Thursday, November 30, 2006

God's Sovereignty in all things.

I can see the Lord's sovereignty in so many things in my life.

I can see the Lord's sovereignty in my parents divorce. Were they not to have gotten divorced, I would not have grown up both a Southern Baptist and a PCUSA denomination. If I hadn't grown up in both of these churches, I would not have had the theological sampler plate that I did. This would have made my reformed-charismatic views of today much MUCH harder to come by.

I can see the Lord's sovereignty in Joe and Tara Donato moving to Alachua once they got married. Had they not, I would not have ended up at First Baptist of High Springs my freshman year. Had they not, I would not have left High Springs when the youth pastor did. Had they not, I would not have ended up at Abundant Grace. I would not doing life with these blessed people.
I would not be living with girls who are "heavenly sandpaper."

I can see the Lord's sovereignty in my friendships. The fact that Aimee Hill and I used to not like each other at all. And now, she is one of my best friends-as well as her whole family. And my friendship with Aimee led to my friendship with her brother Ryan as well as David Young. My late night conversations with these two guys led to so much theological growth on my part and the Lord used them in profound ways in my life.
The fact that Caitlin Faulk dated Keith Bogart who was best friends with James Barber who went to UF when I was in high school. This meant many trips up to UF and many opportunities to fall in love with Gainesville and to become desirous of going to school here.

All of these things have led me to where I am at...there is no possible way that these events are random happenings. There is no way that these are coincidences. These are the events of my life that have been sovereignly ordained by a sovereign God to give me the theological background I have, in the church that I am in, in the city in which I live-exactly where he wants me to be so that I may serve Him here.

But it is not just big things in my life that cause me to stand in awe at the sovereignty of God. I say this in all seriousness-I can see the sovereignty of God in Florida Gators football.

Stop Laughing! I'm serious! So many crazy things had to happen in order for the Gators to get to the National Championship. Let me explain:

1. The Florida Gators spent the first 3 weeks at number 7. After week 3, we jumped to number 5 because we beat Tennessee and # 2 Notre Dame lost to #11 Michigan.

2. Until week 7, the order of undefeated teams was: Ohio State, Auburn, USC, West Virginia, & Florida. At week 7, Florida beat LSU and jumped to #2. The same five teams were still undefeated and in the top five, the order was just a little changed.

3. At week 8, BCS Standings came out. Florida lost to Auburn 27-17 on the road. The other top 5 teams remained undefeated. There are now only 4 undefeated teams on the road to the National Championship and Florida is #6 in the BCS.

4. In week 10, the next undefeated team fell. USC lost to unranked Oregon State! Florida moves to #4 in the BCS. There are only 3 undefeated National Championship contending teams remaining.

5. Week 11 saw the beginning of the destruction of the Big East. West Virginia lost to Louisville. The Big East emphasis has now switched to either Louisville and Rutgers who are both still undefeated. Florida stays at #4. In front of us are undefeated Louisville now, and Michigan and Ohio State. Texas and Auburn both have one loss (Texas to Ohio State and Auburn to Arkansas).

6. In week 12, Texas loses to unranked Kansas State. Auburn lost to Georgia AT HOME! Louisville loses to Rutgers as the Big East continues to implode. Florida stays at #4.

7. In week 13, USC jumped to #3 and Ohio State and Michigan didn't change. Florida stayed at #4.

8. In week 14, Michigan lost to Ohio State so they dropped to #3. USC moved to #2. Florida stayed at #4.

9. In week 15, USC famously lost to the UNRANKED Bruins!!! We beat Arkansas for the SEC Championship!

That my friends, is how the BCS (and AP rankings for the first 7 weeks). How did the Gators manage to win all their games?

1. In order to beat Tennessee, Florida came back from a 17-7 deficit at Tennessee.

2. In order to beat Alabama, Florida had to come back from a 10-0 deficit at the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Late in the second quarter, Christ Leak, the non-running Florida quarterback, ran for 45 yards down to the Alabama third yard line.

3. In order to beat LSU, Tim Tebow actually THREW his first 2 touchdown passes, and the UF defense racked up 3 interceptions, recovered 2 fumbles, and scored a safety. This is also the game with Tebow's basketball style pump pass to Tate Casey.

4. In order to beat Vanderbilt, Christ Leak RAN (yes RAN) for 2 touchdowns and Florida blocked 2 punts. We also had a messed up snap and the holder threw to Tate Casey for a 2 point conversion.

5. In order to beat South Carolina, Jarvis Moss blocked a 48 yard field goal attempt. This was Moss's 2nd blocked kick that night.

We didn't have an easy Big 10 schedule. We had the toughest schedule in college football this season-I think all would agree to that. We didn't beat every team by 20 points or more the way Ohio State did.
We often barely squeaked out a win. We often got "lucky" as other teams fell to unranked teams. I won't argue with that. But I will argue with the statement that we just lucked ourselves into the National Championship. With all the mishaps and special team scoring and Christ Leak RUSHING and Tim Tebow stiff arming and all the other teams's not a coincidence. In order for Florida to get to the National Championship, so many things had to just go right. So many things had to be sovereign.

