Christ's Sacrifice Provides Reconciliation of Persons to One Another

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One of my favorite things about getting to do what I do serving as a pastor-theologian is study Scripture and theology alongside one another and seek to apply God's word by His Spirit in our local context here at Redemption Church in Seattle. I came across this piece today and it blessed me tremendously as I was thinking about how Jesus' death accomplishes reconciliation not only with God but with one another. The following excerpt is wonderful.

Christ's Sacrifice Provides Reconciliation of Persons to One Another

“Christ died so that believing sinners may enjoy also reconciliation to each other. Christ’s sacrifice provides for a new community, a fellowship of sinners at peace with God and so at peace with one another. Because of the cross Samaritans and Gentiles could be united with Jews in Christ’s body, the church. Having put to death their hostility, he made the Jew and Gentile one, destroying the dividing wall by abolishing the law and giving both access to the Father by the Spirit (Eph. 2:14-18). At one time we were “uncircumcised,… separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11-12). “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” So he is “our peace” (v.14). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). Commitment to life under the cross–not race or economic status–reconciles sinners to one another. People living under the cross should not be expected to meet extraneous requirements for membership in a church.

Because they are forgiven by grace, church members seek to be graciously forgiving. Because they are liberated from the reign of sin (Rom. 6:12), God’s people rejoice in making peace with others who have been reconciled to God through faith in Christ. The crucified Christ provides the one foundation on which to build a church (1 Cor. 3:10-15) because he bought the Church of God “with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Christian homes, churches, and organizations enjoy reconciliation and peace to the extent that they’re just and loving communities. Families and churches respect members’ dignity and rights, and lovingly families and churches go beyond justice and accept mercy and love.”[1]


[1] Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology: Historical, Biblical, Systematic, Apologetic, Practical, 406-407.

Walter Brueggemann on Psalms of Disorientation: Expressing the Experience

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It is no wonder that the church has intuitively avoided these psalms [of disorientation]. They lead us into dangerous acknowledgement of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil. They cause us to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, they lead us away from the comfortable religious claims of "modernity" in which everything is managed and controlled. In our modern experience, but probably also in every successful and affluent culture, it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. Very much a "religion of orientation" operates on that basis. But our honest experience, both personal and public, attests to the resilience of the darkness, in spite of us. The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life comes nowhere else. 

Whether this speech articulates, illuminates, or evokes experience, it does move the awareness and imagination of the speaker away from life well-ordered into an arena of terror, raggedness, and hurt. In some sense this speech is a visceral release of the realities and imagination that have been censored, denied or held in check by the dominant claims of society. For that reason, it does not surprise us that these psalms tend to hyperbole, vivid imagery, and statements that offend "proper" and civil religious sensitivities. They are a means of expressing that tries to match experience, that also does not fit with religious sensitivity. That is, in "proper" religion the expression should not be expressed. But is is also the case that these experiences should not be experienced. They are speech "at the limit," speaking about experience "at the limit." 


A Call to Worship

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Almighty God, we pray for your blessing

on the church in this place.

Here may the faithful find salvation,

and the careless be awakened. 

Here may the doubting find faith,

and the anxious be encouraged. 

Here may the tempted find help,

and the sorrowful find comfort. 

Here may the weary find rest,

and the strong be renewed.

Here may the aged find consolation

and the young be inspired; 

through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 



Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, #5 (1946)

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Keeping Time Like Children

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"The child has come to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. Time to play, time to sleep. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. When Paul exhorts us to 'buy up the time' (Col. 4:5; Eph. 5:16) he probably means precisely the opposite, that is, that we ought not to squander hours and days like cheap merchandise but that we should live the time that is given us now, in all its fullness: but the point is neither to 'enjoy it to the full' nor to 'make the most of it', but only that we should receive with gratitude the full cup that is handed to us. The moment is full because in it all of time is gathered up, effortlessly as it were. The present moment contains the memory of already having received as much as the hope of receiving time now. This is why the child is not afraid at the fleetingness of the present moment: stopping to consider it would hinder us from accepting the moment in its fullness, would keep us from 'buying it up', from ransoming it. 

