Blessing and Glory

Friend: “How can I bless you?”
Me: “…(long pause)…..What?”

I couldn’t respond, because I had never been asked that before. I had to think about it.

“How can I bless you?” – It seemed like a strange question… at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a very good question. It seeks to find out how to love others, which is what Christ has called us to do!
Thoughtfulness
At SYME, we talk about the 5 Love Languages.
We encourage our students to look around and INTENTIONALLY show love to others in the way they best receive it. (Which is often different than the way they give it.)

It’s not a question that we are always able to ask directly. In fact, sometimes asking the question can make the act less meaningful!(Because part of showing love is taking the time to discover the answer yourself.)

I want to become better at loving.
We each have 1 or 2 primary love-languages, so my teammate encouraged us to develop our weaker points:

  • Words of Affirmation - Ask God to change your thoughts! Make it a habit to think, write down, or say thankful/encouraging things about those around you.
  • Gift Giving – Thoughtless gifts don’t count. You need to spend time finding out what the person likes that you’re blessing.
  • Physical Touch - Obviously appropriateness of things like high-fives, hugs and back massages will greatly vary due to timing, gender, etc., but start with your family and branch out!
  • Quality Time - Put down your phone/computer, switch off the TV, stash your to-do list, and show someone you value them by giving them quality attention.
  • Acts of Service – Just do it! And even if you’re unqualified to assist in the task someone is working on, ask how you can pray for them, then follow through.

