Monday, March 31, 2008

Spiritual Puberty

I wonder sometimes, who is reading my blog? Maybe I should send the link to more people? Maybe less? Well, perhaps the title of this entry will create some curiosity. I was reunited the other day with a sermon I came across a few years ago that in many ways changed my life:

1) It launched me into a journey through the book of Romans, now my favorite book in the Bible, and “The Great Eight”, which is perhaps the most amazing chapter ever written in the history of the world.

2) It introduced me to and got me excited about doctrines such as the perseverance of the saints, assurance of salvation, effectual calling, covenant love, and the nature of conversion.

3) It exposed me more deeply to the ministry of John Piper, who among other things, opened my mind and my heart and my life to missions, an unwasted life, radical, risk-taking Christianity, and the balance of timeless truth with timely ministry.

But most importantly it began in me, and revealed to me, the reality that I was experiencing spiritual puberty. Please let me explain. I wrote the following sometime in 2005:

“What do you do, when you know your life is being changed, even turned upside down, and all you can do is watch it happen? You go about your everyday life, going to work, listening to the music, like everything is normal, but you know something big is happening. It’s a pleasant change, maybe; you’re not sure. Like puberty perhaps, you want it to happen, you know it’s supposed to happen; it’s just a little uncomfortable. And you don’t know when it’s going to be over. Will it ever be over? This season in my Christian life, will it end? And where will I be and what will I look like on the other side?

"Well, a strange analogy, but a descriptive one nonetheless. I’m 24 years old, almost 25, I’m 3 years old in my faith, almost four, I’m single, living on my own, working for a living, and I’m going through spiritual puberty. And it’s weird. I’m learning things about my spiritual condition that I never could have begun to fathom were remotely true. And I’m having revealed to me things about my
conversion and spiritual experience that while I knew had happened, I could never really explain before. Silly of me to think I could articulate how I came out of the womb. And shame on me for thinking I had anything to do with it.

"My relational time with people is minimal allowing me to seek God more than ever. I’ve experienced loss and pain and challenge in a single year’s time that while excruciatingly difficult at times, has stretched my faith beyond measure. I’m at a point of stability in my professional and home life that is as equally scary and unpredictable as if I were living on the street, unemployed. During the day, I give my head and my energy to my job, struggling to be effective professionally and spiritually, but am constantly humbled to see God use me for His kingdom in subtle ways, and for the company in similar ways.

"I consider myself a patient person but then see in unbearable detail my impatience and disobedience and sin, and how it affects more than just myself. My place in work, my place at church, and my place having a family, while all unclear, are so perfectly in the hands of God, and my plans and ideas and hopes are futile compared to the unshakable plan of God and the glorious direction He is leading me.”

I’m reminded of this experience in my life as I reflect on all that God has done for me and through me since 2005, and how He is continually calling me to relentlessly and resiliently seek Him above all else, in clear or uncertain times.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


If I may, I'd like to open up a truth that is so relevant and so amazing that sometimes I don't understand why we all aren't talking about it way more often. Especially this time of year. And that truth is resurrection. That for those God has chosen and for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they will never die. Think about that for a second and let your mind implode. If you are in Jesus Christ, you will never die. Oh, sure, you will die; as this world understands death, and because of sin and, in turn, physical reality, our bodies will fail. But that death will not have victory. That is a big deal. Next time you order Starbucks, or go to a football game, or watch CNN, or listen to your iPod, or go to the gym, or attend a funeral, think about that. Eternal. Life.

Now, unfortunately this will not be a theological description about the nature and reality of resurrection and what the Bible teaches about it and what specifically it looks like or how it works. This will not be an exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, for example. Although such theological explanation and biblical exposition is not only important, but also awesome, and perhaps one day, God willing, I will be more able to give such instruction (or at least link you to those who are). Until then, this is a humble attempt to give a mixed up and hurting culture eternal hope.

And lest we misunderstand Christian teaching and the Bible to say that eternal life is an unending church service with out-of-key organ music and monotonous readings, consider this: Everything you've ever enjoyed, appreciated, honored, sought, loved, desired, or embraced in your whole life whether it be family, friends, status, wealth, materialism - is summed up, surpassed, and sanctified in the Person of Jesus Christ. And eternal life is an eternity of ever-increasing joy in Him. It will take that long (forever) to experience the inexhaustible glory that is in Christ. I hope that gets you excited. And I hope it gives you a perspective in life of courageous, faithful, sacrificial service and love that understands that to live is Christ, and to die is gain; and understands even in the most unthinkable suffering that there is always hope; profound hope.

