Looking Through the Windshield…

Lately, I have been finding myself in a bit of tension.  Not a tension that results from strife or aggravation with other people or situations, but a tension that results from being in ministry.

There is a reality that I can not minister to those God has graciously called me to minister to without spending time with the Lord.  Also, I take courses through Moody Bible Institute because my heart desires to being better equipped to minister to them.  Through these (personal study and academic study), it can become very easy to miss the point of them  to see, experience and savor God.

During my devotions this morning, I was struck by the words of Maurice Roberts in his book The Thought of God:

We emphasize knowledge; they (early Reformers) stressed faith.  We emphasize gifts; they insisted on grace.  We study to inform the head; they studied to reform the heart.  Our temptation is to neglect the soul-to fail in the cultivation of faith (Page 50).

Don’t get me wrong, studying is extremely beneficial and I love studying!  But, studying to get an A and thus finding my self-worth in that, or studying out of a sense of obligation because of my calling is not beneficial.  Studying reforms my heart to help cultivate faith (Roberts).  Studying brings me to the throne room of the Glorious God, in whose presence I long to be in continuously.

Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World is one that I highly recommend.  In it, Miller compares praying with driving in that “….focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it.”  I think the same danger applies to studying.  Last week I struggled doing my devotions and my life was thrown into a swirl.  I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t do anything.  I felt so lost and alone.  I need to study, not for intellect, grade, or obligation; but because through studying I am drawn closer to my Father and apart from Him I can do nothing.

Christ’s words in John 15 were a comfort to me this morning, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).  The sweetest fruit that I receive from abiding is more of Christ.  I want him more.  I long for a deeper intimacy with him. As it was for the church fathers, the Apostles, and Christ himself, I find that intimacy as I study His Word.

Thank you Father for Your Word.  Through it, I see You, know You, and I am drawn to You.

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Is Rob Bell a universalist?

A friend on facebook posted an article by Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition.  I enjoy reading Mr. Taylor’s posts, though I don’t always agree with him.  The last few days his article has been bombarded by comments from both ends of the radical spectrum, seasoned with a few rationale voices.

Without having read Rob Bell’s new upcoming book, he makes the statement that Rob Bell is a universalist.  What is known as “Christian Universalism” can be summed up by Dr. Ken Allen as:

Christian Universalism”, in its simple and proper theological sense, is the doctrine of universal salvation; or in other words, of the final holiness and happiness of all mankind, to be effected by the grace of God, through the ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The idea is that salvation (getting to be with God in heaven) happens through the death of Jesus Christ; but, people don’t have to believe in that to get in.  That God in His graciousness saves everyone from hell (living for eternity without Him) despite whatever they believe.

I don’t know if Bell is a universalist.  I admit that I do read his books and watched his Nooma series; but not because I agree with his theology.  I feel that I need to as I discuss with young adults who are so enraptured by his teachings where I believe what he is saying is contrary to Scripture.  I will be buying his next book and hope to have a better understanding of what he is trying to say.

Below is a promo clip for the video.  It does seem to indicate where he is at, but we won’t know for sure until the book comes out.

UPDATE:

Here is a link to Kevin DeYoung’s thoughts about all the “Rob Bell brouhaha”  created over the last few days.  Bloggers from both sides of the theological spectrum have been going at it and Kevin humbly, graciously, and boldly discusses it.  Thanks Tricia for the link.

UPDATE March 18, 2011:

Here is a video interview of Rob Bell concerning his book.  I don’t watch MSNBC so have no opinion of the interviewer Martin Bashir.  His first question on Japan has nothing to do with the book and I felt it was a bit unnecessary, like he was trying to bait him.

All things were created through Him and for Him…

Since some have asked, here is a clip that I used for my talk on Colossians 1:15-17 for Arrowsmith Youth last Friday night.

Think of this, if Jesus created everything and everything is created through him and he sustains all things, Jesus then is in a much better position to know what is best for everyone.  That includes knowing what is best for me and knowing what is best for you.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

Where Are You?

