Overcomplicated

When I started blogging I had good intentions of writing regularly. My goal was to write at least one post a week. I thought that was good way to start, regular but not too ambitious. I got off to a great start with a couple of introductory posts and following those up quickly. Then, as you can see, I wrote nothing for over a month.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing anything. I have a few unfinished posts that I’ve started working on. It’s just that as I’ve attempted writing I’ve found it difficult to finish those posts or feel good about posting them.

As I thought about what I was writing. I came to the conclusion that I’m overcomplicating my blog. While I think some of my unfinished posts were generally good ideas they’re maybe just a little too complex. As a result I’ve had trouble finishing them in a way that allows me to feel like I’ve adequately handled the topic I was writing about.

All of this got me thinking of other things I make more complicated than they should be, the biggest thing being the gospel.

When you get down to it I think the gospel is a simple message. That’s something that many people, including myself, tend to miss. We find a lot of ways to make it more complex than it needs to be. We get caught up in thinking about what we need to “do” to earn the gospel, even if we intellectually know it’s free. Or we worry about having gospel conversations the right way and as a result we just don’t talk about it.

But the gospel is simple. When we get that we will discover that we really can live it everyday and also that it’s not a difficult message to share.

Here’s a few ways Paul simple explained the gospel:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4,5

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Obviously there is more to learn and understand as we grow in the gospel. These passages are contained in larger context as Paul deals with problems or explains the gospel more deeply. But it all starts with the core message of the good news about Jesus. If we get that, we get the gospel.

What are some ways you need to simplify the gospel in your life?

Mark Wicks. "Cube." June 2011. Greeley, CO.
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The Toolbox

Mark Wicks. "Toolbox." April 2011. Greeley, CO.

In my previous post, “The Garage,” I talked about my need to organize my life and make effective use of the tools God has given me for spiritual growth. Here are five tools that I’m pulling out of my toolbox and dusting off as I pursue the life that God has planned for me. This isn’t a new or profound list of things, but the things we often need the most are simple and basic.

Reading the Bible

How can we grow closer to God without hearing from Him? The Bible is God’s word. It’s the primary way He speaks to us. And yet I read it far too little and much too inconsistently. If I really believe His words are the “words of life” (John 6:67,68) I should be constantly consuming, studying and meditating on them.

Reading Books

Readers are leaders and leaders are readers. It’s a saying I hear over and over again. And it’s true. All the leaders I have respected (my father, pastors past and present and other influential men in my life) have been avid readers. There is great wisdom and insight to be discovered when we read and it’s an invaluable part of growth.

Writing

One of the greatest recommendations I had a long time ago was to keep a journal. Writing has never been something I’m passionate about but it’s a great resource for me. It helps me to process thoughts more deeply and to spend longer more focused time thinking and reflecting. It makes my thoughts more concrete and I think gives God more of an opportunity to speak to me. These are many of the reasons I started to write this blog. When I just process in my head it’s too easy for my mind to drift and my thoughts are scattered and less productive. But when I write I’m focused.

Listening in Quiet

Our world is filled with distractions and we seldom take the time to get away from them. But it’s in the quiet places and moments in life that we’ll often hear God speak. When Elijah meets with the Lord, God speaks in the soft whisper and not the strong wind or earthquake (1 Kings 19:9-18). Jesus frequently withdrew from the crowds and the noise of the world to be in quiet places with the Father (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). (I recently read two excellent bog posts related to this theme. Read “Skipping Rocks With God” by Ryan Tate on “The Compelling Parade” and “Selfish Solitude” by Dustin Valencia on “The Abraham Chronicles.”

Prayer

This is likely one of my greatest struggles, to pray. Prayer, which is simply talking to God, is something the Bible tells us repeatedly to do. We’re told never to stop praying (Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). We’re told of it’s great power and effectiveness (James 5:16). Prayer is to be a regular and essential part of our walk with God. It’s what Jesus did when he went to those quiet places and He did it a lot (again look at Matthew 14:23Mark 1:35Luke 5:16). I am so ignorant of power that a regular and vibrant prayer life can have. Of all these areas this is likely where I need to grow the most.

These are some of the tools I’m trying to make better use of. What tools do you need to pull out and dust off?

The Garage

With the advent of spring I have begun to turn some attention to my yard. As a result I’ve been pulling out some rakes and thinking about dusting off my lawn mower. But because my garage is a mess it takes a little effort to pull out what I need.

My garage is in a state of functional chaos, I can park our cars in it and get to anything that’s in there. However, it’s an uninspiring arrangement and cumbersome at best. I have a lot of useful tools, things that would make my yard and house more attractive and better running, but I don’t use them because they’re disorganized and buried.

My spiritual life is a lot like my garage. It could really use some straightening out. It’s not a total disaster, I have it organized enough to function on a day to day basis, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Both my garage and spiritual life are bursting with potential but I never seem to get around to taking what’s inside and making good use of it.

