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.

Reminding Parishioners: You are Cleansed, Clothed, and Comforted

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“Shower! Clean clothes! Right away!” This is something we say quite often around the Early home now that the Big Dark has settled back in here in Seattle. Yes, the sun goes down at 4:45 and it is completely dark by 5pm. Most days the weather will change from dark grey to a lighter grey, then back to dark grey, then fade to black. Our kids don’t seem to mind. They were outside yesterday at 5:30, in the rain, under the Christmas lights strung up in the backyard, kicking a soccer ball for over an hour. They enjoy getting messy and being kids. I like that about them a whole lot.

However, when Jana and I hear the back door slide open and their little laughs bellowing out, we shout from somewhere in the house, “Get a shower and put on some clean clothes!” They’re filthy, and it’ll soon be time for dinner, board games, stories, and bed.

As I visit with the people of our parish throughout the week in restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, or on walks through the neighborhood or around Greenlake, I find myself reminding the sheep of the cleansing and clothing we receive in Christ. The people of Redemption Church are precious people. Imperfect? Of course. But are they sheep Jesus died to save? Absolutely. Every person in our church (pastors included!) struggles with battling temptation to sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world and we long for the second Advent of our Lord Jesus.

One day, the phone won’t ring with someone in tears on the other end. One day, there won’t be a long, quiet walk around the lake, with frigid fingers, scattered thoughts, and deep-seated regrets. One day, there won’t be a late-night-sit-down working to reconcile two people. One day… the Second Advent… one day…when Jesus returns…But what about right now? What do we do with dirtiness before and distance we experience between ourselves and God, as it relates to our sin?

Lately, I have found myself reminding our people (and certainly myself) “In Christ, you are cleansed, and you are clothed.” In our sin, we see our nakedness and feel shame. Sometimes we feel guilt. Other times we feel a sense of terrible fear before our Holy God. We long to feel cleansed, covered, and comfort. We need good news daily. As the hymn goes…


I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.
– Annie Hawks (1835-1918)


Every hour we need him–and that is precisely what we receive through Jesus. Because the gospel is true, we don’t just hope for cleansing, wish that we could be covered, and dream about being comforted somewhere far off in the distant future. Rather, because Jesus died in our place for our sins, was gloriously resurrected from the grave, we are now justified before God and the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit is now present with us.

In Christ, we are cleansed (1 John 1:9).

In Christ, we are clothed (Gal. 3:26).

In the Holy Spirit, we are Comforted (John 14:26).

I Still Need You, Jesus

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I still need you, Jesus.

That’s something I find myself saying several times throughout each morning, afternoon, and evening. These simple breath-prayers are not merely cognitively acknowledging my place in creation as one who is finite, dependent, and completely “prone to wander.” They’re a confession. I simply can’t do it on my own. I can’t lead myself. As much as I’d like to think I can, I just can’t. Sure, I’m very disciplined, motivated, and can see through tasks to completion. However, I don’t always know what is best, and even when I do, that doesn’t mean I’ll choose the best. I’m familiar with the ups and downs of sanctification. It’s beautiful and exhausting. At 38 years of age, I’m growing increasingly interested in that whole glorification thing Paul was on about.

I’m an imperfect husband. I sometimes put myself first. As a dad, every night after putting the babies to bed (I still call them my babies even though they are 7 and 9 years old!), I wonder if I could’ve said something different to them throughout the day, asked a better question, been more creative, and given one more encouraging word. As a pastor, I get a front row seat to some of the greatest highs and greatest lows within a day, sometimes within an hour.

Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It’s true. Apart from him, I can’t resist temptation to sin. Apart from him, I can’t serve my neighbor with a pure heart. Apart from him, I can’t even love myself rightly. That statement by Jesus can feel so crushing. And in fact, it is.

But that’s not all he said. Jesus isn’t one to dangle a carrot on a string. He’s invited us to a feast a the table! Just before he shows us our need, he summons us to "abide in him” (John 15:4). When Jesus tells us to abide in him he’s essentially inviting us into a space of holy familiarity. He’s saying, "I want you as comfortable with me as you are in your living room, in your sweats, lounging on the couch with no phone to distract you, no clock to hurry you, and with nowhere else to be. In my presence, I want you to be you and me to be me so that we can be us.”

