"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

31 July 2007

What is so cool about Scripture...

by Ben

I read Proverbs 23-24.

Sometimes when reading Scripture a verse will just hit me weird, and so I try to find out more about it. The verse today was Proverbs 24:24-25.

"Whoever whitewashes the wicked gets a black mark in the history books, But whoever exposes the wicked will be thanked and rewarded." (The Message)

At first, this hits me as "Wait, isn't that what God is doing?" And aren't we frequently told in the Bible to forgive? (As early as Genesis, and certainly through the Israelites desert trek)

Wait. To be fair, I should look at another version. Ooh, I'll pull out my copy of The Interpreter's Bible.

"He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them." (KJV)

And to give you what our commentators said, "Wicked and righteous are forensic terms. Better, "guilty" and innocent."

So it would read, "He that saith unto the guilty, Thou art innocent; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them." (KJV)

Okay, to be clear, we should look at the meaning of "rebuke." Dictionary.com suggests that as a verb, rebuke means "to express sharp, stern disapproval of; reprove; reprimand."

Why, in this book about love and forgiveness, is this line regarding justice present? The verse leading up to it gives us some clues:

"It's wrong, very wrong, to go along with injustice." (Proverbs 24:23)

So, if we bring justice into the picture, we as mere men and women can comprehend what Solomon is suggesting. However, we, as followers of Christ, begin to get a little more confused. What is justice? God is certainly working with a sense of justice, in that He required for there to be an ultimate death to cover the sins of all humanity.

I think this is where my logic runs out. How can that be just? That an innocent man - God incarnate, should take the punishment for all of the sins of every murderer, rapist, liar, thief, and every other person who has turned their back on God, including me - it doesn't seem like justice.

I think Solomon would have understood this feeling, but would still have seen Christ's sacrifice as appeasing the wrong, which is part of what justice represents. If God had merely forgiven sins without the punishment and death of Christ, it would have been injustice and against God's way of being.

So, I somewhat understand this Proverb, but it also leaves me very confused. And that is what is so cool about Scripture: it gives you some answers, but leaves you with many questions to seek the answers to.

30 July 2007

Humility and Glory

compiled by Ben

I read Proverbs 16-22.

"Fear-of-God is a school in skilled living -
first you learn humility, then you experience glory." (Proverbs 15:33)

"How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word [...]
I have hidden your word in my heart that
I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119: 9, 11)

"Mercy to the needy is a loan to God,
and God pays back those loans in full." (Proverbs 19:7)

"The wicked get buried alive by their loot
because they refuse to use it to help others." (Proverbs 21:7)

"Generous hands are blessed hands
because they give bread to the poor." (Proverbs 22:9)

"Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach;
good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest." (Proverbs 18:20)

"Do your best, prepare for the worst -
then trust God to bring the victory." (Proverbs 21:31)

27 July 2007

Needs and Wants

by Ben

I read Proverbs 11-15.

Yes, I am back from camp and glad to be getting ready to start the fall youth events. Our summer went well at Wakonda. I suppose that I should catch you up since my last full post: God proved to be faithful. He blessed us with two lifeguards, and a full male and female counseling staff. Glory be to God. You may remember that I had worried quite a lot about that just a few months ago. Sorry Father for my lack of faith.

As for the actual summer: it went well. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves and hopefully learned something about God and prayer. We had a few minor snags over the course of the summer, but overall I think it was a successful summer. God continues to bless and teach me through the events of my life.

Now, as I set my sights on the Youth Group and our program for the next year, I return to my regular schedule of devotions. That is to say that while at camp, I connected to God, but not through the same disciplined approach that I take here on the dLog. In reading Matt's posts and making my way through Proverbs, I have been forced to think a lot about needs and wants.

I find it interesting that this topic has come up so strongly on the dLog, as I've been thinking about it a lot in relation to my ministry goals. I really want Camp Wakonda to become a successful year-round camp and conference site that serves to minister to the poor in spirit and those who don't know Christ. I really want our multi-church youth ministry to grow in both spiritual depth and numbers, helping kids to connect to Christ, but also serve as a model for other cluster groups, youth and adult, to follow. That's what I want. What do these ministries actually need to accomplish? I don't know. The reality is that if God felt it would serve His kingdom better, these two ministries could disappear. I'm happy to say that this hasn't happened yet.

I am very much looking forward to this next year in ministry for several reasons. One of which is that Camp Wakonda is finally going to take a serious look at itself to review what works, what doesn't, and what could be tweaked to be more efficient. This process will serve to improve the Wakonda ministry and ultimately strengthen all of the ministries of the church. Also, as previously mentioned regarding the Youth Ministry, we will be attempting a multi-church program. This program will be purpose-driven and address issues at age-appropriate levels. It will allow youth to go as deep spiritually as they choose.

