Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not Forsaken

The idea that the Father forsook Jesus on the cross is based on the premise that God is too holy to look upon sin. Based on that premise it follows that when Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself the Father could no longer be with Him. If we take a closer look at the scriptures, I believe we will find that the cross does not reveal the Father forsaking Jesus, but actually the complete opposite! Jesus trusts that His Father is with Him through the entire ordeal on the cross, even when He is blind to His presence. The cross is about the presence of the Father and the trust of Jesus, not the Father leaving His son! This speaks volumes about the nature and character of God and has the capacity to revolutionize our faith. Let's begin unwrapping this together.

"Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:23-24)."

Jesus, preparing to go to Jerusalem, knew that He was going to His death.  In John 10:18 we see Jesus claiming that the Father had given him authority to not only lay down his own life, but to take it up again! Jesus knew He was sent to die on behalf of humanity and in this verse we see that He was collaborating with His Father. They were united together with determined purpose.

"Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:31-32)."

The Father, Son, and Spirit, united in their love for humanity, were determined to drive out the devil and reconcile all people to themselves. It is important to note that Jesus repeatedly spoke to the fact that the Father was with Him, that they were in this together, because it sets us up to gain a new understanding about what happened between Jesus and the Father on the cross. On numerous occasion throughout the scriptures, particularly in the Gospel of John, Jesus reiterates the fact that He is with the Father and that He only does was He saw His Father doing. Jesus walked out His entire life on earth trusting in His Father presence, trusting that He was not alone even when abandoned by everyone else!

"A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me (Matthew 16:32)."

As another example, look at Jesus' prayer in the garden before He was betrayed.

"That all of them maybe one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us 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 (John 17:20-23)."

Knowing that His Father is with Him as He moved towards is death is of the ultimate importance to Jesus. 'The Father is with me' Jesus declares over and over again, 'I do nothing of my own initiative (John 8:28).' Those who met Jesus could see that God had sent Him, was empowering Him, and even that he was with Him. But that isn't what bothered them, no it was the fact that Jesus claimed to be one with the Father!? Now that was scandalous!

"The Jewish leaders insisted, 'We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7).'"

Now knowing that intimacy and union with the Father was paramount to Jesus life and message we can now approach the big question. What happened on the cross? Was Jesus trust proven false? Was God with Jesus the whole time up to the one point He needed Him most? If God never leaves Jesus, then why did He say, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

The first thing we need to realize is that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22! The bible wasn't divided into chapters and verses back then like it is today. In order to reference a portion of scripture, teachers would state the first line! Today we have the Top 40 songs of 2016, and many people will recognize those songs just by hearing the first line. In the same way there were certain Messianic scriptures in that day that were in the 'Top List'. Many Jewish people would have recognized and even memorized these texts pointing to the Messiah. Psalm 22 would have more than likely made this 'Top List' so when Jesus spoke out on the cross, 'My God my God...' Psalm 22 would have started to run through their minds. Whether Jesus knew He was fulfilling the scriptures by saying this, or if He was just expressing how He was feeling, we need to follow along with the Psalm.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest (1-2)."

The beginning of the Psalm seems to confirm the fact that God left Jesus on the cross, but as in all good songs, it's important to listen through to the end. As you read through the Psalm it is amazing to see how closely aligned it is to events revolving around the crucifixion. It's hard to imagine what the people were thinking as this Psalm went through their minds as they watched Jesus hanging on the cross.

"All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 'He trusts in the Lord,' they say, 'let the Lord rescue him, let him deliver him, since he delights in him (7-8)."

It would be easy at this point for Jesus to stop trusting, to lose faith, and this is exactly what people mock him for. Despite their jeers, and the evidence clearly stacked against Him that God was not there, Jesus continues to trust His Father.

"Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help (9-11)."

The Psalm goes on to explicitly reference how His hands and feet were pierced, how he was beaten to the point where his bones showed, and how people cast lots for his clothes (16-18). It is astonishing How God spoke through David so accurately of events that wouldn't happen for hundreds of years. Yet what is even more astonishing is the faithfulness of Jesus and how He continually trusts His Father.

"But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen (19-21)."

Here we reach the crux of the matter (crux, do you see what I did there?). Did the Father heed His cry? Was He far from Him, did He choose not to deliver Him? The answer we find at the end of the Psalm.

"I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from Him, but has listened to His cry for help (22-24)."

The amazing thing about the cross isn't that the Father turned His back on Jesus, but that Jesus being blind to the presence of His father because He took our sins into His body, still trusted in His Father's presence until the last moment!

"Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46)."

It is very possible that the people watching Jesus die would have moved right on from Psalm 22 to 23.

"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4)."

The truth is, God has never forsaken His people, and He never forsook His son! As David wrote He is the good shepherd that is with us. He has always pursued us, always been near to us, and always desired connection. Throughout the scriptures we see God relating with stubborn, obstinate, and sinful people. Sin didn't cause God to pull away from us, but it caused us to pull away from Him. We were the ones who hid in the bushes out of shame, it has always been God seeking and pursuing us.

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior (Colossians 1:21)."

Jesus didn't need to complete God's side of the relationship. God has always been for us. It was our side of the relationship that needed to be fulfilled! He fulfilled the law, He lived a perfect life, and took all our pain, shame, and blindness into Himself while still trusting the Father. He related to the Father for us, never losing His trust as we did. Jesus didn't run and hide in the bushes out of shame, but even while experiencing our alienation, pain, and shame, He trusted God and looked Him straight in the face!

"'Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)."

The scriptures don't reveal a God that cannot relate to us because of our sin, but that we cannot relate to God because of our sin. Jesus came down, took our sin, and still related fully to the Father. He lived the righteous relationship with the Father that we couldn't live. He did it not just for us but as us!

"God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)."

Jesus takes our sin upon Himself, embraces our alienation, our blindness, our hurt, and our confusion. He experiences the loneliness we feel, the separation we experience from our side of the equation with God, and yet never stopped trusting Him. The cross is not where Jesus changes the Father but where He changes us! The Father did not forsake Jesus, but together with Jesus met us in our darkness! Jesus wasn't doing something the Father couldn't, but the Father, Son, and Spirit were united in their purpose to reach us in our darkness!

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)."

Wow, what good news! What an amazing God! "Therefore be reconciled" the scriptures say. Accept it, live in it, stop living in animosity to God. We have no excuse to live at odds with Him, thinking that He is far removed from us, or blaming Him for not coming through. God does not hate you, he isn't holding your sins against you, He has come down to meet us and embrace us!

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."

We can confidently trust the promise that, 'He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:10).' Did you know that  when it says 'faith in Jesus' in the New Testament, it should actually be translated as the 'faith of Jesus?' Jesus is sharing the love, union, and trust He has with the Father inside of our darkness. His faithfulness is what counts, His trust, and His love. He wants us to know the love of the Father the same way that He does.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."

Jesus went to the depths, He died, and yet He was never separated from the love of God. He is the light shining in the darkness. That same love is shared with us, and we can begin to have the same trust in the Father's goodness and presence that Jesus has. When we doubt, when we are afraid, when we feel distant and separate from God, we place our trust in Jesus. Trusting Him to share with us His faith, the love He knows, the confidence He feels with His Father. We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our trust.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray 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 3:14-21)."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Glory of God: A Fresh Perspective

"To God be the glory", says the pastor in a deep, rich voice. The glory of God carries with it certain emotions, ideas, and connotations. Tall cathedrals, reverent voices, harmonious choirs, and solemn attitudes are just a few that come to mind. The glory of God sits in our minds as an amorphous concept, an idea that carries with it weighty words such as 'reverence, honor, and holy'. Glory brings to mind bright colored lights, gold, jewels, and football players pointing to the sky after they score a touchdown.

In all, our understanding of glory seems to be rather insubstantial and undefined. We see it as something above and beyond ourselves, something unsearchable, undefinable, and above our earthly existence. In some charismatic circles I have found that the glory of God is preached as something to be experienced, but maybe not understood. It is amorphous, vague, and set apart from our ordinary lives. I have had an understanding, that if we want to experience the glory of God, we need to transcend our normal earthly existence. Maybe you can relate.

What if this isn't the case? What if the glory of God is not only something we can understand, but share in? What if God's glory isn't something to only be experienced in spiritually 'high' moments, but is a reality we recognize and experience everyday without even knowing it!?

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3)."

This the angels proclaim as they stand before the Lord on his throne. It's hard to think of a more transcendent picture of glory than what we find here in the vision God gave to Isaiah, but it still fails to define or bring understanding to what God's glory actually is.

In this verse, and in most of the Old Testament, the word 'glory' is the Hebrew word kabowd, which means splendor, honor, richness, or abundance. The angels declare that the splendor, the richness, and abundance of God, fills the earth. Another definition of Glory is majestic. The glory of God, in this light does seem to be so transcendent that we don't even have language to describe it. We use adjectives to describe an adjective! This surely inspires a grandiose mentality to the glory of God, an attitude of awe and wonder, but it still fails to define what is so glorious about him!

