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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Loving Wrath of God

I by no means have a complete handle on this… God’s wrath in some ways is still a conundrum to me, but more and more I have struggled with the Penal Substitution model of atonement. This theory revolves around the wrath of God being pleased by Jesus dying on the cross. To get started, here are a few verses on God’s wrath in the New Testament.


“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” -Romans 1:18-19


“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” -Romans 2:4-5


“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!” -Romans 5:9


“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.” -John 3:36


Penal Substitution
The Penal Substitution theory is understood in a couple different ways. 1)Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, taking the consequences of sin that we deserved.  That is defined a step further by saying that  2) The penalty of sin is that it turns God against us, making Him angry and needing justice through punishing us for our disobedience. In other words, the Father took it out on Jesus instead of us… so now we’re all good..hopefully!


There is no question that God’s wrath is a real thing, it is all over the bible! The issue, in my opinion, is how we understand God’s wrath. The Penal Substitution Model depicts God being angry at humankind for our unrighteousness. Since God is holy and just He can't deal with sinners until justice is met. However, this theory becomes a little obscure when we see the person of Jesus as coming to reveal the true nature and character of His father. We need to start with Jesus, and define God's wrath there, rather than taking our experience of anger and wrath and projecting it onto God. I am coming to believe that the incorrect way of viewing God’s wrath is to understand that He is personally offended, pissed off, or indignant that his people would be so stupid as to disobey him. This wrath makes sense to broken humanity and our sense of justice and shame, but it is hard to reconcile that understanding with who Jesus reveals the Father to be.


Jesus came to reveal the true nature of the Father to a world that was very very confused about who God was and what He was about. Jesus goes so far as to say that nobody knows the Father but the son, and that when we see Him we see the Father. We need to start with Jesus, and when we do I think we get a different picture about God’s wrath, and it contradicts what our shame and guilt make us think to be true about God.


When a parent sees one of their children make bad decisions that are really destructive to them… they will probably get very angry! If they are truly loving, they will not be pissed at their own child as if the child wronged them in some way, but because of their love they will have a ferocious wrath against the things that are destroying and harming them. They will be angry at the attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs their child holds. They will be angry at the negative influences, the way their choices negatively affect their lives, and the way they are choosing to live in contradiction to what their parents desire for them. This anger only makes sense from the vantage point of loving their children. It is a parent who is insecure and immature that get's personally offended by their children's behavior! A loving parent will do anything to free their beloved son or daughter from what's hurting them, and to convince them to live the life that would truly be good for them. They would want to completely eliminate any threat to their lives because they deeply care for their well being. This isn’t selfish wrath, but other centered wrath. It isn’t wrath against people, but for them! This is a huge distinction and one that I think is not only important, but revolutionary for how we understand what Jesus came to do. When we see Jesus, I think He confronts the way we project our own offense and indignation onto God. Jesus shows us that everything the Father does, including His wrath, is about His love for us.


A Different Picture of Appeasement
I do think there is a way to understand how Jesus appeases the wrath of God, without us compromising the truth of God’s loving nature. Romans 5:9 is one of the verses that gives us a strong picture that God is angry with us and that we need to be saved from him. Jesus coming to Earth, dying, and rising, is motivated by God’s loving wrath against the powers that trap and destroy His people. Jesus is the story of God coming to our aid out of His passionate purpose. His love is so strong, He is righteously angry against anything that hurts us. God’s wrath was satisfied when He accomplished what He needed to in order to reconcile us to Himself. His wrath is the driving energy and purpose to reach us in our lost state…which He did in Jesus. Therefore His wrath is now satisfied, because of what Jesus has done. He fulfilled His purpose, reached us, destroyed the powers that bound us, and reconciled us to Himself. His loving wrath was satisfied as he entered into the darkness in this world, submitting Himself to our pain and angst, He satisfied his anger by going to the greatest lengths to save us.

