Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mr. Rogers in the Electric Chair?

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Luke 14:25-34

What do you think Jesus was like? If you had to describe Jesus to a friend, what would you tell them about Him?

Most likely one of the first things you would say is that Jesus loved people. He loved people that even the other religious people wouldn’t. And you might say that He was compassionate or kind. You may even say that He was a charismatic leader. But I’m guessing that you wouldn’t say He was dangerous.

The truth is that we have taken the edge off of Jesus. We have diluted Him down to the warm cuddlies and made Him safe so that He comes off as a 1st century version of a children’s TV show host. But as J.R. Briggs says “What government would execute Mister Rodgers?” (When God Says Jump, p.20) Jesus wasn’t crucified for telling people to love their neighbor. He was crucified because He was dangerous! And He was dangerous because “[He] didn’t fit into anybody’s categories. Nobody could slap a label on Him, and that’s because He didn’t care if people didn’t like Him or if His life were on the line. He challenged the religious and the irreligious. He comforted the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable. He spoke truth that ticked people off. Jesus ripped people’s security blankets in two- not to be a jerk but to expose people to the idea of life, real life, which was His purpose for coming.” (When God Says Jump, p.20)    

Jesus was a one man countercultural movement. Yes, He was loving and compassionate far beyond all others, but He was also courageous and willing to risk it all for God beyond all others. Jesus was a radical man, zealous for the things of God. I am becoming more and more convinced that everywhere Jesus went He lovingly and compassionately made people feel uncomfortable. He did this because He was challenging their paradigm (the way they viewed the world), and He was calling them to live a new life, a different life, a radically changed life. The question is, "Are you ready to live that life?"

We have watered Jesus down so much that many of us can't imagine what that life would look like. We think that all God requires of us as Christians is to “believe” certain things that the Bible says and maybe refrain from doing some other things that the Bible tells us not to do. But that’s not right, Jesus is still calling out to those who have “ears to hear” and who are willing to follow Him, and He is calling them to live a radically changed life.

If we were really like Christ, if we were dangerous and radical and willing to “take up our cross and follow” the Lord wherever He leads us, then and only then would we see people start to want what we have. I like the way the Mike Yaconelli put it. He says, “Faith has been reduced to a comfortable set of beliefs about God instead of an uncomfortable encounter with God.”

This is my desire for you: that you would encounter God and that you would be changed! You cannot enter into the presence of God and leave unchanged, so if your life hasn’t changed at all then you haven’t encountered God. I know that none of us like to be uncomfortable, but we are so attached to this world and to trying to blend in that our Father has to make us uncomfortable. He has to slowly and tenderly unclench our grasp on the things of this world so that we can grab on to the infinitely better things that He has to offer us.

Over the coming weeks and months we are going to be looking at what it means to live our lives fully surrendered to God. We are going to ask ourselves the question, “Am I willing to do whatever God tells me to do?” And we are going to earnestly seek after something extraordinary. We hope to leave bored, tired religion behind and grab hold of a vibrant, challenging relationship with the Lord. We are going to attempt to make a difference in the lives of those around us. We are going to try to leave our mark on history. So I want you to begin to ask yourself now, “How far am I willing to go with this? How far am I willing to follow the Lord?” Jesus followed Him all the way to the cross. Will you stop at comfortable?

For further reading this week…

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Steadfast Love of God

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 8:33-39

In Hebrew the word 'satan' means "accuser." So when the Old Testament identifies our enemy by this word it is telling us more than just his name. It is telling us his character. He is an accuser. It is what he loves to do. Just like he did with Job, he accuses the beloved of our God. No doubt he takes great pleasure in accusing us to our Father, to ourselves, and to others. He tries to convince us that we are in danger of losing God's love because we are unworthy of it. He hurls accusations at us, turning our focus toward our failings and then (just like he did in the Garden of Eden) he plants his question of doubt in our minds. "Did God really say He loved you? Did God really say that He would never leave nor forsake you? Did God really say that you were forgiven? Surely God couldn't love someone like you!?"

Our Lord answers these accusations in the passage above by redirecting our attention away from our failings and toward His faithfulness. If He has given us Jesus, if He has declared us justified in His sight, then who can condemn us? No one! Not even ourselves. It is true that we are unworthy of God's love, but God has given it to us anyway. To doubt it now is not to doubt ourselves but to doubt the steadfastness of our Father's love. He is no fickle lover moving from one to another day after day. He has chosen us as His own and no one can snatch us out of His hand.

Because this is the case we are strengthened and enabled to endure any trial in this life. We will not turn our back on so great a love as this. Even though our enemy whispers in our ear "God doesn't love you. If He did, He wouldn't let this happen to you." Even so we will take up our crosses and carry them proudly. For the New Testament tells us that Satan is the father of lies. And what is more we know that in these trials and even in death "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Death does not separate us from our Father's love. To the contrary it gives occasion for us to receive the full inheritance of His love. In this life we only have the down payment, in the life to come we will receive the full measure. Now we see as in a mirror, there we will see Him face-to-face. So rest easy dear saint. No one can take away your most precious treasure for it has been laid up in heaven for you and it awaits your arrival. 
For further reading...
  • Job 1-2: Check out Satan's accusations of Job and God's faith in him.
  • Genesis 3: Refresh your memory on how Satan operates and guard against those questions of doubt.
  • John 10:27-29: No one can snatch us out of His hand.
  • II Corinthians 5:4-6: The Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
  • I Corinthians 13:12: Now we see as in a mirror.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Boundless Hope

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:28-32

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." I am not sure if you realize just how controversial that statement hard it is to believe. It says that all things work together for the good for believers. If anything can be said about this verse, it is that it represents a boundless hope for us as Christians. Paul seems to be saying, as long as God is in charge, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark the valley, or how long the night, we know that we will be victorious in the end. And so in all things, God works together for our good. But Paul is saying more than that. He is saying that all these things work together for our good in a very specific way. This is not just a trial to be endured on the way to heaven. It serves a purpose.