In the Greek language the word we define as glory is 'Doxa'. Take for instance this verse from the Christmas story.

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9)."

The definition of Doxa, is renown, honor, or the unspoken manifestation of God. It literally means 'what evokes good opinion'. It speaks to God's intrinsic worth, His value. Glory is an adjective used to describe who God is! The glory of God is what set's Him apart, it is the substance or essence of his nature. The shephards saw the glory of God, they saw and experienced who He was, and they became afraid! They aren't the only ones in the bible to catch a glimpse of the glorious nature of God!

"Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen (Exodus 33:18-23).”

Moses saw the glory of God, or His goodness, as God himself described it. Again we see that 'glory' is describing who God is. Moses wanted to see God's 'glory' so He showed His goodness. Moses caught a glimpse, of God, he saw the backside of God. It was there, in this encounter, that God gives Moses the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments embody the glory of God that Moses was allowed to see. 


When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, we read that his face was literally shining from His encounter with God. Every time he spent time in God's presence on the mountain his face shone, and he wore a veil in front of the Israelite's to hide the shining light.

Moses encounter with the glory of God is supernaturally amazing, I mean have you ever glowed after spending time with God? Yet even so, we read in the New Testament that the glory Moses saw is nothing in compared to what we get to see!  The revelation of God's glory to Moses was the law, the 10 commandments. And the law carries with it a certain knowledge of God, a glimpse of His essence or nature, but it does so in a way that actually brings death to people instead of life. Read what the apostle Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 3.

"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)."


In the new covenant, in the person of Christ, we see the glory of God clearly, more clearly than Moses did! The glory we see brings life instead of death, it is a glory greater than that which Moses saw! At the beginning of this chapter Paul talks about the law being written on tablets of stone, but that now the law is written on our hearts! Paul says that we are called to share in the glory of God, to be transformed into His image, to share in the essence and nature of who God is. The law couldn't accomplish this, it gave a picture of who God is and what it would be like to live like Him, but it couldn't empower us to actually get there.

The law could not bring us to live within the glory of who God is, because it was only a partial picture. The law, was a glimpse of who God was, and it called us to live up to that glimpse, but it only served to show our failure, our sin, and our inadequacy. Paul says that the law had some glory, it showed some of God, but Jesus shows all of God! Jesus takes away the veil so that we can clearly see the glory of God.

We are now on the verge of being able to define what the 'glory of God' is. We know it is an adjective used to describe who God is, it's His character, His goodness, His nature. So what is nature and character of God? Who is He? Paul says that the fullness of the glory of God can be seen in Jesus, Jesus takes away the veil. 'Jesus is the image of the invisible God' as it says in Colossians. When we see Him we see the Father. So what does Jesus have to say about glory?

"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (John 17:1-5)."

Jesus had a glory with the Father before the world was ever created, before anyone could 'give Him glory'. The glory of God, as shown in Jesus, is the relationship of love that is shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit. 


We've established that the glory of God is the loving nature and character of the trinity, but the verse above shows Jesus' asking God to glorify him. What does it mean to 'glorify'? Strong's Concordance defines it as bestowing honor, to give weight to, or to ascribe intrinsic value. Jesus is asking the Father to love Him, to cherish Him, and to affirm Him! The glory of God isn't some abstract, vague, ambiguous experience, but the very love of God! In glorifying Jesus, the Father is valuing Him for who He actually is! He is loving Jesus, celebrating Him, rejoicing over Him, serving Him, and honoring Him. Jesus asks this so that He can in turn glorify the Father, to truly recognize, celebrate, and value who He actually is!

Is this not the cry of the broken human heart? We desire to be valued, to be shown worth, to be loved! The glory of God, is the love of God! It is the relationship that the Father, Son, and Spirit share with one another! This is what's set's them apart! The love, joy, delight, and union within the trinity is 'the glory of God'! Let's continue reading in John 17.



“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.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“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 (John 17:20-26).”


Jesus has been glorified by the Father, He has been loved by Him. Jesus knows He is loved. And Jesus has given us the same glory that the Father gave Him. What does that mean? It means that He has given us intrinsic worth, it means that He loves us for who we are! The Gospel is the declaration of God's love for us! Christ is God's glory, His loving kindness, including us in His relationship! Jesus wants us to know that love, to be transformed by that love. Or in other words, to share in God's glory! 


