Thursday, December 8, 2016

What or Who? Freedom, Truth, and Eternal Life

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).” We are called to be free. That is good news, but what is freedom? One definition is, ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.’ So in this sense, freedom is the ability to captain your own ship, to steer your own course, to make your own decisions. This is the freedom children discover, desire, and fight for as they grow up. “I don’t need help.” “I don’t want to go.” This freedom is built into the bedrock of what makes America an amazing country. Our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and government system are designed to protect individual freedoms. What a wonderful thing! It is our God given right to be able to make our own decisions and not be controlled by the wills of other people. In the verse above, Paul writes that yes, we do have freedom to choose, but then encourages us not to ‘indulge the flesh’. Is Paul encroaching on our freedom, trying to take our rights away? No! In fact, He is pointing to an even deeper form of freedom, the freedom of our hearts! “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for "people are slaves to whatever has mastered them (2 Peter 2:19)." “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3).” The bible is very clear that we can exercise our freedom of choice, and in so doing become enslaved to ‘fleshly desires’, to sin. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves (1 Peter 2:16).” We can be held captive by anger, by lust, by selfish ambition and pride. Our hearts can be broken in un-forgiveness, bitterness, and jealousy. The bible calls all these actions, attitudes, and feelings ‘sin’. It is a way of living that results in death, enslavement, and oppression. The bible says that this dark influence that enslaves us in ‘passions and pleasures’ is a Kingdom that we need liberation from. It is a kingdom that has power, a kingdom that influences our decision making, a ruling entity that places us in bondage to our own brokenness. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:1-2).” So true freedom isn’t having the ability to choose whatever you want, for when we are influenced by the ‘Kingdom of the Air’, we become spiritually enslaved. The Jews struggled to understand the freedom Jesus promised them, because they were oppressed by the physical kingdom of Rome. Freedom they desired had to do with their earthly rule, to be free from foreign government, and to ultimately be able to make their own decisions as a nation. They didn’t have eyes to understand the ‘kingdom of the air’, the Kingdom of darkness, that had enslaved the entire world. It would be wrong for us to think that liberation from the kingdom of darkness comes from our ability to choose. If, at the root of our choices is pride, all our decisions will be for self promotion, even if we think it’s the ‘right choice’. The darkness is not so simple that we can choose to not be in it. The scriptures show that the darkness is a blindness that effects humanity. The blind cannot lead the blind. The blindness we experience isn’t just caused by sinful choices either, we need to see that we choose sin because we are blind. What are we blind to? We are blind to who God actually is. Why do we choose to do evil things? Because we don’t know God! Why is there “another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me (Romans 7:23)?” Because we don’t know God! Knowing or not knowing God, rather than just being intellectual knowledge, is seen most clearly by how we see the world, ourselves, and why we make the decision we do! The church still often functions as a moral reform program, trying to encourage people to ‘make’ the right decisions, and ‘avoid’ the wrong ones. Just like doctors shouldn’t just try to get rid of the ‘symptoms’ of sickness, we need to go beyond the external actions and minister to what is going on inside of people’s hearts. Freedom doesn’t come through our choices, but from how we perceive the world and ourselves. If our perception changes so will our actions! How Jesus Brings Freedom: Revealing the Father “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:9-11).” John points out throughout his Gospel that Jesus, God Himself, stepped into the world He created and sustains, and that His own people not only didn’t recognize Him but killed Him! How they ‘saw’ the world, what they ‘thought’ about God, completely blinded them to who He actually is! “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).” In the West, we separate our ‘beliefs’ from our actions and our head from our heart. To truly understand and know the person of Jesus we need to embrace a more interconnected perspective on how we function as human’s. Our actions cannot be divorced from our perception but are actually birthed out of it! For too long our Western way of thinking has blinded us to the Gospel and caused us to incorrectly view and proclaim what the good news of Jesus is actually about! “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).” What is this truth? Is it an idea, a law, a prophecy? We tend to think that the truth is an ideal or a teaching. In the evangelical world it is a concept that we just need to intellectually agree with. Normally it goes something like this, ‘If we intellectually agree with the fact that Jesus died to save us then we are saved.’ Such a notion is systematic in nature, it is causal, and logical and not what Jesus is trying to say. Let’s analyze that passage from John 8. Jesus says that if they hold to His teachings they will be His disciples. A good step, but sometimes that’s all we want to accomplish in the church. By making disciples we are really just calling people to follow teachings, rules, or a program. It’s moral reform, treating the symptoms. Many find that this doesn’t seem like freedom, it feels like just more principles to follow, more decisions to make. Jesus doesn’t stop at discipleship like we do. He says if we follow Him that then we will come to know the truth. Again we are confronted with our western perspective. What truth, what statement or fact do we need to believe? That is where we get it wrong, the truth isn’t an idea to believe, or a teaching to follow, the truth is a person! Now that boggles our systematic brains! “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” “I am the light of the world, whoever walks in me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).” Freedom isn’t a step by step process, it isn’t a system, a formula, or a set of beliefs. Freedom/Salvation is a person. In following Him we come to know Him. He is the light and the life. As we come to know Him we are set free! Freedom is a relationship with Jesus and what He does in us, He doesn’t just treat the symptoms but transforms us from the inside out! Christians around the world still find it easier to introduce a system or a belief as the truth, and we again become enslaved to system of rules and principles. Many times when someone ‘converts’ to a religion, they are choosing to give credibility to a new set of religious teachings to help guide their decision making. This makes it very easy to feel justified because we are choosing the ‘right’ way. It is rooted in human achievement and divides us in unhealthy ways as it creates an ‘us and them’ paradigm. Christianity is not a set of teachings, it is not a religion, it doesn’t function that way! Jesus isn’t saying ‘a’ truth will set us free, but that ‘the’ truth will set us free; He Himself is the truth! He Himself is the way out of the darkness. Knowing Him as a person, not knowing a truth, is freedom. What is darkness, sin, and temptation all about? Not knowing the Father! If we don’t know the Father we live in darkness, which is captivity to sin. On the other hand if we know the Father we live in light and are free from sin! Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to bring us from darkness to light! “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him (John 14:6-7).’" “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3).” We don’t ‘believe’ in a truth statement and all of a sudden receive eternal life. It’s not a transaction but a relationship! In knowing the Son we know the Father, this is Eternal life itself! Mind bending isn’t it!? True freedom is knowing the Father, who the son came to reveal. Because of the darkness that blinds us and keeps us from knowing God, we need Jesus to reveal the Father to us! In that sense He is the only way to the Father, all other sources of knowledge and revelation are faulty. It’s not that Jesus is the formula to getting to God, but that He alone knows who He is! ‘Believing’ in Jesus, in an intellectual sense, isn’t how we ‘get to God’. It’s not a system, it’s a relationship. We cannot divorce salvation, freedom, or life from the person of Jesus. Knowing Him is freedom, knowing Him is eternal life. “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).” How Jesus Reveals the Father They way Jesus reveals the Father to us is simple yet profound. If Jesus just started saying a bunch of truths to us through the bible, we would still be functioning in the same way as all religions, from principles, teaching, and knowledge that we need to apprehend. We don’t have the ability to see the Father on our own, so as ‘the only one who know’s the father’, Jesus enters into our blindness and unites Himself to us in the darkness. “Christ in us the hope of glory!” Jesus doesn’t call us to follow principles, but enters inside each of us and reveals what He knows to be true about the Father with us from the inside out! “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:12).” He shares His relationship with the Father with us, He gives us His eyes, His perspective, and the love He shares with His dad is now shared with us! That is what brings transformation, that where freedom reigns, that is what eternal life is! Wrap your mind around that one! To finish up I encourage you to read Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Below are a couple small sections that point to the purpose of Jesus, the hidden revelation of knowing the Father, and the truth of what freedom is all about! “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me (John 17:6-8).” “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (20-23).” “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (25-26).”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Transform Your Life by Realizing 'Love Is A Choice'.

