Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Life is the Pits

This is the article I just wrote for our church's September newsletter:

We all do it. And I just did it a few days ago. I got up to a not-particularly-fun sort of day, dealt with some minor yet negative news, and starting getting down on myself. Then it came: the self-pity party. The “woe is me and my problems!” as my mind started cataloguing all of the negatives in my life, dragging me down to a level where a cloud of apathy and grouchiness took over all. There’s a perverse pleasure in pitying yourself, and expecting that others will share that outlook (after all, misery does love company).

So as I’m sitting at home moaning to my wife about these things, God stung me with a clear prick of conscience. What right do I, ever, have to complain (the answer: I don’t)? How many ways has God blessed me (the answer: tremendously, and almost never-ceasing)? Why am I rolling around in my own worry and fretting and depression when I could be lifting these things up to God and asking Him to pull me back out of this funk (the answer: I have no idea)?

Earlier that day I received an e-mail from a good friend who just found out that she has a large mass – or perhaps a tumor – growing on her lung. As I write this, she’s going into the doctor for tests to see what it is and how they can take care of it. She’s also a single mother of two, she works at a gas station, and she recently had her entire house flooded earlier this year (in Wisconsin). If there’s anyone with a right to self-pity, it’s her, not me. And yet, I never hear a complaining word from her mouth when we talk on the phone.

Self-pity is not in God’s plan for your life. It’s connected to selfishness and worry, two things God abhors, because they draw attention away from Him and onto ourselves. Several Bible characters, including murderer Cain (Genesis 4:4-7) got into a funk of self-pity, and it never led them anywhere productive.

Our family used to live next door to a person we called the “Drama In Real Life Lady” (referencing those Reader’s Digest articles). Every day she’d come over with some new tale of woe, expecting us to take pity on her and let her drag us down emotionally to where she was. We eventually got sick of it, and tired of trying to point her to God and the joy that a Christian life provides. That’s not what I’d ever want to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 gives these instructions for the non-self-pitying life: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Self-pity is not in God’s will; joy, prayer and thanks is. I needed to be reminded of that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

66 Books

One of the things I've become convicted of is that, at age 32 and a youth pastor of a church, I've yet to read the entire Bible cover to cover. I've certainly read large swaths of it, but past resolutions to read it entirely have gone unfulfilled.

Is August a bad time of the year to make a new resolution? Ah, well, why not?

I want to read through the entire Bible. Maybe in a year, maybe longer, but I'm going to start keeping track of which books I've finished, and try to knock them all out. No skimming, either; I want to really read and really absorb God's Word.

I was inspired by something I heard on the mission trip, where a girl said a dad in her church would buy a new Bible every time he and his wife had a kid. Then he would make a pact with himself to read that Bible cover to cover by the time that kid was 18, writing notes in the margins and underlining favorite verses. When the child came of age, his plan was to hand that Bible to him as a family heirloom, to read him or herself and continue writing in it and underlining great verses. I think that's a wonderful idea. The guy has four children, so he's got a steep task ahead of him, but how awesome would that be to receive that Bible from your dad the day you went off to college?

We'll see if I do that when I have kids, but I do need to read through the Bible on my own for my own spiritual nourishment and gratification (and God's glory).

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Wisdom Crutch

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a society that has fallen away from God and toward self-gratification and arrogance. A world-renown major metropolis that has an influx of every religion possible to the point where no one can point out the "right" belief without being labeled intolerant. A church in that city that, too, has fallen away from God, become corrupt with heresy and infighting and surrender to the same temptations that non-believers fell into. This could be any city in America today, but this particular example comes from first century Corinth, the town which Paul spent well over a year and a half building up a church, only to see it fall under attack from society and man's foolish wisdom.

This is one of the reasons why Paul writes 1 Corinthians, a letter of reprimand, instruction and encouragement to this floundering church. This was a church that started out great and strong, but dissolved into quite un-Christian-like practices: the Holier-Than-Thou crowd, people who were sinning just as bad as any nonbeliever and didn't care, lawsuits were being filed between believers, Paul himself was attacked verbally, and their theology was completely shaky. It was clear to Paul that they'd reverted to relying on man's wisdom as a crutch instead of God's supreme wisdom.

I was thinking about this a lot this past weekend, how we have yet again arrived in an age (maybe we never left it) where society seems so proud of how evolved and intelligent it's become that it's becoming bold in pronouncing itself emancipated from God -- after all, we have science! Philosophy! Our own streamlined, manipulated list of morals and values! And it's not just outside of the church walls, but inside as well. I think if Paul could look at our churches today, he'd write some of the same exact things he wrote to the Corinthian church, especially the section in 1:18-2:5, an entire passage on God's wisdom vs. the world's wisdom.

Verse 18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" -- How true is this? People lost without God think that Jesus as a savior is one of the dumbest, most laughable thoughts possible. Jesus is belittled on TV and in movies, he is treated like an outdated cliché, and to those who aren't ready to really hear the message, it's just pure silliness to them.

Verse 20: "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" This topic was sparked by a friend of mine who was recommending the book The God Delusion, in which the author (an evolutionist atheist) pronounces for once and all that God is dead and useless, and proceeds to attempt to break us away from our dependence on God by irrefutable proof through science and society. Yet all I can think about is the sheer arrogance of humanity in this, how quickly we forget that we are not anywhere near an apex of human thought and wisdom, and yet we think we know enough to cast God aside for all time. If we have learned so much in the past few thousand years, then it stands to reason that there's going to be a whole lot more to learn in the next few thousand years and our current understanding and levels of wisdom have a long way to go. So how are we suddenly so smart as to eliminate God from the equation? I don't understand that.

Verse 27: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." Once again, I see the theme of God hating arrogance so incredibly much that he would rather work through a "foolish" person or a "weak" guy to do his work than the mightiest, smartest man on the planet. Is it so surprising that so many of our most "intelligent" scientists have denounced God, whereas the humble man or woman still sees a need for the divine in our life? Paul even humbles himself in 2:3 -- he was weak, fearful and full of trembling, but he came to share the gospel and that he did.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Time Flies

This past week I bumped into three people who used to be in the youth group here -- two of which are out of college now (one getting married), and another girl who's a junior in high school (who started going to a church closer to her). Talking with them was a bizarre experience, because I don't ever expect these teens to actually, you know, grow any older. But they keep on doing so, often times without my permission.

I think that's great. Someone once told me that you had to stick with a church for at least seven years to really start seeing the fruits of ministry borne out. I don't know if that's true, exactly -- I think a lot of "fruits" will go unseen by me until the end of my life -- but it is a singular joy to have been a part of these teens' lives from when they were little kids to the point of graduation and beyond. It's weird because I feel like time stands still for me: I will forever be a geeky 20-year-old in whatever aging body I'm inhabiting. But they just keep on growing up.

I see great choices and decisions in their lives, careers followed, interests that have bloomed to full-fledged passions, potential wives and husbands chosen. My deep prayer for them is that they have not abandoned God in the pursuit of their lives. I worry about that a lot, worry that because they went to church here and were ministered by me, they didn't get as full or as rich of a discipleship as they needed. Ultimately, it's a moot point -- God's the one who works in their lives, not me, and it's by His grace that I'm here in this role instead of tooling around in a computer case for decades on end.

I just wish they could stay a few years longer when they're here. Just a few years more, and maybe I'd be able to get through to them in ways I haven't yet.