4/28/10

Tall, dark and handsome.


When I pray, this is the face I see. If you are an American and disagree with me, you are lying. Every picture we see of Jesus is similar to Mr. Caviezel here. But what does the bible say about the way Jesus looked? Not much.

When Isaiah prophesied about the acceptance of Jesus among the Gentiles and rejection from the Jews, he mentioned one descriptor of Jesus -"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire." (Isaiah 53:2). Try something for me. Next time you are in the grocery store, walk up to someone and say, "You have no beauty or majesty that is attractive. You are physically undesirable." Isaiah's description becomes more harsh when we think about it in that context.

But why would we picture Jesus as some being who would be known as the Christ by his appearance? That's not relatable. And if he came for any reason, it was to relate to us. He came to experience temptation and hunger and pain. He came from a sinless, painless, beautiful world to Earth. It wouldn't be God's style to entice people to the truth based on his looks. He knows what our minds would do with that. Beautiful people are already treated differently. Jesus did not want people to follow him based on his looks just as God does not want us to choose him because we have to. He came to save us. He didn't come with "beauty or majesty," but with love. And by that love we know that he is God.

That's a good question to ask of ourselves. How are we known by others? By our looks? Our relationships? Our habits? Our anger? Or by love?

4/24/10

The Law of Sin

I have mentioned many times that I started this blog for one reason - to provide a place for others and myself to renew our faith. I have been a Christian for a long time.  Since I was eight, I think. Isn't that the age you are supposed to say? If being a Christian were determined by life decisions, no one could say I was a believer in my early years of college. Even toward the end of college, I was just starting to explore Christianity in depth.

At Ouachita Baptist University, I was surrounded by Christians. It wasn't until I came to law school that I realized that we are constantly moving toward or away from God. There is no stand still. And I knew that if I was going to get through what I had heard were the toughest years spiritually for a Christian, I'd better lean into God.

I don't say this to brag about my decision to search for God's practical truths. I say it because I have to. This decision to seek daily guidance from God is a necessity to strengthen your relationship with him. I worry so much about sounding preachy in my posts. I have found that when you write about faith and share it with your friends and family, who know you and your weaknesses, they may feel like they are being talked down to. I'm sorry if I ever come across this way. But I have to communicate this because I want this feeling for everyone.

So let's get back to this idea of either moving toward or away from God. Each time we sin, we are moving away from God. Each day that we do not talk to God through prayer, we take a step back from him. And each day that we do not seek out his truth by reading scripture, we are searching for something other than his truth - whether we realize it or not. If I don't spend time with God through prayer and scripture reading, I am looking for truth in magazine covers at the grocery store, atheist professors who subtly insert their worldview into their teachings, commercials, billboards, selfish desires, etc.

The world is more than willing to warp your thought process through subtle but continuous temptations and false information. These continuous opportunities to distance ourselves from Christ is called the law of sin. Like gravity, it is a pull toward sin and separation from God. And the more we are controlled by it, the stronger the force it has on our lives. The law of sin provides no peace, no forgiveness, only condemnation.

Look at what Paul says about this law of sin: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. . . You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature (law of sin) but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Rom. 8:1,2; 9).

Notice how Paul distinguishes between the law of sin and the law of the Spirit of life. He says that if  the Spirit of God does not live in us, then we are controlled by the sinful nature. How does that look in our world? If we do not seek closeness with God and his wisdom everyday, he will not live in us. Because we have basically rejected him and have chosen to submit to the law of sin.

The great thing about the law of the Spirit of life is that, in only one way, it is similar to the law of sin. Just as the law of sin pulls you and grows stronger and stronger the more you submit to it, the law of the Spirit of life becomes stronger and stronger each time you seek out God. So, each day that you read your bible and each time you talk to God, you are strengthening the force of the Spirit of life. It is literally pulling you back to God and away from sin. That is why Paul then tells us that "we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Rom. 8:12,13).

There are so many questions and ideas that aren't addressed by this post. What if I mess up one day? How far does that separate me from God? What if I have lived so long under the law of sin that I can't feel the tug of the law of the Spirit?

I'm interested to hear how you would answer some of these questions. What practical ways have you found to strengthen your relationship with God? Nothing I say in these posts will make you closer to God. All I have are my experiences. What are yours?