It didn't just happen. God ordained it. Why? Why us and not Michigan? Honestly, I think one reason is Billy Latsko. Billy and his family all go to my church here in Gainesville. Billy walked on to the team in 2002 and was awarded a scholarship in 2004. I think the Lord has heard the prayers of the Latsko family (and the Tebow family). I think that Lord is blessing these two young men and their team. I'm sure there are other reasons for it. But I would bet blessing Billy has a lot to do with it.

God is sovereign. Just look at the Gators journey to the BCS National Championship!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I need Him...

It is my firm belief that pride is the most deceptive sin of all--at least in my own life, for I suppose I can not truly attest to sin in the lives of others. But I do believe this is my greatest struggle as a child of God.

One of the main reasons for this is that pride can take on so many different forms. It can come in the form of self-preoccupation-being so consumed with ones own self, that the needs of others are paid little or no attention to, for his focus is himself.
It can come in the form of self-exaltation-the need to be exalted and looked upon as good or fun or popular or right or strong or whatever attribute that you exalt. The latter is often how I think of pride.
But I think an the most dangerous form of pride for us as Christians is that of self-reliance-believing that our human self is able to satisfy our human needs in any way, shape, or form.

I find it humbling that in the moments after the Lord has corrected a false mindset in me, I am astonished to see that I ever could have thought how I did previously. This was the situation I found myself in this past Tuesday evening. I was listening to a sermon by Bob Kauflin entitled "Pursuing God's Presence." It was an exposition on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Bob's first point was that in order to pursue the presence of God, we need to have a desperate dependence. Paul says in this chapter
"No one can ever say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit."
We cannot confess Christ genuinely unless the Holy Spirit enables us too. In order to even confess our belief in Christ, we need the Holy Spirit-we cannot do it on our own.

Bob spoke of hurting his back while helping his son move and, though fine for a while, a week later, he was stuck in bed and was really unable to walk. He says this:
"In that state, I realized how dependent I was on my wonderful wife who did so
much to serve me in that time and help me....I felt my need.

I can not even begin to tell you how the Spirit began to work in my heart at this moment in the sermon. Somehow in my sinful mind, dependence was a weak thing. Only weak people are dependent. But strong people, they are independent and they do not need anything from anyone. I, Jennifer, am strong. I am independent. For example, when my car got yet another flat tire in September, I did not call a brother in Christ for help. Instead, I fixed the situation on my own. I got the spare tire put on, I got myself to the repair shop, and I waited around for 2 hours until it was fixed. I could have called and asked for help, but for whatever reason, I have this self-dependent mindset.

This mindset of course goes even deeper than flat tires. It pervades my life spiritually as well. If I was struggling with scripture memorization, I wouldn't pray for the Holy Spirit to enable my memory and sharpen my mind because this is something that I should not need help with. A 5 year old can memorize Scripture! I was ashamed to go before the throne of God with something as simple as this. I should be able to accomplish this on my own. This goes for most of my sins-deception, judgments, etc. It is as if I am a twenty year old toddler who is stuck in a perpetual state of "No! I'm a big girl. I can do it!"

Toddlers. What amazing things we can learn from them-especially in the area of dependence. I care for a 23 month old twice a week. She is dependent! She needs me to get dressed, to buckle her in the car, to get her food, to keep her clean. It might be said that of course she is dependent, she is physically unable to satisfy her needs. Yes! Exactly! If Ella were to try and change her own diaper, I can only imagine the disastrous effects!! She would be showing not just an inability but also a stupidity in attempting to accomplish for herself something that I am perfectly willing and desirous to do for her (and can do it a million times better).

Do you see the parallel to my spiritual life? I, Jennifer, am unable to satisfy my own needs. It is not a weakness to admit inability, it is wisdom! To realize that I am insufficient, inept, and unable-to realize that I am in need of not only a Savior to meet my spiritual needs, but a Creator-Provider-Sustainer Abba God to meet all of my needs.

Bob also said this
"Dependence is revealed in the asking."
And it is the Spirit who enables us to cry out Abba Father. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
"Prayer is a sign that we are desperately dependent on God."

It should be no surprise to you then that I told my accountability the area of spiritual disciplines that most needs work is my prayer life. I need to ask the Lord for His enabling Spirit more often.
But praise the Lord that conviction and repentance are not the end. His mercies are new each day-so today, I can come before the throne and admit my need to be dependent.

I will never be able to do well academically if the Lord does not sharpen my mind and provide for me ample study time. I need Him.

I will never be able to take my next breath if the Lord does not sovereignly ordain it to be so. I need Him.

I will never be able to glean anything from Scripture without the Holy Spirit's working in my heart to open my eyes to the truths that are before me. I need Him.