Play is possible only when time is so conceived, and also the unresisting welcome we give to sleep. And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a 'free moment' or a 'time of prayer' that must constantly be rescheduled, a time that he must laboriously wrest from his overburdened workday. A child that knows God can find him at every moment because every moment opens up for him and shows him the very ground of time: as it if reposed on eternity itself. And this eternity, without undergoing change, walks hand in hand for the child with transitory time. 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 Childpp. 53-55. 

Roadsign: Heaven Ahead

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*This weekend I had the privledge of preaching at a dear friend's church in Denver. This overlook was gorgeous. 

What is this kingdom, exactly? Theologian Graeme Goldsworthy defines the Kingdom of God as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” God’s people. God’s place. God’s rule. This speaks to our relationship with God. He is not only our Savior, he is our Lord, our King. As Christians, we strive to live for the glory of our King in every area of life no matter what the culture says, or how we are tempted. (More on this later.) The question beckons: “Is the Kingdom here and now or is it somewhere far off in the future?” And the answer is “Yes.” One way theologians sometimes describe the Kingdom of God is through using the acronym—“ANY.” It stands for already/not yet.

The Kingdom of God has broken into this world and is already here—God is reigning and ruling. When did the kingdom “break in”? Upon the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and his promised fulfilled in sending the Holy Spirit to indwell believers. As the children of God and citizens of this kingdom, we have a front-row seat as we witness just how great, how kind, how loving, how truthful, and powerful our God, our King, really is! We’re getting real-life glimpses of what life will be like forever in heaven, our home. Every minute of every day people are being healed, restored, loved, and welcomed into the family of God. As we read the gospels, we encounter Jesus doing miracle after miracle—the blind are given their sight (John 9:1–12), the deaf are able to hear, the mute are able to speak (Mark 7:31–37), the sick are made well (Matt. 8:1–4), the hungry are fed (John 6:1–15), the dead are raised to life (Mark 5:21–43), the lost are found (Lk. 15:24), the dead are made alive (Lk. 15:24)! It is helpful to remember that every time you see Jesus doing a miracle in the Bible it is like a sign on the interstate saying, “This is what’s coming!” For you and I, our next exit is heaven, our home—and at home, in our Father’s house, all are made well, completely healed, totally loved, forever free to enjoy our heavenly Father!

At the same time, it is also true that the Kingdom is not yet here in its entirety either. There are still so many that are broken and in need of God’s saving and restoring. This is why the apostle John closes up the Bible with the prayer “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). As a Christian, you are now a citizen of the Kingdom of God (Eph. 2:19). You have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s glorious light (Col. 1:13). And God, your King, did all of this through his power and his unending grace (Eph. 2:8–10). This is how God has always done it—his people have always been brought into his family by his grace and through faith in him.

God spreads his kingdom much differently than the way other kings advance their reign. Earthly kings take more ground through power and force. God’s kingdom moves forward every day, and yet it came at incredible cost to him through the death of Jesus. You and I are among those who were at one point his enemies, but are now his children (Rom. 5:10), and nothing can or will ever change this reality. God considers you to be part of his covenant.


Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament, p. 53.

Prayer is Relational

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The old preacher A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1] In the gospel, we learn that  we need not be unnecessarily afraid of God or avoid him, but should approach him regularly in prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).  God is holy, but we need not run from him! All of our sins are separated from us and we are seen as Christ is—blameless, holy, and loved. We have a Father who protects us, not a bully who taunts us. We have a King who leads us, not a boss who badgers us. We have a Savior who keeps us, not a friend who abandons us. God cherishes his children. How you think about God will determine the quality and frequency of your prayers to him.

Prayer is something that is practiced in virtually every religion in some form or another. As relational beings, humans long to feel and be connected to themselves, others, and ultimately, their god. And yet, unlike other religions, the Christian faith erupts on the scene with something that isn’t found anywhere else. As the children of God, we experience something of unparalleled significance—knowing God closely. There is real intimacy, a warmness between children crying out “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6) and his responding in love.