This reminds me of a story Jesus told when trying to explain what God’s kingdom is like. In Matthew 13:44 He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” This man knew what to do when he found something valuable. Once he found the treasure he made sure he wouldn’t lose it and then secured it as his own so as to reap the reward gained from possessing it.

I have found my treasure in Jesus. Like the man in the story I’ve made some effort to ensure that it’s safely in my possession. The step that I find difficult is getting back to the field to dig it up and take full advantage of it. I get distracted by other things, I’m not disciplined and I too easily forget the life that God has promised me and the power He provides to live that way.

I don’t think I’m alone in living like this. I think it’s a common symptom of the church in the U.S. and Canada. But it simply doesn’t have to be this way. God has promised us so much more.  We are told we have power in us through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21). He has made great truth available to us that even angels long to fully understand (1 Peter 1:12). He promises a fruitful life if we abide in Him (John 15:1-11). I think I could go on and on. The point is if we are willing to pursue what Jesus has offered to us, the tools He’s given, life in Him is ours for the taking.

This is the life I want to live. It’s a treasure not just worth possessing but using. It’s time for me to clean my garage, dust off those tools and put them to good use.

Mark Wicks. "Unused." April 2011. Greeley, CO.

Alien Culture

One of my alien fascinations is with culture, particularly film and music. I’ve always loved them not only for their entertainment or artistry but for the way they reflect who we are as human beings. When you listen to a song or watch a movie there’s always so much meaning lurking under the surface if you care to look. And as an alien I love seeing how the Kingdom of God intersects with this world in those mediums.

Stories (which is really what film and music are) often reflect our deepest longings and desires. I believe that the root of those unfulfilled parts of our life rest in the gospel. Until we come to recognize that we were made for life with God our soul cries out for Him, even if we are unaware of it.

French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal had this to say in his book “Pensées” (Section VII, 425), “What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”

The Bible says we, “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23, also see 2 Corinthians 5:1-5) This verse speaks to an agony that we live in apart from God. Jesus came to relieve us of this agony, to give us a way to fill the void in our souls. This is the gospel, the good news about Jesus. And the gospel story is pervasive in almost all of the stories we tell. Themes of loss, longing, discovery, redemption, sacrifice and so on are all represented in the gospel and they are usually represented in our stories as well.

As you read this blog I’ll frequently be bringing this up. I’ll be looking at specific movies and  songs and talking about how they reflect the gospel story, bringing my alien perspective to the way I experience the culture around me.

Mark Wicks. "Alien." April 2011. Greeley, CO.

An alien perspective.

I’m an alien. That is an important thing to know about me. It’s a big part of who I am and informs my perspective.

You see, I’m a Canadian but I live in the United States. According to Merriam-Webster an alien is someone “relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government.” That’s me. I’ve been in “The States” (that’s how Canadians refer to the U.S.) for a while now but I’m still an alien. I even have an “alien number” courtesy of the U.S. government. You might think that’s weird; I think it’s kind of cool.

Being an alien puts me in a unique position. On one hand I’m an observer, learning about people who, while not so different from me on the surface, often view and experience the world quite differently than I do. On the other hand, having been here for over ten years, I’m learning how to relate to these people and be a part of their world. While initially foreign to me they’re now my friends and family, people I care about. To some degree I’ve become one of them, but I’m also different, still a part of the country I came from. It will always be that way. No matter how long I’m here, I’ll still be an alien in a strange land.

But I’m another type of alien too. The first definition of the word alien, according to Merriam-Webster, is someone “belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing.” That’s also true of me as a spiritual alien, which I am by virtue of my faith in Jesus.

Being a spiritual alien also changes my outlook of the world. As a Christian I do belong to another person, God (Romans 6:22), and another place, the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20,21; Ephesians 2:19). I have given my life and allegiance to my creator and my life is no longer my own. I live for Him and His goals, and I have become a citizen of His kingdom. This is even more significant to me than being Canadian (and if you know me that’s saying something). As a spiritual alien my life is constantly becoming more integrated in God’s world and less and less in this one.

But much like being a Canadian living in the United States, I don’t stop trying to understand this world and especially the people in it. They’re still my friends and family. They’re still people I care about. I want to be able to intersect with their lives and bring my alien perspective to them. The heart of this perspective is something called the gospel. The word gospel just means “good news.” And the good news is that God’s Kingdom is here. Jesus came and established it and if we take His invitation we can be a part of it now.

My hope is that here on this blog you’ll find an intersection between the world I belong to and the world I live in as an alien. I hope you enjoy my alien perspective.

Mark Wicks. "Cuyahoga Sky." Infrared photograph. April 2004. Cuyahoga Falls, OH.