Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Temptation & Trust

On Sunday we began a journey with Jesus into the wilderness and encountered His testing together. As we engaged in this experience we began to understand our own temptation for more and More and MORE stuff - how this temptation is rooted in misplaced desires, which leads to destructive habits. If we allow our insatiable appetite to continue to consume all the "stuff" rather than being sated by the Bread of Life then we will end up as the "enemies of the Cross" that Paul describes in Philippians 3:18-19, "18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things."

With all of that said, it occurred in my reading today that ultimately our response to temptation depends upon our level of trust. For instance, when I was a boy I really wanted a soda one day...I mean there was a burning desire within me to consume that Dr. Pepper. (This is still a weakness of mine.) I also had this unique knowledge that my mother kept large amounts of change in a jar in her room. She was a waitress so she would get lots of small bills and change in tips, she would fill up a large jar then take it in to be deposited (that was her method of saving money.)

Well, I thought to myself, I'm pretty sure mom won't give me the money to get a soda, she doesn't want me to rot my teeth or anything - you can already see where this is going - so I took it from her jar knowing that she would never know the difference. That one soda turned into two, three, four...I continued syphoning change from my mom for some time. (I don't know if I ever told her this. Mom, if you happen to read this blog I owe you at least $20 in change.) Anyway, there is a point to this I promise, my response to the temptation displayed a lack of trust that my mother would give me what I wanted if I asked, and more than that a lack of trust that she wanted what was best for me. If she were to say, "No!" I should have trusted her judgment, but my distrust lead to wrong behavior. I was overcome by temptation because I did not trust.

When I think of human trust one particular figure always comes to mind. He is listed as one of the heroes of trust in the "trust chapter" in Hebrews. "By trust Abraham obeyed..." (Hebrews 11:8) This type of trust takes time to develop. In Genesis 15, God comes to Abraham and says, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." By the way, this is always the pattern, God initiates the encounter and Abram (his name had not changed yet) responds. What's his response, "Okay God, that's nice and all, but didn't you promise me a son and all kinds of offspring...I'm getting old, my wife is getting old, so no offence, but why should I listen to you. My servants are having kids, you seem to be blessing them alright, I guess that I'll just have to leave all my stuff to them."

There is a change that takes place in the next few verses. God says, "Quit your complaining that's not how its going to go down." And then he takes him outside and says, "Look at all the stars...can you even count them. Yeah, I did that and I can certainly do this. That is how your descendants will be." Then the text says, Abram believed - he trusted the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

As the story continues, it doesn't seem that this whole trusting business was easy and the results of the promises were certainly not immediate, in fact, Abraham didn't even live to see them fulfilled. Though it does seem that by Chapter 22 he had this whole trusting thing down. As God instructs him. "Abraham! Take your son, your only son Isaac, the one you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." This refrain is powerful in the text. It doesn't just say, "take your son." It says, "take your son, your only son Isaac, the one you love." And all of our hearts sense the pain of this calling. But the text simply says that he got up and went to do as God instructed.

"In God We Trust." Really? Do we really trust God like Abraham? It seems to me that we have to walk for some time with this kind of God before we truly begin to trust Him. I trust my mom now, more than I did as a child...she has proven to be trustworthy. If we walk with this God over time I bet we will find the same to be true...the more we trust His faithfulness the easier it is to stand against temptation. The longer we walk with Him the more clearly we see that He is faithful. Blessings ~ RLS

Saturday, February 24, 2007


This week Christians all over the world began a journey - a journey toward the cross. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, which officially begins the Christian season of Lent. Regardless of what "brand" of Christianity you might align with or whether you align with a Christian community at all, there are many misconceptions floating around out there about the practices that surround this season. Some people have the misguided notion that it is all about personal piety or giving up something that we enjoy to prove our devotion. Nothing could be further from the essence of this time for Christ-followers. Our personal piety is certainly a part of everything we do as a disciple, but to attempt a demonstration of our devotion only demonstrates a misunderstanding on our part.

Lent has little to do with us - it has everything to do with Christ! It is a time in which we embark on the journey with Christ toward the cross. We experience the way of suffering with Him that we might know the reality of resurrection life. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians: "10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:10-14)

So what is the goal of this journey? To abide in Jesus. Abide in me as I abide in you. I've often puzzled about just what this means. The Greek word meno along with the English word that we use abide both have further connotations beyond simply being present. These words also imply persistence, enduring and tenacious perseverance, or even dwelling. It is our ceaseless and persistent orientation toward Jesus, our dwelling in Him as He dwells in us. Not that I have it all figured out...far from it, the Mystery is always beyond us, but there is a deep significance in this call to abide. It is impossible without intentionally following after Him. That is why we set aside this time to journey with Him through the wilderness on the way to Jerusalem, where He faces every opposition and ultimately confronts Death face to face, that we might truly know the depths of resurrection life. Whether you give up anything or fast during these days - however you practice the indwelling, it is my prayer that you join me on the Way. Blessings ~ RLS

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Facing the Giants

You have probably already heard about this movie, and may have already seen it - but I thought I would take the opportunity to put in a plug for it anyway. Facing the Giants is a well written little movie that offers a great overall experience. If you aren't aware, it is a film that was produced and put together by a relatively large church in Georgia. Almost all of the actors, producers, and technicians come from the congregation - in fact, there were only four "professionals" on the entire project. It has remarkable quality given the circumstances, but there are points at which it is quite evident this is not a high budget professional film. Regardless of its budget though, this movie has and will continue to have a big impact on lives, which is more than can be said for many big budget films.

