Monday, April 14, 2014

Judas & Peter: Knowledge vs. Faith

Coming into holy week, we are studying the circumstances surrounding the crucifixion in my bible study.  It's been wonderful and challenging to look at the road Jesus took to the cross, and even more interesting to review the actions of his disciples.  Almost a lifetime could be spent gleaning truths from the way each individual contributed, and what that implies for us today.  In the past when I've read about the last supper and the road to the cross, I've always skimmed the role of Judas, pegging him as the blatant villain.  But with a closer look, I think he deceptively looks more like a genuine disciple than I'd like to admit.

Here are some interesting facts about Judas:
  • He hung out with authentic followers of Jesus. (Psalm 41:9, Acts 1:17)
  • He listened to the teaching of Jesus and could have communicated this teaching to others. (Acts 1:17, inferred from various texts)
  • He acted so much like a disciple that when Jesus said someone would betray him, Judas didn't stick out as the obvious choice. (Mark 14:18-21)
  • He appeared to care for the rights of the poor and oppressed. (John 12:4-6)
  • He felt guilty when he realized that he'd betrayed Jesus. (Matt 27:3-5)
  • He knew that Jesus was innocent and should not have been condemned to die. (Matt 27:4)
The striking truth is that someone can look, sound, and seem like they are a genuine follower of Christ, while not really loving him at all.  There will be people who do many things in the name of Jesus, but when judgement comes, he will say to them, "I never knew you; depart from me..." While these people might have done good works for Jesus, they never actually put their faith in him.  The bible also says, "even the demons believe and shutter".  Satan and his demons know that Jesus is the son of God, that he was raised from the dead, and that he has power and dominion over everything.  Affirming the truth about Jesus can't be the same as having true saving faith.

But there is another disciple we can contrast with Judas, whose story should bring us hope and encouragement.  While Judas was betraying Jesus, Peter was also betraying him.  After faithfully following Jesus, Peter was maybe one of the most "strong" looking disciples.  He even boasted about his ability to be so fiercely loyal, he claimed he would die for Jesus.  However, when the time came for Peter to share his allegiance after Jesus was arrested and tried, Peter failed the test.

But Peter, who had true faith in Jesus, responded differently when he realized his sin and betrayal...he went away and wept bitterly.  Peter was crushed and deeply broken over his sin.  Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 3:3)
  • Judas felt guilt over his actions and how they affected an innocent man...Peter realized how his sin had separated him from a holy God, and his spirit was broken.  
  • Judas went back and tried to undo what he had done...Peter remember the words of Jesus and turned back to the one who could save.
  • Judas went on to commit suicide...Peter went on to spread the gospel.
We learn from the bible that everyone will sin, everyone will fall away, and everyone will betray Jesus.  However, when we realize that we have sinned and fallen away, it is our response that reveals our true heart condition.  We can repent (turning from our sin and running to God) or we can simply feel bad and keep going our own way.  The sacrifice that is pleasing to God is a broken and contrite spirit.  Those with true faith, like Peter, will be strengthened and persevere...while those filled with only knowledge and good works, like Judas, will fall away.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Christian Zeal

With Easter on the horizon, I thought it might be fitting to do at least a couple of posts pertaining to faith and our excitement about what has and will happen in God's great story of redemption.  I was thinking and reading through some old J.C. Ryle sermons the other day, I came across one about Christian Zeal.  As I considered my desires and the calling Jesus gives his followers, I thought this was a fairly interesting word to study.

thoughts on becoming a zealous Christian

What is Zeal?
Zeal (noun)  - to have great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective (synonyms include: passion and devotion)

A person who has zeal for Jesus gives their whole life and heart to him as a living sacrifice, withholding nothing for themselves or their own agenda.  Just as a wife should only to have eyes for her husband, the church and it's members should only have eyes for Christ, passionately pursuing submission to him and helping to spread his message in whatever way they can.  Zealous Christians spread their joy, energy, and passion for the gospel among other believers, making their faith contagious.

Evangelists, missionaries, teaching pastors, and even mothers are just a few great examples of those who often work tirelessly, devoting themselves to the call God has given to do. (Although I'm sure that Christian zeal can manifest itself in every calling.)

Why is it so Difficult to be Zealous?
On the outside, zealous people don't have something our culture values balance.  It appears as though they are so stuck on their one cause, so focused on their mission, so devoted that others might even label it "weird" or "unhealthy".  Even in Christian circles, aren't we sometimes guilty of mocking those who have the truth always on their lips and focus their all on Jesus? It makes us a little uncomfortable.  People who are sold out for God appear not to care as much about material and mortal things as much as the rest of us, and therefore they look and act differently.  Sometimes it can feel awkward and our defense is to pride ourselves in our ability to be balanced and reasonable.  Then we tell ourselves they must be in some super-spiritual category that we aren't a part of.  We're just "normal".

Not to mention, our world hates the message of Jesus.  They hate everything about him, and the second we become about him, we are hated too.  It often seems easier to just blend in with the crowd, speak in a quiet and mild voice and only chime in when we are forced to do so.  Instead of standing alone for truth, we cower in fear of man and stand with the crowd.

