That God may be Praised

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Just a quick post on a very happy day last week.  Here I am with my friend Kathy in the back halls of the Manahan Orthopedic Center at Grace College and Theological Seminary, ready to receive my Master’s Degree in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership Studies.  What an emotional weekend, looking back on about all I have learned and the measure of grace given to me by God to reach this point.

While back in the halls lined up for the processional we met Alex, a graduate who hadn’t been present the previous day for rehearsal because he had been attending his wife’s graduation from Columbus State in Columbus, Ohio.

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Ok, here is just a little something funny, since four graduates in a row were originally from Ohio, and two of us had received our undergraduate degrees from Ohio State.  O-H-I-O. Buckeyes do this wherever we meet. (Ha-You’ll have to read my post about the buckeyes from January 7, 2015).

Back to my topic:  Alex told me that there was a stark contrast between his wife’s graduation address and the one we would hear on our own graduation day.  You see, his wife’s graduation speaker had been Ohio State’s president, Dr Michael Drake.  I am certain Dr. Drake is both a very learned man and worthy speaker.  But as Alex explained, his message lay in stark contrast to what we have been taught through the Scriptures.  Drake’s message to the graduates of Columbus State had been a charge to the graduates to go out and use the skills they had attained to change the world. He had told them that change was other shoulders, and only through their contribution would the world become all that it could.

The Christian world view is different.  We believe that it is only by Christ working through us that real change can occur.  Change is not up to us doing, but rather it is up to us yielding to the work of Christ in our lives.  We seek not our own accomplishments, but furtherance of the name of Jesus.  Listen to two verses I studied with the ladies in my Sunday school class the very next day:  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”  1 Peter 4:10-11.

It’s amazing how God teaches us and reminds us that our work here on earth is not about self-achievement.  It is about reaching the nations with His love and His glory.  It is indeed a different world view from that of the secular world, and I daresay a different message even from many religious organizations.  Yield to God and make Him known. I must become less and He must become more (John 3:30).  And the reason? That God may be praised.

The Simple Gospel

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I have written recently of my love for the Scriptures and of growing out of the “baby stage” of following Christ.  With that said, I would like to say that the gospel itself, the “good news” about Jesus, is not difficult to understand.  In 1 Corinthians 15 we find a quick outline of that gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (vv 3-4, NASB).

All of us have stepped away from who God designed us to be. We, the created, have chosen our own way. I know because I’ve done it.  We follow our own desires, and we serve our own needs.  Yes, we also come through for others.  God has left His mark on all mankind, so that we internally know good from evil.  Still, we choose wrongly many times.  Greed, self-promotion, self-protection, jealousy–we all go there.  Some of us do so inwardly, and some of us carry it all the way through to our actions, but whether in thought or in action, we all go there.

Being who He is, God is completely pure and unchanged by our self-serving nature.  He is Holy, that is, “set apart.”  He is “apart” from our self-centeredness (called sin).  As much as He loves us and wants a relationship with us, our self-centeredness, our sin, keeps us from His holy nature.

So God sent His Son Jesus to die for all those things we put between us and Him.  Through Jesus all those things are put to death and the barriers between us and God are broken.  We saw God’s power when He raised Jesus from the grave.  Jesus was not just some martyr for a good cause, but Lord of everything, including our sin.

God has asked us to believe in Jesus’ work on our behalf.  He has asked us to follow Jesus’ example with our lives, and that involves getting to know who Jesus is, and allowing Him to change our lives to be more like His.  That is the simple gospel.  There are model prayers you can pray to get started, but it’s not about the prayer.  It’s about choosing to leave behind a self-centered lifestyle, and to move into a Christ-centered life.  It is a decision to follow Christ and trust in His work on the cross for your self-centeredness (sin).  The prayer asking God’s forgiveness is the starting point.  A total makeover awaits. You won’t be perfect when you commit to this journey. You will become more like Christ as you learn from Him. You will learn what pleases Him (previous post), and God will give you His Holy Spirit to help you do it (future post).

