Naked and Hiding – Part 2 of 3

Naked, ashamed, and afraid, Adam and Eve hid from the presence of God and mankind has been hiding ever since. But the solution to our modern day dilemma is not the answer that has been posed by modern popular theology.

Modern popular theology has focused on the love of God to the exclusion of other attributes of God, such as justice and holiness. Not only have we been narrow in our focus, but we have also attempted to "bring God down to our level" so that we might better understand him and relate to him. We have essentially recreated God in our own image. Fifty years ago, A.W. Tozer commented on the God of modern popular theology when he said: "The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power."

Having found ourselves naked and hiding from the presence of God, we have sought to coax ourselves back into experiencing the presence of God by convincing ourselves that there is nothing to be afraid of. We neutered the God of the Universe and made Jesus our "homeboy." But deep down inside, we don't believe our own lie.

One of the most haunting verses of Scripture is where the writer of Hebrews states that "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Additionally, we are told at least seven times in Scripture that it is wise to fear the Lord. Psalm 111:10 is probably the most well-known of these which states that "The fear to the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." The problem is that we don't want a God that we fear. We want a god that makes us feel comfortable, which is why we've all been taught that "fear" in these verses really just means respect or reverence. I remember being told that as a kid in Sunday school and wondering why the Bible didn't just say reverence or respect if that's what it really meant! When this word is used in the context worship, it certainly does carry with it the idea of reverence. But the word for "fear" in Psalm 111:10 is the same word that means "abject terror" in Exodus 20:20, Deuteronomy 2:25, Psalm 55:5, and Ezekiel 30:13!

We have lost the vision of the greatness of God, and perhaps don't wish to regain it, because a God who is ultimately powerful, transcendently holy, and entirely sovereign is a being who is necessarily terrifying even though he is good. In Jeremiah 5:22, God declared that his greatness should inspire fear and trembling:

Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD.
 "Should you not tremble in my presence? 
 I made the sand a boundary for the sea, 
 an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
 The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; 
  they may roar, but they cannot cross it.

I know that I could easily be accused of doing the same thing that I have blamed others for doing: focusing on one attribute of God to the exclusion of others. Indeed, we must be careful not to become unbalanced. But given the current outlook of popular theology, I can't help but think we could use a healthy dose of terror. 

Naked and Hiding – Part 1 of 3

Back in the beginning, Adam and Eve had an intimate uninhibited relationship with each other and with the God of the Universe, but it wasn't long before they screwed it all up. In Genesis 3, they rebelled and sinned, and the very first thing that happened is that they realized that they are naked. So they ran and tried to cover up their nakedness. Before that moment they were uninhibited. No shame. No fear. Then suddenly they were compelled to hide from each other.

Then God came walking through the Garden in the cool of the evening, and when Adam and Eve heard him, they scattered and hid. When God called to the man, Adam answered by saying that they hid from God because they were naked. This was always interesting to me, because technically they weren't naked anymore. They had already covered themselves with fig leaves. I don't think they were self-conscious of their physical nakedness before God. When standing before God, everything is laid bare, his eyes piercing flesh and bone and mind and soul. Never before had that been a scary thing for them. But now with sinful rebellion in their their hearts, standing naked before God is a frightful idea. Before God they are naked, exposed, ashamed, afraid. So they hid, and mankind has been hiding ever since. 

We hide our sin from each other. We don't want other people to know about the crap in our lives. We hide it and pretend like everything is fine. More importantly, we hide from God. Even those of us who are followers of Jesus often find ourselves hiding from God. We avoid spending time with him. We don't have any real prayer life to speak of. Sure, we ask for things and we thank him for things, but deep intimate conversation never happens. The truth is that we are naked, exposed, ashamed, and afraid. You might be wondering why you can't seem to get the hang of spending time with God. It might just be because you have unconfessed or habitual sin in your life, and because of that sin you have this natural aversion to spending time with God – standing before him completely naked and exposed. As long as you harbor sin in your life, you are not going to want to spend time with God. In fact you are going to want to do the exact opposite: hide. Just like Adam and Eve, God sees you anyway. And just like Adam and Eve, he is calling to you. Maybe it's time to come out of hiding

A Church or a Mortuary?

