Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letting It In--Romans 7:8-9

Some of the toughest things to confront in life, are the moments that challenge our world view.  It's an interesting dichotomy, that although many of us desire to grow and to learn, we're all on some level very biased concerning what information we let affect our personal set of exclusive beliefs (these being our deep seated philosophical/ideological premises).  And when we do let something in that challenges these beliefs, it's often times a pretty scary situation, because it presents us with the possibility that we might be mistaken in how we've been viewing the world.

This morning, I was reading Romans 7:8-9, in which Paul discusses the effects of the law and sin--"For apart from the law, sin is dead.  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died" (just to clarify, the "law" that Paul discusses here are the Ten Commandments).  What I realized, is that it can be a very trying time when we're confronted with God's law, either for the first time or in situations when our lives are contradictory to it. Our natural tendency is to shut out the forces that challenge us, and it's really just an act of self preservation.  We all want the safety of a manageable world view, in which we feel we're living "on the good side".  

Yet what the law does is show us that the whole world isn't living on the right side--that we're actually blowing it BIG TIME when it comes to how God desires us to be living.  And so we shut the law out, because when we're not living accountable to it, we feel alive as Paul says--we don't have anything telling us we're wrong.  Nobody wants to feel repeatedly condemned their whole life when they mess up--it's really a horrible way to live!

This is where I think so many people stop, but the greatest revelation of the Bible is that God says there's one more piece to the puzzle...Jesus.  And here's the big secret so to speak: we can never fully understand Jesus, his holiness, or the beauty and greatness of what he did on the cross, without letting the law into our lives.  If someone tells you that Christ died for your sins, but you don't think you're a sinner, the obvious answer is, "cool story what?"  But when we let the law show us who we really are in God's eyes, the cross becomes the most gnarly, the most beautiful, the most precious and loving gift that God could give...because now we understand what Christ died for: OUR sins.

There's a great verse in Matthew 11: 28-30, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Such amazing words!  The burden that Christ wants to lift, is the weight which the law puts upon us--the reality of our sin. And the bottom line is this: if we want to know Christ, we need to let the law humble us.  

It's a big jump, but take Christ's word for it when He says, "I am gentle and humble in heart." God loves you. And if you want to know the depths to which His love goes, the first step is to open your heart to God's law.  You'll be amazed how God will show you how crazy His love for you really is.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Giving When We Think We Can't--Luke 21: 1-4

   As Americans I believe we have a great propensity to think and make decisions from a financial perspective.  Not to say that this is always the case, but I think the predominant mentality is that if you're low on cash, you can't afford it.  Now this seems completely responsible doesn't it--that a person should always be aware of how much money they have, and making decisions that fit within those means.  This is an absolutely wise model when it comes to spending.  But when it comes to giving, it can be very hard to rationalize doing this, especially when we're financially stressed.  And although it sounds crazy, I'd like to encourage you to keep giving even when the money is tight.
   The Bible has a very interesting take on giving found in Luke 21:1-4.  Luke writes, "As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"  You see it's easy to give when you have much, because it doesn't cost YOU that much. A hundred bucks is really just pocket change if you have a million in the bank.  But when you're living paycheck to paycheck, when you're struggling to pay your bills, when you just got fired or laid off from your work, this is when we brush off the idea of giving.  And we do it because we're not sure what the future has for us--we don't know when we'll be back in a place of financial security.
   But the beauty of what the Bible says here, is that God is STOKED when we have nothing, and yet we still give.  Because giving when we have nothing humbles us before God, making us trust and depend on Him to sustain us. And it takes us out of ourselves, causing us to let go of living egocentrically.  These are two things God loves, because it allows him to show us how much he cares for us, and it frees us to love others as God has loved us.
   Check out Luke 12: 22-32 as well!  The most amazing thing about the Lord, is that he frees us to live recklessly!  Not in the sense of jumping off a cliff, or robbing a bank.  But God gives us complete confidence that He will provide for us, as we love people wildly by giving generously of what He has blessed us with.
   But remember this, because it's important---when we become reluctant or afraid to give when it DOES cost us much, we limit our ability to see God working powerfully in our lives.  I can say from experience that being in this position opens up our eyes to God's provision.  And most of all, we put more value on God's provision because we're in a place where we need it so much more.
   So don't be afraid to give when you don't have much!  You'll see God do some amazing stuff in your life, and you'll grow more confident in His greatness and love.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Humanity and Our Environmental Progression

I had an extremely interesting conversation with T-bone this morning, while driving to Sacramento for one our shows.  T-bone has always been an avid outdoorsman, and I had always been curious why he had such an affinity for nature.  When I asked him, he said that the main reason he liked nature, why he liked backpacking into the middle of nowhere for a few weeks, was that it allowed him to get back to what the world was like before Man.