If I may end with an example, check out the book of Philippians in the Bible, chapter 3.  In verses 1-6 the Apostle Paul gives all kinds of reasons why he could brag about being an important citizen of his day.  Then he turns a corner in verses 7-11 and gives it all up for something better:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that he has lost everything that made him “important” so that he could be found in Christ.  Paul’s identity is in knowing Christ and in being found in Him.  That is a powerful, yet simple concept.  It is the concept that changed my life many years ago, and I am still pursuing it today.  It is the gospel lived out.

Christ is my focus.

Christ is my identity.

Everything else hinges on these two facts.  I am a follower of Him.

Since I like to post a song with my blog, here is a link to a song by my favorite band, Third Day.  The song is called “Creed,” and it expresses what Christians through the ages have believed about the Christian faith.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqpZtJYZhJU

 

My love for the Scriptures

IMG_4621 In my last post I mentioned my love for the Scriptures. That seems to be an unpopular position these days. We live in a time when the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures is in constant question.  I think it’s easy for some people to question the Scriptures because we so often see them misunderstood and misused. I know people who claim to know God but who focus totally on the “dos and don’ts” of Scripture.  They rush to judgment, making it look as if all God wants is for us to follow His list. They attack people who don’t believe the Scriptures, and worse, they attack people who do believe, if they follow differently.  This isn’t biblical. Here is what God thinks of using our knowledge to attack others:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I’ve also seen the Scriptures misunderstood in this way: God is love, and He told us not to judge, so we need to keep our noses out of everybody’s business.  What’s right for them is right for them.  What’s right for us is right for us.  Christians have no business determining what is right for someone else, and no right to talk about it.  In this philosophy every person determines what is right in his/her own eyes. This is also a wrong interpretation.  Without listing a hundred places in Scripture where Christians are confronted with their sins, let me quote the Apostle Paul, “What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2 NIV). The New American Standard translation quotes it my favorite way: “May it never be!”  In today’s terms, “No. way!”

Emotionally, living according to our own consciences may sound okay, but here’s a thought to ponder:  If there is a God in heaven who created all things, shouldn’t He have the right to determine what is right and what is wrong?  Doesn’t the creator have supremacy over the created?  I’m afraid we dramatically underestimate who God is.  Who of us can even fathom a God who can create everything we know–and everything we don’t?  We so greatly underestimate His power that we live our lives as if we are great enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to make the rules.  In short, we are self-centered.

So, how are we to understand the Scriptures?

First, I recommend using a guide that will help you learn to study.  I highly recommend Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks.  http://www.amazon.com/Living-Book-Science-Reading-Bible/dp/0802408230/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426284131&sr=8-1&keywords=living+by+the+book

It is practice in studying the Scriptures that helps us to understand what God has said.  People who seldom read the Scriptures only understand the easy part (the church fathers called it milk). If we don’t study the Bible, we don’t understand the meatier stuff;  We don’t understand God.  We cannot because we are still thinking like babies.

I believe part of being a baby is relying on rules to say we know God. A small child might learn not to run out in the street because she might get hit by a car, but does that mean she knows her parent?  Or does she simply know one of the ways her parent is keeping her safe?  Another part of being a baby is wanting to feel good all of the time and not do hard things like believing what God has said about Himself and His authority.  A small child always looks for his or her own needs to be met.  When he is hungry he cries for food. When she is cold, she wakes her parent up in the middle of the night to ask for a blanket.   But does this mean she knows everything about her parent?  Of course not.  She has a lot of growing to do before she can understand how the parent provides for her, the depth of parental love, or the dreams the parent has for the child’s future.

It is like that with God.  If we remain babies we focus on the rules and on our feelings.  We miss the benefit of growing wiser and knowing our Father more fully.  We remain self-focused, narrow-minded, and shallow in our relationship with God. May I encourage you to get to know Him?  By practice you will have your senses trained to discern what He is like.

