Who Rules the Universe?

I had such a great time leading this discussion on Revelation Chapter 5 last Thursday! It’s all about the meekness and trustworthiness of the God who rules and judges the world. I think it can really give some perspective on the disruptive crises that face our nation and the globe… Take a listen!

“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals…

And… I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”

 

Why Good Friday is My Favorite

 

     I’ve often heard preachers assert that Easter is more important than Good Friday. “There’s no point to the Cross if there is no Resurrection,” they say. And while I love to celebrate Christ’s triumphant victory (I think we far too often live with a defeatist mindset in the Church), I’d like to suggest that Good Friday is actually the highest and holiest of feast days. It may seem totally backwards and offensive to our clouded minds, but the brutal death of Jesus on the Cross is where God’s glory is most powerfully put on display for all to see.

Christ and Him Crucified

     St. Paul is famous for saying, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Why was Paul so obsessed with the Cruciform God? Because Paul saw that the cruciformity of God’s nature is the FULLNESS of God’s nature. The Crucifixion is where God opened up His heart and showed us all that is inside. This where we get our purest definition of Who God eternally is and what He is eternally like. Herein lies the most outstanding of beauties!

     At the Cross, we see that being King of Kings looks like being the Servant of All.

     At the Cross, we see that being Omnipotent looks like being laid down and broken in selfless love.

     At the Cross we see that true strength looks like power under restraint, poured out in sacrifice.

     At the Cross we hear God Himself saying, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

     Here we learn that the Lord’s desire to offer mercy, to have relationship with us, to practice vulnerability, and to embody a genuinely unconditional love is not just part of His agenda. It is His agenda. All other character traits we might attribute to Him must be re-defined in light of this mind-blowing moment of clarity.

The Way God Operates

“His defeat is itself His breakthrough.”

     Jesus hanging on the Tree is the Logos — the logic of God. He may look defeated, but His defeat is itself His breakthrough. In shedding His blood and releasing His last breath, Jesus finished the work that needed to be done, once and for all (see John 17:4, John 19:30, Romans 6:10, and Hebrews 10:10). We might even go so far as to consider the idea that Resurrection is only the fruit and the affirmation of Christ overcoming the “wisdom of this world” on Calvary. His atoning sacrifice is where He carried out His own Sermon-on-the-Mount philosophy for life to its fullest extent.

     What a success!

     Our hearts are not won to the Lord because He has coerced us into worshiping Him. We are won by the bleeding heart of the Lord that loves us to no end. Likewise, we in turn extend His grace to others not by pressuring them, convincing them with arguments, or giving them threats of retribution.

     We choose the low road. This is the Way of the Cross.

Isaiah 55…

return to the Lord…for he will abundantly pardon.
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts…'”

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You Are Not Your Own Worst Enemy

     One of the most annoying things I hear on a regular basis is the idea that “you are your own worst enemy.” For the sons and daughters of God, this is simply not true. In fact, you are not your own enemy at all.

     Christians tend to articulate this idea by saying that you are still “in the flesh,” bound with some carnal, sinful nature. You need to repetitively “die to self.” Humanists say they same thing essentially when they always talk about how our “ego” controls us. Both seem to think this problem is inescapable and always in need of our attention.

     Whether in religious or secular terminology, the idea is that we all are inherently selfish and proud creatures, and that to do something selfless for the good of others is contrary to our most basic nature. This is ludicrous.

     The truth is, we are all made in the image of our Heavenly Father. His nature is selfless, self-sacrificing, and other-centered. He is Love and His Love is genuinely caring. For those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, the image of our Father is redeemed in us. As His children, filled with His Spirit — His very heart — we overflow with the same love (John 7:38). It is our JOY to serve others, not our task.

It is our JOY to serve others, not our task.

     Yes, there is effort expended in putting the needs of others before our own. Nevertheless it is energizing when we esteem the well-being of others above our own comforts. We are fueled by the passion we experience along the way. As Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work,” (John 4:34).

     This joy is ours is precisely because we were designed and reborn in such a way that service to a higher calling would bring us a sense of reward and fulfillment in life. It is not contrary to our deepest desires or truest nature when we care for others and make sacrifices to serve them. It is an EXPRESSION of our truest nature. 

 It is not contrary to our deepest desires or truest nature when we care for others and make sacrifices to serve them. It is an EXPRESSION of our truest nature. 

     As John Crowder says, “you look just like your Daddy.” Your first and primary nature is as eternally cruciform and kenotic as His. “We have the mind [the way of thinking] of Christ,” 1st Corinthians 2:16.

     Loving others is only insincere when we are doing it because we think some external voice is telling us we have to do it. When we know how unconditionally loved we are by the One who knows us best, service to the world around us becomes a privilege, a delight, and an adventure. It is not a burden or a requirement that we need to challenge ourselves to try to reach for. We do not have to be talked into it through pressure.

To Be Humane is To Be Godly

     Further, we should know that our humanity is not our problem. Our ability to appreciate our own humanity (as it has been sanctified through the Cross) is actually what makes us humane. It connects us to others and helps us to esteem them as the beloved children of God that they are as well.

     Ephesians 6:12 says, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” There is a real enemy to resist, but that enemy is not within. Within us is the living Christ — the hope of Glory. Within us is the compassion and humility needed to see the value of others and fight for them to experience the same goodness and kindness that we have been given.

     So yes, do hard things for the glory of God. Live on mission, go low in humility and service, expend yourself fully on the fulfilling the vision. Do it BECAUSE it’s what you want though, not in spite of what you want. 

