Monday, September 27, 2010

Shall We Accept Good From God And Not Trouble?

I am tired. Seminary is wearing me out. Distance is wearing me out. Being poor is wearing me out. Not having a real church home is wearing me out. Laying in bed this morning and thinking about my latest trials, all I could think of was the words of Job 2:10: "You are speaking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" The second sentence is the one that stood out in my mind, but the first is important for some context. Job's wife had just told him to "curse God and die" to alleviate his sorrows. I was thinking about yelling at God today, and the analogy that came to me was that cursing or yelling at God is like being angry at the moon and throwing a stick at it. Its not going to get you anywhere. If I really think about it, God has blessed me tremendously, even through the struggles I am now facing and those he has brought me through, and my ability to complain is marginal at best. I eagerly praise God for the times he blesses me and brings me through troubles, but when he takes away what I thought were blessings or fails to bless me as I think he should, can I still praise him? Has he changed, or is it I who have changed? This is a time when I wish the story of Job had continued past his conversation with God. How does one praise God in the midst of trail such as Job. How, when you don't have the divine joy that Paul tells us to have during trials, is one supposed to conjure up feelings of warmth and gladness, not to mention faith that God will provide. I don't know if I have answers to those questions right now. The only answer I can give to myself is to fall on my face in front of God and say exactly what I have just written: God I do not know what your plan is or if you will lift this burden, but I worship you none the less. And, perhaps I have nothing else to say or do except sit silently in heartbroken worship before my God. Perhaps he will restore my heart by showing me that my fears are unnecessary, or perhaps he will simply give me the strength to live with my thorns. Regardless, all I can do either way is live in a state of worship before God. Else, I might not make it too long without a mental breakdown. What more can I say. I will end this with a quote:

Sometimes the Lord rides out the storm with us and other times He calms the restless sea around us. Most of all, He calms the storm inside us in our deepest inner soul.
--Lloyd John Ogilvie

Friday, September 17, 2010

Performance Anxiety

Status anxiety refers to our need to be assured of our status in the eyes of our peers. A status anxiety attack - that panicky feeling that others are looking down at us in contempt or, worse, indifference - may strike at any time, for status anxiety runs like a psychological
fault line through the geology of our sense of self worth. Status anxiety afflicts as many people as the common cold. It is the pernicious fear that we are not living up to the standards of success laid down by our society and that, as a result, that we are on the verge of becoming a nobody. Those who suffer from especially acute cases of status anxiety may feel that they are social
lepers: “Unworthy! unworthy!,” they cry from the cave of their ugly inner child.
Individual Christians and churches too may display
symptoms of status anxiety in the face of a hostile empire, the “empire” not of the ancient Romans but of contemporary global culture (Hardt & Negri, 2000)... It is a terrible thing when one’s sense of identity
“is held captive by the judgments of those we live among” (de Botton, 2004, p. 8)."

(Forming the Performers:
How Christians Can Use Canon Sense to Bring Us to Our (Theodramatic) Senses
by Kevin Vanhoozer, 11)

The way God sees is us is the way we truly are. Worldly status is a game of smoke and mirrors. It’s all about appearance, not reality. In asking us to live a life worthy of the gospel, Paul is asking us to live in a way that corresponds to the way things really are.

(ibid., 14)

In a response to this article, Chuck DeGroat describes some effects of status anxiety as being physically shown in clenched fists, tightness in the back or shoulders or basically anywhere, or even headaches.

Now, I posed this because I tend to tell people that they shouldn't care how they are viewed by others... that it'll only cause them more stress in the long run. But after reading this article and actually thinking about it, I think I am among the ranks of people who suffer from status anxiety. Maybe it isn't completely in the way everyone sees me as it is for other people, but I want to do well in school and when I play sports for the way it makes people view and treat me. When I see myself failing it isn't completely a mental issue, but a social one as well. It is not only a "I didn't live up to my standard" but "I didn't live up to their standard, and now what will they think" as well. The more I think about it the more I think this is something that a lot of us have to give up to Christ, myself included. It is difficult to find my (our) worth in something (or someone) that is unseen, but as Vanhoozer says in his article, saying,

"the gospel responds to the problem of status anxiety with status peace. The gospel is the good news that our status
before God is secure, not because of what we have achieved in this life but because of what Jesus Christ did in his." (Vanhoozer, 14).