Perhaps you’re feeling quite needy today? Maybe a simple breath-prayer confessing your need of him would be a great place to start.

A pastor-theologian that I’ve come to really admire published this in an essay last year and it strikes at the core of our neediness. Dr. Heistand writes:

“Yet there is limit to how this power can be transferred. Christ does not transfer his power to the church in a way that makes the church independent of and no longer in need of Christ–as though Jesus were able to give away his power to the church like a rich person gives away money to a poor person, who now being in possession of wealth, is no longer in need of the rich person. Rather Christ’s empowerment of the church comes in the form of his Spirit, which is his own presence. In this way, Christ shares his power only insofar as the church dwells in relation to and lives in dependence upon Christ. The church’s strength is always borrowed; we never become a divine person, eternal and uncreated.”
— Gerald Hiestand, “Put Pain like That Beyond My Power: A Christocentric Theodicy with Respect to the Inequality of Male and Female Power” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, 116.

Bernard, Calvin, & the Name of Jesus

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I wish more Calvinists would actually read Calvin. There. I said it. He gets quoted quite often, but I’m not so sure that he’s actually been read by so many these days. Most of my life growing up in the Church, when I’d hear the word “Calvinist,” I knew that was my cue to run for the hills because “those people think we’re all robots and don’t believe we have a free will” or some kind of remark would be made. Then, during my college years, I was properly introduced to Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and the whole gang. Since then, I found out that Calvin isn’t a monster after all. As it turns out, he loved Jesus and the Church a whole heck of a lot.

Back in when I was in my post-grad studies at the London School of Theology, one of my professors, Dr. Tony Lane sparked my interest in St. Bernard’s influence upon the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. The relationship between these two saints has been much of Lane’s focus, beginning, I believe, during his days in Oxford. St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived from 1090-1153. Calvin (1509-1564) leans heavily on Clairvaux’s thoughts especially surrounding what we commonly refer to as “justification by faith.”

This year I have been working slowly, devotionally, if you will, through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To know that Calvin was 27 years old when he penned this incredible gift to the Church, truly is remarkable. What I love about this work is that the reader can clearly discern Calvin’s pastoral heart. His love for Jesus and the people shines and causes me to love Jesus and want to serve the people of Redemption with all my heart. Calvin systematically works through key doctrines of the faith not for the sake of theologians in a library somewhere but he articulates truth in plain terms, though he’s not saying “simple things.” Unfortunately, when the name “Calvin” is mentioned, many tend to shudder because someone somewhere who is completely out of touch with Calvin and the Jesus he loved, spoke crudely, attaching Calvin’s name to something ugly or divisive.

Perhaps beginning over the holidays or at the turn of the year, you might consider purchasing a copy of the Institutes and working through them slowly? I’ve found both my mind and heart genuinely enriched this year as a result of Calvin’s pastoral influence upon my life.

I’ll leave you today with this beautiful line first penned by Bernard, then by Calvin on the name of Jesus…

The name of Jesus is not only light but food. It is oil without which food for the soul is dry and salt without which is insipid. It is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear and joy in the heart. It has healing power. Every discussion where his name is not heard is pointless.
— Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Part VI, ch. 7.1 eds., Lane & Osborne








A Brief Theology of Serving

Our sanctuary was particularly beautiful this past Sunday afternoon.

Our sanctuary was particularly beautiful this past Sunday afternoon.

A Serving Community (Mark 10)

As deacons, we want to ground everything that we do in service to Jesus and the church body out of what Jesus has done for us both personally and collectively. The following isn’t intended to introduce anything particularly “new” to you but rather this is a short piece honing in on a couple of common temptations we face as deacons. This is also a simple reminder of the ground upon which all Christian discipleship is founded, namely, the cross of Jesus. This is particularly important for those who focus so closely on the serving the church as deacons. 


Serving Does Not Justify Sin

Paul admonished the Galatian church "to not grow weary in doing good" (Gal. 6:9). Lots of things can happen when we grow weary. One is the fact that we easily lose sight of what the gospel is all about and begin thinking about our relationship to God and serving others in ways that reflect more of the culture of this world rather than the Kingdom of God. As leaders, we have to consistently remind ourselves of the fact that as we serve, we do so not out of mere obligation but out of God’s grace and empowered by His Spirit, for His glory. It can sometimes become easy to see our good works of serving God and others as some sort of currency to spend on justifying private sins. The thinking goes, "I did all of these good things for God and others. I taught Sunday School so if I overindulge in ______ area, that’s perfectly OK.” Or "I get to church early to set up and serve in hospitality, and because I sacrifice a bit, my bad attitude at home later is justified.”