How do I know that it will have an impact? Well, because it had an impact on me. It strikes at the core of life and faith issues - primarily asking the question, "Will we trust God with every aspect of our life and all our dreams?" The story retells, in a new form, the powerful narrative of biblical heroes who followed God's dream for them. They faced the "giants," some of them literally, but the real enemies alluded to here are bigger than any material obstacle we may face, the most ominous giants in the world are fear and doubt.

You know, some people have this misguided notion that pastors have it all together. I'm living proof that that is certainly not the case. There are those people out there for which trusting God with their life, their family, and their dreams just seems to come naturally. I am not one of those people. On one level I know that I trust God, but then things begin to happen in my life that I didn't expect. The waves begin to beat against the boat and it looks like everything is coming apart. There are times when I cry out, What in the world are You doing? Where are You in all of this? And it's as though He's sleeping in the bottom of the boat. Doesn't He care about us? It is then that I begin to doubt and in the midst of doubt - fear grips my heart.

Fear is so cold and dark. In creeps the fear of failure, fear of defeat, fear of letting my family down, fear of letting the congregation down, and ultimately fear of letting God down. It's like your trapped in a dark cell with no air and no light. You can hardly breathe and you can't see the hand reaching out in front of your face. People may come by and try to show you the door, they may try to help you out, but the fear has you deluded - you don't know who to trust, so you stay trapped in the cell.

Now I don't know about you, but there are times that I struggle with the giants of doubt and fear. I grasp tightly to the wheel and try to control things myself because I'm afraid of failure, insignificance, and loneliness. These attempts to control only push me deeper in to the dark cell - further from the fresh air and the light of God's presence. I know that under my direction things begin to unravel, getting worse and worse, but I don't know what else to do. I'm trapped and defeated. Doubt got me into this mess - the only way out is trust!

Trust and belief is not what some people would have us think. It is not always safe and secure, like a guarded fortress. It is risky business. As Barbara Brown Taylor says - It is more like a rope bridge swinging over a deep gorge, with plenty of light and air but little to hang on to except the stories that you've heard - that it is the best and only way to get across to the other side. You have to trust that the bridge is going to hold you, taking just one step at a time. If you cannot trust the bridge enough to take those steps then you'll never make it across. But, I'm here to tell you if Jesus is who He said He is, the bridge will hold. This movie reminded me that we can face the giants trusting that the bridge will get us to the other side.

I hope you give the movie an opportunity to have an impact on you, but more than that I pray that you would join me in facing the giants by releasing control to the Lord and trusting Him with our present life and all our future hopes and dreams. Blessings ~ RLS

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St. Valentine

Not much is truly known about this martyr of the early church, other than his name. It is suspected that he was a Priest in Rome who assisted the Christians under the persecution of Cladius II. It is said that he was eventually apprehended by the authorities and sent to the prefect of Rome. When they finally realized that they could do nothing to make him deny his faith in Christ, he was ordered to be beaten with clubs and then beheaded somewhere around the 14th of February, AD 270.

A lot has changed since St. Valentine was beheaded. Don't tell my wife this, but I've never really liked this holiday, at least in the way that we tend to celebrate it these days. I mean there is nothing wrong with expressing your love toward that special someone, maybe I'm just jaded by all of the disappointing Valentine's of the past - I wasn't always the stud I am today (sarcasm doesn't translate well on the Internet). But, I now realize that there is something much deeper to this day than simply candy, flowers, and cards.

It is a day to remember love, but not the shallow and often self-centered emotionalism that many call "love" today. Rather, it is a day to remember the kind of love displayed by St. Valentine Jesus says, "Greater love has no man than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." It is a day that we should reflect on the self-giving love of God, that we come to experience and express only as we walk in relationship with Him. I'm not telling you not to buy candy, flowers, or a card for your loved one - I wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble - but in addition to that, reflect on what it would mean to love that person with the love of God. Maybe Valentine's Day can be redeemed. Blessings ~ RLS

Monday, February 12, 2007

Worlds Collide

Many personal encounters that I have recently experienced have me thinking about our perception of reality...our worldview - or as it was originally phrased in German our Weltanschauung. Beyond thinking about how we view all of reality and how those views are shaped, I've also been contemplating the crisis of clashing worldviews - something important to consider in our current pluralistic environment as we are constantly confronted by many distinct visions of reality. The tensions of these encounters will only grow as we continue to move toward globalization. This world collision has been brought to my attention in new ways as I've begun an indepth study of the Gospel according to John.

