Archive - September, 2010

Lord, save us from your followers

At the recommendation of my roommate, I just watched a documentary called “Lord Save Us From Your Followers“. The general premise is that the Gospel of Love is dividing America because believers are divisive: we champion polarizing viewpoints while neglecting to live the Gospel and share the message of love. It’s worth watching and on Hulu, so you should check it out.

I obviously have my thoughts, but I’ll save most of them… for now. In lieu of a long reflection or critique, I invite you to watch this film for yourself. Then, we too can have a dialogue. 

I will say this though. At one point narrator  simply says that “loving kindness works”, and I would agree. I was recently reminded by someone that I highly respect  that  we are kind because God was first kind to us when we didn’t deserve it. I’ve learned to be kind first, and then explain that I am kind because of God’s kindness second.

This documentary encourages Christians to look inwardly at how screwed up we are while looking outwardly to the needs of the world. Perhaps if we stopped arguing about what we should do or not do and actually started living out what we claim to believe, even more people would come to know Christ through His followers.

My prayer tonight is “Lord, save us from your followers”.  More specifically, save me from myself so that I can truly follow you. 

Ephesians 1, part three.

Last night we began small group with a little modified Lecto Divinia . After reading through Ephesians 1:15-23 out loud in five different translations, we discussed what struck us about the passage. Ignore the rest of my blog and the world for a few minutes. Read this scripture aloud three or four times, and jot down a few things that really stand out in your mind. 

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

When I was preparing for our study a few things stood out to me right away: the enlightening of hearts, the emphasis of power of God, and the fullness of Christ.  After a more detailed study, much prayer, and some help from trustworthy commentaries, here are some of my thoughts regarding this passage. 

Ephesians 1:15-23 is Paul’s intercessory prayer for the Church and serves as a model of how we can pray for believers. Paul is clear that he is grateful for their faith and praying for them constantly. Even though he does not seem as if he knows the recipients first hand, Paul continually asks God to bless them. It is worthwhile to consider why and how Paul prays for believers. 

In the verse 15, he begins with the clause “For this reason” and describes his prayer. Why do we prayer? Refer back to the doxology of Ephesians, we pray because the world as we know it is not the manifested plan of God. Paul prays for the Church because God is redeeming the world through Jesus and His Church. We should pray for people not because we love them, but because God loves them and people are God’s plan. Paul continues to note that he is praying specifically that the Holy Spirit flood their hearts with understanding so that they may know God more, so that God’s plan may come to fruition. I love people and I pray for people often, but this passage makes me stop and consider why and how I pray for them. Am I praying for what I think they need or am I praying that God’s will and plan will flood their lives?

Praying for  ”Eyes of understanding” is a radically bold prayer. This is rabbinical reference to favor of God on an individuals life giving them the authority of God. Few people would be considered to have this blessing, and the Gentiles to whom Paul is writing definitely would not be among them. Yet Paul reassures them that they can know God and they can partner with God in His redemption plan. Awesome truth! 

More specifically, Paul prays that the Holy Spirit would specifically help believers understand three things: 1) “the hope of their calling” - who they are as God’s children. 2) “the riches of his glorious inheritance”- the greatest of God’s plan manifested when God inherits the people He created for Himself.  The original language here indicates that Paul is praying that they understand the richness of the King’s personal inheritance – the Church- as opposed to the riches of a kingdom. Paul is praying that the believers understand why God wants a people for Himself, the pleasure that it gives Him. 3)”incomparably great power for us who believe”, more specifically the fact that the power that rose Christ from the dead is the same power God gives to those who believe. The power aspect is so important that Paul elaborates in the next several versus that Christ has power over ever situation and in every circumstance whether earthly or spiritual.

Can you imagine what this passage would have meant to the people reading it? Here Paul is praying that the Gentiles realize that they are God’s people and that was His plan from the beginning… that they understand how awesome this plan is and how much God is blessed by inheriting His people… and that they power that God has is bestowed to them because the Church has the fullness of Christ. For Ephesus, a city ran by political, economic, and spiritual power… this assertion is radical. What it mean for us to understand these three points in our own society? 