This doesn’t mean that He is controlling us though… He will never force anything on us. We can still not ‘repent’, not change our minds. We can still align ourselves with sin, shame, and/or pride. Doing so is really silly and unnecessary, but we don’t need to accept our redemption. If we don’t.. Then I can see how ‘God’s’ wrath will still be on us. He will still be wanting to remove all those things from us while we cling to them. We could ultimately choose our identity in our brokenness and not in Jesus, and God's wrath would painfully harass us as we turn from it.


What Happened on the Cross?
When you have the Father wrathfully beating Jesus we get a really twisted picture of love… and it separates the trinity, making Jesus and the Father opposed to one another. This is directly opposite of what Jesus is trying to convince us about when He says things like, “When you see me you see the Father”.... Or… “I and the Father are one.” Jesus isn't doing something that the Father isn't able to. Jesus hangs out with sinners, and reacts lovingly to those who make poor choices. He isn't being different then the Father, but is His exact image. If Jesus is loving, while the Father is wrathful, then we will forever live hiding behind Jesus hoping that the Father stays in a good mood. When we see that Jesus and the Father are united in their loving wrath to save us and not condemn us, it gives us assurance of our place with Him, and we can be at peace and rest knowing the grace and love that our Father has for us. He would go so far as to die for us, taking our sin, the penalty for our destructive choices, destroying our shame through forgiveness, and uniting Himself to us at our worst!


Here are some scriptures that talk about what Jesus did on the cross, none of them have to do with satisfying God’s wrath:


"He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." -1 Peter 2:24


“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15


“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” -Hebrews 2:14-15


“For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” -Romans 5:10-11


“He has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” - 2 Timothy 1:9-10

“The meaning of the cross is not that God punished his Son in order to avoid punishing humanity, but that in Christ God himself took responsibility for the world’s evil and absorbed its consequences into itself.” -Unknown


On the cross Jesus was completely misunderstood, rejected, beaten, and murdered. He took all our sin, confusion, and wrath into Himself. He faced down our greatest betrayal of God, looked out on us, and said, “forgive them they know not what they do.” Jesus said this along with the Father and Spirit, for they cannot be separated. He reveals the true heart of the Father as loving, He does so at the place where we would expect the opposite response. Nothing deserves retribution more than our murder of God. Yet Jesus shows He has a Father so loving He will take the full force of our sin and not get angry, He will not act in personal frustration, offense, or retribution. He submits Himself to sin unto death, thereby undoing the powers of condemnation, performance, and a skewed vision of wrath. God’s loving wrath eradicates sin by judging it at the depth of our depravity with a universal, ‘forgive them’. God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to Himself.


We are saved by believing in Jesus. He shows us our value to the Father, forgiving us so we don’t have to live with the the burden of shame and guilt. He included us in His death so now we have confidence we will share in His resurrection! This takes away our fear of death! He brought immortality to ‘light’, so now we have confidence in eternity. He destroyed the schemes of the devil, the accuser, by proclaiming our worth when our performance was at our worst! Pretty amazing!


God’s wrath, in the penal substitution model, makes sense to our broken shame filled consciences that say..”I deserve to be punished.” But, it doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of our salvation here and now. It doesn’t fully remove our fear, insecurity, shame, or pride. Jesus comes down to Earth to reveal the Father. “I did not come to condemn the World but to save it.” …. “Therefore there is no condemnation..” For me, this isn’t a minor difference, it is huge!! Makes a big difference for how we see God, and feel confident in our relationship with him. There is no room for insecurity, shame, or pride in believing in Jesus. Believing the good Father he reveals, the forgiveness He gives us, and the grace He lavishes on us is absolutely transformational! In other words, “perfect love casts out fear.” The Penal Substitution theory plays off of fear rather than casting it out…. a serious problem.  