Warren Wiersbe once wrote:

The fundamental problem lost sinners face isn't that they are sick and need a remedy. The problem is they are dead and need resurrection. Religion and reformation may cosmetize the corpse and make it more presentable, but they can never give life to the corpse.

 Wow. I love that statement. It encapsulates the difference between religion and a relationship with the Living and Sovereign God of the Universe. It's really quite sad that there are so many "churches" and "Christians" who don't get this truth.

Those of us who are in student ministry probably see this played out more than anyone else. Parents look for churches with a thriving "youth ministry" that will train their kids to grow up to be good, moral, and  well-adjusted adults. Even beyond youth ministry, this is the attitude of many (most?) people who go to church. They want to become moral people. The problem is that Jesus didn't come to make moral people. He came to make a different sort of personal altogether. He came to raise dead people back to life.

Eph21The Bible teaches that before Christ you were spiritually dead, but God, in his great love, made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2). Sadly, many churches have become more like mortuaries than churches. They are just putting makeup on corpses. Rather than being about true life transformation and spiritual resurrection, they are more about teaching people the right things to say and do. "Religion and reformation may cosmetize the corpse and make it more presentable, but they can never give life to the corpse."

It may look good… but it still stinks.

Our Grandfather Who Art In Heaven

Sometimes it is still hard for me to believe that I am the father of 3 little girls. I believe it may be even harder for my parents to grasp that they are the grandparents of 11 grandchildren! It's been amazing and interesting for me to observe my mom and dad as grandparents. It's funny because when I was a kid growing up in their home, they were pretty strict. Don't take that the wrong way, they were (and still are) great parents who usually maintained a healthy balance between not being too strict and striving to raise  a godly family. Often they had to make difficult decisions which seemed unfair to us kids, but were necessary decisions because they loved us and wanted what's best for us.

Now watching them as grandparents, I sometimes wonder what has happened since then! When I was a kid, my dad firmly yet lovingly had full control over our household. Lately, I have watched as my two-year-old completely takes over control as my dad humbly submits to her leadership! 

"Popee, can I have some ice cream?"
"Well baby, it's too late and you've already brushed your teeth."
"But Poppee, I want some."
"Okay, sweetheart. Poppee will get you some ice cream."

You might think I'm joking, but everyone in my family knows that it is a 100% possibility that this conversation might actually place. My mom and dad are awesome grandparents, and their grandkids love them very much. They understand their roll and are very much enjoying not having to be the primary disciplinarians, but simply getting to love their grandchildren and watch them be happy, even if the method of that happiness is sometimes much to the chagrin of us parents.

Lately, I've been thinking about this scenario as it relates God. C.S. Lewis once commented that we, as sinners, would prefer a grandfather in heaven rather than a Father in Heaven.

We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all.' Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms; but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don't, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Father disciplines those whom he loves. Furthermore, Proverbs 13:24 teaches us that parents who don't discipline hate their children. God as our Heavenly Father, loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. He actually has something better in mind for us, but to get us where he wants to take us, he must discipline us. Sometimes I may rather wish that I had a grandfather in heaven, but I'm grateful that I don't. I need a Father who is not content to leave me as he found me, but will discipline me and mold me into the man I need to be.

The Shack

As I write this, I am about to head for a little shack in the woods for a few days. I'm going to spend some time with Jesus (and no, I don't expect to meet a big black woman named Papa). I've never done anything like this before, but God has been laying it on my heart for sometime. In fact, it was back in March of this year that I began to sense that God was telling me I need to get away for a few days, to have nothing and no one except for him. Well, now it's December and I figured it was about time for me to get obedient.

