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/)

When You Are Scared of Being Discarded

I’m a little stymied this week. I’m a logic fanatic. I work and sift through everything I hear and read and observe, picking out the little particles of knowledge and sorting them so they go down easier and process more quickly. I do it with everything. I’m trying to do it right now with last week’s message.

The problem is, however, that it’s not a mind issue, it’s a heart issue. This isn’t one that I can split apart and diagram into essential nutrients for my spiritual growth. Ok, yes. Put off the things of the world and put on the things of above. Doing something. Action. Check. I want to keep layering up with good deed and intentions. But that’s not the heart of the matter. That’s not the emotional center where everything takes root and, in consequence, shapes and colors all that comes out.  It’s not what truly drives and morphs and guides my world view and perspectives on life. My heart does.

But my heart has led me astray in the past. I don’t trust it – not for a second. I consider my emotions a volatile, unreasonable child that needs to be reined in, reasoned with, and, if it comes down to it, forcibly restrained. That’s why legalism and following the rules hold such appeal for me at times. I prefer the cut and dried, black and white. Empirically sound, repeatable cause and effect results gratify my analytical mind.

But my heart is the epicenter. I cannot deny it. I can’t just command it to respond to logic and reason. That’s why Paul laments that we do the things we do not want to do and the things that we do not want to do, we do! What untruths lie hidden and insidious below the surface, locked behind the doors of my heart that I haven’t been brave enough to uncover and throw open?

Do I have assurance of my salvation? If someone asks me if I will go to be with Christ when I die will I say, “I hope so” or “Yes, absolutely, not on my merit or anything I have done but only through the blood and righteousness of Christ. Yes, I am certain of God’s love for me, of my justification through the work Christ did on the cross, of the continued work of sanctification that the Holy Spirit is doing in me even now. I am simultaneously justified and a wretched sinner.”?

Someone I loved and trusted and made into an idol – an ultimate thing – discarded me. And up until this very moment when asked myself how I honestly feel about my assurance of my future in Christ did I realize that I am erroneously waiting for God to discard me, too. I didn’t recognize how deep that expectation of rejection clung. I didn’t comprehend how much the hurts I still hide and nurse in my heart have affected my thinking and being. Is that why I continue to strive and struggle with resting in grace? Is that part of my need to prove my worth and value, so I won’t be abandoned?

Lord! Oh! For the faith to believe! Remind me every second that I cannot do anything or be anything to make you love me more.

You already love me enough right now, just as I am.

May I believe that with all of my heart, mind, and intentions!

As I read through the passage again, I’m struck by love, peace, perfect harmony, and thankfulness. All of these things are an overflow of the depths from within. I can’t fake any of these. Absence of these in my heart and life belie the turbulence underneath – turmoil and disorder in my heart.

Seek the things that are above. Seek; an earnest searching, a quest, an active chase. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Dwell; to remain, to put down roots and live, to tarry, to exist. Seek and dwell bookmark each end of the passage. Seek the things that are above by letting the Word dwell in your hearts.

Set your heart and mind and being on the person and work of Christ; on grace and atonement and perpetual saving by ruminating on the Truth.

Soak in it – let it pervade every thought and pore and intention.

The heart is where Christ works. The heart is his realm, his throne. The heart; the wellspring of life. We are loving beings, not just thinking beings. We are who we are because of what we love. What we desire and love speaks more of what we put our identity in than any words we convey. Our thoughts swell up out of our hearts and emotions. And, in turn, those thoughts channel and steer us on our way.

I want my heart – not just my mind – to remain rooted in what Christ has done for me, in my death with him, in God raising me to life with Christ, in the freedom I have from sin and shame because of that. “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:9-10)

I want to live with my heart in the Light and the Truth and the Word. I want my heart to seek the things of above and dwell in that, completely saturated. Believe in my heart. Through faith. By grace. Seek and let dwell.

 

Based on Colossians 3:1-17

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

 

 

Nothing More, Nothing Less

My heart knows that I cannot measure up to God’s standard of perfection – no matter how hard I try. I know my tendencies to crash and burn in spite of good intentions. This is where I slide into my cocktail of legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. Instead of focusing on Christ, I stray down paths of replaying the past and worrying the edges of every scenario I can think of in the future with the firm intentions of figuring out exactly where I went wrong so I can prevent myself from making those same mistakes in the future.

There is a difference between learning from the past by gaining wisdom from it and the obsessiveness with which I sort through each possible path the future holds. I turn them over and over and over in my mind, keeping my past sins close and raw. What if I make the same mistakes? I put up a boundary and then another. Pretty soon, I’m barricaded into my own heart with only the reminders of my blunders with which to judge others and keep me company.

