Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Neighbor Needs Help

From All of Grace Blog

Recently, I've started reading Wayne Gordon's, "Who is My Neighbor". First of all, if you don't know who Wayne Gordon is, read a biography of him right here. The guy is an inspiration to me and certainly someone I am trying to learn from. Reflecting on his years of  ministry in North Lawndale, Wayne's book takes a look at the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and asks the question: Who is my neighbor?

The book is organized into short (2-3 pages) chapters meant to be read daily, in which Gordon points out different aspects of "Who is my neighbor?" and "What does it look like to love my neighbor?" The second days title was, "My Neighbor Needs Help". Here's what Gordon writes:

"A second obvious characteristic of a neighbor is somebody who needs help....The parables of the Good Samaritan revolves around a person who needs help-who has been left naked and half dead and is unable to help himself.

On the surface, helping others seems like a very simple concept. It's not. Of course, if all we mean by helping is opening the door for someone whose hands are full, that's one thing. But it's another thing if helping means that we have to get involved in another person's life, as the Good Samaritan did. 

These days, people don't want to get involved. Perhaps they are afraid to get involved. After all, helping others can be a risky proposition."

I love this excerpt from Gordon because I think it points out the very nature of what it means to love someone. Actually helping someone, or as I would say, loving someone, is never convenient or efficient (as quoted by Nick Theobald). It means putting aside your own ambitions and laying yourself down in the service of another. I think as people, and as Christians, we love to conveniently help people. We love being nice. We love walking around with a smile on our face while we do some really nice things (like opening the door for someone). I'm not saying these are bad. But I am saying, this is not truly loving your neighbor. That is soothing your religious conscious. Big difference. Actually helping, or loving, means getting involved with a person. It means entering into their brokenness and messiness. It means giving up your perfect schedule, emotional energy, and comfortability for the sake of another. I think Wayne Gordon touches on an important truth: that helping others (or loving) is not a simple concept. Loving your neighbor is to risk yourself for you neighbor. This doesn't always play out in the extreme example of risking your own life. But it is risking your time, energy, money, stability, comfort, cleanliness, etc...

How did Jesus love us? He risked all of those things. He risked them to the max. He put everything on the line for us. He did it so he could save us from our brokenness and give us new life. And now, for those who have this new life, he asks us to prodigally do the same.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Our sufficient Savior

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, became like us to be a total Savior, sufficient for the whole range of our need. How hollow, then, ring the world’s complaints against our God. People are saying all the time today, lamenting in this world of woe, ‘Where is God? Why doesn’t he do something?’ Meanwhile, he has done everything, indeed, more than ever we could ask or imagine. God has entered into our world. He has walked through the dust of this earth. He who is life has wept before the grave, and he who is the Bread of Life has felt the aching of hunger in his belly.

Is there anything more lovely in all of Scripture than the scenes of Jesus supping with the weak and the weary, the sinners and the publicans? He has taken the thorns that afflict this sin-scarred world and woven them into a crown to be pressed upon his head. And he has stretched open his arms in love, that the hands that wove creation might be nailed to a wooden cross. Then he rose from the dead, conquering all that would conquer us, setting us free to live in peace and joy before the face of God.

— Richard D. PhillipsHebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If you loved me, then you would…

From Mockingbird blog:

This short and beautiful reflection comes from Andrew Pearson.

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”  So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.  And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days.  You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so I will also be to you.”  For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods.  Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their kin, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.   Hosea 3:1-5

Hosea the prophet was called to marry a prostitute named Gomer. Though you might be willing to understand your lover’s love for “cakes of raisins,” no one really plans or wishes to marry someone who had proven to be unfaithful, and certainly no one would want to marry someone who once had been unfaithful, and continued to be so.

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer illustrates God’s relationship to an unfaithful Israel.  In spite of the fact that Gomer is an adulteress, she is ransomed by Hosea, showing God’s love for his people in the face of their unfaithfulness.  The Lord’s love for Israel remains untethered to any sinful behavior breaking its bonds.  God is faithful despite the ongoing reality that they are still unfaithful.

This message is often lost in churches today.  Often we hear, “If you behave yourself, then God, who loves you, will bless you.  He chose you because he sees great potential in who you could be.”  And why shouldn’t we believe this?  This is how many of our relationships work.  We often say to our spouses or family members, “If you loved me, then you would….”

But this is not how God operates.  God knows you are a conditionally bought-and-sold human being, and still Jesus’ death on the cross is the final declarative statement that God’s love for you is unconditional.  As it is said, “There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.”  It is not a love that forgives once or any number of times, but is timeless and unremitting.  This is the love that brings redemption, even to those of us who often feel like Gomer.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Leading me to humility, not to humiliation.

A Prayer about the Ultimate Insanity of Despising God’s Kindness

     Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:4 
Heavenly Father, I’ve seen many crazy things in my life and I’ve certainly done my share of crazy things. But the most certifiably insane thing I do is to show contempt for the riches of your kindness, tolerance, and patience for me in Jesus. I do this when I dig my heels in and resist following your kindness into fresh repentance.
When I refuse to humble myself—when I won’t acknowledge the ways I love poorly and act out immaturely—when I hold on to attitudes and actions that rob me of joy, and you of glory, that is insanity. Showing contempt for your kindness is quintessential and ultimate craziness!
Father, I praise you today for being undaunted—for being immeasurably affluent in the currency of kindness, tolerance, and patience. There’s no economic downturn in heaven—never has been, never will be. But there’s nothing in me that assumes the right to any of your loving ways. It’s only because Jesus willingly endured the judgment we deserve that I’m in a position to be dealt with so mercifully and graciously.
Father, thank you that you’re leading me to humility, not to humiliation; to shelter, not to shame; to repentance, not to penance. Indeed, the GPS of the gospel will never direct us to a destination of harm, but only to a place of greater freedom in Christ; for when we repent, we’re not the one making promises to change our hearts—you are. Only you can change us, and you are changing us, for you’ve covenanted to do so. That’s what the gospel is all about. When we repent, we simply collapse upon Jesus, once again, as our righteousness, our holiness, and our sure hope of a new and changed heart.
So this morning, kind Father, I repent. I repent of not trusting that you are at work in my current irritating circumstances. I’ve looked at the weaknesses of others more than I’ve kept my eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s been easier to gossip than to pray. I’ve been moping and plotting like an orphan rather than rejoicing and trusting as a beloved son.
I’ve been more preoccupied with the ways of broken men than thrilled with the occupied throne of heaven. I’ve acted as though I care more about Jesus’ church than he does. That is certifiably insane. I repent. Because the gospel is true and you are so kind, I repent. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pity Party

