"We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 1:3

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have we confused being “content” with being “lazy?”

I was trying to express how the Africans I was around this past year are able to “live in the moment,” take their time, and enjoy where they are in life (their ability to do this is the affect of a long list of social traditions and spiritual conditions in Ghana) – and the American I was speaking to corrected me and said – “oh, you mean they are lazy.”

Are they??? I’ll admit – there were times when I misunderstood their culture for sheer laziness (and don’t get me wrong – there are inevitably “lazy” people in any culture) – but the longer I was there – the more I understood their “tardiness” and “small talk” (as oppose to rushing around and always thinking about their next appointment) as kindness and community. What we may figure to be laziness – I believe for the most part, is a culture that has learned to be content.

Here in America – we run around, not making the most of each moment of the day – but rather wishing it away. I was comforted to see a man sitting outside of the court house in Opelika the other day – we spoke longer than any other person I came in contact with. Yes, he asked for money – and I was blessed to give him a dollar. Was he “lazy” just sitting there or was he content with his place in life?

While its hard for me to believe that he would be satisfied sitting outside begging each day – many of the people I encountered in Ghana were truly satisfied to work all day just to put food on the table (or in the pot) that night … and then do it again the next day. Now, I don’t want to sound presumptuous – but I don’t think many of us pursuing the “American dream” would find that lifestyle very fulfilling? So - what is the “American dream?” What social traditions and spiritual conditions have influenced it, and what does it look like today?

The “American Dream” is a term first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America in 1931. He defined it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

This “American Dream” has changed from a pursuit of equal opportunities for work, to the pursuit of instantaneous wealth and success. We can see this most clearly in our present financial crisis. I can see it also in the children that I teach. Their innate sense of entitlement is frightening. My generation has some of this as well – but these kids see their cell phones and Facebook pages and new Nintendo games – no longer as privileges – but as entitlements. They believe they deserve by their mere existence rights to these things (when it’s the generation that is their grandparents and great grand parents who have worked through the great depression and hardships of World Wars to get us where we are today). We have so much stuff – and we still want more.

So, as always – I am in pursuit of some balance. If we are too content with life – yes – we will become lazy. But if nothing is ever enough – if we are always after something that appears bigger and better, if we are living for the stuff and the titles – our lives will just pass us by – and we’ll miss out on all the good stuff along the way.

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." – 1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. – Phillipians 4:11

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pop Art :)

Teaching American students all about pop art is a little strange after being away for a while!  My view of American popular culture and our consumer society is a bit out of proportion after being in sub-saharan Africa!!

In class today, we discussed Andy Warhol and other Pop artists from the 1950's who were consumed with STUFF.  We are going to collage a pop art interior - using stuff or pictures of stuff that we use throughout the week.  It should be interesting!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

good enough?

"You are good, you are good, when there is no good in me," began a song at church today.  It felt awesome to proclaim this truth - that God alone is good! 

I continue to encounter people who believe that the point of "all this" (spirituality or religion) is to "become a better person."  And this sounds good on the surface; you know, that Jesus was a great man - and He lived a life we should all try to live - He loved people the way we should love people.

I have a dear friend who has decided to just take from each religion whatever seems to "go together" and accept the similarities as truth.  Aren't we all worshipping the same God anyways?  I mean, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have so many of the same characters - and it's all about trying to do "good" in this world.   As long as you are praying to "god" and trying to become a "better" person - isn't that the point?

While trying to do "good" is commendable - the Bible is clear that "doing good" misses the point.  The problem with us trying to "do good" - is that we will always fall short.  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord."  (Romans 3:23)  When sin entered the World via Adam and Eve - God immediately killed animals (the first sacrifice) to make clothes for Adam and Eve. Because of the sin - God required of His followers sacrifice as atonement for their sin.  This is practiced throughout the old testament - continuing in the next chapter of Genesis - where Cain and Able bring offerings to God, Noah, the Law of Moses and sacrifices in the temple - all the way up to Jesus. 

"And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." - Hebrews 10:10

Christ died as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  We no longer have to sacrifice to be in relationship with God.  So, even though we now have the freedom that comes from Christ's salvation - we are still sinners - we are not saved by doing "good" - we are saved by God's grace alone. 

No, none of us are "good" enough to save ourselves.  Even Jesus declared that God alone is good: "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone." - Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19

I pray that this will speak to your heart - that we can all be still and accept what God has already given to us: salvation.   God has not given us the ability to live a perfect life, or the gift of being "good" - but He has given us the gift of redeeming our sin for His "good" purposes.

"while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." - Titus 2:13,14

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heard this for the first time last week.  SO powerful, if you haven't already heard it - just wait for the last line!

