Jan 4, 2015

Incremental Holiness for 2015

A friend of mine recently asked me a question. He asked if I could sense a theme of what God might be teaching me for 2015. It wasn't something I'd ever really considered before. But I think I may have identified something that I can see that God might be showing me this year.

It has to do with a phrase I came across: "Incremental Holiness" (I got it from this article:
http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/edwards-for-everyday/ )

I'll shamelessly copy and paste the part where I found the phrase.
"My professor in seminary asked us to consider a scenario: “Say I have a man whose besetting sin is sleeping around. On average, he is sleeping with  30-40 women a year. The Lord saves that man, and we walk together as brothers. During the next year of his life, he sleeps with three women. Do you condemn this man? Do you doubt his salvation or his understanding of Christ’s work? Think of the standard to which you hold him. If it is holiness, no one has met that, save Christ. If it is the progressive and saving work of the Spirit—then look at how much his life has changed from where he started.” Talk about throwing a wrench into this church kid's world.
A worldview like that—a worldview of incremental holiness—is one that recognizes dependence, inability and false righteousness. The saved man’s life is changed, and he is still in need of grace. To think of where I have come from and where I am now—gratitude grows with every dip, every bend, and every fresh recognition of grace." 
When we want to change, we usually want the change over and done with as quick as we can. We don't like to consider the possibility that significantly changing our character in one area might be a five year effort. Sometimes the Lord changes aspects of us in a hurry. Overnight even. But he is also very patient. His timetable can be a lot longer than we prefer.

So I'm trying to keep an eye out for how God might be slowly changing me and helping me grow. Just think about how long it takes a tree to grow. If you've ever looked at a cut down tree, you've seen the growth rings. The amount that a tree grew in a single year. Each year may only be a fraction of an inch. So if you see a mature tree, know that it might have taken decades to get to that point.

Galatians 5:22-23 mentions the fruit of the Spirit, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." God uses the metaphor of fruit to describe the process of growth and change in his children. Fruit takes time to grow. You get an apple years after you plant the tree. Trust God for the growth in your life. Be patient as he works in you. That's what I'm going to be focused on for the coming year.

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." 1 Corinthians 3:6

Dec 24, 2014

"Stop them" from prophesying

We tend to idolize our leaders. We think of them as far greater than ourselves. In our present day, we can look back on all the technology innovations people helped create like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. When it comes to the bible, we see Moses in the Old Testament as an amazing prophet leading the Israelites on an incredible Exodus from Egypt. We see Moses obey God and strike a rock and water comes out of it (Exodus 17:1-7). Moses spends time in the presence of God and his face shines as a result (Exodus 34). When Moses was about to die, his protege and apprentice Joshua was selected to take his place. So we'd expect great things from his successor. Indeed, when the people of Israel follow Joshua to take possession of the promised land, they walk through a river that stops flowing as soon as they enter it (Joshua 3:7-17). These are miraculous things that God is doing through his chosen leaders.

How can I ever live up to examples like Moses or Joshua? How will I go slay my giants like David did? In truth, I don't want to have men like this as my goal or standard. I'm going to fail miserably to live up to that.

But maybe, just maybe, we weren't supposed to think quite so highly of these men. In fact, I find hope when I see a much younger Joshua back during the time while Moses was still leading the people. In Numbers 11, God gave the elders of Israel the ability to prophesy while away from camp. But two of these elders were still back in the camp while they prophesied. And guess what, Joshua didn't like it. Here is the verse that describes his reaction, "And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them." Numbers 11:28.

"Stop them." If we step back and look at this, Joshua didn't want men to speak the word of God in the camp. He thought it improper and that only Moses should have that privilege. Wow. Wisely, Moses corrected his apprentice by saying, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" Moses recognizes that anytime God's Spirit is present, it is a good thing.

Our biblical heroes aren't as perfect as we may have first thought. Moses murdered someone, Joshua wanted to stop people from prophesying, King David committed adultery and commissioned murder to cover it up. One of Jesus' disciples Peter denied even knowing Jesus.

