On Being Childlike

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Identity: “I am a child of God.”

But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." – Luke 18:16-17

Of all things for Jesus to tell you to become like, he insists on you becoming like a child as a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of God. Think about that!  Jesus could have called you to become someone really powerful, a person to be reckoned with, someone of “significance” and influence. But he didn’t call us to become warriors, kings, or heroes. Instead, his first call you and I is to become childlike which is not the same thing as being childish.

Why childlike? Simply put; children are needy, dependent, and vulnerable. They cannot provide for themselves and therefore require others to provide for their basic necessities. Jesus’ instruction to you today is to remember your need for his gracious provision.

Neediness isn’t the only thing there is to being a kid. Children are also filled with wonder, questions, and adventure. Finding Rolly Poillies under rocks, digging around in creek-beds, wearing out slip n’ slides, afternoon popsicles, and getting grass stains are all part of the job of being a kid. My mom, who was an elementary school teacher for over 30 years is quick to point out, “Play is the serious work of a being a child.” She’s right. Perhaps taking a moment to recover the wonder that is your life would be good for your soul today.

Lastly, children keep time very different than we adults do. Kids usually aren’t thinking a whole lot about yesterday and they’re really not too hung up on what’s coming tomorrow. More often than not, their only real concern is the “right now.” Yes, they had ice cream yesterday. Yes, they’re going swimming tomorrow. However, it’s the right now that really matters. In a word, children are in the present. Yesterday is behind and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Be a kid today. Be yourself. Be present.

God defines himself as ‘I am who I am’, which also means: My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of becoming.
—  Hans Urs von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 55. 


On Knowing Yourself

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Identity: "I am getting to know myself."

Scripture: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalm 139:14

I used to live in Newnan, Georgia. We had a small ranch house with a massive backyard. It was flat and lined with white oak trees down the left and woods to the right. One day, my old classmate from London, Tom Parkins, and I spent hours and hours blowing and raking leaves into the biggest pile known to man. At dusk, we were laying in the leaves, staring up at the sky, smoking our pipes, and telling stories about our school days across the pond. Then Tom asked a question that struck me like a lightning bolt. "Alex, you always go on and on about knowing God, and that's great. But I've never heard you say anything about knowing yourself. Do you know you?" At first, I said, "What on earth do you mean, 'Do I know me? Of course, I do! I've lived with myself my whole life!'" "Right," said Tom. That's why I have to ask you again, "Do you know the real you?" It was back then that I realized I had a massive hole in my theology. I had always equated honest self-reflection with mere selfishness, and therein was the problem.

Knowing myself is actually a command I am intended to follow. How else can I "guard my heart" (Prov. 4:23) if I don't know what it longs for or what makes it hurt? How else I "watch my life" (1 Tim. 4:16) if I’m constantly looking away either to God, the church, or someone else? Today, you have permission to take two minutes, center yourself, and then contemplate the mystery of your own life. Perhaps you will grieve. Perhaps you will grin. Perhaps you will be able to trace the fingerprints of your Heavenly Father who has always loved you.

“And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” 
— Augustine, Confessions, 216.


Preserved by God

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Identity: “I am preserved by God.”

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Here we are. Hump day. Perhaps your day is set to be filled to the brim. I know mine is. You might be feeling physically, spiritually, emotionally, or relationally a bit low. “Spent” is a good word. So let’s lean into that for just a moment and see if we can’t leverage our weakness and grow in strength.

Feeling “spent” is a common experience not only on weeks that demand a bit more out of us but something that we encounter again and again throughout our entire lives. The call of God to faithfully persevere throughout our years is no small thing. Heartache, setbacks, temptations, paying the bills, and our own doubts continually put us to the test. To state the obvious: Perseverance is so hard.

That’s why we have to remember that she, Perseverance, has a twin sister known as “Preservation,” and she is a breath of fresh air to a tired soul. You see, at this moment and throughout life, God never calls you to merely white-knuckle the situations, days, weeks, months, years, and just get through it. He has promised to be with you, and He will preserve you even as you sometimes grow weary in persevering. His word to you today concerns you loosening your grip on today, on this situation, on your life, and allowing yourself the joy of being comforted and carried by his Spirit. After all, our burden-lifting Jesus doesn’t create white knuckles out of his followers. He brings joy, peace, comfort, and the best wine. He brings good news as he preserves us.