I would love to hear your thoughts and questions. I am still working through these things and gratefully welcome your feedback!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Deny Yourself

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24
Life would be easier if we let go of our 'rights' and sense of entitlement. When I'm offended by someone, I am really saying, "how dare they treat ME that way." What a self-centered prideful notion. We think we deserve something better, which means we look down on others when the don't recognize us the way we think they should.
Entitlement and pride are symptoms of our desire to be validated. We want to be recognized for how we act, feel, or think. In other words we want to be recognized for our performance. This is called legalism, living by the law, or self-justification. I want to be identified by what I do. What would happen if we gave up our right to be treated a certain way? What if we stopped paying attention to how other people treat us, demanding them to treat us by some sort of 'right' we have, and instead focused on how we can treat them? Our joy would drastically increase!
When I relate out of entitlement, I will be living in a place of comparison, trying to justify myself by judging others. There is no joy there. When I die to myself, I recognize that I don't actually 'deserve' anything, and I become free from silly systems of self management and performance. Can you imagine living in a way where you no longer felt like you needed to 'prove' yourself, or to 'become' something worthy. It is such a different paradigm that it can be hard to grasp, but let me tell you that it is a life of freedom, joy, and love! It is true freedom because we don't strive to find identity in the silly performances of the world. We learn to appreciate getting respect and encouragement, but we don't demand it. It is important to be loved, but we love freely regardless of how others decide to treat us.
Jesus shows us that our value has nothing to do with our talents, our wisdom, or our performance in anyway. We are valuable because we are loved by Him. When I 'die to myself', I am actually dying to all of the expectations I have about the world around me. Dying to my expectations is absolutely liberating. You see, we also have to die to the expectations we have of ourselves. Jesus loved everyone around them without once demanding that they pay Him his due. He was humble, He didn't claim any rights, He was not entitled, he did not complain about being treated unfairly. He bled and died for us, and as we crucified Him, He said 'forgive them, they know not what they do.'
Love understands, it is patient and kind, it keeps no record of wrongs..... We have stupidly bought into a system of keeping score of rights and wrong, and in so doing we have sacrificed both love and joy. Giving people the cold shoulder, being rude back, telling a friend about how indignant we are about another person's behavior toward us, complaining...it is all foolishness. Love holds no records, it understands. "They know not what they do." This was a heart-cry that was other centered, not self-centered. He wasn't saying 'woe is me, they should treat me better.' No his pain was for their bondage and suffering, not his own. When someone treats anyone wrongly, it is because they don't understand love. It's irrelevant that I am on the receiving end of their dysfunction, they are the victims of anger, distrust, envy, and hurt, not me.
We can care that people learn to treat others with value, not because we feel so overlooked, but because overlooking the value of others is a hell all in itself. When we are wronged we can have compassion rather than indignation, we can understand rather demand, we can forgive rather than accuse. After all, our value isn't measured by our performance or by others recognizing us for our talents, no are value is as unchanging as the love of the Father. The weight of proving ourselves is gone, in it's place is burden that is easy and light. The 'cross' we bear, is the willingness to not hold people accountable for treating us unjustly. The cross we bear, is actually the beautiful practice of forgiveness, it is God's love for humanity embodied and expressed in us.

Friday, December 4, 2015

There's Something About Jesus

Sometimes there seems to be a thousand different ways to understand the Gospel, what Jesus' mission was, and what it means to be a Christian. I am often confused and frustrated by the multitudes of different opinions and ways of understanding Christianity. Sometimes it makes me doubt, while other times it is just frustrating.  Even in my own life my faith and belief has change and transformed as I have gone through different periods of life, had different experiences, faced different contradictions, and noticed greater complexity in the world around me. I often wonder if my current understanding of the Gospel is correct, both because of the ways I have changed and because of the seemingly endless supply of differing ideas around me. Yet amidst all the different ideologies, understandings, and practices, there is one common denominator across Christianity, one thing that the Christian world revolves around, Jesus.