Hebrews 5:12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

If you question the authenticity of Scripture, following are some resources to look up. The authors/speakers have devoted their lives to teaching about the reliability of Scriptures. They both began as skeptics and atheists and came to believe the Bible is reliable and true. Check them out:

Google YouTube, Lee Strobel: He has some great long and short discussions about the Scriptures.  Here is a short one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-1zO7fz1OA website: http://www.desiringgod.org/seminars/why-we-believe-the-bible-part-1

Josh McDowell has a great website with wonderful resources:

http://www.josh.org/video-2/is-the-bible-reliable/

Is the Bible True . . . Really?: A Dialogue on Skepticism, Evidence, and Truth (The Coffee House Chronicles) Josh McDowell

It’s not what you know, but who you know

IMG_0717 It’s not what you know, but Who you know

I’ve done more reading in the last two years than I’ve done in the past 25 years put together.  At least it seems that way.  I’ve never been an avid reader, never gotten hooked on romance or adventure novels, and always found my relaxation in active things such as hiking or gardening. But this reading has been different. Wonderful. The reading has been part of my Master’s program in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership. I’ve been learning theology and ministry skills. I’m not in it for the academics, or to win contests in Bible Trivia.  I’m certainly not in it to impress others with my knowledge. I’m in it to know the God who has calls me His own.

I’ve read the philosophies and perspectives of people from many different walks of life.  It helps me to see how people think, and why.  In the end however, I come back to one thing: God has given us a wonderful book we call the Bible.  Its purpose is to show us who God is and what He is like.  It is the story of Him creating and cultivating a relationship with us.  Often we are rebellious, proud, self-focused and unthankful for all He has given us.  And still, He pursues us.

What’s my point here?

There are many opinions on how to approach Scripture, truth, morality, and human liberties.  I plan to continue that topic in another post.  But for now I want to say, “It’s not what you know, it’s Who you know.”  The Scriptures were written primarily for us to know who God is and How we may know Him.  Volumes and volumes have been written by men and women who have dedicated their lives to knowing God through His Scriptures.  It is a pursuit that is both the most satisfying thing a person can do, and the most intriguing. There is always more to discover because the Word of God is living and active.  It is able to weigh our thoughts and intentions, and it is able to lead us to know God.  In fact, I find that the more I study Him the more I want to study Him.  He is the ultimate pursuit.  The book of Hebrews tells us that we train ourselves to understand God by constantly using His Word (chapter 5:11-14).

I am ever thankful for the opportunity to know my Creator.  How?  Because He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.  They have taught me that someone is higher than me, and is my authority.  Yet beautifully, someone is higher than me, and calls me to be His own. That’s the most fulfilling thing I know.  It’s why I value not what I know, but who I am getting to know better every day.  It’s why Christians say we have a “relationship with God.”  We have been trained to read His love letter to us.  And when we do (when we really do) we know Him even more.

I’ll leave you with a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that has meant a lot to me for a number of years:

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Lift Each Other Up

My last post was about building each other up. That topic and this one tug at my heart. As God’s children, we not only need to build each other up, we need to LIFT each other up. 

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Great leaders don’t rise to the top by stepping on the backs of others.  Great leaders are lifted to the top on the shoulders of those who follow them.  

Jesus’ theory was that whoever wants to be great must be a servant of others rather than promoting himself (Mark 9:35).  Of course, any theory held by Jesus wasn’t exactly theory; it was (& is) the very Word of truth.  In fact, Jesus demonstrated his theory in action when he humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).

We will never grow to be who God wants us to be by holding others back. We are at our best when we allow others to be at their best.  The family of God is placed together to create a strong body, and without every part of the body, we cannot function properly. God has put us together, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).    Mutual concern for each other makes us strong.

It’s on my heart to say this: Christian brother or sister I need you.  You are important and you are needed.  I cannot be at my best unless you are at yours.  How can I lift you up on my shoulders so that you shine as brightly as you can with the love of Christ? How can I celebrate the way God is using you as part of His kingdom? How can I step out of the way so that your light can be clearly seen?

Should we want to be used by God? Absolutely. But it’s deadly when we need to be. Being loved by God sets us free to celebrate whomever God uses.                                   –Mike Donehey,                    Tenth Avenue North

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Celebrating the achievements of others makes us all stronger.

Lord, Help me to celebrate others, their gifts and their achievements.  Show me how to give every opportunity for them to shine in your kingdom.  Like a forest set on fire with your truth, may our mutual flame be inextinguishable. May we bring glory to You together!

