THE POWERLESS GOD
Are we following after the way of God or the way of the powers?
I have been reading a great little book by Henri Nouwen called Finding My Way Home. It’s a short collection of essays. The first essay is on the powerlessness of God. It has challenged my thinking about how God works and how we as God’s people ought to work in the world.
Have you ever considered the reality that the God of the universe, the Creator, the ultimate reality, the prime mover, the Power, chose to enter the human story by becoming fully human? Unlike the gods of the myths who held onto their great powers as they incarnated, this God of the Bible entered the story by being born of a woman. He came into the world the ordinary way, as they say.
He wasn’t born into a wealthy family. He was born into a peasant home. He didn’t live a life of luxury. He lived a life of toil and work. God lived in obscurity in the neighborhood.
Yet, it was this God who would confront and subvert the powers of the world. He would eventually defeat them and overcome them. The great victory of God over the powers didn’t happen with military might but by one who would die.
The powers tried to eliminate him early in his life when he was most vulnerable. The order went out to kill the boys of the kingdom who were born about the time he was (Matthew 2:16). Why? Because the newborn “king of the Jews,” was to be more than an ordinary king. He was to overthrow the powers and bring the people out of exile.
The powerless God fled into an exile of his own and then returned. He grew up into manhood. There was nothing special about him. He was just a guy, Joseph’s son.
All of a sudden there was a baptism, a test, and water was made into wine. The blind received sight. The lame walked. Good news was proclaimed to the poor.
None of it done from a position of power. All of it from one who was powerless in this world.
He was so utterly powerless that he was eventually arrested and murdered on a Roman cross.
That should have been the end of the story.
But God, in his utter powerlessness won the ultimate victory because it was in death that ultimate power was revealed.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. — St Paul
There is nothing more powerless than death. Yet, in the powerlessness of God this death was what defeated the powers and ended the exile.
When we consider the reality of how God chose powerlessness and sacrifice to gain victory over the powers it begs the question, “How do we engage this world as those live by his name?”
I often see people talking about the need for the Church to have a “seat at the table.” They mean that we need Christians in positions to influence power. In other words, we need to be powerful to make change in this world.
What if we followed the way of our Lord? What would it look like to choose the way of powerlessness?
Can you imagine a world where the Christians set aside a clamor and desire for power and instead chose service and sacrifice?
American Christianity is by and large a clamor for power. The successful congregation is measured in the size of the building and the number of attendees on a Sunday. Business metrics and congregation growth metrics are one in the same. The leadership books of the church are the same as the leadership books of the corporation.
Could it be that we as the Church have missed an important and critical calling? The calling to powerlessness.
How do our Sunday experiences jive with the Master who told people to keep him a secret? The Master who challenges crowds for wanting him just for what he could give them? The Master, who was so challenging, that he had to ask his closest friends, “Will you leave me too?”
We need to take another look and ask, “Are we following the way of power or the way of powerlessness?”
THE ONE WHO WOULD BRING PEACE
The bringer of peace, emptied himself.
Have you ever noticed that some things are not the way that you would expect them to be?
When it comes to God, it seems that things are almost always upside down and backwards. We expect God to zig and he zags. We expect a warrior and he comes as an infant.
As we prepare, again, for the coming of Christ in Christmas we would do ourselves well to take a moment and consider who he is.
We are to be like him.
He is our big brother.
He is our mentor.
He is our King.
What does this great bringer of peace look like? Not at all what we expect him to be.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This is the mindset and attitude of the great bringer of peace. What is yours?
HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND, PART 3
An Advent conversation on the Old Testament.
In part three of the conversation, we look at joy. Particularly, I share about the surprising place that I have discovered joy, community.[embed][anchor.fm/danielmro...](https://anchor.fm/danielmrose/episodes/303-Hello-Darkness-My-Old-Friend--Part-3-e2q9is)[/embed]
HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND, PART 2
An Advent Conversation on the Old Testament
Does anyone like being disciplined? I don’t. Yet, that’s part of what is happening as the people of God wait during Advent. I explore this idea a little in the part 2 of my ongoing conversation on Advent from the Old Testament.[embed][anchor.fm/danielmro...](https://anchor.fm/danielmrose/episodes/302-Hello-Darkness-My-Old-Friend--Part-2-e2p2l9)[/embed]
HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND, PART 1
The first episode in an Advent series from the Old Testament.
Hope. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot. But, what does it mean?
Hope at its core is an expectant waiting. I take a few minutes on Season 3’s premiere episode to talk a little about that. Give it a listen![embed][anchor.fm/danielmro...](https://anchor.fm/danielmrose/episodes/301-Hello-Darkness-My-Old-Friend-Part-1-e2na48/a-a7c6tu)[/embed]
WHAT IF ADVENT WAS REAL?
What if we were in a real time of waiting, just like those who came before us?
This Advent season I challenged the congregation I serve to try to engage their imaginations and be surprised by Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting and preparation for the coming of the King. The people of God waited for the Messiah to arrive for 576 years. We know he has come and so we look back on that time of waiting.
But, what if we didn’t have to engage our imaginations? What if, we are in another time of waiting and preparation? What if, we have been waiting even longer for Advent to come to an end than our ancestors?
We who are on the other side of the resurrection know that Christ has come, that he has lived, that he has died, and that he has risen. We know that he sits at the right of the Father.
Yet, we still wait.
We wait for his second coming, the ultimate coming of the Christ when he finally makes all things right and makes all things new. When he wipes away every tear, when faith becomes sight.
The first century followers of Jesus were waiting with baited breath for his return. So much so, that some of the early leaders in the Church had to remind them to go to work and care for their families, because God does not work on our schedule.
Still, here we are two thousand years later and we wait.
Two thousand years later and the Christ has not returned. We continue on seeking to be the body of Christ wherever we are.
Two thousand years later we are still working out what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Two thousand years later we are in Advent.
The difference between then and now is that there was a resurrection. The difference between then and now is that the Holy Spirit lives in us.
But, just like then, we wait.
Check out what Jude (yes, I know you’re humming Hey Jude! now, get out of your system, you good? OK,):
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20–21
We build one another in our faith. We pray in the Holy Spirit. We keep ourselves in God’s love.
AND WE WAIT.
How are you waiting? Who are you building up? Are you praying? How are you loving well?
To wait with patient expectancy is an active waiting. It is not passive.
I think as we seek to live this way we experience something deep within ourselves. We will experience joy.
My hunch is this, if you are not a joyful person then you are not building others up, you are not praying, and you are not seeking to love well. If we engage in these activities then we can’t help but be joyful.
JOY COMES FROM HOLDING FIRM
When we hold firm in the face of adversity we discover joy.
Approximately eighteen months ago I was plunged into a dark night of the soul. I stepped off a cliff and began to experience something that is commonly called, “deconstruction.” All of the answers about God, faith, and Jesus fell apart. They all seemed thin. None of them appeared to be grounded in anything substantial.
I was wrestling with faith and doubt in ways that I had never known. It was hard and frustrating and utterly painful. I desperately wanted to escape from this period of my life.
I wanted all the answers to make sense again.
My greatest desire was to hear God’s voice and feel God’s presence like I had when I was younger.
But, his voice stayed silent. His presence seemed absent.
So, I searched.
I cried out.
I waited more.
I searched again.
I cried out again and again.
Then, God did something. He made himself known to me in his people. He showed me himself through the people who call themselves his. From that moment on I’ve had a new song, a new faith, a clearer sense of the reality and beauty and mystery of God.
I rediscovered joy.
David wrote a poem that resonates with me like it never has before. Here’s the first stanza:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him. — Psalm 40:1–3
One of my favorite bands, U2, recorded a version of this psalm and it has become an anthem for me. I leave you with it:[embed][youtu.be/gt6bDAQ6g...](https://youtu.be/gt6bDAQ6gs8)[/embed]
INTEGRITY MATTERS… NO REALLY
Last night my wife and I had a conversation with our son about how I, “make people mad.” It was kind of a fun conversation because my wife kept saying, “Your dad is not a jerk about things, well, he used to be, but he’s not any more. Now, he simply knows what is right and true and he doesn’t back down.”
Those were really encouraging words for me because as I shared yesterday, I have had to be “humbled” quite a bit. But, now when I “make people mad” it’s often because they simply don’t like what they are hearing.
It turns out that when you have integrity and character those are really subversive traits in today’s society.
This morning I was reading about John the Baptist in Matthew 3. He was a guy that had integrity, character, and spoke the truth. He knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He embraced his identity. I love what he says here in verse 11,
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
How different is his attitude than ours? Can you imagine a pastoral transition where the outgoing pastor says of the incoming one, “Folks, this guy is such a great man that I’m not even worthy to carry his shoes.”
What usually happens?
Usually, the outgoing pastor has either been fired or if he’s retiring and trying to pass off the baton he sticks around and makes life miserable for the new guy.
These are the moments that show us what a person’s character and integrity are. Can we come to terms with the reality of who we are not? This was one of the key things about John being a man of integrity, he knew who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the Christ and let everyone know.
Do you know what happened to John the Baptist?
He lost his head.
The powers that be didn’t like him and had his head removed from his neck.
It turns out that being a person of integrity and character was pretty subversive in the first century too.
What does any of this have to do with Advent and joy? That’s a great question. I think that one of the ways that we experience joy is in the context of living out of our identity. Being who we are in every sphere of influence we find ourselves in.
What I mean is this: We are to be the same person at home, at work, at play, with family, with friends, and with strangers. We are to live a life that is integrated and is based in who we are and the acceptance of who we are not.
When we live this way we will begin to experience joy. Not necessarily happiness. When you live with integrity and character it is not always going to be easy (thankfully you probably won’t lose your head), and so you might not necessarily be happy. However, joy is deeper and more enduring than happiness.
Joy is a sense of contentment knowing who you are and how you are to live.
“IT IS GOOD TO BE HUMBLED.”
…said nobody ever.
Seriously. Who says stuff like this? When you’re in the midst of being “humbled,” do you think, “Boy howdy! This is great!”
I sure don’t.
When I was in college, I was in a Bible study with a couple of other guys. We were leaders in our CRU movement at Central Michigan University. Each week we began with 15–30 minutes known as, “What did Dan do wrong this week.” Our poor small group leader would have a laundry list of stupid things that I had said or done.
It was definitely, humbling.
I definitely didn’t enjoy it.
I most certainly didn’t think it was good.
However, as I look back at these times I realize that they were some of the most significant moments in my life. It was then that I began to learn how to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me.” During these months I also learned when to have boundaries and stand up for myself when I was in the right.
“What did Dan do wrong this week,” shaped me in ways that I’m still experiencing to this day.
I was reading in Psalm 119 today and ran across this line,
It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes.
This is one of the truest and most discomforting lines of poetry that I have ever read.
We all know it’s true too. Each of us knows that it takes us being humbled to really learn.
It is indeed good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn who God is and know his grace.
This week in Advent is the week of joy. It turns out that being humbled has brought me great joy. That joy resides not in comfort but in the fact that I have been transformed and that in the process of being humbled I have known grace.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 19, 2018.
THE WEIRD JESUS VERSE
There’s a famous Advent reading that I’ve always found to be really weird. It’s Isaiah 9:6 and I read it again today. Check it out in the NIV:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
It’s beautiful and traditional and points us to the majestic beauty of the coming Messiah. I absolutely love this verse. Yet, it’s super weird too.
