A Long Way Off

Oh, the prodigal son. This one always hits so close to home. I have spent years as each of the sons. For most of my life, I identified with the older brother; angry and indignant at the undeserved affection and unwarranted reception that the prodigal receives upon coming home. I toiled diligently and abstained from many pleasures in order to stay “righteous” and do the good works. And for a time, I centered my heart on God.

But in my earnestness and eventual self-righteousness, I sought God’s approval on my deeds and my lifestyle. I felt like his blessings were rewards for my behavior – not grace upon grace. I fell into the ugly trap of deserving. I deserved what I had. My hard work deserved recompense. I labored to swing the scales of justice in my favor. How could those who had done nothing receive the same merit as I did?

But resentment reveals itself just as bitter and virulent as envy and hate and unrepentance. It kept me from seeing the magnitude of my own sin and the overwhelming grace of the cross that covers it.

Unfortunately, I also spent several years as the prodigal son. I got to the point where I was tired of waiting for the good things I thought I deserved. I wanted that feast in my honor. I wanted what I thought was good and best along my own timeframe. So, I demanded my inheritance and literally, took off across the country in pursuit of my desires. I squandered five years of my life in reckless living. And squandered is the perfect word for it. I have nothing to show for those years. Nothing, but sour memories; no investments of my time that reached beyond myself. I spent five years completely self-absorbed in a mirrored bubble of myself.

Somehow, I thought my selfish choices wouldn’t affect anyone else. I imagined that I would just kind of disappear from my family – I even wrote such foolishness in my journal at the beginning of that time. I couldn’t imagine the gaping wounds I inflicted on my sisters, mother, father, nieces, nephews, and old friends. I didn’t expect them to see and feel them trying to heal from my arrogant, abrupt departure and stubborn unrepentance.

I experienced my own famine for a long, desperate time before God opened my eyes again. I had starved myself of love and real human connection. My heart waned dry and empty. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing and I hurt without really even understanding why or where. My daily circumstances left me feeling listless and hopeless. I looked outside myself and knew that my situation was not ultimate, nor ideal. Nothing about it brought me peace or hope – only a wishing for something better and more fulfilling than the nothingness that consumed me.

But even then, I could not change my circumstances. I could not will them away or strive myself out of it. I fell and kept falling and falling until I landed back into God’s arms. While still a long way off, I heard him calling out to me and joyfully summoning me back. When I couldn’t make it through a church service without breaking down into tears I felt him pulling me and starting the celebration at my return – even though it was all his doing.

And as the prodigal returning home, I began to realize what I never could in my stilted stubbornness as the elder brother: all that is His, he has already given freely to us.

All that is His, was mine, is mine.

It culminated on the cross and has never stopped. Every blessing, every sunrise, every feast, every celebration, every joy – they were not mine because I had earned them. They belonged to the Father and he has always longed for me to share with him in them.

He eagerly entreats us to accept his lavish gifts and what more can I ever dream of than life eternal with Him? What is true of the prodigal son rings true for us in Christ: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) From death to life. From lost to found.

I began to see that we are all prodigals coming home.

 

Based on the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-33 from Grace Church’s The Parables series. Check it out here: http://discovergrace.com/messages/

When Hope Is All You Have

The Apostle’s Creed pounds home God’s divine nature and his plan for the redemption of man point by point, and then culminates in this ethereal, sweeping gaze to the future. I think the authors intended it that way to remind us never to be so caught up in the past or here and now that we forget what lies ahead.

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I can look forward to these things only after grounding myself in the Gospel and reminding myself of truth upon truth; after examining where I put my hope and scrutinizing my construct of God and his church. Who I am in Christ ignites my hope for the future.

How many years did I long for a “story” of conversion, wishing for my salvation to become real and true and deep? I tell you what gives you a story: living. Live long enough and everyone has a beautiful tragedy to tell.

And now it feels like I share a little piece of my story every single week by processing and writing through each message. But that’s really the essence of this gospel-centered life: take each blow and every triumph and paint them over again with God’s grace, through Christ. Forget what lies behind and lean in towards what waits ahead.

