Month: September 2015

Seeing the Invisible God

The Western world – Christians included – are incredibly blind to the presence of God. We have our being in the midst of a noise-polluted and emotionally chaotic world. From the constant buzzing of smart phones to the continual anxiety about material things, we have become blind to the God who reveals Himself moment-by-moment.

I want to share with you an ancient practice that will allow you to see the invisible God. He is working and revealing himself in the midst of our lives but we are too busy and distracted to notice. This means of grace is known as the Examen of Consciousness.

The Examen of Consciousness could be accurately described as a daily review. It is a time that you set apart  and ask God to show you the variety of ways He was present to you throughout your day (or week). This is a form of prayer that has much more to do with listening rather than being heard. Through regular practice of the Examen of Consciousness, you will gradually become more aware of God’s presence in the ordinariness of your life.

Here’s my challenge for you: Spend seven days practicing the Examen of Consciousness. As the warm glow of the evening sun hides behind the horizon and you prepare for sleep, spend a few moments journeying with God through the events of your day. In what ways did you see “coincidences” that reminded you of God’s love and grace? In what ways did you respond to God’s prompting to speak to a stranger or show comfort to someone who was hurting? Allow the loving Spirit of God to make known the variety of ways He was working in your life throughout the day.

In the morning, remind yourself of the beautiful truth recorded in Psalm 139:16 – “All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” God wants to reveal himself to you. Pray that He would awake you from your spiritual slumber and open your eyes to the reality of His presence.

Is All Religion Created Equal?

Many people, including Christians, have been deceived into thinking that all religion is generally the same.

In other words, God is a mountain and the various religions are simply different pathways to the top of the mountain as long as the religion promotes good will and sincere belief. Although there are hundreds of Scripture references from both the Old and New Testaments that directly refute this understanding of God, the story of the Exodus is a surprisingly powerful place to begin.

In summary, the people of Israel are forced into cruel slave labor by Egypt. At this time, Egypt wielded incredible political and military might which no one could withstand. Egypt was so powerful at this time that the king of Egypt – the Pharaoh – was viewed as the divine god Horus who had the ability to give and take away life.

Into this scene steps an unlikely deliverer named Moses who proclaims the famous statement, “Let my people go” repeatedly to Pharaoh in an attempt to deliver Israel from their bondage of slavery. Pharaoh, in his ignorance, declares he knows nothing of the God of Israel and refuses to let the people leave to worship in the wilderness. This sets the scene for the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt to spar with one another for dominance through the ten plagues God unleashes on Egypt.

Each one of the plagues is a direct assault on the gods and comforts of the Egyptians and the attacks culminate in a spectacular display of God’s sovereignty over all of creation.

1. Nile turning into blood.
This was an assault on the “Mother of Egypt” (the Nile river) which provided life to Egypt.

2. Frogs invade Egypt.
This was an assault on Heka – the Frog god of Egypt.

3. Lice/Gnats form from the dust of the earth to attack Egypt.
This was an assault on Geb – the Earth god of Egypt.

4. Flies/Beetles invade Egypt in unbelievable numbers.
This was an assault on Kephra, the Egyptian god whose head resembled the scarab beetle.

5. Cattle all becoming sick and dying.
This was an assault on the Egyptian fertility symbol.

6. Ashes landing on the bodies of Egyptians causing extreme boils.
Ashes were a sign of blessing in Egypt. God uses ashes to curse those who opposed Him.

7. Thunder, lightening, and large hail destroys and kills many Egyptians and their property.
This was an assault on Isis and Serapis who were the gods of fire and water. This was done to show that the false gods could not protect Egypt from the Living God.

8. Locusts destroying all the crops in Egypt.
This was not a direct assault on any specific pagan god but rather to show that the God of Israel is sovereign over all creation – even the supply of food.

9. Darkness covers all of the land and the people of Egypt cannot even see directly in front of themselves.
The was a direct assault on Re, the sun god of Egypt. Re was one of the most important deities of Egypt.