First, the “government will be on his shoulders,” has never sat well with me. It’s felt so out of place and really never made sense to me. When I read the passage this morning it was in a translation of the Bible that I had never read it out from before, the NRSV. It translates the phrase this way, “authority rests upon his shoulders.”
I had an “AHA” moment.
My guess is that for many of you this is nothing new. But, for me it was a “WOAH! I get it! WHAT!?” kind of moment.
Authority: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
When I think of the reality that Jesus has authority, particularly the power to settle issues, it brings so much into laser focus for me. Throughout the prophets in the Old Testament we see the people of God being put on trial by God, in a sense. We also see the people of God putting God on trial too. They are found guilty of setting God aside and end up being exiled.
Yet, there is this promise of the Messiah to come. The one who would bring them home. This weird little verse gives us a glimpse into the foundation for the Messiah to be able to do that. It is because he has authority. He has the power to settle issues.
Second, the other weird thing about this verse is the “wonderful counselor” bit. I always had in my head a picture of God with a notebook doing counseling. Today though, with my “AHA” moment on the “government” issue, I realized that I should look more deeply into the “wonderful counselor” bit too.
The word “counselor” could be understood as “strategist.” The NET Bible translates the phrase, “extraordinary strategist.”
The kind of counselor we are talking about is the kind of person that was wise and strategic. These are two of the things that I see in Jesus ministry and here they are, on display, in this prophecy.
I mean, come on.
You know, I have been studying the Bible a long time and have told people for years to check different translations, etc… Isn’t it funny how going back to the basics can be such a big deal?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 18, 2018.
SUPPORT YOUR FAITH
In theological circles there are some technical words that get applied to certain perspectives of theology. I am what is known as a “monergist.” Simply put, this means that I believe God does all the work in bringing about salvation. It is purely by his grace and mercy and there is nothing that we can do to add to our salvation or to bring it about.
Sometimes we also need to talk about what something doesn’t mean. Being a “monergist” doesn’t meant that I hold to some sort of cold, impersonal determinism. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think we have any responsibility regarding our spiritual lives.
Two things are becoming more clear to me in these days. First, the way salvation works is a mystery. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to unravel the definite machinations of the how.
This mystery is beautiful and glorious and intriguing and messy.
Second, we have a responsibility to support our faith. Peter writes,
For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
2 Peter 1:5–7
This passage starts with a “For this very reason…” The very reason that Peter is pointing to is in verse 4 where he says that we “…become participants of the divine nature.”
The contemporary idea that faith is nothing more than eternity insurance has no place in Christianity.
When we say we are trusting Christ, or following Christ, or that we are “saved,” it means that we are participating with Christ in the divine nature. This is called “union with Christ.”
If we are participating in the divine nature then our lives will begin to look different. I love how Peter says that we must “make every effort to support your faith.” There is a distinction that he makes there. Our faith is not something that we work up, it’s a gift, it’s given to us by God. But then we have a responsibility to do something with it.
Have you known of athletes who are members of the “Coulda Been Great” Society? I sure do. These are athletes that had tons of raw, God-given ability, and yet they did nothing with it. They were given a gift and didn’t develop it.
The same is true of our faith. We are called to act upon our faith. It is to practically change us. Our lives should be different because of our faith.
Do you see the progression here? Take a moment and ask yourself how you’re doing. It’s OK to take a little stock every now and then. Are you supporting your faith by practicing goodness? Pursuing knowledge? Practicing self-control? Enduring? Seeking to be godly? Practicing mutual affection? And, loving?
In many ways you could summarize this with, “Don’t be a jerk.” Or, “Love your neighbor.” Or, “Be a good person.”
This week is the third week of Advent with its focus on joy. The joy of this week is the sure and certain knowledge that our king is coming. The thing is, when our king comes our lives will need to look different. True joy, the joy that goes beyond being happy, is based and rooted in our identity. We experience joy when we are living out who we are.
If your life was marked by goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love how much joy would know? How much joy would experience?
My friends, support your faith with your life. Live a life that honors our King and you will know JOY.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 17, 2018.
CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
When you hear the word “confession,” how do you feel? It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am not all that excited about airing all my dirty laundry.
When you hear the word “sin,” how do you feel? If you’re like most of us these days you probably think, “Who are you to judge? Jerk.”
Something that I keep trying to lean into in my life is reality. I want to honestly assess myself. That whole “know thyself” thing has become a near obsession. There is great power in understanding ourselves, our passions, our calling, our longings, and our brokenness.
Too often I find that I try to talk myself out of my brokenness. When I mess up in relationships with others or myself, I typically try to argue it away. When I’m unloving or uncaring, I usually project my brokenness onto others.
Owning our own stuff is really hard to do. It demands us to practice the ancient spiritual discipline of confession.
I’m a protestant and this act of confession is made a bit harder for me because there is no standard practice of it in my tradition. My Catholic friends who are serious about their faith go and make confession regularly to their priest. There is an understanding that they need this and they need someone to hear their confession.
For us protestants we have held to the idea that confession is something just between us and God. Which it is, but not “just.” Why? Because we need someone who will say, “Is there anything else? Did you lie to me?”
Confession is good for the soul. It is good for our well-being. Owning our sin and getting rid of it is like oxygen for our spirit. I love the image of spiritual breathing. The picture that you exhale your sin (like carbon dioxide) and inhale grace (like oxygen).
The ancient Jewish king, David, wrote a poem where he says,
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and whose spirit is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Two things stand out to me in this poem. First there is happiness when we know we are forgiven. There is happiness in the experiential knowledge of grace. Second, holding onto sin in silence kills us from the inside out.
In another poem this same king writes,
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
When I confess my sin to another, when I confess my sin to God, my greatest fear is anger. I worry that they will break the relationship. With those who are faithful friends, like God, their anger is momentary. Usually it is not even anger so much as disappointment. But their favor lasts a lifetime.
When I invite friends into my confession they become for me agents of grace. They speak words of grace to me.
When grace comes then comes joy.
Tomorrow morning we will light the third candle of Advent, the joy candle. Truly joy comes in the morning.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 15, 2018.
THE NIGHT IS DARKEST
It is often said that the night is darkest before the dawn.
It is also said that,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
As I write this, there is no sun outside my window. I am seated at my desk looking out over my neighborhood and the sky is gray, flat, and weary.
There is little life.
The leaves are gone.
The rose bushes are in hibernation.
The only light is the small desk lamp that is focused on my copy of the Scriptures.
The night is darkest before the dawn.
Could you imagine how dark it must have felt those days before the coming of the Christ? It had been 576 years since the promise of Jeremiah that the Christ would come. It had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, had preached. The darkness must have felt unending.
One of my favorite books to read is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s the tale of a magical land, Narnia, that is trapped in an everlasting winter with no Christmas. Surely, this is what it must have felt like for the people of God from Malachi to Christ.
In one of David’s psalms, Psalm 31, he writes,
I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities.
David, experienced and felt the love of God because he encountered God in his pain. Think about that for a moment.
It was not because he was without pain that he knew God loved him.
It was because in his pain he encountered God. This is completely opposite of how we often think of and understand our relationship with God.
Too often, when the night is darkest we doubt that God loves us. Yet, it is in the darkest night that God meets us in our pain because he is the one who will never leave us or forsake us.
We are in the midst of the darkness of Advent. There is great struggle as we wait. As we do, let us pray and reflect on these words from Psalm 31,
Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faith, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 14, 2018.
YOU ARE LOVED, STAND FIRM
This past summer I was watching a Detroit Tigers game and they were interviewing Nicholas Castellanos, one of the Tigers better hitters. He had just come off a very long slump and the interviewer asked, “How do you handle the ups and downs of baseball?”
Castellanos didn’t miss a beat. He talked about his dad. He said that while he was growing up his dad would tell him all the time that he was the best. So, whenever he is going through a down time in the season he just remembers his dad’s voice.
That interview has stuck with me a long time. I wonder if we believe that our heavenly Father loves us the way Castellanos’ dad loves him?
Life is really hard. The good times and the bad times both come and go. Seemingly with no rhyme or reason.
When the bad times come, how do we respond? Will we be able to hear our Father’s voice, the one that says, “I love you, you’re the best.”
King Ahaz, an ancient Jewish King, was having a real bad time. He inherited a kingdom that was in disarray. The people of God had rebelled against God. The nation was about to be exiled. In Isaiah 7 we read that his heart “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind,” because the nations of Aram and Israel were coming to attack Jerusalem.
Isaiah went to encourage Ahaz in his faith. He told him not to fear, to be quiet, and not to let his heart faint. He even talks a little smack about the two nations coming to destroy Jerusalem. There is a sense that God is saying, “I see you. I got you.”
Then at the end of the conversation Isaiah says,
If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.
How could he though? Two armies were knocking at his door. I would have been afraid too. Yet, Isaiah calls him to stand in faith.
I think in the midst of this is the reminder that God loves us. He loves us and will meet us in our bad times. When those times come we need to hear the voice of the Father saying, “I love you, you’re the best.”
When we know we’re loved we can stand firm in the faith.
During this time of Advent, while we are waiting, we must stand firm in the faith. What will ultimately give us our strength to stand is the knowledge that we are loved.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that you are loved?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 13, 2018.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake. Oh…You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I’m telling you why…”
So the old song goes.
Thankfully, God is nothing like Santa Claus.
I have been reading a lot of psalms this Advent season and one of the things that constantly strikes me is that there is no limit on the crying and shouting. Every human emotion is present in the lines of the poems that make up the book of psalms.
There is no holding back.
There are no holds barred.
There is just pure unadulterated emotion and passion. The psalmists pour out everything that is within them to their God. It is uncomfortable to read some their words.
There are times when I think, “Wow. I can’t believe they wrote that and left it for posterity.”
At other times I think, “I wish my relationship with God were so honest and real.”
In Psalm 38 David writes,
I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes — it has also gone from me.
He is in misery. Yet, he turns his heart to God in brutal honesty.
Later in the psalm he writes,
But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
I am coming to learn that it is this unyielding belief that God sees and knows and will answer that drives David to brutal honesty with God. Because he is confident that God sees, he knows that he can cry out with our reservation.
Unlike Santa, God does not want us quiet and good. God wants us authentic and real. He wants us passionate and honest. God wants us to know him and be in relationship with him.
The God who sees is ready for us to cry and ready for us to shout because he knows all too well our pain and our struggles.
How does he know that?
Because after Advent comes Christmas.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 12, 2018.
FOR THOSE WHO SEEK
How long must we wait? How long will the exile to darkness last? How long until the master comes to his temple to make all things right? How long until faith becomes sight?
The longer Advent goes and the longer I try to imagine what it must have been like to live in exile and to long for the coming Messiah, I grow in my sense of anticipation and frustration. I want Christmas to come and I want it to come now. I want the light and voice and presence of God.
Yet the darkness grows and we wait.
I find myself now looking for glimpses of the divine around every corner. I try to see God in the little moments of laughter and joy. God, during this season of Advent, seems to be just out of reach but inviting me to come along further up and further in.
The psalmist writes,
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
His invitation in the midst of the waiting is to “seek.” It is not a passive, sit on the porch and hope to see God, kind of waiting.
No, he invites us to seek him and we will not be disappointed. If we seek God he will not forsake us. He will not hide forever. We will eventually find him.
We don’t wait, we SEEK!
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 11, 2018.