The fact that there are so many ideas, opinions, and understandings about Jesus reveals how important He is. He has gripped our attention, and we are compelled to figure out who He is and what He is about. When I feel confused or frustrated by the theology and ideas that so many people hold, many which seem contradictory, I find great assurance in the fact that Jesus is at the center of it all. We are intrigued by Jesus and by the Gospel.  Across the undulating ideas and practices of the Christian world He remains rock solid at the center of it all. That gives me hope, that gives me peace, even through my own struggle to understand Him.  As the apostle Paul put it, Jesus is the cornerstone. It isn't our understanding that makes Him central to our lives, the fact that He is at the center evokes our desire to understand Him. We begin to realize that our existence, our life, and this world finds it's true meaning in the person of Jesus. He is our faith and our confidence, not our specific understanding in a given period of time.

Jesus alone remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. As our feelings, experiences, and understanding is shaped and molded through life, we can take confidence in Jesus relationship with the Father, and what He did for us and as us. He is our confidence, our security, and our assurance. My faith isn't that I have grasped the truth, but that the truth has grasped me. I am very thankful for Jesus in my life, otherwise I would not have a solid place to stand.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Sinful Nature: A Way of Functioning, Not a State of Being

Over the last number of years I have really struggled to understand what Paul means when he talks about the ‘sinful nature’, or the flesh. In my mind it has always been merely an idea that gives us a reference point to understand our internal struggles. It is the ‘reason’ we turn to sin, the ‘root’ of our evil, or the deepest ‘part’ of who we are. After all, when you talk about the nature of something, we generally are talking about what it’s made out of, what defines or characterizes it.

The sinful nature has always seemed more of an idea then something that can actually be defined and pointed to in our experience. After all where is it? Is it our entire body? Is it within our spirit? What about us is bad? Is it our emotions? Our thoughts? Our actions? The deepest part of a person is where all these things stem from, but they are not necessarily the most defining aspect of our humanity.  For now, I will define the common understanding of the sinful nature as ‘our propensity to sin’.  Let’s break that down a little bit.

What causes us to sin? What causes someone to commit adultery? Well they are probably lonely, wanting to experience intimacy, love, and desiring companionship. Are these desires bad? Of course not, in fact when we look closely they are actually good, they are part of who God created us to be! What causes someone to drink in access or do drugs? Chances are they want to feel good, or to escape from their pain, hurt, or shame.  Well we aren’t created to experience those things, the desire to not have them is also good! What causes someone to lie about themselves? Deep down they have a need to be valued, to belong, and to be recognized; they do not experience that, and so try to make that happen by pretending they are someone they are not. Again these needs and desires actually point to the goodness of our design, not the depravity of our essence. All sin stems from needs or desires that we are actually created to have fulfilled, needs and desires that aren’t bad. So the sinful nature, although can be the root of why we sin, isn’t the deepest part of who we are. So why do we sin? Well, because of confusion, of blindness, of insecurity, hurt, and shame. We sin because we have deep God given needs, but we have insecurity and a conscience understanding of good and bad that causes us to strive to look for activity, thoughts, ideas, systems, substances, or relationships to answer those needs. It isn’t the need that’s the problem, it’s that whole way of functioning! We will never find fulfillment when we use our understanding of what is good and bad to live in certain ways. From this mode of functioning we will always do things that won’t satisfy, because there isn’t anything that can while we exist within that framework. The sinful nature then, is this way of functioning, it is not a state of being.

To identify what this way of functioning is, we need to go back to see where things got off track. Humanity was created to live within the perfect relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To share in their joy, creativity, intimacy, and love.  We were completely naked and unashamed; no darkness, doubt, insecurity, or fear existed in our hearts. There was no need for rules to regulate our behavior, no relational advice for how to treat each other, and no moral code or guidelines. We didn’t need them, humanity was pure in heart and spirit, willing to be fully known.