Build Each Other Up

IMG_4888 When I was a kid we used to drive by a beautiful red barn on our way to the city. I always looked for it because it was tall, stately, and brightly decorated. One set of barn doors was painted with big white diamonds like an argyle sweater. Another sported a large bulls eye. Great creativity had been used in designing the exterior. IMG_4890

 

Over the years however, no one took care of the barn and its needed repairs. The paint began to fade and eventually it cracked and peeled. The shingles wore out, the roof sagged, and recently some of the doors fell off altogether. If you were to drive by the barn today, all you would see is a tired symbol of American farm history. IMG_4887

 

 

People are like that old barn. We need regular maintenance too. While it is true that God alone can maintain us, He gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for each other. First Thessalonians 5:11 tells us, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (NASB).

 

Do you see it? Encourage one another and build each other up. The two go hand in hand. At least five times in the New Testament the Apostle Paul uses the words “build each other up.” That’s why I’ve made it my goal to speak encouraging words to others. Let me encourage you to do the same.   Every day we have a choice to build up God’s kingdom, or tear it down. Let’s stick together. The world does a great job of tearing us down. We hear negative words and criticisms every day. Let’s choose to be builders rather than part of the demolition crew.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles posted on the Internet criticizing the way some of us do church.  They tear apart our belief in the Scriptures, criticize the size of our churches, and lambaste the way we worship.  It breaks my heart. If someone has a different approach but is reaching people with the true message of Christ, Praise. the. LORD.  It takes all of God’s “hands and feet” (us) to reach this world.  That’s the privilege He gave us.  Cherish it, and be a builder.

1Therefore I, (Paul) the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-5 NASB).

Think about what a difference you could make if you were to devote yourself to building others up according to what they need. You know the girl who stays in the background at youth group? Build her up. You know the Sunday school teacher who loves on your kids so you can worship in peace every Sunday? Build her up. You know the youth worker who selflessly gives of her time? Build her up. What about your sister on the other side of the room? God will give you the words. Recognize the way she loves Jesus. Remind her of God’s love for her. Make others stronger by the words you choose. Use Scripture to encourage, and thank God for the privilege of helping to build His kingdom!

*Lord, give me the courage and the discernment to be one who builds others up according to their needs.

 

Oh Come, Let’s Sing Ohio’s praise…

IN HONOR OF THE BUCKEYES PLAYING IN THE FIRST-EVER NATIONAL TITLE GAME OF THE NCAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFF ERA, I POST THIS ROUGH DRAFT.  A TRIBUTE TO THE GREATEST TEAM IN SPORTS.  O-H…  IMG_2565

I’ll never forget my first Ohio State-Michigan game. I was a freshman at OSU sitting in Block O, the student section directly behind the goal post in the closed end of Ohio Stadium.  That was a few years ago, but it remains engrained in my mind.  It was a cold Saturday in November, smack in the middle of a 9 year match-up between Earl Bruce and Bo Schembechler. “The Game,” as was usually the case, would determine the Big Ten title, and the team to progress to the Rose Bowl.

After a week of rallies and parades on campus, the crowd was exceptionally crazy. The band entered down the ramp in the closed end of the stadium just as tradition had determined since 1928.  The crowd went wild as the Buckeyes barreled out of the locker room (loud boos for Michigan of course–It’s ok, Michigan was evil, and it really was a war).  Then came the National Anthem. At a lauded game like this one there is a sense of tension and anticipation that, even though our hearts were bursting with the emotion of the event, we took a reverent moment to remove hats and fall silent as the drums began to roll. The singing began.  It was enthusiastic and every note was sung by the fans clad in maize and blue as well as those in scarlet and gray. In this vibrant crowd of over 90 thousand people there was no denying the electricity.

As we reached the final stanza, “and the home of the brave…” the U.S. air force roared low over the stadium in a thunderous formation that deafened the crowd until all that we heard (or rather felt) was the thumping of our hearts inside our chests on that final note.  The noise never dimmed as the fighters sped away, and I realized the crowd had picked up the roar and was keeping it going.  It was one of those moments everyone was caught-up, enraptured may I say, in the moment and the anticipation of what was about to be.  It was at that moment that I first realized what this rivalry meant to so many people.  It was then that I went from being a fan to being a follower of Ohio State Football. Kyle Idleman would be proud (look that up).