I believe that the excitement that I feel in connection to these two ministries is directly from God. I feel reinvigorated about my work with the kids and at camp, as though I'd gone on vacation. But I haven't gone anywhere. I've just been encouraged by the work that I see God doing around me. The one thing that I have to do is keep giving God the glory and realize that He cares more about what happens to the kids and campers than I do. I have to put His needs above my wants.

26 July 2007

Bread on the Table, Shoes on Our Feet

“You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed.”

-Bob Dylan

Suppose for a minute that you are hungry and sitting down at a table. While you’re sitting there, a particularly perceptive friend discerns that you’re hungry and sets before you a plate with two pieces of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and two knives. How many of us would be crazy enough to then pray to God for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Hopefully no one. Obviously obtaining a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at that point is as hard as putting the two knives to work. We have the resources we need, we just might need to put in a little effort to enjoy the sandwich.

On a recent mission trip to Jamaica I started to feel that a prayer for happiness makes about as much sense as the prayer for the PB&J. We’ve all done it, myself included. Just slipped a plea for ourselves or folks we know to be “happy.” It seems innocent enough, and even a good idea at times. But I can’t help but feel that happiness isn’t God’s responsibility, it’s ours. And if it comes down to us asking for happiness, that’s a sure sign of our ignorance, ingratitude, and laziness. That sounds a bit harsh, I know, but consider things from the point of view of our friend who essentially put a sandwich in front of us and then overhears our prayer. “It’s right there in front of you,” they would exclaim, “you have what you need, just put it together!”

When I first went to Jamaica in 2004, I knew I’d return and there was really one thing that was calling me back: the people. Jamaica is famous for the “No problem, mon!” attitude, and that’s there, but they always appear to be the happiest people I have ever met. Walk or drive down a road and you’ll be greeted by honks and waves from everyone you pass; work on their new house and, even though they have very little, coconuts, sugarcane and lots of other unidentified fruit will be offered to you as a simple and sincere thank you; show the kids the slightest bit of attention and you have fast friends for life.

When I first arrived it occurred to me that maybe these people may not be aware that they’re poor. They live in a third world country without air conditioning, running water, or cars. Their wardrobes are second-hand. They aren’t on Facebook and have never even used a computer. What reasons could they possibly have for being happy? Later the question evolved as I looked inward: how do I have all of these things and still finding myself needing to ask for happiness? Then on this year’s trip I realized how flawed that question is. If I’m asking that, it becomes apparent that my happiness is based on how much stuff I have. The real question I need to ask is: “Why is happiness more important to me than contentment?”

Contentment is not a word we hear often enough, despite the fact that it’s the secret to happiness. It’s my opinion that the people we met in Jamaica appear so happy because they have found contentment. Contrast that with so many of us in America: our greatest obstacle is that we have so much extra money and so many unnecessary things to spend it on. I think that our outlook would start to align with the Jamaicans if our income wasn’t spent on comfort and amusement but rather on making it through another day.

While happiness and contentment seem almost interchangeable, there are some very important differences. This becomes apparent in what is perhaps the best definition of contentment:

A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough. (1 Timothy, 6:6-8, The Message)

“That’s enough” might be one of the most challenging phrases in the Bible. We want more than just ordinary, more than we need, the best and the most rare. But there’s Paul, calling out a message that says that the essentials are more than enough.

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of both trips to Jamaica for me has been the five star meal we have enjoyed after finishing our projects. The food is delicious and the view over the ocean at sunset is spectacular, but it’s all colored by the fact that the cost of the meal I’m eating might feed a Jamaican family for a day or more. Who are we to be eating so richly while no more than a few minutes away others are lacking basic nutrition or, even worse, starving?

While that’s a reality, I also don’t feel called to live in a cave wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes in my hair. God has put us in specific places for reasons that he alone knows. I don’t know why I live in freedom and enjoy so much when there are others who live in great poverty and danger. But I do know that turning up my nose at a good meal, a sunset, or any other number of God’s good creations is simply being ungrateful. It’s my belief that this contentment I’m pursuing is contingent upon gratitude, whether I have a little or a lot. And if I have it better than some folks than the best thing I can do is show God my gratitude by doing what I can to respond to the Gospels’ call to love God and love others.

Contentment isn’t about trying to turn lemons into lemonade, it’s about realizing the differences between needs and wants. Contentment isn’t an opiate for the poor or condemnation of the rich, it’s about being set free so that we can serve God and others without being tied to things. Contentment isn’t about denial for the sake of denial, it’s about recognizing the blessings around you and living a grateful life. Contentment is being honest and aware, realizing that God has given us far more than we could possibly ever need. For some that’s filet mignon, for some a sandwich.