Culturally, when we talk about ‘love’, we are talking about the feeling we have in relation to something. For instance, I love dessert! I really do. Well-made pastries, cakes, pies, and cookies are so delicious! Unfortunately how we ‘love’ dessert is also how we interpret our love for people. My love is based on how I feel about them. In other words, my love is measured by how well another person meets my needs for belonging, identity, or affection. When I feel good around them, when they are meeting certain needs inside of me, I love them. If they are not meeting those needs or expectations, if I don’t feel good around them, I don’t love them. Do you see how twisted that is?

Now I don’t want to throw feelings out the door, they are a wonderful, and just as much a part of our lives as they are of God’s. But when we define love primarily through a lens of feeling we are not only being self-centered, but we have given the well-being of ourselves into the hands of others. They are responsible for how I feel, for meeting my needs, and ultimately responsible for how much I ‘love them.’

This is a disastrous way to live because our love becomes very, very, fickle. We want to love, but we unconsciously become focused on the benefit we receive from a relationship. When this happens we miss love completely. Love, as defined by God, is other centered and self-giving. It isn’t about what someone gives to me, but what I choose to give to them.

 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13).”

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8).”

What a profound revelation of love. God was getting nothing from us, our relationship was as lopsided as it gets. We had turned our noses up in our selfishness and hurt Him over and over. Yet He still loved us, still chose us. Again, that doesn’t mean he ‘feels’ happy or good with who we are or with what choices we are making, it means that He continually chooses to move towards us and put our needs ahead of his own despite our selfish and inconsiderate choices. God’s love is determined by who He is, not by who we are.

 In John 3:16, it says that God so loved the world that He ‘did’ something. He sent His son. Love is action. Love is not self-seeking but self-sacrificing, Jesus demonstrates this to us in the most powerful way, He died for us. This is profound, and has the capacity to transform not only our own hearts but every relationship we find ourselves in.

In our culture we think that someone can ‘love’ another while treating them like garbage. We have a misconstrued understanding of love because our emphasis is on how we feel instead of what we do. An abusive husband will often claim that he still loves his wife. He certainly doesn't meant that he has been choosing to put her needs above his own. No, what he means, is that he feels emotionally attached to his wife, he wants her, maybe even needs her. The attachment he has isn't love because it is self-centered not other-centered. The love a teenager has for a crush has to do with the feelings they experience around that person. The feelings are not bad, but since they are about what they personally receive from the relationship, it is not love.

The love I have for my wife is measured not by the good feelings I have when I see her or think about her, although there are plenty of those. My love for her is measured by the continual choices I make to care for her. Surprisingly, the more I love her, ie the more I die to myself to care for her and put her needs above my own, the stronger feelings I have for her.

How many married couples claim they have fallen out of ‘love’? What self-centered garbage. What they mean is that they have given up on loving their spouse, they have forsaken love by focusing on their own needs rather than their spouses. The reason a person’s ‘feeling’ of love has gone cold is because they have stopped loving. They have stopped laying down their lives, stopped serving, stopped caring.