The Christian life is not a quiet escape to the garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; nor a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winners’ circle… The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground. The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure when accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life.
— Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 40-41. 

On Loving Your Friends

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Identity: “I will love my friends.”

Scripture: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. – Prov. 17:17

I've heard it said, "A true friend walks in when everyone else walks out." There's something about the fact that when your life is an absolute mess, it serves to purify not only your inner-life but it also clarifies so many things about the relationships you have.

Some will see your mess and begin asking you obnoxious questions, seeking to provide some kind of theological or philosophical explanation as to why God appears to be “getting you back” or something like that (think: "Job's friends").

Others will find you in the gutter, see the blood and puss, and "pass by other the other side" because they can't fathom God's call on them to inconvenience themselves, stop what they’re doing, get their hands dirty, and become an active participant in the healing of your life (Luke 10:31-32).

Still, there are those who instead of questioning or ignoring your pain, will actually deride you, shame you, and insult you to your face; compounding the fracture and heartbreak (Prov. 15:4). I don't know which of these experiences hurt the most or if it is even possible to know.

Here’s what is sure: the immeasurable amount of gratitude you feel for the friend who knows how to show up the right way, how to handle not knowing every detail of your struggle, offering their own presence as you face the dark night of the soul, eager to listen to the silence with you. When that person comes to mind, they don’t just enter your mind. They become part of your soul and it is then that your soul fills with the peace that “surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:7). That person is your friend because they’re acting like Jesus.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
— Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, 38.

Our Father

Identity: “I have a Father and Family.”

Scripture: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9

I was in my 3rd course in Greek, translating the Sermon on the Mount. When I got to chapter 6, I was stunned by something I’d seen in English my whole life but for some reason it remained hidden on the surface. In Greek, it looks like this, Πάτερ ἡμῶν. Literally “Father of us.” Seeing this gripped my soul. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, his first word was not “GOD!” or “HOLY!” or “I” or even “SIN!” Rather, he began with the simple pronoun “Our.” Our Father.

Before I say anything in prayer, I am reminded that I am not the only child in God’s family.

I am not the only one with needs.

I am not the only one with desires.

My faith is not a privatized, individualized relationship between me and God only. I belong to a family and Our Father loves all of his children. In prayer, I am reminded of you before I can even speak of me. That is the power of “Our” in “Our Father.”

Today, as you take a moment of prayer and begin to pray, remember the saints who have enriched your life and your faith. Remember your global family with different skin colors, ethnicities, and cultures, and with gratitude and reverence, proceed from the “Our” to the tender “Father.”

We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.
— C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 22.





Rejecting Self-Rejection

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Identity: “I am a beloved child of God.” 


"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 1 John 3:1

I’ve yet to meet a Christian who is oversaturated in the love of God. Satan, our critics, certain family members, old friends, and our flesh rails against this most basic truth spoken over every believer.

You are a beloved child of God. Self-hatred often hides in the same hearts who simultaneously believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” For me, personally, this has been my biggest struggle throughout my faith. We can be so hard on ourselves as our unrealistic expectations pummel us into the ground. Others get grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love, but we withhold these things from ourselves. Jesus calls us to self-denial (Luke 9:23-24) but never to self-hatred. To spurn your soul is to spurn that for which out of love, Jesus died. To reject self-rejection and to “accept that we are accepted” (Tillich) is an incredible demonstration of faith in “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, or popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can, indeed, present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection…As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.”… My dark side says , “I am no good …. I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core of our existence.
— Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, 12.







Accepting and Embracing My Limitations

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Identity: "I am limited by design."

"Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor." – Psalm 8:5

God distinguishes himself from humanity in many ways. Perhaps the most obvious in which he does so has to do with what theologians refer to as the "incommunicable attributes of God." This means that there are specific attributes that God does not share (communicate) with anything in creation. Visualize omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipresence (present in all places).

