Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For Love of the Word

I have been taking an online seminary class this Fall on Systematic Theology. Most people could think of nothing more boring and pointless, but my mind works on the opposite stream. I find it fascinating, thought provoking, and most importantly it is stirring my affections for Christ and making me ask a lot of questions about myself. The question that continues to press on my heart and mind is this, "Do I really love the Scriptures." 
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Over the last few weeks these words have haunted me. We aren't talking about some random author who decided to put pen to paper and spill his thoughts. The God who created the world, holds  it together,and  intervened to bring salvation has spoken to us through the words of our sacred Scriptures. How can I not run to them every day several times a day. Instead I find myself browsing Barnes & Noble or searching for the next great book. 
In one of my class lectures my professor stated that he thinks most Christians don't truly believe the words of 2 Timothy. If we really believed them then we would be running to the Bible more than anywhere else. I must sadly confess this attitude of unbelief usually resides in my heart. I am begging Jesus to change me. I am asking Him to put in me a burning passion for His Word. Because Psalm 19:7 says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul..."


Monday, September 22, 2008

There is a season...turn, turn, turn

Things I love about fall...

leaves changing color
candy corn
apple cider
crisp mornings

For some reason, I'm really pumped about it being fall. Derek even brought home a fall flower bouquet for my little fall celebration. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dinner with the Queen

On a recent date night, Derek and I went to check out a little cafe in East Austin. It's called Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Kitchen. It's small inside, but Lola has a huge heart. We were the only customers at one point, so while we ate Lola told us her story.

She was once a depressed, alcoholic, but then she found Jesus. She now runs this restaurant all on her own - no cook or server. She even closes on Sundays to feed the homeless. She sells crafts made by a convict whose serving a life sentence. He donates the items to her, and she sells them for her ministry to the homeless. Sometimes customers leave a little extra to help, too. 

She told us that at one point she had a light bill that was $350, and she only had $150. She figured she didn't have enough to pay the bill, so she gave the money away. Then, a customer came in and left her a check for $500. She says the Lord is the one taking care of her, and He's gonna do a better job than anyone else!

She's got a big heart, but she's tough, too! She got the name Nubian when she first opened her cafe. A few guys came in and tried to steal some money from her. She told them she needed it worse than they did! They laughed, told her they just wanted to see if she could make it in this neighborhood, and gave her the name Nubian. It means warrior.

All that, and the food was amazing! I had crawfish etouffee with greens, corn, and cornbread. I swear it melted in my mouth! I can't begin to imagine how much butter and salt is in there, but it's worth it! I would imagine it's the best cajun food and the best soul-food to be had in Austin.

The cafe is at 1815 Rosewood Avenue, and is open Mon-Sat 9-9.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Trees, Fruit and Seasons

So for the last few weeks I have been reading Psalm 1 (it is actually a requirement for a seminary class I am taking. has there ever been a better homework assignment than to read the Word?!) In the Psalm is says a man is blessed if he meditates on the Law of God. Then it illustrates how the blessing turns out. It says, "he is like a tree that is planted by streams of water that yields it's fruit in season." Those last 3 words have really made me think over the last week or so. In my life as an Outdoor Education teacher I used to tell kids about trees and how most trees had a growing time and a dormant period. Which means that only during certain times of the year is a tree actually able to yield fruit. The rest of the year it is impossible for the tree to yield its fruit. That doesn't mean the rest of the year is a waste for the tree. In fact it needs these times in order to be able to bear fruit every year. So why have I been thinking about all of this. 
Well, Jesus makes a point in John 15 to tell his disciples about fruit bearing. And it doesn't stop in John, the Bible is full of analogies that refer us back to the bearing of fruit. In the passage in John Jesus urges his disciples to abide in him in order to bear fruit. In Psalm 1 it tells us a righteous and blessed man yields fruit in season. Which means there are times where we will not be bearing fruit. But that does not mean I still don't abide in the vine. See a branch of a tree has no say in the bearing of fruit. The only job it has is to stay connected to the roots of the tree. As a believer really have no say in when I bear fruit. My only job is to stay connected to the vine/root which is Christ. And just like God the Father will decide when the tree will bear fruit the same goes for me and my life. And, according to Jesus, bearing fruit is what brings glory to God. So I am called to abide and to meditate on the Word and leave growing and bearing up to Him. 


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

God opposes the proud

"Don't pray for humility because then God will send things in your life to make you humble." These are words I have heard pastors, teachers, and even myself say to believers many times. It is typically said with some kind of laughter or joking laid into it, but I tend to find the things I joke about and am sarcastic about are really the things I am most serious about. So people who have said this, somewhere in their hearts believe this to be true. 
This morning God dropped an eternal weight on me dealing with humility and how lightly we treat it. I have just begun reading in the book of Isaiah. And in the second chapter of the book God says this through His prophet,

"The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day."