The vast majority of marriages end because someone has selfishly chosen to stop loving. You do not ‘fall in love’, nor do you ‘fall out of it’. You choose it, again, and again. Love isn't passive, it doesn't happen on accident, love is always your choice no matter how the other person is loving you. It is this definition of love that is written into the vows spoken at a wedding ceremony. Vows so often spoken but so rarely lived out. If we truly realized what love is, most marriages would not only be saved but they would thrive.

This revelation, that love is a choice, gives great purpose and clarity to my life. Love isn’t determined by how others treat me but how I choose to treat them. How beautiful, how challenging, how convicting. Nobody is responsible for my decision to love but me. This is true for my wife, my family, my friends, and every person I will ever meet. Love is my choice. In this I have discovered what life is truly about, for everyone deeply desires to experience this kind of love, it's what we are made for. We are created in the image of God, created for relationship, to share in the relationship He has. We are created to love and be loved. This is not a passive or self-centered lifestyle, but radically active, amazingly vibrant, and oh so challenging.

It’s astounding that in his letters of the Apostle Paul rarely, if ever, did he pray for the circumstances of others to change. Instead he prayed “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).”

 His desire was for everyone to know the love of Jesus. The love that transforms us so that we in turn transform the world. Paul wants his readers to live radically in the love of God, and to follow Christ's lead by laying down their lives for those around them. It is impossible to experience God’s radical love without being changed, without being challenged, without loving in return. Love God and love your neighbor, the two greatest commands of scripture, our purpose and our true identity.

Loving God is the hardest for me to do sometimes. I want it to mean I feel warm and fuzzy when I think of him, but that denies what love actually is. Loving God means that I am making choices that honor Him. It means that I am living life, relating with others, and making choices with Him in mind. Sin is when I am making selfish decisions, sin happens when I'm not loving God. Love is more than feeling, it is our behavior, our choices. I want to grow in this love, to grow in His love. I want to know it, taste it, and breathe it. When I choose to love God, just like when I choose to love my wife, feelings of affection often grow, but my love isn't dependent on those feelings. I is my choice, and yours too.

Be loving today, make the hundred small choices to honor God, and to put other’s needs ahead of your own. It is truly what life is all about.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

God Favors Some More Than Others

Miriam Webster Dictionary defines favor as a kind or helpful actthat you do for someone; approval, support, or popularity. The preference for one person, group, etc., over another. Favor is confusing because we know that God 'loves' the whole world. His love doesn't change from person to person, and yet scripture reveals that God does view, treat, and even prefer some people over others. The scriptures show that He showed preference to Noah and His family, to Abraham and Sarah, and for Israel. He shows favor to Able over Cain, to Jacob over Esau, to believers over unbelievers. God favors the poor, the broken, the weak, the humble. Why is this? How can we view God showing favor or preference for some people over others without taking away from the fact that He loves everyone?
Imagine a husband and wife that are fully and completely alive! They are full of compassion and good-will. They love life, are creative, fun, and spontaneous. They love adventure and love to learn new things. They aren't full of themselves, don't need to prove anything, and don't care for recognition. They live, learn, and love because that is who they are and that's what life is about. They are fully present with those around them, genuinely care about others, and go out of their way to show their love. They aren't just different than others in that they have separate interests, they are different because they aren't motivated by insecurity or the desire to prove themselves. They are humble, vulnerable, and generous. They are the kind of people everyone wants to be around but are slightly intimidated by at the same time. They live in the present moment, without anxiety, stress, or depression. They are full, they are good, they are love.

Now imagine that this amazing couple has 2 children. One of them doesn't have anything in common with their parents. Not in the sense that they like different things, but that they were motivated and live for different reasons. This child of theirs is driven by the desire to prove themselves to the world, they don't enjoy activity for it's own sake, but only in as much they can gain status and prestige in them. They hearts arn't like their parents, they learned to put others down, to compare, and to undervalue those around them. Again it isn't so much that they are just 'different', but that they opposing the life of their parents. Where dad encourages, they put down, where mom serves with joy, they do so with grumbling. Where dad is selfless they are selfish, where mom is free, they are in bondage. This child's character, drive, and identity are sourced in completely opposite ways than their parents. If the child feels good when others fail, while their parents feel compassion, they will not be able to share in life. If their child takes advantage of others instead of helping them, how can the parents rejoice in their 'success'?

In this scenario, the parents would still love their son or daughter, but they wouldn't
be able to fully engage with them in life. The conversations they have with one another cannot be wholesome or agreeable. They can't delight in their child's decisions and attitudes because they are destructive and selfish. Their love would be aimed at the child's redemption and freedom. They would want their son or daughter to know the love they have for them so they could stop striving, stop feeling shame, and stop using other people to gain personal status. There would be a dissonance in their relationship, a place where the parents can't fully delight in their child even though they love them. This is contrary to our culture that pushes for a full approval and acceptance of all behaviors, mentalities, belief systems, and lifestyles.
Their 2nd child on the other hand has learned to be like Mom and Dad. They love to learn, to discover, and to adventure. They have learned to be humble, that it is ok to make mistakes, and that their identity isn't found in what others think of them. This child has some different interests than their parents, but their heart is in the same place. The parents have a joy and relational freedom with this child that they don't have with the first. They can relate on the same level, share in joy, sorrow, and compassion in the same ways. They love their children equally, but because their second child has learned to be like them, to be more free, they are able to delight and support them in their decisions and in who they are.
"Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”-John 14:21

Jesus isn't saying that God only loves some people. He is pointing to God's favor, His esteem, His delight. If I live my life in a place of comparison, striving to become important, and put others down in order to look more superior, God will not delight in my attitude or behavior. If I relate to God, giving thanks, and praying to Him from a place of inadequacy, pride, or shame, He will not affirm my choices or the place that my heart is in. The more I become like God, the more free I become, the more God is able to 'approve' of who I am. Our relationship with God changes, How He can interact with us, speak to us, and move in us changes as we become more like Him! His favor towards us begins to affect our hearts, minds, and lives!

