Announcement: PhD Acceptance

I wanted to share that I have been accepted into the PhD in Christian Mission program at Southern Seminary. Thankful and excited to be further equipped to serve Christ and His Church around the world! Would love your prayers for growth, understanding, wisdom, and fruit that lasts!

I have had a few folks ask, “Why do you want to do this?”  Some have, likely, meant it this way: Why more study?  Others, perhaps, wondered, “Why any study?”  Both are fair questions.  Here’s a few thoughts, moving from general to specific and personal.

  1. Some of the best missional, Biblical, and theological breakthrough and understanding for the Church has come through intensive, rigorous study and research that would not have happened without formal, graduate level programs and opportunities.  Could God have done that in other ways?  Absolutely, but what does it say when God continues, throughout the centuries, to lend his blessing to this sort of work.
  2. I love to teach.  I don’t have a desire, at this point, to teach full time, but I’d love to teach a couple of classes each year.  Not only is there a need for this at some of our best Western institutions, but at many emerging and established institutions in the Majority World as well.  What if I could help raise up a new generation of missiologists, Biblical scholars, Church historians, and theologians in one or two places in the world?   That would be worth the effort, in my mind!
  3. I have served now for about 20 years in the “mission” world, whether as a mobilizer, trainer, missionary, or partnership/initiative builder.  The LORD Himself has done this.  This is my calling, my vocation.  Therefore, I want to learn, grow, and know as much as I can so that I might BETTER serve Christ’s Church worldwide.  If I’m going to do this the rest of my life, why wouldn’t I do whatever I could to do it better?  Are there other ways to be equipped?  Yes, and I’m taking advantage of those as well!
  4. I have questions that I want to answer.  I think they are important missional and theological/Biblical questions.  I don’t know anyone else asking them or answering them for God’s people.  This program will both equip me to answer them better as well as give me the time and space to do so.  What Bible/Mission/Theology questions do you have?

There are other reasons, some specifically related to the particular program that I’m joining, some related to my calling, but I’ll stop there for now.  Thanks for reading.  Thank you for those that have already congratulated me on making it this far.  I’m excited for the days ahead!

 

Does God Care? Comfort in Crisis

BBC World Service - The Documentary Podcast, Darkness at Noon

Hey friends, I hope you are all doing well.  No doubt, you find yourself in some sort of scenario you weren’t expecting.  This coronavirus outbreak has all of us at least, somewhat, quarantined.  Perhaps it also has us wrestling with the Lord in these days.  As the number of folks near to us, whether a direct connection or once-removed, who get the virus increases, and perhaps even death touches us, we will be tempted to wonder about the character of God and His concern for us.  That’s natural.  So, what we need is super-natural clarity on the heart of God for the struggler, the sinner, and the scared.  To that end, I wanted to share with you two sermons.  The first is a sermon that I preached over two years ago.  I think it is a timeless word because it dwells on the question of who is God in the midst of suffering.  I hope it is a soothing balm for you.  The second is a sermon I preached in 2018 simply asking, “How does Jesus feel about us?”  As we look to Jesus and ask that question, the response is so amazing!!!  Let us remember His love!

The God of Love Floods the Earth

So, this is a subject that I’ve been wanting to write on for some time.  If you haven’t read Genesis 6.1-4 in a while, here it is:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

So, when you read that, do any questions come to mind?  Perhaps, you first wonder who/what are the Nephilim?  They are apparently a race of giants.  There are a few different peoples in the Bible, races of giants (think 8-9 feet tall, not 20-30), including the Nephilim, Anakim (decendents of the Nephilim), Rephaim/Zamzummim (perhaps a larger category of peoples including the Anakim and Emim), and the Emim.

That being the case, what are we seeing here in Gen 6.1-4.  Well, let’s see?  Genesis 6.1 takes us back in time from Genesis 5, back to when “man began to multiply on the face of the land.”  That’s our timing.  Over time, what began to happen?  The “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Tons of ink has been spilled over what is meant by the “sons of God” and “daughters of man.”  It is a huge deal!  Maybe pulled out like this, it seems simple enough, but here is why this is a big deal: These are the verses leading up to the flood.  Verses 1-4 are the reason for the flood, with verse 5 simply commenting on what the result of verses 1-4 is.  Here’s verses 5-7:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

So, all of a sudden these marriages are very important.  Who are these sons and daughters.  Many have speculated that the sons are angels/demons.  The comment about the Nephilim, then, would imply that angels and humans have gigantic children together.  For one evangelical case for this, you can read William Cook’s post over at The Gospel Coalition.  I would like to argue that the “sons of God,” however, are not angels, but instead are variously called “Sons of Seth” or “Godfearing Men” or what I called “sons/offspring of Eve.”  The reason I believe this is because these verses occur in the book of Genesis.  We can’t look just at the vocabulary used (for more than you want of that, you can check out the definitive book on this controversy here), we must look at the wider context.

