Personal Lord and Savior?

Recently, my wife and I were discussing what it means “believe in Jesus”, particularly regarding our kids and expressing saving faith. It really wasn’t until I started attending a Southern Baptist church that I started hearing this cliché-phrase “personal lord and savior”—usually expressed without any great understanding as to what that means. While I’m no great lover of the phrase, it’s actually works as a basic, four-word summary of what I see the Bible showing faith to be. Here are some cursory thoughts:

Acts 16:30-31a – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”*** The jailer needs to believe personally believe in this Jesus, who is Lord of all. Believe what, you may ask?

Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. I don’t think the declaring is magical, but a practical means of voicing out loud submission to King Jesus. But Paul lays out that believing in Jesus means believing that the resurrection was real—that the Son of God died and was raised again, the very vindication that he was master of death.

Acts 2:36-38 – “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” While the baptism part of this gets FAR too much attention, the bigger point is that these God-fearing Jews need to repent. Of what? Of not believing that Jesus was the Son of God, their “Lord and Messiah” whom they crucified (and later rose from the dead).

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive look at things, but it seems to me that for anyone, adult or child, faith in Jesus means believing he was real, that he died, and that he rose. It also means confessing him as our own lord, the master of our bodies and our souls, both now and forever. That’s belief. That’s faith. That’s saving faith.

***One of these days—when I’m brave enough—I’ll deal with the “you and your household” part of this verse.

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“Failure”

Seth Godin nails an important idea that being a failure and feeling like a failure are rarely the same thing. You should read it, as he makes the point so well.

As a Jesus follower, we all tend to write up a series of mental (or actual!) rules that we measure ourselves by. The problem is that we often set standards that are either too lofty or not required of us by King Jesus or just plum ridiculous (I will read the whole Bible in three days!).

For me (and the silly people like me), I tend not to make many of these types of rules for myself. Why? Because I’d feel bad all the time because I’d surely miss the mark constantly! Psh. So in order to avoid feeling like a failure, I require nothing of myself and truly fail in loving my neighbor as myself because I don’t even try.

So to the me’s of the world, I say: Stop trying to avoid feeling like a failure. Avoiding the feeling isn’t the same as avoiding failure. And in trying not to feel like you’re failing, you’re actually just failing and feeling good about it. Which is absurd and maybe even wicked. Repent of your false righteousness and hear the Word of the Lord.

But others (some whom I love dearly) makes an insurmountable list of goals, such that can never be attained. And thus they “fail” and are crushed under the constant sense of failure upon failure.

To them I say: Instead, walk by faith. Remember that God is preparing beforehand the good deeds he intends you today. And he is actively growing you up, turning your toddles into strides. As ridiculous as it is for the toddler to think he can walk without falling in one day or the ten-year-old who wants to chop wood with the strength of his daddy, it’s that ridiculous to think you can overcome every weakness by tomorrow or next month or next year. Growing my nature takes time—physically or spiritually. Trust the farmer of your soul.

From a Book: No Other Stream

stream-1351841092KWiA little long and maybe slightly confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the world of Narnia. But it still slays me to read it and so I invite you to as well. I’ve always loved Aslan because of how he made Jesus more real to me (more on this in the near future). He’s gracious and loving and king and mighty and magnificent and scary and perfect–all at the same time. And there’s no other place, no other stream, from which to find living water–water that truly quenches and takes away any more thirst.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion—no one who had seen his stern face could do that—and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia) (pp. 21-23). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Slightly edited)

Faith and Doubt

For some, believing in Jesus and loving him with a full heart is as simple as breathing. For me, not so much. If I were to extend the breathing analogy, I suffer from my own version of spiritual asthma. Sometimes believing and loving and serving is unnatural and hard and laborious. Sometimes it’s draining. Sometimes it’s downright discouraging and hopeless. Suffocating. And like the real asthmatic who knows exactly how to breathe and simply can’t, I know how I want my heart–my soul–to be and I simply can’t.

I don’t have any solutions or answers here–I’m simply inviting you into the struggle with me. But I acknowledge it’s a hopeful struggle. I cling to the goodness and solidarity of God’s promises like an inhaler. It doesn’t necessarily make things feel any better, but it’s what holds me together at all.

On that note, here’s a song I love that I listen to (and sing along with) as one way my soul cries out to God:

My friend Scott has waded through these waters publicly as well and it’s been to the good of my soul to be invited into his struggle with him, even though it’s horribly painful for him. You can find some examples here, here, and here (though his whole blog is worth reading).

From a Book: The Unpredictable Universe

370When I read books, thoughts or paragraphs or ideas jump out at me in new ways. And now that I read almost exclusively on my Kindle, I can capture those thoughts and mull on them a bit with the notes and highlighting feature. I thought I’d share some here from time to time.

I’ve always loved Michael Crichton novels, since at least late elementary school. He had a way of talking about science so that it made sense, usually through story and dialogue. These days, I don’t find his writing as great as I once did, but I still enjoy exploring ideas he introduces. Here’s one from Jurassic Park:

Fractals are a kind of geometry, associated with a man named Mandelbrot, who found a remarkable thing with his geometric tools. He found that things looked almost identical at different scales.

For example, a big mountain, seen from far away, has a certain rugged mountain shape. If you get closer, and examine a small peak of the big mountain, it will have the same mountain shape. In fact, you can go all the way down the scale to a tiny speck of rock, seen under a microscope—it will have the same basic fractal shape as the big mountain. It’s a way of looking at things. Mandelbrot found a sameness from the smallest to the largest. And this sameness of scale also occurs for events.

Consider cotton prices: there are good records of cotton prices going back more than a hundred years. When you study fluctuations in cotton prices, you find that the graph of price fluctuations in the course of a day looks basically like the graph for a week, which looks basically like the graph for a year, or for ten years. And that’s how things are. A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there.  And at the end of your life , your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.

It’s the only way to look at things. At least , the only way that is true to reality. You see, the fractal idea of sameness carries within it an aspect of recursion, a kind of doubling back on itself, which means that events are unpredictable. That they can change suddenly, and without warning. But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is.

Straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist. Linearity is an artificial way of viewing the world. Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way.

That’s a deep truth about the structure of our universe. But, for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true.

Crichton, Michael (2012-05-14). Jurassic Park: A Novel (pp. 189-191). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (lightly edited to make a single quotation–click here to see the full dialogue/quotation)

We so badly want structure. Even those of us (and I certainly include myself) who act like we don’t want structure depend on the earth to keep spinning, our bodies to keep working, life to keep happening. But our hope in order and structure is an illusion apart from the God and Father of Jesus, in whom all things are held together. Yahweh keeps it all together for us. He’s also the master of the unpredictable (to us) which is utterly predictable to him. Trusting in nature, in life to be constant and steady is foolish. But trusting in the Creator and Sustainer of everything is the only right and wise choice. Not that it makes anything safe. Or predictable. But it’s our only anchor in a wave-tossed life.