And yet, while we enjoy this free access to our heavenly Father, if there is one thing that is consistent across the board with Christians, it is that we all struggle at various times and ways with our prayer life (pastors, theologians, and the giants of church history included!). You see, prayer is neither easy nor difficult all the time. At its core, prayer is relational, which means that it must be looked after, tended to, and cared for much like a garden.

Excerpt from The New Believer's Guide to the Christian Life: What Will Change, What Won't, and Why It Matters, pp. 77-78.


[1] Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life, Harper Collins: San Fransisco (1961), p. 1.

 

John Calvin on Science as God's Gift

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God works both inside and outside of the Church every single day in countless ways. As followers of Jesus here in our booming city of Seattle, it is imperative that we really understand this reality. Yes, Jesus is the head of the Church (Col. 1:18) and gave his life for the Church, but that doesn't mean for one moment that our neighbor's work at Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco, Microsoft, and so on doesn't matter in God's eyes. Far far from it! Here, in the Institutes, Calvin is calling the Church to celebrate and express deep gratitude for God's "common graces" all around us! 

 

"Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God's excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slightest esteem, we condemn and reproach of the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on the subject without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws and all the useful arts. Those men whom Scripture (1 Cor. 2:15) calls “natural men“ or, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was the spoiled of it’s true good."


Keep Swimming in the Love of God for You

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The entire message of the Bible is a message of grace, hope, forgiveness, and love—all unearned, ill-deserved, and completely without condition! The love of God is reckless, pervasive, and unstoppable. The love of God knows no limits or boundaries! Thus far, though billions have tried, none have been able to stop the work of God.

The love of God is not reserved for just the rich or just the poor. It is not just for straight people, Republicans, or humanitarians. The love of God cannot be confined within the walls of a local church building. The love of God is not rhetoric or wishful thinking. It cannot be shrunk down to a coffee cup or bumper sticker or cliché. The love of God does not fall asleep at the wheel but is always alive, brilliant, and blazing! God’s love is not just for the world out there, not just for the church down the street, but for little bitty you in that chair right there, right now with all of your past mistakes, all of your present skepticisms, and all of the stubborn “so what’s?” and “prove it to me’s” going on in your head right now. It is for you...

God hasn’t insisted on you getting better or trying harder in order to get into his family. If you come with empty hands, you come with all you need. God’s love isn’t fickle, moody, or affordable. It is something that must be given to you, and the only thing more offensive to God than your sin is your feeble attempt to earn his loving affection. It is free. God is for us.


Yelling at God

The Bible gives us many examples of God’s people laying it all out on the table. The best place to go in Scripture to see examples of this is the Psalms. Look at just these few verses:

With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plea for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I declare my trouble before him.

Ps. 142:1–2

Or consider that we are to

Trust him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.

Ps. 62:8

Or consider these nine verses and see the absolute gut-wrenching vulnerability of the psalmist here:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help. Interlude

You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

Psalm 77:1–9 New Living Translation

Christians are to turn first and most often to God to declare, complain, and pour out our troubles. This doesn’t negate the necessity of pastors and counselors and community. However, even the best of people are still just people. God alone is our salvation, and it is ultimately Jesus who lifts our burdens. It is to him that we are to bring our anxieties, rolling them onto his shoulders (1 Pet. 5:13). After all, “A child cannot do a bad coloring; nor can a child of God do bad prayer.”[1]

Did you see the movie The Apostle? Sonny, a southern pastor played by Robert Duvall, is as raw as they come in his relationship with God. The story goes that Sonny has a successful ministry , but then the most unexpected turn of his life happens; his wife cheats on him with another man. Sonny, filled with rage, loses his mind, hunts the man down at a children’s baseball game, and strikes the man with a baseball bat, killing him. Sonny then flees town and goes to live in a rural place with his mother. Late one night, Sonny goes up into the attic of his mother’s house and shouts in uncensored honesty. This is most definitely not a prayer that you’d find in most church services. In all of his pain, his confusion, his total anger with the shape his life, his broken dreams, and cluttered head, Sonny’s passion-filled and completely disoriented heart comes up through his mouth and belts at the top of his lungs:

Somebody, I say, somebody has taken my wife; they’ve stolen my church! That’s the temple I built for you! I’m gonna yell at you ’cause I’m mad at you! I can’t take it!

