I Am Learning to Love the Gospel

I came to Millar College of the Bible at a very dry place, spiritually. I finished my year at Millar feeling a lot more encouraged … But it had to get worse before it got better.

Numerous things happened in the first semester that forced me to fall at Jesus’ feet. My grandma passed away. I hit a deer and had to write off my car. Stress was causing my back and hands to be really painful. I really struggled to find friends or even find motivation to find friends. Numerous sins and the desire to sin seemed to be so big in my heart that it felt like I was in a constant battle. To top it off, I realized I had been basing my identity on being a guitar player / singer, so when I got placed on a worship team as the keys player, I was crushed. I think I cried more in the first semester than I have my whole life.

So, if I could tell you the number one thing I learned at my year at Millar, it probably would simply be this: the gospel. It is crazy how I am 21 years old, I grew up in the church, but I feel like I am only now understanding it.

Pastor and author Tim Keller put it so beautifully:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Throughout this last year, I have come to realize that, without even knowing it, I had forgotten the simplicity of the gospel.  And, because of this, I was struggling. I had forgotten that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18). That even my best performance, my greatest deeds are like filthy rags compared to God’s perfection (Isaiah 64:6). And because I forgot that, I started living as if I needed to prove myself to God, and feeling immense shame when I would fail.

I had also forgotten that, because God is so extremely loving, so good and gracious, He loves me. He made me in His image and paid the price so He could have a relationship with me. Psalm 139:13 says, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Even better than that, He has taken my brokenness and made me whole.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Isn’t God amazing?

I found this diagram the other day that really illustrates what was going on in my heart…

growing awareness of the gospel

As we walk with God and read His Word, we will grow in our awareness of His perfect holiness and our own sinfulness. If our awareness of the cross and all that Jesus did for us does not grow with that, we will choose to either ignore God’s holiness or ignore our own sin. When we think less of God, this can lead us to pride in our accomplishments. When we think more of ourselves, it can lead to shame, fear, insecurity and a whole host of other things.

This is the battle that I have been fighting this past year. I can honestly say that I am learning more about Jesus than I ever thought I would and I am also realizing the depth how much I need Him.

I pray that you too can learn to love the gospel and recognize it is NOT just for your salvation, but every day living. It is meant to change your life!

Jesus Did Not Die Just For You

The lights are dim. The youth pastor’s voice is passionate. And as the listeners take in the beautiful truths of the gospel, a Christian colloquialism is thrown out…

“Even if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you!”

I’ve heard this saying, or something like it, at least a dozen times in the last few years. I believe it is meant to communicate God’s incredible, massive, astounding love for us. It is used to inspire awe in each person, as they consider Jesus’ sacrifice for them. It might even be a thought loosely based on the parable of the good Shepherd leaving the 99 sheep in search of the one lost fluffy.

It has always struck me as off, somehow. It has taken me until recently to mull it over enough in my mind to come to the conclusion that that I don’t believe that this should be taught. Here’s why…

The Gospel is NOT about YOU…

We live in an incredibly self-centered culture. I think too often we treat our relationship with Jesus the same way, as if He came and died just so we personally would be happy. We don’t live our lives for other people. We don’t go to others for help. We don’t confess our sins to one another. So when we say “Jesus died just for you”, it is so easy to think, “Welp, I am saved, so I guess I’m good. My job is done…”

Jesus does not agree. His last words to his disciples was not commending them for believing or encouraging them in their salvation. He commanded them, “GO and make disciples of ALL nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

This random thought hit me in all the pondering. If all that Jesus hoped to accomplish in me was salvation, then why am I still here? Why is the church still here? 

And I guess that’s my point in all of this. Jesus did not die just for you…. He died for the entire world. And if you are living just for you, you are not living in obedience to God’s word.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 explains this so well! “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 

I’ve noticed that the writers of the Bible almost never wrote to an individual – they always wrote to the body of believers. Again, this is in stark contrast to our Canadian culture, where everything is about the individual. That’s not the way God sees things.

I don’t know about you, but I need to remind myself of this truth more often… 

Jesus did not die just for me. He died for my family, my friends, my neighbours, the dude that fills up my car with gas, and every single person who has and will ever be born.