After the Fall, the Lord says to the serpent, who had tricked Adam and Eve in Eden, in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This sets the direction for all that will follow, not only in Genesis but throughout the Bible.  In this short verse, we see three realities.  First, a redeemer will come, a savior who is an offspring of Eve.  Second, there is an enemy who wants to destroy this promised seed/offspring.  Third, all of humanity is divided now.  Every person is either, now, an offspring of Eve or an offspring of Satan (that sounds harsh, but think of verses such as John 8.44 and Ephesians 2.2-3).  Of course, physically, they are ALL Eve’s offspring, so what differentiates some as Eve’s offspring and others as Satan’s?  It’s all about the seed, the ultimate Seed.  Are their hearts aligned by faith with the purposes of God for the salvation of humanity through a descendant of Eve?  Or, have they aligned themselves with Satan, the enemy of Eve, the enemy of God, the one seeking to destroy the promised Seed?

Now, it’s clear that all of Genesis is structured around a series of Toledoth statements.  Leithart introduces this concept this way: “As many commentators point out, Genesis is structured by 10 uses of the word toledoth, “generations.” The word means something along the lines of “begotten things,” and the toledoth statements head the various sections of Genesis.”  So, you see, all of Genesis, ALL of it, is about begetting, about generations, about child-bearing, offspring, and a promised Seed.  Genesis 3.15 tells us there is an offspring coming who will save us all…therefore, the rest of the book is tracking these two families (Eve’s offspring and Satan’s offspring), especially noting progressive revelation related to the promised Seed, the savior.

Following Genesis 3, we see Cain and his genealogy in Genesis 4.  It’s a pretty rotten group of people, living not in light of God’s promise, but like their father the devil.  Then we meet Eve’s offspring through Seth.  Remember what Eve says at his birth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”  Physically, she already had another offspring, Cain.  But, according to the promise of 3.15, she was childless.  As we track her offspring through Seth, Genesis 5, we meet men who “call upon the name of the Lord (4.26)” and who “walked with God(5.22).”  These are men of faith…men longing for the promised Seed to come.  They are Eve’s offspring.

Now, if you were Satan and you wanted to prevent the savior’s coming, and you knew He would come through the offspring of Eve, what might be one thing you would do to thwart God’s plan?  You might defile the seed, right?  You might pollute the lineage.  So, we get to chapter 6 and we see that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.”  This is bad news, friends!  Eve’s offspring are intermarrying with Satan’s.  What will God do?  What would a loving God do if, in fact, there was only one remaining offspring on planet earth who was, by God’s grace, waiting for the Seed to come?  Only one family left through which the Savior could come?!  The loving God who is seeking to redeem all that went wrong in Eden will flood the earth in order to preserve the Seed.  That’s why this intermarrying leads to the flood.

OK, so what are the implications? First, it should be noted that all of this is the reason that Genesis is obsessed with childbearing.

“Oh no, Sarah is barren!  But, the promised Seed is meant to come from Abram!  What will God do?”

“Oh no, Rebecca is barren, but the promise is for Isaac and his offspring!  What will God do!?”

It’s all beginning to make sense.  We have all of those genealogies for the same reason – we must track the seed!  Genealogies record the promise of God of a Savior Seed! And that’s why the last genealogies in the Bible are Matthew and Luke’s.  The Savior Seed has come!  No more genealogies!

In fact, this is the reason God chose a singular people – Israel, and why He gave them so many cultural instructions that were at odds with the nations around them.  What better plan for preserving the seed than to choose one nation and put so many unique requirements on it that it’s almost impossible for them to intermarry with others!  And that’s why we have the prohibition against marrying foreigners in the rest of the Old Testament.  Not because God is racist, but because He’s committed to saving the world through the promised Seed!  And that’s also why foreigners like Caleb and Ruth can join God’s people by faith!  “Your God is my God.  Your people, my people.”

