Archive for the ‘Wonder’ category

What did God have in mind when he decided to create you?

December 5, 2009

Whatever else spiritual growth is about, it must have something to do with becoming whatever (or whoever) it was that God had in mind he had the idea of you.

It’s a question worth thinking about, and now that I think of it, should lead us to worship.


How much is enough?

October 25, 2009

Talking with a friend about the greatest commandments from Mark 12:28-31 and what it means to follow them, the question arose: how much is enough? How much volunteering, giving, serving, prayer, fellowship, solitude is enough?

Let’s think about that for a minute. “Enough” for what? Enough to get into heaven? No! We really don’t believe in the “minimum requirements” model (see “What is the Gospel?“, or “True (and False) Transformation” or this sermon [transcript here; see p.5]).

But simply by using the word “enough,” we’re showing that we still have a little of this “minimum requirement” mentality. We’ve really got to get rid of it somehow, because it’s poison for any relationship. I mean, imagine it:

He: Dearest?
She: (turning toward him) Yes?
He: I have a question, but I’m not sure how to ask it.
She: (looking into his eyes) Yes?
He: How much do I have to kiss you? I mean, how much is enough?
She: (turning away) (to herself: What kind of idiot am I involved with, and why?)

She is right, isn’t she, to think she’s involved with some kind of whack job? Here’s the thing: really the gospel is about a treasure — something so great that anyone would sell everything in order to get that treasure. Josh Hunt gives a great summary in the aforementioned article.

What we need here is real transformation. We need something inside us to change. Think about what the psalmist says in Psalm 40:8 (or see the King James), or look at Psalm 119 and see how many times the words “rejoice” and “delight” come up. He delights to do God’s will; he rejoices (Psalm 119:14, NIV) in following his law. That’s not just Old Testament times, either; think of Anna from Luke 1, who was worshiping at the temple all the time. I don’t think this was a poetic exaggeration. And it’s not just Biblical times either; Luther prayed two or three hours a day. Mother Theresa said, “The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.”

How did these people get to be that way? You know they had to be transformed; they started out just like the rest of us — self-centered and full of all kinds of other folly. Well, I have a few ideas on how that transformation happened, and how it can happen for us:

  • over a long period of time (as with overcoming anger or anxiety)
  • totally under God’s power; we can’t do it ourselves. I read (or maybe wrote) somewhere that the command in Romans 12:2 is to “be transformed”; it’s passive–that is, it’s something that happens to us–and yet it’s a command.
  • generally, the means of grace have something to do with it. The sun’s rays have a beneficial effect, but if we want to get that effect we’ve got to get out of the cave. So: solitude, Scripture, prayer, celebration, fellowship, service — this sort of thing.

When it works, then like Eric Liddell, we feel His pleasure in doing what he made us to do. Liddell was talking about running in particular as an act of worship, but I think it applies to everything we do that’s in our Father’s will.

Occasionally I get glimpses of this, when I find joy in serving or in giving. And I’ll tell you, when I think of “Good News for 12th Century [BC] Man” — i.e., Genesis 1 — of how much God loves us, to tell us this incredibly great news. I mean, have you ever heard that the Bible is “God’s love letter to us”? I used to think, “yeah, whatever” but what Genesis 1 meant to its hearers — it was revolutionary! It was paradigm-shattering! And even today I get a little choked up whenever I think about it.

Does this mean I have it all figured out? Nope! All I’ve got are occasional glimpses. Hopefully I’ll get a few more in the next 20-30 years. And maybe after another 20-30 years I’ll have a little less of the “minimum requirements” mentality.

Sometimes, grace just happens

October 17, 2009

I love it when I have the chance to talk with young people about their faith. The other day I had breakfast with a college student I’ll call “Jill,” who had come to a new appreciation of God’s grace and mercy during the preceding months.

As Jill tells it, she was busy with classes and work and recreation, and didn’t seem to have much time for meditation or quiet reflection. Then she made some not-quite-optimal decisions related to, uh, boys — in particular, boys who don’t share her faith; this shrank the time available for sleep and studying. If I have this right, she turned a paper in late and went into an exam with insufficient preparation. She ended the term exhausted and discouraged, and headed off for a short-term mission trip, where she fell ill and spent some days in bed.

So what happened on the paper, the exam, the short-term mission?