Now I thought this was an amazing thing to think about--what the world was like before Man came about to cultivate it.  I thought back to Genesis 1, which details God creating the world and everything in it.  He creates the oceans, the birds, fish, animals, plants--everything is in its place...then God creates man and woman.  And the one thing He commands both of them to do, is to lovingly rule over all He has created.  God entrusts His entire world into the care of mankind.

It's interesting that of all the creations on this earth, humans have the highest capacity to think and organize.  There's an amazing talk by primatologist, Robert Sapolsky (which I'll include at the end of this entry) which talks about the cognitive and biological distinctions between humans and the rest of life.  One of his main contentions is that humans have an incredibly deep capacity to think--about life, about the creation of communities, about emotions, complex math, etc.  The reason I bring this up, is that if you look at the facts--the human ability to think, we really are the most qualified to govern this earth (or so it seems).

Let's go back to Genesis for a minute.  Later on in the narrative, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (which God commands them not to do), and are expelled from the Garden of Eden because they disobeyed God.  He had created a world for Adam and Eve to govern--a world in which He established rules for them to follow, so that things would be done correctly.  So when Adam and Eve disobey God (went against how he intended things to be), there were undesirable consequences.  The point I want to make, is that I think mankind has been given a responsibility (in light of the mental capacity with which we were created) to tend to our world.  There is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this, and how we choose to do so creates positive or negative repercussions.

Now let's take a look at the progression of humanity over the centuries.  If we examine the development of mankind, we find the overarching trend to be that we progress more technologically than we do morally.  Of course there are developments in philosophy which change the way we think about a whole spectrum of particular issues.  But the main axioms of how people desire to be treated (we like to be loved, we desire friendships, we don't like people killing us, etc.) have been intact for centuries.

On the other hand, technology has been changing as far back as we can trace.  Stone tools progressed to iron, steam to gasoline, candlelight to electricity--humanity is always progressing to another level of technology that enables us to achieve new and unprecedented things.

I think we can all gather how morality has changed the world.  We find that when societies treat each other with mutual respect and love, the tendency is that the community is influenced positively.  And when these general elements are not there, and people treat each other badly, communities are negatively affected.

But how does this technology affect our world?  If we look at the progression of the earth, it seems that one major ability which technology has given us, is more ways to adversely effect the environment, on an increasingly greater scale.  For instance, the Egyptians had a huge culture, and no doubt had their negative affects on the environment.  But that effect was localized and contained by the parameters placed upon them by their technology.  They didn't have airlines, cars, plastic, styrofoam.

But today, our technology allows us to put massive holes in the ozone, our trash dump sites are larger and more frequent that they've ever been, and the amount of people using technology is greater than ever before.

Now it's not that technology is a "bad" thing--in fact, it seems that each new development in technology solves a current problem, but also (in many cases) creates a new dilemma.

Thus, I find it extremely interesting that the way in which humanity has developed over the centuries, caters more towards harming our world than making it better.

I don't want to seem completely pessimistic by pointing this out, but I think it's a real and important issue that we must face--that we have a responsibility to our world, and that the odds are kind of against us to manage the earth in a positive way.

But the point I'd like to finish with, is the old saying "With great power, comes great responsibility".  Humanity has been given a great power to think, create, and govern, and we must be wary of how we choose to use the amazing things that spring from human ingenuity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How We Think About People

So I'm reading this book called "Velvet Elvis", by Rob Bell, which is a great read if anyone is interested in a really fresh and in depth perspective on Christianity.  But one part that really struck me, was when Rob talked about mankind being created in the image of God.  Now this idea is taken from Genesis 1:27 "God created man in His own image".  And the reason I found this so interesting, was that it's really an amazing way to think about people.

Lets take a step away from religion for a sec, and talk solely about belief in "God".  Now if we believe there's a higher power of some sort---something or someone that created the world and all we have in it, then I think we have to recognize that there's a serious amount of ingenuity and beauty to be attributed to that being.  I mean, in light of plants, music, coffee (hahaha), the human body, sunsets--these are things that are quite amazing and beautiful.  So to think that people are created in the image of this "higher being", I think adds a lot of value and uniqueness to our view of humanity--that each of us have some of that beauty and ingenuity within us.

For myself, I definitely enjoy this point of view, because I find myself going into society with the mindset that everyone was created with an inherent value, and should be treated as such.  It's not always the easiest thing to keep in mind, especially when people are annoying or rude, etc.  But trying to live this way has definitely brought a lot of love into my life, and a keener appreciation for the people I meet.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Was the Last Time You Thought About Creativity?

