Thursday, September 25, 2008

Patterns




There are times when I struggle to feel the presence of God…
Before I get too much further let me clarify some things. My faith is intact, my salvation is assured, I love God more now than ever before and I am more certain of His love for me now more than ever. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, there are no other gods and there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus. I think my desire to know God in my life is greater than it has ever been. Still… there are times when I struggle to feel God’s presence. What is even more astounding is that I can see God’s fingerprint on so many things in my life, my marriage, my finances, my un-employment, my family, my conversations, my friends, my church, etc… So with the fingerprint of God all over my life why do I sometimes struggle to feel his presence? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because many times you will hear about “Christians” losing their fire. The last thing I want to do is “lose my fire” for God because this is essentially saying that I don’t love or desire God as much as I once did. That is just not true, I still love God, even more now than ever, still… sometimes I struggle to feel his presence. I thought that maybe it’s because I’m not in “His Word” as much as I used to be. Well, I’ve examined my study time and while it is lacking and could definitely use some improvement, I actually think it’s better than it’s ever been. I’m in constant meditation on the scriptures, even walking around at times giving sermons or writing about God in my mind. Still… sometimes I struggle to feel his presence.
I think about Moses coming down from the mountain after basking in the presence of God, having to place a veil over his face. Then there is the transfiguration where Peter, James and John were in the unveiled presence of Christ in all His glory. I reflect on Paul and Silas sitting in a jail cell, praying and singing hymns until the jailer comes in and begs to be saved and then takes them to his home to be baptized with his family. What a great moment that must have been, how they must have been filled with the presence of God! I wonder what it was like for them the next day, the next week, the next month. I realize that life or more accurately that this world is filled with many ups and downs. We make visits to the mountain top and journeys through the valleys. Thus is the pattern of the world. Is it the same with being in the presence of my Savior? I don’t think so…
Romans 12:2 says to no longer conform to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come. There are too many scriptures that speak about what happens when we become followers of Christ to make a single moment outside of the presence of God acceptable to me. If I am to believe that Galations 2:20 is true, that I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, then I have to believe that I am only alive in the presence of Christ. So… why do I still struggle to feel the presence of God in my life? I believe it has to do with patterns of the world and the fact that sometimes I just don’t get it.
Romans 12:2 talks about these patterns that we can sometimes fall into. Let’s look at this scripture a little differently for a moment “if we conform to the patterns of this world, then we will not be transformed and therefore we will not be able to determine the will of God in our lives. We read this scripture and determine not to fall into this worldly pattern so we begin to emulate what we think a Christian life should look like. The problem is that the example that we look to emulate is other Christians. We see those who we judge to be more spiritually mature than ourselves and began to act like them. We see those we judge to be less spiritually mature than us and make sure we don’t act like them. Then we get to the point where we think/look like those who are more spiritually mature than we once were and we begin to expect those that are less spiritually mature than us to act more like us! We see others stand and raise their hands during praise and worship and we think how godly they must be so we stand and raise our hands. Once we are standing and raising our hands, we look around and down at those who aren’t standing and feel sorry that their personal relationship with Christ isn’t what ours (those who are collectively standing with arms raised) is. We fall into a pattern of how we seat ourselves during the service. We like to sit near those who are more spiritually mature. If we sit towards the front then we must be more spiritually mature than those sitting in the rear. We like to do things the way they’ve always been done. We expect a certain order to our worship. We continue to usher because it’s what we’ve always done. We serve because it’s what others expect of us. We bow our heads in prayer because it’s what everyone else does. We go to church every Sunday, Wednesday and any other day the church is open because if we don’t, then we may be thought less spiritually mature than we think we are. Our prayer life becomes stale when we fall into a pattern of continually asking for God to bless us as we go through these repetitive motions. Our emotions take on the appearance of what others expect them to be as Christians. We meet tragedy in people’s lives with a fake smile and a word about God’s plan or God’s will. We’ve forgotten that to love means to be broken when others are broken, to hurt when they hurt, to laugh when they laugh. We think that living a Christ like life means to be blessed financially and to never struggle with sin, persecution or the darkness that sometimes exist in this world. We think that struggling with money or being tempted by sin means something must be wrong with our relationship with Christ. We fall into patterns because of the way that we think others judge us or the way that we judge those around us. I believe these patterns separate us from the presence of God because we act based on expectations rather than being led by the Holy Spirit. We raise our hands in worship because of how it makes us look instead of how it makes us feel. We don’t realize that by sitting somewhere else, we might meet someone whom is seeking a friend or better yet, that God is sending someone to be our friend. We forget that a simple prayer for life change opened the door to a relationship that allows us to have a conversation which includes listening as well as speaking. We don’t realize that rather than quoting Christian clich├ęs for life, maybe someone who is hurting, just needs to hear the words “I love you”. Our lives begin to look like the lives of the other Christians that we surround ourselves with. We long to fit in and be accepted and praised for who we show others we are. Somewhere in all of this seeking to be like those we revere, we lose ourselves and forget to be who God created us to be. We become creatures of habit instead of children of discovery. We forget that a relationship with Christ is a journey of discovery and growth towards who God created us to be. We are children of God and it is his praise that we should seek and sometimes we are going to look different, not only from the world but from each other.
Shortly after warning us about the patterns of the world (Rom 12:2), scripture tells us about the uniqueness with which each one of us were created. If we are all so unique, why do we try so hard to look like one another or worse yet, expect others to look like us? I struggle sometimes feeling the presence of God… but I am never more alive in His presence than when I am being who God created me to be.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kids! sorta....