Not the kind of forgetting that never calls it to mind again. I fervently wish that for some memories and choices I have made. But instead, this remembering counts it all under the blood of Christ so that dark shadows of shame and worry can no longer dominate my thoughts or haunt my dreams with angst and regret.

And not the kind of striving forward that I often labor for in pursuit. That relying on my own competence and willpower to make myself better and worthy leaves me so disillusioned and broken down. The impossibility overwhelms me. But this true striving is one of radiant hope and ever-present peace and joy.

As Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12,14) The upward call; citizenship in heaven.

How easily I fall prey to the cares of this moment and the next! How much effort and worry I spend on things that bloom and loom today but wither or blow over in an instant!

But hope gives proper perspective.

Right now, my car is broken. Looks like my lawn irrigation leak is back. Job stress is through the roof, and one of my best friends is struggling with an anxiety I know all too well. But I can’t fixate on my lack of control. I continue to move forward, looking upward. God help me. Is this what faith feels like? I wouldn’t really call it resignation or acquiescence, but a shifting of focus; resetting, resolving. I need to lay down the things I can’t carry anyway.

Hope. Rejoice. Why? The Lord is at hand. Pray. Give thanks. The most important work has already been done; the redemption of our souls. I can rest secure in this regardless of the buffeting storms. I can’t let unfulfilled expectations and daily disappointments blossom into bitterness in my heart.

He is still good even when I don’t understand. The peace of God transcends my understanding. That doesn’t make it any less real. I pray because Jesus prayed. And I ask his will to be done, not my own. Sometimes it feels like the worst thing in the world because I can’t see how it can ever be good or make sense to my limited viewpoint. Those awful, hard times break my heart, but they are good because he is good. He is the only thing I can hope in; not jobs, not answered prayers, not people. Just his sovereignty and goodness.

Hope – that translucent, resilient thing – springs from roots in Christ alone, pointing to a future of resurrection and life eternal with the creator, sustainer, and lover of our souls.

One Body

We believe. . . in the Holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins. . .

The holy catholic church; the church universal; all the believers that ever lived in all of time. I never associated that phrase with other time periods before, but it makes sense. Our learning and understanding branches from what our forbearers laid out for us in history, giving context to our current cultural debates. I think that adage holds truth – if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.

The communion of saints; us, right now, the local church. I love how 1 Corinthians refers to the church as a body – an illustration that everyone can relate to. It doesn’t change culturally. It’s meaning hasn’t shifted or morphed over the centuries. Body. Corporate. One, but many completely disparate entities; the perfect metaphor.

God is one, but triune. He existed always and forever in perfect community. History debunks an exclusively “personal” Christian experience. It is not good for man to be alone so he created man and then woman – similar, but not the same – before calling it good and commanding them to be fruitful and multiply. God didn’t just save Noah from the flood, but his whole family. He promised Abram a nation as an inheritance instead of just a son. God calls a whole race his chosen people. He pours out judgement on entire kingdoms. Christ died one for all.

Why the communion of saints? The easy, Sunday School answer is to glorify God. But truly, God is so much more than a person. At first glance, that seems like a treasonous, heretical statement. I’m not talking animism or paganism or that every rock and stick is a chunk of divinity. But I grossly misconstrue the image of God if I make Him out to be like me instead of groveling in remembrance that we all are made out of His likeness.

Still, He is so much more than I can even dream! My Western individualism hinders me from soaking in the fullness of such a concept much like a fingernail can hardly delight in a masterpiece painted by the artist possessing it. Our culture has crowned individualism king and that only breeds selfishness and reinforces my inflated sense of status. I imagine myself important and complete, forgetting that a spark does not give much heat on its own.

I usually fall squarely into two conflicting camps. On the one hand, I flagrantly elevate my individualism to the point where everything in the universe is all about me and my drama. Conversely and simultaneously, I cry woe is me, comparing myself to everyone around me and always finding myself lacking.

