A Crash Course on Selfishness

This past weekend the Phillips family joined the Lopes family with Grandma and Grandpa for two days in Angels Camp, CA, for the purpose of “playing in the snow”.

After a restful first night and a healthy breakfast we all journeyed up into the Sierra’s on Highway 4 toward Bear Valley, where we knew the snow would be fullest.  It was a warm and sunny day and I had visions of my family throwing snowballs, sliding down steady embankments and marching through thigh high drifts together.  As we passed through the town of Murphys, however, the events of the day would change.

Suddenly the three vehicles in front of us came to a safe and quick stop, pulling off to the side of the road.  For a few seconds I was wondering why we had pulled over and then noticed what appeared to be the under side of a car peering up at me from a ditch on the other side of the road.  Immediately I and the other men who had stopped swarmed around the steaming vehicle trying to assess the damage and wondering what we were going to encounter.  Someone, not me, tapped on the driver’s window and we then saw that the driver, Christa Mullen, a 65 year old lady, looking at us perplexed.  My brother-in-law, Alex managed to pry the door open and get her unbuckled and then we began to talk with her.  It was quickly apparent that she had broken her left leg completely just above the ankle, so we had to tell her repeatedly not to move it.  Her hand was broken too.

It seemed so natural now that I think about it.  While Alex focused on assessing the condition of the vehicle, i.e. checking to see if there was any danger from fire or some other potential issue, I stood myself next to her and talked.  While others ran around calling 911, setting flares and directing traffic (well done Elia!) I entered a conversation with this woman that I had never met in my life.  She was calm and alert, not what I would have expected or how I would have been if the tables were turned.  Then she shared what she was truly concerned about.  It wasn’t her leg, hand, other injuries or her car.  No.  She was truly concerned because she was supposed to be leaving on Monday (three days later) to go visit her dying mother in Germany.  I don’t know if she remembers or not, but I prayed with her and for her and promised that my family would pray too.  I continued to reassure her in any way I could until the emergency crew finally arrived.

Now, to be honest, and I am ashamed to admit it, but when we first pulled over and I saw the upturned car I initially and simultaneously had a selfish thought as well as a responsible one.  The selfish thought was, “I’m supposed to be having an adventure in the snow with my family, so why are we stopping and why are we getting sidetracked?”  Of course, that thought was replaced with an inner responsibility and compassion which drove me out of my vehicle and into helper mode, not really knowing exactly what I might be running into.

And friends, life is so fickle and unpredictable, isn’t it?  We have our plans and God has His.  We may be heading for some “fun in the snow” but God wants us to “comfort the needy or hurting.”  He has a way of changing things up to get our attention and to keep us depending on Him.

I love the words of the famous hymn by William Cowper (pronounced Cooper), God Moves in Mysterious Ways His Wonders to Perform…Read the words in light the crisis or struggle you are facing…

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Oh how easily our days can turn into times of difficulty and crisis.  Our plans are shaken by what He decrees and allows to take place for our good and for His glory.  We don’t always know why, and that’s O.K. because we serve a God who does!  So, we don’t judge God by feeble sense, but we trust him for His grace.  And we are encouraged that behind a frowning providence there is always a smiling face.

So after about twenty-five minutes we all got back into our vehicles, told our wives and children that we loved them and went to play in the snow, but now with a greater sense of God’s providence and purposes for our lives.

“God, May You continue to challenge my selfish heart.  Teach me what matters most.  Let me fight against unbelief and allow You to make all things plain…in Your time and in Your own way.”

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Animation Sensation

Like most of you, I grew up watching lots of cartoons on television.  Some of my earliest experiences involved the antics of Felix the Cat, the never-ending and always amusing Tom and Jerry as well as the operatic Mighty Mouse singing, “Here I come to save the day!”, which I have been known to sing to my kids who all stand with blank, wondering, incoherent faces.

Then, of course, I remember the “after school” routine which began with the witty and mischievous Woody Woodpecker followed by an always failing, “Wilma” yelling Fred Flintstone.  Next came my favorite and still beloved Hannah Barbara produced Scooby Do.  The thing I loved about that show was that it was never a ghost, goblin, zombie or witch.  It was always some man or woman wearing a mask.  Oh, how times have changed!

Today, I must admit it, I do enjoy the occasional adventures in Bikini Bottom with Spongebob Squarepants.  Patrick makes me laugh and everyone knows someone a little like Squidward.

Now all of these cartoons are called “animations.”  They take a picture and bring it to life, and in doing so, they tell a story.  The word animation means “a bestowing of life” and is often used in the context of expressing a liveliness or vigor.

