Bigger is better?

“I want to be extraordinary!”Pile of Pancakes

“I’m going to do BIG things for God.”

How many of us can relate to those two statements? Even if you have never uttered those phrases, would you agree that the thought of it at least has entered your mind? Full disclosure: that mindset has been a part of my DNA for years now, and I am just now beginning to realize and admit it. It’s amazing how almost every person is determined to make a powerful impression on society or within their sphere of influence – and that’s not a bad thing! Nevertheless, what I’ve been wrestling with is how much that passion to be relevant has dictated my decisions and even affected the way that I view other people.

In the book, Go Small, Craig Gross points out that so many of us want to be revolutionaries and change the world; however, we’re so consumed with our desire to do big things that we often overlook the ordinary, bland things, and really miss the raw opportunities that are right in front of our face. If you look at Jesus’ life, He consistently flowed with the seemingly ordinary events of life – and oftentimes that’s where He would do His greatest works.

The challenge with this approach is that often I don’t get noticed when I’m doing the “small things.” I want to be involved in something that’s going to look good on my Facebook post; something that will win hundreds of people to Christ; something that will get me noticed by the masses. But it’s because of that mindset that I don’t notice, or have time for, the child playing around my house; the dirty dishes that are piling up in the sink; the friend at church that just needs someone to listen to them.

How about you? Can you be motivated to blossom right where God has planted you? Not worrying about if you get noticed or not? Live your life to the fullest in the same way Jesus did, in that He “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” God isn’t focused on counting how many Facebook likes you get or worried about how slowly your small group is growing. Start noticing the “small things” that are sitting directly in front of you and stay faithful to that – you may be amazed at the ways God shows up and the contentment that follows!

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.

Beginnings and First Things

see the frost

It’s that time again, when I finish reading Genesis…and hope my resolution holds to read the whole Bible by next January.

When Moses assembled the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, he was leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. The people had been slaves. They needed a history and the sense of identity that comes with it.

Genesis appears to be a chronological collection of stories, some of them kind of strange. But we can detect a direction and subtle changes in tone and perspective.

A lot of those changes occur wherever we see the phrase “these are the generations of…” (KJV). The first chapter describes the creation of the world, and provides a cosmology for the rest of the book. Chapter 2 describes creation in human terms.

Then we hear about Cain and Abel and Noah. It feels very matter of fact. God is talking to people, and we even occasionally know what God is thinking, but we feel a distance from the action.

Then the book focuses on God’s increasingly intimate relationship with Abram. We see God making promises and changing Abram’s name. We see Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah.

There’s controversy in Genesis too—whether we’re discussing how long the “days” of creation were or questioning Judah’s attitude toward women. We read about the messiness of Abraham’s family.

see the moon

Then we come to the story of Joseph. God only speaks once in the last chapters and only to Jacob. But Joseph avoids Mrs. Potiphar’s advances and upholds sexual purity because of who God is. He tells Pharaoh it is God who gives the interpretation of dreams. When his brothers come to Egypt, he forgives them for selling him into slavery, because “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, KJV).

Somehow Joseph saw things differently than I probably would have, and maybe that’s what ties it all together. Genesis records the beginning of God’s revelation of Himself.

It teaches us to see the hand of God, despite the sinfulness of humans. So that just as Abraham believed God and it was “counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6,KJV) we too may begin to see with the eyes of faith.

Genesis teaches us to see the world and ourselves in the context of who God is.

Have You Forgotten the Truth?

lies-truthI recently read a book called Eyes Wide Open written by the Christian novelist, Ted Dekker.In this book, the two main characters – Austin and Christy – find themselves in a world where they’re struggling to find out the truth of who they really are despite the lies of what people are telling them. The longer they listen to the lies, the more the characters begin to believe that the lies actually are their reality. It’s only when they see their world through a mysterious pair of glasses, that their eyes are finally opened to see beyond the deception and into the light of truth. Finally, everything in their lives make sense. However, these glasses are quickly torn from their eyes and they’re again forced back into their old reality. The challenge that they then face is remembering the truth in a world that seeks to deceive them. One line that jumped off of the page at me was this:

“Life is a cycle of remembering and forgetting.” 

Maybe it’s an overly simplistic concept, but think about it: we’re prone to forget the truth, only to be reminded again, only to forget again. This is the cycle and struggle that, towards the end of the book, Ted Dekker does a fantastic job of portraying.

