1.about.God

Introduction.

I’m starting a new project – something I’ve wanted to do for some time. Here is a description of it:

I’ve always wanted to describe the basics of Christian faith in a brief, and accessible way, that points to the essential issues, without the baggage of controversial points and obtuse religious language. You might see it as a simplified systematic theology. It may be impossible, but “start.here” is my attempt. I hope this “series” to be something I continually refine as my faith continues to mature, and as the Holy Spirit corrects and refines. Also, while I am trying to be as generic as possible, my Wesleyan viewpoint is sure to come through at times, and so we may not be entirely in agreement. But, I anticipate that your interaction will be an additional source of refinement. Finally, this exercise is not intended to be exhaustive (in fact I purposefully intend the opposite) and it’s not supposed to be a theological cauldron. I want to simply present a celebration of Christian faith.

Part 1.

This being the first post, I figured I’d start with the who/what/where/when of God.

I admit, that when you really think about it, God doesn’t make sense.

First, He has always been around. He never started, and He will never end – He just “is” – has always “been” – and will always “be.” This is likely something that we’ll never, ever understand – even when we get to speak with him face to face. But is that really a problem? I mean – there are a lot of things that we don’t understand, but accept as real anyway – right? (Psalm 90:2)

Second, God is holy. Yes, another hard to understand concept. Let me try to simplify. Imagine the most incredible love – He surpasses it, because He is holy. Imagine the highest justice – He surpasses that too, because He is holy. Imagine the most absolute perfection – He surpasses that too, because He is holy. He is so holy that we really can’t even imagine it – that’s why sometimes we are confused by some of the choices He makes in the Bible. His absolute perfection, love, and justice is something we just can’t fully understand. But, that’s OK, right? Isn’t it OK to accept that we can’t understand God? I mean, He is God, after all. (Isaiah 6:3)

Third, He is one, but three. I know, right? This is one of the most mind-boggling aspects of God. The Bible speaks of Him as God the father/creator (Deuteronomy 32:18). It also speaks of Him as the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). And, the Bible speaks of Him as the Son (Titus 2:13). He even speaks of himself as “us” (Gen 1:26). These aren’t three different gods, but one singular God, who is revealed to you and me as three individual personalities. God is the Father. God is Jesus, the Son. God is the Holy Spirit. We aren’t talking about some kind of holy schizophrenia here, but a singular Being who is at once, simultaneously, three “persons.”

Yes, God is impossible to fully understand – and I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. How can God truly be God unless He surpasses my understanding? How can God really be God if He has to answer to my sense of reason? This realization is, all by itself, an acceptable “understanding” about God: that He is beyond my understanding. (Job 11:7-8)

fight.or.flight

Fight or flight? He sees the end. He has my back. He promised. He has never failed me - ever. Do I have to see everything? One step at a time. I trust him. Uncertainty. Fear. Doubt. The unknown. Doesn't make sense. Weak trust - or - no trust. Confusion. Limited sight. Inexperience. Uncomfortable. Psalm 91:2.

When challenge comes, our human nature elicits one of two possible responses. I can stand firm and “fight” – or I can take flight and run away. Psalm 91:2 says,

“I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Fight or flight?

have.you.heard

source: US Government

When I was a young boy, my father was in the military. He went “to the field” a lot – that means he would be gone for days (sometimes weeks) at a time  practicing for war.

When he was gone, life was different. We stayed home more, did fewer fun things, and could not play with Dad.

Even now, thinking back, I can remember the amazing joy and excitement that would flood over me when I heard mom yell, “Dad’s home!”

I would stop whatever I was doing – even if I was using the bathroom – and run out to jump into Dad’s arms, hug him tight, and then tell him all about what  I did while he was gone.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)

In exile for so long, there is no doubt that sometimes it must have felt as if God had abandoned His chosen people. Having been carried away to Babylon by their conquerors, the dispersed Israelites must have struggled with hopelessness and weariness. I can imagine how they must have lamented over their situation. Here the prophet reminds them that God is everlasting and never tires!

Are you feeling like you are far from home, far from joy? Have you not heard? God is everlasting, the creator of all, and He is coming!

what.matters

This post is not really about football, so hang in there.