 by Scotty Smith
 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Ps. 51:12
Dear heavenly Father, thankfully, I’m not beginning this day in a far away country, derelict and destitute—a re-enactment of the younger son’s plight (Luke 15). Though I’m capable of anything, I’m not filled with shame for squandering an inheritance, and neither am I out in a field feeding somebody else’s pigs. I’m in a comfortable chair, sipping a fresh cup of coffee, surrounded by more than my share of creature comforts. And yet I’m just as much in need of fellowship with you as any of your beloved children.
Because the gospel is true, I bring you my busy, not-very-well-focused, somewhat meandering heart. I feel like a third son right now. I’m not struggling with the extremes of either of the sons in Luke 15. I’m not acting out in destructive “fleshy” ways, and I’m not presently throwing myself a self-righteous pity party. I’m just somewhere in between. I still hear and love the wonderful music of the gospel, but I just don’t feel like dancing right now.
So, Father, as I come to you today, I take great comfort in knowing that I’ll always find you filled with compassion for me, even when my feelings are not fully engaged with you. As I saunter toward you, you’re always running toward me in Jesus. As I’m glad to see you, you see me from afar and are thrilled at the sighting. I believe this, help my unbelief.
When I’m not as inclined to lift my arms in praise to you, your embrace is the most predictable element in my day. You don’t just put your hand on my shoulder; you throw your arms around me in the gospel. And though my love for you wavers, you will shower me with multiple kisses all day long, for you love your children with an everlasting, unwavering love.
Because the gospel is true, I’ll seek to live to your glory today, neither by sight nor by my feelings, but by the faith you’ve given me to trust and love you. It’s not my grasp of you but your grasp of me in the gospel that matters the most. It’s not the enjoyment of my peace with you, but the assurance that you’re at peace with me that’s the anchor for my soul. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ wonderful and merciful name.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Practical and Specific

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  Luke 6:35
But love your enemies.  If we stand up for what’s right, we will have enemies.  They feel justified in their hostility.  But Jesus says, love them anyway.  Hostile people expect hostility in return.  Jesus says, surprise them.

And do good.  This “love” cannot be just benevolent emotions or big talk.  Jesus says, make it practical.  What good thing can you and I do for those who have done bad things to us?

And lend, expecting nothing in return.  Jesus is moving from the general (love your enemies) to the actionable (and do good) to a specific example (and lend, expecting nothing in return).  Loving our enemies will cost us.

And your reward will be great.  Enemies have the power to take, but they do not have the power to return what they have taken.  Jesus does.  Our futures are in his hands, not theirs.  And he is promising a great reward to those who trust him enough to follow him in this way.

And you will be sons of the Most High.  It is no petty godlet who calls us into this hard path.  It is the Most High.  And his greatest glory is that he loves the undeserving.  Jesus says, here is how you can be most clearly identified with him.

For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Before God, we are all ungrateful and evil.  But Jesus is saying this with reference to the conflicts we find ourselves in.  It is ungrateful and evil enemies we are to love — people who should be grateful and good, but for their own reasons they are not what God wants them to be.  It is such people to whom he is kind.  Good thing for us.

Love your enemies
Love your enemies avatar
is a post from: Ray Ortlund

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Worst Tool for Evangelism

From Stuff Christians Like

A few weeks ago, I drove by a church welcome sign in North Carolina that I thought was a smidge strange. As I am wont to do, I promptly turned it into a tweet and said the following on Twitter:
“If you’re 99% saved, then you’re 100% lost!” Church sign I just drove by. I guess they didn’t have the letters for “Visitors keep out.”
A number of people saw that tweet and replied back to me with thoughts like this:
“Isn’t that theologically accurate?”
“Don’t we need to be convicted?”
I think those were good questions, but I never doubted the accuracy of that idea. I was doubting whether or not a welcome sign is the best place to debate theological accuracy. Is a message of shame the best message for a church welcome sign?

And more than that, what does “100% saved” mean? Who is measuring that? The pastor of that church? The elders? Is there a chart? What is the 1% that makes all the difference? What do you do with the guy in Mark 9 who asks Jesus to heal his child “if you can?”

Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

To which the father says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus, sensing that the father was only 78% saved says, “Can’t do it. Disciples, get my boat! It’s time to bounce.”

Or he heals him and moves on. One of those two things happened.

Ranking by percentage the authenticity of your faith is a difficult thing to do, but maybe we all already agree on that point. What about the need for us to be convicted?

I agree with that. I do, but I think that as humans we have an unbelievable ability to transform conviction into shame.

I think that’s part of the reason Jesus left us so little wiggle room in Matthew 22:37-40. When asked what the most important commandment in the law was, he replied:
 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say, “Judge your neighbor.” Or, “Convict your neighbor.” Or, “Shame your neighbor.”

The verb is love.

Now the pushback is this: “The most loving thing you can do is share the truth of Christ with someone.”

Agreed. But again, a word of caution about using “shame” as a tool of evangelism. Let’s not forget what we are told in Romans 2:1-4:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
What leads us toward repentance? Kindness.

