Sore Throat Thoughts

June 27, 2011

110621 Sickness and Sovereignty

Maybe you can relate to this:

One night last week I was having an intense dream. (In this one I was being chased by a landshark…no, I’m not making this up.) I woke up in a bit of a frenzy, took a couple deep breaths, and swallowed. That’s when it hit me – I’m getting a sore throat.

Instantly my mind began to reel. I hate being sick. Is this really a sore throat? How long is this going to last? Is this going to develop into some kind of full-blown sickness? Last time I got a sore throat, I was sick for two weeks! Why have I been sick so much this year? I can’t get sick right now; I have too much to do! I need health to do ministry well – doesn’t God know that!?!?

It was at this point in the thought process that began to be alarmed at myself. While I tried to couch my worry and indignation in the righteous motives of ministry, I ended up acting like I had a better understanding of my needs than God did. In that moment in the middle of the night, I was not acting like God was my perfect heavenly Father who knows and provides for all my needs.

Thankfully, the sore throat quickly went away in the morning. I think it was just a reaction to having my throat scoped the day before. But maybe, just maybe, it was a sovereign reminder that God knows exactly what I need, and even if he seems to throw a wrench in my plans, he is still lovingly sovereign.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:19 ESV)

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Shock and awe. It seems to be a popular strategy for starting wars (see “Gulf War II”) or getting dates (see “Hitch”) but not so much for the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness. Rather than to be shocked by the sinfulness of sin and in awe of the purity of Christ, many Christians opt for complacency and comfort.

Ezra did not buy this lax approach. He stuck with shock and awe. Check out his response to the sin of the people of Israel: “As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.” (Ezra 9:4) He goes on to pray, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” (Ezra 9:6)

In addition to his clear grasp of the seriousness of Israel’s iniquity, Ezra goes so far as to include himself in the situation with the first person pronouns. American evangelicals are often quick to be shocked when some state approves same-sex marriage or when Lady Gaga releases a new single yet so slow to be disgusted by the sin in their own lives.

We should be appalled by sin – it is rebellion against the King of the Universe. We should be amazed at the cost required for our redemption – the precious blood of Christ. In fact, these emotions should build up a hunger for holiness. We should thirst for righteousness. This weekend at Compass Bible Church, we sang a couple songs that expressed these desires.

“Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity”
-“Hosanna” by Brooke Fraser

“Give us clean hands
Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another”
-“Give Us Clean Hands” by Charlie Hall

Let’s be shocked over our sin. Let’s be in awe of both God’s justice and love. And let’s long for holiness.

Why Not Go LARGE!?

February 21, 2011

You know those moments. Like the one where you ask for a medium order of fries at Chick-fil-A before realizing how much you love those delicious Waffle Potato Fries and asking yourself, “Why not go LARGE!?”

Last week, I had a similar – but much more serious – experience along those lines.

My brother Bobby and I went out to Redlands to lead chapel at Arrowhead Christian Academy where our Uncle Scott teaches. I lead the music (and was surprised by how much the students actually sang) and then settled down in the back of the room to listen to Bobby preach. I found myself offering up some standard prayers that God would be with Bobby and use this message for some kind of spiritual good when suddenly it hit me, “Why not go LARGE?”

I remember times at Revival X and Revival: Winter Edition where I am in the back of the room listening to Bobby preach and praying AMBITIOUS things. Praying – actually it was more like begging – that God would save students. Praying the God would use the students there in mighty ways for his kingdom.

Why is it that prayers like this get kept for “special” occasions and “big” events? The answer ends up laying with a lack of ambitious faith or spiritual zeal.

If we are supposed to “pray without ceasing,” then let’s go LARGE! Why settle for small, weak prayers when we serve a big, powerful God.

If there is ever a time of year where there are many things to think about, it is most definitely right now. Even before the happenings of 2009 have finished bouncing around in our brain, 2010 is here with its own plethora of things to ponder. People are asking, “What am I going to resolve to do in the New Year?” Businesses are planning, “How are we going to use our money in 2010?” Seniors in high school are wondering, “What is it going to be like when I graduate and begin a whole new stage of my life?” Truly, there is plenty to think about.

But in the midst of “many things” at the beginning of 2010, there is “one thing” that we should commit to thinking about before anything else. Check out what David said thousands of years ago:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.”
Psalm 27:4

If anybody had many things to think about, it was David. Before he was king, he had to plan how he was going to avoid Saul, the first King of Israel whose mission in life was to make sure David was not alive to become the second King of Israel. After David survived that and became king, he had to think not only for himself, but for a whole nation! But in the middle of all of that, the one thing David wanted was to be with the Lord and behold the beauty of the Lord.