This has been a confusing place for me in my relationships. Friends or family members will come to share their life with me, a story, a struggle, or a success. When they engage with me they are wanting my 'approval', recognition, or praise. I'm sure you've been there! If a friend comes to me because they are pumped they got to sleep with their girlfriend, that is not something I am going to be able to delight in with them, because I don't see that as a good thing. If they are raving about the victory they had in a sporting event, and that raving is rooted in the pride they feel in being 'better' than everyone else, I will not be able to fully rejoice with them. We are on different pages, we see things differently, and so we are not able to engage together fully. The friends I am closest to, the ones I am able to engage with freely, are those that are like me. Not that they necessarily like doing the same things I do, but that we share the same values, the same priorities, the same desire for life.

Scripture reveals that God is like this too. We aren't going to have the same relationship with God when we aren't 'like Him'. How can God deny Himself by becoming who He isn't? God cannot approve or delight in things He knows are destructive and damaging. He will not approve of our choices because He loves us, rather His love for us will call us up into what is good and true. His love in the face of our sin, stubbornness, or blindness will be purposed towards setting us free and opening our eyes to the truth. When we are aligned with God in our hearts and actions, His love for us will be one of joyful participation, of affirmation, joy, and delight. God loves us all equally, but His favor and delight rests on some more than others.

Miriam Webster Dictionary defines favor as a kind or helpful act that you do for someone; approval, support, or popularity. The preference for one person, group, etc., over another.

Favor is confusing because we know that God 'loves' the whole world. His love doesn't change from person to person, and yet scripture reveals that God does view, treat, and even prefer some people over others. The scriptures show that He showed preference to Noah and His family, to Abraham and Sarah, and for Israel. He shows favor to Able over Cain, to Jacob over Esau, to believers over unbelievers. God favors the poor, the broken, the weak, the humble. Why is this? How can we view God showing favor or preference for some people over others without taking away from the fact that He loves everyone?
Imagine a husband and wife that are fully and completely alive! They are full of compassion and good-will. They love life, are creative, fun, and spontaneous. They love adventure and love to learn new things. They aren't full of themselves, don't need to prove anything, and don't care for recognition. They live, learn, and love because that is who they are and that's what life is about. They are fully present with those around them, genuinely care about others, and go out of their way to show their love. They aren't just different than others in that they have separate interests, they are different because they aren't motivated by insecurity or the desire to prove themselves. They are humble, vulnerable, and generous. They are the kind of people everyone wants to be around but are slightly intimidated by at the same time. They live in the present moment, without anxiety, stress, or depression. They are full, they are good, they are love.
Now imagine that this amazing couple has 2 children. One of them doesn't have anything in common with their parents. Not in the sense that they like different things, but that they were motivated and live for different reasons. This child of theirs is driven by the desire to prove themselves to the world, they don't enjoy activity for it's own sake, but only in as much they can gain status and prestige in them. They hearts arn't like their parents, they learned to put others down, to compare, and to undervalue those around them. Again it isn't so much that they are just 'different', but that they opposing the life of their parents. Where dad encourages, they put down, where mom serves with joy, they do so with grumbling. Where dad is selfless they are selfish, where mom is free, they are in bondage. This child's character, drive, and identity are sourced in completely opposite ways than their parents. If the child feels good when others fail, while their parents feel compassion, they will not be able to share in life. If their child takes advantage of others instead of helping them, how can the parents rejoice in their 'success'?
In this scenario, the parents would still love their son or daughter, but they wouldn't be able to fully engage with them in life. The conversations they have with one another cannot be wholesome or agreeable. They can't delight in their child's decisions and attitudes because they are destructive and selfish. Their love would be aimed at the child's redemption and freedom. They would want their son or daughter to know the love they have for them so they could stop striving, stop feeling shame, and stop using other people to gain personal status. There would be a dissonance in their relationship, a place where the parents can't fully delight in their child even though they love them. This is contrary to our culture that pushes for a full approval and acceptance of all behaviors, mentalities, belief systems, and lifestyles.
Their 2nd child on the other hand has learned to be like Mom and Dad. They love to learn, to discover, and to adventure. They have learned to be humble, that it is ok to make mistakes, and that their identity isn't found in what others think of them. This child has some different interests than their parents, but their heart is in the same place. The parents have a joy and relational freedom with this child that they don't have with the first. They can relate on the same level, share in joy, sorrow, and compassion in the same ways. They love their children equally, but because their second child has learned to be like them, to be more free, they are able to delight and support them in their decisions and in who they are.
"Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”-John 14:21
Jesus isn't saying that God only loves some people. He is pointing to God's favor, His esteem, His delight. If I live my life in a place of comparison, striving to become important, and put others down in order to look more superior, God will not delight in my attitude or behavior. If I relate to God, giving thanks, and praying to Him from a place of inadequacy, pride, or shame, He will not affirm my choices or the place that my heart is in. The more I become like God, the more free I become, the more God is able to 'approve' of who I am. Our relationship with God changes, How He can interact with us, speak to us, and move in us changes as we become more like Him! His favor towards us begins to affect our hearts, minds, and lives!
This has been a confusing place for me in my relationships. Friends or family members will come to share their life with me, a story, a struggle, or a success. When they engage with me they are wanting my 'approval', recognition, or praise. I'm sure you've been there! If a friend comes to me because they are pumped they got to sleep with their girlfriend, that is not something I am going to be able to delight in with them, because I don't see that as a good thing. If they are raving about the victory they had in a sporting event, and that raving is rooted in the pride they feel in being 'better' than everyone else, I will not be able to fully rejoice with them. We are on different pages, we see things differently, and so we are not able to engage together fully. The friends I am closest to, the ones I am able to engage with freely, are those that are like me. Not that they necessarily like doing the same things I do, but that we share the same values, the same priorities, the same desire for life.
Scripture reveals that God is like this too. We aren't going to have the same relationship with God when we aren't 'like Him'. How can God deny Himself by becoming who He isn't? God cannot approve or delight in things He knows are destructive and damaging. He will not approve of our choices because He loves us, rather His love for us will call us up into what is good and true. His love in the face of our sin, stubbornness, or blindness will be purposed towards setting us free and opening our eyes to the truth. When we are aligned with God in our hearts and actions, His love for us will be one of joyful participation, of affirmation, joy, and delight. God loves us all equally, but His favor and delight rests on some more than others.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Wrath, Justice, and the Gospel: Where We Get It Wrong