SEC football is widely regarded as the toughest conference in college football. Of course many may argue this point of view, but season after season SEC foot ball has enjoyed a prominent place in the sport. The competition inside the conference is fierce, and you can generally count on a tough fight whenever SEC teams play one another. Even with disparagingly ranked teams, each battle has the potential for huge competition. Evey SEC is every other SEC team’s rival.

During any given season, only one SEC team will ever make it to the national championship game – of course some years no SEC makes it. But, if one does, you can count on people crossing team-loyalty lines to collectively cheer for the SEC team that made it. Even bitter rivals would rather have their most bitter SEC rival win than cheer for a non-SEC team. Loyalty to the conference typically supersedes team rivalry.

We no longer argue over who has the better tradition, or the better coach, or the better players. We come together under one banner and press on united as the SEC.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

Silly, I know, but I think SEC pride is a handy analog to how Paul sees Christians operate. Believe it or not, there has been contention in Jesus’ church almost as long as there has been a church of Jesus. Even today, there are so many things about which one Christian body differs from another. Yet, we are one in Jesus Christ.

I enjoy a good theological discussion as much as any one could, but vastly more than that, I love when the whole body of Christ expresses Christ’s love together. Whether Reformed or Wesleyan, whether pentecostal or liturgical, whether contemporary or traditional – we are one in Jesus.

It doesn’t really matter what mode of baptism I think is best, or the method and frequency of communion I prefer. Don’t get me wrong: we ought to have well-developed theologies regarding these things. But, the only thing that really matters is the standing of our faith. Are we His or not? If we are, people will know by how our love flows.

imperfect.perfection

Playing around with applying vintage photo effects.

People who know me well, also know that I am a huge fan of Alabama football – and have been as long as I can remember. I was gifted tickets to this year’s homecoming game, so my bride and I got to go on a mini-vacation this past weekend! What a precious gift!

For the last few years, coach Nick Saban has been trying to build a National Championship team. Last year they made it all the way and won the coveted prize. They had a perfect season, and hopes were high for this year. But, they are not the same team this time around.

I think they can still do it, if things go right, but as I’ve watched them this year I’ve been surprised at how many mistakes the defense has been making. As any football fan knows, a bad defense usually leads to risk taking in the offense. They lost during the previous week, and while they won the homecoming game, the win came amid a lot of imperfection. A win is a win, but wow.

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:1–5)

As a follower of Christ, I am bound up with imperfection. I sometimes represent the epitome of weakness and fear. My words (written and spoken) are fraught with mistakes and bumbling. But, because the Holy Spirit dwells in me, my service to the King is made fruitful. Because of God’s power, imperfect “me” is put to perfect use.

This is true for you, too. Don’t forget it. Don’t be afraid to step out for God’s purposes. God’s power will make a perfect difference with the imperfect “you.”

building.code

Today, a bunch of bloggers are posting about clean water. So, I have another “excuse” to talk about clean water again.

This is a photograph of one of two electrical water coolers that are in the building where I work. We have one on each floor, except for the mezzanine level. Most of the time, it sits there, dry. I just happened to use this one today, washing away the white mineral stains that form when hard-water evaporates.

I am a pastor, but I am also a tentmaker – meaning I support my ministry by working outside the church. I work as an architectural designer for an architectural and engineering firm. Did you know, that in the United States (International Building Code), a drinking fountain is required in every type of building except single family residences? Required – access to clean, safe drinking water is required.

For one-sixth of the world’s population, a luxury like this is unheard of. Getting water is an arduous chore, and getting clean water is a near impossibility. In a world where a luxurious drinking fountain can be a requirement in a building, this in unacceptable. In a world where such a luxury is taken for granted, this is unacceptable. We’ve got to do something about it.

“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” (Psalm 140:12)

The Lord secures justice. Guess, what – He uses people, like you and me, to do His work. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Thrive Church has started a charity:water campaign. Please consider being a part of the solution. Did you know that a $20 donation secures clean water for one person for20 years? You can help us at GoGiveWell.org.

Go. Give well.

refined.by.fire

image credit: Michael Beck - click for website

I was privileged to watch an incredible documentary yesterday. PJ Kellog, a young marine, heard the story of a fallen soldier who left a grieving young wife and baby boy behind. Impassioned by the story, PJ decided to raise scholarship money for the young child by undertaking a 50-mile charity run. Yes, that’s 50 miles, not kilometers. Roughly equivalent to two marathon runs.

