Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Just Wanted To Remember This...

"True worship of God, Christians would agree, must worship God as He is, not as we might wish him to be." - Dr. Jelinek

"We must repudiate the root of Arian heresy: rationalism, the notion that one should believe only that which one can comprehend entirely." - R.S. Clark

"You can call a stone a chicken all that you want, you can want to believe it's a chicken, but at the end of the day the stone IS what it IS. A stone. What you believe doesn't change what IS." - me


Philippians 2

In my simplistic understanding of the Bible and How Things Work, I've noticed that there are a few incredibly strong, oft-repeated threads running through the scriptures and creation. If you take any time at all to read through the Bible, these threads begin to hit you across the head in a very unsubtle fashion. Today's chapter picks up on a thread I've seen in almost every book in the Bible, and can be summed up as follows:

1. Man, in a sinful state, is naturally disposed toward being self-centered, selfish and egotistic.

2. God's desire and calling for us is to become humble, and He responds to a humble heart far more than an arrogant one.

These two states are in direct conflict. We see it every day, starting in our own lives. I'm a selfish guy. I am. I know it. I put "humble Watchman" up on this blog not because I've achieved it yet, but because that's what I aspire to be. It's hard to get past myself and to put both God and others first (and second). I don't always want to give up the comfy reclining section of the couch to my wife when we watch TV. I'm not always thrilled when I'm in the middle of paperwork and someone stops by my office to gobble up an hour of time just gabbing. I find it very difficult at times to really listen to what other people are saying without trying to turn the conversation back onto me. The days I post my movie reviews up on MRFH, I'm naturally more excited than days I post the other writers' reviews.

Selfishness whispers in our ear that we want to be recognized, remembered, exalted, idolized. Humility tells us that, in exchange for a more difficult life of putting God and others first, we might never be recognized in public for our actions, that we might live our whole life out of the spotlight, all for Christ's name.

I'm not proud of any of these things, mind you. I'm just being honest. Selfishness wars against the calling God's planted inside me, and wonder of wonders humility has started to grow. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 1:3 says, pairing along with "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbors as yourself" in terms of anti-selfish instruction.

Jesus, of course, is our very model of humility, as Philippians points out. Not just that he put us first by dying for our sins while we still hated him, but I have to imagine that Jesus felt the sinful tug of selfishness during his ministry. He knew he could've told the crowds what they wanted to hear and become enormously popular for it. He could've easily risen to the role of a warrior-king and stomped all over the world with armies at his back. He could've lived his life in isolation and nobody would have blamed him.

Yet day after day, he gave of himself out of humility. He exalted God the Father. He patiently taught and re-taught the stubborn disciples. He gave his ear and his wisdom and his power to those in need. He got down and dirty for the glorious cause of His kingdom.

My ongoing prayer for humility in my life is no less than it was a week ago. I need it. I know I need it. God's humbled me before when I've gotten a bit too arrogant, and He'll do it again, I'm sure.

Friday, January 25, 2008


In youth group on Wednesday night, I had the junior highers go through a prayer walk and write down some of their thoughts and experiences. Afterward, when we were sharing, one of my teens said they opened the Bible, read and wrote down Psalm 46:1 -- the same verse I'd written on in this blog earlier this week. I thought that was a cool little God moment, and we talked about what the verse meant for us.

Pray With Joy

Been slacking this week due to overall busyness and a nasty life-sapping cold. Still, that's no excuse.

To really kick off my daily devotions part of this blog, I'll be selecting books of the Bible I either haven't read in their entirety or haven't read recently, then going through them chapter by chapter. Wonder how many I can do in a year? Today I started with Philippians 1.

Paul begins this letter with a wonderful prayer, a "prayer of joy" (v.4) for these brothers and sisters in Philippi. In his outline of past and present prayers, he makes a point to be as selfless as possible with his prayers -- he thanks God for what God has done in these people, for God's continuing work in them, for shared grace, and for their love to grow "more and more in knowledge and depth of insight" (v.9). This is a bubbly prayer, a prayer where your leg jiggles because you're so excited inside that you can't keep it in. I know the feeling Paul's expressing here, and it's hard to describe. Sort of like when there's perfect weather, when a lot of things just suddenly swing your way, and when it seems like nothing in life can get you down.

