2007-08-23 0 comments

Bring the rain -- and pain

"Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that He would let loose His hand and cut me off! This would be my comfort; I would even exult in pain unsparing, for I have not denied the words of the Holy One."
(Job 6:8-10, ESV)

You know, one of the aspects of my Christian life that I'm pretty good at is faith.

Sure, it sounds simplistic. After all, you can't really follow Christ unless you have faith in who He is.

That's not specifically the kind of faith I'm talking about. The point I'm making is that I'm always consciously aware that God, in His benevolence, mercy and grace, is taking care of me. It's the Bobby McFerrin approach to Christianity: Don't worry, be happy.

There's a simple reason behind it, too: I'm a simple guy. I'm not a deep thinker, much as I'd like to be. I recently listened to a lecture entitled "Hermeneutical and Exegetical Integrity." Don't ask me what it was about. Heck, I'm not even sure I spelled that right.

The point I'm making is that I govern my life by common sense. I am Pavlov's dog; that is, I'm conditioned to understand that God has always -- always -- taken care of me. The Guy is batting 1.000 here. He never misses.

Now, I don't want to fall back on the ol' Romans 8:28 standby if for no other reason that it could very well be the most mis-interpreted passage of scripture that most people -- non-Christians too, ironically enough; they clearly aren't reading it properly -- like to recite each time they stub their toe. This is a whole post of its own, and I don't want to get off on a tangent here, but it's important to realize that there are a number of components that come into play when referring to "all things work together for good," namely, that not everything in every circumstance is all hunky dory. Sometimes things go terribly, terribly wrong, and if you're hoping for Romans to bail you out, you might be in for a rude awakening.

The point is, I've always had a strong sense of personal faith in the collective -- ALL things work TOGETHER for good -- plan of omniscient God, and can look past individual painful circumstances to realize there's a Big Picture.

Problem is, lately I've realized that's not enough, mainly because of this song. (You can listen to a portion of it here.) I can't rest on those laurels. It's all too easy to say I have full faith that God will work things out. Indeed, I take a certain amount of Pharisaical pride in being a Big Picture guy.

So the question I have is this: how can one go from a mindset of knowing, understanding and accepting that trouble is a fact of life and that it all works out in the end, to actively pursuing trial and tribulation for the express purpose of God's glory.

Now, don't misunderstand here. God doesn't want us to hurt. He doesn't seek our pain, nor does He, with a flick of His divine finger, play a cosmic game of Eenie-Meanie-Miney-Moe, seeking to pick out those He would hurt just for some sense of morbid fascination. He doesn't play games with our lives. That's not the God I know, although that god is often taught in some theological circles. Mark Driscoll calls it "Cruel Calvinism," or a belief system in which God is sovereign, but not good. It's important to understand that He is both. God doesn't cause bad things to happen, but we live in a world governed by free will. Where there is free will, there is sin. And where there is sin, there is pain. But the beautiful part of pain is this: "... though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the test genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6b, 7 ... make sure you read it in full context here.)

So, do we need to actively pursue and seek trial and tribulation? That's not rhetorical; I don't really know. What I do know is that Peter understood that the ebbs and flows of life are there for a reason, that the pain we feel now, from time to time, is an essential part of the process of sanctification that began with our new birth and won't be completed until our death.

That means, for me, I have to move beyond resting on a faith that relies on common sense. The faith that takes its place should be one that maybe doesn't relish or seek out pain but embraces it as an opportunity to see God's divine plan at work both in good times and bad.

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2007-08-19 0 comments

AV Monday: John Piper

You can visit Piper's website here. There's some good stuff there from one of today's most well-respected evangelical thinkers.