Our anxieties and frustrations skyrocket when we reject our human limitations and seek to be like God in these ways. We are not all-powerful. We are not all-knowing. We cannot be everywhere. When we accept and embrace our limitations, we are free to be what we actually are rather than strive after a make-believe version of ourselves. More than that, we can then view our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers rightly; not expecting the impossible from them! Above all, God likes us this way. It is "good" (Gen. 1:31). He designed you with your limitations in mind. You're supposed to ask questions. You're supposed to ask for help. You're supposed to be present in only one place at a time. Today God's call to you is to embrace and enjoy the life that your limitations afford you as you look to God and lean on your neighbor to meet your needs.


Take more time. Cover less ground.
— Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain, 202.

Jesus and Me

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I have a daily battle with a false Jesus who is the result of my own self-projections and the actual Jesus of the Scriptures. Today I decided to write these out for myself. Maybe they’ll be of help to you as well.

 False Jesus  Actual Jesus

Jesus rejects me. Jesus accepts me.

Jesus hates me. Jesus loves me.

Jesus tolerates me. Jesus wants me.

Jesus resents me. Jesus likes me.

Jesus blames me. Jesus affirms me.

Jesus mocks me. Jesus celebrates me.

Jesus harasses me. Jesus comforts me.

Jesus bullies me. Jesus protects me.

Jesus leaves me. Jesus helps me.

Jesus avoids me. Jesus welcomes me.

Jesus scares me. Jesus strengthens me.

Jesus bribes me. Jesus encourages me.

Jesus shuns me. Jesus greets me.

Jesus guilts me. Jesus acquits me.

Jesus bothers me. Jesus notices me.

Jesus tests me. Jesus serves me.

Jesus fails me. Jesus honors me.

Jesus ignores me. Jesus sees me.

Jesus hurts me. Jesus heals me.

Jesus overlooks me. Jesus changes me.

Jesus forgets me. Jesus remembers me.

Jesus condemns me. Jesus forgives me.
















 






Abide in Jesus Today

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Identity: "I am at home with Jesus."

"Abide in me, and I will abide in you…" John 15:4

The words to meditate on today come from Jesus' words during the Last Supper with the disciples. In a borrowed room, Jesus called the disciples to "abide in him [Me].” He was about to depart back to the Father and yet, he wasn’t going anywhere. This invitation to “abide” is still God's invitation to you today. As you travel, eat, laugh, walk, talk, work, and spend the day, you still get to abide with Jesus. The invitation to abide with him means that he wants you to make your home within him. Think of your living room. Jesus’ desire for you today is for you to feel welcome, comfortable, relaxed, unhurried, and happy in Him. Yes, today will be filled with people, errands, responsibilities, and a million other things both planned and unplanned, and still above everything Jesus wants your soul to be comfortable and at peace in Him.

Give your self 60 seconds to be still, pay attention to your breathing, and gently say to your soul, "Though the world is hurrying around, my soul is at home in you, Jesus. Help me to live in and share your love with those around me. Amen.”

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
— Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith,139.


Childlikeness: A Prerequisite for Heaven

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Identity: “I am a child of God.”

But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." – Luke 18:16-17

Of all things for Jesus to tell you to become like, he insists on you becoming like a child as a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of God. Think about that! Jesus could have called you to become a warrior, a king, an activist, or anything else. Instead, he called you to become childlike which is not the same thing as being childish.

Why childlike? Simply put – children are needy, dependent, and vulnerable. They cannot provide for themselves and therefore require others to provide for their basic necessities. Jesus’ instruction to you today is to remember your need for his gracious provision.

Children are also filled with wonder, questions, and adventure. Perhaps taking a moment to recover the wonder that is your life would be good for your soul today. Lastly, children keep time very different that we adults do. Kids usually aren’t thinking a whole lot about yesterday and they’re really not too hung up on what’s coming tomorrow. More often than not, their only real concern is the “right now.” Yes, they had ice cream yesterday. Yes, they’re going swimming tomorrow. However, it’s the right now that really matters. In a word, children are in the present. Yesterday is behind and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Be a kid today. Be yourself. Be present.

