Saturday, January 30, 2010

is just living it enough? or do we always have to preach it too?

So I was chatting online with a friend last night and we got on the topic of how do you make your faith known to those around you who may not be followers of Christ. Is just living out our faith enough - at least at first? Or do we also have to say something right from the start? And then, in the workplace, how do we balance being a follower of Christ and making that known with not crossing lines of what is appropriate (or allowed) in terms of our expression? Should we allow the possibility of being unable to work in a specific field anymore (ie. social work, medicine, teaching) to keep us from speaking up about our beliefs? Or in those situations should we just seek to live it out the best we can and pray for opportunities where another person brings it up so we can talk about it?

When I think of these questions, the first thing that comes to mind is something from one of the early church fathers, "preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." I guess I think that ultimately the way we live our lives should be preaching the gospel. We should be reflecting Jesus to the world around us. If our actions don't reflect that, then what reason do we have to think that our words would have any meaning. Any person who knows us at all will know that our lifestyle and our words don't match, and then all the words we could say will have no use for the person because they see the disconnect.

There may be times when we should speak up and I would never discount the importance of knowing what to say in those situations or of actually saying something at those times. I just wonder if most of the time those situations shouldn't come out of someone seeing how we live first.

I don't think that choosing to just live it in front of people is necessarily keeping quiet. In many ways I think that our living it out, is another way that we "preach" the gospel to the world around us. Not keeping quiet doesn't mean we have to always be talking about it directly. It can mean we live it out consistently in front of people.

Now, when it comes to a job or profession, there are some times when it would be inappropriate to sit down with a person and preach the gospel to them. It could be because it is crossing a professional or ethical line, or it could be because we are working with vulnerable people and could have an inappropriate amount of influence on them in doing this. Those are the times when I believe it is absolutely vital that we consistently live out the gospel in front of them - that is the kind of "preaching the gospel" that we can "get away with" no matter what the circumstances.

Should we refuse to say anything in these work situations because we fear losing our job? No, I don't think so. But I do think we need to stop and think and pray about how God would want us to act in those situations. It may be best for us and what God desires for us to just live it and not say much until someone else asks us about it. This doesn't mean that if a co-worker or client/customer asks us what we're doing for the evening or on the weekend we can't say that we are going to church or Bible study if that's what we're doing. But I do think it means we say that and leave it there for them to ask further questions if they are interested. To me, this seems like having respect for the other person. We are respecting them enough to let them ask the questions rather than shoving our beliefs down their throats, which won't actually do any good. All the while, as we do our best to preach the gospel by how we live primarily, we are praying for opportunities to preach it with our words as well through conversations that we have with others that they initiate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jesus, Hold Me Now

So, in the last couple of days I've really enjoyed a song by Casting Crowns from their latest CD. I wanted to share it with you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

divine battles and taking thoughts captive

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV
I've been thinking a lot about what this verse has to say lately. What does it mean to wage war differently from the world? What does it look like to use the divine power we have access to for demolishing strongholds? How do we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ? There's just so much in these few verses to think about and to dive into.
Most followers of Christ are well aware that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that means our earthly ways of doing things doesn't work. So, how do we engage in this battle? How do we fight the battle with these weapons that "have divine power to demolish strongholds"? The divine power we have access to it the truth of God's Word. We are most effective in the spiritual battle we're engaged in when we are in the Word regularly and filling our minds with God's truth. Satan and his cohorts cannot stand against God's truth. God has given us the truth that we need to defeat Satan in his attacks on us, but we have to learn that truth in order to be able to effectively use it.
The truth of God's Word is also how we demolish strongholds - those places in our lives where we have believed Satan's lies and have given him power over us. We cannot destroy these strongholds without bringing the truth against them. God's truth has incredible power and we need to be learning how to use it in our lives.
Probably the part of this that I have spent the most time thinking about in the last few days is the part about taking every thought captive and making them obedient to Christ. How do I actually do this? It seems like such a big thing to do . . . and a hard thing to do. And yet, the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that it also comes down to knowing the truth of God's Word well. When I know the truth of God's Word I know when my thoughts are not what is pleasing to Christ. This is when I take that truth that I know and use it to bring my thoughts back to what I know is God's truth. As I better learn God' truth, my mind is transformed and every thought becomes more obedient to what pleases Christ.
"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, the have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ."
-2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Saturday, January 16, 2010

appropriate for corporate worship?

So, tonight at church we sang a song that, to be honest, I am really not a fan of. I have never been able to sing it in a corporate worship setting. There is nothing that is theologically wrong with the song (which, for those who are very curious right now, I will not be naming this song in my blog because it does not have to do with what my point is), I am just not sure it is appropriate for a corporate worship time.

Which leads me to my reason for writing this blog tonight:
Are there songs that, while theologically sound, are not appropriate for corporate worship?