Everyone has many “things” to think about as the New Year gets rolling, but are you committed to seeking the “one thing” like David was? Before anything else, is your heart set of loving God more and getting a greater focus on his beauty in 2010? Will this priority show itself when you are fighting for time to spend with the Lord even when life gets busy with school, church, activities, and other events?

Do not let the one thing that is most important get buried and drowned under the many things that 2010 will bring.

This blog was also posted at ChurchForHighSchoolers.com – the new website of True North.

Musings on Matthew

December 16, 2009

On Monday, True North finished going through the book of Matthew on Scripture of the Day. As we began this journey through the first gospel, I was preparing to preach a sermon in which the main idea was “Christianity it all about Christ.” With this thought central of my mind, I longed more than ever to sit at the feet of Christ by reading about his life and found myself hungry each day for another bite of Matthew.

The feast on Matthew may be over now, but the digestion is only beginning. This morning, I wanted to take some time and capture in writing some of my thoughts from the past month of SOTD before they fly away.

Perhaps the main idea that stood out to me from taking a close look at Christ in Scripture was this: reading about Jesus life THEN should strengthen my faith NOW.

Matthew reveals two major responses to Jesus: faith and unbelief. The main personifications of unbelief are the Pharisees–so caught up in their system of works righteousness and spiritual pride that they fail to see the Messiah. The disciples also display flashes of unbelief in moments of doubt, fear, or misunderstanding.

On the other hand, examples of faith appear all over this book, from the Magi who travel the world to see Christ to the little old lady who pushes through the crowd to just touch the edge of Jesus’ robe to Peter when he confidently proclaims Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” More than examples, faith is also central to the teaching of Jesus.

So the question I must ask myself after reading through Matthew–which is the same question anyone who encounters Jesus in Scripture must ask–is, “What is my response: unbelief or faith?” Even more precisely, how will my faith be strengthened because of what I have learned about Jesus?

Two specific things stood out to me in response to this question. The first is an increased commitment and fervor to wage the war against sin. Jesus described this fight in the most radical terms (gouging out your eyes and taking up your cross.) Do I view my fight against sin this way? And after seeing Jesus revealed in the Word, am I so enraptured with him that I will gladly sacrifice anything to be with him?

The second proper response is prayer. Jesus makes it clear that faith and prayer go together. Not only should faith drive me to spend more time in prayer, it should affect the way I pray. Faith (as opposed to doubting) describes proper prayer; these kind of prayers will be confident and fervent.

I am grateful for God’s Word and how it reveals God’s Son! Join us as we read through John on Scripture of the Day!

At True North we’ve been going through Psalms on Scripture of the Day. Today’s Psalm is Psalm 119.

So one day at True North Headquarters we debated what to do with this chapter. Should we break it up over a few days and go through it slowly? Should we just hope that the students eat up all 176 verses on their own?

Obvious answer: no to all of the above options. Instead, let’s get all the people of True North in one room and read the whole thing together.

So that is what we are going to do tonight at True North United. We will eat, we will hang out, and we will sing worship songs, but the main course of the evening is a feast on the longest chapter in the Bible.

Last night and this morning (partly after reading this article), I was remembering some of my main desires before going into youth ministry. I wanted students to be excited about the gospel and excited about God’s Word.

I pray that tonight bears much fruit towards that second end. My desire is that the students of True North would be students of the book, and that every day they would cry out, “Oh, how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day!”

Today I turned in a 7-page report on my recent missions trip to Uganda. This was one of the questions:

What person or event has impacted your life the most during this time? Please explain.

This was a hard question to answer, but I answered it with a journal entry I wrote on our last day of ministry in Uganda. I thought those that read this blog might enjoy this window into my brain on the trip. This is what I wrote:

6/27/08 Friday

“I just had the most heart-breaking conversation of the trip. We visited two nearby schools today with our program. They both felt like business as usual.

“After the second school, we were talking with kids. My group dispersed, and I was waiting for everyone else to finish up. To pass the time, I sat down on the edge of the building to be available if anyone else wanted to talk.

“Eventually, one boy came up to me with a very soft, high voice. He told me his name was Merry. He began asking me the standard Islam questions. Are the Bible/Quran the same? Is Allah God? So I gave him my standard 2-point answer:
1) the Bible says Jesus is God and our Savior, and
2) the Bible says we get to heaven through faith, not works.
At the end, I began to question him about what he believed.

