Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prayer as a Discipline

Our prayer lives tell us what kind of people we are. As a disclaimer, I know that nearly every Christian thinks that they should pray more, but we rarely sift our hearts to find out why. We really should discipline ourselves to find out what the problem is so that we may find the cure. Most likely, the sins that keep us from prayer keep us from intimacy with God and others in many different ways.

First, we should admit that we simply do not take the time to pray. Many do not set aside even five mintues a day to purposefully pray. By that, I mean that this amount of time is blocked off only to pray. It doesn't have to be the same time every day, but we ought to have a scheduled time to pray to God. This is not legalism. This is Christianity. We have a duty to pray. We have a mandate to call upon the Lord. We do not pray to ingratiate ourselves to God; we pray because God is gracious to us.

Our inability to set aside a time to pray to God demonstrates that we are lazy at best or that Christianity isn't really that important to us at worst. It certainly means that we do not believe that God answers our prayers. It is evident that if we believed this, we would spend far more time in intercession than we do.

There is almost no human being on earth who cannot block off thirty mintues a day to pray. Perhaps you think that you do not have enough to keep you busy with God for that amount of time. This also demonstrates that we are lazy and that we do not take Christianity very seriously. You could easily spend thirty minutes interceding for your friends at church, by name and request, for thirty minutes a day. If you branch out to pray for missionaries your church supports, you will certainly find enough to keep you busy for thirty minutes. If you plead with God for people you know to be enlightened by the gospel who are now in darkness, you will soon find that thirty minutes is far too short a time to spend in prayer.

If you are not blocking off time to do this great work, you are being a lazy, unfaithful Christian. You are like a guard who falls asleep on duty. You are like an air traffic controller watching movies instead of guiding planes. Get a notebook. Fill it up with requests. Set a time. Fight for your friends through prayer, and dare God to answer. See what He will do if you provoke Him through intercession.

I write this, knowing that my words will be measured against me. May God help me be faithful to pray.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Bucket List

Everyone has things that they want to do before they die. Some want to make a lot of money. Some want to be married. Some want to have children, or to see their children marry, or to play with their grandchildren. Some people have a list of places that they would like to see or a list of activities that they would like to do. Everyone has these dreams. It gives us things to look forward to in life.

This is Holy Week. This is the week that led to the death of Jesus Christ. Did Jesus have a bucket list? Did it look typical?

Christians believe that Jesus knew his death was imminent. He had predicted his death for some time, and he knew that he was going into Jerusalem to meet that fate. So how did he live, knowing that he only had a week left on earth?

He spent his time teaching people. He had compassion on the crowds. One event that he looked most forward to in his final week was celebrating the Passover with his friends. He loved them so much that, after supper, he got a basin of water and washed the feet of his friends. During his last night of freedom, Jesus was a servant.

The Bible teaches that Jesus was in anguish in his final days. His soul was sorrowful to the point of death. He knew one of his friends would betray him. He knew he would soon bare the wrath of God. And yet, his concern is again for others, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me...I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1, 3). Jesus, though hurting himself, concerns himself with the pain of his friends. He seeks to alleviate their pain and sorrow while he bears his own. In his need, he asks them to pray with him. They sleep, and yet his concern is still for them.

If I were told that I had one week to live, I would like to spend that week as Jesus did. Not in the selfish pursuit of personal gratification, but in the pursuit of serving my friends. I wish that I would spend it telling them it would be alright, or in the words of Jesus, "A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me" (John 16:17). I would spend time with my family and with my friends. I would love nothing more than a simple meal with my most beloved, and I would try to serve them to my last breath. At least, I hope I would do this.

I know that I would want to sit with my son and daughter especially, and tell them that I am going to a place that they cannot go to now. But soon, because of Jesus, they will be able to join me there. All this because Jesus' bucket list was not typical. It was selfless and not selfish. He gave himself to prepare a better place for us, and he will come back again so that we may all be together with him forever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week

This week is a particularly thoughtful time of the year for me. As most people here in the United States know, this Sunday is Easter Sunday, or more appropriately, "Resurrection Sunday". I take the opportunity that this week affords and I think about what Jesus did on each day leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.

This week reminds me that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is really what Christianity is all about. It is the foundation and touchstone of who I am as a person. If Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead, then my faith and my life are to be pitied.

I wish that people understood this better. I wish that "Christians" understood this better. I wish that folks who weren't Christians saw that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is our motivation for everything that we do. Our belief in the resurrection, and our subsequent allegiance to Jesus, is what determines our votes, our ethics, and our charity.

Everything the Christian does goes back to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, and that in this event, God declared him to be both Lord and Christ (Romans 1:4). Even if others disagree with what Christians do, I wish we were better at showing that all of our reasoning goes back to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This week, I hope that God will keep me focused on this essential and foundational truth of Christianity.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On Burning the Koran, Fear and Insanity

I am certain that the world is almost entirely insane. The burning of a single Koran in Florida highlights the fact that the world is crazier than any Kafka short-story I had to read in college. Either that, or I am nuts myself.