Discovering My Own Existence

I first experienced this doubt when I met two individuals at a place I was staying in Switzerland. It was a cold fall evening; most of our friends had gone out for a night on the town, but I had already been spending copious amounts of money and wanted a quiet night with not too much adventure.

Well, adventure found me, because the conversation I had with those two people lead me on almost a year long journey of doubt and discovery. Both of them struggled with this question of existence. How can we know we exist?

This doubt is not a new one. During my time in Switzerland, I learned about Buddhism, a religion that is centered on the belief that we don’t exist. They claim that by ridding ourselves of all desire it will alleviate suffering, and if we can come to the realization that we don’t exist, life will cease to exist. Nirvana is the goal; a transcendent state in which there is no suffering, desire, self, and it results in being released from Karma and reincarnation.

Over the last year, this question of my own existence started to eat away at me. I would find myself having surreal moments that felt as though I were this outsider, watching myself. I would see myself living and breathing, walking, talking, but it felt fake, somehow.

During the original conversation that started this whole thing, Descartes philosophical approach was brought up. Descartes was a Catholic philosopher who set out to prove his own existence. His argument was that the act of doubting proves the reality of thought, or a mind.  “I think, therefore I am.”

This argument has never really sat right with me, and I could never really figure out why until recently.

At Millar, the Bible School I have been attending, we take a mod, a whole college course in one week. It’s fairly intense, especially since one of the mods I took was World Religions. Honestly, I left the classroom with a headache every day from all the information!

This leads me to the epiphany of why Descartes’ philosophical proposition didn’t sit right with me and the answer to the question that has plagued my mind for so long.

Descartes claimed to doubt everything, but the very phrase “I think, therefore I am” is laden with certainties. He is certain that he exists distinctly apart from other beings (“I think, therefore I am”). He is assuming the laws of logic exist and that they correspond to reality. He is taking uniformity for granted, that the logic he uses will be constant in time and not change by the time he expresses it. He is certain that he can know this, which begs the question. How can thinking prove existence? It only proves the existence of thought.  But before all this is the important question… how can we know anything? Where does knowledge come from?

If you say that you know A, the reason you might give is B. But if you are asked to give a reason you know B, you will have to give C. This goes on to infinity, with the result being that you don’t actually know anything. Therefore, all thinking has to start somewhere and rests upon some measure of faith.

knowledge

Something that my World Religions professor has helped me to see is that this works perfectly with my Christian worldview!

Christianity provides the conditions or presuppositions of rational inquiry…  the foundation of knowledge. We would say that we can have knowledge because we have God, who created knowledge. Logic exists because God is logical. Knowledge exists because God is all knowing. Uniformity exists because God does not change, and has promised certain laws and principles won’t change.

Without God in the picture, we are left with nothing. No reason for logic, no reason for the laws of nature, no reason for existence, no reason for reason.

So how do we know we exist?

We can know by trusting the Bible which tells us that we are created in the image of God. Without God, we can not know anything.

Alright, there’s your philosophical thoughts for the day! If you are interested in learning from my professor John Feakes, he has a lot of great lectures online at this website… http://newlifesanctuarychurch.com/audio/lectures/

 

Queen Esther the Coward: NOT the Sunday School Story

The story of Queen Esther has always been one of my favorite Bible stories, but not for the reasons you may think.  The truth is, I believe Christians have put Queen Esther on a pedestal and see her as a courageous heroine, when she really wasn’t. She was a coward!

For an assignment in Bible school, I had to write a paper on anything I chose. I chose Esther. I thought you might be interested to read my perspective, so I decided to share it with you today!

THE COWARD QUEEN ESTHER

The Sunday School story is told like this: once upon a time there was a King who needed a wife, so he threw a beauty pageant.  There was a beautiful young girl named Esther who was chosen amongst all the other girls in the kingdom to become the King’s wife.  She concealed her identity as a Jew, because she wanted to listen to the wise counsel of her guardian, Mordecai.  There was an evil man, an important official named Haman, who hated Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to him.  So Haman hatched a plot to pass a law that would kill not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews.  When Esther heard about this conspiracy, she courageously went to the King and asked him to spare her and her people.  Even though it was very dangerous for her to approach the King, she was able to save all of the Jewish people.