There are other areas of my life where I strip down to austerity and I approach it like a penance. If I deny myself enough I will make up for what I have done before. If I reject everyone then I will keep myself from again elevating some human I love above God’s place in my life.

This is the hardest part, willing the words to come, forcing my mind and heart to come to some revelation that I can draw out in words on a page. But growth doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes it’s the long silence in between shooting out a new tendril or leaf or blossom or fruit. It’s holding fast to the Head, a clinging to the truth that needs no further explanation.

Some days I wrestle and analyze and let the Holy Spirit wreck me with hard questions of my motives. Other days I squeeze my eyes shut, wrap myself tight around the Word, and hang on for dear life. There is no fighting a storm, only gripping and praying.

My 20 something self couldn’t bear to hear that growth comes from every day, stacked moment by moment, a cumulative reaction of what is ingested over time. It’s still not that palatable to my immediate desires and impatient heart, but every seeming roadblock becomes a divine marker on my journey with Christ.

Paul reminds me not to let anyone convince me that I need anything other than and in addition to Christ. There is nothing else. He is the culmination of creation. He is the beginning and the end. He is the substance, the reality, the daily existence right now. From him – not my attempts to figure it all out – comes the peace that passes all understanding.

My ability to follow all the rules has no bearing on my salvation.

I spend so much time chasing after shadows, after the wind, when the substance is Christ. The reality, the essence, the goal is Christ. The point of it all is Him. The meaning of life is life in him. I don’t pretend that I always get it. It’s a daily struggle. It’s faith. It’s mystery. It’s closing my eyes and leaping, yet, simply hanging on.

Whenever I find myself caught in an impossible chase it’s because I’m pursuing fleeting results instead of the reality of Christ. I’m striving for a human ideal that appears as wisdom, while forgetting the One who gives it all freely in the great, gaping hole of my undeserving. These things produce a temporary change that hold for a moment. They allow me to feel prideful in my momentary accomplishment and denial but do nothing to restrain my flesh.

I remind myself to clutch on to what I’ve spent weeks, years ruminating on and wrestling with – it is by grace I have been saved. I died with Christ. God made me alive with Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. But God, the power of the risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, here and now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection – that’s what changes me. That’s what draws me close to the light and melts away the trappings of this world. I fix my heart and set my mind on Christ again and again and again. Till he comes again or carries me home.

We have everything we need in Christ. Right here. Right now.

 

Based on Colossians 2:16-23

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

When You Want To Run Away

Rooted in him. Built up in him. Established in faith. Just as you were taught. Abounding in thanksgiving. All of those images bring a connotation of time and deliberation. Roots spread slowly, seeking, reaching in the dark, pushing through the dirt and mud to find sustenance and drink what is necessary for life. A life builds up, layer upon layer, starting with a firm foundation and sediment upon sediment, washed and packed and hardened under pressure. Established; day after day of consistency and vulnerability and openness and trust. One cannot learn what is taught without effort, repetition, and determination. And between and within all of that, overflowing with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in the waiting. Gratefulness in the effort. Rejoicing in the exertion and difficulty, in the slow motion of growth and learning.

I’m struggling right now. The monotony of daily life is slowing choking me out. And I’m railing against it by creating chaos. I’m feeling unrest so I’m creating a storm to conceal the emotional upheaval that I simply can’t bear to sort through. I choose to run and fight like others choose to hide and avoid.

The joy of salvation. Where has that gone? How do I lose that just from week to week, from blog to blog, from daily journal entry to daily journal entry? I don’t think it’s insignificant that Paul repeats the Gospel again. I can barely remember it from moment to moment. I forget that Jesus is better.

He’s better than what I am striving for, than what I rested in yesterday, than my plans for a better and more exciting future.

The crucifixion; the violent removal of the soul from the flesh, circumcision of the heart, the cutting away of self. Jesus is better. Life in Christ. Life after death. Life through death. The Gospel giving life, offering life. The Gospel is Life.

The good news is dying with him, living in him, hoping in the future through him. I have been saved from my sins – all of them – as absurd and unimaginable it is to me. My hang-ups that I keep trying to make up for are already gone. My constant failures and worries and lack of trust today are already wiped clean. My tendencies and proclivities towards selfishness and unbelief in the hazy future are already accounted atoned for. I CANNOT EARN IT. I CANNOT. How often do I have to remind myself of that? And what joy that should produce instead of shame! What freedom should burst forth in my life instead of hiding and running!