I pray that one day sooner rather than later I can truly say that my identity is wholly in Christ and my perceived status before others does not matter, rather it is the reality of my status before God that matters.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some Thoughts on Preaching

I am sitting in my Intro to Preaching class and today I thought I would take notes in essay form for you all to hear. So, if you’re not in the mood for notes on preaching and the Bible, you should probably stop reading. We are now talking about inadequate views of the Bible for preachers. These include a mere tool, a resource, a talisman, a history book, a story book, a launch pad or spring board, and using Scripture as a comfort food or rule book. In essence, Dr. Scharf, our professor, is trying to show that the Bible is much more than all these things, it is the Word of God and it is the source and essence and message from God that is your preaching. We do not need to take a text of Scripture and make it mean something today, it already DOES mean something, we simply need to understand what that is and communicate it to the congregation. The same is true of our devotions. We should not read the Bible for little insights or applications to our lives… but we should read to understand that we might apply our lives to Scripture. Understand? Yeah, its confusing. Sorry about that. It seems like a fine line but in reality there is a huge difference between the two. Is there something wrong with taking Matthew 18:20 to mean that Jesus is with us when we pray together, and thus pray together? Perhaps there is not… but the force of that passage is something totally different. The passage itself tells us how we are to deal others who sin against us (at least, that’s what I’ve gathered from learning from people smarter than me). All that to say, I could pull out a sermon on prayer or be encouraged to pray in groups by that passage, but I would be missing the powerful truth on how we are to deal with relational or discipline problems as Christians! Interesting. Think about that for me. I need to pay better attention to the class that is happening, rather than tangenting on my blog. Oops. Stay sweet.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

To Do Lists

I feel like whenever I make a list I feel better, even if I know I won't get everything on it done as quickly as I think I will. Here is my to do list for tomorrow:

1) Read 60 pages in my huge counseling book
2) Translate and parse Col. 1:1-4
3) Read a section in Fee's book on Exegesis
4) Read 40 pages in Greenlee's book on Textual Criticism
5) Memorize Greek vocab occuring 81 or more times in the New Testament
6) Memorize the first set of vocab for Hebrew and learn vowel rules
7) Read the book Dying to Preach (about a 100 pages left)
8) Do Hebrew workbook exercises

Thats all. It feels kinda overwhelming on the page... but it felt even more overwhelming in my head. I know God has called me to be here, but I'm really good at psyching myself out. I get so overwhelmed with homework that I just want to get it all done and never hang out with anyone so I can get the pressure off my shoulders. It's crazy. And this week I got a job at Caribou, so I get to add that to the list, and I might pick up another 5 hours by working on campus writing emails much like this blog post. I tend to over stack my hand so that the cards start to fall on the table. But God is good. I have to remember that. Regardless how much I feel that I fail here or how much I try to take on, as long as I am listening to Him and obeying his voice and seeking Him, it will turn out for His glory, and that is what counts. Now if only I could stop trying to squeeze time with Him in and start squeezing some other things. Yikes. Pray for me dear readers. I know I'm okay, but I know I'll be stressed all semester like it or not. God willing, I'll graduate without popping too many blood vessels due to stress :).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Waiting to be Waiting

I thought that title was kinda witty, considering I'm at a job interview. It would be even wittier if I was interviewing at a restaurant rather than Barns and Noble, but I'll take the wittiness I can get. Brad is interviewing right now. I hope one of us gets the job, we're both really poor. I would like working here I think. I love books and coffee and people and music... what more could a guy ask for? I had my first Greek and Hebrew class today... well right now I've only had Hebrew, and Greek is later (along with preaching), but let's pretend I've had both. It is an interesting feeling when you're learning a new language. I love that Hebrew is still spoken. Knowing that next time I go to Israel I might be able to communicate with the Israeli population is intoxicating. Honestly, as intoxicated as I may be, I am terrified to start this semester. With trying to find a job, then working, and 16 hours of Grad classes, and a girlfriend 4 hours away... I'm afraid I won't be able to juggle everything (with a 3.5 to maintain). I've heard that a lot of my teachers don't even give out A's. How do I maintain a 3.5 without any A's? Yikes. But I know God brought me here and has provided for me thus far and if I trust in Him He will continue to provide. Speaking of provision, everyone should give
money to help her get to the Focus on the Family Leadership Institute. Seriously, its a good cause, and does provide. Thats all. Stay sweet kids.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Can You See on the Horizon