And now, all of a sudden, an event that seems like an embarrassment to the faith becomes one of extreme mercy.  It was costly grace that led to the flood.  While we often say, “God didn’t have to save Noah and his family.  They didn’t deserve it.  God chose to be merciful,” and that’s true, the reality is that God wasn’t just merciful to Noah, but to all the earth.  The flood was an act of sheer grace!  It preserved the Savior Seed for all peoples and for all time.

And so, what’s the deal with the Nephilim?  If what we said is true, why does Moses include the statement about these giants?  I believe it’s because the Nephilim, and the other giants, were all a part of peoples who were opposed to God.  They were the most famous sons of Satan that Moses could have mentioned that his readers would recognize.  In fact, it was fear of giants (the Anakim to be precise) that caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years.  Israel knew them well, and these were historically evil men.

It could be understood that they are particularly evil BECAUSE they are the offspring coming out of prohibited intermarrying between the sons of God and the daughters of man.  While verse 4 may sound positive, it can also be understood as negative – they’re “not just famous, but INfamous” as the Three Amigos might say.  Verse 5 drives home that point.  These were not good times.  Every thought of man was evil continually, and the presence of the Nephilim, from which Goliath of Gath – that great enemy of God’s people – was descended, proves it.

The world was in an awful situation.  It needed to be saved.  So, the God of Love floods the Earth.

A Wake-up Call for Humility

Hey friends, what a week, huh?  If you’re reading this in a year later than 2020, the U.S. has just started a fairly aggressive (especially for us Americans) social distancing policy in response to the Corona Virus.  This post is not about all the ways we need to humble ourselves in this current situation.  There are many good thoughts out there on that.  Instead, I’m going to just share something the Lord has hit me with recently, and hope that it encourages you whether you struggle in the same way that I do.

I like to be right…there, I said it.  In fact, it’s been said that I’d rather be right, than be happy, and that is true often.  It is an ugly truth.  It’s neither one to ignore, be proud of, or accept as simply my temperament.  It’s ugly…it’s sinful…it has to die.

Well, if I like to be right, then I especially want to be right about things that are important to me, things that I believe are my areas of “expertise.”  So, that may include being right in my thoughts and opinions related to Washington Nationals baseball or, and more importantly, my ideas and stances around Biblical truth and missions.  I often like to think that I’m teachable…that is, unless someone is trying to “teach me” when I already know the answer, or so I think.

Recently, I was reading a book by an author who I knew understood God’s Mission in a way different that I do.  I believed I was right and he was wrong.  I’m not saying having opinions on important matters is the problem.  It’s not.  You SHOULD have a well-formed, well thought about opinion about important things.  We’d be fools otherwise.  But, as I read, two things happened.

First, as this author was making his argument, I noticed all the footnotes in this book.  I’m the type of reader who reads every, single footnote.  I hate end-notes…they are the worst, and you’ll never change my mind about that!  😉  As I read the book and the footnotes, I kept thinking, “Interesting, I haven’t read that book,” and “Oh, that sounds like an interesting book!”  As these began to pile up, all of a sudden, it was as if the Lord was nudging me with this idea:

It’s OK to disagree with this brother, but you’d be a fool to discount his hard work, his research, his understanding.  What if you read this book to see what you can learn instead of whether he’s going to agree with you?

Second, as that happened, as my attitude towards this author and his book became one of teachability, I was able to see a couple of things.  First, his view was much more nuanced that I was giving him credit for.  I have been painting those with whom I disagree with too broad of strokes.  Second, I started to see areas where we did agree AND even ideas that were meaningful for me which I hadn’t thought about before.  I began to benefit from this author’s hard work and his articulation of his stance on the issue.

Do I still disagree with him on the question he was considering?  Yes.  But, my own understanding has grown, and I’m learning to love and respect my brother in Christ.  What if I took more satisfaction in having my own view strengthened or even changed (because if I am wrong, the best thing for me would be to be corrected!), than I do in reading as an outright antagonist?!  What if I approached mission research this way?  What if we, as a culture, approached books/articles on parenting and politics this way (or whatever other hot button topic)?