Give me a sign or somethin’. Blow this pain out of me. Give it to me tonight, Lord God Jehovah. If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me. Give me peace. Give me peace.

I don’t know who’s been foolin’ with me—you or the Devil. I don’t know. And I won’t even bring the human into this—he’s just a mutt—so I’m not even gonna bring him into it. But I’m confused. I’m mad. I love you, Lord, I love you, but I’m mad at you. I am mad at you!

So deliver me tonight, Lord. What should I do? Now tell me. Should I lay hands on myself? What should I do? I know I’m a sinner and once in a while a womanizer, but I’m your servant! Ever since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant! What should I do? Tell me. I’ve always called you Jesus; you’ve always called me Sonny. What should I do, Jesus? This is Sonny talkin’ now.

Just then the phone rings; a neighbor calls complaining to Sonny’s mother about the noise. His mother replies, “Sometimes Sonny talks to the Lord and sometimes he yells at the Lord. Tonight he happens to be yelling at him.”[2]

The reality is that God is not afraid of you, your fears, your frustrations, nor your anger. That’s right. God can put up with all of your anger at him and still keep that same look of loving, longing compassion for you. He knows you. So feel free as you bow your knees to let your hair down, too, and join Sonny in a dose of authenticity.

Excerpt from The New Believer's Guide to the Christian Life: What Will Change, What Won't, and Why It Matterspp. 86-89.


[1] Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt-Out, Multnomah, Colorado Springs (2005) p. 155.

[2] The Apostle (Universal, 1997), written and directed by Robert Duvall. Quoted in Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn, Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 212–213.

 

The Reckless Love of God

 That fella next to me is my dear friend, Brian Eichelberger. He and his sweet family remind us of the love of Jesus all the time. 

That fella next to me is my dear friend, Brian Eichelberger. He and his sweet family remind us of the love of Jesus all the time. 

And just to be clear who this is for….

The gospel is for those who have been crushed by the weight of legalism. For those who have tried and tried to earn the favor of God by relentless church attendance, diligent Bible studies, unbroken prayer, and tithing.

The gospel is for those who have been content to warm themselves by the fire of God’s love but never had the faith (or nerve) to actually step into the fire and be utterly consumed.

The gospel is for those who think “Jesus Loves Me” is elementary. Perhaps you've “graduated on” to more robust theological, philosophical, sociological, psychological, and anthropological endeavors. You may have been to seminary. Yes, my friend, this is for you too.

The gospel is for those who get baptized or “go forward” every two or three years in order to secure their salvation because, obviously, it didn’t “take” the last time.

The gospel is for those who leave their Bible in the back of their car all week long, closed up in the sun.

The gospel is for those who think they’ve gone too far and committed the “unpardonable sin,” whatever that may be. The guilt-ridden and the shamed who think they’ve tapped out all of God’s grace and find it amazing that he let them get this far.

The gospel is for the promiscuous, the vagabond, the throwaway, the not good enough, the overachiever, the proud, the insolent, the angry, the forgotten, the brokenhearted.

The gospel is also for those who find themselves safe in the arms of Abba and walking closely with Christ, loving his Word, empowered by the Spirit, and obeying his commands.

The gospel is for the busy professor, student, stay-at-home mom, or the workaholic. The gospel is for the tired preacher and even more tired preacher’s kid. It is for the cage fighters, gamers, and athletes. It is for the Christian who knows Jesus as Lord, King, and Christ but hasn’t dared to accept his brotherhood or enter into embracing his most endearing term for us: the beloved of God. It is for those who have become too familiar with God and have lost any sort of reverence before him. It is for those who call God Creator but not Abba. Maybe you’re like me, and that word either keeps you guessing or makes you blush.

It is for those who have relegated and confined God to the outskirts of your mind and have opted to converse with him when convenient, on holidays, or the unexpected tragedy strikes.