4/22/10

A reminder of God's love.

A few days ago,  a speaker came to address some questions about Christianity to the Christian Legal Society. We discussed how "good" we must be to get into heaven and whether Jesus is the only way to God. It was more of a skeptic's forum. During the discussion, he told a compelling story that illustrates God's love in a way that made it easier for me to visualize. I don't remember certain details like time and place, but the main part of the story was too memorable to forget.

The speaker began by telling us about a judge in a country where Sharia law ruled.  This judge was well known for being fair. But when someone was convicted in his courtroom, he had no trouble sentencing them to the required punishment.  For a thief, that punishment was the amputation of a hand. One day, a woman was brought into the judge's courtroom. She had been accused of stealing. After hearing all of the evidence, it seemed that the judge would have no choice but to find her guilty. But in this case, the sentence was much harder for him to carry out.  Because if he were to sentence this woman, he would be sentencing his own mother.

Everyone in the courtroom knew of the relationship. They listened intently, wondering how this great judge would sentence his own mother. After a long pause, he looked at her and said, "After reviewing the evidence of your case, it is clear to me that you are guilty of this crime.  And the punishment for theft is amputation of the hand." The people were shocked at his ruling, that he could sentence his own mother to have her amputated.

After the sentencing was complete, the judge stood up and took off his robe. He walked down from the bench and kissed his mother.  Then, he walked to the amputation table, put his hand out and said, "I will be taking the punishment for her. She is cleared of any wrong she has committed."

4/15/10

Is confidence biblical?

I like to write. I think I'm pretty good at it. But what are you thinking about me now that I have said this about myself? Wow, Evan, what a conceited thing to say. You actually don't write very well at all, you just think you do. In fact, now that you have said that, and I know you think you are some great writer, I don't think I'll read your blog anymore. Yes, it does sound like a conceited thing to say. But hear me out.

Think of the best golfers, olympic athletes or musicians in the world. How do they think of themselves? Yes, most of the greats are humble on camera, but if you were able to get into their heads when they're doing what they're famous for, you would see very little self-doubt. If there were, they wouldn't be so great.

Seriously Evan? Now you're comparing your writing to the talent of an olympic athlete!?


If you haven't stopped reading by now, thank you. Let me explain further. At some point in the lives of those great athletes and musicians, they didn't know they were great. They just had to believe that they could be. It is in that moment (maybe in a minute, maybe in a year) that they set the path for their lives.

Before Walt Disney created the giant of Disney, he was fired by a newspaper editor because, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." He ended up starting other businesses, but failed at those too. He eventually went bankrupt.

Thomas Edison's teachers told him that he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before inventing the light bulb. **His failed attempt count is debated, but we do know it was a very high number.

Before Elvis Presley was The King, he was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry after just one performance. He was told, "You ain't going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck."

Though they were explicitly told that they wouldn't make it, these men believed in themselves. Before they were great! I've never been told that I "ain't going nowhere." At least not by others. But for the longest time, I told myself that lie. Do you tell yourself that lie? I don't mean to equate "going somewhere" with fame. To me, "going somewhere" is confidence. But how can we be confident in our abilities without sounding conceited? We do this by understanding that God made us with our unique talents and abilities. They aren't our own. We didn't give ourselves our own talents. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14). God doesn't make junk. To doubt yourself is to doubt God.

I want to encourage you. Think of something you have always wanted to do, but fear or self-doubt has held you back. Now, imagine what your life would be like if you actually did it. Or at least tried to do it. If you fail, so what? Walt Disney failed. Elvis failed. Thomas Edison failed!

4/12/10

God cares about my lawn mower.

I broke my lawn mower.  Or at least I thought I did.  Actually, I just bent the blade (my old roommates would not be surprised by this).  Who would have thought that the lawn mowers of 2010 couldn't cut through a street curb?  It was news to me too.

So, today I bought a new blade.  When I got home, I replaced the old with the new, pulled the gatekeeper handle (that handle you have to squeeze in order to start the mower - it should be called the gatekeeper handle) and then . . . Nothing.