This doesn’t mean compromise on truth.  We hold Scripture as God’s Word.  We hold the Christian faith as delivered through the ages.  I’m not talking about watering down our theology.  I’m talking about the areas of life and society where we don’t necessarily have a clear word from Scripture, where we’re all trying to apply principles from His Word as faithfully as we can, where perhaps no one has definitive input for us.  Maybe we start with the areas we ought to know better than act like experts…here’s a great example!  But, we can move into other areas…areas where we may have enough information to have an opinion and maybe those where we have some expertise.  Would you rather be right than a little wiser?  Would you rather win the argument than to grow as a human?  Would you rather beat others down with your brilliance than be happy?

Always Choosing Harmful Relationships

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and beard, possible text that says 'WRONG GUY AGAIN'

I shared this on Facebook, but thought I’d put it here for you as well.

 

Do you always choose the wrong guy? Or the wrong girl? Not wanting to pick someone that will hurt you, yet always finding yourself going back, whether the same harmful relationship or a new one. Is that your story?

 

That’s actually the story of Christianity!  The rest of this post is taken from Glen Scrivener, in his excellent little book Love Storywho sums up the story of the Old Testament this way:

 

Let me tell you about one Old Testament story that sums up the whole. It’s about the prophet Hosea. He lived about 750 BC. Essentially the Lord says to Hosea, “I’ve got a treat for you. You’re going to experience what it fells like to be me in the great love story.”

 

God says to Hosea: “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

 

The Lord wants Hosea to share in his own experience. What does it feel like for God to be our God? Apparently it feels like being married to a serial adulterer. Hosea must marry a prostitute called Gomer.

 

Hosea does so and, true to form, Gomer does not stick around for long. Soon she returns to the brothel. Perhaps Hosea thinks he’s done his best…But the Lord tells him no, he’s only just begun. God says to Hosea: “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.”

 

Hosea actually has to go to the brothel and pay fifteen shekels – the prostitute price – to get his wife back. Can you imagine being Hosea and banding on the brothel door? “I’m hear for my Gomer…I’m her husband…I’ll pay whatever it costs; I just want her back.”

 

He is vulnerable; he is exposing himself to great shame; he is putting his heart on the line again with a woman who keeps spurning his love. Why should he pay for his own wife? Why should he endure any of this? Because that’s what God is like.

 

God love us; he commits himself to us; he is like Hosea. But we are like Gomer. We ignore Him; sideline him; and pretend he has no claim over us. In so doing we slink back into the life we’ve always known. This is what has spoiled the world. We reject God’s love and pursue our heart’s desires in all the wrong places.

 

Yet, how does God respond? He is the God who pursues us. In fact, as we will see, he will shame himself in order to offer his love again. He will pay for us, redeeming us at great cost, just to have us back in his arms. The whole Old Testament is the promise of a great Hosea – a divine Lover – who will come to claim his people.

How would you respond to the Rich Young Ruler?

A couple of weeks ago, at Mercyview Church (the church of which I am a member in Tulsa, OK), one of our Elders, Brad Andrews, challenged us with God’s Word.  We’re walking through a series called No Other Gods in which we’re exploring the common idols of the heart prevalent in our culture and even in the Church, particularly in the West.  In a sermon called The Idol of Success and the Supremacy of Jesus, Brad did a fantastic job unpacking the difference between two “succesful” men: The Rich Young Man/Ruler (RYR) and Zacchaeus whose stories are told by Luke in chapters 18 and 19 of his gospel.  Go listen to it, you’ll be glad you did.

That sermon got me thinking, though, about the beauty and wisdom of Christ’s response to the RYR.  In Mark’s version of the story, in Mark 10, we see that Jesus looked at this man “and loved him.”  That’s beautiful and remarkable!  What Jesus is about to say to this man flows out of His deep love for him.  So, what does love do when it encounters a man whose idols include his many possessions?

Well, you probably know the story.  Jesus, out of love, said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  I find that amazing.  Remember, this man is an upstanding member of society.  He had lived an outwardly moral life.  If he found his way into your church, you likely would assume that he was a believer, a good man, a follower of Jesus.  But, let’s say one day he comes to your office and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  How do you respond?  Let’s look at ways some may respond, and see if you can find yourself on this continuum.

A preacher of prosperity theology may respond by saying something like this: Do you believe in God?  Do you really believe…is your faith strong?  You need more faith because it is the energizing principle of reality.  If you have enough faith, you can have whatever you want.  You just have to name it and claim it in Jesus’ name.  So, claim eternal life, by faith, in the name of Jesus.  And, remember, if you want something from the Lord, you’ve got to give something to Him.  You have great wealth, young man.  Why don’t you give a faith gift of $1,000,000 to our ministry here as a sign to God that you’re serious about this.  And when you do that, He will open the gates of Heaven and give you what you’ve asked for.  He’ll have to.