Advent is all about the waiting. It’s an entering to the void between the time that the Messiah was promised and the time that he finally arrived. On this side of the resurrection, we are waiting again. We are waiting for the ultimate coming of the Christ.
It’s been a couple thousand years and who knows how much longer we will wait. But, wait we shall. The waiting for many has become a longing.
We aren’t the only ones who waited and wondered at the coming of Christ. In the first century the expectation was that Jesus’ return was imminent. The expectation was that he was going to return any day.
Spoiler: He didn’t.
This led many to worry about the future. Paul, in one of his longest teachings on the issue in 1 Thessalonians 5 ends with,
Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
In this second week of Advent, the week that we focus on love, I think this is a good reminder that as we wait in the darkness one of the most important things we can do is encourage one another. Do you notice that Paul tells the Thessalonians to do this not because they aren’t but because they already and he commends them in it?
When I think of my congregation, what amazes me is all the ways that we love well. People genuinely care for each other. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’m beyond grateful to serve them.
As this second week of Advent gets going, ask yourself this question: How will I love well this week?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 10, 2018.
IN GOD WE TRUST
It’s interesting to me that this little phrase, “In God we trust,” has become a point of debate within some circles. It is on our currency and we find it in other public places. Clearly, the reason that the phrase causes problems in the public sphere is that we are to be an inclusive country and that the government is not to establish any religion. Whenever this conversation gets brought up it amazes me that many in my tribe want to fight hard to keep such phrases rooted in the government.
As a pastor, I suppose I should want to see this idea everywhere. Many would assume that I would be fighting to keep “in God we trust” on our currency and court room walls. Yet, I don’t see it that way. I think that in some weird way, fighting for these things actually communicates the opposite of what it is that we’re really trying to accomplish.
This morning I read Psalm 20 and and in verse 7 the psalmist writes,
Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we depend on the Lord our God.
I think many of us in the Church have come to a place where we are afraid of losing power, position, and status in the culture. We are afraid of becoming a minority group. There is a sense that we are “losing” our country.
The reality is that as a follower of Jesus there is no “country” for us. The Scriptures are clear that we are aliens in a foreign land.
How does any of this connect to Advent and this week’s theme of hope? Great question.
Honestly, it comes down to this: What is the object of my hope? Psalm 20 is beautiful because it shows that the king, David, was hoping and trusting in his Lord, not himself. He was a man of great power and even in that power his trust and hope was in God.
Verse 7 is the culmination of the psalm, it is an exuberant shout of joyful exclamation to the reality of who God is.
We don’t anyone to defend God. We don’t need anyone to save us from “the world.” What we need is to hope in our God, the one who saves.
Where is your hope?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 8, 2018.
EVEN AT NIGHT
Amy and I attended different universities while we were dating. Our schools were about six hours apart. As you can imagine we spent many hours driving between our respective campuses and neither of us ever wanted to leave. Too often we got much later starts on a Sunday than we would have liked. I had to park quite a distance from my residence hall and arriving home late at night required me to take a bit of walk in the pitch black. One thing I learned on those walks, was to never trust my eyes and ears. In the darkness your eyes and ears play nasty tricks on you, particularly if you have an active imagination. I can’t tell you the number of times that I jumped because of the shadow of a tree or the flapping of the wings of a bird.
I have been thinking about the darkness and the silence of Advent. I keep wrestling with the question of how could I maintain hope in the midst of the silence and waiting. What would it look like for me to be one of the people who were living “between the testaments”? Could I have held on to hope? Would I have had faith?
I honestly don’t know.
Today gave me a hint at how these men and women held on to their faith in the darkness.
In Psalm 16 there is a line that caught me off guard a bit. David writes,
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Did you catch that bit where he says, “even at night…”?
I love that. He wrote this before there was electricity. Night was even more treacherous and scary than it is now. Night was a time of chaos.
When I was in Israel one of the things that I noticed was how dark the nights were. I don’t know if it was just the time of year, but the night felt like it stuck to you. The darkness was almost tangible.
Even at night, his heart would instruct him. Why? Because he praised the Lord.
Praise is powerful. In the darkness we can choose to praise our Lord. When we praise it makes it easier to trust. Praise gives us access to hope.
As we walk through the nights of our lives will we choose to praise?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 7, 2018.
THERE’S NOTHING TO THEM!
One of the central issues of the season of Advent is that of hope. Hope is an expectant waiting. It’s not passive but active.
Hope, though is only as good as the object of that hope. If you’re hoping that a piece of wet tissue will hold a bowling ball, you have a misplaced hope.
These days I see people placing their hope in heroes more and more. It almost feels like we are regressing to the days of ancient armies who sent out heroes to do battle on their behalf.
In the Christian world people get very excited when a prominent politician, actor, musician, or athlete identifies as a Christian. They are immediately placed on the speaking circuit. Pulpits are opened and these men and women are welcomed as heroes. Inevitably, like all of us, they fall from grace.
It turns out that people, mere humans, are unreliable heroes.
Eugene Peterson rendered Isaiah 2:22 this way,
“Quit scraping and fawning over mere humans, so full of themselves, so full of hot air! Can’t you see there’s nothing to them?”
I love the way he interprets the Hebrew here. The picture of people “scraping and fawning over mere humans,” is so poetic and accurate. Think of how we crowd and scream for our heroes, whether it’s at a concert or a ball game. Look at how people who trust in politicians respond to their favorite candidate, they scrape and fawn.
These heroes of ours are full of themselves and full of hot air. There is nothing to them. Our hope is misplaced and it will fail.
Advent is about placing our hope in a promise that is as sure as the sunrise and moonrise.
Where is your hope?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 6, 2018.
LET SALVATION COME!
As we walk through Advent together, I’m struck ever more by the darkness. Today I read through Psalms 12, 13, and 14. They’re not exactly cheery. These are not the poems that you would read at your holiday gathering and then pass out the eggnog.
These are dark poems.
They reflect the stark reality of our world.
A world of injustice and oppression.
We live in a world where the poor are abused and battered. Those who do evil appear to be rewarded. Those who do good appear to be cast aside. It seems that in our world nice guys finish last.
It was no different back when the Psalms were written. People are people.
Yet, at the end of Psalm 14 we hear this refrain, “Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores his people let Jacob and Israel be glad!”
In Isaiah 2, we catch a glimpse of what this restoration would look like when Isaiah says, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Oh for that day when peace and wholeness reigns for mankind! Oh for the day when salvation from Zion comes. This is the hope of Advent. The hope that there will be a day when we can rejoice because all has been restored.
Let salvation come
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 5, 2018.
THEM, NOT ME
Have you noticed how we think about “them” and “us” or “them” and
“me”? It’s not something that I notice myself doing very much. I see it in a lot of other people.
That’s the point though isn’t it? Them, not me. Today, I was reading in the Psalms and I was struck by this reality.
In Psalm 5 there is a call by David for God to judge his enemies and protect him. He wants God to declare them guilty and destroy them.
In Psalm 6 David opens by saying, “Lord do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” Not me God! I’m so sorry. I know I messed up, but don’t discipline me. Let me off and forgive me.
Them. Not me!
On the one hand this is what I love about the psalms. They are brutally honest. I read them and think, “Wow. These people were messed up.” I also read them and think, “Oh man, I am so these people.”
I have been thinking about this today, this juxtaposition of “Them. Not me.”
Why is that we demand grace for ourselves and judgment for our enemies? What is it that is in us that is like this? Have we ever thought about the reality that for some other person we might be the “them?” Could you imagine if you knew someone was beseeching the divine to destroy you and pour out wrath on you?
How might we change if we try to let go of the “them, not me” mindset?
I wonder if I might be able to love a little better. I think so, but too often it’s them, not me.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on December 4, 2018.
LET HIM SETTLE IT
As I was meditating on my Scripture reading this morning there was a theme that kept popping up. It seemed like there was a refrain in the Scriptures that said God is not interested in our sacrifices.
He wanted something else.
It turns out that God wants our trust. He wants us to trust him for everything in our lives.
That is really hard for us. We want to “play our part”. The idea that God will settle it and all we have to do is simply trust him is unsettling, at best. We whave this innate desire to appease God.
Yet, we can’t.
All we can do is trust him. That’s what he wants most anyway.
LET THEM TELL THEIR STORY
This week I had the privilege of sitting down with an amazing teacher. She had just taught in a morning gathering I lead called, Merge. We were meeting for me to provide feedback so that she could continue to grow and improve in her skills as a teacher and communicator. As we talked she said, “You know, I think in narrative.”
I think in narrative.
That really struck me. Don’t we all love stories? A good story can capture your attention and make you see the world differently. I think that’s part of the reason that Jesus told parables, he knew that a good story could flip the world on its head.
Storytelling is an art. Some people are great storytellers, others not so much. Yet, we all tell stories.
In my neighborhood there’s a group of folks that gather around fire pits in the summer for “Fireball Fridays.” Yes, you guessed it Fireball whiskey is ever present (some of us bring good beverages) but that’s not really the point of the meeting at the fire pit. The real purpose of that gathering is the telling of stories (even though nobody would articulate it that way). We sit and listen to story after story and we laugh and cry. There is such beauty in those times. When the weather turns from fall to winter, we mourn the loss of these gatherings. We wait with hopefulness for the times to come in the summer.
We long for these times because we get to tell stories.
I have recently fallen in love with Psalm 107. It begins like this…
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story —
It goes on to tell story after story in the form of a poem of the redeemed. It tells of how people were saved from the desert, prison, the storm and others.
The beginning has been in my mind for about a week now, “Let the redeemed tell their story…”
I was scanning my Twitter newsfeed today and came across a tweet that grabbed my attention, Dan White Jr wrote, “Preaching in the New Testament was primarily dialogical but our Western preaching is monological.”
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.
So much of the communication that happens in most of our churches is from the front and the people are largely receivers. Yet, it seems that by doing things this way we are are missing much of what the body of Christ has to offer.
On Sunday nights in my home our missional community gathers for dinner, Scriptures, prayer, and communion. It’s fantastically beautiful. As we open the Scriptures together we tell stories. We connect the Scriptures to our lives and our histories. I teach and give perspective but as a congregation from youngest to oldest we are involved by telling stories to one another. We weep together and laugh together and tease one another all over the Scriptures.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.
I love that this teacher I met with “thinks in narrative.” This is why she is an amazing teacher.
Through narrative truth connects.
The redeemed are compelled to tell their story. There is something in us that has to tell the story. We must tell the story of God’s goodness to us.
What’s your story? What good things have you seen God do? I want to hear your story.
I have launched a podcast called, “Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.” If you want to hear more about what I’m thinking about life and how to live it to the full check it out: Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on April 24, 2018.
WHY YOU MATTER
He sat there staring at the white board with a blank expression bordering on rage. His eyes were unblinking and slightly moist. He slowly moved the dry erase marker back and forth between his fingers. A deep sigh and then a sense of resignation as he capped the marker and leaned back in his chair.
She stood there with anger in her eyes. Arms folded and a stance that was begging for a fight. When she looked at you there was an emptiness in her gaze that cut through you and left you feeling heartbroken. The hurt, the pain, and the anguish were almost tangible. She never made it to the table.
The two boys sat at the table with the now all too common look of confusion. They had no idea what to write. They didn’t matter. Nobody would care if they were gone and never to return, so they thought.
These scenes were played out over and over again as student after student arrived to participate in the #WhyYouMatter campaign at our local middle school.
