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/)

Faith, Love, and Hope

I love that as Paul writes this letter from prison the first thing he does after establishing his authority in Christ is to thank God for the Colossians. So many times in leadership (and in life) I tend to drive straight to the point or the issue and blow past any good along the way.

But Paul, remembering God’s preeminence even in his chains, thanks Him that their faith is in Christ, that their essence is rooted in him – the Son through whom all things were made and are reconciled back to God. He recalls that it all comes from God, because of God. It all starts and ends with God and works ultimately to his glory.

Jesus was the object of their faith; not works, not status, not a theological camp, nor anything else. God alone enables our ability to have true faith in Christ and what Christ accomplished on the cross for us.

How many times do I misdirect my faith into myself and strut confidently down my life without even a thought to the grace that led me here? How often do I misplace it in someone else, expecting them to instinctively know what I need and how I want them to respond to me?

I say that I have faith, and yet today I’m overwhelmed with worry and angst. I know that the sun will set and rise again and each day will have new troubles. But do I trust that God’s promise is enough?

Paul then thanks God for the love by which the Colossians live. They all join hands despite differences and commit to do life together – in deed, not just in word. Their practical, all-encompassing, life-changing, Christ-centered love transformed the world. Where have I lost such love in the busy rush of my life and the constant ballooning of my own selfishness?

And hope. Oh, hope! I’ll admit my hope is often a self-absorbed, self-serving escape hatch from my present woes. But genuine faith and authentic love spring from true hope in Christ! What do I do anything for if not because of hope in the future – hope in Christ? The gospel gives me hope. The gospel is good news of a better reality, of a fulfillment of a promise that the best is yet to come, of the greatest reconciliation yet to be completed.

The funny thing about Christianity, faith, love, and hope is that they have no true meaning or authenticity outside of our interactions with each other. The more I mature in Christ, the more I realize that engaging with others grows me the most.

But people are just plain hard! They require effort, patience, understanding, and empathy – none of those come naturally to me. Still, God our very essence is designed for relationship. Our triune God models perfect relationship within himself – something that I barely even pretend to comprehend. And he has created us in his image – therefore, with an innate requirement for himself and community.

I spent years avoiding community. Community requires accountability, commitment, and consistency. True community pushes you to face those hard things and wrestle those old demons. It doesn’t allow you to wallow in the complacency and stagnation of self-absorption and self-pity.

I desired to be known without knowing those around me. I wanted to be seen without truly seeing those whom walked beside me. When I look up from my own issues I glimpse my brothers and sisters silently struggling, desperate for a loving shoulder to unload on. I observe my fellow man rejoicing in incredible blessings and milestones in their journey of faith. All this remind me of the goodness and grace of God.

But it has taken me engaging in community to feel a part of it. When I finally stepped out and gave something that I wanted for myself I ended up gaining far more. I see God working most through my insecurities, my vulnerabilities, and my failings instead of my strengths.

In response, I aim to live by faith in Christ alone – not my abilities; in love for my fellow brothers and sisters – because of the love first given to me; welling up out of hope in Christ’s work on the cross. May my life be Christ’s alone.

Based on Colossians 1:3-8

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

I Am Christ’s

Identity. I like the sound of that. I like the thought of finding my identity, identifying with something, in something, finding that worth and meaning we all seek our whole lives. Where do I put my identity? I feel like I have just now started to figure out what it means to find my identity in Christ.

Often, I put it in my intelligence, in my ability to do what is required. I put it in my job, my work ethic, my high performance, the esteem my co-workers and supervisors give me. I put it in my relationships, my ability to please, my capacity to exceed expectations. I put it in my status, in feeling constantly needed – like everything will fall apart without my integral connection to it.

I’ve had my own identity crises when I could no longer meet expectations, my high performance couldn’t reach high enough, the bar raised higher than my striving, and I stretched myself thinner and thinner and thinner. The more I turn to bosses and boyfriends and best friends for validation – anything other than Christ – the more frantic my quest for identity becomes.