A pastor of an independent, evangelical church might respond this way: Let’s revisit the Gospel.  Remember John 3.16 says that whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life.  Do you believe in Jesus?  If so, then you already have eternal life.  There’s nothing else you need to do.  I wonder if perhaps God might be stirring up these sorts of questions in you because He’s inviting you to take your faith more seriously.  You’ve accepted Jesus as savior, but maybe you haven’t accepted Him as Lord.  Maybe one way you could do that is invest $1,000,000 in our upcoming building campaign.

I wonder if the pastor of a Reformed (thinking broad category here) church might approach the RYR this way: Brother, the work of redemption isn’t something that we do, neither by having enough faith or simply praying a prayer.  No, conversion is wholly a work of the Spirit of God.  Throughout history, one way Biblical Christians have sought assurance is to look at the work of sanctification the Spirit has done in them.  When you look at your life, you can see fruit.  That’s why you can say that you’ve been able to keep the law.  That’s not your own doing.  You know, maybe you should consider enrolling in some theology classes.  Our church partners with the School of Reformed Theology here in town.  In fact, I’m on their board, and maybe we can talk about you investing some of the Lord’s resources he’s entrusted to you, say $1,000,000, into the school.

Besides the first answer, you may find helpful pieces in the 2nd and 3rd responses.  Yes, these are caricatures, but when I wrestle with how I would have responded, my question was this: how can I even lead this conversation in such a way as to land where Jesus landed.  He had the advantage of knowing the heart of this man.  How do we counsel in such a way as to be able to respond as Jesus would?  I think it is by focusing on the heart.  At some point we have to be able to say something like the following:

Tell me about your walk with Jesus?  What does He think of you?  When you think of your relationship with Him, what feelings come to mind?  Do you love Him?  Not just a vague love or a gratitude, but are you increasingly finding Him delightful?  Do you thrill at His trustworthiness and His affection towards you?  Do you find that, increasingly, the things you use to depend on or delight in are fading into the background as Jesus becomes sweeter and sweeter to you?  If not, where do you go to find your identity?  To find fulfillment and security?  When life is hard, how do you respond?  What’s your go-to for comfort?

When we are examining the HEART, only then do we really know where they may stand with Jesus as well as what idols are lodging in their hearts where Christ is meant to dwell.  Only then can we talk about the expulsive power of a new affection.  Only then, when we know that this RYR is addicted to wealth, can we challenge him to surrender his idol. Today that might look like a radical break with his career, or it may look like radical boundaries for this brother in the area of finances.  It will also include a good deal of discipleship to help him grow to value Christ above all, to get excited by Christian generosity, and to live simply and humbly.

But notice this, you Christian leaders: Jesus didn’t ask him to invest in His ministry, church, or institution.  His only concern was the heart of this man.  He told him to give it away and then to come and follow/love/fellowship with Him.  Jesus said, “I don’t want your wealth, and you’ll die if you don’t get rid of it.”  That is pure love.  Does that mean this RYR today couldn’t give his wealth to wonderful Christian institutions?  No, but it may reveal the idols in our own hearts if that’s our first inclination.  We should want him to be free, not to become a donor.

Why You Should Love Sin

Image result for sin

I was thinking today about sin.  I think for most of us, whether Christian or not, we don’t like sin.  By that, I mean we don’t like the idea of sin.  We don’t like it that there is a word that means what sin means.  We don’t like being told that we sin, have sinned, are sinners.  Particularly in our age, the idea of sin, we are told, is outdated, it’s oppressive, it’s harmful, hurtful, and abusive.

But God uses the word.  He, too, hates sin.  But He loves the truth about sin.  And, I think, if we thought about it, we would too.  Bear with me.

The truth about sin – that is, the reality of sin’s existence, meaning, and purpose – tells us, at least, four glorious truths.

First, the reality of Sin tells us that we were made for glory and goodness.  Having some behavior, thoughts, and deeds labeled as sin reminds us that there is good and evil, wrong and right, and we were actually created for good, for glory, for beauty, for righteousness.  Being called a sinner reminds me that my purpose is something amazing which I’m transgressing against…when I sin, I am living for something less, something harmful.  When I think of MY sin, I should be reminded of why God made me!  Not for sin, but for joy and righteousness.