I'll try to pray with joy today. There's a lot to cloud my mind, with a busy lock-in and preparations and the mission trip and February calendars and fundraisers and school... but there's undoubtably far more to be joyful about.

The kicker in this chapter comes in verse 13, when we discover that Paul is writing this letter from prison ("in chains for Christ"), and yet he's still overflowing with joy and fierce passion for the gospel. A very famous verse: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (v.21)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Harry's Choice

I'm not an encyclopedic man with infinite knowledge at my mind's command; I tend to forget a whole lot more than I ever remember, and epiphanies and revelations come to me at a slower pace than some. So when I finally grasp something that makes sense, I relish the joy in mastering a concept fully.

Today's concept is one that I think lies at the core of all people's faith: do we choose to accept an easy lie or a hard truth? It even applies to most everything in life. Is our attitude one of "I'd rather believe something that makes me the most comfortable and allows me to continue living as I please" or one of "I fully desire the truth above all else, even if in finding that truth it comes with uncomfortable or hard facts"?

Easy lie. Hard truth. We can't live our lives in both areas; we either pursue one or the other.

Cults and false religions craft their palpable, easy lies by deliberately skirting around the truth and choosing only to incorporate those elements that are naturally easy to accept by sinful people who want to put in minimal effort to secure maximum rewards. Heck, it's easy to create a religion -- all you got to do is to be ultra-tolerant, ask people to do things they were going to do already, tell them that they're basically good or that true evil and sin is just an illusion, and give them a lot of feel-good pep talks. Or, in the case of cults, you can go another route and actively crush any independent thought and questioning, force-feeding them your version of the "truth" until that's all they know and accept.

Christianity isn't an easy lie, or even an easy truth. One of the things that convinces me that this is the One True Way is that the Bible and Jesus' sayings are riddled with hard sayings that confront our sinful nature, but in so doing they offer refreshing honesty without all of the touchy-feely PC crud that infests most inter-religious conversations these days. The Bible could've been written from a storybook perspective where every hero is 100% pure, nobody fouls up and evil gets what's coming to it by the end of act one. Yet here's a book where the hard truth is that many of the "heroes" are incredibly flawed, sinful folk who make stunningly bad choices, where the truth is that we have no innate ability to save ourselves, and where we are not the center of the universe.

If I was making up a religion, I don't think I'd include passages like John 6:60-69, where Jesus' disciples hear a hard teaching on salvation, and just up and leave him. The easy lie in this situation is that Jesus would've been such a wonderful guy that everyone loved him and every word he said made rainbows shoot out of puppy dogs' ears and he lived happily ever after, the end.

The hard truth is that Jesus didn't come down to tell people what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. The hard truth is that this drove people away from him, made them hate Jesus, and gave them the idea to finally murder Jesus. The disciples that remain with Jesus don't deny that this wasn't a hard teaching to understand and accept, but as Peter said, who were they going to go follow instead? A guy feeding them easy, damnable lies, or stick it out with the guy who respects them enough to give them the straight truth, even when it's not what they'd expect?

Even J.K. Rowling acknowledged this concept in one of her Harry Potter books, where Dumbledore says to Harry that "the time is coming where people will have to choose between what is right and what is easy." Where do you stand?

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I have a weekly calendar book that also features scenic photos and verses from the Psalms. This week's verse is Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." I think I needed this verse today, as I'm struggling against some depression with my job, school and worries over some of the teens.

This verse lists three things that God is. God is our refuge - I think there's nothing more comforting in this world than knowing that you have someone to run to when everything else seems overwhelming and you just need to be held and sheltered from it for a time.

God is our strength. We are inherently weak and prone to crumbling at the attacks from outside and within. To have the Creator pick us up, look us in the eye and say, "I know times are tough. So I'm going to lend you My strength to get through it." is often what we need the most.

God is a very present help in trouble. This is perhaps the most comforting part of the verse. When trouble hits us, God promises that He is there with you. He's not stuck in traffic or sending us a long-distance e-mail filled with good wishes. He is "very present", and is eager to lend a hand. We're not alone with our problems. There was a quote from the TV show Sports Night I've always liked, when Natalie is struggling through a difficult decision and the possible media backlash. Dan simply tells her, "You've got friends. And this is what friends gear up for."