“This is where the conversation took a new tone of intensity. This talk was no longer normal. He told me he believed in Allah. I then proceeded to remind him that Allah is not God. Jesus is the only way. If he wants to go to heaven, he must believe in Jesus.

“Merry sat there in silence as I found myself hating the cultural barrier once again. What was going on inside his head? Where was he coming from? Where was he going?

“I began to notice a sadness in his eyes. He remained silent as his eyes began to tear up. The tears began to form on his eye lashes, and they slowly dropped down his face.

“I did not know what to feel or think. What was going on with this boy? What kind of persecution will he face if he believes? Who will remain there to help him? Who will teach him more about Jesus? Who will be there for him if he believes?

“All these questions began to tear me apart. Our conversation was fairly silent til the finish. He asked another question about whether Moslems go to heaven. I again explained that Jesus is the only way, and I tried to say that as many ways as I could.

“Merry never came to the point where he said he wanted to be born again, but I pleaded with him to believe in Jesus. I encouraged him to find others who are born again to help explain more to him.

“Our group began to leave, so I prayed for Merry and said good-bye. As I left, I could not feel right. Something about that conversation broke my heart, and I knew something was wrong. Just like the feeling I had when I broke my collar bone, something is not right, and I want to wrestle with God now until I know what it is.

“Why did that conversation break my heart so much, and what difference will this make in my life?

“For starters, it put a crying face to all the ministry we have done this week. When I think of this week, I will not think of crazy questions and laughing kids; I will picture Merry’s tears. How many more are there like him? I can never, ever take ministry lightly. Souls hang in the balance. People are really going to heaven or hell.

“Again, this conversation challenged my faith. I am so frustrated by the fact that I am leaving tomorrow. I have planted a seed, but what will become of it? Do I really believe that God is mighty to save? Do I believe God can work here when I am gone? There is so much tendency to doubt, but I must live in faith that God will bring the increase and produce fruit from this ministry.

“I have often said that God does not call us to success; he calls us to faithfulness. Ultimately, I cannot be successful. It is God who works. God is the one who changes hearts. God is the one who brings people to repentance. And God will be faithful to complete what he started.

“BUT he calls us to be a part of the process. He calls us to go and make disciples. He calls us to be his ambassadors. This conversation with Merry has only increased by desire to be faithful. It has given me a whole new sense of urgency. The battle is real, and it is the most important thing in the world. Every comfort, every song, and every sporting event (that I might think is important) looks like rubbish when I think of Merry’s crying face. Nothing is more important than the work of Christ and the ministry of the gospel.

“And that ministry is more than just evangelism. God calls us to make disciples. I have so much opportunity to do this in the States. I have ministry in front of me at Compass. I have a year as Head RA of Hotchkiss in front of me. And I have a whole new sense of urgency about it.

“But I pray this conversation does not quench my desire for evangelism. I don’t want to pass up any opportunity to share the good news. Again, I must have faith in God. He will continue to work even when I can’t.

“At the end of the day, to live is Christ. My life must be about kingdom work. I pray for Merry, but I will most likely never see his face again. I pray that God saves him and uses him to bring others to Christ. But I must be radically faithful to the work of Christ. I must have a whole new passion about the phrase ‘to live is Christ.’

“This will look like a commitment to discipleship—whether reaching out to unbelievers or nurturing younger Christians. I have plenty of opportunities to that over the next year. This will look like commitment to the church. The church is Christ’s body, and it is where discipleship happens. This will also look like a commitment to missions. I cannot help but think of the Hurleys and the Conovers. They are working to make disciples who will make other disciples. I want to give my life to ministries like that.

“I thank God for my encounter with Merry. I pray that his life is forever and eternally because of it. And I pray that mine is, too.

“GOD, HELP ME!”

This summer is going to be full of lots of things for me–good things. On Sunday, I leave on a missions trip for Uganda for six weeks. As one friend recently put it, the trip will be full of ministry, ministry, and more ministry. When I get back, I will be working as a youth intern at Compass Bible Church in Orange County for six more weeks; this time will also be filled with ministry. My last three weeks of the summer will actually be spent back at school and filled with–you guessed it–more ministry. I will be getting ready for another year as an RA and helping out with the freshman orientation, known as Week of Welcome (or WOW). All of these are good things.

But all these good things are worthless without one other thing. Check out these verses

Psalm 27:4

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.”

Philippians 3:13b-14

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Even though, my summer will be filled with many good things, only one thing really matters: Christ.