If not, I don't know what to say to you. If it were up to me, the Church would talk more unashamedly about the truth and absolute dependence of the Resurrection on the whole shebang. If the Resurrection didn't happen, than Christianity is meaningless, the Gospel we proclaim doesn't make any sense, and there is no Word of consolation or hope that I can offer to any person who experiences suffering or loss. And that would be devastating. But it did happen, and the evidence is overwhelming.

So let us not just think about, or talk about, Resurrection at Easter, when we celebrate the Risen Christ. We must do that! But let's also so implant our minds and lives with the reality of eternal life, all the time, so that death and suffering and futility look more like what they are: light and momentary. And not in vain.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Supremacy of Christ

God is in the details means that God is Sovereign which means that not only does He work together all things for good for those who love him, but also that He has revealed Himself as supreme in the universe through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

The Supremacy of Christ is a crucial thing to know to prevent our lives from becoming a complete mess. See what Dr. John Piper has to say about this all-important truth, interestingly, in the context of sexuality. Read the message here, or watch the core of the message here.

Some highlights:

"Oh, that the risen, living Christ would reveal to us:

  • the supremacy of His knowledge, that makes the Library of Congress look like a matchbox, and all the information on the internet look like a little 1940s Farmer's Almanac.

  • the supremacy of His providence, without which not a single bird falls to the ground in the furthest reaches of the Amazon forest, or a single hair on any head turns black or white.

  • the supremacy of His eternality, that makes the mind of man explode with the unsearchable thought that Christ never had a beginning.

  • the supremacy of His wrath, that will one day explode against this world with such fierceness that people will call out for the rocks and the mountains to crush them rather than face the wrath of the Lamb.

  • the supremacy of His grace, that gives life to spiritually dead rebels and wakens faith in hell-bound haters of God, and justifies the ungodly with His own righteousness.

"As Abraham Kuyper used to say, 'there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, "Mine!"' And rule with absolute supremacy."

Something to know and celebrate this Easter season.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

March Madness

I used to have fun watching college basketball; especially my Hoosiers. Sure, we'd lose sometimes. The last 8 years or so haven't been up to standards, but there were still good times. Even when we lost, I'd enjoy the experience. And especially in March. Then, this had to happen:

A kid who has had a basketball career marked by miracle shots catches a ridiculous pass, and hits a ridiculous shot. As a side note, how could this happen? Has no one seen the Laettner shot? Give me a break; how could that scenario not be etched in coaches' minds and they have strategies developed to avoid such a debacle at all costs? Glue yourself to the shooters! Don't let them touch the ball! Guard the guy who can hit last second shots from his rump! (see video) Don't just guard him, bury him (without fouling)! Is that so hard? Hold out for 1.5 seconds!

I told my older brother after the game that I couldn't have scripted a more deflating loss. As a Hoosier fan, it was maybe the worst ever; more so because of the circumstances of the season. I can't imagine what it was like for the players. Start off the game flat, miss most all your shots, make an admirable comeback, take the lead with seconds to go behind the relentless toughness of your All-American, only to lose the game on one of the best plays ever. Eh.

But as with everything, the Sovereign Lord of the universe has calmed me down and by His grace I start to gain a little perspective. And this is not the "it's just a game" speech. This is, hopefully, something much more profound.

In the world in general yesterday 30 protesters were killed in riots in Tibet; an explosion in a coal mine killed 14 in China; the body of the kidnapped Iraqi Chaldean Archbishop was found outside Mosul; the surge in Iraq may or may not be working. And that's just from the headlines on the internet. In the sports world yesterday, a "possible" tornado roared through Atlanta causing damage to the Georgia Dome and screwing up the SEC tournament, and more storms are expected today; upsets and near upsets shattered the dreams of several college basketball teams, causing the NCAA tournament field to be a jumbled mess as usual. In the entertainment world, more celebrity-hopefuls are bracing themselves for another stressful contest on American idol this week, where one will say goodbye; many didn't nail the audition, or didn't get the record deal that they were banking on. In the academic world, many missed the curve, or failed the test, or didn't get accepted. In the professional world, many didn't get the job, or lost the job, or didn't get the bonus they were counting on, or went into bankruptcy.