I don't fully know what to expect. What I do know is that when I look at the life of Jesus, every time after he came out of a time of solitude, big things happened: things like a little sermon called the Beatitudes, and the feeding of the four thousand, multitudes healed, demons cast out. I don't know about you but I want God to do big things with my life. So I'm following in the footsteps of Jesus & following his example, and praying and fasting that God will use my life in a way that he has yet to do.

Here's a question for you. Do you work in times of solitude into your life? I'm not saying that you need to go to some shack in the woods for a few days (though maybe you DO need to). I mean in your daily life. Do you have times of solitude where you can hang with Jesus one on one, uninterrupted by phone calls, text messages, tv, internet, friends, and loved ones? If not, do you find yourself never being able to quite break free of that sinful addiction or habit? Do you find yourself in a spiritual slump, apathetic, and wondering why you can't move to that next level in your walk with Jesus. It's because you aren't taking time to be alone with him. In Luke 5:15-16, we learned that Jesus OFTEN slipped away from the busyness that was his life to practice solitude.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

If Jesus needed times of solitude, how arrogant are we to think that we don't need it. You do need it. I need it. Find time for solitude in your life.

When I return from my little vacation with Jesus, maybe I'll have some deep insight and some revolutionary blogs (probably not). Until then, while I'm gone over the next couple of days, my blog will be releasing (in three installments) the "Matt and Wes Short Film Festival" that aired during our 2nd Annual 2008 Winter Rock Your Face Off Christmas All-nighter Bash. Trust me, it's complete insanity interspersed with moments of shear genius. Enjoy.

Uganda 09 Rewind: Prayer & Reflection

The following is a prayer I recorded in my journal on the day of our departure from Uganda earlier this year.

Loving Father, thank you for another fruitful trip to Uganda. The task here never seems to grow smaller, less daunting, or easier. There is so much work to be done. I know that we cannot do everything. Please help us to have a singular vision united under Godfrey through the fellowship of your Holy Spirit. Please give us focus on what it is that you have called us to do so as not to spread ourselves too thin so that, though we may do many things, I fear we would not do anything well. Please send more workers! Not arrogant Americans, but anyone who is able to humble himself and do nothing more than enable Uganda's own heroes to rise up in the power of the Holy Spirit as a shining light in a dark world. If Uganda is going to be saved spiritually, physically, economically, or any other way, it is not going to happen through Americans who have even the best of intentions. It is going to happen through her own heroes who rise up in faith through the Holy Spirit believing and trusting in God with every fiber of their beings. These people don't have faith in some outcome. Their faith is the person of Jesus Christ, the character of God the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. I have seen more faith displayed this week in one man than perhaps I have seen all of my life prior to this week. Father, grant that I may have that kind of faith. Lord God, I believe that there is coming a day when you are going to remove your hand of blessing from America. My prayer today, my only request, is that when that day comes may your hand of blessing come to rest on Africa. May it come to rest on Uganda. I know that no one is deserving of your blessing, but these people are perhaps the "least undeserving." May it be your good pleasure and your sovereign will to bless them beyond measure.

Jesus Wants the Rose

Today, I came across this clip from one of my favorite preachers, Matt Chandler, and needed to share it. May it encourage you today.

Uganda and Revival

Uganda-map As I sit here writing this blog entry, I am about 30 minutes away from heading to the airport where we will begin the long journey to Uganda, Africa. This will be somewhere around my tenth time to this country. I have been so many times and built so many lasting relationships that the anticipation of trip comes not only from the excitement of being a part of a mission halfway across the world but also from the excitement of getting to old friends.

Nevertheless, it is not the company of old friends and familiar faces that keeps me going back time and time again. The Holy Spirit is moving in Uganda in a powerful way, and getting to be a part of such a major move of God as he draws in his sheep by the hundreds is intoxicating. It's like a drug. I can't get enough of it.