You can learn more about the story and see a trailer for the documentary movie here.

As I watched the story of PJ’s arduous and painful journey, I was reminded of two things.

First, that we live in an imperfect world, a broken creation, through which we trek – often in struggle.

Second, I was reminded of Jesus Christ’s arduous & painful struggle on the cross.

6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

PJ makes a statement in the movie that caused my heart to overflow with love for Jesus. Paraphrased, he said, “it was a tough and hilly route, and I was not happy about it – at first. As the route unfolded, I knew that I was going to be put to the limit. When I cross that finish line later, I know that it will require my all – nothing would be left. And I was glad for that.”

Sure, life can be very hard. But looking back, I am thankful for the trials. I am thankful for the hard lessons. I am thankful that God runs with me. I am thankful for what He did in me.

I may not always be ready to say this, but at this moment, I am thankful for the hills ahead and the transformation God will accomplish through them.

remember.when

Convex and Concave by Escher

Some time ago, a friend confided in me about his doubt. It wasn’t doubt over his salvation. It was doubt concerning a call on his life.

I believe that every person who follows Jesus is called to purpose, and equipped for that purpose as we step out in obedient faith.

My friend heard a call. I remember when he came to me, excited about what he had experienced. He told me how he was listening to a song, and as clear as a bell, he “heard” God speak to him. He could not say if it was audible, but he emphatically believed that his mind “heard” God speak to him. He emphatically insisted that God called him to be a minister of some type. He didn’t know what kind of minister, but he heard God’s unmistakable call.

Several years later, after doing the bible college thing, and serving in various capacities in his church, he was feeling unfulfilled, as if he was not living out his call. Consequently, he began to have doubts about whether he had a call at all.

I’ve abbreviated the rendition of the passage below for brevity’s sake, but I think I’ve kept the spirit of the passage intact (you can hover over the reference at the end of the passage to see the full text).

12So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them… 13I think it is right to refresh your memory…, 1415And I will make every effort to see that… you will always… remember these things.

16We did not follow cleverly invented stories…, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17…the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice…
(2 Peter 1:12-16)

We are not first-hand witnesses of Jesus walking this earth as a man. But, we are first-hand witnesses to the work of The Comforter. The Holy Spirit has absolutely worked and spoken, and we’ve witnessed the miracles, we’ve experienced the grace, and we’ve heard God’s “voice.”

When the yeast of doubt somehow gets sprinkled into my life, I “remember when” – I remember those events when God spoke and acted so vividly and so unequivocally. There’s no telling (except when God chooses to reveal) why “desert” moments come into our lives, but I do know this: doubt fades when we “remember when.”

I walked my friend through a “remember when” experience and saw his doubt blown away like chaff.

Are you feeling doubt? Well, do you remember when…

standing.by

Please, watch this video. It is a video we produced for a message series.

Blessed are the Peacemakers from michael beck on Vimeo.

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.

13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.

14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
(Psalm 72:13-14)

“What would you do if you saw someone being victimized?”

Watching the video was hard for me, as I put myself in that situation, thinking about what would be going through my mind. I honestly am not sure if I would intervene or not.

The pragmatist in me says, “Just call the cops, and stay close enough to keep tabs on the situation, but far enough to stay safe.”

The compassion in me says, “You must do something! You can’t just stand there!”

The Samaritan who happened on that man left for dead (Luke 10:25-37), had an easier choice in my opinion. He did not have to consider his own safety. The perpetrators were long gone.

Let’s remove the “nearness” of the scenario, and let’s make it more generic. What if we were made aware of a situation in another country, where people were being violently oppressed? What would we do then?

One more step: what if it wasn’t violence, but poverty? What would we do then?

The Psalmists says that God will intervene for the oppressed. The problem is, that we often forget that we are His instruments on this earth.

I ask myself: “Where am I just standing by?”

good.morning

Something different today. I’ve been wanting to do a video blog for some time, but I had some lofty expectations and wanted to “produce” something. I wanted it to be perfect. But that’s not who I really am. I am far from perfect. If you read this blog regularly, you are my friend – and I figured it was time to let down the virtual curtain between us. Thanks to John Saddington for the inspiration to “close the gap”.