Not shame.
Not abuse.
Not anger.

But if you’d prefer to not look at it through that lens, as least answer this question:

Have you ever met someone who said, “I became a Christian when a friend of mine shamed me badly. They shamed me into the arms of Christ.”

I haven’t, but I have heard this story countless times:
“A neighbor loved me when I was so unlovable to them. Their love made no sense. Finally I had to ask them, ‘Why are you so different? Why are you so kind to me? That’s when they told me about this guy, Jesus Christ.’”
Do we need conviction? Without a doubt.

Do we need theological accuracy? Definitely.

Do we need shame? That’s a tough one. But I do know this, we don’t need it on our church welcome signs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Free.....You Pay Nada

The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Spirit is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Spirit, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says, ‘Amen.’

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?”
— Martin Luther
Commentary on Galatians

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Missing Jesus

By Jonathan Martin who blogs here:

Today I’d like to file a missing person’s report for Jesus of Nazareth.  Has anybody seen Him lately?

Not a sentimental Jesus–not a liberal Jesus who serves as little more than a symbol of bland tolerance or a conservative Jesus who serves as little more than a mascot for culture wars.  But the surprising, bewildering, befuddling Jesus of the gospels who alternately captures and breaks my heart–the Jesus who is never easily fit into the rigid alternatives offered to us by the world. 

Have you seen Him?

For weeks now (and sometimes it feels like years), I’ve been pulled into conversations about doctrine, polity, politics, culture.  There are conversations about the left and the right, conversations about Moses and Paul, conversations about righteousness and justice and equality.  Scriptures are cut and pasted onto rockets that soar over my head and occasionally land on my lawn.  And I don’t mind talking about any of these things.  But it’s my job to talk about Jesus, and more importantly it’s my passion.

I am not disturbed by much that goes on around me, by neither notorious sinners nor Pharisees.  I have spent enough time playing both parts in my own way to be surprised by what either is capable of.  Storms in culture and my life do not disturb me too much no matter how much the sea is raging, so long as I don’t lose sight of Him.  But when I can’t see Him, that it when I am capable of being frightened.

Alas, that seems to be the storm we are in, where almost anything and everything about culture and Scripture is on the table for discussion save the direct example of Jesus of Nazareth–His stories, His teachings, His heart.  I am aware that this could sound pious, like I think I understand the “real” Jesus in some special way.  But that is not the case.  I actually find Jesus to be extraordinarily disrupting and unsettling, and there have been and still are plenty of times I’d prefer to escape His gaze.  Yet I’ve grown strangely at ease with the disruptive force that is Jesus, so much so that I’d rather be unsettled by Him than comfortable without Him.

He started disrupting me in my early 20′s, when my friend’s father was dying of AIDS.  I saw Jesus in his gaunt skeleton of a face.  I saw Jesus in the face of the foul-mouthed social worker who cared for him so tenderly.  I felt indicted for my tightly constructed, ordered middle class religious world.  Jesus’ lack of domesticity and decorum frightened me, as did the undomesticated people He cared most about and ran with.  I was surprised that I had the lost the ability to find Him in the places I had expected to find Him, and to find Him in places I was sure He did not belong.  Unwittingly, I was drug out with the tide of the gospel texts.  I was no longer able to “use” Scripture like I had some claim over it, no proof-texting or arguing for conclusions I had already made.  I was being used and dominated by the truth of those stories, entering then as a participant rather than a spectator.
When I began to talk about the things I had found that I was not looking for, Jesus began to get me into trouble.  And He still is.  Over and over again, I keep bringing up Jesus.  I keep asking what difference it would make if the figure that we read about in those gospels were to be inserted into our conversations and our current events.  What would He say?  What would He do?  What is He saying?  What is He doing?

I’ve learned by now that this approach is never going to go over for some people in my world.  On Sunday, I preached one of those sermons that hunted me down against my wishes–a message about how Jesus stood up for the guilty woman who was caught in the act of adultery, but how He would not let Peter stand up for Him when he pulled out his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I proposed that much of what we say and do these days comes from a place of feeling frightened and defensive for a Jesus who is not afraid and does not need our defense; that this is a time to stand with Jesus rather than to stand up for Him.  To stand up for the guilty, to stand up for sinners, to stand up for people who are hurting and accused.  I proposed that we should not let ourselves get sucked onto every ideological battleground, because even when motivated by love (like Peter) we often do more harm than good–and instead we need to be relentlessly focused on loving people in the way Jesus did.

This does not always go over because we believe that Jesus is worthy of our worship but irrelevant as an actual model for how we live our lives.  He lived in simpler times. He lacked the sophistication of our strategies, our technology, and our powerful connections in culture.  The way of Jesus is quaint to read about as history, but irrelevant to the complex questions of contemporary culture.

And yet what if He has never been more relevant?  What if the world has never been more ripe for the surprise of His embodied grace?  What if He still has the capacity to surprise, to astonish, to mystify, to defy all of our expectations?  At one time it was the Roman empire that attempted to keep Jesus on the margins where He could not infect their culture with His stories and ideas.  Today we don’t need an Empire to keep Jesus on the margins because His people are doing such a fine job of it.  But what if we stopped working so hard to keep Him on the periphery and let Him be the center again?  So that we interpret all of life through Jesus, all of culture through Jesus, all of religion through Jesus, all of Scripture through Jesus?  What if His story–the stories of life and death and resurrection, were again the filter through which everything else were understood and the standard against which every other voice was measured?

I still have more than enough reasons to be unsettled by the disruption that is Jesus of Nazareth.  I still have plenty of reasons to keep my distance from Him so I can stay comfortable.  I am not comfortable with how lovesick He is for me, nor am I comfortable with how lovesick He makes me for others.