There were other scenes too. Scenes of smiles and laughter. Groups of kids easily writing down why they matter and joyfully posing for the camera, alone and in groups. One group of girls bounced in and immediately wrote, “I matter because life is LIT!” There was so much joy and happiness in them, they embraced a girl who didn’t have anything to write and they left together giggling.
What struck me is how few of these kids have ever had anyone speak life to them.
Then the teachers and other adults in the building arrived to do the same. Many of them struggled.
Many of the adults struggled to answer the question, “Why do you matter?”
What struck me is how few of these adults have ever had anyone speak life to them.
When was the last time you had someone speak life to you? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you hear from someone that you matter? Who looked you in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”
When was the last time you spoke life to someone else? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you tell someone that they matter to you? Who have you looked in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”
Every day I left that school with a mix of deep emotions. Joy over seeing kids speak life into one another. Happiness when kids knew who they were and knew that their lives mattered to people. But also deep heartbreak over the ones who couldn’t speak or hear love in their lives.
There is as deep and abiding need in our lives to know we are loved. There is also a need to know that we love another.
Once again I am confronted with the reality that we are image bearers of God. We are like him in real ways. When we first encounter God in the Bible it is in creation and he is speaking. As image bearers we have voices. Our words have power, tremendous power. This is a sacred power and too often we either forget about this power or we use it unwisely. We can speak words of life or death. These words are chosen by us and leveraged by us.
Do you know what else we can do? Not speak. Sometimes silence is golden. Other times silence is causes pain. I think many of the people, children and adults, who didn’t know why they matter is not because someone said something mean or hurtful to them. I think much of it is the result of people not having said anything. They felt like ghosts, they were living their lives as apparitions that nobody noticed enough to even be mean to. Our silence can be the most hurtful words we speak.
We must speak life into this world. Who will you tell today? Who will you look at and say, “You matter. You matter because I care about you. You matter because I love you.”
Originally published at danielmrose.com on April 17, 2018.
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
“Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!”
That phrase has been uttered by the parents of boys from ages past and will be uttered for ages to come. There is just something about little boys and their desire to run.
The first time I said these words my son was about two. He had discovered the joy of running and the game of running away from Mom and Dad. The three of us were at Panera having a little lunch date and as were packing up my boy smiled up at me took off! I tried the words, not too loudly and not with too much authority because we were in Panera. They didn’t work. Those little legs rushed him around the corner. At that moment, my wife and I had a decision to make. How do we wrangle this little guy? We went with divide and conquer. She went one way, I went the other. The problem? He went a third and ended up in the kitchen. One of the kind employees brought out this squirmy, giggling, little dude and gave him back to us.
But those words, “Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!” Turned out to be utterly useless.
Do you know what’s funny? Many of us think that God is saying that to us all the time. Why? I have often discussed repentance with people and they, without exception, have always thought that it is a negative. If you were to define the word “repentance,” you would probably say something like, “To stop doing something bad or wrong, to turn from sin.”
Over the years, I have come to think that maybe that’s not the best definition. Particularly, as we think about what it means in the context of our spirituality.
What is repentance?
Repentance at its most fundamental level is simply to turn around from the direction you’re currently heading. Does it have a correlation to the stopping of doing bad things? Absolutely. But that is not all that it is. This is the great problem with so much of our understanding of the Christian life and spirituality. We focus on one aspect of some issue and think that is all there is, yet there is so much more.
Repentance is much more than simply to stop doing bad things. It is not just to stop sinning. It is that, but it’s more than that too.
Whenever God breaks in and we experience a “kairos” moment there is a turning involved. That turning is rightly understood as repentance. This turn could be a move from better to best. It very well could be a shift where we turn from a very good thing that we are doing to something that is even better. Think about that for a moment. Have you ever considered the reality that repentance can be positive?
Repentance demands change.
To repent is to turn and that means change. I think that a very real part of what it is that causes us to think about repentance in a negative light is that many of us hate change. Change for so many is a dirty word.
We prefer to be comfortable and change, almost by definition, is uncomfortable. Change challenges us and moves us from one place to another. When we experience change we begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, we can’t or don’t control everything around us.
Perhaps, above all, we want to be in control. We want to control our outcomes and circumstances. When there is lack of control we experience fear. This fear drives us to do whatever it is that we need to do to regain that control.
As a result, “repentance,” becomes something that we avoid and hide from. We cast it in a negative light and only understand it in conjunction with sin.
Repentance is good!
The reality is that repentance is good. As my friend The Beard says, “Super good.” When we repent it moves us towards a place where we can believe God in a fresh new way. We are able to move out on new adventures.
When we repent, when we change direction we get to experience life in a new way. It is fun, it is exciting, it is joy.
Repentance is to turn. It is not the call of the angry Father or an angry God to simply stop sinning.
At the end of the day, repentance is a loving Father inviting us into a new depth of joy.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on April 3, 2018.
HOLY WEEK— HOLY SATURDAY
Psalms: 95* & 88 & 27 OT: Job 19:21–27a
NT: Heb. 4:1–16** & Rom. 8:1–11***
Today is Holy Saturday. What would this day have been like? The fear of the disciples. The sadness of the death of Jesus hanging over them. It would have been Sabbath so all they were left with was to ponder on what had just taken place.
I imagine it would have been a day of sharing stories. A day of intermittent crying and laughter. Yet, also a day of great fear, expecting the authorities to show up at any moment to arrest them and crucify them too.
Yet, here we are on the other side. We are those that Jesus prayed for in John 17 who would believe because of the witness of the disciples. We know that Jesus defeated death. We know that Friday was indeed Good.
Sunday is coming!
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:1–11, ESV)
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
HOLY WEEK — GOOD FRIDAY
Psalms: 95* & 22 & 40:1–14(15–19), 54 OT: Gen. 22:1–14 NT: 1 Peter 1:10–20
Gospel: John 13:36–38** or John 19:38–42***
Have you ever wondered why Christians call the Friday before Resurrection Sunday, “Good Friday”? What was good about it? Think about it. This is the day that Jesus was crucified. He was beaten. He was mocked. He was hung on a cross and he died.
How could this, in any way, be considered good? An innocent man died one of the most brutal deaths known to man. Yet, we call this good.
We call it good because Jesus “gave up his spirit (John 19:30).”
Jesus willingly gave over his spirit so that he might reconcile all of creation back to the father. Rome didn’t take it from him. The religious authorities didn’t take it from him. He gave it up. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus great love for us and his desire to glorify the Father made the cross a place of glory.
What Rome and the religious authority meant for degradation and humiliation and death, Jesus turned it into glory and life.
We know that this is Good Friday because we know that Sunday is coming. We know that the resurrection is at hand. We know that our king and savior didn’t remain in the tomb.
This is Good Friday because Jesus lives.
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
HOLY WEEK— MAUNDY THURSDAY
Psalms: 102 & 142, 143 OT: Jer. 20:7–11 NT: 1 Cor. 10:14–17; 11:27–32
Gospel: John 17:1–11(12–26)
Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday. It is the day that we remember the evening of the Last Supper. It is when we Christians traditionally believe that Jesus celebrated this final Passover meal with his disciples and then was arrested. It is a somber evening. It is the beginning of the end of the life of Jesus. In mere hours he will be handed over, beaten, and ultimately crucified.
Yet, in the midst of this Jesus is looking at the bigger picture. He is shaping and creating identity for his disciples. He showing them that there is more to come after his crucifixion. The Cross is not he end, it is the beginning.
In John 17 we have what is called, “The High Priestly Prayer.” This is one of the final recorded prayers we have of Jesus. He is praying for his disciples and worshiping the Father as the end draws close. Check it out…
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17, ESV)
While you could fill a book on things learned from this prayer there are three things that I want you to see very clearly. First, Jesus, as he prayed, had the future Church in mind. He says near the end, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” How beautiful is that? In Jesus final hours he was praying for us. Those who would believe in him in the future. We are those of whom he speaks. Somehow, some way, we can each of us trace our spiritual lineage to the disciples from the first century. When I ponder on this reality it gives me chills and fills my heart with joy!
Second, Jesus wants us to understand what eternal life is. We often think of eternal life as people being reincarnated as chubby little angels floating on clouds strumming harps. This is not even close. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing him. Let that sink in for a minute. If we want to experience eternal life we do so by knowing Jesus. That means, right here, right now, we can have eternal life. Today, in this moment, eternal life is something to be experienced. Why? Because today, in this moment, we can know Jesus.
Finally, Jesus wants us to know that we have this eternal life for a purpose. He prays specifically, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Jesus prays that we would be sent, protected from the evil one, and sanctified. To be sent is to be given a mission. He gives that mission particularly in Matthew 28:18–20, “Go and make disciples.” The world is the domain of the evil one, so prays for our protection. Lastly, he prays for our sanctification. This is a fancy word that means he wants us to become more like him.
Maundy Thursday is a day that maybe we shouldn’t be so somber. Maybe we should take time to reflect and evaluate how we’re doing with our calling to know him and to make disciples. How are you doing? Are you spending time in community with believers? Are you reading the Scriptures? Are you praying? Are you talking to people about Jesus?
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
HOLY WEEK — WEDNESDAY
Psalms: 55 & 74 OT: Jer. 17:5–10, 14–17 NT: Phil. 4:1–13
Gospel: John 12:27–36
What do you think about? What consumes your mind when you have time to think a bit? Does your mind fill with worry, anxiety, or details? Are you consumed with thinking about all the things that you have to get done? Perhaps your mind wanders to what others think of you. Maybe you are filled with thoughts of your favorite sports team or what you’re going to to do this weekend. Are your thoughts filled with the news and everything that is happening in the world?
The Scriptures are very concerned with the state of our minds. Paul in particular. In Romans 12:2 he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” How do we experience this “renewal of mind”? I think he gives us some direction in Philippians 4 (in this little letter he is very focused on the mind),
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9, ESV)
First, he tells us to set our minds on the right things. We need to be intentionally thinking about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Some people think this means that we ought to only think about God. I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. The key here is the repeated word, “whatever.” This can be the great things of our culture. The beauty of art, literature, architecture, music, and the like. It can include things like science and math and history. We can celebrate human achievement. Clearly, we also celebrate the good things that God has done in our lives and those around us too! It’s not about being Pollyanna, but it’s about noticing the beauty in the world and those things that reflect our Creator God.
The second thing that is important is that Paul says, “practice these things.” It is far easier to focus on the negative and imperfect around us. It so much harder to choose to focus on the good and the beautiful. So, we must practice. Practice requires repetition and getting up after we fall down. We make a mistake and we brush ourselves off and try again. We keep working on a particular skill until we become good at it. To continue being good, we must continue practicing. So, we must practice at setting our minds on the right things.
Look around you. What are the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things around you?
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
HOLY WEEK — TUESDAY
Psalms: 6, 12 & 94 OT: Jer. 15:10–21 NT: Phil. 3:15–21
Gospel: John 12:20–26
Do you know people who have green thumbs? These folks could plant a water lily in a desert and have it grow. I am not one of these people. It simply wasn’t part of my life growing up. I never learned the “joy of gardening.” Yard work was always a chore. Our “gardens” simply meant more work.
When we built our home we had some landscaping done, professionally. We did this because we knew we wouldn’t do it on our own. As we met with the landscaper we told him we want as little maintenance as possible. He came through in a big way! We have, what I consider to be beautiful landscaping and it doesn’t require much from me.