Like the Colossians, I struggle grasp the supremacy of Christ. Sure, Jesus saved me but… It can’t just be grace. It must be Jesus plus my efforts or Jesus plus something I earned. That extra leaves me bereft and soul crushed. When I can’t perform it drags me into a tailspin of depression.

I need Paul’s rebuke. I need the reminders that permeate the whole of his letters, starting with his greetings. His very first sentence roots his identity firmly and only in Christ – Christ alone. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” He doesn’t reference his past before Christ. He doesn’t call to attention his resume of education and political references. He doesn’t mention the resources at his disposal or even defend his reasons for writing.

It wasn’t because of his striving or his performance or even his zeal. It was by the will of God.

We are in Christ, not because of what we have done but because of what he has done on the cross. Only Jesus should be the one to name me.

I am Christ’s, not because of something abstract, but because of his intentional suffering and sacrifice on the cross in my stead. I am Christ’s by the will of God. My worth comes only from my God who creates and reconciles and sustains all things. He deems me worthy when he looks at Christ.

We become what we worship. We reflect what we constantly seek. As I mature in faith, wisdom, and experience I pray that everything I do flows out of gratitude for the grace and mercy given me. I work to call grace to mind moment by moment so I can bite my sharp tongue and curb my annoyance when things don’t go my way.

Paul calls the Colossians brothers. He appeals to them as family; brothers and sisters in Christ – those whose lives changed because of following Christ. Jesus himself says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been redeemed, saved, reconciled, yanked from the darkness, forgiven so much. Daily, I wrestle with undertaking daily things, trivial things, scary things, monumental things. Along the way I try to remember what kindness he has shown me and long to give of myself in the same way. I want to show Christ. I want to model and image him well.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

It can only end in Christ. He is our only hope in this mess we have made. And the very best thing is that even if I fail miserably at every single endeavor, my identity in Christ does not change. My worth in him is not moved. I am not less. I am not more. I am Christ’s.

Based on Colossians 1:1-2

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

The Fullness of God

I tend to see the Christmas story only through Western eyes. I think that Mary and Joseph rolled into town after she started labor and knocked on doors while she awkwardly perched on the donkey, panting and sweating – womb contracting. A few hours later, they wipe off the slimy newborn with some hay, wrap him in whatever they had, put him to sleep in a trough, and then lie back, exhausted, until a bunch of motley shepherds show up to the teeming barn, followed closely by three rich dudes bearing gifts. Then morning dawns and they all disappear into the dust of my imagination.

More likely: The census had all sorts of people traveling during festival time. In this, God sovereignly used the most powerful men of the time to fulfill his will and prophecies. Bethlehem must have positively swarmed with locals and those long gone from their hometown, busting at the seams. Relatives in the town the locals affectionately called the House of David probably warmly accepted Joseph (and Mary), being of the lineage of David.

In my western-centric narrowmindedness, I forget that houses and homes are configured differently across the globe and throughout time. In that culture common practice housed the livestock – valuable assets – inside for both protection and warmth. Regardless of the setup, this was in very close proximity to the normal living quarters.

I think of when all of my family descends on my parents’ house – straight up chaos. People everywhere – an invasion of beds, luggage, and noise. A cacophony of children shrieking, dishes rattling, laughing, and shouting. The ‘inn’ or guest rooms are maxed out but we’d make room for more, somehow, if needed.

We don’t know how long they had been in town before Mary went into labor. But someone had the foresight to make sure she at least had cloths to wrap the newborn. And they laid him in a manger. I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped to consider what that meant beyond my ignorant judgement of the conditions. Is it that different from putting my baby niece sleep in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment when my sister and her family came to visit while the rest of us divvied up the bed, couch, and air mattress? Or from the friend who offers her dry bathtub as a safe, quiet place for a visiting child to sleep?

However, my favorite part of re-examining the story in light of Middle Eastern culture is the role that the shepherds played. They had always just been a part of the backdrop that I just glossed over. Angel, check. Livestock, check. Scruffy fellows carrying staffs, check. Manger, check.