The only sound I heard was the pull starter string winding in and out as I tried to start the engine.  I pleaded with the mower.  I even thought about getting the instructions out to make sure I wasn't doing something wrong (yes, I was that desperate).  And then it hit me.  What if I prayed about my lawn mower troubles?

It sounded silly at first.  But after I put my hand on the mower, prayed seriously for help from God and the mower started, I knew God didn't find it silly at all.  If you still think that my lawn mower prayer was silly, take a look at what scripture says about it - "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  (Phil. 4:6).  If God didn't want me to pray about a lawn mower, he would have changed that verse to "but in the major things."

I wish I thought about that verse more often.  I pray for guidance and wisdom in major decisions, but how often do I pray for the little things?  The broken law mowers.  Even today I was desperate for help. It didn't come naturally.

Today, God saw it fit for me to mow.  Some days, he will just say no.  The point is that we present our requests to him, no matter the size.

4/9/10

Who are you?

*Just a quick note on today's read from Acts. 

While Paul was in Ephesus, some of the Jews were driving out evil spirits.  They tried to call upon the name of Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out."  These were sons of a Jewish chief priest.  One day, they encountered a demon-possessed man.  They began their ritual, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches..."  But this time, the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 

Really?  That demon didn't even know who those men were?  Sons of a Jewish chief priest.  They were even speaking in the name of Jesus.  What does that say about their faith?  What does that say about their ministry that the enemy didn't even know their names?  After the demon spoke to them, the possessed man literally beat them out of their clothes.  One against seven.  They ran away naked and bloody.  I'm not sure which would have hurt worse - the beating or the words spoken by the demon. 

Do the demons know me by name?  Do they know you?  How much fear do we invoke in the demonic world because of our faith?

(Acts 19:13-16)

4/7/10

Desiring God's Word: Why reading the bible isn't always so appealing.

This may seem surprising considering I have a blog devoted solely to reading and studying scripture, but there are days when I would rather do anything but read the bible.  Depending on the version, the bible's terminology can be confusing.  You never know how much anything weighs or how much something is worth (unless you look up the conversions in the back, and who does that?).  People live to be 200 years old.  Sometimes reading the bible just isn't that appealing to me.

Another reason I have trouble wanting to read the bible is that I feel like I need to be looking for some verse that is going to magically make my troubles go away or set my day off right.  When I don't find that verse, I'm disappointed.  I'm not saying there aren't verses that can do that.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  I actually believe that some verses can stir within so deeply that they literally give you a new and immediate perspective on a tough situation.  But some days, that just doesn't happen.  And it leaves us feeling like the bible didn't offer much that day.  We excuse ourselves from reading because we'll get a good dose of God on Sunday.

The problem with that thinking is that the Sunday sermon doesn't keep us full throughout the week.  If the word of God was physical food, and we only ate on Sunday morning, our bodies would wither away after a few days.  Even if we could stay alive for the next Sunday meal, we would eventually die from starvation.  This is not a new concept, but it is very insightful.  And worth remembering because Jesus, himself, believes it too - "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4).  The word of God is our spiritual food.  Our spiritual health depends partly on reading the bible.

In addition to physical suffering, if we were to go days without food, we would likely become very weak intellectually.  Our ability to understand and reason would suffer due to our lack of nourishment.  The same is true when we starve ourselves of God's word.  Our ability to understand and interpret scripture becomes a weakness.  We barely give our spirituality enough food to thrive, to think, to act!  This cycle holds us back from being active for God.

I started this blog because I was tired of having that feeling.  I was tired of starving spiritually.  But this brings us back to the original issue.  The bible can seem a bit hard to get into sometimes.  After challenging myself to just read the bible, I've noticed a couple of ways of dealing with that feeling.

Act first, feel later.  Yes, there are some days when I don't want to read the bible, but when I push through and read it anyway, I can tell a difference in my attitude for that day - even if one particular verse didn't stand out to me.  The feelings that I'd like to have (desiring God's word) follow after I act.  When we read, God is literally talking to us.  It just takes the form of written word.  So as not to put too much pressure on myself, I read just one chapter a day.  Never more, never less.  I'm in Acts right now and man, that is a good story.  Which leads me my next point.