We tend to project our experience of justice, revenge, and anger onto the face of God. His wrath, we decide, must look and feel like our wrath. His justice must be carried out of the constructs of right and wrong that we have personally adopted.  In so doing we have blinded ourselves to the goodness of God, and painted Him as a schizophrenic deity that sometimes loves and sometimes hates. God's wrath is other centered, while ours is self-centered. His justice is carried out with love for every individual, while our justice is retributive towards those we hate. Our anger generally revolves around personal or ideological offense; 'how dare they!' It therefore revolves around hate towards individuals or groups, and our sense of justice is rooted in our objectification of others. God is very unlike us in this way. He is love, therefore His wrath and justice need to be understood as an expression of His passionate desire for our freedom and benefit. He is for us, not against us.

Wrath
Imagine a parent whose 20 year old daughter is kidnapped and abused. She is rescued, but is broken on the inside. Fear, shame, and depression have taken over a once free and joyful spirit. They love their daughter, and desperately want the best for her. They would naturally be very angry at the abuser for what was stolen from her. Their wrath is relational, and it is easy to see that it is birthed from the love they have for their daughter. God’s wrath is relational too, and we need to see that. Real wrath is a passionate expression of love.  Yet even the parent’s wrath for their daughters pain fails to fully encapsulate what God’ wrath is all about.

Wrath is the expression of love in the face of injustice. Love requires relationship. In our example, the parent’s anger is sourced in the close relationship they have with their daughter. Have you ever noticed how we tend to care less about atrocity, injustice, and suffering the further away it is from those we love? If tragedy strikes home however, if abuse, murder, or rape happens to one of our ‘special people’, wrath is the natural expression.

God is love, and unlike us He loves everyone and is intimately involved and invested in each person He has created. God not only grieves for the daughter of the parents, but for the abuser; both are his children. He knows all our pain, brokenness, and negative influences. He knows our choices, our lies, our shame, and our hurt. He knows mine, yours, Mother Teresa’s, and Hitler’s, while loving us all! God’s wrath doesn’t exist when He is close to one person and removed from another. His wrath exists while loving everyone equally!

Justice
We call for justice based on our understanding of what is good and bad. We generally have a scale in our conscience by which we judge certain individuals as ‘deserving’ of punishment. This understanding we project onto God too.  God is not into score keeping. He isn’t interested in a person’s punishment but a person’s freedom. His justice, like His wrath, needs to be understood with the starting fact that He loves us all.

Let’s go back to our story. The young woman is broken, shackled by the shame of what happened to her, she has fallen into depression. Her parents love her, and constantly give of themselves to help her in every way we can think of. The love they have for her slams against the shame she feels inside, torturing her to the point that she runs away from it.  She leaves the safety of her loving parents and tries to fill her deep pain with drugs and meaningless sex.

Do her parents stop loving her? Do they begin to hate her for the choices she makes? How many bad choices, how many people does she need to hurt before her parents being to hate her? Is she now deserving of retributive wrath? Of course not, she is their daughter! This makes perfect sense to us. We would never hate our children, even if they were destroying their lives and hurting others in the process. But, for some ridiculous reason we think that we love better than God does. We think God has a score card, and that eventually He will disown us for crossing the line too many times. We think that God’s ‘justice’ overrides His ‘love’. But they do not need to be mutually exclusive, we just need to stop projecting our sense of justice onto God.

It seems obvious to us that a loving parent wouldn’t stop loving their child because of mistakes they were making, even if they were catastrophic. They might create boundaries to protect themselves and other people, but they would still love them and yearn for their child to see themselves as they see them. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter, even those that are hurting others. God, well, He created everyone! We are blind to what God's justice looks like because we have the unfortunate capacity to love some people more than others. God loves everyone equally, and so for Him ‘justice’ looks and is carried out differently than we think.

In this scenario we actually experience what God experiences when it comes to wrath. Loving parents would hate the destructive choices their daughter was making, they would have great wrath towards both the internal and external influences in her life that are destroying her. The wrath is an expression of their love, but for her and the ones she was hurting. They would do anything to destroy the internal and external forces that were destroying her. This is how God feels towards all of us. His wrath is other centered, it is love expressed in the face of our hurt and pain. God’s wrathful love is not against us but for us!