But this part is special. Their presence in these first dawning hours of our Savior’s birth into his creation speaks of something beautiful, topsy-turvy, intimate. These men would have had no other occupation or education – our modern day equivalent of minimum wage, manual laborers. Marginalized. Overlooked. Disregarded.

And yet, an angel shows up to give them the good news. The long-awaited, long expected Redeemer foretold for generations had finally entered into time and they were the first to know. Did they fear because the rest of society didn’t take them seriously? So while they wanted to see this great wonder did they fret that this new royal family would scorn their adulations?

But God, in tenderness, quelled their doubts and apprehensions with signs that would speak to them in their station. They would find the Messiah, wrapped in the same cloths the shepherds used for their own newborns, in an ordinary house, bustling with commonplace life – a life and lodgings familiar to them – not a lofty palace.

God meets us where we are.

He doesn’t require us to clean up before we encounter him. He draws us to him when we know nothing about him, spiritually disregarded and poor. He finds us in our fields, in the midst of our everyday lives.

God, who creates all things, sustains all things, reconciles all things, gives us a sign that the Good News is meant for us.

The gift of his Son, planned for me before the foundation of the world.

We don’t simply celebrate a birth at Christmas. We celebrate God’s intentions breathing life, his purposes coming to fruition, his redemption climaxing, all in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. God made flesh. The image of the invisible God. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:17, 19-20)

 

Based on Luke 2

Check out The Generous Gift of Jesus message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

Waiting on the Generous Gift Of Jesus

The generous gift of Jesus. It would be so easy just to skip right over that in the blaze of holiday lights and the cacophony of merriment. Give for the sake of giving! Give because it’s Christmas!. Love because it’s Christmas! Don’t be sad or pensive. It’s Christmas! Falalalala! And we whirl away in a festive frenzy to our next holiday celebration.

The generous gift of Jesus. Do I ever stop to really unwrap it? And what does it mean – this gift I can’t even comprehend?

Advent – the season of waiting. The expectation of something Holy and Good. I’ve never really been very good at waiting. My mom would tell you stories of me standing beside her bed to wake her up in the morning because I want breakfast and I want it NOW. My demands haven’t changed much nor has insistence that the world bend to my immediate desires.

But isn’t Advent more than an impatient tapping of my fingers and a terse countdown to vacation? In all of the merrymaking, doesn’t the sheer magnitude of this season beg us to make space for hushed expectation? Isn’t it more than just the cursory wonder at a baby born in a barn because the all inns were full?

What about the enormousness of God incarnate made flesh? What about the waiting of every single person ever mentioned in the Old Testament? And the promises that they never saw fulfilled?

What about Mary waiting until she could feel the quickening of the Baby within her and realizing that what the angel had told her was actually coming true? And then waiting through the last, burdened, lumbering months of pregnancy until the Baby was finally born only to realize that he was still a child in need of care and love and food and shelter? This tiny, long-awaited, Savior of the world?

And Joseph waiting to take his wife? And the shepherds waiting to worship? The wise men waiting to pay obeisance? Herod waiting? The Pharisees waiting? The disciples waiting? The prophets waiting? And the nations waiting?

Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

Throughout the entirety of human history God paints a huge, overarching narrative of redemption and restoration through his Son. It didn’t start with the Baby in a manger. It started with God. God promised and God delivered.

A Savior born of a virgin, of the line of David, of the Holy Spirit. Impossible, yet very real. Deity, yet all humanity. Born to save those in active rebellion against him. Born to pay the price for those who scoffed and those just learning to hate.

Mystery and faith. Promise and expectation. A gift more costly than anything else in all of creation. A treasure beyond any created and thing. An undefiled and undeserved paragon of unconditional love. A gift so easily brushed aside and taken for granted. The start of the story that ends sin’s reign.

Advent. A refocusing. A deliberate silence. A Deliverer wrapped in flesh.

The generous gift of Jesus.

The most lavish gift of all.

 

Based on Luke 2

Check out The Generous Gift of Jesus message series at http://discovergrace.com/messages/