Yet, even in the midst of my low-maintenance landscaping I have had to learn about some basic plant care. One of the things that I have learned is the importance of pruning. The other thing that I have learned is that from death comes life in the garden. There is a beautiful glory that comes from my garden as every blooms. Yet, it couldn’t have happened apart from the pruning and death of the winter.
Jesus talks about this with regards to himself in John 12. He says for him to be glorified, he must first die. Check it out,
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:20–26, ESV)
Just like the grain of wheat dies and then bears fruit, so too does Jesus, and not just him, but those who would come after him.
For Jesus, like all of creation, life comes from death. It is a hard reality for us. But, it is true. Jesus had to die for there to be life. His death, like the grain of wheat, brought life.
Jesus says, that we must hate our life in this world if we want to experience eternal life. What does that mean? Are Christians to be melancholy kill-joys? No. That’s not how Jesus lived. Are we to be dualists who see the natural world as evil? No. That’s not what Jesus did. So, what does it mean? To die to this world means that die to ourselves. We die to our desires. It means that we live to serve Jesus. How do we serve him? We serve him by following him where he goes. His way, ultimately, is the way of love.
As followers of Jesus we are commanded to have the attitude or mind of Christ. One way to live that out is to die to ourselves for the love of another. Will you?
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
HOLY WEEK — MONDAY
Psalms: 51:1–18(19–20) & 69:1–23 OT: Jer. 12:1–16 NT: Phil. 3:1–14
Gospel: John 12:9–19
What happens when you challenge the status quo? If someone rocks the boat those in power get really uncomfortable. When you start doing things and saying things that force people to look at the world differently then folks who guard the normal begin to try and stop you.
Jesus made the religious leaders really uncomfortable. He did things that were relegated to God to only. Jesus pushed back against the normal and the expected, he forced the world to look at itself in a new way.
Check out John’s telling of “The Triumphal Entry.” It’s like a behind the scenes account as opposed to those in Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:9–19, ESV)
I have read this passage many times over the years. What I don’t think ever caught my attention was this little statement, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well…” Jesus had so shook the power base and structure of the religious authority that they were turning to violence. Not just violence against Jesus but violence against Lazarus too.
These leaders were willing to commit murder as opposed to change their mind in the face of fact.
We look at this incredulously. Yet, we see this happen all the time. It is standard fair of the human condition. When presented with facts that counter our deeply beliefs we can either change or seek to suppress the truth. If we have enough power then we can suppress the truth, even through violence.
Human history is a series of the powerful seeking to suppress and oppress change in light of truth. This is usually through violence.
Yet, here is Jesus, the one riding on donkey. His victory march into the city of Jerusalem is not on a noble steed but a humble donkey. The one who taught us to be peacemakers and turn the other cheek. The one who changed the world by undoing death through love.
The crowd that followed Jesus from Lazarus’ tomb “continued to bear witness.” They had seen him do something so remarkable that they couldn’t stop bearing witness about him. In spite of those in power who would commit violence to stop this Jesus, the crowds wouldn’t stop.
This is beautiful.
So, what have you seen Jesus do? What can you not stop bearing witness to?
Originally published at www.theantiochmovement.org.
WELCOME TO THE IDOL FACTORY!
“…this is American Idol!”
The music is bumping and the lights are shining. The singers take the stage and belt out an amazing performance. The crowd is screaming and clapping.
“…and now our next President!”
The music is bumping and the lights are shining. The politician takes the stage and the crowd is screaming and clapping.
“…your 2018 Sports Team!”
The music is bumping and the lights are shining. The team takes the stage and the crowd is screaming and clapping.
As I read through the Bible it continues to strike me that the people of God are easily attracted to idols. Every other page, it seems, there they go worshiping the Baals and the Asherah poles. It’s a never ending cycle. Round and round they go. For a moment they are worshiping the God who saved them from oppression and slavery only to find themselves drawn again to the Baals and Asherah poles.
I think that we often look at these stories with disbelief. We think to ourselves, “What is wrong with these people? How can they leave God so easily? Seriously, what is their deal?” Then we turn our hearts and attention to our musicians, politicians, or sports teams (not to mention our families or friends).
It is interesting isn’t it? We see in the people of the Bible such brokenness but we don’t see it in ourselves. We might not worship the Baal or Asherah poles any more but we sure do worship many other idols.
I think it’s because there is an instant gratification that can be experienced when we worship something other than God. The reason? Because ultimately what we are worshiping in those moments are ourselves. They are ultimately our very own creations. It is easy to worship our creations. They give us something we desperately want, power and control.
When we worship God it requires us to give of ourselves. If God is not a self-creation and if God is truly transcendent then our worship will be sacrificial. It will cost us something.
In our current cultural milieu we think that when we go to worship we should “get something out of it.” Should we? I am not so certain. Worship it seems is something we give.
I often hear people say, “I need church to help me get through the week.” Or the cheesy, “We all need a dose of Vitamin JC.”
What if living life throughout the week was designed to bring us to a place where we could worship? Stay with me here. What if we are to engage in spiritual practices like reading Scripture, prayer, service, and the rest so that when we come to worship we have something to offer?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. — Romans 12:1
Could it be that this is what Paul is calling for here?
Yet, the idol factory is open and it is winning.
If I am honest, my heart is easily drawn to things that I have created. My worship, my “living sacrifice,” is given over to my sports teams and my family. I fear that when I stand before God he will call me to account for my idol worship. I see the same cycle in my own life as I see in the stories of the Scriptures, idolatry turns to exile turns to repentance turns to reconciliation.
How about you? Is the idol factory open and is it winning?
I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of white pastors, “You speak privately, but not publicly.”
I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of men, “I’m disappointed in the men who said nice things about your moms, wives, and daughters because that wasn’t the point of International Women’s Day.”
I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of evangelicals, “You don’t challenge the Christians who are doing horrible things loud enough.”
I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique…
Some of us seek to speak for the oppressed and the marginalized. We are coming to recognize what is obvious to everyone around us, that we have tremendous power. As a result, there is a need to leverage that power for those whom we have set aside and created a system to oppress.
Many of us, don’t want kudos. We don’t need an “atta boy” for doing things that are right and just. I don’t think I need to celebrate my kids for doing their chores and I don’t think folks in the minority culture need to celebrate a person like me for doing what I should have been doing all along.
Please hear me, we do not need to be acknowledged nor do we have an expectation of acknowledgment for simply doing what is right. I am also not speaking to those, in this moment, who are in the minority culture.
I am speaking directly to those of us who want to stand in the gap and want to be the kind of people who are not satisfied with the status quo. We need to recognize that hearing critique is hard to hear when your whole paradigm is being shifted. The critique of our engagement can be draining and it can make us feel like we are never going to be enough. This simply is not true.
For those of you, who like me, are trying to speak up and love well, you are enough. Do not become discouraged by critique. We, I, deserve and need to hear the critique. We must continue to do better and to do so demands that we hear from those we seek to platform and lift up.
Yet, in this know that you are enough.
Keep working at it. Keep listening. Keep trying to be better.
Our friends who are women, black, Latino, or of any other minority culture can’t take a break from being who they are. You can’t take a break either. You can’t decide to just take a break for a few days.
What we can do is recognize that we are enough. You and I, we won’t get it right every time. There is a fundamental change in our thinking and perspective that has to shift. You and I have to recognize our implicit role in the systemic brokenness that plagues our world. It is the air we breathe and that means it is really hard to recognize. So, we listen and we hear critique and we try to do better the next time. Remember, it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right. Those are two very different things.
Those days that you open your Twitter or Facebook and you see the critique of you as an ally, take a deep breath, reflect, and try again. You may grow weary, frustrated, and even annoyed. In those moments step back and ask yourself what must it be like in the shoes of our friends who walk around in a world every day where the deck is stacked against them. Demand from yourself tenacity and resolve.
We are enough. We won’t be perfect but we can acknowledge our willingness to be in process. When we do that we are able to hear the critique as not an attack but an invitation into loving well.
IT’S NOT ABOUT ME
Do you think that revolutionary moments in our thoughts happen like a lightning strike or like the turning of the Titanic? I don’t know for sure but I think the answer might be, “yes.” I remember hearing an interview with someone who was an “over night success.” This person said that they hated that phrase because their success was built on years of work. Yet, to the watching world it appeared as though they came out of “nowhere.”
I recently had one of those moments about Jesus.
Yes, a pastor can still have revolutionary realizations about Jesus. I think of myself as someone who thinks well and thinks with theological clarity. Yet, this past year has been a time of wandering and wondering for me. I have had many questions that I was struggling to find answers for. In particular, I was struggling with the reality that my faithfulness was, in some dark moments, less than ideal. Was I still a Christian in my doubt? What happens when we doubt? I was really wrestling with some heavy questions about God and the answers were frustratingly distant.
I knew from my theological study and from the creeds and confessions that Jesus utterly saves those who trust him. He does it perfectly because he was fully God and fully man and his self-sacrifice was perfect for us.
But I didn’t feel that way.
I wasn’t feeling “saved.” I was doubting God in ways that I don’t think I have ever doubted before. I felt angry and I felt hurt. My prayers felt like they were bouncing off the ceiling. I wondered if God really existed. Reading the Bible, which has always been a source of joy for me, felt hollow and empty. The answers that I had were unhelpful and felt condescending.
There was a radical disconnect between my mind and heart. I had always been taught that if I simply believed rightly then feelings would naturally follow. I couldn’t shake the feelings I had. I didn’t know what to do with them. My evangelicalism didn’t have space for them.
Over the last ten years I have been wrestling through what it means to be “reformed” and “covenantal” and “presbyterian” and “evangelical.” This is my tribe. During this recent season of doubt and searching I started really wrestling with the nature of the gospel itself. What did Jesus do? What did he accomplish? How does it work?
As I poured over the Scriptures I found some interesting mentors the writing of N.T Wright, Eugene Peterson and Michael Horton. I think these guys would say that they disagree on some important things. But, I think that where they would agree is on this one thing that has brought me out of the darkness, this one idea that has re-ignited my heart and my feelings.
What is this one idea?
Jesus is faithful.
Grace is based in the faithfulness of Jesus. Forgiveness is rooted in the covenantal faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus was perfectly faithful to God’s covenant. When my faithfulness wanes it is Jesus’ faithfulness that I can rest on. He is at the right hand of the majesty on high as my mediator. That will never change. The covenant has always been a covenant where faithfulness is what matters. In the old covenant it was about the people being faithful. In the new covenant it is about God being faithful through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Where is the radical reorientation? It is in this: For many years I have believed that it was my trust and my faithfulness that mattered. The reality is that it isn’t. The gospel, is at its core, not about me. It is, at its core, about the faithfulness of Jesus.
We are able to doubt, we are able to wrestle with God, we are able to be brutally honest and authentic about where we stand because his acceptance of us is not about us. It is about Jesus.
There is great freedom in the reality that it isn’t about me.
How about you? Is your faith about you or is it a resting and trusting in the faithfulness of Jesus?
JUST DO IT
One day my pastor invited me to join him on a pastoral visit to a nursing home. I wanted to please him, so I said I would go. I had no desire to be there. I didn’t know this woman we were going to see, but I knew once we got that out of the way we would go to lunch and we could discuss theology.
I have never liked nursing homes. In high school and college it seemed like I was always connected with some group of people who wanted to go Christmas caroling at “the old folks home.” I loathed that time. The place was depressing. The old people sat there in their wheelchairs staring out into nothingness or nodding along silently clapping their hands. The places also smelled. They smelled “too clean.” They were always so institutional and if you had been in one, you’d been in them all.