I want to intentionally be a blessing every day.
~~~~~~~~~~

So where does the “glory” come in?
I was struck by a challenge another teammate gave our students last week:

For at least one day, to ask Jesus about everything… EVERYTHING. Whatever you’re doing, thinking, struggling with, excited about — just ask Him what He wants, what He prefers, what His will is for you in that situation; because He has purchased your life. You are His, and you are meant to live this life for Him by His living in and through you!

This takes childlike faith and open communication.
I confess, I haven’t successfully done it for a whole day yet, but the times that I have, I noticed that my thoughts were more directed toward God, my heart was singing His praises, and I was also able to love others better… I was reminded why I live; why I EXIST!

- To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Lay it Aside

“Why do I have SO much stuff?” b88bb_equipaje-pesado

I angrily asked myself this question last week as I walked down the street in Taipei, pulling my very overpacked suitcase while simultaneously carrying an extremely heavy backpack and two smalls bags that were bursting at the seams. My back hurt and my fingers were swollen. But that wasn’t all. I still had two large additional suitcases waiting for me down the street, all filled with my belongings from a year of living in Taiwan. I started to panic as I tried to think about how I was going to get everything from downtown Taipei to the airport. Was this really all my stuff? Why was it so heavy? Why did I need it all? Why was I so attached to it?

Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad to carry all that stuff if I didn’t have to walk a mile. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been so horrible had the weather been pleasant and cool. But unfortunately, none of those things were in my favor, so as I trudged along in the unbearable morning heat, I found myself burdened from the weight that my stuff had brought. I was angry because I hated that I needed all this stuff. I hated the weight and exhaustion my need had created. I hated that I simply couldn’t live without it all, but had to carry it with me.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says “…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Paul is likening the Christian life to a race. In a race, no one thinks of carrying heavy stuff with them, no matter how beautiful or amazing the stuff is. Why? Because runners know that those things are only going to slow them down and make the race more difficult, especially when the race is long and filled with struggles. Often times, the weights we want to carry in our lives can be good things, just like all of those things in my bags that I told myself I couldn’t live without. But without a doubt, the stuff we choose to carry with us will slow us down. It will exhaust us and leave us angry. It will steal our joy because even though freedom is offered to us, we still choose to run burdened with cares and weights of this life that we tell ourselves we can’t live without.

I think the key to why we should and can lay aside every weight is at the beginning of verse 2: “Looking unto Jesus…” When we look to Him and behold the beauty and worth of Who He is and what He’s already secured for us, we realize that we don’t need the extra weights in our lives, because they’re so small and insignificant when compared with Christ.

Weights come in various sizes and packages. Sometimes we’re even blind to the weights that are burdening our lives. As we look to Jesus and follow Him, there may be things we simply have to let go of and lay aside, not because they’re bad, but because Jesus is just so much better.

How Not to Watch Movies

Since getting married four months ago, I’ve watched “13 going on 30,” three seasons of the show “Scandal,” and a number of other things I would never have experienced otherwise.

But the most humbling part has been realizing how narrow my perspective often is.

What does this say?
I find myself avoiding things I don’t immediately understand instead of asking, “What does this say?” I tell myself I’m asking other questions, such as whether a movie is edifying or whether it has cultural value, but I often define “edifying” and “valuable” by what resonates with me.

What’s wrong…and right…with this picture?
Sometimes I avoid “liking” things because I don’t want to admit that I’m just as messed up as that song on the radio or character in a story is. I like to pretend that if I don’t watch that movie or listen to that music then I won’t fall into this or that sin. The truth is I’m drawn into sin because sin has already taken some form in my heart.

There have been moments I’ve identified with something and then realized, “Yikes! I like that because the selfishness…or whatever…it expresses already lives in my heart.”

Who is this person?
Asking what’s right about something might be even more unsettling than asking what’s wrong because it forces me to confront blind spots. What ideas are underneath the story? How do the characters in this story see themselves? How does that challenge the way I see things?

The Christian narrative teaches me to look for the image of God in others, though it be marred, and that means allowing others to challenge how I see things, even if they’re partly wrong too.

How are we called to respond?
If art is people saying things, and people are made in the image of God, and we are all sinners, then we have a theological basis for listening to what others are saying in and about movies.

We’re not called to like everything everyone else likes. We’re called to love our neighbors, which means giving a lot less thought to the question of liking things and a lot more thought to what others are saying.

What’s dangerous is to imagine we already know.

Honestly, Maybe

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In Matthew 12:36, we are told that one day we will give an account for every word, and I’m getting a tiny glimpse of that these days as my own personal word auditor (my nearly four year old daughter) seems to remember just about everything I say. Often she’s watching to see if I follow through on an instruction or direction I’m giving (like “I will take you outside when your toys are picked up”).  And certainly every casual promise I make to “play in a minute” or take her somewhere “sometime” is recounted before long as she asks me to make good on my word.

My daughter’s sharp memory prompts me to only say what I really mean and intend to do so I don’t end up with a list of things to fulfill. But there’s a far greater reason than my convenience that I want her to have confidence in what I say to her: both now and especially as she grows, I hope to share many things with her about the reality of God, the gospel, and having her own relationship with Him. I don’t want the important things that I discuss with her – things that could affect aspects of her eternity – to seem like another thing that I may or may not really mean.