(The image above is a representation of this Gospel, St. John was associated with the image of an eagle quite early in the iconography of the church symbolizing the heights to which the author rises. The author is a genius, as defined by inspiration, but the vocabulary and style of his writing is quite crude - giving hope to those of us who struggle with vocabulary and writing. You might not believe this, but I find these to be my weakest skills...well maybe after reading a bit you will believe...but God uses our weakness to display His glory.)

There is a sense in which this Gospel discloses the tension that is a result of two worlds that intersect in the very person of Christ. This is laid out quite clearly in the prologue (John 1:1-18) which sets out the framework for the story that is to follow, but more than that it gives the reader insight into the cosmic significance of these particular events.

En arche' en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward God, and God was the Word!

There is so much to unpack in just this first verse, it is pregnant with meaning. The entire prologue is full of meaning, for that matter, and is one of my favorite sections of Scripture - probably because of the heavy theological significance wrapped up in such wonderfully poetic language. Whatever else we're meant to understand from the first few verses, we should at least get the gist that the Word, through which all of creation came into being, became flesh (fully human). The Light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness could not overtake it and will never overtake the source of Light and Life. He came to the world that He created, coming to His own people and they did not receive Him. But to those who do receive Him, He gives them the authority (literally exousia - "out of being" meaning something one possesses within oneself) to become children of God, not born by human procreation, but born out of God!

In Christ the "other-world" collides with the "this-world" and all you have to do is read the rest of the story to witness the ensuing conflict. The stark contrast between light and dark is carried throughout the rest of the narrative, culminating in the Darkness' attempt to extinguish the Light by crucifying the Light only to find the light break forth on Sunday brighter than ever before. As the Light says later on in this very Gospel, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16:33) We can now experience the "other-world" the world of Light because Christ has given us that authority out of His very being.

What does this have to do with conflicting worldviews? I'm not completely sure, to be quite honest, but intuitively there seems to be something there. I have this nagging feeling that if we would meditate on the Scriptures we might have a better response to the colliding worlds of our time. Ignorance seems to play a large role in the tensions and conflicts that result from colliding worlds. Knowledge is another major theme of John's Gospel (one reason why the Gnostics utilized it so much, which slowed the process of it's inclusion in the Christian canon; however, it is clearly not a Gnostic writing. In fact, it was used as a defence against Gnosticism by Irenaeus in the Second Century). I would suggest that true knowledge of the other world (or worldview as the case may be) will help to ease the tension. However, as we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we are actually brought into distinct conflict with the darkness. But we don't overcome the darkness through violence - we overcome by our witness to the truth, by the shedding of our own blood (or taking up our cross), by becoming authentic disciples of Christ.

As Paul says to the Christians at Ephesus: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:12-17 TNIV)

There is so much more to be explored, but most folks probably won't even make it this I'll stop pontificating. May we know the Light and walk in the Light in these complex and difficult days - for He is the way, the truth, and the life. Blessings ~ RLS

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Money, Money, Money, Money...MONEY!

If you've watched much television at all then you've heard the catchy theme song for NBC's hit show The Apprentice. Over and over again you hear this ongoing refrain, "Money, Money, Money, Money...MONEY!" I couldn't think of a more appropriate theme song because that's what the show is all about...people competing against one another, using whatever tactics are available to them manipulation, intelligence, sexual appeal, deception - all for money.

I think the show is a pretty good parable - you know those stories that Jesus told that seemed to be simple enough on the surface but were actually illustrative of some deeper spiritual/relational meaning. The Apprentice holds up a mirror and says, "Look at what you've become...this is greed magnified."

I've been thinking about that lately because I've come across a number of passages in my study and devotion that are related to our insatiable desire for "more." I wouldn't ever dare to suggest that this is only a problem in our society, it is a problem in the human it plagues every human being, but it seems to be spiraling out of control in out own communities. Especially in the Christian community we need to hear again Paul's words in his letter to Timothy, where he says:

"6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life." (1 Timothy 6:6-19)

This isn't written to discourage us or to turn us into complete ascetics, but rather to reveal the reality that money simply will not satisfy us. Our deepest desires will only be sated by the Spirit of God. As Jesus says in John 6, "Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you...I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." These words are reminiscent of Isaiah 55, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" It is only in Him that our deepest desires are filled.

I don't say these things to put a guilt trip on anyone - I say them because it is my desire that people find fullness and satisfaction in Christ. It's that satisfaction you feel when you've been really hungry and you eat a delicious meal...our hearts are hungry for God and He says, "Come, eat and drink...I am the food that will truly satisfy you." Taste and see that the Lord is good. Try Him out and see if He doesn't satisfy you more than all the money Trump could ever give you. Blessings ~ RLS