The gospel is for black people, white people, brown people, yellow, red, purple (Tovah, my daughter, wishes everyone was purple), or any other people, all of whom are made in God’s image. It is for the rich. It is for the poor. It is for the middle class. It is for men and women. It is for homosexuals. It is for heterosexuals. It is for the friendless, the divorced, and the the addict. It is for the cheater, the drunk, the high. It is for the drug-dealer, for the image-obsessed. This is even for those who might’ve already fallen asleep in church this morning.

You see, the only way into Jesus’ choir is to sing off-key. The only way into God’s family is to own the fact that you don’t deserve to be in it. The only way to abide in the presence of the Holy Spirit is to accept that you are accepted.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Marriage

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Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom.

In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.

As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.


– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 7.

Where is God Calling Me?

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Calling.

Oh that oft-used word in the evangelical circles that I was reared in that brought about such anxiety, fear, and constant second-guessing. My faith, if it can actually be called that, didn't amount to much. I discerned God's calling on my life much like the way I handled the magic 8-ball toy I played with as a 9 year old. As a boy, I'd pick up the 8-ball filled with some watery-fluid, ask it a question, "Will I make a million dollars?" give it a shake, and then look to see what triangle-shaped-bluish-white answer would surface. "Seems unlikely" it would say. The 8-ball was right.

I became so accustomed to hearing the language of "God told me to _____" (marry this person, start this ministry, write this book, move to this city) that I became obsessed with figuring out God's will for my life. Damn, if that wasn't a wild goose chase.  

It felt as though God spoke often and crystal clear to everyone except me. In fact, his specific will for their lives was so abundantly clear that I wondered how in the world words like "faith", "mystery", or "trust" would even factor into their theological vocabulary. For me, I didn't hear an audible voice like some of my heroes claimed to have heard. I didn't have God's will written for me in the sky or in my Cheerios. As a result, I often thought something was wrong with me.

  • "Why won't God talk to me like that?"
  • "Have I upset him?"
  • "Is it because I have A.D.D.?"
  • "Is it because I'm terrible at math?"
  • "Is it because I don't know how to work with my hands?"
  • "Is it because I'm too emotional?"
  • "Is it the music I like?"
  • "Do I not fast enough?"
  • "What if I knew more Hebrew?"
  • "What if I gave more money to charity?"
  • "Can I purchase knowledge of the will of God?"
  • "If I go on a mission trip to a 3rd world country, will God speak to me then?"
  • "What if I get on a plane and go ask one of these evangelical superstars to point me in the right direction? Could that do it?"

The questions continued to mount and I was missing the chief benefit of this thing known as "the gospel." 

That's not to say that God was entirely silent most of my life. In fact, as I think through the years, I can discern a few key moments, though they're still mostly blurry at this point. Perhaps in another decade or two things will be more clear but I really don't suspect they will. Saint Paul was right, the glass is really smudged but we keep trying to see through it.

Does God call people to places? Sure. I believe he does more often through providence than anything else. Besides, in seminary I learned to read Greek, not Cheerios. What on earth was I doing? Rather than fixing my eyes on that which I cannot see, I stared into a soggy bowl of cereal. 

Today there is a better question, a more helpful question, a more freeing question to be asked regarding the calling of God on one's life. "Does God call me to himself?" That might sound boring to you as it did to me for so many years. That's not because God is boring but because I lack creativity, imagination, and wonder. Personally, an intimate relationship with God was secondary to me getting my instructions. Commandments are to be obeyed and instructions to be followed. Where to live, work, raise a family – those things are primary. I could catch God up at retreats or conferences or maybe even in Sunday worship. In those environments, I could show up worn out with working for him, have an emotional connection with him or just a good cry (because that's what we do when we're tired), and then head back to work. To be honest, I had no idea how much North American pragmatism had eeked its way so far down into my theology. I thought in such simplistic terms that it is embarrassing to admit even to this day. Here's some confessions.

I believed big churches were successful and small churches were failures.

I believed charisma mattered more than character.

I believed in insiders and outsiders.

I believed in winners and losers. (To be sure, the only ones who lose have this mentality).

I believed that ministry results were to be evaluated, numbers were to be counted, and square footage was to be measured. Those are the things that I thought were important to God's business.