But each body part is necessary. Yes, some are more revered than others. And without some, we learn to adapt and compensate and even forget, but that is not the design or intention or purpose. The body is less and incomplete without them. We are intrinsically wired for corporate life. We are designed to function in tandem and response to each other. We are intended to give and take, exchange and reciprocate – like breathing in and then out again. We cannot do one without the other and still survive.

I’ll be the first to say it. People are hard. Community is hard. They require things of me that are usually difficult and almost always inconvenient. But each person has a unique shade and hue and vital piece in this giant tapestry of life. I often only see the contrasts that others bring as taking away my significance and then cower and pout inside my own tiny dimension.

But, to love others well is what brings God glory.

When I step from my selfish hubris and into the messy, imperfect body of Christ, the gospel becomes visible. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) And though we are all at least a little bit broken, he painstakingly places each of our shards into the stunning mosaic that reflects back his glory and effulgence – a flawless portrait of the forgiveness of sins.

Come, Lord Jesus

Judgement is one of those terms that instantly creates largely diverse connotations. Even in myself, I vacillate between desperately wishing for it and frantically doing all I can to hide from it. I tend to see the world as very black and white. At a young age, I struggled to understand why people broke the rules or, stranger yet, couldn’t even agree on them! I saw right and wrong and couldn’t comprehend anything other version than what I was taught.

My overwhelming sense of justice made it difficult for me to lie and even more problematic for me to hide what I deemed my more serious wrongdoings from my parents or other authority figures. My “big transgressions” would eat away at me until I could think of nothing else and would confess them to the powers that be in hopes of receiving a penance to assuage the guilt I felt. I understood that misbehaving had a penalty and came to view penalty as the necessary vehicle that brought my justification.

That thought pattern bled into my view of Christianity and of God. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). That I grasped. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  Seemed fair to my simplistic world view. But after this, my theology started to fall apart. “… but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). I had (and still have) a hard time understanding the gift part.

I desperately want to believe that Jesus took my place and paid the ultimate price for my sins when he died on the cross after a sinless life. It’s breathtakingly and painfully poignant. The hues of redemption bleed deeper than I can even begin to discern. But then I get to thinking that it must be too good to be true.

The trouble with human reasoning is that it is limited by our humanity. It’s as if we are trying to paint a three dimensional picture when we live in a two dimensional world and know nothing but bedtime stories of anything else. So, while I believe the Gospel truth that Christ died for me and his blood pays the penalty for my sins, my flawed circular reasoning whispers that I need to add something, too. I need to pay a part of the price to show my acceptance of it. Wrong.

And how much more then, do I extrapolate this misguided sense of ultimate justice on to everyone else? Even though I don’t want to pay the price, I think I deserve it. How much more strongly do I want those who have wronged me and feel no remorse to pay for their actions!

Because of the exaggerated cause and effect, transactionary paradigm I held, I struggled to look at the final judgement of Christ with anything other than doom and dread. Surely, that’s when my portion of the bill would come due. But the whole of scripture never once alludes to a responsibility of payment for those who are in Christ. If I don’t understand this judgement, I don’t understand the cross. If there was no penalty for sin or alternately, if I still owe some unpaid portion of my own – then the cross was for nothing and all is lost.

But God, in his richness of mercy, accepts the blood of the perfect Son’s sacrifice as the atonement for my sins. Nothing else in all of the history of the universe compares in beauty and profundity.

A grasping of the true picture of Christ’s judgement causes me long for and eagerly await that day when I can finally stand with empty hands, my strivings like dust in the wind, and rest utterly and wholly on the work of Him whose love is so perfect and complete that it made a way to cover my sins – not in part, but in full. The final settling of scores for eternity satisfies my innate desire for justice.

