Thursday, April 16, 2009

Recent Thoughts on Life Part 1

I decided to write topically about some things going on in my life. I haven't written anything in a while, and wanted to share my heart and what all is running through this crazy mind of mine.

The greatest need that people have is that they need to be forgiven; they need grace and mercy, both from God and from other people. The only real way people can ever be radically transformed and set free is to experience the power of the Gospel. I have often viewed the Gospel as something that was a part of the Christian experience, a basic message to help people understand their need for Christ; and that after they "understood" that message, they could move on to other things in growing with Christ. But this is not so; we need the gospel every day. If you are anything like me, there are many areas of your heart and life that have not understood what He has done for us; you may mentally accent to it, but you have yet to feel the depth of Christ and His work and what that all means.

Teaching the Bible
I am helping to shepherd along a small flock of believers on Saturday nights, which is something I never imagined I would be doing. I do not have much experience sharing the Bible with people in any type of "formal" setting such as in a Bible Study. I have been greatly challenged in how I articulate truths about the faith, particularly in making them intelligible to people who may not have a high level of familiarity with the Bible. A large goal I believe that I should be leading the group in is to let them see how to go about reading the Bible and studying it for themselves.

When asking someone about their thoughts on how I did one of the studies differently from previous sessions, they said they enjoyed it and did not care how I did it, just as long as I would go verse by verse through a book or section. I admit that the studies have not been the most entertaining in appealing to people's felt needs, but this has largely been intentional on my heart. Not that people shouldn't enjoy it, but that people should be getting fed to a point where they have a deeper understanding of who God is and who they are because of Him. God desires not to meet our felt needs, but to show us what our real needs are and point us in the appropriate direction. I was so overjoyed, and still am, by the person who commented about studying the way we are. Not because of anything that I am doing, but because of how much richer she will understand the Bible and not suffer from a lot of the confusion that many pastors, although unintentionally, lead their sheep into by taking random verses from a couple of places and forming them together to say something the verses by themselves were never saying. It is not as though the pastors had bad intentions or that what they were saying was false, often times what they are saying does have a substance of it in the Bible as a whole, but the way people are taught and largely the way they will go about seeking to understand something for themselves. "Random verse teaching" creates much confusion in ways that are often not noticed on a surface level. This is not to say that there are not other ways to teach people that are beneficial and good ways to teach; it is just that I do not feel that my teaching ability is at a place to teach topically in a way that would lead to further clarity for the people I am teaching.

Another thing in teaching the Bible is that I have been made very aware, mostly through the quickening of the Holy Spirit, of how enculturated I am in how I understand and present the Bible to people. I have been convicted of many things in this area. One of them is about staying on the objectivity of the Gospel, and not making everything about personal experience. People NEED to have things be a little bit more concrete than simply having mere abstractions presented to them, but they need to see the work of Christ that is both historical and exists outside of themselves. We need an external Word to guide us.

Knowing Christ is about more than a "personal relationship". Talking of a person needing Christ and them having a "personal relationship" often do not speak of things clearly as they are. Do not mistake me for saying that I believe in universalism, but ALL people already have a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Some stand as condemned criminals, refusing to acknowledge Him; nevertheless, Christ is still LORD and they are relating to Him, just not in a saving way. Other people's relationship with God is that they are justified, forgiven children of God and coheirs with Christ.

Still, people may have a saving knowledge of God and not understand what that means. They may say that Jesus lives in their heart, but if you talk to them long enough you also find out that Led Zeppelin, Ronald Reagan, and their grandmother also live in their hearts as well. Not that these type of things shouldn't have a place in our hearts, it is just that we need to be careful how we express them.

A second conviction I have had in teaching is that people need to hear the Bible taught in indicatives and not in imperatives. There are times when the Bible calls to gospel imperatives, but the imperatives are always in light of the indicative message of what Christ has already done for us and apart from us. It is not so much "What would Jesus do?" but rather, "What has Jesus done?". God has written His law on our hearts, which is a totally good thing, but can often serve to confuse us from doing what God has called us to do and proclaim. We are, in many senses, hard-wired to "do", which drives us to seek to be like Christ in what we do. This is good because it is a natural reflex we have, but it is bad when we forget that the only real way for people's lives to be transformed is to make them aware of what has already been done, and then by knowing that they are then able to go out and be salt and light in the world. It is SUCH a backwards way of thinking for our natural minds.

I am becoming more aware of a subtle legalism, both within myself and within the church at large, that is what Michael Horton calls a "therapeutic moralism" teaching us, not things that are untrue, but things which do not lead us to and show us our greatest needs, which will truly enable us to be transformed people. Teaching indicatively yet relatable to people is no easy task, but I do believe that God is pointing me in this direction both for the group and for myself. (Fortunately, the main teaching pastor at the church I go to has done an excellent job of doing this for the past 2 or 3 months in ways that I hope to be able to teach like to a smaller group.)

Church Leadership
One of the things that makes my heart glad every time I think about it is the leadership of the River Church. I am very glad to have them leading us, and I trust where God is leading them to take the congregation. I want to serve these men and cover their weaknesses, lifting them up both in prayer and in practical ways so that they can serve our flock. I cannot explain what it is that has put such delight in my heart over these men, as they are an odd group of people in general, people who would never have anything in common if it weren't for Christ. I say this jokingly AND seriously. They are not anything spectacular in themselves, as no one in the world is either, and don't carry around any type of image that would draw people to them in the natural. They are ordinary people, being transformed by the power of God, being led by the Spirit to carry the Church into the future until Christ arrives. There is a rich diversity of gifts among them; it seems as though they all balance each other out, with each of them being strong in areas where others are weak.