Second, the reality of Sin tells us that we need help.  When someone confronts my sin (and the number of people willing and brave enough and love me enough to do that is too, too few) OR when the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, convicts me of sin, what a LOVING thing that is.  I NEED this.  In my sin, I hurt myself, I hurt others, I run away from God.  But when my sin is exposed, the book of Ephesus 5.13-14 says:

13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Anything exposed becomes visible and then, catch this, it “becomes light.”  Even our sin, when exposed can become something that shows the truth, that enlightens us and others.  God can even turn our sin into something that shows His glorious grace as we expose the sin. My sin can become light in my life with Christ.  This is a gracious thing!

Think, too, about Matthew 7.1-5, that famous passage that begins with “Do not judge, lest you be judged,” and discusses logs in your eye and splinters in the eye of others.  Of course, Jesus isn’t saying to never confront sin or call something sinful.  He’s saying that He alone is the one who ultimately condemns sin and the sinner.  What then is our response if we see the sin of another?  I mean, think about this for a second, why would God even let you see someone else’s sin?  He doesn’t have to!  What’s it for?  I believe, in the Sermon on the Mount, in context, the radical answer is so that, first, I would be confronted with my own sinful heart (Is my heart or behavior like that?  Or are their other hidden sins that I’m not aware of that are sticking out of my eye?  Do I SEE the world wrongly, from my own fleshly viewpoint instead of from the worldview of the Bible?), and, only then I might be useful enough to be a compassionate help for the person whose sin I have observed.    The sin of another can be clarifying and exposing of sin in my own life…this, too, is gracious!   You can hear me preach on this passage here.

Third, the reality of Sin explains why I do what I don’t want to and don’t do what I want to.  It explains why I often feel like a slave to thoughts, attitudes, and actions that I loathe.  Have you felt this?  It’s at least as old as the New Testament.  The world, today, might just say that you’re crazy.  That you need to loosen up.  You need to accept yourself.  Maybe you’ve just got a leftover guilt-complex from your fundamentalist upbringing.  Don’t be fooled.  You and I know that this feeling of guilt and shame is real.  It is there for a reason.  Because, it is true.  Only when we know this truth are we able to be rescued from it. That’s 100% grace!  What if God left us in the dark on this?

Fourth, the reality of Sin urges us towards the one who loves us more than we could ever imagine…who happens to be the one who has, for us, conquered Satan, sin, and death.  The Holy Spirit, and even sometimes our consciences, convict us of sin.  That’s a good and gracious thing!  And it’s meant to drive us to Jesus. Psalm 45 says that Grace was on his lips!  Grace! He came to us with grace.  We are so broken, but he has healing.  We are vicious to each other, but he’s tender.  We get angry, defensive, and mean at the drop of a hat, but he is patient.  Notice what the Gospels say:

And all spoke well of Jesus and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.  LUKE 4.22


And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. JOHN 1.14, 17

He wasn’t just being nice, saying, “it’s ok, just keep doing whatever you want no matter the damage to your life, your soul, your relationships”…he was bringing the very goodness of God, the word and presence of God to us.  He was the very embodiment of the grace of God.  The kindness and tender compassion of God. Children ran to him, prostitutes found him to be the safest place they’ve ever known, people wanted to be with him.  Men felt comfortable leaning on him like they would a good father.  Women met, in Him, perhaps the first man to ever look at them and love them without expecting anything in return.  They all found in him the answers to their deepest longings: how can I be right with God?  Can I be clean?  How can I know peace?  How can I have God as my very own?

Even if, on the surface, we hate the idea of sin, that is, the label of sin, I think that if we reflect a little more, we might find our minds changed.  On the one hand, we think we’re independent beings, autonomous and self-defined.  When we think like that, we just want to be affirmed in all our actions, attitudes, ideas.  “Just tell me to be true to myself!”  On the other hand, we know we’re wrong.  We know we’re not alright.  We know we need help.  Friends, Jesus is our helper.  He came to save, not righteous people, not the fundamentalists, but sinners!  That’s us.  He’s the friend of sinners.  Christ died for our sins!  Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!