I only have a moment but I wanted to capture this thought before it escaped my feeble mind forever.

My wife and I don't have kids (someday?) but we do have animals. I guess that since we don't have children, that we probably spoil our animals a little more than we should but... anyhow... I've been doing some house work today and as I was washing the last of the dishes (sorry ladies but I'm already taken :) I noticed that our 7-8 month old puppy was very quiet and nowhere in site. I walked quietly and slowly into our bedrom and I could see her lying on the bed and chewing on something just out of my sight. As I continued to sneak around the corner of the bed, I see that she is chewing on a compact umbrella that I had tossed in there to put up later. Just as I see the umbrella, Nikki spots me, stops chewing and slowly lets the umbrella drop from her mouth to the floor and then looks at me as if to say "What? I wasn't doing anything!" I picked up the umbrella, gave my best stern look of correction and went back into the kitchen. As I was laughing to myself at her slyness and best attempt to look not guilty I thought of this phrase "Capture the pleasure in the moment".

James 4:14
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Life is short, enjoy each moment. That umbrella can be replaced, but the memory of that moment and look of innocence can never be repeated.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Same Kind of Different as Me

I just finished reading this today. The "Same kind of different as me" is a story of three people whose lives are changed when one lady has the courage to follow the path that God set before us. Many times we sit back thinking that our actions have very little affect on the world around us, but this book drives home the point that one person with the courage to follow God, can change the world.

"the truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless... just workin our way toward home." - Denver Moore

Friday, September 12, 2008

Got Gas?

Over at my wife’s blog this morning, she posted about the big scare that Ike is having on oil prices. The cool thing is that both she and I agree on how to effectively battle the cost of rising gas prices. It’s a very simple idea that I hope catches on and it can be summed up using two words; Use Less! When I saw the Yahoo headline this morning about 5 dollars a gallon for gas, my first thought was not about running out to fill up while I can but rather what can I do to use less gas. Gas has been a “sore” subject in my family for quite some time. From my wife wanting to implement the “envelope” method for our gas spending to how much I spend on gas going to different ball games throughout the week and on weekends while I’m un-employed. (sorry for airing our dirty laundry, babe :} ) I have to agree with her on this though, the greatest affect that we can have on gas prices is to consume less. The reality of this is that consuming less actually goes beyond driving down prices for me. It’s also about being a better steward of what God has given me. It’s that by consuming less of what God has given me, I can give more. We are all consumers of many different things. Things that maybe we don’t always realize or think about like; clothes, gas, time, blessings, money, emotions, energy, water, trees, land, oxygen, etc… I think the struggle between my wife and I stems from the fact that I can be considered a super-consumer! I love to spend, use and discard all kinds of things. It’s a little unusual because I’m a man who loves to shop and not just shop but also buy, but if I can’t buy then I will still shop and dream about what to buy! Nothing makes me happier than buying the latest gadget, toy or sporting good. I constantly want an inexhaustible list of stuff. At this very moment here is a short list of some things I “need”: Mizuno 9 Spike Blast Turf shoes (I’m going to die if I don’t get these soon!), softball bat, batting practice balls, Brian “Head” Welch’s new CD, fishing license, tequila shad colored fishing worms, bullet weights, new batting gloves, miter saw, new headphones for my MP3 player (nice ones, not the cheap walmart kind ;), Xbox games, “It” by Craig Groeschel, some books by Charles Martin, a hundred other books and a new fishing rod and reel. That is the short list! Oh! I forgot to mention a boat, canoe or kayak. They had this great inflatable, hard bottom boat at SamsClub yesterday that normally sells for $200 that was marked down to $68. I actually called Sherlyn to see if I could guage her reaction if I were to purchase the boat but she didn't answer so I wasn't brave enough to buy it. ;) Then there are the shorts I saw at Dick’s Sporting goods this weekend on sale for just $14 and some new underarmour shirts. On second thought I might be what you call a Mega-Super-Consumer. I love my wife and we’ve been together for almost 14 years but I just realized yesterday how tired she must become of constantly hearing about all the things I want. (Sorry again Babe!)
I really began to examine my Mega-Super-consumer attitude a couple months ago during a Craig Groeschel sermon series called “How to be Rich”. He talks about how we are rich, we just consume all of what God has given us. I began to look at this in my life and my marriage, not only how we do this with our money but how we consume other things like time, relationships and emotions to the point where we are left with nothing to give. By now, I bet you are asking, what does all this have to do with Gas prices. Well… I’m not really sure but maybe if I wanted less and consumed less and shopped less I would learn to share resources with others. I could do things like carpool, shop in groups, buy in bulk and share with others, share groceries to keep others from having to go to the grocery store. Stay at home and sit down at the table to share a meal with my wife. Turn the TV off and talk or read, maybe even pick up my bible. If I were to shop less, then I might have more time to fellowship with friends. I would still have to use gas but in the long run, I would spend less and consume less. (Petroleum is used to produce and ship many of the products that we consume). I think this will have a greater long term effect on not only gas prices but our lives and the earth that God created. I guess my biggest conviction through all this meditation on my mega-super-consumerism is am I being a good steward of all that God has given me.

Genesis 1:26-31 (New International Version)
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.