This day with my pastor we walked into the room. It was filled with pictures. It was quiet and the sun was streaming in the windows. I could barely see the woman in her bed. She was simply bones wrapped in skin buried under a pile of blankets. I will never forget her eyes. As she saw Pastor Bob they gleamed. He knelt next to her, eye to eye, and spoke with her.
“How are you?” he asked gently and quietly.
Unable to speak her eyes fell. The pain apparent on her face. When she opened her eyes the glimmer was gone and replaced with sadness.
“Do you want to be with Jesus?” he asked ever more gently.
Again her eyes closed and when they opened there was an unadulterated joy in her countenance. Her eyes glimmered with a hope that went beyond anything I had ever known before.
He prayed. He prayed for her to be able to join her Savior, where there would be no more pain, where her tears would be wiped away, and that she would be made whole.
Her eyes were so full of joy and peace.
My mind was spinning a million miles an hour. I was both offended and moved by the prayer. I was confused. I didn’t know what to expect walking in and I didn’t know what to think or even feel as we left.
Something was changing in me though. I was not the same person I was fifteen minutes before, or was it an hour. To this day, that experience felt like a dream.
We got back into the car and he looked me in the eye and said, “That is pure and undefiled religion, Dan, being there with her in these moments. This is what it is to minister like Jesus. (James 1:19–27)”
There was silence for a while.
Looking back on that day I realize that God began a work to help me understand that faith was more than intellectual ascent.
Faith is lived. Real faith is displayed in our bodies in the physical acts that we live out every day.
“Faith not works!”
“Don’t be a Pharisee!”
“Faith not feelings!”
These are the ideas that have dominated much of my Christian life. I grew up into my faith in the Evangelical and conservative stream that has shown itself to be empty. These ideas, while not bad in themselves, created in me a very real dichotomy between the mind and the body.
I understood my faith to be primarily an intellectual activity. There was little in the way of a physical connectedness in my faith. What I did didn’t matter as much as what I said I believed. If I could argue from the Bible my theology and show I was right, then my life didn’t matter that much.
This was particularly true because I was spending my days arguing for Christianity with non-Christians. A worthwhile and noble cause that freed me from caring about people beyond their minds.
That day was years ago and only recently am I understanding the significance of it. Why? Because I didn’t have words for what I experienced. I couldn’t say what it was that I experienced that day. I didn’t have words for what I was beginning to experience as I mobilized people to serve others. I didn’t have words for the hours of being there with my friend as he died this fall.
I have words now.
This is how one of my colleagues, Chris Winans, defined faith recently. This small phrase has given words to my experience of the last few years. This idea of faith being embodied loyalty has opened up a reality of what faith is. It has unified the grace and works divide that I have struggled with for years.
Faith is embodied loyalty.
What we do matters. Our feelings matter. The physical world matters. Here matters. This place matters.
When we begin to come to terms with faith as an embodied loyalty then faith becomes “real.” For me, it has opened my life to what is happening around me. The here and now-ness of faith demands my presence in the lives of people. It demands me to show up and be with folks. Prayer becomes something I do on the way and is not the end.
Faith is an embodied loyalty that makes all creation sacred.
So, when it comes right down to it, faith demands us to “Just Do It.”
THE IMAGE OF GOD
I have written elsewhere about how the opening chapters of the Bible are becoming very important to me. I have also made mention that it is out of this idea that love of enemy and love of neighbor is born. C.S. Lewis said in his magisterial The Weight of Glory that your neighbor is the most holy object that you come into contact with apart from the Eucharist.
Why is this concept, “the image of God,” so central to the Christian’s understanding of humanity? What is the big deal?
My tradition is often accused of having a very negative view of humanity. We are the people who coined the phrase, “total depravity,” so I suppose the accusation is warranted. One of our most famous preachers is well known for his sermon, Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God. You don’t get much more negative than that title. Nonetheless, I would argue that this caricature is not truly accurate.
One of my favorite theologians, R.C. Sproul argues that instead of “total depravity” it would be better to call it “radical corruption.” The reason for this is that the idea of “radical corruption” points us to a deeper reality, that our brokenness is not our true selves. Our true identity, is that of image bearer. It might be corrupted but it is there, in all of us. We all reflect the image of our Creator.
When we come to grips with the reality that all people are image bearers it transforms the world around us.
I think that this is one of the things that Jesus was trying to do one day talking to an expert in the law,
“A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” (Luke 10:30–39)
The priest and Levite did what they needed to do to stay ritually clean. Most of the people listening probably thought, “Yes, good, that makes sense.” The difference between them and the Samaritan is that the Samaritan was moved with compassion. He saw in the man, someone who most likely on a normal would have hated the Samaritan (for Jews despised Samaritans), something more. The priest and Levite saw an obstacle, the Samaritan saw a person. I would argue that the Samaritan saw in the man the image of God.
How do you see “the other”? You know that person who you can’t stand or a representative of a group of people you can’t stand. Do you see them as image bearers of God?
I have noticed a fascinating truth, when people are discussing hard issues their tenor and tone is very different in person than in the virtual space. Why do you think that is? Why are people more mean in the virtual space than in person? I think it’s simple, it is much harder to objectify a flesh and blood person sitting across from when you can see how your words impact them.
This same thing can be true when a conversation is taking place in person and we immediately place a label on someone: “Millenial,” “Boomer,” “Feminist,” “Conservative,” “Progressive,” and the list could go on. When we engage with someone based on a label then we are able to turn them into an object and dehumanize them. A label is not an image bearer, a person is.
When we are able to dehumanize our neighbor then we have, in effect, erased the image of God from them.
The concept of people being image bearers is so central because if it is true then it means that people have innate worth. We might not like someone but if we understand that they are an image bearer, just like us, then it means that they have worth and that at our core we are more alike than different.
If we could come to grips with the reality that all people are created in the image of God then we might have a shot at true neighbor love. We might even have a fighting chance at enemy love. Who knows, maybe we can even catch a glimpse at why Jesus was willing to redeem us from exile and bring us back into relationship with himself.
“IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SCRIPTURES…”
I believe that the Scriptures are something more than a nice book or a collection of myths. I have come to the conclusion that “the Scriptures” are authoritative for my life. All of us have given authority to something or someone to shape who we are (even if it’s ourselves). For me it is the Scriptures.
Writing that feels odd. I don’t really know why, but it does. I think it’s because over the last few years I have really wrestled with the Bible and the way that many in my tribe worship it as a god or god. I have struggled with things that I have read in it and worked through questions in the Greek and Hebrew. There are still questions that I have, but I have come to the conclusion that at the very least, the Scriptures are the best way for me to learn and know about Jesus.
Yet, this question has haunted me, “What does it mean to live in accordance with the Scriptures?”
There are stories of people trying to “live biblically.” Basically, they try to follow every command in the Bible for one year. I don’t think that’s the answer. For some reason that seems really shallow when I read that things like, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” Love of God drives the obedience to the Scriptures, so if it’s just following rules apart from relationship that, I think, misses the spirit of what the question is getting at.
I am coming to a few conclusions though. First, to live “according to the Scriptures” is to have a desire to live a life that looks like Jesus. I am beginning to think that this is the crux of “obedience” in light of loving Jesus. If I don’t have any desire to be like Jesus in my life, then why would I want to live in “accordance with the Scriptures”?
Second, it is to have the narrative of the Scriptures in you. This sounds a little weird. Too many people in the evangelical subculture treat the Bible like a textbook or an owner’s manual. It’s neither of those things. The Scriptures are living, active, and they speak to us. Not in some creepy or weird way, but in a similar kind of way that a great album might. Recently, I have been listening to a podcast where people are talking with an artist about his newest album. They are sharing their resonance and dissonance with it. It is beautiful. His music and lyrics are impacting their souls. The Bible is like that too. When it gets in us, it shapes us, it speaks to our deepest sense of self. Our lives begin to reflect the narrative arc of the Scriptures that progresses from union with God to brokenness to shame to exile to redemption to union again with God. To live a life that reflects this reality in our relationships with others and self moves us from isolation to communion and from shame to wholeness.
Finally, to “live in accordance with Scriptures” is to live with a sense of mystery. The Bible doesn’t have all the answers. The reality is that it speaks to the human experience up to the point where it stopped being written. There are principles to be learned and embraced that can and should help us navigate our world. But, that doesn’t mean that it is some sort of “Magic 8 Ball” or talisman that will open before us the secrets of the ages. When we live “in accordance with the Scriptures” we live a life that embraces the mystery of the moment. We see ourselves as part of a grand story where the final is still being written.
I’m still working through all of this. But, at the very least, I know that I want my life to look like Jesus, I am trying enter into relationships along that narrative of the Scriptures, and I am embracing mystery. As I’m doing these things, I am finding it easier to love, easier to listen, and easier to care about others. Is this because I’m living “in accordance with the Scriptures?” I’d like to think so. I’m asking different questions and in the midst of embracing mystery, it’s easier to come alongside others with humility.
I’m curious, how would you answer the question?
I am beginning to realize that the opening chapters of Genesis are more important than I ever could have thought. They are a poem, an epic poem, that tells the story of humanity. We find our ultimate and foundational identity of “image bearer” described there. In that poem we discover the roots of our fall from that identity and the foreshadowing of our redemption.
Two things have particularly stood out to me in these opening pages of the Bible. First, humanity has a vocation, men and women, to create. This is an idea that has been a part of my understanding of the Christian faith for a long time. What is new is that little word, “vocation.” I have often referred to what God sets up for us to do as a “calling.” But that’s not really the best word. It is a vocation.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26–28)
Humanity has a job to do and that is to create and care for God’s good creation. I am beginning to understand Jesus’ statement that the law can be summarized into two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself,” in light of our vocation as image bearers. When we come to grips with the reality that every person we engage with is an image bearer and we also have as our “vocation” to care for the whole of creation, it begins to make more sense in my mind that we must love others as ourselves. I think in a very real way our vocation as image bearers is to love God and love people.
I think in a very real way our vocation as image bearers is to love God and love people.
The other side of this coin is what happened when humanity set aside its vocation. In that moment when Adam and Eve took and ate they did so because they “wanted to be like God.” They believed a lie. They set aside their vocation, they set down their God-given responsibility and placed themselves above their love of God and one another. The result? Shame and exile.
Up to that point in the story there was no shame. They were naked, they were exposed, and felt no shame. When they set aside their vocation which was rooted in their identity, shame was the result.
God held them accountable for their actions and exiled them from the Garden. This would be his mode of operation moving forward. When his people would set aside their vocation that was rooted in their identity he would exile them. They would experience a separation from God.
Yet, we see God do something interesting. First, he takes animals and creates clothes for Adam and Eve, covering their shame. He frees them from shame so they could once again experience relationship with him and one another. Second, he promises an end to exile. They even get a foretaste of this after they are exiled where God still spoke to them and their children.
Those were lots of words to set up the question, “Why forgiveness?”
Have you ever wondered why God forgave them or us? Why does God cover our shame? Why does God make a way back from exile?
I think we see the reason right back there in Genesis.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze… (Gen 3:8a)
In the opening pages of the Bible we see an intimate and personal relationship between God and humanity. When God would go walking in the evening we get the sense that it was a walk with humanity. It says that God called out, “Where are you?” God was expecting to see Adam and Eve. He was expecting to walk with them and talk with them and be with them. There was an intimacy of relationship that God and people had.