I love the game! It’s like a religion (stay with me). I mean, there is so much tradition, everyone knowing what to say, to sing, to yell, to do and when to do it. It’s liturgical. Literally, being in Columbus on game day, especially on Michigan game day, you see a city come ALIVE. Around campus there are the usual vendors, food, drinks, drunks, souvenirs, but also the alumni in their scarlet and gray corduroys, fancy buckeye socks and yes, the buckeye necklaces!  LOTS of Buckeye necklaces.

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There is more to this religion: Just like in biblical times, we have prophets: Major prophets like Archie Griffin, Troy Smith, Eddie George, Howard Cassady, Vic Janowics, and Lee Horvath (our Heisman Trophy winners). The major Prophets have their names inscribed on Ohio Stadium. Check out this 2014 unveiling of Troy Smith’s name and number during the 2014 Michigan game: 

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 And then there are minor prophets: Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, and Earl Bruce (beloved former coaches). Of course, then there is THE prophet.  The Messiah of Ohio State football: Woody Hayes.  Seriously, he’s a legend.  One of my former coworkers has a 4’x6′ shrine to Woody in her basement in a room dedicated completely to Ohio State (I am not kidding).

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Then there’s the music. College football has nothing else like the incomparable Script Ohio. The (literal) signature of The Ohio State University Marching Band (TBDBITL), is performed before every home game and is considered one of the greatest traditions, if not the greatest tradition, in all of college football. One senior sousaphone gets to dot the ‘i’ at each home game.  I know people who grew up playing the sousaphone who’s first goal in life was to “dot the i” someday.

1000px-20041322 200px-Ohio_State_dot_the_I             “Pick up your feet, turn your corners square, and drive, drive, drive!”–chant each time they march out

The band is the heartbeat of Ohio State Football–the equivalent of a ‘worship team.’   If you think I’m just sounding off take a look at the lyrics to our alma mater ‘Carmen Ohio.’  Its a hymn sung by players and fans alike, and led by the worship team:

Oh! Come let’s sing Ohio’s praise,
And songs to Alma Mater raise;
While our hearts rebounding thrill,
With joy which death alone can still.
Summer’s heat or Winter’s cold,
The seasons pass, the years will roll;
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship O-hi-o.

Listen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtxtU23DjI4

We have a rock song too: “Hang on Sloopy” (it’s legislated by the State of Ohio), two fight songs,  a few (a-hem) drinking songs, and one Michigan-hating song (well, maybe two).  Good taste or poor taste?  I don’t know, but people know them, sing them, and live them.

“Re-li-gion:” a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

It’s true.  I know lots of people who think about the Buckeyes year round.  My Dad requested to have the OSU fight song played as his casket was wheeled out after his funeral (no kidding).  My brother has plans to have his ashes spread on Ohio State’s football field (it’s ingenious, and I doubt he’s the first). Truly, there are some crazy, loyal, dedicated fans of Ohio State.  The persona is larger than life.  The fans even won a national ranking: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/12/ohio-state-finishes-no-1-in-the-first-ever-fan-index…Ohio State fans are into it from head to toe!

images uploadedImage.php uploadedImage.php uploadedImage.php images uploadedImage.php  Fans take their loyalty all over the world.  Wild, right?  Dedicated. 

OSU fans swarm the field after the win against Michigan in 2014.IMG_4672

So…if you know me, you probably know where all this is heading.  I love Ohio State football.  My entire family does. All activities stop on Saturdays in the fall when the game plays. We wear the shirts, the hats, the buckeye necklaces-ha! We sing the songs, we spell OHIO with our arms, the whole ball of wax.  I even have a patient who calls me “Ohio State.”

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But it’s not my religion.  I see the significance of being part of something big: the tradition, the emotion, and it’s all cool–and so much fun! But it’s only substitute for the One who deserves the true glory: Jesus Christ.  He is the true Champion. His is the glory. HE IS THE REAL THING and everything else is but a shadow, making us think we are getting something of substance while in reality our hands are empty.  Please.  If you love sports, if you are drawn to an epic battle, if you love rivalries, consider the spiritual battle that takes place around us every day. Go looking for the substance behind the human experience.  Go looking for the ultimate win.  Read some of my other posts to learn more.

Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for the second coming… of Woody Hayes!