Satan came and started planting doubt and insecurity in our minds. Why is God holding out on you? Don’t you know you could be so much more than you are? Doubt, fear, and uncertainty was presented to our hearts, as well as the promise of fulfilling the need to be something we never even knew we had. Then Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, which God told them that if they ate of it they would die. What happened when they ate of it? Simple, humanity became consciously aware of the difference between good and bad.  We never had a conscience before, and it brings death! The knowledge of good and evil came on the foundation of doubt and insecurity. You tell me, what happens when someone feels insecure and has an understanding of what is good and bad? They will use their knowledge of good and bad to try to solve or disprove their insecurity.

And that is how the sinful nature came into existence. Good and evil playing off of the existence of shame, doubt, fear, and insecurity. What does it produce? All sorts of striving, straining, religiosity, jealousy, selfishness, pride, and sin. Again, it is a way of functioning, not a state of being. We never lost our state of being, our design, what we were created for. What happened was we became blinded and confused by our shame, and then our conscience was awakened and became the tool we used to try and overcome our insecurity. When you think about it, this way of functioning is really the cause of all personal, relational, and global suffering. It’s what turns us in towards ourselves and away from vulnerable face to face relationship.

Are we stuck with this sinful nature forever? No of course not, we just need stop functioning out of insecurity, shame, doubt, and pain; oh and we need to stop using our conscience to try and navigate our understanding of who we are. Seem impossible?  Think about it, how many of our actions, relationships, activities, thoughts, and emotions revolve around using our understanding of good and bad to climb our way out of our insecurities? How much do our insecurities shape our self-image, causing us to fall into comparison, jealousy, and deep feelings of inadequacy? How often do we justify our thoughts, emotions, and choices based on our own personal understanding of right and wrong? Do you see how that is just a hamster wheel of insecurity, striving, and self-justification?
Unfortunately this Sinful Nature, this way of processing and functioning, exists at the root of most of our relationships, jobs, activities, and even flows into the way we engage in religion. Unfortunately our understanding and construction of Christianity is often completely interpreted from this fallen way of functioning. We end up defining Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, worship, prayer, and church from our insecurity and our obsession with good and bad. Christianity just becomes another good/bad entity in our consciences that help us try and overcome our insecurity.  We feel justified for doing certain things like ‘accepting Jesus into our hearts’, or going to church on Sunday’s. We feel good about ourselves for overcoming certain behaviors and comparing ourselves to others we judge through our conscience’s as bad. We create systems of ‘climbing’, ‘serving’, and ‘becoming’ something in God to give us a system to sate our insecurity. We forget that God never wanted us to function in that way to begin with!

I am definitely writing too long, but when we look at Jesus, we see that He is introducing a whole new reality to us, a new way of functioning. We killed Jesus because we could not recognize Him, He doesn’t make any sense to our sinful nature. Yet He came to end that for us by meeting our deepest needs and by fulfilling the requirement that our conscience demanded.  In so many different ways, believing in Jesus is our salvation from the death of our sinful way of functioning.  Thinking we are saved, ‘if we believe’, is just another idea produced out of our insecurity and systems of self-justification. 

Believing in Jesus is seeing everything differently. Instead of shame, my belief in Jesus is my belief in my innocence. Instead of feeling like I need value, I see in the person of Jesus how valued I am. Instead of feeling bad about my mistakes, I see in Jesus that they are not held against me. Instead of striving to justify myself through good living, I see Jesus showing me that it has nothing to do with my conception of good and bad.  Jesus didn’t come to change our behavior, He came to change the root of our behavior, which was our sinful nature. He came to introduce us to a whole new world, and He did so by entering into ours, submitting Himself to our angst, frustration, shame, pride, and insecurity. When we believe in Jesus we are no longer functioning from insecurity or conscience.  There is more I would like to say, and things I would like to articulate in greater depth, but this will have to do.  I will close with these verses of scripture.

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).”

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).”

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).”