Then there were words like "platform", "influence", and "impact" that carried more far more weight than words like "child", "serving", "relationships", "gentleness", "stillness", "belonging", "friendship", and "gratitude." 

That platforming, posturing, and positioning stuff will kill you. Call it "kingdom impact" if you want but deep down we all know it's our Daddy-issues that creates so much distress, unrest, and anxiety. We'd rather jump on the hamster wheel of ministry work because the thought of the nearness of a tender Father makes us squirm, blush, and look at the floor.

So here's something that I know to be true: God does call you to himself and in the stillness, as his child, in an intimate relationship, you'll sense the gentleness of Jesus as he reminds you, his friend, that you belong. It is from that space that gratitude bubbles up into joyful serving of God and neighbor. And it is from this place that we can then begin thinking better about where we might "live, move, and have our being." 

"You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance."

– Galatians 4:6-7, The Message
 

 

The Biggest Question and the Boldest Answer

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The first question in the Heidelberg Catechism is arguably the biggest question ever asked and the answer provided is perhaps the boldest answer we could give. 

Question: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Before moving on.... just sit with that for a full 60 seconds and think about how you'd answer that. 

What....

Is....

Your....

Only....

Comfort?

Take a deep breath and in what Brennan calls "the bright darkness of faith", look at the answer...

 

Answer: That I am not my own,

but belong – 

     body and soul,

     in life and in death –

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,

and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way 

that not a hair can fall from my head

without the will of my Father in heaven;

in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,

Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. 

 

 

 

Book of Common Prayer: For A Birthday (Jude!)

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Today is Jude's 7th birthday!!!!

We pray this together at each birthday as a family and then go around the table and tell the Birthday Boy or Birthday Girl what we're thankful for about their life. 

 

This comes from the Book of Common Prayer:

Watch over thy child, O Lord, as his days increase; bless and
guide him wherever he may be. Strengthen him when he
stands; comfort him when discouraged or sorrowful; raise
him up if he fall; and in his heart may thy peace which
passeth understanding abide all the days of his life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

All God's Kids Call Him "Abba"

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As a Christian, you’ve entered into a relationship with God that presses past knowing him as King, Creator, Judge, and Ruler over all things and have come to know him in the most tender, the dearest, the most intimate and heart- moving way. You know him now as “Abba.” This little word only shows up three times in the New Testament, but don’t let its brevity drive you to miss its immense importance. As Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood, knowing the brutal death that awaited him the following Good Friday morning, Mark writes, “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (14:35­–36). Paul uses the phrase two times. In Galatians 4:6 he writes, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” And in Romans 8:15, he says, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

Ronald Fung, research fellow of the Chinese University in Hong Kong, writes, “Abba is an Aramaic affectionate diminutive for ‘father’ used in the intimacy of the family circle.”[1] Commenting on Galatians 4:6, Protestant reformer Martin Luther said, “Although I am oppressed with anguish and terror on every side, and seem to be forsaken and utterly cast away from Your presence, yet am I Your child, and You are my Father for Christ’s sake; I am beloved because of the Beloved.”[2] Luther understood that no matter what was going on in his life, one thing was certain—he was God’s child.

The Christian God is three-in-one. Three distinct persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and yet One. This is known as the Trinity. Notice what Paul is saying, in the Galatians reference; the Trinity is at work in this Galatians verse: God sent sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” Believer, prop up your feet in the hammock of the love of God for you. God does not disown his children, though his discipline can be quite painful at times. Because you are in Christ, you are just as safe, loved, and welcomed as Jesus is right now. Jesus has dealt with your sin at his cross, he has gifted to you his righteousness, and your identity is secure.

The craziest idea in the whole universe—that God cherishes you, sings over you, delights in you, and is wild over you being his child—is actually true! All the demons in hell, the liars in the streets, and even the deceptions of your own heart are no match for the landslide of the love of God that has broken loose for you. Nothing can quench the raging, blazing, longing heart of Almighty God! Your Abba will always be tender, truthful, and available to you.

Excerpt from The New Believer's Guide to the Christian Life: What Will Change, What Won't, and Why It Matterspp. 54-56.


[1] Ronald K. Fung, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids (1988), p. 185.