As you look back through church history, it appears that the Holy Spirit has moved in a powerful way in particular geographical areas at particular times. Who knows what causes these events. Many people have speculated, and I'm sure that there a minutia of details which came together at just the right time to act as the catalyst for these events that have so often been referred to as "revival." In any case, what is not a mystery is that for some reason or another, God sovereignly ordained it so that at certain times in certain places there would be an outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Just to name a few…

In the eighteenth century, there was the Moravian Revival in Herrnhut, Germany and the Great Awakening in New England. The revival among the Moravians spawned a prayer "meeting" which lasted 100 years as people continually took turns praying and interceding around the clock. It also spawned the modern missionary movement as they sent out more than 100 missionaries to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Great Awakening, which is more well known, began in New England with the puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards and his church. People everywhere began to be woefully aware of their sin before a just and holy God and began to repent as the Holy Spirit was poured out in a powerful way.

In the nineteenth century, there was the Second Great Awakening in America led by the great "revivalists" like Charles Finney. In the early twentieth century there was the Welsh Revival in Wales. Later in the twentieth century there was the Argentina Revival, the Toronto  Revival, the Brownwood Revival, and the Pensacola Revival, just to name a few. Of course many if not all of these "revivals" have been fraught with controversy, and some people have used "revival" as means to gratify their greed and pride. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the work of the Holy Spirit despite the shortcomings of God's people.

I mention all of that only to set the context for what God is currently doing in East Africa and in Uganda specifically. It cannot be explained in human terms. Once while in Uganda, I had two young children, a brother and sister, walk right up to me and tell me (through a translator) that they wanted to give their lives to Christ, and that they were willing to die for it because their parents were Muslim. They couldn't have been more than 12 and 10 years old. They did give their lives to Jesus, and I don't know what happened to them. I've never been to any other place in the world where the Holy Spirit is moving in such a powerful way.

As I am gone, I will try to keep my blog updated with stories of what God is doing and what he is allowing us to be a part of.

Great Prayers of the Past – John Calvin

The great reformer John Calvin has long been a hero of mine, but not because of anything that has to do with what has become associated with Calvinism today. Rather it was his unbending commitment to doctrinal purity, and fearless objection to anything he thought unbiblical. Certainly, my praise of Calvin doesn't come without equal amounts of critique. He was often ruthless and at times cold-hearted by some accounts. Nonetheless, for better or worse even these actions should be viewed as stemming from the seriousness that he placed on doctrinal purity.

Calvin was not a man without mistakes and major flaws, but his heart wholly and completely belonged to God. In a day when many of his followers were looking to him to be a "savior" of sorts, he always strove to bring all the attention and focus back to God and
the preeminence of Christ, while attempting to make himself smaller. Being exalted by men as he was (and still is today), I can imagine the struggle he must have had with pride. I can imagine that it must have been in that context that he penned the following prayer:

Grant, almighty God, as no other way of access to you is open for us except through unfeigned humility, that we often learn to abase ourselves with feelings of true repentance. May we be so displeased with ourselbes as not to be satisfied with a single confession of our iniquities. May we continue to meditate on our sins until we are more and more penetrated with real grief. Then may we fly to your mercy, prostrate  ourselves before you in silence and acknowledge no other hope than your pity, and the intercession of your only begotten Son. May we be reconciled to you, absolved from our sins, and governed throughout the whole course of our life by your Holy Spirit. Let us at length enjoy the victory in every kind of contest, and arrive at that blessed rest which you have prepared for us by the same, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ask Smooth – Apathy

In our weekly High School only gathering on Sunday nights (entitled 3:12), we started a new deal called "Ask Smooth." On our Journey Students blog, there is section where they can ask any question they want (no question is off limits) and we will more than likely attempt to answer that question. After the weekend, I will also post the answer here on my blog.

A recent question:

What should you do when you just don't care anymore about anything? Nothing matters or seems to be significant or impacting in any way. How do you get out of feeling like that?