Try reading the bible like a good novel.   So many times I fall into that trap of searching for the right verse.  I've learned that if I read the bible like a book I would normally read for leisure, the characters start to come to life. You can pick up on personalities and identify heroes and villains.  It is very much a literary masterpiece.  In Acts, for instance, Paul (our hero) is traveling around to all of these cities and preaching the word of God.  In virtually every city he enters, a mob (villains) forms and tries to kill him.  He is imprisoned and escapes.  And then he moves to the next city, where he is beaten and imprisoned again.  With all of the popularity of 24 and other action shows like that, Paul's life as a Christian would definitely receive high ratings if it were turned into a television show.  So read it like that.  Get into the characters of the bible.  It doesn't have to be a search for the perfect verse.

Go at your own pace.  I hear of people reading the bible in a year or six months.  That's great!  But it's not the only way.  Make a plan that's right for you.  Even if it's just a verse a day.  I would suggest staying in one book though until you are finished (aside from other reading of course).  The point is to just do it. If you miss a day because you forgot or you were busy, who cares?  Start back the next day.

Remember, the reason I started this blog was to get people (and myself) to just remember God throughout their daily lives.  But this blog is not even close to a substitute for the word of God.  In fact, this blog is meaningless without it.  If you have started reading this blog, but aren't getting in the word, do me a favor - use the time you normally take to read my posts and read the bible instead.

4/2/10

Spiritual Warfare Pt 2: Our role in the battle

Can we really have any influence in a spiritual war?  To answer that question, we need to understand our enemy.  Every great general or warrior has one thing in common.  They know the enemy's weakness - the one thing that will disable them beyond recovery.  For Satan and his demons, that weakness is Jesus.  Mention Jesus in your prayers or in response to temptation and the demons attacking you will tremble.  It's almost funny to think about.  In our culture, demons invoke so much fear.  The scariest movies are about demon possession -  The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror.  Yet when God comes into the their presence, they're paralyzed with fear.

Let's look at some scripture just to get a visual of this fear.  Mark tells us that as Jesus was teaching in the synagogue one day, a man "who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!'"  (Mark 1:22-24).

Another instance of the demons' fear of Jesus was just after he calmed the storm.  When he arrived on shore, "two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him.  They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 'What do you want with us, Son of God?' they shouted.  'Have you come here to torture use before the appointed time?'  Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.  The demons begged Jesus, 'If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.'"  (Matt. 8:28,29).

In discussing how to show your faith, James points out the fear of Jesus that demons have.  "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder." (James 2:19).

But the demons were scared of Jesus, not humans.  This is true to some extent.  Again, it's hard to imagine this world of spiritual warfare, but that's exactly what the devil wants.  He wants us to get caught up in understanding scripture instead of trusting God and fighting against Satan.  When Mary was confused about how she would birth a child while being a virgin, an angel answered her by saying, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."  (Luke 1:35).  No, Mary wasn't fighting demons, but she was confused about how God was going to use her.  And that same Holy Spirit that empowered Mary empowers us in the fight against Satan.

After Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples did not understand exactly what Jesus had come back to do.  Jesus told them that it was not for them to know the plans of God, but that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them.  (Acts 1:8).

Jesus makes it clear that he will send the Holy Spirit to us.  The "Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."  (John 14:26).  Jesus goes on to say that "when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth."

God promises us the Holy Spirit.  And with that Holy Spirit, the demons tremble in our presence, just as they did with Jesus.  This doesn't put us on the same level as Jesus.  It puts him in us.  So when the demons come to attack and tempt us to sin, they'll see Jesus and fear us.  If you want to read a great book about our role in the battle between angels and demons, I recommend This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. It is a great story about a small town hosting an enormous unseen spiritual battle.  I definitely gained a clearer perspective on how my prayers strengthen the angels and weaken the demons.

So, what is our role?  We are to be warriors for Christ through prayer and obedience.  Nothing weakens Satan's power on earth more than prayer.  Scripture tells us to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests." (Eph. 6:18).  We are equipped with the Holy Spirit.

Whatever sin you have, it can be overcome.  It may take time, but with the Holy Spirit in us, the demons that tempt you to that sin will give up in fear.  The key to overcoming sin is realizing that it is not our master, but our enemy.  Instead of becoming a slave to it, we've got to become its opponent.