What if we understood that Jesus had power over image and politics and addictions and poverty and war and mundane tasks in daily life? What if we truly believed that the power that rose Christ from the dead lived in us and worked through us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth and glorify God? What if the Holy Spirit enlightened our hearts more? What would that Church look like?

The NIV Application commentary suggests that a church that understands these points grows in six areas. 1) They grow in their compassion for their community and for the world. 2) They increase in prayer. 3) They develop a deeper understanding of their finite perspective of time in God’s infinite plan. 4) They strive to think more and understand more. 5) They become increasingly confident in who they are in God and God’s plan for the world. 6) They trust in the power of Christ and that power is revealed in their daily lives, bringing glory to God and showing others how powerful He is. I agree with these observations and pray that the Spirit will continue enlighten my heart in these areas. 

Overall, I pray that every believer- whether I know them or not- and those yet to believe will know God in a deeper way, understanding the “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”

The dream

Credit: A. Garcia, via wikicommons

After one last  scan of the alleyway below,  my frustration declares “He’s not here yet. He should be here…. we really need to leave, it’s getting dark.” As I pace around the tiny office, I try my best to hide my concern. It’s a feeble attempt.  The young couple I work with offer to walk me to my car; they insist that I head home before nightfall. I try to resist, but then I remember that they have lived here much longer than I… so we trudge down the stairs and through the streets.  After ten minutes or so of navigating through the narrow alleyways, remnants of the afternoon markets and crowds of people making their way home,  I unlock my car and turn to bid my companions a good night. Then, I realize that I left my laptop in the office. I need that laptop! Not only do I need to do work on it, but I need to protect its precious contents. My friends are running late for a meeting, but ask their son to accompany back to the center in exchange for a ride home. Fair enough. 

I double park in a plaza nearer to our building, give their son my keys and ask him to run in and fetch the messenger bag with my computer. He’s a trustworthy kid, so I’m not concerned. As he hops back into my car, another local teenager jumps in. My stomach sinks, I know this isn’t good scenario. My friends’ son knows the boy and insists that I should give him a ride home too, but my discernment tells me that something is wrong. I have this odd feeling that the unfamiliar kid is going to steal my computer, at the very least. And, its getting darker.  I  have to start driving because it is dangerous to sit idle in the streets, so I agree to take him home, but first insist that I try to get ahold of my missing man. I call his local mobile, no answer. I call his US mobile, no answer. I call the man from headquarters that he was meeting with earlier, no answer. “Where is he?  He is late… and I really need him right now… and its not like him to not show. Is something wrong? Does he need my help?” My ominous gut feeling increases... and then I wake up feeling like I’m going to puke.

I had this dream a few nights ago, and I can’t get it out of my head.   As dreams often do, this one seemed to give me a little more insight into my psyche.  Noteworthy aspects of this particular dream. 1) The location… definitely the impoverished third world,  warmer climate but not sure on what continent -the people were darker complected than I am but not quite “black”, and I was clearly doing international development and missions work. 2) The missing man… mostly certainly was my significant other.   I knew him well, I cared for him, I feared for him, and I definitely loved him. We were partners in both life and ministry. 3) The organization… the Christian aspect of our work was somewhat secretive. That is why the computer was so vital and why my fear was legitimate. We were doing development work, and trying to train leaders in the underground local church. 4) The dream… this didn’t feel like a normal dream. It felt like reality.. and definitely felt like God.  

I’m not reading into it too much it. I’m actually trying to forget it because I am trying to focus on the here and the now and the  reality of the present. Even so, I am thankful for dreams because I truly believe that dreams can give valuable insight to our lives.  

You might be wondering why I am sharing my dreams in a blog.  Well, I’m not sharing it as much as I am publically recording it for my  own reference later.  Perhaps this is God giving me some a taste of what is to come.  Or perhaps this is a silly subconscious fantasy that will prove laughable as I reread this entry at a later date. For now though, its just a dream and I am living in the reality of the present, trying to serve God the best I can.  This is  entry is me taking note, and moving onward… for now. 

