only to a certain extent. The key lies in the interpretation, application, and commission of God’s perfect Word. And frankly, this is where Bell misses the mark. He employs misleading filters on Christ-centered dogmas laden with the potential to guide many to actual truth. Instead, many recipients of Bell’s message around the world are sharing in naive smiles.

The merciful heart of God and the spiritual afterlife have never been dull subjects. But the frightful unthinkable is starting to emerge within so called ‘Christian arenas’, and I’m afraid of people accepting a God and theology so whacked, it fuels what Bell mentions as hell on earth (hell that can be experienced before we die). If a Christ-centered message encourages fleshy persistence, the message must be questioned. Integrity must be fought for.

Let’s remember the times, guys. The New Testament foretells an uprising of false teachers in the last days (2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 Timothy 1), which I believe we have already entered into. I don’t believe Bell is out for himself, but I strongly consider his theology to be a sundry blend of unbiblical ideas and catered palatability. I am worried that salvation lines will become increasingly blurry for those not anchored deep enough in a relationship with God.

Finally the bottom line: By seeking to take the fire out of hell, Rob takes the fire out of holy pursuits and the healing, redemptive power of the cross. I am not saying every word is linked to a lie, but I am saying that before reading Bell’s new book, a prayer for discernment would be very wise.

The Sweetest Fragrance

Last Easter, I found great meaning in Paul’s teaching on the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5): the redeemed redeeming the lost in Jesus’ name by way of the cross. This year, I’ve backpedaled several chapters to 2 Corinthians 2 and have basked in Paul’s charge to live as ministers of the New Covenant.

First, what is the relationship between these two segments? Applying “passage unification”, we denote reconciliation as the pulse of the New Covenant minister. We are all Kingdom agents, whether we realize it or not, for the cross’ power cannot be denied; however, the choices we make influence our evangelical effectiveness. So the question is not whether we are Christ ambassadors, it’s how will we carry our respective crosses. What is our cross? It’s our callings, purposes, burdens and struggles between spirit and flesh.

Secondly, Paul offers a unique comparison between commission and fragrance that grips me. To be like Christ is to be like sweet perfume. Mary, in Mark 14, demonstrated this just as well as any of the disciples, when she anointed Jesus’ feet. In spite of shame, her dramatic exchange with Jesus captured the ultimate reason why we celebrate Passion Week. Easter is not about sweets and fertility; it’s about revering the cross, the torn veil, and the age of grace.

Repentance and beholding grace give off pleasing aromas unto the Lord. But this isn’t the only appealing scent in our repertoire. Throughout Scripture, the significance of smell is well documented. Let’s investigate some of examples:

Fragrance is linked to:

Splendor (Hosea 14:5-7)
Intimacy (Song of Solomon 4:10-12)
Sacrifice (Genesis 8:20-22/Ephesians 5:2)

Talk about good company! Mathematically, we can formulate this list so that sacrifice plus intimacy equals splendor. In other words, if we relinquish selfish arms and press near and dear into God’s heart consistently, then the glory of the Lord can be recognized.

Finally, we connect the dots one last time so that the cross can be a liaison among glory, unity and redemption. Think about Mary again. Christ could have cared less about the actual fragrance of the ointment poured on his feet. What really pleased him, and was the act enough to secure Mary’s salvation? Let’s look at reconciliation. Was the woman forgiven? Yes. Did she likely commit a higher number of sins than the disciples? Most likely. Did Jesus cherish the opportunity to reiterate the purpose of his ministry? Yes. Why? Because as his authority was glorified, Mary was being saved; thus, the link between Jesus’ identity and purpose could be evident to those still searching. The belief and faith of a fallen, desperate woman in need of a Savior had directly lined up with why God sent His one and only Son.

Paul describes being saved as a “life-giving perfume”. Why? Since Jesus came to give life to all people, we must radiate this life back to him. Anything God gives carries an amazingly sweet aura. He watches us not to stalk us, but so that when we look up to him, we can tap into that splendor Hosea references.

Next time you talk to God, make sure to smell for funky odors. Remember God never sleeps on those who need and ask to be reconciled back to him.

The Gospel in Motion

Yesterday, at the 1 By Youth Outreach, Stacey Hildner and I took Legacy members to Burger King during lunch break. Sweaty and sweltered, we sauntered into the restaurant, needing a reprieve from the morning’s work. But what started as a respite would turn into something far greater.

Ten minutes into our stay, an elderly man limped to a seat right across from Stacey and I. Immediately our attention connected with his apparent pain. Without hesitation, Stacey and I begun a conversion with him. As we carried on the dialogue, we soon discovered the real brokenness came not in his body, but in his heart.

William had just lost his wife. He lacked a car, connections with eight children and a physical remedy. The one daughter who lived locally had a house on the other side of town. However, his multiple leg conditions were only worsening with time, so he simply did not have the strength to walk the miles to visit her.

William’s demeanor was sweet and sincere. The tears streaming down his face revealed a yearning for answers and a thirst for breakthroughs. But the greatest void came from within. What William truly needed was hope.

Prior to our conversation, he had waited many times for a “saint” to ignite life back into him. On numerous occasions, William would walk into Burger King in search for fulfillment, but would leave emptier than before.

But on this day, that would all change.

To our delight, Stacey and I continued to absorb William’s vulnerability. We learned about his mistakes, greatest joys, and the ups and downs of 60 years living in the Music City. William also showed signs of a belief in God, having quoted back to us a fair amount of memorized scriptures.

Eventually talk turned into prayer, and suddenly Burger King became an altar. We prayed for the Lord’s strength, comfort and peace to fill William, reminding him that God is always in the business of blessing those who mourn. We also told him that God is attracted to the downcast, since his strength is made perfect in weakness. By prayer’s end, William’s smile was coming back again, his complexion radically changed. As we parted ways, we invited him to the 1 By Youth block party. He told us he would likely come.

What seemed like twenty minutes turned out to be sixty, and as we stepped back out in the sun, Stacey and I knew we had experienced one of many divine appointments God sets up every day. The opportunity served as an excellent testimony to the youth who witnessed this episode unfold. The greatest thrill, apart for accepting Christ, is spreading God’s love to others. To live is Christ, to die is gain. And in the middle of it all is love, the greatest gift of all.