When we fall into this type of temptation, it reveals we’ve lost our way and have mistaken our relationship with God as a contract rather than a covenant. When it comes to sin, God is no sucker. There is no bartering, no schmoozing, and certainly no “5-good-works-entitles-me-to-1-private-sin" idea in Scripture. Serving the church does not earn currency to spend on future sins nor does our serving atone for past sins. Jesus paid it all–past, present, and future. Our serving is born out of gratitude for this reality. 



Jesus: The Key to Joy in Serving Others

Another temptation that we can often face is to remember these moments of sacrificially serving to turn then and wrongly judge others who "aren't pulling their weight around here.” Recall Martha’s condemnation of Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha worked frantically around the house. Martha was concerned about good things. Washing the dishes, tending to the cleanliness of the home, and making guests feel comfortable are all good things. She was aiming towards hospitality. However, Mary had chosen the greatest thing, to sit at Jesus’ feet and get to the dishes later. That was Mary’s choice and it “would not be taken from her” according to Jesus (Luke 10:42). When our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-3) rather than keeping score with others, we’ll actually enjoy serving because it is in serving that we sense the nearness of our Savior.  

Even Jesus' disciples had incredibly misinformed views of what it meant to be a servant. In fact, it wasn't even on their radar. Mark 10:35-45 is one of the more famous passages in the gospels for several reasons. In the conversation between Jesus and the Sons of Thunder, James, and John, we get a clear picture of how Jesus thinks of the relationship between power and acts of humble service. He punctuates his point by saying that his sacrificial death (“ransom”) was going to be an act of service and was intended to mold the hearts and give shape to those who would come after him as obedient disciples. Mark records,

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45).  


The brother’s request to be seated in a place of future eschatological glory is met with a question by Jesus regarding “baptism” and “the cup.” What does Jesus mean by “the cup,” exactly? "The cup" is one way the Old Testament repeatedly speaks of the “wrath of God” (Jer. 25:15-17; 49:12; 51:7; Ps. 75:8; Zech. 12:2-3; Lam. 4:21; Hab. 2:16). In the apocalypse, John also references “the cup” as in direct relation to the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10; 18:16). The disciples clearly do not understand the metaphor and answer Jesus, “We are able” (Mark 10:39). Jesus then instructs the disciples, teaching them that greatness in the community of God is not accomplished through lording authority over others as the pagan Gentiles were notorious. Instead, greatness is measured in terms of service to others. 


Did God Strike a Deal with the Devil?

The use of the word ransom here has been the subject of much debate and oftentimes been used to speak inaccurately about the meaning of the death of Christ. To whom was this price, this ransom, paid? Did God actually strike a deal with the Devil? Origen, in the 3rd century, popularized the idea that the ransom was paid to Satan. Jeffery Russell summarizes Origen’s thoughts succinctly. 

“In order to rescue us from Satan’s power without violating justice, God was obliged to pay the Devil a ransom. The only ransom the Devil would accept was a perfect man, so when God offered him, Christ, he seized him eagerly, and in turn handed him over to vicious humans to torment and kill him. Death and the Devil exulted in their triumph, but only for a flicker of a moment, for the ransom was a trick. Since Christ was God, the Devil could not hold him, and since Christ was without sin, it was a violation of justice to try to hold him, a violation that annulled Satan’s claim to keep the rest of us in bondage. The slate wiped clean, meant that we were free. Satan had been duped, gulled, cheated, and made a fool of.”
— Jeffery Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 140.


Origen's theory, however, is greatly flawed. James Edwards responds to this theory by exposing the flaws therein and sustains the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Satan…

...is not mentioned in v. 45, nor even in Mark’s passion account. Satan was last mentioned in 8:33, and there he attempts to avert Jesus from suffering and death! The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice to obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and full satisfaction of God’s justice.
— Edwards, Mark, 328. William Lane writes in his commentary, “The Son of Man takes the place of the many and there happens to him what would have happened to them.” Lane, Mark, 384; italics in original. See also Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach, 67-73 for details surrounding Jesus’ death in the dark, the cry of dereliction, and the prediction of his own suffering and death, thus emphasizing the ransom paid to God is indeed a penal substitution.