God defines himself as ‘I am who I am’, which also means: My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of becoming.
— Hans Urs von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 55.

Randy Alcorn on those in Heaven Right Now

Discovery Park is as close to Heaven as I’ll get in this life :)

Discovery Park is as close to Heaven as I’ll get in this life :)

Randy Alcorn, who wrote a fantastic book on Heaven made 21 observations about Revelation 6:9-11, giving us some insight about what the saints in Heaven are experiencing right now!

1. When these people died on Earth, they relocated to Heaven (v.9).

2. These people in Heaven were the same ones killed for Christ while on Earth (v. 9). This demonstrates direct continuity between our identity on Earth and our identity in Heaven. The martyrs' personal history extends directly back to their lives on Earth. Those in the intermediate Heaven are not different people; they are the same people relocated—"righteous men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23).

3. People in Heaven will be remembered for their lives on Earth. These were known and identified as ones slain "because of…the testimony they had maintained" (v. 9).

4. "They called out" (v. 10) means they are able to express themselves audibly. This could suggest they exist in physical form, with vocal cords or other tangible means to express themselves.

5. People in the intermediate Heaven can raise their voices (v. 10). This indicates that they are rational, communicative, and emotional—even passionate—beings, like people on Earth.

6. They called out in "a loud voice," not "loud voices." Individuals speaking with one voice indicate that Heaven is a place of unity and shared perspective.

7. The martyrs are fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other, God, and the situation on Earth.

8. They ask God to intervene on Earth and to act on their behalf: "How long…until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"(v. 10).

9. Those in Heaven are free to ask God questions, which means they have an audience with God. It also means they need to learn. In Heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it.

10. People in the intermediate Heaven know what's happening on Earth (v. 10). The martyrs know enough to realize that those who killed them have not yet been judged.

11. Heaven dwellers have a deep concern for justice and retribution (v. 10). When we go to Heaven, we won't adopt a passive disinterest in what happens on the earth. On the contrary, our concerns will be more passionate and our thirst for justice greater. Neither God nor we will be satisfied until his enemies are judged, our bodies raised, sin and Satan defeated, Earth restored, and Christ exalted over all.

12. The martyrs clearly remember their lives on Earth (v. 10). They remember at least some of the bad things from earth, since they even remember that they were murdered. (Heaven's joys are not rooted in ignorance, but perspective.) - PLEASE LET THAT SINK IN.

13. The martyrs in Heaven pray for judgment on their persecutors who are still at work hurting others. They are acting in solidarity with, and in effect interceding for, the suffering saints on Earth. This suggests that saints in Heaven are both seeing and praying for saints on Earth.

14. Those in Heaven see God's attributes ("Sovereign…holy and true") in a way that makes his judgment of sin more understandable.

15. Those in Heaven are distinct individuals: "Then each of them was given a white robe" (v. 11). There isn't one merged identity (ala Nirvana) that obliterates uniqueness, but a distinct "each of them."

16. The martyrs' wearing white robes suggests the possibility of actual physical forms, because disembodied spirits presumably don't wear robes. The robes may well have symbolic meaning, but it doesn't mean they couldn't also be physical. The martyrs appear to have physical forms that John could actually see.

17. God answers their question (v. 11), indicating communication and process in Heaven. It also demonstrates that we won't know everything in Heaven—if we did, we would have no questions. The martyrs knew more after God answered their question than before they asked it. There is learning in the present Heaven.

18. God promises to fulfill the martyrs' requests, but says they will have to "wait a little longer" (v. 11). Those in the intermediate Heaven live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God's promises. Unlike the eternal Heaven—where there will be no more sin, Curse, or suffering on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4)—the present Heaven coexists with and watches over an Earth under sin, the Curse, and suffering.

19. There is time in the intermediate Heaven (vv. 10-11). The white-robed martyrs ask God a time-dependent question: "How long, Sovereign Lord…until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (v. 10). They are aware of time's passing and are eager for the coming day of the Lord's judgment. God answers that they must "wait a little longer" until certain events transpire on Earth. Waiting requires the passing of time. (This seems to refute the "no time in Heaven/ instantaneous resurrection" theory, as well as soul sleep.)