God’s wrath is expressed while attributing equal value to every individual. He knows each person, He knows the hurts, the biases, the wounds, and the mistakes. Knowing all these things, his love is a passionate fire against anything that destroys and abuses his children. He isn’t for some people and against others, but truly the lover of the human race. Just as we would separate an abuser from being able to continually cause suffering to others, so God will ultimately separate destructive people who don’t change their ways. God will not tolerate any hurt in His Kingdom, but He isn’t doing so out of vengeance but out of love. Even those he sends away, He loves and values. His wrath is not like ours.
We have imagined God to be someone He isn’t, and we need our minds renewed in this area. The more we think like God the more we will be able to see through a lens of love. God’s wrath is not moralistic, it is not about keeping tabs, and it is not against anyone. God is love, and He loves you, me, and every human being we will ever encounter.

The Gospel
Just like the good Father He is, God saw the pain we were in and did the unthinkable to reach us. He saw the destructive tendencies we had adopted, the wounds, shame, and depression that ruled over all His children. In our darkness and blindness we ran from His love, because it hurt too much to be in it. We fled, hid in the bushes, and embraced a life that results in death. We would not let Him come near, we convinced ourselves we were hated by God, projecting our brokenness onto Him; yet God was not deterred. He entered our darkness, stepped into our blindness, becoming Human He came to reach us because we could do nothing to reach Him.

Jesus came to us even though we did not want Him, even though we could not see Him. He entered our lives and brought us face to face with His loving Father; we could not bear it. In our shame and hurt, we could not recognize Him as God, so we killed Him. Jesus willfully took our shame, our hurt, and our anger into Himself. He submitted to our darkness and let us crucify Him. It was there that He swallowed death, united Himself to us in our blindness, and birthed new life. There is nowhere we can flee from His presence, no piece of us that He does not already know, sin and death were defeated in His resurrection!

There is nothing we can do to stop Him loving us. We can either surrender to His love, embrace Him, and therefore letting go of all our shame and hurt, or we can sit in the agony that comes in resisting it. We can embrace a life of destructing we were never created for, and in the end, in love, God will not allow us to hurt our brothers and sisters. He will send us away, where there surely will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Jesus invites us to turn to Him today. To accept His forgiveness, to release our shame, our pain, and our hate. He is at work even now revealing Himself to us, inviting us, encouraging us, and loving us into His kingdom.  We can let go and become who He purposed us to be, or we can struggle against Him, the one who is the very source all life and goodness. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jesus is the Meaning of Life

It’s the age old question, the heart cry of disappointment, the confusion after unmet expectations, the frustration when facing injustice; what is the meaning of life? Answers to this seem to be as innumerable as sand on the sea shore. People around the globe wonder why we are here, what our purpose is, and what brings fulfillment to life. These deep longings pull at our hearts and lead us to find answers in religion and philosophy. The disappointment and failure to fulfill these longings lead us to search for success, self-actualization, competitive victory, or ideological confidence.  Many decide that life’s meaning is subjective, relative, and individually defined. What do we learn from Jesus about why we are here? Can we find in Him an answer that is relevant to our hearts desire? I think so.

The desire for fulfillment is a powerful longing; and although it is where we all begin, it is actually a misguided pursuit.  Desiring fulfillment begins with the belief that there is a moment when we will arrive, achieve, or come to find what our heart longs for. We don’t realize that in the seeking we actually fall further from what we are looking for.

For the Jew in Jesus’ day there were basically 2 groups of people, the Jews and the Gentiles. These 2 groups saw and pursued the meaning of life very differently, and Jesus brings revelation that is contrary to both.

The Gentiles were the non-Jewish folk, the Romans, Greeks, and other ‘pagans’. Each culture had different religions, practices, and worldviews.  It would be impossible to sum up any of these groups without huge generalizations, so for the sake of time and cohesive writing I will make an enormous generalization, these people were what we now label as ‘worldly’.  It’s the idea that in the pursuit to fulfill the longing of their hearts, individuals are free to seek that out as they see fit. Maybe fulfillment is in achieving social status, finding glory in battle, or just seeking the most pleasurable thing to do in the moment.

We carry this mindset in our world today. Happiness is something we pursue, it is something to be obtained, something that we actually have the power to go get. “Go after your dreams.” “Do what makes you happy.” We look for fulfillment from a self-centered perspective. What do I need to do in order to ‘arrive’ at my destination? Our subjective understanding of the ‘meaning of life’ puts us on a hamster wheel of perpetual striving. If I just get that car, get that wife, get that degree, become this sort of person, or do something important enough. There are an infinite number of ways this searching manifests in our lives, but they all have something in common. We have a goal, a vision, or a dream for our lives. These goals are driven by our dissatisfaction with present circumstances, and we think that if we can change something about them, or about ourselves, then the satisfaction will finally be ours.

This ‘pursuit of happiness’ is the root of comparison, bullying, gossiping, and ultimately living in a controlling and manipulating fashion.  The desire to make something of ourselves only exists where we believe that fulfillment is found through personal success. This all leads us to be very self-centered since our primary goal is our happiness. We might even try helping others as a way to find personal satisfaction, but it still puts the cart before the horse. Somehow we need to be fulfilled so that our approach to life isn’t in the seeking but in the enjoying. I think the answer is in Jesus but let’s move on to our second group of people, the Jews.

It might seem like the Jews should be different then their ‘gentile’ counterparts, but what drives the Jew is exactly the same unfulfilled desires compounded by the lie that something, or in this case, someone can bring them to a place of ultimate satisfaction. You see, the Jews believed that life was about being ‘God’s people’, about honoring and serving God, and being in right relationship with Him. They were, after all, God’s people, chosen in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David.  They lived their lives, more or less, trying to do what was right in God’s eyes. They wanted to honor Him, to serve Him, and to be at peace with Him. Written into their theology was the idea that wealth, health, and freedom were blessings that God gave when someone was in right relationship to Him. Those who were sick, poor, or enslaved must have sinned or offended God in some way.