Nonetheless, today I miss Him.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Adultery and Chicken

There was a woman who committed adultery.  Wait a minute, it was worse than that, she was caught while committing the very act of adultery and brought by a bunch of men (who obviously did not commit adultery) to stand in front of Jesus.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”   John 8: 3-11

Wow.  I thought it was over for her.  I thought Jesus was going to lower the boom on this tramp.  Adultery is wrong.  It is in the top ten sins and she is going to hell.  Good riddance...but what did he do instead?  No punishment?  She is Forgiven?  No condemnation?  Is he serious?  Jesus...Look...this isn't right.  If you don't punish her, society will suffer.  The institution of marriage will fall apart and our kids will think it is okay to act that way.  America...I mean, Israel, will be doomed.   I know it is strange that the man who was complicit with the act of adultery was not brought with her.  But, Jesus, a rule is a rule...put her to death.
"But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  Jesus in Matthew 5:28
Uh oh.  Seriously Jesus?  That seems to include me and all my friends with Cinemax or who watch women's beach volleyball.  We also are adulterers who are in need of forgiveness?  This is getting tricky because some adulterers in the classic way "go and sin no more" but us lustful adulterers sometimes don't have our cable disconnected or stop going to the beach where it is tough not to sneak a peak.  You see the "lust in their heart" type adulterers may not really be repentant at all.  Maybe they just feel guilty but keep on lusting forever.  (A side note here is that FOX news who is a big supporter of all things pro-family is part of Fox television that carries some of the trashiest television around for those trying to kick the old lust habit.)

This is where we turn to Chick-Fil-A.  Hypocrisy.  It seems that Christians are supporting Chick-Fil-A in droves because the owner donated to organizations that support "traditional" marriage.  You know the kind of marriage where you can commit adultery or be on your 4th marriage or lust in your heart as long as you are both different genders.  However, the owner also donated to hate groups like The Family Research Council.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated The Family Research Council as a "hate group" because of comments from its leaders like:
  • “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”
    -1999 FRC pamphlet, Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys
  • “Now, back in the 80′s and early 90′s I worked with the state department in anti-terrorism and we trained about fifty different countries in defending against terrorism, and it’s, at its base, what terrorism is, it’s a strike against the general populace simply to spread fear and intimidation so that they can disrupt and destabilize the system of government. That’s what the homosexuals are doing here to the legal system.” -FRC President Tony Perkins, April 2011
  • “While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”  -FRC President Tony Perkins, FRC website, 2010

That is who Chick-Fil-A supported.  That is hate.

Jesus demanded that we be very careful in how we treat others who we think may be sinners:
Matthew 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Is homosexuality a sin?  Are Adultery, lusting, gluttony and materialism sins?  Is Divorce?  Is hate?

Those of us with planks in our eyes might want to work on removing them on our lunch break instead of waiting in line to support a restuarant that supports hate.

By the way, Jesus demanded we do on other thing.  Love others.  How do you think my gay and lesbian friends feel today about Christians and how some spend their time, money and energy.  My efforts to show the love of Jesus my dear friends who I love has suffered greatly because my Savior (described as a friend of "tax collectors and other sinners") has been used as a reason to support hate.  

I must confess one more sin.  I have been very angry this week.  Angry at my Christians brothers and sisters.  That is a sin and I need to deal with it in a serious way.  Pray for me, pray for everyone who is on both sides of this debate.  Pray for love and not hate to be what all Christians are known for.  So that all who hear the Good News will draw near to the one who said of himself:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11
I finish with this with a post from a pastor in Florida who blogs here:
The Chick Fil’A war does not reflect love. In fact, it reflects just the opposite. We continue to tear each other apart over an issue that Jesus never spoke a single word about. And while we fight, a hurting, broken world walks away and looks elsewhere for the hope and grace that they desperately long for, and that can only be found in Jesus.

The message of the Savior is love. Love regardless of whether we think the person(s) are right or wrong. Just love. Let God do what God does. We do not have a mandate from our Lord to try and change anyone. The marching orders of the King are not, “deny yourself, take up your cross and make sure everyone believes the same things you believe.” We are called to “follow him.” Follow the one who forgave, the one who blessed, the one who comforted, the one who broke all of the cultural and religious rules of the day to ensure that broken, hurting people experienced the grace and love that God offers.

Amen and Amen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

YOU feed them.

“The disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.  Send them away . . . .’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”  Mark 6:35-37

The disciples’ observation was accurate, but not profound.  It really was a desolate place, and the hour really was late.  And the only path forward they could see was, “Send them away.”  But Jesus was there.  Standing right there in plain view.  Conversing with them.  But the disciples have already reached this brilliant conclusion: It can’t be done.  I’m sure Jesus needed to be told that.
So he turned the tables on them: “You give them something to eat.”  The word you is emphatic in the Greek text.  And he really meant it.  The disciples really were about to feed all those people, by his power.  He told the disciples to do the impossible, because they were about to do the impossible.  Every command of Jesus comes with the power of Jesus.  But he does demand our involvement: “You give them something to eat.”

Without him, we can’t.  Without us, he won’t.  Spurgeon put it that way.  Another way of saying it is,

“The Lord is with you, while you are with him” (2 Chronicles 15:2).  When we are wholehearted toward him, the fullness of his Spirit moves toward us.  Then we can feed the people.  His fullness through us, with new passion, new wisdom, new sacrifice, new ideas, new systems, creative new designs that speak into people’s needs today rather than people’s needs yesterday.  We’re not sitting around and waiting for him to do it for us.  Nor are we presuming to do his work in our own strength.  Nor are we limited to old patterns and assumptions that don’t work any more.  But with his power and wisdom entering afresh into our wholehearted efforts today, the people will be fed.
Preaching at Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, on 11 May 1975, my dad helped us think out beyond ourselves:

“Jesus wants to express his fullness through you.  Always begin your thinking and your planning and your deciding from the standpoint of Jesus’ fullness in your life.  Always begin with the plenty of God.  Face life with all you have in Christ.  Never face life from the standpoint of all the problems and all the needs and all the difficulties.  Always begin with your standing in Christ.  You have rivers of living water, Christ in you, fullness of grace and truth.  That’s what Jesus gives us!”