20. The people of God in Heaven have a strong familial connection with those on Earth, who are called their "fellow servants and brothers" (v. 11). We share the same Father, "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Ephesians 3:15, ESV). There is not a wall of separation within the bride of Christ. We are one family with those who've gone to Heaven ahead of us. After we go to Heaven, we'll still be one family with those yet on Earth. These verses demonstrate a vital connection between the events and people in Heaven and the events and people on Earth.

21. Our sovereign God knows down to the last detail all that is happening and will happen on Earth (v. 11), including every drop of blood shed and every bit of suffering undergone by his children. Voice of the Martyrs estimates that more than 150,000 people die for Christ each year, an average of more than four hundred per day. God knows the name and story of each one. He knows exactly how many martyrs there will be, and he is prepared to return and set up his Kingdom when the final martyr dies.

God's Lamb: A Good Friday Story

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Once upon a time, there was a Lamb. However, this was no ordinary Lamb. This was God’s Lamb, and God loved his Lamb with all of his Being. They were bound in Spirit. Every day the Lamb was the joy of God and God was the Smile of the Lamb. Being God’s Lamb meant that the Lamb was perfect, completely clean, blameless in every way. Even the mightiest angels trembled in the presence of God’s Lamb. The Lamb called God his “holy Abba.” The Lamb didn’t just try to act like God, he was God. God would hold this Lamb in his arms, and the Lamb would hold God in his heart. This Lamb was unlike every other lamb. God’s Lamb needed no shepherd because he was the Way. He needed no witnesses because he was the Truth. He needed and no protection because he was the Life. The Lamb’s food was simple: the words of His Abba was plenty – milk and honey.  

God not only loved his Lamb in Heaven, but He also loved his people on earth too. However, the people were in danger. They had broken God’s heart through sin. They had broken friendship with each other. They had become so bad that they even broke their own selves. They didn’t know who they were anymore and were left hopelessly scrambling to make meaning out of life. They needed not only to change their minds, but they also needed brand new hearts to beat, fresh air to breathe, and new blood in their veins. They needed the Lamb, and so that’s what Holy Abba and His Lamb decided to do. Without conflict, they agreed that the Lamb would come and take away the sin of the world.

When God’s Lamb arrived amongst the people, everyone did not rejoice as we might expect. Some did. They were called the “ragamuffins.” They were the ones who had been too bad and couldn’t seem to get their act together no matter how hard they tried. Eventually, they just quit trying. But when the Lamb listened to them, they felt heard. And when the Lamb spoke to them, they felt loved. They loved God’s Lamb.

But not everyone loved the Lamb. There were wolves out in the country, in the city, in the synagogue, and in government. The wolves said that the Lamb was too puny, too kind, and too gentle. “If he’s really from God, shouldn’t be tougher than this? Shouldn’t He have more money, more fame, and come from a town better than Nazareth? He doesn’t look like he came from God. Besides, all his ‘truth-telling’ is getting really old.”

Finally, one night, the wolves came for the Lamb. They found him in a garden. They could tell he’d been crying, shaking, knowing they were coming for him. When they found him, he spoke, and the wolves fell back as though they’d come upon a Great Lion. But as the Lamb stepped into the torch and moonlight, they saw milk and honey in his beard, and they seized him.

That night, the Lamb didn’t sleep. Instead, the wolves abused him, and with a leash, they dragged him around, mocking him, hitting him, spitting on him, and calling him names. One wolf pulled the hair from the Lamb’s chin and cheeks. Yet, the Lamb had done nothing to deserve this.

The next morning the wolves kicked God’s Lamb down the streets of Jerusalem and outside of the city. One wolf kicked the Lamb so hard that he couldn’t walk up the hill anymore. So they dragged him up the dirty hill. 

And at the top of that hill that morning, they nailed God’s Lamb to a tree. 

The hungry wolves surrounded the Lamb with grumbling bellies and angry faces. Saliva dripped from their jagged teeth and gaping jaws. The bruised and bloody Lamb hung like a wind chime in the sunshine. Suddenly, fear ran through the wolves. Not because the Lamb was scary. The Lamb looked defeated. But what made the wolves afraid was the way the Lamb looked at them. He could see past the teeth, the growls, the fur, and scowls. He could see inside them and knew everything about them… and they knew He could see their hearts.