Finally, aren't we all a bit numb to truth?  The age of technology and social media has left the sweet honey of the word as a dull taste on our tongue.  What used to be a treasure is now forgotten and replaced with things that gratify us in the here and now, only to fade away later.  We try to fill ourselves up and find satisfaction in any and every earthly distraction and then wonder why we are tired, empty and unable to muster up energy to serve God.  It seems as though there is a lot riding against us.

Jesus, the Gospel, and Perfect Zeal.
We have an example of perfect zeal for God and his purposes.
"Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me."  Psalm 69:9

Jesus was all-consumed with his role and purpose and message.  He was not divided, he was devoted.  He was not afraid of what people could do to him.  Even unto death, he did not shy away from his call - consumed with passion for his father's will to be done.  As a result, it was done.  Jesus took the reproach that should have fallen on us and instead gave us freedom.  He granted us his righteousness, and in turn gave us both the power and the motivation to be zealous for God.

So I'm free to be full of zeal for my faith.  But I must ask myself,

  • Can I say that I'm not afraid to stand alone for truth?
  • Can I say that I don't care if people judge me or judge my motives because I am secure knowing that God understands my heart?
  • Can I say that I don't care what I lose for the sake of advancing the gospel?
  • Can I say that I am only about one thing and one thing alone?
  • Can I say that I am so devoted to the cause of Christ that I ignite a fire in others to love him more?
  • Can I say that I am wide awake to the truth and how it impacts the world?
  • Can I say that my hands are always at work for the sake of the gospel?
  • Can I say that my face shines the glory of God to others?
  • Can I say that no matter where I go, I bring the essence of Jesus with me?

This Easter season I am challenged by these thoughts and the example Jesus has set before me in his death.  What I do in this short life matters, but only if I give it fully to God so that my good works don't burn up but stand for eternity.

Do you live with zeal?

*questions adapted from this sermon

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fashion Theology - When clothes become a distraction

When people see clothing and not Jesus
I will never forget the essence of a quote I heard from John Piper about fashion.  This isn't a subject he discusses frequently, so when he addressed it, my ears perked up.  He was discussing how, in his opinion, clothes are something that shouldn't draw too much undo attention to ourselves.  We shouldn't dress so un-fashionably that people are distracted by it, and likewise we shouldn't dress so fashionably that people are distracted by it.  We should seek to dress according to our cultural norms, within the bounds of God's commands, in such a way that it's a non-issue for others.  The idea being that they can spend more time thinking about what we are saying (which hopefully glorifies God) than what we are wearing.

I can understand what he means by "distracted"...can you?
We used to go to a wonderful gospel-centered church where most people dressed really urban-cool.  The ladies were experts at pairing trendy consigned pieces with the latest style of boots.  I don't want to criticize (because they were dressing according to their cultural norms and there is nothing wrong with that), it's MY sin that caused my distraction.  But nevertheless, when it was time to leave for church in the morning, due to the fashionable atmosphere, I was more concerned about my outfit than preparing my heart for worship.  As we stood and sang the first few songs, I couldn't keep my eyes from scanning the crowds and comparing myself to every other trendy 20-something woman in attendance.  Then I would start matching outfits in my head, strategizing what clothes I needed that I didn't have.  When it was time for communion, the temptation was at it's worst.  The line was a fashion runway, and each perfectly placed belt and statement necklace drew me in.  I had a difficult time remembering to focus on Christ.  Although God used that church to do amazing things in our lives and we have some dear friends that attend there, I'm sometimes a little bit relieved to not be in that battlefield anymore.

I can think of other times as well when I have met people who exceed the local fashion standards and even though they are Godly and have a soft heart, initially, I can't see it.  All I can see are their clothes.  It takes time to move past their exterior and begin to hear and see their heart.

When people look at me, who do they see?
I've spent a lot of time thinking on these things.  I know there are not clear answers, and every heart and culture have vastly different standards.  This isn't something to over-spiritualize or over-think.  Not everyone is tempted by this type of comparison and not everyone is distracted by clothing.  But I've found myself asking some questions...
  • What if the way I dress distracts people from Jesus?
  • What if people spend the first 5 minutes of our conversation thinking about my boots and my shirt and not about what I'm saying?
  • What if someone who doesn't know me assumes I don't love God because I look too much like the world?
  • What if I lose my credibility to speak about Jesus because other Christians think I'm too pre-occupied with appearances?
This can have strong implications, so I want to be cautious here.
It's not my responsibility to put on my clothes in the morning, hoping to stop anyone and everyone from being tempted to sin.  I can't control the hearts of others, and it's not completely my fault or my problem if they judge me.  I don't need to make clothing choices out of fear of man...but at the same time, I can't help but wonder, "If I can prevent someone else from stumbling by prayerfully considering how my wardrobe might affect them, shouldn't I?"

Shouldn't I ask God, "Do my clothes allow people to see me or to see You?"
or even scarier, "Do I sometimes secretly want people to be distracted by my clothes, thinking more highly of me than of Him?"