Post by Ray Ortland.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Private Meeting

Think of it: The Lord Jesus Christ is willing to meet with you privately for as long as you want, and He is willing—even eager—to meet with you every day! Suppose you had been one of the thousands who followed Jesus around for much of the last three years of His earthly life. Can you imagine how excited you would have been if one of His disciples said, “The Master wants us to tell you that He is willing to get alone with you whenever you’re willing, and for as much time as you want to spend, and He’ll be expecting you most every day”? What a privilege! Who would have complained about this expectation? Well, that marvelous privilege and expectation is always yours.

From Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Luther on Works Righteousness

“If you cannot believe that God will forgive your sins for Christ’s sake, whom he sent into the world to be our high priest, how then, I ask you, will you believe that he will forgive your sins for the works of the law, which you never could perform, or for your own works, which, you must admit, cannot possibly counteract the judgment of God?"    -  Martin Luther

Friday, July 6, 2012

Saying Grace

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
            ― G.K. Chesterton

Monday, July 2, 2012

Perseverance is not the Result of our Determination

The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment that God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasm.

                     - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 128-129

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace

All your church attendance, all your religious activities, your Sunday school attendance medals, your journals, having a “quiet time,” reading the Scriptures—it’s all in vain if you don’t have Christ. 

We are saved, sanctified, and sustained by what Jesus did for us on the cross and through the power of his resurrection. If you add to or subtract from the cross, even if it is to factor in biblically mandated religious practices like prayer and evangelism, you rob God of his glory and Christ of his sufficiency.

Romans 8:1
tells us that there is no condemnation for us, not because of all the great stuff we’ve done but because Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death.

My sin in the past: forgiven. My current struggles: covered. My future failures: paid in full all by the marvelous, infinite, matchless grace found in the atoning work of the cross of Jesus Christ.
   — Matt ChandlerThe Explicit Gospel(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 15

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Russell Moore: Why Jesus Doesn't Promise Us an "Afterlife"

There is a great article in Christianity today by Russell Moore called "Why Jesus Doesn't Promise Us an 'Afterlife'".

Take a few minutes to read it all but here are a couple good quotes:
"Often we Christians start our gospel proclamation with triumph over sin. Fair enough: The gospel of Christ is indeed the reversal of sin, and of death and hell. But without a broader context, such teaching can treat Christ as a means to an end, a step from the alpha of Eden to the omega of heaven. In a truly Christian vision of the kingdom of God, though, Jesus of Nazareth isn't a hoop we jump through to extend our lives into eternity. Jesus is the kingdom of God in person. As such, he is the meaning of life, the goal of history, and the pattern of the future. The gospel of the kingdom starts and ends with the announcement that God has made Jesus the emperor—and that he plans to bend the cosmos to fit Jesus' agenda, not the other way around."
"Our preaching isn't just information sharing; it's the voice of Jesus through his kingdom assembly, clearing the way for the new regime (2 Cor. 5:20). If you want to know how the kingdom works, look at how we care for and honor the poor (James 2:5). If you want to see our "platform" for how we'll run the universe with Jesus, watch our congregational decision-making meetings (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Even our "spiritual gifts"—so misunderstood in contemporary times as means for "plugging people in" to programs—are kingdom resources. Your gift—whether mercy, hospitality, teaching, or encouragement—is a "spoil of war" (Eph. 4). Jesus is "staffing up" his kingdom now, like a presidential transition team establishing a shadow government between Election Day and Inauguration Day."

"If the kingdom is what Jesus says it is, then what matters isn't just what we neatly classify as "spiritual" things. The natural world around us isn't just a temporary "environment," but part of our future inheritance in Christ. Our jobs—preaching the gospel, loading docks, picking avocados, writing legislation, or herding goats—aren't accidental. The things we do in church—passing offering plates, cuddling crack-addicted babies, or fixing the "pop" in the sound system—aren't random. God is teaching us, as he taught our Lord, to learn in little things how to be in charge of great things (Matt. 25:14-23)."

"Perhaps we dread death less from fear than from boredom, thinking the life to come will be an endless postlude to where the action really happens. This is betrayed in how we speak about the "afterlife": it happens after we've lived our lives. The kingdom, then, is like a high-school reunion in which middle-aged people stand around and remember the "good old days." But Jesus doesn't promise an "afterlife." He promises us life—and that everlasting. Your eternity is no more about looking back to this span of time than your life now is about reflecting on kindergarten. The moment you burst through the mud above your grave, you will begin an exciting new mission—one you couldn't comprehend if someone told you. And those things that seem so important now—whether you're attractive or wealthy or famous or cancer-free—will be utterly irrelevant. "

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Walking Birds and Hired Hands

By Jon Acuff:
Sometimes I like to think I’ve got faith figured out. I feel like I’ve learned a few things, had a dramatic return to Christ after years of wandering, read some books, and can clap my hands together and say “done and done.” But these last few months have been a weird time of God exposing to me how broken my understanding of his love is. How twisted and how false my beliefs are. And recently he showed me that with a dead bird, a homecoming and a single letter.

As I’ve mentioned 92 times, I’m reading through the Bible with some friends right now. I’ve joked a few times that the book of Leviticus is the “one year plan killer.” It’s the book that has often knocked my out of the running for actually reading through the Bible in a year. It’s full of mold regulations and verses that tell you how to determine what hair color means in the middle of a sore and oh man, I stop reading. That was the attitude I took with me as we marched into the L.