We've got God. And our trouble is what God gears up for. Yeah, I think I need that today.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Acts II: Electric Boogaloo

I had to plow through the entire book of Acts today for my Acts & The Apostles class. Don't think I've ever read this book in one go, and some sections seemed brand-new to me -- maybe I've read them but just never took note. Some interesting observations:

  • Name your kid Akeldama! It means "field of blood"! Be the first on your block with this soon-to-be trendy moniker!
  • Peter is a lot less long-winded than Paul. Speeches take up 20% of the book.
  • For those of you who think there's a wrathful OT God and a peacenik NT God, check out Ananias and Sapphira and Herod. Eaten by worms! Yum!
  • There is no Acts 5:37. Well, there was, but it is a less-reliable late addition and isn't usually included in Bibles except as a footnote. (Also missing? Acts 24:7)
  • The apostles were thrown in prison and flogged, like, every other day it seems. Acts contains more prison breakouts than the entire run of HBO's Oz.
  • Due to 40 would-be assassins, Paul received a 470-soldier escort to Rome.
This book is a huge meal to chew, swallow and digest in detail, as I'm sure we will in the class. However, taken as a whole, what strikes me most about Acts is its contagious excitement. Far from the disciples disbanding and returning to their lives, they spread everywhere and the good news of Jesus just explodes all over the Middle East. People are being saved, miracles are worked, arguments refuted, jails opened, assassins thwarted and "ordinary, unschooled" followers witnessed so boldly, so profoundly that the world is forever changed. That is the testimony of the kingdom of God.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Three Frogs

Just so I don't forget this wonderful little question that my Trinitarianism prof asked us last week:

Three frogs are sitting on a log, and two decided to jump. How many frogs are left?

The answer?

Three. The two frogs only decided — the riddle didn't state they actually jumped.

The point?

Making a decision isn't the same as going through with that decision. How many things in our walk with God involved decisions made internally but never followed through externally?

A calling from Ezekiel

New Year's resolutions are horrid little things, really. They start with the best of intentions, yet really exist just to stockpile a nice big guilt bomb when you falter within a week or two. That's the cynic inside me talking. Still, I love making them, and I'm struggling with my Big Three resolutions this year: to lose weight, to work harder, and to incorporate more prayer and daily devotions into my life.

As a youth pastor, you'd think this last resolution would come easy to me — or maybe you're shocked it's even there. Yet prayer and daily scripture readings aren't something that comes natural right at the point of salvation; prayer is a quite unnatural thing for most of us, who have to be retrained in the art of talking (and listening) to God after so long away from His company. Scripture, while exciting and captivating to me, still gets edged out due to busy schedules and other flashy points of interest. So this is my resolution, and one of the ways I'm looking to keep it is to journal my spiritual life this year. Putting it online in blog format will hopefully keep me honest and accountable (don't mistake this for a man boasting of his own mighty spiritual prowess).

I chose the title of this blog from my reading and study of a passage in Ezekiel 3 that I'm using for my next Sunday School lesson. In Ezekiel 3:16-27, the priest-cum-prophet learns what he is called to do by God: he is called to be a watchman for the exiled nation of Israel. The nation is in trouble - in fact, it is on the verge of extinction, as its land is conquered and its people are scattered and enslaved into a new culture that does not worship the One True God. And they've already been unfaithful to God even before their exile. The consequences and dangers of this road are extreme, but God hasn't given up on them, and uses Ezekiel to be His mouthpiece - a voice of warning, of guidance, of truth. Whether or not the people listen to him isn't Ezekiel's concern; he is called to be faithful.

As are we: 1 Peter 2:9 and Romans 15:15-16 inform us that God has called us as well to be the watchmen (and watchwomen) of the world, the priests of this age, the proclaimers of the gospel of truth. Our concern isn't whether or not people will listen, whether or not we will be popular or ridiculed for what we say, or whether or not we receive fame and glory for this role. Our concern is to be faithful.

I'd really love to be faithful to God in this way this year. My prayer at the start of this blog is for God to mold me into a strong watchman for His use.