This understanding also shifts the lenses through which I see the world. If God forgives my all because of Christ, how can I not forgive the little done to me? How can I stingily hoard that which wasn’t ever mine? Because of Christ, I will stand before his judgement seat and he will only see what he has covered over and I shall finally delight in my created purpose – to hear him say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” As C.S. Lewis eloquently puts it, “And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please.” (The Weight of Glory) So, come, Lord Jesus. Come again to judge the living and the dead that I may be found in you.

Newness of Life

He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again from the dead.

What does it mean that Christ “died for our sins?” He lived a sinless life; blameless, without spot or blemish. He offered himself up sacrificially to cover over our sins and present us righteous before the Father. In a primal way, that horrifies my modern sensitivities: God required blood to pay the penalty for sin. The more societies and cultures ‘progress’, the more we gloss over the seriousness of sin and how its vulgarity and offensiveness separate us from God. And the more I understand the basics of my hopeless depravity without him, the brighter the hope of the gospel shines.

Death. Jesus died an actual physical death. But He didn’t go to hell. That theory sells short the completion of his work on the cross. Our understanding of the word hell has warped and shifted over the centuries so that now it only denotes the place where unbelievers experience final retribution, not the place of the dead. He paid the ultimate price as the perfect sacrifice and He finished our atonement when he gave up his spirit. After Jesus died on the cross he descended to the departed.

And he had to actually die. Death is a very human thing and again shows the fullness of his humanity and humility. Death marked the final separation from God as a result of our sins. Jesus submitted his body and his spirit to the ultimate will of the Father. He fulfilled his role as the Son. While every sacrificial animal in the old testament suffered death for the temporary reprieve of God’s judgement, Christ’s death gained absolution once for all.

But it doesn’t end in death as all other stories do. Jesus came back from the dead; this the crux of Gospel. Resurrection. Raised back to life. No magic tricks or myths. Without the resurrection, Christianity is a dead and worthless pipe dream. Its putting faith in another hero that couldn’t even save himself.

Even the fairy tales teach us that good should ultimately win out. Death shouldn’t ferry the hero away and leave us stranded here without them. We shouldn’t have to celebrate victory by mourning their deaths. That eternity is written on our hearts. That hope is etched deeply onto our souls.

The redemption story culminates in the resurrection. It vividly indicates that the sacrifice of Jesus’s life has ultimate power over death. Death – separation from God – was a direct result of man’s selfish choice. Death could not hold Jesus because Jesus had not sinned.  The resurrection fulfilled prophecy. It revealed Christ’s divinity. It simply made everything come true.

How can such a fact and ending ever bore me!? How can I just skim over it and recite it dully each week as a part of a creed!? As I drove to work this morning the dramatic sunrise overwhelmed me, indescribably beautiful and intense. The eastern sky glowed a fiery coral where the lightning and storm clouds terminated. I kept exclaiming over and over again on its brilliant, breathtaking opulence. And the very one who created each second and hue of that exact sunrise came to earth, died in my place, and then rose from the dead! The dead!!

And the story of his triumphal return from the dead first spread from the unlikeliest of sources – a bunch of grieving, emotional women. Following his precedent in life, Jesus appeared to the lowliest and least respected in that era’s society. The testimony of these women would have never made it to a legal proceeding. Yet, for two thousand years countless documents and writings, both in the church and outside, herald this fact.

His ragtag band of cronies, who went back to their old jobs after he died, abruptly became highly influential social and religious forces once they encountered the resurrected Christ. His own brother, James, overcame a lifetime of doubt after witnessing the resurrection. Saul, who vehemently and viciously chased down followers of The Way with the intent of wiping them out, slammed headfirst into this Christ in the middle of the road, radically transforming him until those he once agreed with murdered him. These men didn’t just vocalize their new convictions. They lived and breathed them and died violently for them.

Only an encounter with the One and Only, the true Messiah and Savior could irrevocably shift and shape the world as such one person at a time. In these moments, I look deeply, critically, and prayerfully at my own life for evidence of such a transformation. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4) May I too, live a resurrected life in Christ.