     You and God are on the same page in your desire to do good to others. He is with you and for you in this endeavor — and you should be for yourself in it too.

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The Incarnation

     I’m such a fan of the Incarnation.

     Philippians 2:5-11 says in The Message,

“Christ had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human…”

     This is such an incredible doctrine.

     The idea that God — the One we call Transcendent, the One we call the Ultimate Mystery, the One we say is Highest, Holiest, and altogether unlike us — joined Himself with human flesh, forever.

     Aside from dying for us on the Cross, how could this Being better display His radical humility?

     Because of the Incarnation, we see that divinity and humanity are not entirely separate realities. Our human experience — our bodies, our personalities, our full range of emotions… even our weaknesses and limitations — it is not offensive to God. He wears it as His own. He joins us in our suffering, our pain and our finite-ness. And He’s chosen to do this on purpose.

“Our human experience… is not offensive to God. He wears it as His own.”

     What once seemed like a distant, ethereal spiritual reality is now as tangible and relatable as any other mortal brother or sister.

     Further, we see that God is not an abstract force, a consciousness, or merely the ground of all being. God actually has a face. We can look at His iconic Image and say with so much clarity that He is indeed beautiful.

     All of this is because God is eternally personified in Jesus. And we did not come up with this idea… He did!

“God is eternally personified in Jesus.”

     In lowering Himself to our level, God destroyed our idolatrous concept of Him being a proud, distant, authoritarian leader sitting on a lofty throne. Instead, He is Immanuel, “God with us.” He has revealed Himself as the kind of Deity who walks and serves and shares in life through our eyes. His strength looks like meekness displayed at full force.

     No longer can our Lord be accused of being aloof and unmoved by our situation. He is present and involved. He is a co-participant in our often mundane and difficult existence. He bends to our level, held back by nothing from pursuing connection with our hearts.

     And in becoming one of us, Christ dignified and divinized our race. He showed that to be human is not to be lacking in glory. We look at this Man and see what it is like to be a beloved son of God. He displayed an identity we can all walk in, without first ascending through religious rituals into some higher state.

“He displayed an identity we can all walk in, without first ascending through religious rituals into some higher state.”

     We are fully accepted and fully understood, right down here where we are. This is a Message of Heaven’s reconciliatory peace, favor and good will to all on earth (Luke 2:14).

     This is why I love Christmas.

     Happy Advent everyone. The Lord has come!

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Speaking Up in A Polarized World

As Christians, how do we both fulfill our role to be peacemakers and to boldly speak the Truth in the face of resistance?

In today’s society, people are so polarized between strikingly different perspectives on what is right and what is wrong. During the election season last year I had friends on both the Left and the Right talking as if the other sides’ candidate might be the anti-Christ and might want to put masses of people in concentration camps. Both sides really believed this was a threat. It can be VERY intimidating in this type of context to try to share your perspective with someone who is passionately devoted to a viewpoint opposing your own.

How does one implement the biblical notion of “speaking the truth in love” in such a culture this divided by hostility?

The following are a few resources I have found to provide helpful counsel for approaching the landmine of political/social/theological conversations in this day and age. I would encourage anyone who is seeking to mature in the ability to handle these tense situations in a Christ-like manner to explore the following list of materials.

Note: You will notice that some of these resources deal directly with Trump’s election or other hot-button issues. I do not always agree with all of the stances held by people in these various forms of media. I DO value and learn from their approach to walking in civility, however. I would highly recommend all believers learn from the posture they take.

Enjoy!

The Resources:

How to Have Better Political Conversations by Robb Willer

8 Tips for Talking to Your Family About Trump by Christina Cleveland

Pluralism Doesn’t Mean Relativism by John Inazu

10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents by Andrew Davis

How to Avoid Being An Ass While Telling the Truth by Mike McHargue

The Thing in the Air | Part 1 – Our Body by Rob Bell

Four Tips to Disagree Well by Jacob T. Murphy

The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus of Nazareth

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Opportunities for Humility

One of the most defining characteristics of a Christ-like person is humility.

Jesus is the one who taught us that it is the “meek” who will “inherit the earth.” He modeled this by laying down His life for His friends. Friends He could have just won over with charm, charisma and divine power if he would have just asserted himself more agressively and practiced a little self-promotion. Instead, he chose an alternative wisdom and confidently did NOT defend, protect, or glorify Himself. He did not let some self-ambitious “ego” control Him.

I think God is constantly offering us opportunities to make the same type of humbling decisions. It is these kind of decisions that ultimately shape us into His image — into our full potential as Christlike leaders. All day, every day, these kinds of choices are presented to us…

Will we “save face” and over-explain ourselves when someone at work notices we goofed up on something we were working on?

Will we avoid working out because it feels disappointing not being as fit as the others around us at the gym?

Will we skip church on days we feel depressed, because we don’t want people to see us when we aren’t our best?

Will we refuse to share our art, our talents, our voices, or our thoughts with the rest of the world until our work feels PERFECTLY edited and never in need of revision?

Will we avoid starting a conversation with someone we have serious disagreements with, because there is a chance it will get awkward?

I feel like we are constantly faced with the dilemma of either making ourselves uncomfortable or preserving some shallow sense of dignity in order to “play it cool.”

If we can’t win these small battles, how can we ever be trusted to really do something courageous? Something that impacts history?

If we believe we are God’s children, fully backed by His validation, we have plenty of instances available where we can actually practice walking that out. Let’s not run from them.

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