This is a question I have been wrestling with for a while now and I do not claim to have the right answer, because I do not know that there is a correct answer to this question. In the last few years, I have heard more and more songs being introduced in corporate worship (ie. church services) that, to me at least, feel like they are more appropriate as a personal worship song rather than a corporate one - whether it is because they are just plain hard for average, non-musical person in the church pew to even attempt to sing or because the language just seems to be so personal.

I am, by no means, a spectacular musician, but I can sing on key and decently most of the time, and I do play a couple of different instruments, and yet, there have been songs that have been introduced to us in church that I was unable to follow or attempt to sing. And I know from listening to the people around me, fumble through for a bit and then just give up completely, that other people were having more problems with them than me. Is there anything theologically wrong with these songs? No! Are they horrible songs to listen to? No! But, due to the way they are written, I wonder if they are the best or most appropriate choices for songs to sing as a gathered body of Christ in corporate worship. It seems to me that rather than draw people into the presence of God and lead them in praise of worship of our Savior, they do little more than frustrate people. I am not saying they cannot be a part of the entire worship service, but I do wonder if they would be better as some kind of a "special music" part of the service instead of trying to get everyone to sing them.

But, I guess that issue is not the main one that triggered this thinking in my brain again tonight. The song at church tonight really seems to fall under this second category. I realize that some very authentic praises and cries to God can arise out of a deeply intimate and personal time with God, and I would never want to discredit that or downplay it. I just wonder if sometimes what does come out of those times would be better off being left as something personal. Sometimes we will start a song in a corporate worship time that as I actually pay attention to the words I realize that there is no way I can sing those words and mean them. They seem to come out of such a deeply personal space that I do not completely understand what is being talked about. Is it really authentic for me to then sing those words to God? I am not sure.

I see there to be a difference between declaring truth and making a choice to praise God even in the midst of doubts and hard times, and singing the words of an incredibly personal song to God when you are not even sure you really understand what you are singing. For example, I have had times in my life when I was in a corporate worship service and I was singing the song "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman, and what I was doing was declaring the truth contained in it during a time when I was having a hard time and had a lot of questions. It was like I was living out some of the words to that song: "You give and take away, You give and take away, my heart will CHOOSE to say, Lord, blessed be Your name." I felt like God had taken away some things, but even in the midst of that hard time, I was still choosing to worship God and declare His goodness. I do not think that is wrong. I think that sometimes that is exactly what we need to do.

But, then there have also been times where the song that was being sung was full of language talking about an intimate picture God had given someone of His love for them. As hard as I tried, there was no way I could relate to that picture. It was not something that I could read and study and seek to better understand in Scripture. And even if I asked God for that same understanding, whose to say that He would use that same picture to speak to me and help me to get that understanding. I have a hard time with singing those songs. And, those are definitely songs where I wonder about their appropriateness for corporate worship. I am not saying those things should not ever be shared. I believe there is definitely a place and a need in the body of Christ to share those things. I guess I just wonder if in a setting where people are generally expected to be (or at least feel as though they're expected to be) singing those songs is appropriate. I would definitely be leaning pretty far to the side of not appropriate at this point.

I wonder sometimes if the church (as a whole, at least North America wide, possibly further) has become so focused on self and on our own individual relationships with Christ that we have lost the concept of what it means to gather to worship together corporately and to corporately declare Who God is. And, I guess, I wonder if the main symptoms of this loss of the corporate part of our life as followers of Christ is what I see as the lack of appropriateness for the setting of the music chosen in our corporate worship times.

Friday, January 8, 2010

believing God

This past fall, through a Bible study that I was doing I spent an extended period of time in Romans 4. It's not really a passage of Scripture that I'd ever really given much thought to before, but spending time really digging into it caused me to discover much and to be challenged in many ways.

Romans 4 recounts the faith of Abraham believing that God would give him and Sarah a child in their old age - something that was impossible by human standards. Yet, Abraham believed God that He could it. There are a couple of verses in this passage that has stuck with me in the months since I finished the study that led me to spend so much time in this chapter of Romans:
"Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised." (Romans 4:20-21, NIV, emphasis mine)

Fully persuaded of God's power to do what He had promised! Do I live like that? If I'm honest, I have to say no. What about you?

How does life look when you live this way? What does it mean to be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He promises? How does it change the way we live?

Those are just some of the questions that came to mind as I thought more and more about what is contained in these verses. I mean, that sounds like a pretty cool way to live. You take what God says and you believe it without doubt . . . right?!?

Or maybe not.

What if it actually means that sometimes we are choosing to trust and believe God despite having doubts or questions? What if it means that we don't stop believing even when we've screwed up in our own trying to make it happen?