But because the Bible isn’t a book, but the Word of God, every line, every verse has the potential to blow you away. And Leviticus 14 did. Is it dramatic? Is it earthshaking? Not at first glance. The verses that caught me are about, you guessed it, mold regulations.

Here is what verses 49-53 say:
“To purify the house, he (a priest) is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean.”

I’ve read those verses a number of times before but this time, something hit me, a question I couldn’t shake:
“Do you think the bird who was freed, the live bird who represented being forgiven, walked when it was released in the fields or did it soar?”
The other bird paid the price. Freedom was bought at a cost. Atonement was paid with a life. Knowing that, seeing that, do you think the second bird refused to fly when it was released? Do you think it quietly tucked its wings and scurried about the ground?

Of course not. Having escaped death, having escaped that moment, it probably could not fly high enough or fast enough into the sky. It jumped loudly into the freedom of forgiveness.

I don’t. I don’t celebrate God’s mercy or grace that way. I am like the prodigal son, returning home to be a hired hand. I act like forgiveness is something to be earned, not celebrated. I am not an heir to the throne, I am a hired hand to the throne. But, I am wrong.

That’s why I continue to come back to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he returns to the farm and finds himself in the father’s embrace, there is only one sentence of his plan that the father will not let him say: “Make me like one of your hired men.”

I don’t think he was allowed to say it because it couldn’t be true. He was his son, that was his identity, not his employee.

I mess grace up so often and have confused it in my head for so many years. I finally just confessed to God, “You know how I think. You know how I’ve trained myself to believe for years and years. I can’t rewire myself. I can’t sanctify me. Only you can. I need you to transform the way I look at grace.” 

And the prayer that came from that confession and the hope I have for you and me is simple:
“Help me live in the joy of forgiveness, not the job of forgiveness.”

Those two words might feel similar, joy and job are only a single letter apart, but they are worlds away from each other. I pray we will be that bird who does not run, but instead flies. Who looks at what Christ did for us on the cross. The sacrifice, the mercy, the grace and that we will not try to earn it when we return to the farm, but will instead accept it. Fly in it. Celebrate it. And know the joy of forgiveness.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Would you allow a Murderer and an Adulterer to Pastor your Church?

By Tim Challies and found here:

There are not too many stories from the life of Jesus that made their way into all four of the biblical accounts of his life. Each of the authors writes for a different purpose or to a different audience and this leads them to different emphases. Yet one of the stories that each of them tells is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter’s darkest moment, his greatest shame, was included by all four of the gospel writers. Isn’t it interesting that in an account of the life of Jesus, all four of them veer for a little while into Peter’s life.

This raises two questions in my mind: How did the gospel writers know the details of this story and why do they all make mention of it? This story could so easily be the stuff of tabloids, meant to bring shame to Peter, to cause people to doubt his faith, to doubt that he could be a worthy leader in the early church. Why would all of the authors risk bringing further shame on this man?

All of the disciples were present when Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him, so there were many witnesses to that part of the story, but they had long since taken flight when Peter actually swore and called down judgment on himself if he was one of those men who knew Jesus. His darkest moment happened in the dark of night and he was the only witness to the whole account. How, then, did the gospel writers know what Peter had done? It seems clear that Peter must have told them. Even while this story must have caused him to blush in shame, he humbly told it to point to the Lord’s grace. Even today, two thousand years later, we rarely think of Peter without thinking of him as the man who sinned and was restored.

Why then did all four of the gospel writers include this story in their accounts of the crucifixion? At least in part because Peter’s fall and restoration was a crucial story of the power of the gospel, that even a man who betrayed Jesus, a man who turned away from Jesus at the most hurtful time, could be restored. The gospel could save even a man like Peter.

This makes me ask, Is my gospel big enough to account for a man who three times denied that he knew the Lord? Is it big enough to account for a man who spent all of those years with Jesus, only to desert him in the end? Is it big enough to allow a man like this to be a leader in the church? Is your gospel big enough for all of this?

What if David lived in our day and what if he was a leader in this little segment of the Christian world when he committed adultery and murder. Would your gospel be big enough to say that even a man like that could be forgiven and restored? I am not talking about things done before a person comes to know the Lord, but things done by those who profess faith, by those who have been given light, who see God for who he is.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


By Robert McGee:
It is important to understand that fruitfulness and growth are the results of focusing on Christ and desiring to honor Him. When growth and change are our primary goals, we tend to be preoccupied with ourselves instead of with Christ.  “Am I growing? Am I getting any better? Am I more like Christ today? What am I learning?” This inordinate preoccupation with self-improvement parallels our culture’s self-help and personal enhancement movement in many ways. Personal development is certainly not wrong, but it is misleading—and it can be very disappointing—to make it our preeminent goal. As we grasp the unconditional love, grace, and power of God, then honoring Christ will increasingly be our consuming passion…The only One worthy of our preoccupation is Christ, our sovereign Lord, who told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

....without Sin

I can say that I cannot pray without sin — I cannot preach without sin — I can do nothing without sin; and as one expresses it: my repentance needs to be repented of, and my very tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins. Before you can know you are at peace with God, you must not only be made sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of your heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But if you never felt that you had no righteousness of your own, if you never felt the deficiency of your own righteousness, you cannot come to Jesus Christ. There are a great many now who may say, “well we believe all this,” but there is a great difference between talking and feeling. Did you ever feel the need of a dear Redeemer? Did you ever feel the want of Jesus Christ, upon the account of the deficiency of your own righteousness? And can you now say from your heart, “Lord, thou mayst justly damn me for the best duties that ever I did perform?” If you are not thus brought out of yourself, you may say to your heart “Peace! Peace!” but there is no peace.”  - George Whitfield

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Knock, man!