Then the Lamb rolled his head back and looked up into Heaven and bleated “Holy Abba, forgive them. If you will, they can become little lambs and our family will grow.”

And so God watched his only Lamb die. 

Someone came and took his Lamb and buried him.

BUT...

On Sunday morning, the Lamb was alive again! 

And so, God’s Lamb took away all the sins of all the wolves.

And ever since that Good Friday when God gave His Lamb, every wolf can become God’s sheep.


This year I decided to write a short Good Friday story for Tovah and Jude.

Henri Nouwen on Solitude and Temptation

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Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude, we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“you must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone”). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter–the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.
— Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, pp. 15-16

Church: More Like a Pub and Less Like a Country Club

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The Church is not a gated country club, surrounded by rolling green hill golf courses, adorned with perfectly manicured ponds, dotted with foliage, landscaped to perfection - filled with members sipping cocktails at happy hour because they have paid their dues to be there. The Church is more like Chuck’s Hop Shop in Greenwood with the food truck parked out in front. There we find kids playing Jenga, dogs are sleeping or sniffing around, and the neighborhood laughs, sharing real stories together. Some people are discussing the meaning of life. Others are just happy to be around friends. Both the familiar and unknown happening at the same time in the same place. There's a sense of belonging before arriving. That’s a lot like Jesus’ Church. The towel wearing, dusty foot washing Messiah made room for “the least of these.” That’s why we weep during communion and laugh after the benediction. We belong, and he paid the tab. And forgiveness is in the air.

The Pharisee and Tax Collector (or the Sunday School Teacher and Skateboarder)

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You know when Scripture just sinks down into your soul a bit deeper than other times? I had one of those this week. Jesus' beautiful words recorded in Luke 18 have been on my mind a lot. Yesterday I took some time to work through the text and decided to write some reflections. I didn't expect this to turn out as a post, but here it is!

Scripture

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
— Luke 18:9-12



Reflecting

To some who enjoyed making sinners feel rotten on the inside because they just want to look good on the outside, Jesus told this story:

Two people sat down beside one another at the Sunday night prayer gathering at church. What should have felt warm, welcoming, and inviting; much like a comfortable living room turned out to be quite the opposite on this evening.

The two people sitting next to each other couldn't have been more different. (Difference can make some people afraid. But for those who love people, difference is the icing on the cake of life).

One was a Sunday School teacher. He was wearing pleated khakis, a heavily starched shirt tucked in, and expensive brown leather shoes. He had a massive Bible with all the tabs for quick reference. The one sitting next to him was a 16-year-old punk rock kid with gauged earrings, a backward ballcap, and torn up Vans. The man sat down, looked over and said with a smirk on his face, "I see you're wearing your Mom's earrings. You gonna wear a bra and panties, too?" The boy didn't say anything.

The Sunday school teacher clearly did not like the boy with his skateboard under the pew. The skateboard was worn out. The boy had been practicing all afternoon. As the man looked around, he noticed certain people of color coming in and finding their seats moments before prayer was to begin. Laughing with one another, anyone could tell they were so happy to be there... together...knowing that Jesus was close by, ready to remind them of his love for them.

The man, grumbling inwardly to himself and then nearly talk-whispering out loud to God, his heart came bubbling up like Colorado water spring:

"God, I thank you that I’m not like those n*gg**s in Ferguson, those wetbac*** in Mexico, or those f*gg*ts in Seattle. I've heard the recent stories you know who and how she cheated on her husband. I'd never do anything like that. God, I’m so glad I'm a Sunday school teacher who has his act together.