It’s because I forget that the power that saved me is still saving me. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me. The very Spirit of God empowers me to live a life of faith right now. Faith. Right. Now. Impossible and true. Liberating, voluntary slavery. To live is Christ, to die is gain. Now. Here. Breath by breath, tentacle by tentacle pushing deeper for more sustenance. Looking forward to him as all creation moves towards him.

One of the most difficult things I have ever done in my entire life is staying put and grinding out my daily existence. Every second I want to run for the hills. Motion – my escape; away – my destination. But sometimes the difficult things don’t come as the big, life changing events or scaling the sheer cliff faces. Sometimes, it’s accepting what I cannot earn, without merit, without cause.

Sometimes it’s stilling my hand from rewriting the record of my debt that he already set aside and nailed to the cross.

Now and not yet. He saved me, saves me, will save me from the penalty, the power and the presence of sin. God made us alive with Christ, hidden with Christ, forgiven in Christ, safe in Christ. Be still. Know that he is God. “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” (Ps. 63:3)

 

In response to Colossians 2:6-15

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

Now and Not Yet

Suffering. That word just makes my skin crawl. Afflictions. Oh, how I hate them! I want my life to be rosy and bump-less. I want to fly through each day soaring on heights of euphoria upon euphoria. Instead, today’s reality suffers like a persistent toothache – all-encompassing enough to ruin my focus and drive me batty. Today’s afflictions uncomfortably weigh me down, like a soggy blanket in a cold wind when I’m already freezing to death.

They have stirred my flight reflex. My whole being is primed and longing to run away – I don’t care where as long as it is away from what’s staring me down today. I’m a mess. My instinct is to try and fix my mess. I feel circumstances tightening like a vice, strangling hope and clarity. I grasp at whatever I can to change it. I flail against the daily distress of life in a broken world, fighting to outrun it.

The world puts us into pigeon holes. It quantifies us by our salary and means and judges us by what we do and the status derived from it. I constantly turn to my accomplishments and talents to make sense of my existence and save me, even after they constantly disappoint.

In Colossians, Paul stops my fixation of the chaos around and inside me with his prompts of who God is, what He has done for me through Christ, and who I am in Christ. Suffering creates a closeness and intimacy with Christ that nothing else can. It reminds me that this world is not my home. I cannot find my worth in the shifting shadows and vapors of today. I cannot look to created things to authenticate me.

He goes on to purpose that the word of God fully known – the Gospel – shapes and molds us into maturity. Maturity that speaks of perfection and completion, lacking in nothing. Maturity that transcends my current circumstances. Maturity that I won’t see on this side of eternity. Maturity that comes not from my striving and trying, but from the Promise of God, fully complete in Christ’s death and resurrection, while I’m still here slogging through the not yet.

When I focus on my list of anxieties I forget who God is, what he has done for me, and who I am in Christ. I must consciously turn and, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps 136:1) Because of his great love for us, God has made us alive in Christ. God, being rich in mercy, has reconciled us with himself. God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).

The work of justification is already done. The most humbling, astonishing, and thrilling of miracles has already transpired. The most immense and impossible debt has already been cleared and paid in blood and written off. God orchestrates and loves and composes and arranges outside of time. Now and not yet.

No one seeks after God on their own. God sows those desires in our hearts. Everything that I do and have comes from who I am in Him. He speaks His name and identity over me so truly and completely and perfectly even though I am not yet finished. Oh, for the faith to rest in that and rejoice in that without ceasing!

The mystery of the ages is Christ within and among us, the hope of glory. Within us and among us. Now and not yet.

 

In response to Colossians 1:23-2:5

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

The Ever Increasing Joy

Anxiety. The red thread in that bundle of thoughts. Worry. Fear. Doubt. Shame. Guilt. All of these things have no home in the life of a Christ follower and yet, I find myself burrowing deep into them and wallowing. I get to the end of them and start over again. Anxiety, worry, fear, doubt, shame, guilt. All the things I did wrong. All the things I need to fix. All the things I need to work on. All the things someone else has done better, is more talented at, qualified in. All the things to yet come. All the things I struggle with. All the old demons that haunt me at my most vulnerable.

I feel angst at so many things – things I know don’t actually matter in light of eternity. I know I need to lift my gaze upward. “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1). And Christ is in it all – by him and in him all things were made. He is before all things and in him all things hold together– he reigns supreme. It’s a wonder and a shame that I should look anywhere else for validity and joy and reconciliation.

No matter what brilliant imagery I use I cannot paint a vast enough picture to capture the stupefying phenomenon of Christ in creation. My description remains a shadow of a dull drop of understanding. I cannot begin to comprehend before time began and after it ends; He who was, and is, and is to come. A simple storm, a wave, a raw encounter with nature reduces me to rubble of awe and trembling. How much more then, the forming of everything out of nothing, light from dark, the sun and the moon and the stars!