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  
Luke 11:5-8

“See the man at midnight.  Imitate that man.  Act it all alone at midnight.  Hear his loud cry, and cry it after him.  He needed three loaves.  What is your need?  Name it.  Name it out loud.  Let your own ears hear it. . . . The shameful things you have to ask for.  The disgraceful, the incredible things you have to admit and confess.  The life you have lived.  The way you have spent your days and nights.  And what all that has brought you to.  It kills you to have to say such things even with your door shut.  Yes, but better say all these things in closets than have them all proclaimed from the housetops of the day of judgment.  Knock, man!  Knock for the love of God!  Knock as they knock to get into heaven after the door is shut!  Knock, as they knock to get out of hell!”
-Alexander Whyte, “The Man Who Knocked At Midnight,” in Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Prayer for Times When Sufficient Grace Doesn’t Feel Sufficient

From Scotty Smith:
“… There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:7-9
Dear heavenly Father, the Apostle Paul’s story stirs up my already stirred up heart. Though I’ve experienced the toxic shame of my own failures, the emotional assault of betrayal, the soul-pillaging pain of loss and heart-depleting episodes of depression that make heaven look like my only option… nonetheless, I know myself to be an amateur in anguish, a tenderfoot in trauma, a mere suckling in suffering.

Compared to many sufferers that I know, quite honestly, Lord, you have every right to judge my whines, complaints and moans as those of a spoiled brat. But you are far too merciful and gracious to do so. You take my sin and my pain seriously, so seriously you gave Jesus for me, and I will forever praise you.

But today, I join many of my brothers and sisters, in bringing before you our friends and family members who are in the vortex of chronic suffering—a downward spiral of misery that mocks the notion of your mercy; that calls into question the sufficiency of your grace; that doesn’t make heaven look good, but invisible.

Father, give us your heart for the suffering. Give us wisdom, give us strength, give us kindness. For those whose physical pain is increasingly unbearable, we cry out for the power of Jesus to fall.

Unashamedly, unreservedly, we ask you to bring relief, Father. By the means of supernatural intervention, please calm the nerve endings. By the means of common grace, please give physicians wisdom to know what medications, and what doses, would be best in each situation.

Father, for those who are suffering fresh emotional trauma, and those who are just beginning to deal with heart wounds long since buried, bring the grace, truth and power of the gospel to bear. Help us enter the emotional chaos not as fixers, but as listeners; not as tamers of the whirlwind, but as those who follow Jesus into the storm; not as those who fear our inadequacy, but as those who own our weakness. When our friend’s emotional pain triggers our’s, help us to stay present, focused and caring.

Father, for those who are suffering mental and spiritual anguish—for friends who simultaneously feel like Job and Job’s wife… counting loses and cursing heaven, don’t let us be like “Job’s friends.” Better to sit in awkward silence, than to offer cliché, rules and formulas. Better to be a quiet, living epistle of mercy than to spout Scripture verses like unwrapped band-aids. We believe this, help our unbelief. Free us from timetables and the need to make it better.

Father, when we ourselves begin to ask, “How long, O Lord?” When we wonder, silently and out loud, “How much is too much?” When we begin, or continue to doubt, your mercy and might, make the cross of Jesus clearer and dearer. O, for the Day when Jesus finishes making all things new. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ suffering and triumphant name.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Perhaps I am stronger than I think

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  
                      Luke 17:5-6

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.

Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength, and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak.  Making myself secure. Making myself guilty.

Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me.
Perhaps I would rather be guilty and weak in myself,   than strong in Him whom I cannot understand. 
 - Thomas Merton (from Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Man Who Knocked At Midnight

Luke 11:5-8
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;  a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“See the man at midnight [described in Luke 11:5-8].  Imitate that man.  Act it all alone at midnight.  Hear his loud cry, and cry it after him.  He needed three loaves.  What is your need?  Name it.  Name it out loud.  Let your own ears hear it. . . . The shameful things you have to ask for.  The disgraceful, the incredible things you have to admit and confess.  The life you have lived.  The way you have spent your days and nights.  And what all that has brought you to.  It kills you to have to say such things even with your door shut.  Yes, but better say all these things in closets than have them all proclaimed from the housetops of the day of judgment.  Knock, man!  Knock for the love of God!  Knock as they knock to get into heaven after the door is shut!  Knock, as they knock to get out of hell!”

-----Alexander Whyte, “The Man Who Knocked At Midnight,” in Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Can't Sleep?

For those like me who sometimes cannot sleep, I love these verses from Psalm 4 and the commentary that follows:

6 Many, LORD, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.  
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound. 
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

G. Campbell Morgan (British Bible Scholar) points out that David finds safety in solitude with God.

“The thought of the word alone is ‘in loneliness,’ or as Rotherham renders it ‘in seclusion’; and the word refers to the one going asleep. This is a glorious conception of sleep. Jehovah gathers the trusting soul into a place of safety by taking it away from all the things which trouble or harass . . . the tried and tired child of His love is pavilioned in His peace. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Does God want you to be miserable?

From Jon Acuff:

When people talk to me about geography in Nashville, I do one of two things:

1. I nod my head and pretend I know what part of the city they are referring to.
2. I tell them, “I don’t know where that is. We just moved here.”

Neither one of those two responses is entirely true. Pretending I know is not true and saying we just moved here isn’t true. We’ve lived here for 18 months. So why don’t I know my way around town yet?

Because I kissed geography goodbye when I was a kid.

I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have room in my head for street names or directions or addresses. I realized I had limited real estate in my brain and essentially told geography, “Kick rocks chump.”

Would it be fair to say that, as a young boy, I predicted a future in which we would all have handheld GPS units? Is the term “visionary” one we should use to describe me? Tough to say, but the reality is that years ago I bid adieu to both geography and math.

As a writer, math is my Achilles’ heel. The mere mention of numbers makes me cringe. I am approximately one year away from not being able to help my 8-year-old with her math homework. I hate math.