A deeper excavation of the story of Esther reveals details that paint Esther in a different light, not as a courageous heroine, but a coward.  The text does not say why Mordecai compels Esther to keep her Jewish identity hidden.  Perhaps there was rampant anti-Semitic feelings in those days, but scripture is silent on this.[1]

The implications of Esther hiding her Jewish identity are important.  The Jews had many laws that caused them to stand out among the nations around them.  There were various sacrifices that they needed to give, special festival days to observe, ceremonial practices and cleansing laws to keep, and dietary restrictions to follow.  By hiding her identity, Esther would not have been keeping the Sabbath.  She would be eating whatever Syrian food was put in front of her, even if it was unclean.  And she slept with a pagan King who was not her husband.  In modern terms, she was a Christian living like an Atheist.

King Xerxes’ beauty pageant was an extravagant show of his wealth and power.  He gathered beautiful women from all over the land and had them undergo beauty treatments for twelve months.  At the end of the twelve months, each woman would have a night with the King.  Bryan R.  Gregory calls this “bedroom auditions”[2].

According to Charles R.  Swindoll,

“Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us there were as many as 400 women involved in this rather remarkable competition.  They would have a year in which to polish every seductive art, to enhance their beauty by pampering their bodies and applying the art of costume and cosmetic.  Ultimately, it was intended that elegance, charm, physical beauty, and erotic seduction would carry the day.”[3]

In Esther 2:17 it says that Esther pleased the King more than any other woman, and as a result of her performance the King made her Queen.

What were Esther’s thoughts during all of this?  Because the text does not say, we can not be certain.  Being the Queen of Persia would certainly have been a step up from whatever position she had before.  Bryan R. Gregory points out that by becoming Queen, Esther would have been instantly living a life of luxury, something that would have been desirable.[4]

An interesting detail to the story is found in Esther 2:6. It states that Esther and Mordecai’s distant relative had been among those who had been carried into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Karen H.  Jobes explains that years later, a new King fulfilled a prophetic word and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.  The story of Esther occurs 50 years after this, which means both Mordecai and Esther’s families had the opportunity to return home to Jerusalem, but willfully chose not to.[5]

If we look at Esther in comparison with other people in the Bible, we see her moral resolve sorely lacking.  For example, in Daniel 6, King Darius decreed that no one was to worship or pray to anyone but himself.  Daniel was not intimidated by this, but continued to get down on his knees and pray to God three times a day, even though it almost cost him his life.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three men who were extremely courageous under pressure.  In Daniel 3, we find out that they were given the choice to either bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar or be thrown into a furnace.  They boldly stood their ground – they did not hide their identity. This is not what we see in Esther.  She is passive and compliant.  She does not stand up for what she knows is right.

THE COURAGEOUS QUEEN ESTHER

Some would argue that Esther was simply a victim, a good girl who made something good out of a bad situation.  King Xerxes was an extremely powerful man.  It is fair to say that even if Esther would have tried to resist being taken or sleeping with him, she would not have been successful.

In Esther 2:8 it says that “many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa… Esther also was taken” (emphasis added).  Some have suggested that this implies Esther was taken against her own will.[7]  This is merely speculation, for the author does not go out of his way to tell us this.

In the Septuagint, a Greek version of Esther, we find a prayer that Esther allegedly prayed: “You know that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien.  You know my necessity – that I abhor the sign of my proud position… And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations.” [8]

This suggests that she did not sin by eating the King’s food or drinking the wine offered to the pagan gods.  There are other additions in the Septuagint, which include additional prayers and a much more dramatic version of Esther’s meeting with the King.

If this were true, it would show Esther to have high moral standards – however, it is widely believed by Biblical scholars that the Septuagint was written after the Hebrew version of Esther in order to answer some of these questions of morality.  As a result, it is not considered to be authentic, but merely a dramatic retelling of the story.[9]

Another proposal is that because Esther’s immoral actions resulted in the salvation of the Jewish people, her guilt is absolved.  Charles R.  Swindoll thinks that, “Esther went in to the king without fear because she had no driving ambition to be queen… She was there for one reason: because she knew that the hand of God was on her life, and through circumstances and Mordecai’s wisdom, she had been brought to this place for a reason.”[10]

Karen H.  Jobes poses some questions to those who see Esther in this light.