2007-08-18 0 comments

Jesus is my IT geek

I've said it before: nothing has informed my study of scripture and theology in the past year-and-a-half as my portable media player.
(Oh, and by the way? Stay away from those proprietary hunks of junks like the iPod and the Zune. Just one man's opinion.)
What I discovered shortly after joining the digital music/video revolution is that for a talk radio/NPR geek like myself, a player is much more useful for academic pursuits than mere entertainment.
Oh, I've got, say, 1,100 songs on my player, and I certainly listen to a lot of them. But more and more I find myself scouring the internet for podcasts, downloading the feed, uploading onto my player and giving it a listen during my long, daily commute.
What I've discovered is that God has moved onto the internet in a big way, and His people are responding. Many, many churches have podcasts these days. Some host massive seminars on culture and theology, record the lectures and post them. There are Christian online radio shows that promote indie Christian music. There are podcasts that get into the technical side of ministry, and teach listeners how to host their own podcast, blog, etc.
Now, if you don't own a portable music player, it's OK. (Well, it's not all OK. I mean, you should get one. Now.) All feeds can be played through your computer's media player, or burned to a CD.
So, here's some links I've discovered, podcast feeds, etc., that you might give a whirl.
The first thing you need is a podcast receiver, something to go out on the Internet, find the feed you want and automatically downloaded selected content at scheduled times. Think of it as a radio with a record button. Yes, you can download specific podcasts without subscribing, but using a receiver is more efficient. And for that purpose, I like Juice.
Now, if you buy a specific player, its software package will likely have a podcast receiver on it. But in terms of ease of use, Juice is a good choice. It works across platforms -- meaning it will download streams that have MP3, WMA and any other digital file types -- and, of course, it's free. They ask for a donation (which I should probably give them, much as I used to use it), but it's optional.
(For convenience, I have a Juice button now on my sidebar for direct access to the Juice download page.)
Now, onto the links:
Mars Hill Church
Yeah -- surprise, surprise. I'm the biggest pro-Mars Hill Church (Seattle) Christian east of the Mississippi whose never been to a service there. Of course, I listen to all of these podcasts so religiously (pun intended) that you'd think I was a member. (Which is an interesting topic, given how much are culture has shrunk in just the last 20 years in light of the Information Revolution and the blistering pace of technological advancement. I had an interesting post on that topic, which you can read here.)
Perhaps one of my favorite feeds here is the second one: Mars Hill Teaching. The church hosts lecture series -- they had a Dead Sea Scrolls expert in one night, and he spoke for two hours about the scrolls; I highly recommend that lecture, which you can probably find by searching the Mars Hill Web site for "Dead Sea Scrolls" and "Dr. Martin Abegg.
Two Blind Squirrels
This online radio show is a little goofy -- I'll admit the first time I listened to it I almost turned it off after, oh, five minutes -- but I'm glad I stuck it out. These guys, Brian McFadden and Charles McKeever, are creating an online Christian community, complete with blogs, message boards, podcasts ... you name it. They are an example of forward-thinking evangelicals who are embracing modern technology and using it to minister to a post-evangelical culture. It's the sort of thing many backward churches today must study if they are to remain relevant to the generations of the 21st Century. This is a new mission field, and these guys are helping blaze the trail.
The Bored-Again Christian
I worry about this guy, named Just Pete. He hasn't posted a new podcast in awhile, and I hope he's still out there. If you are, Pete, come on, dude ... get to postin'.
The show bills itself as "Christian music that actually sounds good ... these ain't your Grandma's church hymns," and that's certainly true. Think finding good, indie secular music is hard? Try to find it on the Christian circuit. It's darn near impossible. But Pete does it. In the mood for some modern Christian music without one trace of an organ? Give a listen here.
The Humanist Network News
Two of the best-selling books in recent memory are "The God Delusion," by uber-atheist Richard Dawkins and, of course, "The Da Vinci Code," by Dan Brown. For all the headway evangelical Christians have made into popular culture in recent years, there's a backlash against us. Satan is working overtime in people's hearts and minds, and there's a movement (billed neo-atheism) afoot by guys like Dawkins and Sam Harris who are almost militant in their fight against any philosophy, world-view or religion that holds to the belief in a higher power.
So, to properly evangelize in culture today, we've got to know what the culture is saying. And while I believe that what podcasts like The Humanist Network News are saying is pure rubbish, this line of thinking -- moral relativism, New Age thinking, I'm OK, You're OK -- is very, very popular in our culture.
To fight ignorance, we must not be ignorant.
Grace and peace ...
(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail ephesians514@gmail.com for reprinting information.)
2007-08-15 0 comments

Self-sufficiency and the embrace of Jesus

My youngest daughter is two months shy of her first birthday. This means, of course, that she's at the age when it is all but impossible for her to sit still for any length of time. Somewhere in the recesses of her little mind, she realizes, perhaps subconsciously, that the world is about to open up in the most marvelous of ways. Self-sufficiency, she's beginning to understand, is infinitely preferable to life lying down.