Will I grow closer to Christ this summer? Will I love him more? Will I long to gaze at his beauty every day this summer?

And this one thing will be the most decisive element in everything else. If I am not seeking Christ more and genuinely loving him and being devoted to him, my ministry will be uneffective and joyless.

So if you want to pray for my summer. Just pray for one thing: that I would grow more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.

That’s the one thing I want.

Outlines: Done.

February 25, 2008

Yesterday, I finished one of the most monumental school projects I have ever had to complete–Outlines for Doc Halstead. Here at The Master’s College, this assignment is almost legendary. Each semester, Doc offers a New Testament Survey course, and Outlines is the main assigment.

Let me give you a little glimpse into Outlines. I just finished the first set of Outlines for New Testament II. In this set Doc breaks the books of Romans and 1 Corinthians down into 57 sections (29 in Romans and 27 in 1 Corinthians.) For each section, the student must come up with a title for the section, analyze it (or interpret it), and respond to it (or write how to apply it.) By the end of the project, each outline was taking me about 30 minutes. It took me longer at the beginning.

While it is a beast of a project, it is a great assigment. I loved going through Romans and 1 Corinthians section by section and analyzing it and trying to truly grasp the meaning of these rich texts. I also enjoyed how the “Response” section of the Outlines forced me to see how God’s Word applies to my life.

Yesterday was somewhat of a reflective day as I did outlines. I was finishing up, so I was in 1 Corinthians 15. A year ago yesterday, I remember reading the same passage of Scripture–but in a very different setting. I was visiting the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem for the first time. This chapter makes a compelling case for the importance of the resurrection. It makes clear what the consequences would be if there was no resurrection, but it also shows the wonderful consequences that are true because the resurrection DID happen. We have a reason to put our lives in danger for the sake of the gospel. We know that death has been defeated. We know we have glorified resurrection bodies to look forward to.

One of the most encouraging parts of this chapter is in the last verse, where Paul reminds the readers that their labor for the Lord is not in vain. As we get caught up in the routines of life, it is easy for us to think of many of our consistent, mundane labors as “vain.” But the Bible makes it clear that this is not the case. To understand this, we must think with an eternal perspective–or a resurrection perspective. We might not understand the purpose of many of our labors until eternity. Until then, we must–by faith–always give ourselves fully to the Lord.

This verse gives me so much encouragement in the midst of the busyness of school. Whether I am working on homework, talking to a guy on my wing, or having my devotions, I know my labor for the Lord is not in vain.

It’s pretty cool I got to learn that for homework.

Do You Crave It?

January 10, 2008

One Monday night this last semester I was walking down Hotchkiss Upper Front when I stopped to talk to my friend and wingmate Adonis. We discussed our night classes, and he asked me if I liked my major (which is Political Studies.)

“Yeah,” I responded.

He replied with one more question, and these words have stuck with me ever since. His follow-up query showed that he understands that a vast difference exists between liking something and longing for something. He asked, “Do you crave it?”

On Christmas night, I had a long conversation with my brother Billy, his wife Cory, and my father. We discussed various aspects of ministry and noted the importance that every Christian understand the gospel and desire the Lord. A key sympton of these deficiencies is a lack of time in the Word. As we conversed, I began to think to myself, “When it comes to the things of the Lord, do we crave it?”

Do we really seek to glimpse the beauty of the gospel? Each and every one of us is a sinner deserving judgment, but even while we were in this hopeless condition, God sent his son to die for us. Everyone who repents and believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of their sins. They find eternal life and are reconciled to God through adoption as children. And as children of God, we have an inheritance that cannot fade away reserved for us in heaven. Do we crave the gospel?

Have we really tasted and seen that the Lord is good? Everything we have is a gift from God. Each day he unloads his goodness and mercy upon his children. He tells us that no matter what happens to the Christian, God will work it out for good. No matter how long we live, we will never see the end of God’s faithfulness. Do we crave the Lord?

Can we get enough of the Bible? No one can truly glimpse the beauty of the gospel or taste and see that the Lord is good without the Scriptures. Through his word, God tells us the gospel and communicates who he is. How can it be that many Christians neglect to read the Bible? These words are our life. Do we crave God’s Word?

As I return to The Master’s College for the Spring 2008 semester, I want it to be characterized by an intense, personal craving for the Lord. And as I serve on Hotchkiss Upper Front, I pray that we collectively long for the Lord, glory in the gospel, and meditate on God’s word.

In the midst of an environment like a church or The Master’s College where liking the things of the Lord is easy, there is an important question we must all ask ourselves:

Do you crave it?