I am currently listening to 210 mix, which is one of the greatest collections of music ever made, and the song "Into The West" is playing (from the LOTR Return of the King soundtrack). I actually used some of the lyrics of this song as the title for this entry. What can you see on the horizon? I rarely think about the future. I'm a "live in the present" kind of guy. But lately I've been thinking about what is "on the horizon" for me. I just tweeted how unrealistic most of my expectations are. I guess I never really realized it because I got so lucky most of the time that I didn't have to. Lucky or blessed. Either way, the stark reality of real life is catching up to me. I read Galatians 2 today, and I realized that even Peter, after he was the head of the Jewish church, made mistakes. Thats probably supposed to make me feel better. It doesn't. I often worry about the mistakes on my horizon. I suppose that God can use any mistake for good (love can change the world for example... take that however you'd like). I need to get ready for bed, so I'll have to cut this short, but I just want to make clear that I know God uses our mistakes and hardships in the end, but I'm still afraid to make them... I thought an honest post would be good, I offer answers a little too often sometimes... tonight, the only thing I offer is honesty: I'm afraid to mess up. The end.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Trying to Please

There are some days when I just feel like a failure. I can be writing a sermon and dwelling on it and working out what God is trying to say, and the next second I can go and do exactly what I'm planning on telling others not to do. Its infuriating. Talk about guilt. Ugh, there is nothing more trying than feeling like you're a hypocrite or like you've failed God and others. I know just want to curl up in my bed until its tomorrow and I can try again.

There are also those days when I just feel empty, drained, doubtful, and hopeless. I just kinda feel like a mess.

There are even those days when I feel like God doesn't listen when I talk, or even if He does listen, He doesn't plan on responding any way that I'll be able to understand or appreciate.

Then there are those days when I feel like all of the above.

You know, I was planning on blogging about all this, then finishing it with an encouraging number about how God gives us our identity and freedom, but right now its hard to write. Right now its fine to believe that, but I feel too drained to actually take hold of that privileged. God gives me identity... yeah, but it'll take effort to feel that way tonight, and I don't have the energy. Its nights like tonight when I just pray the Psalms.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.

May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When Its Easy and Not So

Eph 5 19-21

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It is pretty easy to believe God will provide for the future when He's doing it in the present. Its not so easy to believe when He's not doing it in the present. And Its almost impossible to believe when you thought He was doing it and all of a sudden you find out He's not doing it how you thought He was. I can totally understand Gideon or the people of Israel right outside the Promised Land. They'd seen God provide a little here and there (a lot if you were there at the time), and get them through hardships, but when they needed him most the task he put before them seemed impossible. Thats almost how I feel today. I felt led to Trinity because of the education I will receive there and the way in which God provided the money for me to go there. I got $3500 in scholarships, and then was awarded eligibility for a full ride. As things turned out I didn't get the ride, but I did get a $7100 scholarship... which was a blessing. Today, I found out that the scholarship I received negated the $3500 scholarships I was previously receiving. Now, people can tell me that the I am still getting more than I would have, but because my expectations of God's provision were for $11,600 and I made plans and decisions based around that expectation, it certainly feels like God left me out to dry. That is a dangerous place to be in. I don't know how Job did it. "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." My prayer is that those words would be mine, regardless what God gives or takes away. Money will not bind me, nor hold me back from the will of the Lord.

1 Thes. 5:16-24

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ever Have One of Those Days?