There is an often neglected but profoundly important doctrine that is taught in the Bible that we call the Doctrine of Animation.  It is the doctrine that describes the activity of the Bible as described in passages like Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 19:7-9 and Psalm 119 that describe the Word as a life-giving, life-changing power.  Look for it in the following verse:

[12] For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

In this verse we see not only what the Word of God “is” (living, active, sharper), but also what it does (pierces & discerns)

In Psalm 19:7-9 we are told the following about the Word:

[7] The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

[8] the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

[9] the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;

the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.

This doctrine of animation stresses the powerful and life-changing activity of the Scripture.  The Word of God is unlike any other book known to man in that it possesses a living quality that stems from its divine origin as the unique God-breathed book.

There are two images that may be helpful to illustrate what the doctrine of animation looks like.  The first one comes from the movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Indy with his female sidekick looks from above deep into a chamber and she says, “Indy, it looks like the floor is moving.”  Indy takes a torch and throws it inside only to discover that the floor is completely covered by layers of wiggling and slithering snakes of all shapes and sizes.  The second illustration comes from the field of fishing, or angling as it is properly called.  I remember going to a store and buying a cup of maggots.  When the lid is taken off there is a mound of wiggling creatures all trying to climb here, there and everywhere.

(strategic pause here for the reader to regroup, wipe the face and move on without vomiting again…)

So, just think about those images and imagine the Word of God at work in your heart in the same way.  Once it is there it begins to go to work, wiggling and stretching each and every way seeking to encourage, warn, discern and comfort.  The Word of God does this because it is “alive and powerful (or energetic)”.

A couch potato is alive, but he/she is not energetic at all.  The Word of God is both alive and energetic.  It doesn’t just sit there, it is always at work accomplishing God’s good pleasure in us.

So, the implications of this doctrine are screaming at us to “delight” in God’s Word by reading it, studying it, listening to Pastors who preach it and teach it faithfully, living it, sharing it and guarding it.

I am thankful for the doctrine of animation…

On A Mission

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity and privilege to sit under the teaching of Dr. Steven Lawson at an Expositors Conference held at Mission Peak Baptist Church in Fremont, CA.  It was a great conference, but just getting to the church by registration time was a challenge…and here is why…

Well, from my house I have to go down the hill and needed to make a left turn on Mission Boulevard.  I was rather amused, however, that my next turn was from Mission Boulevard to Driscoll Road, and I was even more amused that it was a “right turn.”  For many pastors who are on a mission one doesn’t usually exit at Driscoll and find that it is a right turn!  Now Driscoll Road is pretty much a straight shot but you can notice a little scattalogical graphiti here or there and, at the end of the road there is a dramatic left turn.  Well, next I came to Keller Avenue, I turned right once again but was struck by the fact that the first eleven houses or buildings were under construction, but it was almost as if they really didn’t exist.  Then I turned left into Bell Court where I was thoroughly confused.  Oh, everything looked good, but it was a road that meandered all over the place but really didn’t get me anywhere. I realized that now I was completely lost and had taken a really bad turn.

Thankfully, by chance, I found an exit at Mohler Way.  Now this street was straight, clean looking and unusually numbered.  Unlike most streets where the odd numbers are on one side and the even’s on the other the homes on this street had the unusual numbers like J 294.38 Le and H 543.50 Je.  As I quietly exited that pristine neighborhood I had to cross Osteen Highway, a very broad and happening stretch of road dubbed as “Your Best Drive Ever”.  I was really tempted to turn onto it and just go Christian cruising for a while, but I was compelled to keep my bearing straight ahead and onto MacArthur Boulevard where I settled down to  a few miles of road, one traffic light at a time.  In fact, what struck me was that at each residential and business establishment there were large plaques explaining the history, significance and impact of each structure.

After exiting MacArthur I turned and veered left at C.J. Lane which was an extremely fun ride and seemed to take me through a totally happening athletic complex appropriately known as Humility Gardens.  Next, a quick right turn which I found out had been closed for a bout six months and only just recently opened up again, and a work crew was busily putting up the street sign that read, “Piper Drive.”  Finally, I felt all constricted and formal, having yielded to two cars and had to wait around for minutes on Roberts Drive.  It was from there that I entered the church.

The serious side of this post is to reflect over all the great and not so great men of God who have had an opportunity to shape my faith and theology in good ways and in bad.  Even in driving your car there are places, roads and neighborhoods that you just wan to stay away from.  Often you feel like you need to drive through a dangerous area to quickly get to the place you want to arrive at.  In doing so, you are thankful for the other “safe” streets that are well lit, orderly and clearly defined.

God has graced me with many counselors throughout my life.  Many of them are modern day preachers and teachers of God’s Word.  Some of them are people who I believe are handling God’s Word without care and are unfaithful in their teaching effort.  The benefit to me is to read and hear their insufficient answers to life.  In either case God is using them to sharpen me, to teach me about my sinfulness and to drive me to see who He is as revealed in His Word.  I always want to be careful about the roads I travel.  Some are safe, encouraging roads that will head me in the right direction.  Others are dangerous sidetracks.