10. Killing of all the firstborn whose homes were not marked by the blood of the Passover Lamb.
All of the plagues culminated in this attack against Pharaoh to refute his claim that was a god and could give and take away life as he pleased.


Almost immediately after delivering Israel from the yoke of slavery, God proclaims the famous Ten Commandments which begin by declaring He is the only God and the ONLY one to be worshiped. The story of the Exodus is in direction contradiction to the popular belief that all religion and all gods are the same. Repeatedly through narrative, poetry, law, and teaching, the Scriptures proclaim the truth that there is only ONE God and the only way to have access to Him is through Jesus Christ.

Toxic Charity

toxic charity

Thanks to the Kairos Project, I have been profoundly challenged in my views of giving and charity. One of the assignments is to read certain books about the effects of charities on different people groups. The book I am currently reading is – Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help.

To summarize this book, Robert Lupton makes a compelling case that most of our giving to those less fortunate than us is actually hurting them. Instead of seeking time-consuming, holistic transformation of communities from the ground up, we throw a few dollar bills in the direction of those hurting and hope it will provide them with temporary relief.

According to Lupton, this uninformed generosity is far more dangerous than we realize.

I am not saying I am completely on board with Lupton (yet) as I still need to wrestle with the Scriptures in this area. With that being said, Lupton offers an incredibly helpful “Oath for Compassionate Service” inspired by the Hippocratic Oath that doctors affirm. I will try my best to explain each one of the points in a few sentences but I highly recommend reading the entire book.

1. Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
If you do everything for the person you are helping, you are destroying their humanity. This will foster dangerous levels of dependence which will ultimately harm the recipient of your aid. As Lupton says, “The effective helper can be an encourager, a coach, a partner, but never a caretaker.”

2. Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
In times of disaster, it is necessary to come alongside the poor to offer monetary assistance. Instead of continuing to give in disaster mode, we should begin to empower the poor to change their mindset and circumstances on their own. Offering millions of dollars of aid with no holistic treatment for body, soul, and spirit will result in toxic charity and crush the community we are seeking to help.

3. Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
When you enable the recipient to pay off the aid they have received, it allows them to regain their sense of honor. Lupton makes a powerful case for the use of micro-lending in order to encourage entrepreneurship. This enables those in the community to see past their present poverty into a future full of possibilities.

4. Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
Lupton treats many short-term mission trips rather harshly. He refers to it as religious tourism – in essence, Christians in the west spend thousands of dollars to go on one-week mission trips in order to serve poverty stricken institutions such as orphanages, churches, and schools. Instead of these mission trips, this money could be funneled back into the economy to hire local painters, carpenters, movers, etc. to provide the service the organization needs at a fraction of a cost of a mission trip. This will provide employment and help stimulate the local economy.

On a side note, Lupton is not entirely against the concept of short term mission trips. He states, “Isn’t it time we admit to ourselves that mission trips are essentially for our benefit? Religious tourism would have much more integrity if we simply admitted that we’re off to explore God’s amazing work in the world.”

5. Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
Many people seeking aid will not want to share their whole story. This is usually not due to them being deceitful, instead they are often ashamed that they need to seek help. To effectively provide aid, you MUST be listening to the Holy Spirit and studying the unspoken sadness and brokenness of the person’s life. The unspoken feelings may provide substantial clues on how you can truly help them succeed.

6. Above all, do no harm.
Lupton describes this far better than I can – “Before we embark on a new service venture, we should conduct an ‘impact study’ to consider how our good deeds might have unintended consequences. Are we luring indigenous ministers away from their pastoral duties to become schedule coordinators for our mission trips? Are we creating dependencies that may ultimately erode self-sufficiency? As Hippocrates admonished: above all, do no harm.”


I do not fully agree with all of Lupton’s conclusions but I do find his arguments surprisingly strong. Ultimately, we need to hold all teaching in light of Scripture. As I continue to wrestle with this issue, I would highly recommend that you purchase Toxic Charity and read it in its entirety, ESPECIALLY if you are involved in any form of charity.