Let me start out of the gate by saying that the guy in Florida who burnt the Koran is probably an ignorant wretch. He is not exemplary for Christianity, and as far as I can tell, basically his entire congregation has left him. Having said all that, I think he may be the least insane person in this entire fiasco.

First, I think that it is good that he is free to burn a Koran, or a Bible, or whatever "Holy" book he wants. If he bought 5,000 Bibles and burnt them, I seriously doubt it would make the news, and it would at most elicit a shoulder shrug from me and almost every believer I know. It would be somewhat offensive to me, but I realize that he should be free to do that. This is coming from a person who loves the Bible and has dedicated his entire life to teaching it.

So how is it that this guy in Florida who burnt the Koran is the least crazy person in the scenario I'm thinking about? There are three parties I have in mind in this critique:

1. The guy who burnt the Koran.
2. The media that reported it.
3. The Muslims in the Middle East who pillaged, murdered, and caused general mayhem in response to the burning of the Koran.

The media, in this instance, is crazier than the guy who burnt the Koran. I watched an interview with this guy in Florida, and the reporter was livid that this guy had dared to burn a holy book. The interviewer mentioned that the burning of the Koran had caused the deaths of innocent people in the Middle East. But when he mentioned this fact, he did not seem to be at all aggravated at the people actually doing the murdering!

Now here is where things get surreal. Did you know that in 2009, the United States Army burned copies of the Bible? There really is only one reason for this: the people of the United States, including the Army, are terribly frightened of Muslims in the Middle East. They are not, however, frightened of Christians. The fear of reprisal by Muslims has made them set up insane double standards, and it is wreaking havoc on our personal liberties. (TSA, anyone?)

Then we get to the Muslims in the Middle East who are killing people over what the lesser crazy guy in Florida did. Do I even need to point out that these are the nuttiest of all? Does Allah really need for them to protect his honor by burning down shops and killing people if he is omnipotent. Here's a contrast for you: Jesus, the Messiah of Christianity, offered himself to dishonor to save his people. Allah, by contrast, apparently demands a barbarian episode if someone burns his book. Big difference in that, I think.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I don't think we ought to go around burning books. It is uncouth. It is also unhelpful to one's cause. All I am saying is that the media's outrage towards the crazy guy in Florida is out of proportion to the lack of outrage at the insanity that ensued after that book was burned. Finally, the people who kill over burnt book are the craziest of all. Seriously.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Choice and the Fall

I argued in the last post that freedom of choice cannot be the real marker of freedom. True freedom lies in the ability to act without regret; true freedom lies in the ability to act with the certainty that what one is doing is right and good. In order for this freedom to exist, a man would only have one real "choice" in each and every scenario, wisdom would eliminate all other possibilities.

So then, if freedom is not really found in the choosing, why was Adam given a choice in the garden? Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place? Why did he allow the serpent in the garden? Surely this means that God wanted to give us the freedom of choice, doesn't it?

This would seem to be the easy answer, but really, the fall is not about choice, though a choice was certainly made. The fall is about a faulty quest for wisdom. That is, Adam and Eve pursued wisdom apart from God's counsel. If you look at Genesis three, you will find that the serpent of "more crafty" than any beast of the field (3:1). That word for crafty means "wise". And behold why the woman ate: she saw that "the tree was to be desired to make one wise" (3:6). Adam and Eve sought wisdom, but they sought it through disobedience to God. By seeking wisdom in this way, they became fools. In reality, Adam and Eve were not given a choice; they were given a command: Do not eat.

Adam and Eve were created good, and they were created innocent. They had never experienced sin and the effects of sin. They only knew that there was one thing that they should not do: eat of the tree. They were told that the consequence of their actions meant "death", but they really had no idea what that meant. Now, we do. Knowing what you know now, would you eat that piece of fruit? (You might, actually. You are not yet perfected.)

But let's fast forward a bit. Let's go all the way to the end of all things as we know it. You, believer, are glorified and in the celestial kingdom of peace. What, do you suppose, will keep you from falling again? It doesn't take a piece of fruit. The devil fell without eating the fruit. So, what will keep you from falling? What will keep you from sin?

Eating the forbidden fruit should never have been an option for Adam. From here, we can see the sheer madness of it. It is more insane than a man dosing himself with radiation in the hopes that he will get the powers of Spider-Man. When, in the judgment, we see the absolute folly of rebellion against God, when we see the total horror of sin and the foolishness of it; we will be cured of sin. Two things will be compared that we cannot imagine now as we will some day see: the glory of God and the ugliness of sin. We will be wiser than Adam.

Why did God put the tree of knowledge in the garden? He did it for His own glory. He did it so that in five million years, if God says, "No", we will know that it is infinitely wise and good to obey, even if we cannot see the reason or the consequences.