If we take a look at the account of this in Genesis 15-16, we see that while Abraham believed God, he also slept with the maidservant of his wife to produce an heir. That's not how God had told Him the promise of a child would be fulfilled. Abraham acted on his own to try to make God's promise happen. Yes, he believed God that it would happen, but he didn't have complete faith that God would do it. He tried to help make it happen. Yet, in Romans 4, the Apostle Paul holds up Abraham as a man of great faith, and says the words we find in Romans 4:20-21 about him:
"Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but he was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."

Over the last couple of months, I've been wondering if the faith that Paul is talking about here using Abraham as an example is a little different from the way we often see it. Maybe being fully persuaded that God had the power to do it meant that even after he messed up in sleeping with his wife's maidservant, Abraham still had the faith to believe God would fulfill His promise. Maybe it means that even in his doubts, Abraham continually made the choice to go back and believe God even in the face of great odds.

To be honest, when I look at it that way, faith that pleases becomes something that seems a little more possible to live up to. Rather than being some impossible ideal of never having doubts, faith and believing God becomes something that I want in my life. Faith becomes a choice that I make to say: "I'm going to believe You in this God. I don't know if I can completely get rid of my doubt that you can actually do this ___________ that seems so impossible by human standards, but even though I have these doubts, I'm making a choice to believe You. And I'm going to make the choice to live as though You are doing this. I'm choosing today to believe You, no matter how impossible it seems by human standards, for I know that nothing is impossible for you."

This doesn't mean it's all of a sudden easy to have faith, but it does make it something we can do with God's help. And to me, that is encouraging and challenging in my walk.

Monday, January 4, 2010

changes in 2010

In the past few days I've been reflecting on my life and why I do the things I do. As part of that, I've been reflecting on why I have blog, why I write what I write, and if changes need to be made in regards to my blog. It's been interesting to go back and think about the reasons why I started blogging in the first place and to reread some of my first posts. I enjoy blogging . . . sharing what God is speaking to me about and challenging or encouraging other through what I post here. (At least, I hope that is what I do.)

One of the things that God is really challenging me with this year is to get back to the Bible. I love to read, and I'll read almost any non-fiction Christian book I can get my hands on. But, sometimes that means I get caught up in what others have to say about the Bible and life as a follower of Christ. Not that I need to stop reading books by Christian authors or anything like that . . . but I think I need to learn how to more often put down that new book I have and just pick up my Bible and start to read and allow God to speak to me through His Word.

Since most of my blogs as of late have come from things I have read in other books and then have been thinking about, I've come to see that this may begin to change what my blog looks like to some degree. I'll still be posting "thoughts on life as a follower of Christ", but I'm starting to think that it may look a bit different, at least some of the time. My hope and prayer is actually that rather than beginning with a quote by an author, more blogs will begin with a passage of Scripture - with God speaking to me through His Word.

I guess for you, the reader of this blog, things won't change all that much. You'll still be reading someone else's thoughts on something to do with life as a follower of Christ. But, for me it will be a change I'm looking forward to in this new year . . . getting back to God speaking to me through His Word and my writing flowing out of that.

Friday, January 1, 2010

and a new year begins . . .

So, just a few hours into the year 2010 and I really should be sleeping, but I feel like sleep is still a long way off for me. I have far too much going through my head right now.

I've been thinking a lot about the past year - what it brought in my life. The events - both good and bad. The people and relationships that changed. The lessons that God tried to teach me. The lessons that God tried to teach me that I actually paid attention to and sought to learn. The lessons that God tried to teach me that I really didn't want to learn and resisted learning (those ones will be coming back again and again until I learn them, so maybe that would be the best choice).

I've also been thinking a lot about this year that has just begun. It always seems like there is so much opportunity and so much to do at the beginning of each new year, but then as time races by I sometimes wonder if I'm missing some of what I could be doing because I'm being lazy or I'm tired or I'm scared or I'm not paying attention.

Yet, I'm beginning to realize that what matters most is that I'm open and responsive to what God has for me to do. No matter what my plans, thoughts, dreams are for the next year they pale in comparision to what God could and wants to do through me. Not that my plans, thoughts, dreams aren't good, or that I won't get to do some of them this year, just a reminder to myself that if they don't all happen because of what God has for me, that's for my good. Doing something specific God has for me will always be of greater benefit and good for me and others, than doing what my plans are.

This isn't something I do well. I like to have the next few years planned out exactly as they will happen well in advance. And then I don't want them to be changed. But, I'm discovering that, while God may choose to work that way sometimes, He may also change things in the middle and ask me to do soemthing that wasn't in the plan. And it's in those times that I have to make a choice to follow in obedience rather than stay put in the "plan" in my stubbornness.

As I look forward to this new year, I think I'm mostly excited for what may come. Right now I have no idea what it may hold. I have things I hope will be a part of this year and goals to work towards. But, mostly, I'm learning to follow God in obedience wherever He may lead - even if it is off the track that I had planned to follow. Whose up for joining me in that challenge this year?