Why did God cover their shame? Why did God make a way back from exile? Relationship. God’s desire for relationship with his image bearers was such that he was going to do what needed to be done to restore that relationship. Because God is God he was bound by his perfect justice. Therefore, there was exile. Yet, right from the start God’s first concern was to cover their shame. Before he sent the man and woman out of the Garden into exile, he covered their shame.
God deeply loves his image bearers.
He cares for us.
He wants to be in relationship with us.
So, he forgives us.
At the end of the story we read this,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)
Why does he forgive us? Because he wants to live with us. He wants to wipe away our tears.
WHY DO WE “CARRY A CROSS”?
A missionary who has given his life to serving God and people is diagnosed with cancer. A loving father who is at the beginning of his journey of walking with Jesus develops what turns out to be an incurable infection. The child of a pastor who is highly regarded because of her faithful service to the community and Jesus dies of cancer before his life even begins. A woman with a gentle and quiet faith who prays and serves wakes up one day alone because her husband left her for another.
These brief snapshots are real life stories of people who I love and care for. They are all people who are authentically trying to follow Jesus. These are not people who are false or who simply sit in the back of worship service to be entertained. These are people who you want to be around and whose faith would cause you to stop and wonder about their God. These are the people of who it is said, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life,” so begins an invitation to follow Christ that I have shared with hundreds of people. Is there anything inherently wrong or untrue about that statement? No. But, at the very least it is incomplete. It is missing something that is very important to an invitation into following Jesus. It doesn’t say anything about what that “wonderful plan for your life” might include. What happens when that “wonderful plan” includes pain and suffering, a cross.
For many years in my ministry I functionally believed that I needed to help the gospel out. I functionally believed that I needed to give it some PR because Jesus was a horrible salesman.
Jesus said these kinds of things:
“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)
Who would want to follow someone like this? This hardly sounds like a “wonderful plan.”
You might think that the first generations of Christians would have helped Jesus out a bit. As I read the Bible I discovered that they didn’t. The authors of the letters that were written to churches in that first generation of Christians said “…when you suffer…”
What the heck? What happened to a “wonderful life”? Seriously, suffering and pain and losing my life doesn’t sound much like a “wonderful life.”
How can the Bible writers say things like this and we in the 21st century turn around and say that “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for you life”? It simply can’t be true, can it? Pain, suffering, loss of life, how can these things be “wonderful”?
My mentor, Bob Smart, has written extensively on Christian identity formation. In his book, Embracing Your Identity in Christ: Renouncing Lies and Foolish Strategies, he discusses the work of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. Taylor lays out “five conditions of our age.” One of them is that we, as a culture, are “encased in Chronos.” Chronos is simply time, the tick of the clock without a recognition of anything beyond it. There is a second kind of time that Christians have long embraced known as “kairos.” This is when we recognize that God is breaking in and we are able to get a glimpse from a “God’s eye view”, so to speak. When we only see things from a chronos perspective there is no meaning in suffering or pain. It’s just another tick of the clock.
In his little book, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is On The Way and Love Is Already Here, Jonathan Martin writes, “People try to offer us an explanation; God offers us a Eucharist.” What he means is that in our suffering we often are looking for “why” and that “why” can be hidden from us. But, what we find with God is care, empathy, and provision.
“This fits the pattern of how God responds to human suffering: We come looking for answers; God sends a hot meal through a warm body. We come looking for reasons for our hunger; God sends provision to feed us. We come looking for a sermon that will explain the complexity of the cosmos to us and satiate our desire for understanding; Christ responds with, “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you.”
In the Scriptures, the writer to the Hebrews says it like this,
“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Hebrews 2:14–18
Suffering is part of our experience it is not something that we can escape. Following Jesus doesn’t pull us out of the world and help us to escape pain and brokenness. The “wonderful plan” of the gospel is that as we follow Jesus, as we bear our own crosses, he who bore the cross of the world is with us and will carry it with us. He is able to empathize not simply look on us with compassion. Because we know that God loves us and that he has a “wonderful plan” a plan that imbues all of life with meaning and purpose we are able to experience a peace that transcends understanding.
We do not simply suffer under the weight of a broken world. No, we carry a cross, we enter in with Jesus and he enters in with us.
A friend of mine reached out to me a couple weeks ago and asked me to train with him for a “Murph Challenge.” This is a physically grueling challenge where you run a mile, do 100 pull-ups, do 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and finish by running a mile. I’ve never done a pull-up, ever. I currently can’t do a “real” push-up. I don’t know how I can accomplish this. He asked me to do this with him because, “I want to do this…I am so unbelievably far away from this and need someone to embrace the suck of it with me. Keep each other accountable and work towards it together. And then when we are ready meet up and do it together.”
Why do we “carry a cross”? Because as we do we are embracing the “suck of it” with Jesus. It’s not just suffering. There is so much more to it. It is part of a plan and purpose of God. Ultimately that plan and purpose will result in God’s glory and our joy, this is what we call providence.
As I enter into my own suffering and in the suffering of others, I am grateful that I know it is not without purpose and that I am not alone. I enter in with Jesus the one who bore the cross perfectly “for the joy set before him.” The “wonderful plan” is that in that in the midst of the suffering we will somehow glimpse that same joy because we are not alone we are with Jesus.
The Lord’s Supper.
This meal at the center of Christian worship goes by many different names. Yet, regardless of your tradition Communion is of utmost importance. Some congregations celebrate it weekly, others monthly, and still others less frequently. It begs the question, why communion? Why is this celebration central to the worship of God’s people? Why has it been of such importance?
Communion Protects Against Disunity
The Apostle Paul wrote extensively about the Lord’s Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 10, he is chastising the church about idolatry. As he does so, the Lord’s Supper is central to his teaching. He begins by explaining how communion brings unity to the body.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor 10:16–17)
When we take communion we are announcing our unity with Christ and our unity with the whole body. By taking the cup we are unifying ourselves in his suffering. Eating the bread means that we are uniting with him and the whole church as his body and uniting with him in his incarnation. Communion is a proclamation that says, “I am with Jesus and with his body, the Church!” It is a line in the sand.
*On a side note check out 1 Cor 11:17–22 for more on unity and how it relates to communion. These Corinthians really had a hard time.
Communion Protects Against Idolatry
The context of that little passage in 1 Corinthians above finds itself in the midst of a larger teaching on idolatry. Check out the broader context:
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Cor 10:14–22)
To embrace communion is to set aside the worship of idols. When we take communion rightly it, necessarily, means that we are forsaking all others. Communion is the physical, right here, right now, reminder of the incarnational and transcendant Christ. He really accomplished something on our behalf. What have idols done? Nothing. Why? Because they are nothing. They are simply figments of our imaginations. We declare in communion that we are going to embody loyalty to Jesus and to him alone.
Communion Protects Against Sin
In 1 Corinthians 11 we see the full “words of institution” for the Lord’s Supper. They go like this,
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23–26)
Paul goes on to say,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. (1 Cor 11: 27–29)
In many traditions first the words of institution are spoken and then the warning to “examine yourselves.” When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is a time set aside for us to examine ourselves. Is there unconfessed sin? Are we harboring unforgiveness? Have we trusted Christ for forgiveness? The results of taking communion lightly without examining ourselves is to “eat and drink judgment” against ourselves. For those in Christ we must understand that it is not a judgment of exile. Elsewhere Paul makes clear that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. It is a judgment of discipline. We will experience discipline as one who receives it from a loving parent. The Corinthians were so negligent in this that they were getting sick and some even died.
Communion Reminds Us What God Has Done
Finally, communion is the physical reminder of what God has done. He has reconciled the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By the faithfulness of Jesus to God we are ransomed from exile. He reconciles his creation to himself and brings life to those who believe.
Jesus is the God-man. He broke into time and history. He “moved into the neighborhood” and lived among us. To remember the reality of what he has done, we celebrate with physical elements of the cup and bread. The cup is poured out, the bread is broken, and as we partake we are unified with him and one another. It is our time to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” in a very real way.
A Final Thought
Why communion? Ultimately because it draws us into the upper room with Jesus and the disciples on that last night. We find ourselves celebrating with them and yet filled with the same sense of weightiness about the need for the cross. The difference is, that when we take we do so as ones knowing the resurrection and the joy of that reality.
From the beginning of Christianity, communion has been at the center. It is crucial to our worship. Communion calls us to unity, faithfulness, repentance, and awe.
THE REV BLOGCAST: WHY THE CROSS?
Why do Christians seem to be fascinated with blood? What is going with the cross?https://anchor.fm/danielmrose/episodes/153b2e4
WHY THE CROSS?
There are some really weird things about Chrstianity. First among them is how we rejoice in blood. We sing songs about blood. Blood this and blood that.
Blood, blood, blood.
I remember one of the first times I heard the song, “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus,” and thinking that it was a little awkward singing about blood.
When we take communion we talk about eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. The first century Romans accused the early Christians of being cannibals as a result. Of course they also accused Christians of being incestuous and atheists too. But, it wasn’t lost on those early folks that this new sect of Judaism had a weird fascination with blood.
When Christianity was beginning animal sacrifice was a normal part of most worship in most religions of the time. Some were even sacrificing their children.
One would think that God, in Jesus, would have figured out a different way of doing this whole salvation thing than through blood.
As I was pursuing my minor in religion at Central Michigan University there was a conversation that took place often about, “the Christian God’s cosmic child abuse.” It showed up in many of my classes. It was one I thought was somewhat silly, yet, as I worked to understand the thinking of my classmates I was able to begin to see where their thinking was coming from.
Is the cross divine child abuse? Are Christians predisposed to violence with our constant talk about blood? Ultimately, what is going on with the cross?
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
I think this little passage is really helpful in understanding the cross.
First, a word about blood. Blood in these times was viewed as life. It was often referred to as “life-blood.” This is why Israel was forbidden to eat meat with blood in it (Leviticus 17:11–16).
Blood was life.
When God brought the people out of Egypt from slavery he had them put some blood over their doors during the last plague. The angel of death would passover the homes with blood over the doors, this marked them for “life.” Blood as the symbol of life allowed for them to be passed over and protect the lives of their firstborn sons.
What’s fascinating is that on the day of atonement the scapegoat is not killed (check out Leviticus 16). The scapegoat was a goat that the high priest laid his hands on and confessed the sin of the people over. This goat symbolically took the sins of the people and was then released into the wilderness. This goat took the punishment for the people by being exiled on their behalf. But it was not killed. Blood is not about death, it is about life, blood was needed for passover but not the atonement of the people’s intentional sin. The High Priest did make a “sin offering” using blood, but a sin offering was for the unintentional sin of the priest and the people. The blood in this case brought life where death had snuck in and made it so that God could meet with his people at the “mercy seat.”
If you’ve read this far you’re probably thinking, “thanks for the history lesson, but seriously, can we get back to the original question?”
Why the cross?
From the passage in Hebrews above we learn four things about why Jesus went to the cross for us.
First, he was fully human. He was one of us. He was not a bull or goat or lamb. He was human and as a result he was able to be our perfect representative. A goat was never able to fully represent us because it is not an image bearer. Only a human could be our perfect representative.
Second, his death broke the power of death and the fear of death. Remember, blood is life. His blood brought life where death had held sway. Just like on the passover. Where Jesus’ blood is there is no death. He is our champion. Like David, the champion of Israel, defeated Goliath; so Jesus, the ultimate champion of humanity, defeated the power of death (which is the devil). By defeating death humanity is freed from fear of death. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10).”