Before I tell you, I’ll trot out the old saying that sometimes the people who benefit most from short-term trips are the people who go to serve. What I mean is, if a few dozen (or a half-dozen) people from the US go overseas to build a house or paint an orphanage or teach a few Bible lessons, the family or orphans or students get some benefit. But whose life is changed? Whose view of God has grown? In many cases, the kids have seen other short-term workers come and go, and the new homeowners have seen another family in the community get a house built by “rich” Americans. Sure, it was somebody else who got the house last time, or maybe a church building was erected before and this time they added an extension. But very often what they see is incremental.

Now consider the experience of a hypothetical first-time team member. Maybe they’ve read appeal letters from World Vision; perhaps they’ve seen flood victims on the news. But on a short-term mission they build a house and talk to the people who move in; they erect or paint a church building and go to the church members’ homes and eat a meal there.

Thus a middle-class American encounters the developing world directly — in person, not on the screen or printed page, but face to face. And they’re changed. It’s not just that they get a heightened sense of gratitude; they see with their own eyes how God is at work in some faraway place, and they experience being an answer to someone’s prayer — in a way they typically don’t when they’re at home in the US. God gets larger for them.

You probably guessed it: Jill wasn’t docked for turning her paper in late, and she did fine on the exam (the questions were on things she had down cold). And on the short-term mission (not her first trip by the way), her teammates accepted her and cared for her lovingly; she recovered quickly. Jill loved the kids she went to serve, and came away with a renewed sense that children’s ministry is in her future.

The Bible says that the Lord

… does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12 NIV

For those who have spent a lot of time around churches, this is not particularly new. We’ve heard many times that Jesus died for our sins, that we’re forgiven for our envy, selfishness, lust, greed, or whatever. But we also “know” that actions have consequences. And sometimes they do; sometimes bad things happen when we miss a deadline, and exams sometimes don’t go well if we’re unprepared.

But sometimes the Lord has something special in mind for us — he wants to express his love and mercy in an unusual way. And how nice it is when he does!

I hope that when this happens, we keep in mind the great mercy of our Lord, as it’s written in Psalm 107, and also here:

Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.

Micah 7:18

True or False? The Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

July 23, 2009

Well, that depends on the question it’s answering. If the question is, “What is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice?” then it’s absolutely true.

But if the question is, “What is the Bible?” then I’ll say that “final authority in all matters…” is somewhat deficient.

“What is that supposed to mean?” you say? Well, in the typical American home, who is the final authority in matters pertaining to the kitchen? Probably Mama. But if someone asks, “Who is Mama?” then I hope the answer isn’t “The final authority in matters pertaining to the kitchen”; that is far too narrow a definition of who Mama is.

Regarding the Bible, then “final authority…” is far too narrow. I’m indebted to Scot McKnight for this insight from The Blue Parakeet: looking at Psalm 119 (or Psalm 19 for that matter), we see a lot of different words describing the Bible: sweeter than honey, desirable like gold, giving joy to the heart; the writer talks about rejoicing and delight, being revived and strengthened by God’s word, and so on. This is not about a legal textbook!

Jeremiah says (in chapter 15 I think) that God’s words were the “joy and rejoicing of mine heart” and Paul says in 2 Timothy 3 that the Scriptures equip us “for every good work.”

Come to think of it, “final authority” isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind about the Bible, either. To the question “Why do you read the Bible?” my answer is “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and this book tells me about him.” Or maybe, “So that I can think more like he does” or something like that.

I heard some decades ago that the Bible is “God’s love letter to us” but it didn’t strike me that way until one day when I was thinking about Genesis 1. What a loving God we have, who wanted to tell us that we were made in his image, that we were made to rule! The good news begins not in Matthew 1 but in Genesis 1, as I’ve written earlier.

So what is the Bible? A record of God’s interactions with humanity; a love letter to us; the living and active word of God; a source of joy and delight; a help to us in becoming like Jesus. And yes, it is also the final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

You Literally See More When You Enjoy Life

June 14, 2009

From Neurophilosophy:

[I]nducing a good mood in the participants caused an increase in the scope of their field of vision, whereas inducing a negative mood reduced their visual field. Thus, positive moods enhanced peripheral vision and increased the extent to which the brain encoded information in those parts of the visual field, to which the participants did not pay attention. Conversely, negative moods decreased the encoding of peripheral information.