I had the pleasure of being introduced to the TED Conference a few years ago, and it has since then provided me with a great means of experiencing some of the most creative and brilliant minds in the world. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a gathering held every year in which some of most skilled and educated people in these fields, converge to discuss their areas of expertise, and how they relate to our present and future world.

This particular talk by Sir Ken Robinson was one of the most moving I've come across, and addresses some fundamental issues in our perception about creativity and education system.  If you like this, I'd encourage you to check out, to find more talks of the same caliber.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

You're a Teacher...even if you don't know it.

I think everyone remembers a time in their life when someone severely influenced the way you thought, possibly even motived you to change the way you lived. For instance, my buddy Adam is one person I can definitely site as someone who has positively influenced my life.

Adam was one of the first people I met in college, yet we really didn't get to know each other until the later years of school. But during my senior year, we did breakfast every Thursday at The Breakfast Buzz in SLO, which quickly turned into our weekly "talk about life". Adam has always been incredibly socially minded, and driven to foster creative, dynamic, and educational communities around him.

Later senior year, I went to an Spring slam poetry event called, "Anthem" that Adam was very instrumental in organizing. Just seeing the care to detail, the organization, and the massive spectrum of people that came to the event, was enough to testify to the hard work ethic. and huge heart that Adam had for bringing people together to experience something positive and educational. I'll never forget leaving there, so incredibly pumped to orient my life in a way that strove for the same things.

This is just one example of a person who has influenced my life--I'm sure we all have many. Yet the point I want to make is that sometimes, I don't think we see ourselves as THAT person. The truth of the matter, is that many of us aren't aware that others are influenced (in both major and minor ways) by what we do--by how we live our lives. We get caught up in thinking about how to take life experiences, and use them to create a better "me". And we forget that all of us have a distinct influence on everyone within our social realm, whether that be your family, you best (or worst) friend, boss, neighbor, etc.

So, in a way, we're all teachers. We all instruct, in some way, by how we live our lives. And I think that's definitely something to think about: a) what things do we want to "teach" with our lives? And b) what are we teaching now?

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Series--Relationships: What is Our Definition of Love?

I'd like to introduce a new topic which I hope to write about repeatedly: that being the huge and crazy topic of relationships. What sparked my interest in this was an experience I had yesterday, while renewing my drivers license at the DMV.

A friend of mine, who I believe is in his early 40's, stopped me as I was walking across the room to get my license picture taken. I asked him how everything was going, and he answered with a weak smile, "Well Nick...not so good". I sat down and he told me that his wife was divorcing him; that it was, without a doubt, one of the hardest things he'd experienced in his life. We couldn't chat long because I had to get my picture taken. So we shook hands, and I said I'd keep him and his family in my prayers.

I left the DMV with a lot of thoughts going through my head. About how elemental relationships are in our lives; how much we create a foundation on those in whom we invest and intrust our love; about how broken a man or woman must feel, when they learn that their spouse or significant other doesn't want their love--will not return it. More thoughts about families who've been marred by separation; children who don't understand why the two people they love, don't love each other. And the overarching question of...what can I, what can we do about this?

Now I believe in God. And as the details of that relationship are lengthy, I won't go into much detail. But here is what my God says about love, and how it should look in each of our lives...

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends..."

The reason I bring this up, is that I want to question how each of us views our role as a person who is responsible for loving someone.

If the quote above is the correct definition of love (which you should question, and that I believe is), we should be deathly serious about who we choose to love. The reason being, if this is the love you mean when saying "I love you", what you're really saying is, I will be patient when you frustrate me; I'll be kind when I'm angry with you; I'll not envy what you have, and what I don't; I'll not boast, putting myself above you; I won't put you down; I'll always ask your opinion in decisions, because I care; I'll be happy when we're truthful with each other, and I'll push through the times when I want to quit....because you're worth that much to me.

This love is pretty serious, huh? I wonder how many broken relationships would be changed if we though of love this way?

There are millions of people who are engaging in relationships today, who are putting their hearts on the line, because they want things to work out. And if the love we're talking about here was what we defined as "love", how much more confident and determined would people be in their relationships, and in their commitments?

You might have heard the quote above millions of times at weddings, in greeting cards, in the movie Wedding Crashers--it might be sort of cliche by now. But the reason it's referenced in all of those, is because there's a deep truth to be found in it. Don't miss this. Truth is found everywhere, and it's our job to question it, and to claim it. So test this for yourself, and see if this is really how love should be.