[2] Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Fleming H. Revel Publsihers, Grand Rapids, (1999), p. 253.

 

What Are My Feelings For?

 This overlook is where one of my dearest friends processed some of his deepest pain. Love you, Mo.

This overlook is where one of my dearest friends processed some of his deepest pain. Love you, Mo.

Feelings. What on earth are my feelings for? How are feelings practical? What do they accomplish? If I feel one way, does that make me righteous? If I feel another way, does that make me sinful? What exactly are these things that I can't see but can become visible to everyone around? Am I responsible for how I feel? That's a serious question. After all, in the ancient Greco-Roman world

“Emotion was sometimes considered a force beyond a person’s control. Lenience could be granted to someone in a trial because their offense was committed under the influence of anger.”* 

I have the honor of serving as Pastor of Preaching and Theology at Redemption Church in Seattle. However, don’t think for a moment that the role implies that all I do is sit in my study with my "friends" (my mother's name for my books). In addition to study, I get to spend lots of time with our people and questions surrounding our emotions often arise. As we all know, our emotions can be extremely powerful. But are they beyond our control? The Scriptures teach us that human beings are not merely primal creatures with chemicals firing off in the brain, causing us to move in one direction or another. Rather, human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). Contrary to what some believe, I don't think this is some sort of summons to ignore our biological make up. Rather, it means that we understand that part of being in God's image is that we are emotional creatures.

Many of us tend to fall off on one side of the horse or the other when it comes to how we view our emotions. Some believe that our emotions need to be ignored or suppressed because they aren't to be trusted. “It’s not about your feelings. It’s about your faith!” This kind of remark makes sense but it is only half-baked as we’ll see below. Others believe the opposite and choose to allow one’s emotions to have absolute rule over them throughout each day; way up one moment and way down the next and everything in between. 

 

MOVING TO A SPACE OF TRUST

As followers of Jesus, we are to submit everything in our lives, including our feelings to him. At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded the disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” So they weren’t supposed to be anxious about his departure? Where would they go? What would happen next? How can Jesus command them to personally take control of their feelings and to route them away from being “troubled”? How is peace possible when the circumstances are submerged in anxiety? The answer lies in the next statement. “You believe in God. Believe also in me" (John 14:1). It was natural to feel anxious in this situation, but Jesus calls the disciples to push past what they saw and what they felt and to move to a space of daring trust; to take him at his word that everything really will be OK. In fact, in the end, they'll be better than OK. Jesus is not saying "Ignore the pain and pretend everything's great." This is Jesus saying, "In spite of the pain, with heartache still in tact, take another step closer to me."

 

OUR EMOTIONS TELL US WHAT WE VALUE

For me personally, this has been a big challenge throughout my life.  To take ownership of my emotions and realize they are my responsibility has not come easy. It's been quite the battle. Perhaps being a 4 on the Enneagram explains it. Maybe it's biology. Maybe it has to do with the family I was raised in or the church I grew up attending. I don't know. But like everyone, I suppose, getting a grip on the human heart hasn't come easy. I'm grateful to my therapist and good friends (both books and real people) that have helped me along the way.

As with everything, our emotions are to be stewarded just like our resources and relationships. So why did God make us emotional? One reason God made us emotional is to help us see what we value. Catch that. Our emotions tell us something about what we truly value. We sometimes value the right things and sometimes we value the wrong things. Our emotions give us a good read on what we believe to be of worth. Here’s what I mean. There are things in the news today that ought to illicit emotions such as grief and anger. Jesus himself was angry on a number of occasions and it was right for him to be angry (Mark 3:5, for example). When injustice is done, amongst many things, anger should surface. When good deeds are done and someone experiences grace, freedom, and success, emotions like gratitude and joy are to be expected.  