Taking the edge off

When I arrived at college, one of my commonly asserted doctrines was “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t believe evangelism.” Ironically enough, two weeks ago I led a workshop on the very topic I once hated.
As I began to compile the material for the 2.5 hour interactive study and practical tutorial, I wondered “how am I even remotely qualified to be teaching this?” Why am I teaching this? I am twenty-one, I have no ministry credentials, and I am by no means an expert in evangelism. Honestly, I didn’t really even like the idea of leading this workshop.  I agreed to prepare the workshop, only because I think that practical theology workshops are beneficial and I kinda had the time and resources to do so.  When I began preparing the materials and praying about how to best convey what it means to share your faith on campus, I was reminded of how passionate I am about evangelism.
At multiple points in the preparation process, I found myself in tears.  I cried as I remembered how wrong I once was about the biblical nature of evangelism.  I cried as I considered how little people actually share their faith. I cried thinking of all the people who haven’t heard the good news that Jesus loves them.  I cried for all the people who have heard the good news but failed to consider it because they see hypocrisy in the lives of those sharing the Gospel and/or the brokenness of this world. I cried contemplating all the times the Gospel was shared in word, but not in deed… and all the times it is shared through social justice and deed, but not in word and truth. I cried interceding for my family, friends, classmates, neighbors, and unknown brothers and sisters all around the world.  I cried over how broken the world is and how many people are suffering injustice . I cried as I felt convicted of how little I personally do to share the Gospel and live the Gospel… There were lots of tears shed, but not nearly enough. I cried knowing that I don’t cry enough.
Evangelism is nothing more than “making the Good News known” and so many people are blind to God’s love or living under oppression or aimlessly destroying their lives and the lives of others. There is much to cry over, and I pray that God stirs a passion in me to cry more often. 
Yet, none of those tears shed surprised me. The tears that surprised me were the ones I cried when I realized that God has been using me to reveal Himself to others… when I realized that I am qualified  to discuss evangelism because to my surprise and by the grace of God, I have begun living an evangelistic lifestyle. Before you start lecturing me on the value of humility, notice the emphasis above and please allow me to further elaborate.
I came to college unwilling to discuss my faith with Christians that I knew, let alone strangers and non-Christians. In the last four years,  only by the grace of God,  I have shared my faith with my family, friends, classmates, professors, children in unprivileged neighborhoods, homeless people in multiple cities, students of all ages, the elderly, the mentally handicapped, random people on the streets of DC, beaches of NC, villages in Mexico and alleyways of Spain… as I compiled story after story in my mind that I could use as an example of evangelism, I began to cry. 
How could God use me to share His Good News? How could God use me to reach people? Does He realize how screwed up I am? Does He realize that there are better people He could send to chat with folk? Does He know that I will mess this up? That I am unwilling? unprepared? unqualified? 
Yes, He realizes all of that- even more than I do. Yet, God knows me and has chosen to use me time and time again. He not only transformed my anger at evangelicals to a passion to share the Gospel through word and deed to the world, but He also uses a really messed up person to draw people closer to Himself.  As I was leading my workshop session, I teared up while speaking because my heart is truly in this. I want people to know about Jesus, and I want to God to use me to make Himself known. 
As I left that workshop session, I didn’t know if it went well. I didn’t know if I facilitated anything that would compel people to share their faith or practically help them do so. I was kinda afraid that I had screwed it up- that I didn’t do a good job of “taking the edge off” of sharing the Gospel. Perhaps I even added some edge and deterred future sharing. I left confused as to what just happened, but confident that God wanted me to complete that task and that He was more than capable of taking the little that I had and using it. 
Over a week later… Quite a few the people who participated in the session have indicated that they benefited from the workshop. Once again, to my surprise, God used me to help further His Kingdom. 
I am writing this not to pat myself on the back for sharing my faith and teaching others a workshop about how to share their faith… I am writing this as a declaration of the fact that God can use anyone to bring glory to Himself… even me. Everyone is qualified to evangelize because the only qualification is to realize how unqualified you are of convincing anyone to believe anything and how capable God is of glorifying Himself. 
My prayer is that my heart will increase in its capacity to break….I pray that I will cry millions of tears and pray thousands of prayers as I understand more of God’s heart for this world. I pray that I will actively get to be the hands and feet of Christ while boldly acting as the mouthpiece of the Gospel. Lord, please continue to break my heart for the disparity between this world and your Kingdom so that I am compelled to act, speak and pray… Lord, help me live an evangelistic life.