The Pharisees, who were the Jewish religious leaders, saw their Roman oppression as God’s punishment.  In the hopes of being free from Rome and being established as a ruling Kingdom once again, the Pharisees dedicated their lives to getting people to turn back to right relationship with God by obeying dietary, ritual, and moral laws.

The issue here with the Jews is that their pursuit of fulfillment ultimately still revolved around themselves. They wanted to be ‘blessed’ by God, and in order to do so, they served Him how they were taught they ‘should’ serve Him. Should is a dangerous word when talking about being fulfilled. Jews made sacrifices to please God, celebrating certain holiday’s to honor God, and worshipped to glorify God.  Yet they did so with the hope that God would look favorably upon them and bring them into more prosperous and comfortable circumstances that would ultimately be more fulfilling. So the Jews served God with the hope that He would intervene in their circumstances, which would in turn fulfill their hearts longing.

Jesus, born a Jew, was very unlike His people.  He was such a contradiction to the Jewish approach to life and God that they ultimately rejected Him, crucifying Him as an enemy of God and ‘His people’ (John 1:11).

He was crucified for saying things like, "blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).” Jesus is giving value to the poor. What a scandalous declaration to people who deeply desired to be a Kingdom on the earth and who believed riches were a reward from God.

In a similar way, Jesus contradicts the Jewish way of life while talking to a rich young ruler, who would have been respected and looked up to by the Jewish people as being ‘blessed’ by God. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24)."

Where the Pharisees focused on outward actions, Jesus pointed to the intentions of the heart. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean (Matthew 23:27).”

The most scandalous things Jesus said to the Jews is found in Matthew 11:27 where he says that no one knows the father but the son! He even goes so far to say that when they have seen Him they have seen the Father, because He and the Father are one! One of the main reasons Jesus was killed was because of His claim to be God.

These statements that Jesus makes are astounding, and what He is doing is absolutely revolutionary. He came to reveal who God actually is, which is also the revelation of who we are and what life is all about. Jesus reveals that God is relational, that He shares a certain kind of life within Himself. The Father, Son, and Spirit share a life of love, encouragement, delight, and creativity. Their fulfillment is sourced entirely in their relationship to one another. Jesus came to Earth, into the darkness of our delusion, and invited us to participate in the life that He has with the Father; the life we were created by, for, and in!

Paul, a former Pharisee, was so transformed by Jesus that He wrote to one of the first group of believers saying, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Matthew 4:11-13).” That last verse is far from being a statement to achieve personal goals, Paul experienced a fulfillment that transcended his circumstances, and was able to declare something that completely contradicted the Pharisees worldview. He was content even when sick and poor. He didn’t need to ‘arrive’ or ‘get to’ a place where His life had meaning. He had found the secret, and the secret has a name, it is Jesus.

Happiness for Jesus wasn’t about becoming but being. In Jesus fulfillment isn’t gained by finding our value in personal achievement, but grounded in the fact that personal value is established before achievement ever becomes recognized as a way to earn it. Revolutionary isn’t it?

The pursuit of happiness fails, because living for personal fulfillment goes against the grain of how we were designed. It is an empty exercise in futility. We were created to know we are loved, not to live trying to be loved. Fulfillment doesn’t exist when our circumstances align to meet our expectations, but arrives when we have eyes to see the goodness and opportunity in every circumstance regardless of our expectations. Life is about this beautiful dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit that we get to participate in! It is something we can enjoy now, no matter where we are in life. Life is about the journey, the discovery, the wonder, the beauty, the joy of living in the love of Jesus. Life becomes death when we live for those things rather than from them.

Where the world clings, strains, and strives, Jesus let’s go, submits, and rests. Where the world looks to identify themselves by how others see them, Jesus identifies Himself by how the Father sees Him. Where the world tries to find ways to glorify the self, Jesus considers Himself nothing and glorifies the Father. Jesus promotes a way of living that is both contrary to religious and secular worldviews. Meaning isn’t achieved it is recognized, relationships aren’t meant to be used but celebrated, God doesn’t need to be placated He wants to be enjoyed!


When we see the meaning of life through the eyes of Jesus, our character matters more than our circumstances, our relationships are more important than our achievements, and every minute of life is filled with wonder, opportunity, and purpose. Jesus came to bring life in abundance by saving us from our perpetual fear and striving. He is the way, the truth, and the life; in whom we live, move, and have our being! In Him we have fulfillment, rest, and purpose. Jesus is the meaning of life!   

Monday, July 18, 2016

'Spirituality' and the Need For Jesus

The spiritual climate in our country is radically different than it was just a few decades ago. Skepticism, doubt, and differing opinions about God are not new; however, in today’s world we have unprecedented access to these opinions. We are influenced from every angle by multitudes of philosophies, differing world views, and complex social issues. Not too long ago we had limited sources where we gathered information. Today we are growing up with the internet at our fingertips and we are interacting within a more diverse culture. This has led us to be less certain, more conscientious, and more understanding. Thankfully, this gives us the ability to better engage with those around us, and to better understand ourselves. Knowing what we believe about the world, ourselves, and God has never been more challenging or important. Because of the resources we have access to, we have an even greater responsibility then the generations before us to decide what we believe. More options make decisions that much more powerful. What a beautiful thing!

 We are more aware of theological differences between religions as well as different atheistic and agnostic philosophies. We are also more exposed to challenging and complex issues such as same sex marriage, gender non-conformity, biblical interpretation, abortion, and so much more. Our experience with church hasn’t always been positive, we perceived contradictions in the bible, and we often fail to hear satisfying answers to the extremely challenging social issues that involve people we know and love.