Jesus included us in His relationship with the Father, to know the love He knows, to experience the relationship He experiences! "In order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them..." This is profound and stunningly beautiful. 

The 'glory' of God is not something so transcendent that we can't reach it. In Jesus we see that God is a beautiful, loving, relationship between 3 persons. So united in love that it is only proper to say they are one. God is love precisely because He is 3 persons in a wondrous relationship of unity, celebration, encouragement, delight, and joy! Eternal life is in knowing God and His son! It is all about knowing and sharing in the love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have with one another! The purpose of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, was to adopt us into this glorious relationship! But how that happens is another conversation altogether.

If God's glory is the loving connection between the Father, Son, and Spirit, than what does it mean to glorify Him? It doesn't mean that we should give Him credit, or to to say 'I give all glory to you'. Glorifying God isn't about pointing to him after scoring a touchdown. No, glorifying God is about how we live, how we treat one another, even how we view ourselves! 


"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)."

Doing all things 'for the glory of God' isn't about trying to make him famous. It isn't a religious ritual, it doesn't mean we wear a christian t-shirt, or share those Facebook posts that say if we 'deny Jesus He will deny us'. No, giving glory to God is far deeper, far more real, than all of that. It is about doing things 'into', or 'to' the glory of God. That means we should live in accordance to His glory, according to who He is! No matter what we do, we should do it within the glorious love of God. 

What we see in Jesus' prayer before He is crucified, is that His desire is that we would be one as He is one, that we would love as He loves, and to know we are loved in the same we He knows He is loved. We glorify Him by living in accordance with who He is and who He reveals us to be! We glorify Him by living as He lives, by living in His love!

"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."

We participate in the glory of God as we live within His love! When we value others, when we encourage others, when we live in harmony with those around us! We also glorify God by learning to value ourselves!! Jesus, instead of commanding us to obey external principles, entered into us through His death and Resurrection and now shares His relationship with the Father from within our hearts! 


"On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:20)."

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)."

Jesus united Himself inside our hearts, deep down in the darkness where we feel alone, scared, and broken. It is there that He shares His intimate knowledge of the Father with us! The love the Father has for Jesus is now being revealed not just to us, but in us! That is how the new covenant works differently than the old, it's why this covenant is far more glorious! Jesus transforms us from the inside out through love!

"For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:14)."

It is in knowing our own worth, in knowing the value God has for us, in being 'glorified' by the Father, that we are transformed from the inside out! We are glorified by the love of God, but we also participate in the glory of God when the relationships we have mirror that of the Father, Son, and Spirit!

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20)."

Here's another verse that we create silly religious rituals out of. In Jesus name does not mean we say the word 'Jesus' when we gather with one another. In Hebrew culture, a name embodied the very essence of a person. To gather in Jesus' name doesn't mean we gather 'as Christians' or that we happen to say Jesus name while together. It means that we gather and relate with one another in accordance to who He is! That means we love as He lovs, that we live life valuing one another, celebrating one another, and delighting in one another! When we live and love as the Father, Son, and Spirit do, we are actually relating and sharing within their relationship!!


"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35)."

The love we have for our friends and family, the joy we experience in community cannot be separated from the person of Jesus. He is right there in the midst of it! You see, God's glory isn't unreachable, or completely transcendent. We meet it and share in it through the outworking of our earthly relationships! When we experience loving community we are experiencing His glory!! How wonderful, how mysterious, how real and tangible the glory of God is!


Every time we honor each other, encourage each other, love each other, and delight in community we are not only glorifying God but sharing in His glory! When we live in forgiveness, hope, and love we are experiencing the glory of God! Being glorified doesn't mean we attain to a certain measure of fame, but that as God loves us and ascribes intrinsic worth to us, we are transformed to live according to that love! We end up living and relating with others as the Father, Son, and Spirit do! We are continually transformed from glory to glory!! Heaven is where the full manifestation of this community will be realized and experienced! How wonderful!

All that to say that we won't experience God's 'glory' in a transcendent individual way, but when we do, it is His love that He is sharing with us. It is His joy, hope, and delight! When we see/experience the 'glory of God', we are experiencing the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit!

I have written too long, and I feel like so much more could be said, but hopefully this brings a fresh perspective to what 'the Glory of God' actually is. Let's finish by reading this profound passage from 1 John chapter 4.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (1 John 4:7-21)."

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!