 

In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/

Through the Darkness

Suffered under Pontius Pilot. Was crucified. Died. And was buried.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ because of its centrality to the Christian faith, but I can’t honestly say that I have spent a lot of time pondering those few hours and moments immediately preceding his death. I consider the sham of a trial with the shocking injustice of its speed and the long walk up Golgotha. He was violently arrested from the garden of Gethsemane late one night and then by 9 AM the next day both Jewish and Roman rule condemned him to die, beat him to a bloody pulp, shamefully paraded him up a hill amid the voyeurs and rubberneckers, and hammered him onto an instrument of torture and death. And while I have read the verses chronicling his last moments countless times, so many of the details and symbolism didn’t ever sink in.

The darkness. Recitation of facts sometimes dulls their significance in my mind but on second thought, the eerie unnaturalness of it sends a chill down my spine. Here, the Roman centurion stood unflinching in his duty amid the swirling chaos of the unfolding tragedy. How many times had he enacted a scene of death? Hundreds? Thousands? How many died by his own trained hand? But I imagine his blood ran cold as this foreboding darkness swept in.

The sky fell dark at noon. Bad things happen in the dark. Nightmares lurk in the inky shadows. The centurion saw Jesus plunged into it. Every child understands the power of the light as soon as it is extinguished. As adults, we fool ourselves into thinking we can control evil and sorrow and even judgement by delaying the darkness and keeping it at bay with the feeble blue lights of our constant electronic companions.

The weighty, incomprehensible work of the cross all took place in darkness. Here, Jesus bore the totality of evil and the completeness of suffering that our sins buy us: physical torture, emotional betrayal by friends, political injustice, public mockery, and so on. But far and beyond it all, there comes a time –  the first and last and only time – that the Son cannot call on God as his Father.

His whole life he identified as the Son, leaving the Gospels full of these references. Even on the cross he begged his Father to forgive us for we know not what we do. But as the darkness swallows him whole he cries out, “…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) The ultimate suffering and separation is complete.

Still, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

And the Son, in the midst of the darkness, declares, “…It is finished…” (John 19:30) even before it lifts. And the centurion hears Jesus call out again, but this time as a Son to his Father, and with finality he commits his spirit into his Father’s hands.

Simultaneously, the temple veil rips in two from top to bottom leaving no human explanation in its wake. It must have sounded like the very rending of heaven as the only begotten Son’s death exposed the holiest of holy place to the lowliest of mankind. The perfect sacrifice of the sinless, beloved Son opened the way for us to reach the Father.

How fascinating and counterintuitive then that a Roman centurion entered in the as the very first person to grasp the truth! And he, not even a general, but a simple, hardened, battle-worn, calloused, career, enlisted soldier. When the sun gave no light he faced the Son and saw. When the war raged in every dimension he stilled himself and heard. And then he professed such a profoundly simple statement with the most freeing, yet, treasonous thoughts he could ever speak aloud as he switched allegiances from the emperor “god” to the true one. “…Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

In that moment he stepped into belief and committed his own spirit into the hands of the Father. It isn’t that Jesus died, it’s that he had to die. He lived the life we should have and died the death we deserve so we don’t have to. In his death and suffering we have life and everlasting peace.

The Light always shines through the darkness. The darkness cannot win.

 

In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/

When God becomes flesh

The virgin birth of a Savior; as this week’s message put it, wildly supernatural. And from a sensible, scientific, logical standpoint it’s downright ludicrous. The Hypostatic Union is just a fancy, religious term for something that makes my head hurt just to think about. Jesus was fully and completely God. He was divinity. He was all of the power of creation and life, incarnate. But what does that truly mean?

I love that I can identify with his humanness. His first miracle at a wedding showed his involvement in ordinary life and the daily dealings of those around him. He wept, overcome by grief, when his friend died. He grew angry. He felt hungry and tired. He tried to escape the crowds when they became incessantly demanding. He pleaded with the Father. The Savior of the world didn’t just experience emotions but navigated the raging tumult of them! He didn’t just go through the motions or even get into character as an actor in a pre-scripted narrative. He became flesh; human; man; putting aside his divinity to join us in the dust and unpredictable mess of humanity.