I wish I could say that I don’t understand this cycle of forgetting. But actually, I do. Because this story isn’t just about Christy and Austin…it’s also about me.

This past year, I did a lot of forgetting. Even though I’ve known and experienced the truth of God’s faithfulness in my life, I went through times in the past year where God felt distant and far removed from my circumstances. From where I was standing, life didn’t make sense. I wanted God to prove Himself and silence my doubt like He’d done for His people all throughout the pages of scripture. But He didn’t. Or at least not in the way I was hoping for. I started to believe the lies that God was distant to my pain, elusive, and silent to all of my questions.

However, when I needed it most, God brought people into my life who reminded me of truths that I’d known in the past, but had forgotten when the skies of doubt had clouded my horizon. It was the remembrance of God’s faithfulness, promises, and love that eventually gave me the eyes to see the truth that God’s goodness and ways don’t always fit into my way of understanding the world. And that’s okay. Because He’s God and I’m not.

I think we all have gone through or will go through periods where we wonder what in the world God is doing. We may question God’s plans and start to believe the lie that He’s not truly good if He allows pain and trials in our lives. However, we have to remind ourselves that no matter what our circumstances or emotions tell us, God never fails or makes mistakes. When we choose to open our eyes wide to the reality of truth, every lie of unbelief will come crumbling down.

The Addiction of Being Liked

A few years ago, I probably would have felt that I had things all together (maybe that should have been my first hint that something wasn’t quite right!). I was busy and fulfilled with my teaching job, volunteering several nights a month, teaching missions classes, and being involved with programs of all kinds. 

After I got married and had my daughter, my priorities and my schedule changed. At first, the shift in focus was exciting – something I had looked forward to. Over time, though, I began to miss my old activities and how they made me feel needed and appreciated. Now I had to say “no” a lot. I couldn’t be involved in things like I used to. In some ways I felt like I had been forgotten. When I wasn’t busy doing these “good” things, I felt like a lesser Christian.

Then several months ago, I started reading a book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. In this book, among a lot of other good things, the author stresses the sufficiency of Jesus – not just for our salvation, but to rescue us from self-reliance, fear, insecurity, and so on.  Tchividjian says, “. . .the gospel alone can free us from our addiction of being liked. . . Jesus measured up for us so we don’t have to live under the enslaving pressure of measuring up for others” (p. 23). (If you want a reminder of Christ’s sufficiency in all things, check out Colossians 1.)

Since I realized this, I have had such freedom from the slavery of making myself more “qualified.” It doesn’t mean that I live however I want – my love for Jesus should me to obey Him. But instead of being self-absorbed and preoccupied with my own efforts, focusing on what Christ has done transforms my life and fashions both the details and overall purpose. For me, living like God is real means daily reminding myself of all that I already have in Christ!


Saving Edmund

When we were little, my mother would gather us together at bedtime to read a chapter from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I remember wondering what Turkish Delight tasted like; I worried that the wolves would catch Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Peter, Susan, and Lucy; and I cried when the White Witch killed Aslan on the Stone Table. But perhaps I remember best of all how much I despised Edmund for allowing selfishness to turn him into a liar and a traitor.

Over Christmas break, when we were visiting Luke’s family, we watched bits and pieces of the three most recent Narnia movies with his sister Sarah. In the first movie, Lucy and Susan wake up to discover that their brother Edmund had been rescued in the night. Even though I had seen the movie multiple times, I found myself strangely gripped by what they saw…

Even now, this scene draws me in. I want to know what Aslan was saying and how Edmund felt. I want to know what that first encounter between the Lion and the traitor was like.

Often times when I watch movies, I find myself identifying myself with one or more characters. I don’t know that I ever identified strongly with any of the characters in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe— maybe a little of Lucy and a little of Peter? This time, however, I realized for the first time that I was not Lucy, not Peter, not Susan– but Edmund.

I am the one who is selfish. I am the one who puts my wants before the needs of others. I am the one who cares more about now than eternity. I am the one who needs to be rescued. I am the one who cost Jesus His life.