I have been reflecting the last week or so how great God is.  For one of my course research papers I read Willow Creek’s REVEAL: Where Are You? by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson.  The focus of this post is not to defend or criticize Willow Creek methodology.  Those that know me, already know where I stand and the blogosphere is already bursting with commentary on it.  I want to focus on what God has been showing me.  Hawkins writes:

“If you’re like me, you would do what church leaders have been doing for generations: design and fund an assortment of church activities and programs that you sincerely believe will help people grow spiritually.  Then you’d encourage as many people as possible to get involved in those activities and programs, believing that increased participation means the lost are being reached and believers are growing…conversely, decreased participation means people aren’t being reached and aren’t growing.  But let’s stop and really think that through.  Does increased attendance in ministry programs automatically equate to spiritual growth?  To be brutally honest: it does not.” (bold mine, pg 12-13)

I think Hawkins is on to something.  It is very easy to measure success by sheer numbers.  He does go on to say that numbers has its place, such as to help gauge whether or not people “like” what you are doing, but what about looking past the numbers to gauge the heart?  Don’t get me wrong, I have a sense of satisfaction when people come out and enjoy whatever we are doing, but I am more satisfied when I see the Holy Spirit grab a hold of someone and do the greatest manifestation of His presence, turn a heart rebellious and hostile towards God, to a heart that loves, adores and treasures the Lord before anything else.

As a youth group we started our series on Colossians.  Last Friday was the first time we spoke on it.  We began with Colossians 1:1-14.  One sentence keeps repeating over and over in my mind as I pray for myself and those that God has blessed me to minister to.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”  (Col 1:9–10)

I keep thinking about “bearing fruit.”  There is an outward visible sign of an inward transformation of the heart.  That is what I want to tap into.  I don’t want to focus on attendance, but transformation.  I have been so blessed lately to see God bringing fruit not only into my life, but the lives of those around me.  I see young people starting to take seriously their faith in Christ.  I see others who have lived apathetically and now God has called them to Himself and there is a fire burning within them.  I am privileged to meet with young men early in the morning to study God’s Word and help them study it for themselves.  Even tonight, I listened as a young man shared a bit of his heart, a heart that is yearning to be with the Father.  The numbers are their, but the heart is what matters, and fruit will show the health of not just any ministry, but any person.

May we see more fruit in our lives and those that we have been called to minister to.  May we be honest with ourselves and ask if there is fruit truly growing, or are we just going through the motions?

Being Thankful for God’s Providence

Sorry that it has been a bit since I have posted.  I started a new job, transitioned to a new home, painted the new house, started 2 more courses and am anticipating a new addition to our family!  Michelle and I are pretty stoked, she is due in July.

In one of my courses I had to read an article analyzing the results that the Barna Group had conducted.  The Barna Group had phone interviews with a 601 Senior Pastors from different denominations, ethnicity, education and geographic locations from November to December of 2003. (Barna)  What they found was that these all factored in to ones biblical worldview.  The Barna Group defined a biblical worldview as “…believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize)…” (Barna)  What the research found was that only 51% of protestant Pastors agreed with these points.  Click here to read the article in its entirety.

I was terribly saddened by the results.  I was saddened that in Christ’s universal church, only 51% of Senior Pastors lived out their calling fully. (Barna)  As ministers we are called to speak God’s Truth to those around us; to those within the church for encouragement and challenges.  To those outside that God may shine His light in their hearts and draw them to Himself. (2 Cor 4:6)  How can Christ’s bride be edified without the preaching of the Word? All of us, from those God has called to teach from up front to those that God has called to serve at home, are admonished to hold fast to God’s Truth:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

At the same time, I am grateful.  I am grateful because God has been so good to me.  When He called me to Himself in grade 11, He put men in my life that instilled the importance of having a biblical worldview as defined by Barna.  They encouraged me, challenged me and sparked a passion for Christ’s supremacy in my life and to see all of life through the lens of Scripture.  I am thankful because I still have mentors, especially my Sr. Pastor, who has a biblical worldview and challenges me when I try to do things by the worlds standards than by God’s.  God has been so good to me.

In an age where truth gets watered down and is defined as being subjective, individual, changing, unknowable and relative; we need men and women to stand firm in God’s Truth.  We need mentors and Pastors to “…explain and model…” (Barna) to young people how the Word of God is relevant to all of our lives.  I had men do that for me, and it has made all the difference.

I praise God for His Providence.

How Twitter Has Changed My Prayer Life

I don’t know about you, but prayer is a struggle for me.  I read about great people of faith and how they prayed for hours on end.  I struggle with keeping a coherent thought after 5 minutes.  I become jittery, and often feel foolish.  I wonder if there is any point to try anymore.

I am reading a great book by Paul Miller called, “A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World” it is fantastic!  I highly recommend it for anyone that feels the same when it comes to prayer.  In it Paul talks about that its not about trying to pray the longest or use the fanciest words, but learning to depend on God not myself.  That true prayer comes when it becomes part of our natural lives, not a task for our morning devotions.

Of all things, Twitter has helped me with this.