Girls at the Wake Forest Library
I do believe one of my favorite experiences as of late has been my trip to the Wake Forest Library. I did enjoy the trip I made there to go see a friend who attends the school, but it was not as bolstering to my ego as the trip before last. When I arrived at the library there was a girl outside near the entrance sitting on a bench. I noticed her seeing that I was passing by, so I nodded my head, waved, and said hello. She smiled one of those sweet smiles girls give you when they have butterfly's in their stomach and started talking with me for a moment or two until she had to go help one of her friends. It was all very brief, brief enough to where I would not be comfortable enough to ask her for her number, nor would she likely be comfortable enough to give me hers.

I then turned to go into the library, and there was a girl who was leaving as I was opening the door. I held the door for her, which seemed somewhat of a surprise to her, and held it for two other girls coming and going from the library who were right in the immediate area. It was nothing too extensive, just some descent manners that should be expected from another person. Apparently this was not only impressive to the girls who I held the door for; the girls who were standing in the corridor leading into the main part of the library also seemed impressed and were smiling and looking at me when I walked by.

I very likely should have reflected upon whether I had actually died shortly before going to the library, as it was quite a heavenly experience. The book on Covenant Theology and the other resources I found could have served to confirm this assessment of me having died and being in heaven, but I think the raging of my hormones and ego largely drowned out the fact that I might have actually have already passed on from earth as I knew it.

This type of experience has never occurred to me before, and I wonder if this is something that is repeatable. The next trip I took to the library was with a girl friend of mine, which, although I got a couple of glances from some girls, it seemed as though the presence of a female with me and the pressure of the semester ending made my last two trips vastly different.

In many ways, it is probably a good thing I never went to Wake Forest after all. My mom works there, which means I could have been gone for relatively cheap. I sometimes joke about being 22, having to walk around with hormones that feel strong enough to where I could father a small village if given the chance, possibly even Antarctica on some days.

It is easy to joke about how frustrating and intense hormones can be, both for men and women. Marriage does ease the situation for many people, but does not altogether make the issue of dealing with one's sexuality go away or get put into perspective or in its place. Needless to say, raging hormones is something all people, especially younger people, must deal with on a regular basis.

It may be funny to talk about having hormones strong enough to make you want to go propagate a small village, but the reality of actually going out and sleeping with someone is an entirely different matter. There is always an intense change within people when they begin to have sex with another person.

Sometimes this happens in the security of a marriage, where two people are pretty safe to open up to one another to a degree to where they can both be extremely vulnerable with one another; this usually strengthens their relationship and seems to unify both of the people as a couple and as individuals.

Very often-well, always-people having sex with one another outside of marriage does the exact opposite of what sex inside of marriage can do for two people. Sex outside of marriage actually isolates people; it makes them de-unified, both as a couple and as individuals.

There is a line in the movie Vanilla Sky, a movie I would NOT recommend going to see, where there is something very telling that speaks about the nature of why sex can be so devastating to people. In the movie, there is a very beautiful girl who is infatuated with a man who has no interest in her. At some time in the movie, the man pretends to be interested in this girl to get her to sleep with him. She sleeps with him, and after that he avoids her and her calls at all costs. What he has done to her is pretty apparent, and she pretty much loses it. When she comes to confront the man about what he did, she tells him, "When you have sex with someone, your body makes a promise to them whether you do or not."

All too often, sex serves as presenting itself as something it is not. It is a giving of one's self over to another person in deeply physical, emotional, and spiritual ways; it is a complete giving over of one's self. When people have sex but have not truly given themselves over to God to guide their relationship and to one another as a response to God's call to love that other person, they are lying to each other and to themselves. The fabric of what God has written on our hearts as to what sex means and is for begins to tear when we try to live apart from His intention, thus resulting in a tearing of who we are.

Our society tries to promote that we need freedom, especially sexual freedom, but this freedom is actually slavery leading us into death.

It is good and right to acknowledge that God gave us our sexuality and to live as people who are, in many ways, sexual beings. This is a good and godly thing to be aware that sexuality plays a large part in who we are, both in the physical aspects and in our roles as male and female. It is also good for us to "fear the Lord and shun evil", living our lives in the reality of what Christ has done and how He calls us to respond to Him.

The majority of the single people I have known have not had to tell me that they were "involved" with a member of the opposite sex.; it is just something you know. Not necessarily because of how they act while with one another, but because they seem to carry a huge weight around with them. After the relationship with the sexual encounter(s) have ended, it seems as though a large part of them has died; they are not the same after that.

It is not as though God cannot bring healing to them; it is that, as it says in Galatians, a person reaps what they sow. In some sense, God's wrath can be seen as us simply reaping the benefits of our own stupidity, trying to live life apart from God. There is still, and I say this cautiously, in some sense, a reward for obedience and a curse for disobedience. It is like a sort of natural law. If I use a clean needle to take a shot for medical purposes, or if people keep reusing dirty needles for medical or recreational purposes, the more risks we take the larger the chance is that we will suffer the consequences of those risks. For a more practical example, ask the stock brokers of today if taking risks is always a good thing.

The point is, sin leads to death; it is a snowball effect. Sleeping with people or "messing around" with people may be fun, for a time, but in the end it is devastating.

This is something I am keenly aware of, both in my own very limited personal experience and in the lives of innumerable people I know my age. When my last girlfriend and I broke up after a pretty serious relationship, as devastating as it was, it would have been unimaginably worse had she and I been physically involved with each other. The work we both did to put up and keep boundaries in our relationship in this area was by far the best decision she and I made.

A little effort and some temporary discontentment in this area is well worth single people putting up with.

I was not planning on writing this long on these topics, but decided to keep all that I wrote. There will be more to come shortly.

Look for Part 2...

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