The Way “It Is"

Thus, Jesus anchors his penalty-bearing sacrifice in the context of teaching the disciples about true servanthood. Edwards hones in on the Greek text of verses 43-44 and offers profound insight as he demonstrates the way “it is” in the Kingdom of God. He writes,

the best textual evidence suggests that is it the presence of the verb “to be” (Gk. estin), not the future (Gk. estai), that is, “’It is not the way among you,’” as opposed to “’It shall not be this way among you.’” V.43a is thus not an admonition to behave in a certain way as much as a description of the way things actually already are in the kingdom of God, and even among disciples of the kingdom. Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.
— Edwards, Mark, 325.

So catch that! The serving community that Jesus establishes is not merely a moral population with a virtuous ethic attached to it. Instead, love is made manifest with the acts of service that flow out of the community who rightly understand their position within the Kingdom of God.  The juxtaposition to the Romans in the text is also significant. “In the Greek world “service,” was the opposite of happiness, as Plato says: “How can one be happy when he has to serve someone?” Jesus has effectively introduced his upside-down kingdom through his sacrificial serving nature and actions (See Evans, Mark, 119).  


At Redemption, we want to stay mindful that our acts of service from lugging televisions upstairs for kids ministry in the rain, to setting up signs around the lake, to hosting Life Groups, to practicing music and leading in corporate worship on Sunday, to making sure that audio, visual, and the podcast is up and running smoothly, to website, and on and on... we are not following in the way of Plato. We are following Jesus in his upside-down kingdom where the first seek to go last. 


A constant prayer of mine this year for myself, is simply "God, help me to be the best foot-washer in the room today. Please help me identify needs and serve joyfully. In my moments of weakness or frustration, help me to stay mindful of Jesus who loves me and has served me, giving me eternal life." 













Henri Nouwen on The Trap of Self-Rejection

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“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.”


The Vice of Busyness

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– Duthie Hill Bike Park, Issaquah, Washington

"How are you doing, Alex?" My response? "Busy." This was the standard answer I'd give people from 2008-2015 working as a pastor. That's right. Typical busy pastor. After all, there were sermons to be preached, classes to be taught, pastoral care appointments to attend to, disciples to be made, funds to be raised, buildings to be acquired, the mission to be advanced, and on and on it goes. (Notice things like Sabbath, prayer, and friendship were not included in my very important list of things to be done). Therefore, I was busy.

Sadly, like so many, I would preach passionately a message I wasn't willing or able to appropriate for myself. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest." What beautiful words and an even more beautiful reality for everyone else except me! I was a "leader," and nobody could really understand what I was going through because, in my mind, I had a unique calling in life that required more of me than anyone else. Besides, I was fine. I didn't necessarily *feel* weary and heavy burdened. After all, how "weary" can a 28-year-old be? Plus, at that age, a combination of caffeine and adrenaline rushes can get you pretty far while requiring little sleep and downtime. And while 28-year-old Alex without kids didn't feel as tired as 38-year-old Alex with two kids, the reality is that there's never been a moment of my life that I didn't need the rest Jesus offers and provides.

The Bible never speaks favorably of the busyness that I and so many like me are prone to wander into. This doesn't negate the commands to work hard, be diligent, see tasks through to the completion, and provide well for oneself and family. Don't hear me saying that slothfulness is the remedy for busyness. The remedy for busyness is holiness. After all, Moses taught us that keeping the Sabbath holy is the meat and potatoes of true piety. Slow down but don't stop.

But what is it about our busyness? Though we complain about it, I think we actually like it more than we're willing to let on. This is because the alternative to busyness provides us with real challenges. When we're still and without a phone in hand to distract us, left alone with our thoughts, we get anxious because we feel like we're somehow missing out on whatever is happening online.

In addition to missing out, our busyness helps us feel like we matter. When we are able to say that we're busy, we're essentially saying that we matter to someone somewhere and what we produce is needed in this world. This is because more often than not, we are what we do.