 For many people, their experience in church has been filled with guilt trips, simplistic answers, and teachers who do not know how to address issues in conscientious ways. The ‘gospel’, as it is often heard or taught, seems too narrow and simplistic to fully address the complexity we face in our everyday lives. Pat answers about heaven, hell, sin, holiness, and Jesus are unable to answer the genuine questions that our hearts face on a daily basis.

 The multitude of questions that come with our growing awareness of complexity have led many to turn from their ‘christian’ faith (it’s lower case on purpose). Out of the confines of stringent doctrine, many find freedom in embracing a vague spirituality. This spirituality doesn’t necessarily answer questions, but allows individuals to engage life in ways their ‘christian’ experience never allowed. Maybe you find yourself there now. It is a place of comfort where one feels the freedom to engage in dialectical tension, differing belief systems, and complex moral issues. ‘Spirituality’ may include Jesus in part, but He is often just another way people interact with ‘the divine’, the ‘greater power’, the ‘universe’, or ‘god’. Many in our society have moved towards ‘spirituality’ because Jesus didn’t seem big enough, wise enough, or inclusive enough to make sense of our ever increasingly complex world. There are wonderful truths to be discovered in this ‘spiritual journey’; in fact, many people experience greater freedom then they ever did as a ‘christian’. Many do seem to become more loving and joyful when set free from the practice and expectations of ‘religion’. And yet spirituality falls short, it doesn’t answer questions, or truly bring restoration to our souls. I think many will be surprised that what they are really looking for is the one that they had purposefully left behind; that the desires of their heart that pushes for ‘spirituality’ are actually found in Him.

I believe that Jesus is big enough, real enough, and complex enough to help us understand the questions that we ask in our world today. In fact, He is the only answer to our hurts, our needs, our questions, and our doubt. No matter how inclusive or universal our belief system becomes, embracing a vague notion of ‘spirituality’ is almost always a compromise. Spirituality, is in some ways, the decision to ignore contradiction, hurt, and confusion. It isn’t really a journey towards something, but away from it; it is cowardice and fear masquerading as wisdom. Now more then ever, we need Jesus; we need God to enter into our world to show us what He is like. Over the next few weeks I want to explore how Christianity gives us what ‘spirituality’ doesn’t. To show that we need to see Jesus as the real, incarnate, image of God.

 Jesus came into the world to a people group that had built their identity on the fact that they were the ones who knew the one true God. Yet he was a mystery to them, a contradiction to how they saw the world and how they perceived the nature and character of God. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).” They were so clueless, so far off, that the killed the God they claimed to serve and worship. This is astounding!

 Jesus will forever be the one to reveal the truth about who God is. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).” We cannot embrace both Jesus and ‘spirituality’; yet He will equip us to love, understand, and engage in this complex world better than our ‘spirituality’ ever could. He is the answer to our confusion, the light in our darkness, the truth amidst relativity. He is real, tangible, relational, and more than enough. I think we will find he is more than capable of leading us to the truth about who this ‘God’ actually is. After all, that’s the very reason He came to us.

 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no ones knows the Son except the Father, and no ones knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11: 27-30).”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Faith In Doubt

Too often our 'faith' is interpreted as the confidence we have in our understanding of God, or the level of conviction we feel for certain truths. Our sense of security lies in how much ‘sense’ we can make of the gospel, Christianity, or what God wants from us. In reality this is confidence in ourselves, our ability to comprehend, understand, and 'be right'. It is a humanistic perspective in the sense that it starts with us, our experience, comprehension, and ideas. This is extremely problematic, faith cannot be about trusting ourselves. When we define faith in terms of personal conviction or confidence we don’t know what to do when we experience doubt, or when we have more questions than answers. In fact, when dealing with serious questions we will wrongly think we are falling from faith. It is very discouraging that much of the church is trying to bolster this self-centered understanding.

Faith in Jesus cannot be faith in ourselves, rather faith in Jesus means to actively trust Him. Although what we think is essential and will determine our willingness to trust him, faith is not about prescribing to certain ideas about the nature or character of Jesus.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

Faith It is about trusting a person, and we can do that even when we feel distant, uncertain, confused, or full of doubt. We trust that Jesus is at work in our hearts. Jesus entered into the darkness of our hearts and minds to shine the light of His love and to restore us to Himself. Just because we can’t understand how that is happening in our lives doesn’t mean that we can’t trust Him through the process. We trust by relating to Him, sharing our hurts, concerns, and joys even while being uncertain about how He works or what He is doing.

“Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” -Matthew 7:22-23

Faith is active dependence, not will powered belief. What we know to be true about Jesus is essential to our willingness to trust Him, but our trust in Him is demonstrated by our willingness to let Him know us! Faith isn’t about doing miracles, working for God, or becoming a theologian.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” -John 5:29-40

Jesus wants us to trust Him with our lives, that means He wants us to open ourselves to Him, to let Him get to know us. He wants to know all our doubts, fears, and uncertainties. He is not afraid of our darkness; He boldly entered into it in the incarnation. Our faith is trusting Jesus with our lives by actively revealing ourselves to Him. This can be done even in the face of doubt or confusion.

Jesus isn’t looking for our allegiance or our intellectual confidence; He is asking us to trust Him to be our savior and to work His will in our lives and in our hearts. Trust is most present when personal fallibility is most recognized. In other words, His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Don’t run from your questions, don’t flee from your doubt. Jesus is within you and wants you to let Him know you even in the depths of your darkness. He is faithful, He understand our humanity, and He very much loves you.