In a word, the problem that this question describes is "apathy." Apathy can be described as the absence (or suppression of) passion, excitement, and/or emotion. It is a lack of concern for things with which one ought to be concerned. It is complete indifference. Apathy is a problem which plagues the church in general, and is rampant among teenagers today.

So how does one fix that? How do you get out of feeling that way? Well, this is probably not what you want to hear, but there is no formula. Regardless of what some people may tell you, there is no 12 step program that will move you from apathy to ardor or from passivity to passion. There are, however, some things that I noticed in my own life that have helped me pull out of a "funk." So the three suggestions that I am going to put forth here, are not meant as a "sure-fire way" to recover the passion you once had. They are simply things that have helped me at one time or another. Maybe one of them will help you.

In Ephesians 1:17-19, Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus is that the eyes of their heart would be opened so that they would know "the riches of his (Jesus) glorious inheritance in the saints." Do you understand what this verse is saying? The word "in" here should be understood as "which consists of." In other words, what this verse is saying that Jesus' inheritance IS the saints. You are his inheritance. I am his inheritance! And it's not a sorry sad inheritance. The bible says that we are a "glorious" inheritance! In the past when I've thought about the Lord and all he has done for me, I have often wondered what was in it for him. Why would he go through all of that for us? Well, here Paul gives us the answer. He did it because he wants us as his prize. He wants us as his inheritance. And though you may not often feel this way, Jesus views you as a glorious inheritance! So one of the things that has helped me is to KNOW who I am and how Jesus views me. You are Christ's inheritance, his glorious inheritance.

Burnout happens. In fact, it happens a lot. It's easy to burnout because we in western society live such busy lives. Jesus was a busy man. Once he started his public ministry, people almost never left him alone. People were always demanding his time. So what did Jesus do? He got alone, and he rested. Mark 6:31 says, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not
even have a chance to eat, he (Jesus) said to them, "Come with me by yourselves
to a quiet place and get some rest."
If you observe the life of Jesus, you see that this was a habit of his. He always found time to "disappear" and be alone with no one but God and himself to rest. If Jesus needed time to be alone, what makes you think that you can make it through life without it? Oftentimes, apathy is the result of burnout or being "burnt" by someone else. This can often be avoided and/or rectified by just getting alone with Jesus. Don't worry about what you are "supposed" to do during your time with Jesus. It's not about reading your Bible for a certain amount of time, or praying a certain amount of minutes. It's not even about doing those things at all. It's about getting alone with Jesus. Take time to rest in his presence.

The writer of Hebrews gave us a solid principle to deal with this issue. He wrote, "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." Simply put, focus on Jesus and what he did for you so that you don't burn out. It's hard for me to be apathetic, when I put aside all the other issues of life and simply focus on him and what he has done for me. It still baffles me to this day that God would do what he did to redeem me. When I think through it logically, it doesn't make sense that he would love me so much. That's what I focus on. In this life there are so many sorrows, injustices, and evils. There is so much distraction, commotion, and preoccupation. There are so many questions, so much confusion, and so many issues that genuinely confound us. Through it all, most of us have been taught that we must simply "tow the line." We are taught by both word and example that we should simply suck it up and push on through. In my own life, I've noticed that it's been the times I was in "just get it done" mode that I have been most vulnerable to becoming apathetic. Sucking it up and pushing on through while ignoring the way that you are feeling doesn't fix the issue, it compounds it. Whatever your distraction is, whether doubt, disbelief, injustice, problems, sorrow, confusion, or busyness, it isn't going to go away. For once, take your focus off of you own problems, and begin to focus on one thing and only one thing: Jesus and what he did for you.

To restate what I said at the beginning, these are not "steps to take" to pull yourself out of apathy. These are simply things that have helped me in my own life as I struggle through the Christian life just like everyone else. My prayer is that they will help you as well. If you've found something else that has helped you, you are invited to post it in the comments, and we can all help each other.