 “What role model messages would you tell to teenage girls from this book?  ‘Make yourself as attractive as possible to powerful men?  Use your body to advance God’s kingdom?  The end justifies the means?’” [11]

THE GRACE OF GOD FOR ESTHER

Though Esther may not be an example of right living, her story is still full of hope.  Tim Keller emphasizes that, “The message of the Bible is not that God blesses and saves those who live moral exemplary lives. The message is that God persistently and continuously gives His grace to those who don’t ask for it, deserve it, or fully appreciate it after they get it.”[12]  Bryan R.  Gregory affirms that the story of Esther is not to give us a Heroine of the faith, but to show God’s redemptive power in spite of her failures.[13]

Esther is a girl with a Hebrew and Persian name.  It seems to illustrate her struggle to find her identity.  Even though Esther did not live according to God’s laws and married a Pagan King, God still redeemed her situation to save His people.  When faced with the annihilation of her people, she finally finds her resolve.  This cowardly Queen becomes courageous enough to stand up for what is right.

CONCLUSION

God’s name is never mentioned in the book of Esther.  But His sovereign hand of grace is so apparent in the lives of the disobedient Jews living in Babylon.  Though undeserving, He still rescues and protects His people.  The story of Esther is one of my favorite illustrations of the grace and courage that God gives to cowards!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Berlin, Adele.  “Greek Versions of Esther.”  Myjewishlearning.com http://www.myjewishlearning.  com/article/greek-versions-of-esther/ (accessed on October 11, 2016)
  • Bible Gateway. “Greek Esther 5.” No date. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Greek%20Esther+5&version=NRSV (accessed October 11, 2016)
  • Driscoll, Mark.  “Jesus is a Better Savior.” Sermon notes.  September 23, 2012. 
  • Fox, Michael V.  Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther.  Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.
  • Gregory, Bryan R.  Inconspicuous Providence.  Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  P&R Publishing Company, 2014.
  • Jobes, Karen H.  The NIV Application Commentary: Esther.  Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing Hose, 1999.
  • Keller, Tim. “The Silent Sovereignty of God.” Sermon notes. Spring 2007.
  • Stedman, Ray C.  The Queen and I.  Waco, Texas.  Word Books, 1978.
  • Swindoll, Charles R.  Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity.  Nashville, Tennessee.  Word Publishing, Inc., 1997.

 

How NOT to Use the God Card

I think sometimes Christians use the God card inappropriately…

“God gave me this dream, so now I know I should date you.” (My response: God gave me a dream where I drank acid, so…?)

“God blessed me with a Christian family.” (Hm… So, if you don’t have a Christian family, God has cursed you?)

“I just don’t think God is calling me to do that.”  (Could be true… but could also just be an excuse.)

In class the other day, we discussed spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. I am seriously all for prophecy and all the spiritual gifts. I have experienced it numerous times and it has been very helpful and encouraging. I love it when God works in cool ways!

But at the same time, I don’t think that I am the only one who has had someone tell me “God told me to tell you” something that was either hurtful or just didn’t make any sense. It is people who use the God card this way that give the legit gifts of the spirit a bad rap.

Obviously, it’s easy to abuse the God card. Here are my thoughts on how to use it appropriately…

Unless it’s scripture, don’t claim your words are 100% certified God’s words.

The Bible is the WORD of God. So if you’re sharing scripture with someone, you can be certain that God said it. But if you have a ‘word’ for someone, even if you are sure it is from God, maybe don’t phrase it that way. You could say, “hey, I was praying, and I think this might be something God wants me to tell you…” or “I don’t know if this applies to you or not, but…”

Be humble.

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It can come off very arrogant if you say “GOD has called me to this…” or “GOD told me to tell you…”. This is also a question of motives. Are you throwing that God card down to look spiritual? If so, stahp it!

Rely on the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is clear that God wants us to thrive in the power of the Holy Spirit! Acts 1:8 says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness… to the ends of the earth”. If you are truly relying on the Holy Spirit, I believe you will be able to share with people freely, accurately, with love and compassion.  The more you rely on Him, the more it will happen!