Instead, we should realize that our ultimate example is Jesus. He lived the flawless life that none of our Old Testament heroes ever fully reached. Our faith in him means that he is not only our example, but more importantly, our Savior. He doesn't just "show us" a better way as an example. He goes further as he leads and guides us into the better way as Savior. He brings us into the very presence of God. His death pays the penalty for our sins. His resurrections is God's statement that Jesus is the one who doesn't deserve death. Graciously, anyone in Christ will receive this same resurrection one day.

Dec 22, 2014

Crazy-ish budget things we did to make it through seminary

Kelly and I moved to Dallas in the summer of 2012 and lived there for two years while we went to seminary. My class load was at least 10 credit hours per semester. And considering this was graduate level work, those 10 credit hours were very tough.

We got jobs in retail because they allowed for a flexible schedule that worked around classes. I worked around 30 hours each week, and sometimes Kelly worked even more than that. This flexibility also meant a constantly changing schedule from week to week for each of us.

It was important for us to go to seminary without taking on any new debt for education. So we made some choices about things we could do without or with less of. I'll list out the main things we did to help cut costs.
  • We used a cheaper phone service called Ting
  • We had just one car for 9 months
  • We lived in a 700 sq ft apartment year one, followed by a 500 sq ft apartment 
I'll go into detail on these a little bit. With Ting, you only pay for what you use each month. So if you use a small amount of texts, data, and minutes your bill for two people can be under $40 each month. Thankfully we were able to do this most months.  We made an extra effort to use Skype more often, turned off cellular data for most of our apps, and used WiFi connections wherever we could.

The issue with Ting is that you don't get any subsidy discount on your phone. You pay the whole amount for your phone. So if you want the latest and greatest smartphone, expect to pay $500-800 a piece. No thank you! So we bought two basic smartphones for about $200 each. This meant we paid about $400 to start off using Ting, but we sold our iPhones that weren't compatible on Ting's network (they used only Sprint's network at the time). After selling our iPhones, we actually broke even on phone costs. We had been paying about $140 a month for our AT&T bill. With Ting we spent about $40 which meant we were saving $100 a month. Over the 24 months we were in seminary, that means we saved around $2,400 on our cell phone service alone.

We sold Kelly's Toyota Yaris. This was a tough decision. We did it for the extra cash and to help cut auto insurance and gas costs. But it also had the miserable consequence of leading Kelly and I into exhaustion. There were mornings when Kelly had to work at 5am and I had to work at 9am. Rather than walk or bike into work, I would sometimes just have Kelly drop me off at work right before her shift. The Whole Foods where I worked actually had a "quiet room" with a couch you could take a nap on. Which I ended up doing on several occasions. Other nights, Kelly had to pick me up at 11pm at the end of my shift. Thinking back on that time, I really don't know how we did it. After 9 months of just one car, we were exhausted by this kind of schedule. So we went out and bought an old beater car for me to drive back and forth from work and school. Our schedules just didn't line up enough to try and make only one car work. I don't think I'd recommend this for many people, unless as a last resort.

Finally, we lived in smaller apartments that were close by our work and seminary. The idea was to help us save both time in our commutes and save money on gas. Overall, I think this was a good decision. In the process of downsizing apartments, Kelly helped me learn to give up old things I didn't need that I was keeping like a pack rat.

Decisions like these and the effort they required really helped me appreciate the value of our money. That hard earned perspective will stick with me the rest of my life. We still use Ting today. But we have two cars and will for the foreseeable future. At least until my commute shrinks from 25 miles one way to under 1 mile. Also, our apartment size is now around 900 sq ft which feels ginormous compared to our 500 sq ft place.

Seminary was a great growth experience for us. It had its many challenges but I think God used it to grow us in a number of ways. If you're thinking about going to seminary realize that God will use the time to help you strip away the non-essential. And that can be a painful process. But if you get more of him, isn't that worth it?