I think too often I focus solely on Christ’s humanity. I get so caught up in the strange beauty of his life and sacrifice for us fellow humans that I forget he was also God. He didn’t just have a sliver of divinity in him. He didn’t transcend after he accomplished his mission on earth through a sacrificial death like the hero of a Greek tragedy. He didn’t pull his Godness out of his back pocket when things got too dicey or uncomfortable.

He was God. He is God. He will always be God. He was present before the beginning of the world. The Father accomplished creation through him, the Word.

The shadow of his imminent coming by virgin birth cast a supernatural hue of hope over every old testament story and through each plot twist. The Savior draws neigh to a desperate, lost world.

The virgin birth was foretold and prophesied as a sign. It was a symbol of impossibility and miracles. It demarcated the Redeemer’s entrance into our realm mystical and supernatural. The Israelites looked and longed for it for hundreds of years. Man and history can’t discount it. I cannot slough it off as an acquiescence to the times or a concession of religious fanatics. It remains necessary for truth and the consistency of all of Scripture, as well as, setting Jesus up as the perfect mediator between God and mankind.

God is God, separate from us. Holy. Other. Pure. Sinless. The essence of Good. I am lost in myself and my iniquity. I am born into this darkness and if I am brutally honest I choose what feels best, what hurts the least, what benefits me the most almost every single time without a second thought or regard for consequence. Both nature and choice render me completely unable to change my status, no matter how much religious fervor I muster.

Redemption needs a mediator.

Christ came as the ultimate mediator between us and God. Much of the New Testament expounds on Christ as the ultimate high priest, offering himself as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice. He had to live and die fully as man to prove himself an acceptable substitute for our punishment. But alternately, he had to come into this world unblemished by the iniquity in which we are conceived and stalwart against temptation and sin. Because of both his divinity and his humanity he could bridge that gaping hole left by our sin nature and daily choice.

Still, this tension between God and man, natural and supernatural, dances at the edges of my thoughts. Sometimes it feels like looking at the stars. I can see them shimmering as a celestial sheet in all their stark brilliance but when I try to focus on just one it seems to disappear. That does not make it less true and real. Hence, though I do not fully grasp or understand, I put my trust in the inerrancy of Scripture and faith in a supernaturally human Messiah who, sent by the Father, entered this world by a virgin and accomplished my redemption by the Holy Spirit.

And, in turn, I join with those who have gone before and proclaim, “We believe.”

 

In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/

The Christ

Half of me feels afraid that what I write this week will come off as trite and redundant; something we have all heard before. Jesus is the Christ; Son of the living God. God. Man. Savior. Human. Perfect. Divine. Always existing. Never ending. The living Word. The Light. The Life. Bread. Without him, nothing was made that is made. He is infinite, yet he was born and died and ascended. Sinless. Spotless. Beyond comprehension.

And the other half of me wants to completely skip this week because it comes down to a hard, absolute, black and white statement. Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, he is the only way to God. Through him and him alone is salvation and eternal life.

Words, easy to say, hard to swallow. If Christ is Truth than every other way that sets itself up as truth is wrong. No one wants to admit to being wrong and most people don’t want to tell others they are wrong either. That doesn’t jive with our current social culture. It doesn’t sit well with the sensitivities of the emerging generations.

This culture allows me to believe in right and wrong as long I wholeheartedly accept that they don’t really exist. I can believe that Christ is central and the culmination of the story of humanity as long as I don’t eschew Hinduism or pluralism or Islam or Buddhism or atheism or any other ism and sincerely believe they are wrong. I can disagree quietly and respectfully to myself but I can’t actually be so heartless as to believe in anything with complete and utter faith.

But if faith is not absolute, then what is it? If Christ is not the pinnacle of Christianity, then we are to be the most pitied. For there are no works, no good deeds, no self-attainment and achievement to fall back on.