In a million other unreported situations and in a million other unmeasurable ways, yesterday was a day of disappointment and loss. And today will be no different. And now, because of all this, everything in our life is all screwed up. But far be it from us to reduce the meaning and the relevance of Romans 8 to only physical suffering, or sickness, or death. It is sweet truth and hope and joy for those things. But too often we suffer disappointment in so many other ways that are eternally insignificant (like losing a basketball game) and we say, "it's just a game." Well, forget that. If God is sovereign and works out all things together for good, then aren't the disappointments in sports, music, entertainment, jobs, school, etc. also examples of frustration? Or futility? Or the bondage in Romans that Paul talks about and that God subjects us to in hope that we will be liberated? Not liberated like we won't ever lose again, or will always get the job or the money. But liberated, like really liberated: to always find our greatest joy in the glory of God, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and in His coming kingdom, all the time. We will get there, by the Sovereign grace of God.

We will live in the frustration and agony of physical suffering, or sickness, or death. We can not escape that, and God has unfathomable grace to give us in those experiences. But we also all live everyday in the disappointment that seems to so easily derail our joy, or distract our lives, or even reduce our faith. Maybe we should look to the liberation and the deliverance and the truth that echoes even in these less significant disappointments as well. Our Lord is mighty to save and in our suffering and disappointment we show to the world that though our flesh and our heart (and our efforts and our dreams) may fail, He is the strength of our heart and our portion forever. And we will still run the race, play the game, sing the song, take the risk, do the deal; keeping our eye on the prize.

That's what I would tell my Hoosiers - maybe they will hire me as coach next year.

Friday, March 7, 2008

You Can Find Me in the Club

I confess. I still like rap music.

My middle school / high school years were marked by the height of “Gangsta Rap”, in which I indulged. Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggiestyle, Dr. Dre: The Chronic, Wu-Tang Clan, Ice Cube, and of course, Tupac Shakur – a prophet in his own time. Yep, I have those CDs. Looking back at them now, most of the songs, lyrics, and general music itself is detestable to me. And to think what “Gangsta Rap” has become now is appalling. I mean, Eminem was probably the last rap artist who put any originality or intelligence into his music, and even his songs are disturbing at best. Do people actually listen to current rap music like 50 Cent, Nelly, Soulja Boy, Young Jeezy, (or whoever) other than at frat parties and big city clubs? Let’s get serious. Legalistic Christians and conservative do-gooders have a good point. Rap is terrible. It promotes violence, hatred, and bigotry, and I practically grew up listening to it.

But then there are segments of this very misunderstood genre of modern music that show some promise. Some people presumably with talent; who make music that doesn’t hurt your ears; words that are actually words; perhaps actual instruments are used; lyrics that rhyme, or at least mean something outside of sex, money, and violence. Those segments are out there. Kanye West started strong, attempting to appeal to Christians, perhaps, with tracks such as “Jesus Walks”. Now Christians listen to his music reluctantly and watch his lifestyle and ask, what the heck did that ‘Jesus Walks’ song mean? He has successfully blended in with the genre. There’s always Jay-Z, who undeniably has been successful – but is there really anything unique about him? Other newly popular names such as Common, Mos Def, The Roots, offer something that fans of rap music crave: good beats and good lyrics. Not difficult to realize this is the necessary combination, but unfortunately the rap culture is at risk of consuming itself in annoying sounds and meaningless drivel, and some, like Common (formerly Common Sense, ironically), let out a plea to the industry; an industry in which baby boomers for decades have said is dying.

And then, out of nowhere, a sector has emerged that will likely never get the attention, the fame, or the notoriety that it deserves, but which it clearly does not seek. Legitimately educated, talented, and humble artists exist in the world of Christian Rap. And whatever good you had to say about Snoop, or Eminem, or Soulja Boy, or even Common, seems irrelevant compared to the effort and quality that is put forth in songs like this (play button in middle of blog). Or, the entire album. Put this on your iPod and turn some heads. It turned mine. Sermons intertwined with relevant and sophisticated hip-hop.

Not corny. Not silly. Not amateur. There is no more important topic than the Gospel, and there is potentially no segment of culture more important to infiltrate with it in our generation. Praise God for rap music.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Don't Waste Your Life

I've got a challenge: think of things that take you 10 minutes to do. For example: run a mile (maybe 2 miles if you're a stud); drive to work; take a shower; read the newspaper; write an email; eat a bowl of cereal; take a nap; surf the web; stop at a gas station; send a couple text messages; veg out on the couch; cook dinner; take a walk; play a hand of cards; wait for a table at a resturant. You get the picture.

Well, do me a favor: sacrifice one of those things and watch this video. Seriously, do it. Please? If this blog is to be about bringing the simple truth of the Gospel into the complex culture of America, this message is essential. And be warned, it is radical. Watch it.

(the picture will clear up after a few seconds)