God’s attributes of faithfulness and truthfulness (Numbers 23:19) allow me to trust Him with complete assurance. Do I mirror these aspects of God? Am I a parent, family member, teacher, and friend who keeps my promises, no matter how small? I know that there will be times I let my daughter and others down when my actions don’t match my words.  But the more they do, the greater the potential impact of the most significant truths to the people in my life.

 

Churches and Friends

Austrian church in the forestAbout 2 months ago my wife and I decided to switch churches. This shouldn’t be one of those casual decisions like “Which burger joint should we hit tonight?”

The Church (note capital C) is a spiritual body that Jesus Christ established when He was here on Earth, as, get this, part of His own body. He put Himself as the head and every single Believer as a member. So in one sense, it doesn’t matter which church you attend, because they are all part of the “universal church” as long as Christ is truly the head.

Proverbs says “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” The people we are with will shape the way we think, act, and the people we will become. So in this sense, the people we hang out with, at church and otherwise, are going to have a strong impact on who we will be in 5-, 10-, or 50 years.

Now, back to our story… For about 2 years we attended a young, hip church here in Portland. I enjoyed it and participated in small groups or ministry teams. About a year ago my son Lewis was born, and our family was ushered into a new chapter of our lives. As we adjusted, well, everything to being parents and having a child, we noticed that the church we were attending was no longer a fit for who we were or who we were becoming. Looking around, we noticed that there were a lot of young couples, and even a few young families, but there really weren’t any grandparents or great-grandparents. The counsel of friends and peers is extremely valuable to us, but so is the wisdom of the aged and the advice of mentors.

God has blessed us with a quick and easy transition into another church we love. We now have both close friends and wise grandparent-types in our church community, and continue to value the relationships we’ve built in both churches.

You may not have a 1-year old or feel the need to change churches, but my thought this week is to consider who you spend time with and how they are shaping the 5-, 10-, or 50-year version of yourself.

Blessings!
Rowan

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

What are You Chasing?

What if God offered you the fulfillment of all your hopes and dreams? What if you could be in your “promised land” in victory and wealth, with an angel to guide you? But, there’s a little catch…God isn’t going with you. Would you take the deal?
1024px-Beautiful_mountain_valley_and_lake_landscape
I suppose that sounds a little heretical, but it’s almost exactly what God told Moses in Exodus 33. He said to go up to the promised land, with an angel to guide the way and their enemies fleeing before them; but He wasn’t going along. Moses’ response proves his heart: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (v. 15-16).

I often pray for grace and help in my life, but sometimes I forget that God’s grace is His Spirit in us. I’m afraid I often find my heart willing to take the deal presented to Moses. My dreams, even from God, can so fill my vision that I squeeze God right out of the picture. But without God, the promised land is just dirt.

It’s the enemies of our souls that say, “Be strong. Be you. Pursue your dream.” Don’t listen to them. We find a totally different message in the Word. God says, “I’m your strength. Be like Christ. Walk with Me. Let My Spirit fill you. Pursue Me!Do you get the picture that it’s really not about us at all? It’s so easy to run after the dreams God gives us, but God says to walk with Him. What is the Gospel but the good news that God is Emmanuel – with us!

Dear friends, let’s open our hearts to God. Let’s bring Him our dreams and lay them at His feet. Let’s say with Moses, “Father, do not bring us from Your Presence! Make us separate from the world around us, separated unto you.” 

Methodical Sheep

Lately, I’ve been taking a hard look at many of the statements that Jesus made. The more I dig, the more I realize that Jesus made so many definitive statements, but the fascinating part is that He hardly ever qualifies them. What do I mean by that? Take John 10:27 for example: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Now, that’s a passage that many people are familiar with, and anyone can argue that it’s a strong assertion made by our Savior. However, when you dig a little deeper, how many can fully identify how it works on a practical level?

What does Jesus mean when He says his sheep ‘hear’ His voice? Do Jesus’ sheep hear His voice audibly? Is Jesus always ‘speaking’ to His sheep? I can ask question after question, and even after digging into the original language and context, I’m still left with quite a bit of intrigue.

We as humans put a lot of stock into our minds. It is very easy for me to project what Jesus’ intentions were behind His many statements, but in reality – and if I’m intellectually honest – I really cannot put a solid method in place for what Jesus is saying, and many times that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable. My mind wants to figure it out. I want to know the formula for hearing Jesus’ voice and then pass that secret onto others.

Sheep Formula1

Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that Jesus was very deliberate about the way He said things. He knows our minds, and He knows our hearts. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are constantly looking for ways to figure out this Christian process, which can very quickly turn into a religious attitude, similar to what the Pharisees struggled with. Not fully knowing what Jesus’ statements mean causes us to do one thing: press deeper into Him! If our heartcry is to encounter Jesus, then I believe His sheep will know on an individual level what ‘hearing’ Him really looks like. It may not look the same for everyone – and that’s okay. Stop trying to slap a formula on Jesus’ statements. He never did, and if we maintain the heart of a simple-minded sheep, then we won’t either.

Be… Angry?

“Be angry and do not sin.”  (Ephesians 4:26)

Angry Luke on phoneI’ve often prided myself on how I rarely become angry. Others have praised my gentleness, how I rarely lose my temper. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really understood this verse. Somehow, my mind automatically translated the verse into saying, “If you ever have the misfortune of being angry, make sure you do not sin.” However, this verse is actually an imperative statement; a command, pure, but by no means simple: “BE ANGRY.” Was Paul mistaken in telling us this? Or was it a translation error? After all, isn’t it a sin to be angry?

In some ways, it is helpful to think of anger as being similar to physical pain. Just like our body experiences pain when it is hurt, we experience anger when something – or someone – we love is hurt or destroyed.