Third, he became a high priest for humanity. One that is merciful and faithful in service. What was the reason for this? So that he could make atonement for the sins of the people. Remember, atonement was needed for the unintentional sin. Jesus’ act of atonement was not because we were in rebellion but because sin snuck in to kill and destroy. We have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory God (Romans 3:23).” God’s law, Paul says in Romans 3:20 makes us conscious of our sin. We can see it and therefore we fear death. Nevertheless, Jesus, our high priest makes atonement for our sin. Through his blood, which is life, he destroys death and sin, so that we don’t have to be exiled but we can be in the presence of God for eternity. He is our representative, our substitute.
Finally, he is able to help us in our suffering and temptations. We are not alone in a world filled with suffering and temptation. Jesus is not looking at us saying, “Suck it up buttercup.” No, he empathizes with us because he knew what it was to suffer. Through the cross he experienced ultimate suffering. Through his life he faced temptation, “yet was without sin.” Because he knows suffering and temptation he is able to enter in with us not as one who is unfamiliar with our pain but as one who knows it all too well. Jesus is the ultimate “wounded healer.”
I am learning that the Christian fascination with “blood,” rightly understood, is a fascination with life. Jesus is our life, not in some metaphorical sense but in a very real and ultimate sense. He tangibly gave us life by becoming one of us and defeating the power of death. Because Jesus is our representative, our substitute, we don’t have to experience death. Jesus experienced death for us, conquered it, and now gives us life.
THE REV BLOGCAST: WHY CHURCH?
Why do I stay connected to the church?https://anchor.fm/danielmrose/episodes/149216c
Sundays are a really hard day for many people. Particularly people who have been hurt by the “church.” It’s a day where Christians gather for corporate worship and community. It is supposed to be a day of celebration. Yet, for many it is a day of shame, guilt, anger, self-protection, and anger.
Not long ago there were many people who were writing about their stories of leaving church. They simply stopped going. Some of these folks are high profile Christians. Sunday gatherings were vapid and empty, the community was shallow, and it all “felt inauthentic.”
So, they simply stopped.
Church, they said, could be experienced anywhere. In nature, alone, in a coffee shop, or the pub.
What these people wrote resonated with me in a significant way. I thought, “I could easily walk away. There is more authenticity at the ball field than in the ‘church’ on any given Sunday.”
I stand by that thought.
The ease with which I could walk away and never again enter into a building with the word “church” on the shingle could be unmatched, by anybody, anywhere. I’m not even kidding.
Over the last 18 months I have become so disgusted with much of my spiritual family. It horrifies me to watch a man who sexually assaulted a teenage girl to receive a standing ovation in his church. I am astounded by those who “go to church” that were willing to set aside their integrity for “a seat at the table.” The arguments and conversations that I have been witness to have left me in shock at how many people place their agendas over their commitment to Jesus.
Even though I would love to walk away I won’t.
Quite simply, I can’t.
Why? How? What? This is the typical phrase I hear talking with friends outside of the church who simply cannot understand why I won’t leave.
If “church” was simply a worship gathering I would be long gone. But “church” is not a worship gathering. “Church” is not a building. “Church” is not an experience. “Church” is not something you do or go to.
“Church” is a people. “Church” is a who. They are a people who have become my family. You see, God the Father adopted me. He adopted me into his family and made me his son. I didn’t do anything to deserve to be adopted into this family. I was part of another family. The family of “self.” In a very real sense I was living an existence of exile. I lived for me, even though I was a good person, my life was selfish. I was moral. But, that morality was driven by self and not by anything more.
My family of origin is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. On both my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side there is messiness. We are a people of big personalities and desires. We drive hard in all we do whether that is work or play. This results, unsurprisingly, in lots of success, fun, and brokenness. Some of our family stories will make your eyes water with laughter and sadness.
It turns out that this new family that I’m a part of is similar. It’s called, “Church.” The “called out ones” and from the beginning it has been a mess of a people. Just give Genesis a quick read, particular the stories about Abraham and his son and grandsons. Oh my…
Just like I would never walk away from my family of origin, I can’t walk away from this family either. I will fight for them both.
I have to.
You see “Church” is often referred to in the Bible as the “body of Christ.”
This new family of mine is more than some sort of social gathering. It is to be the ongoing embodiment of Jesus in the world. If this is the case then, I have to fight for it. I have to fight for it because, in some sense, it is where Jesus is.
To fight for this family, this church, means that I must speak into it and challenge it when it begins to go wrong. As someone who has been called as a pastor, it means that I have to lead the change that needs to happen. It also means that I must celebrate it when it does right! It means that I embrace with joy when it is beautiful.
Over the last 18 months or so the failures of the last thirty years have been exposed. We have traded discipleship for showmanship. The church has offered its soul on the altar of power. We are reaping what we have sown.
The choice before me, before us, is this: Stay and fight or walk away. I understand people walking away. But, this is my family. I can’t. So, I will stay and fight. I will challenge the structures and institutions that are broken. Where modern day Pharisees show up, I will call them to account. Where sin seeks to devour and destroy, I will preach grace and live mercy and embody truth.
Why Church? It’s my family. But more than that, it’s where Jesus is. So, that’s where I want to be too. It’s just that Church needs to look more like the table at Matthew’s house (check out Matthew 9:9–13) than a sanctuary (or the synagogue of Jesus’ day). But, like Jesus I need to be present in both, because in both are where my family is and in both the gospel needs to be proclaimed.
In high school I participated in something called Summer Institute at Eastern Michigan University. It was a great experience. For two weeks I lived on campus with a group of other high school high achievers from various disciplines. I was there for music. It was an amazing time. I learned a lot about writing and creating music. While we were there we had to do some “electives.” One of them was meditation. I remember sitting on the floor on a squishy mat, that was surprisingly comfortable. The instructor spoke in a calm quiet voice and guided us through a time of meditation. I don’t remember anything after the first fifteen minutes. Why? Because I fell asleep!
My experience with prayer has been pretty much the same as that first time I tried to meditate. It has been one of the hardest spiritual disciplines for me to embrace. I know that I shouldn’t say that. I am a pastor and pastors are supposed to be really spiritual and prayer warriors. I confess, I’m not. I really struggle in prayer. I have figured out over the years how to do public prayer. I know the scripts and the words and such that need to be said. But, when I sit down to pray I often find that I either get sleepy or my mind wanders.
I can identify with the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked them to keep watch and they fell asleep. Keeping watch in prayer is really, really hard.
If it’s so difficult, why do we do it?
For me it’s simple, because Jesus did it.
Jesus prayed and I want to be like him. So I pray. It’s hard though.
How do you do it?
In a movie about C.S. Lewis’ life he is quoted as saying, “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us.” I suppose that’s true. Prayer is like spiritual weightlifting. When you start it hurts. It hurts for days. You feel weak and in some sense you even get sore.
I know some people who can pray for hours. I mean, literally hours. A number of weeks ago I was at a meeting with some pastors and one of them prayed, out loud for a solid twenty minutes. My times of private prayer typically last shorter than that.
Over the last few months I have become completely fascinated with the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. I find myself praying it and often times simply thinking on one phrase of it for periods of time. As I do, different things come to mind that relate to that particular phrase and I talk to God about them. When I say, “I talk to God,” it’s not an out loud kind of thing but more a thoughtfulness. An intentional focusing of my mind on that particular idea and at the same time seeking to be mindful of the presence of God.
As a result of this, my times of prayer are short. They are very focused but very short. There are also multiple times of prayer throughout the day.
But, really why?
I think that there are two reasons I pray. Primarily it’s because I want to be like Jesus. I find Jesus to be the most fascinating person to have ever lived. He was full of grace, love, truth, wisdom, and brilliance. Jesus gave all of himself for his friends and it is beautiful. I want to live that way. I want be a person of grace, love, truth, wisdom, and brilliance. I want to be someone who is willing to empty himself for his friends. When I look at the life of Jesus I see that prayer was a fundamental aspect of his life. Therefore, I am going to make it a central aspect of mine.
The second reason is that when I pray with people I experience a sense of intimacy with them that I don’t in other ways. As we turn our attention to God together there is a connection that we make with one another that is intangible. I don’t close my eyes often when I pray because I want to see my friends pray. I want to see their body language. I want to experience that with them. I pray because I want to enter in with people in a way that I can’t by just having a conversation.
You will notice that I didn’t say that I pray “because it works.” I have come to realize that prayer is not some sort of magical incantation that forces God to do something. He will do as he wills. I have become convinced of that. There is room within the will of God for our choices to matter. I don’t believe in fatalism or ultimate determinism. Yet, I am firmly confident that God has a sovereign will and that can do as he pleases. Prayer is not about the pragmatic. Too many people have prayed for great suffering to end. If that’s all it took then we wouldn’t have had the holocaust. Prayer apparently doesn’t work that way. It’s something different. I don’t really know what that “something different” is though. I wish I did.
At the very least prayer is something that Jesus did and that when we pray together we connect more deeply with one another. That’s enough to keep me praying.
WHY THE BIBLE?
The Bible. It’s one of those books that people tend to have a very strong opinion about. People either love the Bible or hate the Bible. There typically isn’t a middle ground. Some people in the Christian faith venerate the Bible. They worship it like it is a god. Some outside the Christian faith believe it to be nothing more than a collection of fairy tales.
Even now, you probably have a reaction building in your mind. Your thoughts are starting to boil up. You are thinking this guy is about to break liberal and set aside the Bible. You might be thinking that this guy is just another evangelical who is going to say that the Bible is perfect in every way and science is stupid.
You’re wrong. Both of you.
The Bible is, I think we can say with certainty one of the greatest collections of writing that humanity has ever produced. The letters, the history, the poetry. There is beauty in the text in a way that has been rarely been found in any other collection of texts.
At the very least, the Bible is the story of a people who believe in God. At the very least it is their story and it is beautiful.
This is the very least that it is.
For those of us that follow Jesus we embrace the Bible as something a little different. We believe it to be exactly what it says it is. The Bible, we believe is God-breathed. What does that mean? What it doesn’t mean is that we somehow believe God dictated it to people. We believe that mysteriously, through the Holy Spirit, God inspired people to write.
There are a whole lot of technical things that we can talk about regarding the Bible. Things like inerrancy and infallibility. These are debates and discussions that people within the church are really interested in (and a few outside it).
Those debates are great. I enjoy them. The conversations are really interesting and they make me think. Often they leave me in a state of wonderment at the God I believe in.
Yet, for the follower of Jesus they ultimately mean very little. Why? Because at the end of the day the only question that matters for the person who has embraced Jesus as their Messiah and King is this, “Do I believe the Scriptures to be authoritative?”
Regardless of one’s worldview all of us yield to an authority. That might be ourselves. It might be other people. It might be a religious leader. It might be a church. For some of us it is the Bible. I’m one of those people.
When we say these things it forces us to look at the mirror that is the Bible. It demands us to look at ourselves. The Bible challenges us to look at our institutions and to challenge them. It is a constant journey of change. We look into the Bible and in particular we look at the person of Jesus. The way we can best learn to be like Jesus is in the Bible. For me, that is why I embrace it as my authority. You see, I don’t love the Bible for itself. I love the Bible because it is the best means I have to get to know Jesus.
More than anything, I want my life to reflect Jesus. For that to become a reality I have to keep turning to the Bible.