I use Twitter to converse with friends and read articles that Pastors and organizations that I respect post.  I began to notice one friend would “retweet” breaking news that she found interesting (Heather, I am talking about you).  I decided that I too want to be cool and be up to date on Breaking News.  I began to follow and read the headlines as they came in.

I then began to feel sad.  All the news was about problems in the world, people killing, bombs going off, planes crashing and natural disasters.  It really started to disturb me that the news was so negative.  I even thought to “unfollow” to save myself the pain.  But something started to change.  I had this thought that I could start praying for these people and situations.  To take 30 seconds and ask the Lord to intervene.  I have been and it has changed how I depend on God.

For these people that I pray for, that is all I can do, pray.  I don’t know them and they don’t know me, but God knows them, and knows what is best for them in that situation, so I call on Him in desperation to help.  It has transfered off the Twitter notices.  When I am talking with someone and I sense that I am getting defensive or angry, I start to pray in my head.  I never did that before.  When I drive and think of a friend or situation, I start to pray.  When someone says something critical about me, instead of taking it personally, I pray that God will show me where the truth is and change me.  These things didnt happen before.  None of these prayers are 15 minute prayers or even 5 minute prayers.  Just 30 seconds.

God is taking me to a place of depending on Him in all situations, because I can’t do it.  He can.  And to be honest, I trust Him to handle it better than me.

“Can I build it?” “No you can’t”

During my devotions this morning, I was struck by David’s heart.  I mean, we always hear that “David was a man after God’s own heart” but his attitude hit me hard this morning.  A few days ago I was reading that:

Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.”
But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.
(1 Chronicles 17:1-4 ESV)
God continues to explain that He has not asked nor needs someone to build Him a place.  That He has taken care of and will continue to take care of Israel.  Then God adds concerning David’s not yet born son:
He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.
(1 Chronicles 17:12 ESV)
David responds in praise and worship.  I don’t know about you, but I would be disappointed.  Here is something that I want to do to honor the Lord, here is a way that I want to serve, here is a way that I want to minister, but there is the heart of the issue, “I”.  So many times we do things that we want to do (build, serve, minister), throw a Jesus sticker on it and call it honoring God, when God clearly has a different idea.  It’s not about what I want, but what He wants.  I don’t get to decide in what area of ministry I will be a part of, God calls me into it.  He guides, He leads, He calls.  Whether its pastoring, being an elder, deacon, av ministry, sunday school, youth, counseling, administration, book-keeping, working at the deli, fish plant, construction, baking, cooking, housekeeping, maintenance and the list goes on and on.  God has called each of us into an area of ministry.
And when we don’t get the area that we want, how should we respond?  David verbally expresses praise, adoration and worship to the Sovereign King who rules over all.  But he doesn’t stop there.
David commanded to gather together the resident aliens who were in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. David also provided great quantities of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, and cedar timbers without number, for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought great quantities of cedar to David. For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.
David not only praises God for His decision, he helps prepare the materials needed for Solomon to accomplish the task that God has called him to.  David doesn’t sit there and sulk on the side, he sets up someone else to succeed at the task that he himself wanted.  How often do we see that?  I would venture to say rarely if ever…
But David doesn’t stop there, he gets together with his son and encourages him in the task ahead.  He makes sure that Solomon knows that God has called him to do it.
Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’
He then precedes to bless Solomon and pray for him as he fulfills his calling.
“Now, my son, the LORD be with you, so that you may succeed in building the house of the LORD your God, as he has spoken concerning you. Only, may the LORD grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the LORD your God. Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the LORD commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. With great pains I have provided for the house of the LORD 100,000 talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone, too, I have provided. To these you must add. You have an abundance of workmen: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of craftsmen without number, skilled in working gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Arise and work! The LORD be with you!”
Finally, David encourages others to get involved and support the work that Solomon has been called into.
David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying, “Is not the LORD your God with you? And has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the LORD and his people. Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the LORD.”
Amazing…
For my own benefit, here is how we can react when God calls us out of, or closes doors for ministry:
1. Praise God that He is sovereign and knows what is best.  (I Chron 17:16-27)
2. Prepare the groundwork for someone else’s success.(I Chron 22:2-5)
3. Encourage that person that they have been called and chosen by God for a specific purpose.  (I Chron 22:6-10)
4. Bless them and pray for them.   (I Chron 22:11-16)
5. Encourage others to get involve and support.    (I Chron 22:17-19)
I pray that we would move away from the “I” centered-ness that ministry has become and move into the “God” centered-ness that we are called to.  David was more concerned about the Glory of God then his own glory.
For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.
(1 Chronicles 22:5 ESV)
May we all be more concerned with God’s Glory than our own….