Walking with God

Tuesday Devotional: Colossians 1

Read Colossians 1:1-15bible

We live in a world of abundant and overpowering distractions.  Take a moment to count how many different voices are calling out to you to do, to see, to go, to buy, etc.  Sadly, the God of all creation has a tendency to blend too easily into this crowd of voices.  We are busy beings, trying to do as many things as we possibly can every day, week, month and year.  Found within this busyness is, for many, a Sunday morning church service.  Within this service is a language so grand and powerful that for an hour we forget the limitations of this world and our spirits are infused with a hopeful confidence that seems strong enough to do just about anything.  Within that church we speak of God as the creator of the heavens and the earth.  Within that church we speak of God as the first and the last and the beginning and the end.  Within that church we speak of Jesus Christ as the redeemer who pays our debts and gives us rebirth.

This tone and these words are not normal.  We often don’t use them outside of the church walls.  In our daily lives we display an insultingly lackadaisical approach to the presence of that tone or the meaning of those words.  Do we really understand what it means to say that he was the beginning and will be the end?  Do we really understand what it means to profess faith and submit to the creator of the heavens and the earth? Do we really understand what it means when we bear the name of Christ? Are we truly identifying ourselves with the cross where Christ became the ransom for our sins?  The truth of the Gospel is extreme. It is unreasonable and illogical to react to it in any other way.  The reaction to the Gospel has to be extreme. Hearing its claims must move us to fall to our knees in complete submission.  If we profess faith in the Gospel yet live in a way not far removed from the life that preceded the encounter with the Gospel, we have misunderstood that Gospel.  If we profess faith in the God of the Bible and are yet convinced of our own power, or yet in control of the direction and course of our lives, we have misunderstood the Gospel.  If we profess faith in the cross of Christ and continue to strive for perfection, to attain salvation through our personal record, we do not understand the Gospel. 

The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims concerning the nature of the living God.  This God does not need us for anything, nor does he have to listen to our opinions at all.  However, he continues to use us, bless us, and listen to us because he loves us.  The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims about the life and sacrifice of Christ.  The message of the Cross does not give us new guidelines to improve our lives or free passes to find peace with the daily sins that plague us.  The message of the Cross is that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus creates a being different from the old, that can never go back.  There is always movement with the cross of Christ, but just as Christ carried his cross forward and never back, forward motion into deeper union with Christ is the only acceptable outcome of our faith.  The Gospel is not just another idea, voice or message amongst the thousands of messages we receive on a daily basis.  It is THE message.  It is THE good news.  To understand it for exactly what it claims requires us to broaden our scale of measurement to a point so big that at a certain point we disappear, and only Christ remains

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, Part 4

pen-and-paper_400x295_39This is the final installment in the Why We Eat series! For Parts 1-3, see here and here and here. 

This reflection is inspired by 1 Peter 2: 2-3.

Today we talk about Necessity.

Living in modern western society I am blessed with an abundance of provision.  Compared to the rest of the world I live extremely comfortably. My needs and wants are met on a daily basis.  Awareness of this fact does little to help me relate with the many living around the world in extreme poverty.  The number of individuals with little to no food to eat compared to those of us who always have enough food is horrifying.  Due to this unfair reality, I cannot fully understand what it means to be literally starving.

The word “starving,” used in the way that it is supposed to be used, describes, to me, one of the worst physical challenges.  I cannot imagine going without food for days, weeks or months.  I have heard of various accounts of people who have endured such hardships and the testimonials are painful in description alone. I pray that with each passing day we can see more people fed and fewer people dying of hunger, although the obstacles to this miraculous feeding of the millions remains stubborn and strong.

Although I cannot fully empathize with someone who has experienced hunger to this degree, and not to trivialize hunger in any way, I do know what it feels like to be hungry.  I do know what it feels like when your stomach begins to alert you that food is needed.  In this moment, it is difficult to think of much else.  At first, hunger is the deep pains of the abdomen.  Next, hunger inflicts headaches, weakness and perhaps dizziness.  The search for sustenance becomes a top priority, distracting you from any other task.  This is a state of physical emergency that is impossible not to acknowledge.