Ambition for Christian Leaders

We are hearing much recently of the negative impact of ungodly ambition in Christian leaders.  It is so disheartening.  I was reflecting this morning, however, that this is not new in any way.  It’s as old as Eden.  We want to be like God.  Even wonderful Christian men can wake up and find that they have drifted from their first love, have slid into pragmatism and manipulation, “for the sake of the mission.”

Aaron and Miriam were not happy with Moses’ authority (Numbers 12).  “Why did God choose you?  Do we not hear from Him as well?”  I had a friend a couple of years ago ask, “Why doesn’t the leadership of the CROSS for the Nations conference invite X to speak?”  Now, X is a terrific speaker and has made his life’s mission the mobilization of Christ’s people.  Indeed, X might be a great speaker for that conference.  But, that’s not the point.  God hasn’t chosen that for X.  God hasn’t chosen X for that conference, either.  We want (for ourselves or others) something that God has given to someone else.  That’s bad ambition…that’s covetousness.

Korah, too, didn’t like Moses’ authority (Numbers 16).  He felt all are equal before God.  On the one hand, he was right.  We all are one in Christ, in terms of our salvation.  Yet, God appoints leaders…God grants authority.  It’s not to be taken for our own, as we saw with Aaron and Miriam.  It’s also not to be rejected.  We are not all equal in spiritual authority.  Today, we might say, anyone should be able to lead the church, regardless of age, sex, gender orientation, experience, gifting.  This is drinking from the well of this fallen world, where any Joe with a blog thinks he knows more about topic A than the guy with the PhD in the same topic.  Or where every comment-er on Twitter feels that their view is just as “right” as the next guy, in fact, it’s right-er and you’re power hungry if you try to argue otherwise.

A few years ago, at an international leadership conference, some of the speakers were older men and women.  They had given their years and tears to the Church…some had been beaten and imprisoned for their faith.  You can imagine how shocking it was to hear a younger leader there, probably late 20s, say, “Why should I listen to these speakers.  They need to get out of the way so we can lead now.”  At least Simon, the magician, wanted to pay for power from the Apostles (Acts 8).  But, it’s not just younger leaders.  Many churches are filled with older saints, leading committees, who hoard power in their little sphere of influence.  If the tales are true, perhaps deacons, meant to be SERVANTS of all, those who wait tables and wash feet, are the ones most often hungry to make a church after their own image.  Deliver us, Lord, from ourselves.

What do all of these have in common?  It is nothing less than Unbelief.  We don’t trust God and the way He distributes authority and influence.  I should have more OR my organization should have more.  I’m not content to just bring my desire for service and impact to the Lord in prayer and trust the Lord of all the earth to do what is right.  So, we find ways to take power, one tweet at a time, one snide remark about the pastor at a time.  We don’t really believe Jesus when He says that the last shall be first, that greatness comes through serving others.

It reminds me of my kids.  My son once said, “Daddy, I want to be in charge.”  I love his honesty.  I responded, “Well, buddy, let’s think about that.  What does it mean to be in charge?  It means Daddy’s responsible to work, to earn money, so that I can pay our bills.  It means that when someone is sick, the person in charge makes sure they are cared for.  They make sure we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They make sure the clothes are washed, dried, and folder.  They mow the lawn and mop the floor.  Being in charge means you serve everyone else first.  Is that what you want, buddy?”  His response, “Umm, is it OK if I watch TV now?”  My son, knowing what authority if for, wisely, did not want to lead yet.

What about us?  What about you?  Are you SURE you want to lead?  Are you willing to go low, to serve EVERYONE else, in order to lead the way Jesus has asked?  If that’s not what you want, to empty yourself so that others might live, then you are not fit to lead.  If you find yourself thinking, “I want to lead.  I want to influence,” instead of, “I wonder how I can serve my church, my wife, my kids?” then you are not ready to lead.  People who are ready to lead aren’t talking about it…they are just serving.  We need more of them.  Let’s fight for faith – God dispenses wisely authority and influence.  Let’s move towards humility – choosing what is lower and baser for us so that other might be lifted up.  Let’s invite the Spirit to weave faith, patience, humility, self-control, and love above all into the fabric of our lives.

Three Sides of Suffering

Image result for suffering

Friends, it’s been a couple of weeks since a post on my sabbatical reflections.  There are many ah-ha moments from the sabbatical that are noteworthy, but I’m not sure how to write about many of them.  Frankly, some of them probably are meant to stay between me and the Lord.  Having said that, I do feel that I learned something about suffering, and my understanding of it, that might help someone out there.