My soul hinges on reality of Christ or nothing at all.

Apart from him there is nothing, only hopeless death.

The truth is never easy but it always sets you free. Sin is sin is sin – no matter what it is. I would love to stand here and tell you that I don’t deserve the same fate as a murderer or a child molester or a jihadist or a con artist. But who judges my scales? Who holds the weights of morality and justice and defines the terms?

We are all biased and partial in our verdicts of others. How could I hope to get exact justice from the very ones I’ve hated and judged or ignored? How could I demand truth from those I’ve lied to, cheated, and stolen from? When I take an honest look at the depths of my brokenness, my true, desperate, and only hope is a God that will not hold me responsible for my misdeeds though I deserve every retribution; a God that planned to sacrifice of himself in perfection to clear the slate on my behalf.

Christ must be the Messiah or we should be the most ashamed. His is God or he is a complete raving, lunatic nutter; a sociopathic, narcissistic liar.

I like the logic and the neatness of the historical figure of Jesus, along with the fulfillment of prophecies and the enduring Gospel through the centuries that followed his life, death, and resurrection. I like the distilled Sunday School versions of his life and the message of love, acceptance, and reconciliation that the redemption story paints.

However, the exclusivity of Christ makes me uncomfortable. All of his words, comprehensive and undiluted in authority, give me pause and make me tremble. It’s easier to just pick and choose the passages that suit my needs and make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Jesus heals the sick. Jesus welcomes the children. Jesus feeds the hungry crowds.

But, concurrently, he said that he is the only way to the Father. He warned of hell and damnation. He embraced the hookers and the swindlers while snubbing the religious upper class. He ate and drank and made claims that equated him to God, defined him as God. This man. This lowly, commoner from an unimportant city. This maverick inciting the crowds and inflaming those who spent their lives in study and in search of the coming Messiah.

And they couldn’t even recognize him.  Because he bids us to lay aside self and status and striving and simply bow in acceptance to his Lordship and provision – even when it looks nothing like what we’ve been expecting.

So how do I answer the question? Who do I say he is? Prophet? Teacher? Madman? While my intellect and sensibilities try to rebel, the Spirit compels me and reveals the Truth; the only words worthy of my belief. Jesus can only be who he says he is: the Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, Savior, Redeemer and Light of the world.

In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/

 

We Believe

I believe in God. I believe, put the weight of my being and understanding behind this. I hold to more than knowledge. I let this intention of belief transform and propel me to action. I believe. I lean forward and push into because of this. It can be so easy to say sometimes. We believe in God. 

But belief isn’t one of those words that you can just leave dangling with no further action or clarification. Otherwise, it just dwindles away into meaninglessness. It’s like saying “I believe in work.” Or, “I believe in consistency.” Trite, banal phrases without history, action, and intention to back them up and give them substance.

Belief transforms. Belief moves. Belief drives change and action. Belief moors and grounds in the face of opposition. I believe in God. But I can’t just stop there. The God, in whom we put our faith and trust, purposes all of Scripture to reveal himself to us.

God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. God, triune and distinct. God transcendent and God immanent.

“…Our Father in heaven, hallowed is your name.” (Matt 6:9) 

God, who is the ultimate and only God, is still near. Immanent. Imminent. Father. Daddy, mine, personal, intimate. In heaven. Both a reminder and a plea that his is and should remain separate than us, other, over us, in charge, seeing the bigger picture, working beyond our comprehension.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)

This unexplainable Creator and Sustainer of the universe desires good for me. He put as much intention into crafting my every cell and body part and personality in the womb as he did flinging the galaxies, the ocean depths, and mountaintop glories into place. I’ve known Him in both places.

I’ve felt the vast awe of the magnificence of creation tingling through my bones as I breathed in the crisp mountain air, crunched through the hard snow, blinked at the blinding warmth of the burning sun, and spun slowing to capture the rugged, wild vistas in my mind’s eye. I’ve shrank into my own smallness and mortality as I’ve scraped the ocean floor under a mighty wave, thrashed in the white water rapids while my lungs scream for air and I burn for the distant surface, and stood drinking in the strange and wonderful sights of unfamiliar, new destinations.