 

EMOTIONS & VIRTUES

Before signing off, it is helpful to remember two things about our emotions and our virtues. Emotions, in and of themselves are not to be considered virtuous. They’re embedded within the individual. Thinking a good thought, though praiseworthy, (Phil. 4:8) is not the same thing as a virtuous deed. Christians are are repeatedly commanded to perform good deeds (Matt. 5:16, Eph 2:10, Titus 3:81 John 3:18. Or perhaps the entire book of James would be good to look at as well). And yet, these good deeds are to not to be done divorced from our feelings. Extending a helping hand, showing mercy, and seeking justice with disengaged or disingenuous hearts reduces Christianity to mere moralism, which isn’t Christianity at all. Thus, our emotions matter. Not only do our emotions matter, they are essential to those of us who dare to live the eternal life in the here and now.  


Michael Horton on Being Ordinary

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"My concern is that the activist impulse at the heart of evangelicalism can put an enormous burden on people to do big things when what we need most right now is to do the ordinary things better. We can miss God in the daily stuff, looking for the extraordinary Moment outside of his Word and conversation with Him in daily prayer, family worship, and especially the public gathering of the saints each Lord's Day. If we were more serious about these ordinary means of grace, I'm convinced the church would have a much stronger witness in the world today." 

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

Holy Fun: The Peach Jolly Rancher

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Do you remember your first Jolly Rancher? The candy that could make your day or break your teeth is one that I’ll never forget. It's funny being 38 years old and a father of two that somehow lately memories that have been tucked away in the outskirts of my mind are being dislodged. Some are painful, some are beautiful, and some are fun, and some are holy. This memory is holy and fun. Those things can and should go together, you know? Don't let anyone lie to you and tell you that holiness is the enemy of fun. Holiness is no more the enemy of fun than Mickey is the archenemy of Pluto. They belong together. In fact, when one exists without the other, we end up sounding like a weary Solomon rather than a rejoicing Siemon in the temple cradling the Messiah or a Mary who knows how to pick the good portion and find a seat close to the Savior. 

 

I remember being about 9 years old in Panama City Beach on our family vacation. We loaded up in my mom’s Aero Star minivan and made the 6 or so hour trek down to what some call the “Redneck Riviera.” Maybe I was too young to notice or care for the snarky comment about where we went on vacation. My mom and brother were on the beach and my dad and I were to go grab something from our condo. My dad had the 80s vibe down. He was wearing short green swimming trunks, a white v-neck, and his flip flops. He also donned his aviators with the kind of swag that American Apparel today attempts to recapture. We made our way to the lobby and boarded the elevator. It smelled of bleach and there was sand in our sandals. You know that gritty-Florida-vacation-elevator-feel? It’s as good as Christmas morning or a Friday afternoon in the sun with a good book, friend, or both. 

 

When we arrived on the seventh floor, we took a right, and three doors down was the Early palace for the week. My dad reached into his right pocket and pulled out the key and opened the door. The bone-chilling air conditioning rushed out upon us like the wind of Pentecost. Nobody spoke in tongues and yet, I was standing in the middle a miracle and didn't know it. How do we not know it right then and there? Even the disciples didn't recognize the Savior on the Emmaus road, for goodness sake. 

For that brief moment in time, which lasted no longer than any other time a father and son walk through a door, I now believe that moment was filled to the brim with something sacred. As sacred as anything I've ever heard about anyway. Be it  Moses and the burning bush or Elijah's calling down fire or whatever other fantastical scenes I fall in and out of love with in the Bible. That fraction of a second in my memory is like a grain of sand under my toes. We were completely still I could not see his eyes. Rather, I saw myself in the reflection of his sunglasses, a shirtless little boy, gazing up like those resurrection-struck-buffoons at the ascension of our Lord.

I looked in his hand and he also had two peach Jolly Ranchers. I’d never seen one. I don’t know how I’d lived nine whole years on God's green earth and never actually come across one of these marvelous little creations. My dad handed one to me and said, “Here. Eat this. It’s peach.”   I took it, opened it up, and popped it in my mouth. He said, “Don’t bite down! It’ll break your teeth!” I listened. For maybe the first time in my life, I listened to my dad and I’m glad I did. 

 

To this day that was the best Jolly Rancher I ever had. I don't think I've had one since I was in high school. I did try grape and watermelon, and all the others. But the peach one… in the doorway… with the ghost of Pentecost blowing… and my reflection in his aviators…. peach is the best Jolly Rancher.