Okay, so most of my thoughts are based on just that… my thoughts. You can take them or leave ’em. I pray that we can all use the God Card in ways that help, not hurt…

god-card

 

 

Thoughts From Da Bush

I was sitting in a bush the other day. By the other day, I mean summer. Like 6 months ago. My youth group was playing Manhunt, and I had found a particularly bushy bush to sit down and chill in. I stuck around for probably ten minutes and then, thinking that the game must be over, left the security of the bush only to be caught. 😦

But! Cooly enough, I had a profound moment sitting on the dirt with bugs crawling e’rywhere and branches in my face.

I noticed an ant climbing the wall beside me, and was immediately reminded of the proverb, “take a lesson from the ant, you lazy bones! Learn from their ways and become wise” (6v6).

I have been feeling rather lazy in my relationship with God lately. It amazes me how easy it is to take my eyes off of Jesus and just start to drift…

Currently I am at Bible School, where literally every class, assignment, and chapel is about God and the Bible. Shocking, I know, but it is SUPER easy to become lazy and take my relationship with God for granted.

I have recognized I process by writing… journaling and blogging especially. And I have not done a lot of blogging in the last year, due to craziness and laziness. SO, I am gonna make more of an effort to write again. 

That is all. I guess this is a blog to remind myself, and hopefully you, to just stahp being so lazy! Get antsy, as the proverb says!  

     

Meeting Jesus in McDonalds

I don’t know about you, but I think reading the Bible can be boring.

Don’t act so shocked! I can’t be the only one who does their “devotions” (Christianese for reading the Bible) off and on. I realized recently that it’s like a relationship… If you and your best friend only did the same thing every single night, wouldn’t you get bored after a while?

We forget that reading the Bible is not supposed to be a religious exercise, but part of our relationship with God. So when we read our one chapter a day, every day, it makes sense that we would become tired of it. We need to shake things up!

I am in no way claiming to be an expert in this, but in the last few months I have been experiencing a lot of freedom and excitement when it comes to reading the Bible and spending time with Jesus! I want to share my findings with you…

Stop trying to read the whole Bible in a year.

I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to do this. It never works. For some people it does, but don’t think you have to be one of them.

bible meme 2

Become Spontaneous and Do Things Differently

Why do we have this idea that in order to have a “proper” devotional time, we need to have sat for at least half an hour and read as many chapters as we can? Quality, not quantity!

bible meme 4

The BEST time I have ever spent with God was last spring sometime. I was driving one evening when I realized the northern lights were especially bright. So I stopped and ended up sitting on the trunk of my car singing and crying and talking to God for more than an hour.

Sometimes I listen to a podcast while I go for a walk. Sometimes I read a good book that encourages me to think about God in new ways. Sometimes I watch a sermon. I am intentionally trying to do it different every day, and this has been helping so much!

Make your time more about hearing from God and less about checking something off your to-do list

I am super guilty of this… I sit down with x amount of time before I need to go to work, so I quickly crack open the Bible and read as fast as I can.

Just last week it occurred to me that I was missing the point, so for the next half hour I sat in silence and asked God to speak to me, and the stuff that He told me was AMAZING. Again, the other day I started reading the Bible and I suddenly felt strongly that  He wanted me to call a friend of mine and talk through some stuff that had come between us… My “devo” time consisted of a really encouraging conversation making things right.

Try coloring.

Not everyone likes to write in their Bible, but I DO. I have come up with a coloring system, and I highlight certain things with pencil crayons. Pink is for sin, red is for God’s commands, etc. I also have symbols that I draw to help me later on find passages on different topics.

Go meet Jesus in Mcdonalds

I try to spend time with Jesus in different locations to help shake it up. In the summer I like to sit on the train bridge close to my house. Now during winter, I go once a week to a local coffee shop to have a cup of tea with Jesus, and one time I had a funny experience in McDonalds…

I was just sitting, minding my own business. Suddenly this 20-something dude sits down at the next table and asks me what I’m reading.

“My Bible,” I smile a small smile, and turn back. He is creepyish.

“Aw, cool! I’ve read the Bible before. It’s like an action book!”

I kid you not, 30 seconds later this nicer looking old man with a huge hipster beard steps up to me and says “Hey, I just wanted you to know that you have a REALLY nice smile. And you’re reading the Bible too! Cool!” He came back a second time to tell me the SAME thing.

LOL.

Not every devo time is filled with such interesting experiences, but often they are!

bible meme 3