This prompts the question: do I really hunger for God?  Do I need God like I would need food in this situation?  Do I feel weak and without strength in his absence?  These questions can be humbling and convicting but are, nonetheless, vital to a Christian life of honesty and integrity.  Living a Christian life is not intermittent snacking out of boredom.  Neither is it one where we force feed out of respect for a host.  In the life of a disciple of Jesus, existence without him means death and existence with him means life.  It is that extreme.

There is a reason that Jesus compared himself to bread.  To the ancient world, bread meant more than fulfilling carbohydrates and plentiful calories as it does to the bread-loving world of today.  Bread, to the world that Jesus preached, symbolized “life.”  At the feeding of the 5000, Jesus says these words:

John 6:35

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus is telling us that to take part in a relationship with him is to be ultimately and completely satisfied.  To eat of this bread Jesus describes means to never feel in need and to never want to go without.  This understanding of the Gospel of Jesus leaves no room for Christianity lived on the foundation of boredom or politeness.  God does not want us to come to his altar just because.

“Just because” is void of thought, intention, and meaning.  God put all of those into his creation, and He knows what He desires.  God desires us. Quite simply, he desires that we desire him. True worship comes when that desire is met and reciprocated, when we feel our hunger for Him and Him alone.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Deuteronomy 32

bibleDeuteronomy 32:48-52

48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

The true value in walking with God ultimately has nothing to do with what we have received or will receive in return for our walk.  The true value of walking with God is simply that: the walk.  As we walk we receive insight into his character and are welcomed into a relationship with him that is close, personal.  This walk only reveals truth and is grounded in love.

A true relationship is “being” and not “getting.”  Being with that person is the only reward you seek.  From this understanding of God and our experience with him, we are then prepared to face the confrontation between God’s will and our own with complete understanding.  If our walk is based on the expectation that our efforts will reward us, we will be left bitter.  However, if our walk is anchored in the walk itself, the experience of walking with God as his beloved child will remove any preconceived notions of what we will receive or what he is supposed to provide.  The walk with God cannot survive disappointment if avoiding disappointment was the motivating factor for walking in the first place.  A genuine walk with God results in heartfelt thanksgiving of blessings received along with “blessings” withheld.  It is never about the getting or the giving.  It is simply walking.

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, part 2

You can find part 1 of the series here.pen-and-paper_400x295_39

This reflection series is inspired by 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Today we’re reflecting on Boredom.

I love to eat.  I love the taste of food and I love the satisfaction of being full.  However, there comes a time when I find myself continuing to eat and I have to ask myself if I am actually hungry.  There is a point at which the stomach no longer cries out for sustenance, where the mind overpowers the natural urge of hunger and encourages the hand and mouth to work as one in order to fill a psychological emptiness rather than physical hunger.  Eating to sustain a level of activity more than to fulfill a bodily need.

For me, this happens when I am watching a TV show or movie.  At some point, the popcorn is finished and there is still more than an hour left to sit and watch.  At this moment, there is clearly no dire physical hunger to be satisfied. Yet, for me, there seems to be imbalance.  My ears, eyes and mind are still busy digesting the movie, but my mouth and hands feel left out.  At this moment, I choose to satisfy this boredom with something else to snack on.

For others, the need to snack has an emotional trigger.  Eating provides a sense of pleasure that dulls the lack of pleasure elsewhere.  Perhaps a tough day at work where nothing went well leads to the sensation that throughout the entire day nothing was deeply satisfying.  For some, that guarantee of satisfaction comes from food.  It doesn’t matter how bad the day, ice cream will always taste like ice cream.  Ice cream will always taste sweet. Ice cream will always taste creamy. Ice cream will always be cold and soothing to the soul. Ice cream, in moments of despair, is a friend that will never let you down.