Which is why I used to think God would call me into the mission field to teach calculus.

My fear was that, if I gave God my life, if I turned over all my hopes and dreams to him, he would instantly make me train to become a “mathlete.” I’d have to get an abacus and complicated calculator and spend my days doing things I hated to do.

Because I thought that’s how God did things.
And I’m not the only one who thinks that way sometimes.

I do a joke when I speak to church groups. I say, “Every Christian knows that the first thing God does if you give him your life is make you move to Africa to become a missionary. You’ll go zero to hut in about 4.2 seconds.” And folks laugh, but there’s a crazy truth behind that joke. If we think the first thing God will do to us if we come close to him is the worst thing we can imagine, then we serve the worst God ever.

If you’re not wired to be a missionary in Guam, if nothing about that feels at all like what God has uniquely created you to do, why would he immediately call you to that task if you trusted him with your life?

That’s an extreme example, but you’d be surprised how often I saw that happen last year. Because I wrote a book about closing the gap between your day job and your dream job, a lot of people have talked with me about figuring out what they’re called to do.

And it’s amazing how many people think being a Christian means doing the opposite of what you’re passionate about.

A chaplain told me that one of his college students came to him and said, “I’m conflicted. I really want to serve the Lord, but I love film making. I don’t know what to do.”

That word “but” is such a beautiful trick by the enemy. That young man felt alive and filled with joy when he made films. In those moments, though, he couldn’t imagine that God was happy about that, or enjoyed him making films or could be served and glorified through film making.

He didn’t say, “I really want to serve the Lord, and I love film making.” He said, “I really want to serve the Lord, but I love film making.”

I don’t know how exactly we got here. I think, in some ways, it’s an extreme over-correction to the prosperity gospel. When you talk about how good God is, people can’t wait to say, “He’s not an ATM machine in the sky who magically gives you whatever you want?” But who ever said that? Who said that a life filled with the joy of God was devoid of hardship or never full of moments where you must mourn as loud as you dance?

I’m sad for a culture where there is serving God on one side, and on the other side of that is joy. Where those two things are believed to be separate. Where we are forced to take our individual talents, put them under our bed, apologize about them and try to fit the handful of “serving opportunities” that match our definition of Christian.

I think back to the conversion of Paul.

Do you remember before he became a Christian? When he was called Saul?

He was a bold, powerful, vigilant persecutor of believers. And then God met him on the road to Damascus and turned him into a quiet, meek bookkeeper who spent his remaining days in a cave alone transcribing ancient texts.

Not at all! God turned him into a bold, powerful, vigilant promoter of belief.

He didn’t squelch what was inside Paul. He didn’t ignore the talents he himself had placed there. If anything, he called them out in deeper, louder, more beautiful ways. He showed Paul what it really meant to be Paul!

Maybe you will be a missionary. Maybe that’s the call you will get. But if it’s not, please don’t for a second believe that God wants you to be miserable. That he wants to call you into an adventure where your true gifts will shrivel up and die. That his chief aim is to make sure you never experience joy in his presence.

Because that’s not the kind of God who would ever love you enough to send his son to die for you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Only Two Religions

Decades ago, when Dr. Harry Ironside finished preaching the gospel to a university audience in California, he was approached by a student who asked:
Dr. Ironside, there are literally thousands of religions, how do we know which is true?
Ironside replied:
Well, before we can get into the question of which one is true, we need to clarify something. There are not thousands of religions. There are not even hundreds of religions. There are only two: one which tells you that salvation comes as a reward for what you have done, and one which tells you that salvation comes by what somebody else does for you. That’s Christianity. All the rest fit under the other. And if you think you can get your salvation by your own efforts, then Christianity has nothing to say to you. But if you know you need to be saved, then you are a candidate.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You are an enemy and I'm not a Sinner

Luke 6:27-29  “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them."

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. 

But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over  the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”
     ― Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Celebrating God’s Disruptive Sovereignty

Heavenward by Scotty Smith
Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isa. 46:8-10
Holy and gracious Father, I offer you no pushback this morning for being addressed as a rebel. I not only rebel against your commandments, I also rebel against your gospel—for it seems too good to be true. That’s why I need a Savior as big as Jesus. My only hope is in knowing that you will complete the good work of salvation you began in me. Your purposes will stand. You do all that you please, and it pleases you to justify, transform and glorify rebels like me… Hallelujah!

Indeed, I have great hope in knowing you are God and I am not. This truth is both disruptive and comforting. Disruptive, because there are some things I’m desperate for you to do—things that make all the sense in the world to me—things that seem in line with the truth of the gospel. But they’re not going to happen. You haven’t decreed them and no amount of fasting and praying will alter the perfection of your plan… Hallelujah!

Yet your sovereignty is profoundly comforting, because there are other things for which I don’t have the faith to trust you—things I cannot imagine coming to pass. Like an ax head floating on water, pebbles taking down a giant, lepers being instantly healed, dead churches becoming gospelicious communities, again… these things happen according to your pleasure and in your timing.

Father, help me “fix it in mind and take it to heart.” You are God and you do as you please. No one can ultimately resist your will, and we’re foolish when we try. You’re not a manageable deity; you’re not predictable; you’re not programmable. You are mysterious—good, but mysterious. Hallelujah, many times over!

As I head squirm in a season of difficult decisions, I’m so thankful that you are a sovereign Father, having equal care for each of your children. I can trust you. I don’t have to panic. I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to take matters into my own hands. I don’t have to fear outcomes, “what ifs,” or “if only’s.” Second-guessing must surrender to gospel sanity.

Father, help me to want your purposes to stand more than I want life not to be messy. Help me to glory in your pleasure more than I obsess about my future. Help me to accept disruption as a necessary part of transformation. There’s no comfort like the comfort which comes from knowing you, and calling you Abba, Father. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ trustworthy name.