Ephesians 1, part two.

This is a little delayed, but as promised, here are my continued thoughts after studying Ephesians 1:1-14… I’ll attempt to share reflections in order of the verses, see the passage in my last blog post for the scriptural reference. 

 I love Paul’s greeting because he always exalts Christ without listing his qualifications. More importantly, this letter is addressed to the saints who are faithful. For me, this verse seems to emphasize “faithfulness”. The saints, particularly in Ephesus, were probably Gentiles. They knew what it was like to be excluded and outcasted, but here in this letter, they are commended for their faithfulness and encouraged to continue on in godly belief and practice. This letter is addressed to all who are faithful, but I need to question whether I would be included in that greeting? My social status doesn’t matter, but my commitment to the Lord does. My prayer is for grace to be a faithful saint, whatever that looks like in today’s crazy world. 

 Part of that grace is realizing that we have “Every spiritual blessing”… every gift of the Spirit, every fruit of the Spirit, every blessing in heavenly realms that we can’t even comprehend, every blessing is ours in Christ. This verse tends to steer people towards either a prosperity Gospel or a debate as to whether or not every person has every attribute on our spiritual gifts assessment. Personally, I think both viewpoints are wrong. “Spiritual blessing” means more than the temporal blessings of this world in a Jewish cultural setting; thus blessing in terms of prosperity is missing the point. Secondly, “spiritual blessing” here is a unique Jewish phrase, not a noun with a qualifying adjective pointing to the charismatic. Not to mention, even spiritual gifts are temporal; they are meant to glorify Jesus on this earth. The emphasis here is that the redemption of the world is complete in Christ. Colossians 2: 9-10 reads “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority”. We are made complete in Christ; through the Cross, we are restored to Shalom. We have the ability to overcome every power and authority in order to be the people that God created us to be- the Church. If this fact sunk in, how would it change Christianity? What would you do if you believed that you were complete in Christ and that you had all power, authority and blessing in Him? I don’t know about you, but if I understood this scripture half as well as I ought to, I would be a little more faithful. A little more radical. A little more like the Acts church. A little more like God intended me to be.

I pray for the grace to understand my completeness in Christ. Grace here refers to more than the mercy of a superior given to an inferior, but also to the faithfulness that God gives to his children to live how He created them to live. God created us as His beloved children and it is His pleasure to make the Church the vehicle through which He works. This continues to baffle me. Lots of things confuse me, but this scripture indicates that “all wisdom and understanding” are lavished upon us by God. The key is the next clause “through Christ”. If we want to understand what God intended His children to look like, we need to look at the example of Jesus. The “mystery of His will” is made known through studying the life of Jesus, having a relationship with Jesus, and continuing to follow Jesus as His Church. When everything on “heaven and earth is together under one head”- Jesus, then things will make a little more sense.

 Until then, we need to trust that things will work according to God’s plan and “everything will work out to the conformity of his will”. We will know we are in His will by the seal of the Holy Spirit until the end of the age when everything in heaven and earth is once again brought together under Christ’s lordship.

 I think one of the reasons this passage is so confusing is because it is so theocentric and it discusses two theological ideas that we can’t comprehend: the relationship between a Triune God and people, and the relationship between God’s plan and worldly time. This passage discusses the plan of the Father, Son, and Spirit to redeem the world through the Church. The notion of the Trinity in and of itself is mind boggling, and then trying to comprehend how a God that awesome would choose to use people is beyond my understanding. Secondly, we are trying to understand the infinite plan of an infinite God with a finite mind. We don’t have a lens within our toolbox to even begin to analyze this, because we live in a world defined by time and the creator of this world lives outside the scope of time. And by the time we are living in the timeless Kingdom of Heaven, the notion of time and plans and all of this will be the last thing we ponder because we’ll have the infinite pleasure of worshiping God.

 As hard as it is for my analytical mind to accept, I’m looking past the questions and focusing on the importance of my purpose: “to glorify God”. We’ll finish up our studying of Ephesians 1 tonight in small group, so part three will come shortly.

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