Am I the only one who has days sometimes where I just don't want to be doing what I am doing? Where I don't wanna be at work, I don't wanna be working out, I don't wanna be doing anything that I am currently doing and the only things I might want to do (like seeing my girlfriend or eating a cake) I can't do because neither are close to where I am sitting in my windowless office in front of my boring laptop with papers all over my desk! Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. Its not even that I'm having a terrible day (although I am planning on taking my car to inspection which it will certainly fail, and that makes any day bad), its just one of those days. I can't find my headphones, the internet is slow, work is work and not exciting and I feel like all the work I have is at that stage before its done where any progress slows down to an utter and complete crawl. My parents are yelling at me for house sitting the last two weeks I'm home, its hot out, my check engine light is on, my fingernails need cutting, I'm in debt, I'm white and can't jump... need I complain about anything else, because I can do this all day sister.

Sigh. I wonder if Jesus ever had one of those days. I wouldn't be surprised if Gethsemane was one of those days. But I wonder if he had a day that wasn't really terrible but wasn't really good and turned out terrible. I wonder if John 6 was one of those days. Oh you know what I'm talking about, the story where Jesus feeds the 5000 then walks on water and the crowds are all like "woah he just fed us then disappeared, lets follow him!!!" and they do and are all like "woah rabbi where'd you go how'd you get here" and Jesus isn't buying it for a second. He goes all teacher on them and says "you didn't come here because of the miracles did you, you came because I fed you with a few loves and fish." I wouldn't be surprised if he was thinking "you didn't come because you saw miracles, and in that case you definitely didn't come because of what I said... gosh what do I have to say or do to get these people to understand who I am?!?" I think that would count as one of those days for me, but it gets worse. Jesus is in no mood to tell these people what they want to hear, so he diminishes their greatest hero Moses by saying it wasn't him it was God who gave manna (which is true, but they don't wanna hear that), and then he basically says he's greater than Moses and that HE is the true bread, and HE came down from heaven, and they have to eat HIS flesh and drink HIS blood to go to heaven an live forever. Well... you can imagine the crowd didn't wanna hear that. What is their response? Grumble Grumble Grumble. "We know your parents dude you didn't come from no heaven." "This teaching is too crazy, we're outta here if you ain't gunna feed us." So Jesus, who by now is definitely having one of those days, looks at Peter and his disciples and says "you guys gunna leave me too?" And Peter, doing his best to redeem the situation, sticks up for him saying "where would we go, you have the words of eternal life," which in my mind I would have translated "we got no where else to go man, you're stuck with us..." but maybe he meant the second half more than the first. Either way Jesus says, "yeah you are my 12, my boys, but one of you is a devil" because he knows Judas is going to betray him and he is just not in the mood to sugar coat anything.

So. That being said, I guess I can say that if Jesus can have one of those days so can I... but what does he do afterwards? Well his brothers go on telling him to show some miracles to more people, since they don't even believe in him, but he holds it together and does what he has to until he goes to teach at a feast in jerusalem. He gets up in front of everyone and teaches, again not holding back on the teachers of the law, the people that should be teaching the rest of the people so that they can be ready and acceptant for his message. He doesn't hide what hey thinks of them, but in all that he stays in control and keeps doing his job, his mission, what he has to. If he can go through all that and keep pluggin away with only 12 guys out of like 400,000 backing him, one of which wants to betray him, I think I can make it through today. But I might ask for his help first, just to be safe.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Unwilling Yet Glorious Slavery

Have you ever eaten something, then suddenly gotten the craving to eat as much of that thing as you can no matter what the consequences? I've seen it with ice cream and almost always with Chinese food... but I find myself most often in the clutches of potato chips. I eat some. I want more. I grasp the bag. I eat more. I want more. And so the cycle continues. But now, something wonderful yet terrible has happened...

Thats right. Sweet Chili. They aren't potato chips. There are no DORITOS® here. These are none other than RiceWorks Sweet Chili Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps. Although they aren't much better for you than potato chips, they are intoxicatingly delicious. I keep eating them and eating them. I feel like I am their slave to obey their wises...

I feel like the Apostle Paul had something to say about this...

Romans 6:16-18

16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

If I read Romans correctly (and for the sake of my sermon on the 8th I sure hope I do) Paul is saying that we were formerly slaves to sin and our sinful nature. We obeyed the law of this world and the passions and desires it impressed upon us... but now that we are under the blood of Christ we are slaves to righteousness and we obey his passions and desires which are becoming ours. In the same way that I can become totally infatuated with chips or Chinese or crisps, we should be infatuated with Christ, that is, if we understand the Gospel. If we live like we understand the Gospel. If we allow the Gospel to take control of our lives and define us.