There are probably more than 3 sides to suffering, to a Biblical understanding of suffering, a theology of suffering, you might say.  But, I recognize three.  First, God is sovereign.  That means He’s not surprised by your suffering.  He’s not unaware.  Suffering isn’t coming at you unbeknownst to God.  On the contrary, He has determined it for you.  It had to pass His desk before coming your way.  And that’s why we can, first, take hope that nothing will befall us that our good Father hasn’t brought about.  Second, it means that the end of the suffering is planned and it will be for our good, and it will bring Him glory.  We can be 100% certain of that.

This is the part of suffering that I’ve understood for years.  I’ve held to it as our little family has walked through a few years of hardship.  Passages like Lamentation 3.37-38 and Romans 8.28 are starting points, as is the story of Joseph in Genesis, but you can find this truth throughout Scripture.  It’s actually a powerful elixir of hope for us – our Father has all of this in His hands, and He is trustworthy.

There are, however, two other sides to suffering.  The first is this truth: God may ordain your suffering, but you are responsible for/to it.  Or said another way, whether you sin in response to your suffering OR you trust God in the midst of your suffering will determine in large part the intensity of your suffering.  It’s one thing to say, as Ed Welch shares about, “God, you’ve let this happen to me.  I’m so angry at you for making me an alcoholic!”*  It’s another thing to recognize your role, your responsibility, your sin in your journey of suffering.  That you bought the bottle and emptied it.  Emma Scrivener (books and blog) has been so helpful in this, showing that, even in mental illness, our sin plays a part.  Of course, Satan would want to increase our suffering and our flesh wants to run from it, ignore it, numb it.  Let me give you a personal example.

My family has experienced a slew of health challenges over the last 7 years.  They weren’t our fault in that we didn’t choose them or do something to contract these things…so, in a sense, we can only receive them as from God (even if Satan is the means of our suffering).  So, how did I respond?  By isolating myself, trying to comfort myself, or throwing a pity party for myself…in doing this, I made my suffering worse.  I was disconnected from community which could have been a real help.  I put my hope in sleep, food, TV, etc. expecting they would comfort me.  More than all, I isolated from God, the God of all comfort.  I turned in on myself and become infected.  Instead of being able to learn the deep wisdom of that suffering, I wallowed.  So, this second side of suffering is that sin compounds our suffering while faith teaches us and comforts us through suffering.

Now to the third side, which is related to that last statement.  Before I share it, let me say that I knew the first side well.  I believed it, but I didn’t understand this third side.  And without this third side, much of what God wanted to do in my life was stymied.  Here’s the third side: God isn’t just in control of your suffering; His desire is to walk with you through your suffering.  Side one doesn’t tell us to just “grin and bear it” until God somehow makes it all OK and we learn the lesson of suffering and then move on.  No!  He isn’t only the God over our suffering, but He’s also the God who is near to the brokenhearted.  Just as Jesus (who understood all that was about to happen in the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) said to Mary, “Where have you laid him?,” goes to the place of suffering to weep with Mary, so also He does this with us…He says:

Show me your suffering.

Let’s go there together.

I want to be there with you.

He’s not asking us to be fatalists – waiting for the bad to simply stop – or dualists – waiting for the good to balance out the bad.  Suffering is an invitation to intimacy – messy, tear-filled, full of outbursts intimacy.  This is actually part of the secret to all the GOOD that the Lord wants to bring about in our suffering (Rom 8.28) as we saw in side 1, and it also guards us against falling into the traps we saw in side 2.  Our ultimate good is that our suffering is preparing us for eternity with Jesus, but even in this life, He’s bringing out fruit that lasts as we press into Him in our suffering.  Read Job, read Habbakkuk, read the Psalms.  This is the pattern –

  1. suffer
  2. go to God
  3. wrestle/rest/plead/argue/collapse with Him in the place of suffering
  4. start to see Him more clearly
  5. allow faith to grow
  6. experience renewal
  7. and wait peacefully with Him until suffering ends, whether in this life or the next.

Friends, that transforms suffering.  That turns suffering into a supper table, where we sit with Jesus, and we get a foretaste of the Heavenly feast!  I’m learning, I think, to turn to Him more quickly in suffering.  Whether it’s small suffering like an argument with a friend, or big like chronic illness.

 

*Ed Welch, A Letter to an Alcoholic, CCEF Journal, volume 16.3