Yet, the scrambled, maxed-out, hectic life in the name of getting ahead continues to make us lonely and discontent. In fact, mentors of mine used to say to me regularly "Leadership is lonely." I bought into that mentality, and it cost me dearly. I know what they were trying to say. However, a lonely leader is unhealthy. At what point did loneliness become just "part of the job?" Oh, and a lonely pastor is an oxymoron. The call to lead is not a call to loneliness. It is a call to humility, servitude, community, and vulnerability.

Busyness produces loneliness and loneliness produces pointlessness. Sounds a little like like Ecclesiastes, doesn't it?

Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)

Most people who are incredibly busy will tell you in a moment of gut-level-honesty that constantly running 90 miles per hour feels far more like a vice and less like a virtue. In Psalm 127 we read "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2). Again, this is not a call to laziness. This is a call to happy holiness in which we are truly present to God, ourselves, our families, friends, and coworkers.

Call to Worship

If you are spiritually weary and in search of rest, 

if you are mourning and you long for comfort, 

if you are struggling and you desire victory,

if you recognize that you are a sinner and need a Savior,

God welcomes you here in the name of Christ.

To the stranger in need of fellowship,

to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

and to whoever will come,

Redemption Church opens wide its doors

and welcomes all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christopher Wright on Being "Sent" by God

I love this picture. Jana took it this summer when we were camping with some good buddies in Steamboat Rock, Washington.

I love this picture. Jana took it this summer when we were camping with some good buddies in Steamboat Rock, Washington.

“The Bible tells us that God did send many people. But the range of things for which people were sent is staggeringly broad. “Sending’ language is used in all the following stories. Joseph was sent (unwittingly at first) to be in a position to save lives in a famine (Gen 45:7). Moses was sent (unwittingly at first) to deliver people from oppression and exploitation (Ex. 3:10). Elijah was sent to influence the course of international politics (1 Kings 19:15-18). Jeremiah was sent to proclaim God’s Word (e.g., Jr. 1:7). Jesus claimed the words of Isaiah that he was sent to preach good news, to proclaim freedom, to give sight for the blind, and to offer release from oppression (Lk 4:16-19; cf. Isa. 61:1). 

The disciples were sent to preach and demonstrate the delivering and healing power of the reign of God (Matt. 10:5-8). As apostles, they were sent to make disciples, baptize and teach (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus sent them into the world in the same way that the Father had sent him, which raises a lot of interesting questions and challenges (John 17:18; 20:21). Paul and Barnabas were sent with famine relief (Acts 11:27-30). Later they were sent for evangelism and church planting (Acts 13:1-3). Titus was sent to ensure trustworthy and transparent financial administration (2 Cor. 8:16-24). Later he was sent for competent church administration (Titus 1:5). Apollos was sent as a skilled Bible teacher for church nurture (Acts 18:27-28). Many unnamed brothers and sisters were sent out as itinerant teachers for the sake of the truth of the gospel (3 John 5-8).

So, even if we agree that the concept of sending and being sent lies at the heart of mission, there is a broad range of biblically sanctioned activities that people may be sent by God to do, including famine relief, action for justice, preaching, evangelism, teaching, healing, and administration. Yet when we use the rods “missions” and “missionaries”, we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity.”




John Stott on Evangelism

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“Non-Christian people are watching us. We claim to know, to love and to follow Jesus Christ. We say that he is our Savior, our Lord, and our Friend. ‘What difference does he make to these Christians?’ the world asks searchingly. ‘Where is their God?’ It may be said without fear of contradiction that the greatest hinderance to evangelism in the world today is the failure of the church to supply evidence in her own life and work of the saving power of God. Rightly may we pray for ourselves that we may have God’s blessing and mercy and the light of his countenance–not that we may then monopolize his grace and bask in the sunshine of his favor, but that others may see in us his blessing and his beauty, and be drawn to him through us.” 


Brennan Manning on Evangelism

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“The Ministry of evangelization is an extraordinary opportunity of showing gratitude to Jesus by passing on His gospel of grace to others. However, the ʻconversion by concussionʼ method with one sledgehammer blow of the Bible after another betrays a basic disrespect for the dignity of the other and is utterly alien to the gospel imperative to bear witness. To evangelize a person is to say to him or her: you, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it. This is what it means to announce the Good News. But that becomes possible only by offering the person your friendship; a friendship that is real, unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence, and profound esteem.”