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son." Now I am not going to debate predestination and free will here in this blog. I don't think it would be fruitful. So put all of the arguments you have heard for or against predestination out of your head and look at what the Bible says God has predestined us for. On the last day we will be conformed into the image of His Son. This is the "good" that everything works toward for us as Christians. God allows difficult things and people in our lives so He can use them to mold us like a lump of clay. He is conforming us into the image of Christ. The Bible tells us that even Christ suffered trials in order to be made perfect in obedience (Hebrews 5:8-9). In the same way, we suffer and learn obedience along the way. 

Still it is hard for me to believe that all things work together for our good. It is hard to fathom that God allows his children to be raped. It's hard to believe that He allows them to be mistreated, tortured, and murdered. Sometimes trying to understand it seems beyond reasoning. There is a sense in which we must accept this Scripture on faith. However, Paul wasn't oblivious to true suffering. This passage was written by a man who had been whipped with thirty-nine lashes five times. He was beaten with rods three times. He had been shipwrecked and lost at sea. He was even stoned and presumed dead (II Corinthians 11:24-26). So Paul knew a thing or two about suffering. He knew that it is hard to accept the truth of this verse at face value, but he himself had experienced it to be true. He had suffered terribly and had witnessed how God used his pain to conform his heart into the image of Jesus. So Paul doesn't shy away from the truth. He doesn't qualify it, but he does give us help. 

As we try to hold on to such a difficult truth, as we strain to understand it, Paul gives us a handle we can grasp onto. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Our Father has already proven His love for you. He has already given His most precious gift to secure your good. He didn't sacrifice Jesus just to let you drown in suffering. You can be sure that He has a good plan for your life. If He gave you Jesus, then you can be sure that He will in no way hesitate to give you all the other blessings at His disposal. He will withhold no good thing from you. Because of Christ, you can believe that somehow, against all odds, Romans 8:28 is true. God is using everything in your life (even the painful things) for your good. Slowly but surely you are being conformed into the image of His Son. Glory to the Father!

For further reading this week...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Holy Groaning (II)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
Romans 8:24-27

Last week we looked at verses 18-24 of this passage and learned that this world (and even our own bodies) are marred by sin, this causes us frustration and it leads us to groan in eager anticipation for our Lord's return when everything will be made right. But now in verses 24-27 Paul makes explicit what we really couldn't have even guessed before: this groaning is a type of holy prayer.

When I think of groaning I think of complaining and whining about stuff that I don't like. Notice though that Paul's groaning is a groaning in eager expectation of the world to come. His groaning isn't just about being unhappy with a world and a body that are tainted by sin. That type of groaning would be wholly negative. No! Paul's groaning goes beyond merely being unhappy with the mark of sin on our world and instead patiently waits in eager expectation for God's promised redemption. It is at one and the same time both a complaint against our present situation and a hope for our future deliverance. Which brings to light a precious truth. It is only because of our frustration in this world that hope exists, for "who hopes for what he already has?" If we had everything we wanted there would be no reason to hope.

It is in grasping this truth that we find the difference between groaning that is a wholly negative attitude and groaning that is a holy negative attitude. Herein lies the difference. It is right and good for us to be unhappy with this world that is marred by sin. This isn't a problem. It only becomes a problem when we allow our displeasure with the world to grow into displeasure with God...when we begin to blame Him for our suffering. That isn't what our frustration was intended to accomplish. Instead, frustration was given to us to cause us to look toward God's future in hope. Our frustration is a helpful reminder that we ought not get too attached to this world and that we ought to eagerly anticipate the day of our Lord's return.

Still not convinced that groaning can be holy? Paul even goes so far as to say that the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf in prayer when we do not know what to pray. When our suffering or frustration with this world has taken our words and we long for something better but are incapable of communicating what we long for to our God, the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf. He groans to mourn our pain, and He groans in faith that the Father has already planned our deliverance.
In I Thessalonians 4:13 Paul says that Christians should not mourn as others do who have no hope. Normally we apply this exclusively to how we mourn the death of a loved one. Taken together with the above passage however, it makes a strong argument that we ought to handle all mourning, all frustration, and all disappointment differently because we are Christians. All of these ought to lead us to hope instead of despair.

So here's the question, where do you allow your frustration and disappointment to lead you? Do they lead you down a path of blame and anger towards God? Or do you remind yourself that it is only when you lack something that you are capable of hope? Do you take your disappointments to the throne of God in eager expectation of how He will resolve them or do you hurl them like darts of accusation at His throne? Brothers and sisters, do not despair. This trial was given so that you would learn to hope.

For further reading this week...