He will also make similar statements two other times in the chapter. These verses led me to turn to James and 1 Peter where they say, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." As I thought about those words I became mortified at myself. I don't take pride and humility with enough seriousness. God opposes the proud. I am still young, but I have lived enough of life to know I don't want God in opposition of me. Instead, I want grace. And I came to realize that I want it so badly that I would take all the humiliating circumstances God brings my way to get it. How dare I ever tell someone not to pray for humility. How dare I tell someone not to pray for the grace of God in their life. I realized every time I have made that statement it has been out of pride. Because the humbling circumstances make me look bad. That is pride and when I read Scripture it says God is standing in opposition to that, which means he is standing in opposition to me.
But, if I pray for humility you know what I get? There may be humbling circumstances and difficulties to face, but in all of that I get grace. And Ephesians says that grace will reflect the infinite glory of God in my life. So this morning I prayed two things:
1) For forgiveness for ever telling people to stand in opposition of God. (The realization I had done this absolutely devastated me, but praise Christ for grace)
2) I prayed for humility. I don't know what it will look like or how it will come but I am positive as God begins to cultivate it in my life grace will abound more and more. And I can't think of anything more I long for.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Grace in Galatia

This summer, Derek and I have tried to be purposeful about studying the book of Galatians. We never spent hours in deep conversation over it, but did have a couple of good casual conversations here and there. Mostly, it's just been fun to study God's Word!

I did use a commentary, but only after I'd read Galatians through several times and done my own homiletics on it. (Thank you, BSF.) The commentary I read was by Scot McKnight and is titled "The Galatians NIV Application Commentary". Some of these thoughts I've taken from him. So, here's what I've taken away from Galatians.

Galatians was written by Paul and is thought by many to be the first canonical letter he wrote. I have also heard it referred to as a "mini-Romans". It's more directed to a particular problem Paul was seeing in the church, but the bottom line is still the same: salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works. (Amen!)

The letter was written to the church at Galatia to address their changing positions on one crucial subject: our means of acceptance with God. They were opting for a system in which grace was not crucial and Christ's work was not sufficient. The church had begun listening to the Judaizers, and turning to certain acts of the law as a means of acceptance. Circumcision and Jewish food laws were taking on upmost importance. Their faith was becoming a Jesus + Moses kind of faith. They were choosing a B.C. life in an A.D. world!

Enter Paul, who says, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (1:9) Accursed...anathema...condemned..."cut off from Christ" (Romans 9:3)...invoking God's final damnation and wrath on people who distort the gospel of grace in Christ. 

Paul goes on to say, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. "(2:20-21) 

So how does this apply to us today? The gospel has not changed. It is still Christ plus nothing. This book applies to any practice, attitude or theological belief that adds to the gospel and compromises the sufficiency of Christ and life in the Spirit. It's anything that you rely on other than Christ to make yourself acceptable before God. 

The crazy thing is that many things we tend to rely on are not inherently wrong or bad. It could be thinking one style of worship music is more acceptable to God or feeling like a failure because your read-through-the Bible-in-a-year plan died in March. Maybe it's keeping a check list you rely on: baptism, participating in lent, never missing a church service... 

Obviously, hymns are good, reading the Bible is good, baptism is good. The problem comes when I start relying on these things and teaching others they must do these things to be acceptable before God. Paul says let that person be eternally damned. (1:9) What I have to remember is that Christ is sufficient.  Of course you should sing praises to God, read the Bible, get baptized... But these things don't earn me salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Another thing I learned is this: I can keep every rule in the book and perfectly practice the Christian life, and never live in the freedom of the Spirit. Being free is having a relationship with God,  it is the result of the death of Jesus Christ, and it is life in the Spirit. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (5:18), and anyone who is "led by the Spirit" is a son of God (Romans 8:14). If we listen to God's Spirit and to the teachings of Jesus, we will do what the law was trying to tell us to do. We will love God and love others. We will actually be doing God's will.  

So, what does it mean to be led by God's Spirit? "Legalists are led by the law, hedonists are led by their desires, materialists are led by their possessions. But, Sons of God are led by the Spirit. What prompts their actions, what stirs their emotions, what guides their behavior, and what determines their careers is God's Spirit. Furthermore, sons of God do not fear and worry about where the Spirit will lead them. They know that God's Spirit will lead them perfectly into God's will and God's blessing so they march behind confidently and joyously." (from the commentary)

John Stott says, "True freedom is freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others." Love is defined by Christ's sacrifice on the cross (2:20), inspired by God's Spirit (5:22-23), and expressed by doing good in our relationships (5:13-14, 6:10). Mr. McKnight add, "Being able to love others is not the result of discipline; it is a miracle". Water is turned into wine as the Spirit takes control of our lives.

Whew! I know I'm more than a little challenged to love well. So this is my prayer...for freedom in the Spirit and to allow the Spirit control of my life with the result of loving God and loving others well.