Many believers have at one time felt that being a Christian is the most exciting and fulfilling thing imaginable. They wish for the steady stream of Bible studies and Christian fellowship to never cease.  This is an exciting time, and I pray that each Christian experience these moments more often than not.  However, the contrast to this sense of being alive in Christ can quickly shift to one of stale, unsatisfying boredom.

The reasons for the shift differ with each person. But the fact remains that, at some point, there will inevitably be obstacles to maintaining the excitement once felt in being Christian.  More often than not, the reason behind the plateau is the unfortunate truth that we seek activities and people to define life in Christ in the first place, rather than Christ himself.  In other words, we’ve sought to satisfy our hunger elsewhere.

While we may seek to be satisfied by the people or things that surround us, the irony is that these “hunger agents” have never demonstrated the hunger-satisfying power we attribute to them. Church groups and activities can be an amazing source of growth for a Christian. In fellowship one can more completely experience the nature of being born of the Spirit.  The mistake is looking to these people and activities to define Christian life, a naïve notion that they will always be there and that they will always satisfy us.

The truth is, they won’t.  Churches will change. People will move.  Activities and groups will evolve.

A common experience for many Christians is to be so over-the-moon-in-love with Jesus at a particular church, but the moment the church changes, or something in the routine is adjusted, the love loses zest, even value.  An individual who experiences this “loss of life” might choose to take a more internal and isolated approach to Christianity, moving away from church entirely.

Following this “divorce” from the church, the re-entry into the world can be shocking, one that takes quite a bit of down and up shifting, now apart from the Christian life.  Living outside of the presence of God reveals harsh realities that are, at times, too heavy to bear.   Suddenly the answers that explained everything within the church, in the presence of God’s Word, no longer make any sense. There is a sense of being lost and unsure of things.  At this point, a person can make one of two choices: return out of the need for God alone, or out of the need for things, people, activities: in other words, distraction.

Encountering the world and returning to God because of who and what He is? A miracle, a true “Prodigal Son” homecoming.  Being sold into slavery and redeemed is the Joseph story that some of us need to experience in order to truly realize what being a Christian is all about.  This is grace at work in our lives. To experience grace is to experience God.  This is a victorious moment for the Christian as well as for the Father in heaven.  There is nothing more exciting and satisfying to him than seeing one lost sheep finally return home.

Returning to God because of the comforts of “Christian Living” is a different issue entirely.  The reason to make the return to God in this manner has nothing to do with God at all.  Much like snacking with no physical hunger to satisfy, this is trying to satisfy a false craving.  In this case a person is returning in the search for some emotional or physical gratification, without necessarily desiring God.  When we do this, we are aware that, in returning, certain things will be as reliable or predictable as the sensation of sweetness found in ice cream.

Many of us have a tendency to use church: worse, we have a tendency to use God.  We wander about trying to control our world and  solve our own problems and then, like a swimmer coming up to get air, we find that we cannot handle it, and we go back to God. The time spent in “Christian life” this second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time around will seem like holding your breath underwater. At some point, you will need to emerge abruptly and gasp for air.  We find ourselves going back and forth, never being satisfied, and never knowing exactly who we really are.

Christians like saying that there are “seasons of spiritual growth.”  While this is true, the danger is that some tend to use this as an excuse to explain this seesaw manner of communion with God.  Using this logic, a swimmer could say that swimming has its “seasons” as well: “Some seasons I hold my breath, some seasons I come up for air.”  These clearly are not “seasons of change” or “growth.”  These changes are intermittent, predictable, and necessary in the act of swimming.

Being a disciple of Jesus is staying underwater and miraculously learning how to breathe while submerged.  Being a disciple means transformation, repentance, change.

Craving God in the way that we crave snacks when we are bored or depressed is misunderstanding the Gospel entirely.  The Gospel preached by Jesus Christ is neither a break from the action, nor action to relieve us from a break.  The Gospel is a way of life that, if allowed into the heart, will satisfy the need for satisfaction and activity before we can even realize that we desire either.

Come back next Thursday for part 3.