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:11-12)

But I’ve also experienced the love and attention of an immanent God the times my phone buzzed with unsolicited words of encouragement and prayers from friends and loved ones when I had no strength to even dry my tears or get out of bed. Looking back on dry, painful wandering times in my life journey I see the hand of God wrecking the monuments I had made to created things only to reveal himself and his glory and purpose.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)

 When I intentionally take the time to look at and focus on Him instead of all of these temporal shadows and distractions they all fade to silence and nothing in light of his brilliance.  He alone is worthy of my everything. These daily moments, small and grand, magnificent and mundane, stir my affections for him. It is because of who he is that I say I believe. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth

 

In response to the We Believe message series at Grace Church. Check it out at: http://discovergrace.com/we-believe-current-message-series-and-service-times/

 

It’s Not About Me

Based on Colossians 3:18-4:1

I still don’t know what I think about the whole love and submit thing. I kind of hate this topic. I hate how it’s direct and yet vague. There are no step by step lists to follow and check off. It’s all about the heart. I don’t like having to extrapolate it out – especially when it’s something I don’t like. I’m still wrestling with the connotations of submission. I have visions in my head of an intense physical struggle and finally tapping out before losing consciousness.

On the other hand, I really want to just shrug my shoulders and say this passage doesn’t apply to me as a single person who is also a little bit angry about that. I want to cast it off entirely as just for those blessed enough to have this extra illustration of the beautiful coexistence of the Trinity in their lives. And that it means nothing for us spurned and passed over souls. I don’t want to do the hard work of sorting through this and applying it to my life because I’m a little miffed that I’m not part of the in crowd that gets this extra insight.

But I know that’s not truth. I know that’s not God’s heart or will. Marriage is all around me. It has been modeled well by those closest to me. I have seen all facets and aspects of it. And life consists of the relationships we have with others. Our relationships, regardless of our marital status, shape who we are and how we interact with the world around us. We are all created equal because the Bible declares it – not because society does. And being single certainly does not exempt me from imaging Christ – especially through submission.

So the question becomes how do I image God well here in this place that I don’t really want to be? How do I settle into this role that I often find chafing? How do I glorify God by submitting to a yoke of authority over me that is not deserved? That’s the stuff that doesn’t change based on marital status nor familial gain or loss.

It starts and ends in the Gospel. It still goes back to the heart. God; three in one; holy and perfect; planning, accomplishing, and applying my salvation; outside of time; in inexplicable love and unimaginable grace.

I don’t have to be married to understand that I do not deserve unconditional, sacrificial love while no man deserves my submission.

But God does.

God has laid out the authority/submission structure throughout Scripture through both creation and redemption. Both vividly depict the ontological equality and perfect fulfilment of the dissimilar, yet, synonymous roles of the Godhead. And he created us worshiping. What he created in his own image has a heart and emotion and deep waters.

He created us in him image and assigns us each intrinsic value. He created us to bring him glory and to enjoy him forever. His image: His vast and wholly unknowable face, the depths of which we can barely begin to comprehend.

My heart is full when I look on His face and blessings. Why do I focus on my lack? Why do I long for what I don’t even know? And ultimately, when I throw my little pity parties and whine about my troubles, I forget what matters most.

This life isn’t actually about me. It’s not about my satisfaction. My purpose in life isn’t to find the easiest and fastest or even best way to happiness and contentment. It’s about glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

It’s about looking full at him and then, and only then, looking back down at my life. It’s about seeing others through the lens of grace that God first extended to me.

Christ is in all and through all. The substance is Christ. He is before all things and in him they all hold together. Set my mind on the things that are above. When I focus on anything else, I strip the sacrifice on the cross of its power; that’s the only true tragedy in my life. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14)

 

Check out the Identity Crisis message series at Discover Grace (http://discovergrace.com/messages/)