Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Real Faith (Part 2)

In my recent devotional time, I came across a passage in the gospel of John that I'd read many times but I had, for the most part, failed to grasp how it applied to my daily life as a Christian. Jesus, as told to us in John 15:4, says this: "Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." So, you might ask, what did these words say to me this time, that I failed to grasp before? I'm often struck by how naive and unconcerned we are about our own faith and how we live that out on a daily basis. We wonder why "life" seems so difficult and severely lacking in any help that we might find by placing our faith and hope in our God and Savior Jesus Christ. We wonder why we seem no different than our neighbor or our best friend that claims to follow little or no religious belief system whatsoever. And we continue asking ourselves these questions day in and day with little or no answer to the apparent problem that these questions pose for us as supposed followers of Jesus. So, what's the answer? John 15:4 says it well. Jesus tells us that we are to live in him. We are to make our home in him as he has made his home in us. And, just like a branch cannot produce grapes unless it remains joined to the vine, we cannot expect to live the truly abundant life that God promises us unless we are fully joined with God.

And now for the harsh and yet much needed words. How can we expect to bear any fruit, to live a life that truly appears and feels different than the non-Christian when we continuously fail to "remain" in him. We cannot remain in him by simply going to church on Sunday morning and Youth Group later that night. Don't get me wrong, this does help us but it isn't enough. We need to feed on God and God's Word daily. We can't simply be Sunday Only Christians and expect to be fed for the remainder of the week. We need to feast on this "daily bread" much more often - yes, even daily. In my own personal life, I know what it's like to begin the day with God or without God. I've done both regularly. But I can honestly tell you that the days where I begin with prayer and scripture are without a doubt the most enjoyable and the most fruitful as well. If we've had that amazing religious experience at a retreat like the Midwinter Advance at America's Keswick when we've made a serious commitment or recommitment to God, the only way to "remain" in that experience and to stay true to that commitment that we've made is to "remain" close to the one who gives us the power to live the Christian Life. When we fail to read God's Word on a regular basis, we fail to hear the words of life that God gives us. When we fail to read God's Word, we forget about the true source of our hope. And when we fail to read God's Word, our focus is off of God and our source of life becomes something altogether different that can in no way, shape, or form help us to live our daily life as Christians. Our hope as Christians is in Jesus and it is through remaining in him and him only - on a daily basis - that we can find our way.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

REAL Faith (Part 1)

I think that one of the major ways Satan attacks us Christians is through creating doubt or unbelief. At least that's how it's been for me. Let me explain. For the better part of my life I've constantly been fighting the nagging belief within that sounds something like this: "I'm not good enough to do that," or "There's no way God can use me to do that." For as long as I can remember, I have been plagued with these doubts about what I can do, be, and acheive. Well, as it turns out, I'm not alone. One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament involves a person that most of us have heard a great deal about. His name was Moses, and he too, suffered from this tendency to doubt.

In Exodus 3, following Moses' experience with the miraculous Burning Bush, we the reader discover God's plan to use Moses in a way that seems out of this world - at least to Moses. God tells Moses that he wants to lead his people out of their slavery in Egypt and into the promised land that he had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob way back when. Then in chapter 4, the doubts begin: "They will not believe me or listen to my voice..." (vs. 1) Moses continues: "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent...but am slow of speech and of tongue." (vs. 10) Even after God attempts to convince Moses that He (God) is the maker of man's mouth and the one who can make a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind, Moses isn't convinced. Moses' final plea reads: "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else." (13) And we know from the story that God does send someone else - Moses' brother Aaron is given the task of speaking for Moses even though Moses is still the primary leader. Nevertheless, this was not God's first intention. God would have given Moses the tools, the talents, and everything else that he would have needed to perform the tasks that he would be given. Yet, because of his lack of belief, Moses settles for second best and therefore, less than what God was willing to give him.

This leads me to the question, "Are we settling for less than God is willing to give us?" I know I have when I've spent so much time focusing on my own insecurities and lack of apparent gifts and talents. I say "apparent" because it doesn't take long to realize that we all have things we're good at. Still, if we take the focus off of ourselves (for just a little while) and place our focus on God and God alone, it is then that we begin to realize how God can use us regardless of where we have been or what we have done or haven't done. And I think it's the past - a focus on where I've been and what I've done - that haunts me to this day. I'm in good company though, because I think Moses felt the very same way.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christian or Secular Music: You tell Me?

It seems to me that the distinction between Christian and Secular music may not be so clear. While it seems that most record labels are up front about their "Christian" emphasis, others are less so. Take for example Seattle, Washington's Tooth and Nail Records whose purpose is "to give independent artists a forum to creatively express positively through music." By many people's standards, Tooth and Nail is known as a Christian Punk label. The Christian bookstores that I've visited lately have all carried most of their artists. However, as the above statement and as a quick surf of their website reveals, no such "Christian" disclaimer can be found. While some of their bands do profess the Christian faith through both word and deed, not all of their bands are Christian. Even more telling, many of those who are considered Christian seem to offer only a few small references to the need for something "more" - hardly Christian?

So, one might ask, as I have, what makes a record Christian or not? And does it matter how it gets labeled? To answer the later question first, I will say that in a world where much of the mainstream music produced today is decidedly not Christian, I think it does. I was recently listening to that latest record by what some have labeled the greatest Rock N' Roll band ever - U2. For years I have been befuddled and bewildered by those who have tried to make U2 out to be a Christian band because three out of the four members have professed the Christian Faith. I was further struck as I heard some recent concert goers describe their recent time at a U2 concert as a worship experience to top all worship experiences. While I've loved much of what U2 has done musically over the years, I have never considered them a Christian band. To me, they were always a great band with a mostly positive message. Nonetheless, I was surprised as I listened to their latest offering - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. What surprised me was how Christian it appeared in comparison to some music that is explicitely named as Christian. While I don't have time to go into the specifics, simply find yourself a copy and have a listen for yourself.

So I wonder how it is that U2 gets labeled as Secular while these other so-called Christian bands get their rather illustrious label? I don't have an easy answer, maybe you can enlighten me on this one. My conclusion is that perhaps we need to create some middle ground that could clear up some of this ambiguity. Then we could simply label the music that fits neither as Positive - a category that I'm very interested in.