I will never be able to "pick" the right husband for myself without the Lord's discernment. I need Him to correctly form my desires. I need Him to cause me to realize that I will never marry a Prince Charming, but a sinner saved by grace like myself and that the purpose of any marriage (or relationship of any kind) is to serve the Kingdom and bring glory to the Lord. I need Him.

I will never be able to be good enough for God-no matter how many Piper books I read, or how many hymns I love, or how many missions trips I go on. I need Him!

I will never be able to satisfy the wrath of a righteous God on my own. I need the blood of His Son to be sprinkled on my head. I NEED HIM!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Why politics frustrate me....

Politics make me think about many things. Of course, I think about my views on the war in Iraq, taxes, and abortion. I think about how divided our country is. I think about God's plan for my state, my country, and this world. I think about how disgusting it all is at times. So then, I think about moving to the bush and never coming back!

A few years back, I was all gung ho for politics. I was a dutiful conservative and watched "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity and Colmes" and loved all things "fair and balanced." I loved the "West Wing" (Democrat loving as it was) and "The American President" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." I was involved in Youth in Government and Mr. Dyches has told me since I was 15 that my name was going to be on a ballot one day and he was going to be there to vote for me. I wanted that! I would spent time debating politics and policy and decisions with my friends. I campaigned for politicians I supported in 2004. I had the buttons and the plans and the zeal for it all.

The problem is, the Holy Spirit was working in me (as He always is, hopefully). He was stirring up within me a sense of discontent with this political zeal of mine. See, the problem was this-I was spending more time trying to convince someone to vote for some man and in turn, spent MUCH less time talking with people about my faith. And it makes me wonder, as believers, how much time should we spend campaigning for politiciains?

I 100% believe that God is in control of all things-including elections. (And for a timely article on God's Providence in Elections, click here.) I also believe that our efforts in trying to turn out more voters and talk with people about the issues at stake are not void. I think that the Lord uses our efforts to cause His will to come about in politics as He does in all things. And I think that we absolutly need conservatives in the political arena.

But when a politician you support wins the race, the glory MUST go to God, not us and our own human efforts. And in those unfortunate situations when a democrat (sorry folks, but I'm a pretty hard core conservative) wins a race, the glory also MUST go to God. There cannot be thoughts of "If we had only worn a blue tie last Friday" or "If we had only passed out more buttons." No matter what human effort we put in, if it is not the Lord's will, it WILL NOT happen! (Think back to the days of hanging chads and pregnant chads. Despite all the effort put in by voter recounters to find all the ballots for Al Gore they could, George Bush still won.) So, no matter what the outcome, the glory must go to God. Period.

But, how involved in the campaigning process should we be? I feel like we should be "campaigning" for God five quadrillion times more than we should be for any politician. I mean, I don't think we should be out on the streets waving "Go God" signs or anything, but those 2 hours that we spend going door to door trying to convince people to vote for a man, how much more redeemable would that time be if instead we went and got a caramel apple cider with an unbeliever and spoke with him about the gospel of God? How much time do people spend sitting around debating policy and politics that could instead be spent in meditation and prayer for the Lord to make his might and power shown among this nation?

And one last thing. I've heard many conservative people pray for George Bush and for Dick Cheney and for other like minded leaders. But h
ow many of us pray for Hillary Clinton, or John Kerry, or Barack Obama? Russell Moore writes "It is easy for Christians to pray for political figures who court our votes. There are several organizations out there devoted to encouraging believers to pray for President Bush. We are commanded to pray for President Bush. But our responsibility doesn't end there....It isn't easy to love and pray for someone who stands at odds with your worldview. But it pleases the God who wants all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

So yes, I care about politics. It shapes the world that I and my children will grow up in. I haven't missed voting in an election yet, and I rue the day that I do. (ahem, Kimmy) But more than that, I care about the glory of God. And if the glory of God can be manifested most in House with Nancy Pelosi as its Speaker, then my prayers, along with Russell Moore and his family's, will be for her.

Think about is this way. Any of the hotly contested elections in our nations history are just that...history. Most of the men are dead and the only people that really know anything about it are historians, librarians, and high school students. But, the cross. Friend, Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago and it is still a living, breathing, effecting thing. The cross alone will last. The cross alone will still matter in 200 years when Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons have long since ceased. Make your life about things that matter. The only thing that matters-to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sugar Coated Youth Ministries

Time magazine recently did an article about youth groups in America. It discussed how youth groups in the 90's presented a watered down gospel in order for teenagers to be entertained and having fun. It then discussed a trend in some churches to do the exact opposite of this by presenting heavy doses of absolute truth and doctrine and scripture.
A quote from the article says this:

"Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the
way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious
content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches
have begun offering their young people a style of religious
instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines
of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by
the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and
early '90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just
from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all."

You can find a link to the article here.

HT: Al Mohler