This year I am resolved to spend more time on Edwards Close, the Lloyd-Jones Autobahn and on a Radical stretch of asphalt know as the Platt Express.

Lord, may you give us all discernment and a willingness to travel on a Mission with you as our guide.

Self-Centered Grace

The word “grace” has become somewhat of a buzzword in our Christian culture being used as the measure of your kindness toward other believers, the attitude God has toward your sin and the tone that should permeate all we do as followers of Christ.  Well, in reading David Platt’s book, “Radical”, I came across the following excellent quote:

“We live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God. Our hearts resonate with the idea of enjoying God’s grace. We bask in sermons, conferences, and books that exalt a grace centering on us. And while the wonder of grace is worthy of our attention, if that grace is disconnected from its purpose, the sad result is a self-centered Christianity that bypasses the heart of God.  If you were to ask the average Christian sitting in a worship service on sunday morning to summarize the message of Christianity, you would most likely hear something along the lines of “The message of Christianity is that God loves me.” Or someone might say, “The message of Christianity is that God loves me enough to send his Son, Jesus, to die for me.”

As wonderful as this sentiment sounds, is it biblical?  Isn’t it incomplete, based on what we have seen in the Bible?  “God loves me” is not the essence of biblical Christianity.  Because if “God loves me” is the message of Christianity, then who is the object of Christianity?

God loves me.

Me.

Christianity’s object is me.

Therefore, when I look for  a church, I look for the music that best fits me and the programs that best cater to me and my family.  When I make plans for my life and career, it is about what works best for me and my family.  when I consider the house I will live in, the car I will drive, the clothes I will wear, the way I will live, I will choose according to what is best for me.  This is the version of Christianity that largely prevails in our culture.

But it is not Biblical Christianity.

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith.  The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him–his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness–known among all nations.”  Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him.  We are not the end of the gospel; God is.

God’s Grace and his Glory go hand in hand.  It isn’t about how I feel, but what God desires.  It is about his holiness, righteousness, justice, wrath and joy.

May we all be careful to have been the recipients of God’s grace and then to be so self-centered that we don’t see our need to be channels for his glory.  This is a nuance in the heart of every believer that must be taken captive for the glory of God is at stake.

Press On Rocky

Yesterday I saw a squirrel run out across the road and into the open oncoming lane.  I was amazed at how it go through the heavy traffic on my side of the street and in my heart I  encouraged it to keep on going and finish the job of crossing the street.  But then, suddenly, it stopped, panicked, turned around  and headed under the car in front of me where it met a fender and a wheel and was left twitching (before I and a number of others ruthlessly finished the job).

Now, for some reason “Squeek”  or has been on my mind and I am wondering to myself, “What was going through his (assumption here) mind before, during and after he reached the safety of the other side?”, “Why did he stop when he was free and clear?”, “What was it that made him turn around and run back into the thick traffic?” and, of course, “What is it that God is trying to teach me from the  little Rocky lookalike?”  Well, here are a few thoughts that come to mind as to why we freeze…

Ignorance – I don’t think Rocky completely understood what all those big funny looking and moving things were.  The size, the noise, the speed and so  many of them should have at least alerted him to the dangers.  Similarly God yells into our lives, but we often are not paying attention or wanting any guidance or warning on the decisions before us.  So, although there are tools and resources at our disposal we end up being ignorant primarily because we haven’t valued what God has said.

Indecision – Indecision is riddled with fear.  We wonder if the decision we are making is the right thing.  Wonder what other people are thinking or will think because of the decision we have made.  We fear that in making this decision we will somehow miss out on something better, so we just freeze and make no decision.  It seems to be safer.  I know someone personally who waits for the perfect buy and then after waiting is consumed with looking to see “if” it was indeed the perfect buy after all and so can’t enjoy the item purchased.

Invincibility – I am sure that Rocky has crossed the road many times before and hasn’t suffered at all.  Hey, we can get pretty arrogant and complacent too.  Just because lightning didn’t strike last time doesn’t mean it won’t strike again.  We sin, and apparently nothing happens – no discipline, no consequence, no exposure – so we press on rather than look at all the dangers around us.  It is almost as if we believe we are invincible.

Idiocy – There, I said it.  Rocky was just an idiot squirrel.  Sadly, we can also be idiot believers.  We know what God says, we have clear warning, we have experience, we have other people’s tragedies, etc., etc.  Yet we are agnostic and press on in our foolishness to do what we want regardless (Fool would be the Biblical equivalent of idiot, I think).

We often respond to these squirrel moments by saying compassionately to our friend or love one, “What were you thinking!!!!?”  And the reality is, they were thinking about a lot of things.  Battles were raging and a decision was made based on the strength of the will to either listen to our God or to follow our flesh.

Let me encourage you to squeak with a little Godly Wisdom and stay the course…unlike Squeaky Rocky.