Too often we read the Bible and go through life thinking we are really not that bad. We can always point our finger at someone who is a much worse sinner than we are. But that is not what the Gospel tells us. No, we are Edmund. We are Zacchaeus. We are Judas Iscariot. We are Barabbas. We are Saul of Tarsus. As long as we think there is any good in us, we will never truly grasp the wonder of the Gospel. Christ died for sinners– and that is why I owe Him everything.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Under God

Saint Paul's Cathedral

I’ve been reading the book With by Skye Jethani. I have not finished it yet, but just the first few chapters have been keenly insightful to my relationship with God.

Jethani talks about how many times we view ourselves in an “Under God” relationship with our Heavenly Father. This view rightly acknowledges Him as the Creator who is over us, who has the right set the moral rules and laws in this world. The problem comes when we try to manipulate God into blessing us by being morally good. Have you ever heard someone say, “How could God let this happen to me? I’ve always gone to church!” Or, “How could so-and-so be dying of cancer, they have done so many good works for God.”
This view, which started out so well, quickly turns into nothing different than that of the heathens of old, who offered sacrifices so that the rains would come, the locusts would stop or their flocks and herds would grow.
As C.S. Lewis describes, God “isn’t safe, but He is good.” We cannot manipulate Him into giving us good grades, a new car, health, wealth, or salvation. Jesus Christ didn’t save us because we were morally good, but because we could never be good enough to earn anything from God except eternal separation.
Let’s live like God really is who He says He is and that He does what He says He will do. Stop trying to manipulate Him into giving you what you want and being offended at Him when it doesn’t work. Realize that in Christ He has blessed us not because of how good we are, but only because of how good He is!

discovering my other gods

I have a problem with greed.

God’s been showing me through the book Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. In his chapter on money, he writes,

As a pastor I’ve had people come to me to confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, “I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.” Greed hides itself from the victim. The money god’s modus operandi includes blindness to your own heart.

At first I thought, “What?! Me? I don’t have a problem with greed! I’m the girl who still doesn’t have an iPod (much less an iPhone) and would rather not get a second car.”

As I read on, however, God has been showing me otherwise.

I could list a dozen examples, but I’ll just share about one of the first times God confronted me with this problem after we got married.

It was Luke’s birthday. We were driving home from Chicago, and I was at the wheel. Our little 4-cylinder Nissan had a hard time climbing the hills of Missouri. To help it along, I would speed down one hill to make it to the top of the next.

Things were going swimmingly until I found a cop waiting at the top of one of those hills. I hit the brakes, but it was too late. I saw lights flashing behind me, so I pulled over and got my first speeding ticket.

Luke never blamed me. He never told me that I should have been more cautious. He never berated me for wasting his hard-earned money.

But I couldn’t forgive myself. Why? Not so much because I had broken the law, but because I got caught and the penalty was going to put a dent in our savings.

Perhaps you think this is no big deal, but it is to God. He’s using this book to expose more than the god of greed in my life.

So what am I going to do about it? There’s not much I can do except confess my sin and let God replace those gods with Himself.

I challenge you to read this book too—but be prepared to take a good hard uncomfortable look at your heart.

Thanks To God

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, for telling others and ourselves how thankful we are for things in our lives. Usually it’s a time for looking at the bigger picture and declaring how thankful we are for various “big” things.

“I’m thankful that I got a job.”
“I’m thankful for peaceful evenings.”
“I’m thankful for my family.”

There is no person that we could be thanking for these kinds of things…except God. No human, or even group of humans, could really take responsibility for these things and say, “You have that because of me.” Thankfulness is a quality that requires two people. Without God in the picture, all we have is a kind of happy feeling that says, “Man, I love the fact that I have this!” Without God, Thanksgiving Day is just Warm Fuzzies Day.

I recently read God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, a well-known atheist in America. He talks about places in life where we seem, coincidentally, to have exactly what we need. Many people have claimed that this shows God’s goodness in giving us what we need. But Hitchens claims just the opposite: that it shows there is no God because we get what we need without him.

This perspective would eliminate most of what we talk about at the Thanksgiving holiday. If someone decides to give me a bowl of soup, it makes sense for me to thank them. But if a coin is flipped and without anyone’s good will I am given the soup, where can my gratitude be directed? To the coin? There is no place for thankfulness in that case.

But of course we are thankful for the kinds of things mentioned above. As we celebrate this holiday, realize what a significant statement you are making by simply declaring what you’re thankful for. You are declaring that God is real-– and living like it.