So what does “do not sin” mean? Just as we should take steps to treat the reasons for physical pain, we should “…not let the sun go down not on [our] anger” and instead, take quick action to resolve it.  Of course, anger is complicated, but the following are a few of the main reasons and ways to respond to it.

  1. Your love is misplaced.
    When we love something we shouldn’t, or we love something MORE than we should, we will become wrongfully angry. It is a sign our priorities need to be adjusted, and that we need to love what God wants us to love.
  2. Something you love is in pain.
    When other people get hurt, do we ignore it? Or do we allow ourselves to become invested in their situation? Do we weep with those who weep?
  3. Something you love has hurt you.
    Love makes us vulnerable. When loved ones hurt us, we should not shut them out, but speak the truth in love.

The problem is, doing this is emotionally draining. I often avoid the inconvenience of anger and confrontation by choosing to not care as much as I should. This is a dangerous attitude: just like lepers will accidentally mutilate themselves without realizing it, people who try to protect themselves from pain can end up allowing terrible things to happen around them.

Easter Cross

© Les McLean

Contrast this attitude with how God responded to us. He loved mankind with an all consuming love. When we rejected God, God burned with a terrible anger against us. If God had not loved us as much as he did, he could have avoided much pain and anguish. What did he do instead? He took drastic measures to reconcile with us. He sent Jesus to die for our sins, so that we could be reconciled with him again.

In the same way, we shouldn’t wallow in our anger, but should “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

This resurrection Sunday, let us remember God’s great love, and thus great anger, and thus great forgiveness.

“And on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid.
Here in the death of Christ I’ll live.”
(In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend)

Sola Scriptura

Recently I’ve been asking myself a question: Who has the right to teach from the Bible? James tells us that it’s not a responsibility to take lightly:

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Jas. 3:1)

If you’re not interested in teaching, it’s easy to leave the spiritual instruction to the pastors and priests. But this can be taken to extremes – for hundreds of years in Europe, only priests were allowed to study the Bible. Leaders in the Church were the final authority on doctrinal matters, and their congregations had no way to evaluate whether the leaders were teaching truth or not. People were burned at the stake for distributing the Bible in languages that the common people could read, because the Church was afraid that if many people began to interpret the Bible for themselves, Church unity would be lost. This was part of the culture that Martin Luther fought against as part of the Reformation. Luther believed that Scripture, not Church leaders, is the final authority on doctrinal matters. One implication of this is that no one person’s interpretation of the Scripture can be supreme – the Scripture itself is supreme, not any particular interpretation of it.

Luther called this principle Sola Scriptura in Latin, meaning, “Scripture alone.” This seems to be what Paul commended the Bereans for practicing:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

So we should all study the Bible and carefully form beliefs about it. But there are different levels of teaching. When I share my opinion with a friend in a conversation, I am teaching in a small way. When I read the Bible to my family, I am teaching in a larger way. Leading a Bible study, teaching a class, preaching at a church…all are different levels of teaching, and have different requirements. Before leading a Bible study, I should demonstrate a certain level of responsibility in such matters. Teaching in a classroom setting may require specific training and skills. Teaching or preaching in a church has prerequisites that are detailed in the Bible, that Christians in general are responsible for holding leaders to.

“Teaching” is a word that implies the teacher occupies a certain position. Depending on what that position is specifically, there may be different requirements before I have the right to teach in that way. But if you’re not a teacher, you haven’t escaped the responsibility to know the Bible and let it shape your heart and mind. Scripture itself is the ultimate teaching authority, and we all are supposed to remind each other of that every day in little ways.

Trust in the Lord

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).” These were two of the first verses I remember memorizing as a young child (oh so long ago). During the past 20+ years I have quoted and meditated on these verses countless times while contemplating life’s myriad of questions. Perhaps you’ve asked a few of your own; What should I study? Where should I look for a job? How am I going to pay for school/car/apartment? Who should I marry? What should I do with my life? If you are anything like me, you have asked these and many more, and have struggled impatiently with the unknown.

Even though I have been familiar with the words of Proverbs 3 for many years, I still have only started to realize the importance and truth contained within these verses. In the past year, the Lord has been helping me in His loving way to put aside my own understanding and ideas. As I shared with some of you at VOICE last summer, I had been looking for a job and still working through some issues getting my degree and teaching license taken care of, as well as trying to figure out how to live on my own in a foreign country. I often felt discouraged as one job opportunity after another failed to work out, and as each step forward required a mountain of paperwork. It seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Each time I thought about all of the things I needed to accomplish, I felt there was no way they could all be resolved. Could I find a job before my visiting permission expires and I need to go back to the US? Will I even have enough money to make it back to the US by then? I kept asking how long will I have to wait… And the Lord asked me to trust Him, and stop using my own understanding. I was still trying to fit what I thought I needed into my understanding of what God wanted for me. God told me to allow Him to demonstrate His love and wisdom promised in His word.
Biblesonthelake
God, of course, is faithful and provided a job just in time. The paperwork for my ARC, some of which had to be sent back to the US for authorization, was approved a couple days before my visa expired. My teaching license paperwork was approved, and I’m even getting better at surviving here in Taiwan. Most importantly, God’s promise to direct my path was fulfilled, and I have many testimonies of how the Lord provided exactly what I needed. Praise the Lord for not letting me continue to try to figure it out in my own wisdom. God’s word is true, may we continue to walk daily Christ Jesus.