Immediate Obedience

immediateobedience

As I was meditating upon the Gospel of Matthew this morning, I was struck by the reaction of two disciples to Jesus when he called for them. Jesus, who at this time did not have any disciples, was taking a stroll beside the Sea of Galilee. This body of water is a popular and busy workplace for commercial fishermen. All around him, Jesus can hear the rough talk of men and the distinct sound of fishing nets crashing into the water.

Into this scene, Jesus sets his eyes upon two brothers – Simon and Andrew. Similar to any other day, Simon and Andrew are laboring to catch fish. This is not a vacation for them, this is their livelihood which they have trained many hours for.

Boldly, this itinerant preacher calls to them from the shore: “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” (Matt. 4:19)

In essence, Jesus is calling them to sacrifice their comfort and financial security to follow an unknown rabbi. What would you have done? I would have ignored this preacher in order to provide for myself and my family. I have a tendency to worship security rather than God. Instead of stepping into the unknown, I would have held onto my current condition of life and disregarded the Son of God.

How do Simon and Andrew react?

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. (Matt. 4:20)

They left their sense of comfort. They left their financial security. They left their friends and family. They did all of this to attain a greater prize – following Jesus. Instead of hesitating and worrying themselves out of obedience, they listened immediately.

God wants to use you and I today to accomplish his purposes but we often rationalize our disobedience.

My challenge for YOU today is to obey immediately as soon as you hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit prompting you for action.

 

 

Three Tips for College Students

adviceforcollege

As the Summer season breathes its last warm breath, many students are heading back to school. This is a unique time of the year filled with uncertainty and nervous excitement in the lives of these college students. In order to thrive in your first (or fourth!) year of college, I want to offer some helpful counsel.

1. You are NOT a student first.
I do not care what you parents, academic advisers, guidance counselors, or professors say. Your primary identity is NOT being a student. Although you may spend hours laboring over the dusty pages of ancient books in your campus library, your number one priority is to make much of Jesus Christ – not your studies.

I once heard of a wise professor at a seminary telling his students, “For some of you, it would be sinful not to get an A in this class; for others of you, it WOULD BE sinful for you get an A in this class.”

Your relationship with God comes before your studies.
Your relationship with your family comes before your studies.
Your relationship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ comes before your studies.

You are a Christian before you are a student so prioritize your time accordingly. What does it profit you to gain incredible grades, prestigious awards, and published articles if you only lose your soul in the process?

2. Root yourself in a local church.
Every college campus, even Christian ones, are notorious for shattering the faith of zealous believers who have spent the last four years drinking soda out of a sock at youth group. In college, as in the rest of your life, it is going to take more than emotional highs and silly games to sustain your faith.

There is an invisible enemy that lurks around your college campus with the desire to kill, steal, and destroy you. Peter provides us with helpful advice: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

We need to remember that one of Satan’s most effective tactics of devouring believers is by isolating them from a local church. He does this primarily through busyness. If you allow your commitment to a local church to drift during your time at school, you WILL lose this battle against Satan and his demons and your faith will be ruined.

Therefore, root yourself in a local church. Join a small group, serve on a morning team, commit to attending worship services; do NOT unplug from the church as a result of your studies.

3. Do not be taken captive by deception.
All of us are aware of the moral dangers of a college campus. Unfortunately, we are far less aware of the deception that wreaks havoc in the minds of believers being challenged in their faith. It is easy for us to lack discernment and simply received all material we learn in school as truth.

Paul warns us of this danger in Colossians 2:8 – “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.”

Paul describes this teaching as “empty philosophy” that sounds extremely intelligent. Ultimately, the teaching finds its source solely in human reason which has been marred as a result of sin. This is what you will encounter in your secular religious and philosophy classes.

Nothing is new under the sun.

I would encourage you to be as noble as the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (Acts 17:11) Even when you are confused by a certain teaching, I can promise you there are solid resources by evangelical scholars who have encountered the issues far before you did.

Below is an incredible video by The Gospel Coalition on this subject:


What would you add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!