He is Light, he is Life, he is Ruler, and Judge, and Bridegroom. Christ; the image of the invisible God. Christ; flesh, known, yet fully God; unsearchable. These earthly, foolish things I spend so much time taking out and agonizing over don’t define me or give me worth.

My worth comes from Christ and Christ alone and how he reconciled me to himself through his sinless life and death on the cross and resurrection from the grave when I had nothing to give, nothing by which to earn it.

I don’t deserve relationship with him but he desired me anyway. He sought after me so intensely that he gave up everything to make a way to bring me to himself. I can’t even fathom that kind of love. His pursuit of me is what I’ve always longed for in belonging; being fully known and truly, unconditionally accepted and loved. And now that this fragile life of human experiences has hurt and scarred me and left me skittish, I am overwhelmed and often disbelieving of his mercy and intense, unrelenting desire for me – in spite of my infidelity and imperfection. I can never love him enough in return or hold it together on my own.

And the infinite and soul-wrecking beauty is that he is enough for all of that and more. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.

When I feel myself inexorably drawn off the track into the wilds of shame and despair and reciting all the reasons I’m unlovable, the simplicity of the raw Gospel gives me such hope and comfort – like a warm fire spreading through my cold, aching, dying bones.

God has made us alive together with Christ, by grace.

And if I set my mind on nothing else, it is this Christ and “the ever increasing joy in making much of him forever” (John Piper).

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

 

 

 

 

Response to Colossians 1:15-23

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

Teaching

The Only True End

This week, I’m exhausted, drained, wrung out. I feel disappointment upon frustration stretching me further and further. I’m so drained and tired. And I keep getting stuck on all the “what if’s”. What if I’m not doing if right? What if I’m making the wrong decisions? What if I just have an appearance of knowledge? How do I know? How can I be sure?I don’t have any more to give and yet people keep on asking. Their hurt and pain and need pour me out on top of my own.

In what does my faith rest? Behind what do I put the full weight of my being? Is my faith in the idea of salvation? Is it in Christianity as a religion? Is it in what I’ve been taught? Is it in my current understanding of the gospel? Or is it in Christ? And Christ alone?

Paul prays the Colossians – rooted with their identity deep in Christ – would grow in spiritual wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God’s will. He doesn’t pray for their circumstances to change and for opposition to cease. The culture around them bombarded them with the ideas that Christianity was a place to start but that they needed a better knowledge and must advance beyond the Gospel into rites and regulations.

Even in his prayer Paul focuses them on the Gospel. Both salvation and justification start at Christ, are in and through Christ, and end with Christ. And what is knowledge without action? What is faith without movement? What is wisdom without doing and understanding without application? What is walking in a manner worthy of the Lord without rearranging priorities and worldviews?

What is bearing fruit without drawing in what’s necessary, without putting to death the past, and stretching forward in uncertainty with surety in the hope of Christ? What is knowledge of God without dismissing, yet expanding my intellect and dispelling my constructions of how I thought it all worked in favor of truth? And what is truth without living, transforming love?

I want God to change my circumstances. I want Him to give me strength to overcome and conquer and do. I want the Holy Spirit to empower me, but not just to endure in patience. I don’t see the joy in eeking by and stretching thin. I don’t like it when it’s not easy.

But these stark moments, these flat, indeterminable deserts strip away my dependence on circumstance and routine. These are the moments for which Paul prays. These are the moments where truth does its carving and knowledge does its etching on the beating walls of my heart and soul propelling me onward.

And so while my heart still drags me places I don’t logically want to go, I fill my mind with the Word. My insecurities try to yank me down into a labyrinth of dark rabbit holes of self and fear. But here is where knowledge and conduct meet. This is where the stuff of faith comes alive, ignited by the Holy Spirit – like a comet slamming into the atmosphere, incinerating and illuminating. When there is nothing left the nothingness reveals the starkness of the gospel, the distinction between the darkness and the Light, self and Salvation.

Paul doesn’t end with asking they “be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…” (Col 1:11) He gives thanks to the Father because God qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. “[The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, In Whom we have our redemption through His blood, [which means] the forgiveness of our sins.” (Col 1:13-14 AMP)

God has made us alive in Christ. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17) I rest in that good, good news. I rest in that grace. With joy. Giving thanks. Enduring. Waiting. Suffering. Rejoicing. Looking above. The Light has overcome the darkness. He has delivered us. Redemption. Forgiveness of sins. What really matters. The only true end.

 

Based on Colossians 1:9-14

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