Overall, my guess is that the implications vary wildly from person to person.  And in the end, what we wear on on physical body matters less than the state of our hearts.  But I think these thoughts are still worth discussing and worth submitting to the Lord.  For those of us who are distracted by other people's fashion choices, we should seek to take our thoughts captive and refrain from judgement.  After all, believers are free to dress fashionably.  And for those of us who dress in a way that might be distracting to our peers, we should be thoughtful about our choices and let our heart's desire be for God's glory and not our own.

What about you?  Do you regularly find yourself distracted by fashion when you should be looking at Jesus?

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Friday, March 28, 2014

5 Unexpected Results of Creating a Toy Rotation

toy rotation

My son's toys used to live in the corner of our family room big pile in an overflowing basket, threatening to take over the house at any given moment.  It was daunting to me and to Lewis.  He wasn't playing with toys, he was scattering them.  He was discontentedly flinging one for another, searching for something to satisfy him, only to find a cluttered floor and nothing to play with (did he learn this from my closet?).  As soon as we got out of survival mode with the babies, I told myself, something was going to change.

The perfect solution seemed to be a toy rotation.  I was desperate to get the toys that were threatening to overtake our house (and drive me crazy) under some form of control.  I also wanted to start teaching Lewis self-control, resourcefulness, and contentment.  So on my first day in ages where I was without all 3 boys for more than a short hour, I tackled the project.  I won't go into detail about how to create a toy rotation.  Go to Pinterest.  Go to Google.  The instructions and tutorials are many.  Basically, you just get containers, fill them with toys, and then only pull out one or two containers at a time.  

The first day we were on a toy rotation, I expected magic to happen.  I pictured a humble happy toddler with hands outstretched, excited to open his one treasure box.  Instead,   I had an unsatisfied toddler clinging to my legs wanting me to entertain him after he played with his box for 3 minutes and spread a toy to every room of the house.  

toy roation

We've been at this toy rotation thing for almost two weeks now, and here are some of the initial unexpected results:

1.  I've realized that all toys are not created equal.
We don't have very many toys that do anything besides light up and make noise...something that doesn't entertain Lewis for more than a few minutes.  Children need toys they can manipulate, explore, take apart, put together, and play pretend with.  Also, I think many of our toys aren't age appropriate.  They are either left overs from the baby stage, or they are too advanced for a toddler to do anything with (other than throw them, that is).  While I was strategic about organizing our toys and only giving him a few at a time, I didn't realize that I needed to be strategic about what type of toys we have.  For the next phase of this project, I want to significantly decrease the number of short-lived entertainment toys and keep a smaller amount of really good toys that can last through many stages of development.
2.  I've realized that bad habits are hard to break.
When I was on bed rest and had newborn twins, I used the TV and the iPad frequently to keep Lewis from destroying the house, getting hurt, or otherwise making it impossible for me to tend to the babies.  This was necessary for survival for a while, but it created some dependencies and bad habits for him that I'm having to undo.  He hasn't really learned how to play well with the toys he has without the TV or iPad to entertain him.  This is just going to take time and consistency on my part.  He isn't ruined for life (by any means), but it's just something I didn't realize I was going to have to deal with later.  Also, teaching a toddler to entertain themselves and make-do with what they have (not always whining for more, more, more) just takes time in general.  It doesn't come naturally.  I keep telling myself to have the end goal in mind and know that it might get worse before it gets better.
3.  I'm feeling less overwhelmed about cleaning the house.
The toy rotation has been wonderful for my sanity.  It's not overwhelming to clean up toys anymore because they all have a place, and it takes very little time.  Also, because Lewis doesn't have access to everything at one time, I don't ever have to look over at a room and think, "oh man, that entire room is destroyed".  
4.  Lewis is learning to clean-up.
The other day, without me asking him first, my 19 month old put all of his cars in his tub and carried it to the storage location and then grabbed another box.  I was in shock.  I thought it would be months before he got the concept "only one box at a time".  It turns out that this is a fairly concrete and easy concept for a toddler, and when there are only a few things to pick-up at one time, he actually attempts it on his own.  
5.  I'm feeling empowered as a mother to be intentional and teach important skills to my child.
I'm not always the most intentional mommy...I'm more of a "go with the flow"type.  This isn't inherently bad, but sometimes it becomes an excuse and I get lazy about training.  If Brad and I want Lewis to be a man of character (with lots of God's help and grace) it's our responsibility to teach him certain habits.  This toy rotation has been a lesson for all of us.  I've had to be disciplined and not let Lewis change boxes every 5 minutes because he's bored and he thinks the grass is greener on the other side.  Lewis had to learn to wait, and make-do with what he has.  He and I are growing in our relationship, and have endured lots of teachable moments that will hopefully produce fruit as he gets older.  Even taking this little step of creating a toy rotation has reminded me that Brad and I are the parents, we are the authority, and it's our job to teach and train Lewis.

For now, this has been a good thing for our house and I'm looking forward to continuing it and getting better at it in the future.  

Do you use a toy rotation?  How has it impacted your family?