But, oh how I loved those early days of her life. Perhaps more than any other child I've ever known, Lilly was born with a sweet spirit, a gentleness that you can sense will follow her the rest of her life. As such, she loved simply being held.

And those moments, for me, are cherished memories. I would hold her and she'd make these terribly beautiful chirping noises as she buried her face into my chest. Then, she'd smile in a toothless work of art, and my heart would melt like a snowball in a skillet.

I can only imagine her joy at those moments as well. To feel completely loved, I would imagine, for her was equal to my own, different kind of bliss. And I think that feeling is one of the reasons our generation should be so quick to realize how wonderful it is to know Jesus.

It's not the common belief, but it is true nonetheless that my generation -- so-called Generation X -- had self-sufficiency forced upon it. Now, maybe we weren't particularly good at it, but the fact remains that divorce, a high rate of attrition in college, the explosion of the number of children growing up without fathers ... all of these were particularly heaped upon our generation in percentages likely larger than any before.

Because of all that, one of the defining characteristics of our generation is this sense of something being wrong, of always feeling a general sense of malaise. It's the idea, immortalized in the movie "Reality Bites," when Winona Ryder's character talks about being proud of Baby Boomers' sense of social justice, civil disobedience and a pure sense of right and wrong. But, her character says, "they sold out their revolution for a pair of running shoes." What, then, did we have to cling to, socially? Video games? The Cold War? Our culture didn't exactly inspire us.

(Of course, many of us have grown up now, put away the Nirvana records and bought SUVs. The lesson? That every generation puts aside its nonsense in the name of taxes, child rearing and two vacations a year.)

But what I find in Jesus is the very thing many of us, through the course of our lives, long for: He is a place of refuge, a place to hide and bury fears, sadness and uncertainty.

What would you, Generation Xer, give, in the hustle and bustle of a way of life that was perhaps forced upon you, to just once be gently rocked to sleep, to be sung a song, to worry about nothing? That smile on my daughter's face? It's the smile of someone totally at peace, of a mind purely and securely at rest without any hint of knowledge of fear.

That's the embrace I gave my daughter -- and that Jesus gives me.

Forgive my meandering diatribe that may or may not embarrass me in a couple of weeks when I go back and read this. (I'm betting it will). It was written over the course of two days, the bulk of which came at, oh, 2 a.m. or so on a worknight. (See? We Xers are respectable ... I worry about bedtimes.)

But if you got nothing out of this, wrap your mind around the central metaphor here: that all of us, at one point or another, just needs held like a baby, sung a lullaby and kissed on the cheek.

And if you've never experienced the love of Jesus, it's hard to relate how truly wonderful knowing Him can be. It's not all wine and roses. Heck, it's not all beer and dandelions. The great wheel of life still goes 'round and 'round, and every once in awhile it lands on Lose Your Turn.

But when it does, there's always someone there -- The Someone -- who knows just what happens when it's time to spin again.

(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail ephesians514@gmail.com for reprinting information.)
2007-08-14 0 comments

"Hold me tightly in your arms and never let me go ..."

Take a listen to this song, and I'll be back tomorrow with a little something I've been writing about what should be our generation's joy at being embraced by God.

2007-08-06 0 comments

AV Monday

This would be funny ... if it weren't so true. 

2007-08-01 0 comments

Coming soon ...

We'll be resuming our regularly scheduled program after my latest -- and, thus far, longest --hiatus.

I'll resume writing two original posts per week, along with AV Monday, Links Wednesday, Potpourri Thursday and, on Sunday, News of the Week.

So there.

Grace and peace ...