As you know, I read Leviticus this morning in my One-year-Bible. Psssh...I bet half of these people in here can't even find Leviticus in the Bible. Anyways, the two things I enjoy most about my life have a whole lot to do with you. I gotta hand it to ya, you really do know how to make this country-boy happy. First, I make a lot of money from being religious. I can play the part so well. In fact, it's like I don't even have to try. Shoot, being a religious worker for you comes as natural to me as rebellion comes to these degenerates in here tonight. So thanks a lot for the cash. I like it. Second thing, Big Fella, people around here really need me. Where on earth would they be if it weren't for me? Heck, I'm happy to do my part. But just look at em. They ain't got a lick reverence to em. That's why one of my favorite things is talking about your justice for sinners. When they squirm, I know that I'm really getting through to em. Oh, and one last thing my Man, I'm so glad I'm not like this stupid kid next to me. I've heard about his grades, the fighting, and his anxiety. What's his problem, anyway, Lord?"

Scripture

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
— Luke 18:13



Reflecting

The boy scooted over providing a good bit of space between the two of them. He could tell how unwelcome he was by the teacher. But he stayed anyway. He needed the man of sorrows, the burden-lifter, the one who pulls for the underdog. Sitting on the pew with his weary head in his hands, he closed his eyes...

"Abba," the boy said, "I know how screwed up I am. I hardly need this religious teacher to tell me how bad I’ve been. My grades are terrible, and I'm going to tutoring, but it's not working. And the fistfights I've gotten into were because I was afraid. I got tired of being bullied. I was the only 7th grader in the 8th grade Phys Ed class. How does that even happen? So I started hitting back. I feel rotten about the fact that long after the fight was over, I kept pounding on Cory's face and slamming his head into the pavement. I could've killed him. I’m really sorry. Please don’t give me what I deserve. I know I should go straight to hell and be lonely forever. I get it. That’s what sinners deserve for breaking your laws. Abba, I know the cross wasn't just for people like me. The cross was for me. Thank you."

Scripture

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.
— Luke 18:14


Reflecting

Just then Jesus looked around at the snooty religious folks and said, do you know how my Abba responded to that boy? I'll bet you don't. You see, my Abba can't resist a broken heart. That night, the Almighty spoke to the boy's heart and said

"Good evening, little one. I'm so glad you're here with me. Listen, I don’t you to worry about the man sitting next to you. The only time he prays is when other people are around- which isn’t really praying. He’s pretending. Grumps like that send themselves to hell right here in church. He thinks I have a bone to pick with everyone. That's why he's lonely. He doesn't like himself. That's why he acts so ugly toward you. I need you to know that I forgive you. In fact, I forgave you before you got into this mess called 'sin.' One day you will enter into the joy of your Master, and I'll say to you, 'It is now time to climb trees, eat ice cream, and fall asleep in the sun. You're right where you belong! Welcome home.' For now, get good at sitting still and being present with Me, other people, and especially your own self. I like you, and I love you."

That night, the boy went home and slept in peace.

Jesus is Not

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Today...

Jesus is not surprised by my failures.

Jesus is not annoyed with my quirks.

Jesus is not wavering in his faithfulness to me.

Jesus is not about to change his mind on me.

Jesus is not regretting having a relationship with me.

Jesus is not hiding from me.

Jesus is not withholding anything good from me.

Jesus is not gambling with my life.

Jesus is not about to walk out on me.

Jesus is not lying to me.

Jesus is not out to steal from me.

Jesus is not going to manipulate me.

Jesus is not coercing me.

Jesus is not going to yell at me.

Jesus is not about to abuse me.

Jesus is not going to scare me.

Jesus is not going to shame me.

Jesus is not going to guilt me.

Jesus is not hateful to me.

Jesus is not rude to me.

Jesus is not unkind to me.

Jesus is not short with me.

Jesus is not ignoring me.

Jesus is not ashamed of me.

Jesus is not rolling his eyes at me.

Jesus is not making fun of me.

Jesus is not bullying me.

Jesus is not picking on me.

Jesus is not laughing at me.

Jesus is not threatening me.

Jesus is not mad at me.

Jesus is not disappointed with me.

Jesus is not withholding grace from me.

Jesus is not denying mercy for me.

Jesus is not ceasing to forgive me.

Jesus is not going to stop loving me.

Jesus is not like me.

Jesus loves me.

All You Can Be is Dead: God's Cup of Tea

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“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting - no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you - you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn't going to flunk you because your faith isn't so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead - and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.”

– Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace, p 175.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

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When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry

Books I Enjoyed in 2018

Our dear friends, Nathan and Mary took us out on the water on Christmas Day! Here’s some really fun boats we passed by coming back into Ballard.

Our dear friends, Nathan and Mary took us out on the water on Christmas Day! Here’s some really fun boats we passed by coming back into Ballard.

For years I’ve made the commitment to not start another book until I finish the one I’m currently reading. This year, I broke my commitment and have 10 books that I’m half way through. Whoops! Anyways, here’s a list of the books I found myself benefitting from tremendously throughout 2018. What a grace it is to read.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren

Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate by Michelle Lee-Barnewall

Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) by John Dickson

A Theology of the Ordinary by Julie Canlis (I think I’ve read this short book 4 times now. It’s wonderful.)

A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory by Frederick Buechner

Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar 

The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in Ministerial Life by M. Craig Barnes

Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership by Gerald Heistand & Todd Wilson, eds.

Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Sexuality by Gerald Heistand & Todd Wilson, eds.

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson

Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today by Joseph H. Hellerman

Reading Your Life’s Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Mentoring by Keith R. Anderson

Prophets and Lovers: In Search of the Holy Spirit by Brennan Manning

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon  

Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World by James Emery White

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons by Matthew Kim

Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ's Message to the Modern Church by Charles Quarles 

Shattered Dreams: God's Unexpected Path to Joy by Larry Crabb

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen 

The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus by Brennan Manning

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton

H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle by Brad Lomenick

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Book One in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis


 

 

Christmas: A Theology of Reversal

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The Son of God was born in a manger. As God's Kingdom broke into the world, he did so in utterly incomprehensible humility. After rising from the dead, Jesus calls his people to follow after him in lives of joyful-self-denial, servitude, generosity, and grace. Throughout Scripture, God makes it abundantly clear that he desires the things of this world to change, to be reversed. Upon observing the nature and actions of God, theologians will sometimes call attention to this “theology of reversal.” *

God consistently reveals himself as a God who is on the side of the weak, the least of these, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the overlooked, the marginalized, and the condemned. This doesn’t mean he intentionally overlooks wealthy people and those born in places of privilege. However, it does mean that God doesn’t show preference or favor to certain people based on one's ethnicity or where one falls in manmade systems and social classes. 

Here are a few examples of this theology of reversal…. 

In Deuteronomy 7 Moses reminds the people that God didn’t choose them because they were great in number but precisely because they were "few" and God loves the least of these.

God chose Esau (the older brother) to serve Jacob (the younger brother) (Gen. 26:27).

God chose Moses, a murderer on the run to liberate the Hebrews (Ex. 3:1-17).

God chose David, the youngest, weakest one to be king and not the other, stronger, more favorable brothers (1 Sam 16).

Over in the New Testament...

we see that the widow who gave 2 coins actually gave MORE than the wall street fat cat (Luke 21:1-4).

To the Corinthians Paul says God chose those who “Were not wise, mighty, and noble… but instead choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27). 

Instead of hitting back, we’re to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

Instead of hoarding up our wealth for ourselves, we are to be generous towards those in need (2 Cor. 8). 

Instead of puffing ourselves up and seeking power, we’re to strive to be the best foot washers in the room (Mark 10:35-45).

In Luke’s gospel, this theology of reversal is magnified to the highest degree in the birth of Jesus…

God did not send an angel to save us.

God did not send an animal sacrifice.

God did not send a to-do list nor press us to tip the scales in attempting self-justification.

In his upside-down Kingdom, God sent Jesus not to a palace with nurses, to be wrapped in purple but to a manger, surrounded with puffing beasts and buzzing flies to be swaddled and laid in a feeding trough. And in the ultimate reversal, of all people to carry Jesus in her womb, it was not a princess accustomed to luxury, God chose Mary, a poor, young, engaged girl to be the one who found favor in his sight. 

God’s thoughts are truly above our thoughts, and his ways are certainly not like our ways (Isaiah 55:8).


For a few pages on “Reversals and the Power of God”, see Michell Lee-Barnwall’s Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate, pp. 76-81.