This is my prayer in the desert
And all that's within me feels dry
This is my prayer in the hunger in me
My God is a God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames

And I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon forged against me shall remain
I will rejoiceI will declare
God is my victory and He is here

And this is my prayer in the battle
And triumph is still on it's way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I'll stand

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow

I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've recieved I will sow

-"The Desert Song" - Hillsong

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Through the eye of a needle...

Africa transformed my perspective on wealth.  Before Africa, "wealthy" would have meant those who are billionaires.   After Africa - anyone who is able to have food, clothes, and shelter is wealthy.  I posted this fact from the Global Issues website a while ago:

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

Wow!  That means that I am wealthy.  That means that I am really rich, because I live on ten or a hundred times that much each day.  Since I am now "wealthy," the meaning of this verse has changed:

"How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23)

Yes, all Americans are "wealthy" - and I believe that our wealth does make it difficult to see our need for God.  But I praise God for what Christ says next, "With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

So, in pursuit of balance in my life - I have been marinating on this one verse. It is from Mark – at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had just healed a young girl – and everyone was amazed at what He has done. THEN, “(Jesus) strictly charged them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.” 5:43

(Image is a little off-subject, but inspired by "Glee" last night - which had a very interesting discussion on religion - definitly worth watching - but, did you know there is a whole web site dedicated to "Stuff that Looks Like Jesus?!")

WHAT?! I can not get it out of my mind!!! Jesus was able to heal her – but wasn’t able or chose not to feed her!!! Jesus, who divided loaves and fish enough to feed the five thousand – didn’t just miraculously make her full. He “told them to give her something to eat.” Jesus COULD do anything, because yes, our God is able. But - “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16)

News Flash: God is God, and we are not. Who are we to question God without knowledge and understanding of His ways? (Job 38:2) God has created and is in all things on this Earth. And we know that for those who love God ALL THINGS work together for GOOD. (Romans 8:28) So, yes – God has done the miraculous: He loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die as the atonement for our sin – even when He knew we would continue sinning.

But – He has also given us great gifts to use while we are on Earth: “ALL things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), just as He gave the disciples the ability, time, and direction to feed the girl.
I am reminded of a story – (I can not remember where I heard it) about a man on a sinking ship. He was a man of great faith, praying through the storm for God to save Him. He prayed and prayed...
Then, the other men on board found a life raft– they asked the man to come with them as they made it safely to shore, but he said, “No, I’ll wait, God is coming to save me.

When they got to shore, they sent the coast guard out to rescue the man, left praying on the ship. But, when the coast guard arrived and asked him to jump in, he said, “No, God is coming to save me.” So, the coast guard left him.

The man continued to pray earnestly for God to come and rescue him – and a helicopter arrived to take him home, but the man said, “No! I won’t go on the helicopter, God is coming to save me!”
And so – the ship sunk, and the man died, and when he got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you come to save me???” To which God replied, “I sent the raft, then the boat, and even the helicopter – all you had to do was jump in!”
So, God has saved us, but He has given us the responsibility to choose – all we have to do is jump in…

Friday, October 1, 2010

My "sin shades"

The Bible says that we are all part of an epic spiritual battle here on Earth. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) And – Praise God! through Jesus’ sacrifice, He has prepared us to fight! He has given us our “spiritual armor,” so that we might stand in battle.

Sometimes this spiritual battle is so evident in my daily life, and sometimes I forget. I feel like this world tells me to put on my “sin shades” which look awesome, but make life seem a little grey - so that the battle blends right in with the rest of my life.
In the Old Testament, God pulls off Elisha and his servant’s “sin shades” and allows them to see the spiritual battle that is present around them. The king of Syria brought his army to attack Israel, and there they were - surrounding Elisha’s house! His servant was afraid – but Elisha prayed that God would “open his eyes that he may see.” And his servant saw God’s army – “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around” (2 Kings 6:17) So, yes, we are fighting a battle. But, no, we are not alone. God is on our side with a mountain full of angels! And, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) And - let me tell you, God is FOR YOU.

So, today, I am taking off my “sin shades,” again and putting on “Godly glasses,” my spiritual armor – which change the World around me from dark and grey – to light and life. My “Godly glasses” bring to light the sin around me, and the spiritual battle that I am fighting. They come from talking to God, and learning the truth, which is revealed to us through the Old Testament prophets, the words and actions of Jesus Christ in the Bible, and now, everyday through the Holy Spirit. And the truth is – God sees this World as a constant battle field. His word brings the battle field to light, and reveals the attacks of the enemy.

Thank you Jesus, for helping me remember to take off my “sin shades” today! The light that we can see only through your truth reveals what needs to change in our hearts today, and fills us with hope for the day when we will see all things clearly: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12