If your interested in Ting, I have a referral code that will give you a $25 credit towards a phone or your bill. Fair warning, I get a referral bonus myself. (Referral Code: https://z79e49n2f.ting.com/ )

Dec 19, 2014

Psalm 1 - Paraphrased

I’m going to paraphrase some of the Psalms. It was something that Pastor Tim Keller mentioned that he did to help learn how to pray and I thought it was a good idea. Kelly encouraged me to take on the project so here is the first Psalm. I tried to use the literal meaning and a basic knowledge of some of the Hebrew to say what it said with different words.

Psalm 1
1. How happy is the man who journeys not in the advice of the wicked nor stands in the path of sinners, and neither sits in the same haughty chair as the mocker.
2. But his pleasure is in the instruction that Yahweh offers and on this instruction he contemplates deeply through day and night.
3. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields back the fruits of life in the right season and its leaf does not decay. In all that he does, he pushes forward powerfully to success.
4. The wicked are not like this at all, but instead are like the chaff of straw that the wind drives away and scatters.
5. Therefore the wicked will not survive standing in the judgment nor sinners in the coming together of the right doers.
6. For Yahweh knowingly recognizes, sees, and tends to the path of the right doers, but the path of the wicked will be destroyed.

Psalm 1  - in the English Standard Version
1 Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
   planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
   and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Dec 18, 2014

A quote about higher education

I came across this quote and unfortunately it rings true in many people's lives.
"but let’s please be real; in today’s economy, the academic industry functions mostly as a sales office for predatory loans, which are pushed on unwary consumers using deceptive marketing practices. The vast majority of people who are attending US universities these days, after all, will not prosper as a result; in fact, they will never recover financially from the burden of their student loans, since the modest average increase in income that will come to those graduates who actually manage to find jobs will be dwarfed by the monthly debt service they’ll have to pay for decades after graduation."

I'll call out a few key items in this sad "recipe"
  • unwary consumers
  • modest average increase in income
  • monthly debt for decades
Maybe earlier in our society, a 4 year college degree was a solid bet for your career. Now that so many people are getting them, it's merely the new standard requirement for so many jobs. It doesn't set you apart because of all the competition.

Kelly and I have been blessed to be in the position we are in. But it was a graduate degree that God used to open the door for my professional career. The ladder keeps getting taller and higher to climb to reach the same level of success.

Dec 12, 2014

Isaiah 53 in the NLT

I skimmed over Isaiah 53 one morning in the New Living Translation. It really jumped off the page at me. Without further delay, here it is, with some of the parts that struck me most in bold.

53 "Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.
10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.

12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels."

Why would he intercede for rebels? How amazing is that! We get to be counted as righteous because of his experience.

Dec 6, 2014

Sage Elyse Peterson

It has been almost six weeks since Sage Elyse Peterson arrived. Its been an amazing time of transition for us. The first week we had to get used to the fact that there was no one to hand this child back to. She belongs with Kelly and I. It's crazy to write that down.

Kelly and I love being her parents. Watching her observe her surrounding, smile back at you, and make her little cooing sounds is surprisingly rewarding. 

Of course some of the memories are the kind that will make for those perfect opportunities to embarrass Sage in the future. In her first week, I had her on the changing station and I was changing her diaper and had just removed it. Soon after, she projectile pooped. This startled me as I was not expecting anything like it. Poop whizzed across my hand and flew upwards of six feet away striking a nearby wall. I can just imagine her thinking, "Welcome to parenthood Dad."

For those of you without kids you may be thinking, "this is one reason to wait on having children." Years ago, I would have thought I would be annoyed to change diapers and such, but surprisingly that doesn't bother me. Of course, there has been some lost sleep, but so far that's been minor. We love being her parents. We get to help guide her. We get to be the positive influence in her life. I wouldn't trade anything for it.

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward." Psalm 127:3