So, who are you offering yourself up as a slave to today? We're all slaves, like it or it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Myself

Do you ever feel like you're the sweetest thing since ice cream? Or that no matter what someone else tells you, you're right? I'm sorry to say that I actually have those thoughts sometimes. Take today for example. My dad was playing tennis with me, and, since I'm not very good, he was giving me some instructions on how to serve, why my backhand goes all screwy, and other such helpful hints. Yet, even in the midst of my failures I found myself thinking... "I know how to do this, I don't need your direction, just let me get the hang of it my own way." Now, when I did give his instruction a chance, of course it worked. Maybe this isn't such a big deal in the realm of amateur tennis, but I worry that I do the same thing when it comes to the gospel or the Bible or my relationship with Jesus Christ. I feel like when I listen to a sermon I tend to tell myself, "yeah, I do that, this isn't for me." Do I let myself think I know what is best, when the truth that I am a failure doing things my way is staring me right in the face? Proverbs 14:12 AND 15:25 both say:

There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

Word for word. Anything that the Bible takes time to say twice is something I should listen to. 15:25 says "The LORD tears down the proud man's house, but he keeps the widow's boundaries intact." Days like today make me wonder what the LORD is doing with my house. Am I tearing down the good in my life by the way I am, and am I going to reap the rewards of my pride soon enough? I hope this post is the first step to achieving widowesk *yes that is now a word meaning widow-like* humility. Pray for me, if you'd like. A man can never be too humble, and can never have too much prayer.

Stay thirsty my friends, thirsty for the truth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Love and Respect

I am listening to another sermon from Elevation Church entitled Visionary Love, Dream Sex, Do It When You're Old, and something he said got me thinking. The pastor, Steven Furtick, was talking about how women should be clothed in love while men should be clothed in respect. As he said that I thought to myself, "yeah, thats true, but sometimes I want to feel loved too!" Then something hit me. Why do I want love more than respect? Why am I supposed, as a man, to have respect rather than love? Surely the two are not completely separate, but why respect for the man and love for the woman? It is because of leadership. As the man I am the leader in a relationship. I am the leader spiritually, emotionally, physically, you name it I am supposed to lead. Yes, my wife is supposed to love me (no I'm not married yet, I just listen to a lotta sermons haha), but more than that she is to respect me as the moral leader of the relationship. Respect puts a responsibility on my shoulders that love does not, and that is what scares me. That is the reason I am afraid of respect and want love instead: I am afraid to lead. Although it might take a different form in other guys, I think that a lot of men I know have a fear of leading. Well, the truth is, you can't be a boyfriend or a husband if you don't know where you're going. You can't lead anyone without a destination. And if you're not confident enough to lead someone to where you're going, you aren't ready to lead a woman in a relationship. I might not be a lost cause. I might be on the road to recovery, but I have some work to do before I "put a ring on it."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sometimes... You Just Know

Have you ever heard those phrases that go something like "you know when you're ____ when...?" I usually laugh at those and push them off, but I had a moment just a second ago when I went out to my car to get my ipod. I am listening to a podcast by Steven Furtick entitled "Visionary Love, Dream Sex, and Attraction," and maybe that had something to do with it, but I don't think so. I went out to my car, opened the door, and stepped inside. Now, it is a warm day outside and the leather seats (yes, I am 22 with leather seats... but my car has 141,000 miles so get over it) are nice and warm. With the inside of my office air conditioned, the heat seeping out of the seats and surrounding my body in the car felt fantastic and I just sat back and enjoyed the experience. I thought to myself, "this is contentment right here. It doesn't get much better than this moment. I think I'll just sit here for a minute." And as I sat there I thought of how much better this moment would be if my girlfriend was with me. And as I thought about that I thought about how good this moment would be without the car or the warmth or anything else if my girlfriend was with me. And I thought of how bad the other things around me could get and I could still feel this content if my girlfriend was with me... and thats when I realized it. You know you're in love when you are as content as you can be, but you know you'd be happier to give it all up just to be with someone else. Thats one way that I know.

So I guess I'm in love. Oops.

Stay Sweet,

D. Swartz